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Pokémon The Legendarian Chronicles

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
There's an Extra on teleport mechanics in the previous post!



~Chapter 15: Mewtwo~


No one questioned me as I made my way towards D block, moving as quickly as possible without outright running. Stracion’s warning had come at the perfect time. The rumor that the experiments were in D block obviously hadn’t reached any executives yet, because there were way fewer Rockets here than the other departments. But ‘fewer Rockets’ still meant ‘Rockets.’

I stopped and leaned against the wall, pretending to fiddle with my R-com while I watched the others out of the corner of my eye. The fact that no one had seen the experiments in a good ten minutes probably meant that they’d stopped running and hid at some point. Also… the room they were hiding in had to be unlocked. There was no way it couldn’t be—otherwise there’d be obvious signs of forced entry.

But that also meant it would be pure luck whether or not I stumbled across the experiments before the Rockets did—not a comforting thought. I couldn’t just go searching randomly. I needed a plan.

I ducked inside the first unlocked room I could find—an office of some sort—and released Chibi. The Pikachu appeared in a flash of white light, immediately clutching his head with his paws.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“*I’ll be fine,*” the hybrid muttered, not making eye contact.

He didn’t look fine, and it still didn’t seem right to send him out when he was like this. But I didn’t really have a choice at the moment. I needed his help.

“The other experiments are nearby. But I don’t know where. We need to draw the Rockets away from that area so I can search without someone else spotting the others as soon as I find them,” I explained.

“*You’re asking for a diversion,*” Chibi said bluntly.

I… honestly wasn’t sure what I was asking of him. But now that he’d said it, a diversion did seem like the best course of action… if he was in any state to be making one.

The Pikachu gave a self-satisfied nod. “*Thought so.*” He glanced around the office, his eyes falling on a door opposite the one I’d come in through. His expression turned thoughtful, like something had just occurred to him, before he walked over and pressed an ear to it.

“*There’s no one on this side,*” he said, gesturing for me to follow him.

I tilted my head. What was he planning? I walked over and opened the door to reveal a dimly lit passageway lined with several other, similar doors. From the peeling paint and chipped tile, it looked like it hadn’t been used in years. Just how big was this base?

Chibi glanced back and forth down the passage, nodding to himself. “*I should have enough charged up for at least one… *” he muttered. One? One what?

I soon got my answer. Sparks leaped off his golden fur, soon giving way to scattered strings of electricity, and then finally a jagged lightning bolt shooting across the hallway. It was tiny compared to his usual Thunderbolts, but it still blackened the opposite wall and split the air with a resounding crack.

I stared at him, completely floored. “What was that…?”

“*Your diversion. Now recall me and get out of here. Hurry!*” he hissed. I didn’t need telling twice. The instant his form dissolved into the Pokéball beam, I bolted in the opposite direction as fast as I could.

The previous hallway was already clear, as all the grunts had run off to locate the source of the lightning. Which meant I only had a few minutes, if that, to blitz through as many unlocked rooms as possible. I threw open door after door, stopping just long enough to scour each room before moving on to the next. Good thing all three of the experiments were so big, otherwise it would have been impossible to search each room quickly enough to make it through them all. But I still hadn’t seen any sign of them yet. Where were they?

After the tenth room with no luck, anxiety was starting to creep up on me. Were they even in this department? Stracion’s info could have easily been wrong. Or she could have tricked me. Or they could have just left before I got here —there were a dozen ways I could potentially fail to locate the experiments.

A few minutes had passed. I was almost out of time, wasn’t I? Come on! I had to find them now! Another door, another computer lab, another failure. I wasn’t gonna find them, was I? But I couldn’t just stop… I had to keep trying.

I threw open a closet, prepared for more nothing… and completely unprepared for the sudden rush of claws and blades flying right at me.

“It’s me, it’s me!” I cried, leaping back and throwing my hands in front of my face. They’d stop themselves in time, right?!

A few seconds passed and I apparently hadn’t been mauled, so I dared to open my fingers a crack, just in time for a pair of claws to grab me by the shoulders and drag me into the closet before the door was slammed shut behind me. I tried to jump back, but there was no space—the experiments were all crammed into a too-small closet, and I was now waaay too close to all of them for comfort. Especially considering the size and wingspan of the Flygon pressed up against the wall to my left. Razors had tucked himself into the corner, his scythes folded in front of his chest so they wouldn’t accidentally slice the others—I appreciated his effort, since my arrival meant there was now even less space. And Absol… Absol lay flat across the floor of the closet—I almost didn’t notice her at first.

Still breathing heavily, I managed to ask, “What are you guys doing in here?”

“*We didn’t have a choice. This guy here basically risked our escape just cause you had Nine,*” Flygon hissed, facing me with an accusing scowl.

“And that’s my fault why…?” I asked slowly.

The bug-dragon paused, as though he hadn’t considered that, then shot a glare over his shoulder at the mantis sitting behind him.

Razors stared back, his expression perfectly neutral. “*I won’t defend myself,*” he said simply. The hybrid turned his gaze on me, and I couldn’t help flinching. “*Do you still have Chibi?*” he demanded, a slight edge to his voice—anxiety, maybe?

“He’s right here,” I said, holding up the black Pokéball.

The mantis relaxed slightly. “*Then we need to get out of here.*”

I clenched my teeth. “Hang on. There’s something else I need to do.”

The two clones fixed me with suspicious glares, but Razors simply nodded and said, “*You mentioned Thirty-six.*”

“*Thirty-six?*” Flygon asked, looking alarmed. “*What’s the human planning to do with Thirty-six?*”

“I’m just copying information from the computer,” I countered, a bit too quickly. The emerald dragon tilted his head incredulously.

“*What is your plan for getting out of here?*” Absol asked, licking her mane and generally looking bored with the discussion.

“I haven’t got one yet,” I admitted.

“*Well you’re a brilliant one, aren’t you?*” she said without looking up at me.

“I wasn’t counting on the base being on high alert! That was you guys’ fault!” I regretted the words the instant they were out of my mouth.

Absol paused her grooming to give a very deliberate brow raise, but Flygon bared his fangs, hissing, “*Watch that tone, human.*”

“*Twenty-four, this isn’t helping,*” Razors said flatly. His intense stare was fixed on all of us, though.

Flygon recoiled slightly under the Scyther’s gaze, but then turned away, mumbling, “*I just don’t feel comfortable with any of this.*”

I groaned. This had gone on long enough, and that Flygon was really starting to get on my nerves. “Look. They still think I’m a Rocket, and it’s going to stay that way. So if you go in your Pokéballs now, then I can freely walk around the base until I feel like leaving, alright?” Which meant I could then complete my mission and they couldn’t do a thing to stop me.

Flygon opened his mouth like he was going to protest, but couldn’t think of anything to say. Absol just shrugged and went back to grooming, now licking her oversized obsidian claws. Several moments passed, then Razors finally broke the silence with, “*So long as all of us, including Chibi, make it out of here… do what you must.*”

He didn’t need to tell me twice. I immediately felt better once the three of them were inside their Pokéballs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Just what is so special about thirty-six?” I asked, unable to hide the annoyance from my voice. “Everyone makes such a big deal about it. What is this thing?”

“*I’ve never seen it before—none of us have,*” Chibi replied. “*But if the rumors are true… we’re gonna need to see it to believe it.*”

The two of us were sitting in an empty lab five doors down from the cloning lab. I’d had to duck in here to avoid the search team currently scouring this department. And I wanted to avoid another Stracion situation, so I had Chibi out since he could most quickly incapacitate anyone who snuck up on us.

Chibi’s ears twitched. “*A lot of Rockets just left the area.*” His ability to monitor the happenings outside our room was also useful.

I slowly crept closer to the window and peeked out into the hallway. A few grunts passed by, then rounded a corner on the other side of the door.

“*And that was the all clear,*” Chibi said, walking over to stand alongside me.

I nodded. “Alright, gonna make a break for the lab now,” I said, recalling him.

I took a deep breath and opened the door a crack, just to be sure that the hallway was indeed empty. No one was in sight, and the only voices within earshot sounded distant and growing fainter still. Perfect. I hopped to my feet and slipped out the door, shutting it quietly behind me before striding across the hallway as quickly as possible. Within seconds I was there, standing in front of the heavy black doors to the Pokémon Cloning Lab.

A chill ran down my back. This was it. The home of the mysterious experiment number thirty-six. I’d finally get to see it, and get its data, and get the hell out of here. I tapped my ID to the card scanner, and even though I’d been finding my way into off-limits rooms all night, I still half-expected this time to be the one where my card would get rejected. There was no way I could just walk right into a room like this. And yet… the scanner light flashed green and the door slid open, just like the rest. Having admin rights was crazy powerful.

The room was dimly lit, with black tile floors and dark metal walls. Ceiling-high computers with dozens of screens completely covered the right wall, currently displaying shimmering, multicolored data graphs of some sort. Huge glass tubes covered the opposite wall, all of them empty and lined with a creepy orange residue. But then, in my peripheral vision, I caught sight of something far more interesting. Seated on a cylindrical platform, hooked up to dozens of tubes and wires, was a Pokémon. And man, was it bizarre. Tall, gangly, and humanoid, with thin, wiry arms and huge legs. But strangely… cat-like? The pointed ears, rounded paws, and short muzzle all reminded me of a cat… a creepy hairless humanoid cat. And yet, despite everything, there was something… powerful about it. I couldn’t explain why, it just was.

My legs carried me closer to the Pokémon without me telling them to. It was weird, but the air around it felt… heavier than it should have. Like there was some invisible force exuding from it that made the hair on my arms stand on end.

My eyes slid to the display screen closest to it. There, in the top left corner, were the words: “Experimental Pokémon 036: Mewtwo.”

Mew… two? This thing was… an enhanced clone… of Mew? A Legendary so rarely seen it was practically a myth. But if Team Rocket made an enhanced copy of it… that meant that it pretty much had to exist, right? That… also meant that I was basically standing next to a Legendary Pokémon.

Its eyes were closed, and it gave no indication that it was aware of my presence. Of course Team Rocket wouldn’t keep a super clone in their base without having it restrained in some way. Still, standing this close to it felt… uncomfortable. I held my breath as I slowly backed away from the clone, keeping my eyes glued to it the entire time. I wasn’t sure how standing ten feet away from it as opposed to five was supposed to be safer in any way, but it made me feel better.

The computers opposite of Mewtwo probably held the information that Stalker was after, and the sooner I got it, the sooner I could leave. It’d be best if I had Chibi out while I was in here, too —just in case I was discovered. As soon as the hybrid materialized from his Pokéball, his eyes went wide at the sight of the clone.

“*Is that Thirty-six?*” the Pikachu asked.

I nodded. “Its name is Mewtwo.”

“*Mewtwo… *” he said slowly. “*So it really is a Legendary experiment, just like me. A clone of Mew… *”

“You know about Mew?”

“*Just stories. Stuff I’ve heard from non-experiments who used to live in the wild.*” He tilted his head, frowning. “*Does it really look like this?*”

“I think the original is smaller… and less humanoid.” At least, from what I could remember. Mew photos tended to be even lower quality than other Legendaries. I mean, with how many legend spotters were out and about, there’d be a few photos of the Johto beasts or the Kanto birds every few months or so. But Mew? A lot of people thought it might not even exist anymore.

I sat myself down in a huge desk chair and pulled out the flash drive Stalker had given me. As for which computer to plug it into… well they were all wired together, so any one of them probably had access to all the others. I shrugged and plugged it into the closest one. A login prompt appeared, but then immediately disappeared as soon as the drive lit up. Huh. Well I was glad Stalker had thought ahead on that one, because I was not in the mood to have a repeat of what happened when I grabbed Chibi.

The only thing on the flash drive was a single executable file. I clicked it, a window popped up with a progress bar, and the drive immediately started to fill itself with files taken from the computer. And that was pretty much it—I just had to sit back and let it do its job. I rotated the chair around to face Chibi, who was still staring at Mewtwo in reverent fascination. The two of them really did have a lot in common, didn’t they? Both created by Team Rocket… both part Legendary… both destined to be used against the Legendaries if it weren’t for the Rebellion.

All of a sudden, the hybrid snapped his head toward me, eyes wide. “*He’s talking to me. In my mind.*”

I stared blankly at him, unable to work through what he’d just said. He didn’t mean… Mewtwo?

“…What?” was all I could say.

“*I told him that I’m an experiment just like him. Hang on, I’ll ask him to include you.*”

He was going to what? How? Tension flooded my body in an instant. What was about to happen and how was I supposed to brace myself for it?

A sudden wave of resentment filled my mind. But that didn’t matter. Nothing I’d been thinking about previously mattered, I just wanted to know what I was doing here. I wasn’t supposed to be here. Why was I here?

Wait… what? What was going on? Confusion… but it was distant. Smothered. Unreal. What was any of this? I was still in the lab, but at the same time I wasn’t. I was… somewhere else. Somewhere less real… the kind of place that only existed between thoughts.

<This one wishes for me to speak to you, human.>

I was not ready for that. Mewtwo’s telepathic voice echoed throughout every corner of my mind. Resounding. Powerful. How had I not known he was psychic? I should have known, even before seeing him. Nothing was more true or obvious in this world. I mean… logically there was no way I could have known that. But I still should have just known. It didn’t matter how.

<Why is a human child here?>

<Because she freed me, and she’s fighting against your creators.> Wait, that was… Chibi? It sounded like him. But I didn’t hear his words at all, it was more like I… felt them. Or something.

<My… creators.> That one was Mewtwo again, and his words were followed by what felt like a sigh. A wave of frustration reverberated throughout my mind. So this was all Mewtwo’s doing, then? He was broadcasting our thoughts to each other?

But then, from the way he’d said it, he clearly knew he’d been created. Did he know what the Rockets were planning to do with him?

<Do you… know what you were created for?> I thought, hoping Mewtwo could hear it. It didn’t really feel any different than just thinking something to myself, so I kind of doubted that I’d get a response.

But then a wave of icy resentment washed over me. <I know that I was created to fight. Created to dominate others like myself.> God, Mewtwo’s presence was overwhelming. I couldn’t tell what I was feeling anymore. Too many things. Too hard to process them all. My thoughts dragged like mud. What was I doing here?

“*Are you alright?*”

I blinked. I’d almost completely forgotten about my other senses in the midst of the bizarre psychic conversation. Chibi was staring at me with his usual intensity, but there was a touch of concern in his expression. Something about looking at him and seeing him with my eyes felt weirdly unnatural right now.

“My head hurts,” I muttered.

“*Do you want to stop?*”

Yes. But this was important. I clenched my teeth and said, “No, anything we can find out from him could be useful.” Then, to Mewtwo, I asked, <Are you able to move or use your power at all?>

The tiniest chill of despair pricked at the back of my neck a few seconds later. <No. I have looked upon the world with my own eyes only once, when I was first awakened. The humans have kept me in this artificial sleep ever since. Speaking through the mind uses only the tiniest amount of my strength.>

Realization flashed across Chibi’s face. “*Thought so. That machine he’s on is an energy inhibitor. Most of the early testing done on me involved one of those.*”

Daggers of impatience suddenly dug into me. <If you are not aligned with my creators, then what are you doing here?>

I took a deep breath. Right, all I’d done so far was ask him frustrating questions without really explaining anything at all. I had to make it clear that I was on his side.

<I came here to get information. They—er, your creators—they want to use your power to capture the Legendary Pokémon. My team is trying to stop them, and this info might help us do that.>

I felt Mewtwo give a cold, ironic chuckle. <Legendary Pokémon… I have heard talk of them. The most powerful beings of this world, and yet the humans regard them as nothing but pawns… pieces of a plan that must be obtained.> His thoughts turned darkly serious. <These ‘Legendaries’ are in danger, that much is certain.>

I swallowed. So he already knew that much. <They’re powerful, yes… but not invincible. Which is why they need our help.>

Amusement. <And what help could a human child give?>

I hesitated. <We’ve already stopped the Rockets once before. And we’ll keep doing whatever it takes.>

<Why?> His tone felt skeptical.

<Because we don’t want their powers abused by the Rockets!> That was it, right? The reason why I’d joined the Rebellion. I couldn’t remember, and the idea of trying to dig up the memory felt like wading through a bog right now.

Mewtwo didn’t respond for some time. I felt a sort of… perplexed curiosity from him. <You said you were going to stop them from using my power. How do they plan to do that? They are afraid to even wake me.>

I was hoping I wouldn’t have to explain that. But I’d been dancing around it earlier in the conversation, and he was bound to notice. <They’ve taken over the minds of some of the other experiments, and they’re trying to do the same to the Legendaries,> I explained. <But they haven’t figured it out yet, and their main test subject is free now, so if we can just—>

<It’s too late.>

I blinked. The words were Chibi’s. What did he mean, it was too late?

Mewtwo was silent for several seconds, until finally: <Explain.>

Anger and shame flickered across the Pikachu’s expression, and he turned to face away from me, though his emotions still reverberated through the psychic link, clear as day. <I’m part Legendary,> he told Mewtwo. <I was the test subject for the Legendary control technology. They recently had a major breakthrough… they hadn’t gotten to try it on me yet, but… > He clenched his fists, feathers quivering. <The next time you open your eyes… it probably won’t even be under your own power.>

I gaped at the hybrid. So that’s what he’d been rambling about while delusional? They’d really done it? They’d figured out how to control Legendaries?

A long pause followed. Shock had paralyzed my thoughts, slowly giving way to a river of cold dread that permeated every corner of my mind. And it was coming from Mewtwo.

<If you have nothing more to say or do here, you should leave.>

Out of nowhere, the feeling vanished. Just like that, Mewtwo’s presence faded from my mind, and it was like a humongous weight had been removed. The air still felt thick and heavy just from being near him, but I could breathe again—and my thoughts and feelings were mine and mine alone.

I shot a bewildered glance at Chibi. “We’re not gonna leave just like that, are we?”

At first, the Pikachu didn’t respond. He was still staring at the floor, fists clenched and body shuddering. Finally, in a low voice, he said, “*You got what you came here for, right?*”

I glanced over at the monitor, where a completion alert had popped up. “I guess so, but…” My words trailed off as my eyes slid back to the machine where Mewtwo was contained. “Shouldn’t we… do something?”

“*Like what?*” he asked without looking at me.

“We… we could, I don’t know… capture him?”

That got his attention. He gave me a look as though I’d just spoken the dumbest words he’d ever heard. “*You know the entire team would be on us in a second if he were removed from that machine.*”

I smiled weakly. “They’re already after me.”

Chibi folded his arms. “*Do you even have an unused Pokéball?*”

I sighed. “No.” Honestly, for all I knew, Mewtwo was probably already linked with a Pokéball. I guess there really wasn’t anything I could do. Not now, anyway.

I turned back to look at the clone one last time. It was bad enough that Legendaries were being captured and brainwashed, but the idea of that happening to one that had never even gotten to do anything in its life…

“We’re going to get you out of here. Maybe not right now, but someday,” I whispered.

I wasn’t expecting a response. Not to something I’d said out loud. But then a rush of conflicting emotions—hope, despair, rage, and helplessness—hit me all at once, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t mine.

<Leave,> Mewtwo said icily.

I sighed. That was the end of that, I guess. I leaned down to retrieve the flash drive from the computer before walking over to the door.

“I’d better recall you again,” I said to Chibi. “The next time I let you out, we should be out of the base.”

“*With our luck, I’m not counting on that,*” the Pikachu said right before his form dissolved into the ball. I took a deep breath before opening the door to the cloning lab and venturing out into the base once more.

I’d accomplished what Stalker had asked of me. I’d succeeded at my own personal mission too. But the encounter with Mewtwo had left a sour taste in my mouth. The Rockets basically now had another Legendary at their disposal, and one that they’d soon be able to fully control. Not only that, but they’d be able to use him to take down and capture other Legendaries. How were we going to sabotage any missions from now on?

I guess that was for Stalker to figure out. That was the whole reason I was gathering this info for him. He’d figure something out.

“What the hell are you doing here, grunt?!”

My heart jumped straight into my throat as I spun around wildly, trying to locate the source of the noise. It wasn’t hard to find—down the other end of the hallway, a Rocket was sprinting toward me. My legs instantly tried to run, but then it hit me—I still looked like a Rocket. Getting in trouble as a random grunt was way better than being caught as a rebel.

As the Rocket neared, I was able to get a better look at her—a young woman with short, auburn hair, a tough build, and stern features. Not the sort of person I’d like to cross. High-ranking too, from the looks of her uniform. She wore a tight black tank top with a thick vest, loose capri pants and heavy black combat boots. Sure enough, both her vest and cap had the executive symbol emblazoned on them.

But then an eerie feeling washed over me. Why did I feel like I recognized her from somewhere?

It hit me like a hammer out of nowhere. She was the executive that cornered us at the plane crash. I hadn’t seen much of her that day, but that voice and overall demeanor was unmistakable.

“This area is strictly off-limits right now! We’re in a high-alert situation and no one’s allowed in this department!”

She still thought I was a Rocket. Good—I had to take advantage of that. I did my best to make a submissive sort of face as I said, “Sorry, I’m new here and I got lost.”

The executive’s footsteps slowed to a stop. She stood there for several seconds, examining me carefully with the single, sharp green eye that wasn’t covered by her bangs. And then a slow look of surprise and recognition spread across her features, followed by a horribly unnerving grin.

“Don’t try making any dumbass excuses—I know who you are. You’re the kid who stole number nine when our transport jet crashed. You’ve got a lot of nerve showing up here now. Either that or you’re just stupid.”

It felt like the air had been sucked out of my lungs. What? How? How could she possibly know it was me? It took every ounce of concentration I had to keep my face neutral with the sudden wave of dread spreading through every inch of my body. Had to play dumb. She had no proof. Had to keep it that way.

“I… really have no idea what you’re talking about.” And given my level of confusion, I was pretty confident that my response didn’t seem like acting.

“Think you can bluff your way out of this? You probably don’t even know how I know that you’re a rebel. I might not have seen you at the crash site, but we have your photo from when you were captured. And I never forget a face.”

I stared in horror, all pretenses of posing as a Rocket utterly dead. She knew. She knew.

The executive smirked, clearly enjoying the effect her words had on me. “Looks like we have rebels infiltrating our ranks after all. The other executives were skeptical, but it makes perfect sense. Your team was responsible for Raikou going free, weren’t you?”

I gave her the most defiant glare I could muster, to let her know I wasn’t going to play along.

She rolled her eyes. “It had to be your team,” she spat. “None of our old enemies would have been able to get the info soon enough—it had to be someone currently working against us from within. Of course, there are a few more things I’d like to know, and you’re going to tell me.”

I hesitated. “…What makes you say that?”

The executive laughed. “You really don’t know who you’re talking to, do you?” When I didn’t say anything, she went on, “My name is Astrid. I’m head executive over the entire Kanto combat unit.”

I clenched my teeth, desperately willing my face to stay neutral. Couldn’t let her know how much dread I was feeling right now. Of course I’d run into the head executive with every reason to hold a grudge against me. I should’ve known I’d used up all my luck with Stracion being the first Rocket to corner me today.

My hand hovered over a Pokéball. Maybe I could… no. No, there was no way I could ever hope to beat her. But I couldn’t let her know that.

“Yeah well… I’ve got number nine, and he beat you and your entire crew last time!” I yelled, holding out his Pokéball. That was pretty much the best show of bravado I could think of.

Astrid rolled her eyes. “I’ll pretend that wasn’t the biggest fluke in existence. Anyway, who said I wanted to battle? I think it’d be faster for me to just knock you out right here, drag your stupid rebel ass to a detention cell, and force you to tell me everything I want to know.”

My eyes unconsciously slid to the gun holster hanging from her Pokéball belt, sending another jolt of ice coursing through my veins. No, what was I thinking—she had just said she planned to take me alive. But only because I had information. And after she’d gotten that information out of me…?

No. No matter what, I couldn’t be captured. I’d be as good as dead. No matter how stupid a plan I came up with, it couldn’t possibly be worse than letting her take me without a fight. But what could I possibly do? Chibi was out of power. Or… was he? He’d said he’d charged up a little bit in the small amount of time he’d been off the machine. It wouldn’t be enough for a battle. But for a single cheap shot…?

I swallowed hard. No choice. I had to try it. With trembling fingertips, I pressed the button on Chibi’s Pokéball.

Astrid’s face lit up with rage. “What the hell are you—?!”

Before the light had even started forming, I called out, “Thundershock!”

Chibi’s body materialized and he immediately let loose a string of lightning at her. She screamed, and I bolted in the opposite direction faster than I’d ever run. My legs were on autopilot. Had to get away, had to get away. Nothing else mattered.

Chibi came racing after me several seconds later. He threw me an accusing glare and yelled, “*What’s going on?! Why did you give us away?!*”

“She already knew it was me, I didn’t have a choice!”

“Damn it, you’re dead now, you little sh‌it!!” Astrid’s enraged voice echoed down the hallway.

The sound of a Pokéball opening reached my ears, followed by paws striking the ground, rapidly approaching us. I didn’t dare turn to look, but suddenly my spine tingled. It felt like… static?

“*Crap. It’s that Raichu,*” Chibi said, an actual twinge of fear in his voice.

I didn’t get a chance to say anything. A flash of neon yellow blinded me and then my senses dissolved into a torrent of pain, twisting and writhing and burning through every inch of me. Limbs went numb, and suddenly I was tripping over useless hunks of dead weight. The floor rushed up to hit me, but I didn’t feel it. Couldn’t feel anything but the piercing sting of lightning.

As soon as it struck, it ended. Was… was it over? Did I still have a chance to escape? I wanted to move, but my body refused to listen. Every inch of me felt numb. I blinked a few times, forcing my eyes to focus on my fingertips. Come on, move! I didn’t have time for this!

Sparks shot past my field of view, and I flinched, expecting another burst of pain. But nothing happened. Slowly, I opened my eyes again. Chibi stood rigid in front of me with his arms spread wide, shielding me with his body. He was panting hard and wincing in pain; sparks leaped off his back at random.

He’d protected me… I couldn’t just lie here, I had to do something. Slowly, painfully, I put every ounce of strength I could gather into forcing my limbs to move again. I didn’t know how, but somehow I managed to pull my legs underneath me to stand up. And then I locked eyes with Astrid, who was looking somewhat frazzled, but still wearing that stupid smug expression of hers.

“What was that about number nine being able to beat me? I know perfectly well its Lightning Rod doesn’t work right—hit it with a big enough shock and it’ll feel the pain just like anything else.” Her face split into a sadistic grin. “Speaking of which, how did you enjoy it?”

I glared at her, my fists clenched so hard my nails dug into my palms. I’d stopped caring about hiding my emotional state from her. I wanted her to see my reactions and know how I felt.

“There’s plenty more where that came from. Personally, if I were in your position, I’d surrender right here and now. But it’s fine if you don’t want to. I could listen to your screams for the rest of the night,” she said icily. Sparks leapt off Raichu’s cheeks at her words.

My thoughts didn’t want to flow straight. I couldn’t tell if it was from the lightning or from the rolling fog of anger clouding my mind. What was I supposed to do now? She had us completely trapped.

Except… wait. Chibi had taken the tail end of the Thundershock for me. It had still hurt him, but he could absorb electricity. Which meant he probably now had enough power for a stronger blast that could knock her out. But the Raichu would protect her if I tried it. I needed something to distract it. One of the experiments? They’d probably kill me if I tried to give them battle orders.

But what if I didn’t need to? What with her attitude of attack first and ask questions later? And… what type was Flygon again…?

I gripped his Pokéball tightly, my mind made up. It was my only option. I threw the ball forward.

“Not this shit again!” Astrid yelled, immediately pointing forward for Raichu to attack the newcomer.

Lightning struck the burst of energy before it even got a chance to materialize. But then it took the form of a dragon. He flared his wings in alarm upon realizing that he was under attack, but then tilted his head in confusion and glanced around, trying to figure out what the heck was going on. The electricity wasn’t harming him at all. So he was a ground-type!

There was a split second where Astrid’s eyes widened with the realization that she’d been tricked, right before Chibi sent a Thundershock flying right at her. She didn’t even get a chance to scream—the force of the attack knocked her unconscious in a second.

Raichu whirled around to see its trainer on the ground and let out a distressed cry before turning back toward Flygon and hissing. It drew back a forepaw and focused energy into it before charging at the dragon.

Okay, there was no reason for us to be fighting this out when the Raichu’s trainer was unconscious. While Chibi rushed in to block the punch with his tail, I bolted around them as fast as I could, grabbed Raichu’s Pokéball off Astrid’s belt, and recalled the orange mouse in a beam of red.

I barely had a second to feel relieved before Flygon rounded on me with an offended glare. “*What was that?! Don’t do that again! I never agreed to battle for you!*”

I recoiled backward, throwing my hands up in defense. “I just needed something to distract Raichu so Chibi could get her! I knew you wouldn’t be hurt by it!”

Flygon snorted and turned his back to me without saying anything. It took me a few seconds to realize that he was done with the conversation and probably wanted to go back in the ball. Fine by me—I recalled him.

I sank to the ground, still not even sure how I’d managed to stand in the first place. The pain was starting to catch up with me. Yeah… everything hurt now. I don’t know how long I sat there, breathing heavily, every nerve in my body firing on overdrive. I’d been so close to getting captured. Way too close.

“*We don’t have much time,*” Chibi said, walking over to me. “*Once someone finds her lying there, they’ll know there was a rebel in the base.*”

I glanced over at Astrid’s fallen form and winced. Even the most intimidating person looked kind of sad and pathetic just lying there in a crumpled heap. Now that the rage and adrenaline was starting to wear off, I mostly just felt creeped out sitting so close to her. I couldn’t help edging away.

“*I’m going to recall myself so I’m not seen. Try to recover quickly.*” Chibi tapped the button of his Pokéball and disappeared.

Suddenly finding myself alone was the kick I needed. Not to mention the fact that I really didn’t want to be seen sitting next to an unconscious executive. I slowly struggled to my feet, every muscle fighting me the entire time, before setting off for the stairs.

My mission was done. After all the unexpected running, hiding, battling, and other crap, it was actually kind of hard to believe I could actually leave Celadon HQ now. Finally. Nothing had ever sounded more appealing than getting out of here and never coming back.

At least after all this, I had a pretty good idea of how to navigate B2f. Crossing the floor to reach the stairs took half the time it had previously. I was about halfway up the stairs when my R-com started buzzing in my pocket. I grabbed it, took a look at the screen, and… I was getting a call from Stracion?

I tapped the screen and hesitantly held it to my ear. “Uh… hello?”

“Yo, you dead yet?”

I snorted. “Obviously not.”

Stracion chuckled. “Just checkin’. Didja find them?”

“Yeah.”

“Shweet. Anyway, you’re gonna have a hell of a time getting out—the base is on lockdown. No one’s allowed out.”

Great. Just great. I swallowed and said, “What if I just wait until the whole mess blows over? There’s no reason for them to suspect my Rocket identity.”

“Maybe so, but that’ll just make them more paranoid. And what if they run a Pokéball inspection?” I hadn’t thought about that.

“What do you think I should do?” I asked slowly.

“Good old-fashioned breakout? You’ve got experiments with you, in case you hadn’t noticed,” she said flatly.

“Wouldn’t that be… really noticeable?”

“You’re kinda past the point of subtlety here, kid.”

“My name’s Jade,” I shot back, tired of being talked down to. And by someone close to my age, no less.

“Alright, alright,” she said dismissively. “Anyway, this is getting to be a pain. I’ll start a rumor that I saw something weird on floor B3. That should draw most everyone who’s not assigned to be on guard. Use that opportunity, cause you’re not getting another one.” And with that, she hung up.

I put a hand to my forehead and exhaled long and hard. As if this night needed more complications. Alright, time to see how bad the entrance was. I walked up the rest of the stairs, doing my best to look casual despite how hard my heart was pounding. A commotion of voices echoed from the lobby, and my body tensed up. It sounded like maybe a dozen or so Rockets had gathered there. My immediate instinct was to spin around and go anywhere else. But… no, I had to give Stracion a chance. It was the only shot I’d get.

Minutes crawled by as I stood alone in the stairwell, waiting. Suddenly, the voices from the other room rose in volume with a tone of alarm. Had the message finally reached them?

Footsteps echoed off the walls, racing toward me. Without thinking, I pressed myself against the wall just as a six-person squad raced past me down the stairs. It felt so incredibly awkward just standing there as they ran past, but they were looking for rogue experiments, not rebels. I had to keep telling myself that.

Once I was certain they were gone, I crept forward down the hallway to the entry lobby, the last room between me and my freedom. I took a deep breath and glanced around the corner. Six Rockets, all of them armed. Four of them had a Pokémon by their side as well. There was no sneaking past them. And trying to persuade them that I, a random grunt, should totally be let out… didn’t sound like a good idea either. It was like Stracion said—our only way out was by force.

