Love, War, and Pokemon Battles (Original characters, pokemon world setting)

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    Default Love, War, and Pokemon Battles (Original characters, pokemon world setting)

    Chapter 1

    Notes to reader: Don't own Pokemon, hence the posting to a fanfic archive. Original fiction set in a pokemon world but not another “my trainer journey” thing. Playing fast and loose with the canon; if something doesn't mesh with any of them, it's probably intentional. I'd give this an R rating, so be warned.

    ~

    “Pokemon not bad guys. Pokemon do bad things... because Master bad.”

    Surprisingly enough, there was once a time when the so-called “Pokemon world” of Japan was the closest thing to a utopia that humanity had ever known. Back then, it was an idyllic land; a country where day-to-day life was one of endless happiness, abundance, and entertainment, all based around the strange and wonderous creatures known as Pokemon. Diglett mined for minerals, countless electric-types powered the land, Oddish leaves and fast-breeding Rattata provided a food supply, and strong Machamp constructed all that needed building. Apart from the Jenny Corps and perhaps the Joy Nursing Order, government was absent, the state having withered away after a longago revolution which fulfilled all of Karl Marx's most ambitious and pleasant dreams. A century after the revolution, the fervor had declined and the wealth of Silph Corporation now drew envy all across the world, yet Pokemon made the world so prosperous that there were very few suffering beneath the boots of poverty. It was so trusting that few people locked their doors, so safe that parents let their ten-year-old children travel across the country with only their pokemon on their belt, so beautiful that people regularly took to the air to gaze upon the chattering, grassy landscape.

    This is not to say that it was perfection, however, merely that it was closer than humanity had ever come. Absent of anyone to stop them, the pleasant anarchy lead to greater and greater criminal gangs with names that reached for the stars. Not content merely with extorting towns or making illicit profits, many of these groups quested for absolute power through Pokemon, spurring wild ones to madness and awakening creatures which should not have been awakened. Heroes named for gems and colors had always stepped forth to defeat every major gang in feats of awesome skill, seldom using more than six pokemon to go through their hideouts and wreck their entire forces, then following up on their victories by calming or capturing the creatures of legendary power. Everyone had been saved, and it had provided for great stories, but it was a foreboding sign. The fact that the Pokemon world was forced to rely on brave and determined children to keep the peace was a grave weakness in the system. True to ideology, the abolition of class had seen the Japanese state dissolved, but this abolition had made it far more difficult to join together to defeat those occasional local tyrants or criminals. Furthermore, so long after the revolution, there was very little to keep equality in place. When Silph Corporation took over Saffron, the Pokemon World watched, accepting all the evils of capitalism in exchange for a steady supply of max repels and ultra balls.

    The Pokemon League did a small bit to police matters but they were a sports league, not a government, so as long as the gyms were open they seldom did anything to help. (After all, a worthy trainer wouldn't be stopped by lousy roads or petty thieves.) Furthermore, the Gym Leaders themselves were often the strongest in town and therefore the best in position to abuse their own power. There was camaraderie amongst the group and with the temptations of power, very few had clean hands. When Viridian City's Giovanni had been revealed as leader of Team Rocket, the first great group of criminals, the league had sat by and shrugged. When Saffron had fallen, they were furious, but stood by, afraid both of heavy casualties and the very real possibility that they might lose. And were the half-forgotten peoples across the sea to grow jealous of resources or seek Pokemon of their own, there would be very little to stop them.

    And despite the name “Pokemon world,” it was still ultimately ruled by humans. Pokemon trainers, but humans nonetheless, with all their human flaws and all the sorrows which not even the greatest outside world could purge. The dream of being a Pokemon Master was universal, yet not everyone could be a winner. The so-called “battle towers” where the tournaments took place and nearly all children aspired to were harsh places where pokemon met their physical limits and trainers were driven to madness by continued failure – and many, incompetent and below-average their whole lives, never even got that far. The competitive spirit did not always lead to camaraderie between Pokemon and trainer: weak and lazy Pokemon were often abandoned, while others turned towards drugs or physical abuse to give their creatures the lead. The pains of loneliness, unrequited love, and heartbreak did not go away because people could own Bulbasaur and Pikachu: greed, revenge, hatred, and megalomania remained in the human condition, boredom existed in the age of battles as easily as it did in the age of video games, and those with little love or aptitude for handling Pokemon often found themselves caught in an unwanted world with no way out except death. In spite of this, it was still thought by most a place of unparalleled happiness, a land where even those with dreams smashed upon the battle tower could still think of nothing more amazing than their journeys.

    Of course, compared to what came afterwards, this was an absolute paradise.

    ~

    In this era, a town called Wisteria had stood in the shade of Mount Moon. It was a rustic, idyllic village with lush grasses, frolicking Rattata and all the other charms of small-town Kanto. It was very much off the beaten path, along a side of the mountain some distance from the path to Cerulean. Travelers were rare, but every now and then a lost trainer emerged from the cave, his pokemon badly beaten up, and desperately asked every person he found the way to the nearest pokemon center. Surprisingly enough, the town actually did have a pokemon center but it was one so minor that neither a Joy nor a Chansey could be seen. It mainly served to heal those wounded in combat lessons at the local pokemon school. Also on the main road stood a small library of local folklore, which also served (in those rare times when it was needed) as a community center and town hall. To its left stood an elementary school for those yet to start their pokemon journey to learn the basics of literacy, arithemitic, basic type matchups, and other things everyone needs in life. Across the street, there was a police station staffed by only a couple officers; the town's unused prison sat in the back room, and as a whole it seemed more aimed to deter by its very existence than to actually catch criminals. Further down, there sat a blue-roofed shop which sold potions and pokeballs and called itself a Pokemart, but seemed too tiny for such a title to apply. The rest of the street consisted of houses and there was nothing apart from houses on any of the other roads.

    The town's economy, insofar as it needed one, revolved mainly around mining; Mount Moon was home to a surprisingly large array of minerals and there were still plenty of raw materials which could not easily be created through pokemon attacks. A smaller segment of the populace, insofar as such grandiose words as 'populace' apply to a small town of a few hundred, made their living in agriculture - most of them growing strange berries which aid pokemon when eaten in combat and spring up anywhere a patch of dirt could be found. Most, however, lived their lives in luxury, spending their time playing games with their pokemon, reading and socializing, never even needing to work.

    Kumiko, like many in Wisteria's younger generation, saw little appeal in either profession and little to do around town. Thinking it her only escape from boredom and as excited on her tenth birthday as any child of the Age of Pokemon, she had long ago departed her sleepy hometown with a Bulbasaur, dreaming of being the very best and journeying across Kanto to make that dream come true. She had done quite well in her day; outside the Pewter and Cerulean area, the introductions of “Kumiko from Wisteria Town!” were the only place where most people had heard of Wisteria. Her Venusaur and Dragonair had brought her past the round-robin segment with an undefeated record, and for a moment, she was a phenom: the talk of the Pokemon World, a person within striking distance of becoming the very best.

    A couple days later, it all collapsed. In her first elimination match, she faced off against a now-forgotten trainer and his immensely powerful Machamp. She had lost badly, all her pokemon unable to even wound their four-armed foe in any noticable way. And like many other trainers, her pokemon-training spirit had been broken by defeat. Holding back the tears of broken dreams, she talked it over with her pokemon, found them new masters and gave sad goodbyes to old friends. With the three who remained, Kumiko returned sadly to her hometown, burnt out and tired of wandering, yet strangely still wishing for those following behind her to enjoy following in her footsteps. She wanted others to know what they were doing, to teach others and save them from her tiny mistakes, to trade tips and gain knowledge and have a tiny bit of fun in the process, yet never to dissuade anyone from the mistake (and she was sure it was a mistake) on which she had wasted the latter half of her life.

    This was why, five years before this clear-skied day, Kumiko had founded the Wisteria Academy for Advanced Pokemon Study. It was a small school with a single teacher and a ramshackle dorm, the dorm attached for those few students from other parts of Kanto who had (for some unfathomable reason) concluded that a one-time Round-of-32 finisher would be a better teacher than a gym leader or a learned Pokemon professor. Therefore, the Wisteria Academy's student body mainly consisted of local trainers, mostly ones who had failed their journeys, returned home and simply needed something to do. A couple others had grown homesick and a few more enjoyed pokemon training as much as anyone but were content in acquiring knowledge, lacking in the desire to escape their small-town life and see the world. The school had sixteen students and they filled the single classroom with a mixture of curiosity, love, bitterness and broken dreams, bound mainly in that they all used pokemon for catharsis from the reality of the Pokemon World.

    Or maybe she was just projecting. Quite a few of them had never wanted to leave home: the institute had a high school sort of atmosphere which simply wasn't available for those traveling around the world and not everyone necessarily took failure as hard as she did. Maybe it wasn't catharsis to her students, just a whole new place to be. Undeniably, there was hope. And fun. None of them were eager to quest for mastery again anytime soon, but they had each other and on a warm, sunny day like this one when their pokemon were fighting and they could almost hear a theme song on the wind, even she couldn't remember the sadness which had brought her there in the first place.

    For a good, long moment, she gazed at her students, turning her head and reminiscing as she stood at the center of the four pokemon battlefields. But the trainers were complaining and the moment had gone on too long – she had a battle to run.

    “Each trainer may use one pokemon each. Let the battle begin!”

    “You sound like we're back in Indigo, but no referee was ever this enthusiastic.” A gruff young man of about Kumiko's age by the name of Kenichi joked. He was an old friend of hers, one who had battled with her through Victory Road, lost in the Pokemon league, and had on one day a few months ago showed up at the Wisteria Institute, to see where life had taken her, and became her “student.”

    “Face it, it's exciting.” She said, looking out as the pokemon were released and began to fight. “Hey, wait! Don't forget you're my student! You're in this battle, too!”

    “And if I wasn't, you'd just drag me here to round out the numbers.” He answered, and then turned back to the battlefield, clutching his pokeball. The other fighters in the match had already released their pokemon, a persian and starmie standing fairly menacingly before his ally's sandshrew. Absentmindedly, the trainer glanced at his two opponents: Koneko, a casually-dressed girl whose gramatically incorrect T-shirt and black, furred false ears on her head revealed her love of all things feline, and Haruna, a smooth-skinned, attractive girl clad only in a blue, one-piece swimsuit – he caught himself staring for a moment, only to remember she was six years his junior and now was generally not a good time for perving, regardless. Looking around the field, he turned his head to his teammate Kazuki, a pretty boy with long, purple hair who always somehow managed to sparkle. (He had thought glitter was the cause of this at first, but his shine never seemed to look that tacky.)

    His gaze turned, the Persian menacingly approached as its trainer blushed heavily, barely holding back a squeal at his teammate while shouting out “Faint Attack!” Haruna, somewhat more composed (at least on the outside), calmly pointed, showing the way for a ferocious burst of water to come from her starmie's six upper legs, colliding with the desert pokemon.

    “Sandshrew!” The bishounen yelled, rushing onto the field with beautiful concern. “You okay?” He asked, cradling the pokemon up in what was a blatantly illegal move, but Kumiko was watching a different match and his opponents were too busy swooning over his compassion to point out that he entered the arena during a battle. Reaching back, Kazuki flashed his teammate a “V” sign and shot him a look of annoyance, and the bearded man nodded, hurling his pokeball into the 'arena'. “Raichu, hit 'em with a thunderbolt!” he ordered, and sparks obediently flew from the giant rodent's cheeks, zapping the ten-pointed star.”

    “So lame.” Koneko answered, shaking her head. “You too, Haruna-chan – even Kazuki-sama hasn't been that creative this match; I've seen better from him. Do you really think a pokemon battle is as simple as deciding which of your pokemon's four attacks to shout out, when to switch, and which opponent to target?”

    “Those things you dismiss are more complex than you give them credit for. We've spent years talking about nothing else.” Kenichi answered calmly.

    Koneko sighed, her eyes downcast and staring out upon the distance, wishing there was something greater in the Pokemon World. Her manga offered such great things; rattata biting through blocks of ice, sending the enemy plunging to defeat, venusaur vine whips on a pikachu-electrified poliwrath cloud bringing down an indomitable charizard. Of course, not all of them were applicable in a trainer battle, but even still, she wanted something more.

    “I see why you lost. You have no imagination. Persian,” she began to yell, then sighed. Her fake thunderbolt trick was neat, but wouldn't do any good against a raichu. The field of short grass lent itself to no grand strategies and her teammate would do better drenching the enemy than acting as a UFO-like mount for her pokemon. “I don't either. Just slash the Raichu or something.”

    On the battlefield to the right, a murkrow hovered a few feet above the ground while its teammate, a hitmonchan, positioned itself into a fighting stance. On the other side, an onix reared up menacingly, towering above both its foes and its trainers, while an electrode waited in place, its giant pokeball-like looks at odds with its ferocious speed and explosive power.

    “Shiro, it's time I show you what determination and guts can accomplish! Hitmonchan, Sky Uppercut the onix!” A spiky-haired boy named Taro shouted with hotblooded courage, his elbows bandaged from his last battle against a machop.

    The bird keeper smirked, then shook his head. “I have no doubt you will show meexactly what your determination is capable of, Taro. Then again, I suppose should at least try, if only so that you don't complain when we lose. Murkrow, sucker punch the electrode.”

    “Electrode, show them why you're the greatest of all pokemon, and give 'em a thunderbolt they'll never forget!” A white-haired trainer named Eiji yelled, pointing to the sky as if to call down lightning – and lightning soon fell, striking the hitmonchan.

    “Even the legendary birds tremble before the might of a well-trained rock type, so your little Murkrow doesn't stand a chance! Onix, use Rock Throw!” A burly hiker of about sixteen named Hikaru called out.

    Despite the vaunted quickness of electrodes, often said to be the fastest species of pokemon (depending on the criteria used, Pidgeot, Dugtrio, and Ninjask were at times considered faster) some techniques were simply too quick for even them to dodge or counter, especially right after hitting an opponent with a Thunder. The murkrow folded its wing into a fist, then approached its foe in a confounding off-balance motion resembling that of an alcoholic as the fist of curled, black feathers let off a malevolent glow and slammed the electric-type's mouth with a powerful punch.

    Eiji smirked, then calmly spoke one word. “Thunder.”

    “What are you saying? Onix hasn't even attacked yet! Your pokemon can't possibly--” Taro shouted, watching as the Electrode rolled backwards, the Murkrow's punch smashing it with so much force that its red and white pokeball color scheme began to blur together into a pinkish shade.

    “Never underestimate your enemy, and never forget the importance of speed.” The electrode's trainer answered. As the ball-shaped pokemon began to slow down, it engulfed its own body in a yellow crackling light. The light floated into the sky, becoming a thundercloud, then split in two, engulfed both the murkrow and hitmonchan in separate columns of lightning and pain.

    “And never forget that you have two opponents.” Hikaru added, smirking. The onix reared back and spat a large stone towards its singed, avian foe, a wounded pokemon who was by this point emitting electrical smoke and whose already-dark feathers were standing on end, looking somehow blackened by the lightning. The thrown rock collided with the small bird's stomach, and it was knocked into the air, then onto the ground, eyes spiralling in defeat.

    “I told you we couldn't win.”

    “We still have one fighter and you soaked up all the damage I need.” He answered, smiling as the hitmonchan's punch sent the giant snake of stones toppling. “Now hit it with a brick break!”

    As the transvestite boxer slammed his fist into the rock type with a powerful chop, a stantler, a tentacool, a porygon, and a gyarados were locked in a confusing melee on another field of the vast pitch, their trainers standing at the corners of their battlefield.

    “Stantler, tackle!” The pokemon's androgynous trainer ordered, but it was to no avail: the normal-type's large body was no more able to take down its two tiny opponents than it was before receiving its order.

    “Ne, Hotaru-chan,” The tentacool's trainer, a pink-haired girl of about fifteen shouted across the field, her large, sky blue eyes gazing first at her opponent's intense face, then to her large breasts seeming barely confined by her black leather tube-top, then to her bare, muscular chest, “What do you say to giving this battle some extra excitement by betting your chastity on the match?”

    “Sure.” Hotaru answered blankly, her deep purple eyes staring with an intense, hawk like focus on the battle, her opponent not even meriting a glance. She waited a few seconds, watching as the tentacool wrapped its slimy tentacle around the stantler's leg. The antlered beast lost control of its balance, slipping and falling onto the tentacool's teammate, a porygon. The porygon glowed a silvery color, reducing the damage taken, but it could neither free itself from below its Johto-born opponent nor continue to annoy the Gyarados with seizure-inducing projections. “Now!”

    The Gyarados reared up, uncoiling its body as it extended to its full length, seeming six or seven times the size of either of its opponents. Its eyes glowed a deep, ferocious red as it whirled around them, trapping the three pokemon in a cyclone. A strange draconic liquid dripped from between its scales which soon turned the storm the same violent shade as its eyes.

    After a few more seconds of spinning, the stantler, porygon, and tentacool lay sprawled out and unconscious on the grass, flung randomly to different ends of the field, defeated by the dragon rage.

    “M-my Stantler!” It's trainer, Saikaku shouted, yelling with indignation in a thick Johto accent.

    “You won, didn't you?” Hotaru answered contemptuously while she opened her pokeball, then as a red light began to engulf her Gyarados, turned and walked away. The light followed to her pokemon's container, and she soon returned the ball to her belt.

    But while one battle had finished another seemed not even to have started yet despite all the time that had passed. The four pokemon (a squirtle, a bulbasaur, a smeargle, and an eevee) had all been released, but stood on their own side of the field, waiting for orders, none of them having lost more than a sliver of health.

    “You'll lose and you'll always lose, and don't whine about type advantages. I kicked your ass before Bulbasaur learned vine whip, and I'll kick it even if you teach your Squirtle Ice Beam. Man, I was hoping for a rival, not a wimp like you.” One of the trainers, a girl named Kasshoku said, talking across the field to a young yet charcoal-haired boy of about the same age.

    “W-wimp? I'm not... Squirtle, Skull Bash!” Said boy, a trainer by the name of Haiiro shouted back.

    “Not a wimp, but a moron, at least if you think this will do anything more to Bulbasaur than your earlier Water Gun. I haven't even attacked yet, and still your pokemon's more tired than its opponent – Bulbasaur, ingrain!” The plant/reptile symbiote extended its vines then sunk them beneath the ground, rooting them to the rocks beneath the dirt. Watching this opponent, now so well-rooted that a skull bash seemed more likely to hurt his head than to send his foe flying, the turtle pokemon cast a nervous glance at Haiiro; witnessing his trainer's nod, he obediently lowered his head to attack.

    “Lost sight of the goal?” The girl's teammate, a young man named Murasaki nonchalantly asked, casually scribbling something on a small pad of paper held in his left hand.

    “And that goal would be?” Kasshoku asked, then fell silently into thought: Goal? What other goal is there? I'm beating him, aren't I? What the--” A flash of brown sped across the battlefield, and as it did, the bulbasaur cried in pain, its vines cut by the eevee's white claws.“What are you doing? Retract your vines!”

    On the other side of the field, Haiiro smiled gently at his teammate, a long sunlight-haired bishoujo by the name of Ayane, then turned to Kasshoku, his face twisting into a look of taunting victory.

    “This isn't over.” Murasaki noted. “Smeargle, guillotine!” The beastly artist's tail shifted into the shape of a blade, then glimmered as the smeargle raised it into the fox's path. At the exact moment which the smeargle lowered its blade upon the rushing flash of brown (which was slowing up, but not soon enough), the Squirtle slammed its head into the already-wounded Bulbasaur, launching it into a flight which seemed likely to send it far from the battlefield.

    “Bulbasaur, return! I hate to admit it, Haiiro, but...” She began, until her teammate put his hand up.

    “Kasshoku-san, this battle may be approaching its end, but its outcome is far from certain; once again, you may be more victorious than you realize. Smeargle, crush claw.”

    Elated from his victory, his gaze overly focused between Kasshoku's look of defeat (a sight he would surely relish) and Ayane's disturbed and horrified form (nothing that couldn't be healed, but her starter and best friend was still laying on the ground in a pool of blood with a large gash in his chest), Haiiro's attentions were no longer focused enough on the battle.

    “Defeat them. For Tsuki-chan.” Ayane said gently, giving her teammate a soft smile – a smile which Haiiro would have easily lost himself in, were it not for the accompanying words.

    “Squirtle, withdraw!” He hastily shouted as his pokemon pulled into its red shell, a shell soon scarred by the smeargle's claws.

    “You can't win that way.” Murasaki said.

    “R-right...” Haiiro mumbled, wracking his brain in search of a decent counterattack as his squirtle's shell was slowly recolored with black wounds. “Squirtle, water gun!”

    “Smeargle, mirror coat.” The long-tailed beast pulled its claws back, its fur now carrying a faded blue glow as the squirtle fired a burst of water point-blank at its face. The Smeargle opened its mouth wide, stepping back and catching most of the attack in its mouth; its face was still drenched, but it was more than capable of fighting on.

    “Good, now swallow!”

    “Who do you say that more to, Smeargle or Yuji-chan?” Murasaki blushed crimson as Haiiro made his command of “headbutt!” to his squirtle, and, distracted by his indecent yet appealing thoughts, forgot for a precious moment that there was still a battle going on.

    When the Squirtle raised its head, the Smeargle lay unconscious on the ground.

    “Pain split!” Murasaki yelled, and now both pokemon were staggering, as though Squirtle had hurt its own head as much of its enemy's. “Now, finish it with a Hyper Beam!”

    Haiiro knew exactly what was coming, but his mind drew a blank, so the charcoal-haired trainer fell silent as the orange beam of light engulfed and defeated his starter pokemon.

    “All right! Four excellent matches there. Everyone, bring your injured pokemon to me and Chansey!” The words were heard through her megaphone across the battlefield, and the students of the Wisteria Academy began to gather around her. “Injured pokemon for the winning matches will take priority. Round 2 starts once all the pokemon who'll be fighting in it can be healed up, which should be...” she said, glancing at her watch, “about 1:24.” I wanna see you all at the battlefield then – if you lost, you can learn something, so come anyway!”

    As the teacher turned towards the school and took her first step away, Ayane nervously stepped forward, her raised hand shaking with trepidation.

    “What is it?”

    “I-it's Tsuki-chan...” The trainer said, shyly opening her evolutionary pokemon's container. “It took a nasty Guillotine from Murasaki's Smeargle, and it's still in pretty bad shape. W-will it be okay?”

    “Yeah, it should be” The teacher answered, rubbing the back of her head. “But keep it in its pokeball. They can go into what's almost a sort of stasis in them, but out here they'll just keep bleeding.”

    “So if one were to prevent the pokemon from returning...” Shuuta began, the light glinting off his glasses.

    “The tower in Lavender and the typical pokemon center emergency ward answer that question better than I can.” Kumiko said, casting a distant, mournful gaze to the east, then shifting suddenly back to her ordinary form. “I've got nothing planned for today until the second round, so... class dismissed!” She yelled, and the students slowly began to depart.

    ~

    “Listen, Ayane-chan, I didn't mean to let...” But maybe that was too wordy, and would she really approve of him using ‘-chan’? So maybe... “Ayane, I'm sorry.” but saying that seemed way too distant, no matter how much emotion he'd put into his words and maybe he wasn't close enough to use an honorific. “Ayane-san, I'm so sorry! I wasn't good enough to take her Bulbasaur on my own...” but he might come off excessively caring that way.

    As Haiiro walked by his former teammate's side (and that's all they were, former teammates), her hair continued to half-obscure her eyes, but even from the way she walked he could tell that the maiden was visibly distraught.

    “Cheer up.” Kasshoku said, suddenly coming from behind the two of them to announce her presence with a forceful pat on the female's back. “Tsuki-chan will be fiiine.”

    “You sure?” She muttered, eyes casting a less withdrawn, almost hopeful gaze.

    “Absolutely.” The brown-haired girl said confidently, wrapping a possessive arm around the maiden's torso in a way which would bring many a teenage boy confusing feelings and a likely nosebleed, but in Haiiro...


