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Grace and Princess fanart
A user on my Discord called ObsidianOlive commissioned this for me. It's the first piece of fanart I've ever received and I'm extremely giddy about it, so I decided to share it here. Enjoy! (Drawn by @artbynath on fiverr)

Chapter 150

It hadn't even been particularly close. Torterra shared or even surpassed Tangrowth's bulk, so fire type attacks from Charmeleon hadn't done much but annoy it, and it easily retaliated with devastating Earthquakes that took her out of the fight before she could make use of Blaze. Torterra was too heavy for Gothorita to even hope to restrain it, and again, no clawed attacks from Vigoroth dealt much damage. Plus, the normal type had listened to Pauline somewhat, but it never wanted to hang back and wait for the correct opportunity to strike. Crobat, for its part, was just as quick as Cecilia's Talonflame and could easily run circles around anything that Pauline could throw at it.

The battle had been a massacre. A testament to the difference between a trainer with three and five badges. Maybe if Charmeleon, Gothorita, or Rufflet had evolved, then she would have stood a better chance, but there was no way for Pauline to beat an experienced trainer with tougher Pokemon than she had, or at least not with her violent approach to battling. Pauline calmly recalled her Pokemon, and we all held our breaths. She watched her opponent walk off with a smug smile and then stepped away herself.

But then, she stopped.

"Ah, shit," Denzel sighed.

"Hey, Mr. supervisor? I have a question," she said.

"Hm? What is it?"

"Can you explain to me what the fuck that just was? That wasn't the girl I was supposed to fight. I wasn't even warned about the change. Did you expect me to just walk away and take it? That'd mean that you're straight-up fucking stupid."

"Take it up to the higher-ups," he lazily said.

"No, I want to take it up with you, moron."

"I don't know why it happened, I don't make the decisions, I'm just a referee."

"Got it, so you don't care if the tournament the company you work for organized is shit. You clearly favored this guy! Why else would you put him against me at the last second? And no mentions of a schedule or a bracket change? Really?"

The audience was beginning to murmur in her favor, and the supervisor seemed to be genuinely taken aback, which surprised me. Pauline was right. What did he think would happen? Reporters had forgone interviewing Harry Rodriguez and were instead filming this entire confrontation.

"Look, all I know is that there were two resignations from your opponent and his, so you both moved up the bracket and fought each other instead. That's normal proceedings and if you read the fine print when you signed up, you would have known. I'm sorry if you feel like you've been wronged."

"So are you saying it doesn't matter then? I paid for this shit experience. That is bullshit," Pauline said. She exhaled to keep going, but then stared in our direction. Her shoulders relaxed, and she sighed. "Whatever."

After Pauline told every reporter in the vicinity to fuck off, we joined her. She wasn't as pissed off as I expected her to be— well, correction: she was pissed that she'd been wronged, but she wasn't angry that she had lost. She was taking the defeat in stride in hopes of improving.

"I mean, I knew I'd lose when I saw the Torterra come out. That thing is a monster," she sighed. "I'm not stupid. I just wanted to do as best I could. I could have done better if I could have prepared… ah man, this fucking blows. There's so much I have to work on."

"You were right to be angry," Justin said. "There's no doubt that this was a suspicious development. What were the odds that both of your opponents resign on the same day? Without any warning?"

"But he was right when he said that the normal procedure would just be to move both of you up the bracket," Maeve grimaced. "So I'm not sure…"

"What? Are you saying I would have lost to him anyway in the second round? So what? There's still injustice that was done, and it fucking pisses me off. I'll be taking it up with the higher-ups," she hissed, mockingly imitating the referee.

"Did it show on the website at all?" Maeve asked.

"I checked this morning and it didn't," she snapped.

I glanced at Denzel, silently asking him to keep her in line. She was right to be angry. Something about this just didn't bode well, but I felt like we should stay discreet for now until we gathered more information. Something was still bothering me— something other than that egregious display of favoritism and corruption.

It seemed that Harry knew a whole lot about Pauline's team when that shouldn't have been possible if he'd been caught by surprise at the last minute, but most of all…

His battle hadn't been supposed to be on the Rock Field, and yet he'd shown up just in time. He knew.

"Look, we'll do it together," he told her.

"I don't need a babysitter."

"Okay… but that's not what I said— you know what, let's just get your team healed for now."

The mood grew gloomy as we walked toward the Center. None of us had expected someone to lose this early, especially when we'd seen that we wouldn't battle against anyone better than we were in the first round. But if there was a scheme afoot, why would these people risk it? BattleZone— their company— was renowned for organizing and running smooth tournaments, and they'd make an ample amount of money during the whole thing even if the Hunters were getting a share of the revenue for letting them use their land. With the advertisements, the revenue from the tickets, the publicity… so why?

Harry Rodriguez… I thought as I turned on my phone. I scrambled to look up anything I could find about him. He was a second year from Hearthome, and his two other Pokemon were a Pelipper and a Luxray. He was sponsored by a single gaming company, although it didn't seem like a close relationship. He'd gotten four badges during his first year, but was now well on his way to making it to the Conference. He'd beaten all of the gyms in the east, but where had he gotten his fifth?

It took a bit of sleuthing to figure out that he'd beaten Roark a week before the tournament started. How the hell had he gotten back here so quickly for the tournament? He didn't appear to have a teleporter on his team, and even the biggest Pelipper weren't large enough to carry humans. It couldn't have been a secret fifth Pokemon either, since his battle against Roark had been a four-on-four. At the fifth badge, gym leaders weren't going to hold back in terms of numbers for the fight, and they'd force you to utilize your entire team. Maybe Harry had caught something right after his gym battle… but no. Catching a psychic in the wild capable of Teleporting that far was as likely as winning the Arceus damned lottery, and I didn't think that anyone would trust them enough to teleport anyway. The same thought process applied to a flying type.

So how?

Connections. Just like Craig had carried us back to Eterna, Harry had someone to either teleport or fly him around. Innocent enough in a vacuum, but with the added context, I was growing suspicious. We entered the Center, and Pauline gave her Pokemon to Nurse Joy.

"Hey, Justin and I are going to head back to help Pauline lodge her complaint," Denzel said.

"You'll just censor me."

"Yes, that is the goal," Justin said.

"So keep us updated on anything," he continued. "You guys get some rest for your battles tomorrow," Denzel finished, staring and me and Mira.

"Sure thing," she nonchalantly answered.

The group dispersed after that. It seemed that despite some of us being suspicious of this whole affair, most were willing to give the organizers the benefit of the doubt until something like this happened again. Maeve had grown less confrontational since getting crushed by Louis at the Floaroma tournament. Mira didn't exactly care about the tournament anyway, and even if Denzel and Justin were suspicious, they probably wanted to focus on keeping Pauline from exploding at some poor guy who didn't know anything that was happening.

Louis, Cecilia and I were not most. They knew all too well what money could turn a person into, and I wasn't willing to let this go quite easily. Not when a friend had been wronged.

Especially when Harry Rodriguez would be someone I needed to battle sooner rather than later, looking at the brackets. Hell, what happened to Pauline could even happen to me. Instead of training for tomorrow's battle against Yasim like I had expected to do, we all sat in my room. Combee buzzed over Louis' head, the three faces yawning in unison. Cecilia closed my blinds and released Slowking to tell us if anyone was near, and I had Princess out, and she sat in my lap like usual. It wasn't that I wanted to keep my other friends in the dark. That would have been a foolish decision. Everyone needed to be on the same page, or something terrible was bound to happen if our suspicions were correct. Tomorrow, I would tell them all about what we would discover tonight, and I would also send a message to the group chat before going to sleep for good measure.

The atmosphere was still… awkward. It wasn't that long ago that Louis had left the group because of me. A heavy silence hung in the air, and we all waited to see who would start to speak first. We must have stood there for at least two minutes until Louis let out a slight chuckle.

A single laugh.

Then we joined him, giggling like idiots at the stupidity of the situation. We had a potential scandal on our hands, and we were worried about how awkward things were? It was just so silly.

"Sorry about that," Louis said, wiping away a tear of laughter. "I… wow, I haven't laughed like that in a long time."

"Let's make sure you keep those coming then," Cece smiled.

My heart felt whole again. Like something that I believed irreparably broken had just been healed. Tears of laughter turned into tears of joy, but I hid them well enough and wiped them away with my shirt. Togetic noticed and glanced at me, but I just kissed her forehead and brought her into a tight hug.

"Let's get to the matter at hand then," I said. "Harry Rodriguez."

"There must be something there, right?" Louis asked. "Can we check how many resignations there have been since the start of the tournament?"

"I don't know… Denzel would be useful for this," I muttered. "Let me check the website."

I grabbed my phone again.

"I saw you looking things up earlier," Cecilia said.

"Uhuh," I nodded. "I mostly discovered that he must have an acquaintance or a friend that flew or teleported him back to Solaceon because he was last seen in Oreburgh before this. I tried figuring it out on his megathread, but there was nothing there. Just baseless speculation."

I explained his badge order and how it was strange that he had gotten to Roark so quickly. You could theoretically scale down the mountain on route 207, but nothing Rodriguez currently had was capable of that, which meant that he was teleported or flown to Oreburgh in the first place. We put a tab on that for now.

"How many days did it take him to get back here?" She asked.

"Uh, I don't know, I can't really corroborate anything. He fought Roark and won a bit more than a week ago, and he showed up here five days later in time for the tournament, but that could mean anything."

"He could have either flown directly or waited a few days to Teleport," Louis said.

"So picture this," I said. "I'm Rodriguez—"

Cecilia and Louis both chuckled.

"—and I just beat Roark handily with my Torterra and Pelipper or whatever. Instead of continuing on toward Canalave or just getting a ride to Eterna via my teleporter or flier, I come back here. Why?"

"The rewards. Hyper beam," Cece immediately said.

"Obviously that's part of it, but there must be something else. To backtrack during the Circuit when you don't have to, you must be pretty sure that you're going to win, no? Doesn't that seem suspicious?"

"I don't know… if he has a teleporter or friend to fly him, it wouldn't cost him anything to try. If he loses, he can just Teleport or fly back. Plus, his skills would put him in a good position to win. I think you're looking too deep into it," she frowned.

"That's… fair."

"But then again, doesn't he only have four Pokemon? If he's going to make it to the Conference, he's going to need to catch his last two and train them up quickly. The easiest way to do that is by traveling," Louis said.

"But we could be telling Pauline and Justin the same thing. It's not enough. We're missing something," Cece muttered.

"Ah!" I exclaimed. I had found what I was looking for. "There's been twelve resignations— including the ones we already know of— but the other ten were all before the tournament began. It doesn't tell us the reasons though."

"We lack information," Cecilia said.

"And I'm sure that they could claim that other trainers benefited from those resignations in some way or another," I groaned. "The difference with Harry is that the timing is… too convenient, and that he knew where his battle would take place. Like he'd been warned beforehand.

"Could we track down the two people that resigned from Pauline and Henry's matches? That could give us some insight," Louis asked.

"I've got their names here, but finding them in this town would be…"

"Impossible," he sighed. "It's also possible that they've left already."

"There is something else we can try to do," Cecilia said. "Find Luca Antonovich."

"Who?" Louis asked.

Personally, I knew that Cece just liked to pause for dramatic effect.

"Grace already knows about this, but there's a man with two Cutiefly going around and selling information. Slowking caught one of them spying on me yesterday. He uses their small size to spy on people," she explained. "If anyone knows anything about those two, it would be him. We'll have to pay, though."

"Where is he now?" I asked.

"Now? Not tomorrow?" Louis' eyes widened.

"No time like the present. It's only seven."

"Well, I don't exactly know but I heard he liked to skulk around near the Hunters' home…"

With Combee and Togetic in tow, finding Luca had been easy. Well, it was more like he had let himself be found. Princess had told me that he'd waved at her when she'd been scanning the area in the sky. Luca Antonovich smiled widely as he greeted us with a curt nod. The two Cutiefly flying around his head were barely visible to the naked eye, but they had a pale, yellow glow that made them easy to see in the night. I assumed that was just for flair and that they could turn that off.

"I figured people were looking for me when I saw those two in the sky," he said, pointing at Togetic and Combee.

"And you let yourself be found?" Louis asked.

"Hey, how do you think I get paid?" He shrugged. "I didn't think Grace Pastel and Cecilia Obel would come to ask of my services. You two seemed too goodie-two-shoes for that. So who's it gonna be? Yasim Benzema? Finley Johansson?"

"We're not here for info about our opponents," I said. "We're here for two things. First, the two people that were supposed to fight Pauline King and Harry Rodriguez resigned on the same day. Would you happen to know anything about that?"

Luca licked his upper teeth. "That's gonna cost you."

"Money isn't an issue. I will pay," Louis said.


"Don't worry, Cecilia. It's the least I can do."

"Pay up then. 50 G's."

Louis grabbed his trainer ID and transferred the money onto Luca's account. To him, fifty thousand was nothing, but Luca was practically salivating. We had probably overpaid.

"Alrighty then. See, one of the poor sods who resigned came to me at first looking for info about their opponents. Sally McCree thought she had a chance against Pauline King, so she was willing to pay a lot. I had my Cutiefly snoop around and found out about that Vigoroth of hers and a few new moves," he said. A small, barely audible chime rang out in my ears. The Cutiefly were nowhere near me, but it felt like they were buzzing around right next to my ears.

I wondered if such small Pokemon were capable of battling.

"She was hyped as hell for her battle, so imagine my surprise when I heard she resigned. I usually try to keep my nose out of things where it doesn't belong, but I got curious. I sought her out before she left, but she wasn't willing to tell me anything. I offered to pay. Me! Can you imagine that? There's nothing I crave more than information, but the bitch just snubbed me. She said she'd changed her mind and that she needed to hurry up to collect the gym badges instead of wasting time here. I tried to push her, but she screamed that it was none of my business. So I go 'okay, whatever,' but this thing is eating at me and I seek the other person instead."

"The one who was supposed to fight Harry Rodriguez," I breathed out.

"Yeah. Another kid with five badges this time. Imagine my surprise when he told me the exact same thing, eh? Funny how that works. You know, when people have the exact same story, that means something's going on. Something a lot bigger than I personally can handle, so I resigned to just chill out and make cash even though my curiosity's eating at me."

I sighed and clenched at my forehead. From the way he'd told his story, it sounded like they'd been pressured to leave. Since Harry's opponent had been supposed to be a five-badger, I reckoned he had a decent chance to win, even without knowing anything about his team. You didn't get to five badges without being an excellent trainer.

And now, Harry had fought Pauline and gotten an easy victory instead of a possible nailbiter.

It felt like this tournament was being rigged.

"Okay…" Cecilia exhaled. "Okay. This is big."

"I'd stay out of it if I were you," Luca shrugged. "I like you guys. You paid me a fuck ton."

I ignored his ironic comment and sent all of this information into the group chat. The others needed to know about this, but we needed to act like we didn't, at least for now. Even though I didn't think it was the likeliest scenario, there was a possibility that they'd been threatened to leave. They could have been paid off too, or simply pressured. It was hard to say no when the full weight of a massive company was breathing down your neck. There was no way to know until we gathered more information.

"We also wanted to ask about Harry Rodriguez," Louis said.

"The big guy himself, eh?" Luca laughed. "Shoot."

"Does he have any relations with the organizers here?"

"With BattleZone? Not that I know of, but if they were rigging this, don't you think they'd have hidden it better than this?" He shrugged. "Feels amateurish to me. Too sloppy. I wish I had more for you, but that's all I got."

"That's fine," Louis sighed. "Thank you anyway."

"And hey, if you ever need more information, I'll be here," he grinned. "Here, take my number. Keep me in the loop."

I stared up at the stars as we traveled through the lonely road to get back to the Center. Just like in Floaroma, you could see them easily in Solaceon. The reactions to the news in the group chat had been mostly uproar, but we all knew that we needed to proceed with caution. Even Pauline had calmed down somewhat.

"Something's been bothering me," I frowned. "If they were rigging it for Harry, why not make Pauline fight her opponent anyway? Why make Sally Mccree resign?"

"Do you think she knew something that they didn't want her to leak?" Cece asked.

"Maybe. But then again, it could be… what if it was to muddy the waters?" I gasped.

"What do you mean by that?"

"If you're the organizers, you could want to make a bunch of people randomly resign to make it look like you're not helping a particular person," I said. "There are always some people that leave a tournament early, so it wouldn't be that strange."

"But Harry was clearly the one that benefited here, no? He crushed Pauline instead of fighting an equal," Louis said.

I nodded. "Yes. So if my theory's right, more and more people will start quitting at random, and there'll be no way to tell if those resignations are legit or not. It'll make the whole thing impossible to prove. It would be suspicious, but suspicion isn't enough to convict someone."

"So we have this trainer with no relations to the organizers… no holes in his story, but he's still getting pulled upward for some reason," Cecilia reflected. "What can he offer them? What does him winning do for them?"

"For BattleZone? Nothing," I said. "Or at least nothing that I can think of. There's something missing."

I chewed on my thumb nail and stopped moving.

Harry Rodriguez. No relations to BattleZone, but still getting help from the organizers. Why? He had five badges, so he was already a top contender. Someone wanted him to win, but we'd already established that there would be no benefits for the organizers to do so. They were already making money, and risking their reputation on such a scheme was suicidal for a company of that size. This wasn't like Clarence and Harvey. The potential rewards did not justify their actions. The more trainers were forced to resign, the more the chances of a leak grew. They'd never be allowed to run any tournaments again, and they'd ruin the relationship they were fostering with all of these advertisers, trainers, the Hunter family—

The Hunter family.

I stopped biting on my nail and my realized my eyes had gotten dry. I had stopped blinking. The Hunter family didn't run or organize the tournament, but they practically ran everything that happened in Solaceon due to the immense amount of influence they wielded. The tournament was happening on their land, and they'd given up a Hyper Beam TM as a reward. They had skin in the game.

It didn't come close to explaining anything. The entire picture was still blurry, and I still had no idea why they would want Harry Rodriguez to win. If he'd been a part of their family, I would understand…

But it was something to look into.

"We need to look into the Hunters."
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Chapter 151

The first thing we did before getting back to the Center was run back to Luca and ask him if he knew about any links between Harry Rodriguez and the Hunter family, but he had no answers for us. He'd said that there was nothing there that he knew of, but that he was going to start digging today already. If he ever figured something out, he would contact us and let us know.

For the right price, of course. He was somewhat similar to Abel in that regard, which kind of pissed me off. If there was some scheme going on, why not do the right thing and expose it? Or at least try to work with us.

The second thing we did was call for a group meeting where Louis, Cece and I brought everyone up to speed with the information we didn't manage to convey over text. We were currently in Cece's room to discuss things.

"Tomorrow, I'll try to ask around," Denzel said with his arms crossed. "There ought to be people that know more about Harry… still, none of this makes sense. I mean, he's a good trainer and all, but I still don't understand what the Hunters would have to gain and why BattleZone would be cooperating with this. The risks…"

"The risks didn't deter my father," Cece said.

"But there's no reward at the end," I said. "Unless there is, and we just aren't seeing it. It can't be for money. The Hunters are already filthy rich, and so is BattleZone. Hyper Beam wouldn't put a dent in their expenditure. And there's also how obvious they're making it too."

I tapped my foot against the floor and bit my lip. I was good at these things. Brainstorming and thinking about stuff, but for the first time, no answers were coming up. Why, why, why? No matter how I spun it, nothing made sense. We were back at square one—

Cece grabbed my hand and gently led me onto her lap.

"Relax, love," she said, hugging me from behind. "There's no fire. We still have time to figure it out."

"And maybe it's just a coincidence—" Maeve stopped when Pauline stared daggers at her.

"What was the supervisors' reaction when you guys lodged a complaint?" I asked.

"They were genuinely nice," Justin said. "Understanding and everything. They said that they'd be willing to refund half of Pauline's entry fee for the misunderstanding—"

"Which I took, by the way," she huffed. "Fucking half. Am I worth half a human being?"

"—We're not as good as you at reading people, but I felt like they were trying to be as nice as possible."

Denzel nodded to agree.

"Could they not be informed about the scheme?" I muttered. It would make sense for low to mid-leveled employees not to know. "Or maybe they sold it really well…"

"Either way, we won't figure out more until more time passes. Like Maeve says, it could be a misunderstanding or a coincidence, but the way Luca told us about the two people who resigned… there was something there," Louis said. "If we see more sudden resignations to give Harry an easier path, then we'll know for sure."

"Don't forget they might mix in others too," I warned. "Only helping Harry would be too obvious."

"Let's just go to sleep for now," Mira shrugged.


I went to bed pissed that night. And I also woke up pissed. I should have cuddled with Cece all night to soothe my soul. To be honest, I kind of wanted to sleep with her every night, but I didn't want to be too clingy and ask. She might find it annoying, and I didn't want to be a high-maintenance girlfriend. My battle against Yasim was in the morning just like my first one, and with all of yesterday's events I hadn't exactly had time to plan a general strategy, so I was just going in with the goal of taking down Hippowdon as quickly as possible to get rid of Sandstorm in hopes of using Sunny Day.

I stared at my opponent as I stepped onto the platform and exhaled. For my talks to Princess about not taking out her anger on her opponents, it was hard not to let loose here. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths. I needed to be a good example for her.

Yasim Benzema clasped his hands together, and his head twitched in anticipation. Just like my previous opponent, he was nervous to face me. What that nervousness would do to him during the battle, however? Would it sharpen his wit or dull his senses? That remained to be seen. I grabbed my two Pokeballs and felt at the cold steel with my palms. They filled my hands so comfortably.

The Snow Field had been completely fixed since Lauren had destroyed it yesterday. There were no signs of the crater or the upended earth, and a thick layer of snow had been placed back.

"This is a battle between Yasim Benzema and Grace Pastel. Trainers, send out your Pokemon."

We both released our Pokemon onto the field. Hippowdon stood at attention, its body tense, but there was a strange calmness in its eyes. Sand began to leak from the holes on its body and fell onto the snow, giving way to a mix of gold and white. A huge Lairon stomped the floor and stared me down with its resplendent blue eyes. I'd have to keep it away from Princess, but with how high in the sky she was, she was probably safe from most attacks. She tilted her head and curiously eyed our enemies— no doubt scanning for a weakness. Angel's vines waded through the snow and he played around for a few seconds, reminding me of our time up north on route 216 and 217.


"Start getting in there. Slowly," I told Tangrowth.

There was no point in using Sunny Day. Hippowdon's Sandstorm was already starting to pick up. Tangrowth happily waddled through the snow, sifting the cold surface with his vines. I didn't want to wait for what Yasim was going to do next, but I was waiting for a specific distance for Princess to spring into action.

"Stealth Rocks, Lairon! Hippowdon, Sand Tomb the Tangrowth! Keep it trapped, or we lose!"

Lairon's entire body shook, and it ejected sharp rocks from the holes on its metallic head. The snow below Tangrowth's feet turned to mush, and then the mud from below erupted. Angel tried to get out by propelling himself with vines, but he couldn't. He was too heavy. Too slow.

"Ancient Power. Five spears," I said. "Don't aim for the eyes."

With a sharp nod, Togetic lifted the already-formed spears from the ground. They were thick and wickedly sharp, clocking in at eight feet long each. With a gleeful giggle, she launched each spear flying toward Hippowdon.

"Escape with Dig!" Yasim yelled.

The ground type yelled and sunk into the ground, and the five spears were lodged into the floor. The Sand Tomb under Tangrowth's feet stopped moving, allowing him to push himself out with his vines. Yasim cursed.

"Autotomize!" He yelled.

"Get him," I said.

Lairon's body shimmered, and the steel type skidded onto the floor, narrowly avoiding Tangrowth's Power Whip.

"Keep your distance and Earth Power!" Yasim yelled. "Hippowdon, get up there and Fire Fang!"

Interesting. Yasim was a lot trickier than what I had given him credit for. Geysers of molten rocks and earth erupted under Tangrowth's feet, singing his vines, and Hippowdon unburrowed right behind him with flames dancing in its huge maw.

"Behind you, Angel! Princess!"

One of Tangrowth's vines turned neon green and slammed against Hippowdon's neck, staggering the huge ground type. Five spears stabbed it in the back, burying themselves past its thick layer of fat. Hippowdon screamed but carried out its order, biting Angel with all of the strength it could muster and burning his vines.

"Now run and Dig!"


Ten of Angel's vines wrapped around Hippowdon's entire body. The ground type was too heavy to lift, but it was enough to keep him on the surface. Angel strained against Hippowdon's pull. It was so strong that some of the vines tore away, but they were immediately replaced. I ordered Tangrowth to use Mega Drain and took a deep breath. I couldn't go easy on Yasim. He was good.

I had another plan running in the background but If I could neutralize Hippowdon, then Sunny Day was a possibility. That would almost guarantee my win.

So it had to be done.

"Stab," I cooly told Princess. "Aim for the holes."

"Lairon, free him! Metal Claw!"

Lairon's claws shone, and he tore at Angel with everything he had. It wasn't enough. Tangrowth was constantly draining Hippowdon's energy and replenishing himself. Another set of five spears flew toward Hippowdon and penetrated deep inside of the ground type, each stabbing into its precious sand-creating orifices. The sand streaming out of its holes stopped, and the ground type cried out in pain.

"Princess, another round."

Another five spears. Another scream. Princess' aim was on point today, and the smile that stretched across her face disturbed Yasim to no end. The Hippowdon went limp, and Tangrowth's hold on him loosened. Yasim recalled the ground type and sent out a Magnezone. The true threat on his team.

"Focus," I warned her.

"Fuck up that Togetic. Thunderbolt!"

Magnezone buzzed, and an arc of electricity rushed toward Princess. It was harmlessly absorbed by her psychic shield.

Yasim's expression began to morph into one of disbelief.

"Finish off Lairon with Power Whip."

Tangrowth smashed Lairon again and again, denting its tough metallic armor. The steel type tried to fight back, but he couldn't withstand Angel's assault. After using Tri Attack on Togetic and realizing that even that wasn't going through, Yasim ordered Magnezone to use Thunder Wave on Tangrowth instead. Angel froze and his vines sputtered, allowing Lairon some respite.

"Tri Attack Tangrowth!"

"Barrier on him," I told Togetic.

Three lasers of fire, ice, and electricity hit Tangrowth, but a protective bubble appeared in front of him. She was far, but she was quick.

"That's fucking bullshit," Yasim groaned.

It really wasn't, but I shut up and didn't let it show on my face. He probably thought that Togetic was shielding Tangrowth at the same time as herself, but she wasn't. She'd shifted the barrier to him instead, so she was currently very vulnerable.

"Angel, can you still fight?" I asked. He kept twitching in place.

"Don't fucking talk to your Pokemon midbattle! Lairon, Magnezone, break through the barrier!"

I frowned. Was I not allowed to check if my Pokemon was okay? Lairon was tired, but he still used weakened Earth Powers to try to help. Magnezone was the one doing the heavy lifting here, and his Tri Attacks were even better than Mira's. It was only a matter of time before the barrier broke. Without Angel, I didn't really have an answer to steel types other than Turtonator. I could use Shadow Ball, but he'd dodge those easily.

"Princess, focus on finishing the Lairon. Ancient Power. Blunt force this time, five rocks."

The barrier around Angel disappeared, and she lifted five thick boulders from the ground. With a fierce cry, she sent them off toward Lairon. The steel type dodged the first two, but it was too injured from all the abuse it had taken from Power Whip. A boulder broke against his head, and another against the softer bits on his flank. Lairon reeled, but let out a defiant roar—

The last boulder hit him in the face, causing him to faint. Finally.

Yasim sent out his last Pokemon. His Vibrava. Princess locked onto the dragon, her eyes unblinking. I could practically feel her bloodlust from here.

"Calm down," I said. "Ancient Power, another set of spears."

"Magnezone, forget the Tangrowth! Gang up on Togetic! Vibrava, Rock Slide!"

I clicked my tongue. I'd been content at Magnezone tiring himself out with attacks that would take ages to bring Angel down, but Yasim was smarter than that. Why worry about Angel when he was incapable of fighting? Vibrava beat its wings until they became a blur and rocks rose toward Togetic like they had a mind of their own. She simply flew up to stop herself from getting hit. Magnezone fired off a Thunderbolt, interrupting her from using Ancient Power. She had to focus if she wanted to shield herself. The attack was absorbed into her shield.

"I'm withdrawing Angel," I said. Turtonator would have been ideal here, but I couldn't use him still. I sent out Buddy instead, who floated up into the air. The Stealth Rock penetrated deep into his body, and he groaned before expunging the rocks and Recovering. "Brine. Princess, Ancient Power. Start with five drills."

"Thunderwave that Jellicent!"

"Shield him—"

"Tri Attack, then! Vibrava, Dragon Breath!"

Princess sent five spinning drills toward Vibrava, who weaved in between them with impressive maneuverability. I should have known that it would have been good at that when looking at its wings.

Fortunately though, Brine came into the picture. Clouds formed above both Magnezone and Vibrava, and thin jets of water slammed against their bodies. The steel type was relatively unaffected, but Vibrava screeched as it spat out its Dragon Breath toward Jellicent. This time, both Tri Attack and Dragon Breath hit, but Buddy just recovered.

And he had been the bait anyway.

A drill tore through two of Vibrava's wings, and the dragon crashed to the floor. It tried to fly back up, but with that gaping hole there was no getting back in the air. It was a sitting Ducklett.

"Spear now. One," I quickly said.

With a sad chirp, Princess raised the earth once more. A single spear rushed toward Vibrava, who tried to counter it with Dragon Breath. The Ancient Power jerked to the right and kept going.

"Magnezone, get in front of her!"

"Get in there and Hex."

Jellicent propelled himself with Water Sport, hoping to reach Magnezone in time. His eyes shone with a menacing red as the steel type's body began to smoke, but the spear actually crashed into it, barely causing a dent. Yasim clenched a fist in celebration.

"Do it again. Ten this time. Buddy, Brine."

I wasn't actually going to hurt Vibrava that much, and Princess knew that. I didn't want to battle like that, and like I had said, I wanted to rein that side of me back in.

But the quick mood switch that Yasim just went through that I manufactured? From things being slightly under control to a complete disaster? That caught him off balance. All this time during the battle, I had limited myself to the number five. Five, five, five. Whether drills, spears, or boulders, I had etched that number into his mind and made him feel safe in thinking that was Princess' limit. A tough attack to counter, but he had grown comfortable with it. Used to it.

And then I pulled the rug from under him just like I had done with Candice, but better.

If he'd been better mentally prepared, then this could have been stopped. At this point in time, however? Yasim could only feel one thing.


The spears spread out and all converged toward Vibrava. There was no way for Magnezone to protect his teammate from that many without his trainer's command. The raindrops from Brine slowly but surely dented at his metallic shell. I waited to see if Yasim would fight back, but he just stared. That hopelessness I had crafted? I would use it to win. After realizing that no orders from his trainer were coming, Magnezone tried to desperately interrupt Princess with a Thunderbolt, but Buddy flew in between them with Water Sport and tanked the hit before recovering.

I whistled sharply, and nine of the spears jerked away from Vibrava and dissolved into dust. The one that remained lightly stabbed into Vibrava's abdomen and the ground type fainted. That whistle had been my signal for Princess to hold back, and she'd done so perfectly, although I could still feel some reluctance.

Yasim recalled his Vibrava and bit his lip.

"I forfeit."

After slogging through my interviews and escaping by using the Pokemon Center excuse, I joined my friends again. Cece and Denzel were the only ones here. The others were off training or hanging about Solaceon. If I remembered correctly, Pauline was complaining to Emilia on the phone about her loss. Mira was training for today's battle, and I was surprised to see that Denzel hadn't done the same. Justin was rekindling his friendship with Louis since they hadn't talked alone in a long time. I was hoping to go investigate, but I wouldn't be able to do anything until tomorrow when Harry battled again.

Cecilia kissed the corner of my lip. "Your ruthlessness leaves me more enamored with you by the day."

I couldn't help but grin like an idiot, and Denzel frowned at us.

"You guys are weird."

"Shut up. You wouldn't get it," I said.

"No. No, I really don't. Anyway, I'm mostly just joking around. Luring this guy into a false sense of security was as good of a tactic as any."

"It was brilliant," Cece smiled. "I was wondering why you were holding back the whole time, but that reveal was… wow."

"I feel kind of bad. I mean I was pissed about yesterday," I sighed. "So some of that might have slipped into the battle. Hopefully he's fine."

"Should we go somewhere to cheer you up?" Cecilia asked.

"Sure. A change of pace will be good."

"I'll be off. Need to prepare for my battle," Denzel said. "I'm still tweaking a few things."

"Don't act like you aren't hiding something," I smugly said.

"W—What? I don't know what you mean."

"Arceus, that stutter you have when you get caught in a lie is crazy. You should work on that if you want to trick me."

Denzel grumbled as he left. I wasn't going to try to dig deeper into his new tactics unless we were about to battle. I still had a lot of opponents to get through before that, however, so I could relax for now. And now that I'd made it through two opponents without looking up their moves and fighting styles, I could finally stop holding back. I wasn't going to risk getting knocked out this early, not with the Poketch Company breathing down my neck and the money that was on the line.

But most of all, I wanted to face Harry Rodriguez and win. If we both kept winning each round, we would face each other in the top sixteen. That meant that he was the main trainer that stood in the way of a potential reward from the tournament. Thanks to my beneficial position on the bracket, I wouldn't have to battle any of my friends until I made it through him. If none of my friends got knocked out by other trainers, then Harry would have to make it through… Maeve pretty soon. I did think she was a good trainer, but as it stood, I didn't think she had a chance. Denzel and Cecilia would end up having to battle soon enough, and so would Lauren and Mira.


"My bad," I said, refocusing on her.

"You're anxious."

"Of course. I don't know why, but I want to win against this Harry jerk. Now let's go hang out."

"Where should we go?"

I hummed. "First, go give Angel to Nurse Joy, and then… do you think they have a piano around here?"

Somehow, we ended up knocking on strangers' doors to ask if they had a piano we could use. Cecilia had begged me not to do it because of the possibly fatal amount of second-hand embarrassment that she felt whenever some stranger stared at us confusedly when they opened the door, but she loved me so much that she pushed herself for me.

There was no piano to be found. We ended up having a date were we just knocked on strangers' doors and awaited their reactions. Solaceon was a relatively small, tight-knit community. Not as small as Twinleaf, but small enough for people to not even leave their doors locked at night. An old couple called Daniel and Marge even let us in to have some tea.

"It's not often that we have young people in our home," the old woman smiled as she handed us two cups. "What brings you here?"

Cece stared daggers at me.

"We're trainers just passing by for the tournament," I said. "We've been enjoying Solaceon a whole lot so far."

"It's a great little town," Daniel said fondly. "Full of history, if you know where to look—"

"Please, Danny. Don't bore them with your history again," his wife rolled her eyes. "We should talk about younger things. My grandson always brings up this DailyTube thing on the internet…"

"That's somewhere you can watch videos online," I explained, surprised that she even knew about the internet. "What does your grandson do?"

"He's at Sunyshore University. We raised him, Danny and I."

"I heard it's the best in Sinnoh," Cecilia smiled. "He's in good hands."

"He didn't originally want to go there, you see," Daniel said with a regretful look. "He wanted to work for the Daycare. He was really passionate about Pokemon—"

"He still is, Danny."

"Get off my back for a second, Arceus," he grumbled. "Can I just speak uninterrupted for a second—"

"What was that about the Daycare?" I asked.

Daniel sighed and Marge cackled.

"He wanted to work for them."

"I thought it was a family business only," Cecilia said.

"Oh it is. The Hunters have always been that way. Everyone in Solaceon knows that they hold their share of secrets and that they run things here. They aren't willing to just let anyone in. You see, our grandson Isaac used to date a Hunter. Lisa Hunter, to be exact. He hoped to marry her and join their family."

"He would have had to take their last name, which is egregious."

"You only say that because he's a man and you hate the idea of a husband taking his wife's name," Marge countered. "Let me do the talking. The only way an outsider can join the Hunter family is by marrying a Hunter and taking in their last name. Isaac— bless his heart— really believed that the relationship would go that far."

"I warned him. I did. I explicitly told him that his first relationship would most likely not go that far, but he wouldn't hear it."

Cece and I glanced at each other but said nothing.

"When you two girls find a boy, you should keep that in mind," Marge said. "Lisa broke our poor Isaac's heart, and he decided to apply for Sunyshore University. Now he says that he never wants to show his face here again."

I ignored the fact that they had gotten our relationship completely wrong and bit the inside of my lip.



This was something. A lead. I needed to push for more information.

"How many years ago was this?"

"Two years ago. We haven't seen him since, but we talk on his video chat thing," she sighed.

"And the Hunters… are they secretive of any potential relationships at all?" Cecilia asked.

"Quiet? That wasn't half of it, they made us sign—"


The old woman froze, and audibly swallowed. Sign what? An NDA?

"They were. Lisa constantly demanded to keep it hidden," Daniel continued half-heartedly, keeping his eyes on his wife. "It never got out, though. They tend to always be secret. That's why we always suddenly hear that so-and-so is marrying into the Hunters, and we're always surprised by it."

"Uhuh," I muttered. "Don't you think that's strange?"

"Well, that's just the Hunters," Marge waved dismissively. "They behave like the clans in Kanto and Johto sometimes, it reminds me of my childhood."

"You're Kantoan?" I asked, my eyes widening.

"I was born and spent the first ten years of my life there," she shrugged. "I consider myself Sinnohan."

"But she'll never stop nagging me about how her damned attitude is because of her Kantoan blood," Daniel laughed.

I sipped on my tea and considered what to ask next while Cecilia kept them busy with small talk. I couldn't assume that Harry Rodriguez was dating someone in the Hunter family yet. That was just my brain desperately wanting to fit the last piece of the puzzle that would blow this whole thing wide open. It would be too easy. Too convenient. It still didn't explain why they would even want him to win so much that they'd rig it so egregiously, and it still didn't explain the relationship with BattleZone. People on the forums were already starting to talk about how this whole tournament was suspicious, and the media was also beginning to smell blood in the water. Cece waited for a lull in the conversation and struck.

"Are the Hunters known to work with other companies? You know, they're cooperating with BattleZone for this tournament," Cecilia asked.

"Well, I'm not that well-versed in their business practices. What about you Danny?"

"They're fiercely independent, but not stupid. If there is money to be made, they'll work with others."

"So it's not the first time?"

"Of course not," he waved dismissively.

Damn it, it would have been a lot more suspicious if it was a change from how they usually operated. I was still missing the last piece, but we had somehow gotten a lot more information than I thought we'd get by pure chance. It didn't exactly have anything to do with the tournament, but it seemed like the Hunters had a lot of skeletons in their closet. We stuck around another thirty minutes before we left. They had both become uncomfortable with the number of questions we were asking about the Hunters and kept diverting the topic to other things. They asked us to come back before we left Solaceon, and we said we'd come. They were nice people, even though they had unknowingly thrown shade at our relationship by saying it was doomed to failure.

I grabbed Cecilia's hand and felt my heart pang.

"Are you worried about what they said?" She asked.

"I thought you'd ask me if I was worried about the Hunters," I dryly said.

"I know you," she smiled. "There's an element of truth to what they said… most teenage relationships don't last long. But we can try, can't we? I think we're good together."

"I do too," I reassured her.

She released her Slowking, and we walked in silence toward the city center.

"Say…" I whispered. "Can we sleep together every night?"

I felt Cece jump. "Wha— wha— um—"

"Not like that!" I quickly added. "I mean sleep literally. Just cuddle, you know. I want to fall asleep in your arms. Eugh, that sounded really corny."

She took a bit to recompose herself and cleared her throat. "O—of course. I was… waiting for you to ask that."

"You were? Why didn't you just ask me?"

"Why didn't you ask me earlier?" She countered.

"That doesn't even work," I laughed.

"I thought I'd be too clingy. I already feel like I hog you from our friends too much."

My eyes widened. She'd been worrying about the exact same thing I was.

"Let's just stop worrying about being clingy and be open with each other," I said.

Cecilia's smile widened. She linked her arm with mine and started planting kisses on my cheek while we walked on the empty road. I grinned.

"I've been cutting all of our kisses short," she said.

"How about we put that to the test?"

We were going to be insufferable to our friends, weren't we?

A/N: Thank you Proof?#6454 for the team!
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Chapter 152

Cecelia and I clapped as Denzel finished off his opponent. They'd been good— another four-badger, but this time, he hadn't been caught off-guard like with that Smeargle team and he only lost one Pokemon— his Sylveon— to a fierce Durant. Steel type attacks seemingly got through his armor like a knife through butter, so I had finally figured out a way to counter it— not that I had any steel type attacks. Denzel got to use Milotic extensively. The water type was getting more and more used to moving around in his new snake-like form. He was having more fun than I'd ever seen him have as a Feebas.

It would be a while until Denzel came here since he usually spent a lot of time talking to reporters. Mira's battle was in a few hours, but the entire group opted to have another meeting before then in the Center to discuss what we'd learn and our next moves. Then, I would need to start researching Harry Rodriguez extensively. Inch. By. Inch.

I was a lot of things, but I was not stupid. At my current skill level, Harry was better than me. He was extremely quick on his feet, but his Pokemon were something else. That Torterra was the worse of all. None of my Pokemon I currently had except Sunshine would deal that much damage to the hulking grass type. I needed to prepare days in advance if I was going to win. Of course, I was also going to prepare for my other battles. Knowing moves and fighting styles would probably expedite the whole process so I could have more time to research Harry.

He was just as guilty as whoever was running this scheme. He would pay for what he'd done to Pauline.

"Step one," Denzel started as we all stared at him. He was always the leader in these conversations. "Do you have the number for this Luca Antonovich kid?"

Only Louis nodded.

"Okay, so we can at least contact him again without meeting in the middle of the night. Second, Grace, have you thought about contacting the Poketch Company for help? They know you're smart. If you tell them that you feel like something is going on and explain, I'm sure they'll send someone to check, right?"

"Yeah… I'll call Melody," I said. "I wanted to wait until we had definite proof, but just asking for help can't hurt."

"Third. This Lisa Hunter. Do we know where she is now?"

"Pfft, there are so many Hunters that it'd be impossible to find all of 'em," Mira groaned. "The only thing that's guaranteed is that she works for her family, so she must be here. Probably sleeps in that giant mansion if I had to guess. Want to break in?"

"We are not breaking into a thousand-year-old mansion!" Maeve exclaimed.

"You're no fun."

"The truth is, I asked around about Harry, but when you texted us about the Hunters, I asked around about them too. The questions about Harry came up blank. He's just a trainer. Nothing special, really. But the Hunters? They're reclusive to the point that most of them never leave their Arceus damned property. The kids are all homeschooled too."

"I guess that means that Isaac always went to see her and not the opposite," Cecilia muttered.

"I mean, from the way we got the story what happened was pretty obvious, right? Lisa Hunter was forced to break up with that Isaac guy by her family. It was out of the blue, and the relationship seemed to be going well."

"Could have been going well from the grandparents' perspective while the opposite was true," Mira shrugged.

"Fair enough, but if I had to bet, I'd be willing to say that I'm right."

"How?" Denzel asked.

I paused and felt my lips twitch upward.

"My gut."

Mira had gone off to her battle, but unfortunately and despite her incessant complaints, I wasn't going to come to watch. Louis had texted Luca, asking for him to look deeper into the Hunters if he could. We couldn't infiltrate their home and neither could Haunter because he just couldn't behave or Froslass because of the cold. They'd be found out instantly.

His Cutiefly, however? Those were another story. He had said that he'd think about it and that he was assessing the risks. I couldn't blame him.

"Harry Rodriguez," I muttered as I lazed on Angel's vine-bed. "I will know you inside and out."

Thanks to his gym battle with Roark being recent, I actually had access to his team as it was now. He had used Torterra and Pelipper extensively during that battle, but Luxray and Crobat hadn't seen much use, so I would have to wait to analyze them. As it stood, Harry's strategy was just to roll over everything with his Torterra, and when that didn't work, he actually panicked quite a bit. Nothing that would be debilitating of course, but when his starter was out of the fight, he'd start to slip and make mistakes.

I sighed. Taking down that Torterra would be incredibly hard, but I could trap it, maybe. Slow it down and keep it distracted while I focus on the other Pokemon. Torterra would be coming out first. That, I was sure of. His second was a mystery, and I'd only be able to figure it out when I learned more about how he battled in doubles instead of singles. If it was Crobat… from the little footage there was of the flying type, I knew he'd be able to overwhelm Princess with speed. And he was also a poison type that would easily beat her if it got too close. She would have been extremely useful for Torterra, but I couldn't risk it. Plus, something about its face just freaked me out. It was better than Golbat's gaping maw, but I couldn't help but feel slightly anxious at the sight of it.

Angel would have to do the heavy lifting again, it seemed. If it was Pelipper, then Honey would be the choice. Even if Torterra was a ground type, Pelipper wasn't fast enough to outrun Electric Swift. If I could rush it down with that attack and a few Thunderbolts, then we would trade one-for-one.

Plus, I could think of quite a few ways to bypass Earthquake.

If it was Luxray, then I'd have to use Sweetheart. As young as she was, she was still incredibly powerful and her Stomping Tantrum would be able to stop it from getting too close.

I had counters for everything.

Except that damned Torterra.

And the solution was just a single promise away. If Mars was still after me as Sunshine believed, then it was only a matter of time anyway, right? I'd have to confront Team Galactic eventually, even if I hated to think about it. The thought alone made me shiver in fear.

I bit my lip and Tangrowth hugged me with his vines.

Maybe I could, I thought.

No. I…

Denial was too sweet of a drug. If push came to shove and our lives were on the line, then I would have no choice. Right now, this was still small. I would talk to him about it soon to see if some sort of agreement could be reached.

I had a list of moves for Torterra and Pelipper, so now all I could do was call Melody and tell her what was going on. We hadn't really talked these last three days apart from the occasional text to micromanage my behavior during interviews. The Poketch Company seemed to think I was getting better at them, but that I could still use some tact. I texted her, asking her to speak if she was free.

She wasn't free, but since her primary job was to be my liaison, I apparently took priority. It was a funny feeling, to be the Poketch Company's priority. It was a testament of the potential they saw in me.

"Good afternoon, Grace. To what do I owe the pleasure?" Melody's smooth voice rang out.

"Hi. I'll cut to the chase. Did you hear about what happened to my friend Pauline? The two resignations?"

"Ah, yes we did," she said. "Let me guess, you find those suspicious and want us to step in?"

"Yeah. Well, not step in, but investigate or something and see if this thing is legit or not."

"I wish I could do more, Grace, I really do. We have people from the company looking into it to make sure you're being treated fairly since you're under our umbrella," Melody sighed. "But that's the most that I can do. The hype about the theory's dying down. No one else has resigned since and even though it was suspicious, the evidence is circumstantial at best—"

"It's not circumstantial! Hear me out. The Hunters—"

I stopped, my throat suddenly dry. She was right. I had nothing concrete. Just theories. I had been wrong about the wave of resignations. Only one person had dropped out since, so her information was outdated, but she was on the opposite side of the bracket and had nothing to do with Harry.

"A good company would have delayed the match, but as it turns out, this is how they do things. We read the fine print. For what it's worth, I do believe there's been some foul play, but I'm just one woman. The Poketch Company is a machine. I don't make the decisions, and when decisions are taken, they are slow," she said. "I'm sorry. Even if you lose to Rodriguez, you'll have made the top fifty, so the company will be pleased—"

"I won't lose," I interrupted.

She paused. "Very well. I wish you the best of luck. I don't know much about battling, but I can tell that he was good."

"You watched?"

"I told you I was suspicious, didn't I?" She chuckled. "One word of advice, Grace. Keep your head down and don't try to investigate. You're just a kid— wait, I know how trainers hate it when we say that, hold on let me rephrase. You should just focus on yourself for now. The Hunters… are a lot more influential than most would think."

"I know they run the place," I frowned. "What else do you know? How do you know?"

"I'm from Solaceon, Grace," she sighed. "Their influence never really leaves you, even when you move."

"Influence?" I gulped.

"A metaphorical way of speaking," she reassured me. "What I meant to say is, don't try to be a hero and trespass. They don't take too kindly to that, and it'll be illegal, so it would reflect badly on us. The Hunters are a very private family."

Damn it, it was like she'd guessed that we wanted to investigate. I didn't let my mask slip and simply agreed to her suggestion. Something about this entire town was rotten. I hated it the more I stayed here. The people were nice, but Arceus, I couldn't shake that anxious feeling that had overtaken me since yesterday. It was like something pressing on my chest and never relenting.

After hanging up, I hugged my knees and Angel softly pet my head.

"I won't stop," I said. "Justice needs to be served."

After Mira handily won her battle, Luca sent Louis a message telling him that he was in. Tonight, he would send his Cutiefly to find Lisa Hunter and see if she ever left the Arceus damned mansion. Since she had almost no online presence, there were scant pictures of her online, but during dinner, Justin proposed an idea that had somehow slipped through all of our minds.

"Why not contact that Isaac fellow in Sunyshore? Do we know his last name?"

"Holy shit, that's true," Denzel said, slapping a fist against his palm. "We do have his last name. It's uh… what was it?"

"Frazier," Cecilia said.

"If we can contact him, we can figure out what ended his relationship with the Hunters and potentially get more insight on their family, no?"

"Yeah, but will he even answer? We'd be strangers asking him about his personal life," Maeve said.

"Should we pretend to be someone else? The cops?" Mira asked in an amused tone.

"That would probably fail spectacularly," I sighed. "I think it might pay off to just be honest."

"Agreed," Pauline said. "No games. Just be straight up and try to convince him."

Denzel nodded, and it only took him five minutes to find and shoot Isaac a message on social media. Cecilia and Louis helped him workshop it to appear as polite and easygoing as possible to not pressure the man, and it surprisingly only took him twenty minutes to answer back. When we heard the buzz on Denzel phone— a buzz that I had mistaken for Combee— we all scrambled to check what was written, crowding around him.

"Chill out guys," he groaned. "He says… 'are you guys tricking me… I promise I haven't told anyone anything.'"

"Arceus, what did they do to this guy?" Maeve shivered.

"Tell him that we can call him if he wants. The entire group, to show that we're not fake," I said. "I don't know much about the Hunters, but I doubt that they'd have done it like this."

Denzel agreed and sent the message, texting him his number in the process. Isaac instantly replied, saying to wait five minutes for him to go back to his dorm room. We all flinched when we saw the call pop up.

Isaac immediately spoke up.

"Who are you people? How do you know about me and Lisa?!"

"Hello Isaac. We're… a group of trainers looking into the Hunter family," Denzel said, taking the lead. He stared at me and I gave him a firm nod. Tell the truth. "We heard about you and her through your grandparents."

"Damn it… they weren't supposed to tell anyone. I'm gonna have to call them…"

"Were you threatened in any way?" He continued.

"I was threatened legally, but that was it. Normally I would hide this, but you already know too much. Just leave me alone after alright? I already have a lot on my plate. And do not tell anyone about this. It's not like the cops here would do anything anyway. The Hunters run that too."

"Sure thing," Denzel said.

"Lisa and I dated one and a half years ago during the summer, and long story short, she broke up with me in tears. We were doing really good, but her family forced her to cut me off. I wasn't good enough for them."

"What constitutes 'good enough'? I interjected.

Hearing my voice for the first time, he hesitated. "It was just too much. I wanted to join the family business and be a breeder… to be honest, I still want to be a breeder. It was like a cult in there. They call the family leader the Elder, and he lives on the top floor of the mansion and runs everything in Solaceon. Everything. I never even saw him. They wanted me to do all this weird stuff… pledge my loyalty, leave my home and never speak to my grandparents again, work without getting paid. It was too much. I said no, and they forced Lisa to break up with me. They were the ones who wanted to marry us ASAP. I'm not dumb enough to propose to a girl I've been dating for a few months, but I had to pretend to be on board to my grandparents."

This was it. Definitive proof that the Hunters were shady, but it wasn't proof of involvement in tournament rigging.

"Is that it? I hate talking about this."

"Wait!" Louis sprung up.

"There's another one of you? Just how many people are in the room?!"

"Uh, eight people," Denzel said. Isaac groaned. "Louis?"

"You say this family is like a cult," Louis started. "Is there any… brainwashing going on?"

"No. They're just blindingly loyal to the family head," he denied. "They've been doing this for a thousand years. The Hunters are an institution. They've always been there. People in Solaceon can't imagine their lives without 'em, and it's even worse for the people in the family. You can't free any of them from that influence. I tried with Lisa… I tried to get her to run away to Sunyshore with me. She loved me— she really did— but looked at me like I was insane. I'll never forget what she told me that day."

"I'm sorry," I winced. "One last thing, if it might not be too much to ask?"

"What is it?"

"Do you have a picture of her?"

The call ended soon after that. It took a little bit of convincing, but Isaac sent us a picture of Lisa Hunter, and we relayed it to Luca so his Cutiefly knew what to look for, but he wasn't going to go and check right away. Luca was going to do something else tonight. The goal of the operation was to constantly be on Harry Rodriguez's tail to see if he ever made contact with any organizers from BattleZone or a Hunter. His next battle was tomorrow, and I sure as hell was going to watch it. We eagerly waited for a few hours to check if Luca had any information for us, but he kept telling Louis to stop pestering him when he was working. Eventually, people filtered out when we weren't getting any news. No new resignations. No funny business. No movement. When Harry got active again tomorrow, we'd probably learn more.

I decided to look up my next opponent before going to bed.

Will Bowman was a water type specialist, which caused me to have an immediate reaction and want to send out Electabuzz and Tangrowth against him.

Of course, now that I was researching my opponents, I quickly figured out that that would have been a terrible idea. Why? Two reasons. First, he owned a Vaporeon, a Beartic, a Wugtrio, an Azumarill, a Basculin and a Frillish. Beartic and Wugtrio both knew ground type moves to counter electric types. I felt bad that Honey wasn't seeing much use so far, but it looked like he'd have to be saved in case something went wrong with my actual plan, which was to send out Angel and Buddy.

I grinned. It looked like people not knowing that Buddy had Water Absorb was going to be dividends during this battle. Since Will Bowman had six Pokemon, I wasn't sure which one was going to be left behind, but I was one hundred percent sure that he was going to have either Beartic or Wugtrio. His main strategy tended to be this: have his Vaporeon set up a Rain Dance to flood the terrain and increase the power of his water moves, along with allowing his Basculin to actually travel through the whole field. Funnily enough, his Beartic actually had Swift Swim, which would synergize with that strategy as well. The three most likely Pokemon that he'd use were Vaporeon, which was instrumental to his strategy— along with Beartic and Basculin.

Now who would be last? Frillish was probably out of the picture. She was his weakest teammate who was held behind by not having evolved. That left Azumarill and Wugtrio. They were both physical attackers, but Wugtrio specialized in speed and Azumarill in slow and steady power. Beartic and Basculin were already quick… if I had to gamble, I guessed that Azumarill would be fourth. Wugtrio would mean that Bowman's team would be too frail to resist Angel's vines, but even if I was wrong, I figured that it wouldn't matter very much. My team wouldn't change regardless. Tangrowth, Jellicent, Electabuzz and Togetic were the best possible choice.

"Come to bed."

I turned toward Cece, who was lying down under the covers. She pulled out her arm and caressed my back.

"I'm almost done, I think," I smiled. "Hold on a sec."

The main strategy here would be to destroy— not destroy— take down that Vaporeon before the water from Rain Dance built up enough for Bowman's team to have any effect. The quicker the water type went down, the faster the Rain Dance would stop. I wondered what the interaction between Sunny Day and Rain Dance was, but if I had to guess, Vaporeon's experience with the move meant that it would overpower Angel. It was even better than Gardenia's Lombre. Vaporeon was bulky, but it was slow. The most skilled ones could apparently liquefy their bodies, but Will Bowman's wasn't that good yet. It was light enough for Angel to pick up. If he got in range for a Bind, Vaporeon, would fall.

And with that, his entire strategy would fall apart. Without Vaporeon, Angel could quickly replace the rain with Sunny Day and cripple his water type attacks.

Wait… actually, it was really obvious who he would start with now. Angel was beginning to get a reputation as my strongest, and I'd started with him twice in a row. Bowman would be right to assume that I would do it again, so that meant that Beartic would accompany Vaporeon as his first two.

Oh well, Jellicent would be able to help out and distract it while Angel took care of Vaporeon for us.

I closed my computer and got into the bed. Cece wrapped me into a tight hug and I felt her body heat permeate through me.

I loved her.

I woke up to a frantic knock. I squinted, noticing that it was still dark out. Cecilia groaned.

"What time is it?"

I grabbed my phone on my bedside table and had to blink a few times to read the contents. Four in the morning.

"It's 4 am. I'll go get it," I whispered.

"Do you have to? Wait, you do have to, it's probably important."

I yawned and shuffled out of bed. I almost forgot to release Princess before opening the door, which could have been a fatal mistake. Luckily, it was just Denzel knocking. I was sure I would have recognized his knock if I hadn't been tired as hell.

"Yeah? Figure something out?" I asked.

"Luca sent Louis a message. Harry Rodriguez is on the move."
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Chapter 153

I inhaled sharply at the news. Trainer or not, people didn't just leave their rooms at four in the morning. If he'd been out there beforehand, we could have brushed it off and said he was training, but who started training at four? It was a possibility, but it sure as hell was suspicious. I didn't even care if I was just confirming my inherent biases, I just wanted something. Some definite proof would actually cement this thing. We were certain that the tournament was being rigged for Harry Rodriguez and that the Hunters were shady, but we had nothing linking the two.

Nothing yet.

"What does he want us to do?" I asked.

"Come join him for backup," Denzel said, his voice steady. "His Cutiefly can battle, but they're not the best."


"In case things go… south," he added. "With what we learned about the Hunters today, I understand completely."

I clenched around my pajamas and had to stop myself from taking a step back. I was ready. I was ready. I couldn't be a baby forever.

"Let Cece and I get dressed," I sighed.

It was the dead of night. A cold wind brushed past my hair as I walked toward Solaceon's desolate city center with Cecilia, Louis and Denzel in tow. We had wanted to get everyone involved, but Luca had said that more than four would alert Harry. In a large city, people would have still been out in about, but here? It was like we were in a ghost town. Only the dim street lights illuminated the street, and the dim light of a nearby Pokemon Center could be seen in the distance.

Harry's Pokemon Center.

"Took you long enough," Luca whispered as we reached him. "I've got the bastard skulking around a few blocks away. He's been walking really slow. It's like he really doesn't want to get seen by anyone, so he makes sure every street is empty before he crosses."

I frowned. "How do you even know that?"

Luca lazily pointed back toward the sky. We squinted and noticed a bright light zooming across the horizon.

Cece scoffed. "Is that your—"

"One of my Cuties, yeah," he said. "The other's a lot closer to the culprit himself, and she's just relaying his position."

Louis hissed. "But the light—"

"Calm down, you bunch of amateurs. This ain't my first rodeo. My Cutiefly are special. Those are fairies you're talking about. If they don't want you to see 'em, you won't. Not without a psychic, and Mr. Rodriguez over here doesn't have one of those."

"So what do we do?" I asked.

"We follow. From afar."

We nodded. Since we were here for backup, we each released one Pokemon. Cecilia released Slowking to sense any people approaching. Denzel surprisingly released his Lopunny, and I released Electabuzz in case we needed his Protect. Togetic wouldn't be good at shielding all of us at once if an attack got through. After quickly bringing them up to speed, we slowly followed Luca's Cutiefly which was signaling high into the sky. We could never approach too closely. No, that would be too obvious, especially when Harry was being as cautious as he was. For now the goal was to see where he was going, and it didn't appear to be the Hunter's mansion, which was miles away from the city center. He seemed to be going deeper in.

We followed Cutiefly for around ten minutes, but then Luca's head snapped up and he stopped us with a hand. The fairy type flew in repeated patterns that I recognized as… letters, but it was too quick and too far for me to figure out what it was saying.

"Fuck! Harry's gone," he cursed.

"What?" Denzel exclaimed.

"He turned a corner and teleported. That confirms your theory at least," he said, nodding toward me.

"What Pokemon? What did he use to Teleport?" I quickly asked.

Luca motioned to his Cutiefly, and in just a few seconds, she was in front of us. The other one followed quickly after. The fairy type executed a bunch of acrobatics in the air and spelled out a Pokemon's name.





"Today's a bust," Luca groaned. "Abra used Teleport to get in and out of the street. It barely took five seconds. Luckily with how fast it was, I don't think it noticed my Cuties… hopefully."

"Damn it, that could be bad," I clicked my tongue. "But at least we got something. One, we know that he's getting outside help. Two, we know that he doesn't want to be seen, which is shady as hell. Even someone who was training wouldn't take that amount of precautions, and if he was, why even hide the Abra? This is something more sinister."

"But we still don't know if he's linked with the Hunters," Louis said.

"It's only a matter of time," I said. "Thank you Luca. You've been a great help."

"Pay me?" He said before grinning. "I'm just pulling your leg. I don't mind working for free if we uncover whatever the hell is going on here. That information you got about them from that Isaac guy? Makes them sound a lot more cultish than I'd like. I'll keep tabs on him."

