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Operation GEAR: The Angel of Reckoning

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CHAPTER 1: The Day an Angel Fell to Earth

 

-:-

 

Deep within the vast complex, a pair of white-coated scientists hurried down a cold, metallic hallway. One of them, a woman wearing her black hair in a bun, was shuffling through the papers in her hands in a panic.

 

“You’re saying it started a half an hour ago?” the male scientist with her said. “Why did it take me so long to be informed?”

 

“Thirty-four minutes to be precise, Dr. Zager,” the woman meekly offered. “And the team had to stabilize her immediately, otherwise you wouldn’t even have the time to get here.”

 

“It’s that bad?” Zager adjusted his thick, round glasses and picked up the pace of his stride. “I was afraid of this happening…”

 

The pair arrived at a large door bearing the symbol of a double helix twisting into a shape resembling the letter ‘P.’ Zager withdrew an identification card printed with his photograph and touched it to a scanner next to the door, causing it to give way.

 

The laboratory within was a clutter of computer equipment. Another, smaller door lay on the opposite end of the room between two system towers. A loudspeaker system was set up to connect the two sections of the lab, and at the moment Zager and his aide entered, it was filling the air with the sound of a woman’s agonized screams punctuated by the beeping of a heart monitor. Several other scientists were doing their best to handle the situation at their computers, but the frantic mood in the room was overwhelming them.

 

Without hesitation, Zager ran to his main workstation, a thick laptop running imaging of a DNA strand. A tiny, yellow spider Pokémon jumped up on the table next to it, but Zager waved her off.

 

“Joltik, not right now. I’m busy.” Reaching into his pocket again, Zager took out a disk, inserted it into the computer, and typed a command.

 

The computer responded with the text,  “GENETIC ENCRYPTION PASSKEY ACCEPTED. ACCESSING POLARIS AMINO BASE MAINFRAME. AZRAEL PROJECT OPERATING SYSTEM, VERSION 7.3 ACTIVATED. USER LOGIN: GABRIEL ZAGER. NINTH OCTOBER, YEAR 1987. System ready…”  

 

The moment the login sequence ended, Zager typed in, “Activate voice command input system.”

 

“SWITCHING TO VOCAL INPUT MODE. VOCAL INPUT MODE CONFIRMED.”  

 

“Alright, now that that’s settled… turn on direct voice communication, control room to procedure room.”

 

“CONTROL ROOM TO PROCEDURE ROOM VOICE COMMUNICATION STATUS: ACTIVE.”  

 

Turning his head up, Zager said out loud, “Chimere, I’m here. Give me some idea of what’s happening to you!”

 

“What do you… think?!’ the woman in the next room screamed back, in between bouts of gasping for air. “You… you all promised me…”

 

“...that this wouldn’t happen, I know…” Zager finished, hanging his head.

 

“Dr. Zager, we’re standing by for your orders,” another voice, this one male, said from the procedure room. “We have to do something.”

 

“She needs painkillers…” Zager’s aide suggested.

 

“No, Barbara, we can’t…” the doctor swiftly contradicted. “Computer, bring up the most recent full-body imaging scans. Heat, energy, all of them.”

 

“ACCESSING FULL BODY IMAGING RECORDS, FIFTH OCTOBER, YEAR 1987. LOADING.”  

 

Images of a woman’s body appeared on the screen, and when Barbara saw them, she gasped. “It’s… taken over her body…”

 

“See, you didn’t pay as close attention to these as I did.” Taking hold of the mouse next to his keyboard, Zager clicked through the images. “I think you see what I mean now, but… computer, bring up blood flow and immune response, side by side.”

 

“BLOOD FLOW AND IMMUNE SYSTEM RECORDS.”   The charts Zager requested appeared on the screen.

 

“See, look at this. It’s been developing all these months but these are the worst it’s ever been.”

 

“You’re right, Doctor…” Barbara whispered. “We give her medication of any sort with most of her blood flow going right to the child, it’ll end up going right there with everything else. Who knows what would happen…”

 

“We played God and this is what we got…” One of the scientists working in the room with Zager and Barbara suddenly stumbled away from his computer. Shaking violently, he turned in the direction of the room where Chimere was suffering. “We did this. We killed her. All for a foolish, idiotic dream...”

 

The man’s body gave out on him, leaving him to fall against a nearby desk. He started to gag, then wretched the contents of his stomach into the waste bin next to him. Soon after, another of Chimere’s screams pierced the room, causing Zager and Barbara to jump.

 

“Chimere? Chimere, stay with us, here! You’ve gotten this far, you can make it!”

 

“You...lied to me… Zager… just… just get this thing out of me and end this! I don’t want this anymore!”

 

“Computer, real-time body imaging…”

 

“REAL-TIME BODY IMAGING ACTIVATED. SCANNING. LOADING.”  

 

As soon as the scan of Chimere’s body appeared on Zager’s screen, his face sank. Taking a deep, labored breath, he typed a new command.

 

“Deactivate voice command input system.”

 

“DEACTIVATING VOCAL INPUT MODE. SWITCHING TO MANUAL TEXT INPUT MODE.”  

 

Picking up on the tension in her superior, Barbara nervously asked, “Dr. Zager?”

 

“She… no. There’s no way she’ll survive. Not with that amount of blood going to the child. I should have realized this would happen when I saw the tests…”

 

“What do we do, then?”

 

Before Zager could answer, Chimere’s screaming reached earsplitting volume, accompanied by what sounded like something violently hitting against a plastic surface.

 

“Dr. Zager!” the male scientist in the procedure room shouted. “I think we’re out of time… my… my God…”

 

Zager and Barbara just kept staring at the computer’s screen as the screaming got louder and louder, having long passed the point where Chimere could form any coherent words. The tension in the room increased every time the heart monitor beeped.

 

And then, the screaming broke and abruptly ceased. The heart monitor droned on with an unending tone.

 

“It’s over…” Zager mumbled, “...I hope.” He then typed in the command, “Are there any life readings at all?”

 

“SCANNING. LOADING SCAN… LIFE SIGNS VERIFIED.”

 

Understanding the meaning of those words, Zager uttered, “Chimere, find a rest worthy of what we did to you…”

 

“W-what have we done…” the scientist in the procedure room mumbled.

 

“I hope whatever deity there is up there has mercy on our souls…”

 

“Why, Zager? This should be a cause for celebration.”

 

Both Zager and Barbara spun around to face a video screen mounted on another wall. The individual addressing them from it was obscured by shadows, with only a pair of light-filled glasses clearly visible.

 

“F-Father,” Zager uttered in fear. “Please…”

 

“I am not angry with you, Zager.” When the man Zager called ‘Father’ spoke, it sounded as if several people were talking at once, obscuring his true voice. “I am quite proud. It seems your program has born fruit for Polaris.”

 

“I can only wish it had worked out according to the vision I had for this program. You… you told me this was meant to be research for helping cure disease. I don’t understand why it had to go like this…”

 

“I didn’t lie to you, Zager. This will help rid mankind of disease as we know it. It will also do much more than that. It’s about time I told you about the true vision of Polaris… the true meaning of the Azrael Project.”

 

-:-

 

-:-

 

Four years ago

May 1, 2008

 

The years had not been kind to the Polaris research team. As time passed from that fateful day in 1987, member after member fell away from the group. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the scientist who had lost his composure in Dr. Zager’s lab that day was the first to go; he simply stopped attending work within a few months of the incident and disappeared, rarely being spoken of again as the result of some unwritten rule. Over the next few years, the others peeled off one by one, some quitting the organization for their own reasons, others simply disappearing without a word. Finally, at the end, Dr. Zager himself disappeared from Polaris’s ranks, following a series of highly disappointing reports on the status of the child created that day, Azrael.

 

Perhaps coincidentally, Dr. Zager’s disappearance was fourteen years to the day Azrael was born.

 

Many more members joined Polaris over the intervening time both before and after Zager’s departure, plenty of them scientists and doctors, but of the original team that worked to create Azrael, only three remained. Barbara was one, while the two men, their faces now plagued by lines of age and their hair now graying, still worked in Polaris’s labs as well. Not much had changed over the years, even with the vast upgrades their technology had received.

 

“I think Father’s finally lost his old mind,” one of the scientists bitterly said to the other, as they both sat at computer consoles. He gestured to the object of their current experiment, a large test tube between the two computers, which contained a tiny speck of fleshy matter floating in green liquid. “He hasn’t been the same since Azrael failed, but this? This is ridiculous.”

 

“I hear you. There have been some odd experiments we’ve worked on, but communicating with a brain synapse? Dr. Zager wouldn’t have wasted Finansielle’s funding like this. This guy in charge now is just insane.”

 

“What’s that? Did I hear you two discussing me?”

Without the notice of the two scientists, a third man had slipped into the room behind them. He could be distinguished by his prematurely-graying hair, styled with two spikes on the right side, three on the left, and two long bangs hanging over his bespectacled face. Perhaps more startling, though, was the giant scar that formed a blood-red arc across his visage. His clothing was mainly shades of black and gray, though the coat he wore beneath his cape was outlined with yellow.

 

Immediately, the two scientists, who were clearly subordinates of the third, stiffened up from nerves.

 

“Well, no, of course we wouldn’t be, sir…” the first fumbled.

 

“You know, you’re a terrible liar. I overheard everything. You’re lucky we’re on such a tight schedule, though. What you call a waste of Finansielle’s money is actually a vital project for Polaris’s plan, vital enough that it just got you off of a punishment for insubordination. What’s the status of Project J?”

 

“There have been no responses thus far, sir,” explained the second of the underlings. “However, Project J has showed continued molecular stability and zero signs of degeneration.”

 

“Excellent, that means it’s still perfectly preserved. Continue trying to reactivate it, and let me know if it…”

 

The sound of beeping from the computer console interrupted the man’s sentence, but it turned his expression into one of excitement. Readouts on the screens that had previously displayed only straight, flat lines now were spiking and falling rapidly.

 

“I… really? Project J… it’s communicating with us, sir!”

 

“Switch over to real-time translation of those waves!”

 

Sufficiently cowed by his superior’s joyous outburst, the first of the two scientists swiftly entered a command into his computer, replacing the wave patterns with lines of written text.

 

“Hello? Where am… I?”

 

“The laboratory of Polaris,” one of the men typed in response. “We’ve separated you from your body and kept you alive.”

 

There was a pause as the entity in the tank considered what it had been told. “What do you intend to do with me?”

 

“Sir?”

 

The leader of this rather odd team leaned over one of the computers and typed in his own comment. “We are going to see if we can create a new body for you and put you in it. We want to see if you will survive.”

 

“Please, give me a new body! I want one! Give me a new body and I’ll work for you, even!”

 

“I can’t believe this is actually happening,” the first scientist whispered out loud. “Project J is fully active.”

 

“I must present this news at the next meeting of the Sacred Helix,” the leader declared, pulling a golden mask in the shape of a feline Pokémon from his black cape and affixing it to his face. “This development is an important day in the progress of Polaris’s goal.”

 

-:-

 

Present day

 

Light shining down from several large spotlights illuminated the two women contained within the circular desk fixture. Shackled and dressed in rags, they presented a strange, unsettling sight, and this was not helped by the blank facial expressions both wore as they slowly danced around the circle.

 

The first of the two women to speak was the one with flowing purple hair. “When the vast white flame of truth burns out…” she said in a breathy, flat voice, “…and the deep black thunder of ideals dissipates into nothing…”

 

“That gray void of nothing…” her counterpart, distinguishable by her green ponytail, completed. “That is the Day of Reckoning.”

 

“Thank you so very much, Anthea, Concordia,” uttered one of the seven people sitting at the desks, every word of his dripping with sarcasm. This man was the only one of the seven to not be wearing some kind of mask, instead opting for a red eyepiece that covered only his right eye. His entire appearance was fittingly bizarre – his pale green hair had a trio of strands hooking around, one on each side and another atop his head. His clothing was even stranger, consisting of a black, tattered cape hemmed with red; underneath it was a jet-black suit accentuated with yellow bands around the wrists. Apparently a designation of his rank, his seat was identified with the number ‘3’ on the front of his desk. “Fellow members of the Sacred Helix, as you can see, the traitorous waste known as the Tenganist people know information that will assist us in pursuing our true ideals!”

 

“We didn’t need your Gypsy carnival dance show to learn that, Ghetsis.” This was the man from the science lab overseeing Project J, who now wore his mask to hide his scarred face. He was sitting at the seat numbered ‘8.’

 

“Watch it, Jeunes,” reproached the number-four executive, a woman whose nearly-full head and shoulder armor left her slightly-aged-looking nose and mouth areas as the only indications of her gender aside from her voice. “There is no need for such pettiness between members of the Sacred Helix. You have all been chosen for a reason.”

 

“Yes, Finansielle. Please forgive me.”

 

“Might I also urge Jeunes to remember he’s the leader of section eight while I’m the head of section three,” Ghetsis saw fit to add, turning his sarcasm on his colleague.

 

The man sitting at the seat for section number two would have none of this. “And I would urge you, Ghetsis, to remember your place. You had all three Angels within your grasp in Unova and you let them slip away. That failing set us back by years and cost a substantial amount of funds to recover from. We cannot sustain any such failure again.”

 

Ghetsis could not respond. His incredible pride was damaged, and it left him unable to do anything but stare at the man who had belittled him. Staring back was that man’s own unique mask, which loaned him the appearance of a Darkrai; the left half of his face was covered by flowing white plumage, while an opaque eyepiece in a half-circle shape covered the right.

 

-:-

 

“The big story that everyone’s talking about tonight is the upcoming meteor shower surrounding the closest pass of the meteor Persephone-2213 to Earth in over a thousand years, and we’ll be back in a few minutes to get more in-depth on it.”

 

It was night in the Pewter City Museum of Science, and as such, the building was dark and empty. Only a single night watchman – a portly, gentle-looking individual - remained, and he was perfectly content to remain in his security booth watching the news on television and snacking absentmindedly from a box of doughnuts.

 

His complacence was directly the reason why he did not notice the infiltrator who slipped into the museum.

 

Moving quietly and blending into the shadows, the mysterious invader slipped past several displays of relics from ancient cultures. As interesting as those displays were to him, he had a mission and intended to stick to it. At the entry to a larger hall, he stopped and glanced carefully around, eventually spotting a security camera positioned up on the wall straight ahead.

 

He leaned down and smiled. “Do you really think such a feeble defense can stop me?”

 

On the wall next to him was a fuse box sealed with four screws; luckily for the thief, he had come prepared with a screwdriver. He wasted no time in using the tool to remove the screws, and once they were gone he removed the metal plate from the console, exposing the blinking lights of the fuses within.

 

Quietly, the thief raised his right arm, causing the material of his bodysuit to make a stretching sound. The air around his hand crackled with static electricity, ending with a lightning bolt flowing from his palm into the fuses, overloading them and blowing out the entire museum’s power.

 

In his booth, the watchman had finally taken notice of something amiss when the lights went out. However, he was too slow to act, and when the power system shorted out, the museum went into automatic lockdown – which included the door in and out of his small room.

 

While the guard cursed the door and attempted in vain to work it open, the intruder was completely unaffected by the lockdown. With a special silver briefcase in hand, he strode across the wide hall to a certain exhibit – a pair of shining glass orbs, one with angular, uneven surface, and the other with a smooth surface.

 

Setting the briefcase carefully on the floor, he read the sign in front of the exhibit out loud, “Adamant Orb and Lustrous Orb.”

 

These treasures were his objective, so he set about the process of taking them. Aware of an invisible laser barrier shielding the two orbs, he set his hand down on the edge of the exhibit platform, sending a surge of his electricity through it. The two pedestals supporting the pair of orbs each suffered a small explosion and collapsed, dropping the precious items down to the ground, where they were no longer within the boundaries of the laser barriers.

 

Knowing that he could not reach the Adamant Orb and Lustrous Orb manually, the intruder searched around the room for something to use, ultimately settling on a yellow-and-blue hooked staff once wielded by an ancient king. This tool was originally placed next to a replica of a similarly-colored sarcophagus, but now, the burglar simply used it to carefully pull the orbs to himself. He collected the orbs one at a time, setting them carefully within the foam outlines inside his briefcase.

 

His work finished, he sealed up the case and started walking back the way he came. However, something caught his eye on the way, prompting him to stop. It was a relief cut into white stone, depicting three humanoid Pokémon with long tails riding on clouds.

 

“The Legendary Pokémon said to have been sealed on Emeraude Island, Tornadus, Thundurus and Landorus…” He chuckled as he shook his head. “It’ll have to wait, but your time will come…”

 

Abruptly turning around, the enigmatic figure discovered another exhibit, one that excited him even further – a large capsule, roughly seven or eight feet tall, sealed at its top by an airtight lock.

 

“So we meet at last, Zoroark…” The thief could barely contain the thrill in his voice as he slowly approached the capsule. “You’ve been trapped in there for so long, but please wait just a little longer. I promise to you that I will return and free you, and at that point, your reign will begin!”

 

-:-

 

Route 26, right on the border between Johto and Kanto, was a long, lightly populated stretch of land. One of the few buildings on the road was a florist shop, heavily overgrown with many kinds and colors of flowers.

 

A fairly nondescript black car pulled up to the shop, and its driver stepped out. He was a tall man dressed in a heavy black trench coat, using a fedora and a pair of dark sunglasses to further conceal his identity. As he strolled deliberately into the shop with a suitcase in his hand, he was greeted by its counter clerk.

 

“See anything you like around here?” the clerk inquired, gesturing to the countless flowers around the inside of the building. He was perfectly able to talk despite his identity, in fact, being a Meowth didn’t seem to reduce his humanity at all. Once he got a better look at the customer, however, he froze. Turning to the back room, he yelled, “Hey, you two, get out here!”

 

“Be quiet, Meowth, we’re coming.”

 

The fiery red-headed woman who replied to Meowth’s call soon appeared, alongside her somewhat-effeminate-looking male companion. Both were dressed in plain brown clothes, and the male half of the duo had blue hair of a moderate length. The only unusual characteristic between the two of them was the extremely long ponytail worn by the woman.

 

Both took a moment to analyze their visitor. Glancing over him, they did not immediately react, but when he removed his sunglasses to reveal his vivid green eyes, they realized who he was.

 

“Pierce, what are you doing here?” the man asked, hushing his voice deliberately. “Things changed, don’t you know?”

 

“And I’m here to tell you things have changed again,” Pierce forcefully explained, his deep voice almost shaking the room. “Jessie, James, Meowth, I have orders related to me from the boss to come here and pick you up. Do you have your Pokémon?”

 

Jessie and James checked their belts; she had two Poké Balls, while James had one. After verifying this fact, they both nodded to Pierce, who replaced his glasses and turned for the door.

 

“Come with me. There’s a car outside waiting for you.”

 

Though they were confused, Jessie, James and Meowth followed Pierce anyway. Once they were outside and walking to Pierce’s car, though, Jessie decided to confront him.

 

“Just what is this all about, Pierce? You come here, barge in and disrupt our lives… you know you have no right to do that.”

 

“You left your suitcase back there, too…” added an equally-disturbed James.

 

Pierce did not answer, instead, he silently led the trio to his car and beckoned them in through a door that he opened for them. Once they were seated, he got into the driver’s seat and closed his door, then raised up his hand and snapped his fingers.

 

Outside, the building Jessie, James and Meowth lived in exploded in flames. All three of them gasped, and much to her frustration, Jessie’s Wobbuffet escaped from its ball to join the chorus of dismayed groans.

 

“What do you think you’re doing, you punk?!” Meowth screeched.

 

“Code Black Seven has been initiated by Giovanni,” Pierce uttered while staring straight ahead. “The lives you knew are now at an end.”

 

Immediately, the mood in the car changed. Jessie, James, Meowth and Wobbuffet were all cowed by Pierce’s announcement, and their attitudes became somber.

 

“That means Polaris has finally made its move, then,” Jessie commented.

 

“Is the boss alright?” James asked immediately after Jessie spoke. “We aren’t too late, are we?”

 

“Giovanni is fine, but he is under house arrest and being closely monitored. I have been sent to escort you to the Executives who will be commanding your operations from this point forward.”

 

-:-

 

A gentle breeze blew through New Bark Town, a peaceful district in the Johto Region’s southeast. Once a completely residential location that required its citizens to take the short stroll to nearby Cherrygrove City for supplies, time had passed and the touch of tourism had arrived; a few hotels, shops, restaurants and other facilities now stood anachronistically alongside the stately wooden homes and power-generating windmills.

 

One such building was a twelve-floor hotel and spa that towered over much of the town. Lodging was provided from the third floor up, while dining and shopping took up the second floor and spa services occupied the first.

 

The spa offered hot tubs within private spaces for rental usage. Two women and a younger girl were lounging in one of these units, attempting to relax after several stressful days. They were watching the same news broadcast as the security guard at the Pewter Museum.

 

“Experts predict that the closest point of Persephone-2213 will not come for several more months, but the meteor showers resulting from its debris field have already begun. Some small meteorites have gone astray from their field and struck the planet, but none of them are large enough to cause significant damage. One of the larger meteorites crashed two weeks ago at the Ruins of Alph in central Johto, and excavation is about to get underway to examine it.”

 

“Nekou, Bunny, isn’t that interesting?” said the girl, her voice somewhat tempered by her worn nerves. She moved around, allowing her long, curly blue hair to drift gently in the water. “I think I should thank you guys, too. I’ll find my dad with the help you’re giving me.”

 

“You’re very welcome, Olivia,” responded the woman who was farther away from the girl, who could be distinguished by her two ponytails formed from her warmly brown-hued hair and her striking blue eyes. “You’re Matt’s apprentice, so there’s no reason I shouldn’t help you out too.”

 

“Ordinarily I’d just say to watch out for yourself and no one else, but this time, I’ll have to agree with Bunny.” The woman in the middle was perhaps the most unusual of the three. She wore glasses and had hair colored black with red streaks that flowed everywhere, and her left arm was held up by a white sling. A huge bruise occupied her left shoulder, forcing her to switch her right hand between the can of beer and tube of potato chips she’d placed next to herself. “Counting on others is a good way to be disappointed, Olivia. But if you can find someone that is worthy of your trust, well… that’s pretty cool, you know?”

 

“It’s worth noting, though,” Bunny commented as Nekou took a huge slurp out of her beer before crunching a mouthful of chips, “that it’s Matt’s money paying for our luxury accommodations right now.”

 

“He’s always like this,” explained Olivia, “even when it’s completely out of place. He’s always trying to do favors to try and convince people he’s nice, or something. He shouldn’t have to do so much to make people like him.”

 

“That sucks pretty fucking bad,” Nekou blurted out, not bothering to check the expletives that came out in her bored-sounding speech even though Olivia was around. “I mean, I’m not complaining, I get a free spa trip out of it. I’m just saying that I don’t believe in trying to cover or apologize for who you are. When people pulled that on me, I told them to shove it. I couldn’t live like that.”

 

Bunny took a deep breath, feeling awkward due to Nekou’s casual outburst. Deciding to transition the conversation to a different topic, she said, “So, Olivia, you’re going to finally get a starter Pokémon and become a formal trainer tomorrow. Have you given any thought into what Pokémon you’ll choose?”

 

“Well, Professor Elm can offer me Chikorita, Cyndaquil or Totodile, right? I could go with Totodile, since it’s a Water-type. My dad would approve of that. But… Cyndaquil is really cute, too, but I don’t know if I could go with a Fire-type…”

 

“Shifting gears from the meteor shower,” said the voice of the newscaster on the television near the hot tub, “we now bring you an update on another story that’s been gripping the nation: the serial killer known as Kiss of Death.”

 

Olivia, Nekou and Bunny had their conversation interrupted by the news report, but as they became interested in what the report had to say, they weren’t bothered.

 

“The Kiss of Death killer has struck again. Melvin Clemens, a management director for the Angel Corporation, was found brutally murdered in his Viridian City apartment last night. Fitting with the pattern of her previous crimes, the scene was left completely, spotlessly cleaned of all signs of her presence. Only the horribly mangled body of Mr. Clemens was left behind, and all DNA evidence was removed, leaving only the signature imprint of the shape of the killer’s lips in the victim’s blood on him.”

 

The screen then changed what it displayed, replacing the newscaster with a bony-faced man whose rigid gaze was framed by thick eyebrows and thin, flat black hair. Olivia nearly jumped out of the water, as she recognized him immediately.

 

“That’s Detective Looker!” she exclaimed, before explaining, “He helped us out five years ago! You know, back when my dad was still around to fight the bad guys…”

 

“Don’t dwell on that,” Nekou said sharply, “let’s listen to what he’s got to say now.”

 

“Developed have we a picture of definition on this most vicious serial killer,” Looker spoke on the television. “All of the murders being associated with this killer have exhibited the signs of sameness, yes. Always the victim’s body gets dropped and left behind in a terribly mutilated state of being, along with the calling card of the killer’s signature, her lips being cast in the blood of the dead one. All genetic evidence that would show leads is, sadly to be saying, destroyed at the scene of each and every committed crime.”

 

“You know, a story like that is kind of romantic in a sense.”

 

“Romantic?” hissed Bunny, her voice completely giving away how much Nekou’s comment bothered her. “It’s a sick mass murderer! How can that be romantic?”

 

“Well, think about it. Maybe she has more motives than simply just killing. And for the romantic part, I mean, she only kisses every one of her victims with their own blood on her lips. I can’t help but feel like there’s more to the Kiss of Death story is all I’m saying.”

 

Having spent the last few minutes absorbing the words of those around her, Olivia suddenly blurted out, “I wonder where Matt is? I thought he said he was going to join us.”

 

“Oh, he’s probably off jerking around somewhere, probably literally.” Nekou sighed and sipped her beer before adding, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll get some pizza and leave him out of it. Fuck him if he doesn’t want to hang out with us.”

 

-:-

 

Though she was wrong, Nekou probably would have made the same joke even if she truly did know about what was going on four floors above them.

 

Most of the lights in the spacious room the quartet shared were out, aside from the lamp on a desk near the window. Additional light floated from the room’s television – tuned to the same news report as the one in the spa – as well as from the blue tablet computer in the hands of the tall, leanly-built man sitting on one of the beds. He was dressed in a simple white shirt made of light material and black pants.

 

Matt was staring emptily at the screen with his right eye, his left covered by an eyepatch patterned with a purple rose. The object of his depressed fascination was a photograph, depicting a younger, less-disheveled version of himself standing with a younger Olivia and two others, a suited man with spiky blue hair and a vaguely tomboyish woman whose purple hair was bobbed short.

 

Feeling a spike of sorrow, the man adjusted his glasses and brushed aside the lock of his shoulder-length blonde hair that hung over his right eye. He then reached to the table, taking an ornate silver flask in his right hand and sipping from it before returning it to its place.

 

“All of the people whose lives have been destroyed or lost just to get to this point…” Sliding his finger across the tablet’s screen, he brought up a new photograph. This one was of a young woman wearing a frilly green dress that gave a soft complement to her ice-blue pigtails and eyes. He felt another horrible pang of sadness when he set eyes on this one. “Rich, Anabel, Eleanor, Agenta… I’ll take all the grief surrounding you onto myself. It’s my fault all of this happened, and I’ll make my quest for the truth bring you justice.”

 

-:-

 

The next day, clouds were beginning to gather over New Bark Town.

 

Bunny, now wearing a stately black-and-gray business suit, and Olivia, who was wrapped in a blue cape with silver lining, were waiting in the lobby of the resort. They were unable to leave until Nekou and Matt joined them, so they were conversing further between themselves.

 

“So did you make up your mind yet, Olivia?” Bunny thoughtfully asked, genuinely curious about Olivia’s pending choice of starter Pokémon.

 

“I’m going to take Totodile,” the girl decisively declared, tapping her pink boots against the floor in an alternating fashion. “Cyndaquil is very cute, but I can’t just ignore the fact that Totodile is a Water-type. Surely, if I enter the Pokémon League and Grand Festival with a Water-type starter Pokémon, my dad will have to take notice, right?”

 

Bunny nodded, but she could not find any words to verbally answer. Olivia bringing up her father, Rich, and his own preference for Water-types put Bunny in an awkward positon. She did not want to lie to Olivia, but at the same time, she felt an obligation to respect Matt’s wish to not tell Olivia of Rich’s death as well.

 

Luckily, the situation disappeared by itself when Nekou came swaggering into the lobby with a croissant caked in icing in her hand. The neckline of her black blouse was rather low, exposing quite a bit of her cleavage, while her midriff was also uncovered due to only one of the buttons on the garment actually being closed; as a result, the bottom of it moved around over her ruffled black skirt. Her gait was further exaggerated by the boots she wore, which went up to her knees, and the socks that continued from there to her thighs.

 

“You shouldn’t worry about what your dad thinks about your choice,” Nekou advised Olivia in a rather blithe manner. “Live for yourself. Do what makes you happy. Is Totodile the one you truly want for yourself?”

 

“It is,” Olivia confirmed with a quick nod. However, her mood quickly darkened when she attempted to come up with an explanation of why. “It’s a Water-type, and if I don’t pick a Water-type…”

 

Leaning down, Nekou put her hands on Olivia’s shoulders and looked straight into her eyes. “Don’t worry. Even if you don’t have any idea right now… you’ll find something. You’ll find your place where everything is as it should be, and when you do, you’ll know.”

 

“I…” Unable to find enough words for a proper response, Olivia looked away from Nekou in shame. “I’m sorry. I have to find him no matter what I have to do.”

 

“That’s okay. You’ll come across your truth eventually. I trust you.”

 

“Nekou, have you seen Matt anywhere?” Bunny stepped in to ask. “Did you see him on the way down here?”

 

“I haven’t seen that bastard anywhere,” Nekou replied, rising to her full height as she did so. “Maybe we should just leave his ass here.”

 

“That bastard, as you call him, is right here.” Now dressed in a blue longcoat with silver edges and yellow feather patterns on the lapels, Matt stepped closer to the others after arriving in the lobby himself. He also had a dark blue messenger bag printed with a logo of the wingspan of a white dragon Pokémon slung over his right shoulder. “I was arranging for the resort to send our property ahead to Cherrygrove City. What have I missed? Did I hear that Olivia decided on her starter Pokémon?”

 

“She had it narrowed down to Totodile or Cyndaquil and picked Totodile,” Nekou said to Matt, informing him of the previous conversations, “but that doesn’t mean much if you didn’t want to hang out with us.”

 

“Oh please, Nekou, spare me. Let’s just be here to support Olivia today, alright?”

 

Nekou grimaced at Matt, having been seeking more of a rise out of him than she got. Perhaps, then, it was a good thing that Bunny provided a distraction by refocusing the conversation on Olivia herself.

 

“Did you already tell Minccino and Roselia about your choice?”

 

“Not yet, Bunny, but I will. Let’s get going to Professor Elm’s lab.”

 

Olivia rushed ahead and out of the hotel, forcing Matt, Nekou and Bunny to run after her. This led them outside into the busy common area of New Bark Town, which still served as its community center despite the modernizations of the area. They weren’t far from Elm’s laboratory, so it took about seven minutes at this brisk, fast-walking pace for the entire group to reach the building marked “Elm Pokémon Lab,” a humble, two-story house that was beginning to look out of place in the quickly-modernizing town.

 

“Well, this is it,” Matt mused, looking up at the lab. “Once we pass through that door, there’s no turning back. Are you ready, Olivia?”

 

“Hell yeah, I am! Let’s go!”

 

“I love your energy,” Nekou remarked before pushing the button next to the door, causing it to slide open.

 

Inside the lab was a rigid but warm-looking place, filled with shelves and computer units. Despite the obviously scientific nature of the facility, it still came off as a welcoming place, well-suited to the place where trainers would collect their starter Pokémon.

 

“Professor Elm, I’m here for my starter Pokémon!” Olivia called out.

 

At that moment was when what would be the first of many strange events took place.

 

Olivia and the others were expecting to see an awkward, nerdy-looking man with glasses and brown hair, but he wasn’t there. Instead, the only person present in the lab was a woman, wearing her hair in a thick ball, who had a briefcase at her side. She seemed just as surprised to the group as they were to see her.

 

“Professor… Juniper?” Nekou breathed, thoroughly confused.

 

 

 

 

 

 

END of CHAPTER 1

Chapter Text

Hopefully some of the rough patches out of the gate will be smoothed over here. The story in this chapter should be much more organized.

 

So, let’s get to it…

 

-:-

 

CHAPTER 2: A New Rival and a New Mission

 

-:-

 

In the main chamber of Professor Elm’s laboratory, Matt, Nekou, Olivia and Bunny found themselves face-to-face not with Elm but with a lab coat-wearing woman whose wide, pale-green eyes and curled mouth reflected a similar sense of surprise.

 

“Professor… Juniper?” Nekou slowly gasped, taking a step back.

 

“That’s my name, don’t wear it out,” came the cheerful reply, spoken by Juniper as she turned her head to work out a cramp in her neck. “And of course, I know who you four are. I’d be quite the fool if I didn’t recognize the heroes of Whitegold City, right? Doubly so for me, no less.”

 

“Please don’t take this as any disrespect,” Matt said, nervously adjusting his glasses. He was wearing a different pair that covered his left eye with a golden, Ho-oh themed mask with a purple rose eyepiece, instead of his usual eyepatch. Finally continuing, he asked, “but what are you talking about, and why are you here, anyway? Where’s Elm?”

 

“Oh, that’s right, there’s no way you could have known that Fennel was my old roommate from college. She called me right after you guys saved her. I want you to tell me all about your interactions with Victini and the events of Whitegold City, but first, about Elm…” As soon as she breached the topic of the other Professor’s whereabouts, Juniper’s expression and attitude noticeably darkened. Olivia picked up on this and fidgeted uneasily, while Bunny almost seemed as if she was holding her breath. As for Juniper herself, her voice became much more serious. “I came to New Bark Town to work on data with Professor Elm regarding the migration of Pokémon from the Unova Region into the Tohjo Continent.”

 

“Ah, that’s right,” Bunny commented to herself, “the government is working to bring foreign Pokémon in from Unova so trainers here have more diverse options.”

 

“When I got here,” continued Juniper, “Elm was gone. His family told me that he said he was going to visit his friend Mr. Pokémon on Route 30, but he never came back. You can obviously guess the problem this presents, because in his absence, there aren’t any starter Pokémon.”

 

“What?!!” Olivia exclaimed, before Matt, Nekou and Bunny had the chance to ask questions or even ponder the meaning of Professor Elm’s disappearance. “What do you mean, there are no starter Pokémon?” she screamed, so enraged by this sudden swerve in her anticipated schedule that her eyes almost looked like they were going to pop out of her head. “I would have just gone right to get my first badge if I would have known!”

 

“Now, Olivia,” Matt cautiously ventured, setting his hand on her shoulder in an attempt to pacify her, “I’m sure Professor Juniper doesn’t mean you any harm, so being rude to her isn’t nice…”

 

Turning her frustrated anger on Matt, Olivia threw his hand away and yelled, “You’re not my dad, so don’t tell me what to do!”

 

Nekou and Bunny shared concerned glances with each other, then with Juniper before all three turned to Matt, who returned their gazes. Matt knew all too well that he wasn’t Olivia’s dead father, nor could he ever try to be. What he had hoped to accomplish was bringing Olivia to a point where he could tell her the truth about her beloved father’s demise instead of lying and claiming he left on a trip, but that was clearly not going to happen any time soon.

 

“You haven’t really wasted your time, though, Olivia.” As she said this, Juniper lifted up a briefcase that had been resting on the floor next to her. She set it down on a nearby table and flipped it open, revealing two Poké Balls amid a multitude of papers and field equipment. “I brought a few Pokémon with me from Unova when I came here. If you’ll agree to help me with my work, I can give you one.”

 

The sight of the two spheres in Juniper’s briefcase brought light to Olivia’s blue eyes. Her mood changed immediately; once again, her mind was filled with thoughts of an epic adventure ending with her becoming a famous trainer, which Olivia believed would bring her father back to her. She didn’t even think to ask what Juniper wanted her to do in exchange, but even if she had considered it, she wouldn’t have cared.

 

“That’s good for me, then!” she declared excitedly. “I’ll take Totodile, please!”

 

“Yeah, um, about that…” Olivia couldn’t see them behind her, but Matt, Nekou and Bunny all saw Juniper’s grimace and knew what was coming next. “These two Pokémon aren’t Johto Region starter Pokémon. Allow me to show you them up close.”

 

After taking the Poké Balls out of the briefcase, Juniper popped them open, causing two flashes of light to take shape in front of the extremely disappointed Olivia. One of the bursts took the shape of a red-and-black piglet with some yellow above its snout and a curly tail, while the other transformed into a blue-bodied sea otter whose head and arms were white.

 

“Tepig and Oshawott,” Nekou quickly identified.

 

“I have to pick one of these two?” Olivia complained, shutting her eyes in exasperation. “Please tell me this is a cruel joke…”

 

“Olivia, don’t complain.” Matt reached into his closed longcoat, a mostly blue article enhanced with silver lining around its edges and a yellow feather pattern on each lapel. He withdrew a rectangular smartphone and touched its screen several times, opening an application titled ‘Pokédex 3D.’ “Tepig is a Fire-type Pokémon, while Oshawott is a Water-type Pokémon. Both of them have quite a bit of potential.”

 

“But I wanted Totodile! I didn’t come all the way out here just to settle for something I don’t want!”

 

“Please, Olivia, I ask that you give these two a chance,” requested Juniper. “They, along with the Grass-type Pokémon Snivy, are the starter Pokémon of the Unova Region. Tepig is a dependable partner who will ultimately evolve into the powerful Fire-and-Fighting-type Pokémon Emboar…” Tepig responded to Juniper’s praise by snorting enthusiastically, snorting out some small embers. “…while Oshawott fights with the shell on its stomach, and as it passes through evolutionary stages toward its ultimate form, Samurott, it first gains a second shell and then a pair of formidable shell swords.”

 

Evidently having picked up on Olivia’s complaint about not being able to select Totodile, a Water-type Pokémon, Oshawott focused on impressing her by detaching and wielding his shell. It didn’t work, and Olivia simply kept pouting.

 

“I went through a lot of time trying to figure out what Pokémon to take,” she repeated, “and I decided I wanted Totodile. I don’t know if I can get behind either of these two.”

 

“Would you at least give them some consideration, Olivia?”

 

Olivia crossed her arms in response to Bunny’s request. “I guess,” she answered bitterly. “But don’t expect me to decide quickly. My starter Pokémon was supposed to be something that could stand right alongside me, Minccino and Roselia as we won badges and Ribbons, which would force my dad to notice me again. It was never supposed to start like this.”

 

“Let’s go get something to eat,” Matt suggested while slipping his phone back into his coat. Despite his outer air of calm, his nerves were tightly wound. “You can think on it while we eat, and everything will turn out fine.”

 

“May I join you?” Juniper asked sweetly. “I really would like to hear about the things you guys have seen so far.”

 

“Of course!” Bunny answered. “You’re more than welcome.”

 

With nods from all the others except for Olivia, Juniper’s request was confirmed. She recalled Tepig and Oshawott to their Poké Balls, then put the balls away in the briefcase, closed it and picked it up before following Matt’s group out.

 

-:-

 

Time had not been kind to Doctor Gabriel Zager. In the intervening eleven years between his escape from Polaris and the present, his once-orderly brown hair had become a frizzled mess with the same ghostly white pallor his moustache had also taken on. He had long since replaced his glasses with a monocle over his left eye – the one in which his vision actually was weaker – but he dressed similarly to before, wearing a rumpled purple shirt and gray trousers underneath his unkempt white lab coat.

 

Dr. Zager’s working environment was very different than what he had before, too. His new lab was falling apart in places – wood paneling was cracking off the walls, the red curtains over the windows were riddled with tears, and some ceiling tiles were missing, creating holes through which wires of multiple colors could hang through. True to the nature of its occupant, though, the lab’s equipment was still meticulously kept, affording Zager a full array of high-tech tools.

 

Keeping the scientist company were two very different individuals. One was a Galvantula, the evolved form of the Joltik he’d kept as a pet since his days as a member of Polaris; the large, six-eyed yellow-and-blue spider Pokémon busily skittered about the lab, amusing herself by staying active.

 

The other was a curvaceous woman in a white blouse and skirt, an outfit accented by bits of black around her neck, midsection and wrists as well as down at the end of the skirt, near her knee-high white boots. Her bright red hair stood out like a spotlight against the rather droll surroundings of the laboratory, and in her boredom, she was lounging in a chair next to a coffee table away from Zager’s work space, her feet up on a torn ottoman. Zager was absorbed in working at his computer bank, so to break the monotony of the situation she was eating a box of doughnuts one-by-one while drinking what appeared to be a glass of whiskey.

 

“I hope you’re going to clean up that mess when you’re done, Ariana,” Zager snapped irritably when he spotted the doughnut crumbs falling all over the floor. His eyes briefly glanced to the black badge on the chest of her uniform, which bore the insignia of a red letter ‘R.’ He then said, “I don’t care if you’re an Executive or not. Giovanni knows I need my space to work.”

 

“Don’t be such a killjoy, Zager,” Ariana flippantly countered, making sure to drop another batch of crumbs deliberately. “Look at how run-down this place is. A few crumbs aren’t going to ruin anything. Not to mention Galvantula’s picking them up anyway…” This fact was true, and Zager couldn’t ignore his Pokémon skittering about to collect the crumbs. “…and I’m sick, did you forget?”

 

“That’s right, you just reminded me. Put the booze away, it’s time for your medicine.”

 

Ariana sighed in disappointment but put her whiskey down anyway, because she knew that Zager was right. After collecting a medicine bottle from the table, she walked over to a nearby counter, where there was a pot of coffee being kept hot. She poured herself a share into one of Zager’s aged coffee cups – he’d collected them during his time with Polaris and was reluctant to let them go – and then dropped one of the oblong pills out of the bottle into her hand. Without skipping a beat, she swallowed the pill and then immediately followed it with a huge gulp of the coffee, despite it being completely black and quite hot.

 

“Ah, medicine you have to take with coffee instead of water. A miracle of modern science.”

 

“Indeed, it was a wise creation.” A sharp rapping at the door interrupted Zager, and he turned toward the portal before yelling, “Come in!”

 

Opening the door swiftly and deliberately, Pierce walked in, leading Jessie, James and Meowth in as well. Aside from the short feline Pokémon who was wearing no shoes, their steps made loud creaking sounds come from the floor; this was especially true of the heavy boots Pierce was wearing. Immediately upon seeing Zager, Jessie, James and Meowth all looked at each other in nervous surprise.

 

“Team Rocket Elite Agent Pierce reporting,” the mysterious agent said, bowing slightly to both Zager and Ariana. He removed his trench coat as he spoke, eventually revealing a gray uniform with the red ‘R’ insignia on it. “Executive Ariana, I have brought the agents as stipulated by emergency protocol Code Black Seven.”

 

“At ease, Pierce,” Ariana casually replied, waving her hand. “There’s really no need to be so serious. Not here, at least.” Picking up the box of doughnuts, which she had only eaten half of, she offered, “Any of you want some of these?”

 

“No thank you, Executive Ariana.” Pierce remained as rigid as ever, despite Ariana’s clear attempt to bring a more casual mood to the gathering. “It would be unbecoming of me to so readily accept an unearned bonus.”

 

“You really shouldn’t be such a stiff, Pierce. Look, they’ve got the right idea.”

 

Ariana gestured to Jessie, James and Meowth; the three had each taken considerable shares of the confections and now were eating them voraciously, earning a chuckle from not only the Executive but Zager as well.

 

“This certainly is bringing back memories,” he said, while stepping away from his computer console with his arms crossed behind his back. “Welcome, Jessie, James, Meowth. It’s been quite a while since we last met.”

“The operations in Unova, to be exact,” Jessie clarified. “So the boss kept you working while we were put on standby?”

 

After Zager responded by nodding, James asked a question of his own. “What’s happened, then? The code that the boss activated was only supposed to be used for absolutely the worst emergencies. Does this have to do with his house arrest?”

 

“Let me show you.” Zager walked back to his computer and entered a command into it, prompting the screen to display the double-helix-themed ‘P’ logo of Polaris. “Code Black Seven, the protocol Giovanni activated, was brought on by an attack members of Polaris staged on a speech given by Matt Chiaki last week in Whitegold City.”

As he spoke, Zager’s computer displayed footage of this incident. Three people in white lab coats were commanding a trio of Magneton to attack Matt, while Bunny fought to shield him using her Ninetales. Eventually, Nekou knocked out two of the attackers by hitting them in the shoulders with the heels of her shoes, then stopped the third by stabbing him in the back with her knife.

 

“Before that,” the doctor continued, “all of Polaris’s moves were merely their activities as a religious cult. This action shows that they are becoming a much more aggressive organization, which in turn must mean that their plans are nearing completion. Great care must be taken to prevent what they’re aiming for from coming to fruition.”

 

“And you’re placing that job in our hands?”

 

“Yes, Jessie. While we have other agents still on staff, your experience in battling Team Plasma in Unova may be of precious importance.”

 

“Well then, I would say that Polaris should prepare for trouble,” she shouted, posing dramatically.

 

“And they best get ready, because we’re bringing double,” James added.

 

“We’ll protect the world from their devasta…”

 

“Would you two just shut up already?” Meowth snapped angrily. “We’ve been past the motto thing for years now! There’s no reason to start it up again!”

 

“Can I at least get to say that we’ll keep them from uniting all peoples within their nation?” asked a pouting James.

 

“Meowth is right, the motto goes,” Zager warned, not even bothering to turn around. “We are aware that Polaris may be planning a major operation, therefore, we must try to get the upper hand on them. Have a look at this.”

 

Several new windows opened on the computer’s screen. The outlying ones displayed differing energy readout charts, while the most important one at the center showed a three-dimensional image of a giant, jagged rock floating through outer space.

 

“This is the meteor Persephone-2213, which is currently on a track to make its closest pass to Earth in over a millennium. Some smaller meteorites from the cloud surrounding it have passed through the planet’s atmosphere and impacted. It is believed that Persephone-2213 and its surrounding satellites are made of Meteonite, the element we discovered in Unova. As you may remember, Meteonite is a highly conductive element with extremely unusual reactive properties, and we do not know everything about it yet.”

 

“You’re going to tell us to go get one, aren’t you?” Jessie complained, shrugging her shoulders. “Don’t you remember what happened last time we messed with that thing?”

 

“The boss docked us pay and lunch for nearly blowing up Castelia City,” James added, his voice reflecting a clear timid attitude.

 

“And we ain’t getting involved in that again!” finished Meowth.

 

“You don’t have a choice,” Zager said sternly, “procuring a Meteonite fragment may give us an upper hand against Polaris. Our rudimentary radar devices have been able to pick up faint traces of the energy signature associated with Meteonite on the west end of Route 29 near Cherrygrove City. I want you three to go with Pierce to Cherrygrove City, determine the exact location of the Meteonite shard there and attempt to capture it.”

 

“We’ll be coordinating everything on our end from here,” Ariana chimed in to explain. “Any necessary supplies you’ll need can be provided here as well. After you get suited up, we’ll get you your equipment so the mission can begin.”

 

Turning away from Ariana, Jessie inquired, “I assume that you’ll be the one providing us with our tools again, Dr. Zager?”

 

“That’s right. I’ll make sure you have everything you need.”

 

“This really is just like old times, then,” she said to James as they both turned.

 

“The stakes weren’t this high last time, though.” A strange hint of sadness could be noticed in James’s voice; the meaning of their new mission had clearly already taken its toll on him.

 

Jessie and James eventually walked off in the direction of another exit from the lab, with Meowth and Pierce silently following. Pierce ended up being the last one to pass through the door, so he closed it behind himself. Once they were alone again, Zager and Ariana shared an uneasy glare between themselves.

 

“Do you really think they’re going to be okay dealing with all of this?” he wondered aloud.

 

“I sure hope so.”

 

-:-

 

Matt, Olivia, Nekou, Bunny and Professor Juniper were sitting around a table in the elegant café they had selected for their meal. Each had a plate of food sitting on the white cloth covering the table before them, and they were talking intently as they ate.

 

“So, Olivia, what are your goals for your journey?” asked Juniper, puckering her lips after taking a sip of the hot tomato soup she had ordered.

 

“I want my dad to come back,” Olivia responded, prompting a nervous exchange of glances between the adults, who all knew that her father Rich was gone. “He left because I wasn’t living up to his expectations. That’s what I believe. If I can win a lot of badges and Ribbons, and win the Pokémon League and Grand Festival, he’ll have to admit I’m good and come back to love me again.”

 

“And where do you think your dad is right now?”

 

“I don’t know. I’m sure he’s watching me, though. He’ll come back.”

 

Pensively poking at the eggs and sausage on his plate, Matt added, “Rich disappeared five years ago, as you already know, Professor. I was there.”

 

“Wait, you saw what happened to him?” Bunny choked out, half-swallowing a scoop of oatmeal in her haste.

 

“I was there the day he disappeared, yes. I guess it all started six years ago, while I was in the region of Oceannia looking for Spheres to aid in the development of the ALEA, my clean energy invention. Well…” Matt’s expression and tone both soured noticeably as he pulled down the wide brim of his blue-and-silver hat. “It was me and my supposed girlfriend Cassy, actually. We both met up with Olivia and Rich and her mother Anabel then. That was when they were fighting that terrorist group that called itself Enigma Shadow.”

 

“‘Supposed’ girlfriend?” Nekou sniffed, barely hiding a condescending tone in her voice. “Why would a ladies man like you need to say that, I wonder?”

 

“Nekou, shut up,” Matt sighed, readjusting his hat; the yellow feather tucked into it trembled slightly as he did so. “To make the very long story very short, she wasn’t who she said she was and we split on very bad terms. Anyway, Enigma Shadow was trying to take over the world with Pokémon whose hearts were sealed, rendering them soulless battling machines. Olivia’s parents were leading the charge to stop Enigma Shadow from realizing their plans using these Shadow Pokémon. Eventually, the person that was manipulating the organization, a woman named Judy, managed to call forth Arceus. She lost control of it, though, and in the confusion Rich saved us all before disappearing.

 

But yes, I was there the last time any of us saw Rich. I think he knew something was going to happen, though, because he left instructions for me to take Olivia under my wing, which is what I’ve been doing for the past five years.”

 

“I’ve learned a lot from Matt,” Olivia bragged, before sarcastically adding, “at least he’s good for that much.”

 

“Well, I’ve really been learning alongside you,” Matt said, seemingly brushing off her insult. In actuality, he was glad to have her saying such things, because it meant that she wasn’t becoming emotional over discussing her father. “That was the entire point of it all.”

 

“So… I understand you four have been on some pretty exciting adventures and met some Legendary Pokémon already.”

 

Juniper mentioning the travels the group had already experienced was what it took to loosen up Olivia’s attitude. Her eyes lit up, and she began shouting excitedly, “We have! We met a bunch of rare Pokémon and time traveled at the Indigo Plateau, and then in Whitegold City, we saw Victini, Cresselia and Darkrai!”

 

“My, my, Olivia,” laughed the professor, “there’s no need to get ahead of yourself. Tell me about what happened at the Indigo Plateau first, how about that?”

 

“Matt was teaching me for the past five years at the Rustboro School in Hoenn,” Olivia explained, toning back her enthusiasm only slightly. “We went to the Indigo Plateau before coming here because my mom was hosting the Frontier Society’s opening commemoration tournament.”

 

“Did you participate?”

 

“No.”

 

“I did, though,” Matt offered to supply some additional information. “I competed alongside Tanya, my Heatran. Unfortunately, the tournament got interrupted by Team Rocket’s attack, and I had to help the police bring Team Rocket’s boss into custody instead.”

 

“I got the job of being Matt’s bodyguard at the same time, too,” Nekou sarcastically added, “and he was lucky to have me guarding it.”

 

Playing no mind to the clenched expression Matt was showing in response to Nekou’s comments, Juniper turned to Bunny and asked, “So where do you fit into all of this, Bunny?”

 

“I already had arrangements with Matt. We were looking for the ruins of an ancient town called Argyros that once stood near the Indigo Plateau. Little did we expect that finding them would be the easy part.”

 

“So we went up to the ruins of Argyros Town, and this weird Pichu appeared,” elaborated Olivia. “I followed it and it led us to a strange light inside a temple.”

 

“It was a Time Ripple,” Matt clarified, much to the surprise of Juniper, who visibly jumped at the mention of it.

 

“You found one of those?!” In her excitement, Juniper slammed both of her hands down on the table and stood up. Bunny held onto the side of her oatmeal bowl to stabilize it, while Nekou and Olivia nonchalantly continued eating their bacon strips and blueberry muffin, respectively. “That’s a portal opened from another place in time!”

 

“We know,” Matt chuckled, “because we went through it. On the other side was this country in the year 1850. A military official of the era was planning to overthrow the government there, and we ended up getting roped into helping stop him.”

 

“And I got to be a hero!”

 

“Don’t sell her short,” Bunny said of Olivia to Juniper, “she really was brave during the war that broke out. She was right out there with the soldiers trying to quell the rebellion doing her part to fight. I, for one, was very impressed.”

 

“It sounds like you did a very good job,” the professor complimented as she sat back down. “Olivia, if you were able to fight like that, then you already possess a pretty impressive skill set, and that’ll come in handy for you out there on your journey. Of course, that’s not the only big thing you’ve been involved in… there’s still the events in Whitegold City. You must tell me everything that happened there!”

 

“Someone’s really worked up,” Nekou deadpanned, her eyes half-closed behind her glasses.

 

Growing flustered, Juniper tried to explain, saying, “The incident in Whitegold City has been all over the news, and one thing I know about it is that Victini was deeply involved. I… I want to know what happened there from the people who witnessed Victini’s power firsthand. It’s for my research!”

 

“For science, huh? I guess you’re calling yourself a mad scientist, then, because only people like me get to use that one.”

 

“Nekou, don’t, please,” Matt argued. He got a glare shot his way by Nekou for his trouble, but it did manage to stop her from saying anything further. Sighing, Matt returned to answering Juniper’s question. “We went to Whitegold City so I could give a speech about new energy sources at the behest of Captain Liam Everton, the president of oil conglomerate Everton International. Or maybe I should say former president, now that he’s dead, but…”


“That little prick…” Olivia growled into the crumb-covered plate before her, paying no mind to the shocked look Matt gave her over her language.

 

“Now, now, Olivia, there’s no need to use those kinds of words,” he gently suggested.

 

“And what of it if she does?” Nekou rudely interjected. “Words are words. They don’t hurt anyone… unless you make them.”

 

Much to Matt’s relief, he was saved from getting into a hopeless argument with Nekou when Juniper piped up, interrupting the escalating scene.

 

“What’s going on? What are you talking about?”

 

“Well,” Matt explained, “As it turned out, Liam Everton was in pursuit of Victini because he hoped to gain the power of the Victory Star from it. To that end, he released a Darkrai into the city, forcing Victini’s guardian, Cresselia, to come out and fight it. It fell to the four of us, along with a team we assembled, to stop him. Our allies were Liam Everton’s former first mate from his naval years, an old fortuneteller woman, a magician and his assistant, an undercover reporter and a posh girl we happened to meet named Katorena.”

 

“The Victory Star is the power to see the way to victory itself,” Bunny added, noting Juniper’s expression of intense concentration. “I could tell you were about to ask that. Normally, the power is obtained through the creation of a mental contract between the recipient and Victini, and will guide the way only to the specific victory the recipient desires most at the time of the contract’s creation. Everton wanted more than that. He devised a way to make his mind completely blank when he made his contract, which rendered him able to use the Victory Star in any way he wished. He was going to use it to take control of the entire world’s oil supply and bring all nations under his rule, but first, he viciously attacked and tried to kill all of us while using its power to make his Pokémon stronger.”

 

“We had to fight back.” Unlike Matt and Bunny, recalling the events of the Whitegold City crisis visibly disturbed Olivia, a fact the others hadn’t been aware of before. She had her hands rolled into fists so tightly that her fingernails were almost piercing the skin of her palms, and her whole body was shuddering subtly. “It took all of us to pull it off. We spread illusions of Victini throughout Whitegold City to waste Everton’s time, and all it did was leave us all to fight him individually. He ended up flooding the city anyway, and it took Matt’s Golurk and Sigilyph and then Victini itself to finally stop that horrible dragon…”

 

“Horrible dragon?” Juniper questioned, puckering her lips.

 

“That mean old man had a Hydreigon, and that was the Pokémon he used to try and kill us,” finished Olivia, her voice shaking all the while.

 

“That makes sense when I consider the details.” Surprisingly, Juniper was now speaking and conducting herself in a very serious manner. “Hydreigon is a terribly brutal species of Pokémon, known for attacking just about anything in the wild. It is easy to see how that power could be used to very dangerous degree if harnessed by the wrong person. Is there anything more to your tale, Olivia? Has anything else happened since Whitegold City?”

 

“We stayed over there for a little while and then came right here, so no.”

 

“In that case, then, Olivia…” Before asking the fateful question, Juniper wiped the last drop of her soup from her lip and pushed her empty bowl away. “…have you finally decided which starter Pokémon you’d like yet?”

 

All eyes moved to Olivia as Matt, Nekou and Bunny all anticipated what she’d say. In their minds, they had opinions of their own – Bunny actually suspected that Olivia might break the mold and take the Fire-type Tepig, while Matt and Nekou thought that she’d take Oshawott instead. Both sides used the same logic to arrive at their conclusions; that logic being the idea of each starter Pokémon attracting Rich’s attention in some way.

 

Finally, Olivia swallowed the last bite of her muffin and sharply stood up. “It’ll be Oshawott. No matter what’s happened, I can’t betray my dad’s expectations by going with a Fire-type. That said, I still wanted Totodile, so this is just another Pokémon to me.”

 

“Shouldn’t you be a little more enthusiastic, Olivia?” Matt asked. “Oshawott’s going to be with you for your whole journey, so…”

 

“I don’t even really care,” Olivia growled back, showing a degree of indignation. “I’m only taking it because I pretty much have to take something.”

 

Olivia’s attitude clearly disturbed Juniper, who stared at her with a stunned look of confusion in her eyes. In her home region she’d been distributing starter Pokémon for a long time, but she was unable to recall any other time that a new trainer had so much indifference toward the entire process. However, she then remembered a trainer to whom she’d given a Snivy some years ago; at the time, he kept saying that he only wished to become stronger at any cost, but eventually, he learned to understand his Pokémon more and eventually became a respected Gym Leader in Unova.

 

With that memory in mind and the reasoning that Olivia could change too, Juniper lifted up her briefcase onto the table and flipped it open. The first thing she removed was the Poké Ball containing Oshawott, which she set on the table and pushed toward Olivia.

 

“If Oshawott is your choice, here you go. I hope you’ll get along well. Why not let him out?”

 

Sighing, Olivia picked up the Poké Ball and opened it. “Fine.”

 

From the flash of light that emerged from the ball, Oshawott took shape. He looked inquisitively at Olivia, Matt and Nekou before finally looking back to Olivia and realizing that he must have been the one she selected. Excited to have received this honor, Oshawott cheerfully plucked his shell off his chest and tossed it into the air before catching and replacing it.

 

“He’s pretty cute!” Bunny exclaimed with a laugh. “Olivia, I think he actually really suits you.”

 

“Totodile would have suited me better, but I guess this is going to have to work out.”

 

Noticing that Oshawott was upset by Olivia’s comments, Nekou decided to try and lighten the mood at the table. Taking out a Poké Ball of her own, she said, “Olivia, you really should give Oshawott a chance. He might surprise you. Perhaps it will help if Marie does something?”

 

Nekou opened her Poké Ball, releasing a Sneasel. Marie yawned and stretched out her black body before looking down and taking notice of Oshawott; she made a face to playfully intimidate the young Water-type before snatching his shell with her sharp white claws and running off. Infuriated, Oshawott jumped off the table after Marie and chased her, causing all the people seated there – even Olivia – to laugh.

 

“Now, Olivia,” Juniper spoke up, being the first to return to attention, “about the other half of our deal. I said I would give you one of my Pokémon in exchange for you doing something for me. What I would like you to do…” Before continuing, Juniper took a pink, cell-phone shaped device out of her briefcase and showed it to the others; it had a pattern of a sideways Poké Ball on its bottom half and a screen on its top, with a second screen able to be flipped out from behind. “I would like you to take this Pokédex and help me by documenting the Unova Pokémon you see in Johto and Kanto. My assistant is out there conducting research on how our migration efforts are progressing, but I could use a second set of eyes in the field. It would help me learn more about how the Unova Pokémon are acclimating to their new environments and interacting with the Pokémon species native to this continent.”

 

“I don’t see any reason why I can’t do that,” Olivia replied, accepting the Pokédex into her possession. “It’ll be a good adventure, and one more thing I can try to do well.”

 

“I know you’ll pull it off, Olivia,” Matt complimented, albeit rather feebly. “All the learning you’ve done should pay off now.”

 

“Of course it will. Do you really think I’ll fail?”

 

-:-

 

With Jessie, James and Meowth riding as passengers, Pierce was driving his car through an underground tunnel. All of them were now disguised in identical black trench coats, fedoras and sunglasses; even Meowth, despite his smaller, feline body, had one suited for him.

 

In the dashboard of the car was a small video screen, through which Dr. Zager was communicating with the four.

 

“Proceed to the checkpoint inside Dark Cave,” the elderly scientist instructed his agents. “From there, go south on foot until you are just outside Cherrygrove City, and attempt to confirm the location of the Meteonite shard.”

 

“Understood, Dr. Zager,” Pierce stiffly responded, not removing his eyes from the rough road ahead.

 

Suddenly bursting into the picture by pushing Zager aside, Ariana loudly directed, “Jessie, James, Meowth, I don’t want you guys taking any crazy risks on this operation. We can’t afford a major confrontation with Polaris yet. For that reason, I’ve prepared a contingency plan in case something happens to prevent you from collecting the Meteonite shard itself.”

 

“A contingency plan?” Jessie repeated questioningly.

 

“You two didn’t brief us on the details of such a thing,” James quietly complained, poking his fingers together.

 

“You need not worry about briefing,” Zager informed them, making his way back into view as best he could. “I took the liberty of adding all necessary mission plans to your new R-Pad, which is chief among your equipment.”

 

“Great!” Meowth shrilled. “Now, let’s go get that chunk of space rock and show those freaks that they should fear us!”

 

-:-

 

The doors of the café opened, allowing Marie and Oshawott to dart out, still engaged in their chase over Oshawott’s shell. Olivia, Nekou, Bunny and Professor Juniper followed, all laughing at the childlike intensity of Oshawott’s quest to save his shell from the mischievous Sneasel. Matt brought up the rear, as he was finishing putting his coat back on.

 

“The first place you’ll want to go is Violet City,” Juniper was explaining in her usual cheery mood. “The Gym there specializes in Flying-type Pokémon. Since you have to go through Route 29, Cherrygrove City, Route 30 and Route 31 to get there, you should be more than prepared to face the Gym Leader.”

 

“I’ll be ready!” Determination flowed from Olivia, surrounding her like a cloud. One could tell from her eyes alone that the daunting task she faced did not intimidate her. Even while paying little mind to what Oshawott could be capable of, she was more than confident that her other Pokémon could do the job.

 

“If we’ll be passing through Cherrygrove City, that’s good for me, too,” Matt commented, finally catching up to the others. “I’ve heard Cherrygrove City is where the Battle Arcade, the first of the seven facilities associated with the Frontier Society, is located. I don’t really have any leads on what I’m looking for myself yet, so I figure that’s as good a place to start as any.”

 

“It’s sounding like we’re going to be quite busy soon. Not that I’m complaining, all this stuff sounds exci…”

 

“You four! I finally found you!”

 

Bunny was cut off mid-sentence by a deep male voice with a commanding, nearly bone-chilling presence. It belonged to the young man blocking their path to the outskirts of New Bark Town, a strange figure wrapped in a long, ragged black poncho who kept his appearance carefully hidden using a stitched-up black hat and a dark green scarf, leaving only his sea-green eyes visible.

 

“Oh, joy,” Nekou deadpanned, “a roadblock already.”

 

“Who are you?” Matt demanded in annoyance. “Tell us now or get out of the way. We’re busy.”

 

“So the sycophants of the false messiah Rich Mistbloom still fail to recognize the messenger of truth,” the mysterious young man growled from under his scarf. “Unsurprising. Even those who claim to be seeking the truth are truly blind to it.”

 

“You done calling my dad names yet? Keep it up and one of us is going to kick you in the ass.”

 

“Olivia!”

 

Ignoring both Olivia’s threat and Matt’s reaction to it, the strange figure turned his glare to Oshawott and Marie, causing Oshawott to freeze in fear. “Rich Mistbloom was the brother of Sootopolis City Gym Leader and Hoenn Champion Wallace. Olivia, I see that your obsessive dedication to preserving that man’s memory has continued as far as dictating your selection of a starter Pokémon. You asked who I was?” Thrusting out his right arm, the young man revealed a Poké Ball in his hand and the tattered sleeve of his decrepit clothing. “Because you cannot remember despite meeting me at the Indigo Plateau, I’ll remind you that my intention is to show this world the truth about the miserable Rich Mistbloom. Olivia, you call your father a hero, as do many others. Because you identify yourself as his heir, my defeat of you right here will be the first step toward my goal!”

 

“I think this punk is stepping up to you, Olivia,” Nekou whispered. “He’s clearly got a few screws loose, so go ahead. Fuck him up.”

 

“I have every intention of doing that. Hey, Oshawott!” During the young man’s rant, Oshawott had shaken off his fear and finally managed to get his shell back from Marie, so he was able to turn when Olivia called out to him. “If you want to learn how I do stuff, sit on the sidelines and watch this!”

 

Though bothered that Olivia wasn’t picking him for the battle, Oshawott nodded to her and waddled to the sidelines, where he was soon joined by Matt, Nekou and Bunny. Juniper, meanwhile, stood in a position at an equal distance from each of the two trainers.

 

“What shall the rules be for this match?” she asked out loud of them both.

 

“A pair of one-on-one battles with no substitutions,” Olivia’s opponent instructed. “When one side’s Pokémon faints, that matchup is over and both sides must switch.”

 

“Is that acceptable, Olivia?” Juniper called out.

 

“It’s fine by me. Bring it on!”

 

“Well then, this match will now get underway! It’s Olivia versus the… mysterious… um… cloaked trainer? Whatever, it doesn’t matter. Send out your Pokémon!”

 

“I’ll be going first!” the young man roared, his cold glare giving way to fire in his eyes. “Timburr, leave port!”

 

The mysterious trainer’s Poké Ball gave way in a blinding burst of light to a small, gray Pokémon holding a beam of wood under his left arm. His body, which was almost entirely pure muscle, had pink veins bulging out in several places.

 

“A new one already?” Olivia wondered. Recalling the instructions she’d just received, she reached for the Pokédex.

 

“Timburr, the Muscular Pokémon. Type is Fighting. I t fights by swinging a piece of lumber around. It is close to evolving when it can handle the lumber without difficulty. These Pokémon appear at building sites and help out with construction. They always carry squared logs.”

 

“A Fighting-type… Minccino won’t be any good against that thing…” Olivia mumbled to herself. The circumstances essentially made her mind up for her, and she threw out her other Poké Ball, calling out, “Roselia, let’s play!”

 

Despite his small stature, the mysterious trainer’s Timburr was still taller than Olivia’s Roselia, but she didn’t let that scare her. The tiny flower Pokémon stood bravely before her opponent’s gaze and glared back with all the ferocity she could muster.

 

Off on the side, Bunny said to Matt and Nekou, “A Fighting-type against a Grass-and-Poison-type. Olivia should be able to handle this.”

 

“Yeah,” Matt concurred, before adding, “Fighting-type moves don’t work very well against Poison-types.”

 

“Olivia will win this, I’d even bet a beer and some chips on it.” Nekou took a bite of her butter-drenched bread roll after proclaiming her wager, while Matt and Bunny looked on in exasperation.

 

“The first matchup is Roselia VS. Timburr!” Juniper announced. “Begin!”

 

“Timburr, Pound!” called the cloaked trainer.

 

“Roselia, use Energy Ball!”

 

While Roselia gathered up energy from the terrain around her, giving it the shape of a crackling green sphere, Timburr darted toward her with his right arm pulled back. Upon reaching his target, Timburr swung to punch Roselia; however, he instead hit her Energy Ball, which resulted in it exploding. Both Pokémon took injury from the exchange and were pushed away from each other.

 

“So that’s your short-range tactic. Impressive, just like your father.”

 

Confused by her adversary’s words, Olivia raised an eyebrow and said, “What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything.”

 

“So you say. I won’t fall for the deceptive ways you’ve clearly inherited. I have skills of my own too, you know.”

 

“Oh, just shut up already,” Olivia sighed. “Roselia, try a Sludge Bomb!”

 

“Is that how it’s going to be? Timburr, Rock Throw!”

 

Both Pokémon sent projectiles at each other as their respective followup attacks; Roselia generated a blast of purple slime from her flowery arms, while Timburr scraped up a small rock from the ground using his wooden beam before throwing it. Neither had particularly good aim, but Timburr’s Rock Throw actually managed to graze Roselia, her Sludge Bomb missed Timburr entirely. Her right arm went limp as she fell onto the corresponding knee.

 

“Your aim is poor. If you cannot strike me from afar, then this battle is already over. Timburr, use Rock Throw again. Knock out that Roselia’s other leg!”

 

“Don’t give up yet, Roselia!” Olivia cried, trying to conceal the feeling of dread that was creeping over her. “Try another Energy Ball!”

 

With only her left arm immediately mobile, Roselia’s pace in creating the Energy Ball was more sluggish than usual. This left Timburr all the time he needed to pull up and toss another stone, but before her left leg got knocked out by it, she managed to send the Energy Ball flying. Roselia collapsed to the ground just as Timburr got hit in the forehead, singeing the protrusion sticking out from above his eyes.

 

“Roselia!”

 

Olivia’s bad feeling about the situation was shared by Matt, Nekou and Bunny, who were watching the battle unfold in silence. They all recognized that she was in trouble, and reluctantly had to acknowledge that the strange young man was more skilled than they gave him credit for.

 

“Well, Timburr, it’s about time to take what is rightfully ours. Use Pound to finish this up!”

 

“Roselia, get ready!”

 

There was no chance for Roselia to escape from Timburr as the Fighting-type bore down on her. She knew this, so instead of trying in vain to get away, she simply braced herself against the ground.


Timburr smiled as he drew closer and closer to his target. The blow he had prepared would surely defeat her, he believed.

 

Little did he expect that getting within range for his strike would leave him wide open for Roselia’s own counterattack. A thorn glowing with purple light suddenly emerged from the rose on Roselia’s right arm, and she drove it into Timburr’s stomach. Caught completely off guard by this Poison Sting, Timburr howled in pain as he flew back through the air. His wooden beam slipped from his grasp during the recoil from the hit, landing a few feet from his trainer.

 

“So you’ve still got some fight left in you,” Olivia’s opponent growled, briefly widening his eyes. “It is clear that you have inherited your father’s clever approach to battling. But I won’t fall to a usurper like you! Timburr, no more games! Use Rock Throw and hold nothing back!”

 

Without his beam to dig up rocks with, Timburr simply shoved his hands into the ground instead, pulling a jagged stone from the earth manually.

 

Feeling the tide of the battle turning, Olivia was able to smile slightly for the first time as she ordered, “Hit Timburr with Sludge Bomb, Roselia! You’ve got a shot!”

 

Roselia’s aim was still off by a bit, but it was not as poor as earlier. She managed to get the blast of sludge to hit Timburr’s lower body, causing him to cringe as the toxins burned his skin. He did, however, manage to fling the rock he was holding back at Roselia, barely missing her due to his weakening stance.

 

Timburr was becoming tired and weak, a fact conveyed by his labored breathing and trembling body. His trainer picked up on this, and resolved to do something about it.

 

“If you’re to keep going, Timburr, you’re going to need more health. Drain Punch!”

 

When Timburr clenched his right fist on this command, a red aura enveloped it. He threw all of his remaining strength into lunging at Roselia one last time, but he realized just as well as Roselia and Olivia did that this was probably a kamikaze attack.

 

“Finish it off with Energy Ball, Roselia!”

 

Drain Punch managed to connect with Roselia, but it was not very effective due its poor type matchup, and Roselia held fast against it. She brought her arms up around Timburr on each side and formed the Energy Ball with her Fighting-type opponent right at the center. The resulting explosion violently threw Roselia back, but while she got back up from skidding on the ground, the smoke cleared to show a clearly unconscious Timburr lying at the center of a ring of burned terrain.

 

“Timburr is no longer able to continue!” Juniper declared, raising her arm toward Olivia and Roselia. “Roselia wins the first round!”

 

“Roselia!” Though victorious, Roselia had suffered some injuries of her own, so Olivia was careful when she picked up the Pokémon in her arms. “You did really well out there, okay? Rest up now.”

 

Hearing a soft chirp in response, Olivia smiled and shuttled her Pokémon over to where her friends were sitting, where she set Roselia down alongside Marie and Oshawott.

 

“I’m very proud of you, Olivia,” Matt said. “You showed some great tactical thinking and on-your-feet decision making just now.”

 

“Thank you. Even if it would mean more coming from my dad, I still like hearing that.”

 

“Here, Olivia, you’ve earned this.” Nekou happened to have another one of the butter-drenched rolls, and as a reward for how well Olivia was doing, she gave it to her. “You’re halfway to cleaning this arrogant little jerk’s clock, so don’t lose your pace now.”

 

“Don’t worry, I don’t intend to.” Turning around but still reveling in the praise given to her by her friends, Olivia strode back to her battle position while eating the roll one bite at a time. She felt like things were happening incredibly fast – the day wasn’t even over yet, and she’d already met a professor, suffered a setback in her quest before it even began and received a substitute for the starter Pokémon she wanted. Now she was in her very first battle as an official trainer and halfway to fully winning it, and it excited her beyond her original goal of impressing her father. Winning, she was quickly coming to discover, felt good.

 

Just as Olivia returned to her position, the young man finally recalled his Timburr, the Pokémon’s wooden beam being pulled into the Poké Ball at the same time as its wielder.

 

“It is unsurprising that you would be able to defeat the weaker of my two Pokémon, Olivia Lynn Mistbloom,” he thundered, his cutting eyes blazing with rage. “Oh, how speaking that name makes my skin crawl. Someone who should not exist has no right to consider themselves entitled to anything more than the air they are lucky enough to breathe! Now… Drowzee, leave port!”

 

The sleepy-looking Pokémon that burst from the young man’s second and final Poké Ball stretched his yellow-and-black body and yawned, the excess air causing his trunk to vibrate. He then moved his gaze to Olivia in an apathetic show of interest in what he’d be facing.

 

“Alright then! I wanted to use you in the last round, but Timburr was just too much for you to handle. This ought to be where you can shine. Minccino, let’s play!”

 

To face Drowzee, Olivia sent out her Minccino, a Pokémon that had the appearance of a gray chinchilla with big black eyes. She cheered happily when she got out of her Poké Ball, but shrunk back slightly when she saw Drowzee lazily staring at her.

 

“The final matchup is Minccino VS. Drowzee! Begin!”

 

“I want to make this quick, Minccino. Hit it with Tail Slap!”

 

Shaking her initial fear off, Minccino ran up to Drowzee and sprang into the air before starting to spin, striking Drowzee in the face repeatedly.

 

“Drowzee, use a close range Poison Gas!”

 

Just as Minccino fell back after the fourth and final hit of Tail Slap, Drowzee expelled a cloud of noxious purple gas from his trunk right into her face. She was overcome by a violent coughing fit and rolled backwards, her movements becoming strained as the poison set in.

 

“Minccino got poisoned!” Bunny exclaimed in dismay. “That’s going to make this all the harder for Olivia…”

 

“Come on, Olivia!” Nekou called out. “Don’t let him get away with that shit! Finish this before it’s too late!”

 

“I’m working on it!” Olivia’s patience was being tried as well, through a combination of the pressure she already felt in addition to her concern for Minccino’s well being. “Do you think you can pull off a Swift, Minccino?”

 

“I won’t let you! Drowzee, Psycho Cut!”

 

Simultaneously, Drowzee quickly crossed and uncrossed his arms to send two blades of concentrated psychic energy at Minccino, while Minccino returned the favor with a shower of star-shaped rays from her tail. Though Drowzee’s trainer had intended for Psycho Cut to block Swift, the stars actually passed right below the energy blades in midair; as a result, both Minccino and Drowzee took harsh blows, Minccino suffering more due to the continuing effects of the poison.

 

“If she doesn’t win this quickly, the poison will do her in before Drowzee’s attacks do…” Matt thought, shifting uncomfortably. Even though Olivia losing would only cause the battle to end in a tie, he felt that she needed a comfortable victory at this early point.

 

“We can’t do this with just Swift, Minccino! Try Aqua Tail!”

 

“Coming in close again, are you?”

 

Instead of going for multiple hits, this time Minccino aimed squarely for the middle of Drowzee’s head for a single attack using her tail, which had taken on an aquatic blue aura. Drowzee, surprisingly, just stood still, allowing Minccino a clear shot. He barely even flinched when the Aqua Tail made contact.

 

“Perfect range. Now, Drowzee, use Thief.”

 

Drowzee jabbed his right hand forward like a spear, catching Minccino in the stomach as she drifted back after her attack. She squealed in agony from the crushing blow, which sent her crashing to the ground, nearly unable to get up.

 

“M-Minccino…” A conflict was developing in Olivia’s mind; she could not decide if she wanted to win or lose anymore. Obviously, pulling out victory over this opponent would be something that felt very good, but she now questioned if the price was worth it – Minccino could barely stand, suffering greatly under the effects of Drowzee’s Poison Gas and subsequent relentless assault. She began raising her arm to stop the battle, knowing she’d be unable to live with herself if Minccino didn’t come back from this battle.

 

Before she could speak, though, she was cut off by her opponent. “My victory is now assured. This is the first step on my quest to show the truth to the world! So many fools throughout this world see your father as some sort of hero for stopping Enigma Shadow, but I will make them see Rich Mistbloom’s true vile nature!”

 

“That’s enough!” Seeing Olivia about to cry rendered Matt unable to take sitting by any longer, and he jumped up and confronted the angry trainer. “All you’re using your Pokémon for is to destroy the lives of everyone who believed in one person? What could Rich have possibly done to you that justifies what you’re doing right now, cruelly crushing the one thread of hope this girl has?”

 

“Silence yourself, you fool!” he shot back, visibly shocking Olivia, Bunny, Juniper and even Nekou. “Take a look at yourself, you’re just as disgusting. You call yourself someone who seeks the truth, but right now you deny it! I will gain more power so I may destroy the lies consuming this world! Right now, you could not possibly understand the years of agony that Rich Mistbloom subjected me to!”

 

 The cloaked young man’s breakdown afforded Olivia with one precious advantage, however – it gave her time to think about how the battle had progressed so far, which led her to realize that she still had one way out.

 

While Matt, Bunny and Nekou stared at Drowzee’s trainer, Olivia shouted, “Quickly, Minccino, use Swift! Aim for Drowzee’s legs!”

 

Olivia’s voice gave Minccino a burst of strength, and she jumped to action, raining glowing stars down into Drowzee’s legs. Her opponent was too preoccupied at first to prepare a defense, so when he realized that Drowzee had been undercut and dropped to his hands and knees, he started to panic.

 

“Drowzee, get up! Get up now! Don’t fail me now!! Use Psycho Cut!”

 

“You’re finished! Consider this one from my dad… Tail Slap!”

 

Drowzee was struggling to stand, and when Minccino saw this, she felt a rush of energy overcome her and darted right at her stunned Psychic-type foe. His face was like a target to her, and she took great joy in delivering each of the five consecutive strikes she landed right in the center of Drowzee’s forehead. The last hit was forceful enough to throw Drowzee up into the air and down onto his back, with his point of fainting coming halfway between the two.

 

“Drowzee is unable to continue!” Nekou sprang from her seat to embrace Olivia with her good arm, and their combined cheering drowned out the rest of Juniper declaring Olivia the winner.

 

Remembering that she still had a tired Pokémon out on the field, Olivia pulled away from Nekou’s embrace just as Matt and Bunny reached them. “Minccino!” she called out, noticing that her beloved Pokémon was barely able to stand any longer. “Minccino, hold on!”

 

Olivia was too far away from Minccino to catch her before she fell, but luckily, Juniper was right there to do it instead. The tiny Pokémon trembled violently in the professor’s hand, and she looked up at Olivia and said, “Minccino and Roselia need to be healed.”

 

“Are they going to be okay?!”

 

“Don’t get so worked up, Olivia, this is nothing too serious. Professor Elm’s lab actually has a professional-grade Pokémon healing machine, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind us borrowing it. If you’d lend me Roselia and Minccino’s Poké Balls, I can restore them pretty quickly.”

 

“That sounds pretty good to me,” Olivia responded, handing over the two Poké Balls. “Would you, please?”

 

“Of course.” Juniper smiled warmly at Olivia before turning to her two Pokémon and pointing the Poké Balls at them. “Roselia, Minccino, come with me and I’ll fix you up.”

 

A red laser shot out of the button on each Poké Ball, engulfing Olivia’s two Pokémon and pulling them back into the safe confines of the spheres. Juniper then nodded approvingly to Olivia before walking back toward the direction of Professor Elm’s nearby lab.

 

“Well you’re just something else, aren’t you?” Bunny beamed, clapping a hand down on Olivia’s shoulder. “I knew you were pretty courageous, but that last move that turned the flow of the battle… that took guts to do.”

 

“Yeah, it did… but after all, when you put me and Minccino together, we won’t be stopped!”

 

Matt laughed, simultaneously out of amusement at Olivia’s ever-cheerful nature and relief that she hadn’t yet brought up Rich again. “That was an intense match, even for your first battle. Pulling it out under pressure deserves respect.”

 

“And of course I’m proud of you!” Nekou cut in. “Tell you what, how about I buy us all some pizza when we get to Cherrygrove City?” Before giving Olivia a chance to answer, Nekou leaned in close with her eyes half closed and, in a voice just loud enough to deliberately let the others hear, said, “That means Matt is buying us all pizza when we get to Cherrygrove City.”

 

Her face brightening in a mischievous way, Olivia immediately declared, “Hell yeah! Of course I’m up for that!”

 

The laughs being shared by the group save for Matt did not last long, however. The cloaked trainer called his Drowzee back to his Poké Ball and stomped on the ground, causing the quartet to turn their heads toward him.

 

“You are a worthy adversary, Olivia Mistbloom,” he growled, breathing noticeably more deeply than usual. “You are definitely your father’s daughter, I will concede that much. But, this is not over. I will grow stronger… I will grow stronger and use that power to show this entire world the truth behind that false messiah they believe in. You four are more than welcome to try and stop me if you wish… but you will fail, because the truth will always win out over everything else. Let me leave you with one piece of advice – remember my name this time. I am Renzo, Renzo Milos, and I will avenge what Rich Mistbloom did to us.”

 

Having completed his speech, Renzo turned and briskly walked off toward the exit gate of the town; a spiked ponytail of sky-blue hair outlined in black slipped from under his scarf as he walked. Matt, Nekou, Olivia and Bunny were all left confused by his strange behavior and sudden departure, trying to make sense of it all as they waited for Juniper to return.

 

“Okay, someone tell me they’re actually going to care to remember the little fucker’s name,” Nekou groaned while slouching forward. “I stopped caring.”

 

“Renzo Milos, was it?” Bunny repeated to herself. “Besides the fact that his name sounds like some sort of ancient statue, there’s nothing that would make him stand out in it. It doesn’t help tell me why he’d hate Rich so much.”

 

Paying little attention to either Renzo or her three adult companions, Olivia turned to Oshawott and declared, “Did you see that? That’s how we’re going to do things. We’re going to work hard and find my dad. Now is your chance to leave if you want, because we won’t be turning back.”

 

Much to Olivia’s surprise, Oshawott did not back down from the seriousness of the situation even as she presented it to him. He simply said his name and jumped up enthusiastically, showing that he was more than accepting of Olivia’s terms.

 

“I see you’ve gotten a little closer to Oshawott.” Juniper had suddenly reappeared, carrying the Poké Balls containing Roselia and Minccino on a small tray. “That’s a good sign.”

 

“I’m not getting any closer to it,” Olivia objected while collecting her two Poké Balls. “I’m just getting along with it better.”

 

Juniper laughed. “I’m sure that you’ll learn to like each other soon enough. For now, why not just head for Cherrygrove City and see how things go?”

 

“I think that’s a good idea, too,” Matt commented.

 

“Then that’s what we’ll do! To Cherrygrove City!”

 

With Oshawott nipping at her heels, Olivia marched off toward the town gate in a haughty manner, prompting Matt, Bunny and Nekou to follow her; Marie, the runt Sneasel, jumped onto Nekou’s back for transportation. They all waved goodbye to Professor Juniper as they left, their minds shifting from the reflective moods of a beginning to the eager anticipation of things to come.

 

-:-

 

In the meeting chamber of the Sacred Helix, seven of the ten seats were occupied, with the ones ranked one, five and ten empty. The assembled seven were speaking amongst themselves when the sound of a door opening pierced the air in the room, prompting them to fall silent.

 

A tall, lithe man in a white suit emerged from the shadows behind the number one seat, his gray hair making him stand out even more in the darkness of the chamber. Unlike the others, he was not wearing any kind of mask whatsoever, and as he sat down in the chair, the other seven began to complain.

 

“What is this? We get called here and Father doesn’t bother to show up?” Jeunes’s objection gave voice to the dismay of many of his colleagues, and they fell into line behind him. “This was supposed to be an important meeting!”

 

“There is nothing to be upset about,” the white-suited man causally dismissed. “Father has appointed me as his envoy to the Sacred Helix, so we shall now get on with the business of the day. Chromosomes, as you know, for the past five years, we have not had a leader of the tenth section.”

 

“Not since the averted Day of Reckoning in Oceannia that Rich Mistbloom stopped,” Ghetsis commented into his folded hands.

 

“Correct. Well, today, we now present the issue of appointing a new Chromosome to lead the tenth section.” Father’s envoy waved his hand, prompting a spotlight to come on over the area surrounded by the circular table. A four-sided, pyramid-like shape was depicted in gold on the red carpeting; its two longest sides converged directly at Finansielle’s seat, and kneeling at the center of the shape was the man who had robbed the Pewter Museum. “You are on file as the creation of Polaris’s Project J, is this correct?”

 

“Yes, sir,” the man replied, his face largely obscured from view by shadows. His mouth was visible, however, and it was twisted into a sadistic smile.

 

The Darkrai-masked member at the number two seat spoke next. “You have been in training since the day you were given your body, and your first field mission for us was the job of stealing the Adamant and Lustrous Orbs from the Pewter Museum. It has been reported that your execution of this mission was flawless.”

 

“Indeed, what you did the other day will prove to be a major help to us,” said the diminutive male seated at section nine, who was wearing an Electivire-themed mask and helmet complete with antennae. “Not to mention, your use of my section’s electrical bodysuit was superb. Do you understand that this is why we are debating giving you the position of Chromosome?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“You’ve spent years doing everything we’ve asked,” Jeunes offered as input. “Truly, you are one of our most loyal members.”

 

“I believe we’ve said all that needs to be said,” Ghetsis declared. “I would like to motion for a vote on the confirmation of Project J as the tenth Chromosome.”

 

“Wait, Séduire is not here,” the woman seated at section six sighed from behind her mask, an avian-themed one featuring a beak and feathers of red, white and blue. “How will we achieve a fair vote?”

 

“With the tenth seat empty and Séduire absent,” the envoy reasoned, “we need one recusal to make the vote a fair seven. Jeunes, because you were the director of Project J and can be considered this individual’s father, I would like to request that you be that recusal.”

 

“Hmph, fine by me. I don’t concern myself with these political matters when I can predict the outcome. It’s boring.”

 

“Very well. Now, allow the vote to commence.” The man stood and announced, “As the envoy of the first Chromosome, Father, I, Archer, cast a vote of yes!”

 

The Darkrai-masked leader rose next. “As the second Chromosome, I, Praeses, cast a vote of yes!”

 

As Ghetsis hobbled to his feet, Project J smiled to himself again, out of the view of the council assessing him and voting on his fate.

 

“As the third Chromosome, I, Ghetsis, cast a vote of yes!”

 

“As the fourth Chromosome, I, Finansielle, cast a vote of yes!”

 

The majority was already reached, but the vote had to finish for formality’s sake. It would just give Project J more of the attention he loved, though.

 

“I am disturbed by what you are,” the woman with the Braviary mask remarked. “I don’t know if I can trust you. As the sixth Chromosome, I, Mercury, cast a vote of no!”

 

A number of the Chromosomes were surprised by this, but Project J was able to relatively ignore it. He knew he never needed her approval anyway.

 

At section seven was a man wearing a cape and a Dragonite mask who hadn’t spoken yet. He simply stood up and declared, “As the seventh Chromosome, I, Athleta, cast a vote of yes!”

 

Passing over Jeunes, the last vote arrived at the short man with the Electivire helmet. “As the ninth Chromosome, I, Getriebe, cast a vote of yes!”

 

“The final vote is six for yes, one for no,” Archer announced. “Welcome to the Sacred Helix, our new tenth Chromosome.”

 

“My name…” Emerging from the shadows, Project J was already in the process of pulling on his Sigilyph-themed mask and helmet. “…shall be Geminus.”

 

Leaping high into the air, the newly-named Geminus landed in the space just behind and between sections eight and nine. However, he was also unexpectedly met by a young woman that had just entered the chamber, whose shoulder-length red hair combined with her spiked mask to give her the appearance of an Entei.

 

“W-who are you?!” she screeched, recoiling back in shock.

 

“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Geminus…” Just after walking past the young woman on his way to his seat, Geminus said just loudly enough for her to hear, “I’ll be looking forward to working with you again.”

 

“Come in, Séduire,” Archer said to the newly-arrived Chromosome. “You already missed the vote to confirm Geminus.”

 

“I was busy!” she yelled as she arrived at her seat.

 

“Stalking that boy you’re infatuated with on the Internet does not count as ‘busy,’ Séduire,” Ghetsis sarcastically admonished her. “It was due to your possessive tendencies over him that our men were sent into Whitegold City too early and exposed our movements before we were fully prepared.”

 

“And you’re any better?” Séduire shot back. “You let all three Angels escape your grasp in Unova! I could have already been united with Matt in the future world if you hadn’t messed that up!”

 

“Father wouldn’t tell us who Azrael was so we could go after her…” Praeses mumbled to himself. “He insisted he would capture her personally…”

 

“Now, Chromosomes, please don’t fight,” Archer said in an attempt to soothe the conflict. “For the first time in five years, our Sacred Helix now has all ten Chromosomes. It is now time for us to move forward into our future world… consider the history of the world. Our planet took shape as a mass of molten rock millions of years ago, and from that beginning, humans and Pokémon inherited the Earth. From then on, humans and Pokémon have progressed forward in two identical but parallel lines, always moving forward but never truly crossing. Today our world is suffering, no, it is dying. For both humanity and Pokémon to survive, those lines must cross to take the sacred shape of the DNA that comprises all living things. Now, Chromosomes, go to your stations and prepare for our first major operation. We have now commenced the beginning of a glorious new chapter for humanity and Pokémon alike. Meeting adjourned.”

 

 

 

 

END of CHAPTER 2

Chapter Text

Hopefully, this chapter will be a bit more streamlined and easy to digest. There’s not as much going on in this one, so let’s see how it goes.

 

-:-

 

CHAPTER 3: Opening Moves on Fate’s Board

 

-:-

 

The dark clouds that covered the sky over Route 29 into Cherrygrove City and New Bark Town cast ominous shadows over the cliff-laden road, and rumbles of thunder could be heard approaching.

 

Beneath the cover provided by the thick trees just off the main path, Jessie, James, Meowth and Pierce were meeting to finalize their plans. James was holding in his hands a rectangular black tablet computer with ten buttons, a plus-shaped control pad and two thumb pads surrounding its screen; on its back and just below the bottom-left corner of its screen was the stylized script ‘R’ logo of Team Rocket. Meanwhile, in Jessie’s hand was a heavy briefcase.

 

“As you were made aware of,” Pierce instructed, “the energy signature associated with Meteonite was detected just south of our current position. Your mission is to find the source of that signal and recover the Meteonite piece. At that point, contact me for extraction.”

 

“So we’re doing all the work and you’re just going to sit around and wait to get us out,” Jessie complained, sighing. “Good to know.”

 

“You might think you need me, but the boss thinks otherwise. Besides, I have my own job to do.”

 

“What? Where would you be going?” Meowth wondered.

 

“There have been reports of unusual activity in Cherrygrove City that I’ve been ordered to investigate, so if there are no further questions about your mission, I will be going.”

 

Pierce turned sharply, causing the tails of his trench coat to flap up behind him. As he walked off, fallen twigs and leaves cracked beneath his heavy boots.

 

“Jessie, I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” James whimpered. “We’re not cut out for this. Team Aqua, Team Magma, Team Galactic, Hunter J… Polaris is bigger and stronger than they all were.”

 

“Oh, be quiet!” his hot-tempered female companion snapped back. “The boss wouldn’t have selected us for this mission if he didn’t trust us to get it done.”

 

“And in addition, the good old fluffy-headed doctor said we were picked because we did a good job taking out those liberation knight guys in Unova. That means we’ve got some skills, you two, even if we don’t know them all yet! Now…” Snatching the computer out of James’s hands, Meowth touched the screen with his paw. “We have to find out where that chunk of space rock is.”

 

After displaying the stylized script ‘R’ logo, the screen displayed a menu of several options. Meowth touched one of them, activating a radar system with the map of Route 29 loaded into it. As the system scanned the route, it returned a faint signal coming from very near the entrance of Cherrygrove City.

 

“There we go, it looks like it’s in the west of Route 29,” James observed. “Let’s get moving.”

 

-:-

 

The humble yet busy streets of New Bark Town gradually disappeared behind Matt, Olivia, Nekou and Bunny as they headed west into Route 29, giving way to a curving, cliff-laden road framed by long blades of fragrant grass. Off in the distance on all sides, tall trees provided boundary lines appropriate to the concept of a road through the woods.

 

“I’m not liking the looks of this weather,” Matt said, his eyes locked on the rumbling sky overhead. “Do you guys think we should have stayed in New Bark Town until this storm passes? Sure looks like one’s coming.”

 

“What’s the matter, afraid of a little thunder?” Nekou was so preoccupied with taking another bite off the croissant in her hand that she didn’t notice Matt shrink back slightly from her remark. “There’s nothing for us to be afraid of if there’s a storm. That’s why we were given trees.”

 

“Olivia, don’t you think we should try to get some training in?” suggested Bunny. “Violet City will come up faster than you expect. I think it would be a good idea to start getting Minccino, Roselia and Oshawott up to speed now.”

 

Olivia was walking slightly ahead of the others, but she stopped and turned after listening to Bunny’s proposal. “That sounds pretty good, actually. Can one of you help me out?”

 

“You two stand aside,” Nekou bossed Matt and Bunny, stepping past them with her mobile arm out. “I’ll be glad to help you train, Olivia. I’ve got just the Pokémon you need to see right now. Zorua, prepare yourself!”

 

Having reached into her blouse and produced a Poké Ball, Nekou opened it to free her Zorua. The black-and-red fox Pokémon shook herself off after entering the fresh air, then looked up at Olivia and barked.

 

“You’re going to use Zorua?” Bunny questioned.

 

“Yeah, so? She’s ready for something resembling a real battle, and besides, getting her some training too means this is a win-win for both me and Olivia.” Facing forward again, Nekou said to Olivia, “Use Oshawott. He’s the one who needs the training, if he’s to catch up to Minccino and Roselia.”

 

“Do I have to?” Olivia sighed. “Fine, I guess we’ll see how it goes. Oshawott, let’s play!”

 

Almost immediately upon materializing, Oshawott proudly held up his shell, only flinching slightly when he realized that Zorua was staring at him. He realized that this would be his first chance to prove himself to his trainer, so he intended to make the best of it.

 

“Okay, Olivia, we can’t even have a practice battle if you don’t know what moves Oshawott has. I think the Pokédex should be able to tell you about that.”

 

“Really?” Fumbling out her Pokédex, Olivia activated it and scanned Oshawott.

 

“Oshawott, the sea otter Pokémon. Type is Water. It fights using the scalchop on its stomach. In response to an attack, it retaliates immediately by slashing. The scalchop on its stomach is made from the same element as claws. It detaches the scalchop for use as a blade.”

 

“Wait, that’s not what I wanted…” Visibly flustered, Olivia clicked through several more screens until she finally arrived at what she wanted. “So Oshawott’s beginning moves are Water Gun and Tackle. Okay…”

 

“You’ll do fine, Olivia, just don’t lose your nerve!” Matt called out from the sidelines, where he was standing alongside Bunny and watching the training.

 

“Don’t break my concentration!” both Olivia and Nekou snapped at exactly the same time, prompting all four to laugh.

 

“Now, Olivia, I’ll let you attack first,” Nekou instructed. “Just try to get Oshawott to land a hit first.”

 

“ Okay then… Oshawott, use Water Gun on Zorua!”

 

“Zorua, get ready! Brace yourself!”

 

After taking a deep breath, Oshawott expelled a steady stream of water from his mouth. Zorua made no significant effort to evade the wave, instead choosing to simply plant her feet firmly into the ground.

The attack’s impact range was split between Zorua’s legs and the ground, and the force from below her feet threw Zorua into the air.

 

Nekou was ready with an improvised tactic, though. “It’s fine, Zorua. Go for Dig!”

 

Shaking off the small amount of injury she’d received – which amounted to little more than being shaken up at most – Zorua barked and flipped over in the air, drilling downward until she disappeared beneath the ground.

 

“Now, Olivia, don’t panic just yet,” Nekou gently advised, noting that both her opponent and the girl’s Oshawott seemed surprised by Zorua’s move. “I know you’re good at straight, all-out attacking, but from watching you beat that caped guy before, I know you can be pretty analytic too. Just try to calm down and assess the situation. What would be a good way to get me now?”

 

Olivia stared at the space between herself and Nekou and squinted in an attempt to increase her focus. She took stock of what was present – she was there herself, and directly opposite her was Nekou. Between the two of them stood Oshawott, waiting for a direction on what to do, and a hole where Zorua had punctured the earth to get underground. These factors were the tools she had to work with, Olivia realized.

 

Herself, Nekou, Oshawott, the hole leading to Zorua’s tunnel; Olivia ran through all of the available factors again in her mind, and something suddenly hit her. “Oshawott, fire Water Gun into the hole!”

 

Seeing Oshawott excitedly jumping toward Zorua’s burrow on Olivia’s command made Nekou smile. It meant that the lesson she was trying to teach the younger girl was getting through, a meaning that wasn’t lost on Matt and Bunny, who were both enthralled themselves.

