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  1. #46
    Blazaking was here. Anime Aficionada's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    I think I nearly jizzed when I saw the little fanfiction alert in my email a few hours ago. Chemistry homework could wait for all I cared. My mind is still blown by the sheer awesomeness of your fic, Shin, so I'll just spurt out whatever comes to mind before I resort to a complete and utter mind blank. I swear I nearly cried right where you ended off with chapter 12. I had a feeling it was terminal illness, but for Paul to have it is just so surreal. Your battles are just so full of awesome and epicness and win; you have a wonderful skill of completely captivating your reader. The notion of the term "tl;dr" would be completely exempt in regards to your fic. In short, you are quite definitely one of my favourite writers here, and I'll be loyally reading every other chapter you produce. Keep writing, and I'm so, so sorry to hear about your cat. :( I hope he rests in peace.

  2. #47
    Gonna be a tl;dr Master! Shinneth's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Cried? Really? Meanwhile I was laughing like the diabolical person I am... of course I had this planned for ages. XD But it's awesome that it turns out to be a nice plot twist (guess it'll explain his offstandish behavior whenever I adapt DP128 and 131-132?), so thank you~! Guess in a way it's a form of karma, considering Paul had finally rid himself of Conway in the most dastardly way possible and was so convinced that he was going to progress as he planned... only for it to go all wrong, and while Conway's still suffering, he's finally found a path for himself (his recent status as a League candidate in the latest anime OP convinced me to have him running around winning badges, at least). They'll reunite... at some point... and it'll all be hilarious.

    I expect 13's going to be every bit as eventful, and I'll finally be able to use that chapter title I thought up half a year ago... ♥

    Chapter 19: Black Ice Battle!
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  3. #48
    Le amo Conway Gato's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Thank you! I was having a pretty bad day up until now. Seriously, thanks. So, onto reviewing. So, as mentioned before, Paul's terminally ill... I practically brainwashed myself that wouldn't be the case, but things will certainly be interesting. Great job with Smoochum, too. A first I was a bit nervous about its upcoming presence, but I didn't need to worry! It was really nice hearing things from the Pokemon's point of view. Speaking of which, Torterra's was... poor Torterra. Oh, how could I forget the pizza-fied Mars? I would have laughed so much if my brother wasn't next to me. And, so sorry about this, I must mentioned Conway. At least he's... happy may not be right, but... there's no better description I can think of. Also, did he practically break the fourth wall?

    Anyways, great job! (Here, let me release the two smilies who were trying to escape throughout this review). n_n XD

    Um... on a last note, sorry about Sneaky... I've known for a while, but... Sorry, not too good at... using words...
    Last edited by Gato; 9th February 2010 at 09:34 PM.
    "I'm battling a Magma Abdomen" - my brother

  4. #49
    Blazaking was here. Anime Aficionada's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Quote Originally Posted by Shinneth View Post
    Cried? Really? Meanwhile I was laughing like the diabolical person I am... of course I had this planned for ages. XD
    I can sort of understand you there. Whenever I cause any pain or suffering to a character in one of my own writings I’d be idly grinning away at the notion, whereas a reader however would be crying through it. I’m actually not that much of a Paul fan at all (at least, I wouldn’t fangirl over him by any chance); so for you to actually make me feel any sympathy towards him is saying a great deal about your calibre as a writer. :)
    Quote Originally Posted by Shinneth View Post
    But it's awesome that it turns out to be a nice plot twist (guess it'll explain his offstandish behavior whenever I adapt DP128 and 131-132?), so thank you~!
    Aww, you’re welcome. :) He did seem a little weird during those few episodes, not to mention that the writers conveniently left out our fandom’s daddy theory (...D8<), so I’m more than eager to see your take of it.
    Quote Originally Posted by Shinneth View Post
    They'll reunite... at some point... and it'll all be hilarious.
    Yes, yes indeed. 8D

  5. #50
    Shooty Refutey Crysta Blade's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Uh...long time reader, first time reviewer here. So hi! Please excuse my impending long-windedness.

    Y'know, it was this story that got me interested in Paul as a character. Before, I just thought "ugh, what a boring, generic jerk" and now he's one of my favourites. Well, in a love-hate sorta way, at least =P. How much has my opinion changed? Enough to make me want to watch episodes in the BF and Sinnoh storylines (no prizes for guessing why I didn't before). Still not keen on it, but hey, at least my finger isn't hovering over the mute button so much.

    Oh yeah, I'm here to review, aren't I? Anyhoo, I'm surprised that no-one else has written an AU with the idea that Paul's the spawn of the Pyramid King. Really, with all those people suggesting the theory ever since we first got a glimpse of Paul, you'd think more people would've run with it. Oh well.

    Ack, I should cut to the chase already. Maylene having a crush on Reggie is not only plausible, but oh-so-adorable. Can't say I blame her. Aww, now that's a good idea for a present there, Maylene! I also noticed that she has a Hitmontop and a Breloom. Taken from the Platinum rematch, I assume?

    Oh Mars, you and your priorities. Cyrus would be horrified. Except not, what with the whole "trying to kill my emotions" dealio. The stark contrast between Mars and Saturn is, as Sukizo would put it, remarkable! Makes me wonder how Mars got her position in the first place. Then again, maybe it's for the best we don't know.

    Poor Conway. Poor, poor Conway. I just wanna give him a hug, but I doubt he'd react well after what he's been through. Aww, the mental image of a Smoochum swimming is too cute for words.

    As for Paul? Still laughing at the idea of him falling into a snow pit. At least he thinks that Candice isn't exactly dressed for the weather. I don't get it myself.

    My reaction to the kiai thing was pretty much the same as Paul's. "Mad awesome what now?"

    Oh, the irony. Paul's being just as stubborn as Ash, if not moreso. Scratch that, even Ash wouldn't try to push himself that much.

    See, Paul? This is what you get when you don't take time to recover and clear your head. I think that battle did a great job of illustrating that fact. There's just something satisfying about humiliating and/or torturing your favourite characters, yeah?

    I knew the terminal illness was coming. But that last scene still made my jaw drop. Regardless, it's an interesting thought. Anything in particular that inspired that? And do you have a specific illness in mind?

    I'll backtrack a bit. I still had to blink at the last few lines. If someone can tell you what will happen in a story, and still maintain the emotional impact when it actually happens? In my opinion, that is the sign of an excellent writer.

    Whoa, I really make rambling an extreme sport. Just one last thing I wanna say: you have my condolences. May your cat rest well.

    Dangan Ronpa avatar and sig pic by me. Bases from here.
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  6. #51
    Gonna be a tl;dr Master! Shinneth's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Quote Originally Posted by Gato
    Also, did he practically break the fourth wall?
    Well, Team Rocket can, so why not Conway? Actually, it's sort of a "yes" and "no". Since he's directly responding to a conversation that did take place early in the fic and all, I worded it oddly enough to where it can be interpreted both ways. XD I do not expect to abuse that, though.

    @Crysta: Ahaha, I remember you. Your short LJ entry always popped up whenever I put my fic through search engines, and it's really damn flattering to know this stuff can change people's minds. And I only say that because I'm like sure there's been someone who hated Conway who now loves him due to the fic, same with someone who didn't like Brandon, and probably other people who initially didn't like Paul as well. Admittedly, from what I've seen, he's... not well-represented in the fanfiction. I can think of maybe two other stories where he's actually in character.

    Either way, I love getting questions and thank you for all the thoughts and breaking out of lurkerdom to give them to me! Now let's see what I can do~.

    Quote Originally Posted by Crysta Blade View Post
    I also noticed that she has a Hitmontop and a Breloom. Taken from the Platinum rematch, I assume?
    Most def. Added Primeape so she would have six, and after looking at what was left over, I honestly couldn't see what else she would have (beyond Makuhita/Hariyama, but since Paul has one of those already...).


    Quote Originally Posted by Crysta Blade
    I knew the terminal illness was coming. But that last scene still made my jaw drop. Regardless, it's an interesting thought. Anything in particular that inspired that? And do you have a specific illness in mind?
    Ahhh, the million dollar question. Really, I'm sort of a know-nothing when it comes to medical stuff and have BSed it this entire time. I was banking on some stupid made-up disease since Pokemon canon comes up with that crap all the time. I know people elsewhere guessed TB and lung cancer... I'm pretty sure it's some kind of cancer.

    I'm trying to think back when I decided to have Paul terminally ill... it was probably around the time that I made him sick the first time. People were really amused with it and I had tons of fun writing about Paul going through that torture, so I dragged it out by getting him sick again and again until bam, he realizes he's gonna die in a couple of decades.

    In a way, that really helps to up that impatience of his, since his time is officially limited when it comes to achieving his goals. It gets Paul to look at things from a different perspective (or it will, anyway), as he gradually shows more of his personality in DP128, especially his weaknesses. He's a slow learner for sure, but a good shock to Paul's world gives that prickish protagonist an extra challenge to overcome; something that really hasn't been done by many people before. And I think I established by now that Paul takes after Brandon while Reggie takes after mom. This is where I start twisting it a bit, pushing the bold statement into a gray area by making Paul sick like his mom and Reggie healthy and strong like Brandon. And gradually, over time, more of this shows.

    But yeah. All in all, not much inspired this move, I don't think, above the reactions from readers early on and my personal sadistic enjoyment. Pff, how silly.

    Man, all you guys are great. :') It really makes me happy to see how people are thoroughly enjoying the story after all this time. And thanks for the cat condolences; that was one of the hardest things I ever had to go through, but life experiences are like that. My cat died in the best possible way and he's definitely resting in peace. My mom and I nearly broke our backs making sure of that. Thanks again!

    Chapter 19: Black Ice Battle!
    plurk | SPPF | dA | ff.net

  7. #52
    Shooty Refutey Crysta Blade's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Quote Originally Posted by Shinneth View Post
    Ahaha, I remember you. Your short LJ entry always popped up whenever I put my fic through search engines,
    Meep. You caught me! *shifty eyes* But seriously, it's real nice that you remember me.

    and it's really damn flattering to know this stuff can change people's minds.
    As I recall, I found your story around the time the Snowpoint arc was announced in Japan. Before then, Paul didn't really capture my interest.

    Admittedly, from what I've seen, he's... not well-represented in the fanfiction. I can think of maybe two other stories where he's actually in character.
    Sad, but true. I am stunned by all the "Draco in Leather Pants" treatment he gets in a lot of fanfic and I think to myself "huh? Don't the rabid fangirls usually go for someone a bit more, you know, attractive (Paul definitely got a lousy deal in the genetics department)?" Is it because some see him as a bad boy? Or is it that he's just so much like Silver (another one who cops it)? Whatever the reason, I can't say I agree with it.

    I start to wonder if those fangirls would move to Silver if he ever had a proper animé appearance. Odds say yes, but if he did show up, it'd take the heat off Paul a bit.

    Either way, I love getting questions and thank you for all the thoughts and breaking out of lurkerdom to give them to me!
    Ehehe, no problem. I am kinda shy, so whenever I pluck up the courage to say something, I get really wordy. Perhaps it's a sign that I really need to write my own fanfic.

    Most def. Added Primeape so she would have six, and after looking at what was left over, I honestly couldn't see what else she would have (beyond Makuhita/Hariyama, but since Paul has one of those already...).
    Makes sense. Though Primeape I don't think has been on the show that much, so that works out well.

    Really, I'm sort of a know-nothing when it comes to medical stuff and have BSed it this entire time. I was banking on some stupid made-up disease since Pokemon canon comes up with that crap all the time. I know people elsewhere guessed TB and lung cancer... I'm pretty sure it's some kind of cancer.
    That's okay, my knowledge of medicine extends only to what I've seen on TV, and lord knows how accurate that is. True what you say about canon. There are times when I go "bzuh?"

    As for what it could be, I wouldn't have a clue. All I've got is that the illness results in eventual multiple organ failure, which killed Andrea and will eventually kill Paul...Whoa. I just realised how morbid my mind can get.

    Then again, there could possibly an illness with the same symptoms that Paul has. Hey, if there's something out there that can cause one to believe that everyone's singing (I watch too much Scrubs), who knows?

    I'm trying to think back when I decided to have Paul terminally ill... it was probably around the time that I made him sick the first time. People were really amused with it and I had tons of fun writing about Paul going through that torture, so I dragged it out by getting him sick again and again until bam, he realizes he's gonna die in a couple of decades.
    Characters exist for our own amusement, regardless of how sick and twisted it may be. =P I guess I find satisfaction in someone like Paul no longer being in control. Might be the whole "how the mighty have fallen" thing. And I get the urge to point and laugh at him like I'm Nelson Muntz. Haw-haw! ...'Kay, that sounds a little twisted.

    But yeah. All in all, not much inspired this move, I don't think, above the reactions from readers early on and my personal sadistic enjoyment. Pff, how silly.
    Works for me! The more you like a character, the more you hurt them, right?

    Dangan Ronpa avatar and sig pic by me. Bases from here.
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  8. #53
    ...and Never-Turn-Back. Giratina!'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    /dies

    I have been in the process of reading your (extremely long, might I add) chapters over the past few days, where I've had off from school. And frankly, there was nothing I would rather do with that time!

    Alright, I admit it. The thing that first drew me in to the story was the presence of Conway. He's just a great character. And I'm pleased to report that you kept him wonderfully in that character the entire time, and even drew up a lot of new information that never occurred to me but actually fit in perfectly! (Such as Team Galactic and his connections with them. <3) I'm also very happy with your Paul. I have only had the pleasure of roleplaying with another person who uses him flawlessly, so I can't contribute to your Paul In Leather Pants discussion, but I do know that you did play him perfectly well! Cruel enough to make me think "Oh, yeah, definitely Paul" but also headstrong enough for me to mentally scream "YOU MORON!"

    The whole illness thing wasn't much of a reveal, since it became pretty clear to me after Paul got sick the second time that there was something seriously wrong with him, and that was sort of solidified when you explained his mother's death. So I can't say it was a perfectly-executed avalanche of foreshadowing, but it was certainly fascinating to watch. XD

    All of the canon characters were kept perfectly in line - no simple feat, I tell you, being a person who roleplays and writes about canon characters all the time - and the plot is believable but just Galactic-y enough to keep me thinking "Yeah, this is totally something Saturn/Mars/Magneton Man Cyrus would do". I love how you made Mars' primary motivation pizza, and not to mention her borderline-sadistic feminine skills. |3 Saturn is good, too, though I do think he ought to lose his temper just a little more often. He did it quite a lot with Charon around in The Gateway to Ruin! or whatever that Looker-fu episode was called. |3

    I also envy your ability to write battles and long chapters. Long chapters because, well, I was 'brought up' in fanfiction at a place where the character limit was 20,000, and like all little kids back then I thought the character limit was God when it came to fic length. So I was writing four-page chapters for a lot of my early existence... yikes. I'm breaking the habit and getting uo to around eight pages, but I'm still in awe of you. And battles... I am an epic failure at battles, even now, and you execute them so perfectly that it really seems like they've been ripped directly out of the more epic parts of the anime. And for that, I salute you. Again.

    And oh yeah: did I mention Conway? 'Cause it's a real pain in the tail to find some decent works on Conway.

    All in all, THIS FIC IS SERIOUSLY AWESOME! No amount of words could explain how cool this story is, so I'll just shut up now with a "Keep writing already!"
    valuable are the new friends
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  9. #54
    Registered User Andre27's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    I was hoping for an update, but alas.

  10. #55
    Gonna be a tl;dr Master! Shinneth's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Quote Originally Posted by Andre27 View Post
    I was hoping for an update, but alas.
    Yeaaaah... it's been over three months by now, ahah. Chapter 13 is almost done (it's around 17k words currently, which is roughly as long as the previous chapters have been); I just have maybe a quarter of the main scene left to write and then a short scene to wrap up the chapter. Main reason this has taken so long is A) Spring hates me and wants me sick every week, B) My cross to bear as a female every month hasn't been treating me much better, C) I've invested 185 hours into SoulSilver if that's any indication of where a lot of my attention went, and D) I finally got a job after three years of failure. It's also my first full-time job and in the government, no less, so I've had to focus on getting used to a normal sleep schedule for once. This is actually a very good thing because I'm able to write the fic at work (since there's a lull in the workload and I'm not even registered in all of the systems yet, so there's not much work I've actually been able to do on my own). So within a week, the fic jumped from 7 pages to 30.

    At this rate, I ought to have the chapter done and up sometime this coming week unless my body refuses to let me do anything productive as it often does during "that time". But I should have something to buffer the pain this time around, so that will hopefully remedy that issue. I was hoping to get it done this weekend, but like I said. Feeling like crap, and forcing myself to write like that is going to reek of crap-writing that was phoned in. I really do want to get it done by the end of this coming week, though, since Super Mario Galaxy 2 is due to come out a week from now unless I'm mistaken... and if it's as awesome as its predecessor, that will become the game that sucks up all my time for certain. The original's music was actually a big source of inspiration during certain scenes in Chapter 8.

    But yeah, 13 is forthcoming. Just to let you know ahead of time, Paul is hardly in this chapter. He's got one 4-page scene and I plan to give him another small scene at the end, but that's it. This mainly centers around a Reggie/Maylene scene (since so many people wanted to see that battle, which I initially never planned to write out) that will serve as Reggie's motivation to go to Snowpoint City, and more importantly Conway dealing with his family ordeals that sets the stage for his journey's beginning. Even though I consider the chapter Conway-centric, it almost feels like Maylene's really the one on center stage since she's been in both of the major scenes of this fic. Which is just as well, since I don't expect Maylene to appear again for a long time after this chapter. That's probably another factor as to why this chapter's taken so long; while Paul and Conway are very easy for me to write, Reggie can be tricky and Maylene's flat-out difficult.

    Anyway, I'll be eager to start 14 not long after I finish this since it's the last chapter before the A Pyramiding Rage! adaption and it'll serve as the official appearance of Barry in the fic. So I'm still fully on-board with this, believe it! It's just been quite an eventful bundle of months in my life. First the cat dying, and now I'm suddenly employed.

