Bonus Material: Confessions of a Mother, Audrey Hayline, May 27th, 1566, Era of Jirachi

Zakana carries the events of that day with him wherever he goes. Perhaps he is unable to see it any other way. He saw it for Jirachi’s sake! I only saw the aftermath. That was enough. For me as a mother that was more than I could handle in a lifetime. No mother should have to bury her own child. And there I was. Durin was away for work. Kirish at Academy. All that was there were my two baby boys, Zakana and my youngest. He lay in my arms, his blood covering me, naming me, claiming me. I don’t remember what Zakana was doing. I don’t remember what I was doing. I blacked out and woke up sometime later in my life, knowing my own mistake. I should have never let them out of my sight. Without Pokémon! What kind of mother was I ? I don’t have an answer that is fair or acceptable.

In time I gained a sliver of peace.

I don’t believe Zakana ever did. Even now he struggles. He refuses to face it. That day hardened my son. My second oldest. That boy who loved his brother more than anything. When my youngest was ripped from this world so everything was also ripped from Zakana. Love was replaced with fear. And hate. He hated everything. He hated me. He hated his father. He hated Kirish. I think, above all else, he hated himself. The only thing that didn’t kill him was his ability to change and dive into new activities. Pokémon and everything having to do with them floated away like an undocked ship. He untied the ropes. He didn’t care if that ship ever came back. That was the thing that surprised me most. His response to Pokémon. To the one thing that mauled my baby. He began to associate all Pokémon with just that one. I wanted to shake Zakana and tell him it was just one Pokémon. But I didn’t. That would have been unfair. How could I take that away from him after all he had lost? He abandoned his Pokémon quest without another word.

I don’t even full know what happened that day. They were walking home in the forest and they were attacked. Completely unprovoked. I later came to know that Pokémon were acting strange in that area. The stab wounds and the cuts and scrape—I don’t know what it was that murdered my son, while Zakana had to witness it. Without any Pokémon. How did I ever let them out of my sight! A child will grow from the event but a mother will never forgive herself. Not with Zakana walking around. He is a constant reminder. And he believes that he is the only one with pain. Kirish changed from that day onward as well. She hardened in a different way. She clung to Pokémon and their ways. Her affinity for only battle left her and she saw the need and beauty of breeding Pokémon.

Zakana does not know of my pain. And he will never ask. To him sometimes I think it never happened. Death cannot live in the hearts of men and women for too long. Eventually it will kill itself and crawl out. I like to believe I have crawled out. I cannot live as a dead being anymore. Even now as I sit in this cell, with blood on my hands I know I am not guilty. And like this jail cell I will break out. I will come to save my family. I will find a way like I found a way then. Death cannot live alone. It will always kill itself and crawl out.

First I heard howling. I thought a pack of Houndour were hunting and closing in on their prey. The howls came from Zakana. When I came outside, I’ll never forget that moment. I saw it. Our eyes met, Zakana and mine. It was a moment of true agony. He collapsed to the ground with my baby in his arms. He was Zakana’s baby too. We shared his death.

I think back on that day and sometimes wonder if I could have run faster. That if I made it to the end of the trail where Zakana and my baby lay I could have saved him. That is foolish and backward thinking. I could not have saved him. He had been dead for minutes. Questions were not only futile, they were unnecessary. Zakana, through his eyes, through his moans, I knew it was the work of a Pokémon. A bug to be precise. I went back to that spot and saw the blood. Saw the insect markings. Does it matter what Pokémon did it? When I see it, will my heart harden and become hateful? Will I respond like Zakana? I keep reminding myself that I wasn’t there. That I, just as Zakana does not know my pain, that I do not know his.

Death is etched in those eyes.

The blood covering my baby . . . it is the same blood that runs through me. It is my blood. I want to change places. I want to give him my blood, pump it back into him. Make my last breath his first resurrected one. I cannot breath. I want to die. I have lived too many days, and my baby has lived too little. Is this the cruelty of the world? Is it the kind of world that treats its subjects this way? There is no potion, no Pokémon center, no redo that can bring my baby back. I can only return him to where he began, to the cold grey earth, in the summer heat when he was born. There is no TM or HM that can teach me how to overcome. It is a battle that I will always lose. He’s always just a thought away. I’ve done better. Durin was my rock. He still is. He took it like any father can. He blamed himself as well. He wanted to be there. He wanted to be home more. But with his work he couldn’t. Our house become a revolving door of blame and guilt. Kirish blamed herself. Had she been the one walking through that forest, instead of Zakana, she with her Pokémon would have chased away the god of death. She was already a formidable battler by then. Whatever was there, Kirish could have handled. I could have handled. Durin would have handled. The only one who couldn’t have was Zakana. And he was the one to have to walk those roads.

It caused a rift between Kirish and Zakana. Neither of them would budge. Kirish tried to be gentle, tried to understand, She tried to make peace with Zakana but in those early years I believe she hated him. That is the tricky thing about an event that begs blame. Everyone wants to blame. It is not the fault of Zakana that my baby died that day. God no. I do not think that. I do not believe Kirish does either. How can we? How can we even say that we would have taken care of the threat? We don’t truly know because we weren’t there. But Kirish does blame things that came after on Zakana. What it did to his character. How he treated me. How he believed that the death only fell on him. For a time they became mortal enemies. And I was caught in the middle. Trying to resolve my own feelings about it while a ghost walked around in my house looking for a way out of the Pokémon world. How could I advise Zakana otherwise? How could I tell him anything? If he wanted to be an astronaut I would have to be there for him.

They became the never-ending battle of Kyogre and Groudon. Zakana brought a never-ending rain and Kirish brought intense drought. The rains were torrential, every time I stepped inside that house. There was a roar of noise that lived in the quiet. When Kirish came home, it all dried up. She brought heat and passion and the rain would go away. Only for a time. Kirish’s passion was intense. For Pokémon and new things she would come home talking about it, and Zakana was not prepared.

Whereas I did not mention Pokémon or bring out my own much, it was a part of Kirish that she could not hide. Could I blame her? I saw both their sides. If one thing can be said of my children it is that they have passion and stand for the things they believe in. God did I see that every time Kirish came home. You would think one of them would yield, but neither did. Looking back, I knew that I was blind. I tried to protect Zakana too much. They might have reached an understanding or some peace had Zakana yielded in his stubbornness. Though Kyogre does not relent. The rains fall ever onward. And so the battle rages.

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That’s the end of Book 1, The Viterals!

Thanks for following along. Stay tuned for Book 2 of the Hayline Trilogy, The Channelers, where the Viterals, Rockets, Crimsons, and Haylines discover a new, dangerous threat that causes destruction in a way no one is prepared to deal with. There’s trouble coming for Durin and Audrey Hayline and now this new threat, has their eyes on Bambi . . .

Will Yumin, Kirish, and Zakana be strong enough to stand up against this imminent new world order, or will the Viterals, and the Channelers change the course of history irreparably?

Coming soon . . .

BOOK II of the HAYLINE SERIES

THE CHANNELERS

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Artwork credit here and here.

To be continued . . .

EPILOGUE: Three Months Later (Durin Hayline) . . .

Another Eevee—not the original Eevee given to Bambi Hayline for her tenth birthday, (that was now an Umbreon) and not the Eevee scooped up on the forest floor by her brother, Yumin Hayline, or the one recovered by her cousin, Zakana Hayline, or the three taken into care by trainers, Makua Church, Farore Aggagol, or Lyres Goevern—it was not any of those Eevee. This was the seventh child, born of the original Eevee owned by Bambi, ripped from the arms of Rocket member Isaque Finn, with enhanced Viteral technology.

Durin Hayline, father of Zakana and Kirish, had seen them, even from the jail cell. He had seen the Clamp Balls and what they could do. They had stolen all his Pokémon from him and changed them. Some of them hung in bubble-cells scattered around this massive room filled with halogen lights. Milky, silver liquid filled the bubble-cells while the Pokémon rested inside. Their eyes were shut.

At the head of the room, there was a single cell atop a pedestal. This bubble-cell seemed more important than all the others. The Eevee inside opened its eyes. From the dome above, from the sunlight now streaming into this place, everything lit up. The light was blinding.

Durin considered the Eevee, the things he had been told about it. He did not yet know that it was the daughter of the Eevee he had acquired for his niece, Bambi.

The young man standing next to the bubble-cell told him.

“You were able to secure such a wonderful specimen, Durin.” The young man spoke as though they were friends. He stared in Durin’s direction though not directly at him. “I’ve never heard of such a prolific birth. I wanted all of those babies, you know.”

Durin did not know. He did not care. He had been drugged and beaten to the scrawniest excuse of a human and none of his Pokémon could help him now. His bone-white knuckles pressed against the cold, steel, jail floor. The skin stretched and fresh blood leaked out.

“You’re an abomination.” Durin’s voice came as a whisper. He wanted to shout it.

“I’m not all that bad.” The youngling with broad shoulders, and a sharp jawline was on the cusp of manhood, a mere eighteen years old. Durin knew his history. He could see it in his blank eyes. A boy of eighteen destined to live up to his father, and more impressively, his grandfather’s legacies. Though the ideals and dreams of the founder, this boy’s grandfather, had not played out as he had wanted, the boy pushed onward with his plans. In the quiet space of this massive room, Durin had seen and learned things. His name was Aaric. He was the only child of Isis and Isabel Brodeur. Isis, the son of the Pokémon Peace Prize winner, Brock Brodeur had changed the plans of his father just slightly. And now, upon the subsequent generation, Aaric had changed them even more. The vision had fallen a long way from the vision tree. Brock’s genius was legendary. Durin knew of the stories, not just from books, articles, or modern medicine and unbelievable breeding revelations and techniques now accepted as law, but because of Brock’s close childhood and long time friend, Ashtyn Ketchum, whom Durin once had a correspondence with.

Ash, like his dear friend Brock, was now dead. Durin wasn’t sure if this would keep him alive longer or not. He, with his secret research of Legends, was the link between Ash, the greatest Summoner this world has even seen, and the Viterals themselves, sworn to harvest the vitamins from Pokémon for all time.

Would there even be time? Would the Viterals know of their evil before it was all too late?

Durin didn’t know. He didn’t have a voice anymore. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t talk sense into these people. They wanted only one thing, and that was a monopoly on the entire world. The plan, if it worked, was unstoppable. Durin could not fathom a way to end it. Not with these Clamp Balls, not with the new things they were constructing with all the vitamins. How was the growing organization of the Viterals under the spell and direction of a mere child? A boy the same age as his nephew, Yumin, or his son, Zakana! What else would come from such a leadership?

The boy had a sixth sense. Because he was blind, he seemed to be able to pick up on other things. Things that hadn’t been spoken but were formed in the brain. As such, Aaric answered. He held up something small and pomegranate-colored. Durin could barely see it from where he was over 100 yards away.

“Do you see this?”

It looked to be a berry, though not a single one, but two of them hanging from separate branches, like a cherry. The stems were shorter and the berries themselves, smaller.

Durin glared.

“Not a machine, you see,” Aaric said.

“That would be a first for you Viterals,” Durin said. “I’m sure it’s pumped with poisons and things that kill people or Pokémon.”

“On the contrary, it is quite natural. This type of berry is the first of its kind.” He was a specimen. Blindness hadn’t stopped him from developing a rock-hard body, though not a heavy one, but slim and wiry. The athletic suit he wore clung to him like skin itself. “The trials are just about to begin.” Aaric beamed and puffed out his chest. He looked at the Eevee inside the bubble-cell.