    Well, her whispering “Jealous yet?” into his ear didn't help, to which he could only stammer a blushing yes while Kasshoku whispered “Victory again” to Haiiro. Ayane blinked in confusion, and the three of them walked on.

    About twenty minutes later, after Kasshoku had left to “plot her strategy” (and rub in Haiiro's face, even by her absence, just how badly he had lost) Ayane seemed relatively happier, albeit still concerned. Instead, the Squirtle trainer took her role in the department of poorly concealed depression.

    “W-what's wrong, Haiiro-kun?” She asked, looking worriedly over to him.

    “Haiiro...-kun?”. He said, his gaze shifting in response to her words.

    “A-ahh... sorry! I was far too presumptuous...” She began, bowing in a way which exposed a fair amount of her smooth, soft breasts to a beet red and staring Haiiro, “please forgive me!”

    “I don't mind. It's no big deal.” He answered.

    “Okay, Haiiro...-kun!” She yelled, taking her hand in hers, slipping it into her leaf-printed dress. “I really wanted a boy to do certain things, but I didn't want it to be just anyone... I'm glad you're here, Haiiro-sama!” But it wouldn't be that way. It was friendship, and as far as Haiiro could see friendship it would regrettably stay.

    “I... I just can't beat her. Kasshoku, I mean. Pokemon battles, video games, love... it doesn't matter. We declared ourselves rivals, but I can't even remember the last time I merited such a title!”

    “Don't be so hard on yourself. You put up a good fight... his Smeargle was just that much stronger than my Eevee, that's why we lost! Speaking of which... at the end of our battle, when he was hyper beaming you, why didn't you use withdraw?”

    “Withdraw! That was it!” Haiiro yelled, smacking his head.

    Ayane laughed. “Besides, Kasshoku's never had a boyfriend, so I don't see how she's beaten you in love...”

    S-she thinks I'm gay? But maybe it's better that way, since there wouldn't be any tension on her part... a-and girls always have their yaoi fantasies, right? “I...” don't like boys? Yeah, great job Haiiro, way to crush Ayane-chan's fantasies. “haven't lost to her over any boys.”

    Ayane brushed the boy's ashen hair to the side then suddenly brought her lips to his cheek, planting a soft kiss which brought Haiiro to the verge of fainting. “Enjoy your first victory.”

    A couple minutes later, when he recovered, “What would you say to a date tomorrow night at Magi Magi's?”

    She smiled. “I think it would be fun.”

    ~

    It was a pleasant, normal day, and much as he wanted to be with Yuji again, he still felt the desire to stay with those who remained just a little while longer. Fresh off a victory and with Shiro staring at the clouds from the rooftop instead of keeping him in check, Taro was as insufferable as ever – Saikaku's comments about “everybody wanting to be a master” just couldn't put a damper on things nearly as well as the flying trainer could. Murasaki didn't really mind, however; it wouldn't be right any other way. Hotaru was lost in thought, immune to Kazuki's sparkles and having recently fought off Sayuri's... more assertive advances with what looked suspiciously like a mega punch. Shot down again, she had gone over to chat with Haruna on their respective battles, her stares at the swimmer's barely-clad, curvaceous body unnoticed. Shuuta was on his laptop again browsing peacefully, though he was a little scared to know what kind of things were on there. Koneko had left already, presumably for the internet's endless images of cats and poor grammar and he couldn't help but get the feeling it was his time to do the same.

    After all, he reasoned as he headed back to town, his deadline was fast approaching and his editor was waiting.

    “Murasaki-sama!”

    “Yuji-chan!”

    “Get any inspiration from the battle?” She asked, her eyes large and semi-chibified, as if to defy her businesslike form.

    “Not really.” He said, sitting down on the rocky path and looking for inspiration in the hills. “A win's a win, but bringing down the guillotine on some poor girl's Eevee isn't exactly inspiring.”

    “You really think so? Blaine wrote a pretty good memoir in his day and though it was mostly about the Mewtwo thing, the chapters with his gym above the lava pit were pretty cool...”

    “Yeah, but that's a memoir. I'm a Wisteria student, for Arceus' sake! Who'd read a memoir from someone like me? Besides, I'm looking for inspiration... even if it would sell, chronicling my life would just bore me.”

    “Finished anything lately?” She asked, holding her hand out in a friendly manner. “I know your deadline's not yet, but I could use a good read...”

    He nodded, handling over a small, blue folder. “What's here is here, but it's far from finished... I'm gonna have to find something quick, but I hope you enjoy.”

    The editor's eyes lit up, and it was all she could do to force out a sentence-long scold about needing to finish on time before throwing her arms around the writer and running back to her home to read.

    ~

    “I'm home-nya!” The catgirl yelled as she opened the door.

    “Back so soon, Kagu-chan?” Her mother, a human woman in her forties answered.

    “It's Koneko-nya!” She yelled, batting at the air with her paw.

    “Of course, Koneko-chan.” The woman said, casting a light smile as her gaze returned to the dishes.

    “We were dismissed early. Sensei didn't have anything planned, so she let us out until the next round.”

    “How'd the battle go?”

    “Fa-chan lost to a mouse.” She said, suddenly turning downcast and sad. “I'm gonna head online for an hour or so until the next round, okay?”

    “Sure. Enjoy.”

    Koneko nodded, waving to her mother as she climbed the stairs and pushed open the door to her room. Once safely inside its figurine-laden confines, she took out a ball of yarn to bat around, booted up her computer and browsed to a favored bishounen-laden imageboard, purring happily as it loaded.

    ~

    “Even though they'll attack from them, I still love these skies. Yet I know that sometimes, it takes more than wings to set me free; here, I'd only be flying to my grave.” Shiro said.

    “Pidgeo pidgeooo!” His pokemon squawked, looking to the sky as he brushed his hair down with his wing.

    “Hishou, I wish it were as simple as you evolving and us all getting out of here. But you just aren't strong enough. Then again, I suppose a trainer and their pokemon standing together and alone is the way of the world.”

    “Pidgeo...”

    “I'm not any happier than you are of following the way of the Absol... no, not even that, it's the way of a scared Rattata or Magikarp. But sometimes, it's all we can do to survive.”

    “geoto!”

    “I'll miss him too, but it can't be helped. Let's go.” The dark-haired boy returned his pidgeotto to its snug pokeball, clipped it onto his pocket then slowly walked downstairs, out the back door of the school, and away into Mount Moon.

    ~

    They had gathered again on the battlefield green, with but a few minutes until the assigned time for the second round to begin. The matchups were kept secret, although this could be more ascribed to Kumiko's lack of organization than any actual teaching method; she'd announce them when the time came and didn't want to waste time making up a board or anything. Her Chansey was hovering over Saikaku's Stantler, slowly but surely undoing the damage of his teammate's dragon rage.

    “Hotaru!” Kumiko scolded, but the battle girl shrugged.

    “It won us the match, didn't it?”

    “Still, 'taru-san... that was brutal.” Saikaku answered in a thick Johto drawl, stumbling over thick, traditional robes. “Brutal.”

    As the minutes passed, waiting glances turned to audible wonder as the fact of Shiro's absence became increasingly known. Taro was unperturbed, boasting about his power and saying that if his pokemon couldn't beat two opponents at once, he wouldn't deserve the victory anyway. The rest, however, were at least slightly worried – sure, his attendance wasn't the best, but why would he leave now of all times and without saying a word at that? Had something happened to him?

    The trainers continued their chatter and bluster, discussing the morning's battle until Haruna suddenly froze, pointing upwards in horror as a mass of orange and scaly teal slowly blotted out the sky.

    “W-what the...”

    “A flock of Charizard migrating...” Kumiko began, nervously pulling her Chansey to her, “except that Charizard don't really form flocks and there isn't any reason for a fire-type to migrate. But I hope to Mew it isn't anything worse.” The students nodded, although they seemed more like quivering children then studious trainers, all frozen in place from their terror.

    In unison, the Charizard opened their mouths, blowing flames which merged together over the streets of Wisteria, utterly incinerating a couple city blocks and setting half the city's buildings ablaze, but the flames did not end there. Lawns and parks turned into carpets of fire, boulders were obliterated, or just charred halfway through, as most of the friends, neighbors, and families of the Wisteria Academy's ran screaming for their lives, clothes and hair alight.

    “'kaa-san! 'tou-san!” Koneko shouted as the first fireball hit, ripping out her golden feline contacts to let her blue eyes overflow with tears. But for all her sorrow, it wasn't human tears which could raise the dead, and as for pokemon it can't have been more than some silly feel-good story. Burying her face in her gloved paw, she wept through Kumiko's orders.

    “Listen up, students! Wisteria Town is dead, and the academy is no more. Here are your pokeballs, take them quick – a wounded ally's better than nothing! Hop on your fastest pokemon and run until you find somewhere safe from the Charizard!” She yelled, pointing outward towards the mountain – maybe there'd be rocks there too big for the Charizard to burn.

    “As my final act as your teacher, I'm going to delay these guys as long as I can! Class dismissed!” The teacher shouted, effortlessly opening her three pokeballs with a single hand.

    “Everyone, come out! Golem, Rock Blast! Venusaur, Hyper Beam! Jynx...” and Kumiko paused, thinking through the attack list. There was one obvious move, one which, if everything went exactly the right way, could end the battle right there... but she was sure the Charizard had trainers with them and roars loud enough to make that attack backfire. Someday, if there still would be a “someday” and anyone escaped to tell this tale, historians might question whether the gambit would've worked, and if this caution had doomed the small town, or even called it “a lack of tactical aptitude which easily explains both this and her earlier losses in the pokemon league.” It didn't matter what they would think, however - Perish Song would still be the wrong move. “Blizzard!” As a rock connected with a Charizard, sending the draconic beast to the ground as it writhed in pain, a cold, snowy wind slowly moved towards the horde and another of the fire-types took a hyper beam in the stomach...

    “I'm not gonna go hide at a time like this! You guys follow teacher's orders if you like, but I, for one, am not gonna run away! Hitmonchan, sky uppercut! Charmander, umm... growl! Clefairy, Metronome!” Taro shouted, engulfed in an aura of hotblooded courage. “And as for you cowardly dragon-wannabes, stop shooting from a distance and come down here to fight me!”

    “Are you out of your mind?!” Saikaku yelled, starting to throttle him, but was quickly felled by a shout of “get off me!” and an elbow to the cheek.

    “Sensei, there's no way I'm letting you fight them with only an idiot like Taro on your side!” Hotaru yelled, bouncing as she ran towards the fight and hurled her pokeballs into the air. “Gyarados, knock them out of the sky with an aqua tail! Onix, throw every rock you have at them! Electabuzz, show these guys why fliers fear Thunder!” Hotaru yelled, her chest bouncing as she leaped into the air, hurling her pokeballs at the Charizard and letting them open on the way into the sky for that added bit of height.

    “I'm not holding back, either! Bulbasaur,” Kasshoku yelled, as the other students looked on her as though she was insane, Shuuta wondering audibly if Charizard had some power to induce madness on sight, “Leech seed! Geodude, rock throw! Rattata, endeavor!” She ordered, and a small-but-painful rock collided with a Charizard – a damaging move, but not nearly as painful, disorienting, or fast as the blast of her teacher's Golem. The Bulbasaur, looking forward with stern determination, spat a seed from its bulb into the sky which found fertile soil in a Charizard wing, slowly but surely draining its health. But it was the Rattata's attack which was most powerful of all, its slow shake of its body plunging like a sudden wall into one of its foes, draining it to within an inch of its life.

    Her orders given, Kasshoku walked over to Haiiro, taking his palm in hers as she buried her face in his short neck, her deep brown eyes overwhelmed with tears. “This wasn't how I wanted to end it! There was so much more I wanted to do with you! Find a new rival, okay? Haiiro, I'm so sorry! And I have to get back to fighting and being strong for my pokemon, so I can't even let all my tears out with a proper goodbye!”

    “Can't you run with me?” Haiiro asked, trying to hold back his sadness as he sped for the hills, taking his hand in hers.

    “I wish. But these guys... I trained 'em the best I could, but they're not very disciplined. At this point if they see me run, they'll just join me, and then I'll just die with you, running away!” Pulling herself together, Kasshoku shoved her rival away and turned back to the battle, and Haiiro suddenly noticed that his rival was both amazingly cool and beautiful as he stared at her from behind. Facing the Charizard flock, his Squirtle's pokeball clutched tightly to his hip; it couldn't make a difference, not like she would.

    “This is all very touching of you and I think your Gyarados might even match up to one of them pound for pound, even without the type issue. But there have to be at least fifty of them out there and all you're doing is suicide – especially you two, Kasshoku and Taro! I'm just fighting because I have nothing left to live for and a duty to delay 'em, but you have so much more... And this won't even buy your friends an extra second!”

    “Don't underestimate me! I know the risks, and I realize this is the end... but a leech seed is a leech seed, and every little bit to let the others escape helps!” Kasshoku yelled, wiping her tears as Haiiro looked on in awe.

    “She's right! Raichu, Thunderbolt!” Kenichi ordered, hurling one of two pokeballs, then turning to Eiji, the pokeball in his hand making clear his desire to go out in an explosion of glory. “If anyone can survive this, you can. Your pokemon are the next best thing to Ninjask when it comes to getting out of the fight and maybe they can protect a friend or two as well, but nothing an Electrode can do can distract them in an open sky like this.”

    “Maybe not distract, but surely adding a few electric types to a fight like this... couldn't we win?”

    “There's sufficient cover fire, kid. Don't let a little success delude you into thinking its anything more.”

    “Here.” Haruna said, placing a pokeball in the tall boy's hands. “Take my Poliwag – don't worry, I have others. If you're gonna try and lead an escape party, you'll need its water gun; it doesn't do you any good to escape if you'll just burn to death afterwards.” She said, then smiled and turned to the battlefield. “I'm not running away! Seaking, Wartortle, fight back with every last bit of water you have!”

    The Charizard horde continued to approach closer and closer, flying low to the ground above the burgeoning flames of Wisteria - low enough it could be seen that one of these beasts had a rider.

    “Sure.” Eiji answered, taking the pokeballs and motioning the crowd to follow him towards the mountains as Murasaki opened his own and called for Smeargle. “Everyone who can't fight, run for the caves of mount moon!”

    Haiiro ran after Eiji, heeding his orders with every ounce of speed he possessed. He hoped the others were following, but the charizard were roaring so deafening that he couldn't even hear his own footsteps. Those who stayed behind to fight were yelling just as loudly if only so their pokemon could hear them and all he had was sound and peripheral vision: he couldn't afford to look back.

    “Whoever you are... there are forces in this world more powerful than you realize!” Murasaki called to the sky, “and your burning fury means nothing against the godlike power of a writer! Smeargle, Roar of Time!”

    As the dimensions began to shift, wounding the pocket air force above him and disorienting everyone within range of the Smeargle's senses, Kumiko kept her focus on the enemy, trying to remember that soulless face, those electric yellow eyes, those bangs which now seemed as dark as his soul, and the familiar way he rode a Charizard standing and how his cape hung about his body.

    Through the shifting fabric of time, she caught sight of it; a man who seemed identical, save with about five fewer years, descending on his Charizard in that exact way to a crowded stadium of cheering fans. “Masuo!” She yelled in a furious rage, but it was not a rage which did the slightest thing for her attack power.

    But maybe the trainers didn't need attack power, the way things were going. While immense in size, the Charizard were only about three or four times greater in number than the pokemon now risking life and limb to defend Wisteria academy and between Hotaru's Gyarados, Murasaki's Smeargle, and Kumiko's Golem, it seemed like the defenders might actually win.

    Until the Charizard attacked again, spewing so much fire that Haiiro could feel the tempature rise about thirty degrees even with the substantial distance he had gained from the fight and streaks of red light appeared in the corner of his eye. He sprinted further and further away, following Eiji towards the cave but still on the roads of some deserted Wisterian street, the cave's entrance becoming bigger as he ran.

    The ground suddenly began to shake violently, hurling the trainer into the air as the cavern's entrance – his salvation – collapsed into a pile of rubble indistinguishable from the walls. As he fell, the trainer reluctantly turned his head; it was scary to watch, sure, but there wasn't any point in facing the right way while falling, and these were his friends, his classmates – he couldn't just avoid the sight because he was afraid to see what was happening to them!

    The moment the academy entered his gaze, his eyes opened wide with horror.

    A few of them were fighting, but the battle was obviously lost – well, even more obviously than it had been from the beginning. Most of them were escaping behind them; Ayane had been right behind him the whole time, although she was holding to the ground better than he was. Haruna was now running naked through the streets in a sight which by all rights should have given him a major nosebleed – it was the first time he had seen a naked woman and all that – but this was ruined by the fact that her hair was on fire and her beautiful flesh was scarred where it hadn't been burnt off entirely.

    Closer to the fight, Hotaru's electabuzz was a charred husk of a pokemon laying lifelessly on the dirt. And worse – far, far worse – a new blast of fire was engulfing his best friend and fiercest rival.

    “Kasshoku!” He yelled from the sky, but his scream did nothing to protect her from the blast. The attack incinerated her and moved onwards into the already charred ground, and she vanished like a Double Team clone after the flames moved on; not even a single bone remained.

    Haiiro's eyes were still wide with horror as he plunged towards Eiji, heard his yell of “Electrode, flash”, and watched the six 'pokeballs' increase a hundredfold in size as everything slowly faded to white.

  2. #2
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    Chapter 2

    The rough texture of the cracked rocks beneath him irritated his head as Haiiro regained consciousness. His memories returned to him like a headbutt to the heart, calling forth renewed tears for his rival. When the water faded and his vision cleared up, he was greeted by clouds, a smoky sky, and the sight of Eiji watching over him. Beside him were Squirtle, Geodude, and Rattata, there for him as always.

    “I suppose you'll be wanting to know what happened?” Eiji asked, and the awakening Haiiro weakly nodded. “I'd like the same.”

    “Have any idea what's--” the charcoal-haired trainer began, then stopped, shuddering and wondering. Did he really want to know exactly how much devastation had engulfed his hometown, how many of his friends and family had died? The very thought made him shudder, but if he didn't find out he would never stop wondering.

    The electrode trainer nodded, answering as though Haiiro had never stopped in mid-sentence. “Yeah, but not much. Felt the earthquakes, saw Wisteria burn, noticed a couple soldiers in the distance dismounting and running into the rubble.”

    “And the townspeople?”

    “Koneko, Ayane, Hotaru, and Saikaku are with us.” He said, the faces of his classmates flashing one by one in his mind. “They might be the only people from Wisteria left alive.”

    “No. No... Wasn't losing Kasshoku enough?” Haiiro quietly, desperately cried. “Is there any cha--”

    “Absolutely.” Hotaru answered, Haiiro looking around to see Koneko, Ayane and Saikaku added to the many faces hovering over him. “The city could be torn apart by riots over what remains of the food supply. Even more hopefully, it's possible that the soldiers Eiji saw were there to restore order and set up an occupation government. Or they might be slowly massacring everyone as they fight for their lives with their pokemon, while others take to the hills to resist.”

    Haiiro sat up, taking note of the flames in the distance. “It's still burning!”

    “It could be that they're still fighting.” Hotaru answered. “Or maybe it's just that Charizard flames burn for a very, very long time.”

    “They're still fighting? We should be back in town, using our pokemon to protect our families!” Haiiro shouted, bursting to his feet as Hotaru cracked a smile.

    “Kumiko told us to run away for a reason.” Eiji answered. “We're the best trainers in town, and if we couldn't beat them all together, there's nothing we can do about a massacre. And if they're here to occupy the city... then much as we hate them for their attacks, leaving them in charge is probably the best thing to do.”

    “And do nothing about Kasshoku and Haruna?”

    “Not to mention Murasaki.” Ayane added, and Haiiro gave the city another downcast look.

    “But what if it's a riot? Shouldn't we...”

    “We should. It's absolutely the right thing to do. But...” Ayane paused, turning her head away. “Tell me, have you seen any people in Wisteria who you'd think of as rioters? Our families, our friends... they're the ones doing it to each other, and they're probably just doing what they can to survive!”

    “Then let's restore order! Our pokemon are strong, aren't they? Don't we have the power to do this?”

    “We may, and we may not. Don't forget, humans weren't the only ones who died in combat.” Hotaru said, her eyes momentarily weakening. “Nor were they the only ones wounded. Still, we've got more than a little power left, and it might just be enough.”

    “But what then?” Koneko asked, dropping her catlike mannerisms. “Even when we make the battles end, will there even be enough food left? Civil strife doesn't happen without a reason. Are there enough intact houses to give them shelter this winter? If we protect each other and our families at the expense of everyone else... what of all the other townspeople who'll be left out in the cold? And what happens if the Charizard decide this is a good place to attack again? There's nothing left in Wisteria...”

    “So what do you recommend, just leave everyone behind?! Just because your parents burnt up doesn't mean that we can just forget ours or leave them to the houndoom!” Haiiro said.

    “Haiiro, you're terrible-nya!” Koneko yelled, then bawled into her cat glove and began to run away, but not too far; if danger came, she'd need more than her kitties to protect her.

    “Do you really want to see it? You've already lost enough people... are you looking forward that much to seeing their corpses or watching them ransack each others homes? If that is the case, I say we leave town while you can still believe they're good people. Besides, there's probably nothing we can do – nothing except give them fewer mouths to feed. ” Ayane said.

    “Give them fewer mouths to feed? Come to think of it... where are we?” Haiiro asked, looking around him to try to answer his own question.

    “On top of what used to be the North Entrance.” Eiji stated calmly. “The Mount Moon tunnel caved in during the earthquake, and the only way to Cerulean is up.”

    “Why Cerulean?” Haiiro asked.

    “I haven't heard much from the outside world. It's possible that the city's been sacked just like Wisteria. It's even possible that the Charizard attacked on their behalf. And maybe it's just a hunch – all I have to go on with this is that I've met the gym leader and she seemed capable, but I think that if there's anywhere we can go join an army and fight those bastards, it's there.” Eiji answered.

    “You want to fight?”

    Eiji nodded. “I can't forgive them, either. Or let any of this go unpunished. Yeah, of course I want to fight. But somewhere I can make a difference.” He said, solemnly glancing over the mountain. “I won't be disappointed if you don't join me there, and I wouldn't ask it of you, but... if there's anywhere safe from these bastards, it's probably Cerulean, too – or at the very least, Cerulean's on the way.”

    Haiiro nodded multiple times as his friend spoke, looking off in the distance – he liked to think of it as Cerulean's lights, but it was probably just the fog of the mountain. “Sounds like a plan.”.

    “B-but... cold... strong pokemon...” Koneko said nervously, pointing a quivering finger to the mountain's peak.

    “So long as we can fight our way into the clothing district, there's enough left after the fires and looting, and we can get ourselves something to stand between us and frostbite, we'll be fine.” Hotaru answered, a bit of sarcasm creeping in.

    “There's no need for that.” Saikaku spoke, a distinct smirk on his face. “Spinarak, Spider Web! Ampharos, static, then cut!” He yelled, and the giant spider began to weave six silk outfits, each of which were promptly electrified by the lighthouse-watching pokemon.

    “Yeah, so cool. Deus ex machina much?” Koneko asked, rolling her eyes.

    “Just because you Kanto types underestimate us all the time doesn't mean we're pulling this out of God. I've got these two and my Stantler, that's all.”

    “Seems a bit strong.” The catgirl grumbled.

    “It's not like I'm the strongest trainer here. Just... someone whose pokemon have nifty moves. Arach here isn't much use in a battle, y'know.” he said, point to the small Spinarak on the ground.

    “I guess...” She said, pulling her silk jacket over her shoulders. “Are we gonna get caught in a blizzard, give up, and just try to navigate the caves?”

    “We'll see.” Eiji said as he pointed out to the mountain. “Onward!”

    “Who made you our leader?” Hotaru asked playfully.

    “I have six Electrode. Leadership through power!”

    “Who lost in the first round, again?” Hotaru's words hit Haiiro hard, as did their all-too-familiar banter. If Kasshoku were still alive, she would've been taunting him, giving him her friendly and familiar and pleasant words of humiliation and spurring her onto greatness.