    ... Meh, I wanted to write today, even, but I dunno if I can get myself to do it. So I might as well respond very belatedly to all this other stuff that came months ago!

    Quote Originally Posted by Giratina!
    Saturn is good, too, though I do think he ought to lose his temper just a little more often. He did it quite a lot with Charon around in The Gateway to Ruin!
    I made a note of that since there's quite a bit of Saturn in this chapter as well. He's an even bigger douchebag in addition to that, and I do plan on adapting The Gateway to Ruin! when the time comes. ♥

    Quote Originally Posted by Giratina!
    I was 'brought up' in fanfiction at a place where the character limit was 20,000, and like all little kids back then I thought the character limit was God when it came to fic length.
    Huh, really? Wonder what kind of place that was. I was brought up writing fics on Wordpad and later MS Word where no such limit ever existed and I'm pretty sure any forum I visited in the past didn't have limits like that, either. Then there was ff.net, so the only place so far I've known to be a total bitch about character limits is Serebii's forums (and deviantArt too). And yes, it is a pain in the ass to fragment my chapters over there. So I guess I was raised without much discipline in regards to story length. XD And look what that spawned into. Total monsters.

    Quote Originally Posted by Crysta Blade
    I start to wonder if those fangirls would move to Silver if he ever had a proper animé appearance. Odds say yes, but if he did show up, it'd take the heat off Paul a bit.
    I... agree with that. Paul's definitely an acquired taste as far as the looks go (haha, Reggie ended up being the cute one). Fangirls just make the best of what they have, but if there was a proper Silver, then yeah, Paul would be quite royally ignored.

    Also, even more belatedly:

    Quote Originally Posted by Crysta Blade
    I'm surprised that no-one else has written an AU with the idea that Paul's the spawn of the Pyramid King. Really, with all those people suggesting the theory ever since we first got a glimpse of Paul, you'd think more people would've run with it.
    Not a day goes by that I don't ask myself that very same question. Most rumors this old usually have tons of fanon backup (can't imagine how many stories there are with Professor Oak being Ash's dad), but I've done my fair share of looking, and beyond the occasional fanart, there's really no material based off that theory at all. Not so sure about the other languages, but this fic's gotten a lot of recognition from both French and German fans despite it being purely English, so that leads me to believe that it really is scarce. Weird...

    Alrighty, I'll just cross my fingers and hope for the best, because I want this chapter done as much as you all do, I'm sure. I did go out of my way to make a new banner for the fic a while ago just to prove that I am really still working on it, swear to god. XD So yeah, the wait won't be much longer!

    Chapter 19: Black Ice Battle!
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  11. #56
    Gonna be a tl;dr Master! Shinneth's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    (Alright! Here's some actual content for you guys! Sorry it took so long, seriously.)


    It had only been hours ago since Paul was directly confronted with the truth and was forced to accept it no matter how hard he tried to tune it out.

    Though it would be stretching it to say that Paul had fully accepted it at this point. He wasn't aware of it, but Paul had just passed through the first stage of grief: denial. The Veilstone City trainer would have to be as dense as Ash Ketchum to not realize earlier what was really going on. Paul suspected something might be wrong with him ever since he first set foot into Squallville. Truthfully, his problems had started well before then, but until that point, Paul had honestly believed it was just bad luck.

    His deteriorating condition recently was a cause for concern, however. Much as Paul constantly tried to shove it out of his mind and focus on other matters, a tiny cloud of doubt dwelled in the back of his mind. With the doubt soon came the fear; that was the element that sent Paul into denial in the first place. Not merely out of fear itself… but due to the fact that Paul hated being afraid of anything.

    To him, it was a most despicable and unforgivable weakness. It was one of many reasons why he never meshed well with Chimchar, a Pokémon that had shown honest fear plainly on its face since the day the two crossed paths. Fear was a great element in why Paul loathed his father with open intensity, the irony being that his old man was the bearer of the Brave Symbol. The reason for this alleged hypocrisy in Paul's eyes? That was rather complicated… but it all lied within the circumstances of his family's falling out once his mother passed on.

    There was little Paul could do about resisting the fear of sharing his mother's fate; it was a perfectly normal (and especially understandable) thing to be afraid of. But once more, Paul rarely thought that "normal" behavior was acceptable. As the Pyramid King's son, he at least shared his father's view of always striving to go above and beyond. Not just as a Pokémon trainer, but also as a human being. That's where the similarities in their philosophies end, however.

    All in all, it turned out that there were in fact many things in life that were simply beyond Paul's control. Paul was forced to live with the consequences of his ignorance and figure out where to go and what to do from here. But as the news was still fresh in his mind, Paul had no desire to speak to anybody at this time. While he was still in Snowpoint City's hospital, he was considered an AWOL patient, having left his bed during a rare moment where he was left alone after stabilizing and ultimately holed himself up within a bathroom stall.

    It wasn't exactly the best hiding spot, but the weakened Paul's abilities were even more limited than they usually were. The drugs were likely the cause of that, good as they were at keeping Paul's pain to a minimum. Additionally, Paul was not ready to face the world yet in light of this news. The most comfortable place at this point for the young man was a small space that would drive a claustrophobic person mad; a lifeless environment so that Paul could concentrate and make sense of his current position. Still, even with the comfort of solitude, Paul shivered uncontrollably with the chilly floor and air. He propped himself up completely over a covered toilet, hugging his knees and resting his head against them. Paul was beside himself in pure anguish. Not knowing what to do only brought forth more unwanted fear. What he did know was that it would only be a matter of time before he was found and forced to come back into the real world. Paul prided himself on being decisive… but this was the one time where he found himself overwhelmed with doubt and completely without confidence. As such, making a decision… was difficult now. Paul used to not fear making the wrong choice, as long as he made the effort to stick with one rather than floating about indecisively like certain people who recently traveled by his side. A wrong choice still accomplished more than not making a choice at all, Paul thought.

    For once, Paul truly feared the consequences of a wrong choice here. Being told so firmly and directly of his physical frailty shattered his very essence. If only he could get the privacy he needed in order to concentrate…

    "Hey, Paul! You in there…?"

    While Paul expected someone to barge into the facilities looking for him, Paul did not expect that someone to be a female… much less a familiar-sounding one.

    Mainly, this was due to the fact that this was the men's bathroom. The spirited Gym Leader, Candice, was either completely oblivious to her blunder or disregarded it for the sake of her priority in searching for Paul.

    This was what made it obvious to Paul that the entire hospital must be looking for him now; he didn't even remember Candice coming over for a visit.

    "Awfully quiet in here," Candice muttered, surveying the surroundings. "Searching thoroughly is always priority one, though. I'd better not leave a stone unturned." She specifically eyed the stalls.

    Paul sighed. It was as if the gods were mocking him, seeing how often he would be met up with the very last person he wanted to speak to at the worst possible time. Ultimately, Paul found it better to ward Candice away now than having her open the door and giving her the full view of what he had become. In spite of his suffering, Paul was still able to convincingly pull off his usual rude and uncouth act. "You shouldn't be in here."

    Candice gasped and turned to the stall where the voice came from. It hadn't been that long ago since the battle at Snowpoint Gym and the low-pitched voice was clearly distinguishable. "Paul…? Is that you?"

    "You're looking for me, right?" Paul asked in an accusatory tone. "The whole hospital must be by now. Though that doesn't explain why you're here."

    The Gym Leader had gotten word on Paul's diagnosis when she arrived, so she knew this was a situation meant to be taken seriously. "I was coming by for a visit to see how you were doing," she told him with full honesty. "What happened at Snowpoint Gym really had me worried. But just as I stepped through the doors, the staff told me you had gone missing, so I volunteered to help them find you."

    "I need some time to myself," was Paul's simple explanation. "So if you wouldn't mind, don't tell anyone where I am. You see now that I'm fine… I'll return to my room when I'm ready."

    Candice's expressions faltered a bit as she began to feel conflicted. Now that she knew of his condition, Paul's actions were a little easier to understand. "I'll talk with the staff on your behalf about giving you some alone-time," she assured. "But I can't just leave you here, Paul. They told me everything… about how sick you are. And I'm really sorry to hear that…"

    She carefully inched closer towards the stalls in hopes of cornering her challenger, but Paul could both hear her steps and see her shadow coming towards him; he knew what Candice had in mind. "Don't come any closer!" he threatened, raising his voice dramatically.

    "Ack!" Candice froze just then, startled at the viciousness of Paul's tone. There was an awkward moment of silence before the Gym Leader found her voice again. "L-Listen, Paul… let's not make this difficult, okay? How about we just…"

    In spite of his physical state (not to mention being medicated), Paul was still sharp enough to formulate a plan for keeping Candice away. "No! No negotiations!" he insisted. "If you were told everything, then you know my life is already forfeit. Make one wrong move and I'll make sure my life ends by my own hands before the disease ever gets a chance."

    Candice couldn't believe what she was hearing. The very mention of suicide had her mind on high alert, which made it difficult for her to stay put as Paul instructed. "Wait, no! Paul, don't-… please, you've got to think this over!!"

    Paul smirked, not surprised how easily Candice was fooled into believing his words. After all, most threats like this were hard to disregard whether or not they were genuine. "I have been. Why else would I go through the trouble of escaping my own bed and all the way here? It's hard to pull off suicide when I'm so heavily monitored."

    "You can't mean that!" Candice cried out. Now she was a little too afraid to leave the restroom. "I know this has got to be hard for you to live with, but you can't give everything up now!" She frowned. "You're too strong a person to be thinking like that…"

    "And you would know, wouldn't you?" Paul snidely replied. "Don't act like you know how I feel; you're not the one who's going to die at age thirty."

    This was getting too intense for Candice to handle on her own. Never before had she ever dealt with suicidal opponents. It wasn't adding up in her head why Paul would resort to this so quickly, but Candice realized it would be unwise to overthink this.

    "Paul, we're trying to help you," she pleaded. "We can make the best of this, I promise! You just have to believe in us…"

    "Believe?" Paul scoffed, having abandoned that practice years ago. "What good is that? I'm still going to die. I'm warning you, Candice: back off or this knife goes right through my throat."

    Of course, there was no knife. Paul was still bluffing.

    "H-how did you get a knife?!" Candice wailed, looking very nervous at this point. "Don't…!"

    Paul was unable to stop smirking, as he actually felt joyous to be toying with the Gym Leader that just wiped the floor with him earlier that day. "In a hospital? It's easier than you think as long as you don't get caught. Now stop asking stupid questions and do as I say."

    "I-if you're serious about this," Candice stammered. "How can I be sure you won't kill yourself the second I leave?!"

    "Guess you'll just have to trust me," Paul slyly replied. "But I'll end it here and now if you don't leave, so you really don't have any options."

    As Candice slowly backed away, an idea suddenly struck her. "No… there's another way." She brought out one of her Pokéballs and tossed it. "Sneasel, I need your help…!"

    The sound of a Pokémon being released from its ball was alarming for Paul, as his first assumption was that she was going to take him back by force. "Call it back!" he barked, genuinely threatened. "This is your last warning!"

    Candice had a feeling this would make Paul overreact and was quick to hush him. "It's not what you think! I'll leave, but only if my Sneasel can keep an eye on you so I know you won't try anything while I'm gone."

    "Is that all?" Paul warily asked, not sure if he should go along with this. "I don't want it any closer than you are right now. If you'll concede to that, then we have a deal."

    "Fine," Candice agreed, stiffly nodding her head. "But Sneasel will go in there if you try to hurt yourself, alright? … I'll give you your privacy now."

    It wasn't exactly what he wanted, but Paul could at least live with the compromise if he didn't have to personally deal with Candice's Sneasel. "Go ahead," he affirmed, frowning and glaring daggers at the floor where he could see the two shadows. To his relief, Candice was sticking to her word and leaving the vicinity.

    He let out an exhausted sigh once he was certain that Candice was no longer in the restroom. Thinking back on it, Paul couldn't believe he actually resorted to empty suicidal threats to earn these extra few moments of solitude.

    It seemed to not make much of a difference regardless, as Paul was no more collected when he was finally taken back to his room than he was when he first ran off to begin with. Candice wasn't there to witness this, but was able to at least negotiate with the doctors to give Paul a private recovery room.

    Much as it helped Paul to finally have some alone time for himself, it was still going to take a couple of days for this to sink in. It would only get worse from there; Paul couldn't imagine how he was going to break this news to Reggie. He was glad to at least have gotten the birthday present out of the way, but sooner or later, he knew his brother was going to be calling every Pokémon Center in the region trying to track him down.





    In the smallest of ways, luck seemed to be on Paul's side this time. Reggie had not been making any calls for the next few days, and the cause of that was… believe it or not, Maylene. The full battle that occurred on Reggie's birthday resulted in a tie. A desire to see a more conclusive result spawned a series of matches between Reggie and Maylene through the next few days, as they both gave it their all to prove their battling superiority. Maylene proved to be an extremely fierce opponent with her full party out, and Reggie knew he would not be ready to move on to the next level of his training until he could overcome Maylene. The Gym Leader was not going easy on him, either. Her burning desire to make this "birthday present" count for Reggie kept her fighting spirit strong.

    After another long and drawn-out full battle, Maylene and Reggie were down to their final Pokémon: Lucario and Infernape. Reggie's starter had the type advantage, but had been intermittently in and out of the fight since it began, and therefore had sustained quite a bit of damage already. It suffered fatigue while Lucario was relatively fresh, but was willing to fight it out to the bitter end.

    "This time, we're going to have a definitive winner," Maylene confidently stated. "And once this battle ends, you'll know whether or not you're ready to move on to the next level of training."

    Reggie nodded, smirking. He was thankful to be gifted with natural-born strength that allowed him to hang in there this long. "I'd like to think you've got a plan for us," he mentioned, gesturing to Infernape. "Because I've got the advantage right now."

    "By type alone, maybe," Maylene noted, now smirking herself. "But Infernape's been in and out of this since the beginning. Lucario's fresh. We're definitely going to outlast you."

    Lucario was focused against its opponent, who was staring Lucario right in the eye. Infernape knew a good, direct Blast Burn or two could end this. It was just a matter of playing it smart, which Infernape hoped Reggie would be able to do in spite of his tired state. But Lucario had the perfect move to stop Infernape in its tracks and stall for time. Maylene was definitely going to make use of it.

    "Let's not hold back, then," Reggie instructed Infernape, now determined to outlast the Gym Leader. "Infernape, Focus Blast!"

    "Lucario, Aura Sphere!" Maylene was quick to counter. The moves were similar in type and execution, but while Focus Blast was easily the more powerful of the two, Aura Sphere had flawless accuracy and did not require as much downtime to charge. Before Infernape was even able to completely launch Focus Blast at its opponent, it was already met with another ball of energy crashing against it, threatening to throw both back onto Infernape.

    This was a strategy that could easily make or break a competitor if it was not handled quickly. Both sources of energy clashed against each other and would eventually create a devastating explosion upon Infernape, who was trying to keep Aura Sphere at bay with the energy it had collected for Focus Blast. But at this point, Infernape's strength was failing. Reggie knew the results would be disastrous if he didn't act fast.

    "Infernape, redirect the flow of the energy and make an arc!" he shouted out, not completely sure if that would get his starter out of there completely. "That should get you out of there!"

    Infernape grunted as it tried out Reggie's theory. Maylene stared in awe, as she had seen similar strategies pulled off against her from past competitors who had plans for countering her Lucario's Aura Sphere. The energy was bent upwards towards the sky, forming a magnificent arc of unstable energy. With the majority of both attacks directed out of the field, Infernape attempted to break itself from the energy, only to be knocked back by a small explosion at the tail end of the arc before the energy from both attacks soared into the sky and created a much larger explosion, blinding both trainers for a short moment while the energy remnants subsided.

    "That was really good," Maylene complimented, though still a tad smug. "But it looks like Infernape still sustained damage. If I had sent anything other than Aura Sphere, it might have gotten of scot free. But Aura Sphere is difficult to neutralize."

    Reggie nodded cautiously, eyeing Infernape and seeing it was still able to battle, but it definitely felt that blow. "Aura Sphere can't be dodged in most cases," he remembered. "Even if I can absorb it into another attack and send it away…"

    "That's the power of Aura!" Maylene exclaimed. "It's too strong to just disappear like that. By connecting to that Focus Blast, it connected to Infernape itself. There was no way you weren't going to sustain damage, Reggie."

    "I'll keep that in mind in the future," Reggie assured her. "Infernape, let's try more direct attacks from now on."

    As Infernape nodded to its trainer, Maylene had a serious look on her face. She didn't even need to face Lucario, as both were perfectly on the same page. "It's time, Lucario…"

    Thrusting an arm forward, Reggie shouted out his next command. "Now, Close Combat!"

    With its amazing speed, Infernape quickly closed the distance between itself and Lucario and proceeded to bombard it with every ounce of energy left in its body. However, Maylene smirked, knowing this to be ideal for her counterattack.

    "Lucario, Bone Rush!" she commanded, watching her partner form a bone-shaped Aura-made weapon that would unleash a series of super-effective moves upon Infernape at the end of every punch and kick. Reggie frowned knowingly; that Ground-type move was the one way Lucario would be able to take out Infernape in a short amount of time. While Lucario was easily taking damage with the powerful Close Combat attack, it seemed closing in on Lucario left Reggie and Infernape not much better off than they were from a distance.

    But beyond the type clashes and stamina differences, there was one other thing that gave Reggie the edge overall: rusty as he may have been recently, Reggie was the one with the most overall experience. Maylene didn't have four regions' worth of adventuring, and while she had Lucario since she was very young as a Riolu, Reggie and Infernape had eight years of experience. The wisdom and tactics Reggie developed over time simply outclassed Maylene's, and not only by age differences alone. The real Reggie; the one who had been fighting before going against Brandon, would have easily defeated Maylene by now.

    The fact that Maylene had Reggie on the ropes numerous times to the point where he couldn't yet score a decisive victory over her told the Breeder that he still had a long way to go before he would be able to ascend beyond his limits. But the two had been battling for a long time by now; after so many ties, it was high time to end this and determine whether or not Reggie was ready to move on.

