Chapter 8: Midnight Island
dammitGotta catch 'em all, Poke Bombs!
Ah, I'm glad. The reason I did it like that was because I wanted to focus on what Jade herself was doing (since she wasn't exactly leading him into battle) and because he's so overpowered that I get more tension by separating them.But overall, I thought it was a clever combination of stealth and actual fighting, and I thought it was a good call to not depict much of Chibi's actual fighting. But that's just another personal preference of mine.
As we'll find out soon, he was already pretty close to evolving at the start of the story. ;PWow, and here I thought my Charmander evolved early~ Still, good power boost. They'll need it.
~Chapter 8: Midnight Island~
“This is your captain speaking. We have an emergency situation—all passengers must report to the main deck immediately to await further instruction. Recall all Pokémon to their Pokéballs and bring them with you. If you are in your cabin, please retrieve your personal flotation device. If you are not in your cabin, do not go down to the lower decks—additional flotation devices will be available at the emergency stations. I repeat, this is an emergency situation—”
The captain’s voice boomed powerfully over the ship’s PA system, and the crew immediately scattered in response to the orders. A desperate voice in the back of my head kept shouting at me to stand up, but I couldn’t process how to make that happen. I was probably in the way, collapsed on the floor like this, but… I just… I couldn’t figure out how to do anything about it.
A hand firmly grasped my right hand, and before I knew what was going on, a set of claws had taken hold of my left and both were pulling me upward at the same time. I blinked twice, trying to clear my vision before seeing that both a crewman and Firestorm had a hold of me. I clenched my teeth and fought to maneuver my legs under me. The movement was sluggish and awkward, but I managed to plant one foot heavily and lean my weight on it long enough to drag the other one into place. It felt ridiculous. But I really wasn’t in a position to care right now.
“Can you stand on your own?” the crewman asked, carefully letting go of my hand while keeping a close eye to make sure I wasn’t in danger of falling.
My brain told me to say no, but for some reason I nodded.
He gave me a stern look, like he didn’t quite believe me. “We’re gathering on the main deck to aid the rest of the passengers so I’ll escort you there. It’s raining pretty hard, so you should recall your Charmeleon.”
I squeezed Firestorm’s claw to let him know it was safe to let go, then rummaged through my pocket for his Pokéball before recalling him in a beam of red light. I nodded to the crewman, and we made our way toward the bridge stairwell, which was now rimmed with flashing emergency lights. Blasts from the ship’s whistle rang throughout the air as I forced my legs down one stair at a time, bracing most of my weight against the railing. More than once, my foot missed a stair and I would have been sent tumbling down if the crewman hadn’t caught my arm just in time. One stair at a time. Just had to focus on that—nothing else mattered right now. One stair at a time. At least I only had to conquer two staircases to make it to the main deck, while everyone on the lower decks had who knows how many to go through. It was a stupid thought, but it helped.
Somehow we reached the bottom without me noticing. From there, we only had to make it outside. The captain strode forcefully past us, continuing to repeat his emergency message into a handheld PA microphone. A mass of people was migrating up from the lower decks, and a huge weight settled in my chest from the sheer amount of panicked faces, many of them younger than me. Countless crew members got into place directing the crowd of passengers to the emergency area on the outermost portion of the main deck.
“Captain!” a young voice called. I turned to see a crew member sprinting up an otherwise empty staircase that had been marked authorized personnel only. “You were right, the lower decks are filled with explosives. There’s no way we could remove them all in time. Most of the lower decks have been evacuated, but many passengers still haven’t made it out yet.” She was holding the control device for the explosives, which was now flashing red with a large ‘30’ displayed.
Numbness swept over me just looking at it. Less than a minute left… but if everyone could make it up here before the bombs went off, we’d still have a shot of escaping. The ship wouldn’t sink that quickly, would it?
The captain pulled a radio from his belt and said something into it before racing outside. The man escorting me patted my shoulder and said, “Just follow this crowd outside to the closest emergency station,” before joining the nearest group of crew members directing the evacuation.
