Tangled Web

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    Fabulous Trainer ChicRocketJames's Avatar
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    Default Tangled Web

    Here's the first chapter of a much longer fic I'm writing. So far I've written three chapters, but I'll just post the first to see if anyone's interested in reading more. There isn't anything too disturbing in here, apart from one dark scene in the middle.


    Tangled Web

    01
    ~The Body~




    ~1~



    “Hmmm...” the girl murmured, “Which should I choose? Tauros? Miltank? Arcanine?” She sighed heavily in mock frustration. “Decisions, decisions!”

    Putting to one side the leather jacket and tiger-print skirt she been deliberating over, she reached further into the clothing rack and let out a squeal of excitement that made her companion jump. “Oooo! Look!” she trilled, emerging from the forest of clothes with a dress held triumphantly over her head, “Genuine Dodrio feathers!”

    The stony expression of the boy indicated he was not amused.

    “I’m sorry,” she said, touching his arm in apology. “I know how you feel about this stuff ... but look at it! And look at this!” she cried, waving the price tag in front of his face. “Half price!”

    “Yes, it’s lovely,” the boy replied, deliberately looking at the floor as he said it.

    “Oh, come on, Sen,” the girl said. She added the Dodrio-feather dress to the pile of purchases she’d accumulated, and sat down beside him on the chairs which the department store had thoughtfully provided for its customers’ bored husbands and bewildered boyfriends. “What’s wrong with you? You’ve been really miserable all day. Normally nothing cheers you up quicker than flying into Peregrine City to hit the January sales.”

    The boy continued to look at the floor, saying nothing. His left hand came up and flicked aside a stray shard of dark black hair that had cut into his cream-coloured complexion. He sighed dramatically.

    Still the girl waited, sitting companionably at his side. Eight years of friendship had taught her that, eventually, the theatrics would subside and her friend would get to what was actually bothering him.

    At last, he did.

    “I’m just fed up, Charlotte!” he said. “Completely, and utterly, fed up!”

    Charlotte smiled, partly in relief. So there wasn’t anything wrong – just Sen’s usual seasonal malaise manifesting itself once again. She put her arm around the boy’s shoulders, which, to her constant chagrin, were narrower than her own, and gave him a reassuring squeeze.

    “I know, this time of year sucks for you,” she said. “But you always get over it. January’s just your bad month. Everybody has one ... and you, well, you have good reason to feel a bit down around this time. But come February you’ll be over it, just like you always are. So how about we get a head start, and you help me pick out a nice outfit? Hmm?” She smiled again, flashing a set of dazzling white teeth that would have melted the heart of most men and had a distinctly opposite affect on other parts of their anatomy.

    The smile faltered when Sen lifted his eyes to meet her own. She saw he was more upset than usual. For whatever reason, this was going to be a particularly bad January.

    “I just... I think I need to be on my own for a little while,” Sen said. “I think I’ll go for a walk.”

    “Oh, okay,” Charlotte said. She glanced over at the line of customers waiting to pay, which had already twisted its way around two corners of the store. “That’s probably a good idea. You go for a walk, and I’ll see if I can squeeze daddy’s credit card till it hurts.”

    They both stood up. She saw him struggle to think of something amusing to say that would lift both of their spirits.

    Failing, he said simply, “I’ll see ya later.”

    “Seeya back at the hotel,” Charlotte said. She watched him walk out the shop without looking back.

    It was only as she was standing in the line to pay that, after glancing at her watch, she noticed the date. Crap, she thought. It happened today...





    ~2~



    Sen left the clothing store and entered the main rotunda of the mall. He was instantly swamped by noise, as the sound of a thousand different conversations swelling towards the building’s ceiling replaced the calming music that had been piped into the store. Peregrine City’s mall was only the sixth largest in the province, but it was disarmingly easy to become lost in its labrynthine floors of endless clothing, book and music stores, broken only occasionally by a noisy oasis of food courts. To combat the feeling that its patrons were entering the bowels of hell, the mall had been built with a glass exterior and roof that allowed the sun’s rays to penetrate to even the deepest floor. Sen squinted now as the glare of the sun lanced into his eyes, which, combined with the heat and noise of a mall full of people on a very busy shopping day, motivated him to seek out the nearest exit and make his way towards it. Within minutes he was out in the fresh air, the chaos of the mall behind him.

    Stretched out before him was the Mall Garden: a beautiful green lawn with a winding network of paths leading to an impressive (if, to Sen’s eye, slightly garish) marble fountain in the middle of the park. Various people strolled along the paths, or sat on blankets on the grass, enjoying the seasonable January warmth. As he passed a handsome couple in their twenties preparing to lie down for a heavy duty session of sunbathing – the girl applying sun lotion to her boyfriend’s sculpted torso – Sen offered up a silent thank you to the after affects of global warming which made it all possible.

    With the abundance of sun, fresh air and male skin on show, Sen was starting to feel a little bit better as he approached the marble fountain. He thought about sitting down on one of the benches, listening to the gentle trickle of the water, and finishing that novel he’d been trying to read for the past week.

    That was when he saw them.

    The fountain was mostly deserted, except for a quartet of ridiculously attired teenagers who were sitting by the water’s edge and attempting, by their facial expressions, to make themselves appear even more ridiculous. Beyond them, on the other side of the fountain, the path stretched away towards the woods that surrounded the park – a dark, rather forbidding area, full of wild Pokémon, it was especially unattractive to most of the mall’s patrons on such a beautiful day as this.

    Between the other side of the fountain and the edge of the wood, some Pokémon trainers were having practice battles.

    Sen stopped dead in his tracks, so abruptly that an unseen couple walking behind bumped into him. He murmured an apology, unable to stop staring at the dozen or so Pokémon trainers battling just behind the fountain.

    Sen walked towards them.

    There were ten of them. All young – fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. Undoubtedly, all first-time trainers just setting out on their grand adventure. As usual, there were more boys than girls – seven of the former, three of the latter. Only four trainers were actually battling. The others had formed into a small circle, and were either watching the battles or showing off their new starter Pokémon to the admiration of the other trainers.

    “Isn’t he awesome?” a sandy-haired boy standing in the middle of the circle of admirers said. At his foot stood a small green lizard Pokémon, standing on its hind legs, with its forearms folded over its chest. The Pokémon’s large yellow eyes were half-closed in a nonchalant, who-cares-what-you-think way, but even from his current distance Sen could see its pupils eagerly flitting between the other trainers’ faces and soaking up the attention.

    “Ooooh!” one of the girls in the circle said, bending over the Pokémon, “look at him! He’s so cool! Look at how he folds his arms like that, it’s so rebellious!”

    “Yeah,” the Treecko’s owner replied, “he’s a real badass that way.”

    “What d’you call him?” one of the other trainers asked.

    “Treecky,” the boy replied, to murmurs of “Awesome” and “Cool name” throughout the group.

    Jesus Christ, Sen thought.

    He turned his attention to one of the battles. A blonde-haired boy of about fourteen was currently pitting his Torchic against a red-headed kid’s Mudkip.

    “Torchic, use Tackle!” the blonde kid ordered. The little orange bird lowered its head and charged full scale at the opposing Mudkip.

    “Mudkip, you use Tackle too!” redhead responded. His Mudkip lowered its own head and charged at the Torchic.

    Sen averted his eyes as the two Pokémon collided. When he looked back they were both lying in a heap, dazed but fortunately unhurt, Mudkip’s head-fin having absorbed most of the damage. The two trainers congratulated their Pokémon and shook hands, pronouncing the battle excellent as they returned the Pokémon to their Pokéballs.

    The other battle was still going on, and Sen now turned his attention to it. This time, it was two Mudkip who faced each other. The trainers were slightly older, a boy and a girl of about fifteen, and evidently they were more experienced in the ways of Pokémon battling as both of their Mudkip had already mastered the Water Gun technique. The two Pokémon were engaged in a face off, each spraying a jet of high-pressure water from their mouthes which was aimed directly at their opponent. The streams met in mid-air halfway between the two Pokémon, and the situation was evidently stalemate.

    “Come on, Mizu!” the boy shouted. “Harder! You can do it! Come on, for god’s sake, try harder!”

    In response, the Mudkip standing before him squinted its beady black eyes shut and stepped forward, forcing itself to advance on the opponent while maintaining the jet of water coming from its mouth.

    “Don’t let him do that!” the girl almost shrieked, waving her hands in frustration. “Goru! You can do better than this! More power, NOW!”

    The girl’s Mudkip tried, but failed. Its tiny legs shook, and it wobbled on its feet. The jet of water coming from its mouth faltered and then dropped away as it collapsed onto its side on the ground.

    “Oh Jesus, Goru,” the girl cried in exasperation. Her opponent grinned, and pumped his fist in the air as his own Mudkip looked slightly unsteady.

    “Yeah, alright!” the boy crowed. “Looks like we know who the better trainer is now!” He walked over to the girl to continue gloating as his Mudkip, utterly exhausted, joined the other Pokémon by collapsing into the dirt.

    Some people, Sen thought, just weren’t meant to have Pokémon.

    “Hey, you!” a voice called out from behind him. Sen turned to find one of the trainers had broken away from the others and was walking towards him. “You! You a Pokémon trainer? Wanna battle my Treecko?” He raised his eyebrows, as if to say Come on, I haven’t got all day here.

    “No,” Sen said. “I don’t have any Pokémon. I’m not a trainer.”

    “Oh,” the boy said. Sen saw a series of emotions form in his eyes, eventually combining into a mixture of pity, indifference and contempt. The boy made an apologetic gesture with his hands and, wihtout another word, walked off to find somebody else to battle.

    Sen had had enough. He walked away from the young trainers without looking back, but the boy’s expression continued to play itself over and over in his mind.





    ~3~



    He didn’t remember making a conscious decision to enter the woods. He just remembered walking. And being angry. Walking and being angry, his fists shoved deep into the pockets of his trousers as they only ever were when something had really made him mad. Walking, being angry, and wanting to put as much distance between himself and those trainers as possible.

    So that’s what it takes to be a Pokémon trainer these days, is it? he thought. Those are the necessary qualities? A charming ignorance of strategy, a complete absence of empathy, a pinch of arrogance and a real talent for devising crappy nicknames? That’s what’s required, is it? Why, then those kids will go far. FAR.

    A part of his mind tried to speak up at this point by saying that he was better off out of it. Unfortunately, this timid and altogether too reasonable part of his mind was quickly shouted down by another part of his mind: the It’s Not Fair part. The It’s Not Fair part always had its say, usually at the expense of logic and always at the expense of reality. The It’s Not Fair part was dominant in Sen’s mind, and it was in close cahoots with the part of him that wanted to Show Them All.

    It’s not fair, he thought. It’s just plain unjust, is what it is. It makes no sense, none whatsoever. One little mistake ... one tiny, small, miniscule miscalculation, one unbelievably minor error of judgement, made back when I was a much younger and entirely different person, and they blackball me for life. No second chances. No reprieve. No rehabilitation. No three strikes and you’re out. Complete and total banishment, for life.

    While these people, these awful, awful people, are welcomed with open arms as the future of Pokémon training. They’re given scholarships and starter Pokémon and welcomed in by complete strangers every time they land their free-loading arses in a new town. They’re made to feel like heroes just because they turned fourteen and they think Mudkip are cute. It’s un-bloody-believable.

    The It’s Not Fair part of his mind, divorced as ever from reality, here decided to conjure up an old fantasy in which he was somehow able to travel back in time several years and make his choices over again. To put right what had gone wrong. To give himself a completely different future, a better one. A slight glow of happiness pervaded Sen’s body at such an idea, but he became all the more cold for the necessary realisation that such a thing could never happen.

    His choices had been made, and they couldn’t be unmade.

    His life’s course was set in stone.

    Jensen Delaney would never be a Pokémon trainer.

    He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t even notice the path he had been walking on was growing more and more dirty, the trees were crowding closer and blocking out the light, and low-level vegetation was encroaching ever more onto he dirt trail he was now walking on. A wet leaf smeared dampness across his arm; he hardly felt it. A puddle of muddy water splashed dark brown stains over his obscenely expensive footwear; he didn’t see it.

    Why do you even care about this stuff? he asked himself. What’s so great about being a Pokémon trainer? Why do you want to be one of THEM? You despise those people. You loathe them with every fibre of your being. Why on Earth would you want to join them?

    Look at your life, he thought. It’s not so bad. In fact, it’s pretty damn great, compared to most people’s. You have plenty of money. You can go wherever you want, do whatever you want. You have great friends. Okay, you have a bunch of people that you kind of like most of the time and ONE great friend, but that’s still better than most people. Most people would give their right arm to have a friend like Charlotte. So, you’ve got money, a great friend, great taste in clothes – and you don’t even have parents to worry about! One endearingly daft brush of an aunt, as mad as she is loaded! So why can’t you just be thankful for what you’ve got and stop obsessing about the one thing you don’t have?

    The answer his mind gave never came in words. It never formed itself into a coherent response to the charges that his more rational self held against it. Instead, he just felt a vague but powerful feeling, hovering somewhere above his stomach. A want. A need. He was missing out on something, something really big. He wanted to be a Pokémon trainer. It didn’t have to be like those people in the park, or like every other trainer he’d met. It could be different. He could be different.

    Suddenly, he was stopped in his tracks by a rustling sound in the bushes behind him. Three things drove all of the previous thoughts from his mind.

    He was alone in the middle of the wood, separated from the trail and with no idea where he was.

    It was very dark.

    Something was emitting a low, menacing growl from directly behind him.





    ~4~



    Very slowly, Sen turned towards the source of the growling.

    The trees towered above him, blocking out almost all of the light, so that he could only make out a vague outline of the creature’s shiny black pelt against the murkiness of the wood. It was almost as big as Sen, but the lack of light made Sen doubt his own eyes. It was probably larger than he could tell. The only features he could make out clearly were two powerful white horns glowing in the darkness, shaped like those of a ram, below which the creature’s eyes glinted with blank malevolence. Its orange muzzle was pulled back in a snarl that exposed its fangs. A drop of saliva dripped from its mouth and shimmered as it fell to the ground where it made an almost undetectable hissing sound.

    Sen was not an expert on every species of Pokémon – few people, even experienced trainers, knew every single variety – but there were a few creatures that he had always remembered because they had either captured his imagination, his heart, or his dreams. Or, in the case of the beast standing before him, fuelled more than one nightmare.

    The Houndoom continued to growl, and placed its paw forward.

    Sen’s first thought was that it must be a dream. His second thought was to marvel that such a cliched idea – the one that always occurred to characters in books when they found themselves in such a situation – had actually crossed his mind. His third thought was that he had to get away, FAST.

    “Hello,” Sen found himself saying in a small, scared voice. “What d’you want? Food? I don’t have any!” Maybe it thinks I’m a trainer, he thought. Maybe it wants to battle? “I’m not a trainer, look! See? No Pokéballs!” He waved his arms to illustrate the absence of Pokéballs at his waist, but the Houndoom merely growled louder and stepped toward him. Sen stepped backwards.

    The Houndoom growled more fiercely, and squatted back on its haunches, preparing to leap forward.

    Sen stepped backwards again.

    The Houndoom flattened its ears, opened its mouth and leapt at him. Sen saw ribbons of saliva swing from its jaws.

    He stepped backwards, and then the world turned upside down.

    He was falling, and then there was a hard thump and he was rolling. He was getting wet and dirty, and occasionally something sharp and heavy struck him, but he just rolled over it, getting faster and faster. Is this that death feels like? he wondered. This is kinda fun! Wheeee!

    Then he struck something really heavy, and the world was all pain followed by blackness.



    He woke up feeling his own blood rushing over his legs.

    Great, he thought, I’m dead.

    But this was rather cold for blood, wasn’t it? Rather cold, and there was rather a lot of it. Who could’ve believed the young boy had so much blood in him? Sen wondered.

    He forced his eyes to open, something he never would have believed could be so difficult. He blinked a few times and the world gradually came into focus.

    Not blood, he thought. Water. I’m lying in a river.

    Indeed he was. He was lying at the bottom of a steep hill, his path down it revealled by a trail of muck and dirt which had been raked up, most of which was now clinging to his body. From below the waist he was lying in shallow river. Shallow, but deep enough that, had he slipped a few more feet, he would have drowned while unconscious.

    Sen tried to move, but his lower body was completely numb with cold. His upper body unfortunately wasn’t, and a hundred different cuts, bruises and sprains made their presence known at the slightest movement of his muscles. He spat several times, eventually coughing up some grass and, he was alarmed to notice, a small trace of blood. Must’ve bit my tongue while I fell, he thought.

    Then he remembered the Houndoom, and even the sorest part of his body didn’t stop him making it to his feet.

    He staggered over towards the river bank. One of his shoes had come off, and he noticed it lying propped against a rock, its light cyan colours drenched a much darker navy by the water flowing over it. There’s fifty quid I’ll never see again, he thought as he plucked it from its resting place. He eventually made it to the other side, where he collapsed on his knees, cold, exhausted and utterly bewildered.

    He looked around him. The slope he’d fallen down had been obscured trees. He’d unwittingly fallen through the foliage and rolled down the hill as he backed away from the Houndoom. There was a small clearing here, but the river appeared from and disappeared into thick clumps of trees. He still had no idea where he was.

    Had he really encountered a Houndoom, though? It was beginning to seem like a far away event, something that had happened years ago, maybe to another person, if at all. How long had he been unconscious? He looked at his watch, but its shattered face made the time difficult to read. He eventually made it out: it was flashing at 00:00. Yet another thing ruined. He thumped his fist onto the ground in exasperation, and scanned the clearing again as if looking for someone to blame.

    Then he saw the body.

    Hang on, he thought, AM I dead?

    But this was not his body. Lying face down on the grass several feet away, its bright, almost platinum blonde shoulderlength hair was markedly different to Sen’s own short, jet-black style. Was it a girl? A boy? A woman? Corpses today, Sen thought insanely – you couldn’t tell whether they were men or women!

    The body was dressed in a light blue shirt, long, baggy black trousers, with a pair of semi-expensive red trainers on its feet. Not bad style, Sen thought – not great, but not bad. One of its arms was lying along its side, and the other was stretched out before it on the ground, as if whoever it was had died doing the breast stroke. There was a moss-green backpack over its shoulders – the practical yet semi-fashionable kind favoured by hikers and Pokémon trainers.

    Whatever happened to him, Sen thought, he didn’t fall down here like I did. There’s no dirt or anything on him, he’s not even wet. He just looks like he fell face-down and died. Jesus Christ. I’m lying in the middle of the woods on the run from a Houndoom and there’s a dead body not ten feet away!

    Wait a minute, he realised. Maybe he’s not dead. He doesn’t look dead – I mean, there’s nothing wrong with him, apart from the fact that he’s lying face down in the woods, that is. Maybe he’s just hurt. Or weird.

    He should probably go and check.

    Sen pushed himself to his feet, and limped towards the body/person lying face down in the clearing. As he got closer, his sense of fear increased. What’s wrong with you? he thought. Even if he is dead, he can’t hurt you! Unless he died of some terrible disease ... but if that’s the case then you’ve already got it just by being here!

    Gosh, Sen said to himself, thanks for the comfort.

    So, what’re you waiting for?

    He approached the body/person.

    “Hello?” Sen said with unusual timidity. “Are you ... are you okay?”