    Eiji shrugged. “Fine, fine. I got us this far, didn't I?”

    “I wasn't being serious. It's not like I want the burden of leadership. Take it, and if you order something stupid I'll tell everyone to defy you, okay?”

    As the group began to climb the mountain, Eiji somberly sped up his pace, taking the front position in their mountain climb. “Sure.”

    -

    As the trainers climbed Mount Moon, they wished that someone with a fire type had made it with them into exile. The six had plenty of electric types, but electricity couldn't melt ice and when it warmed it paralyzed. The winds were fierce, the ice slippery, but the six trudged on, their pokemon safely on their belts. As the snow continued to batter their frozen faces, the student refugees heard a woman's distant cry from the direction of a long and dangerous slope on the wrong side of the mountain.

    “Do we help her?” Saikaku asked, and Haiiro wondered the same – could they afford to help? It didn't entirely seem like they'd make it over themselves.

    “We have to, don't we?” Haiiro asked. “A poor woman trying to navigate the mountain all by herself, running away from who knows what? And if nothing else, she could tell us what happened.”

    “That's no woman.” Eiji said, taking yet another step through the snow, still walking uphill. “There are pokemon on these mountains which lure travelers in with its endangered cries, then take their stuff and leave them to die in the snow.”

    “Are you sure that's what this cry is, though?” The trainer asked, shivering despite his silk coverings. “It could just be someone like us, trying to run away...”

    “We can't take that risk. Let's keep going.” The electrode trainer ordered, Eiji continuing his frozen steps, Haiiro grumbling behind him, a grumbling not echoed by the scared Saikaku, the Ayane terrified for her wounded Eevee, the traumatized Koneko, or even the ruthlessly pragmatic Hotaru.

    The grumbling soon ceased as Haiiro fell to his knees, clutching his head in pain. The other five soon did the same, their silk hoods and the snow's roar of no effect; this wasn't a sound attack, after all. Hotaru fell to her knees, her muscular back's outline visible beneath her tight cloak as a tunnel four feet wide suddenly shot out from her hand. Far along the mountain, the tunnels exit appeared equally suddenly, and a far-off, purple-skinned woman in a torn red kimono was slammed by four hundred fifty pounds of rock.

    “Jyyyynx!” It cried, burying its finger into the vast expanse of snow, and suddenly the peak began to shake, sending the snow plummeting down the mountain.

    “Avalanche!” Koneko shouted, her headache suddenly vanished as she looked with a mixture of awe and panic at the falling wall of snow.

    “What should we do?!” Haiiro asked, terrified as the snow swiftly approached.

    “In h--” Eiji began, carefully taking a step into the four-foot tunnel of deep, white snow.

    “Stop. Onix tunnels aren't stable in these conditions!” Hotaru yelled, grabbing the tall boy by his silk hood.

    “What choice do we have?!” Eiji yelled back, loosening the snow even further and crawling into the tunnel.

    “This one!” Hotaru yelled as her Gyarados appeared below her in a flash of red light, floating in the air. The party hurriedly grabbed hold of the coiled serpent's scales and pulled themselves onto them, except for Eiji, who was still pulling himself out of the tunnel. The enormous pokemon began to thrash from the pain of pulled scales as the snow fell like a frozen waterfall down the mountainside.

    Saikaku, Ayane, Haiiro, and Koneko clung to the grayish-white fins on the pokemon's back, lives flashing before them as they rodeoed the rampaging Gyarados. While they did this, Hotaru slowly walked up the enormous, rounded pokemon. The purple-eyed trainer slipped on a scale, silently plunging towards the snowbank below. Quickly, Hotaru reached out, grabbing (and pulling) its ear as she made a one-handed swing onto the Gyarados' head. Keeping her balance steady amidst its fierce thrashing, Hotaru gently patted her pokemon on the head, and it calmed down, floating away from the mountain.

    “What about Eiji-kun?” Ayane asked, struggling to maintain her grip.

    “He's g...” Hotaru spoke somberly, but before she could mouth the second of those short words he began to wonder; the kid still had all his pokemon and was made of pretty stern stuff. “Eiji, return!”

    “It doesn't work that way.” Haiiro somberly muttered as the pokeball remained lightless and an explosion shook the mountainside, clearing away the sheet of falling white (if for a moment) as the Gyarados hurriedly dived in, covering Hotaru in snow and snapping Eiji up in its mouth. “Are we safe now?” he asked, still shivering. “And if you had a Gyarados this whole time, why didn't you use it in the first place?”

    Far along the mountain after a brief skirmish, Hotaru's wounded Onix was encased in ice.

    “Gyarados are pretty bad in this kind of cold. I just hope it lasts longer than the avalanche.” The purple-eyed trainer answered, sighing as the others clutched their pokeballs, wondering if there was anything any of them could do to fight. “And that Jynx is still out there.”

    Haiiro turned his head, looking around at the others. Ayane's hand was on her Eevee's pokeball, her face was full of worry, her eyes barely holding back tears. Hotaru didn't have a pokeball left for her to open, just an empty one which she cast a quick and mournful glance at, then looked away almost too quickly for him to notice. Eiji might try to use an Electrode but it wouldn't be any use, Saikaku had a bug-type but it was also poison and too weak to win.

    He gulped. If they were gonna get out of this, it'd have to be through his strength. It wasn't playing the hero or anything – if anyone was doing that, it was Hotaru or Kumiko-sensei (who he still held out hope survived, somehow.) Besides, it was Saikaku's Spinarak who was protecting them from the cold, anyway.

    “Move your Gyarados so that I can have a clear path to the Jynx. I have an idea.”

    “And that idea would be...” Hotaru began, wondering. What the hell can this kid do when all he has is a Squirtle?

    “Have you ever played Mario? Squirtle, come out and Withdraw!” Haiiro yelled as his Squirtle, tightly packed within its shell, departed his pokeball.

    “A shell attack without a flat surface? This seems more like an SSB move honestly-nya.” Koneko commented.

    “It's a projectile attack. The most you'll do is stun it.” Saikaku noted in his thick Johto accent as he shook his head. “I know you're trying, but I can't see how any of this will do more than stun your opponent momentarily.”

    “It won't.” Haiiro gravely admitted. “So once it's stunned, I'll need to rely on your Spinarak to give it the finishing blow.”

    “My Spinarak would have trouble finishing off an Abra. You're putting too much stock in type advantages.” He said, as the freezing Gyarados slowly moved into position – which is to say that, through the snow and wind, the distant figure of a Jynx could be made out a few hundred feet away.

    “Ayane?” He asked, the beautiful maiden shuddering as she caressed her Eevee's pokeball, then noddin

    “Geodude, mega punch the Squirtle. Aim for the Jynx.” Haiiro said quietly, gulping as he shivered under his Spinarak-silk coat. I wish you knew lock on. The red shell spun through the air with amazing accuracy, colliding head-on with the Jynx and careening high into the air.

    “Yes!” Haiiro yelled, pumping his fist in the air as the shell was engulfed in red light, a gesture imitated by his Geodude, which he then returned..

    “Pikachu, flash cannon.” Ayane whispered to her just-released pokemon, and the shivering Pikachu opened its mouth wide to send a sparkling ball of metal right into the stunned foe.

    “Nice shot!” Haiiro yelled, high-fiving his comrade and losing himself in her soft, green eyes as Hotaru returned her frozen Onix to it's pokeball, which turned suddenly freezing to the touch. The avalanche finished, her frostbitten Gyarados let them back onto the slope and the six trainers continued slowly until they listlessly collapsed into a small cave on the side of the mountain.

    -

    Even though he was watching the sun almost the whole time and moving into its light whenever he could, Haiiro still could only make the vaguest guess as to just how much time had passed. Too tired and afraid to think, he had contented himself with cloud watching for a while, watching white, puffy Aerodactyl, Dragonite, and Magnemite float by.

    “I think that one looks like a Swablu's wings.” Ayane said, pointing to a spot of blue sky between two clouds which to Haiiro seemed wholly generic and ordinary.

    “Swablu?” The gray-eyed trainer asked.

    “A pokemon native to the Hoenn region. They're supposed to be really friendly and have the fluffiest wings, and their songs are so beautiful but I can never stay awake for them...”

    “What about that one?”

    “It looks kind of like an Eevee.” She noted, looking down at her pokeball. “Anyone here have a potion?!” She asked loudly, trying to hold back her concern.

    “If I did, I would've given it to Gyarados... give it the strength to get us to a pokemon center.” Eiji demurred as Ayane forced herself to her feet.

    “Kumiko-sensei tried to reassure me, and she felt safe leaving it in here for a couple hours, so it might be okay, but... everything she said was so vague and uncertain! Besides, poisoned pokemon lose HP in their pokeballs, right? Tsuki-chan's could be bleeding to death in there!” She yelled, dashing desperately downhill in the faint hope a pokemon center was nearby.

    “Even if Tsuki-chan is dying, you can't just run away from us! You have no idea where you are... and there are still wild pokemon on this mountain, you'll just get killed.” Haiiro pleaded, grabbing her leg and sending her face-first into the snow.

    “Get off me!” She said, kicking, but his grip was too strong. “Let me go! Have you forgotten your most important duty as a trainer? How can you expect me to let my starter pokemon die?!” She cried, tears mingling with the snow on her face as she struggled to slip free.

    “I could ask the same of you.” Haiiro said, trying desperately to maintain his calm and his grip on her alike; a shouting match would just get her angrier. “It may be the case that Tsuki-chan is your starter and the pokemon you're closest to... but that doesn't mean you can abandon your duty to your other pokemon! Have you fallen so far in your grief that you'll throw their lives away in this futile quest?! There's nothing worse than letting your pokemon die!”

    Ayane froze. “You're right.” She said, pulling two pokeballs off her belt as the two moved to her feet. “I've been so foolish... Luna, Pika, you'll be in good hands – thank Haiiro-san for this, okay?” she whispered to her closed pokeballs, the sound penetrating the spheres which somehow kept out the cold. “Here. Take them.”

    “Sure.” Haiiro said, and as soon as he looked up from clipping the balls onto his belt, Ayane was a couple hundred feet down the mountain. “Stop!”

    “Why? I've kept my other pokemon safe, haven't I? Why shouldn't I risk my life for Tsuki-chan?! It's not like I do anything more than chime in with comments you guys could make just as easily and soak up food Hotaru and Eiji work hard to catch!”

    “Why?” He asked, and the image appeared into his head; Ayane's starved body laying face-down in the snow, dead like Kasshoku; one friend lost in fire, another in ice. “Because I need you? Because I can't stand to lose anyone else? Because you're not gonna accomplish anything and because if your Eevee isn't slowly dying then you'll be throwing its life away!”

    The moment those words entered her ears, Ayane stumbled back up the mountainside, glimpsing at the others; Koneko, Saikaku, and Eiji scattered around the spot beneath a fairly stable ledge that seemed to have become an impromptu base camp for the trainers. “Fine. But why are we still waiting here? I won't leave the rest of you, but... the faster we get over the mountain, the faster we can get away from this.”

    “You make the mistake of thinking that going now will get us over the mountain faster-nya.” Koneko said, trying to maintain that annoying feline smile, but Ayane could see that she was forcing it. “We've been climbing for hours with little to eat. And except for Hotaru, we aren't exactly in the best of shape – certainly not mountaineering shape, anyway.”

    “Even Hotaru-sempai's weaker than she lets on. None of us can go forever.” Eiji added. “We all need our rest. Even you, unless you can think you can run to Cerulean on passion alone.”

    Somberly, Ayane nodded. “You're right. Let's rest up for a bit.” she said as she fell back into the snow, holding her Eevee's pokeball, her body rejuvenating while her mind continued in restless worry.

    -

    Have you forgotten your most important duty as a trainer? There's nothing worse than letting your pokemon die!

    In a concealed section of mountain shielded by a peculiar outcropping of rocks, Hotaru curled up into a ball, her face between her knees as she wept. “Electabuzz... I failed you.”

    From the moment of that flamethrower and all along this new, second pokemon journey of hers, the girl of about seventeen had attempted to convince herself that what she had done was something less than an abject failure. “They knew the risks. A pokemon can always stay in its pokeball.” The second part was true, but she found herself increasingly doubting the first: if Electabuzz had ever known fear, Hotaru had scared it out of her. The two had been close, close enough it obeyed her every command, and pokemon which smelled battle never stayed in hiding.

    Which made it her job to protect it.

    “It was just bad luck! It could've been any of them!” She had taken that line of reasoning for a while, but it simply didn't work. Sure, it could've been any of Taro's, but that kid was just a hotblooded idiot with more goggles than brains. And while Kasshoku's pokemon were doomed from the start, but at least she had the decency to die with her Pokemon, doing every last ounce of damage she could - and it was a lot of damage. Her Rattata had done more for the cause than anyone else's pokemon – how many others could even claim a kill?

    Did her pokemon know what they were doing, when they joined her to perish in flames? (And were they even all dead? She couldn't see, couldn't focus – everything after the flamethrower was a blur except for her poor, burnt-up pokemon and the ferocious, winged orange monsters responsible for that death.) Could they resist the call, make a real choice? Kasshoku's pokemon were younger, but they weren't like hers; tough little pokemon, but they could tell what they'd be fighting and were still at the point where “live to fight another day, level up and get revenge” was a solid mantra to live by. Besides, Kasshoku had died with them in a heroic last stand, which seemed at least a hundred times more noble than her running into the mountains with the survivors.

    Running into the mountains with the survivors... on second thought, it sounded kind of heroic, like she would spend decades leading the townspeople in resistance from the mountains. But if there was an occupation force – if they hadn't all been massacred - resistance would probably just get more people killed.

    That said, she wasn't a newbie like Kasshoku. She should've known better, should've been so good suicide wasn't even an option, should've joined with Kumiko to fight them to a standstill, or at least last long enough to save Haruna and whoever else had died. Her pokemon were strong – strong enough they should've been able to do more! Onix had a tough, rocky form which could let it hold out for a long time, not to mention a double type advantage. And Gyarados, well... even ignoring type advantage, Gyarados was a frickin' tank!

    Tank. The word had for all her life been a metaphor, a way to describe a tough pokemon that could soak up damage and overwhelm foes with brute force. But real tanks weren't pokemon, but weapons of war – valuable in combat of a vastly different kind. Would there be tanks on the streets of Cerulean? Would that horde of Charizard someday come to engage fighter planes in combat – and if they did... which side would win?

    In the case of a human/pokemon war, humans would win. Hotaru knew that. History had borne her out until the modern day: human cities made up so much of the world, wilderness was still shrinking, the environment was far too often attacked and the pokemon powerless to stop it, Farfetch'd and Lapras had been hunted almost to extinction. And they were the dominant species before the pokeball was invented, too: there had been a time, however far in the past, where humans learned to craft weapons and defend themselves from pokemon onslaughts.

    Now, human weapons were much stronger. Did one side in this war seek the extinction of pokemon entirely? It was unlikely, to say the least, although the possibility angered her even more than the death of her starting pokemon.

    Electabuzz just don't have the toughness to join a fight like that and live – at least, not unless said Electabuzz was stronger.

    Much stronger. Stronger than she had time to give it – and she was still training it, wasn't she? Hotaru found it hard to place blame for herself there; she had done all she could, and she was at fault in other ways. Why hadn't she called for the pokeball's light the moment the flames started? Sure, in a trainer battle it would be a cheap tactic, and difficult to pull off – but they had studied it, hadn't they? And this wasn't a trainer battle, it was war!

    But what the heck were they fighting for? How would setting neutral villages alight in Charizard flame possibly win a war? And even if it could, how could people just do this, how could their soldiers follow orders, knowing all the innocent people and pokemon they'd kill?

    “Electabuzz is dead.” She said aloud, memories bursting through her mind as though a dam had just been detonated. From the time her father had handed her the electric-type's pokeball to her first battles in the Fuchsia grass to her loss at Viridian Gym, Electabuzz had been there for her – it was its volts that defeated Gyarados, its raw determination and grappling ability that had beaten Onix... one of whom had fainted, the other with precious little strength left in it. But at least they'd survive.

    She'd survive. She had to. And she had to be strong for them. Koneko had lost her family – not 'wondered about but too horrified to look' or 'all too happy to get away without telling them', but actually lost, seeing the house and street they were certainly on be obliterated – obliterated more surely than anything she could think of a comparison with; “obliterated like engulfed in the simultaneous flames of a horde of Charizard” was the perfect metaphor for the situation. Ayane was breaking down, Haiiro and Saikaku were weak to begin with, Eiji wasn't anything to worry about yet, but he wasn't anyone to lean on, either.

    Her friends needed her, so she'd have to be strong for them... and as for Sayuri and the others, she'd just have to hope they could find the strength they needed without her, wherever they had fled.

    -

    After an exhausted sleep huddled together in the cave, the freezing sextet of pokemon-training refugees resumed their travels through the mountain, the hours passing with no end in sight. They climbed towards the peak for a while, hoping they could orient themselves there, but in the snowdrifts the peak had become obscured and food became the scarcer the higher they travelled.

    Food. They really hadn't had much to eat. There wasn't a fire-type or any actual food-producer among any of the pokemon in the group, and the attempts of Ayane's Clefairy to metronome up some food had been disastrous. For the past day, they had resigned themselves to killing and eating the Rattata and Spearow who dared to venture to such cold temparatures - and eating them raw at that; any health problems would certainly be bad, but starvation would be much, much worse. Although it had a reputation for being full of dangerous wild pokemon, this applied far more accurately to the caves beneath the mountain – at their height, it was all but lifeless.

    So they descended again, hoping there would be something on the mountain, hoping they were going the right way. They hoped with dying hopes as their stomachs growled and roared and prepared to turn on themselves, slowly climbing downward and getting excited over a distant stretch of rock which looked barren of snow.

    “Brrrrr.” Ayane said, suddenly clinging to Haiiro for warmth, a fact which turned the ashen-haired boy's face (or at least, the part not already covered by white Ariados silk) a deep crimson. “Did the temparature just drop ten degrees or is it just me?”

    “I feel it too.” Saikaku noted, slowly forcing his heavy, tired feet to step down the mountain into another patch of snow, his boots of Spinarak silk sinking beneath the white surface. “Let's keep going.”

    As the trainers slowly continued, the previously calm air turned thick with a massive downpour of white, and each step forward fast became opposed by a sudden gale of wind. Unable to steel herself sufficiently against the wind, Ayane found herself knocked to the ground, looking into the sky through the abruptly-ceasing snow.

    “So beautiful.” She said, her tone filled with awe, and the others slowly glanced upwards at her remark to be similarly awestruck the moment its visage entered their eyes. The sight certainly was beautiful – the great, huge wings which blended into the air, the the majestic plumage reminiscent of crystals of ice, the shimmering, cobalt blue tail which trailed it across the sky, sweeping from side to side.

    “Yeah...” The other five of them muttered in unison, laying with her in the snow – either from the blizzard or just to get a better look at the gigantic bird.

    “Maybe its a sign... I heard Red saw a bird kind of like this when he first started his journey. I... I think there's hope for all of us.” She said, holding out Tsuki-chan's pokeball as though the bird would fly down to heal her, while Eiji looked away with an aversion as sudden as the icy bird's storm.

    “It is a sign, but not a good one. That pokemon is an Articuno.”

    “An Articuno! That's... so amazingly cool. To think that not only do they exist, but that I've actually seen one...” Haiiro gushed, eyes fixated on the legendary bird above. “How many people can say something like that?”

    “I wish Shiro was with us. He'd love this.” Hotaru said, still awed as she continued her unblinking gaze – she didn't want to stare or anything, but she'd only have so many seconds to view it and she wasn't going to let it fly by without getting aclear mental picture to carry with her for the rest of her life.

    “I think he'd be happy just to know the legendary birds exist.” Koneko stated.

    “Yeah, but just because Articuno exists doesn't necessarily mean the others do as well. The rest could just be stories.” Haiiro pointed out, ignoring Eiji's visible efforts to say something.

    “He'd be happy if there was even one real legendary.” Hotaru said, and the others agreed.

    “Haiiro, Hotaru, Ayane, Saikaku, Koneko. I think all of you are forgetting the reason Articuno sightings are so rare.” Eiji said, glaring into the bird's shining red eyes as it slowly flew overhead.

    “Appear to doomed travelers, lost in icy mountains...” Hotaru reminisced aloud. “And lead them to their deaths.”

    “So as long as we don't follow it, we'll be fine, right?” Saikaku said hopefully. “Just go the other way and we get out of here alive.”

    “If we're lead in reverse, we're still lead.” Haiiro pointed out. “And whatever way we go... we're not gonna get off this mountain alive.”

    “Articuno doesn't exactly take well to people in our position surviving. If we don't walk to our deaths, it'll just kill us.” Hotaru said, a touch of fear creeping into her voice at what was to come. “We're already dead.”

    “But how could something so beautiful and amazing be a mass murderer?” Ayane said, brushing the snow off as she rose to her feet. “If the legends are saying it, then the legends are wrong! This pokemon can't be evil...”

    “It's not evil, it's Flying/Ice.” Koneko pointed out, smirking.

    “Wrong 'evil'.” Saikaku shot back.

    “I remember another story.” Haiiro said, taking a deep breath. “There was a man who climbed a mountain to train his pokemon and thought he was on the right track, but was having his doubts, and he saw an Articuno in the sky. He knew not to follow it, but every step he took, the memory of the Articuno stuck in his mind, overwhelming his sense of direction, and he became slowly overwhelmed with a sense of doom no matter what way he went. They found his frozen body a few days later under the snow, and the interesting thing is that, after they traced his footsteps, he made a wrong turn at exactly the spot his log alleged that he saw the Articuno. But the really strange thing is that a couple children on the other side of the mountain report seeing an Articuno on the exact same day, coming over the most common route for travelers.”

    “It can't be true! It can't be! Just look at it – there isn't any murder in its heart. This is a beautiful, kindly bird of ice, not some twisted abomination which drives people mad with horror. Legends like that are always politically motivated and stuff, and if you think this pokemon is evil, than your evil sense needs some serious work!” Ayane shouted, giving the legendary a mournful look as though to apologize for her companions' lies.

    “It's not.” Saikaku said.

    “What did you say?” Hotaru asked incredulously. “I get the 'Articuno's not real' types, although I know they're wrong by now, but everything ever written about them has them as doombringers, storm-summoners, or harbingers of disaster! It was the first sentence about them in Oak's encyclopedia! I've never even heard anything to the contrary.”

    “You've never left Kanto, have you?” Saikaku asked.

    “What does that have to do with anything?” Hotaru shot back, as the Articuno slowly worked its way across the sky.

    “We have stories about Articuno in Johto, too. Different ones.” Saikaku stated.

    “But isn't it a Kanto pokemon?” Ayane asked, befuddled and wanting to believe.

    “Yeah, and we mention that. But our homelands aren't as different as you think; we get annoyed by Rattata, Tentacool, and Zubat the same as you. And while the three lesser birds reside in Kanto,. they play a critical role in the tales of Lugia, who sleeps beneath the waves in the Whirl Islands.”

    “Yeah, yeah, disturb not the harmony and all that. We've heard of Lugia.” Eiji answered, brushing Saikaku's comments aside. “But Articuno's still pictured as a destructive force of nature, the personification of deadly snowstorms, even if Lugia gets to be more heroic than any legends we have here.”

    “Like Zapdos is the personification of power outages?” Koneko asked, smirking. “You can't put that much stock into an analysis like that.”

    “ You never get the good myths here in Kanto.” Saikaku complained. “I admit there are a few like that... Articuno as nature's revenge, Lugia as the leader of the pokemon, hiding so that they don't fight and calming its friends, where Articuno's sympathetic but still something no human would ever want to cross. Of course, in that case Articuno generally don't take well to the destruction of war, and if it's seen this close to Wisteria...”

    “An ally? We can sure as hell hope.” Eiji bitterly noted. “But what were you getting at?”

    “In Johto, we see the legendaries differently. We have some stories where they're angry or destructive, but I think those ones were motivated by fear. We had a lot of fear in those days, and I think we still would if not for that tragic reminder in Ecruteak City.”

