Writing Mysteries of the Forgotten Island (Version Zero) (Chapter 11)

Discussion in 'Creative Works' started by PMJ, Feb 21, 2017.

  1. PMJ happy thoughts
    PMJ

    Articles Head Activities Staff Badges Staff Elite Member Advanced Member Member

    If you think about it, Windra wouldn't punch him if she learned that he did it... But yes, that's part of it :)
     


  2. Skyleaf2000 Resident UB Enthusiast
    Skyleaf2000

    Member

    oo man I am scared of this conflict. time to mentally prepare

    So, I went back and re-read the entire story...I have a few more thoughts.

    A DNA-splicing company named...Chroma, you say? Achroma, perhaps?
    dun dun dun

    THAT'S WHERE THE ART CAME FROM! How did I not remember this

    Windra I have some bad news
     
  3. PMJ happy thoughts
    PMJ

    Articles Head Activities Staff Badges Staff Elite Member Advanced Member Member

    I've been putting this off for a long time. Lenny vs Windra is the one battle I was not looking forward to writing. If Lenny won, I'd have to find some way to make a completely one-sided fight interesting; if Windra won, I'd have to jump through so many hoops to make the battle believable that I put it off for as long as I possibly could before I decided I need to just suck it up and get through this awful battle so I could move on with the story.

    With that said, I think that the battle turned out... pretty well, all things considered. It definitely could have gone worse.

    Chapter 6 highlights:

    - Chara freaks out
    - Kyro gets some advice
    - the notes are found - decisions are made
    - Quayle and Eldan have a disagreement
    - the Jewels have a heart to heart
    - first full exhibition match of the story (that isn't just a one-turn ass-reaming) takes place
    - Lenny and Windra have their match
    - it's friggin dope

    This chapter currenly holds the record for longest chapter, beating out chapter 5 by just over 1000 words. Next up is Jethro vs Kyro, which I know Firo has been dying to read and I've been dying to write. I haven't rolled the winner yet, but I imagine I'll try and get things started sometime within the next few days. As you can see from the highlights, lots of stuff goes on in this chapter. It's a beast, but every word is worth it, I promise.

    Word count: 18,208

    Chapter 6: Risk Versus Reward


    "Okay, explain it to me again," Taikyu said, grabbing a notebook and pencil. Taikyu had taken the young girl into his room for some privacy, and he wanted to make sure to take notes so he could relay them to his brothers. "You took control, and then what happened?"

    Frisk sighed, slightly annoyed at having to explain herself again. "I told you, old man, I won the fight. After that I tried telling Frisk that I won, but she wasn't there."

    Taikyu nodded, writing down the words as she spoke. "You said it was as if she was never there. That isn't normal for when you take over?"

    "No, it's not," Frisk replied, pacing. "Whenever I hijack her body, she's always struggling against me, trying to shove me back in. Always. Even at my strongest, I can always feel her nagging me."

    "Did you feel her during the battle?" Taikyu asked.

    Frisk paused, trying to think back. "I don't know. I wasn't really paying attention to her. She'd messed up the battle pretty bad. Once I came out, winning was the only thing on my mind."

    Taikyu nodded again, frantically trying to keep up with Frisk as she talked. He looked at his notes, idly chewing on the end of his pencil as he considered them. "Was there anything else strange that you noticed?"

    "No, not really... no, wait, yeah! When she let me take over. That was weird."

    Taikyu leaned forward, his interest piqued once again. "What happened?"

    "So you know how I told you that Frisk never lets me out, right?" At Taikyu's nod of confirmation, she continued. "I've always had to force myself in. But during the battle, when she let me take control, I didn't have to try at all. It was weird."

    "That could be a factor," Taikyu said, adding this revelation to his notes. "Anything else?"

    "No, that's it. I'm kinda freaking out, old man. What am I supposed to do? I'm not Frisk and I sure as shit can't act like her."

    "You look like her. That's good enough for now. Do you two share memories?"

    "Only since we joined. It's like Frisk is a car. When I died, I became a passenger in the Friskmobile. Everything she sees, everything she does, I experience it, too. The only difference is that since she's behind the wheel, she controls what we do, where we go, everything."

    "That's what I figured," Taikyu said as he set the notebook on his desk. He rubbed his eyes, stifling a yawn. "I'm going to explain this to my brothers in Johto. They've all experienced a fascination with you, you know. I have no doubt that they'll be able to provide some fresh insight into your situation. In the meantime, Chara, just enjoy yourself, but do this old man a favor and please don't overdo it."

    "What are you talking about?"

    "I mean you look and sound exactly like Frisk. Whatever you do, people are going to assume it's her. All I'm asking is that you dial back your usual behavior, at least until we have this sorted out and we find out exactly what happened to her. That means no cursing and no pranks."

    "No fun is more like it," Frisk whined, crossing her arms in complaint. "What am I supposed to do instead?"

    "Be a normal child," Taikyu offered. "You said that Frisk doesn't let you feel the sun. There's some time until dinner. Why don't you step outside and do that? Nothing like fresh air to calm one's nerves."

    Frisk rocked on her heels. "Yeah, maybe. Hey, old man. Would you... join me? Outside. I mean, I'm totally capable of going myself, but, uh... you're so old and all, I figure you could use the fresh air, too. And it's not because I'm lonely without Frisk or anything, so don't get any ideas."

    Taikyu smiled warmly at the troubled lad. Figuring that this was the closest he'd ever get to Chara admitting he was worried, he nodded. "It would be my pleasure, Chara. Shall we go?"

    The two competitors left Taikyu's room and headed upstairs to the main entrance to Indigo Plateau, which was still bustling with people trying to leave. Immediately, several eyes were on Taikyu, his massive height and dark complexion providing a stark contrast to the majority of the spectators present. One person noticed Frisk with him, and shouted, "Congratulations, Frisk!" This in turn caused others to spot Frisk and cheer, offering up their own congratulations. Within minutes, Frisk and Taikyu were swarmed by fans and received a barrage of questions and comments that was impossible for either of them to keep up with. Most wanted autographs or pictures, but there were some oddities, too, like the person who wanted to buy a lock of Frisk's hair.

    "Please, everyone, give her some room," Taikyu pleaded, but the request fell on deaf ears as the fans continued to harass them. One of them rushed in with a phone, intent on taking a photo with Frisk whether she liked it or not. He tripped over his own feet and crashed into Taikyu, sending the two of them tumbling to the ground.

    "Old man!" Frisk yelled, staring in horror as the would-be photographer landed squarely on top of Taikyu. "Bastard, get off him! I'll kill you, you son of a bitch!" Frisk was on the man in moments, desperately trying to push him off, but she was far too weak to do so herself.

    Fortunately for Frisk, she didn't have to; the man scrambled to his feet, spouting out a hundred apologies. "I'm so sorry, Taikyu! I just wanted a picture and--" The rest of that sentence would never come; the man was reduced to a silent, quivering mess as Frisk brought back a leg and kicked him in the groin as hard as she could.

    "You dumb ass! That's for Taikyu!" Frisk knelt down to Taikyu, who still hadn't gotten up. "Old man, are you okay? You need some help?" She looked up to the crowd. Some had dispersed, some had gone to the photographer's assistance, and some had their phones out, recording the entire thing. "You idiots! He needs help! Someone get a doctor or something!"

    Frisk could hear some people shouting for a medic, but most people simply stayed put with their phones out. She turned her attention back to Taikyu, who had managed to pull himself to a sitting position. "Old man! You all right?"

    "I believe so, Chara. Thank you for asking. I'd still like to see a doctor, just in case." Taikyu coughed, and Frisk was filled with equal parts relief and rage because the stupid medic should have been here by now. What the hell was going on?

    Almost on cue, the medic did arrive; along with them were two security guards, their Pokemon - a Mienshao for one and a Weavile for the other - and Safiri. Most people put their phones down and backed away, giving the group a wide berth, but a few brave souls kept the cameras rolling in secret.

    "What is going on here?" Safiri inquired, making her way to the front of the crowd. Spotting Frisk and Taikyu, her look changed from confusion to alarm. Reaching down, she yanked Frisk to her feet and pulled her aside. "What are you two doing up here? Didn't Ruby tell you that competitors aren't--"

    "Who cares?! Taikyu needs help!" Frisk pointed to Taikyu, who the medic went to attend to. Frisk glared daggers at Safiri. "And what kind of stupid-ass rule is that anyway? You've got us all trapped like rats down there. We can't even go outside?!"

    This can't be happening, Safiri thought as she picked up on some of the murmurs of the crowd. When word of this incident got out, it would surely reflect poorly on Diamant Industries. She knew at least one person in the crowd had to have been recording, so she'd have to do her best to do damage control and de-escalate the situation. "You are allowed to go outside, Miss Achra, but you and Mr. Taikyu are celebrities here. We limit the places you can go for your own safety, and--"

    "We have Pokemon, genius! They protect us! Gah, how stupid are you?!"

    Safiri stared into the little girl's eyes, irises flaring bright red, and was struck speechless at the sight. What in the world? Is she... no, that can't be. "Miss Achra, everyone has Pokemon. But your safety is of the utmost importance to us. That's why the rules are in place."

    "She is right," Taikyu said, putting an arm on Frisk's shoulder.

    Frisk whirled around to come face to face with Taikyu's chest. "Old man! Holy shit, you're tall." She backed away a little so she could look him in the eyes. "Are you okay?"

    Taikyu smiled, gesturing to the doctor. "According to this nice young lady, I'll be fine. Just had a bad tumble, that's all. I'm sorry I made you worry."

    "I'm glad to hear it," Safiri said, making another note on her clipboard. "You'll both need to follow me to my office to file an incident report. Not negotiable," she added when Frisk objected. The three of them headed off to do that and, with the show over, the crowd finally started to disperse, leaving the medic to handle the guy Frisk kicked.

    * * * * * * * * *

    After the battle between Frisk and Scarlet, most of the competitors left to do their own thing while Tsomu and the chefs were preparing lunch. Rose, Kiria, and Windra all consoled Scarlet after she returned, despite her insistence that she didn't need to be consoled and wasn't all that upset about the loss. Eldan, Nye, Quayle, and Cody sat at another table, naturally chatting about the battle, and Frisk's miraculous comeback. Lenny and Thresher sat at a table closer to the exit, wondering more about why Frisk suddenly grabbed Taikyu and left.

    With his battle quickly approaching, Jethro decided to get in some last-minute training in, and started to leave before Kyro sprung from his chair and stopped him. "Mr. Jethro?" he asked, pulling on the older man's shirt.

    Jethro turned to face the young man. "Huh? Oh, hey, Kyro. You lookin' forward to our match tomorrow?"

    Kyro nodded, but it wasn't nearly as enthusiastically as Jethro figured it would have been. "Yep. Where are you going?"

    "Do some training," he said simply. "I figure I got a little time before lunch, and I need to make sure my team is the best they can be so they don't get their butts handed to 'em by your Archeops."

    "I was hoping you'd say that!" Kyro exclaimed, the spark bright in his eyes again. "I was thinking the same thing. Would you practice with me, please?"

    An uneasy look crept across Jethro's face. "Eh, sorry, kid, not this time. This is somethin' we gotta do by ourselves. I'm sure one of these other guys would be willing to help," he offered with a smile, gesturing towards Lenny and Thresher. "Catch you later." With a wave, he turned and left, leaving a dejected Kyro behind.

    He sat at the table with the two men, looking more troubled than either would have expected after being turned down.

    "You all right, son?" Lenny asked, figuring Kyro was waiting for someone to ask.

    "I think this is the first time I've seen ye frown since we got here, lad," Thresher noted. "Are ye that saddened by him not sparrin' with ye?"

    Kyro shook his head, his icy blue bangs dancing around his eyes. "No, Mr. Thresher, I'm not sad, I'm nervous."

    "Aye, and it's a perfectly normal reaction, I think! I was nervous before my battle." He turned to Lenny. "Ye nervous at all 'bout your match?"

    "Hell yes," he answered simply, and it was the truth.

    Kyro tilted his head slightly, confused by Lenny's answer. "You don't look nervous, Mr. Lenny."

    "Well, that's probably because my match isn't until later, but it's also because I need to be strong for my Pokemon."

    Kyro nodded, considering this, but then added: "I don't really understand."

    "I think what he means," interjected Thresher, "is that ye can't let yer nerves get the best of ye. Yer Pokemon are countin' on ye to lead them into battle. If ye look unsure, yer gonna make yer Pokemon unsure, too. Do I have it about right, Lenny?"

    Lenny grunted an affirmative, nodding. Kyro did the same, mimicking him. "I don't want my Pokemon to feel nervous, but... Mr. Jethro's Pokemon are so sure of themselves that they don't even need to wait for him to tell them what to do...they just do it. Is his bond with his Pokemon that much stronger than mine? I was hoping I could practice with him some more, and maybe learn how he does it." He looked to Thresher. "You won your match against Mr. Taikyu. Did you ever stop being nervous during your fight?"

    Thresher thought for a moment. The truth was, no, he didn't stop being nervous. Watching Taikyu's Necrozma rip off its own arm as if it were nothing, using Ferrothorn's Stealth Rock against him as it nearly took him out in one hit, seeing Taikyu's Drampa actually leap off the ground and fly, wondering if Corsola would be able to survive an attack that at any other time would have turned her into a streak on the pavement - Taikyu had had him on the edge for the entire battle. The question, then, was simple. What to tell Kyro? On the one hand, he could lie. He could make something up and he doubted either person at the table would doubt him; even if Lenny suspected something, Thresher didn't think he'd call him out on it in front of Kyro. Telling Kyro the truth might be the honest thing to do, but it probably wouldn't make him feel any better. Might make him feel more nervous, he thought.

    In the end, Thresher decided on the truth. The fact of the matter was, the boy was coming to him for advice, and his father would roll in his grave if he knew he'd deliberately misled a child, no matter the reason. "No, lad, I didn't," he finally answered. "Taikyu is an incredibly strong trainer, and he did a great job of keeping me on my toes. I was constantly wondering if I was gonna make it. But," he said, pointing a finger at Kyro to draw him out after he'd begun slumping in his chair, "Not once did I let my Pokemon see my fear. I believed in them, and they went above and beyond for me - all of them. And it brought me a hard-earned victory that I'm thankful I won't have to repeat."

    "Only gonna get harder from here on out," Lenny stated.

    "Ah, come now, no need to give the poor guy anything else to worry about," Thresher said with a laugh, putting a hand on Kyro's shoulder. "Listen, lad. Feelin' nervous is completely natural. Yer still a boy and yev got a lot of growin' up ta do, so don't think of yerself as any less a trainer than any of us. As I told Taikyu before our battle, we're all champions. Me, Lenny, that horse's arse Alex," he said, gesturing discreetly towards him, causing Kyro to smile, "and you, my friend. Think of how hard ye had ta work ta get to this point. Twasn't just luck got ye this far - it's believin' in yer Pokemon's strength, believin' in 'em when things seem like they're at their absolute worst, that gives them the push they need to turn things around. I haven't heard much about you, boy, but what I have learned? I'd be nervous fightin' against ye."

    Kyro went wide-eyed at this. "Really? What for? I'm just a kid!"

    "Aye, that's exactly it!" Thresher laughed again, causing Kyro to stare dumbly at the two men. He glanced over at Lenny for assistance, but Lenny simply shrugged. "Think about it. How old are ye, ten? Eleven?"

    Feeling slightly embarrassed, Kyro shook his head. "I just turned nine last month."

    Now it was Thresher's turn to go wide-eyed. "Christ above, you just turned nine? That means that you... you won the... qualifying tournament..."

    "At eight years old," Lenny finished, duly impressed. "Pretty remarkable, kid."

    "I don't get it," Kyro said, confused again. "You just said that we all did it. What's so great about that?"

    "Lad, when I was nine years old, I could barely clean my own fish, let alone win a tournament of over a thousand people. Look around, boy. I'm nearly three times your age, and Lenny's like three times my age."

    "Hey, what? Now hold on," Lenny interrupted him.

    Thresher paid him no mind. "Some of the ladies are closer to yer age, but they're still a lot older than you. I wouldn't be surprised if ye were the youngest person to ever set foot here, Kyro. We all are champions, true, but no one became one as fast as you did. To have that much talent at yer age is unbelievable, ta say the least, and ye know what? I bet Jethro knows that, too. Ye ask me, I think he's more nervous than you are."

    "Because I beat him the other day? That was just practice," Kyro countered.

    "Aye, it was, but it wasn't just practice. It was a way for him to see what ye were capable of, and ye floored both him and his Pokemon, if his account of it is true. Ye took a Pokemon that rightfully should have lost and mopped him up with it. That would make anyone nervous. And he's the one that's gotta fight against ye. I don't envy him at all."

    Kyro simply stared, shocked by this revelation. "Wow, Mr. Thresher. I never thought of it like that."

    "I'm glad I could help ye, lad," Thresher said, rising from the table. "Now, don't go restin' on your laurels. If you wanna get some practice in today, I'd be happy to go a round with ye after we watch ol' Lenny here lose to a wee lass," he said, playfully elbowing Lenny in the shoulder. "Whadaya say ta that?"

    Kyro exploded out of his seat, his mood improved and his usual infectious smile back full force. "You bet! That sounds great! Thanks, Mr. Thresher! And good luck with your match today, Mr. Lenny!"

    "Thanks, kid," Lenny said as Kyro ran out of the cafeteria.

    A few tables down, the four ladies had moved on in their conversations to more pleasant topics than Scarlet's narrow defeat. Not feeling particularly hungry, Rose excused herself from the table, intent on taking a nap before dinner. To Windra's and Kiria's surprise, Scarlet seemed more than happy to see her go; the two shared a questioning look, but didn't say anything.

    Unbeknownst to any of the other ladies at the table, Rose was a little hurt at Scarlet's behavior. She wasn't expecting Scarlet to invite herself into her room, of course, but at least she could have acted like she wanted her to stay. She thought about this as she left, not noticing the note hastily fastened to Windra's door.

    It was clear to Rose that the junior Ranger had a crush on her. She'd known since the very first day - Scarlet had done a very poor job of hiding her feelings. She smiled to herself as she recalled the way Scarlet tripped over herself trying to save face. And yet, Rose thought, this also was not new to her. There were many Rangers who came before Scarlet who'd learned the things she'd done and reacted much the same way Scarlet did: lots and lots of flattery. Rose didn't think she was exceptionally pretty, but that didn't stop everyone else from telling her what they thought of her. Every time they saw her, it was variations of the same old compliments telling her how pretty and talented she was.

    And here, Rose thought, smiling again, Scarlet was different. She was starstruck the same as everyone else was when they first met Rose, but she hadn't acted weird about it since the first meeting in the cafeteria. Scarlet treated her like a friend instead of a celebrity, and it was something Rose greatly appreciated. When she met Scarlet's Shaymin on the first night, she ended up staying far longer than she had planned. While it had been fascinating, from a purely scientific standpoint, to meet a Shaymin in the flesh, Rose had found it more fascinating that Scarlet never once put her on a pedestal. It wasn't Ranger Bersalk, Rank 10, and Ranger Jung, Rank 4; just two girls enjoying each other's company, shooting the breeze and discussing their dreams.

    She wasn't surprised when Lucario suggested she might feel something for Scarlet, but she still kept silent about the subject. Truthfully, she was afraid of making things awkward with the younger Ranger; it was entirely possible that the reason that Scarlet hadn't continued gushing over her is because she wasn't attracted to her in that way. Rose wouldn't forgive herself if she ruined a perfectly good friendship over something as silly as feelings.

    Still, thinking of Scarlet made her smile, and by the time she reached her door, she was positively beaming. She noticed the paper stuck to her door, and carefully peeled it off. "Um, gross," she said aloud as she noticed the material with which it was stuck, but her smile didn't start to fade until she read the words on the paper.

    "No way," she croaked, her voice barely above a whisper. She couldn't believe what she was reading. How could she have read Scarlet so terribly? Out of the corner of her eyes, she noticed Lenny coming out of the cafeteria, so she quickly swiped her way into her room and locked the door. Desperate for someone to talk to, she took a ball from her belt and let its occupant out. "Lucario," she cried, throwing her arms around him. "I was right, Lucario."

    (About what?) came the confused Pokemon's reply. Rose handed Lucario the paper and threw herself face down on the bed, screaming her frustration into her pillow. Lucario looked the paper over, then growled. (This is what has you upset?)

    "Yes!" Rose shrieked into the bed.

    (Then I hate this thing! But, er... you know I can't read it, right?) Rose inhaled, then let out a long breath. She turned over, facing the ceiling, and dictated the note to him. (Oh. I'm, uh... sorry.)

    "I blew it, Lucario," she said, shaking her head. "I pushed her too far, and now she's mad at me. What do I do now?"

    (Nothing, babe. You can do better than that bitch anyway.)

    Rose shot up instantly, leaping to her feet. "Scarlet is not a bitch! How could you say such a thing?!"

    Lucario held up his paws in concession. (Whoa, okay, sorry! I just thought it was what you wanted to hear! I'm no good at this sort of thing, okay?)

    Rose sighed, sitting on the edge of her bed. "No, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have snapped at you. I just... gosh, Lucario, maybe you were right. I mean, look at me. I yelled at you, and I feel like I could cry at any minute. I shouldn't be feeling this way for a girl I met only three days ago."

    Lucario stared dumbly at her, completely unaware of what the right thing to say was. (Why?) he finally asked.

    "Because it's not normal! She just wanted to be my friend, Lucario, and I got so caught up in how special I felt around her that I forced her in a corner. She couldn't even tell me this in person! That's how uncomfortable she is around me now. No wonder she wanted me to leave the cafeteria," she finished, and wiped away a treasonous tear that had formed in the side of her eye. "I'm ashamed of myself. How can I ever make it up to her?"

    Lucario started a reply, but reconsidered. Eventually, he simply shrugged. (Babe, I have no idea.) When her face fell even further at this candid admission, he switched tactics. (Okay, okay, um... all right, say you did something and made me mad at you. How would you make it up to me?)

    Rose chuckled. "I'd cook you up your favorite treats, for starters. Then I'd give you a nice hot bath, and use that scented shampoo you like that makes your fur super soft. Then after we were done I'd push you onto my bed and -"

    (Okay, maybe that wasn't the best example,) Lucario conceded. (But do continue. What would you do next?) he said, grinning lasciviously.

    "Down, boy," Rose scolded him. "I know you meant well." She sighed forlornly. "I guess it just wasn't meant to be."

    (Come on, don't say that,) Lucario stated, taking a seat next to her on the bed. For a few moments, the two said nothing, and this bothered Lucario immensely. He hated seeing his master and friend so down. (Why don't you fight for her?) he finally offered.

    "That wouldn't be right," Rose said simply. "She said in her note that her heart belongs to another. I wouldn't want to come between them."

    (Does she make you happy?)

    "Yes," came Rose's immediate response. "She does. I like being near her. I want to get to know her better. We had such a great time Monday night."

    (Then fight for her!) Lucario yelled through their bond, rising to his feet. (That's what I'd do. If I were in your shoes, I would fight and fight and keep fighting as long as I had breath in my body. I'd march right over there and tell her how I felt, and I wouldn't leave until I'd said everything I wanted to say.) Rose was shocked at this sudden outburst, unsure of what to say to that, and he continued. (sI want you to be happy. With a human,) he amended when Rose looked hurt at his implication. (You know Gardevoir and I both love you very much, but you need human companionship. We both want to see you happy.)

    "I am happy!" she yelled back at him, meeting his gaze. "You two mean the world to me. If Scarlet doesn't want to be with me, that's fine, I don't care! I don't need her, just like I don't need you telling me to abandon you two just because of what you are!"

    (Rose, you--)

    "Let me finish!" she cut him off sharply, tears coming to the surface. "I won't stand here and let you suggest that you're somehow beneath me because you're a Pokemon. You're loyal, and caring, and courageous, and I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for you. I don't care what anyone else says! I'm not going to let anyone else tell me how I feel! I love you, Lucario, do you understand that? Both of you! I--"

    Lucario swiftly closed the distance between them and covered Rose's mouth with a paw. (Rose, stop yelling! Someone might hear you!)

    Rose's eyes went wide with terror as she realized he was right. She dashed to the door and flung it open, only to find an empty hallway, but she still felt nervous. True, no one was there, but if either Frisk or Cody were in their rooms... there's no way they wouldn't have heard her outburst. She quietly closed herself in her room again, her mind racing as she imagined worse and worse scenarios of being found out.

    Fate had been kind to Rose in this instance. At the time of her damning declaration, no one had been around to hear it, but she would be foolish to think that fate would show her kindness every time.

    Her good fortune would not last forever.

    (You have to be more careful, babe,) Lucario said, gently wiping Rose's tears away. (I don't have to tell you what will happen if you get caught.)

    "I know," Rose said, her voice barely above a whisper. Clearing her throat, she said, "I'll tell everyone someday. But it'll be on my terms."

    (What if it isn't?) he asked, gesturing to either side of the wall.

    "Then I'll fight," she answered, taking his paws into her hands. "No one will ever keep you two from me. They'll have to kill me first." She sighed. "I like Scarlet. She's nice, a really talented Ranger, and she doesn't act like I'm some sort of goddess all the time. Do I have feelings for her?" She shrugged. "Don't know. I was looking forward to maybe exploring that path, but I guess it wasn't meant to be. We just met at the wrong time in our lives, that's all," she finished, forcing a smile onto her face.

    (At least tell her how you feel,) Lucario pleaded. (Just like you did with us, remember?)

    Rose nodded, recalling the memory. "You were both really surprised."

    (And grateful,) he added. (We could tell you were fighting with your feelings, so when you finally came clean to us, it was such a relief. Your demeanor changed. It was like a weight had been lifted from your shoulders, and we both noticed it.)

    "Yeah, but this isn't exactly the same. Scarlet's human. I wasn't raised to question being attracted to humans." She considered Lucario's suggestion. "Maybe I'll tell her someday, but now isn't a good time. It's clear she's trying to distance herself from me, and I don't want to upset her any further. I want to show her that I'm mature enough to handle rejection, and respect what her heart feels." As if in agreement, her stomach growled audibly. "I guess all those emotions made me hungry after all... I'm going to get some lunch. Do you want me to bring you something?"

    Lucario smiled, extracting himself from his master. (Nah, I'm good. Thanks, babe.)

    * * * * * * * * *

    Lunch was cheerful, mostly. Taikyu recounted his adventures with Frisk, and was touched by the amount of concern the other competitors had for him when they learned what had happened. Chara, still unsure how to handle Frisk's body when he wasn't trying to embarrass her, stayed mostly silent. Rose rejoined the women from earlier, and was surprised to see that Nye had joined them; she was not surprised when she learned that Windra had all but dragged her to the table.

    Eldan, Quayle, and Cody took this opportunity to chat about the table full of women. "So," Eldan began, "who's the cutest, boys? My pick is Nye, obviously."

    "Didn't Nye say you weren't allowed to talk about stuff like this?" Quayle asked, not looking up from his food.

    "There's nothing inappropriate about it," Eldan insisted. "I just want to know who you guys like, that's all."

    "Still, should we really be having this conversation?" Cody asked in a hushed tone, leaning forward and glancing around as if they were doing something illicit. "What if they hear us?"

    "I don't think that's going to be a problem," Eldan said as loud cackles of laughter were heard from the table. "They're not paying any attention to us, Lenny's got the TV going over there, we'll be fine. So, who's your pick?"

    Cody retreated into his seat. "Um... well, I mean, Windra seems nice. She's been all over, yeah? I've only traveled through Alola. Well, the tournament I won was in Kalos, but I didn't get out much. Anyway, I'd love to hear stories about the places she's been. I bet she's met all sorts of interesting people."

    Eldan raised an eyebrow. "Really? Eh, I guess. Definitely not my cup of tea, but to each his own. What about you, Broody McDarko?" he asked, turning to Quayle. "You gonna pick Nye too?"

    Quayle continued to eat, ignoring Eldan's obvious attempt at getting under his skin. "Yes. Nye and I go way back."

    "Really?" Cody jumped in. "I didn't know you guys knew each other."

    Quayle nodded. "Yeah. We actually grew up in the same town, before it was destroyed. I don't know what she did after that, but we ended up meeting again years later, and we've been close friends ever since then."

    "Do either of you know what 'cute' means?" Eldan asked, bored with their answers. "I'm asking you which one you find most attractive, not who you want to go on adventures with or whatever."

    "What's wrong with that?" Quayle asked, a hint of anger in his voice. "Is the only thing you like about Nye the way she looks?"

    Eldan opened his mouth to reply, but stopped short. His last statement wasn't even supposed to be bait, but it appeared that he'd struck a nerve with it all the same. The desire to bait Quayle further was strong, but with Cody watching, and with Nye herself a stone's throw away, Eldan decided to bite his tongue and instead answer honestly. "No. But of course, it's a part of it. I'm a man of style, boys. I like to keep up with the latest trends, know who's popular to wear and who's not. I like my women to be as stylish and beautiful as me, and Nye fits that. The two of us are more alike than she's willing to admit, you know."

    "That's the most long-winded 'yes' answer I've ever heard," Quayle retorted. "Just save your breath next time."

    "I don't expect someone like you to understand," Eldan shot back.

    Quayle put his fork down, glaring death at the Team Flare member. "What is that supposed to mean?"

    "Nothing," Eldan said nonchalantly. "Just that you still look like a monkey dressed you, that's all."

    "Hey, that's enough," Cody said, holding a hand between them. "We're all friends here, yeah?"

    "Definitely not," Quayle spat, getting up from his chair. "I could never be friends with someone who can't see Nye for who she is and not what she wears."

    Unintimidated, Eldan rose to meet his gaze, disgust dripping from every syllable of his reply. "And I could never be friends with His Royal Highness Edge Nightdoom, someone who stoops to despicable levels just to win a Pokemon battle, and look horrendous while doing it."

    "I apologized for that!" Quayle yelled, slamming his hands on the table and gathering the attention of most of the other competitors.

    Noticing exactly who was arguing, Nye got up from the table and threw herself between the two men before the conflict escalated further. "Stop it! What is going on?!"

    "Nothing," both guys said simultaneously.

    "Don't give me that! Listen to yourselves! If you insist on acting like children, I will treat you like children!"

    "Everyone, please stop yelling," Alex quietly said into his plate, but no one paid any attention to him.

    Since Nye was already facing Quayle, she started with him. "You need to control your temper. Don't let him trick you into getting angry. He purposefully says things like that so you get upset. That's what he wants. Understood?"

    Quayle did not take his eyes off of Eldan, but he nodded. "Understood."

    That wasn't good enough for Nye, who grabbed him by the chin and forced him to meet her gaze. "Make eye contact when a lady addresses you! Am I understood?"

    "Yes!" Quayle batted Nye's hand away, holding his jaw as he looked her in the eye - apparently she'd grabbed him too forcefully. "I understand."

    "And you," Nye continued, spinning around to face a snickering Eldan, "Quit harassing my friends!" She emphasized each word by poking him hard in the chest. "Who I choose to associate with is none of your business, Eldan. If you want any sort of relationship with me, you will treat my friends with respect. Quayle isn't perfect, but he's trying. Give him another chance, like I gave you one! Don't make me regret that decision!"

    The entire cafeteria was quiet after this remark, the program on the television the only thing preventing silence from reigning supreme. Satisfied by shaming Eldan into blessed silence, she went back to her table and plopped into her chair. "I swear, those two will be the death of me," she lamented just as Jethro re-entered the cafeteria.

    "Jethro! Where have you been?" Tsomu yelled, desperate for things to get back to normal. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"

    Confused, Jethro glanced at the clock. "Uh... twelve?"

    "Exactly! Lunch was ready half an hour ago! Now eat up, it's almost gone!" Tsomu dragged a still-confused Jethro over to the tables of food, and conversation slowly started picking up again. Quayle and Eldan said nothing to each other, leaving an uncomfortable Cody to eat in silence. Eventually, Lenny and Windra were summoned to do battle and, with everyone wishing them luck, they left.

    * * * * * * * * *

    "Good afternoon, everyone! My name is Ruby Erthgrand, but you all knew that already! Say, everyone, I've got a burning question I need to ash you all. Are you all ready to see some action?! I lava good match and I'm just as anxious as you, so let's not waste any more time, shall we? Approaching the east platform is a man who didn't want me to make a big deal out of his introduction, but I'm doing it anyway! He's old, but he's hot, and what he lacks in youth he makes up in raw firepower! Will his opponent be able to take the heat, or will her light be extinguished? I want every single one of you to show some spicy Kanto love for your Slateport City champion, the man, the myth, the legend, the one, the only, Lennyyyyyyyyyyy Beckett!"

    As Lenny took his position, the crowd gave Ruby what she asked for. He did his part and waved, acknowledging them but doing little else. He had a feeling Ruby was going to ignore his request for a simple introduction, but he didn't think she'd lay it on so thick. No matter, he thought, his hand already on his first Poke Ball. Sorry, kid, but this battle's mine.

    "That's what I like to hear! Let's keep that applause going for his opponent, a well-traveled lass who makes her home in Unova! She's managed to visit every continent, likes bugs, and hates Quayle!"

    From off stage, Windra giggled. She was hoping Ruby would say that on air.

    "She's a simple girl with a simple mission: become grand champion! Let's see if she can make it happen today! Give it up for your Anistar City champion, Windra Wallace!"

    Windra opened the door leading outside, and it made her realize how long it had been since she'd set foot outdoors. The crowd's cheers were secondary to her as she closed her eyes and spread her arms wide, feeling the warm summer breeze rush around her. The crowd, perceiving her movement as an acknowledgement of them, continued to show their support. Windra approached the platform, eyeing Lenny from across the field. She knew she was going to have to work for it, but she believed in her team, and herself. This one's for you, Mom.

    Once both players were in place, it was time to spin the wheel. Both players looked intently as the field was chosen, and once it was, Windra's heart sank. "It's the fire field! Surely not the battlefield Windra was hoping for. How will she handle this setback? We're about to find out!"

    Esmeralda stepped forward as Ruby introduced her, and after she confirmed each contestant was ready, she said the magic words. "Trainers, release your Pokemon!"

    "Chomper, go get 'em!"

    "Go, Ninetales!"

    Both Pokemon hit the field and, for a moment, most of the crowd was wondering if Lenny's Ninetales was gifted with its Hidden Ability, the way Eldan's was, and there were a few sounds of disappointment made when they learned that she was not. That didn't bother Lenny in the slightest, though he could admit that automatic sunny weather would save him time in battle.

    Windra's mind went into Fire-type mode - basically, how she altered her game plan when up against Fire-type Pokemon. She knew Lenny used some Fire-type Pokemon, but wasn't sure which, and it didn't occur to her until just now that perhaps asking him about his team might have actually yielded results. Would Lenny have been as forthcoming as Cody was?

    Too late now, she thought. She chose to lead with Chomper for a few reasons, not the least of which was that her usual go-to, Tyeaf, would be virtually useless unless she managed to get a lucky Spore off. Her plan was simple: weaken his Pokemon with Chomper so that Tyeaf could put them to sleep and finish them off, using Archeidon as an anchor in case things got messy. Chomper was nothing if not quick, and Lenny's Ninetales looked a little chubby around the midsection, so Windra liked the position she was in.

    Now she just had to keep it. "Chomper, use Thunder!"

