Trusting in Baron to follow Criss and Aerodactyl, I lay my head down on the back of his warm neck and shut my eyes, giving in to drowsiness.
I don’t think I fell asleep, what with the rush of wind and the constant raindrops, but I had no idea how long it was before Baron let out a screech of alarm. My head shot up and I looked around for Criss, but there was no sign of Aerodactyl’s form anywhere in the darkness. Not far ahead and below us were the scant lights of what I assumed was Saffron City.
Baron screeched again and I hurriedly connected with him.
All I could sense in response was panic. Then, without warning, everything flipped over.
My head flew forward to slam into the back of Baron’s neck and we rolled in the air, the lights below moving above us, then back down.
I screamed, holding on tight as I could to Baron, who suddenly dove downward just in time to avoid a winged shadow.
Ducking my head down, I could feel the rush of air as we sped beneath the Pokémon. It gave a metallic shriek of fury that its prey was getting away, a call that I recognized.
That was a Skarmory.
We sped downward, the lights getting bigger and bigger until Baron finally spread his powerful wings and alighted upon the asphalt. I only had a moment to get a good look at our surroundings.
We had landed beside a street lamp in an abandoned street. Brick buildings, short by the standards of the rest of the city, lined the road, which split into an intersection not far away.
Almost at the exact moment I slid off of Baron’s back, there was a crack like an anvil hitting pavement, followed by the sound of wings and a screech that I recognized as that of an Aerodactyl.
Not ten feet to my right, the Skarmory had landed, while on the other side of Baron, Criss was rolling off of Aerodactyl to avoid getting clawed by a saddled Fearow that streaked just over her. Another one of the Beak Pokémon landed in front of her and its rider dismounted.
I turned my attention back to Skarmory just in time to see the glint of metal inches from my face.
Then I was on the ground, a searing pain in my face and blood in my mouth. I felt four distinct cuts forming a line from my left cheekbone to just under my left eye. Stars flashed in the inside of my eyelids as I tried to roll over.
My face hurt terribly, but adrenaline forced back the pain. I spat out some blood while I attempted to scramble upright, but I felt a foot connect with my ribcage.
Rolling over, I looked up.
A dark figure stood silhouetted by the street light. Behind him, Baron and the Skarmory were having a fierce duel.
I could feel my face swelling, pushing my left eye shut. A battle was playing out between Criss and the other two Skyguard not far away.
The dark figure took a step forward and grabbed something from its belt.
“So ends the adventure of Criss’s only partner. Pity, I thought you’d put up more of a fight,” he said, his voice deep and smooth.
This was obviously Reese Walker. My mind raced, desperately trying to think of something to do.
He was going to kill me.
I heard the click of him pulling back the hammer of his handgun.
I was going to die.
Suddenly, there was a roar and a flash of orange light that illuminated Reese’s dark features.
His eyes widened, and he pointed the gun at something behind me, letting off two rounds. The sound of gunfire was louder than I had imagined.
I finally found the presence of mind to shakily get to my feet as something impacted the ground not far away, sending out a wave of darkness.
As the darkness washed over me, I could suddenly feel the pain in my face more acutely, and my terror doubled.
In my brain, logic vied for my attention over the primitive instinct that was threatening to take hold.
That was a dark pulse.
It seemed that someone else, or at least another Pokémon, had joined the fight. The dark-type technique left a nearly impermeable fog over the road, dimming the light from the street lamp to almost nothing.
I put up a hand to my face in a vain attempt to stench the flow of blood and spat out more of the stuff that had been flowing into my mouth as I fumbled for Baron’s Poké Ball.
Criss said to run, to get to the Pokémon Center, but I can’t leave Baron.
Wrapping my fingers around the metallic orb, I pointed it at the sound of combat between Baron and Skarmory. There was a flash, and the noise stopped, but elsewhere I heard the call of a Pidgeot.
What the hell is going on?
