Chapter 17: Shinobi
- Feb 17, 2022
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Artemis banked softly after Harding's fearow. We circled over the small clearing in the trees, easily spotting the abandoned bedrolls and scattered equipment.
I tapped my comm unit. "That clearing is too small for me to land at." I glanced around, looking for a suitable place to land. "Crest of the hill, four o'clock."
I saw her head turn and watched her nod to Reyes behind her. "Copy that," she replied. "Lead us in."
I gripped tightly to Artemis as she gently banked away from the camp. We carefully swung low, landing deftly atop the hill.
Harding landed beside me, dismounting her fearow as I returned Artemis. Reyes flung himself off the fearow, practically hugging the ground as he raised his monferno's ball.
I raised Luna and Vector's balls as Harding released her persian. My pokemon would cover our approach to the camp, watching for any sign of traps while Raxus and Aro actively scouted the camp.
We moved through the forest as quietly as we could manage, carefully following my pokemon's steps. Twice I stepped over a deviously placed tripwires. I couldn't trace what the wires would trigger, but I had no doubt that there were wooden spikes waiting to impale me somewhere.
Harding took point after the second wire, refusing to put me at risk over herself. She kept us clear of the rest of the traps, carefully marking each of the tripwires for us.
It took nearly half an hour of creeping through the trees until we reached the camp. Reyes and I took positions at Harding's sides, both of us crouching in the brush.
"Spores," I said, pointing to the ground. The entire camp was covered in a thin dusting of silvery-yellow spores. "Probably a nasty cocktail of paralytic and soporific. We walk in there and we'll start stirring it all up." I grimaced as I realized what that meant. "Which means that whoever did this is still watching."
I listened carefully for a moment. The normally raucous reverie of the Safari Zone was gone, replaced by a deafening silence. It was as though someone had flipped a giant switch and shut it all off.
Harding raised a ball, seemingly weighing our options. "I'll clear the hazard. Both of you get back."
She released her fearow beside her as Reyes and I retreated into the trees a short distance.
I heard Harding order her fearow to create a whirlwind and watched the pokemon take off deftly through a small gap in the trees.
A furious gust of wind whipped through the camp a moment later, kicking up a storm of spores. I gasped, realizing that the dusting was thicker than I had realized as the whirlwind tore through the camp.
The ten-foot tall cloud of dust and spores spun through the camp, gathering more of the trap that had been laid for us. It rose into the air, the tornado carrying the cloud of spores away with supernatural skill. I watched it rise above the trees and disappear off to the west.
It was another ten minutes until Harding's fearow cawed loudly overhead. Reyes and I crept back towards the Captain, taking great care to avoid the marked tripwire.
Harding was standing behind a tree, peering through the foliage. She heard us coming and turned her head. "Does Luna have anything?"
I turned to my Ninetales. We hadn't had much practice at it, but theoretically Luna could use her newfound telepathy to locate any potential threats. In practice, it had left both of us with splitting headaches. I suspected that was due to my apparent lack of any latent psychic talent myself, forcing Luna to overextend herself to communicate with me at the same time.
"Luna, search for threats. Don't bring me along this time. Just relay what you find back to me when you're done."
She nodded, her eyes faintly glowing with psychic light. Her tails flared, seemingly floating as my ninetales flared with unseen power. She stayed locked in position for more than five minutes, the three of us waiting in near silence. Then her body sagged in exhaustion and I saw the glowing light fade from her eyes.
"It's alright, girl. Did you find anything?"
She nodded and I felt her mind brush up against mine. I saw the clearing in my mind, dozens of tiny points of light scurrying through the underbrush. Luna was a supernova of light, nearly eclipsing out entire group of smaller stars.
There was a sole point of light in the camp, too large to be a small wild pokemon. The light was muted though, as if the being was weakened. I retreated from Luna's shared vision and patted her gently on the head.
I turned towards Harding, rubbing my temples. I still could barely tolerate sustained contact with Luna's mind. "It almost looks like something down there, alive. It's weak though."
"Any traps that you could find?"
I shook my head. "I can't honestly see all that much like that. Mostly just dots of light." I shrugged. "I dunno, it's all really weird since I'm not psychic myself."