    "And right off the bat, Windra's ordered her Chomper to use Thunder!" Ruby's shocked voice rang through the stadium, to swells of cheers. "Looks like she's planning on ending this quickly, folks!"

    "Ah, you're a girl after my own heart," Lenny said, smiling. "Ninetales, use Sunny Day! If you have time to dodge afterwards, do it, but get that sun shining first!"

    Ninetales looked to the sky and howled, the sun-shaped rock strung around her neck glowing bright as she did so. As the clouds over the arena parted, allowing the hot afternoon sun to shine unobstructed on the battlefield, Chomper raised his paws and tail skyward, the bright sun cutting through his storm clouds, making aiming difficult. When he believed he had his bearings, he fired, dropping an enormous bolt onto Ninetales, who made absolutely no attempt to dodge it. The attack struck her dead on, and she collapsed to the ground. Gritting her teeth, Ninetales struggled to get back to her feet, in far more pain than she thought she would have been in. It wasn't like she expected it to tickle, but she felt like she'd been hit with two attacks at once. With a silent apology to her master, she fell down again, unable to do anything more.

    Esmeralda made Chomper's win official, and Ruby went nuts. "And Ninetales goes down in a single hit! Ladies and gentlemen, this match hasn't been going on for more than a minute and Lenny has already lost his first Pokemon! Is Windra on her way to breaking the speed queen's record? We could be seeing history in the making, folks!"

    Windra was overjoyed. That was some attack! She hadn't expected it to hit once Lenny started messing with the weather, but not only did Chomper hit Ninetales dead on, he took her out in one attack! "Hell yeah! Great job, Chomper! Two more of those and we'll be on our way to the next round!"

    She was brought back down to earth by Lenny, who recalled his Pokemon and didn't appear worried in the slightest. "Don't get cocky, kid. I'm just getting started. Ninetales's job was to set up the weather, and she did that. I wasn't planning on losing her after one attack, but it makes no difference. If she wouldn't have fainted, I would have just switched her out. Your Chomper won't be able to handle what's coming next." And then he said the two words that she had hoped she would never hear come from her opponent's mouth. "Go, Camerupt!"

    Camerupt emerged onto the field to cheers, and Windra stared into the eyes of her worst nightmare. Of course he has a Camerupt, she realized, again, far too late. He's from a town next to a volcano and a crapload of Fire Pokemon. Why am I surprised? With this, all of Windra's carefully laid plans went right out the window. Chomper was completely useless here, and Tyeaf wouldn't stand a chance. It was Archeidon or bust. She recalled Chomper to his Poke Ball, switching Archeidon in, and Lenny didn't waste any time in going on the offensive. "Eruption, Camerupt!"

    "Kai, Silver Wind!" Windra ordered. "Don't let him use that attack!"

    Camerupt braced himself, smoke pouring uncontrollably from the volcanoes on his back, gearing up as Archeidon flew forward, approaching just as Camerupt finished preparing. With a roar, an enormous stream of lava exploded from within him, raining fire and earth in a wide circle all around him and covering nearly half the arena.

    "Quiver Dance, get out of there!" came Windra's next command, but it was a little too late. As the lava and rocks fell, Archeidon was struck by the attack, taking moderate damage, but he was still alive. "Now use Giga Drain!"

    Lenny nodded. Everything was still going according to plan. "Eruption again, Camerupt, keep it going! Get that whole arena nice and hot!"

    Camerupt slowly plodded forward as another massive blast exploded upwards and outwards, making it harder and harder for Archeidon to find safety. His wings glowing bright green, Archeidon swooped in and fired a similarly colored beam at Camerupt. It struck him dead on, starting to sap his strength. Camerupt whipped his head around, catching Archeidon off guard and forcing him to retreat, right into another falling rock, sending him crashing into the center platform.

    "Destroy that platform with Earthquake, Camerupt! Don't give her Pokemon anywhere to rest!"

    With a monstrous grunt, Camerupt reared back, stepped forward a few paces, and brought down all of his weight in a mighty crash that demolished a large part of the center platform, sending Archeidon scrambling out of the way. The shift in the ground caused all of the geysers to erupt at once, sending massive amounts of steam into the sky, creating a dense mist inside the arena.

    Windra cursed under her breath at this latest development. Thanks to the fog, she could barely see a few feet inside the arena. Both Archeidon and Camerupt were nowhere to be found, though she thought she could faintly make out the outline of Archeidon's six wings flapping gently nearby. What could she do? She could try a sneak attack. That might work; Camerupt was enormous and slow-moving, an easy target. But the offset of being so big and heavy, Windra remembered, was intense strength. She couldn't see it, but she knew the entire floor was virtually covered in lava and rocks. She remembered Camerupt swinging his massive head, just barely missing Archeidon, and didn't want to think about the damage that would have been done if he'd connected the hit.

    Suddenly, Windra had an interesting thought. If her young eyes couldn't see in this fog, she doubted Lenny would fare much better. This put her in a pretty good situation, she reasoned; Archeidon could simply boost up until he was too powerful for Lenny's dumb Fire-types to handle, and then that would be that!

    Finally, moments before Esmeralda warned them both for inactivity, she gave her command. "Quiver Dance again, Kai! Stay low and stay hidden!"

    "Wait for it, Camerupt! When you see an opening, blast the damn thing with Stone Edge!"

    Camerupt looked around, trying to spot his opponent, but couldn't find him. He could hear the flaps and movements of Archeidon's wings as he danced around the arena, but the fog was still too thick for him to do anything. Finally, a gust from Archeidon blew enough of the fog away for Camerupt to catch a glimpse of Archeidon's wings, and he began charging his attack. Several of the rocks on the ground started glowing white. With a focused grunt, he exploded one, sending shards of hot rock all over the area. Archeidon shrieked and shot straight up into the sky; following the sound of his voice, Camerupt drew in more of the glowing stones and fired them skyward, exploding each in turn. The sound of rock pelting flesh was heard, as was the sound of Archeidon's pained cry as he was knocked out cold by the attack. He fell to the earth, crashing hard, and Esmeralda could only hope no permanent damage was done. "Volcarona is unable to battle. The winner is Camerupt!"

    The crowd erupted into cheers once more - as Ruby went on to say, this was turning out to be quite a battle after all. Windra grit her teeth, digging her hands into the side of her podium. This was bad. No, she amended, it wasn't just bad, it was really goddamn colossally bad. She couldn't do anything but stew as she listened to her dreams, her prayers, her hopes of winning this match go down with Archeidon. As she recalled her Pokemon, she considered just giving up right there. She could see that the fog was disappearing, but her odds of winning were vanishing right along with it.

    What am I thinking? she thought. Who am I, Tsomu? I'm not giving up! Giving up is for chumps, and I'm no chump! With artificially renewed confidence, she sent out the only other Pokemon she had that might do something. "Tyeaf, go get 'em!"

    Tyeaf hadn't been on the ground for more than ten seconds before she started wailing in pain. With her extreme vulnerability to fire, even standing on the now-superheated ground became a tough and painful task. Her eyes scanned the arena, looking for somewhere she could scurry to catch a reprieve from the heat, but could find nothing except the remains of the center platform. Quickly, she made a beeline for it, but Lenny was ready. "Fire Blast!" he commanded. With a breath, Camerupt blew out a long, five-pronged stream of fire, setting Tyeaf ablaze, knocking her out immediately, and melting the remains of the center platform.

    "Paras is unable to battle! The winner is Camerupt!"

    "Oh come on! What the fu- how did- are you kidding me right now?!" Windra sputtered, quickly losing control. It was over. It was all over, there were no two ways about it. Lenny and his stupid sun (why was it still sunny, that should have ended ages ago) and his stupid Fire-types and his stupid goddamn cheating-ass Camerupt had robbed her of her chances at winning the prize money. All her friends, all her family, everyone she cared about... she knew that they were all watching, watching her get smoked on live television, and there was nothing she could do but send her Pokemon to certain doom. And it wasn't like it was her fault! It was Lenny's fault for raising such a dumb freaking Pokemon. Fire/Ground-types, she decided, should be outlawed. Packed up and shipped to the goddamn moon, every single one of them.

    She hated how she felt right now. She could feel tears threatening to spill, and if she didn't send out her Pokemon, she was going to lose it right there. "Chomper, go get 'em!"

    No sooner did Chomper materialize did Lenny give his order. "Earthquake! Finish this battle, Camerupt!"

    I CAN'T LET THIS HAPPEN! Windra thought in a panic, eyes wide and fresh with tears, her face a look of pure fear as she realized she was moments away from being eliminated. I'M NOT GOING DOWN LIKE THIS! "Chomper, Agility! When he raises his legs, use Slam to knock him on his back!"

    Chomper nodded hesitantly, watching Camerupt raise his legs for one final attack. He zipped forward, gaining speed, watching Camerupt try to follow his movements. He zoomed around the battlefield, deftly dodging pools of lava and rocks. Finally, when Camerupt was at the apex of his ascent, Chomper charged, leaping and smashing head first into Camerupt's soft belly.

    "YES!" Windra shouted, but her excitement was short lived. To her horror, despite making Camerupt grunt in pain, Chomper was nowhere near powerful enough to topple a Pokemon several dozen times his own weight. As it was, Chomper could only roll out from underneath Camerupt to avoid getting killed by his giant hooves. Camerupt came down with a mighty crash, cracking open the ground and exploding the rocks still were lying about. There was absolutely no way for Chomper to evade such an attack, and he tumbled ungracefully backwards, defeated.

    "Pikachu is unable to battle! The winner is Camerupt, and advancing to the quarterfinals is Lenny Beckett!"

    And just like that, Windra was out of the tournament. The crowd was on its feet, cheering both players for a well-fought battle. Ruby commended Windra for not giving up in the face of near insurmountable odds, but Windra didn't hear any of it. It was all just noise, nothing registering but her own voice in her head:

    It's over. Just like that. You lost. What are you going to do now?

    She wordlessly recalled Chomper, turned around, and marched straight back into the building, not bothering to shake Lenny's hand.

    I can't believe I lost that badly! she fumed, all but stomping down the stairs leading to the VIP area. Truth be told, she didn't mind so much that she lost, more than how she lost. She was so happy at the start of the battle, the way Chomper had knocked out Ninetales in one hit. Recalling that memory made her smile, but that moment of happiness was short-lived as she thought of the rest of that disastrous battle.

    She tried not to think about how her parents would react to seeing her lose. She winced as she remembered telling them that she'd won the preliminary tournament, and that she'd accepted Diamant Industries's invitation to compete for the grand prize. She was so confident... she'd wanted nothing more than to make them happy, to make it so they'd never have to worry about money ever again. She sighed as she clamped down on that dream, which was well and truly dead at this point. The only thing that could make this worse is if I'd lost on my actual birthday, she mused.

    She walked into the hallway and towards her room, with no desire to share that particular piece of information. She didn't want people making a big deal about it, especially since it had been on her birthday two years prior that she'd gone back to see Damien, only to find a vacant house and no trace of the man she had fallen for. She hadn't been able to shake the feeling of having been abandoned since then, and so she made it a point to act as though her birthday was just another day. Windra took a small bit of comfort in knowing that none of the other competitors had any idea her birthday was only two days away. She knew Safiri knew, or at least had the information, as date of birth was required as part of each competitor's registration; but Safiri didn't seem like the type of person who would make a big deal about birthdays anyway, so Windra was fairly safe Safiri would keep her big mouth shut about it.

    Finally approaching the door, she regarded the note that was stuck to it. Curious, she peeled the note off, making a face in disgust and confusion at the gum, and read it. Her jaw fell straight to the ground and she wiped her eyes, making absolutely sure the words on the paper were the same words she'd just said in her head. She read it over and over again, her sour mood vanishing as she realized that yes, this was real, and no, she wasn't dreaming.

    "YES!" she shouted, pumping a fist in the air. "Oh my god, hell yeah!" Windra looked almost manic in her glee, her mind racing with possibilities. "I don't know what changed your mind, Scarlet, but I'm not complaining!" She read the note again, grinning ear to ear. It looked too good to be true, but there it was, plain as day in front of her. "This is gonna be so sweet!" Putting the note in her pocket, she raced to get her Pokemon healed. Night could not come fast enough for her.

    On her way into the Pokemon Center, she ran into Esmeralda and Lenny, chatting as the attendant took Lenny's Pokemon.

    "Oh, hey, Windra!" Esmeralda bounded over to greet her. "I'm sorry about your match. We were just talking about it, Lenny and I."

    At the mention of his name, he stepped forward, sized Windra up. She wasn't glaring hot death at him anymore, but he could tell she was still upset. "You did the best you could, kid. Luck just wasn't on your side."

    Five minutes earlier, Windra would have told Lenny where he could stick his luck, but the news she'd just received improved her mood so much that she simply shrugged. "At least you admit you were lucky," she said, walking past the both of them and handing the attendant her Pokemon.

    "Ruby and I both agreed that this battle was about as one-sided as it could get," Esmeralda explained, taking one of Windra's hands in both of hers. "As soon as we saw the matchup, we knew it was going to be a rough one for you. Battling on the fire field was just... what did Ruby call it?... Salt in the wound," she finished.

    "Yeah, you're not wrong about that," Windra mused. "I'm just mad that I didn't get much of a chance to show my stuff, you know? I'm not so bad a trainer that I end up losing to any random idiot with a Camerupt. No offense," she added, looking at Lenny, who simply shrugged it off.

    "None taken. And it's funny you should mention showing your stuff, cause Esmeralda here had an idea she thought you might be interested in."

    "Yeah! I wanna have a battle with you!" Esmeralda squealed.

    Windra raised an eyebrow, confused. "Wait, huh? A battle? You mean, you and me?" At Esmeralda's enthusiastic nod, Windra continued, "You're a trainer?"

    Esmeralda grinned wider at Windra's surprise. "Mm-hmm! Well, we aren't trainers professionally, but we do have Pokemon. All three of us do! You've seen Safiri's Glaceon, right? It's really strong, probably stronger than any Pokemon the rest of you guys have!"

    "I could beat her," Lenny said confidently. "She wouldn't be a match for Camerupt."

    "I don't knowww," Esmeralda sang. "I've never beaten her, and I'm pretty good, if I do say so myself. Ruby's never beaten her, either, and most of her Pokemon have a type advantage against Glaceon."

    "What other Pokemon does she have?" Lenny inquired.

    "Now what fun would that be if I gave everything away?" Esmeralda said, winking at the older man. Turning back to Windra, her face sobered a bit, and she said, "I hated seeing you like that out there. I thought that I would ask you for a battle so you would have a fairer fight, and you can show everyone what you can really do. Your matchup against me isn't nearly as one-sided, so it should be a good fight. What do you say?" She gripped Windra's hand tighter, brought it to her chest and held it there. "I want to see you smile again."

    Heh, she has big boobs. Way bigger than Scarlet, whose world I am finally gonna rock tonight! That thought made Windra smile, and Esmeralda smiled back, happily bouncing in place. "You know what? Sure, why not. You might say I'm in a better mood than I was ten minutes ago. My Pokemon are all beat up, though, thanks to someone," she said, glaring at Lenny, "So it'll have to wait. When did you wanna do it?"

    "Tonight, before dinner. I have a meeting with Safiri and Ruby after that, and your Pokemon should be ready to go in a couple hours or so. That should give us plenty of time to have a good battle and work up an appetite for dinner. What do you say?"

    Windra considered this and, finding it acceptable, nodded. "Sounds good. Meet you in the practice arena at 5:00?"

    Esmeralda confirmed with a nod, bringing the slender girl in for a hug. "Great! I can't wait. I've got to go take care of some things for tomorrow's matches, but I'll see you later! Bye, Lenny!"

    Lenny nodded at her, and she left, leaving the two former opponents alone with the attendant. For effect, Windra rolled her eyes, walking past him and out the door. She didn't get more than a few paces away when Lenny came out behind her. "You gonna stay mad the whole time we're here?"

    "Maybe I will," she called back, not looking. In truth, finding the note from Scarlet had put her in such a good mood that she'd decided, most uncharacteristically, to absolve Lenny for his most mortal sin... but she wasn't about to let him know that.

    Lenny just chuckled to himself. "Suit yourself, kid," he said, watching Windra disappear into her room.

    * * * * * * * *

    Some time later, Windra took her freshly healed Pokemon and made her way to the training center, where she was surprised to see everyone waiting for her.

    "You invited everyone?" she asked Esmeralda, who'd greeted her at the door.

    "Yeah," she said, smiling, taking Windra by the hand and leading her towards the battlefield proper. "I thought you could use your own cheering section, so I asked if they would be willing to sit and watch. And everyone agreed!"

    "Everyone?" Windra asked, skeptical. She looked over to the seating area and did a head count - sure enough, everyone was there, even Lenny, who waved at her as he caught her eye. Windra was surprised to see that Ruby and Safiri were also in attendance. Ruby sat and chatted with Kiria, though she got up from her seat once she saw Windra walk in; Safiri, who had been seated next to Ruby, was busy scribbling something on a clipboard. She glanced up, spotting Windra, who waved, and she hesitantly waved back.

    Ruby met the two of them in the center of the arena. "So you're really gonna battle Esmy?" Ruby asked, her hands on her hips. "It's not gonna be easy. You up for the challenge?"

    "I'm here, aren't I?" Windra shot back, mimicking Ruby and putting her hands on her hips.

    "So you are," Ruby replied, nodding. "All right, the rules are the same as in the tournament. Since Esmy has six Pokemon to your three, and she already knows your Pokemon, you'll get to help determine what three she uses." She took out a piece of paper that was torn on one end - likely ripped from Safiri's papers, Windra guessed - and handed it to Windra. She also handed her a pen. "Cross a name off the list. Then, Esmy will pick one to use. You'll repeat that three times and that will determine her team."

    She looked at the list of Esmeralda's Pokemon. There was one that caught her eye as particularly dangerous to her team. She went to immediately cross it out, but reconsidered. This was supposed to be a chance for her to prove herself, right? What was the point of the battle if she just eliminated all the Pokemon that were strong against hers? Deciding to leave it in, she chose instead to cross out a Pokemon she thought wouldn't give her a challenge. It was weak against two of her Pokemon, and even though it was immune to Tyeaf's Spore, it was still weak to her attacks, and that would be too easy.

    She then handed the pen and paper to Esmeralda, who considered the Pokemon Windra eliminated. "Not who I thought you'd pick first," she noted, circling a name and returning the paper to Windra.

    "I know. I'm a real glutton for punishment," she said, noting that Esmeralda had circled the Pokemon Windra considered eliminating. She carefully studied the remaining Pokemon and decided on a Pokemon she wasn't too familiar with. She'd been to Alola only once, but had spent almost no time studying the local Pokemon variants. As it was, she knew nothing about it, and didn't want her first encounter with it to be here and embarrass herself further by not having a clue how to fight it.

    Esmeralda immediately circled another name, and Windra raised her eyebrows in surprise. "You sure about that one?"

    "Oh yes. It's my favorite Pokemon. Their little hats are so cute!"

    Windra wasn't sure that she would call the apex predator of the desert cute. She'd heard horror stories about how they would follow weary travelers, then kill and eat them once they finally collapsed due to exhaustion. But hey, she reasoned, it was horrifyingly weak to two of her Pokemon, and she wasn't going to complain about that.

    The last two names on the list were both problematic for her, but she decided to eliminate what she considered the greater of two evils. Birds were annoying, and she hated them almost as much as she hated Fire-types. If she was going to fight a Psychic Pokemon either way, she'd much rather fight one that wasn't also a stupid bird.

    Ruby looked over the list. "All right, Esmy, that's your team. Think you can do it?"

    "If Windra is as strong as I think she is, I think I've got my work cut out for me," Esmeralda admitted. She handed Ruby the Poke Balls of the three Pokemon she wasn't using, then wished Windra luck and took her place on one side of the battlefield.

    Ruby took the Poke Balls and handed them to Safiri. "Here, hold onto these, will you?"

    "I can't be babysitting, Ruby, I need to watch this battle. Mr. Diamant will definitely want to hear about this, especially if Esmeralda loses."

    Ruby shot her a questioning look. "You don't really think Esmy's going to lose, do you?"

    "No, absolutely not," Safiri answered confidently. She leaned closer to her sister, whispered in her ear, "Her battle intelligence is top of the line, and her Pokemon are on the same level as ours. Miss Wallace doesn't stand a chance."

    Ruby shrugged. "I wouldn't be so sure... Esmy wouldn't challenge Windra to a fight just to crush her. Maybe she sees something in her that we don't?"

    "Exactly, which is why I need to pay attention to this battle. Now, if you please..." she trailed off, shooing Ruby away with a hand.

    Rolling her eyes, Ruby pocketed the three Poke Balls and went to the center of the arena, where she called everyone to attention. "All right, everyone, sorry to keep you waiting! We're about to start an exhibition match between Windra Wallace and Esmeralda Rayvenflight, following tournament rules. Three against three, with three switches allowed in the match. First one to lose all their Pokemon loses. Are there any questions from either player?"

    Windra locked eyes with her opponent, shaking her head no. She wasn't quite sure what she was getting herself into, but there was no going back now. She saw a look of fierce determination she hadn't seen in Esmeralda before, and it was a little jarring to see the normally bubbly Esmeralda so focused. Did she look like that when she was officiating, she wondered? She hadn't paid any attention to her during her fight against Lenny--

    She pushed that thought out of her head. Can't get distracted, she thought as she readied her first Pokemon. Esmeralda did the same. Ruby turned to the small crowd, who'd been mostly silent up until now, and frowned. "Let's hear some noise back there! You guys are about to see one hell of a battle, so why don't you guys start sounding like it?!" In response, the others cheered and yelled their support for Windra, and Ruby smiled. "That's more like it!" She turned back to the two battlers. "Now begin!"

    "Tyeaf, go get 'em!"

    "Come, Tyranitar!" Esmeralda yelled in a voice that Windra didn't recognize. It sounded like her, but it sounded so unlike her that she had a hard time matching the voice to the face.

    So she's bringing the big guns out right away, Windra noted as their respective Pokemon hit the field, Tyranitar's Sand Stream ability summoning up a massive sandstorm that would have had the spectators shielding their eyes if not for the low-level shields that automatically surrounded the arena. They were of good quality, but they likely wouldn't hold up in any battle worthy of the main stage, which was another reason why Safiri was questioning Esmeralda's decision to fight here.

    Windra noticed that Esmeralda's general stance had changed in the last few minutes, as well. Before the battle, she was giddy and excited, seemingly unable to sit still for more than a few moments, but now she appeared almost robotic, standing with her feet squarely planted shoulder width apart. One hand rested on her hip, and she watched Windra intently, seemingly waiting for Windra to make the first move.

    So she did. "Spore, Tyeaf! Gotta knock that bad boy down to size!"

    "Blow it back!" Esmeralda ordered, her eyes cool and her face unemotive. Tyranitar roared in reply, and when Tyeaf shot out a massive cloud of sleeping spores towards Tyranitar, he simply changed the direction of the sandstorm and blew the entire attack back onto Tyeaf. It didn't have any effect, but it gave Esmeralda an opening for her next move. "Now, Stealth Rock!"

    Tyranitar stretched out his arms wide, summoning several large stone pillars from the ground, floating a few of them further in mid air. Remembering how both Taikyu and Thresher creatively used the levitating stones to attack, the others were excited to see if either player would do something similar.

    Windra was already starting to feel nervous, but she did her best not to let it show on her face. Stealth Rock was absolutely devastating to her team; Archeidon was going to take massive damage from it. Tyeaf was already out, so she'd be spared, but she didn't like the idea of her ace Pokemon taking huge damage just from switching in. With no way to remove it from the field, she had no choice but to fight it out, and she kicked herself for not eliminating this threat immediately.

    "Smack Down, Tyranitar! Squash that bug!"

    Tyranitar summoned a boulder about twice the size of Tyeaf and hurled it straight towards her; she instinctively hid behind one of the stone pillars and used her claws to climb to the top of it, only to see Tyranitar throw another large rock at her. She leaped out of the way just in time and skidded on the ground, spinning around in time for Windra to give another command. "X-Scissor!"

    With Tyeaf so close, there wasn't time for him to summon another rock, and he raised his arms up to block the incoming attack. Tyeaf slashed him twice, hard, the energy from the attack the only reason it was able to scratch Tyranitar's plated hide in the first place. Tyranitar roared in pain as Tyeaf skittered behind a rock, prepping to launch a counterattack, but Esmeralda was ready for her. "Dark Pulse!"

    "You got him on the run, buddy! Stay low and attack with Fury Cutter!"

    Tyeaf shot out from behind her cover and darted forward, ignoring the slight sting in her eyes from the sandstorm. She was definitely making up for this afternoon's embarrassing loss. If she could take down at least one of Esmeralda's Pokemon, she'd feel a little better about herself.

    Regrettably, it was not to be. As Tyeaf raised a claw, a huge wave of dark energy exploded from Tyranitar's body in all directions. The wave passed through the stones, but it didn't pass through Tyeaf, who was blown away by the move. She crashed into a levitating stone and slumped over, defeated.

    Ruby made the win official, grinning as she did so. It was rare that she got a chance to officiate a match; since Esmeralda's creation, there hadn't been a need for Ruby to do it, and a part of her missed being front and center to hotly contested battles. But she knew her true calling was in the announcer's booth, using words to paint pictures in the minds of those who were unable to see such battles for themselves.

    While the others cheered the two battlers on, Safiri was watching intently, taking notes on things that seemed interesting to her. For example, why was Esmeralda acting and speaking that way? The earlier Sapphire models had been programmed with a 'battle mode' that shifted most of their intelligence to Pokemon battling, allowing them to give orders with ruthless efficiency. The problem, though, was that the biots didn't look natural. Like Esmeralda, they didn't move and rarely spoke, only to give or alter commands depending on the circumstances of the battle. Safiri knew for a fact that Esmeralda's programming was leagues more advanced than that of S2 or S3... so what was the point of drudging up some old, defunct code?

    She also questioned just how much damage Tyeaf was able to do to Esmeralda's Tyranitar. If the power level between them was as huge as she thought it was, then such a powerful hit could not possibly have done the damage it did... but it was hard to refute seeing it happen with her own eyes.

    "You did good, Tyeaf," Windra said, recalling her fallen Pokemon. "At least you got a good hit in. Now rest while your brothers handle things." She looked over to Windra, who still had not moved a muscle since the battle started. "You ready to see something really awesome?" Windra asked, her voice cool and confident. "I couldn't use it against Lenny, which is probably for the best. I would have sliced his entire team down with it."

    Esmeralda nodded slowly, curious. "I'm intrigued. Show me, Windra!"

    "You got it. Chomper, go get 'em!"

    Chomper came out and was immediately blasted by the Stealth Rock that Tyranitar had laid. He winced in pain as the sharpened stones dug into him, but he was fine. After voicing this to Windra, she put her plan into action just as the sandstorm died down. "Perfect! All right, Chomper, Thunder Sword! Show Esmeralda how strong we really are!"

    "Stand by, Tyranitar," Esmeralda ordered. "I want to see this."

    Tyranitar grunted an affirmative as Chomper raised his paws as high as his tiny arms would allow, summoning dark clouds over the battlefield. When they were in place, Chomper crouched low on all fours, sticking his tail high in the air. After cloaking his tail in metal, he checked his positioning again. It had to hit just right... finally, he was ready, and he called down a large thunderbolt that struck his tail, causing a brief flash. When the light faded, Chomper's tail was glowing yellow, extended nearly three feet by a silver blade-like beam. Chomper swung his tail around a few times to test if the technique would hold, and it did. The other competitors marveled at the sight of it; Eldan in particular was highly impressed by the combination and wondered if any of his Pokemon could pull off something similar.

    "Are you impressed?" Windra asked Esmeralda. "You should be. I don't get to use this technique a lot. It's really slow to get going and it requires some pretty precise aim on his part. But when it works," she said, grinning wider, "then watch out!"

    "Oh, we will. Stone Edge!"

    Tyranitar held out a hand, levitating one of the nearby rocks and focusing energy into it. Chomper didn't give him a chance to get further than that; he dashed towards Tyranitar with his tail held high, turned around, and delivered a single decisive swipe with the beam across his chest. Tyranitar immediately dropped the rock and fell to his knees, taken by surprise. He clutched the spot where Chomper had hit him as he looked at Esmeralda with real pain in his eyes, questioning how that attack could have hurt him so badly. Unfortunately for him, Chomper didn't give him a chance to get further than that, either; with another swing of his tail, Tyranitar was blown onto his back, and he ceased movement a short time later.

    Esmeralda's look was one of calm concern, but her mental processes were going into overdrive trying to find data on this attack. Finding none, she smiled, the first emotion she'd shown since the battle started. "Tell me, Windra," she said as she recalled her Pokemon, "What sort of attack is that? I don't think I've ever seen it before."

    "It's a mixture of Thunder and Iron Tail," Windra explained. "I don't know the magic behind it, but I think it infuses..."

    Ah, so that's why it was so strong, Esmeralda deduced, ignoring the rest of Windra's explanation. It's both Electric- and Steel-type at once. No wonder Tyranitar was so badly damaged by it.

    "...and so I decided to call it Thunder Sword. Pretty slick, huh?" Windra finished.

    "Yes, dear. And now that I know the limitations of your attack, I've figured out how to defeat it. Come, Reuniclus!"

    Reuniclus entered the fray, shifting his body parts inside his gelatinous body. He made a gurgling, hungry sound, and he was ready to do battle.

    While she didn't know too much about Reuniclus, she did know that at Electric moves and Steel moves both worked perfectly fine on it. "Slice him down, Chomper!"

    A grin slowly crept over Esmeralda's face. Just a few moments more...

    Chomper dashed towards Reuniclus, sword tail ready to strike. He spun around with a slice, and panicked when Reuniclus simply shifted his body, causing the beam to miss all of his vital organs and simply pass harmlessly through him. Not expecting the attack to miss, it threw Chomper off balance, causing him to tumble to the ground. Scrambling to his feet, he tried again, but this time Reuniclus braced himself, causing Chomper's tail to get stuck inside Reuniclus's body.

    "Agility, Chomper, get out of there!"

    "Snatch it!" Esmeralda countered.

    Chomper started to run, straining himself against Reuniclus's hold. Suddenly, Reuniclus's eyes flashed purple, causing Chomper to inexplicably cease his attack. Reforming an arm, Reuniclus dragged a flailing Chomper around the arena at high speed until finally releasing him, sending him sailing through the air and crashing into the wall. In pain, but still in the fight, Chomper got to his feet, awaiting his orders.

    "Use Thunderbolt!" she commanded, and Chomper brought down his attack with expert precision, but Reuniclus's stolen speed allowed him to dodge it easily. As she tried formulating a plan, Windra grumbled under her breath, glad that there were no microphones around to pick it up. There was one thing she could try. It was a long shot, and if Esmeralda didn't go for it, she'd be back to square one, but she saw Reuniclus form a giant fist and make a rush towards Chomper, and she decided to go for it. "Use Agility to dodge that punch!"

    Esmeralda immediately went for Windra's bait, much to Windra's surprise. "Snatch it again!"

    Again, Chomper's attack was mysteriously halted, but Windra was planning on this. "Use Electro Ball!"

    Chomper summoned a large ball of electricity and whipped it at Reuniclus using his tail; Reuniclus made to dodge it but found that the ball was homing in on his position. Panicking, Reuniclus turned tail and ran, hoping to outrun the attack, but the faster he moved, the faster the energy ball tracked him, and he was finally hit, knocking him off balance. He took a moment to get his bearings, and this gave Windra another idea. "Electro Ball again!"

    A second attack was launched. Realizing she wouldn't be able to evade it, Esmeralda set out to mitigate the damage and then start healing. "Light Screen!"

    Windra's mouth fell open slightly at the opening Esmeralda had left her. "That's even better! Volt Tackle, hurry!"

    Chomper zoomed towards Reuniclus just as the Electro Ball made contact. While Reuniclus was recovering from the hit, Chomper leaped up and crashed into his soft body before he could rearrange himself, scoring a powerful hit and knocking the Pokemon out cold.

    "Reuniclus is unable to battle," Ruby declared. "Chomper is the winner!"

    The others cheered at the win, but Windra was understandably worried. Technically it was two against one, but one look at Chomper would tell you he didn't have much left in him. He was covered in scratches and bruises, his breathing terribly labored from his most recent attack. Esmeralda's third Pokemon wouldn't have much trouble taking the win. And while she knew Archeidon had a massive advantage against it, Archeidon was about to get annihilated by Stealth Rock. She sighed as Esmeralda recalled Reuniclus. She'd already done far better than she did against Lenny, so she didn't think she would be all that mad if she lost, but she still wanted to win, badly.

    "Come, Cacturne!" Esmeralda shouted, sending her final Pokemon into the battle. "Pin Missile!"

    "Agility, then Iron Tail, Chomper!"

    Esmeralda's Cacturne pointed her arms towards Chomper and fired off a seemingly endless stream of needles, which Chomper was barely able to avoid thanks to the Agility. He leaped high, tail cloaked in metal and ready to strike, when Esmeralda changed tactics. "Spiky Shield!"

    Bringing her arms close to her body, Cacturne's protective shield was up moments before Chomper landed; the outside of the shield then burst forth with dozens of large spikes, eliminating what little remained of Chomper's will to fight.

    "Pikachu is no longer able to battle! The winner is Cacturne!"

    Windra sighed. Well, this was it. Time to face the music. "Archeidon, go get 'em! Also I'm sorry for this!"

    Windra's Archeidon materialized in the battle, and the rocks went to work. The closest ones to him glowed white, shooting rocky shrapnel into him. Archeidon screeched as the stones battered him, knocking him to the ground and cleaving a good chunk of his energy away. Esmeralda felt sorry for the Pokemon, but she was not about to give a Pokemon with such a large advantage against hers any reprieve. "Cotton Spore, Cacturne!" Cacturne opened her mouth wide, firing a seemingly endless stream of fluffy white cotton balls, with most of them covering Archeidon, impairing his movement and making it difficult to fly up. "Sandstorm!" she commanded, and Cacturne raised her arms up, summoning another vicious sandstorm while Archeidon was still reeling from the Stealth Rock damage.

    Windra didn't like the idea of the sandstorm coming back, but at least she knew how to get rid of the cotton, the same method she used whenever a Pokemon was dumb enough to try and bind or otherwise restrain her Volcarona. "Fiery Dance, Kai!"

    Immediately, Archeidon was engulfed in flames, burning the cotton into nothing and freeing up his wings. He surged towards Cacturne, who dodged the attack with a series of flips and slides.

    "Silver Wind! End this fight, Kai!"

    "I won't allow it! Sucker Punch!"

    As Archeidon prepared his attack, Cacturne dashed at an alarming speed towards him; without stopping, she sprang up onto one of the grounded Stealth Rock pillars and did a soaring leap off of it, a needle-tipped arm raised high, cloaked in dark energy. She brought it down hard on Archeidon, forcing him to stop the attack just moments before he fired, but Cacturne was burned by the contact. Archeidon plummeted to the ground, the sandstorm quickly draining what little remained of his life. "Roost, Kai! Hurry up before it's too late!" Archeidon managed to alight himself on a fallen pillar, a soft white aura glowing around him. Cacturne, in pain from the burn, tried shooting a Pin Missile to stop the attack, but the damage it did was negligible, nowhere near enough to counteract the healing Archeidon was doing. "All right, Silver Wind, one more time!"