 

With the force of Oshawott’s Water Gun pushing her, Zorua burst up out of the ground. She was just a little too far away from Oshawott to attack him directly, so Nekou was forced to come up with an alternate tactic.

 

“Zorua, use Snarl!”

 

“Zorooooo!” Zorua cried, her shrill voice causing Oshawott to hold his ears and shudder in pain. He felt his muscles weakening as well, a side effect of the attack Zorua was leveling against him.

 

Understanding that she couldn’t let this go on, Olivia raised her hand and called out, “Stop Zorua using Tackle, Oshawott!”

 

“Show Oshawott your Foul Play!”

 

Oshawott and Zorua ran at each other, both beginning to become tired from their exchanging blows. Zorua was glowing with a black light, so when the two Pokémon collided with each other, a shower of luminescent black sparks showered out. A few seconds later, Oshawott and Zorua were pushed apart by their own strength.

 

“That’s enough,” Nekou declared, seeing the two Pokémon breathing heavily. “We don’t want to overextend our Pokémon, otherwise we’ll do more harm than good.”

 

“How was I?” Olivia asked, somewhat demandingly. “Did I do well?”

 

“I’d say you did,” complimented her training partner. “You more than satisfied my expectations. Of course, a lot of credit has to go to Oshawott too.”

 

“I guess. I can’t say he did badly…”

 

“Oshawott…” uttered the Water-type Pokémon, relieved that Olivia was pleased with his performance even somewhat.

 

“That was some good work, Olivia,” Matt complimented as he and Bunny made their way over to the others.

 

“I think you’re already starting to bond with Oshawott, you know,” Bunny added, smiling. “Maybe you two really were made for each other.”

 

“Don’t get the wrong idea!” fumed Olivia, her face turning red. Matt couldn’t help but chuckle under his breath, but she failed to notice his subtle action and quickly calmed down. “So, now what?”

 

“Let’s keep going,” he proposed. “Maybe we can get right to Cherrygrove City, before a storm blows in if we’re lucky.”

 

Nekou, Olivia and Bunny all nodded in agreement with Matt’s suggestion, so with Oshawott and Zorua walking alongside them, they resumed their westward trek down the cliff-laden road.

 

Little did they realize they were being watched. At least a dozen pairs of yellow eyes glistened in the darkness within the foliage just off the main road, carefully observing the movements of the new invaders in their territory. Behind them, a single pair of larger, triangular white eyes watched as well.

 

-:-

 

Jessie, James and Meowth had moved south, just as Pierce had directed them, and now had a makeshift encampment set up in the woods just off of Route 29.

 

While Jessie was busy spying on the small house they could see from their hideout, James was using his black tablet computer to survey data being collected from both Jessie’s high-tech binoculars and the satellite dish held by her Wobbuffet. Meowth, meanwhile, had headphones specially designed for his head by Dr. Zager on.

 

“There’s no mistaking it, the Meteonite shard is inside that house,” observed James as he used his finger to slide through the data on his screen. “It’s where the readings are strongest.”

 

“What else is there to do, then?” Jessie asked rhetorically. “Break in, collect the rock, get out of there, and profit when the boss rewards us!”

 

“That’s right!” both James and Meowth exclaimed.

 

Wobbuffet shared their enthusiasm, but he cried out his name far too loudly, prompting Jessie to abruptly shush him. The quartet then turned back to the house, and Meowth’s expression darkened slightly.

 

“We gotta watch out for that old man who’s living there, though,” the cat Pokémon explained. “He looks like he’s got a lot of treasure on him, but that Pokémon with him ain’t something we want to cross. He might come back at any time.”

 

“Let’s just hold back for now,” Jessie suggested. “An opening might appear so we can swoop in and grab it.”

 

-:-

 

“So what do we do now?” Olivia wondered, directing her complaints at anyone who would listen. “Surely traveling is more exciting than this.”

 

“Well, Olivia, most trainers who start out tend to try catching a Pokémon right away,” Matt explained, before gently and carefully adding, “but you’ve got three already. I don’t think it’s a great idea to get more before you can at least get used to Oshawott.”

 

“Aw, seriously? I could find one I want to capture at any time, you know!”

 

Amused by Olivia’s reckless enthusiasm, Nekou smiled, a soft laugh escaping her lips. When Matt saw her expression, he instinctively prepared himself for her to provoke Olivia further, in turn leading to an even bigger disagreement. He was accordingly surprised, then, when that was not what Nekou did.

 

“You know, Olivia, for once he has a point,” she advised. “You have plenty of time before your first Gym battle, so there’s no need to rush to catch more Pokémon.”

 

“Oh, fine,” Olivia responded, pouting.

 

Nekou’s relatively cheery mood abruptly disappeared, giving her three companions pause. She stopped speaking and began wearily looking around, sniffing at the air while doing so.

 

“Nekou, what’s wrong?” Matt asked.

 

“Something’s not right, I can sense it,” she replied, continuing to crinkle her nose in an attempt to identify the scent. “We’re being watched.”

 

In a single sudden, incredibly fast motion, Nekou pulled a switchblade from the inside of her blouse with her right hand; she used it to cut the sling restraining her left arm, leaving it to fall away as her arm was freed.

 

Dumbfounded by what she was seeing, especially when Nekou moved her left arm freely without pain, Bunny stammered, “You were still injured just yesterday! How are you moving like that already?!”

 

“How I’m moving is not important right now. Get ready,” Nekou warned, brandishing her switchblade in a battle-ready stance. As if a switch had been thrown, Nekou’s personality was now completely serious. “Something’s watching us…”

 

Almost on cue, a nearby bush started rustling, causing Matt, Olivia and Bunny to jump nervously. Nekou, meanwhile, simply tensed up in preparation for combat, expecting a threat to come jumping out of the brush at any moment. Her instincts weren’t without merit, either, as mere seconds later something did indeed emerge.

 

However, what appeared was not the fearsome monster they were expecting; in fact, it was vastly different. The small, tan-bodied canine Pokémon looked up at them with wide eyes, twitching the large ears that rose up from behind the shock of light-colored fur covering his face.

 

“That Pokémon is adorable!” Olivia exclaimed excitedly, clasping her hands together and speaking loudly.

 

“It’s Lillipup, a Pokémon from Unova,” Nekou informed the others. “Olivia, you should scan it.”

 

On Nekou’s encouragement, Olivia took out her Pokédex and scanned Lillipup as he stared apprehensively at them.

 

“Lillipup, the puppy Pokémon. Type is Normal. It is a brave Pokémon, but it also has the intelligence to judge an enemy’s strength and avoid battles.”

 

“I don’t want to underestimate it, but…” Bunny shifted uncomfortably before finishing, “…this was what we were supposed to be afraid of?”

 

Lillipup barked weakly and began slowly moving toward the group, making his injured right hind leg become apparent.

 

“It’s hurt!” Matt exclaimed, putting words to what all of them were feeling. While he was the one to verbalize their thoughts, though, it was Olivia putting those emotions to action, rushing over to the injured Pokémon.

 

“It’s okay, Lillipup, there’s nothing to be afraid of.” As she tried to speak soothingly to Lillipup, Olivia could feel a light coating of blood stuck onto the blue fur on his back. “I think something might have attacked it,” she nervously said to her friends, looking for guidance on what to do.

 

She would not receive it, as Nekou suddenly snapped her head back up toward the underbrush and called out, “Zorua, use Incinerate now!”

 

Having remained next to her trainer the entire time, Zorua was in perfect position to release a thin jet of fire aimed at the as-yet-unknown threat, hitting it with enough force to cause a small explosion.

 

“Pawnia!” a high-pitched voice shrilled upon impact.

 

From the cloud of smoke a Pokémon fell. She had a humanoid body colored primarily red and gray, with two hooks protruding from her torso. Her arms each ended in a sharp knife blade, and another blade stuck out from her helmet between her two yellow eyes.

 

The blast generated by the collision of Zorua’s Incinerate and the Pokémon was so close to Olivia that she was knocked over by its force. Screaming, she picked up the injured Lillipup in her arms and fled behind Nekou and Matt.

 

“What’s that thing?!” she screeched in fear.

 

Before anyone could answer, a second Pokémon identical to the first jumped from a nearby tree and attempted to cut Nekou with his knife arms, but she dispelled the assault by swinging her switchblade to knock him away. She then identified him by speaking the Pokémon’s name while Olivia fumbled for her Pokédex.

 

“Pawniard. Another Unova Pokémon…”

 

“Pawniard, the Sharp Blade Pokémon. Type is Dark/Steel. Even if it gets injured, it doesn’t care. It attacks its prey in a group, using the blades all over its body.”

 

“A group?!” Olivia nervously breathed. “Does that mean there are even more of them?”

 

She received an answer to her question almost immediately. Repeating their species name like a chant, more Pawniard emerged from the bushes until their ranks numbered a total of twelve. They were then joined by a thirteenth Pokémon, one that resembled a taller, more mature Pawniard whose body had grown to have sharp blades for ankles and feet, arms with retractable blades in them, and a golden axe blade bisecting her head from between her white, triangular eyes.

 

“Shit, a Bisharp!” Nekou spat, her worst fears realized.

 

As it had never left her hands, Olivia was able to quickly scan the Bisharp with her Pokédex.

 

“Bisharp, the Sword Blade Pokémon. Type is Dark/Steel. Evolved form of Pawniard. A scary Pokémon that will take the injured, immobile prey that battled a group of Pawniard and portion it out.”

 

“I don’t like that thing,” Olivia whimpered while shivering nervously.

 

“You’re not wrong to feel that way,” Nekou said to support the younger girl. “I’ve seen what these Pokémon can do. Marie, prepare yourself for battle! Join Zorua!”

 

“Balin, come out! I need your help!”

 

Marie jumped down from Nekou’s back to stand alongside Zorua, and joining the two of them was Bunny’s Ninetales, Balin, who appeared in a flash of light from his Poké Ball. Almost immediately upon materializing, he growled at the pack of Pawniard and their Bisharp leader, correctly picking up on the threat they posed.

 

The Bisharp cried out, thrusting her right arm forward. Accordingly following her orders, three Pawniard lunged forward at Bunny, Olivia and Nekou, all baring the knives on their arms.

 

“Zorua, get out of the way so Marie can use Low Sweep!”

 

“Balin, Flame Burst now!”

 

Nekou’s Zorua barely managed to get out of the way of two of the charging Pawniard before they could cut her, opening up space for Marie to come in and trip one by undercutting his legs. The second Pawniard, however, reached Nekou, forcing her to parry its blow with her switchblade and send him barreling off several feet away.

 

Finally, Balin suffered a small gash on his cheek when the Pawniard that attacked him slipped through, but he managed to strike back swiftly by spitting out an explosive fireball.

 

Just as the third Pawniard was driven back, a rumble of thunder passed through Route 29 and a light but steady rain began to fall.

 

“Sharrr!!” the Bisharp roared in anger, refusing to let her prey defeat her. Responding to her rage, seven more of the Pawniard lined up in preparation to attack Bunny, Nekou and Olivia, while the final two teamed up with their leader and set their sights on Matt.

 

“Zorua, Marie, get ready!” Nekou shouted, feeling her muscles tensing as the situation spun out of control.

 

Matt couldn’t focus on the attack that commenced against his companions, however, as the Bisharp rushed him as well. He hastily raised up his arms to protect himself, resulting in a loud crashing sound when Bisharp’s steel blades hit the metal of his prosthetic limbs. While the Dark-and-Steel-type Pokémon stepped back, puzzled that her attack failed to significantly injure him, Matt tried to fight back by grabbing her arms and shoving her away.

 

However, her two bodyguards were more than ready to take up the slack. One of her two Pawniard crossed his arms and charged up purple light to create a Psycho Cut, while the other used his own power to pull up a cluster of small rocks. They both used their attacks together, hitting the ground right in front of Matt; this resulted in him stumbling backward and falling down.

 

Hastily, he took a Poké Ball from his bag. This Poké Ball was a special type – it was colored in varying shades of blue in a wave pattern. Matt threw this Dive Ball with a flick of his wrist and called out to the Pokémon inside.

 

“Patrick, make your mark!”

 

A tall, bulky toad Pokémon materialized from Matt’s Dive Ball. His blue body had a number of black-and-cream-colored bumps on it, matching the colors adorning his front.

 

Flexing his body, which in turn caused the bumps to vibrate slightly, he gurgled, “Seismitoad…”

 

“I know this is sudden for your first battle with me, Patrick, but I need your help! Use Scald!”

 

Patrick moved his lazy red eyes to the two Pawniard and the Bisharp, and after glaring at them for a short while, he spit a stream of boiling water at them. Moving to protect their mistress, the two Pawniard attempted to deflect the Scald with cutting moves, but failed and were thrown back. One of them – the one who had used Psycho Cut – collided with one of the hooks protruding from Bisharp’s torso, visibly cutting his helmet.

 

Enraged even further by her minions’ failure, Bisharp snarled viciously and discharged a stream of electricity from the axe blade in her head; this Thunder Wave failed, however, when Patrick stood in the way to block it from hitting Matt, as his part-Ground type nullified electricity. She then aligned her arms and formed a vortex of dark energy between her claws, loosing a Dark Pulse that managed to hurt Patrick enough to force him to close his eyes and groan.

 

“Don’t take that!” Matt shouted while stumbling back to his feet. “Go for a knockout! Drain Punch!”

 

Patrick clenched the three fingers on his right hand to form a fist, which then took on a shining, crackling glow. He threw his hulking body in Bisharp’s direction, intending to hit her with a punch that would surely knock her out instantly, however, the struggle would not be resolved that easily. Shaking off their own injuries, the two Pawniard once again leapt to their leader’s defense, attempting to hold Patrick back with resistance formed from their respective Psycho Cut and Metal Claw.

 

Their attempt failed to stop Patrick’s Drain Punch, but they did succeed in redirecting it away from Bisharp by taking the hit themselves. Frames of light in the same greenish color as the glow of Drain Punch broke away from the two Pawniard and were absorbed by the Seismitoad, restoring some of his health.

 

From the frustration steadily building inside of him, Matt was forced to grit his teeth. The two Pawniard were most likely down for good, but they had successfully guarded Bisharp for as long as possible, and without taking her down, the other seven Pawniard would be nearly impossible to easily dispel.

 

“Oh no!” he suddenly thought, the realization that he’d forgotten completely about Olivia, Nekou and Bunny and their own fight crashing violently into his mind.

 

He turned in just enough time to see one of the seven Pawniard leap past Olivia’s Oshawott’s Water Gun and slash her on the cheek, while another one was knocked to the ground by Nekou’s Zorua’s Incinerate. The swarm of Pokémon had broken through the initial line of defense presented by Matt’s allies, and now were splitting them up with their relentless attacking.

 

With the shivering, injured Lillipup still in her arms, Olivia attempted to flee in Matt’s direction. Tears were running down her face, which was contorted into a look of nightmarish torment.

 

“This wasn’t supposed to happen… make it stop…” she was mumbling hysterically to herself. “Make it stop, make it stop!!”

 

Right after she passed by Matt, however, Olivia’s luck ran out. Bisharp – who had renewed her hand-to-hand struggle with Patrick – spotted the girl trying to escape. She first pushed her opponent away by striking him harshly with her hand – an Assurance attack that was made more potent by their previous combat – then directed a Thunder Wave in Olivia’s direction.

 

The electric pulse fired from Bisharp’s helmet did not hit Olivia, but it came close enough to her feet that it made her trip and fall. She rolled over and hastily stood back up, clutching Lillipup all the while, only to find herself being menacingly approached by Bisharp and the remaining Pawniard.

 

Olivia slowly backed up, while the others decided to do what they could to protect her.

 

“Patrick, attack the Pawniard with Scald!”

 

“Marie, herd them together using Low Sweep, then Zorua, you fuck them up with Incinerate!”

 

“Balin, once they’re all together, take all those Pawniard out with Flame Burst!”

 

Marie was the first to act, swiftly running in a circle around the cluster of seven Pawniard to hit them in their legs, thus pushing them closer together. Once they were collected, Patrick washed a blast of hot water over them, which Oshawott complimented by using his Water Gun again. This was closely followed by Zorua exhaling a small stream of flames, and finally Balin choking up a huge fireball that exploded on impact, consuming all the Pawniard and leaving them to faint.

 

“Well, we got the foot soldiers,” Bunny said in relief. “Now for the commander.”

 

Either ignorant of or completely uncaring about the defeat of her followers, Bisharp was still slowly approaching Olivia, who had backed herself onto one of the taller cliffs on Route 29. With rain, tears and blood dripping down her face, she took a slow, deep breath, her head trembling and moving backward bit by bit, causing her to stare down her nose at Bisharp.

 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, you monster?!” she screamed, all her pent-up fear and frustration coming up at once.

 

Bisharp paused her advance and slowly raised her right arm. The iron blades protruding from that arm lengthened, then took on a bright metallic sheen as light from the air nearby flowed into it.

 

“Stop it!” Quickly recognizing that his plea was useless and that Bisharp would not cease preparing her Metal Claw, Matt turned to Patrick and ordered, “Take Bisharp out with Drain Punch before this gets worse!”

 

The lumbering toad pulled himself back up onto his feet, then pulled back his first and moved in toward his foe.

 

What happened next, however, caught everyone – Matt’s group, Bisharp and Patrick – unprepared.

 

With the power for her Metal Claw fully charged, Bisharp lifted her arm even higher and took one last step toward Olivia. Accordingly, Olivia stepped slightly backward to try and stay away from the terrifying Pokémon – and as soon as she did, her foot came down on a spot halfway over the rain-soaked cliff. Her footing vanished almost instantly, leaving her to helplessly struggle to hold herself up using only her legs as she teetered on the land’s edge.

 

For Matt, time seemed to slow to a halt. Patrick’s Drain Punch was no longer going to make any difference; whether or not Bisharp was knocked out almost did not matter. He started to rush to Olivia with his arm outstretched, and behind him, Nekou and Bunny also were moving forward in a panic, but it was all for naught. After what seemed like an endless ordeal that in actuality was less than thirty seconds, Olivia’s balance completely gave way and she slipped over the cliff, screaming at the top of her lungs as she disappeared from sight.

 

Matt, Nekou and Bunny all froze. For the latter, her thoughts were primarily on Olivia’s safety. Bunny had faith that Olivia would come out of this incident relatively fine; it was obvious that things were bad, but she hoped that it wouldn’t come out as a full-fledged disaster.

 

Nekou handled it significantly more poorly. Even though she had only known Olivia for a little over a week, Nekou was already developing both sisterly and maternal instincts toward the girl, and an aggressive creature causing Olivia direct harm deeply violated those bonds. She flew into a screaming rage, viciously rushing Bisharp with her switchblade; however, she was unable to inflict much damage due to Bisharp fighting back.

“You fucker!” she cursed the Dark-and-Steel-type Pokémon during her assault. “You’re fucking answering to me for hurting her!”

 

Matt’s paralysis was entirely mental, caused by the deluge of crushing thoughts that hit him instantaneously upon Olivia falling.

 

“You failure!” the one even slightly clear voice screamed at him through the chaos in his head. “All you had to do was protect her and make her dream come true, and you couldn’t even manage that! Now you let another one die!!”

 

Extending his arms straight out in front of him, Matt finally broke his silence by snarling, “Destroy Bisharp with Drain Punch NOW!!” As he issued this order, Matt’s hands were trembling as if slowly gripping something until he spread his arms at the end of the sentence.

 

Bisharp barely had time to turn herself around before she realized Patrick was already within very close range. Now the tables were turned, and she was the one backing up.

 

Being caught off-guard by Patrick’s movements was what did in Bisharp in the end. With nowhere to escape to, she received a devastating blow right to her torso, delivered with such force that she was thrown off the cliff and far into the distance, disappearing into the thick trees beyond the well-traversed road. Sensing their leader’s distress, the horde of Pawniard immediately jumped up from their own injuries and pursued her, vanishing from sight as well.

 

Matt couldn’t care less about the wild Pokémon. Stumbling past Nekou, who was breathing deeply as a result of directly fighting Bisharp, he threw himself onto the ground and looked over the cliff.

 

Nothing beyond a canopy of trees was visible below.

 

“Olivia!” he screamed downward, the color running from his face as his heartbeat became shallow. “OLIVIA!!”

 

“If she’s hurt down there, she’s not going to be able to answer you,” Nekou flatly stated.

 

“Then if she can’t call up to me to let me know she’s okay…” Though Nekou and Bunny could not see his face as he rose back up to his full height and therefore could not see the empty look in his uncovered eye, they could tell by his body language that he was about to call for something irrational. “…I’ll go down there myself!”

 

The instant Matt made to jump over the cliff, however, a powerful grip on his right shoulder stopped him. He gasped, having not expected such an abrupt interruption, then turned around to see Nekou casting an icy pout in his direction.

 

“Don’t be an idiot,” she said, pulling her arm back. “Even with your body, if you jump over that cliff and hit branches on your way down, you’ll only end up hurting yourself. The road crosses that area further down, so we should follow it.”

 

“If that fall would bang me up, though, think of what it would do to Olivia!”

 

Matt shifted his panicked glare to Bunny, making her shift uncomfortably. She thought that both he and Nekou had made good points, but her own thoughts guided her in the direction of caution, so she answered the silent question by saying, “Take the road, but let’s hurry.”

 

Without another word, Matt pulled the brim of his hat down slightly to cover his eyes and started walking in the direction of the cleared path again. Patrick and Oshawott followed him, while Balin, Zorua and Marie all stayed with Bunny and Nekou, who walked with each other.

 

“Do you really think this is the best course of action, though?”  Bunny questioned, a feeling of nervousness overtaking her.

 

“Yeah, I do. Olivia’s tough. A little fall might rough her up a bit, but she will get back up and move forward. I know she can do it.”

 

-:-

 

Unfortunately, Nekou was only half right.

 

At the bottom of the cliff, below the cover of the trees that had obscured Matt’s view from above, Olivia lay on the ground, broken in more ways than one. Lillipup, who had suffered no further injuries thanks to her intervention, worriedly sniffed at her face, but she was so detached from reality that she didn’t even notice.

 

“This is all you can do,” a voice in her head told her. “Do you still wonder why he abandoned you?”

 

“No, I understand now…” she answered, barely aware of the fact she was speaking to a disembodied voice in her head. “Day one and look at me already…”

 

In the fall, the curls of hair she had on the sides of her head had come undone, leaving it to drape down to her back at its full length as it draped her prone body. Olivia shuddered as she hopelessly tried to move, but with her left leg snapped completely around at an unnatural angle, there was no way she could possibly walk. A slow but steady stream of blood was trickling out of her broken leg, mixing with the rain flowing across the rocks.

 

Water was streaming down her face now, but she continued to not be bothered by it. “Dad,” she whispered as her vision began to become clouded, “I messed up. Don’t be mad at me…”

 

A slight, accepting smile appeared on Olivia’s face just as she closed her eyes and blacked out.

 

Mere seconds later, the sound of footsteps indicated the presence of someone else in the area. A golden-bodied, reptilian Pokémon with blade-like tusks protruding from her mouth stomped into the vicinity, followed by her trainer, an elderly man wearing round spectacles and a heavy brown coat.

 

The man did not notice Olivia lying unconscious on the ground at first, but when his Pokémon alerted him to her, he walked over on his cane and leaned down to examine her. Recognizing her injures, he motioned to his Pokémon to help carry her somewhere.

 

-:-

 

It took Matt, Nekou and Bunny well over an hour to work their way down the road to the area where Olivia had fallen. Part of it was due to the fact that the path actually looped back a significant distance to circumvent the cliff, but the weather had worsened significantly as well. By the time they finally reached the area at the bottom of the cliff, the rain had forced Bunny to recall Balin, while Zorua and Marie each rode on one of Nekou’s shoulders. Matt, meanwhile, had sent out a Pokémon whose light, child-like body was contained within a simple form of green jelly that granted her arms and ears. She was floating above her trainer and his allies, using her Magic Guard ability to shield them from the rain.

 

“Reuniclus, do you see Olivia anywhere?” When the Pokémon responded by shaking her head, Matt cupped his hands around his mouth and called out into the distance, “Olivia, where are you? I know you’re okay! You have to be!”

 

“Osha!” Oshawott cried, mimicking Matt’s actions as he walked along.

 

“This should be about where she fell,” Nekou pondered, “so where is she?”

 

“I can’t imagine that she simply got up and walked off,” added Bunny, “not after a fall like that.”

After that, the conversation between the three died out, and they went back to calling out in differing directions in the hope that Olivia would hear them while they walked. All they managed to garner for their efforts was an assortment of Pokémon, though, things like Pidgey, Sentret, Rattata and even the odd Shinx and Exeggcute. It seemed like most of the Pokémon the group passed were in hiding, likely from the Pawniard gang.

 

None of the three were aware of how much time had passed or how far they had walked. They simply were so focused on finding Olivia that they didn’t care to notice. They were beginning to become fearful of what might have happened to her when Bunny spotted something.

 

“Matt, Nekou, look over there!”

 

Following the direction in which Bunny was pointing, Matt and Nekou could see a house a short distance down the road.

 

“The lights are on, so someone must be home,” Nekou mumbled sarcastically. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

 

“Yeah,” Matt answered, “whoever’s in there might have seen Olivia. Let’s hurry! Reuniclus, return!”

 

With a quick movement, Matt pointed a Poké Ball up at Reuniclus, drawing her back inside using the sphere’s red laser. As soon as she disappeared, the rain was able to pour down on the group unchecked, so they ran for the house as fast as they could.

 

As soon as they were at the house, they went up to the front door and Matt rang the doorbell. There was a certain amount of disconnect in the design of the dwelling; for example, while the door was simply a plain, heavy piece of wood, the doorbell’s button was surrounded by an intricately-shaped, gold-plated frame. Another example was reflected in the windows, which had twisted, empty iron flower rows hanging off of actual windows that were quite modern and stately.

 

“I’m coming, just hold your horses there for a minute!” a voice shouted from behind the door. A shuffling sound could be heard, followed by some kind of banging on the door as whoever was there tried to unlock it.

 

Once the door finally opened, the occupant of the house came into view. It was the same elderly gentleman who had picked up Olivia earlier, though he had dispensed with his heavy brown coat. He had a very plain appearance, being simply dressed in a sky-blue dress shirt and black trousers; his main distinguishing characteristics were his glasses, his thick white beard that filled out his otherwise thin face, and his double helix-printed necktie.

 

“More guests?” he sighed. “What a bother, having one unexpected visitor is enough for a single night. What can I help you with?”

 

“We’re looking for a girl, sir,” Matt replied with a hint of desperation. “She got lost on Route 29 earlier and we haven’t been able to track her down.”

 

“Oh, do you mean Olivia? I picked her up after I found her. She’s right inside.”

 

“That’s such a relief… okay, you guys, come o…”

 

“Holy shit!” Matt’s sentence got cut off when Nekou, having suddenly realized something, shoved him out of the way to face the old man directly. “I know who you are! I can’t believe I get to meet you!”

 

“Who is he, then?” Matt growled, picking himself off the wet ground and squeezing the water out of his hat.

 

“He does look kind of familiar…” Bunny commented.

 

“Why, this is only the most famous scientist in the fucking history of science itself!”  Nekou excitedly explained. “Meet Doctor Dante Fantomos, the man whose work made modern science itself possible!”

 

“Wait, you’re Dante Fantomos?” Matt recognized the name once he heard it, and could only stare with wide eyes at Dante once he realized what it meant. “I didn’t even know you were still alive!”

 

“I’m flattered to have fooled you, then,” Dante remarked, playing off Matt’s accidentally insensitive comment with a bit of sarcasm. “Come in out of the rain. I’ll prepare some tea.”

 

Stepping away from the door, Dante ushered his guests inside. After peering outside and looking around in suspicion, he then closed it.

 

Back in the bushes, Jessie, James and Meowth all shared a sigh of relief that they hadn’t been caught. Wobbuffet, meanwhile, simply stood still and stared ahead while holding onto the satellite. All four of them were hiding under a tarp they had put up from their supplies to shield themselves from the rain.

 

“That was too close. I don’t want to fight that old man.”

 

“You’re telling me, Jessie,” an overly dramatic James complained. “What do we do now?”

 

“I’m gonna call Pierce,” Meowth announced, taking the R-Pad computer into his paws again. “We ain’t getting that rock from him if we just go for it.”

 

-:-

 

After ushering his guests into the foyer of his house so they could dry off, Dante guided them through a corridor toward his study.

 

Matt took a moment to think about just how strange a day it had been as he walked behind Dante but in front of Nekou, Bunny and the Pokémon. Everything had started with Professor Elm’s disappearance and the meeting with Professor Juniper, then they had run into Renzo and heard his ranting. After that, they moved into Route 29, were attacked by a group of bloodthirsty wild Pokémon, and finally were separated from Olivia. Yet, he still couldn’t believe that he was now about to sit down for tea with one of the most important scientists in history, a man who he had long believed to have died years earlier.

 

“Olivia!” Dante called out as he reached the doorway of the study. “I’ve got someone here to see you!”

 

The study was a large room, dimly lit using candles and a fireplace. A border of brown wood reached three feet up the walls, and where it cut off, cream-colored wallpaper patterned with curved white lines picked up. Four dark bookcases towered from floor to ceiling against the wall opposite the fireplace, and as the four stepped into the room, their feet pushed down into the plush, pale yellow carpet.

 

A long coffee table sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by three red couches. Olivia was sitting on the one facing the fireplace, reading a book with a dejected expression of boredom. Lillipup, his leg and body bandaged, sat next to her.

 

“Olivia!” Matt exclaimed, both pleased and horrified at what he saw. Olivia, changed into hospital scrubs, had her left leg propped up on the couch in a thick cast. He felt at once both happy that she was alive and guilty for letting her get injured.

 

“You’re lucky I found her out there, Matt Chiaki,” Dante said. He started walking to a tea cabinet in the corner of the room, his cane leaving small circles in the carpet with each step. “She might have bled out and died or developed an infection.”

 

“I owe you some thanks, then, Dr. Fantomos… wait, how do you know my name?”

 

Reaching the tea cabinet, Dante simply laughed and waved his hand at Matt. “In due time, my friend. Please, make yourselves at home. Everything will become clear.”

 

“How are you doing, Olivia?” Nekou sincerely asked the girl, flopping down on the couch next to her. Zorua and Marie popped out from beneath Nekou’s hair to see Olivia, and Oshawott jumped up onto his trainer’s lap as well, attempting to soothe her.

 

“Hey, you guys, Zorua, Marie... and Oshawott too…” Olivia’s voice was the voice of a broken human being. Her thoughts were haunting her – if this was how her first day as an official trainer would be, Olivia was unsure if she could face the future and whatever challenges lie ahead. It just all felt like far too much.

 

“Olivia, please...” In an attempt to further prove her sincerity, Bunny put her hand on Olivia’s shoulder. “Don’t give up yet. Things will only get better from here. This was just an accident.”

 

“If you say so…” Olivia sniffed.

 

Perhaps unconsciously, Matt was detaching himself from the others, instead opting to examine the pair of framed pictures adorning the mantle of Dante’s fireplace. The photograph on the left was a black-and-white image of a much younger Dante; he had no cane then, his hair was jet-black and slicked back, and his beard was significantly thinner and neater. At the time of the picture he was wearing a white lab coat and extremely thick glasses.

 

“Aye, pretty impressive, eh?” the elderly doctor said over his shoulder while preparing the tea. “That one you’re looking at now, that was the photo of me that ran in all the papers back when I first published my documentation of the structure of DNA, fifty-five years ago. One of the proudest moments of my life, I say.”

 

“I sure can understand that. Six years ago, I had the opportunity to finish the life work of my grandfather, the great archeologist Sutter Chiaki, by finding the lost Golden City of La Ciudad Dorada. I lost a lot pursuing that goal, but in the end, finding it made me feel good because it validated what my grandfather stood for.”

 

Once he finished speaking, Matt shifted his gaze to the second photo, the one on the right. It was monochrome like the first and appeared to be from around the same time period, but Dante was not alone in it. Alongside him was a woman who had her hair done up in a beehive style, and between them, a young girl with long black hair and a summer dress sat on a chair.

 

Matt was intrigued by the picture, and rubbed his chin while looking closely at it for a moment before turning around. “Dr. Fantomos, forgive me if I shouldn’t ask this, but what’s the other picture of?”

 

Dante, who by this time was just putting the completed tea serving on the table before Olivia, Nekou and Bunny, could only sigh. He sat down on the couch at the head of the table, picked up one of the teacups, and said, “That… that is the other proudest moment of my life thus far. In that photograph with me are my late wife, Clara, and our daughter, Amina.”

 

“Where does Amina live now?” inquired Bunny, who had actually begun getting drawn into the conversation herself.

 

“My heart,” Dante sadly replied. “Amina died of an illness when she was just fourteen years of age, despite my best efforts to cure her.”

 

Immediately realizing that he’d made Dante go down the path that led to talking about this, Matt gasped and said, “I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have…”

 

“Don’t you worry about it. I’ve taken steps to make sure her memory is preserved.” Indeed, by the way Dante was speaking, Matt could tell he was not terribly disturbed by discussing these things. “Now, Matt, why don’t you join us for some tea? Olivia was telling me earlier about some of the rare Pokémon you have seen, such as Heatran and Dialga.”

 

“Well, I can tell you about Heatran, anyway,” Matt spiritlessly spoke while putting himself down on the seat facing Dante’s. “I don’t remember much about meeting Dialga.”

 

Dante’s eyes widened when he heard Matt’s claim, which was something he couldn’t understand. “How do you not remember an occasion as momentous as meeting Dialga?”

 

“I’ll get to that. First, let me tell you about Heatran. She was at the center of what happened in La Ciudad Dorada. The count of the kingdom was planning to seize control by killing his parents and sister and earning the right to the throne by making the people feel gratitude toward him, so he obtained a Magma Stone somewhere and used it to force Heatran to create a drought. He then contacted me and my so-called ex-girlfriend Cassy to go there and complete my grandfather’s work to save the city. We fell for his trap... well, at least I did, because Cassy was actually in on it. We found the lost Golden City, but the count appeared and set Heatran on us while he took control of the Golden City’s power. Thankfully, though, we managed to defeat Heatran and I captured her, and she went a long way to finally stopping him. I still have her with me today, and she is one of my most trusted Pokémon. On the other hand, though, that was also when Eleanor died…”

 

“Eleanor?” Dante questioned, blinking from behind his glasses.

 

Matt sighed. Unlike Dante and the story of Clara and Amina, he didn’t feel so comfortable with recounting the fate of Eleanor. Against his better judgment, however, he closed his visible eye and told the story.

 

“Eleanor Laplace was a young woman I met in La Ciudad Dorada after being invited there by the villainous Count Fernando the Eighth. She was only on a vacation… so she was entirely innocent and never should have gotten caught up in what happened there. Needless to say, she ended up working with me, and during the final battle against Fernando she perished for my own cowardice.” Opening his eye, Matt glared at Dante, who had a rather dramatic backdrop for himself with the rain battering the window behind his chair. “Sure, we found the Golden City. But I was never the same person after I left La Ciudad Dorada. That was where my life started to change.”

 

Just talking about La Ciudad Dorada and the death of Eleanor Laplace brought memories flooding back to Matt. He could still see everything as if it had just happened, including Eleanor getting ahead of him while trying to encourage him to be more positive. Horribly, she walked into a palace tower that collapsed seconds later, right before Matt’s eyes. He watched her last moments and sudden end, an image that was ingrained in his consciousness along with the knowledge that her last thoughts were mainly centered on trying to help him.

 

This time, it was Dante’s turn to sigh. “You may be unable to accept this, but I can truly sympathize with the feeling of losing someone and feeling like you did nothing to help. I already told you about Amina’s terminal illness and my failure to find a cure and save her, but Clara died as the result of religious extremists deciding they didn’t like the idea of what my discovery could mean and bombing our home. They didn’t like the idea of the building blocks of life being known to the minds of mankind.”

 

Nekou, Bunny and Olivia had been drinking their tea and listening to the conversation as it went back and forth between Matt and Dante. All three were engrossed by it, even Nekou, who otherwise would have been talking about how much she was enjoying the tea Dante had prepared. Bunny, on the other hand, decided to say something.

 

“Is that why you’ve kept out of the public eye for so long? And if it is, why resurface now?”

 

“To your first question, yes. I decided to dedicate myself to studying everything I could and perfecting my theories on DNA. Unfortunately, my work attracted a bit of an odd crowd… is it true that, from what I understand, you had a run-in with a cult called Polaris in Whitegold City?”

 

“How do you…” The realization hit Nekou relatively fast, interrupting her original sentence. “Oh, that’s right, it was on the news. You and the rest of the world got to see me kick their asses.”

 

“Polaris is no laughing matter,” Dante warned. “They were attracted to me because of the potential applications of my work. I didn’t see eye-to-eye with them, though. They believe that DNA is the key to unlocking something profound in our world, and they’re really serious about that, so I would strongly advise you to not get involved with them.”

 

“You know,” Matt groaned, “I’ve seen so much fucked up shit in my life already that they sound tame by comparison. I have no reason to concern myself with the dealings of a cult like that. All I’m after is the truth behind the fates of Eleanor and others.”

 

“I see. Well, let me answer your second question, Bunny… actually, wait, I’ll show you what I’ve been working on in a moment. I forgot to find out about what happened with you and Dialga, Matt.”

 

“I told you, I don’t remember much.” Punctuating his response with another sigh, Matt continued, “I don’t remember much because, from what others have reminded me, I used to have a split personality contained within me.”

 

Olivia was the only one of Matt’s audience that did not react in surprise to this news. Nekou, Bunny and Dante all gasped and looked at him in varying degrees of shock, but none of them spoke, allowing Matt to go on.

 

“People who knew what happened when my other personality appeared told me that his name was Janus, and he was violent, cruel and consumed by unchecked ambition. He was born of my attempts to rid myself of the pain caused by my sister and I being abused by our parents, and would appear in moments with enough stress to trigger it. The reason why I am telling you this is because for the majority of the time I was around Dialga, Janus was in control.”

 

“He kidnapped me from my mom and dad and took me aboard Team Galactic’s UFO,” Olivia added. “My dad beat him, but he accidentally spilled this nasty red stuff on me.”

 

“Once I snapped back into reality, I volunteered to stay behind on the exploding aircraft so Rich and Olivia could escape with my sister. That is why I have this body now.” To show what he meant, Matt rolled up his sleeves, then removed his light-blue silk gloves, revealing that his hands were visibly made of metal. He then made a blade emerge from his right wrist, proving that the rest of both arms was also artificial. “That’s not all. My left leg is cybernetic too, and I have some internalized modifications so my body doesn’t rip itself apart. All of this was made necessary by being trapped in the exploding UFO. During the extensive procedures I had to undergo, by my own request I had Janus removed from my subconscious. That’s why I don’t remember Dialga much – a lot of memories of things that happened while he was in control have disappeared for me.”

 

“I’d like to take you apart,” Nekou wryly commented at the exact moment Matt finished speaking. “Your insides sound fascinating.”

 

The mood in the room immediately changed – Dante visibly had to lower his head and fight off a chuckle, while Olivia fell back against Bunny’s shoulder in a laughing fit. Bunny herself, meanwhile, put her hand against her face.

 

Matt could only stare at Nekou in complete exasperation as she stared back with a troublesome smirk on her face. “I was trying to tell Dr. Fantomos a story, you know. Did you have to do that?”

 

“I was bored,” Nekou immediately snarked back without skipping a beat. “And if my brain was bored, his surely was too.”

 

“Now, now, I got the gist of it, don’t worry.” Rising slowly from his seat, Dante looked down at Bunny and Olivia. At his full height he actually was rather tall, so they had to look up at him. “Allow me to show you what I’ve been working on now.”

 

While his guests watched, Dante made his way to the other side of the room, where he picked up a cube-shaped case. He then carefully brought it back and set it on the table before opening it, revealing a small piece of rock covered in burn marks. Matt, Bunny and Nekou all looked at it with great curiosity.

 

“This is a fragment that fell from one of the meteors ahead of Persephone-2213 as it approaches Earth,” Dante explained. “It is made of what is called Meteonite, a recently-discovered element that still has much mystery surrounding it.”

 

“Meteonite,” Nekou repeated, lowering her eyelids until her eyes were half-closed and staring coldly at the rock.

 

“Yes. I was asked by the Angel Corporation to study this Meteonite and try to determine some of its properties, because we have reason to believe that its resonance has some kind of effect on Pokémon. Olivia told me about the pack of wild Pawniard and the Bisharp that attacked you earlier today, and I think that my research on the Meteonite may have triggered their violent rampage, so please accept my apology for that.”

 

“I’m not concerned about that anymore besides how it affects Olivia,” Matt responded. He then turned his view halfway toward the girl. “Olivia, how are you doing? You’re still looking forward to your first badge, right?”

 

“I don’t want to talk about it. I want to go to bed.”

 

Matt, Nekou and Bunny were all confused by Olivia’s demand, and looked at her before turning to Dante. Understanding their unspoken question, he said, “I already told Olivia that once her friends caught up to her, you could all stay here for the night. My home is your home, as they say. The spare rooms are just upstairs.”

 

“Come on, Olivia, I’ll go with you.”

 

Olivia nodded her acquiescence to Bunny’s idea, so the older of the two young women rose to her feet and scooped up her younger friend in her arms. Once Dante pointed in the direction of the staircase, they left the room with Oshawott and Lillipup following them.

 

“So…” As he spoke, Dante closed the case containing the Meteonite. “Matt, you are someone who is seeking truth, is that correct?”

 

“Right. What I’m after is the truth behind the deaths of Eleanor and a couple of other people that didn’t have to die. Everything has a deeper truth behind it, and I will discover it. For that reason, I’m looking for the Legendary Pokémon Reshiram, whose flames are said to burn to reveal the truth.”

 

“I see. As men of science, that pursuit of the truth makes us similar.”

 

“Don’t forget me, I’m a woman of science,” Nekou piped up, before slyly adding, “Just because my science is a lot madder doesn’t disqualify me.”

 

Dante chuckled, but did not speak again until he laid out a large map of the Johto Region on the table before Matt and Nekou. “If you’re pursuing the truth of Reshiram, you will be looking for a lost item known as the Light Stone. They say that the Light Stone only appears before an individual who has put in overwhelming effort into finding the truth, so you should go through the longest path through Johto.”

 

Putting his finger on the map at Cherrygrove City, right next to their current location, Dante traced the trail up north, slightly west, and south around a loop. He then elaborated, “Go from Cherrygrove City north to Violet City. From there, move into the loop that will take you south to Union Cave and Azalea Town, then north through Goldenrod City and eventually back to Violet City.”

 

“Thanks, I guess, Dr. Fantomos.”

 

Dante repaid Matt’s gratitude with a dark expression. “Let me warn you of one thing, though, Matt Chiaki. As men of science we both pursue truth, but what you must recognize is that truth is a beast that cannot be tamed. If you decide to pursue it, you must be fully prepared to find that the truth is far more terrible than you ever thought it could be.”

 

Nekou did not have much of a visible reaction to Dante’s warning, but Matt noticeably shrunk back and tensed up. He didn’t need any reminders of how difficult or risky his goal was, and even though Dante meant well, the comments he’d made only served to unnerve Matt even further.

 

-:-

 

Jessie, James and Meowth had quite a bit of space in their makeshift camp underneath the heavy tarp that shielded them from the rain. In fact, there was enough space for James and Meowth to prepare a pot of beef stew on a small hotplate while Jessie spoke to Pierce using the R-Pad.

 

“What are you saying, exactly?” Pierce could be heard questioning from wherever he was. “You can’t get the Meteonite?”

 

“Pierce, it’s currently in the possession of an old man who is keeping Matt Chiaki’s little group at his home tonight,” Jessie explained. “He’s also got this powerful-looking Haxorus that we can’t possibly defeat. Attacking him now would be foolish.”

 

“Hmm... I agree. Listen, continue to monitor the situation for now. I have some business to finish

wrapping up here in Cherrygrove City. Over and out.”

 

With Pierce gone, Jessie turned back to her teammates just in time for them to finish their cooking.

 

“Dinner’s done!” James exclaimed, taking three spoons from their supplies and passing them out.

 

“Let’s dig in!” Meowth added. “Before a big mission, a big meal does the trick!”

 

-:-

 

Much later that night, Matt was alone in the room he’d borrowed from Dante, sitting on the bed and reading by lamp light while wearing his light sleeping clothes. The novel in his hands was clearly aged, with some of its pages gnarled and yellowing at the edges. His silver flask, meanwhile, rested on the night table next to him, periodically being picked up to provide refreshment.

 

The pouring rain and occasional thunder put Matt on edge enough, so when his door creaked open, he jumped in a fit of nerves. However, he realized it was nothing to worry about when a slightly drunk Nekou stumbled in. She was quite a sight, wearing a faded yellow tank top that was one size too small for her and short shorts.

 

“What are you doing in here? Is that always how you dress at night?” Dropping that line of questioning when he saw the bottle in her hand, Matt instead asked, “You’re drinking at this time of night?”

 

“Shut up,” she countered, her voice slightly slurred. “The only thing on all twelve numbers of a clock is time to drink. I can’t sleep.”

 

“What I don’t get is, I’ve seen you put away a dozen cans of beer without effort, but you haven’t even finished one bottle tonight and you’re clearly wasted. What is that?”

 

“It’s not stuff I usually drink. I borrowed some vodka from the old man.”

 

“You stole Dr. Fantomos’s vodka, didn’t you.”

 

“I stole Dr. Fantomos’s vodka, yeah,” Nekou confessed, although she didn’t seem all that remorseful about it. “What are you doing up this late?”

 

“I’ve got a good mind to ask you the same thing, why you’re up so late getting drunk.”

 

“Have as much a mind as you want, but just don’t say it, because it’s wrong to ask a lady why she drinks.” Stepping closer to the bed, Nekou leaned over and scrunched up her face as she stared at the book Matt was reading. She could make out the drawing on the book’s cover, which depicted an old man in sailor garb standing in a small boat and brandishing a harpoon directed at a giant, white Wailord. “Interesting choice of a bedtime story. I hadn’t thought of you as the type.”

 

“Consider what it’s about, though. A man obsessed with getting vengeance against something that wronged him, requiring him to pursue a great white beast… especially since I learned about Reshiram’s existence, I feel like I can identify with that. Of course, that’s just the most superficial layer, but still.”

 

As she listened to Matt’s almost indifferent explanation of his interest in the book, Nekou’s inebriated cheer vanished and was replaced with a cold disgust that grew with each word he spoke. Once he was done, she immediately responded, “You’re looking at that story completely wrong if it’s the captain who you identify with. I thought you were going to say that you identified with Ishmael, who quite frankly suits you more, but the captain? Did you even read to the end? I don’t care if this is a spoiler to you or not, but the captain’s obsession with his revenge gets all but one person on his ship killed! If you see yourself in him, what does that say about how you see us?”

 

“Well, obviously I don’t want you or the others to die,” Matt was now speaking in an empty, almost haunting voice, “but quite honestly, it would not bother me at all to fall in such a way for myself. Captain Ahab dies having successfully speared the whale that antagonized him for so long, and even if he did not kill the creature, he succeeded in accomplishing as much as he was capable of. I have two simple goals – I want to see Olivia up on her feet with a shot in the world, and I want to know the truth behind who provoked the events of the past six years. Once I accomplish those things, I simply have no concern for what awaits me next.”

 

There was a beat of silence, but suddenly, Nekou delivered a backhanded slap across Matt’s face, tears of anger welling up in her eyes. He just looked blankly at her and held his face as his book fell onto the bed.

 

“Do you even care about how your attitude could affect others? You say you want Olivia up on her feet, but how do you think it would make her feel to lose someone else she cares about and relies upon? How do you think Bunny would take losing someone she clearly considers a friend? And me… I have no home to go back to. If you go away, I don’t know what would happen to me.”

 

“I don’t know if you can possibly understand all the things I’ve seen. Nobody deserves to have a harsh life like mine. I just feel tired… you can only rely on yourself for so long.”

 

“You don’t know the half of what I’ve seen, but anyway, nobody ever said that you had to rely only on yourself.” Nekou suddenly climbed onto the bed and crawled on all fours toward Matt, sticking her face just inches away from his. He did not react at all. “Listen. I became your bodyguard, right? You know that you can rely on me when you need it.”

 

“Thanks, I guess… I don’t really know what I’m going to do right now.”

 

-:-

 

The next morning, Matt, Bunny and Olivia gathered together with Dante in the foyer of his house. Dante, once again having donned his brown coat, had the case with the Meteonite shard sitting next to him.

 

“You lot are heading to Cherrygrove City, correct?” he asked.

 

“Right. The Battle Arcade is there,” Matt explained, “and that is where I am going to begin my search for the truth.”

 

“Please allow me to accompany you for a time, then,” requested the doctor. “I need to deliver the Meteonite to an acquaintance of mine, the scientist who’s called Mr. Pokémon, who lives on Route 30.”

 

“Feel free to come along with us, Dr. Fantomos,” Bunny agreed, making sure to glance to Matt and Olivia for confirmation first.

 

“Where’s Nekou? We can’t leave without her.”

 

There was truth to what Olivia said – Nekou was nowhere to be seen. Matt coughed, then said, “She must have gotten so drunk last night she passed out. Let me go get her.”

 

Matt turned away from the others and headed back up the staircase, then quickly walked toward the one spare room that still had its door pitched slightly open. When he entered, he found Nekou out cold, sprawled across her bed with the vodka bottle lying empty on the floor and a trail of drool dripping from her mouth, which was contorted into an expression of bizarre pleasure.

 

“Hey, wake up.” When he got no response, Matt repeated himself but spoke a little louder; however, this failed too. He started to reach down to shake her, but he then spotted her earbud-style headphones in her ears and the cord to her music player. “Figures,” he mumbled to himself, realizing she couldn’t hear him. Instead of shaking her, he decided to simply remove the headphones from her ears.

 

That was where he went totally wrong, for as soon as he lifted one of the earbuds out, the music started blasting through the whole house.

 

“It’s a cruel, cruel summer, leaving me here on my own… It’s a cruel, cruel summer, now you’re gone…”

 

“What the fuck are you doing…?” Drowsily smacking her hand against her side, Nekou finally found the music player and shut it off.

 

“Waking you up, obviously. You were sleeping with it that loud?”

 

“None of your business.”

 

“Well, go get dressed. We’re going to Cherrygrove City and Dr. Fantomos is coming with us.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

END of CHAPTER 3

Chapter Text

For the sake of caution, this chapter contains mentions of several crimes including murder and kidnapping, and a scene involving abduction victims that may be slightly disturbing to some.

 

-:-

 

CHAPTER 4: Reaching for the Arcade Star (Part 1)

 

-:-

 

Cherrygrove City was a busy city on a coastline, larger than New Bark Town but still smaller than many of the other metropolis-size cities on the continent. Few of its buildings reached comparable heights to the skyscrapers those cities had, but Cherrygrove’s buildings – both residential apartment complexes and commercial centers – were enough to pack plenty into the small area of land the city actually occupied.

 

The previous night, while Matt, Olivia, Nekou and Bunny were staying at the home of Dr. Dante Fantomos, rain was buffeting Cherrygrove City much like Route 29. As a result, few were outside, and Pierce was completely fine with that fact. His mission entailed meeting a contact covertly, so as he stepped into an alley between two buildings, he appreciated the additional cover the rain provided him on top of the darkness of night.

 

Pierce walked a short distance down the alley before stopping, and after a moment’s hesitation, he raised his hand and snapped his fingers four times.

 

“So… you’ve come,” a woman who was hiding in the alley’s darkness said, emerging nearly immediately upon Pierce’s giving the signal. She was wearing a heavy coat that appeared to have significantly discolored over time along with a tattered blue cloak obscuring the upper half of her face in a shadow. Though he did not voice it, what troubled Pierce about this seemingly homeless woman was that she carried a small child wrapped in a blanket in her arms. “Why has your organization sought us out?”

 

Significantly unsettled by this woman for a reason he could not fully identify, Pierce struggled to maintain his rigid composure. “Polaris has made its move, which has left Team Rocket with no choice but to take all available action to counter them. We are aware that you Tenganists who are left are planning to oppose them as well, so I have come to offer you a negotiation. Team Rocket can offer your group supplies to battle Polaris in exchange for your assistance in destroying them.”

 

“And why should I trust you?” the woman scoffed, though with a strange hint of fear in her voice.

 

“If you’re not convinced of my sincerity,” Pierce flatly stated, extending his right hand, “then take my hand. Everything will become clear.”

 

The woman haltingly placed her own right hand in Pierce’s, and the two of them abruptly froze. This lasted for several seconds before she pulled away, gasping for air.

 

“I could feel it in your mind… you’re one of us, too… one of my people… but why? Why turn to Team Rocket?”

 

“The circumstances of our lives are not easily controlled. My Tenganist heritage is not something I was raised in, as you were. Now, about the offer we can provide you…”

 

“I cannot make that decision right now. I am merely a symbol for the horrors inflicted upon our people by Ghetsis Harmonia, a symbol to motivate what remains of our dying culture to survive by any means necessary. Our enemy is Ghetsis, not Polaris.”

 

“You must not be aware that Ghetsis Harmonia is, in fact, a high-ranking member of Polaris.”

 

That apparently was the case, for as soon as Pierce stated that fact, the woman stepped back and gasped. Her voice became shaky and uncertain. “If Ghetsis is a member of Polaris, than this could be my chance to… I could finally…” Looking up at Pierce, the woman said, “I can’t decide right now. What that man is responsible for doing to us… and to me… I need some time to know if I’m ready to face it.”

 

“I will return here tomorrow night,” Pierce declared, turning toward the street. “I request that you make your decision by then.”

 

-:-

 

By the next morning, the rain had cleared up, and bright sunlight peeked through the patchwork of clouds still in the sky.

 

Nekou, Bunny and Dante led the way as the group entered Cherrygrove City from Route 29. Matt trailed behind them in order to stay alongside Olivia, who had to walk on crutches with her broken left leg bent up off the ground. The leading trio halted a short distance into the city’s boundaries, causing Matt and Olivia to stop as well.

 

“What is it?” he asked them. “Why did you stop?”

 

“You have to know where you’re going before you can go there,” Bunny replied. “So where exactly are we going?”

 

“I do say, we should head for the Pokémon Center first,” Dante proposed, switching which hand he used to hold the briefcase containing the Meteonite fragment and his cane. “We don’t want to burn out already.”

 

“You’re right. Olivia looks pretty tired, too… I don’t want to force her to walk for too long.”

 

“Let’s just go to the Pokémon Center,” muttered the sullen Olivia as she fell into agreement with Matt, Bunny and Dante.

 

“It’s not far from here,” announced Nekou, prompting the group to begin walking again. After they had been moving for a bit, she suddenly piped up again, saying, “So, Olivia, I’d say that with four Pokémon, you should have a good shot at that first badge.”

 

“Minccino, Roselia, Oshawott and Lillipup now,” Bunny reiterated. “Remember, Violet City’s Gym is a Flying-type Gym, so aside from Roselia, you have a pretty decent assortment of Pokémon to take it on. Just don’t forget to keep your team in shape, and that badge should be yours, no problem.”

 

“I don’t really want to talk about it right now,” Olivia growled back at the two women, shifting her gaze downward as she carefully hobbled on her crutches. “The last thing on my mind is a Gym battle. I’m a disgrace.”

 

“Don’t ever call yourself anything like that!” Nekou forcefully said, looking back over her shoulder. “You didn’t do anything wrong. This world is a bitch and the only way to beat it is to be a bigger bitch right back at it. That’s what Maman taught me, and it’s helped keep me going.”

 

“I do think I owe you an apology, though, Olivia.” Unlike Nekou, Dante did not turn at all while he spoke. Instead, he simply kept walking. “It was my experiment on the Meteonite that caused the Bisharp and Pawniard to go wild. If not for my experiment, you would be perfectly fine right now. I’m sorry.”

 

“I guess I forgive you, then…”

 

“That was thoughtful of you, Dr. Fantomos. Thank you, I think it means a lot.”

 

Just as Matt finished his sentence, the five travelers stopped again. They were standing before a red-roofed building primarily constructed of blue-tinted glass, which had a Poké Ball shape above its entrance. Nestled within the more developed buildings of Cherrygrove City, this building and the trees visible beyond it presented an anachronistic appearance.

 

“Well, we’re here. The Pokémon Center,” Matt said out loud, not specifically addressing any of the others in particular. “Let’s go.”

 

No objection was raised, so the group moved forward once more. The double doors representing the entrance into the Pokémon Center slid aside when Nekou stepped before them, allowing her and the others inside.

 

The interior of the Pokémon Center presented a drastic contrast to the cold-feeling city outside its walls. Warmth radiated from the golden walls of the two-floored building, and the number of trainers in the facility with their Pokémon – ranging from those clustered around a large plasma-screen television to the left of the entrance, to those using a bank of public computers on the right, and still more traveling up and down between the two floors – truly made the Pokémon Center feel like a central terminal for the community.

 

As the first and most pressing order of business, Matt led Olivia to the desk at the center of the first floor, nestled between the two escalators going up to and down from the second floor; Nekou, Bunny and Dante followed shortly thereafter.

 

“Good morning!” the pink-haired nurse behind the desk cheerfully exclaimed in greeting. “Welcome to the Pokémon Center! What can I help you with?”

 

“We’ve all got some Pokémon that need healing,” Matt explained. He noticed that Olivia refused to speak to the nurse, though he reasoned that she might have just not been paying attention, so he stepped in.

 

“How many of you need healing? All five?”

 

“No, just four of us,” Bunny corrected. She glanced over to Dante; the old scientist hadn’t battled the Pawniard and Bisharp like they had, so she correctly reasoned that whatever Pokémon he had wouldn’t require healing.

 

“Then please place your Poké Balls in these trays one at a time,” the nurse explained, all while setting out a tray with six circles depressed into it on the brown surface of her desk. Olivia suddenly snapped back to attention and wobbled up first, carefully maintaining her balance as she placed her four Poké Balls in the tray. “Do you have a Pokédex, young lady?”

 

“Huh? Oh, yeah…here.” Carefully reaching into a pocket within her cape, Olivia produced her pink Pokédex and handed it to the nurse, who promptly scanned it with an electronic device.

 

“So you met up with Professor Juniper, Olivia? She’s a great person,” the nurse said, handing back the device before setting out a second empty tray. “You’re lucky to know her. Now, who’s next?”

 

“I am,” Matt answered, stepping forward carefully to allow Olivia space to move aside. Without hesitation, he placed six spheres of his own into their places. “Thank you for being so kind.”

 

“It’s my job, after all. May I see your Pokédex, sir?”

 

“I don’t have one.”

 

As soon as Matt said those words, the smile on the nurse’s face began to slowly fade. “Then in that case, the charge will be three hundred dollars.”

 

“Pokémon Centers in this region charge for service?” What Matt had just learned completely stunned him. He’d never heard of such a concept before; in his home region of Sinnoh, Pokémon Centers were entirely free, so the idea of having to pay for their services caught him completely off guard. Compounding his confusion further, though, he remembered that the nurse had clearly not asked Olivia for any sort of fee.

 

“Only trainers who have obtained a starter Pokémon and Pokédex receive free service at a region’s Pokémon Centers,” explained the nurse.

 

This made the whole idea make more sense in Matt’s mind, for in Sinnoh he had a Chimchar and often used a Pokédex loaned to him by his grandfather for fieldwork. Even though he was still rather surprised, he resigned himself to the situation and handed over his credit card to cover the fee.

 

“Transaction complete, thank you,” said the nurse, carefully returning the card to its owner.

 

Stepping aside to allow Bunny to move forward in line, Matt turned around and noticed an unusual number of people clustering around the television in the Pokémon Center’s lobby. He suddenly felt rather impatient due to his intrigue in the scene.

 

“Dr. Fantomos, look over there,” Matt commented, gesturing to indicate the area by the television. “What do you think is going on?”

 

“Obviously there’s something being broadcasted that has them all interested. Let’s go see what it is, shall we?”

 

Matt curtly nodded to the elderly scientist, indicating his agreement with the proposal. They walked side-by-side across the lobby to the viewing area with Olivia following closely behind. Once they reached the edge of the crowd, Matt tapped one of the trainers on the shoulder.

 

“Yeah, what?” When the young man, who was wearing a black leather jacket, turned around, his rather pronounced brown pompadour ended up right in Matt’s face, forcing Matt to back up a step.

 

“Just wanted to know, what’s going on here?”

 

“Oh, they’re saying that some speech is going to be given by a representative of something called Polaris,” he answered, turning back around. “I don’t really know what that means either.”

 

“Polaris… the group that tried to kill me in Whitegold City, and the ones Dr. Fantomos warned me about…” Matt thought to himself. “There must be a reason why that name keeps coming up…”

 

Something was clearly going on, and whatever it was, Matt found himself deeply troubled by it. While he pushed himself to think of some sort of connection between these events, though, Bunny and Nekou arrived, having dropped off their own Pokémon.

 

“So what the hell is going on here?” Nekou demanded in her typical fashion.

 

“Someone from Polaris is about to give a speech.”

 

Almost as soon as Matt answered her, though, the newscaster on the television attracted the attention of the entire crowd.

 

“We’re now going to go live to the speech to be delivered by a representative of the Polaris group.”

 

The image on the screen switched from the elderly, gray-haired newscaster at his desk to a simple, tight shot of the Polaris representative – that representative being Ghetsis, seen from the shoulders up with the oversized collar of his cape partially covering his mouth.

 

Though neither of them nor anyone else noticed, both Nekou and Dante scowled when they saw him.

 

“Good morning, people of the Tohjo Continent. My name is Ghetsis Harmonia, and I would like to speak to you today about a very important subject. More and more in this day and age, young trainers are suffering. The ideals we as older generations push upon our successors in this world are forcing our children to put themselves in dangerous, difficult positions. All Pokémon trainers are born equally, as are all Pokémon. It is this world, this system we have created that leads to inequality and suffering! It saddens me to the bottom of my heart to see young men and women suffer with no money on the road because they lost all of it in battles.” Ghetsis’s voice was actually losing its composure at this point, as if his sadness was sincere. “We must ask ourselves, what is the best way to help make this world a more equal and fair place? Polaris is pursuing that truth. We will find the way to bring about true equality and fairness in the world! Please, continue listening to what we have to say as we work for a better tomorrow! Thank you for your time.”

 

Upon his thundering conclusion, Ghetsis disappeared from the screen, and the crowd in Cherrygrove City’s Pokémon Center descended into a loud discussion of what his speech precisely meant. Many questioned the true meaning of the rambling speech, while plenty of others intensely discussed the merits of his point about the inequality of Pokémon trainers. It was as if the crowd had become possessed.

 

“What… was that?” Bunny wondered aloud, noticeably unsettled by the spectacle.

 

“I don’t know, but I don’t give a fuck about what that disgusting freak has to say,” Nekou immediately hissed.

 

Though he was equally as disturbed by Ghetsis’s speech, Matt pondered questioning why Nekou was so overtly agitated by it. He decided against doing so, however, and instead offered, “Let’s just forget we saw that and get our Pokémon.”

 

Matt, Nekou, Olivia, Bunny and Dante walked back toward the counter to retrieve their Pokémon. However, there was something else they weren’t aware of.

 

The homeless Tenganist woman, the one who had met with Pierce the night before, was hiding behind a pillar in the corner of the Pokémon Center. She had seen Ghetsis’s entire speech, and saw Matt’s group as well.

 

“It’s all starting to happen…” she mumbled to herself, nestling her child closely against her chest as her nerves frayed. “I didn’t want you to get involved…”

 

-:-

 

A short while later, Matt, Olivia, Nekou, Bunny and Dante were sitting around a table in the Pokémon Center’s dining area, discussing the events of the previous twenty-four hours over their respective meals.

 

“I really cannot apologize profusely enough for the consequences of my experiment.” Dante kept tripping over himself verbally in his efforts to express just how remorseful he was. “It was never my intent for such chaos to break out.”

 

“I appreciate it and all, and I’m glad you fixed my leg, but…” Olivia looked away before finishing, “…just stop apologizing.”

 

The mood at the table became incredibly awkward as a result of Olivia’s dour attitude. Matt just stared into his breakfast sandwich of egg and cheese on an English muffin, while Bunny shifted uncomfortably in her seat while rapidly glancing between Olivia, Dante and Nekou.

 

Perhaps fittingly, it was Nekou who broke the silence, blurting out, “Hey, Olivia, remember that pizza I promised Matt would get us? We’re still getting that!”

 

“Wait, I never…”

 

“Thanks, then…”

 

Matt was interrupted and subdued by the forced smile Olivia showed him. He’d seen that smile before, and it was one of his primary weaknesses related to her. It wasn’t a sarcastic smile, nor a genuinely happy one; instead, she used it when she was forcing herself to find one shred of positivity in a situation, usually when it involved her father.

 

“Want a newspaper?”

 

While collapsing in on himself over how much Olivia’s false smile bothered him, Matt failed to notice the still-disguised Pierce approach the table until the undercover Team Rocket agent was holding a folded-up newspaper right in his face.

 

“Yeah, um… I guess so? Thanks.”

 

As Matt accepted the paper, Pierce sat down at the next table so that their backs would be facing and opened up one of his own. Once he had made sure that the others were occupying themselves with eating, Matt unfolded and opened the paper he’d received from Pierce.

 

Almost immediately, a black file folder fell out onto Matt’s lap.

 

“What is this?”

 

“Open it,” Pierce instructed, not moving his head or even setting down his newspaper.

 

When Matt put his newspaper on the table but hesitated to do anything more, Nekou wasted no time in chiming in, saying, “You might as well take a look inside it. What harm could it do?”

 

“Eh, I guess so.”

 

When Matt opened the file, he was greeted by several documents, the topmost of which bore a large picture of Ghetsis in its upper-right corner. The rest of the folder’s contents elaborated in detail upon what appeared to be criminal case files regarding him.

 

“What is this?” Matt questioned, glancing back at Pierce, who still hadn’t moved. “And who are you? What’s going on?”

 

“That man you saw earlier on television, Ghetsis Harmonia, is not who he appears to be,” Pierce explained, seemingly ignoring Matt’s questions. “He was once the number one criminal on the International Police’s most wanted list for an array of crimes in Unova including kidnapping, forced servitude, Pokémon abuse, child abuse, burglary, assault and murder, both attempted and successful, all as the leader of an outfit called Team Plasma.”

 

Nekou and the others were listening to Pierce’s furtive explanation, too, and she gritted her teeth as he went on.

 

“So yeah, this man is bad news. The reason why I said he was once the International Police’s most wanted fugitive is because a little over two years ago, he was entirely purged from their database, meaning no evidence of his crimes survives, nor does any warrant for his arrest. That’s part of why he was able to make a fresh restart here as a member of Polaris.”

 

“What’s the other part?”

 

“Someone in the government is shielding him, I fear. The internet and all other communication mediums have been carefully controlled to make finding out the truth about Team Plasma and Unova impossible in this country. I dread to think what could happen if Polaris has already infiltrated deeply into the highest ranks of the government here.”

 

With that, Pierce rose from his seat, his newspaper tucked under his arm. Before he could leave, however, Matt spoke up again.

 

“Why are you telling me this, and who are you exactly?”

 

“You may call me Sam. Consider me an information broker… what I just gave you is essentially free. If you ever need my services, look for me in the one place not constrained by any rules, the place where the government cannot clamp down on the truth.”

 

“What was that all about?” Bunny groaned as she watched Pierce walk away. “Why do these strange things keep happening?”

 

“Don’t pay it too much mind,” Nekou abruptly answered. “He didn’t do anything to hurt us.”

 

“I guess not,” Matt decided with a shrug. “Let’s finish up here, then.”

 

-:-

 

Ghetsis hobbled down a cold, gloomy corridor in Polaris’s base shortly after his speech. His gait was crooked and uneven, and the white cane he supported himself on crashed noisily on the metal floor with each step. The cane was itself a rather unusual item; it was topped by a hollow circle with a knob-shaped handle at its highest point. Within the circle, positioned at the nexus of two narrow rods forming a cross shape, was a shield colored half-black and half-white that bore a blue ‘P’ insignia overlaid on a backward ‘Z.’

 

Approaching an iron door, Ghetsis raised the cane up and slammed it into the ground, activating a secret mechanism that opened the portal. He went inside, and the door slid shut behind him.

 

A dark, gloomy chamber waited beyond the doorway. It was illuminated only by the light filtering up from flickering computer screens and the pale blue neon lights fixed in a glass enclosure within the room.

 

Anthea and Concordia, the two women who Ghetsis had presented to the Sacred Helix, were contained within the transparent cage. They were still dressed shabbily in torn rags, and had loose chains connected to their wrists and ankles. Neither woman noticed Ghetsis come into the room and begin approaching their prison, as they were both more interested in the books of mythology their jailer had given them; however, when Ghetsis slammed his cane into the ground again, they immediately turned their blank eyes toward him.

 

“I see you two wenches have put yourselves to some use,” he menaced, seemingly deliberately trying to taunt them. “Are those books of myth decoded yet?”

 

“Lord Ghetsis, sir…”

 

“Of course they are not finished yet!!” Ghetsis thundered, interrupting Concordia before she had a chance to do much more than open her mouth. Both she and Anthea flinched, but only slightly; by this point they were beyond knowing Ghetsis’s typical behavior. “In the amount of time you have had those books, only a genius could have deciphered their secrets already! Of course, we all know that that word is one of the last ones we’d use to describe you two!”

 

In a fit of rage, Ghetsis swung his cane out and smashed a blown-glass flowerpot sitting nearby on the floor, leaving soil and a cluster of flowers to spread out on the ground. This outburst prompted a stronger-but-still-muted reaction from the two women, who still had enough left of their broken instincts to raise their arms over their faces; this also served the secondary purpose of hiding the tears of terror developing in their eyes.

 

Once Ghetsis was done with his explosive anger, he calmed down and began breathing deeply, trying to catch his breath. “But, it’s okay. None of it matters, because in the end, you two are simply nothing more than used, broken waste with little to no use left for me! I have everything I needed from you two, but I will allow you to live to see the world I will shape from the cold flames Polaris will reduce this planet to. A perfect world, in the image of a perfect ruler… you Tenganists cannot die out completely before some of you bear witness to what the king of Harmonia will create. And do you want to know what the best part about this entire thing is? All that remains to be done simply requires that defective freak son of mine along with the woman you Tenganists consider a prophet. You two have a front-row seat to the greatest spectacle this world will ever see!”

 

Though their faces remained blank, when Anthea and Concordia turned to face each other, terrible realizations came over them. Everything Ghetsis had said in his deranged rant, despite sounding like it made no sense, actually was completely true.

 

A sound like a gust of wind suddenly rang out in the chamber, prompting Ghetsis to turn around.

 

“Very well, you’ve returned. Report now.”

 

Three identical young men stepped out from the shadows. Each one was wearing a wig of long, white hair along with sleeveless, figure-hugging gray mesh uniforms and mouth covers. Their hands were covered by heavy black gloves that matched their equally-heavy boots, and their baggy black pants were surrounded by dark skirts closed up in the fronts by gray crosses.

 

“Lord Ghetsis, we have analyzed and searched Route 44 and the Ice Path,” one of the three stated.

 

“Neither your son or the woman you told us to look for was present in either location.”

 

“Some of the Pokémon in the areas we searched appeared to have been befriended without capture, however. This would suggest your son was in fact there at some point, Lord Ghetsis.”

 

“I see,” Ghetsis said, pondering this new information as he leaned forward on his cane and tightened his grip on it. “Redouble your search and expand the area. We must find that inhuman boy and the Tenganist woman before the others do.”

 

“We will meet your demands, Lord Ghetsis.”

 

Another gust of wind indicated the swift disappearance of the three ninja-like young men. Ghetsis briefly turned back to Anthea and Concordia.

 

“You two saw and heard nothing just now. I’m sure you both want to keep getting the amount of food you do get.”

 

Disappearing back into the darkness, Ghetsis wobbled to the door and exited the chamber. Once it was silent again, Concordia crumpled down onto her back and twisted slightly in the bedding that stretched from one end of their cage to the other.

 

“Anthea…” Concordia whispered, staring up at the ceiling, “…please, pray with me...”

 

-:-

 

“Are we heading to the Battle Arcade now, Matt?”

 

Bunny’s question came as the group left the Pokémon Center to return to the streets of Cherrygrove City. She had become the one walking alongside Olivia, as Matt had taken the lead, leaving the two of them along with Dante and Nekou to carry the rear.

 

“I don’t think I want to go there yet,” Matt announced, pausing his walk so the others could hear him. Putting his hands on his hips, he turned slightly and explained, “The Frontier Society facility leaders, the Frontier Brains, change their Pokémon to match the skill level of each challenger. With the Pokémon I have, it’s likely I’ll be facing a trainer at Gym Leader level or higher, so I’d like to find a place to do some training first.”

 

“Then I can help you with that, youngster!”

 

Having been sitting on a bench right outside the Pokémon Center, a surprisingly energetic-looking old man in a green sweater approached Matt. He had plainly overheard Matt and Bunny talking, and appeared eager to add his own contribution, his narrow eyes and thin mouth curled into expressions of genuine excitement.

 

“Who’re you?” Nekou said, grimacing. “And don’t you know it’s rude to eavesdrop?”

 

“You should talk…” Matt sarcastically mumbled under his breath.

 

“Now, now, it’s no problem at all,” the old man hurriedly assured. “People around town call me the Guide Gent, because I give tours of Cherrygrove. What’s this I hear about you wanting to go to a place where you can train your Pokémon?”

 

“Exactly that. I’m going to challenge the Battle Arcade soon, and I want to practice before I go.”

 

“Well, then, you’re in luck, kid!” The Guide Gent did not notice how uncomfortable Matt looked every time ‘youngster’ and ‘kid’ were used to refer to him, but both Nekou and Olivia did, and they began whispering mischievously to each other in the background.

 

The Guide Gent continued, “There’s a place in this city called a Trainer House. A lot of towns have ‘em now. Pokémon trainers gather there and have battles with each other, which should be just what you’re looking for. Interested?”

 

“Well, Olivia, what do you think?” Matt asked, turning halfway around. He was intrigued by the concept, but wanted to confirm that Olivia was comfortable with such a thing first.

 

“It couldn’t hurt.” Nekou suddenly whispered something in her ear, prompting Olivia to smile more broadly than she had all day and add, “Right, youngster?”

 

“Oh, come on,” he sighed, exasperated and yet encouraged by Olivia’s slow return to form. After running his hand down his face, Matt looked back at the Guide Gent and said,” Show us the way, please.”

 

“Will do! Come, youngsters, follow me!”

 

-:-

 

Before the group knew it, they found themselves standing outside of a spacious three-story building in the heart of Cherrygrove City. Aside from the Poké Ball logo on the building’s doorway, it was a rather inconspicuous structure that blended in well with the small but busy city around it.

 

“Here we are, the Trainer House!” the Guide Gent declared, spreading his arms and speaking with great pride in his voice. “This is right where you’ll want to be if your goal is to train your Pokémon.”

 

“Thank you very much for taking us here,” Matt said graciously. The old man’s help had definitely shaved quite a bit of time off of their trip, which in turn allowed Matt more time to dedicate to practicing for the Battle Arcade.

 

“Think nothing of it. I hope what you get out of coming here is worth the price.”

 

“Wait, what?” Bunny stopped the Guide Gent from walking off by putting her hand on his shoulder. She was troubled by his ominous statement and, as she was unable to put it out of her mind, Bunny resolved to clear it up. “What exactly do you mean by ‘price?’”

 

“This city was not always so congested,” responded the Gent, his voice becoming poisoned by a hint of bitterness. “It used to be a small, peaceful city on the shore. But when the Battle Arcade was built, and the Trainer House along with it, things changed around here.”

 

“Let the gentleman go, Bunny,” a bored-sounding Dante instructed. “There is nothing more he can offer us.”

 

Dante’s advice prompted Bunny to realize that he was right, and accordingly, she released her grip on the Guide Gent, who promptly bowed slightly to them one last time before exiting the area. There was no more business to be had outside the Trainer House, so the group moved inside, passing through the automatic double doors of the facility.

 

Inside was a sight much like the Pokémon Center, but different in a way that Matt and the others had trouble putting their fingers on. The facility’s vast lobby took up the entirety of the first floor; its floor, patterned with black and silver tiles alternating in a checkerboard arrangement, was polished so well that it reflected everything on it, from people to Pokémon to fixtures such as the elegant elevators and marble reception desk.

 

Another similarity between the Trainer House and Pokémon Center was that a thick cluster of people were gathered around a large television not far from where Matt and the rest of the group entered. Aside from Dante, they were drawn to the scene by a natural desire to see just what was going on.

 

Matt, Nekou, Bunny and Olivia discovered a battle playing out on the television, depicting a Ludicolo facing off against an unfamiliar Pokémon. This creature had an insect-like appearance, taking on the general shape of a green mantis with leaves coming from his neck and waist.

 

“Another close call between Nando’s Leavanny and Dahlia’s Ludicolo!” blared the commentator of the match. “Leavanny has a distinct advantage, but the Arcade Star is powerful! She’s holding her own!”

 

“It’s Mister Nando!” Olivia exclaimed, finally cheering up as she recognized one of the figures on the television. He was someone she knew from five years ago, a man who indulged in both battles and the far showier Pokémon Contests. She didn’t know him to have the Pokémon he was now using, Leavanny, but it fit in with what she knew of his preferences, which tended toward Grass-types, Bug-types and Pokémon with musical ties.

 

“So he’s here too…” Matt mused, recognizing Nando as well. “This is the Battle Arcade, then?”

 

-:-

 

Indeed, the battlefield seen on the television was that of the Battle Arcade. A huge video screen loomed over the half-black, half-red arena floor, flanked on each side by a tall, cylindrical screen. Each of the side monitors displayed the three Pokémon designated for the battle by each trainer, while the center screen simply displayed a giant black square with several progressively smaller, outlined white squares condensing toward its middle.

 

Going downward from the top, Nando’s Leavanny was his second Pokémon, as was Dahlia’s Ludicolo. Their first Pokémon – Dragonite for Nando, Togekiss for Dahlia – were grayed out, indicating that they had fainted.

 

“What fabulous luck you’ve had so far!” Dahlia exclaimed, twisting around her space on the red side of the battlefield with fluid dance moves. The Arcade Star was a tall, thin woman whose skin showed a tan. Her clothing – a midriff-exposing yellow shirt and a pair of blue jeans – was so tight it left little to the imagination, and her messy, black, tendril-like hair wrapped around her as if it had a mind of its own as she danced. “But, I won’t let you leave here without a real test! Let’s see if you have enough luck to defeat me. Ludicolo, Energy Ball!”

 

“Very well,” Nando calmly responded, strumming the strings of the golden, Mew-shaped harp in his hand, “I shall show you what you seek. Leavanny, please use Signal Beam.”

 

Between the leafy antennae atop Leavanny’s head, a sphere of white light took shape briefly before transforming into a rainbow-colored beam aimed straight in Ludicolo’s direction. However, Ludicolo seemed to be much faster, and the glowing Energy Ball she launched had nearly connected before Leavanny intercepted it with his own attack.

 

The resulting explosion not only threw Leavanny back, it also created a gust of wind that visibly disturbed Nando’s long black hair and green cape. His cape would have blown off if he didn’t have it pinned in place with the red jewel and sky blue cravat he used, in fact.

 

“Those two attacks cancel each other out!” declared the announcer, to the delight of the audience gathered in the Battle Arcade. “It’s pretty clear that Leavanny is suffering under the effect of the Trick Room induced by our game board, while Ludicolo is benefitting from a boost in its speed. Can Nando overcome this to gain the upper hand against our Arcade Star?!”

 

The question made Nando adjust his wide-brimmed green hat and squint with his right eye, the one that was not covered by his hair, while he pondered the situation. It was true, he knew, that the speed-inverting effect of the Trick Room created at the start of the battle was forcing his Leavanny to move more slowly than Dahlia’s Ludicolo. This made dodging and attacking far more difficult than it usually was.

 

“Ludicolo, Hyper Voice!”

 

Dahlia’s command made Nando realize what he had to do right away. “Leavanny, please, bear with me and take the attack!”

 

Leavanny braced himself as Ludicolo began screaming, her voice taking visible form in sound waves that washed over Nando’s Pokémon. As much as he wanted to crumple before the deafening noise, Leavanny knew he had to hold fast and put as much effort as he could into doing so. Once Ludicolo’s Hyper Voice subsided slightly, Nando jumped on the opening.

 

“Now, Leavanny, I call for Air Slash!”

 

Jumping up into the air, Leavanny pulled his arms back. Blades of air formed around them, and with Ludicolo in his sights, he sent the blades plummeting down by swinging his limbs. Dahlia and Ludicolo were caught off guard by this sudden move and thus had little time to prepare, resulting in large pieces of Ludicolo’s grass poncho being cut off as she slipped to her knees.

 

“Dahlia’s Ludicolo is down, but is it out?!”

 

“Oh, not yet, honey! Try my last-ditch longshot move! Drain Punch!”

 

Nando simply shut his eyes and gently smiled as Ludicolo rushed Leavanny with her right arm drawn back. He knew a close-quarters move like this had to be coming, and it had finally arrived. As soon as he heard Ludicolo’s fist connect, he instructed, “Leavanny, grab Ludicolo.”

 

Much to Dahlia’s surprise, Leavanny effectively followed this direction, pinning Ludicolo in his grip. With her Grass-and-Water-type Pokémon frantically trying to escape its enemy, Dahlia exclaimed, “What?”

 

“And now it is time for my finishing move~” Nando sang while again strumming his harp. “Signal Beam!”

 

Another Signal Beam formed between Leavanny’s antennae and hammered Ludicolo into the ground at point-blank range with relentless force. A number of the audience members gasped at this turn of events, especially when the smoke cleared to reveal that Dahlia’s Ludicolo truly was defeated.

 

“Ludicolo is unable to battle!” the referee declared as Ludicolo’s icon was grayed out on Dahlia’s side of the field. “The winner is Leavanny!”

 

“Another one of Dahlia’s Pokémon is down! The challenger now has a numbers advantage, with two of his Pokémon remaining against only her last one… but it’s also Arcade Star Dahlia’s most mighty fighter! Who is going to win this battle?”

 

“Well done, Ludicolo, I hope you had a good time,” Dahlia said as she drew Ludicolo back into her Net Ball, a blue Poké Ball with black lines drawn on it to simulate a net pattern. The next ball she drew out, however, was a Master Ball; two bulbous red circles framed the letter ‘M’ in white against its dark blue top. “You’ve shown me excellent luck so far, Nando. I think it might even be more than that. Even with this Trick Room condition, you’ve managed to hold your own well against the Pokémon of a Frontier Brain… but I’m not the Arcade Star for no reason, you know! Prepare for my ultimate Pokémon! Now… dance, Zapdos!!”

 

The flash of light from Dahlia’s Master Ball took on the shape of a large, avian Pokémon, one with a long, pointed beak and jagged-edged wings. When its yellow-and-black coloring filled in, there could be no more doubt in any viewer’s mind that it was indeed the Legendary Pokémon, Zapdos.

 

“Yes, it’s Dahlia’s Zapdos! Now, let’s see how Nando deals with fighting a legend! And remember, Trick Room is still in effect, so that could also affect the outcome!”

 

“Legendary Pokémon are indeed creatures with incredible levels of power,” Nando said out loud, though the calmness in his voice now sounded rather forced. What truly betrayed his feelings, though, was the subtle shaking of his fingers as they wrapped around the base of his harp. “But… they can be beaten, and I think I may have an advantage in that regard…”

 

“Do you now?!” exclaimed Dahlia, the Frontier Brain’s energy boiling over. “Zapdos, don’t hold back! Show him what you’ve got! Heat Wave!”

 

“Leavanny, escape and use Air Slash!”

 

Zapdos pulled its wings back, but before it could complete its attack, Leavanny shot behind it in a burst of Trick Room-fueled speed. As a result, the gust of fire that Zapdos produced was left to flow aimlessly away, and the Legendary Electric-and-Flying-type took an Air Slash to the back that it easily shrugged off.

 

“Ah, that’s right, normally Zapdos would be faster,” Dahlia realized. “I must give you credit for using Trick Room to your advantage now after being hurt by it earlier. That’s not just luck, it’s taking control and making it your own. Unfortunately for you, your luck has run out! Zapdos, get behind Leavanny and use Drill Peck!”

 

“What?”

 

Nando was left briefly stunned when, instead of the frontal counterattack he was expected, Zapdos twirled through the air to get behind Leavanny. Even Zapdos’s movements, which were as agile and fluid as its trainer’s, exuded power.

 

“It makes sense, a dancer training their Pokémon to reflect their personal style.” Nando’s voice was calm once again, but this time, it was because he was seemingly resigning himself to his fate. “Repel it with Leaf Storm, please.”

 

From his own body language – particularly the steely, tense expression he wore on his face – it was clear that Leavanny also knew his fate was sealed. He knew he couldn’t run forever, even with Trick Room boosting his speed and agility, as that would never win the fight. For that he’d need to land effective strikes on his foe, and none of his moves would prove effective enough to stop Zapdos.

 

Nevertheless, Leavanny turned around to courageously face his fate, which took the form of Zapdos diving toward him beak-first while spinning rapidly like a drill. The torrent of sharp leaves he called forth did little to injure or otherwise halt Zapdos, and when its Drill Peck made contact, Leavanny was hurled dozens of feet back across the stage, past Nando and into the wall at the back of the Battle Arcade.

 

“Leavanny is unable to battle! The winner is Zapdos!”

 

“And Nando’s Leavanny falls to Dahlia’s mighty Zapdos! It’s a stunning show of strength from our Arcade Star, and we now have a sudden death situation on our hands! One Pokémon left on each side... who will win?!!”

 

“Please take a rest, Leavanny, you have more than earned it.” After returning his utterly defeated Leavanny to the safety of its Poké Ball, Nando turned back to face Dahlia and took out another sphere from his brown messenger bag. “Arcade Star Dahlia, I thank you for a most exhilarating match so far. When I entered the Battle Arcade today, I desired precisely this kind of battle, and I don’t want to let it end yet. Exploud, make your entry!”

 

Unlike Leavanny, who cut an elegant and refined figure, Nando’s final Pokémon was much more homely in appearance. The most distinguishing features on her blue body were her large mouth and the yellow-tipped tubes protruding from her head and tails.

 

“For his final Pokémon, Nando calls upon a master of sound, Exploud! Could he be hoping to tap into the wide array of moves Exploud can offer?”

 

“I don’t think I want to take chances with this one,” Dahlia mumbled, acknowledging her gut feeling telling her that Exploud was dangerous. “Zapdos, Heat Wave!”

 

Quickly running his fingers over his harp’s strings, Nando called out, “Get beneath it and use ThunderPunch!”

 

Normally, Exploud would be an even slower Pokémon than any of the others, but with Trick Room in effect she was able to slide underneath Zapdos with great speed. While Zapdos’s Heat Wave went off with no effect, Exploud’s right fist became wrapped in a shroud of electricity shortly before she leapt up to try and hit the Legendary Pokémon.

 

“Don’t let it!” Dahlia hastily warned. “Drill Peck!”

 

Even with the effect of Trick Room slowing it down, Zapdos was able to contort itself in the air to face downward, meeting Exploud’s ThunderPunch with a Drill Peck. The electricity of Exploud’s move combined with Zapdos’s spinning motion to send sparks and bolts of lightning all over the arena for a time; not long after the two combatants were separated by the force of their respective attacks.

 

“An impressive showing from both trainers creates a gorgeous combination of moves! Most exciting!”

 

“A combination of moves...” Nando thought to himself. “That’s it! Maybe my Pokémon Contest techniques will help!” Thrusting his arm out, he called, “Exploud, please, use Fire Blast!”

 

“Such a thing won’t put me down! Zapdos, show no fear! Drill Peck!”

 

Dahlia’s words were not lost on her Zapdos, as it courageously dove right into the thick fireball that Exploud burst from her mouth. When the rapidly spinning avian Pokémon made contact with the burning blast, the fire exploded into a twisting spiral; however, by that time, Exploud had already appeared behind Zapdos.

 

“Now, use Hyper Voice!” Nando commanded, pointing forwardly across the field.

 

“I see what you’re up to. Thunderbolt!”

 

Like Dahlia’s Ludicolo before her, Nando’s Exploud took a deep breath and let out an explosive roar that manifested as visible sound waves. However, Zapdos stopped short while still enveloped in the remnants of Fire Blast and discharged electricity from all over its body. The electricity fused with not only the fire but the sound waves of Hyper Voice as well, creating shining rings of sparkling red energy that ultimately caused a gigantic explosion.

 

The bright light and gusting wind that radiated from the point of the explosion forced both Nando and Dahlia to cover their eyes. It took a full minute before the blast died down, revealing both Exploud and Zapdos, injured and breathing heavily.

 

“You were trying to force this to look like a Contest battle, weren’t you?” Dahlia correctly guessed, standing confidently with her hand on her hip. “I’ve participated in plenty of Pokémon Contests myself, so if you want to go there, I’ll gladly do it.”

 

Nando took a step back, clutching his harp with nervousness that also reflected in his eyes. “Both Pokémon are getting exhausted,” he thought, apprising both Exploud and Zapdos standing still on the battlefield. “I have to break through and start landing hits directly upon Zapdos, or we cannot win this…”

 

“It’s time to wrap this up, Zapdos!” Dahlia shouted, as if she was reading Nando’s thoughts. She threw her hand upward into the air and yelled, “Launch Ominous Wind into the air, then Drill Peck through it!!”

 

Turning completely away from Exploud, Zapdos swung its wings upward, blowing a gust of purple-hued wind into the open air. Then, in front of the stunned eyes of Nando and the crowds both in the Battle Arcade and watching on television, Zapdos initiated Drill Peck, spinning right through the Ominous Wind before aiming for Exploud.

 

Staring at the purple spiral careening straight for his Pokémon, Nando came to a nervous realization. “We lose if we cannot keep up. Exploud, use ThunderPunch from below!”

 

Like earlier, Exploud attempted to slide beneath Zapdos and hit it with ThunderPunch, but this time, the aura surrounding the powered-up Electric-and-Flying-type clipped and stunned her.

 

“Go for the win now!” Dahlia exclaimed as Zapdos glided back to her side of the field. “Thunderbolt!”

 

“Exploud, don’t give up yet! Fire Blast!”

 

Exploud’s fireball and Zapdos’s lightning bolt cut past each other in midair, just barely avoiding a collision. As a result, both Pokémon suffered direct hits and were sent falling to the ground, where, burned and battered, they stared each other down with what strength they had left.

 

“I’m truly impressed. It’s been a while since Zapdos has had a fight this worthwhile... but it’s about time this came to an end! Use Heat Wave and then Drill Peck!”

 

As Zapdos mimicked its earlier combination move, substituting Heat Wave for Ominous Wind, Nando realized just how serious his situation was. “We’re going to have to go for the long shot, Exploud. Combine Ice Punch and ThunderPunch, I ask you!”

 

On Nando’s order, Exploud’s right fist began emanating ice while her left fist became electrified. She hit them together, combining the powers of ice and electricity into both fists, then swung them both forward to intercept Zapdos’s fiery drilling attack.

 

The two managed to hold even ground against each other. Neither could knock out or even force the other back. Embers from Zapdos’s body flaked over Exploud, singeing her skin, while the ice and electricity of Exploud’s punches began to nullify the force of Zapdos’s charge.

 

For a brief moment, Exploud and Zapdos could see into each others’ eyes within the maelstrom of their attacks. A glare of respect was exchanged between them – then they each gave their last ounce of strength into a final push forward.

 

From the explosion that resulted from the powerful clash, Zapdos dropped forward past Exploud, crashing into the ground – and it did not get up. A split second later, Exploud fell down, but her opponent was already defeated.

 

“Zapdos is unable to battle! The winner is Exploud, and the victory in this Battle Arcade match goes to the challenger, Nando!”

 

A thunderous cheer went up among the assembled crowd at the Battle Arcade as the announcer, channeling the excitement into his voice, declared, “And there’s an outcome we rarely see! I know I never expected it today… Dahlia’s Zapdos has been beaten! Nando’s Exploud has managed to defeat it!!”

 

“Hm… so that’s how my luck runs out…” A broad smile came over Dahlia’s face as she recalled Zapdos to its Master Ball. “You did great, Zapdos! The luckiest thing of all is when you get to battle all out, and I couldn’t have had such a treat without your help!”

 

With that, Dahlia began walking over to Nando, who was kneeling next to his badly wounded Exploud and petting her head.

 

“And I must congratulate you too, Nando!” she said happily. “A fierce battle is truly a joyous occasion, and you have the honor of being the winner! You too, Exploud, you were truly impressive!”

 

“I sincerely thank you, Arcade Star Dahlia,” Nando responded, rising back to his full height. “My Pokémon thank you as well, for this most excellent battle.”

 

-:-

 

Having seen the conclusion of Nando and Dahlia’s battle, much of the crowd surrounding the television in the lobby of the Trainer House began to dissipate. Matt, however, remained firmly rooted where he stood, and as a result, the others in his group didn’t leave either.

 

“Mister Nando’s just as amazing as always, don’t you think?” Olivia cheerfully said to him, seemingly forgetting about her crutches for a brief moment.

 

However, Matt was all but oblivious to what she was saying, as his attention was fixated on what had just unfolded at the Battle Arcade. “So that’s what I’m up against?” he mumbled to himself. “I’m not sure I stand a chance…”

 

“I told you, the road to the truth is not an easy one.” Seemingly having overheard Matt’s musings, Dante stood alongside him, pushing up his glasses before speaking further. “But if you cannot stand up to Zapdos, how do you hope to ever have a chance of finding Reshiram, whose power greatly eclipses it?”

 

“You’ve got a point. I’ll need to prepare if I’m going to have any chance of winning, though.”

 

“That means you’ll be training here, then?” Bunny chimed in, having made her way into the conversation. “The registration counter’s right over there,” she then added, gesturing to her right.

 

“Let’s do it, then.”

 

With a sudden spring in his step, Matt strode across the lobby, arriving at the registration desk well before the others, with Olivia and Dante bringing up the rear. A brunette woman dressed in a plain white blouse and green pencil skirt was operating the counter, and she smiled at the group when they arrived before her.

 

“Welcome to the Cherrygrove City Trainer House.” Though her voice was pleasant enough, she was hoarse and spoke robotically, as if she’d said the same thing repeatedly and worn herself out on it. “We offer facilities for Pokémon trainers to develop and hone their battling skills in controlled environments. Would you like to rent one of our training rooms?”

 

Disregarding what he thought was the woman’s obvious boredom with her job, Matt replied, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’d like, please.”

 

After signing his name to the guest ledger that the receptionist thrust in his direction, Matt was handed a ticket that she printed out from the computer on her desk. It read “S1-R12.”

 

“Your battle room is number twelve on sublevel one. Please take the elevator to your left. Thank you for using our services, Mr. Chiaki.”

 

Almost immediately upon his turning around, Nekou grabbed Matt’s arm and began dragging him toward the elevator. “No time to lose! Wasted time can’t be regained!”

 

Wrenching his arm free of her grip, Matt growled, “What’s gotten into you? This time, I mean.”

 

“If you don’t train, you won’t beat Dahlia. And if you lose, what good are you to me?”

 

“What does that mean?”

 

“It means… um… fuck. Did you forget about that pizza you promised me and Olivia? If you lose, you can’t keep your promises!”

 

“I didn’t promise that…” Matt sighed in exasperation before turning to Bunny, Olivia and Dante. “I need a training partner, though.”

 

“I’ll train with you,” Dante offered as the group resumed their trip to the elevator. “I think battling you would be a rather intriguing affair.”

 

“You’ve got Pokémon of your own?” Bunny questioned, plainly surprised by Dante’s words. “I hadn’t quite expected you to be a trainer yourself.”

 

“Well, not professionally like the younger generation, at least.” A wistful look filled Dante’s eyes as he spoke. “Things aren’t like how they were when I was younger.”

 

“Then why are you offering to train with me exactly?”

 

“I like you and your little team, Matt,” Dante confessed. “You four remind me of how things used to be, when people quested for big things. Well, that and the fact that I can just feel how badly my Alakazam and Ditto want to battle again, but do forgive this old man for making you listen to his ramblings.”

 

“It’s no big deal, in fact, what you had to say was actually kind of interesting.” Matt caught Nekou grimacing in the corner of his eye and realized that she didn’t share his appreciation of Dante’s philosophizing at the time. Disregarding that, though, he realized that they had reached the elevator, and reached for the call button.

 

Before Matt could press it, the doors opened in front of him. Inside the elevator was someone Matt recognized – a young man, dressed plainly in a black jacket and blue jeans but sporting shoulder-length red hair and an intense facial expression. He plainly recognized Matt too, and stepped out of the elevator before putting his hand on his hip and confronting the group.

 

“Somehow I’m not surprised I ran into you here, Matt Chiaki. I knew I had to get stronger before facing you, and it looks like that time has come.”

 

“Have we met before?” Bunny questioned, raising an eyebrow.

 

“I remember you,” Matt said. He then tilted his head back and looked over his shoulder to Bunny. “Silver, the trainer I was going to battle at the Frontier Society tournament back on the Indigo Plateau. Remember? I was going to battle him but he decided to surrender and leave the tournament.”

 

“Oh, now I remember!”

 

“So what’s the matter, Silver?” Nekou mockingly asked of the young man. “Did Matt, of all people, scare you?”

 

“You, be quiet.” Silver’s casual, rude dismissal of Nekou’s provocation surprised Matt far more than her original action did, leaving him to stare blankly as Silver turned an intense glare toward him. “I have unfinished business with Matt Chiaki.”

 

“This young man certainly appears to mean business, Matt,” Dante advised. “I’ll politely step aside from battling you this time, because it looks like you’ve found your real opponent.”

 

“I guess it makes sense, doesn’t it? Silver, if you’re serious about this, and I have no reason to think you aren’t, follow us back downstairs. Come on, Olivia.”

 

With Silver now in tow, the group crowded into the ivory-walled elevator. Olivia and Dante entered first, owing to the fact that they had assistance devices for walking. Matt, Nekou, Bunny and Silver all followed them.

 

On the wall next to the door was a selection of buttons, marked “1,” “2,” 3” and “S1.” Matt chose the final button and pressed it, prompting the elevator’s doors to close so the car could transport its passengers down.

 

“You never really explained why you quit the tournament, Silver.”

 

Silver growled; evidently he was bothered by having to think about his previous encounter with Matt’s group, even though nothing bad had happened. “I wasn’t strong enough,” he finally admitted, however. “I saw your strength and I knew I was outmatched.”

 

“Why not just battle him and find out how it would go?” Olivia questioned.