The fog was beginning to lift, so I reached for my stun rod in an attempt to arm myself. A gunshot rang out, there was yelling, another roar, another gunshot.
Light was returning. To my left I saw a grey uniformed man coming at me, clutching a wound in his side with one hand and holding a knife in the other. I pulled the trigger on my stun rod and smashed it into him before he could reach me. The Skyguard didn’t make a sound, just crumpled to the ground, twitching.
I felt a hand grab my arm as I stared in shock at what I had done.
“Let’s go!” It was Criss.
I let her pull me around, returning the stun rod to my belt as we ran.
The wounds on my face throbbed terribly, blood now flowing down my neck. It was all I could do to focus on Criss sprinting ahead of me, trying desperately to keep up. I could hear other footsteps behind me, more commotion, the sound of Poké Balls opening and closing, but none of it registered.
I staggered, and a strong hand grabbed me and held me upright. I kept running, and running. Blood loss and pain yanked on my consciousness, but I kept running. I wasn’t going to fall behind. I wasn’t going to die.
I assume I blacked out somewhere along the line, because the next thing I knew, I was in a bed with lights overhead. My face hurt, and people were poking at it with needles. Then beautiful numbness crept over me and I was asleep.
Spencer paced in front of the police headquarters in Celadon City. Rain was falling all around, and it was very early in the morning, but he wanted to be there when the courier arrived, when permission would finally be given to invade the neighboring city.
Invade. What an odd way to classify it. The operation seemed to Spencer more like retaking the city than invading it. But that didn’t matter. Finally, for the first time in a century, Kanto was declaring a state of military emergency.
The tall man rubbed his hands together. Finally, there was going to be some action.
Reese kicked over the dead flying-type with a grunt.
Who the hell were these people? They were just kids, yet they had picked apart both of his escorts.
He looked down at Harvin, who lay unconscious on the wet asphalt, then at Ricket, who lay dead, a steel throwing knife protruding from his throat.
Reese gritted his teeth. His Skarmory approached from behind, its metal claws clinking on the road. He turned to look at his partner.
“So be it. We were caught by surprise. They will pay. Let’s get back to base, someone else can come clean up this mess. They must have headed for the Pokémon Center…”
He expertly climbed into the saddle on Skarmory’s back and they took off, leaving behind the three dead Pokémon and two Skyguard.
I awoke not in a hospital bed, like I had guessed, but on a bench in a crowded room.
I sat up slowly, gingerly touching my fingers to my wounds. They were sore, but it wasn’t as bad now. They had been stitched up.
It looked like we had made it to the Pokémon Center. Saffron City is the biggest city in Kanto, so it would make sense that it had a huge Pokémon Center, but this still wasn’t big enough for the sheer amount of people that were currently packed into it.
The entire front wall of the center was glass, looking out on a dark street. I had not been asleep for long.
Around the room, nearly a hundred trainers sat, rested, talked, and tended to their Pokémon. A lucky few sat at tables or benches like the one I had been sleeping on, but most of them just stood around or sat on the linoleum floor. A sizable portion in the corner appeared to be sleeping, but most were awake. Drowsy eyed, but awake. You couldn’t afford to be caught sleeping in an environment as dangerous as this.
I glanced around, hoping to see someone who could explain what was going on, but no nurse stood behind the counter.
“Good, you’re awake.” I heard Criss’s voice and looked to my right. She was approaching with who I assumed was the nurse on duty. Criss had added a few more bruises to her various wounds from her earlier encounter with the Skyguard. One of the knives on her bandolier was missing, and another was crusted with blood.
The nurse, a kindly young woman (weren’t they all?) who looked to be in her mid-twenties gave me warm smile. “We stitched you up, but we couldn’t spare the bed for long. Lots of Pokémon to be treated, you see. Sorry about that.”
I shook my head, touching my stitches again. “No need to apologize. Thanks… thanks a lot.”
“You’re lucky there weren’t any fractures, though you’re going to have scars, unfortunately. Nothing we can really do about that.”