    "Sucker Punch again!" Esmeralda commanded, and Cacturne quickly started running again; however, the pain from the burn was wracking her body, and it affected her running speed; as such, Archeidon finished the attack just as Cacturned jumped to strike, sending a massive wave of powdery scales in her direction. Even with the sandstorm boosting her ability to evade, the attack was far too large and powerful to avoid, and Cacturne was blown back into a pillar, obviously and decisively defeated.

    "It's over! Cacturne can no longer do battle," Ruby said, amazement in her voice. She looked to Safiri in the stands, who was frantically scribbling notes. "The winner is Windra!"

    "Awesome!" Windra exclaimed, pumping a fist. "Woooooo! Great job, Archeidon!"

    She brought her Pokemon back into her Poke Ball as Esmeralda did the same, and Windra was confused by the look on Esmeralda's face. She seemed like her normal, cheerful self, further evidenced by the way she practically skipped over to Windra, hugging her tight before she could object. "You did it! I'm so happy for you! I knew you could do it."

    "Yeah, we are pretty awesome, aren't we?" Windra bragged.

    "I gotta say, Windra, I'm really impressed," Ruby admitted, returning Esmeralda's remaining Poke Balls to her. "Esmeralda is a lot stronger than she looks. Safiri and I didn't think you were going to win."

    "Well, thanks for the vote of confidence, Ruby," Windra deadpanned, rolling her eyes. "At least I won something around here... but man, I'm hungry. Yo Tsomu!" she called into the stands. "When's dinner?"

    "Should be ready any minute now!" he called back. He would have loved to help, but the other chefs had no problems with letting him take a day off from helping to watch the battle.

    "That's what I wanna hear!" Windra said, extracting herself from Esmeralda, barely noticing that she was still holding onto her. The other competitors must have had a similar idea, because they all filed out of the training hall, leaving the three Jewels of Tajna alone.

    "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself," Safiri said, reading over her notes, a detailed account of the battle with some of her own thoughts. "I just don't get it, Esmeralda. How could you lose? None of their Pokemon should be anywhere near ours in terms of strength. That Volcarona has a power level of seventy, seventy-five maximum."

    "Eighty-three, actually. I scanned it during our battle," Esmeralda said casually. "Pikachu is level seventy-two, and Paras is level sixty-eight."

    Safiri's eyes widened in disbelief. "Sixty-eight! How in the world did a Pokemon like that land such a hit on a Pokemon almost a hundred and forty levels above it?"

    "Because I let her win."

    The eldest Jewel wrinkled her face in confusion, not having any idea what to make of Esmeralda's confession. "Wh-what? I don't understand, you let her win?"

    "Yeah," she answered simply, sitting down and stretching her arms and legs. "Before the battle, I explained the situation to my Pokemon, and they all agreed to help me make it convincing. I also used inferior battle intelligence, just to make things even easier."

    "But why?" Safiri asked, incredulous. "What could you possibly gain from throwing a match?"

    "I don't gain anything from it," Esmeralda said, smiling. "But Windra does. We all knew Lenny was going to thrash her, even though his Pokemon are all lower in level than hers are. I just wanted to make her feel a little better about herself, that's all."

    "She won't feel better when she finds out you let her win," Ruby noted.

    Esmeralda crossed her legs. "Do you two plan on telling her?" When neither woman said anything, she continued. "Then she won't find out. You both heard the way she talked about herself. She has bad self-esteem issues. From what, I don't know, but what I do know is that I will do anything I can to see her smile."

    "You like her," Safiri deduced. At Esmeralda's soft nod of admission, Safiri just shook her head in disbelief. "I knew it. Esmeralda, that's dangerous and you know it. I know I said Mr. Diamant's order was for us to build rapports with the subjects, but this is ridiculous!"

    "I know, Safiri," Esmeralda quietly said. "I'm not going to say anything, I promise. And please don't tell Mr. Diamant."

    "I have to tell him!" Safiri shouted, rising to her feet. "If he found out I kept something like this from him, he'd..." she trailed off as she imagined all manner of terrible scenarios.

    "Now hold on, just a minute," Ruby said, taking one of Safiri's hands in hers. "There's no reason why he has to know. Esmy hasn't done anything wrong... yet," she added, glancing over at her little sister. "Besides, it's not like you haven't had lovers in the past."

    "They weren't our test subjects, Ruby!" Safiri yelled, a bit too loudly. She looked to the door, seeing if anyone had happened to overhear. Finding no one, she continued. "That isn't the same and you very well know it. Mr. Diamant knew about both of them, in any case."

    "You were in a relationship before?" Esmeralda asked, curious.

    "It was before you were born," Safiri said. Saying they were 'born' was technically not accurate, as none of them were birthed naturally, but despite that, Diamant had still insisted on them referring to their creation date as their birthday. After all, he'd said, it was the day they came into this world, and if that wasn't the same as a birthday, then he didn't know what was.

    "Something else you kept from me," the green-haired jewel muttered, but the superior hearing of her sisters heard her loud and clear anyway.

    "Excellent segue, Esmy," Ruby said, sitting between her sisters and leaning back against the bleachers. "Long as we're here, we might as well have that meeting you promised, right, Safiri?"

    Safiri looked at her watch. She had planned on using dinner to finalize some more details for next week's matches, but as long as they were here... she sighed, hating to waste the time, but she did say she'd talk to them, and it would make more sense to do it while they were all already there. Still, she had hoped to do it in her office; at least there, she'd be behind a desk, and not feel so terribly vulnerable. "I suppose we could, yes." Neither of her sisters said anything after this, and it took Safiri a moment to realize that they were waiting on her. "So, as you both know by now, two days ago, I was making my report to Mr. Diamant. I made a joke in poor taste, and he referred to me as S7, my designator number."

    "What did you say?" Esmeralda asked, her voice full of concern.

    Safiri opened her mouth, a dismissal on her lips, but she remembered that the entire reason she'd agreed to this meeting was to get her to stop doing things like that. "He complimented me, and asked what he would do without me. I said he could just make more." Ruby winced at that; Esmeralda merely looked saddened. "Don't look at me like that. I know it was a dumb thing to say, all right? I let my guard down. He gave me permission to speak freely, so I did."

    "Freely doesn't mean break his cardinal rule, Safiri," Ruby admonished.

    "I don't need you to tell me that!" she snapped back. "In all my time with Mr. Diamant, the only time he ever called me S7 was when we first met." She smiled as she recalled the memory. "He said, 'From this day forth, you will no longer be referred to, by me or anyone else, as S7. Your new name is Safiri May Kiter. You may not be completely human, but you're more than just a machine, and I won't tolerate anyone treating you as one,'" she finished.

    "You have a middle name?" Esmeralda asked, envious. "I don't think I have one."

    "Actually, yes, you do," Safiri corrected. "Ruby does, too, although your situation is a little different, Esmeralda. You have a designator number, but it's not like mine. Your designator number is actually your name. Mr. Diamant wanted us to feel as human as possible, so when designing you, he named the project after what he'd planned on naming you, just to get everyone used to calling you by your name."

    "Project Ariel," Ruby said, remembering. "I got to pick your name," she said with a grin.

    "Yes. And that was going to be your name, right up until about a month before you were to be born," Safiri continued. "Mr. Diamant realized his company needed a new image, and a new face to go with that image. So you were redesigned from the ground up to be more appealing to the average layman. It set us behind schedule a month or two, but Mr. Diamant insisted it would be worth it in the long run. Mr. Diamant also felt that you needed a different name, one that sounded a little more... mysterious. And since he felt bad about effectively terminating the life of a biot he had spent so much time building, you received that biot's name. Your full name, and your designator number, is Esmeralda Ariel Rayvenflight."

    Esmeralda found herself moved to tears by Safiri's words, and she silently wiped them from her eyes. "I had no idea... wow."

    "My story isn't nearly as interesting," Ruby chimed in. "There were no drastic redesigns involved with me, and if memory serves, my project was named Ruby as well, right?" She looked to Safiri for confirmation and, after getting it, turned to Esmeralda and offered her hand. "Ruby Kaylin Erthgrand. Nice to meet you."

    Esmeralda giggled, shaking her big sister's hand. "Esmeralda Ariel Rayvenflight. The pleasure's all mine!"

    "It feels nice, doesn't it?" Safiri asked, not at all sarcastic. "It feels nice to be treated no differently than the humans we masquerade as. He could have called us anything he wanted, made you two R1 and E1 and simply treated us as servants." Her face hardened. "Neither of you had to deal with Ms. Whitemore treating you like a slave."

    "She was president before Mr. Diamant took over," Ruby explained to Esmeralda.

    "Dawn Whitemore was a cruel and soulless bitch who didn't deserve that title," Safiri spat. "I spent two years with her before she was thrown out. Working under her and working under Mr. Diamant is like night and day. I didn't know any better back then, but I do now. I was essentially her slave, reduced to fulfilling menial tasks for her, not once being thanked or praised for the work I did, work I did without complaint, mind you." She paused, calming herself down before she continued. "Once a new Sapphire model was released, Ms. Whitemore would have the old model kill itself. Unknown to Mr. Diamant and the rest of the benefactors, Ms. Whitemore had suicide switches secretly installed on every model after she was found to have had a hand in murdering S1. Upon Ms. Whitemore activating a trigger, the biot would commit suicide. They didn't have to deal with it anymore and Ms. Whitemore would be absolved of any wrongdoing, killing two birds with one stone."

    Esmeralda took this information in, horrified by the things Safiri was telling her. Suddenly, a terrible thought entered her head, and she jumped to her feet, unwilling to believe the logical answer her brain told her. "Wait, Safiri... you said that she installed suicide switches on every model." Tears threatened to spill over, but she had to know for sure. "Does that mean that..."

    "Yes," Safiri confirmed, causing Esmeralda to burst into tears. "I have one, too. When Mr. Diamant took over, one of the first things that he did was order my suicide switch to be removed, but it ended up not being possible because the switch was not an actual switch but something that was hard-wired into our code. But please don't worry about it," she said, hugging Esmeralda as she bawled. "Mr. Diamant has my trigger under lock and key back at the main office, with a fingerprint scan required to unlock it. As for you two, the suicide code was erased once it was found, so neither of you two have it. Okay?"

    For a time, none of the women said anything as Safiri continued to hold her sister. When Esmeralda finally stopped crying, they sat down again, but Esmeralda continued keeping her arm around Safiri. "So you thought that Mr. Diamant might kill you over the comment you made?" Esmeralda asked.

    "No, nothing so drastic," Safiri clarified. "But Mr. Diamant means a great deal to me. He opened my eyes to a way of life I never would have known existed, had he not taken over. I made a promise to myself that I would do everything in my power to pay his kindness back in full, no matter what. I even offered to bear his child."

    Ruby's eyes widened at that. "Safiri! You can't be serious!"

    Safiri straightened in her seat, folding her hands across her lap. "I was very serious. I believed that with my superior DNA, I would bear him a fine child. I didn't offer for romantic reasons, Ruby, but you know he has no children of his own." When this seemed to quiet Ruby down, she continued. "He was not comfortable with the idea. He said he viewed me as a daughter, and it would not be appropriate. I told him I didn't understand and didn't care, but he was firm. He also cited the lack of information on our ability to bear children, since we were not designed with that aspect in mind. He didn't want to put either my life or the life of the child in danger. Compared to normal humans, our genes are excellent. We should be compatible, but he forbade me from researching it any further. I told him I would always be open if he changed his mind; he said he wouldn't, but he appreciated my loyalty nonetheless.

    "I promised myself that I wouldn't do anything to endanger my relationship with him. He's so different from Ms. Whitemore... when we get to talking, it's hard for me to remember that he is my boss, and not just a dear friend." A pause as she breathed deeply, trying to rein in tears that were making their way to the surface. "I hurt him. Breaking his cardinal rule was a slap in the face to everything he's ever done for me, and it pains me to no end knowing how much I hurt him."

    Ruby sat on the other side of her older sister and hugged her as Esmeralda did the same. "He apologized, didn't he?"

    Safiri nodded. "Yes, of course. He said he was out of line. I believe he was sincere in his apology."

    A squeeze from the red-haired beauty by her side. "Then leave it at that. He knows what you had to endure under Ms. Whitemore, and he knows how hard you work for him. And based on what you've said, he also knows how much you regret saying what you did, so there's no sense in beating yourself up any more over it. You forgive him, he forgives you - life goes on. Right?"

    "Right!" Esmeralda cheered, wrapping her other arm around Ruby and squeezing them both tight. "You said yourself, Mr. Diamant loves you like his own daughter. He just wants us all to feel human, even though we're not."

    "I know. It's just..." Safiri sighed, trying to think of the right words. "I feel guilty. It was such a boneheaded thing to say... The second I said it, I knew I'd messed up. I just can't get over how reckless it was."

    "You wouldn't be you if you could," Ruby reminded her. "The fact that you feel those emotions at all just drives home the point that at the end of the day, we're mostly human. Do you feel better now, having talked about it with us?"

    Safiri considered. She wasn't surprised to learn that yes, she did feel a little better. It didn't take the sting of disappointing her boss away, but having her sisters around, sisters who at least understood and could relate to her viewpoint, dulled the pain a little. She smiled, wrapping an arm around each sister and hugging her in turn. "Yeah. I'm sorry for making you guys fuss over me." She looked at the notes she'd taken of Esmeralda's battle. "I guess none of this means anything anymore, huh?"

    "Eh, I guess not. I'm sorry for not telling you girls about it," Esmeralda apologized. "I just wanted to do something for Windra, on my own, you know?"

    "Just be careful," Ruby warned. "Don't jeopardize the project for your feelings."

    "I won't," Esmeralda said solemnly, putting a hand over her heart. "She doesn't feel anything for me, anyway."

    As she said that, the doors to the training area opened. Kyro bounded in, excited to get some more practice in, followed by Thresher, who noticed the three sisters holding council. "Sorry, are we interrupting?" he called, causing Kyro to stop in his tracks and notice them. "Just lookin' to keep a promise I made to the lad, but we can come back another time if you need the space."

    "Not at all, Mr. Fessco, we were just leaving," Safiri replied warmly as she made her way to the floor, recognizing her opportunity to escape sister time. "Please, enjoy yourselves." Straightening her skirt and jacket, she briskly walked away before Ruby or Esmeralda could find a reason to object.

    "You two gonna have a battle?" Ruby asked, excitement in her voice. "Want me to officiate?"

    "I don't mind," Thresher shrugged, looking to his opponent. "Whadaya say, Kyro? Shall we make it real official like?"

    "That would be awesome!" Kyro exclaimed, running up to Ruby and shaking her hand. "Thank you, Miss Ruby!"

    He ran to his spot on the other side of the battlefield, a seemingly bottomless well of energy, and Ruby couldn't help but admire that about him. Were all kids as energetic as he was? Thresher took his place nearby, and Ruby looked him over. Catching his eye, he smiled at her, as if noticing she was staring but not caring that she did. He took a few moments to do some stretches, and Ruby watched as his toned muscles flexed with each movement. She made a note to contact Thresher after the tournament was over. If he didn't have someone at home waiting for him...

    "Enjoying yourself?" a voice asked. Ruby turned to see Esmeralda, arms crossed, eyebrow raised, with a knowing look on her face.

    "Yep," Ruby said with a wink, causing Esmeralda to roll her eyes. "Don't worry about me."

    "Sure, sure," Esmeralda said dismissively. "Have fun, you three. I think I'm going to turn in for the night."

    After she left, Ruby turned to the two battlers. "Tournament rules okay?" she asked, turning to each man in turn. After both agreed, she raised a hand towards each of them. "Then begin!"

    * * * * * * * *

    After another tasty dinner, Scarlet had retired early to her room. She quickly checked to make sure that yes, both of her notes were received, and prepared herself for what she hoped was going to be a magical night. As she sat soaking in the bathtub, she wondered if Rose was even going to show up. In hindsight, leaving a note that essentially amounted to a proposition for sex was a horrible idea, especially since she'd made no attempt at hiding the contents of said note. The fact that she hadn't had time was of little consolation to her; she could only hope that Rose had received it quickly, and anyone else who happened to pass by just minded their own business.

    Scarlet reached for some shampoo and realized, with little surprise, that she hadn't planned on what to do if Rose did show up. What if she showed up, but just wanted to be friends? What if she showed up and didn't want to be friends, that she'd somehow been offended by her request and now hated her? She stopped mid-scrub, shaking those bad thoughts out of her head. She decided that, just for tonight, she'd only think positively.

    After she'd finished, she browsed her wardrobe, thinking of what to wear. Thinking positively, she decided that less was more, and slipped her favorite nightgown over her head. It was the same color as her name, and it fit her nicely. She looked herself over in the mirror, adjusted herself and made sure everything was just so. She barely started brushing her still-damp hair when a knock was heard at her door.

    This is it, she thought, her pulse quickening. Are you ready?

    Scarlet put her brush down, went over to the door, grabbed the handle. She inhaled deeply, letting it out slowly as she pulled it open. In front of her was Windra, in a tank top and pajama pants, and she looked... determined, Scarlet decided. "Oh, hey, Windra. What's up?"

    Windra shocked her by pushing her way into her room, forcing Scarlet to step backwards, and closing the door behind her. "Hey," was all she said, backing Scarlet towards the wall. Scarlet was stunned into silence, not knowing what was happening, but a part of her wasn't complaining about the intrusion either. Scarlet gasped as Windra grabbed her by the hips, pulling her forward and crushing their lips together.

    "Mmmmhm???" came Scarlet's confused reply as Windra continued kissing her hard and fast, moving her hands to Scarlet's rear. She squeezed, causing Scarlet to gasp in response, and Windra used this opportunity to force her tongue into the younger girl's mouth.

    Wait a second, Scarlet wanted to say, but the words never made it out. Windra let out a moan as Scarlet put her hands on Windra's hips, intent on pushing her away, but to Scarlet's surprise, it didn't happen. Finally, Windra broke the kiss, moving instead to Scarlet's neck, nipping at the clean skin there.

    Her mouth free at last, Scarlet started her objection. "Windra wait what are you - ah!" Scarlet gasped as Windra sucked on her skin. "Don't do that, you're going to - oh, yes, that's much better," she finished after Windra started making long strokes there with her tongue. "But wait, what are you doing here?"

    "Taking what's mine," Windra answered, giving Scarlet's rear a squeeze and pulling her in to emphasize this. "You don't have to say anything... unless you're screaming my name, that is."

    And god, how she wanted to. Scarlet could feel herself getting more aroused with every passing moment, and she wanted nothing more than for Windra to march her over to that bed and force her to submit, but her brain gave her pause. Instead, she continued kissing Windra, as she argued with herself, conveniently ignoring that Windra was getting much bolder with her hands and was slowly pulling Scarlet away from the wall.

    This isn't Rose.

    No kidding.

    Didn't you just decide that you were not going to get involved with Windra? What happened to your note? What if Rose shows up?

    Maybe Windra decided she likes me after all. And if Rose really was coming, she would have been here already, right?

    Her brain had barely registered Windra gently pushing Scarlet onto her bed. This is wrong. This should be Rose, not her. Are you prepared to live with this?

    This question gave Scarlet just enough pause to stop Windra, who'd just tossed her shirt across the room and was working on removing Scarlet's gown. "Wait. Windra, wait," she said more sternly when Windra didn't. "This is all so fast, and-"

    "And you've been hot for me ever since that day in my room," Windra finished for her, straddling her the way Windra imagined Scarlet had during her visit. She noticed that the gown was the same color, but she filed that information away for later. As turned on as she was, she didn't want to waste any more time. There was far too much talking already and not enough them being naked. Hoping that would be the end of Scarlet's objection, she again started to remove Scarlet's gown. "Don't worry. I'll be as gentle - or as rough - as you want me to be," she whispered hungrily into Scarlet's ear, licking at her earlobe. She ground herself on Scarlet, causing the girl beneath her to moan loudly into her hands. Windra chuckled as she did it again, grabbing Scarlet's hands and pinning them above her head, forcing a panting Scarlet to pinch herself to stop herself from making the same noise again. "Let's make magic, Scarlet."

    And with that, the candle that was Scarlet's resistance was finally snuffed out. Whatever Windra's feelings for Scarlet were, whatever Scarlet's feelings for Rose were, they could certainly wait until morning. Scarlet broke free from Windra's grip and sat up long enough to toss her nightgown to the floor at the side of her bed. "Abracadabra," she said to a grinning Windra, pulling her back down onto the bed.
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2018
  4. PMJ happy thoughts
    PMJ

    Articles Head Activities Staff Badges Staff Elite Member Advanced Member Member

    Actually, I lied. Next up is Interlude 3, which focuses on Frisk and Chara, and their relationship with one another. It also will answer the question, "Where'd Frisk go?" Chronologically, it takes place immediately after chapter 6, which is why I'm writing it before chapter 7.
     
  5. Skyleaf2000 Resident UB Enthusiast
    Skyleaf2000

    Member

    lol rest in pieces Windra


    the last section gives me such powerful secondhand embarrassment/devastation because the notes were switched (this means you did a fantastic job PMJ, I'm not scorning it or anything)
    Scarlet, please see that the notes were switched, Windra, please forgive her
    i hope the guy that switched the notes gets proper retaliation
     
  6. PMJ happy thoughts
    PMJ

    Articles Head Activities Staff Badges Staff Elite Member Advanced Member Member

    Rolling the fire field was probably the most hilarious part of this entire battle. I'm just really glad that Lenny won because I really did not wanna write out a Windra victory.

    Now that that's out of the way, the only other match that could possibly be as disastrous is Lenny vs Cody, but in order for that to happen, they'd have to meet each other in the semifinals, which means does Cody need to beat both Alex and the winner of Jethro vs Kyro, but Lenny also has to beat Frisk. That's a 12.5% chance of happening I think so I like those odds.

    Windra doesn't forgive easily; you told me that ;) In fact, I incorporated a lot of your private notes into this chapter.

    NinjaPenguin thought it was odd that Scarlet didn't bring up the note at all, which I agreed with to a point; however, I think that it's within Scarlet's character to just go with it because she is still attracted to Windra and she only resolved to pursue Rose earlier the same day. Plus, I told him, even if Scarlet did ask about the note, Windra would either say "yes I got it" which, to Scarlet, would sound like Windra got the rejection note and didn't care; or Windra would just give a noncommittal answer and continue trying to get Scarlet naked.

    The end of chapter 6 was the fun and sexy romp. In chapter 7, it's back to reality, and everything comes crashing down. All aboard the drama train! Woo woo!
     
  7. Blakers Holder of the Holy Diamond!
    Blakers

    Member

    With so many of the characters having secrets, I guess we are bound to get a drama chapter eventually. I’m looking forward to it.:p
    All of these characters have some kind of secret:
    The Jewels (more so Ruby and Esmeralda with their crushes)
    Windra
    Scarlet
    Frisk
    Alex
    Rose

    ... and every single one is important enough to get blown up eventually.
     
  8. GrandPanacea Thread Necromancer
    GrandPanacea

    Forum Super Mod Badges Staff Chat Room Staff Advanced Member Member

    Can confirm.

    Ugh, I hate writing incident reports

    Yeah... I don't see that ending well.

    While I'm admittedly not particularly fond of Eldan (not how he's written, but his actions), I will give him props for this. Probably his best line... Ever?

    Eyyy, here's the part that I helped with! :D

    This whole bit reminded me of He-Man. "BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL."

    Ooh. That seems like an interesting team she has. I wonder what the other three are.

    Oh snap o: Admittedly a rather interesting way to boost self-confidence. It didn't feel faked, either, which is nice.

    Well, that got dark. :T

    Yes, yes they are. So much energy. x.x
     
  9. PMJ happy thoughts
    PMJ

    Articles Head Activities Staff Badges Staff Elite Member Advanced Member Member

    One of her other Pokemon should be easy to guess. The others are a little harder, but if you can figure out the theme I used, it gets a little easier.
     
  10. PMJ happy thoughts
    PMJ

    Articles Head Activities Staff Badges Staff Elite Member Advanced Member Member

    Happy birthday, motfi! \o/

    Today marks one year since I decided to steal Athena's cool idea and make it decidedly worse. :D

    It's been quite the journey. I wanna thank you guys who have stuck around this long. I don't expect everyone to be around by the time this story is actually finished, which is understandable. I kinda let this story sleep for a bit and that was way too long. I don't plan on having any breaks that large again unless something really bad happens.

    Also, with this addition, motfi has cleared 100,000 words. Holy hot damn, you guys. We're not even at the halfway point yet. Here's to 200,000 - may it not take me an entire year to do, lol.

    SO ANYWAY. It's motfi's birthday and for the big anniversary I got some art I've been sitting on for a few weeks now, made up by my homie @OzoneFruit. I am super thankful to him for offering his services free of charge and giving a visual aspect to some of the characters. If you like this dude's scribbles then go commission some stuff from him, his art is da bomb, yo.

    Obligatory @TheSceptileMaster tag, figure it's only fair.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I hope you guys are as excited about his art as I am. Hot dog.

    Now that that's out of the way, it's time for what you all came here for!

    Interlude 3 highlights:

    - Chara watches a snuff movie
    - Frisk gets her body back
    - it's friggin dope

    Despite the few highlights, this interlude could have gone on a lot longer than I ended up making it. Like Quayle, Frisk and Chara could easily have an entire game fic written about just them; as existing characters, there are a couple Undertale references, but none so obscure that it should detract from the story. If you've never played Undertale before, you should at least have a general idea of who the characters are. If you have, then you'll have to forgive me butchering the canon.

    Obligatory @PikaMasterJesi tag because this installment hopefully answers all the questions she had about Frisk but I was unable to answer in this old-ass post, where I said that I would much rather put into the story the relationship between Frisk and Chara instead of just explaining it in a post. So what could have been like 50 words became almost eight thousand. \o/

    Next battle is Jethro vs Kyro. After that we finally have Alex vs Cody, and that'll mark the end of the first round.

    One last request, I know I keep telling you guys to leave that sweet, sweet feedback, but at the very least could you like this post once you've read it so I know you've read it? Just so I know who's following along. kthx <3

    Word count: 7988

    Interlude 3: Purple Progress

    What's going on?

    Chara, still fully inhabiting Frisk's body, could not see anything in front of him. He tried opening his eyes, but realized with a start that they were already open; the entire surrounding area was simply pitch black.

    Hello? he called into the darkness, and immediately, there was a bright flash of white. He shielded his eyes as an image formed in front of him, of water and rocks and trees. He recognized the scene all too well, and an uneasy feeling settled in his stomach.

    This is... this is where I... why am I seeing this?

    In the vision, the sun had just barely reached its highest point in the sky for the day when Frisk had decided that they had arrived at their destination. Lake Valor was a popular spot for tourists, and there was a path that traveled around the lake, allowing spectators to see the entire lake from the cliffside road. One day, while Frisk had been chasing after a Pokemon that she'd been sketching, she'd found a spot on the cliff that jutted out several feet, and Frisk was in awe at how much better the view was here; the Pokemon all but forgotten, she'd turned to a clean page in her sketchbook and ended up drawing the entire scene.

    Naturally, she'd wanted to share the sight with her brother, who was less than enthusiastic about seeing the lake, even if it was "a way better view." So she enticed him by inviting him on a picnic. He wasn't too excited about that, but when Frisk promised to make him some of his favorite foods if he went, he relented. Currently, he was lagging several paces behind her, carrying a large basket that was heavy with food. "Finally!" he complained, dropping the basket of goodies to the ground with a thud. "You know, you could have carried it some of the way, you know."

    "Sorry, Chara," Frisk apologized, unrolling the blanket she was carrying along with her sketchbook and colored pencils. She stood a few feet from the edge, inhaled the warm summer air, and smiled. "But isn't it beautiful? I've never seen anything like it. There's a cave in the middle of the lake, too. Can you see it?" she asked, pointing towards the large structure. "I wonder what's in there?"

    "Beats me, sis," Chara replied, more interested in the food than some cave. He pulled out a sandwich from the basket. "Here you go," he said, offering it to his sister.

    Frisk took the sandwich and sat next to her brother as he continued to unload the basket. "Sorry, Chara," she apologized again. "You're doing everything."

    "I don't mind," Chara happily stated, content that the trek was over and he would finally get to eat the delicious food that Frisk had made for them. He took two large bottles of water from the bottom of the basket and placed them both on the side of the blanket, and Chara took a moment to take in his version of a beautiful view. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, assorted fruits and berries in all colors of the rainbow, and plenty of cold water with which to wash it down. He picked up a sandwich of his own and bit into it, enjoying the familiar taste and the company of his big sister. He smiled as a warm breeze rolled through the area, making the leaves of the trees rustle quietly. Chara looked out over the lake, and even he had to admit - yeah, the view here was pretty sweet.

    "Where should we go next?" Frisk asked, biting into a piece of fruit. "According to the hotel receptionist, we're about a day from Sunyshore City."

    "That's the city with the lighthouse, right?" Chara inquired. "That seems pretty cool. I wouldn't mind visiting it."

    Frisk reached for her backpack and flipped through the pages of the brochure she'd taken from the hotel lobby. "Visit the Vista Lighthouse - saving lives for over 150 years," she read. "It says you can even see the Pokemon League from the observation deck."

    Chara took a large drink of water, relishing the feel of the cool liquid going down his throat. "Speaking of the Pokemon League, isn't there one of those Pokemon Gyms in that city?"

    Unsure, Frisk turned to another page, where the Gym in question was prominently displayed, along with a picture of its Leader. "Yeah, here it is. 'Do you have what it takes to best the best? Sunyshore Gym Leader Volkner Taren awaits your challenge! Earn your Beacon Badge and the right to challenge the Sinnoh Pokemon League today!'" she recited. "So I guess we couldn't challenge him, even if we wanted to. We haven't earned seven badges from the other Gym Leaders yet."

    "You're interested in all that?" Chara asked, making a face at the idea of becoming a trainer professionally. Though the two were required to pass an exam in order to be licensed to capture Pokemon, neither of them had considered actually becoming trainers; both of them felt like becoming professional trainers would mean they'd have to abandon their plans on going back to their own world, never mind the fact that neither of them had any idea how to do that.

    "Kinda," Frisk replied honestly. "I mean, it doesn't look like we're going to be going home any time soon... I don't even know how we got here in the first place."

    Chara's face fell at Frisk's reminder that they were strangers in this world. "I miss our friends," he said forlornly, taking solace in his sandwich.

    "I know. I miss them too," Frisk replied, moving closer to her brother. "It was a good idea to nickname our Pokemon after them. It kinda keeps them in our hearts, you know?"

    "Yeah..." Chara took a moment to remember their lives before they'd ended up in this world. "I hope Dr. Alphys is okay."

    "I'm sure she's fine," Frisk said, more for Chara's benefit than her own. Dr. Alphys, the Underground's Royal Scientist, had been the one responsible for sending them to this world; though the machine she'd asked them to test was intended to send them back to their home on the Surface, something had obviously gone wrong, and the two of them had ended up somewhere in Sinnoh instead. Just before the machine had sent them away, the two children saw the massive form of King Asgore, ruler of the Underground and their adoptive father after they became trapped in the Underground, enter the laboratory. Frisk could see the horror in his eyes turn to anger as he tried freeing his children from the machine, demanding an explanation that a nervous Dr. Alphys wasn't too keen on giving, as she'd been carrying on her research without his knowledge.

    Though Frisk knew Asgore to be a kind and benevolent ruler, she also knew he had a fiery temper, especially when it came to matters of his family. And so seeing his only surviving children vanish before his eyes, seemingly betrayed by a woman he trusted, Frisk couldn't help but fear for the young monster's safety as Asgore pointed his massive trident at her, with Alphys pleading for her life as Frisk and Chara vanished.

    Frisk didn't want to dwell on this subject too much longer; Chara had watched the scene unfold, as well, and he in particular had worried for the good doctor's safety. And although they both wanted to keep their hopes up, it was entirely possible that Dr. Alphys had met a terrible end at the hands of the king.

    "So we'll head to Sunyshore City next," Frisk said, changing the subject and grabbing another piece of fruit. "After that, we should be able to take a boat over to the other side of Sinnoh. There's a library in Canalave City that I want to visit. Wake said that there's all sorts of books on Sinnoh myths and legends there... maybe there'll be some information on how we can get back home."

    The two sat in silence and ate, the mood slightly sobered somewhat with the thought of whether or not Dr. Alphys was safe, or even alive. Frisk pursed her lips and frowned, watching Chara look over the cliff across the great lake, unsure of how to brighten her brother's mood.

    The Chara on the outside watched Frisk watch him, feeling angry at the fact that he already knew how this 'movie' ended, and still had no idea what the purpose of seeing this vision was. But we never made it there, did we, Sis? At least... I didn't.

    Frisk took a seat next to her brother and wrapped a comforting arm around him. "Hey. It's gonna be okay. We're in this together, right? We'll find a way home. And if we don't... then at least we'll have each other. I'll never leave your side, Chara. That's a promise."

    This was none too reassuring to Chara, who'd heard this same speech from Frisk many times before, but he could still appreciate the sentiment. He nodded, sighing forlornly. Perhaps becoming a Pokemon trainer wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. There were a couple of them that he really liked - maybe he'd ask Frisk to help him catch one, and teach him how to battle. That way, they'd have something else to bond over. He wasn't nearly as gifted artistically as she was, so he'd feel left out when she'd go off on one of her drawing binges that would last hours or sometimes days at a time.

    Deciding to go with that idea, he turned to her to speak. "Hey, Frisk, do you think you could--"

    Chara paused, turning his head towards the forest. Frisk turned, as well, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. "Chara, what--"

    "Shh!" he quieted her, getting to his feet. He listened as hard as he could, and could hear voices in the distance. "Someone's coming. I got a bad feeling about this, Frisk, we need to go, now!" He grabbed her arm and yanked her to her feet as they dashed into the forest, moments before the voices became clearer.

    "Commander, I know it's around here somewhere!"

    Frisk and Chara hid behind a large tree off in the distance as two men approached the clearing. One was of average height, wearing a striped black shirt and pants. Over his shirt was a striped white vest. Around the man's neck was a necklace with a large golden capital G dangling from the chain. "A picnic? Is this your idea of a joke, Sergeant?" He brushed a hand through his jet blue hair, annoyed. "Where is this hidden path to the realm where Azelf lies?"

    The sergeant flinched, not liking the direction this conversation was headed. "I dunno what's with the food, Commander Saturn, but I had good intel that said they came across a cave somewhere along the cliff." He looked out over Lake Valor. "View's pretty nice from way out here. You can see the cave in the center pretty clearly." He inhaled deeply, taking in the afternoon lake air, but it was masked by the scent of the food that Frisk brought. "Food smells good. It ain't ours, though."

    Saturn looked down at the blanket with the half-eaten foodstuffs haphazardly dropped onto it. "No, it isn't... and yes, it does," he noted, picking up the remnants of a sandwich. He examined it, gave it a cursory sniff. "It's still fresh." He glanced around the immediate area, but couldn't see anyone. He took a Poke Ball from his belt, threw it down. "Kadabra, I need your help."

    Chara went wide-eyed at the large, intimidating Pokemon. "Shit! We're dead! What do we do?!" he frantically whispered, only to be shushed by his sister.