The sun gleamed downward. Early morning light soaked the Eevee with its power. Inside the bubble-cell, silver milky liquid thinned and Eevee suddenly became more alert. The corners of its eyes drew up and outward, widened. It grew. The Eevee began to grow as heavenly light poured down on it, oppressively. There was a bright glow and within that glow, Durin could see the changes taking place. Eevee’s bushy beige tail elongated, thinned out and forked into two purple ones to form a small Y at the end of the tip. All of it flourished a purple color. Tufts of hair fell from its cheeks and swayed. Its ears matured, and grew large to form perfect symmetry with the tufts. Where there was once a fluffy ball of brown and beige, now a sleek cat, with perfectly silky smooth fur remained. When it opened its eyes, only white stared back. The eyes watered, looked terrified.

Beside the bubble-cell, another Pokémon appeared.

Musharna. The Drowsing Pokémon.

It hovered in the air, level with the newly evolved Espeon that was once an Eevee. It was no longer the Evolution Pokémon. Now it was the Sun Pokémon.

Musharna flashed open marble-sized eyes. It lolled back and forth as though sitting on a rocking chair, a long pink mist emanating from its forehead. Slowly, its eyes closed and as they did, so did Espeon’s. They seemed to be in sync. Musharna rocking and Espeon rocking too, both powerful Psychic Pokémon in their own ways.

Aaric merely watched with blind eyes.

Durin was mesmerized by the scene. The Musharna had materialized out of thin air. Voraciously, in the wild, they were known to eat dreams and the mist that was now pink, changed colors depending on what kind of dreams were being eaten.

“I love you Audria. I love you Kirish. I love you Zakana.” Durin named his son that was ripped from the world. He loved him too. These were the words Durin said to himself many times a day. The only way to remain sane in a place devoid of time and feeling is to remind oneself of the ones that need you.

What sort of dream was Durin in? Would The Viterals continue to beat him until he died? What else could they take besides his life?

They could take his family’s lives. They could take what was left of it.

He shuddered and tried to stand in his cell but found himself too weak. Everything darkened. Though the sun still shone into that room, and the halogen lights blared on, Durin felt a cataclysmic presence. This Eevee that had been born from Bambi’s Eevee did not want to be where it was.

Aaric turned to face Durin and smiled.

“To see is to know. Can true sight only be achieved through the eyes?”

How could a boy with a father and a grandfather with all the knowledge and know-how for panaceas and remedies be plagued with blindness?

This day’s questions would never end.

It was ironic.

Everyone in the room failed to see the joke. This was something far less funny than a joke.

Where was here?

The Viterals Headquarters. Somewhere in the mountains. City unknown.

The color of the Musharna’s mist morphed into an inky black.

Gradually, the Espeon’s eyes opened. It blinked them several times. Through that bubble-cell, Durin sensed a sadness that could not be quelled. Espeon—she was ripped from her mother, and made to live in a tightly enclosed space, without any of her siblings. In their days together, across from one another in their confinements, Durin knew time had been stolen from them.

Musharna opened its eyes.

Espeon looked up and Durin heard a voice. As though the words were being projected into the room by magic. Was Espeon speaking with its psychic powers? Durin saw no other explanation.

Is the nightmare over? It said.

Another voice came back, curt and unfeeling. It came in the same way, unseen, words plastered onto unsuspecting minds. Aaric’s voice? Or Musharna?

Over?

No, my child.

There was a brief pause.

The nightmare has only just begun.

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Stay tuned for more adventures in Book II of the Hayline series: The Channelers.

If you missed Chapter 25, you can find it here.

Artwork credit here, here and here.

 

Hope you all enjoyed Book I of the Hayline series: The Viterals. Thanks for reading!

Chapter 25: Kirish’s Kingdom

They lay in beds, all of them—Yumin, Zakana, Farore, Bambi, and Makua. They weren’t in a fully functioning Pokémon Center but it was better than all the other ones they visited in the past month. This one could actually heal Pokémon. It was off the grid and so far, The Viterals hadn’t been able to touch it.

Kirish sat at Yumin’s hospital bed and whispered things to him. Other girls, the ones who had rode on the orange dragons, the Charizard, stood by, with medicines and ointments, visiting the bedsides every so often. Zakana had been stripped of his belongings—his bag, his Pokeballs, the papers that he had sworn to protect with his life.

Zakana turned to find pain course through him. The throbbing in the shoulder where the ice beam hit him was the strongest, but it was nothing compared to what it had been. Bambi stared straight up, her eyes meeting the shallow ceiling in the hut-like Center where they all now lay. Had they been damaged so? The fires, the floods, the fauna—what had it done to them?

Wiped them out, that’s what. It had wiped the floor with them and left their Pokémon breathless and fainted.

Kirish and Yumin’s tones rose next to him.

“I don’t know where my mom is,” Kirish said.

“What about Uncle Durin?” Yumin asked.

“Perhaps in the same place you saw him last.”

Zakana had questions . . . so many questions about the Rockets and the Viterals and when it would all end. He wanted less Pokémon, not more and now he seemed to possess three, if he didn’t include the Eevee resting in one of his Pokeballs. Slowpoke and Happiny were fine and utterly harmless but he wanted rid of the fox. He couldn’t bear the illusions again. They were too invasive.

Nearby, Bambi reminded Zakana that the fox had saved their lives. The fox and Kirish and her squad of teenage girls. They looked similar as they stood nearby, their hair long, in ponytails or buns sitting atop their heads. They wore loose clothing. The one that Zakana had met over a month ago moved to his bed.

“Is there anything you need, Zakana?”

Cecilia was her name and in that moment, with her jade-green eyes, she reminded him, in the pictures he had seen, of a younger version of his mom. Where was Audria now? Where were Bambi and Yumin’s parents?

“Where is my mom?”

Cecilia smiled. “I better let Kirish take that one.”

So she did. A few days later, once all the wounds had been mostly healed and everyone had their rest, the group of them, Zakana and his crew and Kirish and hers, met outside Kirish’s house and lay in the lawn.

“The Wailmer Wars rage,” was Kirish’s first announcement.

Zakana looked around and saw the destruction. He saw the boats that had tried to dock in the distance, how they had failed and been torn apart by Kirish’s defenses. Her own hair was caught somewhere in the crossfires. Pieces of it were gone, chopped like it had been set on a cutting board and sharp, swift knife strokes were brought down. The hair fell where it wanted and was mostly short. Kirish had managed to clean it up but it would be a long time before it was long again.

“The Viterals attacked,” Kirish continued. “It would seem with a full force.” She looked at her underlings, the three young women, and they all seemed to share a moment of understanding. They had seen things.

“So many Wailmer,” Cecilia said.

“Why? What is it that the Viterals want?”

Only the breeze made a sound. It was the question everyone had been waiting for, and other than Kirish and her girls, Farore sat up a little straighter and leaned in. Where her hair was long, golden and beautiful, Kirish was chopped and burnt. The two of them, Kirish and her Kingdom of the Orange Islands and Farore as Bug Gym Leader and ultimate protector of Celadon and its surrounding regions, squared off with each other, not as enemies, though perhaps in a different time they might have been, but as friends both protecting and fighting for the same causes, for the same people. Zakana saw the way they respected each other.

“They want the world,” Kirish finally replied.

It wouldn’t have been the first time someone, or some organization wanted that.

“They’re possessing Pokémon and bending them to their will,” Yumin said, his anger emanating from him in concentric circles.

Zakana remembered the red eyes. The Abomasnow. The Blaziken, Empoleon, and Serperior. The names now easily came to him.

“Its so much more than that,” Kirish said. “I haven’t figured out all the details, but they’re harvesting Pokémon.”

“Harvesting?” Makua asked.

“Yes. They’re sucking the life out of them, for their minerals, and their cells. But most of all for their vitamins.” Kirish paused. “Pokémon vitamins are very efficient and powerful, apparently, if used to fuel things.”

“The Viterals want the vitamins,” Yumin said, making the connection.

“They’re making them into machines!” Bambi cried.

“Yes. In a way,” Kirish said, remaining calm. “For now that is what they will do. But soon their greed will grow larger than ever. They will want every Pokémon, every form, every vitamin there is to gain, and then run a monopoly on it. They have already been at work for too long.”

“We grow locally here,” Cecilia said. “The prices of everything. The food, the medicines, everything in PokeMarts and Pokémon Centers will skyrocket. It is already underway.”

A discussion erupted as to how this was impossible. Zakana heard the arguments for both sides, and tried to see the truth himself. He heard snippets of conversations everywhere.

“Its better to keep your Pokémon unevolved,” Cecilia said.

“They’re using tracking systems to find Pokémon with higher heat indexes. Evolved Pokémon have higher heat indexes, but unevolved Pokémon have more valuable and malleable vitamins.”

“So they can find the higher forms more easily,” Yumin said. “But are really after the lower forms.”

“They’re after anything and everything,” Kirish replied. “They know no bounds.”

“Why?” Zakana found himself saying. “What’s our family got to do with it?”

Kirish stared at her brother. She paused, unsure if he was actually joining in the conversation. Everyone drew in a collective breath. Kirish eyed every single person there and studied him or her. She knew and loved her own girls. She and Yumin had definitely already spoken about the trustworthiness of the strangers Makua and Farore. They had agreed. It was the inner circle. This was as close to family as it got.

Kirish unrolled a piece of paper from her hands. “It’s the papers mom wanted you to get to me. Good job for protecting them.”

Zakana considered them. “It seemed like a message from Team Rocket to dad. Why?”

Kirish looked to Yumin who took the floor.

“Uncle Durin works for an Organization called Team Crimson. As do I. It’s not what you think. Team Crimson isn’t perfect but we do good, and before The Viterals had a name, we opposed them. We opposed their approach to Pokémon. So did Team Rocket. For a time, we worked together.”

Zakana looked back to Kirish.

She nodded. “That wasn’t the only thing the letter said. It had a secret message, Zakana.”

She held the letter up so that everyone could see the hidden orange letters underneath the ink print. “It’s from one of dad’s correspondents. Ashtyn Ketchum.”

Zakana had certainly heard the name. He was an important figure in history. But who?

Kirish cleared the air of mystery. “He’s the only Summoner this world has ever seen and he’s exactly what the Viterals are after. If they can find Ash Ketchum, then the world as we know it is over.”

“Why!”

Everyone wanted to know why now. Zakana wasn’t the only one who didn’t know.

“Let me say it as simply as I can,” Kirish said. Her voice was not malicious or superior in any way. “Dad can lead the Viterals to Ash, which will give them access to summoning powers, and—“

“What are summoning powers?” Zakana asked.

Makua gasped. “It means he can request the help and powers of Pokémon without actually catching them!”

“Not just any old Pokémon. Legends,” Kirish said.

A quiet settled over the group. Yumin tried to explain it to Zakana privately. Legends were one of a kind and could destroy oceans and planets if they wanted. But they didn’t want to. They remained peaceful and mostly uninvolved in worldly affairs, never being captured, or appearing to humans if they could help it.

“And they have vitamins of gold,” Kirish said. “If whatever the Viterals is doing works on the Legends, they will be able to make anything they want. We’ve already seen the kind of machines they brought here. To catch more Wailmer. To harvest more Pokémon for more machines, and more vitamins.” Kirish stood up suddenly. “They have to be stopped!”