 

“There was no reason to. I could have, but I would not have gained anything from it. In order to get stronger, I believe that you must fight on the same level as your enemy, which meant I had to hone my skills further.” Silver thrust his finger upward, pointing right in Matt’s face, and declared, “I’ve done that, so now, consider this battle the one we didn’t have then.”

 

Before Matt could say anything in regards to the challenge laid down against him, the elevator stopped and its doors opened. Beyond the threshold on sublevel one was nothing more than a wide, brightly-lit corridor. Six doors lined up next to each other on each wall, each leading to its own athletic court.

 

“Tell me what number room you got,” Silver demanded.

 

“Twelve,” Matt replied, fumbling for the reservation ticket in his pocket.

 

“Fine. It’s this way.”

 

With his hands tucked into his own pockets, Silver skulked over to the door nearest to the elevator on the right side, which had a large number ‘12’ painted on it in yellow. Silver snatched the ticket from Matt’s grasp and held it up to a sensor next to the door, prompting it to open. He then crumpled the paper up and tossed it back to Matt before abruptly entering the room.

 

“Someone got their cornflakes pissed in this morning,” Nekou groaned, following behind Olivia into the room.

 

“Please don’t make a scene now,” Matt pleaded with her. “Let this go as smoothly as it possibly can.”

 

Surprisingly enough, Nekou listened and backed down, allowing both herself and Matt to finally enter after the others.

 

Inside was an entirely blank, slate-gray room. A crude battlefield outline was drawn on the floor in chalk, and off to the side, there was a bench for spectators. Bunny, Olivia and Dante were already there, so Nekou joined them while Matt took his place on the battlefield to face Silver.

 

“This is where we’re going to fight?” Matt blanched. “It’s so lifeless.”

 

“That’s why they give you the opportunity to customize it,” snapped the redheaded young man. “Learn what you’re doing, or you aren’t a worthy opponent for me.”

 

As if on cue, a robot in the shape of an oversized Poké Ball floated down next to the spectator bench. Nekou immediately jumped up, and using a keyboard attached to the machine, activated the program to edit the battlefield. Small, crystalline domes surrounding the battlefield space began to glow as a result.

 

With only a few clicks, Nekou loaded a battlefield map, and the crystal generators shined even brighter. When their light faded, the room had been completely transformed, now resembling an artificial forest in a greenhouse. Trees and rocks were everywhere, and the rocky floor had been transformed into a cool, healthy clearing of grass.

 

“So it’s true!” Bunny exclaimed. “I had heard these places could become any kind of battlefield, and it really was true!”

 

“All computers and holograms,” explained Nekou. “This battlefield is for all intents and purposes solid, but it can be reverted back into data and put back into the system when we’re done with it.”

 

With Matt and Silver each on their respective end of the forest arena, the battle only needed some rules put into place before it could begin, an opportunity Silver seized without hesitation.

 

“We’ll make this a Single Battle with three Pokémon on each side,” he announced while pointing straight at his opponent, leaving no room for debate. “Obviously, the battle will be over when all three Pokémon on one side faint.”

 

“Fine by me,” Matt agreed, grasping the front of his hat. “Do you want to use the Pokémon we used in the tournament first?”

 

“I don’t care about that. The rules of that tournament were too restrictive for me to get much out of it, so I don’t care what Pokémon you go with. For myself, on the other hand…”

 

Cutting himself off in the middle of his own sentence, Silver took a Poké Ball from his belt and threw it. A hulking, blue Pokémon with a muscular build and powerful jaws erupted out; he stood on a pair of firm legs as he stretched out his clawed, club-like arms.

 

“I was training Feraligatr at the tournament,” Silver elaborated, “so I’ll use it here too.”

 

“I see.” Still holding the front of his hat, Matt quietly pondered what he had to do. “This battle is to practice for the Battle Arcade. Dahlia uses Togekiss, Ludicolo and Zapdos, and with me now… I have Heatran, Reuniclus, Aggron, Rotom, Golurk and Salamence with me. Based on that… I know which three I’ll go with.”

 

Readying a Poké Ball of his own from his bag, Matt called out, “Tony, make your mark!”

 

Feraligatr’s bulk was more than matched by the Pokémon Matt sent out to face him, a dinosaur-like creature whose craggy black body had bands of silver metal around the limbs. Coming in at a height just shorter than that of his opponent, the Aggron turned his steel head upward to allow his blue eyes to meet the gaze of Silver’s Feraligatr.

 

“An Aggron,” Bunny noted with a bit of apprehension, “against a Feraligatr. Aggron is Steel-and-Rock-type, while Feraligatr is Water-type. I’ve got to wonder what Matt was thinking, sending in something with such an obvious disadvantage…”

 

“And Feraligatr is the final evolution of Totodile,” Olivia added, somewhat bitterly. “I wonder how much I missed out on…”

 

“I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but sending in a Rock-type against a Water-type?” On his side of the battlefield, Silver was just as confused as Bunny about Matt’s choice. “Basic type logic is on my side, but I’m sure you know that already.”

 

“I’m getting ready to challenge Dahlia over at the Battle Arcade,” Matt explained, “so I’m going with the Pokémon I want to use there, to warm them up.”

 

“If your path to the Battle Arcade goes through me, I’ll see to it that you never get there! Feraligatr, Waterfall!”

 

“Tony, I think you can outgun it! Head Smash!”

 

Both Tony and Feraligatr started to charge at each other, their bodies each taking on different qualities to reflect their moves. Tony’s head took on a bright glow, while Feraligatr’s entire body was surrounded by a current of water.

 

When they collided, the two Pokémon pushed against each other for several intense moments before Tony was overwhelmed and thrown back. However, his attack was not entirely a failure, as Feraligatr also stumbled backward in Silver’s direction, just in a far more subtle way.

 

“So that didn’t work. Fine, I’ll try something else. Tony, give Iron Tail a shot!”

 

“Hmph, how desperate can you be?” Silver sighed, as if he was annoyed by how the battle was going. “Feraligatr, you use Iron Tail as well!”

 

Both Pokémon lunged at each other again, this time with their tails glowing with silvery light. They both tried to hit the other by swinging their tails, but once again, Feraligatr prevailed, pitching Tony back into a tree textured by the battlefield. The false foliage cracked under Tony’s weight, and a large portion of it faded into thin air in a cloud of binary code.

 

“The reason why Aggron is an especially poor choice against Feraligatr is actually twofold,” Silver spoke before not only Matt but Nekou, Olivia, Bunny and Dante, who were all fascinated in the battle for their own reasons. “One, the reason you already know, that Water is super-effective against Rock. You already knew that, but what shocks me is that you don’t know reason number two – Steel-type moves don’t affect Water-types much. For that reason, you have no chance. Recall Aggron if you want to have any chance of defeating Feraligatr.”

 

Matt stopped and stared nervously at the ground. “He’s got a point. I knew that, but it slipped my mind,” he thought, running a hand over the stubble on his face. “If my attacks can be so easily repelled, I won’t be able to win. Maybe I should recall Tony…”

 

“Time’s up, your decision for Aggron is made. Feraligatr, Waterfall!”

 

Seeing the water-cloaked Feraligatr charging his way again, Matt panicked and blurted out, “Block it with Double-Edge!”

 

Matt hadn’t noticed yet, but Tony seemed to realize something about the battle and Feraligatr. As a result, he lowered his head and turned Double-Edge into a headbutting move instead of a tackling move. He charged ahead, right into Feraligatr’s attack, and managed to hit Feraligatr’s own head directly. Both Pokémon were affected by the collision, but Feraligatr was visibly shaken up by the force he’d been hit with.

 

“Tony, what did...” Suddenly, what his Pokémon had done clicked with Matt. “Aggron as a species is far more defensive than Feraligatr! If we simply parry Feraligatr’s attacks with similar moves of our own, Feraligatr will end up defeating himself!” Undoing and opening his coat, Matt said to his Pokémon, “Good thinking, Tony! That’s how we’ll win!”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I will be the winner! Feraligatr, Iron Tail!”

 

Tony’s Double-Edge had more of an effect on Feraligatr than either Matt or Silver realized, however. The hulking Water-type could not carry out his orders immediately due to the fact that he was having difficulty maintaining his balance after the blow he’d received.

 

It wasn’t long before Feraligatr managed to overcome his dizziness, though, and Matt was ready for him when he did. “Hit Feraligatr’s tail with Dragon Claw!”

 

As Feraligatr swung his tail around, Tony had a glowing claw ready to intercept it. Iron Tail had so much force put into it that Tony had to strain greatly for his own move to have any effect, but it paid off when he managed to reverse the pace of Feraligatr’s attack, throwing Silver’s Pokémon into a spin.

 

“If that won’t work, we’ll get even closer! Feraligatr, use Ice Punch repeatedly!”

 

In order to stop his spinning, Feraligatr leaned down and dug his claw into the ground, quickly halting his movement. He then rose to his full height, tensed the muscles in both of his arms and charged at Tony anew, with his claws and forearms radiating icy air.

 

“I’ll gladly fight up close! Meet every one with Dragon Claw, Tony!”

 

Bracing himself, Tony met every one of the punches dealt by Feraligatr by stabbing Feraligatr’s fists with his claws; both alternated their strikes, matching each other evenly.

 

“Now this is a battle,” Nekou commented, still standing behind the floating computer. She seemed to be paying surprisingly close attention to the match. “Olivia, what do you think?”

 

“Feraligatr’s strong, but I expected that.” Smiling, she continued, “But Matt’s doing really well. I’m actually impressed.”

 

“I agree,” Bunny concurred. “Even with the bad type matchup, Matt’s figuring out ways to make it work. I’m not sure if he can actually pull off a win, though…”

 

For his part, Dante simply sat still and quietly observed the events unfolding before him.

 

Tony and Feraligatr were still exchanging blows when Silver suddenly smirked. “I’ve got you right where I want you,” he tauntingly hissed. “Iron Tail!”

 

In the blink of an eye, Feraligatr halted his punching assault and switched back to using his tail, undercutting Tony and forcing him to fall forward. He fell right into Feraligatr’s grasp, and the Water-type Pokémon gripped Tony by wrapping his arms around the Aggron.

 

“What?!” Matt gasped in disbelief, a sentiment shared by his friends on the sidelines. “How am I supposed to... use Iron Tail, I guess!”

 

Tony’s tail did begin to glow, but he was unable to wriggle free of Feraligatr’s grasp and therefore was unable to use it. Feraligatr smiled; it was not a smile of happiness but one of cocky confidence, much like the one worn by his trainer.

 

“Now, Feraligatr!” Silver called out, pointing directly forward. “Throw Aggron with Waterfall!”

 

A veil of water erupted around the two Pokémon, putting Tony into visible distress. That wasn’t enough for Feraligatr, though; he began trying to lift his opponent, exerting all the energy he could into raising the Aggron up.

 

It was Feraligatr’s clear struggle to pick up Tony that inspired Matt to continue. “I know you’ve got some more left in you, Tony. I can feel it!”

 

Responding to Matt’s encouragement, Tony growled and shifted himself against both Feraligatr’s grip and the water pounding his body, making himself even heavier and thus harder for Feraligatr to lift.

 

“Come on, Feraligatr, finish it!” roared Silver. Despite the resistance Tony was putting up against his Feraligatr’s advances, Silver still thought he could feel victory within his reach.

 

“Dragon Claw!”

 

Even though he was still trapped in Feraligatr’s grasp, Tony managed to pull his left arm free. He jabbed his glowing claws into Feraligatr’s torso, a move that finally broke the Waterfall and freed him from the Water-type.

 

“Aggron got away!” Bunny exclaimed as she, Nekou, Olivia and Dante watched the two Pokémon separate in what appeared to be preparation for a final clash. “Matt just might pull this one out after all!”

 

“Maybe he isn’t so bad after all,” Nekou deadpanned at the battlefield controls. “He might actually earn some credit this time.”

 

“Feraligatr’s strong, but… maybe Matt and Aggron are stronger?” With her hand over her mouth, Olivia’s voice came out muffled but still reflective of the thought in her mind.

 

Tony threw off the water that was still dripping down his steel armor by flicking his arms and head. After that, seeing that Feraligatr was still standing prompted to shake the room with a mighty roar.

 

“Tony…” Interpreting the roar as a sign of his Aggron’s emotions toward the battle, Matt hesitated for a moment before smiling. “You want to finish this up, then? Be my guest. Head Smash!”

 

Growling in frustration, Silver would have none of this. “Feraligatr, get the upper hand! Waterfall!”

 

In the exact same way that the battle had begun, Tony and Feraligatr rushed each other and collided head-to-head. However, unlike the first time, Feraligatr’s body had become weak after trying to pick up Tony, and as a result he could not hold out. Tony’s Head Smash made full impact and threw Feraligatr over, and with his head reddened from the blow, the Water-type did not get up.

 

“Well done, Tony,” Matt congratulated, wiping his brow. Both he and his Aggron were gasping for air after Feraligatr finally went down, exhausted for different reasons. “That was excellent work.”

 

It slipped their minds for just a brief second that Feraligatr was only the first of Silver’s Pokémon to fall and that the battle was far from over. This was not a fact forgotten by Silver, though, and as he wordlessly recalled Feraligatr he already had his second Pokémon ready.

 

“That was the first Pokémon I ever got that you just beat.” Holding up a Great Ball – a blue Poké Ball with two red bars on its top – in his right hand, Silver spoke in a voice that was subtly poisoned by an angry, frustrated growl. “I must have underestimated you, and that will not happen again! Mamoswine, enter the battle!”

 

If Feraligatr could be called a large Pokémon, the beast that followed him as Silver’s second choice could rightfully be known as huge. Her massive body was supported by four stout legs and covered in brown fur. A white-and-blue frame surrounded her fairly small eyes, and below the smattering of cream-colored fur around her red nose, two grand tusks shaped from solid ice emerged. She stamped her foot into the ground repeatedly as she looked down on the Pokémon before her.

 

“Mamoswine’s a completely different obstacle than Feraligatr,” commented Bunny, “what with being an Ice-and-Ground-type.”

 

“It’s true that his Ground-type is a risk,” Matt responded, having heard Bunny speaking, “but Mamoswine is half Ice-type, too. Tony, still up for this?”

 

Though he was visibly tired, Tony was enjoying the fight too much to quit. He grunted and nodded back to his trainer, so Matt adjusted his hat and steeled his stance.

 

“Good luck, then, Tony. Use Iron Tail!”

 

“You aren’t getting me this time!” Silver yelled out. “Mamoswine, Earthquake!”

 

Long before Tony had any chance of reaching Mamoswine with his glowing tail, the towering Pokémon slammed her front legs into the ground. The resulting shockwave ravaged much of the illusionary landscape on its way to violently shaking beneath Tony’s feet. Blasts of seismic energy radiated through Tony’s body from underground, causing him to spasm sharply before falling down as soon as the attack abated.

 

“To be expected,” Nekou scoffed. “Aggron would have had a hard time even without the stress from beating Feraligatr first.”

 

“Good job, Tony,” Matt said to the Poké Ball in his hand after recalling his Aggron to its confines. “That wasn’t an easy fight by any means.”

 

“We’re even now,” Silver called out across the field, his voice as cold as the ice composing his Mamoswine’s tusks. “Tell me that your next Pokémon is going to actually give Mamoswine a challenge. I won’t get any stronger if I just crush you.”

 

“And I won’t get stronger either if that happens, so wouldn’t you say a tough battle would be good for us both?”

 

“Now that’s what I wanted to hear.” A daring smile crept onto Silver’s face, breaking his usual dour attitude. It wasn’t out of happiness, though; instead, it was fueled entirely by his eagerness for a brawl. “Show me your next Pokémon!”

 

“That’s fine by me! Patrick, make your mark!”

 

Matt threw the Dive Ball after taking it from his bag, sending Patrick out once again. The Seismitoad briefly yawned, but when he saw Mamoswine, he realized that he was in a battle and snapped to attention.

 

On the sidelines, Bunny seemed slightly alarmed by Matt’s choice. “Matt’s going with a Pokémon he only just caught recently, against a well-trained opponent no less?”

 

“Well, he’s got to help get Seismitoad stronger at some point, right?” Olivia pointed out. “And Seismitoad did help us fight that nasty Bisharp, so it could work.”

 

“Don’t think you’ve got this wrapped up yet,” Silver grunted, standing with his hand tucked firmly in his pocket. “Give me everything you’ve got.”

 

“Gladly,” Matt quickly replied. “Patrick, if he wants to be hit hard, let’s give him just that. Scald!”

 

“Mamoswine, Hail.”

 

The two Pokémon maneuvered their bulky bodies in curves around the field, matching each others’ movements. Neither broke eye contact with the other, but it was Patrick who acted first, opening his wide mouth to spit up a stream of steaming-hot water into Mamoswine’s face. The Ice-and-Ground-type closed her eyes as the burning water erupted into steam against her face and singed her fur.

 

A splash of red, discolored hair formed a bizarre spot on Mamoswine’s face as a residual of the attack. She did, however, manage to snap back into focus rather quickly, and once she did, she looked up to the high ceiling and howled. A soft white aura surrounded her body briefly before bursting into a thick cover of clouds that enveloped the entire chamber, within which a relentless ice storm began. Hailstones buffeted Patrick, but they had no effect on Mamoswine, who seemed to fade into the mist.

 

“Matt better watch himself,” Nekou muttered to Bunny and Olivia while wiping the water off of her glasses. “If Silver’s doing what I think he is, then this is going to be quite a ride. I’m not surprised he’d use a Ground-type with such skill, though.”

 

“His favorite type, like my dad with Water-types?” Olivia wondered.

 

“It’s just in his blood, I guess you could say.”

 

Matt was openly as bothered by the clouds in the air as Nekou was. He squinted his visible eye several times and wiped condensation off of the mask covering his other eye before saying anything.

 

“So you’re going to work me down slowly with Hail?” he breathily said. “I’ll have to deal with you quickly, then. Patrick, use Scald again!”

 

“Just what I wanted,” Silver mumbled with a smirk.

 

What happened next was hard to describe. Patrick thought he saw Mamoswine clearly in the storm while he aimed Scald, and as far as Matt, Bunny, Nekou and Olivia all could see, there was no reason to doubt that. Just before the searing stream made contact, though, what appeared to be Mamoswine simply vanished, revealing itself to be little more than a mirage.

 

“What? How did it miss?”

 

“That was Mamoswine’s ability, Snow Cloak,” Nekou explained, her glasses catching the light from the fluorescent bulbs on the ceiling and glowing as a result. “It becomes more evasive in a hailstorm.”

 

“So the Hail wasn’t itself what was going to wear me out, it was Mamoswine escaping my attacks…”

 

“That’s right. I wanted to test this tactic out on opponents who could give it a challenge.” While offering these details, Silver remained nearly still, keeping his body stiff and his hand in his pocket. He finally moved shortly after, however, pointing at Matt as he called out the command, “Earthquake!”

 

Mamoswine had completely disappeared in the murk consuming the battle, so when she roared, her disembodied voice seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. It was impossible for anyone to tell where the shockwave radiating through the ground originated from, but regardless of that fact, Patrick was shaken to his knees as a result.

 

“I think it’s behind you, Patrick! Hit it with Drain Punch!”

 

A gurgling sound rumbled from Patrick’s mouth, indicative of his anger as he whirled around and swung his glowing fist in a wide arc across the space previously to his back. It was all for naught, though; if Mamoswine had been there just a moment earlier, she no longer was.

 

“This works better than I expected,” Silver mused. “If I’m getting this much mileage now, I can only imagine how well it’ll do against his Pokémon. It’s about time to wrap this up, so use Earthquake one more time!”

 

 Once more, Mamoswine bellowed from no discernible location and broke the ground with a seismic shockwave. Patrick fell from his knees onto all fours, trembling violently from the repeated spasms forced through his body. Yet, he did not faint, and that was what visibly flustered Silver while leaving Matt relieved.

 

“That didn’t do it? I’ll have to admit it, then… you’re giving me just the kind of challenge I wanted.”

 

“Underestimating your opponent’s a mistake,” Matt advised the younger trainer. “If you underestimate what you’re against, you won’t bring your best to the fight.”

 

“That’s good and all but I wasn’t underestimating you,” Silver sneered, his façade of smug calmness beginning to crack. “You are a means to an end for me, and for that, I need you as strong as you possibly can be. You think I’m underestimating you? I’ll show you how serious I can be! Mamoswine, Ice Shard! Finish it off!”

 

A glint in the churning murk of the hailstorm caught Matt’s eye, and he knew immediately what he had to do. “Ninety degrees to your right! Scald!”

 

In a sudden burst of agility, Patrick deliberately fell onto his stomach and turned around by exactly the prescribed angle. The chunks of ice that Mamoswine had directed his way simply flew right over his head, having no effect on him as he spat back another burst of boiling water.

 

“Mamoswine, wha…” Silver stopped his response to Mamoswine’s pained wail short when he spotted her amongst the clouds. She was now the one trembling, with some sort of injury near her mouth acting as the source of her suffering. From the bright red discoloration of her fur in that area, Silver realized that she had been inflicted with a burn. “Damn it! Stopped when I was so close... this is not over yet. Mamoswine, come back!”

 

Seeing no sense in forcing Mamoswine to fight further at the moment, Silver called her back into the relative safety of her Great Ball. He then gripped another Poké Ball in his hand, but hesitated in throwing it.

 

“My third and last Pokémon,” Silver thought aloud. “To call this a win for myself, I must make everything I can out of this one. Mamoswine can’t do this alone, and if I want to get strong enough to defeat him, I have to be able to win battles like this…” Finally throwing the Poké Ball, he shouted, “Gengar, enter the battle!”

 

In keeping with the eclectic, random nature of Silver’s team, his third Pokémon was a roughly five-foot-tall ghost with the appearance of a black shadow. Just about the Gengar’s only distinguishing features were his sinister red eyes and wide, toothy smile.

 

“A Gengar? Now I’m interested.” Stiffly pushing her glasses up on her nose, Nekou walked away from the control computer and dropped herself next to Bunny on the bench. “This might be where Silver turns it around.”

 

“What’s gotten into you all the sudden?” Bunny questioned, genuinely confused regarding how Nekou’s mind had changed so fast.

 

“Ghost-types fight completely differently than users of brute force like Feraligatr and Mamoswine,” Nekou explained. “I’m interested to see how Matt handles one…” She then abruptly added, “Strictly from a knowledge standpoint, of course. I just want to know what he’s capable of.”

 

From his spot on the battlefield, Matt was having similar thoughts. After taking a moment to assess the situation and his chances, he thrust his hand out and called, “Patrick, use Scald again!”

 

“Counter it with Shadow Ball!”

 

In the haze of the continuing hailstorm, neither Patrick nor Gengar could get a clear lock on where the other was. As a result their attacks sailed within inches of each other on their way to grazing their respective targets.

 

“This hailstorm has got to end soon…” Matt mumbled to himself. The weather effect laid out by Silver was indeed making it more difficult for him to strategize Patrick’s moves. “Just try another Scald for now!”

 

“If you’re going to have trouble hitting me, I’ll try my luck. Gengar, Metronome!”

 

Moving with great speed, Gengar pointed straight up with both hands and then waved his arms back and forth. A split second later, an orange aura surrounded him as rushed forward with his arms crossed, karate chopping Patrick in the stomach in an ‘X’ shape. Though this Cross Chop attack did knock the wind out of the Seismitoad, he was able to quickly recover and take advantage of his now-close proximity to his enemy to blast Gengar with hot water. The phantom tumbled through the air, groaning shrilly in pain.

 

Much to Matt’s delight, the hailstorm finally abated at that point. The entire virtual battlefield – much of it damaged by the vicious sparring it hosted – returned to full view, and the two panting Pokémon growled while sizing up what it would take to defeat each other.

 

“It’s time to put an end to this once and for all. Patrick, hit Gengar with one more Scald dead-on!”

 

“That’s what you think!” Silver shouted in response. “Gengar, Toxic! Now!”

 

Patrick opened his mouth in preparation to launch yet another Scald, but before he could get any water out, Gengar complicated things. Stretching his right arm out in Patrick’s direction, Gengar focused a swirl of poisonous sludge around it, ultimately using the arm as a guide to shoot the vile substance right into Patrick’s face.

 

The Seismitoad’s entire visage was covered by the sludge, throwing his Scald far off target. He completely panicked, desperately trying to wipe away the thick fluid that was already sapping his last bits of endurance.

 

“Patrick, is there anything I can…”

 

“There’s something I can do,” Silver interrupted. “End this fight. Gengar, Venoshock!”

 

Gengar stared upward and spread his arms, letting out a high-pitched cry. Four pools of similar purple sludge erupted around Patrick, and Gengar’s power caused each puddle to rise into the air in the shape of a lightning bolt. Suddenly, the four spears of poison converged on Patrick, shocking him from head to toe in brutal, agonizing pain.

 

“Venoshock is a special toxin that attacks the bodies of already poisoned targets,” Silver explained while he and Matt watched Patrick writhe desperately within Gengar’s assault. “Do what you must to win, with no rules or limits… that’s the way of the world and the way I battle. Your Seismitoad’s name is Patrick, right? Patrick, thank you for being a useful training partner.”

 

Silver snapped his fingers, making the Venoshock barrage finally cease. Almost instantaneously, Patrick crumbled to the ground in front of Gengar, unable to move even a centimeter more.

 

“Patrick, no…” Looking up with grief in his eyes, Matt yelled to Silver, “Call the rest of the battle off! I have to take Patrick for treatment now!”

 

“Don’t fucking choke now!” Nekou suddenly called out, startling the others. “It’s just regular damage, Patrick’s no worse hurt than he’d be from any normal fight! Silver’s just trying to psych you out!”

 

“Yeah!” Olivia piped up in support. “Don’t let him get inside your head!”

 

“Yeah, my head is mine…” Matt chuckled, shaking it to work out a cramp in his neck. Turning back to the battle, he held up the Dive Ball and recalled Patrick, saying, “Patrick, you fought courageously. I’ll get you to the Pokémon Center soon.”

 

“So what’s it going to be last?” demanded Silver. “It’s two against one now. Face it, my training here will end with my victory!”

 

“Not if my old friend has anything to say about it!” Matt countered, pulling a yellow-and-black Ultra Ball from his bag and throwing it. “Nikola, make your mark!”

 

As Matt’s last Pokémon took shape, its form became a rather unusual one: an orange refrigerator with a spike on top, cloaked in a blue plasma that formed a pair of lightning bolt-shaped ‘arms.’ On the refrigerator’s front, two white-and-blue eyes framed a small, smiling mouth.

 

“It had to be a Rotom, something I wasn’t prepared for?!” Silver exclaimed in surprise and disgust. “I see you’re not going to make that victory easy for me. Gengar, it’s time to go all out! Toxic!”

 

“Stop it with Thunderbolt, Nikola!”

 

Gengar raised his arm again and started to funnel sludge around it, but Nikola cut him off. The electric blast loosed by the Rotom cut right through Gengar’s Toxic and powerfully shocked him, making him stumble onto one knee.

 

“You’re not going to stop me! Not yet!” Silver swiftly pointed forward and roared in command, “Gengar, Shadow Ball!”

 

Trembling, the weakened Gengar extended his arm again, this time to draw dark energy out of the air in the shape of a sphere. He locked his eyes on the floating refrigerator Rotom and flicked his finger, sending the orb of shadow at its target; Nikola, however, made no effort to dodge, instead opting to take the hit and endure it. The Electric-and-Ice-type emerged nearly unscathed.

 

“Show that Gengar a Shadow Ball of your own, Nikola.” By this point, Matt’s confidence levels were rising. Barring any unforeseen turns, all Silver had left in reserve was a burned, injured Mamoswine, which would be far from enough to win him the day, a fact Matt was well aware of.

 

Obliging its trainer’s direction, Nikola focused the same dark energy as Gengar between its lightning bolt arms. The resulting Shadow Ball was smaller than Gengar’s but hit its mark perfectly, dropping the Ghost-and-Poison-type completely to his knees.

 

“It’s all or nothing now!!” Silver was beginning to completely lose his composure, which was something that was off-putting to Matt and the others, who were used to his normal cool, calm demeanor. In fact, he was acting with such intensity that it was almost frightening. “Put everything on the line for one last shot! Metronome!!”

 

Something in Silver’s fiery voice stirred Gengar, and the Pokémon stood back up. Wearily, he waved his arms once more, but this time, the result was something unusual – overcome by a surge of energy, Gengar held his arms out, allowing them to take on the shape of large scythes.

 

“That’s…” Matt gasped.

 

“Shit!” Nekou exclaimed.

 

“It’s Guillotine!” Bunny finished. “If this hits, it’s all over!”

 

Olivia, meanwhile, simply sat and stared, completely silent in her fascination with the turns the battle was taking. Dante still sat next to her, carefully observing every single movement both Matt and Silver made.

 

Leveling the blades that his arms had become, Gengar let out a bloodcurdling scream and leapt at Nikola. His intent plainly was to use his transformed arms like a pair of shears to critically injure and cripple Nikola all at once.

 

“Get out of the way and use Shadow Ball!” Matt cried out, almost reluctant to even look at the battle any further. He didn’t think Nikola would be able to move swiftly enough to avoid the brutal attack due to the heavy appliance serving as the Pokémon’s body.

 

Despite its bulk, however, Nikola managed to lift itself just enough to cause Gengar’s scythes to come together harmlessly right below it. In immediate retaliation, the Rotom dropped another Shadow Ball on its foe, slamming the screeching ghost into the ground.

 

“Not yet!” A slight growl worked its way into Silver’s speech as he saw Gengar trying to stand up, but even then, he was beginning to realize that the Ghost-and-Poison-type had been pushed to his limits. “Toxic!”

 

“I won’t let you!” Matt countered. “Nikola, drop a Thunderbolt and finish this!”

 

With his injuries impeding his movements, Gengar was barely able to lift his arm toward Nikola before the Rotom answered by striking him with an electric blast. This was what pushed Gengar over the edge, and he crumpled back onto the floor and became still.

 

Before anyone had a chance to speak, Silver swiftly and wordlessly sent Gengar back to his Poké Ball and released Mamoswine from her Great Ball again. Unlike earlier, her fur was matted and messy, and she labored for breath as a visible burn around her mouth took its toll.

 

“Get ready, Nikola! It’s time to end this!” Once he saw that Nikola was ready to make its move, Matt clenched his fist. “Knock it out once and for all using Blizzard!”

 

“Oh no you don’t! Mamoswine, use Superpower and aim for the rocks, then the trees!”

 

Just as Nikola sent a gust of freezing air and ice at Mamoswine from its plasma coat, the great giant cloaked herself in a red aura before charging forward.

 

The Blizzard missed, but Matt was more puzzled by why Mamoswine appeared to be charging at one of the virtual boulders making up the battlefield. “Keep attacking, Nikola! Keep up the pressure!”

 

Nikola released blast after blast of Blizzard, but they all fell short of hitting Mamoswine. The Pokémon, despite her huge body, was actually climbing into the air by using the rocks as platforms. Faster than Matt or the spectators could process it, Mamoswine was on top of the tallest tree.

 

“Now, Mamoswine! Do it!”

 

With Superpower still activated, Mamoswine made a valiant leap, aiming to crush Nikola with her weight. The Rotom froze, fearing the rapidly growing shadow covering it.

 

“Now’s your chance, Nikola! Finish with Blizzard!”

 

Matt’s direction gave Nikola the confidence it was lacking, and spurred it to overrun Mamoswine with a massive Blizzard. The concentrated storm packed so much force that it actually flung Mamoswine out of her path and crashed her to the floor.

 

Mamoswine did not stand up again.

 

“He did it!” Olivia exclaimed, her excitement boiling over. Quickly propping herself up on her crutches, she hobbled over to her and threw her arms around him, a sentiment he returned by setting his own hand on her shoulder.

 

“Well, well, well, what have we here?” Nekou smirked, and when combined with the light once again filling her glasses, she presented a face of obvious mischief. She and Bunny had followed Olivia to Matt. “Maybe I can get something out of this bargain after all.”

 

“What does that mean?” Matt asked in confusion.

 

“It… it means…” Flushing as she searched for words, Nekou finally settled on an excuse and said, “Now that pizza tonight can be for all of us! You know, to celebrate you winning today.”

 

Matt sighed. “Fine. You know, sometimes I wonder if this all wouldn’t make more sense if you actually were taking advantage of me outright.”

 

“Why don’t you join us, Silver?” Bunny called to the sullen young man, who was slowly making his way to the door after recalling Mamoswine.

 

“Idle time is time wasted,” he grumbled in response, slowing to a stop but not turning around. “My father is powerful and ruthless, both as a person and as a trainer. I will not rest until I defeat him and put him in his place. Matt Chiaki… I took the loss this time, but it was valuable training for when I ultimately confront him. You only concern yourself with growing stronger, so you will continue to give me the challenges I need for training.”

 

“Um… fine, I guess?” By that time, Silver was through the door and Matt was talking to the inner side of the portal. “How unusual.”

 

“That boy, Silver…” Dante spoke up, having remained silent for some time. “He appears to be skilled, but raw emotion dominates all his functions. If he learns to control that anger for his father, he could become a truly powerful Pokémon trainer.”

 

“Whatever,” Nekou sighed, “I don’t even want to worry about it anymore. I want to go relax.”

 

“For once, you’ve actually got a good idea,” Matt flatly said.

 

-:-

 

The sun was high in the sky as Silver exited the Trainer House, casting a warm light over much of Cherrygrove City. He silently filtered into the street and began walking to the Pokémon Center, but he was soon distracted by the sound of a telephone ring.

 

“Who’s calling me at a time like this?” he sneered, reaching into his pocket for a communication device. Colored blue with a white half- Poké Ball patterned on each side, the Pokégear continued to ring loudly in Silver’s hands until he flipped it open, revealing two screens inside. On the top screen was Looker, the thin-faced detective from the Kiss of Death case.

 

“Oh, it’s you,” Silver groaned. “What do you want?”

 

“Important information to pass on, yes. Still caught up at this location taking a look into and investigating the Clemens murder, but word comes back to me from the officers who are working elsewhere in the field.”

“Spit it out already.”

 

“Activity that is suspicious is taking place in Azalea Town. People wearing suits colored black, like the darkness of the night. Gathering supplies of equipment for some purpose that is obviously nefarious!”

 

“So Team Rocket finally resurfaces… Thanks, then.” Abruptly hanging up and putting the Pokégear away, Silver resumed his march to the Pokémon Center, but at double the speed.

 

“I’ll take out your worthless team one-by-one, I swear… and then I’m coming for you, father.”

 

-:-

 

That night, after the sun had gone down and the group retired to their room in the Pokémon Center, Matt made good on the so-called ‘promise,’ even if Nekou had entirely invented the idea. The long coffee table near the room’s television was covered by a combination of two pizza boxes and a myriad of beverages As was becoming familiar to Matt, Bunny and Olivia, Nekou’s unstoppable appetite earned her a pizza all her own, while the second was mainly divided up between Bunny and Olivia. Matt insisted on only taking two slices for himself.

 

“Aaaaaaaah!” Nekou gasped after taking a sip from the can of beer in her hand. “This is the life, you know? Pizza, some friends to share it with, and…” Nekou shook the can and glanced to the rest of the six-pack resting on the couch next to her before finishing,  “my old buddy with his five brothers to keep me company. It doesn’t get better than this.”

 

“It is nice to finally relax a little,” Bunny admitted. “The Pokémon look like they’re having fun, too.”

 

Bunny’s assessment was completely correct. They’d set out plates of Pokémon food on the floor, inviting Marie along with Nekou’s Gothorita, Murkrow, Duskull and Zorua to eat out of two of the plates, Marie taking one all to herself. Balin was eating out of a third plate, while Olivia’s Minccino, Roselia, Oshawott and Lillipup shared two others.

 

“They’re all so cute,” Olivia said, her voice devoid of its usual warm energy. “I wish I could sit with them, but this leg…”

 

“Don’t you worry, Olivia, you’ll recover soon,” Nekou assured the younger girl. “Once you do, the Pokémon will still be here for you to play with all you want. I don’t want to see you stressing out over anything, so let’s just enjoy the pizza, okay?”

 

Olivia nodded her head. “Yeah, good idea,” she whispered, smiling. “Thank you.”

 

Off to the side, Matt was eating his own pieces of pizza while reading a book, staying away from getting too involved in the peaceful, cheerful exchange the others were having. He looked up when he heard Olivia and Nekou talking, and found himself feeling comforted by the honest connection they seemed to share.

 

-:-

 

Just like the night before, Pierce walked into the dark, dank alley and snapped his fingers four times. The signal still worked, for almost immediately, the Tenganist woman emerged from the shadows at the end of the alley.

 

“You came back,” she muttered, sounding surprised in her words but not in her voice, which remained flat.

 

“I did,” Pierce affirmed, “because our shared goals are precious to us both. Have you made a decision?”

 

“I must go to the survivors living near Blackthorn City to fully confirm the arrangements, but I have made a decision. We accept the proposal of an alliance between our forces, with the condition that my people remain autonomous, free from taking orders from your leader.”

 

“That is something I can pull some strings to arrange. For now, I can furnish you with supplies and some explosives.”

 

“A fair deal,” the woman agreed while nestling her infant in her arms.

 

“I’ll be going back to my base to iron out the details, then. What’s your name, if I may ask? How should I refer to you to my superiors?”

 

“I am a woman with no name. It was stripped from me. Today I am merely the prophet that sustains the life of my people.”

 

“Your identity was stripped from you…” Pierce turned away as his voice became shaky. “Just like me, then. Rest assured, I will do everything in my power to aid you in your battle against Ghetsis and Polaris.”

 

 

 

 

 

END of CHAPTER 4

 

Chapter Text

It should be noted that there’ll be some dark stuff discussed later in this chapter, such as a discussion of a genocide against a certain group of people. None of it is depicted though.

 

Hopefully you’ll still enjoy!

 

-:-

 

CHAPTER 5: Reaching for the Arcade Star (Part 2)

 

-:-

 

A blazing orange crept over the land as the sun rose the next morning, spreading peals of warm light over the autumn trees of the Tohjo Continent. Cherrygrove City glittered in the shine; for as depressing a place as the city could be, the first minutes of daylight brought even Cherrygrove’s dull streets to life.

 

Just outside the city, in the thicker woods off the road north, Jessie, James and Meowth stood speaking to Pierce.

 

“…that is what you need to know about what’s going on,” Pierce finished, running a hand through his shoulder-length, dark blue hair before putting his hat back on over it. He had just finished explaining a truncated version of his work from the past twenty-four hours. “I am going to return to the base to meet with Dr. Zager and Ariana regarding this. That means you three are in charge of maintaining the mission here in the field until I return.”

 

“But what are we supposed to do if things go bad? You were our extraction!”

 

“You know, James has got a point here,” Meowth concurred with his human companion. “Say we go after that chunk of space rock and Polaris shows up. Then what?”

 

With her hand on her hip, Jessie stepped up to face the others. “Do you two even hear yourselves? The boss didn’t put us on this mission for nothing. If we play our cards carefully we’re going to be just fine. We don’t have to have our hands held for everything we do!”

 

“You’re both right,” Pierce intervened. “I will return to aid you once more when my business at the base is finished. It will not be that long. For now, this is your assignment – continue monitoring the group involving Matt Chiaki, Olivia Mistbloom, Bunny Spruce and Dante Fantomos. The old man is in possession of the Meteonite fragment, so if you get a chance to take it with little risk, do it. If not, remember that a contingency plan is already uploaded into your R-Pad.”

 

“Ah, fine,” James said, gritting his teeth. “Make it back safely.”

 

“Very well. I wish you luck.”

 

Pierce turned and walked away, the tails of his coat fluttering behind him from the force of his sharp movements. Once he was far enough from the trio, Jessie let out an annoyed sigh.

 

“This is going to be a lot harder than it has to be if you don’t put some effort into it, James!” she yelled, straightening her back to give herself a height advantage over her partner.

 

“Oh, come on, Jessie, you know I’m not throwing it in that easily. I just don’t like taking orders from Pierce.”

 

“I agree with that,” Meowth chimed in. “The boss is the only one who’s worthy of giving us orders!”

 

“We’ll listen to Pierce but the boss is the one we really work hard for.”

 

Considering what her teammates had to say, Jessie realized they had a good point and backed down. “Finally, something we can all agree on. Let’s get a move on and see if we can track down that group in Cherrygrove!”

 

-:-

 

“So this is it, then…” Matt softly said while lifting the front of his hat, enabling himself to see further upward without raising his head.

 

Nestled in a cluster of tall buildings near Cherrygrove City’s shoreline stood a wide structure with four spires reaching up to the sky, each one ending in a diamond-patterned onion dome. The early afternoon sun glittered on the façade, casting a glare over the street where Matt, Nekou, Olivia, Bunny and Dante all stood. Several red flags trimmed with gold borders hung around the building’s entrance, each bearing the stylized Poké Ball surrounded by seven stars that served as the Frontier Society’s logo.

 

“Yeah, you’re right,” Bunny concurred, “this is it, the Battle Arcade.”

 

“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go!”

 

Nekou’s remark spurred Matt into action, and without another word he approached the double doors of the Battle Arcade, which slid open to allow him inside. Dante immediately followed, while Nekou at first hesitated. Once she saw that Bunny was helping Olivia walk, though, she also went through the entrance, with the injured girl and the archeologist bringing up the rear.

 

None of them noticed Jessie, James, Meowth and Wobbuffet – all disguised in their trenchcoats – slip in right behind them.

 

The lobby that awaited beyond the threshold was a dimly-lit place, with neon lights on the walls and ceiling largely substituting for normal sources of illumination. An orange carpet lined with golden diamonds stretched from the doors to a desk across the room, while nearby, a small cluster of tables framed by floor lamps offered other visitors a place of rest.

 

Not wishing to waste any time, Matt immediately and briskly walked to the desk, where a woman in a green business suit and beret was waiting.

 

“Welcome to the Battle Arcade!” the receptionist greeted him, using a warm voice. “Are you here for a challenge?” When Matt nodded, the woman continued, “You’re in luck. There are no challengers signed up ahead of you for the day, so you’ll be going right in. Is this your first visit to a Frontier Society facility?”

 

“Yeah, why?”

 

“May I have your name?”

 

“Matt Chiaki. What is this about?

 

“Just give me a second to register you in our database…” Turning to the computer on her desk, the receptionist typed for a moment, then looked up again. “All done. Pretty quick, huh? You’ll be needing these two things...”

 

The woman pushed two objects into Matt’s hands. The first was an identification card bearing Matt’s name and picture, colored red and gold like the Frontier Society’s flag, while the other was a small box with seven indentations inside.

 

“Your Frontier Pass and Medal Box,” she explained. “The Frontier Pass will get you into the Frontier Society’s facilities and services, while the Medal Box is to store the awards you’ll get from defeating Frontier Brains. Speaking of which, are you ready to begin?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Then the next thing I’m going to need are the three Pokémon you intend to enter. Please allow me to check them.”

 

“I’ll be going with my Aggron, Rotom and Seismitoad,” he answered as he stored the documents and handed over the Poké Ball, Ultra Ball and Dive Ball containing his chosen Pokémon.

 

Using a handheld scanner, the receptionist inspected the three spheres, downloading images of their respective Pokémon into her computer. She then returned them to their owner, saying, “Your entry is fully processed. Are you ready to go in?”

 

“I am,” Matt replied, placing the orbs into his bag. Before walking away, though, he turned around to the others, who had since arrived behind him. “You guys are going to the audience area, right?” he asked, gesturing to a doorway a short distance away marked ‘Audience Seating’ in neon letters.

 

“I guess so,” Nekou answered. She puffed up her cheeks and exaggerated her facial expression to act like she was frustrated at being told to go somewhere, even though she fully knew this was normal and to be expected. “Don’t fuck it up out there, or there’ll be hell to pay. I’ll see to that.”

 

“Somehow I’m not sure that’s actually encouraging,” Matt sighed, grimacing.

 

“Now, I think she has a point.” Surprisingly, it was Dante coming to Nekou’s defense. “Maybe she worded her encouragement poorly, but she is right in that you cannot progress if you are stuck here.”

 

“If you put it that way, I guess I understand. I wouldn’t want to hold up Olivia from reaching Violet City and getting her badge either. Anyway, wish me luck out there.”

 

“You can beat her,” Bunny gently said, setting her hand on Matt’s shoulder. “Just leave everything out here to me.”

 

“Thanks. See you guys later, then.”

 

With that, the group split in two. While Matt followed the receptionist into one of the nearby doors, the others went for the seating area. Bunny assisted Olivia in balancing on her crutches, while Nekou ate from a bag of potato chips she’d gotten from somewhere. Dante, finally, remained distant from the three young women, walking stiffly with his cane in one hand and the briefcase containing the Meteonite fragment in the other.

 

On the other side of the lobby, Jessie, James and Meowth waited, watching them. The trio of agents blended into the casino-like atmosphere of the Battle Arcade rather well in their trenchcoats, hats and sunglasses. Wobbuffet was with them, too, wearing a similar disguise of his own.

 

“There they go,” James observed while standing with his arms crossed. “How should we do this?”

 

“Attacking the old man in a public place like this would only go wrong for us,” commented Jessie. “I say we just go in there and watch what happens for now.”

 

Meowth gave a nod of approval, then added, “We got five pairs of eyes on that old man and the space rock. They ain’t going anywhere.”

 

Finding themselves all on the same page, the members of Team Rocket entered the audience area themselves.

 

-:-

 

The receptionist had led Matt down a long, narrow hallway before stopping abruptly near a closed green curtain. Because the hallway was just as dark as the lobby had been, Matt nearly crashed into her.

 

“Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”

 

“Please, don’t worry about it. Now, you need to wait here for a moment.” The woman bowed slightly in a show of courtesy toward Matt.

 

“What? Why?”

 

Matt’s question was answered almost immediately, when the announcer’s voice came blaring through the curtains into the hallway, accompanied by an eruption of audience cheering. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Battle Arcade! A day full of high-energy battling is about to get underway!”

 

Thunderous applause filtered through the curtain into the hallway, leading Matt to realize quickly exactly what he would be facing once he stepped through. Never feeling all that comfortable in front of a crowd in a closed setting, he started breathing deeply and pacing in an attempt to ward off the attack of nerves that he felt coming on.

 

“I can tell you’re all fired up, so let’s move ahead and get started with the first show of the day! Coming in first is a challenger who is making his debut on our young Frontier Society circuit! Going for his first medal here at the Battle Arcade, please welcome Matt from Snowpoint City!”

 

Matt found that all the attempts he’d made to tame his nerves amounted to nothing when the curtain in front of him whisked open, leaving him nearly completely locked up. Barely able to breathe, he shuffled out a short distance onto the black runway leading to the battlefield before nervously eyeing the audience.

 

Spotting Nekou, Bunny, Olivia and Dante sitting in the front row along with Marie and Olivia’s Minccino gave him a burst of energy, especially when he saw Olivia with her mind seemingly off her broken leg. Feeling revitalized, he picked up his pace and reached his box on the battlefield, where he stopped. A rotund man wearing a pair of dark sunglasses was already there, waiting in a space just off to the side of the field’s middle.

Immediately upon his arrival, the tall, thin screen on Matt’s side of the arena illuminated to display icons of the three Pokémon he’d selected, Aggron, Rotom and Seismitoad.

 

“Our challenger is now set!” the announcer declared while Matt simply stood there, still feeling some nerves from the relatively small space and the crowd. The lights dimmed and multicolored disco lights started to flow around the stadium, leading the audience to cheer more loudly than ever. “Yes, everyone, you know what that means! You know what time it is! Now, allow me to introduce once more the woman of the hour! The one you’ve all been waiting for! The one, the only… Arcade Star Dahlia!!”

 

Simultaneously, the lights in the stadium came back up and the audience erupted in the loudest round of cheering yet. All of this was over the caped figure that appeared in a burst of confetti at the opposite end of the battlefield.

 

With fluid movements that almost made her body look as if it was made of water, Dahlia moved down her runway, waving to the crowd all the while. Once she reached her destination, she stopped and waved one last time before turning toward Matt. Her screen, meanwhile, displayed her Pokémon in the same order as the day before – Togekiss, Ludicolo and Zapdos.

 

“Welcome, challenger!” Dahlia cheerfully said in greeting, striking a sharp pose with her hand on her hip. “Welcome to my Battle Arcade! How are you feeling today? Lucky?”

 

“Let’s just say I’ll be feeling more lucky once we get this battle going,” he replied straightforwardly. This wasn’t a lie, as the anticipation of the battle was intimidating him more than the battle itself. Unfortunately, he was unable to mask it well.

 

“Are you nervous or just eager to get this show on the road? Either way, let’s give you exactly what it is you want!” A thin pedestal with a red button on it rose out of the floor in front of Matt, visibly startling him. Picking up on this, Dahlia spoke, “Surprised? What we’re gonna do before battling is test just how lucky you really are! Bring up the game board!”

 

On Dahlia’s cue, the central video screen displayed a grid of sixteen squares, arranged in four rows of four. Each space had a different symbol on it, apparently signifying something different in each box.

 

“This big game board will determine the conditions we battle under,” Dahlia explained. “Anything could come from it. You could trigger a rainstorm, or maybe some sunlight or relentless hail... we could battle in a Trick Room or with our Pokémon asleep… we could even trade teams before we battle! Truly, the possibilities are endless!” Having worked herself into a frenzy, Dahlia threw her arms into the air before finishing her speech. “Hit the button to stop the board, okay? Now… set it in motion! Let’s go!”

 

An orange frame lit up around the upper-left corner space on the grid and began cycling past each of the board’s sixteen squares. Overwhelmed by the sudden pressure he felt from the correct realization that the outcome of this could decide the battle before it even started, Matt tried to push aside thoughts of the crowd and focus in on the game board.

 

From his quick inspections, he picked out the weather effect tiles, plus the Trick Room space that he’d seen Nando battling under the previous day. He also concluded that a tile with two opposite arrows was the aforementioned team-trading space, and that a lightning bolt space would inflict paralysis on his Pokémon. Running through some ideas in his head, he devised a quick plan and zeroed in on the space he wanted.

 

“Now!” he shouted, slamming down on the button.

 

“The battle condition has been decided!” blared the announcer. “This battle will be conducted under a steady rainfall!”

Crystal generators similar to those in the Trainer House glowed to life in a ring around the ceiling of the stadium, and mere moments later, clouds gathered and rain started to fall over the battlefield. The space the frame had stopped on – a tile displaying a water drop – now filled the entire central screen.

 

“So it’s rain, huh? Once again, the board delivers a turn on the road of life... luck is not just what twists and turns that road throws at us, but also how we deal with them and thus make our own luck. Is that something you’re good at?”

 

“I get the feeling you’re going to answer for me,” Matt deadpanned in response. “The answer is how this battle turns out, isn’t it?”

 

“You’re pretty smart. Since you know how things are going to go here, let’s waste not a single moment more!” Tearing off her cape and throwing it aside, an action that revealed her familiar outfit from the day before, Dahlia posed dramatically, yelling, “Show me your luck! No, show me if you can conquer it and make luck your own!!”

 

“If that’s what you want me to do...” Matt took out his Poké Ball, but hesitated slightly because of the crowd cheering once again. “…I…I’ll show you what you want! Tony, make your mark!”

 

“Dance, Togekiss!” Dahlia immediately called back, rolling a Poké Ball of her own down her outstretched arm before popping it open.

 

Materializing on Matt’s side of the field, Tony straightened to his full height and roared, then locked eyes with the Togekiss that emerged from Dahlia’s Poké Ball. The Normal-and-Flying-type Togekiss showed no fear in her eyes, even as she was confronted by the mighty Aggron.

 

“The battle between the challenger, Matt, and the Arcade Star, Dahlia, will now begin!” The referee raised his arm upward before bringing it down in a chopping motion. “Go!”

“Tony, start strong!” Matt exclaimed, stretching out his arm to point at Togekiss. “Head Smash, now!”

 

Undeterred by the echoing roar Tony sent ringing through the Battle Arcade’s stadium prior to his charge, Dahlia shook herself in another of her fluid dance moves as she directed, “Togekiss, move aside and use Water Pulse.”

 

Well before Tony could collide with her, Togekiss glided off to the side of the field, leaving the Aggron to hit nothing but thin air. She then began to spin, forming an upright circle with the tips of her wings. This circle soon became physical upon being traced in a stream of water from Togekiss’s wings, and it flowed straight into Tony, pushing the growling Steel-and-Rock-type back. The attack was strengthened in intensity by the rainfall, which added water to the ring to increase its size.

 

While Tony nursed the burn-like wound that the Water Pulse had left on his hide, Matt was left to reassess his opponent in a silent panic. Dahlia’s overwhelming confidence could be seen in footage of her battles, but he realized that seeing was only one part of it. Standing across a battlefield from Dahlia was another thing entirely, as her spirit burned powerfully enough to almost be physically felt. Looking at her standing there with her hand on her hip and her gaze fixed on the Pokémon, Matt very quickly found himself feeling in over his head.

 

“Togekiss, use Water Pulse again!”

 

Snapping back to attention, Matt saw the second ring of water flying toward Tony and immediately blurted out, “Dodge it!”

 

If the Battle Arcade was a facility of luck, Matt wasn’t having much of it, as even though Tony bent back in an attempt to let the Water Pulse sail over him, it still caught the edge of his steel horns and pulled him back until he fell over completely.

 

“Aggron goes down, but it’s not out yet! Will Matt be able to turn this around somehow, or will the Arcade Star take the lead in a decisive motion?”

 

“He’s embarrassing himself out there,” Nekou said monotonously, resting her head on one hand in a fit of exaggerated boredom as she took a handful of chips from her bag with the other. “Dahlia’s making a fool out of him… he can’t touch her in the least.”

 

“It’s only just started,” commented Bunny, “so don’t give up yet.”

 

“If I was giving up I would have left already.”

 

“Come on, Matt, pull yourself together!”

 

Olivia’s plea managed to restore some of Matt’s confidence, but before he could even calculate a new approach, Dahlia was on the attack again.

 

“Togekiss, get ready to finish this!” she shrilled while her Pokémon took up a position right over Tony. “Water Pulse, straight down!”

 

“I see it!” An idea suddenly came to Matt, and he wasted no time in putting it into motion. “Tony, Head Smash! If Togekiss is aiming down, you aim up!”

 

Because of her spinning, Togekiss did not see Tony using his tail as a spring to throw himself into the air toward her. It was this blind spot that allowed Tony to finally land a hit, headbutting Togekiss hard enough to cause her half-formed Water Pulse to explode, throwing both Pokémon in opposite directions – Tony fell downward and crashed into the ground, while Togekiss flew back violently and somersaulted through the air.

 

“So you’ve got some fight in you, huh?” A light giggle escaped Dahlia’s lips while she shifted her weight from one leg to the other. “Looks like I’m going to have to step up my game a little. Togekiss, use Psychic on the rain!”

 

“Head Smash once more!” Matt reflexively answered, not realizing what Dahlia was doing even when individual drops of rain began getting caught in the purple light of Togekiss’s power.

 

Tony charged, but soon found his movement impeded by something weighing down his left leg. Both he and his trainer realized in horror what it was all too late – a cluster of raindrops had been forcefully congealed around that limb, rendering it useless. Before Matt could figure out any way out of this trap, and before Tony could lash the surprisingly heavy water off of himself, Togekiss used Psychic to pin down his other leg and both arms before completely encasing him in a tight cocoon of water.

 

“Like that one?” Dahlia casually said to Matt, who simply stood there stunned by his Aggron’s ordeal. “That’s actually one of my favorite Contest moves. I see you look surprised… did you actually think I’d leave everything up to luck? Like I said, the best kind of luck is the kind you make for yourself. This Battle Arcade and everything inside it is my home, and in here, everything happens according to my luck. You’re clearly relying on something different… chance. Chance is when you throw all caution to the wind and let things happen as they will… now let me show you what the true meaning of luck is. Togekiss, the grand finale!” Throwing her arms wide, Dahlia called out into the air, “Water Pulse!!”

 

Flying to just above where Tony was bound in place, Togekiss started spinning again, drawing water upward from the trapped Aggron. The two Pokémon became surrounded by the same fluctuating stream of water, but a brief moment later, a bright glow radiated from Togekiss’s half of the fluid structure, and the entire thing exploded in a spectacular and violent burst of shining water and wind.

 

Matt had to shield his face from the surf-like spray thrown on him as well as the harsh gust, which hurt his eye. The sustained force of the blast Togekiss trigged blew his hair and coat for several seconds; meanwhile, Dahlia was facing the same conditions, but she simply stood there as if none of it fazed her, her wild black hair flying in all directions.

 

Finally, the force radiating from the center of the stage abated, revealing the almost painfully obvious results – a winded but otherwise fairly healthy Togekiss flapping her wings cheerfully over the prone form of her defeated Steel-and-Rock-type opponent.

 

The referee raised his arm toward Dahlia and announced, “Aggron is unable to battle! The winner is Togekiss!”

 

“Down goes Aggron, marking the fall of a dangerous enemy for Dahlia’s Togekiss! With only Rotom and Seismitoad left, is it already too late for Matt?”

 

Even from the stands, Bunny could see that the question posed by the announcer was evidently already on Matt’s mind. She watched him silently call Tony back to his Poké Ball, recognizing the same sudden soullessness she’d seen on her archeological projects with him when something went terribly wrong.

 

“Is he going to be okay?”

 

Snapping out of her bubble, Bunny turned to see Olivia pulling on Nekou’s arm. What truly surprised her wasn’t the fact that Olivia was turning to Nekou for alleviation of her doubts, as she’d already recognized how the two seemed to connect. It was instead how deadly serious Nekou seemed to be treating the whole matter.

 

“You don’t worry, Olivia,” the dark-haired woman reassured. “Even if he can’t come through for himself, he’ll do it for you. The amount of strength one can gain just by knowing their actions mean something to someone else is unbelievable.”

 

“Right.” Olivia nodded, smiled weakly, then turned back to the battle and screamed out as loud as she could, “Come on, you! Don’t you let me down!!”

 

His face blank, Matt slowly turned to the stands, completely oblivious to the rest of the crowd cheering for Dahlia’s decisive actions. He saw Olivia, and with something in his mind clicking, he shook his head and snapped back to attention.

 

“There you go,” Nekou thought with a smile. “I knew you wouldn’t fuck up when it came to helping her out.”

 

“Got yourself together yet?” Dahlia called out across the battlefield. “Togekiss and I want to see which of your Pokémon we’re up against next!”

 

“I know exactly what I’m doing now,” Matt replied after a brief hesitation. Readying the Ultra Ball in his hand, he yelled as he threw it, “Nikola, make your mark!”

 

“Matt calls upon his Frost Forme Rotom as his second Pokémon!” exclaimed the announcer, putting words to the image of Nikola taking shape in the stadium.

 

“Ah, now that’s something I don’t see every day! I’m pleasantly surprised at you, but that doesn’t mean I’ll go easy. Togekiss, start this off with a bang! Hyper Beam!”

 

“Block it with Thunderbolt!”

 

Acting swiftly, Togekiss hummed serenely while charging up energy in the form of a red sphere in front of her face. Nikola took aim and fired a horizontal bolt of lightning just in time to intercept the pulsating beam that burst from Togekiss’s mouth. It failed to stop the Hyper Beam completely, but Thunderbolt did serve some function, as the beam was split up and only a fraction of it struck its target.

 

“Rotom, tom,” Nikola said, shaking off the weaker but still forceful blow it had received. A dark patch on its midsection was one of the few signs left of the hit.

 

Togekiss, meanwhile, did not escape scot-free either. Having expended much of her energy to create and fire the Hyper Beam, she could now only float before Dahlia, breathing heavily as she waited for her strength to return.

 

“Dahlia, do you remember what you said earlier about luck, chance and this Battle Arcade?”

 

“Yeah?” Dahlia inquisitively answered, scrunching her face. “What about it?”

 

“I think two people can have the same luck. Chance has given me a shot of demonstrating that. Nikola, use Blizzard up into the clouds!”

 

Both Dahlia and the collective audience gasped in surprise at Matt’s improvised strategy. Almost immediately upon Nikola beginning to shoot gusts of frosty wind up into the rainclouds, the rain itself changed temporarily into hail. The icy stones crashed loudly against the battlefield, but Dahlia was paying that no heed. Instead, she was staring at and gesturing frantically to her Togekiss while attempting to give it commands. As she was caught in the sudden storm, Togekiss could only suffer under repeated strikes until she gave in and fell to the ground.

 

“Dahlia’s Togekiss goes down,” declared the commentator, over a deafening roar from the crowd, “but is it out? We know how the Arcade Star is in situations like this!”

 

“That’s right, when your luck runs out, you improvise… that’s what you just did, isn’t it?” As Dahlia spoke, the rain returned, blocking out the false Hail.

 

“You talked about this Battle Arcade being a place where you control all the luck in the facility as your own. Well, I think it’s time I took some of that luck myself. Nikola, finish it off with Thunderbolt!”

 

A single jagged bolt of lightning flashed out from Nikola’s plasma body, which had turned from blue to yellow as static built up in it. Pinned to the ground by chunks of ice, Togekiss could not escape from this counterattack. She was left helpless to avoid being struck down, and her body went limp after the initial shock of Thunderbolt wore off.

 

“Togekiss is unable to battle! The winner is Rotom!”

 

“Score one for the challenger in a decisive blow! We’re now even, with one Pokémon down on each side! Now, let’s see what the Arcade Star’s next course of action is!”

 

“See, I told you he’d pull through for you,” Nekou said to Olivia.

 

“You were right, but let’s see if he can actually win this battle completely.”

 

While Nekou and Olivia were exchanging comments on Matt, Bunny happened to glance over to her other side. She spotted Dante sitting rigidly in the next seat, staring intently at the battle as if he was intending to memorize every single detail of it. At first disturbed by this, she quickly brushed it off and decided to pay it no mind.

 

“You did very well, my dear Togekiss,” Dahlia whispered to the Poké Ball she’d recalled her beloved Pokémon to. “I think I underestimated you, Matt.”

 

“Don’t be so sure. How can you say that I didn’t just get lucky?”

 

“Luck only goes so far. I’ve got a knack for telling when I’m up against someone who can give me a challenge, and right now, whether you realize it or not, I’m getting that feeling. Now let’s see what you can really do. Dance, Ludicolo!”

 

Dahlia threw her Net Ball next, which released the green, pineapple-shaped Pokémon within. Ludicolo began dancing cheerfully almost immediately, taking great pleasure in the rain.

 

“A Water-and-Grass-type,” Matt observed, trying to carefully examine Ludicolo to the best of his ability. He was however unable to glean much from simply seeing it standing and dancing, and he didn’t have that much available to him as a result of seeing Nando fight her, so he decided to use a straightforward approach. “Let’s just attack and see what happens, Nikola. Signal Beam, go!”

 

A bright light flashed out of the spike on the top of Nikola’s refrigerator body, followed by a rainbow-colored beam of energy. Ludicolo, seeing the ray approaching her, stopped dancing and stood still.

 

“Now, Ludicolo! Drain Punch!”

 

In the blink of an eye, Ludicolo disappeared into thin air, visibly astounding both Matt and Nikola. Just as quickly, however, she materialized again right in front of the floating Electric-and-Ice-type, with just enough space to pull her arm back and deliver a powerful, glowing punch that slammed Nikola downward.

 

“Fueled by Swift Swim, Dahlia’s Ludicolo lands a devastating blow! Let’s see how the challenger manages to deal with this development… or will he even be able to?”

 

“That’s right, do you like it?” Dahlia asked of her surprised, stunned opponent. “Rain is perfect for my Ludicolo and her Swift Swim ability. Will you be able to keep up with our speed, or are you already left in the dust?”

 

“There’s got to be a way out of this,” Matt thought, even going as far as shutting his eyes to try to focus. “Come on, think of something!”

 

“What’s the matter, Ludicolo got your tongue?” Dahlia was clearly taunting Matt, trying to goad him into attacking while continuing to stand with her hands on her hips. “Let me loosen it up then. Energy Ball!”

 

This time opting to not use Swift Swim to get close, Ludicolo remained in her position and instead threw a sparking sphere of green energy at Nikola.

 

Matt snapped his eyes open and he pushed both of his arms forward. “Get away if you can, Nikola! After that, use Signal Beam!”

 

There was barely enough time for Nikola to get out of the way of Energy Ball after recovering from the bruising injury Drain Punch dealt out, but it managed to do so. Afterward, it aimed another Signal Beam down at the aggressive Ludicolo, hoping as hard as it could that this time, the attack would not fail.

 

“How troublesome,” Dahlia uttered, rolling her head back slightly so she’d have to look downward at an angle to see Matt. “Ludicolo, move in and go for Hyper Voice!”

 

Falling back into her original tactic, Ludicolo evaded Signal Beam by evaporating into the driving rain, then warping into the space right in front of Nikola. This time, though, she retaliated against her foe by screaming in a loud voice, forming circular shockwaves that visibly rattled Matt’s Pokémon.

 

“That’s it!” Thinking carefully, Matt recalled something he’d seen during Nando’s battle the previous day – namely, how Exploud’s Hyper Voice could be fused with other moves to create intensely powerful techniques useful for both Contests and standard battling. Framing this within some of the things he’d observed about Ludicolo’s patterns, he knew he had a solid idea toward stopping her. “Nikola, Signal Beam one more time, please.”

 

 “You’ll go nowhere with that old trick! Ludicolo, Drain Punch!”

 

Though its Signal Beam once again missed as a result of Ludicolo’s Swift Swim speed fueling her escape, Nikola had her right where Matt wanted.

 

Grinning ever so slightly, he called out, “Thunderbolt! Just release it into the air!”

 

Snickering, Nikola quickly shot a lightning bolt in a random direction and sustained the charge for several seconds. The electricity caught onto the raindrops at an exponential rate, and soon, the entire field was flooded by electrical energy.

 

Within the depths of the storm, the lightning even caught up to Ludicolo, who was shocked out of midair during her Swift Swim-powered rush. Feeling increasingly frustrated at how difficult this fight was becoming, Dahlia pushed her hands through her hair.

 

“Fine! If you want things to go this way, be my guest! If we can’t get up close, we’ll go from a distance! Ludicolo, Energy Ball!”

 

“Give me another skyward Blizzard!” Matt raised his arm and pointed upward for emphasis after

giving this command.

 

Nikola ignored Ludicolo even as she was giving shape to her next Energy Ball, instead opting to focus on blowing another gust of cold air into the clouds overhead. Dahlia’s Pokémon barely managed to launch her attack before chunks of ice rained down on her in much the same way as Togekiss. While Ludicolo crumpled under the harsh blows leveled out by the falling ice, Nikola had left itself open and winced when the glowing sphere struck it in the face.

 

“Try Signal Beam one more time, Nikola!”

 

“I see what you’re doing, and you won’t get away with it! Ludicolo, Hyper Voice!”

 

Dahlia was so absorbed in the battle that she failed to notice Matt smile slightly when she gave the go-ahead for Hyper Voice. Both trainers just watched as Ludicolo avoided Signal Beam by merely stepping back before screaming and forming a sonic energy ring heading back in Nikola’s direction.

 

“Now that’s what I was waiting for!” Matt exclaimed, running his hands down the sides of his face before pointing forward. “Go, Nikola! Thunderbolt!”

 

Nikola shocked the wave manifested by Ludicolo’s Hyper Voice, and the circular wave itself became electrified, thus spreading lightning through the air. Dahlia gasped when she realized that she could not direct Ludicolo to move or attack because of how thickly occupied by electricity the space was, a sentiment visibly shared by Ludicolo. The Water-and-Grass-type Pokémon muttered nervously and adjusted her sombrero while waiting for the air to clear.

 

Matt, however, had other plans. “Shadow Ball!”

 

Aiming right for the center of the electrical field, Nikola dropped in an energy sphere of its own, this one glowing with black light. The Shadow Ball reacted with all of the lightning, causing a bright, sparkling explosion that blinded all everyone and everything within the arena.

 

As soon as his vision started to return by even a small bit, Matt shouted, “Now, Nikola! Go through and finish this with Signal Beam!”

 

Dahlia’s Ludicolo recovered from the shock of Matt’s previous combination move in just enough time to see Nikola lunging through the lingering smoke, a Signal Beam taking shape on the spike atop its head. Mentally, she wanted to jump away, but the results of several harsh hits had left her body in an unresponsive state. Swift Swim couldn’t save her, so she had to simply wait for the inevitable to come as the rainbow-colored beam struck her down.

 

“Ludicolo is unable to battle!” the referee called before the eyes of the enthralled audience. “The winner is Rotom!”

 

“Ludicolo goes down as Rotom racks up a second consecutive win! The Arcade Star now only has one Pokémon left, but the outcome is far from certain. Will she fall in defeat at our challenger’s hands, or will she rally to overcome this disadvantage?!”

 

“Nikola, good job! That was exactly what I needed!” Though Matt’s praise of his Rotom was expressed in a confident-sounding voice, Matt was anything but confident at that point.

 

Nekou, Bunny and Olivia all shared the same doubts he had, as they all knew that the biggest problem was about to happen. Without one move being made it was already realized that the next Pokémon would be easily a more grueling challenge than Togekiss and Ludicolo.

 

“You made me proud out there, Ludicolo. There’s nothing more I need from you.” Returning the Net Ball to her belt, Dahlia kept her hand at her waist while turning a suddenly fiery glare at Matt. “As for you, I’ve gone easy on you until this point. Do you understand what that means? That means you must step up your efforts even further if you think you’re going to win this, because now I’m going to get serious.” Tearing the Master Ball from her belt, Dahlia threw it and shrilled the words Matt knew he’d have to face even though he didn’t want to, “Show yourself on the dance floor, Zapdos!!”

 

Erupting from the Master Ball in a spectacular flash of light, Zapdos slowly unfolded its jagged-edged wings and looked down on Nikola. It wasn’t just a matter of positioning – Zapdos clearly held itself in much higher esteem than the allegedly lesser Electric-and-Ice-type Pokémon before its eyes.

 

“Yes, it’s what you’ve been waiting for! Arcade Star Dahlia’s Zapdos has entered the battle! Hold on to your seats, because now you know we’re in for a ride!”

 

“They’re in for a ride?” Matt quietly growled through his gritted teeth, attempting to grasp the sheer magnitude of the task before him. “How about the ride I’m in for?”

 

“I see you talking to yourself over there, so how’s about I give you something to talk about?!” Seemingly as soon as she sent Zapdos into the intense battle, Dahlia became a different person. Her stance became stiffer, and her movements went from being fluid to sharp and abrupt. Thrusting both of her arms forward, she cried, “Zapdos, Heat Wave!”

 

“Not good…” Desperate to avoid being defeated by the intimidating Legendary Pokémon, Matt chose the first decision that jumped into his head. “Quickly, Nikola, use Blizzard!”

 

Instead of aiming for the clouds this time, Nikola simply locked straight ahead to target Zapdos directly. Its gust of freezing air was met by the tide of fire that Zapdos had pushed forth, however, and Heat Wave won out. With its attack nullified completely, Nikola was left trapped to weather a painfully effective blow.

 

“Finish it off now, Zapdos! Give it a Drill Peck right to the chest!”

 

At this point completely overwhelmed by the stunning power and speed he was up against, Matt flinched and couldn’t manage to give a command. Nikola acted on its own, shooting a Thunderbolt at Zapdos as the Electric-and-Flying-type barreled toward it, but Zapdos shrugged the last-ditch counterattack off with little effect before viciously colliding with Nikola.

 

“N-Nikola!” Matt screamed out, though it was completely in vain.

 

“Rotom is unable to battle! The winner is Zapdos!”

 

“Down goes Rotom! He never had a chance to touch Zapdos! Now, the challenger only has one Pokémon left as well!”

 

Not content to simply defeat the Rotom, Zapdos pinned its victim under one of its talons while cawing loudly, all to show off its dominance over the battlefield.

 

“Now that’s just overkill,” Bunny reacted with disgust.

 

“You should have expected something like this,” Nekou said with a hint of sarcasm. “You can tell she isn’t the type to be subtle about anything. This is her stage, and when she’s on it, she’s going to absolutely play it to the fucking hilt.”

 

“Come on, don’t you blow this now!” Olivia called out with her hands cupped around her mouth. “If Nando could do it, so can you!”

 

“So it comes down to this…” Having recalled Nikola, Matt stood rigidly in a way that caused his eye to be obscured by the shadow of his hat’s brim. “I’ve got to pin all my hopes on this last one after all… out of these three, he’s my newest Pokémon, but I’m not going to just let this go…” Whipping his head up, he sharply added, “I’m not letting this go because those who run cannot find the truth! Patrick, make your mark!!”

 

In a blindingly fast motion Matt got the Dive Ball out of his bag and threw it with a flick of his wrist, releasing the bulky-bodied Seismitoad within to face Dahlia’s savage Zapdos. Patrick slowly turned his lazy-looking eyes upward to face Zapdos directly, who by this time was staring back with a look of sheer annoyance.

 

“It’s the final showdown, folks! Everything’s on the line! Matt’s Seismitoad versus Dahlia’s Zapdos… only one will walk away from this with the spoils of victory, but who will it be?!”

 

“A Water-and-Ground-type Pokémon?” Dahlia uttered while standing with her hands on her hips. “What a bother, Zapdos’s electrical attacks won’t work… but that just means this will be all the more fun! Get started with Drill Peck, Zapdos!”

 

As soon as Zapdos started spinning in Patrick’s direction, Matt growled to himself and shouted, “Stop it with Scald!”

The rainfall lent Patrick’s Scald some additional power, turning it into an almost beam-like blast of burning water instead of just a spray. Zapdos didn’t care about this power upgrade, though; it simply twisted around the boiling jet in midair to avoid being hit, then drilled straight into Patrick’s stomach, throwing him back as he croaked painfully.

 

“Patrick, no...” Matt whispered in shock, while he watched Patrick slump against a nearby wall.

 

“Is it too much?” taunted Dahlia, leaning forward while waving her right hand’s pointer finger in the air. “Tell me when you’ve had enough. I’ll stop whenever…”

 

Suddenly, a loud, guttural voice echoed through the stadium, interrupting Dahlia mid-sentence. Patrick, now standing again, raised both of his arms and let out an earsplitting battle cry before lunging at the grounded Zapdos.

 

Taking advantage of this turn, Matt directed, “Hit it with Drain Punch!”

 

As it did not suspect Patrick to be capable of striking so quickly, Zapdos was caught off guard and took a forceful blow squarely to the chest. The wound left behind quickly transformed into light that flowed into Patrick, restoring some of his stamina.

 

“Hit my Zapdos in such a way? I think not! Zapdos, take to the air and use Ominous Wind!”

 

Just as Zapdos began to lift itself into the air, Patrick jumped up and swung out with his hand, managing to grab onto the Electric-and-Flying-type’s leg. The feeling of Patrick’s weight immediately caused Zapdos to panic, and it forced itself upward in a frenzied attempt to get free.

 

“Good thinking, Patrick!” Matt called out in compliment, a wide smile coming across his face. “It has nowhere to run, so use Scald!”

 

 

“Toss that thing now!” Dahlia tore back in response.

 

Despite Zapdos’s valiant efforts to flip Patrick over its head, the Seismitoad managed to pull it back. While still holding on to keep Zapdos in place, Patrick assaulted it with another jet of steaming water, this one connecting straight to the Legendary Pokémon’s chin.

 

Zapdos finally lashed free of Patrick’s grip after taking the Scald directly, but it wasn’t yet out of trouble. This was evidenced by the sudden shudder that wracked its body as a red aura overtook it.

 

“That’s a burn, the secondary effect of Scald! Zapdos is on the clock now!”

 

In her mind, Dahlia saw her range of options narrowing. For a moment she squinted and stared at the two Pokémon, then she threw her hands up in the air and screamed to the ceiling, “Zapdos, ascend!”

 

While still visibly suffering from the burn’s effects, Zapdos managed to follow its trainer’s directions by moving upward until it was just skimming the underside of the clouds. At that point, it started to glide around in wide circles over the battlefield.

 

“If that’s what you’re going to do, then I have little choice in how to answer.” Pointing upward at the avian Pokémon, Matt sharply instructed, “Patrick, aim as best as you can and use Scald!”

 

Another jet of heated water shot into the air, but Zapdos evaded this one by twisting around and flying above the clouds. In frustration, Patrick blindly spat out yet another Scald with no orders, missing Zapdos by a figurative mile.

 

“Zapdos, it’s time for us to take the lead!” Compared to her earlier difficulties, Dahlia appeared to be getting her hyper, cheerful edge back. “Ominous Wind!”

 

Dahlia’s Zapdos dipped just below the cloud cover before forcefully flapping its wings, pushing a gust of glowing purple wind over Patrick. The Water-and-Ground-type Pokémon crossed his arms to act as a sort of defense, and to a degree, it did work. Aside from small cuts spreading over a number of places on his body, Patrick wasn’t hurt much at all, prompting Dahlia to clench her teeth.

 

Adding to her frustration, Dahlia could see Zapdos still being afflicted by the red aura of the burn left earlier. She realized that if she continued to approach the battle with a casual pace, she’d lose, not because of Patrick knocking Zapdos out but because of the burn simply wearing Zapdos out.

 

Knowing that she was in a situation worse than she’d initially thought, Dahlia took charge by quickly and directly ordering, “Drill Peck!”

 

“Patrick, hit it right in the face with Drain Punch!” Matt reflexively said to counter Dahlia. As he did so, he repositioned himself so that he was standing with his legs somewhat further apart while leaning forward very slightly.

 

Even when Zapdos hadn’t yet dove to strike, Patrick was getting ready to hit back. He clenched his fist and pulled back, but unlike before, this time a strange purple glow surrounded his arm. Though he did swing and connect with Zapdos’s face as the Legendary Pokémon drilled toward him, Patrick failed to affect it in any significant way, being thrown back forcefully but not nearly as hard as before. Zapdos, meanwhile, flipped back and returned to circling the battlefield from near the clouds.

 

“Looks like you don’t have complete luck yet after all,” Dahlia commented in a much more serious tone than the one in which she usually spoke. “Far too late for that to come into play.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Matt skeptically asked, noting to himself that engaging Dahlia in a discussion would afford Patrick a chance to rest momentarily.

 

“Did you see that purple glow? Your Seismitoad’s ability must be Poison Touch, which means that that Drain Punch would have poisoned Zapdos if it wasn’t already burned. Unfortunate for you, isn’t it?”

 

“But fortunate for me,” she quickly thought as an amendment to her original sentence. “I’m in enough trouble trying to win with Zapdos being burned…”

 

“It’s good to know that, but at this point, it doesn’t matter.” Turning his head upward so he could see Zapdos circling, Matt spread his arms and called out, “Patrick, cut it down with another Scald!”

 

“Get away!” Dahlia countered, gesturing in a sweeping motion. “Drill Peck into the clouds!”

 

Matt had been hoping for a decisive blow to end the fight, but those hopes disappeared when Patrick’s boiling water stream sailed just below Zapdos’s talons as it spun upward and out of sight. For his part, Matt clenched his fists and stared and the spot where Zapdos had been mere moments before, but Patrick became even angrier. Ignoring the fact that he could not aim at all, Patrick began randomly shooting blasts of steaming water up into the clouds, each one apparently missing Zapdos by a wide margin.

 

However, after only two rounds of these blind attempts, Patrick suddenly started gasping when he tried to use Scald again, no longer able to draw upon its power.

 

“Patrick, what’s wrong?” Matt desperately shouted, having become alarmed by the rapidly escalating appearance of frustration and panic on his Seismitoad’s part.

 

Sighing in relief, Dahlia wiped her forehead, which had become damp with sweat, and said, “I almost was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to last this long to let Pressure work!”

 

“Pressure…” With his breath becoming slower and shallower, Matt took a slow, shaky step back. “Zapdos’s ability… I never even took it into account…”

 

“Since you know what it’s called, then you must at least have an idea of what it does. You’ll run out of steam for your moves one by one at double the rate! That means, since you can’t use Scald anymore, you can’t hurt Zapdos!”

 

Dahlia’s claims not only affected Matt – who became visibly more tense as he tried to grapple with the meaning of his situation – but the spectators in the stands as well. Panicked, Olivia hurriedly turned to Nekou and Bunny in a bid to gain better understanding of what was going on.

 

“Is that actually true?! It can’t be over like that!”

 

“Nothing in this world is that simple,” Nekou explained in a seemingly flippant manner, not really paying much attention to her own words. “It’s something you’d benefit from remembering. When something seems like it has an obvious answer or outcome… it usually doesn’t.”

 

“It’s true that of Seismitoad’s remaining moves, one won’t work at all and the other would only cause slight damage,” Bunny added. “But, Zapdos isn’t exactly in great shape either. If it can’t stay out of Seismitoad’s reach, this could still turn around.”

 

“Now, Zapdos,” Dahlia called out to her airborne Pokémon, “use Ominous Wind!”

 

With seemingly no options available to him, Patrick simply crossed his arms in front of his face as a feeble defense against the glowing purple wind sent blowing down onto him. He wasn’t moved far by it, though.

 

Zapdos dropped out of the cloud cover, and its ravaged, weakened body and uneven breathing made clear that the burn’s effect was doing what Matt’s attacks were failing to do. Dahlia looked up with wide eyes at her Pokémon, trying to accept the reality brought on by the red glow consuming it and what this light meant.

 

“Zapdos… you’re not going to last much longer, are you?” Already knowing the answer to this question, Dahlia turned her head back down and stared at Matt. Her gaze was intense enough to make him uncomfortable; to him, her eyes were like two spears piercing into his own. “Fine!” she boomed, pointing her finger at him. “Matt Chiaki, you’ve put on a good show for us here today, so as a sign of respect, I will show you my special finishing move! Zapdos, use Heat Wave! Follow it with Drill Peck! Then, finish this with Thunderbolt!”

 

“Impossible,” Nekou said in disbelief. “What is she even trying to do? Heat Wave will barely affect him, and Thunderbolt…”

 

“She’s just trying to use the attack’s impact strength!” Bunny exclaimed, having arrived abruptly at the answer. “After all of this talk about luck, it’s come down to brute force!”

 

By this point, Zapdos had already used Heat Wave to create a curtain of fire in the air, and it was now using Drill Peck to spin through said curtain and gather its energy. During all of this, Matt and Patrick could only sit and watch.

 

“Get ready, Patrick.”

 

The Seismitoad grunted and nodded to his trainer in affirmation. They both knew that what Dahlia was planning was likely to spell the end for them, but one thing both Matt and Patrick had resolved to was to go down fighting.

 

“It ends NOW!” Dahlia screamed out, her excitement and energy finally boiling completely over. Flinging her arms up into the air before bringing them sharply back down, she roared, “Zapdos, GO!!”

 

All of the remaining fire in the air convened around Zapdos as it twisted around and began shooting electricity from all over its body. Locking onto Patrick, Zapdos started to descend rapidly, taking on the form and power of a spinning rocket powered by the dual forces of fire and electricity.

 

“This is it! Dahlia’s final move! Is this truly going to be the end?!”

 

“Now, Patrick!” Matt shut his eyes as he held up his arm. He did not want to see what was about to happen. “Hit it head-on with Drain Punch!”

 

Showing more courage than his trainer, Patrick fearlessly faced the raging inferno that bore down on him. He didn’t expect to inflict much harm either, but he intended to come out having done something to help. With perfect timing, he swung his fist just perfectly to connect with Zapdos’s beak.

 

Zapdos’s frenzied attack was the one that won out, easily overwhelming Patrick. His Drain Punch, however, caused the Drill Peck/Heat Wave/Thunderbolt combination to go off target, and it instead mowed the Seismitoad down at his feet and pushed him down onto the Legendary Pokémon’s back.

 

A combination of Zapdos’s pained, frustrated squawks and the explosion of noise from the audience forced Matt to open his eyes and see what was going on – Zapdos flittering around the arena in a panic, trying to get Patrick off of its back.

 

“Now I’ve seen fucking everything…” he thought, unable to form words for a minute due to the sheer shock of what had happened and what he’d seen.

 

“WHAT?!!” Dahlia was rapidly approaching a point where if she became any more high-strung, she might scratch her own skin off. Her voice was thin and high-pitched, and her once-tanned-and-smooth skin had become clammy with sweat. “How could you not only survive my finishing move, but even turn it against me?”

 

“I guess it just boiled down to pure luck,” Matt said with a quick shrug.

 

Taken aback by how simple the entire thing actually was, Dahlia grunted and abruptly turned upward, staring straight at Zapdos as it glided around in the air with Patrick holding onto its back. “Throw that thing off! Drill Peck!”

 

“Patrick, keep your grip by any…” When he saw that Zapdos did not even have enough strength left in its burn-ravaged body to even use Drill Peck, Matt cut off his direction. He realized that the only thing remaining was to finally put an end to the battle once and for all. “Patrick, hit Zapdos square in the back with Drain Punch.”

 

While struggling to keep his hold on the Legendary Pokémon using only his left hand, Patrick raised up his right hand in a clenched fist. After holding it back for a short time to channel strength into it, he brought it down on the center of Zapdos’s back with great force.

 

Ordinarily, a Fighting-type move would do little against a Flying-type like Zapdos. However, because of the significant weakness left in Zapdos’s body by the burn plus Patrick’s precise aim, the expectation held by most of the spectators was defied. Zapdos plummeted from the sky and crashed into the floor with such speed that Patrick actually didn’t start falling until a split second later, allowing Matt the time to quickly plan his final move.

 

“Now, Patrick come down right on top of it with Earthquake!”

 

Before the stunned eyes of Dahlia along with Nekou, Olivia, Bunny and the rest of the crowd, Patrick clasped his hands together and flipped forward, delivering a devastating double punch to Zapdos’s body in a spot not far from where he’d just hit moments earlier. A seismic shockwave erupted from the impact, forcing Matt, Dahlia and the referee to brace themselves.

 

Though his body was violently shuddering, with every muscle wanting to give out, Patrick stood triumphant when he emerged from the final exchange. Zapdos lay nearby, sprawled out and crushed into a hole in the battlefield.

 

“Zapdos is unable to battle! The winner is Seismitoad, and the victor is Matt of Snowpoint City!”

 

“I don’t believe it!” exclaimed the announcer, though he was barely audible over the cheering erupting from the crowd. “What a show! At the end of this no-holds-barred clash of titans at the Battle Arcade, the challenger comes out on top, defeating Arcade Star Dahlia!!”

 

“Patrick, thank you!” Matt rushed forward when he saw Patrick, who was trying to walk to him, start to collapse. He managed to catch his Pokémon in his arms, and in response, Patrick weakly croaked and smiled in exhausted contentment. “Patrick, don’t worry anymore, you can rest now. That was amazing for one of your first battles with me.”

 

Dahlia, meanwhile, held up her Master Ball, bringing Zapdos back within it. “Another good show, my friend,” she said to it, putting the ball back on her belt. “Two losses in a row, but you can be blamed for neither. That’s just how the wheel spins and how the dice roll.”

 

Great amounts of chatter had already broken out amongst the audience members about what they had just witnessed. In the back of the seating area, lurking out of the active areas but having watched all along, Jessie, James and Meowth took advantage of this activity to cover their own actions with Wobbuffet standing alongside them.

 

“That’s that, then,” Jessie sighed, looking back down to the battlefield. “He could be a valuable ally to the cause if we play our cards right, don’t you think?”

 

“Right, Jessie, but what’s with all the people we’ve run into lately? Our hands were tied like a Tangrowth because that old man was strong, and obviously we can’t make Matt mad at us. You can see why.”

 

“That don’t really matter one way or the other in the end,” Meowth interjected. “The boss has got someone working on working him over. We ain’t got nothing to worry about with him. What still gets me, though, is what we’re gonna be doing to fix our little mess with the Meteonite piece.”

 

“We’ll lay low,” suggested James. “Come on, let’s leave. This certainly isn’t the place to have this talk.”

 

“Wobbuffet!” the blue Psychic-type Pokémon cheerfully shouted, waddling after his trainer and her friends as they left the arena.

 

-:-

 

“That was great! I loved it!”

 

Though she could not hug Matt as he came back out into the Battle Arcade’s lobby like she wanted, Olivia still greeted him with as much enthusiasm as she could muster from her crutches. Beside her stood Nekou, Bunny and Dante, all of whom were smiling, even the elderly doctor.

 

“Well, I wouldn’t want to disappoint my fans,” Matt chuckled, scratching the back of his head. “It looks like you’re feeling lively again, Olivia. That’s good.”

 

“Watching you battle helped me remember what I want to do,” the girl explained. “I know I can do it. You inspired me to keep trying to make my dream come true!”

 

Briefly hesitating when he was forced to consider just what Olivia’s dream was, Matt slowly turned to the others. “And what did you three think?”

 

“Even I have to admit when you do something right.” Nekou spoke with a huff in her voice, but in reality, she was simply trying to annoy Matt by being sarcastic. “The tactics you used were actually kind of impressive.”

 

“Especially how you defeated Zapdos,” Bunny quickly chimed in.

 

“In that battle, the Pokémon and their trainers worked together very well, which brought out the best of their abilities.” The others turned their heads in Dante’s direction while he continued musing, “My theory is that it came down to who could improvise better, and Matt, you flying blind that whole time may just have saved you. Dahlia had all her strategies planned out so well in advance that when you made things up, it put her out of her comfort zone.”

 

“What are you saying about me, old man?!”

 

When Dahlia came bounding out of the arena doorway, speaking playfully and far too loudly for the situation, she made the group of four jump in surprise. In fact, Matt almost landed right in Nekou’s arms because of how far he stumbled.

 

“What?” Even Dante, as calculating as he was, couldn’t completely process Dahlia’s sudden arrival.

 

“Oh, relax, I’m just playing with you. You’re not too far from the truth, really…” Turning to Matt, who had managed to compose himself, Dahlia continued, “Matt, your ability to go in with a rough framework of a plan and retool it on the fly is something that will serve you well going forward, but do realize that the rest of the Frontier Brains are tougher than me.”

 

“Sure, that sounds like a good thing…” he said in sarcastic response.

 

“Relax, you’ll be fine. So what will you do now?”

 

“Well…” Matt hesitated as he spoke; he was unsure if discussing the subject was a good idea. Ultimately deciding that explaining his motives could prove helpful, he said, “I’m looking to find Reshiram, actually. I want to see the truths its fire burns to reveal.”

 

“Well, you sure picked a hell of a region to do it in! That’s Unova, not Johto!” Matt and Bunny could only stare with stunned expressions at Dahlia, as her airy, casual tone completely mismatched against how serious he was being. “Sorry, though, in all seriousness, I don’t really know anything about that. You might want to talk to the Factory Head, the Frontier Brain of the Battle Factory in Goldenrod City, though. He’s more into the details of legends than I am.”

 

“Goldenrod City,” Bunny repeated. “That’s pretty far from here.”

 

“I guess we’ll be waiting a while, then…” The dejected tone in Matt’s voice could not be missed. His disappointment at losing a potential lead came right out to the surface.

 

“The Factory Head knows a lot of things, that’s why he got put in charge of a facility specializing in knowledge itself. Anyway, check this out. It’s what you earned by defeating me.” Reaching into a pocket inside her shirt, Dahlia withdrew a golden coin and flipped it to Matt, who caught it with his right hand. Printed on it was an image of one of the Battle Arcade’s onion domes. “It’s the medal for winning here at my Battle Arcade. With it, you can go on the Frontier Society’s website and get an additional prize.”

 

“Thanks, I’ll have to remember to do that. Thank you for the great battle, too.”

 

“Think nothing of it. Anyway, I gotta get back in there to see some more challengers, so I’ll see you around. Good luck out there!”

 

“Bye!” Olivia called out to Dahlia, who had turned and begun swaggering back to the arena.

 

“She is… certainly someone I’m not going to forget meeting anytime soon,” Bunny sighed.

 

“Mister Chiaki?”

 

An unfamiliar voice coming from behind prompted Matt to turn around. Standing there, clutching a black briefcase and gasping for air, was a well-groomed man in a brown suit.

 

“Yeah, that’s me, Matt Chiaki. Who are you?”

 

“Sorry, please forgive me. I’m just glad I managed to catch up with you.” Straightening up, the man smoothed out his suit and straightened his yellow tie, giving himself a much more professional look. He offered his hand to Matt, saying, “That was rude of me. Please allow me to introduce myself. The name’s Dominic.”

 

“Well met, then.” Seeing no reason to turn down the courtesy Dominic was showing him, Matt took the man’s hand for a firm handshake.

 

“That’s quite the handshake,” Dominic immediately pointed out. Noticing the confused looks that greeted this rather odd proclamation, he hurried to explain, “I’m a salesman for the Angel Corporation, you see, so in my line of work a good handshake goes a long way. Anyway, I hope I’m not intruding too much, but when I saw you here, Mr. Chiaki, I had to give approaching and asking you a shot.”

 

“Ask me what?” Matt found himself less bothered by Dominic’s presence than his seeming inability to actually get to the point. Nekou was standing just behind him and giving Dominic an exaggerated death stare, but Matt was completely unaware of this.

 

“Will you be going to Violet City?”

 

“Wait, that’s it?” The sheer simplicity of the question caught Matt completely off guard, and he did not have an answer ready.

 

“Of course!” Olivia immediately cut in. “That’s where my first Gym is!”

 

“But why would you want to know?” A hint of suspicion flavored Nekou’s inquiry. Harboring a dislike for not knowing what was happening, she felt uncomfortably on edge.

 

“I said I was a salesman, well, I’m actually a traveling salesman. I’m asking about Violet City because my son and two daughters are attending Earl’s Pokémon Academy there for a while, and after seeing you battle, I’d really appreciate it if you could meet them.”

 

“I don’t think I see any reason why I should say no,” Matt answered with a shrug. “It’s not out of the way…”

 

“Good choice, I wanted to go!” In a complete departure from her previous feelings, Nekou now loudly supported the proposal. “A school would have one of my favorite things in it!”

 

“I swear,” Matt sighed, “if you say free food…”

 

“No, that’s number two.” Ignoring the look of exasperation plastered on Matt’s face, she continued, “I’m talking about books, the one thing that goes well with absolutely anything. I’ll read as much as I want there.”

 

“And you never know,” Bunny added, “we could find a clue about Reshiram there.”

 

“Good point. What about you, Olivia? What do you think?”

 

“I say we go. I could warm up for the Gym there.”

 

Turning back to Dominic, Matt shrugged again and said, “There you have it, we’ll go.”

 

“Thank you, Mr. Chiaki, thank you very much!” Seizing up Matt’s hand once more, Dominic smiled broadly as he spoke. “I’m sure my kids will appreciate meeting you very much. Now, please excuse me. I’ll have to be taking my leave now so I can get back to them.”

 

-:-

 

Pierce barely had a chance to step through the door of Dr. Zager’s run-down laboratory before the doctor was upon him. Even though the scientist was visibly angry, Pierce managed to remain completely stone-faced.

 

“Is it correct to assume that you received my report, Dr. Zager?”

 

“Oh, I received it, Pierce, and I’m not very happy with what I saw in it!” Zager threw his hands up in the air in frustration and walked a few steps away from Pierce before quickly returning. “You cannot simply spill Team Rocket’s plans to people you run into on the street!” he hissed through teeth masked by his mustache. “Any of them could be members of Polaris! All it takes is one slip up for us all to be destroyed!”

 

“I just ask that you pass on the information I supplied to Giovanni,” Pierce flatly said. “I am confident that he will judge what I did as correct.”

 

“And what if you’re wrong?”

 

“You boys ought to stop fighting,” Ariana suggested, walking up to Zager’s computer console. She was playful at first but quickly turned serious. “I’ve already passed the information on.”

 

“And I have already received it.”

 

The stern, powerful voice of the man on the screen brought both Zager and Pierce into line nearly instantly. Both the younger agent and the older scientist dropped down onto one knee and set their right hands over their hearts while Ariana stood by.

 

“Hail Giovanni!” both declared in unison.

 

“Dispense with the formalities,” Giovanni ordered, waving his hand to dismiss their actions. Before speaking further, the Team Rocket leader adjusted the lapel of his suit – a black article with red pinstripes – and pushed up his blood-red necktie. “Pierce, you have had interactions with a representative of the Tenganist people?”

 

“That is correct, sir,” Pierce rigidly replied. “She informed me that their surviving numbers are planning to rebel against Polaris, so I marshaled her into an agreement, the details of which you can see in my report.”

 

“Yes, we arm them and in return they will cooperate with our efforts to destroy Polaris. I see it here.”

 

“With all due respect, sir,” Zager interrupted, “this plan is very risky. We do not know if the Tenganists have been infiltrated by Polaris in the first place.”

 

“Dr. Zager, this goes far deeper than simple alliances. There has been a systematic campaign to eradicate the Tenganist people going on in secret. Many of their settlements have been destroyed, Michina Town being the first we know of, and the chief suspect we’ve identified as being behind this genocide is Ghetsis Harmonia. His hatred of the Tenganists is a poorly kept secret that Team Rocket’s intelligence forces picked up in Unova.”

 

“And as Ghetsis is now the public spokesman of Polaris in the Tohjo Continent,” Pierce continued, using Giovanni’s line of thought, “there is an obvious connection between the cleansing of the Tenganist people and Polaris. Also…” Pierce’s face darkened, and his normally forceful voice became much weaker. “My sister and I had our mother taken from us by Ghetsis and Polaris. Yes, I am one of them.”

 

“Stacia is as well, Dr. Zager.”

 

Under the intense eyes of Giovanni, Pierce and Ariana, Zager slowly stepped back and leaned against the nearby lab table. “This is getting worse and worse… fine. I agree to the plan to arm the Tenganists, but I want the supplies I send to be carefully observed.”

 

“I will take the responsibility of escorting the shipment of goods to their designated point,” Pierce volunteered without hesitation. “They are my people, even if I am not as devout as them.”

 

“I’m going out, too,” Ariana announced, stepping forward with her hand on her hip.

 

“I can’t say I think that’s a good idea. I recommend you stay here, Ariana.”

 

Sighing at Zager, Ariana shot back, “And because that’s one dumb-ass suggestion, I’m going to ignore it. You’ve got agents in the field who could be in way over their heads right now.”

 

“You’re both wrong,” Giovanni intervened. “Jessie, James and Meowth failed me more times than I can remember. But, they have proven their worth through their actions during our operations in Unova. They are some of Team Rocket’s top operatives and I have full confidence in their ability to get the mission done. That said, however, I do not object to dispatching an Executive to assist them. Ariana, do what you must to accomplish the mission.”

 

“You got it, boss!”

 

-:-

 

Sitting in his ornate, finely-furnished office, Giovanni pressed a key on the videophone device on his desk to close the call to Dr. Zager’s laboratory. Just then, the sound of his door creaking open caught his attention.

