The chill of dusk was quickly approaching. What was left of the sun was hidden behind a thick layer of clouds, creating a cool blanket of grey completely covering the sky. A shrill breeze blew through the foggy air, causing Calem to clutch his shoulders in attempt to keep warm.
"Couldn't you have picked a warmer costume for us? Aren't you cold?" Calem cursed his ridiculous "tourist" outfit that his dear rival picked out for him. It seemed fun when she proposed the idea, but now the Bermuda shorts, sandals, and visor were hardly appropriate for the overcast sky and misty atmosphere. He looked at the young lady standing next to him clad in her own matching tourist costume, her face beaming in excitement and radiating enthusiasm.
"No, I'm fine! I'm too excited to be cold." Serena spoke without breaking her smile, which earned a small grin from him as well. They walked side by side to the former Lost Hotel where the Elite Four's Halloween party would take place. The route surrounding the underground "hotel" was ominous enough to make Calem feel uneasy. Why they chose such a run-down, isolated location for a supposedly festive party was beyond him.
"After you," he said as they passed the ruins and reached the entryway staircase that seemed to lead to nowhere. Serena was nothing but smiles as her feet crunched against the polychromous fallen leaves and she skipped down the stairs.
What awaited them at the bottom of the staircase made Calem gasp in awe.
"What do you think?" Serena intently watched the young man's expression upon entering. His eyes grew wide and his jaw hung slightly agape. The walls had been plastered and recovered in a beautiful deep red wallpaper with golden trim. The floors were completely retiled so that they shined beneath the warmly-lit chandeliers and Halloween pumpkin paper lanterns strung throughout the halls.
"I suggested we have the party here this year, because isn't it a perfect location to set the mood for the spirit of Halloween? The elites agreed as long as we had the place fixed up a bit. I wanted to see your reaction to the new Lost Hotel." Serena still watched her rival carefully.
"Wow...It's really great!" His eyes tried to take in the entirety of the entry hallway. He couldn't stop admiring the new beauty of the place that still captured the vintage datedness of the landmark. "But what about the kids who hung out down here? Weren't they mad that you um... fixed their hangout?"
"They were actually fine with it, as long as we leave the place to them throughout the rest of the year," she chuckled a bit, happy that he seemed to approve. "So let's go see who's already here!"
She beckoned him to follow her down the long, dim hall, leading to the central room - the heart of the party. His eyes followed along the intricate patterns and unidentifiable shapes of the scarlet wallpaper as he followed Serena. The longer he stared, he swore he saw a face or two in the convoluted patterns. He shook his head and continued walking forward with the young champion. No matter how much renovation they did, he decided the place would always be a little unnerving.
"Champion Serena!" A brash, husky voice greeted the young lady as she and Calem entered the central room. "It is such an honor to meet you. I'm Alder, the former champion of the Unova region. And you must be one of her friends who helped dismantle Team Flare." The tall man said, directing at Calem.
"Yes, sir. It's an honor to meet you too," Calem extended his hand to shake Alder's, whose hand was much, much larger.
"You came all the way from Unova for tonight?" Serena asked in amazement as she shook the man's hand as well.
"Not just me. Gym leaders and league heads came from all over for tonight. The current Unova champion is here, too."
"Wow," she gasped at the thought of being surrounded by so many powerful trainers. "Thank you so much for traveling all this way! I hope you enjoy the party!"
The former champion wished the two a happy Halloween before disappearing into the crowd of partygoers.
"Do you realize how many important people are here tonight? I can't believe this! It's like being surrounded by celebrities!" Her fists clenched in excitement and her smile grew wide.
"You realize that you are one of those 'celebrities,' right? You're higher than anything gym leader or elite four. You're a champion." Calem calmly looked down as he spoke. His low voice barely audible over the chatter and music.
"I guess. But you know you are just as important." She smiled sweetly at her friend and linked her arm in his. "Shall we meet our fellow important people?"
Her bold physical contact gave him a slight jolt of chills, reminding him once again, how inappropriately he was dressed for the weather. But this time, the chills felt more pleasant.
"Absolutely." He returned her smile with a soft grin of his own.
"Serena!" She jerked her arm away at the sound of a man's voice quickly approaching them, clearly out of breath from running.
"Siebold? Is everything okay?"