“I don’t care.”
“I’m glad you’re up,” said Criss. “We need to head out again soon.”
The nurse turned to her. “What are you talking about? You can’t leave, it’s too dangerous!”
Criss raised a hand to stop her. “No. We came to Saffron for a reason and we’re going to do what we set out to do.”
“And what exactly is that?”
“Kick Team Rocket’s ass.” Criss pulled me to my feet and led me away from the openmouthed nurse.
“What happened?” I asked her.
She smiled. “I think you should go thank our rescuers.”
We pushed through a crowd of trainers to come upon a table, around which sat three familiar faces.
Tim glanced up at me. “You look awful, dude.”
I didn’t respond, instead staring in shock at the other two people: Neil Town and Anna Cooper, from the tournament.
Anna was crying.
“W-Why didn’t I j-just return him to his P-Poké Ball when w-w-we landed?” she sobbed.
Neil moved his chair next to her and put an arm around her shoulders. “Maybe he made it out…”
“N-No. I s-saw it happen. That man sh-sh-shot him.” Anna gave another huge sob and buried her head in her arms. Neil rubbed her back and looked up at me, giving a small dry smile, his eyes sympathetic.
“Tim came to us a few days ago,” Neil explained, “told us what was going on and asked if we wanted to help.”
“I went to some of the other trainers too, but only these two were up to it,” Tim elaborated.
“Good thing they were,” said Criss. “You helped us out of a real tight spot back there.”
I gave Tim a questioning look and gestured to the still crying Anna.
“That Skyguard guy killed her Pidgeot,” he answered solemnly.
The statement prompted another huge sob from the grief stricken trainer.
“Casualties happen,” said Criss as Flareon leaped onto the table and tenderly nudged Anna’s head.
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” Neil said, looking at Criss incredulously. “You’d feel different if it was one of your Pokémon.”
“Would I? Do you know that?”
Neil seemed a little taken aback by that response, but didn’t say anything more.
The whole situation made me uneasy. I felt terrible for Anna. It could just as easily have happened to Baron. Or me.
“Why’d you guys even come along?” I asked Neil.
“I started journeying for the excitement,” he said. “What’s more exciting than this? I’d never have forgiven myself if I didn’t take part in the retaking of Saffron City.”
Anna just responded with another sob.
Suddenly Criss grabbed my shoulder. She pointed outside. “Keith, do you see that?”
“See what?” I responded, looking where she was pointing. Shadows were moving around on the other side of the street. As I watched, a subtle glow began to emanate from them.
“What do you think that is?” I asked, turning back to Criss. Her eyes were wide in terror. I barely heard her mutter her next words.
Then, without warning, everything exploded.
My nerves, which had finally calmed down from the encounter with Reese, screamed back to life. There was an intense light and blistering heat followed by a shockwave that drove me to the ground and sent me rolling away.
All I could think to do was close my eyes and cover my head with my arms as I skidded along the floor, crashing through people, Pokémon, and furniture.
When I finally regained control of myself, I opened my eyes and attempted to crawl to my feet. I felt dizzy; it took me a moment to even get on my hands and knees.
Why was everything so quiet? I looked around.
I apparently had gone temporarily deaf, for trainers everywhere were screaming. The windows at the front of the center had been shattered completely, leaving only the burnt and bent remains of a doorway and two metal columns. The attackers were a trio of Tyranitar: hulking greenish-grey skinned Pokémon that lived in the mountains between Kanto and Johto.
The destruction of the Pokémon Center was complete. Ash hung in the air and the ground was slick with blood. Between the actual blasts of three hyper beams at once and the resulting debris, it was a slaughter.
Bodies littered the floor, human and Pokémon alike, some unmoving, others twitching ever so slightly.
There was a flash of light as a trainer released a Pokémon from its Poké Ball. It was Neil. He had scrambled to his feet, and was now commanding his Electabuzz to fight the pair of Dodrio that had entered the center. Behind the flying-types, I could see three men in Skyguard uniforms.