An awkward feeling swept over me as I stumbled over to the group. Most of them were still in their pajamas, having been asleep just five minutes ago. Now they were wearing life preservers and looking terrified. Half the crowd was tripping over each other, either pushing to get outside or running back to find their friends, all while desperately trying to be heard over the mass of panicked voices. The other half was tense, glancing around anxiously and clutching their Pokéballs with a death grip, ready to open them at any second. Part of me wanted to panic like the first half, but I’d used up the ability hours ago.
The instant we stepped outside, we were soaking wet. It wasn’t cold, but man was it jarring. I’d been running out to this deck constantly not even an hour ago—where had this come from? The water poured down on us like a torrent, the skies were a twisting, writhing mass of gray, and no sooner had I noticed it than a burst of wind knocked me into the nearest trainer. Because we really needed things to be harder now.
The crew inside the ship were still running around, directing everyone outside as quickly as possible. But the nearest crew members outside were shouting into their radios, looking flustered. What was going on? Wasn’t this where we’d board the lifeboats?
Wait. No… no, the Rockets, they couldn’t have…
“This is your captain speaking. Everyone needs to brace themselves.”
This was it. No time left. Everyone who wasn’t up here yet wasn’t going to make it. I dropped to the ground and clenched my teeth as hard as possible.
I still wasn’t ready for it.
A deafening roar and the squeal of crunching metal bombarded my ears, completely overwhelming the sounds of the ongoing storm. My hands and feet vibrated from the shockwave radiating outwards, and everyone still making their way outside was knocked completely off their feet. Within seconds, smoke started billowing up from the staircases, quickly filling the enclosed part of the middle deck. And on top of it all, the rocking motion of the ship grew more violent by the second.
“On behalf of the captain, I am relaying the order to abandon ship!” a woman close to my group shouted. “The lifeboats are gone, so the only way off is to jump overboard! If you have Pokémon large enough to carry you in the air or the water, release them now! And even small water-types should be able to assist both you and others while in the sea!”
At these words, countless trainers pulled out Pokéballs, and flashes of white light filled the air around the deck’s outermost edge. The crowd thinned as the trainers with flying-types didn’t hesitate to jump onto their rides’ backs and take off, flying in low circles around the ship. That just left the rest of us. Sure, we were already soaked to the bone and being in the sea wasn’t gonna be much different, but the waters below us had grown increasingly violent. And I didn’t have any water Pokémon.
Finally, a scattering of trainers worked up the courage to climb the railing and jump off. Several people gasped, but the effect was obvious—after the first few had done it, more and more had found the confidence to make the plunge as well. I couldn’t hesitate. Taking too long would only hold up everyone behind me. I grasped the edge of the railing and used my arms to swing my legs over. Then all I could do was close my eyes, grit my teeth, push myself over the edge, and oh god I was falling. I couldn’t possibly have been ready for it. The fall dragged on forever and the water was a million miles away and I was moving way too fast and my stomach turned inside out and—
The sudden impact stopped my thoughts cold as every inch of exposed skin burned like fire from striking the water. I thrashed my arms instinctively, trying to get my bearings. I was still underwater—no good, I had to surface! I opened my eyes and spotted the surface right above me before paddling as hard as I could to reach it.
My head burst out of the water and I immediately found myself gasping and sputtering for air. The water wasn’t frigid, but still cold enough that the tingling in my limbs didn’t want to go away. I flailed about, trying to control my movement and see was going on with everyone else. My legs wouldn’t move; it was just my arms doing all the work now.
Most of the passengers had grouped together around the trainers who had water Pokémon. I squinted back at the ship. From what little I could see, it didn’t look like anyone was still making the plunge from the upper deck… which had to mean that everyone who was able to had made it off by now. Now we just had to weather the storm. But the rain kept pouring down in violent sheets and the rush of seawater tossed us relentlessly. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep the salty water from finding its way into my mouth—I was spending more time choking and spitting out water than making progress.
A sudden flash of light nearby caught my attention. A girl had just released a massive blue sea serpent from its ball. The Gyarados let out a roar before leaning its head down, allowing its trainer to climb aboard. Already many of the nearby passengers were following her lead and climbing up the serpent’s thick, armor-like scales.
I wasn’t that far away. If I could just make it to her, I wouldn’t have to brave the storm by myself. I just had to make it over there.
Before I could do anything, the water forced my head under the surface and knocked the air from my lungs. I blinked frantically in the darkness, still reeling with shock. Which way was up? Why couldn’t I tell?!