I retreated back to the stairway where I could open Pokéballs without anyone hearing the sound. Three flashes of light materialized into Chibi and the two clones.

“Long story short, the base is on high alert and the entrance is heavily guarded,” I said before anyone could ask.

“*How many are there?*” Chibi asked unflinchingly.

“Six Rockets and four Pokémon.”

Absol and Flygon exchanged skeptical looks, but Chibi just stared down, as though in deep thought. “*There’s no way they’ll shoot to kill any of us experiments. We’re too valuable. That’s our advantage here.*” He closed his eyes and lowered his head in concentration, occasionally muttering to himself while the rest of us stood there and waited. Waited for what could be our only ticket out.

“*I’ve got it,*” the Pikachu suddenly announced. “*I’ll rush out there with Agility. While the Rockets are focused trying to hit me, you two will slip behind them with Feint Attack. We take out the Rockets first, then go for the Pokémon.*”

Absol and Flygon nodded, and the three of them wasted no time getting into position at the end of the hallway. Chibi began racing around in a tight circle, his movements quick at first, but rapidly increasing in speed until he was little more than a yellow blur in the middle of the hallway. Suddenly, the hybrid shot forward into the entry room, practically appearing out of nowhere from how fast he was going. He paused there, letting the Rockets get a good look at him before racing off. And the reaction was instantaneous.

“Number nine is loose too?!” one of the guards shouted.

“Number nine is at the entrance, send backup now!” another yelled into a radio.

The room exploded into chaos. The Rockets’ Pokémon dashed forward, claws and fists and teeth glowing, but their target was moving way too fast for them to get any idea of where to aim. Darts shot through the air as the Rockets desperately attempted to tranquilize the lightning-fast rodent. In front of me, the two clones nodded to each other before melting into shadow and streaking across the floor. I had to creep closer to get a look at what was going on, but getting called out by the Rockets was… not really a concern anymore with all the chaos going on now. Absol and Flygon materialized from the shadows behind the Rockets, immediately slamming two of them into the wall. One of the agents spun around at the noise and fired on them, but Absol was ready for that. She jumped in front of Flygon and produced a shimmering Protect barrier.

And that was the opening Chibi needed. After dodging blows from both a Raticate and Machoke, a wave of sparks leaped from his fur, giving way to strings of electricity, and then—

And then it hit me—if he planned to use Discharge, everything in the room was a potential target… including me.

I dove out of the room just as a blindingly bright flash and a resounding crack split the air. When I looked back, three more of the Rockets had slumped to the ground; the one left standing had managed to duck behind her Sandslash for protection. Chibi was crouched low in the middle of the room, panting hard with sparks leaping off his back. A Nidorino picked itself off the floor and launched a flurry of poison darts at him while he was prone, but then Absol appeared out of nowhere and struck it in the back of the head with paws cloaked in dark aura. Sandslash drew back a forepaw and slashed at her, right before Flygon rushed at the ground-type, breathing out a lick of dragonfire in its face. Chibi dodged another vicious bite from Raticate, and then the last remaining Rocket stood up to take another shot and immediately got nailed by a Thundershock.

“*Go now!*” Chibi called out to me.

What, now?! They were still fighting! Except… with the Rockets down, I couldn’t be shot, and they could fend off the enemy Pokémon long enough to escape. That’s what he was banking on!

In an instant, I jumped out from behind the corner and sprinted toward the door as fast as my legs could carry me. A few of the Rockets’ Pokémon glanced in my direction, but Flygon took that moment of distraction as an opportunity to smash them into the floor. Heart pounding, I raced up the stairs, the alluring sight of the exit finally within view. We were going to make it, we actually were going to—I slammed into the door with a painful thud. It wouldn’t open… why not?! Because the base was on lockdown?

“*Out of the way!*” Flygon called out behind me.

I barely had enough time to process his words and jump to the side right before the bug-dragon slashed clean through the door hinges with flaming claws. The door crashed to the ground with a heavy clang, revealing the way out.

Holy crap. Now, more than ever, I was glad to have Flygon on our side.

We burst out into the alleyway, joined immediately afterward by Chibi and Absol. We were all out! Now we just had to get out of sight before the Rockets could catch up, and—

Out of nowhere, Flygon shot into the air, his red-lined wings vibrating impossibly fast as he tore through the alleyway and into the night sky.

Wait, what?! Was… was he leaving?

“Where are you going?!” I cried.

“*Away from here! I’m finally free!*” the dragon called out.

“*Get back here!*” Chibi barked at him. “*You have to carry Jade.*”

Flygon almost tumbled over from stopping so abruptly in midair before whirling around to face Chibi with a shocked and disgusted look. “*What?! I’m not letting a human on my back!*”

“*She has our Pokéballs—if she escapes, so do the rest of us,*” Absol pointed out.

The bug-eyed dragon stared at her, completely taken aback. “*But, but—*”

I could hear the Rockets charging up the stairs after us. In just a few seconds, they’d burst through that door, guns at the ready, and—

“*Quit arguing and just do it!*” Chibi ordered.

“*Alright, fine!*” the dragon roared before shooting back toward us and hovering alongside me. Any hesitation I might’ve had about riding a Pokémon that clearly didn’t want to be ridden flew straight out the window. I recalled Absol and jumped onto the dragon’s back, and was about to recall Chibi, but then he leaped on with me, gripping my shirt with his claws.

By the time the Rockets burst out into the alleyway, we were gone.






~End Chapter 15~
 
Last edited:

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
The two of us were sitting in an empty lab five doors down from the Mewtwo room
Ahaha... I think you accidentally spoiled it in-narrative before Jade would have known.

--

Okay! So, this was a nice chapter. I liked where you went with it, and as usual, the action was spliced in with development. Obviously the most interesting segment was the part with Mewtwo, and how telepathy seemed to work. It's always a little different from story to story, and I think this implementation, which is a bit more involved, is a nice take on it. I felt just as helpless and perhaps irritated as Mewtwo did when it was clear that they wouldn't have an easy way to free him. It's a shame they couldn't try to brute force it or something. After all, Mewtwo could probably yeet every single person in the facility if he tried, right? I'm not sure how strong Pokeball mechanics are if they tried to recall him...

Anyway, good chapter. They made their escape and got what they needed--mission accomplished, just barely. They even got Chibi back!
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Ahaha... I think you accidentally spoiled it in-narrative before Jade would have known.
oh my GOD that is getting hotfixed, screw waiting until revisions, how did bloody hell that go unnoticed until now. xD
It's a shame they couldn't try to brute force it or something. After all, Mewtwo could probably yeet every single person in the facility if he tried, right? I'm not sure how strong Pokeball mechanics are if they tried to recall him...
haha, yeah it's a good thing Jade was unsure on this because Mewtwo was drugged to heeeelllll. And also at zero energy. Granted, with his aura, it'd probably take all of five minutes to recover the 1% power needed to smash walls down, but that's not a five minutes they could spare.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
~Chapter 16: Reunion~


The flight home felt much longer than the flight to the base. I made Flygon head west of Celadon to start with, that way the Rockets wouldn’t know that the base was to the east. Even a vague hint like that could be disastrous later on. Practically every instruction I gave was met with some kind of complaint from the Flygon, but at this point I was too tired to care, and he ended up following them in the end anyway.

Finally, after everything we’d gone through to get this far, we were met with the glorious sight of Kanto’s eastern coastline, with the silver light of the full moon glimmering off the waves. Just beyond that lay Midnight Island, and it had never looked more inviting. I’d only been gone for a few hours, but it had felt like forever. What time even was it? I pressed the button on my watch to illuminate its face, but nothing happened. Well, that was strange. Not that it really mattered what time it was—either way, the answer was “way too late.”

I pointed Flygon in the direction of Midnight Stadium and we drifted down toward it, his diamond-shaped wings buzzing with a lot less vigor than they had at the beginning of the flight. Finally the dragon touched down on the ground with a clumsy thud, immediately collapsing onto all fours.

“*Damn it, why’d we have to fly so far?*” Flygon gasped, his wings drooping. He’d probably never flown that far in his life. I almost would have felt bad for him… if he hadn’t tried to leave us all behind at the Rocket base.

“I already told you this is the safest place for us right now, unless you wanted to sleep in a random forest somewhere.” That got me shaken off his back in a hurry.

Chibi hopped a few feet from me, shaking out his fur while I picked myself up from the dirt and brushed off my pants.

“*Alright, I did my part, I got everyone here. Now let out the others,*” Flygon grumbled, folding his wings against his back.

I shrugged and grabbed two Pokéballs from my pocket, one red and one black, opening them to reveal twin flashes of light that took the forms of a white beast and a tall green mantis. And then Chibi froze, staring wide-eyed at Razors in total disbelief. In all the time I’d known him, I’d never seen him look so stunned. But then, this was his first real reunion with Razors in… how long? Years? How many years had Razors been brainwashed? How many years had Chibi been forced to view his companion as the enemy?

“*Jade said she’d found you, but… some part of me didn’t believe her,*” the Pikachu said quietly. “*There’s no way. It can’t really be you.*”

The Scyther stared back, his expression impossible to read. Finally, he gave a gentle nod and said, “*I’m real.*”

With slow, hesitant steps, Chibi walked over to him, not breaking eye contact the entire time. He then reached out and placed a trembling paw on the green edge of Razors’s scythe.

“*I’ve probably imagined this a million times. When you were first taken… I told myself I wouldn’t give up hope. That I would spend every day trying to free you.*”

Razors didn’t respond. He just stared downward, blinking slowly.

“*But as the years went by, I lost hope,*” Chibi went on, breaking eye contact. “*I thought you were gone forever. I…*”—his voice broke—“*I tried to kill you.*”

“*I know,*” Razors replied, his voice the same monotone as usual. “*So did I.*”

Something flashed through Chibi’s eyes. “*That’s not the same. You weren’t you.*”

Razors chuckled. The sound was hollow and utterly joyless. “*Does it make any difference? The outcome would have been the same either way.*”

The Pikachu shook his head. “*That doesn’t… that’s not…*”

“*What’s done is done,*” the mantis said firmly. “*Neither of us can take it back. But it didn’t come to that—we’re both still alive.*”

Chibi opened his mouth like he was going to protest, but then froze, staring at the other hybrid. Slowly, his wide-eyed, desperate expression faded as he dropped his gaze to the ground and closed his eyes. “*We’re both still alive…*” he said quietly.

“*Alright, this is all very touching, but where are we, and what are we going to do now?*” Absol cut in, stepping forward and glancing between the hybrids and me.

“This is my team’s base,” I answered. “As for what you’re going to do, we can ask Stalker in the morning.”

The dark-type tilted her head. “*Who?*”

“My team leader.” I tapped my room key to the card scanner and the front door to the stadium opened up. I stepped a foot inside so the door wouldn’t shut itself, then turned back toward the experiments. They were still staring at me, perplexed. I made an expectant face and gestured inside.

Flygon glanced around suspiciously. “*I’m not going in there.*”

I rolled my eyes. “Then sleep outside. I don’t care either way, just make up your mind so I can go to bed.”

I got the feeling from his expression that he was going to be offended either way, and just couldn’t decide which option was more worth getting offended over. Which meant that basic comfort won out—the bug-dragon slowly shuffled in through the entrance, making sure I saw how much he didn’t want to. He was closely followed by Absol, who rolled her eyes at the fuss he was making. Finally, Razors and Chibi stepped in together.

I walked across the lobby and pushed open the double doors that led to the battlefield. “You guys can stay in here. If any kids wake up before me and see you guys, Chibi’s in charge of explaining how you all got here.” The rebels had at least heard of him, unlike the other experiments. Still, the first kid to wander into the battlefield was probably in for a big surprise.

I left them there and made a beeline for the elevator, only vaguely aware of riding it to my floor, stumbling down the hallway, and scanning my card key into my room at last. My shoes thudded against the wall, kicked off the instant I walked through the door. And then, with my last ounce of conscious thought, I let out my Pokémon for the night.

The Charmeleon and Pidgeotto appeared in a flash and took fighting stances, relaxing upon noticing we were back in our room.

“*You made it out,*” Swift said, his voice almost sounding proud.

“*Did you get the experiments? What about Stalker’s mission? Did you fight any more Rockets?*” Firestorm demanded, his eyes wide.

“Yes, yes, and… yes,” I answered. And before either of them could say anything else, I collapsed onto the bed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I’d like to thank you for a mission well done.”

Twigs and leaves snapped under our feet as Stalker and I walked along the trail that ran through the forests near Midnight Stadium. It was a bright, cloudless day, and the September air was cool and breezy now that the oppressive summer heat was finally over. It was hard to appreciate the perfect weather, though. The idea of briefing him on what had happened in the base had been eating away at the back of my mind, refusing to let me think of anything else.

“I wouldn’t call it well done with all the trouble I got into,” I said.

“You made it out alive,” he said matter-of-factly. “Not to mention rescuing four experiments and recovering the Mewtwo data.” He held up the flash drive I’d given him to emphasize the point.

I grit my teeth. No sense holding back any longer.

“I ran into an executive… Astrid.”

Recognition flashed through his eyes. “And you escaped. That’s impressive.”

I nodded. “But not before she figured out my identity. She recognized me from the plane incident.”

Stalker paused, considering the information carefully. “I’ll keep an eye on your Rocket account and see whether or not it’s been flagged for suspicion. But just in case, stay away from any Rocket bases for now.” That was going to be a problem.

“But I’m due for grunt work in Cerulean next week,” I protested. And my supervisor was… not exactly the kind of person I wanted to upset.

He gave me a pointed stare. “The last thing you want is to be captured inside a base.”

I couldn’t argue with that. It was frustrating, but I didn’t have any alternative.

I glanced at my watch for about the millionth time that day only to be met with the same blank face. I’d realized at some point that it was probably dead from Raichu’s lightning, though I didn’t seem capable of remembering that fact for more than five minutes.

And then, for whatever reason, it hit me. My watch wasn’t the only sensitive device I’d had on me at the time.

Stalker’s gaze fixed on me. He obviously noticed my expression take a sudden nosedive, because he asked, “What’s wrong?”

“The Mewtwo data’s probably gone. It… might have gotten… exposed to some lightning.” Stupid. Why didn’t I just say that she’d hit me with Thundershock? But then… the memory burned. That feeling of being cornered, unable to do anything, facing down a vastly superior opponent who could do whatever she wanted to me. It was… humiliating.

“I take it that was Astrid’s doing?” Stalker asked, looking vaguely amused by my choice of words.

Right. I’d already told him I’d run into her. He obviously had to realize what had happened.

“Her Raichu is infamous,” he went on, “but you don’t have to worry about the Mewtwo data. That script wasn’t just copying the data to the drive. It was uploading it to an online storage. I actually read some of it last night.”

I gaped at him. “Wait, seriously?” Did he ever sleep?

“It wasn’t my idea—you can thank my friend who wrote it.”

“So if you’ve read it… what did you find out?!” I asked excitedly.

Stalker paused, gazing off into the distance. “Mewtwo is more powerful than we could have ever thought. Much stronger than any of the Legendaries on record.”

My face fell, and the ridiculously overbearing presence of Raikou and Entei flashed through my memory. To think that Mewtwo was even stronger than them…?

“Chibi told me that they figured out the Legendary control,” I said slowly. “They’ll be able to use it in the next Legendary mission. If that’s true, then… I don’t know how we’ll stand a chance at stopping them.”

Stalker gave me a pointed look. “Don’t lose hope. We’ll have to change our tactics for the next mission, but I’m confident we can stop them.” I was glad he had that much confidence in us because I sure didn’t.

“Not to mention, we have some new allies…” he continued, trailing off at the end. We’d just stepped out of the trees into the clearing around Midnight Stadium, and were met with the sight of half the Rebellion still crowded around the experiments like they had been when we left. I couldn’t help chuckling a bit under my breath at how much everyone was admiring them. Most of the experiments didn’t seem to care about the excessive attention, although Flygon was starting to grow agitated.

The crowd of trainers parted as we approached, allowing Stalker to step forward and talk face-to-face with the experiments.

“Up until now, you’ve lived your entire lives for Team Rocket, haven’t you?” Stalker asked.

“*They made us, so yeah,*” Absol said flatly.

“Well, it’s up to you what you want to do with your lives now. I suspect none of you have ever spent time in the wild, so you’re welcome to stay here with us. But in return, I’d like to make a deal.”

Chibi and Razors stared unflinchingly while Absol and Flygon exchanged skeptical glances.

“You already know that we’re fighting against the Rockets. Will you lend us your strength? We could use the extra help from strong Pokémon.”

“*I don’t want to have a trainer,*” Flygon said gruffly.

“You won’t have one,” Stalker said, raising his hands disarmingly. “You’d just be free Pokémon who happen to train with us and fight Rockets with us.”

“*I was already going to do that,*” Chibi said simply.

Absol closed her eyes. “*Whatever.*”

Flygon glanced around uncertainly, as though looking for some excuse to not have to say anything. Finally, he put on his best disinterested face and said, “*I… guess I wouldn’t mind still getting to fight.*”

Razors was the only one who hadn’t responded. The mantis just stared at the ground quietly, as though deep in thought. His eyes slid to the Pikachu at his feet, who was watching him expectantly. Then, slowly, he nodded.

“It’s settled then.” Stalker turned to face the rest of us. “Experiments eight, nine, twenty-four, and twenty-five will be joining the Rebellion,” he announced, to a wave of excited chattering from the crowd.

“*We’ve escaped from the Rockets,*” Absol said with a huff. “*We’ll never be tested on again. Those identities are meaningless now.*”

Stalker folded his arms. “I see. Do you have preferred names?”

“*Razors and I do,*” Chibi said. “*These two don’t.*”

“*Never needed them,*” Flygon added.

Stalker nodded. “Alright then. I will give you new names.”

The two clones blinked in surprise. They clearly weren’t expecting that, but neither of them protested. Stalker proceeded to pace back and forth in front of them, rubbing his fingers on his chin while they eyed him curiously.

“You’ll be Aros,” he said to the Flygon. He then turned to face the Absol. “And you—you’ll be Stygian.”

Absol—or rather, Stygian—tilted her head a bit, but then just shrugged. Aros paused to consider the name, like he was trying to find something wrong with it, but he wound up nodding in the end.

I couldn’t help feeling really, really proud. Not only had my mission resulted in four experiments being freed, but they were also joining us? This pretty much completely made up for my inaction at the Raikou mission.

“Do you still have their Pokéballs?” Stalker asked me. Right, there was no reason for me to hold onto them if they were going to be free now. I dug through my pockets and retrieved the minimized balls, handing them to him. He gave them a curious look before saying, “I’ll keep them in my office. Having the option to recall them in case of emergencies could be useful.”

And then, for whatever reason, my brain caught up with my hands and realized what I’d done. Without even thinking about it, I’d handed him Razors, Aros, and Stygian’s Pokéballs, but not Chibi’s.

Chibi, who’d stayed with me all through Vermilion. Who’d inspired me to act aboard the S.S. Anne. Who’d protected me just like a member of my team.

“Hey, Chibi… can I ask you something?” I asked, gesturing away from the crowd.

The Pikachu glanced up at me with a puzzled expression, but then followed me as I led him off to the side, close to the trees. I couldn’t help noticing how slow his steps were, and the wince that followed each one.

“Um… are you okay?” I asked.

“*I’m fine, everything just hurts… I’ve got to get used to that again,*” he muttered.

I tilted my head. “Still?” He’d been off that Rocket machine for over twelve hours by now. If the effect was lasting this long…

“*It’s normal for me,*” Chibi said, cutting off that train of negativity and replacing it with another.

“…What do you mean?” I asked warily.

The look on his face plainly said that he didn’t want to explain. Despite this, the hybrid took a deep breath and said, “*My Zapdos energy is too strong for this body. The feeling of generating power… it’s always hurt, as long as I can remember.*”

He was… always in pain? And that was normal for him? How come I never noticed? Was I just that unobservant, or… was he just that good at hiding it?

“*That’s the reason I train so often,*” he went on. “*Releasing the energy is one of the few things that feels good. Although once I start, my body tries to let it all go at once.*”

“Like when you finished the battle at the plane,” I said slowly. He had been able to absorb Pichu’s entire store of electricity and fire it off in a single move.

He nodded distantly. “*That felt amazing…*”

I stared at him, lost for words. I was still having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it was a thing. And the kind of thing that nothing could change. I couldn’t help him. No one could.

Chibi glanced up at me and glared when he saw my expression. “*I don’t need sympathy. I’m like this because they made me this way. It’s as simple as that. In any case, you’re stalling. You wanted to ask something. So ask it.*”

I hadn’t even realized that’s what I was doing, but he was right. I still had absolutely no idea how to word the thing I wanted to ask, and I also had no idea how he was going to react.

Finally, I just took a deep breath. “Last time I saw you, you were kind of stuck with me. I’m not sure how you felt about that, but I just… wanted you to know that I’m glad you’re here. And I know you never really got a choice to stay with me before, but…”

“*I could have left at any time,*” the hybrid said simply. “*I didn’t.*”

I fidgeted uncomfortably. “Well… yeah, but…”

“*I’ll stay by your side. It’s the least I can do to repay you for what you’ve done.*”

Honestly, it didn’t feel like I’d done anything special. Anyone on the Rebellion could have done what I did. But would they have? I guess that’s what it all came down to—the fact that I’d wanted to. Still, I couldn’t deny that I was really, really happy that he was alright with staying with me. I couldn’t even explain why.

By this point, Aros and Stygian had been dragged off to our outdoor battle area while the rebels fought over who got to battle them first. Razors had turned down several battle requests and was now sitting off to the side, quietly watching the others. I couldn’t help noticing Chibi gazing at him with… probably the most content expression I’d ever seen on his face.

“You’re really glad he’s free, huh?” I asked.

For several seconds, the Pikachu didn’t acknowledge that I’d said anything. Finally, in a weary tone, he said, “*For the first half of my life… he was all I had.*”

I nodded. He didn’t need to say anything else. In spite of whatever had happened in the past, things were better now. And that was true for the Rebellion as well. And for me.

No more fixating on the past. Time to move forward.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two weeks passed and September was suddenly almost over in what felt like no time at all. No news of any upcoming Legendary missions had reached us, and the atmosphere of the Rebellion had become fairly relaxed.

Which was why it was weird that Firestorm still insisted on training like his life depended on it, every day, long after the rest of us had quit. I’d left him alone most of time because I figured he’d get it out of his system and stop on his own eventually, and any attempts to ask him why never seemed to get anywhere. But after two weeks, I was kind of starting to get worried.

It was dusk, and the Charmeleon was training on the edge of the forest. He’d found an old log amongst the trees and had set it up as a target, practicing all of his moves on it. Back by Midnight Stadium, Stalker was giving a demonstration on setup moves with his Charizard and Dragonite. Which made the whole situation even weirder because Firestorm loved watching Stalker’s demonstrations. And, yeah… occasionally he did stop to glance over at it—largely to stare at Charizard, I couldn’t help noticing. But then he immediately went back to what he was doing with a renewed vigor.

I didn’t know whether or not to say anything this time. Would it do any good, or would he just brush me off like last time? Then again, I was his trainer. It was kind of my job to take care of my Pokémon. I couldn’t just ignore that.

“Really, Firestorm, you’ve been at this all afternoon,” I finally said.

The Charmeleon paused, pretending like he’d just noticed me, even though I’d seen him glance in my direction when I’d first walked up.

“*Yeah, and you’re my trainer, why am I training without you?*” he asked flatly.

“Because I already did my training for the day,” I said, folding my arms. “You just keep insisting on doing double time.”

“*Lazy.*”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, well, when you battle yourself into exhaustion, see if I care,” I said, turning to leave.

The fire lizard snorted and went back to his training. I didn’t really plan on leaving, of course, but he ignored me after that, so I opted to just sit and watch him for a while.

He took a fighting stance in front of the log and brandished his claws before lunging forward and slashing deeply into its surface, faster than I’d seen him move before. He drew his arms back for a second strike, and his claws suddenly glowed with a metallic sheen right before cleaving deeper gashes into the wood. A third strike, and his claws were cloaked in wispy tendrils of purple smoke.

I hadn’t seen his Shadow Claw look that well-developed before. But I didn’t have much chance to appreciate it before the Charmeleon leaped back from where he stood and breathed out a flurry of embers. The attack lasted a few seconds before he frowned and stopped. The fire lizard closed his eyes in concentration, inhaling deeply. He then spat out a half-dozen small fireballs that burned brightly in midair before going out in a puff of smoke.

He really was getting better. But there was something almost… desperate about his expression and movements throughout all of this. Like he didn’t just want to be doing this, but felt like he had to, for some reason. Maybe I was just reading too much into it, but… it reminded me of something.

The time he’d been desperate to help at the plane incident. The time he’d been completely shut down on the S.S. Anne. And, more recently…

“This is about what happened with Stracion, isn’t it?”

The Charmeleon froze mid-move, losing his balance and faceplanting into the dirt. He picked himself up with a huff, shooting a glare in my direction, but then turned away and sagged his shoulders. He wasn’t denying it.

“*Even after all the training here… I didn’t stand a chance. Swift at least got a few hits off, but I…*” His voice trailed off.

I exhaled slowly. So I was right. I’d kind of figured as much, but this trend of him being obsessed with being useful in battle was starting to get out of hand. I’d originally chalked it up to the time he’d spent as weak little Charmander, but the past two months of being a Charmeleon hadn’t really helped much.

“You know, you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’re useful to me. I still want you around,” I pointed out.

“*Whatever,*” the fire lizard muttered, standing up and giving a few half-hearted slashes at the log.

I sighed. This wasn’t the sort of problem that was going to sort itself out. And if he was upset about losing battles, then that wasn’t all on him anyway. They always said that in competitive battling, a Pokémon was only as good as their trainer—and as a trainer, I was failing him. The question was, what was our biggest weakness right now? During the fight with Stracion, he hadn’t been able to land a hit. Part of that was because her Grovyle was so fast, but the other part… was not having any decent fire moves to hit it with anyway.

“Alright then… I’m your trainer, I need to be training you. We need to get you some new moves,” I announced suddenly.

Firestorm whirled around in surprise to stare at me incredulously.

“Don’t give me that look, I’m serious,” I said. “All this time you’ve been stuck with Ember. I think that’s the source of a lot of our problems—the lack of a good fire move. And I know we’ve tried working a bit with Fire Fang, but—”

“*I don’t like Fire Fang. It’s too hard to land a hit with it.*”

I groaned. If he could just stop complaining for two seconds… “Well alright, then we’ll need to try something different.” What other fire moves were Charmeleon capable of using? I’d know if I had a Pokédex. Technically I could go back to the stadium and look it up, but I wanted to figure this out on my own.

Let’s see… he did know Fire Blast, but… we’d only tried it once since he’d learned it from that TM, and it was still every bit as unpredictable and impossible to control, even now that he was a Charmeleon. I’d been afraid to try it again ever since… at least not without Rudy’s Wartortle standing by. But there were other options…

“Flamethrower is one of the best fire moves,” I said, thinking aloud. “Powerful, easy to aim. Takes a lot of energy though, so it’s not a low-level move.”

Firestorm’s eyes lit up. “*I wanna try it.*”

I nodded, taking a few steps back. “From what I remember, it’s basically just a long stream of fire. Like Fire Blast, but way thinner, and you don’t have to get it to split into five, so it should be easier to control.”

Firestorm planted both feet firmly on the ground, digging his claws into the dirt and taking a deep breath. He then exhaled a large burst of flame that billowed outward in the air before splitting off into wisps and then vanishing completely. The Charmeleon blinked a bit in surprise, then let out two or three more spurts of fire with similar results. The flame was impressive—it just wasn’t going anywhere.

“It keeps fading before it travels far enough. Try making it hotter,” I suggested.

Firestorm closed his eyes in mild frustration before blasting out an even bigger fireball, but this one travelled even less distance before fizzling into smoke. The Charmeleon stamped his foot against the dirt and tried again, and again, but the more force he put into it, the more it just kind of… scattered all over the place, until finally one attempt didn’t even catch fire in the air, but just sputtered red-hot flares across the ground.

“*This is stupid, why can’t I just use Fire Blast?*” the fire lizard growled, right before inhaling deeply and—

“Don’t!!” I shouted, lunging forward to grab his arm as the fiery glow rose up from his throat. At the last second, Firestorm snapped his jaws shut, smoke leaking out of the corners of his mouth.

“Just… don’t. We’re not there yet,” I said quietly.

Firestorm stared at me in surprise, blinking several times before staring downward. “*Alright, fine…*”

I gave a heavy sigh of relief. “Besides, how would we even use Fire Blast indoors? I mean, stadiums are all well and good, but the average Rocket battle isn’t exactly gonna be in a regulation battlefield.”

The Charmeleon folded his arms and gave a slight huff, but he didn’t complain, which was generally code for when he knew I had a point but didn’t want to admit it.

Alright, so his fire breath wasn’t controlled enough for Flamethrower yet… what else could we try? I racked my brain for fire attacks, half-tempted to just drag Firestorm over to Stalker and ask him directly.

But then the idea struck. This whole time, he’d been way quicker to pick up physical moves than long-distance ones. Slash, Metal Claw, Shadow Claw—he was getting good at all of them. But the instructions I’d been giving him in battle didn’t really reflect that. Were we wasting our time trying to figure out how to pull off ranged moves when he already had a solid foundation for close-quarters fighting?

“Can you generate fire around your fist?” I suddenly asked.

Firestorm stared blankly. “*How on earth would I do that?*”

“Just try focusing your energy into it,” I suggested.

The fire lizard shrugged and held a fist up in front of his face, staring at it. After several seconds, he clenched it tighter, tensing every muscle in his arm. His brow furrowed, his breathing grew heavier, every ounce of concentration pouring into it. I squinted, trying to make out if anything was happening. A spark, a shimmer of heat, anything…

“*Yeah, this is stupid,*” Firestorm said, letting the arm drop to his side.

I sighed, really wishing he wasn’t so quick to dismiss things. I was definitely onto something with idea of focusing on physical moves—I was sure of it.

Then again… he’d been able to breathe out decent fireballs. They were just fading away too quickly in the air. But if they couldn’t be used as a ranged move, maybe they could work in a different way…

“Try breathing a fireball onto your fist.”

“*What?*” Firestorm asked, gawking at me like I’d just gone insane.

“I’m serious, try it.”

The Charmeleon held his fist in front of his face and gave it an incredulous look, like this couldn’t possibly work. Still, he went ahead and blew out a small fireball onto it. The flames surrounded his claws, not really doing anything at first. But then he stopped adding fire with his breath and the flames… actually stuck around for a few seconds before going out.

Firestorm’s eyes went wide. “*Did you see that?!*”

“I did—try striking with it next time!” I said excitedly.

With the most enthusiasm he’d shown all night, the fire lizard breathed a huge fireball onto his fist and immediately concentrated on holding it there. The fireball shrank considerably after the first few seconds, but it was still there, flickering away. Firestorm stared at it excitedly, then remembered that he was supposed to be doing something with it and swung the flaming fist at the log, striking it with a solid punch that sent a wave of flares flying away from the impact. It had worked!

“There we go! That’s the start of a decent Fire Punch!” I exclaimed.

Firestorm stared at the log, like he could hardly believe was he was seeing. But then the shock wore off and a grin started to creep across his face.

I patted him on the back. “Not bad. Now come on—is that enough success for the night? Ready to stop?”

Firestorm glanced up at me with a sort of weary exhilaration. Like he was too excited to stop, but had also just realized how tired he was. “*Yeah. Alright.*”

I gave him another pat and turned to walk back to the stadium, motioning for him to follow me. The Charmeleon plodded along after me, slowly at first, then jogging to catch up.

“*Hey, um… thanks,*” he mumbled awkwardly.

“Don’t mention it,” I said. But then one more thing occurred to me, and I couldn’t just let it go without saying something. “So I saw you staring at Stalker’s Charizard a bunch. What’s with that?” I teased.

Firestorm’s eyes went wide, and he immediately looked away. “*Nothing, she’s just… really strong, and I wanna be strong like that someday,*” he mumbled. Sure, that’s all there was to it. I definitely believed that, except that I didn’t.

I nudged him playfully in the ribs but didn’t press the matter any further. The embarrassed look on his face was more than enough for me.






~End Chapter 16~

Next chapter has ALL THE PLOT.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Ah, and here we go, another little interlude chapter. I think these have been generally good for the flow of the story, and compared to the opening chapters, I think these were paced a lot better in terms of being able to follow everything and actually getting a good feel for the characters, to an extent. Swift definitely got a bit of a backseat here in favor of Firestorm and Chibi, but I think that works out for now. I do wonder if Razor would be a permanent addition to Jade’s team, though—after all, he and Chibi used to be really close, right? At the very least, I would have wondered why that wasn’t a bigger consideration, unless I missed it.