    "Stay calm!" Reggie called out to Infernape, watching his starter counter every super-effective blow with its own. The heat naturally coming from Infernape's body additionally made the situation especially uncomfortable for Lucario. Maylene was dreading the moment that Reggie was going to call for a Fire-type move… as strong as she knew he was, it was obvious that distance didn't matter at this point. Stalling with Bone Rush was all she could really do until Infernape would finally wear down. But she knew she'd have to be quick in taking Infernape out, because she was so very aware of Infernape's special ability: Blaze.

    Where Paul had trouble invoking Chimchar's Blaze ability the whole time he had trained it, the elder brother had no problem at all keeping Infernape under control in spite of the rage and power that came with desperation. But to be fair, Paul was similarly able to handle the Grass-type equivalent of Blaze, which was Overgrow, in times of Torterra getting into a pinch. Though Paul wouldn't admit to it out loud and made sure to make it seem like Torterra was of no greater importance than anyone else on the team, a bond did exist; had they not become so close, Torterra never would have been able to achieve the ultimate power of Frenzy Plant.

    It was the Fire-type equivalent of Frenzy Plant that Maylene knew was coming; it was just a matter of when. Fighting-type moves were bad enough on Lucario… she wasn't sure how long Lucario would hold up against the flames. Maylene could already tell Lucario was already suffering with Infernape's natural heat. "Push it back, Lucario!" she instructed. "Infernape won't last long; take advantage of Bone Rush's range!"

    Indeed, Maylene and Lucario were well-trained in their own way and knew how to improvise certain attacks. The energy bone Lucario continued to wield thus grew longer, giving Lucario a bit of space as Infernape was pushed back considerably. Upon seeing Infernape's flames burst dramatically after a fierce screech from it, Reggie knew this was the pivotal moment: Blast Burn by itself was immensely powerful. Charged up even further with Blaze made Blast Burn something that would easily be too much for Lucario. The risk to this move was one Reggie was all too familiar with: Infernape would be rendered immobile and helpless for a period of time once this was executed. As this battle depended on the brutal strength and speed aspects of the Pokémon… not to mention Infernape simply did not have the time to spare on being forced to rest, it was all but a certainty that if Blast Burn missed or failed to knock out Lucario here and now that the victory would be Maylene's.

    The time seemed right; Reggie had a natural talent of being able to tell when a Pokémon was hanging by a thread. He had to be absolutely sure that Blast Burn would finish the job, which is why he held back on it until now. Infernape smirked at Lucario while simply taking the Bone Rush blows; Maylene's connection with Lucario alerted both Gym Leader and Pokémon as to what was forthcoming.

    "Uh-oh…!" Maylene gulped. Getting Lucario in too close would end it for sure, and after a certain amount of distance, Bone Rush was no longer feasible. Other than dodging, Maylene had no idea how she would counter an attack like this, and even then… Blast Burn was extremely difficult to dodge. She had nothing but hope and luck to bank on.

    "Infernape, it's time!" Reggie announced; there was no room left for any doubt to be had. His stance was valiant and focused… there was no question that he knew what he was doing.

    Infernape's flames burst from its head and tail as it glowed with a red hue. The power it was about to unleash would be unreal.

    "Get ready, Lucario," Maylene warned, really having nothing more than that to offer her partner that it wouldn't already know.

    All charged up, Infernape gestured to Reggie to show its readiness. Pumping a fist in the air, Reggie decided to make it official. "Now, use-…"

    Nothing followed that other than a rather unexpected sound…

    The phone from indoors was ringing.

    Everyone on the battlefield looked surprised, except for Reggie, whose immediate instinct was to rush into the house and answer the call. Upon seeing this, Maylene slumped and heaved out an exhausted sigh. "You've got to be kidding me…"

    Lucario was no less exasperated while Infernape busied itself with trying to calm down. When the straits were this dire, the battle couldn't simply be resumed like this and still be realistic. The tense final moments simply couldn't be broken up by anything, lest the entire mood of the battle be ruined.

    "Another draw again…" Maylene bemoaned, taking a seat on the ground. "And I was so sure that this time…" Would be different, she would have said if her lack of energy hadn't held her back to allow anything more than another frustrated sigh. It was true at this point; Maylene was ready to take a loss over one more tie. Even though it seemed to be all but certain doom for her and Lucario… nothing could be proven until it actually happened.

    Reggie was just as frustrated over the ordeal; he was more eager than anyone to see this battle's outcome. He too knew the battle couldn't really be picked up at this point. Still, he shoved annoyance to the side for professionalism's sake and brought out a smile as he answered the call.

    A young male trainer was on the receiving end, no older than Reggie's little brother. "Oh, Reggie! I'm glad you're around… usually you're real prompt with the phone, y'know?"

    It was hard for Reggie not to crack a very nervous grin at that remark. "Yeah… sorry about that; I was outside, so it took a little longer than usual…"

    Now that his mindset was back to his natural ways, the perceptive Reggie blinked in surprise as he recognized this caller: one of his customers. "Wait, now I remember! Alex, right? You and your family went vacationing in the Hoenn region…"

    Alex nodded. "Yup, that's me. It was awesome and a real change of scenery. Thanks again for agreeing to take care of my Sunkern while we were gone."

    "You made the right choice," Reggie assured him. "Snowpoint City is no place to leave a baby Grass-type unattended. So you're ready to pick the little guy up?"

    "Actually…" The hesitance in Alex's voice did not bode well for Reggie, and he could tell that immediately. "It turns out that we had a huge blizzard overnight and now I'm sort of trapped in the house. It may be a while before we can get ourselves shoveled out, so could you maybe…?"

    Reggie blinked. Snowpoint City residents were used to this kind of weather; if it was a serious case for them… "You mean…" He pointed to himself. "Me?"

    "If it wouldn't trouble you," Alex requested. "They're getting the roads cleaned up a lot faster than the neighborhoods, so I don't think you'll have any trouble getting up here and dropping Sunkern off at the Pokémon Center. That's usually the place they clear out first…"

    Though Reggie had delivered Pokémon to their trainers personally before, this was still a tall order. It would take a few days, even by car, to reach Snowpoint City from Veilstone, especially if the weather wasn't cooperating. This was something that would undoubtedly blow away at least a week's worth of training he could get in at home.

    But what was Reggie going to do, turn the kid down? Paul's had even crazier requests before… and Reggie simply couldn't neglect his duties when he was needed the most. Sure, they have been taking a backseat to the training so far… but this was not something Maylene would be able to do in Reggie's place. And he wasn't going to force the poor kid to struggle all the way down the mountain by himself… no, once again, Reggie had to set his training aside for a greater purpose.

    "Then don't worry about it," Reggie cheerfully accepted. "I'll head off right now so you can get your Pokémon back as soon as possible. Sunkern's missed you terribly as it is."

    Even though Reggie knew he was making the right choice, he still felt a little bad. He knew his father likely would have urged the kid to go through the trouble of getting it back himself… but Reggie was better than that. He decided he would just have to make up for the loss of time by training even harder once he got back. Most of all, he just hoped Maylene would be able to take care of the place completely by herself.

    "I really appreciate it, Reggie," Alex thanked, bowing his head. "I'll look forward to hearing back from you! Just be careful, okay?"

    "Of course, of course," Reggie said with a laugh, waving off the concern. "Like I said, there's nothing to be worried about. I'll let you know when I make it up there."

    "Good luck, then! Bye!" And thus the call ended. It slowly sank into Reggie what he just agreed to… and he really hated to inconvenience Maylene by making her take on both full-time Breeder and Gym Leader duties, but he honestly didn't know who else he could trust the place with. Thankfully, she had been learning a lot by watching his example… a little faith was all that was needed.

    Reggie stepped outside again, immediately regretful when he was faced with an exhausted Maylene still sitting on the ground, Lucario forcing itself to meditate, and Infernape still antsy from all that pent-up energy. By taking that call, he also caused yet another indecisive result in battle. It hurt even more when Maylene spoke up…

    "It's alright, Reggie, really," she promised, still a bit breathless. "We can just try again tomorrow. I know you can't just ignore calls like that, but I think next time we can-…"

    "Maylene," Reggie gently interceded. "It's going to be a while before there's a "next time". I'm sorry."

    That was not the kind of response Maylene expected; it actually worried her to see such a somber look on her friend's face. "Reggie, what happened?" she asked, desperate to know. "If it's something serious, by all means…!"

    "It's not exactly… serious," Reggie admitted. "But it's going to require me to leave town for a few days. And I know you'll say that you'll do it in my place, but this is really something only I can do."

    "What are you talking about?" Maylene inquired, knowing Reggie must have a reason for assuming right off the bat that she couldn't pull something off for him. "Just go ahead and say it."

    "There's a kid's Pokémon I've been taking care of while he and his family vacationed in Hoenn. Turns out they just recently got back… and now he's snowed in, but he's unable to pick up his Sunkern on his own," he explained, still with a look of guilt on his face. "I've done deliveries before, but never this far from home, really… the kid lives in Snowpoint City."

    Maylene nodded. "I can see why you'd do that… but Reggie, that's going to cut into your schedule and I promised that I would cover for you…"

    "The fact of the matter is, Maylene, that you're too young to drive," Reggie pointed out almost humorously. "And there's no way I'm letting you go by foot. It took quite a bargain just so I could let Paul go. And you have to remember what I've been saying…"

    Maylene uneasily shrugged. "You've been saying a lot lately…"

    "True," Reggie agreed. "But I even told dad this… that whether or not I beat him in battle, I'm going back to my life the way it is now. For something like this, I'm still always a Breeder before a Trainer nowadays… and remember what I said before my birthday?"

    "That reaching adulthood means you have to grow up and make certain sacrifices for the greater good," she paraphrased, still getting the general message. She understood why Reggie wouldn't let her go on such a dangerous journey… it was a bit flattering, actually, but still frustrating knowing how long she would have to wait before they could battle again. "I get it… you need me to take care of things here while you're gone, right?"

    Reggie nodded. "That's what you signed up for. You've just had my help up until this point. But at this stage, I think you're ready to handle it all by yourself."

    "Of course!" Maylene agreed. "I assumed I would be doing that from the very beginning until the accident… don't worry, I can do the job."

    "I just hope business doesn't get too heavy on both ends," Reggie said, clearly worried about worst-case scenarios in all areas. "It won't be easy being a Breeder and Gym Leader full-time. If there was another way…"

    Maylene just waved off the concern. "Hey, I've been getting stronger all this time, too! And getting used to the housework like this… I'm sure I can juggle the two jobs around and perform to both your standards and mine."

    It was hard to try and tell Maylene otherwise; Reggie knew there was no other choice. "I promise we'll have our decisive battle once I get back."

    "You may get rusty if you go that long without training," Maylene mumbled, staring at the ground. "You were so strong today… and I really think you would have won. You would have proved yourself worthy of advancing to the next level… and this could set you back more than you think."

    "I'll take every opportunity I can to make sure my team stays sharp during the trip," Reggie assured her. "That's why I'm taking them all with me. At least that's six less mouths for you to feed, right?"

    Maylene nodded. "You may need them along the way if it's going to be a rough ride. Besides, you deserve some company for such a long trip. But I'll hold down the fort while you're gone!" After a cheesy salute, she then looked inquisitive. "Uh… when exactly are you leaving?"

    "Today," Reggie responded, promptly recalling Infernape back into its Pokéball. "As soon as possible, really, so I'm going to start packing up right now."

    Maylene was surprised at first, but knew why Reggie was ready to quickly get this over with. "Well, let me at least help out with that so you can get on the road quicker," she offered, to which Reggie nodded in response. As he walked back into the house, Maylene stood up and looked tiredly down at Lucario.

    "Even if it won't be for that long, it'll feel lonely without him around here," she admitted, though it wasn't like she needed to tell Lucario this. Lucario knew all too well about the deep feelings its trainer held for Reggie. Suddenly, Maylene's stomach started to grumble, which made her blush.

    "I'm not sure what I'll miss more… him or his food!"

    It was adjustment everyone had to make, but at least it was just temporary.





    Saturn was so grateful that Conway's parents were… lacking in parenting skills, so to speak. Any reasonable parent would have tried to find out where their son would be after a week or more of no contact, but the fact that Conway's mother and father were so inattentive was truly a blessing for the Galactic Commander. Conway's older sister was less so… but loathed him so much that she was glad to have not heard from him in so long. She really did not appreciate being dissed on live national television by him.

    Before Saturn knew it, a week had passed since Mars informed him of his cousin's apparent demise and it was time to check on his group of back-up men outsourced from Team Galactic. By now they would have had plenty of time to scour Route 216 from top to bottom to remove all traces of the Team Galactic helicopter from the scene of the crime and found his cousin's body. He promptly gave them a call right on schedule.

    "It's been exactly a week now; the week in which you were tasked to clear out the crime scene on Route 216," Saturn informed them. "What is your status?"

    "All remains of the helicopter have been destroyed and removed from the premises as you requested," came the answer of the head of the contracted men to clean up Team Galactic's mess. "Unfortunately, we never found a body that matched the description you gave us. I assure you our search was very thorough."

    To have things not completely go Saturn's way was frustrating at best. "You're absolutely certain all of your men knew exactly who to find? I'm having trouble believing that you honestly failed to find a corpse in a week's time in a concentrated area."

    "Route 216 isn't exactly so straight and narrow as you believe it to be," the man challenged. "Getting rid of the helicopter was a relatively simple task, so you have my word that we put forth all our effort into finding that body."

    "You're all worthless," Saturn spat. "Absolute trash… such reputable men as yourselves only getting your job half-done!"

    "We did everything in our power," was the tired response given to Saturn. "At this point, I would say the body may have been discovered by someone else prior to our search… or possibly a Pokémon, in which case I highly doubt there's much of anything left to find."

    Saturn's eyes narrowed; while not having a dead body to go with, the hypothesis did give him an idea. "The wildlife indigenous to that area… I would not put that out of the question."

    "If I may, sir," the man interjected. "Even with the job only "half-done" as you claim, the most important part that was accomplished was remaining all traces of Team Galactic having ever been in this area. There's nothing left for you to worry about in regards to your organization."

    That much was true. Saturn was much more concerned with getting the blood off Team Galactic's hands than actually finding his cousin's body. "Your failure has still caused me an inconvenience, so do not expect your payment in full. I will commend you for keeping your priorities straight, at the very least. But I highly suggest hiring more competent men in the near future."

    "Then we are dismissed from the job?"

    Reluctantly, Saturn sighed. "It would be a waste of time and money at this point to keep going if what you say is true. But something you said has given me an idea how to get around that minor problem, so I will deal with that accordingly. But I reiterate: I expected perfection from your men. Therefore I refuse to pay you the amount I originally set. I strongly urge you to not press the matter; you will regret it, and that I can assure you."

    "My men will be punished as I deem adequate," the mysterious man promised. "But you are fortunate to have such a large organization to hide behind on your own ungrateful behalf."

    To that, Saturn merely scoffed. "I will not resort to bickering with you. I will have your check delivered by the end of the day, but now I need to make preparations to make up for your ineptitude. This call is over."

    Saturn promptly slammed his cell phone shut, grumbling to himself. He soon realized that he did not work hard enough in securing his privacy, as he soon heard a familiar, feminine giggle coming from behind him.

    "So, what're you gonna do?" the woman teased, revealing herself to be Mars, of course. "Call me nosy all you want, but you're just plain stupid to do things like this while I'm on break."

    "I thought you had no interest in pursuing this any further," Saturn said to her, clearly annoyed while walking back to his station. "But thankfully, I have no need for you any longer. Well, that's partially true."

    "Huh?" Mars paused, blinking. "What are you talking about?"

    Saturn smirked; how he loved getting the upper-hand on his coworkers. "Consider your little "breaks" over with, because I'm finally going to make use of all the vacation time I've accrued since my arrival. I will need that time off in order to seal the deal once and for all. You, Mars, will be the one handling my job during my absence."

    Mars was of course taken aback by that. "Wait, what?!"

    "You deserve the extra workload, considering that very expensive pizza party you enjoyed this past week," Saturn reasoned with her in his own petty way. "While our name is in the clear over this accident, my relatives will find it rather conspicuous of me to be absent for my cousin's funeral, considering my "significance" to him."

    "I doubt that Cyrus would let you off work for such emotional purposes, Saturn," Mars speculated. "But then again, you're just doing it to cover your butt rather than grieve…"

    Saturn nodded. "I will have to explain myself to Cyrus very soon. Right now I must create a believable story in regards to the circumstances of my cousin's death. Since I have no body to work with, I'll simply have to go with the "his remains were torn apart by wild Pokémon post-mortem" excuse as to why I'll have nothing to show for at the funeral… which I must plan myself."

    "So you're going to conjure up fake "remains" if you have to?" Mars wondered out loud. "Gross… but ingenious."

    "If necessary," Saturn calmly responded. "I must identify myself as one who did not witness his death, but was the closest of his kin to the area to be taken in to identify said remains. Then a forged autopsy report will explain the rest. Once that's set in motion, I'll inform my relatives of the news and insist on arranging the funeral myself."

    Mars simply shrugged. "For a relative you don't care about, you sure are going out of your way to give him a proper send-off."

    Saturn let out a particularly evil smirk just then. "Exactly. That's what I want them to believe… that I was so torn over his death that I wanted to honor his memory personally, since his parents would be too distraught… or simply too stupid to manage the funeral themselves."

    "There's got to be a motive behind this," Mars muttered. "What's really going on, Saturn?"

    After a brief pause, Saturn gave her a smug reply. "Believe it or not, this stunt will aid our cause. If I sell myself to be the one most torn over Conway's death, then I can easily fool his parents into allowing his belongings to be passed down to myself. His books, his computer… annoying as the brat was, he was quite intelligent. He had a very important book that is relevant to Team Galactic's goal. Just imagine the kind of information we could find within the rest of his belongings…"

    "A whole treasure trove of information for Team Galactic's benefit, huh," Mars realized. "So that's why… that little geek probably has even more information stored that would aid Team Galactic and he never would have realized it."