I burst free of the water just in time to wish I hadn’t. An enormous wave had swept in from nowhere, now looming over me. I stared blankly, feeling my limbs turn to ice and refuse to move. Even if I’d had time, I couldn’t react—what on earth was I supposed to do? I couldn’t possibly avoid something like that!
The world dissolved into rush of water and the spray of salt and tumbling and disorientation and a burning pain now tearing its way through my lungs. I couldn’t tell how deep it had pushed me—direction didn’t exist anymore. I’d been flipped and tossed and my entire body felt like a ragdoll. Where was I? My surroundings had become an endless expanse of water and darkness. Even if there was anything to see, my eyes burned too much from the salt.
I suddenly remembered that my lungs were on fire—it was a weird contrast to how detached the rest of my body felt. My legs still wouldn’t move—it was almost like they weren’t even there. Were they there? I couldn’t see them. I couldn’t see anything.
Somewhere in the back of my head a voice screamed to get a grip but there wasn’t anything to get a grip on. Nothing was around me. Nothing except…
A huge, shadowy mass swept under me. Everything was dark, but this thing was dark enough to stand out… somehow. It slowly turned in my direction, and the only thing I saw was a pair of glowing blue eyes before it turned and dove further below me.
Wait… below me! It had to be below me, right? I had no idea if that made any sense, but I knew that it was below, I just knew. Without even thinking, my arms drove me in the opposite direction—upward. I shot through the water so fast it felt like I was flying. Almost there. Just had to reach the surface. Almost there—!
I broke free. My face hit the air and nothing had ever felt half as amazing. It didn’t last long—a round of coughing and sputtering took over as my worn-out lungs tried to expel all of the saltwater I’d taken in. Each breath sent another wave of fire running through my chest, but I didn’t mind—just breathing at all was relief enough.
Except… this was too easy. I was just floating here breathing, and my head wasn’t being forced under the water every five seconds. The sheer relief of being on the surface had been so great that I hadn’t even noticed. It was gone. The waves, the wind, the rain… everything was gone. Clouds churned lazily above us, giving no indication of the raging storm that had just vanished. Calm skies and waters now made it easy to see the S.S. Anne tilted backward at a harsh angle, slipping down into the sea’s murky depths.
I was close to the Gyarados now, so my main priority became drifting vaguely in that direction using as little effort as possible. Six or seven passengers were crowded onto the upper half of its body, but there was room for me to grab one of its lower fins.
Just as my brain was trying to work through if I should ask anyone what happened, something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. I turned to the right and stared blankly at the sight, now even more confused. A squad of rescue boats was speeding toward us as though nothing had ever happened.
Rescue boats. How on earth had they gotten here so quickly? An overwhelming flood of questions started to fill my head, but with my body now far beyond exhausted, I almost didn’t care if I got any answers. The Gyarados started making its way toward the boats, moving very slowly to avoid losing any of its far-too-many riders. By the time it was my turn to climb aboard, most of the passengers had been rescued, and I felt a wave of euphoric relief upon being pulled onto the deck and being able to sink to my knees.
A bustle of movement surrounded me as the officials went about gathering information from everyone who had been rescued. I glanced upward at the man nearest me; the first thing I thought to ask was, “Where are we?”
“Just off the southern coast of Fuchsia,” he replied. Fuchsia… that was… at the far south end of Kanto, right?
The man held a towel in front of my face. “Here. Are you hurt? Anyone with injuries should see the medical staff.”
Right… I was still sitting lamely on the floor, limbs shivering uncontrollably. I shook my head lightly before grabbing the deck railing and pulling myself to my feet. He raised an eyebrow, apparently not believing me but figuring that I had enough sense to get aid if I was injured (which, as I kept having to remind myself, I was not). I accepted the towel with a low murmur of “thanks” before pulling myself into the nearest seat.