Someone grabbed my arm as I stood up and I pulled them to their feet. It was Criss. She shouted at me, but I still couldn’t hear anything. It was like the whole world was moving in slow motion, and I was just wandering by.
I shook my head and she turned to the battle going on at the front of the center. Flareon jumped forward, joining the fight.
Slowly, my hearing began to return. Moans and screams of pain, fear, and anger reached my ears.
I surveyed the destruction, aghast, unsure of how to react. Slumped against the front counter, not far to my right was a girl my age. A shard of glass had pierced her throat. She was unmistakably dead.
I fought the urge to throw up, but couldn’t tear my eyes from the grizzly sight. A Pikachu, its fur slightly singed, approached the girl. It looked up at who must have been its trainer. The electric Pokémon gave a small cry and jumped up into the girls lap. It stared for a moment, then curled up into a ball, laying against its trainer’s stomach and wrapping its jagged tail around itself.
My eyes began to mist. That could have been me. That could have been Criss. That could have been…
Where was Tim? I looked around frantically, and heard a voice calling my name.
“Keith! Get over here!”
Criss was shouting from the other side of the room.
I made my way towards her, simultaneously trying not to look down and not to step on a body.
“Get out a Pokémon to defend yourself, and let’s get out of here!” Criss yelled.
I fumbled with my belt, my fingers eventually grasping Tesla’s modified Poké Ball.
A Sandslash had joined the fight against the Dodrio and Tyranitar, who had recovered from their initial barrage. Anna was commanding it from where she sat on the floor, a gash in her leg.
I threw forward the Poké Ball, and Tesla immediately responded. A great flash of electricity bolted out of its magnets and struck one of the Dodrio in the chest, sending it reeling.
“Keith!” Criss shouted again. “Let’s go!”
I looked back and forth between her and the battle at hand.
“Don’t worry; we can deal with this ourselves. Do what you need to do.” Neil gave me an encouraging look and gestured towards Criss.
I nodded and sprinted after Criss, who was stepping through the broken out front window. Panic rose through me.
“Criss, where’s Tim?”
“He can handle himself.”
My objection was stifled by the sight of one of the Tyranitar being brought down through the teamwork of Tim’s Haunter and Beedrill in the middle of the street outside.
“Nice job guys!” Tim, standing nearby, looking a little battered but fine overall, recalled Beedrill when he noticed us.
Moments later we were running. Again.
“Where are we going?” I asked Criss breathlessly.
I guess that made sense, so I followed her, taking deep breaths to keep myself from shaking so much.
“Don’t you think that response was a little… extreme?”
Reese had been around Giovanni long enough to know that he wasn’t being reprimanded.
They were again standing in the top floor office of Silph Tower, although there was no Julian Silph this time.
“I ordered what had to be done. There’s no more need to keep people from getting unruly.”
“Pissing them off too much, you mean.”
“If you want to put it that way.” Reese gave his boss a dry smile.
“I trust you’ve already set into motion attacks on the gyms as well.”
“Of course, we have to annihilate any inside opposition before it becomes a problem.”
Outside the windows behind Silph’s desk the sky had begun to brighten. Dawn was approaching, and with it would come the forces of the surrounding cities. Down below, a wispy cloud of dust and ash could be seen rising from one of the buildings.
“Your men have established their positions by the entrances?” Giovanni asked.
“Yes. We will not retreat without a fight.”
“I expect nothing less.”
Criss held out an arm to stop us before we rounded the corner of an alleyway, we could hear voices ahead. She peeked around.
Trying our best to stay in the shadows, Tim and I maneuvered to where we could see what was going on. Tesla, Haunter, and Flareon sat back.
A half dozen burly men in handcuffs were being escorted down the street by seven or eight regular Team Rocket Grunts in black uniforms.
“Who’re those guys?” Tim whispered.