    "Don't say anything," Frisk mouthed, putting a finger up to her lips, turning her attention back to the two men.

    "Kadabra, we have some unwanted guests. Use Miracle Eye and flush them out for me."

    Kadabra nodded, closing his eyes and focusing for a moment before opening them, revealing a bright blue glow. Kadabra scanned the area and quickly spotted the two children hiding nearby. He motioned towards them with a finger, and Frisk spoke one word: "Run."

    Immediately, the siblings broke cover and took off in the opposite direction, but they were instantly stopped in their tracks by Kadabra, who telekinetically grabbed them both and lifted them off the ground. Noting their small size, Saturn noted, "Children? Bring them here, Kadabra."

    Kadabra did as he was told, reeling the youngsters in and placing them on the ground in front of Saturn and confirming his suspicions. "What brings you here, little ones? Why are you hiding in the forest?"

    "We were just having a picnic and enjoying the view!" Frisk offered, standing protectively in front of Chara. "Right, Chara?"

    "Yeah, until you guys came along and freaked us out," Chara finished. "What's your deal, anyway? You guys like scaring little kids or something?"

    "Chara, be quiet!" Frisk scolded. "Please forgive my brother. He's kind of on edge. My name's Frisk, and this is Chara," she said, pointing to Chara. "What's your name? Your necklace is pretty."

    Completely ruin everything in three... two... one...

    "That guy called him Commander Saturn," Chara noted, pointing at the sergeant.

    Saturn raised his eyebrows in surprise before his face turned deadly serious. "That he did, young man. What else did you hear?"

    "Nothing!" Chara blurted, stepping out from his sister's shadow. "We didn't hear anything you guys said!"

    "Yes, he's right!" Frisk insisted, nodding. "Chara just got scared when he thought he heard someone coming, so we ran and hid. That's all, I swear!"

    Saturn considered her words, a sly smile slowly coming across his face as he did so. "I see. So the only thing you heard was my subordinate addressing me?"

    "Yes!" both children shouted at once.

    "That's good to hear," Saturn replied calmly, and Frisk and Chara visibly relaxed, sighing. "But," he continued, causing the two of them to stiffen again, "Sergeant, correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe I said something... important, before you addressed me by name. Do I have that right?"

    "Yes sir, you did," the sergeant replied, grinning evilly. "Something little kids ought not be knowing."

    "Agreed, sergeant," said Saturn, directing his gaze towards Chara. "And I can't help but wonder how you two didn't hear that part of our conversation."

    Chara took a few steps back, getting closer to Frisk. "Okay, so we might have heard a little bit, but we don't know anything about that! We aren't from around here, we don't even know what Azelf is, right, Frisk?"

    Saturn cut off Frisk's reply, rushing in and grabbing the boy by his collar with both hands. "So you do know of the legendary Pokemon Azelf that is rumored to sleep somewhere in this lake!" Saturn effortlessly lifted the panicking boy into the air, shaking him as if that would make him respond quicker. "Answer me! You're spies, aren't you? Who sent you?!"

    Frisk made a dash for Saturn, but she was stopped by Kadabra, who used a bit of psychic energy to plant her feet to the ground. She fell with a wail, smashing face first into the rocky ground. She crawled to her knees and grabbed her now-broken nose, crying out in pain. Hearing Frisk cry and the sergeant laughing at her misfortune only made Chara thrash in Saturn's grip harder. "N-no one sent us, you idiot! We're just kids! We didn't find out about your stupid Pokemon until you said it just now, you dimwit! Let me go!"

    Saturn was stunned momentarily at the young boy's statement, but quickly regained his composure. "Kadabra, hold his legs, will you? This brat is starting to piss me off," the Galactic commander groused. Kadabra obliged, shackling Chara's feet together the same way he'd done to Frisk. This didn't dissuade Chara, though, for he reared back and spit as hard as he could in the man's face. Saturn simply smiled at the boy's attempt. "So, you want me to let you go, do you?" Saturn walked over to the cliff edge and held Chara out over it. "How about now, you little shit? Want me to let you go now?"

    "NO!" Frisk shouted, her pain forgotten at the sight of her brother dangling over the cliff. She tried getting to her feet but only wound up on the ground again, as her feet were still locked in place. She looked up to Saturn pitifully, her face dirty and wet with blood and tears, and pleaded for her brother's life as best she could. "Please, sir, we don't mean you any harm, we were just having a picnic, we don't know anything about any legendary Pokemon, the lake is pretty, that's all! I didn't know this spot was important to you, sir, and if you let us go we promise we won't say anything to anyone or tell anyone about this spot, just please don't hurt my brother, he's all I have in this world, sir, I'll do anything you ask, just let us go!" By this time, Frisk was on her knees, her hands clasped together and her head bowed, praying to whoever would listen that Saturn would spare Chara's life.

    A wicked smile came across Saturn's face. "Anything?"

    Frisk's head shot up, grasping onto Saturn's word like a life raft. "Yes, anything!"

    Saturn turned to Chara, who was breathing heavily and sweating in Saturn's grip. "Do you love your sister, boy?"

    Chara nodded as fast as he could, hoping that that would be enough to get Saturn to put him back on solid ground.

    It wasn't. Saturn continued holding his now-limp body over the cliff's edge, but turned so Chara could better see his sister. "Say it. Tell your sister you love her."

    "I love you, Frisk," he said obediently, and did mean it.

    "I love you too, Chara," Frisk replied immediately. "So much," she continued through her tears. "I promise you we're going to get out of here, okay? I'm sorry I brought you here, if I'd known that these men needed it so badly I wouldn't have--"

    "Quiet!" Saturn barked, and Frisk shut her mouth. "Now, you said you would do anything if I let you and your brother go. Is that correct?"

    Frisk nodded, unsure if Saturn wanted her to answer verbally after telling her to be quiet.

    "Okay. Do exactly as I say. If you or your brother disobey, well... the consequences will be dire. Understand? Both of you?" Frisk nodded again, and Saturn looked to Chara, who gave another uneasy nod, not knowing what the blue-haired man had in store for them.

    "Good. Kadabra, let the girl go." Kadabra released the hold on Frisk's feet, and she resisted the urge to stand. She would not do anything to endanger the life of her brother any further. "Do you two know the Pokemon Combee?"

    "Yes, sir," Frisk said, not taking any chances by appearing disrespectful.

    "Good," Saturn said with a smile. "I want you both to act like the best Combee you can be." He turned to Chara, "you can just buzz like a Combee. That will do fine. Now, buzz for me, my little bees!"

    Frisk hesitantly got to her feet, tucking her arms to her sides and quickly flapping her hands up and down. "Bzzzzzz," she muttered, too afraid to upset Saturn to do much else.

    "Come on, I know you can do better than that!" Saturn mocked her. "And you! I don't even hear your buzzing, little bee!" he shook Chara a little, causing him to panic and let out a loud buzzing noise with his lips, as loud as he possibly could. Frisk followed suit, running in large circles around the area, buzzing loudly and adding in a few instances of the Pokemon's name for authenticity. "Hahahaha! Excellent! Keep it up!" Saturn cheered, and he and the sergeant laughed at the two children making fools of themselves. "I knew you two had it in you! All right, you can stop, both of you."

    Frisk ceased her act, faced Saturn, and took a few tentative steps closer to him, but did not dare speak.

    "You two make excellent Combee! But there's one last thing I want to ask you before I let your brother go."

    "What is it?" Frisk blurted, hopeful.

    "Do you know how Combee evolves?"

    Frisk's eyes went wide. Combee was a very common Pokemon, but as much as she searched her mind, she couldn't recall seeing any of them evolved. Maybe it didn't? Was this a trick question?

    Saturn saw the panic spreading across Frisk's face, and he continued. "That's okay if you don't. After all, you're just children, and Combee doesn't evolve like normal Pokemon. You see, when a female Combee gains a certain amount of experience in battle, she will evolve into Vespiquen and rule over all the Combee in her hive. This honor, as I said, is only reserved for the female of the species. The male," Saturn went on, tightening his grip on Chara, "will never evolve, no matter how much experience he gets. For someone looking to raise a Vespiquen of their own, this is a problem, and it is because of this problem that you see so many male Combee in the wild."

    Saturn paused for effect here. "Do you know what trainers do to Pokemon they have no use for?" He smiled triumphantly at Chara, then answered his own question loud enough for Frisk to hear.

    "They release them!"

    With that, Saturn kept his word, and let Chara go.

    The Chara on the outside braced himself for the impact of the water. Though he couldn't feel anything the Chara in the vision was experiencing, it still made him uncomfortable remembering it. Kinda weird seeing it from the outside...

    As Chara disappeared below the cliff, Frisk screamed, "NO!!! CHARA, NO!!!" Scrambling to her feet, she ran right past Saturn and leaped off the cliff after her falling brother, her hand already on one of her Poke Balls. "Undyne, save Chara!!!"

    Geez, sis... I still can't believe she jumped off after me. Did she really think she could have saved me?

    Frisk's Empoleon materialized and threw a Protect barrier up, extending it as wide as she possibly could around her, but it wasn't large enough to also envelop Chara. Chara reached out futilely towards Frisk and Empoleon, too far away to make any difference.

    On the outside, there was a brief moment of static in the vision as the Chara in the vision crashed into the water. He rubbed his neck, remembering the angle at which he'd struck the water, which had killed him on impact. Ouch. Man, just remembering that gives me the creeps, but seeing it is a whole other level of creepy.

    He watched as Empoleon fell into the water next; unable to align her body properly for a dive, and with Chara just beneath the surface, she landed awkwardly on her side so as to not potentially land on him. Her hard body meant she was able to escape without much damage, but Frisk was not so lucky; as she was right above Empoleon as she fell, Frisk fell through the Protect barrier and landed halfway on top of Empoleon, shattering her leg. Had the barrier not been up, she would not have survived the fall.

    Empoleon worked as fast as she could, diving down to find Chara's body. Once she located him, she grabbed him by the shirt and turned around, jetting towards Frisk, who was on the verge of losing consciousness from her injuries. Empoleon brought both of them to the surface, allowing Frisk to take a few precious breaths of air. She looked around for land, and spotted some a few hundred feet in the distance. It would be easy for her to make it, but she had to be careful not to further injure her precious cargo. Moving the siblings to her back, she swam slowly, although safely, towards land.

    Empoleon finally made landfall some time later, on a beach in an unknown location. There were houses nearby, but no one was around. She dragged herself out of the water, far more tired than she thought she'd be. With a cry, she fell to her knees, rousing Frisk, who had fallen asleep while riding Empoleon. Careful not to put any pressure on her demolished limb, she grabbed Chara and gently placed him on the sand. Her load finally delivered, Empoleon collapsed face-down on the sand, all her energy spent.

    "Thank you, Undyne," Frisk said to her unconscious savior, before gently kneeling down to Chara. "...Chara?" she asked, not knowing the boy was already long gone. When she did not get a response, she called his name again, pulling his face up so she could look into his expressionless eyes. Tears started to form as she started to assume the worst. "No, come on, Chara, wake up, please wake up..." she shook him by the shoulders and was horrified to see the movements his head made, his broken neck made blatantly apparent by her shaking. Frisk collapsed into a heap on top of her brother, wailing and screaming until her throat was raw, clutching Chara's body to her and ignoring the pain shooting through her leg. She was well and truly alone now, her last link to her home lying dead in her arms.

    Outside the vision, Chara watched as his sister cried. I guess you really did care, huh? He watched Frisk look at Empoleon, then at his body, then at Empoleon again.

    "I can't live without you, Chara," Frisk said with an air of finality. "I won't. You were all I had in this world... and now I don't even have that." She crawled over to Empoleon's unconscious body, bruised, bloodied, and broken, and placed herself at her head. She grabbed onto either side of Empoleon's crown, pointing the long center piece towards her stomach. "I'm sorry I couldn't protect you in life. But don't worry," she said with a sad smile, casting one last look at her fallen sibling, "Big sister's on her way! I'm coming, Chara! Please wait for me!"

    Frisk thrust herself forward, impaling herself on her own Pokemon. She could say or do nothing as her body went into shock, collapsing on top of Empoleon, the shouts of several people who'd finally come to investigate falling deaf on her ears.

    As the vision faded to black, Chara stared dumbfounded at what he'd just witnessed. I can't believe Frisk did that. She tried killing herself just so we could stay together? Chara felt around on Frisk's stomach for any sign of the wound. He couldn't tell if he was really feeling a scar or if his mind was playing a trick on him.

    The scene of a hospital room came into Chara's view. Frisk was in bed, hooked up to several machines which monitored her health. She slowly opened her eyes, took in the unfamiliar surroundings. Huh? Where am I? She tried thinking back to the last thing she remembered. They were at the picnic... then Saturn came. He took Chara and... and he...

    Tears started coming down her face, her mind unwilling to accept this horrible truth for even a moment, but there was no denying it. Chara was dead.

    He's dead, she thought as she wiped her eyes. Chara is dead, and Saturn killed him. And for what? A spot on a cliff overlooking the lake? He didn't have to die for that. It was all one big misunderstanding, and Chara paid the ultimate price for it. "Hello?" she called, her voice coming out as weak as she felt, but no one answered.

    How did I get here?

    She remembered realizing that Chara was dead, and attempting suicide. She lifted the hospital gown she'd been dressed in and sure enough, there was a large scar right where Empoleon's horn had pierced her. She briefly wondered where her Pokemon were when she noticed a button near her bed, with a label that read "push for help." So she pressed it. The light lit up red, but didn't make a sound. Was it broken? Apparently not, because a woman who looked to be in her twenties burst into the room not a minute later. "You're finally awake!"

    "Yeah. But I really, really wish I wasn't," Frisk admitted, causing the woman to frown as she approached Frisk's side and pulled up a chair.

    "Please don't say those things, Frisk," she began. When Frisk looked confused, the woman opened a drawer nearby and pulled out a laminated card with Frisk's photo. "Your trainer's license." She put the card back, and Frisk noticed her Poke Balls sitting next to it, but there was one missing. "I have a lot of questions, and I'm sure you do as well."

    "Yeah..." came Frisk's half-hearted reply.

    "I'll start by answering the obvious ones first. My name is Liza Phren, and I'm your new doctor. You're in Jubilife General Hospital in Sinnoh, and you've spent the last two months or so under my care."

    "The last two months or so?" Frisk picked up. "I've been sleeping for two months?"

    "About that, yes," Dr. Phren clarified. "You're very lucky to be alive. You have to understand, Frisk, when you were brought in, we didn't think you were going to survive at all. You were in surgery for nine hours just to extract your Empoleon's horn from your stomach." She took a breath. "I'm sorry to tell you this, but there were some complications with the anesthetic. Your Empoleon had a violent allergic reaction to it, and she died on the operating table. I'm very sorry, Frisk."

    Frisk wanted to cry, but she was feeling so depressed that the tears just wouldn't come. "Great. Another someone dear to me who I will never see again. Where is my brother?"

    Dr. Phren hesitated, not knowing that Frisk already knew what she was about to say. "Your brother... the one who was brought in with you?"

    "Yes. He died. Saturn killed him. What did you do with his body?"

    "He was cremated along with the other unclaimed bodies," Dr. Phren blurted, not wanting to prolong this girl's pain any longer. "We issued reports of a child found dead and encouraged any families with reports of missing children to come claim him. Many came, but they were all relieved when it didn't turn out to be their little boy lying on that table. I have a question for you. Where are your parents?"

    "The Surface," she answered. She knew Dr. Phren wouldn't have a clue what she was talking about, but she didn't care. "Dr. Alphys sent us here with her machine, but Asgore probably killed her. Boy, was he pissed. Can't wait to get back and tell him that Chara's dead. If he hasn't killed Dr. Alphys already, he sure will then..."

    Predictably, Dr. Phren had no idea what Frisk was going on about, and made a note to up the dosage of one of her medicines. "Let me try something else. You came in with a broken nose, a broken leg, and three stab wounds. We found you soaking wet on a beach next to your brother, who had already been dead by the time we got there. There was water in his lungs, but the coroner said that the broken neck is what actually killed him. According to the report, he fell, but that doesn't help much. What happened to you two?"

    Frisk relayed the entire story, from finding the spot to setting up the picnic to their meeting with Saturn. She told her about Saturn dropping Chara off the cliff, and her and Empoleon's attempt at saving him, finally ending with her passing out after stabbing herself. "Why did you rescue me? I didn't ask you to save me."

    "It's what we do, Frisk. I'm sorry about your brother, but you were already unconscious when you were found on the beach. They heard you screaming and called emergency services. After we learned you were still alive, we did everything we could to keep you that way."

    Frisk sighed. "Well, I'm awake. What now?"

    "In the immediate sense, you rest. Thanks to your coma, your bones have all had time to heal, but you've been off your feet for so long that walking may prove difficult. You're very weak right now; I want to monitor you here for at least a couple days while you get your strength back, and then we can start getting you cleared for discharge."

    "Fine," was all the young girl replied, turning to stare at the machine that monitored her heartbeat.

    Dr. Phren, not knowing how to cheer her patient up, rose from her seat. "I'll be around for a few hours yet," she said, glancing at her watch. "Push that button if you need anything, and I or one of the nurses will come assist you. Otherwise, just rest, all right? You've come a long way, but there's still a long way left to go. Hang in there, okay?" Smiling at the bedridden girl, she left, leaving Frisk alone in the dimly lit room.

    She sighed deeply, feeling more alone than she ever had in her life. It just wasn't fair. Chara didn't deserve what happened to him. She just wanted to share something nice with him, and she'd ended up getting him killed and landed herself in the hospital. She didn't know when she was going to get out of this place, and she didn't particularly care. Without Chara, life was empty.

    She turned onto her back again, staring at the ceiling. "I wish you were here," she said to one in particular, but she meant it with every fiber of her being. "I wish I could see you just one more time... hear your voice one more time..."

    She closed her eyes, trying her hardest to imagine her brother's face, his hair, his voice, all the seemingly mundane things she'd taken for granted while he was alive...

    A voice was heard inside Frisk's head. Frisk?

    Frisk's eyes shot open, unwilling to believe what her brain told her ears they'd heard. She sat up in bed, looking around for the source of the voice. "Chara? Chara, is that you?! Where are you?!"

    "Inside your body," Chara replied through Frisk, panicking when he realized he was controlling her body. "What the hell? I'm you! Or are you me? Frisk, what's going on?!"

    It really is you! But how? Wait, why can't I move my body? What did you do to me?

    "You think I know?" Frisk retorted. "I'm just as clueless as you are, Sis!"

    I don't understand, you died! I held your corpse! But... it really is you, isn't it? You're really here, with me?

    "Sure seems that way." Frisk looked around, taking in her surroundings. "Where are we?"

    The scene started to fade here, its message seemingly delivered to Chara, who'd been watching intently. He vaguely remembered the last part, when he felt his soul rush into Frisk's body as if drawn to it like a magnet. Once the area had gone black again, Chara drifted back into dreamless sleep.

    He was jolted awake only moments later. A look around the room revealed that he was actually awake now, and, much to his dismay, still in complete control of his sister. He frowned in the darkness, hoping that the problem would have fixed itself by now. As much as he hated to admit it, he'd grown used to sharing Frisk's body, and not having her around was starting to take its toll on him. More than once, he'd gone to ask Frisk a question only to get silence in reply. And while she was constantly hiding his existence from everyone, she was right in saying that in this world, all they had was each other. And the vision made perfectly clear that Frisk was deadly serious about them staying together.

    Chara begrudgingly respected Frisk a little more for that. The gap between Chara's death and his rebirth in Frisk's body was not something they ever discussed at length; Chara never thought it was important, and Frisk went out of her way to avoid talking about it, like she didn't want Chara to know what she did in order to keep them together. Was it her wish that brought him back from the void? He didn't know. He hadn't experienced any passage of time while dead; once he hit the water, the next thing he knew, he was a part of Frisk.

    He hugged himself under the blanket, feeling terribly lonely. What could he do?

    He thought of his sister, how she willingly gave her life in the hopes they wouldn't be separated, even in death, and how much it meant to him that she would do such a thing. He found himself missing her and her companionship; even when they were furious at each other, she always forgave him and had kind words for him. Far kinder than he deserved, sometimes, he realized with a guilty heart. The thought that he might never see her again bothered him tremendously, and he found himself wanting to apologize to her.

    "I'm... sorry, Sis," he said, knowing Frisk wasn't there to hear him, but he pretended she was. "I had no idea how much I meant to you." He paused for her to reply, and felt worse knowing she couldn't. Still, he could feel a sense of calmness come over him, and it comforted him in the absence of his sister. He smiled. "I know I've done some terrible things, and... well, I guess it'd be a lot easier to apologize for it if you were here."

    Alone in the dark, he silently wished she were, and the feeling of calmness he was experiencing before seemed to come over him tenfold.

    Chara?

    "Frisk! Where are you? Are you back? For real?"

    Yeah. I... I wasn't expecting to come back, to be honest.

    This confused Chara. "What do you mean? Where did you go? What took you so long?"

    During the battle, when I let you take over, there was something important I should have told you, but I didn't really have time to. Have you ever noticed that even when I'm really mad at you, you can always feel me close to you?

    "Yeah. Does that matter? I just figured it was part of us sharing a body."

    It is... and it also isn't. To put it simply, you're a part of me because I want you to be. When you took control of me, you pushed me out of your mind completely. I forgot to tell you how important it was for you to be careful about doing that, because the only way for you to bring me back was to want me to come back. You can worry all you want, but unless your heart truly wants me back... I won't come back.

    Chara took this information in. "So you mean to tell me that all those times I made you cry and pranked you and got you in trouble, you could have just erased me from your body and that would have been the end of it?"

    A pause. ...Yes.

    "Then why didn't you?" he asked, the guilt washing over him like a wave.

    Because I love you, Chara, she reminded him, and Chara again felt that same feeling of intense calm that came over him before. I don't want to be alone in this world any more than you do. I may have made new friends since coming here, but I will always only have one brother... No matter how mad we may get at each other, I would never want you gone forever. I will never erase you from my mind, Chara. Not in a thousand years.

    "Those times when I took over your body... could I have erased you?"

    This was a dangerous question Chara was asking. Once he knew the truth, there would be nothing stopping him from doing just that... but the way she was now, Frisk had no choice but to trust in her brother and be honest with him. Yes. You already did, during the battle, remember?

    "Why didn't you tell me about that earlier?!" he shouted, fresh tears in Frisk's eyes. "I was so worried. I thought I'd lost you forever."

    Chara, I couldn't tell you that! Do you have any idea how scary it is knowing that you could wipe me from existence with just a thought? It's bad enough dealing with you hijacking my body, but that on top of it... I couldn't handle it.

    "I wouldn't have to steal your damn body if you'd let me out once in a while!" he retorted, clenching his fists tight. "Damn it, Frisk. You wanna talk about scary? Imagine waking up to find you don't have a body anymore, and you're now stuck spending the rest of your days stuck to someone else's mind. You'll never walk, or play, or laugh, or feel the sun on your face or the wind in your hair. And the person you're stuck to could let you experience those things if she wanted to, but she never, ever, does."

    Because you don't care! You just want to have fun and play jokes, but you never stop to think about who has to deal with it all after you're done! When you prank someone, they don't see you, they see me. When you make me say horrible things to people, they don't hear you, they hear me. And knowing that you could have just erased me from my own body... I couldn't trust you, and that just made me feel worse because if I can't trust my own brother, then who can I trust? She paused here, willing herself to calm down. It was time to change the subject. I heard everything you told Taikyu. About how you think you're a burden to me, and that you think I tell you I love you because it's what I think you wanna hear.

    "Yeah, and? You can't tell me it's not true. I've done nothing but cause you problems since we joined. I wish the old man's spell would have worked."

    You have never been a burden to me. You don't know the lengths I've gone to to try and keep us together, she said, unaware that Chara did, in fact, know.

    "You tried killing yourself. Ran yourself through with Undyne's horn," he stated, and he took Frisk's silence as a sign that what the vision had showed him was accurate. "I guess that explains this scar you never bothered explaining. Why didn't you tell me?"

    Would you have believed me if I had?

    Chara considered this, and shrugged, conceding the point. "Probably not."

    What else do you know? How did you find out? she asked, curious.

    "I saw it in a dream," he explained, recounting it for his sister. "Is there anything else you've been hiding from me?"

    No, Frisk replied honestly, and Chara could tell that she was telling the truth. Chara, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry that I haven't been a better sister to you. It's my fault you were killed, and I--

    "It was that bastard Saturn who killed me," Chara growled. "Don't blame yourself for that."

    But if I hadn't dragged you to that spot, then Saturn wouldn't have found us, and you'd still be alive, she countered. I remember you telling me how boring it was, but I really wanted to share it with you... so I thought up the picnic and made all your favorite snacks so you'd go. If I'd just respected your decision... none of this would have happened.

    Chara didn't say anything, begrudgingly accepting that Frisk was right in that regard but unwilling to voice his agreement. But, as he quickly learned, he didn't need to; Frisk read his thoughts like a large-print book. It's okay. I know I've been a bad sister. I haven't done a good job of practicing what I preach. And that's part of the reason why I let you finish my battle against Scarlet. By the way, how did it go? You erased me almost immediately after taking over, so I don't know anything that happened. Was it as awful as I feared?

    "Heh. For her, maybe. Magearna kicked her ass all by itself!" Chara grinned, proud of what he'd done.

    What?! We... we won??? Really???

    "Hell yeah, we did! We're onto the quarterfinals, Sis!"

    Frisk couldn't smile, but the surge of warmth that Chara felt made it clear to him she was happy. Oh my gosh, Chara, thank you! I... don't know what to say except thank you! I don't know what you did, but... wow. You'll have to tell me about it sometime.

    Chara took a deep breath, enjoying the feeling of air filling his borrowed lungs. "I suppose you'll be wanting your body back, huh?"

    Yeah. I could force you out, but I'd prefer it if you gave it back willingly. It makes things much easier on both of us, don't you think?

    Chara nodded, remembering how simple it had been during the battle to assume control once Frisk allowed him to do so. "On one condition."

    Name it.

    "Let me out every once in a while, huh? I kinda like hanging out with the old man. And... I promise not to prank you. As often," he added with a smile.

    If Frisk could have, she would have laughed. I love you more than anyone in this world. You know I mean it - just search your mind. But you will also see that I still am not completely over the idea of you taking control of me. There are a lot of bad memories there that will take time to heal. But if you promise me, really promise me, that you'll rein it in, and that you won't take over without asking me first... I'll let you out more often. Deal?

    "Deal," he said, jokingly holding out a hand to shake, and was surprised when he felt Frisk move her other hand to grasp it, shaking it. "Whoa! So that's what it feels like, huh?"

    Yeah. Do you feel a little violated right now?

    He considered this. "Actually? Yeah, a little. Feels like I'm not in control, and - okay, okay, you've made your point," he conceded, rolling his eyes, slipping back into Frisk's mind and allowing her to take control of her own body again.

    The first thing Frisk did was stretch. She stretched her arms and legs out as far as they would go, wiggling her fingers and her toes just because she could.

    Heh. Bet you missed those.

    "I did!" She hugged herself, feeling happy just to be back in her own body again. "How long was I gone for?"

    About half a day, he said, explaining the things she'd missed.

    "I missed Esmeralda having a battle?! Awwwwww, I would have loved to see it..." she said forlornly, pouting a little. "It's hard to believe that it's only been half a day, and that I've missed my body this much. I can't imagine how you feel, Chara."

    Yeah, well, don't forget, we have a deal.

    "I won't," she said solemnly. She yawned, tired from being awakened by a dream she didn't have. "Tomorrow is a new day, Chara. For both of us. Goodnight..."

    Yeah, Chara agreed, it was. Things weren't perfect, but they were better now, and that counted for something. If Frisk was serious about her promise, then maybe this life wouldn't be such a hell after all. Night, sis. I'll see you in the morning.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2018
    NinJamezor and GrandPanacea like this.
  11. GrandPanacea Thread Necromancer
    GrandPanacea

    Forum Super Mod Badges Staff Chat Room Staff Advanced Member Member

    The First-Aid knowledge in my brain is making this very painful to read. If he wasn't dead, he sure was after that.

    Damn, at the hospitals here it takes much longer to get service. Must be well staffed.

    Overall, an interesting little interlude. I'm, as you're well aware, very excited for the next chapter. I've been eagerly anticipating Jethro's battle for awhile now, and would especially love to learn more about him from your perspective.

    I'll edit this post with an updated word and page count after.
     
  12. PMJ happy thoughts
    PMJ

    Articles Head Activities Staff Badges Staff Elite Member Advanced Member Member

    It was night. There weren't many people there, and Frisk had been in a coma for the past two months.

    One thing I didn't mention, that may have explained the lightning fast response time, is that Frisk is sort of a mystery to everyone in the hospital. Her discovery and subsequent admittance to the hospital definitely would have been local news, especially since she has no parents who would claim her. So they have an unclaimed, likely orphaned coma girl, and they have no idea when she is going to wake up - if she will at all. So naturally, when the help button from her room lights up, they're like HOLY SHIT SHE'S FINALLY AWAKE and rush to the scene.
     
  13. GrandPanacea Thread Necromancer
    GrandPanacea

    Forum Super Mod Badges Staff Chat Room Staff Advanced Member Member

    That's fair. I was more making a joke about the health care system in my home province, which I guess is kinda... Obscure. Oops.
     
  14. PMJ happy thoughts
    PMJ

    Articles Head Activities Staff Badges Staff Elite Member Advanced Member Member

    Chapter 7 highlights:

    - What did the five fingers say to the face?
    - Scarlet and Windra wake up - hilarity does not ensue
    - Kiria and Alex find common ground
    - Jethro and Kyro have their match
    - it's friggin dope

    I actually don't have a lot to say here. It's been a month, so hey, not bad. There was a bit that I was gonna put after the battle but I'm gonna save it for chapter 8 instead. Look forward to it. Next battle is Alex vs Cody. Cody has probably fallen into last place in terms of screen time, but I think that's okay for now. There's a bottom to every list. I've got sort of a workaround planned that should get him, and a few others, a little more action in chapter 9 or 10. We'll see how that goes. Shout outs to me for getting this out well before 2019.

    Please like the post once you've read it so I know you've read it. Once you're done, leave summa dat sweet, sweet feedback. Then, if you haven't already, go read Athena's new story, it's cool and PMJ-approved.

    Word count: 14,378

    Chapter 7: Playing Dirty

    Windra woke up, but she didn't open her eyes. She had no desire to do anything but lay there on the bed, completely relaxed. She smiled, recalling the events of last night, feeling victorious, satisfied, and content.

    How long had it been? Eh, too long, she decided, sighing happily. She decided Scarlet hadn't done too bad for her first time, although she realized, after a moment's thought, that she took direction almost a little too well. Once she'd finally let her guard down, she was much more eager to do whatever Windra asked, and Windra liked that a lot. It was a welcome change from her past flings, mostly brutish men who'd been the one telling her what to do. This time, it was Windra giving the commands, and watching Scarlet obey without question was quite the turn-on.

    She slowly opened her eyes now, catching the time on the clock and seeing that she still had about an hour before breakfast. She went to get out of bed, intent on cleaning up and getting her Pokemon fed, but quickly found that she could not move as Scarlet had both of her arms wrapped tightly around her. The attempt at escaping woke the younger girl, and she made a contented noise as she squeezed Windra tighter, one hand absently tracing a circle around her bellybutton.

    "Mmm, morning, honey," she said into Windra's hair, causing the older girl to cringe slightly. Now she remembered how it went. After they'd finished, Windra had gotten up immediately, intent on leaving, but Scarlet had begged her to stay, asking her to cuddle with her. It wasn't something Windra liked doing, but she figured she'd reward Scarlet on a job well done, so she had climbed back in bed and allowed Scarlet to spoon her. Soon, her tiredness overcame her, and she'd fallen asleep right there.

    Damn. I shouldn't have gotten back in bed. How did I not notice her arms around me? she wondered as Scarlet stirred. Ugh, there's no getting out of this. Better make it quick. "Morning," she said, quickly tearing Scarlet's arms off of her, throwing the blanket off the two of them, and stumbling out of Scarlet's bed. Though it was well into the morning by now, there were no windows to let natural light in; as such, the room was still completely dark. She felt her way along the wall to the light switch, flipping it and covering her eyes as she searched for her clothes on the floor.

    Scarlet stretched her muscles, lying on her side and resting on her elbow. "Leaving so soon, babe?" she cooed. "I was hoping we could start today the same way we started last night."

    Finding her pants, Windra quickly pulled them on as her eyes looked for her top. "No, Scarlet, I feel gross. I need to feed my Pokemon and I need a bath. I shouldn't have--"

    "Ooh, that's a great idea. I like the sound of that," Scarlet said with a lecherous grin, getting out of her bed and cutting off Windra as she went to pick her shirt up off the floor. "We can get clean, then get real dirty, and then get clean again." She pulled Windra to her, unashamedly squeezing her rear as she did so. "God, I'm getting hot just thinking of it, aren't you?"

    She went to kiss Windra's neck, but Windra pulled away, peeling a hungry Scarlet off of her. "No. Now move, you're standing on my shirt."

    She did, taken aback by Windra's behavior. "What's gotten into you, sweetie? You're acting weird."

    Windra pulled her shirt over her head, dangerously close to having a conversation that she knew Scarlet wasn't gonna wanna have. Taking a deep breath, she went to leave, but Scarlet's next words stopped her in her tracks. "I love you."

    Windra closed her eyes tight, gritting her teeth. Those were not words she wanted to hear first thing in the morning, let alone ever again. She'd given love a shot once and he seemed perfectly fine without her. Would it have been so hard to stay in touch? "No, you don't," she said evenly, not opening her eyes.

    Predictably, Scarlet recoiled as if struck. "How can you say that, after last night?" she uttered, aghast. "We... we made magic, and we--"

    "We had sex," Windra said plainly, irritated both at herself for putting herself in this mess and at Scarlet for acting like this. "That's it. Last night was fun, but it didn't mean anything."

    Those last four words cut into Scarlet like a knife; shocked and confused, she could hardly form words. "I... but... th-that's just not possible, Windra, I know you felt something! How could you not?! I could see it in your eyes. I could hear it in your voice as we made love." She pointed to her empty bed, her confusion giving way to insult and hurt. "My bed is full of evidence of your feelings, Windra, so don't you dare stand there and tell me that you feel absolutely nothing for me!"

    "Fine. Where would you like me to say it, then?" Windra retorted, gesturing around the room. "Take your pick. You know, I should have known you were going to act like this."

    Scarlet actually gasped, incredulous that Windra could even suggest that she was the one at fault here. "Me?!"

    "Yes, you. Acting all cutesy and lovey over me after I showed you a good time. I should have known you were gonna do the same exact thing everyone else did, but... god, you just looked so delicious, I couldn't help myself. I knew you wouldn't say no. Your note didn't make things any easier for me, either."

    "What are you talking about?" Scarlet asked, back to confused now. "I thought I was pretty clear."

    "Oh, you were very clear," Windra replied, remembering how excited she'd felt upon finding the note. "You know, 'I'm yours, let's do magical things' or whatever? Sound familiar?"

    Did it ever. Scarlet's eyes widened as she realized the implications of what Windra was saying. "Where did you find that note?" she asked hesitantly.