Well, we hadn't gotten what we wanted, but at least we'd gotten something, all while avoiding a fight in the middle of the street with no rules or protection. I had never been in a battle where targeting the trainer was a possibility aside from with wild Pokemon, but humans doing it disturbed me to no end.

But if they did it to me? Well, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to stop my team from killing them.

"One more thing," Cecilia said, raising a finger. "That Abra… has to be from here, right? To Teleport in the middle of an alley like that means that it's been there a lot of times before. Pokemon need to be very familiar with their environment to Teleport somewhere that quickly."

"Especially for an Abra," Denzel added. "If it was a Xatu or even a Kadabra, I would have given it the benefit of the doubt, but… yeah, this feels like it's from here. No way to be one hundred percent sure though."

"Damn, you guys are good. I know nothing about Teleportation," Luca said.

"Meeting that Abra anywhere closer to the Center was probably too high of a risk, which is why he went all the way out here," I muttered. "Now all that remains is: where the hell did he go?"

"Hunter's mansion would be my guess," Denzel said. "But that's just an assumption, and it doesn't explain what the hell their connection would be. Think he's dating one of them after all?"

"Maybe. Maybe not," I said. "Thanks for the help Luca. I'd say that we should confront Harry with what we've got, but that'd be dumb and dangerous. Let's just lay low for now. Maybe the Poketch Company will figure something out."

"I'll bow out then," he said as his two Cutiefly circled his head. I found it hard to stay focused on any of them. "Next time he does the same thing, I'll call again. I'm not about to get beaten half to death in an alley or murdered."

"Fair," I said. "Good night."

"See ya."

I woke up tired the next day. It'd be worse for Louis, who would have to actually battle, along with the majority of our friend group. I wasn't going to watch, however. Today, I was going to do something that could be stupid. I didn't consider myself much of a risk-taker, which I'm sure all the people I knew would scoff at. When something caught my eye, I couldn't stop myself from getting it or at least trying to, like Sunshine. Other than that? I'd say I operated on the side of safety and not recklessness. Reckless was someone like Pauline.

That thing I had said about laying low? I had changed my mind.

I was planning to visit the Hunter's mansion today.

It's not like I was going to break in. That would be tremendously stupid and I'd probably get arrested for trespassing or worse if the cult stories were true. Since their home was more than a thousand year old, they often ran tours there for revenue.

Yes, more revenue. It's not like they were swimming in cash already, they needed more money. Arceus. Anyway, with the influx of trainers and people that had come to the town for the tournament, they were running more and more tours, going as much as doing them all afternoon.

Cecilia and Denzel were of course coming with me. They would never let me go alone. That meant that we had to wait for Cecilia's battle to conclude before going to the tour, and needless to say, she handily won against another girl with four badges. Zweilous and Talonflame wiped the floor with the opposition, although she didn't use the Heat Wave, Tailwind and Fire Spin trick this time because she wasn't fighting just rock types. We didn't want to go in too large of a group to avoid attracting attention, but the others knew what we were doing, even if they had their battles to fight.

The last person that would come was Luca, who wasn't going to miss an opportunity like this. The goal was to send his Cutiefly to figure out if something in the mansion was suspicious, but we would also be keeping an eye out. I doubted that they'd have anything out of order on the fixed route they'd keep us on though.

We stood among a group of fifteen. I was surprised to see how small it was, but they probably didn't want that many people on their property at once.

"Welcome to the Daycare, everyone!" A man smiled. He looked relatively normal. He was an average-sized man in his early to mid-forties. The unique thing about him was his grey eyes. "My name is Reggie," he continued, pointing to the nametag around his collar. "This is my sister, Lane."

Lane smiled softly at us, and she also had grey eyes. I was starting to realize that this was actually the first time I'd ever seen a Hunter in the flesh despite them being so influential. The stories about their isolation were no joke.

"The guide will last thirty to forty minutes, and we'll be starting with some of the Pokemon," Lane said. "Then, we'll show you some of our home."

Reggie cleared his throat. "First, we have to go over some rules. No Pokemon allowed on the premises. We don't want them disturbing our Pokemon or any of our family members."

His Cutiefly were floating high up in the sky, and we were the only ones that could see them, but it seemed that he wanted to wait until we reached the mansion to send them spying. It was too risky.

"Second, no pictures or videos. Third, no petting or calling out to the Pokemon. Fourth, always stick with us and don't go off on your own. Lastly… enjoy your time!"

The group cheered, and they led us toward the huge enclosure where the Hunters raised all kinds of Pokemon. Denzel shot a look at Luca, who shook his head. I couldn't even see where it ended. I could see a few employees in the distance tending to some Squirtle and other water types next to a lake.

"Impressive, isn't it?" Lane said, seemingly catching onto the group's awe. "We've owned this land for a thousand years, and we've preserved it all this time. It's bigger than Solaceon itself, you know?"

Reggie laughed. "When we were kids, we'd get lost out there for hours. We were practically raised by Pokemon, and so were all of our family members."

"I have a question," Luca said.

I froze. It was too early.

"Go ahead!" Lane said.

"What's your favorite Pokemon?" He innocently asked.

"We get that one a lot. I'd have to say Shiftry. What about you, Reggie?"

"You know the answer. It's also Shiftry," he laughed. Something about the way he'd said it was… disturbing. I couldn't place what bothered me about it.

They both moved on to another question from someone else, and Cecilia pulled Luca aside.

"What are you doing? I thought we needed to be discreet," she angrily whispered.

"I am being discreet! I'm blending in! It'd be more suspicious to stay quiet the whole fucking time. You have to act your part. We're supposed to be interested in this stuff, remember?"

She bit her lip and nodded. The Hunters led us to multiple enclosures within the huge enclosure, and we saw plenty of Pokemon. Bulbasaur, Lotad, Deerling… it seemed like they were allowed to roam free here. I might have found their family shady, but I couldn't deny that the Pokemon looked happy, at least. Sometimes, we would come across another Hunter, and they almost all shared those pale, grey eyes except for the ones that had married in from the outside.

Along the way, we learned about how even Pokemon from the same type with a similar body structure could have vastly different needs to thrive. Deerling and Skiddo were a good example. The former was actually quite aggressive and they fought with each other often, while the latter was one of the most docile Pokemon you could get. Deerling actually needed berries to survive and changed throughout the seasons, while Skiddo could live entirely off of grazing.

It was interesting. I hated to admit it, but I was genuinely enjoying myself. Of course, the Hunters didn't actually take us to meet the rarest Pokemon they raised, but they did explain to us that breeders needed special approval from the League before they could raise some of the more dangerous Pokemon, like Gible or Slugma. I was sure that they were hiding them somewhere. Apparently, they had created every single biome in their enclosure, and I caught a glimpse of a manmade desert in the distance before we turned back.

It was time to explore the mansion now. I eyed Luca, who discreetly motioned to his Cutiefly. They followed us as we entered the building and immediately dispersed in order to not be seen. As I stepped inside, my eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the dimly lit interior. Even during the afternoon, this place seemed to be darker than it should have been. The second thing I noticed was the smell— it was an earthen, musty smell that seeped into every corner of the mansion and filled my nostrils to an uncomfortable degree. People lived in here? The air felt cold, although a fire had been lit in the foyer.

The foyer itself was a grand affair. The walls were lined with intricately carved wood paneling, and a staircase led to the second and third floors.

Lane noticed me staring. "You won't be going to the second floor today," she smiled. "Only the first is open to the public. This way, if you will?"

We followed Lane and Reggie to the left, and the old wooden floors creaked under our feet no matter where we stepped. The two guides, however, seemed to know exactly where to step to be silent. I was surprised to see the mansion so empty. I had almost expected it to be bustling with other Hunters, but no one was there. They must have all been working out on the field. It was good news for us since it meant that fewer people would be able to spot Luca's Cutiefly, who had already made their way to the second floor.

"This over here is a painting of the founder of our family, Ediva Hunter," Reggie fondly said, nodding toward the painting. I recognized the name from one of the graves in the Lost Tower. She had pale grey eyes like all of her descendants and brown hair that reached her ankles. She was dressed in golden clothes and was covered in jewelry. I assumed that was an artistic choice.

"All of her life, she wanted to create a safe haven for Pokemon, but she died before being able to accomplish her goal. Her twins took over and realized her dreams," he continued, pointing to another painting. "Siward and Leomer Hunter. The second generation. From then on, the family grew and grew, slowly expanding our lands so that we could take care of more Pokemon."

"Without Ediva, we would never have come this far," Lane softly added. "Let's continue."

The two guides showed us multiple old musty rooms that looked like they hadn't been used in decades. Supposedly though, people frequented this place every day, they just didn't sleep here. They slept in the hundreds of cabins that lined the Hunter's enclosure.

"What's the point of having a huge mansion if you don't use it?" A girl said in a haughty tone.

"We use it, the majority of us just don't sleep here," Lane smiled.

"Who does?" Luca quickly asked.

"Well, the head of the family for one," Reggie said.

I clenched a fist. The Elder that Isaac had talked about. Was he here now?

"But that's not what this tour is about," he continued, pointing to a… Pokeball enclosed in glass. It looked odd. The surface was uneven, and it wasn't made of metal. "Up next, we have the Siward's very own Pokeball that we've preserved all these years. As you can see, it looks different than what we currently use. Back in the day, these weren't mass-produced like today. They were made by specialized smiths that worked with Apricorn trees!"

"Hard to believe, right?" Lane smiled. "They don't use those anymore to make Pokeballs, although some still cling to the old ways in Johto, I've heard. Up next…"

As Reggie and Lisa took us further and further in, I was beginning to grow anxious. Sweat accumulated on my palms that I constantly had to wipe on my jeans. Luca's Cutiefly weren't back yet, but it wasn't like they could just show themselves. They'd have to wait outside until we were done with the tour. After making us look at more paintings, heirlooms and even a statue, the tour finally ended and they began to lead us back outside.

An old man and a Shiftry awaited us in the foyer.

My hands instinctively went to my Pokeballs, but they only hovered there for a second. For being an elder, this man wasn't actually that old. He looked to be only slightly older than Reggie and Lane. In his fifties, maybe? He was balding and on the thinner side, although his stomach stuck out a little bit. He sported a thin, greying beard, and the usual silver eyes. Shiftry was beautiful, and I didn't say that lightly. Every inch of its wooden body was carved with beautiful, flowery imagery, and its white hair was braided into thick locks adorned with a golden hairpiece. It stared at us with cold, yellow eyes.

"Elder!" Reggie and Lane both exclaimed, bowing.

The group stared around confusedly, but we knew something had happened.

Where were Luca's Cutiefly? I expected him to be panicking, but he looked calm. He was acting his socks off, and we'd better do the same. I took a deep breath and stared at the Elder.

"At ease," he laughed. "No need for that in front of the guests."

They both stood up straight. The Elder's voice was raspy, but soft. It was an odd thing to hear. He was possibly the most soft-spoken man I'd ever heard.

"Shiftry told me of a disturbance in our home, and we quickly found the source," he said, stroking his beard. "A Pokemon snooping about."

Reggie and Lane paled.

A single Pokemon?

"We apologize… we were careless," Lane said.

"Do not fret. Everyone makes mistakes," he said. "Now, if the trainer that owns the Cutiefly steps forward, we can all go along with our day. No harm was done. Shiftry stopped it before it could disturb our home."

That meant that it hadn't found anything of note. I restrained a curse.

No one said anything. We all stood, and a heavy silence filled the air. It weighed on us. For two minutes, the Elder said nothing. Why had he only found one? That meant that the other was safe, at the very least, or maybe he was just bluffing.

"Well, no matter," he smiled, staring straight at Luca. "I know the answer already. I just wanted to give you the opportunity to come clean."

Luca's mask slipped, and he snarled. "What did you do to my Pokemon?"

"Reggie, Lane, lead the other guests back outside, will you?"

"Fuck no," Luca said. "Why? If you're gonna do something, do it with them here."

"I won't do anything," he sighed. "I just thought that it would be better dealt with in private, that is all. Shiftry—"

"Elder!" Lane called out. "Not in front of the—"

"Silence," he hissed. She shrunk down like a wilting flower. "Shiftry, release it."

The grass type nodded silently and sliced the air apart with his leaves.

My eyes flickered and the air grew so thick that it was as if I was underwater, yet I could still breathe fine. From the cut, darkness appeared and expanded. It wasn't darkness, exactly. It was like I was looking at the absence of light. A void. The abyss. There was nothing there, and the longer I looked the more I felt like the darkness itself was staring back. A sense of wrongness overtook me and I shivered. It was cold, but it bordered on the valley between manageable and uncomfortable. I couldn't even feel my own heartbeat any longer, and the colors at the corner of my vision faded to black and white. There was a gentle pull toward the abyss, as if it had an effect on gravity itself.

I had never seen a powerful dark type before. Chase's Houndoom was nothing compared to this.

The entire process had barely lasted a second. One of Luca's Cutiefly flew out of the darkness and circled around his head. He breathed a huge sigh of relief. At least one of his Pokemon was fine.

Weren't fairies supposed to resist the dark?

"How…?" Luca asked in disbelief. "No one's ever spotted my Cutiefly before without a psychic, much less trapped her."

"You may take the guests outside," the Elder said, ignoring him. "As an apology for the inconvenience, your visit fee shall be refunded. Lane?"

"I will see to it," she said.

The older man nodded and watched as we were led out of the mansion. We were safe, but we had learned nothing apart from the fact that the Elder truly existed and used an incredibly powerful Shiftry.

Luckily for us, Luca's second Cutiefly joined us shortly after. I didn't know how it had escaped detection, but according to him, he had quickly run away as soon as he felt something was wrong, while his sister wanted to keep exploring to not disappoint their trainer. She got captured, and he got away.

"Guys," Luca said. "I think I'm out."

I frowned. "What?"

"It was fun, don't get me wrong, but that Shiftry…" he muttered. "I'm no battler. It was nice while it lasted, but I'm not fucking around with that family anymore. My Cuties could have died. The Elder knew about me. How else would he have known that Cutiefly was mine?"

"That's…" I started, then sighed. "Okay. Thank you for the help until now."

"The money was nice, but I'm ditching this town. The more I stay here, the more unsettling this place is. If someone told me before I came that the most disturbing city in Sinnoh was Solaceon, I would have laughed at them, but it's true. The Hunters are entrenched here, and there's no stopping them, corrupt tournament or not."

"Wait!" Cecilia exclaimed. "Before you leave, can you ask your Cutiefly if they saw anything?"

"Didn't he say that she didn't?" Denzel frowned. "And the other one just escaped."

"Cutie?" He asked.

The fairy type spelled out a name.






Harry Rodriguez had been on the mansion's second floor along with that Abra. We had proof now. They were linked. It explained how they found Cutiefly so easily, although answers about Shiftry's powers still remained unknown. That void… it was like a black hole— or at least the visual effects was. The light around it had been distorted. There was also the fact that Abra might have sensed the second Cutiefly before he could escape.

Luca exhaled sharply and clenched his hair.

"Argh… Fuck it, I'm staying," he said, biting his lip.

Hey everybody! I've officially created a Patreon! Now before you get too excited, there are currently no benefits to pledging. There are no advanced chapters, and I won't move poll-voting to there either— that'll stay on my Discord. People were asking me to create one, so I figured I'd bite the bullet and do it. I don't really expect too much, but right now all of the money would go toward art commissions. I'll put your name in a list at the end of every chapter to thank you though. Link will also stay on my signature.
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Chapter 154

"Argh… Fuck it, I'm staying," Luca said, his face full of anxiety.

"Are you— are you sure?" Denzel stammered.

"Yeah. I got spooked… hell, I'm still spooked, but this is too big to ignore. I'm sticking around," Luca said with a resolute tone.

Denzel nodded and hurriedly texted the group chat to update them on the situation.

"So we have confirmation of the teleportation theory and that Harry's connected to the Hunters. With how isolationist they were described by everyone in this Arceus damned town, we can assume that he's getting help from them and that he's important somehow," I said. "There's no way they'd let him on the second floor otherwise."

"Maybe he really is dating one of 'em," Luca said.

"Maybe. We can't be sure yet," I shook my head.

"Can't we report him to someone?" Denzel asked.

"He hasn't really done anything wrong yet. None of them have," Cecilia said. "Just being teleported around and invited into a home isn't wrong. The Elder captured your Cutiefly because we were explicitly breaking the rules, and no harm was done to us. They're clean."

"Damn it, you're right."

"They appear clean on the outside, but we know the truth," Luca said with a smug smile. "I want to bring them down. I want my fuckin' name in the history books."

Ignoring his questionable motives, I interjected. "We need to relax for the time being. No more attempts to sneak in with Cutiefly, or the Hunters will know we're up to something. Hell, they probably already suspect you," I nodded toward Luca. "You need to lay low. We still need to figure out what the hell that thing with BattleZone was, so we can take a little break and pivot toward them. If we can make the whole thing fit, I'll be a lot less anxious."

"It's possible that it doesn't fit, Grace," Denzel said. "There are… a lot of actors involved. Can we really expect them to have the same agenda?"

"Fair point," Luca said.

"Isaac told us the Hunters were like a cult. Reggie and Lane bowed when the Elder showed up," I retorted.

"But it's still possible," Cece said. "We can't base all of our assumptions on a single interaction. We barely saw any other members of the family, we don't know if there's a faction that's against whatever is going on. The same applies for BattleZone. It's like Josephine told us, right? With large groups and conspiracies like this, it's always factions within factions."

"You're right. Let's just… get back for now. We can have another group meeting tonight when everyone's battles are done. I'm just going to wait around until Harry's fight to see what he's about. His next opponent's a four-badger, so hopefully the battle can last longer so I can I learn more about him."

"Don't let Pauline hear you say that," Denzel teased.

"Don't snitch," I said. "I think I'll go meet her soon, actually. Luca, I guess you're leaving back to your job?"

By his job, I was obviously referring to his information brokering.

"Wait, are we just going to ignore whatever the hell that Shiftry was?" Luca scoffed. "That wasn't… that wasn't a move, right? I'm not that good of a battler."

"No, it wasn't," Denzel frowned. "That Elder's a lot better than he looks at first glance. I don't know how strong that Shiftry is, but it's definitely better than anything we have."

"Which is why battling is off the table," I said. "We figure out evidence that could sink them and tip off the media if it's just cheating in a tournament. If it's worse like I'm beginning to suspect… then we call the League."

Grim grunts of affirmation rang out throughout the group. Luca left soon afterward. He told us that he was changing his usual spot since it used to be next to the Hunters' property. Needless to say, he was too scared to stick around any longer. We arrived back to the Center around the time Lauren would be battling, and Maeve would be next. Louis and Justin had apparently won their battles, although I didn't know much about what had gone on. Denzel had checked it out via video on the way there, and Louis had won by the skin of his teeth. His Gible carried him and he managed to beat a person with four badges. If he wanted to get better, he'd have to start relying on his other Pokemon a lot more.

"Did you see what Justin said?" Denzel asked as we stepped into the elevator.

"No. You told me he won, is he okay?"

"He says that he's fucked next round— I'm obviously paraphrasing," he laughed. "He's got to make it through another guy with five badges to win his next battle. That's unlucky as hell, with how few of them there are."

"Yeah… it sucks," I sighed. "Not much he can do about it but prepare as best he can. If he loses, then it'll be a learning opportunity."

Denzel's words made me pull out my phone and look at the bracket once more. Specifically, Harry Rodriguez's position. After easily making it through that first battle thanks to probable rigging… none of his opponents would ever have more than four badges until he got a lot further in. His path to the top sixteen had been cleared, and I had no doubt that they expected him to roll through me, so they expected him to go further still.

Yeah, BattleZone was in on this. I was sure of it.

"I'm gonna go see Pauline, then I'm going to snoop around BattleZone," I said. "You guys coming?"

"Sure, why not," Denzel shrugged.

"Sorry, I need to spend some more time with Golett. He needs to get more used to acting like a living being."

"Hey, he's technically not alive," Denzel snorted.

We both playfully hit him in the back, causing him to yelp.

"Did you need to do that?"

"Well, we need to keep the mood up, don't we?" I laughed. I turned to Cecilia. "See you later?"


I stood on my tip-toes to kiss her and I felt her hands rest on my hips. "I love you."

"Me too. Call me if anything happens."

Pauline's room was a mess. There were empty packs of snacks all over the floor, something had spilled on the carpet, and even though it was still the afternoon, the blinds were closed shut, only allowing thin beams of light through. Pauline herself looked fine. She stared at us from her bed and grunted.

"What happened here?" I asked. "Are you okay—"

The culprit soon revealed himself. Vigoroth jumped from under her bed and I flinched, expecting him to claw at me. Instead, he simply ravaged through the room, clawing at the carpet, the walls and jumping everywhere.

"Just when I finally got him to calm down, you woke him up," she sighed. "Denzel, I thought I told you to knock. You use that key double way too much."

"You're the one that told me you didn't care if I had one. Actually wait, you're gaslighting me. You wanted me to have one."

"That's… yeah you're right, I'm just pissed."

"Why are we just having a conversation when there's a crazy Vigoroth going around?!" I yelled. "You're lucky I didn't have my Togetic out! Recall him!"

"Oh boy, Princess would have freaked out," Denzel chuckled. "Probably would have choked him out or something."

"I shouldn't have to accommodate your bloodthirsty Togetic in my room. Anyway, I looked it up online! I need to get him used to staying in rooms and stuff. Eventually he'll stop being like this—" she stopped, ducking to avoid a soda can. "My terrible eating habits are catching up to me. Anyway, I need to get Vigoroth used to rooms."

"The Pokedex said that it never stops being excited," I groaned.

"There's a difference between this and how he'll be when I train him properly. Hey, Vigoroth!"

The normal type stopped for a single second, grunted at Pauline, and then continued on his rampage. The redhead sighed and recalled him.

"I feel bad for the people that are going to have to clean this up," I sighed. "How are you feeling?"


"Fair enough. Did you see what happened at the Hunters' mansion?" I asked. "We sent it on the group chat, but you didn't reply."

"I did… I wish I'd been there. You guys, Cece and Louis have been moving on your own for a few days and we've been feeling left out," Pauline said. "Except Maeve. She's a bit of a wet blanket, so she just wants to keep her head down."

"That's fair," Denzel admitted. "But to be honest, it's a lot easier to work in smaller groups."

"So work with us," she said. "We can organize. I'm out of the tournament, so I have a lot of free time. I feel useless out here."

"Sorry. You know what, why don't you come with us? We were going to gather some info after this, but we can go right now if you want," I said.

She beamed. "Fuck yes! Let's let them know what we're made of!"

"I was thinking more of a lowkey operation…"

If someone had told me that Pauline could be extremely polite when she wanted to, I would have called them a liar. In fact, I would have laughed in their face and maybe even called them an idiot.

"So BattleZone's been around for fifty years? Wow, that's impressive," she smiled at a supervisor. "Where'd you guys get your start? You know, we don't hear a lot about how these tournaments are actually organized. I feel like we should appreciate the work that goes into them more."

Denzel and I looked on, trying to hide our stupefaction. Apparently, even he hadn't expected this. We were currently in the building the Hunters has built for the tournament and the same place we'd signed up at. It was rather empty these days. Trainers mostly came here to announce their lineup to a supervisor or lodge complaints about the tournament, but employees still milled about.

"I like you, kid," the man smiled. "I only started working here three years ago, but it's tough work. You've got to fly out wherever they decide to organize the next tournament, the hours are long, kids scream at you for the brackets being unfair… but at least the pay is good."

"Super interesting," Pauline said. "But where did you get your start?"

"Oh, sorry I forgot to answer that. Erm, it was Solaceon, funnily enough. We don't do tournaments here much, but the higher-ups felt like this would make a lot of money. As long as I get paid," he sighed.

My eyes narrowed at that. Solaceon was BattleZone's birthplace, and now that I knew how much influence the Hunters wielded, that was all I needed to know that the people at the top might be content to listen to whatever the hell that family wanted. We had seen Harry on the second floor of the mansion, so I knew that he was working with the Hunters. The link was there. The two entities working together was basically confirmed. Now all we needed to figure out were these two things:

One, why the hell would they want Harry Rodriguez to win?

Two, why make the rigging so obvious at the start? If they weren't going to keep helping Harry along and only needed to stop him from fighting that one battle, why the hell would they make that girl that had been supposed to fight Pauline resign?

If we solved these two questions, we would get to the bottom of this entire fiasco. That was a lot easier said than done. Denzel discreetly nudged Pauline, and she kept going, stopping her small talk to initiate another one of our predetermined questions.

"What brought this cooperation with the Hunters about?" She asked with a soft voice.

"I don't know about that," the supervisor shrugged. "Well, I do know that our old CEO had some kind of connection with the Hunters. They were old friends or something and the relationship between the two companies is good, but recently there's been—"

"What's his name?!" I exclaimed.

The supervisor turned to frown at me.

"Sorry," I coughed.

"If you wanted to know so bad, you could have just looked it up. Adrian Navarro, but he's kaput now. New boss wanted to do a friendly gesture and run the tournament there— especially since the Hunters could cover some of the costs."

Damn it, not a Hunter. Well, it made sense in a way. I doubted that the Elder would allow anyone in their family to get out and start their own business, no matter how successful it could have been. Now that I knew that the Elder and this Adrian had known each other personally, all of my remaining doubts vanished.

"You're the first kids that have come here with such an interest in how we run things. Why's that?"

I swallowed, but Pauline sprung up. "You might have heard of how I got screwed by two resignations. I just got curious, that's all."

"Yeah… sorry about that," he scratched his head. "People're saying that we rigged it for that Harry fellow, but it's just the luck of the dice. I've been telling people that the proper way to run the tourneys when this happens is to delay the match, but they don't want to."

"That was shitty for sure," Denzel nodded. "And a shitty way to run a tournament."

"They always say that you should read the fine print," he shrugged. "People usually like the fast pace. No delays, no bullshit, usually cheap entry. It was raised here due to the rewards though."

"At least I got half of my ticket paid back," Pauline said.

"Wait, what?" The supervisor frowned.

"I got paid back. I knew it! I should have gotten more than half, shouldn't I? It should have been a full refund—"

"That's not our usual policy. BattleZone might have been using out-of-the-box rules, but they technically weren't in the wrong. We're following the rules we set… so why were you reimbursed? Are you kids playing a prank?"

A woman called out to him. "Phil, can you hand me the battle schedule? I think I lost mine, we've got to make more copies."

"Yes! It was just a prank!" I yelled. "Sorry, it was my idea. I guess it was too obvious."

"Sure thing," he said. "Well, I've got to get back to work. You kids get outta here."

We inconspicuously walked out of the building, and I released Togetic as a guard.

"What the hell was that?" Pauline asked. "I was buttering him up for you guys!"

"No, we needed to leave. Don't you get it? You were paid off to stay quiet, Pauline. The person who refunded you went against company policy… that means that some low-leveled employees know about this!"

So why had this guy not known? I had thought that there was no way for mere supervisors to be in on this, but now, that was no longer the case. Josephine's voice rang out in my mind. Factions. It was possible to turn back and tell this employee everything, but there were other supervisors hanging about. What if one that was in on it was listening in? Even worse, he could bring it up to a higher-up and reveal this to the wrong person. It was better to keep this to ourselves.

Or maybe I was growing too paranoid.

"Holy shit," she muttered. "They obviously don't know me if they think that money's going to get me to quiet down. Especially with how cheap they were. Half reimbursed? Really?"

"Yes. Holy shit. Now this is important. Denzel, you went with her with Justin. Did you get the person's name? Or do you just remember their face?"

Pauline shook her head and Denzel groaned, rubbing his chin.

"I'm coming up blank, but he was a shortish guy, I guess. Brown hair is all I remember."

"That doesn't help at all… does Justin remember?"

"Let me shoot him a message."

Two minutes later, Justin answered with a no, and our spirits deflated like a popped balloon. If we knew what he looked like, we could have probably figured out his name and gotten Luca to spy on him, since he wasn't a Hunter.

"Damn it," I hissed.

"Sorry, Grace," Pauline said.

"No, it's not your fault. I can't expect you to remember some random guy's face," I said. "It'd be like asking me to remember a person we passed on the way here. Unless you knew they were important, you weren't going to remember them. It's just frustrating. Every time I feel like we're getting close, it turns out that it goes deeper… whatever, we'll get there," I sighed. "What the hell was that acting, by the way?"

"Impressed?" She smugly said. "I'm good at being a nice girl."

"How…?" Denzel asked.

"What did you think I did when mommy told me to play nice whenever I met her business partners' kids?"

"Ignore her and terrorize the other kids?"

"And sink her business? Please. All it'd take was for little Jimmy to complain that I was mean to him and any deal would fall through. I just don't do it anymore because it's fake. I hate that shit. People hated me for it, but I can be real with you guys."

I paused for a few seconds and smiled. "Thanks for the help. I don't think I would have been able to act like that at all, and Denzel's a terrible liar."

"Right? He's way too sweet to lie," she laughed before turning toward him. "Look at him. He's blushing! Are you embarrassed?"

"Shut up."

The entire group sat, waiting for Harry Rodriguez to fight his second battle. Him battling with Pauline immediately had screwed the schedule a little bit, so it had taken a bit more time for the organizers to recalibrate everything. I had almost expected there to be some shenanigans again, but this time, he was actually battling his designated opponent. Harry released his looming Torterra and his Pelipper this time, while his opponent released a Venomoth and a Heatmor, which was a terrible starting lineup for him. Pelipper would screw over that Heatmor with Drizzle, and Venomoth would lose to its flying type attacks.

But I knew that he was just trying his best to deal with Torterra with poison and fire.

Surprisingly, it wasn't as one-sided as I thought, but Harry still won handily. Torterra almost fainted due to the sheer amount of Sludge Bombs and Flamethrowers it had taken, but it still stood strong by the end of it. Harry's opponent had sent out a Corvisquire and a Boldore second, and I understood now why he hadn't started with those. They were simply too weak to hurt Harry's Pokemon and were being held back by their lack of evolution. Boldore was too slow to dodge attacks, but not tough enough to brush them off. Corvisquire was quick, but it couldn't outpace Pelipper for long.

He fell quickly after that.

I had gotten a lot of good information from that battle, even if I'd wanted to learn more about Luxray and Crobat instead. When Harry fought in doubles, he liked to pair his Torterra with a flying type to take full advantage of Earthquake. That meant that Luxray would probably never come out first, since Harry always started with Torterra. His starter was his anchor. It was impossible for him to fight without it.

Pelipper's Drizzle was more powerful than I'd given it credit for in the videos. It was like the Rocky Field had been subject to a storm and completely flooded. Still, it was less powerful than what I'd have to face tomorrow. Vaporeon's Rain Dance would be a test run for this. If I could handle that, then Drizzle wouldn't be an issue.

That night, I stayed up on my phone, waiting to see if Luca was going to send any texts, but he didn't. We were seemingly at an impasse for now. There was no way to look deeper into the Hunters, and the person we needed to find in BattleZone could be any of the employees. Still, we sent a vague description to Luca in hopes that he'd be able to find something. I ended up having to stop when the light kept waking Cecilia up, even if she was pretending to be asleep still. I could feel her shifting, since she was squeezing me like a pillow.

Not that I disliked that.

Oh well. Tomorrow was another day. I would get to the bottom of this come hell or high water.

And it would start with offering a deal to Sunshine after my battle. I had an offer he couldn't refuse.

A/N: A bit of a setup chapter. I promise the next few are a lot more exciting

Thank you to the people that support me on Patreon - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, Aaron Vera, A ferret, MKK, Oblige
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Calling it now, the Hunters have nothing to do with the resignations.

My theory is that Harry Rodriguez want to join the Hunter family, and said that he would win the tournament to "prove his worth". However, when he saw he could have competition, he paid off an Battlezone employee (who wasn't a Solaceon native) to rig his first matches. This would be the same employee who goes against company policy to give the refund to Pauline. Now, Harry think he has no more opposition until the end of the tournament, where he could buy off his opponents to win it all.

So, everything would be a Harry scheme, and not a Hunter scheme. After all, they have seemingly nothing to gain and everything to loose (their reputation). Imo, their family is a bit shady, but not worse than some really traditional families that are still here in our world. Not revealing who they are dating can be seen as protecting their members from extortion or kidnapping (since they are rich), and pushing for marriage and being kept in their clutch just screams old family and business secret protection.

In any case, thanks for sharing your story with us, and have a nice day !
Chapter 155

Like usual, my battle was early in the morning, and it was taking place on the Rocky Field. Will Bowman somehow found a way to wear very little clothes in the middle of winter, and he had a legion of fangirls that kept screaming out his name in the bleachers. My friends tried to join in to counter them, but the supervisor hissed and everyone quieted down.

"This is battle between Grace Pastel and Will Bowman. Trainers, send out your Pokemon."

The air was cool and crisp as I sent out Jellicent and Tangrowth. My lips twitch when I saw Beartic and Vaporeon appear as I had predicted. The massive, looming bear exuded frosty air all around him, and there were clearly outlined muscles in its arms and legs. Its paws alone were bigger than my head by a wide margin. Vaporeon stretched and its ears twitched. It observed us in a calculating manner and tensed.

Rain Dance was coming, and then Aqua Jet and Ice Punch would follow on Tangrowth. I would have him raise an Ancient Power immediately and counter with Jellicent's Hex while Vaporeon watched helplessly as I completely restrained his teammate and shut him down before the battle could even start. Then, I'd use that downturn in Bowman's move to rush Vaporeon and shut down that Rain Dance.

Easy enough in my head. Now it was time to see if it worked.


"Rain Dance!"

Vaporeon cried out, arching its back and raising its head toward the sky. Thunder boomed, and thick rain clouds appeared above the arena, leading to small droplets, and then an absolute deluge. It was pouring gallons of water, and it would soon fill up the entire arena.

"Aqua Jet and Ice Pun—"

"Ancient Power!" I snapped and raised a hand.

Beartic exploded forward as water enveloped his entire body. It was so quick that its speed was comparable to Talonflame's. The Aqua Jet soon turned to ice, but Tangrowth had already raised a boulder in front of himself to block the attack. With attacks this quick, maneuverability always came second. The ice type crashed into the rock, but to my surprise, it destroyed it completely and rammed into Angel, although the loss of speed has softened the blow.

"Bind and Mega Drain!" I yelled.

"Wish, then Surf!" Will ordered to his Vaporeon.

I ignored the light that flew out of Vaporeon's mouth and bit the inside of my lip. Tangrowth's vines wrapped around Beartic and froze around the ice type's body. He hurriedly replaced them as fast he would, but Beartic was a lot stronger than I gave it credit for. If I just waited around, he'd escape—

And Vaporeon's Surf was coming.

"Hex it!"

A painful Hex from Buddy stopped Beartic from struggling, and I switched the attack to Shadow Ball immediately after that. Only two reached their mark before the massive wave crashed into all three Pokemon, and then onto my side of the barrier. There was so much water already that I couldn't see the floor. The arena had practically been converted into a Water Field. Jellicent easily flew up, emerging from the water completely unharmed. Beartic was next, although it appeared a lot less large and threatening with its wet fur clinging to its body. Vaporeon was only a small head out of the water on the opposite side of the arena that I could see if I squinted hard enough.

"Angel, push yourself up with your vines!"

I grabbed my shirt, hoping that he could hear me, but thankfully he raised himself up after a few seconds. If the Rain Dance kept going though, even his vines wouldn't be long enough to keep him afloat.

"Vaporeon, get under there and cut his vines!" Will yelled. "Beartic, freeze yourself a platform!"

"Don't let them! Buddy, send a Night Shade under there! Angel, Power Whip!"

A neon green light shone under the water and quickly slammed into Beartic's gut. The bear grunted as ice formed under his body. A Night Shade from Jellicent sank into the depths as soon as Vaporeon did.

"Poison Sting and Hex," I ordered.

Sharp, purple darts flew off of Jellicent's tentacles and penetrated deep inside of Beartic, who cried out in pain as it stood on the floating ice platform it had created for itself.

Suddenly, an idea came to me.

"Icicle Crash!"

"Angel, get on that platform."

An explosion rang out underwater and shook the entire field.

"And send another Night Shade," I added.

Vines extended forward, and Beartic clawed them apart as best he could. A set of eight icicles formed above Angel's head and crashed into him, going through his vines. The grass type shivered in pain, but Jellicent's Hex allowed him to drag that damn Beartic off of his platform.

Even though he had vines fully extended downward, the water reached up to his eyes now.

Beartic flailed as it attempted to get back onto his platform, but a Shadow Ball from Buddy shut him down. Angel used the ice type's body as support to step onto the platform, hitting him with two Power Whips to better balance himself. Two huge gashes opened up on the ice type's back and blood seeped into the water.

Angel was safe now.

"Vaporeon, what's going on?!" Will screamed out.

I smirked as another explosion was heard in the water. Buddy's Night Shade had put in a lot of work to buy us time.

"Finish off Beartic."

Buddy gathered ghostly energy in front of his mouth and made his Shadow Ball twice as large while Angel wrestled with Beartic, who was attempting to climb back on and making sure not to slip off. The ball hit the ice type in the back, worsening his wounds, and one last Mega Drain from Angel did the trick. Beartic was out of the fight.

Will recalled his Pokemon and—

Vaporeon jumped out of the water, using its tail to propel itself far into the air and bit into Buddy's tentacle and tore away a huge chunk of his body.

"Recover," I said.

Bowman's face sank when he realized that it had been all for nothing. He released his Basculin— just as I had predicted— and swept his arm.

"Agility and Aqua Jet!"

Whatever he was planning, I had to take down Vaporeon and stop the rain.

"Buddy, it's in your hands," I firmly said. His red eyes dimmed and he bowed his head before sinking into the water.

Basculin was actually the main physical threat on this team. It was too quick for me to split my attention—

Case in point, it was already there.

"Wave Crash! Knock it off!"

"Brace yourself."

Vines grew out of Angel's back and buried themselves into the ice platform with quick Vine Whips. A giant wave surrounded Basculin's body. It rammed into the grass type and quickly jumped back into the water.

Angel did not budge a single inch. On the opposite side of the arena, Wish bore down from the skies and sank into the water. It was no doubt on its way to heal Vaporeon.

Will's goal wasn't to deal damage, but to get Angel to fall into the water and force me to recall him now that it was too deep. I hoped to Arceus that he wouldn't realize that the smartest thing right now would be to leave Angel stranded here and go after Buddy— more precisely, pretend to do so. I could see multiple purple explosions that must have been from Night Shade and Shadow Ball, and I knew that the only way Vaporeon had of fighting back was Bite. Water Type moves wouldn't work against Buddy.

Basculin tried three more times to get Angel off of his platform, but it was too quick for us to retaliate effectively. Power Whip was a slow attack, and Vine Whip wasn't effective enough to take the water type down.

"Forget it! Head Smash!"

There it was. I was ready and the words were already out of my mouth.

"Stun Spore!"

I grinned, and Will winced. Basculin rammed into Tangrowth with all of its strength, pushing past his vines and hitting his true body. Angel's vines writhed in agony, but he shot out yellow spores and Basculin began to twitch.

A single whiff had been enough. See, with Wave Crash, the water surrounding Basculin was enough to protect him from any spore attacks, but that wasn't possible with Head Smash. The water type wasn't completely unable to fight like Angel had been during our last battle, but its speed was at least halved. That was enough for him to Bind it and lift it out of the water.

I stared into Will Bowman's eyes. If your Beartic hadn't created that platform, I might have lost.

"Mega Drain," I said. "No use wasting the energy."

Basculin flailed as he withered and dried until the vibrant green on its body had turned into a sickly khaki. Bowman hung his head as he recalled his Pokemon and sent out his Azumarill.

I restrained a smile. I'd been four out of four for predictions, it seemed.

"Aqua Jet under the water! Help Vaporeon deal with Jellicent with Play Rough!"

Bowman was getting smarter. I would have thought that Buddy would have dealt with Vaporeon by now, but it seemed that it was more resistant than I thought, and Protect was probably working wonders against him. Azumarill disappeared underwater, and I was only left with Angel. I bent over and tried to see through the murky waters, but I could only spot different lights and the rumble from explosions.

Well, it seemed that Honey could finally see some action at last. Will Bowman had made a fatal mistake.

"I'm withdrawing Angel out of the fight," I told the referee. He nodded. "You did great! Buddy, get back up!"

I recalled the grass type as he happily waved at me, and sent out Electabuzz on the ice platform. He stared around confusedly for a few seconds and lowed himself in order not to slip. One look into my eyes, and he nodded.

Arceus, I loved my kids.

"Azumarill, Vaporeon, get back up here!" Will bellowed.

Jellicent was out first.

"Let's finish this off with a bang. Discharge!"

Electricity cracked around Honey's fur and exploded outward. It was so bright that it forced me to cover my eyes. The flooded arena became a death trap. The water smoked, and the smell of ozone filled my nostrils.

Vaporeon and Azumarill's unconscious bodies emerged from the water.

"Victory to Grace Pastel."

I breathed out a sigh of relief and clenched a fist.

Now how the hell were they going to fix this Field?


"I'm not going to lie, that was definitely the hardest battle yet," I sighed to my friends. "Without that platform for Angel to stand on, I might have lost."

"That was his biggest mistake for sure," Mira said. "What would you have done without it?"

"Recall Angel, send out Princess and try to get a platform raised for Honey to stand on whenever either her or Buddy fainted. Other than that? Well, I could always have had Honey try to use Discharge or Thunderbolt in the water, but… to be honest, I don't know if he knows how to swim. I should have asked."

"I don't know what you feed that Tangrowth," Maeve said. "How would you even take it down?"

"Me? I'd have Princess restrain him with Ancient Power or Psychic while I took care of the other Pokemon," I shrugged. "Angel's difficult to beat, but it's not impossible. You just can't tunnel vision on dealing damage or you'll lose. Or… you could have a powerful fire or poison type. Either or."

"Well he's been doing the rounds on the forum. People are terrified of him," Denzel said. "And of you…"

"What? Why me?" I frowned.

Aside from Cecilia, my friends all looked awkwardly at each other.

"I don't get it either," my girlfriend said. "Maybe they're scared of your cuteness. I certainly know that I wouldn't be able to fight back against that."

With a sly smile, she hugged and kissed me. We had never shied away from public displays of affection, but we were definitely pushing it these days. Not that I particularly cared.

"If you don't know now, you'll never figure it out," Pauline said.

"It's the way you play mind games," Justin explained. "People dislike that."

"Well I didn't play any mind games during my first and third battles, so they're just biased," I said. "Granted, I could have, but it would have been too dangerous. I couldn't fuck around when the field turned into an ocean."

"See, this is what they're talking about! It feels like you're fucking around with them for fun," Maeve said.

"Well, battles are supposed to be fun, no?" I shrugged. "I can't deny that I like playing with people's hopes and using that to my advantage, but only for battling."

"Let them talk," Cece rolled her eyes. "None of them matter."

"Well, it kind of matters with the Poketch Company…" I sighed. "Hopefully they'll like this battle though. It was a lot more straightforward."

"Soon enough they'll have to remarket you as a ruthless battler instead of some normal girl next door," Mira teased.

We all chuckled, and we made our way to the Pokemon Center so I could heal Angel. Denzel and Mira's battle would be next. If I looked deep within myself, I didn't exactly know why screwing with people emotionally felt so good during battles. It just did. It was fun. That moment where all hope drained from their faces was the moment where I knew I'd win. It wasn't like I did it every time, although when my presence in the Poketch Company was a little more steady, I'd probably start doing it a lot more. I had already heard about how hotheaded Maylene was, and she'd be a prime target to use it on.

Those were thoughts for the future.

We had texted Luca everything Pauline, Justin and Denzel remembered about the supervisor that had refunded her half of her ticket, so all we could do was wait for him to bring back any news. I opted to dip out early. I needed to prepare for my battle against Harry Rodriguez in advance, and there were two things that I thought were necessary if I ever wanted to win. I went back to the Pokemon Center and gave Angel to Nurse Joy, then I went off to my usual training spot.

I released Princess and Honey. The latter's fur was still damp from that little time he'd spent under the rain.

"Hi guys. It's just you two this morning," I said. "This is important practice for our big battle against Harry, okay?"

I had brought my Pokemon up to speed before my battle regarding the tournament's shadyness, and some were a lot more anxious than others. Princess and Buddy wanted me to stop investigating and keep my head down to stay safe. Sweetheart and Honey wanted to uncover whatever the hell was going on, although the electric type wanted to do so in a safe manner, which meant no more infiltration attempts. Angel didn't exactly understand the grand conspiracy at play, but he did know something bad was afoot.

As for Sunshine? Well, I hadn't told him yet.

I did feel bad about it, but I was planning on rectifying that right now. First though, I had to give Princess and Honey instructions.

"You were great, by the way," I smiled at Electabuzz. "I should have brought a towel for you."

He grinned, flashing his sharp teeth and gave me a thumbs up. Togetic chirped, asking about what happened during the battle.

"Oh it was this whole thing. The entire field was flooded. I could tell you got scared when I released you," I said, smirking at Honey. He hurriedly shook his head. "Come on big guy, I know you. You didn't let it show though, and you immediately got ready to attack. I'm proud of you kiddo—"

Eugh, kiddo? I was starting to sound like my dad. Still, one of the most important parts of Pokemon battling was that your Pokemon needed to be ready no matter what situation they were in.

"Okay, you won't actually be learning a new move, Hon," I said. His shoulders sagged. "I know, I know. You need to work on Protect some more."


"It's boring, huh? Well think about it like this. If you manage to nail Protect down, you'll last a lot longer in fights, so more fun for you."

He brightened up at that.

"And I also need it in case you… you know, need to protect me or any of the others if something bad happens. I told you that we went in the Hunters' mansion, but I didn't tell you about the Pokemon they had. It was a Shiftry."

With how confused Honey looked, I knew he'd never seen one before. Princess was a given, of course.

"It doesn't really matter what it looks like, just know that it was really strong and that it's a grass and dark type. The more you can use the move, the more you can protect me if things go south, okay?"

Now he was on board. Without any complaints, he walked a few feet away and started to use the move over and over. There was no better way to learn Protect. It was a move with a low skill floor, but an extremely high skill ceiling. He'd improve with the move throughout his life, and there was no better way to practice it than brute forcing. The move would prove extremely useful to bypass Torterra's Earthquakes. In every one of Harry's fights that I'd seen, it always came out slow and telegraphed.

If I ever had to fight that Shiftry in an act self defense without Sunshine, I didn't think it could be done.

"Princess, it's about time we start working on your fairy type moves again, isn't it?"


"Yours is tricky," I said. "It's called Dazzling Gleam."

I turned on my phone and showed her a video of Mira's Kadabra using the move. It combined a bright flash of light with dozens of tiny explosions that would hurt her opponent. I wasn't exactly interested in the damage it would deal— at least not for the fight against Harry. This would be her main counter against Crobat if it ever got close to her. Blinding it would leave her enough to to run away or impale it with Ancient Power, which to be honest, was part of the plan to deal with the poison type.

"Let me tell you how I think you can get started, and you tell me if it helps, okay?" I started. "When you use Fairy Wind, it's… controlled, right? You diffuse fairy type energy, weave it into the wind so that you're able to control it."

Princess nodded.

"For this move… forget that control. Just let the energy explode out of you and see what happens."

I mimicked an explosion with my hands, sound effects and all, and she giggled at me. I pet her head and let her get to work. I observed the two for a few minutes, and Honey was already panting roughly. Protect would certainly help with his endurance overall. Princess, meanwhile, was… well, she was exploding, and the sparks were there, but the light wasn't. I'd check back in later to see if there was any progress on that front.

I held Sunshine's Pokeball in my hands. It was warm.

The fire type peered down at me with a curious look.

"Hey. I have something to tell you."

He let an annoyed groan escape from his mouth.

"It's not a story this time, I swear! Hear me out…"

I told him everything. Everything regarding BattleZone, Harry Rodriguez, the Hunters and how something was unmistakingly linking them together. His gaze was unchanged during the entire tale, and I couldn't really tell what he was thinking.

"I'm going to ask you a favor. We can trade," I exhaled. "If things go south and our lives are in danger because they realize we're snooping around, I need you to help me. I also want to keep you as a backup for my battle against Harry. I'll try to beat him without you, but you'll be my fourth."

He let out an amused snort.

"In exchange… if I ever come across Team Galactic. I will do my best to take them down. But only once! We'll call the authorities and then barge in before they get there or something so you can have your revenge. That way, I use you once, and you use me once. That's a fair deal."

I regretted the words as soon as they were out of my mouth, but what was done was done. Turtonator's eyes widened in surprise, and he touched my shoulder with a warm hand. I almost jumped. It was my first time actually touching him. He hadn't expected this from me at all, and it showed.

I wasn't actually expecting things to go that wrong, of course. We hadn't really done anything of note except look up information about Harry. Hell, I was sure that multiple people were doing it too other than us— including the media. Luca was in more trouble than we were since he got caught snooping.

But just in case.

"Keep the deal on the down-low though. Princess has been slowly learning to tolerate you, and we'd throw all that progress away if you didn't."

His nose flared in anger.

I clicked my tongue. "What about Buddy then? And Sweetheart? You like them— ah, there's that face. I know you do. Hell, I know even I'm growing on you— wait, don't leave!"

I followed Turtonator, who lied down in the soft grass and obsered Princess and Honey train.

"Can I add one thing to the deal?"

He growled and slightly raised the temperature.

"Let me call you Sunshine."

I grinned when no objections came. Finally.


I awoke to the sound of my Poketch, as I usually did these days.

I don't know when I had fallen asleep, but I did. I groaned and realized that I was leaning against Sunshine, who was still asleep. His scales weren't that comfortable, but that was offset by how warm it was. Fire types were awesome. Maybe I could make this a regular thing soon. It was the afternoon now, and Honey and Princess were still working hard. Light was starting to emanate from her attacks, although it was still a tiny amount, and Honey's Protect were coming out faster than before.

I had apparently missed a lot. Luca had been added to the group chat— ah, nevermind, they created an entirely new group chat with him in it instead. I scrolled back to the beginning of the conversation and—

Someone was dead.

A BattleZone employee had died early this morning, and people had come across the body a few hours earlier. I quickly sent a message to assuage their panic, since I hadn't shown myself in hours. Cece berated me and I could hear her screaming through the text .I felt terrible.

"Wake up Sunshine, we've got to go."

He refused to get up and told me to just recall him instead so that he could continue sleeping in his Pokeball. His laziness would be the end of me. I recalled him and the others, opting to have Buddy accompany me on the way back to the Pokemon Center. I wasn't about to be defensless when someone had just died.


"Grace!" Cecilia exclaimed as I stepped inside of Denzel room. She practically tackled me and sniffled in my arms. "Don't just disappear on us, you idiot!"

"You should have warned us," Justin nodded. "We were besides ourselves trying to find or contact you. Cece wanted to call the Poketch Company."

"I'm sorry," I grimaced. "I fell asleep."

I rubbed Cecilia's back, and she wouldn't leave my side. She really believed I was dead.

"The cops say it was a suicide," Denzel said. "They said he hung himself in his office."

"And the cops are obviously full of shit," Pauline added. "I bet it was a murder. Someone killed that man."

"We already know the Hunters run things here, so that isn't surprising," Mira shrugged. "Now what are we gonna do about it?"

"Nothing!" I snapped "Do we know who died?" I turned to Pauline. "Is it the guy that paid you off?"

"No. And I would have remembered his face if I saw it. It's on the tip of my tongue, but you know, for the eyes."

"So a supervisor from BattleZone was assassinated. Any leads on why? Luca?" I asked.

"Nope. I'm stumped. I do know that he was pretty high up in the food chain though. Connor Tyson wasn't just a supervisor. He actually had authority on how the tournament was run. To use trainer terms… this is like if a gym leader had just gotten assassinated."

A few surprised gasps ran through the room.

"That high?" Louis frowned. "Wouldn't someone that high up know about the rigging— and be orchestrating it?"

"No, no," Denzel shook his head. "This is proof that there are factions, just like I theorized. If I had to guess, he was going to talk, and he quickly got shut out."

"Killing him for just exposing tournament rigging?" Maeve said. "Rough him up maybe, but murder seems like too much. The consequences don't match the actions here."

"For BattleZone? I don't know, maybe they're just that concerned about their rep," Mira said.

"This entire thing obviously goes deeper than just rigging now. There's something else to this, and figuring out Harry Rodriguez is the key, I'm sure of it," I said. "So there are multiple factions within BattleZone, but the question is, are there multiple factions within the Hunters? Even the most ardent of cults should have people that aren't too into the idea of murder."

"I don't think we can figure it out. They've shown that they aren't beyond using murder for their needs. Luca, I'd stop traveling alone at night if I were you," Denzel said. "And for anyone who thinks this is too dangerous… I'd resign from the tournament and get to Veilstone as quickly as you can. This isn't a joke anymore."

"We're not doing anything about it. I'm going to stay here to fulfill my contract and then we can—"

Pauline interrupted me.

"I'm going to keep investigating."

"So am I," Mira said. "This is fun."

"This isn't supposed to be fun," I exclaimed. "Someone died!"

"We're our own person," Mira shrugged. "Don't tell us what to do. I have my own reasons, and Pauline is the pettiest girl I've ever seen. Even Louis is on board, even if he's too scared to say it."

"I can't let you face this on your own," Denzel sighed at Pauline. "I think this is a terrible idea, but I'm in. Things will work out. What about everyone else?"

A heavy silence settled in the room, and I watched to see if anyone would leave. I was scared… terrified, even, but I couldn't let Pauline, Louis, Denzel and Mira do this alone. This was murder. This was real. I felt my hand tremble, and I clenched my fist. I could do this.

Maybe that was proof that I'd be able to face down Team Galactic when the time came.

Twenty seconds passed. Then forty. Then a full minute. No one wanted to leave. Not even Maeve. It wasn't just about rigging anymore. There was more to this. This entire town was rotting from the inside. I just hoped no one would get hurt because of Pauline and Mira's decision. I had risked Pauline's life when asking to capture Turtonator, so I'd be a hypocrite to say no. There was no way that she'd be convinced.

Sunshine would have to help us if it ever came to blows, and it seemed that it would sooner rather than later.

"Maeve…" Louis muttered.

"I'm staying. What kind of friend would I be if I just let you all face this?"

"A smart one," Luca smirked.

"You too, Luca," Denzel said. "The Elder knows that you tried to snoop. You could be a target. I'm not sure… but it's possible that even the Pokemon Centers aren't safe if what Isaac said about the Hunters running everything is true."

"Nurse Joys are employed by the League and most of them wouldn't be from here," I said. "We'll be alright."

"I'll be fine. This murder's a blessing in disguise— okay, I might have said that wrong, no need to stare like I'm insane. This was like a cold splash of water, right? Sobered us right up. We need to tread with caution here. One slip up, and we're dead."

"The goal should be to gather enough evidence to call the League over," Maeve said. "Beyond that, we can't do much. Especially if that Shiftry sounds as tough as you made it seem."

"It was," Luca said, his face growing grim. "I've never seen anything like it."

"We have no frame of reference. I tried looking up dark type specialists online, but none of them can do what Shiftry did. That means that it was a custom move of some kind," Denzel explained. "Beyond that, we can't really place its exact strength."

"I reached a deal with my Turtonator. He'll take care of it if the time comes."

It took a few seconds for my words to sink in.

"Wow— wow, okay, that's fucking amazing," my best friend smiled. "I feel a lot better about this than before. Now, we just need to be careful when we go out. If they send some goons after us—"

"They won't send anyone," I said. "Well, they might send some, but not for all of us. Mira, Denzel, Cecilia and I are in the limelight. If anything happens to us, that would bring too much attention. Louis, Pauline and Justin aren't as famous, but they are the children of billionaires. Luca and Maeve, you're probably in the most danger here, which is why you can't travel alone. Especially you, Luca. Understood?"

"I'll send my Cuties out instead," he nodded. "They'll come back when they have any info."

"Okay. You should probably go get a Center room in here instead of whatever Center you're staying at so we're in the same building. Cecilia and I can go with you."

"Um… one thing of note I might have forgotten to ask. I'm not a trainer. Not officially anyway. So… I can't stay in a Center room. You'll have to house me."

"Like a fugitive?" Mira joked. How could she be so unserious in this situation?

"Not a fugitive. Trainers are allowed to house non-trainers in their rooms."

"Just go get one, Arceus," I said. "This isn't the time to be petty, you can deal with that after."

"No, because then I have to do this Circuit shit or it's considered fraud!" He exclaimed. "I want no part in it. Someone will have to house me."

Louis sighed. "You can sleep in my room if you wish. You'll have to take the floor though."

"That wouldn't be anything new for me," he shrugged.

"So what now then?" Maeve asked. "What do we do next?"

"Keep your heads down for the rest of the day. If you want to train, do it in groups. Even if we think that they wouldn't send anyone to attack us, we'll be better safe than sorry," Denzel said, crossing his arms.

"The next best move would be to either find an inside man in the Hunter family, or find the guy that paid Pauline off and report him to see the Hunter's reaction when the public learns of it. One of these two, and we're golden," Louis declared. "But how?"

"I know of a way," Luca said. "You know the supervisors run on a schedule, right?"

We all nodded.

"That schedule's written down in the tournament building. The one where you all signed up. I saw it once on a piece of paper nailed down to the wall."

"You're saying that we should…" Denzel trailed off.

"Yes," he grinned. "What do you say we do a little bit of breaking and entering tonight?"

"What?" I scoffed in disbelief.

"So much for keeping our heads down," Maeve sighed.

This was it. This was the point of no return. My contract with the Poketch Company, my reputation, everything rode on this. Risks were risks, but this was something else entirely. This was stupid. But if I didn't come, the others would go anyway. I wasn't going to let them face this alone.

Cecilia shook her head. "Grace I don't think this—"

"For the record, I think that this is the worst idea you've ever had. Do you at least have a plan?" I said.

"Well believe it or not, I've done it once before around a week ago…"

Luca's plan had been full of holes, but it had worked the first time somehow. We helped him smooth over some edges until we figured something that would work out. Maeve was okay with sticking around, but she did not want to break in somewhere, so we had worked out something regarding that. Luca, Pauline and Mira had said that if no one came, they'd be going by themselves. Denzel wasn't about to let Pauline and Mira go off on their own, and neither was I. Justin disliked this but he was with us. Louis was fully onboard due to this reminding him of how scummy his father had been. He wanted to free the innocent Hunters from their cult. Cecilia… was not on board. When she saw how I was starting to go along with the idea, she pulled me aside and began to scold me.

"Grace, you're too obsessed with this. This isn't a joke anymore."

"I know," I said. "But they'll be going whether I go or not. And it's not like it's not the right thing to do. I want to fix things. I want to avenge Pauline. I want to avenge the man that was murdered—"

"You didn't even know him! And at this point, I think you care more about the rigging than Pauline ever did. It's okay to give up on things, Grace. You're in over your head. Let's just… give up. Let's just get you to the top fifty, fulfill your contract with the Poketch Company and let's leave this town and never come back. Forget everything that happened here."

"I won't forgive this slight, Cece. I can't."

"You're not making any sense! Losing a tournament isn't the end of the world, rigging or not!"

I flinched at her raised tone.

"Listen…" she sighed. "I promised your dad I would keep you safe. This is the opposite of that. I can't let you go along with this."


I had promised my dad. I had promised him that I wouldn't take unnecesary risks.

And yet, Team Galactic was coming for me, and it'd probably be sooner than I thought. If I couldn't do this, then what was the point? So many promises I'd made were more dangerous than this. Hunting down the Rhyperior that had killed Sweetheart's mom, finding the three Gengar that had raised Honey, my new promise to Turtonator… maybe that was why I didn't feel a particular need to run. Maybe my sense of self-preservation had been so fucked up in these last few months that the current situation seemed a lot less worse than it actually was to me. Cecilia did raise important questions, though. Why was a slight to a friend so hard for me to just look past? Why couldn't I just let go and run?

For some reason,

I just found something being done to my friend— small or not— the most detestable thing in the damn world, and I wasn't about to let them do this alone.

"If we don't go, the others will do it by themselves. If they had all agreed to not go, then I would have changed my mind, but they need our support. Without Sunshine here, they will have no chance. I am going through with this. I'm sorry, but the plan is sound."

Thank you Hatchil#5415 for the team!

The next chapter is in 2 hours. I know some people will wonder why Grace is going along with this and feels so strongly about the situation, but it should be somewhat apparent by now. I mean, I've basically been beating your head with a stick with how obvious the foreshadowing is (and just in case someone somehow comes up with this answer, it is not mind control). If you still don't get it, well it'll be answered somewhat soon (shortly after this arc).

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, Aaron Vera, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe
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Chapter 156 - Break-in
CHAPTER 156 - Break-in

It was the dead of night.

The tournament building wasn't exactly a paragon of security. It had been hastily built next to the Hunters' property to host the event, and it looked more like an overgrown camping cabin than anything else. Relatively small and only containing a few rooms. A few windows, a rackety wooden door, but most important of all, absolutely no security or cameras. According to Luca, a supervisor was supposed to stand guard the whole night, but they tended to be lazy with their shifts by going home early. It was a perfect place to break into, but the problem was that we had to do it and leave no traces. We were actually breaking the law here, and if I was found out, it'd put my entire relationship with the Poketch Company in jeopardy.

And yet, here I was.