    "Indeed," Saturn affirmed. "It isn't so much a "personal vacation"… more like an undercover assignment that will both aid us and get this issue off my back for good."

    Mars gave her coworker a sly smile. "Killing two birds with one stone."

    "Perhaps even three," Saturn vaguely mentioned before changing the subject slightly. "This is why you will need to take care of my department in my absence. If you attempt to sabotage me, you'll live to regret it the rest of your life, Mars."

    "Oh, Saturn, you're so paranoid," Mars casually teased. "As long as I don't have do deal with your mess any longer, whatever. Now that I've met the kid, I know there's a lot of potential in your family that's just waiting to be taken advantage of."

    Saturn stiffly nodded while taking out his cell phone again. "So we're understood. Now excuse me, as I need to set a few things into motion before going to Cyrus to take my temporary leave."

    Mars just shrugged and waved him off; she knew enough now and had no desire to stalk him for potential blackmail any longer. "Have fun pulling one over on your family, then," she said as a farewell message. She thought perhaps she could at least agitate Jupiter a little in Saturn's absence.

    Meanwhile, Saturn returned to his desk, writing out his To-Do List before dialing a number. He was disappointed to only reach the voicemail after so many rings, but collected himself for the heavy message he was about to send.

    "Francine, this is your cousin, Sloan. I'm calling to regretfully inform you that Conway, your brother, was found dead in Route 216 over the past week or so. I just identified his remains… you'd probably rather not see them, but do inform your parents as soon as possible and let them know that I already have preparations for his funeral underway. You need not do anything more than grieve; I shall be the head of his proper sendoff. I will arrive at your house tomorrow so that we may discuss this further, and I will do whatever I can to ease the pain of this most unfortunate loss. Until then, dear cousin. Stay strong."

    It was a message that Franny would indeed get later on once she checked her voicemail. And even though she openly admitted her hatred for her brother… she found herself tearing up as she listened to the entire message over and over again, finding it hard to stand all of a sudden. She slumped against a nearby wall, shaking while feeling an empty, horrible feeling in her gut.

    Her brother died before the two could ever reach even ground… the last time Franny saw her brother alive was on television, where he loudly proclaimed his hatred for her all across the Sinnoh region. Still, even Conway's dysfunctional family seemed to have the ability to grieve.

    And soon enough, the message spread through Conway's family across Veilstone City. It was mentioned in the local news once Saturn orchestrated the perfect report on the alleged tragedy.

    As a result, Conway was not dead just to Paul… he was dead to the majority of the Sinnoh region. This would prove to cause complications when Conway, still very alive, finally returned to Veilstone City after a lengthy trip down the mountain range.





    "Home sweet home," Conway bitterly muttered as he crossed the city limits in the dead of night. Once he was out of the mountains, Conway was able to travel easily even without the aid of daylight. Of course, Conway couldn't even be graced with a beautiful night sky tonight; it was completely covered by clouds. Not a soul seemed to be in sight outdoors… not that Conway wanted to make himself obvious; he was still understandably paranoid about the men who were hunting him down further up north. His logical conclusion was that they very well might know where his city of origin is and try to hunt him down there. Needless to say, Conway was being very discreet about his return.

    "Good thing I've already decided on a path now," he realized. "The last place I want to be is home, really… but it'll just be temporary… no more than a day or two."

    He then saw Reggie's house in plain sight; it was a place Conway had to pass by in order to return to his neighborhood, but he suddenly felt conflicted.

    "Reggie deserves to know," Conway muttered. "That I failed… and I couldn't look after Paul anymore. I'm sure he's doing just fine on his own, but I broke the agreement I made with Reggie. And being the utmost gentleman, I must dutifully apologize for my ineptitude."

    It had been such a long walk home… Conway wasn't sure where to head first, but a sudden strike of lightning followed by an immediate downpour made Conway cry out like a frightened child and ran for shelter to the nearest location of his choices: Reggie's house.

    He immediately opened Reggie's door (conveniently unlocked already) and slammed it shut after he was fully inside. Though fairly wet, Conway was relatively fine… he simply had a phobia for sudden disturbances such as thunderstorms. Not to mention the paranoia of being hit by lighting one day, possibly made worse after meeting Reggie who was struck by lightning before…

    After a few moments of heaving for air, Conway's belongings slid off his body and to the floor. Though Paul's family lacked the wealth that Conway's possessed, Conway couldn't help but feel comforted within this residence. Reggie went out of his way to make his simple home a pleasant one, whereas Conway's house always came off as virtually soulless.

    "Sorry I broke in, Reggie…" he panted. "It was just a… random impulse."

    He blinked after a moment of silence and got a good look around the house, realizing there was no Reggie to be seen.

    "How odd," Conway remarked. "Where could he have…?"

    It wasn't long before he did notice there was another living person in the house. Maylene was in the backyard, gathering the baby Pokémon indoors as the storm hit. But she heard the slam of the door on the other side of the house and immediately felt tense.

    Once the Pokémon were secured, Maylene rushed inside the house to immediately confront who just came in unannounced. She was stern, strong, and ready to fight if it was a burglar, but she stopped dead in her tracks when she found quite a recognizable person standing confusedly by the front door.

    Conway was not surprised to see Maylene still here, but couldn't comprehend her silence, nor the expression of abject fear on her face.

    "N-no… no way…" Maylene whispered. "I'm seeing things… or maybe…"

    "Pardon…?" Conway didn't expect this sort of tension the moment he stepped in. But within the next second or two, all would become clear as Maylene shrieked in pure and utter terror.

    "GHOOOOOOST!"

    "Ghost?!" It was Conway's mild phobia of Ghost-type Pokémon (or maybe just Dusknoir… or the little girl who nearly dragged him to the underworld during the week of summer school) that prevented him from immediately realizing Maylene was talking about him. Looking just as freaked out as Maylene, Conway looked left and right, too nervous to move any one way. "Where?! When?! How?!"

    Maylene screamed again; her feet quick to move, yet she couldn't get herself to go anywhere. "Oh no, why now?! How could I get Reggie's house possessed?! I'm a Fighting-type expert; I can't do a thing against ghosts! What am I gonna do…?!"

    "Where is it, where is it?!" Conway cried out, desperate to rush to safety. "Right behind me? And you can't do anything about it?!"

    After a short moment of crying longer, she realized the situation at hand. "Don't tell me… you don't even know?!"

    "What am I supposed to know?!" was Conway's panicked answer. He suddenly had no desire to stay here for much longer.

    There was a feeling of dread within Conway when Maylene ultimately pointed straight at him. "You're the ghost! You don't even realize that you passed on?!"

    … And all of a sudden, Conway felt like ramming his head against the wall for not catching the implication sooner. "Wait. You think I'm the ghost?"

    "Don't try to trick me!" she warned, still fearful. "It figures… once I finally came to accept it, you'd come and haunt me!"

    "Accept what?!" Though Conway had a bad feeling right after asking that. Like his worst nightmare had just become a reality… "How did you even come to the conclusion that I died?!"

    Maylene watched enough movies to come to stereotypical solutions to how to handle human ghosts. Conway was not coming off as hostile, so she decided present nearby proof in the form of a newspaper. "I saw your name in the obituary section this week! It was mentioned briefly in the news… but above all else, this just came in the mail the other day ago!"

    She took out an envelope and pulled out a dark-colored card. "An invite to your funeral."

    It was a complete shock to his system; for all the time Conway had to think about his situation, he never once thought that, since his cousin assumed him to be dead, that the rest of the world would jump to the same conclusion.

    "It's bad enough that they didn't say a word about Paul!" Maylene cried out. "Who's to say he's not just like you, either?!"

    "I would say that if that were the case, Paul and I would be "haunting" you together," Conway cynically speculated. "Though much as he hates me, perhaps not. Well, I can't blame you for believing in all of that… I didn't think my cousin would care enough to try and pass me off as dead to the entire world."

    The Gym Leader still looked suspicious of him. "Prove you're alive, then!"

    And to that, Conway blinked. "You really still think I'm a ghost… well, alright. You probably heard me slam that door. Why would I do that when I, as a ghost, could just go straight through it?"

    "To get my attention!" Maylene accused. "That's not like you."

    "I was startled by the thunderstorm," Conway calmly explained, though clearly annoyed. "Speaking of which, if I were a ghost, I wouldn't be soaking wet right now. Water would go straight through the ectoplasm… not to mention I still have a pulse, I don't even look dead, I have both a shadow and reflection… Maylene, I could go on all night. But aren't you able to sense life forms like your Lucario can?"

    For all of the terror she went through just then, Maylene completely forgot that she could do that. "Ah, that's true…" It didn't take long for her to realize that there was absolutely nothing wrong with Conway as far as his aura was concerned. "Oh… goodness. Then that means…"

    "You should probably get Reggie in here so he can hear all of this as well," Conway suggested. "I'd rather not go through this hysteria a second time… and I came here to speak with him anyway. I figured he would have shown himself by now after all the noise we made…"

    Maylene shook her head. "Sorry, but Reggie left days ago for Snowpoint City. Not for the reason you'd think… he left just before your death reached the news. It'll be a while before he can return. I tried to see if I could call him once I learned about what happened to you, but he's on the road right now where there's bad reception. Now tell me where in the world Paul is, because that was another thing I was worried sick about having to break to Reggie once I got the chance."

    "That's what I wanted to talk to him about," Conway explained, nodding. "There's a good reason why everyone thinks I'm dead… and normally, I would be, but Paul prevented that. He's fine as far as I know, but… the circumstances of the situation made it so that he refused to let me proceed any further along with him."

    "So then you two…" Maylene slowly realized. "You're not traveling together anymore?"

    Conway bowed his head regretfully. "I wanted to apologize to Reggie for being unable to fulfill his wishes, though I believe Paul is alright and probably reached Snowpoint City days ago. We were quite close by the time we split up…"

    "Now that I think about it…" This seemed to explain something else for Maylene. "That must be why Paul kept saying you were still asleep in a hotel room or went shopping all that time when you normally joined him whenever you guys contacted us…"

    "Right," Conway muttered in affirmation. "He wanted me out of his life so badly that I'm sure he didn't even want to discuss the matter with either of you over the phone. That being said… I'm sure you would like a more thorough explanation as to why everyone believes me to be dead, right?"

    Maylene nodded. "That would be appreciated… the sooner we get this mix-up corrected, the better."

    The very idea of that immediately gave Conway bad vibes. "Maylene… before we jump the gun on anything, I'll ask that you let me explain the situation in full first."

    Conway was about to rest on the couch until he felt his stomach growl with hunger, to which he just looked awkward about. "Oh… right. Traveling works up the appetite. Is there anything to eat around here?"

    Even though he had just been to Reggie's house once before, he felt welcome enough here to casually make his way over to the kitchen and immediately hunt for food. Maylene groaned quietly in agony over the topic of food; it was torture for the Gym Leader and her appetite to go without Reggie's cooking.

    "Um… I'm not exactly that good of a cook, I learned…" she hesitantly admitted before gesturing to the stove, where upon lied a messy pot of some diabolical concoction of something that might have resembled a failed attempt at "dinner" a few days ago. Since then, Maylene relied completely on ordering out. "Reggie made sure the kitchen was well-stocked with stuff to make dinner before he left, but I overestimated my ability to do it right by myself. You must be exhausted, so I'll just order a-…"

    "Actually, it would be my pleasure to whip up a dinner," Conway offered as he immediately started taking ingredients out. "Busying myself like this will help me to remain calm." The eerie smirk on Conway's face again made Maylene feel a bit uncomfortable, but she figured a genius like him would likely not set the kitchen on fire.

    It was her dreadful withdrawal of Reggie's cooking that really made her allow Conway to have complete freedom in the kitchen.

    Over the dinner table (something Conway wasn't quite used to), the two had dinner while Conway gave Maylene the full exposition of the dreadful things that happened that fateful day after the events of the Plumeria Contest. He spared no details (aside from one certain part that Conway would never be able to live down), giving the young Gym Leader every bit of his point of view in addition to what he could make of Paul's. Needless to say, Maylene was on edge during most of the story, particularly right when Conway described Mars' appearance. Something sounded all too familiar about the uniform…

    "That's just… awful," was Maylene's first reaction once Conway finished detailing the remainder of his misadventures on Route 216 after splitting up from Paul. "I always knew Paul was cruel, but he's a monster for leaving you there like that!"

    "At this point, it's not a detail I'm so willing to challenge," Conway glumly admitted. How he wished his main concern would be something that was now so trivial. "True, it was a lot to take in for me at that time… but I suppose for someone like Paul who had such a hard time trusting me, it was disturbing for him to realize that my family is not only connected to some evil organization… which makes me look bad already, but I betrayed his trust by giving in to Mars. The details of which I'd… rather not disclose. Let's just say I didn't really have a choice."

    That was the most mature and level-headed way Conway was able to interpret that dark time. For once, he didn't whine or cry about it, nor did he mope. He still felt just as awful as ever about it, but the events that happened afterward and Conway's resolve had effectively hardened him. Not to mention this turned out to be a much bigger disaster than even he expected.

    Maylene frowned when Conway mentioned Mars again, recalling the eerily familiar details about her. "So you still don't know who Mars and your cousin are really working for?"

    "I was so blind," Conway self-criticized. "Thinking my cousin was so great and all, it didn't hit me at the time how suspicious she really looked. Paul was right about my tendency to be a gullible fool…"

    "Don't be so hard on yourself," Maylene pleaded. "I want to help you figure this out. You won't get far in your plans if you can't figure out where he is or who he's working for."

    Conway sighed, knowing Maylene had a point. Charging in recklessly without any knowledge about his cousin was a one-way ticket to failure. "You seemed intrigued when I described Mars, Maylene."

    "I've got a suspect in mind already in regards to what kind of organization your cousin's really involved with," Maylene noted ominously. "White and gray suits… the strange, futuristic style…"

    "The giant yellow "G" emblazoned on so blatantly…" Conway added tiredly, which in turn made Maylene's expressions darken considerably.

    "It must be them," she decided. "Conway… that woman and your cousin… they're affiliated with Team Galactic."

    Maylene seemed certain of it; for once, she did not doubt her own intuition. She had every reason to suspect that organization had something to do with this; the Gym Leader knew from experience just how twisted such villains really were. Nothing else so perfectly matched Conway's description…

    "Huh?" Conway was taken aback, as he apparently wasn't even close to coming to the same conclusion.

    "Remember a while back when the power throughout Veilstone City was completely cut that one night?" she asked. With Conway residing in this city as well, had he been there at the time, he would have likely remembered the incident.

    It only took a moment for Conway to think about it. "That rings a bell… yeah!" He sounded angry just then. "I was so close to installing some new software that night that took well over an hour to load! I had to do it all over again because of that cut in the power!"

    "That was Team Galactic," she informed him. "At that time, Ash and the others were with us. I came with them to investigate… Reggie was even involved, and then Officer Jenny identified them. This "Mars" you're talking about wasn't there as far as I could see, but there was a commander who stood out. He had a really smug attitude and blue hair."

    That detail in particular worried Conway. "Blue…"

    "And he had a Toxicroak," Maylene added. "While the grunts all had Golbat, their leader gave us a lot of trouble with his Toxicroak…"

    "N-no," Conway stammered. "My… my cousin has a Toxicroak! You're saying you saw him that night!"

    The glint in Maylene's eyes; her determination to see those criminals get their comeuppance… she seemed much harsher than usual, but she couldn't let this go. "That's what I believe," she admitted. "Though I can't prove it, there's really no other explanation…"

    "Then Sloan's responsible for the power going out that night!" Conway cried out, wanting to deny this, but in his heart, enlightened as he had become… he was no longer blind to his cousin's methods. But it was still a lot to stomach. "Why in the world would he do that?!"

    "You must have not seen the news the following day," Maylene noted, knowing this incident was quickly made public after the fact. "Team Galactic was attempting to steal the meteors from the site at the center of the city. We managed to prevent that, but they got away from us. Their actions have been few and far in between since then, though I think a few weeks ago they were involved in a serious incident at Iron Island."

    This was heart-breaking at best for Conway. "I idolized Sloan while he was a criminal all this time?" Even though he did nothing wrong, Conway couldn't help but feel immensely guilty over this.

    "We may have a chance to confront him," Maylene brought up, remembering the invitation she received. "I heard that the funeral that's being arranged for you has been done so by him. That means he'll be there during the services…"

    "When is that scheduled for, actually?" Conway wondered, curious about what his own funeral would actually be like. It was one of those things commonly thought about by others who wondered how much they really meant to their friends and loved ones.

    "Tomorrow morning," Maylene answered. "We need to expose your cousin for the fraud he is, so I'll definitely attend the funeral so I can identify him."

    The thought of rushing in and attempting to conquer Sloan at the funeral still didn't sit right with Conway. He shook his head in disagreement. "You should go, but I want you to keep a low profile, Maylene. I'll go as well, but I don't plan on "crashing the party", so to speak."

    Maylene frowned, wondering what was on Conway's mind now. "You've got another idea?"

    "First of all, don't blow my cover," Conway instructed. "It's best that Sloan continues to believe me to be dead. I'll have a much better shot at taking him down later on."

    "How do you plan on keeping him in the dark alone? Once we clear it up, he'll find out eventually…" Maylene mentioned, still not following his line of thought.

    Conway looked to the side. While he had the base idea for a plan to take down his cousin, the news of his alleged death spreading was something he hadn't counted on at all. Certain plans would have to change. This lead to Conway being forced to make some very difficult decisions.

    "I really should alert my family to this somehow," Conway realized. "If I was oblivious to this, then my parents definitely don't know anything about it either… oh no, and Sloan said he was soon going to recruit my sister as an "intern" at his job…"

    "We can't let her be taken in by Team Galactic," Maylene immediately proclaimed. "You shouldn't even let this event happen. Go home right now and prove to your family that you're still alive!"