 

A young woman, bearing back-length purple hair and cold green eyes framed by glasses, carefully worked her way into the room, holding a cup of coffee on a saucer. She slowly and deliberately walked forward toward Giovanni’s desk, taking great care not to let her shaky hands spill the coffee on the red-and-purple material of her military-style dress. Eventually managing to reach her boss safely, she set the cup down before him.

 

“Mister Giovanni… the coffee you asked for…”

 

“Thank you, Stacia,” he answered, showing a rare moment of gratitude before slipping back into the dour mood that was already consuming him.

 

As his loyal secretary and someone who would willingly kill or die for him at the drop of a hat, however, Stacia knew more than enough to be able to read Giovanni’s face without a struggle. “Is something wrong, sir?”

 

Giovanni did not reply at first. Instead, he turned his chair around, giving himself a view through the huge window positioned behind his desk. His faithful Pokémon, Persian, walked up to his side and meowed, so Giovanni scratched the large, cream-colored cat under the chin, prompting him to purr contentedly.

 

“Stacia, when did we end up as the ones who must hold up the world? Polaris cannot be allowed to continue with what they are planning. A world ruled by the warped beliefs of Polaris can never move forward, and that would destroy Team Rocket as well.”

 

-:-

 

Once again, Ghetsis was standing outside the electronic prison in which he had placed Concordia and Anthea, listening to their findings.

 

“We have only translated one passage fully so far, Lord Ghetsis,” Concordia explained, detached from the situation despite the high chance of Ghetsis going into an explosive rage over it.

 

“It speaks of the two heroes in Unova legend, the White Hero of Truth and Black Hero of Ideals. We have not found anything more yet, only that this legend is involved.”

 

“I’m keeping you two alive and this is what you repay me with?!!” Of course, Ghetsis actually did end up exploding. Slamming his cane into the ground over and over, he fumed, “I won’t be able to keep ahead of those small-minded, imperfect fools on the Sacred Helix at this rate! I must! I am a perfect being, the perfect ruler for a world that shall be shaped into perfection!”

 

“Lord Ghetsis, come in,” a voice coming from a device in Ghetsis’s ear said. “This is Shadow Triad leader Darkness.”

 

“Report!” Ghetsis snapped.

 

“We have extensively searched Ecruteak City and Route 36 for your son and the Tenganist prophet. No results. What are your orders, my lord?”

 

Ghetsis closed his eyes and stood still, trying to calm his mind so he could process the information being supplied to him. Concordia and Anthea sat by and watched through the translucent walls of their prison as several tense seconds slowly passed by.

 

“Split up,” Ghetsis spoke once he finally reopened his eyes. “Darkness, you and Pestilence go to the west, toward Goldenrod City. Send Chaos off to the east, in the direction of Violet City and Cherrygrove City. Find those two freaks no matter the cost!”

 

“Your orders are our command!”

 

Taking his hand off his ear, Ghetsis slowly pivoted on his cane to face the two women in his cage, who were watching him with empty stares. “Prepare to bear witness to the rise of the man born to rule this broken planet! It’s been so many long years in the making…”

 

As he walked toward the room’s exit, Ghetsis began laughing to himself, smug in the confidence he held in his plans.

 

-:-

 

That night, the group was once again staying in the Pokémon Center’s hotel. Matt decided to go to sleep earlier than Olivia and Bunny, who were watching television together in the lobby, while Nekou was nowhere to be seen. After bidding them good night, he headed for the room the four of them were staying in.

 

As he entered the room, he reached for the wall next to the door, looking for the light switch he needed to trip to illuminate the darkness. The one thing he didn’t expect, though, was to have his hand held down on the switch by the hand of someone that was already there.

 

“Aah! Who’s there?!”

 

Whoever was attacking Matt pinned him against the door, which they slammed shut with their leg. Now blind in the dark room, he thought of defending himself but lacked the willpower to do so.

 

“Marie, turn on the lamp.”

 

“Snea!”

 

Nekou’s Sneasel turned on the lamp sitting on the nearby table, allowing Matt enough light to see that his so-called assailant was really nobody more than Nekou herself. Sighing, he tried to push her away, but she only released his left arm, the one that had been reaching for the light switch in the first place.

 

“I’m not in the mood for this. Let me go to bed.”

 

“What’s Olivia doing?” There was a strange intensity in Nekou’s eyes as she asked this question, one that showed she wasn’t joking around as Matt thought she was.

 

“You can go out there and see for yourself.”

 

“Answer the question.”

 

Matt sighed once again. “Fine. She’s out there watching a Pokémon Baccer game with Bunny.”

 

“Alright.” With that, Nekou released Matt and started to walk away, but before long she turned right back to him. “You did really well at the Battle Arcade today.”

 

“I just did what a lot of others have done,” he answered in a bland voice.

 

“Don’t sell yourself short. Olivia really looks up to you, more than you seem like you even know.”

 

“You two really have hit it off, haven’t you? You haven’t even known each other for very long.” The uncharacteristic seriousness of Nekou’s attitude was beginning to make Matt feel uncomfortable. By this point he was trying to find a way to get out of the conversation.

 

“Olivia and I do get along very well, that’s right,” she concurred. “From what she’s told me, she really likes you, even if she doesn’t outwardly show it.”

 

“Get to the point, please.”

 

“She needs you more than ever right now,” Nekou explained, closing her eyes and breathing deeply to alleviate the tension from what she was saying. “You have to tell her the truth about what happened to Rich before she goes too far down the rabbit hole to be saved.”

 

“How can I do something like that?” This was the last thing Matt wanted to talk about. Feeling crushed both physically and mentally, he began to just simply talk without thinking. “I can’t break her like that, I just can’t. It’s my job to make sure she keeps going. How can trash like me even think to…”

 

He suddenly stopped when he felt Nekou put her hand on his cheek. She was staring right at him, but while her usual sarcastic tone returned, something about what she said still sounded strangely sincere.

 

“Trash? Fuck no, stop tearing yourself down like that. We’re all… I mean, Olivia and I are relying on you, and do you know why that is? Because we trust you.”

 

“Thanks, I, uh… guess.” It took a moment but something in what Nekou said caught in Matt’s mind as odd. “Wait, why are you relying on me too? For what?”

 

“That’s not important. Just promise me you’ll tell Olivia the truth.”

 

Matt found Nekou’s argument oddly compelling, and after some thought, he decided to go along with it. “Fine, after Olivia wins her first Badge, I’ll tell her what happened. I want to wait until then so she’ll have something to be confident in.”

 

“Now that’s the Matt I knew was in there.” Nekou moved over to the bed she was sleeping in and reached into the rumpled sheets, pulling out two cans of beer; she tossed one to Matt then opened the other. “That’s for you. Let’s celebrate a little, alright?”

 

 

 

 

END of CHAPTER 5

 

 

Chapter Text

There’s going to be some violent content in this chapter. Nothing too intense, but I’d rather be more cautious than I have to be instead of not cautious enough. Also, language.

 

-:-

 

CHAPTER 6: Transcending Humanity

 

-:-

 

Matt and Nekou had spent a small amount of time talking over the beer she shared with him the previous night. Somehow, it was actually a worthwhile discussion – they spoke of Olivia’s well-being for a while, then started talking about books they liked. The alcohol took its toll on Matt, though, and he soon felt tired. It was not long after that that he simply fell asleep.

 

On the upside, though, he slept well and felt completely reinvigorated the next day. As he had finished eating well before the others had even all gotten up, he separated from them and left the Pokémon Center to await them at the gateway to Route 30. The bright morning sun cast golden light over the flowing grass stretching out beyond the borders of Cherrygrove City; it also warmed the earthy red leaves of the autumn trees surrounding the route.

 

He had a wait of about forty minutes before Nekou arrived with Olivia, Bunny and Dante in tow. Even when he knew they were behind him, however, he did not immediately turn around.

 

“Matt, I think you better see this…” Judging from her voice, something had clearly disturbed Bunny.

 

“What happened?” he wondered, taking his time to turn around.

 

The answer didn’t come immediately to him. He glanced over the four of them; the flamboyant young woman, his conservatively-dressed friend and her outlandish counterpart, and the elderly scientist wearing a brown coat and holding a briefcase in his hand. All of them merely stood before Matt and stared back as he tried to figure out what was wrong.

 

It didn’t take long for the truth to hit him like a speeding truck.

 

Olivia was standing there like the others.

 

“Olivia, your leg!” Matt exclaimed, adjusting his glasses in disbelief. “How are you standing there like that without your crutches?”

 

“I guess it just got better during the night,” Olivia answered with a shrug. “It was feeling a little better yesterday, and when I got up this morning, I could walk again.”

 

“It is atypical for someone to recover from an injury that quickly,” Dante stated. He hesitated briefly before adding, “But I’m sure you already knew that. The Pokémon Center nurse and I took her cast off before we came out here. I’m not sure why she recovered so quickly, but I’m sure there must be a reason.”

 

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, I say. Maybe she wasn’t injured as badly as we all thought. What do you think of that?”

 

Olivia smiled when Nekou patted her on the head, and in response to the question Nekou posed, she said, “You might be right, I guess. I’m not concerned about it.”

 

Though he wanted to accept Olivia’s decision, second thoughts clouded Matt’s mind. He stood still, unable to rid himself of a lingering concern that something just couldn’t possibly be right about Olivia’s miraculous recovery. To force it out of his head, he finally turned back around to face what he had been looking at.

 

“And I’ve got something to show you,” he declared, spreading his arms wide. “Take a look at this!”

 

Sitting just off the road, a robotic vehicle the size of a large truck greeted the eyes of Matt’s companions. Sleek in both its aerodynamic shape and primarily black coloration, it cut the figure of something out of a science fiction movie.

 

Nekou drew in a stunned breath, clearly impressed by what she was seeing. “That’s... you built this?”

 

“That is not the same one you had when we worked together years ago,” Bunny swiftly pointed out. “What happened to the old one?”

 

“For those of you who don’t already know,” Matt answered, “this is the HR-E second version, or HR-E 2 for short. The original HR-E was destroyed five years ago when its electronics got fried by an EMP and then it got blown up.”

 

“What… what is it, exactly?”

 

Matt nodded to acknowledge Dante’s question, as he clearly recognized the confusion present in the old man’s mind. “To put it simply, it’s a mobile home and a laboratory at the same time. I designed the original version using everything my robotics teacher taught me so I could use it to travel around and do field research. For this new version, I simply streamlined the old plans for the original. So what do you think? It can serve as a place to stay if we ever need such a thing, and I can call it to me no matter where we are!”

 

“I’m in.” As she responded almost instantly upon Matt finishing, Olivia was the first to get in her thoughts. “The old one that my dad, my mom and I stayed in was great, and the new build is even better.”

 

“I’ve got to agree,” Bunny concurred. “I don’t mind fieldwork, obviously, but if I have somewhere comfortable to sleep, I’ll take it.”

 

“I have to,” Dante added with a quick cough. “These old bones aren’t getting any younger.”

 

“We’re all on the same page then.” Smiling, Matt pointed directly down the road. “Route 30 awaits us, and beyond that Violet City, so let’s get going.”

 

-:-

 

At that same time, somewhere far away, Finansielle was meeting with Jeunes and Getriebe. The video screen displaying her armor-covered shoulders, head and face was so outsized that it allowed her to lord over the sterile, metallic laboratory where the two male Polaris members were.

 

“The correct solution is just eluding us, Finansielle,” Getriebe explained in a bored-sounding, monotonous voice. “We haven’t been able to find the genetic key that will make the Pokérus take the form we want.”

 

“But everything else is going exactly according to plan,” Jeunes made sure to hastily add, all while pushing up his Mewtwo mask to push up the glasses held underneath. “The gathering of battle data has gone smoothly. We’re tracking the Meteonite right now, and we have several teams ready to go to secure it, which I intend to personally lead. Getting back to the Pokérus for a moment, though, we have managed to find the way to trigger a transformation in its genetic makeup. We just don’t know how to get it to mutate into what we want yet.”

 

“I’m rather disappointed that I put so much investment into your research only for the most important answer to remain elusive.” Finansielle’s stinging criticism of their work prompted Getriebe – who was younger and wearing a helix-patterned suit along with his Electivire-themed helmet and mask – to shift his weight uncomfortably from one leg to the other. “It’s not that we don’t have a use for you any longer, though. Jeunes, what you should be doing is overseeing the collection of the Meteonite.”

 

“It will get done, I swear it. The final stage of our search is not far off.”

 

“Good. And Getriebe, your role is to continue gathering the battle data necessary for when we have the modified Pokérus and the equipment to harness it ready.”

 

“Of course, Finansielle,” Getriebe said while leaning forward into a seemingly forced bow. “My Purine Base serves that exact purpose…”

 

“Very well. I’m confident you’ll have good news for us all at the next meeting of the Sacred Helix. As for me, I am currently heading to the Adenosine Base. I’m calling in an expert on Pokémon strength to analyze the existing research and help fill in the missing gaps. He’s arriving there via helicopter sometime soon and I’m on my way to greet him. We’re now one step closer to our promised world…”

 

-:-

 

“Drowzee, use Pound!”

 

Further up the lightly wooded road of Route 30, Renzo and his Drowzee were engaged in a battle against a wild Pokémon while three younger children watched from the sidelines. The Pokémon – a fluffy, round, white ball of cotton – used a pair of green leaf-like appendages to flutter out of Drowzee’s grasp, making it hard for the Psychic-type to land a hit.

 

After escaping several times, the Pokémon flicked her arms to toss several sharp-edged leaves as a counterattack. Much to Renzo’s annoyance, Drowzee was too slow to escape from the wild Pokémon’s Razor Leaf, leaving his body riddled with cuts. Behind his mouth-obscuring scarf, Renzo clenched his teeth.

 

“I will not fail to capture you, Cottonee! Drowzee, take a ranged approach this time. Psycho Cut!”

 

Jumping back, Drowzee quickly slashed the air in front of himself using his right arm, flinging a purple-hued blade of psychic energy directly into his opponent. The Cottonee crumpled beneath the crushing force Drowzee’s Psycho Cut carried, the wide gash across her face still faintly glowing from the residue of what created it.

 

“You’re mine now! Go, Poké Ball!”

 

Renzo pulled a red-and-white sphere from the inner part of his tattered poncho and threw it at the Pokémon he’d just finished fighting. The Poké Ball cracked open upon hitting Cottonee’s body, allowing its inner technology to convert the Pokémon into energy before pulling her in. It then sealed up and fell to the ground, where before the eyes of Renzo and his Psychic-type, it rocked and shuddered.

 

“Come on...” the ragged trainer thought to himself. “I can’t afford any more Poké Balls…”

 

He didn’t need to worry, however, as almost immediately after he finished that thought, the Poké Ball became still and gave off a pinging sound, indicating a successful capture. Renzo’s attitude quickly changed; he excitedly ran over to where the Poké Ball lay on the ground and picked it up, while the more lethargic Drowzee simply ambled up alongside his trainer.

 

“Wow, great job!” called one of the children, a bright-eyed girl whose brown hair hung in a side-tied ponytail.

 

“Yes, thank you…” Renzo replied, before cracking the Poké Ball in his hand open once more. The Cottonee, her body visibly bruised in several places, materialized from its confines and almost immediately shrank back upon seeing Renzo and his Drowzee. “Now, now, you don’t have to be afraid, Cottonee. We’re not going to hurt you. Please, forgive us for doing what we had to.”

 

Lowering himself so he wound not appear as intimidating to the small Pokémon, Renzo extended a hand and waited as Cottonee nervously examined it. It took a bit of time, but Renzo’s newly-caught Pokémon did eventually decide that the situation was safe, at which point she hopped up into his hand and allowed him to hold her.

 

“There you go,” he said in an attempt to further comfort her, “nothing to be afraid of.”

 

“Mister Renzo, outsiders!” one of the two male children suddenly cried.

 

“Hmph. I would wager that I can guess who.” Slowly turning around, Renzo came to face Matt, Olivia, Nekou, Bunny and Dante, who had arrived in the pass just after Cottonee was captured. His guess having evidently been right, he sighed and said, “So the usurper and her followers return, with a new addition, no less. Listen, I will not be persuaded away from my goals, no matter how large your group becomes!”

 

“We’re not interested in you,” Matt attempted to argue while adjusting his glasses in exasperation. “We just want to go to Violet City.”

 

“That Pokémon in your arms,” Olivia observed, pointing straight at Cottonee. “I’ve never seen it before.”

 

“Cottonee, the Cotton Puff Pokémon,” her Pokédex stated once she took it out. “Perhaps because they feel more at ease in a group, they stick to others they find. They end up looking like a cloud.”

 

“I would say that your little invader is plenty interested in me, thank you very much. Actually, come to think of it, we have a bit of a score to settle from New Bark Town, do we not? Olivia, I challenge you!”

 

“Bring it on!” Olivia immediately shot back, without even taking a moment to think. “I beat you once and I’ll do it again!”

 

“You go for it, Olivia!” Nekou encouraged. “Put him in his place!”

 

“Ha! Fat chance!” The boy from earlier, who was clothed in a red t-shirt and denim shorts, was starting to walk over in Renzo’s direction. “Renzo beat all three of us without breaking a sweat. He’ll make quick work of you, too!”

 

“Please, do not interfere.” Renzo’s request prompted the bold-tempered boy to stand down. “This is a burden I must bear alone, teaching this undeserving swine her place in the world.”

 

“Don’t you think that’s a little cruel?” By the scowl on her face, Bunny was clearly bothered by Renzo’s names for Olivia. “The way you talk, you make it sound like Olivia killed your mother or something.”

 

Renzo flinched, but quickly recovered. “Olivia, I will not be using this Cottonee against you. I just captured it, and it is not in prime health for battling. Neither will I be using my Drowzee, who is tired from battling Cottonee. I have prepared a Pokémon specifically for my next meeting with you, and now it is time for you to meet that Pokémon.”

 

“Like I said, bring it on! I’m not afraid of you!”

 

“You should be.” With Cottonee, Drowzee and the three children looking on, Renzo drew out another Poké Ball from his poncho and silently threw it.

 

From that Poké Ball emerged a muscular Pokémon whose gray body was covered in pink veins bursting from his skin. His lumpy head, round red nose and the iron beam he held alongside himself offered Olivia the only hints to his identity.

 

“That must be…” she gasped, quickly taking out her Pokédex once more.

 

“Gurdurr, the Muscular Pokémon. Evolved form of Timburr. With strengthened bodies, they skillfully wield steel beams to take down buildings.”

 

“So you evolved it, big deal.” Though Olivia was putting up a tough front, she had an increasing feeling of dread developing in her mind. Gurdurr was much more intimidating in appearance than Timburr was, and she knew that evolution would bring the Pokémon even more strength than he had before. “I won’t be afraid. Oshawott, let’s play!”

 

Olivia’s Water-type Pokémon appeared on the path in a burst of bright light. He did not notice his soon-to-be-foe right away; instead, he started playing with the shell on his stomach by turning it to different angles. Once he finally did notice Gurdurr standing over him, though, he quickly became serious. Like his trainer, he was nervous to be facing the menacing Gurdurr, but he had resolved to prove his worth to Olivia.

 

“Are you going to try to take a stand here?” Renzo taunted, extending his right arm and gesturing to dare Olivia to attack. “Throw everything you’ve got at me! This time is going to be different!”

 

“You’re going to regret saying that! Oshawott, Water Gun!”

 

“That’s it? Gurdurr!”

 

Drawing in a deep breath, Oshawott spit a stream of water from his mouth, aimed squarely at his opponent’s chest.

 

Gurdurr remained unfazed, however. He picked up his metal beam with dexterity that betrayed how thick and unwieldy his arms were, then began spinning it in circles in front of himself, creating a shield. Oshawott’s Water Gun bounced harmlessly off the beam, accomplishing nothing.

 

“Evolution really made that Gurdurr stronger,” Matt commented, a cold feeling running down his spine.

 

“It’s a natural trait of the evolution family of Timburr,” Dante explained. “As it goes through its evolutionary stages, a Timburr gains more and more skill in using its chosen weapons. This Gurdurr’s shield technique, though… it’s impressive.”

 

“Alright, now give her a taste of what you can do offensively, Gurdurr. Drain Punch!”

 

In order to give himself more mobility, after he was finished using the iron beam as a shield Gurdurr stuck it firmly into the ground. He then lunged at Oshawott with his right fist pulled back and enveloped in a red glow.

 

Oshawott held up his shell in a feeble attempt to shield himself from the terrifying Fighting-type Pokémon bearing down on him, but it made no difference. The shell was no match for the force of Gurdurr’s fist, which shattered it into pieces before striking Oshawott directly in the stomach, sending him rolling back through the dirt. Oshawott was hit so hard that he dug a trail into the path as he skidded to a stop.

 

“Oh no, Oshawott!” Olivia cried out, her earlier feelings of dread now manifesting as sadness and fear for Oshawott’s safety. She was planning to call him back, and even had taken out his Poké Ball, but he struggled to his feet.

 

“Osha! Osha!” Though his voice was shaky, Oshawott’s message was clear – he wanted to continue, no matter the cost.

 

Unfortunately, Olivia and her supporters were not the only ones who understood this message. Renzo picked it up, too, and he nodded his head slowly. “Your Pokémon is a foolhardy one who knows not when to quit... kind of like you, usurper. Gurdurr, teach it a lesson. Mach Punch!”

 

In a flash, Gurdurr was towering over Oshawott once more, and without facing any resistance, he used a blazingly fast punch to slam Oshawott into the ground.

 

This time, when Gurdurr pulled his fist back, Oshawott did not rise again. He lay unconscious in the hole smashed open by the sheer force of the blow.

 

“No!”

 

“Olivia, send Oshawott back!” Bunny shouted with her hands cupped around her mouth, unable to bear seeing Olivia’s Pokémon suffer. “This isn’t worth it!”

 

Silently, Olivia followed Bunny’s advice, calling Oshawott back to the safety of his Poké Ball. Instead of backing down, however, she armed herself with another sphere. “I won’t be afraid…” she said out loud, seemingly addressing her own nerves. “Minccino, let’s play!”

 

Once he saw Minccino emerge from Olivia’s second Poké Ball, Renzo scoffed. “You bank your hopes on the power of love? That’s all you’ve got with that weak little thing against Gurdurr. Well, let me tell you right now, the power of love is a lie! I’ll prove it to you right now! Gurdurr, attack with Drain Punch!”

 

“Minccino, counter that using Aqua Tail!”

 

Both Minccino and Gurdurr let out battle cries and jumped at each other, Minccino somersaulting through the air and Gurdurr with his fist pulled back. Minccino’s tail, which had taken on a blue glow, met Gurdurr’s fist with explosive results; the blast threw both Pokémon onto their backs.

 

“Don’t let up, Minccino! Keep the pressure on it! Tail Slap!”

 

Olivia had already honed in on one of Gurdurr’s weaknesses – outside of Mach Punch, he was not very swift. This weakness affected his recovery from the collision of Aqua Tail and Drain Punch, as he was struggling to stand back up. Taking advantage of this, Minccino rushed in and spun, enabling her to use her tail as a whip, striking Gurdurr’s body four times. Each hit elicited a low, pained groan from the thick-bodied Fighting-type.

 

From the sidelines, Matt smiled. He was proud to see Olivia taking charge as much as she was.

 

“That will not get you what you want. Wake-Up Slap, now!”

 

Minccino was not out of Gurdurr’s reach just yet, and he took full advantage of that to strike back with a vengeance. He swept his arm across the space before him, smacking Minccino with a sharp slap.

 

“Ciiiinooo!!” cried the tiny Normal-type. By the time she landed at her trainer’s feet, Minccino was completely unconscious as a result of Gurdurr’s extremely effective hit.

 

“Minccino…” Olivia was beginning to become numb. Watching Oshawott fall in defeat quickly was hard enough for her to accept, but to watch the same fate befall her beloved Minccino affected her on a deeper level. She no longer could clearly visualize her surroundings beyond the battle, nor could she even hear Nekou yelling to her. She simply recalled Minccino and got the next Poké Ball ready. “Roselia, let’s play!”

 

Gurdurr immediately locked eyes with Olivia’s Roselia when she was freed from her ball, and Roselia returned the gesture. Memories of New Bark Town flashed between them. Back then it had been Roselia that defeated Gurdurr, when he was still a Timburr prior to his evolution. He’d never let go of that defeat, and seeing Roselia again sent rage flowing through every bit of his body. It took all the restraint he could muster to remain in control and stop himself from attacking without orders.

 

“Roselia, Sludge Bomb! Let’s try to get in a good hit!”

 

“Gurdurr, you know what you must do.”

 

The bursts of slime Roselia fired from her flowers never reached their target, as once again, Gurdurr spun his metal beam to shield himself. Once the poison dispersed in clouds of smoke, Gurdurr tensed his muscles in preparation for his next command.

 

“Now, Gurdurr, Rock Slide!” To give his order some force, Renzo thrust his arm straight up, briefly tossing his ragged poncho open.

 

Once again, Gurdurr planted his beam in the ground, but this time he climbed atop it. From his perch, he focused all the rage he felt toward Roselia and raised his arms into the air, roaring a battle cry across the field. His power caused an energy field to open over Roselia and drop large rocks onto her, crushing the leaves on her body.

 

By this point, Olivia had long since realized that this battle was a lost cause, but something in her refused to allow her to quit. Taking what few openings she had left, she yelled, “Quick, Energy Ball!”

 

“Rock Slide, once more!”

 

The sparking green orb Roselia produced using what nature-based power she could draw upon while partially buried missed hitting Gurdurr, but it did cut down the iron beam, leaving the metal’s owner to fall to the ground. However, before he hit the dirt, Gurdurr triggered another Rock Slide, adding enough pressure on top of Roselia to force her to faint.

 

“Fuck this!” Nekou screeched, still trying to get through to Olivia. “Olivia, there’s no shame in throwing in the towel! This isn’t worth it anymore!”

 

“You stay out of this!” Renzo angrily shouted over her. “This battle is between me and Olivia! This is my score to settle and I will not let you interrupt it!”

 

Ignoring Renzo’s ranting, Matt loudly said, “I agree with Nekou. There’s no need to go further!”

 

All of it was in vain. Olivia was too broken by watching Oshawott, Minccino and Roselia go down easily, and she could not just let the battle go. She’d already called Roselia back and sent out Lillipup, who shrank before the intimidating gaze of Gurdurr.

 

“Is that all you’ve got left?” Renzo furthered his grandstanding by throwing his head back and spreading his arms. “Don’t bother lying, I can tell you don’t have any more Pokémon. I can see it in your face. That look of sheer despair when there’s no option left but to give up… it’s something I’m too familiar with, so I’ve learned to tell when I’m looking at it. So… shall we get on with finishing this once and for all, usurper? Gurdurr, Drain Punch!”

 

Olivia couldn’t even give Lillipup a direction with how numb she was. He was left with no other choice but to watch in terror as the slow moving but immensely powerful Gurdurr bore down on him.

 

“Enough. Kangaskhan, Sucker Punch.”

 

Suddenly, Gurdurr’s path to Lillipup was cut off by a Kangaskhan appearing between them. She swung and punched the Fighting-type, not hurting him much but knocking him back and stopping him from attacking Lillipup.

 

“What?!” Renzo stomped his foot into the ground in rage over having been interrupted. “Who did that? Was it you, whore?!” he screamed as he pointed at Nekou.

 

“You would know if it was me, kid. And ‘whore?’ You wish that was the worst name I’ve been called.”

 

“It was I.”

 

To the surprise of all the people gathered on the road, a tall, lithe young man jumped from the bushes to stand in the middle of the battle. His windbreaker jacket – designed with a checkerboard pattern over half-black, half-white coloring – fit loosely on his thin frame, while his long green hair flowed into a ponytail against his back from beneath his similarly-colored baseball cap.

 

“And who are you, freak?!” Knowing the intruder’s face didn’t placate Renzo’s rage at all. In fact, it made him even more angry.

 

“Fighting so brutally against Pokémon weaker than your own… it isn’t right…” As he spoke, the young man made strange gestures with his hands, as if he were manipulating something in the air before him. “Kangaskhan, Mega Punch.”

 

“It’s just a Normal-type, Gurdurr! Get that thing out of my way! Drain Punch!”

 

Gurdurr and the mysterious trainer’s Kangaskhan each swung their respective right fists toward each other, but when the two met, Gurdurr’s effort was easily overpowered. Kangaskhan managed to land a bruising blow directly on Gurdurr’s body, injuring him critically. Unable to believe what he was seeing, Renzo could do nothing but watch as his Pokémon crumpled to the ground before its mighty new foe.

 

Kangaskhan kept growling at Gurdurr, but she stopped when her trainer put his hand on her side as an indication to stand down. The trainer then walked over to Gurdurr and lowered himself onto his knees.

 

“What are you doing?!” Renzo raged as the young man placed his hands upon Gurdurr’s body. “Get off of my Pokémon!”

 

Ignoring Renzo, the trainer closed his eyes and said quietly, “Transcend the confines of time and space...”

 

Matt’s group, the three children and Renzo all looked on in varying degrees of surprise. They were watching a soft green light envelop Gurdurr and seemingly heal the visible wound he’d received. None of the observers to this was more shocked than Matt, though.

 

“He’s using that power, I know it!” Matt thought, his eyes wide. “It’s almost the same as hers!”

 

A moment later, the light faded, leaving the fully healed Gurdurr completely visible. Both the Pokémon and the trainer who healed him rose to their full heights, with the trainer walking back in Olivia’s direction while Gurdurr retreated to Renzo’s side.

 

“Just who are you?” Renzo demanded. “Who the hell do you think you are?!”

 

“So ungrateful, but I forgive you…” The strange young trainer continued gesturing strangely as he spoke, moving his hands and arms in wide, sweeping gestures. “My name is Nikolai, and I am a trainer… well, that’s not quite right. I am searching… for trainers and Pokémon who get along as equals. Where will you go from our meeting?”

 

“Not that I owe you any answer,” Renzo replied with a scoff, “but I am going to traverse Dark Cave and the mountains of Route 45 beyond. My goal is Blackthorn City, where I will get a Dratini no matter what I must do.”

 

“Why Dratini?” Bunny questioned. “I get that it’s rare, but you seem like you have a deeper reason.”

 

“Dragonite was her favorite…”

 

Without saying anything further, Renzo wandered off with his Pokémon. heading north on the road. The others who remained had little time to ponder his bizarre behavior, as Nikolai next approached Olivia.

 

“Please allow me to see your Pokémon…”

 

“Um…”

 

“We’re here, Olivia,” Matt said in an attempt to reassure her, not noticing that Dante and Nekou both had stepped back to coldly observe things. “I… I think he’s trustworthy. He did protect you from Gurdurr…”

 

“You’re right.”

 

Her concerns soothed, Olivia quickly released her severely weakened Minccino, Roselia and Oshawott once more. They joined Lillipup, who had been hiding behind Olivia’s legs for some time, only coming out once the other Pokémon were present.

 

“Thank you,” Nikolai spoke in a voice that was almost whispering, as he once again knelt down. “You have a fine collection of Pokémon… Now, transcend the confines of time and space…”

 

Nikolai spread his hands over Olivia’s four Pokémon, and the same green light that healed Renzo’s Gurdurr engulfed them. Before anyone knew it, Oshawott, Roselia and Minccino were completely healed. Several stunned pairs of eyes rested squarely on Nikolai as he stood back up.

 

“Your Pokémon spoke to me, Olivia... Oshawott says he wants to impress you and make you proud of him… Roselia and Minccino love being with you... Lillipup is scared of the big Pokémon but wants to get stronger…”

 

“Wait, just what is it you’re saying?” Dante questioned, abruptly dropping back into the exchange. “You can talk to Pokémon?”

 

“It’s the power of Transcendence,” Matt explained, earning a nod of agreement from Bunny, who was the only other one that knew what he was talking about.

 

“How do you know about my power…?” Nikolai’s gaze was strangely pitched, as if he was looking over Matt’s shoulder to some object far away.

 

“Because I used to know someone who had that power.” Reaching into his coat, Matt took out a pocketwatch, which he opened. Inside was a second cover, and on that second cover was a painting. It depicted a young woman, wearing white priestess clothing and her brown hair styled into three buns, whose face was distinguished by thick eyebrows above a pair of fierce, powerful blue eyes. Matt spent a moment looking at the painting, allowing himself the memories and regrets it brought to mind, before he spoke again. “Sheena was her name. She had the power of Transcendence like you, except she could only link with the hearts of people and Pokémon, not heal them like you do.”

 

“I see… there aren’t many others like me. I want to use my power to… encourage humans and Pokémon to live together in harmony. This is all I can think of… please allow me to meet the Pokémon each of you possess.”

 

“Why would you want to do that?” Nekou interrogated, her voice carrying more than a hint of suspicion over Nikolai’s motives.

 

When Nikolai answered not by speaking but by merely staring at the ground, Matt decided to pick up the slack for him. “He healed both that Gurdurr and all of Olivia’s Pokémon when he didn’t have to, and quite honestly, I don’t think someone with powers like Sheena’s can be all that bad. I’ll go first.”

 

While Matt took care in sending out each of his six Pokémon one at a time, there was more going on than any of them were aware of. Hiding in the woods and still following Matt’s group, Jessie, James and Meowth had been spying on the entire scene with their equipment and turned to each other in a panic.

 

“What is he doing here?” Jessie demanded of the others. “We already knew about Ghetsis but this is something nobody said anything about!”

 

“Team Plasma is more connected with this than we were ever told,” James said in agreement.

 

“And if those crazy knights are mixed up with what’s going down with Polaris, things might be about to get really bad.” After seizing the R-Pad from James, Meowth touched an icon on its screen that allowed access to videos. “That contingency plan Ariana and the doctor came up with might be just what we need now.”

 

Out on the road, Nikolai seemed to have a childlike sense of wonder as he examined Matt’s six Pokémon, the light of his power emanating from his outstretched hands all the while. He had quickly gravitated towards Matt’s Heatran, as he was aware of the kind of stories told about the stout-bodied Fire-and-Steel-type. Next, he moved on to Matt’s Sigilyph and Golurk, and the brightly-colored, three-eyed bird and towering golem both appeared more than happy to interact with him. The same could also be said about his Salamence and Beartic, but his final Pokémon – an eel whose blue body had three yellow dots on each side – visibly vexed him.

 

Meanwhile, while Nikolai was carrying on his conversations with Matt’s Pokémon, the third of the children approached Olivia. Unlike the first two, who were rather excitable, the bowl-cut-wearing boy conducted himself very timidly as he looked up at her with wide, green eyes.

 

“Um... you have an Oshawott, and a Pokédex…”

 

“So?” Whatever the boy was trying to get at, Olivia wasn’t understanding it. “Besides it being Oshawott instead of Chikorita, Cyndaquil or Totodile, what’s the big deal?”

 

“That scary guy on the television keeps telling us that trainers who have starter Pokémon and Pokédexes are the reason why trainers like my friends and I never get anywhere…”

 

“Do you mean Ghetsis?” Nekou interrupted. When the boy nodded, she asked him, “What do you mean when you say that you and your friends never get anywhere?”

 

“None of us have starter Pokémon. I just have my Taillow, while Julia has her Sandshrew and Ronald has his Marill. The three of us have been trying to make it to Violet City for weeks, but stronger trainers keep coming and beating us, and we don’t have enough money for medicine or the Pokémon Center…”

 

Having listened intently to the boy’s story, Nekou decided to give them help. She immediately looked up and called, “Matt!”

 

“What?” He had been watching Nikolai with his Pokémon, and as a result he was not paying attention to Olivia or the children.

 

“Call HR-E here. These kids are in desperate need of some supplies.”

 

“Hm?” Nekou’s request was so sudden that it took Matt several seconds to fully process exactly what it was she wanted. Once he fully grasped it, though, he reached up to his mask and pressed a tiny button located just under the eyepiece. “It’ll be here in a little while. What’d I miss?”

 

“Ghetsis has been giving speeches claiming that trainers with starter Pokémon and Pokédexes keep trainers without those things from succeeding. I think this might be a little more serious than just the typical dime a dozen television snake oil salesman.”

 

“Isn’t Pokémon training supposed to be about making it your own way, no matter which way you choose?” Olivia wondered out loud. “The idea of one group of trainers making it harder for another group of trainers to succeed doesn’t make sense to me.”

 

Though she claimed to not find any sense in the story, however, the idea behind it did bother Olivia. She truly believed that Pokémon trainers on the most basic level helped each other, yet standing before her was someone who seemed like he might actually buy into the concept of a simple yet fundamental difference between groups of trainers hurting one of those groups.

 

“Please explain something to me…” Matt’s attention was pulled back to its original location when Nikolai suddenly spoke up after having approached moments before. “Your Pokémon all seem at least relatively happy to be with you, as they’ve told me stories of some of your adventures… but why is your Eelektrik not responding in the same way?”

 

“I haven’t really used her at all yet, to be truthful. I was hoping to get in some training with her soon...”

 

Suddenly becoming angry, Nikolai moved in a single abrupt motion to get right in Matt’s face. “You must treat your Pokémon better! When I spoke to your Eelektrik, it told me that it feels forgotten. Simply capturing a Pokémon in one of those awful Poké Balls is not enough! You must spend time allowing that Pokémon to be free, as well!”

 

“Geez, go easy on him, he only caught Eelektrik recently!” Bunny interjected as a defense for Matt. “Also, you say Poké Balls are awful, but don’t you use them as well?”

 

Backing down from his anger somewhat, Nikolai admitted, “I do, but I do not take pleasure in doing so. I do not believe in confining Pokémon in situations where it is completely unnecessary… but in this society, it is difficult to travel with a party of Pokémon. I prefer to allow my Pokémon to live in the wild in various places until I need them, when possible...”

 

“If I need to spend more time with Charlotte, then, how about you and I practice a bit?”

 

“I dislike battling, except when one of my Pokémon wishes to engage in one...” Nikolai briefly closed his eyes and said after reopening them, “I can feel that I do have a Pokémon with me that desires a battle. Stantler, come alongside me, my friend.”

 

Just as Nikolai sent out his Stantler from his ball, the HR-E 2 came gliding up, making a quiet, clean run just off the main path. As it settled into place, Matt looked back over his shoulder to Nekou, Bunny and Olivia.

 

“Would you three go in there and get the medicine and supplies for the kids? It’s not hard to find.”

 

“Do I have to do it?” Olivia sighed. “I want to train too!”

 

Before Matt could say anything in response, Bunny said to him, “It’s okay, Nekou and I can do it ourselves, no problem.”

 

“Alright, if you say so.”

 

Nekou was uncharacteristically quiet and cooperative as she followed Bunny up to and past the entrance door into the HR-E 2. Calling back his other Pokémon, Matt brought Charlotte, his Eelektrik, to the forefront to face Nikolai’s Stantler.

 

“Lillipup, Oshawott, I want to focus on training you guys specifically. Come on over here.”

 

All four of Olivia’s Pokémon heeded her call despite her only requesting Lillipup and Oshawott; Roselia and Minccino stood beside her while the two she wished to battle waited in the front.

 

“You want to battle against us?” Ronald took Olivia’s actions as a challenge, so he dragged his timid, soft-spoken friend alongside himself to face her. “Fine, let’s have a battle where you use two Pokémon and we’ll each use one! I’m fired up!”

 

“If that’s what you want,” Olivia answered with a shrug, feigning a sort of surprise at how badly contrasting the personalities of the two boys were.

 

-:-

 

Off somewhere deeper in the woods, further away from the road than before, Jessie, James and Meowth were gathered around the R-Pad, which James was holding.

 

“Are we far enough away?” he wondered.

 

“They won’t hear us here,” Jessie sharply said. “Play the video.”

 

“And go!”

 

Meowth reached under James’s arm and pressed his paw against the R-Pad’s screen, triggering a pre-recorded video of Dr. Zager sitting in front of a camera.

 

“Welcome. If you’re watching this video, something has gone wrong with the mission to capture the Meteonite from Route 29, and therefore you require the pre-prepared contingency plan. On Route 30 is the home of a man known as Mr. Pokémon, who collects and researches rare treasures. It is highly likely that he possesses information on the Meteonite. You are to remotely hack into his servers and download any data you can find, then forward it on to me.”

 

“It’s all working out in pitch-perfect shape,” Meowth realized out loud. “That old guy’s got the Meteonite and is taking it to Mr. Pokémon. All we gotta do is keep following him until they meet up, and then we swoop in for the score!”

 

“Let’s move, then,” Jessie directed. “What we can’t afford is to fall behind.”

 

-:-

 

Some time later, Matt, Nekou, Olivia, Bunny, Dante and Nikolai were once again walking on the road, having reached the northern part of Route 30. Dante and Matt were leading the pack, with Olivia, Bunny and Nekou clustered in the middle and Nikolai bringing up the rear.

 

“I’ve got to tell you, Olivia, you did really well back there,” Matt said over his shoulder. “Even for a training battle, that was good work.”

 

“Thanks!” the girl beamed, smiling broadly for the compliment. “Harold and his Taillow were stronger than I expected… I thought Ronald’s Marill would be tougher, but I was wrong. Lillipup and Oshawott really came through for me, though.”

 

“And what about you and Nikolai?” Bunny chimed in. “You two had a pretty nice sparring match yourselves.”

 

“I guess he was right about Charlotte wanting to have some time out doing things. She really responded to getting a chance to battle. Nikolai, thanks for that.”

 

“I’m only doing what I think is right…” By now, Nikolai’s anger from earlier had fully subsided. He lurked behind the others and watched them carefully as they walked, not bothering to socialize but also not bothering to detach himself from the group.

 

“Mr. Pokémon’s home is right through here.” Gesturing to an offshoot of the path that briefly crossed into the forest, Dante led the others in the direction he indicated.

 

At the end of the path was something none of them were expecting.

 

The house, a modest, two-story building made of wood, was being attacked by a Pokémon. They had to look carefully to see it, but there was a blue rock Pokémon shooting energy blasts from its yellow core at the structure.

 

“What is that Pokémon?”

 

Even before Matt finished asking his question, Olivia had her Pokédex out and was already in the process of scanning the Pokémon.

 

“Roggenrola, the Mantle Pokémon. The hexagonal-shaped hole is its ear. It has a tendency to walk in the direction the sound is coming from.”

 

“Why is that Roggenrola attacking Mr. Pokémon’s home?” Dante lamented aloud.

 

The owner of the house was nowhere to be seen; Matt assumed, or at least hoped, that he was still safely inside. Roggenrola didn’t seem to notice the group and remained fixated on firing Rock Blast attacks at the building.

 

“Let me find out,” Nikolai declared, showing an unexpected assertiveness as he stepped forth and extended his hands. “Transcend the confines of time and space!”

 

Roggenrola didn’t even become aware of the group when Nikolai activated his power, but the glow from his hands enthralled Matt, Olivia and Bunny. As he probed into the mind of the small Rock-type Pokémon, Nikolai started to sweat, as accessing the innermost of Roggenrola’s thoughts was proving harder even than healing Olivia’s injured Pokémon.

“Why is he having trouble?” Olivia asked Matt out of worry.

 

“Sheena told me once that when a Pokémon is enraged, it becomes harder to reach that Pokémon’s heart. He’s trying to break through.”

 

“I’ve… aah!” Nikolai’s eyes whipped open and he stumbled back, prompting Matt and Bunny to run to hold him up. “Th-thank you. That Roggenrola… it’s gone into a feral state and is trying to get food from in the house, because he’s been feeding the wild Pokémon in the area…”

 

“Well, if that Pokémon is feral, maybe capturing it would be a good idea? We could civilize it.”

 

Unsure of Matt’s proposal, Nikolai pulled his hat down and said, “I disagree on principle, but your Pokémon were fairly happy to be with you…”

 

“I don’t see any other way to calm it down, and I think I might be able to get some training out of this, too. Charlotte, make your mark!”

 

This was actually the idea that had jumped into Matt’s head almost immediately upon seeing the wild Roggenrola. Ever since learning that Charlotte was unhappy with her current situation, he’d been hoping for a chance to let her have a real battle. The sparring with Nikolai’s Stantler was a start, but he wanted something a bit less controlled.

 

Charlotte balanced her long body on the ground so she could stand up and sent electricity flowing through her muscles, lighting up the spots on her sides.

 

“Take the first attack, Charlotte! Charge Beam!”

 

Some sparks shot out of Charlotte’s open mouth, followed by a concentrated blast of electricity. Roggenrola had finally taken notice and turned around when she heard Matt give his command, but she was nowhere near agile enough to avoid being swept up in the electric flow.

 

Leaping out from the vortex, Roggenrola aimed the opening on her body at Charlotte, which then began to glow as it gathered power. Four energized rocks shot out of the opening and smashed into Charlotte, leaving purple bruises across her skin.

 

“That first attack was quite effective, Matt.” After announcing her assessment, Bunny thought quickly and added, “I don’t think you need more than one more. Be very careful not to knock it out!”

 

“Well, it’s a Rock-type, right? Then a Poison-type move should weaken it just enough. Acid Spray!”

 

Charlotte cut off the flow of electricity to her mouth, then spat out a blob of green acid. Though the acid washed over Roggenrola’s body and broke down her defenses, however, it did not add significant injury to the already-hurt Pokémon. She could be seen breathing deeply, most likely drawing in air through the opening on the front of her body.

 

“Ro-genn!” she cried, rushing forward on her tiny brown feet. She threw herself at Charlotte, but the Eelektrik weaved away, allowing the failed Headbutt attack to sail harmlessly past. Roggenrola ended up sliding into the dirt just beyond where Charlotte stood.

 

“Now, the truth shall reveal itself! Go, Poké Ball!”

 

Having taken an empty Poké Ball from his bag, Matt threw it in a sweeping motion at the Roggenrola, who was struggling to pull herself up from the dirt. When the capsule hit the Rock-type Pokémon’s body, it split open and absorbed Roggenrola in a flash of light before closing and falling to the ground.

 

“I cannot say I approve of dealing with this situation in such a way…” Nikolai uttered in a severe tone while the others all watched the ball shake.

 

To the surprise of even him, though, shortly thereafter the Poké Ball shattered. Now freed and growling in rage, Roggenrola turned to face Matt and Charlotte.

 

“Looks like you pissed it off,” Nekou slyly said, fully knowing that Matt was perfectly aware of this already.

 

“Don’t give me that now!”

 

“Matt, watch out!” Olivia hastily cried.

 

Roggenrola was charging again, this time squarely at Matt. He hadn’t noticed because he’d turned his head to address Nekou.

 

Grunting, he covered his mouth with his arm and shouted, “Charlotte, Thunder Wave!”

 

Despite having tiny feet, Roggenrola was able to build up enough force to jump directly at Matt. Charlotte got in the way, though, and intercepted Roggenrola. She was releasing electricity from her body when they collided, causing paralysis to overcome Roggenrola while she was flung back herself. Matt barely avoided getting knocked down by his own Pokémon.

 

“I think that ought to do it,” he said to Bunny, Olivia and Nikolai, who were the only ones still paying attention to what was going on; Dante was already walking to the door of Mr. Pokémon’s home, while Nekou was spending her time looking at the trees surrounding the road. Sighing, Matt took out another Poké Ball and wordlessly threw it at Roggenrola. This time, the Pokémon put up little resistance and was successfully captured.

 

“I hope you will treat that Roggenrola properly…”

 

“You don’t have anything to worry about,” Matt said, dismissing Nikolai’s incessant concern while he picked up the Poké Ball that now contained his Roggenrola. Turning his head, he asked, “Nekou, what are you doing?”

 

“I love how the trees look in autumn…”

 

“I guess she’s just being herself again,” he conceded, sighing.

 

Meanwhile, Dante had long since stopped being concerned about what the younger members of his traveling group were doing. He was standing in front of Mr. Pokémon’s front door, waiting after having rung the bell.

 

“Come on, I know you’re home!” he called, his voice clearly conveying the irritation he felt.

 

“The Pokémon want to come in here and eat all the food I’ve got!” someone shouted back from behind the door.

 

“Oy, not this again… there’s no Pokémon out here that want your food, at least anymore anyway. And if you’d stop feeding them, they’ll stop coming!”

 

There was a hesitation, as if the owner of the voice was considering what Dante had said. The sound of many locks being undone followed, coupled with more muttering from inside the house.

 

“You can never be too sure in this day and age, Dante. Blasted Team Rocket taking all our money from the banks and all… this world ain’t what it used to be.”

 

The door was opened slowly from the inside, and the house’s owner shuffled out. Mr. Pokémon was a man about Dante’s age, however, he appeared much older due to his rumpled clothing and unkempt white hair and beard.

 

“You brought the thing?” he requested, shielding his tired-looking eyes from the late afternoon sun with his arm.

 

“Right here,” Dante replied, holding up the briefcase with the Meteonite inside.

 

“Good, good. Tobias and Gabriella have been riding my ass about this, and you just made it in time. They’re coming tonight.” Peering out further, Mr. Pokémon spied Matt’s group and Nikolai standing around and talking nearby. “Look at that. Look what the feminists caused, that wench over there with her body hanging out everywhere.”

 

“I heard thaaaat,” Nekou interrupted, speaking in a loud, sing-song voice. “So fuck you, because I don’t care!”

 

“And now you see what I’ve been traveling with the last couple days,” Dante chuckled. “They’re good people, though. I’ve enjoyed my company with them.”

 

“Mr. Pokémon, I presume?” Having walked up alongside Dante, Matt addressed the strange old man himself.

 

“Who are you?” Mr. Pokémon fumbled a pair of glasses out of the breast pocket of his brown suit, put them on, and squinted at Matt. “Is it already happening?”

 

“Okaaay…” Matt took a step back before continuing. “It might be. You see, we came from New Bark Town, and Professor Juniper told us that Professor Elm had gone to visit you. Is he here?”

 

“Professor Elm was here, yes, but he left with as much haste as he came. Said he was going to the Ruins of Alph, if I’m not mistaken.”

 

Matt shrugged in response to this news. Granted, finding Elm wasn’t number one on his list of priorities, but he still would have liked to have located the professor.

 

“Matt, please give my farewells to Olivia, Bunny and Nekou,” said the doctor. “I must stay here tonight to present my Meteonite research to Mr. Pokémon’s guests. I have enjoyed traveling with you and your friends.”

 

“And it’s been an honor to get to know you, Doctor. Hopefully we’ll meet again.”

 

Dante extended his hand, so Matt took up the offer of a handshake with no hesitation. The magnitude his mind assigned to shaking the hand of such an important scientist was not lost on him. After that, Dante sharply turned on his heel and entered the house, then Mr. Pokémon slammed the door shut.


“Well then…”

 

“So what are we doing now?”

 

The feeling of Nekou’s hand on his shoulder made Matt turn abruptly. She, along with the others, had come up behind him while he was speaking with Dante.

 

“I don’t know. Finished looking at leaves?”

 

“I’ll remember that, smartass.” The way Nekou was smiling gave away that she was saying this in a good-natured way, for a change. “What’s going on with Dr. Fantomos?”

 

“He’s staying here to present his Meteonite research. He didn’t ask me to stay behind and wait for him, so I assume that we can go ahead to Violet City.”

 

“It’s not far from here,” Bunny piped up. She had a map unrolled in her hands and was studying their location on it. “Yeah, we only have a little way longer to go now.”

 

“Then let’s hit the road!” Olivia cheered, pumping her fist into the air. “Violet City and Badge number one, here we come!”

 

“Always so much energy… I have to admit, Olivia, sometimes you keep me going.”

 

With Violet City awaiting them to the northwest, the group – now minus Dante, but with Nikolai in tow – set out. The trees, their leaves cloaked in the earthy autumn colors that so enraptured Nekou, provided a warm framing for their trip down the dirt road that led the way.

 

“Stop.”

 

They didn’t even get twenty feet away from Mr. Pokémon’s home before more trouble arrived.

 

“What? Who said that?”

 

Nekou thrust her right arm out in front of Olivia and pulled her switchblade from her blouse with the left. “Someone’s here. They’re watching us…”

 

“I am…”

 

A sound like a gust of wind tore through the clearing, and one of the members of the Shadow Triad appeared, seemingly materializing from thin air. The color drained from Nekou’s face as she stood ready to fight him, while Matt, Olivia, Bunny and Nikolai all just stared at the strange young man.

 

“What’s going on here?” Bunny demanded. “Who are you?”

 

“I am… the unbreakable steel of Chaos… I do not have any orders to harm any of you unless you get in my way. Lord N, you are coming with me.”

 

“N? What kind of name is that?” Olivia wondered out loud.

 

“Tough luck, none of us is named N,” Matt harshly added. “Leave us alone.”

 

“I am looking at you right now, Lord N…” Chaos announced, leveling his finger straight at Nikolai. “Cease these foolish games… Lord Ghetsis has grown impatient.”

 

“I don’t know who you are!” Nikolai cried out. “I am just a simple trainer. Surely I am not the person you speak of!”

 

The striking sincerity of Nikolai’s words gave Chaos pause. In his hesitation, he left Nekou a chance to slip into the exchange.

 

“So Ghetsis is still controlling your Shadow Triad?” she quizzed the ninja.

 

Apparently having not perceived Nekou’s presence earlier, Chaos smirked beneath the mesh covering his mouth. “Well, well, well, seeing you is certainly a surprise, Black Cat. It must have slipped your mind that we, the Shadow Triad, live only to serve Lord Ghetsis and his whims.”

 

“Black Cat? What is this guy talking about?

 

Nekou went even paler at Matt’s line of questioning, but otherwise held her cool. “He’s trying to psych you and I out. Don’t listen to him.”

 

“You’re lucky I do not have the time to deal with you. Lord N… if you cannot remember your place in this world, I will force you to remember! Liepard! Bisharp! Banette!”

 

Chaos reached to his waist and threw three Poké Balls in a single motion that was so swift it nearly could not be seen. His three Pokémon appeared before him, one of which – a lithe-bodied, feline creature covered in purple-and-yellow fur – Matt noted he hadn’t seen before.

 

“Go forth! Bisharp, Assurance! Liepard, Aerial Ace! Banette, Will-O-Wisp!”

 

With Nikolai fixated in their eyes, all three of Chaos’s Pokémon lunged forward; blue light surrounded Liepard’s front claws, while Banette crossed his arms and threw flares of blue fire and a black glow surrounded both of Bisharp’s hands.

 

“No you don’t! Tanya, make your mark!”

 

“Right alongside you! Kayla, come out!”

 

Blocking the path of the three Pokémon with their bodies, Matt and Bunny sent out their Heatran and Mienshao respectively to provide some additional cover. Tanya’s large, bulky body was, in fact, enough to deflect the attempted attacks of the trio by itself.

 

“You’re going to protect him? Your loss… not even a Pokémon like Heatran will make me stand down… Liepard, Snarl!”

 

A single fallen leaf crunched under Liepard’s careful steps forward. He opened his mouth as widely as possible and let out a horrific screech, filling the air with shrill noise. Matt, Olivia and Bunny all had to hold their ears to protect themselves from the terrible sound. Tanya and Kayla cringed as well, but strangely, it appeared to have no effect on Nekou and Nikolai, as they simply stood still.

 

“Do... do you think… that’ll actually work?!” It was a struggle for Matt to speak under the influence of Liepard’s well-practiced Snarl, but he managed to force himself through it. “T-Tanya… Flash Cannon!”

 

One downside of Chaos’s honed attack was that Liepard was left vulnerable to a counterattack, which came when Tanya fired a large shot of silvery light from her mouth at him. As soon as it hit Liepard, the blast exploded, cutting off Snarl from continuing. Bisharp immediately picked up his teammate’s slack, jumping in and swinging his arms to dispel the smoke. Liepard arched his back from behind Bisharp, his coat discolored from Flash Cannon’s heat.

 

“I am one of Lord Ghetsis’s chosen hands!” Chaos appeared to be losing his composure, slipping into behavior more suitable of his name as he clenched his fists. “I will not fail him!!”

 

“It’ll be hard to please him when you’re in pieces.”

 

Out of nowhere, Nekou was right next to Chaos, swinging her knife down with his shoulder as her target. He was forced to defend himself by swiftly pulling a dagger from his belt to block the strike.

 

“You’re out of luck, Black Cat!” Chaos growled. “Bisharp! Lead Banette and Liepard while I take care of this one!”

 

A sharp grunt and a smile indicated that Bisharp gladly accepted the responsibility Chaos delegated to him. Banette and Liepard rallied to his side, and much like a trainer, he pointed his right arm forward at their enemies and spoke in his own language to give orders, which Banette and Liepard seemingly understood.

 

While Banette hung back, Liepard lunged forward once more, again attempting to land an Aerial Ace. Banette backed up his ally by waving his arms back and forth to generate a gust of chilled air. However, also in much the same way as the first exchange of attacks, Tanya used her body and her natural Fire-and-Steel typing to block and absorb the Aerial Ace and Icy Wind.

 

“I think it’s time we fought back. Kayla, use Drain Punch on Liepard!”

 

Moving with great speed, Kayla immediately closed the gap between herself and Chaos’s Liepard. Before the Dark-type Pokémon could react, she threw back the long, purple-tipped fur on her arm and punched Liepard squarely in the face using the fist underneath. The welt left behind quickly transformed into light, which was absorbed into Kayla’s body.

 

Crying out his name in an ear-splitting hiss, Bisharp leapt over the stunned Liepard, his hands glowing black in preparation for Assurance again. His target was Nikolai, but Olivia was standing close enough to also be threatened. Seeing Bisharp coming down toward her caused Olivia to cringe in fear; she’d already had one near-death experience with a Bisharp and had no desire to go through another.

 

“Magma Storm!”

 

The tornado of fire that swirled from Tanya’s mouth failed to directly connect, but it flew closely enough to blow Bisharp back with its sheer force. Once she was out of danger, Olivia ran to Bunny, but Nikolai simply remained still.

 

“This is not right…” he thought. Tears were welling up in his eyes, hidden from the others due to the shadow of his hat. “ Pokémon and humans fighting each other like this…”

 

As the Pokémon exchanged blows, Nekou and Chaos were doing the same. Sparks flew every time the metal of Nekou’s switchblade and Chaos’s dagger clashed, but neither of them could make much headway against the other, as the rapid pace of Nekou’s attack forced Chaos to defend himself instead of fighting back.

 

“Let’s see how you like this!” Chaos abruptly roared.

 

Deciding to take a risk, the Shadow Triad member dropped his defensive techniques and attempted to directly hit Nekou. The mesh covering over his mouth ended up getting cut off, but in exchange for that battle damage, he managed to slash a long gash into Nekou’s left shoulder.

 

Stumbling back and looking down at the red ooze slowly trickling out of her skin, Nekou spat, “Fuck, you got me! Well, actually, you only got my clothes… I guess Ghetsis didn’t prepare you for facing me?” Nekou lightly ran her hand over the bloody wound, then raised that same hand to her mouth and licked the liquid off. Immediately, her mind began to race. “Mmm… yeah, they didn’t tell you, so I will. You might have cut me, but the thing is… a wounded animal is the most vicious!”

 

When she jerked her head back up, Nekou’s eyes were filled with a bright yellow glow. She screamed loudly enough to cause her voice to crack and lunged at Chaos, assaulting him in such a bloodthirsty frenzy that he couldn’t keep up. Her switchblade first claimed his gloves, which fell to the ground in pieces, then began nicking small cuts into his exposed hands and arms.

 

“You’re mine now, you little shit! All I have to do is beat you before that happens now!”

 

Chaos knew he was in trouble against Nekou if she was going to press him so relentlessly. Becoming consumed by desperation, he began to reach for a small pouch attached to his belt.

 

Before any of this chaotic scene could be sorted out, however, a new element entered the fray to decide the outcome. A Haxorus came crashing through the battle with her Dual Chop move, using the first swing of her tusks to fell Banette and Liepard and the second to separate Nekou and Chaos.

 

“That Pokémon,” Olivia gasped, genuinely surprised. “It’s…”

 

“You should not be using Pokémon to cause harm to those who have not harmed you,” Dante lectured Chaos as he stepped back into the clearing. “I come out here to see what all the racket is, and what do I find? Nothing more than some white-haired ninja scoundrel making trouble for some innocents. It’s rightly disappointing.”

 

“Stay out of this, old man!” Chaos sneered.

 

“Matt, Nekou, Olivia, Bunny, take Nikolai and go to Violet City as you intended. I’m sporting enough to stay behind and deal with this common thug of a villain.”

 

“You heard the man!” Wasting no time in agreeing with Dante’s proposal, Matt rallied his friends to evacuate Route 30 right away by recalling his Pokémon, a move mimicked by Bunny. “Let’s move!”

 

“Oh no you don’t! Not with Lord N!”

 

Of course, Chaos was completely unwilling to let his prey escape capture. Capable of going to any length to accomplish Ghetsis’s orders, he reached into the pouch on his belt, swiftly withdrawing and flinging a dart. The dart hit Nikolai in the center of his chest, and almost immediately, he started going into convulsions.

 

“Nikolai?” Bunny whispered, suddenly feeling terrified unlike anything else she’d felt that day.

 

“Listen to me, you’re going to be okay!” Matt rushed over to support Nikolai just as the green-haired young man vomited into the grass. Though he was not an expert in the field of their study, Matt knew enough about toxins to realize quite swiftly that Chaos’s dart was surely poisoned.

 

“Now will you be a good prince and return on your king’s decree?” demanded the shady ninja bodyguard. “That genetic suppressant ought to be working wonders on your freak body right now.”

 

His suspicions of a poison dart confirmed, Matt made a motion as if he was preparing to battle Chaos directly, but all the ninja’s threat earned him was a swift, high kick in the throat from a very angry Nekou.

 

“If you’re gonna fight dirty, do it against me, fucker!” she screamed at Chaos as he fell backward.

 

“Nekou, not now!” Matt shouted over to her. He and Bunny were supporting Nikolai, who could no longer stand on his own and was suffering more violent convulsions. “Look at this… whatever he had that dart spiked with really messed Nikolai up!”

 

“Hurry, get him out of here! Go to Violet City’s Pokémon Center. He should be able to get treatment there!”

 

“You heard the man, Nekou!” Bunny called out, intending to follow Dante’s orders. “Let’s go!”

 

It took every ounce of Nekou’s remaining restraint, but she managed to tear herself away from her fight with Chaos, even though she hadn’t yet worked through the rush she still felt. Blinking repeatedly, she forced down her aggression, and the yellow glow disappeared from her eyes. Matt and Bunny assisted Nikolai in escaping into the woods to the west, and Nekou escorted Olivia in following them.

 

Stumbling to his feet, Chaos yelled after the five, “Stop! You are going nowhere!”

 

“No, you are the one who won’t be going anywhere,” Dante offered as a correction while his Haxorus stood in Chaos’s way. “I will dispose of you myself.”

 

“Hmph, like there’s anything an old man like you can do! Bisharp, Liepard, Banette, attack!”

 

Summoning what strength they had left, Chaos’s three Pokémon all lunged at Haxorus. Both she and Dante remained calm, however. Neither of them saw the opposing trio of Pokémon or their trainer as a threat in the least.

 

“Haxorus,” Dante coolly directed, even closing his eyes as he spoke, “Dual Chop.”

 

Just like when they’d arrived earlier, Haxorus swiftly charged forward and cut Liepard down using her right tusk, then slashed Banette with the left. Both Pokémon crumpled to the ground as a result of everything they’d taken.

 

“Bisharp, Iron Head!!”

 

“It is over. Haxorus, use Counter!”

 

An orange light outlined Haxorus’s body, and when Bisharp’s metallic headbutt struck her, she immediately punched him squarely in the face. Because Haxorus’s attack was twice as strong as the move she had been hit with, Bisharp was defeated just as his allies were.

 

“Is that it?” Dante taunted the dumbfounded Shadow Triad member. “You were not even a slight challenge for me. Be on your way if you don’t want this to get any worse for yourself.”

 

“Ugh… I swear on my honor, I will avenge this loss in the name of Lord Ghetsis! Harmonia shall rise!”

 

Chaos quickly recalled his three fallen Pokémon, then disappeared using one of his ninja techniques, leaving Dante alone in the clearing with Haxorus.

 

Turning to her trainer, the golden-bodied dragon questioningly growled, “Haro?”

 

“He will present no more disobedience, so it is not worth pursuing him further. You did well, so rest awhile.”

 

-:-

A few hours later, after the sun had set over Johto, a helicopter rested outside of Mr. Pokémon’s home. It was colored black with gold trim around the doors, and barely fit in the clearing.

 

The inside of Mr. Pokémon’s house was as much of a disorganized mess as he was himself. Towering computer hard drives and bookshelves lined the walls, while his tables were covered by sloppy stacks of papers, magazines and foreign coins. On the far side of the darkened room was a red couch, on which his guests were sitting. One was a man in a gray uniform and a short red cape, who was sitting with his arms crossed; the other was a bright-eyed woman dressed in a smart black business suit and tie. Both of them had long, flowing hair that covered the left side of their faces; the man’s was shoulder-length and blue, while the woman’s golden hair stretched all the way down to her thighs.

 

“Governor Tobias, President Gabriella, is there anything I can get either of you fine folks?” Mr. Pokémon was standing hunchbacked next to the couch and held his hands together as he tried to be polite to his guests.

 

“Have you got any coffee? I’d really like some, especially if you could throw a lot of sugar in!”

 

“I’ll just take a bottle of Fresh Water, if you would.”

 

The difference between the two couldn’t have been more pronounced. Gabriella was outgoing and very upbeat, while Tobias conducted himself in a serious and straightforward manner.

 

Mr. Pokémon disappeared into the kitchen of his cluttered bungalow to fetch the refreshments that had been ordered. Standing across the room, next to a table on which he’d placed his briefcase, Dante stepped forth to begin his presentation.

 

“Thank you for coming out, Tobias, Gabriella.” Before speaking further, he leaned his weight on his cane and bowed slightly, then opened his briefcase to reveal the Meteonite piece. “I merely have a small amount of research to present to you regarding the Meteonite, as I described.”

 

“I’m all ears,” Tobias said.

 

“You see, the Meteonite…” Dante was briefly interrupted when Mr. Pokémon returned to hand Tobias his water and Gabriella her coffee, but he quickly picked up again. “The Meteonite is composed of an element that does not exist on Earth. This alone warrants further study, for it is clearly not anything that is currently included on the periodic table. This element, therefore, should also be called Meteonite, unless a new name is decided upon later.”

 

“That’s fascinating, Dr. Fantomos, but tell me… does it actually do anything?”

 

“Yeah, you know, Tobias is right. A glittery rock is nice and all, but if you can’t do anything with it, it’s only good for looking at. And that’s really kind of boring, right?”

 

“I’m getting to that. One property this element appears to have is responsiveness to itself. As in, if you use a quantity of it to search, it will react when a second quantity is nearby. It appears to interfere with electronics when it is activated, as if it is generating an electromagnetic pulse.”

 

“Could it possibly have a medicinal use?”

 

Dante coughed before answering Gabriella’s question; the air in Mr. Pokémon’s house was rather dusty. “I suppose it is possible that the electrical pulses released by Meteonite can have a stimulating effect on living tissue.”

 

“Excellent! I wish to acquire some of this magic rock of yours right away, then, Dante. I’ll send it right off to my R&D department at the Angel Corporation, and we might discover some new medical treatments!”

 

“Surely this element is useful for more than just regenerative medicine?” Tobias remarked.

 

“I was getting to that. During my experiments with the Meteonite in my possession, I discovered a potential use for it that was unlike anything else.”

 

“Which is?”

 

“While I was experimenting with applying electrical pulses of differing frequencies to the Meteonite, it reacted and created energy pulses. Nearby, a pack of Pawniard and a Bisharp went wild after being exposed to that energy. I believe that this element may be capable of influencing Pokémon behavior when certain electrical pulses are applied to it. I tested several different frequencies, and it would appear that the Pawniard and Bisharp only responded to that frequency, so I theorize that different frequencies affect different families of Pokémon.”

 

“To think a simple rock from space could be so amazing…” said an awed Gabriella.

 

“It all makes sense. I will have to direct the Tohjo Continent officials to draw up emergency plans for if more Meteonite lands on Earth after the Ruins of Alph strike.” Rising to his feet, Tobias extended his hand to Dante. “Dr. Fantomos, I know Gabriella will have the Angel Corporation’s R&D do what they can, but your mind is very important for us to have on this study. You may be the only man who can truly understand how Meteonite affects living things.”

 

“I’ll be honored to continue working with you, Governor,” Dante responded, accepting Tobias’s handshake. “Anything I’m able to do to help the people of this country, don’t hesitate to let me know.”

 

“Dante, you know, I have to thank you for all the help you’re giving us, for real. Since those things started falling from the sky, weird stuff has been happening. I appreciate that someone with a big brain like you is giving us a hand figuring it all out.”

 

“You’re very welcome, Gabriella.” Dante shook Gabriella’s hand after releasing Tobias’s. “I’ll arrange the transfer of the Meteonite to your building in Viridian City right away. Be safe on your way back.”

 

-:-

 

Tobias and Gabriella left Mr. Pokémon’s house and Route 30 at the conclusion of the meeting, departing together in the helicopter that they arrived in. Dante, on the other hand, stayed at his friend’s home; the two spent quite some time discussing the most recent magazines from foreign nations to be added to Mr. Pokémon’s collection over some beer. Eventually, Dante decided to turn in for the night, but Mr. Pokémon remained up, working on his computers.

 

Outside in the bushes, beneath the moon and stars filling the clear night sky, James and Meowth were working with the R-Pad while Jessie and Wobbuffet observed Mr. Pokémon’s house using binoculars.

 

“Look at this data, it’s incredible!” James exclaimed, though he quickly tried to check the volume of his voice. “Maybe this is how we should have gone about it this way last time, stealing the data after letting Team Plasma take the Meteonite.”

 

“Oh, come on.” Meowth looked up from the charts of data steadily streaming in from Mr. Pokémon’s hacked servers and hissed, “You know that’s not helping!”

 

“Sorry, sorry.” As the download of the Meteonite data completed, James deactivated the computer and picked it up. Turning his head, he quietly called to his teammate, “Jessie, see anything?”

 

“It’s a house at night, James. Of course I haven’t seen anything.” Jessie sighed and slumped over. The job of keeping watch over the building for signs of any danger was an incredibly boring one to her; in fact, she found a lot of their current mission dull. Ever since she, James and Meowth had been dragged out of retirement by Pierce on behalf of Team Rocket, she had been hoping that it would at least be for an entertaining reason. Simply sitting around watching houses didn’t sate her appetite for action.

 

“Wobbuffet! Wobba!!”

 

Wobbuffet frantically tugging on her arm meant that just perhaps, action had found them in the end.

 

“What do you want?” she sharply demanded of her Pokémon.

 

“Wobba!”

 

Following Wobbuffet’s wild gestures, Jessie looked back through her binoculars at the house. What she saw made her gasp.

 

“James, Meowth, be quiet and get over here. Something’s happening.”

 

The door of the building had opened, and Mr. Pokémon had stepped out. In his hand was the briefcase containing the Meteonite, the same one that Dante had delivered to him.

 

“Where are they?” the disheveled old man wondered aloud. “They’re late.”

 

“Sorry to keep you waiting. We are here.”

 

From the westbound road, a woman wearing a plush coat of brown fur emerged, followed by four men in khaki uniforms. The woman’s most distinguishing feature, however, was the mask covering her face, which was designed to incorporate the beak and red-white-and-blue feathers of Braviary.

 

“So you finally showed up, Mercury?!” Mr. Pokémon growled. “It took you long enough. Getting this thing was hard enough!”

 

“Oh, cool it, we’re not that late. Séduire and I were making some preparations for the next stage. I trust that knowledge of the Meteonite’s purpose has been contained?”

 

“There’s nothing to worry about,” he assured Mercury with a smirk, which quickly vanished. “Your son and that girl he was taking care of were sniffing around here, though. I don’t have any reason to think they know anything beyond the word Meteonite.”

 

Mercury slouched; this wasn’t news she was hoping to hear. “I really would have liked that to not be the case, but it’s not your fault.”

 

Over in the bushes, Jessie, James, Meowth and Wobbuffet were watching this scene with awe.

 

“Would you look at that,” Meowth uttered in sheer amazement, “Mr. Pokémon is in with Polaris!”

 

“This is big… we have to tell someone. It’s worse than we thought.”

 

Nodding in agreement with James’s comment, Jessie added, “Dr. Zager and the boss need to know that nobody can be trusted.”

 

“Nobody needs to know anything!”

 

Out of nowhere, Chaos warped into the area the trio were using for their hideout. The sudden appearance of the Shadow Triad member startled them so badly that they stumbled out into the open, blowing their cover. Mercury seemed unsurprised by their presence, but her followers and Mr. Pokémon all jumped, shocked by the sudden interruption.

 

“Intruders!” Mr. Pokémon shouted before seeing the ‘R’ logo on the uniforms they wore under their trenchcoats. “Team Rocket! They’re here! It’s happening!!”

 

“What is it you want, Team Rocket?” Mercury questioned them in a severe tone, having secured the Meteonite’s briefcase for herself.

 

“They were spying on your meeting,” Chaos explained as he walked from the bushes. “They know about the Meteonite.”

 

“Well that is not any surprise, not after how relentlessly Team Rocket pursued the Meteonite in Unova.”

 

“Shall we dispose of them?” one of the men in Mercury’s team asked her.

 

“No,” she replied, looking down on the Team Rocket trio, who were in complete disarray. “Let me do it. Electivire, go!”

 

The Electric-type Pokémon, whose bulky, muscular body was covered in yellow fur and black stripes, materialized alongside his masked trainer. They both took a single step forward, meaning to intimidate the Team Rocket trio.

 

To a degree, it worked. Surrounded by Mercury, her men and her growling Electivire on one side and Chaos on the other, they constricted closer and closer to each other, searching for a way out.

 

“Jessie, James, you know, now would be a really good time for one of you to come up with a plan!!”

 

“We’re sitting ducks here,” James concurred with Meowth. “What should we do?”

 

“There’s no way out of this one,” Jessie quickly concluded, taking another Poké Ball from the pocket of her coat, “so the only right thing to do is go down fighting!”

 

“That’s my kind of talk.”

 

Jessie and James each opened a single Poké Ball simultaneously. Jessie’s ball released a plump bat Pokémon with a heart-shaped nose and a midsection covered in white fur, while James’s gave rise to a golden coffin cloaked in a shadow that formed four long arms and hands. These two Pokémon, immediately becoming aware of the threat they faced, moved to shield their trainers with their bodies.

 

“How quaint!” Mercury blew her opposition off. “Two agents of a dying crime group trying to stand up against me.”

 

“You be quiet!” James shot back, his emotions finally boiling over. “We don’t know what Polaris is planning, but I’ll tell you that Team Rocket will prevent you from doing it so we can rule the world!”

 

“If that’s what you believe in, defeat me.” Shedding her lighthearted cockiness, Mercury steeled her stance and became serious.

 

“So what are you two mooks waiting for?!” Meowth loudly griped at his teammates.

 

“Nothing! Swoobat, use Heart Stamp!”

 

“Cofagrigus, combine your Will-O-Wisp with that!”

 

Cofagrigus’s red eyes, which were peering out from an opening in the upper part of his coffin, flashed brightly. He then made a flicking motion with each of his four hands, forming a ring of blue fireballs. When Swoobat started to glide toward Electivire, these fireballs surrounded her, complementing her glowing, heart-shaped nose.

 

“I’ll give you credit for having the courage to attack head-on. Foolhardy, but courageous. Electivire, take all that out with Electroweb!”

 

Electivire thrust his right arm forward, directly at the oncoming attacks aimed his way. From each of his fingers, strings of electrically charged webbing lashed out, washing over and knocking down Swoobat while dispelling the Will-O-Wisp flames.

 

Once Swoobat was down, Electivire released a second, more intense shock through the web, causing the bat Pokémon to cry out in pain.

 

“Swoobat!” exclaimed a dismayed Jessie. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you out of there. Right, James?”

 

“I’ll try! Cofagrigus, use Will-O-Wisp to burn the webbing!”

 

“Electroweb!”

 

Cofagrigus started to form more wisps of fire around himself, but Mercury’s Electivire cut him off. The Electric-type Pokémon now thrust up his left hand and released an even larger amount of web, now creating a massive net that held down both Cofagrigus and Swoobat.

 

“Now it’s time for this to end. Electivire, shock them.”

 

With both hands now controlling the wide net he’d cast, Electivire sent a massive surge of electricity flowing through it. The web ultimately burned away, but not before acting as the conductor for enough energy to leave Swoobat and Cofagrigus as twitching wrecks on the ground.

 

“Finish them off! Wild Charge!” Mercury wasn’t paying attention to the Team Rocket members, but if she was, she would have seen that they smirked slightly when she gave this command.

 

A shroud of yellow electricity completely enveloped Electivire’s body, and by using his powerful legs to propel himself, he lunged for Swoobat and Cofagrigus.

 

“Now!” Jessie screamed. “Wobbuffet, Destiny Bond!”

 

To protect his trainer, her friends and her Pokémon, Wobbuffet jumped in between them and the charging Electivire. Just before Wild Charge struck him, his entire body flashed with purple light.

 

Left with a wide swath of his skin seared by Electivire’s power, Wobbuffet crumpled to the ground. Electivire backed up to survey his work, only to be suddenly overcome by the purple light. Despite his best efforts to tear out of its influence, Electivire was unable to escape, and ultimately ended up falling as well.

 

“Well played!” Mercury said while sending Electivire back to his Great Ball, genuinely impressed at Team Rocket’s tactics.

 

“You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

 

Meowth charged forward, setting his sights on the briefcase containing the Meteonite shard, which Mercury had set down on the ground when the battle had begun. As soon as they realized what was happening, Mercury’s men all drew Poké Balls of their own, but it was once again Mercury herself who threw her Net Ball. Just as Meowth secured the case, a Pelipper appeared and impeded him.

 

“Outta my way, you lug!”

 

“Not with our Meteonite, Meowth. Pelipper, use Soak!”

 

Before Meowth could escape, Pelipper opened her large bill and sprayed a shower of water over Meowth. He wasn’t hurt by the attack, but he hated being covered in water and tried as hard as he could to shake it off.

 

“What do you think you’re doing?!”

 

“Taking back what rightfully belongs to Polaris. Seed Bomb!”

 

Pelipper opened her bill again, but what came out this time was a barrage of round seeds. Meowth tried to run, but no matter which direction he took the case, he couldn’t escape. He found himself trapped within a field of small explosions that wracked his body like that of a rag doll.

 

However, something else happened in addition – the explosions threw the briefcase into the air, and while it reached the peak of its flight, it slipped open and the Meteonite shard fell out.

 

“That’s the Meteonite!” Jessie exclaimed, having recalled all her Pokémon along with James.

 

“Meowth, get it!”

 

“I’ve got this!” Meowth lunged for the rock with his arms outstretched, and surprisingly enough, he safely got under the falling Meteonite with little effort.

 

The Meteonite landed squarely in Meowth’s grasp, prompting him to smile in relief once he realized he had it. That happiness would not last long – sparks suddenly started flying from the glowing Meteonite, followed by a radiant energy blast that blinded everyone in the clearing, including Mercury and her followers.

 

At the center of it all, Meowth felt like his mind was being torn apart. Horrifying images of death and despair flashed rapidly through his imagination, and he could feel his soul warping with every vision.

 

When the light faded and both opposing factions recovered their sight, they found Meowth standing at the epicenter of the event, eyes closed and holding the Meteonite in his arms.

 

“The Meteonite became unstable again…” James immediately observed.

 

“Wait, what’s wrong with Meowth?” wondered Jessie.

 

On the other side of the clearing, Mercury knew exactly what was going on. “Meowth, come over here. Be a good boy and give us the Meteonite piece back.”

 

“Yes, as you wish…” the feline Pokémon mumbled. He turned and shuffled to Mercury to hand over the Meteonite, and it was not until then that he finally opened his eyes.

 

Meowth’s eyes were filled with red.

 

“What have you done to him?” James angrily demanded, stomping his foot into the ground hard enough to leave a relatively deep footprint.

 

“Isn’t it obvious? The Meteonite can control the minds of Pokémon! You know that! Your Meowth just exposed himself directly to its power as it became unstable, so it has changed him. He is now one of us!”

 

“That’s a lie! Meowth, you’d never betray me, right?”

 

The silence that Jessie was met with told her everything she needed to know. Something really had happened to force Meowth to switch sides.

 

“Well, I would call this a successful meeting. We’ve got the Meteonite and Team Rocket’s Meowth is now a Polaris member. I’d say it’s time for us to call it a day. Pelipper, Gunk Sh…”

 

Mercury’s final command was cut off by the sound of a speeding car. A short, black limousine came tearing into the clearing, spinning to a stop near Jessie and James, and the flash of a Poké Ball from inside released an Arbok.

 

“Arbok, Thunder Fang!” Ariana commanded from inside the car. Arbok immediately went off lunging at Pelipper, so Ariana then called to Jessie and James, “Hurry unless you want to get captured or killed!”

 

“But they got Meowth!” James yelled back.

 

Ariana let out an exasperated, exaggerated sigh. “Then I’ll have to just pick you up on my own. Arbok, Poison Tail!”

 

Pelipper was already stunned by the time Arbok brought his tail down on her. Smashed into the ground and unconscious, Pelipper would no longer be a problem for Team Rocket’s goals.

 

However, before they could do anything, Jessie and James had their path to Mercury and Meowth blocked by a Gastrodon, a Porygon2, a Sandslash and a Weavile. The four Pokémon under the ownership of Mercury’s henchmen glared menacingly at the now helpless Team Rocket members.

 

“Jessie, what do we do? We’ve got to get to him!”

 

“I-I don’t know!” Admitting helplessness was something Jessie hated doing, but the situation gave her no other choice. “Meowth, snap out of it!”

 

“If that’s the best you can do,” Mercury taunted them, “give up now. You’re in over your heads.”

 

Jessie and James both opened their mouths to respond, but before they could, Ariana’s Arbok slithered and coiled around them, then dragged them into Ariana’s car.

 

“Hurry, stop them!” Mercury ordered her subordinates.

 

Before the four Pokémon still under her squad’s command could launch any kind of attack, a weapon installed in Ariana’s car discharged a thick smokescreen. With their sight impaired, the Pokémon were powerless to prevent Team Rocket’s escape.

 

Inside the plush interior of the car, however, there was no feeling of victory. Both Jessie and James, while still trying to maintain some air of respect for their superior, felt completely outraged at what they’d been forced to do.

 

“How can you make us leave Meowth behind? They brainwashed him!”

 

“You and Dr. Zager didn’t tell us everything we needed to know!” James added. “Team Plasma? Mr. Pokémon being a Polaris member? We weren’t prepared to deal with this!”

 

Ariana kept her gaze fixed straight ahead and continued driving as she responded to them. “There are things even we didn’t know. We thought Ghetsis was the only Team Plasma member involved in this, and we had no intelligence to indicate that Mr. Pokémon was one of them. I’m sorry about Meowth, but there’s nothing we could have done back there. I’m taking you two back to Dr. Zager and we’ll talk to the boss.”

 

“Well, make it quick, because James and I are going to get him back.”

 

“We’ll make them sorry they messed with us. It’s personal now.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

END of CHAPTER 6

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Jacob Alexison appears from Nothing, Everything by Bay, with the original author’s permission.

 

-:-

 

CHAPTER 7: Flying to an Unseeable Future

 

-:-

 

The low hum of his many machines provided a constant source of quiet sound in Dr. Zager’s laboratory. Having used many such devices for decades, he found that he had grown to be comforted by their soft noises. His mind was soothed by the unceasing din.

 

While Galvantula sat nearby gorging herself on a plate of berries Zager had given her, the doctor himself sat at his computer console, casually clicking through a message board website sporting blue message bubbles against a black background. The red script at the site’s top identified it as ‘RChannel.’

 

“How dull,” Zager said to himself as he absentmindedly scanned past multiple post threads. Many threads on RChannel talked about Pokémon training and collecting, but there were a vast number that focused on other things, ranging from discussion of television programs to bizarre posts such as a recently popular urban legend about an Aerodactyl in a graveyard.

 

However, the RChannel website had another purpose. While available to the general public as a message board, the site was actually created and run by Team Rocket; its creator had used the ridiculous but somehow correct logic that an uncontrolled forum would be the perfect cover for exchanging information and intelligence between members via the Internet. That was what Zager was scanning the site for – intelligence – and soon, he finally found it.

 

The thread’s first post, instead of being in a blue bubble, was contained within a red one; this was due to it being posted by “Admin,” the creator of RChannel.

 

“There is something I do not understand,” the post read. “Ghetsis Harmonia is a member of Polaris. That is something that anyone who watches television knows. But, he is not the only one from Team Plasma to be connected to Polaris. I saw a member of the Shadow Triad on Route 30 today. Not only that, King N of Team Plasma was there too. So what is going on? What is the true connection between Team Plasma and Polaris?”

 

“Holy shit, it’s Admin!” the next post, by ‘Slowpoke Tail,’ said. “And she’s got another crazy conspiracy theory!”

 

“Posting in epic mod thread,” added an anonymous poster.

 

“Hey Admin, Asuka or Rei?”

 

The fourth reply was by the username ‘Sam’ – Pierce’s alias – and was the first to take the topic seriously. “That is an excellent question, Admin. I do not know all of the details of Team Plasma’s relationship with Polaris, but I’ve determined that Ghetsis was likely always working on behalf of Polaris. If he was ever loyal is another question entirely. I’ll do more studying and get back to you.”

 

“That’s a good idea,” Zager spoke out loud to the screen, as if he were speaking directly to Pierce. “To defeat an enemy, you must first understand them.”

 

-:-

 

A somber tone hung over the group’s rented room at Violet City’s Pokémon Center. Bunny and Olivia sat and listlessly stared at the television in the room, which was playing a news report on several recent Pokémon Contests, while Nekou sat on her bed and quietly worked on her laptop with the headphones for her music player planted firmly in her ears.

 

The heavy, aged wooden door of the room produced a loud creak as Matt slowly entered. Almost immediately, Bunny began asking him questions.

 

“Well?” She wanted to address the subject that was weighing on all of their minds right away. “How is he?”

 

Feeling utterly exhausted, Matt took his hat off and threw it onto one of the beds, then ran his hand through his hair. “He’ll live, but he got messed up pretty bad. The dart that that ninja hit him with was tipped with a poison that caused his body to go into shock.”

 

“That guy was scary,” Olivia mumbled into the pillow she was embracing, which muffled her voice. “We’re going to be dealing with a lot like him, aren’t we?”

 

“We’ll beat them, I’m sure,” Matt immediately answered, though he was forced to quietly add, “but you’re right, there probably will be…”

 

“In other news, we will now go to a new address delivered by the spokesman for the Polaris organization.”

 

The pending speech seemed to be timed perfectly to match up with what Matt said, and as they focused on the television, their nerves each tightened to the breaking point. By the time Ghetsis appeared on the screen, Nekou had even taken out her headphones and folded the screen of her laptop down, turning it into a tablet computer.

 

“People of the Tohjo Continent, I bid you good evening. Tonight I am here to speak to you about traditions. What exactly is tradition, would you say? It is called a tradition for children to be sent out into the world and compete against each other for supremacy. With how long that tradition has stood, should we accept it?” Despite delivering the first part of his address calmly, Ghetsis was soon overcome by his characteristic intensity. “No! We should not accept such a thing! We are a species capable of building a civilized society! Or, at least I thought we were. That we call the practice of sending young people into a lifestyle offering most of them no future just so we can watch their suffering a ‘tradition’ speaks to how far we have to go to truly reach civilization. That is why I call upon you all, people of this nation! Polaris shall perform a miracle to prove the validity of our drive toward true civilization! Please, support us in our endeavor! With your help, a hopeful future is ensured! Thank you for your time tonight.”

 

“Do you think he even knows how much of a madman he sounds like?” Bunny wondered of Ghetsis.

 

“That’s not even a question. Ghetsis is a man who is fully aware of his own actions, and he delights in what he does to others.”

 

Nekou’s words didn’t soothe Olivia, who was further shaken after listening to the thundering speech. “What if he has a point, though?” she grumbled into her pillow. “Look what happened to Nikolai, and all he did was help us. Not only him, either. What about Renzo? There really might be something to what he says... I’m scared…”

 

“Olivia, you can’t think like that.” Matt tried to put on a strong face, masking his own unsettled emotions over the recent events. “Look, tomorrow you’re going for your first Badge, right? Focus on that. You finally made it to your first Gym.”

 

“Matt’s saying something smart this time,” Nekou added, putting some sarcasm in her words to lighten things up a bit. “I can tell you that Ghetsis is not a man worth listening to. I disgust myself even using the word ‘man’ to refer to a piece of shit like him.”

 

Olivia sighed and rolled over onto her side. “Maybe I’m just tired, then. Thanks for talking to me, but I want to go to bed.”

 

-:-

 

By the next day, things had brightened considerably for the group. A good night’s sleep turned out to do wonders for easing their minds after the previous day’s confrontations. They felt especially better when, once they’d all awoken, Matt went to check on Nikolai only to learn that he was rapidly recovering.

 

“That sure is a relief to know,” Matt said to his companions as they made their way into the lobby of the Pokémon Center. “After how bad a shape he was in last night, to see that he’s recovering quickly is great news.”

 

“I wonder what that toxin actually was…” Because she was mumbling to herself, Nekou’s musing went unheard.

 

“So what are we waiting for? Next stop, Violet Gym! It’s time for that first Badge!”

 

However, Olivia’s loud declaration attracted the attention of the Pokémon Center nurse, who had been standing nearby at her desk. She stepped over to the group and interrupted, “I’m sorry, but I overheard that you want to go to Violet Gym?”

 

“Yeah, why?” Olivia questioned.

 

“With our luck, she’s about to say it’s…”

 

“Sorry, but the Gym is closed right now. Nobody can get to it.”

 

“…I fucking knew it,” Nekou finished her thought.

 

With Olivia unable to speak further due to a mix of surprise and extreme disappointment, Matt instead asked the question on their minds. “But why? Has something happened?”

 

“Come with me, I’ll show you.”

 

The nurse stepped out from behind her desk and beckoned the four to follow her, which they did. Together, they went across the lobby, stopping at the lounge area. Once again, many people were gathered around the television there, which Matt quietly noted to himself was becoming a regular occurrence.

 

On the screen, someone was being interviewed. Both the person taking the interview and the reporter conducting it were standing in front of a large, gray building on a stone road. Around them, a large group of people were gathered, some holding signs.

 

“So what prompted you to come out today and join the group picketing your hometown Gym?” the reporter asked. Once he was done speaking, he held his microphone up to his female subject.

 

“Well, the speeches by Polaris have really opened my eyes. I never really considered before just how many people have it bad, even though we all work hard for everything we have. There are those who have it too easy if you ask me, getting Pokémon and medical care for free while others pay for it. I want Falkner to come out here and tell us how he can participate in this. That’s why I’m here.”

 

Immediately upon the young woman finishing speaking, the screen shifted back to the news anchor at his desk. “We do not yet have a statement from Violet City Gym Leader Falkner addressing the protests currently taking place outside of his Gym. However, for safety purposes, the Gym has been closed until the tension dissipates.”

 

“Well that just sucks.”

 

“Now, Olivia, look at the silver lining,” Bunny encouraged her, “at least this gives you more time to prepare for the battle.”

 

“Eh… I suppose that’s true.”

 

“Mister Chiaki? Mister Chiaki, you came to Violet City after all!”

 

Having just entered the Pokémon Center, Dominic had spotted Matt and his group almost immediately, and now rushed over to meet them with his suitcase still in his hand.

 

“Oh?” Matt failed to register immediately who he was being approached by, but seeing Dominic’s rumpled suit and tie again quickly rang the bell in his mind. “That’s right, Dominic was it? Sorry I sort of forgot...”

 

“Oh, don’t worry about it. I’m just glad you actually came to Violet City like we arranged!”

 

Dominic’s overflowing gratitude was a little off-putting to Matt, and even though he didn’t know it, Nekou and Olivia were a little nervous themselves. Bunny was the only one who saw him right away as the overly eager but kindhearted man he truly was.

 

“You do remember, right? I asked you to meet my kids at Earl’s Pokémon Academy?”

 

As soon as the memories of his speaking to Dominic in Cherrygrove City resurfaced in full, Matt brought his hand to his forehead in disbelief. He couldn’t understand how he’d forgotten such a simple thing.

 

“That’s right, I do remember now. Olivia, if I might say… with the Gym closed, going to the Academy might be a productive way to spend the day.”

 

“It’s better than nothing,” replied the girl, her facial features becoming hardened with determination. “Let’s do it!”

 

“And don’t forget me,” Nekou chimed in, tossing herself over Matt’s shoulders, much to his visible discomfort. “Remember what I get there. Books. One of my six basic food groups.”

 

“And what are the other five?”

 

“Bacon, hamburgers, potato chips, chocolate and beer.”

 

Matt sighed, quickly realizing that asking Nekou such a question was probably a mistake.

 

“I’m glad that you’re all on board, then,” Dominic said with a smile. “I think you’ll all enjoy visiting there.”

 

-:-

 

“Now this is truly a surprise!” Stepping away from one of the glass-surfaced tables in the laboratory, the mustachioed scientist spread his arms as he welcomed his guests. “To think Father sent us not one but two of the Sacred Helix’s Chromosomes. Today must be an especially important day!”

 

“Father still hasn’t come back, actually,” Mercury corrected him. “Right now Finansielle is giving directions, and Archer is holding down Father’s seat on the Sacred Helix.”

 

“I see. Well then, let’s have a look at that stone you brought.”

 

Standing next to Mercury, Séduire – the Entei-masked Chromosome who wore a school-themed uniform with a skirt and bow tie – wordlessly presented the scientist with the briefcase passed on from Mr. Pokémon. He eagerly accepted it and took it over to one of the tables, where he opened it.

 

“Be careful with handling the Meteonite,” Mercury warned. “If it destabilizes, you might end up like this.” As she finished speaking, she gestured down to Meowth, who was listlessly standing next to her.

 

The scientist took a magnifying lens out of the pocket of his brown suit and leaned in to look at the Meteonite. “This is the real deal, alright. It’s beautiful!” Sitting back up, he questioned, “So what’s the next step?”

 

“That small Meteonite is going to lead us to the large one that crashed here several weeks ago. For that, we’re going to need your maps of the Ruins so we can navigate to the point it shows us.”

 

“Yeah, that’s going to be a problem,” the scientist responded, frowning. “Something strange has gone on since the Meteonite landed here. It agitated all the Unown, and they used their reality-warping powers to change the structure of the Ruins of Alph. All the maps we had are obsolete now.”

 

“I guess we’ll be going in blindly, then. Thankfully Meteonite will react to itself, so we can use the small amount we have to track down the payload. We’ve got just the equipment for the job, too.”

 

“What’s my assignment in all of this?” Séduire piped up for the first time. “Should I stop Matt from bothering you, Mercury?”

 

“No, I need you and your henchmen with my team. The Ruins of Alph are a lot more vast than one would expect, and they hold untold dangers, especially now that the Unown rearranged everything. You’ll get a chance to see him soon enough.”

 

“Promise me that. Mercury, promise me I’ll see Matt again soon… I have to save him…”

 

“Focus on the task at hand, Séduire. Remember that one day we’ll all be saved.”

 

-:-

 

Dominic led the way, guiding Matt, Nekou, Olivia and Bunny into the lobby of Earl’s Pokémon Academy. The lobby was cluttered with cases containing medals and photographs belonging to graduates of the school, many of whom had gone on to high-profile careers as trainers.

 

“This is the premiere facility for Pokémon training education in the Tohjo Continent,” the salesman explained. He gestured to the wall, guiding the others’ eyes to the awards lining it. “You can’t beat this place as a school.”

 

“I’d beg to differ,” Matt contradicted him. “I spent some time working at the Rustboro School with a very generous research grant.”

 

“I wasn’t meaning to offend you at all, please forgive me.”

 

“Is that good old Dominic I hear?” The voice echoing down the hall was loud and rich, giving itself such strength that it shook the walls. A large man in a blue suit came bounding out into the lobby with heavy steps; his boisterous demeanor surprised all of Dominic’s guests. “Welcome back, my dear Dominic! I see you’ve brought guests, just as you said earlier!”

 

“Well, um… yes, Mr. Dervish, sir. Please…” Dominic turned to the others as he continued, “…allow me to introduce you. This is Matt Chiaki, and…”

 

“Oh!!” The rotund man charged right past Dominic, effectively silencing him, and got right in Matt’s face. Matt started sweating and his nerves only frayed further when he realized that his hands were being grasped. “Sutter’s grandson! Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Earl Dervish, and I’m in charge of this Pokémon academy. It is truly an honor to have the grandson of the world’s most legendary archeologist in my school!”

 

“It would be nice to get credit for some of the things I’ve done myself once in a while,” Matt nervously chuckled in an awkward attempt to inject humor into the situation.

 

“But of course.” Turning his attention to Olivia, Nekou and Bunny, who were all standing by in varying degrees of shock and bemusement, Earl asked, “And who might these three be?”

 

“This is Olivia. She’s my friend’s daughter, and I’m mentoring her. That’s Bunny, my old colleague, and this is my… well, somehow she ended up being my bodyguard, and her name is Nekou.”

 

“Talk about a spectacle,” Nekou mumbled under her breath.

 

“Well met, Olivia, Bunny, Nekou. Now, please, all of you, come with me! Dominic, your kids are already waiting for us in my office. They ought to be glad to see your friends. And Matt, fate’s brought you quite a surprise today, too!”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“You will see, my friend! Onward!”

 

-:-

 

Concordia and Anthea screamed as Chaos’s limp body crashed into the forcefield wall of their prison. They’d been snapped out of their usual blank states by the fury Ghetsis had worked himself into.

 

“You had him right in front of you and YOU LET HIM GO?!” Ghetsis picked Chaos up by the neck again, much like how he had done before throwing him, and slammed him into the barrier a second time. “That warped boy is key to my rise!”

 

“P-please forgive me, L-Lord Ghetsis…” It was a struggle for Chaos to speak with Ghetsis’s hand around his neck. “I was… ambushed. It would have taken all three of us…”

 

“I’ll have none of it!”

 

Whipping around, Ghetsis flung Chaos across the floor, leaving him in a crumpled heap. He then lurched over to the ninja and pinned the white-haired man’s head under the end of his cane.

 

“Matt Chiaki and his friends… that woman is not natural… I almost had to use the genetic suppressant on her to get her off me…”

 

“Finally, you say something actually useful,” fumed Ghetsis as he removed his cane from Chaos’s cheek. Moving toward the door, he said out loud without looking over his shoulder, “I’ll have Matt Chiaki dealt with before he ever becomes a problem to me.” He then turned the very top of his cane’s handle to trigger a mechanism inside, and held the knob up near his mouth. “Zinzolin!”

 

“Lord Ghetsis!” responded a rough, ragged voice from the other end of the communicator.

 

“Give me an update on the status of the protest.”