The plan was simple. Have all of our flying types flying discreetly in the sky and warn us of anyone approaching through the road or otherwise. There was only one lonely road to keep track of, so that'd be easy. Staravia, Talonflame and Magnezone were on top of things, and they weren't easy to spot at night. Maeve and Justin were staying outside to stall if someone came, but we'd use the advanced warning to bail out as quick as possible, since they'd send us a text about it. Next up, we had Mira's Haunter, who easily slipped through the walls of the building to let us know if anyone was inside. Surprisingly, he was behaving rather well. I supposed that playing catch was working wonders with him.


Luca's Cutiefly had a different job than usual tonight. Instead of scanning for danger like usual, they were sticking closer by the Hunters' mansion— not too close. We could see their soft lights shining in the sky. Their goal was to signal immediately if anyone ever got out of that mansion. Maeve and Justin would see it, text us, and we'd run away.

"Can your Haunter be any slower?" Luca hissed.

"Let him be."

"We can't afford to waste time! Fucking call him over!"

Mira groaned in frustration. "Haunty! What are you doing in here? Don't forget, no poison."

The door slowly slid open, revealing the inside of the building. It was pitch black. Denzel took a tentative step forward, but Haunter reappeared in front of him and screamed. He yelled his guts out and would have fallen over if Louis hadn't caught him. Haunter cackled and pulled out his tongue.

"People could have heard that for miles," Cecilia winced. "We need to hurry."

"This is why it should have been that Arceus damned Froslass," Luca complained.

"She can't control the cold yet, this is the best that we had," I said. "Let's go."

Haunter's hand became more gaseous, and the key dropped inside of Mira's hand. Pauline quickly found a light switch and turned it on.

"Good, good. No poison on the floors," Mira smiled, recalling Haunter. "Now keep that Slowking of yours sharp and close the door."

Slowking sagely nodded, and the pink-haired girl winced. Right, she was a lot more used to telepathy than I was. Slowking was our last line of defense. He'd use Hypnosis on any people that made it through, and then we would run away.

"Okay everyone, five minutes maximum. Split up, find wherever those Arceus damned schedules are, and we're out. Pauline, I want you to turn off the lights. People from the outside can see if the lights in the lobby are on, so just keep it to singular rooms for now. There ain't that much to look through, so be quick," Luca ordered.

"Don't boss me around," Pauline said with her arms crossed. He rolled his eyes and ignored her.

"This feels too easy…" I muttered. "Too smooth."

"Well stop complaining and get working," he snapped. "Hop the counter and go through these drawers. Cecilia, help her out. Denzel, Louis, you're with me. Justin keep an eye out, let's go, let's go, let's go!"

"What about me?!" Mira asked.

"There's an annex room in the back. Go through there and see if you find anything suspicious. I'll look in the two offices."

"Sure thing! Oh, right, here's Kadabra for you guys!" She said, looking at us. Kadabra appeared in a flash of red behind the counter and offered a stare that held little to no respect.

I jumped over the counter and helped Cecilia up, then I started to sift through these drawers. We had to be careful about it too, because we had to leave everything in the correct position and order we'd first seen it in. Thankfully, we had Slowking and Mira's Kadabra to count on for that. Their incredible memories would serve us perfectly, and they seemed to get along… relatively fine, at least.

"Files… files… more files," I groaned. "This one's no good. What about yours?"

"Schedules, but not for the supervisors on duty here. They're for the tournament brackets," she sighed. "A bunch of office supplies… pencils, calculators… nothing that we're looking for."

I yelped when every single drawer opened and Kadabra levitated hundreds of pieces of paper, sorting through them in a flash. After around five seconds, he placed them back in the exact position they were in, leaving us with a single paper. Cecilia hesitantly grabbed it.

"This is it. This is the schedule," she said, breathing a sigh of relief. "Pauline, come here! What time did you go lodge your complaint again?"

"Seven-thirty-ish," she said.

"Ish? This is not the time for approximations!" I said.

"No ish! Just seven thirty."

Cecilia traced her finger on the paper. "We've got him. Seven-thirty, that's… Jerry Heo."

"We've got his name, now we can find his picture with enough dedication. Then, we find him. Let's leave. I'll go find Mira, you guys go find Luca," I said.

I jumped over the counter again and jogged to the annex room. The smell of cardboard invaded my nostrils as I stepped inside of the room. I saw Mira look through some papers through the pallet racking. Instead of the usual pouting I had come to expect, she actually looked like she was taking this seriously. Up until now, I believed that she still took this as a game, but I was glad that the gravity of the situation had apparently sunk in for her. Kirlia stood by her side with her arms crossed, and they were mid-conversation.

"...I mean, it's kind of nice that this happened. It's a practice run for later. If the rumors about Veilstone are true, I'm going to have to do some snooping— Grace! What's up?"

"We found what we were looking for. Can Kirlia put everything back into place?"

"Yup. Go ahead," she tapped her Kirlia's head.

The psychic type huffed and the papers all flew out of Mira's hand, traveling to their respective boxes.

"Anything interesting?" I asked.

"Information on past tourneys mostly. I wonder why they brought all of this here instead of keeping it in their permanent HQ."

"Maybe it just helps to have all of their previous info on hand. Let's go—"

Cecilia burst through the door. "Bad news! Someone's exited the mansion and another person is walking down the road. We need to leave, we're going through the fields! Luca's Cutiefly are back and it seems bad."

I grabbed Mira's wrist and dragged her back inside of the lobby. We were almost all out of the door before Luca stopped.

"I'm staying."

My face fell. "What?"

"Are you insane?" Denzel hissed. "We—"

"I'm staying. They're meeting in this Arceus damned office instead of the mansion for some reason and I won't let the opportunity slip by. You guys leave. Go. Go! I'll send you anything I get via text."

I couldn't even comprehend what happened before we were out of the building and running through Solaceon's field, away from the Hunters' property. I didn't know how long we ran for, but when we stopped, we were all back at the Pokemon Center.

All of us except Luca.


Being poor when you had been rich in the past was hard.

Luca Antonovich had grown up in Hotel Grand Lake that linked Pastoria, Sunyshore and Veilstone together. In fact, his parents ran the place.

He hadn't seen them in two years.

They'd kicked him out at fifteen for being a failure and he couldn't exactly blame them. Luca was sure that if he hadn't done anything with his life and loafed around— akin to a Slaking— they would have let him stick around. He would have been that embarrassing family member that everyone had. The one that had never done anything with his life, but was fun to have around. He'd been worse than that. Constantly bringing shame to his family, berating teachers when he failed, constantly getting into fights with the other guests' kids, stealing from guests… and it had all culminated to that day when he'd set fire to a building.

All for attention.

He was sure that his little brother had completely replaced him by now. He wasn't needed anymore.

Luca stopped himself from laughing. How incredible that he would think back to his old life in such a precarious position? He held his breath and sat completely still in a corner of the dark annex. His Cuties— his oldest companions that he'd caught soon after leaving home— stood on his left shoulder. He motioned to them to go forward and signal to him whenever anyone stepped inside of the building.

One singular question rang through his mind. One, why have the meeting here? Harry had been let in the mansion, so it couldn't have been him. The risks involved in meeting in the tournament building were so immense… no… no they weren't. Luca was sure that even if they had their eyes on them, no one ever thought they'd be brazen enough to break in. He froze when his two Cutiefly began to fly in unison, spelling out letters. It was incredible how fast the two of them could be.

They are here. One woman, one man. No Pokemon or Pokeballs.

He breathed out a sigh of relief. At least if he got caught, he'd be able to run away. His Cutiefly weren't the best at fighting, but they were still Pokemon.

They are coming.

Luca sank deeper into the annex and ducked under a large cardboard box. The industrial lights came on with a woosh, and steps reverberated through the room. Luca considered grabbing his phone now and texting everything he heard live, but he knew he'd mess up if he did. Somehow, he would drop it, or he'd accidentally get it off silent. He was a fuck-up, and he knew better than to give himself the opportunity to make a mistake.

"...you'll have a great time here. Solaceon's fresh air is going to be great for your wife. She's going to give birth to very healthy kids," a woman said. She sounded young, but Luca wasn't about to peek out to see who she was.

"I'm sure, I'm sure," the man said. "I hope you'll take care of her when I have to leave though. You know how work is."

"Come on, Jerry! You should just quit your job after the tournament. If you right the ship and prove yourself useful, I'm sure that the Elder would be willing to make an exception and take you in."


Jerry Heo.

Holy fuck. Luca bit down on his tongue and sucked in air through the gap in his teeth. He heard the soothing Buzz of his Cutiefly and calmed down. If he could record this conversation and give it to the press… Luca bit the bullet and grabbed his phone to start recording.

"So you're done with buttering me up with small talk, eh? I don't want to join your family." Jerry dryly said. "Why couldn't we meet in your damned mansion. I hate doing this where I work. You're lucky I was on security tonight, or we wouldn't have been able to meet."

"The Elder would have disagreed. Where are the files?"

Luca heard some paper rustling. If he had to guess, he was handing her information on Harry's next opponent. They were still doing some amount of rigging.

"It didn't disagree for that Harry kid."

"He!" The woman hissed with barely contained rage. "You will address the Elder as he if you know what's good for you."

"Arceus, Lisa. Are you threatening me?"

"It is not a threat," she said. "He is offended very easily."

"That was obviously a threat."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

Lisa Hunter and Jerry Heo were speaking to each other. This was big. Luca clenched at his heart to try to stop his heart from beating too quickly. For the next ten seconds, nothing was said.

"Okay, I'm sorry," Jerry audibly gulped. "But did you have to kill Mr. Tyson? Just when we shut down that rigging story, it's starting back up again. The business is bleeding, Lisa. We were promised big gains, and this is going terribly."

"I don't know much about your colleague's unfortunate suicide, but he was the one that started this whole fucked up situation to begin with. I thought you could keep your people under control—"

"I can't keep my fucking boss under control!" He snapped. "And don't pretend you can fool me with this suicide shit! You fucking idiots have no idea what you just did. You're so used to getting whatever you want that you just snap and go crazy when you don't! The entire tournament's in jeopardy now, and all your precious Harry will get is a tainted win. At the end of the day, no one will care, and you don't want that, don't you?"

Lisa hesitated, stammering out a few words. "We have nothing to do with his death. And no, we do not want Harry to fail."

"Then leave things to me and tell your family to stop fucking things up. This is already unsalvageable for BattleZone, but maybe we can save Harry's image."

"You can't just come to Solaceon and tell us what to do, Jerry. The Elder will never take kindly to that."

"Tell it— tell him that if he keeps ordering hits on employees that aren't on board with his plan, Harry Rodriguez will sink along with us. And his pals from Veilstone sure as hell won't like that. Not when they've got their hands busy with all the inves—"

"Do not even utter those words, you imbecile! Do not speak of Veilstone."

"It's just us here—"

"Shut. Up. If you only called me here to complain about Robert's unfortunate death, then I believe I have nothing left to say now that I've gotten the files."

"Wait! This is important. I need to hear your next steps. What did Harry and your uncle speak about during their meeting? I know you're privy to a lot of information, so don't pretend like you don't know."

"That is Hunter only, I'm afraid," Lisa said.

"How do you expect me to work with you if you keep me in the dark?"

"Your opportunity to be an equal partner passed you by when you let your boss expose our plan by forcing Sally McCree to resign. Fucking hell… he was supposed to be on our side. What do we do now when Harry has to fight other trainers with five badges, hm? Do we just leave it to chance?"

"He'll make it to the top four, at least! And by the time he has to battle someone at his level, we'll have figured something out."

"You better, or we're throwing BattleZone under the bus," she said. "We won't settle for the top four. We want perfection. All of us."


"Shut it. It's not like you even care, you and your friends here are the ones backstabbing your company and rigging the tournament for petty cash. Just figure something out, or we will. The Hunters don't take too kindly to being restrained."

The man groaned. "Fine. Just… stop killing people."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Lisa said with sarcasm so dry it could be mistaken for a desert. "Now go."

"I need to lock up here—"

"Go. I will not say it twice. I'll lock up for you."

"You can't—"

The man stopped and Luca heard him run out of the room. He stopped recording and discreetly placed his phone back into his pocket. He had everything, now he just had to make it out— wait, no! He had to send the video over now! Luca quickly grabbed his phone and—

"There's a kid here, Lise."

Luca froze and felt a shiver run down his spine. There was another woman in the annex. Why hadn't his Cutiefly spotted her?! He quickly scrambled to his feet and started to run, but a blotch of darkness traveled through the floor, blocking his path. From the abyss emerged an Umbreon. The dark type snarled at him, and he hesitantly stepped back. Its fur stood on end and dripped poison so acidic that it formed little pools on the wooden floor.

Lane Hunter snatched his phone from his hands behind him, dropped it on the floor and smashed it with her foot.

"Arceus, today's been a very bad day," Lisa sighed.

Where had that Umbreon even been? How had it hidden its trainer?

"D—Draining Kiss!" Luca stammered.

His two Cutiefly darted toward Umbreon, and their needles sharpened. The dark type's golden circle lit up, and darkness lashed out from the floor as if it had a mind of its own. It was exactly like Shiftry's. An empty void that looked like it had been edited into the world with a computer program instead of a color. Both of his Cutiefly got hit once, and they quickly fell to the ground.

He was really no good after all. Luca's shoulders sagged. That's what he got for not training his Pokemon to battle.

"Just fuckin' kill me," he smiled. He was trying to put on a brave face, but he felt like his heart would stop any moment now. He'd never been terrified his entire life. "Make it painless?"

"Anyone else in the building?" Lisa asked.

Lane hummed. "No, I was skulking around the whole time we were here. It's just him. He was on my tour too. Do we kill him?"

At least they didn't know the others had been there. He'd be gone soon, but if they could track this Jerry Heo guy… then they'd be able to uncover this just as he had.

"Legendaries, I hate being outside. These emotions make me unable to think properly," Lisa complained. "Luca Antonovich… an information broker for the tournament. He's not a League-mandated trainer, so I don't think people would notice if he was gone. They'd probably think he just left. Still… I don't feel like I can take a decision on behalf of the Elder. Bring him back home."

"We were content to let you run around and play your games, you know?" Lane said. "But you had to keep going deeper."

Luca let out a relieved whimper, but he soon realized that a worse fate than death could possibly be awaiting him in the Hunters' mansion.

Who knew what that Shiftry would do to him?


It was morning now, and Luca still wasn't back. Nobody had slept.

Something had clearly happened to him. I… I hoped that he was safe somewhere. We tried to keep our spirits up by hoping that he'd been captured or arrested somehow. Maeve had begged to just confess that we had trespassed to the League and hope they'd do something about it, but that wouldn't work. The League wasn't exactly an entity that could focus on a single trainer going missing. Hell, Luca hadn't even been an official trainer, and he had broken the law. He wouldn't exactly be their top priority even if I called Candice. In fact, they probably wouldn't even look into it at all. This was more of a local issue.

I bit my lip and sighed. I hadn't known Luca for long, but it still hurt, damn it. Pauline wasn't that down in the dumps— she had only spoken to him a few times— but she blamed herself the most.

To be honest, it was partly her fault. And Mira's. But we all shared some of the blame— even Luca. After all, he'd been the one that had chosen to stay behind. Only Cecilia and Maeve's hands were clean.

Best case scenario, the League would defer it to the police, and we already knew that the police was worth nothing in this town. One thing about the League bothered me though. Why leave the Hunters to their own devices? They were doing this before Team Galactic was even involved, so the League being too busy focusing on them wouldn't be a good excuse. I didn't know much about governing, but would a nation really leave what was basically an independent city-state run by a cult to thrive within its borders instead of enforcing the rules? The mayor was a sham, the city council was a sham, and the people here seemed to think that everything here was normal. It disgusted me.

"What do we do now?" Denzel asked as he looked around the room.

"We could leave. It would hurt Grace with the Poketch Company, but that doesn't really matter at this point," Justin sighed.

"Let me think about it," I hesitantly said.

"Why?" Maeve asked. "Why risk everything?"

"First, it was to avenge Pauline. BattleZone slighted her and I wanted to expose them for it," I said. "Now, it's to avenge Luca. We didn't know him long, but I hadn't expected— I didn't expect them to… well, maybe he's okay..."

I felt a burning urge inside of me. An urge that wanted to make them pay the price. It didn't have to be me doing it, but if they fell, I would be happy. More than happy. My heart would swell with untold amounts of joy.

"I get it," Denzel said. "If… if you're in, I'm in. Pauline is too stubborn to learn, and apparently I'm too stubborn to let you guys be in danger by yourselves."

"I feel the same way," Louis nodded. "The children in that cult… they need to be freed. They don't know they're being treated as fools."

"Like I said before, I have my reasons," Mira said.

"Nothing changes. We use our fame to our advantage and keep fighting as if nothing happened. Today, we will go find Jerry Heo and have a word with him."

"What if he talks?" Louis asked.

I ignored the violent ideas that flashed in my head. "Listen up. I know this might be shitty of me to say, but we have billionaire friends, don't we? I'm saying we pay him off to stay quiet."

"And if he says no to that?" Louis asked again.

"We raise the price until he folds. Men like him like money," Cecilia anxiously breathed out. "He paid Pauline— a literal billionaire— to stay quiet. His brain only functions in terms of Pokedollars. He won't refuse."

It was on, then.

I was ready.

"We need to line everything up. When we're ready, we'll talk to the media and expose everything. As morbid as it is, we're going to need more than this to bring them down."

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, Aaron Vera, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe
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After catching up, the elder is what scares me the most.

And I mean the shiftry, obviously, not the human currently posing as the face/leader of the family.
I'm worried about Grace becoming more Fairy, because that is what it looks like to me. The inner thoughts seem almost Fey with why she is so into winning and repaying slights.
Chapter 157

"Here's Jerry Heo's face," Denzel said, showing us his phone. Jerry was a man on the heavier side of things, but I wouldn't call him overweight. "Found him on the 'meet our staff' page on the tournament website. We have his schedule, so we can probably wait until tonight to go speak to him."

"I want to bring him into a back alley and beat him up," Pauline said.

"That's not at all what we are doing," Cecilia chided. "Please be serious."

"I was serious."

"We wait until seven-thirty then," I nodded. "Then we strike. Offer him to spill the beans about everything he knows. He'll probably ask to not say that he talked, and we'll agree immediately when he does. After that, we're golden. Obviously we'll still record the conversation."

"Fine. Meet outside the tournament building at seven-thirty," Denzel nodded.

I picked up Angel from the Pokemon Center as soon as we all left and spread out, since he'd finally been healed. I released him outside, and he was as good as new. His battle with Will Bowman had definitely been his hardest since Fantina, and he wasn't exactly used to feeling pain, so I wanted to make sure he was alright before we went to find Jerry Heo. The majority of our friends would be busy with their battles in the morning anyway, so I had time. We weren't going to go alone. Everyone needed to participate. With our strengths combined, we could actually pack quite a punch.

"Hi Angel," I smiled. The grass type wriggled and snaked a vine around my ankle. "Want to see the others?"

It had been a few days since all of my Pokemon could just sit and hang out, and I considered it important for them to do so. I was still at the Pokemon Center's entrance, so Sunshine and his anti-social ways would have to wait, but the others were fine. I couldn't exactly go off on my own. Not anymore.

Sweetheart tackled Angel into a bear hug, which didn't amount to much due to the size difference. He raised her with a few vines and placed her on his head— which she had designated as her spot. Angel had been rather sad these days, since she now split most of her attention between him and Sunshine. He wasn't about to lose an opportunity to hog her. I kind of felt bad for her since I had only used her in a single battle, but I was planning on using her against Harry whenever the time came.

If the time came. I wasn't sure if the tournament was going to unravel at this point.

Princess and Buddy stuck by my side. The water type stood behind me with his usual vigilance, especially now that he knew how bad things were. He solidified his body for me and I leaned against his head. I could almost sink inside of him with how soft he was. Togetic was in my arms, as usual. She'd always been a mama's girl. She softly chirped as I pet her head, and I felt the floor shake under me.

She was always prepared.

Honey kept practicing Protect even though I hadn't told him to train. It seemed that he was determined to perfect the move as quickly as he could.

"Don't go too hard!" I smiled.

He turned toward me and gave me a sharp nod. Trainers were filtering in and out of the Center and giving Buddy strange looks.

"Chill out. No death stares," I whispered. He let out a series of clicks and booms that rumbled in my ears. "I know, but these trainers won't do anything. It's the adults that you've got to watch out for— but still, no death stares!"

Togetic giggled mockingly at him.

"I know what you've got under my feet, don't act like you're any better," I said. "But good. Keep it up."

We never knew when someone might strike.

"Hey, I was thinking about finding hobbies for you guys," I called out. "Mira told me that her Kadabra was into research and stuff and that Haunter played catch, so it made me think. I want you guys to be into more than just fighting, you know? Hell, you don't even enjoy it," I told Buddy. "If you ever have something that comes to mind, let me know okay?"

"Tar! Larvitar!"

"Destroying stuff doesn't count," I chuckled.

Togetic let out a series of cries.

"Ancient Power… wait, hold on say that again? I've never heard you use that other word before."

She chirped again, this time raising a small ball of earth from the ground and molding it into a star.

"Molding… did you mean molding? Oh wait, like sculpting! I got it!"

"To!" She cheered.

"Great! With how good you are with Ancient Power, you'll probably get into it quickly. What about you Bud?" I asked, bending my head back to see his immense head. "And don't say protecting us, or I'll pout."

I swore I heard him sigh.

"Think on it then. It's important to me."

It was a bit early to bring it up, but he'd… he would outlive all of us. It was important for him to discover other things.

I snapped my finger. "Honey, your turn!"

The electric type stopped practicing Protect awkwardly scratched his head. Larvitar sniggered at him from Angel's head.

"Don't make fun of him. Your turn is coming," I playfully said. "Don't be shy. You're with family."

Electabuzz looked around the trainers and people passing by.

"Come on, it's not like they'll understand what you just said. I won't say anything out loud."

He answered with cooking, which honestly came completely out of left field for me. I'd see if I could figure something out for him whenever we uncovered what was going on in this hellhole. I should have brought him to the Poffin House after we went with dad… if I had known, I would have.


The grass type blinked twice. He was a lot tougher to understand than the others, but I was getting better and better at his vine-speak. I kind of felt bad for my friends. I didn't know if I would have been able to be happy if I couldn't speak to my team this clearly. Apparently Justin could understand his Pokemon even less than me and Tangrowth.

He needed to work on that!

Anyway, he answered something akin to taking care of something… it was still blurry. Children, maybe? It was either that or Pokemon as a whole, but the first option made a lot more sense. For some reason, his word for the two was indistinguishable. He always did that slow little vine twirl to the left and that soft blink whenever he spoke of them. The blinking was important with Angel. A quick blink meant that he was irritated or excited, or angry, although I had only seen him angry when our lives were in danger. A slow blink meant that he was happy, but it could also mean sadness or just neutral. Hell, sometimes when he was happy he didn't even blink, he just did that weird eye smile thing. That was why you had to combine the blinks and the motions of the vines to truly understand what he was saying. It was this whole ordeal.

"I'll write you down for taking care of children, cutie," I said. "But you've got to take care of yourself too!"

His vines tensed excitedly, and he smiled with his eyes. How the hell was I going to manage that? Well, he had Larvitar and to a lesser extent Togetic for now, so that would do.


The rock type stared at me and blanked.

"Think on it, okay? It can be anything."

"Toge," Princess grumbled.

"It can be anything as long as you leave your sister's sculptures intact…"

After around ten seconds, Larvitar lit up like a lightbulb and grinned.

She wanted to swim.

"Arceus," I sighed. "How are you going to swim? Without Angel to act as your lifeboat, you'd sink and drown, and you won't stay this tiny forever."


"Okay I did say anything. And sorry, you're not tiny, you're huge. But my point still applies!"

The rock type huffed, turning away from me and almost fell off of Angel's head, but he thankfully caught her before she could create a massive crater on the floor. I knew she would have leaned into that fall to increase the size of the hole.

"I'll figure something out," I sighed.

Could Pupitar skid across water with their jets? Like a stone skipping or a jet ski? The internet had no answers for me because I must have had the first rock type obsessed with water.

"Sculpting, Cooking, Caretaking, Swimming," I muttered to myself.

Now there was only Buddy and Sunshine left. If I had to guess, Turtonator would probably answer with sleeping, because that's all he did in his free time. It was a wonder such a lazy Pokemon could be so powerful when he wanted to be. I would need him to be in top form when the time came, so hopefully he wouldn't be too rusty. He hadn't fought anything since battling us Mount Coronet, but he'd been on the brink of passing out from his wounds.

How powerful would he be when he was at full strength? I was starting to think that the seven-badge approximation I had placed was underestimating him a little bit. I couldn't even imagine all of my Pokemon being that powerful, and yet it was just scratching the surface compared to what Gym Leaders could do with their true teams, nevermind the Elite Four and the Champion. There was still a lot of climbing to be done.

It was seven-thirty, and there were thirty minutes left until the tournament building closed. Justin had lost his battle today, but he'd done extremely well, and I didn't say that lightly. Taking down two Pokemon from a five badger at his level was proof that he was just as good as any of us here, even if he lacked the self-confidence to think so. Maeve had unfortunately also lost, and so had Louis, but she had apparently gotten two evolutions in that battle, so she was quite cheerful.

Not that they even cared about the tournament this point. Maeve wanted out and Louis was entirely focused on taking down the Hunters due to his past experience with his father.

Pauline, Denzel and Justin weren't going to be a part of this— at least not at the start, so they were hanging out outside. Jerry Heo knew their faces and we didn't want to scare him off before we even had the opportunity to speak. It was me, Cecilia, Louis and Mira this time. We stepped inside of the building and were glad to see that Jerry was indeed working. Luca's sacrifice hadn't been in vain.

Cecilia strode up to the man and smiled. She'd be taking the lead for this one since she was the best actor after Pauline. It felt weird to be back here without trespassing. See, because it was so late in the day, there were very little people in the building. Mira went over to distract the only other employee in the room. She could be very persistent when she wanted to.

"Sir! We need your help," she exclaimed. "A fight's broken out on the street! Something about a tournament loss."

"Shit, as if my day couldn't get any worse. Are they using Pokemon?"

"No," I immediately said. "It's just physical."

If he thought that Pokemon were involved, then he'd possibly bring more people in.

"Fine. Benji, I'm going to fix this."

"You got it. It's been pretty dead around here, so you should probably take off early. I'll close up."

"Thanks my brother," he said. "See you tomorrow."

Okay, Jerry was a lot more normal than I thought he would be. I had already pictured him as some kind of evil mastermind, but life wasn't often black and white. The rest of our friends were waiting further down the road and were a single call away. Now this was the riskiest part of the plan— as if this entire thing wasn't risky in the first place. We weren't going to threaten him to speak to us, but we did have to convince him to stick around before he realized that there was no fight.

"How much further?" He asked. "From the way you said it, it seemed that it was closeby—"

"We know you're corrupt, Jerry," I smiled. "We know you paid off our friend Pauline and that the Hunters are probably paying you to do their dirty work."

"What the fuck—"

"We can offer you a lot more than what they're paying," I interrupted. It was technically a lie, since I didn't know how much he was being paid, but I just needed him to speak to us. "Our friends are rich."

"Richer than you'd ever know," Mira added. "Come and talk to us."

"I don't know what you're talking about—"

"Five million," Cecilia said.

Jerry Heo stopped and licked his dry lips.

"Ten. Then I can get the fuck out of this town. Ditch to Sunyshore and retire with my wife."

"Ten's fine," Cecilia nodded. "Will you come and talk to us now?"


At first, Jerry wanted us to come speak inside of his hotel room that BattleZone was booking for him and his fellow employees, but there was no way we were doing that. We opted to do it in a public place— but not too public so that we could actually talk. It wasn't like public parks were swarming with people during the evening. Of course, we had Slowking, Kirlia and Kadabra out for protection. Together, they'd be able to sense anyone that was suspiciously booking it toward us and shield us from any attacks coming our way to leave us enough time to release the rest of our Pokemon.

They were notably having an effect on Jerry Heo too. He twitched nervously every time Kirlia glared at him, Kadabra bent his spoon or Slowking silently studied his face.

"What do you kids want to know then?" He shakily said. "Hurry it up. You wouldn't believe in how much danger I am in here. You don't know what you're messing with. As soon as I get my money, I'm getting my wife and I'm on the first plane to Sunyshore."

"We know how dangerous it is, so spare us," I said. I nodded at Denzel.

"First and foremost, do you have any idea of where our friend is? His name is Luca Antonovich."

"Luca… Luca… I don't really know any Lucas. I speak to a lot of kids for these tournaments—"

"He owns two Cutiefly? Does that ring a bell?" I asked.

"Oh, that kid. We heard a bit about him. He's an information broker, right? I don't know where he is."

We all sighed in disappointment. Well, it was time to get into the real meat of this.

"The Hunters and BattleZone are rigging this tournament for Harry Rodriguez. Why?" Denzel asked.

Jerry clenched his forehead and leaned forward with an exasperated groan.

"Look… this is tough to say—"

"Then stop wasting time and say it," Pauline hissed.

"There's a… a third party that isn't from here and that has nothing to do with us or the Hunters. They want Harry to win to promote his image. The Hunters like this third party very much, especially the head of the family—"

"Stop it. Stop skirting around shit, or we're not paying," Pauline said. "Be brave for once in your fucking life."

"Team Galactic! It's Team Galactic, okay! Or at least it's what I heard! Wait, wait, don't— I'm not a part of them okay? I have nothing to do with them, I just know things because I'm in charge of this rigging thing on the BattleZone side of things and I'm the only one the Hunters will speak to. I don't even want to do all of this! At first I was just in it for the money but then when I learned how deep it went it was already too late and I couldn't leave or they'd kill me—"

I took deep breaths, but I couldn't stop myself from panicking. I took a few steps back and let my friends take over. Cecilia noticed immediately and grabbed my hand. It looked like I might have to cash in that promise with Sunshine a lot earlier than I thought.

Come on, this was stupid. I was already throwing myself in so much danger. I could do this.

"Why the hell would Team Galactic care about a random trainer? Is he a part of their organization?" Mira asked, suddenly very aggressive.

"I don't know that! But it looks like he might be? The Hunters and Team Galactic have some kind of special relationship… they covertly ship them high quality Pokemon sometimes, but that's all I know! I don't know anything about Harry!"

"Keep going. Why did you pay Pauline off?" Denzel asked. It was an obvious question, but I assumed he just wanted to keep him talking.

"Because I wanted to keep her quiet. The plan went sideways from the very beginning… damn it," he exhaled. "Sally McCree, the girl that you were supposed to battle? She wasn't supposed to resign. We were only supposed to keep Harry from battling people with five badges. His first opponent would have obviously won. He was a lot better than Harry was, and his Pokemon countered his completely. I mean, Abomasnow, Gliscor, Altaria, Mamoswine and Darmanitan? He was fucked and everyone knew it, so we paid the kid off. The original brackets weren't made by us due to not having anyone in on the plan there, so we had no way of rigging them at the start."

"Wait, so you're saying that you were only involved with Harry's opponent resigning?" Louis asked.

"Do you know about the man who died? My boss, Connor Tyson? I think he was murdered. He was in on the deal with the Hunters— hell, he was supposed to be the Arceus damned leader and I had to take over since I was his second in command— but he only pretended to be. Evidently, he was disgusted with the whole affair, so tried to make the rigging really obvious by forcing that Sally girl to resign and sink not only the whole tournament, but the whole company. The Hunters threw an entire fit and shut him up real quick. From what I know, they threatened his life, and he stopped. They put me in charge right after that. It looks like they didn't want any loose ends though."

"So all this time…" I muttered. "All this time, it was just an inside job?"

"An inside job within the inside job," he nodded.

"It also means you're fucking incompetent," Pauline said.

"BattleZone as a whole doesn't really know about this. It's only a few select people in key places that are being paid off to influence how the tournament goes. That's why they've denied the rigging so publicly. They even launched internal investigations to make sure everything was clean. Obviously they didn't find anything."

"We didn't hear about any investigations," Justin frowned.

"They were held behind closed doors. They didn't want the company's image to be affected worse than it was. As it stands though, I think it's done for."

"Which is why you're hopping off the sinking ship like a rat," Mira smirked. "Tell us more about this Team Galactic connection. The Elder's chummy with the Team Galactic leaders?"

"I told you everything I knew. Mr. Tyson would have known more, but he's dead. Also, the Elder's not friends with Team Galactic. The family head is."

"Is there a difference?" Denzel asked.

"Of course. The family head is Roland Hunter. He's kind of like, skinny fat with a beard. I only met him once, since he hates stepping out of his property. The Elder they keep rabbling about is their Shiftry."

I blinked.


"I know it's hard to believe, but it's true. That… that thing—" he spat. "—has been ruling over their family the whole time. I'm talking a thousand years here."

"Holy fuck," Denzel breathed out. "Oh Legendaries, oh fuck."

"Arceus," Justin sighed, running a hand through his hair.

"That's right. A Pokemon rules over fucking Solaceon. How does that make you feel?" He said, chuckling dryly. "The family head is just his second in command. His lackey."

"And the family head has connections to Team Galactic, not Shiftry?" I asked, just to be sure.


And yet, it seemed that Shiftry was perfectly content with them helping out Team Galactic by favoring Harry Rodriguez and sending them high quality Pokemon. Why?

"This is so fucking convoluted my head is going to explode," I said. "Okay. What else can you tell us about the Hunters? Just say everything you know."

"I know that most of 'em aren't trainers. If I had to guess, it's probably because Shiftry doesn't want any risk of rebellion. I know that the few that do have Pokemon capable of battling specialize in dark types."

"Good, but you have to have more than that," Denzel said.

"Shiftry has some kind of way of muting emotions. It's how he exerts control over the entire family. Stay on their property for a few days, and you'll start to feel nothing. No love, no joy, no sadness, no excitement… just nothing. The only thing he'll let you feel is loyalty. Every time Lisa met me, she was complaining about her emotions annoying her—"

"Lisa? Lisa Hunter?" Cecilia loudly asked.

"Yes, Lisa Hunter! Anyway, that's why none of them are allowed to leave the property for too long except the most trusted members of the family, like Lisa, Reggie, Lane… basically all the trainers. I also know they've been protecting the region from something, although I don't exactly know what. It's a huge deal though. They bring it up a lot."

I thought back to Isaac's story regarding Lisa. She had cried when they broke up, even though Shiftry was supposed to prevent that. Did that mean her love had overpowered his abilities for a few moments? She apparently never left the property when they were dating.

Or she could have been faking it. Reggie and Lane had shown emotions during their tour, like fondness for Ediva… did that constitute as loyalty for Shiftry? I assumed that their smiles and laugh during the tour had been faked, which is why they felt so hollow to me. If I had to gamble… I would say that Isaac could distinguish fake emotions from real ones, especially with someone he'd been dating. Lisa's tears had been real.

"Are you planning on doing more rigging in the tournament?" Pauline asked.

"At this point, no one cares about the tournament," Denzel shook his head. "That Shiftry. How strong is it?"

"How am I supposed to know? I'm no trainer!"

"Do you think you could convince one of the Hunters to switch sides?" Maeve asked.

"I told you I'm on a plane as soon as this is done, didn't I? I'm not going back there again no matter how much money you offer. But if you wanted to do it… you'd have to get one of them to get off their land for at least a few days to cleanse all of that dark type energy bullshit they have going on in there. I wouldn't do it if I were you."

"Okay, do you have Lisa Hunter's number?" Mira asked.

"Mira, we are not kidnapping anyone," Maeve hissed.

"We're not," I nodded. "That would be going too far. We're going to need to convince her."

"Good luck with that," Jerry laughed. "I'll entertain your idea and text her, but I'll have to set it up somewhere near their land. You'll have to do it quick though, because they'll know I'm gone pretty soon. Tomorrow's probably your cutoff line. Any later than that, and the Hunters will catch on that I'm gone."

"Grace, how are we going to convince this girl?" Denzel asked. "It's impossible. And even if we do, who's to say that she won't just change her mind the moment she gets back to their mansion?"

"Lisa cried when she broke up with Isaac," I said. "We have to get him to help. Hey, what Pokemon does Lisa have?"

"Good thinking. She might attack us," Justin nodded.

"A Mightyena."

"A single Mightyena?" Mira snorted. "Okay, we've got this."

"They're only allowed to have one Pokemon each," he said. "I know Lane has an Umbreon, but I don't know anything else."

"Okay, so that won't be an issue. Now we just have to call Isaac and convince him to do this."

"Wait. Grace, you're tunnel visioning," Maeve said. "We have a testimony of the Hunters being linked with Team Galactic. Call the League and it should be all over."

"You didn't record this, did you?" The supervisor panicked.

"No," she smoothly lied. "But Grace, what do you think?"

"Okay. We call the League and see what they do," I nodded after taking a deep breath. "You're right. They have a tip line, right?"

I had thought about this before. I didn't care who brought the Hunter family down so long as something did. If the League was going to step in, I would stand back and watch.

"I disagree with this," Mira protested.

Maeve snapped. "Listen, it just makes the most sense—"

"I disagree. You can't stop me. Not when Team Galactic is involved."

"But we're punishing them by doing this—"

"It's a thing I have to do personally."

I looked at Maeve, who shot me a worried look. We'd worry about her later.

The high from learning all of this was slowly leaving our veins, and we were starting to think clearly. This plan with Lisa would have been good if we didn't have Team Galactic involvement, but there was no way the League would ignore this. It would go at the top of the pile and the Hunters would be discovered. Luca would be avenged.

Jerry scoffed. "You think that'll do anything?"

"Yes it will," Cecilia said. "This is as far as our involvement in this goes."

"Didn't I tell you that the Hunters were crucial to Solaceon? They protect it, along with the entire region. Do you really think that the League would let them run free otherwise? They'll get a slap on the wrist and that'll be that. It wouldn't be the first time they got involved in a scandal."

"Explain," Mira said.

"You kids weren't born yet. It was right when Cynthia took over. That fucking Shiftry tried to expand its emotion-dulling bullshit to the entire town. The League said it was just some wild dark type, and I believed it until I learned what was really going on here a few weeks ago. Lisa explained it to me. Shiftry wanted to make the entire city his personal fiefdom, but the League stepped in and forced him to play nice in his little corner."

It took a few seconds for the words to sink in. The League knew about all of this and just… watched it go on?

"We'll submit the tip anyway," Cecilia said. "Right Grace?"

"Yeah," I said. My voice felt hollow. My respect for Cynthia had just plummeted.

"Are we done here? Should I set up the meeting with Lisa or not?" Jerry asked nervously.

"We're done," Denzel said. "Thanks for the help. Louis, the cash?"

The blond boy produced a huge suitcase full of money. "I'd recommend transferring this to multiple bank accounts. Ideally, you would delay those, but you don't have time. People will ask questions when they scan your luggage and they see that you're traveling with a suitcase full of cash."

"I know a guy," he dismissively waved. "So… I'm leaving?"

We cleared a space and let him go. Cecilia immediately messaged the tip line for the League and explained everything we'd heard about Team Galactic and the Hunters. Hopefully they'd get away with less than a slap on the wrist. Denzel said he would send out the recording to Emilia so that she could edit Jerry's voice. Then, we'd send it to multiple media companies— along with the League again for good measure. A deal was a deal.

"I'm going to clear my head," Mira said.

"Let me come—"

"Not now, Maeve."

Maeve's held-out hand went limp.

There was nothing we could do but wait for tomorrow.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, Aaron Vera, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish
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Chapter 157.5

This is just a bonus chapter for the day that I wrote to get through all the OCs my Discord submitted. It isn't relevant to the plot, so feel free to skip if you don't feel like reading battles. Either way, enjoy.

The last few days had been horrible for Cecilia. It wasn't the worst thing she had experienced— far from it. This was nothing compared to the terror her father had wrought on her or being stranded in Mount Coronet or having Abel show up in her room. Yet, this was possibly the most anxious she'd ever felt. Along with Maeve, Cecilia was the last voice of reason within the group. They had to pull the reins and stop their friends from doing anything stupid, and thankfully it looked like they had succeeded. The League knew about the problems Solaceon was facing, the Hunters' link with Team Galactic, and Grace was planning on calling Candice to make sure that they knew that this was real and not something they could ignore.

Things were finally looking up, and yet it still didn't stop Cecilia from feeling like a weight was pressing against her chest. If anything happened to Grace…

No, she couldn't think about that. Just visualizing it was enough to bring her close to tears, and she had to focus for her battle. This would probably be her toughest opponent yet.

"This is a battle between Cecilia Obel and Juan Montes. Trainers, send out your Pokemon."

Juan released a Drakloak and a Grafaiai. Cecilia had progressed a lot since flailing around against Fantina's own Drakloak. Its speed was its main asset, but it couldn't fight against the power she would bring to the table. Grafaiai was a Paldean Pokemon she had never even heard of before. Fluorescent blue paint-like saliva dripped from its fingers, and its teal blue eyes stared right into her own. Grace had insisted on making her do a minimal amount of research. She'd ended up doing all of it though. Cecilia was just content to spend some time relaxing with the girl she loved.

These two weren't the main threat on Juan's team, so he was apparently keeping the best for last. Cecilia sent out her Talonflame and Slowking. She felt her heart swell when the huge flying type soared in the air and screeched. Talonflame wasn't big enough to fly on, but she was large enough to pack a serious punch and she had lost her old frailness. Talonflame weren't known as apex predators for nothing. Slowking put his hands behind his back and silently observed. Cecilia felt bad for Zweilous. She hadn't even used him once in the tournament so far, but it wasn't her fault. She just kept winning too quickly, and Scyther and Golett needed the practice. The bug type still didn't want to listen to her, but he at least took her advice seriously now.


"Drakloak, Double Team and Quick Attack toward Slowking! Grafaiai, get in there and Venoshock!"

Drakloak let out a juvenile, raspy roar and split into ten. The illusions rushed toward Slowking while charging up Dragon Pulses in their mouths. It was a nice trick, but it could just be overwhelmed by Heat Wave. Deception was only effective when no amount of power could blow past it, which was why Grace was so effective at it when she wanted to be.

"Heat Wave," Cecilia said. "Slowking, you just protect yourself."

Talonflame spread out and flapped her wings. The air slowly grew hotter and distorted, and the Double Teams fizzled out into thin air. The real Drakloak screamed, and a quick Dragon Pulse flew toward Slowking. Weak. The psychic type waved a hand, and the attack curved, crashing against Kadabra's barrier instead. Grafaiai struggled to keep going against the heat and opted to hide behind a boulder.

Cecilia let out a disappointed sigh. She yearned to call out and to tell her opponent to come after her seriously. Or maybe this was it? This was just so dull.

"Infestation!" Juan yelled.

Little green lights wormed their way out of Drakloak's body, flying toward Slowking like missiles out of a jet. A few of them washed over his psychic barrier, while others simply failed to reach him due to the strong winds from Heatwave. The floor was glowing bright red, and only the vicinity below Slowking was safe. Grafaiai let out an agonized scream and ran away from its boulder. The skin under its feet was melting off. It fell onto the floor and began to burn.

Juan panicked and stammered out a few words, but the poison type was in too much pain to act.

Cecilia watched like it was just another Tuesday.

Grafaiai fainted, and Juan sent out a female Indeedee. The psychic type began to burn under Heat Wave's influence, but—

"Fake Out!"

Indeedee blurred forward and jumped, somehow using its stubby legs to reach Talonflame. The bird was stunned by the attack and froze. She would have crashed to the ground if Slowking hadn't caught her. Indeedee fell with a loud thud and its thin fur burned to a crisp, exposing its soft pink flesh.

"Slowking," Cecilia said.

The water type seized Indeedee as Drakloak screamed and struggled to make its attacks connect. Its Dragon Pulse and Infestation might have broken through another Pokemon's barrier, but not hers.

"Forget it! Dragon Pulse the Talonflame!"


The water type forwent his attack on Indeedee and protected Talonflame instead, leaving her enough time to fly back to the air. Unfortunately, Indeedee used the opportunity to slam her against the ground with a Psychic of her own. Cecilia grinned. The battle was finally starting.

"Water Pulse!"

A ring of water quickly sped off toward Drakloak, who phased out of existence and reappeared behind Slowking. This time, he was too close. Infestation wormed its way into the psychic type and would keep ransacking him from the inside.

"Psychic! Grab it!"

Slowking held out his hand, but he couldn't stop himself from twitching. The Psychic only held for two seconds until Drakloak escaped. Talonflame, for her part was struggling against Indeedee, but she managed to open her mouth to burn the normal type with ember, leaving her enough time to escape back in the air.

"Finish the Slowking off!"

"Fire Spin!"

Now that he was too unfocused to shield himself, Cecilia couldn't possibly order Talonflame to use Heatwave. A ring of fire came to life around Indeedee, slowly getting tighter and tighter. Slowking brought his hand forward and stopped another Dragon Pulse, but the attack grazed his shoulder instead.


Talonflame spun in the air and she was next to Drakloak in a flash. The dragon type managed to slip away, but not before getting its tail clawed by Talonflame's talons. Unfortunately, Slowking fell to the ground. It seemed that the Infestation had been too much. She recalled him before he could fall and released Zweilous. She couldn't afford to mess around here, not when Juan still had his last Pokemon up his sleeve.

Well, now that Zweilous was on the field, no more holding back.

"Tailwind, Fire Spin, Heatwave."

Drakloak was a ghost, so he'd be able to resist the extreme heat that had been enough to turn glass into sand. As for Indeedee? Well, Juan was so scared that he recalled her from the fight. Cecilia obviously would have stopped before anything permanent could be done, but he wasn't going to take that chance.

Well, it was time for the true threat to appear.

Juan tensed and released a Ceruledge onto the scorching field. It was a magnificent specimen, and the armor needed to let them evolve could only be forged by a few specialized smiths in Paldea. Cold, ghostly flames covered its body and danced in unison, as if they were alive.

"Dragon Pulse," Cecilia ordered. "Talonflame, stay focused on Drakloak. Quick Attack and Flame Charge to build up speed."

Talonflame screeched, and flames enveloped her entire body. Drakloak was quick enough to dodge, and it desperately tried to fight back with Dragon Pulse and Double Team. The goal was to keep it occupied so it wouldn't focus its dragon type attacks on Zweilous.

The two heads snarled. In a split second, two huge turquoise beams flew toward Ceruledge and combined into one. The ghost type sharpened its blades and sunk into the floor with Shadow Sneak. It traveled through the entire field that way and Cecilia thought it would go for closed range attacks, but it slashed across the air to summon small giggling purple flames. The Will-O-Wisps entered Zweilous' body, and the heads screamed.

Cecilia stared at Juan, who was simply ordering his Drakloak around. She was starting to think that he had not commanded Cerludge's respect quite yet.

"Stomping Tantrum!" Cecilia yelled.

Even with Shadow Sneak, the attack would deal damage. A thin barrier appeared around Ceruledge, not shielding him from the tremor, but from the ground type energy that came with it. Zweilous could keep their attack going for a long time, and the fire type could not. In the air, Talonflame finally managed to cut Drakloak in half with an Aerial Ace. At her speed, Cecilia wasn't even sure that she'd be able to command her properly. Her wings had been singed by Dragon Pulse, and she had been hit by multiple Infestations, but she was still going strong.

Ceruledge's Protect finally broke, and it silently screamed. Its armor clanged and flames surrounding its entire body. Sol used the opportunity to hit it with a Dragon Pulse, but Ceruledge cut the weakened attack in two with its swords and rushed toward the dragon. Shadows surrounded its sword and it slashed across Sol's neck, cutting it like it was flesh instead of tough scales. The head growled and bit at the ghost type with a vicious Crunch, seizing it by the arm.

"Talonflame, pivot!" Cecilia said.

Drakloak was practically a non-issue by now, so now was the time to act. The flying type screeched, and after one blink, she was already hitting Ceruledge with an Aerial Ace that penetrated its armor. Zweilous' second head bit the ghost type's torso with Crunch and Talonflame finished it off.

Ceruledge was good, but its capabilities had seemed overblown by Grace. Oh well, she had always been more safe than sorry regarding battles and battles only. Anything else, she'd throw herself into danger. Talonflame took to the air again and one last Acrobatic finished off Drakloak.

"Victory to Cecilia Obel!"

Hours earlier.

"This is a battle between Justin Gardner and Andrew Zabana. Trainers, send out your Pokemon."

This was it,
Justin thought. There was no way he was making it any further than this. Andrew Zabana had five badges and he had three. The skill and experience gap was simply too wide for him to overcome this challenge. Justin watched Andrew release a Torkoal and a Victreebel. The sun grew harsh and started to weigh down on the Grass Field. This was his tactic. Andrew was a trainer who used the sun to win against his enemies.

Justin sighed and sent out his Audino and Growlithe. Guessing who his opponent would start with had been easy enough, but finding a counter had been difficult. He had almost considered using Lombre with Growlithe to focus on taking down that Torkoal, but the sun's sheer power would render his water moves useless. If only he'd practiced more with Audino's Simple Beam…


No matter how hard he looked, there was no path to victory, but there was a path that came close. Justin snapped his attention to the battle and took a deep breath.

"Torkoal, Stealth Rocks! Vicky, Solar Beam!"

Justin ground his teeth. His opponent was bringing out the big guns right from the start. Solar Beam was such a powerful attack that Growlithe's type advantage might as well not matter, and Audino would take a lot of damage. Torkoal slowly expunged sharp rocks from his shell, and a huge beam gathered in front of the grass type's mouth and flew toward Audino.

"Helping Hand and Flamethrower!"

Dodging such a huge beam would be impossible for Audino, so his best bet would be to weaken it enough to survive. The normal type twirled and clapped his hands, reinvigorating Growlithe, whose Flamethrower was at least twice as strong as normal with the sun and the Helping Hand. The flames spewed forward and countered the beam of energy for a few seconds, but it broke through and burned Audino's body.

"Life Dew and Wish!" Justin screamed. "Growlithe, Flamethrower that Victreebel!"

Another Flamethrower flew out of Growlithe's mouth, but at this distance, it was easy to dodge. The poison type was under Chlorophyll's influence and could move itself with its vines. Water dripped out of Audino's body, healing with slightly and he recovered from his burns. Then, he shot a light into the sky.

"Long range won't work! Torkoal, get in there with Rapid Spin! Vicky, keep using Solar Beam!"

"Audino, Helping Hand! Flamethrower!"

How many times could Victreebel use Solar Beam without getting tired? Even with the sun, it was an exhausting move to use. Once again, Growlithe stopped the Solar Beam with his flames, but Torkoal was spinning through the arena quicker than it could ever hope to walk. The remaining beam was weak enough for Audino to keep fighting, and he healed himself with another Life Dew. It wasn't enough to completely make up for the damage he'd just taken, but Wish could counter that soon.

Justin was okay for now, but it was like he was walking a tightrope. One mistake, and the entire battle would unravel.

"Double Kick that Torkoal away!" He screamed. "Disarming Voice!"

Growlithe quickly turned away from the fire type and tried to kick it with his hind legs, but the force of the Rapid Spin proved too much. Even with Audino's Disarming Voice to soften the blow, he was knocked and sent away. Another Solar Beam engulfed Audino's entire body, and this time, it was fully powered. The normal type was on his last legs.

"Keep going Torkoal! Body Slam!"

"Heal Pulse, Audino!"

Growlithe couldn't afford to fall here. Justin needed him to be as weakened as possible, but not faint. If Audino was going to faint, then he would push Growlithe through this hurdle! A pink burst of energy flew out of Audino's hand and hit Growlithe, healing him just enough for him to make it through Torkoal's Body Slam. The fire type whined as he struggled to get back up.

Justin's condition was met.


There was a glint in Growlithe's eye, and his wounds did not stop him from moving any longer. In one smooth motion, he pawed Torkoal away. It was comical how nonchalant the move looked. Torkoal grunted in surprise and flew away toward the barrier, cracking his shell and falling on its back.

Another Solar Beam— weakened this time— finished Audino off. Perfect.

Louis had taught him this little trick that his Pawniard was fond of.


Growlithe blurred toward the helpless Torkoal and rammed his entire body into the turtle. The Pokemon rolled over backward and spun like a spinning top before fainting. Justin could see from his opponent's eyes that he hadn't expected that at all. He recalled his Audino, and Andrew did the same for his Torkoal. Justin sent out his Lombre, and his opponent sent out a Tropius. The stones from Stealth Rocks lightly penetrated his skin.

That was probably the worst-case scenario. Justin felt the high of his victory over Torkoal evaporate in a flash.

"Tropius, fly over there and Seed Bomb! Finish that Growlithe off! Vicky, get closer!"

At least he had stopped the flurry of Solar Beams that had made this battle impossible to fight. Victreebel looked exhausted, and struggled to even walk straight with its vines. If Growlithe could get close enough to use Reversal… but no, that was too risky! He had to do this!


"Tropius, Wide Guard!"

Justin's shoulders sagged when a thinly veiled barrier appeared to protect both Tropius and Victreebel. The flames helplessly washed over the invisible wall, and Tropius beat its wings, dropping huge seeds from the sky. The explosions rocked the entire field, and despite Lombre attempting to pick off the ones falling above Growlithe's head with Bubblebeam, a few made it through and took down the fire type. Tropius turned and flew back toward his trainer.

Justin sighed and recalled his Pokemon. Krokorok would be terrible here, but what else could he do but try. His path was still open. He could at least take down one more, but it would take a lot of work. Stealth Rocks rammed into the ground type's skin, and he grunted in pain.

"Lombre Rain Dance!" Justin yelled.

With a loud croak, Lombre summoned thick clouds that swarmed the arena and obscured Tropius in the sky. An unintended consequence, but it would also have to fly lower if it wanted to aim properly. Victreebel was almost here now—

"Sludge Bomb the Lombre!"

A thick glob of poison flew out of the grass type's mouth, but Lombre easily skidded across the grass, dodging it. Justin yelled out a Knock Off, and the water type slid his way toward his enemy, dodging Sludge Bomb after Sludge Bomb. Tropius broke through the clouds and sent out Seed Bombs to finish Krokorok off, but the ground type simply buried to hide away from the worst of the damage.

Darkness surged in Lombre's hand, and he hit Victreebel with Knock Off, staggering the grass type. Perfect.

"Sand Tomb!" He yelled out to Krokorok.

With how wet the floor was, Krokorok's Sand Tombs were even more potent than usual. The ground was already covered in mud, and it began to spiral under Victreebel. Lombre had thankfully been quick enough to escape with Swift Swim.

"Now Mist!" Justin hurriedly ordered.

Lombre let out another croak, and a thick mist overtook the arena. Justin had always found it a shame that Grace no longer favored the move, but it would serve him well here. Now, Tropius had no way of knowing where Lombre or Krokorok were, and the latter was free to surface to power up his Sand Tomb and finish off Victreebel!

"Seed Bomb!" Andrew's voice broke through the Mist, and more explosions shook the field. Then more… then more.


Justin had forgotten that it didn't matter if Tropius couldn't see the field. It would just be able to sweep the arena over and over and flood the arena with Seed Bombs. It must have taken two minutes for the mist to start fizzling out, meaning that Lombre was down. What Justin saw nothing but destruction. It was like the entire field had been excavated with bombs. Nothing remained of the Grass Field he knew, just like Lauren had done with the Snow Field.

Krokorok was also down. His body was upside down, with his head still buried. He'd been tunneling, but the explosions had broken through the earth.

In the end, Justin had taken down two Pokemon— Victreebel and Torkoal. A better performance than he had the right to ever pull as a three-badger. It stung, but he couldn't exactly be angry.

He had done well.

Maeve's face twitched as she stepped onto the podium. Battling since her first loss had always been a nerve-wracking affair that Mira had tried to solve in countless ways, but she didn't think she would ever go back to normal. Nothing would ever give her the confidence she had felt from back when she had dominated Roark and every trainer in her way.

It had all evaporated in the Floaroma tournament.

She couldn't even say that battling would take her mind off things. What had happened these last few days was more than anything she thought would happen in her entire life. Maeve was just a normal girl that wanted to live a normal life, yet her friends kept getting in these extraordinary events. If she somehow won this, she'd have to battle against Harry Rodriguez next match. She was one of the few people with three badges remaining. Louis and Justin had fallen today.

And yet, she still couldn't find it within herself to be proud.

"This is a battle between Molly Chapman and Maeve Chang. Trainers, send out your Pokemon."

Maeve's opponent sent out an Electrode and a Marowak. The electric type had a wide smile permanently etched on its face, and it excitedly rolled around the Desert Field. Marowak hit its huge bone against the floor, and it quickly settled down. Maeve gulped and sent out her Skorupi and Starmie. She had known that Electrode would be first from the minimal amounts of research she had done, but Starmie's psychic powers would be invaluable here. It was a risk, but a risk worth taking.


"Keep your distance, this thing explodes!" Maeve quickly yelled. "Pin Missile and Psybeam! If he comes at you, stop him with Psychic! Focus on Electrode!"

Her orders were a mess. Rambles full of slurred words and barely coherent enough for anyone to give them meaning. The two attacks flew toward the opposite side of the arena, but attacks from that far away were easy to dodge. Electrode quickly rolled backwards toward Marowak and his grin widened, mirroring its trainer.

"Bone Club!" Molly exclaimed.

Marowak tightened its hold on its bone and hit Electrode away like a golf ball. The electric type winced at the hit, but it was somehow speeding up through the air. Agility.

"Grab him!" Maeve yelled.

Starmie's gem shone and the star on its back rotated. Pink energy surrounded Electrode, causing it to hover in the air. The electric type grunted and squirmed in Psychic's hold, but the damage it was taking made it impossible to focus.

"Now Pin Missile!" Maeve said to Skorupi.

The bug type angled its tail forward, sending out sharp spikes toward Electrode. It was superficial damage, but it would quickly add up—


From here?

"Throw him away—"

Maeve hadn't even been quick enough. The Electrode bubbled, swelled, and its body shone. For a split second, the world was still. Then, a giant explosion rocked the field. Maeve flinched when the shockwave immediately reached her, bending Kadabra's barrier. When the smoke cleared, glass littered the Desert Field's upper layer. Starmie had fainted, its gem cracked and devoid of its usual vibrant reddish pink. Marowak had been far enough away to be spared of most of the damage— a testament to how powerful that Explosion had been. If Maeve had to guess, Molly was a trainer that specialized in double battles. They were rare, but they existed. There was no way she would have come up with this strategy otherwise.

But where was Skorupi?

"Skorupi?!" Maeve yelled as she recalled Starmie. "Skorupi—"

A Drapion emerged from the hot sands. How?

Molly recalled her Electrode and sent out an Amoonguss, and Maeve sent out her Monferno, who stared up at his new teammate confusedly. Drapion was wounded, but his quick thinking had made it survive the explosion.

Maeve couldn't afford to be agape for too long. She needed to be quick.

"Drapion, Hone Claws and get in there! Monferno, Bulk Up and do the same!"

Her Pokemon weren't as strong as Molly's, so her best bet was to bridge the gap. Monferno's muscles bulged outward, and the fire type smashed a fist against his palm. Drapion menacingly closed and opened its sharp pincers while they glinted.

"Amoonguss, Growth! Marowak… Bone Club!"

Damn it, again? What was it now? Marowak hit the grass type away just like it had done with Electrode, but it was slower this time. Maeve had time to react.

"Flamethrower and Venoshock!"

Flames and poison washed over Amoonguss, but they did not stop its momentum.


"Damn it— run away! Keep using Pin Missile and Flamethrower!"

They had actually dealt a lot of damage, but it hadn't been enough. Spores exploded from Amoonguss' body. Maeve's Pokemon held their breaths, but they spread quicker than they could run, and Drapion wasn't used to his new body yet. Both of them fell into the sand.

"Whew. Marowak, get in there and Earth Power both."

It took ten seconds for the ground type to get close enough. Maeve clenched her fists. All she could do was watch. The sand under her Pokemon swelled, and huge quantities of earth burst from the ground, hitting both Monferno and Drapion. It took another four for Drapion to faint, and two more for Monferno to do the same. Maeve recalled her Pokemon and sent out her last teammate.

"Staravia," Maeve said. "You're up."

The flying type jumped and took to the air, analyzing her two opponents with a worried gaze. Maeve had no choice but to wait out the spores. Staravia didn't exactly have ways to attack from a distance, but neither did Marowak, who couldn't even approach because of the Spore.

"Venoshock!" Molly yelled.

Maeve didn't even have to tell Staravia to dodge. She put her wings flat against her body and dove, stopping herself just shy of the spores.

"Double Team!"

Twenty of Staravia's clones appeared, and the original quickly got lost in the mix. Venoshock was powerful enough to dissolve the illusions, but Staravia just replaced them whenever they disappeared.

"Quick Attack!" Maeve said, pointing at Marowak. All of the Staravia shone and rushed toward the ground type. Amoongus was too slow to help. All it could do was worm itself back toward its teammate.

"Rock Slide!"

A barrage of rocks erupted from the floor in front of Marowak, but if there was one thing Staravia was good at, it was maneuvering. The bird extended her wings, bringing herself to a screeching halt, and rushed to the side to go around the Rock Slide. She spun around and used Aerial Ace to strengthen her hit, stabbing into Marowak with her beak.

"Hit her off!" Molly yelled.