“They’ve got to be the members of the fighting dojo next to Sabrina’s Gym,” I answered, for they were all wearing white tunics with black belts.
Criss pushed us farther back down the alleyway as the convoy approached.
“We’re going to ambush them,” she said. “Let Psyke out, Keith.”
I nodded and released the psychic-type from his Poké Ball.
“Did you see the one holding the sack?” Criss asked.
I shook my head.
“Doesn’t matter. Once they pass, have Psyke take the sack from the one holding it and empty it. Chances are it’s holding those guys’ Poké Balls. If we can let them out, we should be able to overpower the grunts no problem.”
I looked at Psyke, who nodded in comprehension.
We waited a moment as the group approached. We all froze as they passed the entrance of the alleyway, praying that the shadows hid us. Once they were out of sight, Criss pushed me forward.
Taking in a deep breath to calm my nerves, I connected with Psyke.
You know what to do.
The three of us and our Pokémon stealthily positioned ourselves out in the street behind the convoy. Sure enough, the rear guard was carrying a canvas bag.
Psyke closed his eyes and stepped forward so that he was in front. I watched as the bag slipped from the Rocket’s grip and fell onto the ground, spilling Poké Balls everywhere. The grunt swore as everyone turned around to see what was happening. One of the other guards gave a shout, and the rear guard looked up to see us standing there.
His eyes wide in fright, he clumsily pulled a handgun out from a holster on his belt. I nearly panicked, but Psyke sent me a comforting thought.
“Wait!” I said to Tim and Criss, who were about to dive out of the way.
In his fright, the grunt unloaded a full seven rounds into Psyke before he realized that they weren’t reaching their target.
Seven bullets hovered in the air in front of Psyke’s outstretched hand.
Everyone, Rocket, black belt, and the three of us alike stayed still and silent.
Psyke touched his thumb and forefinger together and gave flick. The bullets flew back and simultaneously hit the rear guard in the face. Blood went everywhere and commotion erupted immediately.
Criss, Tim and their Pokémon charged forward, while I ordered Psyke and Tesla to begin fighting the motley crew of Pokémon that the rest of the Rockets had released.
The black belts made the fight incredibly short. I was at a loss for how they had been captured in the first place, as they expertly crippled their guards, even with their hands cuffed. The biggest one gave a mighty roar and snapped the chains completely. The nearest Rocket tried to flee, but the black belt grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and threw him into a Raticate that was rushing forward to help.
With a thought, Psyke released every single one of the black belts’ Pokémon from their balls. A slough of fighting-types, including Machop, Mankey, and their evolutions, joined the fray. By the time they were all out, we outnumbered the Rockets and their Pokémon by at least two to one.
Half a minute later, eight Team Rocket grunts and their Pokémon lay on the asphalt either dead or unconscious.
I returned Psyke to his Ultra Ball and went to stand next to Criss and Tim. The biggest of the black belts approached us.
“Thanks for that! If they hadn’t caught us by surprise, we probably could have done it ourselves. People tend to discount us because we aren’t an official gym anymore.”
“Of course, it was our pleasure,” said Criss.
The black belt introduced himself as the master of the dojo: Kiyo. “A bigger group was on its way to Sabrina’s gym. If you hurry, you might catch them before they get there.”
“We’ll do that. Some Skyguard attacked the Pokémon Center not long ago, I’m sure they’d appreciate your help.”
“That’s where we’re headed then. Fight well.”
The black belts turned and ran down the street towards the Pokémon Center.
“To Sabrina’s gym, then?” suggested Tim.
“Let’s go.” Criss once again led the way. It wasn’t much farther before the familiar sight of the place where I had spent weeks training came into view.
The small garden in front of the plain looking building was overgrown with weeds, and the lawn would have come up to my knees had I chosen to frolic through it. A platoon of Team Rocket grunts and one Skyguard were walking up the path to the front doors.