    Though he knew Maylene's intentions were for his own benefit, Conway simply could not agree with her command. "It isn't that simple, Maylene. You have no idea how unreliable my family can be… I can't trust them with anything. I'll take down Sloan before that worst-case scenario can even happen, but in order to do that, he can't know I'm still alive. My family has too many ties to this city for them to keep it confidential, not to mention they're pretty incompetent to begin with."

    "Then you still want your mom, dad, and sister to think you're still dead, Conway?" Maylene asked him incredulously. "That means you can't go home! So where will you go and what will you do?"

    "Maylene, I honestly don't have all of the answers for you at this time," Conway patiently informed her. "This was a very unexpected turn, so I'll have to adapt my plans accordingly tonight and see what happens at the funeral so I can look for an opening, or… or something."

    The young Gym Leader couldn't fault Conway for not having it all planned out yet. She couldn't even begin to imagine how she would handle a situation like this. "What was your plan before you got here?" she asked.

    "Relatively simple," Conway said with a shrug. "Gain more power by challenging Gyms across Sinnoh… at least enough to qualify for the Sinnoh League, and at that point I'll know I will have the strength to take Sloan down should it come down to a battle. That's why I don't wish to take immediate action. But my "death" being spread out across the region is going to make being out in public a little difficult. That's why I'll need to find a way around this while maintaining my stealth, hence why I cannot simply go around telling the people in my life that I'm alive. If my cover is blown, Sloan might track me down and make sure I actually die next time."

    "It's already pretty late," Maylene pointed out, yawning. The dinner was a great relief (though Conway was not quite as talented as Reggie) and the food coma was settling in. "We ought to get as much rest as we can if you're serious about pulling this off."

    Again, Conway could not bring himself to concede to Maylene's wishes. "There are a few things I need to take care of before even thinking about resting, Maylene. You should go ahead and turn in, though. There's no need for you to be awake for what I need to do."

    That almost sounded suspicious to Maylene. "What… exactly are you going to be doing at this hour?"

    "Securing the position I'll be at during the services," Conway replied. "Where will it be held?"

    "In… your house's backyard, actually," Maylene awkwardly replied. "I thought that was kind of strange place to hold a funeral, but then I remembered the reports saying that your body was never found, so I guess there's no point of going to a graveyard if there's nothing to bury…"

    There was an awkward period of silence between the two as Conway processed that. It was yet another unexpected kink in his plans. "This could either benefit me or prove to be disastrous. That leaves no room for error in this mission."

    "A… a mission?" Maylene echoed. "Just what are you going to be doing there?"

    Conway simply waved her off dismissively. "You let me worry about the details, Maylene. For now, you should get in as much sleep as you can. By the time you wake up, you'll find a list of instructions I'll wish for you to follow if you want us to succeed in this little espionage expedition."

    "Espionage?!" Again, it took Maylene a moment to comprehend Conway's strategy. "You're going to spy…?!"

    A smirk crept its way into Conway's expression. "Like I said, my dear. Details; my prerogative. Getting a good night's rest is yours, because I'll require you to be alert in order to carry out the instructions I'll be leaving you."

    "But…"

    Conway stood up from his chair at the table, placed his empty plates into the kitchen sink, and started to head upstairs, ignoring Maylene's concerns. "You think Reggie will mind if I raid Paul's closet just for tonight?" he asked. "I'm going to need a disguise so I can get the components that I need."

    "Uh…" Maylene honestly had no idea, though Reggie was about the most agreeable person on the planet, so more likely than not… "I suppose he wouldn't." She was really beginning to wonder what Conway had in mind at this point.

    "Splendid," Conway eagerly remarked, helping himself to Paul's room. Maylene looked on helplessly as she was about to enter Reggie's bedroom, assuming Conway would be occupying Paul's for the night at some point.

    "Guess there's no changing your mind, is there?" Maylene wondered out loud. With no response from Conway, she shouted to him just before he shut the door to Paul's bedroom. "Be careful!"

    "Will do!" was Conway's actual response, muffled due to the door being closed, but Maylene was able to make it out well enough. She sighed before resigning herself to her designated bedroom.

    "I think I've got a headache," she muttered to herself before officially turning in for the night.

    Conway, meanwhile, had no intention of going to bed anytime soon. He was busy making a perfect combination of clothes that would conceal his identity to the general public. Experimenting with various different styles, Conway sighed to himself a little; he was eerily good at holding up that calm and confident front against Maylene. The truth was that his head was hurting just as much, if not more than the Gym Leader's with everything that came at him tonight. While there was a semblance of an adapting plan to handling this funeral of his, Conway was going purely by instinct when it came to what steps to take in order to make it all work in his mind. He didn't have the time to look over absolutely everything from a logical standpoint; this was a point in his life where he just needed a bit of self-confidence in his abilities in order to keep himself safe. It was hard to find that confidence after everything that happened to him, but Conway shoved aside his woes for the sole purpose of setting his hastily-made plan into motion.

    "I'd better get used to this, and get good at it," he said to himself glumly. "There's no telling how long I'll have to hide my identity…"

    He didn't even think about how amusing it was that he was using Paul's belongings for the most essential of necessities of his mission. Paul would no doubt be infuriated if he found out, but Paul was experiencing something very different at the time and was so far away from his former traveling partner now.

    Interestingly, though Conway and Paul's incidents weren't very similar to each other, the most crucial detail was on both their minds at the same time: figuring out how to keep themselves alive long enough to make a difference.





    As morning came, Maylene woke up very early as usual. She had prepared for this funeral ahead of time while she still believed Conway was dead and had an appropriate outfit ready to put on. She gave herself enough time to tend to the Pokémon and put up the notice that both the daycare center and temporary "Gym" were closed for the day due to the funeral.

    Upon crossing by the dinner table, Maylene spotted a note along with some small, unfamiliar technological devices. As Conway promised, he left very specific instructions for Maylene to follow once she arrived at his house, and most measures seemed to be very time-sensitive, so the Gym Leader didn't have much time to think too hard about where Conway was going with these measures. Sure enough, though, he was completely absent from the house. Maylene sighed, shrugged, and took everything that Conway left for her, being sure to keep it all well hidden while she followed the first written instruction:

    1. The funeral starts approximately at 9:00 AM. Take everything with you and make sure it's hidden from plain sight. Arrive at my residence no later than 7:30; you'll receive more specific instructions from me personally until my family wakes up and the guests start to arrive.

    The following instructions were going to be long-winded if Conway had to explain them, and he knew somewhere down the road he would have to explain them to Maylene. Therefore, looking at them ahead of time wouldn't allow Maylene to make much sense of what needed to be done afterwards.

    Knowing there was no time for dawdling, Maylene actively attempted to find Conway the second his house came within her viewpoint. Unsurprisingly, he seemed to have hidden himself as he was not standing out in the open at all… but even Maylene knew that would be a dumb and risky idea. Knocking on the front door of the house obviously wasn't the answer…

    "Ah, there you are. Good timing, Maylene."

    That was Conway's voice. He still couldn't be seen, but the direction his voice came from alerted Maylene to a giant tree that grew in the backyard of Conway's house. The entrance to the backyard was protected by a tall fence, but the immensely huge tree – the same one Conway and Paul used to easily get outdoors the night the latter came over to spend the night – was positioned in such a way that someone physically inclined might be able to access the backyard by jumping up and climbing it. It appeared the voice was coming from that direction, but Maylene had a hard time imagining how Conway would have managed to pull himself up there.

    "Are you really all the way up there?" Maylene whispered back, knowing it would quickly raise attention to the outside world by speaking up this early in the morning.

    "It's easier than you'd think," he replied. The tree was very good about hiding every part of his body. "I know it would be no small feat for you, so go ahead and help yourself up. Just be careful."

    Though cynical, Maylene conceded to this, though not without muttering a cynical "No kidding; I'd really be giving myself away if people knew I was climbing up here…"

    "Luckily, I've been monitoring what's been going on indoors for quite a while now, and it appears that no one has actually woken up yet," Conway reported, pausing as he saw Maylene effortlessly leap her way up to Conway's level in a very short amount of time. "Oh, you even dressed for the part. Good thinking, Maylene."

    Maylene looked awkward at that statement. "Er, my mom picked this out for me. That was before you even came back, Conway."

    Slightly embarrassed to be this careless in his thoughts already, Conway simply smiled and nodded. "Oh, of course. You wouldn't have had time to improvise this well…"

    "I shouldn't stay up here long," Maylene informed him. "Your family's going to wake up at some point. Have you even gotten any sleep…?"

    To that, Conway let out a yawn, which was already a bad sign to Maylene. "A little," he said. "But by the time I was finished with everything, I was closer to here than Reggie's, so I've been camping out in this tree. Don't worry; it's not the first time I've done so."

    "And what have you found out?" the Gym Leader asked. "Because a lot of these instructions are incredibly vague…"

    "I couldn't be too specific before leaving the house," Conway informed her. "And once I left, I didn't have time to come back. You'll probably want to give these modified ones a look-over before too long," he advised before switching out her first sheet of instructions and replacing it with something a little more detailed. "They might find it conspicuous of you to be reading something during the ceremony."

    Maylene gulped as she skimmed past the modifications. "You want me to memorize all this now?"

    "By all means, if you can reference it in a subtle way, I suggest you do so," Conway advised. "I would say your main concern is to maintain the acting role of a grieving Gym Leader, but you've got a natural flair for being shy and meek during times like this, so you only need to probably at least pretend to cry when the others do."

    That was a very odd assessment Conway just made, Maylene thought."I'm not even going to ask… but yes, naturally I'll act as if yesterday never happened."

    "Thankfully, as long as I hold my position, I should have no risk of being seen by anybody," Conway informed her. "This tree's positioned at the top corner of the right close by this house. It's big enough and thankfully it's summer, so as long as I remain quiet, there's virtually no risk of being discovered from up here."

    "So you're basically saying to worry about sticking to the plan rather than what you're doing," Maylene summarized. "Fair enough. What else have you found out?"

    Conway gestured over to the back yard, right over to where over a month ago, he and Paul stargazed while creating each others' strategies. The lawn was no longer bare, as there was a podium in place before several rows of fold-out chairs.

    "It seems my family set things up ahead of time… probably so they could get more sleep in today," he hypothesized. "If Sloan's heading the ceremony, then he'll be the one up there doing the talking for most of it, if not the entire time. With the help of my Pokémon, I was able to bug that podium."

    "Bug it?" Maylene asked, completely unfamiliar with the term. "What are you talking about?"

    It wasn't much of a surprise to Conway that he would have to explain this. "I told you I intend to do a little spying. I want to keep tabs on Sloan in particular. Though this position is great for stealth, it's bad for overhearing anything he says. Those little gadgets I left on the table for you to take… those are for my ability to keep up to speed with the situation without having to ask you for updates constantly, which wouldn't work out at all for this situation."

    "So if you, uh… "bugged" the podium, why did you leave me with these in the first place?" Maylene fairly asked. "I don't know all that much about technology, so I'm more likely to screw that part up than help out…"

    "A good spy knows his target won't stay in one place," Conway said with a smirk. "The most important bugs are the ones I need you to attach to Sloan personally, which I'm unable to do."

    While it made sense, Maylene had no concept of what she was supposed to be doing. "And how am I going to attach one of these bug things to Sloan without him noticing…?"

    "You've seen that they're quite small," Conway displayed, pulling one out to show her again. "I had to leave them on the instruction sheet just so you'd see them without missing them. I'd preferably like it if you bugged his backside or shoulder rather than his arms, since he may be quick to notice it that way. I'd attempt this simply by waiting until his attention is with someone else, then just tapping him from behind and asking him where the bathroom in the house is or something."

    "These things don't exactly stick on to anything, though," Maylene pointed out. "And I'm sure he'd notice if I tried slipping it into his pocket or something…"

    Conway gleefully held up the solution with a single index finger, though Maylene could barely make it out due to the lack of daylight and being covered in the tree. "The most effective remedy is a sticker. A small, round, transparent one so that it can go unnoticed without relying on the color of his suit, which I haven't a clue of what it'll be. These stickers are double-sided, so they'll be easy to keep on your finger and easy to leave off on him."

    Maylene understood this much and nodded. "Got it. So you just need me to bug him?"

    "And whatever car he comes from," Conway added. "It might be easiest to do that on your way out. The next main thing you need to do is when you are granted access to the house upon asking for the location of the bathroom."

    "There are… three sets of directions here," Maylene stated uneasily, reviewing her instruction sheet. "Why is that?"

    "My house has three bathrooms," Conway replied. "One belonging to my parents, one that my sister uses, and the smallest one is mine."

    Maylene frowned. "If your cousin's going to give me directions anyway, what's the point of giving me these?"

    "They're directions to my room from each bathroom's position," was Conway's answer… his tone darkened a bit, which was yet another element of the young man that made the Gym Leader uncomfortable. "By all means, use the bathroom time as an opportunity to review your notes as well, just so long as you reach my room and open this window without being caught."

    He pointed to a window that was actually very close to the two of them. "This is of the utmost importance."

    These supposed flaws in Conway's plan, only to turn out to be something else entirely were beginning to take a tax on Maylene's mind (and likely her sanity as well); once again, she had another question that Conway saw coming from a mile away. "But… you could reach this from the tree yourself. Why didn't you open it?"

    "I didn't want to risk getting caught breaking into the house while everyone was asleep," Conway explained. "And while it is easy for me to reach from this tree, I can't open it normally from the outside. Not without breaking it, anyway, which would definitely compromise my stealth if I resorted to that. It's important that I am able to access my room during the ceremony, Maylene."

    "Why is that?" Maylene hated to keep asking questions, but she felt it was best to do it now rather than wait too long and try to figure it out for herself.

    "I've developed a plan that adapts to this new situation of mine," Conway said vaguely, and kept it so. "It just so happens to involve getting access to my house one last time. I'll go into detail once we're back at Reggie's; we're running out of time."

    Maylene looked around and nearly panicked, thought made sure not to accidentally fall out of the tree. "Oh no… did I waste too much time?"

    "We're doing fine, actually," Conway remarked. "But before too long my parents will have to wake up and attend this ceremony looking proper. They care very much about their appearances in public. I have most other places of interest bugged already; I just need you to take care of Sloan, whatever car he leaves in, and preferably my room once you access it. Just for the sake of covering all my bases."

    "And act sad and fake-cry… that's really it?" Maylene asked. "You know we could bust him today… with so many people around, he might be helpless."

    Conway sternly shook his head. "I may have seen my cousin's true nature now, but I would still not underestimate him. It's best to bust him with incriminating evidence rather than what everyone else will see as mere conjecture; especially my parents. That's my purpose for making sure his actions from now on will be monitored. Then when the right time is at hand, my cousin won't be able to escape persecution by negotiation or running away."

    "You've been busy to make it this far, I can tell," Maylene noted. "Is there really nothing else I can do for you?"

    "I don't plan on staying in this city much longer after today," Conway admitted. "At least Reggie's place is a safe haven for me as long as you're willing to keep this confidential…"

    "Of course I will," Maylene assured, very stern about her promise. "Especially if this is for the sake of taking down Team Galactic once and for all."

    This at least relieved Conway; Maylene was a very honest girl and he knew that from experience, so he knew her words were genuine. "Then our rendezvous point will be back at Reggie's house. The only other things I can think to tell you are to be sure to leave as early as you can once the ceremony ends. That will be your best chance to bug Sloan's car, and with your duties as Gym Leader, my family will easily let you slide out if you express the need. Finally… please keep an eye on my sister for me."

    Maylene blinked. "Your sister?" She had heard of Franny from Conway before, but never formally met the girl…

    "Much as I dislike her, I don't wish for Sloan to take advantage of her like he did with me," Conway explained, filled with resolve. "If he takes Franny away into Team Galactic, it might be impossible to reach her… and that organization will be one more member strong."

    His intentions were understandable, but Maylene nodded with clear hesitance. "It wouldn't be my business to intercept their conversation since I don't really know either of them, but I'll do what I can. The thing I'm most worried about is if your cousin will recognize me from the prior incident…"

    "There's a chance," Conway admitted. "But he's in no position to do anything to you here. Just don't act like you're on to him and he shouldn't have any reason to deal with you unprovoked."

    "Right… of course," Maylene acknowledged. What would be even more difficult than pretending to mourn for her would be to control her anger when it came to the man who already committed crimes in her city and got away with it… something she regretted to the present day. But this wasn't about her; this mission was to set Conway's plans into motion so that the Galactic commander would be taken down in the future along with his comrades.

    "It's almost eight," Conway reported, checking his watch. "Make good use what's left before showtime."

    With a respectful nod, Maylene gave one last direct look at Conway. "Best of luck, then…"

    "Just do what you do best and nothing can go wrong," Conway cheerfully reminded her. Though to Maylene, that was just it… doing what she "did best" was the last thing she thought she should be doing. Still, with no more time to debate, Maylene silently nodded and slipped out of the tree and back to the ground, thankful that no one was around to see her do that. She distanced herself, though kept an eye on the house from a nearby convenience store. Maylene had just enough time to get in a good breakfast that would help her function better all around in addition to reviewing her instructions.

    Conway was back to looking serious and worried at the same time once he was alone again, sighing as he heard the faintest ringing of his parents' alarm clock from within the house approximately one hour before the beginning of the ceremony. This was by far the tensest hour of his life.





    By the halfway point, Conway's parents were up and about, ready or close to being so as he saw them make the finishing touches on where the ceremony would be held, which was little more than just a few dark floral decorations and what appeared to be a small table standing right in front of the podium which held both an urn and a recent picture of Conway himself. The star of the show himself muttered to himself up in the tree something about how his rich parents could choose a funeral of all things to be cheap about.

    The first car pulled into the driveway of Conway's house and parked approximately after three quarters of the hour passed. With binoculars, Conway immediately felt livid when he saw his cousin step out of the car shortly after. Maylene started off towards the house just then on reflex upon seeing the first car park at the house.