I pressed the button on my watch to illuminate its face, but nothing happened. Well, that was strange
I know this was a bit of a minor point now, but I kinda was expecting this to be a bigger deal than it turned out to be. Maybe I’m just too keen on protagonists dismissing something clearly important because “why else would the author dedicate a sentence to it?”

the bug-dragon slowly shuffled in through the entrance, making sure I saw how much he didn’t want to.
Okay are we writing the same Flygon?

It was uploading it to an online storage. I actually read some of it last night.”
I’m… kind of perplexed by this from a software security standpoint. Why would something as important as Mewtwo’s data be kept on a criminal syndicate’s computer with open access to the Internet, and not on a closed-shell system? The USB stick doesn’t have wireless capabilities, does it? Wouldn’t they have had jammer signals to prevent something like that from happening via foreign items? I guess I can chalk it up to security oversight / someone leaving the Internet ports open for the Mewtwo-related computers (but if that was the case, they could’ve tried to find a way to hack in from there remotely, if that’s how flimsy their security was…) but this is definitely another spot that has me furrowing my brow.

Even if this is a big twist and all of these missions are a big façade by Stalker, in the moment, I just find that odd. After all, if it was broadcasting it automatically, why was Stalker so intent on bringing the data back physically? He could’ve just said to put the USB in, let it do its thing, and then get out/destroy the evidence since it’s no longer needed. If that was the case, why didn’t Jade point it out or otherwise say, “Why didn’t you tell me that?!” or something to that effect? The whole part of the mission about getting out with the data was rendered moot from her perspective.

Still, I couldn’t deny that I was really, really happy that he was alright with staying with me. I couldn’t even explain why.
Another moment of telling and not showing that bugged me a bit, coupled with the “and I don’t know why I felt that way” clause that gets used really often. I feel like this would have been better if how Jade manifested her relief—a sigh, a weight lifting, etc.—and then just nixing the second sentence altogether and leave it to implication.

That’s the start of a decent Fire Punch!
Man I wish the move tutor was this easy normally.



Anyway, aside from those nitpicks, I liked this scene. Razor’s emotionlessness kinda blunted things, but it seems like Chibi’s used to that sort of thing. Guess now we’re going to see what the next mission entails, and whatever this plot is you’re talking about in the next-chapter warning.
 

Virgil134

Active member
Alright, back for chapter 5 and 6! Looks like the first of the two is indeed a breather as I expected, which is definitely nice after the craziness from the last few chapters. Anyway, let’s get right into this:

Chapter 5

“All in all, great job today, everyone. I’d say we’ve graduated to top class as far as not-getting-killed-by-Rockets goes,” Spencer said, stretching widely and flopping to the ground.
First paragraph of the chapter and Specer’s already here with the snarky comments.

We were resting in a small, shaded clearing in the woods some thirty minutes west of the crash side, after Spencer’s Pidgeot had proven too sore to make the full journey back to Viridian—especially with two passengers.
I think you misspelled “site” there.

I looked down to see a blue psychic aura surrounding the shackles that were still clasped around my wrists and ankles, causing them to snap open suddenly.
That’s uh… a very strong Psychic if it can just instantly do that to iron shackles. I think I definitely like your idea more of revising things so that Jade was never chained in the first place.

“Has anyone ever captured a Legendary before?” Rudy asked, furrowing his brow like he was trying to figure something out.

Almost immediately, Ajia responded, “No. Never.”
Huh, interesting. Not even the anime can say that. So Legendaries must be a pretty big deal in your setting, even compared to canon standards.

“Scary organization that tried to kill us now has an ultra-powerful fire-breathing weapon. I hope I’m not the only one bothered by this,” Spencer commented.
Don’t worry Spencer, you’re not. I’m curious to see what Team Rocket’s exact plan with Entei will be though.

I gave her an incredulous stare. “Um. Yeah, right. You just happened to be flying by and see us?”
Jade saying what the reader is thinking. :P

Pawning it off the second I got to Vermilion had managed to land me 20,000 pyen
I read the side note, and I gotta say, I quite like the name “pyen”. It’s clever and works well since the monetary values in the games are modeled after the yen.

“Pfft, we’re not like Pokémon; our brains don’t just ‘pick up’ languages like that.” I snapped my fingers to emphasize the point.
Wait, Pokémon can really just do that in your setting?

Though I enjoyed this chapter. I like how Jade’s on her own in Vermillion now and actively doing something with Stalker’s (cool little nickname btw) invite. Makes it feel like this party is getting started for real.

Chapter 6

Everything was going to be fine.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Everything was not fine.
Heh, gotta love scene breaks like that.

“*And I do have a name. I only ever used it with… But that doesn’t matter now… Call me Chibi.*”
Ah, so that’s where your username comes from. :P

That said, I’m glad to see that Jade and the experiment are getting along now. I guess he can officially be considered part of her team now alongside Firestorm and Swift? Will be fun to see how him and Jade working together will go, which judging by the rest of the chapter, will surely be entertaining to read.

“Knock her out, Machoke.” The voice was dripping with disappointment. I winced as I felt the dull thud of an impact vibrate across the floor.
I know we didn’t see who the Rockets were interrogating exactly, but that seemed rather easy.

Chibi pressed his tail harder against the man’s neck until it was nearly digging into the flesh. I had no idea what move he was using, but I had the sickening suspicion that he could have ended the man’s life right then and there.
No cartoon physics in LC, huh? Though seems a little OP to have insta kill attacks like that.

His words still echoed in my mind, however. And I had to admit that until now, I hadn’t realized that opposing Team Rocket and living through it would sometimes mean striking back at them violently. I didn’t have any reason to be bothered by that… and yet it still bothered me. I clenched my teeth, feeling kind of stupid—it was the sort of thing I’d have to get over during my time on the rebel team.
I like how Jade struggles with this. She’s a good person, but Chibi’s right: you can’t beat Team Rocket by always being nice and peaceful.

But I think S.S. Anne arc is off to a good start! It’s nice to see Jade taking the lead this time, as opposed to the last arc where she got rescued by friends and allies, who then also did most of the fighting. Understandable of course, but like with any story it’s fun to see the protagonist develop, even if it’s just a little bit. ^^
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Swift definitely got a bit of a backseat here in favor of Firestorm and Chibi, but I think that works out for now.
Generally when a character takes a backseat, it means they'll be getting the focus in the next chapter. ;)
I do wonder if Razor would be a permanent addition to Jade’s team, though—after all, he and Chibi used to be really close, right? At the very least, I would have wondered why that wasn’t a bigger consideration, unless I missed it.
Well, Jade only felt comfortable asking Chibi to join her team because he was already sort of on it at one point. But Razors, Aros, and Stygian will all be hanging out with the rebels from now on, so there's still plenty of opportunity for them to join later on.
I know this was a bit of a minor point now, but I kinda was expecting this to be a bigger deal than it turned out to be. Maybe I’m just too keen on protagonists dismissing something clearly important because “why else would the author dedicate a sentence to it?”
ahaha, okay this is actually a mythology gag. In the old version, I was very bothered by the fact that Jade's watch never broke after all she went through. A plot hole of such magnitude needed special attention. :V
Okay are we writing the same Flygon?
xD Amby made a joke like this in the Serebii thread and I had a moment where I was like "oh god and they're both synthetics too."
I’m… kind of perplexed by this from a software security standpoint. Why would something as important as Mewtwo’s data be kept on a criminal syndicate’s computer with open access to the Internet, and not on a closed-shell system? The USB stick doesn’t have wireless capabilities, does it? Wouldn’t they have had jammer signals to prevent something like that from happening via foreign items? I guess I can chalk it up to security oversight / someone leaving the Internet ports open for the Mewtwo-related computers (but if that was the case, they could’ve tried to find a way to hack in from there remotely, if that’s how flimsy their security was…) but this is definitely another spot that has me furrowing my brow.
...so like, did you want me to spoil you, or.
The whole part of the mission about getting out with the data was rendered moot from her perspective.
Well, from her perspective, it was more about getting the data and then... escaping for the sake of personal safety. The data getting transmitted really didn't change anything about the mission--she still had to get into the Mewtwo room and get out either way.
Another moment of telling and not showing that bugged me a bit, coupled with the “and I don’t know why I felt that way” clause that gets used really often. I feel like this would have been better if how Jade manifested her relief—a sigh, a weight lifting, etc.—and then just nixing the second sentence altogether and leave it to implication.
Ah, that's probably a side effect of me trying to lean into the first-person and make Jade's narration more conversational in tone. But I can see how that bit's not the best example of it. (But as a side note, I can vouch that, for me at least, being a teenager involved a lot of feeling things without knowing why.) :P
Man I wish the move tutor was this easy normally.
Haha, well, it's only a start, and without being able to generate the fire directly, the base power is a lot lower than a real Fire Punch. But I wanted to have fun with having trainers need to actually train their Pokemon. As opposed to "oh we fought X amount of wilds, now you can just do this new move automatically."

Thanks for the reviews, both of you! ^^ They were a lot of fun to read (I'll get to yours next time, Virgil, I don't want to rush my response~)
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
I have applied a hotfix to chapter 8 to fix the great teleport debaucle once and for all! The S.S. Anne was supposed to host a special event for invite holders. Those recruits who proved themselves by completing the event would then be teleported to Midnight Island. Since the Rocket attack happens before the event, all the survivors are then teleported to the island without needing to qualify (since it would be… kinda dickish to force them to prove themselves after going through that.)

This is really only a patch job. I still intend to go back and add more later (like editing Jade’s initial conversation with Stalker to make it clear that he does intend to test the recruits before allowing them to join his rebel team.) But that can wait until the next proper revision after Book 2 is completed.
And with that, it's probably time I finally follow up on all that important-sounding Legendary plot from the prologue, huh?



~Chapter 17: The Ruins~


Firestorm took a fighting stance in front of me, claws flexed, flame-tail swinging back and forth. Across from us, Darren gave a confident smirk while his Ivysaur posed as tall as he could on his stubby legs. And opposite the both of us was Rudy. It was the perfect three-way matchup. All three of us had a different starter Pokémon, each with an advantage and disadvantage over one of the other two.

Except Rudy still had yet to send out Wartortle.

He shuffled a bit with a look of hesitation. “I still don’t see why I can’t use Ebony.”

“Cause we’re having a starter battle? Last time I checked, Houndoom aren’t starter Pokémon,” Darren replied.

“Well… yeah, but she was my first Pokémon.”

“And Swift was my first Pokémon,” I said exasperatedly.

Rudy glanced back and forth between me and Darren and groaned. “Alright, fiiine,” he said, replacing Ebony’s ball on his belt and pulling out another. He tossed it forward to release Wartortle before folding his arms in a huff. The bipedal tortoise laid eyes on his opponents and flinched slightly, but with a glance back at his trainer, he forced himself to take a more confident stance.

The only question now was who would make the first move? Should I be the one, or would it be better to lead with Protect and wait for an opening? Go for the easy target in Ivysaur, or try to stall while Ivysaur took out Wartortle? The other two hesitated similarly. Rudy’s eyes flickered around, but then settled on me for just a second too long…

And that was the sign I needed.

“Now! Water Pulse!” he yelled, pointing at me.

“Dodge and use Scary Face!” I immediately countered.

Firestorm had already broken into a run by the time Wartortle took a deep breath and shot out a pulsating water ring at him. The fire lizard easily avoided the water move, then spun around and flashed a menacing snarl at his opponent, making the water-type freeze out of shock.

“Razor Leaf!” Darren called out.

While the other two were focused on each other, Ivysaur was free to launch a flurry of razor-sharp leaves at his opponents, catching both of them with tiny cuts all over. Firestorm braced his arms in front of his face and weathered the storm, but the leaves dug deeper into Wartortle’s scales, forcing the tortoise to withdraw into his shell.

“Come on, Water Pulse again!” Rudy called out.

“Er… Protect?” I ordered.

I wasn’t totally sure if Firestorm was even the target, but sure enough, another ring of water shot right at him. The fire lizard had plenty of time to produce a shimmering white barrier around himself, deflecting the attack with a spray of mist.

Rudy stared incredulously. “The hell? Come on, you’ve gotta attack sooner or later!”

“You’ve got the type advantage, of course I’m not just gonna rush in blindly against—” My words were cut off by the whoosh of another Razor Leaf.

“Hey guys, it’s cool if you just wanna keep attacking each other the entire time, but I thought this was a multi battle?” Darren asked, his voice dripping with mock innocence.

Eh… right.

Rudy glowered at him. “Fine, use Bite on Ivysaur!”

Fangs bared, Wartortle charged ahead as fast as he could before lunging at the grass-type, who made no attempt to dodge. The tortoise clamped down hard onto Ivysaur’s leg—the latter winced, but stood his ground until his trainer gave out the command, “Stun Spore!”

So that’s why he’d taken the hit.

Ivysaur gave the slightest trace of a grin right before tilting his body so the flower bud was facing forward and unleashing a cloud of yellow spores all over Wartortle. Firestorm paused as the cloud started to spread out and drift toward him. But then, without any orders from me, the fire lizard spat out a flurry of embers, which snapped and crackled as they burned up the paralyzing spores.

“Good thinking!” I called out. “Alright, time for a Fire Punch!”

The Charmeleon breathed out a fireball onto his claws and lunged forward at Ivysaur, catching the grass-type in the side with a flaming punch. He jumped back just as fast to avoid a counterattack, but then Ivysaur’s vines suddenly shot out from all around him! Firestorm lashed out with his claws, but soon found himself completely tied up with his arms pressed against his sides.

“Try dodging Sleep Powder now,” Darren said with a smirk.

Crap. If Firestorm got put to sleep, he’d be a sitting duck just asking to get hit with a Water Pulse. And there was Rudy, pointing forward, ready to call out another move. Had to do something, and fast!

“Ember!” I blurted out. Ivysaur’s eyes went wide as he realized his mistake, right before a burst of flares hit him right in the face. The vines slackened for just a second—enough for the fire lizard to untangle himself. But not before a blast of water struck him head on. The fire-type reeled backward, coughing and sputtering. The culprit, Wartortle was already prepping for another water move.

It had been long enough since the last time Firestorm used Protect, right?

“Protect!” I yelled.

It took a good second longer than the last time, but Firestorm barely managed to raise the white barrier in time to block the second water ring that flew towards him.

Rudy was dumbfounded. “What?! Come on! Why are you only blocking my attacks?!”

“Well if you’re just standing there ordering Water Pulse the entire time, it’s kind of predictable!” I countered.

“I’m just gonna use Razor Leaf again, if that’s alright with everyone,” Darren said, pointing to his Ivysaur.

Ugh. Yet again, Rudy had gotten me to only focus on him in the battle. But of course Darren didn’t want Wartortle to go down first. That was his best shot at Firestorm getting defeated. He’d been sticking to spread moves and single targeting Firestorm. No reason to think that was gonna change.

Come on, think… there was a solution there, I just knew it.

“Alright Wartortle, use Rapid Spin to dodge the leaves and then Water Pulse right in Charmeleon’s face, before he can Protect again!” Rudy yelled.

That was going to be a problem.

Wartortle ducked into his shell before zooming along the ground at high speed, deflecting most of the leaves that had been sent his way. The tortoise closed the distance with Firestorm way quicker than I’d been expecting. He sprung out of his shell, ready for the attack—!

…and then dropped to his knees, his muscles twitching from paralysis.

“Are you kidding me?!”

It took me several seconds to realize now was the time to make a move. Something—not a fire move, not something that would just bounce off Wartortle’s shell, something like—

“Dragon Rage!”

Firestorm breathed out a lick of sparkling blue and green dragonfire onto the downed water-type, who fell onto his back and didn’t move.

“Whaaaat?!” Yep, that was pretty much the response I’d been expecting. I ignored Rudy and turned my attention to my sole remaining opponent, who folded his arms and said, “Well that’s exactly what I was hoping wouldn’t happen.”

I laughed and said, “Hey, I’m not complaining.” Then I motioned to Firestorm and called out, “Fire Punch!”

The Charmeleon grinned and breathed out a fireball onto his claws before lunging. Darren had his fists clenched in concentration, waiting for the fire-type to draw near. At the last possible second, he ordered, “Protect!”

Firestorm’s punch collided with a barrier out of nowhere, scattering red-hot flares throughout the air.

“Don’t let up! Fire Punch again! Ivysaur can’t keep that up forever!”

Darren frowned. “Drop the Protect and use Sleep Powder!”

Trying to catch us off guard? But Firestorm was too quick and already had his attack ready. The instant the shield went down, he connected with a flaming uppercut that scorched the grass-type’s scales. Ivysaur stumbled backward, struggling to stand, and then finally collapsed.

I had won. I had… actually won.

Firestorm turned around with an equally stunned expression, which slowly faded into a wild-eyed grin.

“You did awesome!” I exclaimed, giving the Charmeleon a thumbs-up.

“Alright admit it, you totally had the advantage there,” Darren said, giving me a snide look.

I snorted and was about to ask what he meant, but then noticed him ever-so-slightly tilt his head. Right… the Pokémon that Firestorm was weak to in that match also had a trainer completely uninterested in training him.

“Okay, seriously, that was ridiculous, I’d have won hands down if you just let me use Ebony,” Rudy grumbled, walking over to us.

“You’ve been using Ebony in every battle since she evolved,” I said, rolling my eyes.

Rudy was unimpressed. “Well yeah, Houndoom are awesome and she always wins.”

I wouldn’t have said always, but he definitely had a pretty good record with her. When the two of them battled, they were almost perfectly in sync. Which was why I didn’t really feel like arguing against his point.

“Aw whatever,” he said, wandering off. He barely got five steps away before grabbing a Pokéball and letting out Ebony, who glanced up at him, tongue hanging out of her mouth.

“Ready to kick some more butts?” Rudy asked.

The firedog barked out an overexcited, “*Yeah!*” before running circles around him. Twice as big as she had been as a Houndour, now sporting a full set of horns and skeletal spines—still just a pup at heart. Finding an opponent right now was likely gonna be hard, though. Most of the rebels outside were currently watching the experiments battle.

Stygian only liked fighting the stronger rebels like Ray and Mai—right now the latter had pitted her Arbok and Primeape against the dark-type. Aros, on the other hand, would battle pretty much anyone at any time, bragging constantly about beating Pokémon half his level. I wasn’t too sure how helpful that was, but Stalker hadn’t made him stop. And the dragon never hurt anyone too badly. Mostly just egos.

Razors stood off to the side, watching the others. I still had yet to see him battle with anyone here, which was kind of a shame. I’d been looking forward to seeing his fighting style when he wasn’t controlled by Team Rocket. But he always turned down any battle requests.

By now, Darren had let out the rest of his team members and was busy discussing the afternoon’s training plan with them. The freshly-healed Ivysaur sat apart from the others and glowered at Firestorm, still sore from his recent defeat. Sandslash gave the grass-type a reassuring pat before gesturing for him to join the others. Psyduck and Kadabra welcomed him over while Sneasel, the newest addition to the team, listened to Darren with starry eyes.

“C’mon, let’s see if we can get Psyduck to evolve today,” he said to his team before the group of them walked off into the forest.

“*When am I gonna evolve?*” Firestorm’s voice suddenly cut in.

“Is that the only thing you think about? I dunno, Stalker said you still had a ways to go, so I’m gonna trust him on that.”

Firestorm scoffed. “*He always says that.*”

“Then it’ll keep on being true until he says otherwise.” The fire lizard snorted but didn’t argue.

At some point the two of us joined the rest of the group watching the battle between Mai and Stygian. The Absol’s movements were sluggish, and her left foreleg bore a purplish tinge—poison, most likely. Still, the white-furred beast kept deftly dodging punches from Primeape like they were nothing, following up with slashes of pink energy from the blade on her head.

Heavy wingbeats behind me caught my attention, and I turned to see a Pidgeotto approaching me from the trees. Swift! I hadn’t seen him all day. Earlier I’d been wondering where he’d flown off to, but had forgotten about it with the events of the day.

The Pidgeotto landed on the ground (he was much too big to land on my arm like he used to as a Pidgey) and glanced up at me with an inquisitive look. “*Can you help me with something?*”

I tilted my head, bemused. “Sure?”

He glanced down and shifted his wings a bit, unsure of how to follow through with his request. “*There’s writing on the walls of the quiet place that I like. Can you read it to me?*”

Was that all? Well, that was no big deal. “Sure, I guess? Is it in town?”

The tawny bird shook his head. “*It’s in the forest.*”

What? A walled place with writing in the forest? Why was there…?

Swift hesitated upon seeing my change in expression. “*It’s fine if you don’t want to—*” he started.

“No, you’ve got me curious now. Let’s go see it,” I said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The crisp autumn air swept through the trees, scattering multicolored leaves that blanketed the forest floor, resulting in a hearty crunch with each step I took. I was walking too slow for Swift to keep pace with me in the air without making constant circles, so the Pidgeotto glided from tree to tree, landing on the lowest and barest branch of each one. I hadn’t asked how far away his quiet place was, but he was leading me deep into the heart of the island, in a completely different direction than the Rebellion’s usual training path.

“So you fly out here often?” I asked him.

“*Sometimes,*” the bird replied. “*I like having a quiet spot to think. And it’s an interesting place.*”

I still wasn’t quite sure what could possibly be so interesting way out here in the forest, but that’s why I was going with him in the first place.

Every so often, various wild Pokémon took notice of Swift and leaped out of the brush to challenge us. The wilds around here knew the local trainers were always up for a battle. And Swift was happy to oblige, striking his opponents down with his wings, dazzling them with his speed, and stirring up impressive whirlwinds with only a few flaps. After his third opponent, an energetic Raticate, was sent running with a rapid combination of Aerial Ace and Quick Attack, I couldn’t help feeling my heart swell a bit with pride. Just two months ago, he’d been a tiny Pidgey, and now…

“You’re getting pretty strong, you know that?” I said, unable to keep that pride out of my voice.

“*We all are,*” Swift replied matter-of-factly.

It seemed silly to include me in that statement, but in a weird way, I still appreciated it. Compared to the others my strategies still felt… really basic. And I took too long to come up with orders on the spot. Still, I couldn’t deny that I had gotten better. My mind wandered back to the downright laughable first battle I’d had with Darren, the day that we’d all arrived on Midnight Island. The way that I’d just stared blankly at Swift, unable to come up with any orders. Anything was better than that.

“*Strength is nice, but it’s not everything,*” Swift said, with an airy, offhand tone like he was thinking aloud. “*Training here has let me learn so many things. I want to know how everything works.*” He paused, looking down. “*It’s not something Pokémon are supposed to think about, though.*”

I tilted my head. “Why do you say that?”

For several seconds, he didn’t acknowledge that I’d said anything. Finally, in a soft voice, he replied, “*They said I asked too many strange questions.*”

Now that was hard to imagine, Swift asking too many questions. He’d barely ever talked at all until we’d started this journey together. But then… maybe that was because of the way his fellow Pokémon had reacted.

“That was before I found you, right?” I asked.

The Pidgeotto nodded. “*I do not remember much from that time, though.*”

He had been only a few months old when I’d found him. It was around six years ago, but the details of it still shone just as brightly in my memory as the day it had happened. Seeing the small, crumpled form of a Pidgey lying alone in the grass after what had probably been his first time flying far from home. Frantically biking home with one arm curled around a warm, trembling body. Getting told to drop him off at the Pokécenter, but staying there the entire time he was being treated. Releasing him the next day, only for him to return to my house every day after that, following me everywhere I went.

“You know… the last time I asked you why you came back, I couldn’t understand you that much. Why did you?”

Swift paused to consider the question. “*I’d been curious about humans for a while,*” he said finally. “*Humans make so many interesting things. Humans do so many interesting things. I felt ready to join that world.*”

I stared at the ground sheepishly. “I guess you couldn’t have asked me much about how things work back when I lived at home. I was too bad at Pokéspeech.”

Swift’s eyes brightened. “*I was glad when you started to learn Pokéspeech, even if it took a long time.*”

It was weird… it seemed like just yesterday that I had to focus all my effort into catching a few words out of Swift’s chirps. And now we were conversing like nothing was more natural.

“I’m glad too.”

The two of us continued on through the forest as the afternoon stretched on. After some time, I couldn’t help noticing a gap in the trees ahead of us.

“*This is it,*” Swift announced after landing in a tree far ahead of me.

I jogged a bit to catch up with him and then the two of us emerged into a large clearing—one that was far from empty. In front of me stood a massive stone structure comprised of a wide, flat platform ringed by rectangular pillars twice my height. Crumbled chunks of moss-covered stone surrounded each pillar, like they’d once been supporting something even larger that had collapsed with age. All of the stone had a weathered and worn look that made the whole place feel downright ancient.

“Holy crap… this has been here the whole time? I had no idea…”

Movement, out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head to the left and caught sight of a violet gas ball drifting lazily amongst the trees before crossing the clearing and vanishing through a pillar.

A Gastly.

Then again, that wasn’t too surprising. The island was full of wild ghost-types (something about being close to Lavender Town). But we never saw ‘em during the day. This was… weirdly early to see one out and about.

Swift must have noticed my bewildered expression because he piped up with, “*They come out early here. It’s normal.*” I guess they couldn’t have been too troublesome if he’d been coming here alone all this time, no problem.

The Pidgeotto flapped forward to perch on the closest pillar as I walked up the stone steps that led inside the ruins. Though the outside had been worn, the inside was practically untouched—not even any dirt or leaves littered the stone floor. The inward-facing sides of the pillars each featured a single, intricate symbol carved into their surface. But that was nothing compared to the far wall, which was completely covered with carvings in dozens of different scripts. Some of them vaguely familiar, most of them totally foreign. This had to be the writing Swift had been curious about. But even the familiar scripts were from languages that no one had spoken in, what, a few hundred years? Just how old were these ruins?

“I, uh… don’t think I’m gonna be able to read any of this stuff. It’s gotta be hundreds of years old, maybe more, and—”

I blinked. On one of the slabs was some writing I could actually read. At first, I was sure my eyes were just playing tricks on me, but there it was—words written in the Tohjoan alphabet. But there was no way that I’d be able to understand it; it’d likely be some ancient language that just happened to use the same—

It wasn’t. It was actual, honest-to-god, Tohjoan.

This shrine stands here to honor those among the Order of the Legends who have fought to protect the balance of the world as an extension of the original purpose bestowed upon them. Yet even as the fires of war subside, the balance that they fought so hard to preserve is already on the inevitable path to being torn apart once again. Seven among the Order—the ones who dedicated both mind, body, and spirit toward ending the war—shall be empowered to forge an alliance with humankind so that both might endure. The seven are bound by their duty to seek out the interlopers to protect the balance of power in the coming era. For though none may prevail, what is set into motion shall be much greater indeed.

Legendary Pokémon. It was a message about Legendary Pokémon. But it wasn’t written like a story… it was written like it was something that had actually happened. Something that would happen again. A war involving Legendary Pokémon that had happened once before and was going to happen again.

A prophecy, in other words.

“*What does it say?*” Swift asked.

I read the inscription out loud to him. The words sank deeper into my mind upon reading it a second time, and it was impossible not to wonder if it was more than just a legend.

“*Do you believe there is any truth to it?*” He’d said the words I’d been thinking.

“I… don’t know.” A great disaster that would force an alliance between humans and Legendaries… the idea sent an uncomfortable shudder running through me.

But… it couldn’t really be a prophecy. Could it?

I shivered and started rubbing my arms as a chill swept through the ruins. The sky was reddening into dusk. And the ghost-types had grown more numerous, their gaseous bodies floating in and out of the shadows cast by the ruin pillars in the light of the setting sun. I wasn’t too worried about them—Swift was strong enough to take on almost any wild Pokémon on the island, and most of the ghosts’ moves couldn’t even touch him. But there was no denying the chilling atmosphere they brought with them, or the way every hair on my body now stood on end. Right about now, the other kids were probably winding down for the night. Returning to the warmth of the stadium and curling up in the lounge to watch famous League battles with the rest of my teammates sounded particularly appealing at the moment.

I motioned to Swift. “Let’s head back now.” The Pidgeotto spread his wings and took off for the trees, and I hastened to follow him. There was something weird about that place. Something I couldn’t quite pin down. And it wasn’t going to stop bothering me until I got a chance to ask Stalker about it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I didn’t have to go out of my way to find Stalker to ask him about the ruins. In fact, he was the one who approached me the following day, flagging me down in the stadium as Rudy, Darren, and I returned from grabbing breakfast in town. I told the other two I’d catch up with them in a bit before making my way to the audience stands, where he was watching the rebels train.

“I’ve got an update regarding your last mission,” Stalker said as I approached him.

I couldn’t help flinching. Right, I’d almost forgotten. It had always been too much to hope that my little misadventure in Celadon wouldn’t have any consequences.

“While your Rocket ID was never officially flagged for suspicion, it’s likely they left it alone in the hopes that you’d use it to get into another base and be an easy target.”

Of course. Why reject my ID at the door when they could just let me think everything was perfectly fine only to walk right into an ambush?

“I can always get you a new ID and bypass the background checks like I did with everyone originally, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re more likely to be recognized now. So any missions where you’d interact with Rockets as one of them, those are all off the table now. You’ll be limited to stealth missions.”

Honestly… I was kind of okay with that. The idea of going back to Cerulean now and going about my grunt business like nothing had ever happened… wasn’t very appealing.

“And I want a teleporter with you at all times in case things go south. One of your partners has a teleporter, right?”

“Yeah, Darren’s Abra is a Kadabra now and they’ve started practicing long-range jumps,” I said. “But I thought all the Rocket bases had teleport blockers?”

“They do, but it’s still useful for making a getaway once you’re outside.”

I paused. Something was starting to feel a bit weird about all of this. It almost sounded like he’d be needing me to visit a Rocket base soon.

“Why bring this up now?” I asked. “Is there a big mission coming up?”

Stalker folded his arms. “I have a few suspicions. That’s why I needed to figure out a way to continue to use you.”

“…Specifically me?”

“You have the single strongest Pokémon on the Rebellion now,” he replied simply.

I blinked. I… kind of did, didn’t I? It seemed obvious now that he’d pointed it out, but I never would’ve made that realization otherwise.

“I’ll let everyone know once I have more details. For now, keep training, and be ready for the next mission… it could be a big one,” he said, turning to leave.

Hang on, I still needed to ask him about the ruins. “Wait. Before you go, I was wanting to ask something,” I said quickly. Stalker turned back to face me, a curious look on his face. I honestly wasn’t sure what the odds were that he’d know any more than I did. But it was worth a shot.

“I was taking a walk through the forest, and I… found something. Some kind of ruins.”

At once, Stalker’s eyes lit up with interest, and for a second it was like his calm, guarded air had just vanished. “What did you think of them?” he asked, the slightest edge of a grin crossing his face.

I blinked. That wasn’t the response I’d been expecting. “You knew about them?”

“Of course,” he replied. No explanation. Why wouldn’t he know about them?

“How come you never mentioned them?” I asked.

“I didn’t want everyone going there all at once, disturbing them,” he said offhandedly. “I figured a few of you would stumble across it eventually though.”

Huh. Well, I guess he was right about that.

“Those ruins are the reason I chose Midnight Island as the base location,” he continued. “I’m fascinated by Legendaries and everything to do with them.”

A glimmer of excitement was starting to build within me. “What did you think of the legend carved there?”

Stalker paused, considering the question carefully. “I believe it refers to the wars that tore through multiple regions 3000 years ago.”

My eyes widened. “What, you mean the cataclysmic era?” I hadn’t realized the legend could be referring to that. It was kind of a big deal—the only time in history that basically the entire world was caught up in wars. It was the start of our calendar and everything.

“You know about it?” Stalker asked, looking intrigued.

“Well yeah. I mean, I’m not an expert on it, but pretty much everyone’s heard of it, right?” I paused, as the implications of that knowledge suddenly hit me. “Wait, hang on… if that legend was talking about something that actually happened… then what was with the ending?”

Stalker didn’t respond for quite some time. Finally, in a low tone of voice, he said, “The writer obviously believed that history repeats itself.”

Well that was unnerving. At least the odds of someone managing to accurately predict the state of the world 3000 years in the future was pretty ridiculous. Unless it really was a prophecy. Which it probably wasn’t. Hopefully.

“Now it’s my turn to ask you something,” Stalker said.

I tilted my head. I hadn’t been expecting that, but I nodded for him to go ahead.

“Why did you join the Rebellion?”

I raised an eyebrow. “What? That’s a… weird question.”

“Everyone joined this team for their own reasons. I want to know yours,” he said matter-of-factly.

I immediately opened my mouth to respond, but then stopped. Why had I joined the Rebellion? I’d been vaguely in favor of the idea when I first met Stalker in the forest the day that Entei was captured. But it wasn’t until after the plane incident that I’d really started to consider it for real. I’d told myself it was about protecting the Legendaries, but… that wasn’t it, was it?

“To be honest… it was for entirely selfish reasons,” I said slowly, more thinking aloud than really answering. “I wanted to get stronger. I heard about the fight and wanted to make a difference. I wanted to feel… important.”