 

“It’s progressing nicely. The people of Violet City have taken your words to heart and are demanding answers from Gym Leader Falkner. He hasn’t come out yet, in fact, his only response has been to shut down the Gym for the day.”

 

“We’ll worry about him later. Listen, I’ve got a new mission for you. It turns out that our little prince is in the Pokémon Center in Violet City. Before you collect him, though, I want you to find Matt Chiaki and take him out. Do what you must to complete the mission.”

 

“Consider it done, Lord Ghetsis.”

 

-:-

 

Much like the lobby of his school, Earl’s office was a cluttered place. Books and folders were scattered about the office, while still more award certificates lined the walls.

 

The door of the office groaned heavily as Earl pushed it open to allow himself and his guests inside. Almost immediately, the three students waiting within jumped up, greeting the group as they came in; one of the two girls in the trio had a significantly delayed reaction, as if she failed to notice anything until the others had risen.

 

“Welcome back, Dad!” the girl who had gotten up immediately exclaimed. “Did you get what you promised us?”

 

“I always keep my promises, Avril,” Dominic cheerfully replied. “I promised a surprise, and here

he is!”

 

Realizing after a brief moment that Dominic was referring to him as the surprise, Matt shrugged and sighed, “So you promised them you’d convince me to come here, eh?”

 

“You all get caught up.” Earl clapped one of his large hands on Matt’s shoulder and the other on Dominic’s, then lumbered over to his desk, which was just as messy as the rest of his office. He pressed the button on the desk’s intercom system and said into it, “Would the teacher of Class 2-A come to my office, please?”

 

“So these are your kids, then, Dominic?”

 

“Indeed, Matt, they are. Please, meet Avril, my youngest…” Dominic gestured first to the girl who had verbally greeted him. Like the others, she was wearing a blue-and-black school uniform, and despite being the youngest of Dominic’s three children, she physically looked at least two years older than Olivia.

 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said to Matt, her voice carrying an innate sound of confidence bordering on arrogance. “Your battle at the Battle Arcade was very entertaining to watch.”

 

“And this is Monroe, the middle of the three…”

 

The boy was much more timid in nature than his sister. He made little of an attempt to directly engage Matt or anyone else, merely saying in a shaky voice, “H-Hello.”

 

“And finally, my oldest, Helena.”

 

The eldest of the three, Helena, towered over her siblings. She stood calmly by, running her hand through her red hair, not speaking at first.

 

It was then that Matt finally realized that Monroe was signing rapidly to her, communicating everything going on in a flurry of masterful hand motions.

 

“She’s deaf?” Bunny spoke, putting words to the feeling of surprise the group of four shared.

 

“Since birth.”

 

Each of Helena’s steps was slow and measured, carrying a dignified air. She directly approached Matt and extended a hand to him.

 

“I am honored to meet you, sir.”

 

The mere fact that Helena was able to speak was enough shock Matt still, but beyond that, her voice was surprisingly smooth and refined, capturing her ladylike demeanor perfectly. Matt eventually did manage to shake her hand, but his surprise didn’t wear off, and he directed a puzzled gaze over toward Dominic.

 

Understanding immediately what Matt was confused by, Dominic beckoned him over and quietly explained, “She didn’t want to let her disability stop her from speaking normally, so I got some Psychic-type Pokémon to help me teach her how. It wasn’t easy, and either Avril or Monroe signs for her when they can, but I’m very proud of her and all the work she did to overcome it.”

 

Meanwhile, while Matt and Dominic were talking, Helena had turned her attention to Nekou. “I like your necklace,” she said, pointing at the piece of jewelry around Nekou’s neck.

 

“What? Oh, this.” Nekou briefly flinched, but she quickly recovered and lifted the pendant from her chest to show it off. Its gem was in the shape of an eight-pointed star whose upper diagonal points were colored red, lower diagonal points shaded light blue and four straight points hued in dark purple. “It’s very precious to me. I got it in Whitegold City.”

 

Monroe quickly signed to interpret Nekou’s words for Helena, and once she understood what was said, she smiled warmly. “It’s a Victory Star, then. It’s very pretty.”

 

Just then, the sound of something tapping against the office’s door interrupted the conversation. Whatever caused the mysterious noise persistently tapped against the door for a few seconds, before abruptly stopping. The handle turned, and the door opened to allow a woman inside. The source of the tapping turned out to be her walking stick, which provided her with the sense of her surroundings that her cloudy eyes could not give her. She had striking blue hair that curled down her back like clouds, and an Arcanine was walking closely by her side for additional support.

 

“You called me, Earl?”

 

“Amanda!” Matt instantly gasped, having been overcome by pleasant surprise.

 

“Big brother!” Amanda’s emotions rose in a very similar fashion. She first sharply turned her head in the direction of Matt’s voice, then rushed in his direction, crashing into him in a reckless attempt at an embrace.

 

“See? I told you I had a surprise for you!” Earl said jovially. “A reunion of brother and sister!”

 

“Miss Chiaki is the little sister of Matt Chiaki after all,” Avril said out loud. “Now I believe it.”

 

“Amanda, you’re a teacher here now?” This question was the only coherent thing that came to Matt’s mind right away. He was so internally consumed by emotions – joy in seeing his sister for the first time in a while, pride in the accomplishments she’d been implied to have made, sadness that she still struggled with her blindness – that he couldn’t put many words to those thoughts.

 

Separating herself from her brother, Amanda gently shook her head. “Not permanently. I’m just taking some time to do something on my own for a while.”

 

“But you didn’t tell your students you’re Matt’s sister?” Olivia suddenly piped up.

 

“Huh?” Amanda turned her head in confusion, trying to perceive where the voice was coming from. “Olivia?”

 

“Yeah, it’s me. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

 

“Several years now,” Amanda replied with a smile. “Anyway, I didn’t tell Avril and my other students about my brother because I didn’t want to live in his shadow. I wanted them to look up to me because they wanted to, not because of who my brother is.”

 

“Aw, come on, Amanda, don’t give me that much credit,” Matt chuckled in an attempt to sound humble. “All of us know you’re far more skilled as a trainer than I am.”

 

“You know what would be inspiring to my students? Let’s you and I show them a battle between the two of us! You really are better than you give yourself credit for!”

 

“That’s a great idea!” Earl quickly interrupted. “I’ll run ahead and get everything set in the outdoor battlefield!”

 

Bounding across the office, Earl was gone in a flash, leaving a mass of exasperation in his wake. Even Dominic found himself a bit stunned at the headmaster’s enthusiasm.

 

“I guess my answer is yes,” Matt sighed. “It doesn’t matter, though. I was going to say yes anyway.”

 

“Matt, you don’t stand a chance. Not even my dad could beat Amanda, remember?”

 

Closing his eyes, Matt thought back to five years earlier. Back then, Amanda had been the champion of a regional competition, and Olivia’s father Rich earned the chance to battle her. He failed completely against Amanda, however, at least in no small part because of her tactics throwing him off. She had in her team of Pokémon a Zoroark, a Pokémon with powers of illusion. Those powers made it possible for her to disguise the Dark-type Zoroark as a Hariyama, which drew Rich into attempting repeatedly to damage what he believed was a Fighting-type Pokémon. Amanda ended up winning the match without losing a single one of her Pokémon.

 

“Well, at least this time I know she has Zoroark,” he finally said, slowly reopening his eyes. “Rich had no idea what he was up against.”

 

“Wait, before we go…” Dominic spoke up, “would you be willing to see the Pokémon my kids have as well?”

 

“I would like to,” answered Olivia. “Matt, hold up.”

 

“I see someone hasn’t changed much,” Amanda said, smiling once again. “Avril, Monroe and Helena have some interesting Pokémon. I think you’ll like them.”

 

“May I go first?” Helena volunteered, having stayed fully updated on the situation through Monroe’s signing. “Klink, come out!”

 

Helena took the single Poké Ball she possessed from her waist and opened it, producing a burst of energy. The Pokémon it turned into had the form of two interlocking silver gears with six teeth and a simple face on each gear.

 

“It looks familiar, but not exactly like what I remember…” Olivia commented as she took out her Pokédex.

 

“Klink, the Gear Pokémon. Type is Steel. Two bodies comprise a fixed pair. They spin around each other to generate energy.”

 

“I know, it’s a previous evolution of Klinklang,” Bunny guessed.

 

“That’s correct!” Helena confirmed once she was aware of what Bunny had said. “Do you like my Klink? It’s been my friend for a long time now.”

 

“It’s cute, and it should be strong once it evolves. I’d like to battle you later on.”

 

“I’ll look forward to that day, Olivia.”

 

“I… guess I’m next.” Monroe’s manner continued to be as timid as ever, even as he opened up his own Poké Ball. “Vanillite, I ask you to come out.”

 

Whereas Klink was fairly straightforward in appearance, Monroe’s Vanillite was more unusual, appearing to be a small ice cream cone with a wide-eyed, smiling face on top of a body made of ice and snow.

 

“Vanillite, the Fresh Snow Pokémon. Type is Ice. Theoretically, this Pokémon formed from icicles bathed in energy from the morning sun. Their breath is -58° F.”

 

Another difference between Vanillite and Klink was that Vanillite was a lot more outgoing, floating right up to Olivia and laughing.

 

“Aren’t you a cute one?” she said to the Ice-type, laughing along with her. “I just love you!”

 

“Thank you…”

 

Avril scoffed at the praise Olivia was heaping upon her brother. “If you think that thing is a good Pokémon, wait until you put your eyes on what I’ve got. Servine, go!”

 

Much like his trainer, the green, vaguely serpentine Pokémon that emerged from Avril’s Poké Ball had a haughty, arrogant air about himself. Balancing on tiny legs, he stretched his body to its full height and cast a scornful look downward upon Klink and Vanillite.

 

“Servine, the Grass Snake Pokémon. Type is Grass. Evolved form of Snivy, When it gets dirty, its leaves can't be used in photosynthesis, so it always keeps itself clean.”

 

“Wait a minute…” Remembering something, Olivia hesitated. “Snivy was one of the three Pokémon Professor Juniper said she could offer me, but it specifically was missing. Are you the one who got Snivy?”

 

“The one and only.” Putting her hands on her hips, Avril leaned forward and smugly asked, “Did you get stuck with one of those inferior ones that were left?”

 

“He is not inferior!”

 

“Then let’s see him.”

 

Without a second thought, Olivia pressed the button to open Oshawott’s Poké Ball. He materialized looking sleepy and still missing his shell, prompting both Avril and her Servine to laugh.

 

“Wow, you didn’t even take the good one,” she taunted, “but then again, someone who’s childish in both body and spirit taking a childish Pokémon makes sense!”

 

“Avril!” Dominic snapped, showing a seriousness that he hadn’t before. “Behave yourself!”

 

“Fine, fine. But let me ask one thing. What happened to its shell?”

 

“It got broken in a battle with a Gurdurr yesterday.”

 

Avril managed to suppress another outburst of laughing into little more than a snicker, and she walked toward the door with Servine. “You better pay attention outside and learn something, because you’re gonna need it.”

 

With that, Avril and Servine left Earl’s office, letting the door slam behind them as they departed. Their sudden exit left Olivia seething in silence over the flood of condescending insults she’d just faced.

 

“Please, accept my apologies,” Dominic hurriedly said as he too went for the door. “I’ll deal with her.”

 

“Is she always like this?” Matt questioned once Dominic was out the door.

 

“It wouldn’t be proper of me to discuss that in front of so many people,” Amanda replied.

 

“Oh, well, I understand. Let’s just go meet up with Earl then.”

 

As the remaining group headed out, Monroe approached Olivia. “I’m sorry about my sister. She gets really mean a lot.”

 

“Yeah, I figured.” Though she initially didn’t look at him, Olivia did eventually turn to Monroe. “Thanks for that.”

 

-:-

 

Outside, next to the school building, there was a small battlefield, flanked by a three-tiered bleacher structure. The children comprising Amanda’s class filled said bleachers; Avril, Helena and Monroe were all sitting together in the front row, with Klink, Vanillite and Servine nearby, while Olivia, Nekou and Bunny were nearby.

 

Matt and Amanda, meanwhile, each stood in squares on opposing sides of a battlefield etched in white paint on the grass. Having taken on the role of referee for the match, Dominic positioned himself at a point near the middle of the battleground, while Earl stood, arms crossed, next to the students in the stands.

 

“This battle will be between Pokémon Academy instructor Amanda and her challenger, Matt!” Dominic announced to the onlookers. “It will be a full six-on-six Double Battle that ends when all of one side’s Pokémon have fainted. Begin!”

 

“I’ll take the lead!” Amanda forcefully declared, shedding her quiet demeanor from earlier. “Big brother, see if you can keep up with me! Hariyama, Arcanine, come into the light!”

 

Amanda, despite her inability to see, had no difficulty taking two Poké Balls from the waist of her gray suit and throwing them. Two large-bodied Pokémon, Hariyama and Arcanine, appeared from them and landed, crashing their immense weight into the ground. Hariyama growled and struck a pose to show off his readiness for battle, and Arcanine simply howled. Both had an air of great discipline.

 

“Boy, Amanda, you sure aren’t going easy on me, are you?”

 

“Of course not, so don’t you go easy on me either!”

 

Matt took a step back. In the very back of his head, behind how much he admired Amanda’s courageous attitude, he actually felt somewhat intimidated by having to face her.

 

“F-fine, I won’t go easy at all!” he sputtered, throwing out a regular Poké Ball alongside a Dusk Ball. “Hethna and Tanya, make your mark!”

 

Two more large, heavy Pokémon – Matt’s Golurk and Heatran – entered the battle to oppose Amanda’s pair. Both of them appreciated their opponents on equal footing with themselves, although Hethna – whom Matt had only recently captured, and thus did not know Amanda or her Pokémon – immediately was overcome with an instinct to defend its trainer and allies from what it perceived as threats.

 

The students in the stands started cheering and talking excitedly over the Pokémon they were seeing, especially Heatran, a minor Legendary Pokémon. From his vantage point next to the bleachers, Earl found himself lost in thought.

 

“If he were still with us, Sutter would be proud. His grandkids are sure putting on a hell of a show for these kids.”

 

“Arcanine, Close Combat!”

 

Before Matt could react, Amanda’s Arcanine was on top of Tanya, striking her with a flurry of vicious blows. Each hit was fueled by the powerful muscles in Arcanine’s legs, lending the assault enough strength to not only shove the nearly half-ton Heatran back significantly, but to also break chips out of her steel armor. All of this came at the price of leaving Arcanine worn out and panting for air, his body weakened against any potential counterattacks.

 

“Tanya, hold steady!” Having his Heatran put on the defensive so quickly was not the scenario Matt had envisioned at the start of the battle.

 

“Are you already beaten, big brother?” Amanda taunted him, albeit in her usual endearing way. “Don’t tell me it’s over already!”

 

“It’s nowhere near over, Amanda. Try this on for size! Tanya, target Arcanine with Earth Power! Hethna, get Hariyama with Shadow Punch!”

 

“Hurry, Hariyama, use Role Play on Hethna!”

 

Orange light radiated from Tanya’s feet, indicative of the energy that soon surged through the ground and exploded beneath Arcanine, cracking the earth and pitching the imposing Fire-type onto his side.

 

Amanda could perceive her Pokémon’s injury even without seeing it by the howl of pain he let out. “Arcanine, hold firm...” she whispered.

 

Meanwhile, Hariyama extended one of his arms in Hethna’s direction and briefly became enveloped in a Golurk-shaped shadow. The real Golurk struck Hariyama cleanly in the stomach with a blast of shadow shaped like a clenched fist that came from its own arm.

 

“Hm,” Matt grunted, calculating exactly what Amanda was planning. As soon as he realized what she had just done, his mind and heart began to race. “Hurry, both of you!” he called out, gesturing wildly all the while. “Stop Hariyama with Flash Cannon and Shadow Punch!”

 

“Big brother, don’t underestimate me for even a moment!” Amanda shouted while tightening her grip on her walking stick. “Arcanine, strike Hethna with Flare Blitz! Hariyama, take Tanya head-on with DynamicPunch!”

 

All four Pokémon made their moves nearly simultaneously as chaos broke out on the battlefield. Amanda’s Arcanine was the first to land a blow, roaring through the clash in a veil of fire to collide with Hethna, knocking the Golurk onto its back and inadvertently dissipating its Shadow Punch.

 

While Arcanine collapsed onto Hethna, Tanya managed to take aim at Hariyama and launch a wide beam of bright, shining silver light. Hariyama was undeterred by any possible danger this presented, however, and simply charged right into it with his right arm pulled back. Slowly but surely, he pushed through the continuing assault of Tanya’s Flash Cannon, and once she was within his reach, he swung with all his might.

 

The resulting collision of Hariyama’s fist with Tanya’s face caused a loud, echoing metallic sound to ring through the area. Despite her immense weight, Tanya ended up getting flung through the air like a ragdoll, ultimately crashing into and crushing a nearby tree. She slumped down onto the ground and stopped moving.

 

“Heatran is unable to continue battling!” Dominic announced, his voice somewhat drowned out by the excited chatter of the students behind him.

 

“Amanda just tossed aside a Legendary Pokémon like that...” Bunny said in awe. “She really is strong…”

 

“I wonder how she got to be so much more powerful than Matt is,” Nekou scoffed, taking a bite out of the frosted croissant in her hand.

 

“Well, I do think he’s doing a little better than my dad did against her,” Olivia offered in Matt’s defense.

 

“Tanya, return!” As Matt sent Tanya back inside her Dusk Ball and returned the sphere to his bag, Hethna rose back to its feet, its chest covered with a large burn mark. “Amanda, that was… really something. You figured out that Hethna’s ability is Iron Fist?”

 

“I had a hunch. I knew that if I copied Hethna’s ability and it turned out to be Iron Fist, defeating Tanya would be no big deal at all.”

 

“I shouldn’t have put it past you,” he said, smiling. Having come to view Amanda as a true opponent and not just his sister, Matt narrowed his focus off of the spectators and resolved to at least give her a challenge.

 

Before he could throw the Poké Ball he’d selected, Matt found himself overcome by a sudden blast of cold air. His body immediately began to spasm.

 

“Wh...what…”

 

“What’s goi…”

 

Running with only her sight, Helena had already traced the source of the disruption. She pointed into the air and unwittingly interrupted Bunny by yelling, “Up there!”

 

“Shit!” Nekou spat once she saw the blue blur in the sky above Matt. “Get out of there!”

 

As Matt was unable to move due to the cold, Nekou sprinted in and dragged him off to the bleachers, where Bunny and Olivia immediately clustered around him. Dominic, meanwhile, climbed to shield his three children in the stands themselves.

 

Amanda, meanwhile, was lost. Without her ability to see what was going on, she was completely in the dark, as all she could hear was the increasingly loud confusion of her students. “Big brother!” she called out, “what’s going on? Earl?!”

 

“Amanda, shield yourself!” was all Earl could shout back.

 

The blur had since stopped spinning, revealing itself as a hexagonal snowflake Pokémon with a body of reflective blue ice. Two glowing eyes peered out from inside its body, and chains of ice crystals hung from its mouth.

 

“Cryo-gonal!” it cried in a voice that sounded as if it were electronically distorted. Setting its eyes on Amanda, the Cryogonal took a deep breath and expelled another gust of icy air. However, Arcanine, Hariyama and Hethna all jumped into action, leaping between Amanda and Cryogonal to protect her from the Frost Breath attack.

 

Once she appeared safe, Earl hurried to Amanda’s side. The students in the stands by this point had all seen Cryogonal and were rapidly becoming more and more unsettled.

 

“What…?” Matt groaned as he gradually came to. “Where’d that cold air come from?”

 

“That Cryogonal,” Olivia pointed out, breaking from the circle surrounding Matt so she could point to the floating Ice-type Pokémon. “It looks different than the one we saw before, though…”

 

“What’s a wild Cryogonal doing here?” Monroe asked Avril, before signing the same question to Helena.

 

“I don’t think that’s a wild Cryogonal,” Avril replied almost immediately, pointing off in the direction where the Cryogonal had seemingly come from.

 

Having breached the fence on the edge of the school’s property, the crowd of protesters who had been picketing Violet Gym earlier in the day advanced toward the battlefield. Leading them was a stout, elderly man wrapped in a thick purple coat whose heavy boots left deep footprints behind in the ground. At his side walked a Jynx and a Weavile, and Cryogonal soon joined them.

 

“Zinzolin…” Nekou quietly seethed, her voice not rising above a whisper.

 

“H-huh?” Matt’s shivering was slowly subsiding, but he was still far from well.

 

“He’s another of Ghetsis’s goons.” Standing, Nekou stared at Zinzolin and angrily added, “These fucking guys keep coming, and they’re clearly involved with Polaris...”

 

Zinzolin stopped his advance once he was nearly on the battlefield and turned around. In his thickly-gloved hand, he had a megaphone that he raised to his mouth. “Halt!”

 

The somewhat-civil mob of protesters following him heeded his order and stopped as well. They continued making a significant amount of noise with their attempts to shout over each other, but they remained more or less in line.

 

“Before you stands a symbol of the system that has so corrupted our way of life,” Zinzolin explained to the protesters through his megaphone. “Earl’s Pokémon Academy… it is merely a factory to which we supply the raw materials of our children and they are manufactured into the next generation of believers in the ideal of becoming Pokémon masters! Consider how many of them fall by the wayside, forever struggling in the wilderness if they’re even lucky enough to survive... that a place like this would even exist to introduce our children into such a system is preposterous!”

 

While he was not quite as eloquent as Ghetsis, Zinzolin more than held his own as a speaker. His words held the attention of the protesters, whose internal discussion grew in volume as Zinzolin turned slowly to face Matt and the others.

 

“And look who is pushing these ideas into innocent young minds… two people who have so little regard for the divine grace of life that they have fouled their bodies using modifications of modern technology. Indeed, Matt and Amanda Chiaki have straddled the boundary of life and death!”

 

“Silence yourself!” At long last, Amanda shot something back at Zinzolin. Even though she wasn’t directing her blank eyes directly at him, she clearly had a basic idea of where he was standing. “What you say is false! Because big brother and I have suffered and used what we could to recover does not make us bad people. Ask any of my students, who until you ruined it were having quite a pleasurable class today!”

 

“I see you have some fighting spirit in you. How curious. But, what good would asking any of your students accomplish? Their minds are already poisoned by your lies.”

 

“We will battle, then…” Amanda growled at the strangely-clothed old man, “…and when I defeat you, you will leave.”

 

“Don’t count your Torchic before they hatch, girl.” Zinzolin had begun plucking more of his Poké Balls from the black bands wrapping around his coat. “I am not the right hand of Polaris’s spokesman for nothing!”

 

With that, Zinzolin threw the three remaining Poké Balls. One of them was a blue-and-red Great Ball, which released a Glalie. The two others were regular Poké Balls, one containing an Empoleon and the other letting out a Pokémon that looked like a bigger Vanillite.

 

“He has Vanillish, Miss Chiaki!” Monroe called to Amanda. “Vanillite’s evolved form!”

 

“Those Torchic aren’t just already hatched,” Amanda sternly reproached her adversary, “they hatched, matured and laid eggs of their own. Take this!”

 

Amanda called forth her remaining four Pokémon to join Hariyama and Arcanine. A Snorlax appeared, as did a Gothitelle, who was a feminine, humanoid creature who appeared to be wearing a black dress with many conical sections and white bows. She also possessed a Pokémon very similar to Vanillite and Vanillish but with two heads, with a straw-like protrusion coming from one. Her final Pokémon was her Zoroark, who was a fox Pokémon with a lean black body and a thick black-and-red mane.

 

“We of Polaris stand for the people,” Zinzolin declared. “Bring your worst!”

 

“Gladly! I’ll make you regret asking for it! Zoroark, use Flamethrower, and Arcanine, use Wild Charge!”

 

“Cryogonal, bring in Hail! Glalie, follow with Blizzard!”

 

Amanda’s Arcanine shrouded himself in sparking yellow electricity and forcefully tackled Empoleon, who made no effort to dodge. This was to buy time for Cryogonal, who was flying overhead, to cry out to the sky. That cry caused dark clouds to gather, which in turn soon gave rise to a steady hailstorm.

 

These conditions made it ideal for Glalie’s move, as the hailstorm gave greater range to his icy blast. Zoroark dropped her budding Flamethrower and instead formed a shield of glowing hexagons of light in front of herself. Despite this, Amanda’s other Pokémon still were subject to the harsh attack, but they all weathered it well, at least on an immediately apparent level.

 

Meanwhile, Nekou, Bunny and Olivia clustered even more tightly around Matt, who was shivering and beginning to lapse out of consciousness from the persistent cold.

 

“Don’t you black out on me!” Nekou yelled at him. “You can’t just let a little fucking cold stop you!”

 

“Zoroark, stay over by big brother and use Protect to keep him from getting colder,” Amanda said, having heard Nekou’s shouting. Zoroark immediately followed this direction, freeing up Amanda’s attention so she could once again focus on the battle. “Snorlax, Heavy Slam! Vanilluxe, Signal Beam!”

 

“Don’t get overconfident! Jynx, use Sweet Kiss!”

 

A glowing light in the shape of a pair of lips emerged from Jynx’s face and washed over Amanda’s Snorlax as he stood, leaving him wobbling in confusion. He overcame it, though, and managed to leap high into the air. Alongside him, Amanda’s ice cream-like Vanilluxe gathered energy at the tip of her straw and fired a rainbow-colored beam from it.

 

Seeing these two attacks barreling toward his Pokémon, Zinzolin hastily ordered, “Weavile and Empoleon, block those with Blizzard and Drill Peck!”

 

Weavile opened her mouth and exhaled an icy gale right into the Signal Beam heading her way, while Empoleon leapt into the air while spinning rapidly, hoping to deflect Snorlax away from Jynx. Neither counter worked, however, and both Weavile and Empoleon were struck down. Snorlax then landed squarely on Jynx, crushing her under his immense weight. His weight, combined with the fact that Heavy Slam was a Steel-type move and thus super-effective on the partially Ice-type Jynx, left her completely unconscious when Snorlax rolled over off of her.

 

Zinzolin grunted, then recalled Jynx while Amanda called Snorlax back herself. “Well played, curious trainer. But, this is not yet over. It’s about time I showed you the true power Polar…”

 

“Gothitelle, attack Empoleon with Thunderbolt!” Amanda called out, interrupting Zinzolin’s attempt at a lecture.

 

“Goth-ii!” Gothitelle shrilled in her deep, womanly voice. Lightning shot out from her body and arced through the air, ultimately making contact with and electrocuting Empoleon. Due to the accidental damage Empoleon had suffered during his attempt at stopping Snorlax, he couldn’t weather Thunderbolt, and he collapsed.

 

“You were saying?” Amanda taunted a moment later.

 

“You will not stand in the way of progress, abomination!” fumed Zinzolin as he recalled a Pokémon for the second time in less than a minute. “It’s time I opened up another front in this battle,” he stated, turning his head to Amanda herself. “Cryogonal, Flash Cannon. Weavile, Glalie, use Blizzard. Vanillish, Ice Beam. All of you, target that monster brainwashing these children!”

 

Amanda immediately gasped in horror; this was what it took to finally cause her to panic. “You won’t hurt my students!!” she screamed, apparently misunderstanding Zinzolin’s intentions and not realizing that he was targeting her. “Arcanine, Hariyama, Gothitelle, Vanilluxe, stop them!”

 

Amanda’s Pokémon, however, were too slow to respond. Zinzolin’s four remaining Pokémon all powered up and released their attacks simultaneously in the blink of an eye.

 

Seeing the combined strength of two Blizzards, a Flash Cannon and an Ice Beam going towards their teacher, some of the students began fleeing while screaming in fear, while others froze up and didn’t know what to do. Dominic pulled Avril, Helena and Monroe close, intending to shield them himself if he had to.

 

Thankfully, it never came to that. Hethna lurched in between Amanda and Zinzolin’s assault, taking all the power infused in the four attacks itself. Hethna couldn’t stand up any longer after taking so many powerful hits at once, and wobbled back and forth briefly before falling forward, its front completely covered in ice.

 

Amanda’s Pokémon charged forward at their enemies, who were now left wide open. Hariyama attacked first by sending a barrage of jagged stones at Weavile. He then played a second use when Arcanine leaped off his head to gain the altitude necessary to hit Cryogonal with the blazing body slam of Flare Blitz. Glalie ended up the target of both Gothitelle and Vanilluxe, who double-teamed him using Psyshock and a red, pulsing Hyper Beam.

 

“H-How dare you!” Zinzolin sputtered in indignation, having to recall his fainted Glalie, Weavile and Cryogonal all at once. “I will defeat you! I still have Vanillish!”

 

“It’s over now. Zoroark!”

 

All too suddenly, Zinzolin realized the critical error he’d made – he had written off Zoroark for participation in the battle even though she was standing on the sidelines, ready to go at a moment’s notice. He could only watch as Zoroark landed right in front of Vanillish and hit him with a point-blank Flamethrower, rendering him fainted as well.

 

“I…I…” For a brief moment, Zinzolin had visibly lost his nerve. His hands were shaking, and he bent over as if he were about to fall. He quickly recovered his composure, though, and took a deep breath before recalling Vanillish. “I have failed, and Lord Ghetsis will not be pleased with me. But do not let it be said that I am not a man of my word.”

 

Turning back to the now-stunned protesters, Zinzolin once again raised his megaphone to his mouth.

 

“Today’s protest is now concluded. Please, return to your homes and your ordinary lives. Polaris will speak to you again soon.”

 

The protesters briefly became paralyzed by a collective sense of confusion as they attempted to understand what had just happened. “What about Falkner?” a man in the crowd called out.

 

“It may be true that we have not yet obtained a statement from a Gym Leader addressing our concerns,” Zinzolin replied, “but we have effectively put our ideals upon a national stage. Be proud of what you accomplished today.”

 

With their concerns largely soothed by Zinzolin’s explanation, the protesters slowly dispersed, heading back into the city one by one.

 

Coming around to a sense of satisfaction with his work, Zinzolin started to leave as well. He was forced to stop, however, when he felt a hand grasping the back of his head.

 

“You’re not going anywhere,” Nekou whispered to the old sage, digging her fingernails into his scalp ever so slightly. “At least, not until you tell me what’s going on.”

 

“What makes you think I’d ever tell one of you people anything?” Zinzolin didn’t even seem slightly afraid. In fact, he looked relaxed. “You people are just common criminals with no larger sense of purpose beyond personal gain. We stand for justice in society.”

 

“We have ways of making life very painful for you if you don’t give us the intel we want. Oh, and don’t lecture me about taking things for personal gain. The way I live is none of your fucking business.” Tightening her grip on his head, she sneered, “Now talk.”

 

“Hah! The suffering that comes through life is what makes me feel alive in the first place. There’s nothing one of you street thugs could do that would make me talk. I’d lay down my life in the service of Lord Ghetsis before I would ever help one of you.”

 

“Have it your way.”

 

“I know you haven’t got it in you to voluntarily kill me,” he said, even while feeling Nekou scratching his head even further, “so let me go now and let’s end this farce.”

 

“Nekou, just let him go. He’s useless to us anyway.”

 

Matt had approached Nekou without notice, and she struggled with what he said. Finally, she accepted that he was right about Zinzolin’s uselessness and released the elderly Polaris member from her grasp.

 

“I don’t know if you’re one of them too or not,” Zinzolin stated without turning around, “but in our eyes, you are all the same. You best prepare yourself, because this idyllic world you live in will soon be turned inside out.”

 

While Zinzolin walked off, rubbing the back of his head in an attempt to alleviate the pain caused by Nekou’s attack, Nekou herself immediately shot her attention to Matt.

 

“Why’d you make me release him?! He could have given us valuable intelligence!”

 

“There’s an even better source of potential information compared to an old man in a winter coat, and it’s right under our noses.” Matt nodded as he spoke. “Let’s make sure all of the students and everyone else are okay, then we’ll go to the Academy’s library.”

 

-:-

 

Several hours later, the sun had almost completely set over Johto, leaving Violet City covered by the soft glow of early moonlight and street lamps.

 

A path on the northern end of the city, consisting of two bridges over a lake, led to a tall pagoda surrounded by trees. Olivia and Avril, who were approaching the structure, stopped on the small island halfway down the path to observe it from the light of the lanterns dotting the road.

 

“So this is the Sprout Tower?” Olivia asked out loud. “It looks nice, but why bring me here exactly?”

 

“I shouldn’t have expected a kid like you to know,” Avril scoffed. “They won’t let you challenge the Violet Gym in the first place unless you get approval from the Elder here.”

 

“And I suppose that’s why you’re here, because you already got permission?” Olivia’s sarcastic taunt was said with full realization that Avril actually hadn’t done so either.

 

Briefly at a loss for words, Avril hissed back, “I’m more than you’ll ever be, wait and watch. Have your laughs while you can.”

 

“Oh, whatever. Let’s go.”

 

Without speaking another word to each other, Olivia and Avril walked the rest of the way to the tower and entered, finding themselves inside an aged chamber constructed nearly entirely of wood. Statues of the Pokémon Bellsprout dotted the room, and a thick, swaying pillar stood at the center, piercing the ceiling to reach into the upper floors.

 

“Greetings,” a bald-headed monk wearing a black robe said to the two young women as they entered the pagoda. “Welcome to Sprout Tower. Please state your purpose.”

 

“I want permission to battle Falkner!” Avril demanded.

 

“Hey, me too!” Olivia added.

“Very well. If you wish to earn our Elder’s permission to battle Falkner, you must reach him on the third floor of our temple. Each of you, take one of the flights of stairs in the back of this chamber. On the above floor you will find a series of chambers where the monks here will test your worthiness for an audience with the Elder. May the gentle luck of the Bellsprout be with you both.”

 

“I’m going to get up there and win before you even come close,” Avril boasted, putting her hands on her hips.

 

“As if! I’ll leave you in the dust!”

 

“You’re on, washboard!”

 

-:-

 

The many large wooden bookshelves in the school’s library made the room rather cramped and difficult to move around in. Bunny and Amanda were sitting together at a table on the far side of the library near a window; they weren’t alone for long, as Matt soon returned carrying a thick, heavy book that he dropped on the wooden surface.

 

“This is the book you mentioned, Amanda,” Matt said as he sat down. “The one with information on Reshiram in it.”

 

“Yes, big brother. If you’re looking for that Pokémon, there should be a hint in that book, based on what Earl’s told me.”

 

“I thought Amanda couldn’t walk,” Bunny questioned Matt. “Did something change? What did that old man from Polaris mean about ‘modifying your bodies’ and ‘straddling the boundary of life and death?’”

 

“Well, you see…” Taking a deep breath, Matt looked down at the table. His thoughts were difficult to process into words. “Like how my body was repaired with machinery to restore my mobility, Amanda has a pair of artificial legs now, so she doesn’t need her wheelchair anymore. My hope is to one day make a workable cybernetic eye so her sight can also be restored.”

 

“I don’t think those Polaris people like it when humans modify themselves with machines,” Amanda observed.

 

“No, it’s more than that. Bunny, do you remember what they said in Whitegold City? I don’t think it’s just humans… they oppose the blending of machinery and DNA, period. It’s all organic life.”

 

“That’s right!” Bunny exclaimed. “The object of their worship is DNA itself, then.”

 

“Based on what I recall, that would be correct. Something doesn’t add up, though… why would they be campaigning against the Pokémon League system, then?”

 

“It’s all very frightening…” Amanda listlessly commented.

 

“I agree,” Bunny concurred.

 

“There is only one way to cut through all the mystery surrounding everything, and that’s to find Reshiram.” Opening the oversized volume, Matt quickly flipped through the pages until he found one displaying his target, a majestic, blue-eyed dragon with grand plumage on its white body.

 

“There it is!”

 

Nodding to Bunny in acknowledgment of her exclamation, Matt began reading out loud.

 

“The Vast White Fire of Truth, Reshiram.

 

Legend states that this creature was wielded by a hero centuries ago in Unova. It was once part of a single Pokémon along with Zekrom, and when they were split up, Kyurem was created. But what is the meaning of this? What brought about the splitting of this single Pokémon into three and how can such a thing even be possible? Modern science is unable to provide a certain answer, but theories exist.

 

Research by Professor Lenora Hawes, director of the museum of archeology in Nacrene City, Unova, suggests that Reshiram, like Zekrom, does not have normal biology in terms humans ordinarily consider. Professor Hawes’s hypothesis states that Reshiram’s body is formed from the flames of truth it controls. This amorphous nature grants Reshiram the ability to alter its body structure, which is most well documented when it takes on the dormant form of the Light Stone. However, research on the last known Light Stone led Professor Hawes to a startling hypothesis regarding Reshiram’s origin – it may be impossible to locate Reshiram or the Light Stone in the traditional sense. Instead, Reshiram may be drawn to individuals who seek the truth with their entire being, hence why the essences of Reshiram and Zekrom were removed from the original Pokémon they once collectively were.”

 

“It doesn’t have a fixed location? Is that possible?”

 

“No, no, I won’t accept this!” Matt slammed his fist on the table, not even bothering to pay attention to Bunny’s question. “Reshiram has to be somewhere! I’m no hero, so the idea of finding it by matching the ancient hero’s drive for the truth… I can’t pull that off!”

 

“Matt, think back to what Dante said!” Bunny pleaded, unwilling to simply sit by and watch Matt destroy himself with doubt. “Remember what you told me he said to you back on Route 29? ‘the Light Stone only appears before an individual who has put in overwhelming effort into finding the truth.’ That’s consistent with what it says here. We have to keep searching.”

 

Nekou was watching Matt, Amanda and Bunny verbally spar over the Light Stone and Reshiram from a vantage point that mostly obscured her behind a bookcase. She was waiting for when she felt comfortable that they would not notice what she was doing.

 

Several minutes passed before that feeling finally came. Nekou slid into the narrow aisle defined by the bookcases and removed her glasses, tossing them into a nearby garbage bin with a sharp flick of her wrist. She then took out a new pair that was more rectangular in shape with frames that didn’t cover the tops of the lenses, put them on, and tapped the left-hand stem. This activated a computer built into the glasses, and she used them to scan the shelves.

 

“Where are you…” she uttered to herself. There was one particular book she wanted to find, and all of her attention was focused on locating it. After covering several rows of books, a signal on her computer glasses flashed. “Well, that wasn’t so hard.”

 

Nekou switched off her glasses and pulled the book from its place on the shelf. It was not particularly thick, but she knew that it was nevertheless important despite its size.

 

“A Documentation of Ancient Cultures and Peoples,” she read off the book’s heavy brown cover, “by Sutter Chiaki and Jacob Alexison.”

 

Opening the book, Nekou skimmed the first page, which revealed that the tome was a collection of writings by Sutter and his then-young assistant, Jacob, centered around the study of its titular subjects. After peering around the bookcase again to confirm that Matt, Bunny and Amanda were still discussing Reshiram and thus not paying attention to her, Nekou thumbed through the book, bypassing several sections until she found the material she sought.

 

“September 8, 1952 – Jacob and I have begun what we hope will be our most exciting study yet. We wish to find the holy land of the Tenganist people, which may be key to understanding how our world began, as it is said that the Tenganists of this era are descended from the first humans to live on Earth. Most notably, the people of this culture possess a power, Transcendence, with which they can harness powers similar to those of Pokémon. It is documented that they discovered a way to create an object called the Jewel of Life using the elemental Plates occasionally unearthed by archeologists. If we could discover this secret, we may be able to learn ways to help impoverished areas of the world. This is the purpose of our quest.

 

October 12, 1952 – The original homeland of the Tenganists was near Mt. Coronet in Sinnoh, where our world took shape. However, they fanned out across the world. What we seek is the place where the most direct descendants of those original people now live. This is the holy land of the Tenganists and where the truth must lie. Our search will focus first on places in Sinnoh near Mt. Coronet.

 

December 31, 1952 - We are spending New Years’ in Snowpoint City. Spent Christmas here too. This isn’t the place we’re looking for, although there are plenty of Tenganists here. It’s not Eterna or Oreburgh either.

 

January 4, 1953 - We learned from the shrine maiden guarding Snowpoint Temple that we might be able to learn something in Celestic Town. As soon as this snow ends, we’ll be able to make it there.

 

January 22, 1953 - A breakthrough? The people of Celestic Town seemed to know where what we seek is. We must go south, into the borderlands between Sinnoh and the Tohjo Continent. This may be the last entry for a while.

 

September 5, 1953 – One year into our quest to find the Tenganist holy land, and we’ve had our biggest breakthrough yet! While visiting a Tenganist village in the borderland region, we met a young woman named Saeko Oryo. She is an oracle living in another village, whose Transcendence power is to see the past and future. Our previous research has indicated that the powers of prophecy – actual seeing, not merely premonition – are difficult to achieve by anyone other than the most pure-blooded Tenganists. When we asked her to take us to her home, she agreed. Has our work finally paid off?

 

October 3, 1953 – Here in the snowy wasteland between Sinnoh and the Tohjo Continent, Jacob and I have found the Tenganist holy land! With the help of Saeko Oryo, of course. Without her, we would never have had the big breakthrough we did. This village is literally a time capsule… it’s like time doesn’t even pass here.

 

October 31, 1953 – Neither of us wants to leave. We enjoy the company of Miss Oryo and the other Tenganists far too much, and this village is a lovely place, even if it is cold. –Jacob

 

November 11, 1953 – Something strange is going on. I was spending some time with Saeko and she used her power. I think she saw something unusual in her vision.

 

November 12, 1953 – The other people of the village are acting strangely around Jacob and I, and Saeko seems to have withdrawn. Something is definitely strange.”

 

When her eyes glanced down to the last entry, Nekou’s blood ran cold. It was written in a different style than the others, coming across as panicked and terrified.

 

“December 8, 1953 – It’s a disaster… the village elders decided to exile Jacob and I, and Saeko was sentenced to burn at the stake as a witch. But it’s not that simple. She tried to run. She ran, and in her desperation, she swallowed that little stone they hid away in the village, and now it’s burning and everyone is dead. Should anyone read this in the future, let it be a warning to you. Stay away from that accursed thing… that Jewel of Life…  all it brings is despair! It is cursed! We should never have searched for it in the first place!”

 

Rattled, Nekou closed the book, tucked it under her arm, and quietly headed to leave the library. “This changes things,” she thought to herself. “I have to find out more about what this means...”

 

-:-

 

“Ha! I made it here before you!”

 

“Be quiet, you bottom feeder. I obviously set foot on this floor well before you!”

 

For all of Olivia’s bragging and Avril’s insults, their race was too close to call. Both of them had reached the top floor of Sprout Tower at nearly the exact same time.

 

“I see you have passed the tests posed by my followers.”

 

Olivia and Avril turned themselves in the direction of the ragged voice. It belonged to an old, bald-headed man dressed in purple and gold robes, who was approaching them from his place of meditation in front of a Bellsprout mosaic.

 

“Are you the Elder?” Olivia questioned.

 

“I am. My name is Li, and I welcome you to the Sprout Tower! What have you learned from your training here? I would like the two of you to reflect on that. Since you came here, you must wish to challenge Falkner. I’m the final test before Violet Gym for the two of you. Which one of you will go first?”

 

“I will!” Avril loudly declared, pushing Olivia aside.

 

“You’re clearly very eager. What is your name, girl?”

 

“Avril! And I’m going to be the Champion!”

 

Li smiled under his thick white moustache. “Very well, Avril, I accept your challenge. Go, Bellsprout!”

 

As soon as the Bellsprout emerged from Li’s Poké Ball, Avril took out and threw her own, a variant with a green top. The Nest Ball burst open, revealing a small, dinosaur-like Pokémon with a stout blue body and black fur growing on its neck and head.

 

“That Pokémon is so cute!” Olivia squealed as she scanned the growling creature.

 

“Deino, the Irate Pokémon. Type is Dark/Dragon. Lacking sight, it's unaware of its surroundings, so it bumps into things and eats anything that moves.”

 

“Yeah, none of your Pokémon can measure up to her,” Avril snidely boasted regarding Deino. “Deino, open strong. Use Work Up!”

 

“A wise tactic. I think I shall copy it. Bellsprout, Growth!”

 

-:-

Dr. Zager was working intently on collecting intelligence from RChannel when he heard the door of his laboratory open. Before he knew it, Jessie was towering over him, holding him up by the collar.

 

“Why didn’t you tell us everything?!” she cried out. Zager needed a moment before he noticed a tear in the corner of her eye.

 

“What are you talking about?” Dr. Zager was genuinely naïve of what Jessie was so upset over. He tried to pry her hands off of his collar, but failed.

 

“You didn’t warn us about what the Meteonite could really do,” James explained as he entered alongside Ariana. “Because of that… Polaris brainwashed Meowth into joining them!”

 

“What?!”

 

When Zager started coughing, Ariana ordered, “Jessie, put him down now or I’ll have you written up for insubordination.”

 

“Fine.”

 

Jessie didn’t let go of Zager as much as she simply dropped him, and he came close to falling down once he landed. She then fumed back over to rejoin James and Ariana. Meanwhile, Galvantula was hiding under the laboratory table.

 

“Explain what you’re saying,” the doctor demanded.

 

“The Team Plasma members who are in Polaris attacked us and we got into a fight with them. During the battle the Meteonite became destabilized, and when Meowth touched it, it changed him. Ariana came to take Jessie and I to you before things got any worse.”

 

“So help us, Doctor!” Jessie added.

 

“I’m…” It was difficult for Zager to accept what he was being told. Beneath his occasionally gruff demeanor, he did genuinely care about those under his command, so he felt a strong desire to get Meowth back as well. On the other hand, though, he knew far more than Jessie, James or even Ariana just how hard defeating Polaris would be. “I’m afraid I can’t do anything right now but contact the boss for help. Do you have the R-Pad?”

 

“Right here,” Jessie said as she held the computer up.

 

“Then we shall get to the data analysis right away.” Zager narrowed his eyes, and his face became darker. “What could Polaris actually be planning?”

 

-:-

 

Polaris’s Adenosine Base stood in the Johto ocean like a massive iron monolith supported by legs on four small islands. The brisk sea breeze blew over the structure as it sat under the bright moonlight.

 

On one of the four islands, a vast landing area was set up. Several scientists were there, as was Finansielle, the winds blowing the sheer cape running down from her armor to cover the nightgown she wore underneath.

 

Soon, a large, military-grade helicopter came from over the surface of the sea and settled into hovering over the ring of lights on the landing pad. Its pilot carefully guided the craft downward, landing with little fuss.

 

A staircase emerged from the side of the chopper and descended in front of Finansielle and the scientists. The cabin door opened, and a blonde, bespectacled man in a flowing white lab coat stepped out. He walked calmly down the stairs and only stopped once he was face-to-face with Finansielle.

 

“Dr. Colress Antimony, as I live and breathe,” Polaris’s financier greeted him. “Welcome to the Adenosine Base. We shall help you finish your work on Pokémon strength here.”

 

“So you’re Finansielle, then?” Colress asked, twirling his finger through the long curl of blue hair that wrapped around his head. “I’m looking forward to getting to work. The key of the latent potential of Pokémon…”

 

“Did you bring those objects I requested?”

 

“Yes, I did.” Upon Finansielle’s request, Colress held up the briefcase he’d been carrying and opened it, revealing two sharp pins colored in stripes of blue, black and white preserved in orange fluid.

 

Immediately upon seeing them, Finansielle breathed heavily. “The DNA Splicers… finally, after so long, the key to Polaris’s promised world is finally in our possession…”

 

“I’ll be more than happy to help you reach that world, too. My expertise will be necessary to create the perfect DNA that we both seek.”

 

 

 

 

 

END of CHAPTER 7

 

 

Chapter Text

And here it is – Olivia’s first Gym battle, and the end of the first major story arc. I won’t put it off any further with more comments, so let’s just get going…

 

-:-

 

CHAPTER 8: The End of Innocence

 

-:-

 

With their feet loudly banging against the hallway’s metal floor, Finansielle and Colress trekked deep into the Adenosine Base. She led him well into the tower at the center of the complex, and eventually they arrived at their destination, a cavernous laboratory as dark as the hallways outside.

 

As they entered, Finansielle walked over to a vault in the wall and swiftly entered a passcode on the keypad next to it. A gust of cold air drifted out of it as it slowly opened.

 

“Put the DNA Splicers in this freezer,” she instructed. “They’ll be safely preserved until we need them.”

 

“Yes, my lady.” In accordance with Finansielle’s direction, Colress placed his briefcase on the nearby desk and opened it. He took great care, deftly grasping each of the fluid-filled cylinders containing a DNA Splicer with his gloved hands as he moved them into the freezer.

 

Once the DNA Splicers were safely stored away, Finansielle sealed up the cold vault again, then slowly walked to a wide bank of computers sitting in the middle of the lab. “Have a look at this, Dr. Antimony,” she said, typing with one hand.

 

In response to the command Finansielle entered, a holographic projection of several computer windows materialized. Colress’s eyes widened and his mouth contorted into a grin when he saw what they contained.

 

Lines upon lines of complex genetic codes filled the windows, along with diagrams of how the codes would fit into an already-existing molecular structure.

 

“Is this it?” he excitedly exclaimed. “Could this be… the key to the ultimate DNA? The one that will make the truth about Pokémon strength reveal itself?”

 

“I see you like this,” Finansielle coolly observed. “This is the incomplete DNA structure for a new strain of Pokérus our scientists are working on. We have a large part of it finished, but we just can’t get the last part right, and as a result, we can’t get it to function.”

 

“And you want me to fill in those gaps?”

 

“Exactly. You’ll find all the relevant data on the project in the computer’s databank, so please read it before getting started. I am giving you this facility and its staff and resources to have at your full disposal.”

 

“You will not be disappointed, Lady Finansielle,” Colress promised with a grand bow. “I can have the work of completing this virus’s genetic sequence in no time.”

 

-:-

 

“Begin the data retrieval!”

 

In his decrepit lab, far from Colress’s modern research facility, Dr. Zager initiated the extraction of the data stolen from Mr. Pokémon’s servers out of the R-Pad. Jessie, James and Ariana stood alongside him, watching as his computer screen filled with the information.

 

“Excellent!” he exclaimed, putting his hands on his hips. “The data is flowing nicely.”

 

“What exactly are we looking for, Gabriel?” Ariana sighed. “Not all of us are science whizzes like you.”

 

“We’re looking for something that’ll get us Meowth back,” James coldly interrupted before Zager could answer. “That is what you’re going to say, right?”

 

“Team Rocket has a lot of priorities,” the doctor offered as a feeble reply, though once he saw the death glares Jessie and James were shooting him, he hurried to correct himself by saying, “but one of those certainly is getting Meowth back, no doubt. What we want to find is something that can counteract the effect the Meteonite had on Meowth. Computer, is there anything of the sort in there? Anything that can counteract the Meteonite’s effect?”

 

“Comparison of the data from the R-Pad and existing data on the server indicates one possible solution,” the computer’s female voice answered. “The super-electrical energy of the Chargestone Cave rocks has a signature opposite that of the Meteonite. The two forces should cancel each other out.”

 

“Now that is most excellent!”

 

“What’s got you so excited?” Jessie asked Zager, as she was confused over his sudden outburst.

 

“I just happen to have some Chargestones left over in storage from the mission in Unova. I can quickly construct a weapon that will get both Meowth and that Meteonite piece back.”

 

“Then get on it,” Ariana ordered. “Giovanni wants this done as soon as we can.”

 

-:-

 

Matt yawned and slowly roused from his slumber. After everything that had happened the previous day, a good night’s sleep was very refreshing to him.

 

Barely awake, he reached toward the table to his left, trying to collect his glasses so he could use the mask attached to them to replace his eyepatch. He got a sudden chill and froze up, though, when he felt like someone was watching him.

 

“Look at me.”

 

Turning his head to the right, he jumped when he discovered Nekou lying on the bed next to him, close enough that he could see her fairly clearly without his glasses. She seemed to have no concern about doing this, instead treating it as perfectly normal as she ran her fingers over his face.

 

“W-what are you doing?!” Matt choked, utterly terrified at this bizarre situation.

 

Ignoring his question, Nekou said to him, “Remember what you promised me? You’re going to tell Olivia about what happened to Rich after she wins her Badge today.”

 

“I-I remember,” he nervously confirmed. “Now can you get out of my face?”

 

“Just make sure you keep your promise,” she insisted, moving to within an inch of his face instead of moving away. “That would make me happy. And trust me, you want me happy.”

 

-:-

 

Over the next ten minutes, Matt hastily pulled himself together, with Nekou asking him sarcastic questions the whole time.

 

When the two of them came out of the room and entered the Pokémon Center’s lobby, Olivia and Bunny were already there. They had been spending their time discussing the upcoming Gym battle, but immediately took notice when their two missing companions finally joined them.

 

“You’re late,” Bunny said while running a hand through her hair. “What were you doing?”

 

“Yeah, Matt, why don’t you tell her what we were doing?” Nekou’s teasing came with half-closed eyes and a catlike grin.

 

“Were you two doing things together?”

 

Olivia’s question, as sweetly and innocently as she’d asked it, made Matt freeze. Between Nekou’s ribbing, the fact that he was still hurriedly adjusting his rumpled coat and shirt, and the sight that both he and Nekou had come out of the room at the same time, he realized exactly what the implications suggested.

 

“No! Nothing of the sort!” The exaggerated way Matt’s face contorted during his denial made both Olivia and Nekou break down laughing, and Bunny even chuckled a bit.

 

“Relax, we’re just teasing you.”

 

Somehow, Nekou saying this didn’t make Matt feel any better at all. He simply sighed and shrugged.

 

Olivia, on the other hand, was persistent. “I want to get to the Gym right away! If that Avril gets there before me, we’ll be held up!”

 

“We have to eat, though…”

 

Intervening between Olivia and Matt, Bunny suggested as a solution, “Compromise. What about we grab some food but take it to go, and head right to the Gym with it?”

 

“I’ll go for that if Matt’s up for it,” Olivia consented.

 

“Nothing wrong with that to me. Let’s do it.”

 

-:-

 

With the sunlight dwindling behind them, the Polaris team led by Mercury and Séduire delved into the Ruins of Alph. Cold stone walls covered in ancient runes framed the path taken by the two women, who were accompanied by Mercury’s four followers and the still-brainwashed Meowth.

 

“Any readings yet?” Mercury called over her shoulder.

 

One of the four men, who was holding a tablet computer connected to his backpack via a thick cable, responded, “Only very faint traces of Meteonite resonance are coming up right now, Mercury. We’ve got to go deeper.”

 

“Alright, forward we go.”

 

“You know the stories they tell about this place, right?” Séduire mused. “They say that sometimes the Unown get angry and take people visiting the Ruins away. Some of them wake up in random places in the Tohjo Continent. They never find others.”

 

“I think you might be starting to crack from observing RChannel,” responded Mercury. “Isn’t that just an urban legend?”

 

“Just imagine if it’s true, though. The Unown were powerful enough already, but then a meteor with special powers crashes in the Ruins from space? There’s a reason why they closed the Ruins to the public after the impact, a reason that has nothing to do with us.”

 

“Now!”

 

“What was that?” Séduire looked around, unnerved by the fleeting, high-pitched voice she heard ring in her ears.

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“Uno!”

 

“Mercury, tell me you heard that!” The second hint of the mysterious voice left Séduire shaking.

 

“I heard it this time,” Mercury responded, raising her hand in a prompt to her men to stop walking. “See anything?”

 

“There!” Séduire exclaimed, pointing forward into the murky depths of the corridor.

 

At that point, a black creature shaped like a circle with a wide, white eye at the center floated out from the darkness to confront them, followed shortly by several more of its kind. Each one had a different shape, with the circular eye being the only trait they all shared. Floating around each other like a cloud, the Pokémon chirped loudly at the ones invading their home.

 

“The Unown…” Mercury observed before thrusting her right arm forward. “Meowth, you’re like them, tainted by the Meteonite’s power. Get them out of our way!”

 

Moving with labored, heavy steps, Meowth dragged himself before the angry cluster of Unown and said in a flat voice, “We aren’t trying to hurt you. We want only to find the rock that crashed into this place and drove you all up the wall. We’re trying to save you.”

 

The Unown slowed their movements somewhat, as if considering what Meowth had said to them. After chattering amongst themselves for some time, they all turned to the Polaris team at once, and an Unown shaped like the letter ‘L’ floated down.

 

“Nown, uno. Unown now.”

 

“Yes, let us go past and into the Ruins. We are not your enemy.”

 

“Nown nown!”

 

Having become convinced by Meowth’s explanation of Polaris’s motives, the Unown withdrew and faded away. The brainwashed cat Pokémon then returned to the ones controlling him.

 

“They say that we can go in,” he revealed to Mercury and Séduire. “They trust us inside the Ruins.”

 

“Good. That’ll make our job easier.”

 

Mercury signaled her followers again, and the team advanced further into the Ruins of Alph.

 

-:-

 

Positioned neatly on the edge of the lake and flanked by four finely-trimmed trees, Violet Gym stood as a reflection of the traditional culture the city still clung to. The earthy-colored, dome-shaped building loomed above everything but the Sprout Tower, yet blended into the central area of Violet City nearly seamlessly.

 

Matt, Nekou, Bunny and Olivia were walking up the stone road toward the Gym when they spotted Dominic, Avril, Helena and Monroe already standing outside.

 

“Hey, Mr. Chiaki!” called the businessman, waving to them as they approached.

 

“Oh, it’s Dominic,” Bunny pointed out to Matt, even though he had already heard and saw the second group of four. After speaking, she took a handful of cereal from the travel container she’d picked up at the Pokémon Center earlier.

 

“So you decided to show up,” Avril taunted Olivia once the two groups came together. “Are you ready to see what a real challenge is like?”

 

“I’d be tempted to ask you the same question,” Olivia shot back, “considering you’re the one who’s going to have trouble here.”

 

“You tell her, Olivia. Stick up for yourself.”

 

Matt briefly grimaced when he considered how early Olivia and Nekou were getting started for the day, but he quickly realized that they were actually right in the situation. Shaking his head, he took a bite of his bagel, which had an egg and a slice of cheese on it.

 

“Oh, whatever. You’ll see when I get the Badge and you don’t.”

 

“Avril, that’s enough,” Dominic sternly interrupted. “Stop being rude to her.”

 

“Yes, sister,” Helena added after a short pause while Monroe signed the conversation to her. “You should aim to strengthen yourself to honor your peers, not to shame them. If rivals cannot be friends with each other at the end of the day, what is the point of it all? That’s what I think.”

 

Feeling a spike of anger directed at her older sister, raised a finger to Helena and opened her mouth as if to say something, but she abruptly gave up. Deciding to keep her attention on Olivia instead, she said, “I’m not wasting any more time. Let’s go.”

 

“You’re on! When I have that Zephyr Badge, I’m sticking it in your face instead of Matt’s first!”

 

Olivia and Avril ran for the Gym’s door together, their minds consumed by their shared spirit of competition. Avril’s siblings and the older members of the group were left to catch up.

 

“Watching them makes me feel old,” Matt mused to Nekou and Bunny as they approached the Gym’s entrance. “They’ve got everything in front of them still… I wish I had that chance when I was their age.”

 

Intrigued by what that comment could mean, Nekou wanted to ask Matt about it, but as they had already entered the Gym by then, she didn’t get the chance.

 

The inside of the Violet Gym was a vast space resembling the interior of a wooden clock tower. A clockwork elevator waited right inside, allowing a means of access to the upper level, where the battles would take place. Waiting in front of the lift was a brown-haired boy wearing a blue suit and thick, gray falconer’s gloves.

 

“Welcome to the Violet City Gym!” the young man recited, smiling broadly at the collection of visitors. “You’re the challengers, right? Avril and Olivia?”

“You bet!” Olivia confirmed.

 

“Let us through to see Falkner!” demanded Avril, showing far more directness in her attitude than Olivia did. “Or, just let me through. I don’t care about her.”

 

“Aw, what’s the matter?” Olivia teased. “Don’t want me to see you lose?”

 

“If anyone’s losing, it’s you! You could learn something from watching me!”

 

While Olivia and Avril continued their bickering with the others as a kind of captive audience, they failed to notice the gatekeeper of the Gym taking action. He rang the bell hanging from the nearby wall twice, and mere moments later, the elevator began to descend, carrying a second man as its passenger.

 

Bunny was the first to spot him, when she briefly moved her gaze off the still-arguing Avril and Olivia. After giving him a quick look-over as he stepped off the platform, she uttered, “You must be…”

 

“Falkner, the Gym Leader!” Dominic finished.

 

“So the man really exists,” Nekou sarcastically said. “I almost thought you were a myth after you didn’t show up for that protest yesterday.”

 

Ineffectively brushing aside his blue bangs from his face, Falkner sighed and answered, “Don’t think I didn’t notice them. I inherited this Gym from my father, but… as the Gym Leader, I am responsible for listening to the opinions of the people of my city. Polaris’s stunt yesterday made me begin thinking, and I decided I have to train to get stronger. That’s so I can be a better role model for the young people such as those in your sister’s class,” Falkner turned his head, “Matt Chiaki. Amanda’s become a good friend of mine since she came here to teach.”

 

“It makes me happy to know that she’s reaching out and connecting with others in such a way,” Matt admitted, casting a glance downward at the floor. “She’s grown up from the days when I had to shelter her from everything.” Looking back to Falkner, he then asked, “What do you mean about getting stronger, though? What will you do?”

 

“I am going to temporarily resign my post as Gym Leader and go on a journey to train, much as my father did before me.”

 

“Does that mean I can’t get my Zephyr Badge?!” Olivia shrilled, pouting intensely.

 

“Forget her, I’m the one who needs the Zephyr Badge!” Avril exclaimed in an attempt to one-up Olivia again.

 

“Now, now, there’s no need for you two to get so worked up,” Falkner said with a smile. “I’m not going to leave until I’ve battled both of you, so you each get one shot at beating me. So which of you will be going first?”

 

“Me!” both Olivia and Avril blurted out at the same time.

 

The two young women shot each other angry looks, while the others looked on and allowed the issue to play itself out. Much to their surprise, however, Avril took a step back only a few seconds later.

 

“Actually, let her go first,” she dismissively said, referring to Olivia. “I’ll watch how you battle her and then I’ll know all of your secrets.”

 

“Gee, aren’t you generous?” Olivia remarked, shrugging her shoulders.

 

“Avril, thank you for resolving that yourself,” sighed Dominic.

 

“Olivia, you do your best out there, okay?”

 

“I will!” Olivia smiled widely after hearing Bunny’s words of encouragement.

 

“Alright, so how about we get started?” Falkner suggested. “Olivia, you follow me on the main elevator. Everyone else, take those stairs to my right. They’ll get you up to the spectator area.”

 

-:-

 

Giovanni was sitting in his chair in his office, scratching Persian’s head and observing the urban wasteland Viridian City had become through the grand bay window. As a native of the area and a longtime resident, he no longer recognized the once-verdant city. Viridian’s urbanization, much like that of Cherrygrove City in Johto, had come on after an increase in public demand for goods and services related to Pokémon training and battling following the announcement of the Frontier Society. The Angel Corporation, headquartered not far from Giovanni’s residence, had responded to this need by funding the development of resources related to these necessities, in turn leading to the overdevelopment of many areas as they transformed into hubs of industry.

 

While he did not dislike big cities, Giovanni found himself bothered by what Viridian had become. Even in his status as the head of Team Rocket, his hometown and the surrounding areas retained a soft spot in his heart, so Gabriella’s eager efforts to transform the city were something he could not abide, even if she meant well.

 

He felt his anger starting to rise due to his thoughts on the matter, and he subconsciously began squeezing the whiskey glass in his hand. Just before he could repeat his bad habit of smashing them, though, he was interrupted by the sound of his office door creaking open. Persian meowed, and Giovanni turned his chair around, discovering Stacia walking slowly toward his desk.

 

“Mister Giovanni, sir…” Upon reaching Giovanni’s desk, Stacia nervously handed him the black file emblazoned with the Team Rocket logo she had been holding in her arms. He opened the folder immediately to apprise its contents, and Stacia continued speaking. “This is intelligence we received from our undercover operative who has infiltrated Polaris.”

 

“I see,” Giovanni answered. “So Goldenrod City is one of their major targets.”

 

“Yes, it would appear so. I can draft potential responses.”

 

“Do that immediately. I want to have courses of action on my desk in under twenty-four hours.”

 

“Yes, sir.” Stacia bowed, then turned around and went to leave.

 

-:-

 

Olivia and Falkner stood facing each other from opposite ends of the Violet Gym’s elevated battlefield, a wooden construct with two large gaps in its floor. Matt, Nekou, Bunny, Dominic, Helena, Monroe and Avril all were crowded into a small spectator area off to the side, and overhead, a vast dome allowed a clear view of the blue sky.

 

Holding the lapel of his sky-blue vest, Falkner addressed Olivia, “Young lady, confirm for me how many Badges and Pokémon you’ve brought here today.”

 

“I don’t have any Badges yet, but I do have four Pokémon,” she replied.

 

“I see. Because of League rules, which do not allow me to use more than three Pokémon against a trainer with no Badges, this will be a three-on-three Single Battle. I will not be permitted to switch out, and the winner will be the one who defeats their opponent’s final Pokémon. Are those rules acceptable to you?”

 

“Of course they are! Let’s do this!”

 

“Olivia, go for it!” Bunny called out from the sidelines. “That Badge is in your reach!”

 

“Well, this is unusual,” Matt quietly joked to his companions, “usually you’re the quiet one, Bunny.”

 

“Shut up,” Nekou coldly said. “This is serious time now.”

 

Before returning to the soon-to-begin battle, Matt briefly turned his eyes toward Dominic and his children. All four were watching intently, but Avril showed a particular fire in her eyes, leaning forward and staring at the battlefield while almost seeming not to blink.

 

The young man who previously had guarded the Gym’s entrance stepped up on a platform just off to the side of the battlefield, roughly halfway between the two trainers. “This Violet Gym battle between the Gym Leader, Falkner, and the challenger, Olivia of Sootopolis City, shall now begin! The rules have already been laid out and agreed upon by both parties. The Gym Leader shall be the first to reveal his Pokémon!”

 

“Challenger, I will now show you the power of the magnificent Flying-type Pokémon!” Falkner cried out, tossing off his vest. He was wearing a darker robe underneath, and his Poké Balls were attached to the white sash around his waist. Pulling one off, he threw it and called out, “Taillow, take flight!”

 

Olivia shrank back from the blue-feathered swallow Pokémon, recalling how she’d underestimated the Taillow owned by Harold, the boy on Route 30. “Take this seriously,” she mumbled to herself. “All right, you beat one once, so you can do it again! Lillipup, let’s play!”

 

Upon releasing from Olivia’s Poké Ball and landing on the gritty wooden floor, Lillipup stole a single glance at his opponent and recognized her species immediately. He attempted to sound intimidating by growling and barking at the Taillow, but he succeeded only at making himself look cuter than he already did.

 

“The first round shall be Olivia’s Lillipup versus Falkner’s Taillow! And… begin!”

 

“Taillow, get in close and use Peck,” Falkner calmly directed, wasting no time in taking the first move.

 

“Counter that with Bite, Lillipup!”

 

Taillow’s beak took on a bright glow as she darted toward Lillipup, but he was ready. Baring his teeth, he attempted to clamp onto Taillow’s beak and stop her attack. However, he missed, and instead bit into her wing while she jabbed him with Peck. The two Pokémon tumbled backward before separating, each slightly wounded from their clash.

 

“Not bad, Olivia. Try this… Echoed Voice!”

 

Pulling back to put some distance between herself and Lillipup, Taillow took to the air, rising several feet above the curving battlefield. She inhaled deeply, an action that puffed out her chest, and cried out, producing an earsplitting sound wave.

 

“Lillipup, get away from that! Don’t get hit!” Olivia’s plea was for naught, however, as the sonic wave washed over Lillipup just as he turned to run. He was reduced to a shaking wreck, trembling all over as he slowly turned his eyes back up toward Taillow. “Don’t give up now. I know you’ve got more fight in you! Take Down!”

 

Lillipup built up what resolve he had left and charged toward Taillow, fixating on the Normal-and-Flying-type more and more with every step. Conveniently enough, she happened sink down enough to allow Lillipup to reach her, but right before he struck, Falkner issued another command.

 

“Taillow, Growl.”

 

With literally a scant few inches separating the two Pokémon, Taillow breathed in once more and forcefully voiced her name. Lillipup still collided with Taillow, but she wasn’t terribly shaken by the blow. Her attacker, on the other hand, fell back to the floor and stumbled backward, once again trembling under her gaze.

 

“Lillipup, what’s wrong?” Olivia called out.

 

“You have to think on your feet in the heat of a battle,” Falkner explained, spreading his arms. “I’ve already figured out the range of your abilities in this matchup. When I attacked Lillipup directly, you tried to use my attack to enhance your counter, but when I attacked from a distance, you attempted to escape before making a move in response. That tells me that Lillipup has no long-range techniques, and now that I’ve used Growl to weaken your physical attacking strength, I can strike you with impunity. Taillow, Quick Attack!”

 

Before Olivia could even register what was happening, Taillow had used her speed to tackle Lillipup like a bullet. She then pulled back while Lillipup rolled across the floor, whimpering all the while.

 

“Lillipup is totally overmatched…” Bunny observed, her face completely blank in terms of expression. “Was Olivia not ready for this?”

 

Matt looked from Bunny to Nekou, and then over to Dominic, Avril, Helena and Monroe. Noting that they were all fixated on the battle, he decided against saying anything and continued observing it himself.

 

Seizing on the opening Lillipup’s stunning presented him, Falkner gave another direction to Taillow. “Peck!”

 

“Lillipup, focus! Use Bite when Taillow gets in range!”

 

Much like how it had played out in their first exchange, Taillow approached Lillipup and Lillipup bit down on her wing. The difference this time came in that Peck did not make contact, and as a result, there was no force of impact to drive the two to eventually separate.

 

“Bullseye,” Falkner said to himself. “Taillow, lift off and use Quick Attack to wrap this up!”

 

With Lillipup still hanging on to her wing, Taillow launched herself into the sky. The additional weight presented by her Normal-type passenger did not affect her flight in any way. Reaching a point high into the rafters of the Gym, near the ceiling, Taillow lashed around and rocketed downward in a straight line. She turned only once she had nearly reached the floor, just to slam Lillipup into the floor without crashing herself.

 

This time, after all the beating Lillipup took, he did not rise again.

 

“Lillipup is unable to battle!” the referee announced before the shocked looks of Olivia and the audience. “The winner of this round is Falkner’s Taillow!”

 

“So that’s it, Olivia couldn’t manage to take out Falkner’s Pokémon without losing one of her own first,” Matt muttered into his clasped hands. “I don’t blame her, but…”

 

That wasn’t the same sentiment Olivia held as she stared down at the Poké Ball she recalled her fainted Lillipup to. “Did I not train enough?” she thought to herself. “I won’t underestimate his Pokémon anymore!”

 

Without a single spoken word, Olivia threw another Poké Ball forth, sending out her Minccino. Unlike Lillipup, the more well-trained Minccino did not regard Falkner’s Taillow with fear, instead dropping to all fours and glaring at the Normal-and-Flying-type intently.

 

“Another Normal-type, I see,” Falkner said, standing with his hands on his hips. “Let’s begin the game again. Echoed Voice!”

 

“Minccino, stop it with Swift!”

 

Minccino met Taillow’s earsplitting attack by lashing her tail, sending a wave of star-shaped energy bursts flying in Taillow’s direction. The two met midway between their users, largely diffusing their power. What did get through of each move barely rattled their targets, but Taillow was beginning to breathe heavily, tiring out from having fought Lillipup first. Both Falkner and Olivia picked up on this.

 

“Try not to get caught, Taillow! Use Quick Attack!”

 

Olivia smirked, then yelled out simply, “Tail Slap!”

 

Though she attempted to sidestep Taillow’s dive, Minccino still got grazed by it. While visibly hurt – some of her fur had been sheared off by Taillow’s beak – she held firm and somersaulted forward, catching Taillow with her tail and smashing Falkner’s Pokémon across the floor. Before Taillow could recover, Minccino ran forward and used her tail to deliver a second blow, this one tossing Taillow out of the battlefield and into a nearby pillar, where she slunk to the ground in defeat.

 

“Taillow is unable to battle! The winner of this round is Olivia’s Minccino!”

 

“And you were worried,” Nekou scoffed at Matt. “She’s doing just fine for herself.”

 

“I guess.”

 

Meanwhile, none of the others took notice, but Avril was staring intently at the battle and mumbling to herself.

 

“She took out one. Okay, that’s no big deal. I can still handle this.”

 

“Come on back, Taillow.” Falkner recalled his defeated Pokémon and quickly switched out the Poké Ball for another on his sash. “That was good work turning that around, Olivia. Let’s see how you respond to this test! Mantyke, take flight!”

 

“A Mantyke?” Olivia exclaimed almost instantly upon seeing the small blue manta ray that emerged from Falkner’s Poké Ball. “But that’s a Water…” Olivia managed to catch herself and correct her error, “…a Water-type and a Flying-type. I was expecting a Pidgey, to be honest.”

 

“Always think on your feet, especially in a Pokémon Gym. You never know what surprises your opponent might pull out. Anyway, let’s get started again! Mantyke, Bubble!”

 

“Gladly. Minccino, get going and show them another Tail Slap!”

 

Despite having stubby arms and legs, Minccino was able to spring up at Mantyke as the latter floated in midair. Before Mantyke could respond, Minccino whipped the Water-and-Flying-type four times with her tail. The potential of a fifth strike was blocked by Mantyke finally rousing to action, washing Minccino away with a stream of bubbles.

 

“Aqua Tail!”

 

Minccino turned to the use of her tail once more, this time coating it in water and swinging it through the field of bubbles, creating numerous small, flashy bursts.

 

“That looked like a Contest move,” Monroe said quietly.

 

“That’s because it is one,” Nekou answered. “Simple but effective.”

 

“Impressive, Olivia!” Falkner called out. “Now I want you to try facing this! Wing Attack!”

 

Having barely just landed after dissipating the Bubble field, Minccino could not react quickly enough to escape the dive-bombing Mantyke. She loudly squealed in pain, having been hit in the stomach by Mantyke’s wing, but quickly regained her composure.

 

“Are you going to take that, Minccino? Hit that thing with Tail Slap, now!”

 

Much to the surprise of both Olivia and Minccino, however, Mantyke kept flying forward until she reached one of the openings jutting partially into the battlefield, at which point she dove underneath the wooden floor.

 

“What?” Olivia exclaimed, bringing her hands to the sides of her face.

 

“Mincci…?” Minccino mimicked her.

 

“I inherited this Gym from my father, who taught me everything about the glory of Flying-type Pokémon. It is that claim I have to this Gym and its emblem – the Zephyr Badge – that gives me strength, so of course I would have developed ways to use the potential of my Pokémon here! Mantyke, show her what I mean! Bubble!”

 

“Tyke!” Mantyke cried, popping back up from the opening on the other side of the battlefield. She quickly spit out another stream of bubbles at Minccino, then dove back to her cover underneath the floor.

 

Olivia gritted her teeth and watched in frustrated silence as Minccino tried and failed to outrun the stream of bubbles. Just as her Pokémon fell forward, an idea hit her.

 

“We’re gonna have to get Mantyke out from under there to win this, so use Swift!”

 

Falkner hesitated, though his facial expression indicated that he had at least some feeling that Olivia would use Swift. Mantyke got thrown up from one of the openings in the floor by the star-shaped energy rays that Minccino sent under. She regained control of her flight rather quickly, but cuts were visible all over her body as the stress of the battle accumulated.

 

“Mantyke, wrap this up with Wing Attack!”

 

“Wait until it gets close, then use Tail Slap!”

 

There was no opportunity for Falkner to warn Mantyke off to avoid Minccino’s attack, as she had already gotten very close as part of her own attempt. Minccino sharply turned and smashed her tail into Mantyke, with the speed of the two opposing forces only strengthening the force of the blow.

 

Mantyke fell, and Minccino did not let up. She leapt upward and spun, whipping her stunned target repeatedly. By the time she finished, Mantyke was lying on the ground and twitching.

 

“Mantyke is unable to battle!” the referee declared after a brief moment. “The winner of this round is Olivia’s Minccino!”

 

“Olivia, go for it!” Nekou called out from the stands.

 

“She’s only one away now…” Avril quietly observed, her eyes widening. “I don’t believe it. She might actually win…”

 

Nodding his head in respect, Falkner raised up the Poké Ball and recalled Mantyke to it. “I respect you for coming this far, Olivia. To this point you’ve been passing every test I’ve thrown at you by solving the ways to fight back against my strategies. Now let’s see how you deal with my ace.” Having taken one more Poké Ball off his robe, Falkner continued, explaining, “This Pokémon was descended from my father’s partner. Take a look at the grace and wonder of the Violet Gym’s pedigree in full! Pidgeotto, take flight!”

 

The third and final of Falkner’s Pokémon entered the battle with a fierce display of dominance. Pidgeotto stepped forward from the ball’s burst of light on strong, sharp talons and spread her wings,  as if challenging Minccino to even try fighting her.

 

Olivia could tell, though, that Minccino’s energy was failing; bringing down both Taillow and Mantyke had taken its toll on the Normal-type Pokémon, but despite being noticeably short on breath, she stared back at Pidgeotto’s attempt at intimidation with defiance in her eyes.

 

Inspired by what she saw in her Pokémon, Olivia approached her opponents in the same fashion. “Don’t ever give in!” she ordered. “Tail Slap!”

 

“Mirror Move!” Falkner instantly responded, sweeping his arm through the air.

 

Just as Minccino lunged into the air, Pidgeotto copied the motion using her own tail feathers. While Minccino’s movements were swifter, Pidgeotto was more agile, and thus was able to just barely swerve aside.

 

Having escaped Minccino’s attack attempt, Pidgeotto went on the offensive, lashing the smaller Pokémon with her stiffened tail feathers. Pidgeotto only managed to get in three hits as she followed Minccino downward, but it was more than enough to ensure that Minccino fell in defeat.

 

“Minccino is unable to battle! The winner of this round is Falkner’s Pidgeotto!”

 

“One against one now,” Dominic observed. “It’s certainly getting interesting.”

 

“Too interesting if you ask me,” Matt thought. “This is too close…”

 

“Thanks, Minccino…” Olivia stared at the Poké Ball in her hand for what felt like forever to her. She had hoped to get more out of Minccino before going to her last Pokémon against Pidgeotto, as her last two choices were Roselia and Oshawott. Oshawott wasn’t very ready for a battle, she pondered, but on the other hand, Roselia carried a critical weakness to the Flying-type through her own half-Grass-type.

 

Sighing, Olivia chose to go with what she considered the lesser of two evils, and threw the Poké Ball necessary to release Oshawott. Unlike Minccino, he shrank back in fear from Pidgeotto.

 

Avril scoffed when she noticed Oshawott’s shell still hadn’t grown back. “There’s no way she’s winning this now. That thing doesn’t stand a chance.”

 

While she did not hear what Avril said, Olivia happened to turn her head in the direction of the stands. Seeing Avril watching fired Olivia up again.

 

“Oshawott, don’t get intimidated now! We’ve got to win that Badge for my dad and show Avril a thing or two!”

 

At first upon hearing his trainer’s voice, Oshawott looked around and chattered frantically. However, he quickly regained his composure and, despite his fear, faced Pidgeotto in an attempt to please Olivia.

 

“I see you’re not going to hold anything back,” Falkner asserted, meeting the furious gaze of his challenger. “But answer me one question… what happened to your Oshawott’s shell?”

 

“It got broken when I battled a Gurdurr the other day.”

 

Falkner narrowed his eyes, and the tone of his voice changed. “I see,” he gravely said. “If we’re going to finish this battle, let’s finish it quickly. Pidgeotto!”

 

“Pidge!” the bird Pokémon shrilled, flying near her trainer.

 

“Don’t get freaked out, Oshawott! Use Water Gun, now!”

 

Oshawott swiftly complied, but Pidgeotto used all of her speed to push cleanly through the stream of water he blew at her. He had no chance of stopping the impact of Pidgeotto’s tackle and fell backward when he got hit.

 

“Try Water Gun again!” Olivia commanded through gritted teeth.

 

“Now use Gust, Pidgeotto!”

 

By flapping her wings rapidly, Pidgeotto created a vicious wave of wind that washed over Oshawott, slashing him all over. He cringed under the harsh assault, attempting to shield his head with his stubby arms while the feelings of fear started to return.

 

“It’s time we put an end to this, Pidgeotto,” Falkner said out loud to his Pokémon. “Go use Pluck to finish this up!”

 

Both Olivia and Oshawott were so overwhelmed by Pidgeotto’s relentless attacking that they froze up, becoming unable to even mount any kind of a countermeasure. Olivia could only stare emptily at the battlefield as Oshawott lay on the ground, staring up at Pidgeotto in the same way. What took only seconds seemed like hours to them as Pidgeotto approached, but when she struck Oshawott with the force of a speeding train using her glowing beak, it all ended swiftly and abruptly.

 

“Oshawott is unable to battle!” the referee called while the Water-type Pokémon lay completely still on the wooden floor. “The winner of the round is Pidgeotto. All of the challenger’s Pokémon have fainted, so the winner is the Gym Leader, Falkner!”

 

“She… she lost…” Matt weakly whispered, stumbling to his feet. “After all of that…”

 

While Matt, Nekou, Bunny and the others climbed off the stands to approach the battle’s aftermath, Olivia simply stood rigidly still on her side for several long moments. She finally stepped forward and recalled Oshawott just as Falkner came forth as well, clapping as he walked.

 

“Well done, Pidgeotto,” he said to his winning Pokémon, who responded with a happy chirp before he recalled her. Falkner then turned to Olivia and, picking up on what he perceived as intense sadness, said, “Do not be sad, Olivia. You fought bravely. All you need to do is train more.”

 

“I won’t get the Zephyr Badge now, since you’re going away,” she spoke straight into the floor. She didn’t keep her head down long, though, and when she lifted it she had a surprising expression on her face.

 

Olivia was smiling.

 

“But really, it’s not a big deal!” she continued, her voice cheery but shaking. “I’ll just go to another Gym and get a Badge there. Thanks for battling with me.”

 

“That’s very mature of you, Olivia,” Bunny complimented.

 

“Yeah, I’m proud of you,” Matt added. He was trying to work out in his mind exactly how to keep his promise to Nekou, since Olivia losing wasn’t something he’d factored into it at any point.

 

“Thanks. Like I said, we’ll just look for another Gym and I’ll get the Badge from there instead. I mean, if I’m going to show my dad that I can get eight Badges, does it really matter which eight they are?”

 

“Isn’t it kind of hard to show things to a guy who’s not around anymore?” Avril blurted out.

 

“Oh, fuck no…” Nekou thought as her blood and that of everyone around her ran cold.

 

“What are you talking about?” Olivia responded, her features crunched into an expression of confusion.

 

Completely unaware of what she was actually doing and the circumstances around it, Avril kept going, saying, “I’m tempted to ask you the same thing. Showing Badges to a dead guy? If I’m going to consider you my rival, you can’t be crazy.”

 

“What are you talking about, ‘dead guy?’” Olivia laughed openly at Avril. “My dad just walked out on us, but I’m going to get him to come back.” Turning, she asked, “Right, Matt?”

 

Silence. Matt was shaking, and the words were lost in his throat. Only one thought ran through his mind – “Why did she have to find out like this…”

 

The dead silence between Matt and all the others besides Avril gave Olivia a strange chill.

 

“…Avril’s lying, right?” Her voice was becoming influenced by the fear, and it was shaking.

 

Still more silence.

 

And then. Matt answered.

 

“Avril’s telling you the truth.”

 

 

 

 

END of CHAPTER 8

 

 

Chapter Text

Well, I guess there’s not much more to say, besides that this chapter will be much shorter than the previous ones. Let the ride begin.

 

-:-

 

CHAPTER 9: Disconnection

 

-:-

 

Eight years ago, Olivia’s world was a very different place. There were no expectations to live up to, no disappointments to face, and no villains of any kind to disrupt her peace.

 

What there was was the simple life of a child not yet tainted by the darker aspects of the outside world. There was her father, Rich, and her mother, Anabel – the two who made her existence everything a young girl could have wanted.

 

It was her father especially who spoiled her. He could almost never say no to her, often resulting in the more serious aspects of raising her getting left to Anabel. Material goods weren’t the only thing Rich spoiled Olivia with, though; without fail, he always supported her and always did what he could to help her in anything she wanted to do.

 

Those idyllic days would not last.

 

~:~

 

Night brought the drawing-down of much of the activity in Violet City’s Pokémon Center. Besides the nurse, who was working behind the front desk, the lobby was empty save for Matt, who was sitting at and staring into a table in miserable silence.

 

The air was deadly still, at least until Bunny emerged from the hallway to the lodging area and approached the table.

 

“Hey,” she said, sitting down opposite him.

 

“How’s she doing…?” Matt mumbled into the table, not even bothering to turn his eyes to Bunny.

 

In response, Bunny sighed and closed her eyes. “Nekou’s in there talking to her, but the kinds of things she’s saying… I don’t think I want to repeat them.”

 

“About me and how I let her down?”

 

“You, me, Nekou, Avril, Rich himself… I would never judge her capable of such anger just by looking at her.”

 

“It’s not just anger,” Matt corrected her, still not moving his dispirited gaze from the table. “It’s sadness, too. The kind of soul-crushing sadness that leads you to uncontrollable anger because you have nothing else left to resort to. I know it firsthand… I fear for what she’s going to be like tomorrow once the initial shock wears off.”

 

“I’ve never seen you get as angry as she is right now…”

 

“Before we ever met, when I was younger… the feeling of sheer hopelessness that drives you to carry your crippled, blinded sister into a blizzard, all but dooming you both to die in it, that’s how it feels. And then when you get saved and you think you have a way out, a way to save her, only to find out that you’re being used to carry out research into some really bad things… that’s how it really feels. I know what’s going on in that room because I’ve been there.”

 

Bunny found herself at a loss for words, owing mainly to her exhausted state of mind. Between Olivia’s breakdown and the inability to help on the parts of both herself and Matt, she couldn’t deal with it.

 

Luckily for her, and perhaps for Matt as well, the situation was abruptly interrupted by a familiar voice.

 

“Well, well, you two… so our paths cross again this soon?”

 

Bunny turned, and Matt finally lifted his head in response to what he heard. Dante was there, having approached the table.

 

“Oh, Doctor Fan…”

 

Though his smile faded only slightly, Dante didn’t wait for Bunny to finish before speaking himself. “Was just traveling through Violet on my way to my next destination and decided to stop in. Where are the other two who were with you?”

 

“In our room here,” Matt replied, his voice still not reaching much further than a mumble. “Olivia’s not doing so well.”

 

“Is that so? She’s sick?”

 

“Not in the sense you’d think. She lost her match with the Gym Leader, and then some girl who took a dislike to her accidentally revealed what really happened to her father. And as you can guess, she isn’t taking it very well. Nekou’s in there trying to calm her down, but…”

 

“Say no more.” His lighthearted demeanor gone, Dante turned half away from Matt and Bunny and stared toward the windows with a bitter look in his eyes. “When Amina died, I felt the same way. It takes time for someone who’s lost their only guiding star to find another one. I just hope for all of your sakes that it takes less time for her than it’s taken me.” Swiveling back to face Matt and Bunny again, he suddenly adopted an upbeat persona again. “Now about why I’m here. While I was staying at Mr. Pokémon’s home, I read some magazines he had and I came across something rather curious. One scientific publication, while discussing the migration of Pokémon from Unova to this country, theorized that some Pokémon believed to be native to Unova might also have been here before. I’m on my way to the Ruins of Alph to investigate one of the theories, and since we’re all here in one place, I would like to ask – Bunny, would you be interested in joining me on this research?”

 

It took a moment for what Dante had said to fully reach Bunny because of his rapid flow of thoughts, but when it did, she jumped slightly. “That’s rather surprising. Why me and not Matt?”

 

“I think he has more urgent matters to attend to than helping an old man walk around some ruins, especially after what you just told me. And don’t sell yourself short. I’d say you’ve got a great skill set. So what do you say?”

 

“I don’t know. Aren’t the Ruins of Alph closed because of that meteor strike?”

 

“Ah, but I’ve obtained special permission from the preservation bureau to go there. It’s really only closed off to the tourists and everyday trainers. Right now the bureau just wants to keep track of who goes in and out. Matters of organization, really.”

 

“Well, if you say so, it ought to be interesting. Matt, do you think Olivia would be okay with me going away for a while?”

 

“I hope so,” he blandly answered. “To be brutally honest, after how you couldn’t get through to her before, I doubt that’s going to change overnight. If you ask me, there’s nothing you could do to help her right now anyway.”

 

“Do you really think so? I don’t want her to feel like someone else is abandoning her.”

 

“She needs help from a source that isn’t me or someone she associates with me. That’s what I think…”

 

-:-

 

The next morning, Matt, Olivia, Nekou, Bunny and Dante converged at Violet City’s southwestern exit, a stone path flanked on both sides by boxed lanterns.

 

“Well, this is where we part,” Dante announced as they arrived at the fork splitting the Ruins of Alph off from Route 32. “You keep up looking for Reshiram, Matt. I think it’s very important you find what you’re looking for.”

 

“Thanks, I guess. Good to know I have some more support for this.”

 

Leaning down onto his knee while still supporting himself on his cane, Dante moved to eye level with Olivia and smiled at the sullen, silent young woman. “And you. Don’t let your loss break your spirit and stop you from moving forward. Fight back against that despair, Olivia. Don’t get consumed by it.”

 

Olivia’s only response was to move her eyes away.

 

“I know we’ll be working together again before either of us knows it,” Bunny said while Dante stood back up, “but I can’t help but feel like I should still wish you guys luck out there. A lot can happen in a short time.”

 

Briefly glancing over to Olivia, Bunny pondered saying something to encourage her, but decided against it due to Olivia’s reaction to Dante. Instead, she simply extended a hand to Matt, which he shook after only a short hesitation.

 

“Thanks, Bunny. You be careful in there.”

 

“See you soon, everybody!”

 

Most of the enthusiasm as the two groups split off came from Bunny; she was the only one even bothering to wave goodbye. Matt and Olivia just turned away and walked off down Route 32, leaving Nekou to follow.

 

-:-

 

Jessie, James, Ariana and Dr. Zager all stared up at the screen in the scientist’s lab, their mouths open in looks of varying degrees of surprise.

 

“You’re serious about this, aren’t you?”

 

Up on the monitor, Stacia looked back at them from Giovanni’s darkened office. She nodded in response to Ariana’s stunned inquiry, the glow from her own screen reflecting in her glasses.

 

“That is the plan Mr. Giovanni has selected, yes,” the Team Rocket boss’s secretary confirmed.

 

“Operation Atlas...” Zager repeated out loud. “…the mission to take on the weight of keeping this world the way it is… I must say, Stacia, even I never expected Giovanni to call for this.”

 

“Hello, we’re still in the dark here!” Jessie interjected.

 

“You can’t just expect us to know what’s going on,” added James. “Bring us up to speed, why don’t you?”

 

“Operation Atlas is a top-secret plan the higher-ups in Team Rocket began drawing up after what happened in Unova,” Ariana explained. “This is pretty much the worst case scenario.”

 

“We’re on war footing now,” Zager continued. “The purpose of this plan was to formulate a defense should Polaris appear in our homeland. Basically, exactly what is happening right now. Even if it’s for the sake of Team Rocket, we must defend this world from what Polaris is planning to do.”

 

“So what do we have to do, exactly?”

 

“Jessie, you and James will accompany Executive Ariana and return to Kanto,” Stacia answered. “Here, you will pick up Mr. Giovanni and together, all of you will meet with Pierce outside of Goldenrod City. That is where Polaris is planning to make a major move.”

 

“We can do tha…” Halfway through his sentence, James caught on to what Stacia had said, and his voice escalated wildly. “The boss is coming to the front lines himself?!”

 

“I told you, we’re at war now. This isn’t the first time Giovanni’s come out to participate in a mission himself, if you remember.”

 

“I wonder if we’d still be in this position now if we’d gotten that Meteonite back then…” mused Jessie. “Will we still be able to get Meowth back?”

 

“All equipment necessary for your mission will be supplied by Dr. Zager before you leave for Kanto, so that does not change.” Behind the glow of her glasses, Stacia narrowed her eyes. “Mr. Giovanni expects you here as soon as possible. I would strongly advise that you do not disappoint him. Farewell.”

 

Stacia left an atmosphere of tightened nerves in her wake once she disappeared from the screen. An uncomfortable silence hung over the lab for what all four assembled would agree was far too long before James finally broke it.

 

“I guess I’ll be the one to ask, then. What about the International Police and their files on us? As soon as the boss breaks his house arrest, they’ll crack down and take us all out.”

 

“Don’t you worry your little blue head about that,” Ariana asserted. “When Operation Atlas was initially crafted, one thing we made sure to do was plan a provision for just a case like this. We’ve got someone in place to deal with that, and let me assure you, by the time we get to Viridian, there won’t be any traces left to prove what happened. The ability to rewrite history is great, isn’t it? Too bad we can only use it once, or it’ll be figured out…”

 

“Are you finished?” Zager said with a sigh. “You three, start loading the equipment into the car. I’ll go over the map system and make sure your charts of the underground tunnels are up to date.”

 

-:-

 

After ending the video conference with Zager’s lab, Stacia left Giovanni’s office and slipped into the adjoining wardrobe room, where Giovanni was pulling on a black trench coat in front of a mirror.

 

“I’ve… given them the mission,” she said to him, “just as you directed.”

 

“Very good,” Giovanni replied, though he did not turn to her. “It is of utmost importance that every one of them understands the stakes here.”

 

“Mr. Giovanni, sir… please forgive my insubordination, but I must ask. Are these measures truly necessary? They’re very dangerous… something could happen to you and then I…”

 

“It is what must be done.” While adjusting his tie in the mirror, Giovanni continued on, explaining, “If we do not stand in Polaris’s way, who will? Team Rocket may not be what it once was, but we still have more resources available than anyone still able to resist their influence. The International Police will not be an obstacle, that virus Rosalie headed the development of will see to that. It will be between us and Polaris, with no interference – and if we lose, the result will be the same as if we did nothing. There is nothing to be lost by trying.”

 

“But without you, I’m… Team Rocket is helpless!”

 

“Team Rocket survived being led by that woman, so it can survive anything.” Having finished dressing, Giovanni turned to Stacia and set one of his hands on her shoulder, making her jump. “Remember, there is nothing that is impossible for Team Rocket. Keep that in mind while you’re in charge here.”

 

With that, Giovanni stepped past Stacia and out of the small room. A small tear formed at the corner of her eye, but she quickly composed herself, pushed her glasses up on her face and followed him.

 

-:-

 

Sometime later that afternoon, the group had attracted the attention of a young girl dressed in a gray scout uniform. As a trainer herself, she had quickly challenged Olivia to a battle, which ended up seeing Olivia’s Minccino fighting against her female Nidoran. With Matt staying inside the HR-E – which was acting as their mobile campsite for the trip down Route 32 – only Nekou was out watching the battle, dividing her attention between that and working on her laptop.

 

“Nidoran, Poison Sting!” the scout girl called to her Pokémon.

 

The Poison-type Pokémon launched a wave of glowing purple thorns from her small body, but despite the hazard they presented, Olivia barely reacted.

 

Simply staring straight ahead with a blank look in her eyes, she stiffly ordered, “Swift.”

 

Nidoran’s Poison Sting was no match for Minccino’s counterattack; every needle was swatted away by one of Minccino’s stars. With the match at a stalemate, the girl changed tactics.

 

“Double Kick!” she announced, switching to a direct attack.

 

“Tail Slap.”

 

Compared to the older, well-cared-for and better trained Minccino, the Nidoran had little chance. Her movements were fairly inept, owing to the fact that she was a relatively new Pokémon for her trainer. She kicked with her hind legs but Minccino easily evaded the attack, then countered by lashing the Poison-type with her tail repeatedly.

 

Meanwhile, Nekou was busily typing on her laptop. Taking care to not make any mistakes in what she was doing, she said quietly to herself, “There we go. With HR-E boosting the signal, I can reach the satellite no problem, then work from there.” She then looked up and took note of the battle, paying particular attention to Olivia’s completely stoic expression, which dismayed her. “I wish I could do something…”

 

-:-

 

Deep in the Ruins of Alph, Mercury and Séduire pressed on, leading their team ever closer to the Meteonite. They’d subsisted on what supplies they had, but dividing basic hiking provisions of simple food and water between six humans and one Pokémon left all of them a little less than satisfied.

 

“What’s the latest reading?” Mercury shouted to her aide with the scanning equipment.

 

“Continue following this path,” he replied. “We are not far…”

 

Before long, the hallway opened into a cavernous corridor where the sound of running water could be heard. The path continued straight on, but pushed even further underground.

 

“We’re almost there!” exclaimed the henchman with the scanner. “It’s right ahead of us!”

 

Just as the team stepped into the expanse, however, an Unown in the shape of the letter ‘Y’ materialized, startling Séduire and two of Mercury’s followers.

 

“What’re you doing, jumping out at us like that?!” the girl yelled at the small, strange creature.

 

“Hold on a minute,” Meowth drowned, before stopping to listen to the Unown’s cries. “It’s sayin’ that there’s someone upstairs that isn’t supposed to be in here.”

 

“What?” Though she had been uninterested in the Unown at first, this turn got Mercury’s attention. “Meowth, tell it to get rid of them!”

 

-:-

 

Sunlight still shined through the doorway into the ruins’ entry hall, casting a glow on Dante and Bunny while they surveyed the walls.

 

“Here, I’ve found something!” Bunny called out.

 

Dante crossed the chamber as quickly as he could, then asked, “What? What is it?”

 

“Have a look.”

 

Using a small brush, Bunny carefully moved away the dust and dirt collected on the wall. A small part of an image was already visible, and as Bunny cleared away the years of grime obscuring it, an etching of an insect Pokémon with six wings came into view.

 

“Volcarona!” Dante gasped in excitement. “I knew it!”

 

“Volcarona?”

 

“Keep cleaning the wall and see if there’s more.”

 

Dante’s encouragement proved to be useful, as within minutes Bunny had cleared enough of the etching to reveal more images – namely, those of an exploding mountain, several people and Pokémon, and the Ruins of Alph themselves. Bunny could only stare at the wall and try to understand what she was seeing.

 

“Volcarona… here?” she whispered.

 

“These etchings confirm what I discovered,” Dante explained. “Volcarona is a rare Pokémon that was considered a sun deity by ancient people. It seems that a long time ago, a volcano erupted in Johto, and the ancient Tenganists fled to their temple – in other words, this place – for safety. Afterward, the sun didn’t shine because of the ash in the atmosphere... so Volcarona replaced the sun’s light with its own.”

 

“But if Volcarona has been here all along, wouldn’t that mean Pokémon native to Unova have been in this country even before the migration project?”