    No response from the body/person.

    Maybe he’s unconscious, Sen thought. He could suffocate. I should probably move him onto his back.

    “Hey, uh, guy,” Sen said, “or girl, I mean, I don’t know, the hair’s kind of misleading. I’m just going to try to move you onto your back, so, if you’re really okay don’t go all psycho on me or anything…”

    Getting no response, he got down on his knees beside the body/person. He reached towards the body/person’s shoulder, hesistated, and then grabbed it, lifting him up.

    It was a body, all right.

    Sen leaped backwards, a scream caught in his throat. He scooted away from the body on his back, trying to block out the images that were forcing themselves into his mind. Trying to forget what he’d just seen. Redness. Ragged flesh. White bits ... bone? Two dark holes where the eyes should have been. A bloody bump where once had dwelt a nose. And ... further down on the grass ... the shredded remains of what Sen was fairly sure had once been this guy’s internal organs. As soon as Sen dispelled one image, another saw its opportunity and leapt with glee to the forefront of his mind.

    My gods, Sen thought. Something ... something chewed him up. Jesus Christ. Something ate this guy.

    Except that it hadn’t. The body was still there. Chewed up, mutilated, dead. But not eaten. Whatever had done this hadn’t been motivated by hunger. It had simply wanted to kill.

    When he had moved sufficient distance away, Sen finally allowed himself to look at the body again. It was again just a normal person lying face-down in the grass, the horrid truth hidden once more.

    The Houndoom, Sen thought. The Houndoom ripped this guy up, and it’s probably out there looking for me now, wanting to do the same to me. I have to get out of here.

    He got back up to his feet and looked around. He hobbled in one direction, remembered his lost shoe, hobbled back and put it on his foot. He stared around him wildly, expecting the Houndoom to appear at any minute. He had to get away.

    But where? He had no idea where he was. He hadn’t even known where he was before he’d fallen down the hill. As usual, he’d been walking along, lost in his own thoughts, not paying attention to what had been happening around him. The same kind of stuff that always got him in trouble. The stuff that would, it seemed, get him killed.

    Your cell phone! his mind suddenly shouted. Ring for help!

    Sen reached into his pocket and closed his hand around something that felt much too jagged and pointy to be his cell phone. He brought out the crushed piece of technology and held it up to his face. The screen, like his watch’s face, was shattered, but in the corner of one fragment the battery bar cheerfully reminded him he had full power. The signal bar was empty, naturally, because the aerial had broken off.

    He put the phone back in his pocket. What now? He looked around. The guy’s backpack! Of course! He probably had a phone, or something – he looked like a trainer, and no trainer went out without a phone. Well, unless they were poor. But this guy didn’t look poor. He’d probably have a phone, and since he didn’t fall, it would probably be intact. Sen could call for help.

    But he didn’t want to approach the body.

    Don’t be so pathetic, he thought. I don’t even have to touch him, just his backpack.

    He walked towards the body, slowly at first, then hurrying as he thought about the creature that was searching for him. He reached for the backpack and tried to pull it off, but it was still firmly attached around the body’s arms. Not wanting to look at what was currently being hidden by the grass, Sen unzipped the backpack and started rooting around to see what he could find. He pulled out a half-eaten chocolate bar and threw it aside. He found a few pairs of clothes bundled up. It looked like this guy had just been starting out on whatever it was he’d been doing before he’d encountered the Houndoom – he was travelling fairly light. Underneath the clothes Sen found a book, which he pulled out and searched under. Nothing else. No phone.

    Damn, he thought. He looked around in despair. What was he to do now?

    He looked at the book. It was rare to find actual paper books these days; most people preferred the downloadable E-books like the one that had been stored on Sen’s mobile phone before its untimely death. It had a plain red cover, no picture. No title, either. He opened it up, and found it was a journal. The entries were written in tight, almost unreadable cursive, and Sen found it difficult to make out what they said. He gave up trying – after all, it wouldn’t exactly help him get out of his current situation.

    He closed the book, and that was when something fell out. Sen looked at his feet: there, by his left shoe, was a small card, about the size of a credit card, lying face-down on the ground. Just by the colour of it, Sen could tell what kind of card it was. It had been a long time, but Sen recognised that card now and always would. Its image had been burned into his memory since the day he’d watched his own be shredded before his eyes.

    A trainer card.

    Sen bent over and picked it up, turning it over to read its front. Unlaminated, made of thin blue card, trainer ID cards were contrived to be as low-tech as possible. The bearer’s name was written in stylish copperplate, along with a crisply typed ID number. There was no other information – not even a photograph. Sen had to smile despite himself. That was Pokémon League for you. All about honour, and dignity, and all of that bollocks which basically boiled down to pretending that Pokémon training was some kind of ancient art that had been around since the dawn of time itself. Ridiculous. As stupid and fallible an idea as these cards themselves. They weren’t even supposed to be a form of ID – as the League so pompously said, the only ID a trainer needs is his reputation, nothing else. In an era of computers and constant data collection, where Big Brother and his extended family always had their eye on you, the Pokémon League had staunchly refused to conform, preferring instead to keep minimal records on its trainers. Part of this, Sen knew, was a desire to maintain its image of quiet, almost anachronistic dignity, but another part was a fear of the shrill civil liberties groups who always rattled their sabres at the slightest sign of somebody wanting to know anything more revealling than your middle name. The Pokémon League system was foolish and ripe for abuse, but Sen also had to grudgingly admit that, so far, nobody had stepped up to take advantage of it. The trainers had acted with every bit of the respect and honour that the League expected of them, the sanctimonious gits that they were. It annoyed him no end.

    So, Sen thought, this guy was a trainer. Then where did his Pokémon go? If he already had his ID card, he had to have at least picked up a starter Pokémon. But the backpack had contained no Pokéballs.

    Hmm, he thought, maybe the Houndoom got it?

    He looked at the name on the card: Richard Sooter, ID No. 387654998. Okay, Mr. Sooter, what happened to your Pokémon?

    Sen examined the area around the body – perhaps his Pokéballs had rolled away. There was nothing in the immediate area, but something red and a few feet away caught his eye. He walked over, and found a single Pokéball hidden behind a clump of grass, just beyond the dead trainer’s outstretched hand. It looked like he’d been about to call on his Pokémon before the Houndoom had laid into him.

    So why hadn’t the Pokémon come out to defend its trainer?

    A horrible idea struck Sen. Perhaps, the Houndoom belonged to Sooter. Perhaps his Pokémon had turned on him, for some bizarre reason.

    No, that didn’t make any sense. How would a new trainer, just starting out, end up with a Houndoom? It was hard to tell from what Sen glimpsed of his featureless remains, but Richard Sooter didn’t look much younger than Sen, if he was younger. He could’ve been a late starter, finishing school before starting out on a career as a Pokémon trainer. A lot of people did that nowadays, it gave them something to fall back on when they got their asses handed to them by the first Gym Leader they faced.

    So, how could a new trainer get a Houndoom? Was it a gift? A treasured pet he’d trained for many years that had fortuitously evolved into a stronger Pokémon as they started out on their journey together? Many trainers were allowed to start out with non-regulation starter Pokémon, Sen knew. But that made no sense either. If the Houndoom had been Sooter’s faithful friend for many years, why did it rip his guts out now?

    Sen bent down and picked up the Pokéball. He shook it, but of course there was no way to tell if it contained a Pokémon ... no way other than to call on it, something he was not anxious to do. Supposing something worse than the Houndoom emerged from it ...

    Suddenly, Sen heard a snarl, and he turned to see a dark shape racing towards him through the clearing. He stepped backwards, and this time he tripped over Richard Sooter’s body, dropping the Pokéball to the ground. He landed on his back, rolled, and stumbled to his feet, trying to get away from the Houndoom, looking for any means of escape.

    There were none.

    Sen faced the snarling Pokémon, the dense thicket of vegetation and trees behind him, the river to his right, to his left more trees. There was no way out. The Houndoom advanced slowly, and Sen could see a chilling look of almost human triumph in its furious brown eyes. It knew it had him.

    Movement to the left caught Sen’s eye. He snapped his head around to see that the Pokéball he dropped was twitching in the grass. Once, twice, three times. Then it stopped. Suddenly, it began to shake violently. The ball flipped open, and a burst of white light leaped out from inside it.

    I’m saved! Sen’s mind cried out.

    The light landed on the grass between Sen and the perplexed Houndoom, where it began forming into a shape. A disappointingly small shape. As the light faded, a small orange bird materialised between Sen and his would-be killer. The Pokémon looked around a few times, its three large head feathers flopping around comically, and it blinked its beady black eyes.

    “Torchic!” it announced.

    I’m dead, Sen’s mind moaned.

    The little Pokémon was barely as big as the Houndoom’s head. The devil dog looked between Sen and the Torchic, as if deciding which would be easier to kill first. In a period of time that was so short Sen would have considered it insulting under other circumstances, the Houndoom decided on Sen, and began to advance on him.

    About to attempt his tried and tested plan of backing away and hoping for the best, Sen began stepping backwards, but the Houndoom stopped moving. Confused, Sen looked down to see the small chick Pokémon viciously pecking the Houndoom’s forepaw.

    The Houndoom snarled and snapped its head forward with lightning speed. Sen was sure he saw the Torchic disappear inside its mouth, but it had in fact leapt to the right and landed a particularly vicious peck on the Houndoom’s other forepaw. Sen was surprised to see the little bird’s beak draw blood, and even more surprised when the Houndoom withdrew its foot with what could only be described as a pained whine. The Torchic ran underneath the Houndoom’s belly, and began its assault on the right back leg, until the Houndoom twisted its body around, snapping its jaws after the little bird. But, fast as the Houndoom was, the Torchic was too quick; as Sen watched in amazement, the bird was suddenly on the Houndoom’s back, scoring its beak along the dark pelt of its shoulderblades, blood welling up in a thick red line. The Houndoom cried out and rolled onto its back; the Torchic was on its belly, pecking viciously, as the Houndoom writhed and tossed and tried to dislodge its tiny but formidable attacker.

    Is it me, Sen wondered, or is that Torchic beating up a Houndoom?

    Eventually the Houndoom’s snapping jaws came too close for comfort, and the little bird leapt back. The Houndoom was on its feet in an instant, fuelled by pain and rage – and probably humiliation as well. After all, Sen thought, nobody likes to be embarrassed in front of potential prey. The Houndoom chased after the spritely little bird as it ran in dizzying circles around the clearing, drawing ever nearer to the river.

    The river! Sen thought. Torchic, a Fire Pokémon, would be trapped between the dangers of the water and the certain death of the Houndoom.

    Hang on, Sen thought. Isn’t Houndoom a Fire type, too?

    The Torchic had reached the end of the bank, and the Houndoom was approaching it with none of the arrogance it had reserved for Sen. It intended a quick, unsavoured kill.

    Without thinking, Sen dashed forward and raced towards the Houndoom. He threw himself at it, hitting it in the rib cage with his shoulder. The Pokémon was almost as heavy as Sen, but he caught it by surprise, and it toppled off the edge of the bank. There was a terrific splash, and Sen saw the Torchic race away from the spray that was sent up onto the bank. He heard a violent hissing sound, as well as splashing, as he looked around to see great clouds of steam rising from the water. The Houndoom splashed its way down the river, yelping in pain and surprise, contact with the water doing more to damage it than all of Torchic’s wounds combined. It eventually made it to the other side of the river and clambered out. It didn’t have to shake its hide clean, as the water was already evaporating off it in waves, but Sen was happy to notice that its arrow-shaped tail was placed firmly between its legs. With a self-pitying, defeated whine – and not a look back – the Houndoom trotted briskly into the woods and was gone.

    His heart humming in his chest, Sen took a few deep breaths before turning around to see if the Torchic was okay. It was standing on the grass, looking up at him with its ridiculously large head. He walked towards it, and it hopped back a few steps. He got down on his knees, holding up his hands to show he meant no harm.

    “Hey, I just wanted to thank you,” he said, in as pleasant and non-threatening a voice as he could muster. “You saved my life.”

    The bird looked at him, and hopped back a half-step.

    Sen was puzzled. How could a Torchic take on a Houndoom, and yet be wary of him?

    He slowly extended one of his hands towards the little Pokémon. “Hey, don’t be afraid,” he soothed, “come on, you cute little fella, let me pet you.”

    As Sen’s hand got nearer the Torchic suddenly darted forward and pecked him, hard, on the finger. Sen snapped his hand back and clutched it. “Jesus Christ!” he cried. He forced himself to look at it: a round welt of blood was already welling up on his index finger.

    “God, what’s wrong with you?” he asked the Torchic. Already it had left him, and was approaching the body of its trainer.

    “Oh,” Sen said, lowering his voice. “I’m sorry ... I guess you miss your trainer. It’s awful to lose someone you care about, I know. I mean, I don’t KNOW, since I’ve never lost anyone I care about, but I imagine it sucks.” The Torchic didn’t even turn, but continued to stare at Sooter’s body. Suddenly, it darted forward, and began pecking at the hand nearest it.

    “Hey, don’t do that!” Sen cried, running forwards and picking up the Torchic. “You can’t bring him back that way! Just leave him!” The Torchic struggled in his hands, pecking him again and again. It was like a bag of pipe-cleaners come to life, wriggling and jabbing at him. “Ow, ow!” Sen said. He searched around for the Pokéball, found it, and pointed it at the Pokémon. “Return!” he said, and a beam of red light hit the Torchic and sucked it back inside its ball.

    “Jesus,” Sen said, dropping the ball and looking at his hands, now covered in bloody red dots. “What the hell is wrong with that Pokémon?”

    He looked around the clearing. All was silent again. Just him, a dead body, a book, a trainer card, and a Pokéball containing a seriously disturbed Torchic.

    Sen didn’t know what time it was, but he was certain it was getting late. And the later it got, the worse were his chances of getting out of the wood alive. He stood up. He picked up the Torchic’s Pokéball, the book, and the trainer card. He looked back at Sooter’s body.

    “Sorry, Rich,” Sen said. “I’ll send somebody back to get you. Uh ... bye.”

    Realising the lunacy of what he’d just said, Sen rolled his eyes and walked out of the clearing.

    In the opposite direction, of course, from the exit of the Houndoom.





    ~5~



    He followed the river for what seemed like an hour. Gradually the light was fading, and he began to hear the first distant murmurs of Hoothoot coming out for the night. Occasionally he was surprised by a rustling in the undergrowth, and sometimes a small creature – a Rattata, a Zigzagoon or perhaps a Sentret up particularly late – would dash between the bushes in front of him. But he saw and heard nothing of the Houndoom. It seemed to have decided to leave him alone, for now.

    As he walked, he replayed the events of the day in his mind.

    What a day, Sen thought. Talk about going through the wringer. First I have to watch a bunch of snot-nosed little brats setting off on their Pokémon adventures, which just depresses the heck out of me as it does every year because I can’t join them. Hell, join them? SHOW them. Show them how pathetic they are by doing it so much better than they ever dreamed. I can’t show them because the Pokémon League have decided that I don’t fit their “moral criteria” for what a Pokémon trainer should be. Yeah, I failed some test which those idiots in the park today passed. How’s that for a pick-me-up.

    It could be worse, he thought. I could be lying dead in the middle of a wood, a chew-toy for a man-eating Houndoom, like that poor guy Sooter. Jesus, that was bad. In a way, it’s lucky I came along. Out there, in the middle of the woods, his body could’ve gone undiscovered for months ... years, even.

    He shuddered.

    And if that Houndoom had got me, the same would be true of MY body.

    As he walked, he thought about Sooter’s sad remains, alone in the darkness, unnoticed. Did he have parents? Family? Friends who wondered where he was? Most likely he did... but he hadn’t been reported missing. Nothing had been on the news. Of course, Sooter probably wasn’t long dead ... the flies hadn’t even gotten to him yet, so his parents might not even realise he was missing.

    Yuck, Sen thought, and decided to think no more about Sooter’s remains.

    All in all, it’s lucky I came along, his mind continued. He looked down at the book under his arm, and the Pokéball in his pocket. Almost all of Sooter’s travelling possessions were on his person now. Hell, if something happened to Sen and Sooter’s body was discovered by someone else, they wouldn’t even be able to tell who he was. Sen had the guy’s trainer card, and since his face was mostly gone (including, although Sen tried not to dwell on it, most of his teeth), there would be no way to identify the body for sure. At least, not until his parents or friends or whatever turned up.

    And then an idea occurred to Sen that simultaneously appalled and intrigued him.

    Dear gods, he thought, what’s WRONG with you? How could you even entertain a possibility like that? It’s sick! Don’t think about it.

    But his mind wouldn’t let him. The idea had captured his imagination, and his brain wouldn’t let it go. It turned the idea over and over, examining its possibilities, extrapolating all likely outcomes, looking for flaws and oversights.

    Sen had Richard Sooter’s trainer card. The trainer card, symbolising the trust which the League placed in all of its trainers, was the sole method of identification needed to gain entry to Gyms, Pokémon Centres, and even the Pokémon League itself. No trainer was to let the card out of their sight; if they did, they were to be deemed just as much a failure as any individual who misused it.

    Sen had a trainer card, and the trainer it belonged to was lying dead in the middle of the woods. Nobody but Sen knew he was dead, and nobody but Sen knew where the body was.

    In other words, Sen thought, who’s to say that Richard Sooter isn’t alive and well and walking back through these woods towards civlisation right now?

    He stopped in his tracks. Could he really be entertaining such an idea? And could it really WORK?

    It could be the answer to all of his dreams. All Sen needed was one chance, an opportunity, to get his foot back in the door. One small way in that he could use to show those chumps what he could do.

    He opened the book and took out Sooter’s trainer card.

    Fate, it seemed, had provided him with such a chance. The only question now was ... would he take it?

    You can’t, he thought. Think of the guy’s family. His parents, his friends, his brothers and sisters. They’ll worry about him. Do you really want to put them through the hell of not knowing if he’s alive or dead? Don’t be a moron. It was a funny coincidence, a unique set of events that sparked off a strange and sick idea in your head, but you’re not going to act on it. You know what you have to do. You have to go to the nearest police station and tell them you found Sooter’s body, and also tell them there’s a vicious Houndoom prowling the woods. That’s all there is to it, my friend.

    Except that wasn’t all there is to it. So what if he’s got family? Sen thought. He’s dead. Them knowing that now won’t change anything. He’ll still be dead. And a few months of not knowing if he IS dead or not will give them a chance to get used to the possibility.

    He realised he was rationalising, but that didn’t seem to stop him.

    I have a chance here, a real chance, to make something of my life. Am I going to give that up because some run-of-the-mill Pokémon trainer happened to die, like millions of people die every day?

    Am I?



    He walked on. Eventually, he came across one of the paths that led out of the wood and back into the park. It was dark by this time, and fortunately there were very few people to see the dishevelled, bloody, soaking-wet wreck who emerged from the woods with an oddly thoughtful expression on his face. It was nine o’ clock by the time he made it to the subway station, and it was almost ten by the time he got back to the Peregrine Plaza Hotel.

    By the time he’d showered and changed in his bedroom, he’d decided what he was going to do.





    ~6~



    “I’ve decided to stay on here for a few days, Charlotte.”

    She stopped in the middle of folding up a cerise jumper and looked over at him.

    “What?” she asked.