“And do you?”

I glanced up at him. “Huh?”

“Do you feel important now?” Stalker asked, gazing at me intently.

I stared at the ground, mentally repeating his words to myself. “I… I guess so?” I mean, I hadn’t helped any Legendaries yet, but I’d freed the experiments. That had to count for something, right?

“Good. Now’s the time for morale to be high,” he said, walking past me. “We’re doing something important here. I don’t want anyone forgetting that.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Throughout the following week, my mind kept straying back to the ruins. Talking to Stalker really hadn’t helped me stop thinking about them. In fact, it seemed to have the opposite effect. Especially considering that I had a strong suspicion that Stalker knew more about the ruins than he was letting on. He certainly had a way of answering questions without actually providing any info.

That said, I felt really, really stupid as I trudged through the woods in the direction I remembered Swift taking me. I mean, really… what was I doing? I had already read the legend. I remembered what it said. I just… couldn’t stop thinking about it. Seven Legendaries had ended the cataclysmic era 3000 years ago, and now it was supposedly going to happen again, and if that was true, then wasn’t it the sort of thing people should know about?

I had no idea what returning to the ruins was supposed to accomplish, but if going back there would help my brain shut up, then it was worth it.

I stepped into the clearing and was greeted with the familiar sight of the ancient stone structure. And just like last time, the place was crawling with ghost-types. Orblike Gastly weaved in and out of the pillars, flicking their long tongues and leaving trails of purple mist in their wake. It was still weird seeing them out this early, even if Swift said it was normal. I couldn’t help keeping one hand on Firestorm’s Pokéball as I approached the ruins, just in case any of the ghosts decided I looked like a target. But at the sound of my footsteps, they all scattered to the trees.

Something felt off about the place. More than the last time I was here, with Swift. I couldn’t explain why, but an air of unease settled in as I walked up the stone steps into the center of the ruins. The great wall covered in writing loomed ahead of me. And then my eyes fell on the gaping hole currently in the middle of it.

What? That wasn’t there last time.

My legs carried me closer to the opening without me telling them to. A thick groove was set into the stone floor where the wall segment had slid out of view. I leaned forward, peering down the passageway.

Stairs. Leading downward.

The urge to turn around and pretend I hadn’t come back here suddenly struck. But part of me had to know what was down there. Especially if it offered more insight into everything that was written up here. And especially if Stalker didn’t know this was here. Maybe he did… but the fact that he might not was what drove me to take the first step into the passageway. And then another. I shivered. The air in the stairway was drastically colder than the outside, making the hair on my arms stand on end. But soon I couldn’t see them any more as the light from outside faded, leaving me in near total darkness. I braced my hands against the wall and took it one step at a time. Slowly, my eyes started to adjust, and I caught sight of a glow ahead of me. Just a few more steps now.

I emerged into a small, dimly lit stone chamber. The walls were absolutely covered in writings. And in the center of the room sat a waist-high pedestal. A jagged, crystalline stone sat atop the pedestal, giving off an eerie sheen.

I exhaled slowly, then coughed as I tried to breathe in the stale air down here. Just how old was this chamber? And that stone… had it been here since the ruins were built? Slowly, I stepped forward into the center of the room, turning around in a circle to look at all of the writing on the walls. And just like last time, my eyes fell on a portion of text that I could read. What in the world was modern Tohjoan doing in a place like this?

For several seconds, I didn’t move. But curiosity won out in the end. I leaned forward, squinted at the writing in the dim light, and read:

Only one who is marked may remove this orb from its resting place, for none should have their fate bound that have not already chosen it for themselves. Three orbs were forged from the birth of this realm, and each has been sealed away so that the realms might remain separate forevermore. They lie in wait, sensing only the essence of those who would seek to restore balance to that which was never meant to exist. Though the seven patrons have been tasked with forging an alliance with humankind, they cannot prevent the fires of the Revolution from swallowing the land. When they have made their stand, joining the orbs together will be the only means to light a path to the truth that was hidden from this world.

A chill swept over me. Another legend. And this one didn’t sound so pleasant—whoever wrote this one sure wasn’t very optimistic about the future. It basically just made it sound like everything written upstairs was dead wrong. An alliance between humans and Legendaries? Nope, the world is screwed either way.

Then again, if Stalker was right, and it was written after the major multi-region wars that restarted the calendar, it was probably hard for anyone to be optimistic at the time.

As for the… orb? (It looked more like a stone to me. It wasn’t round enough to be an orb.) It was impossible not to get the feeling that it was important, though. Sealed away in a secret chamber underneath ancient ruins with a foreboding message. Come on, that was the epitome of suspicious. But how was it still here? How come no one had found it and taken it after all this time?

‘Only one who is marked may remove this orb…’

Well that was fine. It wasn’t like I had any reason to steal a random artifact that I’d just stumbled across. Still, it’d be interesting to ask Stalker about it.

I turned to look away from it… but my eyes didn’t want to leave. I blinked a few times, nonplussed. Okay, yeah, it was interesting, but there was nothing else to see here. I had to leave.

My body didn’t move. I wasn’t really going to just leave, was I? Not without investigating it closer. Even if the writings were just a myth, there was no denying that the orb, right here in front of me, was real. My legs carried me closer to the pedestal, and I leaned forward to stare at it closely. The orb’s amber, crystalline surface caught the light shining down through the entryway, glinting with an oddly silvery sheen. Without entirely knowing why, I reached my hand out to run my fingers along it. The orb was cool to the touch, and it left an airy, tingly feeling in my fingertips.

I wanted it.

The writings? I wasn’t sure what to think of them. But the orb? The orb was important. Somehow, nothing was truer than that.

My fingers slowly traced the edges of the orb. Encircling it. Clasping it. Lifting it. It took more effort than I expected. Like it was actually made of dense metal. Yet part of my brain expected it to slip right through my fingers like gas.

Wait.

Okay, no, what was I doing? Grabbing some random artifact from a cave and taking it? Yeah, that was a good idea—no way could anything bad ever come from that. In fact, even just being here felt like a bad idea. I still had no idea why the chamber had opened up (by itself?), and something told me I wouldn’t like the answer. I was going to leave now.

Also the orb was still firmly clenched in my right hand. So I was going to set it down, then leave.

…Any second now.

No. I couldn’t. I needed it.

Somehow, I was outside now. I hadn’t noticed myself leave the chamber. And the orb, where was the—it was in my pocket now. Why had I taken it again? I couldn’t remember. There was definitely a reason—an important reason—but…

Exasperation prodded at the back of my mind. Who really cared if I took the orb? It had been sitting down there for who knows how long, and if I wasn’t supposed to have it, then the chamber shouldn’t have opened in the first place.

The sun had already slipped out of view. Streaks of red and gold painted the clouds overhead, and the tiniest sliver of a crescent moon had appeared on the horizon. How long was I down there? I glanced back at the passage I’d apparently just exited, now feeling a tingle of unease. The stone entryway had already shut itself behind me.

“I… really need to show this to Stalker,” I muttered to myself, reaching into my pocket to run my fingers along the orb’s surface. But even as I said it, I knew I wouldn’t. I couldn’t show him. I couldn’t show anyone. No one could know that I had it.

A sudden chill fell over the surrounding. I barely had a chance to register it before an icy gale swept through the ruins, throwing my hair in my face and chilling every inch of exposed skin.

“Explain your presence here, human.”

I froze. The words were ice. They gripped my senses and resounded in my ears long after they had been spoken. Even stranger, the speaker was absolutely not human… but the words were not Pokéspeech.

Behind me. That’s where the voice had come from. I’d have to look sooner or later. No matter how much I didn’t want to. My movements dragged like mud as I forced myself to turn around. My eyes fell on the speaker. And my heart instantly jumped into my throat.

A slender beast stood atop the stone archway at the entrance to the ruins. Diamond-spotted cobalt fur covered a lithe frame with muscles poised to strike at any moment. Twilight glinted through crystalline antlers, casting sea-green highlights across the stone floor and making the ruins feel even more unearthly. But the weirdest thing was how its violet mane and ribbon-like tails constantly billowed through the air… like it was surrounded by its own personal whirlwind.

I’d only ever seen pictures… but it was unmistakably Suicune. The Legendary Beast of the North Wind.

It felt as though the air had gone from my lungs. I wasn’t sure it hadn’t really happened. Suicune. Right here, right now. Not across a clearing, being hunted by Rockets. Standing right in front of me, focusing on me and only me. Why was a Legendary focusing on me? I was nobody.

Except I was a nobody who happened to be standing here right at this moment, in a place I obviously wasn’t supposed to be. What could I possibly say against that?

The beast spoke. “How did you get into that chamber?”

“I… what?” I stuttered, feeling my stomach dissolve. The chamber. If the ruins weren’t off-limits, the chamber definitely was. And the orb. Oh god, I’d stolen the orb.

“How did you get into that chamber?” it repeated.

I had to tell it something. I swallowed hard and, with every effort to keep my voice from trembling, said, “I… I don’t know.”

“Do you honestly believe you can lie to me?” the cobalt beast replied icily.

My heart was pounding. “I’m not lying! It—it opened by itself.”

Piercing crimson eyes bored into me. But then their owner tilted its head ever so slightly, and for just a second, it looked somewhat intrigued. “What was down there?”

I couldn’t tell it about the orb. Wait, what? Why not? It was a Legendary Pokémon. Ancient treasures and prophecies and the like were supposed to be their area of expertise. At least, that’s how all the stories went…

The North Wind continued to stare at me expectantly. Right, I hadn’t answered its question yet. What was down there?

“More writings. Like the ones up here,” I finally said.

“What did they say?”

I opened my mouth to speak… and found all memory of the legend completely gone.

“I… don’t remember.”

Anger flashed through the beast’s eyes, and the air around it whipped into a frenzy. Oh god I’d done it now, angering a Legendary right to its face. I screwed my eyes shut, half expecting a frigid burst of wind to freeze me to the spot.

“Leave now. Do not return,” the Legendary barked.

My eyes snapped open, and I stared at the beast in disbelief. I was so stunned that it took several seconds for my brain to register that I was going to be okay, I just had to leave immediately. Slowly, shakily, I took one step back. Then another. Then my legs finally got the message and I found myself bolting in the opposite direction as fast as they could carry me.

I reached the trees and ducked behind one, doubled over from the sudden rush of panic and my heart beating painfully fast. It wasn’t following me, was it? I glanced over my shoulder to see that Suicune had leaped down from its perch and was now investigating the stone wall that had opened for me.

I sank back against the tree and let out a huge sigh of relief. I was in the clear. Unbelievable. Part of me had been so convinced that it was going to attack. I closed my eyes and focused on calming down and regaining control of my breathing.

Four. I’d seen four Legendary Pokémon so far. Entei, Raikou, Mewtwo, and Suicune. All four of them had the same overwhelming presence. All four gave off the same impression of pure power.

And then it properly hit me for the first time—for as amazing as the Legendary Pokémon were… they were absolutely terrifying.






~End Chapter 17~
LC is a Chosen One fic. After what you just read, this is hardly a spoiler. It’s been a Chosen One fic since Revision 2. The Prologue references it. All my advertisements reference it.

Chosen One fics come with a unique set of pitfalls, and I know readers might be concerned that this fic is about to plunge into several. LC is intended to be a hardcore deconstruction of the Chosen One Pokéfic genre, and as such, I’ve taken care to address a lot of the common issues that plague a lot of other Chosen fics:
  • None of the Chosen are predestined.
  • The legend was written by a specific character who will be identified later.
  • Said character has a logical reason for knowing what they know.
  • The majority of the legend is things they want to bring about, not things that are fated to happen.
  • The Chosen are not fated to succeed because destiny.
  • The orb has a non-arbitrary reason for existing. (I’m sure you all already know what it is anyway. I wasn’t subtle about it.)
  • There is a concrete explanation for why Jade was able to pick up the orb.
  • The Legendaries have a clear motivation for wanting to take on a Chosen and arguably benefit more from the partnership than the humans do.
  • No characters currently alive in the fic’s universe fully understand the legend (i.e. no one is withholding information for the sake of drama.)
That said, this is the chapter where speculation becomes possible! Friendly reminder that I love speculation of all kinds. Give me all your speculation.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
I thought this was a multi battle?”
Nah it’s a Battle Royale before that was actually invented.

--

So, despite this being the chapter with ‘ALL THE PLOT’ I’d argue it was more focused near the end than anything, since, once again, we have more training/battling going on. Now, I’ll admit that we’ve got a small milestone ahead this time where Jade actually won in a sparring match after getting a bit clever and so on, though I did wonder for the bulk of the start of the fight what the point was of having yet another sparring session.

The vines slackened for just a second—enough for the fire lizard to untangle himself. But not before a blast of water struck him head on. The fire-type reeled backward, coughing and sputtering.
I’m not sure if I’m noticing it now, or if it was a new development, but what’s with all the epithets? This battle in particular kept switching between them like crazy and it was kinda starting to get distracting, aha…

“Alright Wartortle, use Rapid Spin to dodge the leaves and then Water Pulse right in Charmeleon’s face, before he can Protect again!” Rudy yelled.
Hmm, I do wonder if it’s possible to say such a long command in the heat of battle.

He had been only a few months old when I’d found him.
Ahh, here’s our Swift development. I wonder if this sort of thing could have come up earlier in little fragment snow and then, but I guess now is a good a time as any.

A prophecy, in other words
Booooo.

Okay but in all seriousness, I like what you plan to do with it based on your author’s notes at the end, but I do have some qualms about stating things you plan to do in notes rather than making it more clear in narrative or something along those lines. As of now, just immediately going into ‘prophecy’ mode sort of raises a lot of question flags. That doubles down on the Chosen One stuff that you also acknowledged.

Like, if you need author’s notes to try to justify something that comes up… maybe you should find ways to justify it in-universe instead? I know that probably requires extraordinary restructuring of the story to do, so it’s not feasible, but I certainly would encourage keeping that sort of thing in mind for future developments. The less “author explanation” required, the better.

Well that was unnerving.
Quick comment: You seem to be missing commas after introductory phrases fairly often. I get that you’re trying to go for a no-pause tone, but it might be good to include them regardless. Commas don’t always indicate pause.

What in the world was modern Tohjoan doing in a place like this?
It’s probably not modern… right? Either she can read it for some reason (Chosen) or some old schmuck keeps translating it every few centuries.

It basically just made it sound like everything written upstairs was dead wrong.
Huh, the dark prophesy and the light prophesy, eh? Kinda defeats the purpose of a prophesy if they contradict each other…
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
That’s uh… a very strong Psychic if it can just instantly do that to iron shackles. I think I definitely like your idea more of revising things so that Jade was never chained in the first place.
Well, I imagine that it wasn't so much strength as finesse (undoing a latch inside the lock.) But that said, the shackles are silly and are totally getting the boot. xD
Huh, interesting. Not even the anime can say that. So Legendaries must be a pretty big deal in your setting, even compared to canon standards.
Yep! The general impression of the Legendaries that I was going for in this setting owes a lot to Movie 2's portrayal of Lugia and the bird trio as these... huge, overwhelming forces of nature that would be unthinkable for humans to challenge without something to level the playing field (like Lawrence's airship.)
Wait, Pokémon can really just do that in your setting?
Yep! (Actually, I forgot that I elaborated on it in the Serebii thread.) Pokemon basically have a hugely overdeveloped language center in their brain, since their evolutionary history had a strong bias toward communication across species (which makes sense considering that Pokemon can reproduce outside their species.) As a result, they sort of have a hyper-accelerated version of the language acquisition that young children have. Most wild Pokemon that make a habit of hanging around trainer routes and sparring with trainers actually will have picked up enough humanspeak to get the general idea of short sentences. After being caught, and being exposed to daily humanspeak, it's expected for them to fully pick it up within two weeks or so.
That said, I’m glad to see that Jade and the experiment are getting along now. I guess he can officially be considered part of her team now alongside Firestorm and Swift? Will be fun to see how him and Jade working together will go, which judging by the rest of the chapter, will surely be entertaining to read.
Jade and Chibi's interactions are some of my favorite! ^^ They'll eventually grow into quite a capable team.
I know we didn’t see who the Rockets were interrogating exactly, but that seemed rather easy.
Yeah, a Bulba reviewer mentioned the same thing, I've been wanting to tweak that line.
No cartoon physics in LC, huh? Though seems a little OP to have insta kill attacks like that.
Yeah, I think Jade was overestimating him there a bit. While his Iron Tail is somewhat sharp, it's not nearly enough to get a quick, clean kill on someone (but in that grunt's defense, even having a blunt knife to your neck is... concerning.)
But I think S.S. Anne arc is off to a good start! It’s nice to see Jade taking the lead this time, as opposed to the last arc where she got rescued by friends and allies, who then also did most of the fighting. Understandable of course, but like with any story it’s fun to see the protagonist develop, even if it’s just a little bit. ^^
Thanks! An important part of this arc was for Jade to be alone, with only her team, and no one else to rescue her--which lays the groundwork for Jade's development toward becoming a more active character.
So, despite this being the chapter with ‘ALL THE PLOT’ I’d argue it was more focused near the end than anything, since, once again, we have more training/battling going on. Now, I’ll admit that we’ve got a small milestone ahead this time where Jade actually won in a sparring match after getting a bit clever and so on, though I did wonder for the bulk of the start of the fight what the point was of having yet another sparring session.
...Namo.

I love ya, but this is a little bit like going into a PMD fic like "why is there a dungeon here, we just had one six chapters ago." :P The battle was two pages out of thirteen. And Jade winning was actually an afterthought (Darren was supposed to win originally)--the real purpose was furthering Rudy's character arc.
I’m not sure if I’m noticing it now, or if it was a new development, but what’s with all the epithets? This battle in particular kept switching between them like crazy and it was kinda starting to get distracting, aha…
Ah, it's not just you, this chapter was around the time I started overusing them--I tried to cut back during the edits, but maybe didn't trim enough of them. It mostly happens because I just hate repeating the same Pokemon names multiple times a sentence. ><
Hmm, I do wonder if it’s possible to say such a long command in the heat of battle.
Usually not. Or, well, you can try, but your Pokemon probably won't be able to pull off half of it in time. xD;
Okay but in all seriousness, I like what you plan to do with it based on your author’s notes at the end, but I do have some qualms about stating things you plan to do in notes rather than making it more clear in narrative or something along those lines. As of now, just immediately going into ‘prophecy’ mode sort of raises a lot of question flags. That doubles down on the Chosen One stuff that you also acknowledged.

Like, if you need author’s notes to try to justify something that comes up… maybe you should find ways to justify it in-universe instead? I know that probably requires extraordinary restructuring of the story to do, so it’s not feasible, but I certainly would encourage keeping that sort of thing in mind for future developments. The less “author explanation” required, the better.
This is a fair point. I'm actually really confident in how the chosen one stuff plays out in this fic (probably moreso than any other aspect of the fic.) But despite the hardcore subversions I have planned, it was important for the fic to introduce the concept as if it's played straight. (That's the main reason why I have the Prologue still kicking around, so that it wouldn't totally catch people off guard.) I need people to immediately start assuming that they know how this is going to go because they know how chosen one stories work, because otherwise it wouldn't mean anything when those assumptions get shattered later on.

I do agree that less "author explanation" is better, but there are times when you can't reveal everything in-story right away, which leaves you open to judgment solely on concept, and not execution. To give an example, I think the fact that Jade rescues a Charmander is perfectly justifiable in the story, but in the past, I've very frequently had to justify this outside the story because it was such a huge turnoff to readers.
Quick comment: You seem to be missing commas after introductory phrases fairly often. I get that you’re trying to go for a no-pause tone, but it might be good to include them regardless. Commas don’t always indicate pause.
Ah, you're right, this is something I've been trying to focus on, since I do miss these a lot.
It’s probably not modern… right? Either she can read it for some reason (Chosen) or some old schmuck keeps translating it every few centuries.
Nope, it is. Make of that what you will~

As always, thanks tons for the reviews, both of you! :D Next chapter kicks off the next Legendary mission! (And then... hoo boy... we're slowly coming up on the Explorers of Pain and Suffering arc. Prepare yourselves.)
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
~Chapter 18: The Titans of the Elements~


Viridian base. The primary headquarters for all of Team Rocket, and the one which all other branches reported to. Where all the highest-ranking agents worked. Where Giovanni himself worked.

It was also the base that Darren and I were currently infiltrating.

“Right, so… no problems so far. You sure you’re bad luck, Jade? The way you were talking earlier, I was expecting to get jumped the second we set foot in the place.”

I gave him an unamused stare. “Look, it always starts off fine, okay? Then before you know it, you’re running for your life and you don’t even know why.”

The last time I’d been to a Rocket base, it had been nearly deserted. This time couldn’t have been more different. All around us, Rockets of all divisions and ranks rushed about, followed by Pokémon carrying assets for them. Almost all of them had combat unit patches on their uniform. After all, Viridian base did have the largest combat unit on the force. Normally this would have been the worst time to sneak around a base, but with how crucial it was that we be here right now, we didn’t have much of a choice.

Like Stalker had feared, there was indeed a big combat unit mission coming up. The only problem was, we had absolutely no idea what it was. None of the infiltration teams had been able to gather anything. None of Stalker’s allies had gotten anything. We were flying blind.

Well, except for two things.

Mewtwo had been transferred to Viridian yesterday. That would have been a red flag all by itself, but then Entei had been transferred as well. The Kanto force borrowing assets from Johto was apparently unheard of, and Stalker had been particularly concerned about it. The second thing was that Saffron had reported huge amounts of money being poured into tech development. Way more than normal. That, combined with tons of shipments of… something coming from Cerulean, had to mean they were building something.

And that’s why we were here. To figure out what the hell was going on, before it was too late. Not that that was a hopelessly vague mission or anything.

“Right, so… Group 2 found the room where Mewtwo was being held. Key word: was,” Darren said, reading the rebels’ group chat.

Great, we still didn’t have a read on Mewtwo. Finding him would’ve solved a lot of mysteries at once, plus we could’ve waited and seen what they were doing if they moved him again. But if he’d already been moved… did that mean we were too late?

Darren nudged my side. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but almost everyone’s been coming and going from that same hallway.”

The Viridian base was one floor and all sprawl, with a central area connecting eight hallways branching off in all directions. Railways and moving walkways sped up transport between each division of the base. The primary entrance had been a nondescript warehouse on the outskirts of Viridian, but there were other entrances scattered all over northeast Viridian, including the official gym itself—although that one was only for the boss’s inner circle.

The two of us had been sitting at a table in the mess hall part of the commons, which wasn’t a separate room like in Cerulean. That way we had a clear view of the goings on in the base without being in the way or looking suspicious. The hallway Darren had pointed out was the largest of the eight, with the most railways going in and out from it.

I brought up a map of the base on my R-com. “That’s the transport wing. Think we should check it out?”

“No one else has checked it out yet, so we might as well. Who knows, maybe we’ll find the new tech before anyone else—that’d be cool.”

The two of us left our watch post in the mess hall and sauntered in the direction of the eighth hallway, avoiding eye contact with any other Rockets and trying to give off an air like we knew what we were doing. Not that there was much chance of us standing out with how many Rockets were busy with their own thing at the moment. Unfortunately, we soon found out why none of the other groups had investigated the transport wing—namely, the guards posted out front.

“Right, they’re checking ID at the entrance. Something tells me they’re not gonna accept my admin rights as easily as the card scanners,” Darren said sheepishly.

Which meant we’d need another way into the transport wing. Yeah, there was the forest entrance near the runway, but that’d be… more than a little conspicuous.

Wait. Spread out as the base was, there were connections between divisions. And the transport wing was so large that it ran alongside the adjacent wings. Which ones were they…? I grabbed my R-com to check the map again. The storage wing and the office wing. My eyes widened. I knew for a fact that there was a connection between the office wing and the transport wing. I’d seen it the day I was kidnapped and brought into the Viridian base so long ago.

“I think I know another way in,” I said slowly as the realization hit me. “We have to get into the office division.”

“Even if we make it in, I think they might notice two random grunts wandering around looking lost,” Darren pointed out.

Hm. He did have a point there. Unless…

“Not if we look like officers.” The idea had struck out of nowhere, and to be honest, I was rather proud of it.

“Won’t we, uh… look a little young for officers?”

I shrugged. “I’m only a month away from being old enough, and I’m tall, so from a distance I could pass. If you stick with me, you’ll just look like a member of my squad or something.”

“What, so I get to be your subordinate?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

I snorted. “Sure, if you put it that way.”

Five minutes later, we’d tracked down and unlocked a supply closet with spare uniforms, and I’d swapped out my boots and gloves for the white with red stripes that signified officer rank at a glance. With that, we set off for the seventh hallway. The office division wasn’t nearly as busy as the rest of the base. It was still early enough that the lights were dimmed, and aside from the occasional executive sipping coffee, we didn’t see many Rockets still around. Which was good for me, because I kept having to stare down at my R-com to not get lost in the maze of hallways.

“Hey Jade, you’re, uh… about to hit a wall,” Darren whispered.

I glanced up just in time to freeze with my face inches away from what would have been embarrassing at best and cover-blowing at worst.

“Er… right,” I said sheepishly, rubbing the back of my head.

In any case, I was pretty sure we were close. All of the offices in the asset management and transport coordination departments had access to the transport wing. I glanced around, my eyes tracing the titles of each door one after the other… hang on, there it was—the asset management department. And sure enough, amidst the various office doorways, I spotted a larger metal door with a card scanner.

“Right here,” I said pointing it out. He’d have to be the one to open it since my old account—the one with admin rights—had been compromised.

“What kind of officer need a grunt’s help to get through a door?” Darren asked wryly.

I only barely managed to stop myself from snorting out loud. After a quick scan of the area to make sure no one was nearby, I turned and said, “You expect an officer to lower themselves to opening a door when there are grunts around to take care of it?”

“Oh man. Got me there. Right away, officer.” With an exaggerated look of defeat, Darren pulled out his ID and held it to the scanner. The door slid open, revealing a massive concrete room. And then a powerful wave of déjà vu hit me in the face. This was where I’d been taken the day that I met Stalker in the woods. The day that I’d seen Entei under attack. The day it all began. Last time I’d been here, I’d been a helpless captive of the Rockets. This time I was here to find a way to ruin them. That realization was… undeniably empowering.

The transportation hangar was a lot fuller than the last time I’d been here. It didn’t have any aircraft this time, but the space was full of a dozen or more semi-trucks. Most of the Rockets stood clustered around the loading bay, which connected to the storage wing on the far side of the hangar. Darren and I made our way over to the trucks, moving as quickly as possible without looking totally suspicious. Just had to make it out of sight without anyone getting the wrong idea. Nothing strange about an officer and a grunt walking towards the trucks that weren’t currently being loaded. And no one was close enough to see that we didn’t have combat unit patches. No reason for anyone to raise the alarm.

After what felt like an eternity, we slipped out of view behind the closest truck, and I let out a huge breath that I didn’t realize I’d been holding. It took me several seconds to realize that we now had a perfect view of the truck’s contents. And all I could do was stare.

Inside the truck was a hulking black machine—sleek, shiny, and covered in armor. Its wide flat base was supported by four splayed-out legs currently folded up away from the floor. The midsection gave way to a swivel joint topped by a long, cannon-shaped section, flanked by twin shields supporting six folded up antennae on either side. The entire machine was held in place by thick wood blocks spanning the walls of the trailer.

“What… is… this…?” I muttered.

“Whatever it is, I think Stalker’s gonna want to see it,” Darren said, climbing into the trailer.

I climbed in after him, taking care to step lightly so I didn’t alert the Rockets. Meanwhile, my teammate had pulled out his R-com and started snapping photos of the mechanism. Whatever it was, it looked like a weapon. But for what?

Voices nearby. I froze, throwing a wide-eyed look of panic toward Darren. He hadn’t noticed—he was still focused on taking pictures. I couldn’t say anything—not with Rockets approaching. But I had to do something, and fast. Which meant awkwardly tiptoeing over to him, now very aware of the sound each footstep made against the metal trailer floor, and waving a hand in front of his face. Darren blinked a few times at my behavior and tilted his head in total confusion. I gestured wildly out the opening, feeling like an idiot until his eyes widened slightly and he mouthed the word “oh.” Finally!

We had to hide. But the only cover available to us was the giant machine itself. Which meant climbing up onto its flat base, crouching low behind the cannon and desperately praying that we were out of sight. I strained my ears to hear the voices I’d caught earlier. Were they still approaching? What if the only reason they headed over here in the first place was because they’d noticed us?

Oh man, the voices were getting louder. I screwed my eyes shut and clenched my fists. Come on. Leave. Each second dragged on like an eternity. I had no idea how long it’d been. Long enough that my legs had gone numb from kneeling. But I didn’t dare shift my weight to regain feeling. Not until they were gone.

I jumped at a sudden metallic scraping sound. What was that?! Wait… it was the trailer door. They were shutting it?! We’d be trapped!

We were frozen. We couldn’t move without giving ourselves away, but I couldn’t just let this happen!

Darkness enveloped the trailer. Aside from a few pinpricks of light from the seams, I couldn’t see anything at all. And man was it unnerving. I wanted out, immediately. But if we forced open the trailer door… we had no way of knowing who would see or hear us. That was not a gamble we could afford to take.

Darren sighed. “Yeeahh, I guess we’re stuck here now.”

No. No, no, no.

“Just once I wanted to get through a mission without something going wrong,” I muttered through clenched teeth, holding back the urge to slam a fist against the wall.

“It’s not that bad. Not like they discovered us or anything.”

I whirled around to face him incredulously. “You’re not scared?”

Darren laughed. “No, I’m totally scared. But there’s nothing I can do about that right now. So I might as well try not to let it get to me.”

I opened my mouth to say something… but then found that I couldn’t think of anything to counter his point. It just seemed ridiculous not to worry. Not when there was so much that could go wrong.

“I guess that wasn’t very convincing, huh?” Darren asked.

I took a deep breath. “No… you’re right. They haven’t found us yet.”

Darren nudged my shoulder. “Yeah. Now come on. What do you think we should do?”

He was asking me? How should I know?

“Well, for starters, I hate not being able to see,” I said, pulling out Chibi’s Pokéball and opening it. The flash of light briefly highlighted Darren and the machine, but the moment it took on the spiky-furred Pikachu’s shape, the trailer was plunged into darkness once more.

“*It’s dark… where are we?*” the hybrid asked.

“In a Rocket truck. Can you light it up with Flash?”

At once, I had to screw my eyes shut as I found myself staring directly at the piercing glow emanating from the electric-type’s body. I blinked a few times, willing my eyes to adjust until I could make out the silhouettes of Darren and Chibi, highlighted against the blackness.

Darren nodded approvingly. “Alright, what next?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Why are you asking me?”

“No reason,” he said innocently. A little bit too innocently.

“You’re just trying to get me to focus on making a plan instead of panicking,” I said as the realization hit me.

“Well yeah. Is it working?”

I paused. It… kind of was, wasn’t it? Just having Chibi out and being able to see already made the situation feel a lot brighter. Even if nothing else had changed. Not that I felt like admitting that his plan had worked. Although I didn’t really need to—from the smug look on his face, he’d already noticed.

“Right, so… we need to know when the coast is clear outside,” I said quickly, hoping to change the topic. “Chibi, you’ve got the best hearing out of us. We’ll need you to listen for sounds from the outside.”

The Pikachu nodded and hopped over to the trailer door, pressing one long ear against it and closing his eyes in concentration. “*There’s voices outside. Distant, but a lot of them,*” he said. That made sense—most of the Rockets had been on the other side of the hangar. But would they hear us if we tried to force open the trailer door now?

“Ugh, if only we could teleport out,” I muttered.

“Believe me, I’ve been wishing that same thing,” Darren said.

What were our options? We had a couple of Pokémon that could easily cut through the thin trailer walls—Firestorm and Sneasel came to mind. Of course, if anyone saw the hole, it’d be an automatic giveaway that there were rebels in the base, but if we got outside before everything was put on lockdown…?

“*There’s something else,*” Chibi spoke up suddenly. “*A smaller sound, nearby. I’m getting movement from it too.*” He paused tilting his head in confusion. “*Hang on… is someone in the cab?*”

A low rumble suddenly spread throughout the floor. All three of us went rigid as the truck slowly began to creak forward, drawing a low metallic groan from the machine as its weight pushed against the restraints holding it in place. Slowly at first, then more quickly, our ride started to accelerate. This was followed by the distinct feeling of everything leaning backward as the truck travelled up the huge ramp leading outside.

The truck was leaving the base.

“Well, scratch everything. I guess we’re calling Stalker now,” Darren said, pulling out his R-com.

“No kidding,” I muttered. Our simple recon mission had suddenly become a lot less simple.

Darren held his R-com out in front of him so we could all see when Stalker’s face appeared on the screen. “We’ve got an update. Um…”—he glanced back at me awkwardly—“we’re trapped.”