    Saikaku paused, steeling his breath as he watched the Articuno fly onwards. “There was a war. It dragged on for a very long time, and the people of Ecruteak got caught up in the crossfire. Some people say the towers were burnt down by accident from a cannon or a Typhlosion attack and the pokemon left until humans could live in peace with one another, or at least be more careful about who they hurt... but that's not the only story.”

    “It's the only one I've heard. Where are you going with this, Saikaku-san?” Koneko asked, pawing her exposed nose. “So cooooold...”

    “Have patience, Koneko-chan. I admit that's the most popular version, but it's not the only one.” Saikaku spoke. “There's another version I know, from an age when humans and wild pokemon were still at war. There was an angry mob in Ecruteak, whipped up into a frenzy by the town's leading orator. After hearing him talk about the need to protect themselves and their children and the importance of taking out their enemy before it could join in the fight, they burned Lugia's tower to the ground. It was said that they only stopped when they turned to attack Houou's tower, and dispersed from its horrified glare.” After that, the five legendary birds, disgusted and angered by humans, made a pact to stay away from them until the day when they could end that division between human and pokemon entirely.”

    “But regardless of which is the right story, haven't we left pokemon in peace these days?” Haiiro asked. “Why does Houou still avoid us?”

    “Who knows? There are still pokemon being treated pretty badly, but most people are good... the conditions for their return might've been different. It's an old myth. I knew this once, and I'll check if I ever get back to Johto.” Saikaku shrugged. “Anyway, after they made the decision, Articuno argued day and night with the others, saying that even if some were flawed and they had their weaknesses, most of them were good. Every day, it flew over Ecruteak, listening to the people talk and telling Houou and the others how even they felt terrible, but it was to no avail.”

    “What happened?” Koneko asked.

    “Articuno lost the argument. It was outvoted four to one, and Lugia made it swear with the rest of them to avoid humans and use their legendary powers to make sure there would be places for pokemon free from human interference. Houou still burned with anger, and after a passionate plea to Lugia, it was given permission to let loose the anger of the pokemon they had killed on humanity. Lugia gave in and Houou re-animated the restless spirits of a Houndour, a Growlithe, and a Meowth who perished in the blaze, creating Suicune, Entei, and Raikou respectively. To this day, these pokemon run across the land of Johto, creating volcanoes, hurricanes, and fierce thunderstorms wherever they go.

    “It spoke for us?” Ayane asked, gazing up the Articuno which seemed almost straight overhead with both reverence and renewed admiration, its flight seeming to slow.

    “Yeah. But even though Lugia had ruled, Articuno hadn't been swayed at all. It obeyed, but only to avoid Lugia's wrath. And they say that every now and then, when it can be sure no one will find out, it flies into the mountains to bring lost, doomed, and kind-hearted people back to the right paths, knowing that any reports of it doing so would just be dismissed as wild stories.”

    “If any of this is really the case, then how did Articuno get such an awful reputation? It's an interesting tale, but... I'm not buying it.” Eiji answered.

    “I was just getting to that part.” Saikaku said, eyes lost in the Articuno's ribbon-like, glorious blue tail. “No matter how much it tried to help people, it was still a legendary pokemon of ice, and that meant creating snowstorms whenever it flew. The storms were mild, as Articuno had this power basically under control, but... it made everyone scared, and everyone it tried to guide ignored it or ran away. With every failure, it became discouraged, and as the years went on it tried less and less often. But every now and then when it decides to give hope another try, Articuno flies into the mountains to guide lost travelers back, hoping that for once someone would follow its lead.”

    “What a wonderful story. You think it's true?” Ayane asked hopefully, slowly following.

    “There's no way.” Eiji answered. “Articuno bring doom, that's all they ever do.”

    “Well, we're doomed anyway. Let's follow.” Haiiro said. After a bit more arguing, Eiji reluctantly accepted the group's judgment and the trainers' exhausted walk returned to a normal pace through a sudden infusion of hope. As though it noticed their following, the Articuno suddenly turned towards the left, and the trainers followed it down the mountainside, staying in the direction it departed well after the bird faded from view

    -

    Thankful for and desperately trying to believe in Articuno's friendly guidance, the trainers walked onward, downhill, hoping desperately that what awaited them at the bottom was something other than barren, hungry wilderness. As soon as she passed one, Hotaru exhaustedly collapsed onto a signpost, then turned back to look on the mountain's peak now thankfully on the other side.

    “Route 4. Mt. Moon - Cerulean City.” Koneko read aloud. “Now... where can we get a bite to eat around here-nya?”

    “I can't believe you still can -nya at a time like this.” Haiiro said, looking up into the night sky, turning to meet the route and slowly continuing his walk with the rest of them. “How can you even have energy? My stomach's been growling for over a day!”

    “We'll just have to keep walking. If we find a restaurant, we find a restaurant – if not, we wait 'til we get to Cerulean. After all we traveled, this really can't be that long a walk...” Eiji said.

    “The less strength you have, the longer every step becomes.” Ayane stated. “And by the way, can anyone kill Shiro when we find him for ditching us?”

    “I'd be glad to.” A familiar voice said, hurling plastic-wrapped onigiri at each of them in turn, and as they caught them and glanced in their direction, the same word came from them, shouted in surprise: “Hikaru?!”

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    Chapter 3

    “Yeah, it's me.” Hikaru asked, glancing in turn at Hotaru, Haiiro, Saikaku, Koneko, Ayane, and Eiji, all glaring at him with eyes of envy. “What's with those looks?” The burly hiker asked as his classmates greedily devoured the onigiri.

    “We were walking,” Saikaku began.

    “Cold and tired,” Ayane added.

    “Hungry, fighting off wild pokemon,” Haiiro continued.

    “For days.” Eiji finished. “And you knew we'd be coming this way.”

    “I figured some of my idiot classmates would've tried the mountain.” Hikaru admitted.

    “Why didn't you find us before we started?” Hotaru asked angrily.

    “Graveler, come out and give them their full meals!” As the ball opened and the pokemon came out with three bento boxes in each fist, the trainers greedily accepted their food. The six of them hurriedly wolfed their meals down as they ignored their lack of utensils, so hungry and grateful that they forgot all their anger.

    “How does a penniless hiker get so much food-nya?”

    “It wasn't in Cerulean.” He said, his voice acquiring a certain fatality as he spoke. “The town's a good place, but with all the refugees, food prices have skyrocketed. People gave out what they had and things were fine until they ran out, but now they still have more mouths than the land can feed and have to rely on imports. Meanwhile, Mizuki's getting them to build weapons, making calls for trainers to defend the pokemon world and trying to find a way to tap the bounty of the water. She's even taken to raising egg-laying water types in the Cerulean Pool and going house to house passing out seeds and yelling at people to grow food crops on their land, but it hasn't been enough.” Hikaru recounted.

    “Mizuki?” Saikaku asked.

    “The gym leader. Misty's great-granddaughter.” Eiji explained.

    “She's taken over. They had a city council before. They left health to the Joys and police to the Jennys and gave them a salary to do their jobs, but it's a stretch to even say they had politicians.” Hikaru elaborated. “But the way things are going, someone had to be in charge.”

    “So the townspeople appointed her-nya?” Koneko asked.

    “I see someone doesn't know Mizuki.” Eiji said, smirking. “Would I be right to assume that she called the people to the town square, declared herself in charge, and threatened them with her Gyarados if they didn't obey?”

    “Heard anything from Cerulean on the way?” Hikaru answered, returning his smirk.

    “Not a word. We were lost in the mountains until we got here.” Eiji answered.

    “And yet you know our dear leader well enough to know exactly what happened.” The hiker asked, laughing.

    “So if not from Cerulean, where did you get the food?” Ayane said, speaking between bites.

    “The valleys and trails within Mount Moon... I had a secret base in there, before everything collapsed. But my garden was right outside it and ended up fine.”

    “You raised a garden, yet you gave us onigiri and a bento.” Hotaru noted. “Something doesn't seem right here.”

    “Why the heck were you keeping a garden? You never seemed like the type...” Haiiro asked.

    “In case something like this ever happened. Whenever a town runs low on food, people need to import, and the mountains are far and away the most obvious source.” He said, his voice softening as it acquired a conspiratorial tone. “Listen here... things may get bad in Cerulean, but as long as I have my garden, I can feed all of you. Just protect it and tend to it and stuff, and no matter what happens, you guys will be fine. Oh, and one other lit--”

    “And why are you helping us?” Hotaru asked. “As long as there's a crisis and you have your food supply, you could be living it up! Didn't you always say that knowing how to handle the mountain would pay off?”

    The teenage boy smiled, trying to summon up all the sparkly goodness he had. “Call it a duty of one Wisterian to the others.”

    “You're planning something, aren't you?” Hotaru said coldly.

    “And if I am? Go to Cerulean City, if you must, see what it's like there when filled with refugees and mobilized for war. Try to get a bite to eat there without stealing it, when all you have are your pokemon. The city's filled with people just like you, exiles from villages on Mount Moon – good luck trying to find work.”

    “I'll go.” Eiji said. “The one thing every army needs is more members, especially when facing a threat like... like this. I'll get some good training, my pokemon will get stronger, and soldiers get paid enough to live on.”

    “Tell me, do you have any idea what the hardest part is of keeping an army in the field?” Hikaru asked, and Eiji shook his head. “It's feeding all those soldiers. Invasions throughout history have been turned back when people ran away and burnt their crops, because the alternative was pressing on and starving. Do you really think that with everyone rallying to fight for Mizuki, you will be among the ones accepted?!'”

    “Yeah.” He answered. “But it's just a feeling, right now. I have to go, if only to see for myself what's going on in the world beyond Wisteria...”

    “So, about Shiro-san...” Ayane began nervously, changing the subject.

    “I'm as clueless as you are. I think he escaped into the caves, because he certainly isn't in the open air.” Hikaru said, shrugging. “If you find anything... tell me. I'll make that coward wish he had waited for the Charizard!”

    “Like Shiro would be caught dead in a cave.” Hotaru said. “I'm sure his Pidgeotto's flying him to Cinnabar even as we speak. I can't say I blame him, though – in times like these, with a chance to escape, how many of you can truly say you'd act with courage and honor?”

    Haiiro shook his head. “We don't know anything. It might just be that after winning the first round he went home to lick his wounds and ran away from there, or that he was fighting sick at first, crawled into his bed, and couldn't stay up any longer. There's no guarantee he ditched us because he heard something – sure, he's cynical, but that doesn't mean he's necessarily scum.”

    Saikaku nodded. “And even if he is guilty... we might want to hate him, but would killing him do any good? I can't really say I understand this... but if this is war, then isn't he on our side?”

    “And it's because he's on our side that I can't forgive him for darting into the mountains like that!” Hikaru shouted.

    “It wasn't the mountains! It can't have been the mountains, because if he was there Hikaru-kun would've definitely found him by now!” Ayane answered, and Hikaru's eyes opened wide.

    “You're right. If anyone could find him, it'd be me... well, I guess I'll just have to come up with a new condition.”

    “A new condition?” Eiji asked incredulously, gripping Hikaru by the collar. “So you were only giving us a place to stay because you hoped one of us would catch Shiro for you? What the fuck happened to your duty as a Wisterian?!”

    “W-well, about that...”

    “And just what are you doing with the food?” The white-haired Electrode trainer added, his voice crackling with anger and his grip tightening.

    “Well, you know...” Hikaru answered, trying not to squirm in Eiji's grip, “prices are high, and in times like these people will give anything to eat. I'm selling what I have at a profit and using the money to buy myself a Rhyhorn and remodel my secret base.”

    “Remodel your secret base? How's this for a condition – use your food to keep us and the people of Cerulean supplied and I don't beat the crap out of you!”

    “What the hell would you have me do – give it all to Mizuki so she can ration it out?! She's nothing but an opportunistic tyrant! Regardless of what she does, there won't be enough food to feed the city... so why shouldn't I use this crisis the same way she is?!”

    “What are you saying? She isn't--”

    “No one's happier than her that the Charizard attacked. I bet she was waiting for this day – heck, I'd be betting she sent them, except that she wouldn't be caught dead raising a fire type.” Hikaru shot back.

    Eiji sighed. “The people of Cerulean are starving. If there's any arable land in the mountains, she'll be sending them out – it's only a matter of time. You know the trails better than anyone – why not do what you can to help out?”

    Hikaru slowly nodded, agreeing as he walked with Eiji towards Cerulean, his eyes glistening with thoughts of massive profits to come. Sure, losing his hometown was terrible, but he was ready for times like these, and it was time he cashed in. Besides, he had never believed in that communism stuff anyway: no matter what the adults said, people weren't equal, and it was good to be on top.

    ~*-*~

    The walk through Route 4 continued, his encounter with Hikaru having already made this leg of Haiiro's journey far more eventful than it was for the average traveler. Sure, there were those who struggled through Mount Moon and were mugged by unscrupulous trainers on the way out in unwanted “battles,” their pokemon too wounded by the journey and the attacks to fight. Those trainers, however, were far from the majority because Route 4 was simply so short. So it wasn't before long that Haiiro found himself greeted by the pastel buildings and the plain, unassuming sign which demonstrated to him that this leg of his journey was over: “Cerulean City.”

    He had made it.

    The Charizard which destroyed his village were still out there, their motivations as opaque as ever. Cerulean was running low on food, and the rest of the pokemon world was what it used to be, either. Why didn't Vermillion and Fuschia and Lavender and all those other towns just chip in and help out?

    He had made it.

    Cerulean City was not an architecturally impressive town, nor did it have any bright lights to welcome him. No skyscrapers towered over the landscape: the gym was the biggest building, but only the city's meager size (for a city: it still dwarfed Wisteria) and clear skies allowed Haiiro to see it from his location. .

    Usually, when a trainer entered a town, their first stop was at a pokemon center. Ayane, of course, had taken this traditional route, cutting the line and running into the center, pokeball in hand. Hotaru had already left by then without saying a word, and Saikaku, ever-curious, had gone alone into the crowd surrounding the Cerulean City Gym.

    And he was still there, waiting at the sign with an all-but-fainted pokemon, no food (unless Hikaru continued his kindness) nowhere to sleep, and no real idea what was going on. Typically, he would say something like “Thank Arceus for the revolution” and manage to skate by on the generosity of others, but with the streets clogged by starving refugees, providing for everyone would just leave everyone hungry.

    “What am I doing?” He wondered audibly, leaning up against the sign, looking in the distance in the faint hope that Eiji would come this way and stop to talk to him instead of just hurrying to the recruitment center. He didn't, nor did anyone else. Or if they did, they walked by at a time when he was exhaustedly resting his eyes or gazing out on the rest of the city and trying to think of somewhere to go.

    “Yo! Trainer! Mizuki-sama's giving a speech at the Cerulean gym! If you want our city to get through this crisis and provide for all you refugees, we need to follow her, so you should certainly listen in! Beware of radical protesters sullying communism's good name to bring paralysis and chaos!” A man “suggested” in an intimidating tone, his appearance that of the type of person who always offered advice before gym battles, the type he hadn't seen in years.

    Many years ago, he had challenged the gym leaders, dreaming of mastery the same way as any ten-year-old did. He had failed. He just wasn't good enough, and it was Mizuki's mother who had proved it in that very gym. “To think that this is how I've returned here, after so many years... maybe if I finished my education, I might've been able to do something, but if I was going there now to challenge her she'd wipe the floor with me. But what does it matter? Why am I thinking like this? She's got a Gyarados, and she's so overworked just trying to manage the city. Like she'd accept a gym challenge, even if I could fight?” Sighing, his head low to the ground, he slowly made his approach to Cerulean City Gym – maybe he'd see someone there, and even if he didn't he'd at least learn what was going on.

    ~*-*~

    “And to this, I say that I don't care if they call me a tyrant or a counter-revolutionary – I'm going to protect the city without closing our doors to the starving, and build up our strength until we can take on whoever's behind these attacks!” She said, pausing as she looked over the audience, and Haiiro took the chance to size up this 'Mizuki' he had heard so much about. She was young, for a gym leader and for a politician – not unprecedentedly young, but it was weird looking at someone around his age in that position all the same. Her outfit consisted solely of a cerulean bikini, yet somewhere between her tomboyish, athletic build and the design of the swimsuit (what had seemed like a poor excuse for fanservice on Haruna) seemed on her like the most natural thing in the world. Her hair was a light blue, a shade which reminded Haiiro of Articuno's tail. The gym served as her backdrop in all its standard, blue-roofed aquatic splendor and junior trainers-cum-soldiers flanked her on each side. Directly behind her stood a flagpole, and with it an unfamiliar yet understandable flag – a large, cerulean teardrop with a striking resemblance to a Cascade badge in a white background, with waves of blue on the bottom.

    “The crisis which has gripped our land over the last couple of days has seldom seemed positive action in the rest of Kanto. In our most trying time, when we looked to our Kanto's natural capital in the hopes of following their lead, Celadon did nothing but use it as an excuse for conflict of its own – and still, as Charizard burn our cities and Blastoise assault our shores, the Commune and the businessmen can do nothing but battle for power! Vermilion is little better – sure, they claim they have peace and that their traditions are intact, but what good does that do them while Nidoking pound their harbor? And where people have reacted, it hasn't been any better – just look at what happened in Lavender Town.” She said, and the crowd gave a knowing shudder: the refugees had brought their stories with them.

    “What happened to Pewter?” A voice from the crowd asked.

    “Honestly, we don't know.” Mizuki answered. “Until someone finds a route through the new Mount Moon or the Diglett repair their tunnel, it's further from here in practice than even Fuschia.”

    “Recieved word from Indigo yet?”

    “This isn't a Q&A yet! There's still a lot more I need to say for the good of Cerulean – that is, unless you want a leader who doesn't let you have a clue what's going on!” Mizuki shouted, and the crowd fell silent from her anger, only to be moved to attention and applause as she resumed her speech:

    “There, much better. Now, where was I...” She began, scanning her mind. “But in spite of this, even with all that has happened, Cerulean has remained strong. And it is strength that we need – strength through unity, the strength of a nation! We must regain the spirit of ancient times, become the warriors we were in olden days, revitalize our society and rebuild it for war. In the pokeballs gathered here on your belts lie the strongest navy in the pokemon world, and I intend to use it – not just to secure the sea to the north, but to pump them so full of water that we'll drown the Charizard invaders. The towns of mount moon, the isolated cities attacked this far... they were divided, and because they were divided, they were weak – and I for one will not allow my hometown, your hometown to suffer the same fate! Unity is power, and I have no intention to abide by anyone trying to weaken this great city when we're caught up in a war for our very survival!”

    The crowd roared in an applause which seemed premediated, a few casting concerned looks to their neighbors at some of her talk of greatness and unity, but none daring to question her proclamations: a sense of futility had come over those who had not been caught up in the furor of her words.

    “Some say resistance is futile, that we should try to surrender and hope to be spared. Maybe in other times, this worked. But not here, not now. An enemy who starts things off by setting villages on fire is certainly not an enemy interested in peace, unless “peace” means surrender and we are to live out our lives groveling before our conqueror and starving from the tribute they demand! As the other cities have fallen, the void cries out for leadership – and it is leadership I intend to provide!” The gym leader yelled out, as the crowd looked to one another, voicing surprise, but also a smidgen of agreement and more than a little loyalty.

    Haiiro looked to the person next to him, somewhat incredulous – leadership? Cerulean? Sure, they were doing their best, and it looked like they might even be able to stay safe and feed everyone, but leadership?

    “If Mizuki-sama says it, I believe in her.” The person answered, and slow, brief nods went around the crowd.

    “Certainly, there are those who oppose me here, those who say that Cerulean is too small, weak, and irrelevant to ever make a difference in the world,” she began, and the crowd roared with boos and proclamations of their city's greatness. “They would have Vermilion lead the resistance, when their government spends their time arguing in City Hall while archers on Rapidash slaughter their constituents! They look to Indigo, to which I ask only this: who was in charge when this assault began? They would have Celadon save Kanto, but they never seem to be clear if this means wanting the crazy radicals or the greedy businessmen to do it. What we need here is class co-operation, not class conflict!” She yelled, pointing a scolding glance at a small group who still proudly flew the red flag, pokemon and human alike, then looked over the rest of them. “But don't think I merely mean in the economy! The time for internal conflict is over! The time has come for unity, not bickering! If we're going to win this war, let's direct all our energies to making Cerulean stronger! And when this is done, if we can stand together and save Kanto...” She said, and most of the crowd hung on her every world, “We will be a city unchallenged in greatness, leaders from here to Cinnabar Island!”

    A roar of applause went up the crowd, the people of Cerulean and refugees from surrounding lands (or at least, those assembled there) clapped and cheered in a frenzy of admiration. Haiiro thought it could go on for an hour, but five minutes in, Mizuki interrupted them.

    “If anyone in this crowd still truly believes that I'm a tyrant, that democracy is so great... then vote with your pokemon!”

    Haiiro's eyes scanned the crowd, looking for someone, anyone – the silence just didn't feel right. Surely, there should have been some pocket Cicero with Raichu and Venusaur in hand, some brave man to defend the old People's Republic (or city council, anyway), poke holes in her argument, yelling things like “You would risk the incapacitation of your pokemon at a time like this just so you could hold on to power?!” and fighting off any attempts of her Gyarados and Starmie to silence him, denouncing her as an opportunist warmonger in between shouting orders to his pokemon.

    For a moment, he reached for his pokeball – her statements were solid, and at times they should have moved him, but something about them just felt so very wrong. Was he, a penniless refugee, really going to challenge the gym leader at a time like this – the gym leader who had built her powerbase on providing for the influx of starving refugees - with only a badly wounded Squirtle, a Geodude, and a Rattata on his side? His team couldn't win before, and it wouldn't win this time, if it came down to it – especially as this time around, the gym leader wouldn't just be trying to test him, but yelling about endangering unity and gym battles at a time like this and holding nothing back.

    Besides, even if by some miracle he did pull out victory... what would he do? Could he avenge Wisteria, could he lead the armies of Cerulean to victory?

    Kasshoku could do it. He thought, and Kasshoku certainly could – not because she had two more badges than him when she died or anything, because pound for pound she couldn't win But she could certainly taunt Mizuki into a one-on-one match; she did it to him all the time. He and Taro and Saikaku. when he first transferred. And she'd win, too; Mizuki wouldn't take her Rattata as anything but a joke, and her Gyarados would learn very quickly what a Rattata with focus sash was capable of.

    But could Kasshoku rule? She had trouble in two-on-two battles, half the time, and two-on-two had to be a lot easier than leading an army.

    She wouldn't need to. She'd be fighting for equality, not to take Mizuki's place as dictator... and I should be doing the same. But I'm still a refugee, and her points make sense, and I'm hungry.

    “No one? Okay then.” Mizuki began, and the massive crowd somehow seemed to have swelled from its earlier numbers, as though they had come in to join the applause without hearing what had been said. “Now, keep all I said in mind – these are war, times are harsh, and I've led you around for too long without giving my decrees!”

    Haiiro slowly began to walk away, but he couldn't make his way out of the crowd. Compared to her dramatic proclamations of earlier, her tax hikes seemed weak by comparison, although he certainly understood the need. “And furthermore, there are many travelers who have come to this city, leaving everything behind as they fled the war to join us in our great city! To them, if any are here among this assembly, let me hereby welcome you here on behalf of the people of Cerulean!” She said and many eyes moved towards Haiiro, his dirty clothes and disheveled appearance eliciting looks of either knowing or sympathy.

    “I am aware that times are harsh, and with taking in these people, it will be even harsher. That said, let us not forget the revolution and think ourselves superior for in being born in this great land and turn our backs on them in time of need.” She spoke, and the crowd again erupted in raucous cheers. “It is true that our city was not designed to feed and house this many people. But I, for one, will not shirk from the duty of getting these people back on their feet! Cerulean can hardly lead the resistance if we turn our back on those left starving by our enemy!”

