"I see that you're still holding up, Mr. Ketchum," Mr. Davis said smoothly. "Are you still willing to proceed?"
Ash nodded quickly. "Yes Mr. Davis. I have to tell it, for Cheren."
"How is he?" Mr. Davis asked. "I actually met him, several months ago, right after he became a gym leader. He's very young, probably only five or six years older than you."
Ash nodded. "Yeah. When I battled him, he said that he'd been appointed very recently. He has been burned on his arms, face, and chest. An arm and a leg were broken. He was tended by doctors and Pokémon at all hours of the day. We visited him, right after we saw the, the N outside the Pokémon center.
Cheren had been on the top floor, in a room that was soundproof and had minimal lighting, all by himself, save for a couple doctors and their Audino. I was the first one to see Cheren, and, I guess it was right after he'd gone into surgery or had his casts fixed or something, but, I didn't see much, I might have imagined the rest. Maybe not. The broken skin and bones, the scabs, the blood. One of the nurses had been helping Cheren bandage up his arm, and that was the first time I saw blood. I mean not like a cut, that's happened to me plenty of times, but real blood, blood which pools, blood which seeps from a person and clings to everything..."
Ash stopped. He shuddered, for as he looked down at his own arm, he could see Cheren's half-bandaged arm, attached to his shoulder like it was his own, blood and all. He held back his desire to wretch and to scream. Cheren would not want him to scream. Not now. Was he hospitalized, even now?
"Mr. Ketchum?" Mr. Davis asked, "are you okay?"
Ash nodded. "Yeah. It's just, hard, I guess."
Mr. Davis put a hand on his shoulder and patted it gently. "I have seen much in my day, Mr. Ketchum. I have seen many a distraught trainer. I cannot begin to empathize with you now, maybe it will never happen, but I can try. Now, tell me what you did when you talked to Cheren. Take it one step at a time."
"Well," Ash began slowly, "we all crowded around his bed and started asking questions."
He chuckled. "Rude I know but we were all anxious, in regards to his welfare. He looked pale and was connected to tons of monitors. But he still spoke. He had waved his free hand weakly to hush us. "Calm down," he'd said to us firmly. "Tell me what you saw. Then I'll tell you what happened. Just, please, one at a time, and quietly. They've been treating my head too." Cheren had touched some bandages on the back of his head. I had asked myself, he'd been injured there too?
"We, Iris and I, actually told Cheren about N," Cilan began where Ash left off, "and Cheren was surprised, to put it mildly. He actually didn't seem surprised for long though, just sad that it happened. "He's something," Cheren had said as Iris and I finished up, Ash adding in whatever ingredients we had forgotten in our little confection. "So he's targeting good trainers, then?" he had asked Iris.
"I'd been really confused when he'd asked me that," Iris admitted, laughing. "Targeting good trainers?" I had asked.
Cheren had explained: "Ash: finalist at seven Pokémon League tournaments. You, Cilan, and I: gym leaders. And the trainer you met: Touya, co-champion of Unova. Don't you see? He wants all the esteemed trainers to submit, as an example to those of a weaker cast of mind. And I realize that he's already succeeded, in me, and Touya."
Ash and Cilan and me, we had agreed. "It makes sense," I'd said to him, "but what about his wanting to free Pokémon?"
Cheren had smiled wryly. "Well, you haven't seen it all yet, but this Pokémon center has no more Pokéballs, empty or full. N, he had destroyed the empty ones, and the filled ones too, after releasing all the Pokémon. I tried to stop him, so did Touya, and all the other trainers in the city, but N, he was too powerful. He told our Pokémon that we were not meant to be partners. We were not, cruel people, just misguided in thinking we could control them. We were not, meant, to have Pokémon. It would be better for them, to be free."
Iris sighed. "Cheren had asked for a cloth to wipe his eyes with. "He freed all the Pokémon at the trainer's school, the ones we had worked so hard to train. I had tried to protest, but he'd stopped me. "You are the epitome of Pokémon bondage... the extraneous solutions in the harmonious equations which govern all these Pokémon's lives," he had told me. "You have no business tampering with their existence any longer."
Cheren had touched his belt. "He had wrenched my Pokéballs from my belt, with his own--no, not with his own hands. He had pointed at them, and they had flown to him. I tried to grab them, but they flew high above my head. He had smiled at my shock. "Do you not see, Cheren? I have become a composite function, bearing the characteristics of man and Pokémon. What chance have you against me?"
