MATURE: How to Conquer Kanto in Eight Easy Steps - Chapter 97

Discussion in 'Writers Workshop' started by AceTrainer14, Oct 5, 2010.

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  1. Life

    Life oh my

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    i can't believe it's mid-march wow i'm awful. sorrry this took so long for me to post! please feel free to ask any questions aha
    (also i've since edited this a bit from what was likely PMed to you because honestly some of the shit i wrote made no sense - sorry about that!)

    Post-awards review

    I've always felt like the plot is the story's strong suit. A grand save the world story that strives to deconstruct and look at common journey/writing tropes: so the question is how well is that done? We know that a key point of the plot is Alaska refusing to the be hero everyone wants her to be, yet there were a lot of instances where it feels like Alaska had learned she needed to embrace her role, yet she still doesn't, which really drags the plot/story. Having character development be the key part of a story is normal and all fine and dandy. But a 110+ chapter fanfic is much longer than an average story, and with it can cause serious problems in feeling like the story isn't progressing the way it should, or just becoming a bit of a drag to read.

    I will say however that other than that, I do think the plot is very-well constructed (all the trope-adressing aside) and has a good deal of foreshadowing, side-plots, plot-twists, etc. that really make it boom!

    As far as the setting goes, well, Kanto is... Kanto, but with a bloody past! This past isn't fully understood yet although I suspect that by the end of the story that'll change. The world is built up a good bit however I'm not sold that for a story that's been going on for essentially 100 chapters that the world is where it could be in terms of scale and realism. The physical setting itself is described well if but succinct, but in terms of atmosphere, sometimes the story just feels like a constant ball of tense one-liners from Alaska, creating for less diversity and tonal feel in the overall setting.

    The thing I like about 8ES characters is that not just the main characters get focus, but the side characters too that appear for even just an arc. It really goes a long way in making the story come to life and I appreciate that immensely because then I actually feel like I'm reading about real people in a real story lol. While for Alaska and Sandy, some of their key components were revealed after a long time coming, but the fact is that those components are here now and that makes them an interesting duo to watch.

    I understand there is a good deal of criticism around Alaska, but what I appreciate about her character is that it's written more for realism instead of the audience; she's 13 years old and is being told by adults that she has to save the world and how to do it. Any snarky 13-year-old on the brink of teenage rebellion and puberty would act her way lol, I'm not expecting anything different. Her development in the one particular area of realizing her role has gone on too long, I have to say though. I'm not really sure she needs so many events to decisively change her attitude though, if that makes sense.

    On a more positive note though, I've said this before but I'll say it again: something I really admire about your writing style is your ability to write prose that's simple and easy to read yet has a great air of maturity/complexity to it. You don't try to write in a style that doesn't need to be there; the story is told perfectly and the job is done quite well. There are still some technical issues in the story however, but I'm not super concerned about that.

    Character judging

    I feel like I said most of what I have to say about Alaska within the ideas above. However, I feel that my last two paragraphs I posted in the judging thread rang rather true for me still:

    In some ways, I wish there was more to Alaska. I know there have been snippets of what life was like before she left (and the updated beginning does a much better job now at painting us that picture), but for such a long story I strive for more.

    Paige!

    The most exciting element of Paige's character is her being upset with Alaska in the recent chapters, showing that even she isn't all that Alaska may have thought. It's definitely interesting, but how much impact it really has on either of their character's is questionable, especially because it's still a new occurrence. Otherwise, Paige isn't that deep as far as characters or Pokémon go, but she at least does have a personality.

    Outside of this, my two biggest critiques about Paige are that I wish we could see her as more than just another one of Alaska's pokémon. We know she's destined to have a big role in the final battle, but I feel like we never even see Paige outside of battle and as a reader it definitely makes me question what kind of relationship her and Alaska really have, and if it truly is all that good. I'd love to see her in more unique scenes to her character, and I think that would also go a long way in making her stand out more as well.

    Buzz !
    Aside from Buzz j being a general dick, I don't really know a lot about him aside from the fact that he has slick black hair and is really, really immature. We know his motivation & goal but as of know I'm pretty sure it's just to have power which isn't all that deep or original, but I don't think that's necessarily... necessary. He doesn't need a lot of depth or development to do the job of obstructing the protagonists, but that does admittedly makes him less of an admirable villain.

    As for as originality goes though, +points for the sheer amount of immaturity, honestly. Somehow that makes his character a little more bearable lol. Otherwise Buzz just kinda feels like your generic, power-hungry villain and again that's kinda hard to praise that. While he is a big pain for Alaska and co., it's unclear how big of a role he'll have endgame, so I don't want to get too hasty. But right now it the story I do question whether or not he can even be considered the story's protagonist.

    Overall, Buzz is stupid. Like, hilariously stupid. And he's, frankly, not all that compelling of a character nor that original/deep. However he doesn't need to be; he's presumably not the endgame villain and can still cause a lot of other issues for Alaska and Sandy. But although he does his job as an antagonist well, he's not a particularly ingenious antagonist


    again lemme know if you have any questions and i'll do my best at responding timely !!
     
  2. AceTrainer14

    AceTrainer14 The acest of trainers

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    Erotic Dream Sequence One: Dawn of Edgyness

    “Cunts,” Alaska snarled.

    “What?” Damian asked, looking up from his tower of waffles.

    “I said cunts!” Alaska repeated with heightened aggression. “Look at all of these people!” She pointed to the swarms of locals wandering past their café. It was a beautiful day, the sun shining brightly above them, the sea sparkling like liquid sapphires, and the gorgeous weather had brought the whole of One Island out to enjoy it. And Alaska hated every single one of them.

    She and Damian had only been sitting here for about an hour, but already Alaska felt like she knew enough of the town to truly understand the beating heart at the centre of it, the collective soul of the grinning people walking past. She could see through the pastel blues and sunny yellows that made up all the storefronts on the main street; she knew all the grinning, laughing faces were simple a mask poorly hiding all their grief. The immaculate, well maintained buildings, the neatly trimmed grass of the nearby park, even the polished war memorial erected in the middle of the square – it was all a façade, Alaska could see that. How on earth could people have moved on from tragedy that occurred seventeen years ago, when she still couldn’t get out what had happened five years ago?

    “Look at them. Smiling, happy, laughing, shopping, eating. Selfish pricks. Don’t they know that my best friend is missing? Do none of these people know that there is a war going on right around them at this very minute? How can they all just carry on like this, like everything is fine?”

    “Everything is fine, for them,” Damian retorted. “None of these people have any reason to fear. At any rate, if they are aware of reports of attacks and explosions and various repetitive instances around Kanto, they are probably used to it by now. I mean, it’s happened in Kanto twice around, as well as Johto, Hoenn and Sinnoh. It’ll probably happen to Unova and Alola as well – maybe even Kalos, as I’m sure that will get resurrected at some point. You can’t expect people to be interested in stuff that they’ve already had to live through time and time and time and time and time again.”

    Alaska shot him a withering look. “I don’t care about any of that other stuff. What happened in Sinnoh and Hoenn doesn’t concern me. They aren’t part of this fucking destiny I’ve been handed, are they? That destiny is unfurling as we speak, yet as my life continues to fall apart, these arrogant wankers just get to carry on and expect me to save their flabby asses. What are they going to do if I turn around and change my mind again, eh? They’ll die, that’s what’s fucking what!”

    Damian rolled his eyes at his brunch. “Alaska, you really need to stop thinking about yourself. There is a whole wide world around you, and very little of it actually revolves around you.”

    “Oh fuck you, you two dimensional, underdeveloped fuck,” Alaska hissed. “God, I just fucking hate you. You are about as useful as a flaccid dildo. Your personality has all the excitement of buttered toast. I’ve met disused pillow cases with more foresight and knowledge than you. Quite frankly, I hope you die choking on your own cum, and when you do, I am going to rip your skin off and use it as a shawl.”

    Damian blinked and said nothing for a moment as he continued cutting up his waffles. “That was a bit much,” he said finally, and watched Alaska blankly as he shoved a forkful of baked batter into his mouth.

    Alaska sighed and sank back into her chair. “You’re right. Things have just been really tough for me lately. I am just really struggling having the weight of the world on my shoulders. I made a choice, I made lots of choices, I kind of keep making the same choice over and over again, but sometimes I still wonder if I made the right choice. I don’t really train my Pokémon enough for them to be interested in me or for anyone else to be interested in them. I don’t really think about gym battles much any more, but I still really want to finish that storyline off. Seeing all these happy people living the lives they want to live, it just reminds me how much my life is controlled, dictated, bound by destiny, micromanaged, plotted down to the finest details. God, it’s like being in some bad children’s fantasy novel!

    “And, you know, I wish I could be that happy. I wish I could laugh again as I used to. I wish I could have some fun. Instead I’m just always angry, so fucking angry. I mean, I’m less angry than I used to be, I think noticeably less so, I am far more rational and guilty and shame ridden and different than I was, but I have all these voices in my head telling me I should be more different, less angry, less irrational, more like a totally different person than I was when I first started. And it’s hard, to change but feel like you need to make more obvious, on the nose changes so people can register it more. Do you know what I mean?”

    “No, not really,” Damian said. “And I didn’t the first time you started ranting like this. Just shut up and eat your waffles.”

    Alaska huffed, but her stomach started growling and she looked down at the plate. “I really should eat something. I haven’t had anything since Sandy made me a sandwich.”

    “You do look a lot thinner than when I first met you.”

    “Yeah, that’s cause the only food I have to carry around is a brownie MacGuffin,” Alaska said wearily. “I’m so busy being angry and monologueing that I don’t really have time to eat, or sleep except when I get knocked out, or even go to the bathroom.”

    Damian slowly put down his fork, looking unwell. “When was the last time you even went to the bathroom?”

    “Mate, I’ve been blocked up since Pewter.”

    Damian made a disturbed face. “Maybe that’s why your life sucks.”

    “Probably,” Alaska said, shrugging, and she leaned towards the appetizing waffles.

    Before she could stick her fork in, a loud explosion sounded in the distance. Alaska and Damian turned as the townspeople being screaming and fleeing as fire moved rapidly through the stores opposite. Alaska looked around for a source, but she didn’t need to look far: Pokémon were descending from the sky, dozens of them dropping to the earth with metallic clangs.

    “Oh for fucks sake, not this again,” Alaska groaned. The robotic Pokémon straightened up and moved into line, their shining red eyes stared shiningly at her.

    Behind them, maniacal laughter began. An Ursaring and Poliwrath stepped aside, allowing Buzz Bolton to march forwards, hands twisting threateningly beneath his malevolent grin. “I’ve got you cornered now, Alaska, you can’t escape my robot army! I will kill everyone here, and then I will kill you, and my god will I enjoy it!”

    “Oh no you won’t, Buzz!” Alaska snapped, pulling out a Poké Ball, leaving her bag, knife and oversized gun behind.

    “Hang on a second.”

    Alaska paused and turned to Damian. “Yes?”

    “This is Buzz? This is who your afraid of?”

    “Yeah… why?”

    Damian shrugged. “I don’t know, he just doesn’t seem very threatening.”

    “What are you on about?” Alaska scoffed. “He just threatened to kill me.”

    “Yeah, so did you a few minutes ago. It doesn’t really mean anything. Saying ‘Oooh, I’m going to kill you little children, and your little bird too!’ isn’t really that scary. It’s kind of cartoonish, when you think about it.”

    “You forget, this guy has an army of robots.”

    “Yeah, about those. Have they ever actually harmed you?”

    “One of them blew up near me and my leg hurt for a few days.”

    “Is it fine now?”

    “I think so,” Alaska said, flexing the leg and feeling no pain.

    “Well, there you go. It doesn’t really matter that he has an army when they haven’t done a single thing to impede you in any way. They are basically just metal orcs.”

    Alaska looked at the row of robots in front of her. “I guess that’s true.”

    “Also, don’t you share a psychic connection with a god? Why hasn’t Latios been here to help you? Surely he could end this all in a few seconds.”

    “He’s been recovering!”

    “He’s been recovering for about sixty bloody chapters,” Damian muttered.

    “Oh, alright then, Mr Know It All!” Alaska snapped. “You think you’ve got this all sorted, do you? Well, we’ll see about that – LATIOS!”

    “You called?”

    “JESUS FUCK ME!” Alaska leapt backwards, staring at the grey and blue monster suddenly floating above her. “How did you get here so quickly?”

    “I can fly as fast as a jet plane,” Latios said, shrugging his wing-like arms. “I was already on my way when you called.”

    “How convenient,” Damian said loudly.

    “Fuck you,” Alaska and Latios said in unison. A heavy silence fell across the square; slowly, Alaska turned and looked up at the legendary, her heart pounding rapidly against her chest. “Did we… did we just insult him, at the same time?”

    “Yes, I think we did,” Latios whispered, leaning in closer; his eyes were as blue as the oceans and just as deep, so sorrowful and moving Alaska thought she was staring into her own soul.

    “I’ve waited for you for so… longing….” She whispered, reaching out to touch him.

    “As have I,” Latios purred back, so close their faces could almost touch.

    “EXCUSE ME!” Buzz roared, shattering the serene silence. “I AM TRYING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD OVER HERE!”

    “Oh yes, you.” Latios turned towards the producer and stretched his arms out: suddenly, his eyes began glowing a violent shade of purple, shining so intensely that people had to avert their eyes, many collapsing to their knees and crying out in their unworthiness.

    “It’s about time I sort out this little problem.”

    Buzz laughed loudly and maniacally, a laugh that felt a tad forced and a little obvious. “You haven’t done anything about it for the last seven years, what are you going to do to change that?”

    Latios smirked, and briefly looked back at Alaska, giving her a slow, almost seductive wink. “Buzz Bolton, you are forgetting the world around you. Things may take a while to get going, but when they finally get started, it becomes so easy for them to just blow up.”

    And then the world exploded.

    It was the most glorious, wondrous explosion Alaska had ever witnessed. White light engulfed her as psychic energy poured out from the earth. All her threats were obliterated, disappearing into the cataclysmic explosion that seemed to turn everything to fire. The explosion was so explosive that all sound disappeared, the many awe inspiring, colourful explosions clashing with one another so only a loud, constant hum could be heard, but to Alaska it was like the most beautiful, deadliest symphony she had ever heard.

    And then, it stopped. Latios sank down on to the empty white space he had created by exploding the entire world, and he sighed. “It is done.”

    “Oh Latios, thank you!” Alaska ran forwards and threw her arms around him. “It would have been really great if you had just done that earlier, but it’s done now and we can just carry on like before!”

    “No, Alaska, we can’t just carry on.” Latios pushed her arms away and rose up so he could face. “I can’t contain myself any longer, Alaska. We are bound to each other, we have been for years. It is time that we become fully bound.”

    “Bound… how do you mean?” Alaska whispered coquettishly.

    “I’ll show you,” Latios said, taking her hand and spinning her around. Suddenly, they weren’t on One Island any more: they sat atop an eroded rock formation, one of many that made up the sunset struck city, like a giant field of phallic objects jutting firmly out of the earth.

    “Sunyshore City, I’ve heard it described so beautifully before that I feel like it’s a real character,” Alaska whispered.

    “It is not, though, and the characters you should be interested in are waiting here for us.” Latios guided Alaska towards a cherry blossom tree that sat on its own in the middle of the rock, surrounded by a dozen faces Alaska recognised: Bertram, Evelyn, Daisy, Looker, Leaf, Janine, Mark, Lachlan, Damian, Blaine, all dressed in dazzling white outfits not unlike the kimono she was suddenly wearing herself. And in the middle of them all was –

    “SANDY!” Alaska ran forwards and threw her arms around her friend. “What are you doing here?”

    “I survived, Alaska!”

    “Oh my god, how?”

    Sandy shrugged. “That’s not important now. What’s important is the two of you,” she whispered, letting go. Every one stepped backwards, leaving just Alaska and Latios beneath the tree; the god reached out slowly and put his arms around Alaska’s head, drawing her in close.

    “Sensei please, my innocence.”

    “Relax, Alaska, don’t you realise this is your real destiny.” And Latios pulled in closer, and Alaska could not ignore the longing she felt in every inch of her body, her hot blood pumping erratically through her, making every part of her tingle with desire…

    “Wait!”

    Everyone turned and gasped. Where they had only been empty space a moment ago, a woman now stood strongly against the sunset, her amber hair shining almost angelically, while her outfit was literally angelic. Two giant wings rose two metres into the air from the woman’s back, appeared to be made from real feathers and corrugated iron. As the woman stepped closer, the full extent of her long, body clenching leather dress was revealed, so pure and white it could have come straight off the cow’s hide. The wings were held in place by a thick harness, the chains resting in two loops formed perfectly around the woman’s breast.

    Alaska had never seen the woman before in her life, but recognised her from television. “Galactic’s Vanessa Backlot? What are you doing here?”

    The red headed woman smiled. “I heard some kinky shit was going down, so I got here as fast as the continuity would allow.”

    “But why?”

    “Oh, my sweet virgin child. I am your guardian angel, and I am here with all the tools you need to complete your bondage.” Vanessa stepped back and unclasped a split in her dress; she reached in and, from somewhere, pulled out a metre long black umbrella. Everyone watched in awe as she turned the handle, causing the point to split open and part, allowing something long and black to be unveiled.

    Alaska had tears in her eyes. She had never seen one in real life before, and she didn’t know how anatomically correct this long, thick, black, vein riddled plastic imitation was, but as she took the umbrella in her hands, she knew it simply was right. “Thank you, angel.”

    “Godspeed, fair maiden,” Vanessa whispered. She stepped backwards, pulling long ribbons from her out of her dress, and she joined in the circle dance that the others had started around the cherry tree.

    Alaska and Latios watched her friends and Pokémon dancing gaily around them, enjoying the sweet sounds Darwin was making with a homemade flute. The two then looked into each other’s eyes, their souls reflected back at each other, and, gently, they dropped to the earth, Latios lying back with his arms splayed, Alaska climbing on top –

    “FUCK NO!”

    Alaska sat up so quickly her head hit the top of the tent. Around her, she heard shuffling and moaning, and a second later gloomy, unnatural light erupted next to her.

    “What the fuck is your problem?” Damian snapped, lifting up an eye mask to shoot daggers at her. “Are you on your period or something?”

    “Ew no, we decided against that plot,” Alaska said, squinting under the yellow glare of the lamp. “I just had a really, really fucked up dream. Like, really fucked up.”

    “Well, that’s nice,” Damian said sarcastically, sinking back into his sleeping bag.

    “Seriously Damian, this was disturbed. Like, I know some people are really in to stuff like that, but I have never seen the appeal.”

    “Ok, Alaska.”

    “It’s just wrong on so many levels. What sort of sick, disgusting person would get off on something like that, or even suggest it as a joke?”

    “I said alright, Alaska, fuck!” Damian angrily leant over and mashed at the lamp until he hit the switch, plunging them into darkness again. “Can we just go back to sleep?”

    “Easy for you to say,” Alaska muttered, angrily beating her pillow before she flopped down onto it.

    For a moment there was silence, but then Damian shuffled around and turned the lamp on again. “Just while you’re up, for breakfast tomorrow, do you want to head to that café we went by yesterday? Their waffles looked amazing.”

    Alaska felt bile crawling up her throat. “Go die,” she spat and shut her eyes, suddenly longing for death.


    I promise an actual chapter will come soon. This was written with a very specific audience in mind, so apologies to those who don't get it. Have a merry Easter Sunday wherever you are, and remember, Jeebus died so this chapter may live.
     
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  3. Threadmarks: Chapter 92: Feel the Burn
    AceTrainer14

    AceTrainer14 The acest of trainers

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    Is it just me or did I totally forget I wrote an April Fools chapter? Oh well, back to the main story!

    Chapter Ninety Two: Feel the Burn

    Trainer Tower had been an impressive building, once. It was difficult to believe, staring at the lifeless husk that remained of the charred skyscraper, but Alaska knew it was true. She had only a vague memory of seeing it on television when she was younger, but the image in her mind was of a bright blue skyscraper illuminated with dazzling lights like a fairground attraction. She could remember begging her father to take them there long before she had been given Paige. For weeks, it was all Alaska had wanted; to see the tower in person, to explore the plaza with all the other kids watching Casimer and Lance battle, just as the ad had always shown.

    She smiled at these memories as she gazed across the strait towards the barren island opposite. Well, kid, you got your wish. Happy now? Alaska thought with a grim smirk, wishing that fantasy still existed.

    Only ten of the tower's eighteen floors remained. The paint had long faded away, the lower floors a bare whitewash while black scorch marks ran down from a jagged gash, the only sign that there had ever been eight other floors. Below, the plaza was an empty wasteland, craters and charred rubble now scattered in place of stalls and battlefields.

    The only attraction the island could sell itself as now was as a haunted house, but even that would require some semblance of life. Alaska had been staring at the tower for a solid hour and had long established no one was there. No boats were docked at the pier, and there were no lights, natural or otherwise, anywhere in the ruined building. Paige had flown overhead to try and find any signs that their targets were there but found nothing; wherever Amanda had taken Sandy, it was not here.

    Yet Alaska could not look away. It was far from the first place she had visited to have been touched by Team Rocket, but it was the only one still bearing the scars, and these were merely the most recent.

    They should never have rebuilt that tower, Alaska thought, her gaze falling to the strait separating the cliffs she stood on from the cursed island. The world didn't need a distraction from the war. Those people deserved a memorial. She could not begin to fathom how many men, women and Pokémon had made the ocean their final resting place. Most of them were probably skeletons by now, if that, yet Alaska could feel their presence; she normally rolled her eyes at thoughts like that, but standing above this long forgotten battlefield, she could not ignore the weight on her shoulders, the bubble caught in her throat.

    Yet those in the ocean were the ones lucky enough to have made it that close. In the valley beneath her, Alaska knew hundreds more had died, both those charging towards the original tower and those sent by the madman inside to defend it. But even that was smoothed and covered over, all the wounds of war sealed up with sand and concrete.

    Alaska knew it had been seventeen years, that it was fine for people to move on. Yet remembering the empty town they'd flown over earlier, staring at the failed distraction they'd built on top of the dead, she knew it would take more than another glittering tower to make people forget this whole archipelago was now and forever both battlefield and graveyard. And how long before that becomes my fate as well?

    She shut her eyes at the thought and sighed; if she needed a sign to get moving, it was that. "Alright, let's go," Alaska said, turning back towards Bluebell. The Ponyta was her only source of light right now, and for a moment she simply stared at her latest acquisition, watching her blue flames reflected in the unkempt grass around them, dancing across the night.

    Bluebell felt Alaska's eyes on her and turned around. "Nyyyyy," she whinnied in what Alaska had taken to be an annoyed tone, and turned back towards the camp.

    "Hold up! I meant we go back together." Alaska jogged painfully to keep up, and reached instinctively for the mane. It was only as pain spread through her fingers that she remembered that was a bad idea. "Fuck, seriously?" She hissed, clutching her hand.

    Bluebell said nothing, merely looking back in pride. She stood stoically for a few moments watching Alaska pour barely cool water from her flask across her scorched digits before finally lowering her back legs.

    "Thank you," Alaska said with undisguised bitterness. She swung her right leg over, but Bluebell straightened up before she could adjust herself properly and almost instantly began galloping. Alaska hesitated before grabbing onto the mane again, but with her butt rapidly slipping backwards, she hoped for the best and held on, sighing as she felt a cool tingle where the heat had been a minute earlier.

    Wherever you are right now, Blaine, I hope there is a fly crawling around the space behind your glass eyes, you bald bastard.

    It had been this way for hours. Alaska would have rather just walked through the valley, but she knew that Amanda would have rigged it in some way if she had beaten them there. Instead, she'd had to climb the steep slopes up the nearby cliffs. If her leg could carry her weight for more than a few metres at a time, Alaska would have climbed it herself, but any amount of pressure she put on the injury made her whole body shudder. Yet Paige was too obvious for any watching eyes, and the idea of Nadia cradling her in her chunky arms made Alaska snigger.

    That left only Bluebell, though it became clear that she was not as unhappy with the idea as Alaska was. She refused to allow Alaska onto her back, and it had taken twenty minutes of negotiating, something that Damian and Charizard had to assist with, and burnt hands to finally convince her, and even then she had made sure the climb was as uncomfortable as possible, running so quickly Alaska felt every twinge and pang in her throbbing leg.

    Bluebell seemed to have remembered the various cracks and holes in the ground, making sure to go over each one as she cantered down the slope. The constant jolting made Alaska seethe, but she had to endure it. This was a test, that much was obvious, and Alaska was not going to fail it. I've had robots explode in front of me, I've watched my entire city crumble to the ground, I've been judged by the gods – it'll take more than a moody horse to break me now.

    Despite this, Alaska was relieved when they finally reached solid ground again, the town slowly coming into view. Though if she hadn't been keeping a keen eye out for it, they easily could have passed it by; only a half dozen houses at random intervals had their lights on, with a gentle but dim glow coming from the generator on the far side near the overhanging cliffs.

    Alaska was not surprised there were no streetlights; the town was the least populated place she had ever visited. At a generous count, she doubted there were more than eighty people living here. There were close to that many houses, but she had only seen about a dozen people since arriving that afternoon, and boarded windows and overgrown lawns suggested many of the homes were unoccupied.

    When she and Damian had arrived earlier, Cath, the Pokémon Centre's sole nurse, had caught them staring at the streets. "Hasn't been the same since the tower fell," she'd said. "Those who left said they had to find work, that there was nothing here for them without it, but they're lying. This place is cursed and they know it, they just can't admit it to themselves, cause then they'd be cursed too."

    She had been kind, clearly glad for the visitors, but had had to return to her real job at the adjoining health clinic where she and one ageing doctor made sure the locals were healthy if not happy. The Pokémon part of it was only a small waiting room barely bigger than an office cubicle, with a regeneration machine three models out of date shoved in the back of the clinic.

    It didn't have any rooms for passing trainers – the tower had run all of that – meaning Alaska and Damian were forced to camp out in a small park behind the clinic. The nurse had suggested they take one of the empty houses, but as Alaska rode past the still, shadowed buildings, she was glad they had declined the offer. Somehow, sleeping out in the open filled her with less dread than the thought of being inside those walls.

    Bluebell's hooves clip-clopping on the cracked tarmac echoed on all sides. The sound was loud enough Alaska thought they'd wake the town, but no curtains flickered as she passed, no eyeballs peered at them from the dusty windows. Despite the nurse's implication they were rare travellers, their arrival that afternoon had attracted only a young girl barely past ten, whose wide-eyed gaze still haunted Alaska hours later.

    She sighed with relief when she finally caught sight of the flickering light of a campfire up ahead. "Honey, I'm home," Alaska called quietly as they neared the centre, shuddering as her whisper carried as loudly as if she had stepped on glass. She was still grimacing with embarrassment when Bluebell turned a corner and Damian and Charizard appeared.

    "Hey." Damian looked up briefly from his spot by the small fire before turning back to Charizard; the Fire-type filled the space, long tail snaking around Damian's tent, while his wings were lazily outstretched as far as they could go.

    "Is he alright?" Alaska asked as she clumsily climbed off Bluebell.

    "He's fine, just worn out, I think. I shouldn't have flown him so far when he had just evolved. Probably wasn't good for him."

    Alaska opened her mouth to say something but, after a lengthy pause, brought her lips together and turned towards the fire. It was barely warm enough to fight back the chill, but Alaska was glad for anything after the frosty ride home. "You want to go inside your Poké Ball or sleep out here?" She called to Bluebell.

    "Nyyy," the Ponyta replied with an air of indignation, and she cantered towards the edge of the park, sniffing a spot before sinking to the ground. She threw Alaska one final frosty look before shutting her eyes.

    Alaska turned back to the fire and rolled her eyes. "Alrighty then."

    "You two have fun then?" Damian sniggered.

    "Such fun, it was a real laugh," Alaska said bitterly. "Especially as there was no sign of Sandy whatsoever."

    Damian's face sank. "Ah," he said simply, and for a minute that hung limply in the air.

    "Yeah," Alaska replied finally, lazily tossing the word out there.

    The silence carried on for several tense minutes before Damian grabbed something from near Charizard and passed it over. "Kebabs. Cath thought we were looking peckish."