She looked back down at the camp, determination set on her face. "On me, then."
We fanned out into the clearing, Luna and Raxus taking point in front of Captain Harding. Vector and Aro followed us in, my heracross and Reyes' monferno keeping nervous eyes on the trees.
We moved through the camp quickly, only pausing to note the signs of battle. One of the tents had a gaping hole burnt through it, and scorch marks littered the terrain. We continued on, towards the small depression that Luna had detected life from.
We hit the lip of the depression and I sucked in sharply. Corporal Lori Warrick was splayed out on the ground, expression slack and eyes blank. Her neck was bent at an awkward angle. Her machoke was in a crumpled heap beside her, body covered in thin gashes. A fat raticate was laying atop what looked like the dented corpse of Warrick's magneton, both of them still and silent. I couldn't help the shudder that ran down my spine. Lori had been the closest to my training ability in the unit. To see her brought down chilled me to my core.
"Fuck," Harding spat. She turned towards me, frustration clear in her voice. "I thought you said someone was alive, Rook?"
"I never said I was certain," I retorted. "Just that something might be alive."
"Look," Reyes interrupted, pointing into the depression. "Her machoke."
I followed his finger, watching the pokémon's chest rise almost imperceptibly. It was weak and barely breathing, but it was alive. I fought back the nerves. "We should leave," I said carefully. "Something is watching us. I can feel it."
I saw Harding glance towards the trees. She hadn't heard the voice say that the forest was watching, but I had filled her in. I knew she had the same pit in her stomach that I did.
"Hold on," Reyes said. He carefully picked his way through the bodies, kneeling beside Corporal Warrick. He took her machoke's ball from her hand, returning the ailing pokemon. He moved to get back up, but a paper went fluttering out of Warrick's hand.
He grabbed up the paper, scanning it quickly. His eyes widened and he glanced up at the Captain. "Harding," he said quickly. "I got something."
Luna howled at the same time as Raxus flattened her ears against her head. The wind had shifted, blowing back in our faces from the forest. Our pokemon had caught the scent of something. Something that they did not like.
"Mount up," Harding ordered. "Or get ready to fight."
I released Artemis. "I say fly. We'll have a better chance if we can see them coming to engage."
She whistled once and her fearow swooped down into the clearing. Her pokemon expertly flared her wings at the perfect moment, fluttering to a halt directly in front of the Captain.
I mounted Artemis as Harding and Reyes mounted her fearow. With one smooth movement, I returned Luna as Artemis flung herself into the air.
My aerodactyl struggled to gain altitude, growling in frustration as Harding's fearow effortlessly flapped past her. She poured on the speed, surging through the gap in the canopy that Harding had disappeared through.
We hit the open sky with speed, rising above the treetops. Harding was already high above us, her fearow casually climbing even with two passengers. Artemis angled upwards, gradually closing with the Captain.
I tapped my comm unit. "What did we get?" I asked. I didn't know what it was, but that piece of paper must have had something important on it.
"Meeting time and place," Harding replied. "Seems like Warrick made contact with some kind of informant. Assuming that Warrick received the note after last check-in, we still have a day to make the meeting."
I nodded as I drew level with them. "We heading to this meeting?"
She looked back at me, weighing her options for a long moment. She tapped her comm unit, turning it off and shouting over the wind. Reyes and I did the same. "I don't trust that our comms aren't compromised. It could be a trap."
"It could also be legitimate," Reyes suggested. "That note might have been what triggered the attack on squad three." He shrugged noncommittally. "We haven't seen any evidence of shinobi outside of this attack. Maybe Koga's got a leak that he's desperate to plug, and our Rangers were just in the way."
"It's possible," Harding said. "But I'm not willing to risk the entire expedition on a maybe." She looked out across the savannah and went silent for a moment. "We'll rendezvous with team two first, then make a decision then."
I felt Artemis tense up, and heard Harding's fearow shriek in warning. Three winged shadows were rising from the trees, riders on each of the golbat. Their intentions were clear, small blades bared in the mid-morning sun.
I flipped on my comm unit as Harding's fearow flapped to gain altitude. The Captain pulled away, rising far faster than I could hope to follow. I heard a crackle over the radio and Harding's voice follow. "Keep out of their path, Rook. They're after the note. Ready for intercept on my mark."