Being able to dry myself was, quite simply, heaven after braving the ocean waters. I watched the group of shivering trainers being led around by the staff, my head slowly fogging up with fatigue. I was certain there was too much noise and commotion to fall asleep, but…
I opened my eyes slowly, then immediately blinked as my eyes burned with a bright light. I glanced around in confused before realizing that it was daytime—a glance at my watch told me that it was 8am. Well, that didn’t make sense… I could have sworn that I’d only closed my eyes for a minute or two…
I stretched long and hard, my limbs filled with a dull, throbbing pain, before looking around. The ship was now docked in the small harbor of a coastal town surrounded by rolling plains and gleaming white beaches. The staff was busy directing people off the ship, or at least some of them—about half of the trainers were being pointed back into their seats rather than onto the dock. Feeling a bit perplexed, I wandered over to the staff.
“What’s going on here?” I asked.
“We’ve docked near Fuchsia City. All of the trainers who were given a specialty invite to the party are to remain on the ship until we can relay a message intended for them,” a man explained.
Specialty invite… the tickets Stalker gave to the potential rebels? How could they tell which people he’d invited?
Sensing my confusion, the man said, “Let me see your card key.” I handed it over, and he scanned it through a device before handing it back. “Alright, please wait around here until we’ve finished with the remaining passengers.” As I walked back to my seat, a small group of trainers behind me started making a fuss because they had apparently left their card keys behind—the staff was attempting to sort through it.
I wasn’t sure what to think of the whole situation now. I had been frustrated at Stalker for having underestimated Team Rocket, but he clearly had a plan set into motion for an incident like this. Still, why couldn’t he have gotten an ally to make sure nothing went wrong with the voyage? Did he even have allies, or was he doing this alone?
I wandered around the ship’s deck as the number of passengers slowly started to thin, gazing at the ocean and admiring how calm it looked, with the bright sunlight reflecting off ridges of water. My thoughts strayed back to the previous night, and how impossible it all seemed now. Mere hours ago, we’d all been so close to death… it was obviously an uncomfortable thought, but it was slowly starting to become more familiar. And this was how it was going to be from now on…
I was just vaguely wondering how the Rockets had escaped, and if they’d had actual rockets in their backpacks, when a hand clapped my shoulder.
…What. Why on earth was I hearing that voice here?
I spun around to stare at the olive-skinned, dark-haired face behind me. And really, all I could do was let my mouth hang open in shock.
“…What are you doing here, Rudy?” I managed to say.
He gave a small laugh at the look on my face and said, “Guess I should explain myself, huh?”
“You think?” I asked, laughing a little bit myself, the air of anxiety gone just from being with a friend. “You… have no idea how glad I am to see you here… especially after last night.”
Rudy smiled weakly. “Yeah… that…”
I gave him an incredulous look. “I’m starting to think you have a thing for always showing up at my Team Rocket run-ins.”
“Hey, it’s not a coincidence,” Rudy said quickly. “You know the dude who gave out the tickets?”
I blinked. “You met him too?”
Rudy nodded. “Sure did. I met him after I got back to Viridian. He said he’d heard about our battle with those Rockets at the plane, and that anyone who’d gone against Team Rocket was important to have as an ally. He asked me if I wanted to train under him and learn how to fight Rockets, and well…” He forced a grin, some of his normal enthusiasm shining through for a moment. “You know I couldn’t say no to getting back at those guys. So he gave me the card and that was when he mentioned that you got one too.”
I couldn’t think of what to say. Stalker had said he’d been recruiting any new trainers with the guts to take on Team Rocket, but the idea of someone else I knew being a part of this felt very strange.
“Course… I sort of got in trouble for being gone all day,” Rudy continued, looking down. “It’s kinda hard to be afraid of something like that after making it through the Rocket mess, though. And I was gonna tell your mom that’d you’d gone on a training journey with Swift, but… she kind of already knew? I was expecting her to be way more upset about it, honestly.”
I smiled faintly. “Yeah, I, uh… I kind of wound up calling home later that night anyway.”
Rudy paused. “Wait seriously?”
I rubbed the back of my head. “Yeah. I was dreading it at first, but it worked out for the best.” I wasn’t sure if I should explain the deal that I’d made to get my license before I turned fifteen, but Rudy was still staring at me like he was waiting to tell the rest of his story.
“Go on,” I said, rolling my eyes. Though I didn’t want to admit it, hearing him ramble was definitely helping take my mind off things.