    "How nice of her." Alaska accepted the plate and tore into the charred meat.

    "So are we going to One Island tomorrow?"

    Alaska didn't reply for a moment, pointing at her mouth to blame the fatty meat she was hastily chewing, but in reality, she had no idea what her answer was. "I guess so," she said finally after some rapid swallowing. "If they were going to come here, they'd be here by now. There's no sign of anyone expecting them or preparing for their arrival, so they have to be somewhere else."

    "And if they aren't on One Island?"

    "Then we keep looking."

    The words were heavy in the air. Alaska and Damian locked eyes for a few moments, daring the other to address the task before them, the impossibility of their situation, but they simply let the silence roll unbearably on.

    It only lasted a short time before Charizard suddenly grunted, shifting his wings and exhaling loudly, and the moment was gone. The two did not laugh – the quietness of the town weighed heavy on their minds – but they managed a brief, reserved snigger, their eyes meeting again across the dying fire.

    Damian leaned back and rested against Charizard's wing. "You know, I think that girl we saw before recognised me."

    "You think?"

    "Yes, I do," Damian replied huffily.

    Alaska raised her hands defensively. "There was no tone to my question, thanks."

    Damian smiled awkwardly but carried on with his story without comment. "I was thinking about it a lot while you were gone. I don't know if I was imagining things and she was just stunned by our very presence, but she looked at me like she knew me, I'm sure of it."

    "And? Don't you get that all the time?"

    "Yeah, we used to. Only in big cities or Pokémon Centres. No one really talked to us cause we were always surrounded by crew members, but you could see them watching us and pointing us out to their friends. I'm not going to lie, it always felt good when people saw us. I didn't come on this show just to disappear into the background once it ended.

    "But when that girl looked at me, I realised this is the first time someone's recognised me since… since this all started," Damian continued, his voice shaking on the last few words. "I don't know if anyone knows anything yet or when they will, but it made me realise that people aren't going to look at me like that girl did once they find out. They'll see me and think 'that's that stupid kid who got caught up with Team Rocket'."

    "No one's going to think that," Alaska said quickly. She glanced briefly over her shoulder and saw Damian was looking straight up at the stars, his eyes shimmering in the dying firelight, and she respectfully turned away. "If we can stop Amanda, no one will think any lesser of you. You'll be a hero, just like your old mate Red."

    Damian laughed, disrupting the silence as harshly as an explosion. "Alaska, how many times have you fought back against them now? Has that made anyone like you any better?"

    Alaska said nothing. She simply smirked and walked towards her tent, a wave of fatigue suddenly hitting her full force. "Are you sure you don't want to bunk with me?"

    "I'd rather stay with Charizard if that's okay."

    "All good, see you in the morning." Alaska watched Damian for a moment as he rolled over, tucking his body in closer to Charizard's, the Fire-type subconsciously wrapping his wing around his trainer. The sight made her smile, but as she zipped the tent shut and began undressing, Alaska was aware of the empty space around her. She looked at the other side of the tent, so bare and huge without Sandy there to fill it.

    Alaska lay down on her sleeping bag, her legs pulled in to her chest, and she stared at the canvas ceiling, thinking of the tower, the valley, Damian's final jibe, Bluebell, everything, her mind a turbulent ocean churning with a thousand different thoughts, only one sticking out. Where are you, Sandy? Are you safe? Are you still alive? Please come back to me. I need you, Sandy, I really truly need you.

    *****

    Crack.


    Sandy sat up immediately. She had no idea if she had fallen asleep yet or not, but the fact she was immediately conscious suggested otherwise. Though the noise was loud enough to have woken her up; as it sounded again, her first thought was to look at the fire, but the pile of twigs, stones and rubbish from the bottom of their bags could barely produce any light let alone make a sound like that.

    Yet Sandy could still hear it as though it was right next to her, a solid snap echoing through the night. Cautiously, she edged herself towards the waterfall at the edge of their cliffside cave. The night was so dark that all sense of perspective had disappeared hours ago, the world suddenly a two-dimensional black plane.

    Sandy had to follow the sounds of Onix's heavy breathing, reaching out until her hands brushed his rough head, and only then did she stop and looked out into the world. She saw nothing. She blinked, letting her eyes slowly adjust, but even then she could only see a faint outline of the cliffs opposite. The great grass sea she had admired that afternoon had faded into night, leaving nothing but an imposingly empty space. Whatever might be moving down there making that noise, it may as well be invisible.

    Maybe I'm just imagining things. I'm probably going crazy. I probably already am. Maybe someone is just trying to lure me off the mountain, some Pied Piper type hoping I fall off the cliff. Probably don't realise they'd be doing me a favour.

    The thought shuddered through Sandy's body, leaving a trail of guilt and shame in its wake. What is wrong with you, girl. With a carrying sigh, Sandy flopped backwards onto the rock, letting her legs stretch out into the open air. Now that she wasn't searching for noises in the dark, once again could she let the sound of the waterfall wash over her. Sandy forced her mind to focus on the pleasant cascade, she made herself stare at the stars and admire the sheer quantity that was unveiled to her in this pollution free paradise. If she had come here before any of this had started, the sheer majesty of this sight, these sounds, would have had her in tears. Yet no matter how hard she tried, her mind refused to budge from the million things that had been occupying her thoughts for the last few hours.

    "Free."

    Sandy tore her eyes away from the stars; for a moment she was terrified that she could not see Butterfree and her heart began to beat faster, the same feelings from that afternoon rushing back. It wasn't until two shining pink eyes appeared in the darkness that she was able to calm down, and within seconds Butterfree was floating into view, her Compound Eyes guiding the way.

    "You shouldn't be up," Sandy whispered in a tone she hoped sounded stern. It was an obvious failure; Butterfree rolled her eyes dismissively and landed softly on Sandy's chest without care. Sandy sighed and smiled, fighting back more tears, and rested her head against Butterfree.

    "I guess you're feeling better then, eh?" She said, speaking more to the world than at Butterfree. "Trust you to think your indestructible. Where did that power even come from?"

    Butterfree shrugged. "Free Freee," she purred.

    "I thought I had lost you."

    "Freeee."

    "That was incredible what you did before, but never do it again, okay? I don't know what I would do without you."

    Butterfree nodded slowly. Sandy smiled back before looking back up at the stars, well aware Butterfree was simply appeasing her. If they were ever in a similar situation, Butterfree would do it all again, just as Sandy would always try and defend her. These false reassurances would tide them over until they had to face the next horror, but Sandy knew this was not the last time she would feel this way. It was a cycle of risk-taking, fear generation, guilt, apology, and moving on as though it's never going to happen again. The only thing that would ever change would be when they were finally pushed too far.

    And then what? Am I supposed to just carry on until I serve my prophetic purpose? Or is that going to be my actual limit? Sandy thought, feeling a sudden tingle in her feet, still dangling over the edge. I mean, it turns out I can't function without Alaska. She probably would have brought the whole valley down on that Donphan, but at least she would have stopped it earlier. If I can't live with her, I need Butterfree, but I know who I'd rather have over the other. I'm already such a failure I don't think it'll matter either way. Maybe I should just move a little more this way, she thought, putting her feet against the cliff and pushing so her thighs slid forwards, I can just skip past it all.

    Sandy became so lost in the moment, losing her in thoughts, that when something moved behind her she sat up so quickly that she nearly threw Butterfree over the edge. "Sorry!" She whispered, clutching Butterfree tight before turning towards the noise. "Lachlan?"

    A grunt echoed out of the darkness. "It's me, you can relax."

    "Couldn't sleep either?" Sandy called, glad for the distraction from her own darkness.

    Lachlan said nothing, shuffling forwards until his face was illuminated by the feeble glow of the fire. "It's freezing," he mumbled at the flames.

    "We can try and find some more stuff to throw onto the fire," Sandy said. Again, she was greeted with silence. "Or not," she mumbled spitefully. "Weepinbell, do you think you could produce some leaves for us? Weepinbell?"

    Her question hung in the air unanswered. Panic surged through Sandy, a million fearful thoughts rushing through her head. Butterfree seemed to sense her fear and turned around, her eyes blinking into life again: in the pitch black, the pink glow was as bright as a spotlight, making the water glow like strawberry syrup and turning the cracks in the floor and wall into deep, shadow-filled crevasses.

    In the middle of the glow, nestled near Sandy's bag a few feet away, Weepinbell was staring gloomily back at them. Sandy relaxed the second she saw her, but as her eyes met her Pokémon's, Weepinbell shifted, rolling onto her side out of sight.

    "Weepinbell?" She repeated, but the Grass-type pointedly ignored her. What have I done now? Sandy thought, stifling a groan. "Should I go talk to her?"

    Butterfree shook her head. "Free Free," she whispered and pushed herself off Sandy's chest and began fluttering towards Weepinbell. She moved slowly, her feet nearly dragging against the ground; the sight made Sandy's heart ache, but she knew better than to intervene.

    She left Butterfree to it and instead shuffled closer towards the fire. "I don't think I'm going to be able to sleep again tonight, it's so bloody freezing."

    Lachlan said nothing. He didn't even look at her or acknowledge her in any way; he simply stared into the dying flames, his eyes two pinpricks of orange light.

    If it had been any other day, Sandy may have let this pass, but she was not in the mood to deal with a stone wall of silence. "So are you mad at me as well?" Sandy snapped. "You know, I'm not the bad guy here. Sure I may have stuffed up a little bit, but it's not my fault we're on this island or that we got attacked. Well, I could have picked the other path, but that doesn't mean everyone can just blame me. I'm not Alaska, I haven't caused any of this, so you can't just fucking ignore me!"

    Sandy shoved her hand towards Lachlan, aiming to wave it in his face, but in her anger, her lunge turned violent; suddenly the charred twigs and bits of rubbish that made their fire were flying further into the cave. As the last of the light was snuffed out, darkness fell over everything. Sandy said nothing, simply staring in shock at the spot where the fire had been, not moving until Lachlan shuffled past her and began feeling around for the sticks.

    "Well, I can at least blame you for that."

    Sandy scowled into the night. "That's not funny," she said bitterly, well aware that he was right. "At least it got you talking again."

    "Oh come on, is it always like this with you?" Lachlan groaned. "I wasn't ignoring you, I just… I just want to process this without talking about it, okay?"

    "Sounds like ignoring to me," Sandy shot back.

    "It's different!" Lachlan snapped. "I can't talk to you about this and pretend that we're on the same level. You've been shot at and hunted down by robots, I'm only a few days into this nightmare, and what I've experienced so far is nothing compared to you. Our experiences in having near-death experiences are so far apart you'd need a bridge to join them together."

    "Well, you've been part of this for a long time whether you've been paying attention or not."

    "See, that's what I mean!" Lachlan snapped, and Sandy could sense him standing up, felt his presence suddenly looming over her. "I knew this afternoon that you were judging me because I was tired climbing up the hill. Well, I'm sorry that I haven't suffered as much as you, Sandy! I'm sorry that Amanda and that Buzz guy have done all these things to you and Alaska, I'm sorry that I probably enabled them, I'm sorry that I never helped you or stood up for you when I had a chance, okay? I'm sorry, I'm sorry for everything, but it doesn't really matter now if I'm sorry or who's had the shittiest month, because Amanda's coming for all of us now, and at least you have a chance at defeating her."

    Sandy wanted to yell but stifled it down, instead digging her fingers into the ground. "Where is all of this coming from? You can stand up to her as well, you know."

    "No, I can't, because I SUCK!" The word exploded out of Lachlan's mouth, hitting Sandy full force. "I'm terrible, I'm not going to survive any of this. I've been training my Pokémon for months now but I am so unprepared. How am I supposed to stand up to robots and guns and shit if my Graveler can't take down a wild Donphan? I mean, I might as well walk off the cliff right now because I'm dead already."

    "Lachlan, please don't talk like that," Sandy said, reaching blindly for him. "It's not going to help anything."

    "Well, that's not surprising, because I'm not going to help anyone, am I?" The emotion, the tears, the sadness Sandy had sensed in Lachlan earlier was unavoidable now; maybe it was the darkness that had drawn it out, but each word that poured painfully from his mouth was heavy with suffering. "I only signed up for this bloody show because I thought I'd get better, that I might be able to show my brothers I'm not entirely shit. They always used to make fun of me, they never let me play with their Pokémon, everyone always brought up the fact I lost my classroom's Rattata when I was like five.

    "But I'm the first one in my family to even get an official starter before, let alone evolve it! They didn't think I'd make it past Viridian Forest, but they were wrong, weren't they? I really want to go home with a Blastoise and rub it in their faces, but I'm never going to see them again now… I don't have to tell them that they were right, that I should've just stayed home because this really isn't worth dying over… I really don't want to die for this."

    Sandy knew as soon as Lachlan started sobbing what might happen next, and she reached forwards to catch him as he dropped to the ground, his weeping pulsating through the cave. She felt for the boniness of his shoulders and then pulled him close, feeling his body shaking against hers, wincing as his deep, rhythmic crying vibrated through her eardrums.

    She wanted to say something to comfort him, but as Sandy stared at the outline of Lachlan's back, looking at her fingers interlocked against his spine, her words failed her. How can you make someone feel better when you feel the exact same way? She could only think of what he had said, of the sad truth she didn't want to acknowledge.

    I wonder where he fits into this prophecy. Where do the three of them fit into this puzzle? Are they meant to do something, save someone, stop everything, save the world? Or at they just catalysts like my parents, existing so that Alaska could be spurred on her journey, so she had something to guide her down the path towards heroism? If he died, how is that going to change anything?

    "You are not going to die, Lachlan, because you are not going to face Amanda alone. I will be there, and so will Alaska, and so will all the gym leaders and champions and elites that are on our side. You are going to fight alongside us, you are going to help defeat these arseholes, and then you can go home and tell your brothers to go fuck themselves because you just battled alongside the gods."

    Lachlan snorted through his sobs, a pathetic yet joyful sound that made Sandy smiled into the small of his neck. "We'd have to actually get back to the mainland for any of that to happen."

    "That's true," Sandy laughed weakly. She slowly stroked his back, waiting for the tears to stop, waiting for this moment to pass before the burden of someone else's emotions pushed her over the literal edge.

    "Do you know what it's like to feel inferior to everyone around you all the time?" Lachlan mumbled after a few minutes.

    Sandy was glad that it was dark and that no one could see her grim smile. "Of course."

    "It sucks, doesn't it? To know you aren't going to be good enough, that no matter how hard you try, there will always be someone better than you."

    Unintentionally, Sandy let go; as if in reaction, Lachlan's grip on her tightened, but it only lasted a second before his arms fell away. Sandy could just see the night's sky reflected in his wet eyes, see the dark shape of his head disguised by the moonlight, and hoped there was a smile somewhere amongst there.

    She couldn't focus on him now though. It didn't take long for her to fumble her way through the cave back to her bag, back to Butterfree and Weepinbell. Sandy couldn't help but look at Butterfree first, a familiar stab of worry at what had happened that afternoon, but she wasn't here for her.

    "I know why you're mad at me," Sandy said, leaning towards Weepinbell. She reached out for the Grass-type but she shuffled away again, her body bristling at her trainer's touch. It was impossible for Sandy not to be hurt by this, but she couldn't pretend she didn't understand.

    "I get it. You couldn't stop Donphan either, and you had to lay there in the grass like some… some…" What the fuck do you find in the grass? "Like some used condom – shit, sorry, that's the first thing I thought of, and now I can't get it out of my mind. You're not a used condom, I should add, but I know what it's like to feel like one."

    Sandy paused in order to groan, ignoring Butterfree's disdainful look. "This isn't coming out right. What I mean is; I can tell you felt like shit today. I made you feel like shit, and I'm sorry. I shouldn't have forgotten about you, that was a dick move on my part. And I've probably made you feel like I've forgotten you for a while. I've been so preoccupied with all this stuff going on inside my head trying to find myself and my purpose that I'm wandering even further off course."

    "Like 'random island in the middle of the ocean' off course?"

    Sandy ignored him. "What I want to say Weepinbell is that I do love you and I do value you. I probably don't say it enough, but I mean it, I really do. If I didn't think you were ready for this, I wouldn't give it to you."

    She reached into her bag, shoving her hand right down to the bottom; in amongst spare clothes and old rubbish, her hand brushed against the sharp, smooth surface of the stone. Sandy pulled it out and brushed off the dirt and filth that accumulated since Daisy had given it to her in Celadon, allowing the faint green glow to shine through. The light was reflected in Weepinbell's mesmerised eyes, and Sandy blinked back fresh tears as she put the Leaf Stone in front of her Pokémon.

    Without hesitation, Weepinbell leant forwards and closed her mouth around the rock. A few moments passed without anything happening, and the Flycatcher looked up at Sandy and Butterfree with disappointment clear on her face.

    Whether her face changed as she erupted into light, Sandy couldn't tell; she and Butterfree both had to shield their eyes as the cave was suddenly illuminated, the glow radiating from Weepinbell's changing body enough to blind them. The light was harsh after so long spent in the dark, but Sandy forced her eyes open, squinting at Weepinbell through her fingers as she blossomed before her.

    Most Pokémon seemed to simply grow when they evolved, but that had never felt more applicable than looking at Weepinbell: in her glowing, metamorphosing form, her body simply expanded, like a balloon being rapidly inflated. It was only as the light faded, disappearing as quickly as it had started, that Sandy, her eyes burnt white, was able to see the changes, illuminated by Butterfree's Compound Eyes.

    The leaves on her side had grown, her skin was lighter and spottier, and a large frond now covered her mouth like a lid, bordered at the top by two sharp eyes. At least they were meant to be sharp; every Victreebel Sandy had seen, either in person or in photos, had always looked angry, with eyes harsh and narrow as they stared viciously out at the world. Her Victreebel may look like that one day, but right now her eyes were soft, nervous, staring at Sandy almost in fear. Sandy had never considered before what it must be like to have your body change so quickly, what it must feel like to be something one second and then the next find yourself inside an entirely different skin.

    Blinking back tears, Sandy shuffled towards Victreebel until she could fit her arms around her. "You look stunning," she whispered, staring her Pokémon directly in the eyes, and then fully gave in to the hug. She felt Victreebel relax into her embrace, and Sandy smiled as the sharp leaves wrapped around her midriff.

    A wave of warmth washed over her that Sandy knew had nothing to do with the hug; she glanced back to the fire and saw actual flames were dancing, making the dried streaks on Lachlan's face shine orange. "I think I've built it a bit better now, it should last us the night," he said, smiling like a small child looking for praise.

    "That's great," Sandy said, sinking down into her bag, one arm still wrapped around Victreebel. She was still cold, her mind was still laden with thoughts, but with warmth already spreading through her, at least now she might be able to get some sleep, put everything aside for a few hours. At least their better. That's two problems solved. Only a couple thousand left… Sandy thought, sighing to herself, and she shut her eyes hoping it would all be better in the morning.

    "Is there anybody up there?"

    For a moment, Sandy thought she was dreaming already. Every part of her froze except her eyes, which darted around the cave looking at the others, wondering if they had heard it as well or it was just her. That was when muffled noises started, and Sandy could tell they were coming from the bottom of the cliff. She stared at the open space with hesitation, not sure if this day was about to get even worse.

    Suddenly the entire cave was lit up by orange light; once again Sandy had to throw her hands over her face, but she could tell this was a Pokémon – friend or foe, she wasn't sure, but the heavy thump of wings told her

    "Are you kids trainers? What the bloody hell are you doing up here?" It was the same voice as before; it was masculine, speaking with drawn-out vowels and a high inflexion – not the voice of a supervillain, Sandy decided, and slowly she lowered her hands and faced the light head on.

    She had never seen a Tropius in real life before, but she knew the Pokémon before her had to be one; what else would have giant fronds for wings or have bananas hanging from its neck, especially ones that were illuminated orange? Her tired, battle-weary mind looked at the Pokémon for a moment wondering if it was the one that had talked, but something moved on its back, and a second later a fully grown, bearded man was standing in front of them.

    "I was sure I heard someone up here, but Jolly thought I was going mad." The man looked back at his Tropius and let out a booming chortle. "I told him I get to eat one of his bananas if I was right, so looks like that's pudding sorted, isn't it Jolly?"

    "Troo!" The Tropius grunted, shaking his mighty head and causing the light to dance across the cave.

    The man laughed again as he turned back to Sandy and Lachlan. "So tell me, are you kids supposed to be halfway up a mountain looking like death cooled down, or would you like a lift back to base camp?"

    Sandy looked at the man for a moment, letting the words sink in, and then she began to laugh. She could feel everyone watching her, even Onix, finally stirring from his stretched out slumber, but Sandy ignored them all and stared past the bearded man and his hearty chuckle, looking out into the world she couldn't see. You lost, you didn't beat me. I'm still here.

    She clenched her fists, nearly crying from the pain, and turned back to Lachlan, taking a zealous pride in his worried face. "Told you I made the right choice."

    Small note: I have edited the prologue just a little bit. No major plot changes, just tidied it up and made it a little more interesting. If you haven't noticed it, feel free to have a look! Will hopefully have major Viridian Forest-arc edits by the time of the next chapter
     
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 93: Sandy's Choice
    AceTrainer14

    AceTrainer14 The acest of trainers

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    Chapter Ninety Three: Sandy's Choice

    It was a few minutes into their flight that the ranger introduced himself as Ira. As they soared over the cliffs and the everlasting fields, he regaled Sandy and Lachlan with stories from his work, shouting to be heard over the rushing wind, telling them how he lived in Sevii his whole life, how his mother, a doctor, had inspired him to become a ranger.

    "When I was five years old, someone asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I wanted to be a ranger." Ira looked back at them as he spoke, his grin broad and inspiring. "Not many people can say they've stuck with their dream job for this long, can they?" He laughed, his bark-like cackle making a small impression against the wind and the furious beat of Jolly's wings.

    Sandy and Lachlan both smiled but said nothing. Despite Ira's friendliness, the pair were uncertain how to behave, what they should say. They had silently agreed not to tell him the truth about their messy situation; instead, Sandy said told him they'd been washed overboard while taking part in a tourist cruise and had stumbled through the valley hoping to find someone.

    "Ruin Valley is probably the last place you'd want to go looking for help," Ira had laughed, in the way only someone who knows something you don't can. "This entire island has around ninety-ish Pokémon living on it, give or take, and none of them are the helping kind."

    After several more minutes of inaudible one-sided conversation, Ira fell silent, leaving his tired passengers to gaze at the world beneath their feet. In the dawn light, the ocean shone with a symphony of oranges and yellows, while the cliffs glowed with fresh life. The entirety of Six Island appeared to be stunning, and Sandy felt pangs of jealousy that this was what Ira got to see every day, flying overhead as he protected the environment and saved clueless trainers that stumbled into areas they shouldn't have gone and Pokémon they shouldn't go near ("Phantasia is a gentle guy, if you don't piss him off").

    This could have been your life, maybe, Sandy thought, letting her hands drift through the wisps of cloud that hung around the tops of the cliffs. Protecting Pokémon, exploring the wild, saving the day. Imagine if I had applied for this rather than just running away the first chance I got. Imagine how different the universe would be then…

    The land disappeared and for a few moments, there was just water, as still as it could be in the morning light. Only one thing was pushing its way through the calm, and it pained Sandy to realise this was their couch, swept off the beach at high tide and dragged out to sea. Rangers don't wash up on strange beaches on stolen furnishings, do they? She thought and pulled her attention away from the views, the beauty suddenly like poison in her mouth.

    The ocean soon returned to earth, and without warning Jolly began to drop; the Tropius simply dipped his wings and leant forward, his long neck suddenly straight, and he plummeted gracefully towards a section of land at the very edge of the water. They landed with force, Sandy sliding across Jolly's smooth back and hitting Lachlan's head with hers.

    "At least we're dry this time," he said, turning to her as he rubbed his head. His joke quickly died as he caught sight of Sandy's expression. "Are you alright? You look a little… off…"

    Sandy could have laughed, but she simply smiled back and slid down Jolly's wings towards solid earth. "I'll be fine," she lied, and followed Ira into his base.

    The one storey building sat isolated on the very edge of the main island, the only house in sight. The land was free of anything except long grass buried under a layer of leaves, bordered by a forest in one corner and the cliff walls dropping down to the ocean on the other sides.

    Inside, it was just as bare. The interior consisted of an open plan living space inside that combined about four different rooms in one. Two doors led off to a bedroom and bathroom respectively, but the rest of the space was taken up by a kitchen, living room and makeshift medical centre all wrapped into one.

    "Pardon the mess," Ira said, shoving clothes and magazines off the couch onto the floor to join food wrappers and a dirty blanket. "Don't often have people around. It's just me most of the time unless I find a Pokémon that needs treatment I can't administer on the field."

    "It must get lonely," Lachlan said, standing awkwardly in the doorway.

    Ira shrugged. "You get used to it. Being a ranger is not a nine to five job, it pretty much takes up my whole life. I ain't got no time for anyone else. Heck, the place comes with a TV but I've got about three years' worth of shows sitting in my SilphBox I haven't had time to watch!"

    "Are you watching Indigo Dreams?" Lachlan asked, trying and failing to hold back a smile.

    "That teen gym journey thing?" Ira said, pulling a face. "Nah man, I'm not into that reality bullshit."

    Sandy turned away from Lachlan so he didn't see her smile. As she gazed around, her eyes drifted towards the medical part of the room: clinical white tiles covered the walls and floor, surrounding the raised bench where presumably Ira treated Pokémon. Against the wall stood a sparkling glass cabinet full of medicines and potions, juxtaposed by a rusted sink that looked close to falling off the wall.

    "Do you have one of those machines Pokémon Centres have?"

    "No, sorry. It's not good for the Pokémon to heal them artificially. Something to do with how the Poké Balls and machines interact with DNA. But if you're Pokémon are sick, I've got enough medicine to get them back to good health."

    "That'd be great if you don't mind?"

    Ira laughed. "I'd be a pretty shit ranger if I did mind!" He stomped past her, his wide frame nearly bowling her over in the tight space, and flung the cabinet open. "Take as many potions as you want, they'll just send me more. However, if you are hoping to treat your Onix, you might want to leave him with me."

    A cold shiver went down Sandy's spine. "You saw his eyes?" She asked guiltily.

    Ira nodded and softly gripped her by the shoulder. "There's no shame in that. The most common injuries I see in Rock Pokémon are around the eyes – it's the only place they can really get hurt, so dirty trainers tend to go for them."

    "They don't get dirtier than who we went up against," Sandy said, smirking slightly, and Ira laughed grimly.

    "Let him out outside and I'll get to work. I can fill the grooves in as well."

    Sandy was beginning to like this ranger. It had been so long since she had met someone who was happy to treat her like a normal trainer and not impose their own agendas onto her life that she had forgotten what it felt like. Ira had an innocent hope that spoke volumes to Sandy, and she had no qualms with handing her Poké Balls over to him. His smile never wavered, even when Onix took form, filling nearly his entire front yard.

    "Wowzers, I did not realise how big this fella was!" Ira looked stunned but he hid it well behind his hearty laugh and broad grin. "Come on big guy, let's get you sorted out!"

    Onix looked at the trainer disdainfully and slid away, sweeping the leaves aside like a giant broom. Sandy smiled apologetically at Ira as she rushed towards her Pokémon. "Don't worry, Onix, you'll be safe with him!" She said, rearranging her tired features to look as optimistic and reassuring as possible. "He's going to fix your scratches and make you feel all better. Trust me!"

    Onix's eyes retained their scepticism, but he stopped moving away, cautiously accepting her advice. Sandy walked slowly back towards the house, and by the time she had made it inside, Onix's boulder-sized head was resting on the grass, waiting to be treated.

    If only it was always that simple, Sandy thought, watching Ira gather together various bottles and vials. Just put some cream on, spray a bit of ointment, and everything's better again. Pokémon don't realise how lucky their genetics are.

    "Do you want any breakfast or anything?" Lachlan called from inside a kitchen cupboard. "He's got a lot of eggs here, and I can make a mean omelette."