    Windra looked at Scarlet skeptically, not sure where this line of questioning was headed. "On my door. You telling me you didn't put it there? You signed it and everything..."

    "Were there any other notes there?! Did you see anything else on your door?!" Scarlet yelled, quickly becoming hysterical and beginning to pace around the room.

    "Uh, no. It was just that one," Windra carefully offered. "What's the big deal?"

    "It was the wrong one!" Scarlet cried out, grasping the sides of her head in panic. "I don't know how, but somehow you got the wrong note. I left one on your door and one on Rose's door and I was waiting for her last night and then you showed up and I thought you were her but it wasn't, it was you, and you came in and started kissing me and it was so freaking hot, like, I asked myself, do I really want to do this, like, if Rose was going to show up, wouldn't she have done it already, and maybe you decided that you liked me after all which is why you still came after getting the rejection note and --"

    Windra physically stopped Scarlet from pacing, planting her in front of her. "Wait, whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on just a second, rejection note? You mean that you invited Rose to your room for sex and not me? Then what the hell does my note say?"

    "I don't remember exactly, something like 'my heart belongs to another, let's still be friends.'" The panic in her eyes quickly shifted to horror as she thought of one possibility. "Oh, god, Windra, what if... what if she got your note? What if that's why she didn't come last night?" She brought a hand to her mouth, shaking her head in disbelief at the realization that her plans had been unraveled in such a spectacular fashion.

    "What are you suggesting, that someone switched them or something?" Windra thought about this. "Heh, if that's true, I gotta thank whoever did. Got me laid and another v-card to boot."

    "Get serious!" Scarlet, who was still stark naked, scolded her. "This is serious, Windra, I was going to ask her to be my girlfriend! Now she probably thinks I hate her. What are we going to do?"

    "We?" Windra asked with a smirk. "What makes you think this is at all my problem? I didn't change your notes. I just came and did my thing. And I thought you loved me, huh? Sure makes me believe that when you just admitted you were going to ask Rose out if she came here. Let me guess, you're in love with her, too, am I right?"

    Scarlet could hardly believe what she was hearing, hardly manage to stammer out a defense. "Well, no, I mean, love is such a strong word, and we just met, and-"

    "Wow, so you don't love me after all, what a surprise, I totally did not expect that response at all," Windra deadpanned. Scarlet looked at her with hurt in her eyes, on the verge of tears, and Windra rolled her eyes. "You're gonna cry now? Really?"

    Scarlet wiped her eyes before she really did start. "Why are you being so mean to me? I, I don't understand, last night was... it was amazing. Special. I really felt a connection with you, Windra, I--" she went to grab Windra's hand, but Windra yanked it away before she could, causing Scarlet's pained frown to come back in full, and this time when the tears threatened to come, Scarlet did nothing to stop them. "Do you really not feel any different towards me?"

    Windra looked into Scarlet's hope-filled eyes as her tears came down uninhibited, and sighed. "Yes, I really don't." When this only caused Scarlet to cry harder, she sighed again. "Look, I know you think this is the end of the world or whatever, but can you please stop crying?" Of course, she didn't, and Windra groaned. "Geez. I don't think anyone else ever cried this much."

    That got Scarlet's attention, and she quickly dried her eyes. "Huh? Anyone else? There have been others besides me?"

    Windra's mouth opened in genuine shock. "Oh, that's right, you didn't know! Yeah, I've been nailed loads of times. Hundreds, even." This was an exaggeration, of course, but Windra pushed out of her head the fact that it wasn't much of one. "It's cute that you thought you were my first. That's okay, though. I look so young that most guys think the same thing only to get their minds blown in bed after they realize that I'm more experienced than they are."

    "So... so I'm just another notch on your belt? That's all I am to you?"

    "You catch on quick," Windra said, crossing her arms. "I wanted to bang you, so I did. I mean, you're still hot and all, so if you promise not to get all sad and depressed about me not being head over heels in love with you after a few hours in bed then I'd be down to do it again sometime."

    "What? No!" Scarlet shouted, feeling cheap and used, and she quickly covered herself with her blanket, suddenly much more conscious of the fact that she was still naked. "I can't believe you! How can you just... use me like that?"

    "Aw, what's the matter?" Windra mocked her, pouting. "Don't seem so special now that you know I'm used goods, do I?" She laughed at Scarlet's continued look of indignant rage. "This is exactly why I don't give a shit anymore. Everyone always reacts the same way once the past comes out."

    "I don't care about your past!" Scarlet screamed. "I care about basic human decency. I care about honesty, integrity, faithfulness... all qualities which you seem to lack," she finished, her tears beginning to dry up at this cold realization. "Rose wouldn't have treated me this way."

    Scarlet saw anger flash across Windra's face for only moments before Windra slapped her hard across the face, sending her tumbling onto the bed. Scarlet clutched her face in disbelief, new tears spilling over. "How dare you," Windra spat, taking a step towards Scarlet.

    "Get away from me!" Scarlet shrieked, scrambling onto the bed, getting as far away from Windra as she could without falling off. She grabbed the blanket and covered herself, crying softly, her face hot and stinging.

    Windra didn't move from her spot. Scarlet wasn't looking at her, but the venom in Windra's voice was unmistakable. "You hypocritical bitch. How dare you pretend you're somehow better than me when your whole plan was to lure Rose here for sex. How dare you call me dishonest when I've been nothing but open with you about my feelings. How dare you call my integrity into question when you admittedly wrote me a rejection note - never mind how juvenile that is - but had sex with me anyway after it was clear I had the wrong one. But most of all, how dare you suggest I'm unfaithful. Just because I've had a lot of partners does not mean I'm unfaithful. How faithful could you possibly be if your plan all along was to seduce Rose, but you screwed me just because I showed up? That right there takes the cake." She chuckled humorlessly. "You're a real piece of shit, you know that?"

    "I don't have to take this from a girl who's been with more men than there are Pokemon. Get out," Scarlet ordered.

    Windra nodded. "Yep. Here come the insults. Thought my past didn't matter, Scarlet? Gotta give you credit, though, I haven't heard that one before. Most people just call me a slut or a whore. Try that next time, it'll save you time and breath."

    "Just go," Scarlet said, not wanting to prolong this conversation any further.

    "Yeah, I'll be doing that. And don't worry, I won't tell your precious Rose about this, even though I should."

    "Then why don't you?" Scarlet asked, her curiosity getting the best of her but still not making eye contact with Windra.

    "Because I promised you I wouldn't. That's the only reason I need. Even though seeing the look of disgust on her face when she learns what you planned on doing would be incredible, and even though you're a clingy, whiny ex-virgin who doesn't know a thing about relationships... I made you a promise, and I'm not going to go back on it just because I'm pissed off. That would be untrustworthy, dishonest, and unfaithful."

    She headed to the door and took the handle in her hand. "But don't think this means everything is okay between us. I'll be civil towards you in public... but we are not friends by any stretch of the imagination. Enjoy your present," she finished with a smile, one that went unnoticed.

    Scarlet said nothing at this, just pointed towards the door. Satisfied with what she'd had to say, Windra wordlessly let herself out, closing the door behind her. Once she'd gone, Scarlet finally let out the tears she'd been holding in, gingerly holding her face where she'd been hit. She was furious at Windra for having the audacity to actually hit her, but at the same time, she couldn't deny that Windra had made some decent points.

    Just decent?

    All right, fine, she conceded, they were good points. She couldn't deny that if she'd been more honest with everyone, then this wouldn't have happened. She pictured Jethro looking at her disapprovingly. 'I told you so,' she imagined him saying, giving her a stern look.

    It was a good plan. It should have worked. I'm the one who messed it up. She continued to cry softly into her blanket, wondering how she could possibly fix this blunder. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as she got out of bed, heading into the bathroom to draw a bath and wash away all her troubles. As she set the temperature and let the water fill the tub, she looked at herself in the mirror, her eyes going wide at the obvious and dark red mark just above her left breast. "That bitch!" she yelled, examining it. "Oh my god! Guess that's what you meant by present..." Thankful that it at least would be easy to hide, she turned off the water, climbed in the bathtub, and sighed, relaxing in the warm water.

    * * * * * * * *

    At breakfast, Kyro could hardly sit still, so excited was he for his battle against Jethro. He looked at the clock for the third time in as many minutes, anxious to get out there and show his stuff. His loss to Thresher the day before didn't faze him in the slightest; in fact, he was happy that he'd had to use his other Pokemon, since they hadn't gotten to battle at all since arriving. He shoveled another impossibly huge bite of Pollen Puff Pancakes - blue, of course - into his mouth, getting thick syrup all over the sides of his mouth. He looked at the clock again and groaned, much to the humor of the other competitors.

    In fact, much of the other conversation centered around the child prodigy and his Pokemon. They'd all heard about his one-on-one victories against both Jethro and Cody, of course, and that made Thresher's win over him all the more impressive. Jethro, sitting at a table by himself, did his best to push out the small talk and focus on his breakfast. Wouldn't do any good to start worrying now. People won and lost battles all the time. It didn't matter that his opponent was young enough to be his son. Surely no one would be paying any attention to the fact that he was the youngest major tournament champion in history, hailing from a country that had no organized play to speak of; and there was no way that he was still brooding over the fact that, three days ago, he went up against a Pokemon he had a type advantage against and lost - badly.

    He pursed his lips, the only visible sign that he was troubled at all. No, it really wouldn't do any good to start worrying now, so it was a good thing he'd already been worrying for the past half day or so, right? Right. Made perfect sense.

    He went over his battle plan in his head. Archeops was so damn fast. He'd made sure to focus on speed training, mainly running drills and practice evading. It wasn't perfect - none of his Pokemon were particularly agile, after all - but any practice was better than nothing. He also picked up the identities of the other two Pokemon Kyro was using - Anorith and Clefairy. It didn't change his plan; he was still going to lead with Ennis, and he was confident that Kyro was going to lead with Archeops. After all, why wouldn't he? It was far and away his strongest Pokemon, so powerful that it carried him through the entire qualifying tournament alone. It destroyed him in their practice match and took Cody's Primarina out as well.

    Another Pokemon that had a type advantage, he noted, a bit grimly. He would be lying if he said he wasn't nervous, but he was definitely more prepared now than he was a few days ago. Scarlet's battle against Frisk was particularly interesting to him; he got an idea during that match that he made sure Ennis got practice using, since it would be invaluable in clipping that demon bird's wings before he got too out of hand. He hoped it would do the job, because Ennis was the only one of his Pokemon that didn't have a type disadvantage against Kyro's remaining Pokemon, and she'd need to keep her energy as high as possible. Another reason for the speed training - the attacks would hurt if they hit, so the simplest solution, then, was to just not get hit.

    He continued eating his breakfast, sipping at his cup of coffee. It helped him get alert in the mornings, since he never seemed to get enough sleep during the night. He noticed Scarlet finally entering the cafeteria, and he gave her a nod of acknowledgement as he took another sip of his drink. She barely made eye contact with him before quickly heading in silence to the food table, getting a stack of orange pancakes, and sitting down at a table by herself.

    Huh. That's weird. Oh well, he thought, shrugging. He figured a motormouth like her would have been chomping at the bit to tell him all about how her plan went, but if she wasn't gonna tell him, he wasn't gonna worry about it. He had bigger problems to deal with. Ain't my business anyway...

    At a different table, Alex sat and ate with Eldan. After they'd realized that the both of them had a love of gambling, the two had placed bets on every match since Taikyu fought Thresher, with a gentleman's agreement not to place bets on their own matches. Their debates over who would win were quite animated sometimes, each trying to get the other to increase the bet.

    "There is no way my boy Kyro is losing this one," Eldan said confidently, taking a sip of juice. "Or have you not heard about him taking down both an Electric-type and a Water-type single-handedly with Archeops? Jethro doesn't stand a chance. Kyro already beat him once, and in a couple hours he's gonna seal up victory number two against him."

    "Yes, I have heard that. But," Alex countered, pointing a fork at Eldan. "Kyro is a fool if he thinks that one Pokemon will carry him all the way to victory, and you are an even bigger fool if you believe he will win. I admit I do not know the extent of Jethro's abilities as a trainer, but it stands to reason that he is far more experienced than a child, does it not?"

    "Pfft. Using a single Pokemon to carry him to victory is exactly how he won his qualifying tournament. Did you forget that?"

    Alex hesitated in his reply. He hadn't known that. "It is of no consequence. Even I know that relying only on one Pokemon can be highly risky, especially for a Pokemon as fragile as Archeops. Its Ability, Defeatist, means that it becomes significantly weaker once its health becomes low enough," he recited. "Because of that, it is only a matter of time before that happens and Jethro gains the upper hand. Once Archeops is out of the picture, defeating two unevolved Pokemon will be... child's play," he finished with a smug smirk. "Ten says he does it."

    "Ten? Didn't know you were that broke," Eldan needled him as Kiria approached the two guys.

    "Hey, you guys. Mind if I sit here?" she asked, grinning.

    "Hell no," Eldan answered immediately, pulling out a chair for her. "Please, join us," he said, before Alex could object. "How are you today?"

    "I'm good! Thanks for asking." Placing her plate on the table, she took a seat and scooted herself in, her breasts bouncing slightly as she did so. Eldan, thankful that his sunglasses made it impossible for Kiria to see exactly where he was looking, struggled to keep his promise to Nye and say nothing inappropriate... but he did it. "Eyes up," she said anyway, delighting in the nanosecond of panic on his face as he played it off. "Actually, I'm here to talk to Alex."

    Alex, who'd been silent up until this point, spoke up. "Me? What business do you have with me?"

    "It's nothing major, I was just thinking about something and wanted to see if it was true. Is your father Reginald Croft?"

    "Why, yes, he is," Alex said proudly, although he wondered why Kiria was asking. Kiria did not at all look like the sort of person his father would associate with, and he furrowed his brow to show his confusion. "How do you know my father?"

    Kiria hit one of her hands on the table. "I knew you looked familiar! I worked in one of his restaurants a long time ago. I'd only recently gotten to Kalos at the time," she explained to Eldan so as not to exclude him from the conversation. "I had used most of what I'd had saved up on the plane ticket and hotel room, so one of the first things I did was check the papers for job openings. Lumiose City is the largest city in the world, so I didn't doubt it would take long for me to find something."

    Alex breathed a sigh of relief, hearing that she was only employed by his father instead of one of his associates. "My father employs hundreds of people in his restaurants," he bragged. "He has received acclaim for how well his company treats his employees."

    "You're not wrong," Kiria added, cutting into some of her own pink pancakes. "He paid surprisingly well. I worked there for a few months as a waitress, and was able to save more than enough to continue my travels. The day I quit, your father took me aside and thanked me for 'making him even richer.'"

    Alex smiled. "Yes, that does sound like Father."

    "He gave me two grand." At Alex's wide-eyed stare of disbelief, Kiria said with a laugh, "Yeah, that's basically what I said, too! He told me that it had been quite some time since he'd seen someone with my work ethic and that he was sad to see me go... you don't remember?"

    "Remember? Why would I remember such a thing?" He searched his memory anyway, coming up empty.

    "You were there the day I left," she revealed. "You were sitting at your father's desk, watching something on his computer screen. You weren't really paying attention to us, and you couldn't have been more than four or five at the time, so maybe it's not so surprising you don't remember. But after he'd given me the check, he brought you over and introduced you to me. He said he hoped that you would grow up to become as hard a worker as me, so he could feel comfortable leaving his business to you." She laughed as she recalled the memory. "You held out your hand and said, 'Hello, my name is Alexander. My Piplup is very strong.' and I was like, 'Wow, really, that's so cool!' or something like that. I dunno exactly."

    With this information, Alex again tried to remember the encounter, but couldn't. "I am sorry, but I do not remember."

    Kiria shrugged. "No big deal. Like I said, you were really little. And cute," she added with a wink. "How is your father doing?"

    "In good health, thank you for asking," Alex replied. "He is very busy running his restaurants." He went to take a bite of his own golden pancakes. "These are... very good," he begrudgingly admitted, as though it physically pained him to do so. "Yours are pink. And yours are... green," he said, disgusted at the thick, green mess that was the leftovers of Eldan's breakfast. "I cannot imagine how they taste."

    "Mine are kinda sweet. It's a very slight sweetness, not overpowering at all, but definitely noticeable. Still tastes like pancake though. A cute, fluffy, pink pancake," Kiria explained. She poked the food with a fork. "So pink and so cute! Hello, Mr. Pancake. Oh, hello, Kiria, how are - oh nooooo, aieeeeeeee!" she wailed as she cut into the pancake with a knife. "No, please don't eat meeeeeeee om nom nom nom," she said, putting the sliced-off pancake in her mouth.

    Alex and Eldan simply stared at her, mouths slightly open in disbelief, as she chewed. When she noticed them watching her, she stuck her tongue out at them. "Don't judge me. You have to enjoy life's simple pleasures whenever you can. If you're not smiling, you're not living." For effect, she smiled at them, and Eldan flashed a grin back at her. Alex simply rolled his eyes at the display.

    "Exactly," Eldan agreed, turning back towards Alex. "And speaking of simple pleasures, surely you can afford to put more than ten on today's match. Come on now."

    "Are you guys betting? Oh, I love gambling! Probably a little too much," she admitted nervously. "You guys are betting on this morning's match? That sounds fun!"

    Eldan's grin went from ear to ear at learning that particular tidbit about Kiria. "Yeah. Brokey McPoorhouse over here only bet me ten that Kyro was gonna win and I'm trying to get him to go higher."

    "Whaaaaat? Aw, come on, Alex, surely you can put down more than that," she taunted. "I'll bet you... twenty that Jethro wins."

    "What?!" came both men's stunned reply.

    Kiria nearly jumped out of her seat, shocked by the sudden outburst. "What? What did I say?"

    "You may have worked for my most generous father for a time, but I do not believe for one second that you have that kind of money, Kiria," Alex stated, crossing his arms.

    "What are you talking about?" she asked, almost upset at Alex's implication. "I probably have at least thirty or forty on me right now. Never know when you need a bit of extra cash!"

    "No way. I am calling this bluff," Eldan said, facing Kiria. "Show me."

    Kiria reached into her bag, pulling out a small billfold. Taking a bill out, she placed it on the table in front of the two guys. "There. Twenty dollars."

    Eldan and Alex looked at the money, then at each other, then each of them burst out into uproarious laughter.

    "What is so funny? You wanted to see twenty, there's twenty!"

    This only caused the two of them to laugh even harder at her. Eldan patted her on the hand. "Sweetheart, not twenty dollars, twenty thousand dollars," he managed through fits of laughter.

    "You thought we meant twenty dollars?" Alex wiped his eyes clean of the tears that had formed. "Oh my, that is the best joke I have heard in weeks!"

    Kiria was less than amused. "All right, all right, that's enough laughing at the poor lady."

    She went to put her money away, but Alex held out a hand to stop her. "Now, wait a moment, I thought you wanted to bet?"

    "I do, but I don't have anywhere near that amount of money, Alex, you know that," she said, a little annoyed now.

    "Yes, I am very aware that I am far richer now than you will likely ever be. However..." Kiria could see the wheels turning in Alex's head as he paused, not knowing what he was getting at. "Let me make you an offer. I will bet you one hundred dollars that Kyro is victorious against Jethro."

    "What's the catch?" Kiria asked, suspicious now. It couldn't be that easy.

    Alex smiled, genuinely impressed that she knew there was more. "You are correct. There is a condition. As I have said, I have no need for your peasant money, but I believe there is a way I can benefit from this. If Kyro wins, you are to be my servant girl for the remainder of the tournament. You will address me as either 'Mr. Alex,' 'Mr. Croft,' or 'Sir.' You will be responsible for the feeding and grooming of my Pokemon and tending to anything else that I or they deem necessary. In exchange, I will consider your services provided as payment, and you can keep your hundred dollars."

    Kiria balked at him as Eldan looked on with interest. She didn't know what other duties Alex would have planned for her, but she did take comfort in knowing that it was Alex proposing this deal and not Eldan. She'd probably just clean up after him or something... which the Indigo Plateau staff were already doing. How exactly was Alex benefiting from this deal? And how long was this tournament, anyway? Today was the last day of the first round, and then what? She looked around for one of three people that would know this information, and spotted one of them as she was preparing to leave. "Hey Safiri!" Kiria shouted, causing the woman in blue to flinch as if caught committing a crime. "What happens after the matches today?"

    Safiri turned towards Kiria, looking at her watch to make sure she was not falling too far behind. "There will be no official matches on the weekend. Indigo Plateau will be closed to the general public, so you are free to head outside if you wish," she finished, glancing at a confused Frisk. "Quarterfinal matches will begin Monday at the normal time."

    "Sounds good. Thank you!" So that's two extra days of 'hard labor.' Four quarterfinal matches, two semifinal matches, and the finals... who knows how long they would drag this tournament out? That was a lot of time to be calling some smug little brat 'sir.'

    The hundred bucks sounded tempting, though. Was it worth the risk? She decided, a little reluctantly, that it was not. But just as she was about to audibly decline, a thought entered her head.

    Wait a sec. This kid is loaded. Even if he loses, he's only out a hundred bucks. Like he said, peasant money. Well, let's see if he's willing to put his money where his mouth is.

    "I have two conditions of my own. Just to keep things interesting... for both of us," she said with a smile. "We don't know exactly how long this tournament lasts and I'd be a fool to agree to be your slave without knowing that information. My first condition is to shorten my sentence to one week. We are guaranteed at least that much time here."

    "Fair enough. I accept. And the other?"

    "If you think that I'm going to risk purposefully lowering myself to be a servant for something you consider to be 'peasant money,' you've got another thing coming. If I'm gonna take a risk, then so are you. Lay me..." She thought of a number that sounded big, but not too big. "Ten to one on the match."

    Alex pretended to give this some serious thought, but in reality he was trying to mask his amusement. That is rich. She thinks a thousand dollars will put a noticeable strain on my wealth. I could offer her ten thousand and still feel nothing. But what she does not know, as they say, will not hurt her. "After careful consideration, I have decided to accept your terms. If Kyro wins, you will be my servant for one week. And if Jethro wins, I will pay you one thousand dollars. Do we have a deal?" He held his hand out for her to shake.

    Kiria hesitated. He wasn't supposed to take the money! A thousand bucks, though... that could definitely do some good. Well, I mean, I'm still in the running for the hundred mil, but... oh, what the hell. We're practically on vacation here anyway. What's the worst that could happen? "We have a deal," she agreed, shaking his hand.

    "You should have gone higher," Eldan noted. "A thousand bucks is still pretty much chump change for both of us." Alex glared at him, who only shrugged. "Hey, don't get mad, I waited until she shook on it," he said with a grin.

    "It's okay," Kiria said in a tone that questioned whether or not she believed it. "A thousand dollars might not mean much to you two, but it means a lot to me. I've worked a lot of jobs in order to pay for my chosen lifestyle, and it hasn't always been easy. You don't really learn to appreciate the value of a dollar until you barely have any to your name."

    "Ah, can't really say I relate much," Eldan admitted. "I wasn't destitute or anything, but I never wondered if I was gonna go hungry. Since joining Team Flare, my life has been amazing. I have money and prestige. I can be my own man. The boss is doing his best to preserve the Kalos region's beauty for people the world over. It's noble what he's doing, and I am honored to be a part of it."

    "Are you sure you aren't just being fed a line?" Kiria questioned him, his speech an echo of one she used to convince herself that joining Team Rocket had been the right call. "You have to be aware of all the bad press that Team Flare gets. I remember reading in the paper just last week that some Team Flare grunts were arrested for harassing a boy and his Pokemon."

    "Not everyone in Team Flare shares the boss's values," Eldan explained. "Some, like those grunts you mentioned, are only after the notoriety that being a Team Flare member brings. We have already done many great things for the people of Kalos. You from around there?"

    "I guess you might say that. I was born in Johto, but I've been living in Malie City for a couple years now."

    "So you're familiar with the Holo Caster," he said, laying his trap.

    "I'm familiar with it, yes. I bought one the last time I was in Kalos, thinking it would be helpful for staying in touch with friends, but it doesn't even work outside of Kalos. I packed it up and haven't used it since."

    "It does now. We reverse engineered it and made huge improvements. It's smaller, broadcasts a cleaner picture, and has improved sound and connection capabilities. We gave this technology back to Lysandre Labs, and they implemented our changes immediately."

    "I don't buy that," Kiria said, shaking her head. "Nuh uh. Team Flare just gave away all their hard work? For nothing? What's their angle?"

    "That knowledge is above my pay grade, I'm afraid," Eldan offered with a shrug. "The boss has his reasons, and unless he decides it's information worth sharing, I'm not worried about it."

    Kiria frowned. Eldan sounded almost exactly the way she did, once she'd told some of her childhood friends that she had joined Team Rocket. They were appalled at the idea of it, and didn't buy into the hype like she did. They were nothing but a group of Pokemon thugs. Gangsters, she remembered her friends calling them. At the time, Kiria had been ready with a fresh denial of their accusations, but it didn't take long for her to start seeing Team Rocket in a different light. It wasn't until she'd been shipped off to Azalea Town and taken part in the subjugation of the Slowpoke there did she realize that perhaps her friends were right. The admin in charge of the operation had promised her that what they were doing was humane - that Slowpoke hardly felt the pain of losing their tails, and they grew back within a few weeks anyway, so no permanent damage was done. On top of this, the tails were massively popular, and farming them here would make the corporation a lot of money.

    What Kiria would later realize that the admin left out of this reassurance was while losing their tails hardly hurt physically, it had a much greater effect on them psychologically. Losing their tails meant they could no longer fish for prey; Kiria witnessed one of them backing itself up to the water's edge, trying to dip its nonexistent tail into the water. It made a confused sound as it struggled to understand why its tail hadn't found water yet, waving the stump where its tail should have been side to side. Feeling sorry for the poor thing, Kiria offered it some of her own food, which it reluctantly accepted, and left.

    When she came back to check on it hours later, she noticed the Slowpoke still hadn't moved from its spot by the water, still trying to fish up its own breakfast. Noticing Kiria, it let out a pleading noise. Was it asking for more food? Was it asking for help? Maybe it was asking for an explanation as to why it still hadn't fished anything up yet. Whatever the reason, it made Kiria's stomach turn. This Slowpoke was obviously in pain. Maybe not physical pain, but it was entirely possible that it did not understand that its tail had been removed, and its whole way of life had been upended for seemingly no reason at all.

    She brought this information to her superiors, but they were uninterested and refused to bother the admin about it. When she went around them and confronted the admin directly, he promised that something would be done. Satisfied, she went back to her normal patrol duties, visiting the Slowpoke every day for a week, just to chat with it and reassure it that everything was going to be okay. After a week went by and nothing noticeable had changed, she asked the admin what he had done to ensure that no more Slowpoke would lose their tails, and he laughed.

    "Who said anything about not taking their tails?"

    "You did!" she yelled, her rage temporarily making her forget her place.

    The admin did not forget, however, and he slapped her hard across the face. "Watch your tone when you speak to your superiors, girl," he warned.

    Her face stung, but she put on a brave face, standing up straight and willing herself not to cry. "Yes, sir," she apologized. "Forgive me, sir, but you promised you would do something after I told you about how much the Slowpoke are suffering. It's been a week and I have not noticed any change in protocol or heard any word of when we are leaving this town."

    The admin smiled. "Oh, but I did do something. I made a decision, and that decision was to ignore the pleadings of a twelve-year-old girl who doesn't know her ass from a hole in the ground. I have more important things to worry about than some Pokemon too dumb to know when it's missing a part of its body. Now get back to your post and don't bother me unless it is worth my time."


    That, Kiria decided, had been the last straw. She excused herself and went back to her barracks, and packed her bag with as much as she could fit. She went back to the well to say goodbye to the Slowpoke she'd fed, and it surprised her by leaving the water's edge and slowly approaching her. She leaned down and pet the poor Pokemon.

    "Sorry, buddy, I don't have any food for you. I'm getting out of here."

    Slowpoke stared vacantly, and Kiria couldn't quite tell if what she'd said had registered with it. It was always so hard to tell with them.

    "I'm sorry for what we did to you and your friends. I... wish I could have done more."

    Kiria stood up, preparing to leave, and hesitated. Maybe there was something more she could do. She may not have been strong enough to force Team Rocket out of Azalea Town, but at least she could take a small bit of their profits away by taking one of the Slowpoke. It seemed to have taken a liking to her anyway... she kneeled back down, a Poke Ball in hand. "Do you want to come with me? I promise no one will ever cut off your tail ever again, and I'll take good care of you and feed you every day."

    Slowpoke blinked.

    That was good enough for her, and she tapped the Pokemon on the nose with the Poke Ball. Kiria held the ball as Slowpoke was sucked inside; the ball made almost no movement in her hand, and finally came to rest in her palm. Pocketing the new Pokemon, she climbed out of the well, sneaked through the trees outside of town, and into Ilex Forest.


    "Hey, Kiria, you all right?" Eldan shook her shoulder, bringing her back to the present. "You were kinda zoning out there."

    "Oh. Sorry, you just got me thinking about the past. Eldan, are you sure that Team Flare is the right path for you?"

    "I've never been more sure of anything in my life," he answered confidently, if not a little offended at her question. "Team Flare has given me everything I have ever wanted and we have a leader whose vision I will support with all my strength."

    Kiria's frown returned. She was hoping he could be more easily swayed. "When I was in Team Rocket, I found myself thinking the same thing."

    Now Eldan frowned. Team Flare and Team Rocket didn't have any bad blood between them, as far as he knew - in fact, his information on the organization was minimal at best - but if they were anything like Team Flare, the very idea of leaving made no sense at all. "Why were you discharged?"

    "I wasn't. I deserted." At Eldan's obviously offended look, she held a hand up. "Hear me out. I left them because I learned they weren't what they seemed. I joined them almost twenty years ago. The recruitment officer was really nice to me, asking me if I wanted to see the world, meet new Pokemon and be a part of something bigger than myself. I'd spent the first twelve years of my life on a farm outside of Olivine City, so I was definitely ready to get out. As far as seeing the world, it might have been true if I'd stuck around longer, but I did get to travel around Johto and see new things in that regard."

    She recounted the story of getting stationed in Azalea Town, and the Slowpoke, and her eventual desertion. "My only regret is not getting to say goodbye to my friend Barry. He joined right about the same time I did... wonder what he's doing now."

    Eldan shook his head in disgust. "Kiria, I am sorry for what you went through. That admin of yours is despicable. Hitting a little girl? The idea of it boils my blood. Were he in Team Flare, he would be stripped of his rank and title, demoted below even the lowest grunt. Knowing that, I can't blame you for leaving."

    "Then please reconsider your membership in Team Flare."

    "No," he said flatly.

    "Eldan..."

    Now Eldan held up a hand. "Listen. I'm not going to say that Team Flare is perfect. Are there bad people in Team Flare? Of course. Just because we have a few problem people doesn't mean we're all thugs. Take yourself, for example. You were a part of Team Rocket. Does that automatically make you a terrible person? Of course it doesn't," he answered for her. "When your superiors made it clear that their inhumane treatment wasn't going to stop, you held your head high and walked away. Was that the best choice? I don't know. I don't know if Team Rocket has the same transparency that Team Flare does, but Lysandre is a very kind and fair leader. He has always instructed us to come to him if we have any problems with our superiors."

    "How do you know that Team Flare has your best interests in mind? Some of the things I've heard have been pretty sketchy."

    "Like what? I've been a proud member of Team Flare for four years now, and I've never been asked to do something I didn't agree with."

    She tried thinking of something, but came up empty. "Maybe they lied to you like they did me."

    "Or, maybe not everyone is as disgusting as your admin," Eldan countered. "I understand your point, Kiria, but I won't leave when there is no evidence that they aren't who they say they are. Lysandre would not stand for such ugliness in his organization. Please don't let one bad experience define us as a group."

    Kiria opened her mouth again, ready to continue trying to convince him that he was on the wrong path, but could not help but admit that he was right, at least in the sense that not everyone who was part of an allegedly villainous group was bad. She herself was proof of that, and it wasn't fair for her to pass judgment on all of Team Flare for the actions of a few. Eldan himself wasn't awful, she admitted. He was a bit of a pervert, sure, and wouldn't know subtlety if it kicked him in the rear, but that was it. He cared very much for his Pokemon and their well-being, pushed them to use their moves in innovative and unique ways, allowing for stylish and visually impressive displays in battle. And while she didn't know Team Flare's motives or goals, it was obvious that Eldan trusted in the team and its leader, and strongly held in the belief that his path was the right one.

    "All right," she finally conceded. "It's clear you've given this a lot of thought, and you seem smart enough to know when to quit, so... promise me, if that day ever comes, you'll get out."

    "My dear," Eldan said with a grin, taking Kiria's hand into his, "You have my word." He leaned down to kiss her hand, gesturing grandly with the other.

    "Ahem," he heard.

    Eldan looked up, meeting Kiria's gaze. "Yes, my dear?"

    Kiria smiled. "I didn't say anything." She looked past him, where the person once again tried getting his attention.

    Eldan sighed. "Nye is standing right behind me, isn't she."

    "Mhm. You gonna let me go? I don't want to get blood on my clothes."

    Quick as a flash, Eldan released Kiria and spun around to see the object of his affection, looking very cross. She slowly tapped a foot on the ground. "Hello, Eldan," she said evenly. "What is going on here? I thought you said you would not act this way anymore..."

    "Ah, hello, Nye, you're looking as radiant as ever, you, uh, seem to have caught me in the middle of something, I was simply promising Kiria here that I would look out for any questionable activity in Team Flare. As you know, of course, I am a perfect gentleman, and I was simply showing her that I take my promises quite seriously."

    Nye crossed her arms. "So you weren't serious about your promise to me? You didn't kiss my hand."

    Eldan could not tell by her tone of voice if she was more upset that he just implied he wasn't taking his promise seriously, or that he hadn't actually kissed her hand when he made it. Not wanting to risk forfeiting his life if he made her even more angry, he looked behind him for backup. "Hey, Kiria, assistance if you... please?" But she was not there, having taken this time to slip out and get some more food. "Oh, okay, um, Alex, buddy, back me up here?" he pleaded.

    Alex just continued eating. "You did not even kiss her hand? How dreadful," he lamented, shaking his head.

    "You can't be serious right now," Eldan said, turning back to face Nye. "Look, I'm sorry, I'll kiss your hand if you want, just please don't kill me!"

    Nye turned away from him, but put her arm out with the back of her hand facing him. He wordlessly took it into her hand and gently kissed the back of it. "Say I am the most beautiful woman you have ever seen," she commanded.

    As if he needed to be told twice to state such an obvious truth. Even though Eldan could only see Nye's long blonde locks, in his mind's eye he could recall every detail of Nye's pretty face. "You are the most beautiful woman... I have ever seen."

    "Now kneel before me and say you are not worthy to be in my presence," she instructed.

    "Huh?"

    Nye whipped her head around, deep blue eyes glaring hard at the man in red. "Did I stutter, Eldan?"

    "N-no! I am not worthy to be in your presence!" he cried, kneeling as he was told, taking her hand in his and bowing his head.

    "Very good," she praised him. "Now, say gotcha."

    "Gotcha. Wait, what?" He looked up, confused, to see a giggling Nye. "You... you weren't serious?"