I angled Artemis to the side, veering out of the three newcomers path to Harding. They made no adjustments, bee-lining for the Captain and Reyes.
My heart pounded in my chest. This was my first real action against hostile trainers. I'd participated in a poacher raid to the east of Vermillion a couple weeks ago, but I hadn't actually faced any trained pokemon. My battle against the mutated dragon was the first time I'd actually deployed my pokemon in battle as a Ranger.
Our typical tactics called for non-lethal takedowns and debilitating status effects. Rangers, for the most part, did not fight to kill. We weren't the Army. However, all that went out the window while we were in flight. Any airborne battle was lethal, simply due to the speeds and altitude involved. Like it or not, we were fighting to kill.
I glanced up, waiting for the signal as Harding kept rising above me. The three riders were still rising, drawing closer to my altitude with every wingbeat. The moment was coming. I tensed up, preparing for a sharp turn into a dive.
I wrenched Artemis to the side, throwing her into a sudden dive. The golbat tried to scatter, but I was too close.
Artemis hit one of the golbat slightly off-centre. Her jaws clamped down on the golbat's wing, easily tearing it off with our momentum. I heard the golbat shriek in pain and the man on its back panic as we zipped past them.
I pulled Artemis out of the dive, swivelling around in my seat to watch as Harding's fearow skewered a second golbat through with her beak. It died almost instantly, the rider soaring helplessly off into the air as he was flung from his mount.
The golbat that Artemis had savaged flapped madly with its remaining wing, the man on its back flailing in panic. I didn't watch him plummet past me. I couldn't. I pushed the doomed men from my mind and focused solely on the battle at hand as Artemis banked around towards Harding.
The third golbat cut its flight suddenly, looping back into a sudden, steep dive. Harding hadn't recovered from her opening attack yet. She was completely open and there was nothing I could do. Artemis wasn't fast enough in flight yet and she had no ranged abilities of her own.
"Captain, above you!"
Harding pulled her fearow to the side, trying to bank hard and get out from under the remaining attacker. She was never going to be fast enough. The golbat hit them with a glancing blow, throwing them into a wild spin.
A single figure separated from Harding's fearow, arms flailing wildly.
"Reyes!" I shouted immediately. I pointed up at him, squeezing Artemis' flanks with my ankles. "Catch him!"
Artemis poured on the speed. Her wings beat furiously, racing towards Reyes with every heartbeat. He plummeted past us as Artemis threw herself into a steep dive. We had maybe two-hundred meters to the ground, hardly enough for any safe maneuvers.
I could see him looking up at me in terror. We were closing, but not fast enough. Artemis reached, stretching out with her neck as we gained on Reyes. The ground rushed up to meet us as Artemis closed her jaws on Reyes' ball bandolier. I strained, reaching down in a desperate attempt to grab his outstretched hand.
Our fingertips brushed momentarily, then slipped away. Artemis pulled her head back closer to her body and I locked hands with him.
His eyes met mine, already resigned to his fate. I felt him forcing a crumpled paper into my hand and saw him mouth a final message. "Use it."
Artemis' wings snapped out, catching on the wind. My fist closed on the paper as Reyes' bandolier snapped from the strain. I closed my eyes as he plummeted through the canopy, refusing to listen to the sickening crunch of his body hitting the ground.
We soared just above the treetops, slowly rising as the speed of our dive carried us back skyward. My radio crackled to life as I searched the sky for the Captain. I found her half a moment later, in pursuit of the fleeing golbat.
"Rook," she started. "I have the paper. I'm going to the meeting with Lori's informant."
I glanced down at the crumpled paper in my fist. She was lying over the radio. Our comms were compromised, she knew that. I smirked, realizing that she was intentionally misleading whoever was listening.
"You are to rendezvous with team two and continue on to Fucshia Ranger Command." There was a long pause as she waited for me to answer. "I will rejoin you as soon as I am able. Do you understand?"
I looked down at the paper in my hand. "Yes, ma'am. I understand." I looked back up at her, knowing that she had reversed the roles. With any luck, by the time our stalkers realized what had happened, I'd already be long gone. I pushed away the pain in my chest and angled Artemis to the south.