    "Maybe in a bit, I need to sleep first." Sandy approached Ira's sole couch; there was rubbish and discarded clothing scattered on and around the sofa, but she ignored it all, throwing herself onto the cushions and shutting her eyes, tiredness ready to take her away.

    When she opened her eyes, Ira's plastered ceiling had disappeared to be replaced a wood panelling that covered the roof and walls. Sandy sat up slowly as if moving through water and looked around; everything in the small, narrow room she'd found herself in was different but familiar, like an old photo she'd long forgotten about.

    There were blankets around her, soft and pink like a child's, matching the tiny bed that still felt too big for the room. Slowly, she pushed the sheets aside and got up, finding her slippers were in the same place she'd left them by the faded purple bedside table. Wrapping herself in her hand-me-down dressing gown, Sandy opened the door as much as the space would allow and squeezed through the gap, already feeling suffocated.

    The hallway was bare, brown and dark. Once, photos and paintings had covered every inch of the walls, but now it empty and joyless. It left a chill in the air, and Sandy cautiously tiptoed past the bathroom and the guest room, shivering towards the room at the end of the corridor.

    Part of her had expected the living room to be different, yet everywhere Sandy looked, it was unsurprisingly the same: the saggy blue couch they'd had her whole life, the bookshelf that was home to more dust than actual books, the same lonely fern standing in the corner. She'd thought it might have died without her, but it looked as lush and healthy as the day she'd left.

    Only one thing had changed. Sandy's eyes drifted towards the armchair that sat almost dead centre in the room; age and sunlight had paled the, once deeply rich green, while wear had seen the once plump, soft cushions deflate, obvious body marks now permanently implanted into the fabric. Sandy rarely saw the chair so exposed; its usual occupant was normally nestled comfortably into the grooves, his body long adjusted to a seat that had depleted alongside him. She never had the chance to sit in it herself, only because she'd never seen it empty. It looked naked without someone in it, and Sandy struggled to resist the urge to take her place there; she let the dressing gown fall away as she reached out, her fingers brushing against the fabric, too late realising another shadow had passed over it.

    "Look who's come crawling home…"

    Sandy sat up with a start, gasping for air as if breaking through the surface of the ocean. Her head throbbed as she looked around, trying to comprehend a world that was suddenly spinning; where had the wood all gone, and why was there rubbish piled everywhere?

    Finally, her eyes landed on Lachlan, though even that startled her. He was sitting in an armchair beside the TV, staring at her gormlessly, a bit of omelette dripping from the fork by his mouth. Slowly, he leant forward and hit the mute button on the remote, silencing the flickering television, and straightened up, his eyes never once leaving her. "I made you one," he said finally, pointing at the cluttered table, a greasy yellow mess sitting on the one clean plate.

    Sandy stared at the surprise breakfast without touching it, letting everything sink in, before finally, slowly, picking up the plate. Everything made sense now, as much as it could in her current situation, and Sandy slowly chewed at the omelette, waiting for her heartbeat to return to normal, for the dream to slip away into the depths of her memory.

    "So… did you sleep well?" Lachlan asked with an optimistic smile. When Sandy simply stared back at him filthily, he rolled his eyes and turned away with a stifled huff. "Was just asking, jeez…."

    "How long was I out for?"

    Lachlan shrugged. "Only about half an hour."

    "Great," Sandy groaned, tossing the plate to the side where it joined a number of take away cartons. Her head felt worse than it had last night, but she doubted she'd be able to fall asleep again so easily. Not that she was keen to return to her dreams any time soon; Sandy was well aware where she was now, but the ghosts of what she'd seen lingered at the forefronts of her mind. She only had to shut her eyes for a few seconds too long and she was back surrounded by those wooden walls she'd tried so desperately to escape.

    "If you don't want the omelette, I can make you something else."

    Sandy didn't realise Lachlan was staring at her. For how long this time, she couldn't tell. "Oh, it's fine, it's actually really good."

    "Thanks," Lachlan said, smiling into his own plate. "Cooking was probably the only thing I was ever good at back home. Did I ever tell you my mum used to work as a chef?"

    "No, I don't think so."

    "Well, she gave that up when she had us, but she always wanted one of us to pick up where she'd left off. I probably would have done that eventually if this hadn't happened. Maybe I still will if we… you know… survive."

    In the few days they'd spent alone together, Sandy had quickly picked up on the little cues in Lachlan's voice when the emotion started to hit him. She reached over and clutched his hand not limply holding the remnants of his omelette. "We'll survive this. There's still hope out there."

    "Do you actually believe that?" Lachlan said, looking at her sceptically.

    Sandy smirked, her grip on his hand loosening. "Not really, no," she said with a heavy laugh, slipping back into her seat. "It might not be your lovely producers that do me in though."

    "What does that mean?"

    "Nothing," Sandy sighed, shaking her head.

    "No, don't just say that and move on." Lachlan put his plate down and stood up, crossing his arms and looking at her as sternly as his cherubic face could manage. "You were acting oddly last night. What's up with you?"

    For a second, Sandy wanted to brush him aside and forget all about it. She was not in the mood for a deep and meaningful, not when her head felt like it had been cleaved in two and her body still ached from the Donphan chase. Yet the longer she glowered back at Lachlan, silently daring him to ask her again, the less she felt like fighting this endless battle she'd been waging against herself.

    "What's wrong with me? Well, asides from the obvious, I've been kidding myself for about a week now that I still have some say over my own life. I thought if I took on this pathetic prophecy I've been given I could find some hidden meaning in it that might give me some more agency in my life. I thought being separated from Alaska might be a chance to find that, to make some choices free of all her burdens and just be my own person for once. But no, apparently the universe won't allow that. Apparently, as much as Alaska needs me, I need her just as much to survive.

    "And that's just devastating. Not because it's her, I can't keep blaming everything on her – it's not her fault a Donphan nearly killed me, is it? And that's the thing. If I hadn't found Alaska, I probably would have died somehow. I mean, if I hadn't fallen on her in Viridian Forest, I probably would have died falling from that tree. I don't really know quite how either of us got up after that, but I guess that's the universe keeping us alive for whatever purpose we have to serve."

    Sandy paused for barely a second to breathe, but now that the floodgates were open, she couldn't stop. "And you know, I didn't leave home for this. I was already living a nightmare I thought I couldn't get out of; I didn't want to enter another one. But, of course, that's exactly what I did. When we washed up on the island yesterday, for a little while there, I thought I had some choice in this world. I thought I could prove that, once this is all over, I can go and do what I've always wanted: explore the world, see sights I never thought possible, have a life. That field should be something anyone remembers only as a thing of beauty, but I won't be able to remember it like that. If I had come here on my own and run into that Donphan, I probably would have died. I nearly did because I don't value my own Pokémon enough and I've let my training slip because I'm too focused on my own failing life, and that means I only have one truly strong Pokémon who has to hold all that burden alone and will probably tear herself in two trying to protect me because she knows I can't do it myself. Basically, I've just realised how doomed I am on my own, but not being alone means giving up on everything I've ever wanted, and I just don't want to do that. So yeah, that's what's wrong with me, how about you?"

    Lachlan said nothing. He simply looked at her blankly, clearly never having experienced such an onslaught of information and emotion like this before. He remained standing for a moment, arms now hanging awkwardly by his side, before he collapsed back into his chair, the air of defeat surrounding him.

    Sandy too remained silent. Now that she had released all of that from her body, she wasn't sure how to feel. It felt like she had run all the way from the valley, her body so drained and light and detached. She felt like if she moved too suddenly she might slip into a crack in the couch and disappear into its soft darkness forever.

    "I think you are too hard on yourself."

    Sandy looked up; Lachlan's his eyes flickered briefly and rapidly towards her but he kept them locked mostly on the table, and it was to that that he directed himself. "You aren't useless. You've done amazing things. You got us out of the boat, your Butterfree is skilled enough to stop a rampaging Donphan, you've tamed a giant Onix that once destroyed a building. You are far more incredible than you give yourself credit for. Failures wouldn't be able to survive all the things you've been through."

    Despite herself, Sandy smiled. She hadn't asked for reassurance from him, and even if she knew he was just trying to console her, it still felt good to hear. "It's more than just being a failure. It's this feeling that all this is for nothing, that my whole life means nothing without Alaska. I can't just live my life without any choice in where I am going, in what I do. I'm permanently attached to her whether I want to be or not, and to have that restriction… it's just so… I don't even have the words for it. Suffocating doesn't do it any justice."

    "Why do you two always go on about choices?" Lachlan finally turned to her, his face briefly flashing with anger. "It's all I ever read on Alaska's blog, and it seems to be what you're fixated on as well. Everyone wants a choice in life, but that's not really how life works. Some people are lucky enough to be able to choose what they do with themselves, but everyone else has to roll with the circumstances and decide from what they get given. None of them has a prophecy they can use to excuse themselves. I didn't choose to get my arse handed to me by Amanda, but what you said last night is true; either I can wallow in the pity of this whole clusterfuck, or I can try and make a difference. You have the same choice, you know. Just because you happen to know what you are meant to do doesn't mean you have to just follow along being so fucking depressed about everything."

    Sandy was stunned silent. This was more unexpected than the compliments. She sank further into her seat as the words left their mark, hurting only because they were true. "You actually read Alaska's blog?" She muttered, smiling weakly at the table.

    Lachlan rolled his eyes but still managed to smirk. "I don't want to sound mean or judgemental. I am really in no position to tell you how to live your life. But you used to be such a happy person, and it's hard to see you so… consumed, I guess, by all of this."

    "It's hard not to be consumed," Sandy said, resting her head on hands, trying to catch the tears she could feel about to spill over.

    "Maybe you just need to look at things from another angle?" Lachlan offered. "Maybe the point of this prophecy isn't that you help her or that she needs you, but that you need each other in order to stop what's coming?"

    Everything Lachlan said seemed to be surprising here; Sandy sat bolt upright, body buzzing slightly. She had never considered things that way, but now that it was out there, it seemed blindingly obvious. For weeks now, she'd let this prophecy weigh her down, she had viewed it with just this one dark light shining on it; had she, had everyone, misinterpreted what it all meant? Just because Alaska and Paige were the ones carved into the rock didn't mean they were the only ones who had a role to play.

    For the first time in days, Sandy felt herself smiling, a real grin that rose from the depths of her soul. Her mind felt clear, and for a moment she wanted to lean across and kiss Lachlan straight on the lips. Instead, she simply smiled at him; she possibly looked manic, as Lachlan eyed her back nervously, but then a smile crossed his lips, and for a moment the two simply stared at each other, pure joy emanating between them.

    That all vanished the second Sandy noticed the television. With the instantaneousness of a switch being flicked, her fear, her sadness, her anger all came rushing back in one quick, consuming wave. Her smile faded. She forgot all about Lachlan, she forgot where she was, she forgot what she was sitting on; the whole world disappeared into a faint, sharp buzz, everything except for the images moving across the screen before her.

    "Are you watching this?" She managed after a minute. She didn't watch Lachlan as he

    fumbled around for the remote, the images of Pokémon bursting through the ground all she could think about, but he must have found it as she could hear what the newsreader was saying, her dread rising with each increasing decibel.

    "… the street remains closed as authorities continue to examine the scene outside the prominent skyscraper. No one as yet knows where the apparently robotic Pokémon came from or where they are going, but the appearance of the metal copies comes after several months of growing rumours around the appearance of such Pokémon in the region. Silph Co. continues to decline requests for comment."

    "What does this mean?" Lachlan said, his voice quaking with fear.

    "It means we need to get back to Alaska." Sandy was on her feet already, running towards the medical bay. It looked like only four Poké Balls had been given potions, but Sandy pocketed hers anyway; there'd be time to heal their Pokémon later. She threw the remaining capsules to Lachlan and grabbed her bag in one swift movement as she ran towards the front door. "IRA, WE NEED TO GO!"

    Sandy only made it a few feet into the garden before she realised she wasn't alone. For a second, everything seemed fine; she could see the spine on Onix's head, the peaceful calm they had arrived in remained. Yet Sandy only had to blink for that all to change.

    The carpet of leaves shuddered violently, and suddenly men were rising from the ground, swarming her on all sides with guns pointed squarely at her head and chest. She had no idea where they had come from, but their intention was clear, and Sandy had only a few seconds to make a choice; too far from the house to make it back inside, she instead reached for her Poké Balls and grabbed the first one that came within reach.

    "ONIX!" Her scream cut through the chaos, and the faceless men stopped; only a few metres separated Sandy from them, but that meant nothing if they pulled the triggers their fingers were resting so keenly on.

    "Onnnnn." The pained grunt filled the air, yet Onix showed no sign of moving from his position. Panic filled Sandy's heart, fearing the worst. There was a snap of fingers behind the men, and one of them stepped aside, revealing Onix was lying on the ground, thick, shining cord keeping his hold body still.

    "Restrictive anchors, made with steel forged from the finest Canalavian iron ore, infused with the purest Kalosi diamonds. If you were trying to hide, leaving your giant Onix out in the open was a pretty piss poor move."

    Sandy's whole body went cold. Somehow she thought she had escaped one of their enemies, but she should have known better; she'd survived a gunshot to the chest, so why couldn't Amanda survive sinking unconscious to the bottom of the ocean? The producer looked very alive as she strolled smugly into view, dragging Ira behind her with one hand while clutching a knife in the other. In fact, with her measured smile and darting, alert eyes, she looked as animated as Sandy had ever seen her.

    "How did you escape?" Sandy muttered.

    "Chloe pulled me out, darling girl," Amanda said drawly, waving the question away with the knife. Another tip; you should leave both people you're trying to escape from unconscious if you want to get rid of them, otherwise you're just wasting your time. Look at me, doling out all the advice, I'm a regular Vivian Winters."

    Amanda smiled thinly, a smile that remained as she kicked Ira in the back; he hit the ground heavily, gasping as the breath was knocked out of him. Only then did her features turn dark. "I don't have a whole lot of time, and I've wasted what little I had trying to find you. So I am going to make this simple for you, Sandy. You and Lachlan can come with us quietly, or I will kill this lovely man, I will kill your Onix, and then I make you both come regardless, though you may be missing a hand or two. So how are going to play this?"

    Sandy knew she had only a few seconds to say something, but she kept quiet, her eyes moving quickly across the scene. There were seven armed men, another five or so behind them keeping Onix tied down. She couldn't see Chloe anywhere, but she couldn't rule her out being somewhere nearby. That left about fourteen people for her to fight through – a small number, compared to what she and Alaska had faced before. She'd have a few seconds after throwing her Poké Ball to do something, maybe charge at the men, startle them. Lachlan would follow her lead, wherever he was, which meant they could turn this into a proper fight. There was a chance they could get out of this. She just had to make the first move.

    A few seconds passed. Sandy surveyed the scene one last time before she let her Poké Ball fall back into her pocket. "You can take me, but you have to let Lachlan go. He and Ira get to stay here, completely unharmed, and if anything does come to them, I will make sure you suffer twice what they do. Is that clear?"

    Amanda's eyebrows rose slightly, betraying her managed demeanour. They stayed that way for a moment as she processed the offer, and then she waved her hand; there were a series of clicks, and the men all lowered their guns. "I always knew you were wise underneath the flowers and rainbows. You are saving me a lot of time and energy I don't have to spare at the moment, so thank you. I might just leave you in one piece."

    She fell silent as a roar shuddered through the air. Everyone turned to watch as Onix rose to full height, the giant freed from his constraints. If Alaska was here, this would be the moment she'd break her promise; she'd tackle Amanda, take her gun, maybe even kill her – after everything they'd been through, Sandy wouldn't be surprised. She'd probably pull the trigger herself if she had to.

    But she was sick of fighting, sick of testing their luck. Roll with the circumstances, Sandy thought as lowered herself to the ground, her knees crunching against the layer of leaves, and she extended a hand to Ira.

    "What the fuck is this?" The ranger was red in the face, his hearty smile finally fallen.

    "It's best you don't know," Sandy whispered with a sombre smile, and she used one hand to help him up and another to grab at the ground. "Thank you for your help," she added once he was on his feet, and she briefly hugged him as she reached into his pockets. Once they broke apart, Sandy lifted Onix's Poké Ball to the sky and pressed the button, the world falling quieter as the Rock Snake was sucked back inside.

    "Sandy!"

    The sound of crunching leaves replaced the giant's roar, and everyone turned as Lachlan sprinted towards them, Poké Balls in hand. "What's going on? What the fuck is happening?"

    "Don't worry about me, this has to happen." Sandy could see the pain and confusion on his face and it stabbed at her heart, but it was a more endurable suffering than what would follow losing another battle she didn't have to fight. Why couldn't Lachlan see this was exactly what he had told her to do; that without him, she wouldn't be giving herself over to the lion, for once writing her own destiny?

    At the last second, Ira stepped in Lachlan's way, holding him back. Sandy could hear the men moving in but she ignored them, meeting Lachlan's eyes as she emptied her hands, letting a string of leaves dance freely into the air, and she winked. "This is my choice," she said, and smiled contently for the first time in weeks, a smile that lasted until something solid hit her head, and finally, her mind was at rest.

    ***

    The nameless town in the shadow of a twice-fallen tower barely had anything to justify its existence; street lighting, public facilities, enough people to form a reasonably sized choir. Yet, in what had to be the strangest miracle Alaska had encountered on her travels, they had a food truck.

    "Believe it or not, we used to be very popular back in the day," Joe, the owner of the rusted, repurposed caravan known within the wilted community as 'The Hub', explained as he placed Alaska and Damian's lunch on the one table he had put out to the side of his business. "Trainers loved me because I was so much cheaper than what they had over there. Obviously, I pretty much only serve my friends and family now, but hey, people gotta eat!"

    "Preach!" Alaska yelled, and she devoured half the greasy burger in one giant bite. It had been a long time since she had had food this intentionally disgusting, and she planned on enjoying every single bit of it.

    "I can't believe how happy these people seem to be," Damian whispered, watching Joe as he waddled back to the truck. "There's nothing to do in this town. I've only been here ttwenty-fourhours and I'm already going mad."

    Alaska was grateful for her overstuffed mouth as it stifled her sharp laugh. "It may surprise you to learn this, dearie, but some people are perfectly fine with living a fairly simple life. Not everyone needs to go on television to try and find some contentment in their life."

    "Not everyone feels the need to start a blog and use that to justify their actions."

    "Touché," Alaska said, smirking, and she slid a chip into her mouth. She was surprised by how chirpy she felt this morning, but there was something about being in this town that seemed to be relaxing her.

    Maybe it was the quiet that held her at peace. Alaska and Damian said nothing further, simply silently devouring their greasy food. Asides from their clicking jaws and the sizzle from Joe's grill, the world was the quietest Alaska had ever experienced. There were no people around, no Pokémon, no cars rushing down the streets, none of the signs of chaos she had come to expect. Despite all the horrors that had happened here in the past, this little town had managed to find peace, and Alaska was only just realising how much this life appealed to her.

    "So what are we going to do now?"

    Alaska sighed. She only had herself to blame; any time she began considering a calmer, quieter, better existence, the universe had to remind her what her destiny was. She looked down at the soggy remains of her meal and pushed them away, the sight of the half eaten burger suddenly unappetising.

    "We need to head to One Island now, I guess," Alaska said unenthusiastically, wiping her hands on a napkin. "If they aren't there, we are going to have to start thinking differently."

    "What if we stayed here? They could show up here eventually."

    "They could." Alaska had been thinking the same thing herself, and she turned towards the valley at the other end of the town; the hallowed tower was invisible from here, but its presence could be felt from across the water. "But that's too risky. Sandy and Lachlan are in danger as long as Amanda has them, and if she's holed up somewhere else, we are threatening their lives."

    Damian nodded and sighed, casting his eyes around the empty square. Alaska knew that look, and for a split second ,she considered sliding her hand across the table towards his. He turned back towards her, his eyes suddenly alight, and the thought left her mind.

    "Don't you have some psychic connection you've got with a legendary?"

    "Yeah. Latios and I are destined to be together, for some reason."

    One of Damian's eyebrows shot up sceptically. "Really?"

    "Yes, really," Alaska replied haughtily.

    "Well, why can't he just work out where Sandy is for us?"

    "It doesn't work like that, he's not a radar system."

    "Doesn't sound like he's much of anything," Damian smirked. "Where's he been all this time? If he's destined to be with you, why has he let you shit the bed as badly as you have?"

    "He's unwell… I think…" Alaska pursed her lips as Damian started to cackle. "Fine, if it'll make you shut up, I'll try and get in touch."

    "Does he have a PokePal number?" Damian giggled.

    "Bite me, Simple Life." Alaska swivelled in her chair so he wasn't looking right at her and shut her eyes. Latios, are you there? Hello? Are you there, Latios – it's me, Alaska! Helloooo? Operator, you've got one call waiting, hellooo –

    ALASKA! Are you safe?

    "Fucking hell!" Alaska opened her eyes as something hit her head; it was only when Damian appeared above her, face swimming with concern, that she realised she'd fallen to the ground.

    "Are you alright?" Damian yelled.

    "I think so." Alaska tried to sit up but collapsed again, her head suddenly swimming. You mind telling me what's going on?

    I could ask the same of you. You started moving rapidly out of range yesterday, and then I simply lost you. I've been trying to reach out to you but my range can only go so far without your help.

    Well, I'm here now. Next time try not to jump into my mind like that again, okay?

    Hopefully I'll never have to. I am with allies of yours, we are mobilising a force to find you and come after Buzz.

    Forget about Buzz, it's Amanda you need to be worried about. She's got Sandy. Alaska paused, expecting some sort of response, but in the time it took her to right her chair and unsteadily sink back into it, she heard nothing but silence. Are you still –

    Have you not heard the latest news?

    Latios' voice was more sombre than normal, a tone that made Alaska's blood chill. What's happened?

    Two nights ago, Buzz had his army break out from Silph Co. The International Police were able to track them temporarily but they vanished without a trace. I thought they had come for you, but clearly Buzz has a different goal in mind.

    Have they attacked the League?

    No, Red is fine. So is your family, we have eyes on them. But they weren't moving in that direction anyway. The satellites tracked them heading south – we lost them after they passed over Vermillion.

    Alaska swallowed hard. Latios, I'm in the Sevii Islands.

    Which one?

    Alaska was pleased to notice that even a god could not keep the fear out of his voice. Seven Island, near Pokémon Tower. We thought Amanda might have been coming here.

    Perhaps she and Buzz have chosen a rendezvous somewhere away from our sensors.

    No, Amanda went rogue. Unless he's gone to bring her back into the fold…

    I gather you are alone with Damian? If Buzz knows this, he would have struck already. I do not think you are his target, and if it is not Amanda, he has to be after something. There was a pause for a moment, enough time that Alaska could feel her brain throbbing under the pressure. I am sorry to do this to you, Alaska, but I am going to have to access all your memories. It will last only a second, but I am afraid it won't be pleasant.

    All my memories, what are you – FUCKING SHIT BALLS!" Alaska clutched her head and held back a scream, a rush of pain so intense she was certain she would pass out. It only lasted a second, yet in that brief moment of time ,she was hit with a wave of memories and sensations from her thirteen years as though Latios had hit her with a wall made out of her family photos. Her vision turned white and blurry, and no matter how hard she blinked, all she could see was her own past; her first day of school, her family holiday to Cinnabar, getting Paige for the first time, seeing Viridian in ruins, Sandy falling from the tree.

    "Alaska, are you alright? Alaska! Joe, I need some water!" Urgent hands clutched her face and lifted her up, and Alaska heard a faint gasp over the rush filling her head. "Fuck me," Damian whispered, and a soft finger was brushing her nose, wiping away what Alaska could only assume from the metallic smell was her blood.

    "It's over now, don't worry, I'll be fine," Alaska mumbled, hoping against all hope she was right. She shut her eyes for a minute, breathing out the pain, and when she opened them she could see Damian clearly; his blonde hair was hanging over his fearful eyes, making him look younger than Alaska had ever seen him.

    "What the hell happened? I thought you were about to have a seizure."

    "I'm fine," Alaska repeated breathlessly. "Latios… he needed to find out where Buzz might be going. He searched through all my memories for a clue. It was… it was a bit intense."

    Damian scoffed with his usual indignation. "No shit. Did he find something though?"

    "Yeah, he did." Alaska shut her eyes again, and there it was: the palace like building she had only visited the once, a structure so stunningly beautiful she had buried it in the back of her mind, the only way she could cope with the injustice of it all. Yet in the middle of the rush, it had shone out like a beacon, calling to her, calling to Latios, pulling them both towards it. "I know where Buzz is going, and we need to get there right now."
     
  5. Threadmarks: Interlude Sixteen: Classless
    AceTrainer14

    AceTrainer14 The acest of trainers

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    Note: Chapter contains scenes of a sexual nature.

    Interlude Sixteen: Classless

    It was a sentence Emily had never expected to cross her mind, but this storeroom was surprising. That a room so small could contain so much had stolen her attention, and the cornucopia of objects scattered about only enhanced her sudden curiosity.

    There were exactly seven mouldy, water damaged books left on the shelf right by her head. Four pencils, none the same length, sat on the third shelf from the ceiling on her right, near a packet of chalk that seemed to be slowly disintegrating. A mop, fabric turned black from age, rested against the door frame. There was some brightly coloured box on the very bottom shelf, but Emily could not get low enough to read the cursive label.

    All these items meant nothing to each other, but to Emily, they were all linked by one thing: abandonment. Whoever had left all this stuff here had long forgotten about it, and the unknown stories behind each object was enough to take hold of her attention in a way that tongue working away at her vagina was unable to.

    "Are you nearly done?"

    Brian Stevens' deep voice was barely audible through her skirt. "Don't rush me," he grunted with his usual indignation.

    "I wouldn't need to rush you if you didn't take so bloody long," Emily muttered to the room.

    She left it there, allowing the awkward silence to make its unwanted returned, interrupted only by a light, rapid thumping coming from near the floor. Emily stared down at the figure embroiled in her groin and sighed. This was not what she'd had in mind for their rendezvous, but Brian had slept through his alarm and the narrow window they had before track had left them with little choice. It was better than nothing, but Emily had hoped for more. Brian wasn't as orally gifted as he seemed to think he was, and she wasn't fond of him heavy breathing into her crotch as he pumped away at himself like a steam engine.

    At least he's better than he was last year. Emily tore her eyes away from the unwanted objects and stared down at the exposed edges of Brian's arse, the two sides curving down to greet one another in perfect symmetry. Give it another three months and I might have something in the broad vicinity of an orgasm.

    A series of stifled groans broke the silence. Emily tensed as the movement near her thighs became faster, the thumping gaining traction. A few seconds later, Brian gasped dramatically into her legs, his groans rapidly gaining rhythm before stuttering to a finish. There was a pause, the heavy quiet that could only follow some great trauma, before Brian emerged, already wiping himself down with a tissue.

    "That was amazing," he said breathlessly.

    "Mmm, wasn't it?" Emily hitched her underwear back up and adjusted her skirt, giving Brian a small smile as she reached for the door. "Wake up at the first alarm next time. If I'm going to get caught in here, I want the fun to be worth the punishment."

    Brian rolled his eyes the way he always did when criticised, a look that made his round, blond-framed face look even more childish. "I told you, I fell asleep writing my History essay! Miss Yanagimoto always gives us the hardest tasks."

    Emily paused in the open doorway, unable to avoid the opportunity that had been handed to her on a golden platter. "I wish I knew what that felt like," she purred, and closed the door.

    Her smile vanished as Emily turned and faced the cold. A brisk wind blew through the corridor and clawed its way up her bare legs. Not for the first time this morning, Emily cursed Brian and his lax attitude to everything. If they had met up earlier, she could have gone back to sleep before heading to running club, or at least been able to wear something more appropriate for the time and temperature. Instead, she was left with an hour to kill before track, with nothing to do and no orgasm to linger on.

    It didn't help that this hallway was the only place they could meet. The dorms were segregated by gender with an oppressive doctrine ensuring the distance was more than physical; the Arcethian Academy was not as religious as it had once been, but that didn't mean the headmasters wanted the students fornicating at any opportunity. Emily imaged it would rather dent their reputation if every girl was in their third trimester by the end of the year.