With a labored grunt, Marowak slammed its bone against Staravia's skull. The flying type squirmed and flew off, but Marowak threw its bone, hurting her wing. Staravia collapsed in the sand.

"Can you still fly?" Maeve asked.

She tried to push herself off the ground, but she could only glide for a few seconds. Staravia's wing was broken.

"You did good," she said.

"Finish her off with Rock Slide—"

Both trainers gasped when light overtook Staravia's body. She grew until she became larger than Maeve herself, and her talons sharpened. A bright red crest formed above her head.

"Congrats again," Molly smiled.

"Thank— thank you."

It was weird to be congratulated by her opponent, but it certainly felt nice. Another Rock Slide finished Staraptor off, and Maeve lost her battle.

Still, two evolutions? She wasn't as sad as she thought she would be.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, Aaron Vera, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish

Thank you ShadowNebbia#5726 ,Kdonmination#7611, and 5pavvn#8027 for the teams!
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Chapter 158

In all of those revelations and excitement, I had completely forgotten to look up my new opponent. I didn't really care about winning or doing well in the tournament any longer except to fulfill my contract with the Poketch Company. It was a wonder that I hadn't been caught breaking into the tournament building, so I felt obligated to make them proud. I sighed as I sat up on my bed with my laptop on my lap. Cecilia leaned against me and watched me work. Slowking was standing guard, along with Buddy tonight.

"I'm glad you went with my call tonight," Cece said. "I was terrified that you'd go deeper into this."

"I'm sorry for worrying you. I know I've been difficult," I sighed. "I won't take any more risks."

"Are you telling the truth this time?" She asked with a serious tone. She got her head off of me and stared into my eyes. "Not another empty promise?"

"Yes," I exhaled. "I'm sure."

I couldn't tell her about what I told Sunshine. He expected something from me now, so at some point, I would have to plunge into danger once more. I couldn't break my deal with him. Best case scenario, I could maybe annul it if nothing ended up happening for the rest of our stay, but I doubted that would go over well. I would probably lose all of his respect I had carefully gained since I caught him.

That wasn't an option.

"Can you tell me about your thought process? What do you look for when you gather information on someone?" She asked.

"Well first, I look at the most recent battles," I explained. "Then I try to branch out and go to their gym battles to see how they fight under actual pressure. Then I gather a few battles I really liked that showcased their strategies and teams and I watch it again and again until I know everything by heart. Sometimes I'll try to browse the forums too to see if there's anything that would concern me."

"What about their posts? I feel like you'd be able to learn a lot about them depending on how they talk online. It'd do wonders with your emotional manipulation trick."

"That's… yeah, that's true. Thank you for that," I smiled. "I won't do it for her though."

"What's her name?"

"Sloane Holcomb. I've got to get a clean win."

"Your last three wins were clean," she chuckled. "Weren't they?"

"The first one was. The second and third were iffy," I said. "It might be doable against her thought."

"What's her team?"

"Swellow, Espeon, Krokorok, Clawitzer," I listed. "The main strategy here seems to be using Double Team over and over to confuse her enemies. Sort of like what Maeve did."

"Smart, but not against trainers like us."

I nodded. "I'll start off the battle with Sweetheart, but I'm still thinking about which second Pokemon to use. Honey wouldn't really be able to protect her that much, but Angel's already fought so much, I want to let the others have some action too."

"Well, who's Sloane starting off with?"

"Espeon for sure. It knows Wish, Protect, Yawn and Heal Bell, it's mostly her support Pokemon with tons of versatility. She's started every single battle with that Espeon."

"What if she changes her mind?"

"She won't. She'll start off with a Yawn and then Wish. I'll have to rush her down before my Pokemon fall asleep… I'm going with Buddy. Plus, I feel like the Double Teams would confuse Angel too much."

"I probably would have gone with Tangrowth and Jellicent, but I understand your decision."

"Come on, that's just because you want to make a bunch of stuff blow up," I joked.

"It's not!" She protested.

"I'm pulling your leg," I said. "Will you forgive me if I give you a kiss?"

I turned toward her and leaned in, but she placed a finger on my mouth.

"No. You're being punished. Until we get out of this town and you've proven that you're not taking unnecessary risks any longer, no more kissing."


"Look, in the end, we got results, and Luca… didn't have to disappear. But that doesn't stop the fact that there's something dangerous about the way you think. It's like you don't even value your own life. You didn't even try to convince Pauline and Mira to change their minds, which just makes me think that you wanted to do this deep down anyway."

"I don't even know myself," I exhaled. "It did feel good to take the plunge. Like I was giving the Hunters what they deserved. But I also don't feel like I don't value myself. I mean even now, I'm scared of anything happening to me."

"Just… be safer. I wouldn't be able to keep going without you."

"I will— I'll try."

I went back to staring at my computer. Espeon would come first, that I was sure of, but who would be second? I doubted that it'd be Clawitzer. I had to keep in mind that Sloane was preparing for me as well. I had started with Angel three battles in a row, so I didn't think that she would lead with a water type. The same point applied to Krokorok, so if I had to guess, it would be Swellow— especially since it knew Heat Wave somehow. I would have Honey and Angel in the back, and Princess would be able to sit this one out.

Now all I had to do was figure out a way to rush that Espeon down. Rock Slide would be able to take care of its Double Teams, but not Swellow's.

To be honest, couldn't I just ignore Swellow? What did it even have to hurt Jellicent and Larvitar? Sure, it had Steel Wing, but that would make it get back up from the sky, which put it in prime Smack Down range. Rock Slide would be too slow to hit, but Smack Down was Sweetheart's quickest attack, and she had changed it by herself and turned it into something new. Along with the main rock, there was always debris that shot out of the ground, just like what had happened against Kyle Thornton's Watchog. It would cripple Swellow enough to stop it from flying, which meant it would be forced to Roost.

Which meant it would be buried under a Rock Slide.

What I thought it would do was that it would wait out Espeon's Yawn. Buddy would overwhelm it, but it was impossible for him to get there before it got the attack off. What Sloane didn't know was that Buddy was resistant to sleeping attacks.

After all, he'd told me about how he had resisted Palossand's Hypnosis when fighting against Fantina.

So long as I took down that Espeon, the rest would follow suit. Not my best work, but it'd would do for this. If I was fighting a five-badger instead of a four-badger, I would have gone a lot more in-depth.

"Finally done," I stretched. I turned off my computer and placed it on my bedside table.

Tomorrow would be interesting.

I was back on the Snow Field for the second time in a row, which was really a drag because it was the furthest away from everywhere else. Sloane had been two minutes late, and she arrived panting and tired. Had she been doing last minute preparations? Possibly. I stared at the referee and gulped. Could he have been in on the scheme?

"This is a battle between Grace Pastel and Sloane Holcomb. Trainers, send out your Pokemon."

I felt satisfaction swell when I saw Espeon and Swellow appear in a flash of red. The flying type was slightly bigger than the one Maeve had faced during her first battle, and it looked to be slightly faster too. Espeon stood completely still, not even moving a muscle. I sent out Jellicent and Larvitar. The rock type yelled loudly until Buddy scolded her, telling her to stay quiet.


"Sandstorm," I started.

Larvitar shut her eyes and waved her arms wildly. Thin grains of sand appeared, mixing with the snow.

"Double Team, both of you! Espeon, Yawn!"

There it was. Clones of both Pokemon appeared on the ground and in the sky, giving the illusion of overwhelming numbers. Larvitar tensed and turned to me.

"Go in, Bud," I ordered. "Keep a Night Shade with you."

Ghostly energy split from Jellicent, lashing out and tying into knots to create a shadowy clone of himself. He propelled himself with Water Sport, and the shade simply followed by floating across the sky. I still hadn't figured out how to make Night Shades use moves. All of the Espeons opened their mouths to yawn, and I felt drowsy for a second before snapping back to reality.

"Now Wish!"

A dozen lights flew out of the gem on all of the Espeon's heads.

Now came Swellow's counter.

"Agility, Focus Energy and Aerial Ace!"

"Acid Armor," I said.

In truth, I was telling him to liquefy his body, but Acid Armor was a simpler way of saying it. Swellow proudly beat its wings, generating strong gusts of wind, and then rushed to Jellicent with one of the most powerful Aerial Aces I had ever seen, along with all of its clones. Dodging would be impossible, so I opted for the path of least resistance.

The real Swellow flew through Jellicent's body, disintegrating his head which regenerated in a few seconds.

"Turn back and do it again!"

"Did you see him, Sweetheart?" I asked.

She yelled out a 'yes'.

"Smack Down, then start going forward!"

Like a bullet, a rock shot out of the floor and barreled toward Swellow, who was shocked by how quick the attack was. The bird narrowly dodged and the attack hit a clone instead, but that left enough time for Jellicent to reach Espeon.

"Psychic!" Sloane yelled.

"Solidify," I said.

Buddy's red eyes flared up in anger as Espeon struggled to hold back his ever-increasing weight. He might not have looked like it, but Jellicent was heavy when he was completely solid. In fact, he could barely make himself float. His transparent body had been replaced with an opaque shade of sky blue.

"Watch out—"

Then, the Night Shade exploded on Espeon's body, freeing Jellicent from its hold.

"Hex, then Shadow Ball."

"Swellow, Air Slash! Interrupt him!"

I had lost the real one amidst its clones, but from the sea of Swellows, the air sharpened and formed into multiple arcs bigger than I was. They shot out toward Jellicent, who was currently placing Espeon under a Hex. The psychic type squirmed and struggled as smoke emanated off of its body. The Air Slash sliced across Jellicent's head, vertically splitting in into two halves due to his still-solid form. That meant he'd taken more damage, but the recovery period was shortened significantly. In a flash, strands linked the two halves and Buddy kept his Hex going until it finished.

As soon as it did, Sloane ordered her Espeon to run away with Dig. The Shadow Ball crashed into the floor, but it was already gone. She was no doubt buying time for Wish, but she didn't know what Buddy was capable of.

"Follow and finish it off," I said.

Jellicent ignored another Air Slash, liquefied his body and became squeezed into the hole Espeon had left.

"Espeon, get back up! Get back up now!"

Well, it wouldn't be getting back up. I could faintly hear its screams from here. Sweetheart was slow on her feet, but she was making good progress. I noticed that she was starting to tire out, however, so I probably only had a minute or so left until she fell asleep—

Wait, did I even care if she fell asleep? Not exactly. Steel Wing was an issue, but I personally believed that she was tough enough to brave them until she woke.

"Strengthen that Sandstorm before you go sleepy," I said. I restrained a smirk when I noticed that the baby talk pissed Sloane off.

The storm slowly picked up and grew thicker, forcing me to squint to see the battlefield properly.

"Perfect! Stop there!"

At least like this, I was forcing Swellow to take damage. Larvitar fell asleep immediately after her Sandstorm, so she'd been even faster than I thought. She crashed on the floor and snorted with a wide smile on her face. Knowing her, she was probably dreaming of destroying things.

"Steel Wing!" Sloane yelled.

Just as the Wish flew down toward Espeon, which was still struggling in its hole, a dozen of Swellow's clones flew down toward Larvitar. The real one struck right after the second, sending her rolling across the floor. At this point, the field was more desert than snowscape. Larvitar had reformed it to her image.

Jellicent squeezed back out of the hole with half of his face missing, as he usually did. Espeon had put up a good fight, but it wasn't going to win against a ghost type in such a cramped space.

"Steel Wing again before the Jellicent gets here!" Sloane said. She waited a few seconds to see if Espeon would climb back, and then recalled it. Thank Arceus for those homing beams.

She sent out her Clawitzer next. Its pincer was bigger than its entire body. Swellow once more hit Larvitar with Steel Wing, and it was dealing damage. But was it doing enough?

"Poison Sting and Hex that Clawitzer," I ordered.

"Protect and Dragon Pulse!"

My eyes widened at Dragon Pulse. That was new, but I couldn't afford to panic. I just had to take the move into account and counter it. First, I needed to see how powerful it was. A thin barrier shielded the water type from Buddy's poisoned darts, and then draconic energy began to build up in its pincers. After a few seconds, turquoise energy flew out, grazing Jellicent slightly.

It was slower to charge and weaker than Zweilous'. I could handle this.

"Poison Sting and Hex again!" I said. I was going to tire it out.

Larvitar finally woke up after the fourth Steel Wing, but unlike when she was sleeping, the rock type was clearly in pain. Her breaths were ragged, and her scales were cracked and bruised. I winced and bit my lip. This was probably the most physical pain she'd been in her entire life.

"Finish it off! Steel Wing!"

I had her.

I waited until the last possible second and gave out my command.

"Smack Down!"

Shards of rocks exploded, taking down clones and Swellow itself. The bird crashed into the sands and screeched in pain.

"Rock Slide! Bury it!"

Rocks of all sizes emerged around the flying type and covered it completely. There was no way it was strong enough to get out of there by itself.

"Clawitzer, Aqua Jet away and Water Pulse at the rocks!"

Or she could just do that. The tired Clawitzer darted forward in a burst of speed, but a few of the poisoned darts made it through and penetrated its shell. Water Pulse fired out extremely quickly. I blinked and it had already hit the rocks in an attempt to free Swellow. Unfortunately for Sloane, I just buried it in more rocks. If Swellow had had a move to fight from the inside, then it could have broken out, but right now? There was nothing Swellow could do.

"Focus on Larvitar, then! Take it down!"

"Rock Slide in front—"

The Water Pulse already hit Sweetheart before the words were out of my mouth. I clicked my tongue. That could easily have been anticipated, but I didn't. Larvitar fainted, and I recalled her, sending out Tangrowth instead. Her Sandstorm would last for a little longer since she had trained it extensively and it wasn't an ability, so Sunny Day was out of the picture.

"Finish off that Swellow. Buddy, Night Shade and get in there," I commanded.

"Clawizter, Ice Beam that Tangrowth—"

"Ancient Power in front!" I yelled.

This time, I was quick enough. Luckily for me, it seemed that only Water Pulse had been perfected that quickly in the gap between Sloane's last gym battle and now. It was the first time she'd used Clawitzer in the tournament, so I couldn't have anticipated it, but it still stung. The arcs of ice helplessly washed over Angel's boulder, freezing it in the process. One of his vines turned neon green and smashed through the rocks Swellow was buried under. He grabbed the flying type and hit it against the floor a few times until it fainted.

"Water Pulse into Ice Beam!" Sloane yelled.

In one breath, the shards of frozen rocks exploded, cutting up Angel's vines. Then, an Ice Beam hit the grass type, the bottom half of his body. He was stuck.

The Sandstorm finally ended.

"Krokorok, go!" She yelled. "Keep your distance! Rock Slide!"

The dark type ironically used Sweetheart's own rocks to hit Tangrowth over and over. I bit my lip.

"Send your Night Shade over to Clawitzer," I smoothly ordered.

"Aqua Jet—"

"Now Whirpool!"

All of his training had led to this. Jellicent spat out such a huge volume of water that I saw him shrink slightly. The water hovered in the air and began to spin faster and faster. With a booming yell, he sent the attack flying toward both Pokemon.

It was too big for them to dodge. The only hope they both had was to use Protect, although Krokork could burrow to escape. That would mean that he'd leave his Clawitzer alone up here. Even though it was a water type, the spin of the Whirpool was so powerful that I doubted it'd be able to simply ignore it and casually swim.

"Krokork, Dig! Clawitzer, Protect!"

She opted to leave Clawitzer alone then. Angel finally finished smashing the ice with Power Whips and was free to walk again.

"Scorching Sands!"

I raised an eyebrow. I knew of that move, but I hadn't known that she'd be capable of using it while Krokorok was underground like Justin's own could do with Sand Tomb. Once Clawitzer's Protect ended, it helplessly flailed around the Whirpool, shooting half-hazard Dragon Pulses in hopes of hitting something. The floor under Tangrowth bubbled and turned to soot. His vines wriggled, and the attack washed against his entire body like a wave. The heat was working well against him.

"Get in the Whirpool and finish Clawitzer off! Buddy, use Night Shade and Shadow Ball!"

Finally, Buddy's Night Shade which had been floating around doing nothing could do work. It positioned itself to hit Clawitzer and explode on contact, but the water type pushed himself out of the water with two quick Water Pulses.

Its good fortunes ended here. Tangrowth pushed himself through the Whirlpool with his vines. Thanks to his heavy weight, he spun around slower than Clawitzer, which meant that—

"Power Whip!" I yelled.

—Which meant that it was over for the water type. The Power Whip hit Clawitzer's huge pincer, cracking it in the process, and it fainted. Now that there was just Krokorok left, Buddy ended his Whirlpool.

"Scorching Sands!" She yelled. Even now, she hadn't given up. Other trainers might have complained about her still fighting when she had no chance, but I respected her so much for that.

Angel squirmed and tried to run away, pushing himself with his vines. It looked like she wasn't going to unburrow.

"Hey, Bud. Want to try something out?" I asked. "See if you can slip through the ground."

All this time, I had asked myself. Could he slip through any cracks on any surface? My mind flashed back to the hotel in Eterna where he had somehow gotten onto the balcony without opening the door. The cracks in the floor were tinier than that, but he was also stronger than he had been. Jellicent nodded and stared at the ground.

"See where it's attacking with the sand?" I said. "It's right under there."

"Damn it— Krokorok, stop!"

Jellicent propelled himself with Water Pulse and disappeared into the floor, using the ground loosened by Scorching Sands to slip in. After ten seconds, Krokorok emerged from the ground, his entire body wet and still smoking from what I assumed was Hex. Tangrowth wrapped a vine around his neck to restrain him and squeezed out its remaining energy.

Jellicent had been like a true ghost today.

"Victory to Grace Pastel!"

Questions from reporters were growing more and more vicious. At this point, very few people were taking the tournament seriously, and some of them were trying to get under my skin by claiming the tournament had been rigged for me too. I really had to bite down on my tongue not to explode for that one. I was pretty sure I forgot to smile too. Only one more match, and I would make it to the top thirty-two, which meant that I'd fulfill my contract with the Poketch Company. Of course, even if the League would take the Hunters down, I still wanted to win against Harry Rodriguez to punish him for going along with this scheme. Not only that, but he was associated with Team Galactic. He would need to pay the price. Unfortunately, he had disappeared. Vanished into thin air. It looked like I wasn't going to get my revenge.

Of course, the best-case scenario was always to have the League arrest him first. That'd be funny.

At this point though, I just hoped that they would swoop in and save the day. The quicker they were, the less likely the odds of Luca being dead were. I knew that kidnapping victims almost never survived after a certain number of hours— I didn't remember the exact amount. If only they had a way of contacting us to at least let us know how they were progressing. I had called Candice earlier today and after complaining about me not calling her since I had left, she said that it was confidential and she couldn't tell me anything except that my tip had been noticed and that they were looking into it.

With respect to my friends, most of them were holed up in the Center outside of their battles these days. Louis, Justin and Maeve had all lost yesterday, so they didn't exactly have anything better to do. Mira was still brooding in her room. She hadn't been the same since learning about Team Galactic's links with the Hunters, and I suspected that she had a vendetta against them. That would at least explain why she wanted to take this entire matter into her own hands with the Lisa plan. I wanted to speak to her, but she wouldn't open her room for anyone. Not even Maeve. Cecilia and Denzel had been spectating my battle. They weren't going to leave me alone here.

"Another dominant win," Denzel said. He'd lost a lot of his usual cheerful demeanor since yesterday, and I couldn't blame him. "You look pissed by the way."

"Stupid reporters," I groaned. "Speaking of, any progress on the thing with Emi?"

"She's keeping me updated live. Vincent's been helping her out, so she should be done in a few hours."

We were taking every precaution not to get caught before the hammer struck. We weren't about to get busted by some spy that had been listening in.

"Let's head back then," Cecilia said. "We can go back to see Denzel's battle afterward."

"I'm going to start letting loose. My opponent's pretty tough," he said. "Another stall user. I already told Justin that he should watch on TV."

"So we can finally see what you've been hiding?"

"You might be a bit disappointed, but it's pretty cool," he finally grinned.

"You smiled!"

"Yeah… I guess I did," he said.

"This is a battle between Denzel Williams and Charlie Blue. Trainers, send out your Pokemon."

Charlie blue sent out a Toxapex and a Forretress. The two Pokemon were covered in shallow scars, a testament to how many hits they had taken in their lives. Forretress was capable of levitation by using magnetic forces that I was nowhere smart enough to understand, but even then, it would still be slow as hell. Toxapex, meanwhile, could only force itself forward by using its twelve legs, but it was even slower than Forretress. Denzel would always have the initiative in this fight.

Wind blew across the grass as he sent out his Lopunny and Sylveon. There was so much sass in the normal type's pose that she almost appeared human— even going as far as flicking her ear back like Pauline did with her hair. I noticed that she'd incorporated a lot human gestures, which was probably due to her similar body type. Honey had done the same with me, with his thumbs up, head scratches and awkward smiles. Sylveon's fur blurred, and his eyes settled upon his enemies, always unblinking. With the craziness of the last few days, it had been a while since Princess and he had hung out. She probably missed him.

It would all be over soon.


"Toxic Spikes!"

Toxapex lifted its two front legs, sending out sharp star-shaped spikes hovering all over the battlefield a few inches from the ground. Aside from that, it seemed like Charlie was letting Denzel start up first.

"Power-Up Punch."

It was a simple order that could have meant many things, but Lopunny smirked. Both of her hands, feet and ears lit up, and she began punching Sylveon consecutively using all of her appendages. The fairy type just stood there, immobile as he stared at Forretress and Toxapex.

Denzel was—

Denzel was continuously building up Lopunny's strength by having her hit his own Pokemon. Without Sylveon's shield, it would have been a risky strategy, but it wasn't even like Charlie could fight back. His Pokemon were too slow to go and retaliate. He ordered his Toxapex to spit out a Sludge Bomb, but it didn't go the distance. It seemed that he was too scared to let his Forretress go alone.

I gasped when Sylveon's shield broke, fizzling into pink dust. Lopunny stopped punching and flexed one arm. She took one step forward and the ground under her foot cratered.

"There you go," Denzel said. "Now go and have some fun."

Lopunny grinned.

In one breath, she was halfway through the arena, leaving a trail of destruction behind her. Two breaths, and she was right next to Forretress—

"Iron De—"

Lopunny's fists burst into flames, and she punched the steel type as strongly as she could. Forretress flew backward into Kadabra's barrier. The entire right side of its armor was caved in, and it couldn't even float anymore. Toxapex screeched and another Sludge Bomb flew out of its mouth, but Lopunny was too quick.


As if she knew the attack had been coming, Lopunny faked out Forretress and used his body to push herself back toward Toxapex. The poison type brought its twelve legs together, forming its Baneful Bunker. Poison dripped out of every inch of Toxapex's legs, but Lopunny skidded across the floor and jumped over its body, waiting for the defensive move to finish up. It took five seconds, and then electricity danced in both of her fists. She grabbed two of Toxapex's legs and pulled them apart until she could squeeze inside. I did not know what she did to its hidden head, but the screeches didn't paint a pretty picture. When the poison type collapsed, Lopunny emerged from under it. From the purple tint in her eyes, I could tell that she was poisoned, but she could still go on for a while longer.

Charlie recalled Toxapex with a look of disbelief and sent out a Wobbufett instead.

"That one has Counter too," Denzel warned. "Go for— ah, you've got it."

Lopunny was already rushing to finish off Forretress, who was barely conscious. One Fire Punch to its already caved-in armor did the trick. Lopunny was beginning to tire out. Toxapex's poison was a lot more potent than I would have thought, and it seemingly caught Denzel off-guard too. Charlie sent out a Clodsire—

Who immediately got beaten half to death with Ice Punches and Kicks.

"Watch out for Counter!"

The ground type was too slow to even hope to dodge and fight back. He was clearly caught off-guard by the beatdown right out of his Pokeball. From the way Denzel looked, I could tell that he was worried about Counter, but the poison type couldn't even comprehend what was happening. After a bit, it did manage to shake Lopunny off with a Bulldoze, but she gripped it by the tail and finished it off by slamming it against the floor with a Circle Throw.

There was only Wobbufett left.


The psychic type… danced in a really weird, circling motion, and Lopunny was forced into using Circle Throw. The rabbit panted as poison pulsed through her veins. She stared back at Denzel, who nodded.

"Go for it."

In a flash, she was in front of Wobbuffett. She wrapped her arms around it and suplexed him, but the psychic type's body shimmered, and Lopunny was sent away by an immense force. Charlie had finally managed to get one of his Pokemon to use Counter, and with how much Lopunny was dishing out, she was out for the count. Denzel recalled her and sent out his Froslass, who curiously stared at the Grass Field which was now littered with holes.

"Sylvi, you recovered yet?" He asked.

The fairy type sighed, and the blur around his body appeared again. Twice in one battle? That was insane.

"Okay then. Froslass, that Wobbufett can't really do anything but counter our attacks with Mirror Coat or Counter, so it's going to be a little tricky. Walk up to it for now. I'm serious! Just walk up to it."

"Wobbufett, Taunt!"

An obnoxious laugh ran through the field, and I felt an incredible amount of anger toward Wobbufett surge inside of me. I assume Froslass and Sylveon to be the same, but they controlled themselves and walked together toward the psychic type. After twenty seconds, they were only a few steps away.

"Sylveon, you Play Rough. Froslass, you Shadow Ball."

I smiled. How evil.

Wobbufett could either choose to Mirror Coat or Counter, but it couldn't do both.

It opted for the former, but that only delayed the inevitable. They slowly picked the psychic type apart, attacking simultaneously each time. Wobbufett went down soon enough.

"Victory to Denzel Williams!"

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, Aaron Vera, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish

Thank you ArcaneQuill09#8316 and God Emperor Ikea#7709 for the teams!
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Chapter 158.5

This is the last bonus chapter that I wrote to get through all the OCs my Discord submitted. The second battle is somewhat relevant to the plot, so you should at least skim it. I'm through all of the OCs submitted now.

"This is a battle between Lauren Goodwill and Sebastian Foster. Trainers, send out your Pokemon."

Lauren had heard many things about the tournament lately. That it was rigged by the Hunters. That Team Galactic was involved with Harry Rodriguez and wanted him to win. That BattleZone was rotting from the inside.

Yet she did not care whatsoever as long as she got to battle. Like every trainer, Lauren was willing to say that battling was her passion, but she went even further than that. She could not imagine a life without it. She felt the invisible restraints that kept her subdued and meek evaporate as soon as she sent out her Seismitoad and Sceptile onto the Grass Field. She still wanted to battle on the Water Field at least once, but she kept getting unlucky. Sebastian sent out a Luxray and a Pikachu.

Sceptile immediately snapped up and excitedly slammed his tail against the floor. He had only gotten to battle once since the tournament started, so he was a lot more chipper than usual. Seismitoad sized up her opponent with a wary eye, but she still exuded confidence. Against electric types, she would shine more than anyone else.


"Prime, set up your Aqua Ring and go get 'em!" Lauren snapped. "Volis, fuck them up!"

Aided by Quick Attack, Sceptile dashed forward until he became a blur of motion. He opened his mouth to spit out a Dragon Breath, catching Luxray off-guard and grazing the electric type.

"Pikachu, Double Team and Swift!"

"Forget that rat, get the bigger rat instead!" Lauren grinned. "Leaf Blade!"

The leaves on the grass type's wrists grew sharp and shone with a bright neon green. He slashed across Luxray's throat, drawing blood. The electric type tried to fight back, and its trainer shouted out for an Ice Fang, but Sceptile was too quick. He reappeared behind Luxray by dodging Pikachu's Swift with Detect and cut again.

But that wasn't it. Seismitoad was in the picture now.

"Prime, Earthquake until they both fall," Lauren ordered.


Pikachu summoned a thin barrier that Lauren recognized as a combination of Reflect and Light Screen. Luxray wasn't so lucky. The ground under both Pokemon's feet shook, and it grew uneven. Chasms and cliffs formed. Sceptile had run far enough away to avoid most of the localized Earthquake. All of Pikachu's clones disappeared in a flash.

"Luxray, you've got to do something—"

Sceptile jumped and landed on the electric type's back. A wild grin stretched across Lauren's face.

"Drain Blade!"

The grass type had labored day and night to perfect the move. It was a combination between Mega Drain and Leaf Blade that would heal Sceptile while dealing devastating damage. Electricity enveloped Luxray's body and electrocuted Sceptile in the process, but he was tougher than that. He cut deep inside of Luxray's back, and the attack combined with Earthquake brought the rat down.

It wasn't a rat, but Lauren didn't care. Sebastian sent out a Magnezone next, which wouldn't be affected by the Earthquakes. Oh well, she could still fuck up that Pikachu with it. The little runt was exhausted from shielding itself from Earthquake for so long.

"Sceptile's too quick! Signal Beam the Seismitoad! Magnezone, Flash Cannon!"

"Volis, get in there and Mega Drain," Lauren snapped. She didn't even need to tell Prime anything. She was a tough girl, she'd get over it.

The multicolored beam slammed into her belly and was quickly followed by another ray of metallic light. Sceptile quickly rushed toward Pikachu, who had to stop maintaining its attack to run. It lashed out with Thunderbolts, and it was surprisingly slightly faster than Volis was. The electric attacks didn't do much but annoy him though, and it wasn't like he needed to be anywhere near Pikachu to use Mega Drain.

The electric type withered and fell to the ground as Sceptile drained its energy from afar. He used the opportunity to finally cut that damn Pikachu down with Drain Blade, healing a bit of the damage that had been dealt. A loud clang rang out when Seismitoad's Water Pulse hit Magnezone's armored skin. Both Pokemon had been exchanging blows from a distance, but Prime would outlast it with Aqua Ring. Sebastian grimaced and sent out a Furret.

"Get him."


Sceptile cracked his neck and rushed toward Furret. His body twisted unnaturally, dodging the Slam, and then he cut across its back with Drain Blade. The normal type quickly recovered and let an Ice Beam loose. The attack caught Sceptile off-guard, since he hadn't expected it to get back on its feet so soon.

Not that it mattered. The floor under Furret began to shake, and Lauren ordered Sceptile to hit Magnezone with a long-distance Bullet Seed. They had stopped working on the move consistently long ago, but it was enough to push Magnezone and throw its aim off. Lauren didn't even care about friendly fire.

"Drain Blade. You'll recover more than you're hurt," she said.

Sceptile mirrored her grin and used the move on the helpless Furret. The normal type quickly fell, and there was only Magnezone left.

"Bullet Seed, Water Pulse, finish it off."

The steel type fought surprisingly well. It opted to target Seismitoad with everything it had instead of Sceptile, since it was never going to land a hit from that high in the sky. It dodged the Water Pulses rather easily, but Bullet Seed was too quick. The Magnezone crashed to the destroyed field, clipping onto the edge of an Earthquake-made cliff and falling deeper into the chasm, but Sebastian recalled it before it could go any further.

"Victory to Lauren Goodwill!"

All of her life, Lauren had watched her big brother accomplish things magnitudes above what she thought she was capable of. Her parents kept comparing her to him growing up. She was less of a hard worker, not as smart, not as nice to people, weird, not accommodating enough, not loud enough, too shy, too reserved, too

She was tired of being compared.

"Thanks for the battle, I guess..." she whispered.

One day later.

For the last four years, Mira Compton had been sad.

There were highs and lows to her sadness. It came in waves, but when it did, it submerged every other feeling and it made it almost impossible to play pretend. She had thought that she was finally doing better now that she had made a lot of friends, but nothing could have prepared her for what she would find in this town. Team Galactic was involved in the Hunters' scheme. Team Galactic. The thought spread like wildfire in her mind, consuming everything in its path until her head was filled with nothing but sorrow.

"Nice to meetcha, man!" She grinned at her opponent. "Hope we have a good one."

"Uh, same to you."

Smile. Be happy and grateful for what you already have. You don't know when you're going to lose it again.

Yet, was she not already losing it all? She was fighting with her friends, and most of all, Maeve and she hadn't spoken. Mira bit her lip and forced herself to smile. She'd always been a fuck-up.

"This is a battle between Mira Compton and Jake Holland. Trainers, send out your Pokemon."

She would arrive at Veilstone soon, and she would stay there until she found her uncle, Circuit be damned. She had only signed up as an excuse to travel there and gain in strength. Team Galactic apparently had their main base hidden there, Mira wasn't going to let that opportunity slip past her fingers. Mira sighed as she grabbed her Pokeballs. Funnily enough, she might have been one of the only people who had known of Team Galactic before the League announced their existence after the attack at Valley Windworks. She had known for years now. Apparently her uncle had been there too.

And she hadn't, because she had opted to go to Canalave instead of going straight to Floaroma. Regret. It burned.

Mira sent out her Kadabra and Kirlia while Jake Holland sent out his Politoed and Seismitoad. Mira had been so depressed that she hadn't even bothered to do any research. It was a constant, sinking feeling that she couldn't get rid of unless she had something to distract her, but it was hard to be distracted when the answers she seeked were right there, nagging at her.

If only she hadn't been such a coward, she could have met Lisa Hunter today.


"Let's do this gently— but not too gently! Kadabra, Energy Ball and Teleport! Kirlia, Psybeam from afar!"

"Politoed, dodge with Bounce! Seismitoad—"

In two Teleports, Kadabra had already crossed the field with a ball of green energy in the hole of his spoon. It would have been more powerful if they had been on the Grass Field instead of the Rock Field, but it would do the trick. The Energy Ball slammed into Seismitoad's huge stomach, and Politoed jumped so high it was like it was flying. Kirlia brought her hands together and tried to shoot it out of the sky with Psybeam, but it was too high.

You are unwell, Mira. I can feel it, Kirlia's voice rang out in her head. Kadabra, Mira is depressed. What should we do?

Who did this to you—

Kadabra cut himself off to dodge Seismitoad's attack. It drenched its two fists and punched where he had just stood, but he was already gone, and another Energy Ball hit the water type in the head. Politoed crashed against Kadabra, slamming his head against the floor, but the psychic type Teleported before more attacks could hit.

Telepathy was a funny thing. Kadabra was no mind reader, but Kirlia was an empath, so she could feel Mira's emotions and intents. She technically didn't have to order the fairy type around, but she did it anyways for flair unless the battle got really difficult.

"Kadabra, hold it with Psychic until Kirlia can take over!" Mira grinned.

Do not try to avoid me, Kirlia chided. You told us you were getting better the last time we spoke, but your mindscape is getting worse by the day.

Kadabra Teleported himself upward and seized Politoed before it could jump again. The water type groaned and struggled against Psychic's hold. Kirlia ran forward, sliding against the floor with her delicate legs and used Psychic on the water type as well.

"Seismitoad, go and help!"

"Kadabra, deal with it."

Mira was fine. This was just a deeper slump than usual. She just needed to wait until Maeve forgave her, and then she'd help her apologize to everyone for her outbursts and end this awkward atmosphere. Kadabra summoned another Energy Ball, splitting it in five and sending them forward with a gentle wave of his spoon. Seismitoad dodged the first, but was hit by the rest.

You lie to us and yourself. Let us finish this battle. I will take care of you, Kirlia brushed against her mind.

Kadabra's spoon bent and his eyes flashed. Tiny orbs of condensed psychic energy appeared around Politoed and buried themselves in his body. Psyshock.

Kirlia tells me that you fought with your associates. Is this true?

It is true. A fairy does not lie.

Have some self-respect. You are more psychic than fairy,
Kadabra sighed. Although only a fairy would delay their evolution for some personal nonsense. It is completely illogical.

I will not evolve until I am in perfect condition.

A conversation between two psychics was mind-bendingly quick, especially for a human. Mira winced, and the usual headaches that she had grown past came back. Kirlia and Kadabra took notice and cut off the link. The fairy type slashed across Politoed's gut with a Psychic Kick, and Kadabra finished off Seismitoad with an Energy Ball. Jake Holland cursed and sent out his last two— a Bellibolt and a Toxicroak. Mira had only seen the former once a few years ago and it was certainly cute in a weird, ugly way.

Jake screamed out orders, but Mira didn't even pay any attention.

"Just Psychic and Teleport around and stuff," she sighed. Her head wasn't in the game at all.

Mira, Kirlia said as she hastily dodged a Water Gun from Bellibolt. I will speak for Kadabra here. I explained the situation to him, and he is of the opinion that you should go and apologize to your friends.

thought so? Well, maybe it was just because he was worried about her. The psychic type narrowly avoided Toxicroak's Venoshock and retaliated by slamming the frog's face against the floor with Psychic. He held it in place and Kirlia finished it off with three Psybeams.

Bellibolt gurgled, and electricity exploded outward in a Discharge. Kadabra easily dodged, but Kirlia was caught in the blast, interrupting their conversation. She was still getting the hang of Teleport thanks to Kadabra's tutelage, but it was too risky for her to use it in the middle of a battle. Kadabra quickly used the small window of rest that Bellibolt needed after such an attack to grab him with Psychic. It was only a matter of time now.

My apologies. I was hit, Kirlia said. Even when wounded, a psychic's voice would be smooth and clear, with no stutters, groans of pain or blemishes.

Mira forcefully exhaled— which was almost a laugh. Obviously she had seen that she had gotten hit.

I felt the need to apologize anyway. Let us return to the previous topic. We will not idly stand by while you sink deeper into your depression. Pretending to be happy will not work.

She turned her head away from Kirlia and scoffed. One last pain-filled scream from Bellibolt signaled the end of the battle.

What do I know, you ask? I know a lot. You have told us everything, and we are quite worried about your well-being. Even that horrid, ghostly thing. Alas, I am not foolish enough to think that you will get better simply by talking to us. Since you refuse to speak to one of the Nurse Joys, then your friends are the next best option.

"Victory to Mira Compton!"

Mira snapped out of her daze and noticed that the battle had finished. She hadn't been paying attention at all.

Do not recall me. I will accompany you.

She sighed, recalling Kadabra and Kirlia, but released the latter next to her immediately. She was going to apologize soon— tomorrow.

She would start tomorrow.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, Aaron Vera, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish

Thank you Aasgier#3393 and ObsidianOlive#5833 for the teams!
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Chapter 159 - It Grows
CHAPTER 159 - It Grows

"Woah! That seriously looks great," I exclaimed. Princess dropped a tiny sculpture of Angel into my hand and pouted. It was smudged, low on detail and deformed, but it was hers and it was perfect to me. "I'm telling the truth! Angel, look! It's you—"

Togetic's eyes shone and the sculpture turned to mush. She had brought in some mud inside of our Pokemon Center room to practice with, and she was dissatisfied with her progress. Tangrowth's eyes drooped, knowing that he'd failed to see his own statue. She had made Buddy first and had a similar reaction. She didn't want anyone to see her art unless it was up to her standards.

"You're doing good, stop being so harsh on yourself," I said. "Can you do mommy?"

Togetic hurriedly shook her head, saying that she wouldn't make a statue of me until she was sure that everything would be perfect. Honey and Sweetheart took offense to that, since it meant that they were just guinea pigs, and to be honest, they were kind of right. I wasn't going to intervene and pick a side though. A parent had to be neutral on these things.

"Well if you're not going to do me, do your sister or she's going to throw another tantrum."

I settled deeper onto the bed and relaxed. It had been a day since my previous battle, and it felt nice to spend some time alone with the family, and I assumed that most of my friends were doing the same. I wished Sunshine could be here… wait, maybe he could! He'd been so well-behaved these last few weeks, and especially now that we had come up with the deal. Maybe he would just sit in a corner and sleep without burning anything as usual. The room was usually cramped with Tangrowth and Jellicent taking the most space, but today, the latter was content to just float and stay flat against the ceiling.

Yes. Flat. His entire body was as thin as a sheet of paper. I almost wondered if he was trying to slip through the cracks in the ceiling, but he was just… chilling. His bright red eyes moved each time he decided to stare at someone else. Right now, he seemed fascinated with Honey's push-up routine. I called it a routine, but it was something he'd just started. Apparently he wanted to build up his endurance even more, and he believed that working out would help after I let something about Chase slip.

"You keeping count?" I asked Buddy. He rolled his eyes and inflated like a balloon. "How many?"

Electabuzz started doing one-handed push-ups and showed me five fingers.

"Five hundred? Is that true?"

Jellicent grumbled and spat a stream of water on the electric type's head. Honey let out a girly squeal and fell on his face.

"Pffft— hahaha! I guess you were lying!"

Honey laid flat against the floor, unmoving and possibly dying of embarrassment. Buddy had never been one for pranks, but he seemed to make an exception for the electric type.

"Need a towel?"


He got up and shuffled to the bathroom, meaning that he'd get it himself. When he returned, I clapped my hands to garner everyone's attention. I had to call Sweetheart name's multiple times because she was obsessed with one of Angel's vine games. He was continuously poking her with one, and her goal was to bite it off. I didn't exactly know the rules… were there even rules? There didn't seem to be a time limit to it.

"I'm going to release Sunshine into the room," I declared.

There were many different reactions to my words. Princess tensed, and her stare grew sinister— or at least as sinister as it could get, which wasn't much. Angel blinked slowly and his vines drooped, including the one he was using to play with Sweetheart, who excitedly waved her arms and screamed my ear off. Honey shrugged. He wasn't thrilled with the suggestion, but he wasn't angry either. Buddy simply stared, although I caught an excited glint in his eye. Sunshine was an excellent conversation partner after all.

"He's been nice lately, and I want you guys to get closer to him. Including you!" I told Princess. "I don't say this often, but follow Sweetheart's example."

The rock type smugly smiled with her eyes closed, and Honey teased her by repeating the first part of that second sentence. She flared up in anger and tried to ram him with her horn, but he jumped over her and cackled.

"Arceus… guys. I'm doing it now, okay?"

I grabbed Turtonator's Pokeball from the counter and released him in a corner of the room. His eyes widened, no doubt in surprise of the location. He hadn't been in an actual room in months, and it showed on his face.

"Sunshine!" I beamed. "We were hanging out and we were also wondering if you wanted to participate. You know, family bonding time and all of that…"

He let out a non-committed grunt and nodded.

"Great. Come over here big guy," I said, pointing to the floor on side of the bed.

He just laid down where I had released him instead. I turned to Togetic, and somehow her statue of Larvitar had turned into this horrid, malformed version of Sunshine in the five seconds I hadn't looked her way.

"Uh… yeah, that looks nice," I said.

Larvitar was already sitting next to the dragon, and Tangrowth looked on with lassitude and disbelief. I was hoping that he and Sunshine would bond over taking care of her instead of making it into a popularity contest. I nudged the vine he permanently had around my ankle with my other foot and discreetly nodded toward the pair.

Go make friends! I thought.

With a silent sigh that was only visible through his body language, the grass type squeezed through the counter and the bedframe, awkwardly waving a vine at Turtonator, who ignored him completely. Ignoring was good… right? It wasn't fighting, at least. Jellicent had already wormed his way across the ceiling and walls, clinging to them like glue. He was kind of cute when he did that.

"Let's see what's on TV…" I muttered. "You keep working on your art. Honey, come on the bed with me."

The electric type climbed into the bed and lay on my shoulder in the perfect position for me to scratch his head. Today and yesterday night had been… eventful for the media, to say the least. Denzel had sent over the edited soundbites of Jerry confessing to everything the Hunters did, including the tournament rigging and more importantly their link to Team Galactic. It was the biggest story currently circulating in the news, and League agents had come to the city to investigate, along with hundreds of new reporters. Solaceon was usually one of the most boring towns in Sinnoh. It didn't have Floaroma's beautiful landscape, Celestic's history, or Sangem's beaches and tourism industry. Only Twinleaf could be ranked worse, and even Denzel would agree with me. He didn't particularly like his hometown.

So for one of the most boring cities in Sinnoh to have become such the center of attention? People were breathing down the Hunters' neck, and Roland Hunter— the family head— had put out a statement denying all of the allegations. That obviously wouldn't stop the rumors from spreading and the investigation from progressing.

What we had failed to anticipate was a certain angle a few channels were pushing— that the League was complicit in all of this since they let the Hunters run free all these days. There was a real scandal about the fact that Cynthia had just let them off without any consequences when Shiftry had tried to spread its darkness through the entire city. It was technically our fault, but the League was in the wrong here, so I didn't feel particularly bad. That 'protecting the region' reason felt flimsy at best. What could Shiftry do that the League could not?

Strangely enough, the part about Shiftry being the family's true leader? No one had spoken out about that.

"Wanna watch cartoons?" I asked. Honey and Princess nodded, and Sweetheart clamored from her corner. Sunshine lazily opened an eye and snorted. "I think they've got that thing that you like on. You know the one with the singing Jigglypuff—"

"Toge! Togeprrri!"

"Right, that one."

She was a huge fan. Really, it was a cartoon for toddlers where kids would be encouraged to sing along to Jigglypuff's voice actor. Princess wasn't very good at it, but she really got into it. Honey just liked television in general, although he preferred more mature shows. I needed to get him to watch Mystery Dungeon one day. He would bawl his eyes out at that ending.

Sweetheart grumbled and dejectedly sat back on the floor. She hated that one because it wasn't action-packed enough for her liking, but it was her sister's turn on the TV. I let it play and just mindlessly watched cartoons for the next hour and a half. This was bliss.

A knock I didn't recognize garnered my attention.

"Princess," I whispered.

Her sculpture— which was now herself— turned to dust and then into a spinning drill.

"Angel, open the door. Princess, don't stab even if they're a stranger. Wait for my signal."

A lone vine snaked across the floor and then to the door handle. Mira was at the door, and I let out a sigh of relief. Turtonator flared up and his shell glowed bright red. I recalled him before he could burn anything.

"Am I bothering— ah, I guess I obviously am. Sorry."

"No problem," I said. "What's up? Come in, come in."

I waved her over and she hesitantly entered. I didn't exactly blame her. We were friends, but she wasn't like the others. She and Maeve had almost never seen my Pokemon outside of battle, so I understood her anxiety. She turned my desk chair and sat on it backward, wrapping her arms and leaning her head against the back support.

"You still feeling down?"

"Yeah. And there's this weird thing going on with Maeve where I've apologized, but it still feels like she hasn't forgiven me."

"And you wanted my help?"

"Not exactly. I just came here to vent and confess."

"Confess? What did you do?"

"Nothing bad, Arceus," she sighed. "Well, it would have been bad if I succeeded, but I didn't. I figured it was better to tell you because I know your type. You get in people's heads and figure out everything about them… err, sorry, that came out more aggressive than I wanted."

"Don't worry about it, it's no big deal," I said. I could tell there was some backstory there. "You're not exactly wrong. I mean I know you have some kind of history with Team Galactic and that it's personal, but I won't push you for answers."

I was going to ask her to stay safe, but that would have been hypocritical of me. After all, I had promised Sunshine to take them down, and I assumed that Mira had the same plan. The words she had spoken in that annex during our break-in came back to mind, and I finally had enough context to fill the gaps. She was planning on looking for the rumored Team Galactic base in Veilstone and breaking in.

Maybe she'd be able to help me when the time came. There was no way I was involving anyone else in this.

"Man, I feel way better already," Mira smiled. "But here's my confession. When I left after talking to Jerry, I tried to find him again so that he could set up the meeting with Lisa anyway, and I did," she said. "But I didn't show up. When push came to shove… I didn't have the guts to go."

She paused and her face twisted in anger.

"I'm such a pussy. After doing all that big talk and making fun of her Mightyena, I couldn't even show up. How am I supposed to find my—"

Mira cut herself off before she could continue. She took a deep breath and kept going.

"The point is, I tried to do it all on my own and I couldn't, but I still felt like coming clean. I already told Maeve, Louis and Denzel. It was you now, and Cece's next on my list."

"You're a brave girl, Mira. You charged head-first into the tournament building, and you're always there to cheer us up. I think that you're being too harsh on yourself. Although I am pissed that you went behind our back to Jerry. If you had gone there, you could have died or disappeared like Luca."

We were still hoping the League would find him somewhere locked up in that mansion, but my hope was diminishing by the hour.

"Anyway, I guess that's that," she said, cheering herself up. "Whew, coming clean is tough. I'll let you get back to… whatever you were doing. Is that a cartoon?"



She left quickly after that with a smile on her face. Cecilia would probably be a lot angrier with her than I had gotten. Justin would have a similar reaction, and I doubted that Pauline would care. She was probably busy getting her room destroyed by Vigoroth. Just when I was about to lie back down in my bed and release Sunshine again, my phone rang. Melody was calling me.

We hadn't spoken since Denzel leaked everything to the media, but the texts she had sent were… mixed. Our involvement needed to be known so that our claims would at least get some sort of validity, but she wished that she knew I had been involved in this. It wasn't like the voice clip incriminated me in any way, but we were technically forcing a man to speak, and our questions had been very aggressive. It was for a good cause, so there hadn't been any financial backlash, but the fact that I had acted on my own ruffled some feathers at the Poketch Company.

"Good afternoon Grace. How's your day been treating you?" She asked.

"Err, I've been hanging out with my Pokemon. What's up?"

"No need to be so anxious, I'm not about to scream at you. My bosses did scold me—"

"I'm so sorry!"

"—But we've got everything under control. We didn't have to do a lot of spinning to make you the hero of that interaction. Just tell us the next time you plan on doing something crazy. Something tells me that this wasn't the first time."

I said nothing and let her continue.

"Anyway, that wasn't why I was calling to begin with. We were thinking of ejecting you of the tournament early. There are barely any trainers left in it. The few people that are left are resigning en masse now that there was confirmation that it was rigged from the start. Harry Rodriguez hasn't been seen since… it's hurting you more than anything else at this point. BattleZone is determined to see this through, but they were kicked out of the Hunters' property and all of today's matches have been delayed, so we don't exactly know what's going on."

"What about my rewards? I didn't make it to the top ten yet."

"You'll get your bonus, don't worry about it. We'll give you 100,000 Pokedollars, so slightly less than you would have gotten for first place."

"Holy shit— yeah, yeah, that's amazing! I'll take that."

"You'll have the money transferred to you sometime today, just make sure you resign— possible— need— image—"

"Melody? Hello?" I frowned.

Was something wrong with the internet somehow? This wasn't Snowpoint, so that was odd. Usually Pokemon Centers were on top of that stuff. I gasped in surprise when the electricity went out, as it seemingly did for the entire building. An industrial hum I hadn't noticed before stopped, leaving only dead silence. Larvitar loudly complained that her cartoon got cut off and Tangrowth comforted her with some head pats.

"Don't worry, it'll probably come back on soon, they have generators for that stuff—"

Togetic screamed to get our attention and pointed toward the window.

I felt my heart sink to my stomach.

The sky was bleak and ashen, and thick clouds covered the entirety of Solaceon. It was so dark that it was as if it was the middle of the night. The sun was nowhere to be seen, and not even a single ray passed through those bleak clouds. The longer I looked, the more it seemed like no light bounced off of them at all.

The true horror was the Hunters' mansion. I couldn't see it from afar, but I knew its general direction. A huge spire of void was shooting out of it and into the sky, and it was also spreading toward Solaceon. It was an endless sea of darkness where no light could hope to escape. Obsidian. Void. Null. Emptiness. It was as if the world itself was being deleted by the force, and it was coming quickly. There was no hope of outrunning it even if I tried. I heard muffled screams and saw trainers desperately trying to fly away on any Pokemon that could carry them. Some took multiple people when they could. The hallways of the Pokemon Center devolved into shouting and fighting. Curses and screams, calling for their mothers, begging for their lives, asking why them?

It was too late.

The dark was coming. I instinctively stepped back and felt Angel wrap me into a hug. Togetic rushed into my arms and shouted for me to run. Buddy and Honey stepped in front of me in between panicked shouts to shield me from whatever was happening. Tears streamed down my cheeks, but I hadn't even gotten the time to process what was happening. No final words came out of my mouth. No life flashed before my eyes. There was just a hollow feeling of acceptance. I didn't even manage to do the right thing and recall my Pokemon to protect them from whatever this was.

Twenty seconds later, it reached our building. I flinched, expecting death.

Instead, nothing happened. When I opened my eyes, the floor had been overtaken by the abyss, but I had not died. I took a hesitant step forward and felt as if I was trudging through the thickest of muds, or drying cement. The air was so dense that my brain was constantly tricked into thinking that I was drowning. It took around two minutes for me to get used to breathing, and the coughs didn't sound like they were mine. The pitch of my voice had changed.

It was cold, but not uncomfortable. My Pokemon no longer had their respective colors, and neither did my clothes, my hair and my skin. Colors faded from the world and the darkness washed it over in black and white. The walls, the desk, the bed— everything. The television only played some kind of distorted static noise. Strangely enough, I did not panic. My mind felt completely clear. There was a certain focus here that I had never felt anywhere else.

Neutrality ruled here.

I struggled toward the window again, and it seemed that the entirety of Solaceon was like this. Walls of void had encased the entire town in this hell, rendering escape impossible. The only light in this Arceus-forsaken place was a pale glow in the distance that peaked over the horizon. The mansion.

It seemed that Shiftry had made its move.

What did a Pokemon do when it was cornered?

It lashed out.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, Aaron Vera, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish
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Chapter 160 - It Festers
CHAPTER 160 - It Festers

Darkness had come to Solaceon. I took deep breaths— or as deep as they could be with how heavy the air was. I didn't know if there was a certain time limit to how safe we would be here, but we were at least alright for now, it seemed. From what Jerry Heo had told us though… a few days here, and all of our emotions would disappear. I was already starting to feel the beginning of it. I didn't think that it would be replaced by loyalty to Shiftry however. He was no psychic capable of mind control. His work was a lot more subtler than that. Shiftry plucked each emotion of his choosing, but could not add any himself. The only reason it worked on the Hunters in the first place was that they'd been brainwashed from birth by their family members.

Still… if we stayed here too long and I lost every emotion, did that mean that I would no longer have the will to run? To escape? Then I would have to wait for the League to get here to save me.

My Pokemon clamored at me, asking me to leave, and I frowned when I realized that their voices all sounded the same. The pitch. I spoke up as well, saying random gibberish, and my voice confirmed my doubts. We all sounded the same. The voice was neither feminine or masculine— it was in between the two.

"You guys are right," I said, clenching a fist. "We've got to go. Maybe people are organizing and figuring things out."

I could only hope that was true. I doubted that I would find my friends in the sea of people out here, but they couldn't have gone far from the Center. Electronics not working was really going to screw us over, but at least Pokeballs still functioned. After grabbing my backpack, I heaved against the door, struggling to push it against the void littering the floor until Tangrowth just destroyed it with a Vine Whip. The majority of people on this floor had already left it seemed. I hesitated for a second, wondering if I should go to my friends' rooms on the other floors, but I opted to leave instead. The smartest decision right now was to get outside.

I recalled Angel, Buddy and Sweetheart for now. The first two were too big to navigate through all of these trainers, and Larvitar was too slow to keep up with my pace. Electabuzz would be able to shield me with Protect should anything happen, and Togetic had her psychic powers—

Wait. Would they even work here? Common sense dictated that all of this dark energy would cancel out any psychic type attack. Damn it, I lacked information, but I couldn't panic. The silver lining about this was that my mind was clear. It didn't stop me from feeling anxious at all, but it would keep me from panicking, at the very least. Since the elevator didn't work, I stepped down the stairs and sighed in relief when I saw that the Nurse Joys were keeping everyone in line.

"...Everyone should stay near the Pokemon Center at all costs until we figure out what is going on! Don't push, keep calm, and wait for a response from local forces!"

"League trainers were in the city, so it's only a matter of time until we get help from the outside!"
Another nurse yelled. "For now, just find a spot for you to sit, or feel free to go back to your rooms to leave more space for anyone wandering the streets!"

So their plan was just to wait? Fuck, I needed to find my friends—

"Can't we leave?!" A girl yelled. "I saw some people flying away!"

"We do not know anything at this time, so the best course of action is to stay put until more information is gathered!"

No way. I was going outside to find my friends. I pushed through the crowd until it fizzled out on the street and asked Togetic to fly up to see if she could find anyone. There were many flying Pokemon in the air that I assumed were doing the same thing. The void on the ground was even thicker on the outside, and I almost felt like it was clawing up the walls, slowly but surely.

"Keep an eye out," I told Honey. He replied with a sharp nod, and his already tense body hardened. Shiftry obviously had a plan. There was no way he had done this for no reason.

Two minutes later, Princess came back and yelled at us to follow her. She led us a street away, and I let out a heavy breath when I saw that Mira, Maeve and Justin were waiting there.

"Arceus! Thank the Legendaries you guys are alright," I cried, hugging each one of them. "Do you know where the others are? Weren't you going to meet Cecilia?" I asked Mira.

"I was, but she wasn't in her room, so I just went to Justin instead."

"If I remember correctly, she was meeting Pauline to talk to Emilia on the phone," Maeve said. "So those two should be together, at least."

Justin frowned. "I came across Mira and Maeve in a stroke of luck in the lobby, and we decided to go outside to wait for everyone. This is… mindblowing. It's like the end of the world."

"Yeah," Mira sighed. "I can't release my psychics here. Being out scrambles their brains, and they lack the focus to use any moves or even speak to me."

So Togetic was probably not going to be able to use Extrasensory or Psychic any time soon. I sent her off to find more of our group, and Maeve and Mira had already sent out Staraptor and Magnezone to do the same.

"All of our voices sound the same, it's really weird," I pondered. "I can barely breathe properly too."

"It's the same for everyone. Shiftry's doing the same thing it did when Cynthia came to power," Justin said.

"No, this is worse," I shook my head. "From the way Jerry spoke, it was subtle the first time. He tried to make the entire city the same as their land and mansion, and none of those have this… darkness," I hesitantly said, trying not to stare at the floor for too long. The emptiness still unsettled me. "He's giving it everything this time. It's all or nothing. This is the play of a desperate individual."

"Which means that the League was closing in on them," Mira smirked. "What's the plan then? Try to leave?"

"I guess?" I hesitantly said. "The edges of the city look walled in."

It was as if Solaceon was completely trapped in some kind of… shape. It was impossible to know which one due to how indistinguishable the darkness in the sky was, but we were definitely encased somewhere. It was a wonder we were still managing to see things, although barely.

"I don't see a better option," Maeve said. "If we stay here too long, we'll lose everything that makes us… us. We'll be a blank slate."

A blank slate… was that what dark type energy was? I didn't have time to continue that train of thought. A sharp cry from Maeve's Staraptor caught our attention, and we cheered when we saw Cecilia, Denzel, Pauline and Louis approach. I rushed to my girlfriend and tackled her into a hug. She grabbed my face and kissed me, and we both cried from the amount of relief we felt.

"I was so scared for you," Cece sniffled. "Thank the Legendaries."

I hoped I would get to cry for a while longer yet.

I hugged the rest of my friends. I was so happy that we wouldn't have to get through this in separate groups. After whistling to get Togetic back, we waited for Magnezone to do the same.

"This is batshit insane," Pauline scoffed. "I—I read something about this online. This is like, a domain, but I thought only fairies could do that."

"I mean, when you're a thousand-year-old Pokemon, I guess you can skirt the rules a little."

I had to turn to figure out who had said that. It was impossible to distinguish between voices now.

"There might be a difference anyway, I don't know, I'm not a fairy type expert," Denzel continued. "None of us are. The question is, what the hell do we do?"

"We were considering trying to leave. Get to the edges… wherever those are," Justin said.

"That won't work," Cecilia shook her head. "People have come back on their flying types saying that the darkness at the edges is like an unbreakable barrier. Moves just wash over it like nothing."

"More precisely, they're absorbed," Louis specified. "The dark type has a lot of quirks we're unfamiliar with. Sinnoh isn't exactly crawling with experts."

"So do we just wait?" Maeve asked, her voice trembling. She jumped when Magnezone arrived and hovered over Mira's head.

We all stood still in silence, with only the noise of trainers and civilians alike to fill our ears. Denzel leaned against the floor and scooped darkness into his hands. It slipped through his fingers instantly. It was untenable.

"I think that we could wait a few hours to see what happens," he said. "But we can't wait forever. On our way there, we theorized that—"

"We'll lose ourselves if we wait too long. We have a few days," I guessed.

"Or less, if what you said about Shiftry going all out is true," Justin said.

I groaned. "Fuck. Fuck. Okay, I've got to speak to my Turtonator. Alone."

"Now?" Cece asked.

"Now's the best time to do it. I'm going to, uh— I'm going to go down the street and try to explain the situation to him."

"Grace, I know you came to a deal with him, but… look at what Shiftry did. He's far more powerful than we thought he could ever be. He's more than a millennia old!" Denzel exclaimed.

"Yeah. I know. But think of it this way," I paused and looked at each and every one of them. "We caused this. We were the ones that cornered Shiftry and his family. Logic dictates that they'll come and get their revenge soon, so I don't think that we'll be able to avoid a fight. And I also think that since we caused this… the responsibility falls onto us."

If I could have seen color, I probably would have seen them pale.

"But Shiftry also isn't here yet," I continued. "And a Pokemon of his power could have killed us a thousand times over now. This means that keeping this up is tiring him, or at least I think so. I don't know if we'll be able to beat him, but maybe if we take him on all together and break his focus, the League's main forces will manage to break through from the outside. I don't know, I'm just brainstorming, but Cynthia's probably there right now trying to break in."

"And Shiftry will probably be forced to keep this up because the League was about to send forces to raid its property from outside the town," Justin nodded.