Iris laughed harshly. "And I still remember Cheren's harsh laugh. "Oh how stupid I was, to fight him! My passion overtook my reasoning." He had said sadly. "I had tried to tackle him to the ground. Yes, in my foolishness, believing that I could fell him with just a physical attack, N had anticipated my gesture and used Telekinesis on me, throwing me into the air. He had used Bind too, pinning my arms to my sides so I couldn't protect myself. He'd slammed me against the ground once. "You know now how futile it is to alter my formulas, do you not?" he had asked, calmly, almost mockingly, no, not that. He was very friendly to me, almost playful. He brought me up in the air a second time, his hands gesturing in patterns, conjuring flames and lightning with the ease of my own Pokémon, like how they had done. A Thunderbolt to my leg, then a Flamethrower to my arm, then a Focus Blast to my back, and N did it like it was nothing, which it basically was. It was as easy for him to break my arm with Air Cutter as it is for all of us here to breathe. I had tried not to cry out in pain.
"You will forever regret your attempts to insert your values into my equations, Cheren," N had said as he brought me down onto the ground a second time, slamming me against the dirt right in front of the Pokémon center, where the whole town was gathered. Where they could all see.
"No," I had breathed between clenched teeth. "You can't, free them. There are, too many trainers, in this world."
N had raised his hands above his head, about to send me upward a third time, but he had hesitated. He had stepped close to me and looked down at me. I hadn't realized until then that he was quite the specimen: six feet tall, lean, muscled frame, dexterous hands, and those keen green eyes, watching my every movement, waiting for the chance to strike me down. "I assure you Cheren, that you will not forget this day. You will regret all you have done to your "friends". You will regret ever meeting Ash Ketchum, that blasted trainer who calls himself a friend to all Pokémon. Remember, _I am one of them. And I will free them!"
With this, N had sent me soaring high in the air, summersaulting and spinning until all I saw was a haze. A green haze.
"You will not forget my name!" This was N's utterance as he sent me skyward.
A lurch as N moved me higher, possibly fifty feet in the air.
A second mental tug as he jerked me upward again, so that I was about sixty feet above the ground, and just above Touya."
He had turned to the pensive trainer who stood by the head of Cheren's bed. "But you couldn't have saved me, not if you tried with all your might. You couldn't have resisted him. I tried to. And look at me."
With N's last shout, he had sent me hurtling toward the ground. In spite of myself, I had screamed as I saw the ground rush up to meet me. The last objects I saw were Touya's eyes on mine, N standing beside him, and green. The green of his hair, which fell below his waist, and his piercing eyes on mine as I impacted."
Iris stopped. "Ash knows this, but I, wanted to tell it. I see how he's uncomfortable, and Cilan too," she gulped, "and I wanted to do my part."
Iris shuddered, cowering back from an invisible foe, not knowing that he stood only a few feet away, searching her and his other friends' faces with those same attentive green eyes...
"Thanks." Ash told Iris shortly, with a quick nod from Iris. "Well, after Cheren told us this, we were all very frightened. Actually, everyone except Looker and Cedric Juniper. "You should tell the world this Cheren!" Looker had said eagerly. "The International Police, they would be interested in this case."
"They could help us," Cedric Juniper had said, "at least I hope so."
Of course we were all annoyed at his second-guessing. But I guess we were annoyed because we didn't have the guts to admit it out loud. "He's very powerful. But there are many of us, and only one of him. Our only advantage is that of numbers."
"What do you propose we do, Professor?" Cheren had asked.
"Didn't you hear Looker just say that you should tell the world? You should get on TV. Everyone will see what's happened."
"And I liked that idea," Ash added. "But I'd said to everyone, "We've gotta do it right. We have to look credible. People have disbelieved us before. They will still do so now. We have to get help."
"Can't we go to Verbank City?" Cilan had asked."
"Yeah!" I had said. "Lucus, and his films! He'd know what to do!"
"And Burg!" Cheren exclaimed, sitting up in bed. "And his art. He could photograph us, and, outside." Cheren gestured vaguely.
"And Professor Juniper, I mean, Aurea Juniper, she could speak!" Cilan had suggested.
"What are we waiting for?" Cheren had asked, without giving us time to reply. "Let's write up some ideas and get to work. We don't have much time."