    Sen swallowed. This was it. Could he be convincing? Could he lie well to his oldest friend? He looked at the cerise jumper as she folded it and packed it into her suitcase. Well, he thought, I managed it when she bought that monstrosity.

    “Yeah, I’ve decided I need a little time to myself,” he said. “I don’t feel like going back home and seeing everyone yet. I thought I’d stay in Peregrine, do some shopping, catch up on my reading, just try to relax for a while.”

    She was watching him carefully. “You know I have work Monday,” she said. “I have to go back.”

    “Yeah. That’s okay. I mean, no offence, I’d just like to be on my own for some time.”

    She looked hurt.

    “Hey, no!” Sen said, coming over and hugging her. “You’ve been great, absolutely great, like always, sweetie. Believe me, there’s nobody apart from you that I could even have stood to be around for the past week. But you’ve helped me a lot, just like you always do.”

    She hugged him back. “I just ... I don’t like the thought of you being here on your own when you’re down like this,” Charlotte said.

    “I know, but I’m not down,” Sen said. He even managed a cheery smile. “I’m perky! Look!”

    She raised a sardonic eyebrow.

    “Okay, so I’m not exactly euphoric just yet, but I’m getting there. And believe me, a few days in Peregrine by myself will do more to help me than going back and listening to Mimsy talk about her bloody ski trip.”

    Charlotte laughed. “Don’t,” she said, “or I won’t want to go back either.”

    Sen planted a kiss on her cheek. “I love you,” he said.

    Charlotte blushed. “Oh, shut up, you big poof, and help me pack.”





    ~7~



    All in all, it was surprisingly easy. Charlotte’s flight left at eleven thirty that night, and as soon as he saw her into her cab he went to the reception desk and checked out of the hotel. Charlotte had promised to call him tomorrow, as he’d explained that his cell phone had run out of batteries. (Ironic, he thought, given the battery’s the only thing left on it that works.) She’d also promised to tell Aunt Phyllis where he was. And, when she sobered up, tell her again. And probably a few more times, until it sunk in.

    Fortunately, Sen had packed very little luggage, and had managed to give a lot of it to Charlotte to take back with her. He had just one overnight bag to take with him when, for the first time in over five years, Jensen Delaney checked into a Pokémon Centre to spend the night.

    Or rather, Richard Sooter checked in.

    Only a few of the trainers were still awake in the lodging area, watching an old black and white sci fi movie and giggling. Sen joined them, but there was little conversation as everyone was exhausted. Eventually, one by one they said goodnight and crept off to the uncomfortable and noisily creaking cots which had been set up by the Centre staff. Sen went last, switching off the television set before he left. He was utterly drained. It had been a monumental day.

    Had he left the TV on five minutes longer, he would have seen something unexpected.





    ~8~



    “It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?” Sylvia said to her colleague. She’d worked for twenty years as a Pokémon Centre nurse in the metropolis that was Peregrine, and in that time she’d seen her fair share of horrific accidents. And, as always when new trainers started out each year, a good number of them got hurt, sometimes even killed.

    But never anything like this.

    As she and two other nurses stared at the TV mounted on the wall of the Pokémon Centre, the sombre tones of the news reporter filled the room. Behind him, on screen, police and ambulance men in luminous uniforms were working on something that was obscured from view. Below the reporter, the words ‘BREAKING NEWS’ scrolled across the screen.

    “... this grisly discovery,” the reporter intoned. “Police have no idea who the young man is, but his body has been severely mutilated, possibly by a wild Pokémon. Police are intrigued, however, by the disturbances around the crime scene which appear to have taken place after the death. Spots of blood have been recovered which, ballistics analysis indicate, did not come from the victim, and may have come from an attacker or a third party.

    “The body was discovered by a family of campers who had been looking for a clearing in the woods in which to set up their tents. All five members of the family are now receiving counselling.

    “Police say that the body has no identification, but he appears to have been a trainer, despite the absence of Pokéballs or a licence on his person. They are urging all families with children who are starting out as Pokemon trainers to contact them immediately ...”



    Above it all, in an uncomfortable metal cot, Sen slept soundly.
    Last edited by ChicRocketJames; 14th March 2004 at 07:12 AM.
    14/11/04 Chapter Three: A Walk In The Woods has been posted
    ~ Tangled Web ~
    "Your writing style is just incredible ... you, as a writer, are awesome."
    ~ PancaKe @ TPM
    "An original concept, intelligence, cynicism, an interesting and amoral protagonist, some great Pokemon action - damn, we don't get enough of this sort of Pokefic around here!"
    ~ Charles Rocketboy @ FanFiction.Net
    "Wow ... Just ... wow."
    ~ Cosmic Mewtwo @ FanFiction.Net

  2. #2
    DGE
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    Oho. I believe we've found a gem in the forum. It's fics like yours that humble wannabes like me.

    “Yeah,” the Treecko’s owner replied, “he’s a real badass that way.”
    “What d’you call him?” one of the other trainers asked.
    “Treecky,” the boy replied, to murmurs of “Awesome” and “Cool name” throughout the group.
    Jesus Christ, Sen thought.
    I don't know if that will stop being funny. I love Sen's observations on the whole of pokémon trainers and how cheap the League really is. I like him as a character, too... even when he has some particularly shady thoughts.

    The scene is the woods is fittingly gruesome, but handled very well -- actually, everything is awesome, and it shows you've put a lot of effort into it. There's just a sense of timing and flow and I actually had reactions to parts, like when a Torchic popped out of Sooter's pokéball. It was a whole "aw, not again" and reminded me of the cheesy trainers at the mall.

    I'll stop now before I babble my way into idiocy. I know I want to read more. Looks like Sen's gotten into more than he bargained for, judging from the last scene. Good luck with the rest!

  3. #3
    Goronda Type Vice-Webmaster Evil Figment's Avatar Vice-Webmaster
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    Quite good CRJ. I have to admit it's very well written (although, extra lines between paragraphs would do wonder for ease of reading - the way the board is set otherwise (with tab not working), paragraphing is a bit on the hard side to follow.

    On to the fic, extremely original for an OT-style fic. It breaks just about every convention of the trainer genre, and does so in a masterful way - certainly enough to catch my interest. This fic show much more promise than most other fics I read.

    Personal note on the Houndoom - how did it pop Sotter's eyes? It seems to me that the houndoom's physionomy would not make that an easy task. Unless of course the Torchic is a lot more disturbed than you made it appear .

    All in all, great work. A few more authors like you and maybe I'll have to admit I was wrong to be so depressed about the pokémon writing community being at extreme lows .
    Quote Originally Posted by Mintaka and Hurristat
    He's an evil director / He'll give out infractions / Do something wrong / And he takes direct actions
    Then what'll he do?/ He'll permaban you / You find your name slashed / With a message, 'Adieu'
    Sooooo...watch out!
    "It is said that the federal government, if it was in charge of the Sahara, would run out of sand in five years. Private enterprise, being more efficient, would do it in half the time - and they'd make money off the bridges." - me.
    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world." - Jack Layton's last letter. Rest in peace, Jack.

  4. #4
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    Glad you liked it! I fixed the spacing problem, btw - I accidentally copied and pasted it from the wrong document, sorry about that. That'll teach me to proofread. ^^;

    As for Sooter's eyes .... well, I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just say that nothing in this chapter is as it first appears!
    14/11/04 Chapter Three: A Walk In The Woods has been posted
    ~ Tangled Web ~
    "Your writing style is just incredible ... you, as a writer, are awesome."
    ~ PancaKe @ TPM
    "An original concept, intelligence, cynicism, an interesting and amoral protagonist, some great Pokemon action - damn, we don't get enough of this sort of Pokefic around here!"
    ~ Charles Rocketboy @ FanFiction.Net
    "Wow ... Just ... wow."
    ~ Cosmic Mewtwo @ FanFiction.Net

  5. #5
    Fabulous Trainer ChicRocketJames's Avatar
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    Believe it or not, this fic is far from dead: in fact in other places the seventh chapter has just been posted. However, I sort of forgot to keep updating it here, too. So, here's the second chapter - if anyone's interested in reading more I'll post the rest one chapter a week or so.


    02
    ~ Living A Lie~



    ~1~

    Slowly, thoughtfully, he reaches forward with his hand and marks off a small X on the piece of paper. Satisfied, he sits back, a barely concealed smugness about his features.

    "Hah," Richard Sooter says, "I've got you now."

    "Don't be so sure," Sen replies, stroking his chin pensively. It's not much of an aid to the thought process, he finds, but he's sure that it looks good to his opponent. "I'm not finished just yet."

    Sooter raises his dark blonde eyebrows and looks away, as if to say 'Whatever gets you through the day, my friend.'

    With deliberate carefulness, Sen makes his move. He raises his pencil and bends over the sheet of paper, making a small O in the box beside Sooter's X. He sits back.

    "A-ha!" Sooter cries triumphantly, leaping forward with glee and marking off a third X just above Sen's last O. "Three in a row! Read 'em and weep, Sen!" He draws a line through his three X's and grins.

    Sen looks away and crosses his arms, manufacturing a pout that is an exaggeration of the loss he actually feels.

    "'Nother game?" Sooter inquires, turning the sheet of paper over. When Sen doesn't answer, he looks up and catches the expression on his face. "Hey, what's wrong?" he asks. "You okay?"

    Sen looks up and meets his gaze. "Yeah," he says at last. "As okay as you can be, I guess. I mean, I am talking to a dead guy."

    Sooter grins as he makes out another noughts-and-crosses square on the back of the sheet of paper. "Yeah, well, I am the dead guy, and I'm okay with it!" He laughs to himself.

    Sen pans his gaze over the scene around them. It's a pleasant day in the woods, mid-afternoon, and although not much of the light makes it down through the trees into the clearing, you can still tell that it's a pretty nice day outside. They are sitting cross-legged on the grass, listening to the companionable chucklings of the river, a small piece of paper spread out on a flat rock between them. It's light enough so that Sen can see the X that Sooter pencils into the centre square. It's also light enough for the red trainer on Sooter's dead body to catch Sen's eye if he happens to look in that direction. He tries not to. Somehow, it seems rude.

    "Hey, no fair," Sen says. "You took the centre square, that's how you won last time."

    Sooter smiles. "Yeah, you'll find I do that a lot, Sen." His voice is pleasant to listen to, and wise. Sen looks at his attractively youthful features. Sooter has one of those faces that seems much younger than he is, until you actually look at him closely. His complexion is flawless, a light amber tan that is as unblemished as Sen's own milk-white skin. His platinum-blonde, shoulder length hair gives a much less effeminate air to his features than Sen would have expected it to. It's the eyes, Sen thinks. Those piercing blue eyes. Despite his youthful complexion and his effeminate hair, Sooter's eyes are intelligent and knowing beyond his years.

    "I don't see why I can't have an advantage for once," Sen asks.

    "Oh, come on now, don't pout," Sooter says. "You always start from behind, so what? It makes the winning all the more sweet."

    "Yeah," Sen sulkily mutters, "if I actually do win with the odds stacked against me like this."

    "Mmmm," Sooter considers, "you do have a point there. Most likely, you won't." He's quiet for a while, seems to think about something carefully, and then says "Manderlay."

    Sen looks up sharply. "What?" he asks.

    "Manderlay," Sooter casually replies. He looks up. "Don't sound so surprised, Sen. You know it just as well as I do. Manderlay will come back to bite you in the ass." He looks back down at the sheet of paper. "Are you going to make your move?"

    "What do you mean, Manderlay?" Sen asks. "I've never been there. I don't know anyone called Manderlay. What do you mean?"

    Sooter sighs in exasperation. "It's not a person, Sen, or a place. It's a thing. A ... metaphorical construct, if you will."

    Sen is still doubtful. "And ... you say this metaphorical construct is going to, ah, bite me in the ass?"

    Sooter is deadly serious. "Yes," he says.

    Sen looks down at the paper. The sounds of the forest are warm and inviting, and Sooter's presence is as comforting and familiar as it has been throughout the game. But he feels suddenly scared. And alone.

    "Oh," he says.


    ~2~

    "Manderlay..."

    Sen snapped awake, gripped the edges of the cot in surprise and braced himself. Then the sickening feeling in his stomach dissipated, his head cleared, and the freefall-feeling that accompanies awaking from a dream gradually evaporated. With it went all recollection of the dream itself.

    He sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes. A few tiny specs of drool spotted his pillow, and he wiped them away with his palm. He felt rested, better rested than he could ever remember having felt before. He also had absolutely no idea where he was.

    The room was a large hall, with about forty tatty-looking cots identical to his own arranged in rows. Every one of them was empty. Some had been neatly tidied, others were a mess of sheets and pillows. A tiny TV stood on a table at one end of the room, surrounded by four or five plastic chairs. The TV was off.

    Dimly, he heard voices coming from the door outside.

    "Oh yeah," he said to himself, summing up the events of the previous day which had just marched into his mind, "that."

    Worried that he had overslept, Sen hopped out of bed and grabbed his toiletry bag, rushing to the showers and expecting a huge queue of trainers that would set him back hours. Instead, he found them empty. He took his time, enjoying the hot water working out the soreness in his joints left by the uncomfortableness of the cot, and spent thirty minutes in front of the mirror fixing his hair and clothes until he was perfect for his first day.

    His first day as a Pokémon trainer.

    How good those words sounded!

    Packing his things into the overnight bag that was his only luggage, Sen walked out of the lodging area of the Pokémon Centre and into the main reception.

    It was chaos. The entire population of the city seemed to be there, including all of the trainers who had been staying there that night. Many of them were queued up towards the reception desk, worried expressions on their faces, where harassed-looking staff did their best to answer three phones at once and also deal with the line of people in front of them. Other trainers were queued up at the building's only two payphones, or standing around the walls on their own cells. Some of the younger ones - and, indeed, a few of the older ones - were crying, being comforted by virtual strangers. Every so often, two parents would come through the door, a trainer would cry out and run towards them, and said parents would lead their child off home. Almost everyone was still in their pyjamas, or a t-shirt and shorts, or whatever they had worn to bed, explaining the absence of people in the shower.

    Jesus, Sen thought derisively as he walked towards the door, looks like we have an early epidemic of homesickness. What a bunch of babies.


    ~3~

    He boarded the city-bound subway right outside the Pokémon Centre, and rode it all the way into the heart of Peregrine. He disembarked, and, although it was time for lunch, headed straight for the Trainers Supply Store he'd passed while shopping with Charlotte two days ago.

    He entered the store. The walls on one side were filled with collapsible tents that would fit into a backpack, tiny but effective cooking utensils, and various, equally hideous varieties of outdoor clothing. On the right there was more expensive and technical equipment, such as the latest PokéGear and Pokédex models, as well as a selection of Pokéballs. Sen headed there now.

    The clerk was wearing a bright yellow jumper with a badge pinned to it that said "HI, I'M DAVE" in grating cartoonish writing. He was somewhat rugged in appearance, and when he turned to see Sen approach there was an evident element of distain hidden just behind his have-a-nice-day pitch.

    "Hey there," he cheerfully announced, extending his hand. "I'm-"

    "Save it," Sen cut him off, looking at the hand. It hung there for a few seconds, and eventually was withdrawn. He looked Dave squarely in the eye. "I need a PokéGear v7.0, and a 'dex 5.0, although I'll take the 4.0 if that's all you have. I need the solar charger. I need a small, collapsible one-person tent, in the least hideous colour you have, and all of the usual crap that comes with it. I also need five Pokéballs." He ticked each item off on his fingers, then looked expectantly at the clerk.

    "Uh..." Dave began, "okayyy... you do know the latest PokéGear and the 'dex come to..."

    "Stop right there," Sen said, holding up his finger. He pointed at his clothes. "Look at this outfit," he said.

    Dave looked bewildered. "Uh, the price is..."

    "Look at this outfit," Sen insisted. Dave paused, and, to his credit, seemed to consider Sen's clothing.

    "Do I look like I care what the price is?" Sen asked.

    Dave said nothing, and started to ring up the bill.

    Sen collected his items and paid in cash. "By the way," he called back as he headed for the door, "you're missing an apostrophe."

    The electronic doors swished shut behind him, cutting off Dave's last remark.


    ~4~

    His next stop was a mobile phone store, the painfully titled Ringing The Changes, where he purchased a new cell phone to replace the damaged one from yesterday. As he left the shop he dashed off a quick text to Charlotte, informing her of his change of number and offering the excuse that his original phone had been stolen. Having just paid cash for all of his supplies, including three pieces of high-tech equipment, Sen's funds were running slightly low. He stopped off at a cash machine to withdraw some money. Better not carry too much, he thought, so to be safe he made it couple of hundred. On his way back from the cash machine he spotted a handsome one-strap backpack in the window of another store, and, thinking it trod the line between utility and style rather well, bought it.

    With his Pokédex, PokéGear, camping equipment and cell phone, Sen went to the park to try out his new purchases.

    The Mall Garden was just as busy and sunny as it had been the previous day, but, for some reason, there seemed to be fewer trainers around. They probably all went back home, Sen thought. Some competition.

    Sen staked out a bench beside the fountain and began looking through his things. He took out his PokéGear first of all, as he was most curious about it. When Sen had first been a trainer, PokéGear hadn't existed, or if it had it was in too primitive a form to be released to the general training public. Sen had chosen the purple model, and he turned it over in his hands now, admiring its newness. He eventually discovered how to turn it on, and was shocked when it asked him his name. Slowly, he entered SEN DELANEY on the keys.

    He was about to press Enter, when he realised what he'd just done.

    Well done, Al Capone, he thought. That's really slick. You almost gave yourself up to a bloody machine!

    He deleted the previous entry, and instead keyed RICHARD SOOTER. "Thank you," the 'Gear responded soothingly, and then asked, "And your ID number?"

    Sen rifled through his bags to find Sooter's trainer card, found it, and entered in the number.

    "Heh, still haven't memorised that yet, huh?" a voice said close behind him, making him jump.

    Sen turned around sharply, annoyed. The voice had been female, but for a moment Sen didn't think it had come from the person standing behind the bench. This person was about Sen's age, perhaps older. Tall - much taller than him - with a tough, muscular yet lean build, this person looked more masculine than feminine. S/he wore a cloth hat pulled down almost to her/his ears, with a Pokéball logo on it. Her/his hair came to just about her/his shoulders, and was curly bordering on frizzy. S/he had a handsome face, striking yet not what would be called pretty. S/he wore tough, outdoor clothing, the kind favoured by serious travelling Pokémon trainers, and a sturdy grey backpack. On her/his feet were a pair of clunky black boots, scuffed and weather-beaten. Here and there about her/his person there was a small Pokéball logo, on the shirt and legs of the trousers, including a tiny but noticeable Pokéball badge pinned to her/his flat chest.

    S/he came around the bench and stood in front of Sen, extending her/his hand.

    "Hi," s/he said, "I'm Celeste."

    So, it is a girl, he thought.

    Sen, too surprised to react with his usual disdain toward individuals dressed like her - especially when such individuals came up and introduced themselves - found himself shaking her hand.

    "Um, hi," he said, "I'm Sen."

    "Sen," Celeste said, smiling. "Unusual."

    You can talk, "Celeste", Sen thought.

    "Where would you like to go today, Richard?" Sen's PokéGear asked.

    Oh crap, Sen thought.

    Celeste's brow creased in confusion, and she looked questioningly at him.