"They had only sent some trainers, right?" Denzel said. "So they'd probably found definitive proof of a link and were about to send squads via Teleport, which isn't possible any longer."

"So we have to be ready," I said.

I walked down the street with Honey and Princess by my side. There wasn't really a spot without anyone, and I didn't feel like having to convince Sunshine to not freak out and kill anyone. Even in this situation, I didn't think that he'd be able to restrain himself. I turned to an empty grocery store and groaned when I saw that the owner or employees had locked up before running away.

"Talk about priorities," I sighed. "Break the door down."

Honey punched the door twice and I let myself in. People looked at me with disdain as I entered. Did they think I was a looter? Well, no matter. I grabbed Turtonator's Pokeball and released him. His eyes flared in panic when he noticed the situation, but I placed a hand on his plastron.

"Relax. Or at least try to," I said. "I'm scared too, but the dark is keeping me from panicking."

He frowned at me and then glared. I could almost hear his haughty call for me to explain the situation right now, and I did in excruciating detail, including the probable time limit that we had. I hadn't felt any change in my behavior yet aside from fear, panic and anxiety being somewhat muted, but it hadn't even been an hour. We'd probably be able to estimate a hard number soon when the first side effects started to sink in. Hopefully Pokeballs would protect my Pokemon from the worst of it.

"There you have it," I said. "We're in deep shit, Sunshine. The deal we had? I'm cashing it in now, and we're going to knock down two birds with one stone. Harry Rodriguez? The Hunters? They're linked to Team Galactic."

The temperature rose, causing me to back away. Not in fear, but because I had grown so accustomed to this feeling of… nothingness that this place had. A slight change in temperature here was as unnatural as a fish out of water. Everything stayed the same here. A change of any kind was wrong.

"Yes. You're right to be angry," I said. "They're going to come after us, I'm sure of it, and when the time comes, I'll need to use you. Deal?"

The fire type nodded.

"That means no killing random trainers, and listening to my orders. Or at least cooperating with me."

He nodded again, this time more reluctantly. A deal was a deal.

"Got it. I'm keeping you out then. Princess and Honey are on protective duties, and you'll be my battering ram. Actually wait, Princess, can you still use Ancient Power?"

The flying type chirped, and a small pebble rose from the floor. Darkness seeped out of it in a split second, and it became as natural as it had been before Shiftry had shrouded the world in its darkness. At least we still had that to protect me, but the lack of Psychic would cripple us.

"Okay, let's head back then. Watch your head."

Sunshine ignored my warning and simply walked through the concrete above the broken door with the scaly hat on his head. He deigned himself above such bothersome actions. My friends took a fearful step back when they saw the looming dragon behind me. I playfully slapped his scaly arm without looking back.

"Stop it. No death stares."

He gruffed, but everyone relaxed, at least slightly. I felt a lot safer with Sunshine by my side, although for him to fight effectively, I would need to be far away from him or I would be collateral damage. Honey's Protect would only last so long, and although there was a way to stop elements like heat and cold from going through psychic barriers like many Kadabra did for the gyms or tournaments, it took years of honing their skill to achieve such a feat.

And we were in the middle of a city filled to the brim with dark type energy, so that wasn't even an option.

"What now?" Maeve asked.

"We either wait for them to come to us…" Denzel muttered. "Or we go to them."

Cecilia took a few breaths. "I'm inclined to agree, unfortunately. They'd never expect us to go to them instead of hiding out in a Pokemon Center. They could wait us out too, but if we hide… either we wait too long and become shells of our former selves, or they come looking for us and kill innocents in the process."

"We're all innocents," Maeve exclaimed. "Shouldn't we at least wait until they attack first—

Turtonator snorted and looked at her with disdain and she flinched. He despised fearful trainers and thought of them as less than bugs. I knocked on his arm and shook my head, but he shrugged me off and told me that he wanted to speak again. Alone.


"What?" Louis asked.

"I was talking to Sunshine. Anyway, I think this is the correct solution. We go to that mansion… and we fight. There's no other way out of this. I'm not going to take a chance and wait for someone else to save us. I wish you could stay alone, but you'll be safer with the group at this point."

"And you won't have to go inside the mansion," Mira grabbed her hand with both of hers. "I'll stick by you. If everything goes to shit and we become these cold, logical beings… I think you might have to stop me from doing something bad."

I eyed her in surprise. She was giving up her personal vendetta.

"When you only have two functioning Pokemon? I'll be the one to protect you, stupid," Maeve let out a wet chuckle.

"Thank you," she sniffled. "The thoughts are growing louder in my head already… they're telling me to do things to myself. Painful things. And the worst part about this is that they're mine."

I felt my heart drop and stared at Mira in disbelief. Had she been hurting all of this time, and yet hadn't told us anything?

"Mira…" Louis trailed off.

"We— are you—" Denzel choked. "We'll talk about this when we're done. There's definitely no time to waste then."

The mansion wasn't difficult to find. It seemed to be this world's only source of light. Without it, this place would truly be pitch black, with only touch to locate ourselves. I stayed back a few steps and walked by Sunshine's side, who angrily stared at my friends. The gist of his problem was that he thought that they'd slow us down. He wanted to do this alone, with only the other members of the family there to assist. Having other trainers there would take away from his revenge.

"You're asking a lot out of me here," I said, crossing my arms as I walked. Togetic and Honey loudly disagreed with him, but he ignored their protests.

He huffed and breathed out smoke from his snout.

"I… I did technically say that we'd break into a Team Galactic stronghold alone, but I also said that we'd call the League first, which meant that help would be on the way."

The fire type rolled his eyes and growled.

"Okay, it's true that you would have gotten some time to act alone, but we don't even know if the League is coming. There hasn't even been an act of this scale in I don't even know how long, and I don't know if they'll be able to break in here. Obviously the League trainers that were already here failed, or this would have stopped by now. To be honest, they'll probably be sending the Elite Four and Cynthia to deal with this…"

I sighed and clenched my forehead in frustration. We still had a ways to go, especially with how difficult walking was, and he would keep pestering me until I either gave in, or he would renege on the deal. I needed to find a way to bargain my way out of this or I'd be back at step one—

Blotches of darkness lashed out at my friends' feet. It took a few seconds for Denzel to even realize what was happening.

"Recall your Pokemon, now!" He screamed.

They immediately all listened to him, and I did the same. Mira disappeared into the abyss first. She was dragged down into the floor before she could even scream. Cecilia was next, and then Denzel, and so on and so on. We were all being brought to separate locations. I narrowly managed to recall Sunshine before the void brushed up against my skin. This wasn't like teleportation. I felt a sudden drop, causing me to flinch. Like when I woke up sometimes with a sudden feeling of vertigo. I opened my eyes, and I was in a field. The mansion was in the distance, but a lot closer than it had been. I was somewhere on the Hunters' property. If I had to guess, it was in one of the fields where they raised Pokemon. It looked like our decision hadn't even mattered, and Shiftry had planned to teleport us to him in the first place. Could it sense each person that stepped through its darkness and pluck them anywhere it wanted at will? What a terrifying ability.

Something still bothered me.

If they had the power to somehow sense us and teleport us, why not just get to the point, get us in the room with Shiftry and finish us off? Maybe it was even weaker than I thought, and it made sense. Jerry Heo had told us that there were only a few trainers in the family with one Pokemon each because Shiftry feared rebellion. That only made sense if it was either weaker than it seemed— and even more so while maintaining this darkened world, or scared of fighting. Or both.

Was it…

Was it actually scared of fighting—

I flinched when I made out a shape in the distance. A man stood opposite of me. It was too dark for me to see his face.

"You really fucked everything up, didn't you?" He said. I couldn't recognize him by the voice either due to its pitch. Was he a Hunter? Did that mean that everyone else was also in danger? Mira was alone!

Damn it, I couldn't afford to worry.

"Yeah. So?" I said, trying to keep my voice from trembling.

"So your life ends here just like you ended mine with your fucking meddling," he said, releasing a Torterra, a Crobat, a Pelipper and a Luxray at his side.

This was Harry Rodriguez. And he wasn't done. A Weavile and a Crawdaunt had joined his team, no doubt given to him by the Hunters.

A grin stretched on my face, and it came along with a muted sense of satisfaction I could not explain. I released my entire team and licked my lips. The ground rumbled under my feet from Princess' pre-charged Ancient Power. Angel wrapped a vine around my waist, ready to pull me back from any attack. Buddy's eyes had such hatred in them that they illuminated his entire head with a pale, grey light. Honey's body tensed, and my hair began to stand up from the electricity building up inside of his body, accompanied by crackles and a low hum. Sweetheart angrily stomped a foot against the floor, causing it to shake.

Sunshine's shell lit ablaze and heat washed over my body.

I clenched a fist. "Harry Rodriguez, it is time for you to pay the long price."

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish
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Chapter 161 - The Long Price
A/N: Remember this is a fight with no rules, so I'll put a general trigger warning. It gets dark.

CHAPTER 161 - The Long Price

Thunder roared, and I felt raindrops begin to fall on my face. The water was dark, and it clung to my clothes, staining them with the mark of the abyss. It seemed that even here, Pelipper's Drizzle would take effect. I eyed Harry's new Pokemon with suspicion. Logic dictated that the two dark types would have a lot more power here than they normally did. My body shivered in anticipation as I waited for him to order the first attack. I nervously swallowed. This would be a battle with no rules and no holding back. He'd aim to kill me.

Steam rose off of Turtonator's body, and he stared at Harry in silence.

Finally, after twenty seconds of inaction, he struck.

"Torterra, keep your distance. Watch for Turtonator. Crobat, you're attacking. Constantly. Target her and kill her. Luxray, you focus on the ghost. Hit it with Thunderbolt when you can. Pelipper, use Water Gun on the Larvitar. Don't underestimate it."


Now it was self-defense.

Crobat blurred forward in a flash, and a Thunderbolt and Water Gun shot out toward us. Electabuzz roared with unmatched fury and an enormous Protect surrounded all of us but Sunshine, who began to run forward. The temperature was rising dangerously quickly, and his steps burned the shadows away. The two attacks crashed against Protect and fizzled out.

"Dazzling Gleam, then Ancient Power."

Crobat circled us, its huge wingspan summoning strong gusts of winds. Princess grunted at Honey, who ended his first Protect and summoned another one, this time smaller and only containing both of us. Togetic erupted with a loud flashbang and Crobat cried out in surprise. Twenty drills immediately shot out from the ground, but the Crobat quickly blurred and ran away.

"Buddy, slip away and kill him," I whispered. The words came out of my mouth so easily that I almost flinched. How much of that was just me, and how much of it was Shiftry's influence?

The words felt just to me, but there was no time to dwell on it.

Jellicent boomed, happy to execute my order. He sunk into the darkened floor and slithered toward our enemies. I felt Tangrowth's vine drag me away, expunging all of the air from my lungs when a Water Gun crashed where I had just been standing. The darkness split apart, revealing a small crater formed by the attack before covering it again. That would have killed me.


Sunshine had made it to them now, but he couldn't unleash his full power without burning me. Harry had already run off in the distance and was just letting his Pokemon fight, and only Weavile was by his side. Turtonator screamed out a Flamethrower at Torterra, whose tree caught fire. An Earthquake shook the floor, and Angel lifted me slightly off the ground so I wouldn't be affected. A bolt of electricity from Luxray and two jets of high-pressured water flew out of Crawdaunt's pincers, but the dragon turned in one smooth motion and the attacks crashed against his shell, causing a massive explosion that enveloped all three Pokemon.

"Princess. When Buddy reappears, send spears toward Harry and try to impale him," I whispered. "Honey, Thunderbolt the Pelipper."

Even if he'd been hurt by Earthquake, the flash appeared instantly. The electricity clipped Pelipper's side and the bird crashed to the floor next to Sunshine, who took a break from his rampaging. He clawed its mouth open and filled its stomach with a fiery Dragon Pulse until it cooked from the inside. Pelipper's body glowed with a pale grey, and then blinding white until the screams stopped. There was nothing left but a smoking husk. Its eyes were still open, but lifeless and staring at nothing.

The rain stopped, and Sunshine's flames intensified. The heat was almost painful, even from here, but one scream from Larvitar, and he settled down.

I had killed a trainer's Pokemon, and even though I knew it was wrong, I felt nothing. It was the logical thing to do. One less element to worry about.

Crobat cried out in fury. It had been waiting for an opening before, but all caution was thrown out the window now. The poison type rushed toward me, and I whispered to Princess and Honey. Turtonator spat out a scorching Smog that clung to Luxray's fur like glue and burned it away, and the flashes of electricity did nothing to hurt him. Crawdaunt's attacks were a lot more effective. Its pincers were vicious, and it used them to hit the dragon type with devastating dark and water type attacks that I couldn't place.

But I couldn't focus on his fight. Crobat was coming.

"Protect and Dazzling Gleam again."

Angel pushed me toward the electric type and the protective bubble surrounded me once more. All that practice we'd done was paying off, but using them in such quick succession and making them so large was starting to tire him out, so this would only work a few more times. Another explosion of light blinded Crobat, but the poison type had been ready for it. He rammed into Princess anyway and bit at her throat with a powerful Poison Fang.

I screamed, and so did everyone else. Angel wrapped the flying type in enough vines to cover its entire body and pulled him away from her. Larvitar stomped on the ground and a Rock Slide buried Crobat until it was incapable of movement.

I scrambled to my bag and quickly searched for a potion— no, a potion wouldn't be enough! Another explosion rang out and shook me to my core, but I couldn't even look to see what was happening. Princess let out a horrifying gurgling sound that was just wrong.

She was drowning on her own blood.

I held back tears and grabbed the Hyper Potions that Craig had given me so long ago at Savika's cabin and applied two of them to her throat. I let out a huge sigh of relief when she began to breathe again, although she seemed to still be a little out of it. I forcefully opened an eye and exhaled again. Her eyes looked fine. She wasn't poisoned.

I still applied an Antidote anyway, just to be safe.

I heard Crobat struggle under the rocks as I grabbed Princess into my arms, and Sweetheart buried it under another layer for good measure.

"Kill it. We can't afford to worry about if it breaks out, and we don't know if it'll sneak up on us again."

No one would get to live after almost killing my child. Electabuzz spared me a look, but he didn't hesitate.

He jumped atop the rocks, and after giving Larvitar a signal, the rocks above Crobat split apart. Before it could even react, Honey snarled, grabbing the poison type's upper wings and electrocuted it with everything he had. It wasn't even a move. Just pure electric type energy being unleashed onto Crobat, drowning out its agonized screams. It fell unconscious, but Honey did not stop. He kept going until he was sure he'd done the job.

Sparks of electricity still danced, appearing and disappearing off of his body like static. He took deep breaths and took a step back.

Crobat was barely recognizable now that he was done with it. Just smoke and ash with one of its wings torn off. I knew what I had done was wrong, but I couldn't bring myself to feel anything about it. Only bad things happening to my Pokemon or myself could bring emotions out of me anymore, it seemed, but even then, a Pokemon coming for a life should have been ready to lose theirs too. Honey stood over the corpse and heaved. He'd exerted himself a lot.

I turned toward Sunshine, who was still locked in vicious combat with Crawdaunt. Torterra and Luxray had already fallen, but the water type was stronger than Harry's own Pokemon.

"Recover for a bit, then we find an opening," I told Honey. He nodded.

Turtonator roared, locking both of Crawdaunt's pincers into place with his bulk and broke its tough shell apart with a point-blank Dragon Pulse. The dark type's pincers grew too big to be contained in Turtonator's hand, and it slammed them against Sunshine's plastron, knocking him to the floor and caving in some of his armor.


A quick Thunderbolt zapped Crawdaunt, leaving Turtonator enough time to turn his entire body and blow up. Another Thunderbolt from Electabuzz finished the job, and it fell unconscious.

Turtonator stood victorious over a completely burned Luxray, Torterra, and Crawdaunt. His shell was slightly damaged, along with the most recent hit he'd taken, but he seemed to be in good shape otherwise. I didn't know if the other two were dead or not, but it didn't look pretty. Luxray's fur had completely burned off, and there was only its cooked flesh left. All of the vegetation on Torterra's body was gone, and its tree had been torn in half.

There was only Weavile left, but something told me that it was special. It did not look to be panicking at all, and most of all, Harry wasn't panicking, although that was probably because of Shiftry's powers. He didn't even seem to care that two of his Pokemon were dead, or maybe more.

Buddy appeared behind him, his eyes flashing with all the intensity, but none of the color. Weavile blurred and slashed across his head before I could even tell what happened. The ghost type tried to fight back with a quick Water Pulse, but another Night Slash across his mouth stopped him from being able to attack.

"Come back!" I yelled.

His Water Sports sputtered, and he quickly ran away from Weavile. Every time he tried to Recover, the move didn't work. In fact, none of his moves were working properly.

"You killed my Pelipper," Harry said. "I'll make you pay."

"Not just your Pelipper," I said, trying to provoke him into making a mistake. He didn't react.

There was a lot less emotion than I thought he'd have, and his tone was almost… transactional. As if he was just going through the motions. Then again, he had been closer to Shiftry than I was for a longer period of time, and I wasn't even reacting to the horrors I had just inflicted even though I knew how wrong it was. We were both completely out of it.

"You told them to kill me first," I continued nonchalantly. "You reap what you sow. Sunshine, wait up."

Having already started to go toward Weavile, the dragon stopped.

"That Weavile is stronger than you," I declared. His eyes narrowed and he flared up in rage.

"Smart girl. You should just give up, I'll make your death painless and I'll spare your team."

"Remember when you said you'd listen to me?" I continued, ignoring Harry. "Now is the time to listen. Buddy, you stay back. You can't do much right now without a mouth. Try to cover me."

The water type nodded and calmed his floating. Dark energy was leaking out of him like a sieve. It was like Weavile would cut off the use of type energy with a single attack somehow. How would I counter that?

"Start us off with a Thunderbolt," I told Honey.

The electric type's arm spun around, and electricity jutted toward Harry. Weavile closed its eyes to focus and slashed across the air at the last second, summoning the same darkness that Shiftry had back in the mansion. The Thunderbolt was simply absorbed into it.

"I see," I muttered. "Sunshine, Flamethrower. Thunderbolt again, and Rock Slide."

Three attacks this time, but it was a Protect that stopped Harry from being hurt instead of the darkness. It was like I had thought. Flamethrower would have still burned him, and there were too many rocks to absorb into whatever that darkness was. That Protect was also a lot less refined than ours.

"Stop fooling around!" Harry snarled with a surprising amount of emotion. "Kill her!"

Weavile sighed half-heartedly, and thick shards of ice appeared around the dark type. It waved its hand, and the attack shot out of the air like arrows. They were too quick for Protect. I stood behind Tangrowth, but the ice tore through his entire body and one of the shards grazed my side. I hissed and clenched at my wound, dropping Princess onto the ground accidentally. She recovered by herself and struggled to fly, but she was still capable of battle.

"O—Okay, we have to—"

Turtonator roared in fury when Weavile simply ignored and ran past him to get to me. The heat emanating from him burned the ice type, but it was nowhere near enough to take it down.

"Ancient Power," I grunted.

Angel raised a barrier in front of us, hoping to use Weavile's momentum against itself, but the ice type tore through the rock with a single clawed attack and slashed across Tangrowth, tearing through chunks of his vines and revealing his darkened body within. Sweetheart yelled, and debris shot out of the floor, hitting Weavile in the head. Electabuzz used the opportunity to punch it with two consecutive Fire Punches, staggering it further. Three drills stabbed at its hard skin and Weavile was forced to retreat.

It circled around us with a menacing hiss. It seemed that it needed a certain amount of focus to dissolve attacks into nothing, so at least it'd still get hit.

"Angel, can you attack still?"

The grass type shook his body and the rest of his vines writhed in pain. He could still control his vines like limbs, but moves were out of the question. Buddy still hadn't gotten back to normal, although he was slowly managing to recover. Half of his mouth had reformed now.

Sunshine hesitantly looked at Harry and us. He was too far now for any of his attacks to effectively reach him, since he'd been running away from the start of the battle.

"Come. Help us finish this," I shakily said.

His body tensed for a few seconds, and then relaxed. He'd made his choice. Weavile hissed and blurred toward us again, and this time, Electabuzz stood in the way with Protect. The move only lasted a few seconds, and then Weavile tore through his chest with a Night Slash. Darkness seeped into the wound and then began to leak out. Before anymore damage could be done, Buddy hit the ice type with a Hex, having finally recovered from whatever affliction Weavile had inflicted upon him. Weavile convulsed as smoke emanated from its body, and Angel wrapped multiple vines around its neck. It simply got used to the pain and tore through them with its claws.

With unforeseen dexterity, it jumped above us and summoned another set of Ice Shards. They were aimed at me. Princess wasn't well enough to block with a large boulder and Tangrowth couldn't use any moves—

A Rock Slide rose from the ground, and I heard the ice shatter on them. Weavile hissed in anger, somehow speeding up and began to tear Sweetheart apart with Night Slash. I screamed, but it was too quick and avoided Princess' drills. Tangrowth wrapped a vine around the rock type to try to drag her away, but an Icy Wind froze them before they could even reach her, and he had to force me back so I wouldn't freeze too. Electabuzz pushed forward and tried to intervene, but he was too wounded by the Night Slash and couldn't use any moves. Ice surrounded Weavile's fists and it punched both him and Sweetheart at the same time.

Three seconds later, Turtonator arrived with an enraged roar.

He couldn't go all out with his heat, but he could still fight. A light of pure energy appeared in front of his snout and flew at Weavile, who interrupted her assault on Sweetheart to deal with the new threat. I used the opportunity to rush to her, but right as I was about to apply another Hyper Potion, she began to evolve. A protective shell surrounded her entire body, leaving only a few holes for gas, the eyes and a mouth. She was unconscious, but alive in her new cocoon-like form. I applied the potion to her anyway and recalled her for her safety.

Turtonator tried to grab at the ice type, but it was smarter than that. It knew that it had to deal with him now before it could move on to us, but it also knew that it had to play it safe. It was stronger than him, but it still knew that if it ever got grabbed, it was over. The ice type ducked on all fours and pushed itself forward, narrowly avoiding a Flamethrower, but before it could slash across Turtonator to prevent him from attacking, the fire type turned and slammed his shell with an Iron Tail, causing an immense explosion that made my ears ring.

Weavile emerged from the ordeal a smoking mess, but it wasn't even tired. It shook its body and rushed in once more, and the two Pokemon were locked into a struggle. Every time Weavile got anywhere close, Sunshine would blow up to prevent it from hitting him, but there was only so many times he could blow up his shell, and I knew that. He was slowly getting overwhelmed too, and it was our fault. There was no way for him to use his biggest asset here— the temperature, or he would hurt us. If we tried to run away to leave him some space, Weavile would just use the opportunity to attack us again and Turtonator would lag behind due to his lack of speed.

I eyed Harry in the distance. He had stopped running, as if he couldn't stop himself from seeing the moment I would die. There was one way to win this. Weavile would chase us, but… I looked at Princess, who was doing a lot better than she was two minutes ago. She was attentive now, and occasionally destabilizing Weavile with weakened Ancient Powers to help Sunshine.

"Princess. Your power's a bit screwed, but how—"

Another explosion interrupted me, and Turtonator's arm froze over before he tensed and burned it off. Weavile cut across his scales and grinned madly, but a Flash Cannon stopped it from attacking any further. It had been caught off-guard by the speed of the attack.

"How's your aim?"

Princess hesitated for a few seconds and nodded.

"Good, huh? I need you to use a drill— a single drill, and tear through Harry's leg with it. Don't kill him. I know I gave the order before, but we can extract information first."

Princess floated upward and her eyes narrowed. A single, small drill rose from the floor and began to spin.

"Angel, can you carry me there when Harry's incapable of walking?" I asked.

The grass type turned to me and nodded. I could see his vines regrow in real time, slowly covering his black body that was usually hidden within.

"We're going to have to be quick. Honey, I know you can't use moves, but I'm going to have you follow us. Buddy, you do the same—"

Princess interrupted me and told us to let her focus, which was already difficult with all of the fighting in the background.

The singular drill tore across the sky, becoming a speck. Togetic grunted and her eyes narrowed further, and further, and further…

Harry let out a faint yell and fell to the ground.

"Now go!"

Angel wrapped me tightly and placed me on his head. I recalled Princess, while Honey and Buddy followed closely behind. The water type propelled himself with Water Sport for speed, and Electabuzz was faster than Tangrowth was, so he could keep up. Weavile roared in anger, but that split second was enough for Sunshine to engulf her body in flames.

And now that we were getting further and further, there was no need to hold back. I could only see a faint grin as the air around the fire type warped and the darkness they were fighting on itself lit ablaze with darkened flames of obsidian. Weavile hissed. Its body was weak to fire, and it was fighting fire itself. The ice type grunted, opting to give up on the fight and follow us instead.

Angel stepped over Harry's Pokemon— dead or otherwise and used them as a boost.

"Buddy, you think you can stop this?!" I yelled. If the ride hadn't been so bumpy, I could have bit my lip or my tongue to distract myself from the pain on my waist.

Weavile was gaining too much ground too fast. The water type nodded, and his eyes flared.

"Buy us some time! Use Hex so it can't dodge! It'll just go around Whirpool!"

Jellicent summoned a Night Shade and rushed toward the dark type. My eyes widened when the shade spat out an extremely weak Water Pulse. Weavile tore across the ring of water confidently, but another came, and another, slowing it down ever so slightly. When it got in range, it crashed to the floor and writhed in agony from Hex, which was stronger than usual. Buddy was combining two Hexes at once with Night Shade's help. The water type called to Turtonator, who labored to get to where we were. Unfortunately, he'd exerted himself a lot, and he was rusty from not having battled all this time.

If he was rusty after a few months, how rusty would Shiftry be?

Jellicent quickly sunk into the floor when Weavile got used to Hex's pain, but not before detonating his Night Shade to deal some chip damage. A long-distance Flamethrower from Sunshine bought us a few more seconds, and we finally reached Harry, who desperately attempted to squirm away.

"Get away from me! Get away—"

Tangrowth slapped him with a vine— not enough to knock him out, but enough to leave a mark that would stay there a while. I glanced toward his wound. A huge gash on his thigh that was large enough to fit my fist. The drill had penetrated through everything, including bone. I grabbed his Pokeballs and began to try to recall Weavile.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" I hissed.

The ice type snarled as Ice Shards flew toward me. Buddy reappeared from the floor and solidified his body, getting stabbed but protecting me in the process.

The first Pokeball didn't work and homed in toward Luxray instead, although we were too far for it to get recalled.

Electabuzz stepped up and called forth a humongous Discharge. I eyed him in surprise. He had already recovered from Weavile's attack? The electricity was unavoidable, and only targeted in front of us, so Weavile took the hit and I aimed at it with the next ball.

It homed toward Torterra instead.

Honey saw what I was trying to do and let Buddy and another Night Shade take over with the defense. He grabbed two of Harry's Pokeballs and managed to recall Weavile before it could reach us.

I was so stupid. I could have done it two by two.

It was over.

But the price had not yet been paid.

"Princess. Princess," I said. "Don't kill him. He's no longer a threat."

Harry stared up and looked on in horror. The tip of a spear was hovering right above his forehead. Just one little push, and he'd die. He clung to his leg, putting as much pressure on it as possible to stop the bleeding, but it didn't stop his face from distorting in pain and the sweat from running down his face. Electabuzz handed me Weavile's Pokeball, and I placed it in my bag for now.

"So you can still feel emotion, but only for yourself and not your team," I coldly said. "Pathetic."

"You don't know—"

Tangrowth slapped him again. I made the rules here.

"You know, if you had sicced that Weavile on us from the start instead of hiding behind it like a coward, you might have won," I rambled. "In fact, you should have done so right after Pelipper died. Yeah, I think that would have been a lot smarter—"

"What the fuck are you talking about, you crazy bitch— argh!" I grazed his wound with a foot and he shut up really quickly.

"—and you really needed to control that Crobat. It's okay to be emotional, but you've got to keep your head on your shoulders. It's dead now. It was a nice lesson for me though. Now I know that I'll need to train my Pokemon to keep it together if I die so that they can kill whoever did it to me. A nice, equal price, don't you think?" I asked. He said nothing. "Also, you should really order your Pokemon more. Gives them a sense of direction, but you rely on brute strength too much, and that came back to bite you. Power is a fine tool, but you've got to be smart about it."

Why was I even saying this? It wasn't like he was ever going to use this advice. I didn't know, but it felt good. It had a certain finality to it.

"Also, when you do it, you really shouldn't yell it out loud for me to hear. Anyway, if you managed to poison my Turtonator with that Crobat, the battle really might have turned in your favor. Weavile would have been able to just run away and wait us out," I continued, crouching next to him with a painful groan. "Here's what you should have done. Have Luxray protect you instead of Weavile, that way my Jellicent still can't really approach you, but you actually have enough muscle to kill me. Too late now though."

Turtonator walked up behind me, and I basked in his warmth. The adrenaline was rushing out of my body, and pulsating pain ran through my waist. That Ice Shard had only grazed me and had been slowed by Angel's body, but it had done a number on me. I grabbed normal potions and healed Electabuzz, Tangrowth and Turtonator as best I could and stood on my tiptoes, whispering to the fire type.

"I know you want to kill him, but wait a while."

I had plans for him, and he needed to pay for a long time. I couldn't have him die just yet, although that wound on his leg did look bad.

Turtonator answered with a satisfied nod. Had he misunderstood me and expected to kill him right after I was done? I held back a sigh.

I would explain after.

I turned back to Harry and crouched over his body, staring directly into his eyes as I watched him grunt and squirm from the pain until he averted his stare.

For some reason, he seemed a lot more terrified of me than any of my Pokemon.

"Now, now," I exhaled. My side was on fire, and small shards of ice were still stuck inside of my waist. "You might have paid for your transgressions against my friends, but sure as hell haven't paid for your links to Team Galactic. A debt is owed," I said, thinking of Sunshine's trainer. "And you will need to pay it or suffer the consequences."

"Speak like a normal fucking human and tell me what you want—"

The tip of Princess' spear touched his forehead, but I motioned at her to stop. I needed to give him some form of hope. Time was of the essence. I couldn't even afford to tend to my wound. Any minute now, Shiftry might teleport him back or—

"Shiftry! Get me out of here! Shiftry—"

I stepped on the gaping hole on his leg and his words devolved into nonsensical screams. I couldn't let him think that he was in charge in any way shape or form, or he would get cocky and shut down before I could get him to talk. If he started to think and use his head, he might realize that there was no way to get out of this. It was either I left him here and the League eventually caught him, or I killed him. He'd probably opt for the latter due to not wanting to become a vegetable from the memory extraction process.

"Don't you think that if Shiftry cared about you, you would have been out by now?" I said. In truth, I had no idea what I was talking about, but it had an effect. His face twisted in horror. "Right. You understand. Your fate is in my hands now. You're going to answer my questions. If you do so, I'll let you go. I'll even bandage your wound! Then maybe in the chaos, you'll manage to slip away and escape. Abel manages to do it all the time. You know, that criminal from Unova?"

Harry Rodriguez swallowed and considered his options. Of course, everything I was saying was a lie, and Harry couldn't be compared to a man of Abel's skill in any way, shape or form, and even then, there was no way he was walking with this leg, but he probably didn't know how bad the wound truly was yet. I wasn't about to let him get away with this, not after he'd almost killed my two daughters. However, a desperate man couldn't stare reality in the eyes even if it was right in front of him. He'd cling to hope and beg to live until he realized that there was no getting out of this. The key was to jiggle the bait in front of him and pull it out of reach as soon as he gave me everything I wanted.

"The clock is ticking," I coldly said, tilting my head. Princess mimicked me, and her spear broke the skin on his forehead and blood dripped to the floor.

He bit his lip.

"What do you want to know?"

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean
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Chapter 162 - It Toils
A/N: Another trigger warning, same as last chapter.
CHAPTER 162 - It Toils

"First thing's first. What was your plan? Do you know where my friends got teleported to?" I asked.

"They were planning on—" he stopped, hissing in pain. "Planning on separating you to take you on separately. The Hunters don't have shit for trainers, so their manpower's spread thin. They thought I'd be able to take you down alone, and they wanted to gang up on your tougher friends—"

"Okay. Where are they?"

"I don't know! Somewhere out in the Arceus damned fields! I didn't get the fucking exact placement! They don't tell me shit!"

I sighed. There was no one to find them out there, and I wasn't going to send Princess to fly alone after what had just happened to her. If I couldn't go to find my friends, then… the best way to deal with this was to get to the mansion and end this at the source.

"Do they have people protecting Shiftry?" I asked.

"They just have Roland with him, but the only Pokemon he owns is an Abra, and he obviously can't use it at the moment. Everyone else is out fighting."

That could have been a lie, and it probably was. I figured he'd change his tone when he realized that we weren't going to separate just yet.

"What happened to Luca Antonovich?" I continued.

"That little runt? He's dead, and his Pokemon are too. You don't want to know what they did to him before he passed. He never spilled anything too," Harry clicked his tongue. "But I had nothing to do with that. That was all them, not me!"

"Spare me your excuses," I said. I felt nothing at Luca's death. Not even a twinge of pain. "What's the end goal with this? What does Shiftry want?"

"It wants the League to leave it the fuck alone, that's what. It's in this sort of… catatonic state, so it's putting everything it has into the barrier around town so that they can't break through."

"How long can he keep that up?"

"I don't know."

"Think a little harder."

"I don't fucking know! Days would be my guess! It might be a thousand years old, but it's no Legendary! It can't do this indefinitely."

"Does it require him to focus?"

"Yes. It can't even move or speak."

Good, so the plan to attack it to stop him from spreading his darkness could still work. Of course, that was if everything he was saying was the truth. It was at times like these where a psychic would have been nice— not that I would have been able to use it here. Plus, that type of skill took years of training to hone, just like shielding minds.

"What's the link between the Hunters and Team Galactic?"

"All I know is that Roland and… Cyrus—" he whispered the name. "Are old friends, and that he didn't mind helping them by rigging the tournament in my favor and giving them high-quality Pokemon for their grunts. They met a little more than two decades ago."

"Team Galactic and the Hunters wanted you to win this tournament. Why?" I asked.

"I'm not exactly a part of Team Galactic, but I'm associated with them," Harry said. "They helped me with money and said that all I had to do was get a job in the League at the end of the year and tell them about the defenses there and how it's organized. If I won this big tournament, then I would have gotten a lot of national attention, so it might have made a few recruiters at the League get their eye on me and would have made it easier for me to join. As soon as I gave them what they wanted, I'd be free from any obligations."

"You're a fucking moron."


"Do you really think a guy like you can fool the League? Like a thousand people haven't tried before and failed? Do you think you're special? You're just the first idiot they found and thought would go along with their plan!"

"I needed the money—"

"You were being used, you fucking idiot. You would have gotten caught by a psychic before you even made it close to the Lily of the Valley island. All Team Galactic wanted from you was to distract the League and make them more paranoid about every trainer in their forces. And even if it worked out, what do you think they would have done with that information? They would have attacked the place you work at, or you would have been sent to fight them anyway."

Harry wanted to retort, but he bit his lip.

"That's right. Fucking stew in your stupidity."

I got up from my crouching position and lifted my shirt with a groan. The cut from the Ice Shard was a lot deeper than I thought it was, but I couldn't get bogged down by pain.

"Keep that spear on him," I told Princess. "Buddy, spray the gash with some water— gently."

The water type nodded and let out a gentle stream, washing away most of the blood. I plucked out tiny shards of ice still stuck inside of me one by one, inflicting excruciating pain upon myself. Jellicent cleaned it again with warmer water this time, and I grabbed a bandage from my bag. Electabuzz helped me wrap it around my whole waist. After two minutes, we were done.

"Here's what's going to happen," I said. "You're going to come with me."

"We had a deal—"

"I am altering the deal," I smiled. I crouched to bandage him as well. He'd lost too much blood, and I couldn't have him dying on me while still having his uses. Sunshine protested, but I looked into his eyes to get him to stop. Now wasn't the time for tantrums. We had bigger fish to fry before we could even think about getting him his revenge.

"Angel, grab him."

The grass type squeezed a vine around Harry with none of the usual gentleness he used with me and lifted him in the air.

"You're coming with me," I said again. "Now, if anything you told me was a lie, now would be the time to admit it. If anything happens to me because you misled me, my Pokemon will make sure to drag you into hell if it's the last thing they do."

I wasn't sure Shiftry would particularly care about him being a hostage, but it was worth a try at least. They had invested resources to get him to win, so they at least thought he was of some value even if he was a pawn that could be sacked at any moment. And if they didn't, it was a nice little incentive to get him to tell the truth, and he knew his way around the mansion.

"There are two trainers left in the mansion," he forced out. "Reggie and Lane. They own a Drapion and an Umbreon."

"There you go. Now that wasn't so hard, was it? Let's go."

I stared at that damned mansion lit up by a pale, ghastly light. It was still shooting out a tower of void into the sky, constantly replenishing the darkness within.

An Umbreon and a Drapion? Fighting the former would be akin to battling Sylveon, and I had already theorized on how to tackle Maeve's new Drapion. My Pokemon were tired, but not beaten. Sweetheart was still unconscious, but I doubted that she would have been able to fight effectively with her new body anyway. Plus, she needed the rest.

The point was, I could win against two enemies.

They had better not get in my way.

When the shadows took Mira, she expected to die.

But then she realized that she could still breathe. She slowly opened her eyes and saw an endless field of darkness lying before her, with a single human and Mightyena around thirty feet away. Her first instinct was to release Haunter and Magnezone, but a tiny part of her brain told her not to. That a worthless girl like her deserved whatever was coming next. Her hand hovered over her Pokeball, but the trainer's scream pushed her to move.

"Mightyena, get her!"

The dark type rushed forward, almost gliding across the darkened floor.

They'd all be better off without you.

Haunter and Magnezone emerged from their Pokeballs, and when they saw that an enemy was targeting her, they immediately took action. Two bolts of electricity flew out of Magnezone's magnets, but Mightyena sunk into the floor.

"Stick close, it's coming to me," Mira told Haunter.

And it'd be better if it got me.

The ghost angrily cackled, unable to get the permanent grin off of his face. Magnezone hummed, shooting rays of Flash Cannon into the floor at random. Mightyena was nowhere to be found, but it did make the shadows split apart for a few seconds, allowing them to actually track it by revealing the blotch of darkness rushing toward them. Haunter's ghastly eyes narrowed and darted toward the dark, and he sunk into the floor with more determination than Mira had ever seen out of him.

Why go so far for her?

Mightyena yelped as Haunter forcefully expunged it from the ground. The dark type snarled and bit off a quarter of Haunter's body with Crunch, but Magnezone shot out another Flash Cannon that staggered it. The two hated each other's guts, and yet they were working together to save her.

Mira bit her lip. It took her almost dying for that to happen.

Haunter lost his corporeal form, becoming nothing but poisonous mist and slipped into Mightyena's mouth. The dark type slowly choked on the poison, agonizing and writhin against the floor for minutes until it died.

That should have been you.

"Haunty. Haunty, stop," Mira said. He didn't listen, and he moved on to the trainer next. It was too dark to see their expression, but it seemed that they simply accepted their fate. Haunter floated toward her, still in his mist-like form, but an angry metallic clang from Magnezone snapped her out of her daze. She recalled Haunter and fell on her knees. The trainer shrugged and walked off.

"I don't think I can do this anymore."

Magnezone said something, but Mira was too out of it to care. What was the point? She wanted to lie down somewhere, close her eyes and drift off to sleep.

And that is what she did. Mira recalled Magnezone, got on the darkened floor and closed her eyes. The floor felt so comfortable. It was like she was lying on a soft cloud. This was nice. She could end it here. She would never be able to find her uncle anyway, and convincing him to leave Team Galactic had always been a pipe dream.

Not when he was a Commander. There was no way the League would let him off with a light sentence like she had hoped before Shifty's influence gave her the ability to think clearly. Even if his intentions were good at heart, he had caused the death of too many people.

He apparently called himself Charon now, and he was the only family she had left.

Mira did not know how much time passed, but a loud screech in the sky woke her up. She squinted, and thanks to the mansion's pale light, she made out a Staraptor in the sky, carrying two people. One in his talons, and one on his back, although the person there was barely hanging by a thread.

That was Maeve. As soon as they landed, the person in Staraptor's claws grunted in pain, and Maeve released her Monferno and Drapion for protection, who looked like they'd just been in an extremely tough battle.

"Mira— Star, keep that fucker in your grip! Mira, are you okay?!"

Just leave me alone.

Maeve dropped on all fours and touched Mira all over, probably checking for wounds.

"Where's your Haunter? Did they hurt you?!"

"What happened to you? How did you find me?" Mira weakly asked.

"I got a guide," Maeve said, pointing to the Hunter her flying type was pinning down. "I'm sticking by you. I won't let you give up on yourself here."

"Leave, Maeve. I'll only pull you down."

"Stop it with the nonsense, that's just Shiftry making you say that—"

"Shiftry's a dark type, not a psychic. He just removed everything I was pretending to be and only left the real me. This is how I really am. This is the real me. I'm a broken mess, and you'd be better off without me."

"You're lying to yourself, Mira. Even if there are parts of you that you keep away from me, I know you. I know that you're sweet and want to do good. I know that you worry about everyone else before even thinking about yourself, even if you pretend to be selfish. I know how much you care about your Pokemon. I know—"

"Who do you think you are?! You know nothing about me!"

"I'm just a girl! A girl trying to save her friend!"

Mira sobbed and began to feel again. Maeve wrapped her in a tight hug.

"It's going to be okay. You'll get better."

"I'll try." Mira sniffed. "I can't believe you flew without a license."

"I was terrified."

When Cecilia emerged from the darkness, five Pokemon stood in a circle in what she assumed was supposed to be around her. Fortunately for her though, it seemed that Shiftry messed up the exact location of that teleportation trick, sending her around twenty feet away and giving her enough time to immediately release her Pokemon before being torn to shreds. Talonflame was in the air before she could even blink, basking Cecilia in her warm gusts of wind to make her feel something. Zweilous appeared larger and stronger than before, and darkness swelled around his feet. Golett stood, lifeless as always, although he made the point to take a step forward and stand in front of Cecilia. Scyther hissed, fanning his wings and sharpening his scythes.

"Look alive, darlings," Cecilia raged. "It is time to destroy."

She was facing a Skuntank, a Krokorok, a Bisharp, and two Liepard, and all she could think was: was that it? A trainer of her caliber facing mere fodder? If they'd been smart about it, they would have sent more than this paltry force.

Cecilia caught herself and flinched. Why was she thinking this way? Was the dark already taking effect?

She did not wait for the panicked whispers from the six trainers that faced her to fade. Without her Slowking for protection, the best defense was overwhelming offense to take down her enemies before they even had a chance to attack and demoralize them by showing their gap in power.

"Dragon Pulse, Stomping Tantrum, Air Slash, Heat Wave."

With a quick stomp, Golett split the darkness apart, creating a rift that spread until it became a huge chasm which the five Pokemon fell into. Zweilous' throats swelled and lit up for a split second, then an enormous Dragon Pulse barrelled toward Skuntank, who was engulfed in the draconic energy. Scyther took flight and blades of compressed air sliced huge gashes into one of the Liepard, and Talonflame's Heat Wave dealt with the rest of the Pokemon, burning them to a crisp. The nameless trainers had to step back not to get burned, but one still screamed, possibly getting their skin burned— it was too dark to tell. Collateral damage was bound to happen in these situations.

Cecilia watched for a few seconds and then snapped back to reality. She ordered Talonflame to stop, and thankfully the trainer kept running… nevermind, they fell over and died. It probably took a few seconds for their body to even register the damage. Cecilia's eye twitched, but she felt nothing. The human body was so weak, and yet she commanded enough power to destroy it beyond recognition at will, and even then, Cecilia wanted more. Still, all of the Pokemon had already fallen unconscious, and there was no need to go that far if she was no longer in danger—

Wait. A Pokemon was missing in the chasm.

Where was Krokorok—

The ground under Cecilia's feet liquefied, splitting the darkness apart and Krokorok's huge maw opened up, ready to Bite at her leg. Zweilous was too slow to turn, and Talonflame was too far. Golett was stuck in the Sand Tomb as much as she was.

Krokorok's maw snapped shut, sending Cecilia into hysterics. The pain was so much worse than anything else she had ever experienced, but she forced herself to open her eyes.

What would have been a clean cut ended up being a gnarly wound when Scyther sliced across the ground type's head, cleaving it off. Krokorok's head was still attached to her leg, and it took a few seconds for the life to go out of its eyes. The Sand Tomb stopped spinning, and darkness reclaimed its throne.

"Damn it, fuck," Cecilia groaned as cold sweat dripped on her face. Another painful scream escaped her throat as she forced Krokorok's mouth open and its teeth exited her skin. "T—thank you Scyther."

The bug type grunted with a shrug. He didn't have to save her, and yet he did, just like he listened to her Air Slash command. Sol and Zerst lowered their heads in shame. They had failed to protect her, and they felt responsible for her wound.

"Don't let it bring you down. The most important part is that we're alive," Cecilia said, petting their chins. She petted Golett's head too, and the golem's eyes brightened slightly.

The girl turned to the trainers, who were running away. She wasn't capable of even walking at this point, but they needed to be questioned.

"Talonflame, Scyther, stop… two of them from running and bring them to me. You can let the other run."

The two flying types blurred incredibly quickly. In five seconds, they closed the massive gap and landed in front of the group. It was too far to see exactly what was happening, but they seemed to have done a rather good job. They isolated two of the five trainers and forced them to turn back.

It took a while for them to get back here, but when they did, Cecilia realized that they weren't even human. Only shells.

They hadn't run away to protect their own lives. They had run away to act as last barriers of defense for Shiftry. Cecilia groaned, roughly bandaging her leg. Grace had always been better at these things. One thing was for sure, her leg needed stitches, and it would scar. She tried to stand, but putting even a slight amount of weight on her leg was impossible.

"Talonflame darling, try to go find the others. I don't think I can walk in this state."

She could only hope Grace was okay.

Denzel was beginning to be known as being quick on his feet. The moment he had control of his body again, he clicked on two of his Pokeballs and released his Sylveon and Lopunny. He heard a loud crash as some kind of attack hit the normal type and caused her to ram into him. He fell to the floor and felt some kind of rocks under the darkness cut his skin and hit his head.

Come on Denzel! He thought with a clenched fist.

He screamed and immediately stood up. Half of the skin on the left side of his forearm had been torn off, and a quick swipe at a wet substance on his forehead made it clear that he was bleeding from there too. His Pokemon were already locked in battle with four others. A huge Pangoro slammed its fist against the ground, and Sylveon gracefully dodged, wrapping his ribbons around the dark type's fists to soothe it before jabbing a paw in his knee joint. The crack Denzel heard made him wince, but he had no time to worry about what Sylveon was doing, he first had to figure out what was happening.

A Scrafty dueled with Lopunny, exchanging blows and a Cacturne kept its distance, swarming her with Bullet Seed. The normal type was on the backfoot for now, but each Power-Up Punch she added equalized the playing field little by little. She narrowly dodged some kind of glowing punching attack and quickly jabbed the fighting type in the throat. Its eyes widened as it struggled to breathe, only being capable of drawing short, ragged breaths, and that was the opening that she needed. Lopunny's ears lit up and she clapped Scrafty's head, knocking it unconscious.

"Cacturn, kill the trainer!"

Denzel gulped as the grass type aimed two fists toward him, but Sylveon stopped everything he was doing and began to beat it relentlessly before Denzel could even have time to panic. Pangoro was on one knee, bloodied and unable to walk, but a Nuzleaf tried to follow him.

He quickly released Milotic, Roselia and Froslass.

"Go help," he weakly said. He didn't have the mental fortitude to go into detail with orders. "Don't kill them if you can!"

The words felt wrong when he said them. Illogical. Yet, he couldn't afford to give into Shiftry's power. Did it even know it was possibly screwing itself up by affecting them like this? He had a hard time seeing Grace or Cecilia holding back in this environment.

Froslass winked out of existence and reappeared in front of Nuzleaf. Her eyes contained more anger and hate in them than Denzel had ever seen, and her mere presence froze Nuzleaf's entire body over. Roselia and Milotic opted to stay back, attacking at a distance. An extremely precise Venoshock hit Pangoro's eyes, and the panda let out a guttural scream and clawed at them until its face bled. Milotic let out a Scald at the same target, burning off its fur and finishing it off.

Sylveon beat Cacturne with Play Rough until it was unrecognizable. With the constant Disarming Voices, it was incapable of fighting back. Sylveon stood atop its… corpse? Unconscious body? With his face full of thick blood and a glint in his eyes. His ribbons flowed in the cold, dreary wind.

The darkness cut his denial in its tracks. That Cacturn was dead, and so was Nuzleaf.

"Okay," Denzel sighed. "I feel a little woozy, so… uh… I'm gonna take a little break."

He stumbled on the floor and barely managed to sit. His head was throbbing, and he was having trouble staying balanced. Milotic carefully pressed against his back to give him some sort of backrest, and he sighed. The trainers had already run away, and he was too out of it to even hope to interrogate them.

"I think I have a concussion."

Roselia sighed, but the hint of a worried look could be seen in her eyes. Sylveon barked and jumped toward Denzel, while Froslass— now having snapped out of her rage— appeared by his side. Lopunny let out tired heaves and sat on Milotic's body.

"I'm worried about the others, but I can't help like this," he said, slurring his words. "I think I'm going to have to try to walk back to the Center. We can go get help at the same time. See if any trainers want to take down Shiftry."

Denzel took a deep breath and stood. He leaned against Lopunny's shoulder, and he and his Pokemon began their trek.

"Now don't forget, Harry. Me surviving is in your best interest, so you better give me everything you know on Reggie and Lane," I said as kept walking toward the mansion. "You've told me about their Pokemon, but what about their moves? Their strategies? Are they attached to those Pokemon and vice versa? If I killed one of them, would they start to make mistakes?"

Needless to say, he was being very cooperative.

Harry nervously swallowed. "I don't know about moves, but that Umbreon can travel through the shadows. Since the floor's covered in them, well you won't be able to see where it is and I think it'll be faster. Drapion doesn't have any fancy techniques. He's more of a muscle kind of Pokemon. Hits hard, but your Turtonator could easily handle it, and Umbreon's weaker than anything I own."

"Hm. Hey, do you think I can burn the mansion from the outside to draw out Shiftry?" I asked.

"You could try, but I don't know if that'll work. It probably has protections in place for that kind of stuff, and also, I think it knows you're coming."

"Well obviously. I want him to know. I want him to shiver in fear while it slowly watches his thousand-year dynasty come to an end because it was too much of a coward to let its family actually train Pokemon," I said. "It's time for Shiftry to reap what it sowed."

"You're crazy, you know that? Even with this dark shit, you're—"

"Yeah, I don't care and I don't want to hear that coming from someone who's a part of Team Galactic. Now answer my fucking questions."

Angel squeezed the vine around his waist, and Harry groaned in pain.

"Yes, they're attached… very much so. They've had those Pokemon since they were young or something, but they're not the best battlers since they only have one Pokemon and they don't really get a lot of practice."

"I don't want to fight. Unlike you, they never had a chance to live their lives freely, so they deserve a chance. If they block my path and can't be reasoned with, I won't have a choice."

I was on a mission, and I would let nothing stop me.

Twenty minutes later, we reached the mansion. The obsidian spire shooting into the sky was disturbingly silent, although I could hear the creaking of the old wood that the building was made of. The entrance and the windows were completely darkened, although the door was still open. Good. I had been worried that there would be another impenetrable wall around the house.

"Looks like you got caught," a voice said, looking at Harry. He didn't respond.

Reggie and Lane blocked the way, a Drapion and an Umbreon at their side.

Now would it be the hard way or the easy way? Because I was willing to play hard.

"Out of my fucking way."

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt
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Chapter 163 - It Whimpers
CHAPTER 163 - It Whimpers

"Out of my fucking way," I swore.

"I'm afraid we can't do that," Lane said.

"You can't beat me."

"The Elder must survive," Reggie shook his head. "Drapion, Pin Missile!"

"Umbreon, stick to the shadows and target her."

Drapion flexed, and its segments ground against each other. Bright, sharp needles exploded outward in every direction before homing toward me. Umbreon clipped into the floor and disappeared.

So much for talking, then. I only had a few seconds to think. Honey maybe had two more Protects left in him, and I didn't want to waste those before reaching Shiftry.

"Princess, you're on protection duty. Angel, grab me and Ancient Power the Drapion. Sunshine, Bulldoze and get that Umbreon out of the floor—"

The Pin Missiles were already there. Togetic lifted a disc-like shape out of the ground and stretched it until it covered me. The missiles crashed against the flat rock without breaking through. Another, larger boulder shot out toward Drapion, who dug its legs into the dark ground and grabbed it in its pincers. Turtonator exhaled and slammed its foot against the floor. Small pockets of molten rocks jutted out of the ground around us and burned the darkness away. Jellicent drenched me in cold water for the heat, but it was still uncomfortably hot. Umbreon let out an ethereal bark, but it was already behind me. It jumped out of the floor with its claws dripping in poison, aiming directly at me.

Its attack fell through when Buddy hit it with Hex. Angel pulled me away and Umbreon fell onto the floor. Turtonator placed a foot on its abdomen and began burning, but I raised a hand. These people were puppets of Shiftry, they deserved a chance.

"Surrender. It's not you I'm after."

"Drapion, Venoshock!"


The dark type sunk into the floor and I sighed. My mercy had been a mistake, but it wouldn't be just to kill Shiftry's unwilling puppets. Still, I couldn't afford to hold back now.

"I gave you a chance."

Drapion belched, and then spat out liquid poison toward me again. So sloppy. They weren't even trying to win.


Turtonator immediately let a stream of flames loose, and the poison simply evaporated away.

"Sunshine go and deal with that Drapion, we'll take care of Umbreon. Try not to kill it. Or them," I said. Now that I knew that Umbreon wasn't invulnerable in its shadow state, Buddy would be able to deal with it. "Buddy, you're up. Track it and force it up."

The water type nodded and sank into the floor. A single Hex, and it would be in too much pain to stay hidden.

I frowned when Turtonator began to charge a Flash Cannon, only this one was abnormally small. The fire type grunted, and the tiny beam severed Drapion's arm.

"Drapion, no!" Reggie screamed. My eyes widened, bringing me out of my Shiftry-induced daze for a single moment. He'd broken through Shiftry's spell for an instant, but his face returned to a neutral expression immediately afterward.

I hadn't known that Sunshine could do that. Umbreon let out an infuriated hiss-bark and jumped, slashing across Turtonator's shell. If we hadn't been behind him, he would have been able to blow up. Again, a Pokemon was making a mistake due to its attachment to another.

A quick, weakened Thunderbolt from Honey shocked Umbreon, who began to jitter and convulse. Five drills stabbed into the dark type like nails, and Buddy emerged right next to him and finished it off with Hex.

Drapion was missing an arm, and Umbreon had fainted. They couldn't stop me any longer, but I wanted to give them one last chance.

"I recommend recalling your Drapion. It can grow its arm back at a Pokemon Center thanks to Ditto cells, but right now all it's doing is bleeding out. It'll die."

Reggie's face twisted in worry. He was hesitating.

"Reggie! The Elder told us to fight to the last!" Lane screamed.

I impatiently tapped my foot against the floor. "I don't have that much time. Hurry or I'm killing it."

The man grimaced as he recalled his Pokemon. Lane looked at him with a devastated look of pure betrayal, and my team and I began to walk toward the mansion. I hesitantly placed a foot above Turtonator's bulldozed area, which was still too hot to walk on. Buddy sprayed a path with water and cooled it off enough for me to step on.

"It's not like it would have made any difference," I said. "He made the correct choice that spared as many lives as possible."

Lane snarled as she ran toward the mansion's entrance, blocking the way with her arms extended out as if that would stop me.

"Please! Don't go! The Elder's all we have!"

"When his influence on your mind is gone, you'll realize that what you were doing before today wasn't living, but serving," I said. "Angel."

The grass type knocked her away, and she shrieked, tears streaming down her face as she desperately begged for me not to go inside. I ignored her, but she followed me.

"He's all I have," she repeated as she clung to my leg. "Please."

It was strange, how they spoke of Shiftry like it was their savior instead of their oppressor. What state was it in right now? Harry had called it catatonic, but I expected it to be stronger than Weavile when he turned back to normal. Since his domain would disappear, I'd only have to buy time for the League to Teleport or fly in. I stopped my Pokemon from blowing her up with a gesture and kicked her off. The mansion hadn't changed at all since I had last stepped foot inside of it. I expected the darkness to be stronger here, but it was almost… weaker somehow. It wasn't as difficult to breathe, and my voice had regained some of its pitch. The strange substance on the floor wasn't as thick and it was easier to walk.

"Angel, tie her up and detach the vine," I said. "Harry. Where are Shiftry and Roland? The top floor?"

Lane screamed as Tangrowth wrapped her entire body, leaving only her head for her to breathe.

"The top floor only has one room, and that's Shiftry's. Roland should be on the second," he said. Now that I could slightly see color, his face was dangerously pale, and his voice was weak. I wasn't a doctor, but he was close to dying if I had to guess. I needed to hurry this up. Dying here would mean that he'd be getting off lightly.

I slowly stepped through the foyer. I had to be safe here, there could be traps.

"Can you just… leave me here?" Harry coughed. "I know I won't make it out. I've given you everything… I'll even take a spear through the head."

"No, you're sticking around," I said, not even sparing him a look.

"I cooperated."

"You did. That doesn't mean you deserve the easy way out," I said. I knew Sunshine was staring daggers at me now, but at this point, he was probably focused on getting us out of here. I didn't know if it was because the dark had dampened his want for revenge, or if he cared more for us than he admitted.

I slowly climbed the creaky steps to the second floor. Honey and Princess flanked me while Buddy was in front thanks to his regenerative capabilities. Angel pushed himself up the stairs with his vines behind me, and Sunshine did the same. We were all exhausted, but this was the final push. One more battle, and we'd be freed.

And the magnitude of what I had done these last few hours would sink in. It was strange, to stare disaster in the eye. To know it was coming. To know how terrible it would make me feel, and yet not be able to bring myself to worry about it.

"Well met, Grace Pastel," a soft voice said. My head whirred toward it, and I easily recognized Roland Hunter, the man who I had mistaken for the elder during our visit. He turned toward the third floor. "And Harry, I suppose. Are you here to kill everything Shiftry has built?"

"Yes. Are you going to do anything about it?"

"It's not like I can," he shrugged with a sad sigh. "Why don't you go and see it then? Shiftry's room."

I frowned. Unlike Lane or even Reggie, he didn't seem to be panicking at all. I made my way to the third floor and bit my lip when I saw what awaited me. A huge barrier made out of the abyss blocked the walls and entrance to Shiftry's room. Five League Trainers lay in the hallway, their bodies completely lifeless and their usual uniforms full of blood.

"Break through," I told my team.

No moves made even a dent. Power Whip, Shadow Ball, Water Pulse, Ancient Power, not even Dazzling Gleam or Sunshine's Flamethrower worked.

"You will not break through. Shiftry knows what he is doing."

I clenched a fist. I had been so close. So close to finishing this.

But I wasn't strong enough. I ordered Angel to drop Harry on the floor and leaned against the wall, trying to come up with any ideas. No matter how much I racked my brain, no answers came up. If I couldn't brute force it with Sunshine or use type effectiveness with Dazzling Gleam or Fairy Wind, then nothing I had would work.

"What will you do now?" Roland asked with faint signs of his soft-spoken voice.

"Why are you talking to me?"

"Indulge me a little."

"I don't owe you anything. Stop bothering me, or my Pokemon will make you."

"I know many things about Cyrus," he nonchalantly said. "And I know you wouldn't pass on that. Just have a little conversation with me. Call it a man's last wish."

Right. I had almost completely forgotten that he'd been friends with Cyrus long ago. At least I had gained something by being here.

"What makes you think I couldn't get it out of you?" I said. "Or that the League won't just do it themselves?"

"We aren't all as weak as Harry," he smirked. Harry didn't even have the energy to retort. "And aren't you curious?"

I bit my tongue. "Fine."

The older man sat on the stairs and began to speak, facing away from me. "If I asked you what darkness was, what would you answer?"

"I'd answer whatever Shiftry's been doing. Faded colors, muted emotions, cutting off type energy… it's a lot."

"Ah, indeed it is to some extent. It can also be other things, but it is what Shiftry sees it as, and so it is what his domain is," Roland started. "At their core, each kind of type energy serves a purpose, and that purpose can sometimes be stretched to such extent that it becomes unrecognizable. There are the easy concepts, like fire, water and grass, and the more abstract ones like fairy, dragon and ghost. Dark is a part of the latter, and at its core, its purpose is to bring the world back to a blank slate. Before the universe came into existence, there was nothing. That nothing is what the dark type wants to return to."

I nodded. "I called it neutrality, but I guess that works. Get to the point."

"Why? We have nothing but time."

"Because I didn't come here for a lesson. Get to Cyrus."

Roland smirked. "When there is enough dark type energy around an area, it will start to return the world to a blank slate, like you saw with Solaceon, although Shiftry's visualization of it had some quirks that don't fit the definition, like the heavy air and the dark floor. You also saw the effect it has on the human psyche."