Rudy didn’t need telling twice. “Kay, so I started my training journey a couple days after that, and I made sure to grab the bus from city to city until I made it to Vermilion. I got there about four days before we left.” He paused for a bit and then added, “Y’know, I was surprised I never saw you around the Pokécenter or at the gym or anything.”
“Yeah… I spent most of my time at the campsite near the start of Route 6…” I mumbled, feeling slightly embarrassed.
“Catching Pokémon?” came the immediate reply.
I snorted. “You know I can’t buy Pokéballs.”
“No, but what you could’ve done was ask some random trainer to go buy them for you, and hope they don’t report you to the—”
“Thanks for the advice—I’ll file that away under ‘what not to do.’ But what about you, did you catch anyone new?”
“You bet! I got a Spearow and a Nidoran, and they’re made of awesome, and now I’m up to four Pokémon,” Rudy said, his voice slowing dramatically near the end.
“Oh yeah? Pretty cool. Although…”—I suppressed a snicker—“I seem to recall you saying—what was it again?—that you’d find Mew and team up to defeat the Legendary birds within the first month of your—” I had to stop because I was laughing too hard and he was smacking my arm with a fist repeatedly.
“Oh, oh yeah, and then at the League, the Johto guardians would be so impressed by your feat that they’d ask if they could join you, and—”
“Hey I never said any of that… and if I did I was like ten!” Rudy said quickly, his face reddening. “Besides, I’m doing better than you, aren’t I? Four against three, so there. And hey, that reminds me—how come I never saw you on the S.S. Anne? I wanted to battle you during the trainer’s party but couldn’t really find you.”
“I… spent most of the night in my room, actually,” I said sheepishly. I had forgotten about how I’d needed to hide after Chibi and I had discovered the Rockets.
Chibi. That’s right—the Rockets, they had… The thought was painful. He’d been captured because he saved me. And I’d just let them take him? Why hadn’t I done anything about it?
I was too lost in thought to pay close attention to what Rudy was saying after that. He went on about seeing me while in the ocean and trying to get my attention, but me not seeing him. In an instant, my memory flashed back to last night, and I immediately blurted out, “What made the storm clear?”
Rudy stopped and gaped at me. “You mean you didn’t see it?”
“No,” I replied a little uneasily. His tone made it sound like no one in their right mind would have missed it.
“It was a little creepy, but way awesome,” he said. “This dark shadow seemed to block out everything, even the moonlight, and there was a giant gust of wind and then suddenly the storm stopped and the waves calmed down. Then this huge… thing dove down into the water. It was so fast, I couldn’t tell what it was.”
The excitement plastered all over his face was almost too much to bear. It was enough to actually make me feel jealous that I hadn’t seen it happen, although Rudy was the one who had always wanted to run into super-powerful Pokémon. Then again… that dark figure I had seen in the water… could that have been the same thing Rudy had seen?
At this point, it seemed like everyone had finished transferring over to the new ship. I found myself idly wondering where we’d be headed, then heard a voice calling out through a microphone.
“Everyone here was given a specialty invite to the Pokémon trainer’s party. Those who managed to complete the invite-only event onboard the S.S. Anne were meant to be rewarded with enrollment into an exclusive training internship. In light of what happened… that event will no longer be taking place. Enrollment will be open to all of you, and we’ve been requested to send you all there now. But first, we need to relay the following message,” one of the rescue staff said. He paused for a few seconds, taking a deep breath before saying, “There’s no doubt that having to flee the S.S. Anne like that was a terrible ordeal for young trainers like yourselves to face. It’s advised that you think carefully about the special training you signed up for, and decide if you still wish to go through with it. If not, you should resume your training journey. Thank you.”
His words were like a cold splash of reality, right in the face. A reminder that even though we’d survived, joining Stalker’s team would only mean facing even more horrible situations like last night.
The announcement brought scattered murmuring amongst the trainers, and now that I looked around at all of them, I could see traces of doubt and regret streaking their faces. And, even worse… my heart crumpled inward when I saw a few of the kids crying softly away from the main group. The crushing realization slowly hit me—I had gotten lucky. I hadn’t even known that Rudy was on the ship, and both of us had gotten off alive anyway. But some of the trainers had to have lost friends when the S.S. Anne sank.