    "Oh, that," Sen said, managing to fake a laugh. "Well, see, Richard's my real name. Sen's sort of a ... a nickname." He didn't sound very convincing to himself.

    "A nickname?" Celeste asked. Her tone was politely curious, but Sen felt she was being distinctly inquisitorial. "How do you get 'Sen' from 'Richard'?"

    Go away, you mannish woman, Sen muttered to himself. His mind raced, and he realised Celeste was looking at him strangely.

    "It's just hard trying to remember how it all came about," Sen offered weakly. Suddenly, inspiration struck. "Oh! Yeah, I remember now. It's my surname. Sooter. My, uh, my friends, they used to call me Sooty. And sometimes Soot-man. Which eventually developed into S-man, and, well, that sort of mutated into Sen, which has since stuck."

    Celeste laughed, and said "Okay." Her expression was that irritating one worn so often by people who invaded Sen's personal space and ended up thinking him 'Weird'. Sen began to get angry, and wished she would leave. He was about to suggest it, when she broke in:

    "So, Sen, that's a pretty nice PokéGear you have there," she said.

    Sen looked down at the device in his hand, displaying the map function which had caused the previous episode of awkwardness. Sen turned it off and put it back in his bag.

    "Yes," he said, standing up, "it is."

    They stood in momentary silence. Sen was about to make another attempt to leave, or get her to leave, but Celeste evidently felt that he was just shy, and they would soon be the best of friends.

    "So, you're a trainer?" she asked.

    "Yes," Sen said.

    A pause.

    "Me too," Celeste offered.

    A pause.

    "Great," Sen said, injecting as much sarcasm into his remark as one word could hold.

    "Yeah," Celeste said, evidently taking his clipped comments as an invitation to continue, "I've always wanted to train Pokémon, for years. Ever since I was a little kid. My dad didn't want me to be a trainer, he was all 'Oh, come on, Celeste, you should try to enter a more stable career, you know how most trainers end up.' But he saw how determined I was, and I entered a few practice tournaments to show him I had skill, so finally he let me, if I paid for it myself. That's why I'm starting so late, took me long enough to save up the money to fund this. Heh, although I don't suppose you had that problem."

    "No," Sen said.

    Celeste seemed to be sensing that Sen's reluctance to enter the conversation was not born out of shyness. Realising this, she offered the reason for her bothering him.

    "Well, anyway, I just came over because there aren't many trainers about this morning, and I thought you might want someone to battle."

    Sen pointedly looked her up and down.

    "I do," he said. Then: "Thanks anyway."

    Hoisting his backpack over his shoulder, Sen began walking off. Celeste turned towards him as he walked away, an incredulous look on her face.

    "What's that supposed to mean?" she called after him. "I'm not good enough for you or something?"

    Sen turned back and called out, "You're evidently more perceptive than your dress sense would indicate."

    Celeste was getting angry now. "Sure," she said, "attack my clothes. Fine. Maybe I don't have mummy and daddy to indulge this week's passion for Pokémon training, but I'm good at this, and I'd kick your rich boy ass!"

    People's attention had been caught by this shouted exchange, and Sen was not one to back down from a fight, especially in front of an audience. He began walking back towards Celeste.

    "I'll battle you," he said, dropping his backpack to the ground beside him. "I guess I could throw in some training advice with the fashion tips. Starting with the latter, I'd suggest you accessorise with gasoline and matches."

    Celeste walked towards him, stopping instinctively at the edge of a battle arena they had mentally marked out between them. The people in the park were looking round, some even beginning to walk towards them, eager to witness the first battle of the day.

    "Okay, Dick," Celeste said. "How many Pokémon ya got?"

    "One," Sen said.

    Celeste rolled her eyes at the gathering crowd, and mouthed "One." She placed two Pokéballs back in her pocket, with exaggerated motions so that everyone could see, and then held up one ball alone. She pressed the button on its side, increasing it from transport to battle-size.

    "One versus one, then," Celeste said.

    "Fine by me," Sen said. He reached into his left pocket and withdrew the minimised Pokéball that contained the late Richard Sooter's Torchic. He maximised it and held his arm out before him.

    "Go, Torchic!" he announced. The ball opened in his hand, the white light shot out and Sooter's Pokémon appeared. It looked around at the crowd, at Sen, and then at Celeste.

    Celeste shook her head with sage disapproval. "A starter Pokémon," she commented derisively. "How original."

    Sen bridled. "Okay, so what've you got then?"

    Celeste held up her Pokéball. "This Pokémon," she said, "is one I've trained for the past five years, not minutes. He's been my pet since I was eleven, and my battling partner since I was fourteen." She turned her eyes back on Sen, then held out the ball.

    "Go, Axo!" she cried.

    The ball opened, and the white light that emerged formed into a shape not much bigger than Torchic. As the Pokémon stopped glowing, Sen was able to make out its appearance: short, blue, slimy, no arms, two branching gills coming out on either side of its happy-looking face.

    "What is it?" he asked.

    Celeste rolled her eyes. "He's a Wooper," she said. She grinned. "A Water type."

    "Hey, unfair!" Sen protested. "I'll lose because of the type disadvantage!"

    "Actually," Celeste continued in a lecturing tone, "you have two type disadvantages, since he's also part Ground. But come on, do you really think I'd be so cheap as to defeat you using a type advantage?" She scoffed. "I'll KO your Torchic without even using a single Water attack."

    Murmurs went through the crowd at this.

    "Fine," Sen said, "so long as it's fair."

    "Fine," Celeste said. "Shall we begin?"

    "Yes," Sen responded coolly. "Let's."

    Celeste's Wooper suddenly lost its village idiot expression, and, placing one foot before it on the ground, fixed its determined little eyes on Torchic. Torchic, Sen noticed, was paying little attention to any of this, and instead pecking and scratching at the ground.

    "Okay, Torchic," Sen said, trying out a more confident, demanding tone, "let's do this." He felt rather silly.

    "Axo," Celeste said, and Sen noticed the little Wooper's body tense and its muscles twitch at the mere sound of its trainer's voice, "let's start off with a Tail Whip."

    The Wooper turned smartly on its right leg, its posterior suddenly facing Torchic, and began waggling its tail about, dancing from foot to foot. Torchic looked up, its attention caught by the rapid movements of the Pokémon's blue tail, eyes following the erratic path it made.

    "Torchic!" Sen cried out, trying to break the Pokémon out of its fatal distraction, "snap out of it, don't-"

    "Axo, Slam!" Celeste ordered.

    Instantly the Wooper stopped its mad dance, turned, and threw itself head-first at Torchic. The little bird, caught off guard, was knocked back off its feet and went sprawling into the dust, to many oos and aahs and scatterings of applause from the crowd.

    "Crap," Sen said. He tried to be encouraging. "Okay, Torchic, get up, come on, um, you can do this? I believe in you! You can-"

    Torchic, paying Sen no heed whatsoever, was back up on its feet. Its eyes were locked on the Wooper, its entire demeanour changed.

    "Tor," it spat. Celeste's Wooper flinched. Whatever had passed between them had not been pleasant.

    "That's more like it!" Sen said. "Now, let's try a Tackle-"

    "TORCHIC!" the little bird roared with surprising ferocity, and dashed towards the Wooper. Sen was delighted to see Celeste's eyebrows shoot up in surprise at the Pokémon's speed: it was possessed by the same fury that Sen had seen in it when it had taken on the Houndoom just yesterday.

    He was slightly surprised when, rather than bodily slamming into the Wooper, Torchic leapt into the air and brought its beak down, hard, on the Wooper's forehead. The Wooper fell back onto the ground, and Torchic landed on its chest, drumming its beak against the Pokémon's forehead several times in succession before leaping off. The Wooper lay there, surprised and stunned, as Torchic walked in triumphant circles, calling its name in a victory cry.

    Why didn't it Tackle like I told it to? Sen wondered. Oh well, I'm winning, anyway, who cares?

    "Good work, Torchic," Sen said, beaming at their growing audience.

    Celeste's Wooper rolled onto its side and got up, shaken but not beaten. "Yeah, come on, Axo!" Celeste encouraged with a passion Sen could only envy. "Tail Whip, again!"

    The Wooper turned its back on Torchic to try the attack once more. Torchic stopped running in circles and faced it.

    "No, Torchic," Sen said, "don't look at it this time! You should-"

    Before he could finish, Torchic charged at the Wooper, slamming into it head on and sending it sprawling onto the ground. It leapt onto the fallen Wooper's back and drummed its beak onto the Pokémon's head again, this time at the back, before jumping off and resuming its victory lap around the arena.

    "Uh, good work," Sen said, feebly.

    "Axo, you okay?" Celeste said, concern evident in her voice. The Wooper struggled to its feet again, although this time the effort it took was considerably greater.

    "Woop," it managed.

    It was shaky on its feet, and clearly almost at fainting point. Sen decided the time had come for the coup de grace.

    "Torchic!" Sen cried, "Finish it off! Tackle, now!"

    The orange bird stopped moving and stared at the opponent.

    Excellent, Sen thought, it's finally listening to me!

    But instead of using Tackle as he had ordered, the Pokémon sat down on the ground, its yellow legs disappearing under its fluffy orange feathers, and closed its eyes as if going to sleep.

    What the hell? Sen thought.

    His joy at the prospect of victory was falling away as the Wooper regained its senses and turned towards the still seemingly sleeping Torchic, whose body was now quivering slightly.

    "Torchic!" Sen cried. "Attack it! Peck it! Tackle it! What are you DOING?!"

    "It's using Focus Energy!" one of the people in the crowd shouted out. A few titters.

    Sen shot a dark look in the direction of the laughter. "Oh," he said, "um, thanks."

    "Alright, Axo," Celeste said, "let's take back the match! Slam attack!"

    Suddenly, Torchic's eyes flitted open.

    "TOR!" it cried.

    The little bird leapt to its feet and charged at Celeste's Wooper with blinding speed. The distance it covered was small, but Sen was nonetheless impressed. There was an audible thud as the two Pokémon collided, this time Wooper was sent sailing through the air before it landed at Celeste's feet.

    It opened its mouth and let out a low groan, and a few bubbles formed at the corner of its lips. Evidently, it was out of the match.

    "Oh, Axo!" Celeste cried, kneeling down beside her Pokémon. "Are you okay?"

    "Tor! Tor, Tor, Tor!" Torchic laughed, running around in circles.

    Sen's chest swelled with pride. He looked around at the people who had gathered to watch the match, a smirk forming at the corners of his mouth.

    "Well," he said, talking to Celeste but directing his remarks at everyone, "you certainly taught ME a lesson. I bow down to your superior training abilities!" He chuckled to himself.

    Celeste stood up, her eyes furious. "You didn't win that match, you idiot!" she said. "Your Pokémon didn't listen to a word you said! You're not a trainer, you're a stooge!" She produced Axo's Pokéball and returned it, looking at Torchic as it continued to crow its name. "A Pokémon trainer is someone who works with their Pokémon. They battle together. If you ever want to get serious, you might consider training that thing."

    With a final look of disgust, Celeste turned and walked through the crowd, leaving Sen standing alone with twenty or so eyes on him.

    "What're you looking at?" Sen yelled at them. "What?!"

    "Tor!" the Torchic cried. "Tor, Tor, Tor!"

    The crowd began to disperse. Sen returned Torchic to its ball, and put the ball in his pocket. He picked up his bag, and walked morosely to one of the park benches, where he sat down and put his head in his hands.

    What am I doing? he thought. I have no idea. I'm no Pokémon trainer. That battle was a disaster - not only did my Pokémon not listen to me, but if it had we would've lost. My Pokémon knows more about battle strategy than I do. So why on Earth do I want to be a trainer?

    He'd never felt more depressed in his life, not even when he'd been told to stand and watch as a smug official from the Pokémon League ripped his trainer card to pieces, a look of superior disapproval on his face the entire time. At least then his misery had been tempered by a sense of injustice, and he could rail against the unfairness of it all.

    Now ... well, now he'd had the chance to prove himself, and he'd blown it. The thing he'd longed for all of his life, and he was no good.

    He took out Torchic's Pokéball once more and looked at it. A small sphere, one half red, the other white. Inside it, a little orange bird. What was it about either of those things that captured his imagination and galvanised his soul? Why did Pokémon inspire such a passion in him, such a burning desire to do something, anything with them? Could the universe really be so cruel as to make him desire something so much ... and make him be no good at it?

    It happened to other people, after all. The world was full of unrealised dreams. But somehow you never thought you'd be one of those people, or that it would happen to you. Your dreams would come true. Your ambitions would be realised. Your wishes would be fulfilled.

    Until reality came crashing in on your fantasies, and you had to face facts.

    You were no good.

    Sen's head dropped down further in misery.

    Maybe you're being too hard on yourself, he thought. Let's look at the facts, here. This Pokémon doesn't belong to you. You stole it from somebody, a dead person, yesterday. It's clearly got problems, so is it any surprise that it didn't follow your every command in battle? You have to earn its respect. That's what everybody's always harping on about: Pokémon have feelings, too. You wouldn't expect a person who'd been kidnapped to suddenly start loving their abductor, would you?

    What I need, Sen thought, is another Pokémon. A new one. A wild one. A blank slate. It'll grow to love me much more easily than this Torchic, and maybe it'll help me convince the Torchic that I'm not such a bad guy.

    And if not ... well, maybe I should just ...

    No, he thought decisively, a mental door clanging as an unwelcome memory tried to surface in his mind. I won't. Not ever again. No way.

    He looked at the ball in his hand, and stood up.

    He was going to catch himself a Pokémon.


    ~6~

    Sen took out his Pokédex and flipped to the Pokémon locations section.

    The Peregrine City Mall and the park he was now in were both set on the outskirts of Peregrine City, but they were still a rather urban area. The nearest Sen was to a place where he would be likely to encounter some wild Pokémon was the forest.

    The forest in which he had encountered the Houndoom.

    Sen definitely did not want to go back into those woods. But, looking at the Pokédex, it was clearly a hotspot for Bug and Grass Pokémon, either of which would make an excellent first addition to his team. Besides, he thought, I don't have to wander off into the woods. I'll stay around the edges. The Houndoom had been further away from the park and the people, towards the middle of the wood. He would simply stay away from there.

    Even so, the thought of so soon returning to the scene of the crime made him nervous.

    What crime? he thought. You didn't kill anybody.

    Yeah, all I did was find the body, steal his stuff and not report it. I'm a real good Samaritan.

    Nonetheless, it was clear he would have to catch a Pokémon. And that meant entering the woods. Sen switched off his Pokédex, packed it into his bag and made his way through the park towards the trees. Already more and more people were gathering, and he noticed a few trainers engaging in battles. Celeste was among them, her Wooper recovered and spraying an unfortunate Zigzagoon with Water Gun. Sen tried not to catch her eye and hurried past.

    As he approached the trees, he noticed some people gathered around the main entrance to the woods. He slipped quietly into the trees another way. After all, whatever they were doing, it was best not to draw attention to himself.

    He stuck closely to the path, always checking that enough light was getting through the trees and avoiding any forks where the way ahead was too murky. Every now and then he looked sharply behind, then chastised himself. He was perfectly safe - he could hear snatches of conversation and laughter from the people in the park just on the other side of the trees.

    For a long time he walked, excited at the prospect of capturing a Pokémon. As he continued to walk, halting expectantly at every rustle of a leaf or whisper of a breeze, his enthusiasm gradually waned.

    After ten minutes, he was growing distinctly bored.

    "Okay, Pokémon," Sen said, stopping in the middle of the path. "Where are you?"

    Silence.

    "Dammit!" Sen said, stamping his foot. "Come on! There's bound to be a Pokémon around here somewhere!"

    More silence.

    Sen swore.

    Suddenly, he heard a rustling in the undergrowth to his left. He turned to see the bushes shaking. Something was definitely moving in there. Excitement welled up in Sen's chest - a Pokémon! He produced Torchic's Pokéball and almost threw it out before he managed to stop himself - he didn't want to scare it off. The Pokémon had to appear and accept to battle him, thereby allowing him to catch it if he could. Besides, he wanted to see what it was first - it might be something crap, like a Sentret.

    The rustling stopped, and Sen's heart sank. Had it gone away? He waited a few seconds. Then the leaves began to move, and part, and a Bellsprout emerged from the undergrowth and tiptoed delicately into the clearing.

    Elation! Sen thought.

    The Pokémon's long thin body was bent comically, its pot-shaped head swivelling around as it looked for any aerial insects to snack on. Eventually it noticed the deliriously happy Pokémon trainer standing before it, and turned its attention to Sen. It mumbled something that sounded vaguely like "sprout".

    A Victreebel, Sen's mind cried, a powerful, wonderful, beautiful Victreebel! Fabulous!

    "GO, TORCHIC!" he cried, flinging the Pokéball into the air with enthusiasm that had escaped him during his battle with Celeste. The ball opened and spat out Torchic before flying back into Sen's waiting hand.

    Torchic looked between Sen and the Bellsprout, which had now turned to face them and was assuming a battle stance.

    "Okay, Torchic," Sen said, "I want you to-"

    "Torchic!" the little bird cried. Sen saw the Bellsprout react to this unintelligible statement, but not in the same way Celeste's Wooper had. The Bellsprout's attention had evidently been caught.

    "Torchic, Torchic, Torchic!" the Torchic cried. The Bellsprout looked at Torchic with an expression that Sen could almost construe as one of disbelief. "Torchic, Torchic!" the Pokémon continued with a sense of urgency. "Torchic, TORCHIC!" it finished. The Bellsprout looked shocked.

    What the hell was all that about? Sen wondered.

    "SPROUT!" the Bellsprout said. It was directed at him, he realised, and not Torchic. In disbelief, Sen saw the Bellsprout turn and walk indignantly back into the undergrowth, before turning back and firing one last "Sprout!" at him. Then it was gone.

    Sen looked down at the Torchic, which was staring back up at him. Did he detect an element of smugness in its expression?

    Was I just insulted by a Bellsprout? he thought. What's going on here?

    He tried to read his Pokémon's expression. There was evident intelligence in those eyes. What had it just said to the Bellsprout to make it react so?

    Had it ratted Sen out as a thief? An impostor? Had it told the Bellsprout that it had been stolen?

    How much did Richard Sooter's Torchic understand what was going on?

    Sen produced Torchic's ball and pointed it at the Pokémon. "I'll deal with you later," he said as the red light returned it.

    He looked in the direction that the Bellsprout had departed. Perhaps he could go after it and convince it he wasn't a bad guy? He didn't want to leave the path, but he wouldn't have to go far. If he couldn't find it, he'd simply turn back and try his luck with another Pokémon.

    Provided the same thing didn't happen again...

    Sen made his way carefully through the undergrowth, trying to ignore the fact that his awkward, shambling progress was distinctly lacking in stealth. Up ahead, he could see the trees gave way into another small clearing, not unlike the one he had discovered Richard Sooter's body in, but less large and with no river running through it.

    Sen emerged into the clearing.

    "Bellsprout." he cooed, "oh, Bellsprout! Hello... are you there ... come out, please, I'm not a bad trainer, honestly..."

    He waited ten seconds. Twenty. Thirty. Nothing.

    He swore.