    Mizuki took a deep breath, her tone shifting suddenly from that of a brilliant orator to a dignified, statesmanlike, and almost humble tone. “The pokemon center and Cerulean Inn don't have enough beds, so I strongly urge you to take people into their homes in these trying times, at least until we can find them work and homes of their own – if a single refugee sleeps on the street until that day, the nearest person with space to house them shall be punished severely.” She said into her microphone, Haiiro smiled while scanning the crowd in the faint hope of finding a familiar shape as the crowd erupted into applause. “Furthermore, I order you to avoid unnecessary injury to their pokemon in this time of crisis, at least until Nurse Joy can finish up her job and end these lines and the pokemart can restock its potion supply. If you must level up, hold on a little while – you'll have some real battles soon enough. And in these trying times, let me once again call on every able-bodied trainer and pokemon and anyone who can carry a gun to join the army of Cerulean. Recruitment will be handled right here after the speech, so come and join us! That is all.”

    Slowly, the crowd began to disperse, many scattering to the rest of the city, the rest falling more tightly around the gym as the soldiers slowly made note of them. Catching sight of Eiji's dull face and faded white hair among the clamor of would-be-soldiers, the ashen-haired trainer left the crowd, walking ambivalently towards the pokemon center.

    ~*-*~

    The line had shortened from its earlier length, but it still extended a hundred yards from the center when Haiiro entered it, caressing his pokeball with concern.

    What am I doing? There are trainers here who need their pokemon – trainers whose pokemon are far more injured and need the help, pokemon here who can actually do something against those damn Charizard, pokemon fighting alongside trainers who don't quiver in fear at the thought of dying and have it in them to fight back.

    “Squirtle...” He muttered, opening the pokeball as the wounded pokemon materialized next to him in the line. The others said nothing – perhaps they understood, perhaps their disapproval wasn't great enough to give rise to words... and perhaps they assumed that he couldn't possibly be bringing in a weak little Squirtle with injuries that'll heal at a time like this. “Do you want to go through with this, or should we just step aside? I'm helpless without you...”

    “Squirt.” The pokemon said exhaustedly, slumping its pained neck, hobbling on its injured foot, struggling to keep up with the line. Looking away suddenly, Haiiro pressed a button on his pokeball and a red light returned his companion to its snug confines.

    Weak... are my pokemon really that weak? Kasshoku had been my rival for years, trained just as hard as I did, but her tactics let her actually make a difference. He thought, and it was as though he could still hear her voice berating him. And her tactics also made her win our battles nine times out of ten.

    But at the same time, I can't call myself useless. The Withdraw/Mega Punch move was tactically solid, wasn't it? He thought, moving forward in the line, approaching the doors of the pokemon center. A-and I didn't sleep through Kumiko-sensei's lesson on Rattata, and mine can fight every bit as well as hers can...and die just as well, too. This isn't one-on-one combat, and when you call a pokemon “kamikaze” when both sides are trying to kill, you mean it. Unless the trainer's quick enough with their pokeballs, but no one's that quick these days.

    Kumiko-sensei... is she still alive? I didn't get the chance to ask Hotaru-sempai... no, that's not it, I was too afraid to ask her. It seems unlikely; she was fighting the hardest, she seemed to hate Masuo enough to fight to the end, she swore to let every student escape... there's no way. But was there really any way that Hotaru would make it out alive, either?

    Speaking of which... where is Hotaru-sempai now? She never said “yeah” when Eiji talked about the army in Cerulean, but she went along with us, and I can't see her leaving the destruction of her hometown unavenged. Saikaku, Koneko, Ayane...”


    As the line moved forward, Haiiro walked through the doors of the pokemon center. In some ways, it was a familiar building, not that different in its exterior from the last time he had been there. Nurse Joy stood behind the counter, seeming almost robotic in her unchanging appearance. There was no Chansey next to her this time, and the poster behind her (10 easy ways to keep your Charmander healthy) stood out in Haiiro's mind – had that always been there? The lobby was different, too; it had been empty three years ago, but now it was crowded with people, some chatting, some reading the various posters on the walls, some gazing in the distance with worry, some...

    Ayane stood on her toes against the wall, her sunlit hair framing her thin form, her eyes closed as a blush spread across her cheeks. The class bishounen Kazuki stood beside her, his purple hair's sparkle almost entrancing, his back smooth and firm as he leaned forward, touching his lips to hers.

    Leaving his Squirtle still injured, Haiiro swiftly averted his eyes and turned around, then walked out the door of the pokemon center and made a beeline for Cerulean Gym.

    ~*-*~

    “One more time! Just say that one more time, you Johto bastard!” The man said, dressed in the towel-and-swimsuit garb of a Gym Student – or rather, the new uniform of the Cerulean Army.

    “All I'm saying is that there's no reason a Johto army would attack exclusively with Kanto pokemon! If we were the ones doing it, then we would've used Tyranitar and Typholosion to wreck the place!” Saikaku answered, his accent even thicker than usual. “Why don't you try looking in your own backyard for a change?”

    “Why don't you try looking in your own backyard for a change?” Said man repeated in an exaggerated parody of Saikaku's accent as four similarly-dressed men stood, surrounding the Johto-born trainer. “Speak our language properly, would 'ya?” He asked, gripping the boy's collar, then muttered “Stupid foreigner, can't even talk right.” to the other trainers surrounding him, a comment the trainer overheard. “And what's this talk about 'your own backyard? There's no one in Kanto who's that terrible a person, and nowhere to assemble such a large army in secret!”

    “What about Seafoam? Cerulean Cave? The east coast of Cinnabar, where people fear to surf because of the unearthly horrors and ferocious beasts which live along that shore? Or even small towns like the ones south of Viridian – there are people there, but it's easy to control their movement and they visit big cities so seldomly that if they stop there's nothing suspicious.” Saikaku answered nervously, glancing at the soldiers surrounding him.

    “Yeah, but why? What motive would anyone in Kanto have for an attack like this? You Johto assholes have more than enough reasons, even putting aside the fact that you're a bunch of jealous, greedy jerks who never got over your little inferiority complex.” The trainer asked, gripping the immigrant by the neck.

    “We're not like that!”

    “Then why did you guys attack us, huh? Don't you think you owe the people--”

    “As I told you, it couldn't have been us! Back to Viridian, wasn't Team Rocket able to operate out of there because it was run by the gym leader?” The androgynous trainer asked nervously.

    “So you're saying a gym leader did it?” The man asked, tightening his grip. “Are you saying Mizuki-sama's responsible?!”

    “Not responsible, per se... but there is the possibility.” He said, receiving a painful punch to the gut as he spoke. “It does strike me as a little suspicious that Cerulean wasn't attacked, and no one's benefited from this more than Mizuki. It'd do you w-owwww!” he screamed as he was released from the man's grip to fall to the ground, clenching his stomach in pain, thankful they didn't mistake him for a girl and do anything worse, “well to consider it.”

    About a half-hour later, his bruised and bloodied body was found by an old man known as Kawada who was one week removed from the presidency of the Cerulean City Council.

    ~*-*~

    “Am I doing the right thing?” Mizuki asked, looking out at the waters of her gym.

    Recruitment was going well. Slowly, her army was gaining size, gaining strength, so many people joining to fight by her side – some she knew from around town, now impressing her with the ability of her pokemon, others from further, desperate exiles from what she now thought of as the “Wisteria area.” Eiji had joined her with enthusiasm, his only questions being how long until he could fight, but thus far he was one of only three people noting the ruined town as their place of origin on the questionnaire.

    Kawada had said nothing bad about her rule, nor had anyone else. (Then again, she hadn't exactly encouraged criticism.) Surely if anyone could critique her and live, it'd be him. Yet the only words he gave were “I found this boy beaten up and left for dead in Staryu square.” He didn't try to blame her, didn't even point out that he was carrying his ID on him and had come from Johto, didn't say anything about how crime like this didn't happen in his Cerulean – if it even could be said to be his, for what was he but one councilor (not politician – she was a politician, he was never scummy or even active enough to be called one) among many? And yet the questions remained with her, even more fervent in her mind than they would have had he shouted them until her Gyarados ripped him apart.

    “What choice do I have? It's not like these guys were strong at all... and while communism and democracy are nice ideas, how long would they last in a time like this? How long would it be until people bonded around their Cerulean heritage and tried to kick out the non-citizens, saying they needed to provide for their own?” She asked, and her Starmie merely made a deep, soothing noise, speaking a language known to the waters, but not to her. Before the Charizard attacked, not understanding it had been her deepest failing.

    “I've made a terrible mistake... and if this goes wrong, I'm about to make so many more.”

    “My family is dead.” Koneko thought. It certainly wasn't a happy one, and she knew she couldn't dwell on it forever: they were good people, kind people, people who had raised her with love and given her everything she needed, but... she was their legacy. Their sole surviving legacy. She'd have to move on, and slowly, she thought she might be beginning to.

    “My house is gone.” It wasn't pleasant, but she could get over it. Besides, the people there were gone and she could do without the constant reminders. She'd miss her collections, of course, from the plushies in the corner to the cat macros on the hard drive.

    [I]“I'm broke.”[I] This was also troublesome, and it made replacing said possessions all the more difficult. But money could be earned, in time, even the way Cerulean was these days. She'd just have to work hard, and maybe wait until everyone else got what they needed. It wasn't like she had anything else to do, after all.

    Well, nothing except this. The cat-eared fangirl reached into her pants' pocket, fumbling around, but finding only keys and spare change.

    “I left my Gameboy at home when I went to class for the second-round battle.” It was gone. Everything was gone. The creatures she had carefully trained to level 100, her fictional Persian with thunderbolt and hyper beam, all the creatures who gave her some skill in another universe, her team worthy of mention... gone. Her fighting game records, every character unlocked and 16 wins with Ami in survival mode... gone. It wasn't quite as big a deal, and she could always up right B regardless of what cartridge she was playing, but it was still a blow. Her save in “pocket fantasy” was erased, and while getting back to where she was might not take 50 hours the next time, it would still take quite a long time. Her photo library, filled with surprisingly good graphics, picturesque images of a kind which real photographers never seemed to match, a killer with thunder and hydro pump. Her time-wasters, her boredom-killers, the things she took out to have fun when she was lost and aimlessly wandering the streets of Cerulean – they were gone, all of them.

    It'd be nice if there were somewhere fangirls went to socialize, somewhere which was open regularly. But that did in a way seem to go against the nature of being a fangirl; she wouldn't be hanging out offline if she had any other options. “They're at their computers too. I just wish they'd think a little about their cut-off friends. Or maybe they are, and they think I got burnt...”

    But she had friends, too. Her real Persian, who she had known from the start, traveled so long with as her only pokemon – maybe if not for him, she wouldn't be so much of a cat person. But also her Glameow and her Skitty – adorable creatures from afar, presents from her father for those times he left for months to Sinnoh and Johto respectively for business. Perhaps he meant them as an apology, tried to use gifts in place of love... but he had been loving when he was there, all the same; she still remembered all too well how he had patted her head every time he came home. “Come out, guys.”

    Black, white, and pink, the three felines emerged, and Koneko spread out against them, searching for the happiness which only a kitten-pile could provide. So fluffy...this should dispel sad thoughts, right?

    As her head lay buried in her purring Persian's fur, she felt her cat ears softly tweaked as a familiar voice shared by too many for her to place entered her ears. “Need a place to stay? I've been looking for someone else to play with my Wii...”

    Koneko rubbed her eyes, slowly glancing up at the cosplaying bishounen before her, memories of a series old, half-forgotten, and epic flooding back into her mind. “I'd be glad.”

    The war is terrible, but that doesn't mean I can simply risk Persian's life on bringing its conclusion. The army will protect me, I hope, or maybe they won't attack again... times will be harsh, but I'll just have to try to restore my happiness with this person, in this bloodied world.

    “Whaaaaaaaat? The internet is down-nya? That's so terrible... damn you warmongers! Stop ruining our games! Your role is only to give us inspiration with your struggles in faraway lands-nya!”

    “Just be glad Nintendo sucks at online play and rules at multiplayer.”

    Smiling at the boy beside her, engulfed in his beauty, she furiously rammed his Rapidash and sped past him, the AI vehicle in first place now the target of her focused, competitive feline eyes.

    ~*-*~

    The shops and houses of Cerulean, so recently both imposing and alluring symbols of a completed journey, now seemed to Haiiro only to be stale background. The trainer brokenly marched back to the Cerulean Gym, his enthusiasm wholly unworthy of a person sworn to avenge Kasshoku and bring peace to the pokemon world. (Although come to think of it, he never actually promised. He swiftly rectified this thought by swearing exactly that on Kasshoku's memory.)

    The road ahead of him was less than exciting, and he saw little reason to look out in the distance, so instead he walked forward, staring at the slightly cracked pavement as he kicked a pebble along the ground.

    His steps came to an abrupt halt as his head met something soft, squishy, and leathery which he promptly buried said head in and began to doze off into, only to be awakened with a fierce, painful punch. “You're a hundred years too weak to grope me! If you must make this body yours, then defeat me in battle!”

    “ne, Hotaru-sempai? So sorry. Didn't see it was you there... a-and we can't really afford a battle now, even if I stood a chance...” But its so big and soft and warm, and it's not like Hotaru has a boyfriend. So maybe, if I trained enough – I'm sure she's lonelier than she lets on...

    “Oh, Haiiro? I thought it was Sayuri again.” The young woman mused, glancing to her left to see an all-too-familiar hand waved in front of her face, then casting a long look at the moderate-chested, sakura-haired girl who it was connected to. “And now Haiiro's trying to grope me as well. Can't a girl fanservice these days without being fondled?”

    “It was an accident!” Haiiro yelled, blushing heavily and turning his head away. “And by the way, for the time being... I think it might be wise for you to revoke that challenge.”

    “You believe way too much in Mizuki.” Hotaru said, shaking her head and glancing suspiciously at the girl standing by her side as Haiiro noted another of the group who had made it out safely.

    “Maybe. But putting that aside, don't you think the lines are a bit long right now for us to fight unneeded battles?”

    “Quite frankly, it's precisely because of what time we're in that we need to become stronger.” And if offering my body can inspire Sayuri-chan and Haiiro-kun to do it, it'll be that much easier to get us all through this new and horrible age.

    Haiiro shrugged. “Mizuki-sama's getting people to fight pretty well, and if the center is reserved for the strongest we should be able to avenge Wisteria and end this war!”

    “So you believe in her?” She asked, sizing him up. “You always did remind me of Eiji. You always gave everyone that same distant and half-depressed gaze, even in the old days.”

    “You don't? Why not?”

    The trainer sighed, leaning her head back as Haiiro fought a losing battle with his libido and his eyes gazed longingly at her body, holding back a nosebleed as he scanned her up and down. “Come up to my room. I'm hesitant to explain this in the open.”

    Blushing, Haiiro obliged, climbing the stairs to an isolated room on the first floor of a generic apartment, Hotaru's clothing seeming to only accentuate her firm, tight-- no, he couldn't be thinking that way!

    “I'll admit that Mizuki's a pretty good trainer. And in a time like this, she's probably one of the better options for leadership.” She said, flooded with memories of the past, of times spent standing at the pool in Cerulean Gym as her Gyarados showed her just how little type advantage mattered; how even water conducting electricity wasn't always enough. “It was a one-on-one fight, of course, and she chose the terrain. I've never even see her battle two on two, and I don't know how well she can focus on such a huge pokemon battle, but she's great at inspiring people and I get the feeling she won't be caught blindsided in battles like these. From what I heard, she demanded every book on pokemon warfare be delivered to the gym the moment she heard of the attacks, and she's studying hard almost every moment she's not rallying the people. I still think I could do a slightly better job, but she's got a clue – we'll be in capable hands.”

    Hotaru took a deep breath, glancing nervously at the window, putting an ear up to the walls – would someone overhear? “That said, she scares me, and I'm not convinced she'll last.”

    “She scares you? Why?” Haiiro asked innocently.

    “She's the strongest trainer here. She's trying to control who gets to raise their pokemon. She's setting up a system to give a ton of help to those she wants to be stronger. There's no question that she's a dictator, and I don't mean the proletarian kind.”

    “You mean the Cerulean Army?” He asked, Sayuri standing demurely by Hotaru's side.

    “Yeah. Furthermore, there's something about her speeches and the loyalty that she demands... it reminds me of the fascists of old.”

    “So? Don't we need unity at a time like this?!”

    “For now...” Hotaru said, pausing before letting out another word, tinged with sorrow, “maybe. But I've talked to people about this, heard how she seized power. Sure, it's great now, but what do you think will happen when the war is over?!”

    “If the war is over, we've already won. I don't care about politics, she can rule for life for all I care so long as she puts out every last one of those Charizard! And besides, it's not like she's running the place worse than the city council would.”

    “Sure, sure. Not yet. But doesn't it at all strike you as suspicious that, while we're running in terror and the people of Cerulean are trying to care for us, she's the only one for whom this week has been a pleasant one?!”

    “Yeah, a little.” Haiiro admitted. “But it couldn't be her. If she could command an army that huge, she wouldn't need to rally us and stuff – she could just proclaim herself ruler of Kanto and be done with it. Two armies, one of which hates the other... it just doesn't make any sense. Besides, like Hikaru said, she wouldn't be caught dead raising Charizard.”

    “You're probably right.” Hotaru conceded. “But still... I don't trust her.”

    “I do.” Haiiro said, turning around and making his way to the door of her apartment.

    “Ignore politics as you will... but what will you do when she falls from power?”

    Haiiro turned back and looked over his shoulder, the way the light illuminated his charcoal hair and his half-closed eyes giving him a sudden appearance of coolness. “If not for you, there's no way she'll fall from power. Try believing in someone, for a change.”

    ~*-*~

    As the sun descended outside on a war-torn pokemon world, Haiiro leaned over at the registration table. The line behind him shortened, he held his pen in hand as Mizuki's voice echoed throughout the halls of the gym:

    “Begin preparations to liberate Lavender Town and secure Vermilion City!”
    Last edited by birdboy2000; 22nd January 2009 at 04:56 PM. Reason: Added chapter number

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    Chapter 4

    “That's all?” Mizuki asked, sighing deeply. Of course the hunters hung out near Fuschia, not Cerulean, but she didn't think they'd be that rare. “Okay, anyone played a first person shooter? Arcade experience is preferable, but I'll take what I can get.” Haiiro rubbed his eyes as he heard Mizuki's announcement, trying to force himself awake. The relentless drilling of the last day might've brought physical fitness given enough time, but time was sorely lacking for the pokemon world. He stared down at his shirt, a cerulean shade of blue, still wearing the pair of pants and shoes he had on when trudged through Mount Moon. The army needed uniformity, but it could only afford so many uniforms.

    “Haruna would've loved it here.” he thought, wondering why she had been at Wisteria in the first place. She belonged in this gym, or floating around and challenging trainers in the waters of Cinnabar. Not at some lackluster school in the mountains that didn't even have a swimming pool, a school where she had to fill up crater's with her pokemon's water gun and had no one to swim with. It seemed so stupid, her being there in the first place - she should've been somewhere else, somewhere she wouldn't have to die. But then again, if she didn't... maybe someone else would've.

    Wary of getting too far lost in his thoughts, Haiiro took a look around at his fellow soldiers; the two thousand or so men and women of Cerulean and surrounding towns who knew how to handle a pokemon and were prepared to lay down their lives. They were staring to the front where Mizuki stood in her dripping swimsuit, her body as athletic as it would be if she swam every day with her pokemon – she probably did.

    At her question, seven trainers nervously stepped forward, directed by Mizuki to an attractive, orange-haired young woman with the oversized chest of a Kukaku or an Orihime.

    “That's not nearly enough, but I suppose it's to be expected. Nintendo hasn't had a decent shooter since GoldenEye and other consoles are so obscure around here. Anyone good at Metroid?”

    About thirty more trainers of about his age stepped forward, standing with somewhat more confidence than the last group but still plenty unnerved – just what exactly was Mizuki gonna have them do?

    “Fine, fine, I suppose I'll pick the rest.” The leader complained, pointing randomly into the crowd. “Now, if any of you really suck at multitasking or your pokemon need really specific direction, tell me so I can pick someone else.” As she continued her picks, a few of the soldiers volunteered such information, mentioning their recently-caught Scyther or the careful battle strategies mandated by their Clefairy.

    “And Haiiro-kun! That should finish it off.” She yelled. Haiiro fell over with shock, but quickly recovered to join the large-chested, swimsuit-clad woman and her newly assigned soldiers on the way out the back door and out behind the gym.

    The last time the ashen-haired trainer had seen this small spot of land (which he only had when walking past it, peering through the barrier) it was nothing to merit interest. It was a plot of dirt and grass, but the grass wasn't tall enough for pokemon to hide. He had always thought of it as walled-off, useless space, and couldn't even comprehend why anyone had deemed it worthwhile to wall it off in the first place.

    Now, barbed wire surrounded them on three sides, presumably to look cool as much as to have any actual military usage. The trainers – soldiers, now - were cordoned off in an area which seemed small next to the enormous gym, although it was big enough to be divided into seventy carefully numbered shooting booths, all a good distance away, filled with targets on the walls, various trees and boulders and changes in elevation and Pidgey gliding past complicating any attempt for clear shots at their targets.

    “This is a gun.” The orange-haired woman said, holding out the weapon for all to see; a large slender device made of metal, seeming as though it would be hoisted on the shoulder, with a small trigger near the back and an attached trapezoidal portion much wider than the rest of the device. “We have seventy-one of them. When used properly, they can be a powerful weapon, and most pokemon can be felled by a single hit – some will take more shots than others, some will die in one blow, it all depends on how sturdy they are. But you can mess up even an Onix pretty badly if you can hit it in the eye or shoot the segments just right and even a Charizard can't take more than a few bullets.”

    As a demonstration, the trainer looked skyward and caught sight of a small orange balloon, adjusted the barrel as it stood on her shoulder and pulled the device's trigger. A projectile sped out of the gun's barrel, Haiiro's eyes struggling to keep up with its speed. After a split-second, a hole penetrated the balloon, which whipped around from lack of air before falling behind a small hill in the confusing terrain behind the gym. The woman carefully unlocked an opening in the barbed wire, slid it to the side and walked through to retrieve the fallen balloon. As she glanced at it, she small target painted on its center had been missed by five whole inches, the hole being at the balloon's very top.

    “If any of you were paying attention, I have just demonstrated the proper way with which to fire a gun. Note the importance of aim: there haven't been any real battles yet and we might just be firing into a charging horde, but if it's another aerial attack or a small, fast group of raiders you're gonna need it. And keep in mind that under battle conditions, hitting a Charizard's eye is even harder than hitting this balloon...and even a blinded Charizard sometimes maintains its sanity and battles by smell or hearing.”

    “But aren't those senses obscured during battle?” One trainer asked.

    “So is sight.” Another responded.

    “It's tempting to go for the one-hit KO, and if we had better guns I'd be all for it. But Cerulean City only has so many goods to barter, and everyone's sticking to their own towns these days... and in the smoke of battle, when flames heat the air and warp your bullets, sometimes what's most important is to just hit the enemy and give 'em some damage. Keep this in mind when you're fighting.” She said, stepping aside as a giant table emerged from the ground, the rifles on it piled so high as to tower over the shorter soldiers, Haiiro included.

    Haiiro slowly approached the weapon, curious as to its touch, but with a certain determination and almost uncharacteristic lack of nervousness: “At least this way I can fight alongside my pokemon.” As he placed his hand on the weapon, he was numbed by a cold which seemed even greater than the mountain's and his fingers froze to the steel.

    “Shape up!” The large-chested woman shouted, watching the people struggle with the rifle – looking around, Haiiro noted that his newfound comrades weren't doing all that much better. His hands slowly adjusting to the weapon's feel, he attempted to lift it, straining with all his muscle as though pulling the gun from the table would show him to be some sort of destined hero.

    It barely budged. Haiiro found himself slowly inching it off the table, then lifting it slowly to his shoulder, feeling like he was going to tear his elbow as he strained.

    “You'll get used to it, I hope.” The instructor said.

    “Don't you have any lighter guns?” Another trainer asked. The orange-haired “general” shook her head.