"Terribly sorry to interrupt your evening Madam," he paused to catch his breath, "but we seem to be quickly running out of punch. Could you be a dear and get more from the supply closet in the back? I would do it myself, but I simply must tend to the guests. Not naming any names, but certain bug-type gym leaders from Unova can be real divas if kept waiting."
"No problem. I'll take care of it." She said happily.
"You're the greatest. Thank you!" He replied gratefully before rushing away. Neither of them had a chance to notice his chef costume that was just a tad too short to be appropriate kitchen apparel until after he left.
"Wanna come with me?" Serena asked Calem, hoping he would give her company.
"Why not." He shrugged casually.
"Great! But stay close. You never know what could be waiting down these dark, spooky halls." She imitated her best, corny ghost voice with cheesy hand motions to match, successfully earning a laugh from Calem which he attempted to hide.
"Suuure, whatever you say."
After passing through a few doors heading away from the central party room, it was obvious where the renovations had stopped. The clean wallpaper reverted back to the torn, stained walls that Calem remembered so well. The floorboards in the older part of the "hotel" creaked a little too much for comfort, and the lack of lighting didn't help. The two had been walking for at least twenty minutes, trying to find the room of supplies.
"Serena, are you sure you know where you're going? I swear we've passed through this same room at least three times."
"Yes, I'm sure! I helped renovate the place, of course I know my way around. Still," her voice trailed off as she bit her lower lip, "we didn't do much work back here. And this place shouldn't be this big at all."
"So we're lost?" Annoyance and slight worry were evident in his voice.
"No, we are not lost!" Her voice raised stubbornly. "If you're scared, we can just find our way back and ask someone else."
"Really Serena?" He cocked an eyebrow, not that she could have seen. It was much too dark. "I'm not scared. But clearly you don't know where you're going!"
"I do too! Now stop being a scaredy Espurr and help me find the damn supply closet."
"I am not scared!"
Within nanoseconds of declaring his bravery, the single light in the room flickered loudly. Loudly enough to emit a strong buzzing sound. But not loud enough to hide Calem's gasp.
"Not scared huh?" Serena looked into her rival's eyes, which were round and wide, reflecting the small amount of light that had just entered the room.
"It just startled me." Letting out one, two, three long breaths, he attempted to regain his composure. This was difficult considering how warm he suddenly felt. He swore his face became a tomato when he realized she was giggling at him.
Before they had a chance to start walking again, Calem caught the faint sight of someone standing behind Serena further down the hall. A young woman clad in a tattered white gown and skin pale as snow stared him right in his eyes. She appeared very sickly. Calem shivered as the woman gave him a crooked grin.
"Who is that?" He whispered, using his eyes to point.
"Who is who?" Serena turned around to see who he was gawking at.
And in the blink of an eye, the ghastly woman had vanished, leaving not a single trace behind.
"Wha - did you see that?!" He stammered and pointed down the hall where he just witnessed a person vanish before his eyes.
"Someone was there! And she disappeared!"
"Oh brother." Serena scoffed. "Let's just keep looking for the closet okay? This place is not that big. We must be close."
"I'm serious, there was a girl!"
"No one is there! Seriously, I would have heard. Now please, come on!"
He knew he couldn't appear weak in front of his rival of all people. Whoever, or whatever that girl was, she was gone now. Perhaps she was just a partygoer who got lost. She probably just walks really fast. Yeah. He decided he would ignore whatever he thought, or rather knew, he saw.
Five minutes turned to ten, which turned to another fifteen. The two checked door after door entering room after room. Neither cared to admit it, but they could both tell the further into the hotel they ventured, the darker it seemed to become. He even noticed she would occasionally clutch onto the sleeve of his shirt which only made him flinch more. The only sounds to be heard were their footsteps and the relentless creaking of the tiles beneath them. They were completely alone. That is, if Calem ignored the undeniable sensation that they were being watched.
Finally they reached the end of yet another hallway with a single door.
"Check this door. If it's not this one, then I have no idea where to look next. I swear we've been through this entire Arceus-forsaken building multiple times." She requested, releasing his sleeve from her deathly-tight grasp.
Everything in his body told him that something seemed off about whatever awaited behind that final door. Be it a dark aura or simply a bad hunch, there was something telling him to turn around and leave it alone. But how could he tell Serena?
He took a couple steps forward. Creak. Creak. The door grew closer. Creak. Creak. Creak. It was within his reach, but every single step felt like a mile. Calem you're being ridiculous. Just open the door. Creeeeak.
Ignoring all his bad feelings, he took a deep breath and turned the doorknob.
And that is when hell broke loose.
"C'EST QUOI CE - AAAAAAAH!"
Shrieks of horror must have been heard throughout the entire building. He wasn't sure what - but something ravenously lunged from the closet and attacked him. He felt its bones. It's cold, fleshless bones. It knocked him to the ground, leaving him unsuccessfully trying to wrestle his way to dominance.
He screamed - screamed in terror, screamed in fear of what would happen to him,
screamed for Serena to run away, screamed like his life depended on it.
"Calem . . . It's an extra toy skeleton we bought from the discount store as decoration. It's even glowing in the dark. Seriously, get up."
"Quoi…" He panted heavily, still sweating nervously. Taking a moment to let her words sink in, he felt the cheap, cold plastic lying limply against his skin. Once his senses returned, he realized it hadn't attacked him at all. It just fell out when he opened the door.
"But hey, looks like we finally found the supply closet with all the utensils and the punch," Serena stated bluntly, "good job." Oh, how badly she wanted to burst out in the most obnoxious fit of laughter she's ever thrown.
Being lost for words didn't begin to describe the state Calem was in. Now, more than ever before, he wanted to hide and never be found. It was true. He was a "scaredy Espurr" as the undaunted young woman next to him put it.
Using the cheap glow of the skeleton, he could see that she offered him her hand to help him stand. He obligingly accepted her offer, but not before throwing the plastic monstrosity as far away as he could.
"Thanks…" he mumbled. He didn't even notice that she hadn't released his hand right away. Instead she gave it a gently reassuring squeeze. She had her fun with her rival, but she respected him enough to not rub it in his face.
"Let's find our way back, okay?" The jug of punch in one hand, and the young man's hand in the other, she led the way back down the dreaded hallway they had come through, mentally preparing for another thirty minutes of looking for the way back.
Only to find the central room behind the very first door they opened.
"What the hell?!" They must have said in near unison. People were chatting, mingling, some even dancing.
"That's impossible! It took us at least half an hour to find the damn closet but we got back in less than three minutes?!" Anger and utter confusion swirled throughout Serena's head. "Was I that bad with remembering the place?"
"At least we're back at the party. Let's just try to enjoy it, all right?" Calem's entire body was overtaken with relief. She found his optimism rather refreshing and the corners of her mouth turned upwards.
"Goodness Serena!" Siebold seemed to appear out of nowhere once again.
"Siebold! I'm so sorry I took so long! I don't even kn-"
"If I knew you two would sneak off and do Arceus knows what for so long I would have gotten the punch myself!" There was much more sass and teasing in his tone than anger.
"What?! We didn't- I mean, you think that- what?!" Stammering like a train wreck and blinking a thousand times per second, her skin became fire and her heart a rapidly pounding drum.
"Monsieur it's really not like that…" Calem tried to intervene, but he wasn't in much better condition.
The elite four member simply rolled his eyes and chuckled as he took the punch bottle from Serena's limp hands and took his leave.
"That's insane. Where would he get an idea like that?" The young man tried his very best to sound humorous. Unfortunately, it came out as an awkward mumble.
To make matters worse, the fact that his hand was too occupied to awkwardly scratch the back of his neck reminded him that he was still holding Serena's hand. Needless to say, he pulled away immediately.
"Tonight was weird." Serena sighed.
"Little bit." He replied through clenched teeth.
Unfortunately, the universe decided it had not been weird enough, for without warning, everything went completely black.
Confused mumbles roared throughout the party as the music cut out along with the lights.
"What happened?" "Is it a blackout?" "Anyone have a flashlight?"
"Putain, what now?" Stomping in a near tantrum, Calem was becoming thoroughly tired of the party.
"It's okay - I'm sure the power will come back any minute." Serena reassured. Really, she just wanted to keep him calm. He'd been frightened enough for one night.
All eyes gathered at one focal point when a single light turned back on - a light on the balcony overlooking the central room.
And under the light stood a dark-haired woman, skin bereft of any color, wearing a tattered white gown.
"That's . . ." Calem's eyes become wide oceans at the sight. Without a doubt, she was the woman from the hallway who seemed to have vanished.
With trembling, clenched fists and a furious scowl emphasizing the slight creases on her forehead, the woman's coal black eyes scanned the throughout the sea of people.
"You . . ." She moved forward, without appearing to take any steps. "You will pay." Words like poison dripped from her teeth.
She vanished from the balcony and reappeared on the first floor - just feet away from the crowd. Vocalized gasps echoed throughout the room. Many backed away. Trainers reached for their Poké balls, prepared to attack.
But they were met with pure horror to realize their balls were gone.
"Whoever you are, you need to leave, immediately!" Diantha ordered, emerging from the crowd.
The woman was entirely unfazed by Diantha's threats. Instead, she moved towards the current Kalos champion and her rival, eyes traveling back and forth between the two intensely.
"You did this to me . . ." She hissed.
"What are you talking about… What do you want?!" Calem answered more aggressively than he thought he could. He instinctually attempted to shield his rival, who appeared completely frozen at the spectacle.
"You ruined everything. . ." Growling this time, she continued to approach them, allowing them both to notice her nails were long and claw-like.
A man wearing a vampire costume with dark hair and a sinfully handsome face briskly approached the woman.
"It's time for you to go," he reached for the woman's arm, attempting to gain control of her and escort her out.
But he gasped when she disappeared upon contact with her skin.
And reappeared behind him, angrier than ever.
"What the hell . . ."
"Grimsley, get out of there! You too, kids!" A woman's voice shrieked from the crowd.
The strange woman glared at Grimsley. A growl settled in the back of her throat which, after a few seconds, escalated and erupted into a fearsome roar.
At that moment, everything visible seemed to disappear behind a dense layer of fog.
Calem reached for his rival's hand once more, which she readily took. She stood as close to him as possible. For the first time all night, she was terrified. After all, without their Pokémon, they were both just human.
Serena's eyes were round as could be as the fog cleared after a few long seconds. Her heart beat faster than it had in her entire life. She wanted to run. She had to get herself and her friends out of the hotel.
But they were no longer in the hotel. The fog cleared to reveal tall, green trees that surrounded the mass. A mixture of twigs and dirt lied beneath their feet. Panic roared among the crowd, all unsure of what to do or what would happen.
Those who had enough courage to run were promptly stopped. Vines emerged from the forest of trees, some blocking the path, some binding the legs of the attempted runaways.
"Mommy help!" "What is this thing?!" Several voices cried out. Eyes like fire opened among the trees, evoking further terror on those close enough to see.
"They're Trevenant!" "Why does nobody have Poké balls?" "Somebody do something!"
So many powerful trainers in one room. And yet, nobody was able to do anything.
Calem looked the strange woman in her dull, lifeless eyes, which seemed to still be focused on him. Confusion and terror threatened to overpower him. But he had to do something to protect himself and the partygoers; but most importantly, to protect Serena.
"Why are you doing this?!" All the willpower in the world couldn't have stopped his voice from trembling at least a little.
"You ruined my life." Her grimace grew deeper.
"I didn't do anything to you!"
"Not you!" She sneered. "Her!"
Calem followed her eyes, which burned straight through to Serena. Upon hearing these words, her heart skipped a beat. What did I do? Is she gonna try to kill me?!
"You little wench . . . you will pay." Normally Serena wouldn't hesitate to put such a rude human in her place. However, she was absolutely petrified at the moment, and she knew whatever this woman was, she was certainly not human. Her monotonous tone made Serena flinch. What's gonna happen? Can't I do anything? Calem would never consider Serena a girl who needs protecting, but he did his very best to shield her from the monster in front of them.
"Thank you . . . for the battle." The woman murmured through clenched teeth as if she were reciting a famous quote. A sudden memory flashed into Serena's mind.
"You're that girl with the Phantump . . ." Serena mumbled from behind Calem's shoulder.
The heinous woman deadpanned at her words. In a single heartbeat, Serena found herself standing on Route 16. She blinked in stupor few times, looking around for anyone else in sight.
She saw a young brunette woman with passionate hazel eyes and a beautiful white dress standing amidst a pile of brown and yellow leaves.
"You . . . What is going on?" Serena muttered. But the brunette did not seem to hear, or even see Serena.
The champion noticed movement in the distance - someone was walking down the pathway towards her.
Her lips parted in surprise when she realized it was herself.
"Phantump, look! It's a trainer! Are you ready for our first battle as partners?" The young woman with full, rosy cheeks gave Serena a feisty smile full of excitement.
The Phantump yipped enthusiastically as it got into battle position.
"Trainer, we challenge you to a battle!" She yelled in declaration. Serena smiled at the young trainer's zeal.
"Blastoise, go easy, okay?" Serena whispered into her partner's Poké ball before agreeing to battle.
Needless to say, one attack of surf was enough to make the foe's Phantump faint.
"You guys battled really well! With enough training, you can become very strong!" Serena smiled, wanting to give the new trainer hope for the future.
However, the young brunette frowned at her fainted Pokémon as she picked it up in her arms.
"Thanks for the battle," the girl said monotonously before running off towards Laverre Town.
Serena watched the scene intently, remembering this past battle very well. She saw her former self return Blastoise to its Poké ball and continue down the road to the next town.
After a few minutes of hesitation, present Serena, still physically trapped in the illusion of the memory, decided to follow the brunette opponent.
But she gasped when she found the woman cornered by a giant, manic Drapion. It released a furious roar as it charged in attack.
"No . . . that's Cross Poison! Get away from there!" Serena screamed, but to no avail. The woman could not hear her.
Everything happened so fast. Serena stood in absolute horror, unable to watch.
"Phantump, are you okay? S-say something . . . please." A frail, yet hysterical voice coerced Serena to fallen woman's leg bled profusely, staining the leaves around her a brilliant shade of red. She was too weak from poison to cry.
"Arceus, no . . ." Serena ran to the woman and tried to help her up, but her hand went right through the girl. "No, no, no, no, no!" Tears streamed from Serena's eyes. There was nothing she could do to save the girl.
She closed her eyes as tightly as she could, trying to unsee the horrific sight and blink away the burning tears in her eyes
However, the next time she opened her eyes, she was greeted with the furious scowl of the apparition of the brunette trainer once again. The horrific illusion was over, and she had returned to reality which was just as horrid.
"Serena, what's wrong?" Calem questioned, worry evident in his entire demeanor.
"You blame me for your death, don't you?" She faintly directed at the woman. " You think if I hadn't defeated your Phantump," Serena paused to swallow the lump in her throat, "then the Drapion wouldn't have killed you and your Pokémon."
There was no response from the woman. Her lifeless eyes continued to burn straight through Serena and her grimace grew deeper than ever.
"I'm truly, deeply sorry for what happened to you," the champion pleaded, "but please, leave everyone else alone! They didn't do anything!"
"Enough!" The woman finally screeched, and suddenly lunged at the two young trainers, claws and teeth bared and ready to kill.
Reflex triumphed over any logical thought. The young man brought his friend into his arms, protecting as much of her body as he could. His hand embraced her head tightly as they both cringed, waiting for whatever was about to happen to them.
The crowd was silent. Frozen. Terrified.
A few seconds passed. Then a few more.
They felt nothing.
But they did hear laughter. Laughter from the woman herself.
The two trainers peaked through squinted eyes, hearts still racing fast enough to pound in their ears.
The woman stood a foot away from them, covering her chapped lips with her hand, small giggles breaking out into hysterical laughter.
Every eye in the room was on her, and every brow wrinkled in confusion.
They kept watching as the pale woman began to glow an ominous shade of black that enveloped her entire body.
Murmurs of confusion rang throughout the crowd once again. Claws emerged from the figure shrouded in black, as did the creature's razor-sharp teeth, and a long, red, bushy mane.
Fog covered the entire forest once again, but quickly faded away.
They found themselves standing back in the central room of the Lost Hotel. The proper lights had returned to the building that had blacked out just before the debacle, which allowed everyone to gawk at the star of the party.
In the center of the room stood no other than a snickering Zoroark, clearly enjoying the best prank of its life.
"W-wh…" The honey blonde woman was at a loss for words. Just seconds ago, she was genuinely preparing herself to die. And now, well, she didn't know what to feel.
"Are you freaking kidding me?!" Grimsley growled. He looked at his belt - where he saw all six of his regular Poké balls.
Other trainers found their balls returned to their normal place as well. A couple nervous chuckles were heard, as were a few sighs of relief, along with a few utterances of the phrase "worst party ever."
"So . . . this whole thing was . . ." Calem whispered through weak lips.
"Zoroark!" A man's angry voice emerged from the party of people. "What were you thinking?"
The Zoroark paused its chuckling to listen to its master, although a wide smile lingered on its devious face
"You scared these people to death! And someone could have gotten hurt!" The sea of people parted for the young man with long, green hair approaching the Zoroark.
The Zoroark barked at the tall man, still not losing its mischievous smile. N stared at the dark Pokémon attentively as it communicated, making many individuals tilt their heads in perplexity.
"What do you mean, 'you didn't cause any trouble?' Yes, you did. You scared these people who just wanted to have a good time." N sighed. True, he was all too used to his best friend's shenanigans by now, but that certainly didn't mean he had expected it. "Now I think you owe everyone an apology."
Zoroark rolled its eyes and groaned sarcastically, saying something that clearly only N understood. However, judging by its snickering, it still didn't seem to express any sincere shame.
"Um, everyone. He says he's sorry. He just wanted you to all remember tonight and have fun, but clearly he got carried away." N paused for a moment, attempting to glare at Zoroark with intimidation, but it didn't seem to faze the Pokémon at all. "I am also deeply sorry for the trouble my friend has caused." N awkwardly tipped his head to the crowd, perfectly aware of the dirty looks and hostility the entire party felt towards the two of them. He slipped through the myriad of people and met up with a beautiful blue-eyed woman. Serena saw the green-haired man kiss the girl's forehead and ask if she was all right. She rolled her eyes and said something inaudible in response, but she rightfully seemed rather annoyed.
"Wait," Calem said through a cracking voice, "so you were the ghost girl this whole time?"
Zoroark nodded proudly.
"And you created the illusion of the forest, and showed me the memory of that girl?" Serena asked.
He nodded again.
"I suppose you also messed with the hallways and made us get lost. And did you create an illusion to make everyone's Poké balls disappear too?" Calem continued.
After a short burst of snickering, the Zoroark gave a final nod and a boastful bark before attempting to take its leave.
"Wait!" Serena called, "that girl . . . she didn't actually die, right?"
For the first time, Zoroark took a moment to ponder the question, but it ultimately shook its head "no" and gave a friendly smile before scurrying away into the crowd to reunite with its green-haired trainer.
"I guess he made that part up. What a handful that Pokémon must be." Serena laughed softly.
Calem released a heavy sigh. All the fear and terror of the night escaped with that single breath. He looked down at the woman in his arms . . . In his arms?
Damn. The young man released his friend from his tight grasp and awkwardly coughed, doing whatever it took to avoid eye contact for the moment.
"Thank you." His head turned to hear the soft, melodic voice of the girl next to him.
"You were trying to protect me from Zoroark." She smiled sweetly as a rosy color swept over her cheeks. "I guess you're not a total scaredy Espurr."
Calem forced out a nervous laugh as he blushed at her words.
"No, you were right. Maybe I get scared easily, and maybe you are braver than me," he stated shamelessly, "but that time, I had something important to protect."
"Wh-what's that? Your masculinity?" Doing everything she could to ignore the sudden throbbing in her heart, she nervously giggled at her own jab at his pride.
"Sure. Let's go with that." He looked away once again, noticing the party had resumed without them. Dance music was playing loudly as people chattered away joyfully.
Serena rolled her eyes and jokingly scoffed. Without even caring anymore, she rested her head on her tall friend's shoulder.
"Wanna get out of here? I think the 'Dreamyard Nightmare' trilogy marathon is on cable tonight." She asked, thoroughly exhausted from the evening's ordeals. Zoroark was right about one thing; nobody would forget this night.
"Gladly." He sighed happily, grateful that Serena's costume visor would block her view of his reddening face.
The two stealthily exited the way they came in as a sudden gust of shrill wind greeted them from the outside once again. Stars now shined beautifully overhead and their fingers ever so slightly grazed each others' as they walked. The musical cries of Kricketune and Noctowl harmonized so beautifully, they completely masked the chirps of a lone Phantump lurking in the shadows alongside its scowling, pale-skinned trainer.