I didn't look back for Reyes. I couldn't.
Wertz's death had hurt. I'd watched her die in front of me, watched the life fade from her eyes. I'd stopped the beast that had killed her though.
Warrick's death had been a pure gut-punch. A reminder that none of us were invincible. Even if we'd stopped the three shinobi that had ambushed us, they were following somebody's orders. We'd accomplished nothing more than silencing a few henchmen.
Reyes was my friend. He was the closest friend I had made in the Rangers, my consummate training partner. He hadn't finished his gym challenge, but he'd trained under Surge for more than half a decade. His death was a hammer blow to the chest, a raw mark on my psyche.
He was more than a match for me, even with his unevolved team. His team that now sat in their balls at the bottom of my bag, attached to a broken bandolier. Standard Ranger procedure was to reassign the deceased's pokemon to other Rangers, but that felt wrong the more I thought about it. Reyes had caught most of them himself, only buying Aro after saving almost every scrap of money his sponsor could spare. They were his family, not tools to be shuffled around at will.
I stared blankly at the paper for what felt like the hundredth time, pushing away the unpleasant thoughts. It hadn't been the first time my mind had dwelled on Reyes, on the people we'd lost, and I doubted it would be the last. I still had a mission though. A mission that would bring me back up against the people that had caused those deaths.
Meet me when the sun sets tomorrow, where the west river bends back upon itself, in the house under the hill. Fucshia's corruption runs deep. You'll need my help if you want to stop my father.
We were friends once. I can't change what I did, but maybe I can help you save your friends. A debt must be paid, and I owe you.
I looked away again, half tempted to tear the paper in half and throw it away. This was what Reyes had died for. A scrap of paper with a personal message to a dead woman. I had no doubt that this was what the shinobi had been after. Still, I was no closer to this informant than I had been when I had found the bend in the river earlier in the day.
I pocketed the paper, scowling to myself as I traipsed along the shore. I was missing something. I'd found where the river bent back upon itself, and found the hill that the message likely referred to. However, the hill didn't seem to have any houses on or under it. There wasn't a door that I could find, no trapdoor, no secret boulder to roll out of the way. It was a smooth, treeless hill nestled in the bend of the river. If it had any secrets, I couldn't find them.
Luna's mind touched mine and I caught a flash of concern. She appeared at my side, sharing the memories of her fruitless search. She'd happened upon the scent of a human at one point, but lost it at the river where it mysteriously disappeared. We'd even attempted a psychic search, which had proved less than useless and only brought more confusion.
I sat unceremoniously at the riverside, ignoring Luna's whining. I knew I was in the right spot. I was just missing something. I stared down into the water, wracking my brain for something, anything.
A flash of orange scales appeared from nowhere, the magikarp scarpering off into deeper water in seconds. I stood up in shock as it hit me. More magikarp came swimming out of the tunnel, as if to punctuate the point.
"The entrance to the house under the hill is underwater!" I exclaimed. "That's why we can't find it. We're looking in the wrong place."
Luna peered into the water, then looked at me and whined.
I chuckled. "I'm not making you go in there," I said with a smile. "I can swim pretty good, you know."
I peeled off my jacket and shirt and dropped my pack onto the shore beside Luna. I pulled off my boots and dropped my pants, leaving me in just my undershirt and underwear.
"I'll be back in a minute," I said. "keep watch for me."
She sat in the sand, looking at me. I felt concern touch my mind and fear gnawing at my gut.
I stopped and looked at her. "Luna, I'll be right back. I promise."
She crossed her paws and lay down. I felt her mind retreat, but knew that she was still worried.
I dropped into the river without a second thought. The flow was soft here, a gentle current that pushed me against the river bank. I swam along the bottom, searching for the tunnel that I had seen. I found it half a moment later, a hole cut into the riverbed nearly six feet around.
I swam back up to the surface, looking back at Luna as I caught my breath. "I found it," I said excitedly. "I found the tunnel. I'm gonna check it out."
I sucked down a breath and went back under the water. In hindsight, this was a terrible plan. I was attempting to swim through an underwater tunnel, with no clue what was on the other end.