    The archaic laws meant that anyone wanting to give in to their urges had to make do with whatever random spot they could find around the school. Some headed down to the beach or pier or found a secluded spot along the shoreline, but that was too exposed for Emily's liking. Even this had not been her first option; the hallway, a bare, unexciting concrete shortcut between the courtyard and the field, was too open for her liking. She had only considered it because the security cameras were down – a discovery made by a small group of frequent smokers during the first week of term – but being on the boy's side of the building, Emily had no reason to be here if she was caught.

    She had needed the distraction though, no matter how brief and unfulfilling. A second shiver spread through her that had little to do with the cold, and Emily sighed at her own desperation, that this was what she had been reduced to. "Alright Chester, we can go."

    A shape moved at the courtyard end of the darkened corridor. What looked like a spiky dome rose, arms, legs and a tail spooling out from within. Once fully erect, the creature lumbered towards Emily, thick arms swinging clumsily until he was looming directly over her. The feeble light exposed his white, furry face and the cream scales that ran down his torso and legs. All that Emily was familiar with; what was new was the heavy, disparaging glower in his eyes.

    "What's that look for?" she snapped. The Chesnaught said nothing, simply tilting his head towards the closet door and looking back, smirking. "Oh my god, are you judging me?"

    Chester shrugged. "Ches Naw," he said in his deep grumble, smile widening.

    "God I hate you sometimes," Emily growled, rolling her eyes. Yet she knew Chester had a point, and couldn't help sighing at the door herself. "Look, I know he's a bit dim, but he's hung like a Mudsdale and was the only option I had tonight, alright?"

    "Naw Naw!" Chester shrieked, waving his arms in protest. He then shoved a claw into his mouth and mimed throwing up.

    Emily wanted to thump him but couldn't help smiling. "Fuck you, Unsullied," she sighed and turned to leave, debating what she should do. She only made it a few metres before a column of light appeared across the courtyard.

    It was followed by a deep, gravelly voice that echoed through the silent night. "It was coming from down here."

    Security guards. "Fuckballs," Emily hissed and rapidly looked for an escape. She had worn her running gear with the intention of arguing she was simply heading to the track early, but she didn't want to test that lie, especially not on this side of campus.

    She turned to Chester for help, but the Chesnaught had already flung open a door she had passed over in the dark. "Ches!" he growled and pulled her towards him. Emily had no idea what he was planning until he pushed her roughly through an open door; she landed in a heap at the foot of a staircase but had no time to be angry.

    She jumped to her feet and fumbled for her Poké Ball as Chester quietly closed the door behind them. "Thank you," she whispered and pointed the capsule at him. She lingered long enough for him to return to the ball before running up the stairs. There was a chance the guards might hear her trainers pounding on the wood, but Emily threw all caution to the wind and focused on putting as much distance between her and them as she could.

    Faux wood and dated seventies carpet passed in a blur. At the top of every flight of stairs a door and possible escape awaited her, but the first four stories were reserved for classrooms and Emily had no place being there at five in the morning. Instead, she kept running, turning so often in the narrow stairwell her started to spin, but she didn't stop until she found refuge.

    At the top of the sixth flight, the stairs reached their final destination but it was where Emily needed to be. Mercifully, the door was unlocked – probably by Brian sneaking down earlier – and she stepped breathlessly into the corridor beyond. She now stood in the heart of the boy's quarters, a place arguably riskier than being found in the middle of a hallway, but Emily had no time to dwell on that. She paused only to wipe sweat from her forehead before setting off down the corridor.

    All was silent. It was perhaps unexpected at this time of night, but still, Emily found it unsettling. She knew what boys were like, and every time the floor creaked, she expected someone masked by the dim light to jump out from behind a door screaming maniacally.

    Thankfully, she knew where she was going. It was her first time in the boy's senior dorms, but they were the mirrored identical of the girl's, making it easier for Emily to find her way through the gloomy hallway. The only differences were a slightly warmer feel to the air and a musty like that of an uncleaned locker room. Sweat and semen, probably.

    She wondered if the boys were enjoying the relative luxury of their new rooms as much as she was. After four years of living in dorms, having her own room was the number one thing Emily had been looking forward to over the summer break. Rooms a fifth of the size of the shared dorms but with the benefit of actual privacy; bathrooms that only had to be shared by ten people instead of a hundred; a thin layer of carpet that had been cleaned with some regularity; extravagant indulgences compared to the last few years.

    A creak behind her jolted her from her thoughts. Emily paused, waiting for someone to appear beside her, but whatever the sound was it seemed to have passed. She carried on with extra stealth, tiptoeing quickly before her intended door, all the while repeating her lie under her breath. "It's a family emergency, I just had to come and see my brother." A feeble excuse, but one that would work given the current climate. Emily didn't want to think of what was happening back on the mainland, but that didn't mean she couldn't abuse the situation.

    Finally, a glint in the distance caught her eye. Emily scampered towards it and smiled at the bronze '614' glimmering brighter than its neighbours. Of course he's polished it. Emily rolled her eyes and smirked as she turned the doorknob, not questioning why it was opening so easily. "Wakey wakey Eddie, time for – good lord!"

    In a split second, Edward's face turned from relaxed pleasure to pure horror. He and Emily locked eyes for a second before the naked youth, who had had until a moment ago his mouth around Edward's groin, leapt up, momentarily subjecting Emily to her twin in all his glory. Thankfully, Edward quickly pushed his companion out of the way and threw a sheet over himself, leaving the boy exposed and trying desperately to hide his bushy erection as he scrambled about for his clothes.

    Emily blinked and shook her head as if that would erase the memory. "My my, they really do give you boys special treatment. The only wakeup call we get is Matron banging on our doors."

    "Oh shut up," Edward snapped as he threw a pair of briefs at the boy. "Get out, now."

    "B-b-but I'm not dressed."

    "NOW!"

    The boy nodded obediently and sprinted for the door, covering his front with a jumbled pile of clothes but leaving his flat, hairy arse dangling as he ran past Emily. She watched him go and quietly shut the door, staring at the wood for a moment as she tried to get the image out of her mind.

    "Couldn't you have found anyone a bit… smoother?" she said finally, smiling devilishly at her brother.

    Edward struggled to mask his ire. "Nothing wrong with a bit of bush. Besides, I don't need any other reminders of how young he is."

    "True, but I dunno; it's like, what are they hiding?"

    "Do you always wake up this vulgar?"

    Emily giggled malevolently. "Probably. Just remember what Professor Oak always used to say: beware of the long grass, you never know quite what's lurking in there."

    "Fuck you," Edward growled, but even he couldn't help grinning at her. "So, let me guess, Brilliant Brian only lasted a few minutes and you're here to kill time before track?"

    Emily pursed her lips and ignored the jibe. "When you say young, how young exactly is he? We may be in an uncivilised part of the world but I think paedophilia is illegal even in Sevii."

    "He's 16, which is legal here as it is everywhere," Edward retorted. "And don't change the subject. You can't come here and mock me just because your boy toy can't keep his jizz in for more than five seconds."

    Emily gasped dramatically. "Don't be so cruel! It was more like eight seconds."

    "How dare I, I must apologise next time I see him."

    "Don't you fucking dare!"

    "Well, don't you say anything about Tobias."

    "Tobias?" Emily frowned at her brother, for the first time disappointed. "What sort of twatty name is Tobias?"

    "Religious, probably," Edward offered with a shrug.

    "Lord have mercy on these poor idiot's souls." Emily sank into the flimsy chair that came with these narrow rooms and sighed. "How did we end up in a place like this, Eddy?"

    "Um, you're the one that applied for the scholarship first, remember?" Edward rolled his eyes but copied her exasperated sigh, leaning back onto one muscular arm and scratching his armpit. "So what are you doing here?"

    Emily shrugged. "Security guards came poking around. I thought it best not to see how convincing my jailbait smile is."

    "So you thought instead of being caught down there, you'd risk getting caught up here?"

    "I have more reason to be here." Emily spread her arms and gestured at the room. "I was going to say we've been back at school for a whole week and I haven't seen your new room yet."

    Edward snorted dismissively. "Really?"

    "Of course," Emily gasped dramatically. "If I hadn't come to see you, our twin powers would fade!"

    "Oh no! How on earth would we read each other's minds now?" Edward flounced sideways and lay sprawled half on the floor, clutching his bare chest intensely.

    The two laughed for a few moments longer before stabilising into stilted silence. Emily gazed around the room, looking for something to mock; just like her, her brother had barely decorated his room, with only a poster of Marlon above the empty desk and Lt Surge's sweating chest on the door masking the bland interior. A small pile of books sat on the desk, and Emily leant towards them. In doing so, she noticed a photo frame lying on its front. Assuming Tobias must have knocked it over in his, Emily went to right it, yet when she saw the image, she dropped it just as quickly.

    Edward immediately sensed her tension and looked around. "Oh…" he mumbled, pulling himself back into bed. "Sorry, I should have mentioned I'd put that back out."

    "It's fine," Emily replied quickly through clenched teeth. "It's our family; you are allowed to have a photo of them." Her eyes lingered on the decade-old image for another moment before she turned away, smiling bitterly.

    Edward rolled his eyes. "What now?"

    "Nothing! I said I'm fine."

    "Cut the crap, bitch, I know when you're lying to me." Edward crossed his arms and flared his nostrils, as he did every time he got annoyed with her. He glared at her as though that would make Emily spill, but she held her ground, and in the silence, his bravado deflated.

    "I know you don't want to talk about this or even think about it, but maybe we need to. I mean, this past week, all I've really been able to think about is what would have happened if we hadn't gone to Unova. Do you think that maybe if we had gone home, none of… you know, the stuff out there would be happening?"

    If it wasn't for the sleeping boys on either side of the room, there were a million things Emily would have shouted at him right now. Instead, she merely got to her feet and lunged towards him, stabbing his sinewy pecs with her index finger. "We aren't discussing this, Edward, end of story," she hissed.

    "Come on, Emily, you can't just keep pretend it's not happening. The entire school is talking about it – fuck, the whole world is talking about it. Have you picked up a newspaper in the last few days?"

    "Let them bloody well talk! She got herself into this mess, it has nothing to do with us or what we did. Going home wouldn't have changed anything, and I am not going to spend the rest of the year putting up with your guilty trips, alright?"

    Angry silence filled the room. The twins stared at each other with mutual defiance and resentment, their faces a mirror now more than ever, haughty eyes and thick jaws quivering back at one another.

    Emily waited, knowing he would cave first, and hid her smile when his barely muscled body sank back into his pillows; a weak defeat, but one she'd take. "Are you going to come down to the field with me now?"

    "Not yet. You interrupted me mid-orgasm. So if we're done fighting…" Edward smiled mischievously as he fumbled under the sheets, and a second later his boxers were flying through the air.

    "Disgusting boy!" Emily shrieked, batting them away. "To think I shared a womb with you."

    "The longest relationship with a man you'll ever have," Edward said, winking as his hands dived back beneath the sheets.

    Emily tutted and opened the door. "Don't fucking turn me, I don't think our family can handle any more gays." And she closed it as loudly as possible, smiling at the thought of all the other revolting boys down the hallway stirring from their wet dreams.

    Yet her smile only lasted a second. Emily stared at the glimmering brass number, thinking of that dear boy wanking off behind it. She loved Edward, more than she'd ever love anyone else, but this was going to test them she could already tell. With the whole world talking about it, it was going to take more than five minutes in a cupboard to take her mind off things.

    ***

    Somehow, the runs never lasted as long as Emily hoped they would.

    Running club was only an hour, but it was always the greatest hour of her day. It was a simple formula; meeting at six thirty every other morning at the stadium, Emily, Edward and two dozen other students ran laps around the track, circling the battlefield that sat battered and bruised beside them, surrounded by a thousand empty seats rising ominously above them.

    The intention of stopping at seven thirty was so everyone had enough time to shower, change, eat breakfast, and get to their first class, but Emily would happily skip both if it meant she could just keep going.

    She entered a zone when she stared running, a zone where nothing else mattered except the path in front of her. It was the only thing she had missed during the summer holidays; the rush of adrenaline that buzzed through every part of her body, the sound of her heartbeat pounding against her eardrums, the sharp cold that rushed through her nose and spread icily down her throat. If running was a drug, Emily knew they would have to cut her legs off to stop her taking it.

    If only she had more than an hour. When the horn sounded inevitably, Emily had to check her watch, refusing to believe it was time already. "For fuck's sake," she hissed, startling the younger kids near her, and she surged forwards, clinging to the pain in her legs and the jolt of her feet hitting the track for as long as possible.

    When she regretfully reached the end of her day's run, her one relief was the sight of a baby-faced blond man grinning at her from the side of the track. "I say this every day, Emily, but you never cease to amaze me!"

    Emily's lungs felt like they had just been dry-wrung, but she still managed a broad, horny grin. "Thanks, Mr Irvine," she wheezed as he took in his strawberry blond locks and polished white teeth. He belonged in a catalogue, not standing on the side of an athletics track at eight in the morning.

    A thick, pale thigh crossed her eye line, and Emily's heart sank. Pity they don't make them like him here, she thought, glowering at Brian's head as he retreated to the showers, not even looking back in acknowledgement.

    She marched bitterly after him, struggling against the temptation to call out to him, to bring up his flaccid cock in front of the other jocks. Yet when he stepped into the locker rooms, Emily was left alone in the tunnel with only the sunrise ahead of her, and instantly, all her troubles melted away.

    Her favourite thing about this school was the beauty it had exposed her to. The island was one of many in this archipelago, but it was still half the population of her hometown with only a fraction of the pollution. It meant that the stars could be witnessed in all their glory at night, and that the sun could rise and fall without any chemical filters disguising its splendour.

    Today, the sky was a glorious mix of orange, yellow and pink, a tropical smoothie smeared across the edge of the world that was slowly seeping into the ocean-floor blue that filled the sky. It was a view unhindered by anything, the school fields empty here at the bottom of the island. Sights like this filled Emily with a magic that could not be replicated, and she wafted towards the showers with the grin of a gormless drug addict, savouring a high few got to experience.

    A fist of steam hit her the second she stepped inside. Through the haze, Emily could see the showers were full already with long hair and even longer legs. She had no idea how Edward handled it surrounded by all the slim, muscular boys he tended to go for; if she was a lesbian, this would be her nirvana. Most days it felt like the set of some dodgy porno, with Emily half expecting their coach to follow them in and start giving them a spanking.

    Wouldn't that be nice. Emily smiled at the thought of Mr Irvine's lean, bronzed legs dusted with a fine sprinkling of pale hairs. After a week of flirting last year, she had thought the coach was attracted to her, but the brief flirtation never went anywhere. Yet

    "What are you smiling about?"

    Emily turned around, shirt halfway over her head. Long ochre legs and skinny arms stood beside her, topped with the permanent pout of her best friend Niva, raised eyebrows framing her sceptical glare.

    "Just some lingering endorphins, that's all."

    "Sure sweetie." Niva rolled her eyes and began undressing. "You were on fire out there today – you must have done, what, nearly thirty laps?"

    Emily shrugged nonchalantly. "Thirty three, but who's counting?" Detangled from her clothes, Emily strutted towards the shower, towel wrapped around her. She could feel some of the other girls watching her as she passed, averting their eyes when Emily noticed, and she felt no shame in letting their admiration fill her with joy. Getting a sporting scholarship to Arcethian was no easy task, and Emily had been determined to make sure no one ever doubted her skills.

    Yet that hadn't been natural talent on the track today. Emily's smile faded as she was swallowed by the steam, and she jumped towards the first available showerhead, desperate to escape. She turned the tap on hot, wincing at first but quickly relaxing into the sharp daggers of scorching water, finally letting her mind wander.

    A cloud had been following her this morning, the same one that had lingered since she and Edward had climbed off the ferry last week. They had been disconnected all summer long; Emily had argued that they were in Unova to see the country, not share it, but really she had simply been trying to avoid thinking of home. It had been the first time they hadn't gone home for the break, and Emily knew it would only drive home the pain if they posted photos and stories every other minute.

    The plan had worked right up until they walked through the assembly hall doors. When the whole school turned towards them, Emily had known right there and then they were on the outside of some massive secret. Only it wasn't a secret; once Emily was free from the prying eyes and hushed whispers, she had sat down in her new room, unable to focus on the luxury it was, and opened her laptop and there it all was. Explosions. Battles spilling out onto the street. Shattered gyms. Gods descending from the sky. She had glimpsed at news stories over the break, but to learn the truth, to learn who was at the heart of it, that the entire world now knew…

    There was a scream on the tip of Emily's tongue. She had wanted to cry out since making her discovery but had resisted. The last thing she needed with everyone staring at her was to be sent for counselling. Emily had to find a way to get through this and make it to the end of the year intact. Then, she would never have to go home, she would never need to return to that house, she wouldn't have to keep feeling guilty for simply being happy. Why the fuck didn't our house just fall down completely? she thought, pushing her face right against the nozzle to mask her tears. Maybe then none of this bullshit would have ever happened.

    "Hey Emily."

    Emily wiped wet hair from her face and glanced around. Catherine Caldwell, as close to a rival as she had. She may be slightly slower than Emily, but she outmatched her in most other ways, made no more evident than her glistening naked body standing proudly in front of all the other girls, her long blonde hair slicked back as if purposefully styled.

    "What?" Emily asked dismissively, trying not to glance at the perfectly round breasts inches from her own.

    "Have you been following the news out of Saffron City? Robots bursting through the ground, dead CEOs, lunatic producers – that ringing a bell?"

    Catherine had an astounding ability to completely change her voice, tone and demeanour entirely depending on how she was trying to insult you. Today, she was acting as a teacher trying to explain to a dim child what one plus one equalled, complete with condescending smile disguising the evil in her eyes.

    Emily longed to bring her hand around and see how pretty Catherine looked with a swollen, reddened cheek. Instead, she merely shrugged and turned away. "Rings a bell, I suppose, but I've been a bit busy with assignments the last few days. First week back and all."

    "Really? So you haven't been checking in back at home, making sure things are alright?"

    "I'm sure they are fine," Emily said sweetly over her shoulder, the scream desperate to get out.

    "You mean you haven't checked?" Catherine turned to her cronies and scoffed before laughing in the way only rich children seemed to. "My word, if it was my family in the middle of all this, the first thing I'd do is –"

    "Well, it's not your family, is it?" Emily hadn't meant to snap; she knew how quickly gossip spread in this school. She could already imagine what the stories that would spread over breakfast, but they would be worth it to put Catherine in her place.

    "Fair point, I suppose," Catherine purred. She leant in so her soaked hair brushed against Emily's back, and her voice became a whisper. "Just think though, if you had stayed back in Viridian where you belonged, maybe you could have stopped her. You just had to come here, didn't you, Charity?"

    "Fuck you, Catherine. If I wanted your opinion I'd ask for it, but funnily enough, I don't give a flying fuck what some dumb little whore like you thinks."

    Emily grabbed her towel from the hook and pushed past Catherine, nearly sending her sliding to the floor. The small crowd that had gathered to watch disappeared back into the steam, and anyone who had been listening outside quickly faced the lockers to avoid Emily's hunting glare as she stormed past.

    "Stupid fucking bitch." Emily flung her locker open and began pulling her clothes on, ignoring the wet patches forming at her touch. Her stomach was calling out for food, but Emily would have to skip breakfast and finish showering in the senior quarters It was stupid, she knew that, but so was staying here and adding fuel to the gossip fires.

    These people don't know me, they don't know my fucking family. I don't need their judgment or pity or whatever they think this is. Emily furiously slammed her locker shut and made for the door. Her clothes were already damp, and she winced as she squelched away in her sodden underwear, but it was only a temporary humiliation. This thing, this nightmare growing by the day, this was going to take longer to get past. Why are they blaming me for it? I couldn't have stopped her, I can't have done anything here. It's not my fault. None of this is my fault.

    ***

    The morning classes passed in a petulant daze. Kantonese Literature was as long and slow as the book they had been assigned. Biology crawled by with the speed of a crippled Weedle. Drama was normally Emily's favourite, but today she was on edge, feeling gossiping eyes flickering towards her over the tops of scripts.

    Angry, drained, bitter and hungry; the bell for lunch couldn't come soon enough. When it finally rang, Emily got up before most of the class had even moved, and, ignoring Miss Cathie's protests, charged for the door. She half expected to stumble into the security guards again, but the corridor was empty; it seemed the rest of the school was allowing her a momentary respite. It wouldn't last though; Emily could hear the distant crash of the incoming wave, and soon a tsunami of arrogant assholes would be upon her.

    They're not here yet. Holding on to that thought, Emily stepped over the low wall that separated the ground floor classrooms from the courtyard. She walked into the centre and looked upwards.

    The skies shone a periwinkle blue. Chirping Wingull hovered in place of clouds. A gentle breeze wafted over the grounds from one edge of the island to the other. With a sigh, Emily exhaled. This is truly paradise. Having grown up in the muggy, murky weather of Viridian, the temperate heat and constant clear skies had been a shock to the system when she had first arrived in Sevii. Now, Emily wouldn't have it any other way. It was half the reason she had spent her summer in Unova; the thought of trading this weather, this beauty, for the misery that hung over that city, there simply had been no choice.

    "What the fuck are you doing, Charity?"

    And now we're back to Earth. With her head tilted back, Emily could not see the swarm of students joining her in the courtyard, but she could sense them, dozens of them closing in like hunters circling their prey, only with a more blasé attitude. She could hear Catherine and her friends giggling as they stalked by, but she ignored the bait and stared at the skies. Only when their sniggers had faded away did Emily set off, pushing through the younger students who had already sprawled out over the cobblestones.

    If the weather was what kept her here, all this was what made Emily long for home. The hierarchy, the tradition, the claustrophobia, with no better representation than this oversized courtyard. The rectangle was enclosed on three sides by the U-shaped main building, keeping them all penned in like Miltank; Emily's eyes skirted along the edges as she soldiered by, taking in all six stories of crimson brick and cream trimmings. It didn't help the colours were reflected in the uniforms as though to try home their internment; white shirts with gold trimming for girls, blood red for boys, grey pants and skirts for all.

    The students who gathered here every break were the ones Emily despised. You only hung out here if you were desperate to be seen, yet in an island roughly the same size as Pallet Town, most of the occupants wanted to be here, parading themselves in front of the entire school. Emily could understand the desperation behind their thinking; when you're trapped in one building together for roughly thirty five weeks of the year, trying to carve out your own place in it is a natural response. Yet it was these students that turned it abnormal, morphed this into some classist, contradictory challenge of trying to fit in and stand out at the same time. Emily had no idea how some of these people had the brain capacity to process such conflict.

    Thankfully, she never stayed here for long. It was a walk to get there, but finally the building came to an end, the courtyard ran out of the stone, and nature reclaimed the land. To Emily, stepping away from the shadow of the school always felt like shedding a cloak; the darkness and shadows were replaced by sunshine and open space, the whole world unfurling before her. Here, almost a kilometre of gently sloping field stood spread freely between the school and the stadium with nothing in between. Emily stared around at the small groups of students scattered randomly across the green; how these fields remained empty day after day she would never know.

    "You better not be heading off without me."

    Emily turned towards the shriek and smiled. "You'll have to hurry the fuck up then," she shouted back at Niva,.

    "Are we not waiting for Eddie and Davey?"

    "Nope," Emily said firmly. She hitched her bag over her one shoulder and took off, cutting a diagonal path through the grass. "They know where we'll be."

    Niva walked briskly by her side, long arms swaying comically as always. "Are you and Eddie fighting?"

    "Nope, I'm just in no mood to wait." Emily flashed her friend a smile and carried on in silence. Niva knew her well enough not to question this temporary mood, and the brief tension eased off as they made their way towards the beach.

    A 'beach' was a generous if accurate term for the heap of sand scattered on the right side of the island. A stretched out golden crescent nestled at the bottom of a short but jagged ledge, it only offered a few metres of earth before the ocean reclaimed the land. It had just enough space for the few wild Pokémon that nested there, which was the reason why it was technically forbidden.

    But that had never stopped Emily. She kicked off her shoes and flopped down on the verge, letting her bare feet dangle a few feet above the sand. She checked to make sure no teachers were nearby before pulling her lunch out and casting her bag aside. Even if someone caught them, only a family of Poliwag and Poliwhirl, gathered around a pair of Poliwrath patriarchs, were in sight.

    "Did you get any breakfast in the end?" Niva asked as she sat down beside Emily.

    "Nope," Emily replied through a mouthful of potato salad. She always cooked herself meals at the start of each month in case of emergencies, and this morning had been as big of one as she ever faced. "You want some?"

    "Fuck no, you always over-flavour everything, that shit smells ghastly." Niva gagged in order to prove her point before shrieking with laughter. Emily expected the Poliwag to look around, but the aquatic family stayed in their stoic positions, oblivious to the pair above.

    Emily managed a few more mouthfuls before accepting Niva was right. She shoved the mayonnaise drenched container aside and sighed. "Can you believe we've only been one week? I'm ready for another holiday already."

    "I bet," Niva mumbled with unaccustomed casualness.

    The mood changed instantly. "What do you mean?" Emily asked quietly.

    Niva paused in her sandwich, only now realising what she'd said. She swallowed and put her lunch aside, drawing the process out as though that would make the moment pass. When it didn't, she ran a hand through her spiky hair and cautiously met her friend's eye. "I just mean… after what you learnt last week, I can imagine that – that that was quite a shock. And those things can take a toll on someone, especially something like that. I mean, god, if we had known about this before Unova, I don't think we – "

    "We would have what?" Emily asked coldly. "Gone on holiday? Is that what you were going to say?"

    "Well… yeah. I mean, what could we have –"

    Emily screamed. She realised as the sound passed violently through her lips what was happening, but she couldn't hold it in any longer. Why did none of these people understand? Why did they all assume she should feel guilty about it? Why couldn't they see that all she felt was guilt, that that was the sole reason she hadn't gone home?

    "Fuck, Emily, what the hell is going on?"

    "I'll tell you what's going on!" Emily swung her legs around and leapt up; she quickly cast her eyes around the field but it was mercifully empty, with only the shadows of two clouds coming anywhere close to them. "I have spent the last week listening to everyone telling me how sorry they are for my family, how worried they all are, and those are the nice people. Everyone else just wants to know if I know anything, if they should all be worried that another war is starting. The simple answer is I don't know and I don't fucking care. I don't care what my sister is doing with the robots and the psychopaths and all the gods. That's her fucking life, I don't want a single part of it.

    "You know I didn't want to go home during summer? Because I cannot stand being in that house. My father sitting on the couch all day like some bloated Dewgong. My mother rushing around smiling as if everything's fine. My little brother wanting us to stay. I'd love to stay for him, but it's everything else I hate. You have no idea what a shithole my house is since the earthquakes. It's like living inside a corpse, and everywhere you look you get reminded of how this once perfect vessel was murdered by some arrogant, megalomaniac cunt.

    "Um, Emily, I think you should –"

    "But you know the worst part?" Emily bellowed, cutting over Niva. "It's always my fucking sister. She barely says a word to me and Edward the whole time we're there, and if she does, it's just loaded with resentment and bile and hatred. She hates us because we managed to get out of there before it happened but didn't come back when everything went shit, as if we owed her some great debt. I don't want to subject myself that, so I didn't, but I guess with me to glower at, the selfish little bitch had to go and glower at the whole fucking region."

    "Wow, sis, tell me how you really feel."

    Emily fell silent immediately, the words catching in her throat. Finally, her biggest fear come true. Those weren't clouds, were they? She had seen she was heading to Fuchsia, she should have known that she might come this way, but Emily had hoped, prayed, pleaded that she wouldn't be so spiteful that she would bring her bullshit to her doorstep.

    But of course she is. Emily stared at the ocean, part of her wondering if she could not just run forwards and dive in and keep swimming until she reached somewhere else. Her sister would catch her though, she knew that, there didn't seem to be and stopping her. There was only one thing left to do. Might as well rip this band aid off, Emily thought, seething with fury, and she forced herself to turn around before she questioned it.