Stalker gave a small chuckle at the bluntness of Darren’s report. “I see. Where are you right now?”

“The back of a truck headed who-knows-where,” I answered.

“The good news is you wanted us to find what they’ve been building, and, well…”—Darren rotated the R-com so that the machine was visible behind us—“here it is.”

Stalker nodded. “I’ve been studying the photos you sent. It’s some kind of barrier, like the Thunder Field. What concerns me is the top—it doesn’t just look like it projects an energy field… it looks like can fire a concentrated beam.”

“What? Wouldn’t that take a crazy amount of power?” I asked.

Stalker nodded. “They’d have to get it from somewhere.”

But that meant… they’d have to be able to absorb and store energy from Pokémon attacks, not just deflect it like most energy shields. That… wasn’t possible… was it? They’d already done it with electric attacks, but that was easy.

“So you’re saying… this thing can absorb any element of Pokémon energy? Not just electric?”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” he said darkly. “It looks like anti-Legendary tech.” His expression had gone cold with a subdued fury I’d never seen from him before. “I should have known about this,” he whispered to himself. “Why didn’t I know about this?”

An awkward silence fell over us as Darren and I traded uncertain looks. If we were trapped in a truck that was transporting anti-Legendary tech… did that mean that a Legendary mission was going on right now?

Darren took a deep breath. “Not that this isn’t fantastic news, but shouldn’t we be finding a way out of here or something?”

Stalker closed his eyes and exhaled slowly before shaking his head. “No. This is the easiest way of following them. Message me your coordinates every five minutes. I’ll track your trajectory from each one and figure out the most likely destination while I get everyone else ready to go.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two incredibly tense hours later, the truck finally started to slow down. By that point I was thoroughly sore from sitting on the rickety metal floor, and desperate to get out. The trailer wasn’t exactly small, but something about being trapped in that space with the huge Rocket machine had long since turned claustrophobic. So I couldn’t help feeling a massive wave of relief the moment the truck finally ground to a halt.

“Just sent the coordinates to Stalker and everyone else,” Darren said. “I’m just trying to imagine the look on Rudy’s face when he finds out our ‘boring, stupid’ intel mission turned into a Legendary mission.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, we’re gonna get an earful.” It would’ve been nice if that was the only thing we had to worry about. “So now we’ve just gotta get out of here. We can teleport out now, right?”

“Yeah, but Kadabra can only teleport places he’s been before, or places he can see.”

I clenched my teeth. Teleporting back to one of his memorized locations would leave us with no way of returning to the mission site. “So we’ve gotta wait for them to open the door.” It was that or run the risk of calling too much attention to ourselves before the others get here. The last thing we needed was for the Rockets to be on guard before the mission even started.

My ears caught the muffled sound of the truck door opening and footsteps circling around to the back. Darren let out his Kadabra, and Chibi leaped up onto my shoulder, cutting the Flash in the process and leaving us surrounded by darkness once more. We waited with bated breath for the moment that would either save us or completely screw us over. It couldn’t be much longer.

There! Sunlight pierced through a crack at the bottom of the trailer door. Kadabra squinted at the brightness, trying to make out a target location. Just a bit more… the door slid open higher and—there it was, trees behind the Rocket and a space beyond them, now within our reach! In the blink of an eye, our surroundings melted into light and just as suddenly reformed into the spot between the trees that we had glimpsed. I whirled around to see the Rocket climbing into the truck, giving no indication that he’d seen anything out of the ordinary.

“Come on, I need the team assigned to this ALR to move it,” he called out.

We’d done it—we’d escaped. Just in time. I ducked back behind the closest tree and sank to the ground, arms and legs trembling.

“We made it,” I gasped, feeling a sudden rush of exhilaration. We’d actually made it. I couldn’t help grinning wildly.

“Told you,” Darren said matter-of-factly.

I raised an eyebrow. “No, actually, I don’t think you ever did.”

He paused, furrowing his brow. “Hm. Well I was thinking it.”

“That doesn’t count!” I scoffed, shoving him lightly.

Details aside, we’d gotten out. And now we had front-row seats to the Rockets’ latest mission. The sinister-looking ALR machine had been loaded onto some kind of wheeled transport cart and was currently being moved into position. With the flip of a switch, its legs folded down and dug into the earth, supporting the machine as the cart was removed. At least a dozen other ALRs had been unloaded from the caravan. They weren’t being positioned within the clearing, though—they’d been set up around it, scattered amongst the trees with camouflaged sheets thrown over them. At a glance, it was actually a bit hard to spot them.

The trucks were now leaving the clearing, following the same path we’d taken to get here, seeing as it was the only way out of the forest within sight (and judging by the dark, uneven earth, it must’ve been stripped of trees recently). Only a large van remained, and it currently had a group of executives clustered around it. I motioned to Darren, and the two of us crept around, hoping to get a better look at what the commotion was all about. The back of the van opened. I squinted, trying to make out what was inside.

And then a huge auburn beast jumped down from the back of the van. There was no mistaking it. That vibrant, crested face. The jagged spikes down the back. The smoky tail, billowing constantly.

My chest tightened. I hadn’t seen Entei since that fateful day west of Viridian. The day the Rockets had captured their first Legendary Pokémon. The day I’d vowed to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. And its eyes were completely blank. Just like when I’d first seen Razors. Exactly like that.

I was so focused on Entei, I almost didn’t notice the second Pokémon to exit the truck. Then my eyes snapped back to it and holy crap, it was Mewtwo. The tall, humanoid feline floated lightly over the ground, his thick violet tail twisting and turning in the air. His eyes were wide, unblinking, and blank, just like Entei’s.

An executive was now leading Entei to the center of the clearing while Mewtwo remained behind with the van. The man said something to Entei before returning to the rest of the group. And then the Rockets dispersed, breaking off into squads stationed by each of the ALRs. I tensed up. This was it, wasn’t it? It was starting now. Team Rocket was about to target another Legendary, and Darren and I were the only ones to see it. Where was everyone? Why weren’t they here yet? Were the Rockets chasing the target? How were they going to herd it here? What even was the target? And what were we supposed to do about this kind of opposition? Even if we got the entire Rebellion here, we couldn’t stop Mewtwo.

The entire area fell deathly silent. All eyes were on Entei. The beast inhaled deeply, then unleashed a deep, reverberating roar that shook my entire body. It seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. It… almost felt like Pokéspeech. But at the same time… not. It felt like a cry for help. A cry directed at someone in particular. But who?

Suicune.

The answer suddenly snapped into my mind, clear as day. Suicune was the target. The third and final Johto beast the Rockets had yet to go after. Entei was just the bait. It would probably lose to Suicune in a fair fight, but Mewtwo was the real muscle here.

An unnerving silence fell over the area as the roar faded from the air. We didn’t dare make a move—not until the rest of the Rebellion showed up. All we could do was wait. I was practically bouncing up and down with anxiety.

After several minutes, a distant sound finally pricked at my ears. It sounded like… wing beats. Heavy wing beats. Something huge was flying towards us. No wait… multiple huge somethings were flying toward us and rapidly getting closer.

And then my heart jumped into my throat when I laid eyes on them.

Three enormous birds soared into view, instantly grabbing the attention of everyone in the area. The first, a dazzling phoenix, spiraled down toward the clearing, each flap of its wings scattering red-hot embers through the air. The second, a graceful falcon, folded back its narrow wings and dove after the first, swirls of snow trailing behind its long, ribbon-like tail feathers. And the third, soaring high on short, broad wings, was a golden heron, its jagged plumage coursing with strings of lightning.

Chibi’s eyes widened with shock. “*Is that it? Is that… Zapdos?*” He stared at the thunderbird, slowly running a paw through his own pointed head feathers.

It had to be—there was no mistaking it. Which meant the other two birds were Articuno and Moltres.

The Legendary Birds of Kanto had arrived.

All three of Kanto’s guardians?!” one the Rockets guarding the nearest ALR muttered incredulously.

“Calm down, we knew something like this might happen,” his partner said.

Wait what? They knew? Could Mewtwo really defeat three Legendary Pokémon at once? Maybe, just maybe, the Rockets were in over their heads?

But even if he couldn’t… they did have Entei. And the ALRs. This was way more one-sided than it appeared.

The birds touched down around Entei with Zapdos in front, Articuno to the left and Moltres to the right, each folding their wings and gazing at the beast intently.

“*It really is you?*” Articuno cried out, its voice high-pitched and melodious, like the whistling of wind. “*It is so good to see you again!*” The falcon’s scarlet eyes were wide with relief.

“*So it’s true? You really have escaped?*” Zapdos asked, its tone much more reserved than the ice-type. But it too had relaxed considerably upon seeing the beast seemingly alive and well. “*Suicune refused to believe it—they asked us to come in their stead.*”

“*Guardians of Kanto and all that,*” Moltres said, waving a wing dismissively. The firebird then tilted its head at Entei, frowning. “*What are you doing in Kanto anyway?*”

“*Don’t pressure them,*” Zapdos cut in harshly, its words echoing like thunder. The golden heron turned back to face Entei. “*Are you well?*”

But the volcano beast didn’t respond. It hadn’t moved an inch since the Rockets had given it that order to call for them in the first place. Zapdos’s face slowly fell. It craned its neck forward and gave Entei a gentle tap with its long, pointed beak. The lion remained motionless.

“*I don’t understand…*” the thunderbird said, its voice falling.

Moltres’s sapphire eyes narrowed with suspicion as it glanced around. “*Something’s wrong,*” the phoenix snapped.

The trap was set. All three birds were now eyeing Entei uneasily. The attack would begin any second now. Where was the Rebellion?!

“Now!” a Rocket yelled.

At once, the covers flew off the ALRs and Mewtwo shot forward like a bullet. The three birds leaped into the air right as waves of yellow energy shot out from the sides of the ALRs, linking all of the machines together before spreading out to form a massive web around the clearing. Flames erupted from the ground around Entei, enveloping everything within the ALR circle in a raging fireball and making the energy field glow even brighter as it absorbed the attack. The flames cleared, revealing a scorched clearing filled with the charred remains of tree trunks. The three birds circled the air inside the web, facing down Mewtwo and Entei, varying degrees of hurt, anger, and betrayal crossing their faces.

“I knew it! A human trick! Of all the cowardly moves—come at us with your own strength, if you have any!” Moltres called out poisonously.

Mewtwo’s eyes glowed, and it fired a violet pulse of psychic energy at the firebird, sending it crashing into the barrier with a wave of sparks. Moltres flapped its wings wildly to regain itself, throwing a wide-eyed glance between Mewtwo and the barrier. It then let a wave of fire dance across its entire body before shooting forward like a missile, striking the barrier furiously. But within seconds, a wave of yellow energy rippled outward from the nearest ALRs, knocking the firebird back with a violent shock wave.

Lightning coursing through its wings, Zapdos fired a massive bolt right at one the ALRs maintaining the barrier. The ray sparked, absorbing the energy and channeling it across the web to the others until finally, it shot back a beam that struck the thunderbird right in the stomach. It recoiled back, wincing in pain right as Articuno was struck by Mewtwo’s psychic blast. The falcon retaliated with a piercingly blue beam of icy energy, but then Entei leapt into its path and countered with an overwhelming rush of flames.

The trio couldn’t fly away. They couldn’t hurt the Rockets. They couldn’t do anything but desperately attempt to evade Mewtwo’s psychic blasts. Panic was quickly settling into the birds’ movements. And we couldn’t do anything about it. Not alone.

As if on cue, a brilliant Flamethrower tore through the sky, striking the ALR barrier right at its apex. The Rockets immediately glanced up in the direction the attack had come from. I tilted my head, trying to spot it through the trees. Where had it come from?

A sudden flash of orange! A flying Pokémon? It slowed down as it approached the space directly above the Legendary battle, and—yes, it was a Charizard! Stalker’s? But the rider wasn’t Stalker. In fact, the fire lizard was carrying two riders. Two girls, from the look of it—one dark-skinned, the other light.

Wait… it was the rebels of Group 1, Mai and Sasha!

A single combat unit squad mounted their flying Pokémon and took flight after them. Charizard bolted the instant they got close enough to start launching attacks. Was it… trying to draw them off? But not very many Rockets had taken the bait. We still had plenty of opposition standing guard on the ground.

“Hey! Group 12, right?” a voice behind us said. A familiar voice, no less.

I whirled around. Standing behind us was none other than the leader of Group 1, and the person in charge of missions in Stalker’s absence—Ray.

“You’re finally here!” I exclaimed.

He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “We’ve got a rendezvous point set up east of the battlefield. Your third teammate is there.”

We followed him through the trees, giving the ALR circle and the Rockets a wide berth before coming to a section of the forest with about half the Rebellion scattered throughout. Every so often, another rebel would appear via teleporter or descend from above the canopy on the back of a flyer. Darren and I barely had a chance to look around and take stock of who all was here—I noticed our partners from the Raikou mission, Groups 5 and 16—before we were accosted by our third teammate, who was… not exactly happy with us.

“Why didn’t you guys tell me you were going to a Legendary mission!” Rudy shouted indignantly the second he found us.

“Right on cue,” Darren whispered.

“What, you think we knew?” I countered, rolling my eyes. But then a certain Absol and Flygon standing behind him caught my eye, and any qualms that Rudy had with us completely left my mind.

“Aros? Stygian? You two also came to help us?” I blurted out.

Stygian scoffed. “*Don’t think you’re special.*”

*We agreed to join the fight when we stayed on the island. It’s as simple as that,*” Aros added in as disinterested a tone as possible, just in case I got the idea he cared or anything. Whatever, the reason didn’t matter. Either way, them being here was going to be a huge help that I hadn’t been counting on.

Chibi glanced between the two clones, tilting his head slightly. “*Where’s Razors?*”

Aros shrugged. “*He didn’t want to come.*”

The Pikachu gaped at him. “*What…?*” He shook his head disbelievingly. “*What do you mean he ‘didn’t want to come’? What does that even mean?*” he said in a heated voice.

The Flygon huffed. “*How should I know? I didn’t ask.*”

Chibi’s ears drooped, and he stared at the ground in total shock. I had no idea how to comfort him. I didn’t even really know why he was so upset to learn that Razors wasn’t taking part in the mission. At the very least, it meant he was safe, right?

With a flash of light in my peripheral vision, Sasha had suddenly appeared alongside her Kadabra, the golden coils of her hair thoroughly windswept. “Hey guys. Mai’s keeping ‘em busy—Charizard’s got enough X Speed to last awhile. So what’s the plan?”

“We can make one now that you’re here,” Ray said simply.

She rolled her eyes. “Ha ha. I get it, you’re useless without me.”

“Stalker told us those machines are bad news. How bad are we talking?” Ray asked. It took me several seconds to realize that the second part was directed at me and Darren.

“They’re rebounding all the Legendaries’ attacks back at them. And that barrier is fueled by their power,” I said.

“Plus the barrier protects the machines from the Legendaries’ attacks, so it’s not like they can just destroy the machines from in there, cool as that would be,” Darren added.

Already I could see the gears turning in Sasha’s head. “What about from the outside? We could attack the machines from the other side of the barrier, yeah?”

I paused. That was a distinct possibility. But then… there was an obvious problem with that plan.

“How do we do that if the machines are all guarded by the combat unit?” a girl asked.

“We take ‘em down, obviously,” Rudy answered as though nothing were more obvious.

A heavy silence fell over the group. “Are we really strong enough to fight the combat unit head on?” a kid slowly asked.

Ray paused, taken aback. It was written all over his face that he didn’t think so. Try as he might, he hadn’t mastered Stalker’s ability to hide what he was thinking.

“We’re not going to fight them head on!” a voice suddenly called out. I whirled around to see Group 5’s Zoe giving everyone a determined stare. “They’re stuck out in the open guarding the machines—we’re not. And we’ve got a lot of tricks. Stick to the trees, stay out of the line of fire, draw their attention, then strike from behind… use every sneak attack we’ve ever learned.” Once again, she’d taken on the role of motivator, just like she had in Cerulean.

“Stalker had us all learn Protect, yeah? Well now we’re using it,” her teammate Liam added. “Have Pokémon out in front of you at all times that can alternate using Protect while the others attack from behind. Everyone else… attack those machines.”

Slowly, the fear and uncertainty streaking the rebels’ faces had started to melt away from all the encouragement. We were stronger now. We had more Pokémon, more allies, and more skills than we did before. We were going to do this.

Sasha grinned a bit to see someone other than her making the plans for once. “If you have any Pokémon big enough to ride, get on them so you can escape quicker,” she added. “Protect each other. And for the love of crap don’t get killed, got it?”

“Got it!” the rebel nearest to her called out. And with that, the rebels began splitting off into ground teams and sky teams, deciding who would take on which ALR.

“*Jade,*” said a voice near my feet. I glanced down to see Chibi. Any distress from earlier had vanished, and his expression had turned darkly serious. “*You’ll need mobility for this. Ride on Aros.*”

I stared at him. “What about you?”

“*I’ll be most useful protecting everyone on the ground,*” the hybrid said firmly. “*But we need as many rebels in the air as we can get.*”

I gave Aros a sideways glance. He… really hadn’t been keen on letting a human on his back during my last mission.

“Are… you okay with that?” I asked, wincing.

The Flygon turned his back to me. “*Just get on,*” he said flatly. “*We’ve got to hurry.*”

I took a deep breath and climbed onto the bug-dragon’s back, gripping his sides tightly with my knees and clasping my arms around his neck. Alongside me, Rudy had let out his Fearow and was now mounting the tall, shaggy bird.

“I’ll stay here,” Darren said. “I don’t have a flier, but I do have a teleporter, so I can always help with the hit-and-run attacks.” Kadabra raised his spoon like he was giving a thumbs up.

Stygian glanced between the rebels, pawing the ground with a bit of a pensive look. “*I’ll stick with the main group. They’ll need my strength.*” Her gaze hardened, and I wasn’t sure if it was directed at Aros or me. “*Don’t do anything stupid.*”

“*Got it, got it,*” Aros said, waving a claw dismissively.

I shot a glance at Rudy to make sure we were both ready, then Aros and Fearow took off, shooting up above the canopy and sticking low over the trees so we didn’t attract too much unwanted attention. This gave us a pretty good view of the Legendary battle and… it had gotten a lot worse. The birds were reluctant to harm Entei, but that just made it even harder for them to fight Mewtwo while having dodge the lion’s flames. Zapdos covered its body in strings of electricity before loosing a wave of sparks all over the volcano beast. Entei recoiled backward, its muscles twitching with paralysis, but then Mewtwo appeared out of nowhere and knocked the thunderbird into the ALR barrier.

Articuno let out a cry and flapped its wings furiously, stirring up a violent blizzard in the air. Ice crystals formed on Mewtwo’s bony arms, but he silenced the storm and shattered the ice into shards with a wave of psychic power from a single hand. Just seconds later, Entei breathed out a white-hot pillar of flames, striking the falcon dead-on. With an enraged screech, Moltres shot forward like a bullet, knocking the beast to the ground and slashing wildly with its talons, giving Articuno a chance to escape. Azure feathers charred black, the ice bird retreated to the side, desperately firing frigid beams at its opposition.

I clenched my teeth and looked away. That wasn’t something we needed to worry about right now. The battle didn’t matter so long as the barrier was still up. Taking down the barrier was our absolute priority. I scanned the ground around the closest ALR—the Rocket squad guarding it had noticed the commotion going on elsewhere and turned to see what was going on. Three Rockets—all of them armed. Four Pokémon—Arbok, Pinsir, Magneton, Poliwrath. We were going to be in the line of fire whether we liked it or not.

“Alright, disarming tactics, what do we got?” I asked.

“Pikachu can paralyze them with Thunder Wave,” Rudy offered.

I nodded. “I don’t have much, but both my Pokémon can cut visibility. We’ll distract them with ourselves while our Pokémon approach from behind. Swift can fly Pikachu up close to paralyze them and then we can set our entire team against the Pokémon.” Between us we had nine Pokémon, counting Aros. Nine against four.

I took a deep breath. “They’re gonna be shooting at us. Be ready.” In a way, it was more directed at myself than anyone else, but Aros replied, “*No problem.*”

Two Pokéballs opened, and Pikachu was now riding on Swift. Rudy relayed the plan to them and the electric-type grinned mischievously (part of me suspected that she’d been looking forward to something like this). Swift dove down through the trees so he’d have cover when approaching them, and then the rest was on us.

Aros and Fearow dove forward together, putting us right in the Rockets’ line of sight. Within seconds, they’d pulled out their firearms and began shooting. I flinched, clutching Aros’s neck tightly, but the Flygon was ready. A dark aura wreathed our bodies, and suddenly it was like we had become shadow. This was what Feint Attack looked like from the inside, wasn’t it? Suddenly it was like they weren’t even aiming at us at all—we were a shadow tracing the ground, and then we were behind them. The bug-dragon swung his tail at the Rockets, knocking them all clean off their feet right before their Pokémon lunged at us. Aros raised a Protect barrier at the last second just as Swift used their distraction to break through the trees. Without wasting a second, Pikachu leaped off of Swift’s back right into the center of the fallen Rockets, unleashing strings of electricity all over them. The Rockets cried out in pain as the attack coursed through them, then fell silent.

That wasn’t Thunder Wave… that was Thundershock. She hadn’t paralyzed them, she’d straight-up knocked them out. Swift took that opportunity to whip up a swirling dust storm around himself, blinding the Rockets’ Pokémon before they could retaliate. I whipped out a Pokéball and let out Firestorm. Rudy let out Ebony, Wartortle, Nidorino, and Larvitar to stand alongside Fearow and Pikachu and holy crap I’d never seen them all out and facing down the same opponent at once. Seeing his full team of six ready to go was actually intimidating.

“Let’s go, everyone!” he shouted, pointing forward at the Rockets’ Pokémon. Their trainers were unconscious, they’d been blinded by sand, and we outnumbered them two to one. This was what Stalker had meant when he’d talked about getting an advantage against opponents who were far stronger than you, wasn’t it?

Firestorm and Ebony tag-teamed Magneton, pelting the steel-type with fireballs and flaming fists. The magnet trio struck back with a flood of lightning launched from all three of its units, but its attack was just met with more flames, and its metallic shell was already starting to glow from the heat. Pinsir lunged forward, snapping its mighty jaws at our Pokémon and catching Wartortle in them. But the turtle managed to duck into his shell in time, leaving the bug-type struggling to damage him. Suddenly a half-dozen boulders struck it in the face and knocked it to the ground, thanks to Larvitar. Her first Rocket battle and the little green dinosaur still looked bored with it all, hurling rocks one after another like it took no effort. And then Fearow descended upon the stag beetle, tearing into it with frenzied talon slashes and spearing strikes from her beak.

Arbok crept along the ground into the center of our lineup and lashed out, catching Nidorino in its coils. But he just stood his ground and let all his spikes stand on end, forcing the serpent to release him right before it got nailed with a burst of water to the face, and then a rush of flames as the fire-types had already managed to finish off Magneton. In the midst of it all, Poliwrath stood its ground, weathering the blades of wind that Swift launched at it and the bolts of lightning from Pikachu. The frog braced itself and fired off high-pressure blasts of water that knocked a few of our Pokémon off their feet. But then, without warning, Aros shot forward, catching the water-type’s arm in his claws. What the hell?! I clung tightly to his back as he swung his arms in a wide circle, releasing his hold at the last second and letting Poliwrath go flying into the ALR barrier. The frog struck the barrier with a hail of sparks, spasming wildly as the energy surged through it until it finally cried out and fell limply to the ground.

I stared at Aros. “I… never would have thought of that.”

“*What? It’s fast and effective,*” the Flygon snorted. I couldn’t really argue with that.

I snapped my attention back to the battle, but… there was no more battle. With Aros’s finishing move, all four of the squad’s Pokémon had been utterly defeated. We’d done it?

Rudy turned toward me, his eyes wider than I’d ever seen. “Holy crap that was badass,” he said, his tone dead serious. I honestly wasn’t sure if that was directed at himself, his Pokémon, or all of us, but it honestly didn’t matter. I climbed down from Aros’s back while Rudy dismounted his Fearow and gave the bird a pat.

“Alright, we’ve gotta be quick before more of them show up,” I said warily, pointing upward. More combat unit squads had taken to the air now—way too many for Stalker’s Charizard to distract. Several teams of rebels had joined her, launching attacks at the Rockets any time they approached the ground, basically forcing them to prioritize the aerial threats so those of us on the ground could continue uninterrupted. Chibi was aiding them by calling down wicked bouts of Thunder from the sky, dropping the Rockets’ Pokémon left and right.

“Aros, stay in the air and keep the Rockets far away from us. Stick to ranged moves,” I said.

“Pikachu, go with him and spam Discharge,” Rudy added. With a devious glint in her eyes, the electric mouse leaped onto Aros’s back, and the Flygon vibrated his wings to take off.

Rudy spun around to face the ALR. “All right! Time to take down these machines!” he exclaimed with a huge grin. “Ebony, use Inferno! Nidorino, Sludge Bomb; Larvitar, Rock Slide; Wartortle, Water Pulse!!”

“Swift, use Air Cutter. And Firestorm…” I took a deep breath. “Well, we’ve got a giant target and nothing nearby to worry about… use Fire Blast.”

The Charmeleon grinned wildly, planted his feet, and took a deep breath. And then he blasted out a thick column of blazing flame. Halfway to its target, the blaze split off into five points, half of them spiraling off into the air uncontrollably. But at this point, it didn’t even matter—the sheer amount of fire striking on-target was nothing to scoff at. Blazing flames, blades of wind, bolts of lightning, avalanches of rocks, bursts of water, and balls of toxic sludge all bombarded the machine relentlessly, all of them colliding with the energy field surrounding it. So the ALRs were protected from the outside too? But we’d come too far to give up now.

“Keep going! If we all attack it at once we might be able to overload them!” I yelled.

All around the ALR circle, other groups of rebels were launching attacks at the machines at once. There was no way it could possibly handle all of us, right?!

“*Articuno, Moltres, Zapdos! Attack the barrier with all your power!*” a voice cried out in desperation. I whirled around to see Chibi, who had stopped attacking the Rockets and was now unleashing the rest of his power at the ALR barrier. Zapdos snapped its head in Chibi’s direction, gazing at the hybrid with a perplexed look. But then the thunderbird let out a cry and unleashed a wave of lightning from all over its body. Articuno and Moltres did the same, letting loose a torrent of flames and a raging flurry of snow, respectively. Mewtwo and Entei flew backward from the force, the former putting up a psychic barrier to protect them. Sparks flew as the ALR barrier strained to contain the Legendaries’ attacks, but this time there was nowhere for the power to go. Every single ALR was absorbing power from both sides and attempting to distribute it amongst the rest, but they all were trying to do it at once. Without warning, the machines starting discharging energy into the sky, turning the airspace over the clearing into hail of thunderbolts.

Was it working? I couldn’t tell. We were giving it everything we had! It had to work!

Suddenly, the Fire Blast within the barrier faded as Moltres stopped attacking and took to the air, letting flames burn across its entire body as it made a beeline for the barrier’s apex. The phoenix struck it with full force but refused to yield, flapping its wings frantically as it pushed against the overloaded energy field. The effort didn’t do anything at first. But then, amazingly, the firebird’s beak started to pierce the barrier. Its head slipped through. Then its neck. And then it let out a reverberating cry to the heavens, just like how Entei had lured them here in the first place. A plea for help.

Out of nowhere, a blue aura surrounded Moltres, violently wrenching it back inside the barrier. Mewtwo’s arm was outstretched, wreathed in the same aura, fingers slowly clenching, digging the psychic energy into the firebird’s body. Then the clone flicked his wrist, sending Moltres plummeting into the ground with a sickening crack.

“Moltres!” Zapdos cried, diving forward to land alongside the phoenix and flaring its jagged wings defensively. Entei had already started advancing on them, flames licking the sides of its muzzle.

“It didn’t work,” I muttered blankly. “They’re still trapped.”

But then, out of nowhere, a burst of shimmering light appeared above the ALR barrier, quickly fading to reveal a small, feline Pokémon. It spread its short forelimbs, eyes glowing blue with psychic energy before it shot forward like a bullet and pierced the ALR barrier. Shock waves radiated outward from the collision point, intensifying until the cat was nothing more than a brilliant white blur, slowly but surely penetrating the energy field. Finally, with a whip of its long, thin tail, the psychic cat slipped through the barrier and into the battle zone. Spreading its forelimbs outward, the newcomer’s eyes glowed a fierce blue as it unleashed an incredible wave of power from its tiny body. All five Legendaries whirled around in surprise.

Mew was here?!






~End Chapter 18~
The mission isn't even close to being over. In fact, it's only just beginning. And if it seemed too easy in this chapter… it's about to get a lot, LOT harder.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
This was an exciting chapter that didn't take time to dillydally with any training shenanigans this time. Great! And it in general hit a lot of good beats, showed that the team was getting more and more competent with taking and disrupting the Rockets... Yeah. I like where this is all going, and the ending! This was probably the best cliffhanger you've had so far, and it looks like you'll be opening your Mew with a bang this time around, heh.

I don't have much else to comment on aside from little snide remarks about tsundere Flygon, the smirk I got at the concept of "spamming" Discharge, and in general showing a lot less helplessness this time around. I like the shift. Seems they're prepared for the scope of this story to get just a bit broader...

Anyway, quick remarks:

Guardians of Kanto and all that,” Moltres said, waving a wing dismissively.
Alright, this I liked. It's a small thing, but I think you put this here intentionally--gods interacting with each other casually like teachers in a break room. I was hoping to see something like this soon to confirm they aren't all holy thou-thee types.

At once, the covers flew off the ALRs and Mewtwo shot forward like a bullet.
Small thing, but you used "like a bullet" three times in this chapter. Twice was already something I noticed, so three was downright excessive!
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
This was an exciting chapter that didn't take time to dillydally with any training shenanigans this time. Great! And it in general hit a lot of good beats, showed that the team was getting more and more competent with taking and disrupting the Rockets... Yeah. I like where this is all going, and the ending! This was probably the best cliffhanger you've had so far, and it looks like you'll be opening your Mew with a bang this time around, heh.
Hey, glad you liked the cliffhanger! And yeah, I'm excited to finally bring Mew into the story, even if she won't be a main character until Book 2.
I don't have much else to comment on aside from little snide remarks about tsundere Flygon, the smirk I got at the concept of "spamming" Discharge, and in general showing a lot less helplessness this time around.
Ahh, good eye. This arc was really important for building up Jade's confidence and her ability to take action (before the next arc.)
Alright, this I liked. It's a small thing, but I think you put this here intentionally--gods interacting with each other casually like teachers in a break room. I was hoping to see something like this soon to confirm they aren't all holy thou-thee types.
Ohh boy, you're gonna like the Legendaries in this fic. ;P
Small thing, but you used "like a bullet" three times in this chapter. Twice was already something I noticed, so three was downright excessive!
woww, you're right. And there's only 8 instances in the entire fic--this chapter has over a third of them!
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
The Legendary birds mission continues! This is my fourth favorite chapter in Book 1 and I love how it turned out. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.



~Chapter 19: Fury and Lightning~


Mew. It was seriously Mew. Right here, right in front of my eyes. Never, in a million years, did I think I’d get such a clear view of the living myth itself. Seeing Legendaries in person was one thing but Mew? The mother of all Pokémon? The pale rose cat hovered over to the birds, raising a large, pink bubble around them and allowing them the chance to rest. The trio landed on the ground, folding their wings tightly as a healing glow washed over their bodies. Mew, on the other hand, was now staring at Mewtwo, head tilted ever so slightly with a sort of… perplexed curiosity on her face.

<Who is this one?> the cat asked softly, her telepathic words reverberating through the air, cool and clear.

“*You tell us!*” Moltres shot back. “*They have your power!*”

Mew tilted her head the other way, looking even more intrigued. <And Entei?>

“*Their mind is not their own,*” Articuno said in a low voice. “*The humans have done something to them.*”

Mewtwo gave no reaction to Mew’s arrival. He couldn’t. All he could do was stare back, eyes glowing a mindless blue, waiting for the order that would designate the new arrival as either friend or foe.

“Mewtwo, neutralize Mew! Entei, don’t let the birds heal!”

Mew turned her head in the direction of the voice, observing the Rockets with a mixture of sadness and pity. <So humans have become our enemy once again. But I wonder… are you really prepared for that?>

The squealing of tires and roar of engines assaulted my ears out of nowhere. I snapped my head in their direction to see a pair of jeeps rumbling towards us through the trees, traversing the uneven, root-covered terrain like it was nothing. The passengers whipped out their firearms and pointed them right at us, and it was like my brain just shut down. I had no idea what to do. There was nowhere to run!

With the flapping of wings and a flash of shimmering light, Fearow shot forward from behind us and put up a Protect just a split second before the sound of gunfire rang out and bullets pinged off the shield. Stupid! How could I have forgotten the plan?!

“Aros, we need you!” I yelled.