“So they’re just keeping Uncle Durin until he says where this Ash guy is?” Bambi asked.

Kirish turned to face her cousin, then looked at Zakana. Her face fell. “I forgot to say one of the most important things. This letter. It came from Ash himself. He left clues for my dad. My dad followed them. There’s one thing The Viterals don’t know that we do. I’m not sure what they will do to my dad once they find out.”

“What is it?” Zakana worried for his dad more than ever finally knowing what the Viterals were capable of. “Tell us Kirish!”

“Ash Ketchum died six months ago.”

“What?”

Makua gasped again, clearly not expecting this type of news. “No—”

“Without his kind of summoning abilities the Legends may be safe. Its just dad we need to worry about now.”

“What about mom? Where is she?”

Kirish began to cry. Without warning the tears came. “When I got this letter,” she said, holding up a separate note, “last week, I thought it was from mom.” She shook her head. “It wasn’t. She told me she would communicate with me every day that falls on a 2 or a 7. She missed the mark.” Kirish wiped at her eyes. “I’m worried about her. I’m worried about both of them!”

Zakana found himself hugging his sister. He pulled her tightly to him and hugged her, hoped to shake all the tears away. “Kirish, I’m sorry.”

She did not look up. “I don’t know who the letter was from, but whoever wrote it told me a group of people, my brother, and cousins included were being trapped in a warehouse in Fuchsia City.”

Yumin moved into the embrace and so did Bambi.

“No way . . . they wouldn’t have.”

“Do you know who sent it?” Kirish asked.

They broke apart and stood facing each other, the four of them. Yumin nodded. “Yeah.”

And Zakana knew too. Lyres hated Yumin and probably wouldn’t help him, but the other guy . . . Isaque. Would he have helped Zakana? In the name of their past friendship? Was he even part of Zakana’s past?

After another day of rest, it was time to strengthen the defenses of the Orange Islands again. Kirish assured everyone the Viterals would strike soon. Pokémon were returned to their trainers. Slowpoke, Happiny, and even Zorua—Zakana got them back at full health. The teams were fully loaded. That is except for one. Yumin didn’t cry when he heard the news. Maybe he wasn’t capable of expressing himself now, when the air outside felt so numb. He and Zakana stood there watching the moon, Bambi and Kirish nearby chatting about the baby Eevee roaming around them.

“I knew something was wrong with it,” Yumin said. “Something happened. I was pushing it too hard.” His voice was without emotion, as blank as his stare.

“You’re an amazing trainer, Yumin.” Zakana found himself saying the words. He truly was sorry. Even though he didn’t care for Pokémon all that much, it was starting to change a little bit. Regardless of what happened to him, he cared for dead things. He knew at least that much and Pokémon didn’t deserve to die either.

“Rest in Pease, Braviary,” Yumin said, kneeling over the land where his bird Pokemon lay buried.

Pokémon can die too. In the same way that humans can. By being pushed too hard or pitted against things more powerful.

Bambi walked to them. “You have an open spot for your sixth, Yumin.” She held up an Eevee to him. “Take it. After they were separated from their mother they grew attached to their trainers, instead of Kappa or me. That’s why that one went with Lyres.” Bambi handed another one to Zakana. “This one likes you.”

“You’re just going to give away your Eevee like that?” Kirish asked.

“I’m okay with just my Umbreon. I’m going to give the other two to Makua and Farore.”

“That’s’ very sweet of you,” Kirish said.

Yumin patted her on the head and pulled her into a hug. “I love you, Bambi.”

“I love you too, big bro.”

Kirish and Zakana’s eyes met and they awkwardly looked away.

Would there be time to say it later?

Zakana opened his mouth to speak but something flew overhead.

A long dark shadow stretched across the sky. Just above the clouds, Zakana saw the tips of the wings, white and blue. It flapped underneath the moon.

“The Legends are already coming out of their realms,” Kirish said. “They know their brethren are dying.”

Zakana considered the great beast above. He considered Legends and the kind of power Yumin explained them having. That sort of creature was meant to be left alone. Not tampered with. Power like that did not belong to men. Unless it was used for good, in the way that Ketchum used it. Not what the Viterals had in mind. Would they still accomplish their goals without a Summoner?

“They’re coming,” Kirish said. “The Viterals will come until there is nothing left.”

Zakana studied his sister. She was strong for singlehandedly fighting off the Viterals on her small chain of islands. Zakana admired it. He admired what she needed to do to leave her place of refuge to save him and the others. She stood tall in her shortened hair and looked out across the rippling water. This was her Kingdom. Zakana would do what it took to help her protect it.

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THE END . . . stayed tuned for the Epilogue

If you missed Chapter 24, you can find it here.

Artwork credit here and here.

Chapter 24: Grass

When the water dried up in the warehouse, zapped away like magic, Zakana thought that the attacks were over. The fire burned, and the water surged and when the heat and the cold dissipated and everyone had caught their breath, life seemed to emerge. Things grew in that space. Flowers. And plants. And grass. There wasn’t enough time for Zakana to realize that something else had merely taken the place of the other murderous Pokémon.

It was a snake. A green, grassy one made of thick vines and fauna, with leaves hanging back off its neck like a popped collar. Like it was already peeling off its body for its next phase of shedding. Zakana flipped open Oodi to get some information.

“Serperior. The Regal Pokémon. It can stop its opponents’ movements with just a glare. It takes in solar energy to boost its power internally.”

All at once, Zakana saw the glow. How the sun came in through the windows and filled it, yes it was regal Zakana had to admit, with power. Its red eyes scanned the warehouse hungrily.

“Don’t look at it directly!” Yumin ordered.

But Zakana found himself mesmerized. The way it moved around effortlessly captivated him to an end he could not fathom. Why were they there? First the fire chicken and then the metal penguin—why had they come? To obliterate them from existence? It certainly seemed that way and Zakana began to fear, not just for his own life, but something else. Memories rushed back. He felt dark, invisible hands close around his neck.

“I’ve only got one more Pokémon!” Yumin announced it and Zakana could sense the fear.

They were running out of Pokémon. No Pokémon meant no protection. Zakana fought back memories of that day.

“Go, Shuckle!” Farore cried. “Yumin! I’m on my last one too!”

Bambi released her Houndour. Makua sent out his Fennekin.

“Zakana! You’ll have to use Slowpoke again!”

They were all, it seemed, on their very last Pokémon. All the others had fainted, which meant that the Pokémon physically could not fight anymore. They had been drained of their will. The four Eevee were still just infants and had finally been withdrawn to Pokeballs once the floods came.

Fire burned grass. The flames went up. Makua’s Fennekin and Bambi’s Houndour fought side-by-side blasting swirls of red and orange fire. But the snake was too fast. It slithered in spurts, from one end of the warehouse to the other, searching for something it seemed, crawling not just on the ground, but clinging to the walls too, as if gravity was just a figment of its imagination. It seemed to grow with time as rays of sun beat down on it.

“Tygo is down!” Yumin announced.

Zakana saw how desperate his cousin looked. He collapsed to his knees, not because he was tired but probably because of how helpless he felt. Not only had he lost over 90 Pokémon in his reserve, he had lost all his usable Pokémon in the span of a few weeks.

Zakana moved to Yumin and tried to pull him up. “Yumin! Use my Slowpoke!”

Yumin bounced up on the balls of his feet, only momentarily stunned and looked to Farore, a desperate longing behind his eyes.

This Pokémon wasn’t deadly like the other two in the same way. It merely encroached. Where the fire-chicken raged onward and upward with punches and kicks and blazes of fire, and where the metal-penguin filled the space with heavy floods, this green snake grew things. Something pricked Zakana’s arm and he bled.

“Yumin, what do we do?”

Yumin searched. His eyes were marbles rolling around in a pinball machine. He seemed possessed himself. “We have to escape.”

Farore returned her final Pokémon to her. Makua did the same. Only Bambi’s Houndour and Zakana’s Slowpoke remained.

“Slowpoke! Use confusion!”

From behind a jumbled up herd of boxes, Serperior emerged. It had grown significantly. It was a long trail of green, vines and plants hanging from it like vegetables in a patch of garden, going with it wherever it went. Instinctively, Zakana avoided its gaze, but Slowpoke did not.

From behind, Houndour breathed its fire. “Bambi, look out!”

Serperior swiped its massive tail at Bambi and Houndour. Somehow, Bambi managed to make it over. Just barely. The powerful swing caught her at the heels and brought her to her backside. She fell with a thud. Houndour was cleared away, through boxes until he smacked against the warehouse wall.

“Houndour!” Bambi scrambled to her feet and went to her Pokémon. She returned it.

“We need to get out. Go for the doors and run!” Yumin pointed and waved, but the snake blocked the path. When Zakana looked around him, he saw the way the plants had grown. There was no more gray to see, no more metal. Now there was only green, sharp, incessant green that could make you bleed if you so much as touched it. Grass wasn’t always nice. It was suffocating.

Slowpoke slowed, even though it was impervious to Serperior’s gaze, and finally after nearly being strangled by stray vines was returned to its ball as well. Now, there was only Serperior and trainers.

Yumin called from the door. “It won’t open! The vines have completely sealed it shut!”

“This was their plan all along,” Farore said. “Burn it, rinse it, and trap us inside.” She searched her bag for her Pokeballs, sighed dramatically. “I have nothing. We’ve used it all up. All the berries. All the medicines. Yumin! If anything has even a little will to fight, we need to just cut the vines!”

“I’VE GOT NOTHING!” Yumin shouted.

Serperior turned its blood-red gaze skyward and soaked in the sun’s rays.

Makua shrugged. His sockets were swollen from lack of sleep. He was all out of Pokémon too.

“We can’t risk using the Eevee!” Yumin said. “They’ll die!”

Everything, everyone mounted to hysteria. In the loudness, Bambi’s voice emerged.

“Who’s Pokeball is this?” She held it high into the air.

Farore and Yumin both rushed to it, studied it like it was a diamond.

“It isn’t one of mine,” Yumin said.

“Its at full health,” Bambi said, weighing it in her hand.

“Isaque’s or Lyres’?”

“No way,” Yumin said. “Zakana. It looks like one of yours.”

Though how could it be? Slowpoke was done, and so was Happiny. And the Eevee he was keeping in a third ball was in his bag somewhere. So then . . .

Zakana released it, and confusion consumed him. He remembered it from a dream. It wasn’t real. That didn’t happen. The black fox with the cranberry red breast stared back at the group, it eyes devilish. It formed a human smile and morphed.

“Zakana! You have a Zorua?” Yumin questioned.

The escape from Cycling Road. The bugs Zakana had seen. The visions. The hallucinations. The long journey through Fuchsia and then into the abandoned warehouse—it all rushed back to Zakana with painful clarity. He had seen things. He had seen his brother. He had seen a younger version of himself. In a fever of daze and bewilderment Zakana had lashed out and thrown things. He had rampaged, and in his breakdown, it seemed he had thrown a Pokeball too. That Pokeball had connected. This fox, this Zorua thing—it had the ability to create illusions, and that’s what it was doing now.

There were no walls. Serperior looked at the group and focused its gaze on the new member wearing a long white coat. Zakana could not see the man’s face.

Words were spoken, but Zakana could not hear them. He hated this fox. He hated it more than being captured. He went to return it to its ball, but something stopped him. Where was Yumin? Where was Bambi? Where was Farore? The boy named Makua? Only he, the snake and the man remained.