    It was like looking in a fun house mirror, one designed to shrink the beholder. Yet her sister was not as short as she had been the last time Emily had seen her; she was barely shorter than her now, her long, unkempt hair adding to her height. Her face was older now as well, more filled out without the puppy fat she'd once had. The scattering of scars was new, the impressive collection resembling something stolen from a much older war victim. Behind her, a tawny bird clawed at the ground, watching Emily from the corner of her sharp eyes darkened by experience, the once joyful, enthusiastic creature that had twittered around their roof long vanished.

    Emily said nothing. There were so many things she had wanted to say, she had dreamt them on loop for the past week; apologies, defences, rebuttal. There was so much she wanted to say, but now that they were here, her mouth was suddenly dry. She licked her teeth with her heavy tongue and managed to prise her mouth open. "Hello, Alaska."

    "Emily." Despite the ominous darkness that seemed to imbue her every pore, Alaska managed to smile, the same wicked grin Emily had known all her life, her own in miniature. "Aren't you going to give your sister a hug?"
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2018
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter 94: No Education
    AceTrainer14

    AceTrainer14 The acest of trainers

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    Chapter Ninety Four: No Education

    The school was just as Alaska had remembered it. It had been five years since she had last been here yet nothing had changed. That towering, crimson palace that haunted her dreams still loomed above them; the fields remained unnaturally green, matching the impossibly cloudless skies dotted only with Wingull; the stadium was still bigger than anything Viridian had ever built. Five long years of thinking about this place, and finally, she was back.

    Alaska would have preferred to return under different circumstances, but the same could be said for most of her life over the last few months. Instead of strolling the halls in a grey skirt and white blouse worrying about homework and social drama, here she was failing miserably to catch up to her sister, skirting around the edges of the horseshoe building in clothes she'd been wearing for nearly a week.

    "Emily!" Alaska had regretted being sassy the moment she had opened her mouth, remembering too late her sister's natural speed and her own busted leg. Emily and her friend had already cleared a solid distance, leaving Alaska, Damian, Paige and Charizard forgotten in their wake.

    "Why is she running?" Damian yelled wheezily from behind.

    Oh yeah, like I know anything about her decisions. "No fucking clue," Alaska replied as civilly as possible. She stopped in the middle of the field, her filthy skin already slick with sweat, and she signalled at Paige. "Do you –"

    She didn't need to finish her sentence; Paige was already airborne and within a second had her talons around Alaska's shoulders. They left the ground behind, rising up as high as the third storey, and soared after the runners.

    Emily glanced back as she rounded the corner of the building, and the disdain in her eyes was clear even from this height. Seriously, what the hell is her problem? Alaska reached into her pocket as Paige swerved after the pair and checked to make sure she had the right Poké Ball. She had not flown all this way to pick a fight, but if it was what she had to do to save them, then she would do what she does best.

    "Nadia, grab her!"

    The ground below change suddenly from grass to hefty stones worn down by age, forming a neat courtyard at the front of the school. Emily was halfway across, making a beeline for a small, gothic building on the other side of the square, but she stopped as a Great Ball landed in front of her, blue energy spooling out that took Nadia's shape.

    "Oh, fuck you, Alaska!" she shrieked, leaping out of the Nidoqueen's grip, and she threw her own Poké Ball to the ground.

    Paige and Alaska landed softly on the courtyard's edge just as Emily's Pokémon took form. Alaska had no idea what this tall, scaly white creature was, but unless Emily had been gifted more Pokémon, she could only assume it was Chester all grown up.

    "Oh, so you want to have a Pokémon battle, is that it?" she shouted, limping towards her sister.

    Emily wheeled around, her short hair shaking as if the centre point of her anger. "To be frank, Alaska, I've read about the lengths you go to in battles. I don't think our parents need to pay for a new admin office, but if you came here to start –"

    Alaska cut across her with a bitter, forced laugh. "Puh-lease, when have you ever cared about our parent's finances?"

    Somehow, Emily's face narrowed into itself even further, her entire body quivering now. "Needle Arm!"

    "Poison Jab, flip him over."

    Chester lunged forwards, his elongated arms shining a vibrant green. Yet his movements were clumsy, obvious, and Nadia easily stepped aside. With her own lavender fist, she punched upwards, catching Chester under the chin and stunning him. She kept the momentum going, heaving him up by the head and hurling him across her horn and towards the stones.

    Chester's curved, spiky back absorbed the shock, allowing him to bounce and roll towards a car parked a few feet away. Nadia stomped after him, and the second he had come to a stop, she jumped up and landed heavily on his chest.

    "Naught Naught!" Chester tried to heave her off, but Nadia shifted her weight so his arms were pinned by her legs.

    "How… how did she do that?" Emily turned incredulously to Alaska. "You didn't even give her any orders."

    "What can I say, she's intuitive." Alaska was proud of Nadia's quick thinking, but asides from a subtle nod, she kept her face blank as she stepped towards her sister. "I have not come here to fight with you or cause you any trouble. If we can just go somewhere a little more private and a little calmer, we can talk about –"

    "Alaska!"

    Alaska didn't need Damian's shriek to notice the stream of water arcing over the courtyard. Nadia saw it coming, but with Chester pinned beneath her, she could only raise an arm defensively. The attack hit her in the chest with enough power to force her off of Chester and throw her back to the edge of the courtyard.

    "Good job at not causing any damage," Emily snapped as she ran towards Chester.

    "That one wasn't my doing, was it?" Alaska growled back. She knew who the culprit was though, and marched across the courtyard, eyes darting about for her brother. "You can come out, Ed, I know it's you – and bring your bloody Croconaw with you!"

    Something growled in response, and Alaska's eyes were drawn towards a thick, withered oak tree that stood between the courtyard and the library. Alaska cautiously stepped forward, waiting for her brother to emerge from behind the trunk. She was only a few feet away when she sensed the branches above tremor. Instinct told her what was coming next, and Alaska jumped back towards the safety of the cars.

    She tripped and landed roughly on the stone, grazed hands joining her ever growing list of maladies, but it was better than being crushed by the muscular blue Pokémon that had landed from the trees. Alaska remained on the ground, staring at the Feraligatr that stood where she had been a moment ago, the beast's narrow eyes gazing at the empty space as if in disappointment.

    "My, my, Fergie, haven't you grown up?"

    The Feraligatr turned; her fanged, paunchy mouth spread open in a perverse smile, and she shuffled forwards on her scaly legs, claws at the ready. "TEEEEEER!"

    Alaska may have been worried if this was anyone else's Pokémon, but she simply lay there and soaked up the tension. "That's alright though, big girl; my starter's grown up as well."

    Fergie lunged forwards, claws at the ready, but barely moved an inch before a tawny blur slammed into her midriff. The Feraligatr screamed as she was thrown towards the tree, hitting it with a bark-breaking thump. She was given only a second's relief before Paige swooped back around, grabbing Fergie by the spikes and dragging her across the courtyard.

    "GEE!" Paige squawked, dumping the Water-type unglamorously beside Emily and Chester. She turned around and landed on top of the nearest car, wings spread as wide as she could manage, her beady eyes staring down at the bested Pokémon as if daring them to take her on again.

    "Easy you, you're still recovering," Alaska warned, dragging her busted leg towards the gathering. Paige nodded and slinked backwards, maintaining her menacing glare.

    "What's this? Are you letting your Pokémon get caught in the firing line as well?" Emily hissed bitterly from the ground, cradling Chester's head in her lap.

    Alaska ignored the jibe. She checked to see if a crowd had gathered, but asides from Emily's dark-skinned friend, who had retreated towards the shadows of the main building, there were no students around. Asides from Damian, Nadia and Charizard, who were standing like bodyguards on the sidelines, Alaska, Emily and the Pokémon were alone.

    "Now, if Ed wouldn't mind showing his face, we might actually be able to talk."

    Only the wind answered her; a pleasant breeze blew through the courtyard, rustling the grass and making ripples in the rapidly evaporating water left behind by Fergie. Alaska tried to look calm, patient, in control, but on the inside, her heart was beating rapidly. Buzz could be here any minute. He could be here right now.

    Finally, there were footsteps. Alaska felt her stomach twist, and slowly she turned towards the noise. Edward stopped the second their eyes met; even with the thicker jawline dusted with badly shaved stubble, masked by the shaggy mane he'd had for years, he still was the mirror image of Emily.

    "Hey bro."

    "Hi." Edward crossed his eyes and glowered at his sister haughtily, slouching into a position of unquestionable campness that had long been a calling sign. "What are you doing here?"

    Great, he hates me too. "Look, I'm not here to cause any trouble. Can we just sit down and have a civilised –"

    "Ha!" Edward scoffed bitchily, and suddenly he was pushing past her and sinking to the ground beside sister and Pokémon. "You've already caused enough trouble, Alaska. Just say what you want to say and fuck off."

    Alaska maintained her smile even as her fists curled into balls at her sides. Her pledge for niceties was being worn very thin. "Don't you wanna catch up first? It has been two years since I last saw you both. How was the holiday? My summer was great, thanks for asking. Just did a little light charity work – global peacekeeping, that sort of thing."

    "Is that why you've come here? To blame us for the fact you and your friends are trying to destroy the world? Because that's not our fault," Emily snapped. "We didn't make you go on your journey!"

    Without hesitation, Alaska laughed, loudly and bitterly. She had expected this argument; the only surprise was how long it had taken her to say it. "Don't worry, Emily, I am well aware you didn't make me go. I mean, really, you two did the exact opposite, didn't you?"

    "Oh, not this bullshit again," Edward groaned.

    "Do you seriously think that we should have given up our scholarships just so we could stay home and make sure Dad didn't top himself?" Emily asked, her tone bordering on a snarl.

    "Don't make jokes like that!" Alaska growled. "You haven't seen him in two years, you don't know the state he's got himself into."

    Emily stood up, almost pushing Chester aside in her haste. "You don't get to act superior here. We may not have been there the last few years, but trust me, we know more about his condition than you do."

    "What does that mean?" Alaska was so taken aback by the comment she briefly forgot her rage; suddenly, she was back in their living room, night time, the only light coming from the television, casting her father's steadily growing beard and gaunt eyes in flickering shadow.

    "Forget it," Emily huffed, waving the comment away with her hand. "I'm simply saying your argument is flawed. We finish school next May, you could have waited until then. I'm sure one more summer wouldn't have hurt you and Big Bird over here."

    "That's not even relevant, I had to go this year."

    Emily rolled her eyes. "Just because you get ideas in your head, Alaska, doesn't mean you actually have to follow through with them."

    "I had to leave because being involved in all this is my destiny."

    Alaska hated saying those words out loud. She especially hated saying them to her siblings. Yet it was the truth, and it was the only way she was going to get them out of here.

    Unfortunately, their reaction was as predictable as ever.

    "Excuse me?" Emily whispered, her lips quivering as she tried to keep a straight face. Beside her, Edward looked as though he'd just discovered the back room to a male strip club, and he turned his wide, gleeful eyes on his sister, begging her to join in his joy.

    "I said," Alaska repeated slowly and grimly, "that I had to go on my journey this year regardless. There is a prophecy, and –"

    That final word was too much. Edward let out a great hoot not alike Darwin's, and that pushed Emily over the edge; within seconds, the two were leaning on each other for support, the courtyard swelling with the sound of their laughter. Now more than ever, Alaska wished she'd never sat down for lunch at the Athlew mansion, never heard those words or seen Charlotte's artwork; all the robot battles and exploding tunnels in the world had nothing on the pain and suffering of this moment.

    "Oh my god Alaska, if I had known how much they'd warp your brain, I'd have never let you watch all of dad's bloody movies." Emily spluttered the words in-between deep breathes needed to fuel her hysterics, tears streaming down her face. Edward was a mirror image of merriment, their faces contorted in the same exaggerated, gleeful shriek.

    Alaska was tempted to argue with them, to reiterate her point, but she knew there would be no budging on their part. Once the two got ideas into their heads, they stuck like glue, willing to withstand the strongest counter argument and whatever obvious truth was shoved into their faces.

    Allow me.

    "Wait, no, do –" Alaska didn't finish her sentence, the words catching in her throat as her head jerked backwards. The world around her was shimmering, the sky pulsating blue. As pressure tightened around her brain, Alaska heard Emily shriek and Edward shout, but before she could comfort them, she felt her own scream brew as her consciousness was pulled from her body by her throat.

    She was back in the garden. The towering school building was replaced by their squat little home, the courtyard and fields now flowerbeds and bushes. Alaska spun around, confused and terrified as to what Latios had done now. There was no one with her, no memories of her and Paige being replayed on loop for the benefit of her omnipresent therapist, but Alaska did not feel alone. She could sense more eyes watching her, other figures moving through the garden.

    Voices echoed faintly from inside the house. Alaska could not make out what was being said, but she knew it was her speaking, the young, high pitched squeals registering something in the back of her brain; sadness and disappointment she felt most strongly, but there was a part of her that felt resentment and guilt.

    "How many times do we have to tell you, you can't train with us?"

    A figure stepped through the open door, emerging into the faint haze of sunshine the memory had generated. Alaska stared at the girl and felt her confusion deepen; it looked like her, it sounded a little like her, but a pink miniskirt, a figure-hugging white crop top? Alaska had only worn clothes like that in her dreams.

    It wasn't until the other two figures appeared that it all made sense. There was Edward, his young, perpetually knowing face dusted with the first hint of facial hair, his hair shaggier and more untamed than it currently was. Trailing behind him was a small girl half their size, an oversized blouse hampering her frenetic running.

    "But Paige has learnt a new move! She used Quick Attack the other day. Quick Attack!" the little girl added insistently as if repeating the attack name would make it sound more impressive.

    The twins looked at each other over the top of their younger sister's head, identical smirks shining back at the other. "That's very nice for her, Alaska, but we passed the point of using Quick Attack and Tackle years ago." Emily smiled condescendingly at the younger Alaska, and again the older one felt emotions she had no right in feeling; irritation, frustration, an eagerness to leave the conversation immediately.

    Yet the young Alaska stayed put, planting her feet firmly into the upturned ground and scrunching her tiny hands in protest. "You two never let me play with you. Mum told you you had to let me play!"

    "It's not called 'playing', it's called training!" Edward snapped, causing more anger to rise up Alaska's phantom neck. "Maybe once you start calling it that, we might let you hang out with us!"

    The little Alaska opened her mouth, ready to protest. The emotions Alaska felt were more natural now; shame, sadness, a burning desire to stay. Yet the seconds dragged on without a single second of protest, and finally, with an unmistakable huff, the young Alaska in the memory turned and sprinted into the house.

    "Has she always been this annoying?" Edward sighed, watching the little girl retreat indoors.

    The younger Emily said nothing in response. She watched her sibling run away in silence, yet her face and her stirred up emotions said volumes; regret, disappointment, but ultimately, contentment.

    "Come on, we've only got a few weeks until we get back, and I am not letting Catherine show me up."

    Alaska suddenly was falling backwards at great speed. She blinked and opened her eyes at the moment her mind hit her body; the impact was like hitting a brick wall, punching the wind from her and pushing her to the ground. Footsteps mingled with squawks and grunts, and Alaska looked up as Paige landed beside her, enveloping her within her huge wings.

    "I'm fine!" she said firmly. "I'm fine," she added to Damian, who had sprinted over with Nadia and Emily's friend in tow. Her leg admittedly was throbbing from the impact, but Alaska could live with the pain, she had experienced enough of it already. "It takes a while to get used to, having your mind played with like that."

    Alaska stared through the gathering crowd and met her sibling's eyes. Their faces were equally pale, Emily shivering so violently her teeth chattered while Edward's ajar lips formed a perfect 'o'. That was the first time Alaska had entered one of those memories with other people; she could only imagine the strange emotions she'd felt were theirs, but that must have meant they felt her childhood rage, her desperation to be noticed.

    "What the hell was that?" Emily hissed finally. "Do you have a Psychic-type with you?"

    "No, that was Latios. Our minds are linked, and he can enter other minds through me. He must have found a memory to try and prove to you what's going on. I'd asked him to speak up and prove it, but he tires easily… conveniently for him…"

    "I don't believe it. This is just some sick game." Emily rose back to her feet, legs wobbling so violently that Chester had to grip her shoulders. "You've always resented us for coming here, and now that you've involved yourself in all of this, you just want to make our lives hell. Well, fuck you, Alaska, I don't want any part of this fucked up world you've created."

    "Wow, do you kiss our mother with that mouth? Oh wait, you wouldn't have, not after two –"

    "SHUT UP!"

    "Alaska's not lying." Having been silent for so long, it was a jolt to hear Damian speak. Everyone turned to him as he stepped forwards, the twins clearly confused as to who this was, but Damian's face was a portrait of stoicism as he took the mantle from Alaska. "Alaska's best friend was kidnapped a few days ago. We came to Sevii because we were trying to find her, but we haven't. Alaska is desperate to find her, she wouldn't give up searching for her just to get her revenge on you two. We've only come here because we think you are in damage."

    Fuck he's good. Alaska felt a new admiration for the failed reality star; maybe Damian wasn't as useless and self-absorbed as she had assumed? Or maybe he found this whole situation as awkward and uncomfortable as she did and was just as keen to get out of here before the robots fell from the sky?

    "Who do you think is coming here?" Edward asked quietly. Emily looked at him angrily but he placated her with a gentle hand on her arm.

    "Buzz Bolton. He's ex-Team Rocket masquerading as a television executive. He created Indigo Dreams as some elaborate, ridiculous scheme to smuggle robots into the Indigo League and use them to kill Red live on camera." Even though these were established facts, Alaska could sympathise with the utter confusion covering her siblings faces right now; it even sounded made up to her.

    "And he's coming here because….?"

    "I've stuffed up his plans. They've all fallen apart now, and I guess he wants revenge. Have you seen the news, about the robot army crashing through the pavement in Saffron? The robots were last recorded heading towards Sevii but no one knows where exactly. My guess is that he wants to kill you or kidnap you or something."

    "What about Mum and Dad?" Edward asked, his voice breaking slightly. "Are they safe?"

    "The people working to stop Buzz and Amanda are watching our house. Buzz is an idiot, but he's not dumb enough to strike that close to the League. But you two are about a hundred miles from nowhere and your young – easy targets. Plus, unlike you two, all your classmates are rich, so that's an added bonus for him."

    Alaska realised too late what she had said. Whatever goodwill she had earned evaporated instantly. She could see fire burning in Emily's eyes beneath that familiar shade of green, and she desperately reached for a saviour. "Emily, if we don't leave now, you –"

    "I don't care what story you've convinced yourself is true, I'm not buying it. TV hosts and flying robots… quite frankly, Alaska, if anyone here is unstable, I'd have to say it's you."

    Alaska snorted scathingly. "I'm unstable? Says the girl who attacked my Pokémon!"

    "Only because you sent that beast out first!"

    "I was trying to stop you from running away!"

    "I ran away because you're a fucking psychopath!"

    "How am I a psychopath when I am trying to save your life!"

    "WE DIDN'T ASK YOU TO!"

    "Emily, I think we should go with her."

    Alaska had never seen Emily look so stunned. Her face froze mid-screech, her latest shout dying in her throat. She stared at Alaska in blatant confusion for nearly a minute as if she was the one who had spoken, before finally dubiously turning towards her brother. "What did you say?"

    "I said we should go with her." Edward smiled fleetingly at Alaska before staring back into his twin's eyes, their faces framed close enough that they looked like two sides of the same vase. "I know you don't trust her, I know you don't want to be involved in any of this, but if what she is saying is true, we are in danger, and I'd rather not die rather wearing this shitty fucking uniform in the middle of this dingy car park, alright?"

    He reached for her hands and gripped them tightly. Emily stared down at their interlocked fingers, and Alaska could sense her anger slipping away; her snarl sank into a quivering, soundless whimper, and her straightened posture collapsed into a pathetic slouch. She stayed like that for over a minute, ignoring Alaska as if she was no longer there, before quickly flinching her head forward in what was the briefest of nods.

    "Alright, let's get going then." Still holding her hands, Edward turned to Alaska. "Where are we going?"

    "Ummm…" Alaska wanted to embrace this sudden momentum, but the truth was she had been unable to get past the idea of reuniting with her siblings long enough to formulate a plan. Her eyes flickered pleadingly towards Paige, but the Pidgeot shrugged unhelpfully.

    Thankfully, Damian knew what to say. "You two go grab whatever you need while Alaska finds out where Latios is right now."

    "There'll be room on Paige and Charizard to take us wherever we need to go," Alaska said quickly, taking the reality star's lead. "We'll need to move fast though, it's been over a day since Buzz put on his little street performance so he is due for an encore."

    "I don't need anything," Edward said.

    "I do." Emily slipped her hands out of Edward's and she started running towards the school without looking up, moving like a woman possessed. "I'll be quick!" she shouted as Chester lumbered after her.

    Alaska blinked disbelievingly at her retreating figure. "What the fuck does she need that's more important than her life?"

    "Leave it, Alaska," Edward snapped, one raised eyebrow reminding her which side he was on. "Come on, we'll wait for her by the stairs."

    "Aye aye, captain," Alaska called. His snark made her skin bristle, but she said nothing further as Edward, Fergie and Emily's friend started towards the crimson building. Why am I saving these two sorry arseholes again? she thought darkly to herself, yet she signalled to her Pokémon regardless and followed after.

    "You know who your sister reminds me of," Damian said, smiling knowingly.

    "I literally have no idea," Alaska said dismissively.

    She could see Damian's smirk from the corner of her eyes. "Seriously? You can't see it?"

    "See what?" Alaska raised a sceptical eyebrow at him, but before she could begin to feign interest in his response, she realised they had stepped into a looming shadow. As goosebumps erupted up her arms, Alaska paused and let her eyes wander up the front of the school building. Well, I always said I'd be back, didn't I?

    It had been a long time since Alaska had seen the Academy in the flesh, even if it had long been a background character in her dreams. She had first visited on an open day shortly after the twins had received their scholarships. Her parents had seen the school in brochures and online, but had to wait to visit in person until they knew things were more certain. Alaska could remember how the whole thing had become a sort of makeshift family holiday – a holiday tainted by the fact that Cinnabar Island erupted and they returned home to find their house in ruins, but everyone preferred to remember the sandy beaches and untamed mountains.

    Everyone but Alaska, that was. This had been the only thing she had cared about. She could remember how she had thought it was a movie set when they first arrived; a school on a tropical island, with a skyscraping red mansion and a garden the size of a small city? Those things only ever existed in storybooks and old Unovian movies. When it was made clear to Alaska that it was a real school, that real people went here and were taught real subjects, she had decided there and then that she would become one of those students.

    If they can go, why can't I? Alaska smirked as that oft-repeated question returned to her. How many times had she said that to her parents? How many times was she given the same answer before she finally stopped asking? How many years did it take for her to actually accept it was never going to happen? Had she actually accepted it? Alaska had told herself that gym battles would be better than any journey ever could be, but clearly that desire had only been buried at a surface level, waiting for Alaska to find any excuse to dig it up again.

    "You would hate it here, trust me."

    Alaska tore her eyes away from the bricks. She had forgotten how tall Edward had become; he always had loomed over her, but it seemed his growth spurt would never stop as his neck folded into an obtuse angle in order for him to meet her eyes.

    "You always say that, yet you still come back here every year."

    Edward rolled his eyes. "Oh yeah, like I'd really go crawling back to the local high school. 'Hey, sorry everyone, turns out I wasn't too good for you after all!'"

    "You don't know what you're missing out on. Apparently, the new earthquake-proof library is really quite stunning," Alaska said, smirking as she stressed the last two words.

    "Well fuck me, why didn't you say earlier, Emily never would have run off!" His laugh carried, echoing off the walls that connected the front of the school with the inner courtyard.

    If it was any other time, Alaska may have managed a smile, but with her old memories pressing down on her, her lips barely flinched. "Do you know why she's so afraid of me?"

    "Wouldn't you be?" Edward answered quickly, as though he had been waiting for the question. "We go off the grid for a few months and come back to find out that everyone is talking about you because you keep blowing up things and fighting supervillains."

    "You make me sound so heroic."

    "If you say so." Edward paused, his face suddenly serious. "You have to see things from her point of view. You've proven yourself to be incredibly powerful over the last few months, more than either of us ever could be. If someone you think hates you suddenly gained a small army and a bunch of comic book abilities and then rocked up on your doorstep, you'd want to run away as well."

    "I don't resent you!" Alaska snapped. She tried to match Edward's judgemental glare, but even she hadn't believed what had come out of her mouth. "Alright, fair point, but I'm not some deranged murderer, okay? I haven't killed a single person."

    Surprisingly, Edward laughed. "Fuck me, I never thought I'd ever need clarification that my kid sister isn't a killer!"

    Alaska smirked, sighing softly under her breathe. You and me both, she thought glumly.

    "And, I think part of it is that… well, she feels guilty. She won't tell me that, let alone you, but I know she thinks we should have gone home this summer." Edward paused, biting his lip the way he had as a kid to stop himself from crying. "I know I do."

    "Don't. You wouldn't feel that way if none of this had happened."

    "Who can say? We're not in a reality where we came home, we're in this one, and in this version of our universe, I feel like shit for not coming home for even a week."

    "You didn't want to face Viridian. I know that feeling, believe me. If I had to look at that fucking statue one more time – what?" Alaska glared at her brother, his sudden sniggering cutting right through her contempt.

    "Sorry, I shouldn't, I know, but – you swearing, it's always sounded so silly." He snorted and began cackling, leaning against a brick column to steady himself.

    Alaska stared gormlessly at him. "Seriously? You know that I've literally destroyed buildings and fought against evil robots, right?"

    "God, don't make it worse," Edward cried breathlessly, his body suddenly weak with laughter.

    Alaska was sorely tempted to kick him between the legs, but she couldn't help smiling herself. When was the last time they had been able to laugh like this? Had they ever? So much of Alaska's memories were discoloured by the earthquake and everything that had come after, that fact and fiction had blurred into one strange blur. But even if this was the first or the fiftieth time, Alaska was simply glad to have her brother beside her again.

    "Alaska, I think you should see this."

    Her laughter stopped immediately. Alaska did not hesitate, moving through the exposed entrance before Edward even noticed she was gone. Her footsteps echoed ominously as she stomped towards the inner courtyard, where Damian and Charizard stood in the middle of a throng of children. Some of them whispered and pointed at her as she approached, but the only thing Alaska cared about was the fact that, for almost an entire school on their lunch break, very few of them seemed to be talking.

    Damian turned as she approached. "Up there."

    Alaska followed his finger and looked at the sky; the atmosphere above was crystalline blue and as clear as glass, postcard Sevii weather. Alaska wasn't sure what he was pointing at, but then she saw; a flock of Wingull hovered in a perfect circle above the school, nearly a dozen or so moving in flawless formation.

    Edward appeared at Alaska's side and copied his classmates in staring towards the roof. "They're Wingull. Are we supposed to be afraid of Wingull now?"

    "We are if they aren't real." The symmetry of their circle, the seamlessness of their movements; the warning bells in Alaska's head were ringing already. She turned to Damian and gestured at Charizard. "Do you mind?"

    "Not at all," Damian grunted, not taking his eyes off the birds. "Flamethrower."

    Obediently, Charizard rose to full height, catching the attention of the closest students, but the Fire-type kept his eyes on his airborne targets. "CHARRRRR!"

    Screams rippled through the courtyard, teens of all ages scampering as the column of fire shot into the sky. Even Edward jumped as the flames illuminated the school walls orange and yellow, but Alaska ignored everyone, watching as the attack engulfed the flock. She waited desperately for any sign she was wrong; a squawk, a break in formation, even a chargrilled Wingull tumbling from the skies. Yet when the fire has dissipated, all the Wingull remained in the circle, hovering repetitively over the school. And it was then that her forehead began to scream in pain.

    "We need to leave immediately."

    Alaska tried to focus on her thoughts, but it was difficult now that the whole school had collectively decided to speak up; most vocalised their confusion in high pitched shrieks, while the others began gossiping pointedly about what she was doing here. None of them knew the danger they were in, but Alaska didn't care about any of them right now. As she fished around her bag for her remaining Poké Balls, her eyes took in every part of the school, trying to find the spark that would ignite her plan.

    "Now? Why?" Edward's calmness had evaporated; he was a shivering, gormless wreck, his terrified eyes fixated on the birds. "Are those… are those robots?"