“*On it!*” the Flygon called out.

I threw a hurried glance upward to see the dragon streaking away from the aerial battle, his wings a blur. Fearow’s Protect started to flicker. Without wasting a second, Firestorm and Wartortle jumped in front, putting up shields of their own as the tall, shaggy bird leaped back and leaned down for Rudy to climb on her back. Aros swooped down alongside me and in one smooth motion I threw a leg over his back and clung to his neck. Time for one last Protect, and this time it was up to Aros since Fearow hadn’t yet recovered from the last one. That gave Rudy and I the chance we needed to recall our nonflying Pokémon and then finally get out of the line of fire holy crap.

“Ha! We made it out! Take that!” Rudy called out behind us as Aros and Fearow shot into the air. My breathing was shallow and it felt like my heart was going at a million miles an hour, but we’d made it. We’d been ambushed by two squads of Rockets and made it out unharmed. It was insane!

Just as soon as I had that thought, a hail of noxious sludge started raining down from above, forcing Aros to suddenly barrel to the right to avoid it. I threw a frantic glance over my shoulder to see a swarm of Golbat and Weezing belting out Sludge Bomb non-stop. Rudy pointed them out to his Fearow, and the pair of them looped around and shot toward the poison-types.

“What was that move you used in Celadon? The one with the purple dragonfire?” I asked Aros.

“*Dragon Pulse?*”

“Yes, that! Do it now!” I cried as three of the Golbat rushed us at once, their wings glowing in preparation for Aerial Ace.

Aros opened his jaws wide, allowing a ball of violet energy to gather in his mouth before unleashing it in the form of a pulsing shockwave. The draconic energy knocked two of the bats out of the air, but the third managed to skillfully loop around it and shoot right at us. Or rather—right at me.

I flattened myself against Aros’s back, screwing my eyes shut and clinging to him for dear life. Seconds later, I felt a sudden wave of heat from that direction. I opened my eyes a crack, and… the Golbat was gone? What? A flash of orange caught my eye, and I whirled around to see Stalker’s Charizard shooting past, flames licking the sides of her mouth.

“*Stop holding so tight,*” Aros muttered.

Er, right, I still had my arms clenched around his neck, even after the danger had passed. I relaxed a bit, then said, “Come on, we should meet up with the others.” The Flygon gave a slight huff, but then swooped back down toward the clearing.

My heart sank—the outer perimeter of the ALR circle was now swarming with combat unit jeeps. Holy crap the Rockets were attacking the ground team rebels with full force, and suddenly they outnumbered us two to one and any hopes of taking them on with sneak attacks and mob tactics were utterly dead. The rebels had been forced to regroup in order to defend each other. An outer perimeter of Pokémon alternated using Protect to block the gunfire while teleporters blinked in and out of the crowd, escaping with a few rebels each time. Chibi raced around the fray, launching Thunderbolts with a frightening level of precision and dropping the Rockets left and right. But… how on earth was he doing that? With his undersized power capacity, he should have been out after we all launched our simultaneous attack on the ALRs. Wait… the ALRs! They’d been forced to discharge insane amounts of power into the air to avoid being overloaded. Had he been able to absorb some of it with his Lightning Rod ability?

But even with the rebels putting up an impressive defense, the Rockets were still closing in. And the more of them escaped from the ambush, the fewer Pokémon were available to use Protect.

“*What do we do?! They need help!*” Aros yelled.

“I don’t know, let me think! And since when do you care so much about the rebels?”

“*Idiot! Stygian is down there!*”

What? I scanned the ground frantically. Sure enough, down in the middle of the fray, I caught sight of an Absol, cloaked in the dark aura of Feint Attack, jumping in and out of shadows—and with a with a rider on her back, too! Wait a second… it was Darren!

“Why doesn’t he just teleport out of there…?” I muttered, but then the answer hit me the moment the words left my mouth. Stygian was a dark-type—she was immune to psychic skills like Teleport.

Had to focus. Had to think of something. Attack the jeeps? That was the only thing I could think of. The Rockets didn’t even have Pokémon out! Not with all the gunfire.

“Use Dragon Pulse!” I yelled, pointing downward. Aros immediately responded with another burst of sparkling dragonfire aimed right at the closest jeep, only for it to strike something invisible in midair and go hurtling off. What? They had rebound shields?! Of course they did—the combat unit jeeps at the Entei mission did—why would these be any different? They didn’t do much beyond deflecting special attacks—nothing like the crazy absorbing trick the ALRs could pull. Except getting in close for a physical attack meant being in perfect range to get shot.

We had to do something, and fast. But what?!

I had just pulled out Swift’s Pokéball—maybe a dust storm would give the rebels the cover they needed?—when an icy gale swept through out of nowhere, and a distant, unearthly howl reverberated throughout the trees. I knew that sound.

“Holy crap… that’s—that’s Suicune!” I exclaimed.

“Suicune—seriously?!” I turned to see Rudy flying alongside us once again, now gaping at me. “Where is it?! And wait, how do you know that?!”

“I’ve heard it before!” I yelled over the sound of the wind.

“You’ve heard it?” Rudy gasped. “What—how…?”

I didn’t get a chance to respond. Right that second, a massive cobalt beast shot through the trees, snarling as it raced for the crowd of Rockets. And then the entire battleground dissolved into pandemonium. The jeeps immediately broke off from pursuing the rebels, splitting into two groups to attack the water-type from both sides. A dozen flashes of light appeared as the Rockets’ Pokémon took form around the Johto beast. Nothing compared to the forces that had cornered Raikou. Without hesitation, Suicune fired a volley of multicolored beam attacks at the opposing Pokémon without even slowing down. The lineup crumbled instantly; the beast shot past them, setting its sights on the jeeps and firing at the closest one, only for its beam to rebound wildly off the vehicle’s energy shield.

But rebound shields were nothing compared to the ALRs. And there was nothing to stop the beast from leaping up onto the jeep and attacking from within the shield’s radius.

“How dare you use my sibling for your sick goals!!” Suicune snarled, smashing the windshield and unleashing a torrential waterspout into the vehicle. The doors flew open and a flood of water gushed out, followed by the panicked Rockets scrambling to abandon the vehicle. Suicune didn’t waste a second before it started picking them off with rapid-fire volleys of Bubblebeam.

“You’re all pathetic!! Stealing our power and using it against us, pretending you have any real strength at all! Cowards! Thieves! You are nothing!”

Bullets pelted its hide, but it didn’t even seem to care. It wasn’t even slowed down. One after the other, it sent jeeps flying with high-pressure water blasts, stamping the escaping Rockets into the dirt, catching them in its jaws and hurling them into the ALR barrier with a—

Okay, no, I couldn’t watch that anymore. The point was, Suicune was keeping them busy which meant that the rebels were safe, for now. I threw a glance back at the fight within the ALR barrier, and… Mew’s arrival had actually evened the odds. The nimble feline zipped around the battlefield, pelting Mewtwo with shadowy orbs of black energy, distracting him just long enough for Articuno to land a series of rapid-fire Ice Beams, freezing the larger psychic in a shell of ice. His eyes glowed, and the ice shattered, but that gave Mew the opportunity to strike him dead on with an even larger burst of dark energy.

On the fringes of the battlefield, Entei raced around in a blazing fireball, launching vicious Flamethrowers into the fray—only for Moltres to intercept it at every turn, using its own fire affinity to endure the flames and get close enough to rake its talons across the beast’s face. Wicked Thunderbolts lanced across the battle zone, striking both of the Rockets’ Legendaries relentlessly.

Had the Rebellion really done its job? We’d given Moltres the opportunity to call for reinforcements and now the Rockets were scrambling trying to keep up with the new arrivals. But with the barrier still up, how would the Legendaries inside manage to get free, even if Mewtwo was defeated?

“Switch the Anti-Legend Rays to offense mode, now!” a voice called out.

I whirled around to see a handful of the jeeps that had fled from Suicune’s assault clustered off to one side of the ALR circle. And then, in an instant, the force field encircling the Legendary battle just vanished. What? Why would they drop the shield? The Legendaries could escape now!

Without warning, the ALR closest to them retracted its antennae and swiveled its upper half downward, forming a cannon that shot out a blindingly bright yellow beam, striking Moltres right in the stomach. The firebird recoiled backward, screeching in pain as the beam scorched its feathers black. Mew shot forward instantly, putting up a barrier to protect the fire legend, but then two, then three more ALRs fired the same beams at her, shattering the barrier with a crash. I whirled around to look at the ALR nearest us, but it too had folded up its shield projectors and had switched over to firing its stored power. Stalker was right—the ALRs didn’t just absorb power, they could fire it back too. Not only that, but the Rockets could control them all remotely too?

“Now!” an executive called out.

Now? Now what??

Violet Pokéballs flew through the air, and the three birds’ eyes went wide with panic. In an instant, they each let loose massive blasts of fire, ice, and lightning, struggling to break free of the ALR beams.

That’s why the Rockets dropped the shield?! To throw Master Balls?!

Suicune raced forward, accompanied by a violent gust of wind that swept half the Master Balls off into trees. Mew dove in front, readying a shield, but was knocked flying by a sudden psychic blast from her clone.

A flash of red out of the corner of my eye! I whirled around to see a red beam being sucked into one of the balls—a Pokémon was being captured?! My eyes frantically darted from one Legendary to the next. Mew, Mewtwo, Entei, Zapdos, Articuno… Moltres, there was no Moltres—Moltres was caught?!

“No way…” I muttered, staring in disbelief like a bucket of ice had just been dumped on my head.

Zapdos folded its wings back and dove forward, talons outstretched, clearly reaching for the ball that had just taken the firebird, but then a second group of Rockets hurled more violet spheres into the fray.

“*No!*” Articuno cried, folding its wings back and diving. The ice bird knocked Zapdos out of the way, sending the latter reeling. Mew shot down after them, again trying to shield the birds with a protective bubble, but then a blue aura formed around her as Mewtwo grabbed hold of her telekinetically. And in the moment the smaller cat had to spend wrenching herself free from Mewtwo’s grip, an ALR rotated and fired on her.

A third round of Master Balls flew through the air, and this time Articuno was hit—struck on the back by the infallible capture device. With a horrified screech, the falcon’s body dissolved into red energy and was sucked into the ball. I gaped in horror. A second capture?

Mew had taken to blinking in and out of view around the battlefield, teleporting non-stop, pressing buttons on the fallen Master Balls and trying to open as many of them as possible. But then a blue aura appeared around all of them, and they flew out of her reach, pulled by Mewtwo’s telekinesis.

With a painful and terrifying wail, Zapdos let loose another wave of lightning from its body, shaking itself free of the ALR beam before bolting upward, frantically dodging more beams. Except the thunderbird wasn’t trying to escape. It took that opportunity to spread its wings high above the battlefield and let a hail of Thunderbolts rain down on the Rockets. The first few bolts lanced off the jeeps’ shields. But the lightning just kept coming without pause, eventually shattering the shields and striking two of the jeeps, causing them to erupt into flames. I flinched as the Rockets’ screams assaulted my ears.

“You think you can challenge the legends without facing the consequences?!” Suicune exclaimed, staring at the events with cold fury in its eyes. But then one of the ALRs nearest it rotated and fired, knocking the water beast off its feet. At that point, Mewtwo finally managed to intercept Zapdos, knocking it out of the sky with a psychic blast, while the Rockets on the ground scrambled to get out of its range. Two more machines fired on the thunderbird the moment it crashed to the ground.

Wait a minute. The ALRs couldn’t run the barrier and the ray at the same time. Now that the shield was down, the machines wouldn’t be absorbing any attacks thrown at them. Which meant that without having to overwhelm the entire network at once, we could target them individually!

“Hey Jade!” a voice called out. I spun around to see Rudy and Darren approaching, both still riding on Fearow and Stygian, respectively.

“Ray gave the order to retreat—there’s not much else any of us can do here!” Rudy yelled, grimacing like he hated every word.

“Are you kidding?! Of course we can do something! We can stop the ALRs!” I countered. The two of them paused, looking taken aback.

“I dunno if you forgot, but we already tried that,” Darren said, tilting his head in confusion.

“Oh yeah?! Watch!” I pointed at the nearest ALR and said, “Aros, use your strongest move, now!” The Flygon turned his neck back to give me an incredulous scowl. “Please, just trust me,” I added quietly. Several seconds passed. Finally, his gaze hardened into determination, and he nodded before turning back to face the Anti-Legendary Ray. The Flygon brandished both sets of claws, letting them glow with a writhing green aura before slashing wildly. Claw marks appeared in the machine’s outer armor, shallow at first, but deepening with each strike.

“Holy crap, that’s actually working,” Rudy gasped, pulling out a Pokéball to release Ebony. “Use Inferno, now!” The Houndoom’s eyes lit up, and she breathed out a massive wave of white-hot flame. Without a word, Stygian rushed around to the other side of the machine, the blade on her head glowing purple. She aimed a few strategically-placed slashes, cleaving off the shields on the upper part of the cannon, allowing Ebony’s flames to penetrate the inner mechanisms. Finally, the beam started to sputter, giving way to a wave of sparks before the entire top half of the machine collapsed in on itself, half-melted.

We’d done it. We’d actually done it! The ALRs weren’t unstoppable. The Legendaries didn’t know that they could be destroying the ALRs, right now! They needed to know! If they joined in, we’d be able to take care of them all in no time! Suicune had seen me before—if it recognized me, I could use that opportunity to pass on the message to it. And if not, well… Aros was fast, right?

“Let the others know that we’ve got to start destroying the ALRs—there’s something I’ve gotta do!” I announced. And then to Aros, I added, “Circle the battlefield real quick, I know a way we can end this.”

“*You what? …Oh, whatever, I’m not even gonna question it at this point,*” the Flygon muttered under his breath before taking off. We shot around the ALR circle in a wide arc, my eyes rapidly scanning the ground ahead of us. Finally, I spotted Suicune weaving in and out of the trees, struggling to get closer to a group of Rockets that had gathered between two ALRs for protection and were firing beams at the beast any time it got too close.

“Suicune!” I called out. Suicune whipped its head around to face us, its crimson eyes boring a hole right through me. And for a split second my heart stopped as I saw the beast charging a shimmering beam of light in its mouth until its eyes went wide and it froze.

“You! You’re an interloper, aren’t you?!” Suicune barked.

“A what?” But the beast didn’t explain. I shook my head and went on, “Listen to me! Those machines aren’t indestructible, and they can’t absorb your attacks when they’re in offense mode!”

Suicune paused, blinking in surprise. It then glanced between me and the ALR circle a few times before sprinting off without a word.

Aros threw a glance back at me like I was insane. “*The hell was that?*”

“It was stupid, but it’s gonna turn the tide of the fight,” I said firmly. Across the clearing, Suicune had already started bombarding one of the ALRs with multicolored beam attacks. Not too far from it, the rebels were doing the same. Zapdos was still desperately attempting to strike back at the Rockets, so blind with rage that it didn’t even notice the ground glowing white until a pillar of swirling blue flame erupted from below, called forth by Entei. Zapdos screeched in anguish as the flames enveloped it. But then, without warning, Mew teleported to Entei’s side, grabbed hold of the beast, and then teleported again. An agonized howl rang out as the fire legend reappeared within one of the ALR beams that had been aiming at Zapdos. Its body spasmed wildly as the energy dug into it, then finally collapsed to the ground, motionless.

It was down. Entei had finally been brought down. I didn’t know whether to be glad that the free Legendaries had one less enemy, or feel bad that they’d even had to do that to one of their own in the first place.

Mew stared at the fainted beast for several seconds. Then out of nowhere, her eyes widened like she had just realized something. The cat disappeared from view again, then reappeared alongside Entei, grabbed hold of its mane, and—

A blue aura formed around her and she froze right as the glow of a teleport had started to form. Clenching his paws together, Mewtwo wrenched Mew away from the fallen beast before a narrow beam shot out of nowhere, dissolving its body into red energy.

The Rockets had recalled Entei. That meant its Pokéball was here, at the mission site. And I’d seen where the Pokéball beam had come from—it was the van that had transported Entei and Mewtwo here in the first place, still hiding amongst the trees, covered in a camouflaged sheet. Entei’s Pokéball was in there. Right there, right now! I could steal it. And Mewtwo! And then nothing could stop Zapdos from freeing the other two birds! Our mission didn’t have to end in failure!

I had to do it.

“Aros, the van, over there. Entei’s in there,” I said.

“*I saw.*”

“We’re going to steal it.”

For about the millionth time that day, Aros turned his neck to gape at me like I’d just said the craziest thing he’d ever heard. “*What?*”

“I’ve already got a plan on how to do it.” My brain felt like it was on fire from racing so fast.

Aros opened his mouth to say something, but then shook his head and turned around, saying “*I never knew humans were so… this,*” before flying over as quickly as he could, touching down alongside the passenger door. I grabbed both my Pokéballs, releasing Firestorm and Swift. The van had to be occupied. I wasn’t taking any chances this time.

“Firestorm, fill the back of the van with a Smokescreen so the Rockets can’t aim at us. Swift, use your Keen Eye to see how many are in there. Then Aros, you grab them and throw ‘em out. If they drop their guns, hurry and grab ‘em. If not, get back to us and use Protect,” I said. If any of them were caught off guard by the sudden instructions out of nowhere, they didn’t show it.

Firestorm stuck by my side as I crept around to the back door of the van. I took a deep breath—no turning back now. I threw open the door and Firestorm immediately jumped forward to spew a thick cloud of smoke inside. Swift circled around in the air and called out, “*Only two of them!*”

No gunfire yet. Aros shot through the smoke, and a couple of panicked yelps reached my ears right before he emerged, carrying two flailing Rockets in lab coats.

Just a pair of scientists. They weren’t even armed. The Flygon hurled them off into the trees unceremoniously.

“Make sure they don’t bother us,” I told Aros. Then, to Swift, “I need you to clear out the smoke.”

The Pidgeotto nodded and whipped up a gust of wind, sweeping the van clear within seconds. I climbed inside, followed by both of my Pokémon, and we were met with a wall of computer consoles and softly flickering lights. Alright, where would Entei’s Pokéball be? I couldn’t see it out in the open. Maybe it had been stashed somewhere for safekeeping? I frantically started throwing open every drawer and compartment I could find… but I couldn’t find any Pokéballs. Or anything resembling a Pokéball, for that matter. That didn’t make any sense. It should have been here.

“It has to be here,” I reassured myself, double-checking all the places I’d already looked. I must have missed it. That was the only answer. It had to be here!

“*Hey, we’ve got trouble,*” Aros said.

I groaned. “What kind of trouble?”

“And just what do we have here?” a chilling voice behind me asked. My blood instantly ran cold. Not that voice. Not now. Why now?!

Slowly, I turned to see the executive Astrid approaching the van, sitting atop her Arcanine. Aros spread his wings defensively and brandished his claws, doing everything in his power to look bigger and also hide me from view.

“I know you’re in there,” Astrid called out to me. Damn it. I clenched my fists, mind racing. We’d have to fight the head of the combat unit. That was the last thing we needed right now. Except… unlike our last encounter with her, Aros was actually on my side for real this time. He was strong enough to fight her, right?

“*I’m not afraid of her. Half her team’s fire-type. Fire doesn’t hurt m—*” The Flygon’s words were cut off by a red-hot fireball to the face, knocking him backward. “*Oh shit, that’s hot!*” he cried, bracing himself against the back door of the van.

“That was a warning shot,” Astrid said poisonously. “Now get out of the way.”

“*Screw you.*”

Astrid sighed exaggeratedly and with a very slow, deliberate motion, dismounted her Pokémon. “Arcanine, keep the experiment busy while I deal with this one.” The firedog bared its teeth and lunged. I flinched, screwing my eyes shut the moment it struck, hearing Aros howling in pain. When I opened my eyes, Arcanine had dragged the Flygon away from the back of the van, its jaws locked firmly around one of his arms. Aros flared his wings in a desperate attempt to stabilize himself while drawing back his other arm to slash with. But at the last second, the firedog let go of him and dodged the incoming attack before charging forward, its entire body wreathed in flames.

Astrid was now standing at the back of the van, staring at me with a condescending scowl. Firestorm and Swift took fighting stances in front of me. Her hand hovered over her Pokéball belt, but she hadn’t sent anyone else out yet. She was… waiting for us to make the first move? Why?

Wait… the equipment? There was a ton of sensitive equipment behind us. Of course she didn’t want to run the risk of accidentally destroying it. But… what was so important about it?

The answer snapped into my mind, clear as day. It was controlling Mewtwo. That had to be it. Razors had mentioned that a device had been controlling him. Mewtwo and Entei had been unloaded from the van before the mission. Entei had been recalled into it. This was it! This was the Legendary control tech. I clenched my fists, feeling a spark of confidence rising within me. I actually had way more leverage in this than I thought, didn’t I?

“You can’t hide in there forever,” Astrid snapped.

I gave her a defiant glare. “I think I can. I think these computers are the only thing keeping Mewtwo on your side. What happens if I destroy them?”

“You’ll be in for the worst pain of your life, that’s what,” she spat. But at the same time, there was actually the tiniest sliver of fear in her expression. Mewtwo might have been the Rockets’ greatest weapon, but they were also terrified of him, weren’t they?

Neither of us made a move. Behind her, Arcanine had knocked Aros to the ground, pummeling the dragon repeatedly with a series of rapid-fire blows. My chest tightened—Aros was faring much worse than I’d expected. I had to find a way out of this, and fast. But I couldn’t actually destroy the computers with her standing there. It’d be a death sentence. At the same time, she couldn’t start a battle without running the risk of destroying them herself—that was a death sentence as well. And she couldn’t just pull me out herself while I had Firestorm and Swift here. We were stuck. And from the look on her face, she knew it just as well as I did.

Without warning, Firestorm spat a fireball right at Astrid. Her eyes went wide, and she lunged out of the way, dodging it at the last second.

“You’re going to regret that!” she snarled.

And then a sudden bolt of lightning struck her from nowhere, knocking her to the ground instantly. What the hell? How—where had that come from?! My question was answered when a spiky Pikachu shot into our field of view, stopping in its tracks right in front of the van.

Chibi!

Arcanine immediately bolted away from Aros, snarling furiously as it threw itself between its fallen trainer and Chibi. But then its eyes darted between me, Chibi, and Aros as it slowly stepped backward, ears pinned and tail low. The firedog let out low growl, then nudged its nose under its trainer and rolled her limp body onto its back before racing off.

I sank to my knees, letting out a huge sigh of relief. I didn’t have much chance to relax before Chibi rounded on me. “*What are you doing facing down the head of the combat unit alone?! I’d expect that kind of overconfidence from Aros, but not you, Jade.*”

“*Hey,*” Aros growled, hobbling over to us.

“I didn’t mean to! It kind of just happened,” I muttered lamely, feeling my cheeks go red.

Chibi closed his eyes and shook his head. “*Stay out of trouble, damn it,*” he said before racing off.

“Since when has he been so protective?” I muttered under my breath. I leaned outside the van to get a good look at where he was heading and saw that the rebels’ sabotage hadn’t gone unnoticed. With Suicune focusing its efforts on the ALRs and Mew and Zapdos banding together to fight Mewtwo, the Rockets had opted to stay out of the Legendaries’ way, which put them in another direct clash with the Rebellion.

I took a deep breath. The others would be okay. The Rockets’ forces had already been decimated by Suicune. And Chibi was going to help protect them. I had to focus on what I was doing. I turned back to see how Aros had fared and—

“Oh geez… are you okay?”

“*What’s it look like?*” Aros said in a low voice, looking away. The bug-dragon’s scales were covered in nasty red blisters and vicious gashes in jagged, tearing patterns that looked like bite wounds, bleeding freely. I hopped down from the van and approached him carefully—the last thing I wanted was to catch him off-guard in such a vulnerable state.

“At least take these,” I said, reaching into my belt pouch and holding out a fistful of oran and rawst berries. The Flygon scarfed them down instantly.

“*Not nearly enough, but it’ll do,*” he muttered.

I climbed back inside the van, a feeling of hopelessness starting to settle in. No matter how hard I looked, I hadn’t been able to find Mewtwo and Entei’s Pokéballs. Was there any point in spending more time looking? But if not, what was I supposed to do now?

The answer hit me like lightning. The threat I’d made to Astrid… to destroy the Legendary control tech… now that she was gone, I could actually do that.

“Firestorm, time to trash that console.” The Charmeleon looked like he’d just been told it was his birthday. Blowing out a huge fireball onto his claws, he drew back a fist and swung it with all his might. We’d been attacking heavily armored weaponry all day, it was actually kind of funny seeing his Fire Punch tear through ordinary computers. But the real question was: had that broken the Rockets’ control over Mewtwo? I leaned outside the back of the van to get a better look at the Legendary battle and—

I stared. Mewtwo lay sprawled out in the dirt, motionless. They’d finally managed to take him down. If I’d been just a little bit faster…

Zapdos’s feathers were charred black, its wings straining just to stay aloft. And yet it still was bearing down on the Rocket’s forces with an unyielding fury, despite the fact that its bolts had weakened to the point that they couldn’t even break the vehicles’ shields. Master Balls flew through the air, forcing the electric-type to dive out of the way in an awkward move that almost sent it crashing to the ground.

<Zapdos, we must leave!> Mew pleaded.

“*No!! I’m not leaving without them!*”

<It will do us no good if you’re captured as well!>

“*I can’t leave them!!*” the thunderbird cried, eyes wide with desperation.

Mew glanced frantically between Zapdos and the Rockets, her eyes widening in horror as a Master Ball flew right at the former. And then, in the blink of an eye, she teleported to Zapdos’s side, and the two of them vanished together. This time they didn’t reappear. Mew had taken them far from here.

They’d escaped. But it also meant they’d had to give up on rescuing Articuno and Moltres.

The squeal of tires suddenly rang out, alarmingly close to us this time. Had the Rockets realized I was here? How?!

Astrid’s Arcanine. Like it wouldn’t have led them back to me? Especially now that the Legendaries were gone? My train of thought was rudely interrupted by Aros clambering inside the van, shoving me, Firestorm, and Swift into a corner in the process.

“Aros, what the hell.”

“*The Rockets are all heading this way. Excuse me if I didn’t want to be in the line of fire,*” Aros grumbled.

“You couldn’t just fly away?”

“*How the hell would you have gotten out then, huh?*”

I raised an eyebrow. “Is that concern?”

Aros scoffed. “*Tch. As if. Chibi would never let me hear the end of it if I got you killed.*”

Well alright then. Either way, we had to get out of here, now. “Can you still fly?”

“*Don’t have much of a choice if we wanna get out of here,*” the Flygon grunted.

I recalled Firestorm and Swift, then slowly clambered onto his back, taking care to avoid the worst of the burns.

“Alright. Let’s go.”

Aros bolted out of the van and then everything dissolved into chaos. Gunfire rang out, so close it nearly split my ears. And then out of nowhere, Aros barreled to the left and my arms slipped from his neck and for a single, heart-stopping moment I was clutching at thin air before my hands found his tail fan and I clung to it for dear life. His every move sent whiplash running through my lower body, but there was no chance for him to slow down—I had no choice but to ride it out. The dark aura of Feint Attack slowly crept across the both of us as we shot across the ground, nothing more than a shadow. More Rockets in this direction—more gunfire! Nowhere was safe! Our shadowy aura faded, but the bug-dragon immediately focused all his energy into flaring it up again, just in time to misdirect a second Rocket squad’s gunfire, right before bolting for the empty airspace between two jeeps.

“*Dammit this is hard—I’ve never used Feint Attack this much in such a short time,*” Aros grunted.

He was running low on energy. Everyone was. What would we do if he ran out entirely? I just had to hold on. We were going to make it, I just had to hold on! They couldn’t hit us; we were moving too fast. I just had to keep telling myself that. We were moving too—

A sudden, sharp pain tore through my arm and I was falling. My surroundings spiraled past me in a dizzying whirlwind, and the only thing I could make out was the ground rushing toward me and my voice as I screamed, and I screwed my eyes shut right before I struck the ground and kept going, tumbling over and over before finally skidding to a stop in a crumpled heap, every inch of my body racked with pain.

I clutched my left arm to my chest and immediately felt my right hand soaked with something warm and sticky. What…? Slowly, shakily, I peeled my fingers away, revealing a deep gash that carved through—okay no, I shouldn’t have looked. I clutched it even tighter, wincing as the dirt from my hand stung the wound and blood continued to seep through my fingers. Damn it, why was there so much blood?! My right arm was an awful, scraped-up mess, but at least it wasn’t bleeding all over the place like—

Like I’d been shot. No way… I’d been shot?

I clenched my teeth and struggled to regain control of my breathing as tears stung the corners of my eyes. They were still after me, weren’t they? I had to get up. I had to run! But my body didn’t want to move.

I craned my neck to look up at my surroundings and saw the Rockets that had cornered us earlier now closing in. Saw their Pokémon launching attacks at Aros as he made repeated attempts to swoop down towards me. Saw the familiar form of an Arcanine bounding towards me in the distance and felt my blood run cold. I swallowed hard and poured every ounce of effort into pulling my legs underneath my body, then somehow managed to put my weight on one leg and lift myself from the ground, still clutching my bloodied arm. Had to keep moving. Had to—

A sudden bolt flew out of nowhere and I was on the ground again, crying out in agony as a surge of lightning tore through me.

That was it. I didn’t have any strength left. My body was paralyzed, my limbs twitching uncontrollably. I could barely make out the heavy thud of paws striking the ground near me, followed by the scraping of boots against the dirt.

Had to… do something. But my thoughts didn’t want to flow straight. Everything felt hazy and distant, even the pain.

The last thing I saw was Astrid staring down at me, her face devoid of any emotion. Then everything went dark.






~End Chapter 19~
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
So humans have become our enemy once again. But I wonder… are you really prepared for that?
Ah, this is an interesting take on Mew. A far cry from the cheerful, playful depiction of most iterations of the species.

--

This was a very exciting chapter! All action, with a lot of introspection in the middle for what to do next. Jade was definitely thinking in bullet-time for a lot of these parts, and I think that's a little overdone sometimes. I'll cover some of those in detail shortly, but first, I want to focus on the positive. I think you depicted the struggle between the Legends and the Rockets very well--a sort of batman versus superman thing going on, with highly-prepared tech versus a massive collection of raw power. Granted, Batman had the advantage of another bit of superpowers in the form of Mewtwo, but you get my point. With all the moving parts, I think you, for the most part, did a good job at prioritizing what was happening when, and this is probably an instance where the first person perspective played to your advantage. I'm curious to see where Jade will wind up from here.

But that aside, let's move on to quotes for specific commentary.

But… how on earth was he doing that? With his undersized power capacity, he should have been out after we all launched our simultaneous attack on the ALRs. Wait… the ALRs! They’d been forced to discharge insane amounts of power into the air to avoid being overloaded. Had he been able to absorb some of it with his Lightning Rod ability?
This is something that I saw a lot in this chapter. Something happens, and then Jade hits the pause button to give us footnotes at the bottom of the scene. Perhaps you could have shown this instead of had Jade theorizing it, perhaps a stray arc of electricity from one of the overdrive ALRs siphoning into Chibi? Then you could probably get rid of most of this paragraph.

Okay, no, I couldn’t watch that anymore. The point was, Suicune was keeping them busy which meant that the rebels were safe, for now.
I feel like this is a smidge too conversational for the scene at hand.

The firebird recoiled backward, screeching in pain as the beam scorched its feathers black.
This still throws me off. Even more egregious because Moltres is literally on fire.

Wait a minute. The ALRs couldn’t run the barrier and the ray at the same time. Now that the shield was down, the machines wouldn’t be absorbing any attacks thrown at them. Which meant that without having to overwhelm the entire network at once, we could target them individually!

“Hey Jade!” a voice called out. I spun around to see Rudy and Darren approaching, both still riding on Fearow and Stygian, respectively.

“Ray gave the order to retreat—there’s not much else any of us can do here!” Rudy yelled, grimacing like he hated every word.

“Are you kidding?! Of course we can do something! We can stop the ALRs!” I countered. The two of them paused, looking taken aback.
This is an instance similar to the above, but the first paragraph and the final line of dialogue make each other redundant.

“Firestorm, fill the back of the van with a Smokescreen so the Rockets can’t aim at us. Swift, use your Keen Eye to see how many are in there. Then Aros, you grab them and throw ‘em out. If they drop their guns, hurry and grab ‘em. If not, get back to us and use Protect,” I said.
Kinda weird to have "I said" at the end of such a long string of dialogue.

She was… waiting for us to make the first move? Why?

Wait… the equipment? There was a ton of sensitive equipment behind us. Of course she didn’t want to run the risk of accidentally destroying it. But… what was so important about it?

The answer snapped into my mind, clear as day.
All of this bullet-time thinking makes it a bit hard to believe Jade could do all that snap theorizing, especially when...

Was there any point in spending more time looking? But if not, what was I supposed to do now?