Zakana screamed. People rushed inside, into the space that was a warehouse again. They wore masks and threw heavy balls. Yumin screamed and seemed to be fighting against men and Pokémon himself. What was real?

Where is here?

Zakana felt himself being sucked down a drain.

Women arrived from above.

“Zakana!” Bambi called. She was in danger, again.

Glass shattered. Someone was breaking in. They didn’t care about destroying their precious warehouse anymore. The Viterals would stop at nothing. Bambi screamed again. Someone scooped her up and put her on top of a large orange dragon. In fact, there were many of them.

“Zakana! Watch out!”

Words came at him from all angles. Glass cut him. Makua fell down next to him. It was war. Humans against humans. Pokémon against Pokémon. Humans against Pokémon. Yumin swung heavy arms at a human-shaped Pokémon and missed. Or was it a human? Zakana didn’t know. This was death. The Viterals brought death. That was their new solution to the world. What could a measly piece of paper do, and why was Zakana still protecting it?

Had his father already met this end? Where was mother? Tears burned Zakana’s eyes.

“Zakana!” called a voice he did not recognize.

“Zakana!” called another.

They called for him to get on, to wake up, but the sounds came out muted, as though he lay asleep on the bottom of a swimming pool.

Yumin’s hands lifted him, shoved him onto one of the orange dragons. It was dangerously hot. Farore pulled him up. He scrambled. Things flew at him. Ice. And water. The dragon swung its tail and erased the threat.

“Zakana, hang on!”

Zakana clutched the rubbery skin of the dragon he now sat atop. Still he didn’t know. Where was here?

Suddenly, the vision ended. He held a Pokeball in his hand.

Men screamed from below. Zakana and the others were being lifted. They were flying.

“Charizard, let’s get out of here!”

Zakana recognized the voice.

There were many orange dragons now. Girls rode on top of them. They were being rescued. And Zakana wondered how? In their darkest hour, when the Viterals finally made their move, salvation came. Not from father. Not from mother, wherever she was.

It came from red-hot-fire-tailed orange dragons from the Orange Islands, raised since pups by a girl with orange hair. Now that hair was short, damaged, and severed and so, it seemed to be, was she. As much as Zakana liked to believe it, Kirish Hayline did not abandon family in times of need. How she had known about their location, Zakana had no idea.

original

To be continued . . .

If you missed Chapter 23, you can find it here.

Artwork credit here and here.

Chapter 23: Water

They say water is life. That it can heal even the deepest of wounds. No one talks much about how it is death too. They don’t talk about the unknown oceans. The relentless tides. The freezing rains. That it is dark and dangerous and shows no mercy. It can be as light and deadly as a dagger, or as a heavy and suffocating as a flood. Most times there is no in-between.

Bambi knew the second Pokémon that stood in their midst, arriving the same way the first one did. It was another evolved starter, and the third form of the Piplup chain. Aunt Audria had a Piplup, but not this big beast. Bambi found it hard to believe something so small and cute could become something so terrifying.

“It’s possessed, Bambi,” Yumin would tell her. “It’s not what they usually look like. Not the Blaziken and not this Empoleon.”

When the Emperor penguin took the stage that was their hideout and also possibly their final place of rest, Zakana pulled out his Pokedex.

“Empoleon. The Emperor Pokémon. The three horns that extend from its beak attest to its power. The leader has the biggest horns.”

Bambi stared at the three horns extending from the beak, watched how they extended upward, like a golden trident. This Pokémon would certainly dominate in the sea.

Farore and Yumin began ordering commands. Apparently, in some way, this thing was more dangerous than Blaziken. Even though Bambi had nearly lost her head of hair from the fire, this one was more vicious.

“Don’t do anything to challenge its pride!” Yumin said.

“Avoid its wings! They can slice any one of us in half!” Farore warned.

The large penguin eyed each of them in turn, before turning its dark red eyes skyward in a mysterious way. It seemed to be looking for something.

“We need an electric Pokémon!” Yumin said. He and Farore circled Empoleon.

Farore had one. An electric-bug type called Galvantula. A cross between a tarantula and something with electrical powers. It began to scurry around the warehouse setting up electric barriers.

Bambi returned her half fire-type Houndour. She released her grass type Bayleef.

Empoleon did nothing for some time. This gave Zakana and Makua enough time to use their Pokémon. Slowpoke and Feebas were both water types so they could at least hang with Empoleon, the water-steel type.

Yumin said to Farore: “Your Galvantula is our best chance here. If this thing fights like that Blaziken then mere strength won’t help us. We need to immobilize Empoleon before it takes down our entire team!”

For a moment there was quiet. Then rains came at the roof, pounded on the open glass above. It sounded like nails, hammers behind every point of impact. This seemed to be what Empoleon was waiting for. Slowly, its eyes lowered and its red gaze settled on the scene before it. Truly, it appeared to be a king with its shiny golden trident and the way it stood before them. Bambi stood by her Bayleef and for the first time in a while, felt afraid.

First, there was a tiny gurgling sound. Like water slowly falling to the bottom of a drain. And then all at once, from someplace Bambi did not see or understand, the flood emerged. It came from within Empoleon it seemed, rushed out all around it, and wrapped it up in a cyclone of power. The water moved out and caught everyone off guard.

First, Yumin grabbed Bambi tightly and pulled her to his midsection. Then only water. The entire warehouse became flooded with water. Not just waves of it, but pools, tiny oceans, geysers. It was impossible to create so much water, but yet here it was. What sort of Pokémon was this?

And that was just the water. The Pokémon itself, once it began swimming through its creation, was like a shark without a home, lashing out at anything that seemed like food or a threat.

Bambi couldn’t see. She couldn’t breath. Bayleef couldn’t do anything to help so Bambi returned it to its Pokeball. Up was down. Boxes were helpful only so far as they could float. Metal machines were dangerous once you banged against them. Small electrical currents sent Bambi into a daze. They couldn’t help not using them. They needed to slow down this Pokémon that swam as fast as a jet boat and Galvantula was the only one that could do that. It was painful being knocked around everywhere and Bambi felt her ends—her elbows, knees and shoulders bleeding. If there really were a shark there, she would be dead by now. But Yumin was always there. He used his own body as protection and took the hits and the slams as the water made of them what it wanted.

Bambi scrambled to higher ground. She caught her breath and tried to locate everyone else. The water continued to rise and the royal blue penguin continued to hunt and decimate underneath.

Now that they were above water again, Bambi tried using Bayleef. Grass was effective against water. But Empoleon was too fast. It brought only death and destruction. These Pokémon were minions. Machines. Bambi saw the difference. Soon, the ice came. The warehouse grew cold. Makua and Zakana were somewhere together on the other end of the warehouse. Farore did the battling and Bambi had no idea if she was winning. One moment she was above water, the next minute underneath. Yumin slowly returned his Pokémon to their Pokeballs.

There was shouting and screaming as lights flickered and the storm raged on inside. Who was winning? It was anybody’s guess. Bambi vowed to always have more Pokémon and to be ready for any type of situation in the future. Now, she wanted the future more than ever. In her quickly fading space of mind that could only see the end result, she knew. She knew that water was life just as much as it was death. Every drop is a poison. If it fills the space it needs to, it will control you and suck you down, lower and lower. It can only lead to one place.

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T0 be continued . . .

If you missed Chapter 22, you can find it here.

Artwork credit here and here.

Chapter 22: Fire

When the window broke high above Yumin and glass sprinkled to the ground, he knew the days of waiting had passed. The men outside had finally reached a decision about what to do: throw a single Pokeball in through the window and see what happens. Though it wasn’t a Pokeball at all. This one Yumin had never seen before and that was saying something seeing as his father made Pokeballs.

It was black with purple swirls on it, etched into it like tattoos. Yumin was awake when it landed, along with Makua and Bambi. The younglings couldn’t sleep and Yumin was on watch so they sat high atop boxes quizzing each other about Pokémon and stats.

The thing landed with a thud and at first Yumin thought it was an explosive. A grenade. A land mine. Some new invention of the Viterals that would take all of their Pokémon. Why not?

Yumin jumped down from the boxes, a fire in his belly, and called again. Farore and Zakana needed to wake up. Makua ran to fetch them.

The ball laid still for one moment before exploding, not with dangerous matter or shrapnel but a heavenly white light in the shape of the Pokémon that lay inside. It was big, though not monstrous. Immediately a heat radiated out as the Pokémon stood up and reached its full height of 7 feet. It was larger in girth and height than a normal Pokémon and immediately Yumin knew something was off. He saw the same red glow in its eyes that he saw in the Abomasnow that attacked Zakana back at Pallet. Possessed. Though there was only one this time. What were the Viterals playing at? Where were the hoards of trainers? Where were all the Pokémon?

“Water or Psychics! Get em ready!” Farore appeared at the scene, Zakana in tow.

Fire exploded from the intruder, from the Blaziken’s wrists, and it lifted one of its legs to claim its fighting stance. It was half fire, half fighting and could supposedly leap over small buildings. The starter that evolved from the Torchic chain. Yumin never owned one but he had certainly seen them before.

Pokémon emerged from their balls. Slowpoke. Umbreon. Feebas. Heracross and Scizor and Vespiquen. Yumin used Lucario.

Blaziken had the one up on everything there except Slowpoke and Feebas. Just great.

Even though it had the type advantage against Farore’s bug Pokémon (fire beats bug), they still gave it a hard time. Scizor went down first, seeing as it was doubly weak (half steel) and then Heracross. When Vespiquen finally went down the Blaziken seemed to merely be at half-mast. Smoke filled the air and small fires burned on everything it could touch, from the machines to the boxes to the ground itself.

“It’s taken out half my team!” Farore cried. She ducked for cover, held a Pokeball in her hand ready to help again. She’d lose her entire team if she had to, that was the kind of trainer, and the kind of Gym Leader she was.

“Lucario, show em what you’ve got!”

The match between Lucario and Blaziken, had it not been for the proteins, and whatever sick things being pumped into the fighting chicken, would have been even. But because the Viterals were disgusting cheating bastards, it was not. Lucario bounced from wall to wall in those dim lights and tried to tire down Blaziken while Slowpoke shot water guns and used confusion against it.

It slowed finally. Though its fire moves seemed to become stronger.

The Psychic Pokémon Makua had caught in the forest joined the fray. Ralts—the very elusive and usually calm Pokémon that had almost torn Makua’s Aipom to shreds would be effective against the fighting part of Blaziken.

“Go! Shuckle!” Farore used another one of her Pokémon. A fearsome but tiny turtle with through-the-roof-defenses.

The three of them—Ralts, Shuckle, and Slowpoke made the team that would take down Blaziken in the end. Yumin watched with great interest as Ralts deflected everything that came it’s way with a tiny force field of psychic energy. Shuckle, small and persistent, spun rapidly around that place, like a shuriken striking its target over and over again and then pulling itself out each time. Blaziken didn’t even seem to notice Slowpoke. This worked to its advantage and allowed it to put out the fires that sprung up from the raging fire attacks.

It roared. It jumped. The Blaziken was pumped or programmed to cause destruction and that’s what it did. It was sent to tire them out. One Pokémon could do so much. When it fell down defeated, it collapsed as though dead. Immediately it returned to its Pokeball somehow, and then was sucked out the window from whence it came like a magic trick.

As Yumin looked around he finally saw the Viteral’s game plan—send em in one at a time, and keep em guessing.