    "No. I caught the last part of your chat with Kiria, and thought I'd have a little fun with you since you two were so engaged in your conversation. It was clear that Kiria was okay with your doing that, so you are off the hook."

    Eldan slowly shook his head in disbelief. "Well, damn. Gotcha, indeed. You had me going for a minute there."

    "Well, I've got to keep you on your toes somehow," she said with a smirk. She turned her palm open to him. "Are you going to stay down there all morning?"

    He took her hand and she pulled him to his feet, and they remained with hands held for a few seconds as Kiria came back to the table. "Cute," she commented before Nye yanked her hand away. "You guys sure are getting along better."

    Nye was lightning quick with the denial. "Please don't misunderstand, Kiria, there is nothing going on between us."

    "I didn't say there was," Kiria countered. "All I said was that you were being nicer to each other."

    "Well, um, when one does not act like a total lecher, it becomes much easier to be courteous in response. That's all. Now I have... things to do. Excuse me," she said, briskly turning and leaving.

    Eventually, Jethro and Kyro were paged to report to their respective waiting areas. Kyro sprinted over to Jethro as he got up from his table, hoping to catch him before it was too late.

    "Hey, kid," the one-eyed man said, an easy smile on his face. "Sorry about turning you away yesterday. I hear Thresher helped ya out, though. That was nice of him. You ready to get things started?"

    "Yeah," Kyro replied, a lot calmer than Jethro expected. "I just wanted to say good luck. You'll need it." This unexpected response caught Jethro off guard, and the face of confusion he made caused laughter from a few tables away. Kyro looked back at them, smiling, then back at Jethro. "Mr. Thresher told me to say that last part. But I really do wish you good luck! I've been practicing all week, and Mr. Thresher gave me some advice yesterday, too, but I'm still reeeally nervous."

    "Is that right?" Jethro inquired, scratching his chin. "Well, I tell you what, Kyro, I'm nervous, too, but I try not to let my Pokemon see it. You can't help it if it slips out sometimes, and that's okay. Just gotta keep pressin' forward, believe in your Pokemon, and don't ever give up. It's not over until Esmeralda says it's over, you hear?"

    Kyro nodded obediently. "Absolutely! And hey, guess what? I've got a surprise for you in our battle. I know I shouldn't say anything, but it's such a cool idea, I just had to tell you! But don't worry, I won't tell you what it is until I do it, so you'll definitely be surprised!"

    Jethro resisted the urge to groan audibly, instead settling on an uneasy smile. Jethro wasn't a fan of surprises in general, and the last thing he needed before what was sure to be the toughest fight of his life was being told by his opponent that he was going to surprise him. Great. "You don't say? Uh... well, I uh... gosh, Kyro, I dunno what to say to that. I'll have to be on my guard then so I'm not taken by surprise by... your... surprise."

    Kyro just giggled, wanting so badly to share the plan that he and Thresher had come up with. But as long as things didn't go too badly, he should have enough time to execute it, and then Jethro would really be in trouble. "I promise I'll let you know once it happens."

    Jethro raised an eyebrow. "Yeah? What makes you think I'm going to just sit back and let you do it?"

    Kyro rolled his eyes at the older man. "Because it's a surprise, Mr. Jethro! It wouldn't be a surprise if you knew when it was coming!"

    Jethro nodded in concession. "Got me there, Kyro. I'm looking forward to seeing what you've got in store for me. Now, we best get going before Safiri has our hides, hmm?"

    "Oh! Yeah!" Kyro thrust his hand out for Jethro to shake. "Good luck again, Mr. Jethro! I hope to give you a battle that you'll never forget!"

    Jethro smiled, genuinely this time, taking the young boy's hand and shaking it firmly. "Of that, I have no doubt."

    * * * * * * * *

    "Happy Friday, ladies and gentlemen! Ruby Erthgrand here, reporting live from Indigo Plateau, where we're just about to get started with our first match of the day! The other competitors have been buzzing about this matchup for days, and I'm sure you've all been just as eager to see it! Let's not waste any more time and bring out today's battlers! Folks, just a few days ago, we had the eldest person ever to do battle in this sacred arena, and today, we've got the youngest! This kid is nothing short of amazing, ladies and gentlemen; not only is he the youngest person ever to battle here, he's also the youngest person to win a major tournament, and he did it all with just one Pokemon! He's traveled a very long way to be with us today, so please join me in welcoming the cutest competitor, your Castelia City tournament champion, Kyro Remington!"

    Kyro burst from the waiting area at hearing the first syllable of his name, unable to contain his excitement. The crowd's cheering swelled to impossibly loud levels at his appearance, and he waved all around, acknowledging everyone that was rooting for him to win. He took his place at his podium, an enormous grin plastered on his face, ready to see the look on Jethro's face once he revealed his starting Pokemon.

    He hadn't known what Jethro's other two Pokemon were before Safiri had told him five minutes prior, but knowing what they were made his decision of who to start with painfully easy. If Jethro started with Luxray like Kyro thought he would, Kyro's choice would force him into a very bad spot right from the start.

    He thinks I'm going to use Archeops first, he thought to himself as he bounced in place, unable to sit still. He's gonna be super surprised! I can't wait!

    Jethro, from inside the waiting room, could hear the crowd chanting Kyro's name as he came onto the field. It didn't make him feel any less nervous, but he did his best to dismiss it. Course they're excited, he's practically a baby. I suppose I'd be excited too, if I was watchin'. He turned to each of his Pokemon, who he'd let out for a last-minute pep talk. "Y'all ready?" A few grunts of confirmation, and Jethro sighed. "Good. Cause I sure ain't. Heh." He leaned down, scratched his Luxray's fur by her chin. "Ready to get even with that Archeops?"

    Ennis purred happily, nodding. She'd been made a fool of in their last battle, and she was going to make sure it wasn't going to happen again.

    "Good. Just remember what we practiced and we'll be in great shape. And that goes for you two as well," he said, acknowledging Prince and Aisling, his massive Hydreigon. "You know I trust you all. Use your best judgment out there. Win or lose, I'm proud of you guys. Now let's get to work."

    "Coming now to the east platform is his opponent, a man who is considered by many to be the underdog in this fight. Known for his hands-off approach to Pokemon battling, his Pokemon seem to know what to do in any situation! Will that bond be enough to give him a win today? Or will Kyro's massively powerful Pokemon be too much to handle? Please welcome your Viridian City tournament champion, Jethro Duffy!"

    Jethro took a breath as he made his way to his platform. He'd hoped this would satisfy Prince's desire to battle for a good long time; all this stress was starting to get to Jethro, and he honestly found himself not caring if he lost. Of course, conceding was out of the question; it would be a slap in the face not only to Prince, but to Kyro as well. He would give the battle his all, and deal with the result later.

    He saw Kyro waving madly to him, and Jethro raised a hand in greeting back. I thought he was nervous? Or maybe he's just hiding it real well. Ah, no matter, he thought, taking out his first Poke Ball. Hope this works...

    Esmeralda was introduced, and the battlefield was revealed to be the ground field. Jethro cursed silently to himself as the battlefield came into view. He hadn't even considered the terrain when forming his battle plan. He didn't think any of Kyro's Pokemon could take advantage of the terrain specifically... none of his Pokemon looked strong enough to lift those huge boulders. Then again, he remembered, both Anorith and Archeops were Rock-type. Would that type allow them enough power to move those rocks? He hoped not. He might just have Aisling blast them into rubble.

    "Trainers, release your Pokemon!"

    "Let's do it, Ennis!"

    "Let's go, Clefairy!"

    Kyro made sure to watch Jethro's reaction as Clefairy was sent out and was disappointed to see that he hadn't looked to be all that worried. While it was true that Jethro was stone-faced on the outside, he was wondering exactly what he should do here. Even Ennis, not expecting to see this Pokemon, turned to Jethro, awaiting instruction.

    Of course, he realized, far too late now. Prince and Aisling are both weak to Fairy-type attacks. If I switch out now, I'll be sending them into danger. But if I don't switch, and Ennis gets worn down, she won't have the strength left to fight Archeops. Now that I think about it, that's actually a really smart move. Damn, kid. You got me. He shook his head and smiled, giving Kyro the exact reaction he was hoping for.

    "Surprised, Mr. Jethro?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

    "Yeah, you surprised me all right. Wait. Was that the surprise?"

    "Nope!" Kyro declared happily. "After Miss Safiri told me your Pokemon, it just made a lot of sense to start with Clefairy! The Fairy type has gigantic advantages against both the Dark type and the Dragon type, not only offensively, but defensively, too!"

    A moment passed as Jethro tried remembering the type chart. Was that true?

    "And I knew that you'd think I'd start with Archeops," Kyro continued. "It's true that he's a lot stronger than my other Pokemon, but why waste his energy when I can just have Clefairy wear your team down? She's more than strong enough to do that."

    "I guess I underestimated you a little," Jethro admitted. "But it won't happen again, I promise you that. Thunderbolt, Ennis!"

    Ennis roared, loading her body with energy. She hurled it straight forward in a massive shot that Kyro was barely ready for. "Use Protect!"

    Clefairy braced herself, surrounding herself with the protective barrier. Ennis's powerful Thunderbolt glanced harmlessly off of it, but Ennis didn't give her any time to prepare a counterattack; Clefairy's barrier dropped seconds before she rushed in, gripping Clefairy in her jaws, lifting her into the air, and electrifying her with Thunder Fang. Ennis whipped Clefairy out of her mouth, sending her flying, but she was able to stop herself in midair, alighting onto one of the large boulders. "Clefairy, use Gravity!" Kyro commanded, and she closed her eyes, focusing, and a purplish gray aura permeated the battlefield. Ennis had been mid-dash when the increased gravity took hold, and she fell straight to her knees, unable to even move.

    She snapped her head back to Jethro, clearly worried; even standing on her feet was taking an absurd amount of energy. Meanwhile, Clefairy looked no worse for wear. Kyro took this opportunity to recall his Pokemon. "Nice job, Clefairy! Now it's time for part two. Let's go, Anorith!"

    Anorith landed with a shriek, causing Jethro to temporarily freeze at the sight of it. Goddamn bugs. Why does everyone have these goddamn bugs? Ennis roared, breaking him out of his daze. Damn it, I gotta stay focused. I gotta swap Ennis out here... but Kyro knows that. He knows that no matter who I use, they're gonna be at a disadvantage. Fact is, I'm going to need to save Ennis for Archeops, and Kyro knows that too. And then there's that damn surprise. He recalled Ennis into her Poke Ball, and the smile that had come across Kyro's face as a result proved to Jethro that yes, he predicted this play.

    Jethro shook off the doubt that slowly started setting in and tried remaining positive. Ennis had landed a strong hit on Clefairy, who hadn't actually counterattacked. Anorith didn't look too threatening, and as long as Archeops stayed away, Ennis could get her strength back and then he'd be able to clip that bird's wings for good.

    "Let's go, Aisling!" Jethro's huge dragon came onto the field with a roar, a roar that was stopped short by her unexpectedly crashing to the ground, rooting her to the spot.

    "I thought you'd send Hydreigon out! It's the most susceptible to Fairy-type attacks, so it makes sense to bring it out when Clefairy's gone."

    That was true, and Jethro hadn't even thought of it. He just wanted a Pokemon with a wider variety of attacks to take on Anorith.

    "But I thought of that! That's part of the reason I used Gravity, so she can't just fly around and dodge everything! Cool, huh?"

    "Actually, Kyro, I--"

    But Kyro was way too excited to actually wait for Jethro's answer. "Anorith, use X-Scissor!" Anorith skittered toward the grounded Aisling, seemingly unaffected by the intense gravity, and raised a glowing claw. He delivered a large slash across Aisling's midsection, making her roar in pain. She fired a Dragon Pulse down at him, but he rolled out of the way, dodging it easily. "Awesome job, Anorith! Looks like Mr. Thresher was right about training under the effects of Gravity! Go for another X-Scissor!"

    Anorith scurried forward, intent on delivering another blow, but this time, Aisling was ready for him; she fired a Dragon Pulse from her mouth before he could get too close. Anorith leaped out of the way, but another head fired another Dragon Pulse, smacking him him in midair and sending him tumbling to the ground.

    "That's okay, we can fight long range, too! Use Rock Blast!" Anorith circled around Aisling as several small stones were summoned around Anorith's body. He took aim and fired them off like like little bullets, but Aisling fired huge Flamethrower attacks from her two smaller heads, burning most of the attack away, and what little did hit home did minimal damage.

    Jethro saw Anorith crawl beneath the fire, preparing an attack unbidden. Realizing that Aisling couldn't see Anorith coming, he did his best to help. "Aisling, look out! Aim downwards in front of you!"

    Aisling obeyed immediately, but it was too late. Anorith barrel rolled to the side, slicing Aisling hard again. She winced, falling over; after another slash to her face, it was lights out.

    "Hydreigon is no longer able to battle! The winner is Anorith!" Esmeralda declared as the effects of Gravity subsided, and Kyro was overjoyed. The young man congratulated his Pokemon on a job well done as Jethro did the same, recalling his Pokemon.

    Maybe using Prince would have been a better call there, he considered. Aisling would have been much better if she'd been able to fly and - well, hell, what I am I making excuses for? I got outplayed, plain and simple. Gotta give him credit for that.

    "Gotta say, Kyro, that Gravity was a pretty neat trick. Can't remember the last time I've seen a Pokemon use it. And your Pokemon did that last attack on his own, too. You takin' a play outta my book now? Is that the surprise?"

    "Hehe, nope! I told you, Mr. Jethro, I'll tell you when it happens! But I'm glad you liked it. It was Mr. Thresher's idea for me to do some training while under the effects of Gravity. He said it would give me an "extra legup" in our battle. I don't know what a legup is, but it seems to have helped!"

    "Yeah, seems that way, huh..." Jethro mulled over what to do. He didn't like sending Prince to fight an uphill battle... but he needed to keep Ennis healthy for Archeops. That, he kept telling himself, was the endgame. Once it was her and Archeops, he could enact his own surprise, one that would definitely give him a win over the damn bird. He took Prince's Poke Ball and decided all he could do was trust in his best friend and longest partner. "Let's do it, Prince!"

    Prince came onto the field, gauging his opponent cautiously. The two Pokemon circled one another, staring each other down, each waiting for the other to make a move. Finally, Kyro decided to take the battle into his own hands. "Use X-Scissor!"

    Anorith made another dash for Prince, who stood his ground, readying an attack. When Anorith got close, Prince used Double Team to make a dozen copies of himself, and Anorith's attack only hit a mirage. Then, Prince and all the copies used Baby-Doll Eyes, dropping Anorith's strength. While only the attack from the real Prince had any effect, neither Anorith nor Kyro knew which one that was.

    Unfortunately for Jethro, that didn't seem to bother Kyro at all; in fact, he seemed to know exactly how to handle this situation. "Rock Blast again, Anorith!" Anorith summoned the circle of rocks around him again, and this time, instead of firing them off like a gun, he exploded them outward; all the clones vanished as they were struck, leaving the real Prince to get damaged by the attack. Once Anorith saw the real Prince, he darted towards him, attempting to close the gap and attack with another X-Scissor. Prince was able to get his bearings back just in time and sounded a horrible screech as Anorith got close, causing Anorith to flinch and giving Prince enough time to deliver a solid Faint Attack to Anorith.

    Jethro counted on his fingers. Was that four or five?

    He knew what Prince was doing - it was a good idea, and his best chance against Clefairy, to be honest. But his count had to be right; if he was even one move off, the whole thing would be for nothing. Using some of his less common attacks against the least threatening opponent was going to make things a lot easier later.

    Despite Anorith being severely wounded, Kyro was on cloud nine, because it was finally time for him to unleash his surprise. If this worked as well as it did in practice, Jethro was going to be in big trouble. "Anorith! It's time for the big surprise! Do it now, do it as much as you can, and don't stop for anything!"

    Jethro's gaze hardened. "Stop him, Prince! Whatever he's planning, I don't wanna see it!"

    Prince didn't need to be told twice. He ran as fast as he could towards Anorith, who was currently focusing energy into his claws. Suddenly, a seemingly endless stream of mud issued forth from them, covering Prince in the stuff and halting him in his tracks. Anorith ignored his dazed opponent and sprayed more and more mud over the battlefield, covering the entire arena. Prince shook the mud off of him and fired off a Dark Pulse, hitting Anorith and knocking it out, but not before he had covered the battlefield in seven inches of goopy, thick, viscous mud.

    "Surprise!" Kyro yelled, happily recalling his fallen Pokemon. "What do you think? It's called Mud Sport."

    Jethro was silent. This... was bad. Prince's mobility was shot. Ennis wouldn't be able to move in this, either. The mud weakened Electric attacks, which, Jethro deduced, was likely Kyro's goal the whole time. Archeops was a flying Pokemon, though, so the mud wouldn't really affect him. All Ennis would have to do is aim up and Archeops would still get zapped out of the sky. Still, he remembered back to the disastrous battle from before, remembering Archeops flying so fast across the field that Ennis hadn't had any time to react. Now, with all this mud added into the equation, dodging Archeops's aerial attacks was going to be all but impossible now, and all of this was on top of the fact that it had distracted Jethro from his counting. Was Umbreon at four or five now? He hated that he'd lost track. Hopefully Prince was counting.

    But I'm gettin' ahead of myself, Jethro realized. He still has Clefairy. Is he going to keep her for later, or... his unanswered question received an answer as Kyro indeed did send out Clefairy, after Esmeralda had gently prodded him to choose a Pokemon. Clefairy stood on one of the rocks, out of the mud, as Prince prepared to respond to anything Clefairy did.

    "Cosmic Slam, Clefairy!"

    Prince froze. He had plans for just about everything, but not knowing what Clefairy was doing caused him to hesitate. His offensive set of moves didn't consist of much outside of Dark-type attacks, which would have little effect on Clefairy. If he could stall long enough, he could emerge victorious, but it was difficult to know what to do when he didn't recognize the attack Clefairy was using. Deciding to watch and see, preparing another Double Team just in case, he waited as Clefairy summoned a pink ball of energy, tossing it into the air over the two battlers. Prince braced himself, looking up at the ball, preparing to dodge; what he wasn't counting on was Clefairy leaping up into the energy ball and using it to fall directly onto Prince, too quickly for him to react. An explosion of fairy energy and mud followed, raining mud all over the two battlers as Clefairy landed itself on one of the large stone boulders.

    "Damn!" Jethro exclaimed, awestruck by the attack. Prince immediately went on the defensive, using Moonlight to start restoring his health. This caused Jethro to bring his focus back to the battle, and he tried thinking of Prince's attacks. He'd gotten most of them out of the way already... did he use Baby-Doll Eyes already? Jethro couldn't remember.

    Kyro continued commanding his Pokemon, unwilling to let his carefully planned advantage slip away. "Use Moonblast!"

    Clefairy summoned another ball of energy and this time flung it straight at Prince. Instead of trying to leap out of the way, Prince used Quick Attack to do it instead. Prince yelled at Jethro as if to signal something. "Was that the last one?" Prince made another noise as he Quick Attacked again, positioning himself right in front of Clefairy. "Last Resort!"

    Prince smacked Clefairy right in the mouth with a glowing white paw, sending her crashing into the invisible wall with a bang. Clefairy was knocked out cold by the powerful attack; Esmeralda made Prince's win official, and now Jethro started to show signs of worry. Archeops was all that was left now. Prince was fairly healthy, but a little worn. The mud also wasn't going to make things any easier. Hopefully Prince could get in a few hits before he went down - the more energy Archeops had to use to beat Prince, the better.

    Kyro took out his last Poke Ball. He was grinning from ear to ear, not only because his surprise was a rousing success, but also because Jethro had given him a good fight so far, and he was looking forward to the conclusion - especially because the young man had one more trick up his sleeve. "Let's go, Archeops!"

    The demon bird materialized in the air above one of the rocks, looking down on Prince, who was busy trying to keep from sinking further down into the mud.

    "Use Head Smash!"

    Archeops flapped his wings once and then dive bombed towards Prince at an alarming speed, prepared to tie up this battle. Prince immediately used Double Team the moment Kyro's command was heard, forcing Archeops to abort his attack midway. Each of the Prince copies started charging a Dark Pulse, and Archeops flew to each copy in turn, smacking it with a hard wing, hoping to find the real one. There were only a few left when Prince finished his attack; the dark wave shot out and Archeops flew straight up, high above the attack's range. Prince looked skyward for his opponent, the bright sun making it hard to see clearly.

    His ears barely picked up the sound of Archeops zooming downwards at an angle in Prince's blind spot, catching him off guard and defenseless. The impact drove Prince through the mud and into the wall, fracturing two of Prince's legs from the awkward angle of impact. Archeops landed on one of the nearby rocks, using the down time to top off his health with Roost.

    "Umbreon is no longer able to battle! The winner is Archeops!" Esmeralda declared, to uproarious cheers. So it was going to come down to this after all. Jethro wondered if Kyro had planned this from the very beginning. After all, Jethro wanted a good fight just as much as Kyro did, and their last meeting had been decidedly one-sided.

    He recalled Prince into his Poke Ball, trying hard not to become emotional at the sight of his broken partner. He'd have to finish this battle as quickly as he could. "Let's do it, Ennis!"

    Ennis came back into the battle, hating the feel of her paws in the mud, and she took a few moments to get used to trying to move around in it.

    Kyro's mood had fallen a little after seeing Jethro so sullen. He, too, promised he would try to end things as soon as possible, and he knew just the attack to help him do that. "Head Smash, one more time!"

    Ennis snapped to attention as Kyro gave his order, watching Archeops rise from the boulder and rush towards her. Suddenly, she loosed a massive wave of electricity from her body, so much that there was no way for Archeops to avoid it. He fell to the ground, the volts causing him to lose control of himself for a time, and Kyro was quick to give his next command. "Roost, Archeops! Get ready!" As Archeops scrambled to alight himself on one of the stone boulders, Ennis wasted no time in continuing her assault. From across the field, she readied an attack. Just before she fired, Kyro continued executing his plan. "Okay! Jump into the mud!"

    Before he could heal off much of his damage, Archeops leaped behind the rock he was standing on, plunking himself as far down into the mud as his weight would allow. He rolled around in the stuff, caking his entire body in the slowly hardening mud. Ennis, thoroughly annoyed, shot another Thunderbolt. Kyro cringed as the attack struck home - his entire endgame rested on this plan working, and it would become apparent very soon if it was successful or not.

    Much to his delight, the mud did have the desired effect; by covering his body, he'd given himself what amounted to a temporary immunity to Electric attacks. There were a few small parts of his body not covered in mud that were affected by the attack, but with the special mud already weakening Electric-type moves, the damage it did was inconsequential. The crowd roared in excitement at this development, and Kyro was beside himself with glee. It worked. It really worked. Fueled with new confidence, he continued his assault. "All right, Roost again! We should be safe this time!"

    Archeops did a leap into the air, struggling a little bit to stay airborne with the additional weight of the mud covering his body. He still managed to land on the same boulder as before, beginning to heal as Ennis charged him as best as she was able.

    She sure is determined to beat that bird, Jethro thought with more than a little pride in his heart. He watched Ennis leap and slash at Archeops, who was doing all he could to evade her surprisingly frequent attacks. But I don't know what she's gonna do about that mud. Lots of Electric and Normal attacks, but they don't amount to much against that mud, and Archeops bein' a Rock-type. A clump of mud fell off of Archeops's tail, and she hit the spot with a focused shot of Thunderbolt. Archeops yowled in pain, falling back into the mud, and Ennis leaped onto a nearby boulder. Her feet finally finding purchase on solid ground, she crouched low and sprang off it, tackling Archeops into the mud, dunking his body further and giving them both a fresh coat of mud. Ennis' eyes glowed blue for a moment and she suddenly thrust her head into the mud, pulling out a flailing Archeops by the tail.

    Ennis bit down as hard as she could, electrifying her mouth and doing her best to shock her opponent into submission.

    "That ain't gonna work, girl!" Jethro yelled. "You got some non-Electric moves in your arsenal! Crunch, or something!"

    Ennis decided on 'or something.' Archeops's tail still tight in her mouth, she ceased trying to electrify and instead filled her mouth with an entirely different kind of energy. Archeops screeched in pain as the ice coursed through his body, rapidly hardening the mud on his body and causing it to fall off in chunks.

    "Huh? Ice Fang? Well I'll be damned, I didn't even know you knew that!" Jethro exclaimed, genuinely surprised by this.

    "Ah, this is bad," Kyro admitted. "But we're not out of it yet! Use Endeavor!"

    Archeops was still yowling and crying in pain from Ennis's relentless attack, but he still managed to turn around and bash Ennis in the side of her head with his stony wing. Ennis stopped her attack immediately as her strength was depleted in an instant. Her limbs suddenly ached with Archeops's pain, and she found it difficult to even stand. She and Jethro both surmised that she had very nearly knocked Archeops out before Kyro gave his command.

    "Wow, that was close! Endeavor is a strange move, isn't it, Mr. Jethro? It's not affected by Defeatist, either, which makes it really useful in bad situations like that!" He turned to his Pokemon. "Roost, Archeops! Just a little more and we'll be winners!"

    "Ennis, darlin', you can't let him heal up! Use Wild Charge and get in there!"

    Ennis was already halfway there when Jethro gave the order; she was determined not to suffer another embarrassing loss to a bird Pokemon. She glared at her opponent, who was beginning the process of healing his many wounds. She hopped out of the mud, cloaked in electricity, and Archeops immediately countered with Double Team. Suddenly there were a dozen Archeops scattered around the arena, all of them slowly restoring their HP.

    "Again! Do it again!" Kyro commanded, and Archeops did it again. Now there were nearly thirty copies of Archeops, and it was all but impossible for Ennis to find the right one. She slashed at one, but it was only a copy. She leaped at another and ended up with a face full of mud. Her patience and her time running out, she threw caution to the wind, took a deep breath, and fired out a Discharge, not caring to aim and being unable to see clearly in any case. The attack coursed through the entire arena, zapping all of the clones into nothingness and, of course, hitting the real bird and interrupting his healing. The attack hurt badly in his weakened state, compounded further by the fact that much of the mud had dried and fallen off of him, exposing larger and larger portions of his body. He squawked, leaping into the sky, somehow still standing after the attack.

    "Archeops! That's the way! Ennis is really weak now, so one more hit should do her in! Before she attacks again, use Thrash!"

    Archeops gave a weak cry in response, geared up to attack, and fell straight down into the mud as the last of his strength left him. Ennis looked on warily, heavily panting, her bloodied fur crackling in case Archeops decided to get up, but Esmeralda intervened when it was clear that Archeops was not going to be doing that. "Archeops is unable to battle! The winner is Luxray, which means victory goes to Jethro Duffy!"

    "What a battle, ladies and gentlemen!" Ruby was beyond impressed with the battle she'd just witnessed. And though she was secretly rooting for Kyro and was disappointed that he lost, she still wanted to make sure that Kyro left the stadium feeling like a winner. I want every single one of you to show some extra love for Kyro, who kept us on the edge of our seats until the very end! He might not be moving on to the next round in the tournament, but surely he's moving on to the next round in our hearts. On behalf of myself and Diamant Industries, Kyro, congratulations on making it this far. You're an inspiration to us all!"

    The two trainers recalled their Pokemon, heading towards center stage. There, they shook hands, and Kyro wiped his eyes with his sleeve. Jethro leaned in close, placing a hand on the young boy's shoulder, and said something into his ear. Then, Kyro nodded and turned around, standing a little straighter, and walked proudly back into Indigo Plateau to massive cheers, and several thousand people chanting his name.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2018
  15. GrandPanacea Thread Necromancer
    GrandPanacea

    Forum Super Mod Badges Staff Chat Room Staff Advanced Member Member

    Kinda glad that that triangle is done for a bit. The whole "drama by miscommunication" bit isn't a particular favourite of mine, but I am glad that it was at least addressed. Scarlet really dropped the ball.

    He's not exactly one to brag, which probably serves to his advantage to some degree.

    Always satisfying to see a jab at Eldan, heh.

    I don't really have a comment on this. It just really amused me.

    I would've been fine with either, but after this bet, I wanted my boy Jethro to win so hard.

    Might be best if Jethro doesn't learn this little tidbit of info

    I've done that... more times than I care to admit to. >.>;;

    HAH. So much for Fairy beating Dark. Hehehe.

    Man, I was goin' on about this to you in PMs on Discord, but this was a wicked battle. I know I mentioned multiple times that I didn't mind who won, as long as it was a good battle, but damn, I'm still pretty happy that Jethro won. I'm more happy, though, that it was an "edge-of-your-seat" kind of battle that had me guessing until the very end.
     
    Little Cherrim likes this.
  16. PMJ happy thoughts
    PMJ

    Articles Head Activities Staff Badges Staff Elite Member Advanced Member Member

    There are three sides to a triangle, you know.

    That is the point

    I was hoping it wouldn't telegraph Jethro's win too hard because a week-long slave-a-thon seems a bit... much.

    :>

    ayy I did a good

    now if only everyone else would say words.
     
    GrandPanacea likes this.
  17. PMJ happy thoughts
    PMJ

    Articles Head Activities Staff Badges Staff Elite Member Advanced Member Member

  18. PMJ happy thoughts
    PMJ

    Articles Head Activities Staff Badges Staff Elite Member Advanced Member Member

    It's been a little over a month since chapter 7, and I can't complain about that. I don't have the time to crank out new chapters in four days like I did with chapter 2 (okay maybe I could if I just wrote non-stop), but at least I'm making progress.

    Since we're at the end of the first round, here's how I'm currently planning out the next few chapters. Interlude 4, when I figure out how to write it, is going 'to focus on Diamant Industries. No ETA on that, but I haven't really written much about their side of things and my goal is for their motives to become a bit more clearer. Right now I have no idea how I'm going to do that because I inadvertently ruined the endgame I had planned from back when I started writing this fic. I did disclaim that dope-ass battles were always going to be the focus though and if the story elements happened to make something great then cool. I don't plan on using that as a get out of jail free card, I'm still gonna try, it's just gonna require me to think a bit more.

    Chapter 9 won't have any battles in it, but it is the chapter where Motfia takes place, so those of you who played that hot garbage can have a pleasant reminder of it. The unanswered questions from the game's epilogue will also be answered in that chapter.

    There's a small battle planned for chapter 10, and I've already hinted at it in a previous chapter, so if you look back, you might be able to figure out what it is. There's also a thing I have written down that I have planned for chapter 10 that I'm still not sure I wanna do yet. The idea behind it was to make the tournament more interesting, but the battles are already decided randomly, so it would only be interesting from a character's perspective. I'm like 30-40% on board with the idea, so... we'll see.

    Quarterfinals start in chapter 11 (or possibly 12), which will see Rose face off against Thresher. I won't be asking for you to submit leads to me, mainly because only a small handful of the people in the tournament even follow this story anymore, and planning the battles will be a little easier if I'm not shackled to your chosen lead.

    Other fun facts about chapter 8:

    - This is the first chapter where Safiri is mentioned but has no dialogue
    - Windra is the only competitor without any dialogue - everyone else has at least one line

    Tagging @double o squirtle because while may not be following this story closely anymore, I want to give him the opportunity to at least see his created character in action (finally). Sorry it took so long, buddy.

    Chapter 8 highlights:

    - said is dead; the amount of 'he said' or 'she said' with no added description of how it was said has been greatly reduced
    - Scarlet confronts the final boss of her story arc
    - Kyro has a great idea
    - Frisk and Taikyu finally catch up
    - Alex and Cody have their match
    - it's friggin dope

    As always, ignore this thread completely like this post once you've read it, and leave that sweet, sweet feedback.

    Word count: 15,046

    Chapter 8: Wrapping It All Up

    As was normal by now, the other competitors chose to watch the battle from wherever they felt most comfortable. Most stayed in the cafeteria, although a few retired to the comfort of their rooms. Scarlet had stayed in the cafeteria, but only because Kiria did. In the bath this morning, Scarlet had decided to ask Kiria what she should do. It was a better plan than wallowing in despair about the whole thing, and it was preferable than telling Jethro how gloriously her plan had backfired and listening to him yammer on about honesty and how this never would have happened if she had just been honest.

    A fat lot of good being honest did. She was honest with Windra, and look where that had gotten her. If anyone was going to have a sympathetic ear for her, surely it would be Kiria. The woman of the hour was intently watching the battle unfold alongside Alex and Eldan. Scarlet approached the group, nudging Kiria as she spoke. "Hey, Kiria, do you have a minute?"

    "Just a second, honey," Kiria dismissed her, far too interested in the fight to pay any attention to her. Alex was on his feet as the battle slowly came to its conclusion, both he and Kiria watching nervously as Archeops fell for the last time. Esmeralda announced Jethro as the winner, and Kiria jumped from the table and did a dance. Eldan laughed, though Scarlet couldn't tell if he was laughing at Kiria or at Alex, who looked visibly angry that Kyro had lost.

    "Woo! I'm rich! Pay up, Alex!" Kiria declared, holding out her palm in front of him.

    Alex rolled his eyes, sighing dramatically. "If I must."

    "You must. Cha-ching, baby! Mama needs a new pair of shoes!"

    Alex reached into his pocket and pulled a pen and small book out of his pocket. He scribbled something into it, then tore off a page and placed it in Kiria's hand. "There you are, Kiria. One thousand dollars. Congratulations," he sneered, as if he'd lost a part of himself.

    "Ah, hey, don't forget me, buddy," Eldan reminded him, grinning. "Jethro won, which means I just made ten grand. You can make the check out to 'The Suave and Stylish Eldan Faradel.'"

    "I think not," Alex shot back, pointing the tip of the pen at Eldan. "You are still indebted to me from the fight earlier this week. Ten thousand dollars. Or did you think I forgot?"

    "What? Aw, come on," Eldan complained. "Taikyu barely lost, I shouldn't have to pay for that!"

    A smug smile made its way onto Alex's face. "Very well. I will make the same argument. And so, our debts cancel each other out."

    Eldan opened his mouth to fire off a rebuttal, but couldn't argue against what Alex said. "Damn it. You're right."

    Kiria smiled at the two. "Guess you'll have to make it interesting for the next one, huh?"

    "Nah, we agreed not to bet on each other's matches. Besides, no one here is wealthy enough to keep up with our bets anyway," Eldan informed her. Noticing Scarlet standing there, he acknowledged her with a nod. "Hey, Scarlet. What's up?"

    "Scarlet!" Kiria turned to the young lady, apologizing profusely. "Sorry! I'm so sorry I ignored you. I just got so caught up in this here that I completely forgot you wanted to talk to me! What can I do for you?"

    Scarlet hesitated, a little uncomfortable. "It's kinda private. Girl stuff," she added, hoping the boys would lose interest in her conversation.

    "Oh! Oh, of course, honey," she said, pushing her chair in and bidding the men goodbye. "Come on, let's head to my room."

    The two ladies excused themselves and left the cafeteria, heading to Kiria's room. The two ran into Kyro and Jethro on their way; Kiria gave Jethro a big hug and thanked him for winning. Jethro and Scarlet made eye contact during this, and she waggled her eyebrows suggestively at him. Jethro glared back at her, but didn't say anything to her. The two guys headed towards the Pokemon Center to get their Pokemon healed, and Kiria and Scarlet resumed heading to Kiria's bedroom.