The answer hit me like lightning. The threat I’d made to Astrid… to destroy the Legendary control tech… now that she was gone, I could actually do that.
...she also hesitates to remember something so obvious just a bit later.

“Firestorm, time to trash that console.” The Charmeleon looked like he’d just been told it was his birthday.
I liked this line.

This time they didn’t reappear. Mew had taken them far from here.

They’d escaped. But it also meant they’d had to give up on rescuing Articuno and Moltres.
All four of these sentences could be conveyed in one and with less repetition.

felt my blood run cold
I'm not sure how often it's used, but it feels like various phrases involving blood running cold was used... perhaps twice in this chapter, and more before? Or maybe it's just a stock phrase that I find used a lot in other places. Either way, any colder and Jade's an Ice Type.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Ah, this is an interesting take on Mew. A far cry from the cheerful, playful depiction of most iterations of the species.
Yeah, my portrayal of Mew is a bit... interesting. It's more serious than most, but my way of connecting it to canon is in making her basically the paragon of hope and optimism.
This is something that I saw a lot in this chapter. Something happens, and then Jade hits the pause button to give us footnotes at the bottom of the scene. Perhaps you could have shown this instead of had Jade theorizing it, perhaps a stray arc of electricity from one of the overdrive ALRs siphoning into Chibi? Then you could probably get rid of most of this paragraph.
Hmm, yeah, this example slowed the action down a fair bit, I think I'll rework it.
This still throws me off. Even more egregious because Moltres is literally on fire.
The beam that hit it was just raw infinity energy, without necessarily being typed (although even if it wasn't... fire-types aren't immune to fire attacks!)
All of this bullet-time thinking makes it a bit hard to believe Jade could do all that snap theorizing
This one doesn't bother me as much as the previous one because she's just standing there having a stare down, so it's not interrupting anything.
I'm not sure how often it's used, but it feels like various phrases involving blood running cold was used... perhaps twice in this chapter, and more before? Or maybe it's just a stock phrase that I find used a lot in other places. Either way, any colder and Jade's an Ice Type.
You're... probably right. xD I do have a tendency to overuse phrases. I'll keep an eye out for that one.

As always, thanks for the review! And, without further ado, time for the next arc:
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
This chapter contains a detailed portrayal of trauma and PTSD. The majority of the narration was directly inspired by anecdotes written by trauma survivors.

Disclaimer: I am not a trauma survivor. I appreciate any and all feedback on the accuracy of the portrayal in this chapter.



~Chapter 20: Ultimatum~


My eyes blinked, and a dim surrounding gradually came into focus. Where was I? I couldn’t remember, but this didn’t seem like the last place I’d been conscious. I’d been… in the forest, right? We were trying to escape, and… this would be a lot easier to process if my head didn’t hurt so damn much. My thoughts dragged like mud.

I blinked a few more times, willing my eyes to focus. I was horizontal, staring up at a ceiling. Alright, that was a start. I tried to sit up and—pain, everywhere, I should have known. A dull aching throb was the only sensation my body felt like giving me. But by this point frustration was starting to win out. I forced myself into an upright sitting position… and found myself on a bench in a dimly lit concrete room. Its only features were a tiny sink, a toilet that I wanted to stay as far from as possible, and the metal bars comprising the front wall. Wait… bars?

A cell. I was in a cell. A half dozen similar cells filled out the rest of the room. Near the entrance to the room, a Rocket officer sat reclining at a desk, reading something on a tablet.

My heart sank through the floor. I’d been captured. And now I was imprisoned and waiting for who knows what. I sank back against the wall, the weight of the situation crushing down on me. And then the memories of the mission itself came rushing back.

We’d failed.

No, we hadn’t.

Articuno and Moltres had been caught.

All of them would have been caught if it hadn’t been for us. I actually helped, damn it. I mattered.

And look where it’d gotten me.

I buried my face in my hands, my mind a swirling mess of conflicting emotions. Out of nowhere, a stabbing pain shot through my left arm. I went to grab it with my right… and then froze. My arm was crudely wrapped in medical tape. Oh crap, I’d been shot, too. I held my breath, gingerly running my fingers across the tape, feeling the shape of the wound. The tape was probably only to keep it from bleeding all over whatever vehicle I’d been transported in. Blood had caked all over the edges and formed an ugly scab. Removing the tape was gonna suck. But that was a problem for later. For now, I had to figure out more about my situation. What time was it? How long had I been here? I glanced at my watch, and… right, my watch was dead. This was the second watch that Raichu had killed. If I ever got out of here, my next one was gonna be a wind-up.

I was seriously making plans around the inevitable next time I’d be electrocuted. What the hell?

A sudden creaking rang throughout the cell block, and I glanced up to see the entrance door swinging open. And then a wave of cold dread crashed down on me. Astrid stepped through the doorway, her expression cold and disapproving, like she’d rather have been anywhere else. Astrid, who I’d escaped from twice, both times knocking her out with Chibi’s lightning. Except this time there was no way out—I’d be at her mercy.

“You’re awake. Good. That’ll make this easier.” She turned to the guard at the desk and said, “Leave us.”

At first, the Rocket didn’t notice that she’d addressed him. Several seconds later, his eyes suddenly widened, and he jerked forward in his seat, nearly dropping his tablet. “Oh! Uh, right away!” He quickly gathered up his belongings off the desk and hurried out of the cell block, looking almost as flustered as I felt.

I was alone… alone with the head combat executive. No Pokémon. No allies. Not even any Rocket bystanders would know what happened to me. With slow, deliberate steps, Astrid walked forward toward my cell. The sound of her heavy boots echoed off the walls, each footfall digging into me like a shock wave. I had to stay calm. I couldn’t let her know how terrified I was—not when she hadn’t even done anything yet.

“Why am I here?” I asked, forcing my words to sound calm and collected.

“I think you know why,” she replied, tapping her ID to the scanner on my cell door.

Of course. The Rockets wouldn’t have bothered to bring me back alive if I didn’t have something they wanted. And that something was information.

The cell door shut behind her with a metallic clang. I did my best to avoid eye contact, but she was right there. Right in front of me, staring down at me like I was nothing, no doubt thinking up the best ways to force me to talk.

Astrid raised an eyebrow. “What’s that look for? You should be happy I’m the one interrogating you. The others aren’t quite as… understanding as I am.”

I highly, highly doubted that. But was the dread on my face really that obvious? I quickly tried to rearrange my expression into something more neutral, but even my facial muscles felt distant and unresponsive.

“There are a lot of things I want to know about your little team,” Astrid continued, her tone casual, like this was a perfectly ordinary conversation between two people who weren’t mortal enemies.

“…And if I don’t feel like telling you?” It was a stupid question. I already knew the answer, and I didn’t even want to hear it.

Astrid delicately plucked a Pokéball off her belt and opened it, releasing a burst of white light that condensed into the form of her Raichu. That Raichu. The orange mouse gave a swish of its long, inky-black tail, sparks leaping off its cheeks. Just looking at it sent a jolt of nausea through my stomach.

“Use your imagination,” she said.

I clenched my teeth, trying my hardest to give her my most defiant glare possible. It didn’t feel very convincing.

“Let’s start with where that rebel base of yours is.”

Alright… I had to know she was gonna ask that. What was somewhere far away from Midnight Island, but still close enough for us to go on missions? Fuchsia? The S.S. Anne had sailed past there. It made sense.

“I’m going to assume you didn’t hear me,” she said icily. “Where is the rebel base?”

Then again… if I told her too readily, she’d immediately know I was lying. Why would I just immediately give away the rest of my team without any force? I wouldn’t. Which meant—my insides melted away just thinking about it—that I had no choice but to take the first attack.

“Time’s up.”

She snapped her fingers, and Raichu let a string of lightning fly. The sudden burst of gut-wrenching pain gripped my whole body, tearing through every nerve like wildfire. I clenched my teeth, desperately trying to keep myself from crying out in agony. Had to endure it. Couldn’t let her get to me. But the pain—! It consumed every inch of me, threatening to tear me apart.

Finally, it stopped. I gasped for breath and coughed hard, my arms and legs trembling uncontrollably while Astrid stared down at me with her usual condescending face. Breathing heavily, I glared back at her—part of me actually wanted her to know I’d taken the attack on purpose. It meant I had control over something, at least.

“Maybe that question was too hard?” she said mockingly. “Let’s try a different one. Who’s your leader?”

I let out a breath. I could actually answer this one. Except… she almost definitely wasn’t going to like the answer.

“You already know our leader’s called Stalker,” I said in a low voice.

She glared. “That’s completely useless and you know it.” Of course.

I closed my eyes. “I don’t know his real name. You think he’d have told us?”

A long pause followed. “Is he a former Rocket? Is he a former executive?”

“I don’t know,” I said, my words as slow and deliberate as possible. “I know he has contacts on Team Rocket, but that’s it.”

A sudden jolt out of nowhere left me doubled over, clutching my stomach as another wave of pain wormed through my insides. It was short, but it caught me off-guard and left a pit of nausea in its wake.

“You’re not telling me the full truth,” Astrid hissed. “Was he a part of the revolt? Is he the former commander?”

“I… what? I don’t know anything about the revolt!” I really didn’t! What was I supposed to say?! I didn’t even know enough to be able to make up random crap.

Astrid’s face lit up with rage, and she drew back a fist. I braced myself for the punch… but then she froze, staring at me wide-eyed, like she couldn’t believe she’d almost lost control. Seconds passed; neither of us moved a muscle. Then her expression hardened, and she snapped her fingers.

A blinding flash and another flood of lightning. I screamed as the pain burned through every inch of me, drowning out every other sensation. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t breathe. I was on fire, and it just kept going, with no sign of ending. Why wouldn’t it end?!

It took me several seconds to notice when it finally stopped. The pain was gone, and I was… on the floor? I blinked slowly, my thoughts struggling to flow again. I must have fallen off the bench at some point. My stomach clenched painfully, and the stinging taste of acid filled my mouth. Muscles trembling, my limbs tried to maneuver under my body so I could lift myself off the filthy concrete. But then… what was the point? She was just going to shock me again.

Astrid kneeled down next to me and brushed the hair back from my face. “You know… I don’t actually like torturing people,” she said, her voice cold and quiet.

“You’ve sure showed it,” I muttered dully, not looking up at her.

A fist locked around my shirt collar instantly, dragging my body off the floor. My limbs flailed, struggling for balance, but it didn’t even matter—she lifted me up to her level and stared me dead in the eyes.

“You listen to me very carefully,” Astrid said, her voice low and dangerous. “The only reason you are alive right now is because you’re useful to us. Which means the only way you are leaving this base alive is if you prove it wasn’t a waste of time to bring you here. So if you tell me where the rebel base is, I might just be so happy that I’d convince the boss to let you go.”

Somehow, I couldn’t imagine her being happy with anything. But at that moment, it was a really, really appealing lie. Astrid stared at me expectantly, her eyes scanning my face, searching for anything she could latch onto.

“Did you hear me? I’m giving you the chance to live if you cooperate. You should be grateful,” she spat.

The chance to live… it just meant selling out everyone else on the Rebellion. I willed myself to ignore it, but her words cut through me like a knife. I had to say something. Something that would satisfy her without killing my teammates. But my mind had gone completely blank. Come on, I had to say something!

“Answer me, damn it!” she yelled, throwing me to the ground. I barely had a chance to register the pain shooting through my left side before my senses dissolved in a wave of lightning. It tore through me, scrambling my insides, numbing my limbs, setting every nerve ablaze with agony.

A pause. The lightning stopped for a single, sweet instant. Just long enough for me to get my senses back. Then it returned, somehow worse. Alternating between pain and relief, my body twitching uncontrollably the entire time. Couldn’t brace myself. Couldn’t endure it. Not like this.

She was saying more things now. Asking—no, demanding more answers, and it took my brain far too long to piece together the words: “What Pokémon does your leader use?”

How was I supposed to know that? A small voice urgently prodded at the back of my mind. I… did know the answer to that? What was I supposed to do about it?

“Charizard,” my voice said.

“I already know that,” came a reply full of exasperation. Another blast of electricity shot through my body.

The next question: “How many members are on your team?” I knew that one. It was… a number? What number? My brain wouldn’t stop counting the seconds it had been since the last shock. Six… seven… eight…

“Eight,” my voice mumbled. What was the question? That… wasn’t the answer, was it? Another burst of gut-wrenching pain gave me my answer.

Nothing meant anything anymore. I couldn’t move or talk or do anything but lie there and listen to words I couldn’t understand and wait for the next shock because there was always another shock.

I was powerless. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. My body didn’t exist anymore, just a swirling torrent of pain, and I was drowning in it. Why? Why was this happening? I couldn’t process it anymore. Couldn’t think. Nothing existed but pain.

“Why can’t you just cooperate?!”

Anything to make it stop. Anything. Why couldn’t I do anything? There had to be something. My brain scrambled to find an answer, clawing through a sea of static, searching for any two thoughts to piece together. I felt my voice, and then somehow became aware that it was my voice. It definitely existed. I could use it. I could end this!

Screaming. I’d been screaming. The past few minutes suddenly flashed through my brain, clear as day. Lying down, taking the pain, useless, unable to do anything, hovering at the edge of consciousness because there was no way she’d give me the relief of slipping over that edge.

“I’ll tell you!”

“What?” Astrid demanded, taken aback.

“I said I’ll tell you, I just… I need more time. I need… I need to think about it first. Please…” God, I sounded pathetic.

I couldn’t see her face. I had no idea what her reaction was. I could only see the concrete floor and my arms stretched out uselessly in front of my face. Seconds passed. Glorious, pain-free seconds. The ache in my body was nothing so long as the shocks stopped.

My senses gradually started returning. I could feel the cold, rough surface of the concrete scraping against my face. The sting of the bullet wound in my arm. The warm, wet feeling spreading across my lower body.

Slowly and deliberately, Astrid’s boots stepped into my field of view. My ears caught the sound of her leaning down, right in front of me. And then finally, in a dangerous whisper, inches from my ear, she said, “You have one hour.”

I let out a long, slow breath. It had worked. I honestly couldn’t believe it had worked. How much of my pathetic display had been acting and how much of it hadn’t been? I had no idea. Astrid recalled her Raichu, then turned around and strode out the cell, stopping just long enough to shut the door.

I was alone. Frozen on the floor, body unresponsive. Each breath came slow and deliberate, like I couldn’t remember how to do it automatically. Eyelids closed and opened, like I was controlling them for the first time. The opposite end of the cell slowly came into focus, and it took my brain a few seconds to realize that I could look at things and see them. That my actions and senses were connected. Something about the idea just didn’t make sense.

Movement, in my fingertips. I was moving them. It took far too much effort, though, and I stopped. That was fine; I didn’t want to move anyway. I didn’t want to do anything. Did feeling things count as doing something? Some part of my brain remained convinced that none of these senses were mine anyway. That I was seeing through the eyes of a stranger and feeling pain that definitely had to be someone else’s because there was no way that all of that had really happened to me. It couldn’t have been real.

Time had no meaning anymore. My eyes slid to my right-hand wrist, but the watch remained dead. I had no idea how long I’d been lying there. This fact was alarming, for some reason.

My eyes snapped open. I only had an hour. One hour to figure out some way—any way—to not go through that again. Breath—my breath—seized in my chest, and fingers clutched at the concrete until skin started to scrape off.

I wasn’t really going to give in… was I? I could come up with all kinds of logical-sounding cover stories now that I had a chance to think. The problem was… there was no way she’d ever let me go until she got a chance to confirm if I was telling the truth. And when she found out I was lying—because of course she was going to find out…

I knew she wasn’t going to kill me. Some part of me just knew. She needed me here, so I could feel the punishment and know that I was powerless to stop it and that the only way she’d let it end was if I gave her what she wanted. A shiver ran through me. That was it, wasn’t it? The only way it was going to end. If I didn’t sell out the rest of the Rebellion, I was stuck in here with no end in sight. How long would I be able to take that until I gave in? I didn’t want to know. Just thinking it about it hurt.

A sound pricked at my ears suddenly. Footsteps echoing softly down the hallway outside the cell block. And it was like a bucket of cold water had been dumped on my head. It couldn’t have been an hour already. No way. No way. I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t go through that again.

The entrance to the cell block swung open and my entire body went numb. Please, no.

“Hey, kid!” a hushed voice called out. Definitely not Astrid’s voice.

My eyes snapped open. Slowly, painfully, my arms lifted my torso from the floor. My head turned toward the cell block entrance. And then I blinked, unable to process the sight. A familiar face, framed by curly blonde locks. Icy blue eyes. A devilish grin that faltered slightly once she got a good look at me.

The girl—Stracion—spoke. “Wow, you’re a mess.”

“Thanks,” I muttered dully.

“Anyway, I can’t exactly come in there, so we’ll have to talk across the room… cameras and all that,” she said, pointing to the security cameras in the corners, facing the cells. “Can’t be seen talking to a rebel who’s about to escape.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Aw, come on. I thought we were friends.” But then, for whatever reason, my brain finally managed to work through the implications of what she’d said.

“Wait, what do you mean, ‘about to escape’?”

“Slow on the uptake right now, arent’cha? That’s okay, maybe these will help.” She produced a handful of minimized Pokéballs and rolled them across the floor into the cell, where they bumped into my side. I stared at them, confused. My head was starting to hurt from trying to process all of this.

“How did you get those?” I asked.

“Your leader messaged me; said one of your teammates would be teleporting ‘em over, so I just had to be in the right place at the right time,” she said, twirling a lock of hair around her finger.

I could practically feel the context trying to piece itself together in my brain. A teammate had teleported two Pokéballs to Stracion, and she was giving them to me…

“Wait. These are my Pokémon?”

“Nah. I think your Pokémon are over there, actually,” she said, gesturing to the desk where the guard had previously been stationed. A Pokéball Containment Unit sat on a shelf behind it, along with a belt pouch.

Right… I’d had my Pokéballs with me when I was captured. But then whose were these?

“So, I’ve done my part—the rest is on you, yeah? Better get on that, ‘cause I’d bet you only got a minute or two before someone notices something on the security feed. Toodles!” She winked before disappearing out the doorway

I stared at the place where she’d left, blinking in confusion. Had that… really just happened? My eyes slid back to the Pokéballs at my side. Someone had given her two Pokémon to give to me that weren’t mine? That… that didn’t make any sense. Not that anything made any sense with how badly everything still hurt. I didn’t want to think right now, I just wanted to curl into a ball and forget everything.

But I couldn’t ignore this opportunity. Slowly, my right hand slid down until it reached the Pokéballs. It took several second of fumbling for my fingers to find the buttons that opened them. Twin bursts of light suddenly appeared alongside me. And when they took shape, all I could do was stare.

“Aros? Stygian?” I blurted out. “What are you two doing here?”

The clones’ eyes flicked back and forth, taking in the pathetic sight of me. I screwed my eyes shut, like that somehow made it better. I couldn’t even describe how I felt to see them.

“*Stalker sent us. Said it was important to get you out of the enemy’s hands as soon as possible,*” Aros said, his words a bit… off, like he couldn’t figure out what to make of me.

“How are we getting out?” I mumbled.

Stygian turned around and began investigating the cell bars, pawing at them for a few seconds before scoffing. “*These bars aren’t meant to hold Pokémon at all.*” The Absol drew herself back, then lunged, swinging her head so the blade cleaved through the bars repeatedly. After the third swing, the cell door clattered to the ground in pieces.

She looked back at me expectantly. “*We need to move.*”

Move. I had to move? Just breathing was hard enough right now. How the hell was I supposed to stand up, let alone make it outside the base? I could practically feel their eyes burning into me as I propped myself up on my elbows, wincing as a jolt shot through my left arm. Okay, that arm was useless; just the other one, then. I grit my teeth and forced a leg forward so I could put weight on it, willing myself to push through the pain. Everything was slow. Maddeningly slow. Why did my legs feel like dead, useless stumps. Why had I let myself get into this situation in the first place. Why.

Somehow, I managed to stand, and it was like my legs had switched from lead to jelly, wobbling unsteadily as I braced myself against the wall. Aros looked me up and down once more and grimaced before turning his back to me. “*Get on. It’ll be faster.*”

I felt my cheeks go red. Why did anyone have to see me like this. Why. “Are you… sure?”

He closed his eyes. “*Just do it.*”

I reached out an arm to grab the dragon’s side, then slowly maneuvered a leg over his back. His scales were crossed with the scabbed marks of where his wounds from the last battle had been hastily healed.

“Why are you risking yourselves for me?” I mumbled.

“*You freed us from our confinement. It’s a simple matter of returning the favor,*” Stygian said with a tone that made it quite clear she didn’t want to hear anything else about it.

I crossed my arms around Aros’s neck and then kind of just… collapsed onto his back as every muscle gave out at once. The Flygon shifted a bit to make sure I wouldn’t fall off the moment he started moving, then carefully stepped over the broken door pieces and ambled towards the cell block entrance.

“Wait. Are… are my Pokémon really in there?” I said, weakly pointing at the Pokéball Containment Unit on the shelf over the guard station. Aros tilted his head at it, then reached forward and undid the latches on the case, opening it. Two Pokéballs and a black hybrid ball—they had to be mine. My heart skipped a beat—the Rockets had almost gotten their hands on Chibi again. Except, wait… he hadn’t even been with me when I was captured.

“*Ha, I bet they were pissed when they found out Chibi isn’t in there,*” Aros said with a chuckle. “*Wish I could’ve seen that.*”

I slowly extended a shaking arm to grab the three minimized balls before stuffing them in my pocket with the other two. Something about having five Pokéballs felt really weird. The belt pouch was too far for me to reach, so Aros just grabbed it and slipped it around his neck before exiting the cell block.

“I don’t know where we are. I don’t know how to get out of here. I can’t…”

“*It’s Celadon,*” Stygian cut me off. “*We know this base by heart. Just be quiet.*”

Just be quiet. I could do that. Aros’s wings buzzed on either side of me, and we were airborne, shooting down a deserted corridor. I caught sight of Stygian racing ahead of us, a white blur in my fuzzy vision. Second later—or minutes, I couldn’t really tell—blaring sirens split the air, and flashing red lights dug into my eyes. I buried my face in Aros’s neck and thought about being anywhere else.

“*They’ll be on us soon. I’ll stay in front and use Protect.*”

Gunshots fired and Aros changed direction suddenly and all my senses dissolved into an onslaught of lights and sounds and motion and chaos. Every so often I caught shreds of what was going on: the sparkling white light of Protect. The prickling sensation of Feint Attack’s dark aura. The writhing nausea caused by our constantly changing flight path as the two clones pushed on, dodging the Rockets’ deadly force at every turn.

“*On your left, watch it!*”

I couldn’t help them. I couldn’t do anything but keep my head down and pour every ounce of effort into holding fast to Aros’s neck with hands that barely seemed to work while every sense was overloaded at once.

Our flight path zigged and zagged and spiraled tightly upward. I dared to open my eyes a crack and was met with a view of the same stairwell that I’d once crept up under vastly different circumstances. At some point Aros spun around, and I felt a burst of heat as the dragon launched some kind of fire breath down the stairs. Not long afterward, the metallic clang of blades on metal rang out and then cold air pierced every inch of exposed skin like needles.

“*We’re outside. You need to recall me.*” a voice urgently prodded at my ears.

What? Oh, right, Stygian couldn’t fly. I grabbed a Pokéball, pointed it vaguely in her direction, and pressed the button. Nothing happened. What? Why didn’t…?

“*Hurry!!*”

Idiot. It was the wrong Pokéball. I fumbled with a few more before finding the right one and recalling the Absol in a beam of red. And then Aros’s wings powered us rapidly upward, sending a rush of wind and tangled hair into my face.

“*Which way?*”

Dammit. How was I supposed to answer that now? Slowly, I peeled open my eyelids and was met with the orange glow of sunset… or was it sunrise? Midnight was… east of Celadon, so…

“Head… head away from the sun,” I said. God, I hoped it was the sunset. “Make sure you’re not followed.”

“*I know.*”

The twilight gave way to a dark, moonless night. The flight stopped feeling like flight after a while as everything gradually went numb. I was floating in a void, some part of my brain refusing to accept that we’d actually escaped. Somehow, I was still in the cell, but also out here at the same time. Lost in the abyss of dread, waiting for Astrid to resume the interrogation, and also numb from the autumn night sapping the heat from my body. Both somehow real and not real.

I had no idea how long it continued like that. There were times I was certain I was dreaming. That I’d fallen asleep at some point and lost my grip on Aros, slipped from the Flygon’s back and been dashed to pieces on the ground below. But my hands—numb as they were—were locked tightly around the clone’s neck. I didn’t think I could have moved them if I wanted to.

Eons later, I heard Aros’s voice telling me, “*We’ve landed.*”

Slowly, my eyes opened. The ground was right below us. I exhaled slowly, feeling a rush of… something. I wasn’t quite sure what. Relief that we’d made it home in one piece? I didn’t feel like one piece.

My hands trembled as they slowly unclasped from one another. Aros straightened himself so that when I slid off his back, I was standing upright as opposed to toppling over. I wasn’t totally convinced my legs were going to support my weight, but they did.

That’s when I realized we weren’t alone. A crowd of Rebellion members had gathered outside the front entrance to the stadium, glancing uncertainly amongst each other. A hot wave of embarrassment washed over me as I became all too aware of the dozens of eyes running up and down the pathetic sight of me. The hushed voices whispering and wondering. Everyone knew I’d been captured. Everyone could look at me and see that I was the first one to screw up so badly.

I could feel the fires of humiliation burning every inch of exposed skin. The sounds of the whispers and the murmurs and even the genuine questions that my brain didn’t feel like parsing because it had all blended together into a flurry of needles assaulting my ears. I couldn’t take it. I wanted to be as far from here as possible. Preferably in my room, alone, where no one could see me, and I could forget everything.

A finger tapped my shoulder, and I almost melted into a puddle right then and there. I spun around to see Stalker standing behind me, motioning for me to follow him away from the crowd. The last thing I needed was everyone staring at me in this state. Something told me he knew that. I followed him away from the stadium, where there were no longer a million things demanding my attention and assaulting my senses. It helped… kind of.

Stalker turned to face me, and he didn’t mince words. “Were you interrogated?”

His question felt like a knife plunging straight through my chest. But I nodded.

Stalker paused to consider me carefully for some time. No doubt mulling over just how badly I’d screwed up. How likely it was that I’d screwed over the rest of the team. Finally, he turned around and said, “Go get cleaned up. We’ll meet in my office to talk privately about what happened.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The water was too cold. I cranked the shower handle as far as it would go, but it still felt too cold. Even when the room filled with steam and my skin turned bright red and I knew it was burning, but I couldn’t feel it. Nothing felt like anything. I was going to wake up and realize it’d all been a dream any second now.

I didn’t bother trying to unwrap my wound and redress it properly. I’d deal with that bloody mess later. Hopefully much later. Maybe if I waited long enough, I wouldn’t have to do it at all.

The clothes I’d been wearing previously were still lying in an ugly heap on the bathroom floor. Just looking at them made me feel sick, so I avoided doing that, but at the same time it was hard to ignore them. Trying to think about what to do was too much effort, though. Maybe I’d have Firestorm burn them or something, hell if I knew.

After what felt like an eternity, I found myself sitting at the end of the bed wearing clean clothes and not really sure how I’d gotten there because everything after a certain point was all a blur. I wanted nothing more than to just fall backwards and pretend no one else existed. But Stalker was waiting for me downstairs. Somehow that fact alone was powerful enough to get me out of my room and awkwardly traversing the stairs down to the main floor. It wasn’t that I was afraid of what he’d say or do if I didn’t. It was just… I couldn’t disappoint him more than I already had.

I realized about halfway down that I should have taken the elevator.

True to his word, Stalker was waiting for me in his office. I didn’t say anything when I entered; I just set Aros and Stygian’s Pokéballs on his desk and then eased myself into the chair facing him. My eyes wandered around the room, not focusing on anything in particular, just avoiding his gaze.

“I need to know everything that was said during your interrogation. As word-for-word as possible,” he said.

I winced. Ever since I’d left that cell, my brain had been furiously working to erase all of it. Like the images and sounds and thoughts and feelings were all some diseased part of my memory that had to be eliminated as soon as possible.

But it was still there. All of it.

My words tasted like the salt of sweat and the sting of lightning as I recounted every detail I could. It felt unreal. Like something that had to have happened to someone else. My voice echoed dully in my ears, and some part of my brain remained convinced that it wasn’t my voice.

Stalker sat there and listened the entire time. Calmly. Patiently. But there was a slight edge to his expressions. And I knew the only reason he was having me relay this was because he knew how likely it was that I’d given away some piece of crucial information that’d doom the Rebellion. He didn’t comment on anything, just offered prompting questions whenever my voice died for more than a few seconds. I kept expecting him to ask if I had really meant it when I said I would tell her the base’s location. And yet… he didn’t.

“So overall, what you’re saying is… you didn’t actually give away anything.”

I blinked. My brain was such a hazy mess of shame and humiliation that it took several seconds for his words to register. I really… hadn’t given anything away… had I? Not yet, anyway—I’d been rescued before I’d gotten a chance to. But… was I going to? I didn’t know. I hated that.

“What do I do now?” I said, my voice raw.

Stalker paused, closing his eyes. He was silent for what felt like forever. Finally he said, “Take some time to recover. You’re exempt from training and missions for now.”

I let out a breath as a rush of… something hit me in the chest. Relief? I wouldn’t have to endure anything like that ever again. Shame? I’d failed so badly I wasn’t getting another chance. Anger? He was basically saying that I was no use to the team anymore.

I didn’t want to go on any missions—so then why did his words feel like a punch to the gut?

I muttered something in response and then left before I made the mistake of sharing how I felt. I was hoping I could make it back to my room without anyone seeing me. But Rudy approached me as I exited the elevator on my floor. He fidgeted uncomfortably, avoiding eye contact, like he knew I didn’t want to see anyone right now.

“Hey Jade, uh… wanna hang out and watch League tournaments? I downloaded the ‘96 Kanto top cut—I heard it was pretty awesome.”

I just wanted to fall asleep and forget the entire day.

“No thanks.”

I walked past him so I didn’t have to see the look of disappointment on his face. Something told me it would’ve hurt as much as… well, as much as everything else did. My actions were on autopilot as I scanned my room key and shuffled inside, my mind a swirling mess of conflicting emotions that I didn’t want to sort through. Instead, I walked straight to my bed and collapsed face-down onto it.

I should’ve let my Pokémon out for the night. That’s what I always did. But then I’d have to explain to them, and that… really didn’t sound appealing. Not right now. Maybe later. Or never.

At some point, I managed to kick off my shoes and worm my way under the covers, although I wasn’t entirely sure when. The blankets felt soft and warm against my skin. Nothing like the cold, hard concrete floor of the cell. But there were moments where I could have sworn I was back there. Like I’d just imagined the escape, and any second I’d feel Astrid standing over me telling me my time was up. I kept seeing flashes of light in my peripheral vision. Flinching, expecting another burst of lightning.

It was stupid. I was home, I was safe… why was it still affecting me? There was absolutely no chance I’d be attacked here. But my thoughts kept straying back to the detention cell, no matter how badly I wanted them to stop. That feeling of being useless, unable to fight back, completely at her mercy, knowing that when push came to shove, I’d betray everyone.

The feeling burned. I clenched my fists, swallowing hard. I had to ignore it. I had to forget it. It didn’t matter. I’d escaped. I was never going back there. She couldn’t hurt me anymore.

I closed my eyes slowly, digging my nails into my palms as hot tears streamed down my face.

It wasn’t real. It didn’t happen.

In my dreams, I saw nothing but lightning.






~End Chapter 20~
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
A cell. I was in a cell. A half dozen similar cells filled out the rest of the room. Near the entrance to the room,
Cell, cell, cells, room, room...

--

Now this was an intense chapter, but in a quieter way than they usually go. This is another instance where first person plays in your favor, because for things that are more difficult to accurately describe, or for things that are more descriptive the less you describe it, first person is just what you need. In particular, the scenes of Jade getting a bit of shock therapy were where I saw this play in your favor the most.

Jade's miraculous rescue from people on the inside couldn't have come at a better time, narratively speaking. It's almost too convenient. Jade gets a lot of torture, and then she gets to escape afterward, basically having your cake and eating it, too. But I think it'd be too big of a nitpick to complain about that this time around. I am curious about Stalker again, though. I think him being the former admin or a defector or something like that is too obvious. Planting that piece of info feels like a red herring, like there's another admin wandering around that isn't Stalker... Or it could just be straightforward. I'm keeping both possibilities open for now.

Anyway, onto quotes...

My heart sank through the floor. I’d been captured. And now I was imprisoned and waiting for who knows what. I sank back against the wall, the weight of the situation crushing down on me.
I feel like this is another instance where half the words could be used to convey the same thing.

It took several second of fumbling
Second later—or minutes
Odd to see the same typo twice.