We snuck up behind them, crouching low to avoid detection, but before we got close or could even formulate a plan, the Skyguard approached the front doors. A knife held warily in his hand, he reached out to touch the doorknob, but was suddenly blasted backwards as the doors flew open, revealing a bipedal yellow Pokémon holding a pendant.
The Hypno stepped forward as the grunts rushed to release their Pokémon. The usual blend of Golbat and Raticate were soon leering at the lone psychic-type. The Skyguard scrambled to his feet.
“Sabrina! Show yourself!” he commanded, his voice unwavering.
From the shadows inside the building stepped not Sabrina, but Evan.
He had lost a fair amount of weight, but still had the pudgy yet friendly air about him that I remembered from my time training with Sabrina.
“Sabrina is not accepting any challengers at the moment,” Evan said with a sarcastic grin.
A soft, yet powerful voice came out from the building behind him. “Now now, Evan. To call these men challengers would imply that they would be a challenge.”
One of the Rockets’ Raticate attempted to dash forward, but was stopped by an invisible force and thrown backwards.
Next to Evan stepped the tall woman who had taught me so much, flanked by her Alakazam and Slowpoke.
Criss chose this moment to burst out of hiding, sending a pair of throwing knives flying straight into the backs of the nearest grunts. Tim and I had no choice but to join her.
Once again, thanks to the power of the strongest gym leader in the region on our side, the battle was over in a matter of seconds. The only Rocket that escaped was the Skyguard, who had flown away on a Honchkrow once the fight had broken out.
“Perhaps Team Rocket will show me a little more respect next time.” Sabrina nudged one of the unconscious grunts with the toe of her shoe.
Evan grinned at us. “Good timing, you three. I have to say, you really caught me by surprise!”
“It’s good to see you all again,” Sabrina said, her soft voice betraying no emotion. “I have already received word about the catastrophe at the Pokémon Center. Team Rocket will pay dearly for what they have done. Saffron City has no more safe places to hide.”
As she spoke, the first rays of sunlight peeked over the horizon. The rain had stopped long ago, and the clouds were beginning to dissipate.
“Police forces will be entering the city any moment now,” Sabrina continued, watching the sun rise over the cityscape. “I myself will be going to get more help, for we cannot underestimate our enemies.”
“What should I do?” asked Evan.
“Join up with the police force from Lavender, they will be the closest to here. Team Rocket will be defending all of the entrances to the city, but until word of their failure at the gyms reaches Silph Tower, they will not expect an attack from inside.”
I holstered my stun rod, two more Rockets had been felled by the weapon. Slowly but surely, I was getting used to combat.
“So their headquarters really is in Silph Tower, then?” Tim asked.
“Who are you going to for help?” Criss finally spoke up.
The gym leader gave her one of her rare smiles. “The very best,” she responded.
With that, she returned Slowpoke to its Poké Ball and clasped a hand around her Alakazam’s wrist. There was a small puff of air, and she was gone.
I stared at the spot where she had stood, biting my lip.
“Silph Tower will not be undefended,” said Evan. “You’re going to need help if that’s where you’re headed. Lots of help.”
Criss nodded. “We’ll come with you to the East Entrance and see what happens from there.”
With one hand still on the handle of my stun rod, I thought back to all that had happened in the past few hours. I had seen some terrible, horrifying things. Part of me wanted to climb on Baron and fly back home to Pallet Town, but another part of me fought back against the fear. In the pit of my stomach was a growling beast that thirsted for the blood of the people who had killed Anna’s Pidgeot, thirsted for the blood of the people that had killed that girl in the Pokémon Center, thirsted for the blood of the people that had stolen Rainer from me…
Thirsted for the blood of the people who had murdered my father.
I gritted my teeth. Inside me was awakening the ferocity that drove Criss. No matter what happened that day, we were going to bring Team Rocket down hard.
NEXT: Ascending the tower, loose ends begin to meet, and an old friend makes an appearance
Sorry about skimping out on the details of the last two fights. There's going to be plenty of action in forthcoming chapters, didn't want to get burnt out.