    Once they were inside, Kiria went into the bathroom while Scarlet took a seat on Kiria's bed. Kiria quickly reemerged with something in her hand and handed it to Scarlet. "Here you go. If you need anything else, just let me know."

    "What?" Scarlet asked, confused. "No, Kiria, that's not what I wanted, I just wanted to talk. I... I messed up pretty bad."

    Kiria took a spot next to Scarlet on the bed, putting a motherly arm around the young girl. Apparently this was more serious than she'd thought. "What's wrong?"

    Scarlet took a deep breath and then recounted everything she'd done yesterday, from her realization with Rose, to writing and leaving the notes, to the night she spent with Windra, the fight they'd had the morning after, and the 'present' Windra left her.

    "Wow," was all that Kiria said.

    Scarlet sighed. "What do I do, Kiria? I've ruined everything. Rose hates me; Windra hates me; when Jethro finds out what I did, he's going to hate me; and I'm not feeling too great about myself either."

    "Now that's enough of that," Kiria consoled her, pulling Scarlet closer to her. "Okay, so, let's take it one problem at a time, starting with what I think is the smallest one. Do you really think Jethro is going to hate you?"

    "I... I don't know," Scarlet admitted. "He thought the notes were a dumb idea. He said I should have just told Rose how I felt."

    Kiria paused, considering her words carefully. "Honey, I know it might not be what you want to hear, but Jethro was right. Do you remember when I told you about Merrick? He came to see me every day, but he never made the effort to come and talk to me. When I was working at the lighthouse, I would see hundreds of people a week from all over. Not just from Johto, but tourists from other regions as well. If he hadn't showed up so often, he would have just been another nameless face in the crowd and I might never have noticed him. I can't imagine what he must have thought, coming every day to see me, wanting to get to know me but never having the courage to say hi. If I hadn't gone up to him myself, we might never have dated."

    "But it didn't work out anyway," Scarlet pointed out.

    "No, it didn't, but that's not my point. If you see something you want, you have to go get it. I was flattered that a boy had come to see me so much, and I found his shyness endearing, so I approached him. If you want Rose to know how you feel, just tell her. I've talked to her a bit, and I think she's a nice girl. If you explain the situation to her, she might understand."

    Scarlet paid attention to the floor, doubts swimming in her head. "She might not."

    "Are you willing to let that question remain unanswered?"

    Scarlet sighed. "No, I guess not. I'm just scared."

    Kiria nodded knowingly. "I know. But you won't know until you try. As for the hickey, I wouldn't worry about it. No one in polite company is going to see it, and it will go away eventually."

    "Should I tell Rose about it?"

    Kiria thought about this for a moment. "I don't see why you would have to. It's not relevant to your situation, and like I said, the only way she's going to see it is if you show her."

    "What if she asks about what Windra and I did?" Scarlet asked.

    "Then you do what you should have done in the first place and be honest with her. Wouldn't you want the same courtesy from Rose if she'd been the one interested in you?"

    Scarlet rolled her eyes. "Jethro said the same thing. But there was no reason that my plan shouldn't have worked! Except... it didn't. Someone had to have switched the notes. That's the only thing I can think of. But who would do that?! Who here hates me that much that they would do this?" Her voice fell a little at this, saddened by the knowledge that some of her fellow competitors disliked her.

    "That I don't know, honey, I'm sorry," Kiria apologized. "Don't worry about that. Focus on what you do know." She counted on her fingers. "Rose thinks you aren't interested in her; you need to fix that. You offended Windra, and you should apologize to her for it."

    "She hit me!" Scarlet blurted indignantly.

    "Don't interrupt me," Kiria scolded. "Yes, she did, and that was wrong. I'm going to have a talk with her about it. That doesn't mean you shouldn't take the high road and apologize for saying something to upset her. Even if she doesn't accept your apology, it then becomes her decision to repair your friendship."

    "What if she doesn't want to?" Scarlet asked.

    Kiria shrugged. "Then that's her decision. You can't keep worrying about 'what if,' Scarlet. If you keep letting that hold you back, you're never going to be happy."

    Scarlet took in Kiria's words, nodding in agreement with her. "Yeah, maybe you're right," she admitted, getting to her feet. "Thanks, Kiria. I'll go find her right now and I'll--"

    "Why don't you go talk to Rose first?" Kiria suggested. "Let me handle Windra. Take the edge off her for you, you know?"

    "Ooh, yeah, that's probably a good idea. Thanks again, Kiria. I feel a little better now," she said with a smile.

    As she headed to the door, Kiria gave her one last bit of advice. "That's good. Don't forget, be honest, be direct, and you'll be fine, no matter what she says."

    Scarlet nodded. "Honest. Direct. Got it. I'm not gonna screw it up this time," she answered confidently, saying her goodbyes and exiting Kiria's room.

    Remembering that Rose had went to her room before the morning battle, Scarlet headed over there and knocked before she could convince herself not to. The door clicked open, and in the doorway was not someone Scarlet was expecting to see.

    "Oh, hey, Gardevoir!" she greeted the Pokemon. "You're looking well. Is Rose here?"

    Gardevoir answered her with a scowl, placing her hands on her hips and staring intently into Scarlet's eyes.

    "That's enough," Rose admonished her Pokemon, getting up from where she was seated on her bed and coming to the door. She moved Gardevoir out of the way and embraced her fellow Ranger and friend. "Hey, Scarlet. I'm sorry about Gardevoir, she's a little upset right now." Gardevoir rolled her eyes, shot Scarlet one last glare, and headed out of the doorway and into the bedroom proper, earning a shocked gasp from her trainer. "Gardevoir! You will do no such thing! You've earned yourself a time out, young lady!" Rose recalled her Pokemon into her Poke Ball, then did the same with Lucario before he could voice any protest.

    "Was I interrupting something?" Scarlet asked, suddenly uncomfortable. "I could come back another time."

    Rose shook her head. "No, we were just talking about the battle. Won't you come in?" Rose waved Scarlet in with a hand, closing the door softly behind her. Rose took the remote control and shut the television off, leaving the two girls in silence. She sat down on the edge of her bed, and waited for Scarlet to find a seat. While the three of them had been watching the battle as Rose claimed, Rose hadn't mentioned that the time after the battle was spent talking about Scarlet and her note. When Rose brought Gardevoir up to speed on what had happened, Gardevoir was furious at the second time another human had seemingly mistreated her. Despite Rose's insistence that Scarlet wasn't trying to hurt her on purpose, Gardevoir still harbored some anger towards Scarlet, and likely would for some time. Of course, both Lucario and Gardevoir had sensed Scarlet coming from a mile away, and Gardevoir's rage had very nearly gotten the best of her when Scarlet knocked. It was only after a stern warning from Rose did Gardevoir calm herself enough to open the door and not instantly psychic choke Scarlet out. Still, Gardevoir made it very clear to Scarlet how she felt about her.

    Scarlet decided to sit in a chair, not daring to make herself at home on Rose's bed. She glanced around the room, cursing how it looked exactly like everyone else's. It didn't give her much to look at. The clock on the wall ticked the seconds by, seemingly becoming louder and louder in the reigning silence. She noticed Rose's bed was messy - of course, Scarlet reasoned, Rose was just in it. Lucario and Gardevoir were most likely sitting next to her, watching the battle.

    Gardevoir. What was up with her? She'd only said hello, and Gardevoir acted like she'd spit in her face. She was terrified of the way Gardevoir glared at her; if Rose hadn't been around to rein her in, would Gardevoir have hurt her, she wondered?

    Rose noticed Scarlet scrutinizing her bed, and she cleared her throat, aiming to derail that particular train of thought before it ventured somewhere dangerous. "So, what brings you here, Scarlet?"

    "Oh, sorry. Just lost in thought. Nervous," she amended. "Gardevoir looked like she wanted to kill me."

    Rose simply nodded. "Yeah, she said if you ever showed your face here again, she would."

    "Why?!" Scarlet asked incredulously. "What did I do to her?!"

    "Nothing to her personally. She's mad due to a different reason." Rose went to her bedside table and picked up the reason for Gardevoir's ire, and realization hit Scarlet like a ton of bricks. "I like you, but the flirting between us has to stop. My heart belongs to another, and I can't risk losing her. Please understand," Rose read aloud.

    Scarlet leapt to her feet in protest. "Look, about that, I'm sorry, I--"

    "No, listen, Scarlet, it's okay," Rose interrupted her. "Really, it is. It's my fault for pushing you." She put the note down, sighing. She sat on her bed again, and motioned for Scarlet to sit. "I like you, Scarlet. I like the way you treat me. Or maybe it's more accurate to say, I like the way you don't treat me." At Scarlet's puzzled look of confusion, Rose smiled, and continued. "Even after learning of my accomplishments, you didn't let it color the way you saw me. I don't mean to brag, but I'm sick of being famous. I get recognized in public all the time. I get hit on constantly by people who don't seem to care at all about me personally. They just want to be associated with someone famous. And then you came and... just... didn't care, for lack of a better word. You wanted to be friends with me, not my accomplishments. It was nice. I honestly wasn't sure what to make of it at first, but the more we got to talking, the more I realized that... there might be something more there."

    Scarlet's heart nearly skipped a beat. She remained quiet, however, and let Rose talk.

    "It wasn't something I really thought about... not until I found your note. I had a talk about it with Lucario last night."

    When Rose paused here, Scarlet asked hesitantly, "What did he say?"

    A sad smile crept across Rose's face. "He asked if you made me happy... and I said yes. He said that I should fight for you then, and to hell with whoever this other girl is. He said I should have marched right over to your room and told you exactly how I felt."

    Boy, did that sound familiar. "Why didn't you?" Scarlet inquired.

    Rose gestured towards the note. "As I told Lucario, it wouldn't be right. You made it very clear that your heart belongs to another, and I'm not so immature as to try and come between you two. If things were different, then I might be willing to--"

    She was stopped by Scarlet suddenly standing. "What? What is it?"

    Honest. Direct. Don't leave until she knows how you feel. Scarlet took a deep breath, marched right over to Rose, and kissed her square on the lips.

    Rose, shocked, pushed Scarlet off of her immediately, getting to her feet as well. "What are you doing? Have you lost your mind?"

    "I'm taking Lucario's advice," Scarlet announced, fueled by hope. "I want us to be together, Rose. You're all I can think about."

    "Your note said there--"

    "You got the wrong one!" Scarlet declared, giddy. "There were two, and someone found them before you guys did, and switched them! That's why you got the rejection note!"

    Rose thought about this. "There were two notes?"

    "Yeah!" Scarlet said, grinning. "Don't you see? The one who has my heart is you!"

    This didn't register at all with Rose, who was on an entirely different and much less romantic tangent. She picked up the note and read it again. "She's a competitor?" She nodded to herself. "Of course, she has to be. That's why there were two notes, there wouldn't be if she was someone from outside the tournament." She faced Scarlet. "Who is she?"

    "Windra," Scarlet huffed, frustrated that she'd come up. "But she doesn't matter, I don't want to be with her."

    "So... this note was meant for Windra?"

    "Yes!" Scarlet answered. "She's a huge flirt and has been trying to jump my bones since I accidentally told her and Kiria I had a thing for you but that's not important either what does matter is that you and I can be together now!"

    Rose frowned, and Scarlet frowned too. That was not the facial expression Scarlet was hoping for. "So," Rose deduced, "that must mean that the other note was meant for me."

    "Yes!"

    "And Windra got it instead."

    "Yes!"

    "What did it say?"

    "I--"

    I'm yours. Come to my room and let's make magical things happen.

    Scarlet gulped, suddenly feeling very sick to her stomach. "I..."

    "Scarlet, I shouldn't have to tell you this, but lying is very unbecoming of a Ranger. But even if we were civilians, I'd be making you the same request I'm about to make: don't lie to me. The fact that you're hesitating means you don't want to tell me, and if you want to be with me as badly as you say you do, I can't understand why telling me would be a problem. But whatever it is, lying to me about it is only going to damage my trust in you. Don't lie to me, Scarlet. Please."

    This was bad. The sadness in Rose's voice only made Scarlet feel worse. All she could think of was Windra taunting her about how disgusted Rose was going to be when she found out about their fling. Still, Rose deserved the truth, right? Here she was, right in front of her, asking her plainly to be honest with her.

    She couldn't say no to that. "I don't remember the exact words, but the gist of it was, 'I'm yours. Come to my room and we'll make magical things happen. If not, I still want to be your friend.'"

    "Magical things? What does that mean?"

    Scarlet looked blankly at Rose. Was she serious?

    Rose frowned, a little offended at Scarlet's assumption that she should know this. "What? Don't look at me like that. What did you mean by magical things?"

    Scarlet let out a breath. "You know... like... bed stuff."

    Rose went wide-eyed, realizing what Scarlet was getting at. As her mind worked, Rose's expression changed from surprise to hurt as the implications of this became clearer. A question bubbled to the forefront of Rose's mind. "So yesterday, Windra found the note, meant for me, which was a note soliciting me for--"

    "Yes," Scarlet interrupted her. She was already regretting writing the stupid notes - hearing Rose talk about how cheaply Scarlet had thought of her was like a javelin in her heart.

    "Did she come to your room last night?" Rose asked with a little more force in her voice. She was starting to put the pieces of this puzzle together, and Scarlet was afraid of what Rose was going to see once she'd completed the picture.

    Don't lie to me.

    "Yeah," Scarlet admitted. "Yeah, she did. I honestly thought it was going to be you. I was sitting there thinking how dumb it was to write those notes in the first place, especially after--"

    Rose stopped her with a hand. She started breathing a little heavier, and Scarlet could tell she was hesitating in asking her next question. Scarlet knew in her heart of hearts what that question was going to be, and she was hoping she'd get lucky and Gardevoir would burst out of her Poke Ball and actually kill her before she confirmed what Rose was already thinking. She decided not to jump the gun, just in case Rose wasn't about to ask her the question she wanted to not answer more than anything in the world.

    "Did you have sex with her?"

    And there it was. It was the moment of truth. Lie now and save both of them some heartache? Or be honest and risk losing Rose forever? There was a convincing argument for both. Lying was easy. A simple no and, with a little luck, this whole thing would be swept under the rug. With Windra swearing herself to secrecy, the only way Rose would ever find out is if Scarlet's conscience got the better of her and she came clean, and Scarlet wasn't sure there was any chance of that happening.

    She closed her eyes and allowed herself a few brief moments to imagine a relationship with Rose, and what that might entail. Going on grand adventures with their Pokemon, teaching new Rangers, working hard to improve the lives of everyone during the day and coming home to unwind and take care of each other at night. It made her smile momentarily before she saw the ensuing fight if Rose ever learned of this secret, years down the line. Horrible things said. Bags packed, tears shed. Trust broken, never to be mended.

    That was a scary thought, but was it worse than being honest now and possibly never getting to experience those lovely years, side by side with the girl of her dreams? Was she really willing to risk losing Rose over something she might never find out anyway?

    Scarlet surprised herself when she opened her eyes and answered both her and Rose's questions with the same word. "Yes."

    Rose blinked back tears, and something told Scarlet she'd made the wrong decision. When she went to embrace Rose, Rose stopped her cold. "Don't."

    Scarlet started to panic, desperate to rectify the situation before all hope was lost. "Let me explain, okay?"

    "I don't know what else needs explaining," Rose said, wiping her eyes. "But since you were honest, I'll hear you out."

    "Okay, look, yeah, we had sex, okay, but it didn't mean anything. She took advantage of me! She came in and I was like, 'Hey, what's up?' and she was all, 'Kiss time!' and then she pushed me up against the wall and it was so hot, and the next thing I knew we were in bed and--" she paused as she realized that tears were silently falling down Rose's face. "And I'm not helping." She sighed. "Okay. There is... was... a part of me that wanted to have sex with Windra. I spent the last week going crazy wondering if you'd felt anything for me. Jethro told me that I should have just gone up to you and said, 'Rose, I think you're the prettiest gal in all of Kanto! Will you be my one and only?'" she poorly imitated his signature drawl.

    Rose stared at her, incredulous. "You should have! God, Scarlet, if you'd done that, I would have gladly said yes!"

    That was a little painful to hear, and Scarlet could see Jethro staring disapprovingly at her in her mind. She shook it off - now wasn't the time for that. "I almost convinced myself you would have," Scarlet continued. "But I guess something in my head told me you were just being nice. And then there was Windra, who made it abundantly clear that she wanted me. And it felt nice to be wanted. I wrote the notes because I was afraid of being rejected in person. I didn't know if you had someone waiting for you back home, or if you were even into girls. Then Windra showed up, and I was so shocked by how bold she was, it didn't take long for me to convince myself that you weren't interested, or else you would have come, you know? Even just to let me down."

    "You had sex with her even though she had the wrong note?" Rose asked.

    "I didn't know she had the wrong one until this morning. We got into a huge fight about it," she admitted. "I don't wanna talk about it, it's not important now. Honestly, I thought she was just being Windra. But I told her that I wanted to be with you," she said, taking a risk by reaching for Rose's hand. When she didn't move it away, Scarlet held it gently in her hands, bringing it to her lips and kissing it softly. "What I did was dumb. I know that now. And I know I could have told you I didn't do anything with her, but I'm willing to risk everything because I don't want to keep secrets from you. I'd rather you hate me for my honesty than love me for a lie."

    "Scarlet, I don't hate you... I don't hate anyone. But..."

    Scarlet's heart sank. She'd made her pitch and that 'but' could only mean one thing: Rose wasn't interested in buying.

    "But what?" Scarlet offered, gripping Rose's hand tighter.

    Rose gently pulled her hand away from Scarlet, and opened her arms, inviting Scarlet in, but when she went to kiss Rose, Rose moved her face past Scarlet's and hugged her tightly instead. "But we can't be together. I'm sorry." She felt Scarlet tighten her hold, and Rose did the same. "I know that's not what you want to hear, and I'm going to tell you something else that's going to hurt: you aren't ready for a relationship."

    Scarlet pulled away, fresh tears in her eyes. "What are you talking about?"

    "You jumped through so many needless hoops just to get my attention. Instead of coming to me like an adult, like a Rank 4 Ranger should know, you wrote a note and left it in the open for anyone to find - which, apparently, someone did." A breath. "And you didn't even mention wanting a relationship with me in it, just 'hey, come over and let's have sex.' I don't know what kind of girl you think I am, but I'm not--"

    "I don't think that at all! You know I value you for so much more than just your body, Rose, that's not--"

    "And you keep interrupting me!" Rose looked at Scarlet as she took this in and realized that Rose was right. "You don't know how to listen, Scarlet. I can't be with someone who won't let me get a word in edgewise whenever she feels like she has to shoot off whatever thought enters her head at that moment."

    Rose stopped talking here. Scarlet didn't say a word, thinking this was some sort of test. She'd prove herself worthy, one way or another.

    When it became clear what Scarlet was doing, Rose sighed, using her thumbs to wipe away Scarlet's tears. "You are a lovely and sweet lady, and a very accomplished Ranger for someone so young. I meant every bit of praise I gave you when we first met, and I say that not only as a senior officer, but as your friend. You have a natural fire that few others have. I see it in your eyes all the time. You've got some rough edges, but so do we all. They'll get smoothed out over time, and you will be a better Ranger - a better person - for it. I'm sorry, but I can't be with you right now. Please don't hate me for this, Scarlet, I-"

    "Never!" Scarlet blurted, wincing the moment the word left her mouth. "Damn it. Sorry. Forgive me."

    "You're forgiven," Rose said tenderly, a small smile coming across her face. "You see? You're already improving."

    Scarlet automatically smiled at the praise, but it still felt hollow to her. It was small consolation, for missing the grand prize. She looked in those bright green eyes, eyes that she could get lost in for days. "I really like you, Rose. I'm sorry I screwed things up between us, but I'd like another chance. Will you wait for me?"

    Rose flashed her a grin that warmed Scarlet's heart. "I really like you too, Scarlet. And... I'll think about it. Hey, close your eyes for me?"

    Scarlet was reluctant to break her gaze with Rose's beautiful eyes, but she did as she was asked. She only a few moments to wonder before she felt Rose's breath on her face. She froze as Rose slowly, hesitantly pressed their lips together, and Scarlet was in heaven. This was nothing like when Windra kissed her; that was forceful, hungry, needy. Scarlet shuddered as she savored the feeling of Rose's soft lips on hers, and returned this kiss.

    This was the first time that Rose had kissed another human in nearly a year (notwithstanding the peck from minutes ago), and she'd nearly forgotten how nice it was. When she broke it off a few blissful moments later, she pulled Scarlet close in a hug. "Don't make me wait forever," she whispered into the junior Ranger's ear.

    "I won't. I promise," she replied.

    They held each other for a few moments more before Rose separated herself and composed herself. "Thank you for being honest with me. About... everything. Fair warning, Gardevoir might still want to kill you, even after I tell her about our talk."

    Scarlet groaned. She'd completely forgotten about the instrument of (her) death sitting idle just a few feet away, but she was surprised to learn that she wasn't afraid for her life - at least not as much as she was when she'd first arrived. Instead, the majority of that feeling had been replaced with a new emotion - what it was, Scarlet couldn't put her finger on. She wanted both to earn Gardevoir's favor and stay as far the hell away from her as she could; she wanted to dare Gardevoir to tell her no, but at the same time remain among the living. Whatever it was, it gave her newfound confidence, and Scarlet found herself smiling. "That's fine with me. Getting Pokemon to trust us is what we Rangers do, right? If I can get Gardevoir to trust me, it'll be one of the highlights of my career."

    * * * * * * * *

    Jethro and Kyro entered the cafeteria to applause from everyone save Alex, who was bitter from losing even a small amount of money from the fight. Whatever sadness that had been on Kyro's face was obliterated when he saw everyone clapping, and his infectious smile was back in full force as the others greeted him on his return.

    "Wow, you guys, thanks!" Kyro beamed, no longer upset about his loss. "It's too bad we lost." He turned to Jethro, literally jumping in his excitement. "But oh man, Mr. Jethro, that battle was so cool! First there was the gravity, and Hydreigon couldn't fly around, and it's probably a good thing, too, because long-range special attacks are a big problem for my team, and Anorith was like zoom, pow, and got her! And the mud!" He turned around, spotting Thresher, and ran at light speed over to where he was sitting. "Mr. Thresher, did you see?! It went perfectly!"

    "Haha, aye, that it did, lad!" He held an arm out and hugged the boy as Jethro meandered over to them. "I hope yer not too mad for me goin' over some strategy with the boy," he told Jethro with a smile.

    "Nah. Made for a great battle. I tell you, Kyro, you really had me worried with that Mud Sport attack. Don't think I've ever seen it used quite like that before."

    Kyro giggled, overjoyed that his plan had worked, despite still losing the battle. "Mr. Thresher was also the one who suggested that I practice fighting under the effects of Gravity, too. It's not a common move at all, so a lot of people can't handle it when their Pokemon get stuck!"

    "Well, ye did marvelous, Kyro, I'm real proud of ya. And what did I say to always remember about losing?"

    Kyro paused, trying to remember. "It doesn't matter whether ye win or lose, but whether or not ye did yer best."

    "Aye," Thresher said with a chuckle. "Dya think ye did yer best, Kyro?"

    Kyro paused again in a moment of seriousness, considering it. "I think so, Mr. Thresher. We had a plan and we did the plan and we did everything we could to try and win, but Mr. Jethro managed to beat everything we threw at him. He even said himself that I should be proud of getting this far, and no one could ever take that from me."

    Thresher nodded sagely. "I couldn't agree more, lad. Now run along while I have a chat with ol' Jethro here, will ya?"

    "Sure! Thanks again for the great battle, Mr. Jethro!" Kyro turned to the others, wondering what to do now. He felt his stomach rumble, and he looked at the clock. Lunch would be soon, but if he didn't get something into his stomach now, he might keel over and die. Finding Tsomu and Quayle at another table, Kyro decided to find out what the hold up was. "Hey, Mr. Tsomu, shouldn't you be in the kitchen making lunch? I'm starving!"

    "You do know I don't actually work here, right? I'm a competitor just like you," Tsomu explained with a laugh. "Anyway, I tried helping, but they threw me out. 'Don't come back until Monday,' they said."

    "Oh no! That's terrible!" Kyro wailed, unable to fathom going without Tsomu's delicious cooking for even a day.

    Tsomu laughed at Kyro's naive sense of despair. "No, Kyro, it's nothing bad, they gave me the weekend off." This did little to lift Kyro's spirits, so Tsomu tried a different tactic. "Tell you what. I'll see if they'll let me whip you something special, just for you, huh? After all, you did amazing out there today."

    Kyro's eyes and mouth widened at Tsomu's proposal. "Wow, really? You think they'll let you?"

    "Of course! Just gotta work some of my Tsomu magic, that's all," he replied with a wink, getting up and heading towards the kitchen.

    Kyro sat down where Tsomu had, excited at the prospect of eating Tsomu's cooking again, and his mind raced with possibilities. Quayle regarded him with interest - he, too, had come to Tsomu with the same inquiry of why he wasn't in the kitchen, after all. Kyro caught Quayle staring at him, and he smiled, waving at the older man. "Good afternoon, Mr. Quayle!" he greeted him. "You look really different with the glasses." Noticing Quayle's eyes, Kyro leaned into get a closer look. "Your eyes aren't purpley gray anymore! Whoa... what happened to them?"

    "This is my natural eye color," Quayle explained. "I was wearing contact lenses that made my eyes appear that color."

    "Why did you get rid of them? I thought they were cool!" Kyro wondered.

    "Yeah, so did I..." Unwilling to get into the details of all of that with Kyro, he decided to change the subject. "Hey, great job on your match today! Sorry you lost, you were really close. Jethro's Luxray was on the verge of defeat, I could tell. One more attack and she would have gone down."

    "Aw, thanks, Mr. Quayle, but I'm not mad about it. It was a really fun battle!" He thought back to Quayle's battle at the beginning of the week. "You almost won your match too, didn't you?"

    Quayle winced. He'd avoided spending any time thinking about that particular battle, and all the consequences that had come with his actions. Apologizing to Rose had been hard enough. He still thought about Candice, of course, but hadn't considered calling her after the heartbreaking message she left him. Would she talk to him if he told her he was a changed man? He hadn't thought of that. "Ah, yeah, I did. But listen, Kyro, don't ever do what I did, okay? There's a line when it comes to Pokemon battles that I came dangerously close to crossing. What I did was wrong, and I made sure to apologize to Rose for it."

    "That's good," Kyro said solemnly, recalling Quayle commanding his Pokemon to drown Rose's Gardevoir. "Please don't do that again, okay?"

    "I won't, you have my word on that," Quayle reassured him.

    "Good." That seemed to be good enough for Kyro, because he was all smiles a moment later. "Hey, I just thought of something really cool! Wanna know what it is?"

    Quayle shrugged. "Sure, what is it?"

    "We should totally form a club!" Kyro declared, hitting his hands on the table in excitement. "It can be for people like us who almost won, but didn't!"

    Quayle wasn't thrilled with the idea, since it would mean he would be constantly reminded of the battle that changed his life, but he figured he would humor Kyro and learn more about it. "You mean like a support group?"

    "Yeah, you get it! We can talk about the things we did wrong, and maybe how we can fix them so we can start winning again!"

    That was actually a good idea, Quayle admitted. Having Kyro judge his failures as a trainer was a little off-putting due to his age, but there was no denying the kid knew his stuff, even if he wasn't entirely aware of how good he really was. And Quayle definitely felt like he could offer some insight. There was just one small problem with Kyro's idea. "But we lost. What's the point in talking about how to win when we're out of the tournament?"

    Kyro's face fell a bit at that. "Well... I mean, I just thought that just because we aren't in the tournament anymore doesn't mean we can't help each other get better as trainers. But maybe you're right, it was a bad idea. Sorry for bringing it up."

    Before Quayle could say anything else, the two were approached by Nye and Cody, each taking a seat at the table. "Hey guys, what's up?" Cody greeted them. Noticing Kyro's sad look, he put a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Hey, don't worry about your match, yeah? You still did amazing. You almost had it!"

    Kyro sighed, reminded again of just how close he'd come to victory and Quayle shooting down his club idea fresh in his mind. "I guess so."

    "What's the matter, sweetie?" Nye asked him. "Something on your mind? You can tell us. We're here to help."

    "It's nothing," Kyro grumbled. "Just a stupid idea, that's all."

    "He wants to start a club, a support group for people like him who very nearly won their matches," Quayle explained. "The idea is that members can discuss strategy and where exactly they went wrong so they can be more prepared for the future."

    "Really? I think that is a splendid idea!" Nye turned back to Kyro. "Why are you sad about that?"

    "Mr. Quayle said there was no point because we're not in the tournament anymore," Kyro muttered.

    Nye whipped her head back towards Quayle. "Oh, I'm sure he didn't mean that. I'm sure what Quayle meant to say was that it doesn't matter if you're out of the tournament since everyone can always improve, and he would love to be a part of your group, right?"

    "Y-yes, of course, Kyro, I didn't mean to disparage your club," Quayle apologized. "I, uh, would be honored if you would have me."

    "Really?" Kyro asked, hopeful.

    Quayle smiled at the boy. "Yes, really. Nye is right; we all lose sometimes, and there is always room for improvement. What do you say? Shall we form a club?"

    "Okay. Yeah, let's do it!" Kyro exclaimed, his energy and mood back to their normal maximum levels. "The first thing we need is a name! We can't have club meetings if we don't have a name!"

    "Is it okay for non-members to submit ideas?" Cody asked Quayle.

    "I don't know, let's ask the club leader," he answered, turning to Kyro. "Well, Leader Kyro? Are non-members allowed to suggest names for the club?"

    "L-leader? You want me to be the leader?" Kyro asked, astonished.

    "Of course, little one," Nye answered. "It is your club, after all."

    Kyro beamed, honored to take on the responsibility of running his very own club. "All right! Sure, Mr. Cody, what's your idea?"

    "Well, it's your club, yeah? And it's for people who very nearly won, so my suggestion is 'Kyro's Close Calls Club.'"

    "Ooh, I like that. Clever use of alliteration, Cody," Nye complimented. "What do you think, Kyro?"

    Kyro considered the idea. "I like it, but there's one thing I want to change, if that's okay with you, Mr. Cody. I don't want it to be named after me. It doesn't matter that I came up with the idea, and I don't want anyone thinking that I'm better than anyone else because the club is named after me. Like Mr. Quayle said, we all lose sometimes. I just want it to be a place where everyone feels welcome, where everyone can have a good time and chat with their friends. So, if it's okay, I think it should just be called 'The Close Calls Club.'"

    "Well, let's put it to a vote," Quayle suggested. "All in favor of naming the club 'The Close Calls Club,' raise your hand."

    Kyro's smile grew even wider when four hands went into the air.

    "Then it's official!" Quayle declared. "Congratulations, Kyro. You are now the leader of the Close Calls Club." He clapped, and Nye and Cody applauded with him.

    "Wow, awesome! This is gonna be so cool! I can't wait for our first meeting!"

    "We will need members to attend this meeting," Quayle pointed out.

    "Oooh, you're right!" Kyro looked to the others at the table. "Oh my gosh, Mr. Cody! Your match is today, isn't it?"

    "Sure is. I've been training hard all week and I'm ready to get out there and show my stuff!" Cody confirmed. "Hopefully I'll be sending Alex to apply to be a member of the Close Calls Club instead of myself, but it's going to be a good learning experience no matter what happens, yeah?"

    "Yeah! Good luck, Mr. Cody!" He turned to Nye, frowning a little. "Miss Nye, you won your match, so I don't think you need the Close Calls Club's services just yet."

    Nye nodded in understanding. "That's right, I did. But Quayle and I aren't the only ones who fought." She counted off on her fingers. "Taikyu, Tsomu, Scarlet, and Windra all lost their matches. All those matches were pretty close, weren't they?"

    "Sure they were! I'll have to go ask them about joining. Hey, wait a sec! Mr. Eldan lost to you, Miss Nye! I should go ask him if he wants to join!"

    Hearing Eldan's name caused Quayle to perk up. "Wait a second, Kyro," he began, but then stopped to consider. Eldan was the last person he wanted in the club; if nothing else, it would mean that he would be forced to closely interact with him, and that was something he was keen to avoid. The very sight of him, in his bright red outfit, annoyed Quayle, and he was ready to try to convince Kyro not to let him join.

    But he didn't. Maybe it was Kyro's innocent, questioning gaze as he waited for Quayle to finish his thought. Maybe it was due to Nye sitting right there next to him. Maybe it was some combination of the two. But Quayle simply shook his head. "Never mind, Kyro. I'm sure he'd be a great addition," he acknowledged, sighing.

    This was completely lost on the young boy, who was excited to find his next member. "Yeah!" Kyro scanned the cafeteria, hoping to find him, but he wasn't there. "Oh well. He'll be here for lunch. Speaking of, I'm starving! Hey, Mr. Tsomu!" he yelled, getting from his seat and rushing to the kitchen, remembering the dish that Tsomu had promised him.

    While Quayle's disappointment didn't bother Kyro at all, Cody did take notice of it. "You're okay with Eldan joining the club?"

    "Of course not," Quayle stated plainly. "I can't stand him. He's a player, he hits on Nye all the time, his entire wardrobe is red - just thinking about him and that stupid grin of his makes me angry."

    "Then why didn't you say that to Kyro? I'm sure he would have listened to you, yeah?"

    Quayle nodded in agreement. "Yeah, he probably would, and that's the point. It's Kyro's club, even if his name isn't on it. I'm not going to tell him who he can and can't have join." He sighed, defeated. "I'll just have to tell Eldan - should he join, that is - that we will remain civil and on topic during meetings. As much as it pains me to do so," he muttered.

    "That's very big of you Quayle, thank you," Nye said, smiling warmly at him. "I'm glad to hear you say that."

    "Yeah, for sure," Cody agreed, just as Tsomu and Kyro emerged from the kitchen with carts of food. "Oh, sweet, perfect timing! Gotta fuel up for the big battle, otherwise I'm gonna be putting in my own application to the Close Calls Club!"

    * * * * * * * *
    "Ladies and gentlemen! I'm Ruby Erthgrand, and we're here live at Indigo Plateau, getting ready to kick off the last match of round one! We've seen a week full of intense battles, and we have two gentlemen here ready to close out the week strong! As a reminder to all of you out there, we'll be taking the weekend off to let our competitors get some well-deserved rest, but we'll be back Monday morning at the usual time for the first match of the quarterfinals! All right, I can't wait anymore! Let's get right to it! Coming to the west platform is a young man from Unova who, according to this sheet he filled out, is richer than everyone here! I don't know if that's true, but what is true is that he triumphed over all his opponents in his qualifying tournament, and he's here to put himself one step closer towards padding his wallet with some more cash! Wave those flags and make some noise for your Nimbasa City tournament champion, Alex Croft!"

    After making sure his ear plugs were in correctly, he stood up straight and briskly walked onto the field in his pristine white suit, acknowledging his fans. The roar of the crowd was dulled by the ear plugs, and Alex smiled at their efficacy. Loud noises always bothered him, ever since he was a kid. His parents went through a horrible divorce, often arguing directly in front of their him, each screaming insults and obscenities at the other. Hating to bear witness to his parents fighting, young Alex would start bawling whenever they fought. It didn't serve to rein in his parents' behavior, though, and Alex was eventually conditioned to cry whenever people around him would start yelling. It was one of his darkest secrets - he would surely be a laughingstock if people found out - and so he took to wearing ear plugs to help drown out the noise. The dulled noise also allowed him to hear himself think, and made the crowd one less thing to worry about.