    He marched to one of the trees at the edge of the clearing and threw his backpack against it, not caring about the clattering sound made by the expensive equipment inside. Years of frustration suddenly bubbled to the surface, and Sen found himself punching and kicking the tree, punctuating his assaults with a variety of uncommon and inventive combinations of profanities. He was stopped by a stinging pain in his hand, and he looked to see he'd badly skinned his knuckles against the bark of the trunk. He clutched them to his mouth, sucking them.

    He began to feel very silly after losing his control like that. Pokémon trainers were expected to be calm and stalwart in the face of setbacks like this. Here he was, missing out on one Pokémon, and he'd just lost it. He really had to gain better control of his emotions.

    He felt something light land on his head, and put his hand up to feel bits of water on his hair. He looked up, and another drop landed in his eye. He rubbed it away. Dew? Knowing his luck, probably an incontinent Aipom. He heard rustlings in the leaves of the tree above him, growing in speed as something evidently was falling through the branches, dislodged by his assault on the tree trunk. Sen backed away a few paces, and then jumped aside as something big and yellow landed with a thump on the ground where he had been standing. It rolled against a rock and lay there, motionless.

    Sen walked towards it.

    It came up to his knee in length, had it been standing upright and not lying on its side on the ground. It was bright yellow, and round, in an almost kidney-bean shape. Two large, jet-black eyes stared vacantly at the world from what they alone determined was a head. At the top of its head, the remains of an adhesive mix of wax that had attached it to a tree branch was broken off from where Sen's hitting the tree had dislodged it.

    A Kakuna.

    The cocoon stage between Weedle's metamorphosis into Beedrill. They usually hung suspended from trees for a few weeks, tended by a protective platoon of Beedrill, until they emerged into fully-evolved wasp Pokémon themselves. Completely unable to move, Kakuna were virtually defenceless, which was why they were usually guarded so closely by their Beedrill parents.

    So, Sen thought as he looked around the clearing, where's your mum and dad?

    There were no Beedrill anywhere to be seen.

    Hmm, Sen thought, it's no Bellsprout, but beggars can't exactly be choosers, can they? He reached into his pocket and brought out one of the Pokéballs he'd purchased that day. This would be simple; he wouldn't even have to rely on Torchic's dubious loyalty.

    "Kakuna, you're mine," Sen grinned, tossing the Pokéball at the prone form of the Pokémon. The ball bounced off the thick hide of the creature and opened, instantly sucking the Kakuna inside. The ball closed and fell to the ground, motionless. It didn't even wobble once.

    Hey, Sen thought, I just caught my first Pokémon!

    He chuckled and bent down to pick up the ball. Rather than do some form of victory dance or pose shouting "Yeah!", he put the ball in his pocket beside Torchic's and walked towards the edge of the clearing.

    That was when he heard the low humming sound. Sen turned to see two Beedrill emerge from the trees on the other side of the clearing. They hovered in the air, their wings making a pleasant whine that belied their vicious nature. They brandished their arm-needles, and the vicious stinger on the end of their abdomen protruded menacingly.

    "There's mum and dad," Sen gulped.

    The undergrowth below them rustled, and Sen saw a Bellsprout emerge. It saw him, and began waving its leaves urgently, gesticulating towards Sen and shouting "Sprout, Sprout!" at the two Beedrill.

    So that's where you went, you little git, Sen thought. Off to get reinforcements to see the nasty trainer out of the woods?

    The two Beedrill looked at each other and began flying towards Sen.

    "Don't worry!" he called, "I'm going!"

    Sen ran into the trees, leaping over the undergrowth and ducking under branches, hoping the dense foliage would slow his aerial pursuers down. He heard their wings humming, distant, but still there. He emerged onto the path again, and ran down it as fast as he could. He couldn't hear the Beedrill anymore, but his breathing and footsteps were so loud in his ears that he couldn't trust his own hearing.

    He followed the path at breakneck speed and eventually burst out into the park. This was a different path from the one he had taken into the woods, and it was only as he emerged that he remembered the crowd of people he'd earlier been trying to avoid. He saw them, all at a distance, and veered away, hoping no one turned their heads to see him.

    He was so busy concentrating on the crowd that he didn't see the tall man, until he bumped into him.

    "Sorry," Sen said, hardly noticing. The tall man turned and placed his hand on Sen's retreating shoulder, commanding him to stay where he was.

    "Hey there, what's the rush?" the man asked. Sen turned around to get a better look at him. He was enormously tall, and quite broad- shouldered as well. Middle-aged, late thirties at the very most. Stubble around his face; dark, extremely short hair, style completely absent. He had one of those boyishly handsome turned slightly jowly faces that housewives seemed to find attractive.

    "Who wants to know?" Sen said, narrowing his eyes at this stranger and trying to nip polite conversation in the bud. He'd had enough of that from Celeste for one day.

    The man smiled winningly, and reached into the inside pocket of the long dark brown coat he was wearing, producing a small leather wallet. He flipped it open to expose a bright silver badge.

    "Detective John Chambers," the man said. "And you are?"


    ~7~

    Gravity suddenly seemed to have a much stronger hold on Sen's stomach, and began trying to pull it down into his legs. He felt the colour drain from his already pale complexion, and he licked his lips nervously.

    "De ... detective?" he managed.

    Chambers put away his badge and regarded him quizzically. "That's right," he said. "See those people?" he asked, and pointed over Sen's shoulder. Sen followed his arm to see the crowd of people gathered at the entrance to the woods. The one he had taken yesterday when he found Sooter's body. Except now he was paying them close attention, he could see the crime scene tape that had been placed around the trees, preventing people from entering the woods that way. He could see the uniformed police officer fending off questions and onlookers, and telling everybody to please go away and let the professionals do their work.

    Sen turned back towards Chambers.

    "What. what're you doing here?" he asked. "Is something wrong?"

    Chambers was playing the sunny, breezy, friendly guy, but Sen could feel himself being watched closely.

    "Haven't you seen the news?" Chambers asked. "No, I suppose you haven't, otherwise you wouldn't have been in the woods, would you?" He smiled to show this was just a friendly conversation.

    Sen's mind reeled. He knew his distress was evident, so he tried to turn it to his advantage. "Is something wrong?" he asked, putting his voice up a notch. "Did something happen in the woods?"

    Chambers' demeanour remained the same. "Body," he said simply. "Young kid. Dead. 'Bout your age." He produced a packet of chewing gum from his pocket and proceeded to unwrap it, but his eyes kept flitting up to gauge Sen's reaction.

    Sen's shock was no act. They found it already??! his mind screamed. Dear God, they've found his body already?

    Aloud, he put a different spin on his distress: "Somebody's dead? In the woods? My god, I was just in there!"

    "Yeah," Chambers said. "We haven't closed off the whole place, just the area around the crime scene. It's still being looked at by our forensics guys." He popped a piece of chewing gum in his mouth, slurring his words slightly. "Yeah, some trainer got ripped up by a Pokémon. Some campers discovered him last night." He offered the packet towards Sen. "Gum?"

    Sen stared at it. "No thanks," he said. Things were becoming distinctly surreal for him.

    "So, ah ." he looked at Sen, and Sen was surprised by the intensity and power of the gaze behind the pally exterior, "what were you doing in the woods? You a trainer?" He nodded towards Sen's backpack.

    "What? I . uh . yeah, I'm a Pokémon trainer," Sen said. "Just started out. I'm, I mean, I was looking for Pokémon."

    Chambers nodded at every word he said. "ID number?" he asked quickly.

    Sen's mind raced. "I ... I don't know it yet," he apologised.

    Chambers grinned. "Don't worry, nobody does for the first few weeks." He reached into his other pocket and produced a notepad. "Listen, if I could just get your name and address, and your whereabouts last night? I understand a lot of the new trainers in town were around here engaging in practice battles yesterday."

    That's it, Sen thought, game over.

    "I..."

    Chambers waited, patient and expectant.

    "I..., uh, that is ... I..."

    Then Sen's pocket started to vibrate.

    He looked at it quizzically, before remembering his new cell phone. He'd had it muted all day. He took it out: there were several missed messages from Charlotte, and her name was now flashing on the screen as she called him.

    "Sorry, my parents," Sen said to Chambers. "I have to take this, they've probably seen the news and they want to see if I'm okay."

    Chambers smiled. "I understand." He put his notebook away.

    Sen answered the phone and walked briskly away from the detective, not even risking a look back.

    "Charlotte?" he said. "You have no idea how good it is to hear from you..."


    ~8~

    The body was discovered. The police were involved. It was all over the news.

    They didn't know who the victim had been, but it was clear he had been killed by a Pokémon, possibly a wild one, although no such Pokémon capable of an attack was known to frequent the area around Peregrine City. The media had already picked up on this angle of the story, and news reports were focusing on the idea that a ferocious Pokémon had come to stay in the woods and prey on the people of Peregrine. Within an hour this monster had evolved into a new species of Pokémon, and, as Sen watched a TV store window display in disbelief, a fifth person called in to say he had seen the creature in his backyard rooting through his bins. Vigilante groups to find and destroy the monster were already being formed.

    And, amid this hysteria, people were asking who this poor boy was.

    One thing was clear to Sen: he had to get out of Peregrine City.

    He got on the first bus out of town, paid the maximum fare, and took a seat alone near the back. He clutched his pack tightly and tried to avoid making eye contact with the other passengers as the bus rode into the night.


    ~9~

    The room was dark. Very, very dark.

    There were no windows. Windows were a bad policy in a place like this. For the people who worked here, windows were the kind of luxury you got used to doing without.

    In the darkness, the bare outline of a mahogany desk as visible. A bookcase in the corner of the room. A plant, plastic, the only type capable of surviving here. A dark shape beside the plant shifted itself slightly and murmured in a small croaking voice.

    "Jesus Christ, it's dark in here," a voice said, and switched on the desk light.

    Instantly illumination filled the room. Knickknacks and artefacts that certain people and institutions would have killed to get their hands on glittered and twinkled from their positions around the room. The dark shape in the corner chuckled to itself and turned around on its perch, hunching its shoulders and hiding from the light.

    "Nevermore," it croaked.

    The man sitting behind the desk rubbed his brow. The darkness usually helped him think. By blocking out all distractions, it helped him explore possibilities that others would overlook. Darkness had been his friend throughout life. It had always shown him the way, always led him to success.

    Except today. Today it had failed him. There was no other option but the one which had been staring him in the face.

    The man reached across to the intercom on his desk and pushed a red button. A buzzer sounded, and a distorted woman's voice asked "Yes, sir?"

    "Send him in," the man said wearily. He continued to massage his brow with a tanned, thin hand. The skin of his forehead was soft, youthful and brown, in distinct contrast to his shining white hair. Someone had once said his hair was the only white thing about him. That had made him smile. It had also made him slightly sad.

    The door opened and his secretary entered, followed by a much larger man. He was almost as wide as he was tall, with a bald head and a thick, short neck. His secretary indicated the chair in front of the desk, and the man heaved himself into it. The secretary smiled and left the room, closing the door behind her.

    The large man waited, sweat breaking out on his brow, his face otherwise lacking in expression. His eyes occasionally flitted nervously to the dark shape in the corner of the room, but for a lot of the time he managed to keep them on the person behind the desk.

    For a while there was silence.

    "You know why you're here," the white-haired man said.

    The heavyset man swallowed. "Yes," he managed.

    The white-haired man's voice was pleasant, cultured. Reasonable. "Words cannot convey my disappointment," he said. His eyes, previously downcast, suddenly flicked upwards and pinned the heavyset man with their intense amber gaze. "I hope actions will not be necessary to elaborate."

    The heavyset man flinched. "No," he said, "no, no, sir, as I said-"

    "Last night," the white-haired man continued, instantly silencing his companion, "Richard Sooter checked into a Pokémon Centre in Peregrine City."

    The words hung in the still air of the room. The two men held each other's gaze, one finding he could not break his eyes away no matter how much he wanted to.

    "Also last night, the body of a mauled Pokémon trainer was discovered in the woods."

    Again, the words hung in the air, laden with doom.

    "I don't want excuses. I don't want to know how it happened. There will be time for that later. Right now, I know only one thing. Richard Sooter is alive. And I want only one thing. Do you know what I want you to do?" He raised his eyebrows inquiringly. They were as white as every other hair on his head.

    He leaned across the table, enunciating each word carefully and aiming them directly into the face of the heavyset man.

    "Deal. With. It."
    Last edited by ChicRocketJames; 9th November 2004 at 04:01 PM.
    14/11/04 Chapter Three: A Walk In The Woods has been posted
    ~ Tangled Web ~
    "Your writing style is just incredible ... you, as a writer, are awesome."
    ~ PancaKe @ TPM
    "An original concept, intelligence, cynicism, an interesting and amoral protagonist, some great Pokemon action - damn, we don't get enough of this sort of Pokefic around here!"
    ~ Charles Rocketboy @ FanFiction.Net
    "Wow ... Just ... wow."
    ~ Cosmic Mewtwo @ FanFiction.Net

  6. #6
    Goronda Type Vice-Webmaster Evil Figment's Avatar Vice-Webmaster
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    I *really* like the way this story is developing. It has a dark, "on the edge" feel that very few other fic I've ever seen had.

    I certainly wouldn't complain about seeing more of this here
    Quote Originally Posted by Mintaka and Hurristat
    He's an evil director / He'll give out infractions / Do something wrong / And he takes direct actions
    Then what'll he do?/ He'll permaban you / You find your name slashed / With a message, 'Adieu'
    Sooooo...watch out!
    "It is said that the federal government, if it was in charge of the Sahara, would run out of sand in five years. Private enterprise, being more efficient, would do it in half the time - and they'd make money off the bridges." - me.
    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world." - Jack Layton's last letter. Rest in peace, Jack.

  7. #7
    A black and white world Blackjack Gabbiani's Avatar
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    I notice that in the fight with the Wooper, Torchic almost always went for the face...

    Very good story, although as I say with some others, the chapters are quite long. The content is excellent, I must say, but perhaps breaking them up could yield more readers.

  8. #8
    Oh Snap! Gato Gurl914's Avatar
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    poor sen, i don't understand how he was denied being a pokemon trainer though...

  9. #9
    Fabulous Trainer ChicRocketJames's Avatar
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    Very good story, although as I say with some others, the chapters are quite long. The content is excellent, I must say, but perhaps breaking them up could yield more readers.
    Thanks. Yeah, I know the chapters are long, but that's just the way the story's structured. Each one is a little self-contained story, as well as moving on the overall plot of the fic. I've had lots of people say one of the things they love about the fic is the meaty chapters! Also, that's why I put in the little numbered sections, so you don't have to read it all at once if you don't want to.

    poor sen, i don't understand how he was denied being a pokemon trainer though...
    All will become clear .... eventually.

    Thanks for the comments, people! I'll post more soon.
    14/11/04 Chapter Three: A Walk In The Woods has been posted
    ~ Tangled Web ~
    "Your writing style is just incredible ... you, as a writer, are awesome."
    ~ PancaKe @ TPM
    "An original concept, intelligence, cynicism, an interesting and amoral protagonist, some great Pokemon action - damn, we don't get enough of this sort of Pokefic around here!"
    ~ Charles Rocketboy @ FanFiction.Net
    "Wow ... Just ... wow."
    ~ Cosmic Mewtwo @ FanFiction.Net

  10. #10
    Fabulous Trainer ChicRocketJames's Avatar
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    Given that I've just completed the eighth chapter of this fic, I thought I'd post the third here! As always, comments are welcome!



    03
    ~A Walk In The Woods~





    ~1~

    He was close. Very close. She could smell him.

    It was an odour that drove her wild. Sweat, terror, adrenaline, and underneath it all, a warm, sticky scent that made the roof of her mouth tingle with delight. Even now, as sheets of rain poured from the sky, as rivers of water trickled down from the trees above her and washed down her face, the smell was still there, setting her olfactory organs alive with pleasure.

    Lightning blanched the trees and sent shadows scurrying through the undergrowth. Seconds later, a ponderous roll of thunder came grumbling along behind it. She made her way slowly through the forest regardless. The trail she was following was not visual. Animals gave her a wide birth, automatically vacating their holes and hideaways as soon as they caught her scent. It was a smell they had long ago learned to fear. A tree rudely blocked her path; with barely a grunt, she pressed her weight against it, uprooting it and sending it crashing into its neighbours. Onward she went, always following an invisible, meandering route, hypnotised by it.

    She stopped suddenly. Listening. Even above the sound of the lashing rain and rising wind whipping through the trees, she could distinctly hear something. A voice.

    “He-help me! Please! Somebody, anybody! Help me!”

    Then it dissolved into unintelligible sobbing, followed by a phlegmy cough and a hiccup.

    It was coming from just through the trees.

    She slowed her approach, caution overriding the maddening urge to simply burst in and attack. This had to go perfectly. Hiding herself behind a tree, she peered through its waving leaves to observe him.

    A very large man stood just beyond the trees. His enormous stomach was heaving in and out as he took gasping breaths. His outdoor clothing was soaked and his heavy backpack was streaked with mud. He was clutching a shiny thing to his ear, and, between sobbing fits, was wailing incomprehensibly into it. Every so often he would take it away from his ear, look at it, shake it, and then resume crying.

    His back was to her. He was lost in terror. He had no idea where she was.

    Perfect.

    Casting stealth to the wind, she charged through the trees, her voice rising in a blood-curdling cry. The man turned, dropped the metal thing in surprise, and began to try and shuffle away. He tripped and went sprawling onto his stomach on the ground, and as the lightning flashed once more she was upon him, ripping away his backpack as he writhed and gibbered.

    The thunder rumbled once more, but even it could not drown out his screams.


    ~2~

    Sen had always liked the rain.

    All his life, he’d been perplexed by people whose reactions to this most beautiful and wondrous of meteorological phenomena were either depression, distaste or outright hostility. Rain made everything so beautiful. It watered flowers, made the earth fresh and green. It washed away dirt and grime. It pattered companionably on the outside of a window, rendering even the most miserable home warm and friendly. And was there not something wonderful in itself about the idea of little drops of water coming from great dark clouds hanging in the sky? Most people, Sen had always believed, took the rain for granted. Rain was wonderful. Rain was beautiful. Rain was to be cherished.

    Or, so he had always believed, until he found himself out in it, standing for half an hour in a virtual monsoon and trying to put up a tent. In that particular situation, as the wind-whipped raindrops lashed against his body, blurred his vision and numbed his hands, Sen began to think his previous musings on the subject of rain had been utter bollocks.

    He’d struggled with the canvas, teeth gritted in grim determination, and for the fifth time in ten minutes it had slipped out of his hands. Picking it up, Sen flung the tent into the air in frustration, and watched with amazement as it bloomed out into a perfectly welcoming purple home, landing softly on the ground before him. He’d looked at the soaked instructions lying on the ground beside his foot, and even in their current state the words “self-erecting” a last caught his eye. Sen turned his head skywards and unleashed one long, loud obscenity at the heavens, who responded with a grumble of offended thunder.

    Now, as he sat cross-legged and soaked to the skin inside his tent, a can of barely half-eaten tuna lying by his left knee, the sounds of the rain and wind against the billowing walls of his makeshift home were a lot less friendly than he’d ever imagined they could be. A battery-powered lamp cast a weak light into the darkness, showing Torchic as it pecked hungrily at the food dish before it, completely oblivious to the weather outside. Kakuna, too, paid the rain, wind and lightning no heed as it lay on its side by Sen’s sleeping bag, staring out at the world with its usual vacant expression. But then, Sen noticed, Kakuna didn’t seem to pay much attention to anything.