    "Yes." Alaska looked past him and pointed at the black girl. "What's your name?"

    "Niva," the girl said fretfully.

    "Hi Niva, I'm Alaska. You need to go get Emily and tell her to meet us on the field. Now."

    Niva didn't hesitate; she turned and sprinted towards the nearest staircase as if she had been waiting for an excuse to leave. Alaska made sure she was going the right direction before turning to Damian. "You've got a full team, right?"

    "Yep."

    "Have them ready." Alaska's fingers found all four balls and gripped them tightly as she started walking. The crowd was so thick she thought she'd have to push through, but the students parted as she neared them; either they saw the vicious glimmer in her eyes or recognised her from a summer spent following her stories. Whatever it was, Alaska was glad. She, Damian, Edward and their Pokémon made it through without any fuss, a sea of stunned faces watching as they marched towards the field, likely all hoping that they would leave before any further hell could descend upon them.

    Unfortunately, they had not been through all that Alaska had. They could not know that it was all about to get a lot worse.

    "Huh." They were twenty metres from the field when Alaska stopped. Every person around them turned to look where she was, though no one, not even Damian, could work out why a family of Poliwag had stopped her in her tracks.

    Interesting choice, Buzz, Alaska thought. She took in the nearly dozen or so Poliwag, the smaller contingent of Poliwhirl, and the two sturdy Poliwrath standing at the back. There was some sort of trick here, that was clear, but Alaska simply couldn't work it out, especially now that the throbbing in her head had doubled as if her brain was trying to burst through her skull.

    "Be ready," she muttered to Damian as she reached into her bag. Nadia moved closer to her, while Paige spread her wings, ready to take flight. Alaska ignored the flashes of mountains and fields that appeared in a blur in her mind and tried to focus on the Poliwrath, both of whom were reaching down to grab a Poliwag each

    "Alaska, what are going to do?" Edward whimpered in her ear.

    Alaska had no idea what to tell him. She had no plan, no strategy, no endgame. She was surrounded by nearly a thousand school kids to stunned to even consider running away, leaving only about thirteen Pokémon and two scorned teenagers to take on the robotic threat. There was little she could say to console her brother, and only one thing came to mind.

    "What the fuck do you think?" she said finally, throwing her bag aside and revealing the heavy black gun Bill had given her so long ago. "We're going to fight."

    She and Damian threw their Poké Balls forwards at the same moment as both Poliwrath pulled the tails out from their clutched Poliwag. Red, blue and yellow flashes illuminated the faces of the screaming students as they fled the Poliwag grenades hurtling towards them. Alaska had commands ready to go, but as the Poliwhirl advanced, their stomachs spiralling open to reveal elongating machine guns, her vision flared again, showing her a brief image of the ocean in flight.

    When Alaska came to, it was to the sound of dual explosions and Charizard and Nadia's simultaneous roars, undercut by Edward whimpering behind her. Don't worry, she wanted to say, as Solarbeams and Flamethrowers soared forwards to meet the bullets, help is on the way. But Alaska couldn't bring herself to say it, to tell her allies that Latios was coming for them.

    As her head flared again with the intensity of her approaching saviour, Alaska raised her gun and fired, not caring what censored setting she had it on. We just have to hold on, she thought through the pain, roaring as she stepped closer to her enemies. We won't be alone for long. Yet as Alaska stared into the soulless eyes of the Poliwrath as they reached for another Poliwag, she wasn't sure if the fear she felt spreading through her body was for them, or what would happen once help finally arrived.
     
  7. Threadmarks: Chapter 95: No Dark Sarcasm
    AceTrainer14

    AceTrainer14 The acest of trainers

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    Chapter Ninety Five: No Dark Sarcasm

    Over the last few months, Sandy had noticed there was a difference between falling asleep and being knocked out. She hadn't spoken with Alaska about it, but in her mind where she compartmentalised and processed everything that happened to her, she had dwelled on it often.

    It had occurred to her that sleep was rather like a computer powering down; her brain slowly turned itself off, and eight hours later gently turned back on. Whereas every time she had been knocked out, the shutdown had been forced, like a switch being turned off and then turned back on, and suddenly she was expected to resume her previous state.

    It wasn't something she thought she'd ever experience, but as consciousness suddenly returned to her, she found herself dwelling on it again. Sights, sounds, smells; the second Sandy jolted forwards gasping for air, a tsunami of sensations surrounded her on all sides.

    The one thing that stood out above it all was the light. Sandy shut her eyes the second she opened them, already blinded by the blazing light shining directly in her face. She next felt the uncomfortable, prickling pain on her cheeks as though something was burning her. Sandy tried to turn away but spasms shot up her stiff neck at the mere thought of it.

    Groggily, Sandy tried to stand but was held in place by her arms. She tried pulling her hands apart but hard metal cut into her wrists. Sandy winced and let her body go slack, but the pole she was bound to was wide enough that she was bent tightly around it, her back in such pain it was a miracle she had not woken earlier.

    What the hell happened? Sandy sank as low as she could and breathed out. There was no point freaking out, she had expected something like this would happen. Her memories were scattered, but she could recall standing in the field, bargaining for Onix and Lachlan's lives with her own. With each passing second, more of the last few days returned to her, but Sandy was in no state to go over every doubt and anxiety again.

    She turned her focus back on her surroundings. There was the musk of damp in the air, a scent that seemed to permeate every fibre of the room. Sandy wondered if this was a cave, but the smell was more like sodden carpet after the rain had got in.

    Fuelled by curiosity, Sandy opened her eyes. Her brain had focused enough that the light was not blinding now, though she still had to squint to make out its source. What had looked like a spotlight was actually a hole in the ceiling letting the sun pour in. Sandy struggled to focus, but she was certain she could see drooping wires fringing the edges of the hole.

    Surprised, she turned her gaze to the rest of her cell. The walls were plain and windowless, clearly meant to be white but now darkened by mildew. The floor was a similar colour, but the damp smell came from what seemed to be grass spread out in neat rectangles like football pitches across the spacious floor.

    It's an office building, Sandy thought, more confused than ever. It was the last place she had expected Amanda to take her. She doubted it was the Silph building, but Amanda and Buzz could have prepared any number of hideouts in case of emergency. Sandy sniffed again, sifting through the damp, and found what she was looking for; sea air. We're still in Sevii, she concluded, though which of the many islands and atolls, there was no way of knowing.

    "Oh, you're awake, are you?"

    Sandy jolted. She had assumed she was alone. She tried to crane her neck towards the distant voice but her body remained unresponsive. Instead, Sandy had to sit there and listen to the sound of Amanda's footsteps squelching through the damp turf towards her.

    "I imagine this has become a recurring habit for you. Do you remember the last time you slept on a normal bed?"

    Amanda's laugh, high and taut as always, echoed ominously through the bare room. Sandy said nothing in response, staring passively forward as she waited for the inevitable. Her silence seemed to work though; when Amanda appeared suddenly before her, face shadowed as she stepped in front of the light, she was eerily, unsettlingly silent.

    What happened to her? Sandy could remember the producer she'd first met months ago; tight-lipped, short fused, clipped and repressed. Had Amanda been masking this evil side the whole time, or was she as much a victim in all this as Alaska was? The fact she had not killed Sandy yet was a warming sign, but there was no way to tell how serious and how unhinged she had become.

    "Your friend was here earlier," Amanda said coldly. "She was camped out on the island across the strait last night. I thought about dragging your corpse over there, but she's left already. Must have got bored waiting for you."

    She spoke so measuredly it was hard to gauge any emotion in what she said. Yet Sandy knew she wasn't lying. There was no point in making that up; Alaska had been here, she was searching for Sandy, but had gone to look elsewhere. Somehow that revelation was more devastating than anything this dark, damp room had presented so far.

    "Don't worry, she'll come back eventually. What state you will be in at that point, well, we're less certain of that." Amanda smiled viciously on that note, and even in the dark her flawless teeth stood out, an apex predator letting their prey know they were coming.

    Sandy said nothing. She did her best to keep her face passive, even though, internally, she was quivering with fear. She had hoped that, by leaving Lachlan behind, he would be able to contact someone to help her. Undoubtedly he would have, but if Alaska had left the area, who else was there to find her? Sandy did not want to give Amanda more credit than she deserved, but she had no idea where they were or how close potential help could be, and after last time, there was no chance Sandy would be able to escape again.

    As if reading her mind, Amanda leant forwards. "You're probably wondering how I survived, aren't you?"

    "Didn't you mention that last time? Really, I couldn't care less."

    Despite the cavernous space, the slap echoed with the force of a gunshot. Sandy couldn't help but gasp, sharp pain reverberating through the right side of her head. Her ear began to ring and her head pounded with fresh suffering.

    "Talk back again and I cut out your tongue," Amanda hissed. She lingered, her face only centimetres from Sandy's, her hot, stale breath betraying her structured composure. She stayed that way for a minute before straightening up and walking around the pole.

    "Next time you plan on leaving people to drown, you should make sure they are all unconscious. Chloe's Vaporeon pulled us out using Dive, and her Fearow flew us to the nearest atoll. It was barely wide enough to build an outhouse on, but it sufficed, and by morning I was awake and ready to get my revenge."

    A hand shot out from behind the pole, and Sandy bit her lips as Amanda pulled her head back sharply. The metallic thud echoed, and when Sandy opened her eyes everything was swaying, the streams of sunlight blurring into one another with such a dizzying effect she felt ill.

    "I should drag you by your hair and throw you out the window for what you tried to do to me," Amanda shouted. "The only reason I haven't is because you've ruined our plans enough already. I am not going to give you the satisfaction of a quick death.

    "Instead, I am going to set up a camera right in front of you. I am going to film you begging for your life and pleading for Alaska to come rescue you. I will use my contacts to ensure the whole world watches your final moments. Alaska will come for you immediately, too reckless to think any better, but the second she steps through these walls, I will bring this whole building down on top of you. End this whole thing right where it all began." Amanda spoke quickly and sharply, her voice occasionally quivering with brief moments of manic glee.

    She's treating this like a production, Sandy thought. She wants to produce every moment of my death. The thought was disturbing, and Sandy knew she had to keep her enemy talking. "What do you mean, end this where it began?"

    Surprisingly, Amanda fell silent. She let go of Sandy's head and got back to her feet, walking slowly back into view. Sandy still couldn't see straight, but when Amanda stepped into the light, staring up at the pockmarked ceiling, there was something sad and wistful in her eyes.

    "You are probably too young to remember all that happened. Were you even alive?" Amanda pondered, more to herself than to Sandy. "This tower used to be where Team Rocket was based, back in the nineties. Of course, it's been sixteen years since your precious league buddies tore it down and built this monstrosity in its place. Trainer Tower, did you ever see the ads?"

    Sandy nodded. She had a vague recollection of a shining building lit up with purple lights, and happy, cheering teenagers running towards a tall, slick-haired man. Casimer, was that his name?

    "Well, Giovanni got his revenge. The top half of the building is missing," Amanda said, pointing towards the nearest hole. "There should be about eight more floors above us, but instead there are just five years of Wingull crap coating the floor. It's exactly what this place deserved, and it's going to be the perfect tomb for the pair of you."

    Sandy said nothing. What was there for her to say? She was an unarmed prisoner, trapped in some decrepit skyscraper was no obvious means of escape. It pained her to admit it, but without the hope of Alaska to rescue her, there was nothing for her to do. Is this what my prophecy is? Does my death lead to Alaska's? Is that what this has all been for, to turn us into martyrs, to make everyone else join the fight? The thought left an acidic taste on her tongue. Sandy leant back into the pole and stared at the sunlight. Listen, gods, I haven't asked a lot of you during all this, but if my life has to be tied to hers, you better have a lot more in mind than this, alright? So rewrite your plans or something, because you aren't killing me this easily!

    "Ma'am, we've tracked down Alaska."

    Amanda turned towards the voice, her eyes alert and mouth tight once again. "Yes, and?" she barked. Sandy leant to the side, trying to see the speaker, but he was staying well in the shadows, clearly afraid of getting closer. Tutting, Amanda stomped her way towards him. She said nothing, but Sandy could hear a faint tapping, like a finger rapping against a touchscreen, that was quickly drowned out by a brief burst of noise before the video was muted.

    That sounded like screaming, and gunfire, Sandy thought, well accustomed to the two. She paused, waiting for more to come from Amanda, but for over a minute there was nothing by silence. Until –

    "FUCK!" Amanda's scream seemed to shake the roof, the dangling wires jiggling with her rage. There was the sound of something shattering, and then Amanda's voice returned, fainter as she moved towards the back of the floor. "Secure the roof and the ground floor, get eyes in the air watching for them coming."

    "What about the girl?"

    "Leave her. She'll die anyway if we don't secure the building. I want the explosives unloaded and the bottom three floors rigged now!"

    Amanda's voice grew faint until it was only a faint echo before fading away entirely. Mercifully, Sandy was alone again. She had been struggling to keep her eyes open all through this and was happy to slip away into something closer to sleep. Even as the darkness began to return, Sandy had to smile. She was bound and gagged, alone and injured, but somewhere out there, Alaska was still fighting back, and that was all the hope she needed.

    ***

    In only a few minutes, the world had turned to hell.

    Damian had no idea what was going on. Smoke had already engulfed the school, swallowing the upper levels and blotting out the sun. It was impossible to elude; his eyes and throat burnt, and breathing was becoming increasingly difficult. He could feel the heat on all sides, penetrating every inch of exposed skin.

    Yet he had no idea what was happening around him. The last thing Damian had seen clearly were three Hariyama descending from the sky, flames circling their rocket-booster legs. He had started running then and hadn't stopped.

    Another explosion sounded in the distance. How many had that been in the last few minutes? He had already lost count. Curiosity got the better of him and he looked back, only to see a Mamoswine was charging towards him; half of its fur was on fire, and a broken tusk revealed an array of wires. Damian froze, unsure how he was going to get away from it, simply tensing up and waiting to be bowled over.

    "PRIIII!" A shriek cut through the haze. Damian opened his eyes and saw the Mamoswine on its side, Darwin smashing its head open with something like a park bench. Damian watched until the Primeape was done and leapt away, and only then realised he was crying.

    Keep running, he told himself, and his legs obeyed, even if they didn't know where they were going. The school walls had disappeared, only a smudged blur masked by the smoke. Damian thought he was running towards the car park, but now he had no idea. He was probably running in circles.

    Something green illuminated the world to his right. Damian turned, watching the pulsating Solarbeam cut through the haze. He wasn't sure what it had hit or why, but when it cut out, returning the world to its gloom, he saw freedom. A wall, only a few metres away and already being consumed by smoke again.

    Without thinking, Damian ran towards it. He had no idea if any robots were following him, but he knew he could outrun them. He had always been a good runner. Won plenty of medals at school. Damian could remember telling Amanda that during one of his last auditions, and the thought made him shiver. This is fucking insane.

    He reached the wall and leapt over it. His foot caught a loose brick as he landed, and Damian swore as he tumbled over and crashed to the ground. Something hard hit him right in the spine. He wanted to scream but knew better. Instead, he muffled his whimpers and dragged himself towards the wall, peering over the jagged gap to survey the scene he'd left behind.

    Yet even from this angle, he couldn't see anything. Only the brown smog smothering the entire courtyard, rising up to join the thicker smog pouring out from the school building. Damian had no long how much time had passed, but it felt like mere minutes. He had lost track of Alaska; he had last seen her fighting a Kingler while Nadia finished off the Poliwrath. Was she even still alive?

    The thought filled Damian with dread. His Pokémon were still out there, and here he was, hiding in a classroom and leaving them to fight. He looked around for any weapons, as though that was what he was doing, only to spy the twisted remains of a plastic chair resting atop a heap of shattered brick. This is a classroom. This is a school. They are attacking a fucking school.

    A roar reverberated through the air. Damian jumped even though he knew it was Charizard; he looked up and could see the flaming tail move through the smoke, chunks of black and blue metal falling in its wake. As his Pokémon disappeared, the gunfire picked up again, joined by a second, deeper roar and the shaking of the earth.

    Damian whimpered involuntarily and sank deeper behind the wall. He knew he should feel guilty about hiding here, but he didn't. What could he do against all of those things out there? He wasn't armed like Alaska. He couldn't fight them off. Damian had barely gone near any of them but he was bleeding from three different places; if he went back out there, he knew he'd be dead.

    "What am I even doing here?" he whispered. For the first time since the cameras had started rolling, Damian wanted to go home. He wanted to give up everything and run back to Pallet Town and pretend this had never happened, go back to school and study math and get a job and marry someone and grow old and die in his eighties rather than lying on a decimated classroom floor hiding from robots.

    "This seat taken?"

    The three words hit Damian like a gunshot. With a stifled yelp, he lunged for the nearest brick and swung it towards the voice. Yet before he could make contact, a spasm shot up his spine, and Damian winced as the brick fell from his hands.

    "Fuck man, you look terrible."

    The newcomer sat down next to him. Damian looked up through his watering, dust filled eyes and realised it was Edward. The older boy's face shone with sweat, mixing with the blood oozing from a cut across his right cheek, but as he stared into Damian's eyes, he was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

    "I'm fine, I think," Damian whispered, though he could barely hear anything above the ringing in his ears. "Sorry for lunging, I'm just… spooked."

    "Really? I can't possibly fathom why." Edward smirked at his own joke as he sank low against the wall, sighing. "I think this is my biology classroom," he murmured, gazing around the smoke-filled room.

    Damian's eyes followed him, but he couldn't make out much through the haze. What he could see was destroyed beyond function; twisted metal legs that could have been from a chair, half a wooden slab that was either a door or a table, all buried beneath a layer of dust and glass blown across the room. All this damage in about five minutes.

    "I don't want to go back out there." Damian heard the words and knew they had come from his mouth, but he couldn't piece the two together. He never thought he would say something like that in a voice so high and fearful, but, he supposed, he never thought he would be here in the first place.

    Edward didn't seem to notice, his eyes still moving around the classroom. "I don't blame you. You lasted longer than I did. I got through the first two explosions, but once the fucking Salamence showed up, I was done. There's some saying I think about dying on your feet, but fuck that, man. I am not getting incinerated by a flying robot dragon."

    Damian smirked. He may be a coward, but at least he wasn't alone.

    "Besides, Alaska seems to have things under control. She's not dead yet at least, anyway." Edward's face slackened as he spoke. "Oh god, did I really just say that about my sister?"

    "Yes, you did."

    He shook his head, sighing. "Fuck. I really am horrible, aren't I?"

    "Not at all." Damian did not dare to look over the wall, but he could imagine Alaska out there, flailing that giant gun around and barking commands at all the Pokémon above the chaos. He could remember how she had held everything together back at Seafoam and knew she was the only thing still keeping him alive.

    "So, how exactly did you end up here?"

    Damian stared incredulously at Edward. "Really? You want my life story?" he spluttered, barely able to hear himself as something exploded metres away.

    "Why not?" Edward said, ducking below as a fresh heat wave crested over their feeble protection. "Would you rather sit here and pray for mercy?"

    "Why not? I mean, isn't this a religious school?"

    "Honey, please. Half the school is on fire and there are robots shooting at us. Arceus sure as hell didn't make those, and he ain't going to save us now." Edward raised an eye and cast a contemptable look over Damian. "Don't tell me you're some religious nut."

    "No!" Damian squawked defensively. Coward, yes. Religious, fuck off!

    "Well then, what are you?"

    Damian tutted and looked away. "I really don't want to talk about it."

    "Look, man," Edward said, gripping onto Damian's shoulder. "We are fucked. There's no two ways about it. We either go back out there and try to find a way to freedom before we get killed, or we sit here and wait for someone to save us. I know which option I prefer, but I'm not sitting here in silence while my mind races trying to process all of this. I think that might just drive me mad, so if we're sitting here, you are going to tell me about your life and neither of us is going to think about what's going on, okay?"

    Damian said nothing. He stared back over the wall, watching some distant explosion blow through the smoke. It seemed to move silently, which seemed strange to Damian, but maybe he had lost all sense of perception stuck in the middle of all this. He turned back to Edward, focusing on the hand gripping his shoulder, and he sighed.

    "I'm from Pallet Town, I don't think we even have a church there. Maybe a shrine or something."

    "Ah, so you're a small town boy, eh? That explains the reality show."

    Damian bristled immediately. "And what is that supposed to mean?"

    "Well, you know… stuck in a small town, everyone knows who you are, everyone has you boxed in. You have to go out there and prove yourself, show everyone back home who you really are. Am I warm?"

    "For someone lying next to a raging fire, you're pretty fucking cold," Damian said icily.

    Edward raised his hands apologetically. "Well, what's the truth then?"

    Damian bit his lip and pondered. He hadn't even told Alaska the truth, so why did her brother deserve to know? Yet at that moment, he felt the ground shudder behind them, and Damian turned to see Paige and his Gyarados forcing a swarm of flying robots to the ground. Fuck it, he thought, heart racing.

    "It was the opposite, really. Well, kind of. Obviously, everyone knew me, that's basically a given. And I was boxed in, but not in a small town way. It was fear. After Red and all that happened, no one was keen for their children to go down the same path. People were pushing us to be something else, anything else that wasn't going on a journey.

    "For me, I have always been a good runner. The best, really. Good enough that people thought I could do it professionally. Go into races and all that. And I did enjoy it for a little while, going to regional championships and that. But over the past year, it just… it stopped being fun."

    A distant shout caught Edward's attention, allowing Damian to pause and take a breath. If he shut his eyes, he knew he'd be back in that changing room, surrounded on all sides by everyone laughing at him. But only Jack, Jack staring him right in the eye, only that would hurt.

    "Everyone thought I should keep doing it, but I refused. I wasn't doing that any longer. Things became awkward, after that. My school stopped paying me any attention. My parents were disappointed with me. Only child, and they thought I'd be some international star. Well, I could be. I'm not boasting here, I really could be. But…"

    Damian coughed, whether from shame or ash he wasn't sure. "When the reality show came up, things became really awkward. There were heaps of arguments at first, but when I said I had applied anyway, that was it. My father barely spoke to me. My mum did, because, you know, mums, but she cried a lot when we were alone together. Thought I was throwing my life away, that I was committing to something too young that I'd live to regret. But I had to leave. I had to do something to get away, and this seemed like the best option. I guess they were right to be worried, but I'd rather be here than back home, living that… lie, I guess."

    Edward had stopped looking at the chaos. Damian could feel his eyes boring into him, and he turned to meet the gaze. Gunfire and explosions reverberated through the air, but both went ignored as the two sat in a still, heavy silence.

    "Why do you hang with Alaska?" Edward asked quietly after a minute. "I mean, she seems to attract all this chaos wherever she goes."

    "She does, but… she's just confident, I guess. She doesn't care what anyone thinks or what they tell her to do. She just goes out there and does what she wants without fear. I kind of hate her at times – well, before all this, I pretty much hated her entirely. But watching her over the last few days… I envy how she is still standing even after everything that's been thrown at her. I mean, this is the first fight I've willingly walked into, and already I'm cowering behind a wall wishing I was home."

    "Would you want to go back though?"

    Damian smiled at Edward. The answer should have been obvious. Again, Damian shut his eyes, and there was Jack's jeering face in front of him. How could something he had once admired so fondly suddenly become an object of such toxic cruelty?

    "I think you know better than I do that once you leave one life behind, you can't go back to being the person you were. The only way I could go back was if I went back in time about a year and just accepted all the shit I tried to avoid. I can't go back now though. I'd rather die out there than go home and live that other life."

    "I think the first part of that is more likely," Edward said straight-faced, and the two began to laugh. Maybe it was the smoke seeping into their heads, or this impossible moment found on the verge of an endless battle, but Damian felt more at peace here than he had in weeks. He stared at Edward and laughed, wishing that he nothing had to change, that they could linger in this moment until everything fighting against him out there had passed.

    As in response, the ground shook, pulling Damian out of his fantasy and back into the real world. It had been happening so regularly that Damian had stopped paying attention, but this felt different. The vibrations jolted through his body, making his bones judder. He stopped laughing immediately, silently focusing on the quivers rising through the wall. Dust trickled and then poured from the ceiling, and Damian knew then it was too late to hide.

    "GRRRRRNNNNNN!"

    The cry was metallic and clearly false, but there was something visceral and vicious in the Aggron's roar. Damian pulled Edward away as a jagged claw smashed through the wall, throwing the bricks further into the decimated classroom. The beast focused its red eyes on them and roared again, revealing a perfectly smooth mouth that betrayed the constructed ferocity of the replica Pokémon.

    "Run," Edward whimpered, saying it in such a way that he seemed to be speaking to the world rather than to either of them specifically.

    Yet Damian couldn't move. It wasn't that his body had seized up; he simply didn't see the point. Damian remained where he was, staring into the Aggron's eyes, urging it on. There was no point in running anymore. He had tried that, he signed up for the show, and all that chaos and fighting he simply led him here. The world didn't want him to run, he wasn't destined for that, Damian could see that now. The Aggron raised its arm, and Damian shut his eyes, waiting for freedom to finally arrive.

    "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

    Damian opened his eyes uncertainly and involuntarily winced. The Aggron was gone, but in its place stood Alaska, her face a canvas of blood that shone eerily in the firelight. In one hand she clutched her gun, while in the other rested Shelley, her gormless tongue an unsettling contrast to the world around them.

    "I'm out there covering your ass and you're just standing here waiting to let him slice your head off?" Alaska rolled her eyes and sighed, brushing away the wet blood from her lips.

    Damian said nothing. He simply looked down where the Aggron now lay, four icicles sticking out of the back of its head.

    "They seem to be weakest at their necks," Alaska explained. "Buzz must have rushed these ones off the production line in his haste to get his revenge. Stupid bastard. Grab a pole or something and it should be easy enough to defend yourself. If not, go through the eye like you would if they were flesh and blood."

    "You're bleeding," Edward mumbled.

    Alaska eyed him caustically. "Well observed," she deadpanned, and turned away. "It's only a head wound, they bleed worse than they really are."

    Head held high, Alaska strutted out of the classroom, and only after a minute did Damian realising he was following her. The smoke had thickened while he had lain in the classroom, and it took a minute for Bluebell to emerge from the haze.

    Alaska paused beside her Ponyta, passing Damian Shelley while she tried to swing her leg over. "While you two have been braiding each other's hair, the robots have only gone and burnt down the bloody school. We seem to have the robots under control, but there could be a third wave coming any time soon. I'm going to look for Emily, but I can't fucking save everyone, so if you don't want to die, I'd suggest you get out into the open and start fighting, alright?"

    "But how?" Damian whimpered, aware how stupid he sounded.

    Alaska looked down at him from atop her horse, a faint smile on her lips. "Don't fight then. Just protect her." And before Damian could say anything else, Alaska gave Bluebell a short kick and they disappeared, swallowed whole by the smoke.

    The moment passed so quickly Damian was struck silent, stunned to find himself alone. "Okay then…" He looked down at the small Pokémon in his hands as if she would offer guidance, but Shelley seemed unfazed by the calamity around her. She smiled dopily at him, tongue lolling about, and her eyes flickered towards the field.

    Damian copied her; a wall of smoke awaited him, but he focused, trying to make sense of the figures before him. His Hitmonchan sparring against something tall and round, Paige's flowing crest giving chase to something above them, while green and yellow blurs collided with a harsh red that illuminated the smog.

    "How the fuck are we supposed to fight this?"

    Damian glanced at Edward. He had forgotten all about him. The moment had passed, never to be reclaimed again; the beautiful creature from before was now broken and useless, barely standing as he stared hopelessly at the fight. The loss only hurt so much as Damian was sure if the roles were reversed, Edward would see the same in him.

    "I guess we just have to." Damian looked back at Shelley and got an eager nod. If she wants to fight, what's stopping me? The ground started shaking again, and he saw something squat yet wide moving through the smoke. None of the Pokémon nearby seemed to notice it, too engrossed in the battles they were already fighting.