 

“That it would. I want to find Volcarona in these ruins to see if this theory is actually true.”

 

While Dante and Bunny pondered their next move, the ‘Y’ Unown suddenly appeared, along with an ‘X’ Unown and a ‘G’ Unown. All three growled angrily at the pair they perceived as invaders.

 

“Oh, what a bother,” Dante said with a sigh. “We’re not interested in having a fight with you.”

 

The Unown paid him no mind, and attacked by issuing forth a flurry of energy spheres, with each Unown’s set taking on its own color. These three Hidden Powers fell short of their targets, striking the ground around Dante and Bunny’s feet.

 

“They’re not listening… Bunny, I’m afraid we’re going to have to fight them.”

 

Mirroring Dante’s action, Bunny started to reach for one of her Poké Balls, though something she noticed in the eyes of the Unown unnerved her. “Is something wrong with them?” she questioned. “Their eyes are so empty…”

 

Dante could not even get a single syllable of a response out before roughly a dozen more Unown warped into the room. They immediately synchronized with the others, resulting in the whole horde’s power increasing substantially. The chamber filled with the Hidden Power energy each Unown called forth and rained down on the pair of humans.

 

Thrown in opposite directions by the countless explosions, Dante and Bunny were forced onto and fell through individual trapdoors leading to two different places.

 

-:-

 

The next day brought events very similar to those of the previous one. Olivia had once again gotten into a battle with a young camper, and once again, Nekou was the only one watching the battle, even if she was still working on her computer.

 

This time, the battle was between Olivia’s Lillipup and the boy’s Seedot. Both were about equal in spirit, and traded blows in a spirited rally. The Seedot had one disadvantage, though – her tactics, which mainly comprised of Bullet Seed punctuated by the occasional Quick Attack, failed to present much physical threat to Lillipup. As a result, Olivia’s Pokémon never became frightened, allowing him to wear out and ultimately defeat his opponent.

 

“Oh man, I can’t believe I lost!” the boy shouted to the open sky after recalling his fainted Seedot. “I really thought I’d beat you!”

 

Olivia, meanwhile, recalled Lillipup and stiffly walked up to the boy, all while remaining silent. She stared at him with an icy look, then pushed her open hand toward him.

 

“Geez, you can’t cut me some slack? The trainers out here are getting more and more selfish with money lately!”

 

The camper thrust a small handful of bills into Olivia’s hand, then turned sharply and stormed off.

 

He didn’t notice Olivia mouth “thank you” after him.

 

-:-

 

Meanwhile, quite a distance away on the craggy hills of Route 45, Renzo staggered out of the shadowy interior of Dark Cave.

 

“F-finally made it…” he said to himself. Being lost inside Dark Cave for several days had taken its toll on him, and the cold weather on Route 45 didn’t help. Pulling up his scarf to cover even more of his face than usual, he looked around in all directions, seeking the path forward to Blackthorn City.

 

What he found crushed his confidence, however. The rugged landscape spread before his eyes offered no apparent way to advance north. Insurmountable cliffs, thick patches of tree cover and other obstacles created a treacherous, impossible-to-navigate route.

 

Shivering under his poncho, which afforded him surprisingly little protection from the cold, Renzo staggered over to a nearby rock and sat down against it. The great difficulty of going north as he’d desired took away all his energy.

 

“If this is where it ends,” he uttered, looking out over the vast route, “I’ll be along to give you your comeuppance sooner than I thought I’d be.” Peering down into his poncho, he addressed the spheres containing his Drowzee, Gurdurr and Cottonee, saying, “Sorry I couldn’t live up to what you three deserved… I did my best for all of you.”

 

Feeling extremely weak, Renzo leaned back against the rock and shut his eyes; before long, he was out cold.

 

No more than a few minutes later, however, multiple sets of footsteps came down the trail near Dark Cave’s entrance.

 

“Come on, it’s just ahead,” a man’s voice shouted. “I swear I heard someone walking around.”

 

The Tenganist prophet emerged from the corner near the cave, accompanied by two of her followers, one male and one female. They had three Pokémon with them; a pair of Donphan and a Stantler.

 

“There, I see him,” announced the cloaked prophet. “Check and see if he’s alive.”

 

Heeding their leader’s words, the man and woman ran to Renzo’s side and attempted to help him up.

 

“Unresponsive,” the woman called back to her leader, “but he’s still breathing. He’s alive.”

 

Gesturing to the Pokémon to move forth, the prophet declared, “We will bring him back to the base and heal him.”

 

“Are you sure, my lady?” the man questioned. “Would that not be a risk?”

 

“We cannot simply leave this young man here to die. If we did, we would be no better than Polaris… or that man Ghetsis… so, we must act. It is through acts of mercy to the innocent that we apologize for what we must do.”

 

The prophet’s explanation sufficiently convinced her followers of her decision’s merits, so they lifted Renzo’s unconscious body onto their shoulders and moved him onto the backs of their two Donphan.

 

-:-

 

A vast, orange sky barely fouled by clouds spread out over Route 32 the next evening. Olivia sat alone on one of the hills that dotted the landscape near the route’s southern end, taking the sight in while locked in silent contemplation.

 

Her reverie was only broken when Nekou walked up and sat down alongside her.

 

“Hey, kid, how’re you doing?” she asked, offering Olivia one of the chocolate sticks she was eating, which the girl accepted. “You know, Roselia was great today against that fisherman’s Poliwag.”

 

“Thanks…” Olivia mumbled, “…but I just… I just don’t get it.”

 

“Why don’t you tell me what’s bothering you?” Nekou was surprisingly sincere in her offer. “I’m a shoulder you can cry on.”

 

“I just… don’t know what to feel. I’ve been battling these last few days because I wanted to find a reason for it… but I can’t… without my dad… I don’t understand it at all.”

 

“You know, I don’t believe he’s completely gone, you know? I believe there are places people go when they die. He may have made mistakes, but I’m sure he was a good man. He’s probably watching you right now.”

 

“Do… you really think so?” Olivia’s breathing was labored under the stress of the emotions she was suppressing, so she spoke very slowly.

 

“Yeah, I do. If I might offer you some advice, though, you have to live for yourself. Find your own reasons for continuing on the path you’ve chosen. You want to keep being a trainer, right?”

 

“I guess…”

 

“Then find what makes you want to follow that path. You don’t have to follow anyone’s rules but your own, so live for your own reasons. That was something Maman taught me a long time ago, and my life has been so much better since then.” Looking out over the landscape, Nekou continued, “There’s only one way to get by in this world, and that’s by not letting others shackle you.”

 

“But I don’t… my dad isn’t coming back, so I can’t fight to get him to come back…”

 

“Just find something else you really want to fight for while not forgetting him. We’re all here to support you, so you’re not alone.”

 

“You mean you’re here to support me…” This remark was tinged with bitterness, and Olivia turned her head away from Nekou.

 

“You know, Olivia… it might not always seem like it, but Matt does care about you. He really does try to take care of you.”

 

“What makes you say that? He lied to me all this time about where my dad was and now he’s been hiding instead of facing what he did!”

 

“And I’m sure he feels horrible about that. But there is no doubt in my mind that he only sheltered you as he did because he believed it to be right. He only hasn’t been around the last couple of days because he doesn’t want to harm you further by making mistakes right now.”

 

“How can I trust him again, though?”

 

“You don’t have to. Not until he earns that trust again. But for now, I’m here for you.”

 

“…am I a bad person for all those things I said back in Violet City? I am, aren’t I?”

 

“You made a mistake, it’s not a big deal. I say, so what if you don’t have a perfect image? Perfect people, the ones who make no mistakes, have no flaws and have the world cater to them, those people are shit. This is an ugly world, so it needs ugly people like you and me to protect it. Do you understand?”

 

“I… I think…” Suddenly, Olivia began tearing up. “Please don’t leave me.”

 

“Don’t worry. I won’t.”

 

Olivia and Nekou moved closer together so Olivia could rest her head on Nekou’s shoulder. Nekou then took out her music player, gave Olivia one of the headphones, and they started eating the chocolate sticks and listening to music together.

 

 

 

 

 

END of CHAPTER 9

Chapter Text

This chapter is going to feature some scenes with elevated violence, nothing too bad but it’s probably worth noting nevertheless.

 

-:-

 

CHAPTER 10: The Beasts Within

 

-:-

 

“What’s that up ahead?” Séduire shouted, noticing that the tunnel just a short distance away from the team was filled with a glowing red light. “Is that it?”

 

“That’s…” The one of Mercury’s followers who was monitoring the energy field in the ruins forcefully tapped his finger against his computer screen, frustrated by the momentary lag in its system. When the scan finally did complete, though, his eyes widened in surprise and excitement. “That’s it! The Meteonite is right ahead of us! Let’s go get it!”

 

“You heard him, all of you!” barked Mercury to her other followers. “Get moving!”

 

No more words were spoken between the members of Polaris as they rallied forth to their goal. With Meowth bringing up the rear, the team charged into the final chamber of the altered Ruins of Alph.

 

In that chamber, right before their eyes, awaited their prize – a large, rugged stone, partially buried in the earth and cloaked in red light. It was the only source of illumination in the room, but gave off enough light to show how small the room was.

 

“We found it… the Meteonite!” another of Mercury’s followers cheered. “Father is going to be pleased with our work for Polaris!”

 

The follower carrying the tracking equipment curled his facial features and waved his hand in front of his nose. “It’ll be nice to get out of this musty air.”

 

After nodding toward the Meteonite, Mercury took out a transmitter and turned it on.

 

“Mercury…?” Séduire questioned, unsure of what was to come next.

 

“I’m calling Getriebe and Jeunes at the Purine Base so they’ll be ready to receive us,” Mercury replied, anticipating Séduire’s question. “You just have Meowth get the Unown to send us there.”

 

-:-

 

A large, sleek jet, surprisingly nimble and silent for its size, sailed through the cold night sky over the border between Johto and Kanto.

 

Inside the craft, Finansielle had an office that was furnished well enough to pass as one inside a building. The Chromosome was sitting at her desk at the far end of the cabin, facing a plush, cream-colored sofa, a glass table and a large video monitor. Behind her on the wall was a floor-to-ceiling, backlit Polaris logo.

 

Finansielle was reviewing papers when one of her aides entered the office carrying a brown file folder. He took only a few steps inside before halting and waiting to be acknowledged.

 

“What is it?” she asked after briefly pretending to not see him.

 

“We have the report on Zinzolin’s actions in Violet City fully compiled, Lady Finansielle,” the man stiffly replied, handing over the folder as carefully as he could. “There is also a call for you.”

 

“Patch it in,” Finansielle commanded, showing little interest in him while thumbing through the contents of the file.

 

After bowing to his superior, the man pressed a small button on the lapel of his black suit jacket. The screen in Finansielle’s office immediately activated to display Mercury and Séduire.

 

Finansielle smiled wryly. “You two, eh? I didn’t expect a call from two people I imagined would be underground for a while.”

 

“Well we got done sooner rather than later,” Mercury replied, taking on a smile herself. “The Meteonite’s safe with us here in Goldenrod City.”

 

“You will have to wait for some time before we’re ready to extract it, though. Actually…” Looking back in the file, Finansielle came up with an idea. “Mercury, you head to the Guanosine Base and help them out with the research they’re conducting there. As for you, Séduire… how would you like a little playtime with that boy of yours you’re so fascinated with?”

 

Behind her mask, Séduire’s eyes lit up. “You want me to go get Matt? Finally?”

 

“No, no, I don’t want him brought in just yet. His little traveling show is going to be headed through Azalea Town soon, which means they’re heading in the direction of Goldenrod City and the Purine Base. I want you to ambush them in Ilex Forest and give them some trouble. See if you can’t keep them out of Goldenrod City until the extraction of the Meteonite can be carried out. I don’t want any interference like what he did in Violet City.”

 

“I’ll do what I can, Finansielle.”

 

At that, Mercury and Séduire ended the call, causing the video link between the Purine Base and Finansielle’s jet to be severed. Her aide also quickly excused himself, leaving Finansielle alone in her office once more.

 

“And so the game begins, just as I predicted. Matt Chiaki, let’s see if you can live up to your grandfather’s name.”

 

-:-

 

 Nekou and Olivia stayed on the hill until nearly no sunlight remained, then returned to the campsite near where Matt had parked the HR-E for the night. He was still nowhere to be seen, so they assumed that he was still inside the mobile home and decided to make a campfire for themselves. Both of them contributed using their Pokémon; Olivia had her Lillipup gather sticks, which Nekou’s Zorua then ignited with Incinerate.

 

Once the fire was finished, the two sat near it. Olivia just stared into the flame, while Nekou started looking through the book she’d taken from the library of Earl’s Pokémon Academy.

 

When Olivia finally turned away from the fire, she noticed the book and immediately questioned, “What are you reading?”

 

“This is an old book Matt’s grandfather wrote with his assistant. It’s got stories on their explorations and research into the ancient Tenganist people.”

 

“And where did you get that?”

While Nekou was describing the book to Olivia, Matt had stepped out of the nearby brush. He looked somewhat haggard, with unkempt hair and a bag under his visible eye. His step was unsteady as he stumbled over to where they were sitting and lowered himself to join them.

 

“I think I asked you a question,” he pressed.

 

“I borrowed it from the library,” Nekou answered, grinning.

 

“Yeah, knowing you, you stole it like Dr. Fantomos’s vodka, but I can’t do anything about that now. Did you at least find anything interesting in it?”

 

“Yeah, one thing, actually. He and Jacob Alexison, his assistant at the time, keep bringing up someone named Saeko Oryo in this book.”

 

“I don’t know that name. I never met that person, nor did my grandfather ever tell me about her.” Looking past Nekou, Matt saw Olivia trying and failing to avoid glaring angrily at him, and his heart sank even further. “Olivia…”

 

Without a word, Nekou moved back, allowing Matt and Olivia to have a clear line of sight to each other.

 

“I don’t have anything to say,” Olivia lied, keeping her voice to a raspy whisper.

 

“Olivia, please, listen to me.” Matt scrunched up his face, but water still formed at the corner of his eye anyway. “I didn’t want to hurt you, really. Please let me help you.”

 

“And what makes you think you can help me after all of that?” No longer able to restrain her emotions, Olivia simply screamed as loud as she could with what energy she had, startling a sleeping flock of Pidove out of a nearby tree. “No, I don’t need your help, not after what you claimed was help before!”

 

“But…”

 

Olivia completely disregarded Matt’s attempt to speak and continued ranting. “You lied to me for five years about him! It’s your fault I thought I could get him to come back! No, just… no. I don’t need you. I’ll find my own reasons for going on. I don’t need you at all.”

 

With the entirety of her pent-up anger spent, Olivia turned her back on Matt and Nekou and buried her head in her arms.

 

“O-Oli…” Matt fell onto his back, his body suddenly overcome by an overwhelming exhaustion.

 

“Just tell me one thing,” Nekou said, leaning over him. “Why did you do it?”

 

“It was what Rich wanted.”

 

“Oh, don’t give me that bullshit, Matt. You and I both know he wouldn’t have wanted it to go on for as long as it did. Why did you let it continue for five years?”

 

“I thought…” Matt shut his eyes and sighed, resigning himself to the fact that he could not avoid Nekou’s questioning. “Innocence is something that should be protected,” he explained, making sure to speak loudly enough for Olivia to hear even if his voice was weak. “Nobody should be robbed of their innocence and thrust into the harshness of reality at a young age. I didn’t want her to have to grow up too fast like I did. I took it upon myself to preserve her youth for as long as possible, even though I knew it would inevitably end like this…”

 

“You want to know what I think about that?”

 

Cringing in anticipation of some harsh words, Matt replied, “I don’t really have a choice, do I?”

 

“I think you did what you really believed was right, but you just fucked up. Stop beating yourself up. Everyone fucks up at one time or another.”

 

“What I did was worse than just a mere fuckup, if you ask me.”

 

Nekou leaned even closer to Matt’s face, locking her eyes steadily with his. “So why don’t you tell me why you think that?”

 

“I…” Matt suddenly realized that Nekou was right. He had no real reasoning for thinking the way he did. “I guess I see what you mean… but still, I was just thinking about how it was for me. By the time I was her age I had to put myself aside to take care of Amanda. I didn’t want Olivia to have to have that same feeling of being alone and needing to grow up quickly. There’s still so much she should experience before then.”

 

“You did what you had to do,” Nekou said, never breaking her gaze from Matt’s tired eye. “But you can’t stop living just because you missed out on things in the past. Live in the present the way you want without concern for the past or future, like I do. And Olivia’s not alone, because she has all of us. So you fucked up by letting the past consume you, but it’s something you can get past.”

 

“I guess you’re right… I’ll have to figure out some way to do better for her.”

 

Just then, the tension at the campsite was interrupted by two sounds – approaching footsteps in the nearby brush, accompanied by gentle harp music.

 

“Well I’ll be damned,” Matt uttered as he propped himself up. “I recognize that…”

 

Olivia recognized it as well, and turned around in a hurry. “Nando?”

 

A figure wrapped in a long green cape emerged from the foliage, with what was visible of his face within his flowing black hair spread into a gentle smile. The source of the music was the golden, Mew-shaped harp in his arms, which he continued to strum as he walked to the fire, sat down and removed his wide-brimmed green hat, which he set down on the ground.

 

“It is a pleasure to meet you once again, Olivia,” he said, his soft voice flavored by a noticeable accent. “Matt, you as well. It has been far too long.”

 

“So who’s this Casanova here?”

 

Though Nekou had directed her sarcastic question to Matt, the man answered it himself. “I am Nando, the Pokémon minstrel,” he replied in a sing-song manner. “I met Olivia for the first time five years ago when she was with her parents in a far-off land.”

 

“So what are you doing here in Johto now?”

 

“As always, Matt, I am collecting both the Gym Badges and Contest Ribbons of this country.”

 

“How many Badges do you have now?” Olivia asked, returning to the circle with the others.

 

“Here, Miss Olivia, allow me to show you.”

 

After stashing his harp in the tan-colored messenger bag slung around his shoulder, Nando produced a silvery-blue, oval-shaped case. When he opened it, a collection of eight symbols was arranged inside. They were a round disc with a ladybug pattern, a yellow diamond, a purple cloud shape with silver eyes, an orange fist, a gray octagon, a blue water drop, a flower in rainbow colors, and a yellow circle with a smaller circle inside.

 

“Eight Badges, the number required to enter the Pokémon League,” Nando said. “Hive, Plain, Fog, Storm, Boulder, Cascade, Rainbow and Marsh.”

 

“Wait…” Olivia got to within an inch of Nando’s Badges, examining each one carefully. “Aren’t half of these from Kanto?”

 

“Ah yes, you see, the Pokémon League of the Tohjo Continent is shared between Kanto and Johto. You need eight Badges, but they do not need to be all from one region or the other.”

 

“Olivia, you could get a Kanto Badge to fill that missing slot,” Nekou suggested while lounging on the ground. “There are a couple good Gyms in Viridian City and Pewter City.”

 

“I’ll… think about that.”

 

As he noticed Olivia’s downcast attitude, Nando’s smile faded into a blank look of uncertainty. “Miss Olivia, what is wrong?”

 

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

“Okay, I respect that.” Nando put away his Badges, took his harp back out and turned to Matt. “Matt, are you not pursuing the Gyms of this country as well?”

 

By this time, Matt had finally properly sat up again. “I’m not interested in any of that. I’m following the Frontier Society path, only because I’m seeking something I think only trainers like the Frontier Brains can lead me to. Speaking of which, I saw your battle at the Battle Arcade.”

 

“That was quite the competition,” Nando gently chuckled, his smile returning. “Did you partake in it as well?”

 

“Yeah, and I learned things from watching you that helped me win myself. Now we’re heading through Azalea Town to get to the Gym for Olivia, then on to Goldenrod City for their Gym and the Battle Factory.”

 

“I see. As I already have the eight Badges I require, I am traveling through the Frontier Society to prepare for the Pokémon League. I am going directly to Goldenrod City, then I will be heading to the Battle Café in the National Park, followed by the Battle Hall in Ecruteak City. I would recommend that you go to the latter as well.”

 

“Why is that?”

 

Nando shut his eyes and ran his fingers across the strings of his harp. “Ecruteak City is a beautiful place steeped in mythology. You will love it. Of course…” After opening his eyes, he continued, “…if you are looking for battles the Battle Hall has quite the reputation. It is famous for the intense tournaments held there, in which sixteen trainers face off in what is said to be the harshest challenge of the entire Frontier Society.”

 

“I’ll have to look forward to it,” Matt said, bitterly staring into the fire.

 

Turning his attention back to Olivia, Nando asked, “Miss Olivia, would you like to train with me for a short while? I have a new Pokémon I would like to practice with, and every bit of training will pay off for you at the next Gym.”

 

Olivia did not immediately reply, and as she was facing away from Matt and Nekou, both became nervous that something Nando had said had upset her. Their fears were unfounded, however, as she looked fairly cheerful when she turned around.

 

“Sounds like a good idea, actually. Can you show me who I’m up against?”

 

“Of course. Pansage, make your entrance!”

 

Nando pulled a Poké Ball from his bag and threw it, releasing a small, green simian Pokémon. A growth on his head took the shape of a small tree.

 

Realizing this was a Pokémon she did not know, Olivia took out her Pokédex and scanned him.

 

“Pansage, the Grass Monkey Pokémon. Type is Grass. It’s good at finding Berries and gathers them from all over. It’s kind enough to share them with friends.”

 

“That Pokémon suits you,” Olivia commented, smiling for the first time in what seemed like forever to Matt.

 

“Thank you. Now, who shall my Pansage be facing?”

 

“Let me think… oh, I know. Lillipup, let’s play!”

 

Olivia brought out her Lillipup to face Nando’s Pansage, and he shook out his fur after materializing, having not expected to be battling so late – not long before midnight, in fact. On the sidelines, Nekou quietly took note of Olivia’s choice and lowered her eyebrows.

 

“And do allow me to say, that Lillipup is quite a fine choice for you, Miss Olivia.”

 

“Thanks, but I think it’s better if I show you… Lillipup, Tackle!”

 

Thinking that she could get a drop on Pansage by abruptly giving an order, Olivia sent Lillipup running forth at the Grass-type as fast as his small legs could carry him.

 

Nando wasn’t fooled by her tactic, though. “Vine Whip!” he softly but sharply commanded.

 

A long, rope-like vine emerged from Pansage’s wrist, and he snapped it in Lillipup’s direction, lashing the small Normal-type Pokémon back. Lillipup whimpered, but picked himself off the ground and remained in the battle.

 

“If at first you don’t succeed, right? Lillipup, try Tackle again!”

 

“I commend you for your courage, but if you do the same thing, so shall I. Pansage, repeat the motion!”

 

This time, though, as Pansage’s Vine Whip careened through the air toward Lillipup, Olivia had another plan in mind. “Stop there and Bite it!”

 

Skidding to a stop, Lillipup opened his mouth and bit down on Pansage’s vine with his sharp fangs. The shock reverberated back through the vine to Pansage, whose body shuddered.

 

“Well, well, it seems I may have underestimated you a bit, Miss Olivia.” Turning his eyes upward to look directly at Olivia, Nando powerfully said, “I would say that means this is where we really get started!”

 

-:-

 

Deep underground in another portion of the Ruins of Alph, Dante worked his way down a dark hallway with only a small flashlight to guide him. His road forward was narrow, and his cane clattered loudly against the damp stone floor with each step he took.

 

That narrow road soon led him to a spacious, circular chamber. Realizing after a quick glance around that his meager flashlight would get him nowhere in searching the area, he instead turned his attention to the walls near the chamber’s entrance.

 

“Let’s see… there should be a sign right about here…”

 

Dante ran his fingers over the runes carved into the wall while he stared at them, carefully deciphering their meaning. The same indications of Volcarona as the clues on the upper floor existed there, but this wall was covered in characters establishing a completely different context.

 

After several minutes of study, Dante pulled away from the wall. “That was an easy puzzle. Volcarona, you’re going to be quite an interesting Pokémon to study.”

 

After freeing up his hand by temporarily holding his flashlight in his mouth, Dante reached into his coat and produced a stark white Premier Ball. His Alakazam emerged from the sphere once it was thrown.

 

“Alakazam, use Psyshock,” Dante directed, taking the flashlight back into his hand. “Straight ahead.”

 

With a nod, Alakazam complied. He crossed the spoons he held, and a silver bolt of energy arced from where they met. That energy flowed straight into the darkness and struck something, which responded with a shrill cry.

 

In an instant, the entire chamber was flooded with light as the Volcarona unfurled her vivid orange wings. Smaller embers flickered from the white fur covering her body, and she cried out angrily a second time.

 

“Volcarona, I’m honored to be in your presence!” Dante announced, putting the flashlight away. “However, it will not be Alakazam I will be facing you with. Haxorus!”

Dante’s Haxorus joined her trainer, Alakazam and Volcarona once he released her from her Poké Ball. She had to squint in the bright light radiating from Volcarona’s body at first, but quickly adjusted.

 

“So, shall we now get started? I would like to study what you’re capable of!”

 

-:-

 

The next morning, a small amount of sunlight peeked through the perpetual cloud cover over Route 33, a short road connecting Azalea Town to the Union Cave. The rainstorms that regularly drenched the route had let up for the time being, so a few trainers were out with their Pokémon. It was a fairly dreary, humid morning.

 

Off the main path, where the terrain started to morph into the mountainous landscape to the north, the detective named Looker emerged from behind a rock. Standing near the edge of a short cliff, he removed a smartphone-like device from his heavy brown trench coat and looked at it. On its screen were several colorful charts, all displaying fluctuating readings.

 

“Just like the energy of that night on Route 29, it is,” he growled to himself. “Nearby has happened something with that energy…”

 

Looker scowled, put the phone back in his coat, and jogged off in the direction of an entrance to the cave.

 

-:-

 

Meanwhile, on the Route 32 side of Union Cave, Matt, Olivia and Nekou – having split from Nando the night before – had arrived at a Pokémon Center outpost. At the main desk, they had just finished loading their Poké Balls into trays for the nurse to heal their Pokémon.

 

“That’ll be five hundred dollars each for the two of you without a Pokédex.”

 

“Five hundred?” Matt gasped. “You’re not even charging the same as the Pokémon Center in Cherrygrove?”

 

“We don’t get as much traffic out here, so we have to meet expectations somehow.”

 

“What does that…”

 

“Matt, fork it over,” Nekou interrupted. “I ain’t got all day. A thousand.”

 

“Should’ve figured you’d make me pay for you. I guess that’s the benefit of doing all my lectures, though, being able to pay for things.”

 

Matt briefly exchanged his card with the nurse to pay the charge, and after she returned it to him, she set about moving the three trays of Poké Balls to the healing machines.

 

“Nekou, do you think I’ll do okay against the Gym Leader in Azalea Town?” Olivia questioned, her voice quiet and wavering. “I’m afraid I might mess up again…”

 

In an attempt to give Olivia some physical reassurance, Nekou put both of her hands on Olivia’s shoulders. “Failure isn’t something to fear, but you shouldn’t expect to fail either. Go in with confidence and I doubt you can be stopped. Remember what we talked about? Fight for your own reasons. Do that, and I have complete faith in you. Have you found a reason you want to keep going?”

 

“I… I think so.” As she spoke, Olivia looked down at the floor, unable to even come close to making eye contact with Nekou. “I think I want to get better to put Avril and Renzo in their places. I can’t let Avril get far ahead of me, considering she likely got the Zephyr Badge… and Renzo just has it coming after our last battle.”

 

“That’s the spirit,” Nekou said with a broad smile. “Now just let that drive you.”

 

Matt had been standing by and listening quietly to the exchange. He was so caught up in paying attention that he didn’t notice the nurse return with the trays until she announced as much, making him jump in surprise.

 

As Matt, Nekou and Olivia lined up at the desk to collect their Pokémon, however, the nurse’s Chansey came running from the storerooms in the back of the Pokémon Center.

 

“Chansey, what’s wrong?” the nurse asked in response to her Pokémon’s excited chatter. “Something’s happened?”

 

“Chansey! Chansey!!” the Pokémon kept crying, gesturing wildly in the direction from which she had come.

 

“I think she wants us to follow her. Come on!”

 

The nurse climbed over the side of her desk and ran after her Pokémon, with the others following after a brief moment. They were led back to a storage room, and as soon as the nurse looked inside, she screamed.

 

“What happened?” Nekou immediately questioned the nurse.

 

“Look inside!” she hissed.

 

Matt and Olivia both found their muscles tensed as they edged around the door with Nekou to have a look inside the room. What they found left them staring, wide-eyed.

 

The room was in shambles, looking as if it had been ransacked by a thief. Shredded boxes were thrown everywhere, shelves were knocked over, and food – both processed Pokémon food and raw berries – was scattered all over the floor. Perhaps the most unexpected piece of destruction in the room, however, was the large hole punched right through the floor. Dumbstruck, Matt, Nekou, Olivia and the nurse all slowly stepped inside.

 

“Can’t say this is what I expected,” Nekou remarked.

 

“What do you think happened?” Olivia wondered aloud as she examined some of the damaged shelves. While running her hand over the metal, she suddenly found something. “Nekou, come over here! I found some sign of… something!” As soon as Nekou approached her, Olivia grabbed her friend’s arm and placed her hand on the same spot that Olivia herself had been checking moments earlier. “See? Feel that right there.”

 

“Oh, I feel it, that’s for sure. Only a Pokémon could have slashed into the metal like this. Good job finding it, Olivia.”

 

“The Pokémon from Union Cave must have decided to break in here and steal our stored food,” deduced the nurse. “But why? They’ve never shown any hostility to us here before.”

 

“That tunnel ought to go back to where they came from, right?” Matt asked, pointing at the hole cut into the floor. “We’ll go down there and investigate it. If it leads through Union Cave, we need to pass through there anyway.”

 

“If you would, that would be awfully helpful of you. Just call me when you find out what happened, would you?”

 

-:-

 

In a far-off, isolated cave, Pierce stood quietly by, watching as the Tenganists prepared their equipment and Pokémon, for a purpose he was only beginning to understand. Each of their small band seemed to have their own task to carry out under the prophet’s direction, he observed, and the Pokémon they possessed covered an exotic range from multiple regions.

 

Pressing a button on the side of the device strapped to his wrist, Pierce activated a video transmission to Zager’s laboratory. “Dr. Zager,” he said as the scientist’s rumpled visage took form on the screen.

 

“Ah, Pierce, I was wondering when I would hear from you.” Zager’s already raspy voice was made even more raw-sounding by the static in the transmitter’s connection. “What’s the current situation?”

 

“All the supplies have been delivered and the intelligence Giovanni wanted me to pass on has been given. I have to say, things have really escalated...”

 

“Tell me about it. The fact they requested bombs when we told them Polaris is planning to do something in Goldenrod City using the Magnet Train surprised me.” Zager briefly turned away from the screen, but quickly returned. “Oh, I was meaning to ask you to investigate something for me.”

 

“What?”

 

“I recently received some unusual intelligence regarding the Tenganists from one of our operatives, and it’s quite suspicious. What caught my eye is that the name Saeko Oryo is all over it. This might be someone who is very important, so I want you to learn what you can about her and relay it to me right away. I want to get firsthand accounts of who this is from the Tenganists themselves.”

 

“Understandable. I’ll do what I can and get back to you. Pierce out.” With his conversation terminated, Pierce turned his attention to the Tenganist prophet, who was in the center of the cave giving orders to her followers while holding her child in her arms. He approached her with slow, deliberate steps and stood rigidly before her, but did not speak. Instead, he merely watched her with his words stuck in his throat.

 

Eventually she turned around and initiated the exchange herself. “Oh, it’s you. What is it?”

 

“One of my superiors wants me to talk to you about something. Or should I say, someone. I’ve been informed of someone named Saeko Oryo, and I’d like to know if she is linked to…”

 

Pierce got caught up in his own words and didn’t realize how the prophet had frozen up. He only took notice when, well before he even finished his question, she smacked him across the face with enough force to nearly knock him over.

 

“Don’t you ever say that name here again,” she growled, while Pierce could only stare at her in shock and hold his face. “We will take everything you’ve given us and dissolve this alliance immediately if you make that mistake a second time. Am I making myself clear?”

 

“What’s going on?” Emerging from one of the cave’s side passages, Renzo had already obscured his face once again using his scarf and hat. “I demand to know where I am!”

 

“I take it you managed to heal him, Alesia,” the prophet said to the auburn-haired, apron-wearing young woman who had emerged next to Renzo.

 

“With my power it was easy,” Alesia responded. “I fixed him up good and quick.”

 

“Who are you people? Just where am I?”

 

“We are the Tenganists,” explained the prophet, “a race targeted for extinction by Ghet… Polaris. Many of our dwindling numbers have banded together to fight for survival by any means necessary.”

 

“You were badly battered and unconscious in the thin air up in the mountains when you were found,” Alesia continued. “Our leader brought you here and I healed you using my power of Transcendence.”

 

“Transcendence?” Renzo wondered.

 

“It is a special power from within that many of us possess, manifesting differently in each individual. Alesia’s is the power to heal injury and disease, so make sure you thank her for that. Now... you asked where you are. You are currently just north of Blackthorn City, just outside the city’s borders.”

 

“I made it to Blackthorn! Finally!”

 

“Are you sure revealing the location of this base is a good idea?” Pierce abruptly questioned.

 

The prophet sharply turned to face Pierce. “This base is soon to be abandoned. Once our equipment is prepared, we will leave.”

 

While Pierce and the prophet continued their discussion, Renzo looked to Alesia in confusion. “Just who is she?”

 

“The symbol of hope rising from the ashes for us all,” Alesia replied, turning somber and reflective. “They say she was there when it all began. When Ghetsis annihilated the very first community in his campaign against our people, she was the only one to survive. As our people were systematically killed, she emerged as a symbol of hope to both protect us and empower us to fight back.”

 

“Do you know who she is under the cloak?” Renzo was genuinely interested in Alesia’s story, and was concentrating intensely on it.

 

“Only a few of us know who she really is, those who have been alongside her the longest. We just know her as the prophet of our people. If it wasn’t for her, we as a people would not exist anymore. We would have fallen into complete despair long ago.”

 

Renzo glanced back up at the prophet, who was still speaking to Pierce. He could not put words to what he was feeling.

 

-:-

 

Matt, Nekou and Olivia were underground, having followed the tunnel from the ransacked room of the Pokémon Center into the main passages of Union Cave. It was a dank, dark place, and their exploration was guided only by the lantern Matt held, its light reflecting off the water dripping down the stone walls.

 

“It feels like we’ve been down here forever,” Olivia complained. “I don’t like it here.”

 

“You gotta deal with caves if you’re going to be a traveling trainer… because for some fucking reason the government insists on building roads right through them.”

 

Nekou’s cynicism made Matt smile, but he remained silent and focused on the path ahead.

 

In short order, he spotted something lying on the ground, and held the lantern toward it.

 

“What’s that?” Olivia ran ahead, picked up the object she’d spotted, and quizzically examined it. It was a hard, bulbous and yellow piece of fruit. “A Sitrus Berry?”

 

“Doubtlessly something taken from the Pokémon Center.”

 

While Olivia and Nekou talked, Matt continued shining the light around, looking to see if the thieves were anywhere nearby. At first there appeared to be no other living things around, but an insistent uneasy feeling compelled him to keep searching.

 

When a threat finally appeared, though, it wasn’t he who saw it coming. Nekou was the one to react, pulling both Matt and Olivia out of the way of a flurry of rocks flung in their direction.

 

“What was that?!” Matt gasped, falling to his hands and knees.

 

“Watch your fucking head, that’s what.” Nekou picked up the lantern and held it in the direction of where the rocks had come from, revealing four Geodude with dull, blank looks in their eyes.

 

“Think those Geodude are the Pokémon we’re looking for?” asked Olivia. “Wait, no, they can’t be. The damage in the Pokémon Center looked like claw marks.”

 

“Good deduction, Olivia. Something’s clearly wrong with these Geodude, though…”

 

Looking over at the four Pokémon, Matt opened the eyepiece covering his artificial left eye. “There’s some kind of strange energy residue here that looks like it’s affecting them. Wait… this is just like what happened on Route 29 with the Pawniard!”

 

What Matt failed to realize, however, was that Olivia still had deep fear of what had happened that day. His bringing it back up triggered those fears, and the color drained away from her face.

 

“I’ll stop them,” she said, her voice shaking as much as the arm she held one of her Poké Balls in. “It won’t happen again…”

 

Her Oshawott appeared from the Poké Ball and stood between her and the Geodude. Matt wasn’t thrilled by what he was seeing, though, and started to reach out to her.

 

“Matt, stop right there,” Nekou scolded him, making him freeze up. “Don’t make the same mistake you made before. She can’t be sheltered forever.”

 

“Y-you’re right…”

 

The Geodude weren’t interested in anything the three had to say. To them, Matt, Nekou and Olivia were intruders, and with the energy of the Meteonite exaggerating their thoughts, they attacked again. This time, their four Rock Throw attacks were all directed at Oshawott.

 

“Get out of the way and use Water Gun!”

 

One advantage Oshawott decisively held over all of the Geodude was in terms of speed; though the four Rock-and-Ground-type Pokémon attacked as a group, Oshawott was able to effectively sidestep around each stone thrown his way before retaliating with a gush of water washing over all four.

 

“Yeah, you go for it!” Nekou called out in encouragement, even as two of the Geodude managed to rise for more fighting. “Oshawott, you too! Both of you have this!”

 

Nekou’s words prompted a smile from Olivia – her first in some time – as her spirit was uplifted. Off to the side, Matt watched with amazed respect for them both.

 

The two Geodude who avoided fainting pulled themselves up with their strong arms and turned angrily to Olivia and Oshawott. One of them threw himself at the Water-type, attempting to hit him with a Mega Punch attack. Oshawott managed to dodge it only to step right into the path of the other Geodude’s Rock Throw.

 

Olivia’s eyes widened and her breathing grew short as she watched Oshawott fall onto his back. He wasn’t downed just yet, but the violent impact of the stone Geodude threw at him left his entire torso bruised.

 

“Oshawott…” she blankly whispered, her arm trembling by her side.

 

Hearing his trainer say his name drove Oshawott’s determination to earn her respect, and he pulled himself back up from the ground. Olivia drew a quiet gasp as she watched Oshawott growl at the two remaining Geodude, as if he was daring them to attack.

 

If it was a dare, it worked.  The Geodude that had lunged at Oshawott did so again, his arm pulled back in preparation for another Mega Punch attempt. Oshawott handily sidestepped out of the way, but this time, he fully expected the other Geodude’s Rock Throw and immediately ducked to avoid it.

 

Olivia felt an unexpected surge of confidence rising in herself when she saw Oshawott’s determination. It was enough to drive her to take charge and call out, “Hit them both with a spinning Water Gun!”

 

Buoyed by the respect he perceived Olivia to be giving him, Oshawott resolved to decisively finish the fight and threw himself into a spiral motion. Neither Geodude anticipated such a move, so both fell to the torrent of water that spun through the corridor.

 

“Impressive,” Nekou commented once the battle had concluded, pushing up her glasses as she spoke. “Even with such a distinct type advantage, taking four Geodude with just one Pokémon of your own is pretty good.”

 

“Thanks!” Olivia replied, smiling broadly.

 

“So what do you think? Will you try to give Oshawott more of a chance now?”

 

Seeing the look of confusion Nekou’s question had left Olivia with, Matt stepped up to them and intervened, even though all he could manage was ineffectually asking, “What?”

 

“I’ve been paying attention to Olivia’s battles since we left Violet City,” Nekou explained. “I noticed that she’s given every Pokémon she has but Oshawott a chance before now.” Olivia fidgeted, frowned and turned away as Nekou turned to her. “I’m not mad at you, Olivia, I just want to know what you’re thinking.”

 

“I… I just…” Caught at a loss for words, Olivia turned her back on Nekou, only to realize that doing so made her face Oshawott, which prompted her to turn partially away from them both. “I’m still torn on it. I still haven’t gotten comfortable with all of this.”

 

“That’s perfectly fine. Just don’t give up on Oshawott yet, okay? It hasn’t been that long.”

 

“I guess you’re right…” Olivia listlessly uttered. “So much has been going on… it’s not like how I thought this journey would be.”

 

“Let’s keep going,” Matt suggested. “If we focus on finding whoever stole the food from the Pokémon Center, maybe that’ll help.”

 

“So you’ve got a good idea for once,” Nekou deadpanned.

 

-:-

 

With Ghetsis standing rigidly outside their cage, Anthea and Concordia sang in haunting voices that echoed in the room. Their book of Tenganist myth had been discarded to the sheets making up the floor of their prison, left open on the page of music that dictated the melody the two were reciting.

 

“To think that it was this song all along,” Ghetsis sneered as they finished. “Team Rocket’s actions revealed the truth to us and we were too shortsighted to see it… Come!”

 

By banging his cane on the floor, Ghetsis summoned Pestilence and Chaos to the room. They weren’t alone when they teleported in, though; with them was a third man, whose torn lab coat, tousled brown hair and broken glasses spoke to how poor a state he was in.

 

“Confirm that that’s the song,” Polaris’s spokesman ordered the shambling wreck of a man.

 

“What are you going to do with it?” the man demanded, spitting a small amount of blood as he spoke. “You drape yourselves in being noble warriors for the people, but this is just…”

 

Stepping in front of the man, Ghetsis placed the end of his cane under his prisoner’s chin and used it to lift his head slightly. “I know everything about you and how to get what I want from you, so for the sake of your wife and son, Professor Elm, confirm that these two pieces of human trash are telling me the truth. Is this the song that unlocks the hidden power within the Bell Tower or not?”

 

His spirit sufficiently broken by Ghetsis’s menacing threats, Professor Elm submitted to him and weakly nodded. “It is, but you can’t use it without…”

 

“…the Clear Bell?” Ghetsis guessed, completing Elm’s sentence and terrifying the professor further. “You don’t need to worry about that. We’ve already taken care of it.”

 

Just then, Darkness teleported into the room to join the other Shadow Triad members. He kneeled before Ghetsis, then said, “Lord Ghetsis, sir, we must begin preparations for your speech tomorrow.”

 

“Very well. Elm, you and the two witches behind me will soon be vital parts of the beginning of my new and perfect era of humanity, so all of you just stand by and wait for that wonderful day to arrive.”

 

-:-

 

In a chamber beneath Giovanni’s Viridian City mansion, Jessie, James and Ariana stood in a line next to their car. They became even more stiffly official once he actually arrived, with Stacia following loyally behind him.

 

“Hail Giovanni!” all three of them recited as their boss stood before them.

 

“I trust everything is being handled according to the plans laid out in Operation Atlas?” Giovanni questioned.

 

“Giovanni, sir, everything is exactly as you ordered it,” Jessie answered.

 

“We have further information available for you once you get in the car, sir!” James added, eager to get in actions to earn Giovanni’s praise for himself.

 

“Very well, let us have a look.”

 

Ariana got back in the front of the car, while Jessie and James held the door so Giovanni could enter the back before they did. Once all four had entered the vehicle, James handed Giovanni the R-Pad.

 

Team Rocket’s script ‘R’ logo briefly appeared on the screen, then a video feed of Dr. Zager materialized.

 

“Hail Giovanni!” Zager declared the instant he could see his boss’s face.

 

“Give me updates, Zager,” Giovanni demanded. “Exactly where do we stand at this moment?”

 

“The Polaris cell in Goldenrod City has been infiltrated, according to our latest reports, but our mole hasn’t been successful yet in finding out who is in charge there. It’s been difficult to find out actual names with the higher-ups of Polaris using code names to hide their identities.”

 

“What about the Atlas Program? Has it been effective?”

 

“Remarkably so, Giovanni. By using our satellite, the field agent who helped create the program uploaded it into the International Police’s servers completely without notice. There’s now an undetectable piece of mutating code buried deep in their systems, erasing any and all evidence Team Rocket ever were recognized as criminals. They’re no longer an issue for us… now it’s truly us against Polaris.”

 

“Excellent work. I’ll make sure to let Rosalie and her team know how well they did when I see them in Goldenrod City.”

 

“Best of luck, Giovanni, sir.”

 

When Zager disappeared from the R-Pad’s screen, Giovanni passed the computer back to James. Before Ariana could do more than start the car, though, Stacia appeared at one of the windows, prompting Giovanni to roll it down.

 

“Please be careful out there, Mr. Giovanni,” she said, bowing to him and refusing to make eye contact at first. As soon as she realized that Jessie and James were watching, though, she turned formal again and pushed her glasses up. “I-I’ll look forward to hearing of your great success in defeating Polaris.”

 

Stacia sharply turned away, preventing those in the car from seeing any of the emotion she might have been showing, and left the chamber.

 

“You all done back there?” Ariana asked, craning her head to look back from the driver’s seat.

 

“It’s finished, Ariana,” Giovanni replied while rolling the window back up. “We must get going.”

 

“Alright, alright.” Narrowing her eyes and smirking, Ariana said, “You still make Zager say ‘Hail Giovanni?’”

 

With that, Ariana hit the gas and drove off into the network of underground tunnels she’d used to arrive beneath Viridian City.

 

-:-

 

Matt, Nekou and Olivia spent quite some time searching Union Cave for evidence of the culprit behind the Pokémon Center burglary, but aside from several Sandshrew exhibiting the same strange behavior as the Geodude that Olivia defeated with her Roselia, there was little evidence aside from more dropped Sitrus Berries.

 

All of that would soon change, as after finding several dropped Berries in close proximity to each other, they happened upon a bizarre scene – five black-and-blue-bodied mole Pokémon with large noses and claws, clearly affected by the same phenomenon as the Geodude and Sandshrew, were attacking a group of Zubat and Rattata. A large pile of Sitrus Berries was lying on the ground nearby next to an underground river.

 

“What the hell is going on here?” Matt exclaimed the moment they came across the fight. “Look at those Sitrus Berries over there… I bet these Pokémon are the ones who stole them!”

 

“No shit,” Nekou sarcastically muttered. “Seriously, though, the claws of those Drilbur match the claw marks on the shelves in the Pokémon Center.”

 

“Drilbur?”

 

Intrigued, Olivia took out her Pokédex and pointed it at the group of Pokémon.

 

“Drilbur, the Mole Pokémon. Type is Ground. By spinning its body, it can dig straight through the ground at a speed of 30 mph.”

 

Unfortunately for the three, while Olivia was listening to the Pokédex’s description, the five Drilbur had finished off their foes and turned their attention to the group themselves. One of the Drilbur, standing in front of the others, raised up his claw and shouted at them.

 

“I think that’s the leader,” Matt deduced. “I’ll take care of that one. You two handle the others!”

 

“Alright. Come on, Olivia, fight with me. It’ll be fun.”

 

“Huh? Oh… alright, then. Roselia, Oshawott, let’s play!”

 

“Marie, Dalian, you join those two!”

 

To oppose their share of the Drilbur horde, Olivia sent Oshawott back out along with her Roselia to join forces with Nekou’s Sneasel and Gothorita. The four Drilbur they had to face stared at the team with the same strange, empty looks the Geodude had.

 

“Olivia, I’ll take the lead,” Nekou quietly suggested. “You slip in and take them out when a window opens.”

 

“Alright, I got it!” Olivia cheerfully replied.

 

Nekou smiled at Olivia, then quickly turned back to the Drilbur. “Marie, use Ice Beam!” she commanded before the Ground-type Pokémon could attack.

 

The two Drilbur closest to the direct path of the freezing beam Marie shot from her mouth jumped back to avoid being struck by it, bringing them very close to their two companions.

 

“Just what I wanted,” Nekou whispered to herself with a smirk. “Dalian, mow them down! Energy Ball!”

 

With her targets clustered together, Dalian had a much easier time aiming at them. She brought her arms together and formed a green sphere of energy, which she then threw at them. Two of the Drilbur tried to stop the oncoming Energy Ball by kicking up dirt with their claws, but their Mud-Slap shields failed to do anything. Dalian’s attack struck the four Ground-types with explosive force, scattering them in the dirt.

 

“Do your thing, Olivia, it’s all yours!”

 

Nekou stepped back and recalled Marie and Dalian, allowing Olivia the opening she had been promised.

 

Without hesitation, she eagerly seized it, calling out, “Roselia, you use Energy Ball, too! Oshawott, follow it up with Water Gun!”

 

The Drilbur were only beginning to regroup when another Energy Ball descended upon them, this one courtesy of Olivia’s Roselia. Only one of the four took a direct hit, but he was thrown into another of his companions and knocked her down as well. The whole group was then drenched when Oshawott let an even more powerful Water Gun loose on them.

 

Three of the Drilbur fainted and collapsed, but the final one turned violently on Olivia. He stood on his toes, extended his arms to his sides, and flung himself at Oshawott while spinning in a vicious spiral.

 

In a bid to stop the Drilbur’s Rapid Spin, Oshawott reached for where his shell would have been, forgetting that it still hadn’t grown back. He froze once he realized it wasn’t there, leaving himself completely open to being run down.

 

“Oh… there’s no point in forcing this.” Taking Oshawott’s Poké Ball in her hand, Olivia quietly directed, “Roselia, cover for Oshawott and finish up. Oshawott, retu…”

 

Hearing his trainer want to call him back caused something in Oshawott’s mind to snap. He pulled his battered, bruised body off the ground, and though he was trembling all over, he leveraged all the injuries he’d suffered against both the Geodude and the Drilbur as a way to call upon his full power. A bright blue aura surrounded him, and he cried out to the ceiling of the cavern.

 

“…Oshawott?” Olivia said, taken aback by this sudden turn.

 

“That’s Oshawott’s ability, Torrent!” Nekou exclaimed. “Water-type moves are stronger now that Oshawott’s near fainting, so go for it!”

 

“Is that so? Well then… Oshawott, show that Drilbur what you’re made of! Water Gun!”

 

Oshawott locked his fiery gaze on the last standing Drilbur. His eyes were so intense that if the Drilbur’s mind wasn’t warped by the Meteonite’s energy, the Ground-type would have been intimidated into fleeing. As he was unable to think clearly, though, he lunged at Oshawott while using Rapid Spin again – only to be swiftly and decisively cut down by the gigantic flood of water Oshawott unleashed.

 

“O-oh, wow…” Olivia was barely able to speak with how stunned she was by Oshawott’s display of power. “That was pretty awesome, Oshawott.”

 

Though he was exhausted from fighting so much, Oshawott grinned broadly and cheered for himself, having gained praise from Olivia.

 

“Just awesome?” Nekou chimed in. “No, that was pretty badass. You keep kicking ass like that and Avril won’t know what hit her.”

 

“Oh, you better believe it. Next time I see her I’m bringing it right to her.”

 

Meanwhile, while Nekou and Olivia had been busy dealing with the Drilbur horde, Matt was engaged in a standoff with the fifth Drilbur. In keeping with his promise to Nikolai to use her more often, Matt had gone with Charlotte for the battle. There hadn’t been much in the way of actual fighting, however, just Matt’s Eelektrik and the wild Drilbur constantly jousting for position.

 

“Electric-type moves aren’t going to work, so that makes Charge Beam and Thunder Wave useless… I guess in that case I’ll just have to try Headbutt!”

 

Charlotte lunged headfirst through the air toward the Drilbur, who retaliated by curling up his body into the shape of a drill and spiraling right into her. Both got thrown back when they impacted each other, but Charlotte took a much more severe blow, being tossed several feet across the cave.

 

Taken aback by this turn, Matt stared wide-eyed while Charlotte lifted herself from the ground. “That was Drill Run, I could tell… but that’s a Ground-type move, and Eelektrik has Levitate…”

 

“That Drilbur’s ability must be Mold Breaker!” Nekou interjected, while watching the battle with Olivia. “Some Pokémon have rare, unusual abilities. That must be one of them.”

 

“I see… thanks for the advice. Knowing that, Charlotte, go ahead and use Headbutt again!”

 

The scenario repeated itself; within moments, Charlotte and Drilbur were heading straight for another clash of Headbutt and Drill Run. This time, however, Matt had a plan.

 

“Acid Spray, quickly!”

 

As part of using Drill Run, Drilbur had to cover his face, and thus couldn’t see when Charlotte twisted out of the way. He halted his attack and unfolded as soon as he realized he hadn’t hit his target, then turned around to face Charlotte – only to get a face full of the orange acid she choked up. Now blinded by the substance having splashed in his eyes, Drilbur was left completely helpless.

 

“And now, Charlotte, use Headbutt one more time!”

 

Charlotte lifted herself through the air and dive-bombed the Drilbur, slamming him into the ground. With the Pokémon effectively stopped, Matt reached into his bag, pulled out a Poké Ball, and threw it.

 

Olivia, Oshawott, Roselia, Nekou and Charlotte all watched closely with Matt as his Poké Ball wobbled in the pit left by the Drilbur. Before long, it stopped, indicating a successful capture.

 

“Well, we can consider this case closed,” Matt said. He picked up the Poké Ball that now contained his new Drilbur and put it in his bag. “There must be another of those Meteonite pieces somewhere nearby. Those Drilbur were acting just like the Pawniard and Bisharp did under its influence.”

 

“That’s probably a safe bet,” Nekou agreed. “It wouldn’t surprise me if Polaris has something to do with this…”

 

“What?”

 

“Yeah, Nekou, what are you talking about?” the equally-confused Olivia asked.

 

Before Nekou could answer, the whole cave started to shake, instantly cutting off the conversation.

 

“The fuck is that?”

 

“An earthquake?” Matt stammered. “But why here?”

 

“You guys, I think we better get out of here…”

 

“That’s a good idea, Olivia,” Matt said, sending Charlotte back to her Poké Ball. “Come on!”

 

They turned and started to leave, but before they could make it far, the nearby wall exploded in a cloud of dust and rock, creating a cloud that filled the area and a blast that threw all three of them down.

 

“What… what was that?! Olivia!” The dust cloud obscured all sight, so Matt was left to frantically feel around blindly for his charge’s hand. He came across an arm fairly quickly and grabbed it.

 

“It’s me, ass!” Nekou shrilled, pulling her arm out of Matt’s grip. “Don’t worry about me, find Olivia…”

 

A great roar shook the passage, both blasting away the dust and causing Olivia to scream. She was collapsed with her back against one of the cave’s walls, with an Onix towering over her. Just like the Geodude and Drilbur, the Onix’s eyes were empty and soulless.

 

“Oh, fuck, not again.”

 

“I’ll make a diversion of myself,” Matt volunteered, just about instantly. “As soon as I draw its attention, get Olivia out of there.” Without giving Nekou a chance to say anything about the plan, Matt pulled a Poké Ball from his bag and threw it, releasing a Hitmonchan that immediately braced for battle. “Rocky, use Drain Punch!”

 

The boxing glove around Rocky’s right fist took became enveloped in spiraling green energy, and using his thin but surprisingly powerful legs, he dashed toward the Onix, jumped onto her near her tail, then used the rocks comprising her body to ascend and strike her in the head. His body was briefly covered with the same green glow as he leapt back afterward.

 

Matt’s plan worked. The Onix angrily turned her gaze to him and growled in a voice deep enough to nearly cause another earthquake.

 

Though his body was getting tense against his will, Matt continued with his intentions. “Was that painful for you?” he taunted while gesturing for Nekou to go to Olivia. “You’re a big Pokémon! Was one little punch all it took?”

 

In the midst of the rumbling coming from the Onix, Nekou snuck around the edge of the passage and reached Olivia. “It’s alright, Olivia, we’re going to fuck that Onix up. Don’t be afraid of it.”

 

Despite her attempts to be quiet, however, the Onix somehow heard Nekou’s threat and shifted her glance back in Olivia’s direction. Once the Rock-and-Ground-type Pokémon saw Nekou and Olivia together, she roared in rage, whipped back around and raised her tail.

 

“It’s my fault, get away!”

 

Time seemed to slow down for both Matt and Olivia the moment Nekou pushed the latter away from her. Both of them could only watch in gut-wrenching horror as the Onix smashed her tail into Nekou right before their eyes, seemingly crushing her into the wall.

 

“Nekou!!” Olivia tearfully cried out. “No, not now… I needed you…”

 

“Not again… not again…” Matt kept repeating to himself, images of Eleanor’s death playing in his head like a wretched recording. He began convulsing and could barely stand, let alone coherently speak. “Not again… no, no, no, no…” Suddenly, he sharply lashed his head upward and trained a nearly insane glare on the Onix. “If that’s how it’s going to be… Rocky, show no mercy! Drain Punch! Do it repeatedly!”

 

Seeing his Hitmonchan relentlessly striking the Onix gave Matt no catharsis; all he could think of was how he had once again been unable to stop an entirely preventable death. This time was more severe to him, though, a fact he realized when he looked down to see Olivia’s face covered in tears. He felt as if he had let two people die.

 

Neither Matt nor Olivia could have ever expected what happened next.

 

Nekou broke from the wall she had been crushed into, having somehow survived the blow, and fell forward onto her hands and knees before standing up hunched. Her arms hung loosely at her sides, and when she turned upward to face the Onix directly, her eyes were glowing yellow once again.

 

“N-Nekou?” Olivia stuttered, blinking away her tears.

 

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Matt nervously said.

 

Snarling, Nekou lunged directly at the Onix, exhibiting nearly inhuman reflexes while doing so. She punched the Pokémon with a closed fist and actually hit with enough force to make her roar in pain. A sharp cracking at the moment of impact revealed the broken hand that came as Nekou’s price for such strength, but barely seemed to affect her.

 

“We have to help her, Olivia, so use Roselia. Rocky, Ice Punch!”

 

Quickly recalling Oshawott, Olivia took Matt’s advice and shouted, “Energy Ball!”

 

Rocky was in position to simply turn around and strike Onix’s back with her fist enveloped in freezing cold air. Roselia, meanwhile, struck the Rock-and-Ground-type’s head with her Energy Ball, causing the Onix to convulse violently.

 

Suddenly, Nekou – having already regained use of her right hand – screamed out and shoved against the Onix’s body with incredible force, causing the Pokémon to fall backwards and ultimately land with her huge head in the river. Between all of the damage from the Pokémon, the blows inflicted by Nekou and the water in the river, Onix could take no more and fainted.

 

“She already healed that hand?!” Matt gasped. “We beat Onix, but that doesn’t make any sense…”

 

It wasn’t over, however. The bizarre, animalistic rage consuming Nekou didn’t abate simply because Onix was defeated, and she lashed around, fixing her insane gaze on Matt. Unhindered by her hair, which had become long enough to nearly touch the ground, she rushed him, baring her teeth. He had barely enough time to reflexively hold up one arm to defend himself, and it being made of metal was the only reason she didn’t end up biting through it.

 

“The fuck has gotten into you, Nekou?! Snap out of it!” he pleaded.

 

She responded by grabbing his shoulders and flinging him into the unconscious Onix, which shook him up more than it actually injured him. He stumbled up only to find her rushing him again, which he avoided by jumping out of her path in a panic.

 

Her relentless assault didn’t let up, and in mere seconds she was on top of him again, attempting to slash at him with her hands. He barely managed to weave away, and he was forced to kick her away with his artificial left leg to open up some space between them.

 

“Stop it! Please, no more! I don’t want this anymore!”

 

Nekou was just in the course of recovering so she could attack Matt again when Olivia interrupted with her fearful screams. Olivia’s voice somehow got through to her, and even though she remained hunched and snarling, she stopped her vicious attacks and seemed to be thinking.

 

“Be using Brick Break, Toxicroak!”

 

Out of nowhere, a Toxicroak appeared and slammed his fist down on Nekou’s head, instantly knocking her out. She fell sideways into the flowing water of the underground river.

 

-:-

 

“There’s a phone call from the holy land,” Alesia said to the prophet, the two of them standing amongst a number of other Tenganists still preparing their Pokémon.

 

“From the holy land? That can’t be good. Give me the phone, please.” After taking the phone from her subordinate, the prophet said into it, “What happened?”

 

“An uninvited guest turned up here,” a male voice responded. “She just appeared in the temple, and seemed very confused. She thought she was in the Ruins of Alph.”

 

“I don’t have time to figure out what’s going on. We’re busy preparing for our operation. If you don’t think she’s a threat, tell her not to tell anyone what she saw and have the old man send her back to the Ruins of Alph with his Abra.”

 

-:-

 

Nekou abruptly awoke several hours later, only to find herself staring at the ceiling of a darkened hospital room in a Pokémon Center. She was disoriented by her surroundings, and was left breathing heavily.

 

“I see you’re finally awake,” Matt said.

 

Startled, she sat up in her bed, discovering that he was the only one with her in the room, sitting next to the bed with his elbows rested on his knees. He wasn’t wearing his coat or carrying his bag.

 

“G-get the fuck out of my room. Stop watching me sleep.”

 

“You weren’t sleeping. Please don’t push me away right now.”

 

“What happened…?” The magnitude of the situation began to slowly dawn on her, and her voice became shallow and quiet. “Oh no, it… it happened, didn’t it?”

 

“If by ‘it’ you mean you surviving what should have been a fatal injury and then turning into an animalistic killing machine… yeah, that happened. That detective, Looker, he turned up and knocked you out with his Toxicroak.” Matt sighed and closed his eyes. His head felt heavy. “You fell into a river in Union Cave and got washed out into Route 33. Olivia and I found you washed up in the rain and I kept you warm in my coat as we brought you here… to Azalea Town’s Pokémon Center. But none of that’s important. We’re all worried about you.”

 

Nekou didn’t say anything right away, instead choosing to bite her lip and search for something to say. She wouldn’t make eye contact with Matt either, which was what him realize just how wrong things were.

 

“Will these help you feel better?”

 

Reaching into his bag, Matt produced Nekou’s music player and a can of beer, both of which he handed over to her right away. She immediately opened the beer can to sip at it, but still didn’t look at Matt.

 

Suddenly getting a flash of intuition, Matt asked, “Are you worried about how Olivia took it?” Nekou nodded in response, prompting Matt to say, “Olivia was freaked out by what happened, I’ll be honest. But she’s worried too… I almost think she’s more worried about you than how she felt about it herself. She’s only not here because she was so tired she needed to sleep.”

 

“You mean I didn’t attack her?”

 

“No. In fact, when Olivia called out to you, it actually got through to you somehow.”

 

This finally got her to look back at him, her eyes reflecting true fear – something incredibly rare for her. “I…I’m sick, I know… But I don’t know why that happens… and I’m embarrassed you all saw it… it’s my curse, nobody else should have to witness it…”

 

“I could sit here and question how someone turns into a beast like that,” he said, shaking his head, “but I’m not going to. If there’s anything I can tell it’s that objectifying you like some sort of test subject is wrong. But let me ask you, why do you not want anyone to see it? You said you considered it embarrassing, right?”

 

When Nekou nodded, Matt stood and began working to undo the buttons on his shirt.

 

“Get the fuck away from me!” Nekou shouted, pulling back on the bed. “You come at me and I’ll fuck you up!”

 

“I’m not doing anything of the sort,” Matt responded. “You said you were embarrassed because I saw what happened in the cave. I’m going to make up for that by showing you a shame I carry.”

 

“What are you talking about? Why?”

 

“Because I’m not going to judge you for what you suffer from, and I trust you to know something about me. It’s only fair that way.”

 

“Wait, you’re not afraid of me knowing whatever secret you’re about to tell me?” Nekou questioned. She was incredulous that Matt was actually putting so much trust in her. “I wouldn’t do the same.”

 

“I know you wouldn’t… but I also think there’s more to you than that. The feeling I get is that you would keep your secrets to protect yourself.”

 

With that, Matt undid the final button and pulled the left side of his shirt open, revealing that the left side of his torso was covered in burn scars.

 

Much to his surprise, though, Nekou didn’t seem fazed in the least by what she saw. “What did that to you?”

 

“The same thing that made me lose my left eye burned up a whole lot more,” he explained in a sad voice. “When I was given this body to rehabilitate myself from those injuries, I got my face repaired… but I didn’t want to do the same for these. They remind me of my failures and of what I must be driven to find.”

 

Nekou did not respond. She only looked away and tried to ponder all the things running through her head at once. Primary among them was her utter shock at her fear of being judged over her strange abilities not being validated. Acceptance was a rare thing for her when it came to that, and she had to fight with herself over whether or not to tell Matt any more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

END of CHAPTER 10

 

 

Chapter Text

There’s a lot to get to here. The main warning this time is for panic attacks, self-harm and suicide threats.

 

-:-

 

CHAPTER 11: Hard Reset

 

-:-

 

The morning after the chaos in Union Cave, the sun bathed Azalea Town in its rays, with none of the previous cloud cover impeding it.

 

The Pokémon Center standing at the center of the small town provided a stark contrast to its surroundings. It was a modern building among a village of wooden structures, a place far from the hand of progress that had worked so harshly on Cherrygrove City. Only the Poké Mart down the road kept it from being completely out of place.

 

Inside, Olivia was sitting at a table in the common area with Looker and Silver. She was sipping tea and eating a biscuit, while Looker had a cup of coffee and Silver simply sat scowling, a glass of orange juice in front of him.

 

“Mr. Looker,” Olivia questioned, keeping her eyes on the teacup in front of herself to avoid having to meet Looker and Silver’s gazes. “Why were you in Union Cave yesterday?”

 

“Being there was a strange energy pulse in that area. Identical to it was the energy pulse that struck Route 29, so suspicious something there is, I suspect.”

 

Olivia looked up slightly, though not far enough to meet either pair of eyes opposite her. “So Matt was right…”

 

“Hm? What are you precisely speaking words about?”

“He came to the same conclusion,” the sullen young woman explained. “I believe it, too. The Geodude, Sandshrew, Drilbur and Onix we saw all were acting strangely, just like the Pawniard and Bisharp on Route 29.”

 

“Did you say Geodude, Sandshrew, Drilbur and Onix?” Silver interrupted. When Olivia nodded, he pushed for further confirmation by asking, “And no other Pokémon, you’re sure?”

 

“Just those four species, I’m sure.”

 

Silver quickly turned to Looker. “Geodude, Sandshrew, Drilbur and Onix are all at least part Ground-types. If no other Pokémon were affected, those energy pulses might only affect a single type of Pokémon at a time.”

“You are suggesting the notion which I am thinking?”

 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of Team Rocket’s experiments. She’s here, so there must be other Team Rocket members in Azalea Town, and I intend to take them all out.”

 

“Duly noted,” Looker said, crossing his arms. “Olivia, what I am wondering to be asking you questions about is what I saw with my eyes when I first was encountering your friends yesterday. What are you possessing the ability to be telling me about that?”

 

“I don’t want to talk about it…” Olivia answered, looking back down.

 

“Please, I must be insisting on it. My investigation into these blasts of strange energy and what the kind of effect they are acting to have on the Pokémon of the local area would gain great aid from learning more true facts about what happened. Why and how can there be happening to be a person who acts sometimes with the natural savagery of a Pokémon that is wild?”

 

“You should just arrest that woman,” Silver mumbled under his breath.

 

“Be letting Olivia answer the question that is mine.”

 

“I don’t know anything, even if I wanted to know!” Olivia finally cracked under the pressure of Looker’s questions, slamming her fists on her lap. “Actually I’m not sure I want to know. I want to forget yesterday ever happened.”

 

Looker clasped his hands together and leaned forward, resting his head on them. “Would speaking of the things that make you feel good be a help?”

 

“I think so.” Olivia took a deep breath, calming both her muscles and her speech. “Some good things happened yesterday. I got to train a lot with the Oshawott I got from Professor Juniper. Nekou was there for me, too. She wouldn’t stop encouraging me to do better. And Matt… well, he was there, I guess. I’m going to prove to him that I can be treated like an adult, like how he acts toward my dad.”

 

“At least your father was a good man, unlike mine,” Silver spitefully interjected.

 

“Be silent with your tongue, Silver, or I will be sending you away from here until interrogation has reached the point called its conclusion.” Softening, Looker continued by asking, “Olivia, please be trying to tell me about what took place in events at a point in time most immediately before Nekou’s descent into a state of being feral.”

 

“Remember those Drilbur I mentioned? We had just finished fighting them. Nekou helped me fight off four of them, while Matt was battling the fifth. We finished battling them when suddenly this Onix that was affected by the Meteonite broke in and smashed Nekou against the wall. She started acting strange after that.”

 

“So it is acceptable to be concluding that the energy pulse itself was not acting as the cause for her violent actions. That is good, because it would happen to be bad if humans were also in a position to be affected by those blasts.” Skipping a beat, Looker suddenly realized what Olivia had said and gasped. “Did you… did you speak from your lips the word Meteonite?”

 

“Yeah, what about it?”

 

“I will have to be making sure to tell myself to note that for future investigations.” What Looker didn’t tell her was just how major it was to know that the Meteonite was involved for him.

 

He wouldn’t get a chance to, either, as Matt and Nekou came up to the table. Almost immediately, Olivia shrank back into her seat, her body shaking.

 

Mindful to take great care in choosing his words, Matt gently asked, “Olivia, what’s wrong?”

 

“You know what’s wrong,” she mumbled in response, keeping her eyes locked in the opposite direction of the two people who distressed her.

 

Nekou turned to Matt, the two of them having anticipated Olivia’s mood.

 

~:~

 

The previous night, after telling Nekou what had happened in Union Cave and doing his best to soothe her fears about it, Matt had gone back to his own room. In the light of a floor lamp next to the room’s desk, he was sitting at a painting easel, putting colors randomly on the canvas to create an incoherent display.

 

He was so startled by his door opening that he nearly dropped the palette in his left hand. Spinning around, he saw Nekou staggering in with a pillow in one hand and a beer can in the other.

 

“What are you doing in here?” he sharply questioned, though he quickly realized this was inappropriate and softened his tone. “Do you want to talk some more?”

 

Nekou did not answer until after she threw herself down on the bed. “I don’t want to be alone. I get nightmares.” When Matt put the palette down and stood from the easel, Nekou shouted at him, “I’m not lying!”

 

“No, I believe you…” Sitting down on the bed but facing away from her, Matt continued, “You must have some pretty bad nightmares, judging from how much you drink at night to escape them.”

 

“How did you know that?”

 

“I’ve had to do it sometimes myself. My nightmares are memories of the things I’ve seen, but I think there are some things I dream of that are memories of events I otherwise can’t remember anymore… if I might ask, what about yours?”

 

Nekou put her beer can on the nightstand next to the bed, then rolled over onto her back. “They never make sense. I see and hear images and sounds that… they just don’t make any sense. It’s like a fucking acid trip. Other times I dream of science, history, you know, textbook shit. That just goes on and on until my head explodes from it all. The one thing that’s always consistent is that I hear this woman screaming… and it just never ends.”

 

“Do you think that they’re memories of something?”

 

“I don’t know, and that’s what makes them terrifying.” Nekou pushed her bangs from her forehead, then closed her eyes. “Olivia’s going to be left with the same thing now. How the fuck can she understand what happened if I don’t even understand it?”

 

“I’m going to be blunt here,” Matt said, staring at the wall. “Preventing her from being haunted by what happened in Union Cave is up to you. She won’t want to hear it from me, and hearing it from you would give it some weight.”

 

“You know, you’re right.”

 

~:~

 

Matt nodded to her, and Nekou turned to Olivia, fixing a determined, eye-level gaze on the young woman.

 

“Olivia, you don’t have to be afraid of me because of what happened yesterday, I promise. I’m never going to do anything to hurt you.”

 

“That wasn’t you,” Olivia whimpered, still pulled back into her seat.

 

“Maybe you’re right. But this definitely is.”

 

Nekou sat down next to Olivia and embraced her, catching her off guard. She flinched violently at first, but as it sank in that Nekou was sincere about not hurting her, she calmed.

 

“I promise I’ll learn to control that side of me. I don’t want to scare you or make you feel threatened.”

 

“Please do,” Olivia responded, finally putting her arms around her friend.

 

Matt had stood by silently during the entire exchange, not wanting to interrupt the sincere reconciliation between the two. Once he sensed it was finished, though, he changed the subject with a question.

 

“Looker, why are you even here? Last I had heard of you, you were off in Kanto investigating the Kiss of Death case.”

 

Looker sighed and crossed his arms. “Taken off the case, I happened to be. It has not seen wide reporting, but there occurred to be two more murders.”

 

“Why would they take you off the case just because the killer struck again?” Matt wondered, not noticing Nekou briefly shoot a glare at him.

 

“You see, the two victims, they were having something in common that they shared. They were both employees working in the employ of the Angel Corporation. Suspicious I became when I noted this about both men, because Melvin Clemens, the murder before them, he was involved as an employee of the Angel Corporation as well. But that wasn’t all. I made my decision to go back and look once more at the Clemens case once I came upon having this realization and I struck a discovery – he was employed at one of the highest salaried positions within the corporation’s umbrella, but in complete spite of the paycheck he received, Melvin Clemens was living his life in the state of bare bones poverty. Suddenly, and lacking in any sort of warning to me, I was removed from the investigation, halting my efforts to put my eyes on his financial records.”

 

“Financial records? I thought this was a murder case alone.”

 

“Three of the men whose lives met their end are connected through sharing the same place of employment, and one of them lived in a lifestyle that completely has contradictions against the kind of money he should have owned in his possession. I have a suspicion that the victims have a deeper link than just how their deaths came to pass in history.”

 

 Matt held his chin and pondered Looker’s information, which he had to admit sounded fairly suspicious. He intended to question the detective further about the case, but he never got to put words to any of his thoughts before Olivia interrupted.

 

“What’s going on over there?”

 

She pointed across the Pokémon Center lobby to the fairly large group of people clustered around the television mounted on the wall. A newscast was playing on it, but from the distance they were away from it, none of the group could hear what was being said.

 

“Let’s go check that out,” Nekou immediately said.

 

After  Nekou slid out from the table, Olivia followed, and both Looker and Silver got up after them. Matt brought up the rear, but maintained a close distance to them. Once they were all around the television, they barely had a moment to hear what was going on before the newscaster disappeared and was replaced by Ghetsis.

 

“Another Polaris broadcast…” A violent scowl appeared on Nekou’s face, one that she only faintly tried to pull back. “They’re stepping up their game. We’re running out of time…”

 

“Greetings, people of the Tohjo Continent,” Ghetsis spoke, his voice ringing throughout the lobby. He held a clear confidence for the speech, with a sincere smile and an intense gaze. “I come before you today with a simple message. A plea, if you will. Every day, more people, many of them your own sons and daughters, fall by the wayside in the manipulative, elitist system known as the Pokémon League. Because of the heavy hand of oppression looming over this nation, generations of ordinary citizens have been fooled into believing in a lie crafted by the rich and powerful , the notion of anyone from any background being able to attain the goal called ‘Pokémon Master.’ How can the poor and those of modest means raise themselves up when the very mechanics supposedly meant to help them actually only advance the already wealthy and elite with handouts and breaks that put them on a higher level practically from birth?!” Ghetsis’s eye was narrowing, becoming more and more intense with every sentence of his speech, and just off camera, he tightly clenched his fist. “So I ask you, citizens of Johto and Kanto… no, it is not only I, all of Polaris asks you… step up, add your names to the ranks of those brave individuals who will fight in the name of justice. Soon, your chance will come to join our crusade. You must ask yourselves, in a world where seventy percent of new trainers never reach the Pokémon League, and ninety percent of those don’t collect more than seven Badges, is that fair? No, it is not! You must rise and speak to the powers that would keep you down with this lie, telling them that you will stand for the injustice no longer! We, Polaris, are your voice, and with every one of you who joins the battle for equal opportunity, that voice grows stronger. Goldenrod City will be the place. My minister of public relations will meet with you, the people, in a few days there to plot the course forward. Please keep your eyes on our public schedules for more details. Polaris will bring freedom and justice to the people when we usher in a new era of mankind, and it will be soon! Do not let yourselves be on the wrong side of history! Thank you for your time today, and we will be seeing you again very, very soon.”

 

When Ghetsis disappeared from the screen, the crowd surrounding it instantly descended into a flurry of discussion.

 

“What do you think they mean? A new era of mankind?”

 

“You know, he’s right, though. I just saw a report on TV the other night that backs him up…”

 

“I just heard that… what was it, like seventy percent of new trainers never even make it to the Pokémon League, and ninety percent of them don’t collect more than seven Badges? Is that what he said?”

 

“There have been more and more trainers washing up at Pokémon Centers in cities all over the place unable to continue going. Between the cost of healing their Pokémon, rooms and supplies, it’s no wonder so many don’t make it…”

 

Matt didn’t realize right away that Nekou had pulled Olivia away from the storm of speculation, with everyone else but himself following in kind.

 

“Is it really true, though?” he could hear Olivia asking Nekou as he rejoined them.

 

“There are a lot of trainers who don’t make the big time,” Nekou explained, “but you don’t need to worry about that because you’re not going to be a statistic.”

 

Turning from their exchange, Matt noticed Looker standing with Silver, grimacing while crossing his arms.

 

“What’s going on?” he questioned, walking up to the pair.

 

“Goldenrod City is apparently going to take on the intensity of a field of battle in the forthcoming future… and the mission I am currently in possession of is taking place there. Escorting them out will be made harder and more difficult if Polaris causes a disturbance event in the population of the locality.”

 

“Escort them? Who?”

 

“Two prisoners jailed by the International Police whose cycles reached their opportunity for parole and return to life being ordinary. They both received negative judgments of their readiness and must be escorted back to the adjacent nation of Kanto for return to prison. One is the former tycoon of business Grings Kodai, and the other… the other’s your friend from the past, Jacob Alexison.”

 

Matt nearly blacked out the moment Looker said the name Jacob Alexison, as a flood of memories came rushing back to him – none of them positive. He held his chest as if in pain.

 

“Where he shot me still hurts every time I think about him…” he growled, “…but I’m going to need to ask you a favor. Let me talk to him before you ship him off.”

 

“Yeah, I want to talk to Jacob Alexison too,” Nekou butted in, having wandered over with Olivia.

 

A silence met them as Looker stared back, considering their requests. “Fine, I shall consent to giving my consent for such a plan,” he finally responded, “but you will be needing to make haste to Goldenrod City. I will not find myself waiting for you.”

 

“That works out,” Olivia said. “All we need to do here is visit Azalea Gym…”

 

“Is that how you will continue to grow closer together?”

 

Surprised by the voice behind them, Matt, Olivia and Nekou all turned around sharply, only to discover Nikolai standing behind them with his hands in the pockets of his coat. He looked as listless as ever, and his sudden appearance provoked both Nekou and Looker to grimace.

 

“Who is this guy?”

 

Ignoring Silver’s rudely-put question, Nikolai walked right up to Olivia and lowered himself to see eye-to-eye with her. “I can feel it, even through the Poké Ball… your Oshawott is bursting with an incredible amount of energy,” he quietly but firmly said. “It’s got far more energy than before. You did the right thing and trusted it to indulge in its natural instincts.”

 

“Th-thank you, I guess?” Olivia shifted her weight from one leg to the other and looked away from Nikolai’s intense gaze.

 

“Wait, what even happened to you?” Matt questioned in confusion. “You were sick from the poison that ninja hit you with, and we took you to Violet City’s Pokémon Center for help, but then you disappeared.”

 

“I recovered and departed…” As he spoke, Nikolai rose back to his full height and faced Matt. “Your Eelektrik… it is happier than it was before, too. You took my advice and used it…”

 

“You’re right, I did. Your advice when we met before was sound.”

 

“Is he talking to Pokémon that are still in their Poké Balls?!”

 

“He is accomplishing just that,” Looker replied to Silver, though with his eyes closed. “That is a power that he is in possession of.” Turning away, the detective thought to himself, “This boy is here… and so is Ghetsis. There is a connection between Team Plasma and Polaris, but I lack enough evidence to prove any wrongdoing…”

 

“Olivia, are you ready to go to the Gym?” Nekou put in, redirecting the conversation back to its initial topic.

 

“Yeah, I think I am. And from there… Goldenrod City, where we all want to go.”

 

-:-

 

Colress’s gloved fingers flew busily over the electronic keyboard of his computer console, manipulating the data he was working with. On the main display screen, a double helix with some segments missing and relevant information regarding the strain of Pokérus he was engineering was shown.

 

“Now, time for another stability hypothesis experiment.” A window containing an image of the Meteonite and its associated data appeared alongside the main window, prompting Colress to smile and say, “Very well. Apply the calculated dose of radiation.”

 

Once Colress gave this order to the system and pressed the key to confirm it, three red arrows appeared between the two windows, indicating the flow of data from the Meteonite to the DNA structuring program. Within seconds, the helix began to glow, and the missing segments filled themselves in.

 

Colress’s eyes went wide. Barely able to contain his excitement, he gestured widely with his arms and shouted, “This is it! I knew I could do what nobody else could! The mystery behind the true strength of Pokémon… and I, Doctor Colress Antimony, am the one to bring it to light! My genius made it possible!”

 

All the windows shrank away, and Colress pulled a rectangular data drive from the console before turning and running out of his lab.

 

-:-

 

The three members of the Shadow Triad stood before Ghetsis, each of them holding one of his prisoners.

 

“We have to go out to Ecruteak City to prepare for our mission,” explained the tyrant, firmly gripping the handle of his cane. “Bring Concordia, Anthea and Professor Elm to the transport and guard them with your lives. If anything happens to any of them, your lives literally will be the price. Do not fail me.”

 

“Yes, Lord Ghetsis!” all three of the Shadow Triad replied.

 

Ghetsis watched as the trio of ninjas dragged their captives off. Concordia and Anthea didn’t resist at all, instead merely hanging like ragdolls in the grip of Darkness and Pestilence. Professor Elm, however, tried in vain to fight his way loose, only for Chaos to sharply knee him in the back. Once Elm was doubled over in pain from the blow, Chaos followed his brothers.

 

Satisfied that his followers had the situation under control, Ghetsis lifted his cane near his mouth and twisted the knob atop it to activate its communicator. “Zinzolin.”

 

“Lord Ghetsis!” the old man responded from the other end, his voice giving away the surprise he felt. “I was not expecting to be contacted so soon.”

 

“You’ve been. My plans are moving ahead to the next stage, and I am about to leave Polaris’s temple for Ecruteak City to begin putting the final touches in place. How prepared are you for the Goldenrod phase?”

 

“You’ll be quite pleased to hear that we are fully prepared. All of our resources are in place. All that we need is for Getriebe and Jeunes to get the go-ahead from Finansielle to set the Meteonite extraction plan into motion. Once that starts, it cannot be stopped. As for my role, I am more than ready to take our message to the people in the most powerful way yet.”

 

“You’re right, I am pleased. I’m taking the Shadow Triad along with me to Ecruteak City, so don’t let anyone foul up your work like you did in Violet City. Getriebe and Jeunes are relying on you…” Ghetsis stopped speaking briefly and smirked. “…and I’m relying on you even more. It’s absolutely vital that the people are hungry for what I will give them in Ecruteak City.”

 

-:-

 

To the west of Azalea Town lay Ilex Forest, an wooded expanse grown so thick with tall trees that within its boundaries, little sunlight reached the ground. Many local residents considered the forest’s environment that of a permanent night, and as Séduire lurked in the darkness, sitting in the branches of one of the trees, she found herself in full agreement.

 

The amount of sunlight in the forest wasn’t of much concern overall to her, though. On her lap she had a small hand cannon. It was generating a holographic computer display for her, which she was casually flicking through with her fingers while talking to herself in an almost sing-song manner.

 

“Oh, it’s just going to be so much fun when you get here, Matt. I’m going to have so much fun… breaking you by making you see that bitch and the girl go down… then I’ll take you back home with me and you’ll never leave me alone ever again…”

 

The windows were displaying the different species of Pokémon currently in the area along with numerical readouts and energy charts associated with each one. One of the species Séduire scrolled past caught her by surprise, prompting her to go back.

 

“Well then, look at you! I didn’t expect to see you around here… looks like I’m not the only one Matt will be having a reunion with, and for you to meet him, I don’t even have to work for it! You ought to cut him down to give me what I want without any prompting…”

 

-:-

 

Azalea Gym, located on the western side of the town, was a battling facility within a large greenhouse dome. As Matt, Olivia and Nekou entered, with Nikolai, Looker and Silver in tow, they found the interior to be a lush indoor forest, with many of the trees linked by threads of silk.

 

“This place didn’t earn its reputation as a Bug-type Gym for nothing,” Nekou remarked.

 

At the center of the structure, nestled snugly in the embrace of the surrounding foliage, was the battlefield. It was simply a field drawn in white paint on the grass, but it was still more than enough.

 

Sitting in the stands just to the side of the battlefield was a teenage boy dressed in khaki-colored safari gear. He was reading a thick book and didn’t notice the Gym’s visitors as they arrived.

 

Matt started to raise his arm to wave to the boy, but Nekou grabbed it and pulled it back down; he quickly understood why she did this, and said to Olivia, “Go ahead, it’s your turn.”

 

Without responding to him, Olivia took Matt’s suggestion. She shakily stepped forward and called out, “I’m here for a Gym battle!”

 

The boy almost fell off the stands because of how surprised he was, but he quickly composed himself, put down his book and jumped down onto the grass.

 

“Hello!” he cheerfully greeted the guests. “Please forgive that, I got so wrapped up in my reading…”

 

“Books are great, aren’t they?” Nekou blurted out.

 

“Yes, they are! I’m glad you recognize that!” Putting his hands on his hips, the boy became more serious and shifted his attention to Olivia. “But I doubt you came here just to talk about books with me. You said you wanted a Gym battle, Miss…”

 

“Olivia.”

 

“Olivia, is that right? Pleased to meet you.” Extending his hand, the boy said, “My name is Bugsy. I’m called the Walking Bug Pokémon Encyclopedia, and I’m the Gym Leader here.”

 

Olivia hesitated for a moment, but then shook Bugsy’s hand. Matt, Nekou, Nikolai, Looker and Silver all made their way to the stands, while Olivia and Bugsy went to their opposing sides on the battlefield.

 

“Olivia, how many Badges and Pokémon do you have?”

 

“No Badges…” Olivia answered, her voice suddenly becoming weak. “…but I do have four Pokémon.”

 

“So then, as by the Pokémon League regulations, this will be a three-on-three Single Battle. I won’t be able to make substitutions, and if you beat all three of my Pokémon, you win. Of course, if I beat all three of yours, I win.”

 

“Wait, no referee?” Olivia asked, having become confused immediately upon noticing the absence of one.

 

“We’re really easygoing here in Azalea Town… if you noticed, we haven’t been touched much by the flow of time, while all the other cities have been to some extent. I’m the only one at this Gym, so it’s really my passion project. I want to create a shrine to Bug Pokémon with my own hands… and that’s why, in this Gym, everything that happens will depend upon your knowledge of Bug Pokémon.”

 

“What does that mean?”

 

“Every Pokémon I choose will be determined by your answers to questions about Bug-type Pokémon and moves,” Bugsy explained as he took out and opened a green Pokédex. “As the Walking Bug Pokémon Encyclopedia, it’s my job to ensure you leave this Gym knowing more about them than when you entered.”

 

“Well, that’s unusual,” Nikolai muttered.

 

“Every Gym is different,” Silver said. “I had to do this when I won the Hive Badge, too.”

 

“Now please,” Bugsy invited, “send out your first Pokémon, and we shall begin.”

 

“O-okay. Lillipup, let’s play!”

 

While Olivia’s Lillipup took shape on the battlefield, Matt watched Olivia’s movements and listened to her voice. “She’s nervous, I can tell. I hope she can handle this…”

 

“A Lillipup? I’m pleased to be getting the chance to battle a Pokémon from Unova. Now then, my first Pokémon will either be Kakuna or Pineco, depending on whether or not you answer this question correctly: of all Bug-type moves that directly inflict damage on an opponent, which of them delivers the weakest blow? Pin Missile, Leech Life or Twineedle?”

 

“Pin Missile,” Nekou mouthed, playing along for herself.

 

“I’ll guess Leech Life.”

 

“Sorry, it was Pin Missile.”

 

Olivia’s face sank as soon as Bugsy revealed that she’d answered incorrectly. “Damn it…” she whispered, her arm trembling slightly.

 

“Now that the question is out of the way, because you answered wrong, this is who you face!”

 

Bugsy threw one of his Poké Balls, and his Pineco materialized from it. The Pineco peeked out at Lillipup from the inside of his shell, wobbling warily in anticipation of what attack would come.

 

“Let’s get this battle started!” Bugsy announced.

 

Almost immediately, Olivia thrust her arm forward and shouted. “Lillipup, let’s put all that training we did to good use! Crunch!”

 

Lillipup bared his fangs and started running toward Pineco, leaving only a short bark as warning.

 

Seemingly not worried about Lillipup’s attack, Bugsy said simply, “Pineco, hold fast.”

 

Following his trainer’s direction, Pineco stopped wobbling and stiffened up his body. As a result, when Lillipup bit down on him, he flinched only slightly. Crunch was largely ineffective on him.

 

“What?” Olivia gasped. “Why didn’t that work?”

 

“I guessed that your Lillipup likely only just learned Crunch from when you said you had done training, and then calculated that Pineco would be able to weather it. Seems I was right… now, Pineco, Rapid Spin!”

 

Olivia and all of the spectators could only watch as Bugsy’s Pineco threw Lillipup across the battlefield by spinning around violently. Lillipup stumbled to his feet fairly quickly, but Olivia was visibly shaken.

 

“Hang in there, Lillipup…” she said, her voice shaking. “You know, let’s try the other new move you learned. Work Up!”

 

Regaining his footing, Lillipup barked twice while surrounded by a faint red glow. After the light faded, he glared at Pineco and growled.

 

“Smart move,” Nekou observed. “One hit wouldn’t get through Pineco’s defenses, so what do you do? Get stronger.”

 

Matt nodded his head in agreement, but remained silent, owing to his concern over Olivia’s actions.

 

The meaning of Olivia’s use of Work Up wasn’t lost on the young Gym Leader, either. “Pineco, be cautious. Don’t let Lillipup get too close to you, otherwise you’ll get hit hard!”

 

“So you know what that does…” Olivia said, clenching her fist. “Might as well show you what it looks like. Lillipup, Tackle!”

 

“Keep Lillipup back with Venoshock!”

 

Showing very little of the fear that often cropped up when he faced a challenging enemy, Lillipup rushed straight at Pineco. The Bug-type Pokémon was ready, however, and used his power to pools of sludge around himself. Narrow, jagged bolts rose from each pool, then descended to strike Lillipup back.

 

“Difficult this will be if Pineco ensures Lillipup stays at the length of an arm,” Looker commented.

 

“She’ll work it out,” Nekou countered, “you can bet on that.”

 

Olivia was finding it a struggle to even figure out a way to try to overcome Pineco’s defenses. Work Up would have solved the problem of the Bug-type’s durable body, but if Lillipup could never reach him, that would be useless. Focusing on this problem left Olivia trembling and silent.

 

After shaking the slime from Venoshock out of his fur, Lillipup realized he hadn’t heard any further commands and turned back to Olivia. Seeing the state she was in prompted him to bark at her.

 

“Lillipup… what?” she asked, snapping partially back into reality.

 

Lillipup barked again, then darted at Pineco once more, this time trying to run faster than he had earlier. Olivia picked up on what he was trying to indicate, going wide-eyed as soon as she realized it, but it was too late to avoid falling into Bugsy’s trap a second time.

 

“Venoshock, again!” he called out.

 

Lillipup was repelled from Pineco’s space by the toxic waves once more, but as soon as he regained his footing, he looked hopefully to his trainer.

 

 “You almost outran it that time… if this is what it takes, let’s do it. Take Down!”

 

Lillipup smiled; his goal had been to convince Olivia that he could outrun the interference of Venoshock, and she picked up on it. This time, he didn’t just start running at Pineco, he first tensed his leg muscles, crouched and built as much strength as he could, allowing him to shoot forward like a bullet.

 

“Venoshock, once more!” Bugsy ordered.

 

The young Gym Leader was in for a rude surprise, however. Pineco called upon the poisonous attack a third time, but the bolts converged too slowly, and Lillipup ran right past them. Pineco was caught completely off guard and defenseless, and when Lillipup collided with him, he was sent flying straight into one of the trees surrounding the battlefield.

 

Lillipup didn’t escape harm, though, as the sheer force of his impact on Pineco sapped a good deal of his remaining strength, leaving him panting.

 

“Well played!” Bugsy said. “You got through my outer wall of defenses… so this is now a close-quarters battle! Pineco, Bug Bite!”

 

“Lillipup… try throwing it with Crunch!”

 

Recovering, Pineco rolled down and sprang off the tree, aiming to trap Lillipup with the mouth hidden under its shell. Lillipup was ready, however, and dodged the attack by rolling on his stomach along the ground. Once Pineco crashed onto the floor, Lillipup turned and lunged, grabbing the Bug-type in his mouth. He then spun around and flung Pineco back into the tree, but this time, Pineco fell off into the dirt and didn’t get up.

 

Bugsy was briefly silent, having been left dumbfounded by the sudden reversal of his fortunes. It sank in quickly for him, though, and he recalled his fallen Pineco before smiling at Olivia. “That was something. I wasn’t ready for you to turn things around on me like that. Having seen what you’re capable of, I think you can stand up to my next Pokémon, which will be tougher.”

 

“Tougher…?” Olivia whispered, the color draining from her face.

 

“But first, we have to have the next question. Answer it correctly and you’ll face my Shelmet, answer incorrectly and you’ll face Illumise. Here’s the question: which of these is not one of Pinsir’s possible Abilities? Is it Hyper Cutter, Anger Point or Mold Breaker?”

 

“Anger Point,” Nekou whispered without hesitation.

 

“Let’s see…” Thinking back to her classes, Olivia recalled the effects of all three choices. “Hyper Cutter blocks any lowering of attack power… Anger Point maximizes its attack power when it’s hit critically… Mold Breaker ignores the target’s Ability… all three of them are good choices, but the one that doesn’t fit is Mold Breaker, so I’ll have to go with that.”

 

“Sorry, it was Anger Point!” Bugsy revealed before taking up and throwing Illumise’s Poké Ball.

 

“How did I mess that up?” Olivia thought to herself in panic. How did I mess that one up?”

 

Bugsy’s Illumise took shape on the battlefield, and the firefly Pokémon immediately locked eyes with Lillipup. Sensing the strain Lillipup had begun feeling, Illumise waved her arm, as if she was daring Lillipup to challenge her.

 

“Lillipup, be careful…” Olivia warned. “I… I think there’s something up his sleeve…”

 

Lillipup nodded, agreeing with Olivia’s assumption. Though he was worn by his clash with Pineco, Lillipup was still sharp enough to realize the obvious trap in Illumise’s dare.

 

“A smart prediction, Olivia. Walking into my first attack would have been a mistake. But you can’t just stand there and not move, right?”

 

“That’s… that’s right.” Olivia answered while fidgeting around.

 

“That’s because if you stand still, you’ll be caught in my other moves. Illumise, Thunderbolt!”

 

Quickly recalling how she defeated Pineco, Olivia reasoned that the same strategy would work against Illumise. “Use Take Down and get out of the way!”

 

Lillipup rushed forward just quickly enough to escape the electricity that burst from Illumise’s body. After ceasing her attack, the Bug-type Pokémon simply stood still, seemingly dumbfounded, and Lillipup forcefully crashed into her.

 

It wasn’t until she saw Illumise bracing against the ground and barely moving that Olivia realized she’d been led into a trap.

 

“Brick Break!” Bugsy called out.

 

“Get away!” Olivia desperately ordered.

 

There was no chance Lillipup could escape, however, and Olivia knew it. He was too close to Illumise to escape, having ended up falling for the trick of getting in close anyway. When Illumise punched Lillipup with a surprising amount of force for her small arms, he was thrown back and then crumpled to the ground. When combined with the injuries he’d suffered from the battle with Pineco, both from his opponent and self-inflicted through Take Down, the Brick Break was far too much for Lillipup to take.

 

“Looks like we’re even now, Olivia!” Bugsy said from across the battlefield. “So who will it be next?”

 

Olivia didn’t respond, instead falling into a hunched, limp stance as she stared at the ground, her hair obscuring her anguished eyes. Voices were tormenting her from inside her head.

 

“ Someone who should not exist has no right to consider themselves entitled to anything more than the air they are lucky enough to breathe!”

 

“Wow, you didn’t even take the good one, but then again, someone who’s childish in both body and spirit taking a childish Pokémon makes sense!”

 

“How can the poor and those of modest means raise themselves up when the very mechanics supposedly meant to help them actually only advance the already wealthy and elite with handouts and breaks that put them on a higher level practically from birth?!”

 

“No,” she mumbled, trying to fight back the memories that were forcing doubt onto her. “No, no, no, no, no…”

 

Up in the stands, Matt and the others could see Olivia practically convulsing, and they were growing more concerned.

 

“Nekou,” Matt quietly said, “are you really sure this is okay? I think she might be pushing herself too hard…”

 

“I… I have confidence in her,” Nekou answered, although the nervous tone of her voice betrayed her words.

 

“Her Pokémon want to fight for her,” Nikolai flatly muttered, “but I can feel that her internal conflict is leaving them unable to use their full potential…”

 

Suddenly, a wide, broken grin intruded onto Olivia’s face. “I just have to overcome your Pokémon, one by one, right?” she said as she recalled Lillipup. “It won’t be hard to do that if I go with my strongest!”

 

Olivia didn’t even bother to throw the Poké Ball when she decided on her next Pokémon, instead, she simply opened it in her hand. Her Minccino was that choice, and the Normal-type fretted about the dirt floor, completely failing to notice her trainer’s temperament.

 

“All I have to do to show them I’m not weak is beat you and get that Badge!” Olivia punctuated her strange rant with a giggle, then added, “I get that Badge and then the others and then they all stop tormenting me and then they care about me and then…” Limply raising her arm to point at Illumise, she said, “Minccino, use Tail Slap!”

 

“Thunderbolt!” Bugsy countered, as Minccino rapidly closed in on his Illumise.

 

Illumise was one step ahead of her trainer, having already begun focusing her energy before he even finished issuing the command for Thunderbolt. She discharged an intense blast into Minccino’s body, causing the Normal-type Pokémon to wail in pain.

 

“Minccino, don’t give in to it!” Olivia’s statement was equally an order and a desperate plea. “Get through and hit it, now!”

 

Regaining her footing within the electrical torrent, Minccino pushed gradually forward.

 

Bugsy could only step back in surprise and say to Illumise, “Keep it up! Push Minccino away!”

 

Despite her best efforts, Illumise was already at her limit, and she could not force any more energy into her Thunderbolt. As a result, Minccino managed to force her way all the way up into the firefly’s face and then swung her tail around. The moment that Minccino’s tail connected with Illumise’s body, the overflow of electricity caused an explosion that violently separated them, tossing Minccino toward Olivia while sending Illumise flying into a tree.

 

The two Pokémon stumbled up to face each other again, each nursing their own injuries – Minccino’s fur was burned all over by the electricity, while Illumise had a pair of bruises, one on her front from Tail Slap and one on her back from crashing into the tree.