My vision went to nearly nothing as I entered the tunnel. Only a small light from deeper in the tunnel offered any small comfort.
I pushed onward, swimming up towards the light. The tunnel began to brighten slightly and it became clear that it was not a natural formation. It sloped upward gently, leading me up to the surface of the water.
My head broke the water's surface and I breathed deeply. The air was cold, damp and stale, but it was still air. I stumbled to my feet, clambering up the small incline to the burning oil lamp mounted on the wall.
I wiped the water from my face and held my hands near the lamp for warmth.
"Now," I started as I lifted the lantern off the mount, half-expecting an answer from deeper into the cave. "What secret lair did I just stumble into?"
No answer came. I followed the incline of the tunnel, emerging into a small, cluttered room. Another oil lamp was burning on the table in the centre of the room, a plate of half-eaten food sitting in front of the lamp.
I felt the blade on my throat before I heard her move. I felt another point jabbing me in the small of my back and I knew that any struggle would only end in my death.
"Who the fuck are you," she hissed, pressing the blade against my throat so hard that I felt blood trickle down my neck.
"A Ranger," I replied curtly. "We recovered your message off the body of Corporal Warrick." I slowly raised my hands as the blade lifted slightly off my throat.
"Lori's gone?" she asked. Her voice was soft with pained concern. I heard a sharp breath, but my assailant bit it back before I could be sure.
I felt the point of her other blade move off my back and carefully stepped away. I turned, not knowing what to expect of my attacker.
She was small and lithe, clad in form-fitting black robes. A magenta scarf wrapped around her neck, trailing down her back. A black hood obscured her face, but I could see her eyes reflecting purple in the light of the lamp.
"What happened?" she asked. Her voice wavered, as though she were suppressing tears. I saw her eyes harden in the dim light and watched her lower her hood.
Her hair was a deep purple, matching the colour of her eyes. The barest traces of tears were at the edges of her eyes. She lowered her twin daggers and her expression softened slightly.
"She was killed by your father's men," I replied. I didn't know exactly who I was dealing with, but I had pieces of the puzzle. I just had to put them into place. "Who killed a friend of mine to get to you."
"Rocket's men," she replied, spitting out the words as if they were vile on her tongue. "They're all Rocket now."
I sighed. "We should have known Koga's tip was too good to be true. We had nothing for months, then all of a sudden he had exactly what we were looking for."
"And you idiots bought it without a second thought. You walked right into their trap." She looked down. "I expected more out of the famed Zapdos Squad. I had hope when I heard that you were coming to Fuchsia, hope that you could stop my father from selling us out to Rocket."
I grimaced. "We're still in this fight. All we have to do is alert Fucshia Command and they-"
"They'll do nothing," she replied. She crossed her arms, looking at me with a scowl. "Koga has Fucshia's leadership in a vice. They do what he wants, or someone who will is chosen as their replacement."
I shook my head. "The Ranger Corps would never allow that. We're an independent branch of Indigo's military, we act for the public good." I folded my arms across my chest. "They'll be able to help us."
"You aren't that naïve," she said in a stunned tone. "Your precious Rangers are still run by people. They are as susceptible as any others to corruption."
I frowned deeply. "So it's six Rangers and a rogue shinobi against an entire city." I scowled, running the chances over in my head. My mind went back to the battle against Giovanni and my scowl softened slightly. "I've had worse odds."
"Who said we were together?" she replied. "Why should I trust you?"
"You don't have much of a choice," I replied. "We're moving on Fuchsia either way. Your best chance is to go with us. Better to work as a group than all alone." I shrugged. "Thanks for the intel at the very least. Helps to know that we're completely on our own."
She stepped in front of the door before I could move, her blade whipping up towards my throat. "You know where I am now. I can't let you leave."
I raised an eyebrow. "So, what now?" I asked. "You kill me?" I shook my head. "You won't kill a Ranger."
She scowled at me, hard eyes studying my unfazed expression. "What makes you think I haven't already killed Rangers?"
I smirked as I saw her blade waver ever so slightly. She didn't want to kill me, she was scared. I didn't doubt that she'd killed before, but she didn't want to. "I bet none of them offered to help you."