    An interesting detail to be discovered here was that, while similar, Conway and Maylene recognized Sloan/Saturn in different ways. Conway immediately knew it was Sloan when he stepped out, and it turned out that in his Sloan persona, Saturn did everything he could to naturally alter his look without going overboard. His hair remained the same color, though it was worn completely down rather than curved up into to two sides. The other major detail that "separated" Sloan from Saturn was the thick, round-shaped glasses. Much like his relatives, once upon a time Saturn too was visually impaired. Though he had acquired contact lenses (and later got his eyes laser-corrected) since joining Team Galactic, in the presence of his family, he continued to wear fake duplicates of his old glasses.

    Maylene managed to reach Conway's house just before any other cars pulled up after Saturn's. She took a deep breath, having mentally rehearsed her "lines" before getting here. She fully expected to see Saturn and was a bit surprised to see the man answering the door to appear similar, but not exactly the same as she had planned. The glasses in particular almost made Sloan to appear as a kinder, gentler soul. Though Maylene knew from the get-go this must be a rouse, she could see now how Conway had been so easily fooled into thinking his cousin was a good person for all these years.

    Saturn, on the other hand, was quick to recognize Veilstone City's Gym Leader, but restrained himself from a negative reaction, especially after seeing what appeared to be obliviousness on her face. "May I help you…?"

    "Um, hi… am I at the right place?" Maylene asked him, holding up the invite she received. "For the… funeral?"

    "This is the address," Saturn calmly replied, letting her in immediately upon seeing the invitation. Much as Saturn loathed seeing her here, he felt that with this disguise that he would throw her off so that she would become irrelevant as a threat to his plans. "And who might you be? I'm afraid it was my aunt and uncle who sent out the invitations, and seeing as I haven't lived here in years…"

    "Ah, that's understandable," Maylene forgave him easily. "I took up the position only less than a year ago… but I'm Maylene, Veilstone City's present Gym Leader. Conway challenged me to a battle a month ago and won his very first badge. So I… I really wanted to pay my respects. I thought he was destined for great things…"

    Thankfully, Saturn only knew Maylene as the fierce battler who almost ruined his plans and therefore found no real oddities with the way she spoke to him. "As the saying goes… the good die young," he replied, sounding somber about it. "Pardon me for being so rude; I'm Conway's older cousin, Sloan. I was the one who was first informed about the tragedy, so I took it upon myself to arrange this funeral aside from the smallest of details. Aunt Irma and Uncle Harold have simply been too devastated this week since they heard about it…"

    "I can't imagine what they're going through right now," Maylene sympathized, though she was quite literal about this. Conway had anything but good things to say about his family… she really had no idea what kind of people she was about to meet. "But you did them a big favor by taking the reigns."

    "Well, Conway and I were always close regardless of distance, so it's the least I could do," Saturn explained rather humbly. "I really should have visited more often, but unfortunately, this is not a world where we can simply turn back time and correct our errors…" There were some genuine feelings behind that particular statement; Saturn despised the flaws of this world, which was one major reason why he joined Team Galactic in the first place in their pursuit of creating a new world that they themselves could mold. "It will be a short while yet before we begin outside, Miss Gym Leader, so help yourself to the hors d'oeuvres in the living room."

    Maylene smiled nervously and nodded. "I just had breakfast before coming here, but if you insist…" It was just her good fortune that she had a large appetite. She wandered over to the living room where various appetizers were set up in every corner of the house. That experience was awkward at best… Maylene expected she would have trouble containing her rage, but now she just felt confused.

    Saturn greeted other guests as they arrived, none of which Maylene was familiar with, and she doubted that Conway was, either. These were all associates of Conway's parents, most of whom never even met Conway in person. She only scarcely saw Conway's parents in the background all this time and Franny was nowhere to be seen. While she had this time to herself, she gave her instructions a quick look-over again.

    2. Attach the first bug to Sloan via physical contact. Preferably, tap his shoulder to ask for permission to use the bathroom before the ceremonies begin.

    Maylene waited for more guests to fill the house before attempting this. While Saturn was socializing with his aunt and uncle's friends and coworkers, Maylene took a deep breath to prepare herself. She knew she had to make this precise without arousing suspicion. The bug was well attached to the transparent sticker, which was positioned at the tip of her index finger. In spite of the fear of potentially screwing this up, Maylene gave the disguised Galactic commander an awkward tap to his shoulder, applying perhaps a little more pressure than she should have. Saturn turned around abruptly, startling Maylene with his stern and expectant expression.

    "Yes…?" he addressed her, rather put off by how hard she poked him.

    "Uh, sorry about that!" she immediately apologized, bowing her head. "I-I just wanted to know if I could maybe use the bathroom before we begin…?"

    Saturn nodded stiffly. "The nearest one is down this hall to your left," he instructed, pointing in the appropriate direction.

    "Th-thanks, I won't be too long," Maylene assured, hurrying towards the bathroom. She looked ecstatic once she checked her index finger and found no trace of the stickered bug any longer; step two was officially complete. The Gym Leader was just as ignorant as Paul when it came to large houses with multiple bathrooms, so she wasn't sure how she would ascertain the specific one she was going to. While walking down the hallway, it just then dawned on Maylene how massive Conway's house really was.

    Once she reached the bathroom and locked the door, the only thing Maylene could think of to confirm her exact location was to check the contents of the bathroom. An especially large one with products for both men and women would indicate Conway's parents' bathroom. A medium-sized bathroom with solely feminine utilities equates to Franny's bathroom, while the smallest one of the bunch with only masculine products would of course mean Conway's bathroom.

    This bathroom was quite large… easily the largest Maylene had ever seen. She confirmed that she was in the master bathroom and quickly referred to her directions. The young Gym Leader scowled as she found that she was in the bathroom the furthest away from Conway's bedroom, but calmed herself and looked carefully down both sides of the hallway after exiting the bathroom to make sure no one was around before she started to search for Conway's room, as instructed in step three:

    3. Use this bathroom break to find my room using the directions below depending on which bathroom you were sent to. Keep yourself hidden and inconspicuous and enter my room as quickly as you can. Open the window towards the tree outside and bug this room as well just to be on the safe side.

    Maylene passed by Franny's quarter of the house and stopped short, backing up against the wall as she heard someone exit her bathroom. Chancing a small peek, Maylene found that it was none other than Franny herself who came out and slowly made her way down the hallway in the opposite direction of the Gym Leader. Maylene allowed herself a small, quiet sigh of relief before moving on to Conway's bedroom. She remembered that she would have to keep an eye on Franny throughout the ceremony and make sure she didn't fall into Saturn's grasp.

    Unfortunately, just as Maylene reached Conway's room, Franny soon found her cousin to be standing close by.

    "I was wondering when you'd come out," Saturn told her, maintaining a gentle and sympathetic attitude. "You've been taking this especially hard, Francine."

    Franny had a hard time facing Saturn, being called out in such a way. She shook slightly, trying her best to keep her strong feelings from coming to the fore. "It's fine," she insisted. "There's nothing that can be done now… except this."

    "That's very professional of you," Saturn complimented. "But believe me; we will make the best of what we have left. That's what Conway would want us to do."

    "What do you mean?" Franny asked him, still sounding a bit sour about the whole ordeal.

    Just then, Saturn checked his watch and frowned. "The explanation will have to wait. It's time to begin. Would you follow me after we finish laying your brother's soul to rest? I think it's high time we thoroughly discussed that promise I once made to you a long time ago."

    Franny's eyes opened wide as she realized what Saturn was talking about. She immediately nodded, almost in disbelief. "O-of course I will, Sloan!"

    Saturn nodded and let out a smile as the two made their way outside. "Good, good…"

    By the time they were out of sight, Maylene came out of Conway's room after successfully opening his window and attaching a bug in a strategic area. She completely missed the exchange between the cousins, but knew she was pushing it for time, and thus raced down the hallways in order to get to the backyard as quickly as she could. It was time for step four of Operation Tom Sawyer.

    4. Forget yesterday. Here, you still believe me to be deceased and should behave as such. Don't hesitate to cry; I promise I won't make fun of you for it.

    … This was why Maylene found Conway to be such a painfully awkward person to be around for a long period of time. Part of her was about to break into a sob anyway just because of the mental stress she had gone through over the past night. She wasn't sure how much more of this "spying" she could take. Maylene didn't even want to know how Conway was keeping himself sane in spite of the insanity that just unfolded in his life.

    "Look at me, watching my own funeral," Conway mused to himself as he watched the crowd pour out from the house and sit down before the podium through his binoculars. "Figures that everyone here except Maylene is a total stranger… mom and dad's friends."

    He thought it over… of course, Conway could help but be a little excited to watch his own funeral, but knew the perfect one would be much more elegant and all of his peers would be there… even Paul.

    "What I wouldn't give to see Dawn as the Becky to this funeral of mine," he wished with a sigh. That was pretty much what was keeping him grounded at this point: hopeless fantasies beyond his reach. "For her, I might actually entertain the thought of crashing the funeral…"

    Conway was only going to sit in on a little bit of this ceremony, as he needed to use the emptied house as an opportunity to get his end of the mission accomplished. As such, he tried not to get himself too caught up in his Dawn fantasies.

    Saturn caught Maylene bringing up the rear as the seats outside filled up quickly. "Indigestion problems, Miss Gym Leader?" he asked. Maylene wasn't sure whether or not to take that question seriously, but she didn't want to risk being casual with him. "You were in the bathroom for a while…"

    "Umm, yeah," she answered uneasily. "I'm so new at this whole Gym Leader thing… I can't help but wonder how many times I'll have to go through with this as long as I carry the title…"

    "I suppose I cannot expect perfect professionalism out of one so young," Saturn agreed. "But it's important to experience such unpleasant times to strengthen your own resolve. This… this is reality at its darkest, Miss Gym Leader."

    It was disturbing to hear such talk, and even worse to pretend to play along without completely losing it.

    "I-I'm so sorry," she apologized, squirming. "I'll try to do better, I promise!"

    Saturn was not impressed with seeing such a fierce battler look so frail and weak at such a time like this. He had much higher standards for someone he thought posed a threat to this scheme, but Saturn merely sighed and went ahead of Maylene. "Take your seat. It's time to begin."

    Much as Maylene wanted to look back at the tree where Conway was hiding, she knew better than to be distracting in such a way. The only seat left was in the front row… right next to Conway's immediate family members.

    Conway's parents seemed rather distant while Franny looked even more unpleasant than usual to be around. As Maylene awkwardly took the final vacant seat, which landed her right next to Franny, she thought about her next task…

    5. Keep Franny away from Sloan. Or at the very least, interact with her and try to subtly discourage her from listening to anything Sloan says about that intern job he promised her. If my sister joins Team Galactic, it will only be that much harder to take them down.

    This was going to be difficult for Maylene to pull off. She had never formally met Franny and thus had no business speaking about personal subjects to her directly; logically, Maylene shouldn't even know about Saturn's intentions for Conway's sister… bringing these topics up so forwardly and suddenly would immediately put Franny on the defensive; vile as she could be, she was still every bit as perceptive and intelligent as her little brother.

    Not to mention the funeral was about to finally start. Maylene couldn't strike up any sort of conversation with Franny while Saturn gave the eulogy. At the very best, the young Gym Leader attempted to make eye contact with Franny, but Franny seemed to be in another world entirely. She seemed so worn down and stressed out… much unlike her parents, who were professionally stoic.

    "Where is fancy bred? In the heart or in the head?" Saturn began; his tone soft and thoughtful. "A line from my cousin's favorite movie. Incidentally, as he and his family already knew, the true source is the Shakespearean work, The Merchant of Venice. I remember the last time I spoke with Conway in person; I asked him precisely what sort of answer he had for this inquiry."

    Thanks to the bugged podium, Conway was getting a crystal-clear reception of every word Saturn spoke. He already struggled to control his anger. "That was my favorite movie when I was seven, that liar… and he never talked to me about Shakespeare!" He kept his voice down as much as he possibly could, but Conway knew this was the true test he had to face: see how long he could bear to listen to his cousin's lies that would highlight the deception he was under for so many years while still controlling his temper.

    "But Conway was never simple-minded, not even in his youth," Saturn claimed. "His answer to the question was neither, saying that fancy is actually bred in your senses… sight, touch, and hearing, specifically. From there, the heart and the head develop the impressions there. One may have more power over the other, but the bottom line is that I always knew my cousin was destined for greatness… Conway reached a level of deepness most adults could never hope to achieve. Never before have I felt this sorrowful for being wrong."

    There was a twig in Conway's hands, bent upwards and very close to snapping.

    "For all that Conway had done for me, it was my personal mission to ensure his victory in winning the affections of the little red-haired girl he had sought after for so long…"

    The twig snapped. Red hair… Conway knew exactly who Saturn was talking about. A topic most sensitive to him, Conway was well on his way to beginning to lose it. Maylene looked confused at this particular part as well.

    "Another life ended far too soon," Saturn continued, undeterred. "Only now do we see how truly flawed this world can be; what justice was there in taking Conway's life? We all wish to turn back time and save his life, but our world does not, nor never will work that way. The best we can do is carry out the wishes Conway had while he was alive." He turned to his extended family. "The ones who truly suffer are my unfortunate aunt, uncle, and Franny… their only child left. Every day, they must live their lives and endure their loss… and simply pray that their remaining child will not become a victim of cruel fate as well."

    Conway wasn't sure how much more of this he could take, though it was supporting his suspicions about his cousin's ulterior motives. But sooner or later, he would have to cut himself away from this distraction…

    "We are gathered here today in remembrance of a young man we all felt would assuredly meet with success," Saturn pressed on; by now he had very well gotten the attention of his aunt and uncle, who were breaking down into tears at this point. Franny was always listening to him, and by this point tears were welling up in her eyes as well. "What remained of his body and very soul is now in the form of ashes within this urn. A young man like himself would not think to make his own written will, of course, but my crystal-clear memory of all the times I've had with Conway will tie up the loose ends remaining in the final chapter of his life."

    This is exactly what Conway counted on: Saturn taking advantage of his lack of a last will and testament.

    "In all the years I've spent with Conway, there is one thing I know to be true," Saturn said, then suddenly gesturing towards a certain area. "Like most free spirits, Conway would not want to be kept within the confines of this urn for all eternity. And so, at the end of this ceremony, we will free his soul at last; spreading his ashes around this tree, where he so often loved to be over the years."

    That was something Conway did not count on. And now all of a sudden his hiding place and stealth would soon be compromised if he didn't get out of there. But with everyone looking at the tree now (Maylene in particular fearful, wondering if Conway had actually planned this out), Conway couldn't quietly sneak into his bedroom window just yet.

    "But before that, let us all close our eyes and pray for his unfortunate soul," Saturn instructed, which took the crowd's attention away from the tree. "It's a pity we can do little more for him at this point, but let us wish him the best in the afterlife."

    Now that the attention was off the tree, Conway knew he had to act now. He wasn't sure how much more of this nonsense he could bear to listen to from his cousin as it was. Hastily, he packed all of his belongings into his carryon bag that were utilized for this personal mission of his and started going further up the sturdy branch that led to his window.

    Checking quickly to see that no one, especially Saturn, was looking in his general direction, Conway tossed his bag through the window before scrambling up into his room himself. It was hard for Conway to believe in anything other than what he suspected from the beginning: Saturn filling his eulogy with lies, nonsense, and blatant sucking-up to his parents… he would not do that without a reason. In his particular situation, remembering what he suffered during the encounter with Mars, knowing Saturn's tendency to not return the things Conway lent him over the years…

    And by bringing up the lack of will, Conway could draw no other conclusion; Saturn was trying to seize everything he ever owned. For what purpose, Conway wasn't sure… he didn't know very much about Team Galactic at all, let alone their aspirations.

    There was no way Conway would be able to save all of his belongings, but he knew he had to at least secure the things that could not be replaced.

    Sympathetically, he patted the top of his monitor the way one would normally pet a dog or cat. "You've been a loyal companion for all these years," Conway said, actually speaking to his computer. "But that's why we have these things called "backup discs" – to preserve your soul until you're reincarnated into a new computer," he said gleefully, pulling out a backup disc he had made not very long ago. "Much as it pains me to depart from you… maybe one day we'll meet again."

    Conway wished he could feasibly wipe his computer clean during this timeframe, but such a thing would immediately tell Saturn that tampering of that degree done preemptively might make him believe that Conway was alive after all, which was exactly what Conway wanted to avoid. It would also take too long; the best Conway could do was encrypt some files – something more realistic and natural that he would do before his death – and move on to his valuable books and other assorted belongings. It wasn't long before Conway's bag started to get heavy and over-packed… and it wasn't easy for Conway to get himself to stop, knowing that this may be the last time he'd see anything he didn't take with him.

    But there were other essentials he needed to take with him, and this would be his one and only chance to seize the assets. Conway winced as he forcibly removed himself from his own room and dashed over to the kitchen, raiding the refrigerator and cabinets of anything edible that was suitable for this weary traveler.

    The final and most important thing Conway needed from his house lied within, surprisingly, his parents' bedroom. He happened to know exactly where they were, too: the bedside drawer, top shelf. Conway stared hard at what he found, as expected… his parents' credit cards. They weren't ones that were used often, so Conway could easily take two or three and his absent-minded parents would be none the wiser. This was, of course, the most important acquisition of Conway's, as this would still give him access to his parents' money and allow him to anonymously charge his parents for anything he bought while on his journey. Financial stability was an essential; Conway wasn't ready for poverty. Perhaps it was a bit low to resort to this, but Conway saw no other way to keep himself afloat financially.

    "This is it," Conway sighed, taking a few select credit and debit cards and slipping them into his pocket. "No turning back, now."

    His half of the mission was complete. While Conway felt terrible about this in spite of his sour sentiments towards his family, their superficial and obviously timed emotional moments during the ceremony (as Conway stated before, he bugged the entire front row of seats the night before, and was thusly able to hear the rest of his family as well as his cousin) was heart-breaking; even in the wake of their son's death, his mother and father could only think of looking good in front of their peers. Franny's silence was telling enough for him, though he still hoped Maylene could keep Saturn away from her.