He didn’t know that he was right at first. It took another day and a half for him to realize what would happen and how they’d meet their doom, slowly and painfully, until smoke forced them out and their hopes and dreams went up in flames.

blaziken_s_fire_punch_by_kiohl

Chapter 21: Zakana’s Answer

A mother needs her babies just as badly as her babies need her. If not more. The mother knows when its babies are not there, but a young newborn will only notice the absence of its mother once the connection has been made, once it knows there is a mother to have. Some young may remember but the mother can never forget.

Did he remember mother? The boy with the auburn brown eyes, who could laugh at a moment’s notice? The boy buried somewhere underneath the cold grey earth, what would be the last thing he remembered?

Zakana wondered this as he pressed a pack of ice to his left eye. Through his right he watched Bambi’s Umbreon nurse four of her babies back to health. Of the original, now two were missing—the one stolen by the Clamp Ball in the forest, and the one Lyres had taken that night to keep watch over while the others ran. It should have been returned to Bambi but it wasn’t. She didn’t cry. Neither did Zakana. Neither did Yumin after Zakana had punched him back. No one cried. A silence as loud as the black abyss surrounding them roared.

Did they deserve to be fighting like this? Did Zakana deserve what he got? A big fat slug, unseen and unheard directly in the eye socket—did Yumin get what he deserved right back? Zakana’s voice felt scratchy from screaming at Farore and at Yumin after he picked himself off the floor and returned the blow. Another screaming match had ensued, and still Zakana wondered. So he asked.

“Why did you punch me?”

Yumin pressed small cubes of ice to his lower lip where Zakana had connected. He kept his gaze to the ground.

A slap from his mother, a punch from his cousin. What would Kirish’s gift be?

“Because I was tired of listening to you defend yourself,” Yumin said, completely unremorseful. “Words don’t work anymore. I saw my chance and I took it.”

For once, Zakana said nothing. He took his licks without lashing out now. His breaths were soft and shallow. It wouldn’t change Yumin’s mind anyway. They had gone from 36 Pokémon to 24 in a matter of seconds. From 7 trainers to 5. Zakana didn’t feel bad for letting them go. Isaque was a threat to his well being. They didn’t know each other he had decided. It was just a trick to try to get closer to his family. Clearly, they weren’t on his side anyway and Isaque didn’t actually care about him. That was Zakana’s answer.

He slept. Dreams came that night with a vengeance. They remained stuck in that place night after night in the darkness of Zakana’s mind. Time passed and it seemed to come true. They stayed there, unable to escape, the numbers outside growing with every rotation of the planet. Food in the refrigerator dwindled and Farore suggested that she go out and look for more. Yumin said it was impossible. He was in a sour mood ever since the punches. His lip swelled like a Qwilfish, reddened like an Octillery. He talked out of the side of his mouth.

“We don’t even have a tiny bird that can send messages!” It came out garbled and grotesque. “Braviary won’t wake even from Super Potions or Revives!” There was crazed fear in his eyes as he paced around the warehouse, thinking of ways to make his Pokémon stronger without weakening them. Zakana attempted to do the same.

He released Slowpoke and Happiny from their Pokeballs and pit them against each other. Happiny, spunky and full of life would roll at Slowpoke, who was the complete opposite, drained and slow. Neither of them seemed to do anything special. Zakana snapped open Oodi to see what else they could do.

“Happiny’s move set: Pound, Charm, Copycat, Sweet Kiss.”

“What is Sweet Kiss?”

“It’s a move that, if successful, will confuse the opponent.”

“Translation Oodi.”

“A confused Pokémon sometimes attacks itself or injures itself or forgets where it is or what its doing.”

Zakana sighed and felt the pressure of his hanging eyelid. It felt oozy still. “That’s Slowpoke all the time.”

“Slowpoke’s ability prevents confusion as well.”

“What do you mean ability?”

“Every Pokémon is born with a special ability. And some species of Pokémon can acquire one ability, or a second, or a third, but never more than one at a time.”

Zakana studied his two pink Pokémon and approached it like a math problem. “What is Happiny’s ability?”

“Your Happiny’s ability is called Serene Grace. That means any move that has a special effect has a double chance of occurring.”

“So, it gets lucky sometimes.”

“Precisely. Happiny and its evolved forms Chansey and Blissey are extremely lucky Pokémon.”

Luck was something Zakana never considered. Was it lucky that he’d chosen this place to walk into, lucky that they’d run into Lyres and Isaque at that exact moment in the forest. Was it lucky that . . . no . . . luck didn’t exist.

One of the Eevee trotted up to the show as Happiny laid tiny hands into Slowpoke’s round head. It seemed to be pounding on it, but nothing happened. Eevee saw this and nudged the Happiny, knocking it over.

“Hi, Zakana. Are you hungry?” Bambi stood nearby while her Umbreon and baby Eevee swirled around her ankles. She held a plate with sliced ham on it.

“I’m okay, thanks Bambi.” He softened when he looked at her. Finally things had slowed down and weren’t going 100 bazillion miles a second. He looked at her once happy face and tried to learn what she was thinking.

“Bambi,” he said, ignoring the playful banter around him. “When I last saw you before you went to Academy . . . back in Pallet.” He hesitated, trying to collect all the details of the event. Had they even met in Pallet?

Bambi nodded. “Yes, I remember.”

“Well . . . I was trying to remember, but am having trouble. What did we talk about?”

Bambi seemed shocked by this question or at least concerned as she scooped up her Umbreon and held it close to her. Zakana could hear the purring from where he stood. “All sorts of things.”

“Like what?”

“We talked about your upcoming space program and the cool things you’ll get to do.”

“Oh.”

“We talked about all the planets you might find, and the food you’d have to eat.” Bambi giggled and even in this circumstance she looked happy.

“Anything else?”

“That was pretty much it. I’m sorry Zakana, what’s gonna happen to your program? Are you finished all the courses? I still don’t really understand what’s going on.”

Zakana flushed. He looked away, ashamed. They had only talked about him. Why hadn’t he asked Bambi anything about her life? Why didn’t he care? He bit tears back and faced his cousin. “I’m so sorry, Bambi. I’m sorry I never asked you anything about you.”

“It’s okay,” she said quickly, as though she expected this response, and wanted it but never got it till now. “I know how you feel about Pokémon. We don’t need to talk about them.”

“But . . . but you love them!”

“Yeah, but I think you hate them.”

Zakana coughed in defense, tried to hold back tears of frustration. For some reason he was especially emotional today. “That shouldn’t be an excuse!”

Bambi merely shrugged and smiled. She had come to ask about food not talk about Zakana’s sins. She turned to go.

“Bambi, wait! I’m trying,” he said, and suddenly he felt like if she walked away she would be walking away forever. She would choose Yumin over him, choose Pokémon over him. Now, more than ever he saw how much he needed her love and approval.

“What’s going to happen to your classes?” Zakana blurt out.

“No one knows.” She tilted her head to one side and peered at Zakana through unknowing eyes as though it was not really her cousin. “No one seems to know anything about this crisis. I have to go, Zakana. I’ll be back later. Your Happiny is super cute by the way.”

Zakana continued to train them. Harder than ever. Which considering his Pokémon career wasn’t saying much at all. But at least he was trying. For the first 30 minutes, Happiny seemed to dominate, its tiny fists kneading into all parts of Slowpoke.

When Happiny was spent, Slowpoke gained energy, from this kind display of friendship and began moving Happiny around with its telekinetic powers.

“It’s confusion,” Oodi said. “Usually it will take the form of telekinesis but sometimes it will cause the opponent to become confused. And that seemed to be exactly what happened. Happiny spun in circles from confusion and became dizzy, only to fall over and get up again, like an hyperactive newborn baby. The baby Eevee Zakana had taken under his wing did not leave his side much, except to nurse from its mother and play with its siblings.

This is likely what happened with the Eevee Lyres had taken that night. It barely even saw its mother before hell broke loose and probably grew so attached to Lyres that even after returning to find a larger, black version of itself, didn’t know what it was looking at.

Nights passed more slowly as they stayed in that place. Mornings arrived poignantly, with the constant fear of imminent attack. Zakana did not fear the Pokémon. He would be ready. And these were trained Pokémon. They wouldn’t attack humans in that way, right?

Yumin wanted to barrel through the ranks.

“No,” Farore said. “They’ll absolutely destroy us.”

“They’ll do the same thing in here.”

“That hasn’t happened yet.”

Neither would budge. Even after Yumin could talk like a normal guy again, Farore would not relinquish her plan. They were both intelligent about this Pokémon stuff it seemed but who was more qualified to make a game plan? Zakana wondered as Bambi battled in the aisles and Makua studied things from books he had with him. He would often stand up (he read with his entire body laid out on the metal tile) and read a line like it was the most important thing in the entire universe. Quotes from Pokémon (apparently some Pokémon can talk), Professor’s speeches and findings, and ways to make certain potions and grow berries.

It would have all be very useful had they been in game show or owned a patch of land to grow things or a laboratory to concoct colorful liquids.

People are born to see their mother and sometimes father and as they age, they think, I’m safe in this world. I’m protected. While siting in that warehouse, Zakana knew protection was as far away as outer space.

Life can be ripped away suddenly and without warning in the cruelest of ways. There are no second chances, no take backs. One minute you’re fine, walking back to your house and the next minute you can’t breath, can’t think, can’t act. Your numbers go from 2 to 1 and you’re left wondering if it its some sick joke. A dream that you’ll wake up from. It’s not and the only thing you’re left with is a hole in your heart and a daily reminder that you could have done things differently. You could have taken a different path home. You could have run. You could have hit the thing with sticks or stones. Or even . . . taken the attacks yourself. But you can’t think of any of these things when they matter.

Was it the same now? Had Zakana taken a wrong turn into a dead end? Could he sway the tides of battle? Or at least get Yumin and Farore to agree on something? She was sturdy and Yumin was stubborn. One minute she was kissing Zakana and the next she was screaming at him as though he had just dumped coffee all over her new dress. One second Yumin was hugging him the next minute he was slugging him.

Zakana had seen it himself, the beast from the netherworlds. It claimed what it wanted and left no exceptions. That is why he spent all his time at home, or studying or planning to go to space (though the safeties of that were debatable).

He had more questions than answers. Though one always seemed to rise to the top. He knew it better than anything as a new world order unfolded before him. As winds howled, men cried battle cries and lightning cracked outside.

There is no escape: death comes for everyone and everything.

And it would. It would come for them too.

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To be continued . . .

If you missed Chapter 20, you can find it here.

Artwork credit here and here.

Chapter 20: Yumin’s Delivery

Talk is for the Pidgey. As much as Yumin wanted to know what Hawk had to say about his road to success and slew of perversions and betrayals, he had to excuse himself of what he guaranteed himself would be an otherwise good time. Pokémon that can’t be healed? Stiff coated men and nurses with fake lips and eyebrows? Silence so sickening you can hear it break your spine if you breathe the wrong way? No way, man.

Yumin remembered what the Viterals had done to him, and staying any longer meant there was a chance it could happen again. He clenched his fists, the scars reviving on his skin from the window he punched to escape. They left the Center without another word, through the same way Farore had come, and in much the same fashion.

“Where’s Bambi?” It was the first question out of Yumin’s mouth once he and Farore were safely on his Braviary, flapping into the sky and high enough away that the Pikachu’s strikes of lightning could not reach them. Lyres and Makua flew atop Skarmory behind them.

“We’re staying in a warehouse. It’s heavily guarded. I slipped away to see what was happening at the Zone.”