She looked into my eyes and her scowl softened. She lowered the blade and stepped back. "No," she said. "They didn't..." Her voice trailed off and I saw the hurt on her face. She wanted to trust me, but couldn't let herself. "Fuchsia is a complicated place," she started. "We naturally distrust outsiders. They'll kill you the moment you make your move. You don't have a chance without me."
I nodded solemnly. "I know that," I said. "All Rangers know the risks. But we're going in anyways. Our mission was to find and stop Rocket. We found them. We aren't going to quit now."
We stared at each other for a long moment. She was studying me, probably still looking for a reason to kill me and be done with it.
"I'll help you," she said suddenly. "But you follow my orders. You listen to me and maybe, just maybe we can pull this off."
"So you have a plan?" I asked.
"It's complicated," she said. "Like I said, Fuchsia is a complex place. We can't just charge in, pokemon attacking like something out of an action flick. This requires nuance." She looked down at me, seeking to suddenly realize that I wasn't wearing any pants. "Oh, umm…" Her voice trailed off suddenly. "I can offer you some spare clothes. They might be a bit small, but-."
"These will dry relatively quickly. The rest of my clothes are still topside with my pokemon."
She pointed at the door opposite the tunnel I had come in through. "That leads back up to the surface." She sat heavily in her chair and sighed heavily with relief. "I'll fix you something to eat if you'd like?"
I stopped for a moment as my stomach loudly answered. I hadn't eaten anything since late evening the night before and it was catching up to me. I smiled weakly. "I'd like that very much. Thank you."
I leaned back, putting my bowl down on the table beside me. My host had a bowl of thin soup waiting when I had returned. It wasn't much, just some boiled roots and wild grown vegetables, but to someone who'd spent months on Ranger fare it was tolerable. Hell, it was probably better than most Ranger meals.
"So?" I started, glancing over at the woman. She'd hardly said a word since I returned, just sitting quietly by the small fireplace carved into the wall. "What brings Koga's heir all the way out here?" I gestured at the room around us. "As cozy as this is, I doubt that this is your first choice of accommodations."
"It was a hideout when I needed one," she answered sharply. "I found it years ago, when I was still in the middle of my League challenge."
I looked at her closer, trying to match her face to my memories. Then it clicked. "I knew I recognized you," I started. "You're Janine Ayõ. You placed top eight in your first Indigo Conference, then dropped off the map." I wrinkled my brow. "You were quite the controversy. I remember watching your elimination match. You were good. Too good to just disappear like that."
She furrowed her brow. "Not Janine Ayõ," she started with a scowl. I watched her spit out the words as if they were poison on her tongue. "I am a daughter of the Anzu Clan and heir to Clan Ayõ's seat at the head of the Fourteen Families. I am not an Ayõ, despite what you may have seen."
I raised an eyebrow. "Fourteen Families?" I asked.
She sighed. "I forget sometimes, that Fuchsia is so closed off from the world. We do not share our ways with outsiders, even in the most dire of times." She shook her head. "The Fourteen Families share Fucshia between ourselves. Rule is rotated amongst the clans, or rather, it was." She crossed her arms. "I was to be the next Leader, trained to replace Koga upon his death. I was the product of two clans, as is the tradition for succession."
"I guess Koga changed that?"
I caught her furious glare. "He robbed me of that. Clan Ayõ presented a champion to challenge me for the rite of succession, something that had never before been done in Fuchsia." She tightened her fists and a cold chill crept into her voice. "They sabotaged my preparation for the battle and injured several of my pokemon before the challenge."
I sat back. "What did you do?"
Janine hung her head and I could tell she was ashamed. "I ran," she said quietly. "My father sent his men after me, and I've been on the run ever since."
I narrowed my eyes. "How long ago was that?"
She cast her eyes upwards. "Two winters ago," she said. "My Clan believes me to be dead. I haven't seen a friendly face since then, at least I hadn't until I intercepted orders to ambush an incoming Ranger force. A Ranger force that I knew an old friend was serving on."
"Lori," I said quietly.
"Lori," she repeated. "We travelled together during our challenge. She was a good person." Her eyes dropped to the floor and her voice dropped to nearly a whisper. "She was a good friend."