    Conway no longer had any reservations about keeping his status a secret from his family; never before had he needed more definitive proof of what he always believed: his own family never really loved him. And if that was the case… there was no time like the present to informally disown himself from this disgraceful family of his.

    "I've seen enough," Conway decided. "Maylene… I trust you'll do whatever you can to accomplish your mission." As he opened the front door, the morning sun's light glared against his glasses. "This is the last time I'll set foot here."

    As Conway walked off, never to see his house again as far as he was concerned, he carefully made his way back to Reggie's. Meanwhile, back at the funeral, the ashes had been spread. Formally, it seemed to be over, but that's when the crowd started to get chatty like they would at any other gathering. Saturn especially, as he spoke mostly to his aunt and uncle, handing them a suspicious document.

    All but Franny managed to strike up a conversation with somebody, whether it was related to Conway or not. Maylene found her perfect opportunity and approached the mourning sister of Conway.

    "A-are you holding up alright?" Maylene awkwardly asked her as she came close by, which almost startled the older girl before she resumed looking cold and unreadable. "I'm… sorry, I just couldn't help but notice…"

    "You're our city's Gym Leader," Franny acknowledged without a lick of emotion in her voice. "The one my cousin defeated a month ago…"

    "Ah, yes," Maylene affirmed. "That's why I was invited here…"

    Franny sharply glared at the younger girl. "Then I don't want to hear another word from you. Because of you, my brother was able to win a Gym Badge that she showcased on live national television. That's the last time I saw him, you know. On television, where he mocked and ridiculed me."

    It seemed as if Maylene was not going to get very far with this step of the mission after all. "I… did hear about-…"

    "What did I just say?!" Franny shouted at her, rapidly losing her cool. "I don't want to talk about it! There's nothing you can do to change it! I can't believe my parents even invited you here!!"

    The fit that Franny threw attracted the attention of quite a few people, but most importantly Saturn himself, who instantly glared at Maylene for trying to get close to Franny. He wasn't about to take any risks by letting her stick around any longer.

    Very briefly, Saturn looked to his uncle and aunt and nodded to them before taking the document back. "Thank you very much," he whispered. "Now, allow me to handle this."

    As Franny ran off to cry in her own privacy, Saturn approached Maylene and looked most displeased with what she inadvertently caused.

    "I-I'm so sorry!" Maylene apologized, bowing her head. "I just wanted to see if she was okay! I didn't mean to upset her; I swear…!" Maylene herself was about to break down just from the stress of keeping this secret from all these people… and Conway's own family as well.

    "Even so, it may be best that you take your leave early, Miss Gym Leader," Saturn coldly suggested. "Before you start getting even more unpopular around the most important financial bodies of Veilstone City."

    Leaving early… that reminded Maylene of the final step she was left before reconvening with Conway at Reggie's house.

    6. Be sure to bug Sloan's car before you leave. Take any opportunity available to leave first so that you won't be caught red-handed.

    It appeared that Maylene would be unable to reach Franny after all. Much as it pained her to disappoint Conway, she knew when it was time to stop pursuing an unreachable goal. At least, not at the risk of blowing her cover and ruining her chances to finish the last step of the mission.

    "I understand," she said, still in a very apologetic tone. "I guess I do have to move on and do my job, too… just… let her know I meant no harm, okay?"

    "Of course," was Saturn's stiff reply. "Now, you know the way out, I presume?"

    Maylene nodded. "Yes… I'll be on my way now." She quickly approached the tree where "Conway's" ashes were spread and bowed down respectfully. "Sorry for causing a disturbance. I'll miss you, Conway."

    She looked up for just a moment and saw that Conway had already left his post. This was at least a good sign… so far. Maylene sighed and left the "festivities", so to speak, and came out of the same front door Conway himself left from not long ago. She remembered the first car that arrived in the parking lot, and since she was the first visitor to arrive, she knew this had to be Saturn's car. With no trouble at all, she bugged Saturn's car and walked briskly back to Reggie's, still with the weight of failing to get through to Franny over her shoulders.





    Franny tried; she really did. Unlike her attention-deficient parents, the advent of Conway's death was a daily torment for her to endure. Deep down, she did care about this and was torn to shreds when she realized she would never be able to make amends with Conway when they would grow up. But being the stable-minded one of the family, or so she thought, she couldn't show any signs of weakness. She refused to let her emotions control her actions… these were traits Saturn saw firsthand, and that was what convinced him that his other cousin would be just as valuable as a Galactic grunt.

    He was quick to track his other cousin down, who had broken down into tears, but kept her crying as quiet as she possibly could so as not to attract attention from the side of the house that Conway was previously hiding around while he was in the tree. Franny didn't move when she realized when she wasn't alone… because she saw her cousin as her only hope for getting through his horrible loss.

    "I'm impressed you lasted as long as you did," Saturn complimented as he took a seat next to her on the ground. "You needn't feel ashamed."

    "I can't believe my parents invited her here!" Franny cried out in agony. "All that plays in my mind over and over again is what Conway said to me on the TV! He died hating me and nothing can bring him back-…"

    Saturn looked to his cousin sternly. "Francine. I believe now is the time to discuss the promise."

    "How can I even think about that now?" Franny asked, sniffling. "I can't be a good intern if I'm torn up over a stupid thing like this…!"

    "That's where you're wrong," Saturn corrected. "Where I work… we can help you. You can learn to control your emotions. Work will get your mind off this loss, and I believe this is what Conway would want, correct? He would want you to move on."

    Franny helplessly looked up at Saturn. "Sloan… he hated me. And… I hated him, too. He wouldn't want the best for me! And it isn't like we can ask him now!"

    "Join me," Saturn gently urged. "Because I promise you with my very own life that we can achieve what you just said was impossible."

    Upon hearing that, Franny's eyes opened wide, amazed and aghast at what she was hearing. "You mean… bring him back from the dead…?"

    Saturn smiled at her. "Where I work, we're creating a new world; one without the flaws and evils that have ruined this one. Francine, Conway will be in that new world, and you may reunite with him and tie up all of the loose ends between the two of you."

    This honestly sounded too good to be true, but Franny never knew a time where Sloan lied to her before… "Sloan, you… you're serious, aren't you…?"

    "On a day such as this, I could not possibly be more serious," Saturn assured her. "I am not content to say goodbye to Conway forever today. You certainly aren't, either."

    "What have you got planned…?" Franny asked him. "I… I want to know!"

    Saturn smiled again. "All of your questions will be answered; that I can assure you." He stood up, extending a hand to his cousin. "I've seen it firsthand today that you are ready for recruitment, Francine. This is the day you've been waiting for, and starting with today, we'll work towards reaching Conway directly again in our new world. What holds you back here?"

    For once, Saturn had a point. Franny was very eager to leave the house as soon as possible, even when Conway was still "alive". She was always interested in the internship promised to her, and now hearing about how it could solve all of her problems… there really wasn't much to convince her not to accept Saturn's offer; she cared for her parents about as much as Conway himself did, and in her moment of weakness and desperation…

    She took Saturn's hand and stood up alongside the Galactic commander, hugging him… which was a little unexpected for Saturn.

    "Get me out of here, Sloan," she breathlessly requested. "I want to see the new world as soon as possible."

    While Franny hugged him, Saturn smirked; the gentle visage of Sloan no longer very present in his face. "Of course, my dear. And worry not; I'll take care of all the traveling expenses."

    The deed his aunt and uncle just signed earlier indeed entitled Saturn the rights to all of Conway's belongings for putting on what they thought was a very deep and moving eulogy. With Conway out of the picture, his belongings at Saturn's disposal, and finally recruiting Franny into Team Galactic, Saturn was more than happy to finally rid himself of that lingering feeling of unfinished business. This time, he came out on top in spite of the messes that occurred.

    Another victory for Team Galactic.





    "So Franny was unreachable after all, huh?" Conway acknowledged with a sigh after he and Maylene reconvened at Reggie's house. "Don't be so down on yourself, Maylene. I'm surprised the plan actually went this well."

    Maylene blinked. "What do you mean?"

    "For such a hastily thrown-together plan, I didn't expect perfection," Conway explained. He was already setting up a new disguise for himself to sneak out of Veilstone City with. "But now I can keep tabs on Sloan wherever and whenever until he finds the bug while I go out and gain the strength I'll need to defeat him personally."

    "You shouldn't try and take him on all by yourself," Maylene scolded. "He's dangerous. But I can't believe how… nice he seemed until the end of the reception."

    Conway nodded. "If he hadn't been telling so many obvious lies during that eulogy, I might have started to doubt your testimony, Maylene. But worry not; I refuse to behave so recklessly in this situation. I've come too far to screw it up now. But I appreciate everything you've done for me, Maylene. I couldn't have pulled this off without you."

    "I still wish I could have done more," Maylene mumbled. "But you know you're always welcome here, right? Even if you can't go home for a while, you'll always have a home here, and I know Reggie would say the same."

    Suddenly, Conway looked a little doubtful. "I forgot… he'll be gone for a while. It would be difficult for you to keep this kind of thing from him… you think he would keep this to himself?"

    "I know he will," Maylene assured, nodding. "He and I fought off your cousin together, so we both understand the severity of your situation, Conway. He wouldn't tell a soul."

    "Good to know," Conway said, sounding much more relaxed now. He proceeded to tie his hair up and put on a Newsboy cap. "Now I can finally start the journey…"

    Maylene blinked at this. "So what are you going to do now?"

    "Like I said before, I don't stand a chance against Sloan presently," Conway reminded her, putting on a high-collared jacket and replacing his regular glasses with sunglasses. "So how do I go about becoming stronger? The answer is simple: I must train my Pokémon and test their strength against Gym Leaders across Sinnoh."

    "So you decided to do Gyms even though you won that Contest?" Maylene brought up, still highly curious of what Conway was up to.

    "Much as I enjoyed that, Contests focus more on aesthetic appeal and style rather than battling strength," Conway said with remorse. "Not to mention they're all televised, and if I'm going to keep up this pretending-I'm-dead charade, I need to avoid recorded events as much as I possibly can. Thankfully, Gym Battles aren't like that."

    Maylene was beginning to follow… "So that's why you're dressing weird, right? So people won't recognize you?"

    Conway felt that blow to his ego after hearing that. "Weird? I thought this might look cool…"

    Wisely, Maylene decided not to press the matter. "Er, right… right. You look… cool." It was so hard to sound honest about it, though. "When will you know you're ready, then? You know, to settle this once and for all?"

    "When I qualify for the Sinnoh League," Conway answered. "So that means I've got seven badges left to earn."

    "Even so, you're registered for the League under your name, Conway," Maylene pointed out to him. "How are you going to bypass that?"

    To that, Conway grinned and held out his Trainer ID, which now sported a picture of a disguised Conway with his name altered to Colin. "You wouldn't believe how easy it is to hack into the system, Maylene."

    "You altered your ID by yourself?" Maylene was aghast. Things like this just seemed like magic to her.

    "And I even managed to retain the Cobble Badge I earned from you in the data," he gloated with a smirk. "Of course, there are still a few kinks to work out… but this will be enough to fool the majority of the region for now until I can get this completely reconfigured."

    The young Gym Leader groaned a little, rubbing her head. It had been a long day… "Why do I have a feeling that what you're doing is illegal?"

    To that, Conway just laughed it off. "Oh, it probably is, haha… ah, yeah, it's probably illegal."

    The gleam in Conway's shades made him no less creepy than when he had his normal glasses on. Maylene couldn't believe how outrageously uncomfortable Conway could make her; she felt bad about it, but she was almost eager to get him out of the house at this point. "So, uh… which Gym Leader do you plan on facing first?"

    "It's best to go with convenience until I can settle into this "new life" of mine," Conway told her, all packed up and ready to go. "The closest Gym from here is in Pastoria City, so it looks like Crasher Wake will be my next victim."

    The way he said "victim" with the confident "hm" he added afterwards… he was getting creepier and creepier.

    "That fake name sounds familiar," Maylene noted. "… Oh, wait, that's right. That's the name you tried to trick Brandon into believing was yours!"

    Memories of that incident significantly snuffed out that bravado of his. "Ah… well, yes," he admitted. "Call it a stroke of inspiration… or just the first thing that came to mind again. I wonder if I should give this Colin gimmick a fake accent…"

    Maylene held her hands up, not wanting to be the test subject for this. "I'd just focus on trying to distinguish Colin from yourself in more important ways for now! Maybe once you're far away enough from Veilstone City, you won't even have to bother with a disguise anymore. It's not like you're famous and people who aren't local from here are going to remember you from a brief mention in the news a long time ago…"

    "Mm, perhaps," Conway agreed. "It would be convenient to be myself while not being myself. There are many things I'll need to commit to memory."

    Conway grabbed his belongings and started to walk for the front door, while Maylene stood up promptly. "You're going now…?"

    "Might as well," Conway figured. "Time's a-wasting. I could get most of the traveling out of the way in a day or less if I head off now. I must thank you, Maylene, for all of your assistance. I wouldn't have been able to get this far without you."

    Awkwardly, Maylene nodded to him. "Really, it's just relieving to know you're alive after all. That makes life easier for me already. Just be careful, alright? Don't hesitate to call me or Reggie if you ever need help," she instructed. "After all, we're all you've got to go to right now."

    Conway looked away, thoughtful about this. "Right… I won't inconvenience either of you too much; cross my heart. I'm pretty sure I can handle myself well on my own." He smirked to himself. "If I can survive a month of being with Paul, that qualifies me to survive just about anything, right?"

    That made Maylene laugh a little. "Guess you've got a point there." This made her realize something. "So, um… about Paul, if he comes here and asks about you…?"

    "That won't happen," Conway coldly cut Maylene off. "Long before any of this reached the rest of the world… I was already dead to Paul. He'll be content to keep it that way."

    With that, he opened the front door and stepped out while Maylene watched him until he was no longer in sight. Then she promptly slumped against the side of the door frame.

    "I can't believe I'm saying this," she muttered. "But I think full-time double-duty Gym Leader and Breeder duties were less stressful than… this. Unbelievable…"

    Much to Maylene's relief, the following days would comparatively be much less hectic for her. Though it was still a struggle without having Reggie on hand, it was a cakewalk compared to the situations both Conway and Paul faced.





    "Here's your medicine; be sure to read the instructions and follow them accordingly," said Snowpoint City Hospital's pharmacist, handing Paul a bag containing quite a few bottles of various pills. "Do you have any questions?"

    Paul, now back in his regular clothes and seemingly on his way out of the hospital, was told to stop by this area before leaving the building. After having a few days to cool down, he was a bit more in control of himself, though he was still far from well. "What if I don't take them?" he simply asked… and somehow still came off as rude as the pharmacist frowned.

    "If you don't take them, you'll end up back here within a few days… only in the morgue rather than the emergency room," she said in a flat tone. "It's bad for your health to question the hospital at a time like this, so if you want to stay away from this place, you might want to consider just doing what you're told for once."

    It seemed within a few days that Paul already developed a bad reputation amongst the hospital staff for his attitude… especially with all of the extra perks he was given considering his situation. Still, Paul hated even having to be here in the first place, so he was ungrateful regardless of the fact that this hospital saved his life.

    Though he crumbled half of the bag with his shaking wrist, Paul remained calm and nodded to her. "Very well." That was all he said before leaving the pharmacy area. Finally, Paul was free to roam the great outdoors again.

    It wasn't easy convincing the doctors to let him go about his way, but Paul's stubborn nature reflected Brandon's in that it was essentially never-ending. Eventually, one opposing force was going to fall, and when it came to debates, Paul was rarely the one that fell. Thankfully, he had leverage as a terminally ill patient to let him live out his "dreams" and "enjoy" his life for the short time that he still had it.

    The only issue would be the hospital bills and the cost for the medications. Without the proper insurance, Paul knew those would be huge bills coming up on Reggie's doorstep one day… bills he wouldn't be able to pay off by himself. Then Paul would have to explain these bills to Reggie, and eventually Brandon as well, since he'd ultimately be footing the bill. For everything that happened since he split up with Conway, Paul wasn't ready to disclose any of that to anybody just yet. It would be a long time before he could bring himself to outright admit what has effectively weakened him.

    Much as it irritated Paul to take so much medication at once, it was at least effective in doing its job as the constant pain plaguing Paul for weeks dulled down significantly. But now Paul had to deal with a different kind of pain… the sting of defeat.

    After nearly getting himself killed to reach this city, Paul was outright floored by Candice. Snowpoint City's Gym Leader tried multiple times to contact Paul after their short encounter in the bathroom, but Paul refused to see her. Now that Paul understood the severity of his situation, he knew that he had limitations he had no choice but to accept and adapt with.

    Determined not to give up now, though he wasn't yet sure why he insisted on pressing on in light of this life-changing news, Paul resolved to train his Pokémon and develop his own strategy against Candice with the same four Pokémon he used last time. Clearly, Paul understood that his judgment was clouded in light of his bad health last time. Though he knew the Gym Leader wouldn't be so willing to pretend that battle never happened…

    In spite of the fact that dusk was swiftly approaching and the area was covered in a thick fog that granted a very limited range of visibility, Paul pressed on through the city until he found Candice and her Abomasnow practicing various moves. Not far away, there was a building that happened to be very easy to climb. Even in his weakened state, Paul managed to reach the roof without much trouble as he glared down several feet below where he could barely make out Candice's figure… though Abomasnow's was a bit more apparent. "Candice!"

    "Huh- wha…?!" Candice turned around towards the direction of the voice, but found nobody behind her. The voice seemed to echo… but that voice was very familiar. "Oh… is it…?"

    "Yeah, it's me," Paul replied snidely. "I just wanted to let you know that I plan on challenging you to a rematch in a few days. I've been released from the hospital, so don't bother worrying about my health."

    That cinched it for Candice. "Paul! So it is you… where are you, anyway?"

    "That's irrelevant right now," Paul said; his tone sharp, yet controlled. "I'm going to train and develop a new strategy against you, so prepare yourself."

    Candice wasn't sure why Paul insisted on speaking to her from such a distance, but he sounded healthy enough and he was making sense. It was hard to argue with him. "Well… I'll definitely do that, then! I look forward to battling with you again for sure. I'll finally get to battle the real you!"