“How did you find us?”

“Pure chance,” Farore said, lifting her hand to swipe the hair out of her face. “I saw the three of you walking together after I slipped out this morning. You’re pretty different from the rest of the guys around here.”

“Is she okay?”

“She’s fine. What happened to you guys?”

Between powerful gusts of wind and under barely audible conditions, Yumin told her. He could trust her. If she had been protecting Bambi this whole time, she was trustworthy.

“That’s terrible!” She said. “What are they playing at?”

It was the question of the year. Everyone had his or her guess. Between Yumin and Uncle Durin, the Viterals wanted to monopolize Pokémon, but in a very different way than the Rockets. During their quick and decisive ascent to power, the Viterals had taken drastic measures in order to ensure what they wanted. The biggest and most devastating blow was controlling all the Pokémon Centers. How they had done it, Yumin didn’t know.

Braviary slowed. A few hours in the Pokeball here and there barely did anything for it. That became clear. Yumin ran low on berries, potions and medicines. If Pokémon Centers were commandeered did that mean the Marts were too?

“I don’t know what they’re playing at but with the rate they are going, only two things can happen. They’re’ either going to burn out and explode or change this world into something we no longer recognize.”

They neared the warehouse and as they did, Yumin considered his cousin. “Zakana, is he with you too?”

“Yes.”

“Is he okay?”

She said nothing for a few moments and then, “I’ll let you see for yourself.”

It sounded about right. If it wasn’t one thing with that crybaby, it was always another. At least he and Bambi were together.

Closer they came to the square building.

“Oh no!” Farore said.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Get down there, now!”

There was panic in Farore’s voice, and Yumin found it contagious.

“Braviary can’t go any faster.”

Not just faster, but not at all. Suddenly and without warning, Braviary’s wings failed. Like it had fallen asleep, the bird plummeted with the weight of a thousand Porygon.

Air rushed up and they rushed down. If they crashed like this, they would die.

Two things came from Farore’s Pokeballs, one red and one blue—Scizor and Heracross. They could fly but not support the weight of a grown man or woman.

“Scizor, Heracross! Try to keep us up!”

They disappeared underneath Braviary and although gravity changed its mind somewhat about how hard it wanted to pull them, it still pulled.

“Braviary! I need you! Just a few good flaps to slow us down!”

Yumin had pushed it too hard. But what choice did he have? It was keep going or surrender.

“They’ve broken through!”

That is the way that Farore’s mind worked. Even though they plummeted to their death, Farore had already forgotten about it because something else was happening. Yumin couldn’t see this break through but he believed it.

100 feet. Scizor and Heracross threw their weight upward, flapped furiously.

“Return your Braviary, Yumin! It’s too heavy! We’ll have to rely on the strength of my bugs!”

So Yumin did. The bird disappeared from underneath them and they sunk down to the next level, onto a combined platform of flapping wings, beating against Yumin. He felt he was being beat to death with sandals.

50 feet. “Almost there!”

20 feet. “GET READY!”

They jumped. Pain shot through Yumin’s ankles as he landed outside the warehouse.

Farore scooped him up underneath the arms and ran him forward. Makua and Lyres were nowhere in sight.

“This isn’t good,” Farore said. “She opened the door and burst onto the scene, much like she had done at the Safari Zone not an hour before.

Yumin scanned the place for Bambi. Everyone in there—people and Pokémon—they fought against one another with desperate ferocity. Even the boxes and machines chose sides. It was difficult to see who was who or what was what. Rotom scurried across cold, metal sheets. Snakes were loose—Ekans and Arbok and Seviper, though one of them seemed to be fighting for them. Immediately Yumin knew he’d need as many Pokémon as could fight. Braviary was done. Tygo could still fight but just barely.

“Bambi!” he cried.

Why was it that she always seemed to slip away from him?

Yumin palms went clammy. If the Viterals knew about Bambi’s identity then they would capture her just as fiercely as they captured him. He called for her again, as he turned a corner and saw something else.

Zakana was battling. He did not notice Yumin but simply commanded his Slowpoke to keep using water gun against a Bellsprout rooted to the ground.

“Zakana! Where’s Bambi?”

“I don’t know,” Zakana still did not turn. Did he think his match was more important?

Yumin ran through aisles, peeled around another corner, continued to call. He released Tygo from its ball. “Tygo! Find my sister!”

Lyres and Makua entered the warehouse, slammed the door behind them.

How many men were here? Why did Farore keep them here? Yumin wanted to know what this group had been doing since they split up. Why this warehouse? He released Lucario from its ball when Pokémon blocked his path. A man appeared. Thin lines pulled his entire face into a frown. “Get out of here!” Yumin said.

“This is our warehouse, you idiot! You get out of here!”

“Lucario, aura sphere!” A ball of deep black and blue materialized at Lucario’s hands and shot toward the man. Yumin wasn’t in favor of attacking unarmed humans but he didn’t care right now. He wanted them out. The aura sphere wouldn’t hurt that much anyway. It nailed him in the stomach and sent him through a pile of boxes.

“BAMBI!”

This time, to Yumin’s surprise, Bambi called back. She hurtled around a corner, her auburn ponytail flying behind her. A smile spread across her face and she jumped into Yumin’s arms. “Are you okay?”

Yumin squeezed her, felt her little bones in his embrace. “I’m fine,” he said. “Are you okay?”

Makua walked up to them. “They’ve been chased out.”

Yumin set Bambi down and kneeled. Her pulled her necklace from his pocket and placed it around her neck. Before it could be used for ransom again or Bambi was off on her own again, Yumin would get it back to her. “We found this outside the Academy.”

Bambi beamed. “Oh thank you! Yumin, I have so much to tell you.”

“I think we all have a lot to talk about.”

Slowly, the group cleaned out the intruders. They came to circle the reunion between Bambi and Yumin. Lyres and Isaque had rejoined each other. Makua stared at Bambi with a helpless wonder. His studious mind needed her brash, battling one. Lastly, Zakana and Farore joined them. He looked as though he had just been released from a mental institution. His eyes, sunken in, with dark circles around them, stared blankly back at Yumin. After a few moments, a half smile appeared. He walked toward Yumin and hugged him.

Yumin hugged back. They stood in an embrace, each happy to see the other while the others fell about their business and back into long awaited conversations. Farore moved back to the windows and doors and began another lockdown.

“Are you all right, Zakana?”

He took a deep breath through his nose. He didn’t answer this question but instead said: “we’re being hunted like Tauros in here. I don’t like this place.”

“Okay. We’re gonna figure out how to get out of here. Just try to stay positive.”

Yumin went to the people who would have answers. Farore, and Isaque, and Bambi, even.

To Farore, he wanted to know why they were here.

“Zakana came here after an incident on Cycling Road.” The name Zach was no longer being used. Lyres knew of Zakana’s true identity because somehow Isaque had known. It seemed to make little difference. “When we got here, they trapped us. We decided to hold it out until we could find Glaukus, or Makua’s brother, or you guys.”

To Bambi, he wanted to know what had happened at the Academy. That was a family meeting, plus Makua because he was there too. They spilled everything. It was true that they knew who Bambi was and that they wanted her alive. It didn’t do much to calm Yumin’s nerves.

Isaque, who also worked with Team Rocket, Yumin had come to find out, was an expert in security. Everything from the pipes to the electrical lines had been secured. While Farore was away they had gotten in through a passageway under one of the boxes. The snakes had invaded the way that snakes do—sneakily and through tiny openings. From there, the trainers were able to enter as well. It was bad timing that Farore had left but it worked out. It worked out because Isaque still had a fighting team.

They took inventory again. Before Yumin, Lyres and Makua showed up they had 19 Pokémon in the warehouse. Now there were 35. Though only about 18 of them were fit to fight.

“We need to heal them,” Lyres said desperately that night. His team had dwindled to 2 Pokémon. Isaque, who seemed to be on the better side of things, had at least 4 who were still in good shape. Yumin hated to admit it, but without the Team Rocket members, they’d have been captured and sent to the Headquarters by now. Presently, he’d have to put aside his differences.

Yumin went around the warehouse before sleeping in order to make sure the Viterals couldn’t get in again. They’d patched up the hole in the earth, doubled back on everything one time, two times, three times.

“I’ll get a message to Glaukus and the other leaders,” Farore said.

“How long are we gonna stay here?”

“We’re not going to be able to escape anytime soon.” They stood together in a far corner of the warehouse. “If I can get a message to Glaukus or the others we can request aid.”

“What makes you so sure they’ll come, or that they aren’t in a world of hell themselves?”

“We don’t have much of a choice. You saw what happened when we were outside. It was everything I could do not to get caught every second out there.”

Yumin sighed. “Fine.”

He thought of his Braviary. It had never just lost its ability to fly like that. It completely hit a wall out of nowhere. Had Yumin pushed too hard? He used a Super Potion on Braviary but it hadn’t done much. And that was troubling.

“I should have left him on the Island with Kirish,” Yumin said finally.

“He’s certainly not willing to approach the learning curve quickly.”

“Bambi told me how he screamed and shouted all the way here and locked himself up here.”

If they had just made it to Fuchsia City without such an entrance, they might be fine now.

“Bambi told me about Zakana’s brother. I’m so sorry.” Farore’s face was cast in shadow. She looked down. “I lost my parents when I was very young. It’s never easy, but it gets a little better with time. Once we know how to deal with it.”

She lost both her parents due to mental illness. It was one thing to lose one of your parents to it, but to lose both was an anomaly. Yumin offered his condolences and they stood there in an awkward silence that stretched from space to eternity.

Finally, Farore said. “You should cut him some slack. I don’t know him that well, but in my humble opinion, it seems like he’s trying.”

Yumin laughed. “You have no idea.”

Her eyes softened. Something about her did know. “Do you know why I like bugs?”

“Not a clue.”

“They’re the ultimate underdogs. They’re so weak and brittle sometimes and have a plethora of weaknesses. And that’s exactly why I like them. It’s really easy to see the bad, but it takes effort to see the good.”

Yumin failed to see the good in Zakana at this very moment. He nodded, but had the strange feeling Farore was trying to teach him a lesson. What did she know about what happened? About Zakana’s strengths and weaknesses?

Nothing, that’s what. And when Yumin fell asleep, he regretted ever going easy on him.

He awoke to shouting. Farore’s voice and Zakana’s shouting back. He could never just take his licks like a normal guy who’d screwed up. He always had to push back with all his might. What was it this time?

Bambi stirred next to Yumin. “What’s wrong?”

“Zakana. What else?”

Bambi scurried out of her blankets and moved toward the noise. Yumin wondered if the screams had awoken the others. Makua sat up, squinting eyes sat on a face without glasses. He rubbed them unbothered, like he already knew what it was about. Had it woken Lyres and Isaque?

“Zakana! This isn’t some game, you know!”

Yumin found the scene near the warehouse entrance. He expected to see everyone but he didn’t. That worried him and he wondered . . . no, I hope that’s not what she’s screaming about.

But Farore had never screamed in the short amount of time Yumin knew her. She was surely capable but her disposition boasted only smiles and carefree flicks of her hair. Not this high-pitched voice that scolded Zakana like he was some dejected Lillipup.

Yumin stepped up to interfere. “What is it?”

In the darkness, both faces turned. Zakana’s barely visible but angry, his chest heaving. Farore’s face round yet pointed, beads of sweat forming at her hairline.

“They’re gone, Yumin.”

“It wasn’t my fault!”