    No more hiding. No more running. No more fear. Damian raised the Shellder up, almost like a shield, and braced himself, ready to be bowled over again. Yet as the cobblestones shuddered under his feet and Shelley shivered in his hands, Damian knew there was where he was meant to be. He had wanted to escape, and this was where escape had led him. Maybe this is the sign? he thought as the robot came closer. Grasping onto that thought, Damian sprinted forward, Shellder at the ready, and roared into the smoke.
     
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter 96: No Thought Control
    AceTrainer14

    AceTrainer14 The acest of trainers

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    Chapter Ninety Six: No Thought Control

    The doors leading into the school lay on the floor. The mortar that normally held them in place had cracked as the explosions reverberated across the island. There was no sign of fire in the reception but smoke filled the room regardless, a dull brown shroud that hung over everything.

    Alaska glanced at the grand staircase leading to the upper floors, a sweeping feature more fitting of a stately home than a school. The sounds of explosions and roaring robots had dulled, but now there was the crackle of fire, soft and distant but a worrying sign nonetheless.

    Yet she had no choice but to venture onwards. Emily's someone in here. Find her, get out, and get off the island. "Let's get a move on." Alaska kicked Bluebell's side softly, ignoring the dissatisfied grunt that followed and waited to be carried onwards.

    And then the world vanished. Alaska shut her eyes as her head swayed anew, and when she opened them all she could see was ocean. Her hands tightened on Bluebell's mane, but even though she could feel the fire burning through her fingers, Alaska saw nothing of her Pokémon or the reception, only the world however many miles away.

    This wasn't new. Her head had not stopped spinning since the robots landed. Alaska had tried her best to fight, but as the Magmortar and Mamoswine and Ursaring and Salamence fell from the sky, she only had to blink to find herself however many miles away, soaring over the ocean, feeling the cold rush of wind pushing against her.

    She wanted the pain to stop, for her vision to stop flickering between images like an out of tune television. Yet Alaska knew her suffering would last as long as it took Latios to arrive. Instead, she clung to the pain and used it as a shield; even as the explosions tore through her world and the robots tried to bring her down, Alaska knew that her saviour was coming, and she simply had to hold out until he did.

    It would be nice if you hurried the fuck up, you. You're well overdue for saving my ass.

    "Nyyyyyt."

    Alaska blinked. She was back in the school and atop Bluebell again. Her head continued to sway, but her vision was hers again. Alaska looked down and realised she was tugging hard on Bluebell's mane. "Sorry," she said, aware how insincere it sounded.

    Bluebell whinnied irritably. Alaska thought her sudden obedience may vanish, but mercifully the Ponyta charged towards the stairs, her hooves echoing eerily through the room. A naïve trainer may have taken this as a sign of a growing connection, but Alaska could tell Bluebell was just as afraid as she was. The building looked intact from here, but the smoke had to be coming from somewhere, and as the Ponyta took to the stairs, Alaska could see a red glow shining from the upper floors.

    If it was any other situation, Alaska knew she'd be caught up in the irony of returning to the Arcethian after so many years only to destroy it within minutes of arriving, but she had bigger concerns today. Emily was somewhere within these walls; Alaska could live with a decimated building on her conscience, but she couldn't leave her sister to burn as well.

    You'd better bloody be here, I'm not risking my life for nothing. Alaska knew the dorm rooms were on the top floors, but she had no idea if Emily and Chester were still there or they were somewhere else within the carnage.

    The dorms were her one lead, and as Bluebell reached the first landing, Alaska steered her towards the next set of stairs. She let the classrooms pass by in a blur, ignoring all the sights that had captured the attention of her younger self so many years ago. There was decades of history in these halls, and by the end of the day it would all be up in smoke. Alaska may have taken pleasure in that once, but for the sake of her inner child, she couldn't help but mourn the loss.

    Alaska heard it before she saw it. A low hum, quiet enough to be missed under the crackling fire, pulled her out of her thoughts. It could have belonged to any computer or piece of office equipment abandoned by the fleeing staff and students, but the sound stirred up something in the back of Alaska's mind.

    She shut her eyes, trying to think. Instead of seeing blue, Alaska found herself surrounded by dirt, with something far too large towering over her. She looked up in her memory, and two giant pink eyes stared back at her, two glass pearls incapable of emotion but somehow making their threat clear.

    "DUCK!"

    Bluebell whinnied angrily as Alaska yanked hard on her mane, pulling her towards the left towards the bannister. The Ponyta reared, trying to throw Alaska off; at the same moment, the wall next to them exploded, and a flash of silver and yellow soared towards them.

    Alaska winced as she was showered by wooden splinters, but she was grateful it wasn't a robotic Beedrill drawing her blood. "Flamethrower!" she screamed, pointing at the Beedrill as it came to a stop near the opposite wall, searching for the prey it had completely flown past.

    Bluebell didn't need telling. She dropped back to all fours and nickered fiercely, a powerful jet soaring from her mouth. The Beedrill turned in time to receive a Flamethrower to the face, and the angry hum of its wings picked up as it tried to wave the flames away.

    "Up the stairs, come on." Alaska had no idea if the Beedrill had followed them here or if it had already finished with Emily, but she wasn't going to wait around to interrogate it.

    Thankfully, Bluebell's sense of danger dwarfed her distaste for Alaska, and the Ponyta pushed past the Beedrill and cantered towards the next landing, forcing Alaska to tighten her grip.

    The hum started again when Bluebell reached the top of the stairs, and Alaska looked back to find the Beedrill was hot on their tail; its wings were still burning, but nothing seemed to be slowing it down. "Pick up the pace!"

    Bluebell turned and galloped towards the next set of stairs, but before they could get there, Alaska saw something move in the smoke around them. It was moving too fast for Alaska to say anything; thinking fast, she grabbed her weapon from her lap and raised it. Yet her hands were sweaty from the heat, and in her one-handed haste, it flew out of her grip.

    A second Beedrill, diving stinger-first, flew straight into the weapon without care. The weaponised needle penetrated the weapon but failed to make it all the way through; sensing a moment, Bluebell whinnied with contempt and surged forwards, head butting the gun and pushing the Beedrill back.

    Alaska tensed as the enraged Ponyta charged past the landing for the next set of stairs, instead pushing the Beedrill all the way back towards the wall of a classroom. Too late Alaska realised what was coming, and with great regret she leapt off Bluebell's back, hitting the ground at the same moment her Ponyta ploughed through the wall.

    "Fuck!" She had landed painfully on her injured leg, and now her knee was screaming out in protest. Alaska tried to stand but instantly collapsed under her own weight. She could hear Bluebell's neighs as she fought against their metallic foe, but Alaska was alone and unarmed in the middle of a smoke-filled corridor; orange light burnt at both ends, and Alaska figured it was only dust and age that had stopped the wood-panelled rooms from going up like a tinderbox.

    In her pain, Alaska forgot about the original Beedrill. It was only when the hum seemed right atop her that she remembered, throwing herself to the ground with barely enough time; something sharp hit the top of her head, and Alaska screamed into the carpet as she felt her skin split open. There was a warm rush of blood to the wound, and Alaska felt it drip down her neck as she sat back up.

    Her vision was now more blurred than ever, but Alaska could see the Beedrill turning around ready for a third attempt. Of course he sends Beedrill after me, Alaska thought. You think this is full circle, do you, Buzz? She reached towards the bannister so she could pull herself back up, but the Beedrill was already charging for her again. Alaska swung her bag off her shoulder and reached in, feeling blindly around for anything that she could use to defend herself, all the while watching the pointed stingers aimed right for her face. Hurry up, Latios. Hurry the fuck up…

    The stairs beside her creaked suddenly. Alaska took her eyes off the Beedrill in time to see a blurred figure leap over her. It hit the Beedrill mid-air, and the two crashed into the far wall. The wood buckled, caving in completely and exposing a classroom engulfed in smoke.

    Alaska's heart was racing out of shock and relief. She watched her saviour emerge from the classroom, the cracked stingers clutched in its paws, and she nearly did a double-take. "Chester?"

    The Chesnaught turned triumphantly at his name; his white fur looked singed but he was otherwise unharmed. Yet his beam faded when he caught sight of Alaska, and his armoured paws gestured wildly at the stairs.

    "Is it safe, did you get it?"

    "Emily." Alaska grappled again at the bannister, but Chester was already running towards her. She sank into his grip without complaint and let him haul her up, bringing her to her feet as Emily appeared around the stairs.

    "Fuck, Alaska, what the hell happened to you?"

    "Nice to see you're alive too."

    "No thanks to you," Emily snapped back without thought, though her face softened as she stepped cautiously closer. "Your head's bleeding… like, a lot."

    "I know." Alaska felt at the new wound, wincing as her fingers brushed against it. She wanted to tell herself it looked worse than it did, but she had no idea how much blood she had lost already today. Her vision showed blue for barely a second, but she hoped it was a sign Latios was closer.

    "Don't worry about me, if you're safe, let's get out of here. Bluebell!"

    Everyone looked towards the broken wall; the Ponyta was already walking towards them, limping slightly but otherwise unharmed. Alaska smiled and tried to reach her, but her leg buckled and Chester had to catch her.

    "Nyyy." Bluebell lowered herself uneasily and nodded at Chester. Alaska wanted to protest, but the Chesnaught placed her atop the Fire type in one easy movement.

    "Thanks," she said and stroked her Pokémon's neck. Bluebell merely nodded stoically and made towards the stairs. She only made it a few steps before stopping, and Alaska could immediately work out why; the hum had started up again, but this time it was twice as loud and just as angry.

    "Up, go up," Alaska yelled. "Scorch the stairs, set it all on fire."

    "The stairs? How is that going to help us? This is our only way out!" Emily yelled incredulously.

    "And there's a horde of angry Beedrill coming for us," Alaska fired back. "Head to the roof, we'll get Paige to rescue us."

    Emily's face was like thunder, and she stubbornly stayed where she was even as Bluebell sprayed her Flamethrower across the carpet. Chester had to push her before Emily started running, and Alaska and Bluebell followed in their wake.

    She's going to be the one to get us killed if she doesn't hurry up, Alaska thought bitterly. She held her tongue as Emily led the way up the final two floors. The smoke got thicker the higher they went, though Alaska could not see any signs of fire. She had no idea if there was even a way to the roof, but Emily and Chester started running purposefully down the right-hand corridor.

    "Wait," Alaska shouted before Bluebell could follow them. "Stomp."

    Bluebell turned back towards the stairs and reared onto her hind legs. She buckled, nearly collapsing before she could attack, but she stayed up long enough to power up her hooves. "NNYYYY!" she cried, her whinny echoing like a bomb through the empty hallway, and she brought her feet down against the stairs. The burning set of stairs collapsed under her power, and Alaska watched gleefully as the last stairwell collapsed, hopefully landing atop their enemies.

    Emily and Chester were waiting by a door when Alaska and Bluebell finally caught up. "Why Beedrill?" Emily asked; despite running through a smoke-ridden building, she looked completely unfazed as though she did all her training in these circumstances.

    "It was the first robot I encountered months ago."

    "Robot?" Emily shrieked. "You're telling me these things are robots? What the hell have you got involved with?" she sighed dramatically.

    "None of this was by choice, you know," Alaska snapped.

    "If you say so," Emily muttered darkly. She signalled at Chester, who punched the space around the doorknob, breaking it loose and allowing the door to swing open. "Seniors are allowed to use the upper courtyard but the teachers keep it locked pretty much all day," Emily explained as she stepped through the shattered wood.

    Alaska rolled her eyes. How lovely for you. She gazed back to make sure the Beedrill weren't behind them before signalling for Bluebell to follow.

    The staircase was a tight spiral of wrought iron, and Alaska could see it was bent near the top a metre above her head, smoke seeping through the closed door. Emily and Chester were already near the exit, and Bluebell galloped awkwardly around the bends, making no effort to keep Alaska comfortable.

    "Watch it," she snapped as her leg banged into the metal railing. Bluebell said nothing, but Alaska was certain she saw a smirk cross her face.

    As they neared the top, Alaska heard a wooden crack, and Bluebell reached the landing just as Chester managed to kick the door down. Seeming proud of his achievements, he grinned back to them before leading the way to the roof.

    "Flamethrower, melt the bottom of the stairs," Alaska said. The Beedrill's wings were flammable, it seemed, and if they could slow down their path, she hoped they would have enough time to get to safety.

    Emily froze in the doorway and watched in horror as Bluebell fired her latest attack "Are you trying to burn down the school?"

    "It's already on fire," Alaska said through clenched teeth. "One more blaze isn't going to do any more damage than the robots down in the courtyard who are actually purposefully trying to destroy it."

    "My god, Alaska, have you always been this twisted, or is this all a new thing?" Emily tutted. "There are people's lives down there, did you stop and think of that?"

    "No, I fucking didn't. Did you stop and think that maybe people might be more grateful that they weren't murdered by robots than how many of their clothes survived the assault?"

    Emily shook her head and stepped through the broken door. "Like you've ever cared about other people's stuff."

    Is she really going to bring up all the clothes I used to steal from her now? Alaska wanted to scream, but there was no point. Even with monsters falling from the sky and her whole world ablaze, Emily was sticking the same narrative she had held for thirteen years, and there was little Alaska could do to change her mind now. You try seeing all that I've seen the last few months, she thought as Bluebell followed Emily into the courtyard. Try holding onto all your grudges then.

    For a second, Alaska thought her mind was playing tricks. She seemed to be seeing a different world in each eye; one was a cloud of smoke as black as night that covered every part of the island, while the other was a vista of pure blue stretching out as far as the eye could see.

    She realised this was her new reality. Alaska looked to the right, away from the smoke rising up from the building, and saw that perfect Sevii ocean sparkling away below them. Here she was fighting for her life, but the world was carrying on regardless. And somewhere out there is Latios, she thought, staring at the endless sea as if Latios was right there waiting for them.

    "How do you expect Paige to see us through all of this?" Emily bellowed, pulling Alaska out of her thoughts.

    "She'll see us, don't worry." Alaska said it to be reassuring, but she had to admit that their view was fairly smoggy. While the stone-slab courtyard, which seemed to just be a number of wooden tables and chairs scattered amongst low lying flowerbeds and aged statues of young women, seemed unscathed outside of the odd crack here and there, Alaska couldn't even see the far end through all the smoke to tell for certain. She stared into the smoke, looking for any signs of life, but only a distant roar or a faint flicker of fire suggested there was anything out there.

    "Head to the far end, we'll see if we can see her up there. Does that seem fair with you?"

    Emily said nothing; she simply screamed, a primordial sound that shattered their surroundings. Alaska reached instinctively for her gun, forgetting too late that it had been destroyed. "Run!" she offered helplessly.

    Alaska kicked Bluebell's sides, urging her on, but the Ponyta was already rising onto her hind legs, yelling with fear and lashing out. Alaska tried to see what had everyone so frightened, but only got a brief glimpse of a massive fist as it slammed into Bluebell's exposed stomach.

    "Shit!" Alaska pulled her busted leg out of the way and threw herself to the ground as Bluebell curled backwards. The thud of her body hitting the stone floor was triumphed only by the Ponyta's pained screams, a soul-wrenching cry that reached into the marrow of Alaska's bones.

    "I was wondering when I would see you again." The voice was low, rough, punctuated by hate. That alone was not distinguishable, but as Alaska looked up, fresh blood pouring over her brow, she saw the face she had only seen once before but would never leave her nightmares.

    Scar stepped towards her, grinning as much as his burnt, wounded face would allow. His one working eye stared at Alaska with indescribable loathing, though as his eye took in all of Alaska's injuries, the happier he seemed to be. "Boss sent me here to kill you, but he wants me to leave you until last. I don't see your little friend anywhere, is she around?"

    Alaska remained silent, trying her best to look fierce even as her organs and muscles quivered in fright. Scar stared at her for a moment still before shrugging his impossibly thick shoulders. "Never mind, we'll get her eventually. This one will have to do for now."

    "No!" Alaska had barely any strength left; her head throbbed, not only from her visions but from the blood pouring from at least three different places, while her leg was a numb, dead weight dragging behind her. Yet as Scar rose a foot, staring squarely down at Bluebell, Alaska knew she couldn't let him hurt her Pokémon.

    She flung herself forwards; Bluebell's flailing hooves threatened to take her out first, but Alaska avoided them to land uneasily on the Ponyta's stomach, a second before the boot made contact.

    Involuntarily, she yelled. The kick was strong enough to roll Alaska over until she was smothering Bluebell's face. The Ponyta stopped flailing then, but Alaska was too pained to notice. She clutched at her stomach to check it had not ruptured; externally, it hadn't, but internally felt like a different story.

    Scar scoffed somewhere nearby, though Alaska lacked the strength to face him. "This little girl is what boss is so afraid of?" he smirked. "He told me to wait on roof, to shoot you if you tried to fly away. But look at you, you're already dead. Might as well kill them first."

    His boots sounded heavy on the stone. Alaska could see the thick-soled leather shoes moving slowly away. Emily started screaming again, though Alaska could not see where she was. She tried to look up, but all she saw was blue. You're too fucking late.

    "Ta Nyt Ponyt." Bluebell nudged Alaska with her head, roughly pushing her away. Alaska grunted as she slid back to the stone, her face resting against the slab, and she watched out of one eye as the Ponyta wriggled awkwardly to her feet. The leg she'd been limping on – the back right, Alaska could tell from here – buckled, but Bluebell maintained her stance.

    She bent down as far as she could and nudged Alaska again. Her tongue, rough and hot against Alaska's skin, licked at the wounds, and watery blood dripped down her cheek. Bluebell carried this on for a moment before pushing Alaska again, gently at first but then roughly, as if the action would force her back to her feet.

    "I can't stand," Alaska groaned, trying to push Bluebell away but failing. "Just go, get out of here before he comes for you."

    Bluebell reared back and stomped. "Nyt!" she shouted as her hoof cracked the stone into four pieces. She tossed her head angrily towards the far end of the roof and stomped again.

    Alaska knew what she was trying to say, and weakly she looked up, even though she dreaded what she'd see. Sure enough, Scar was sparring against Chester, who was trying mightily to fend him off. Yet he was a house pet, the servant of a schoolgirl, and Scar's thick pink scars were visible even through the smoke. The Chesnaught would fall, and Emily would follow after.

    The scene vanished and the ocean returned. Alaska cursed her throbbing brain and tried to blink it away, but Latios' mind held firm. He said nothing, but as the waves passed by in a blur below, Alaska knew what he meant; he was still coming, there was still time for her.

    "Damn you immortal asshole." She reached out, her arm straining under the effort, and Bluebell lowered her head. Her mane was hot but Alaska grabbed it anyway, and Bluebell effortlessly hauled her up. She lowered her back legs at the same time, but Alaska shook her head and launched herself forward. It's my sister he's trying to kill.

    Every bone and muscle down her right leg screamed as she put her weight on it. Her head was still bleeding in at least one spot, and every time she thought of that, Alaska felt woozy again. Yet the courtyard was smaller than she had thought, and she pushed herself towards Scar's busted head.

    As she got closer, close enough to hear Chester's grunts and Emily's whimpers, Alaska reached down and grabbed a loose pot plant from the nearest flower bed. It weighed a ton in her battered state, but Alaska gritted her teeth and let the clay pot tear at her left arm while she reached into her bag with her right. She could see fur flying from Chester's face as Scar ruthlessly tore into him, an image briefly replaced by the ocean, but Alaska had no time to wait.

    "This is for now," she snapped, swinging the pot and cracking it against Scar's skull. He stumbled, his arms falling limp by his side at the same time Chester collapsed to the ground. Scar turned, nostrils flaring, and that's what Alaska focused on as she punched her right hand forwards. "And this is for Saffron."

    Freddie's knife slashed against Scar's nose, cutting into the mutilated stump he had left. Scar's one eye widened in a silent scream, but the man himself said nothing as he lunged towards her. Alaska tried to bring the knife back around but Scar grabbed her by the wrist, snapping it back so her weapon fell uselessly to the floor.

    "You'll pay for that." He let go of her arm and raised both hands to her throat. Alaska pulled away as the thick fingers grappled for her neck, her hands busy burrowing away into her bag.

    "AAAAAAAAH!" Emily's scream made everyone pause. Curiosity got the better of Scar, and he turned just as Emily swung around one of the thin wooden chairs. It collapsed against Scar's head, but he wrestled the one piece Emily was still holding away and raised it above her screaming head.

    "Flamethrower!"

    "PONYTTTT!"

    Scar screamed this time, a guttural roar as he tried to punch away the flames that had instantly engulfed his shirt. Alaska grabbed Emily and pulled her out of the line of attack, watching in perverse delight as Bluebell edged closer all while maintaining a steady stream of fire.

    "We have to run," Emily whispered into her ear.

    "Not yet. Not until he's dead." Alaska had found what she was looking for, and she stepped forward with the brownie tin clasped in her heads. She smacked it against Scar's face in rapid succession, taking great pleasure as, by the third blow, two jets of blood were pouring from his nose, joining that from his cut.

    Alaska went for a fourth time, but Scar roared and pushed her aside. "ENOUGH!" He leant to the side and grabbed the first thing he could. Alaska tensed as he threw an entire flower bed through the air as though it was a cushion, the terracotta shattering against Bluebell and sending her crashing to the ground again.

    Scar paused where he was, breathing heavily. After a moment, he pulled at his still burning shirt and ripped it in two. Emily whimpered as his thick chest knotted with scars was exposed; he looked like a bodybuilder, except his skin was pale and covered in an excess of half-healed wounds. There was no definition, no visible markings, just old burns and raised scars.

    Alaska clutched onto Emily with her free hand. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she whispered. She didn't want to give up, but the universe had given her little choice. Two Pokémon down, and no weapons but a burnt tin of brownies.

    "How do you normally get out of these things?" Emily mumbled weakly into her ear.

    "Cunning and convenience."

    "Any chance of that now?"

    "Not a whole lot I can do alone." Alaska looked back, meeting her sister's eye over her shoulder. "I do love you, I hope you know that."

    Emily nodded, tears streaming down her cheek. "Same," she choked. Her hand felt for Alaska's and gripped on tightly, and together the two looked back at Scar.

    The henchman stood still contemplating the pair, one hand dabbing at the blood that had poured down his chin and stained his chest. His eye gazed over the courtyard as if checking for any other allies; satisfied, Scar's lips flickered into a grimace, and he lumbered forwards.

    Alaska tried to stare him down, refusing to be intimidated, refusing to cower in death. Yet the universe gave her no option; she blinked involuntarily and opened her eyes to the ocean. You're too late, she thought, shaking her head. You're too fucking late.

    For a moment, the world seemed to go silent. Alaska couldn't hear anything – not the fire, not the battle below, not Emily cowering behind her. Nothing but her own heartbeat echoing inside her head. And then, she heard the sound of someone breathing, a simple exhale that didn't belong to her. And in that moment, Alaska knew all her fears were about to come true.

    The sound rushed back to her, all the explosions and crying and Scar's rampaging stomp. The intensity made Alaska gasp, and then she started to choke. The feeling came over her without warning. The brownies fell from her hand, and she pulled away from Emily as her hands reached for her neck. She gasped for air, gagging against the force she could feel rising up her throat. It was not bile or blood, but something hot and powerful, an energy she had never felt before.

    She shut her eyes and stumbled to the ground, yet Alaska could still see smoke. A thick black mass like a thundercloud that had sunk to the earth. Alaska reached towards it, so close she could almost touch it, even though she knew that wasn't her hand, that this wasn't her body, that the feeling in her throat had nothing to do with her.

    Alaska's eyes burst open; Scar was right above her, his hands clutching at her head and threatening to crush it. Yet her brain was about to explode anyway, and despite everything, despite all the pain, despite the blood and the torment, despite what the next few seconds meant for the rest of her cursed existence, Alaska couldn't help but smile.

    She used the last of her energy to push backwards, throwing herself into Emily and away from Scar's grip. The henchmen watched them fall, his mutilated face slack with confusion, and then he looked up towards his maker. Alaska could see his frightened eye from two angles, but her phantom body had no time for sentimentality; he simply focused on his target and opened his mouth wide.

    The air was illuminated with purple energy. The draconic heat was a force unlike anything Alaska had seen before; power reverberated from it, pushing her and Emily further into the ground while it tore into Scar. The strongman screamed, the sound weak and pained like a child's, until he fell silent without any warning. Alaska could see his shadow somewhere within the beam, but the longer the attack tore through him, the smaller the figure became until it was merely a stick figure slowly fading away.

    The attack lasted over a minute; the second it faded, Alaska gasped, sucking in as much air as she could. Her hands slackened by her side, though her fingers tingled with phantom movement. She looked at the smoke, aware that's what he was focused on, and watched as the entire cloud was pushed away, a giant gust of wind forcing the entire smog aside.

    The sky was visible again, and from the clouds, their saviours arrived. A frozen blue creature like ice come to life dived towards the courtyard, the flowing sapphire tail sparkling in the sun. Yet it was a cold air that drifted up in lieu of the fire, a chill that Alaska felt through her whole body.

    Though maybe that was simply the darkness returning for her. Alaska had no idea what was real anymore; a Pidgeot flew overhead, a girl riding on its back, and for a moment she was convinced it was her. She reached towards her ghost self but the cold was spreading and her body refused to move.

    "Alaska, what's going on. What's Articuno doing here?" Emily shook Alaska in her urgency for answers, unaware her sister was slipping away from her. "And… who the fuck is that?"

    Alaska's head slumped back into her sister's chest, and she realised Emily was still wearing her uniform. The thought made her smile, and she began to laugh as she looked up at the figure from her dreams as he drifted down towards them. Alaska could feel his fear, her own nightmares reflected back, and she laughed even harder.

    "Oh, him, he's an old friend. About time you showed up." She looked up at Latios but instead saw herself, sprawled across her sister, her blood coating the two of them as they lay motionless in the courtyard, surrounded by their fallen Pokémon and brownies from their brother. The image made her smile, and Alaska shut her eyes, grateful as all her pain seemed to slip away in an instant.
     
  9. Threadmarks: Chapter Ninety Seven: No Arms Around Me
    AceTrainer14

    AceTrainer14 The acest of trainers

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    Chapter Ninety Seven: No Arms Around Me

    The second Sandy awoke, she knew something was wrong.

    This was no sixth sense alerting her to some hidden danger. As Sandy's eyes struggled to adjust to the glaring sunlight, she could hear chaos erupting in the distance, a cacophony of sounds and shouts that blended into one; the screeches of a bird here, the ratter of gunfire there, a distant bang that shook the entire building.

    So this is what Amanda was afraid of. Sandy had no time to sit and worry about whether the new arrivals were friend or foe, she just knew she had to get free.

    Yet her arms were still splayed around the pole, held so tightly Sandy was worried her elbows would invert. She tried pulling at what was holding her in place, but it refused to budge, the metal around her wrists instead cutting into her skin. Whatever Amanda had used to bind her here was sharp and rusted, and Sandy in her weary, half-conscious state couldn't help but scream into the empty room.

    Though maybe it wasn't empty after all. Sandy swallowed her scream and fell silent, her ears pricked up and alert. Did I imagine that? She tried to peer around the pole for the source of the footsteps, but she saw nothing within the limited range provided to her.

    "Hello?" Sandy held her breath but all she could hear was her own shout echoed back.

    Then, an ear-piercing shriek vibrated through the air. Sandy yelled in terror, but the sound came from above rather than behind her; she sank back against the pole and watched as a giant figure flew overhead. Its wings were long and billowing, the elongated neck, but as it flew over the pockmarked ceiling, briefly blocking the sun, Sandy could only see a tinge of red that did little to identify it.

    Is that thing on my side? Sandy turned to try and follow it, listening as it screamed into the open air. Its call was so loud all other sounds were lost beneath it; Sandy realised too late that a figure was sprinting towards her through the shadows, but the sunlight glinted off of something held by its side.

    "PLEASE, NO WAIT I CAN –" Sandy was too late; the figure was barely upon her when it raised its hands, and all she could do was shut her eyes and scream as it lunged towards her.

    There was the sharp twang of metal on metal, and Sandy's arms fell to her side. She stopped screaming as she collapsed to the floor, her curved back unable to hold her own weight up. She slumped face first into the mouldy floor and slowly brought her hands to her sunstruck eyes, checking that nothing had been lost, her arms were so numb she would not have felt it anyway.