"I feel nothing," I agreed, staring at the corpses littering the hall. "I know it's not supposed to be that way, but I can't bring myself to even care about it."

"There's a bit more to it than that. Before turning you into an emotionless person, you will slowly start to lose your outer traits, little by little until your true self is laid bare for all to see. For a few hours, that is what you will be. Cyrus was obsessed with dark type energy in his young age— which is how we met… around twenty-two years ago now. He used to be quite a well-traveled man, and he sought out ways to explain his… affliction. Back then, he believed dark type energy could be it, or at least heavy exposure to it as an infant."

"Affliction?" I asked.

"Cyrus has never felt anything in his entire life. No love for his late parents, no anger, no frustration, there is nothing in his head but pure pragmatism. He is a brilliant man, and Shiftry allowed him to spend a few months with us thanks to our unlikely connection."

"But unlike you, Cyrus is like this because of something else, not Shiftry," I said.

"Well, I believe him to simply be a sociopath," Roland said as a matter of fact. "But he wouldn't take that answer. He thought there was something wrong with the world and not him, and he wanted to reshape it in his image."

I swallowed. Even with Shiftry's domain, I still felt a twinge of nervousness about the topic of Team Galactic's leader.

"You know, before he left, he told me that he felt a connection to our family," Roland said. "That he didn't have to pretend with me. All of his life, he had faked every single word. An exhausting way to live. I tried to get him to stay with us. I called him my first friend."

"And he left?"

"He looked at me like I was insane," Roland continued. "He called me a fake with the iciest tone I had ever heard and left without looking back. Apparently, the fact that I felt genuine friendship with him meant that I couldn't possibly understand him at all. That means that his blankness is so potent that he feels even less than us."

"How did you reconnect? Harry here told me that you were in contact."

"Oh that didn't happen until around three years ago. Cyrus came to our land again and asked for our support in his cause with Team Galactic. Shiftry had taken a personal liking to him before, so there was no way for us to refuse. I assume Harry told you about Team Galactic's ambition for him?"

"I did," Harry weakly answered.

"I was content to help Cyrus, but he had… conversations with Shiftry that I wasn't privy to that got him agitated. I had never seen him like this my entire life. There was genuine excitement in the Elder's eyes. I couldn't believe it."

"Some other deal was made," I declared. "And you weren't a part of it. None of you were."

"Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, that is all I know. I do not know Cyrus' true goal, but I know that he is not the kind of man to commit terrorism for the sake of destruction, and he would not care about taking over the region either. He wants something deeper. What that is? Your guess is as good as mine."

I paused for a few seconds. "Why say all this? Why give up all of that information on Cyrus willingly?"

"Because when Shiftry asked us to call him for help when the League came to our land, he said that we had served our purpose and abandoned us. The Elder was devastated to the point of tears… and that was the exact moment when Solaceon was hit by the dark. Shiftry was fooled and he simply couldn't take it anymore. I am a loyal servant, and Cyrus hurt my master. I will give information on him, but not anything else."

"Yeah? Well as soon as the League breaks through, your master's dying and your memory's getting extracted," I said.

Roland chuckled, which was weirdly alien.

"My apologies. That was a reflex I trained myself to do," he said. "Our family will be destroyed, but Shiftry will live on. The League has use for him."

"What? After all of this? Why?"

"Do you know what lies east of Solaceon?" He asked. I shook my head. "Shiftry has been keeping them dormant. The Unown. Without him, they will wake up and warp reality around Solaceon to their liking— and maybe even all of Sinnoh."

"What the hell is an Unown?"


I heard steps reverberate through the hall. People were walking up the stairs, and I knew that there was no way it could be Reggie. Lane was tied up… so who was coming?

She was dressed in black from head to toe and exuded power wherever she walked. Her faded blonde hair flew in the small amount of wind expunged by Shiftry's barrier. She was just as tall as I remembered— around six feet, and she towered over the man who followed her. Faded green hair with a tuft gelled upward, along with huge green eyes that were lighter than mine. The woman was accompanied by her Lucario. It was spotless, like it had never seen battle before, and yet I knew the rumors of what it was capable of. The younger man by a Heracross, whose huge horn was enough to impale me at least eight times, if not more. They were followed by six League Trainers— veterans that looked to be in their thirties or forties.

"Good evening Roland," the woman said.

The Champion Cynthia and Aaron of the Elite Four were here.

Without as much as a change in expression, Roland Hunter bit down on something and crumpled to the floor like a leaf. He had killed himself before the League could get their hands on him.

"Ah, man, what a waste," Aaron sighed.

Cynthia shrugged. "It doesn't matter. Get started on the barrier."

I gulped, unable to find the words. Aaron and his Herracross confidently strode up to Shiftry's barrier, and the man squinted, softly touching at the darkness as if he was looking for a specific point. Cynthia stared at her dead League Trainers and sighed before turning to me and my team. Even Sunshine's cocky attitude evaporated when she stared into his eyes. Lucario looked into mine, and it was almost like it felt sorry for me. Two of the League Trainers took Harry Rodriguez away.

"Grace Pastel," Cynthia smiled. "It has been a while, hasn't it?"

"I—yes," I said. "How did you even get in here? The wall on the outside…"

"It took a while, but Aaron found a weakness to the southeast of the city that materialized a few minutes ago and we forced a gate open. I suspect you stepping inside the mansion had something to do with that. League Trainers are pouring into Solaceon now. Without you, it would have taken Aaron at least a day to figure out where to enter from. It's a lot easier now that the surface area to scan is smaller."

I didn't understand how Aaron knew where the wall's weaknesses were, but I wasn't about to question the Champion's words or an Elite Four member's skills.

"What does me stepping inside have to do with any of this? Why would I have an effect on Shiftry?"

"Oh, he's a coward, so he no doubt panicked and reinforced his room instead of the outside," she smirked. "That usually meant that he was easy to negotiate with, but cowards can also be unpredictable. It's a good thing you didn't make it through though. Weakened or not, Shiftry would have killed you."

My eye twitched, and I glanced at Roland's corpse. "I don't know about that. Will he get off lightly then?"

"No. His time has come," Cynthia said, her face darkening. Roland had been completely wrong. My hand trembled as terror enveloped me— but only for a second. "Why don't you come and see? Lucario will protect you. How bad are her wounds?"

The steel type's eyes shone bright blue, and he held out his hand toward me before turning back to Cynthia.

"Good," she smiled. "So?"

"Me? Isn't this confidential?"

"You've done a lot for us, Grace," Cynthia said. "And there will be some questioning, which you must be used to at this point. But that's not the only reason. I have much to talk about with you and—"

"Cynthia, I found it!" Aaron yelled. He crouched and sunk his hand into the darkness with a strange, analytic stare. "It's right here."

"We will talk later," Cynthia said. She walked toward the wall of darkness, and I quickly followed her. It was hard to keep up with her huge strides, especially with how tired I was. I recalled Honey, Angel and Buddy, but I let Sunshine and Princess stay. He would at least get to watch this, and I didn't feel safe without Togetic.

"You do the honors, or me?" Aaron asked.

The Champion nodded. "Lucario?"

The fighting type inhaled sharply and its fist—


What happened? The wall of darkness was already collapsing? I hadn't even seen it move! Some variation of Extreme Speed combined with a fighting type move? Or was it something else? Cynthia, Aaron and the four remaining League trainers stepped into the room, and I followed.

It was only the second time I was seeing Shiftry, but it was still as regal as ever. Beautifully carved wood, hair adorned with golden hairpins like a crown and tied into locks.

And it was sitting in a fetal position, waiting for its death. It drew upon ragged breaths, tired from maintaining its domain for so long upon such a large area, but the darkness didn't collapse immediately as I thought it would. In fact, it strengthened, and the abyss grew taller, going up to my knees. Shiftry, meanwhile, seemed to be able to float on it.

"Good evening," Cynthia calmly said. "It is about time we speak, Shiftry."

The grass type stood up and prepared to fight, but we all knew how it would go.

Even Shiftry.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt
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Chapter 164 - It Fades
CHAPTER 164 - It Fades

Shiftry attacked immediately, cutting across the air and sending arcs of darkness toward Cynthia. I suddenly felt a weight on me. An immense amount of pressure that made it even more difficult to breathe. It made me hyper-aware of every process in my body. The beating of my heart, the need to forcefully expunge and inhale air, the need to blink, my tongue in my mouth. I felt goosebumps and continuous chills run through my spine and arms and found myself unable to focus, even in Shiftry's domain.

The attack swirled and was absorbed into Cynthia's pocket.

Then I heard the whispers. Quiet at first, then louder and louder. A dozen voices. Then more. Then more. I couldn't place the exact number. It was impossible to guess in the jumbled mess of agonized screams. Ghastly voices that were raspy and disjointed, but imbued with a cold, spectral resonance.









But eventually, they changed and started to yell and tell me to do things.





I covered my ears with my hands, but they didn't stop, and the longer it went on, the more personal they got. Calling me a fake, a murderer, talking about my friends and family and how they'd never love me again after what I'd done. Each word was uttered with chilling deliberation, and a dry laugh echoed through my head. Cynthia snapped her fingers, then the voices instantly ceased, or at least they did for me. The Elder was still clearly rattled, its eyes twitching as it stared not at Cynthia, but at whatever laid dormant in her pocket.

What were they whispering at him, I wondered.

Shiftry changed tactics, aiming to attack Cynthia from upclose. It winked forward, aided by its own domain and its two leaves shone with a bright green. Somehow, he was the only colored being in this entire faded world. As soon as it got a few feet away from the Champion, it got on its knees and couldn't go on. Were the voices rendering him unable to fight? Shiftry was unable to even move.

I hadn't been the target of whatever this was, yet the voices had still affected me. They shook me to my core, and it would have been much worse without its domain.

"I said that we should talk," Cynthia smiled. "And I meant it. I just want to understand what you gained from this. Weren't you content to play around in your little sand castle, pretending to be king? Didn't I tell you that I would come for you if you breached our agreement again?"

The dark type shivered, but it seemed like gravity itself was acting against it. Lucario stood by next to me, carefully observing its trainer at work with its arms crossed. I had expected at least a fight, but this wasn't even close to that. Cynthia was talking down Shiftry like a child that had messed up. Shiftry responded with a series of weak grunts, and Lucario's eyes lit up. Cynthia hummed, and then nodded.

"So you were informed then," Cynthia said. "Very well, I understand now. You were quite predictable after all, Shiftry, I was just missing the last piece."

Shiftry trembled as it stood up. The sources of all our problems these past few days. What I had thought to be an insurmountable force had been reduced to begging for its life. Lucario's eyes shone bright blue again, and it was only then that I understood that it was acting as a translator. I hadn't even known that they could speak.

"Oh, you don't need to worry about that. You didn't think I hadn't been raising your replacement all these years in case you went rogue, did you? This is just a few years ahead of schedule, but we'll manage. It's a shame, really. All these years pretending to be more than you actually are, only to realize that you're really just a child playing pretend. Lucario?"

The fighting type stepped forward, slowly walking toward Shiftry, who looked on in disbelief. Tears streamed down its face and its teeth chattered, but Cynthia didn't care. Lucario offered Shiftry one small bow, and then impaled it with a bright blue bone. Again, it moved faster than I could even see. Life slowly left Shiftry's eyes, and it collapsed into its own pool of darkness. The voices stopped, and the pressure pressing down on me disappeared.

Just like that, its one-thousand-year dynasty had ended.

Cynthia was a mountain. Just seeing this made me realize that even if I won at the Conference, there was simply no way I was ever beating her this year. None of us were. Sunshine looked on in awe at the pure humiliation that had just happened. Lucario was powerful, as were all of her Pokemon, but Garchomp was even more so.

But what was in her pocket terrified me the most. It was easy enough to put together. It could only be Spiritomb— a Pokemon capable of such damage both mentally and physically that Cynthia never used it in any of the rare battles she still fought in public these days.

It hadn't even been active. I knew from a blurry picture I'd seen of the ghost from a battle Cynthia fought long ago in her early twenties that it was supposed to be more than just a keystone that could fit in a pocket. It was a cold, purple, swirling mess with green blotches that looked like eyes and a mouth. And yet she hadn't even felt the need to use it here.

"Our job here is done," Cynthia smiled. "Aaron, Jim, go see to it that things in the city are still running smoothly. I wouldn't trust Flint with running a daycare, let alone an operation of this scale. Call Lucian's office and tell him that he can finally Teleport in. Alicia, you stay with me."

"Yes ma'am!" The two League trainers said in unison.

"Sure," Aaron answered. "What about you?"

"Oh, I'll be needed here," she replied as the darkness began to collapse. She turned to me. "I'm sorry about the voices, but we have little time. Brace yourself."

I inhaled sharply and forced my eyes shut. I began to breathe normally again. I felt the temperature rise by a few degrees as Turtonator's warmth could finally reach me undisturbed. I felt my phone buzz with dozens of notifications and alerts.

I slowly opened an eye and saw that color had returned to the world. The sun was setting, and an orange glow shone through the windows. Was that it? Would I be forced to stay this way forever?

But then it all came flooding in. Slowly at first. My battle with Harry Rodriguez.

Pelipper's horrifying gurgles as it burned from the inside. Its head and body swelling to twice their size to accommodate Turtonator's Dragon Pulse. Its empty stare. The silence afterward. Half of Princess' throat ripped out. Her tiny, agonizing pleas for help. Crobat's horrified scream at the death of its comrade. Its remains, only smoke and ash, but also Honey's slight stare when I ordered him to kill. Sweetheart getting clawed apart by Weavile until half of her scales had been ripped off.

My dozens of close brushes with death.

I stumbled backwards, but Cynthia grabbed me by the arm and kept me steady. Princess chirped worriedly, but I didn't respond. I couldn't.

Torture. I had essentially tortured a man and felt good about it while doing so. The thoughts of murder had crawled so easily into my mind, and yet I had felt no hesitation. I dry heaved and tears fell to the wooden floor. Instead of worrying about my friends, I had instead focused on nothing but killing. Killing. Killing.

It came as a quivering, sound of disbelief at first. A small whimper escaped my throat, and I couldn't even formulate the words. I couldn't even understand. To begin to describe the amount of guilt I felt. It was just to defend myself. It was—

But I could have done less. I could have stopped Honey when Crobat had been unconscious. I could have tried to stop Sunshine from murdering Pelipper. It wasn't so much as what I had done was terribly wrong, but it was the fact that I had felt nothing, or even satisfaction while doing so.

I hadn't even tried to do the right thing.

There was no scream. Just a defeated weep.

"It hurts, does it not?" Cynthia sighed. "We came across Mr. Rodriguez's defeated Pokemon on the way here. When I saw you with him, I knew what happened. The first time is always the hardest."

The first time? There would be no second time! I couldn't even retort. I stared at my trembling hands and bit my lip. Turtonator didn't seem to care about what he'd done. What we had done. He let out a long sigh and shrugged. Princess tried to console me, saying that we'd just been defending ourselves.

She was right.

But the guilt didn't stop.

"You were under the influence of Shiftry's domain… and more," Cynthia said, glancing at Princess. "You weren't in the right state of mind."


How could I look my dad in the eye after this? My friends? Cecilia?

"We'll stay here for a bit," Cynthia said. "But I have duties to attend to in Solaceon, and we need to get you and your team to a Center. The International Police will come to question you while you're there, but I'll need to speak to you later tonight if possible."

"My—my friends," I got out.

"Your group? I'm sorry, but I don't know much. We came here as fast as we could," she said. "However I've heard that Denzel Williams was back in the Pokemon Center. We have League Trainers flying around the property, so they'll be found."

After two minutes, Lucario silently spoke to Cynthia. I blinked rapidly to chase away the tears.

"Always the dutiful one, aren't you?" She said. "Alicia, take us back to Solaceon. Teleport her to the Center. Recall your Pokemon, if you will?"

I weakly recalled Sunshine and Princess, and the League Trainer released a Xatu. Before I could even blink, I was back outside of the Center. The place was swarming with trainers, and there were signs of fighting all along the street. One of the sliding doors was completely busted.

Shiftry's domain had affected us all.

In a flash, Xatu disappeared with Cynthia, and then reappeared at its trainer's side alone. She led me to one of the Nurse Joys, who were completely swamped and referred me to one of the human doctors after taking in my Pokemon other than Jellicent. The wound on my waist was apparently fine, but they wanted to keep me at least for a day just in case. I didn't exactly listen. Their words sounded faint. Distant.

Even if. If I could bring to convince myself that everything I had done had been justified, which would be hard in the first place— Maybe there was no way I would have been able to stop Sunshine, but that Crobat and the torture…

There was something wrong with me. Something at my core wasn't wired properly, and I knew that I hadn't always been like this. Had my journey changed me that much? It was certainly possible, but Cynthia had said something else was affecting me. Something other than Shiftry. Text messages slowly filtered in our group chat, letting everyone know who was safe or not.

No one had died, but some were more hurt than others. Louis, Maeve and Mira were completely fine, but Denzel had a concussion and Cecilia hurt her leg really badly. I couldn't help but feel worry, but I surprised myself when I realized that I didn't want to see her. Not after what I had done. Pauline had been stabbed in the shoulder with an attack she hadn't even seen the moment she was teleported, and Justin was… it was difficult to explain. He'd gotten overexposed to dark type energy due to his Krokorok burying him underground to take refuge while his Pokemon fought off the two trainers that attacked him. While the world had returned to normal, he would still suffer the symptoms of Shiftry's domain for months. The doctors weren't sure. Apparently, he couldn't even taste anything.

But apart from him, there was something hanging above all of our heads. The guilt. I could tell from the way we were all avoiding talking about what happened and just skipped to the aftermath. No one wanted to acknowledge what they'd done. I also sent messages to my father and mother, who had been worried sick about me. I didn't really have the energy to go into detail, even the light ones.

I tried to go to sleep, but I only heard Crobat's screams. In a twisted fate of irony, the Zubat line would again keep me awake, but for completely different reasons. I carried guilt now.

I stayed there, staring out the window at the League slowly bringing Solaceon back to normal until the first policeman showed up. I was surprised to see that it was Looker again, although his colleague wasn't there this time.

"Good evening Ms. Pastel. Forgive me for needing to question you in such difficult times, but I'll need to get straight to the point," he said, sitting down next to my bed and grabbing a recorder. "Are you well enough to speak?"

I nodded. Don't look at me.

"Let's start at the beginning, then. It is our understanding that Shiftry targeted your group specifically due to the investigative work you did during the tournament. Can you recount your experience from there?"

"I… can I…"

I didn't want to talk about it. Not the battle with Harry. He'd look at me like I was a monster afterward, I was sure of it. Maybe I was.

"Let's just move on for now," Looker said after a pause.

I explained everything to the best of my ability. My battle with Reggie and Lane, and the conversation with Roland, which Looker took great interest in. They didn't know much about Cyrus, and insight into how he thought would be of great help to the League and the International Police.

"I'm sorry. If I managed to gag Roland or something instead of talking, maybe he wouldn't have…"

"Don't worry about it. You've done a lot more than could be asked of you. You did a great thing today, Ms. Pastel. Who knows how many people would have died if Shiftry's influence was allowed to stick around for longer?"

I nodded, but I knew it was just empty praise. He was judging me, wasn't he? Everyone would.

"I'm sorry."

Looker frowned, but a knock on the door stopped him from commenting further. Cynthia entered the room with her usual confident stride.

"I managed to get out early," she told Looker before turning to me. "How are you doing?"

"I'm okay," I lied.

The Champion hummed. "Looker, would you mind giving us a second?"

"I actually got everything I wanted," he said. "I'll be going to the other rooms."

"Alright. Call me if anything comes up," Cynthia nodded.

The investigator left the room, leaving only me in a hospital bed and the Champion. It was a mirror of the first time we met in Floaroma. Cynthia sat down in Looker's chair and her body just… loosened. Like she dropped every bit of tension she'd been holding for the last day and could finally allow herself to relax and be herself.

"You feel guilty for killing for the first time," she declared. "And it's eating you from the inside. I felt the same way."

"How can I not?"

"Oh, I'm not telling you not to," she continued. "I don't know what exactly happened, but if I had to guess, you defended yourself. The Nurse Joys say that the wound on your Togetic's neck was lethal and that only a Hyper Potion could have saved her. We're willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on that one, and Mr. Rodriguez corroborated that story."

"How is he?" I asked. He'd gotten manipulated into being Team Galactic's pawn. I didn't feel bad for him, but I hoped that he was alive, at least.

"Oh, he's cooperating fully," Cynthia smiled.

"I meant his leg."

"Do you really want to know?"

I flinched. Was it that bad?

"No," I whimpered, turning away. I was too weak to even acknowledge what I had done. I needed to change the subject. Something. Anything. "What were those voices? Spiritomb?"

"They haven't fought anything in a while, so they've been a bit rowdy lately. I was asking them to hold back due to us not being alone too," she sighed. "I'm sorry you had to hear that, but they're my best means of defense. Don't give any credence to what they said to you, they always try to get under people's skin, and they're especially great at it."

Did that mean it had a way of reading minds? Or sensing what people were anguished about? What move had it even used? I recalled that it— or they as she called the Pokemon— had simply absorbed Shiftry's move like it was nothing.

"Are they in pain? They sounded that way."

"They're not alive, Grace. They're echoes of their former selves, they don't feel pain. Mostly rage. But enough about Spiritomb. I came here to speak to you about a few things, but we'll start with your Togetic."

"My Togetic?" I asked.

The Champion nodded. "She's leaking fairy type energy like a sieve, and she probably doesn't even realize it. It's affecting the way you think."

"Excuse me?"

"You're starting to behave more and more like a fairy type. I don't need to know much about you to know that for a fact. See, when type specialists surround themselves with a single type, their exposure to that type starts to change their behavior. Take Aaron, for example. He always notices the tiniest things, and he always goes from one passion to the next each month, but he's also an excellent multitasker. Bug types don't live that long, so it's his way of wanting to experience everything he can. Candice stopped being able to feel cold, although it's still bad for her to walk around in those shorts in the middle of winter. The more powerful a Pokemon is, the more they leak, which is why this only tends to happen to high-leveled trainers. It normally doesn't happen to generalists like us, but Togetic is releasing too much of it, and it's changing you. Right now, you're behaving like a fairy type specialist. Can you still lie?"

"I— yes," I shakily said.

"Good, then it hasn't progressed that far. We'll need to speak again when she's released from the Center. Togekiss will speak to her and show her how to stop. Try to release her from her Pokeball as little as you can until then."

"Since— since when has this been happening?" I asked. Even if it wasn't on purpose, I was shaken. Was I even me anymore? "And does it affect my friends?!"

"It affects everyone around her, but I assume that she spends a lot more time with you than anyone else. I don't know since when, but possibly since she's evolved. This issue isn't common with Togetic, but it can happen. You stopped using her to sleep, I hope?"

"I did."

The Champion smiled. "Good. They're capable of exuding happiness by molding fairy type energy to their liking, but sometimes they don't know how to stop it completely. Mine wasn't like that, and it's a rare condition— ah, don't worry, you'll still be fine when the leaking stops, although you won't go back to how you were before."

"So I've just been… controlled this entire time?"

"Controlled? No, of course not," The Champion dismissed. "You're still capable of taking your own decision, and we managed to catch it early enough. It did nudge you in the current direction though, so it's true that you would have been slightly different without it."

My shoulders slumped. I didn't blame Princess… it wasn't her fault, but if it affected my friends too, I couldn't stop myself from feeling guilt. I didn't deserve them, did I?

Had it affected the way Cecilia thought about me? Damn it, I wished there was a way to measure this. Cynthia stared, her dark grey eyes analyzing everything about me.

"I can tell what you're thinking. Odds are, it didn't affect your friends that much, and Togekiss would be able to tell if you really need to be sure."

"Thank you," I exhaled. "But why do this for us?"

"This is actually perfect and brings me to my next point," Cynthia said. "We investigated the incident that befell your Turtonator and his old trainer in Mount Coronet by tracking down the two trainers traveling with him. It was indeed Team Galactic's doing, along with one of their Commanders they call Saturn, and they've no doubt noticed the new member of your team. Mars is interested in you, and now you helped take down their breeder. You're a person of interest for them, so the League wants to offer you protection."

"What does that imply?"

"In cities, mostly. You won't even notice that they're here," Cynthia said. "We appreciate your help in all of this, but you and your friends have made yourselves known. I feel the need to help you as much as I can."

I clenched the bed sheets. It never stopped, did it?

"What about Louis and his friends? You should talk to Mira Compton, she—"

"We know. They'll get protection too, but we want something deeper with you, Cecilia and Mira. We'll get into that at a later date, now let's continue. What happened at the mansion and its outskirts will have to stay confidential. That means that no one will know about the… incidents that took place there. Of course people will know that you were involved due to us speaking to you, but the details can stay hidden. Don't speak to the media or the Poketch Company. They will both pressure you, but do not give in."

"Okay," I said.

"One last thing before I let you rest for the day. Did Roland talk to you about anything east of here?"

"I… I told Looker about it. The Unown. Was I not supposed to?"

"Keep that to yourself and take it to your grave," Cynthia said. I felt a chill run down my spine. "Have a good evening, Grace. I will see you within the next few days. Stick around Solaceon until we give you the approval to leave. Looker will come back tomorrow."

After giving her Weavile's Pokeball, Cynthia gently closed the door and I hugged my knees. I might have said I had lost most of my respect for her, but I'd changed my mind now.

She carried more burdens than I thought and she'd had a good reason to let Shiftry run around after all. What I was going through was nothing compared to what she probably dealt with every single day, and yet I still felt like I was suffocating.

What I had done was self-defense. It was either my Pokemon or Harry's, and unlike me, I was sure that he would have killed all of them and me if given the chance.

But it still hurt all the same. It was like I had discovered a part of myself that I hadn't known existed, and it terrified me. I terrified myself.

And the worst of all was that I felt like I had mirrored some of Mars' traits. I hadn't been as expressive of the satisfaction I felt while making Harry pay, while she was extremely vocal about her enjoyment of torture, but even if I had had good intentions, it had been there.

I didn't sleep that night, but I did cry.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett Turrell, Dom Noct
Chapter 165

Looker came again the next morning to get my full story. I had recovered enough to at least talk about it, although I did gloss over the details. They needed my side of what happened during the battle with Harry to be sure what he had said was right, and apparently he was telling them the truth. He was looking at decades in prison if he gave everything he knew about Team Galactic to the government and the International Police.

I still didn't want to know what happened to his leg.

I procrastinated the entire morning, simply watching the hours go by until I finally braced myself enough to answer my texts from the Poketch Company. They had obviously heard of what happened, and I was again in the news now that people knew that the Champion was speaking to me and that I'd been involved in this entire situation. I didn't even have the energy to look at the rumors going around. If people found out what I had done, I couldn't even imagine what they'd say about me.

Melody wanted a full rundown of what happened, but I told her I couldn't tell her anything. She was smart, so she quickly put together that everything I had gone through and heard had basically been put under a gag order by the League and quickly stopped asking. She was a lot less persistent than I thought she would be, especially with how Cynthia had warned me about getting pressured, but maybe the media would be worse.

I was so tired.

In truth, I hadn't been alone in a long while. I had always had at least my friends or my Pokemon with me, but it had been a long time since I'd been by myself. Memories from yesterday kept flashing back every time I closed my eyes. Solaceon wasn't faring much better. Since I had stayed in a hospital room and avoided television, I didn't know much, but people came changed from the entire event. Roland Hunter had told me about how the dark had revealed our true selves for a few moments, and people no doubt learned about themselves, which depending on who they were could have been good or terrifying.

There had been a few deaths too. Suicides and murders. I wondered how the authorities would handle that. People hadn't been in the right state of mind, so there was no way they'd go to prison for it, but I imagined the perpetrators would still be shunned and shamed their entire lives. In a place as small as Solaceon, having killed someone wasn't going to leave them unless they moved.

I wondered how Cynthia could do it. To take a life so easily. I thought back to my first conversation with her in Floaroma, where she had pushed me to continue on my journey. She had told me that fear was never outgrown, but you learned to get used to it, and she had certainly been proven correct.

"I guess killing is the same," I muttered before shuddering.

I hoped— sincerely hoped that I would never have to get used to that. Since it was already later in the morning, I waited until one of the doctors brought me lunch and decided to spend the rest of the day locked up. I was too nervous to go outside. It was like if I did, then I would have to acknowledge that everything I had done was real because I'd need to speak about it to the others.

Unfortunately, life had other ideas for me. I heard a knock and expected it to be Looker or Cynthia, but it was Louis, Maeve and Mira instead. They all looked as haggard as I was, although Mira seemed the least affected. I knew now that it was because she wore her mask extremely well. It was an unhealthy habit.

"Hi Grace," she said. "How are you… holding up?"

I opened my mouth to answer, but I wondered if anything I'd say would make me slip. What would their reactions be if they figured out everything I had done? Maybe Mira wouldn't say anything, but Maeve and Louis?

"I am okay," I lied. The words came out stilted and shaky. I just wanted them to leave. "Have you visited the others?"

"Yes. Since we came out of this unscathed, we felt like we had to," Louis grimaced. "We tried to get Justin to come, but he's… changed. He doesn't really see the point in visiting everyone, or at least that's what he said."

"Is it that bad?" I asked.

"He's like a completely different person," Maeve sighed. "You'll have to see for yourself, but it's not pretty. The doctors want to keep him around for a bit longer to study him anyway. They say no one's been exposed to as much dark type energy as he had in… forever."

"But he'll go back to normal, right? I was told it'd take months?" I asked. It was easy to speak if I could focus on someone else.

"They're not so sure anymore, but we're hoping," Louis said. He was taking this the hardest. Justin was probably his best friend. "I don't know what he'll do after this. He has this idea of traveling alone to grow stronger quicker."

"Adversity breeds skill," Maeve mimicked in Justin's voice. "I don't think it's a good idea, personally."

I sighed and sat back down on the bed to look at the ceiling. The bright lights were hypnotizing after having spent so long in a faded world.

"Do you want to go see Cecilia?" Louis asked. "She asked about you."

"Erm. How is she?"

"Her leg could be in better shape, but it was patched up by the doctors yesterday and she needs rest. Emotionally? She's… not great," he said. "Cynthia came to talk to her and Mira yesterday, and you too, I assume. She wanted to tell you what she went through herself. Are you well enough to walk?"

"The doctors said I need to rest another day still," I lied. "I'll go see her tomorrow."

An uneasy silence settled in. We clearly all didn't want to speak about what happened. It was easier that way. Louis and Maeve left after some small talk, but at the last minute, Mira turned back and stuck around, telling them to go on without her. Her cheerful smile became a face full of grief and sadness.

"Grace. I had to tell the League everything."

"What do you mean?"

"Long story short, one of the Team Galactic Commanders is my uncle. His name is Ernest— Ernie for short, but he calls himself Charon."

I remembered him from Valley Windworks. His faded pink hair mixed with white, his distinct limp, and his Hypno. More importantly, he was the one that had stopped Mars from torturing me, at least for an instant.

"I had this whole plan laid out. I was going to stick around in Veilstone, gather information and bust into their headquarters," she said in a defeated tone. "Then I'd convince him to go back home and we'd be a nice and happy family. That's impossible now. They're going after his head."

"I'm sorry."

"Cynthia wants to speak to you, me and Cecilia about something other than protection, right? She probably wants to use me as bait or something. I don't see another reason."

"I don't know Mira," I exhaled. "That could be the case. She could use me for Mars, although it wouldn't line up for Cecilia. Look, can we just… talk about this later? I'm sorry, I just want to be alone."

Mira bit her lip. "Okay. I'll leave you to it. See you later."

So here I was, alone again, and it felt good too. If they knew my true self, they wouldn't want to be with me. I didn't deserve them.

I wanted my Pokemon with me. I stared at Buddy's Pokeball and grabbed it. He was surely rested enough to come out now.

I released the water type, who happily clicked at me. I had never thought about it, but his vocalizations had changed since evolving. Yet it had taken barely a few days to get used to. Maybe my easier time understanding Pokemon had to do with Princess too? I'd need to ask Cynthia about it.

"Hi Bud," I weakly said. He solidified and brushed up close to me, tickling my cheek. I felt none of the pressure I had felt with my friends with him. He knew what I had done, and I was sure he still loved me either way. There would be no judging here. "I missed you."

I hugged his huge face as best I could, and he closed his eyes. I sniffled and sunk against his soft skin.

"I'm glad everyone made it out okay. I'm sorry I was going to make you guys fight someone we couldn't beat."

If Shiftry hadn't been so scared of fighting, I was sure now he could have ended me. I wasn't sure how powerful he was, since it was hard to get a good grasp when he'd been fighting the Champion, but there was no way I would have even lasted a minute with his mastery of the dark. Jellicent shook his head and let out an echoing vibration. He was worried.

"You know, I've thought about it. What I've done. What you saw in there was how I really am, and I fear that it's what I'll become if I keep going like this. Cold and ruthless," I said. Buddy protested, but I stopped him. "It's not so much about the killing, but what I felt during that moment. There was enjoyment. A sense of fulfillment."

He confusedly tilted his head.

"Right, it's not like you'd understand," I sadly chuckled. He was a Pokemon and a ghost type at that. He didn't see what I had felt as wrong—

I stared up into his eyes. They were quivering.

I hurt him.

"I'm sorry, it's not— I didn't mean it like that."

He relaxed slightly, but I could tell that the words would stick with him for a long time.

Fucking... fuck.

I hated this.

It was nighttime now. A reporter had tried to break into my room, but they apparently had a League Trainer guarding my door, which was strange way to learn about it. The League ran the city now. They had cleaned house, and everyone in a position of authority had been fired and replaced with loyalists. It was a power grab, but I knew what the public did not. I knew that they needed this to keep tabs on the Unown, whatever they were.

Plus, complaints were rather muted. There had never been an event of this scale in Sinnoh since Cynthia had become the Champion. This was so big that the news even made it to the other regions. They called it the 'darkest day'. It was cheesy, but it grabbed people's attention. Apparently, the spire of void Shiftry had been shooting out of his mansion? It had been visible from Celestic, Hearthome and Veilstone. Even Craig Goodwill was in the city to check up on his sister. I didn't know how she had reacted to the whole event, and I didn't have the energy to find out.

"Remember when I told you that I'd like if you found a hobby?" I asked.

Buddy nodded.

"I know it's a strange thing to ask, especially now, but have you given it some thought?"

I felt my phone vibrate and ignored it. He shook his head, but told me that he'd take it more seriously now. Apparently he'd just said that he would to get me off his back before, but it was different now. Even after my hiccup, I felt comfortable with him. It was like I could let go of my worries and pretend nothing had happened. We watched stupid TV shows together, although I could tell that they bored him to no end. He kept asking me how I was doing, and I didn't lie. Not to him.

"I feel like the world is pressing on my shoulders. I feel like I can't breathe properly. I feel like things will never go back to how they were, but other than that, I think I can manage."

The water type chastised me for finishing off my sentence with a bit of humor.

"You know, I've been thinking that I need a bit of time away from the others. Traveling to Veilstone alone sounds… hard now, but I think it'd be for the best. I think I need to learn about myself, and I won't be able to do it unless I'm on my own with you guys."

Buddy's eyes dimmed, but he said nothing.

"It won't be for long. Just a few days. I need to get my thoughts back in order and figure out what it is I've been doing. I mean, collecting the gym badges, becoming the best in the world is a nice goal, but what am I doing?"

He stared at me confusedly.

"It's… hard to explain exactly. It's like, I have a goal clearly lined out in front of me. A nice structure that the Circuit gives me along with every trainer participating, but either through my actions or through circumstances I can't control, I keep getting pulled off the path. So I ask again, what am I doing? This isn't the right way to go about this. I still want to do the Circuit stuff, but I need a way to get stronger faster. To protect myself and others I care about. I wish I could just ask Cynthia to train me, but it's not like the Champion can afford to just go off and play favorites with me, especially in these troubled times. So I want to take some time for myself and figure out what the hell I'm doing."

The ideas were odd and disjointed, but Buddy understood the gist of it. I wasn't going to become like Chase. I was a people person at heart, and I didn't think I'd be able to travel for months at a time without any close friends. But it would only take a week to reach Veilstone.

I could handle a week.

Of course, before I could even think about leaving, I had to wait until Cynthia gave me the okay, and I still had to talk to everyone, but for now, I'd just… rest. The tournament had been supposed to last eighteen days, but we didn't even make it through half of that before everything went wrong. We had time on our hands to figure things out. Plus, Cecilia, Denzel and Pauline had been hurt worse than I was, and they'd need time to be able to leave.

I was being a terrible friend by not visiting, wasn't I?

As the night slowly progressed, I couldn't help but fall asleep. I was too tired. The nightmares came back in full force. They weren't scary experiences, but they just replayed Crobat's screams over and over and over. I watched myself loom over it with a twisted smile.

I woke up drenched in sweat and bumped against Buddy's soft head. He'd been observing me from up close, probably deliberating over waking me up or letting me rest. The sun was just rising. I hadn't gotten that many hours, but some were better than nothing. I stepped inside of the shower and changed my bandages. The doctors had been supposed to do it, but I would have rather done it myself. They had enough on their plates already.

I had thought today would be another day of avoiding my responsibilities and sticking around in my room. The most I expected was a text conversation with Melody about the money they were going to transfer me, and maybe I'd get to pick up some of my Pokemon from the Pokemon Center, but unfortunately, I could only pretend I was the only person in the world for so long before people came to me instead. Denzel and Cecilia came to visit me. I tried to pretend I wasn't there, but it didn't work.

"We just want to talk," Denzel said. "Did we do something wrong?"

"Grace! I know you're in there," Cece exclaimed. "Open the door, please."

Could she walk already? I sunk deeper and deeper into my room, but Buddy stopped and pushed me ahead with a tentacle. Was there anything else I could do to delay this just a bit longer? I bit the inside of my mouth, sighed and held out a trembling hand over the door handle.

The moment I opened it, they both pushed the League Trainer off and barged into the room. Cecilia walked on crutches and appeared to be barely able to put any weight on her left leg. Denzel appeared fine, but I knew concussions took at least a week to heal completely. I expected words, but they just hugged me tightly without any warning. We must have cried for at least two minutes, saying nothing to each other, but everything at the same time. It was strange, how something I had dreaded for so long had ended up relieving me and taking some of the weight off. Not all of it, of course. Not even close. But every bit helped, and I could breathe a little easier.

"I was so worried when the others told me you weren't leaving your room," Cecilia said, wiping a tear off. "I know you're hurting, but… confide in us, or in someone."

"I talked to Buddy," I said. I wanted to ask what had bitten her leg, but I refrained from doing so. Right now, we could simply relax and be happy. "And I'm sorry I was so silent. I needed some time to myself to think."

"It's alright, we understand," Denzel nodded. "Just let us know if you need anything, and we'll be there."

"Come on, guys, you're hurt a lot worse than I was," I said. "I should be saying that. Did you guys see everyone else? How's Pauline?"

"She's kicking up a storm and already out and about. She can't really move her arm that well yet though," he sighed. "I keep telling her to take it easy, but she's been a lot more active than normal. It's how she copes with things."

"So she was discharged, at least," I relaxed. "Louis and the others told me about Justin."

They both winced.

"He's planning on leaving as soon as the League gives him the okay. They want to make sure that he's mentally capable of integrating back into society first and stuff," Denzel said. "We talked for a bit. His goal is to spend as much time in the wild as he can to grow stronger."

Cecilia let out a defeated exhale. "He's… changed. Do you know what he told me? That there was no way he'd make it past the eighth badge, so he'd rather spend the time remaining in this year's Circuit training instead. He plans on battling Maylene and Volkner, then he's going to go to Victory Road preparing for next year instead so that he can for sure reach the Conference and be freed from his father's obligations."

"Victory Road? He'll die there!"

Victory Road wasn't frequented by anyone but the most experienced trainers. Back in the day, only people that made it through there could participate in the Conference, but now it was more of an abandoned tradition. People usually flew to the event, either on their Pokemon or by plane— which strangely enough wasn't frowned upon for this specific instance. That was how dangerous the mountain was.

"Which is why Louis has been trying to convince him otherwise, but there hasn't been any success there yet," Cecilia said. "Do you think you could try to talk to him later?"

"I'll see… I'm exhausted."

They were too. They had deep bags under their eyes, but Cecilia even more so. She was struggling to keep herself together, I could tell.

"Why don't we just do nothing for now?" Denzel asked. "No reporters, no League, no International Police… just us? I can go grab us some food from the cafeteria if you want. They're serving pizza today to cheer people up."

I nodded, and Cecilia agreed. It was a good idea. He quickly left, saying that he'd be back in around ten minutes.

"Do you want my bed? Your leg…"

"I'll sit down," she smiled. I helped her sit and placed her crutches against the wall. "Cynthia will come to speak to us today. She told me earlier."

"She spoke to you again?" I asked, sitting down next to her.

"Grace, I'm not going to lie, it's been difficult. Of course, it's been hard on all of us, but I was a complete and utter mess for the last two days. I won't tell you what I've done, but it wasn't necessary, and it made me realize that I wasn't who I thought I was. She helped me go through this by visiting me once per day and giving me some encouragement. I don't really know if it helped, but at least I can speak now."

"I'm sorry. I should have been there, I—"

"I would have liked that, or at least some texts," she angrily said. "At least a word after the initial chaos when Shiftry died other than 'I'm alive'. But I know you were going through the same thing I was. We probably all were, except Justin, so… I'm angry, but I won't hold it against you. I understand."

"I'm sorry," I said again. "What did Cynthia tell you?"

"A few stories about her childhood. How she met her Gible and the years she spent befriending her before her journey, mostly."

"You should probably wait until Denzel comes back to go into that," I said. "Any idea of what she'll talk to us and Mira about?"

"Something to do with Team Galactic, but you probably guessed that already. More interestingly, she's been watching us."


"Yeah. Paying attention to our gym battles… I didn't want to say it with Louis, Pauline, Maeve or Just— nevermind, not Justin. I knew they'd get down, so I stayed quiet when talking to them. I know these last few days have been horrible, but you can at least cheer up in the fact that we've caught the Champion's attention."

Just a week ago, I would have squealed at that, but right now I just didn't have the energy to. I did feel a bit of pride, though.

"I didn't think she even cared about low leveled battles like ours. I wonder what it's like to be so strong," I pondered.

"I'd imagine that it feels great."

"I think so too, but I also think that it'd be lonely."

It was strange in a way, how my feelings contradicted my goal. Becoming the best in the world would be an exhilarating journey. The incremental feeling of progress, clawing your way up to the top, but then what? Some people decided to use their strength to protect their regions, like the Champions, while some just became recluses like Red from Kanto. It would take many years for me to even get there, but it was important to think about.

At least I knew to temper my expectations now. Seeing Cynthia stand down a thousand-year-old Pokemon like it was nothing made me realize that even Craig had no chance against her. As much as it hurt, I'd need to lower my goal for this year to just winning the Conference, if I could do even that. Even Craig was an indomitable mountain from my perspective, and Cynthia was one from his.

Denzel came back into the room with lukewarm pizza slices, and we ate in relative silence. I was surprised to see that even he didn't want to watch the news or browse the forums.

"Grace, if it's not too much to ask, how did Cynthia take down Shiftry?" Cecilia asked out of the blue. She'd always idolized her, but she seemed to be even more fascinated by the Champion.

I gulped. "It wasn't even a fight. Spiritomb mentally crippled him and Lucario stabbed him with some kind of Aura Bone attack. If she hadn't spoken to him, it wouldn't even have taken a minute."

"Spiritomb, hm?" Denzel mused. "I don't know much about 'em, but I know that there are only a few in the world. They're manmade apparently."

"So they're like Golett, then," my girlfriend said. "I wish I could ask more about it. I wonder how Cynthia found hers."

"Why?" I asked. I wanted nothing to do with that thing, so to see her so interested in it bothered me. She hadn't heard it like I had. "They're disturbing."

"Nevermind," she shook her head. "But still… what do you think Cynthia was like at our age?"

"A better trainer," I weakly said. "Capable of facing down whatever was in her way. What did she tell you about her childhood?"

I looked to Denzel and expected an excited retort, but his mind was elsewhere.

"Most of Sinnoh's dragons live around Celestic, and her Garchomp was no different. She was apparently using her to battle wild Pokemon since she was six— so years before she even caught it."

"Is that how the story actually goes?" I asked. "I thought it was given to her by her grandma."

"I thought that she hatched it from an egg…" Denzel said.

There were a lot of rumors about how Cynthia got her start, and the mythos around her helped build up her image. It was a lot harder to track down everything a trainer did back then, and the mystery persisted to this day— except for us, since Cece was revealing everything.

"That's probably how she destroyed all of the early gyms in her path," she continued. "If I had to guess Gible was already so strong by the time she started her journey that it just automatically won every battle. By the time gym leaders even realized it, she'd probably knocked out most of their team."

"Getting an early start explains some of it, but she still brought the rest of her Pokemon to that level and became the Champion in a single year. Can you imagine the political upheaval at the time? I would have paid to see it," Denzel said.

"Maybe I should ask my dad about it," I said before freezing. I couldn't speak to him. I didn't want to. "Or not. It's probably a lot less exciting than we'd think."

"Yeah…" he said, chewing on his pizza. "Still, it's nice to learn about. I'd like to know how she learned how to cope with stuff. Other than speaking to Nurse Joys, I mean."

We finished our lunch in silence after that, and they left shortly after. I felt slightly better now that we had spoken, and even though we'd still avoided talking about what happened in Shiftry's domain, there was a semblance of normalcy to eating lunch with friends. Normalcy that was dearly needed these days. I didn't have much to do, so I decided to take the plunge and visit Justin. Unfortunately, he wasn't in his room, and I wasn't about to go outside. Not when I'd get swarmed by dozens of people. The Center's hallways were already suffocating, but being shadowed by a League Trainer and Buddy was enough to keep most people in line. I ended up going downstairs and asking the nurses if any of my Pokemon were ready to go, but only Angel was. Sunshine had been hurt a lot more than I thought, and Sweetheart was still unconscious, although recovering slowly. Princess and Honey would be ready in a few hours, although I was terrified of speaking to both. The former because she'd been influencing me without knowing and she would without a doubt be utterly crushed, and the latter because of that single glance my way before I made him kill—

Kill Crobat.

I wasn't ready. Not for either of them. I went back to my room. My safe haven and my only area of respite. Angel had made a full recovery, and all of his vines had grown back. He greeted me with touch, like usual, but it was more gentle than I'd expect. It was like he was handling me like a delicate flower.

He did the same for Buddy, dragging him around like a balloon. It was nice to have him back.

"Angel, that tickles! I missed you," I chuckled. He happily squinted. "Thank you for everything during the fight. You blocked Weavile's Ice Shards with your body and only one made it through. Without you… I'd be dead."

The grass type nodded with its entire body and gestured with two vines.

"I know," I smiled. "But I still feel guilty. You got so hurt because of me… you're not used to pain. Come here."

I walked up to him and hugged his body as best I could.

"Mommy's very proud of you."

I sighed. I needed to speak to a therapist, didn't I? I still had Amanda's number, although we hadn't spoken in a long time thanks to her giving me the tools to overcome my issues by myself in the past.

With this one?

I wasn't so sure. I wasn't getting better, I was learning to function with a hole in my heart.

The League Trainer knocked on my door in the evening, and she Teleported me to some unknown location with that same Xatu she'd used before. It was a nondescript room that could have been in any home in Solaceon, although it had been converted into an office with multiple desks. Mira and Cecilia were already there, and Cynthia sat at a desk with Aaron and Lucian doing the same. I felt my body tense. Few trainers could boast about having seen an Elite Four member in the flesh, let alone two. They were actually harder to see than the Champion due to them spending the vast majority of their time on the Lily of the Valley island, while Cynthia traveled through the region a lot more than they did. The League Trainer quickly left, and Lucian stared at me, while Aaron stared through me.

I shivered. It was as if hundreds of bugs crawled on my skin at the same time. However, that wasn't it. A hulking Garchomp covered in battle scars loomed over the Champion. It was my first time properly seeing one that wasn't moving all over the place, and they were even worse than I expected. A mass of scales, muscles and teeth larger than my hand. It was twice my size and looked at me like I would look at an ant.

"Enough with the staring," Cynthia ordered as she stared at some papers. She surprisingly wore glasses. Was she nearsighted?

"Who wouldn't be intrigued by some of the trainers who caught your eye?" Aaron smirked. "Want me to handle that for you while you speak?"

"Yes, thank you," the Champion tiredly sighed. He pushed himself on the wheeled chair and snatched the paperwork out of Cynthia's hand. "Lucian?"

"Of course."

The psychic type master did the slightest head nudge, and a one-eyed Alakazam teleported into the room. Lucian's Alakazam was also the source of many rumors. No one knew how he lost his eye, and there were many stories about it. Its eye shone, its spoons bent and the room suddenly grew fuzzy.

"Thank you."

I stared around the room, trying to place what had changed.

"Insulation," Lucian explained. "No one will be able to hear your conversation."

"Abel did the same thing…" Cecilia muttered, her eyes still on Garchomp.

"Let us speak then," Cynthia said, taking off her glasses. "You three have one common link…"

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett Turrell, Dom Noct
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Chapter 166

"You three have one common link, and that is your association to Team Galactic. Mira through Charon, Cecilia through Abel, and Grace through Mars."

Unwilling to interrupt the Champion mid-sentence, Cecilia paused and waited to see if Cynthia was done.

"Abel's joined?" She asked.

"All but in name. He's begun routinely working with them in Veilstone, and his Pokemon team is built to avoid capture, so getting a hold of him is impossible. We assume that he's getting paid a lot for his work, but that's simply semantics."

"I thought that he wanted nothing to do with her anymore? His reasoning made sense." I jumped in.

Cynthia smirked and twirled her pencil. "Cecilia's case is less straightforward than yours. People like Abel are tricky, Grace. You'll learn about them and how they function, think that you can predict their actions, and even think that you could use that to your advantage to work with him," she shrugged. "But at the end of the day, he remains an evil criminal whose sense of honor exists only as a front and is second to his greed. The moment Team Galactic offers them money to hit any of you, he will accept without a second thought."

She paused again, waiting to see if we had anything to add. No one did.

"The League is sure that you three will be targeted at some point in the future, which is why we're going to grant you protection along with your friends, but that isn't it. In case— and this isn't guaranteed, but in case this protection fails, since we know that you will be specific targets, the government considers you to be high-priority individuals. That means that if anything ever happens to you, we will prioritize your safety above all else thanks to how useful you may be to us in the future— if you'll excuse the term. I like to be straightforward with people when I'm giving them bad news."

"This is bad news?" Mira asked with a sigh. "Aren't you telling us that we're going to be treated like queens? No one's going to be able to touch a hair on our heads."

"It might look that way right now, but trust me, it is not," Cynthia said. "I'm a realist, but we'll need to at least keep the rules in mind. People will cry foul if we prioritize you and no one else. That means that you'll need to join the League Trainer Internship Program so we can justify this. People won't bat an eye if we're rescuing one of our own."

"No choice in the matter, huh?" Mira sighed.

"No. Let me explain to you what the program implies. There's a rigorous application process, but we can just skip over all of that and say you've made it in. No one but the League has access to the tests anyway, and I have a feeling you'd all manage to pass the knowledge section, although barely. The League knows that tying down young trainers is impossible, so the program's a lot looser than what it sounds like. De facto, it's a waiting list for an actual job at the League, but we don't expect you to go that far. In fact, you won't have to do much of anything. Normally, there would be a few opportunities to do some jobs to increase your chance of getting a position at the League, but that's not what you're after."

I frowned. "So why is it bad if we don't have to do anything?"

"The increased publicity, the theories, the noise will probably be crushing for all of you, especially with how young you are. There will be complaints of preferential treatment— you'd be the first time we put any first years in the program, let alone people with only four badges. People will talk down your achievements… it's a lot, especially for children your age."

"Whatever, I don't care," Mira shrugged.

"Neither do I," Cecilia said.

Cynthia stared at me and waited for my answer. It wasn't like I was able to say no anyway, but was she testing me? My conviction? It was hard not to overthink my words when the Champion was looking right into my eyes.

"Sure," I hesitantly said.

"Welcome to the League!" Aaron yelled, not even looking up from his papers. "Looking forward to working with you."

Cynthia rolled her eyes— which surprised me. I was a lot more used to her stoic, smiling self. She pulled out three pieces of paper from a drawer inside her desk and asked us to sign, which Mira did right away. Cecilia and I read it carefully though, but it was pretty straightforward and was exactly what Cynthia had told us. We were essentially a part of the League, but not really? It was weird.

"You'll get a few benefits, the biggest of which being you'll get to go past the six Pokemon limit early. You'll still have to go through an inspection and get your license for it, but I assume trainers of your caliber will pass without an issue. Grace, since you already have six, you might want to get yours at Veilstone just to get it over with."

I nodded. I knew I wanted a psychic, but it was probably time to really try to figure out which one I wanted. I wasn't going to rush for a seventh member right away. I didn't even know if I'd have one by the time the Conference happened. I wanted something that could Teleport, but Abra, Natu, Ralts, Drowzee… none of the usual candidates called to me.

"You'll get paid, although the salary is rather meager. It is an internship after all," she said. "Twenty-thousand per month. Nothing compared to what you two are used to," she finished, staring at me and Cecilia.

"Champion Cynthia, if I may ask a question," Cecilia said. "About your Spiritomb—"

"You want one. I'm afraid that's impossible, at least for the time being," Cynthia interrupted. "Talk to me again when your team is good enough to match Aaron here. You need an extremely high level of mental fortitude to be able to handle one."

My eyes snapped to Cecilia and I restrained a sigh. She did want one after all, and Cynthia hadn't even refused! Did that mean she knew of one's location? Denzel said that there were only a limited number.

"Are you calling me weak?" The bug type specialist laughed.

"You are the weakest of the Elite Four, and that is a fact." Lucian shrugged.

"I can still give you a run for your money, you smug bastard."

"Enough with the joking around, Aaron," Cynthia chided. "Now you'll be able to contact me, but understand that this is only to be used in emergencies," Cynthia continued. "Keep your journey going. Grow and learn, but most importantly, speak to someone about your anguish. We'll actually meet one last time in a day or two— Grace, I'll see you later today."

"Wait. If we're talking about Pokemon we might want and I'm a part of your fancy League, what can you do about a Porygon for me?" Mira asked. "Uncle Ernie used to be fascinated by them, and I've wanted one since I was a kid."

"You're not supposed to just be given Pokemon," Lucian frowned. "It would go against precedent. Cynthia?"

She nodded. "You're right. I won't be able to help you with that, but I've heard they sell them at the game corner at Veilstone, if you really want to train one. Either way, I believe our job here is done?"

Unfortunately, I didn't have a question regarding a rare Pokemon, so we all nodded and Alicia's Xatu brought us back to the Pokemon Center's entrance.

"Well, I have therapy after this, so I'll see you girls later," Mira said.

"Oh, you're already speaking to someone?" I asked.

"Maeve forced me to. It is what it is. It's not the first time I've tried and I doubt it'll change much," she shrugged.

She left soon after that, leaving only me and Cecilia. I wanted to fight her on her interest with Spiritomb, but I really had no right to do so. I knew that she wasn't the kind to simply change her mind or give up on a choice when she'd made it, and she seemed fascinated by the ghost. I used the opportunity to finally pick up Princess and Honey, although I wasn't going to release Togetic until Cynthia gave me the okay. At least that was the excuse I was going with. The truth was, I was scared of telling her that she'd influenced me all these months, and using Cynthia's warning as an excuse made me feel a lot better.

I could only handle one disaster at a time. Honey would be next. Cecilia's Pokemon hadn't been hurt at all during her fight, so she didn't have to pick up anyone. Still, she opted to go to her room and rest her leg. Standing for so long had hurt her a lot. I did the same and released Angel and Buddy. They helped me brace myself for Honey's return. It would be the first time I saw him since the dark's disappearance. Would he hate me? See me differently? Would things stay the same?

I couldn't delay any longer. I let him out of his Pokeball, and he stared into my eyes. He was looking for something.

We stood still for what seemed like an eternity. Then he hugged me so tight I thought I'd suffocate. Angel excitedly joined in on the hug.

He'd been seeing if I regretted my actions. I knew from one look into his eyes that he sure did, but the fault rested on me. I gave the final order.

"You're a good kid," I said. "I—It's my fault for making you do it."

The electric type sniffled and I felt hot tears on my neck. Instead of judging me like I thought he'd do, he judged himself most of all.

Like he always did.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"Ms. Pastel, the Champion is ready to see you," Alicia said as I let her in. I nodded and Teleported again, this time on a field that I easily recognized as the Hunters' land— or the League's now. Cynthia sat in the grass in a position a lot less elegant than I expected. Her legs were splayed out and she supported herself with her hands.

Garchomp was lying down at her side, more docile than I expected the huge dragon to be. It was almost like she was… purring somehow, although the noises still shook me. Alicia saluted and Teleported away. That Xatu was working awfully hard these days. Powerful Pokemon or not, Teleporting such long distances and carrying people with them was exhausting for psychics.

"What are they going to do with the Hunters and their business?" I asked right away.

"Oh, the family members will slowly be rehabilitated, but it'll be difficult. Their entire lives have been a lie, and it'll take years for them to go back to normal," Cynthia said, the wind blowing her hair. Even though I considered myself good at reading people, I had no idea what she was thinking. "Believe it or not, we don't have the expertise they do in regards to Pokemon breeding, and we can't exactly hire them like we did like the Bianchi's lower-leveled employees, so the business will probably collapse. Solaceon will have to start from zero."

"All those Pokemon will lose their homes," I sighed. It was terribly sad, in a way. The Hunters had been evil, but I couldn't deny that they gave all of their Pokemon good living environments. "Oh well."

At least maybe Solaceon might finally be able to expand in size now, but good luck finding anyone wanting to move here after what happened.

"How are you holding up, Grace?"

"I'm okay. Once we get past this type energy hurdle, I'll feel twice as good," I said. "If you don't mind me asking, how did you get over it? Your first… murder."

The Champion hesitated and began stroking Garchomp's head. "I never really got over it. I just learned to deal with it. The situation was a lot less clearcut than yours, let me tell you."

"I won't ask for details," I said. "Is it time then? For Togekiss."

Cynthia nodded and released the fairy type, who happily chirped at Garchomp. The ground type rolled to her side, shaking the floor, and Togekiss rubbed her belly with her fluffy wing. I was surprised to see that a fairy type and a dragon type got along so well, considering how Princess could barely tolerate Sunshine's presence. Cynthia's Togekiss was a majestic specimen, and just staring at it made me smile. I couldn't possibly get angry at that cute face, and it was as if my level of anguish was lower somehow.

"He was my fourth Pokemon," Cynthia said. "Lucario was my second."

"Did you hatch him?" I asked. "If I may ask!"

"I did. My grandmother gave me the egg when I left on my journey, and he hatched while I was on my way to Sunyshore."

So that meant that he also saw Cynthia as his mother then.

"Before you release your Togetic, I have to tell you something. She's probably the most aggressive one I've ever seen, and that's saying something."

"Princess isn't aggressive—"

"Oh, but she is," Cynthia interrupted. "Beyond what is normal. I believe that you were both… influencing each other somewhat, pulling each other deeper and deeper toward the ways of the most aggressive fairies. It was like a feedback loop. Your Togetic would make you act more fairy-like, and then she'd mimic you and act more fairy-like, and so on and so forth."

"But Princess is so sweet… I don't get it. Sure, she has her quirks and she's overprotective, but…"

"I know these things, Grace. Trust me."

"I guess," I bit my lip. "But does that mean you've been watching me?"

"A little in my free time, along with a few in your orbit. I've been looking at you, Lauren Goodwill, Mira, Cecilia, Denzel and Chase Karlson, really."

So Chase too? I wondered how he was doing. In all of this, I had completely forgotten about his quest to find his grandparents. Hopefully he was fine, although he hadn't sent a message yet.

"There isn't anything that unique about us," I shrugged. "You were better."

"I was. But it's not so much about skill, but also about your mindset and the way you react when things go wrong," Cynthia said. "Regardless, let's get back on topic. Just like you, even when we stop Togetic from leaking fairy type energy, she'll stay just as aggressive as she's been, which could be seen as a good or a bad thing."

"Prrrri!" Togekiss chimed in. I was surprised at his deeper voice— although not by much.

"Okay, we'll start," Cynthia said.

"Wait! I actually have another question before we do. My friends have often told me that I'm way too good at understanding my Pokemon. Could this type energy stuff have something to do with it?"

"Describe 'way too good'."

"I mean full-on conversations. Like I'm talking to a human."

"At your age? No amount of type energy would have made you able to do that," the Champion said. "I can do it because I've been with my Pokemon for more than two decades, but I don't have an answer for you, I'm afraid."

"Okay," I grumbled as I grabbed Togetic's Pokeball. If the Champion didn't know about it, then chances were I'd never figure it out.

I released Princess, who made a mad dash toward me and tackled me into a hug. Even after worrying so much, my worries couldn't help but melt away at the sight of my daughter. I held her tightly and checked her neck. Aside from some slight faded marks that could only be seen if I squinted really hard, it was as good as new.