 

Unwilling to let Bugsy even get an opening, Olivia didn’t hesitate to continue her attack. “Use Swift right now!”

 

Minccino snapped to her feet and swung her tail in Illumise’s direction, showering the Bug-type Pokémon with glowing stars. Illumise had no way to put up much of a defense, and was left to have her body cut repeatedly by the sharp-edged projectiles.

 

“I get it now, I finally get it now…” Olivia said to herself in a hissing voice. She looked to the floor as her body convulsed, then continued, “…all I need to do is rely on my strongest Pokémon and I’ll overcome anything you throw at me!”

 

Almost immediately, Nikolai stood up from his place in the stands, pulled his hat over his eyes and began walking off, muttering, “I can’t be here for this.”

 

Looker and Silver watched Nikolai leave, but Matt and Nekou paid him no mind. They were much more concerned by the mental breakdown they both saw Olivia having in the middle of her Gym battle.

 

“She’s going to destroy herself at this rate…” Matt whispered. “We’ve got to stop this.”

 

“Minccino, Tail Slap!”

 

“Illumise, counter that with Brick Break!”

 

Nekou shook her head in disagreement, though she didn’t turn away from the battle as Minccino and Illumise physically attacked each other once more. “If we interfere now, what will that teach her, besides that every time she gets challenged, we try to shield her from having to face it?”

 

“But… you see her down there. Do you not see how much this pressure is tearing her up?”

 

“If it’s too much for her, she’s going to have to tell us that herself. She won’t ever trust you if you don’t first let her trust herself.”

 

Matt shifted his view rapidly and repeatedly between Nekou and the events unfolding on the battlefield. He was struggling to decide what alarmed him more – Olivia thoughtlessly and mercilessly ordering Minccino to attack Illumise while she simply stood by grinning, or how much that sight horrified Nekou. She had been reduced to leaning forward where she sat, her face completely drained of color and her eyes reflecting a barely suppressed worry.

 

“It’s about time we put an end to this,” Olivia said as Minccino and Illumise separated from striking each other. What she didn’t mention, however, was why she was suddenly eager to end her frenzy of attacks – her manic rush of energy was beginning to abate, and she could feel the crushing fear coming back worse than ever. As she fought the slowly-increasing urge to flee the battle and escape its pressure, she found her sight becoming cloudy. “I’ll end this… right now… Minccino, Wake-Up Slap!”

 

Apparently unafraid of Olivia’s latest attack choice, Bugsy and Illumise simply stood by. Minccino lunged at her foe and delivered a fierce slap across Illumise’s face, but the Bug-type Pokémon barely flinched, much to the horror of both Olivia and Minccino.

 

“You’ll have to think your moves through a little more thoroughly, Olivia. Bug-types resist Fighting-type attacks! Illumise, show her an effective way to use a Fighting-type move with Brick Break!”

 

Stunned by how little of a reaction her move had gotten from Illumise, Minccino didn’t react fast enough to avoid the firefly’s Brick Break and ended up taking a punch right to the chin. She stumbled back several steps as a bruise took shape where she’d just been struck.

 

Olivia realized that she had little time left to take Illumise down, as she was failing to keep the rising panic at bay. Reaching up toward her face with both hands, and with her eyes wide in a state of near madness, she screamed out, “Get rid of that Illumise NOW! Aqua Tail!”

 

Bugsy didn’t give any command for a counter until Minccino was already in the air and descending toward his Pokémon, at which point he said, “Thunderbolt, Illumise!”

 

Just as Minccino struck Illumise, the Bug-type cloaked herself in electricity. The water surrounding Minccino’s tail conducted the electricity up into her body, but when Illumise’s body got wet from it, the energy shorted, resulting in a violent explosion.

 

“Did Olivia manage to beat it?” Matt wondered out loud. Like everyone else assembled in the Gym, he was fixed on the cloud of smoke left where Minccino and Illumise had met, and the stakes of the outcome were not lost on him. He was keenly aware that if Illumise emerged standing even after the exchange, Olivia would likely not be able to take any more. Glancing over to Nekou reinforced his belief, as her quiet, worried look reflected a similar pattern of thought.

 

Perhaps with the exception of Olivia herself, whose focus was stunted from her increasing stress, it was unanimous among those in the Gym that one of the two Pokémon would surely not emerge standing from the blast. The opinion on which one it would be was divided, so as a result, it was a surprise to the onlookers to see both Minccino and Illumise lying on the ground, still and groaning.

 

“Well then, a tie?” Bugsy said with a slight sense of bemusement as he recalled his fallen Pokémon. “You fought well there, Olivia. Your Minccino deserves praise.”

 

Bugsy’s words were barely getting through to Olivia at that point, though. She was too dizzy, too weak and too panicked to even register the compliments she’d been given. When she recalled Minccino, however, Bugsy took it as a signal that she was ready to continue, and he readied his Pokédex once again.

 

“This is the final question, Olivia. Answer it correctly and your opponent will be Kricketune, answer incorrectly and you’ll face my star, Scyther.”

 

“He can’t be serious…” Matt uttered, hoping someone around him would notice. “Does he not see how stressed she is? They should at least take a break…”

 

“Here is the question, listen closely: I am the tallest Bug-type Pokémon, as well as the heaviest. I’m also the heaviest Pokémon of my second type. Am I Yanmega, Scolipede or Crustle?”

 

Olivia barely even heard the questions and choices, and she had even less capacity to consider an answer. Swaying around and just managing to stand on her feet, she replied, “Y… Yanmega…”

 

Little of what came out of Bugsy’s mouth next even reached Olivia’s ears. She heard him say that her answer was incorrect, but she failed to register anything significant after that until his Scyther appeared before her eyes, which snapped her back to attention somewhat.

 

“…so send out your Pokémon, Olivia. This is the last match in our battle – you’ve got one left, I’ve got one left, and the outcome of this will determine if you get the Hive Badge!”

 

That was when it all went horribly wrong.

 

The one thing Olivia hadn’t fully realized until that moment was that she was up against Bugsy’s strongest Pokémon with only one of her own Pokémon still left. Further, with the way the types of the remaining Pokémon in play matched up, there was only one choice she could make. Scyther, being a Bug-and-Flying-type, would make short work of a Grass-type like Roselia, and her moves would do little against the beast. That left Olivia with one option: Oshawott, who still hadn’t regrown his shell and as a result was left with only Water Gun and Tackle for an offense.

 

“I can’t do it…” she quietly said in a broken voice while staring at the ground. In her mind, she was very aware of the exit door right behind her, but her shuddering, numb body wouldn’t move toward it. Her heart felt to her as if it would tear from her chest. “I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it…”

 

“You little wimp. To think I even thought about respecting you.”

 

Jerking her head up, Olivia saw Avril and Renzo standing before her. They weren’t actually present, but her downward spiral left Olivia unable to realize her hallucinations, which replaced everything that truly surrounded her.

 

“When I watched you battle Falkner, I saw you stick it out right to the end,” the hallucinatory Avril continued, her hands on her hips. “But no… you’re so weak that you can’t even beat a bunch of Bug-types? And to think I’m the one who’s a student.”

 

“I just… I couldn’t win, why is that such a big deal to you?!” At this point, Olivia’s mind was just about completely broken. A sick feeling was rising in her stomach. “I just couldn’t do it!”

 

“If it’s not a big deal, why are you whining about it?”

 

“I…”

 

“Silence!” boomed the vision of Renzo. “You disappoint me, Olivia Lynn Mistbloom. I had hoped that you would prove to have earned at least some of your birthright… but you are a disgrace to your name. Your father never would have accepted this.”

 

“Shut up! Don’t talk about him! What right do you have…”

 

“He is right, Olivia.”

 

Olivia stiffened and blinked through the tears filling her eyes. In an instant, Avril and Renzo were gone, replaced by a hallucination of Olivia’s father Rich.

 

“Dad, what are you…”

 

“I raised you to be my heir, Olivia. Even after I died I made sure your education would continue by leaving you in the care of Matt Chiaki… but when your time finally came to shine, you couldn’t even get one Badge. With my job, how could I accept such a thing?” Turning away from Olivia, the false Rich reached into his coat and put a large hat on. “This is goodbye, Olivia. We will not meet again.”

 

As her vision of her father walked off, Olivia broke down and became hysterical. Tears poured from her eyes as she desperately pleaded, “No! Dad, don’t leave me alone! It’s not my fault! I didn’t… Matt didn’t teach me well enough, is that possible? It’s not my fault! I did everything I had to! I don’t want to be left alone…” Suddenly digging her fingernails into the skin on her face, she continued, “I’ll go with you! I’ll go where you are! It’s not my fault, so don’t abandon me!”

 

And then, everything went black.

 

-:-

 

In a different part of the Adenosine Base fairly far from Colress’s main lab was another research facility. Papers and equipment were neatly arranged around the laboratory’s perimeter, while several tall, hexagonal tanks filled with blue liquid stood in the center. It was a professional but cold place, the general mood only broken by a Polaris banner hung on the wall and the photographs littering the work stations.

 

In the back of the lab, Colress and three other scientists stood facing Finansielle, who was addressing them using a large video screen.

 

“Casual day today, Lady Finansielle?” Colress jokingly said, noting that his superior was wearing her helmet, but not the rest of her armor.

 

“I haven’t got time for lighthearted games, Colress,” Finansielle scornfully replied. “Business is very busy here. What have you called me for?”

 

“Ah yes, I should get to that. With my genius, I have already solved the puzzle you gave me.” Turning to the other scientists, Colress took the data drive from his pocket and presented it to one of them. “On that drive is the entire genetic sequence of the Pokérus strain I was tasked with creating, as well as instructions on how to synthesize it. From here, creating it is an easy task.”

 

“Well then, Colress, color me impressed!” Finansielle smiled warmly. “I see my investment in you was well worth it. Now tell me… what is the next step?”

 

“I have begun drawing up plans to build a device that can use the modified Pokérus to unlock the true potential in all Pokémon, as the research you gave me instructed. The data’s instructions were correct – the system will need as much Pokémon battle data as possible, plus the Meteonite.” As he spoke, Colress made his way to a large computer console near the video monitor. “In order to procure those things, I will need to leave this base for a while. The researchers here will be able to create the Pokérus strain from my genetic map, while the Guanosine Base can build the machinery. All I will need to do is write the programming for the system’s software.”

 

With that, Colress pressed a button on the console, causing a container on its top to open. From within he withdrew a computerized visor, which he then replaced his glasses with on his face. He then put his glasses in his coat and took out his tablet, which with a few touches illuminated the visor.

 

“Where do you plan to head now, Colress?” Finansielle asked.

 

“I will fly to the Purine Base first to help Getriebe and Jeunes secure their battle data and the Meteonite. After that, I have a plan to join Ghetsis in Ecruteak City, where I can gather more data for the system firsthand.”

 

“I wish you luck, then.” Slightly lowering her head, Finansielle smiled again. “A new age is about to begin, Colress, and you will be alongside us spearheading it. Polaris’s promised land is not far off.”

 

-:-

 

Gasping deeply for air, Olivia awoke just as abruptly as she’d collapsed.

 

Her vision took its time to refocus, but when she finally could see clearly again, the greenhouse roof of the Azalea Gym was what she saw. She suddenly became aware of the prickling of grass on her legs and realized she was still on the Gym’s battlefield. That shock sent a cold shudder coursing through her body, but her shuddering was restrained.

 

The last thing she came to realize was that while she was lying on the ground, Nekou had her in a tight embrace.

 

“Breathe.”

 

Olivia had no capability to reply, so she just did as she was instructed and drew deep breaths in, one after the other. She turned her sunken eyes upward and saw the simultaneous worry and relief on Nekou’s face, as well as the small teardrops glistening on her glasses.

 

“Is she alright?” Matt said, standing off to the side with Looker and Silver to give Olivia space.

 

“She’s awake, hasn’t said anything yet though… give me the water.”

 

Without another word, Matt tossed one of the water bottles from his bag to Nekou, and she opened it and raised it to Olivia’s mouth.

 

“Get something to drink, it’ll help.”

 

Olivia still couldn’t say anything, but the water wetting her throat was enough of a relief to restore her voice.

 

“W-what…” she rasped.

 

“Take it easy. You collapsed during the battle.”

 

“I’m… still here?”

 

“Yes. We agreed to not try to move you out of fear that it would make things worse.” Seeing Olivia beginning to recover brought a slight but warm smile to Nekou, though it faded somewhat as she recalled what she had seen Olivia doing during her breakdown. “Do you want to talk about what happened?”

 

Olivia hesitated with the realization that there were witnesses to her hallucinations. “No… not… not yet.”

 

“That’s fine. Tell me when you’re ready.” Nekou put her hand behind Olivia’s back and helped her sit up.

 

As Olivia sat up on the grass, Bugsy approached with his Scyther. “I’m sorry I didn’t realize you weren’t well. If I did, I would have put the battle on hold.”

 

“Olivia, you don’t have to continue this,” Matt gently said, lowering himself to eye level with her after joining them. “There’s no shame in knowing when to stop.”

 

“But at the same time,” Nekou added, “if you think you can keep going, we’ll support you. It’s entirely up to what you think you can handle.”

 

“I started this. I have…” A clear image of her father appeared once again in Olivia’s mind. “I have to finish it.”

 

“Then we’re behind you.”

 

In nearly perfect unison, Matt and Nekou both stood and extended a hand to the girl, and after a moment, Olivia smiled and accepted their help to stand.

 

“You want to continue our battle?” Bugsy questioned, intending to clearly confirm Olivia’s wishes.

 

“Yes.”

 

“I must say, I admire your courage. You must have something worth fighting for, if you’re able to keep standing. Very well, let’s take our places and resume.”

 

While Bugsy and his Scyther walked back to their side of the battlefield, Matt and Nekou made sure that Olivia was alright before returning to the stands with Looker and Silver.

 

“Very brave, she is,” Looker remarked.

 

“She’s tougher than she lets on sometimes…” Matt replied. “I just hope this holds. She was talking to her father and at least one other person who wasn’t there…”

 

Bugsy’s Scyther stood confidently in front of him, looking eagerly at Olivia in the hopes that the Pokémon he’d face would soon appear. His blades glistened in the sunlight shining through the Gym’s roof.

 

“I can’t take it easy on you if you really want the Hive Badge, Olivia,” Bugsy said. “Scyther is my prized Pokémon, after all, and he’s the most fitting representative of what this Gym is about.”

 

“I… I don’t want you to take it easy on me. I have to do this if I’m going to get stronger, because the Gym Leaders after you will just keep getting tougher…” Olivia trailed off as she briefly remembered Renzo and Avril, then added, “…and they aren’t the only ones, either. I have to do this.”

 

“Then let’s both give it all we’ve got.”

 

Olivia took out a Poké Ball and stared at it for several long seconds, thinking intensely about what she was about to do. “I know we haven’t necessarily connected all that well before... but I’m standing behind you this time, so please, do what you can to pull this off…”

 

Olivia’s judgment about the situation she was in hadn’t changed, even though she had had the chance to reevaluate it from a slightly calmer viewpoint. She still knew that Roselia would be helpless against the likes of a Scyther, so it was Oshawott that emerged from the Poké Ball. The moment he realized that the Scyther before him was to be his opponent, he looked back and forth to his trainer in a panic.

 

“Oshawott, calm down.” Olivia did the best she could to soothe Oshawott’s nerves, but hers were so taut that it proved to be a difficult task. “I believe in you, okay? So don’t be afraid.”

 

“Another Pokémon from Unova, huh? I’ve got a Shelmet, but I haven’t seen too many others yet. This ought to be a fun challenge for us both.”

 

“Where is that Oshawott’s shell?” Silver quietly asked, having taken notice of the implement’s absence from Oshawott’s stomach.

 

“It broke a while ago and hasn’t yet regrown,” Nekou replied. “Just hope she doesn’t need it.”

 

“Well then, let’s get started! Scyther, Fury Cutter!”

 

“Try to get out of the way and then use Tackle!”

 

Using his strong legs, Scyther sprang at Oshawott with his blades at the ready. Olivia’s Water-type was able to roll out of the way, however, leaving Scyther to strike at the ground instead. He then jumped up and collided with Scyther’s back, but the Gym Leader’s Pokémon only stumbled as a result.

 

“Oh no!” Olivia gasped when she saw how close to Scyther Oshawott landed.

 

“Yes, I’ve got you this time! Fury Cutter, again!”

 

“Use Water Gun!” This was an act of desperation on Olivia’s part. She was aware of how limited her options were with only Tackle and Water Gun to use, and she was putting all the thought she could into ways to apply them.

 

Luckily for her, Water Gun had an unintended effect she never would have thought of. Before Scyther could turn around to lash out again, Oshawott sprayed a jet of water in his face. Not only did this stun Scyther, but the force of the water also propelled Oshawott backward, putting distance between the two.

 

“Oh, that was clever, Olivia,” Bugsy complimented, believing Olivia had deliberately intended to cause what had happened. “Scyther, Vacuum Wave! Catch it!”

 

Before Olivia or Oshawott could react, Scyther crossed his glowing blades and then sharply separated them, sending a bright blue pulse of energy to engulf his Water-type foe. Oshawott was left to fall face-first to the ground.

 

“You have it now, Scyther! Fury Cutter!”

 

“Oshawott, be careful!” Olivia cried, seeing that Oshawott was seemingly trapped underneath the sickle that was bearing down on him. Her focus on the seemingly hopeless situation suddenly produced an answer, however, when she realized exactly how Oshawott was lying on the ground. Smiling, she quickly called out, “Oshawott, use Water Gun to power your Tackle!”

 

Scyther was completely caught off guard by Oshawott abruptly rocketing off the ground by using Water Gun to propel himself, and ended up taking a blow right to the chin. The Bug-and-Flying-type Pokémon stumbled back and nearly fell, while his Water-type opponent managed to flip through the air and land neatly. A slash from Scyther’s Vacuum Wave was visible on Oshawott’s torso, but the rush he was getting from fighting back gave him enough resolve to try and ignore the pain.

 

“So this is how an Oshawott with no shell actually stands up against a Scyther,” Silver uttered, unable to stop himself from getting drawn into the battle.

 

“I must compliment you, Olivia,” Bugsy said, a wide, satisfied grin coming onto his face. “I don’t see too many challengers with the kind of fire you have… funny, considering you’re using a Water-type starter Pokémon, isn’t it? But let me show you something… Bug-types are weak to fire, I’m sure you know that. But did you know that Bug-types can fight with the same fire you’re showing me now? Scyther, Razor Wind!”

 

Scyther straightened out his body and stood at his full height, looking down on Oshawott as he began to flap his four wings. A whirlwind took shape in front of him, rapidly growing in intensity.

 

Both Olivia and Oshawott realized that using Tackle would mean willingly jumping right into the vortex, so without any order being necessary, Oshawott aimed a Water Gun at Scyther. It was, however, ineffective, as the whirlwind acted as a shield that blew away all the water. Compounding Olivia’s problems, Scyther then pulled back, allowing the twister to consume Oshawott. He was pulled upward through the funnel, with the violent winds cutting at him repeatedly, until he was thrown out through the whirlwind’s top and crashed to the ground, covered in cuts. The twister then continued on until it crashed into one of the trees, dissipating as it shredded the silk connected to it, bits of which fell near Olivia’s feet.

 

“Vacuum Wave!”

 

Scyther quickly followed up his successful Razor Wind by lashing Oshawott with another energy blast.

 

With Oshawott left lying on the ground and panting,  Olivia realized that one more severe blow would likely bring her second Gym challenge to another failure of an ending. She grasped her left arm as her body trembled; once again, the walls felt like they were closing in on her, and she felt trapped in more ways than one.

 

One thing she didn’t count on was the situation completely changing.

 

All of a sudden, a bright blue glow surrounded Oshawott’s body, and he stood back up, growling at Scyther as if he was more energized than ever.

 

“That’s Oshawott’s Ability, Torrent!” Nekou exclaimed. “Bugsy weakened Oshawott so much that it activated!”

 

“This battle just stopped being so one-sided,” Silver observed. “I’ve seen the use Torrent can provide with my Feraligatr.”

 

Bugsy stood just as surprised as Olivia was herself. “I… thought I had this. I guess it goes to show that I still have plenty to learn… but first, I have to put an end to this battle! Scyther, Razor Wind once more!”

 

While Scyther started forming the whirlwind again, Olivia understood what Bugsy’s logic was – neither Tackle nor Water Gun would get past it, so he was betting on her not having another move he hadn’t yet seen. She was, however, herself willing to gamble that Oshawott’s newfound energy would change the tide by itself.

 

“Water Gun!” she commanded, discreetly crossing her fingers.

 

The whirlwind was nearly up to full strength when Oshawott fired a blast of water at it, but in spite of that, it was easily sliced through by Oshawott’s attack, which was many times more intense than it had been before. With his vision blocked by his own preparation, Scyther could never have seen the Water Gun coming, and he took a direct, powerful blow to the head. Olivia’s eyes glowed as she excitedly watched her fortunes change.

 

“She can win this with power like that!” Matt said, getting uncharacteristically excited.

 

“I should have expected Torrent,” Bugsy remarked, “with the number of Totodile, Squirtle and their evolutions I see here. I guess I got thrown off by it being a Unova Pokémon… no matter. You put in a great effort, but I’m ending this! Scyther, use Vacuum Wave!”

 

“Try Water Gun again!” Olivia reflexively countered, reacting nearly instantly upon Bugsy giving his order. She recognized that if she was to have any chance of overcoming Scyther, she would have to get around this latest attack first.

 

In front of many pairs of anticipating eyes, Oshawott’s water blast and Scyther’s energy wave met. Torrent gave Oshawott the power he needed to equal Scyther’s offense but not to overwhelm it, so the two attacks explosively negated each other, sending a cloud washing over both Pokémon.

 

Moments later, a bright light burst out from where Oshawott was standing within the smoke.

 

“That’s…” Looker gasped. He was the only one of the spectators able to think quickly enough to speak, as the others were all enraptured by what was happening in front of them.

 

Olivia knew what was going on, but she was so surprised that all she could do was watch. She thought back to the events earlier in the day and remembered Nikolai telling her that Oshawott was bursting with energy, a memory that left her smiling to herself.

 

“All that training in Union Cave had a point to it, I guess,” she thought as she took out her own Pokédex.

 

The light and smoke disappeared roughly simultaneously, revealing that Oshawott was no longer anywhere to be seen. Instead, standing in his place was a taller otter Pokémon, colored mostly in shades of blue and bearing a shell on each of his thighs.

 

“Oshawott evolved,” Nekou smugly said. “Told you something good would happen for her.”

 

“Dewott, the discipline Pokémon. Type is Water. Evolved form of Oshawott. As a result of strict training, each Dewott learns different forms for using the scalchops.”

 

Olivia continued thumbing through the Pokédex to learn if Dewott had acquired any new moves. “Razor Shell and Aqua Jet… yes, I think I can do with those. Now that you’ve finally got your shell back, Oshaw… Dewott, let’s put it to use. Razor Shell!”

 

“Fury Cutter!” Bugsy ordered, snapping out of his surprise at Dewott’s evolution.

 

Dewott snapped one of the shells off his thigh and held it up, causing it to turn into an elongated blade, then lunged at Scyther. Scyther took a similar action, and soon, the two were locked in a vicious swordfight using their respective weapons. While Bugsy’s Pokémon was the more aggressive of the two, he was crippled by an unexpected disadvantage – Dewott’s smaller size enabled the Water-type to quickly dodge in and out of Scyther’s slashes, rendering the Bug-and-Flying-type Pokémon unable to land any of his strikes.

 

Even though Dewott wasn’t getting hit, though, Olivia could tell that he also wasn’t going to get in any blows of his own. Looking around at her surroundings, she suddenly noticed the bits of silk at her feet and came up with an alternative idea. “Dewott, use Aqua Jet and go into the bushes, then keep moving!”

 

Water surrounded Dewott as he rocketed away into the foliage surrounding the battlefield and disappeared. Scyther loudly snarled about the inconvenience, and Bugsy indulged his Pokémon’s desires with his next direction. “Go in after that Dewott, Scyther!”

 

Scyther cried out and then lunged into the bushes as well, vanishing just as Dewott had done.

 

For the next few minutes, an uncomfortable silence broken only by the sound of rustling leaves settled over the Gym as Dewott and Scyther chased each other in a circle around the edge of the battlefield. Olivia focused carefully on the sounds and where she perceived them to be coming from. Bugsy was certain she had something up her sleeve, but could only grimace in frustration as he was unable to figure out what it was.

 

Suddenly, Olivia screamed, “Now! Come out!”

 

Dewott darted out of the brush as soon as Olivia gave the command to do so, and Scyther followed moments later – only to be violently lashed to a halt in midair as his wings got caught in the sticky silk linking the trees he’d emerged between. Dewott was small enough to fit between the threads but Scyther wasn’t.

 

“You led me into a trap!” Bugsy uttered in disbelief.

 

“That’s right, I did,” Olivia answered, smirking deviously. “Now take this! Dewott, Razor Shell!”

 

After snickering mischievously, Dewott armed himself, once again taking one of his shells in his right hand, and jumped at the trapped Scyther, first bashing him over the head with it. Dewott then spun around and delivered a devastating hit to Scyther’s chin, one so powerful that it tore Scyther from the silk and threw him up into the air.

 

“Scyther!”

 

Bugsy’s plea was in vain. As soon as Scyther crashed to the ground, he collapsed and did not get up. The battle was over.

 

As the weight of the situation began to sink in, Olivia’s body became weak. “I… I did it…” she whispered as she fell to her knees. “I actually… didn’t fail…”

 

Before Olivia even knew what was going on, Nekou was on the field embracing her. “I’m fucking proud of you, Olivia! I told you you could kick the ass of a Gym Leader, and you did!”

 

“Dewott!” her victorious Pokémon chimed in, having joined the pair.

 

“Oh, Dewott, I’m proud of you!” Olivia slipped from Nekou’s arms and hugged Dewott as tears began flowing down her face. “I’m sorry I was so mean to you before! I really should… I should have believed in you from the start!”

 

“Dew, dewott.” Seemingly disregarding the behavior Olivia felt she had to apologize for, Dewott instead reveled in the attention he was receiving.

 

“Olivia.”

 

Hearing Matt’s voice snapped Olivia to attention, and she stood and turned to face him. However, she said nothing and merely stared at him, conflicted about how to react.

 

And then, he smiled. It was small, but for him it reflected significant warmth. “Good work. That proved to me how misguided I was with the way I treated you. You’re someone who is grown up enough to handle the truth, so no more lies. I’m going to respect you from now on. Not only that, I promise to do whatever I can to make your life easier, so just ask me if you ever need anything. My promise is to you now, not to a foolish idea of what I think will help you.”

 

“Thank you,” Olivia graciously replied.

 

“There’s not really much I can add to all of this, is there?” Olivia, Nekou, Matt and Dewott all turned to Bugsy, who had approached to join them. Scratching the back of his head, the Gym Leader said, “I just have to compliment you, Olivia. I’ve seen challengers lose their will and leave, but you didn’t do that… you stuck it out and overcame everything thrown at you. You deserve this.”

 

Bugsy extended his hand to Olivia. In it was a round pin bearing a red-and-black ladybug pattern – the Hive Badge.

 

-:-

 

Hours later, after night had fallen, a clear sky full of stars hung over Goldenrod City. The metropolis stretched on for what seemed like forever, sprawled over most of Johto’s central peninsula with a densely populated, heavily developed area at its core.

 

The bright neon lights shining from buildings, billboards and countless other structures gave the city the golden glow it was named for, and one could be fooled by it into thinking that the city was a man-made paradise. However, the stark reality was more like the typical negative stereotype of a big city, at least in the less-developed areas. Discarded trash was scattered about many of the streets, and numerous Pokémon considered pests, including Rattata, Grimer and the occasional Trubbish and Garbodor, were lurking about. The unsettling truth hidden by the fancy cover of the city’s central area wasn’t lost on Jessie, James and Ariana as they escorted Giovanni through the streets of the southern district, all four of them concealing their identities behind black trench coats and hats.

 

“Look at this place,” Jessie whispered to James as they walked. She was observing the run-down conditions of many of the buildings, and her stomach turned to think of the people who had to live in them. “I lived this, and for everything I’ve done, this is what I wouldn’t want to wish on anyone. Not even that bratty twerp.”

 

Subtly nodding in agreement, James added, “If we did take over, we’d definitely treat the people better than this. Just because we want to be in charge, that doesn’t mean we want to cause too much harm to who we rule. We’d take over but make sure people could live better than this.”

 

“The city is like this because of the Angel Corporation’s developments,” Ariana bitterly remarked. The state of Viridian City was right at the front of her mind. “Ever since they started capitalizing on the Frontier Society, it’s been nothing but non-stop development everywhere.”

 

“Hey, wait. Shouldn’t we do something about him?”

 

At James’s notice, Jessie, Ariana and Giovanni stopped walking and glanced in the direction he was pointing. It turned out that he had noticed someone sitting on the sidewalk as they passed, and the young man’s physical state was a perfect example of the problems Goldenrod’s slums had. Dressed in a dirty brown coat and holding a cardboard sign, he was slouched against one of the buildings in a way that made it difficult to tell if he was awake, asleep or even alive.

 

James leaned down to read the sign. “Lost four times at Goldenrod Gym. No more money for healing, food or lodging.”

 

“James!” Jessie’s sudden call startled her partner, and he turned abruptly to look at her. “Give him this.”

 

Jessie reached into her pocket for a roll of money that she then tossed to James. After catching it, he reached down to the failed trainer.

 

“Hey, are you awake?”

 

“Wh…what…?” the young man weakly asked, pushing his hat up so he could see.

 

“Take this. Try to take better care of yourself.”

 

The young man hesitated out of surprise before taking the money from James. “Thank you, really! This will get me into the Pokémon Center so I can heal my Pokémon and have a place to rest tonight!”

 

“Think nothing of it,” Jessie said. “Just don’t spend it all in one place. Rest up and try training more before you challenge another Gym.”

 

“I will. Just... thank you so much!”

 

Jessie and James turned away as the young man stood up, but Ariana caught Giovanni furtively stopping him and slipping him some more money out of the corner of her eye. She smiled to herself before he could notice. Soon, the four were walking again.

 

“That was kind of weird,” James commented to Jessie. “We used to be the ones with no money. Now we’re the ones giving it out.”

 

“Well, that changed because we got the Boss to have faith in us, of course. After we got promoted, money wasn’t a problem anymore.”

 

A sudden beeping interrupted Jessie and James’s conversation, and all four of them stopped walking in front of an alley. Ariana took a small GPS device bearing Team Rocket’s insignia from her pocket and looked at it.

 

“This is the place,” she announced to the others.

 

“Yes, yes it is.” Pierce had emerged from the alley without notice to join the quartet. “It is good to see that you’ve all made it here in one piece.”

 

“Pierce, where is the base you were going to have prepared?” Jessie sharply questioned.

 

“Right this way. Professor Rosalie, Trevor, Ada and I have been awaiting your arrival.”

 

Pierce turned, crossed his hands behind his back, and began walking down the alley. Giovanni, Ariana, Jessie and James followed.

 

-:-

 

At around the same time, Matt, Nekou and Olivia were sitting at a table in a small, candlelit restaurant in Azalea Town.

 

“Thanks for doing this for me…”

 

“Olivia, please, don’t sound so down,” Matt said in an attempt to encourage her. “You did really well today, so we’re having a little celebration.”

 

“Is there anything you want to do while we wait for the food?” Nekou asked Olivia.

 

Olivia thought for a moment while petting Dewott, who was sitting contently next to her, then said, “I want to talk to my mom. Can you guys make that happen?”

 

“I don’t see why not.” After taking his tablet computer out of his bag, which was sitting on the seat next to him, Matt tapped the phone icon on its menu screen and selected ‘Anabel’ from his contact list. He then handed the computer to Olivia while the phone function dialed.

 

An animation of a telephone shaking over its cradle looped on the screen for some time, but when the line was finally picked up, it was replaced by a video stream of a pale woman with a somewhat sunken face and long, unkempt lavender hair.

 

“…Olivia?” the woman said in surprise.

 

“It’s good to see you, mom! Ask me how I’ve been!”

 

“Where are you?”

 

“Olivia, let me talk to her for a second.” Olivia tilted the computer toward Matt so the woman on the screen could see him. “Anabel, she’s with us, like always. Right now, we’re sitting down for dinner in Azalea Town.”

 

“And do you want to know why?” Olivia asked as she turned the computer back to herself. “I got my first Badge today!”

 

“Oh, is that so…? Well done, Olivia. I’m proud of you.”

 

“And I know Dad would have been, too.” Anabel visibly recoiled at Olivia mentioning her father, but Olivia wasn’t fazed. “I know about what really happened.”

 

“I’m sorry, Olivia. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you…”

 

“I don’t blame you for it. I… I think I’m over not knowing the truth now.”

 

“Our food’s coming,” Nekou interjected, having spotted their waiter approaching the table.

 

“Olivia, keep going and be strong. Make your father proud. He’s always going to be with you.”

 

“I will! Bye, Mom!”

 

Olivia ended the call and handed the tablet back to Matt as the waiter arrived.

 

“Two premium steaks, one medium with grilled onions and the other rare with garlic and chili powder?”

 

“Rare’s mine,” Nekou said. “Nice, hot and raw, the way I like it.”

 

“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me,” Matt sighed as he set up his own plate.

 

“And one deluxe macaroni and cheese for the lady,” the waiter politely said as he handed the last plate over the Olivia. “Let me know if you need anything,” he added before leaving.

 

“That looks good, Olivia,” Nekou commented.

 

“My dad used to make something like this for me,” she answered, a strong hint of melancholy in her voice.. “He said it was something from where he grew up, Sootopolis City.”

 

Matt and Nekou began eating, but Olivia didn’t touch her food at all right away. Instead, she spent the next few minutes sitting silently and staring at it.

 

“I’ve decided,” she suddenly blurted out.

 

“Decided? What do you mean?” Matt questioned.

 

“I… I think I know what I want to do now. I mean, I don’t know why I want to do it yet… but I feel like I need to focus on Gyms and forget about Contests for now…”

 

“I was wondering what had happened to those, actually,” Nekou said while spinning her fork in her fingers.

 

“Are you absolutely sure you want to do that? When I first met you, you loved Contests.”

 

Olivia returned an intense gaze into Matt’s eye. “I still do. But if I’m going to find what I’m meant to do, I have to focus on one effort at a time. Otherwise my attention will be spread too thin. Before I can worry about Contests, I have to really learn more about straight battling.”

 

“That’s a very mature thing you’ve done, then, making such a decision by yourself. I think Nekou would agree with me on that.” Matt sighed again when he saw that Nekou was already eating and could only respond by nodding wildly. “My point is, you’re taking charge of your own future, and I couldn’t be more proud of you for that.”

 

“Thanks… now, I think Nekou’s right, we should eat.”

 

-:-

 

Even later on in the middle of the night, a man in a Team Rocket uniform was hiding out in a cave somewhere and speaking to Dr. Zager using a computer contained inside a heavy briefcase. He wore a black beret over his green hair, which was styled into the shape of an axe blade on its side.

 

“Proton, your mission is to defeat the Polaris member who has gone to Ilex Forest. We’ve received intelligence that one of their high-ranking members is there from our man on the inside of their Goldenrod operation. That might not be what you really have to worry about, though…

 

Proton raised an eyebrow at Zager’s advice. “Explain to me just what’s going on.”

 

“There was a burst of energy matching the Meteonite in the general area of Union Cave recently,” Zager elaborated. “I suspect Polaris is to blame for it, and if I’m correct, there may be more inciden…” The sudden sound of an alarm interrupted him, and he looked to his computers, only to quickly become visibly panicked. “Speak of the devil… they’re doing something right now!”

 

“What now?” Proton demanded, his voice containing a slight growl.

 

“Look at this.” Zager swiftly entered a command into his system, which caused a window containing a digital reading of the area between Azalea Town and Goldenrod City to appear on Proton’s screen. Part of the space depicted on the reading was marked with a bright red circle. “That’s another Meteonite burst. One just hit in Ilex Forest...”

 

Before Proton could respond, the alarm sounded again, and a yellow dot appeared on the readout. Zager simply regarded this one with surprise, and he entered several commands into his computer to make sure he wasn’t seeing it incorrectly.

 

“A temporal distortion... the Meteonite burst must have disrupted temporal energy flowing through Ilex Forest. This could be a precursor to the opening of a Time Gate…”

 

-:-

 

In the Pokémon Center, Olivia awoke with a start, clutching her stomach. Unable to move her legs much, she simply rolled out of her bed and crashed to the floor, waking Matt up. She barely missed falling on Dewott, who was sleeping next to her bed and also awoke with a start.

 

“Olivia?!” he gasped, desperately trying to put on his glasses without catching them in his eyepatch. “What’s wrong?”

 

“It… it hurts…”

 

The noise stirred Nekou, and she dropped the beer bottle she had been clutching while sprawled on her bed. “What’s going on…?”

 

“I’m… I’m…”

 

Unable to speak further, Olivia suddenly vomited onto the floor and rolled over on her side. Nekou was up and at Olivia’s side in an instant, throwing two more beer cans aside from under the sheets as she sprang up. Dewott, meanwhile, cried out, unable to do anything to help.

 

“Go get the nurse,” Nekou directed Matt while holding Olivia in her arms. “This is a Pokémon Center, but they should be able to help her.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

END of CHAPTER 11

Chapter Text

There is some drug use and bloody violence in this chapter, just a warning.

 

-:-

 

CHAPTER 12: Alekhine’s Gun

 

-:-

 

In the dark alley within Goldenrod City’s southern slum, Pierce led Giovanni, Ariana, Jessie and James to a hidden doorway. Once inside the building, he brought them to the top floor and stopped just outside of a closed room.

 

“Giovanni, Ariana, right this way,” Pierce said as he inserted a key into the door and opened it.

 

Giovanni nodded to Pierce and entered the room, followed in similar fashion by the others. Pierce closed and relocked the door once they were all inside.

 

The base Pierce had spoken of was, in actuality a mostly empty storage area. Three laptop computers were set up on some tables at the end of the room, where three other people were waiting. Jessie and James hung back, their faces glistening with nerve-induced sweat.

 

“Giovanni, sir!” the older of the two women happily said. Her age was given away by the streaks of gray in her thick, dark green hair, but she was also bound to a sophisticated computerized wheelchair. Using a trackpad located next to the red digital keyboard on her right armrest, she maneuvered herself up to Giovanni. “Good to see you all here in one piece. We’ve gotten the base together, as ordered.” She took an ornate pipe and lighter out of the pocket on her floral-necked lab coat, then lit the pipe and deeply inhaled from it before adding, “It’s a modest affair, I know, but it serves its purpose.”

 

“Rosalie, what of the Meteonite?”

 

Before Rosalie could answer Giovanni’s question, Jessie and James jumped in front of him and interrupted. The worry they both felt was overwhelming, and when added to how close they both felt to what they wanted, they were both left fighting back tears in front of their superiors.

 

“Boss, please forgive us, but we can’t wait anymore!”

 

James immediately continued Jessie’s thought by saying, “Meowth has been missing for too long! Do you three know where he is?!”

 

Giovanni clenched his fist, but calmed when Ariana grabbed his arm.

 

“Don’t get mad at them, it’s not worth it. They just miss their teammate… which is understandable.”

 

Rosalie smiled warmly. “My, my, you’re quite eager, aren’t you? Luckily, I think I have some good news. Trevor, Ada, come here.”

 

Responding to the scientist’s gesture, the other two Team Rocket members who had been waiting with her approached. Both of them were wearing black variations of Stacia’s uniform, complete with the same parallel columns of gold buttons on the chests. Trevor wore pants and boots with his uniform while Ada wore a one-piece, knee-length dress and sneakers.

 

“Go ahead and tell them what we got,” Rosalie directed after a moment of Jessie and James just staring eagerly up at them.

 

“W-well…” Ada shyly said. Out of nervousness, she scratched at her sky-blue hair as she spoke. “…Team Rocket has… someone on the inside of Polaris. Based on what he’s told us… Meowth is somewhere in this city.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Is that really true?”

 

Amused by Jessie and James’s passion for saving Meowth, Trevor laughed and brushed some of his long brown hair from his face. “It’s called the Purine Base, apparently. We know that it’s one of Polaris’s major facilities and that it’s in this very city, but we don’t know exactly where. Apparently, the exact location is kept a secret even from Polaris’s members.”

 

“It would stand to reason that they also took the Meteonite there,” Ariana concluded, disgust evident on her face and in her voice. “If we find Meowth, we find the Meteonite.”

 

“Correct, Executive Ariana,” Rosalie confirmed. “We know that wherever the Purine Base in Goldenrod City is, Polaris has definitely taken both Meowth and the Meteonite there.”

 

“Then we should find out where they are, march right in and take what belongs to us!” Jessie boldly proposed. She accentuated her point by balling up her fist and striking it against her chest.

 

“Patience.” Trevor urged, before smirking mischievously. “We’re working on a plan for when all our forces are ready, but mark my words, we will look for Polaris, we will find them, and we will beat them.”

 

“W-we can’t b-be… too reckless. Polaris is… already planning something in this city.”

 

“Do explain,” Giovanni ordered.

 

Rosalie took a long drag from her pipe and exhaled the smoke, then entered a command into her wheelchair’s computer. A red-and-black digital screen was projected in front of her, and an intense look filled her somewhat-bloodshot eyes as she looked at it.

 

“A post went up on the Polaris website,” she explained. “It says that a ‘day of the people’ will take place in Goldenrod City in three days… well, two, once midnight passes… and it will include a speech presented live in person by Ghetsis’s deputy Zinzolin. We suspect they might be planning to use the public protest as a cover for some other deed.”

 

Giovanni did not respond right away. Instead, he walked across the room to a large chair that was set up near a wide window, sat down, and leaned to his side as he thought.

 

“I agree,” he finally said, “they’re likely using it as a distraction. We can try to implement our own operation to derail theirs. Rosalie, Ada, Trevor, keep gathering intelligence from our man on the inside while we wait for our remaining field agents.”

 

“Yes, sir!” all three of them responded.

 

“What about us, dear Boss?” James asked, resisting the urge to fall to his knees and beg.

 

“You two will wait here,” he rumbled dramatically. “I have a very specific job in mind for you.”

 

-:-

 

On the eastern end of Azalea Town, a short distance from both the main population and the town’s entrance, stood the Slowpoke Well. While on the surface it merely seemed to be an unassuming stone tube piercing the earth, at the bottom of the well was an expansive cave, the environment of the Pokémon that loaned the well its name.

 

The next morning, having recovered from her sudden bout of illness the night before, Olivia had gone to the Slowpoke Well with Silver, looking to capture Pokémon. It was home to more than just Slowpoke, and she had found a Pokémon she wanted to catch. Silver stood back, leaning against a wall and watching as Olivia battled the Pokémon with her Roselia. She overwhelmed it quite quickly and threw a Poké Ball at it, at which point she could only stand by and watch as the ball shook on the ground.

 

“Come on…” she thought, clenching her fists and teeth. “I have to get more Pokémon if I’m going to get anywhere!”

 

The Poké Ball pinged just then, almost as if it was responding to Olivia’s pleas. She didn’t react right away, instead, she simply stared at the now-still sphere, letting what had happened sink in.

 

“I… I actually got another Pokémon…” she uttered, slipping to her knees behind Roselia. Tears briefly welled up in her eyes as she realized that it was the first Pokémon she had captured after finding out the truth about her father. A feeling of confusion came over her, and it didn’t go away even when Roselia tried to hug her leg.

 

“It’s just capturing a Pokémon…” Silver said as he walked up to her. “I don’t understand why you’re so worked up over it.”

 

“Sentimental value!” Olivia shot back. “The Pokémon I caught before this was… I caught it while being driven by something I don’t have anymore. This is really the first time I’ve caught a Pokémon for myself and not for my dad…”

 

“I will never understand the attachment someone like you gets to a father figure,” he harshly stated. “I have no need to be seen as worthy in my father’s eyes, and if you ask me, you should get over it too.”

 

“Shut up! What right have you got to tell me what to do? My dad meant everything to me and now he’s completely gone!”

 

Silver opened his mouth to answer, but didn’t speak a word before he froze. After remaining still for a moment, he sharply lashed his head around, listening for something.

 

“Collect your Pokémon and come here,” he whispered. “I heard something. Someone’s here.”

 

Olivia quickly heeded Silver’s advice, picking up the Poké Ball containing her new Pokémon and returning Roselia to her own. Once she moved up alongside Silver, she quietly asked, “What’s going on?”

 

“I heard someone moving around. Be careful.”

 

Silver stepped out from the wall and took several paces forward, intending to peer down a nearby tunnel to see if he could make anything out. However, as soon as he reached the tunnel, someone came running out and collided with him.

 

“What are you...” Silver froze when he saw who he was looking at – a man wearing a black uniform that bore a red ‘R’ insignia. Almost instantly, his mood turned to pure rage. “You, Proton!”

 

Proton initially reacted with surprise to his encountering Silver, stepping back with a wide-eyed look on his face. He quickly shifted to a more sarcastic tone, however, with his expression changing to a manic grin to match.

 

“Well, well, look who the Meowth dragged in!” Proton chuckled menacingly. “It’s the return of the prodigal son!”

 

“Shut it!” Silver growled, sweeping his arm before himself. “Tell me what he’s got you doing here right now!”

 

“Maybe you should go ask your daddy yourself. I’m sure he’d like to see you!”

 

“Silver, what’s going on?” demanded Olivia. She felt her stomach beginning to turn.

 

“Nothing you need to get involved in,” Silver answered through clenched teeth while arming himself with one of his Poké Balls. “Get out of here. Go find Looker and tell him what’s happening.”

 

Proton shrugged and turned up his hands. He hadn’t immediately noticed Olivia, but her presence barely fazed him. “So sorry, little lady, looks like you just got stuck in the middle of this. Thank Silver for getting you caught in the sights of the scariest and cruelest guy in Team Rocket!”

Before either Olivia or Silver could react, Proton opened one of his own Poké Balls, releasing a Shuckle. Much like his trainer, the Shuckle wore a crazed, menacing look.

 

“Hold her down, Shuckle! Wrap!”

 

Taking aim squarely at Olivia, Proton’s Shuckle reared back and shot his front legs from his shell like tentacles. Repulsed by the idea of even being touched, she recoiled and started to run, but a huge shape towering over her shielded her from Shuckle’s grasp.

 

“Feraligatr,” Silver shouted over Olivia’s gasp, “Ice Punch!”

 

Using his right arm, Feraligatr delivered a forceful chop strengthened by freezing air to the tentacles wrapped around his left. Shuckle recoiled from the chill and pulled his legs back into his shell.

 

“Tch… giving us a hard time like always, Silver?” Proton spat, his face curling in disgust.

 

“More like beating you and taking you down again!” Quickly turning to look at Olivia over his shoulder, Silver again yelled, “Go! Get out of here and go get Looker!”

 

Olivia wanted to run, but she found her body slow to respond to her mental commands due to her fear in the moment. The only immediate response available to her was to back up slowly and just try to put some distance between herself and the danger.

 

Proton laughed, his sadistic grin returning. “Boy, Silver, aren’t you a hero? Some hero when you don’t even bother telling her how close she really is to us!”

 

“Go!” Silver roared at Olivia, ignoring Proton’s mocking.

 

“O…okay!”

 

Olivia’s mind and body finally clicked together, allowing her to turn and run. As she fled she could hear the crashes and explosions of an unfolding battle behind her, but she could not pay much attention to it. She just knew she had to get away as quickly as possible.

 

-:-

 

“The Pokémon World Tournament is soon to begin!” the stout, thick-browed man on the Azalea Town Pokémon Center’s television announced. “ Pokémon Trainers from all around the world are gathering here at the Realgam Tower in Orre, and I, Freddy the Scoop, will be there to bring you all the exciting action!”

 

The lobby of the Pokémon Center was fairly empty that morning. Azalea Town wasn’t often visited by large amounts of traffic, instead, it was usually the case that only a few trainers at a time would come for their Hive Badges and leave as soon as they got them. Only a small handful of people, including the nurse, were in the lobby while Matt, Looker and Nikolai were there watching television and drinking coffee.

 

 “It makes me happy…” Nikolai mumbled, staring at the screen.

 

“What’s that?”

 

Shifting his gaze sideways to look at Matt, Nikolai answered, “…that Pokémon can bring people together over such distances. I want the world to be a place where people and Pokémon can grow together through their interactions with each other. That’s my ideal formula…”

 

“I can appreciate that. I mean…” Matt noticed Looker staring intensely at the two of them, but didn’t pay it much attention. “…if that kind of thing came to pass, perhaps it would be therapeutic to Olivia’s mind. I’ve noticed that she really opens up when Pokémon are involved.”

 

“So where is Olivia, anyway?” Matt and Nikolai’s conversation was interrupted by Nekou swaggering in, with yet another beer can in her hand despite the early hour. She sipped at it, then continued, “I expected her to be out here with you.”

 

“So you finally woke up, huh?” Matt said with a wry grin. “Don’t worry about her. She felt better after last night, so she went with Silver to the Slowpoke Well to catch a new Pokémon.”

 

“The… Slowpoke Well?” In an instant, the cool, flippant attitude present in Nekou’s expression evaporated, giving way to a hardened, dismayed look. “With Silver?”

 

“Yeah, when she brought up the idea, I didn’t want her to go alone but I did want her to strike out on her own a bit. Looker was the one that suggested Silver go with her.”

 

“But… the Slowpoke Well? What made you think that shit was a good idea?”

 

Matt shrugged. “It’s open to the public, so she’s not going anywhere she shouldn’t. What’s the worst that could happen?”


As if on cue, at literally the moment Matt closed his mouth, the Pokémon Center’s doors slid open and Olivia came crashing through.

 

“Matt!” she screamed out, not realizing where her group was yet. “Nekou! Mister Looker!”

 

Nekou immediately pitched her beer can into a nearby garbage pail with great skill, then hurried to Olivia. The three men were left standing behind her, confused and worried about what had upset her.

 

“Olivia, calm down!” Nekou implored her young friend, who collapsed into her arms. “Tell me what happened!”

 

“I… I caught a new Pokémon… but then we ran into him…”

 

“Who is ‘him?’” Matt questioned, not noticing how Nekou shuddered upon Olivia’s revelation.

 

“And Silver, what is the location of his being currently?”

 

“It was a man called Proton, who was wearing a Team Rocket uniform. Silver knew him, I think. He tried to capture me when we ran into him but Silver stayed behind to battle him.”

 

“If the Team Rocket has started some sort of operation of sorts,” Looker pondered while holding his chin, “it is being my duty as an International Police agent elite in rank to stop it!”

 

Stopping only to shoot Nekou a brief, venomous glare, Looker sprinted for the door, leaving Matt, Olivia, Nekou and Nikolai no choice but to leave their coffee behind and follow.

 

Bright, blazing sunlight greeted them as they reached the outdoors, forcing them to try and hastily adjust their vision. Having gotten outside first, Looker got used to the morning sun before any of the others, and ran off to the east while shouting nonsensically about Team Rocket. The others were able to follow him after a brief moment.

 

As soon as the stone entrance to the Slowpoke Well came into view, it became clear that the conflict had escalated. Proton had fled to the surface with Silver in pursuit, and the two were now fighting out in the open. Silver’s Feraligatr had just delivered a finishing blow to Proton’s Shuckle, and having recalled his Pokémon, Proton was starting to flee using a jetpack strapped to his back.

 

Just as his jetpack’s rockets ignited, Proton caught sight of Looker. Shooting the detective a sarcastic grin, he saluted and yelled, “Missed me again, didn’t you?”

 

“Stop! International Police!”

 

“Oh, come the fuck on!” Nekou groaned in exasperation. “You seriously think that he’ll stop for that?”

 

Proton lifted into the air and, without hesitation, turned to Ilex Forest to the west and began to fly off.

 

Silver, however, would have none of it, even as Matt, Looker and the others just watched the Rocket Executive flee. “Feraligatr, shoot him down, right now!” he shouted, pointing at Proton. “Dragon Pulse!”

 

Locking his gaze onto the shrinking figure in the sky, Feraligatr opened his mouth as widely as his large jaw would allow. A cluster of blue light took shape just within, which within seconds fired like a cannon of energy. The attack managed to hit Proton with pinpoint accuracy, and though none of the group could hear him swearing his luck, they were able to see his jetpack fail, sending him falling into the forest.

 

“What are you all waiting for?!” Silver demanded, recalling Feraligatr as soon as his work was done. “Let’s go after him! I’m sure that’s not a problem for any of you, is it?”

 

Silver didn’t wait for an answer to his question. He just turned and ran, his body overflowing with more than enough energy to run all the way across Azalea Town and into Ilex Forest. Matt, Olivia, Looker and Nikolai all followed immediately while Nekou brought up the rear, scowling viciously all the while.

 

-:-

 

In his laboratory, Dr. Zager was frantically entering commands into his computer while Galvantula skittered around in the background, alarmed by the sound of his voice.

 

“Proton? Proton, come in!” Overcome by frustration, Zager slammed his fist down on his desk. “Of all the times to lose communication...”

 

Returning to the thermal imaging of Ilex Forest, the scientist found himself unable to do much more than stare at the readouts it displayed. Since the night before, multiple bursts matching the signature of Meteonite energy had been detected there, but there was something else, another kind of energy flowing through the area that truly put his nerves on edge. He kept watching the time-lapse reading of the forest over and over, searching for an answer he wasn’t sure was there.

 

-:-

 

Even though it was the middle of a clear morning, Ilex Forest was still a gloomy place. The one saving grace that the group had was the availability of a long but clear and distinct path to follow. The relatively small number of travelers that came through the area were still enough to convey the need for a road; without it, the forest would be nearly impossible to pass through.

 

“He’s got to be nearby here,” Silver said. “He didn’t get far into the forest before I shot him down.”

 

“Pardon me for chiming in, but maybe it would help to have a Pokémon search? You have a Gengar, as I recall.”

 

Silver was caught by surprise by Matt’s suggestion, but he thought about it and quickly realized that the idea was a smart one. After removing Gengar’s Poké Ball from his belt, Silver opened it, releasing the ghost. Gengar grinned widely and laughed, happy to be doing something.

 

“Gengar, look through this immediate area for a man wearing a Team Rocket uniform,” the red-haired trainer directed. “If you find him, bring us to him immediately.”

 

Gengar nodded and said his name to confirm that he understood what Silver wanted him to do, then drifted off into the woods. However, Silver let out an angry sigh and sharply turned to his companions.

 

“I could use a little help, you know. I don’t expect it from all of you but I’m sure at least one of you will put in the effort.”

 

“You know, you could just say please,” Olivia muttered, though she did let her Minccino out. Almost immediately, the Normal-type Pokémon fretted about cleaning up some nearby leaves using her tail.

 

“For as rude as he was happening to be behaving in the manner of, Silver does occur to have a point,” Looker commented. “Matt, what Pokémon have you got in possession on your person?”

 

“Right now? I’m carrying Heatran, Sigilyph, Eelektrik, Golurk, Roggenrola and Drilbur.”

 

“A Psychic-type ought to be of use…” Nikolai listlessly said.

 

“And she can fly, too. I agree.” Matt reached into his bag, intending to take out the Poké Ball containing Ayingott, his Sigilyph.

 

Just as he put his hand on it, though, an unexpected interruption broke in. A loudly-screeching horde of Zubat and Hoothoot, numbering about thirteen total, emerged from the trees. The Hoothoot had dull, tired looks in their eyes, and despite having no eyes to share it, the Zubat were carrying themselves in the same agitated manner.

 

“Look at their eyes,” Nekou growled, “or at least the Hoothoot, anyway. And nocturnal Pokémon out in the daytime?”

 

“Are you suggesting what I think you are?” Matt asked without looking at her.

 

“Yeah, I am. They’re under Meteonite influence, just like all those other Pokémon… like the ones in Union Cave.”

 

“I can feel something influencing their minds…” added Nikolai, standing with his arms spread.

 

Some of the Zubat and Hoothoot took notice of Olivia’s Minccino sitting on the ground before them and became even more angered. Before she even realized what was happening, she found herself being targeted by multiple Air Cutter and Night Shade attacks.

 

“Stop those with Swift!” Olivia quickly commanded.

 

Minccino lashed her tail forward, spraying a wave of stars to shield herself. Most of the white and purple energy waves coming her way were dispelled, but a few still got through. She was only struck by the Air Cutters, though, as she was immune to the Ghost-type Night Shades. Scratched in several places and dirty from the dust kicked up around her, she fled back to the safety of Olivia’s arms.

 

“Minccino, it’s okay…” she whispered to her Pokémon, gently stroking Minccino’s head.

 

“I’ll take care of this. Ayingott, make your mark!”

 

The Sigilyph burst from the Poké Ball she was contained within. Right away, she noticed the injured Minccino in Olivia’s arms and realized the Zubat and Hoothoot were to blame. She confronted the gang by angrily chirping at them, but they were too far gone under the Meteonite’s influence to fully notice.

 

They did, however, perceive Ayingott as a threat. The Hoothoot hung back while the Zubat encircled her, preparing to attack.

 

“Ayingott, that’s nothing to you! Wipe them all out with Psychic!”

 

Much to Matt’s surprise, Ayingott hesitated. She didn’t wait for long, but it was enough that Matt and the others noticed. When she attacked, she used her psychic power to surround all of the Zubat with blue light before tossing them away.

 

“What happened?”

 

Nikolai stepped up alongside Matt, but didn’t look at him, instead covering his eyes with his hat. “I sense that your Sigilyph is unhappy with something. Not you, but… there is something weighing on its mind.”

 

Matt looked back up, struggling to identify in his mind what it was that he had done wrong, only to see that the Zubat had somehow quickly returned to surround Ayingott once again. Meanwhile, Silver had sent out his Alakazam, and the two of them were trying to cut down the Hoothoot with electric bolts Alakazam was launching from the spoons he held.

 

Suddenly, a Swift attack struck some of the Zubat, breaking their formation around Ayingott. Matt turned in surprise to see that Olivia’s Minccino had regained her courage and was rejoining the fight, having climbed out of her trainer’s arms.

 

“Thanks for that, Minccino,” he said, though he was looking at Olivia. “How about we do this together?”

 

“All three of us?” Nekou interrupted, holding a Poké Ball in her hand.

 

“You know what, that’s a good idea,” Matt said with a smile. “Let’s go for it, all of us! Manticore, make your mark!”

 

“Join them, Marie!”

 

Matt’s Roggenrola and Nekou’s Sneasel stepped up alongside Minccino after taking form. Marie looked to Minccino and growled sharply, smiling to encourage her companion. Manticore, however, didn’t wait for Minccino and Marie or even for any orders from Matt. As soon as she saw the swarm of Zubat, she jumped into battle, shooting a stream of four rocks at them. The Zubat scattered but reformed with some speed.

 

“Manticore, I didn’t tell you to use Rock Blast yet!”

 

“Looks like it hasn’t gotten much more obedient since you caught it,” Nekou remarked. “Fine. As always, woman must clean up the mess created by man, huh? Olivia, let’s team up and do this. I want you to use Swift again.”

 

 “Alright,” Olivia answered, nodding. “I trust you. Minccino, do it! Use Swift!”

 

Nekou watched as Minccino followed Olivia’s direction. Once the stars of Swift were in the air, Nekou followed with, “Now, Marie, use Ice Beam on Minccino’s Swift!”

 

While sharply hissing, Marie looked up at Minccino’s Swift attack and fired rays of blue, freezing energy from her claws. The ice surrounded the stars on contact, turning them into sharp-edged weapons that slashed through the Zubat horde. Many of them dropped to the ground, unable to continue after being cut down by the combination, leaving only three severely weakened Zubat still airborne.

 

“Let’s put an end to this all at once! Ayingott, hold them still with Psychic, and Manticore, hit one of them with Rock Blast!”

 

“Marie, take one of them out with Knock Off!”

 

“Minccino, you finish the last one off with Aqua Tail!”

 

The last three Zubat had attempted to attack again by opening their mouths wide, but Ayingott pinned them with her psychic power, rendering them unable to do so. Marie jumped at the trio as soon as they were frozen and smashed the middle Zubat into the earth with her right arm. Manticore followed up by taking aim at one of the others and shooting three rocks at it, and just as Olivia intended, Minccino smacked the last down with her glowing tail.

 

At the same time Matt, Nekou and Olivia were defeating the Zubat, Silver was finishing off the Hoothoot on his own using his Alakazam. The owl Pokémon proved to be little of a challenge to the powerful Psychic-type.

 

“Alakazam… you did well.” Holding up a yellow-and-black Ultra Ball, Silver recalled Alakazam back to its confines. Just as he did so, though, Gengar returned and began pulling on his arm. The ghost Pokémon gestured into the brush, prompting Silver to turn around – only to see a figure rushing through the forest not far away. “There he is! He was hiding right in front of us!”

 

“Silver, be waiting!” Looker’s call was in vain, as Silver, overcome with his wish to capture Proton, dashed off into the bushes to give chase after recalling Gengar. With no other options, Looker turned to the others and said, “We shall make note to meet up at the other end’s exit of the Ilex Forest!” before hurrying off after Silver.

 

“What is going on?” Matt wondered out loud as the detective departed.

 

“Fuck if I know,” Nekou said with a shrug. “But I’d be willing to hazard a guess that it’s Polaris’s fault. Those Zubat and Hoothoot were clearly under the influence of Meteonite energy, but there shouldn’t be any way for that to be possible. There were no meteor strikes in this area.”

 

“Nikolai, what did you mean by Ayingott being unhappy with something?” Matt questioned.

 

“I haven’t pinpointed it just yet… let’s walk with the Pokémon and perhaps I will figure it out.”

 

“I like that idea.”

 

With their plan set, the group continued down the road, walking with Ayingott, Manticore, Minccino and Marie alongside them.

 

They didn’t notice the twelve pairs of small, yellow eyes watching them from the bushes.

 

-:-

 

A large, metallic airship piloted by Colress was flying over the western ocean, heading in the direction of Goldenrod City. He was seated at an expansive control panel within the craft’s cockpit, and while flying it, he was also carrying on a videophone conversation with Getriebe and Jeunes.

 

“Everything’s all in order here,” Jeunes stated, smirking. “Two days from now, we’ll be able to execute the operation just as planned.”

 

“The research has been promising,” Getriebe added. “If my calculations are correct, the Meteonite will work exactly the way we want.”

 

“I’ll be there in plenty of time,” answered Colress. “Nothing will get in our way. Between the power of the Meteonite and the public support Mister Ghetsis’s speeches have been gaining for us, Polaris will reach its objective soon enough. What are you two currently doing?”

 

“We’ve nearly finished scanning our stocks of Pokémon into the Purine Base’s databanks,” Getriebe explained. “Once our indexing is complete, we’ll send the data to the Adenosine Base so you can use it.”

 

-:-

 

“I figured it out,” Nikolai abruptly announced while the group and their Pokémon were continuing down the road in Ilex Forest. “I know what your Sigilyph is distressed by.”

 

“Oh? What is it?”

 

“Your Sigilyph does not like its nickname. It wishes to be given a new one.”

 

“Wait, I don’t understand,” Matt replied, raising an eyebrow. Ayingott didn’t seem to dislike that nickname before.”

 

“I feel it may have been waiting to see on its own if you would change its nickname… now that Sigilyph has decided that you aren’t going to be doing that, it’s beginning to act out.”

 

“I guess that makes sense,” Nekou remarked, walking with her arms crossed behind her head. She then glanced back to Olivia, only to notice that she had her head down. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Something doesn’t feel right,” Olivia sullenly said. “I feel kind of sick again… and I really want to see my mom for some reason. All of a sudden I really miss her.”

 

“We’ll call her when we get to Goldenrod City, okay?” Matt was attempting to reassure Olivia, but in his own mind, he was nervous. Anabel’s poor state when they’d contacted her the day before didn’t give him a good feeling.

 

“Wait, do you hear something?” Nekou suddenly said.

 

Snapping out of his thoughts, Matt focused his hearing, and Olivia focused hers as well. Both of them quickly heard loud voices coming from some place nearby, which evidently was what Nekou was referring to.

 

“I hear it, too...” Nikolai uttered. “Let’s go find out what it is…”

 

Matt, Nekou, Olivia and Nikolai ran further down the road, seeking the source of the voices. They quickly came upon a young boy and girl, both dressed in sky-blue school uniforms and carrying lunchboxes.

 

“Are you two okay?” Matt addressed them.

 

Reacting to his accidentally overaggressive tone, the pair reeled back. “Stop! Don’t take any more of our Pokémon!” the boy cried.

 

“We didn’t take any of your Pokémon to begin with,” Nekou rebuked. “What’s going on here?”

 

“Who are you?” questioned the girl.

 

“Just some traveling trainers, as you seem to be,” Matt answered, gesturing to Ayingott, Manticore, Marie and Minccino. “If I frightened you before, I’m sorry. Please explain to us what happened.”

 

“Our Ivysaur disappeared into Ilex Forest... we were looking for it and now we can’t find our way out anymore!”

 

“Did it run away?” Olivia wondered.

 

“Y-yeah, it did…” The girl sniffed before adding, “but when it ran away, right before it ran away it was struck by a beam of red light.”

 

Matt, Nekou and Olivia all gasped and looked at each other in shock, and though Nikolai’s reaction was far more muted, the surprise in his eyes gave away that he had a similar feeling.

 

“You guys are all thinking what I’m thinking, right?”

 

Nekou closed her eyes in disgust at the answer she had to give to Matt’s question. “No doubting it, it’s a Meteonite strike. But this isn’t like the others, this is fucking deliberate…”

 

“There’s children here!” Matt hissed before softening his tone. “But what do you mean?”

 

“If that’s the worst thing they ever hear, they lived some pretty sheltered lives,” Nekou said with a shrug. “Consider the past Meteonite strikes… the one in Union Cave, I mean. Only Ground-type Pokémon were affected. Meanwhile, today we’ve seen Flying-type Pokémon and now Grass-type Pokémon affected, plus, did you hear what she said? Their Ivysaur was struck by a beam of red light before it ran off. Someone in this forest is using a Meteonite and deliberately controlling certain Pokémon with it.”

 

“What are you talking about, lady?” the girl whimpered. “Who took our Ivysaur? You know, don’t you?”

 

“Not for certain, but… I have a good suspicion about it. Come on, we have a Psychic-type Pokémon, we’ll help you search for it. We’re heading through the forest anyway.”

 

“How do we know we can trust you?” The boy was suddenly growing angry, and he stood glaring up right into Nekou’s eyes. “They’ve been talking about Team Rocket being around here lately. You could be one of them! This could all be your fault!”

 

“If someone from Team Rocket stole your Ivysaur, you would have known it,” Nekou coolly dismissed. “Those guys… they’re way too showy for their own good. They wouldn’t have taken it in the way you described.”

 

“I think… I think you can trust her…” Matt put in. “She’s right, after all. Team Rocket’s members run around in those uniforms with the huge red ‘R’s on them. You didn’t see one of those, did you?” The boy shook his head, prompting Matt to say, “Then please, trust us. Come along, Ayingo…um… I’ll think of a new name for you soon, okay? Let’s just help these kids find their Ivysaur and see if we can’t get down to the bottom of these Meteonite attacks.”

 

“Sigi, sigi,” Ayingott chirped, her cry filled with equal parts enthusiasm and frustration.

 

-:-

 

Elsewhere in the forest, Silver and Looker were still sprinting after Proton, who was unable to shake them despite his best efforts to vanish into the underbrush.

 

“Stop, you piece of scum!” Silver shouted through the trees at his target. “I swore I’d take all of you down, and I’m keeping my word! You won’t escape!”

 

“Be halting! The long arm of the law can manage to work to reach anywhere!”

 

Proton didn’t say anything, but he did glance over his shoulder at his pursuers. He realized that they were slowly closing in on him, meaning he wouldn’t be able to keep running forever.

 

“Oh, if ever I’ve needed some luck, now would be a hell of a time for it!” he thought to himself.

 

Much to his surprise, however, his wish actually came true. Over a dozen Psybeam attacks suddenly burst from the surrounding bushes, striking the ground all around Silver and Looker. They had to stop their chase as they were surrounded by Venonat, Butterfree and Masquerain. Proton, meanwhile, knew this turn afforded him the chance he needed to escape.

 

“Damn it, we lost him!” Silver growled as soon as he realized he couldn’t see Proton anymore. “We’ll have to track him down all over again... but we can’t do that until we deal with this problem.”

 

“I am finding myself in complete agreement with you, Silver.”

 

Some of the Butterfree and Venonat broke from the horde and moved forward, aiming another round of their multicolored Psybeam attacks at the two humans, who swiftly jumped aside to get out of the way. Silver quickly sent out his Gengar to face them, while Looker brought out his Toxicroak.

 

-:-

 

Far north from the unfolding events in Ilex Forest, another incident was about to take place. Another of Polaris’s airships descended to the ground near the vast autumn forests surrounding Ecruteak City, and after its stairs unfolded, Ghetsis stepped out. The crazed dictator’s cape blew in the gentle wind surrounding him as he set his intense, wicked gaze upon the city before him.

 

“Ah, Ecruteak City…” After looking from the west half of the city, which was urban and developed, to the east, which was still filled by a small number of older, traditional wooden buildings, he closed his eye. “A city of contradictions that proves the sins of the Tenganists… what a fitting place for my ascension to my rightful throne as the King of Harmonia…”

 

After pulling on the button fixing his cape around his neck, Ghetsis turned and walked toward a nearby pagoda, sitting alone at the northern edge of the city against the forest. His cane made a loud tapping noise with every step he took on the stone roads of the city’s traditional half. When he reached the building, he stopped only for a moment to grin to himself before stepping inside. To announce his presence, he simply slammed his cane against the wooden floor.

 

From the halls of the temple, three elderly men dressed in black robes emerged. They all regarded Ghetsis with a mixture of confusion and anger in their eyes.

 

“We are the Wise Trio…” one of them said, stepping forward, “…and I am Masa, the head Sage here. What business have you with us, intruder?”

 

“Now, now, there is no need for such hostility, for I am but a simple sage like you,” Ghetsis answered, smiling disarmingly. “I have simply come to talk about some very important business with you.”

 

“What business would that…”

 

“Master Masa…” one of the other two Sages interrupted.

 

“What is it, Koji?”

 

“I recognize this man…” The fear evident in Koji’s voice grew with each word he spoke. “This is the man who represents Polaris… Ghetsis… Harmonia…”

 

“So my secret’s out, then.” Ghetsis opened his eye again, but never stopped smiling. “I guess it’s time to dispense with the formalities.”

 

His eyes widening, Masa pulled a Poké Ball from his robes. He then gestured to Koji and the third Sage, who did the same. “Koji! Gaku! Prepare to defend Bell Tower! We won’t let him destroy another of our holy sites!”

 

“You foolish Tenganists… Pokémon cannot stop me from reaching my destiny.”

 

Ghetsis banged his cane against the floor again. On cue, the Shadow Triad materialized in front of him with swords in their hands. Before they even knew what was going on, Masa, Koji and Gaku were cut down. The last thing the three Sages ever saw was Darkness, Pestilence and Chaos wiping splashes of blood from their uniforms while Ghetsis towered over them, his face twisted into a sadistic grin.

 

“We’re establishing a base here until the event,” Ghetsis declared. “Darkness, Pestilence, go fetch the prisoners from the transport.”

 

“Sir!”

 

After the pair of Shadows warped away, Ghetsis looked to Chaos and gestured at the fallen Sages with his cane. “You, Chaos, get rid of them. Dead men don’t put up a fight so I know you can handle this.”

 

-:-

 

Much like she had been since arriving in Ilex Forest, Séduire was hiding up in one of the trees. Using the holographic display on her Meteonite cannon, she was observing the movements of Matt and the others as they went through the forest.

 

“Yes, come to me… you’re almost here…” Taking a deep breath,  Séduire shifted her weight on the branch. “I think I’ll give you a gift to welcome you home…”

 

With a flick of her hand, Séduire moved off of her surveillance of Matt and onto a control panel for her weapon itself. She smiled to herself as she programmed a command into its system.

 

A short distance away, Matt, Nekou, Olivia and Nikolai were continuing down the road with their Pokémon still out and the brother and sister accompanying them.

 

“Ivysaur!” the boy called out into the depths of the forest. “Where are you?”

 

“Come on, please come back!” his sister shouted in the opposite direction.

 

“Nekou, are you absolutely sure that this is another Meteonite event? This doesn’t feel like the other times.”

 

“I’m certain of it, no fucking doubt,” Nekou mumbled in response to Matt’s questioning. “You’re not taking one thing into consideration. I told you someone’s doing this deliberately. They might be controlling the Pokémon too, and if that’s…”

 

Suddenly, Olivia stumbled and fell against Nekou, leaving Nekou to hold her up. The entire search party stopped its trek through the forest immediately.

 

“Olivia, what’s wrong?” Matt said in alarm.

 

“I don’t… I don’t feel so good…” Olivia tried to push herself off Nekou’s side and onto her own feet, but she felt her body becoming weak.

 

“Don’t worry, Olivia, I’ll hold you up.” Looking to Matt, Nekou scrunched up her face and said, “Find those kids’ Ivysaur so we can get out of here. Olivia’s sick again.”

 

“I would if I had a lead to go on!” Just as he finished speaking, Ayingott taped his shoulder to garner his attention. “Huh? What is it?”

 

“Glyph!” Matt’s Sigilyph screeched, gesturing to the bushes a short distance down the road.

 

“I don’t understand…”

 

“Matt… I think we have company,” Nikolai warned.

 

The entire group turned to where Ayingott had indicated and stared intensely at the brush, awaiting whatever would emerge. Moments later, another group of Pokémon leapt out to attack, their eyes filled with the same tired look all the other Pokémon influenced by the Meteonite possessed. It was a team comprised mainly of several Paras and Carnivine clustered together.

 

However, one of them stuck out, having no other companions like him. In addition to the other Grass-types in the swarm, a single Grass-and-Poison-type Pokémon was present.

 

An Ivysaur.

 

“There’s our Ivysaur!” cried the boy, a look of great relief coming across his face. Without hesitating, he started running towards the group of Pokémon, not realizing what danger he was in.

 

“Stop!” Nekou screamed. “It’s not safe!”

 

Dramatically underlining her point, the Ivysaur, without even briefly hesitating, attacked his trainer by launching a number of sharp-edged leaves at him. He avoided being hit by barely an inch, jumping back in a panic.

 

“Ivysaur, what’s with you?”

 

“Right now, that’s not your Ivysaur,” Nekou coldly said. She tapped the side of her glasses, activating their computerized scanning. “The entire energy flow in this forest is in flux, from the looks of it. That’s why all these Pokémon are acting like this… whoever is behind this has caused a lot of damage with repeated Meteonite blasts.”

 

“Can you make Ivysaur go back to normal?” the girl questioned while shielding her brother.

 

Before she could get an answer, three of the Paras attacked the group with Energy Ball, forcing them to jump to the sides of the road to avoid the glowing, crackling spheres.

 

“We might be able to, but we have to defeat them first. Charlotte, come out and help!”

 

Matt fumbled in his bag for the Poké Ball he wanted, and when he found it, he simply opened it in his hand instead of throwing it. His Eelektrik materialized, floating a few feet off the ground.

 

However, as soon as Charlotte appeared, Manticore turned away from the swarm of Grass-types to face her. The Roggenrola’s memories were stirred by seeing Charlotte. She specifically remembered what had happened the day she was captured on Route 30, when she was outside Mr. Pokémon’s house. It had been Charlotte that Matt used to capture her.

 

Overcome by anger, Manticore charged at Charlotte, striking her midsection with Headbutt.

 

“Manticore, stop it! Charlotte’s your ally now!”

 

Paying little heed to her trainer’s order, Manticore hesitated for only a second before beginning to charge at Charlotte again. Unwilling to take another hit for Manticore’s rage, Charlotte started to generate electricity around herself. Matt managed to head off the conflict by recalling Manticore, just in enough time to make sure Charlotte’s Charge Beam hit only the ground.

 

“Why… did that just…” Olivia weakly said.

 

“Seeing the Pokémon that was used to capture Roggenrola caused it to become enraged,” Nikolai quickly answered. “We do not have time to deliberate on such a thing. These Pokémon… are in much worse condition.”

 

“Manticore wouldn’t be so great against Grass-types anyway,” Matt realized. “Charlotte, I’ll leave this to you!”

 

“Marie, you go too!”

 

“Minccino… do your best…”

 

Much to the surprise of his companions, Nikolai even took out one of his Poké Balls. “I cannot call upon my friends in this forest while the energy here is so off balance… it wouldn’t be safe. At the very least my personal Pokémon can be protected…”

 

With that, Nikolai threw the Poké Ball, releasing his Stantler. The Normal-type Pokémon stood tall next to his comparatively short allies.

 

Unwilling to let the appearance of opposing Pokémon intimidate them, the horde of Grass-types attacked again. Their offense was fractured; while the Paras remained at a distance and used Energy Ball again, the Carnivine opted for a much more direct approach by lashing out with vines from under their leaves. The Ivysaur, meanwhile, erratically shot more sharp leaves at the group.

 

Charlotte, Marie, Minccino and Stantler did their best to dance around the attacks barraging them. Charlotte’s ability to twist through the air served her well in her defense, while Minccino and Marie danced around on the ground, Marie with much more skill than her lesser-trained friend. Stantler, on the other hand, didn’t have as much mobility and ended up getting knocked down by one of the Carnivine with Vine Whip, but he recovered quickly.

 

“It pains me to say but… the only way to stop these Pokémon is to defeat them.”

 

“Nikolai, wait, I have an idea. You said you could protect your Stantler because it was your personal Pokémon… is that because you can recall it?”

 

Nikolai’s eyes widened at Nekou’s suggestion. “Why did I not think of that earlier?” Turning to the children, Nikolai quickly said to them, “Hurry, try to recall your Ivysaur!”

 

“I hope it works,” the sister said, taking out a Poké Ball of her own. “Ivysaur, return!”

 

A beam of red light shot out of the core of the Poké Ball when the girl pointed it at Ivysaur. However, the seemingly simple plan had one major problem – Ivysaur didn’t want to be recalled, and jumped back out of the way to avoid the beam that would bring him back.

 

“We’re going to have to hold it down,” Matt quickly decided. “Charlotte, Thunder Wave!”

 

Still twisting her body through the air, Charlotte turned toward the Ivysaur and released a weak pulse of electricity from her body. After getting hit by it, Ivysaur became still as the electricity paralyzed his muscles.

 

“Quickly! Do it now!”

 

“Ivysaur, return!”

 

This time, the girl had the fortune she and her brother needed. With Ivysaur held down by the paralysis, she was able to recall him safely into his Poké Ball.

 

“Ivysaur…” her brother sighed in relief.

 

“But how do we make him get better?”

 

Four Paras decided to break from the horde and rushed the group, their claws drawn back in preparation for a series of X-Scissor attacks. Matt pulled the young siblings aside and stood in front of them, while Nekou and Olivia hid behind Nikolai’s Stantler. As for Nikolai himself, he simply ducked into a nearby bush to avoid them.

 

“Come with us,” Matt said to the siblings. “We’re going to the Pokémon Center in Goldenrod City, if we ever get out of this. You can get Ivysaur help there.”

 

“I don’t get it,” Nikolai coughed as he stumbled from the bush. “Why are their attacks so erratic?”

 

“They aren’t in their right minds,” Nekou sharply replied. “Whoever is manipulating them with the Meteonite is causing them to go insane. Either way, though, I’ve had just about enough of this. Marie, do whatever’s necessary! Fuck them up!”

 

“If you can… Minccino…”

 

Together, Marie and Minccino leapt at the horde of Grass-types. True to her nature, Marie took the initiative to attack first, showering the entire crowd with her Ice Beam. With many of the Pokémon stunned, Minccino swept in and cut through the group with Tail Slap, rattling the heads of whatever she could reach even further.

 

“Matt… your Sigilyph knows Psychic.” When Matt nodded, Nikolai continued, “Hold the Pokémon together with it. I don’t like having to do this, but it can’t be helped.”

 

“Alright. Aying…well… I guess we’ll figure out your name, but for now… Sigilyph, Psychic! Cluster them together!”

 

Encouraged by Matt’s willingness to acknowledge her concerns, Ayingott focused on the horde of Pokémon. All three of her eyes began to glow with blue light, which then surrounded the Paras and Carnivine as they were forced together by her power.

 

“With them held together like that… this ought to affect them all. Stantler, use Stomp!”

 

Stantler ran a short distance to build up speed, then leapt into the air and came crashing down onto the cluster. Nikolai’s theory was right; though Stantler had directly hit a Carnivine, the shock from the blow radiated through the entire group.

 

“Let’s put an end to this, Charlotte. Acid Spray!”

 

Locking her gaze onto the writhing cluster of Pokémon, Charlotte choked up a large ball of green poison. When it made impact on its target, it exploded, scattering the Pokémon around the area. The combined strength of all the attacks was enough to cause the Pokémon to faint.

 

Just as Matt and the others breathed sighs of relief, though, a whole new problem erupted. The dozen pairs of yellow eyes, which had been watching them the entire time they were in the forest, finally revealed themselves as twelve Pawniard rushed from the growth, followed by a single Bisharp.

 

“What now?!” Matt shouted.

 

As the Pawniard surrounded the group in a circular formation, Nekou saw that one of the Pawniard closest to the Bisharp had scratches on its head and immediately realized what was happening.

 

“Fuck, they’ve been following us ever since Route 29, haven’t they?” she growled while rolling her eyes.

 

“The same ones from before?” Matt said, shaking his head. “I should have realized it. But what do they want now? Last time we were disturbing them and they were under… wait, are they being controlled by the Meteonite again?”

 

“No…” Nikolai interjected. “I can feel the Bisharp’s wishes… it wants to fight with you again. One on one. This is its sincere desire, not the influence of some outside power.”

 

“Uh… okay, I guess… can you tell it I don’t have my Seismitoad on me right now? If it wants a rematch it might want to fight the same opponent again.”

 

“Bisharp! Bisha sharp!” the Steel-and-Dark-type Pokémon immediately said in response, having heard what Matt had said.

 

Nikolai chuckled gently and smiled as he turned to Matt. “It says it doesn’t care.”

 

“Well then, that’s certainly a change in attitude from the last time we met, isn’t it?”

 

-:-

 

Having escaped from his pursuers, Proton was able to once again establish contact with Dr. Zager, though only through audio. The scientist was rapidly typing into his computer while speaking to his subordinate, the reason being that emergency messages were popping up continually on his screens.

 

“Dr. Zager, tell me what’s happening!” Proton shouted over the transmission. “I can’t do anything here if I don’t know what I’m dealing with!”

 

“Proton, listen to me and listen well. That temporal distortion is unstable and increasing. Get back in there, find out if a Time Gate is opening, and do whatever you can to bring it under Team Rocket’s control! We cannot risk Polaris capturing such a potent energy!”

 

-:-

 

“Ugh…”

 

Matt didn’t have a chance to choose a Pokémon for his rematch with the Bisharp before he heard Olivia groaning behind him. He turned around just in time to see her collapse to the ground, clutching her stomach.

 

“Olivia, are you alright?” Nekou said, rushing to her side. “What’s wrong now?”

 

“It hurts…” Olivia whimpered, “It really hurts!”

 

“There’s something very, very wrong with her…” Above everything but his worry for Olivia, Matt felt powerless. He wanted to do something to help her, but with no idea what was wrong, there was nothing he could do. The feeling of helplessness made his entire body shake. “Clearly, we’re in the middle of something very bad… we have to get out of this forest right now, no more delays.”

 

Realizing that Matt was intending to leave without fighting her, the Bisharp started screaming and waving her arms, but he wasn’t going to change his mind, instead helping to hoist Olivia’s increasingly limp body onto Nekou’s back. Bisharp fired a wave of electricity into the ground as an attempt to get their attention, but Matt had no intention of wasting any further time.

 

“Look, Bisharp, I’m sorry! Believe me, I would fight with you to your heart’s content, but I just have more important things to do!” A realization flashed through his mind. “If something happened to one of your Pawniard, wouldn’t you want to take care of them?”

 

Matt’s question cut deeply into Bisharp, and she took a step back. She understood his words and was forced to realize that he was right.

 

Suddenly, Matt, Olivia, Nekou, Nikolai and the siblings could hear the bushes rustling behind them. They all turned just in time to see Looker and Silver emerge onto the road.

 

“What happened to you two?” Matt questioned.

 

“Escaped, that Executive of the Team Rocket managed to achieve.”

 

“Once we lost sight of him, Looker said to find you four again.” Turning up his nose, Silver said, “What the hell is going on here?”

 

“Some old friends of ours,” Nekou sarcastically replied, “but we don’t have time to play with them right now. Olivia’s getting really sick.”

 

“Then we must be beating haste to the Pokémon Center within the heart of Goldenrod City!”

 

When Matt and the others turned around, they saw Bisharp wave her arm at her army of Pawniard. Her shrill cry was an order to them, and in complete obedience, they broke from their circular formation and lined the road, intending to let Matt’s group past.

 

However, there was one individual present who had other ideas.

 

“The International Police…” Séduire growled to herself from her hiding place in the trees. “I won’t be letting them get in my way of what I want!” Picking up her cannon, she opened the command window and scrolled until she reached the targeting program. A crosshairs formed on the holographic projection window, and she took aim at the back of Bisharp’s head. “Target locked, and… fire!”

 

Electricity cracked from all over the small Meteonite in the weapon after Séduire pulled the trigger. A bright beam of red light shot from the cannon, and when it hit Bisharp, she started to convulse.

 

“The fuck is that?!” Nekou exclaimed in surprise, though that shock faded when she looked at the readings on her glasses. “Wait… the Meteonite’s energy? Whoever’s behind this is right here!”

 

“Yes, that’s the same beam that got Ivysaur!” said the young boy.

 

When the ray of light faded, Bisharp stopped convulsing and looked up to the group. Her eyes were tired and blank just like all the other Pokémon when they were affected by the Meteonite’s power.

 

“Looks like you’re getting your fight after all,” Nekou whispered to Matt.

 

“You’re right,” he said back, reaching into his bag. “We have to put a stop to this once and for all. That Meteonite has done nothing but cause trouble.”

 

Much to the surprise of Matt, Nekou and the others, Bisharp didn’t attack. She merely stood still for several seconds, then turned and started to run off down the road to the north while out of the group’s sight, Séduire was rushing in the same direction.

 

“Come on, let’s chase it!”

 

“Nekou’s right,” Nikolai concurred. He took out a Poké Ball and recalled Stantler into it. “We must free that Bisharp. Recall all of your Pokémon so they are not at risk.”

 

“Good thinking.”

 

Matt recalled Ayingott and Charlotte, then Nekou did the same with Marie. From her position on Nekou’s back, Olivia weakly raised her arm and sent Minccino back as well. With all of the Pokémon recalled to their Poké Balls, the group set off in pursuit of Bisharp. The Pawniard army tagged along, willing to do anything to free their leader.

 

None of the group knew what they would find when they caught up with Bisharp, but any worry they had for that impending discovery was pushed aside by a simple sense of urgency. Bisharp was heading in the direction of the forest’s exit, so following her would bring them closer to Goldenrod City and thus closer to getting Olivia the help she needed.

 

No amount of mental preparation would have been sufficient for what they found in the next clearing, however. A large, glowing, amorphous cluster of energy was writhing around in midair, seemingly increasing in size in small bits. Standing before it, side by side, were the brainwashed Bisharp and a young woman wearing a colorful uniform and holding a hand cannon.

 

“Who are you?” Matt gasped, stopping abruptly as he came into the clearing. “And what is that?” he said as he stared up at the energy.

 

“Can’t say I know what this is,” Séduire whispered, gradually turning her head in shaky motions to look over her shoulder, “but I know who I am, and I know who you are. It’s so good to finally see you again, Matt…” She licked her lips, then wiped a small bead of saliva from her mouth. Her excitement over finally seeing Matt was so strong that she felt she would explode.

 

“Wait, that voice…” Within moments, all the color in Matt’s face had drained away. He knew exactly who it was underneath the Entei mask adorning Séduire’s face.

 

“A mask… you’re one of Polaris’s Chromosomes of the Sacred Helix, aren’t you?” Taking Séduire’s insane grin as a confirmation of her suspicion, Nekou continued, “And that weapon… there’s a Meteonite in there, isn’t there? You’re the one who’s been terrorizing this forest!”

 

“Right and right. The name ugly whores like you are allowed to use for me is Séduire, the Fifth Chromosome.” Twisting her head back in Matt’s direction, Séduire grinned even more widely. “But I’m sure Matt knows my real name. He’s allowed to call me it. I want to hear it right now.”

 

“Matt, who is…who is she?” Olivia whimpered.

 

“Be quiet!” Séduire screamed. “You took him from me too! He’s mine and mine alone! Now say my real name!!”

 

Matt was paralyzed by what he saw before him. He did know the name of the person behind Séduire’s mask, but he was so horrified by even having to consider it that he was frozen into still silence.

 

“Psycho ex-girlfriend or something?” Nekou sighed. “I don’t even care that she called me a whore, because she’s so obviously compensating…”

 

“Shut up! I told you to all shut up! You’re nothing but trash! Matt, tell them who I am! Tell them about all the good times we had together! Tell them about how I’m a part of you that you can’t live without!”

 

“You… you have no idea,” Matt mumbled back to Nekou.

 

“Hold it right there, Séduire!” a voice shouted from above the trees.

 

All of the assembled people and Pokémon looked up to see Proton descending into the clearing used his repaired jetpack. As soon as he landed, he gazed intensely and scornfully at Séduire. He knew he had to defeat her and that now was his best chance to do so.

 

“So the gang’s all here, huh?” Séduire complained, looking from Matt’s mostly confused group to Proton and back. “Not that they weren’t already, but if you crooks are going to attack me, do it out in the open.”

 

“Still your tongue, girl,” Proton scolded her. He turned to Nekou, then the others, then finally explained, “This energy is the formation of a Time Gate, which, as the name says, is a gateway that will allow traveling through time. This energy is so powerful that…” He shifted his gaze back to Séduire before finishing, “…I cannot allow Polaris to capture it!”

 

“Then I will take it for Polaris’s goals, as long as you Rockets don’t get it! In the name of Polaris, Father… and the love between Matt Chiaki and me… I will take it! Go, Bisharp!”

 

Quickly reopening the control menu for her weapon, Séduire issued Bisharp forth to fight for her. Proton responded without a word, instead choosing to simply throw a Poké Ball from which a Weezing emerged.

 

“Well? So what’s it going to be?” Proton taunted. He spread his arms wide and shouted, “I’m right here, wide open! Bring it on!”

 

“You think I’m just going to let you trick me like that…?” Séduire was nearly convulsing because of the intense anger she felt. “If I fight you head-on, that’s what you want… so I’ll open another front!”

 

Séduire lashed around to face Matt’s group and entered a command into her weapon, sending Bisharp mindlessly toward them.

 

Nekou scowled as she watched the controlled Pokémon rushing in her direction. With Olivia on her back, her mobility was reduced, so reaching for her Poké Balls was difficult. While she was attempting to figure out a solution, however, she was cut off when Matt stepped in front of her, clutching a Dusk Ball in his hand.

 

“I’m putting a stop to this right now…Tanya, Earth Power!”

 

In a flash, Matt’s Heatran emerged from the ball she resided in. Her massive body was large enough to block the entire group from Bisharp’s attack. Such defense wasn’t necessary, however, as she made the ground beneath Bisharp’s feet burst open from overflowing energy.

 

“Matt, you’re being very bad right now,” Séduire growled as Bisharp was pushed back toward her. “Stop acting out. This isn’t you.”

 

“But you’re acting like yourself, just like always…” Having gotten Séduire sufficiently distracted, Matt thrust his hand forward. “Go, now! Disable that device she has!”

 

The army of Pawniard responded with a flurry of cries, leaping toward their target by using Matt’s shoulders and Tanya’s back as springboards. They all had their blades drawn, and before Séduire could react, she found herself set upon by them.

 

“Aah! Get off!”

 

Desperate to throw off the small Pokémon that were nicking her all over her body, Séduire thrashed around, but in the course of doing so, several Pawniard managed to cut some exposed cables on her weapon. Instantly, it powered down, causing Bisharp to return to normal, with the blank look vanishing from her eyes. The Pawniard, upon seeing their leader freed, retreated from attacking Séduire to support her.

 

“You think this is over?” Séduire roared. “I’m not done with you yet!”

 

“You really have to give this up, please,” Matt plead with her, his eye changing from a look of anger to one of genuine concern. “Even if you’re calling yourself Séduire or whatever now, and you’re mixed up in whatever it is that Polaris is doing, none of that is changing who you are or making me change my mind about you. Look around you. What was terrorizing this forest today supposed to achieve, exactly?”

 

Behind her mask, Séduire’s eyes were boiling with frustration and anger. With every passing second, her goals, which Matt had accurately stated, were becoming more and more out of reach. She had one option left, and when she picked up the one Ultra Ball in her possession, she decided to take it.

 

“Pyroar, go!”

 

A Pokémon unlike any Matt had ever seen before took shape when the ball opened. The Pyroar was a black-and-brown-bodied lion with a great mane of red and yellow surrounding his head. He stood proudly before his trainer, unafraid of even the Heatran opposing him.

 

“The fuck?!” Nekou exclaimed.

 

“A Pokémon from the region called by the name of Kalos,” Looker revealed. “Unknown to this country as of this day.”

 

“Are we really going to do this?” Matt sadly said. “You know I have to stand against you if you choose this.”

 

“No, you just need to be reminded of where you belong.” As she spoke, Séduire twisted her head sideways, falling ever deeper into her delusion. “Pyroar, Hyper Voice!”

 

Matt, Nekou, Nikolai, Looker, Silver, Proton and the siblings could only cringe as Séduire’s Pokémon opened his mouth and roared as loudly as he could. Weezing didn’t like the noise either, but Tanya, the Pawniard and Bisharp were able to shake its influence.

 

Even with how successful her first assault was, it wasn’t enough to satisfy Séduire’s bloodlust. Locking her gaze onto Nekou and Olivia, she said in a completely broken voice, “It’s you. It’s your fault. You took him… so the first step is getting rid of you! Pyroar, jump up and hit those two with Flamethrower!”

 

Pyroar’s movements were so quick that he was already in the air before Matt could react. He realized that Tanya wouldn’t be able to stop an airborne enemy, and was overcome with a feeling of helplessness. “Stop this right now, Cassy!”

 

Nikolai and Silver got ready to send out Pokémon to protect Olivia and Nekou, but they were too slow, as was Proton’s Weezing, who tried to hit Pyroar with Thunderbolt but failed to do so before a jet of fire was bearing down on them.

 

“Fuck this!” Nekou snarled before stumbling aside, just barely avoiding getting engulfed by Pyroar’s flames. She ended up falling backward to the ground, but Olivia escaped injury. “What the fuck is wrong with you?!”

 

All of a sudden, Olivia screamed and pushed herself off of Nekou’s back. Everyone in the clearing turned to stare at her as she stepped backward.

 

Her eyes were filled with glowing light, and her body was moving in erratic, jerking motions.

 

“Olivia, what’s happening? What is this?!”

 

“It hurts really bad… Nekou, Matt… someone… help me…”

 

“I’m not standing around anymore,” Matt resolved. He ran toward Olivia, reaching in his bag for a Revival Herb, which was about the only thing he could think of to try and cure her illness. However, it was all in vain, for as soon as he drew near to her, an invisible force repelled him.

 

“What?” he gasped from where he had fallen onto the ground.

 

“We must do something!” Nikolai shouted.

 

“But what?” Looker replied.

 

Olivia suddenly screamed again as her body twisted to force her gaze skyward. The light glowed from not only her eyes but her entire body, and it caused the energy of the nearby Time Gate to warp and distort. Right before the eyes of everyone who had gathered around it, the Time Gate collapsed and its energy flowed into Olivia’s body. Her bloodcurdling scream continued until every trace of the Time Gate was gone, at which point she instantly fainted and collapsed to the ground.

 

“What just happened?” Silver wondered, dumbfounded.

 

Both Matt and Nekou ran to Olivia while shouting her name in a futile attempt to wake her up. Nekou picked her up once she could, and Matt put his hand on her neck.

 

“Good, she’s alive,” he said after feeling her pulse. “Come on, Olivia, wake up…”

 

“This isn’t something we can fix on our own,” Nekou asserted, her heart pounding in her chest. “We have to go, now.”

 

“You’re right. Olivia, please be okay…”

 

Nearby, all Séduire could do was watch in increasing jealous anger as Matt cared for Olivia with Nekou’s help. She didn’t even notice Proton preparing to escape again.

 

“Well, that Time Gate’s gone, so I have to be taking my leave now. Until we meet again, sayonara!”

 

Proton lifted off into the sky with his jetpack and disappeared. Unwilling to let him get away, Silver shouted to the sky and then sprinted off down the road, with Looker following once again.

 

“I won’t lose what’s rightfully mine…” Séduire suddenly blurted out, even as she recalled Pyroar. “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t… Matt, you said my name… why won’t you just accept that you belong with me and not with those fake whores?”

 

“You stop that right now,” Matt scolded her. “Say what you will about me, but they’re not fair game for your jealousy.”

 

“Yeah,” Nekou chimed in, “and call me a whore if you want, but Olivia didn’t do anything to you. She’s just a kid.”

 

“You refuse to see what I’m trying to tell you, Matt…” Séduire abruptly reached up and tore off her mask, revealing her youthful face and fiery red eyes that matched her hair. “Look at my face! Look at the one you belong to, me, Cassy Natsuka! Realize your mistake! You must!”

 

The fear was gone from Matt’s mind, replaced by a crushing sense of simple disappointment and dismay. “I already told you… I don’t like you. None of what you’ve done is going to earn favor with me.”

 

“But what about all those years we spent together?!” Cassy screamed. “Do those mean nothing?”

 

“It may have taken me a while, but I finally realized that you were just controlling me for your own desires… I wasn’t anything to you besides someone to control.”

 

“And what do those two give you that I didn’t?” Cassy demanded while gesturing to Nekou and Olivia.

 

Matt sighed, realizing how futile his efforts to get through to Cassy were. “Olivia is an innocent girl, keep her out of this! And Nekou? Well… I just have fun traveling around with her! That’s right, it’s fun! With you keeping me under your thumb all the time I couldn’t have any fun back then!”

 

As soon as Matt said that, the color drained from Cassy’s face and her eyes were covered by a blank, glazed-over look. “Is that so,” she said with an unnerving calm. “I’ll just have to fix that, then… I’ll rip them apart, limb from limb!”