    This bout of bad weather had been the perfect end to an awful day. After fleeing scared from Peregrine City, Sen had rode the bus as far as it would take him along the lonely highways stretching away from the metropolis and into the woods and hills beyond. Travelling non-stop overnight had exhausted him, and he’d barely been awake as he checked into the first tavern he saw as he’d left the middle-of-nowhere bus station. He fell asleep the moment his head hit the pillow, and the next day awoke energised and refreshed. As he devoured breakfast, a meal he usually skipped, he’d planned his route through the nearby woods which would take him to the foot of Lammergeyer Peak, at the top of which was a tiny village.

    A tiny village, and the first Pokémon Gym on his agenda.

    He’d walked continually through the woods all day, and it had been extremely pleasant. The sun had been shining, the birds twittering, and he’d even been amused by a pair of Furret who chased each other up and down some trees, seemingly for his entertainment alone. So invigorated was he by his surroundings that he’d almost made it halfway to the foot of Lammergeyer Peak, making him in excellent time for his first Gym battle. Sen had been feeling very pleased with himself, and that’s when the first spits of rain had begun to fall. Within five minutes it was a downpour, ten a torrent, and in twenty minutes the lightning had begun. Sen struggled to find a suitable place for his tent, then to erect it, and finally found himself inside it: wet, cold and severely annoyed.

    As Torchic cleaned its bowl and Sen realised he wasn’t going to finish his own sorry excuse for a meal, he decided it was time to have a talk with the Pokémon.

    “Okay, Torchic,” Sen said, “we should probably have a little conversation here to clear the air.”

    The Pokémon looked at him with the two glimmering black oil drops that were its eyes, its expression as inscrutable as ever. What was it feeling? Interest? Hatred? Boredom? Indigestion? It was impossible to tell. Ever since they had first met each other, there had been little time to get to know one another. Given the circumstances of their meeting, Sen was not surprised at the Pokémon’s unwillingness to respect him or listen to his orders in battle. But it clearly enjoyed battling itself, as evidenced by its courageous defeat of Celeste’s Wooper, and the way it had taken on the Houndoom. Sen thought that it was beginning to trust him slightly more, too. It readily accepted food from him, didn’t try to peck or bite him, and hadn’t run away. He hoped this signalled a change of heart in the Pokémon, and would allow them to begin again.

    He sighed deeply, and began:

    “You’ve just been through something very difficult and traumatic, and I appreciate that,” he said. “You’ve lost your trainer, he’s never coming back. That’s an awful thing to happen, especially when you two were just starting out together.” The Pokémon continued to look at him. How much of what he was saying did it understand? Any? “But the fact is, fate, or chance, or whatever you want to call it, has given us both a second chance here. And I think, if we work together, we could really do something special.

    “I know you want to battle. I know you want to do big things. I saw you take on that Houndoom, and that Wooper. You love this. You live for it. You want to be great. So do I. If we help each other, I think we can be.

    “Of course, it’s entirely your choice. If you don’t feel you’re ready, or you don’t trust me, or whatever, then I’ll release you. I’ll even drop you off in the next town, tell them I found a lost Torchic that’s missing its trainer, and they’ll send you back to wherever you came from. If that’s what you want.”

    He looked earnestly at the Pokémon. Now, he thought, comes the slimy bit.

    “Although...” he said, trying to sound thoughtful and reluctant at the same time (and also wondering how much of this performance would be wasted on a Torchic), “realistically, being sent back isn’t your best option. You’re a good Pokémon, and I’m sure anybody would love to have you. But ... this year’s bunch of trainers have already been given their starter Pokémon. They’re already on the road. You wouldn’t be given out until next year. And even then ... well, new trainers don’t want last year’s Pokémon, do they? They want fresh, eager, just-out-of-the-egg starters. It’s a prejudice, don’t get me wrong, but it’s reality. You might not get a trainer. They might pack you off to help some dowdy Pokémon Centre nurse in some forgotten backwater, where your talent and potential will go unrecognised and wasted.

    “And I’d HATE to see that happen.”

    He was silent for a moment, allowing the Pokémon time to digest what he’d said. It’s expression hadn’t changed one bit.

    “It’s your choice,” he said quietly. “You can stick with me, or, if you don’t want to, I’ll just take my Kakuna and carry on without you.

    “Which is it?”

    After a few moments, he realised that there was no way the Torchic could give him an answer. He looked around the floor of his tent, and spied the sack of seeds that he’d purchased to feed it. He reached forward and picked through the seeds, selecting two: one, a small, ugly-looking green kind that didn’t look especially appetising, and, secondly, a large, cherry-red variety that he knew the Torchic especially liked. He placed one seed in each hand and displayed them, palm-out, before him and the Torchic.

    “If you want to stay with me,” Sen said, slowly and deliberately, “then pick this hand.” He moved his left hand up and down and nodded his head towards it. In it was the small, ugly green seed. “If you want me to hand you in at the next Pokémon Centre, however,” he said, trying to keep his voice neutral, “then pick this hand.” He made the same motions with his right hand.

    The Pokémon regarded him blankly, and Sen wondered if the entire speech he’d made had gone completely over its head. His heart quickened as the Pokémon began flicking its head back and forth between his two hands, eyeing up their contents, as if deciding to itself. It stepped tentatively towards the cherry-red seed in his right hand, and Sen’s palms began to break out in sweat. I should’ve weighted the odds in my favour, he thought, I should’ve made that the stay-with-me-seed. But he knew that was foolish. Either way, he had to know what the Pokémon truly wanted to do, and he had to respect its decision.

    Just as he was preparing himself for the worst, the Pokémon took a step back, as if unsure. It looked between Sen’s two hands again, and fixed on the left.

    Unbelievably, the Torchic approached Sen’s left hand, and, gently, picked up the ugly little green seed in its mouth, swallowing it and then looking up at him expectantly.

    Lightning flashed, and thunder rumbled. Wind rubbed its hands along the tent’s skin.

    Sen hardly noticed.

    Slowly, without thinking, he reached forward with his hand towards the Torchic’s head. It stood there in the dim light of the tent, not flinching, not running away. Scarcely able to believe what was happening, Sen’s fingers touched the soft downy feathers of the Pokémon’s comically oversized head. His palm made contact, and, very gently, he stroked the Torchic’s head, a smile breaking out on his face.

    The Pokémon closed its eyes, and a soft, sweet warbling noise burbled up from inside its throat, surprising and delighting Sen. The noise rose and fell as Sen petted his Pokémon – finally, his Pokémon – and grew into a sharp “Chic! Chic!” noise that made him jump, and then laugh. He brought his right hand towards the Pokémon’s tiny beak and allowed it to eat the now meaningless red seed that he held. The Torchic cried “Chic!” once more, lifting the back of its feet off the ground as it did so.

    The verdict was in. Torchic would stay.

    “Well, okay then!” Sen laughed, “I guess that’s settled. Here’s to a new beginning.” He continued to pet the Pokémon, stroking its tiny orange wings. A thought struck him.

    “One thing,” he said, “I hate all this ‘Torchic’ and ‘Kakuna’ business. If you’re going to be my Pokémon, you need a decent name.” The Pokémon opened its eyes and regarded him with interest. “Hmmm, let’s see,” Sen said, looking around the tent for inspiration, “what would be a good Torchic nickname?”

    The Pokémon waited patiently as he ran through the possibilities in his mind. Dee? No, too cutesy-poo, totally unsuitable if it ever evolved. Besides, he had a suspicion his Torchic was male, as most starter Pokémon tended to be for some unfathomable reason. Pyro? Too unoriginal. Dante? Too confused. Prometheus? Too pretentious. Kelvin?

    Hmm, Sen thought, that was along the right lines. But it wasn’t quite there yet. Maybe...

    “Got it!” Sen cried. He beamed down at his Pokémon. “Ready? How about this.

    “Celsius.”

    The Pokémon’s expression did not change.

    “Ah, what do you know? That’s a great name, trust me!” Sen said, ruffling Torchic’s – Celsius’s – head feathers. “Celsius,” he said, looking his Pokémon up and down, “Celsius the Torchic. Super.

    “And as for you,” he said, looking over at the prostrate Kakuna lying beside his sleeping bag, “I think I’ll call you Bombus. Nice, eh?” Bombus made no reply. “Glad you think so.”

    A yawn pushed its way out of Sen’s body, and he was suddenly overcome by fatigue. “Better get some sleep,” he told Celsius, “we have to be up early tomorrow, I want to be at that Gym by tomorrow night at the latest.” He stroked the Pokémon once more and lay back on his elbows. “Goodnight,” he said, smiling.

    “Chic,” Celsius said softly.

    The Pokémon turned and began walking back towards the jumper Sen had placed beside its food bowl to keep it warm. Halfway there, it paused, looked around, and began walking back towards Sen.

    Sen smiled as the Torchic lay down beside him. He slipped inside his sleeping bag and drew the Kakuna under his arm, its hard, cold body somehow comforting.

    “Glad to have you on the team, Cel,” Sen said as he reached over and switched off the light.

    The rain continued all night, the wind just barely died down, and occasional lightning flashes woke Sen up from time to time. But as he looked at the dim outline of the sleeping Torchic curled up beside him, somehow, it didn’t seem so bad.


    ~3~

    He was awoken by the sound of his own teeth chattering. Had he been more alert, he would have recognised they were struggling over the letter “M”; but he was not. His eyes opened, and sunlight lanced into them, causing him to cry out and hide his face in the crook of his elbow. The air was damp and chilly, and as he looked around the tent he saw heavy, slow-moving clouds of white air emerge from his mouth with each breath. Beside him, Celsius stirred, and let out a delicate chirruping sneeze.

    Oh dear god, Sen thought, it’s freezing!

    He rubbed his arms, already raised with goose bumps, and started to move his aching joints. His arm brushed Bombus’s skin, which was covered in a fine, cold film of condensation. He forced himself out of the relatively warm sleeping bag, and, as Celsius stretched and yawned beside him, he dressed himself with numb, fumbling fingers.

    Sen emerged from the tent to a cold, but nonetheless much refreshed world. The air was bright and clean, and the winds of the previous night didn’t seem to have left much damage, as he could only spot a few dislocated branches bent at awkward angles from the trees. He stretched and, deciding his joints could do with having their kinks worked out, went for a short walk around the trees, Celsius trotting after him. He couldn’t find any water to wash with, but given the low temperature he didn’t feel like bathing anyway. He snickered to himself – this would be the first time he’d gone without a shower since ... since he remembered, basically. He looked down to find Celsius no longer at his heel, but rapaciously gorging on some speckled berries growing on a bush. Sen, thinking it would keep their newfound relationship working well, picked a handful to save for later, tossing one to the ground and deriving an inordinate amount of amusement from seeing Celsius chase after it and gobble it down.

    He walked back towards his tent, Celsius following at his heel and chirping hopefully at the glut of berries in his hands. He placed them in a plastic bag and put them safely away in his backpack; Celsius, defeated, returned to the original bush and began feasting again.

    Sen sat down and surveyed the scene before him. He was slightly sore, he didn’t have access to a shower, and it was colder than he was used to bearing, but he felt exhilarated. He really was a Pokémon trainer. He gazed fondly at the crisp grass; the clear blue sky; the brave, defiant trees who had withstood the storm with firm trunks and cheerful leaves; the man in the tree; the deliciously wholesome air ...

    Wait a minute! Sen thought, his head turning sharply. The man in the tree?!

    Unless he was very much mistaken, and he sincerely hoped he was, there appeared to be quite a large, fat man resting on a branch halfway up a fir tree, just a few metres away.

    Sen stared for a few moments, hoping the illusion would resolve itself into a cunning configuration of leaves and bark which had somehow managed to confuse him, as such tricks of the light always did. But still the man persisted in existing. He was sitting with one leg over each side of quite a sturdy branch – well, it would have to be sturdy, given his girth. He was wearing dark khakis which had been stained even darker by sweat, rain and mud. A clunky backpack was behind him, resting on the branch, although the shoulder strap Sen could see was ripped away from the pack itself and hanging uselessly by his arm. The backpack was holding him upright, it seemed, as his chubby face was slumped against his left shoulder, as though he were asleep. Or dead.

    Two corpses in the woods within four days, Sen thought, that’s got to be some kind of record.

    What should he do? The idea of very quietly packing up his things and moving stealthily away appealed to Sen, but before he could begin the man moved. He tossed his head, murmured to himself, and hiccupped. Then he was still again.

    Sen stood up and approached the man sitting in the tree – no, sleeping in the tree. As he got nearer, he could hear quiet snoring sounds, interrupted by faint murmuring every now and then. He stood at the base of the tree and looked up.

    “Erm .... hello?” Sen called out.

    The man in the tree stirred slightly, but continued to sleep.

    Slightly louder, Sen said, “Hey! You in the tree! Wake up!”

    The man’s eyes snapped open as he was jerked from unconsciousness. They rolled in their sockets, staring wildly at everything around him. Evidently, they did not like what they saw, for the man began to scream at the top of his voice.

    Sen staggered backwards, shocked out of his wits. He stared in disbelief as the fat man sitting halfway up a fir tree bellowed like an off- key opera singer for what seemed like minutes on end, seemingly without pause for breath.

    Suddenly, Celsius ran over to Sen’s side from where he had been picking the last remaining berries from the bush, and began chirping “Chic! Chic! Chic!” aggressively at the man in the tree, aiming to match him in persistence if not volume.

    I’m losing my mind, Sen thought with wonder, as both man and Pokémon continued to disharmonise with each other.

    “Okay, um, guys,” Sen said, and then raised his voice to be heard over them, “people, please, okay, be quiet, alright, that’s enough, I SAID, BE QUIET!” he bellowed. The man in the tree stopped screaming, and Celsius ceased his incessant chirping. The man looked down at Sen, seeming only to notice him for the first time.

    “Where am I?” he asked.

    Sen took a few moments to answer this.

    “You’re in a tree,” he deadpanned.

    The man seemed to consider this. “Oh,” he said. His brow creased in confusion.

    “Why am I in a tree?” he asked Sen.

    “I don’t bloody know!” Sen exploded, causing him to flinch. “I came out of my tent this morning and found you sitting up there asleep, I woke you up and you started screaming your head off!”

    The man looked thoughtful. “Oh,” he said again.

    There was a pause.

    “Would you ... would you like to come down from the tree, now?” Sen asked.

    The man once again looked lost in thought. He glanced furtively at Sen. “Do you think it’s safe?” he asked.

    “Safer than being in a bloody tree, I’d imagine.”

    The man nodded. “You’re probably right.”

    He shifted his weight on the branch, and suddenly slid to one side, almost falling. Sen’s stomach rolled over, but the man grabbed the tree trunk with his hands, steadying himself.

    “Whoa, okay, wait there!” Sen called out. “Don’t ... just, don’t move, I’ll come up and help you.”

    This ought to be funny, Sen thought with a sense of dread as he approached the base of the trunk. You’ve never climbed a tree in your life, not even as a kid! You’ll get both of you killed!

    Nonetheless, he placed his foot against the bottom of the trunk and hoisted himself up, finding hand-holds in the knots and hollows of the trunk. Hey, this is easy! he thought as he clambered up the trunk and towards the lower branches. He began to enjoy himself slightly, humming the Spider-Man theme song inside his head, while Celsius looked anxiously up at him from the ground. Evidently he had less confidence in his trainer’s arboreal dexterity.

    He eventually reached the branch where the man was precariously positioned.

    “Hi,” he said, extending his hand which the man tentatively shook, “I’m Sen.”

    “Bryson,” the man replied, “nice to meet you.”

    “Okay, Bryson,” Sen said, “let’s see if we can get you out of this tree the less fast and painful way. Okay, grab the trunk with your hands, like this ... uh huh, and swing that leg around, now place your hand here, on the branch, wait, wait! Not too quick ... take your time ... okay, here, I’ll take this backpack.... GOD, that’s heavy... okay, right, let’s go down, slowly, slowly...”

    With Bryson’s backpack weighing him down, Sen carefully and slowly helped the man progress down the tree trunk, until, at last, both of them exhausted, they reached the ground. Bryson collapsed, panting heavily, while Sen gratefully dropped his backpack as Celsius rushed over to welcome them back to terra firma with excited chirps.

    “Thanks,” Bryson panted, “I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t come along.”

    “What were you doing in a tree, anyway?” Sen asked. “There was a storm last night, wind, rain, even lightning. Halfway up a bloody big tree isn’t the place I’d choose to be in weather like that.”

    Bryson looked confused. “I ... I don’t remember,” he said, half to himself, wondering at his own inability to account for his actions. He looked at Sen as though he might have some answer. “I have no idea why I was in that tree, most of last night is a complete blank to me.”

    “What about your clothes?” Sen said, nodding towards Bryson’s mud- stained shirtfront. “And your backpack? How’d you get in such a mess? Did you fall or something?”

    Again, Bryson seemed almost angry at that he was drawing a blank. “I have no recollection of that,” he said. “I suppose I must have.”

    “So, what were you doing out here in the first place?” Sen asked.

    “Oh, I’m a hiker,” Bryson replied. “I live in Lammergeyer Peak, not too far from here. I like to go for walks in the hills and forests sometimes, it’s very relaxing. Helps me get rid of my stress.” He grinned sheepishly. “First time I’ve woken up in a tree, though, I must say.”

    Sen laughed. “Well, it’ll make an interesting story to tell, at least.”

    Bryson smiled, then noticed Celsius standing in front of him, apparently for the first time. He suddenly looked a bit embarrassed, and glanced sharply at Sen.

    “What about you?” he asked. He nodded towards the Torchic. “You a Pokémon trainer?”

    “Yup,” Sen said with pride, “I’m a Pokémon trainer.” He just about managed to stifle an inane giggle, so good did those words sound to his ears. “This is my Pokémon, Celsius, and we’re on our way to Lammergeyer Peak to challenge our first Gym,” he added.

    “Chic,” Celsius chipped in helpfully.

    Something seemed to have changed in Bryson’s demeanour, but Sen was at a lost to pinpoint its exact nature. “Nice,” he said, giving Celsius a small wave.

    “So, are you feeling okay now?” Sen asked.

    “Oh yes, much better, thanks,” Bryson said, heaving himself to his feat and wiping dirt away from the seat of his trousers. “Really, thanks a lot for your help.”

    Perhaps it was his recent heroics, or the peculiarity of Bryson’s predicament, or simply his sense of pre-Gym buoyancy, but Sen was feeling unusually gregarious, and felt he could use a travelling companion, since they were both probably heading in the same direction.

    “You must be hungry,” Sen said. “I’ve got some food in the tent, not much, just the bare essentials, but if you’re into canned tuna and dry biscuits...” he raised his eyebrows in invitation.

    “Actually,” Bryson said, “I am hungry, but I won’t take your food. Here,” he said, reaching for his backpack and hefting it over, “I’ve got some food in here that’s MUCH nicer than canned tuna and dry biscuits.” He began rifling through the bag’s contents, before producing some white triangles wrapped in cling-film which he presented to Sen with a smile.

    “How d’you feel about peanut butter?” Bryson asked.

    Sen’s grin was answer enough.