    A couple hours passed, their earlier mission of gun training fast diverged into one in the lifting of heavy objects. The general, a self-proclaimed 'munitions expert' by the name of Mizuo (who did have a few Blastoise and a certain love of explosions, in fairness) sighed and considered going out to bug her younger sister, asking her to find stronger trainers instead of just this random and ill-thought selection, but thought better of it. Mizuki didn't like being disturbed even in peacetime.

    He still had to strain a bit, but the gun was on Haiiro's shoulder and he could even move a few steps by now, although he still felt about as mobile as a cannon. Heck, cannons seemed like they'd work better, the way things were going - they'd be better than this group, anyway.

    Mizuo gave her orders again, and he moved his gun to shoot, stopping three of the ten automated Rattata from breaking through his lines and firing two harmless bullets into the makeshift mechanical Charizard.

    The invasion was scheduled for tomorrow, and Haiiro for one wasn't going to stop practicing – they only had so many guns, and even in Lavender one could really use artillery: maybe this gave better cover fire than a Squirtle using water gun. That said, when humans had come to rule the world in that longago era, Haiiro reasoned, they couldn't possibly have done it using weapons this heavy.

    ~

    “So... why Rapidash? They're not particularly effective against apocalypse cultists, are they?” Haiiro asked. The gun training had been completed(for the day), and while his aim was still a bit lacking, he at least felt that he could handle it without being weighed down so completely as to render him irrelevant in combat.

    Which was good, because there was a very real possibility that he'd have to use it soon – it all depended on how Mizuki wanted them to “secure” Vermilion city and what the current situation was in Kanto's greatest port.

    But now, pacing through the barracks, he found himself standing before a stable of Rapidash, wondering if he'd have to learn to ride such temperamental beasts in a day, to say nothing of how they'd be used. “Are we gonna have to learn how to ride them?”

    “You can't learn how to handle a Rapidash or a Pidgeot that fast, and most will only obey their trainer. The battle for Lavender will have to be won without any artillery...”

    “Couldn't we have just given guns to the people who already knew how to ride them?”

    “Everybody makes mistakes.” Mizuo answered, her face acquiring a somber and downcast tone. “Even Mizuki-sama. But at the same time... I don't think we'll need guns.”

    “Why not?”

    “Because Rapidash are seriously powerful beasts.” She began, pondering for a little while as Haiiro remained silent, as though he awaited her story. “There is a land across the sea from the pokemon world, a land where weaker 'animals' dot the land – birds, mice, fish, but none of them with any special powers; just a few small poisonous snakes and predators with nothing beyond bite and slash.

    That land is much, much bigger than our own, and one might say it is notorious for its warfare, or maybe it's just that we've had peace so long that we've forgotten that war is human nature. The horse is the animal there from which Ponyta and Rapidash evolved – they're basically like them, only brown and without any neat abilities. Since the dawn of warfare, as far back as historical records go, humans in that land have ridden horses into battle to carve out empires.

    Once, there were a people who carved out a great empire – I think they were called Mongols. The empire spawned from a tribe of nomadic horsemen who learned to fire arrows from moving horses, and their military conquered almost all the great nations of the land across the sea – and so, one of their rulers turned east and sent a fleet to attack the Pokemon world.

    Now, this was a very long time ago. The people heard of these attacks in advance and prayed with all they had, and Lugia answered their prayers and sank most of their fleet. But keep in mind that 'mostly' can be a relative term when we're talking about such a huge army. When they got to Kanto, they still had twice as many cavalry as we did.

    The soldiers faced them on an open plain, just horseman against horseman, one side outnumbered two-to-one, no infantry in sight. On one side rode the Mongols on their horses, on the other a crew of heavily armored samurai on their Rapidash, looking outnumbered and doomed despite all their prayers, but prepared with their discipline to go nobly to death in defense of their world and emperor.”

    “What happened in the fight?” Haiiro asked.

    “Well, you see... horses can't learn Hyper Beam. The moment the Mongols charged, the samurai drew their swords, gave their orders, and watched as the bulk of the army was engulfed in beams of orange light. A few survived, but they couldn't avoid the Rapidash flames and their horses couldn't get away fast enough, and they were quickly encircled and slaughtered. It was a defeat so devastating that the Mongols for the rest of their history never even touched the Pokemon lands, so devastating that the very memory of it prevented any outside force from attacking our lands... until now. Maybe.”

    “You think it's an outside force?”

    “I don't know. And human technology has certainly improved: I've heard they've got stuff that could keep up with even the toughest pokemon – and yeah, I'm counting Lugia and Mewtwo in this. It won't be impossible for them to defeat us...but it won't be easy, either.”

    “Yeah, but... who says it's them? Why couldn't it be one of us? There are still people here who hate the world” he said, getting a sudden, painful flash of Shiro, “and still people who want only power. Let's face it, news doesn't exactly travel well here. This could be some brutal war waging in Johto spilling over here, or maybe the Cinnabar volcano's erupting at last and its driven the locals mad, or there's another Rocket-like group of maniacs making their bid for power. We don't know... we're sworn to kill them, and we still don't know!”

    “Calm down, Haiiro-san...” Mizuo said firmly, then muttered under her breath “but yeah, it annoys me too.”

    ~

    Like most people in Lavender Town, Sunako was what the outside world would typically describe as a “goth”. Not that her outfits or appearance particularly merited it (while she was dark-haired, she preferred the gray of Gastly smoke to actual black) but she did have a certain fascination with the occult, the macabre, death and whatever came next.

    The town in many ways suited this. How much could one love life, when the hometown itself was based so strongly around death? Not only was it filled with the elderly, enough that it was oft-derided as “the afterlife's waiting room,” but where most cities had gyms, its main attractions were a cemetery and a tower home to the teeming spirits of the dead. Growing up there had shaped her: while many people struck out for their pokemon journeys or other pleasures in life, she had come to see life as a sad, mournful, and loss-filled existence, and had developed quite an interest in whatever lay beyond.

    Had.

    But like many other people in Lavender town, paradoxical as it seemed, she had found in death a reason for her continued existence. The humor of the gallows, the friendly spirits she had communed with at the tower, her beloved Misdreavus and the great stories that had been crafted around the subject of death and undeath – she wasn't at all eager to leave those behind.

    But others were.

    For many, many years, to speak of Lavender Town had been to speak of Lavender Tower. The pokemon cemetery was an attraction, but the tower dwarfed it and it seemed of little value to focus on the bodies of the departed when their souls were waiting there just above. Yes, there were some who questioned the existence of ghosts, declared the creatures in the tower illusions and invented a new class of “smog-type pokemon” to explain creatures like Gastly and Duskull, but for most it was an eye-opening experience to the supernatural – well, that and the suffering of many a Cubone.

    Sunako didn't think of herself as a kindred spirit to the Cubone, although she had spent about as much time at the tower as they did. Her family had been alive and well into very recently, and if she was orphaned, it was only by the world of the living.

    Didn't.

    A couple days ago, everything had fallen apart. First came the Alakazam, whose mental power beat the various spirits which had come to defend it. They had struck too fast and teleported away too soon for most of Lavender's people to get out in time to fight. And when they left, they had taken Lavender Tower with them.

    Without it, the city had plunged into chaos. The city council, normally quiet, had become a scene of furious debate. Some argued for quickly constructing a new tower, others shouting back that it was a waste of time – it would only be stolen again. Some wanted to join with Cerulean and fight, others thought Mizuki incompetent or power-hungry and didn't believe she could fight as far as the Alakazam had fled. Some wanted to live on, others felt everything was lost: Sunako had seen so many suicides in town that she had lost track of the deaths.

    And worse, even under communism, tough times led to religion. And the religion which sprang up in this moment of collapse was not the sort of faith that strengthens the living or provides for inner peace. It's God was Giratina, it's saints were Mao and Robespierre, but warped versions who killed not for ideals, but to feed Giratina in exchange for rewards after death, who saw in the loss of the tower an apocalypse and sought a murderous frenzy before it was too late.

    The Church of Giratina had gained many adherents. But many, many others chose to live. The faithful had to fight their way through pokemon after pokemon, and this with the local Joy refusing to heal “death cultists” and them being no better armed than the rest of the townspeople. They took their knives and their ghosts, but so did their victims, and the fights were fierce and bloody, slaying even the undead. Parents lost children, children lost families, trainers sacrificed beloved Gastly and Larvitar to escape with their own lives. The city council didn't approve, but neither they nor the Jennies could do anything about it. Before long, the church was in control and the massacre was underway.

    Most had fled. The road to Cerulean had become flooded with exiles, as had the southern one which could lead to either Vermilion or Fuschia, and the raids for sacrifices and slaves to rebuild Lavender Tower had driven neighboring small towns away as well. Others resisted, fighting a losing battle to protect the lives of themselves and bring life to the city, but it was more a futile insurrection than a civil war, one more focused on guerilla curses and confuse rays than pokemon-to-pokemon combat. They hoped only to ensure that when an army came, they'd have something left to liberate.

    Sunako had ignored them, however: the insurrectionists spoke of life, but their losing fight only brought more death. She was of the opinion that they should either try to escape without getting caught (not a particularly tall task: the high priest was prone to slaughtering refugees, but the percentage she actually managed to slay was minuscule) or wait for the moment of mass suicide and everyone's second thoughts to suddenly rise in rebellion.

    Yet like the rebels, she had stayed behind. She couldn't say why, exactly – she was certainly lacking in will, but “too lazy” was hardly an adequate explanation. She had looked out often, trying to plot her moment, trying to get away safely... was she afraid? But staying behind was scarier, and it wasn't as though her life was safe in this town: they kept her alive to rebuild the tower, but when it came down to it, Giratina needed souls.

    “If you can't think of a reason, why not leave?” Part of her told her, or maybe it was just Misdreavus messing with her brain.

    “Why not?” She asked back, but did not move, getting a sudden foreboding feeling as she looked out on the empty road; was this the path to her doom? Would she make it to Cerulean alive, find her life drained away by some ghost's curse, or be lulled to sleep and given horrific dreams from which she could never awaken?

    Maybe she was afraid.

    Sighing, Sunako lifted another brick, bringing it to the six-foot high foundation, slowly rebuilding Lavender Tower, then gave the road another longing glance, only to see it engulfed in a galloping sea of white with tufts of red.. The sea slowed, coming to a complete stop, and the horde of Cerulean soldiers on Rapidash came into view, a flock of Pidgeot flying above them, watching.

    The moment their mounts stopped, the trainers opened their pokeballs, releasing an assembly as massive as it was disorganized, everything from Kingler to Bellsprout gathered, waiting only for their orders to seize the city.

    “People of Lavender...” A young woman in a purple swimsuit began, carrying the Cascade Flag from atop the red jewel of her swiftly spinning Starmie which floated a few feet above the ground, “You have suffered greatly. Your tower has been stolen from you, and in your grief you have fallen to the Cult of Death. But fear not – your nightmare is over! We come not as conquerors, but as liberators, and we shall triumph in this great step towards freeing the pokemon world! For this reason, I call upon all who wish to live to take up arms and join me in freeing your hometown!”

    “Our town has lost its spirit. Mind your own business and go back to the city: you don't know what it's like here. We always were living at death's gate, if not quite on the brink” One of the priests said, and many of the elderly townsfolk (and quite a few of the younger ones) nodded in agreement, “so is it so wrong to take the next step and make our community a ghost town once again? It is what we have chosen.”

    “No one has the right to choose death for innocent people. For life!” She yelled, and at this the flaming horses poured into the city.

    “My only regret is that you attacked before our home in the next world could be completed.” The high priest said emotionlessly, staring through the eye-holes of her wispy mask with an unblinking determination which terrified the riders more than a Gyarados' ferocity. ”

    “Fuck you and fuck your tower!” Sunako recognized the voice, sympathizing with the rage, and looked up to the sky at the Pidgeot-riding trainer. His name was Shinta. He had never quite fit in this town; his Altaria's shining blue skin seemed to be an assault to everything the place stood for, and while he did train himself up a Shedinja and paid his respects at the tower, the elders had never really approved. Whenever it seemed like things were getting too cheery, they had always taken violent measures to return the city to the gloom that had become its identity – that, or his ever-calm Altaria suddenly picked a fight and imbibed an almost fatal amount of Gengar venom in the fight without even a detectable trace of spiritual wounding, among other incidents. (Sure, the 'official mediums' had given their analysis, but neither Sunako nor Shinta were quite that gullible: the schools had given them sufficient training of their own to know just what had been done.) And this tragedy aside, his treatment by recent events had not been a kind one - his mother had died at the hands of the cultists, her body left torn apart in his home, and the council had quickly scapegoated his younger brother and given him “punishment in kind” for his “crime.”

    The Pidgeot's talon unclenched itself and three Voltorb fell, their explosions blasting apart the walls of the new tower's foundation leaving only three fainted bodies as the residents of Lavender town quickly threw their pokeballs and the Rapidash charged into the city. Their ghostly forms slowly appeared despite the daylight, flooding the town with so many spirits that it seemed as though, the tower having suddenly vanished, its tenants had decided to haunt the city instead.

    For a moment, everything seemed still as Sunako watched the other ghosts: the cultists were only so many and just which side were the others planning to attack? The scene slowly began to warp before her as the field was covered in darkness and enormous beasts appeared between the charging army and the townspeople, a combination of hideous, unearthly abominations and fantastic beasts both real and fictional – a Tyranitar, a Venustoise, a towering, three-headed draconic monstrosity which seemed like a fourth form of Charizard, and even a roaring Entei.

    Spooked by this sight, most of the Rapidash bucked their riders and ran back to Cerulean, while several others with slower pokemon found themselves running for their lives at their much slower speeds. Another Venustoise appeared, this one on the Rapidash's side, firing its cannons to swamp the three-headed Char-type beast and wrapping its wet vines around its kindred fused beast, which retaliated by vine-whipping its cannon.

    As she watched the (good) Venustoise's doomed struggle and the Pidgeot flap their wings furiously, futilely trying to gust away the illusions, it became clear to Sunako that this was it. Life or death. She never seemed to find the time to run, but the time to fight was nigh. “Misdreavus, incapacitate the new leader!”

    Her order had been heard, and many a Dusclops and Gengar stared at her with spiraling eyes. Sunako stubbornly shut her eyes to avoid sleep, a lesson the relatively weak Cerulean army had apparently never learned, if the few trainers and Goldeen she saw slowly dozing off until she forced her eyes shut were any indication.

    “Curse!” the leader ordered, and invisible to Sunako's closed eyes, the ghosts stabbed themselves in unison, grayish-black blood pouring onto the illusion-darkened plain. The Army of Cerulean watched, eyes widening in horror and disturbed disgust, but none of them fled, although a few experienced pokemon retreated to get themselves out of range.

    And then the leader's Mismagius began to sing its slow, haunting melody.

    3.

    Sunako recognized the song, but it had always seemed more muted when her own pokemon had battled. Within the battle, a pained shriek made it clear that her Misdreavus had been defeated – she hoped it was only knocked out.

    2.

    Their hypnosis failed, the ghosts tried another means of handling Sunako, and the girl fell to her knees, screaming in abject horror in a yell which pierced the darkness and chilled even some of the ghosts of the battlefield.

    1.

    “It's perish song! The leader's Mismagius is using perish song!” A voice called out from the Cerulean side and through the massive, deadly clash of pokemon and swords, a courageous young meowth stepped into the fray and vanished.

    0.

    They had survived. Most of them. Battles always had their casualties, of course, and this one was far from over, but the melody had not caused them all to suddenly perish in unison. The song had been broken by a pained squeal from the large-hatted pokemon and its spirit finally departed the world.

    But the battle continued through the song, and it still was not going well for the Cerulean force. While each of the ghosts had been wounded, the wounds were not incapacitating ones, and compared to the slow draining it had brought many an enemy pokemon made it a worthwhile sacrifice. The morale of most Rapidash had been broken. What remained of their army was outnumbered, encircled, fighting an enemy which phased in and out of sight.

    “This isn't working. Fire!” The water general yelled, and the few Rapidash did, boiling the ghosts away in an enormous inferno. Friend caught behind the lines or foe, native or foreigner, the people fled in chaos, trying to find somewhere to quench the flames as Lavender burned.

    Or at least, those who were still standing ran away. The water general, a younger sister of Mizuki, made a solid effort to gather the troops and water gun everyone still melting in flames, but the force of the aquatic torrents gave a fatal blow to many of those it was meant to help, and many who survived the fire did so only to be drowned by the water.

    When the ghastly fog cleared, many of the defeated returned to working on Lavender Tower and reluctantly accepting (or trying to poke out the eyes of) Cerulean's administration, although between the deaths, the damage suffered, and the fact that the occupiers were more interested in gaining soldiers than public works, construction was proceeding slower than ever. Many other trainers, the leaders of the Giratina faith most prominently among them, killed themselves on the spot, taking out their knives or ordering it of their pokemon, all of whom reluctantly, tearfully complied. Trying to take the opportunity to win some friends in her new domain and restore the motivation to live, the youngest of the Cerulean sisters directed her pokemon to join in the rebuilding.

    Tormented by the faith, knocked out by the townspeople's ghosts, and finally incinerated by her “liberators,” Sunako, to Shinta's grave disappointment, was nowhere to be found.

    ~

    By the time Lavender fell, the main army of Cerulean was already halfway to their target, the road intact and secure as they passed by the walled city of Saffron. The Rapidash were speeding back, further behind on the route but quickly making up the distance. The Pidgeot had already landed and, with their trainers, begun to fly overhead as scouts. A few of them stayed in Lavender, of course; the town had to be garrisoned – but the army's numbers were swelling, clogging the route as they approached Vermilion City.

    Personally, Haiiro had come to find the march boring and cumbersome, and had kept himself amused through imaginations of the battle to come, holding his gun as he shot alongside Squirtle to take down their Charizard and avenge his village. He would've made conversation with Eiji, but he was standing far over in the main group, and the other artillery men he called comrades seemed not to be particularly talkative, or perhaps it was simply that they were too sullen and saddened to make conversation.

    The legion continued their march as the road grew more cracked, taking time out to engage in a few repairs and smooth it over, killing a couple bandits (or at least, Mizuki was insisting they were bandits) along the way until they reached the point where the road was gone and Vermilion City in sight.

    The army stopped for a little while, waiting for further orders; the road was secure, wasn't it?

    “Shouldn't we be leaving troops behind to guard the road, instead of sending the whole army?” One of the soldiers asked.

    “We don't have the manpower.” Mizuki answered. “What's important now is to make a show of force.”

    “Well, the road's secured... do we turn back?” The gym leader shook her head.

    “No. This stretch of the road is secure, as are those we have trod over, but the road does not extend merely to Vermilion!” She said, pointing out to the harbor as they stood at the city gate. “Can Vermilion alone supply our food needs until we get the earthquake-damaged farms up again? Can Vermilion alone provide us with the weapons needed to help us in our struggle? We come to this city not for itself, but for its port which links us to Fuschia and beyond!”

    “Doesn't Cerulean have a port in the north?” Haiiro nervously asked.

    “Yeah. It leads to the power plant. But it's so narrow that I'm sure they've already blocked it by now, and even if they haven't it's too inherently insecure to use.” One of the local soldiers answered, a Growlithe at his foot, a Shellder on his shoulder; probably a far more powerful weapon than this little gun.

    “We come to protect your harbor, so open the gates!” Mizuki yelled, standing atop her Gyarados as the citizens of Vermilion slowly came out to watch.

    “I don't have the authority to do that.” The guardsman said nervously, clenching his teeth at every word. “Let me get the city council so th...”

    “The city council? We don't have the provisions to wait while those idiots debate and our town doesn't have the food!” She yelled, more people now gathering at the gate, either watching with curiosity or with their hands on their pokeballs, prepared to defend their hometown

    The crowd parted as a lightning-haired man in his thirties sprinted to the gate, Mizuki dismounting her Gyarados to face him.

    “It's nice to see you again, Raizo.” She said, her voice dripping with contempt.

    “I could say the same of you. Have you come to do to us what you did to Lavender?”

    “H-how do you know already what happened in Lavender?!” She asked, her voice livid with surprise, but her contempt unfading.

    “Have you forgotten just how close Lavender is to the Power Plant? I have friends, you know – many friends. And they can move when they need to.”

    “Let's cease all this fighting.” One of the townspeople spoke, a slightly creepy-looking man of about twenty-five with a Plusle on one shoulder and a Minun on the other, marked by the medal over his shoulder to belong to the Vermilion City council. “We have a common enemy, you know... if this is a proposition before the council, I'm for it.”

    “But the enemy of an enemy is not always a friend.” Another councilor answered. “The people can see it, can't they? That's why they're here. Are you so naïve as to think that Mizuki sent this army to protect us? She is a conqueror and this proposal is nothing more than a slimy trick!”

    At this, many of the Cerulean soldiers and their pokemon turned skeptically towards their leader, Haiiro from behind the hilled redoubt among them: just what had happened in Lavender? Was all this talk of foreign armies nothing more than an excuse for her to play Nobunaga on the free people of Kanto? Could Mizuki really be trusted?

    “When called to suppress the protests, to fire on friends and countrymen who had taken up arms instead of choosing between starvation and endless labor, the soldiers turned around and fired on their officers and bourgeois masters.” Another councilor said, and things were looking grim indeed: it appeared that only five councilors had assembled, if there ever were any more, and Raizo was one of them. “A history of the Pokemon Revolution. Again, a fascist conqueror threatens our way of life – I call upon the army of Cerulean to live up to the heroes of our past.”

    “We've all read A history of the Pokemon Revolution – it's not like we don't get elementary school before going off on our pokemon journeys.” Mizuki answered through clenched teeth. “And I'll grant that, even after the decades, there are still those who believe in the spirit of revolution and vigilantly defend it, instead of being content that the exploitation is gone and the state has withered away.”

    “It withered away until you restored it!” The councilor shouted.

    “And look at how well we defended ourselves when it withered away! We didn't get a worldwide revolution, y'know... there's still land beyond that sea. And without a state to stop them, there'll always be some madman who'll seek power by any means, and we can't expect to defeat them with feel-good socialism and voluntary co-operation!”

    “On this, I agree.” Raizo answered, then shifted to a mocking tone. “There'll always be some villages where history isn't appreciated and the revolutionary spirit is forgotten. But you're right in that a state is needed, if only in times of crisis. So, to ensure we remain free from dictators and state officials don't become our overlords, the state shall be a workers' democracy.”

    “If your democracy was enough to protect Vermilion, I wouldn't be here. If their soldiers turned their guns on their masters, I'd still be in my gym, training and accepting challengers. But instead you debated while your constituents burned.”

    “You really believe that, don't you?” Raizo asked.

    “They didn't?”

    “Leading an army this far on propaganda from refugees with an axe to grind... you really are a foolish girl, Mizuki-chan. I suppose you believed there was an ongoing genocide in Lavender Town as well.”

    “There... wasn't?”

    “There was.” A man stated, his black robe floating out behind him as a Duskull floated to the side of his head. “Though I suppose it was more of a Terror. I think you could use better sources, Raizo-san.”

    “It's true. We did debate.” The Vermilion gym leader answered. “We'd had wars before, more recently than most towns, but that didn't mean we had any idea how to oppose an army this large, so we discussed it instead of relying on whoever was strongest. We gave a couple orders to stay out of sight and harass them. My Raichu fought well with agility and substitutes, my Electrode rolled under and blew up a Nidoking. We couldn't fight them in open combat, so we made use of the time to think of a long-term resistance plan – luckily, they left before we could use it.”

    “The plan has been distributed to all citizens.” A young woman cheerfully stated from behind the walls. “And we are prepared to utilize it against any power which seeks to take the independence and freedom of our city!

    “Then utilize it.” Mizuki said coldly. “These walls won't hold up for long – Gyarados, Hydro Pump!” A powerful burst of water slammed against a point on the city's wall. The barrier was drenched, but held firm.

    “Raichu, Thunderbolt!” The orange rodent fired a powerful thunderbolt through the city's gate which engulfed the Gyarados in electricity. The serpent roared in pain as Mizuki returned it to its pokeball.