Time froze as a small number of kids scattered amongst the crowd made the slow walk off of the transfer boat with an almost tangible air of shame. Several others, upon seeing that they wouldn’t be alone in leaving, hurriedly stood to their feet and followed suit.
“Well… I know it’ll be dangerous, but… that’s the reason I joined. Fighting those guys and saving the Legendaries? I’m not giving up something like that. I can’t turn my back on something like that,” Rudy said with a decisive tone. His words had a slight edge, though. Like he was desperately trying to persuade himself that it was the right decision.
I already knew there was no going back for me. I couldn’t return to my old life, knowing what I knew now. This was my chance to make a difference. Had to keep telling myself that.
Around fifty kids were still on board. After several minutes had passed from the time of the announcement, the majority of the staff left the ship as well, leaving just a single young man behind.
“We’ve managed to secure a teleporter who has your destination memorized,” he said. “They’ll be sending you there two at a time, so please line up and wait your turn.” At his words, an Alakazam stepped forward alongside him. The golden humanoid, twiddled a pair of spoons in its claws and surveyed us with a bored expression before gesturing to the trainers at the front of the group. The first two kids walked forward uncertainly, and Alakazam touched a spoon to each of their shoulders before disappearing in a sudden flash of shimmering light. Around twenty seconds later it reappeared alone with a similar flash.
It would probably take over twenty trips for all of us, and after the first five or so, the psychic was already looking tired and had to drink some Ether. Wherever we were headed, it must have been pretty far for the jumps to tire the psychic out that much.
After around ten minutes of this, my turn came up. I stepped forward, feeling a small twinge of anxiety in the back of my head. This was my first time teleporting, and I honestly had no idea what to expect. A spoon tapped my shoulder. A tingling sensation quickly spread across my skin, my surroundings melting into rippling waves of light. Then, just as suddenly as it came, the feeling left, and the world suddenly snapped back into clear view. That was it? It was a lot smoother than I’d been expecting.
I glanced around at my new surroundings and found myself… on a dock. But it was obviously a completely different one—the sea was to the west rather than south, and the coastline was rocky and forested. Not to mention the nearby town was a lot smaller than Fuchsia. I still had absolutely no idea where we were though.
The Alakazam gave a nod before disappearing from view, and I jumped off to the side so I wouldn’t be in the way of the next trainer to arrive. Rudy appeared not long after I did, and within a few more minutes we were all here, stuck together in a large group and wandering vaguely towards town. As was typical of trainers, our group eventually honed in on the local Pokémon Center.
The center was small (it probably didn’t have to accommodate many trainers most of the time), so there was no way we were all going to fit inside. The lead nurse at the front counter blinked in surprise at our sudden arrival, but then she said, “You must be the specialty training group I was told about. If you follow the road that leads north to the edge of town, you’ll find Midnight Stadium, where your training program will be held.”
Midnight Stadium… so that was our destination. But then, where were we anyway?
“Where are we?” one of the kids blurted out before I had worked out whether or not it would look too stupid to ask.
The nurse gave an amused half-smile. “Midnight Island, just off the coast from Lavender Town.”
I wasn’t the only one who craned their neck to get a glimpse of the map on the side wall, as I had never heard of either of those two locations. It took me some time to locate Lavender Town on the large map of Kanto that adorned the wall, as it was a very small town on Kanto’s eastern coast. Sure enough, a tiny island alongside its shore was labeled Midnight Island.
“Why couldn’t he have just told us that to begin with?” Rudy complained as we made our way outside.
“The Rockets found out that we were meeting on the S.S. Anne, so if the headquarters hadn’t been a secret, they’d probably have targeted it too,” I said, a little exasperated.
Rudy gaped at me. “Wait, that was Team Rocket who sank the ship last night? How do you know?”
“I was there; I fought them, and—” I suddenly realized it. Swift and Firestorm—they’d been in their Pokéballs all night ever since I had to jump overboard. I retrieved the minimized spheres from my pocket and opened them, releasing the two Pokémon. I actually had to do a bit of a double take upon seeing Firestorm emerge from the ball—I still wasn’t used to seeing him in his larger, red-scaled form. Apparently, Rudy was surprised too, because—
“Whoa—your Charmander evolved? Awesome!” he exclaimed.