“You fell asleep while you were supposed to be keeping watch. How is that not your fault?”

Yumin’s fears came true. Isaque and Lyres were surely gone and of course why wouldn’t they be? Now that they were together they had nothing to gain from this arrangement.

“They were just going to leave anyway!” Zakana fumed. “We can’t keep them like prisoners.”

“Calm down,” Yumin heard himself say, but it felt like he was talking to himself. His heart raced.

Zakana was incapable of taking advice or instruction. Even if he was wrong he didn’t want to hear it. Had he really fallen asleep or did he let them go? Yumin knew he couldn’t stand them. He wanted them gone. Did it even matter now?

“This place is a prison! I didn’t care if they left!”

That mystery was solved.

Farore was inconsolable. “This isn’t just about you. Do you know that? We needed their help, for just a little longer. You have no idea what is even going on, do you?”

Yumin saw Zakana’s rage erupt. True and unrelenting rage that steamed inside, boiled up and had nowhere to go. Physically, he was twisted up inside, and Yumin knew where it came from. His anger went inward just as much as it went outward. Anything that was Zakana’s fault was pushed back out because acknowledging it was too painful. It would only bring him back to that day that he did nothing.

This selfishness would cost them. It could easily destroy them all and Zakana wouldn’t be any wiser for it. Words didn’t work with him. Nothing his parents could say would ever snap him out of it. Yumin grew furious as he looked on at his cousin, who felt more like brother than anything and saw only one solution. In order for Zakana to release some of his rage, he needed to be angry at someone else. He needed to physically purge it by beating a pillow full of bricks into a wall and shattering it into a million pieces.

Finally, Yumin saw his place in it. He would kill two Spearow with one stone.

Physical action called to him as loudly as the screams engulfing his ear space. Zakana needed to be punched, square across the face, quickly and with force. Kindly, Yumin would oblige. Other than Kirish, he couldn’t think of anyone better than himself to deliver the blow.

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To be continued . . .

If you missed Chapter 19, you can find it here.

Artwork credit here and here.

Chapter 18: Farore’s Kiss

They sure were different. Yumin—brave and somewhat hotheaded, Bambi—curious and rash, Zakana—helpless and literally as useful as a Magikarp on your elbow . . . though definitely not afraid to speak his mind or do what he wanted. Maybe this is what they had in common—they did what they wanted. Farore had heard of Kirish, but didn’t know her personally. If she was holding down the Orange Islands like the news going around said, she definitely had some fire in her. Maybe they weren’t so different.

Farore knew most things that went on, but she couldn’t figure out why this family was so important. So important to these Viterals. A Professor, a Town Council Leader, a studly trainer, a Master Pokémon Breeder and Trainer combined, a child prodigy, and then . . . Zakana. They didn’t mention him. They mentioned every other Hayline except for Zakana. Maybe it wasn’t so strange.

These are the things that Farore thought about as she locked down their new place of respite. Isaque was a help. Even if he was working with Team Rocket. She knew, but she wouldn’t break it to Bambi and most definitely not Zakana. He was a temperamental fire-type just waiting to Camerupt!

She saw the tattoo—the stylistic ‘R’ imprinted on every member, usually on the back of the leg (where Isaque’s was) or upper arm. To be honest, Farore didn’t care much about the politics of the Rockets, the Magmas and Aquas and the Crimsons. They all had their positives and negatives. The Rockets were mostly crooked and greedy but they had done good things. Maybe. What did she know?

“Everything’s been secured,” Isaque said, “from the windows, to the hatches, to the doors.”

Farore surveyed the place, noticed how eerily quiet it was. Soon, they would come. But when?

“We need a dark Pokémon. We need to seal every part of this place so Psychics and Ghosts won’t be able to pull trainers in with them. My bugs can only do so much.”

Isaque shrugged. “Bambi’s Umbreon?”

“Ah right,” Farore clicked her tongue. “I don’t know if she has the move set yet. Or the energy since the pregnancy. Hey Bambi, come here.”

Farore looked at her Pokegear, saw that it was nearly sunrise. A famous time for first strikes. She was used to this, leading. She knew her underlings back at the gym and how they responded positively to her reinforcements. She would have to do the same thing here.

Bambi trotted up, smiled through her fatigue. “Oh, yeah. Hey, what’s up?”

“Your Umbreon. Does it know any dark type moves?”

“Dark moves? You mean like bite or something?”

“Yes. Like bite.”

Bambi nodded earnestly. Her eyes dazzled from this talk about moves and Pokémon, Farore could tell. It was just like her girls back at the gym. All fit trainers, every single one of them. Suddenly she wondered of their state since she left. What was happening back there? And had the Viterals struck there as well? Farore counted her priorities, tried to determine which was more important. When she found Bambi and Makua in the forest on her way to meet Glaukus, she never thought things would become this complicated. Still, her girls weren’t threats. They were merely watching after the gym in Farore’s absence. What could the Viterals do about a thing like that?

“Well. It just evolved into Umbreon so it doesn’t know much yet. But it did learn bite as an Eevee.” Bambi released it from its Pokeball. “Kappa, hey are you okay?” She looked up at Farore to see if there would be any more questions.

Not right now. Farore needed more. One single dark move wasn’t enough. Bambi’s Houndour was further along in its training it seemed. Maybe together, they could keep out the spirits and ghosts that would try to press themselves in. Like kneaded bread, they would form and reform and squeeze themselves in until they were all surrounded. Farore saw how it would end.

They took inventory. Without any Pokémon Centers and a dwindling supply of berries, potions and powders, they would need every able Pokémon they could if they wanted to get out alive. Farore had a full line up of six, and surprisingly they were mostly untouched. Isaque was fully stocked as well, and according to him, other than his Magneton, his other five were in Hitmontop-shape.

Bambi’s lineup consisted of: Umbreon, Houndour, and Bayleef. It would help, especially with the two dark types, but it still didn’t seem enough. And when Farore got a good look at Zakana’s line up she almost lost all hope entirely. Not that she had any hopes on Zakana to begin with, but still, she expected something . . . a little more . . . adequate.

He had a Slowpoke, who tended to try and swipe at its own tail, which was impossible given the things genetic make up and general slowness, and also a Happiny—a baby Pokémon that couldn’t really fight until it evolved into its next form, Chansey. Then there were the baby Eevee, one that Farore watched over and one that Zakana watched over. Making their protection team arrive at a grand total of 19 Pokémon!

It was inconceivable. Seeing how many men were outside, and how they could, (if the rumors were true) just run to the nearby Pokémon Center and heal their Pokémon right back up, if something didn’t go their way. This wasn’t like a battle back at the Gym. This was an army against a small rag-tag team of Farore, a Team Rocket member, a student who’d been using Pokémon for less than a year and a man-boy who probably didn’t even know where to begin when it came to type weaknesses.

They all looked at her for answers, as those seconds passed into early morning, minutes morphed into worry, and doom.

She thought of The Federation. Gym Leader Challenges were fast approaching and new, spunky, know-it-all trainers would be gunning for Farore’s spot. 17-year old Farore and her infamous rise to power at age 14, dropping out of the Academy to become the biggest and baddest hotshot fighter in all of Kanto was a spot every trainer in the Universe wanted to topple. (The Pokémon Herald’s words not hers). Who would be the first 13 year-old to become a gym leader? A 12 year-old? 11? Farore studied Bambi, and wondered if she looked at her and thought of such a challenge. She was exactly the kind of spunky trainer she’d seen, but without the Machamp-sized ego.

“So what are we gonna do?”

The questions couldn’t stay away forever. Farore looked at Isaque. He wasn’t her friend in this fight, but he wasn’t her enemy. If he could help in what was to come, then she’d owe him. And in that moment she knew she couldn’t have done this without him.

“What’s the status?”

Bambi and Zakana shuffled into view.

Isaque pointed this way and that. “All the windows and doors have barriers and protection fields around them.” He spoke in a professional tone, as though giving reports was something he did in his sleep. “We’ll station Bambi’s Houndour at the main entrance, in case Psychics or Ghosts try to get in that way.” Isaque pointed to the other end of the warehouse. A clean line devoid of boxes and machinery had been cleared. Aisles existed where there was once chaos. “Umbreon will be on the backend.”

“Bayleef’s aromatherapy has Kappa feeling much better,” Bambi said. “She has that old spark back in her eyes.”

A black, silky smooth Pokémon sat guarding the back door dutifully, its two babies circling it like Ring-Around-The-Roserade players.

“Windows?” Farore asked.

“Yes.” I can’t think of any other way to get in,” Isaque replied, truly stumped.

And Farore began to think: If Glaukus were here, we would never lose. Where was he? Farore couldn’t go to his gym because they had to look for the ultimate risk to their safety, Zakana. His eyes, his face—they were slowly gaining their color and it seemed he would be back in the land of the living soon. Farore had to admit, given his complete and utter disregard for the beauty of Pokémon and his general bad attitude, he was at least handsome. His exhaustion peeled away his layers and seemed to make him more so.

Hah! She laughed to herself. Not the time to be thinking about boys.

“Waterways?”

The pipes had been blocked. Feraligatr had it under control.

“Steel types? They could simply peel back or crash through the metal.”

Magneton had ionized everything. If anyone touched the outside or inside of that place, they’d receive a shock that would keep them out of commission.

In this way, the great metal place would work to their advantage. They were insulated, protected.

“Fire?”

“They can burn a hole through this place,” Isaque said, “but most of its platinum. It will take a long time.”

“I don’t think time means anything to them,” Farore said.

These Viterals—how great were their numbers?

Unlike usual, the answers did not come easy to Farore. She knew, felt in the bottom of her bug-loving heart that something was missing. It was a puzzle she needed to figure out. Like in her gym—there were puzzles that challengers needed to pass in order to get to her. Perhaps this was no different. Night came and everyone went to sleep except for Farore. She sat there, leaned against an old fridge because it was cool and she felt hot. Spring was well on its way and even though the metallic floor was cold, Farore was burning up.

Bambi and Zakana slept nearby, and Isaque somewhere else on the other end of the warehouse. This was fine in case there was a break in. What were the men outside waiting for?

For them to run out of food? The fridge behind Farore wasn’t stocked but it could last them a week at least. The only problem was the Pokémon. And move sets. They’d run out of their PP for their moves if they weren’t careful.

“Why did you come running from the forest that night?”

Farore looked up startled. She saw Zakana. No longer did he wear a collection of blankets around a once sagging frame. He stood tall and straight, hair combed to one side, his bloodshot eyes focusing on Farore in that dimly lit plot of warehouse. To Zakana it probably looked fine and dandy but to Farore it looked like trouble. His voice was clear, but curious.

“The Pokémon were going crazy. I couldn’t attempt to make it through without getting seriously injured.”

Zakana moved directly across from Farore and sat down cross-legged, as though they were about to have a long-awaited reunion.

He hung his head and in a way Farore felt sorry for him. Something stirred inside his confused little mind. On the outside it came as a sigh and a shrug. “Why do you like them? He hesitated, unable to actually say the word. “Bugs. Why do you only have bugs?” He spat out the final word like it was poison and in that darkness Farore saw his tongue fork.

She had always gotten this question, but it was always for interviews and for breaking down the formula of success that was Farore. This was the first time it came from an entirely unknown place. “I guess I’ve always loved them. They’re so versatile and beautiful—”

“Beautiful?”

“I think so.”

“They have all those beady eyes that are colored unnaturally, and pincers and claws, and gosh knows what else! How can any of that be beautiful?”