    "You will," Paul affirmed. "But I have a favor to ask of you."

    This was an unexpected twist. "Uh… a favor?"

    Paul had thought back on past events long enough to remember something important about the time he spent in Squallville. "There's a good chance you'll come across another challenger soon," he informed her. "And I happen to be familiar with him… I can't stand him."

    "You don't say…" Candice muttered awkwardly, put off by Paul's blunt and brutal honesty. "Then what's the favor got to do with this?"

    "I would prefer you not mention me under any circumstance," Paul requested. "In fact, you don't even know me. You've never met the real me, so wipe that previous battle from your memory."

    Candice wasn't sure how to interpret this. "Wait… you want me to forget about you? But how exactly can I do that?"

    "Just pretend you never met me," Paul coldly instructed her. "I don't want him knowing about what happened to me… he's nosy and annoying and it's none of his business, so I want you to keep everything about our encounters confidential. He's my age, had dark hair and a red cap and travels with a Pikachu. He'll have two other traveling companions with him. So if you come across that group, keep your mouth shut when it comes to me."

    "Wow, you're really serious about this," Candice remarked. "Well, if that's what you want, Paul…"

    "Don't even address me by name," Paul cut her off. "As far as those people are concerned, we've never met. I won't act familiar around you, either. Do you swear you'll remember to do this if you come across him?"

    Candice still wasn't really sure why Paul wanted her to go out of her way to lie like this, but who was she to judge? She had a feeling Paul naturally had a lot of enemies and that their conflicts ran much deeper than they would appear to be. "Well… in light of what's happened and all…" Candice sounded unsure of herself, but shook her head and stood firm from then on. "You've got my word; Gym Leader's honor. Just promise you'll be careful while you're training, alright?"

    Paul was a strange and mysterious figure to Candice. In spite of all their interaction, she never could get a good, clear look at his face due to either the bandages or blood that often covered his face when they met, as well as the distance between the two when they battled and when they conversed in the hospital with a bathroom stall between them. In spite of that, it was difficult to just forget about him, but Candice figured it shouldn't be too hard to feign ignorance of his existence when it came to a certain future challenger from the Kanto region…

    "Fine," he agreed. "Then we'll meet again soon… but it will be the first time you really meet me. Don't forget that."

    Paul hopped off the building from the side opposite of Candice before she could respond and sped off, passing the city limits and stopping to rest in the woods. Now that he knew it would be no easy feat to defeat Candice, much less with his weak-to-ice team, Paul knew where to focus to keep his mind off his impending doom.

    "Three days," he decided to himself. "That's all the training I'll need in order to defeat her… as long as I'm still alive, I won't lose like that ever again."

    In due time, promises to yourself would come to have very little meaning, as Paul would learn. But for now… he at least had the motivation to accept his cross to bear as one who would die much sooner than his peers.

    Regardless of that, Paul was not yet completely through with his stages of grief. And unbeknownst to Paul, his father was inadvertently closing in on him.

    Paul no longer wore the winter coat Conway purchased for him. Now that Paul was in the city where the climate was at least a little more stable, he could get by with his jacket alone. The coat was now enduring the same fate as the strategy Conway wrote out for him; shoved into his backpack… shoved into obscurity.

    As always, Paul shoved the past behind him in order to focus on what lied ahead. Now that he experienced firsthand how challenging Candice really was, it was obvious that this battle would be just as much of a struggle as it was against Byron with type disadvantages… now likely even more of one since Paul's team was plagued with severe weaknesses to Ice-type attacks as opposed to simply just being ineffective against it, which many of the Pokémon's attacks were. This was going to be nothing like the battle with Byron.

    But now it was clear to Paul what this all really meant to him now: defeating Candice would prove to him (and assumedly others) that his terminal illness could be kept at bay long enough for him to prove his competence.

    Anger associated with Paul was pretty much a given; though he restrained it for now, that particular stage of grief was well underway, with the Bargaining stage beginning to seep in as well.

    These stages combined were going to have some… very interesting results down the road, to say the least.



    ( TBC )

    Chapter 19: Black Ice Battle!
    plurk | SPPF | dA | ff.net

  12. #57
    Shooty Refutey Crysta Blade's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Yay! An update! My running commentary begins...now.

    It all comes back to bravery (and by extention, fear as well) here, doesn't it? A reoccuring theme of sorts.

    Very grateful for authors like you that give Paul a legitimate reason to angst, unlike an awful lot of writers who go "lol Paul be emo". What show were they watching? 'Cause it sure ain't the same show I've seen.

    Holy...Whoa. Really didn't see that one coming. Candice handled that situation very well. Ack, I'm at a loss for words here.

    Ah, I'm very happy that you acknowledged the need for a strong bond when in comes to the Starter's ultimate moves. 'Tis a pity the animé hasn't done the same, I think there's a lot of potential in the idea. It'd really be something if it was established that trust was needed for the moves. And when Paul comes along with his Frenzy Plant Torterra? Questions would be raised.

    Dang, and I was getting sucked into the battle, too. Isn't it marvelous that the phone always picks the worst time to ring?

    Nice use of canon's reasoning, there. Of course, there'd have to be some reason (besides "because the plot said so") for Reggie to head up to Snowpoint.

    "I'm not sure what I'll miss more… him or his food!"
    Pfft. Never change, Maylene.

    Yeah, you are nosy, Mars. Have more work to do as a reward.

    That's a grand plan you've got there, Saturn. Very calculated.

    And here comes the grief. Funny how things work that way. You hate someone, but when something happens to them, the hatred starts to fade.

    Lovely continuity on both counts (the lightning and the ghosts).

    Oh Conway, why so neurotic?

    Uh oh, a zany scheme is brewing.

    I get the feeling that when Paul finds out that Conway used his clothes to stop a villain, he'll miss the point.

    "Well, I sort of borrowed your clothes...But I had to! I needed to stop my cousin!"

    "You borrowed my clothes!?"

    Really feeling sorry for Maylene for having to take part in the aforementioned zany scheme.

    Yeesh, that was a close call.

    The Merchant of Venice, huh? So you view the Pokémon world as mostly like ours, too?

    "For all that Conway had done for me, it was my personal mission to ensure his victory in winning the affections of the little red-haired girl he had sought after for so long…"
    Oh no, he didn't!

    Shoot, another close call.

    I talk to my computer, too. And by talk, I mean shout abuse at it when it crashes.

    Well, I suppose even the best laid plans don't always work 100%.

    To that, Conway grinned and held out his Trainer ID, which now sported a picture of a disguised Conway with his name altered to Colin. "You wouldn't believe how easy it is to hack into the system, Maylene."
    You're not kidding there, Conway.

    I'm loving the frankness of the chemist there. "Oh, if you don't take your meds? You'll die."

    It seemed within a few days that Paul already developed a bad reputation amongst the hospital staff for his attitude…
    Oh, that doesn't come as a suprise. Paul sure likes to be difficult.

    And we have setup for the mini-arc. Most excellent.

    ...I think I should stop yapping now, lest I keep going forever.

    Dangan Ronpa avatar and sig pic by me. Bases from here.
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  13. #58
    Le amo Conway Gato's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    n_n' Heh, sorry for not reviewing yesterday... Anyways, thanks for updating!

    Okay, with that over, here goes! That was a great chapter, for starters. Pretty much the whole time I was reading that, I could hardly control my laughter (Hopefully that effect was intentional..?)

    As someone else mentioned, you're awesome at writing battles! They're incredibly creative, I can't help but wonder how you think of them.

    Liked the new demension of Franny, by the way. You've proved that she isn't completely heartless. XD Actually, everyone was great in this chapter...

    On a final note (yes, I know this review is awkward), my favorite scene had to be the ghost scene. That time, controlling laughter was just too hard. n_n

    Anyways, thanks. For updating, and also replying to my review that last time (that made me feel incredibly good).
    "I'm battling a Magma Abdomen" - my brother

  14. #59
    Gonna be a tl;dr Master! Shinneth's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Quote Originally Posted by Crysta Blade View Post
    Ah, I'm very happy that you acknowledged the need for a strong bond when in comes to the Starter's ultimate moves. 'Tis a pity the animé hasn't done the same, I think there's a lot of potential in the idea. It'd really be something if it was established that trust was needed for the moves. And when Paul comes along with his Frenzy Plant Torterra? Questions would be raised.
    I keep holding out hope that they will delve into that subject in the anime soon, like whenever Infernape learns (or had better learn) Blast Burn. That would be the best time to start going into that subject, and then Ash/Brock/Dawn remember Paul's Torterra knows Frenzy Plant and they're like "... HUH."; really, for a show that's so up on promoting love and friendship, you'd think they would seize the opportunity to play up those ultimate moves a bit more considering the requirements in the game.

    Even funnier when I think, as far as the games are concerned, Frenzy Plant is a pretty useless attack for Torterra to have based strictly on its stats since Frenzy Plant's a special move. People often say Paul represents that soulless side of the fandom known as the metagame, and while I agree with that to an exent, Paul would be better off giving Torterra Seed Bomb or Wood Hamer for the STAB Grass-type move. Not to mention Earthquake (though I think I heard that move in general is sort of banned in the anime). Yet in spite of the ever-changing moveset amongst Paul's team, Torterra included, it seems to have always had Frenzy Plant since its debut in the anime, so the fact that Paul insists that Torterra sticks with that move is pretty amusing. Of course, anime logic and game logic rarely ever mesh anyway, but the ultimate moves really should be an exception to the rule. D/P's been a bit more faithful to the games anyway, so I really do expect them to address this before D/P ends.


    Nice use of canon's reasoning, there. Of course, there'd have to be some reason (besides "because the plot said so") for Reggie to head up to Snowpoint.
    When DP128 first aired before it got subbed, I was afraid they weren't going to give Reggie any reason at all to be there, which is just ludicrous considering Reggie's kinda got a job and all and Veilstone City's way way far off from Snowpoint. "I just finished delivering a Pokemon I was taking care of back to its trainer" at least covered that, but it still seems like a stretch since it just seems douchey to make Reggie go up all that way just to make a delivery and it raised the question of who the hell is taking care of the baby Pokemon back home (though at least the fic has that covered). But this was something that also made me glad I forced myself on hiatus last year when the episode was announced a couple of months before airing; I never would have counted on Reggie being in Snowpoint, so all that extra time I had came in handy and probably saved me from another potential plothole.

    I get the feeling that when Paul finds out that Conway used his clothes to stop a villain, he'll miss the point.

    "Well, I sort of borrowed your clothes...But I had to! I needed to stop my cousin!"

    "You borrowed my clothes!?"
    Ohhhh yeah. That's sort of what'll play into when they eventually reunite like seven chapters from now; Paul's going to see some douchebag in his clothes and explode when he finds out it's Conway who raided his room and did god knows what to it while Paul was gone. Some things just won't ever change between those two.


    The Merchant of Venice, huh? So you view the Pokémon world as mostly like ours, too?
    More or less. One-off comments in the dub insinuate as much and they were pretty loose about making real-world references back in the old Kanto days unless I'm mistaken. Well, there's also that and "Lightning American" Lt. Surge and French Fantina from the games (I think the Gen I games outright stated the spaceship model in Pewter City's museum was the Spaceshuttle Colombia before that tragedy occured some years later). I had this funeral plot point planned since this past summer, and Blackjack suggested I throw in a Tom Sawyer reference or two... which was way too hard to resist, so while I went that far, I decided to throw in a Willy Wonka and Shakespeare reference as well.


    And we have setup for the mini-arc. Most excellent.
    Yup. All that's left is reuniting Brandon with his Battle Pyramid, which is the purpose Chapter 14 primarily serves aside from Barry's debut. Because of that, I'm praying next chapter won't be as long as the others since it's really just filler biding time for the adaptation. It's been a long time since Brandon's had a major role in the story (Chapter 7, I think), so I guess 14's going to also serve as a warm-up for getting used to writing him extensively again.

    Needless to say the next bundle of chapters are going to be very heavy in the Paul/Reggie/Brandon content, so much that I think it'll necessitate Conway's story to be held off after the end of the next chapter until the Paul/Ash full battle finishes up. But that'll at least be a nice way to cheat in giving him a badge or two without having to write out the gym battles.



    So yeah, for those curious about what Paul's actually afflicted with, one reader from FFN gave me a suggestion that seems to really fit the bill so far: Chronic granulomatous disorder. So that may be the best bet if I decide not to make Paul's disease a fictional one. I think I'll put off the confirmation for a while since we're coming up on some major plot-oriented chapters very soon, but that's definitely a higher candidate over "some kind of cancer".

    I plan on starting Chapter 14 very soon, probably by the end of this week. I promised a friend a while ago that I'd get the 15th chapter done by her birthday in August, so I'd like to mow down this chapter as quickly as possible without making it a crappy stall for time so I can spend the summer focusing on what will be the most significant chapter in this story since the tenth one. It's going to require me to watch A Pyramiding Rage! a bajillion times to get the script accurate, but that should be a lot more fun than when I had to do the same with Pursuing a Lofty Goal!.

    Thanks for all the feedback! I really appreciate it!

    Chapter 19: Black Ice Battle!
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  15. #60
    Shooty Refutey Crysta Blade's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Quote Originally Posted by Shinneth View Post
    I keep holding out hope that they will delve into that subject in the anime soon, like whenever Infernape learns (or had better learn) Blast Burn. That would be the best time to start going into that subject, and then Ash/Brock/Dawn remember Paul's Torterra knows Frenzy Plant and they're like "... HUH."; really, for a show that's so up on promoting love and friendship, you'd think they would seize the opportunity to play up those ultimate moves a bit more considering the requirements in the game.
    Love and friendship being strong themes in the animé...I can't believe that the thought never crossed my mind! That's perfect! Yeah, the writers are missing something big here. If the twerps knew that little detail, Ash would be bugging Paul about it every time they crossed paths.

    Blast Burn on Infernape is inevitable in my eyes; Frenzy Plant's been covered and Barry's Empoleon is packing Hydro Cannon.

    Even funnier when I think, as far as the games are concerned, Frenzy Plant is a pretty useless attack for Torterra to have based strictly on its stats since Frenzy Plant's a special move. People often say Paul represents that soulless side of the fandom known as the metagame, and while I agree with that to an exent, Paul would be better off giving Torterra Seed Bomb or Wood Hamer for the STAB Grass-type move. Not to mention Earthquake (though I think I heard that move in general is sort of banned in the anime).
    I suppose it's sort of understandable that people think a 'serious business' Trainer like Paul is mocking the competitive side of the series, but how can that be a parody when there's nothing to suggest he's to be taken anything but seriously?

    Anyway, Paul wouldn't get anywhere in the metagame with some of the moves his Pokémon use. Focus Blast Ursaring? Blizzard Weavile? He'd be laughed out quick smart. I don't remember Hyper Beam/Frenzy Plant/etc being used by competitive players, either. Eh, the writers probably don't pay much attention to base stats. They might be taking base power at face value.

    Regarding Torterra, I reckon Wood Hammer would be tricky due to lack of mobility. Though the writers aren't shy of having the same move being executed or adapated in different ways, depending on the situation and the Pokémon (Silver Wind had one look used by May's Beautifly and another from Drew's Masquerain). There's nothing stopping Seed Bomb, though. As for Ground moves, with Earthquake not an option in the show (wasn't it last used by Ash's Tauros in the Battle Frontier?)...there's no real other physical Ground attacks that'd be useful on Torterra.

    When DP128 first aired before it got subbed, I was afraid they weren't going to give Reggie any reason at all to be there, which is just ludicrous considering Reggie's kinda got a job and all and Veilstone City's way way far off from Snowpoint. "I just finished delivering a Pokemon I was taking care of back to its trainer" at least covered that, but it still seems like a stretch since it just seems douchey to make Reggie go up all that way just to make a delivery and it raised the question of who the hell is taking care of the baby Pokemon back home (though at least the fic has that covered).
    Well, it worked! Although a bit of fridge logic hit me: why couldn't one of those Poké Ball transfer machines be used? Now I just think since Poké Balls weren't mentioned, it wasn't an option for one reason or another.

    Ohhhh yeah. That's sort of what'll play into when they eventually reunite like seven chapters from now; Paul's going to see some douchebag in his clothes and explode when he finds out it's Conway who raided his room and did god knows what to it while Paul was gone. Some things just won't ever change between those two.
    I nailed it. Niiice. Now that I think about it, I can't picture much variety in Paul's wardrobe.

    More or less. One-off comments in the dub insinuate as much and they were pretty loose about making real-world references back in the old Kanto days unless I'm mistaken. Well, there's also that and "Lightning American" Lt. Surge and French Fantina from the games (I think the Gen I games outright stated the spaceship model in Pewter City's museum was the Spaceshuttle Colombia before that tragedy occured some years later).
    Good to know I'm not the only one. But it's also reasonable for people to think otherwise; real world references are all but dead now. I don't think there's anything post-Kanto (in both games and animé) that suggests it. Hmm... from what I remember of watching the odd Japanese episode here and there, Fantina used a lot of gratuitous English. Different languages, same thing. *shrugs*

    So yeah, for those curious about what Paul's actually afflicted with, one reader from FFN gave me a suggestion that seems to really fit the bill so far: Chronic granulomatous disorder. So that may be the best bet if I decide not to make Paul's disease a fictional one.
    *reads article* Whoa, what a stroke of luck. It fits amazingly well. That reader certainly did their research.

    I plan on starting Chapter 14 very soon, probably by the end of this week. I promised a friend a while ago that I'd get the 15th chapter done by her birthday in August, so I'd like to mow down this chapter as quickly as possible without making it a crappy stall for time so I can spend the summer focusing on what will be the most significant chapter in this story since the tenth one.
    Ooh! Sounds great! I'll still be reading...and making overly long comments!

    Dangan Ronpa avatar and sig pic by me. Bases from here.
    3DS Friend Code: 1177-7801-6992. Friend Safari is Psychic with Abra, Espurr and Xatu. If you add me, let me know!
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