“Yup,” I answered, and I couldn’t help grinning. My face fell when I saw that Swift was still beaten and bruised from last night’s battle, though.
“Crap, do you have a potion?” I asked Rudy. He rummaged in his bag before pulling one out, and I immediately sprayed down Swift’s limp wings and crumpled feathers. The injuries weren’t too serious—within a few seconds, the Pidgey shook his head and made a relieved chirp.
“*How did we make it back to dry land?*” Firestorm asked, looking up at me expectantly. “*The ocean sounds like an awful place. Did you have to swim through it?*”
I was about to answer, but then Rudy cut in, “Okay, hang on Jade, you’ve gotta tell me—you battled Rockets? How’d you even know they were there?”
I sighed before launching into the events of the previous night. From when Chibi and I had eavesdropped on the Rockets to when Manectric initiated the automatic detonation. I explained everything as we walked down the road that led out of town, which eventually turned into a dirt road as the buildings grew sparse. I realized about halfway through my story that every trainer standing near us had now ceased their own conversations to listen in, but by that point I didn’t care if I had an audience.
The sun had climbed higher into the sky by the time we arrived at a wide coliseum on the edge of the forest. It was a lot smaller than the stadiums I’d seen on TV, but still larger than any building in town. The sign on the front read “Midnight Stadium” in dramatic purple lettering.
The front doors automatically opened as we approached, so the fifty or so trainers made their way slowly inside. We entered a large waiting room with a desk at the far end and two hallways branching off to the left and right. Posters of countless League events and training programs covered the far wall, while large computer panels lined the sides, most likely used for tournament registration or accessing the online storage system.
“Everyone line up facing the front counter.”
I almost jumped at the loud, booming voice that seemed to come from nowhere, realizing a moment later that it must have come from speakers. We all glanced around in bewilderment for a few seconds before arranging ourselves in several horizontal lines—I recalled Swift and Firestorm and took my place in the back line. At both far corners of the room, I spotted the cameras that were likely watching right now.
After some time, the voice came again. “Forty-eight. That’s how many of you survived the attack and still had the determination to come here.” It was a young voice, but it sounded hardened… mature… I recognized it from our previous meetings.
Footsteps echoed off the side hallways. We all held our breath in anticipation as Stalker walked into view, wearing the black mask and long cloak.
“You had to endure far more than you should have in order to get here,” he said. “But now you’re here. You’ll all become valuable allies in the fight against Team Rocket.” And with that, he removed his mask and cloak.
It was easy to sense the group’s surprise from the revelation that he was probably not much older than eighteen. Still, he gave off the impression of someone much older and more mature; in a strange sort of way, I felt childish by comparison. He surveyed the group with icy blue eyes and a reserved expression.
“So…” he said after some time. “You all have seen my face, so now I’m in the same position as you. If Team Rocket learns my identity, I’ll be done for. But I want to be on equal terms with all of you, so I believe it’s worth it.” He paused heavily, giving us time to process it all. “I’m sure all the secrets surrounding this were frustrating. I had thought that keeping you in the dark and having you gather together, surrounded by ordinary trainers just like you, would be the best way to keep you safe. I never expected the Rockets to go so far… just to get to me.” At this point, several of the trainers—the ones who had overheard my account of the previous night—now glanced back at me.
“You can call me Stalker,” he announced. No one commented on the strangeness of this. “And this is Midnight Stadium. It’s commonly rented for specialty training programs and casual non-League tournaments, so none of the locals will find it odd that there are so many of you here. Just remember to say that’s why you’re here if any of them ask.”
Stalker paused to make sure everyone was listening, but he hardly needed to—we were all hanging on every word. “The first thing to do is get you signed up. I’ve got the registration computers here connected to my own personal database.” He motioned to the large screens covering the front walls of the lobby. “Once you’re done, you should familiarize yourself with the battlefield while I finalize the Rocket information with everyone one-on-one. And then after that…”—he gave what was probably the first smile I’d seen from him—“then we can get started on that training.”
~End Chapter 8~
Not the best place to end the chapter, but the alternative was ending it on page 23. This means we’ll be having a couple of slow chapters in a row, but the upcoming arc unfortunately requires a ton of new information. I can say that Chapter 10 was a fan favorite, though.