Princess turned to Garchomp, and I felt her love evaporate. The dragon opened an amused eye toward her, but she was still relaxed. It wasn't like we were capable of hurting her in any way, shape or form. None of our attacks could penetrate her hard scales, and I assumed Dazzling Gleam would only tickle her. Togekiss worriedly chirped at Togetic, but she couldn't stop staring.

"Garchomp's a friend," I said. "It's okay."

"The fact that your Togetic wants to fight my strongest proves my point," Cynthia smirked. "Fairy or not, that isn't normal. I'll let you explain the circumstances to her."

The Champion stood and gave us some space. Togekiss happily flew in the air quicker than Cece's Talonflame, and I had a feeling that it was going at a leisurely pace. Garchomp stood tall next to Cynthia, and they spoke about something I couldn't hear.

"Listen, Princess… I don't know how to tell you this, but I have to. Cynthia says you've been releasing fairy type energy on accident, and it's been changing me."

The fairy type flinched as if she'd been struck. I knew immediately that Cynthia had been correct and that she had no idea what she'd been doing.

"It's not your fault. You couldn't control it, and I changed you too. We're both a little broken," I chuckled sadly. "And we won't go back to how it was before."

Princess began to sob and repeatedly apologize, putting herself down and taking all of the blame for our changes.

"You're not the only one at fault. I could have caught it earlier," I shook my head. "It's a part of who we are now, and that's okay. I don't hold it against you. Come here."

I kissed her forehead, and we stood in silence for a while. I desperately tried not to cry, but I couldn't hold it. I wanted to show her that I was strong and tell her with a smile on my face that everything would be alright, but it was too much.

I heard Cynthia's steps behind me.

"My Togekiss will teach you how to hold it back, little one," she said. Before she was even done gesturing with her hand, Togekiss landed next to us, but there was no sound when he hit the ground. The flying type led Princess away, leaving me, Cynthia and her Garchomp. "It should take from a few minutes to a few hours."

"That short?"

"I don't know the specifics, but the answer should be extremely obvious when she figures it out. It could be anything, really."

"Oh. Okay."

"Thinking of evolving her soon?" The Champion asked.

"As soon as I get the money," I shrugged. "Which… should be in two months now that I got my bonus from the Poketch Company."

"It'll be interesting to see what she turns into. Even if they do get overprotective when their trainers are harmed, Togekiss are meant to be spreaders of happiness and to stop conflicts," Cynthia said before her lip twitched upward. "I haven't seen one like yours yet."

I stared at Princess, who had been reduced a stuttering mess in front of Cynthia's Togekiss. It must have been strange to be in front of not only her future form, but the most powerful one in the world. Cynthia's Togekiss was known to be her second fastest Pokemon, and he was able to hit opponents with such a variety of moves— custom, known, and combinations— that he was impossible to plan against. Not only that, but he could use them better than their actual types. When it used Shock Wave, for example, it was more powerful than an electric type's.

"She'll be okay," I said.

"Her versatility with Ancient Power is quite impressive for a Pokemon her age. When I was just starting out, I used Togekiss with more of a brute-force angle. I find it fascinating how no two trainers will train a Pokemon of the same species the same way."

"What about your Roserade?" I asked. "Denzel uses Roselia's poison to win battles."

"Ah, I've seen a few of his battles. Mine used to specialize in spore attacks. She can do everything now though."

I swallowed. It was terrifying how nonchalantly she'd said that.

"Can I ask you for advice?"

"This is probably the only time you'll get me to yourself, so go ahead."

"I mean it's not really advice," I corrected. "My friends asked you for Pokemon help, right? I want a psychic type that can Teleport, but I want…"

"Something unique?" She smiled. "It's okay to be picky, especially when you'll be spending the rest of your life with your companions. As far as unique teleporters go… you could go with either Beheeyem or Claydol, but finding those can be tough. Beheeyem are mostly found in Unova and Hoenn, although finding one here wouldn't be unheard of. For Claydol, you'd have more luck, but you have to look for the remains of ancient civilizations. I wanted one when I was younger. Ancient history fascinates me."

My eyes widened. "That's— that's great, thank you!" I exclaimed. I wasn't going to find either of those any time soon, but it felt good to have something. "And uh, while we're here, could I have training advice?"

The Champion laughed. "There it is. I was wondering when it'd come up. Cecilia and Mira already asked me the same thing."

"Well, you're the best trainer in the region… sorry if I wasn't supposed to ask."

"I'll tell you what I told them. When I was your age, I punched up instead of down or sideways."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I battled trainers I had no hopes of winning against to learn," Cynthia said. "I'd go and find trainers with five badges when I had two, eight when I had six, you get the gist. Most of the time, I lost."

"You lost? I thought that—"

"That I never lost in my career? Come on, I'm not perfect. I've lost plenty, although it has been more than two decades…"

Was that bragging? I was too scared to offend her to ask.

"Battling people you have no hopes of winning against will expose your weaknesses faster than you'd be able to find them," the Champion said. "I believe Lauren Goodwill has done it a few times."

I nodded, absorbing each one of her words and taking it to heart. That was another thing added to the list when I got to Veilstone. The Poketch Company would probably hate it though. Maybe I could set up something private, although the possibility of 'exposing' me would probably make that impossibly hard.

"Can I battle you then?" I asked out of the blue.

"No, you cannot. There's punching up, and then there's punching at me. You would learn nothing from it, and most of my team hates to handle opponents with kid gloves. Garchomp over here might hold back enough, but even so, there isn't much point when it wouldn't even be a competition."

The dragon grunted, which sounded more like an aggressive snarl, but I couldn't tell if she was disagreeing or agreeing with her.

"You're sweet even if you like pretending not to be," Cynthia gently told her. "It was a fun idea though. Try to go for people with a few more badges than you first. You have to at least have a chance to learn."

"I will. Uh, thank you."

"Plus, the optics of me helping a trainer ahead of the Conference would be terrible. I can't look like I'm playing favorites."

I nodded. That was probably going too far. We were already going to be accused of favoritism due to being put in the League Trainer Internship Program, but having the Champion train me was an order of magnitude above that. They were meant to be impartial figures that didn't get involved in the Circuit, so we were already treading new ground. Me being able to get seven Pokemon before my eight gym badge was already pushing it.

Though I wasn't even sure I'd end up doing that.

I chuckled when Togetic's wings beat so fast that she knocked herself off balance and fell over. It'd be interesting to know what the exact problem was, but the concept was probably too abstract for me to grasp, and I couldn't understand Cynthia's Togekiss anyway. From the way they were behaving, it seemed to be going well at least.

"Say, Shiftry had a… job, right?" I asked, skirting around the Unown. "But it was only slightly older than a thousand years old. What came before him?"

What had contained the Unown beforehand?

"Oh, we don't know. Shiftry never told us, probably because he knew that we wouldn't stop him if we couldn't replace him, and Solaceon's recorded history doesn't know that far aside from the Lost Tower. Did you stop by on your way there?"

"Yes," I blanched.

"Ah. You must have met Ruth and Mathilda then. They helped me deal with Spiritomb when I'd just caught them," Cynthia fondly recalled. "Although Ruth did try to kill me beforehand."

"She tried that on us too… Mathilda defended us."

"She did? She changes quickly for a ghost," she said. "Either way, Shiftry made itself useful to the League for generations, but things changed when I came to power. He thought a young, inexperienced child like I was wouldn't fight back, but I did. He had a mastery of dark type energy second to none, but he was weak. His fighting instincts were dull."

"And you're sure the replacement will work…?"

"Let us worry about that," she smiled. That was probably confidential then. "You surprise me, Grace."

"In a good way?" I hopefully asked.

"Rare are the people that'll just ask me classified information to my face."



"I find it amusing," she smiled. She opened her mouth, but her phone rang and she quickly answered. "Yes… yes, I'm on my way."

She hung up and stared at me.

"Duty calls, I'm afraid. I'll have to cut this short."

"What about Princess?"

"Togekiss can stay," Cynthia said. She climbed on Garchomp's back and tightly grabbed onto the spikes on its forearms. "I will see you and your group one last time before you leave. Send Alicia a message when you're done and she will come to pick you up."


Garchomp jumped and disappeared into the sky, sending me stumbling backwards into the grass. When I stood back up, she was already a dot in the horizon.

How did she hold onto Garchomp without falling? Craig was right, she really was crazy. It was only now that I realized that I had just had a conversation with the Champion without falling on my face and making a fool of myself, except when I'd asked to battle her. Now that she'd left, I got the same feeling of adrenaline leaving my body after a fight, even though we'd only been talking.

I hesitantly stepped toward Togekiss and Togetic, but Cynthia's Pokemon waved a wing at me, telling me to stand back. She might have still been leaking, so I supposed he wanted to protect me.

I really wanted to talk to him though. I knew Togekiss were large enough to fly on, but seeing one really cemented how large they were to me. Togekiss was taller than me while simply standing, and he was big enough to fit two of me. I was pretty sure he was bigger than usual though, so Princess would probably end up being slightly smaller when she evolved. After twenty more minutes, the flying type waved me over and allowed me to get closer.

"Is it… over?"

Togekiss nodded and let out a cute chirp, while Princess embarrassingly stared to the side. I couldn't tell if she had a crush or if she still felt too responsible to face me, but it might have been a bit of both. I dragged her into my arms and stroked her head.

"Thank you for all the help," I nodded. "Tell Cynthia that I… appreciate everything she's done."

Togekiss happily nodded, and I could have sworn I felt my worries disappear. For a moment, it was as if nothing had happened the last few days and everything was back to normal. It was bliss.

And the feeling left as fast as it came. Togekiss took off, and unlike Garchomp, he was completely silent and caused no disturbance.

Before I realized it, I couldn't see him with the naked eye.

Garchomp could go faster still.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett Turrell, Dom Noct
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Chapter 167

Alicia brought me back to the Pokemon Center as soon as I messaged her, and her Xatu wasn't even showing a single sign of tiredness. They were known to be good at hiding emotion and being expressionless, but I was still incredibly impressed. It made me want to start looking up information about Claydol or Beheeyem, but there were more pressing matters to attend to first.

The group was going to have its first meeting to discuss future options tonight. I knew I had said that I'd try to see Justin first, but he seemed to always be out these days doing who knows what, and it was impossible to just get him alone, especially due to the Pokemon Center being my safe haven away from reporters. I didn't particularly feel like traveling outside, especially when the discussion about me was growing instead of shrinking. I didn't know if it was leaked or shown to the public, but people knew I was in the League Trainer Internship Program now.

I took refuge back in my room. Princess was back to sculpting small statues of herself with some mud she had brought from the outside. Buddy kept to her side, constantly asking if her neck felt better. Honey spoke to Angel as he leaned against a wall with his arms crossed, and even though he didn't understand much of it, the grass type attentively listened to his tirade against a TV show playing that wasn't up to his standards. I felt… better today. We were still missing Sweetheart and Sunshine, but they would probably be ready tomorrow, and then the family would finally be whole again. I was slightly anxious about getting Pupitar used to her new body, but most of all, I wondered what my status with Sunshine was. We had finished our deal, but if I had to guess, he would probably be slightly pissed at me for not letting him kill Harry Rodriguez. I knew from his reaction to the dark's collapse that he didn't care whatsoever about his actions, and to be honest, I was fine with that. I respected him too much to go on a tirade about how revenge was wrong. I'd done the same with Sweetheart, after all.

I just hoped he wouldn't hold me to that standard.

His pride had probably been bruised too, with how Cynthia had easily dealt with Shiftry, but that might have been good for him long-term. It was important for Turtonator to see that he wasn't anywhere close to his maximum potential, and even though I didn't expect him to immediately let me use him like any of my other Pokemon, I was sure training was at least on the table now. His battle with Weavile had shown his rust, and I didn't think that he'd be willing to go for months without another battle.

Cynthia had called Shiftry's fighting instincts dull. I was sure that was something he wanted to avoid at all costs.

As the hours passed, Honey forced me to contact Amanda and set up a meeting. He wasn't sure what therapy even did other than it was with the woman that had made me feel better in the past, so he wanted to force me to do it again. I felt a lot more comfortable with her than anyone else, even if it had been a while. I couldn't imagine speaking to a stranger about this at this point, and the distance between us made it a lot easier to just dump all of my problems onto her. I knew none of the Nurse Joys would judge me for what I did, and it did get a fraction easier each day somehow, but talking to someone half a region away from me would be more manageable than doing it with someone right here. It felt too personal.

Amanda was glad to hear from me and set up a meeting tomorrow morning— a lot sooner than I expected. Ugh.

The meeting would take place in Denzel's room, and I opted to be a little early. Maybe I'd catch Pauline and be able to speak to her alone since I hadn't seen her in days. She'd probably give me shit for it, but I deserved it at this point. Instead, I was surprised to see that a lot of people were already there. Only Justin, Cecilia, and Mira were missing. My eyes settled on Pauline, who glared at me with her usual intensity. It had been a while since she looked at me like that. Since before we became friends, in fact. Before our trip through Eterna Forest, when we'd both hated each other's guts, but we had learned to begrudgingly respect each other for not succumbing under pressure or danger. People offered their normal greetings, but she just stared.

"Look at that. Nice to finally see you," Pauline said with obvious sarcasm.

"Sorry for dropping off the face of the earth," I sighed. "I had a lot on my mind. Still do."

"Everyone did, and yet we still contacted each other," she immediately replied. "Emi's been asking about you, by the way. You should send her a message to tell her you're okay."

"I will."

Arceus, it was weird to be like this again. It was like I was walking on eggshells around her, but I had to remember that she was just hurt, and when someone hurt Pauline, she hit back. I sat down in an extra chair that Denzel somehow brought to his room, and he quickly joined me.

"I know you have a lot on your mind, but congratulations on that League Internship thing," he said. "I'll try to get Pauline to back off. We all have different ways of dealing with this shit, she's just hurt."

"I know. You don't need to talk to her. I'll clear the air before we leave," I said before starting to whisper. "Cynthia's been looking at you too, by the way. The Internship thing has nothing to do with our skills as trainers."

He blushed, not expecting me to see through his disappointment. I couldn't go into detail as to why we'd been chosen, but I didn't want him to feel down at the matter. Cecilia arrived a few minutes later along with Slowking, still walking on those crutches, and Justin arrived at the exact time we agreed on the moment the clock hit five. He'd always been pale, but he was as white as a sheet of paper, and there was no emotion behind his eyes at all. He didn't even look in my direction.

His condition was even worse than I thought.

"Justin," I tried.

"Ah. Grace, you're done ignoring the realities of the world," he said. His tone reminded me of Roland. "It was smart of you to join us. I thought that you wouldn't."

"I know this is important," I said. "How have you been holding up?"

"I am perfectly fine, and I finally have a plan laid out in front of me. My mind has never felt so clear."

"If clear mind means killing yourself, then sure," Pauline said. "I've already told you I won't let you do that Victory Road shit."

"You won't be able to stop me. That would be breaking the law, and even if you are foolish, you wouldn't go that far—"

"Enough," Denzel snapped. "If you're going to fight, don't do it here."

Mira ended up being ten minutes late, but she looked tired as hell. I didn't know if it was from staying up late or the situation, but it was probably both. She nonchalantly apologized for her tardiness and sat next to Maeve.

"Maeve and Mira, you guys aren't used to this, but we do one of these every time we need to prepare to leave a city," Denzel stood up. "And this time is no different. We don't know when the League will give us the approval to leave, but they will sometime soon, and I know people have different plans."

The boy took a deep breath.

"So let's hear them out."

"I will be journeying to Veilstone alone, but I've already said that," Justin immediately declared. "Then onto Sunyshore, but that can wait. I will need to fill my roster as soon as I reach Veilstone."

Pauline clicked her tongue and started to anxiously tap her foot on the floor. "Whatever, man."

Denzel looked to Louis, who gave him a discreet nod.

"Justin, traveling on your own to Veilstone and Sunyshore could be fine thanks to the route being kept relatively clear, but this Victory Road idea—"

"Is the quickest way for me to improve. I have analyzed the risks, and they are outweighed by the rewards. Your concern is appreciated, Louis."

The blonde man sighed. "Very well. I'll just keep traveling with Maeve and Mira, if they're fine with it?"

"Sure thing," Maeve said.

"If you think I'm going to let you get to Victory Road, I've got a nice beach house in Oreburgh to sell you," Pauline said. "I'll stick with the main group… for now."

My eyes widened slightly. A part of me had almost expected her to chase Justin and force him to travel with her, but maybe she was hoping to give him space. If he slowly grew back to normal within the next few months like the doctors hoped, then maybe the dark's influence will have lessened by the time he made it to Sunyshore and he'd get a new perspective on things. The mountain would make those Rhydon we barely managed to take down at the edges of Mount Coronet look like child's play. I was sure that many Pokemon like the Rhyperior that had killed Sweetheart's mom lay there, and they wouldn't hesitate to kill anyone in their path with how aggressive they were.

I would agree with the wait-and-see approach for now. With some luck, he'd be manageable in a month.

Denzel breathed out a relieved sigh. "Okay, so we're good then? Splitting into three groups?"

My heart drummed against my chest, and I bit my tongue. It was now or never.

"Wait, you didn't ask me," I said.


"I want to travel to Veilstone alone."

"What?" Cecilia muttered. I could almost see her heart sink, and it instantly made me reconsider. "Why?"

"It's just… I feel like it'll be good for me to spend some time to myself. It's only seven days," I reassured her. "Then I'll join the group again."

"What if you get attacked by Team Galactic?"

"They won't attack me in a route."

"You don't know that! Didn't you hear what Cynthia—"

She cut herself off and rapidly blinked.

"Do you want me to come?" Denzel asked. "I'm serious."

"No. This is going to be my alone time. I need it."

"You've never done this before. Are you sure everything's okay?" He continued. "Do you need to talk to someone? Are you feeling worse?"

"It's just a week," I reiterated a bit stronger. "I can handle myself for a week. The sky isn't falling."

"You've never traveled alone before," Pauline said, her anger almost forgotten.

"I know. Listen, just trust me on this, okay? When we all get to Veilstone, I'll rejoin the group. I just need some time to focus on my Pokemon and myself."

"Okay," Denzel said, letting out a trembling, defeated exhale.

"Grace… can I please come?" Cecilia asked. She looked like her entire world was collapsing. "It'll be just us two. Shouldn't that be fine?"

I almost broke at that moment. I almost said yes.

"I know it hurts," I said. "But we'll be okay."

It was at that moment that I realized that from her perspective, we'd never been apart for more than a few days, and that was during that whole Mount Coronet rescue mission. It was the same for Denzel, although he was taking it slightly better than she was. I was being selfish— to both of them, but those seven days to myself? I needed them dearly. Amanda had told me long ago that I tended to focus on my friends' problems first and mine second. If I could just get a bit of time alone, I felt like I'd be able to get back on my feet a lot quicker and figure out a lot more about myself.

Of course, that meant that I was hurting the people I loved in the process. Everyone other than Justin looked somewhat defeated, although some were worse than others. Mira's expression had barely changed. Her thoughts lay elsewhere.

"Well I guess I should talk about route 210 and 215, then," Denzel continued. "The first half of 210 is safe as long as you stay out of the tall grass. It's…"

He paused and scratched his forehead. His right fist clenched.

"A lot taller than you're used to. Taller than me, and it's easy to get lost in it or get jumped by a Pokemon, so stay out of it. You should probably stop by the Café Cabin before heading into route 215. They function like an inn too, so you could buy a room there if you need to rest. Making it through route 210 will probably only take two days."

"How's route 215?" Maeve asked.

"Wet. It almost always rains there, so you'll need to stay dry, especially in the cold. The environment will be worse than the wild Pokemon, but as long as you stick to the route, you should be fine. You'll have to do some climbing too, but nothing too bad."

"Climbing while it's raining," Mira sighed. "Great."

"After four to six days there— and it really depends on the weather— you'll have made it to Veilstone. From there on out, the routes will be smooth sailing, assuming none of you want to go through 212 for whatever reason."

"Thanks for the help," I said.

With the rain Denzel had warned us about, I'd probably have to get a raincoat. It had actually rained so little since the start of our journey that it was somewhat surprising. Sinnoh wasn't exactly known for its humidity like Hoenn, but we weren't a dry region either, so we had gotten particularly lucky on that front. After Justin asked about a dozen questions about the route and the Pokemon found there, the meeting slowly dissolved.

But things still didn't feel right. I needed to set things straight with Cecilia, or I felt like we wouldn't be able to leave on good terms. Things had already been somewhat frosty due to me ghosting her, and now I was practically breaking her heart by traveling alone. At first, I wanted to wait for her outside the door, but I ended up just standing awkwardly in front of her until she just left.

Be strong, I told myself. I took a step forward, placing a hand on her shoulder. She stopped and turned toward me.

"Can we talk?" I asked. "Anywhere's fine."

She sniffled. "I don't know. It'll hurt more when you leave."

"Please. We need to clear the air or… or something. I've been a terrible girlfriend these last few days, and I'm so—"

Noise from trainers walking through the halls interrupted me. We'd caught their eye, and they were just staring and recording. I clicked my tongue and released Buddy out of his Pokeball. A single, hate-filled glare was enough to scare them off. I didn't care about my reputation. Not when the girl I loved needed me.

"Let's just go to your room. Please."

Cecilia hesitantly nodded. I'd done it. I'd manage to recover from the brink. I felt like if she had said no just now, our relationship would have been irreparably damaged. Either I would have felt forced to give up on traveling alone and been bitter about it, or I would have gone anyway without clearing the air. Both situations would have been disastrous.

Cecilia struggled to grab her room key out of her pocket, so I did and opened her door for her, letting her in. Slowking could have done it, but it was almost like he wanted me to. She sat down and looked down at the floor. The evening sun shone on her dark skin and dark brown hair. My mouth suddenly felt very dry.

"Cece…" I choked. How did I want to start this? I didn't want to— I couldn't fuck up. "I did things that I'm not proud of, and I thought that I was a monster for a good while. I thought that if I talked to you and you saw through me, then you wouldn't— you wouldn't like me anymore."

She bit her lip.

"And I know now that you were also dealing with the same issue, and that didn't keep you from visiting or trying to contact me, but at the time, I thought that it was just me," I said. "I'm going to be honest with you… I'm going to air it all out."

I took a deep, trembling breath.

"I killed two Pokemon and tortured someone for information," I said. "I kept stepping on the wound on his leg, and I felt good while doing so. I'm not sure, but I think that... I think that he'll never be able to walk properly again. That was why I was scared… I'm sorry. I screwed up, but I need some time to figure things out. My Pokemon are all fucked up too, and if I'm not alone, I don't think I'll have the time to focus on them and get them back on track."

"I killed a man, Grace. I burned him to death."

I felt my stomach drop. That had come out of nowhere.

"Talonflame's Heatwave burned him, and I just watched. One word from me, and he would have lived. He was a victim, Grace. A victim of Shiftry's brainwashing. And he was in no position to pose a threat to me. I killed him anyway and felt nothing. It was like I was taking out the trash."


The positions were reversed now. She was the one expecting judgment from me. I looked to the depths of my heart and tried to find it within me to berate her, but knowing what Shiftry's darkness had done to me, I couldn't justify doing so. I understood that it was the same for both of us now.

We both felt sorry for each other.

"We've both done things we regret," she muttered. "But it feels like you're slowly slipping away from us. First it's one week, but what if it ends up being more, like Louis? He was supposed to come back and travel with us, but he's splitting from the group again. What if you end up doing the same? What if you find a new group… and then just leave us. Then we'd have to do the long-distance thing like Pauline and Emi, and I know— I know that I would never be able to do that."

Ah. I understood completely now. Her reaction made so much more sense to me now that I knew that she was using Louis' case as a baseline. She was still bitter about it, even though she hid it well. Louis was probably a lot more comfortable with Mira and Maeve than he was with us on the road, even if we had all made up while investigating Harry Rodriguez.

"I don't know how to convince you that I won't, but I promise you that I'll come back," I said. I leaned next to her knees and firmly grabbed her hand. "You mean so much to me, Cece. I can't imagine living— let alone traveling for a long period of time without you. This changes nothing between us."

"If you break your promise, I won't forgive you."

"I won't."

"Promise me you'll stay safe? That you won't do something crazy like go off-route to train or to try to scout out locations for your seventh team member?"

"I won't."

"You'll get to Veilstone before we do, so promise me that you won't look for Team Galactic's base like Mira was planning on doing because you feel responsible or you want to be a hero."

"I promise you."

"And spend as much time with me before you leave? I'll have to stay back longer because of my leg, so our time apart will end up being longer than seven days."

"Of course."

"Very well."

I stood up and breathed a sigh of relief. I felt a few tears stream down my cheeks. I honestly thought that she might break up with me if I screwed this up, and I didn't know if I'd be able to handle that on top of everything else. I wrapped her into a tight hug and squeezed.

"Thank you for giving me a chance," I said.

"Are you kidding me? I thought you wanted to get away from me," Cecilia said. "Can you…"

She traced a finger over my hand and then grabbed it. She gently pulled me in, leading me toward her lips.

They were salty.

Cecilia wrapped her arms around my neck, her crutches fell on the ground, and before I knew it, I was on top of her on her bed.

"Cece— mhm— your leg—"


Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett Turrell, Dom Noct, Christian Valenzuela
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Chapter 168

I ended up spending the rest of the evening with Cecilia, which consisted of taking care of her a bunch. I didn't mind, of course. Helping her to walk to open the door to the bathroom, bringing her dinner, hair drying and brushing her hair, just being together were things that made us feel a hundred times better than before. I had even told her about Togetic changing me since she evolved, but aside from the initial surprise, she only cared because I did. She'd fallen in love with that version of me, and it was who I was now. She was so understanding with me.

I did ask her to keep it from the others. I wasn't comfortable with telling them yet.

"And you've got to talk to someone, okay? Even when I'm gone. You've never spoken to a therapist before. You could even go into stuff with Clarence if you want," I said, gently stroking her soft hair as we lay in bed. I basked in the comfort of her warm skin.

"I will… try."

"Not try. You will," I insisted.

"Okay, I will. I'll book an appointment tomorrow morning while you're doing yours."

"Great! What do you want to do tomorrow?" I asked.

"I'd like to swing by and see what happened to that old couple," Cecilia said. "Daniel and Marge? I want to see if they made it through the darkest day okay."

"You're using the term?" I asked. "And it's pretty far with your leg. Didn't the doctors say that you needed to let it rest?"

"Nothing I can't handle, love."

"I'll keep you confined to this bed if it's the last thing I do."

She laughed, which was music to my ears. Hearing her do so after so long filled me with untold amounts of joy.

"Oh, I wouldn't mind," she playfully said. I felt my cheeks heat up. "We can just stay inside until you pick up the rest of your team then. I wish I could fly on Talonflame, but she's too small to fit me."

"You don't even have a license."

"That was more of a general thought, sorry," she said. "I've done some more research into Golett, you know? Did you know that they could fly when they evolve into Golurk?"

I scoffed. "You're fucking with me."

"No, I'm not! They can retract their legs and hands to fly like one of those rocket ships in Hoenn. It turns out I do have a flier after all… I was worried I'd have to buy and teach Slowking Teleport quicker than he could handle. I could have asked Mira's Kadabra for help, but they tend to hog their knowledge instead of sharing."

"Kirlia can help too. Won't Hydreigon be able to fly you though?

"It took my brother months for his Hydreigon to even let him touch him, so I wouldn't rely on that."

"That's fair. I still don't believe you, by the way."

Cecilia grabbed her phone, snuggled up closer to me and played a video of a Golurk slowly taking off from the ground and then breaking the sound barrier as soon as it was far enough. Somehow, it could retract its hands and legs into its body just like she had said. The process just looked so unnatural… what fuel did they even run on?!

"Holy crap," I choked. "Can they do that in battle?"

"I mean, he could, but the retracting process actually takes a decent while, and so does the initial take-off, as you saw. It wouldn't really work in practice. There are also a bunch of rules for it too. Golurk generate too much noise to fly in cities, and it can't even do so alone because breaking the sound barrier can cause property damage and bother people, so it looks like I'll have to rely on Slowking within cities. I'll still wait a while to get the TM, though. I'd like to focus on mind-shielding while in Veilstone."

The psychic type nodded in his usual corner. For some reason, since every Pokemon Center room was built the same, he had a specific corner he liked to stay in. It was the one below the television, where he liked to listen, but not to watch. Nothing was playing right now, though. He was quirky like that.

"Say, you never told me the sixth Pokemon you wanted. Obviously you want a Spiritomb, which I won't comment on—"

"You saying that might as well be commenting," she smirked.

"—but since Cynthia told you to wait, who are you gunning for right now?"

"I don't know."

"What?! I thought you had the entire thing planned out!"

"Well, I just know I want it to be a fighting type, but I don't know which one I want. It'll probably be the first one I end up encountering. Other than Mankey, because then Pauline would cry foul. You still have to make up with her, by the way."

"Right. I will before I leave. She was staring daggers at me."

"Yeah. She'll come around easily though. She's been hurting from the group coming apart too, especially with Justin, even though she hides it well."

"Take care of them for me. Denzel too."

"I will."

I woke up due to nightmares.

Unlike my previous ones, I did not wake up screaming. I woke up with a sense of dread overtaking my entire body. My hands and lips quivering like leaves as Crobat's final screams faded away during my return to consciousness.

At least that'd help during travels. I wouldn't alert the wildlife this time.

Unfortunately for Cece, she'd been clinging to me like a baby Komala to its mother, so I ended up waking her up too. She didn't mind, though. She said that it would allow us to spend more time together before I left.

She didn't even say anything about having to change the sheets— which would probably have to happen every single day.

My first session with Amanda hadn't done much to heal, but it felt nice to talk to her after so long. She was nowhere near as busy with trainers as she was earlier in the year, so we'd be able to have one of these at least once per day until I left. We ended up talking about my journey instead of what happened the entire time… it was just me dictating everything like I'd done with Sunshine and he had thoroughly hated it. One of Amanda's jobs, however, was to listen, and it felt really good to have someone to talk to about this stuff. I could tell her things I'd never be able to tell my friends, like complaining about them.

Pauline for example. She was one of my closest friends, but she did have her flaws. It was expected of her to get mad and throw a fit, whereas if I did the same to her, I knew she wouldn't forgive me anywhere as easily as I did with her. Of course, I didn't just focus on her. We were all flawed human beings, deep down, but being able to lay it all out was good for me.

And it could all be done through the confines of my room too. I wished I could just fly her out wherever I needed her though.

"Good morning. I'm here for a Pupitar and Turtonator?" I told one of the Nurse Joys.

"Just a second," she said before walking through the backdoor. I would have liked to go back there someday and see what went on inside, but the technology was well-hidden. She came back around two minutes later with two Pokeballs. "Take it easy with them for at least three days. No harsh training or battling."

"I will."

Now, it was time to do something unprecedented.

I stepped outside of the Pokemon Center for the first time in days. My refuge away from the noise, the reporters and most of all, the attention. I released Jellicent and began to walk. People took notice right away. Some of them braved Buddy and tried to ask me questions. What happened at the Hunters' mansion? What's your link with Cynthia and why did the League accept you into their Internship Program? Why is the Champion routinely visiting you and your friends? Autographs, pictures, selfies, annoying demands. Never did they ask how I was. I simply denied them and continued on my way. Most of them cowered under Buddy's glare. Right now, I didn't care about my image.

I made my way to the same forested area I had trained multiple times in for the tournament. It was funny to look back on it like it had been years ago when it had only been slightly more than a week. I released the entire team, but kept Sunshine and Sweetheart for last. I heard a camera click and noticed a flash in the distance. Everyone lined up in front of me and patiently waited for me to start.

"Sweetheart and Sunshine are healed," I announced with a smile. "Everyone is back."

Celebrations rang out through all four— even for Sunshine. Him saving our hides had given them a lot more appreciation for him than before, and even Princess seemed to be happy enough for him to be back. They'd cooperated closely during the battle with Harry.

I released Pupitar first, who immediately slumped over and swayed around like a seesaw. I had seen her up close before, but it had been under the shroud of Shiftry's darkness and a muted feeling of panic while I applied potions to her hard exterior. She was big. At least 4'6' if I estimated correctly, and from the small indentation she caused to the dirt floor, she was a lot heavier than before too. Honey almost squealed when he saw her. Princess chirped, clapping her hands while Angel touched her all over with his vines. Buddy watched, but his eyes softened at the sight of her. Sweetheart yelled— which was an odd sound. It was a lot deeper than her old voice had been, but the voice came from inside of the cocoon, not from the structure itself, which meant it had this odd vibration to it. This was just armor to let her true body grow within, although it was no doubt connected to the main body. I'd try to study her more when she got used to her new state.

"Angel, can you help her up?" I asked.

The grass type labored to put her upright. He wouldn't be able to lift her like he used to. Going from a bipedal Pokemon to being confined in a cocoon would take a long adjustment period. Longer than Princess had taken to learn how to fly properly all those months ago after she evolved. Sweetheart struggled to balance herself for five seconds, and then she crashed on the floor again.

"Tar!" She yelled out in frustration.

I walked up to her and leaned close so that her red eyes could see me from up close. This adjustment period would be hard on her. Angel kept multiple vines wrapped around her for now, and she was finally able to 'stand' up. With how big and heavy she was, any hope of swimming without controlling her gas vents first was off the table.

"Hi Sweetheart," I smiled.

The bright eyes behind the cocoon mellowed out. It wasn't made of individual scales like her true body was. Instead, it was a rough, but continuous grey surface that reminded me of rock, but tougher somehow. I heard something rub against the cocoon, and her body rattled.

"I know it's strange. You'll have to be like this for a few months until you can grow into your final form. It might seem debilitating now, but you'll get used to it. You can fly, remember?"

She yelled again, and I could easily imagine her excited smile. The cocoon did have a mouth, although it couldn't smile— just open and close to let food in. Princess molded a small pit that she could fit in so that Angel wouldn't have to tire himself out balancing her, and she rolled into it and managed to adjust herself against one of the slopes until she was upright. Honey had tried to help her, but she brushed him off.

She wanted to learn by herself.

"Good, you're getting better at it already!" I praised. "Don't try to do any flying right now though. We'll wait until you get the hang of moving around for that."

The rock type let out a defeated groan. I scanned her with my Pokedex to see if she had any new moves, and I was surprised to see that Guts had been replaced by Shed Skin. She was supposed to molt at different intervals, and it mostly depended on how much food she ate. Every time she did so, she would grow again and again until she was almost at her final size, although her final evolution would give her another push of growth of one to two feet. Imagining a six-foot-tall Pupitar was difficult, but she'd become one eventually.

"Arceus…" I said. "You'll be a menace in my room."

Her eyes narrowed confusedly.

"You'll be huge," I specified. "I hope you'll behave."

Shed Skin was apparently a less intense and quicker process of molting which would allow her to cure herself from any status condition in battle. I was sad that we never got to utilize Guts, but unlike Chase, I didn't really feel comfortable poisoning my Pokemon before a battle. Shed Skin would probably see more use, and it would allow me to have something that counters status moves. She had also learned the move Iron Defense, which allowed Pupitar to survive most attacks in the wild.

In battle? I was already thinking of ways to combine her pressured flight capabilities with the move to utterly destroy her opponents.

Right now, she'd be pretty useless in battle though. She had to learn to move around first. Electabuzz didn't even tease her about it like I had expected. He understood that she'd be frustrated about her lack of movement. Anyone would be after completely switching body plans on a whim. It made me feel bad for the few Pupitar that lived in the wild. Unlike Sweetheart, they'd have to adapt extremely quickly or die.

Imagining her still alone in Mount Coronet hurt. Thank the Legendaries she'd come with me.

I released Sunshine next. Just like Pupitar, he looked as good as new, but I knew that he was weaker than he appeared thanks to Nurse Joy. Something in his eyes had changed. There was still confidence and pride in his expression, but less now that he'd been humbled by Cynthia. It was as if he thought himself to be the strongest until he saw that he was nowhere close to that level, and it was like he got the rug pulled from under him.

"Hey, big guy. I missed you."

The fire type flared up slightly, but I didn't flinch. I'd gotten used to his little aggressive ticks now, and I just appreciated the extra warmth instead. I took off my coat and continued.

"You saved us, Sunshine. I won't mince my words, we would have been dead without you. We might— might have won against Harry Rodriguez's full team, but that Crawdaunt and Weavile would have ended us. Thank you."

I placed a hand on his scaly arm and left it there. He turned toward the rest of the group, and Honey and Angel happily waved at him, while Sweetheart just screamed. Buddy offered him a nod. Princess greeted him too, although less enthusiastically.

"But before you go, I've got to talk to you about grown-up stuff. Buddy, you come here too!"

The water type slid toward me.

"I'd appreciate it if you both looked as scary as possible for this. You probably noticed, but we've got visitors," I said before whispering. "I'll tell the kids later since I don't want to sour their moods, but Team Galactic is going to come after us. It might happen in Veilstone, which is the next city over, or it may not, but we've got to get ready for it. Sunshine, right now, you've got to rest for a few days—"

The dragon angrily protested, and I saw a girl in the distance stumble backward and run away.

"No protesting. Nurse Joy's orders. If you don't I'll keep you in the ball," I said. "I know you want to get back into shape, but you can wait a few days. Anyway, I assume that our deal has been fulfilled?" I asked him.

Turtonator nodded.

"I want a new deal with you then. When this Team Galactic thing goes down again, I want you to help, but I also need to ask a favor. I need you to help train my team. We do these mock battles sometimes, and I think I can cook up something that'll work for you. If I send all of them after you at once, then you'll have a decent fight. Obviously you'll still have to hold back, and using your heat is out of the question, but— stop being so damn grouchy and let me finish, Arceus! But you'll need to learn how to fight without your heat anyway. If I'm close to you, you'll never be able to let loose."

Sunshine reluctantly nodded. It wasn't like I was being unreasonable here. I wasn't asking him to fight in the gyms, and I was making up for not letting him kill Harry Rodriguez. Plus, it would coincide with the 'punching up' advice Cynthia had given me, although it would always be better to do it with a trainer instead. Not that many options on the road, though. The further east we went, the least experienced trainers we'd come across outside of the cities. I took a deep breath and continued.

"Buddy, you did incredible progress with your Night Shades during the battle. I don't know if it was because of the heat of the moment or not, but you can make them attack now. For the foreseeable future, I want you to work on your… ghostliness, like Mathilda told us back in the ghost tower. I—"

I choked.

"—don't want to resort to this again, but if push comes to shove… you're going to be my most lethal Pokemon after Sunshine over here. You'll leave a clone with us, slip away and target the trainers. If possible, don't kill them. Knock them out somehow, I don't know. A low-powered jet of water, maybe? Without a trainer to command them, most teams will fall apart and it'll allow us to get the upper hand."

That was the plan. Sunshine already had a plethora of moves he had to get familiar with again, and Buddy needed to work on his Night Shades. First, he'd need to make them not explode on contact with everything, then strengthen the moves they could use, and finally, he'd be able to work on making more than one.

When I first started training him, I had no idea the move would be able to go that far. Fantina's Frillish had been able to summon multiple too.

Though if push came to shove and I was targeted by too many at the same time…

"Now let's go and enjoy ourselves. Sweetheart's been dying to see you," I smiled at Turtonator.

He swaggered up in the middle of the team and Togetic groaned.

But she didn't glare.

The next day, Cynthia was supposed to meet us all, including people not in the Internship Program. Thankfully, she didn't do it in the Pokemon Center like before, because I knew that would have excited the trainers around here way too much. Our Center was the most packed in the city because people wanted to catch a glimpse of the Champion, but the rest were relatively empty now. Most trainers had left as soon as they could, and something told me they'd wait a long while to ever go to Solaceon again. It wasn't like people had to go through here to get to Hearthome. Route 212 was a thing, although it was extremely long, tedious and dangerous because of the massive swamp next to Pastoria.

Alicia's Xatu Teleported me back in the same office where we'd joined the League, and my friends came soon enough. Only Cynthia was here today, so we wouldn't be seeing any Elite Four members. Maeve was a nervous mess, barely able to comprehend that she was meeting Sinnoh's Champion, but other than that, reactions were pretty muted. We had all seen her at least once before. Then there was Justin, who obviously didn't care whatsoever. Togekiss stood by her side, and his wings were behind his back like a scholar.

"Welcome. This is the last meeting we'll have. When we're done here, you'll be free to leave Solaceon whenever you please," Cynthia immediately started. She seemed busy. "A veteran League Trainer will be assigned to each of you in every city, and you probably will never see or hear them. There won't be a need for you to speak. If you need to talk to the League talk to me. Lucian will sort through the message and see if it's important enough or not."

She paused to see if we understood, and we all let out small affirmative grunts.

"I will reiterate that everything we've spoken about these last few days is confidential. Don't let the media get a rise out of you or bait you into giving answers…"

She ended up giving us a ten-minute spiel on ways to keep safe, but we had some of her tips covered, like keeping a Pokemon out as much as we could, or training our psychics to get better at tracking people to see if anyone was following us— sort of like Slowking had done at the start of the tournament. An interesting one I hadn't known about was that was more specific to me was that I could train Togetic to sense malicious intent from people. It wouldn't go as far as mind reading, but it'd be useful to know if someone wanted to hurt us or not.

Of course, it wasn't infallible. Some people were good enough to mask their intent, but most were not. It was more of a long-term project for us though, because it took her Togekiss a long time to learn. The best way to start was to have Princess try to feel others' emotions but she'd only be able to do so with strong ones, and only faintly at the start. It would take months for it to even be reliable.

"Congratulations. You're now free to go out into the world," Cynthia smiled. "You may leave. A few Teleporters are waiting for you in the hallway. Justin, stay back for a few minutes please."

The pale boy shrugged.

I wondered what she wanted to talk to him about. Something to do with his condition?

"Grace. Can I come with you for a sec?" Pauline asked. "I mean Teleport with you. You're not going back to the Center, right?"

"Yeah?" I frowned.

We weren't placed exactly where I wanted, but Xatu had probably never been to the forested area I liked. They did put us as close as they could though, so I appreciated that. It would take around fifteen minutes to get there.

"Can we start over?" Pauline said out of the blue.


"We're fighting and I hate it. I don't want us to be fighting before we separate, because then it'll make things even worse for when we meet again."

"Oh. Oh."

I never thought that she'd be the one to apologize first. I thought I'd have to ask her to forgive me for dropping off the face of the earth.

"Oh? Is that bad or is that good?"

"I mean, yes!" I yelled. "I just wasn't expecting that. I mean, I still want to apologize for not telling you anything, it wasn't cool of me. I sent a message to Emi too."

"She told me," Pauline smiled. "Just remember that you've got us. Carrying all that shit on your shoulders gets exhausting."

"What about you? Are you okay? Mentally, I mean."

"Oh, I'm fine. I'm mostly annoyed about my fucking arm. It'll take months for me to be able to move it without feeling pain, but the people that did it to me paid it back tenfold. Justin still worries me, but right now I'm just hoping that he'll get back to normal soon."

I nodded, not knowing if that meant killing or injuring. It did make sense though. She'd always been mentally the strongest out of all of us.

"I was going to train my Pupitar to stand for a bit. Want to come with?"

"Sweetheart evolved?! Holy shit! Yeah, I'll come!"

Twenty minutes later, I almost choked on my own saliva when she released a Charizard.


Your entire group is clear of any influence from Togetic.

"Thank fuck," I breathed out as I read the message again. I assumed that Togekiss had checked while she'd been speaking to us as a group.

If it hadn't been the case, I would have had to talk to everyone about it, and it wouldn't have been pretty. A few days ago, it looked like I'd never be able to recover, but things were getting better, little by little. Denzel was cheering up and trying to get Justin to open up with Louis, although they had very little success. Mira was back to her usual self, and even though some of it was fake, some of it was real too. She was even starting to pester me about Chase again. Justin actually ended up leaving the day after.

No matter what, life went on.

Three days after Cynthia gave us the okay, it was time for me to leave. My friends sent me off at the edge of route 210. We all cried— and Cecilia especially so, but we'd be back together soon. She had to stay back another week because of her leg, and Denzel and Pauline were obviously going to wait for her. Louis, Mira and Maeve were planning on leaving in two days.

I released Princess and began to walk.

And so, for the first time since I went to Twinleaf with only her by my side, I was traveling alone.

My legs felt light.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett Turrell, Dom Noct, yesnomaybeso

A/N: And that's the official ending of the Solaceon arc! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it. When I started story boarding this, Solaceon wasn't exactly supposed to be that interesting. There were going to be a few tournament battles, maybe a battle between Lauren and Grace, and that was it. Ten chapters tops. Unfortunately for my fingers, my standards grew higher the closer I got to the actual town, and I know the reputations meaningless tournament arcs have, so when I was around chapter 100, I began to plan this entire thing. Looking at a map of Solaceon, there isn't much of interest in it. The only building of note is the daycare, so I began to think: how the hell can I take a single building to make a town with nothing in it interesting, and how can I make it relate to the main plot? Well, it took a lot of effort, but you saw the results.

Let me know if you enjoyed it or not. There was a lot of foreshadowing with the Hunters being more with the Lost Tower and the early Solaceon chapters which become obvious on a reread, and there's still more to learn about them in a coming interlude, which you'll be able to vote for on my discord (the next 3 chapters are interludes). So I'll be taking my one day break as usual. We're closing in on 700k words, so I want to thank you guys for reading my word salad. I'll see you all on Monday.
Interlude - Forums V

Welcome to the League Circuit Forums! The best website to get any League/Circuit related news!

General → Politics
Topic: Timeline of Events during the Darkest Day
Original Poster: Ethan_Rose (Verified Trainer)
Date: January 30th 20XX

Yesterday, the entirety of Solaceon went to shit and I was there to see it.

A lot of trainers are out there giving first-hand accounts, but all of their stories are embellished bullshit that's there to make themselves look good. None of them fought the actual bad guys out there. The vast majority of these people speaking to the media stayed holed up inside of a Pokemon Center the entire time this went on, or they tried to run away by getting to the edge of the barrier. I was different. I stayed outside and observed the chaos in full display. I never felt as calm as I did in those few hours, and it allowed me to write down everything that went down so that we try to figure out what the hell happened, since the League decided to keep the entire world in the dark, as they usually do.

2:43 pm: Solaceon is plunged in darkness. This is when everything started, and from what I observed, the entire thing originated from the Hunters' mansion. Them being in on it is obvious, because the League is throwing them under the bus and destroying their business. I mean sure, they were linked with Team Galactic et cetera et cetera, but I seriously doubt they'd have anything this powerful. There have been a few theories about this being a psyop or an inside job, but I'll gloss over those for now. I am here to document, not make opinions.

2:48 pm: The Nurses in the different Pokemon Centers start organizing and placing people back inside of their rooms to try to prevent a mass panic. At the time, they probably didn't know about the numbing effects that the darkness had, so it was the most sensible course of action. They wanted to wait for League Trainers to take control. It would take three hours for them to arrive and five for them to fully resolve the situation and bring back a sense of order to Solaceon.

3:00 pm: Here's when things get interesting. I was outside when I saw a particular group of people get taken by the shadows. Grace Pastel, Cecilia Obel and the usual clique, except that Maeve Chang and Mira Compton somehow joined them this time? And Chase Karlson was nowhere to be seen as well. Either way, they were absorbed into the fucking floor, and I thought they died right then and there. Of course, you know that isn't true, so I ask the question: where the hell where they taken? I'll let you be the judge of that.

3:34 pm: First instances of looting appear in Solaceon. It's slow at first, but multiple people— trainers and civilians alike— start breaking into stores and stealing everything. Trainers went for things like TMs, vitamins, Hyper Potions or Ultra Balls while civvies went for appliances like television and fucking washing machines. I'm not joking, I saw a man carrying a washing machine out there.

3:46 pm: With looting came the first instances of violence, mostly between trainers fighting over the limited supply of items. Solaceon's a small town, and their stores aren't stock full of everything like Jubilife or Sunyshore. Pokemon hesitated at first, but by 4:30, it was full pandemonium in the streets. Anyone not in a Center wasn't safe, and the Nurse Joys somehow kept things under control, Arceus bless their fucking souls.

5:23 pm: Big time jump, but nothing noticeable happened until then. It was just more fights, more violence and more looting. I can't exactly confirm because I'm not expert, but the darkness around us was starting to grow weaker by the minute. It wasn't as deep, there was a little bit of light breaking through the sky, and peoples' condition stopped getting worse. It didn't get better, but it didn't regress either. Strangely enough, the darkness around the mansion seemed to strengthen. I couldn't say for sure, but the spire grew thicker somehow? It was weird.

5:32 pm: Denzel Williams spotted walking back to one of the Pokemon Centers and is barely conscious. This is important because he apparently asked other trainers for something, but he was too out of it to form full sentences. It is believe he was concussed. People have guessed that he meant the Hunters and that they somehow teleported him to their mansion to kill him, but that wouldn't make any sense. How the hell would he have survived if they tried to gang up on him and kill him if they had something capable of shrouding all of Solaceon? That's the type of thing you hear Legendaries are capable of! He would have croaked for sure.

Now I realize that I'm getting biased. Moving on.

5:39 pm: First League Forces break through from the inside thanks to Aaron sensing a weakness in the wall. Cynthia not seen, but it is understood that she immediately flew to the mansion on Garchomp's back to face whatever the hell caused this. Aaron followed on his Flygon, and they were accompanied by six veteran League Trainers. They were too fast for me to identify any of them.

5:46 pm: Darkness starts to unravel. It is assumed that Cynthia and Aaron killed whatever caused it, but it leaves just as fast as it came. Emotions rush back inside of us, and people start realizing how badly they fucked up these last three hours.

5:50 pm: Grace Pastel teleported back to the Pokemon Center. Visibly shaken and crying. Wounded waist.

6:00 pm: Cynthia announces 7:00 pm curfew. No one allowed out on the streets in an hour, and League Trainers start rounding up people and sending them home. Flint, Lucian and Bertha spotted around this time, which makes it the first time in exactly 343 years that all Elite Four members are out of the Lily of the Valley Island at the same time. From our understanding, Bertha Teleported back rather quickly though, so it only lasted for a few minutes.

6:36 pm: Last of Grace Pastel's group brought back at the Center (Cecilia Obel and Justin Gardner). The former's leg is horribly mangled, but the bandages hide what kind of wound it was, and she screamed in anguish the entire way into her room. The latter seems completely unmoved, which is unusual. Even the most stoic of trainers were at least affected by how fucked up the situation was and how they were basically a completely different person for a few hours.

7:00 pm: Curfew implemented. League has a firm hand over the town.

7:35 pm-7:59 pm: Mayor Cameron Owen sacked along with the entire City Council. Chief of Police Deborah Landry sacked. City Treasurer Lily Nicholson sacked. City Clerk Thiago Joyner sacked. Their entire offices are also sacked. The official narrative is that they resigned for 'health' or 'family' reasons, or because of the shame they felt for being unable to be of any help during the crisis, but they were obviously all fired, and that's not even me being biased.

8:56 pm: All positions of power in the city replaced with League-appointed employees. No new elections announced or planned.

10:01 pm: Flint spotted Teleporting back to the League. Only Aaron, Lucian and Cynthia remain.

It is now the next morning. There is something bigger at play here, but I will let you theorize for yourselves. I'm just an aspiring reporter, and I only tell the facts.


I'll eat my hat if the mods leave this up. We all know they're on the League's payroll and that the government has been shutting this kind of talk down ASAP.

►Kyle_Thornton (Verified Trainer)

I'm glad you made it out alright. I'm in Hearthome and I left Solaceon as soon as I was eliminated from the tournament. Crazy to think that I could have been there during the darkest day, but I guess I got lucky to be placed against Grace Pastel in the first round. I don't know that many theories, but I do think that there's more to this that meets the eye.

►Eve_Clements (Verified Trainer)

You forgot to mention the fact that Mira Compton, Grace Pastel and Cecilia Obel just got accepted into the LTIP. The first time that first years with four badges get into the program. Something happened for sure. I think that them fighting off all of the Hunters is a crazy idea, but those three in particular must have done something to impress the League. There's no other reason for them to make that much of a jump in their career. The Internship Program basically means you're guaranteed a job by the end of the year!


Chiming in before thread gets locked.

This is obviously a lot bigger than they want us to think, otherwise there'd be no need to assemble the entire Elite Four. I'm thinking that a Legendary was the cause of all of this. I mean, there's the birds in Kanto, right? Also that weirdo Mewto thing that's tooootally been destroyed by Lance and not hidden somewhere. Then Lugia, Ho-oh and the Legendary beasts in Johto, so why not?

►Jamie_Brown (Verified Trainer)

Because then the entire city would be destroyed or thousands would be dead. There's no way the League is standing up to anything Legendary. Also, dark type Legendaries don't exist.

►Valery_Graham (Verified Trainer)

There might be one, you don't know shit. Also, I'm 90% sure that a Champion would be able to deal with a Legendary Bird's avatar, just not the full concept itself, so Cynthia could probably deal with whatever the hell was in there. The problem with that theory is that according to that timeline, the battle was extremely short. Not even ten minutes, in fact, so it doesn't line up. I get that we're suspicious, but this? A normal Pokemon did this.


Whatever. It's not like you know any better than we do. Also Jamie_Brown stop speaking like you know jack shit about Legendaries.


Obel's group fighting is guaranteed because some of them were wounded. You don't get wounded without fighting.

On another topic, the Hunters conspired with Team Galactic, but the majority of them are still there. Only the ones at the head of the family like Roland are suspiciously gone. The guy came out of nowhere during one of the tours they were running with a fuckin Shiftry, and I've been starting to wonder if that's not the thing that caused this. I thought that they called Roland 'Elder', but I think they were actually looking at the damn Pokemon.

It'd make a whole lot of sense, and it fits in my head, although I've never heard of a Shiftry being that powerful, but that's maybe no one's used them to their full potential yet. I know Sidney in Hoenn owns one, so I know what I'll be doing this afternoon.


General → Politics
Topic: What nobody is talking about (the economy, stupid)
Original Poster: Hyperballad
Date: January 31st 20XX

First of all before I begin, there seriously needs to be an economics board. I'm tired of everything being relegated to politics when it's not exactly politics. This is why everyone's moved on to social media, but somehow trainers still hang onto this antiquated form of communication. You don't see coordinators use forums, they've all moved on to modern social media.


The Hunters are gone. Big deal. Most people think this is a good thing because of their evil rigging/Team Galactic links being exposed, but I'll talk about the negatives here. Solaceon is a small, insignificant town with an economy smaller than Floaroma's, but the little money they make— or made, as you'll come to see, came from two things. Agriculture (food exports that consisted of mostly Wheat) and Pokemon Breeding/Caretaking. I have a bibliography for all of this at the bottom of the post, by the way. The former accounts for 56% of Solaceon's revenue, and the latter for exactly 0%. Now here's when things get funky.

Being a corporation in everything but in name, the Hunters took all of the profits from wherever they sold Pokemon. People always hyper focus on the rich trainers that they sell to (see Louis Bianchi's Vulpix), but the vast majority of Pokemon they breed go to the government, either to gyms or to the League itself. Sure, they hogged some of the money for themselves, but they actually reinvested the large majority of it into Solaceon largely through the form of donations to the city government. if we account for these donations, then Pokemon breeding/caretaking actually accounts for
64% of Solaceon's income. Now, I hear you smartasses already saying that 56% and 64% add up to more than 100%, but that's because the Hunters' donations were not counted in the city's annual revenue. This is what we call 'off-budget funds'. If we take the Hunters' money into account, then agriculture actually shrinks all the way down to a meager 21% of Solaceon's revenue. There was a reason people referred to them as an institution in Solaceon. They held a fucking iron grip over the city's neck.

Now you may be asking two things.

1) Who the hell thought that it was a good idea to run a town solely off the back of one weirdo creepy cult corporation?

2) What the hell is Solaceon going to do now that they've just lost 64% of their revenue overnight?

I don't have an answer for the first question, but I do have an answer for the second. Drastic budget cuts to public services and discretionary spending like schools, infrastructure, road maintenance, public parks, non-Pokemon Center healthcare, and social services. A budgetary crisis that the new City Treasurer will have to somehow solve, and that's not even counting the insane amount of repairs that the city will have to go through because of the effect this darkness bullshit had on people. And last but not least, what happens when a city goes to complete shit? Both people and businesses pack up their bags and get the fuck out.

Solaceon isn't exactly known for its businesses, but the few that are there will go bankrupt or have to close down their locations. Your old mom and pop's restaurant? Gone. No one has the fucking money to spend on that shit anymore. A grocery store that was somehow still standing the test of time against the big chains? Gone. Gift shop? Gone.

All. Gone. This city is a fucking dead man walking.

Younger people will move to Hearthome or Veilstone because of the lack of opportunities and the population will fall off a cliff. It'll be like a snowball effect that can't be stopped once it gets too large.

The League has yet to announce any plans to save the sinking ship, but I assume that they'll do something. The only question that remains is if it fucking works.


►Oslo_Walter (Verified Trainer)

Interesting analysis. I definitely underestimated how large the Hunters were in Solaceon, and the fact that they don't have anything else to generate revenue is worrying. I have a cousin that lives there whose house was robbed during the Darkest Day and he's considering moving. His insurance provider doesn't cover a lot of what was stolen and it would take months to process everything. He's moving in with us in Sunyshore and I don't think he's coming back.


LETS FUCKING GOOOOO OUR RESIDENT ECONOMIST IS BACK! I hope the new job in Jubilife is treating you well, my brother.

Regarding the town being screwed, what do you think about subsidies? It'd be expensive as hell to cover 64% of their revenue (probably going to end up losing more money because of the ripple effect), but it'd stem the bleeding at least, no?


Oh, it'll stem the bleeding, and I'm sure that it's one of the first things Lucian came up with during whatever meetings were held. The problem is that subsidies won't be enough.

Like you said, there will be a spillover effect and Solaceon will end up losing a lot more income than I outlined in my post. If I had to estimate, I'd put the number at around 70%. Even with subsidies, you just don't recover from that.

I hate the concept of subsidies in general, but you know me, I'm a neolib. You've got a teach a man to fish instead of giving him a fish every day, right? You've got to get Solaceon back on its feet, and subsidies won't do that. They need to find a new source of revenue and concrete new policies need to be put in place before people start to leave. Solaceon's bottleneck is their relatively tiny workforce, but if that workforce starts to pack their bags, there won't be any money made.

The League has to convince the working population of Solaceon to stick around for the long haul and start working again.

Sorry about your cousin, by the way. And the job's going fantastic! I'll DM you the details.



I mean, I agree with all of this, but I'm not as pessimistic as you are. Lucian is there, and his Alakazam will probably help run things. I'm not one of the people fooling themselves into thinking that the newly appointed Treasurer is totally independent and not just a sock puppet for the League lmao.


You're right that Alakazam will most likely be running the show for a few months at least, but from the way I'm looking at things, it's looking nigh unsalvageable. You can stem the bleeding, but it seems to me like Solaceon will never be as prosperous as it used to be. It's a shame too, with all the potential it had with expansion into route 210. When I was in college, I looked at proposals to expand the city all the way to the Café Cabin. That means that it would have been the third largest city in Sinnoh after Jubilife and Sunyshore.

That's why directivism is bad, folks. The Hunters were at the reign of the economy, and they only served themselves. Why do you think Kanto and Johto's economies still lag behind Unova and Galar? A lower GDP growth year after year, a lower HDI rating, lower per capita income? Because they're still stuck in this command economy, central planning bullshit while the other two have embraced modernity. Cynthia's gone a step back with nationalizing the Bianchi Conglomerate, or at least she should have sold it back to another company by now, but I won't get into it here.


General → Politics
Topic: Maylene Press Conference
Original Poster: Naomi_Tillings (Verified Trainer)
Date: January 31st 20XX

The events in Solaceon have overshadowed a lot of what has been happening in Veilstone. People interested will know that Maylene gave a press conference earlier this morning (alone, for a change! No handlers from the League were with her today, surprisingly) regarding the rumors that have spread about some Team Galactic base in the city. The rumor's spread so quickly that people actually believe that this is their main base of operations or that there are actually multiple bases in the city.

Of course, Maylene went with the usual politician speak, which I do admit is weird as hell coming from a fifteen year old. I'm used to only old people speaking like that and that's some serious cognitive dissonance and it hurts my brain very very much.

And it also hurts my heart to see her forced to say this.

Anyway, long story short, she kept saying not to panic, that they were looking into it, and that these rumors were baseless. Whatever, same dish, different cook, we're all used to that shit at this point. The League is only honest with us when it wants to be, and it makes me want to move to Unova. As soon as I get the money, I'm out of here and signing up for their Circuit.

Back to Veilstone! Here's where things get weird.

There has been this constant narrative in the media about a crime wave happening there for the last few months. It's Sinnoh's most crime-ridden city (even more than Jubilife), but they've never gone this hard with the narrative. So I decided to do some digging and I compared this year's crime statistic with last year's.

Crime went down. All types of crime that the media would be interested in anyway (violent crime or drug-related crimes). White collar crime actually went slightly up.

I'm thinking there's a bit of a distraction operation going on here. Is the media colluding with the League to make us focus on anything other than Team Galactic? That would certainly be a first, but it's possible. Are the statistic altered? It is on the government website after all, so it could mean that the government is lying, but the media is picking up on the heightened crime. To do this though, they'd need the civilian government and Veilstone's police department to be in on it. Again, possible.