    ~4~

    Victory was almost hers. It usually was.

    Here, in a dark part of the forest, visibility was poor. But for someone with her tracking skills, honed for many years in such an environment, that was no problem. She’d followed her quarry persistently over quite some distance, always overcoming the attempts it had made to throw her off course. Eventually, she’d caught up with her prey, and now it was a fight to the finish.

    “Axo, use Tackle!” Celeste cried.

    “Woop!” the Pokémon responded obediently, and flung itself headfirst at the Shroomish before it. There was a mighty thunk as the small mushroom Pokémon was knocked backwards off its feet.

    Celeste’s Wooper staggered back from the blow wearing a dazed expression. It wobbled slightly, before falling onto its back, its eyes closed. It began to snore lightly.

    Crap, Celeste thought, forgot about Shroomish’s spores. There’s a FullHeal wasted. It served her right for trying to show off; she should have respected the type disadvantage and not used her Water/Ground Pokémon against a Grass-type opponent. This had restricted her to using physical attacks, which exposed Axo to Shroomish’s debilitating spores. She recalled the Pokémon, and as the Shroomish got back to its feet she sent out another.

    “Go, Scarab!” she called as the ball opened and in a burst of white light her Nincada appeared. The mole cricket would fare much better against Shroomish than her Wooper had, but, as she had been caught much more recently and was necessarily much less experienced in battle, Celeste was always still reluctant to rely on her too much.

    “Scarab, Fury Swipes!” Celeste ordered. The little bug Pokémon was slow, but from the way she brandished her digging claws the Shroomish was still reluctant to come within range.

    Having no other option, it tackled Scarab, hard. She recovered well from the blow, landing three swipes of her claws on the Shroomish in quick succession, sending it reeling backwards.

    Celeste, seeing her opportunity, brandished an empty Pokéball and tossed it at the Shroomish. It hit, opened, and sucked the Pokémon inside.

    The ball wobbled and shook for a few tense moments as the Shroomish gave one final test to the trainer’s abilities. If the Pokémon’s strength had been sufficiently used up in the battle, it would submit to the capture and accept the trainer as worthy of owning it.

    Finally, the ball was still.

    “Yes!” Celeste cried, pumping the air. She reached down and picked up her Nincada, cuddling Scarab close and not caring how much dirt the Pokémon’s mucky exoskeleton got on her clothes. “Well done, Scarab!” she said. The Pokémon was silent, but waggled its antennae in a fairly pleased manner.

    She picked up the ball containing her new Pokémon and held it up to the light for her and Scarab to behold. “What’ll we call him?” she asked the Nincada. “How about ... hmmm.... Bellamy? That’s a nice name, huh? Yeah,” she said with conviction, holding the ball out before her, “Come on out, Bellamy!” The ball opened in her hand and the Shroomish materialised before her on the ground, looking slightly exhausted after its battle but nonetheless rather pleased.

    Celeste placed Scarab on the ground to introduce them. “Bellamy, this is Scarab,” she said. “You two play nice while I get you a pick-me- up, and a FullHeal for Axo.”

    As Celeste rooted around in her backpack the two Pokémon looked at each other. “Mish,” Bellamy said. Scarab responded with a friendly antenna-waggle.

    Having tracked the Shroomish all day, she was beginning to wonder whether it actually wanted to be caught. It was of course possible to force Pokémon into a Pokéball, especially smaller, weaker Pokémon like Shroomish, but Celeste was not in that habit. Nonetheless, she wanted to be sure, so, when she eventually caught up with the Pokémon, she made her intentions perfectly clear. To her surprise, the Pokémon had accepted the battle, and in fact had thrown itself into the fray with a palpable sense of enjoyment. It evidently liked battling. Just the sort of Pokémon Celeste wanted on her team.

    Why, then, had it spent so long avoiding her?

    Perhaps, she thought as she finally found a FullHeal and potion, it hadn’t been avoiding her, but another creature that was following a similar path? Pokémon, like most animals, were sensitive to the presence of predators, especially larger ones. The thought was not an especially pleasing one – the last thing Celeste wanted to do was to run into an angry Ursaring, or something equally unpleasant.

    She squirted the Shroomish with the potion spray, a temporary energy- boost not unlike the effect caffeine had on humans, which would tide him over until he could have a more satisfying rest at a Pokémon Centre. Bellamy closed his eyes and made murmurs of approval, evidently enjoying the sensation. Celeste grinned; it was not surprising that the Shroomish wanted to join forces with her. People could wax lyrical about freedom and romanticise wild Pokémon’s existences all they wanted, but the fact was, life in the wild was hard. Constantly fending for yourself, trying to avoid predators – that took its toll on wild Pokémon. The woods were not the verdant and peaceful Eden which some people imagined. That was why Celeste made a point of capturing promising wild Pokémon, and giving them the opportunity – if they desired – to be healthy, well cared for and loved creatures, trained in the science of Pokémon battling.

    Given the choice, she knew which life she’d pick.

    As Bellamy enjoyed his first experience of being a trainer’s Pokémon, Celeste produced Axo’s Pokéball and once again released the slumbering Wooper. She applied one of the FullHeal wipes to his face and chest. Not unlike a moist toilette, these wondrous pieces of technology would clear away the debilitating spores that were causing Axo’s current condition, and then the healing lotion would seep into his skin, refreshing him. She wiped him down and sat back, waiting for the lotion to work its wonders.

    It was as she sat back that Celeste suddenly noticed how quiet the forest had become.

    She’d been walking in the woods all day, after disembarking the bus out of Peregrine City the previous night. The City had begun to lose its charms, as had the many new trainers she’d at first been eager to meet and battle. One, in particular, had caused Celeste an unusual amount of irritation – Sen, that arrogant rich kid who couldn’t even control his own Torchic. After meeting him, Celeste was anxious to leave the City and its people far behind, and be out in the woods again, just her and her Pokémon. If she was honest, she was also slightly disappointed in herself at being defeated by Sen’s Torchic, even if the trainer himself had had no part in the victory. She had underestimated him, true, but the Torchic had been a strong and determined Pokémon – exactly the kind of Pokémon Celeste would have liked for herself. It was a shame the thing had ended up with such an unsuitable trainer. She hoped, when Sen decided he didn’t want to be a Pokémon trainer after all and returned home to his mummy and daddy, that the Torchic at least would be passed on to another trainer who would let it fulfil its potential.

    Still, in all her time in the woods, she’d been able to hear something. Birds twittering, animals crashing through the undergrowth to get out of her way, and on one occasion a pair of Spearow viciously and vociferously defending their nest from a marauding Murkrow. Now, all was deathly silent. Even the wind seemed stilled.

    This, coupled with her thoughts about why the Shroomish had taken so long to find, suggested only one thing to Celeste: a Pokémon in the area. A big one.

    A dangerous one.

    Axo, revived from the effects of Bellamy’s spores, sat up and noticed the calm too. Scarab’s antenna had ceased their usual amiable dance, and Bellamy looked rather anxious.

    “It’s okay,” Celeste whispered to him, getting quietly up off the ground, “I know. We’re going.”

    She returned the three Pokémon to their balls and hoisted her backpack onto her shoulders, trying to be as silent as possible.

    She heard a light crash to her left, and spun her head in that direction. Something had just blown its cover. And from the noise it had made, it was large. Celeste faced the direction of the noise, looking into the shadows between two trees and trying to make out the shape there. She couldn’t be sure if she was seeing anything, or if her eyes were simply playing tricks on her, but she definitely thought there was a presence. And it was watching her.

    “Whoever, or whatever, you are,” Celeste said, trying to keep her voice neutral, neither intimidated nor intimidating, “I just want to tell you that I’m not looking to cause any disturbance to you or your children, or your home, nor am I a threat.” She paused. She reached down, felt for one of the Pokéballs on the belt around her waist, and brought it up to what she thought would be full view for whatever was between the trees. “But I wouldn’t mess with me, either,” she said.

    Silence. Then – a crashing sound, something was definitely moving. Celeste followed the sound as it moved in a semi-circle around her, always staying just out of sight.

    Then, the crashing sound began to grow more distant. It sounded farther and farther away. Eventually, it could not be heard at all.

    After some time, Celeste began to hear tentative birdsong.

    She heaved a sigh of relief, and only then realised how tense she’d been. A pulse was beating fast in her neck, and sweat soaked the small of her back.

    She decided to continue on, before whatever it was came back. As she walked briskly, she began to whistle a cheerful tune, her good mood once again restored.

    The whistle died on her lips as something caught her eye on the ground before her.

    Celeste scrambled forward and bent down to her knees. She stared at the mark on the ground, unable to believe her eyes. Excitement coursed through her body like electricity.

    Before her eyes was a footprint. A very distinctive footprint. Only one creature made a print like that, and Celeste knew what it was. What it had to be.

    As she progressed further through the woods, she did not whistle. Her pace was slowed, and her eyes were peeled, taking in every bent grass blade and disturbed twig.

    The hunt, once again, was on.


    ~5~

    Sen hadn’t realised how hungry he was until he’d taken the first tentative bite of the sandwich. Suddenly he seemed ravenous, and had eaten three of them before he even realised it. He’d never been much of a fan of peanut butter, but with just two days of surviving on sad little tins of food that were easy to carry and horrible to eat, he discovered his taste was becoming less fussy.

    Celsius, having exhausted the local supply of the small red berries he’d been eating, sat at Sen’s feet and pecked curiously at the piece of sandwich Sen tore off and threw to him. He seemed still to be rather wary of Bryson, always watching closely every time the large hiker reached into his backpack for another sandwich.

    Their impromptu lunch finished, Sen began fiddling around with his Pokédex, whose functions he had yet to fully master.

    “Nice machine,” Bryson said, indicating the dex with a nod of his head.

    “Yeah,” Sen murmured, “bloody complicated, though. I still haven’t figured it all out.” He sighed in frustration. “I’m trying to find Torchic’s entry, see if it says anything about why he’s eating so many of those berries.”

    “Here, let me see,” Bryson said. He took the device from Sen’s hand and began manipulating it expertly, flicking through menus at a speed Sen could not follow. For a hiker, Sen thought, this guy sure knows a lot about Pokédexes. Eventually he found Torchic’s entry, and presented it to Sen with a small smirk.

    “Thanks,” Sen said, still slightly perplexed.

    “You can use it to tell your Torchic’s gender, too,” Bryson said. He paused. “Although, some people prefer not to know. D’you want to know?”

    “Yeah, go ahead,” Sen said, once again helplessly handing over the device to Bryson. This time, however, the hiker simply pointed it at Celsius and held it there for a few seconds before giving it back to Sen.

    A small blue Mars sign was flashing in the left hand corner of the screen by the photo accompanying Torchic’s entry. “Male,” Sen said.

    Bryson nodded. “Starter Pokémon usually are,” he said. “They can control the gender ratio of a clutch of eggs by controlling which temperature they’re incubated at. Just like with crocodiles. Since most young trainers are males, they figure they’ll want male starters, so they breed more of those.” He shook his head derisively. “Marketing,” he said with disapproval.

    Sen was busy reading the entry for Torchic, scanning the chapters on care and behaviour for any clues about why Celsius was binging on those red berries.

    “... Torchic are certainly the most affectionate of starter Pokémon,” the dex read. “During the first few months of a wild Torchic’s birth, they have not yet mastered their fire-breathing abilities, and are therefore defenceless against predators. They stick close to their parents and siblings, forming close familial bonds that last a lifetime. It is this sense of loyalty that makes Torchic a popular starter Pokémon, for they show the same degree of affection for their human trainers. They can, however, become jealous of other humans and Pokémon interacting with the trainer. A Torchic that is not taught early on that its trainer’s attention will be divided between it and at last five other Pokémon can have problems further down the line when...”

    Blah, blah, blah! Sen thought. Get to the point!

    But the dex merely waffled on in a similar manner about Torchic’s behaviour patterns and distribution in the wild, none of it appearing very useful to his current situation. He switched the Pokédex off in disgust and looked over at Bryson curiously.

    “Say,” Sen said, “are you sure you’re just a hiker?”

    Bryson started, and couldn’t appear to look him in the eye.

    “Because you seem to know an awful lot about Pokémon for someone who’s just a hiker,” Sen pressed on.

    “My dad was a trainer,” Bryson said. “He... uh... used to talk about Pokémon training a lot. That’s all.”

    Sen was about to continue, when Bryson suddenly held up his hand, silencing him.

    “Hey,” he whispered, “did you hear that?”

    Sen listened for a moment. “Hear what?” he hissed back.

    Bryson waved his hand sharply again, listening. He got up off the boulder he had been sitting on and walked towards the edge of the woods, all the while cocking his ear.

    “I thought I heard something,” he whispered. “In the trees. A branch cracking.”

    “I don’t hear anything,” Sen hissed, slightly louder.

    “Exactly!” Bryson said, turning around and waving his arms. “The birds, the animals, everything! It’s all stopped! I can’t hear a thing!”

    Sen listened a moment and discovered he was right. The woods were utterly silent. The ambient sounds of birds twittering had gone unnoticed by him – until they stopped.

    “What do you suppose it-” Sen began, and that’s when he saw something emerge from the woods behind Bryson.

    Sen leapt to his feet, eyes wide, as Bryson caught his expression and spun around on his heel to see what emerged from the woods. Celsius stood between Sen and the emerging figure, crying “Chic!” aggressively and evidently ready to do battle.

    He was expecting a grumpy Ursaring, a rabid Linoone, even the dreaded Houndoom from Peregrine City – but he was not expecting this.

    What emerged from the trees as infinitely worse than any of those things.

    “Oh, great,” Sen said when he saw the figure standing before him.

    “Hello, Sen,” Celeste replied, smiling thinly.

    Bryson looked between Celeste and Sen, and somehow sensed that the tension had not fully one out of the situation.

    “You two know each other?” he asked.


    ~6~

    Whoever this girl was – it WAS a girl, wasn’t it? – Bryson was relieved for the distraction. Sen had come uncomfortably close to getting the truth out of him for a moment there, but a fortuitous intervention by this other trainer had saved the day. For now, at least. He felt like such a coward. Why hadn’t he just told Sen the truth from the start? Now he would look completely ridiculous when it did come out, as it surely must.

    Must it, though? There was always the chance Sen didn’t have to find out at all; and that, therefore, the people of Lammergeyer Peak wouldn’t find out either. He clung onto that hope fiercely.

    There was a frost-laden silence between the two trainers as they stared at each other for a while. It was eventually broken by Celeste.

    “So,” she said, “you made it this far. I have to say I’m surprised.”

    “Why?” Sen responded. “I beat you last time, didn’t I? Don’t tell me you have a rival complex – I’m not going to have to listen to you crow about how wonderful you are every time I beat you in battle, am I?”

    Bryson saw Celeste’s left eye twitch violently, and her hands balled into fists by her sides. He thought Sen should probably shut his mouth.

    “You didn’t beat me last time,” she said evenly through gritted teeth. “Your Pokémon beat mine, yeah, but you had no part in it. It wasn’t listening to you. And I let you off on a type advantage,” she added.

    She looked down at Celsius, who was standing protectively in front of Sen and glaring at her. She raised her eyebrows. “Although it looks like he’s listening to you now. More’s the pity for him.”

    Sen opened his mouth to respond, but Bryson interjected himself between the two trainers before it descended to the level of hair-pulling. He offered Celeste his hand. “Hi!” he said cheerily, “I’m Bryson, pleased to meet you. Care to join us for a bit of lunch?”

    Celeste looked at Bryson in confusion as he vigorously shook her hand. Her attention had previously been focused on Sen, and she was only now noticing his existence. “Um, no thanks,” she said.

    “Ah, come on!” Bryson said. “I have peanut butter sandwiches, oh, and some chocolate! Hang on, just let me look.” He smiled brightly and hustled over to his backpack.

    He began rummaging through its contents, sure he had some sandwiches left over. He heard snatches of their conversation continuing behind him.

    Celeste: “How many Pokémon ya caught?”

    A pause. Sen, grudgingly: “One.”

    Celeste laughed. “What is it?”

    A bigger pause. Sen, even more grudgingly: “A Kakuna.”

    Celeste’s laugh sounded a lot less forced this time. “Oh, that’s priceless,” she said.

    “Oh yeah?” Sen retorted angrily, “How many have you caught?”

    “Three,” Celeste responded immediately. “As well as the Wooper you saw, I just caught a Shroomish. I have a Nincada, and a-”

    “Found them, guys!” Bryson called, waving a block of clingfilm- wrapped sandwiches over his head. He emerged from the recesses of his backpack grinning.

    The grin suddenly froze on his face, and withered.

    Oh my God, he thought.

    There it was. Standing right before him. It had found him. It hadn’t been stalking around in the woods, it hadn’t crept up on them. It had just walked out of the trees and was now standing not ten feet away, in plain daylight. And it saw him.

    The events of the previous night came rushing back to him. The storm. He’d sought shelter. A cave. Dark. Something moving in there, waking up. It had chased him, chased him out into the rain, and pursued him for ages. His terror and panic had disorientated him, he’d gotten lost. The rain, the lightning, and all the while the sounds of it shambling through the woods behind him. Never giving up. Always there. He’d thought he’d lost it, and he’d stood in a clearing, desperately trying to ring for help on his cell phone, even though no help would be able to get to him, certainly not in such a storm. And then it had burst from the trees once more, uttering that horrible, horrible shrieking cry, chasing him, grabbing his backpack, ripping one of the straps off as it tried to get at him. He’d fallen, and somehow rolled, felt it grabbing for him. He’d reached a tree, and he remembered blind, blind adrenaline-fuelled panic as he scaled it, going as high as he could, hearing the creature’s frustrated cries growing ever more distant.

    He’d passed out in the tree, feeling safe.

    But now here it was. He wasn’t safe anymore.

    He heard Celeste and Sen continuing to argue behind him, oblivious to the apparition from his nightmares that had just walked back into his life.

    His eyes trawled up its obscenely-shaped body to its small, furious eyes.

    A smirk broke out on its face, and it waved its arms in predatorial excitement. It opened its mouth and uttered that same horrendous, blood- curdling battle cry that he would hear over and over in his nightmares for the rest of his life.

    “CHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANSEEEEEEYYYYY!” it screamed.


    ~7~

    The two trainers’ heads snapped in the direction of the Pokémon’s cry.

    Is that a CHANSEY? Sen’s thought in wonder. There was usually no mistaking the large, pink, egg-shaped Pokémon – yet somehow his mind refused to accept the creature standing before him. For one, Chansey were domestic Pokémon. You rarely saw them out wandering through the forests like any old Zigzagoon or Taillow. Chansey’s maternal, caring natures meant they were most often seen in Pokémon Centres working alongside the staff to help sick Pokémon get better. The only really ‘wild’ Chansey you saw were the ones roaming the Safari Zone.

    Secondly, this Chansey’s skin was not the customary light pink, but a much darker purple colour, like an overgrown Ribina berry.

    And finally, the Pokémon was almost six feet tall – much larger than the fairly short egg-shaped nurses Sen had seen wandering about Pokémon Centres on television.

    “Do you SEE that?” he asked Celeste.

    Celeste, staring raptly, didn’t hear him. Thoughts had simultaneously been running through her own head.