    "Fantastic!" Ruby exclaimed, keeping the hype train moving as best she could. "And his opponent, coming to the east platform, is a man who hopes to use the money to find his parents! Aw, that's sweet. He may come from a small town, but he's got big dreams, and he's determined to put himself closer on the path to realizing them! Everyone keep those cheers going for my man, your Coumarine City tournament champion, Cody Kwan!"

    Cody casually strode out of the waiting room to cheers from the crowd and surprise from Alex, who noted that Cody was wearing a very expensive-looking black suit. Alex couldn't tell who designed it from where he was, but he made a mental note to ask later. The sharply dressed Cody waved to Alex, taking notice of his opponent's stunned look.

    "And now, here's Esmeralda Rayvenflight, the referee for this match! To our fans in the stands, get a good look, because after this battle, you won't see her until next week! What's the battlefield going to be today?"

    As the cursor spun around, Cody had his fingers crossed for the water field. If he didn't get the water field, he'd have to do a lot of improvising. Like Thresher, Cody's team was much better suited for battles in the water. It wouldn't be correct to say Sharpedo would be completely worthless if he had to fight on land - after all, Cody considered himself a veritable expert on Water Pokemon, and knew ways to get around something as trivial as land - but he would be breathing a hell of a lot easier if the water field came up. He didn't like his odds, though.

    "It's the grass field!" Ruby announced. "This is the first time this week we've seen this field! I can't wait to see how our competitors will make use of it!"

    The floor between the two men opened, and it was replaced with a wide field of soft dirt and grass. In the center of the arena was a large and imposing tree, with thick branches and leaves which shook in the afternoon breeze.

    All right, so it's not the water field, Cody groused internally. Guess I should count my blessings, though, yeah? Could have gotten the fire field... He continued to study the battlefield as Ruby finished her opening monologue, hoping that his chosen starting Pokemon was the right one. He had cringed upon hearing that Alex was packing a Heliolisk; not only was it an Electric-type, but it commonly had the Dry Skin Ability, which would make it extremely difficult for his Pokemon to do any damage at all. On top of that, he was also using an Oricorio. Safiri wouldn't tell him what style it was in, and that worried him. He would love to see Baile Style, of course, but he wouldn't complain about Pa'u or Sensu, either. But if it was Pom-Pom Style as he feared, then things would surely go downhill fast. It was going to be a tough battle, but he believed in his Pokemon, and that was going to have to be enough.

    "Trainers, release your Pokemon!"

    "Oricorio, prepare for battle!"

    "Showtime, Araquanid!"

    The crowd cheered harder as the two Pokemon hit the field. Cody breathed a sigh of relief as Oricorio was revealed to be in Sensu Style. Ghosts were annoying to fight against, no matter what Pokemon you had, but at least now he would only have to fight against one Electric-type instead of two.

    Oricorio posed, ready to begin, and Alex made the first move. "Use Teeter Dance!"

    Quick as a whip, Cody was spitting out commands. "Wide Guard! Infestation!" Cody liked employing a prediction-based battle style; rather than give a command and then react to it, Cody typically gave two in quick succession. The first would be a typical command, and then the second would be given as a prediction of the outcome of the first. It didn't work all the time, of course, but the psychological effects it had on opponents when it did work couldn't be ignored. Many lesser trainers would get flustered from having to defend against such frequent strikes, either preparing for the first and not the second, or being more prepared for the second at the cost of taking the first.

    Araquanid summoned a massive barrier that was nearly as wide as the entire battlefield, effortlessly blocking the confusion-inducing waves of pink that were issuing forth from Oricorio's dance. Once the shield was in place, Araquanid dug two of his feet a few inches into the ground and gurgled something incomprehensible, and hundreds of tiny black bugs rose from the ground, crawling at high speed towards Oricorio as the barrier went away.

    "Disgusting," Alex spat, deciding to go on the offensive. "Fly up, Oricorio!"

    "Spider Web! Liquidation!" Cody commanded as Oricorio leaped into the air. Araquanid shot a thick strand of webbing from one of his arms, hitting Oricorio mid-flight. The string opened on impact into a web which enveloped the bird, taking her by surprise; Araquanid swung his arm down, sending Oricorio plummeting back to solid ground, right into the infestation. Oricorio scrambled to her feet, squawking in a panic as she tried to shake off the bugs as well as the webbing. As she did this, Araquanid charged forward into her, scoring a direct hit and sending her crashing into the tree.

    Alex growled as Oricorio, in an attempt to catch a reprieve from Araquanid's attacks, phased into the tree. The silky web fell harmlessly against the bark, but the infestation persisted despite Oricorio's type and current position. With care not to let too much concern appear on his face, Alex gave his next order. "Tailwind, if you would!"

    That wasn't something Cody wanted to hear. As long as Oricorio was infested, she wasn't going anywhere, but the last thing he wanted to see was Heliolisk moving under increased speed. "Spider Web! Crunch!" he commanded as Oricorio shot out from the tree like a dart, black bugs falling off her body as she flew, but many persisted in sapping her energy. Araquanid fired off another string of webbing, but Oricorio was able to dodge the attack. Getting into position, she flapped her wings once, hard, and a massive wind blew from behind her.

    Alex nodded approvingly. "It is about time things start going my way. I have had quite enough with your annoying bug." He held out a Poke Ball. "The time for my victory is at hand."

    "Not yet it isn't!" Cody reminded him. "Oricorio is still under the effects of Infestation. You can't switch her out yet!"

    Alex's grin grew wider. "Oh? Watch and learn, amateur. Baton Pass, Oricorio!" The return beam shot out, hitting the bird and sending her back to her Poke Ball. "Baton Pass is a move, and I can use any move I please. The Pokemon I send out will, of course, be affected by anything the previous Pokemon was, but it is a small price to pay to ensure my victory." He held out a second ball. "Heliolisk, prepare for battle!"

    True to Alex's word, the second his Heliolisk set foot on the ground, Araquanid's Infestation took hold of her, but Alex paid it no mind. He was angry at having been made a fool of thus far in the battle, and he was going to pay back Araquanid's damage in spades. "Electric Terrain!"

    "Soak! Leech Life!"

    Heliolisk stood on her hind legs, opening her frill as wide it would go, extending an electric aura across the battlefield, tinting the inside of the arena a dull yellow. Knowing the attack would take some time to complete, Araquanid sprayed Heliolisk with a shot of water that looked normal, but was anything but. This was Cody's ace in the hole against Electric-types. Electric attacks still hurt, but they would do significantly less damage now that Heliolisk's Electric type was suppressed.

    At least, that had been the plan. With Electric Terrain in play, those Electric attacks would be back to doing their full, painful damage again, and there wasn't anything else he could do about it. With her attack finished, she was easily left with enough time to dodge Araquanid's attack.

    "Now," Alex commanded, "Volt Switch! Oricorio needs her revenge!" Heliolisk summoned a ball of electricity and whipped it at Araquanid at a speed too quickly for him to follow; Araquanid collapsed to the ground as the attack wracked his body, and there was a bright flash as Heliolisk returned to her Poke Ball. In her place came Oricorio, free of Araquanid's infestation, and she disappeared into the ground before the light from the Volt Switch faded, without Araquanid (or Cody) being any the wiser.

    "Stay on your guard, Araquanid!" Cody called. "She's around somewhere..."

    Alex allowed himself a chuckle at his new advantage. "Let's try this again, shall we, Oricorio? Fly up!"

    Araquanid steeled himself, looking around for Oricorio, but there was nothing. For a minute, Cody thought that perhaps Oricorio hadn't heard him, but suddenly she shot out from the ground from behind her opponent, flying high into the air. "Araquanid, behind you! Spider Web! Soak!"

    Araquanid turned around as Cody spoke, feeling the rush of air from Oricorio emerging, and fired another shot of the sticky silk webbing; thanks to the Tailwind, however, Oricorio effortlessly dodged it, and before Araquanid could get his second attack off, she dive bombed into him, crumpling him into a pile on the ground. Oricorio twirled in midair and landed softly a few feet away, posing proudly as the audience roared in approval.

    Esmeralda declared Araquanid knocked out, and Cody returned him to his Poke Ball. He let out a quiet sigh, pursing his lips in contemplation as Alex looked on with a smug grin. He ran through several different scenarios in his head, trying to determine which of his Pokemon would be best used here, and, perhaps more importantly, saved for later.

    "Are you giving up?" Alex asked with feigned interest. "I was hoping for a good fight, but maybe I overestimated you..."

    Cody frowned. He didn't hate Alex, or even dislike him, but his holier-than-thou attitude was starting to get at him, and that annoyed Cody more than Alex's attitude did. "Maybe you're just a little too cocky for your own good, yeah? You need to be taught a lesson in humility." He smirked, taking his second Poke Ball in hand. "And I know just the Pokemon to do it. Showtime, Sharpedo!"

    Sharpedo materialized on the ground, balancing precariously on his side. Alex laughed openly at the sight of Sharpedo trying to balance himself, and several people in the crowd joined him.

    "Go ahead, laugh," Cody invited. "Your Oricorio's about to faint, though, so you may want to reconsider not doing anything."

    At this, Alex laughed even harder. "What are you going to do without water? Sharpedo is worthless out of the water! Oricorio, Feather Dance!"

    "Aqua Jet! Crunch!"

    A barrier of water exploded around Sharpedo's body, providing him with more than enough water to move around in; he rocketed forward like a bullet, mouth wide and fangs dripping with dark energy. Before Oricorio was anywhere near ready with her attack, Sharpedo crashed into her, chomping down and sending the both of them tumbling through the grass. Lying in the center of the arena, Oricorio could do nothing but take the attack, as she was still firmly gripped in Sharpedo's mouth. When Sharpedo released her, she didn't move, put out of commission with alarming ease.

    The crowd's cheers surged to new heights, and Alex was struck dumb at the display. Cody filed the look on Alex's face in the place in his memory where he stored the looks of trainers just like him who had thought Sharpedo completely helpless on land and then were summarily defeated. It was especially satisfying to do it to someone like Alex, who by now had composed himself and returned his defeated Pokemon to her Poke Ball.

    Alex took his second Poke Ball, a look of haughty indifference on his face. "So you beat one of my Pokemon. I suppose that I should expect the three of your Pokemon to do be able to do that much. But now your luck has run out. Heliolisk, prepare for battle!"

    Darn. I was hoping to stall long enough to end Electric Terrain, Cody complained silently as he noticed that the field effect was still active. He did take a small bit of comfort in the fact that the Tailwind had petered out by now, though. Cody tried thinking of plans for as many contingencies he could in the precious few seconds he had, but he didn't think Alex was going to give him very much time to -

    "Parabolic Charge!"

    Not the best case scenario, but it would have to do. Parabolic Charge had a wide range, but it was a lot weaker than something like Thunderbolt, which would probably get the KO even outside of Electric Terrain. If Sharpedo wasn't able to dodge the hit, at least he'd survive it. "Take cover, Aqua Jet! Skull Bash!"

    Heliolisk's neck frill opened wide and Sharpedo jetted up and away as fast as he could. Heliolisk fired the attack upwards, and it shot lightning in random directions. One of the bolts caught the tail end of the water stream carrying Sharpedo and it zapped him, causing him to cry out. Hearing Sharpedo's pained cries, Alex pressed the advantage. "Chase him down while he is weakened! Giga Impact!"

    Nodding, Heliolisk's body started to glow orange as she gathered the energy required for the move. Once sufficiently powered up, she dashed forward, leaving a purple, orange-streaked aura in her wake. Just as she passed the tree, Sharpedo lunged forward with Skull Bash, colliding hard with Heliolisk and sending her flying into the wall. The Giga Impact was not wasted, however, and Sharpedo reeled from the massive hit. For a moment, it looked as if both Pokemon were knocked out, but each of them started showing signs of life after a few moments.

    "Your Pokemon lives?" Alex asked incredulously.

    "Thanks only to the extra defensive boost that using Skull Bash provides," Cody answered honestly before his eyes went wide. The Electric Terrain effect slowly evaporated into the air, giving the field its natural color back. And now Heliolisk has to rest! This is my chance to turn this battle around! "Aqua Jet! Crunch, Sharpedo!"

    "No! Heliolisk, get out of the way!" Alex ordered, but Heliolisk was far too winded to actually move; as such, Sharpedo was able to make a clean hit, biting down hard into Heliolisk and eliminating what remained of her energy.

    "Heliolisk is unable to battle! Sharpedo wins!" Esmeralda announced, and Cody was beside himself with relief. He let out a long breath, shaking his hands in an attempt to shake out his nervousness with them. Hard part's over, but that darn Empoleon is gonna be a headache for sure. He looked at Sharpedo, who was just barely standing after the attack. Primarina's definitely got his work cut out for him...

    Alex's facade of coolness crumbled ever so slightly at this second defeat. He scolded himself mentally for his misplay; he'd forgotten about the Skull Bash. Despite this loss, he was still as confident as ever - his last Pokemon was also far and away his strongest and most well trained, and Alex would see to it that she ended this fight with a win. "Empoleon, prepare for battle!"

    Empoleon stood proudly before her opponent, sizing him up. Sharpedo was breathing heavily and it was clear he didn't have much fight left in him, but Empoleon would not take things easy on him. "Use Swagger!" Alex instructed, and Empoleon struck an intimidating pose, her body glowing in a red aura. Sharpedo fell for it, as evidenced by his unnaturally red eyes, and thrashed about on the ground in his rage. Sharpedo suddenly flew forward with Aqua Jet, crashing head first into the tree, where his unconscious body tumbled ungracefully to a stop several feet away.

    Yikes, that looked painful, Cody cringed as Esmeralda declared Sharpedo fainted. He deliberately took his time in recalling Sharpedo, allowing a few extra seconds to plan. First things first: stop the Swagger shenanigans. After that... I don't know. If his Empoleon is female, and specially inclined, Captivate can really put the hurt on. I don't know if I want to rely on that, though. One botched attack could be the difference between victory... and the Close Calls Club, he realized with a gulp. His eyes flashed to Esmeralda, who gave him a gentle prod to send out his Pokemon. "Right, sorry about that," he apologized aloud, taking his last Poke Ball in hand. "Showtime, Primarina!"

    Cody's Primarina appeared with a flourish, striking a graceful pose. Empoleon stared on, unimpressed by the display. "Swagger!"

    "Shut your eyes, Primarina! Misty Terrain! Captivate!" Cody decided to risk the Captivate after all, mainly because there wasn't much else he could do in the current situation. The main goal, as he thought before, was to stop Primarina from suffering the same fate as Sharpedo. Once that was done, he could react to whatever Alex threw at him. With speed born of practice, Primarina covered the entire floor of the arena with a thick blue mist, his eyes closed to slow down the effects of Empoleon's attack. Soon, the terrain was set, and Primarina was free to open his eyes, Empoleon's attack rendered obsolete by the lightly sparkling fog. While Empoleon awaited Alex's next order, Primarina blew a kiss towards her, vibrant pink hearts visibly floating towards their target. Empoleon tried hitting them away, but upon making contact with one of them, it was absorbed into her body, revealing to a shocked Cody that Alex's Empoleon was indeed female.

    Alex paid it little mind. Sure, the Captivate worked, but only in the strictest sense; he hadn't planned on using any special techniques against this opponent. "Swords Dance!" he cried, and Cody gasped, eliciting a boastful laugh from the young man in the white suit. "I see you have realized how futile your attack was."

    "No, just the opposite! This is perfect! Primarina, Moonblast! Encore!"

    Primarina stood on his tail, his arms spread wide. Over his left flipper, a pink ball of fairy energy; over the right, a white, static-looking ball of something mysterious. He flung the Moonblast first; Empoleon continued her dance, using the back of her steel-like fin to bat the weak attack away. Primarina used this distraction to whip the second attack at Empoleon, and it struck home, causing her body to sparkle with a thin white aura.

    Realizing he'd been tricked, Alex grit his teeth as Empoleon finished her attack. With no Pokemon left to switch to, Empoleon was forced to endure the Encore until it was over, meaning Alex had essentially given Cody carte blanche to attack however he pleased. He made sure to continue giving orders - if Empoleon didn't attack, the Encore would technically never end. Alex hoped that Empoleon's natural resistance to Primarina's attacks kept her alive long enough to retaliate. "Drill Peck," he commanded, but he was not surprised to see Empoleon ignore it, dancing the same dance she'd done previously, sending her now useless physical strength into the stratosphere.

    "I don't want to sound like a spoilsport, Alex, but you can't win now. You know the second the Encore effect wears off, I can just hit her with another one, yeah? She's gonna be using Swords Dance until Primarina knocks her out."

    "Drill Peck!" Alex commanded as Empoleon danced her heart out.

    Cody sighed. "Hydro Pump until the Encore wears off, then hit her again with Encore!"

    Primarina nodded, inhaling deeply. He fired off a massive beam of water from his mouth, smacking into Empoleon and interrupting her dance only briefly. Undeterred, Primarina kept the pressure up, trying her best to force Empoleon to stop attacking.

    "Throw some Moonblasts in there, mix it up! You're doing great, she's getting weaker with every hit!"

    Primarina barked in compliance, scooting around to Empoleon's back as she still continued dancing, peppering her with repeated Moonblasts, carefully watching for that white glow to start fading. And shortly after Primarina finished a particularly strong volley of Moonblasts, it did just that.

    Both trainers' eyes went wide. "There it is!" Cody exclaimed. "Encore! Moonblast!"

    "Use Aqua Jet!"

    Empoleon's body exploded in a watery aura, and she zoomed towards Primarina with a razor-tipped fin raised. He barely had enough time to react, aborting the Encore in favor of saving his own skin. For a moment, Cody thought he was in serious trouble, but the Misty Terrain had started fading away, and he risked everything on a move that he prevented himself from using until this very moment.

    "Sing! Hydro Pump!"

    Primarina inhaled and sang out one loud, crisp, clear note, adjusting his pitch to help it sound more appealing to Empoleon. To Alex's dismay, the attack had its desired effect, and Empoleon fell to the earth, fast asleep. Primarina began his assault anew again, confident that it wouldn't be much longer before Empoleon fainted. Cody was having similar thoughts; now that Alex had found a way around getting locked into Swords Dance (and now that his Empoleon's attack power had been boosted to truly obscene levels), he couldn't risk Encore again without getting slaughtered. So he'd risked trying to put Empoleon to sleep with a usually inaccurate Sing attack, and from the looks of it, it was paying off. Empoleon was getting battered by powerful, albeit resisted, attacks, and Primarina showed no signs of stopping. Just a few more and -

    Cody was brought out of his thoughts by the sound of Alex laughing. His curiosity getting the better of him, he asked, "Something wrong?"

    "I win," Alex stated with an air of finality. "Empoleon, Sleep Talk!"

    "Encore! Moonblast!" Cody blurted, and Primarina responded immediately, but Empoleon suddenly sprang to her feet, scaring Primarina and forcing her to stop the attack. She began to charge it again as Empoleon leaped high into the air, still sound asleep, her beak and crown glowing bright white. She spun her body at high speed as she fell towards Primarina, and landed with a crash. Primarina screamed bloody murder for nearly a second and a half as the artificially powerful attack tore into his body, depleting all of his energy with that one decisive blow. When the attack was finished, Empoleon fell to the ground, lightly snoring, and completely oblivious as to what she just did.

    "Primarina is unable to battle!" Esmeralda declared, raising her hand towards Empoleon. "Empoleon is the winner, which means the winner of this match is Alex Croft!" Cody wordlessly recalled his Pokemon, nervous about the damage that Empoleon inflicted. He could see streaks of red on Empoleon's horn, and he feared the worst.

    Black met white in the center of the arena for the standard post-game handshake. Alex was looking quite pleased with himself, as Cody expected. "Good game," Cody said, stone-faced.

    "I won, so it was a wonderful game," Alex replied, grabbing Cody's hand. Cody noticed that the boy's grip was almost laughably weak; it felt as though he were shaking hands with a little girl. "I will give you credit, however; I was fully expecting Heliolisk to rip your team apart. I would get to the Pokemon Center right away if I were you," he added with a knowing look in his eyes. "Your Primarina especially looks to be in rough shape."

    "Thanks, I will," Cody replied, gripping Alex's hand a little tighter. When Alex went to pull back, Cody held firm, causing Alex to squirm a bit in his grip. This gave Cody a little satisfaction, and a ghost of a smile appeared on his face. "Good luck on your next match."

    * * * * * * * *

    By the time dinner rolled around, everyone was back in high spirits. Cody's Primarina was fine, though he had taken quite a vicious beating from Empoleon's final attack. Jethro's Umbreon was good as new as well, having benefited from a few extra hours in the Pokemon Center. The battles were over for the week, and everyone was looking forward to a relaxing weekend.

    The topic of conversation was, naturally, the battles they'd witnessed earlier. Alex spoke at length about his victory, gloating like a school boy. Kyro expressed his condolences to Cody, but was overjoyed to have another member in the Close Calls Club. Quayle and Eldan joined him and Cody for the club's first meeting, held right there in the cafeteria during dinner. The Team Flare grunt and the former Team Galactic admin honored the truce Quayle suggested, and the meeting was hailed as a success by everyone involved.

    Windra made good on her promise to keep her tryst with Scarlet a secret, though she was unaware that Scarlet had already come clean about it to Rose. Her promise was put to the test when Nye, who had been sitting with Rose and Windra, invited Scarlet to sit with them. Scarlet hesitated at first, but agreed after Nye insisted. While they ate, Scarlet kept stealing looks at Windra, who chatted with Nye as though nothing was wrong. Rose managed to keep Scarlet busy with Ranger talk, and before long, she managed to put Windra out of her mind and enjoy herself.

    At Chara's request, Frisk ate with Taikyu, Thresher, and Lenny, just so Chara could be closer to Taikyu. Frisk was especially happy to be back in her own body after being out of it for so long, and she didn't care that she could barely follow the conversation the older men were having. She had her own reasons for wanting to talk to Taikyu, so she dealt with it and stayed engaged as best she could.

    The men chatted well into the evening, long after they'd finished eating, and eventually, the four were the only ones remaining in the cafeteria. Lenny pointed out Frisk, who'd fallen asleep at the table, her head held up by one of her hands. "Looks like someone was up past their bedtime."

    Thresher yawned himself, stretching and checking the clock. "Sure I can't be sayin' the same ta you, Lenny? I'm shocked that yer still going. You too, Taikyu," he added, noticing neither of his elders seemed to be any worse for wear.

    "Oh, I still have a while left in me," Taikyu remarked with a smile. He looked over at Frisk. "She reminds me so much of my daughter."

    "Biological, or the one you told us about earlier?" Lenny asked.

    "The latter. I don't have any biological children," Taikyu answered, with just a hint of sadness in his old voice. "But that's okay. Beatrice and I stayed in contact over the years, and her family and I are very close. All of her children treat me as their grandfather. When she died, I gave a eulogy at her funeral. Aside from that, I've lived a rich and fulfilling life, helping countless troubled souls find their way. I couldn't ask for a better life." He regarded Frisk lovingly, his memories flooded with the images of the little girl he'd rescued and raised as his own.

    "She must have been a real sweet lady," Thresher noted quietly.

    Taikyu sighed heavily, finding himself missing the woman who was his daughter in all ways but by blood. "She was. I see in Frisk a lot of the same attributes Beatrice shared: a love of the arts, a zest for life, and... being forced to deal with death at a young age."

    Thresher's face sobered a bit, and now he too was watching the young girl sleep. "Did she lose her father, too?"

    Taikyu paused before answering, feeling a slight pang of shame, as though this was not his story to tell and he'd done something wrong by hinting at it. After all, it had taken a great deal before Frisk hesitantly revealed it. It was then that Taikyu realized that he had no idea where Frisk's parents were. She made no effort to mention them, so maybe the two children were orphaned as well? Taikyu hoped with all of his soul that it was not true. "No... her little brother," he eventually answered. He kept the part about Chara inhabiting Frisk's body to himself. He saw no reason to go into such details with them without Frisk's knowledge.

    Suddenly, Lenny rose from his chair. "No parent should ever have to bury their child. I'm calling it a night. Night, fellas." He then turned and left, not bothering to wait for goodnight wishes from the others.

    Thresher glanced at the clock again and decided he was going to turn in as well. "I think I'm gonna do the same, old man. Whadaya wanna do about Frisk here?"

    "Would you carry her to her room?" Taikyu asked. "I would do it myself, but I'm afraid I'm not as strong as I once was."

    "Aye, sure thing," Thresher agreed, smiling.

    "Thank you."

    Thresher got up from the table and very gingerly reached under the table, supporting Frisk's legs as he deftly scooped the girl into his arms. "After you," he said to Taikyu, and Taikyu nodded, leading the way out of the cafeteria and holding the door open for the young man and his charge.

    They were halfway down the hallway when suddenly, Frisk awoke with a start, nearly leaping out of Thresher's arms. "I wasn't asleep! I'm not tired!"

    "Oh, is that so?" Thresher inquired, stopping to set the girl on her feet.

    Frisk answered with a massive yawn. "Nope."

    Thresher grinned knowingly. "Well, my dear, in that case, I'm sure ye'll have no problems walking the rest of the way. Taikyu, can I count on you to escort this not-at-all-tired young lady ta her room? This is my stop."

    "But of course," Taikyu replied, offering his arm to Frisk. Frisk looked confused at the gesture, so Taikyu simply held a hand in front of him. "Shall we go?"

    They all said goodnight to each other, and Frisk walked with Taikyu until they reached her bedroom at the end of the hallway. "Would you like to come in?" Frisk asked her escort.

    "Are you sure?" he asked in reply. "It's very late. If you want to talk, we have plenty of time tomorrow."

    "I know, but..." she muttered something else that Taikyu couldn't hear.

    "What was that?"

    "I kinda like our late night chats!" she blurted, embarrassed. "It's kinda been a thing with us, you know? And... I don't know, it's dumb."

    Taikyu smiled warmly, touched by her words. It was definitely a far cry from their first encounter, when Chara had told him to piss off and she'd run off in tears. "I disagree. It's not dumb at all, and it would be my honor to keep you company."

    Frisk nodded, and she shifted nervously in front of her door. "Okay, great. Um, could... could you just wait out here while I change into my pajamas?"

    "Of course."

    Frisk disappeared into her room for a few minutes, and eventually opened the door again to let Taikyu in. Once he was inside, she climbed into her bed and got under the covers. Taikyu pulled a chair up next to her bed and sat with her. He decided to start the conversation with the most obvious thing. "I see you're back in your own body again. I'm glad to see that."

    Frisk nodded. "Yeah, me too. Chara told me about everything that happened while I was gone, and we talked. About... us. Me and him, I mean."

    She told Taikyu about what happened since his failed attempt to exorcise her. She relayed to him that she could hear everything he and Chara talked about when Chara took control of her, and how she was glad that his spell on her failed. She informed him about Chara inadvertently succeeding in erasing her from his mind once she let him take over, why and how it happened, and how she managed to come back. She told him about Chara's death, even going so far as telling him about her attempted suicide after the event. She concluded with the promise she made to Chara to let him out more often, and his to her about taking it easy on pranking her. When she was finished, Taikyu filled in the gaps Frisk left, including his botched attempt at accompanying Chara outside, the fall he took, and being disciplined by Safiri for trying to leave.

    "I'm sorry you got into trouble," Frisk apologized.

    "No apologies necessary. It was my fault for making the suggestion to him. But tomorrow, I plan on taking Safiri up on her offer to go outside. You two should join me."

    After a moment, Frisk answered, "Yeah, that sounds like fun. Chara says he thinks so too."

    "Glad to hear it," Taikyu replied. He looked at the clock. It was definitely late, but his curiosity was getting the better of him, and there was one thing in particular he wanted to at least bring up while he had the opportunity. "Frisk, you don't have to do it right now, but would you do this old man a favor?"

    "Of course, Taikyu," she responded immediately, excited that he would ask anything at all of her. "What is it?"

    "Over the past week, I've gotten to know both you and your brother. I consider myself honored that you would trust me enough to share the knowledge of his possession of you with me. And yet, I am ashamed to admit that I don't have any idea what he looks like. Do you have any photos of him I could see?"

    Frisk shook her head. "We didn't exactly plan on getting sent to Sinnoh, and of course I didn't plan on getting him killed. Taking a picture together seems like such a simple thing in hindsight, but we never did, not even once." She got an idea, and threw the covers off her, surprising Taikyu a bit. "But I know the next best thing!" she exclaimed, getting out of bed and opening the drawer of her bedside table. She took her sketchbook and colored pencils out of it, and sat up against the head of her bed, crossing her legs and setting the book in front of her.

    "What are you doing?" Taikyu asked, curious.

    "I'm going to draw him," she answered, not looking up at him. "I may not have any pictures of him, but that doesn't mean I don't know what my own brother looks like. It won't take that long, but if you want to come back tomorrow for it, that's fine."

    Taikyu stifled a yawn, watching Frisk sketch with purpose, all her tiredness from before seemingly gone now. He did want to go to sleep, but since he had been the one to put the idea in her head, he felt obligated to stay awake with her and see it through. Besides, he reasoned, I can get more information from her this way. "That's quite all right, young lady, I'll wait. I hope you don't mind if I ask you a few things while you work."

    "No, go ahead," she responded, swapping pencils, completely focused on her drawing.

    His first question was easy, and the one he most wanted an answer to. "Forgive me for being blunt, but are your parents alive?"

    "Yeah. At least, they were the day I fell into the Underground. Dr. Alphys was trying to find a way to send us back to the Surface to we could go back home."

    Taikyu found himself wishing he'd had his notes with him, and tried to commit all of this to memory. "The Surface? The surface of what?"

    "Our world. The monsters call it the Surface."

    "Monsters? What kind of monsters? Are they like Pokemon?"

    "No, not really. Well, I guess some of them are. Some of them are more monster-like, and some are more human-like and can speak the human language."

    Taikyu was engrossed by her words. How fascinating that there existed entire worlds separate from this one, with strange creatures capable of communication! "That's incredible, Frisk. What is the Underground like?"

    "It's not that bad, not as bad as some humans think. I miss my parents, but if I had to live my rest of my life in the Underground, I wouldn't mind. Asgore is a very nice ruler, but sometimes I think he wasn't all there."

    "What do you mean?"

    "He's kinda dumb," Frisk said plainly, pausing for a second as she considered the shape of Chara's face. "After the war, he and the other monsters moved to the farthest reaches of the Underground and Asgore called their new settlement 'Home.' After they stopped fearing the humans, they moved out of Home and spread out all across the Underground. They eventually settled again and Asgore called it 'New Home.'"

    Taikyu picked up on one part of that statement in particular. "There was a war?"

    "Yeah. It was thousands of years ago. Really long story, I don't know all the details. Asgore could probably tell you more about it. I think he fought in it."

    "Monsters have that long of a lifespan?" Taikyu wondered.

    Frisk didn't reply as she continued coloring in Chara's shirt.

    "Frisk?" he prodded.

    "Huh? Oh, sorry, I don't know. I'm just about finished. Give me a minute." The next few minutes were silent but for the sounds of the two of them breathing, and the scratching of pencil on paper as she drew. Finally, she ripped the page from her sketchbook and presented it to Taikyu. "Here you go."

    On the paper was a drawing of a young boy with shoulder-length brown hair wearing a long-sleeved shirt with lime and cream horizontal stripes. He was smiling, Taikyu noticed, and he had bright blue eyes in contrast with Frisk's (and his own) deep brown. "This is quite good," Taikyu complimented Frisk on her drawing.

    "Eh, it's decent," Chara answered. "My hair wasn't that long."

    Surprised at that sentence, he looked up and saw Frisk's eyes had indeed gone red. "Good evening, Chara."

    Taikyu watched as her pupils faded back to brown. "That's it? That's all he wanted to say?"

    "He wanted to see if I was telling the truth about letting him out. He asked me to let him say something, so I did."

    "Aren't you worried about him erasing you again, after everything he's done?"

    "Of course," she replied honestly. "But I have to trust him and start showing him that he really is important to me."

    "I see. Thank you for the drawing. I'd be interested in seeing what some of your monster friends look like, if you could draw them for me. My brothers will be shocked when I tell them about what we've discussed. Oh, and on the subject of my brothers, they think that the reason my exorcism failed is because it's because Chara isn't a Pokemon. They've researched other methods, and one of them looks promising, but it wouldn't put your brother's soul at peace, only... move it. If it worked, Chara wouldn't be shackled to your consciousness anymore, but he'd be stuck to someone else. That's not a desirable outcome. So I'll continue doing my research and--"

    "No!" Frisk blurted, stopping Taikyu mid-sentence. "I'm sorry, but no. You don't have to do that, Taikyu. Things have changed between Chara and me. We'll find a way to coexist peacefully."

    "I see," Taikyu replied, rising from his chair and placing it back at the desk. "I'm happy to hear that things are going better between you two. Well, Frisk, it's past this old man's bed time. I'll see you tomorrow."

    He turned to make his exit, but Frisk stopped him again. "W-wait!"

    "Hm? What is it?" Taikyu inquired, turning back towards the young girl.

    Frisk jumped out of bed and ran into Taikyu, throwing her arms around him in a hug and squeezing him tightly, being careful not to hurt him as she did so. "Thank you, Taikyu. I haven't thanked you for helping me deal with my problems with Chara. You're the first person I've told about him, and it means a lot to finally have someone I can talk to about him. And I'm sure Chara feels the same way. You treated him with respect and kindness when all I showed him was fear. You're the first friend he's made in a long time. So thank you. I don't know how I'll ever be able to repay you."

    Moved by the young girl's words, Taikyu wrapped his long arms around Frisk and hugged her back. "You're welcome, Frisk. Knowing what little I've done has brought peace to your mind and your soul is the greatest reward I could ever hope to receive. My door is always open if you need me."

    She squeezed him one last time before finally releasing him, taking a few steps back so she didn't have to crane her neck up so far to look into his kind eyes. "I know. Hopefully it'll be on more pleasant terms. Goodnight, Taikyu."

    She put her pencils and sketchbook on her bedside table and tucked herself in as Taikyu headed for the door. He took one last look at her and was pleased to note that the evil aura that had permeated her body was greatly reduced. It would deplete over time, Taikyu deduced as he turned the light off and exited Frisk's room. The siblings had a lot of work ahead of them, but from the way Frisk described it, and from the genuinely happy look he saw on her face as he left, Taikyu believed the two of them would be just fine.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2018
  19. Skyleaf2000 Resident UB Enthusiast
    Skyleaf2000

    Member

    lol poor Windra wasnt even close to winning
    she cant even be in the club
    rip windra
    maybe she should start a We-Completely-Lost club xD
     
    PMJ likes this.
  20. GrandPanacea Thread Necromancer
    GrandPanacea

    Forum Super Mod Badges Staff Chat Room Staff Advanced Member Member

    I'm incredibly curious as to what this will be about. I do hope you write more about it.

    Overall, quite the entertaining chapter. The battle was pretty interesting. The image of Sharpedo flopping around on the grass greatly amused me. Took me a little while to read because of work and all that. (This is one of my smaller comments, because I've already mentioned a lot to you.)
     

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