I was floating in a void, some part of my brain refusing to accept that we’d actually escaped.
Found another instance of common stock phrases leaned on -- it's one of the most passive forms of speech in first person, and I think it's being overused particularly badly here. Any time Jade refers to herself in indirect first person by saying "my brain did this" and so on. There are three instances of "part of my brain" in this chapter alone, so my theory about Jade being ice cold is only half-true -- maybe she's a cold, cold zombie!
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Cell, cell, cells, room, room...
Hm, the cell repetition was intentional, but I'll snip the room repetition, that shouldn't be there.
Now this was an intense chapter, but in a quieter way than they usually go. This is another instance where first person plays in your favor, because for things that are more difficult to accurately describe, or for things that are more descriptive the less you describe it, first person is just what you need. In particular, the scenes of Jade getting a bit of shock therapy were where I saw this play in your favor the most.
Ahh, glad that came through! This chapter in particular drew a lot of inspiration from Animorphs, and that's definitely where I got my love of first person narration going through terrible, difficult-to-describe ordeals.
Jade's miraculous rescue from people on the inside couldn't have come at a better time, narratively speaking.
Yeeeep. Almost like the real problem is going to be dealing with the aftermath. ;)
I am curious about Stalker again, though. I think him being the former admin or a defector or something like that is too obvious.
Glad you're thinking about this.
Found another instance of common stock phrases leaned on -- it's one of the most passive forms of speech in first person, and I think it's being overused particularly badly here.
I leaned hard into passive voice in this chapter because it generates dissociation. But I'll keep an eye on it outside of this one, as it really ought to stay uncommon in normal scenarios.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
~Chapter 21: Scars~


“Char. Chaaar? Meleon’charr? Chaar, meeleon char’charmeeleon.”

My hazy, sleep-addled brain only barely registered the Pokéspeech in my ear or the claw poking my shoulder. I pulled the covers over my head, but that didn’t stop either of the two intrusions.

“What is it?” I grumbled, emerging from under the covers to find the Charmeleon eye level with me. This had better be good. Though judging by the last few times he’d woken me up, it probably wasn’t.

“*I finally worked up the nerve to talk to Charizard.*”

Part of me vaguely registered that I had wanted to see that. It had probably been amusing.

“*She’s, uh… got a thing with Dragonite…*” he continued, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. “*But she did teach me how to use Flame Burst.*”

“That’s good,” I replied dully.

“*It’s better than good. My fireballs always went out before. Now they go, like… clear across the battlefield and explode.*”

Alright, yes, that was pretty impressive. I wasn’t sure what kind of response he was hoping for, though.

“*You should come train me. I think I’m close to evolving.*” It was painfully obvious in his voice that he was just saying it to get me out of bed. I didn’t doubt that he legitimately wanted to train, it just clearly wasn’t the main motivation.

“I’m not feeling it right now,” I said, covering my face with a pillow so I didn’t have to look at him.

Firestorm groaned. “*That’s what you said yesterday.*”

“It just doesn’t sound appealing, okay?”

“*Then what does?*”

I didn’t want to answer that. Because the truth was, I didn’t really want to do anything right now. Eating and showering mostly just felt like a chore. Sleeping was nice, I guess. Even if it was impossible to get comfortable and my left arm wouldn’t stop throbbing ever since I’d changed out the bandages and smothered it with every disinfectant I could get my hands on (only because Swift had sat next to my bed and calmly stared at me until I did).

Firestorm had stolen the card key to my room so he could come in whenever he felt like it, which was often. Bragging about victories. Complaining about losses. Relaying every single thing Stalker had ever said about his progress—including reminding me how close he was to evolving about five times a day. And it wasn’t that I didn’t want to see any of those things—heck, I’d never forgive myself if I missed his evolution. But… I just… I couldn’t bring myself to face everyone. I couldn’t even explain why—the idea was just so completely and utterly uncomfortable on every level that it was just easier to stay in my room until the feeling passed. Whenever that was.

“You can train without me, you know that, right?” I said quietly, lifting the pillow a bit to look at him.

The fire lizard gave an unimpressed snort. “*Obviously. I used to train by myself, remember?*” When I didn’t respond, he added, “*That doesn’t change the fact that you’re my trainer, and you’re supposed to train me. So you have to do it.*”

He was still trying to pretend he wasn’t worried about me. In a way, that was worse than if he’d come right out and said it. I should have been able to bounce back from this. I knew how ridiculous it was that I’d lost the will to do anything and that the idea of facing anyone who knew what had happened was nauseating. I’d already spent countless hours mentally kicking myself over it, but the feeling refused to subside.

When I didn’t say anything, Firestorm glowered and plopped down on the floor like he was going to wait it out. But he’d get bored and leave eventually—that much I knew. And then I wouldn’t have to think about the fact that he had a point.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I could count on hearing someone knock on my door several times a day. Usually they went away when I didn’t respond. Rudy would sometimes hold entire conversations with the door, though. This was one of those times.

“Hey Jade! Get this—Darren’s Ivysaur evolved. I can’t believe he got his starter to its final form before we did.”

I could. With how little he cared about training Wartortle.

“So I asked Stalker, and he said that Ivysaur usually evolves before Wartortle or Charmeleon. What’s up with that?”

Hopefully that meant that Firestorm wasn’t going to evolve quite yet. He’d been keeping pace with Ivysaur for some time now. Although I had no idea how much he’d been training for the past few days.

“So yeah, you gotta get out here and help me train, ‘cause I really want a Blastoise—it’s just so much cooler than Wartortle.”

He could train with literally anyone. He didn’t need to ask me. And there was a strange sort of desperation in his voice that I couldn’t quite place. I screwed my eyes shut and willed him to leave as hard as I could. I didn’t want to think about how disappointed he was that I wasn’t up to training with anyone. I should have been up to it. I shouldn’t have felt like this.

Rudy rambled at the door for a few more minutes before finally leaving. I thought I’d feel better after he left, but I didn’t. The anxiety had just evolved into a sickly emptiness.

Yep, this sure was easier than just going outside and seeing everyone.

I grabbed the remote and flipped the TV on, willing myself to stop thinking about it. Normally the competitive battling channels were the easiest way to distract the mind and keep unpleasant thoughts at bay. I quickly found that there was nothing good on, though. Not in October, with the regional league over, and all the master trainers biding their time for the championship circuit that would eventually lead into next year’s Worlds. The kind of matches involving trainers who’d gotten multiple badge sets from multiple regions.

I flipped through the channels idly, passing by everything from boring amateur single battles with no strategy to Kalos matches that could easily be mistaken for super contests with all the stylish outfits and flashy transformations. I kind of wanted to find a Unova tournament or something—battles with a lot of Pokémon on the field just felt right after all of Stalker’s multi battle training. Couldn’t find one, though. Figures.

I finally settled on some kind of weird monotype tournament, with Pokémon teams limited to a single type. The fire-type trainer was absolutely dominating with a Talonflame, just tearing through the opposing fighting-type trainer. There was hardly any question of who was going to win, which kind of diminished the entertainment value. In any case, competitive battling was more fun to watch with Rudy—he always had interesting commentary, regardless of how close the matches turned out to be.

Maybe I shouldn’t have ignored him.

A light fluttering to my left caught my attention, and I turned to see Swift gliding in through the open window, clasping a grocery bag in his talons. He dropped it on the bed and then landed alongside it. I stared at the bag for a few seconds before unfolding it to reveal a boxed lunch.

“How’d you buy this?” I asked. He hadn’t borrowed my wallet—it was still sitting on the bedside table like normal.

“*Stalker gave me money,*” the Pidgeotto replied.

Great, now I had that to worry about. I wasn’t sure why that was worrisome, it just was.

I didn’t have much of an appetite, but I knew from experience that Swift wasn’t going to back down until I took care of myself, and that he had way more patience than I did. So, fighting back every impulse that said food was completely unappealing right now, I opened the box. It was the ‘trainer’s special’ containing an assortment of rice balls and dumplings—I’d gotten it a few times before. He must have noticed.

Swift perched on the end of the bed, preening a few unruly feathers and pretending he wasn’t waiting for me to actually eat the lunch he’d bought.

“You can leave now,” I said. I already knew he wasn’t going to.

The tawny bird shuffled his talons a bit, looking down. “*You shouldn’t push everyone away,*” he said quietly.

I bristled, then immediately tried to rearrange my expression into something neutral. “I know what I’m doing.”

“*Are you sure?*”

No, I wasn’t. Every hour since that night, I’d been doubting myself on literally everything. This was no different.

The others knew I’d been captured, and that it had been miserable in one way or another. But I hadn’t told them what, specifically, had taken place. I couldn’t… except for Swift. Even when I’d told him to leave just like I’d told everyone else, he’d sat there quietly, sometimes not saying a word for hours on end. He’d figured out how to unlock the window so he could leave and come back without relying on Firestorm opening the door, and he’d scarcely left me alone since then.

“*You’re hurt,*” the Pidgeotto said, striding across the bed to sit next to me.

“I’m aware,” I said, clutching my arm.

“*I meant here,*” he said, gently pressing his beak against my heart.

I swallowed hard and looked away. I had no right to be making such a big deal out of what happened. It wasn’t that bad. I was being ridiculous. We’d been through plenty of rough situations by now. Why was this any different? Why was this ruining me?

Weak. That’s what I was being. That’s what I’d always been.

“What am I doing here?” I announced randomly. “I’m not the kind of person who can fight Rockets and protect Legendary Pokémon. Who was I trying to kid? I’m not strong enough for something like that. I never was.”

“*But you did it anyway,*” Swift said with a matter-of-fact tone.

“I… what? That doesn’t matter.”

The Pidgeotto tilted his head. “*Why not?*”

I opened my mouth to speak, but I didn’t really know how to respond to that, so I just took a large bite of rice ball—too large, my eyes started watering.

“*It was hard from the start. But you kept going, even when you were outmatched. Why?*”

I forced myself to swallow the bite I’d taken and then said, “I don’t know. Because I thought it was important? Because I thought it’d make me important?” This was a pointless conversation. It was the same thing Stalker had asked me a few weeks ago.

Swift didn’t say anything. He just fluffed out his feathers and settled into a relaxed position alongside me, making it clear he wasn’t going anywhere. He didn’t understand. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go outside, I just… couldn’t. They’d all seen me that night. They all knew. Everyone knew. Why did that bother me so much?

“They all know I failed. I don’t know how to face that kind of humiliation,” I finally said.

“*They don’t think that about you,*” the Pidgeotto said calmly.

A pause. “…Yeah, but I do,” I whispered, more to myself than to him.

“*I don’t.*”

I screwed my eyes shut. Damn it, why’d he have to be all matter-of-fact like that. It was impossible to argue with.

Maybe if I could just… tell myself that his opinion of me mattered more than my own. Mattered more than everyone else’s opinion. Though in a way, it already did, and that was the weird thing. I wasn’t afraid of Swift judging me over any of this. He hadn’t gotten frustrated, hadn’t been disappointed, hadn’t tried to push me to do anything… just sat by my side and… was there. If I could focus more on that than what I was feeling… then maybe…

I took a deep breath. “I guess it’s probably time I went outside, yeah. You’ll come with me, right?”

Swift beamed. “*Of course.*”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Every inch of me protested as I slowly made my way down the stairs with legs I’d barely used at all the past few days. But I didn’t want to use the elevator. If I was going to the effort of even going outside in the first place, there was no point in taking shortcuts. Swift followed me down, flap-hopping a few steps at a time. Part of me wished he was still a Pidgey so he could sit on my shoulder like he used to.

Cold air washed over me the moment I stepped outside the stadium. But I kind of appreciated the cold weather—it meant that I could wear a jacket and hide the bandages on my left arm and the scabbed-up scraping all over the right. The last thing I needed was people staring at them.

I wasn’t too keen on running into Rudy or Darren right away—not after the way I’d been ignoring them. Maybe later, but not now. So I avoided our group’s preferred training field in favor of one on the other side of the stadium. Even there, I skirted along the outer edge of the clearing to avoid catching anyone’s eye before sitting down on a log that served as seating. Swift landed alongside me, clutching the bark with his talons.

A dispute had broken out between the rebels of Group 1 and Group 16, and Reed, loudmouth as always, had challenged Sasha to a battle. Sasha… the Rebellion’s primary strategist. There was no way this was going to go well for him, but at least it would be amusing to watch. They’d started a double battle—Reed’s Electrode and Persian fighting Sasha’s Pachirisu and Farfetch’d (I’d long since learned not to judge Sasha’s weird Pokémon choices). The electric squirrel had immediately launched into a weird dance, waving its paws around obnoxiously. In the background, Farfetch’d was swinging its leek around like a weapon in a complex series of forms. Both of Reed’s Pokémon immediately went after Pachirisu, much to his displeasure, seeing as he’d ordered Electrode to go for Farfetch’d. I wasn’t totally sure what was going on, but I was pretty sure it was gonna spell Reed’s downfall.

For the rest of the Rebellion, life had gone on after the previous Legendary mission. While there had been a fair number of injuries for both rebel and Pokémon alike, everyone had made it back—Rudy had mentioned that at some point during one of his many conversations with my door. In other words, no one else had been captured. It was probably unfair for me to assume the others had been unaffected by what they’d gone through. I mean… being in the line of fire was always terrifying. That kind of terror wasn’t just going to go away once the danger had passed. And yet, I’d have taken it in a heartbeat over… that.

Pachirisu’s dance continued—Reed’s Pokémon were still ignoring Farfetch’d. The leek duck continued its forms, repeating them twice, three times. Something was about to happen. No sooner had I thought it than Farfetch’d rushed forward, brandishing its leek like a sword. A single strike and Electrode was sent rolling backward, sparks shooting out of it. Persian barely had a chance to register that its partner was down before it too was rushed by the ninja duck—one leek smack to the head, and the cat went down.

A roar of laughter burst out from Reed’s teammate Kris as the former gaped at both of his unconscious Pokémon before recalling them and storming over to his opponent.

“Okay seriously, I know you cheated!” he shouted indignantly.

“Not my fault you don’t know how Follow Me works,” Sasha replied with a giggle.

I snorted. Alright, that was kind of funny.

Swift had huddled close to me, fluffing his feathers for warmth. I gave him a few scritches under his long red crest and said, “Alright, this isn’t so bad. Better than the competitive battling channels, in any case.” Swift gave a contented nod.

Movement in the corner of my eye caught my attention, and I turned to see Chibi approaching us pensively. I’d known that he’d made it back from the mission safely, but it was still a bit surreal that this was the first I’d seen or heard from him since then. Not that that was anyone’s fault but my own.

Whatever small bit of happiness I’d felt upon seeing him quickly faded once I realized how troubled he looked. Swift glanced between me and Chibi a few times, then flapped his wings and took off for a tree behind us. Giving us privacy, was he? It did look like the hybrid wanted to tell me something.

“*Razors wasn’t at the last mission,*” Chibi announced all of a sudden.

I turned toward him. The Pikachu was staring at the ground with such intensity that I half expected the patch of dead grass in front of him to burst into flames.

“I remember,” I said slowly, not sure why he was bringing this up now.

“*We were all fighting for our lives. Even Aros of all Pokémon tried to save you.*”

Oh… that was it. He was forcing me to think about his problems so I wouldn’t think about my own. Honestly… in a weird way, I kind of appreciated that.

“*I asked him why. Do you know what he said?*”

I shook my head.

“*He said he was afraid to fight them,*” the hybrid said disgustedly.

I stared. That… did make sense, from just the short amount of time I’d spent with Razors in Celadon base. He’d insisted on having Aros and Stygian do the bulk of the fighting. And he’d refused to spar with anyone ever since arriving here.

“*He was always willing to fight,*” Chibi went on. “*It was always the two of us against the world… or at least, against our world. Back then… that was what we lived for. That’s why I fight. For what they did to him. For what they did to me. For what they’re going to do. How can he just ignore that?*”

I clenched my teeth. I was starting to get a better idea of what was going on here. Razors had been fighting so long that he didn’t have any fight left in him. And honestly… I couldn’t help relating to that. It’s what I was feeling, too.

“*I just… don’t understand,*” Chibi finished brokenly, all anger gone from his voice.

“Why don’t you talk to him about it?” I asked. It was probably a stupid question, but I didn’t know what else to say.

The Pikachu closed his eyes. “*I don’t know how… not anymore. It’s like most of him is just… gone.*”

A cool breeze had started to blow, ruffling my sleeves and the hybrid’s pointed head feathers. We sat there in silence for some time, listening to the wind through the trees and watching the few remaining leaves fall to the ground.

“*I always looked up to him, you know,*” Chibi went on suddenly. “*No matter what they did to us, no matter how hard we were punished… he always had this way of keeping the rest of us optimistic.*” His words had a hollow air, like he’d been holding onto them for far too long.

“*I was the one who always pushed for us to escape. Razors didn’t need to be a part of it—our handler liked him best. But he went through with it for my sake.*” He paused, taking a deep breath. “*There was one escape attempt that went bad… worse than the others. Our handler was fed up. He’d always hated me most out of the hybrids. He was going to kill me, but… Razors stepped in. Took the attack that was meant for me, and scarred up the handler pretty badly.*”

Chibi lifted his head to stare at the sky. “*That was the last straw. They started testing mind control tech on all the hybrids after that. I was the only one that was immune,*” he said with a bitter laugh. “*It’s my fault that it even happened to him in the first place. And now I can’t handle what it’s done to him. I’m pathetic.*” He buried his face in his paws, muttering “pathetic” over and over.

“Do you want me to talk to him?” I said, without even really thinking about it.

The Pikachu’s eyes snapped open, and he fixed me with an incredulous glare. The sort of expression that I would have flinched at when I’d first met him, but I was far too used to seeing it by now.

“I didn’t know him before, so it won’t hurt as much for me to talk to him,” I added.

Chibi blinked a few times, his eyes shifting back and forth. Finally, he took a deep breath and said, “*If that’s what you want, then sure.*”

The hybrid stood up and slowly shuffled away. But once he’d taken a dozen or so steps, he paused and said, “*Thanks,*” before leaving.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It wasn’t that hard to find Razors. He never battled with any of the rebels, but he could usually be found quietly watching Aros and Stygian train. I didn’t say anything as I sat down on the grass next to the Scyther, and he didn’t acknowledge that he’d seen me.

I sat there for several minutes mulling over what to say. Telling Chibi that I’d talk to Razors was a lot easier than actually going and doing that. If the Pokémon that had basically grown up with him couldn’t relate to him anymore, then what chance did I have? Even though that was kind of the whole reason I was talking with him to begin with.

I ran my fingers through my hair, ruling out a half dozen different ways to open the conversation. Eventually realizing that nothing was going to sound right and just going ahead and saying, “I noticed you and Chibi haven’t seen eye-to-eye since you came to the island.”

Razors turned his head toward me sharply, like he hadn’t been expecting me to bring that up. But then, slowly, he closed his eyes and nodded.

“Is… is it alright if I ask why?” I asked cautiously.

For the longest time, the Scyther didn’t answer. He just surveyed me closely with eyes that didn’t betray a hint of emotion.

“*It’s like we hardly know each other now,*” Razors said quietly. “*He’s become so bitter, and I’ve become so… empty. He wants vengeance for what they did to him, for what they’re going to do to the Legendaries. I want… nothing.*”

The Scyther stared off into the distance, something shifting in his eyes, though it was hard to tell what. “*I’ve forgotten how to feel things. He feels everything, all the time.*” In that moment, for whatever reason, it finally hit me—there was almost something nostalgic about his words. A longing for something in the past.

“You wish things could go back to the way they were before?” I asked slowly.

The mantis screwed his eyes shut, like he hated just thinking about it. “*We weren’t happy, but we had each other. Now I should be happy. The nightmare is over. He’s safe. But… I’m not happy.*”

Razors glanced down at my expression and chuckled softly. It had a hollow, empty feel. “*It’s all right. I thought it might be like this. He desperately needs to be a part of the fight. I think I need to be away from it. I can’t even fight the Rockets. Not without being terrified of what might happen.*”

Right. He was still worried that they might be able to take control of him again. And I didn’t know enough about the experiment control to reassure him that wasn’t the case. For all I knew, it could have been.

The Scyther shook his head. “*I shouldn’t be telling you any of this. I know you’ve endured hardships of your own.*”

“It’s fine,” I said quickly. “It helps keep my mind off… things.” So even he knew what had happened to me. I should have figured… it wasn’t like Aros or Stygian had any reason to hide it. “So if fighting the Rockets is out… what about training? It’s how Chibi keeps his mind off bad things.”

Razors looked away. “*No one should want to spar with me. I was a killing machine for the Rockets. I’ve never learned how to hold back. I don’t know if I…*”

I exhaled deeply and stood to my feet. “Look. Everyone and their mom has been asking me to battle all week, and right now I’m finally in the mood to do it. I think it’ll do me some good to have a bit of adrenaline, and I think it’ll do you good too.”

The Scyther blinked several times in surprise. “*Are you sure?*”

“No, but let’s do it anyway before I change my mind,” I said, walking off to find one of my Pokémon. A few moments passed, but sure enough, I heard the crunching of leaves behind me as he followed. I honestly had no idea where the sudden burst of motivation had come from, but something about being able to focus on someone other than myself was definitely helping. And I wasn’t in the mindset to question why.

I wound up locating Firestorm before Swift, which was just as well, because he was the one I had in mind for the battle.

“We’re fighting Razors,” I announced without warning as we walked up to him.

The fire lizard gave me the most incredulous double-take I’d ever seen. “*Seriously?*” I nodded firmly, and a wide grin formed across his snout. “*Okay!*” he exclaimed, taking a fighting stance.

I turned to face Razors. “I know you’re way stronger than Firestorm, so we don’t have to go until the knockout—we can call the match at first blood.”

The mantis glanced between me and Firestorm with the sort of deadpan stare that I’d taken to mean he was severely skeptical of this arrangement. But he was hardly the only Pokémon on the island with dangerous weaponry. Darren’s Sneasel had caused her fair share of heavy bleeding in a few matches. It was nothing to get too worried about unless you didn’t have a Pokéball.

“Would it make you feel better if I keep his Pokéball in my hand the whole time?” I added. “At the slightest sign of trouble, I can recall him instantly.”

Razors considered my words carefully, regarding me with an intense stare. Finally, after several seconds, he gave a short, slow nod.

“And that’s okay with you, right?” I asked, turning to Firestorm.

The Charmeleon puffed out his chest. “*I’m not scared.*”

We took our positions at opposite ends of one of the dirt training grounds surrounding Midnight Stadium. Firestorm bounced lightly on the soles of his feet, lashing his flame-tail back and forth. Razors, on the other hand, kept glancing uneasily at his scythes. Any onlookers who knew nothing about the two would probably assume that Firestorm was the higher-level combatant.

And then it was like all the energy I didn’t have over the past week hit me all at once, and I called out, “Alright Firestorm, show me that new Flame Burst!”

The Charmeleon planted his feet and took a deep breath, embers already starting to gather in his mouth. He then shot out a brilliant orange fireball that kept its size even as it flew across the battlefield. My eyes lit up—he’d really done it. But Razors wasn’t fazed. In one smooth motion, the mantis leaped aside, allowing the fireball to sail past him, striking the dirt with such force that it exploded into a spray of embers.

I hadn’t really been intending for it to hit, though—it was mostly to get Razors moving. The bug-type was now watching us carefully, body tensed and ready to dodge again, but making no apparent effort to attack.

“Another one!” I ordered.

A second fireball shot toward the mantis, this time striking much closer to him and catching his leg in the spray from the explosion.

“Alright, now—”

Something shifted in Razors’s eyes, and he lunged forward, closing the gap between himself and Firestorm almost instantly.

“—Metal Claw!”

The slightest trace of a grin crossed Firestorm’s face—he knew why I’d ordered that. While Razors’s dash had been lightning quick, the follow-up slash was telegraphed. Firestorm had plenty of time to raise his hardened claws and block the mantis’s scythe with a metallic clang. We’d used that same tactic against Sneasel a few times, and it had worked just as well here.

Razors paused slightly before jumping back from the clash and darting in again, this time from the side. Another slash, and the Charmeleon blocked this one just as easily. The bug-type’s darts and dashes were impossibly quick, but the slashes themselves were… not. It was almost like he had to come to a full stop before swinging his arms.

Razors was holding back, but not the normal way by dampening attacks. Instead, all his moves were slow and uncoordinated, like this was his first time battling. Well, even if it was a quick match, at least a victory would boost Firestorm’s mood and prove that not everything Razors touched died.

“Time for a Slash!” I yelled.

Firestorm’s claws lengthened, sharpening within the attack’s glow. He drew back an arm and swung it at Razors’s chest, but his claws just bounced off the mantis’s chest plates. Shoot, I’d forgotten. Razors’s exoskeleton wasn’t normal. What was it made of? I’d seen him tank fire moves effortlessly, so… rock? Wait—that just meant that Metal Claw was our best option for both defense and offense.

All of a sudden, Firestorm leapt back to avoid a slash that had come out of nowhere. Razors was on him in an instant, flowing from dash to attack in one fluid motion. The fire lizard swung his arms wildly, knocking away two more slashes, but with a lot less room to spare this time. My pulse quickened. So Razors was finally getting into the swing of it?

“Stick to Metal Claw, try to break his guard and land a hit!”

The Charmeleon responded by hardening his claws once again and deflecting two more slashes with an echoing clang. Razors’s moves quickened, his breathing grew heavier. Firestorm swung his tail, trying to knock his opponent off-balance, but the Scyther was too quick for that and leaped over it easily. The Charmeleon darted forward while the mantis’s guard was down, ready for the final blow!

But Razors was faster—while Firestorm was focused on attacking, the Scyther caught him with a clean slice across his left thigh.

“Alright, that’s the match!” I called out, raising both arms.

Firestorm reeled backward, clutching his wound and scowling. “*Ugh. Thought I had that,*” he said before I recalled him.

My heart was pounding, my mind flooded with exhilaration. More surprising than the fact that Razors had gotten into the battle was the fact that I’d gotten into it. That was actually fun. A couple rebels were sitting off to the side, watching our battle. That fact didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would.

Razors paused to wipe his scythe in the dirt before approaching me. “*You were right… that was nice.*”

“Told you,” I said, chuckling a bit. But part of that was directed at myself.

The Scyther fixed me with an odd stare, and I couldn’t really tell what he was thinking until he said, “*I have to thank you, you know.*”

“For the battle?”

“*For how much you’ve done for Chibi. You’ve helped him in ways I never could.*”

I frowned. “I… come on, that’s not your fault. You weren’t yourself for the longest time.”

“*I know that,*” Razors said simply. “*But that doesn’t change the reality of it. The things I did while under their control still happened. I know how close I came to killing him. I know how close he came to killing me.*” He paused. “*I’m glad he didn’t succeed, though. That would have ruined him.*”

The tiniest bit of unease flickered in the back of my mind at his words. He didn’t mean… the only reason he was glad Chibi hadn’t killed him was because of how it would have affected Chibi… right?

Razors caught sight of my sudden change in expression and seemed to realize what I was thinking, because he quickly added, “*You don’t have to worry about me.*”

I tilted my head, nonplussed.

“*If I didn’t think there was a reason for me to be here, I wouldn’t still be looking for one, would I?*” he clarified. So he did know what I was thinking.

“*Besides… if I give into despair, I’ll have let them take everything from me. I can’t have that.*” His eyes relaxed in a way that almost felt like a smile… or his equivalent of one. I smiled back. There was something oddly comforting in his words that kept resonating in my mind after he’d said them.

The crunching of leaves signaled that someone was approaching us. I glanced over my shoulder to see Stalker sauntering over, his hands in his coat pockets.

“Mind if I have a word?” he asked once he was a few steps away.

I bristled. This was the first time he’d seen me in days, and I had a suspicious feeling I knew what he was going to talk to me about. Still, I found myself nodding cautiously, and he motioned for me to follow him away from the training area. Neither of us said anything at first; the anxiety of what was coming hung over me like a thick fog.

“Let’s talk your interrogation. You glossed over your torture, but I know it happened.”

I exhaled slowly. There it was. But he was right. I kept trying to ignore it because it didn’t happen, except it did happen.

“What do you want to know?” I mumbled.

“How are you feeling?”

I blinked. If I’d been expecting anything, it hadn’t been that. I raised an eyebrow at him, but he continued to regard me with the same calm, unyielding expression.

“I… just had a Pokémon battle,” I said, as though that somehow answered his question.

Stalker chuckled a bit. “I suppose that’s good. The others have been worried about you.”

I clenched my teeth and looked away. “Yeah, I know.” Only about half of me wanted to evaporate away from the conversation, so that was progress at least.

“I knew, when starting the Rebellion, that something like this would happen eventually,” he said. “It comes with the territory. I didn’t expect how unprepared I was to handle it.” I glanced back at him, honestly a bit bewildered by the idea that he could be unprepared for anything.

“So I want you to stop holding it in. Let it all out. What are you feeling?”

I scowled, rolling my hands into fists. “I don’t know, a lot of things. I hate that I can’t stop thinking about what happened. I hate how badly it’s affecting me.” My words sped up; my volume increased. “I hate that I can’t do anything, I hate feeling so useless, I hate that everyone knows I failed, I hate that you know I failed.” I was breathing hard, a swirling mess of emotions clouding my head. But in the midst of them all, I couldn’t help feeling a glimmer of… relief?

“I took you off missions for your sake, not because you’d failed,” Stalker said calmly. “You did not fail. From what the experiments told me, that mission would have gone a lot worse if it hadn’t been for you.” I knew that. I’d known that all along. For some reason I’d still managed to convince myself that wasn’t the case, though. Because I felt like I’d failed. And rather than face that, it was easier to convince myself that everyone else thought so too.

“I know that,” I said slowly, fighting every word. “I… think it’ll take a while for the rest of me to accept that, though.”

“That’s fine. No need to rush it,” Stalker said. “I should probably mention the real reason I took you aside, though.” I tilted my head, a bit taken aback, and he went on, “Yesterday I announced what the Rebellion’s next mission is going to be.”

Right, I vaguely recalled Darren knocking on my door and saying something about me missing an important meeting.

“We’re going to free Mewtwo.”

My jaw dropped. “Seriously?”

He nodded. “We won’t be able to do anything to oppose the Rockets so long as they have Mewtwo. We’ve seen it in action. Now we need to take it away from them.”

I swallowed, feeling utterly torn. On the one hand, freeing Mewtwo, but on the other hand…

“I… still don’t know if I’ll be able to…” I began slowly.

“I’m not asking you to be a part of the mission,” Stalker cut in. “But you’re a member of the team, and you deserve to know. And it’s not as though you’ll have had no contribution—that data you recovered also contained info on how they’re controlling Mewtwo. It will prove invaluable to our efforts.”

My mind flashed back to the conversation I’d had with Mewtwo in the Celadon base. The last thing I’d said to him… that promise that I’d free him someday. It was such an insanely lofty goal. But Stalker had said it with unflinching confidence. Like there was absolutely no doubt in his mind that our team would be able to steal Team Rocket’s greatest superweapon.

No wonder the Rockets were afraid of him.

Something else was prodding at the back of my mind now. Something I’d been meaning to ask him when I saw him again. One tiny detail from the interrogation that I hadn’t buried away.

“Can… I ask you a random question?” I asked.

“Certainly.”

“Are you the former Kanto commander? I keep hearing all sorts of rumors about him.”

Stalker raised an eyebrow, intrigued. “Is that who the Rockets think I am?”

I shrugged. “They’re not sure if that’s who you are. I think it’s their main theory.”

“That’s interesting,” he said, rubbing his chin. “Well, it’s always good to keep them guessing.”

I stared. He… really hadn’t answered my question at all. “So… are you?”

Stalker gave me a pointed look. “Do you think I am?”

“I don’t know anything at all about the former commander, so I have no idea.”

“I see. Well you wouldn’t have heard much from any Rockets. They don’t like talking about what happened.” More redirecting. He obviously wasn’t going to tell me. I’d learned by now that pushing Stalker to explain something he didn’t intend to was a lost cause.

“Holy crap Jade, you’re out here?!” a voice called out all of a sudden, followed by hurried footsteps behind me.

Oh geez. Even if I was feeling a little better, I wasn’t sure how easy it’d be to handle Rudy levels of enthusiasm.

“Jade! Darren’s beaten me twice in a row, you gotta come kick his butt,” Rudy said breathlessly once he’d reached me. Oh, for the love of—that’s what he was opening with? I shot a pleading look at Stalker, but he just smirked and gave a small wave before walking off. Damn it—now I really wasn’t going to get any answers from him.

I turned back to see Rudy staring up at me way too eagerly. I sighed, rolled my eyes, and said, “Alright,” before following Rudy back to the training grounds. Maybe a few more battles wouldn’t be so bad.






~End Chapter 21~

I’d like to apologize in advance for Chapter 22.
 
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