I nodded slowly. "She was," I said. "We weren't close, I can't lie. But she wanted to help people." I swallowed the lump in my throat and forced myself to meet Janine's eyes. "She was a good Ranger."
"I told her that the Rangers would get her killed," she said solemnly. "Last time I talked to her. It was right after the Indigo Conference. I'd just been eliminated and she was thinking about joining the Rangers rather than enrolling in the next year's League."
I met her eyes and saw the pain. She blamed herself, she had to. I'd seen that pain before, felt the guilt that came with losing a friend. "It isn't your fault," I said. I leaned forward, knowing that we were feeling much the same at the moment. "Reyes fell to his death because I couldn't hold onto him." I tightened my fists, trying to control myself. "But I can't blame myself for his death. I can't let the people who really caused his death off like that." I took a breath as she met my eyes. "You're angry and sad about what happened to Lori. I get that. Use it, don't let them get away with it."
She sighed and sat forward in her chair. She buried her face in her hands and refused to meet my eyes. "You make it sound so easy."
"It isn't," I replied. "I wish that I had the time to break down and mourn my friend. I wish that I didn't have to push past that pain." I took a chance and reached out. My mind went to Pride, to the dead weighing on my conscience. I put my hand on her shoulder. I couldn't let grief rule me forever. "It's up to us to make their deaths mean something. To make those sacrifices worth it."
She looked up and I caught the twinkle of tears at the corners of her eyes. They were gone before I could be sure, but Janine was hurting bad. That wasn't the first time I thought I'd caught tears. "Rocket did this," she said coldly.
I rubbed my temples and leaned back. "How does Rocket play into this? You haven't mentioned them yet."
She smirked lightly and wiped the traces of tears away. "I discovered them by accident, watching the Ayõ Clan's compound. They were moving these massive crates off a ship, loading them all onto Safari Zone trucks."
I perked up. "The evolution machines," I said suddenly. "We found one of them."
She nodded. "I followed one of the trucks into the Safari Zone and ambushed them when they began to unload the device." She frowned. "I didn't know what the device was until a horde of weird half evolved rhydon came at me."
"So you don't know how long Koga has been involved with Rocket?" I asked.
She shook her head. "I only learned about their involvement when I intercepted the truck. But according to the driver, Rocket has always been here. He called Fuchsia Rocket's birthplace."
I frowned. "Then we're about to kick the damn beedrill nest," I said. "With not a hope in hell at getting any meaningful backup."
Janine's eyes flashed as she grinned mischievously at me. "I never said that." She leaned in closer to me. "We're going to need a distraction," she said. "Something big enough to draw the Fucshian Rangers and the clans out of their compounds."
I went pale. "That's a hell of a distraction," I said. "You'd need a large scale attack on a civilian population. Something like that isn't easy to fake."
"I never said anything about faking it," she replied. "It just so happens that I know where a very aggressive herd of half evolved rhydon are."
I sat back in stunned silence. She wanted us to goad a horde of mutated pokemon into an attack on a civilian population. Rangers dedicated ourselves to protecting innocents from dangerous wild pokemon whenever possible. What Janine wanted to do went against everything that the Corps held dear. Of course, it would draw every damn Ranger and probably most of the Clans' trainers out into the field. It was exactly what we needed.
I gritted my teeth, frustrated that I found myself agreeing with the cold logic of it all. "You're asking a lot," I said. "A lot of people could get hurt if the rhydon are too much."
She frowned. "That's a risk we'll just have to take. You wanted my plan, well here it is."
I sighed and got to my feet. "Then where do we begin?"
She grinned and I felt my stomach sink. This mission had already cost too many lives. I had a terrible feeling that it was going to cost a lot more before it was done.
Pokédex Entry #42 – Golbat
This grey-blue mammalian is a notoriously difficult mount. Many a trainer has captured and evolved a zubat only to fall when their golbat proved too difficult to fly atop.
It drinks blood, reportedly in amounts up to ten ounces at a time. There are some stories of golbat sharing their meals with weaker zubat, sparking debate about this mostly nocturnal, cave dweller's intelligence.
Intermediate Trainer KT#07996101
Indigo Ranger Corps, Special Task Group, "Zapdos" Squad,
Private First-Class SN# 109-512-6591, Marcus Wright, current team: