Content warnings: This is a horror one-shot. It contains Pokémon battle violence but no blood or gore; however, it has psychologically unsettling and occult themes.
CurseWind rushed through Kari’s hair as she clung to Dragonite’s neck, her stomach fluttering in exhilaration as they descended towards the plateau. This was it: the site of the Indigo League. After a long, arduous journey of narrow victories, shameful losses, and eventually earning all eight Johto gym badges through blood, sweat and tears, they were finally here — and with Dragonite by her side, nothing could stop them from being crowned champions this year.
“You tired?” she called to her partner. The Pokémon grinned and took a playful dive by way of answer, and she chuckled even as her stomach took a lurch at the unexpected movement. “Thought not. I was thinking we should find a trainer for a short practice match, just to see where we stand compared to the other people here. What do you say?”
“I’m in,” replied the dragon. He took another swoop downwards, energized at the thought of a battle. Kari smiled to herself. She’d always figured that even if she hadn’t been interested, he would’ve dragged her out to be a trainer anyway; he could never stand being idle back home.
Dragonite skillfully pulled into a low, lazy hover over the general area, and Kari peered down at the trainers, trying to pick out a suitable opponent. She ignored those that were just squabbling with one another with no Pokémon in sight; if they came all the way here only to spend their time talking instead of training, they were probably casuals, likely in the weaker half. Some were battling against each other, but if she just landed next to a battle and watched until it was over, they might assume she was sneakily trying to get a peek at their battle styles and Pokémon for the tournament. Others, though, were discussing strategies or practicing moves alone with their Pokémon. She focused on this last group for now.
“That guy,” she said at last. “Blond, ten o’clock. With the Scizor. Let’s see if he’s any good.”
Her Pokémon nodded and approached the trainer she’d indicated, landing a safe distance away; they’d learned it tended to startle people when a large Pokémon descended right into their space. The boy’s Scizor was expertly smashing a rock into pieces with its metallic claws, paying them no notice as its trainer gave it some inaudible directions.
Kari slid off Dragonite’s back. The trainer turned to her as the two of them walked towards him.
“Hey,” she called, raising a hand in greeting. “I just got here and I want an idea of where we stand. Quick one-on-one? Your strongest against my strongest?” She pointed a thumb over her shoulder to indicate Dragonite while she quickly sized her opponent up. He was on the short side, skinny and pale and sickly-looking, but his eyes sparkled with the same confidence she’d seen in his posture that’d made her pick him. His Scizor looked up at her as the boy cocked his head slightly, the Pokémon’s face blank.
“A Dragonite?” he asked. “Impressive. Where’d you get it?”
Kari grinned. “My grandpa’s one of the elders of the Dragon’s Den in Blackthorn City. We basically grew up together since he was freshly hatched and I was a toddler. What have you got to match him? Scizor?”
The boy fingered one of the Pokéballs at his belt slowly as he glanced at the bug Pokémon. “Oh, no,” he replied. “Scizor’s not my strongest. That’s why it needed the training.” He turned his gaze back towards her and smiled. The Scizor didn’t react, standing still where it was. “Okay, you’re on. One on one.”
Dragonite stepped in front of Kari, giving her a quick nod and a grin before he turned to face his opponent. The other trainer detached the ball he’d been fiddling with from his belt, turned it over in his palm a few times, and then called, “Snorlax, go!”
Kari raised her eyebrows as the Pokéball he threw released a huge blob of white light. She’d assumed the kid was pretty good, sure, but not a lot of people had Snorlax, plus that it just didn’t seem to fit such a small, skinny trainer. But although it was unexpected, it didn’t pose a problem for Dragonite; he stood tall and unwavering as the light took the shape of the Snorlax’s enormous, round belly and two stubby feet, and Kari didn’t doubt that he could win.
“Okay, Dragonite, let’s start off this battle with a Safeguard,” she said, studying the other trainer’s face as she gave the order. He still seemed calm, confident, self-assured. She wondered idly how long that would last.
Dragonite took off from the ground and formed a protective sphere around himself as he watched the other Pokémon closely. Kari couldn’t see the Snorlax’s head, but she could hear its heavy, deep voice mumbling as if in its sleep. Curse – wasn’t that the move Morty’s Ghost Pokémon had used? She cringed at the memory; Dratini had been brought down by that move both times she’d challenged Morty, his strength drained out in the space of minutes.
She could see in his eyes that he was anticipating the same now, but he wasn’t shuddering and shivering like he had then – in fact, a quick glance and a nod confirmed he didn’t feel any adverse effects at all. The Safeguard must have blocked it, then…?
“Dragonite, Outrage,” she said warily, watching the boy. What gave her pause was that he didn’t look like someone whose move had just failed. Poker face? Or was she missing something?
“Curse again,” the trainer ordered, and Kari looked sharply up at Dragonite in alarm as his body began to flare with blue flames. She was definitely missing something. No way was this guy stupid enough to just retry a move that’d been blocked by a still-active Safeguard.
“Wait, Dragonite,” she began, but at this point he couldn’t hear or understand her, his face already contorted with artificial rage. He took a swooping dive toward the Snorlax and smashed his body into its gigantic belly, which gave way like a trampoline and sent him bouncing back into the air. The Snorlax continued to mumble as if it hadn’t noticed the attack at all.
Dragonite was still showing no signs of being harmed by the Curse attack, however, and as soon as he regained control of his flight, he swooped down again in a more precisely aimed attack at the Snorlax’s head. This time there was a reaction, a dull grunt just as the dragon struck, but no more, and as Dragonite pulled back up, the trainer gave yet another order:
“One more Curse!”
It still wasn’t affecting Dragonite at all from the looks of it; then it had to be affecting Snorlax itself, one way or another, if the boy kept using it. And given it was shrugging off powerful attacks so easily, it must be boosting its defensive abilities somehow. She was lost as to how the same move could be doing this now and something completely different when Morty had used it, but nothing else made any sense. And that meant that the best they could do was try to use moves that bypassed it.
“Dragonite,” she called as her Pokémon smashed himself into Snorlax and the dragon flames began to fade from his body, “use a Dragon Rage!”
It took him a moment to reorient himself after the Outrage, but the Safeguard successfully warded off the worst of it. As Snorlax began to mumble for the third time, Dragonite took a deep breath and expelled it in a blast of blue-green fire that enveloped the Normal-type’s body for a few tense seconds. Kari heard the Snorlax groan in the middle of it and grinned triumphantly as she looked back at the boy, daring him to come up with a counterstrategy.
“Snorlax, Body Slam.”
Nothing at all happened for a few seconds; Kari seized the opportunity to shout, “Another Dragon Rage!”
As Dragonite prepared to repeat his previous attack, Snorlax’s arms reached slowly forward on either side of its body. With a heave of effort, it managed to prop itself into a sitting position, allowing Kari to finally see its expressionless face just before it was hit with a second round of dragon fire. It grunted again, but in an aloof way, as if only barely aware of being hit. Then it leaned forward, somehow got its legs under itself, and stood up, wobbling unsteadily.
An idea popped into her head, and she couldn’t resist the opportunity to try. “Dragonite, knock it down with Extremespeed!” she called quickly, and her Pokémon became a tan-colored blur as he zoomed straight into Snorlax’s body –
He let out a surprised whine of pain as he crashed against its belly. Instead of giving way like it had earlier, the Snorlax’s body was practically a concrete wall, not budging an inch. As Dragonite slid down into a heap at its feet, the Snorlax slowly leaned forward and then fell, crushing him under its massive weight.
Underneath it, Dragonite let out a pained squeak and then went quiet, unmoving.
Kari stared in horror, so flabbergasted that it took her a second to take out the Pokéball and recall him back to safety. That thing couldn’t have just taken out Dragonite in one measly blow. She looked limply up at the other trainer, who was smirking as he recalled his own Pokémon.
“Good battle,” he said, and she couldn’t shake the thought that he was subtly mocking her.
“That move. Curse.” Kari looked away, blinking rapidly to preempt the tears that were dangerously close to forming in her eyes. “How does it work?”
“It sacrifices speed to improve both attack and defense,” the boy answered. “It’s pretty cool. I’ve got a spare TM, if you’d like.”
Kari looked back at him. He was smiling, and though her sore loser instinct still wanted to think he was a cheap idiot, he was going out of his way to help.
“I think your Dragonite could use it well,” he went on. “It knows Extremespeed, correct? So if it needs to strike quickly, it still can. And Dragonite are good with physical attacks.”
Kari nodded slowly. Though she liked fast Pokémon and would normally not be keen on sacrificing speed, he was right; Dragonite could still strike first, using the unique move the elders had taught him. Best of all, nobody would expect it, since most Dragonite didn’t know Extremespeed. It would be just the thing to bring her team up to par, really, after the admitted shock of discovering that the trainers here were stronger than she’d thought.
“Are you sure?” she asked, not wanting to seem desperate or greedy. “I mean, I wouldn’t want to take a TM you were going to use.”
“No, really, you can have it,” the boy said and walked quickly over to a green backpack that lay propped against a nearby rock. He rummaged through it for a few seconds before drawing out a CD case and hurrying over to her, presenting it with a smile.
She took it; both the case and the CD were blank, which was odd for a TM, but then again she had never heard of this TM before, so perhaps it was some sort of a new, beta thing. “Thanks,” she said. “Thanks a lot.”
“Glad to help,” replied the boy before turning around to walk back to his Scizor, who was still waiting quietly by the rocks.
“Hey, wait,” Kari called, and he stopped, turning back around. She had meant to ask where he got the TM, but she changed her mind before the words reached her mouth. “I remember Morty used that move, but then it worked completely differently. What’s up with that?”
“Oh, it’s different for Ghost-types,” the boy said.
Kari looked blankly at him. “Why?”
The trainer shrugged as he turned back to his bug Pokémon. “Dunno.”
Kari turned over in her Pokémon Center bed for the umpteenth time; memories of today’s catastrophic failure of a battle against Morty flitted through her mind, keeping her awake. Dratini was curled up on the floor with his eyes closed, but he’d been looking up to check on her every now and then for the past while.
“So do you think Ghost Pokémon are the only ones that can use Curse, or what?” she asked finally, pushing her comforter down. “I mean, is he the only gym leader who’s going to pull this on us?”
“Probably,” muttered Dratini, without opening his eyes. “Laying curses on the opponent? That’s a very Ghost thing to do. Haven’t seen any other Pokémon do anything like that.”
“I guess.” Kari paused. It was stupid. They’d dealt with all kinds of moves before; they’d deal with this one. It just wouldn’t get out of her head, the way Dratini’d writhed and twisted helplessly on the floor until he went down. Nothing she could do about it but watch and desperately try to come up with moves while he suffered — or else forfeit a Pokémon by switching him out, which he would never have forgiven her for.
“What I’m wondering,” Dratini mused after a moment, looking up at her with his head tilted sideways, “is you said Morty made it sound like the sacrificing health bit was just to gather power for the curse. So could you do other things with that power instead?”
Kari froze. Other things? Morty might pull more surprises out of his sleeve? “Maybe? There are other moves that sacrifice health for a benefit, like Belly Drum. But I think this was something different. Usually those kinds of moves just don’t work if they’d make the user faint.” The Gastly’s unholy scream as its gas expanded and contracted jaggedly like a creature in agony and then dispersed like a puff of smoke still echoed in her ears.
“Hmmm.” Dratini laid his head back down. “Yeah, that’s true. I guess we’ll see what happens on the rematch.”
Kari pulled the comforter back up with a sigh. “You really think he could pull something else with that move tomorrow?”
“Well, if it’s called Curse, probably it always does the curse thing. I was just wondering.”
She turned over, restlessly trying to get comfortable on the too-firm mattress.
Dratini peeked over the edge of the bed. “Hey, Kari? It’ll be fine. You’re just paranoid because we lost a battle. It’s not the end of the world. We’ll figure it out and get that badge.”
Kari took a deep breath, scratching his ear-fin. “Yeah. I’m sorry. I just need some sleep.”
He smiled. “Good night, Kari.”
It didn’t go quite as she’d hoped.
“I’m so sorry,” Kari said for the hundredth time, stroking Dragonite’s muzzle as the nurse left them alone in the recovery room. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he replied heavily after a second’s pause. “Just tired and dizzy. Some rest and I’ll be fine.”
“It’s that move, I know it,” she went on. “Several times in the same fight? I should never have gone for that. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“It is my fault, because you told me it made you feel numb and tired and I should’ve just listened to you. I’m listening now, okay? We’re never using that move again.”
Dragonite smiled. “Thanks,” he muttered.
Kari sighed, stroking his head. “I’m so sorry. You don’t need some creepy power-up move anyway. We’re going to train and we’ll win this thing without it. And I’ll find that kid who gave me the TM. We should let him know it’s not worth it.”
“Where’s he been, anyway?” Dragonite said, his voice strained. “I don’t… remember seeing him since we battled.”
“Me either, but he’s got to be around here somewhere. He was better than most anyone else we’ve fought here, right? No way did he just give up.”
Dragonite chuckled. “He really… really was, wasn’t he? Can’t… believe some of these kids, huh?”
“So bad. That Crobat kid?” She shook her head, smirking.
Dragonite cracked a smile in return, starting to open his mouth again before he gave up with a groan and went slack.
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to keep talking. I can see you’re struggling. Just get some rest.” Kari stood up and wrapped her arms around his giant head, closing her eyes. The steady rhythm of warm air from his nostrils calmed her racing heart, as it always did.
She took a deep breath. “I love you, Dragonite,” she said quietly. “I wouldn’t want to win with a move that makes you sick.”
The Pokémon nuzzled at her, closing his eyes. “I know,” he whispered. “It’s no one’s fault. We just… didn’t know how bad it could get. That’s all.”
It was maybe twenty minutes from her loss against Morty until Kari finally marched into her room with Dratini’s ball in her shaking fingers and shut the door. The nurse had said it was all fine, just standard faints, and of course it was, but she felt sick anyway.
She sent him out on the floor, and he came out peacefully curled up. Freshly healed. Nothing wrong.
Dratini blinked awake, looking up at her as she paced from one end of the room to the other. “I take it we didn’t win,” he said, a little groggy.
“It was that Curse move they used. Took down Magmar too. What did that do, anyway? Some creepy whispering, and you were clearly in pain, but…”
Dratini winced. “I guess you couldn’t see them? Wispy grinning specters, whirling around me and tearing away at me until I went down. Not fun.”
“But you’re okay now, right?”
He gave a weary smile. “I’m fine, Kari. No trainer or Pokémon who knows what they’re doing is going to hit you with anything you can’t fix with a trip to the Pokémon Center.”
Kari exhaled slowly. “Yeah,” she said after a moment. “Yeah, I know.” She put a hand on her forehead and found it drenched with sweat. She sat down on the brink of the bed, fists clenched. “We’re going to have to plan for the rematch. How are we going to get around it? If we can’t get him on the second try I’m going to lose it.”
Dratini looked at her for a beat of silence. “How about some lunch first?” he suggested, nudging her leg gently with his nose. “We can strategize better on a full stomach. And it sounds like you could really use something else to think about for a little while.”
She took a deep breath and smiled in spite of herself, the tension in her shoulders loosening a little. “Yeah. Food does sound good. But then strategy.”
Kari never did find the boy who’d given her the TM. She still hadn’t seen him around since that day, and nobody she asked knew his name or where he’d gone. She figured – or hoped – that he’d realized the unsettling aftereffects of the move and left to care for his Snorlax.
Meanwhile, Dragonite got better. It took several days before he felt properly motivated again, but slowly, over the course of a week, his cheerful, energetic self mostly returned. She knew him well enough to sense some lingering subtle fatigue in his eyes, like he wasn’t running on quite enough sleep, but Dragonite maintained he felt fine now. She was wary at first when they started training again, but one way or another he was right; he was every bit as strong as ever.
“What was up with that move, anyway?” said Kari during one training session. “Curse? Back when we battled Morty I figured the name was about laying a curse on the opponent, but that’s not what it did for you at all. Were you like… muttering curse words or something?”
Dragonite paused, brow furrowing. “I don’t really know,” he said. “It’s just part of the move. It’s like flying – once you’ve learned it, you just do it, and you don’t really pay conscious attention to exactly how you’re doing it anymore. Only with the TM, you get to skip the learning it part and go straight to having the muscle memory.”
“Huh. Are all TMs like that?”
“More or less.” Dragonite took a deep breath and hit a nearby rock with a Fire Blast. “I guess I could use it and try to pay attention to the words this time.”
“No way. We’re never using that move again, remember?”
Dragonite tilted his head in thought as he drew back his paw and smashed the scorched rock to pieces with a well-aimed punch. “Well, in an emergency…”
“What are you talking about? Emergency or no, I won’t make you use a move that does that to you. If that means we drop out of the tournament, so be it.”
“You’re forgetting one thing,” Dragonite said, turning to look at her. “I want to win, too. It wasn’t fun but it’s not that bad. I mean, I’d lie in the Pokémon Center staring into space for twice that long if it meant we’d be champions. Of course I’d rather not if we could do without it, but if it would save us? I’d want to go for it. And the rules say I can’t unless you order it.”
“I guess,” Kari said, reluctant. She straightened herself and took a deep breath. “It probably won’t come to that. We’ve been doing great so far; I think the Snorlax kid must have been head and shoulders above everybody else here or just about. I doubt we’ll need it.”
Dragonite shrugged, and the conversation moved on to Kari’s preliminary battles and that one kid stupid enough to think his Venusaur could take Magmar.
“Good match,” said Morty as he recalled his Gengar, its cackling laugh echoing eerily around the room for a second after it disappeared.
Kari nodded numbly, speechless, still clutching Magmar’s Pokéball in her hand.
“Of all the ways Ghost Pokémon can cripple the opponent, the move we call Curse is one of the most versatile and difficult to counter, even though gathering the power for it comes at a price,” Morty said. “You’re not the first trainer to fail to anticipate it.”
The only word of his speech that really stuck for Kari at the moment was “fail”. She had never lost to a gym leader before. They were predictable type specialists, all glaring common weaknesses that were easily exploited, with some high-leveled Pokémon but not high-leveled enough to make up for it – right? Wasn’t that what she’d always said, when she’d airily dismissed everyone who warned her that earning gym badges would be tougher than she thought? And now she’d just lost pathetically to the fourth one she’d challenged.
She looked away, gave Morty some halfhearted goodbye-and-I’ll-be-back, and sped out towards the Pokémon Center, her face flushed. Next time, she would win.
And this was it. Finally, she was here in the main stadium, in front of thousands of spectators, staring her opponent down across the battlefield as the status screens crossed out his Alakazam. Dragonite stood his ground on Kari’s end, battered after that Psychic that had thrown him into the wall, but satisfied and alert, ready to take on the last obstacle standing in the way between them and the championship.
That obstacle was a Tyranitar.
One misstep could crush them now – Tyranitar had the type advantage, and Dragonite was hurt to boot. But Kari knew she could trust him to do his very best, no matter what happened; they would win this together, just like all the previous battles, just like the semifinal match where Dragonite had taken out a Piloswine on his own.
It was just another battle, and they would win.
“Tyranitar, Rock Slide!”
Kari’s mind raced with possibilities, her heart hammering in her chest. “Thunder Wave, Dragonite!”
The Tyranitar let out a deep, rumbling roar as Dragonite took flight and zoomed towards it. Huge chunks of rock tore out of the ground around Tyranitar as the dragon approached, electricity crackling around his body. Dragonite launched the Thunder Wave as soon as he was in range, bright jagged sparks of lightning flying towards his opponent. He zipped to the side to avoid the Rock Slide, but a large boulder grazed him and knocked him off-balance, and a dozen more followed, pelting him and sending him hurtling to the ground.
Kari bit her lip as Dragonite rose from the rubble. Tyranitar was gritting its teeth on the other side, moving sluggishly through the paralysis - that was good, evened things out a little. But Dragonite had still taken another beating, and while he was resilient, there were limits. She could trust him, but he had to be able to trust her to play their cards right, too. The paralysis meant Tyranitar wasn’t very maneuverable; maybe…
Dragonite threw an urgent glance her way. Screech would cripple his defensive abilities; if the Dynamicpunch did miss he’d be left vulnerable while at close range. “No, wait, use…”
The Tyranitar’s roar of challenge turned into a piercing, high-pitched shriek; Dragonite cringed where he stood. She couldn’t hesitate long. She knew what his glance had meant. And if ever there was a time to do this, it was now.
Dragonite closed his eyes and began to mutter inaudibly, his body relaxing where he stood. Relief? Or simply an effect of the move?
“Rock Slide!” shouted the other trainer — but as Tyranitar tried to move, it couldn’t, its paralyzed limbs refusing to listen. It gritted its teeth, straining.
Which bought them a longer window of time; probably not time to fly over and attack, but time to do just a little more. “Again!” Kari said frantically as Dragonite’s eyes opened, and he closed them again, continuing the whisper.
There was a pause as Kari’s opponent hesitated, eyes trained on Dragonite. For a moment, she wondered what he was waiting for. And then it hit her with a sudden jolt that he must feel the same way about Curse as she had when she’d battled the Snorlax kid: he was probably confused, not sure what it did.
And that meant they could use his confusion to replicate the Snorlax kid’s strategy.
“Try Rock Slide again,” came the order at last, a hint of doubt in his tone.
Kari’s heart thumped rapidly as Dragonite opened his eyes again. “One more Curse! Give it your all!”
Another barrage of rocks rocketed towards Dragonite as Tyranitar overcame its paralysis with a triumphant roar. Dragonite made no attempt to dodge as the Rock Slide crashed down on top of him, but he rose from the rubble with a dazed indifference, eyes closed again, and began his chant, a bit louder than before. And though it wouldn’t have made much difference to the audience, far off in the stands, Kari could for the first time make out the words.
Dark One, I accept your curse
for what I must acquire
Take of me to reimburse
the power I desire
Take a piece, but not the whole
A fair and proper fee
Help me first to reach my goal
then feast on it with glee
At first she only stared in incomprehension, everything jumbling up in her head.
“Dragonite?” she said in limp disbelief. “Dragonite, stop!” she called, louder, as it all began to piece itself together in her mind, but he didn’t hear her, droning on in a low, raspy voice:
Give me power
Give me strength
I’ll give you my will
“Tyranitar, one more Rock Slide!” called the other trainer, oblivious; Kari stared wildly at him, as if expecting him to step in and stop this somehow.
Give me glory
Give me fame
I will give you me
Dragonite looked up as his opponent began to raise rocks from the ground yet again. Kari stared at his back, eyes wide, almost expecting him to dissolve before her eyes, vanish into thin air. But he didn’t vanish; he stood motionless, shrugging off the Rock Slide without so much as flinching.
“D-Dynamicpunch,” she managed to say, her heart pounding sickeningly in her ears. He’d be okay. He’d just need some rest and then he’d be fine. He’d said himself that it’d be worth it this one time if they won the League. Right?
It took him a few seconds to react; the other trainer used the opportunity to order another Rock Slide. Then, slowly, Dragonite took off the ground, flew towards the Tyranitar – a few boulders smashed him in the face on the way, but he hardly seemed to notice – and smashed his fist into the dinosaur’s stomach. The impact shattered rock, sent it crashing into the wall as it roared and twisted in pain.
“Extremespeed!” Kari called quickly, and Dragonite tackled the Tyranitar down at a sudden blinding speed as it tried to rise. Its trainer stared open-mouthed at his Pokémon as it took a rough tumble on the ground and then didn’t move.
As the spectators realized the battle had reached its conclusion, the crowd erupted into explosive applause.
Dragonite stood still on the arena and blinked dully at Kari.
When Kari’d heard Morty was a Ghost-type specialist, she’d imagined someone gaunt and creepy-looking, but Morty’s appearance was surprisingly mundane – a simply dressed, slightly awkward-looking young man with a fair complexion and a lump of hay-blond hair held back by a purple headband. She couldn’t help thinking he didn’t look all that tough.
“Good of you to come,” the gym leader said, nodding to her. “My name is Morty, and over the course of my lifelong training, I’ve learned to see things others cannot.”
The usual sort of speech. Kari quirked an eyebrow as Dratini slithered forward. “So Ghost Pokémon, right? Why ghosts?”
“They are different from most Pokémon and humans,” Morty replied, his lips curling into a faint smile. “Rather than inhabit a flesh-and-blood body as we do, they are simply souls manifested in physical form. And that changes everything for how they live and what they can do. Our own souls are fragile and may never recover fully when damaged, but theirs have adapted by necessity to mend as easily as other Pokémon can mend their bodies, simply by keeping in high spirits. I find them fascinating.”
“Huh.” So he didn’t even like them for their battling prowess, just their ‘high spirits’? Kari smirked. “Well, we’re here for a badge. Don’t need a dissertation to take you on.”
“Of course.” Morty raised a Pokéball. “Gastly, go!”
“He’s the same. Doesn’t speak, doesn’t react to much, eats what you put in front of him.” The nurse hesitated. “What on earth happened to him?” she asked quietly.
“I… I don’t know,” said Kari. “Let me see him.”
The nurse bowed and led the way down a long corridor, into the private room Kari’d paid for with her prize money. She waved the nurse out and closed the door, leaving her alone with her Pokémon.
“Dragonite?” she whispered. There was no response; the dragon lay flat on his stomach on the bed in the middle of the room, his eyes staring blankly straight ahead. After a moment of silence, she pulled up a chair and sat down beside him. Her hand reached out toward his neck and stroked it gently.
“We did it, you know. We’re champions.” She paused, watching his eye carefully for a reaction, but again there was none. Kari sighed and pulled her hand back, staring at her partner for a long while.
“It’s not bad, being the champion,” she said quietly, hands clasped in her lap. “They gave me access to Mount Silver, where only champions can go. I’ve met powerful trainers from other regions there. And kids recognize me in the street, ask for autographs.” She paused again. “They ask how you’re doing and want to see you. I’ve been telling them you’re fine and you just don’t like the attention. But I know you’d love it.”
Kari gazed at Dragonite for a few painful seconds, tears burning in her eyes. “Why aren’t you getting better?” she asked bitterly, clenching her fist. “You always got better before. I thought you’d – you told me you’d get better. But now it’s been three weeks and you’re still not talking or reacting or…”
Her voice broke abruptly into a choked burst of desperate sobbing, and somewhere within her flashed a ridiculous hope for a fairy-tale ending, where seeing her cry would snap him out of it, and he would rise to comfort her and everything would be back to normal. But nothing like that happened. When she recovered her composure and looked back at him his eyes were still dull and lifeless, devoid of the spark that had once made him who he was.
“Please, Dragonite, look at me,” she whispered pointlessly, and her heart jumped as his head moved, but sank again when his face only turned towards her with that same blank stare, like a giant marionette strung up by her commands. She shivered at the unsettling void in his eyes and told him in a shaky voice to look away again.
“You still respond to orders,” she thought aloud as his head turned robotically back towards the wall. “You just don’t have any will or personality or…”
There was a long silence; Kari looked away, gripping the armrest of her chair tightly as if she could make everything okay if she squeezed it hard enough. She knew, deep down, that Dragonite would never come back.
But she couldn’t just go home and tell her grandfather and the elder Dragonite that she’d made him use a move that chipped pieces from his soul to win the championship. Saying he’d told her he wanted to use it would be a hollow excuse. She could already see them, looking at her like she was a monster, the pride in their eyes giving way to horror and revulsion. And they’d be right to, but she just couldn’t.
In her darker moments it had occurred to her to tell them he was dead. It wouldn’t be a lie. But with no burial and no body, and no way to answer how it’d happened, how could it sound anything but suspect?
(It’d also occurred to her once, horribly, to euthanize him. But even though he wasn’t really him or anyone at all anymore, the thought made her nauseous.)
Kari took a trembling breath, fingers white as they dug into the armrest.
She’d tried to ward off the thought, but it’d crept up on her anyway as she’d sat there: if Dragonite could still obey orders, he could still battle. She could probably teach him some phrases, tell her family he’d come to prefer staying in his Pokéball most of the time, and continue journeying; if they just never stopped in Blackthorn very long, then…
Dragonite had been strong before; Curse had made him invincible. She could conquer the leagues of the world and no one would ever know. Perhaps, on some twisted level, she could even consider it to be honoring the memory of the dragon who had once so loved to fight and compete.
Kari took a long look at Dragonite’s Pokéball and shuddered at what she was about to do before she stood up, still unable to face him.
“Okay, Dragonite,” she said, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. “We’re leaving.”