    "Wh-who-who are you?"

    The person said nothing. Sandy tried to push herself up but her arms gave way. She resigned herself to staring at the figure's legs, but even they became obscured as they dropped a bag centimetres from Sandy's face.

    "If they get to me, you'd better tell them I saved you."

    Sandy's heart skipped a beat. "Chloe? Is that you?"

    There was no answer, only frantic footsteps as Chloe sprinted back the way she had come. She made no effort to be stealthy now that her duty was done, and Sandy wondered if Chloe would have even said anything had she still been asleep. I left her to die in that boat, and now she's saved my life.

    The thought weighed down on her heavily, but the creature above screamed out again, forcing Sandy to put Chloe aside for now. She couldn't stay in this health hazard of a building anymore, especially not with Pokémon large enough to terrify Amanda bearing down on them. Save yourself now, feel guilty later.

    With her hands out of action, Sandy had limited options. She resorted to dragging her legs towards her chest before she rolled onto her front once her knees were touching her breasts. Her ankles ached as much as the rest of her, but Sandy bent them so her feet were flat and then pushed herself upright. Her head thwacked against the pole, but she added the pain to her list of maladies and moved on.

    Sandy raised her arms as much as she could; now that they were free, she could see Amanda had shackled her to the pole with a thick chain, the type probably used to keep manic Pokémon under control, that she'd looped clunkily around Sandy's wrist. "Rude," she huffed, and tried to pull them off. Her wrists screamed at her to stop, and fresh trickles of blood ran out beneath the metal.

    "Great, there's goes any chance of running out of here." Sandy filed the grievance away, hoping to bring it up with Amanda's face one day, and turned her focus to the bag.

    She had worked out already it was hers, but that didn't make its return any less welcome. Sandy used her feet to pull it closer and felt inside the outside pocket, her aching fingers brushing against all six Poké Balls.

    Thank the gods. She longed to see all her Pokémon again, but as her fingers brushed against the roughest and most worn of her capsules, she knew five of them would have to be patient.

    Sandy started crying before the red light had even faded. When Butterfree came to, she stared at her trainer incredulously, her confusion only deepening as Sandy threw her handcuff-laden arms around her. "I never thought I would see you again," she sobbed.

    "Freeeee?"

    "I got kidnapped again."

    "Freee," Butterfree sighed knowingly. Her tiny hands pushed Sandy away as she scanned their surroundings with her giant eyes. "Butterfree Freee."

    "Yeah, this place doesn't seem entirely up to code. I feel we should get out of here, like, right now? Though," Sandy added, raising her arms, "if you could break –"

    Butterfree's eyes flashed before Sandy had finished speaking, and the manacles fell apart, hitting the floor with a thunderous echo. Butterfree then raised her hands, and Sandy yelped as she slowly rose to her feet, her bag falling into her arms.

    "You are getting really good at that Psychic. Must have had a good trainer!" Sandy laughed for barely a moment before Butterfree glared at her. "Yes, I know where we are! I nearly get killed every other day, we might as well start having a laugh?" God knows I need one.

    "Free," Butterfree mumbled dismissively, and she started to fly the way both Amanda and Chloe had gone. Sandy stumbled after, even though her feet felt heavy like logs after so long tied to the pole, but it simply took another burst of screeching and gunfire to get her running like normal.

    The lighting remained patchy throughout the floor until they reached a carpeted area in front of an empty lift shaft. A larger hole left more of the sunlight in, as well as the other elements; Sandy gagged at the smell of mildew and five years of Wingull crap. Thankfully, an empty door frame revealed a plain, concrete staircase that simply smelt of smoke and freedom.

    Sandy had barely made it down one flight before an explosion echoed up the stairwell. She paused and peered tentatively over the slightly melted barrier; about eight floors down she could see frenetic flickers of light as gunfire was exchanged, followed by a crackling flash that was undoubtedly a Thunderbolt. "There's some kind of battle going on. Do you think they're here to rescue me?"

    Butterfree said nothing, which generally meant she didn't know, and carried on down. Sandy followed, moving slower than she had done, cautious of what might be waiting for them on the other floors. Yet they encountered nothing as they covered off the next two flights of stairs. The gunfire was getting louder and closer though, and Sandy could identify individual grunts and shouts mixed in with the hisses and roars from what sounded like a small army of Pokémon.

    "Butterfree," she hissed, stopping two floors away from the stairwells end. "Should we really go down there?"

    "Free Free?" Butterfree gestured at the wall, bare except for cracks deep enough to almost make a small window. "Free!"

    "I know it's our only choice, but…" Sandy hesitated as the building shook around them. She peered over the edge and saw fire dancing near the bottom of the stairwell, illuminating the shadows of a half dozen figures fighting nearby. "We don't know who's on our side or what they want. I won't be able to handle another fight." She was struggling to stand as it was, and her wrists had not stopped bleeding for the last five minutes, her arms streaked with crimson.

    Sandy doubted it would be enough to sway Butterfree. She had an impatient look about her, and she kept looking at the crack in the wall. Sandy could only see sunshine, but Butterfree's Compoundeyes could clearly see more. It suddenly struck her that she had never really put much thought into the limits of that power. She had never been that fussed before all this started, but there was untold potential Sandy and Alaska hadn't tapped into for all these months.

    "Okay, if you're certain, let's –"

    "Who's up there?"

    Sandy shrieked and jumped away, but not before she saw a rough, thick-jawed face glaring up from the bottom of the stairwell. She ran through the doorway leading to the next floor as Butterfree fired off a Psychic, not stopping to think or care if the person was friend or foe. The new floor looked just like the one she'd been held on, though there was no sunlight pouring through the ceiling here, just an endless gloom.

    No fucking way I'm going in there. Butterfree appeared by Sandy's side as she looked frantically for an escape, and mercifully there was enough light to illuminate the silhouette of a skirted stick figure hanging askew on the nearest wall.

    "Bathroom!" Sandy yelped gleefully, and she sprinted off, hopeful that no one was following. "In here," she shouted to Butterfree, and charged through the door shoulder first.

    The first thing she saw was a pile of boxes, stacks scattered in lieu of toilets and sinks. By the time Sandy's manic, tired, fretful brain had realised how unusual this was, a figure had emerged from one of the stalls. "Why, Alexandra, is that you?"

    Deep within Sandy's chest, a phantom pain screamed out from her past. Sandy could feel the gravel of Lavender Town's roads under her back, she could feel a warm cool spreading down her chest, she could see dark spots dancing before her eyes.

    This is a trick. This has to be a dream. Amanda's done something, hasn't she? Sandy could hear her own breathing though, frantic and out of rhythm, and that wasn't normal for a dream, right? She could hear shouts beyond the walls, likely from that rough-jawed man and his comrades, probably looking for her, but she could have imagined them, surely?

    Yet the longer Sandy stared at Gideon, her eyes as wide as they've ever been, she knew he was real. Sandy's subconscious remembered only the smirking scientist, whereas this Gideon had aged since Lavender Town, though badly, like a rotting pumpkin. She could not remember his hair being so long, nor his eyes, which only briefly looked in her direction, being so gaunt and empty. His shallow, pale face resembled a wax figure left to decompose, and his body, currently hunched over a cabinet in the far stall, seemed half the size she remembered, the discs of his spine exposed through his tattered, stained coat.

    Only his voice, high and pretentious, remained the same. "I suppose I shouldn't be all that surprised. Fate does seem to have intertwined the paths of you, Alaska, and I for some mysterious means. Is she here?" Gideon paused and looked around for a moment before returning to his work. "I suppose not. What a pity. It might have made a nice little reunion. Oh well, there's still plenty of time to catch up."

    Gideon moved to another cabinet as if Sandy was not even there, humming contently to himself. Sandy felt Butterfree's hands on her arm, tugging her back towards the door, but even with him avoiding her, Sandy couldn't bring herself to move. She wanted to cry, she could feel her angry, anguished tears waiting in the wings for their cue, but a dumbstruck rage kept her rooted to the spot. This was the man that had shot at her, that had tried to kill her and Alaska, and here he was in the same building she'd been held captive in. Gideon was right about fate, but why, after being on that boat and hiking that hill and hiding in the cave, had it led her here?

    "Are you working with Amanda?"

    Gideon laughed. The sound came out strangled, as though he had forgotten how to properly. "Work with… Amanda!" Gideon leant back and slapped his hands together. "Goodness me, that's the funniest thing I've heard all year. Amanda, working with me – imagine!"

    The scientist shook his head and chuckled a few moments more before he turned his gaze back on Sandy; his eyes shone with malice his laugh could never replicate, and his smile bore yellowed, cracked teeth, a leer stolen from a cartoon villain. "I'm sorry to laugh, my dear, but it has been a while. Things haven't been great since I shot you – not because of you, of course, merely the circumstances that coincidentally happened after.

    "You see, Charlotte's little book was only one of many items I need. I've been on a scavenger hunt ever since, only I left the clues back in 2008 so I've been having the most terrible luck. I tried searching in old houses and hideaways and some of Giovanni's old shell companies and front businesses and all that nonsense, but nothing! Absolutely nothing!

    "Then, just an hour ago, I happened to be passing through an old café Giovanni and I had once haunted when I saw the television. A fire at the Arcethian Academy! Robots falling from the sky! The whole school being evacuated! Well, I thought to myself 'That Alaska, what is she up to now?' But then the newsreader said something about Trainer Tower, how there were reports of strange activity there, asking if the two events were connected? Obvious answer, I thought. And then –" Gideon slapped his hands against the filing cabinet; the metal boomed like thunder, and Sandy struggled not to sob, her heart beating faster with every minute.

    "How could I have been so foolish?" he screamed. "In those last few weeks after Giovanni's oh-so-grand plan failed, I was scrambling trying to keep the dream alive. I had to move all our equipment and filing and secret little projects away from our bases that had been so hopelessly exposed by that daft, brilliant man's flawed attempts at grandeur – but where to put them? Well, where no one would think to look, of course, and what better hideaway than a recently condemned building that would sit forgotten in the eyes of the world, what with one city buried by lava and the other buried upon itself? It was so brilliant, even I forgot it was here!"

    Gideon attempted to laugh again, and he continued to thrash his hands against the cabinets. He pranced around as if playing the drums, becoming so caught up in his own mistake that he turned his back on Sandy. She didn't even look at Butterfree to know she had the same idea; Sandy stepped back as swiftly as she could, and subtly reached her hand into her bag.

    A click made her pause. "Oh no you don't," Gideon purred. He was watching Sandy now, one eye on her and one on the thick white gun held in his right hand.

    Sandy's fingers were only centimetres from her Poké Balls but she didn't dare move. There was a chance Butterfree could stop the bullet, Sandy was confident of that, but there was the Donphan to consider; had Butterfree recovered enough to ensure their safety?

    I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. Sandy pulled her hand from her bag and slowly raised her arms. Gideon's lips rose up towards his cheekbones, made visible by his hollowed cheeks, and he stepped closer. "Wise girl. I knew you were the smarter of the two. It's a shame Alaska gets all the attention, but that's how these things go, isn't it? Oh well, at least you'll have your name on the memorial first."

    "What's the point in killing me?" Sandy said, clenching her teeth to try and stop herself from crying.

    Gideon shrugged. "To send a point, I suppose? Is that good enough for you? Honestly, I don't have one. It's merely convenient, really. It might distract them from paying too much attention to all that I've had here. Not that any of it's important, anyway," Gideon added, throwing the folder he had held aside. "I found what I needed about twenty minutes ago. It's always the last place you look, isn't it? I was just glancing over the rest for old time's sake, I wasn't sure why at the time, but now I know," he added, winking.

    Gideon's eyes wandered around the bathroom, staring at the mouldy ceiling and the cracked walls. He wiped one finger across a dusty pile of boxes and smiled. "So much work, all gone to waste. None of it as important as the one piece of paper I've needed all this time." He reached into his pocket and held it up, grinning as he did so.

    "What is it? If you're going to kill me, you might as well tell me." Sandy smiled herself. "I mean, who am I going to tell?"

    Gideon chuckled, nodding his head as he slipped the piece away. "It's a nice idea, but I'd rather not." He kept his gun steady as he used his pinky finger to tap the watch on his left wrist, causing a dazzling light to illuminate the ceiling. "Goodbye for now," he said, but his words were deafened by the explosive din of the gun. The recoil nearly sent Gideon crashing back into the cabinet, but the teleportation of his watch saved him, sucking him away before Sandy had even hit the ground.

    ****

    Sea spray battered Alaska as the boat skimmed across the waves. She was too tense to lean back and bask in the low Sevii sun, but even in her current state – head swaying, body aching – Alaska could appreciate true beauty when she saw it. There was only the odd atoll or a distant school of water Pokémon to break the endless cerulean canvas that sprawled ahead of her, a million different shades of blue all blended into one.

    In a different life, this would be paradise, but for now, it was merely a passing thought. The natural wonder of the ocean was simply in the background as Alaska stared towards the horizon, thinking of their destination. I'm coming, Sandy. We're nearly there, just hang on.

    The ship was not big nor fast, an aged pleasure liner that Leaf had commandeered from the school. It was more than big enough to hold them all, but Alaska had chosen to sit on the bow away from everyone. Leaf had tried to coax her inside but Alaska had declined, insisting she needed the fresh air. The gym leader smiled and agreed, even though she didn't believe her. Leaf thought Alaska was trying to avoid her, unaware the twins both thought the same. Only Damian got close to the truth. He said nothing to the others, knowing too well they wouldn't believe him anyway, but he knew Alaska would not settle until she knew Sandy was safe.

    Yet even he was wrong. A few hours ago, Alaska may have assumed all of that regardless. Now, she knew it to be fact. She could see into the heads of her motley crew of allies and family. It was not a clear image into any one mind, rather an assorted jigsaw made of the pieces of many. Leaf's calmness, Edward's shock, Emily's guilt, Damian's sense of victory; they were voices, whispering to her from the dark, no one loud enough to speak above the other, yet Alaska heard them all anyway.

    It will get better, over time.

    For the first time since they had left the school, Alaska took her eyes off the water. Latios had remained at the exact same height above the boat for the last hour. Alaska could feel his body straining at moving so slowly, especially as Articuno and Suicune had long abandoned them to go fight alongside their siblings, but still, he remained.

    His gesture was noticed but unappreciated. Only a few hours ago Alaska had pleaded for him to save her, but now that he was here, she wished he had stayed away. "Get better how? I'll be able to read their minds better, or shut them out completely?"

    Both. Whatever you choose. These powers are yours now, and once you have mastered them, they will be yours to initiate however you wish.

    Alaska smirked at the ocean. "You know I don't want this. Can't you shut off whatever you turned on?"

    No. The answer was short and simple, exactly what Alaska had expected. You can be as annoyed with me as you like, but there is nothing you or I can do. This is the path that was set out for you, the powers above have bonded us together –

    "Why is that? Why you and I specifically, why do we need each other?"

    Have you not been paying attention? Latios asked with a hint of a smile in his voice. We're in the middle of a war, one that is only about to get worse. He gestured towards the horizon; in the minute Alaska had taken her eyes off the water, their destination had emerged in the distance, a heap of rock that would seem unremarkable if not for the smoke rising into the air.

    Alaska's rage slipped to the back of her mind as they neared Seven Island. More voices were reaching out for her, but there was only one she was after. They got louder as the approach through the narrow strait between the islands. As it slowed, Alaska gazed up at the hill she had lingered on last night, and her eyes fell back to the waters that had dwelled on her mind since. The water was clear enough to see a school of Remoraid, but the shipwrecks and fallen men lay out of sight.

    Wars turn out so well for Kanto, don't they? Alaska felt Latios' eyes on her neck but she avoided looking at him, staring instead at the Trainer Tower. Smoke rose from several floors, but even with people swarming the plaza, the complex still felt as lifeless as it had last night. Though maybe it hadn't been…

    As the boat slid into its berth, Alaska leapt onto the dock. Her leg pinged and her body swayed, but she forced herself onwards. Sandy was here and Alaska had to find her, she had to make up for leaving her in this tomb. She tried to sense her out, but the further she walked through the pockmarked plaza, the louder the voices became. Alaska paused near a fresh crater and stared around as the military police marched by, accompanied by either an assortment of Pokémon or a handcuffed henchman being led away, it didn't matter to Alaska as all their thoughts echoed just as incessantly. Her body was just strong enough to keep her upright, but Alaska's head couldn't handle all the thoughts.

    What was this bitch planning to do; start a war from the arse end of the region? This is fucking Seven, why would anyone think of coming –

    - here, I never should have, why did I let Mick talk me into this? I had no idea it would turn out like this, why won't this arseholes listen to me? I just want –

    - to go home. Maybe I could ask the boss if I can go back with the first batch of prisoners? We shouldn't even be doing this, this isn't our job. The gym leaders should clean up their own shit, the useless, overpaid –

    - assholes haven't got a clue what Amanda has planned. They are never going to see what's coming, even when it's right in front of –

    - them? Oh my god, it is! It is! It is!

    Alaska turned before he had even called out her name. "Lachlan."

    "Alaska!" Lachlan sprinted towards her, arms outstretched in his excitement, but he stopped when he saw her injuries. "Fuck, what happened to you?"

    "A lot." Alaska instinctively reached for her head, which a medic had roughly stitched back together before they got on the boat. She would have preferred some proper treatment, but after the school saw the giant craters scattered through their building, their hospitality had quickly vanished.

    "Well, I've had a hell of a time of it as well." Lachlan straightened his back and smiled proudly as he spoke, but before he could regale Alaska with his adventures, his attention turned elsewhere. "Damian!"

    "Lachy!"

    Alaska watched Lachlan sprint towards Damian, leaving only a trial of memories dancing through his head; she saw glimpses of towering cliffs, a rampaging Donphan and a tiny house on a giant field, but nothing that gave her any hint of Sandy. She cast her eyes across the scattered crowd, trying to see that lavender dress or those big beaming eyes, but the only faces that stood out were the ones she knew too well.

    "Alaska, Edward doesn't think this is Trainer Tower, but it must be, right?"

    Alaska smiled at her sister as she pushed past the reunited reality stars, watching as Emily led Edward gingerly over the cracked plaza. "The very same. I guess dad was right after all: these places are never as good as the ads."

    Shitting fuck, Emily thought. She kept her alarm to herself, but her wide-eyed shock said more than her words ever could.

    "What happened here?" Edward asked. "Is this your base?"

    "No, that deed belongs to someone else." Alaska realised she hadn't seen or heard Amanda either, but the producer was clearly being kept elsewhere, if she had even been here to start.

    Oh my gods. "Alaska, are those –"

    "Yes, they are." Alaska copied the twin's gazes and looked to the roof; all three legendary birds were nestled there, stoically observing the scene below. Moltres and Zapdos were undoubtedly contributors to the smoke, but Alaska had seen Entei and Raikou nearby as well.

    "It's really them," Edward whispered, awestruck.

    Alaska smiled at his innocence. She could see feelings inside both of them that she had felt only a few weeks ago. The joy and fear had passed though, now that she had seen inside the head of a god. Alaska looked furtively towards Latios, hovering ominously above the scene, but she tried to keep their minds separate.

    "If you've come to destroy something, you're a little late."

    "I don't know about that," Alaska murmured. "You've left me this lovely building, I could easily blow it up for the grand finale."

    Janine's laugh carried through the plaza. It made a disarming sight, her grinning while she clutched bloodstained swords in her hands, but Alaska was less intimidated than her siblings were. "I'm sure you could, especially with your friend over there."

    "I imagine you didn't need any gods to help you clean this up," Alaska said, eager to move on.

    Janine shrugged, casting her eye over a dozen-strong group of prisoners nearby. "Not really. The gods made for good theatrics, but these are just a bunch of boys desperate to have some part of the Team Rocket heyday. Probably recruited from Trainers.net and given some rudimentary training before being forced into action. Pretty much all of them surrendered before I even drew my sword."

    Somehow, Alaska found this more depressing than she had anticipated, and struggled to look away from the hapless group, half of whom were on the verge of tears. "What about Amanda?"

    "She's shackled to the sink in our boat," Janine replied, pointing to a blockish blue vessel roughly the same size as a passenger ferry. "She tried to fight, but made the mistake of bringing a gun to a sword fight. I was going to leave her out as a present for you, but she kept screaming and threatening everyone, even with a gag in her mouth. She's lucky I didn't chop her tongue out."

    "Wow, you really are as psychotic as everyone says," Edward said, clutching a hand to his mouth a moment too late.

    Janine smiled at him and sarcastically put a hand to her heart, the sword swinging close by. "Thanks babe, that means a lot. Your siblings?"

    "Sadly," Alaska replied. "Why the fuck did you ride a boat here?"

    "We were worried about anti-teleportation spikes," Janine said plainly. "And I certainly hope you've found some, otherwise you owe me the two hours I spent on a boat back," she added, talking to someone over Alaska's shoulder.

    It was Leaf who answered. "There were some, don't worry. Blastoise just found one planted in the seabed right by the pier."

    The four of them turned to Leaf, but the gym leader was not looking at any of them. She stood a few feet away, eyes locked on the tower yet her mind wandering in the past. Leaf seemed calm on the outside, but Alaska could see her thoughts, fragments of the last battle than had taken place here, and knew the placidness was a façade.

    For the first time, she found herself sympathising with her, but Alaska thought best not to say that. "What the fuck are anti-teleportation spikes?

    "They are an old Team Rocket weapon," Leaf replied, finally looking towards them. "Metre long rods that emit a dark energy frequency that interferes with Psychic Pokémon. If they are teleporting, they can't see their destination properly and end up going wherever they consider it to be safe."

    As Leaf spoke, Alaska saw flashes of memory from both her and Janine and knew then it was real. Yet through the jarring sensation of experiencing other people's pasts, another voice called out to Alaska, one that loudly and pompously denied this fact. Oh god, here we go.

    "Anti-teleportation spikes?" Everyone looked at Emily, who stared back with incredulity. "That's the most ridiculous thing I've heard all day, and my school just got obliterated by robots!"

    "Sis, shut up!" Edward snapped.

    "It's true! I mean, I'm sorry, Miss Oak, I don't mean to be rude, but… I mean… what the actual fuck! That sounds like nonsense!"

    "Wow, being difficult must be hereditary," Janine muttered.

    "It was a man called Gideon," Leaf said more calmly. "He was the chief scientist for Team Rocket, and…."

    Alaska heard nothing else. The voices in her head suddenly disappeared. All around her, things went quiet. The only thing she could hear was the ghost of a strangled laugh that came out of nowhere. It echoed through her head on an endless loop, interrupted only by the occasional crash and bang uncannily like a gunshot. Gideon… Gideon was here…

    Then it hit her. The plaza, the breeze, the smoke all vanished. All Alaska felt was an overwhelming sense of anguish that went right to her heart. She stumbled on the cracked earth, her legs giving way beneath her. Someone cried out, but their shouts seemed distant and faint, and Alaska did not notice any of the people rushing to her aid. This feeling had come out of nowhere, shock that gave way to grief that gave way to anger, yet Alaska felt it in every atom of her body.

    Focus on it, don't try and fight it.

    It hurts so much though. I feel my heart has been ripped in two.

    Use that pain, Latios insisted. Focus on, find who it belongs to. To have hit you so hard, it must be coming from someone close.

    Or someone close to me. Alaska shut her eyes, putting that thought to the front of her mind. The universe responded to her call; brief, momentary images flickered before her, images that she had never seen before yet in this moment felt as integral to her being as her own flesh and blood.

    Clinging to them, Alaska stood up and moved forward, pushing through the growing crowd as if none of them were there. Stunned and quizzical faces melted away into the background, Alaska's eyes locked on the hole where the tower's doorway should be and nothing else, this phantom urge pulling her towards the building.

    It was only when she heard footsteps, a soft, slow rhythm that echoed in the distance, that Alaska stopped. She was metres from the entrance, with the crowd hanging awkwardly behind her. She hesitated, unsure whether to carry on, before the decision was taken from her.

    Sandy stepped into the light. She moved with an awkward lumber as though carrying a great weight. Her arms, cupped close to her body, seemed empty, and her glazed eyes were staring into the distance, shimmering the more she moved into the open.

    "She's bleeding!"

    The sudden shout caused a ripple through the crowd, and it caused Sandy to stop. She seemed to only realise now that there were people in front of her, and her eyes, glazed and detached, moved fretfully across them all.

    Yet Alaska knew that that person was wrong. She could see the blood now, a smear across Sandy's hands, chest and neck. There were smears of red around her arms, but up close, the fresher layer was something between green and yellow, a colour far more magical and disturbing than anything humans could produce.

    "Sandy." Alaska stepped forward and slowly extended her left hand. Sandy gasped, her eyes finally falling on her friend. She stepped back instinctively, but Alaska kept moving towards her. "Sandy, let me see her."

    "You found me," Sandy whispered, her voice hoarse and shaking. "You found me."

    Alaska could feel her friend's agony more palpably now, and it took all her strength to fight back her own tears. "Sandy, can I see her, please?"

    Sandy slowly looked down at her hands and just as slowly looked back up. Her eyes met Alaska's again, though now they were blurred as the tears started to fall. "Why… why weren't you here ten minutes ago. You could of… they might have…"

    "Sandy, can I see her? Can I please look at her?"

    Sandy howled. "You're too late," she screamed, and sank to the ground, her body quivering violently as if every part of her was sobbing as well.

    Alaska's leg twinged as she lowered herself to Sandy's side, but the pain was nothing to what radiated from her friend. Fighting back her own tears, Alaska pulled Sandy in close, and her friend sank into her grip. Her arms relaxed, dropping to her sprawled legs and exposing Butterfree's body to the world. Her eyes were still open, but they were dull and lifeless, smeared by the same blood that oozed from the wound that had shattered her chest.

    "Sandy, I'm so sorry, I'm so, so sorry." Alaska shut her eyes as she held Sandy close, and in that moment she saw all the same images her friend was seeing; a Caterpie crawling across her window, a Metapod shell cracking open, the first battle against Paige, sheltering under a tree in the shadow of Mt Moon, Butterfree clutching Sandy as she lay in hospital, and then defending Sandy only 48 hours ago.

    The pain was palpable, clinging to every fibre of Alaska's being. Her thoughts were smothered by it, and Alaska struggled to breath as Sandy's primal crying tore through her own throat. She could see Gideon's gaunt face, she could feel the impact of something on her chest, she could experience the shock of survival being dwarfed by the realisation of why she was still alive. Get this out, get this out of my head.

    Alaska opened her eyes and searched the crowds. She could Damian, Lachlan, Leaf, Janine, Edward, Emily, all these faces, all this anguish and shock and guilt and confusion and sympathy, but none of it was what she wanted, none of them was who she needed.

    A roar tore through the air. Sandy yelped, shuddering in Alaska's arms, and for a moment her sobbing stopped as she looked towards the noise. All eyes had turned away from them and had focused on Suicune; the beast stood on the verge of the pier, flanked by his brothers, staring firmly at Sandy and Butterfree. When their eyes met, he roared again, this time joined by Entei and Raikou, the three unleashing ancient cries into the air.

    Above, a second chorus began; in unison, Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres started their own song. Their voices were harsh and violent in their own way, but together, the music they made was both ethereal and unnerving, a birdsong unrivalled in its beauty and power.

    Yet their tributes only made Sandy weep harder. Alaska gripped her friend tighter still, the only two people on the island not watching the gods. She shushed her and rubbed her back as she knew should, even though Alaska knew it was meaningless. She could see into her friend's head now, see into her memories, see into her emotions, see into her thoughts. They told Alaska what she could have worked out alone; that nothing could console Sandy, nothing could make this better, nothing could take this pain away.

    "I'm here now, we can get through this," Alaska whispered, but with everyone looking away, and Sandy consumed by heartbreak, there was no one left to listen.

    Except one. Alaska stared back at Latios for the first time since leaving the boat behind. He had made no noise for some time, hovering silently above the chaos like a ghost out of time with their world. Yet, as their eyes met above the crowds, Alaska could see his eyes were watering and knew without thinking that the tears did not belong to him.

    A sound she had never made before escaped through her lips, and finally, Alaska began to weep.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2018 at 1:56 AM
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