 

Having descended into complete madness, Cassy turned and started running toward Nekou and Olivia. Nekou seemed unfazed by this, however; she simply put Olivia gently down on the ground and then stood to face the threat.

 

“Really?” she muttered. “You’re easy.”

 

Cassy didn’t even see Nekou flick her wrist to produce her switchblade, nor did she even realize Nekou had it until she was already falling with a gash cut into her left leg. She looked back at the subject of her jealous hate and silently swore at her.

 

“Nekou!” Matt screamed. “Why did you… did you mortally wound her?”

 

“I just cut her leg in self-defense,” Nekou answered. “She attacked me. It’s a minor wound, anyway. Come on, we have to go.”

 

“But can we leave her here?”

 

“She’s right on the main road, and the injury isn’t that serious. She’ll be fine. We have to get Olivia help right now, though, because she’s in much worse shape.”

 

Nekou nodded to Nikolai and the siblings, and they gave their wordless assent to her plan. Matt was reluctant, looking back and forth to Cassy several times, but finally accepted that Nekou was right as well. Together, they all headed down the road once again.

 

Cassy, meanwhile, was sobbing hysterically on the ground. She wrested a phone from her uniform and dialed a short number into it.

 

-:-

 

A short time later, Matt, Nekou, Nikolai and the siblings encountered Looker and Silver once again. The detective and his partner had lost track of Proton completely, so they went to the exit of the forest, where the two groups merged. They then boarded a train at the edge of Goldenrod City that would take them to the Pokémon Center in the central area of the city.

 

The seats on the train were arranged into rows facing each other. Matt and Nekou were right next to the window in their row and facing each other, while Nekou had the still soundly-sleeping Olivia in her lap. Nikolai, Silver, Looker and the siblings were beside them.

 

“Look at that,” Matt remarked as he peered out the window to the Goldenrod slums below. “I don’t remember Goldenrod City looking like this the last time I was here.”

 

“There’s been significant urban sprawl,” Nekou answered. “It’s pretty damn gross if you ask me. The poorer residents have been forced to live in those slums while the wealthy live high on the fucking hog in the central area. Nobody even knows those people are there, with how little they get talked about… but on the other hand, a lot of the residents of central Goldenrod aren’t bad people, either, they’re just trying to survive. The city has a lot of spirit. It’s just a very small minority ruining everything for everyone else.”

 

-:-

 

A red-and-white ambulance had entered Ilex Forest and was driving to Cassy’s location after she called for it. Two thin men sat in its cab.

 

“This is the last call for our shift today,” the driver said to his companion. “A stabbing.”

 

“Alright, that ought to be simple enough. I’m looking forward to going home. Haven’t had a lot of time with the wife lately, what with all the fights breaking out in the slums.”

 

“Yeah, it’s been ugly. You see our victim yet?”

 

“Um…” spotting Cassy in front of the vehicle, the assistant pointed out through the windshield. “There! There she is!”

 

Before they could even get out of the ambulance, a sudden lightning strike hit the truck, causing it to explode. Cassy could only watch in horror as her help vanished into the flames.

 

But then she heard footsteps approaching her. Her heart stopped due to her overwhelming nervousness – she’d just seen the ambulance explode in such a way that nobody could have survived, so she had no idea who the one approaching her could be.

 

“Hello, Séduire.”

 

Cassy rolled over and looked up in shock. Standing over her was a tall, lithe man in a tight black bodysuit accessorized with a Sigilyph mask. It was the Tenth Chromosome, Geminus.

 

“You… you did that…” Cassy gestured to the burning ambulance, “didn’t you?”

 

“Yeah. See, we couldn’t have you going to the police and spilling our secrets, you know? But don’t worry, I’ll take care of you. I was watching you all this time.”

 

“Please, do it,” Cassy begged, resigning herself to her fate. “I failed completely, I couldn’t even get back what is mine… put me out of my misery.”

 

“Why would I do that when I can give you everything you want? You can have the world you desire. All you have to do is believe in me.”

 

“Why should I trust you? I don’t even know who you are.”

 

“Yes you do.”

 

With that, Geminus lifted the front of his mask, revealing his face to Cassy. She went white as a sheet from the utter disbelief and shock she felt.

 

“Yes, Séduire, just believe in me like you want to. I will make the world we deserve.”

 

“…yes, you’re right…” she uttered, completely mentally broken.

 

-:-

 

That night, Matt, Nekou and Olivia had a room in the Pokémon Center in central Goldenrod. Unlike many other Pokémon Centers, the one they were staying at was a huge building, more like a hotel than the simple inns the others resembled, so their room was quite spacious.

 

Matt was sound asleep, as was Olivia, who had recovered from her illness by the time they reached their destination despite still being overwhelmingly tired. Nekou, on the other hand, had other plans.

 

Once confident she wouldn’t be noticed, she carefully climbed out of her bed and threw her uniform over her shoulders. She didn’t even stop to button it up, as she didn’t care that her nightgown was visible underneath.

 

Quietly going to the door with a can of beer in her hand, she slipped out into the empty hallway. As she walked down the hall she opened the can and drank it. Within a minute she reached a row of phone booths and furtively entered one.

 

She then picked up the phone, crushed the empty can and tossed it into the nearby pail, and dialed a number.

 

“Unique password: Sneasel claw,” she said into the phone once it was picked up. “I’ve finally arrived in Goldenrod City. My investigations of Polaris’s plans have been going well. Yes, I’ll be able to attend the meeting tomorrow. Yes, I know, one more day until their protest. We will have to be very careful.”

 

-:-

 

“Oh man, that whole thing in Ilex Forest was insane!” Proton complained.

 

The green-haired Executive had fled to Goldenrod City and reached the Team Rocket operating base. The other members were still there awaiting orders, while Giovanni sat at the window, petting Persian.

 

“Dr. Zager told us some of what happened,” Ariana said, facing Proton. “You can’t be blamed for your failure to capture the Time Gate. It wasn’t a central mission anyway. Just as long as Polaris does not have it.”

 

“They don’t, don’t worry about it.”

 

“Giovanni,” Rosalie interrupted from her position at the computer bank, “I have news.”

 

“Proceed.”

 

“It has just turned over past midnight. Only one day remains until Polaris’s big event.”

 

“Ah yes, thank you.” Giovanni did not turn around as he spoke. He instead kept staring at Goldenrod City’s nighttime skyline from his vantage point. “Team Rocket’s forces are finally assembled. Our operation will also now get underway.”

 

 

 

 

 

END of CHAPTER 12

 

 

Chapter Text

This is probably going to be a pretty long chapter, but on the other hand, there really isn’t anything to warn for, aside from major XY spoilers. Get ready for this one…

 

-:-

 

CHAPTER 13: Sweet Little Lies

 

-:-

 

Goldenrod City took on a completely different appearance when under the sun’s warm glow.

 

At night, it was a neon-laced metropolis, glowing so brightly that it could be seen from space. While the central part of the city retained its glory during the day, sunlight showed the uncomfortable truth of the slums surrounding it much more than the night did.

 

Matt, Nekou and Olivia, much like most of the other trainers and travelers who visited Goldenrod, were nestled away far from the concerns of the city’s poorer section. The gigantic Pokémon Center was right at the heart of the city, cradled by its many distractions, which spread out in all directions.

 

Inside the building, the three were just entering the vast lobby after coming down from the floor where their room was. Many others were milling about the space, engaging in a wide range of activities from eating and watching television to playing with their Pokémon.

 

“Feels like forever since I’ve gotten a rest that refreshing,” Matt said while yawning and stretching his arms. “I think I might actually miss that room when we leave here.”

 

“Was your bed as comfortable as mine was?” Olivia asked, though it was unclear if she was directing it at Matt or Nekou. “Taking a shower and getting my hair cleaned out felt good enough, but then getting to sleep on that? I’d do it again and again.”

 

“Olivia…” Matt said, becoming serious. “Are you feeling okay?”

 

“I got a good sleep and I feel completely better. Why would you think anything else?”

 

“Well…” Matt looked up at Nekou, who was looking back at him. Both of them had great concern in their eyes, but what he got from her was feeling that he shouldn’t push the subject. “Yeah, I guess the beds were comfortable,” he said, resigning himself to not pursuing his worries.

 

“I know mine was.” Nekou assumed that Olivia was talking to her. “Plus, I can drink as much as I want in there and get away with it.”

 

Matt sighed, though it was due to a mixture of frustration and amusement instead of just frustration. “What’s different about that room? You drink all you want everywhere you go.”

 

“You wouldn’t know about drinking in small spaces.” Much to Matt’s surprise, Nekou was actually taking his question, which was intended as a tease, seriously. “Get drunk in small areas and things can get weird. Believe me when I say that you want space if you’re getting fucking bombed.”

 

“I guess I’ll cede to the master on that subject, then.”

 

Just then, Matt glanced over toward the bank of videophones against one of the walls and did a double-take. There weren’t many people there, but he swore he recognized one of the few that was.

 

“Hey, isn’t that…”

 

Nekou stopped walking, albeit only because Matt stuck his arm out to stop her. “What now?” She saw him silently pointing in the direction of the phones, so she followed his direction and looked in that direction as well. Almost immediately, she saw exactly who he was talking about. “Yeah, that’s her.”

 

“I thought so.” Matt started walking toward the videophone area, but before long he broke into a stride. “Bunny!”

 

Immediately upon hearing Matt’s voice, Bunny turned from her call. Her eyes lit up when she saw her three friends. “Matt! Come on over! Bring Nekou and Olivia too!”

 

Matt reached Bunny first. While Nekou and Olivia caught up to him, he asked her, “How have you been? How’d the Ruins of Alph go?”

 

“Oh, it’s been an adventure, to say the least,” Bunny laughed while rolling her eyes.

 

“Is that a familiar voice I hear?” the person who Bunny had been talking to said through the videophone.

 

Bunny shifted aside slightly, allowing Matt to see who she had been talking to. It turned out to be Professor Juniper, and judging from the room behind her, Matt realized that she was still at Professor Elm’s lab.

 

“Well, hello, Professor.”

 

“You guys all doing okay out there?” Juniper asked. “It’s been pretty rough in Johto lately. Is Olivia with you?”

 

“I’m right here!” Olivia piped up as she jostled into the picture.

 

“How’s Oshawott?”

 

“We’re getting along a lot better,” Olivia said, showing a wide, cheerful smile. “He even evolved into Dewott!”

 

Upon hearing this news, Juniper smiled as well. “Well done, Olivia! I’m quite proud of you!”

 

“Bunny, I’m sorry we interrupted your call,” Matt said. “You can get back to it now.”

 

“No, actually, I think I want you to hear this.” When her statement was met by three confused looks, Bunny elaborated, “I was just telling Professor Juniper that I caught a Pokémon that should have never been in this country, even now.”

 

“Let me guess, a Kalos Pokémon?”

 

“How did you know?” Bunny gasped.

 

Nekou shrugged. “We ran into one of Polaris’s members in Ilex Forest, and she used a Pyroar against us. Did you catch one too?”

 

“No, not Pyroar. Let me show you.” Bunny took out a Poké Ball and opened it, releasing a tall, stout-bodied creature. He had grass-like fur in different shades of green covering much of his body, as well as four strong hooves and a pair of long, dramatically curved horns. “This Pokémon is called Gogoat.”

 

“Yes, you’re right about that,” Juniper commented, drawing the attention of the four. “Gogoat is a Pokémon from the nation of Kalos, as we already established. They’re very useful, as they can be ridden and have a sort of empathic power in their horns. But the thing is, Kalos Pokémon weren’t included in the government’s migration program. All I was ever aware of was the migration of Unova Pokémon.”

 

“Well somebody must be bringing them here,” Nekou sharply remarked.

 

“I agree,” Juniper concurred with a nod. “But the question is who. I’ll keep trying to find out what I can, but for now, I can help you a little. Olivia, would you plug your Pokédex into the external port on the videophone?”

 

Olivia took out the Pokémon, but fumbled around with it as she looked for the place to connect it to the phone. “Where?”

 

“There’s a small opening on the bottom that has the connector inside of it.”

 

“Oh, here it is.” Olivia found what she was looking for moments after Juniper described its location, and after opening it up, she plugged the connector into a port just beneath the videophone’s screen. “What’s this for, exactly?”

 

“I’m updating your Pokédex, Olivia,” Juniper cheerfully explained. “Previously, it didn’t contain any data on Pokémon from Kalos, but with this upgrade, scanning a Kalos Pokémon will work like scanning any other Pokémon. I want you to keep using it on any Pokémon you find that are unfamiliar to you, because we need to get a grasp on just how many introduced species are here and what kind of effect they’re having on their environments.”

 

“I can do that,” Olivia said, accepting the professor’s request with a smile. “I do like seeing new Pokémon…”

 

“Wonderful! I have no doubt you’ll do well on it.” A bell sound punctuated Juniper’s statement. “And that means your Pokédex upgrade is done.” As Olivia unplugged the device, however, Juniper’s look grew dark. “Now I have a request for you, Bunny, Matt, Nekou. Have any of you seen Professor Elm or heard anything about his whereabouts? He has still not come back.”

 

“Seriously?” Matt said in surprise.

 

“If he didn’t come back by now, something’s happened to him,” Bunny reasoned, holding her chin. “The question is, if someone kidnapped him, who? Considering we ran into Team Rocket, could they…”

 

“What about Polaris, though?” Nekou interrupted, her voice carrying a sound of annoyance. “We also fought them. That Séduire person was responsible for the Meteonite outbreak in Ilex Forest, after all.”

 

“I don’t know…” Matt said indecisively. He was genuinely conflicted between the two choices, as he considered them both equally viable.

 

“I have to go now,” Juniper stated. “I’ll be in contact if I learn anything. Stay well!”

 

A moment later, the screen went dark as Juniper hung up on the call. With that taken care of, Bunny faced her three friends.

 

“So how did it go?” Matt inquired. “How were the Ruins of Alph?”

 

Bunny sighed and grinned. “Crazy, I’ll tell you that right now. Right after we got inside, a bunch of Unown attacked us and separated us.”

 

“What happened to Dante?” Olivia wondered.

 

“I don’t know, but I’m sure he’s fine. Myself, though… something strange ended up happening. I fell through a doorway that sent me to some other place.”

 

“What?” Nekou gasped, finally coming into the conversation.

 

“That’s what happened.”

 

~:~

 

After falling through the portal in the Ruins of Alph, Bunny found herself waking up in an unfamiliar place. As she came to, she looked around at her surroundings to try and deduce where she was.

 

She was lying on a stone runway leading up to a huge, triangular stage. Statues of various Pokémon stood on both sides of the runway, and far up in the cavernous temple, ledges from the upper levels looked down onto the stage. More immediately, however, Bunny realized how cold she was when she noticed how everything in the temple was covered by a slight layer of frost.

 

Bunny stood, but before she could understand anything more about her situation, the sound of footsteps from the temple entrance distracted her. An elderly, hunchbacked man approached her, with an Abra tagging along loyally at his side.

 

“Who are you?” he coughed. “Outsiders like you aren’t welcome here!”

 

“Please... I don’t mean any harm,” Bunny pleaded. “I don’t know how I got here.”

 

“How do I know you aren’t one of those Harmonia loyalists?” The old man was starting to slowly circle her. “So you finally found the one place we were safe from you..”

 

“Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about. My name is Bunny Spruce. I’m an archeologist. I was exploring the Ruins of Alph when some Unown sent me through a portal and I ended up here.”

 

The old man’s demeanor softened considerably upon Bunny’s explanation. “The Ruins of Alph? Oh, I understand now... this has happened before. I can send you back. Abra, use Teleport to send her back to the Ruins of Alph.”

 

~:~

 

“…and after that, I made my way directly west to get to Goldenrod City, since I knew you would be coming here. That was when I caught Gogoat, by the way. So how are you three doing?”

 

“To say that everything’s been crazy is an understatement,” Matt sighed. “There have been outbreaks of crazed Pokémon everywhere, and just yesterday we had an encounter with Cassy.”

 

“I heard about the Pokémon behaving strangely, but Cassy? That crazy girl that used to hang around you all the time? Why would she have been around here?”

 

“She’s a member of Polaris.” Matt’s revelation elicited a strong physical response from Bunny, as she curled her face in shock. “And apparently, a highly ranked one, I think. I don’t really know what it all means…”

 

“I got the Hive Badge in Azalea Town,” Olivia piped up.

 

“I’m proud of you for that,” Bunny cheerfully said, patting Olivia on the head. “What was it like?”

 

“It… it wasn’t easy…” Olivia nervously looked away from Bunny as she spoke. The memories of her breakdown were returning, and she was trying not to succumb to them. “It wasn’t easy, but in the end… the feeling of holding that badge in my hand… it was something I want to feel again. I decided to put aside Contests for now so I can focus on Gyms.”

 

“That’s very mature of you to make that decision,” Bunny complimented. “So where are we heading now?”

 

“Oh, that’s the funny part,” Matt laughed bitterly, barely masking his disgust. “We met up with the International Police detective, Looker, and he’s taking us to see Jacob.”

 

As soon as she heard Jacob’s name, Bunny’s face became completely serious. “Oh,” she mumbled, her eyes half closed from the annoyance her memories of the man brought up. “No wonder you seemed irritated about it. Oh well, I guess we best get this out of the way now.”

 

Matt nodded in assent, then turned to the strangely silent Nekou, who didn’t do or say anything other than step closer to the others. They all started toward the exit, but were stopped when another voice called to them.

 

“Olivia? Is that you?”

 

When the newly-reformed group of four turned in the direction of the voice, they saw a familiar boy dressed in a blue-and-black school uniform.

 

“A uniform from Earl’s Pokémon Academy…” Matt said in surprise. “…Monroe? Dominic’s son?”

 

“…you… actually remember me?” the brown-haired young man meekly said as he approached the group. “I’m honored…”

 

“What are you doing in Goldenrod City?” Olivia asked.

 

“I just got a Plain Badge from the Gym, actually.” Furthering his point, Monroe extended his hand, showing them his badge, a yellow diamond outlined in silver.

 

Olivia lit up immediately upon seeing it. “I’m on my way there right now! You’ve got to tell me what you can about the Gym Leader!”

 

“Well…” Monroe chuckled gently before continuing, “…Whitney’s a Normal-type Gym Leader, and she uses a Miltank as her main Pokémon. She’s really imaginative with her moves, so you can’t let her surprise you. But the thing is, you have to do something else before you can face her.”

 

“What’s that?” Now Olivia was confused, narrowing her left eye.

 

“You have to go around Goldenrod City and collect stamps from five places before they let you in. It’s… I hope I’m remembering this correctly… the Radio Tower, the Battle Factory, the Global Terminal, the Game Corner and the Photo Studio in the underground shopping area.”

 

“I’ve got an idea,” Matt chimed in. “After we go talk to Jacob with Looker, how about we all go to the Battle Factory together, and then while I’m doing my challenge, the rest of you can split off, go get the rest of the stamps and meet up with me later at the Gym?”

 

“Don’t you want someone there to support you, though?”

 

Matt shook his head at Bunny and smiled. “I don’t need it. Honestly, I think Olivia would appreciate it more, but I’ll leave it up to her.”

 

Matt, Bunny and Nekou all looked down to Olivia in anticipation of her decision. They didn’t have to wait long, as she quickly said, “Sure, I’m up for it. I have to get my second badge as soon as possible.”

 

“Second…? Huh, what do you know.” Monroe was mumbling to himself, so the others didn’t take notice of him until he directly addressed them. “I… I hope I’m not being a burden, but may I come with you? I don’t have anything to do for a while…”

 

“Sure, I don’t see why n…”

 

“Just as long as you can keep up,” Olivia teased, cutting Matt off in the process. “I won’t be held back.”

 

“Good to see you’re back to your old self,” Matt thought to himself.

 

With nothing more to be said, the group once again headed for the exit of the Pokémon Center, this time with Monroe tagging along.

 

There was a small plaza immediately outside the Pokémon Center. A pair of fountains bookended the cobblestone grounds, and numerous benches provided plenty of space for pedestrians to rest. It was an area nestled in the tall buildings like a small oasis in an urban desert.

 

As the group walked out of the Pokémon Center, they were immediately confronted by Silver, who defiantly stood in their way and stopped them.

 

“We’ve been waiting for you,” Silver growled. “Any longer and I would have come in there looking for you myself.”

 

“Well in that case it’s pretty lucky you didn’t have to, right?” Nekou sniped back at him. “What now?”

 

“Let’s get going,” he ordered, pointing over to Looker, who was leaning against a lamppost with his arms crossed. “Looker says he can’t wait all day for you.”

 

“Then let’s not make him do that.”

 

Matt led the way over to Looker, and the rest of his friends followed closely behind. Once his audience was assembled, the detective pushed himself off the lamppost with his foot and faced them with a stern manner.

 

“Being much late to this meeting, you all are,” he commented. It took him only a brief moment to realize the group had grown in number, and when he did, he scowled. “Being who is being that boy?”

 

“Oh, you mean Monroe?” Matt answered. “He’s trustworthy, don’t worry about it. He’s the son of a friend of ours and one of my sister’s students.”

 

“If saying so you are.” Looker turned sharply on his heel and added, “Follow me. Going we are to the place where the man with the name Jacob Alexison is held. Making haste we must be doing.”

 

Matt, Olivia and Bunny were put off by Looker’s harsh tone, but it was Monroe who spoke up as they started to follow him and Silver. “I don’t understand, what’s going on?”

 

“We’re going to talk to someone who’s being held prisoner before we do anything else,” Matt explained. “He may have information we need.”

 

As Matt, Olivia, Bunny and Monroe walked off, they were too caught up in talking amongst themselves to notice that Nekou had stayed back. She quietly opened two of her Poké Balls, releasing her Murkrow and Duskull, then took a small camera device from inside her uniform and attached it to her Murkrow’s neck.

 

“Edgar, you know what to do,” she said to her Duskull. “Use your powers to search through the city for our target. Lenore, you use that camera to record wherever it is. I’ll receive the video as soon as you get it, and then I want you two to meet me at Goldenrod Gym. Got it?”

 

Edgar and Lenore happily voiced their agreement, and Nekou petted them on their heads.

 

“Do a good job for me out there, okay?”

 

With that, Nekou rose up, turned and rushed to catch up to the others, while her Pokémon floated up into the air over the city.

 

-:-

 

During the night, Colress had arrived at the Purine Base. Having safely parked his aircraft in a spacious hangar behind the facility, he joined Getriebe and Jeunes in the main lab. At the present, they were holding a video conference with Finansielle. Meanwhile, Meowth was standing behind them, still blank due to the Meteonite’s influence.

 

“It would appear that Matt Chiaki’s group has reached Goldenrod City,” Getriebe explained in his monotone voice.

 

“Do they know where you are? Where the base is?” she questioned.

 

“No, I expect that we’re quite safe from him,” answered Jeunes with a casual shrug. He quickly turned serious, however, and added, “Team Rocket might be a different matter. There’s been rumblings about them having a presence here.”

 

“Don’t worry about it, I’m sure it’ll work out.” Finansielle’s nonchalant response to the seemingly bad news surprised the two masked scientists, while Colress simply stood behind them, smiling while he tucked his hands in his pockets. “Getriebe, the Purine Base is under your direction. It is up to you to prevent any leaks of its location.”

 

“I accept that mission.”

 

“So what do you think, Colress?” Finansielle asked, her bright mood continuing to create a jarring contrast with those of the others. “Have you got what you need to work there?”

 

“More than enough, easily,” he replied. “All we have to do is finish scanning all the Pokémon that were sent here, and that’s nearly done. Once we get that out of the way, the transfer of the data from this base’s systems to our labs will be easy as pie.” Colress grinned even more widely and pushed his visor up his nose with two fingers, a habit he’d developed with his glasses. “I’m not concerned about Team Rocket or that Matt Chiaki boy you seem so intrigued by. That woman, on the other hand… I’ve been spoiling for a rematch with her since we tangled in Unova.”

 

“Don’t go doing anything stupid,” Finansielle warned. “It would be awfully unfortunate if I had to pull funding for the Purine Base because you got it exposed.”

 

“Don’t worry, Lady Finansielle, I’ve got no intention of starting anything with them.” Colress lowered his head, allowing the glow of the video screen bearing Finansielle’s face to reflect on his visor. “If my prediction is correct, Miss Lalume will come calling right to our door.”

 

-:-

 

The court complex where Looker took Matt’s group turned out to be fairly close to the Pokémon Center. It was an unassuming place, simply a cluster of gray buildings, but it was this dull appearance that made it stand out in the bright lights of Goldenrod City.

 

The detective had deposited his charges in a visiting room, where a group of chairs faced a wide pane of opaque glass. Silver stayed behind while Looker went off to another room, but he simply watched from the back of the room as Matt, Nekou, Olivia, Bunny and Monroe arranged themselves in the chairs.

 

After several minutes of seemingly nothing happening, Olivia was looking around in impatient confusion. She nearly jumped out of her seat when the phone sitting before them on a small ledge below the window began ringing. After seeing her calm down with Nekou’s help, Matt picked the phone up.

 

“Hello?”

 

“It is happening to be me, Looker! All preparations of readiness have been set into their places where they belong. Are you having readiness?”

 

Matt turned around, only to find his companions staring intently at him, at which point he realized that the phone’s audio was being piped into the room.

 

“What’s the point of the receiver?” he asked incredulously.

 

“It’s just a formality we are having, not much more! So are you having preparedness or not?”

 

“Yeah, I guess I am. Let’s get started.”

 

As soon as Matt gave his assent, the glass changed from opaque to clear, revealing two men behind it. One was Looker, holding a small remote in his hand that triggered the change in the window.

 

The other was an elderly man in an orange prison jumpsuit. He was balding, retaining only some wisps of white hair on his head, but he also had an unkempt beard similarly lacking in color. When he set his eyes upon Matt, he smiled and slowly picked up the phone on his side of the window.

 

“Hello, Matt,” he calmly said.

 

“And hello to you, Jacob…” The bitterness in Matt’s voice was obvious.

 

“To what do I owe this pleasure? It’s quite nice to have you come calling with your rather lovely new friends.”

 

Matt didn’t see Nekou blanche at the implicit suggestion in Jacob’s words, but he didn’t have to as he felt a similar revulsion. Bunny, meanwhile, simply sat stone-faced, staring at her former professor and friend.

 

“Don’t push your luck, Jacob,” Matt growled, clutching his shoulder where Jacob had once shot him. “I would rather just watch you go back to prison for the murder you committed. Unfortunately for me, I need help and you’re the only man I can turn to.”

 

“So what is it? What did you seek me out for?”

 

“It’s about the past of this country and the world. I am aware of the existence of a certain Guild of men that shaped the world’s history thousands of years ago, but they dropped off the charts of history around the time of Caitlin the First’s rule over this country, about a century and a half ago.”

 

“Did you ever think that they don’t exist anymore?”

 

Matt almost instantly became visibly flustered at the suggestion. “But… I remember back to when I found the Golden City of La Ciudad Dorada years ago… that man who tried to stop me, Count Fernando VIII… he said that he thought people from that Guild were coming for him and an artifact in his possession. He thought I was one of them.”

 

“And since when do you put stock in the ravings of a madman?” Jacob reproached him. “You’re Sutter’s grandson, I know you’re smarter than that. Listen well. That Guild disbanded after the events of the attempted revolution led by Colonel Nixon against Caitlin the First in the year 1850.”

 

Matt shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He knew the events Jacob was referring to, especially because he had lived them. Some time earlier, while at the Indigo Plateau investigating the ruins of an ancient city, Matt, Nekou, Olivia and Bunny had been sent back in time by a strange phenomenon and witnessed the rebellion firsthand. Recalling these events led Matt to a realization he considered even more ominous – the Time Gate phenomenon in Ilex Forest was very similar to what had happened.

 

“…are you even listening?” Jacob snapped, bringing Matt back to reality. “They were disbanded because their influence was seen as no longer necessary. Caitlin the First instated the earliest workings of what would become the Pokémon League. As it were, she replaced the guiding hand of a secret organization with bread and circuses for the people, but damn if it didn’t work.”

 

Matt stood and stepped away from the glass, running his hand down his face. All of a sudden, his quest for the truth of the events of the past had hit a wall. He considered the apparent link to the Guild a clue to why those events had taken place, but with that lead now quashed by Jacob, he felt helpless, as if he had run headfirst into a brick wall.

 

He failed to notice Nekou take up the phone.

 

“I’ve got a few questions for you too, old man.”

 

Jacob’s expression brightened at the chance to talk to her. “Well, I have to consider this quite a gift. I’ve been in prison for a long time now, after all. You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

 

“You’re lucky I need you. And you’re even more fucking lucky you’re on the other side of that glass, because don’t you think for a second I’d hesitate to crack you one for that. I need to know more about what’s in this book.”

 

Nekou produced the book she’d stolen from the Pokémon Academy library, the one where Sutter and Jacob recounted their adventures. Much to her surprise, as soon as he saw it, Jacob turned white as a sheet and attempted to stand, only to be restrained by his handcuffs bracing him to the table. He ended up smashing his face against the glass.

 

“No! Not that!” he screamed. “Don’t read that! What’s in that book should have been burned decades ago!”

 

“Well I hate to tell you, but it’s more relevant than ever now. I read all about your travels with Sutter Chiaki in it… but what’s really got me intrigued is this one person, Saeko Oryo…”

 

“NO!!” Jacob slammed himself against the glass again. He was blatantly trying to break the handcuffs off the table, which forced Looker to rush in and restrain him.

 

“Doing that you are again, and ending this meeting will!”

 

“Fine, fine, I’m sorry…” Though he stopped throwing himself around, Jacob was visibly rattled and disturbed.

 

“I need to know,” Nekou repeated. “What is the truth behind Saeko Oryo, the Jewel of Life and what happened that day in the Tenganist holy land?”

 

“If you really want to know, it’s a horrible story…” Jacob looked up, hoping to see Nekou dissuaded from the story, but he was disappointed to find her gaze more determined than ever. “Fine. You know of the Transcendence, the power that many Tenganists have?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Saeko Oryo had the most powerful one, the ability to see the past and future. Her people called her “The Oracle” and she was held in a position of high honor within their society. But then…”

 

“I know, she was burned as a witch,” Nekou said, irritated. “Stop stalling. What really happened?”

 

“The… the reason she was to be burned was because… she… she got too close to us. Sutter and I, we were outsiders. That led the Tenganists in the holy land to treat us with suspicion already, but she got too close to us. When she was tried and condemned, we were exiled from the holy land. But, as we were leaving, she escaped her prison and tried to leave as well. When she couldn’t, she… she committed the mortal sin. She used the partial Jewel of Life there for her own benefit.”

 

“How, and why?” Now Bunny was involved in the questioning, as she was utterly fascinated with the story.

 

“As far as I can tell, she didn’t want to die, so she swallowed that accursed thing. Foolish choice… it unleashed massive energy and burned her from the inside out. She condemned herself to the very death she tried to avoid. But that wasn’t it. The backlash from her swallowing it… even though it was just partial… it unleashed a blast of energy that destroyed the Tenganist holy land. At once all of its residents perished, and a lush jungle was turned into a snowy wasteland. Sutter and I only survived because we were just outside of it. We watched as everything in front of our eyes turned to pure death in an instant.”

 

“No wonder he’s so shaken…” Matt murmured.

 

“You said it was a mortal sin in their eyes. Why?”

 

“Your fortitude is admirable,” Jacob complimented Nekou. “Long, long ago… the Tenganists spread throughout the world. There was not one place they didn’t reach with their then-advanced society. In the Kalos region, an especially strong settlement of Tenganists took hold three thousand years ago. They were led by a mighty, powerful king… he was called AZ, the beginning and the end, because of the great power he held. He was the alchemist who first discovered the way to create a Jewel of Life using the Life Plates of Arceus. Even with just shards of the Plates, a jewel containing the life energy of the earth could be created, just as it was by Arceus itself in the legend of Michina. AZ created a Jewel of Life and led his kingdom to great prosperity, but it would not last.”

 

Jacob stopped for a moment to appreciate how enthralled his audience was.

 

“A war started. Greedy individuals led by AZ’s younger brother wished to capture the kingdom and the power it held. The war was so horrible and vast that AZ had to send his beloved Pokémon to fight in that war… and it perished. When he received its body, AZ was distraught. Desperate to save it, he created a device powered by the life energy of other living Pokémon to resurrect that Pokémon, but it was not enough. He had to augment it with the Jewel of Life for the device to work, and it did. But even with his Pokémon revived, he was too far gone into his madness. He further powered up the device and turned it into an ultimate weapon, a harbinger of death itself… with the Jewel of Life he set devastation and ruin on both sides of the war. He ended it, but his Pokémon left his side because of his sins… AZ then disappeared, and the kingdom was dismantled by his regretful brother. Because of AZ’s actions, using the Jewel of Life for such purposes is considered a mortal sin even by the modern-day Tenganists.”

 

“I see…” Nekou passively said, lost in her consideration of what she had learned. “Well, thanks, I guess.”

 

“Listen to me though!” Jacob was screaming again, and behind him, Looker was watching warily. “Don’t pursue any further knowledge about this!”

 

“Why the fuck would a murderer like you care?” Nekou countered with a bitter tone.

 

“I learned my lesson. What I did was wrong. But if you pursue the Jewel of Life and knowledge of what happened in the past, it will bring you nothing but ruin! Listen to me! Matt, you know better than anyone here what could happen!”

 

“All I know is that you shot me.” Matt shared the same audible bitterness that Nekou had. He looked down on Jacob and added, “Why should I believe that you care about my well being now?”

 

“It’s not just yours but possibly this entire world’s!”

 

Jacob stood up again, and at that point, Looker had had enough. “That is having it, Alexison! We are being done here!”

 

The glass went opaque again when Looker pressed the button on his remote, and Matt’s group could hear several crashes against the glass, presumably from Looker restraining Jacob.

 

“I guess he sure takes his job seriously,” Olivia awkwardly uttered to break the uncomfortable silence.

 

“Sometimes, you’re right about that,” Silver put in, approaching the group for the first time since the meeting started. “I think he wants me to show you out now.”

 

“That’s probably for the best,” Matt concurred.

 

Before they started walking, though, Bunny tapped both him and Nekou on their shoulders. When they turned to look at her, she said, “I’m going to keep looking into what he told us, because that story reminded me of something I heard that happened in Unova.”

 

“Unova, huh?” Nekou raised an eyebrow. “Who knows what you might find…”

 

-:-

 

Team Rocket weren’t the only ones with a hideout in Goldenrod’s slums. Polaris had one too, set up in a small warehouse inconspicuous to passersby on the street. Inside, Cassy lay on a makeshift bed with her leg bandaged. Geminus was with her, though he was speaking to Finansielle using a video screen.

 

“I have to say, I appreciate your diligence in going out there and recovering her,” Finansielle said, “but she must be punished according to the Sacred Helix’s code for removing her mask. Do you understand why we wear masks, Geminus?”

 

“Do enlighten me, my lady,” Geminus requested, standing with his arms crossed.

 

“We wear masks because in the world envisioned by Polaris, we are all equal. That cannot be perfectly duplicated right now, so the next best thing is erasing who we are by all assuming the masks. I let Ghetsis get away with it for now because he’s too much of a blind egomaniac to cooperate and it’s not worth the effort for the time we need him, but I have higher expectations of Séduire.”

 

“If we are trying to be the salvation of the world from its sins,” countered Geminus, “should we not forgive her for her own? I understand we must hold ourselves to a higher standard if we are to be the leaders of man’s next evolution, but she is just an innocent girl who lost her mask through an accident.” Geminus grinned, then asked, “Can she not be forgiven?”

 

Geminus and Finansielle stared at each other for what felt like forever, their eyes searing into each other from behind their masks. Abruptly, though, Finansielle smiled.

 

“I suppose forgiveness can be arranged.”

 

His request granted, Geminus grinned a bit more widely as well. “I knew you’d find some mercy in your heart, Lady Finansielle.”

 

“I sure did. Stand by for what you should do next.”

 

Finansielle disappeared from the screen. Geminus then walked over to the bed, sat down and took up Cassy’s hand.

 

“Don’t you worry. I’ll make everything you wish for come true.”

 

-:-

 

Outside the court complex, Matt, Nekou and Bunny were left standing in confusion as they attempted to rationalize what Jacob had told them while Olivia and Monroe went off on the subject of Goldenrod City’s Gym. Each of them was struggling with the new knowledge in a different way. While Matt was sullen and silent, holding his chin as he faced the wall his quest had seemingly reached, Bunny was pacing back and forth and Nekou was facing away from the others, fiddling with the stem of her glasses.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

Matt jumped, having been so enraptured in his own thoughts that Bunny’s sudden question startled him. “What he told me… well, what I asked him about was what spurred me into looking for the truth in the first place. Back when we first met Dante, he told me that the Light Stone, which is necessary for finding Reshiram, will only appear to someone who has put extraordinary effort into searching for the truth. But if my search all started for a reason I was mistaken about, how can I actually find the truth?”

 

“Is it really mistaken, though?” Bunny suggested. “So the Guild you thought was behind what happened five years ago doesn’t actually exist anymore. Does that really matter? The end result you’re pursuing is still the same. You still want to know the truth behind the same events, it’s just that one potential answer isn’t in play anymore.”

 

For a few minutes, Matt considered what Bunny had said, taking to pacing back and forth much as she had been doing. When he finally stopped, he turned to her and said, “You’re right. Thanks for talking me down from that.”

 

“So what will you do next? What’s your next step?”

 

“When I defeated her in Cherrygrove, Dahlia told me that the Frontier Brain of the Battle Factory might know more about Reshiram. Plus, Olivia needs to go there to get one of the stamps she needs for entering Goldenrod Gym, so I think the answer is that we should head over there first.”

 

“Alright.” Bunny smiled, then looked over to where Olivia was still in Monroe’s face regarding battle strategy. “Olivia! Come on, we’re going to the Battle Factory now!”

 

“Alright!” she called back. “Come on, you’re coming with us,” Olivia then said to Monroe.

 

“I… I wanted to in the first place.”

 

As Olivia and Monroe walked back toward Matt and Bunny, they passed by Nekou, who was still preoccupied fiddling with whatever she was doing. Olivia realized that Nekou’s lack of presence in the conversations going on was unusual, so she slapped her friend on the back to get her attention.

 

“Hey! What are you doing?”

 

“What the fu…” Once Nekou had turned around and realized who was addressing her, her angry expression softened. “Sorry, Olivia, I was distracted. What’s going on?”

 

“We’re heading over to the Battle Factory.”

 

“Okay, obviously I’ll be coming along.”

 

Matt and Bunny had been watching the entire exchange between Olivia and Nekou, and by the time the two of them and Monroe finally joined with them, they were visibly frustrated.

 

“Ready yet?” Matt sighed.

 

Nekou gently draped her arms over his shoulders, licked her lips and stared into his eye as she breathily replied, “I don’t know… are we?”

 

“Okay, now you’re messing with me,” he said, pulling away. “I’ll take it as a yes. Let’s go.”

 

“Maybe not, you don’t know…” she thought to herself with a wry grin as the group finally started on its way.

 

The Battle Factory was at the far western end of the city, but not terribly far from the Pokémon Center and therefore not far from the court complex. While the trip didn’t require a significant amount of walking, though, the necessary route did take them past a number of landmarks on their way. While they passed by the Magnet Train station – a dome-roofed building that Nekou never stopped staring at as she passed – and the imposing structure of the city’s Radio Tower, a large building made of glass came into view. It was both wide and tall, with multiple antennae and satellite dishes affixed to its roof. A vast, busy plaza spread out before it.

 

“Wow, that building is beautiful!” Olivia burst out, running to get a closer view of its sun-drenched splendor.

 

“That’s the Global Terminal, Olivia,” Nekou explained once she caught up. “People trade Pokémon and battle with others worldwide from there. That’s the nexus of the Pokémon trading market.”

 

“You have to go there to get one of the stamps,” Monroe added as a reminder.

 

“Can we go to the Battle Factory first?” Matt quietly asked. “Remember, you guys can all split from me once I get started there.”

 

“Fine, fine,” Nekou said, waving him off.

 

Matt turned, but stopped almost instantly. Over by one of the plaza’s fountains, he could see a towering man in a dark red trench coat. The figure’s height wasn’t the only thing setting him apart from the nondescript crowd around him, however, as he had a wide shock of orange hair that spread out in both directions from his head, as well as an orange beard. He was just standing there, staring toward the rest of the plaza and the Global Terminal itself.

 

“Wait,” Matt said, putting his hand up to stop the others.

 

It ended up being Nekou who walked into his hand, and when her chest bumped into it, she immediately took a single step back and snarked, “I knew you were interested.”

 

“Nekou, not now.” Ignoring Nekou’s attempt to get a rise from him, Matt pointed toward the strange man. “Doesn’t that guy look familiar?”

 

“Yeah, he does, actually…”

 

“I’ve never seen him,” Olivia remarked. “He gives me the creeps.”

 

“Wait, I know who he is,” Bunny suddenly realized. “That’s Lysandre Flordelis, the president of the electronics company Lysandre Labs in Kalos. What’s he doing here?”

 

As it turned out, Bunny would soon get her answer. Lysandre had seen the group pointing at him, and he slowly and deliberately approached them himself. Matt quickly understood why Olivia said she was disturbed by him; he was easily taller than the six-foot-plus Matt, and his eyes burned with an unsettling intensity.

 

“I see you recognize me,” Lysandre said, his deep voice shaking the bones of his audience. “Therefore, we will dispense with formalities. Who are you?”

 

“Matt Chiaki, sir.” Matt couldn’t help but show Lysandre a degree of respect he didn’t usually show. “And this is Nekou, and Bunny, and Olivia and Monroe.”

 

“Matt Chiaki…” Shutting his eyes, Lysandre continued speaking, “I know of you as well. Even as far off as the Kalos region, your efforts in creating a renewable energy source are recognized. I commend you for your efforts to improve this world.”

 

“Th-thank you…”

 

“May I ask why you are in Johto, Mister Flordelis?” Bunny spoke up.

 

“I am here because I am intrigued by the organization known as Polaris…” Nekou immediately blanched at the statement, but Lysandre didn’t notice. He instead turned away to face the Global Terminal once more. “A group that aims to reshape the world… is it a force for good? I have tried to help the world with the profits from my company but my efforts have been futile. Resources, money and land simply exist in only finite qualities. Could Polaris be able to accomplish what I could not and save this world?” Turning back to the group, Lysandre asked, “What do you think?”

 

“I think Polaris is a fucking scam and you’d have to be dumb as shit to fall for it,” Nekou immediately chimed in, causing her companions to visibly panic.

 

“Nekou, don’t be so rude!”

 

Nekou shrugged at Matt’s reproach. “So what? He asked what I think, and I just answered him.”

 

“Yes, that is true,” Lysandre said, much to the surprise of both Matt and Bunny. “You have your opinion on Polaris. I recognize that. I wonder what you will do to contribute to the world, though. As for me, I’m interested in this place because Polaris will be holding a speech here in this plaza tomorrow. I want to see for myself if their claims have merit.”

 

“Maybe we’ll meet there?” Olivia suggested.

 

“Perhaps. Well, it has been interesting speaking to you and your friends, Matt Chiaki. I would like to see you again someday. I expect that I will.”

 

With that, Lysandre walked past Matt and the others and left the plaza. Immediately, Nekou turned her nose up at him as he vanished into the crowd.

 

“What a fucking weirdo.”

 

“Nekou, please…”

 

“Actually, I think I agree with her on this one.” Bunny’s agreement with Nekou made Matt stare in wide-eyed surprise at them both. “I heard he was a strange guy, but that was actually disturbing…”

 

“Come on, let’s go,” Olivia urged them. “We can’t fall behind schedule here.”

 

Shaking off the sense of fear that Lysandre had instilled in him, Matt started to lead the group down the road toward the Battle Factory once again. They didn’t have far left to go, and before long, the huge, egg-shaped metallic building came into view. It was at the front of a cluster of buildings on the coast and had several large industrial fans on each side.

 

“There we go,” Matt said, smiling in relief. “Now we can finally get going.”

 

“Come on, you slowpokes! Get moving!”

 

For the second time, Olivia ran ahead of the others, but she didn’t slow until she reached the entryway of the Battle Factory. Matt, Nekou, Bunny and Monroe all had to rush through the crowds to catch up with her at the iron gates.

 

“You’re pretty enthusiastic about this, aren’t you, Olivia?”

 

“After the shit we’ve been through,” Nekou said to Bunny, “I can hardly blame her.”

 

Matt pushed the doorway open and held it for his friends to pass through before he entered himself. He was surprised what he found inside – unlike the Battle Arcade, which had a dark and flashy interior, inside the Battle Factory was bright and stark white, both on the walls and on the floor. The only break in this sterile setting was a path of transparent blue plastic on the floor leading from the entrance to a desk on the other side of the room, underneath which ran glowing circuitry lines.

 

“Olivia, this way,” Monroe urged while gesturing toward a bank of computers nearby, “that’s where you get the stamp for the Gym.”

 

“Alright.”

 

“I’m guessing that’s the registry desk where I need to go…” Matt ventured while Olivia went off with Monroe. He followed the blue path, and Nekou and Bunny went after him. When he got to the desk, however, he was left in confusion as he looked around for an attendant. “What’s with this? There’s nobody here?”

 

“Look at that,” Bunny said, pointing at a red button on the desk that Matt had initially missed. “Think that calls someone?”

 

“Let’s find out.”

 

Almost instantly upon the moment Matt pressed the button, a hologram lit up from the desk. It was of a short, droopy-eyed man, whose green hair was styled into segments wrapped around his head. He was well-dressed, clad in a black vest with a white undershirt accompanied by a slate-gray necktie.

 

“…Thorton?!” Matt exclaimed, stepping back in surprise.

 

“Welcome to the Battle Factory. I am the Factory Head, Thorton,” the hologram introduced. “If you are a challenger, please scan your Frontier Pass now.”

 

“You know this guy?” Nekou questioned Matt as he fumbled for his Frontier Pass in his bag.

 

“I went to school with him in Rustboro. We had the same robotics class together.”

 

Once Matt had scanned the Frontier Pass using a small panel in front of the hologram projector, it recited, “Welcome, challenger. Today in the Battle Factory, you will face a series of three-on-three Single Battles. However, you will not be permitted to use your own Pokémon. Instead, you must select virtual rental Pokémon from our stock, and your opponents will also be using rental Pokémon. After each victory, you will get a clue toward your next opponent and the opportunity to trade a Pokémon for one of the previous opponent’s Pokémon. If you win three battles, your fourth and final will be against me. Good luck.”

 

Part of the desk slid away, allowing Matt passage through to the path leading to the battlefield. Before he followed it, he turned around to Nekou and Bunny, discovering that Olivia and Monroe had rejoined them.

 

“I guess I’ll be here a while if I want to talk to him about Reshiram. You guys go around the city and get the rest of the stamps. I’ll meet up with you later at the Gym.” Matt put his hand on Olivia’s shoulder and added, “Be confident when you go in there. Just go ahead and go for what you want. Make all of us proud.”

 

“I will!” she responded with a broad grin.

 

Matt straightened up to his full height, but before he could turn around, he noticed Nekou wink at him and say, “Nice.”

 

-:-

 

Roughly fifteen minutes later, Thorton was watching from his control room as Matt wrapped up his first battle. With a Tangrowth in the group of Pokémon he’d selected, Matt had made short work of the Gastrodon and Quagsire before him, and was just finishing up the last opponent, a Magnezone.

 

“Tangrowth, Focus Blast!” Matt’s voice echoed in Thorton’s spacious office from the monitor the Factory Head was watching the battle on.

 

A sphere of energy took shape between the Tangrowth’s arms, which she then threw at the Magnezone. There was a great explosion, and when its smoke cleared, the Magnezone was lying still on the ground.

 

“Challenger wins!” the holographic referee droned. “Battle number one concluded!”

 

“Shit…” Thorton groaned, slumping in his chair. “I can’t deal with this. Not now with Finansielle breathing down my neck.”

 

“He’s going to ask you about Reshiram if he reaches you,” Jeunes said from the shadows behind Thorton. “We cannot risk letting any information fall into the hands of the enemy.”

 

“Don’t you think I know that?!” Thorton snapped. “And why are you here anyway? I’m working!”

 

“Cool your jets, Getriebe,” Colress sarcastically uttered, stepping forward toward the control computer where Thorton was seated. “We finished entering all the Pokémon we received from the others into the database, so you of all people should know how to fix this. The Purine Base is yours, after all. Just dial up the difficulty on his challenge. Make him face a Pokémon he cannot possibly defeat.”

 

“Yes, yes, you’re right,” Thorton responded, calming considerably. “He’s gotten better as a trainer since I went to school with him, but this base contains enough data for me to create something he has no hope against.”

 

With his colleagues looking on, Thorton swiftly entered a command into his control system. When he hit the execute key, the holographic referee on the battlefield instantly acted.

 

“Challenger, your second opponent will lead with a Pokémon that knows Air Slash. Would you like to trade?”

 

“Yes, here.” Matt pulled away one of the holographic Poké Balls floating next to him. Three more of them appeared in front of him, and he touched one of them – the one with the Magnezone – to add it to his team.

 

“Your trade is complete. Now beginning battle number two.”

 

A holographic trainer was projected on the opposite side of the battlefield from Matt. It was a young man with spiky green hair, dressed in a vest, bowtie and cape.

 

“I took time off from my gig at the circus to battle you! Go, Tornadus!”

 

The Pokémon that materialized from the hologram’s Poké Ball was a muscular, green humanoid, with everything below his waist enveloped by a white cloud. Another cloud sat atop his head like hair, and his long, purple tail stretched around him to its ending in a curl.

 

As soon as they saw the Pokémon Thorton had sent Matt’s way, Colress broke down laughing.

 

“G-Getriebe…” Colress was so beside himself with hilarity that he could barely speak. “You sure took my advice literally, didn’t you?! I mean… wow, throwing a legendary Pokémon at him… this is just too good!”

 

“We just have to hope Tornadus gets past the Magnezone,” Jeunes added, sobering the mood. “It gets that far, we’re home free.”

 

The sudden sound of footsteps indicated that someone else had joined the group of three conspirators. “It’s all finished… those containers are all counted and collected safely on the ship that’ll carry ‘em on out of here…”

 

Colress turned around and pushed his visor up again. “Ah, good job, Meowth,” he said to the brainwashed Pokémon. “Putting you to work for Polaris’s cause was a fine idea after all.”

 

“Don’t stress him too much,” Thorton remarked while pulling up a chart on his computer. “Have a look at this. If you overtax his mind, the Meteonite’s energy may cause him to simply fall into a comatose state. The energy he was exposed to wasn’t stabilized.”

 

“You’re lucky you have a mind like mine working to fix that, because with just a little bit more work, I’ll have that sorted right now. Now, what’s the schedule for getting those Pokémon to the Adenosine Base?”

 

“The day after tomorrow,” Jeunes answered. “Trust me. I have this all prepared already.”

 

The three Polaris members continued to discuss their plans while paying fleeting attention to Matt’s struggle against Tornadus, which was unfolding on the monitor.

 

What they were unaware of was that they weren’t the only ones privy to their colluding. Outside, flying over the Battle Factory, were two Pokémon staring intently at the building.

 

“Duskull, dus duskull,” Edgar chattered to Lenore, his eye glowing as he gazed at the Battle Factory.

 

“Mur-krow.”

 

-:-

 

Olivia, Monroe, Nekou and Bunny had gone to the city’s Game Corner in their pursuit of the Gym stamps. They’d saved it for last on Nekou’s recommendation, agreeing with her belief that it would be good to relax with some games before heading off to the Gym. Nekou had stayed behind as the others went to get the stamp, however, as she was preoccupied looking at something on her phone.

 

That something was a direct video feed from Lenore’s camera. Grimacing at a revelation she didn’t want to believe, Nekou pressed a button on the screen to switch to an infrared view of the video. Her worst fears were realized when she could make out four figures, which with a small amount of digital enhancement took on the recognizable shapes of Thorton, Jeunes, Colress and Meowth.

 

“Fuck…” Nekou growled at the phone, a feeling of dread taking hold in her stomach. “Fucking hell… I was afraid of this… the Battle Factory is the Purine Base after all…”

 

“Hey, Nekou, what are you doing?” Olivia called out from a cluster of games a short distance away. “Come over here and check this out!”

 

Putting aside the grave concerns she had for the moment, Nekou put her phone away and followed Olivia’s beckoning. The girl and her friends had gathered around a game machine titled “Meloetta’s Dance Rumble,” which featured a small, fairy-like Pokémon with blue eyes and long golden hair overlooking a stage.

 

“Oh, this game?” Nekou laughed, a wry smirk coming onto her face. “I’m good at this shit. Let’s play.”

 

”Good, because Monroe thinks I’ll beat him.”

 

“Aw, come on, Olivia, I told you I’m just not that good at it…”

 

“You won’t beat me.” Suddenly thinking of something, Nekou turned to Bunny and asked, “Why didn’t you play?”

 

“This game isn’t my favorite,” Bunny replied, waving off the inquiry, “you play. You guys ought to have more fun.”

 

“Alright then.”

 

Nekou and Olivia took the stage, each of them occupying one of the two pairs of directional arrows under their feet. After looking to Olivia to confirm that she was ready, Nekou deposited several coins into the game machine, bringing it fully to life. The Pokémon adorning the machine, Meloetta, cried out cheerfully, followed by the words ‘Both of you, dance like you want to win!’ displaying on the video monitor before its two players.

 

“Get ready to lose, Olivia,” Nekou whispered while she continued smirking. “I like you, but I play to win.”

 

“I won’t go down without a fight.” Olivia countered with a wide grin of her own. “Either way, we’re walking out of this with fistfuls of game coins.”

 

Spotlights flared around the game, and a fast-paced dance song started to play. Arrows started scrolling up the screen to tell Nekou and Olivia which steps to make on the stage, and they furiously attempted to follow every single one.

 

-:-

 

“You have got to be kidding me!” Thorton screamed, standing and kicking away his chair. Behind him, Colress and Jeunes both had looks of worry themselves.

 

It had taken another twenty minutes, but Matt had actually overcome the trainer with the Tornadus. Luck had played a huge part, as Matt quickly deduced Tornadus’s Flying-type from its Air Slash and sent the Steel-and-Electric-type Magnezone to face it, only to discover it also knew the Fighting-type move Focus Blast. However, all of the attempted Focus Blasts Tornadus used missed their target, leaving Magnezone able to defeat it. After that, defeating his Gengar was a simple matter, but it took Magnezone, Tangrowth and Matt’s third Pokémon, Glaceon, to finally put down his Pinsir.

 

The mood in the control room was one of palpable panic. Though none of them said it, the three Polaris leaders were all thinking the same thing: if Matt could find a way around a legendary Pokémon like Tornadus, there could very well be no way to stop him.

 

“Maybe try another legendary Pokémon?” Jeunes suggested. For once, the ordinarily cunning and brilliant scientist was at a loss for a solution. “Heatran? Landorus?”

 

“That’s not going to work. He’ll find a way around it.”

 

“Wait, Getriebe, I have an idea,” Colress chimed in. His sarcastic manner from earlier was gone. “This base contains data on just about every possible Pokémon. So far we’ve been hitting him with Pokémon he clearly can figure out. So why not hit him with something we know he’s never seen?”

 

“What are you thinking, Colress?” Thorton questioned, reverting to his typical bored tone.

 

“Finansielle told us about him. He’s been to Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh, Unova and Orre. Notice something missing from that list?”

 

“Kalos,” Jeunes immediately answered, verbally stepping on Thorton, “and the only Pokémon from Kalos he’s seen is Séduire’s Pyroar. We send a team of Kalos Pokémon against him, and he’ll have no chance.”

 

“Let’s do it then,” Thorton said, turning back to his control system. “I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve.”

 

-:-

 

Out on the battlefield, Matt had just finished his trade, swapping away his Magnezone for the Tornadus used by the previous hologram trainer.

 

“Your trade is complete. Now beginning battle number three.”

 

The hologram generator on the other side of the field projected a young woman wearing a tank top, tight jeans and her brown hair in a bun. Despite being just a computer program, she displayed personality by lifting her sunglasses from her eyes.

 

“Oh, my, a challenger…” she said. Matt thought he detected a condescending tone in her voice. “Let me finish you off so I can go back to the beach. Go, Greninja!”

 

The Pokémon sent out by the beautiful woman caused Matt to recoil. It was unlike anything he’d seen before – a purple-and-white frog with flat, webbed feet and hands and sharp, angular ears, whose tongue wrapped around its neck and flowed out like a scarf. The Pokémon, Greninja, leaned down and struck a battle-ready stance as he awaited Matt’s move.

 

“It looks kind of like a frog,” Matt reasoned, “so I think it should be Water-type. In that case, Tangrowth, make your mark!”

 

The virtual Tangrowth emerged from her Poké Ball and flexed her long arms, but she was barely out for a moment before the holographic trainer reacted.

 

“Greninja, Ice Beam!”

 

What happened next caught Matt completely by surprise. Before he attacked, the blue parts of Greninja’s body changed into a much lighter blue, and the ensuing Ice Beam he launched was far more intense than Matt expected. Tangrowth ended up taking a direct hit, and not only was she badly injured, she was frozen into a block of ice.

 

“Tangrowth!” Matt gasped.

 

“Greninja, Dark Pulse!”

 

Greninja’s color changed again, this time to a deep black. He then brought his hands together to form a cluster of dark energy, which flooded forward in the form of black rings. Within her block of ice, Tangrowth had no hope of escape.

 

“Tangrowth is unable to battle!” the holographic referee called.

 

Without a word, Matt recalled Tangrowth and readied another virtual Poké Ball. “I don’t know what this is… Glaceon, do your best out there!”

When Matt’s rented Glaceon came out of the sphere, she shook her head and stretched. Greninja and his trainer both stood still, waiting for something to happen.

 

“Glaceon, try a Blizzard!”

 

The virtual trainer reacted instantly. “Greninja, Water Shuriken!”

 

While Glaceon took in air to use in her attack, Greninja shifted back to his original blue coloring and formed a set of four throwing stars made of water in his hand, which he used to cut Glaceon’s body in several places. When he finally got hit by the blast of ice Glaceon countered with, he barely shivered.

 

A sudden realization came to Matt’s mind. “The color changes… it’s changing its type! Shifted to Water to block an Ice attack, shifted to Dark and Ice before… alright, try this! Hyper Beam!”

 

“Greninja, Rock Slide!”

 

Glaceon started to charge energy for her attack, but Greninja was simply too fast. His skin took on a brown hue, and he used his power to create a glowing portal that dropped large rocks onto Glaceon, crushing her. She held on even under the weight of the stones and managed to fire the crimson laser from her mouth, but like the earlier Blizzard, Greninja used his type shifting to shrug it off.

 

Matt felt his heart stop as the flaws in his strategy caught up with him. He knew that Hyper Beam often required a Pokémon using it to rest afterward, but that had slipped his mind when he ordered it, meaning Glaceon had no ability to even try escaping from the rock pile. Both he and Glaceon could do nothing but watch as the computer program controlling the opposition played out its next move.

 

“Greninja, Water Shuriken!”

 

With his skin shifting back to blue once more, Greninja shaped another set of throwing stars – this time a total of five – in his hand. His motions were swift as he threw the quintet of watery weapons Glaceon’s way, and they hit her with such force that they even caused the hill of rocks to collapse around her.

 

As the aftermath became visible, Glaceon was lying prone on the floor among the broken stones.

 

“Glaceon is unable to battle!”

 

Matt scoffed and sent Glaceon back to her virtual Poké Ball without a word. The same feeling he’d had after meeting with Jacob, that of his goal of finding Reshiram seemingly slipping away, was back again. The difference was that this time, he wasn’t feeling hopeless. He’d burned through that earlier. As he curled his face and burned right through the holographic trainer with his gaze, he felt his arms twitching as anger washed over him. He reasoned to himself that if he could overcome Tornadus, a Pokémon he knew was legendary, he could defeat Greninja.

 

“That’s it!” he gasped out loud, realizing just what his last Pokémon was. Reflexively, he grabbed the last Poké Ball and threw it, releasing the Tornadus that had been his enemy less than a half hour earlier.

 

Matt knew his situation was desperate, but watching Tornadus stretch his muscular arms in preparation for the impending fight gave him a brief sense of hope. It didn’t last long, for when he glanced over to Greninja, he saw the Pokémon adjusting his tongue scarf, equally ready for what was to come.

 

“Tornadus, Air Slash! Take it down!”

 

“Greninja, Ice Beam!”

 

That Greninja would use Ice Beam again was something Matt had anticipated. But as the two Pokémon started to move toward each other, he realized that Greninja was quite clearly moving faster than Tornadus. Without outrunning him, Matt knew that Tornadus would be at Greninja’s mercy.

 

The clash played out in the blink of an eye. Tornadus had a wave of wind energy surrounding his tail, but when Greninja slammed him with the blast of ice, he lost his aim and lashed the wave up at the ceiling as he fell to the floor.

 

Matt’s thoughts were beginning to jumble, and he was no longer able to focus on the battle. All he knew was the basic type matchup of Fighting overpowering Ice. “Tornadus, try a Focus Blast!” he cried in desperation.

 

Tornadus brought his hands together and formed a sphere of energy between them, but well before he could act, Greninja was upon him.

 

“Greninja, Ice Beam!”

 

The computer program was so confident in its impending victory that it no longer felt the need to change Greninja’s type, instead opting to go in for the finishing move immediately. With his superior speed, Greninja got as close to Tornadus as he dared and shot an Ice Beam right into the Flying-type Pokémon’s face.

 

Matt looked away. He didn’t have to have his eyes on the battle to know what was coming next.

 

“The house wins! Battle number three concluded!”

 

-:-

 

In the control room, the mood was one of celebration. Jeunes and Colress were even high-fiving each other.

 

“Well that takes care of that!” Colress laughed. “Don’t have to worry about him troubling us on Reshiram now!”

 

“I must give you credit, Colress,” Jeunes complimented. “Excellent idea, sending Kalos Pokémon into the battle.”

 

“Well, I am a genius after all.” As he stroked his own ego, Colress pushed his visor up again and put his hands in his pockets.

 

“You two are celebrating,” Thorton droned, his voice taking the joy out of the room, “but what do we do if he comes back?”

 

“He won’t be back here today, rest assured,” Jeunes answered. “He’ll go back with his little harem for the night to lick his wounds. And tomorrow? Don’t make me laugh. Tomorrow we’ll have this whole area locked down. And the day after that, Getriebe, we’ll be evacuating you to the Adenosine Base to continue your work. This facility is going to be shut down. Its purpose has been served.”

 

Thorton spun around in his chair, surprised at this news. “I cannot say I’m thrilled with that. This base has been my pet project since the start.”

 

“You don’t have to worry. All your work will be transferred to the Adenosine Base so you can continue.”

 

-:-

 

Meanwhile, after winning enough Game Corner coins between them for Olivia to receive a prize, she, Nekou, Bunny and Monroe had gone to Goldenrod City’s Gym. Unlike the previous two Gyms the group had visited, this one was much more ordinary in appearance. On the outside, it was a simple brick building, while its interior held a battlefield of artificial grass surrounded by a white and pink floor.

 

A young woman stood confidently before Olivia and her friends, staring them down from the opposite end of the battlefield. Her pink pigtails shook from behind her head as she walked forward to address her visitors.

 

“Welcome to Goldenrod Gym!” she cheerfully greeted. “I’m Whitney, the Gym Leader here!” Whitney hesitated when she realized Monroe was there. “Oh, Monroe, it’s you again. Did you come back for something?”

 

“I’m just here to support my friend,” Monroe answered, gesturing to Olivia.

 

“Oh? And who might you be?”

 

“My name is Olivia!” Olivia’s voice carried such confidence that Nekou and Bunny immediately felt a surge in pride for her. “I’m here to challenge you for the Plain Badge!”

 

“I’m liking your spunk, challenger,” Whitney said with a wink. “Alright, how many Badges do you have?”

 

“One.”

 

“Then this will be a three-on-three Single Battle. Substitutions are allowed on both sides, and the battle is over when one side loses all their Pokémon. Are we all square on that?”

 

“I got it, but…” Olivia wrinkled her nose. “…who’s the referee?”

 

“Oh, usually, I have my assistants here, but they’re all up at the National Park today.”

 

“I’ll referee the battle,” Monroe volunteered.

 

Both Olivia and Whitney looked at the boy in surprise, but quickly accepted the idea. Whitney said, “That Monroe’s a real whiz kid, you know? Olivia, you pick good friends.”

 

“Is that true?” Olivia asked Monroe as she stepped into her box on the battlefield and he walked to the referee position at mid-field.

 

“I…” Suddenly, Monroe was flush with embarrassment. “I… guess I’m okay.”

 

“Olivia, you can do it!” Bunny called out, having gone to a nearby spectator area with Nekou. “Win that Badge!”

 

“Oh, I intend to,” she responded, taking up one of her Poké Balls.

 

“You’ve got some fire in you, Olivia. I like that. Let’s have a fun battle!” Reaching under the end of her red-and-white baseball jersey, Whitney pulled a Poké Ball of her own from the waist of her shorts and threw it. “Go, Porygon!”

 

“Lillipup, let’s play!”

 

Once they arrived on the battlefield, the two Normal-type Pokémon regarded each other with caution. Porygon, being the more experienced of the pair, simply floated in the air and watched its opponent, while Lillipup began slowly circling it, looking for a weakness to exploit.

 

“The first match is going to be Olivia’s Lillipup versus Whitney’s Porygon!” Monroe announced. “Go!”

 

“Lillipup, use Tackle!”

 

“I thought you’d begin with a Normal-type attack,” Whitney said as she watched Lillipup scamper toward Porygon. “And I’ll go with this! Porygon, Conversion 2!”

 

Lillipup leapt into the air and rammed Porygon, throwing his foe back a few feet. However, Porygon quickly recovered and began glowing. Before long, the surface of Porygon’s body had changed to a brown color.

 

Whitney saw Olivia’s surprised expression and felt compelled to explain. “Conversion 2 changes the user’s type into one that resists the type of the last attack that hit it. I just knew you would use a Normal-type attack when I saw you begin with Lillipup. After all,” she said with a smile, “I am the Gym Leader who specializes in Normal-type Pokémon.”

 

“If you changed Porygon’s type, with that color it must be… Rock,” Olivia correctly deduced. “I just need to make my attacks stronger, then! Lillipup, Work Up!”

 

Seeing that Olivia was taking care to have Lillipup raise his offensive ability, Whitney decisively said, “You make yourself stronger in one way, I’ll weaken you in another. Electroweb!”

 

Just as Lillipup’s red glow from Work Up was disappearing, Porygon’s beak began to spark with an electrical charge. It fired out a clump of electrified thread that spread into the shape of a web, draping over and shocking Lillipup.

 

“Lillipup, hang in there!” Olivia called out as Lillipup struggled out of the web. “That’s right, like that! Don’t be afraid of that Porygon!”

 

“I see what Whitney’s doing…” Nekou muttered to Bunny on the sidelines. “Slowing Lillipup down… that’ll make it harder for Olivia to keep a leg up on her.”

 

“Do you think Olivia will get through this?”

 

“Of fucking course I do,” Nekou beamed. “She’s tougher than to fall just because of such a trap.”

 

With great confidence, Whitney thrust her arm forward and commanded, “Foul Play!”

 

“That attack…” Olivia knew of Foul Play; she thought back to her training with Nekou, where she’d seen Nekou’s Zorua use it. Despite not fully realizing what it meant, she knew that when Porygon’s eyes glinted before it darted toward Lillipup, she knew it wasn’t a good sign. “Get out of the way, then use Crunch!”

 

Unfortunately for Olivia, she hadn’t realized the secondary effect of Electroweb yet. Lillipup wasn’t fast enough anymore to move himself out of the way, and Porygon tackled him with significant force.

 

“Hitting Lillipup with its own attack power…” Nekou mused, but she trailed off without finishing.

 

“Whitney sure has her bases covered with Porygon,” Bunny added, effectively completing Nekou’s thought.

 

Lillipup pulled himself up slowly. Once he was standing again, he realized his legs were trembling, and the fear that was sinking into his body finally struck his mind. He froze, but then he thought back to Olivia’s encouragement, which gave him a surge of energy. He could literally feel his trainer’s faith in him.

 

Abruptly, he lunged at Porygon, giving so little warning that it could not get away from him. He bit down on one of Porygon’s feet, sending a shockwave of pain through the virtual Pokémon’s body. Whitney gasped as her Pokémon lashed around in mid-air and cried out, desperately trying to shake off the opponent that so hurt him.

 

“Fuck yeah! You go for it, Olivia!” Nekou cheered.

 

“Porygon, you can’t stand for that!” Whitney screamed, her voice straining in her throat. “Get it off with Electroweb!”

 

With anger in his eyes, Porygon looked down at Lillipup – who was still latched on tightly to its foot – and produced another Electroweb. This one, though, was in too close a quarter, and ended up shocking both Lillipup and Porygon itself. After a moment, the electricity caused a small explosion that finally separated the two.

 

“I was right in what I thought of you, Olivia! You’re quite skilled. I’ll have to step up my game to stay in competition with you. Porygon, Conversion 2!”

 

In response to the Dark-type attack Lillipup had used against it, Porygon shifted the color of its body, this time to a metallic silver.

 

“…oh shit.” Nekou groaned.

 

“What?”

 

“Bunny, that Porygon just turned itself into a fucking Steel-type. I don’t think Lillipup has any attacks that will significantly hurt it now.” Looking away from Olivia, Nekou noticed a smile play onto Whitney’s lips. “That’s what she was hoping for, a Conversion 2 to the Steel type. I get it now… Steel is one of the most defensive types.”

 

Olivia recognized this fact, and took the most immediate action she could think of by calling, “Work Up!”

 

Feeling encouraged by how successful Crunch had proved against Porygon, Lillipup boldly growled at it, filling his muscles with further vigor. He punctuated this act with a loud, bone-chilling howl.

 

“Sticking with Lillipup…” Whitney briefly looked confused and seemingly stared past Olivia, but swiftly recovered. “I’m not sure if you know what you’re dealing with here, now that Porygon’s a Steel-type. Let me give you a taste. Foul Play!”

 

“Let it come to you, then use Crunch!”

 

Lillipup braced himself and bravely faced down the oncoming Porygon. Just as his opponent arrived, he opened his mouth and caught the front of Porygon’s body, then attempted to bite down into it.

 

Much to his shock, however, Crunch no longer worked. He could not get his teeth into Porygon’s body no matter how hard he tried. Olivia remembered the point about Porygon now being a Steel-type just in time to see it snicker at Lillipup and kick him back toward her.

 

“Whitney sure isn’t letting up, is she?”

 

Nekou and Bunny turned in surprise to find Matt sitting next to them. They both chuckled nervously as they realized they’d been so enraptured in the battle that they had not seen him arrive.

 

“So that’s what surprised Whitney just now…” Bunny reasoned. “How’d your battle go?”

 

“Let’s just say I had plenty of time to do other things before coming here,” he answered before turning back to the battle. “This is Olivia’s time now. Give her your attention.”

 

“Lillipup, can you go on any more?” Olivia said, her voice quivering with worry.

 

Though he stood up again, it was plainly obvious to all present that Lillipup couldn’t take much more. He was covered in scratches and burns, and his entire body was shaking. Olivia felt her eyes twitching, but with memories of her battle in Azalea Town fresh in her mind, she resolved not to cry.

 

“Lillipup… just do what you can. It’s not bad if you can’t win. Just do your best.”

 

Lillipup turned and gave Olivia a shaky nod. He agreed with her. He knew that while he might have been unable to defeat Porygon on his own, he would be weakening it for the next Pokémon on Olivia’s team.

 

Whitney saw the courage she was facing and stared in wide-eyed surprise for a moment, before simply closing her eyes out of respect for her challenger. “Not everyone who comes in this Gym has got the spine you have, Olivia… we’ve only just begun, and yet I feel like I should be honored to be in this battle. But…” Lashing her eyes back open, Whitney threw her hand forward again and shouted, “I won’t lose! Porygon, Icy Wind!”

 

“Lillipup, get through that! One step at a time!”

 

Porygon was unnerved by Lillipup’s endurance, and it felt several times any desire Whitney had to end the fight. Gathering all of its power, it set upon Lillipup with a powerful gust of freezing air.

 

Much to the surprise of both Porygon and its trainer, Lillipup stood fast against the cold, refusing to cede even an inch of ground to his adversary. Not only that, he was actually pushing slowly forward through the storm in direct defiance of all the pride-fueled anger Porygon was putting into it.

 

And then a blinding light flashed from the heart of the heart of the attack.

 

“Wha…” Whitney was finally truly speechless. She was only able to watch, her mouth open in utter shock.

 

“Well, well, well, what do you know,” Nekou said with a smirk, matching the one she saw Olivia gaining. “She got lucky again.”

 

“Yes!” Olivia squeaked at the top of her lungs. Even though she couldn’t yet see whatever it was Lillipup was evolving into, she fumbled out her Pokédex anyway.

 

“Herdier, the Loyal Dog Pokémon. Type is Normal. Evolved form of Lillipup. This very loyal Pokémon helps trainers, and it also takes care of other Pokémon. It has black, cape-like fur that is very hard and reduces the amount of damage it receives.”

 

The light exploded outward, dispelling Porygon’s Icy Wind. In place of Lillipup stood a larger, more outwardly confident canine Pokémon. The burst of cream-colored fur that had coated his face as Lillipup now formed a pair of bushy eyebrows and a makeshift moustache, while the dark-colored fur referred to by the Pokédex draped over his brown stomach and legs. He howled with newfound strength, making Porygon reel back.

 

“Keep going, Olivia!” Bunny shouted from the stands. “It’s not over yet!”

 

“First, let’s see what I’ve got now…” In a moment of prudence that surprised Matt but not the others, Olivia kept her Pokédex out for a moment. She was thumbing through the pages related to Herdier’s capabilities. “So two of our attacks got a little stronger… let’s show her one! Herdier, give it a taste of your Strength!”

 

“Porygon, Icy Wind!!” Whitney’s confidence was beginning to give way to desperation. The battle with Herdier had dragged on far too long for her liking, and she was beginning to get nervous that she didn’t have control of the situation after all.

 

Assuming the confidence its trainer had lost, Porygon locked onto Herdier with even more fury in its eyes and let loose with an Icy Wind of increased intensity. Herdier wasn’t shaken by it, though. He simply tensed his body up and then shot straight through the gust like a bullet, catching Porygon completely by surprise. Its Steel-type protection shielded him from significant injury, but Herdier’s impact against its body violently shook it.

 

Unfortunately, Herdier’s display of strength also snapped Whitney’s head back into her previous sense with a realization. “That’s your Achilles heel…” she uttered. “Porygon, finish this now with Foul Play!”

 

Consumed by violent urges directed at Herdier, Porygon appraised his new strength with a black glint in its eyes, then tackled him before he could prepare a defense.

 

Even with his newfound power, Herdier couldn’t stand against Porygon turning his own strength on him while suffering from everything else he’d taken. He collapsed on Olivia’s side of the battlefield, but just before going down, he shot her a proud look. Olivia thought she even saw him smile.

 

“Herdier is unable to battle!” Monroe announced. “The winner is Porygon!”

 

“That was rough…” Matt intoned, shaking his head.

 

As soon as she saw his action, Nekou grabbed Matt by the sides of his face and looked right into his eye. “Don’t do that!” she shrilled, apparently referring to him shaking his head. “She put up a hell of a fight!”

 

“You’re right. I have to admit that.” Matt’s genuine reversal was the only reason Nekou released him. “But what now?”

 

“She’ll pull through, I know it. Don’t doubt her.”

 

“Herdier, return.” There was great peace in Olivia’s voice as she brought Herdier back to his Poké Ball. “You did really well. I’m proud of you.”

 

“I am too,” Whitney commented. “You gave me a great fight there. Let me apologize now… Porygon gets a little too into competition sometimes.”

 

“Oh, don’t apologize for that, I appreciate the challenge. Now, I’ll try this! Let’s play!”

 

Olivia threw another of her Poké Balls, but the Pokémon that emerged was one that Matt never expected – a Mr. Mime. The Psychic-type Pokémon stretched his spindly arms then cheerfully started miming, seemingly ignorant of Porygon’s presence.

 

“A Mr. Mime?!” Matt exclaimed. “When did she…?”

 

“The Game Corner,” Nekou smugly revealed. “We did so well there that we got enough coins for a prize. That’s what she won.”

 

“I see you took advantage of the Goldenrod City tour this Gym sends you on,” Whitney said. “I’m glad to see it… and I’ll be glad to show you what this city’s Pokémon can do! Porygon, Electroweb!”

 

Olivia simply grinned and carelessly directed, “Protect!”

 

Spreading his arms and gesturing in Porygon’s direction, Mr. Mime created a barrier around himself that dispelled the electrified webbing, rendering it useless. Once he was safe, Mr. Mime dropped the shield.

 

“I thought you’d do that,” Olivia said. “You did it to the first Pokémon you saw that you thought would be faster, so I knew you’d do it again. This time is different, though. Mr. Mime, Mimic!”

 

Mr. Mime’s body flashed in a golden hue in response to this direction. It was simple, but deceptively so, and Whitney was all too aware of what it meant.

 

“Take my own attack away and turn it against me, will you? It won’t be that easy! Porygon, Icy Wind!”

 

Porygon realized the trouble it was in just as much as its trainer did. Knowing it likely wouldn’t last much longer, it turned all its remaining strength toward washing a freezing gust over Mr. Mime. He stood well against it, though some frost did develop on his body.

 

“Use Electroweb to wrap this up!”

 

Having temporarily learned Electroweb through his use of Mimic, Mr. Mime turned it on Porygon, lashing a thread of charged silk from each of the fingertips on one of his hands. The webbing tangled Porygon up on its own, but the electrical shock that the threads delivered finished it off. As the threads disappeared, it collapsed onto the floor.

 

“Porygon is unable to continue! The winner is Mr. Mime!”

 

“Well then,” Matt quietly said to himself as he crossed his arms, “looks like Mr. Mime was a good prize after all.”

 

Whitney recalled Porygon and readied her next Poké Ball before she spoke. “Not bad, not bad… but can you stand against my star? It’s showtime! Go, Miltank!”

 

Both Nekou and Monroe regarded the seemingly jolly-looking cow Pokémon with great apprehension when she arrived on the battlefield. Their views were for similar reasons – while Nekou was familiar with the notorious reputation of Whitney’s Miltank as a Pokémon that crushed the hopes of challengers, Monroe had lived it and barely come out on top. Both of them waited nervously to see how Olivia would handle it.

 

“Your star, huh? It should make a fun challenge. Mr. Mime, Electroweb!”

 

“Hmph… I’ll just go ahead, then. Miltank, Stealth Rock!”

 

Miltank got wrapped in the charged threads Mr. Mime threw over her, but she didn’t show much of an outward reaction to the power coursing through them. Even while tangled in the threads, she surrounded herself with bursts of light, which she quickly directed to surround Mr. Mime. The lights planted themselves in the ground and faded to reveal a number of pointed stone pillars.

 

“Alright, you did your job, Miltank. Pinch hit!” Olivia was quite surprised to see Whitney take out a Poké Ball and withdraw Miltank. As she threw the next ball, Whitney said, “Kecleon, go!”

 

The third and final Pokémon on Whitney’s team turned out to be one from Hoenn, as Olivia and her friends mentally noted. Kecleon voiced a low-pitched squeal and wagged her tongue in Mr. Mime’s direction as a way of announcing her presence.

 

“Whitney’s Pokémon sure have a lot of personality…” Olivia thought, tiring of the overwhelming characters she found herself against. Luckily, she was also aware of Kecleon’s capabilities, so she was able to quickly figure out a plan. “Hit it with Electroweb, Mr. Mime!”

 

“Kecleon, Incinerate!”

 

Kecleon was too slow to act, and ended up draped in the electrical net Mr. Mime cast over her. She spent several seconds being shocked by the threads before finally launching a stream of fire from her mouth. It burned through the Electroweb and flowed over Mr. Mime, leaving small singe marks all over his body.

 

Olivia stared at Kecleon and took note of a change she had anticipated – Kecleon’s skin was now yellow. “Color Change… it’s another type change strategy,” she thought. Holding up her own Poké Ball, she said, “Alright, Mr. Mime, take a break.”

 

“So she’s switching as well,” Matt observed, leaning forward onto the railing in front of the seats. “Where are we going from here…”

 

“Watch and see,” Nekou replied, gesturing toward the battle with her head.

 

“The first Pokémon I caught for myself…” Olivia said to the new Poké Ball she held in her hand. “Not for him, for myself… I’ll get this right. Now… let’s play!”

 

Olivia put all the strength she had into flinging the Poké Ball. It released a bright ball of light, from which two pincers arose before it dispelled to reveal the Pokémon’s identity.

 

“Krabby…” he hissed, using his right pincer to shield his eyes from the bright lights of the Gym.

 

Almost immediately, the stones planted in the ground when Miltank used Stealth Rock started to glow, and an energy field they generated gave Krabby a brief shock. He quickly recovered, however.

 

“A Krabby?” Matt gasped. “But when…?”

 

“That day in Slowpoke Well,” Nekou answered, not even really waiting for a question. “That’s the result. Olivia caught that Krabby in Slowpoke Well.”

 

“She hasn’t used it before…” he fretted. “Is she certain this will work?”

 

“I’m sure she has a strategy,” Nekou said in great confidence.

 

Whitney was sure Olivia had a plan as well, and decided that she had to dispose of Krabby quickly. “Kecleon, be ready. I don’t trust it.”

 

“Kec,” Kecleon answered with a nod.

 

“Krabby, Mud Shot! Go!”

 

With surprising speed, Krabby dug his claws into the ground and then violently pulled them out, throwing a large clump of mud at Kecleon.

 

“Solar Beam!”

 

When Kecleon was hit by the mound of dirt, she reeled back, a result of Color Change shifting her type to Electric. Her skin turned brown, then her entire body began to glow from her absorbing light.

 

“Perfect,” Olivia said, striking a grin very reminiscent of one Nekou would have. “Dig!”

 

“No!”

 

Krabby jumped up into the air, turned his claws downward and began spinning, allowing him to pierce through the ground. Just after he disappeared, Kecleon fired a wide beam of light from her mouth, but with Krabby nowhere to be seen the attack was useless. Seconds later, Krabby burst out of the ground beneath Kecleon and struck her in the chin with his claw.

 

“Good job, Krabby!” Olivia called out. “Keep it up!”

 

“Come on, Whitney, focus…” the Gym Leader said to herself. “It’s a Water-type, so… Solar Beam!”

 

“This is what I was waiting for! Bubble Beam!” Olivia immediately countered.

 

There was barely time for Kecleon to start absorbing light again before she was harshly buffeted by the bubbles Krabby launched from his claws. As she had become a Ground-type through Color Change’s reaction to Mud Shot and Dig, she was especially weak to the Water-type attack. Every bubble left a noticeable bruise on her skin, and by the time the stream finally ended, she fell forward to the ground in defeat.

 

“Kecleon is unable to continue! The winner is Krabby!”

 

“Yes!” cheered the young trainer, basking in the admiration from her friends. “Good work, Krabby! I knew you’d go far!”

 

“She’s really doing well,” Bunny said. “Was she this good in Azalea Town?”

 

“No…” Matt answered gloomily, “but she’s really improved over the last few days. She’s grown up quite a bit.”

 

After recalling Kecleon, Whitney threw Miltank’s Poké Ball to release her into battle again. She then put her hands on her hips and said, “You’re doing very well here so far, Olivia, but now you’re going up against my star player. Are you going to hit one out of the park, or strike out? Show me right now!”

 

“Oh, I will! You ready, Krabby? Dig!”

 

“Alright, here we go! Miltank, Heart Stamp!”

 

As he prepared to burrow into the ground again, Miltank rushed Krabby and hit him with a crushing punch, her fist glowing with red light. Though he hissed loudly due to the pain radiating down through his body, he still managed to get underground. All that was left when Miltank pulled back was a heart-shaped imprint on the battlefield.

 

Not showing any sign of doubt, Whitney announced, “Stomp!”

 

Krabby burst from the ground and slashed Miltank across the leg. However, she was ready with her other leg raised, and forcefully brought her foot down on Krabby’s head. While Miltank was left nursing a gash on her leg, Krabby was already badly injured and trembling violently.

 

“Okay, fine, what about this?!” Olivia snapped. “Bubble Beam!”

 

“Heart Stamp!”

 

Before Olivia realized it, Miltank was upon Krabby once more. She put even more strength into her Heart Stamp than the first time, smashing him with everything she had. He managed to still stay conscious, however, and he showered her with a blast of bubbles from his claws. They all left small marks on Miltank’s body, but when the injury on her leg was hit, she stumbled back and cringed.

 

“Huh…” Olivia muttered when she noticed Miltank’s reaction. “Alright, go for its leg with Vice Grip!”

 

“I won’t let you!” A vicious sound came through in the way Whitney snarled, reflecting a sudden change in her mood. From her perspective, Nekou mentally attributed it to Olivia finding a weakness she could exploit, thus putting Whitney at a disadvantage. “Miltank, Rollout, now!”

 

Krabby rushing in with the intent to grab Miltank’s leg actually gave the Normal-type Pokémon a huge opening. She curled up into a ball and rolled forward, mowing over her foe. In her wake, Krabby was left unconscious and splayed out on the ground.

 

“Krabby is unable to continue! The winner is Miltank!”

 

“Rough…” Bunny mumbled.

 

Having had first-hand experience with Miltank’s power earlier, Monroe looked on in worry while Olivia recalled and consoled Krabby. Though he was rooting for her, he had a terrible expectation that she wouldn’t be able to win.

 

“Mr. Mime, let’s play!”

 

As soon as Mr. Mime hit the battlefield, the stone pillars activated their energy field again and shocked him. He stumbled and flailed his arms, but quickly shook it off.

 

“So this is it, then. Olivia, give it your best!” Smiling broadly, Whitney called out, “Rollout!”

 

Turning back to Olivia’s direction, Miltank gathered speed and rolled toward Mr. Mime.

 

“Electroweb!” Olivia swiftly ordered.

 

Mr. Mime bravely faced the oncoming Miltank and threw an Electroweb over her. She still took the shock it brought, but her speed allowed her to break through it fairly quickly on her way to colliding with her opponent. Olivia could only gasp and watch as her Pokémon was smashed backward several feet.

 

“I can’t take another one like that,” Olivia said to herself. She saw that Miltank was coming back around and even gathering even more momentum, a sight that was giving her increasing concern. Suddenly, she remembered something she’d learned once, and calmed considerably. “Use Protect!”

 

Miltank once again had Mr. Mime in her sights, but she ended up only hitting the shield Mr. Mime put up around himself. This completely broke her pace, and she was left to fall back to her trainer with her Rollout ruined.

 

“It’s alright, Miltank,” Whitney said. “Let’s see what happens next.”


The sparkle in her eyes made clear that Olivia was eager to show her what would come. “Magical Leaf!”

 

“You’re not putting me away this easily!” Whitney roared. “Stomp!”

 

Mr. Mime hung back, allowing Miltank to come to him. For her entire approach, he showered her with sharp, glowing leaves, cutting her body up in a number of places. Some of the leaves even cut into the gash on her leg, making it even more painful for her. She did her best to endure it and managed to reach Mr. Mime, though she could only stomp on his foot.

 

“Alright, throw it into the air with Confusion!”

 

The two Pokémon being so close to each other allowed Mr. Mime to look right into Miltank’s eyes. She struggled to get away when she saw them filling with blue light, but it was already too late, as she was in the grip of his psychic power. He lifted her several feet off the ground, then used his mind to throw her diagonally upward.

 

“Miltank, use this to build up momentum for Rollout!”

 

“I’m not done, Whitney!” Olivia said, her words accompanied by a toothy grin. “Pull it down with Electroweb, Mr. Mime!”

 

Mr. Mime lashed Electroweb threads around Miltank like whips. Even though she rolled up into a ball in preparation to use Rollout again, she still got shocked and slammed into the ground.

 

“She’s improvising… I’m impressed,” Matt admired. “That was practically a Contest move in terms of being elaborate.”

 

“Do it, Miltank!” Whitney’s voice was getting increasingly raspy as her emotions burned through into her voice more and more. “Rollout!”

 

“Protect!”

 

Whitney’s last-ditch attempt at a comeback with Rollout was useless, as Miltank simply bounced off of Mr. Mime’s shield again. Her slow wobbling backward in the aftermath of her failed attack gave Olivia the chance she had been waiting for, and with wide eyes and a great smile, she seized it.

 

“Use Magical Leaf! Direct it all to the cut on Miltank’s leg!”

 

Sharp pain shot through Miltank’s body with each one of Mr. Mime’s leaves that hit her wounded leg. It quickly clouded her mind and weakened her body, eventually bringing her to her knees.

 

Whitney was speechless. With Miltank immobilized, she couldn’t order any attack – Miltank simply did not know any that it could use under the circumstances. She was completely stuck, and Whitney realized that her Pokémon was a sitting duck for Mr. Mime’s finishing move.

 

“Alright, this is over!” Olivia pointed forward at Miltank and boomed, “End this with Confusion!”

 

Once more, Mr. Mime used his psychic power to surround Miltank in blue light and lift her. This time, he lifted her nearly all the way to the roof of the Gym, then smashed her down at incredible speed.

 

With the kind of force Mr. Mime had put into his assault, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Miltank briefly stood back up after being slammed to the ground, but her bruised, battered body could simply take no more and gave out on her.

 

“M-Miltank is… unable to continue!” Monroe declared, dumbfounded by what he had seen. “Mr. Mime is the winner, and the victor is Olivia!”

 

Within seconds of Olivia’s victory, Nekou had jumped the railing and run to embrace her. Matt, Bunny and Monroe followed, but at a slower pace.

 

“I’m so fucking proud of you, Olivia!” Nekou was actually almost crying while tightly hugging Olivia. “That was all you, and it was amazing!”

 

“Aw, thanks, Nekou… it felt so good to just put all my own skill into wanting to win...”

 

“That’s right, your win is your achievement,” Whitney said, approaching the group. “There used to be a time when I would have cried after losing, but not now. I’ve learned that my job as Gym Leader is to teach young trainers like you to do exactly what you just did. And you know, I’m proud of you too. It was great fun battling you. Here you go, you’ve earned this… the Plain Badge.”

 

Matt, Nekou, Bunny and Monroe looked on as Whitney handed the Plain Badge to Olivia. Once she had it, she looked at it in her hand, almost tearing up as her emotions overwhelmed her.

 

She thought of all the years she had dreamt of moments like this in a quest to get her father back, imagining that winning Badges would increase his favor of her. She thought of her mental breakdown in Azalea Town, and finally, she thought of everything she’d gone through to get to this point, where she’d won a Badge entirely for herself on her own strength.

 

For the first time on her journey, she felt truly proud of something she’d achieved, and after looking at how proud Nekou and the others were of her, she fully felt like she belonged there with her friends.

 

-:-

 

That evening, as the sun was beginning to set, Jessie and James stood on the roof of a building across the street from the Battle Factory. They were fully dressed in their trenchcoats, accessorized with dark sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats.

 

“So there’s where they took him,” Jessie said, peering through her high-tech binoculars at the facility. “The Battle Factory… to think Polaris even controls a Frontier Society facility.”

 

“We’ll make good on our mistake,” James resolved. “Meowth, we’ll get you back, and we’ll get revenge on Polaris for what they did…”

 

-:-

 

At the same time, Looker and Silver were sitting in a small café, drinking coffee as they discussed what would come next.

 

“Silver… I am wanting you to return to the company of Matt Chiaki and the people he calls friend.”

 

“Why?” Silver growled, irritated. “I don’t want to put up with her any more than I have to.”

 

“That’s being just the exact thing. I am having to escort the prisoners Jacob Alexison and Grings Kodai back to the region of Kanto tomorrow, no matter what. Therefore, the job falls to your shoulders to observe their actions. I am having a feeling that is bad that something of great importance will soon be taking place within this city.”

 

“Fine, I guess I’ll seek them out. I’m not making any promises, though.”

 

“Good. Have remembrance – if you wish to obtain the revenge you are seeking on the Team Rocket and the man who is your father, having cooperation with me is of paramount importance.”

 

-:-

 

Late that night, long after most of Goldenrod City had gone to sleep, Giovanni and the other members of Team Rocket were still wide awake in their hideout. Everyone was present for the meeting, including Jessie, James, Proton, Rosalie, Trevor, Ada and Pierce.

 

“Where is she?!” Giovanni fumed. When he slammed his hand on the armrest of his chair, his Persian cringed next to him. “She said she’d be here!”

 

Ariana, after swallowing a gulp of coffee to wash down her medication, replied, “I’m sure she’ll be here soon. After all these years, Giovanni, you should have more faith in her.”

 

“Fine. But I don’t like how she pushes the line all the time. Tomorrow is going to be an important day… war might break out between us and Polaris, and I don’t want to even entertain the chance of a rude surprise.”

 

“I-I… I’m sure you have nothing to worry about, b-boss…” Ada whimpered. “I have faith in Lady N-Ne…”

 

Suddenly, a voice could be heard outside the door. Strangely, it was singing to itself.

 

“I’ve seen you on the beach and I’ve seen you on TV, two of a billion stars, it means so much to me…”

 

“Oh boy,” Trevor chuckled, adjusting the collar of the floral shirt that burst from beneath his uniform. “She sounds like she’s really going today.”

 

The door burst open, and the person in question walked in with great, confident strides. She slammed it shut with her foot, as her hands were busy fumbling with the music player she’d been using.

 

“Lady Nekou!” Ada exclaimed.

 

“It’s good to finally see you again too, Ada,” Nekou warmly said as her teammate jumped into her arms. As a further show of affection, Nekou kissed her on the lips before they separated.

 

“The boss isn’t happy with how late you are,” Pierce sternly informed her.

 

“Well I’m here now.” Turning to Giovanni, Nekou raised her arm and said, “Admin Nekou Langley Lalume reporting! Hail Giovanni!”

 

“Hmph, fine…” Giovanni grumbled. “Let’s get on with it.”

 

Nekou reached into her uniform and took out a memory card emblazoned with the Team Rocket logo, which she then handed to Ada. Ada in turn sat down at the bank of computers and inserted the card, causing data to fill the screens.

 

“Get around here, people!” Rosalie ordered. “This is the real thing!”

 

Once all the assembled Team Rocket members were gathered around the computers, Nekou began her explanation.

 

“This is everything I gathered during my mission,” she stated. First, a picture of Matt and relevant data to him appeared on the computers. “Matt Chiaki, grandson of archeologist Sutter Chiaki and guardian of Olivia Mistbloom. And way, way more involved in all that’s going on than he even knows.”

 

“What does that mean?” James asked.

 

“Well look who he’s the son of.” On Nekou’s cue, two more photos appeared. One was an old man with gray hair and red spectacles, while the other was a woman with blonde, helmet-shaped hair. “Charon and Fumika Chiaki, his parents. Charon Chiaki was better known as Pluto, one of the Commanders of Team Galactic, but passed away of old age three years ago. Fumika Chiaki, on the other hand… she was also a Team Galactic Commander under the name Mercury…”

 

“Mercury?!” Jessie cut in. “That’s the woman who stole Meowth! It was her!”

 

“You said someone from Polaris did it,” Proton said. “Are you really suggesting…”

 

“It could be true,” Nekou replied to the incomplete question. “We know that Polaris had moles inside Team Galactic to bring them down from within. And how do we know that? This one.” Joining the pictures on the screen was one of Cassy. “Cassy Natsuka. See, nothing looks wrong with her on the surface, and at first, she seems like just the typical possessive girlfriend. She met Matt Chiaki while they were both students at the Rustboro School, fell head over heels in love with him almost immediately. From the sound of it, she pretty much owned him for years. You know, typical possessive girlfriend shit like controlling his schedule and not letting others get too close to him. Thing is, she was also a Team Galactic member at the same time as Mercury… and I just found out that she is Séduire, one of Polaris’s Chromosomes. Her motive is to force Matt Chiaki to love her again, even though he likely never truly loved her at all.”

 

“You’re saying everything is connected through this guy you’ve been watching?” Even Ariana was becoming surprised at the way things were developing.

 

“You don’t even know all of it yet, Maman, you guys. Jessie, James, you might want to pay attention to this part. This…” A picture of the Battle Factory replaced all the others. “…is the Battle Factory, which is also Polaris’s Purine Base. I learned through audio and visual spying that its Frontier Brain, Thorton, is the Chromosome named Getriebe. And you know what? He was also in the Rustboro School at the same time as Matt and Cassy.”

 

“This is looking more and more like a bigger conspiracy than we ever expected,” Trevor mused.

 

“How do we even know we can trust this Matt Chiaki guy?” wondered Jessie.

 

“He’s the most harmless person I’ve ever seen. He could not be evil if he even tried. The thing is, he used to have an evil side that was yet another Team Galactic member. That side of him called itself Janus, and he was a scientist who worked in Team Galactic’s labs. In fact, it’s Janus’s fault that the Galactic Bomb exists. As far as I can tell, the last time Matt Chiaki relapsed into the Janus personality was five years ago during Team Galactic’s last stand. He was using a device to drain Dialga’s power, but it was shut down, resulting in his defeat. The red liquid that the power manifested as was accidentally spilled onto Olivia Mistbloom, but she seems to be healthy by all accounts despite this. I also became aware that during the extensive surgeries he had after his body was destroyed, he had Janus removed from his mind in a controversial, first-of-its-kind procedure.”

 

“So that’s what we’re dealing with…” Rosalie lowly said.

 

“Assemble,” Giovanni suddenly announced.

 

Without any dissent, the members of Team Rocket present lined up next to each other. Nekou stood with Ada and Trevor, whose uniforms were similar to hers, only that hers was mostly unbuttoned and accompanied by a short skirt, customizations made to suit her tastes.

 

“My followers, you must understand the severity of the threat Team Rocket currently faces. I ask of you, what is the primary goal of Team Rocket?”

 

“To capture the rarest and most powerful Pokémon!” Jessie instantly responded, as if it was programmed into her.

 

“We’ll assemble an army of those Pokémon and conquer the world!” James added.

 

“Correct. Polaris, however, aims to change our world in such a fundamental way that it is a threat to not only Team Rocket’s goal, but our very survival. Make no mistake, this is a war for our survival. We do not know what Polaris’s true goal is, but if they trigger a revolution, we will not be able to live in that world anymore. It’s with those stakes in mind that I give you your respective missions for tomorrow. Jessie, James, Proton, you are to attack Polaris’s speech and disrupt it, while recapturing Meowth as well. Pierce, you search for where Polaris is keeping the Meteonite so we can figure out how to capture it.”

 

“What should I do?” Nekou questioned.

 

“Continue on your observation of Matt Chiaki. Keep him from interfering in our plans.”

 

Ne