    Eiji glanced at Mizuki, then at Raizo, wondering how to act. As the soldiers hesitated, a few joined with her in the attack against the power of the Vermilion townspeople. On one side was the army he had sworn to serve, the army with the power to avenge his hometown; the only ones in Kanto with the power to fight back. Its leader was Mizuki, a respectable gym leader and a strong woman, the person who had built this force.

    On the other was Raizo, his childhood role model, the man he had wished to be strong enough to study under...the greatest Electrode trainer in the world, coming out to lead his city as Mizuki had led hers, trying nobly to preserve freedom for his people no matter who opposed him.

    “Let's cut down on the bloodshed, shall we? I'll fight for Vermilion, you pick your champion.”

    “You have a type advantage against all our strong trainers and your army is vastly outnumbered.”

    Raizo sighed as he looked out upon the Army of Cerulean, most of them now charging the city walls with determination and power, while others bombarded the city with Voltorb bombs and even the occasional Charizard flamethrower, only to be shot down by thunderbolt after thunderbolt. The sound of gunfire served as a backdrop to the constant screaming of pokemon names and attacks, but the poorly trained artillery had barely made a dent in the fighting: the trainers charging madly with swords seemed to be doing slightly more damage.

    It was a diverse army; most of the pokemon were locals, sure, but Cerulean was rich in biodiversity. Psyduck, Goldeen, Horsea, and Krabby from the gym's legendary aquarium or the surrounding waters, a few water types from places afar as befit a city with Cerulean's reputation, a few Golbat, Parasect, and Machoke from inside Cerulean Cave, supported by heaps of Caterpie, Oddish, Bellsprout, Venonat, Pidgey, Rattata, Mankey, and other small pokemon from the grasses around the town – to say nothing of the ghosts and Cubone from Lavender or the Zubat, Clefairy, and Geodude from the Moon villages. Between them, their evolutions, and the various oddball pokemon individual trainers had picked up in their travels, there had to be at least 150 species represented in their force.

    As Raizo sized them up further, his fears began to diminish. It wasn't a particularly organized force; the Rapidash cavalry formed a distinct regiment, the Pidgey and Spearow lines of flyers were bombarding the city in formation (and getting zapped from the skies in formation, as well: their own Fearow force would win air supremacy soon enough) and there was probably a column of water-types which knew Hydro Pump dug in somewhere on a nearby hill, but the rest were just a confusing mass of grass, bugs, and rodents mixed in with the occasional fighter who packed a serious punch.

    Nonetheless, this wouldn't be easy. The walls wouldn't hold long. His forces were outnumbered by about five to one for the time being, although this was getting better by the moment: trainers were coming from all over the city, sending out swarms of Pikachu and Tentacool. But if anything, the Vermilion Militia was even less organized than his opponent's, and although there was a general type advantage it only went so far.

    Though come to think of it... he pondered, Bellsprout whipping Tentacool at the gates as the hordes of pokemon clashed, teeth, fangs, and other appendages outstretched, mouths wide open and spraying elements, battle lines forming as water rained on the forces from the hill outside the city, Mizuki has never been the type to check for traps.

    “Diglett, dig!” He yelled, and the engineer corps of the Vermilion Army popped out of the ground, surrounding the bulk of the Cerulean army with a ring of small,brown heads. The ground shifted below the force, then began to collapse as the grass-types took to their vines and the bugs their string shots to maintain their footing, as the Pidgeot, Pidgeotto, Pidgey, Zubat, and Golbat took to the air, flying furiously at the gates, but their flight was fast met with another volley of thunder.

    “Fall!” Mizuki ordered as a Jolteon strike force pumped the Bellsprout, Oddish, and Weedle full of spiky pin missiles, artillery raining down through the gates to little effect, water soaking the defenders at the walls.. “You're just vulnerable this way!”

    “Fill the pit with acid, Tentacool!” Raizo shouted, and the Tentacool left their stations, giving way for Spearow and Mankey, as Electabuzz stood on the walls, shooting lightning from their hands to fry an increasing segment of the enemy Goldeen. (Along with a regrettably high number of the allied ones: the pokemon weren't exactly wearing uniforms.)

    “Confusion!” Mizuki yelled as a purple liquid began to fill the pit and the pokemon inside pulled themselves upwards.(those who could, anyway: the Mankey had nothing to climb with, and the one Growlithe and few Rattata's efforts to scamper up the walls failed for lack of footing, and the attempt to climb the vines of their allies did the same owing to their vast weight) and her Starmie obliged, countless headached-Psyduck and exiled Gastly, Haunter and Duskull joining in, along with a few Hypno and Gengar, their eyes and jewels glowing a chilling royal blue in unison.

    A series of Abra, Kadabra, Drowzee and Hypno countered this, eyes yellow as the battle seemed to move to a different dimension. Half the pokemon in the battle froze in place, held in blue light as they raised their claws or leaves, barred from bringing them down on their equally frozen opponents, or held helplessly prone while their enemies delivered finishing, fatal blows. Ekans and Tentacool from Vermilion began to fall, but the ghosts were not holding up well in the psionic battle. Most of them slowly faded and drifted back to their pokeballs as a few new ghosts were created from the bodies littering the battleground.

    In a small tunnel beneath the city walls, Rattata bit and clawed at each other, the Cerulean ones winning a slight and bloody victory, only to find the tunnel so clogged with their dead kin on the other side that they could not break through.

    In the midst of the chaos, Eiji dashed athletically through the commotion, ducked under a swinging Scyther blade, danced to the left of a charging Tauros, then slid under a Raichu's body slam to arrive at the city gate.

    Haiiro watched from the hilltop, carefully positioning his gun and firing a bullet which fell a few feet to Raizo's right, the astral battle seeming over with the dearth of psychics and ghosts still on the field. Mizuki didn't seem to have a single one of her pokemon left, the bulk of the Cerulean army was no longer climbing out, but instead making an effort to tunnel away from the fire, grass, and lightning attacks being hurled into the pit by the watchful Vermilion soldiers. His own hill began to shake as he heard the chants of “trio” from below, and the shock combined with the weight of his gun to knock Haiiro from his feet.

    “Explosion!” Eiji yelled, and the six minimized Electrode on his belt returned to their normal size, glowed a bright white, and exploded in a great flash, breaching the wall. A horde of Rapidash poured in, setting fires around the town to secure Vermilion from outside aggression. Vermilion's militia fell back, many of them returned to their pokeballs which were soon hurled in the flame-horse's path as the rest of the Cerulean horde charged, sensing victory, the fall of their artillery's hill a necessary sacrifice.

    “Leave the city to me and I promise to rebuild the harbor and protect the people of Vermilion.” Mizuki calmly stated as a ship approached the ruined docks.

    “Save your negotiations for after the battle.” Raizo answered, his right cheek scarred by an Ivysaur's razor leaf, but even as he spoke the battle was dying down, each side watching nervously as a boat sailed towards the harbor: was their ultimate enemy, the unseen scourge of Kanto, now back for round two? Had Mizuki just weakened them this whole time? The Cerulean army pondered these questions as they watched the ship search for somewhere to dock.

    Finding only a ruined harbor, the staircase was lowered instead, and fifty Ursaring with riders decked out in Johto armor jumped into the water, then swam up to the beaches and rushed onto the land. A squad of nearby Machoke rushed to counter them, only to be called off by a motion from Raizo's hand as the Ursaring and their riders charged the army of Cerulean.

    The Rapidash charged back, their riders raising their lances to meet the Johto katanas as they ran, while the horse pokemon spat vortexes of flames. The Ursaring rushed through the flames, then slashed at the Rapidash's legs as riders jousted, the matches decided more often by the security of their mount than the weapons of their trainers.

    “Bear cavalry...” Mizuki noted, gulping in fear as the soldiers began thrusting and slashing at each other's mounts. Many fighters took advantage of these opening to strike the opposing riders, a couple of Rapidash fell, a few Cerulean soldiers cursed as their lances got lost in thick, brown Ursaring fur, and several trainers on both sides were knocked from their mounts and trampled to their deaths.

    Clinging to the Rapidash's fiery mane, his hand burning up, one soldier thrust his lance into his Ursaring foe's eye, and the bear reared up in pain, tossing its rider to the ground, and slew his foe with an enraged hammer arm.

    “It's useless! Fall back and regroup!” Mizuki ordered, and the Rapidash retreated as a few Machamp stood defiantly against the Ursaring charge. Near the docks, a truck suddenly shook, but it was merely a distraction; old tales about Mew emerging to protect the village in a time of crisis were nothing more than myths. The people of Vermilion watched, thinking their salvation was charging into the valley of death – death by getting the crap beat out of them by Machop, Machoke, and Machamp.

    A few Electabuzz leaped out at the Machamp from behind, trying to grapple the fighting pokemon, but were fast assaulted Bellsprout, Oddish, and Meowth tearing into their short, tiger-striped legs. Suddenly, Mizuki lowered the standard of Cerulean and hoisted one similar, but sans badge and waves, a white flag flying gloriously as it guided them to victory.

    Victory.

    That was what white flags symbolized, right? Haiiro didn't really remember his symbols, but... it had to be victory, right? Given the situation, no other flag-change would be suitable – the Ursaring, Vermilion's last hope, were about to be finished off!

    Yet for some reason, everyone else was shaking their heads, sighing or roaring in anger. It couldn't be victory. “Right... when you win, you have the regular flag fly triumphantly, I remember now. But...” the trainer asked himself, still wondering, what else could it be at a time like this?”

    The soldier next to him was more in control of his faculties and had started cursing at Mizuki the moment she switched her flag. “Why the fuck are you surrendering? Have you forgotten all the people we lost?!” He yelled, but his voice was drowned in the mass of protest, and the gym leader ignored it all;

    The Ursaring halted, allowing their riders to dismount and stood up on their short, stout hind legs, the yellow rings on their chest which so strongly showed their difference from normal grizzlies now plain in view as Raizo made his response.

    “It seems you have learned your lesson, so I will allow your army safe passage to Cerulean. The real enemy is still out there, and Vermilion needs all the help it can get – we all do.”

    Mizuki shook her head as she held back her tears. “No. Your city's defenses were badly damaged in this useless battle for which I take complete responsibility. I cannot raise the dead, and my medics are too busy healing our own, but our forces can at least do this for you.”

    “We didn't fall for that ruse last time, and we won't fall for it now! Trying to have you let us in for our own safety...how du--” A councilor began to yell, but Raizo raised his hand and he quickly fell silent, and Haiiro was left to watch and help, carrying Scyther-cut bricks to rebuild the wall that Eiji had given his life to destroy.

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    Chapter 5

    Berserk Gene.

    A unique item first found outside Cerulean Cave, a cave better known in Pokemon lore as the Unknown Dungeon. This item confuses the holder, but it is a strange confusion, one more comparable to a blind rage against all surrounding it than to the suicidal confusion of a swagger or a psychic attack. In addition, it grants the holder a vastly amplified ability to fight.

    Alleged by many to be the sole genetic difference between Mewtwo and Mew.


    ~

    “Haiiro-kun, I... have become a weapon.” From a distance of about thirty feet, on one of Cerulean's quieter roads, Ayane spoke those heavy words. Her voice drowned out the chatter of everyday conversation as her floral skirt rippled from a well-timed wind.

    For about a minute, the charcoal-haired trainer stood silently facing Ayane, not knowing whether to embrace her, ask about Kazuki, or merely run away. Finally, awkwardly, still shaken by the loss of Eiji and Kasshoku, he gave his response: “Why have you told me this?”

    “I thought you should know.” She answered, slowly approaching him with determination and none of the boy's blushing awkwardness. “Do you fear me, Haiiro-kun?”

    “No.” That felt like the right thing to say. He'd firmly answer in the negative, and desperate for someone who wouldn't run away like (he assumed) Kazuki had, she'd fall into his arms. Or she'd say “you should” and demonstrate just what being a weapon meant. On him. But he wasn't afraid – his heart was racing and he had half a mind to make a break for it, but he wasn't afraid, because Ayane just didn't have the presence to scare him. Then again, was she even still Ayane? “Should I?”

    “Should you?”

    “I don't know. But I'm not going to run away from you.”

    Suddenly, Haiiro forgot about the scene in the pokemon center with Kazuki, as Ayane tackled her to the ground and drew him into a surprisingly passionate kiss.

    ~

    Mizuki casually floated on her back in the pool of the Cerulean Gym, a few of her most loyal followers shielding the gym's front door from the angry mob clamoring for her head.

    Order through unity. It had seemed like such a solid idea – maybe a bit counter-revolutionary, but what did that matter at a time like this? History had shown it a viable system, if ultimately a defeated one: it was the fascists who were Communism's final opposition. And it had worked, at least until her incompetence taught the people that she was absolutely the wrong person for them to unify around.

    The Charizard would be coming. Or maybe it would be Alakazam, or Tauros, or Tyranitar, or Venusaur, or some other species of obscenely powerful pokemon. They might even use Gyarados, just for the irony. Whoever they were.

    And when they did, the defense force she had built would be completely powerless to stop it.

    Sure, if a civil war could be avoided, they'd be able to recover a lot of their prior strength. Many of the people of Lavender Town had joined them since the prior battle, and they had brought some pretty strong pokemon along with them. And for a decisive battle, as far as history was concerned, the casualty rates were astonishingly low; it looked like she had only lost about 5% of her human soldiers and 10% of the pokemon fighting alongside them, and the truce gave them the ability to recover and pull back with everyone who survived.

    But numbers were misleading. In this era of peace, there was no time in living memory when so many people from Cerulean City had died at once, and this when Cerulean only made up a bare majority of those fighting; it was the heartened refugees of Mt. Moon who burned most strongly for revenge, and plenty of those who had navigated the roads west from Lavender Town had also found themselves killed in her disastrous attack.

    “This is war, deaths are inevitable.” Mizuki thought for a moment, but it provided no comfort. The battle itself was unnecessary to begin with, and the way it had been handled was worse. Maybe if she had actually learned something from all the strategy books she had read, or found someone who knew what they were doing, it would've been different. Eiji wouldn't have had to sacrifice himself to tear down the gate, the bulk of the army wouldn't have been buried in a pitfall trap, and the useless artillery training would've been postponed until the harbor could be secured and she could ship in some better guns – they might even had won. The soldiers had been too visible at the start of the battle; she had thought it of value for intimidation, but Raizo hadn't blinked and all that happened was her giving her positions away.

    And it wasn't just with the battle. In retrospect, she had made one mistake after another from the moment she had taken over. Sure, she was strong – probably the strongest. That didn't make her a competent general, and asking trainers to vote with their pokemon was in retrospect a terrible mistake. How many good trainers had been dissuaded from taking her on because they thought trusting in her a better option than a battle which would incapacitate two of the strongest fighters in Cerulean? How many good ideas had been pushed aside or never spoken, how much help had she closed her ears to when she declared democracy to be nothing more than the path to weakness?

    But a democracy wouldn't replace her. Even if she died, her followers wouldn't, and calling them off would only let her be called a traitor. The ideas she had breathed life into would live beyond their founder.

    “It worked. We had an army which could stop the horde; we were on the verge of taking Vermilion. But Mizuki betrayed us.” She could hear them even now in her head, in the midst of a light blue, silent pool with platforms floating still within the water, faced off against each other as though waiting for trainers to step on them and do battle.

    They didn't understand, they wouldn't understand. How weak her army was, how Vermilion was regrouping, not defeated, how their army was still growing as people trickled into the battlefield, how Raizo's tactical skill would've made it close and bloody even if the Ursaring charge failed, how they had already lost the battle in the air and beneath the ground.

    Could they have still won? Sure. But what kind of a victory would it be? The people of Vermilion, for the most part, wouldn't exactly acknowledge the supremacy of Mizukiism just because their pokemon had been killed. The army would've been smaller, weaker, occupied less territory, and the weapons they'd be able to afford wouldn't make up for the cost of conquering and garrisoning Vermilion against a hostile population.

    When she liberated Lavender, she had done the right thing. When she raised the white flag in Vermilion, she had done the right thing.

    Now... well, maybe it'd be just another mistake, but the city would be in chaos regardless of what she did.

    “Gyarados, get this note to Mizuo.” She ordered. The serpent emerged from its pokeball. Mizuki placed a crumpled piece of paper inside the pokemon's mouth, and the Gyarados soon floated away.

    “What happens to a pokemon when their trainer dies?” She didn't know. They wouldn't disintegrate or anything, but... how well would they handle it? Maybe they got through it better, maybe they were less sentimental... still, they didn't deserve this, didn't deserve to lose her.

    But it was the only way to atone.

    “Starmie,” She said as the grayish-blue, ten-legged pokemon emerged into the air, “Cerulean Gym secret technique #5” she ordered, her voice choked with tears as she continued “on me.”

    As the light glanced off the edges of the pokemon's fins, the double starfish leaped from the water, then flew like a giant shuriken into Mizuki's neck, her somber head sent flying across the battlefield as blood gushed out from the path of the Starmie's slice, giving the water of the gym a slightly reddish tinge.

    ~

    Carefully evading the street fights, Yuji sped back towards her office at the Pokepress central headquarters, a large, stapled series of papers in hand. Weaving through water guns was annoying, but they were well-aimed and she stayed out of the crossfire. Making it through the chaos outside, she arrived safely at the building which now more than ever had become her home.

    It was a building she had been attached to for many years. As a child she had seen it on her trip to Cerulean and dreamt of it regularly. For those few years when she had lived a couple blocks away and spent all her time working inside it, refining disjointed yet intriguing collections of ideas and grammatically-challenged masterpieces into works worthy of publication and helping the truly skillful authors with pacing, motivation, and two more eyes for catching mistakes.

    It was here that she had met Murasaki, a young and confident novelist who had walked into that office and handed her a story which defied description, yet one she was forced to title: she had went with “A trainer's quest” for the sake of generic irony. She had since felt that she had gravely failed him with this title, even though he had nodded and smiled, saying that the title would do.

    Stop thinking about him! You're reminded of him way too much as it is! C'mon, Yuji, you can't afford to let this place become another painful reminder! What about all the other people you met here, the other stories you've read?

    Sighing, she slowly entered the front door of the main building, hoping no one would see her in her current, wretched state: she'd worried them enough already. Yeah, they were concerned for her, boss and co-workers alike, and most of the staff had known her for a while... but concerning any of them with something so personal would be just plain unprofessional. And they had been so good to her, too: yeah, Mizuki's proclamation had guaranteed her a place to sleep for the past couple days, but that didn't guarantee friendly hosts or anywhere all that good to stay, while here she could just put some padding on her desk and fall asleep while editing.

    Editing.

    She hadn't touched Murasaki's nov-- scratch that. She had dutifully carried Murasaki's last manuscript with her throughout her long and dangerous flight to Cerulean City, clasping it tightly to her heart as she made her way around the base of the mountain while packed in a scrambling, panicked and desperate mass of refugees – her neighbors, her fellow Wisterians – the whole way; it was all she could do not to get trampled or go insane from their constant jabbering and complaints. But after she made it back to her office in Cerulean she had smoothed out its wrinkles, set it down in her desk's top drawer, and averted her gaze ever since.

    It had been six days without him. That was a good way to think of it, right? She had gone for longer stretches without being by his side, ceased communication with him for a month at a time every now and then. Like when he went off to Indigo and the Sinnoh Tower to test how his writing prowess translated to the battlefield. Or when she was momentarily transferred to the Fuschia branch as part of an elaborate publishing industry plot. Which involved ninjas. And Exeggutor. It would've made for a pretty interesting story, but the ninjas had made her swear to secrecy and every publishing house she tried felt it way too close to home to be worthy of circulation.

    Except that back then, she had his return or her own to look forward to. What did she have now? Sure, she had lived twenty years without him. It was true that she should be able to make it through twenty more. The publishing house was still going, she still had a fulfilling job and countless worthwhile stories to read, and if that failed she could always watch civilization collapse right outside her window. She had what she needed.

    Except that she needed Murasaki. His touch, his kiss, his voice, his words, his love, something to expunge the memory of his admittedly valiant death, burnt away in fire with his Smeargle so the others could escape.

    The others. His classmates. The people in Wisteria who were most effected by his death, apart from her.

    She had made it to Cerulean, and she was sure that she wasn't the only one. She didn't know why she had such a strong certainty: Murasaki had died (and she had seen it in the distance) the others were still fighting or being pursued when she ran away, and from a military standpoint it made sense to eliminate the strongest pokemon trainers in the town, didn't it? But the attack had stopped so suddenly, and she couldn't discount the possibility that, through some alternate route, some students of the Wisteria academy had made it out. Or maybe it was only that she couldn't accept the idea of Murasaki sacrificing himself for nothing – yeah, that was probably it.

    Besides, if they had survived, she didn't know where to find them – if she did, would she even recognize them? She hadn’t seen all their faces, except for in the class picture which had burnt away with the rest of the town, and while she had managed to acquaint herself with Haiiro, Kumiko, and Shiro, that didn't mean she knew where any of them would go when their hometown burnt up. Was she to walk the streets of Cerulean as Sandshrew dug trenches and caught her in the crossfire, to go house to house in the hopes of a lucky, plot-driven encounter until she was accidentally frozen or drowned or shocked or burnt? It didn't make any sense to do so, and she'd probably just get choked up speaking the words “Murasaki-san died in combat” and run away in tears... besides, there was a really good chance they already knew.

    It wasn't much of a purpose in life.

    She still needed him.

    She was still in possession of his final work, and while she supposed that if she passed it off to anyone, they'd understand, Yuji still felt a duty to his memory to edit it. After all, it was the final version fixed up by her that he would've been waiting for.

    His stories were all she had left of him, this was the only one she had yet to read, and re-reading would never be quite as powerful.

    She couldn't take being without him anymore.

    Slowly, she opened the first page, then glanced at the vortex of text. But after a brief moment, Yuji shoved the manuscript back into her drawer and drowned herself in her tears.

    ~

    A large-breasted, orange-haired young woman known throughout Cerulean as Mizuo, the gym leader's older sister, walked out the steps of the gym in her traditional swimsuit to address the quarreling crowds with a somber yell: “Mizuki is dead!”

    For a small time the angry, quarreling mob was calmed: her loyalists had to regroup, her enemies wanted to take the time to celebrate and see how things settled before choosing their new sides; nonetheless, they continued to surround the gym, unwilling to relinquish their advantageous position. The soldiers of the so-called “unity faction” peeked out of their sidewalk trenches, then emerged with their (mostly water) pokemon. They were largely a mix of warriors who had lost friends or smelled victory in the battle of Vermilion and condemned Mizuki as a traitor for her treasonous surrender and high-ranking junior trainers at the Cerulean Gym, and they were all determined to bring order to the city even at the price of a civil war.

    As they paused, a young woman of about fourteen in a purple swimsuit clung to her Vaporeon as it raced through and over the crowds and ice-beaming anyone whose attack came too close to her until she arrived at the steps of the gym. She was the heroine of Lavender, Mizuki's younger sister, and her name was Mizuko.

    “I-it's not possible... you must be wrong, onee-chan!”

    “Do you honestly believe I'd say this if she wasn't dead! Sister or not, she'd feed me to her Gyarados!”

    “How did she die?” She asked, and the older woman sighed.

    “From a Starmie's bladed fins.” An elderly coroner said, emerging from the gym. “It was probably an assisted suicide.”

    “Suicide? Mizuki? She wouldn't!” Mizuko yelled.

    “You saw what happened at Vermilion, didn't you?” Mizuo asked as the crowd erupted into conflicting howls. “She left a note, but it didn't say much...” She said, handing a crumpled-up piece of paper to her younger sister.

    “I have made far too many mistakes...” She read aloud, shaking her head.

    Mizuo glanced out at the crowd, then to her younger sister, and opened her mouth to resume her speech, hesitating with every word. “If you think her a traitor, she has already given herself her death sentence – for the rest of us, the time has come for mourning. With our army weakened from her unfortunate attack on Vermilion, with pokemon from who-knows-where attacking all around the world, the need for order and unity is stronger than ever! We must not allow this death to become an excuse for feuding and chaos.” The crowd seemed swayed by her words, listening instead of battling, some apologizing or looking at their pokemon with shame.