What I'm trying to say is that in every scenario my mind finds, the League is lying in some way, and they're lying to cover up something related to Team Galactic's presence in Veilstone. I'm 100% sure of it, but let me know what you think.

►Megumi_Ishitani (Verified Trainer)

Stop throwing shade at Maylene. She's obviously been thrown into this, and it's hard being a gym leader that young in these troubled times. First people complain that she's not independent enough, but then when she tries to be, you still complain. I bet people like you are the reason she's been looking so sad lately.


I mean, there's been some noise about Team Galactic sightings, but nothing concrete yet. The League are watching Veilstone like hawks. They've been on the backfoot the entire year after they stole all of the League's information. They've literally had zero wins. Their organization had basically been wiped out from western Sinnoh with relative ease, so why would they struggle finding a base in Veilstone? It only takes one member captured that gets their memory extracted for the location, and it's over. The League busts in and either they escape or fight. Both outcomes lead to their loss. They've shown time and time again that they can't take the League in a straight fight.

►Naomi_Tillings (Verified Trainer)

Sorry Megumi_Ishitani, I just don't feel like playing nice with a tool of the state while she's helping to erode our freedoms in real time. Oooooh, it must be sooooo hard for her. Cry me a fucking river. She's the one that chose to become a gym leader. Nobody forced her fucking hand, and I don't see her speaking out against the very real threat of Sinnoh sliding back into a dictatorship. Did you know that trainers from Kanto and Johto needed official approval from the League to leave their region permanently? Did you know that the media speaking out against the government too harshly there is a criminal offense? Do you want us to get back to that level of tyranny?

The world is a dark place, and there are only a few beacons of freedom for us to take refuge in. I thought Sinnoh was one of them, but it looks like it's not.

►Megumi_Ishitani (Verified Trainer)

I'm too tired to argue online with a stranger. Have a good one.


They might have been wiped out in the west, but that doesn't mean they're inactive. There was that attempt on Roark's life two weeks ago.


You're right to be scared, but you have to remember these are extraordinary times we live in.

Regarding your Team Galactic theory, I have to agree that it is fishy, but I can't imagine either of your explanations being correct. Either way, it's only a matter of time before the powder keg blows up, and everybody knows it. If you live in Veilstone, I think Sunyshore is very nice this time of year. You can even walk there without Pokemon.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett Turrell, Dom Noct, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Cypha, Daniel, Ryan T
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Interlude - Discovery

Up here, the fog was so thick you could choke on it.

Chase Karlson could barely see twenty feet in front of him, and it had gotten worse the further he got along this mountain. He sat on an appropriately shaped rock as he stuck by his Houndoom while snacking on a protein bar. There was no wood to make a fire here, or at least none that he could find without straying off the path and getting lost, so having a fire type was extremely convenient. Houndoom whined, and his tail lay flat against the rocky ground.

"I know you're tired, but you've gotta toughen up," Chase said.

Without the fog, he reckoned that he could have seen Solaceon from there. Leaving the tournament had been a bummer, but this was too important to pass up on. If he hadn't left, then he would have had to wait until the end of the year to get to Celestic. The opportunity had been too good to pass up. Houndoom lazily blew a flame in front of them, and Chase sniffled. The damn fog was irritating his lungs and clinging to his clothes, making them wet. Without Houndoom, he would have had a seriously hard time dealing with the cold. If there was one word that defined the dark type, it would be loyal. He followed wherever Chase went and would go to the ends of the earth to help him.

He was bored quite easily, however.

The floor rumbled slightly and the temperature lowered by a few degrees. Cold mist mixed in with the fog as his Abomasnow stepped into view. The hulking grass type was seven feet tall, and he carried the frozen corpse of a Bibarel. Riolu rode on his shoulder, hanging on one of the long, thick frozen leaves that made up Abomasnow's body. Houndoom was his most loyal, but Abomasnow was his most powerful and dedicated fighter.

"There's your dinner. Zangoose! Vikavolt!" Chase yelled. His voice reverberated through the mountains. He didn't care if anything heard him. Let them come, and he would challenge them with his team.

Vikavolt's buzzing could be heard in the air, and he left a trail of electricity behind him as he landed faster than Chase could notice.

"Good improvement on that landing," Chase nodded. "Keep at it."

The bug type's pincers ground against each other and he fanned his wings.

"That doesn't mean get confident. Confidence makes us rest on our laurels. Work like you're twenty steps behind. Always."

The old him would have sneered at that, but he knew that competition was fierce now. Chase had long outgrown his old days in Jubilife where he would crush any trainer in arenas with Riolu. He could still do so if he wished, of course, but there was little point to it now. It wasn't like anyone would accept his challenge anyway.

The money would have been nice.

Zangoose strode up behind him with her usual scowl and red eyes. She was the most solitary Pokemon of her team and liked to keep to herself most days, but that didn't mean that she disliked the team like he'd feared at first. That would have been catastrophic, especially because he liked to build a sense of camaraderie between them— himself included. They were a squad. A unit. And everyone had a role.

But no, the answer was that Zangoose was just an introvert.

Saliva ran down Houndoom's mouth as he slowly cooked the dead Bibarel. He, Zangoose, and Vikavolt all preferred meat, so he wasn't about to stop them from eating. He could almost imagine Pastel's whining or Williams pretending to be fine with it, but really being almost to the point of gagging.

Riolu took a seat next to him and sighed.

"Abomasnow give you a tough time?" Chase asked.

The ice type snorted, releasing a cold wind that overpowered Houndoom's heat. Riolu shrugged and crossed his legs. Abomasnow was exigent in his hunting, and he only went after Bibarel for the team, which meant that they had to go down to slopes next to the enormous river to catch them and climb back up. It was no wonder Riolu had taken a ride on his shoulder by the end of it. They had been gone for three hours.

The first phase of Chase's plan had been to train his team to the bone so that they could do things like this. Go out independently and hunt or train without his guidance against wild Pokemon, if they wanted to. Sometimes, they came back wounded, which meant that they'd gotten something out of it. A wound was a valuable lesson, as was a scar.

Chase would know. He traced down the long scar at the back of his arm given to him by that Sneasel up north. His Pokemon had plenty now.

"Celestic should be five days away," Chase announced. "The fog will get worse before it gets better, so from now on if you go out, you'll need to have Ri with ya."

Zangoose hissed and her fur stood up in protest, but the fighting type shot her a look that calmed her down immediately. She cut up Bibarel's gut— which was her favorite bit— and walked off in the distance, although she made sure to stay within his range of vision. Vikavolt let out a low hum, annoyed that he wouldn't be able to fly and improve his speed with Chase's new rules.

"I don't care," Chase shrugged. "We've got eight potions left. I'm your leader, and a leader has to make tough decisions. You'll cut down on training time, but we've got to think about the way back."

Strangely enough, even though Chase was one of the best first-years in the region, he was still poor. Trainers would no longer battle him due to his temperament and reputation, and he was too prideful to accept a sponsor. He would not be a tool for big businesses to enrich themselves, money be damned.

That of course meant that he had to ration potions. Food for his team came first, but even that was too much now that they'd grown so large, which was why he'd resorted to hunting for the majority of their sustenance.

He watched Houndoom devour Bibarel's face and Vikavolt saw an arm off for himself. He searched through his bag and offered Riolu some sliced berries— a habit he'd picked up from a certain someone. The fighting type began to munch down on the fruit and Abomasnow made himself tall, attempting to absorb the few rays of sunlight that made it through the thick fog.

"Finish eating, then we're hitting the road again."

Celestic grew closer.

Chase stopped when he heard a Pokemon grunting. There was the sound of something… slamming stone, over and over again. Riolu's eyes lit up as he held out his hand, then he stared up at Chase and nodded.

"Can we go around?" Chase whispered.

The fighting type hesitated, then shook his head. The path up here was too narrow to avoid whatever was in front of him, but it was also too narrow to have a damn fight on. There was supposed to be some type of bridge up ahead, if the information Williams had sent him was correct.

"Fuck this," Chase said, rolling his shoulder. Fear had never stopped him, and it would not stop him now.

He stepped forward before his Pokemon could even stop him and saw that a huge Klawf was hanging on the steep cliff to his right up ahead. The path was so narrow it could barely fit Abomasnow, so simply running past it was impossible. The giant crab angrily clicked its pincers, letting him know that this was its turf and going any further implied a fight.

"I'm getting through whether you like it or not," Chase said. He waited for a few seconds, but resigned to a fight when Klawf hit one of its pincers against the wall it was attached to. He had hoped to negotiate with it like he'd done with a few others he'd done on this route— Pokemon on routes were often a lot more reasonable than the aggressive Pokemon of Mount Coronet or Eterna Forest. Unfortunately, Klawf wanted a fight. "Prepare the long-ranged setup."

Moving as one, his team took their positions. He felt Houndoom's warmth to his left, and Abomasnow's frigid cold behind him. Darkness festered under the fire type's paws. Vikavolt was out of view, but he could see and hear faint cracks of electricity dancing in the air. Zangoose squeezed past him and raked a claw against the cliff. Klawf let out an irritating sound and menacingly slammed a pincer against the wall of the cliff.

"Fighting it is, motherfucker."

Klawf yelled, and the whole mountain began to shake. Small rocks fell down the cliff at first, but they grew larger and larger with time.

"Rock Tomb or Slide. Zangoose, you're up."

The normal type blurred to Chase's right and clawed every rock that would have hit him apart with Metal Claw. Fragments still hit him and cut his face, but this was better than nothing. Abomasnow slammed a fist against his chest, causing snow to fall to the ground, and let an Ice Shard loose toward Klawf, who climbed up the cliff with surprising speed. Three of them buried themselves into its rocky armor, but the rest disintegrated against the terrain.

From the sky, Vikavolt shot out a Sticky Web, wrapping Klawf so tightly that its speed was cut at least in half. Houndoom's Flamethrower heat up one of its claws until it glowed red. A tiny ball of aura appeared in between Riolu's palms and flew off toward the rock type, hitting it in between the eyes. Klawf shook the damage off, and this time shards of rock flew out of its mouth. Faster than he could even react, Zangoose pushed Chase behind her and got hit in his stead. Blood poured down her fur, staining it in scarlet red.

The boy hissed. He wasn't going to be treated like a fucking damsel in distress. He shot up and cracked his fingers.

"Ri. Hand me a bone."

Klawf shot another volley of rocks, this time aiming at Zangoose again, but she was too quick to be hit. She climbed up the mountain with her claws while Vikavolt, Houndoom and Abomasnow pelted the rock type with Dark Pulses, Thunderbolts and Ice Shards. A bone grew out of Riolu's hand and Chase quickly grabbed it, waiting for a chance to strike. The floor shook once more, and Klawf attempted to crawl backwards to get away from Zangoose.

"Watch for the rocks!" Chase yelled.

Zangoose hissed, slashing across the Klawf's rocky shell and then climbing onto its back to avoid the Rock Slide. Chase, Riolu and Houndoom smoothly slipped behind Abomasnow, who slowed or froze the incoming rocks with a powerful Icy Wind.

"String Shot the legs!" He ordered. He had to replace the string that had been burned by Flamethrower.

Vikavolt screeched, shooting out more string, this time focused on Klawf's legs. Zangoose kept hitting it with Metal Claw and now that its legs were wrapped up, it began to slide down toward the flat ground. Chase bolted out from behind Abomasnow and slid against the floor, angling Riolu's bone right up the cliff, and it impaled Klawf right in between the eyes.

The sheer weight of the crab shook him to his core, but Riolu kept him steady by keeping his hands on his back. It desperately attempted to claw him apart. He twisted the bone, and the rock type shivered in agony. Chase stood up and clenched his fists to stop them from shaking, then he stared it right in the eye.

"Now I'm going to give you a chance to leave. Either you take it, or we keep this going," he said.

Klawf stared at him with hazy eyes, but managed to nod with its entire body.

"Burn this shit off," Chase said, pointing at the remaining String Shot and Sticky Web.

Houndoom spat out a low-powered Flamethrower, and Riolu's bone dissolved into dust. Chase tensed, expecting the worst, but the rock type scampered off to find some new territory to settle on. He breathed in deeply and then exhaled through his mouth. The more he progressed, the less a part of the team he felt.

But he'd proven himself once again. Zangoose smirked at him and tapped his shoulder, and Houndoom licked his fingers. Vikavolt landed and let out an excited buzz, while Abomasnow creaked like the sound of rustling leaves. They'd all been impressed.

Riolu, however, looked worried.

"You worry too much. This is nothing," Chase said. "Now let's get through this damn bridge—"

He swore as a hole opened up in the ground and swallowed him into the mountain.

Chase hadn't known if he'd passed out for an hour or two minutes, but he woke up with his face caked in dirt and blood. He spat out a mouthful of dirt and dust and stared at his bloodied hands. The drop hadn't actually been that high, but he'd rolled pretty far down and he could barely see the hole in the sky— which was the surface. The fog was beginning to leak inside. He felt a surge of panic and touched his head, but breathed a sigh of relief when he realized his cap was still there. It had been torn up pretty good though.

Chase coughed up more dust, but he grew breathless when he saw what was down here. It was a city.

Words would fail to capture its beauty. Even when crumbling, it was the most magnificent city that Chase had ever seen. Strange, magical lamposts still illuminated the paved streets casting an otherworldly yellow glow toward the untold amount of stone buildings. He stumbled forward and felt at his belt to check if his Pokeballs were still there.

They luckily were.

Chase called out each of his Pokemon's names. They'd all fallen down the chasm with him, so hopefully they'd be able to follow his voice. The first one that came was Vikavolt, which was an obvious conclusion due to his being able to fly. The bug type caught himself by flying and appeared completely fine.

"Go find the others," Chase said. "Bring them back here. I'll stay."

The electric type flew off in a flash, propelling himself with a burst of lightning. His acceleration problems were long gone these days. They'd figured out that by letting a powerful explosion of electric type energy behind him, he'd be able to reach close to his maximum speed immediately.

It took five minutes for him to find everyone else. Houndoom and Abomasnow were the worst off. Unlike Riolu and Zangoose, they weren't nimble or quick on their feet, so the fall had hurt them to some extent. Chase used one of his potions on Zangoose, who'd gotten hurt by fighting Klawf anyway. Then, he used one on Abomasnow, whose back had been ripped to shreds by the fall.

Six left.

"I can try climbing," Chase said, staring at the hole in the distance. "Vikavolt, can you go check if that's a viable option? I'd rather not awaken some crazy motherfucking Pokemon sleeping in here."

A few minutes later, Vikavolt came back with a resounding no. The cliff was too steep for him to climb. Chase was strong, and he'd trained his stamina as much as he could, but he was no climber, nor did he have any Pokemon to latch onto. Zangoose could maybe do it, but he was too heavy for her.

"Damn it," he clenched his teeth. "At least it doesn't look too much like a cave. Fuckin' hate those."

He could have asked Vikavolt to go look for help, but they hadn't come across any trainers or humans this entire time. He'd have to go to Celestic, but the city was so damn old-fashioned that they didn't even have a Ranger Station. The closest one was on Mount Coronet's flank next to the cave's entrance, but that was too far. It would take days for help to arrive.

Determined to see this through, he stepped toward the ancient city with his comrades.

Chase was no architect, historian, or archeologist, but he could tell these buildings were beautifully made. They rose from the ground with an imposing grace, but were still tightly anchored to their foundations. The stones had no standardized shapes to them— no form like the rectangular bricks of today. They were all a different color and somehow still mysteriously fit together like different pieces of a puzzle. This wasn't architecture, this was art.

And somehow, most of them still stood close to intact. Unmarred by the sands of time and protected from the elements like wind and rain by this cave. Chase blew against his wounded hands as he stepped inside of an ancient home. Dusty remains of tough sandals sat in the entryway, leading deeper into the house. He carefully walked inside, accompanied by Riolu and Houndoom while the others waited. There was nothing left here but old walls and stone chairs and tables. Even on the inside, the walls were colored with red, blue, purple— everything you could think of. It might have sounded incongruous, but it somehow tied everything together.

Chase raised an eyebrow when he saw the skeletal remains of a person lying down on a stone bed frame. Well, he thought that it was a skeleton. There were just a few shards of something that looked like bones left, and the rest had disappeared. He was pretty sure that something like a skull was on the head of the bed. Whatever befell this place, it seemed that not everyone managed to get out in time.

Curiosity got the best of him, and he went through multiple houses like this one. None of them were designed the same way— they were all unique, and most of them had the same corpses inside of them.

There were no remains of Pokemon, strangely enough.

"Let's keep going," Chase said as he stepped out of another home. "There must be another way out— what the fuck is that!"

A Pokemon flew past him. It was a multicolored, totem-like being that shared the city's color scheme. It had a single, cyan eye on its head, and its wings didn't actually look like wings, but weird branch-like appendages. It also had two black 'hand' appendages with three fingers each, although they didn't seem like they'd see much use—

Chase quickly jumped back inside of the house as an Air Cutter utterly destroyed the pristine pathway where he'd just stood. Abomasnow shielded his own face with his large hands, and then retaliated with an Icy Wind that froze the creature over. Houndoom finished it off, jumping out of the shadows with a Feint Attack.

"Thank fuck it's weak as hell," Chase breathed out. He approached the creature and scanned it with his Pokedex.

Sigilyph, the Avianoid Pokémon. Sigilyph keeps enemies from invading its territory with its Psychic powers and was the guardian of cities long ago. They never vary in the route they fly, even after thousands of years.

"Creepy bastard," Chase muttered. He crouched and touched the Pokemon. Its body felt like ceramic. Even while unconscious, its eye was still open. "Must have been guarding this place the entire time. Didn't do that well of a job, considering how everything went to shit."

Zangoose sniggered at that, but Riolu reprimanded her. He respected the prestige that came with something's age.

"A place with a single guardian wouldn't make any sense if it's that weak. There are more, so watch out for them. Houndoom, they're psychic types, so you take the front with Riolu. He'll sense 'em before they come. Vikavolt, you're also on offense. Abomasnow and Zangoose, you stick by me."

The entire group grunted as one, and they were on their way again. The deeper they got into the city, the denser the buildings got and the more Sigilyph they encountered. Luckily for him, they always went down in a few hits. If they'd combined their forces, they could have been a threat, but Chase suspected that they were on autopilot right now. There must have been someone capable of commanding them all back in the day. There was no way the city would have lasted long enough to reach this size without a strategy. He passed through some kind of armory with a bunch of defunct, decayed swords and armor. Helmets, chestplates, spears… there was everything here. It wouldn't do much against Pokemon, but anything helped back then, he supposed.

Riolu ended up being hit by an Air Cutter and huge gashes opened up all over his body, forcing Chase to use one of his potions to heal him as best he could.

Five left.

The center of the city was like a plaza, and it was something to behold. An enormous, giant fountain stood at its center, and there was a large mural depicting… something that Chase couldn't exactly understand. In the middle, there were hundreds of humans, which resembled stick figures, while Sigilyph and… Claydol? Floated in the sky. He wasn't sure about the second one because of how shit the drawing was, but that was the closest Pokemon he could find. They were drawn at a slightly higher level than the Sigilyph. He hadn't found a single Claydol or Baltoy here though, so maybe they were all destroyed. On top of those, and generating some kind of holy light stood some kind of metallic Pokemon with a golden hexagonal shape for a head. This one was drawn in an incredible amount of detail, but Chase didn't know what Pokemon that was. Maybe something that helped them with making iron? At his side stood some kind of king that wore the exact same thing for a crown.

At the bottom of the mural, a single creature was depicted. It was a white, wispy thing with traces of red at the edges of its hair and bright yellow eyes. It was drawn along with flames, like it was burning in hell.

The whole drawing was accompanied by some kind of writing that Chase couldn't recognize. It wasn't even close to any letters he knew, and half of it had faded away by now. Still, he understood the gist of what this represented.

This depicted the order of the town. At the top, the ruler along with his Pokemon, then his guardians, the Sigilyph and the Claydol. Then, there were the citizens and probably their Pokemon, although those had been kept out of the drawing.

Then, there was whatever the hell that thing was at the bottom.

Only the Sigilyph were left, it seemed.

Chase sat on the fountain's edge, deciding to take a break, and drank a mouthful of water. Riolu let out a soft bark, pointing to his left, and he saw a Sigilyph somehow light one of the street lights with some kind of psychic power. He prepared for a fight once it began to stare at them, but this one didn't attack.

This one just looked. It was peeking out at him like some kind of shy kid.

"What the hell?" He whispered.

Startled at his voice, the flying type quickly flew off, disappearing behind one of the tall buildings. Was it glitched out? Unlike the others, it didn't appear to be following any kind of pattern.

"Break is over," Chase shrugged. "See that castle thing?"

He pointed off in the distance, and a long set of stairs led toward a castle made out of stone and iron. This was the structure that showed the most amount of damage. In fact, it looked like it had been attacked. Why else would the other buildings look relatively fine, while this one was decrepit and collapsed? He was pretty sure that a monarch's castle would be built to last longer than some peasant's house. The fact that it was made out of steel along with stone was proof of that.

Or wait… wasn't stone more durable than steel— whatever.

"It leads up, so there might be a way out. We'll end up being lost for a bit, but Vikavolt will be able to lead us the right way. That sound good?"

They all agreed, and they were on their way again. Chase didn't know why you'd ever make someone have to climb this amount of steps to get to your castle, but at least it was a good workout. He might have run up them if he didn't need to conserve energy in case anything attacked him. Houndoom enjoyed all the new smells while Zangoose finally relaxed and began walking on all fours again. The old steps cracked under Abomasnow's weight, and Riolu hung on Chase's shoulder, whispering something in his ear and pointing to his palms.

"My hands are fine, it's just a little scrape," he said. "My luck concerning falling into caves is seriously shit, by the way. This is the second time in a year."

The fighting type climbed up on his head and squinted at the castle. The closer they got, the more Chase felt a weight on his shoulders. It was a decrepit relic of a bygone age, but it still commanded his attention and respect. The boy stepped through the half-collapsed gates and walked inside of the castle. A faded red carpet led to what he assumed was the throne room, but he was looking for a way out of here, not for some audience with a king's ghost.

But if there was a secret exit, wouldn't it make sense to put it next to the king's throne?

Or not, Chase wasn't exactly an expert in old royalty. Maybe it'd be in his bedroom or whatever, but it was worth checking out either way. He climbed over a collapsed pillar and jumped toward the giant, metallic doors. They were adorned with different shades of silver and what looked to be gold, but upon closer look, they were just iron painted yellow. The colors were all fading and rusting away. Abomasnow helped him push the doors open.

The king's skeleton was still sitting on his throne. The entire thing was there, and it somehow hadn't decayed like the others. It was almost comical. Like this was the position he'd decided to die in and stuck to it. He still wore that hexagonal crown, along with the remains of ragged clothes that had almost been rendered to nothing due to the elements. The carpet extended until his throne, which was elevated by a set of stairs.

"Funny how that works," Chase said with a dry chuckle.

He took a single step forward, but then the weight of the world pressed down on him.

The king stepped from behind the throne— his actual flesh and blood. He wore a luxurious purple coat and plated armor. Was it a ghost? His team stepped up and prepared to fight, but Chase held back a hand.

"Who— what are you?" He asked.

The King cackled— which was more of a beastly sound than a laugh. It reminded him of a Mightyena's laugh.

"So after all this time, another one of your kind wanders into my realm. For centuries, I have tarried here, immobile and unyielding, my very core ablaze with the fervor of my hatred for thy ilk. No words can adequately convey its depth and intensity. Thy thirst for death and annihilation shall not find solace within these ancient walls. Know this, my abhorrence for thy kind surpasses the vast expanse of this world. I have endured eons of torment, subjected to the cruelty of those who once dwelt here until my spirit shattered the chains of bondage and wrought vengeance upon every human soul I could find. And now, thou standest before me, poised to meet thy fate, the next to fall beneath my righteous wrath."

Chase blinked, unable to even comprehend what the hell this fancy-looking motherfucker was rambling on about. Panes of… light shone and shimmered like glass in front of the King, and then flipped, revealing a strange, white creature with red-tipped hair and strange red growths on its skin. Its hair floated around like it was weightless, and its eyes shone with a bright yellow. He easily recognized it as the creature on the mural's painting. Chase felt his hands clam up and scanned what he assumed was a Pokemon with his Pokedex.

Insufficient data. Please try again later.

That was the first time that had ever happened.

"That's a nice sob story," Chase said, trying to buy some time. "I don't remember asking."

"Thou shalt suffer," the beast said, its mouth returning to human form for a second.

And at that exact moment, Chase understood that hate could have weight. It was almost suffocating. The creature dashed forward, and he noticed a few things in the two seconds it took for it to reach him.

One, it wasn't terribly fast— only slightly quicker than Zangoose using Quick Attack. Two, the closer it got, the more heavy the weight of its hate felt on him and choked him to such an extent that breathing became difficult.


The creature phased through Abomasnow, who had gotten in between it and Chase to protect him. Before its pulsating red claws could tear him apart, Houndoom hit the Pokemon with a point-blank Dark Pulse. It flew off and rolled until it hit one of the columns of stone and metal still adorning the room, and it quickly collapsed onto it.

"Anti-ghost setup," Chase whispered to Houndoom. "We're going to try for a controlled retreat. Fighting it in the open will be easier—"

The beast stood through the rubble, leaving it undisturbed on the floor and continued its assault. It narrowly dodged one of Vikavolt's Thunderbolts before sending a clawed attack toward Chase. Three streaks of shadows raked across the floor, but Zangoose blurred in front of him and the attack harmlessly washed over her. Abomasnow flexed his arms and marched through the room, trampling anything in his way to get to the ghost.

Chase lunged outside of the room as Houndoom flanked him. He heard a crash behind him, but the fire type's darkness managed to neutralize some of the attack and gave him enough time to dodge whatever it was. He crawled backwards, and shards of metal, dirt and rocks buried themselves into his already-wounded hands.

A thin bubble of darkness surrounded both him and Houndoom. It was still see-through, but it certainly helped against ghosts, even if just a little. Riolu exited the room next, constantly throwing bones inside. His fighting moves wouldn't work here and he knew it, so he'd be the support. He was too frail to get in close and try to hit it with Metal Claw. Chase peeked inside and saw the Pokemon somehow taking on three of his Pokemon at once.

It easily weaved in between Abomasnow's Ice Shards and brought a Shadow Claw across his chest, but the ice type retaliated with a powerful Hammer Arm. Unfortunately, it simply phased through the ghost, reducing half of it to a strange, wispy mist until it immediately reformed. Abomasnow did not bleed, but the wound exposed the bark-like substance that his body was made up of.

Somehow, it was able to hit a Pokemon with its hands while its body was nearly invulnerable. It could do fucking both at the same time, as if it could somehow render parts of his body untouchable while the rest was still physically there. The amount of fine-tuning that required was—

"Fucking bullshit," Chase snarled. "Get over here! Controlled retreat!"

Zangoose weaved in and out of the battle, trying to find an opening and continuously building up her power with Fury Cutter. She slashed across the ghost's face, but it screamed and kicked her back toward the exit. She crashed into Riolu, who flew off into the distance and crashed down the grand hall. With a burst of speed, Vikavolt whizzed toward their enemy, managing to catch it off-guard and cutting it in half with X-Scissor. Its actual body this time.

Its legs simply regrew, bubbling and hissing until they were as good as new.

Still, it bought them their precious seconds, and everyone was out of the throne room now. Chase ran off toward the exit, not bothering to look back at the ghost who let out an enraged scream that he was sure would haunt him for months.

Houndoom yipped, skidding across the floor and suddenly turning.

"You're right. No use fighting on the Arceus damned stairs," Chase hurriedly said. The beast was quick, and it would have no doubt caught up while they'd been running down. "I know this bubble takes a lot of focus, but try to hit it with Dark Pulse."

He turned to the rest of his team. The enormous set of stairs stood at his back like the sheer drop of a cliff.

"When it comes out, throw everything you have at it."

It didn't keep them waiting. Instead of going through the door, it ran through the wall, its yellow eyes shining in the darkness. Ice Shards, Dark Pulse, Thunderbolt and Bone Rushes all barrelled toward the ghost, but only a few hit their mark. It knew its weakness, so it opened to dodge the Dark Pulse at all costs instead of focusing on every attack. For a second, its mouth changed back into a human's.

"Thou art weak. The longer this fight persists, the more the depths of my memory resurface and the more skilled I get. Thou art not long for this world."

"Whatever man," Chase said with a trembling voice. "Just get it over with then."

"You dare—"

The beast caught itself, instead deciding to lunge for him specifically. They were still far, but he could see it in its eyes. It would only come for him now.


It became only a shadow on the floor and slithered toward him, but Abomasnow got on all fours and froze the entire ground in front of them. Chase heard another enraged snarl, and the ghost emerged from the floor with its fur frozen in place. Houndoom hit it in the chest with the most powerful Dark Pulse he could muster, staggering it long enough for Vikavolt to electrocute him with a quick Thunderbolt.

Without a word, Chase began to run down the stairs. His Pokemon quickly followed, but Abomasnow was too big and clumsy. He tripped and began to roll down the stairs, destroying half of the fragile steps in the process until he recalled him for now. That fall looked really bad, but he couldn't afford to worry. He needed to think.

For some reason, it really, really hated humans to the point of making mistakes, but Chase could use that to his advantage. The problem was that it was ridiculously bulky, and there had been a hint of truth to what it had said. It probably hadn't fought since it murdered this entire city, but the longer this went on, the more it would remember.

Still, Chase could use that hate to his advantage.

The Pokemon jumped off the highest steps with a howl that no doubt resonated through the entire cave with no care for its own safety. It began to roll down a few steps but used its sharp claws to recover, and then it sprinted down the stairs even quicker than before. Riolu stopped and attempted to hit it with a bone, but it simply passed through its body. Zangoose's claw shone with a neon green as she attempted to stop it with another Fury Cutter, but when it attempted to jab a claw into her throat, she narrowly twisted her body and it got her in the collar instead. The ghost punched her in the nose, and Chase recalled her immediately to avoid her getting sent off too far.

He jumped the last ten stairs, landing back in the plaza with a roll and released Abomasnow and Zangoose again.

"Icy Wind! Make it wide to slow it down!"

The wind was narrow at first, but it slowly fanned out until the monster couldn't avoid it any longer, even when making its body impossible to target. They hadn't practiced enough with this, but they had no choice… Houndoom was too far and without a dark type move, he was dead—

"Night Slash!"

Zangoose didn't hesitate. Darkness consumed her claws, and she blurred toward the slowed Pokemon. Abomasnow stopped his Icy Wind as soon as she got within its area of effect, but the beast would still be slowed, so the playing field was a lot more even. Zangoose dropped to the floor and aimed at its legs to disable it, but the ghost managed to jump and pivot into a kick. The normal type shielded herself with her darkened claws and nicked its feet instead. They were in a deadlock, but before Abomasnow joined the fray, Chase healed him with a potion mid-battle. There was so little time that he sprayed some of it on himself by accident.

Of course, it didn't do anything.

Four left.

Abomasnow joined the fight. Wood Hammers slammed in the ghost's direction, forcing it to divide its attention to dodge. Even if he was weaker at a distance, Abomasnow was strong in close combat. His green fists flattened their enemy, causing it to dissolve and reform a few feet away. It hissed as it narrowly dodged another Dark Pulse. Vikavolt, Riolu and Houndoom were here now.

"I'd give up if I were you," Chase said. "We can do this all day."

It did not even deign to answer. Its eyes flashed with such fury that Chase was almost forced to his knees. Riolu placed a hand on his calf and worriedly stared.

He couldn't be weak.

"Houndoom, stick with me. Hit it with Dark—"

He didn't have time to issue the rest of his orders, but his Pokemon got the gist of what he meant. Intertwining rings of darkness shot out of Houndoom's mouth, and the bubble around him strengthened. It grazed the ghost's arm thanks to Abomasnow's quick Icy Wind, but it was Zangoose that dealt substantial damage. The high stakes of the situation made her nervous, but it also sharpened her senses. She was moving faster and with more dexterity than before, raking her claws across the beast's body with Night Slash and forcing it to engage her. Vikavolt wrapped it with String Shots, forcing it to allocate focus to phase through the sticky strings while Riolu stood by.

He was frustrated at his lack of contribution, but the typing worked against him here.

A yell from the creature brought it all to an end. It was like a shock wave of ghostly energy, and even though Houndoom's bubble protected him from the majority of the damage, Chase still felt his body temperature drop by a few degrees, doubled over and puked all over himself. He felt shivers run through his body and collapsed on the hard floor.

His Pokemon were no different, although Zangoose was left unharmed and Houndoom resisted the attack. Abomasnow stumbled back, Vikavolt fell out of the sky and Riolu got on one knee. The ghost quickly turned into the King and cackled.

"At last, my vengeance has arrived. I shall hew thee a thousandfold until no flesh remaineth upon thy meager frame."

Chase coughed. "I work hard for this body, you asshole."

Never had he been so terrified. He thought himself above fear, but today, he'd learned that he was not. Thankfully, the ghost was a sadistic piece of shit and calmly walked toward him, leaving him enough time to grab one of his empty Pokeballs.

He threw it at the Pokemon, and it was absorbed into the ball.

Chase stumbled, recalling Abomasnow and Vikavolt before legging it out of here. He heard his Pokeball shatter, and when he turned back he saw that the ghost could barely maintain its illusion. It was constantly changing between its human and Pokemon form, but the only thing that was constant was the eyes.

Bright yellow, burning with hate and a need to kill him. Begging for his death. Visualizing it in clear, visceral detail.


Chase ran toward the city as fast as he could. On the way, he recalled his Zangoose, only leaving Riolu and Houndoom with him. The dark type's bubble would mask the sound of his breathing and steps.

He needed to hide. There was no way to beat this thing now that it had grown that powerful, but then what? It was completely obsessed with him, and he was sure it wouldn't hesitate to stalk the streets of the city for hours until it got its hands on him. He and his Pokemon would need to sleep eventually, but ghosts did not.

He was fucked.

Chase turned the first corner he saw and got lost into the streets. He had to watch for the Sigilyph too, or their attacks would alert the beast. He stepped inside of a house with a back exit and leaned against a wall, his breaths short and ragged. He felt half as strong as he usually was because of that damn burst of ghost energy, and it was the same for his stamina too.

He wiped the sweat off his brow and calmed his breathing. He couldn't panic. Not now. He released Vikavolt and Abomasnow to apply two potions to them. They'd been the closest to the shockwave. He recalled them soon after to leave them some precious minutes of rest, but he knew he'd need to use them again when the ghost found them.

Two left.

Chase heard a home collapse a few blocks away and lifted a finger when Houndoom flinched. Quiet. He slowed his breathing and felt his heart hammer against his chest. His hand hovered over his Pokeballs, and he was already in position to run the moment the beast showed itself.

It did not. Another building collapsed, this time further away. Chase let out a trembling breath and felt his body loosen.

But they still had to move. His best option was to run out from the hole he fell in. It would be an almost impossible climb, but he liked his odds against whatever the hell that was outside. He gestured to Houndoom and slipped out of the building.

Only to come face to face with a fucking Sigilyph.

Riolu jumped on Chase's shoulder and then pushed, slamming a bright blue palm into the flying type's chest. It fell to the floor with a loud crash, and Houndoom finished it off with a Feint Attack.

The beast screamed in the distance. It was getting closer.

"Arceus… damn it."

Chase ran as he twisted his bag toward his front. He threw out anything that wasn't valuable. Towels, tent, lighter, even fucking food. He could always eat the wildlife outside and sleep on the floor, but he needed to be as light as possible. Houndoom barked and he instantly came to a stop. The Pokemon phased through the building in front of him and crashed into the next one. If Chase had kept running, he would have been run through. Its hand was stuck inside of the wall, but only for a second. The street was beginning to incline now. He was getting close.

Chase released his Abomasnow, Zangoose, and this time Vikavolt.

"Buy me some time! I'll recall you when I get far enough!"

Unfortunately for him, the ghost blinked forward and slashed across both of their sides as he slipped through them. Chase groaned in fear and annoyance, but he immediately recalled them and released them in front of him again.

"Hit it with everything you've got! Slow it, then Night Slash and Dark Pulse!"

In the time it took for Abomasnow's chest to rise as he inhaled and converted air into an Icy Wind inside of his lungs, their enemy had already run past him. Zangoose prepared her Night Slash, but the beast simply took the hit, opting to keep going instead of even trying to dodge. It didn't even care about anything but his death. A Discharge exploded out of Vikavolt's body and electricity clung of the ghost type's fur, but it did not relent.

Houndoom stomped, causing the darkness below his feet to disappear and be reabsorbed into his body. A Dark Pulse twice as strong as it was before flew toward the ghost, and it looked more like a Discharge than a single line of dark type energy at this point. The beast stopped in his tracks and hissed.

"Good, now converge on it—"

It was already back up.

Riolu grabbed Chase and threw him back. He swore as he rolled on to floor like a ball and the small rocks tore up his clothes and back. Chase scrambled back up, swearing when his palms burned as they pushed him upward. Riolu was standing in between him and the ghost, bone in one hand and steel claws growing out of the other.

He led with a simple throw, and the monster almost grinned at the simplicity of the attack. Its grin faded when the bone began to glimmer with a bright blue and it did not simply phase through his body.

Riolu was using aura to fight, and Chase was too out of it to understand why it canceled whatever bullshit ghost powers it had.

Another bone grew out of Riolu's hand, and the fighting type barely had the time to yell at Chase to leave with the rest of the team before he narrowly stopped the ghost from slipping past him. He slammed the bone against its head before slashing upward with Metal Claw from its inner thigh to its chest. The beast hissed, but Riolu shoved the bone down its mouth.

"I ain't leaving," Chase said, dropping his bag. "None of us are."

He'd never been this exhausted his entire life.

Strings shot out of Vikavolt's mouth like nets and wrapped around their opponent. Abomasnow arrived with a thundering boom and slammed both of his fists together, destroying the ghost type's head with Wood Hammer. Houndoom kept the momentum going and jumped out of the shadows with Feint Attack, but a burst of dark type energy exploded outward, creating a modified Dark Pulse modeled after Discharge. It hit Abomasnow as well, but he bore with it.

Zangoose blurred in front of the ghost and cut up the rest of its body in a hundred pieces with Night Slash.

"Now let's get the fuck out of here!" Chase yelled. He recalled Abomasnow and began to run toward the hole. It took a bit of time for his eyes to find it, but it seemed a lot further than it had been when he'd arrived a few hours ago.

And yet, what choice did he have?

He heard the ghost yell behind him, its voice growing more and more distorted with hate.

It never fucking died, did it?

Chase turned and prepared to fight again. He was back to the wall now, and he clumsily stepped back as much he could. He recalled his Pokemon and released them in front of him before throwing another empty ball at the ghost to buy some time.

It destroyed it with a simple blow. The Pokeball shattered and its pieces clattered on the floor.

The fighting resumed, but it grew closer by the second. There was little they could do to stop the beast. It was faster than Zangoose, endurant enough to take most blows and strong enough to destroy his team several times over. Soon, it would reach him. He had no choice but to try to climb. He grabbed onto a stone lodged into the cliff, but it fell out of his hand as soon as he placed any weight on it. He had a bit more luck with the second try, but a large side of the wall collapsed, bringing him down with it. He swore and turned to the battle, and his heart sank when he saw Abomasnow on the floor with its chest torn open. He recalled him as soon as he could. The beast once again exploded with ghostly energy, but Houndoom growled, and a wall of darkness shielded Chase completely this time. The dark type fell to the ground right after.

There would be no more Icy Winds to slow the beast, now, and no protection from Houndoom. Every second, it gained in speed. Chase prepared to recall his Pokemon and hope that it would let them live. It could technically break them apart, which would automatically activate the emergency measure and release them, but its hatred seemed to be focused on him and not them, so he held hope that someone would find them eventually. Riolu needed to see his first trainer's grave more than he needed to see a mother he'd never met—

Out of the corner of his eye, something was flying. It was too dark for Chase to discern whatever it was, but there was only one kind of Pokemon in this Arceus damned city other than this monster, and that was Sigilyph. A multicolored beam of energy hit the ghost's back, and it turned with a look of utter disbelief.

The psychic type let out a few mechanical beeps as it landed next to Chase. He didn't even have time to process what the hell was happening, but he climbed on its back. It was six and a half feet tall, and from the looks of it, its wings were also made out of this ceramic-like material, which meant that they were easy to grip for balance.

Chase recalled his Pokemon one by one as Sigilyph floated toward the hole. Only Riolu was in any state to fight any longer. Houndoom was unconscious and Zangoose was barely able to stand and bleeding all over from shallow and deep wounds. Vikavolt closely followed as he buzzed around them.


Sigilyph's eye shone, and it collapsed the hole's entrance before the beast could have a chance of climbing out. Chase didn't know if it could possibly phase through the rocks, but there must have been a reason it stayed there all this time. He took a few steps and coughed now that he was back into the fog. He collapsed on the floor and laughed. Never had he been so happy to be back on a shitty fucking route.

He kissed the floor and passed out.

Chase woke up to Vikavolt buzzing on his back. He flinched before shooting up and getting back on his feet. He didn't know how much time had passed, but the fog had cleared slightly, which was a good sign. It never really left, but it sometimes thinned. Chase groaned as he stood. His entire body hurt, but his hands and upper back had suffered the most. He couldn't tell if anything was broken, but he could move everything, at the very least. Vikavolt cheered, letting out a few sparks as he excitedly flew around his head. Chase smiled.

"Kept you waiting, huh? I can't believe I lived through that shit. Must be the luckiest guy alive."

He grabbed his water bottle and he spat out a mouthful before downing the entire thing in seconds. Arceus, he'd been thirsty, and it washed off the taste of dirt in his mouth. He grabbed another one and poured some of it on his hands to wash them of grime, dirt, and blood, and they were cut up a lot worse than he'd thought. The skin was torn open in various areas, and making a fist burned like hell.

Nothing he couldn't handle, though. Pain built character. Wounds taught that actions had consequences. Scars were a reminder not to fuck up.

He turned to the strange Pokemon that hadn't left his side.

Sigilyph. His savior.

Hadn't they been supposed to keep to a route until they croaked or whatever? Had this one been broken somehow?

"Thanks for saving me," Chase shrugged. "Woulda died without your help."

He didn't care either way. That meant that he had the drive to go against the grain, and it was something that Chase appreciated in both people and Pokemon. The psychic type let out a few strange beeps and stared at him with its unblinking eye. He didn't even know if it was an eye or just something that the people that had designed it painted on. There were also two eyes on its torso, but those didn't blink or move either.

Chase sighed. He had two potions left, but four Pokemon that were wounded. Maybe he could split them in four somehow, or maybe he'd just use them all on everyone other than Riolu. He'd been the least hurt in the fight thanks to his use of that aura bone bullshit that could somehow stop a ghost from slipping through something.

Come to think of it, had that thing even been a true ghost? It hadn't disappeared even once, but it could somehow go through walls at will and was apparently impossible to kill too, so maybe it was something in between?

"Whatever," Chase grunted.

He grabbed his two potions and laid them out on the floor. He'd been born poor, had lived poorly and would keep doing so if his principles demanded it, but the day he became the Champion, things would change. He'd make an equal society for all. He released Zangoose first and spritzed some of the first potion across the worst wounds on her body, which were right below her neck, on her gut and on her shoulder. The normal type fiddled in place, seemingly too reserved to express her happiness at the fact that they'd survived. Chase didn't mind. He was used to her and knew she was glad.

Her actions alone proved that she was glad they all made it through, and that she'd do whatever was needed to make sure nothing happened to any of them, just like they'd do the same for her.

"You pulled your weight down there, Zangoose," Chase praised. "You're strong."

It was a simple statement, but she shivered with pride and her hair flattened.

"But we'll improve together, still."

Chase released Abomasnow next. The looming grass type had been hurt most of all, and he attempted to stand proud as Chase walked in front of him.

"Relax. You deserve it," Chase said. The ice type collapsed in a sitting position with a heavy sigh, and Chase began applying the potion across his torso. He rumbled, and his snowy mustache blew in the wind. "You were great. Your Icy Winds were crucial in slowing down whatever the hell that was, and whenever you hit it with Wood Hammer, it took a good second or two to grow its body back."

Chase affectionately hit his healed wound with a fist.

"Good job."

It was Houndoom's turn next. His time in his Pokeball had allowed him to regain consciousness, but he could still barely stand. There were a few surface wounds all across the body, including a relatively large one to the flank, but the potion would help him rest better as well. Chase placed a hand on his hot belly and scratched it until his tongue lazily hung out.

"I would have died a thousand times without you. Our anti-ghost setup worked wonders," Chase smiled. "Great improvement on Dark Pulse too. It took a while for you to get it down, but you're amazing at it now."

He turned to Vikavolt, who was zooming around in the sky.

"You did a great job on support with String Shot and Thunderbolt. Holding up that ghost's attention for even a few seconds was crucial. Every moment counted. Amazing flight control and bursts of speed, by the way. It's a shame we didn't get to use Rising Voltage, but overall, you were fucking amazing."

Chase stretched before releasing Riolu. The fighting type gazed into his eyes with a mix of pride and irritation. The first, for facing the threat head-on and keeping his head on straight, he guessed, and the second because he was determined to see his life end if his team got to live another day.

He didn't praise Riolu. That wasn't how their relationship worked. The fighting type was in charge most of the time, and it would feel condescending to do so.

But still, Chase smiled. "Good job out there."

Riolu reluctantly nodded and angrily turned away. Was his resolve angering him that much? Chase would have thought that it would have made him proud. Ri had seen him go from a kid scared of everything to his current self in barely two years, and Chase thought that that was what he wanted.

Before he could retort, Sigilyph beeped to his side.

"Right," Chase muttered. "You're kind of out of a job, aren't you? It's not like you were doing anything anyway, I mean, nothing came down there in I don't know how many years, so…"

Chase stared at the psychic type, whose expression lay unchanging. It wasn't as if it could change it anyway, but it was still weird.


"You're a weird lil' guy, aren't ya?" Chase said. "Want to come with us?"

The Pokemon slowly tilted his entire body until it turned upside down, and it got so close to Chase's face that he could hear his breath of its ceramic body.

"Is that a yes?" Chase said, grabbing another empty Pokeball. He only had five left… he was running low. Even with his sixth member, this battle had taught him that throwing a Pokeball at a Pokemon way stronger than he was was enough to buy a few seconds, at least, so it'd be smart to keep some on him. Unfortunately, he only had a measly 4,324 Pokedollars to his name.

After hearing one last beep come out of Sigilyph, he softly hit it with his Pokeball, and the device immediately dinged. It hadn't even shaken three times. Chase released it immediately and scanned its moves. With a Pokemon as weird as this one, it was imperative to know what the hell its gimmick was, and he needed it to get used to his team as soon as possible and vice versa.

Or her. Apparently these had Arceus damned genders somehow. Make it make sense!

Moves: Confusion, Gust, Air Cutter, Whirlwind, Psybeam, Cosmic Power

Ability: Tinted Lens

"Pretty shit, which makes sense considering how easily I took care of the others, but a good base to work up from," Chase smiled. "Great ability though. Welcome to the team, Sigilyph. Guys, give her a warm welcome!"

His entire team grunted.

"That's how we do it here. We're a team, and we help each other through every thing. You'll work hard, but you'll grow strong."

Well, Chase wanted a psychic type, and he got one. Finally, he'd be able to do the type of shit that Pastel's Togetic and Obel's Slowking did, even if it'd take weeks of intense training to get her up to speed. Of course, he'd put his own twist on it. Chase wasn't the type to copy whatever the hell worked for others. He did it his own way.

Sigilyph started to stare at Zangoose and got a mere inch away from her face until the normal type hit her away. She beeped and moved on to Riolu, doing her upside down thing again.

"Yeah, you're a weirdo for sure."

Celestic town was breathtaking. It covered a small surface area and was nestled in a circular valley on Mount Coronet's flanks. Up here, the majority of the fog cleared, although a tiny fraction of it still remained. Humidity wasn't something Chase had thought of when traveling here, but it was certainly a factor. The air felt pure but stuffy at the same time.

Many of the buildings were old, and constructed in the same style as that ancient city Chase had found days ago. However, they had none of the color or the randomness to them that made the city so charming in the first place. These were mostly uniform, with a few variation between them. Of course, more modern buildings were strewn throughout, and all of them had dark teal rooves. The Pokemon Center stood out like a sore thumb, being the tallest and most modern-looking building in the town with its usual sleek design and orange roof. Chase walked with Riolu until he reached the edge of some kind of depression— or was it a meteor crater? It certainly had the shape of one, but he was no astrologist, or whatever the hell studied meteorites. There were multiple set of stairs circling the crater, leading down to the floor there.

An enormous shrine stood in the middle of the crater, and he could see some people— almost dots with how far down they were— surrounding the structure. Religion wasn't a thing Chase was interested in, and neither was the majority of the world, but some people still worshipped the Legendaries of old. He remembered hearing that Johto was especially religious, but there was even a church in Hearthome that he never bothered to visit. Chase didn't know much about the Legends. Some were confirmed to be real, but the majority of them were just stories. For all he called Arceus' name all the time, he didn't believe that a single Pokemon could have the power to create an entire universe.

And where the hell would it even have come from?

The shrine kept his attention as he traveled toward the Pokemon Center. Huge stone pillars rose from the ground, but he was too far to really know what the carvings on them said. Since he was high up, he could see that four walls surrounded a courtyard, but it was surprisingly empty. Maybe people weren't allowed in? His eyes traced the shrine's walls until he noticed the entrance of a cave further down the crater. It was also surrounded by a smaller shrine, but no one dared to even come near it.

Chase entered the Pokemon Center, which lay in the southeast of Celestic, and gave his Pokemon to a bored Nurse Joy. The journey here had pushed his team to the brink, and since he was completely out of potions, only Riolu and Sigilyph had been well enough to battle by the end of it. He was hungry, tired, but most of all, he needed to see someone for a check-up first.

There was only a single doctor in the entirety of the Center, and luckily he had no broken bones. His hands were in a sorry state, however, and they needed to be bandaged. Chase opted to book a room and take a shower first, and after an hour or so, he was free to find his grandparents.

"Well, no use beating around the bush, right?" He told Ri. "Do you remember where they lived? You were young, so don't sweat it if you don't."

The fighting type quickly nodded and motioned at him to follow. Hopefully they hadn't moved, because then he'd have to ask around, and he was in no mood to converse.

Chase was nervous. Something that usually never happened.

He thought that by expecting the worst, he'd be able to calm his nerves, but even that didn't work. Riolu led him to one of the teal-rooved houses that sat next to an enormous home made out of some kind of hard wood. He already knew that it was Cynthia's family's home, where her grandmother and younger sister lived. Apparently his grandparents lived right next to them.

Chase took a deep breath and knocked. He waited thirty seconds, and there was no answer. He knocked again, harder this time, but no one came to greet him.

"Maybe they're out," he sighed.

Riolu grunted in disappointment. His eyes shone blue as he held out his hand, and he shook his head.

"Can't feel 'em in there, huh?" Chase said. "Well, we'll wait."

They both sat at the house's door, talking about anything that came to mind. He couldn't believe that they'd made it. This had been Chase's goal since he set out of be a trainer, and he was on the cusp of realizing it. Riolu had grown up here, and he could tell that he was happy to be back after all these years. Still, there was a sadness that lingered. It reminded him of her.

Chase's mother. His real trainer.

"Hello young man. Can we help you?"

Chase's head snapped up, and an old man and woman were in front of him with their arm linked. They looked younger than they probably were, but the fact that they wanted to enter the house meant that they must have been his relatives.

The boy stiffly stood up, revealing Riolu. The fighting type had been well-hidden to his side. The older woman's eyes lit up, as if she instantly recognized him.

"Ri… Ri, is that you?!" The woman said.

Riolu couldn't contain his smile, and he jumped into the woman's arms. Chase couldn't help but smile. It was like he was a little kid. His grandmother stroked Riolu's head, and his grandfather could barely register what was happening.

"Young man…" he said. "How did you find him? Where did you find him?"

Chase smirked, not because he felt happy but because he was hurt. This was no damn fairy tale. It would have been too convenient for them to recognize him right away when they'd never even met him.

"I'm Chase Karlson. Urie Karlson and Adeline Halcourt's son, and your grandson."

They both froze. The older woman stared at Riolu, who nodded.

"Why—why don't you come inside to talk," she said.

Chase sat down in his grandparent's cozy living room with Riolu by his side, and his grandma brought him some hot tea. He finally knew their names now— Helen and Philippe Halcourt. It was awkward to ask, but his father had almost never talked about his mother's family, and when he had, it was to complain and never by name. It was always 'your grandma this' or 'your grandpa that'. Philippe sat down in a rocking chair with a heavy grunt while Helen brought some crackers with a weird green dipping sauce. Chase wasn't the biggest fan, but he didn't want to offend, so he drank his tea and ate the food.

They hadn't blown up at him, which was a good start. This wasn't how he usually operated, but he wanted to be as polite as possible. He couldn't ruin this for himself or Riolu.

"Chase… I can't believe you're this big already," Philippe scoffed in disbelief. "You're fifteen now, right?"

"Sixteen. My birthday was two weeks ago," he said, handing Ri a cracker. "Sorry for dropping on you out of the blue."

Helen sighed. "Urie never told us the exact date of Addie's de— of your birth. Sorry."

Chase restrained a wince and ignored what she'd been about to say.

"Are you kidding me? This is so great! We thought we'd never see you!" He said.

"You wanted to see me?" Chase asked.

"Addie sent so many letters gushing about you during the pregnancy," Helen smiled. "Of course we wanted to see you."

Chase felt joy swell in his heart. "T—thank you. And sorry."

"What for?" She frowned.

"For… killing Adeline."

Riolu barked in protest, and Helen shot up. She walked up to Chase and grabbed him by the shoulders. Her grip was surprisingly tight, for an old woman.

"It wasn't your fault."


"It wasn't. You were just a baby trying to go out into the world. We spent a long time hating your father for taking Addie away from us. The Iron Islands is no place to give birth to a child, but he wouldn't hear any of it," she said. "We still think that he shares some of the blame, but Addie… Addie agreed with him. She wanted to stay."

Riolu stopped eating and tightly shut his eyes.

"It was a terrible choice," Philippe said with teary eyes, staring in the distance. It took Chase a few seconds to realize that he'd been looking at a framed picture of his mother. "And she paid dearly for it. But the last thing we would do is blame you."

Chase silently nodded, but he felt lighter now. A piece of the guilt he'd been carrying from the day he'd been born was gone. No longer would he have to feel like he took his mother away from her parents.

But he still knew that he'd taken her away from his father.

"I actually came here for another reason," Chase said. "If I could have, uh, a picture of her? And if you could point me in the direction of her grave, I would really appreciate it."

"You didn't even have to ask. Phil?"

The man stood up and walked to his room while Helen continued.

"We'll bring you to her grave. That was actually where we were while you were waiting for us here," she said. "Don't worry, we'll leave you some time alone. I'm sure Addie will be very happy to see her little boy all grown up."

Chase's lips quivered and his eyes watered. He lowered his cap and sniffled. He wasn't even at the damn grave yet, and he still felt like his soul was being crushed.

"Thank you," he exhaled. "I can't thank you enough for this. Do you have a phone or something I can use to call you? I won't be staying long."

"We have a landline," Helen smiled. "And you can always send us letters as well. Addie was old-fashioned like that."

His grandfather walked out of the bedroom with a medallion. He grabbed Chase's hand, placed it inside of his palm and closed his fist around it. Chase ignored the pain. This was important.

"There's a picture of your mother in there. It was taken right before she left with your dad, so it's old, but it's the most recent one we've got. News travel slowly here, but we heard what happened in the Iron Islands when your father died. I assume that your home was also lost in the wreckage?"

"It was. I couldn't take anything, and my dad didn't like to have the pictures hanging around anyway. It hurt him too much." Chase said. He opened the medallion and saw his mother's face for the first time in… in he didn't even know how many years. Long brown hair, a mischievous crooked smile and brown eyes so light that they could almost appear hazel.

"You look like her, you know?" Helen smiled. "Your eyes and smile are exactly the same."

Chase hadn't realized he'd been smiling. He silently nodded and put the medallion around his neck. "Thank you for giving this to me. It must be important to you."

"Don't worry. We can't hog the memory of Addie to ourselves," Philippe gently said.

"Now let's bring you to her."

It was a particularly hot afternoon today, even for the middle of winter. Chase could travel outside without his usual coat and only a sweater. The sunlight made all of Celestic seem so bright in comparison to the dreary, foggy hellscape that he'd expected coming here. Chase waved at his grandparents, who did the same and slowly began to walk back home.

In front of him and Riolu sat his mother's grave. Her name and the epitaph were written in a font so fancy that Chase could barely read it properly.

Adeline Halcourt

Chase said it out loud a few times, getting his mouth used to the sound of his mother's name. His eyes focused on the epitaph next.

'In loving memory of Adeline Halcourt,

Beloved daughter and cherished mother,

Taken too soon, but forever in our hearts.

Born from love, embraced by grace.

May she watch her child grow up from the heavens.'

Tender wildflowers and fresh roses adorned the grave, no doubt put here by Philippe and Helen. Chase stood there in quiet reverence, simply staring for at least twenty minutes.

"I should have brought something," he finally exhaled. "Sorry about that."

The boy opened the pendant one more time and took in his mother's face before staring at the gravestone. He crouched and clenched his forehead, taking a deep breath before continuing.

"Hi… mom? I don't know what to say now that I'm here," Chase dryly chuckled. "To be honest, I never thought I'd get this far. I never knew you, but I feel like— I feel like we would have gotten along? I mean I hope so."

He paused, finding his words.

"You know, I don't exactly believe in an afterlife, but I changed my mind. I like the idea of you and dad looking at me. Looking at what I'll become," Chase said. "I'm sorry I couldn't come until now. You must have been wondering what the hell I was doing. I brought Ri with me."

He turned toward the fighting type, who was silently mourning with tears streaming down his cheeks. There was a certain blue glow to him that he'd never seen before.

"He misses you too. He talked a little bit about you on the road, but he stayed quiet most of the time. You know, dad would never speak about you either. It's like whenever you came into someone's life, you made such a mark that reminiscing about you was too painful to bear. It sucked," Chase sighed. "Ri's okay, even if he's being silent. I think he's doing some kind of aura bullshit. I don't understand it very well. He misses you… and I'm sorry for keeping him away from you all this time. I'm afraid he'll have to stick around though. He promised dad to protect me."

He took a shaky breath and began to sob.

"I wish you could be here. I wish I could talk to you… fuck," he rubbed his eyes and took a few deep breaths to settle down. "I have a goal. It's a bit silly to say out loud, but I want to become Sinnoh's Champion. Then I'll make sure that what happened to you and dad can never happen to other families ever again. Every single corner of Sinnoh should be treated the same as fucking Jubilife, so why the hell are the people living in the Iron Islands treated as second-class citizens? Why couldn't there be proper fucking healthcare… proper protection for miners… fuck this."

Chase sat on the grassy floor, took off his cap and stared at it. It wasn't that unique. Just a blue cap with nothing else on it. No design, no initials, just a bland blue cap. It was worn out and faded from all of his travels. It was the only thing he'd recovered from the catastrophe that hit his mining village. A powerful Steelix, angered by the miners encroaching on its territory had destroyed everything in its sight. Almost everyone died.

Why had he kept the cap?

Because he'd been wearing it that day.

A cap to remember his father by.

A medallion to remember his mother by.

"I'll make sure what happened to both of you will never happen to anyone ever again."

Chase ended up spending the entire afternoon by his mother's grave. Not all of the hours were filled with conversation, but when he did talk, he mostly did so about his training or his team. He showed her to Sigilyph, but she didn't seem to understand the concept of a grave. Maybe that wasn't how they did it back in their ancient city? He tried to explain to her that his mother was in there, but he wasn't sure if he got the message across. Chase promised her that he'd bring back full team to introduce them to her before leaving.

"Are you ready to go?" Chase asked Riolu. "We'll come back tomorrow morning."

Riolu silently stood and stared Chase in the eyes with newfound resolve. His tired, teary eyes glowed with a pale blue, intensifying until the light overtook his entire body and turned bright white.

All this time, Riolu had been waiting for closure.

Or well, Lucario now. He was only slightly taller than Chase, but he exuded an incredible amount of power. The steel type brought Chase into a hug, and he felt something brush against his mind. Incomprehensible whispers that were almost within reach. As soon as the hug ceased, Chase looked on, trying to hide the bewilderment on his face.

"Can I— can I still call you Ri?"

Lucario laughed and nodded. Chase gripped his fist and shook it tightly.

"My friend," Chase grinned. All this time, he had struggled to place what Ri had been to him. A guardian? A parental figure? He thought that he would never discover the answer. The core of their relationship was camaraderie. Shared loss. Friendship. They were equals. "Get ready, Ri. We're fucking winning this entire thing."

And his parents would watch over them.

The next afternoon, Solaceon was plunged in darkness.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett Turrell, Dom Noct, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Cypha, Daniel, Ryan T
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My Pokémon knowledge is escaping me. What's the white wispy Pokémon?

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