    I was right! she thought, remembering the characteristically long, digit-less footprint she’d seen in the woods. She hadn’t allowed herself to think that something as unlikely as a wild Chansey had been walking the forest – it had to belong to another trainer, or maybe the footprint had been that of another Pokémon which had been distorted. But now the Pokémon was standing before her, in the flesh, and not only was it a Chansey, but it was an unusually-coloured, unnaturally big specimen, too. How lucky was THAT?

    While Sen continued to gape, Celeste plucked a Pokéball from her waist and tossed it into the air.

    “Go, Dynamo!” she cried.

    The ball opened and a burst of white light materialised into Celeste’s Mareep. The Pokémon announced its presence with a baa, before looking down with distaste at the dirty ground touching her fleece. The Mareep’s unwillingness to expose herself to the elements meant Celeste had been unable to rely on her for her entire passage through the woods, but right now she needed her to battle.

    “Dynamo, Thunder Wave!” she ordered.

    The Mareep seemed to resign itself to getting dirty, before closing its eyes. Its fleece began to crackle, and small bursts of yellow electricity jumped across the soft wool.

    “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” Sen protested. “Who says you get to capture it?!”

    “I do!” Celeste responded. “Dynamo, aim your Thunder Wave at that Chansey!”

    “No!” Sen said.

    The Mareep raised her head and was just about to unleash a paralysing wave of electricity when, from nowhere, Celsius barrelled head-first into her side. The Mareep cried out and lost her concentration, the Thunder Wave she had been building dissipated into the atmosphere as she was knocked aside and rolled over, eventually stopping dazed, dirty and annoyed.

    “Tor!” Celsius cried triumphantly, happy to have entered the fray.

    “SEN!” Celeste bellowed, turning angrily to him. “Get lost!”

    “No way!” Sen said. “That’s a rare Pokémon – rarer than any of its rare kind – and I want to capture it!”

    “Stop saying ‘rare’ and butt out!”

    “No!”

    “Yes!”

    “NO!”

    “RGH!” Celeste cried in frustration, and gave Sen a shove. He went sprawling onto his backside in the dirt.

    “I’m not going to FIGHT you, you moron,” Sen said, getting back to his feet and dusting off the seat of his trousers.

    “Why not?” Celeste demanded.

    “Because it’s wrong to hit girls!” Sen cried.

    “That’s not going to stop me!” Celeste responded, and shoved him again. This time Sen caught hold of her sleeve and dragged her down with him, and they rolled in the dirt, scratching, kicking, biting and shouting obscenities as their two Pokémon looked on in disbelief.

    While this other drama played out, the large purple Chansey was advancing on a cowering Bryson.

    “Please,” he whimpered, holding the sandwiches before him like a shield, “please don’t hurt me!”

    The Chansey’s shadow swallowed him, and he closed his eyes, waiting for the end.

    “Fag!” Celeste yelled behind him.

    “Hag!” Sen shouted back.

    Suddenly, Bryson felt the sun on his face again. Cautiously, he opened his eyes. The Chansey was gone. So were the sandwiches.

    He looked around. No sign of the purple menace.

    He collapsed onto his side on the ground, whimpering helplessly and offering his thanks to numerous deities as Celeste and Sen continued to roll around behind him.

    He’d escaped. Again.


    ~8~

    Ten minutes later, his heart was back under control, and he was helping Sen apply a sticking plaster to a nasty scratch over his eyebrow.

    “Ow!” Sen cried, and swatted Bryson’s hand. “Be careful!”

    “Don’t be such a baby,” Celeste muttered. She pointed to the pair of diagonal red lines raked across her cheek. “Look what you did to me, and I’m not complaining. By the way, you fight like a girl.”

    “And you walk like a man,” Sen muttered.

    Bryson stood back and surveyed the combatants. Sen was looking over the streaks of muck and tears on his clothing with dismay, while Celeste flicked through his Pokédex. Celsius and Dynamo sat companionably side by side and watched their trainers with interest.

    “Hey, what d’you think you’re doing?” Sen demanded, noticing Celeste with his Pokédex.

    “I’m looking up Chansey’s entry,” Celeste responded.

    “It’s MY dex,” Sen said, “I should be the one to look it up!”

    Celeste didn’t even look up from the device’s screen. “Do you know how?” she politely enquired.

    Sen appeared flustered. “Just don’t break it,” he muttered, and went over to his tent.

    “Ah, here we go,” Celeste said after some moments. She read aloud from the dex’s entry. “Chansey. One of the few female-only Pokémon, Chansey reproduce by parenthegis...”

    “Parthenogenesis,” Sen took satisfaction in correcting.

    “Whatever,” Celeste said. “they are highly social animals, and suffer when not in contact with members of their own species. This, coupled with their innate sensitivity and caring natures, make them ideally suited to working alongside humans in Pokémon Centres.”

    Bryson scoffed. “Caring natures?” he asked. “You didn’t see the way that thing came at me last night. It was murderous, I tell you.”

    “Ah!” Celeste said, reading something on the screen, “I knew it!”

    “What?” Sen asked as he tried without success to collapse his tent.

    Celeste looked up, smirking. “Didn’t you notice anything unusual about that Chansey?” she asked.

    “Everything was unusual about it,” Sen said. “It was six feet tall and purple, for god’s sakes!”

    “I mean besides that,” Celeste said. She waited patiently, but Sen said nothing.

    “Something missing?” she prompted. “Like, an egg?”

    Sen slapped his forehead. “Dammit!” he said, and kicked the ground.

    Bryson hadn’t noticed it either until Celeste had brought it up. The Chansey’s ovipouch on the front of its belly had been completely empty. Of course, he might have noticed it had the Pokémon not been trying to kill him.

    “Like domestic chickens, Chansey bear eggs all year round,” Celeste resumed reading. “It is only at a certain time of the year, when conditions are right, that these eggs are fertile and will hatch into young Chansey. The rest of the year, they are used by Chansey as a food source for other injured animals. The eggs have a peculiar health-restorative property that works wonders on humans, animals and Pokémon, and Chansey will always freely give up their egg to another creature in need.

    “However, the quality of the eggs are indicative of the Chansey’s wellbeing. Without their highly specialised diets being adequately catered for in captivity by human carers, Chansey will produce bitter, foul- smelling and discoloured eggs, or, in extreme cases, no eggs at all. Stress, as well as diet, is also a cause of this.

    “That’s it!” Celeste said, jumping to her feet in excitement. “I was right!”

    “About what?” Sen asked in confusion.

    She continued enthusiastically, “Chansey are rare for a very important reason: they’re good at taking care of others, but terrible at taking care of themselves. In the wild, without humans to prepare food for them, they’re poor survivors. And that Chansey – mean-tempered and egg- less – is definitely a case of malnutrition if ever there was one.” She grinned. “That’s why I’m going to catch it and nurse it back to health.”

    She bent over and picked up her backpack as Sen came over, waving his arms in protest.

    “Wait a minute, wait a minute!” Sen said. “You don’t just get automatic dibs on a rare Pokémon like that, you know! We both saw it at the same time.”

    Celeste looked at him with irritation. “I was tracking it long before we saw it, Sen.”

    “So you say,” Sen said.

    “And even so – how are you going to catch it? It’s evidently a strong Pokémon. Are you going to use your puny Torchic? Your Kakuna?”

    Sen’s face flushed with anger. “My Pokémon are-”

    “Even if you did catch it,” Celeste went on, more soothingly, “it’s a tough Pokémon to take care of. It’s sick. It needs help, nurturing back to health. Do you really think you’re capable of that?”

    “Of course I am!” Sen blurted.

    Celeste looked at him for a long moment.

    “Then you’re an even bigger idiot than I thought,” she said, and began walking away. Dynamo trotted after her.

    “Just you wait!” Sen yelled. “I’ll find it, and capture it, and take care of it!”

    Celeste gave him a dismissive wave over her shoulder and continued walking without turning back. Soon she was out of sight.

    “That arrogant COW!” Sen spat bitterly. “We’ll show her, won’t we, Cel?”

    The Torchic chirruped in agreement.

    Sen reached for his Pokéballs and returned Celsius and Bombus to them. “Bryson,” he said, “are you coming with me?”

    The hiker was kneeling by his backpack. Two rounds of thick white bread were placed on a piece of cling film before him, and he was applying a layer of peanut butter with a knife from the jar beside him.

    “I don’t know,” Bryson said thoughtfully, licking a smear of peanut butter from his thumb, “Celeste has a point, Sen. She does seem best qualified to take care of it. Do you really know what you’re doing here?”

    Sen didn’t reply, because a thought had suddenly struck him. A revelation.

    He stared at the jar of peanut butter placed on a rock beside Bryson. He thought about how Bryson had told them the Chansey had ripped off his backpack. He thought about what had been in the backpack. He thought about how the Chansey had left them alone once it had gotten its hands on Bryson’s sandwiches.

    A grin broke out on Sen’s face.

    “Oh, Celeste,” he whispered to himself, and added in a delighted sing- song: “I-know-something-you-don’t-knowww!”



    ~9~

    Tracking wasn’t difficult. She just followed the silence.

    Sen was an idiot. She had to capture this Pokémon, if only to protect it from him – not that she thought he was capable of the capture. Chansey were tough Pokémon, and although this one was malnourished and in poor physical condition, she didn’t doubt it would still be a formidable opponent. She had passed a few uprooted trees as she followed its trail, and she somehow doubted they had simply keeled over of their own accord.

    She was deeply excited. She loved all of her Pokémon, and was particularly proud of her ability to take any creature and raise it to be the best it could, but this was different. Axo, Scarab, Dynamo, Bellamy – they had all just been regular Pokémon, nothing especially strong or special about them, until Celeste had taken them on and they had become battling machines. She had unlocked their potential. Trainers who talked about capturing strong Pokémon were fools – strong Pokémon weren’t caught, they were trained.

    But this Chansey – such a magnificent beast was something else. Celeste was not one to be easily swayed by unusually-coloured Pokémon – they went down in battle just as easily as anything else, in her opinion – but she had to admit finding a rare, powerful AND unusually-coloured Pokémon sent a thrill through her body. This was the stuff of which legends were made. She wouldn’t just be Celeste, the Pokémon trainer anymore – she would be Celeste, the Pokémon trainer with that awesome purple Chansey.

    She thought she was catching up on the Pokémon now, and hid behind a tree. She peered around its trunk, and caught a glimpse of dark purple hide.

    “Yes,” she whispered, almost inaudibly.

    She observed the Pokémon stealthily. It was pulling at the block of sandwiches it had taken from Bryson, its digit-less, stubby forearms unable to unwrap them. It put them into its mouth and tugged, but, lacking teeth, this was equally futile. Celeste felt sorry for the Pokémon. Once it was hers, she would feed it properly, and this miserable existence would be but a distant memory.

    Steeling herself for battle, Celeste stepped out from behind the tree.

    “Hey,” she said, and instantly knew it was a mistake.

    The Chansey dropped the sandwiches and spun around to face her, eyes blazing. Evidently it thought Celeste had pursued it to take back its prize.

    Celeste held up her hands. “I’m not after those,” she said. “I’m a trainer, see?” She raised a Pokéball. “I thought you might want to-”

    “CHAAAAAAAAAAANSEEEEEEYYYYYYYYYY!” the Pokémon bellowed, and Celeste staggered back. At such close range, its Amazonian battle-cry was unbearable. Her ear-drums rang, and she felt the beginnings of a headache.

    “I just wanted to-” she began again, and that was when it attacked.

    Despite their formidable presence, Chansey were usually poor physical attackers, and most of those trained for battles used special attacks like Psychic, or Thunderbolt, or even Ice Beam. They were mostly built for that, or stalling with Toxic and using their own enormous bulk in conjunction with abilities like Rest and Softboiled to absorb attacks until the opponent was exhausted.

    Nobody seemed to have informed this Chansey of such limitations.

    The Pokémon launched itself off its feet at Celeste, and hit her full- force with its stomach. The Chansey looked like a large soft marshmallow, but its weight alone sent Celeste flying off her feet and sprawling onto her back in the dirt.

    Her head spun.

    Wow, she thought, I’ve been a trainer for so long, and now I finally understand what it’s like to be Body Slammed.

    The Chansey stood over her, as if deciding what to do. It decided to screech its name again, and the sound shook the walls of Celeste’s skull. She felt sick.

    So that’s what it’s like to experience Supersonic, she thought, clutching her temples.

    Her body ached, her head pounded, and she couldn’t find the energy to even reach for a Pokéball and attempt to defend herself. She lay back on the ground and waited for consciousness to depart, perhaps forever.

    She must have passed out, and entered some weird dream, because suddenly she could hear Sen’s voice.

    She pushed herself up on her elbow, and her swimming, blurring vision made out the large purple bulk of the Chansey looming over Sen. He was standing between her and the Pokémon. There was something in his hand, a small jar of something. The Pokémon was looking at him, listening to what he was saying. Celeste’s ears, still in shock from the Supersonic, couldn’t make out any of the words.

    Sen extended his hands towards the Pokémon and opened the jar before it. It leaned over the jar with what would have been its nose, had any physical presence of such an organ been visible. The Chansey’s expression changed to – what? Gratitude? Pleasure? A slightly lower grade of anger than it had been at before?

    Slowly, Sen put the jar down on the ground and moved over towards the large block of sandwiches. He unwrapped them, and held one up in his hand before the Chansey.

    He produced a Pokéball in his other hand.

    The Chansey didn’t hesitate. It jumped forward and Sen’s hand holding the sandwich disappeared inside its mouth. It chewed for a while over his hand, before its toothless mouth pulled back, leaving a slimy covering of saliva over Sen’s fingers.

    Celeste’s ears were still ringing, but she thought she heard Sen utter a joyous laugh.

    Sen raised the Pokéball and seemed to hold his head at a questioning angle. The Chansey looked at him, and he seemed to read something in its expression, for he tossed the ball at it. The ball hit, opened, and sucked the large purple Chansey inside.

    As the ball dropped to the ground and Sen bent over to pick it up, Celeste’s energy finally gave out and she collapsed onto her back again.

    What a crazy dream, she thought, and then she passed out for a long time.


    ~10~

    It took them another day to get to Lammergeyer Peak.

    They mostly walked in silence, and for that Celeste was grateful. She tried to put as much distance as possible between herself and Sen. Ever since he had successfully captured the Chansey, his former icy demeanour had been replaced by a nauseating effusiveness that Celeste found hard to bear. She would simply have walked on and left them behind, but as they were all heading in the same direction it seemed a rather foolish thing to do. Besides, she didn’t want to appear a sore loser.

    She’d regained consciousness that day to find Bryson poking around inside her mouth with a handkerchief. Apparently, she’d vomited while unconscious – a sensation not uncommon for humans who experienced a point- blank range Supersonic. Sen had already been gloating over his new capture by that stage, whom he had released to introduce to his former Pokémon. The Torchic had looked with disdain, the Kakuna had retained its usual vacant expression, while the Chansey ignored them both and continued to stuff peanut butter sandwiches into its mouth.

    Celeste could’ve kicked herself. It was so obvious. For a Pokémon like Chansey, used to being cared for by people, the wild would be an awful place to live. They were extremely ill-equipped to prepare food for themselves. Something like Bryson’s peanut butter sandwiches – tasty, almost decadent, a savoury reminder of the delights of living with humans – would’ve been irresistible to a Chansey who had been stranded in the woods for so long.

    Which all begged the question – where had it come from? Celeste found she honestly didn’t care right now. She just felt sickened by the whole thing. Sen had actually managed to outwit her. The Chansey – whom he had finally christened “Gale” – had sworn its loyalty to him, at least for as long as he could supply peanut butter sandwiches.

    It doesn’t matter, Celeste thought as they finally neared the summit of Lammergeyer Peak, right here is the first Pokémon Gym. The first test. I’m ready for it, but somehow I don’t think Sen is.

    She suddenly stopped walking, realising Sen and Bryson had fallen behind. She looked over her shoulder.

    Sen was waiting for Bryson, who was standing reluctantly on the edge of the tiny town’s square. He was looking around nervously – Celeste had no idea why; it was late, and this tiny village up in the mountains had already shut down for the night.

    “What’re you waiting for?” Sen called out to the hiker. “C’mon, it’s late, I’m tired, we have to find a place to stay. I want to challenge the Gym Leader tomorrow.”

    Bryson seemed to squirm a bit at this.

    “What’s wrong?” Celeste asked.

    Bryson sighed heavily and approached them. He couldn’t seem to look them in the eye.

    “I really feel so embarrassed about this,” he said. “I know how pathetic it must look. I just ... in the circumstances we met, I didn’t feel I could tell you .... then I found out you’re both trainers, and I thought you’d find out anyway, so....”

    “So what?” Sen asked.

    Bryson raised his eyes and looked at them. Celeste thought she’d never seen anyone look so humiliated in her life.

    He pointed over their shoulder. Celeste and Sen both turned and followed the direction of his finger to a newsstand outside a small corner shop – its shutters were pulled and its light were out, but the street lamp alone illuminated the newspaper headline.

    “TOWN WELCOMES NEW GYM LEADER” the large print read. And below it, in an admittedly grainy picture, a jovial, jowly face was displayed. Bryson’s.

    “Bloody hell,” Sen said.
    Last edited by ChicRocketJames; 14th November 2004 at 01:12 PM.
    14/11/04 Chapter Three: A Walk In The Woods has been posted
    ~ Tangled Web ~
    "Your writing style is just incredible ... you, as a writer, are awesome."
    ~ PancaKe @ TPM
    "An original concept, intelligence, cynicism, an interesting and amoral protagonist, some great Pokemon action - damn, we don't get enough of this sort of Pokefic around here!"
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    ~ Cosmic Mewtwo @ FanFiction.Net

  11. #11
    A black and white world Blackjack Gabbiani's Avatar
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    Oh my. Loyalty for peanut butter, a reluctant GL, and a very interesting Chansey. I love it!

  12. #12
    Goronda Type Vice-Webmaster Evil Figment's Avatar Vice-Webmaster
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    This was quite the amusing chapter, full of spinning old clichés around.

    Great work
    Quote Originally Posted by Mintaka and Hurristat
    He's an evil director / He'll give out infractions / Do something wrong / And he takes direct actions
    Then what'll he do?/ He'll permaban you / You find your name slashed / With a message, 'Adieu'
    Sooooo...watch out!
    "It is said that the federal government, if it was in charge of the Sahara, would run out of sand in five years. Private enterprise, being more efficient, would do it in half the time - and they'd make money off the bridges." - me.
    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world." - Jack Layton's last letter. Rest in peace, Jack.

  13. #13
    Java Girl Barb's Avatar Retired Staff
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    I just discovered this story and I love it. And I used to bewail the lack of originality in Pokémon fanfics. Terrific story.

  14. #14
    Oh Snap! Gato Gurl914's Avatar
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    yay Trochic likes sen now! he caught a peanut butter loving chansey! post more soon i love it!

  15. #15
    ?Je§u$fRe@K* PancaKe's Avatar
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    I must say, I love this fic :) You know my thoughts on it from my posts at TPM, but I figured I'd post here and comment your work.

    I think that that chapter is awesome. Rereading over your earlier chapters makes me realize how things fit in during the later chapters, which is awesome. I can't see any evident plotholes, which is good, cuz plotholes suck. And my fic's are usually full of them. :P
    **PancaKe||
    Not trying to live like a christian
    tryin to live like Christ

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