    “Even if she's dead, Cerulean needs a leader... and though I may not like it, I must admit that I am her logical successor.” She said, holding a light blue teardrop-shaped badge aloft. “Therefore, I reluctantly assume the twin positions of Cerulean Gym Leader and leader of Cerulean City.” She said, and the crowd erupted in a mix of applause, protest, and violence.

    Mizuko listened patiently to her elder sister's words, then crammed the crumpled-up paper, along with her fist, straight into the new leader's jaw. “Usurper! This note is a forgery!”

    A few headbutts, water guns, bubblebeams and punches resumed throughout the battlefield, as often as not in the same trench and between soldiers who had been allies only ten minutes ago as they voiced their support in agreement or disagreement, but most remained quiet: they wanted to hear more before choosing sides. “You always did want the gym, onee-chan, ever since our mother died” she spat, “but I never thought you'd go this far. And coming up with such a ridiculous story... do you really think anyone would believe that she made her pokemon go through killing its own trainer as its final act in life? Need I remind the people that your strongest pokemon is a Starmie and that technique was one you perfected.”

    “An angry, sad little girl, unable to accept the harsh realities of war... she has my sympathy, but do not mistake these words for ones of substance. I'm sure it's harder for her to deal with her sister's suicide at such a young age... she really looked up to Mizuki, after all, more than any of us.” she said, addressing the crowd until Mizuko's yell of “what suicide?” cut her off and the shorter trainer delivered another punch to her chin.

    “I remind you all that the title of gym leader has traditionally been decided by determining the stronger trainer through combat, not by the elder sister with bloody hands proclaiming it!” Mizuko yelled as the two grappled.

    “And I remind you all that combat is traditionally done through pokemon battle, and a trainer who resorts to physical violence has traditionally been disqualified!” Mizuo yelled, kicking her sister in the stomach.

    “The realities have changed.” Mizuko admitted. “For the title of gym leader, a battle should be held. But it's not like we're accepting challenges these days, when the pokemon centers are too busy healing the wounded for any of us to battle for fun. I still hope that someday, when we've finally finished this, I can open the celebrations as trainers pour in here to challenge me and I defeat them one by one. And when that day comes, we can work out who is to run the gym in the traditional way.

    But what matters now is not the gym, but who will take over Mizuki's role as commander of Cerulean's armed forces and defender of as much of Kanto as possible. Therefore, in this time of crisis, the title should obviously pass to the most successful general... and I'm the only one in this city who has ever lead an army to victory!”

    At this yell, the body politic erupted in an applause interspersed with calls of “let's win some more battles!” and “all hail Mizuko-sama!”

    “You had all our Rapidash and Pidgeot and were facing a minor town crushed by civil war! Anyone could've won that battle, and if our forces were led by a half-decent general, we could've done it with fewer casualties!” Mizuo yelled back, and the people for the most part were quieted, waiting for the debate's conclusion, although a few diehard friends of Mizuo loyalists and returned soldiers from the battle of Lavender began shouting each other down. “Instead, they were stuck behind a foolish little girl who relied on her family to obtain power she wasn't ready to wield! We were lucky it wasn't even more of a disaster.

    “Then tell me, half-decent general, why didn't you volunteer to lead them?” Mizuko shot back with a scowl. “If you're so afraid of ghosts that you'd sooner risk the lives of our troops behind an incompetent general than lead the fighting yourself, how in the pokemon world can we expect you to lead the city competently? They'll figure it out, y'know. They have spies, they have records, it won't take them long to learn that our dear leader can't make it through a haunted house without surrendering the key to the city.”

    “I was training the artillery corps, you bitch! You're the one who was trying to use the military as a stepping stone to power! Some of us believe in serving the city as best we can, not sacrificing our troops for personal glory!”

    At this, most of said troops howled, the conquerers of Lavender and fastest-moving soldiers of the army mostly yelling in Mizuko-sama's favor, but a few voicing tentative agreement with the allegations, and a couple others loudly shouting that the older sister was right – in the meantime, the street fighting stopped, as everyone gathered to hear the announcement; no one had really won just yet and they could erupt into violence just as easily later.

    “Well, if you're so good, why not face me in a pokemon battle?” Mizuo asked. “Chicken? Realize you're weaker?”

    “You've had many more years at the gym than me, and I'm not a pokemon genius. I wouldn't stand a chance.” Mizuko admitted, and the crowd's slowly fell away from her, many switching sides to chant Mizuo's name. “But being a successful general has nothing to do with who can win in a pokemon battle, and choosing a leader for this by combat makes about as much sense as choosing them by height.”

    “You're fourteen! You can't possibly lead a city at such a young age – it's completely unprecedented in all of history! Your body's barely developed, your brain's still in an adolescent haze, your experience is next to zero, and you think you can lead us?”

    “Mizuki was seventeen. Kasumi led us through the rocket crisis at thirteen. It can be done.” She answered, impervious to Mizuo's common-sense screams.

    “You don't honestl--”

    “Unless we are united, we cannot be strong. This woman is an outlaw. Arrest her.” She said. A few trainers trickled away individually, a few more in pokemon-armed bands, and the rest of the crowd outside the Cerulean Gym exploded into renewed violence.

    ~

    “The purpose of the Jenny Force to protect the people from crime.”

    Officer Jenny (the Cerulean one, as was evident by her location – and she supposed she was now the Lavender one as well, as her predecessor there had been killed fighting the Giratina cult, although her cyan hair, long eyes and uniform left her virtually indistinguishable from the rest of that august clan) sat down at her desk at the police office as the battle raged outside, supporters of Mizuko and Mizuo caught in a bitter crossfire over how to best strengthen the city. It didn't make any sense! If there had to be fighting... where were the grand ideals? Where were the religious nuts yelling about apocalypse, where were the hardline marxists calling this war a degeneration and blaming an ill-defined bourgeoisie made up mainly of small businessmen, where were the pacifists taking up arms by desperation, determined to end this war by any means necessary?

    And where was Kawada?

    Laying low, most likely. Or offering one side tentative support based on vague statements by both sides. Or settling old scores with ideological or personal rivals, using the chaos of warfare as an excuse. It wasn't anything worth joining – she had been in that crowd, and maybe arresting Mizuo (or Mizuko, for that matter) would've given one side a stronger claim to be the forces of order. But involving herself in such a bloody political battle, when neither of them cared a bit for protecting human life? It just wasn't right.

    Protecting human life. With the city in civil disorder and her shut up with her coworkers in the police station, there was probably plenty to protect: she didn't know how the state had first withered away, but she knew that these were the times when robbers, rapists and murderers seized the opportunity to commit their crimes.

    And where was she? Where had she been since Mizuki's death? It was all fine and good to remain apolitical, but why wasn't she hard at work protecting every innocent person she could?

    She had no answer. No good answer, anyway; she had plenty of fear, but fear was not a valid excuse. It was time for her to give some orders and get the police working again – she had lost too much time and allowed too much hell already, when she shut herself away in the station with the rest of them from the moment the anarchy returned.

    “I don't care how violent it is out there; you have your guns and pokemon, and if you're that afraid of dying in the line of duty then you shouldn't have become a police officer in the first place! It'll be hard, but... I hereby order everyone to get out and patrol the city. That said, I command each and every one of you to avoid this civil strife and focus on other crimes – our commitment to public safety cannot let us become merely another faction, and the respect of the populace is too important for us to pick sides in such a divisive conflict.”

    “But Mizuko will preserve order! She's the only one capable of giving the city the order it needs – we can't exactly stop crime in the middle of a civil war!”

    “No way! I hear that councilor Kawada is gathering forces even as we speak! Our duty is to uphold the laws – all the laws, including the one against seizing power!”

    “I see that getting the police force not to start shooting at each other isn't all that important! Resign now, if you must – I don't care what faction you support, any police officer caught fighting this war will be executed for desertion! It always looks bad to attack an officer of the law, so we should be able to get around just a little... so let's do whatever we can to make sure that criminals don't take advantage of this chaos!”

    Driven to action by their leader's words, the Cerulean police department reluctantly complied. That day, they lost half their number – some died in the crossfire, but most were deliberately targeted by ultra-”loyal” members of each side who charged them with treason for their neutrality and had no qualms about firing.

    ~

    From the teachings he had received in his childhood to his career in the public service, there were three things which Kawada had come to strongly believe – principles which had brought cause for revolution in one long-ago era and brought about the pokemon world he had grown up in, values which seemed to weaken with each passing generation, but one which still held a certain rhetorical power and were taught to schoolchildren from an early age.

    The first was that the state, having withered away, should remain so insofar as it was possible. In practice, this had become among the most controversial parts of revolutionary theory from the start, but when those who called themselves communists (yet, as he had read in his years, had differed so vastly from their counterparts in other lands) fought for it and turned over power so admirably to the semi-peaceful utopia of the modern day, it seemed to have a certain wisdom. Two clans had taken over the most important of society's institutions: the Joys for healing, and the Jennys for police power – but as everyone had a pokemon and the Jennys never had particularly good ones, abuses of power were handled easily. At first, it had seemed like a perfect system, but over the decades a bare minimum of state power in the form of city councils had come to restore itself across Kanto, first made up of elected volunteers, then given a donated salary, and finally, as revolutionary memories faded further and people grew more selfish, the power to tax. They didn't pay for that much, but someone had to administer the utilities, co-ordinate education, make those other few decisions which required a community... and therefore, weak municipal bodies had formed.

    In spite of this, however, he took the job of city councilor, determined to spend his life to serve the people even when the people had cast off the shackles of their previous government. In this respect, he liked to think he did a good job, serving as a weak leader so the state could not restore itself (until Mizuki came, anyway) but he had made more than a few unpleasant and foolish compromises and occasionally let ambition get the better of him, and now that war provided the need for some government of defense, he had lacked the confidence or unblemished record to openly oppose Mizuki. Yet through this inaction, he reasoned, the state had reached its tragic but all-too-common conclusion of strife and civil war – ostensibly over ideology and tradition, but in practice for personal power: they fought like feudal lords.

    His second value was freedom, the belief that it should be preserved as much as possible, that if no one had the right to restrict how another lived their life unless another person was being hurt. If a government had to be organized, it should spring up organically from the public, like Vermilion's, taking only those measures necessary for the crisis and dissolving itself when the war was over. On the contrary, however, Mizuki had also criminalized dissent and had been increasingly enacting policy not only to the maintenance of “order” (no matter how harmless the disorderly activities) yet also enacting her preferences upon the masses. Now, armed mobs and conflict restricted that freedom – but it remained restricted, and it seemed that bit by bit, people were fighting for the power to control others as much as that to mobilize the defenses.

    His third and most strongly held principle was that of equality, as best expressed in the maxim “from each according to his ability to each according to his need”. In some cities, such as Celadon, this had been watered down; in Saffron, with its smokestacks and Silph Corporation, it had been abandoned entirely. It wasn't as though he held that property after every year should be taken and redistributed, or that every match must end in a tie: those were merely the absurd slogans of counterrevolutionaries. Yet at the same time, he had battled the expansion of Silph to Cerulean (and negotiated fiercely on how much money they could get for their wares), felt that a businessman should work as much as his or her employees and make about as much as well, that no one should be either rich or poor, that the rewards of the hardworking should be in job satisfaction or their creations, because the right to work long hours and prosper all too quickly became a pressure for those who didn't.

    They were good principles, solid principles, principles which had created a society freed from poverty and civil strife, one where people had enough free time to train themselves some pokemon or do whatever else they enjoyed; for him, quite honestly, reading was preferable – it wasn't like he ignored his Dratini, but the title “pokemon master” didn't call to him the same way it did the young people of the city. Still, he had spoke fondly of pokemon battles for all his political career, praising the sport as a focus for competitive energies, pointing to all the good well-trained pokemon could do for the world, but the inequality it created was still there. When society devolved into warfare, sure, the pokemon let them fight back – but it let some fight with so much more power than others!

    When all was said and done, would things go back to normal? Would the strong, the leaders, those with pokemon who could take down countless foes really not try a taste of power for themselves? Then again, the imbalance had been there long before the war...and if equality became untenable, maybe it was simply that people would not adhere to being equal when that meant everyone struggling as one to get by: what little he had heard of beyond the pokemon world certainly gave that impression.

    And more and more, these days, his principles they were being violated. Mizuki had flatly rejected the first two, and even he was beginning to doubt the tenability of the first in a time of war. The third, the most important... well, he believed in it, but did anyone else still do so? It seemed like everyone was settling old scores, taking stuff from whoever they killed, already there had been attacks on homeless refugees. When the war was over, would everyone still be equal - and if they were, would it only be through the great equalizer's aid? The bodies had begun to pile up already, and this before the inevitable foreign attack came again.

    Something had to be done. Someone had to speak for the old order, to unite the city without seizing power for one's self, attacking democracy, or restricting anything beyond that which was absolutely necessary.

    And he was in a better position than anyone to do it.

    The soldiers were in hastily Sandlash-dug trenches now, his dreams of a triumphant march to the capital with everyone joining “the democratically elected leader of the people of Cerulean” vanquished a few hours ago; even if he somehow managed to take the gym and the city and call new election he saw little reason to believe they'd select him. The road was drenched, but otherwise undamaged, and to the unknowing bystander (of a type which no longer existed) it would've seemed like some innocent contest, two teams of firefighters spending an off-day to test who's water gun was more powerful.

    Long ago, he had played an arcade game kind of like that.

    But he knew full well it wasn't just a water fight, knew that the opponent's Diglett and Geodude were tunnelling, saw the Spearow flying overhead were not out for a joy flight or looking for roadkill. Not nearly enough people had joined him, and far from a three-sided fight, he found himself attacking a defense line in support of Mizuo's army, a force who made no formal alliance with him, yet Mizuko at least believed she could take both of 'em and that his “democracy” was just another gnat to crush.

    If he could pull this off, maybe they'd join him – after all, what the city really needed right now was a good general.

    “Dratini, they're soaked! Fire a thunderbolt through the water!”

    ~

    It had been his tenth birthday.

    For as long as he could remember, Yamato had been counting down towards this date, awaiting the beginning of his pokemon journey. Whenever he saw a Pidgeotto gliding through the air, a Rattata scampering around in the grass, or even just a Doduo running wildly along the fields, he had wished for a pokeball, wished to have a pokemon to befriend and call his own. Every time a pokemon battle came on TV or a few older kids were fighting it out with their monsters, he had scampered to watch, and every time he grew envious afterwards, but not regretful – after all, he was learning, and it'd just make him stronger for when that eagerly awaited day finally arrived.

    He had taken that same attitude towards his schoolwork, and as such become a decent student, but then again, he couldn't really understand why his classmates were so often slacking off. Cooking was annoying, but his pokemon would need to eat, geography necessary for where he would travel, history a bunch of interesting tales of the kind which he would someday undertake, he'd need arithmetic and percentages to understand how much things cost and make sense of his pokedex, and the various introductory pokemon-training classes, well... what kind of trainer would he be if he didn't understand that bug was weak to rock?

    It had began expectedly enough: a trip across the nugget bridge to the sea cottage where Bill had long ago undertaken his legendary research, a meeting with Professor Sakura, a cute, cuddly Eevee in his arms which he wanted to play with all day, a rival who chose Shellder challenging him to an exhilarating, exciting opening match in which he had been defeated. Tail whip was met with Withdraw, tackle with more withdraw, and after one too many tackles and withdraws his adorable little brown-furred beast had been rammed with the full force of a clenched Shellder; his opponent called it takedown, but it looked more like body slam.

    Losing sucked. It always would. But it just meant he needed to get stronger, learn more – on the way back from the cottage, in between worried looks at his Eevee's pokeball, he had sworn to do exactly that, and contented himself with the fact that their battles would get even more exciting as they grew, and he would get better and better, training the whole way... it wasn't like this would be his only battle, and tomorrow held so many new and amazing adventures on the first leg of his pokemon journey!

    Or so he thought.

    Along the way back, he had been met by a starving refugee who he donated his snacks to and guided to Cerulean, disturbed by the very fact that there were people still suffering so much in this world. Yamato asked what had happened, but he was too horrified and began to speak in gibberish interspersed with disturbing images whenever he had asked.

    After getting him to an understanding innkeeper, he had made a break for the pokemon center, only to see the line stretch twice around the block, filled with scared and desperate refugees like the one he had recently met, who through their explanations had first exposed him to the war, along with a few serious trainers carrying their strong pokemon, wounded from heavy training. Joy couldn't keep up, and the line got longer and longer as he waited, until he heard the orders from Mizuki's loudspeaker to leave the pokemon center to powerful pokemon and those with life-threatening injuries for the time being, of which his Eevee was neither – thankfully in the latter case, but depressingly in the former.

    The order had remained in effect, first for refugees, now for soldiers. The pokemart was just as bad, for that matter – he had scraped together the money, only first to find them sold out of potions, then to find potions rationed the same way the pokemon center was.

    His Eevee was still in that pokeball, time giving it something near a full recovery, but it didn't matter – what could he do with a healed Eevee? How was he supposed to have a pokemon journey at a time like this? Yeah, he could leave Cerulean, but Mizuki's army had taken control of all the nearby towns, and it wasn't like he could just get away from the war if he walked far enough. When she died, the law was repealed, as was every other: his parents were out there fighting for Mizuko, his best friend's parents for Mizuo, his older brother and his Lapras for Kawada. The war was going on, the outside of a pokemon center a battlefield, and Nurse Joy was as busy as earlier trying desperately to protect as many pokemon as she could even when the war made it impossible... it wasn't like he could train or practice or anything!

    Stupid war. Stupid adults.

    A couple hours ago, he had been shouting at his parents, blaming them with the rest of the older generation for the war, and they gently patted his head and said that we were attacked and just doing what we could to fight them off, so it could be safe for him to travel again. It made sense, at first... it wasn't their fault the Charizard were burning the cities, and much as it hurt, there were more important things in life: if it came down to it, he supposed he could handle waiting another year, although it wouldn't come easily.

    But then the orders came – the great trainers still had the chance to get stronger, but Mizuki had ordered the weaklings like him to keep 'em in their pokeballs and not waste the center's time after the training got too hard. He supposed it was sensible, but he still loathed it all the same... his birthday had become a day of hopes smashed on the face of the war effort.

    And if there were outside invaders, it wasn't like their army was even fighting them! He didn't know that much about politics, didn't care for her talk of “unity” (it seemed more like “don't question me or I'll kill you” than a way to win the war), but the news had filtered back to him as it had everyone else – the battle whose casualties clogged the centers now wasn't fought to save Kanto, but so that the gym leader could conquer Vermilion!

    And now they weren't fighting outsiders, either, just... fighting each other. And for what? Did it really matter if Mizuko or Mizuo ended up running the city? A couple minute proclamations aside, they stood for the same things... what was there about either of them to fight for?

    Maybe it was just the love of the battle.

    That had to be it. Nothing else made sense. It wasn't about right, wrong, or any grand ideals, he didn't think he had seen a pokemon corpse yet; they were probably trying to minimize casualties. People liked pokemon battles, and there was something that was just so appealing about a massive melee, especially when they hadn't had the chance to fight for almost a week.

    Should he join them? Eevee hadn't fought for a while, too... the idea was tempting. And if he did, which side should he choose? The only differences he could see between them were the flags and a growing tendency to dye one's pokemon's fur orange or purple, depending on their side; blue was of course left out in deference to Mizuki and the cause of all Cerulean... until Kawada's followers started using it, claiming to represent said cause.

    No. He wouldn't. Because the whole war was nothing more than a stupid waste of time.

    If he had to battle, he'd do it the right way, and who knew what sort of intriguing sights were in the reformed Mount Moon? Heck, he might even find the fabled mountain pokemon center.

    With this in mind, Yamato left his house and gulped as he got a closer look at the battle outside; Solar beams clashing with zap cannons and giant surfable waves engulfing the main road, while Rattata, Sandshrew and Pikachu charged each other on the sidewalk and rivalling groups of Pidgey heroically tried to shift the wind patterns in their side's favor. Carefully, he moved alongside the edge of his house, trying to avoid combat and somehow make his way out of the city.

    ~

    Cerulean was not a particularly large city, and despite the efforts of many a Diglett to slow down the fighting, the trenches could not hold back the maneuver of the pokemon armies. As night fell, Cerulean had become divided into three rough domains and the armies of Mizuo and Kawada alike had reached the gym, attacking each other as often as they did Mizuko's defenders.

    Again, a massive melee brewed; Kawada's tactics had made trench warfare untenable, but electricity was common enough that they were quickly emulated – a few joined his side for the tactical skill it showed, but it was mostly just those who had been bested by the tactic early on. The rest either dismissed it as propaganda, called it an obvious maneuver (and dodged the question as to why their prospective leader of Cerulean hadn't used it too) or said that even if he was a good general, he couldn't run the city well enough, as a leader needed more what was on the battlefield. Some questioned him for speaking so loudly for democracy after falling silent during Mizuki's reign, and accused him of everything from corruption to an ephebophilic crush as motivation for this opposition.

    But Mizuo and Mizuko's followers, instead of uniting for ideology, were equally harsh to one another: personal attacks from fourteen years of sisterhood turned into slogans for the battlefield, everything from bad luck in love to esoteric interests to starting pokemon dragged out in a flurry of mudslinging as harsh as any pre-revolutionary political campaign; then again, this was not merely politics – this was war.

    The three leaders were there, shouting orders from within the trenches, recognizable, targeted, but defended by the walls of pokemon from any real attack. The walls extended very high, for the towering Blastoise and Nidoking soon melded into the Pidgey, Spearow, Butterfree, and Beedrill who fought the battle for the skies. But this battle, too, was contested by the pokemon of the land – the Nidoking spat their poison, the Pikachu sent their thunder flying, every species of water type native to Kanto and quite a few that weren't were trying to blast the relatively-low mass birds and bugs of the opposing faction out of the sky.

    Haiiro looked around the battlefield, briefly appraising the situation as he continued to fire bullets into the enemy lines. Ayane was standing next to him in a tight, sleeveless shirt; their left hands clasped together, Ayane's right with the white color and tripod-esque hand of a Mewtwo's arm, sending forth balls of energy which warped the fabric of the battlefield to join the countless ranged attacks which clashed in the space between the three armies. Hotaru, Saikaku, and Sayuri had joined the other side, to Haiiro's vast disappointment, but he supposed it might just be inevitable – after all, if people could agree on this, there wouldn't even be a civil war.

    As the chaos continued, the energy from Ayane's hand grew more and more massive, pushing back enemy attacks and shifting the fight in Mizuko's favor. The teenage girl cheered from behind her as the psychic blast barreled into Mizuo's trench, removing everything in its path, leaving behind only a boulder's wide, long, and deep trail.

    “Make it stop!” Ayane screamed, trying to force her three-fingered hand shut, but the energy just kept coming, taking out Mizuo herself in the next shot. “What have I done... what do I do?” She yelled, panicking as she tried to turn away, but succeeded only in doing the same damage to half of the Kawada line. Haiiro desperately flung his gun away and forced his hand to Ayane's, pushing it through the psychic blast and gripping her rubbery, stretched skin in his loving hand which trembled in horror. As his hand trembled, the attack began to cease, but a few narrow paths of death still shot out with every opening left by his squirm, and he tightened his grip, squeezing her hand in a way which would've seemed more romantic had he not been saving the world by the only means possible.

    “What have I done... what have I done?!” Ayane yelled, falling to her knees and screaming in abject horror.

    Behind Kawada's forces, a well-blended Venomoth flew, while an Absol approached Mizuko from the back, equally silent in their respective glides and paw-muffled steps. Suddenly, the Absol thrust its head forward, and a blade of darkness ripped fatally through Mizuko's body. At the exact same time, on the other side of the battlefield, the Venomoth opened its mouth to spit a shuriken which buried itself in the back of Kawada's neck, the green venom on its point killing the old man instantly.

    ~

    Author's notes:

    Note that I first concieved of this fic when playing Pokemon Diamond and watching Saikano in my anime club: the Charizard attack in the first chapter was inspired by the air raid on Hokkaido. It won't end the same way, and takes far less from Saikano than in the original draft, but this inspiration's there – especially in this chapter.

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