Farore stilled her mind. She wanted to lash back and give Zakana a good verbal whooping but she held it in. “It’s beautiful because it’s different. And misunderstood. Bugs are the ultimate underdogs in any fight. They are weak to more things than almost any other type. Easily squashed by rocks, susceptible to ice or fire, or things that can fly, but they are strong too. Strong against Psychic and Ghosts and just . . . oh Zakana . . . I’m sorry. I think they are beautiful.”

For a moment an understanding passed between them.

Zakana said: “There is a disturbance there. In those woods. I think it’s because of the Safari Zone.”

Farore stared at Zakana. “What do you mean?”

He shook his head back and forth, winced his eyes. “I don’t know. I saw it in a dream. There’s craziness going on outside. The herds and flocks moved to the city and are causing a ruckus.”

“In a dream?”

Farore was gone. She left Zakana alone there and studied the scene outside, with help from Scizor and Heracross, through the windows. Something had certainly changed. The Viterals hadn’t attacked because they were busy. Probably trying to throw all their clamp balls at the wild Pokémon. Was it true? Was that swarm of Pokémon from the forest from the Safari Zone? It did make sense. It could make sense. By Jirachi, it was sensible!

Without waiting for permission, Farore decided to leave. She would take her Shedinja, her ghost-bug wonder, as a way to cloak herself and go directly to Glaukus for help. There was no other option now.

When she got to the door, Zakana was there again.

“Where?”

“I’ll be back by morning.”

“You’re leaving again?”

“Yes, but this time I’ll bring help.”

“You aren’t going to tell Bambi and Isaque the new plan?”

“They’ll only try to stop me. You can tell them.”

Zakana considered this in the darkness. He seemed uneasy. “You know she really looks up to you.”

Farore knew it but she wondered how Zakana had seen it. He literally only talked about going home or about himself.

Without knowing how or why Farore crossed the space between them, and kissed Zakana on the lips. It felt right in that moment.

He touched the spot where Farore’s supple lips fell and looked back at her still unsure of what to do.

“I know she does. Protect her while I’m gone, okay?”

Slowly, Zakana nodded. And as the lights came back on for him, they went out for Farore, as she left the warehouse and stepped into that cool, crisp, tasteless air.

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To be continued . . .

If you missed Chapter 17, you can find it here.

Artwork credit here and here.

Chapter 17: Bambi’s Worth

When Bambi and the others found Zakana, the Eevee he held was still safe. Curled up inside Zakana’s now crumpled frame. Houndour kept a flame lit for all of them to see. Bambi looked at him, inside that great big warehouse, watched the way her cousin breathed up and down, rhythmically but with small hiccups too. Despite his sudden disappearance, he hadn’t been hard to find. He had dragged himself, screaming, shouting in frustration until his voice died, all through the great city of Fuchsia. People had seen. They had noticed—how could they not? It wasn’t everyday that crazy distraught teens visited them and lay alone on the ground in the rain. Lucky for Bambi and her family, the residents who told them where to go didn’t know who Zakana was. Not yet at least.

“He’s here,” Isaque said. “So now what?”

Bambi had gotten to know the boy twice her height in the 24-hour period they’d spent looking for Zakana. He seemed genuine but Bambi still wouldn’t tell him anything. She needed to heed her mother’s words. And that was family first. And don’t tell anyone anything.

“We should stay here for the night.” Farore spoke as if the answer were obvious.

Bambi studied the vast space around her, or at least all that she could see, which wasn’t all that far.

“Poor thing,” Farore said.

Zakana shivered and shook, but whatever possessed him seemed to have passed.

Pain shot through Bambi as she imagined what Zakana had seen. Her very own cousin—gosh, he’d be about sixteen now. Her parents wouldn’t tell her much, but she could fill in the pieces. She’s wondered which bug Pokémon had done it, and if Zakana saw such a Pokémon in Farore’s line up.

Her throat tightened, and without any more words she left the cousin she wanted to wake, and the Eevee that slept so soundly beside him as Farore and Isaque studied the sight further. Suddenly, Bambi felt a surge of loyalty when Farore’s words rang in her head. She could say things about her cousin but no one else should be allowed to.

What did they say when she wasn’t there?

Night passed into early morning, and with it came nightmares and groans. Bambi sat awake, leaned against heavy boxes, and tried to drown Zakana out. He was still in pain—after all these years. And why shouldn’t he be? Bambi had no memory of him. They had met of course a few times when she was 1 or 2 years old, probably hugged and played and fought over things, but it wasn’t enough to leave a mark. All the marks of that boy had been pressed, like a scalding brand, upon Zakana.

Bambi pulled blankets around her chin. She pet Houndour and felt its natural warmth. Nearby, across from her own set of boxes, was Farore—quiet, unmoving, elegant even as she slept. Isaque was somewhere in this cold place. Probably somewhere long and narrow where his whole body could stretch out to its full bazillion foot length.

Tomorrow, or rather today, Bambi realized as light flickered in through high windows, they would find Makua’s older brother. They would find out if there had been any sign of him. They would meet Farore’s Gym Leader colleague, Glaukus, see if he had any answers. Bambi needed to be reunited with Yumin and Makua and Isaque needed to be reunited with his friend Lyres. That was the arrangement. They needed to get Zakana somewhere safe and out of Pokémon battles. Those were the immediate goals.

All these things and others plagued Bambi with their varying degrees of importance. She couldn’t sleep. She’d wait until the others were awake to start talking business. In the meantime, she walked around to see where exactly she was in the grand scheme of things.

Boxes, both metal and cardboard, and crates, zip lines running haywire through the air above—all of it had been used once, recently it seemed. Open-mouthed machines outlined the walls connected by conveyor belts. They had made or manufactured something here.

Because the place Bambi slept in seemed to be sealed tight, she noticed when a door opened somewhere and cold air swept in. Her hair moved from its forever position of soft and straight, strands of auburn red moving on her periphery.

“It seems to be a grand place for our work,” said a man from beyond a mountain of boxes and stationary.

“It’s what I thought, sir,” said a second man. “We’ll get our guys in here and get it in top-shape in Palkia-time flat!”

“Good. Our moves need to be direct and decisive. Everything is going as planned . . . more or less.”

Bambi wanted to jump, wanted to act and let these guys know that they were interrupting very precious sleep. Something held her back. Maybe it was the fact that Makua had named her a fugitive. She said the word to herself and smiled for all its secrecy and excitement.

The door opened again and Bambi heard soft whispers from the wind. A third man spoke, now with more urgency than the first two.

“Sir,” he said. “They believe the girl is here in this city.”

The man who’d spoken first, and was being called sir, said in exasperation, “Who is they?”

“Unit 11, sir. They were stationed on Cycling Road after Bambi Hayline escaped from the Academy. She had a friend with her when she escaped and seemed to meet up with others.”

Great Celebi! They were talking about her!

She needed to see their faces. She needed to know who they were. A hand, warm and quick, grabbed Bambi by the wrist. She turned to see Farore staring back at her, neither fear nor surprise in her eyes, only recourse. She shook her head.

“Well, where is she then?”

“That’s just it, sir. Some of the residents here said they saw a young man walk right into this warehouse. He fits the description of one of the members traveling on the road with Bambi.”

“What of her brother?” said the second man, the one who’d been showing off the warehouse from the start.

“He’s been a pest since diving out that window at headquarters. He knows too much and doesn’t sit still.”

“Right, sir. He’s been intercepted in the Celadon Forest. Radio transmissions went down over there last night. No word since that. There seems to be a disturbance.”

At this Farore nodded and closed her eyes gently as if she knew. Bambi realized she had never gotten the full story of why she’d come back from her solo mission running for Cycling Road like there were Durant in her pants.

“If we want to get Professor Durin to talk, we have to go after things a little closer to his heart,” the leader of them said. “It seems beating him down and taking all his Pokémon is not enough.”

Both men agreed dutifully.

In the span of a single second, silence as loud as hurricanes filled that space. Bambi worried for Yumin now, and her uncle. They had said her uncle’s name too! And since when was Uncle Durin a Professor? What was happening!

“Kirish is impossible to pin down as ever,” the man continued. “Things are waxing and waning on the Orange Islands for her band of misfits. She could hold out for another day, or another year. I’m not sure.”

“And Yumin. He’s as wily as ever.”

“Bambi it is then,” the man said, as if the decision were something as easy as choosing a pair of underwear. “She’s young and weak and Durin will not negotiate for such a precious prize. Especially after what had happened to his own.”

Things happened quickly in those next few moments and Bambi did everything she could to keep up. It seemed Isaque had become privy to the conversation as well. He had woken Zakana. Zakana—who hadn’t made a peep, swayed aimlessly in Isaque’s soft grasp, eyes sunken into yellow sockets. Something had changed in him. There was a deadened look there. And Bambi suddenly realized: through all the talk of the Haylines, from Durin to Kirish to Yumin to Bambi, there had been no mention of Zakana. What did it mean? Were these men just completely unbothered by him, or . . . no. Bambi reconsidered, thought to herself in those few quiet moments she had left. To them, Zakana didn’t exist!

Farore seemed to understand this as well because she wrapped Zakana’s neck and face with a blanket to hide most of his face. He didn’t ask questions. At this time in the early morning, he had none.

Being called young and weak came as a blow to Bambi and she wanted to battle right then and there. But it didn’t matter as much when they were talking about taking Pokémon away. Was all that really true about her uncle?

The man leading these other two seemed to change his mind about preparing the warehouse and instead said, “search this whole place. Find whoever or whatever is here.” The door opened and at least one of the men walked outside.

Behind those boxes, everyone looked to Farore for an answer. What were they going to do, about Bambi, about Yumin, about Zakana?

“Listen carefully.” Farore looked them in the eyes one by one. “We need to get out of here. We need to get to Glaukus first, and figure out what comes after that later.”

Bambi wondered if this constant running from point A to point B would ever end. Would they ever stop being fugitives? And what were Farore’s and Isaque’s place in all of it? Once Farore safely delivered Bambi to someone responsible would she disappear? Would Isaque find Lyres and go on his way? That would leave Bambi with Zakana only and she wasn’t sure she could protect him with the line up she had.

Pokémon came from their Pokeballs. Searchers. Trackers. Seekers. Bambi heard the sniffs, the calls, and knew that it was only a matter of time.

The Eevee in Zakana’s jacket cried out.

Something big and reckless appeared in Bambi’s periphery and as soon as she saw it, the thing recognized her as well. Donphan, an elephant that lives in the ground, screeched, swung its dirt-stained trunk in both directions and rolled into a tight ball before speeding at them.

Hell broke loose.

They had been discovered. And when Bambi ran away from the thing that planned to flatten her, the men saw her. Without mistake they knew who she was and who she was with now, the same members she was with on Cycling Road.

Farore grabbed her hand and ran toward the exit. “Get moving!”

“Stop!” said one of the men. The two of them released more Pokémon.

Farore released her own. It didn’t matter that Zakana would see them. They needed to get out of this place and the only way to do that was through Farore and her buggy, buggy, bugs with one million eyes and slicers and pincers as sharp as a ship’s hull.

Heracross and Scizor hissed and buzzed and fought toward the door. Feraligatr and Magneton plunged ahead to join the fray. Bambi sent Bayleef and Houndour to help. Blasts of fire, waves of thunder, surges of water. Bambi felt freezing one moment and then like she would burn up the next. Zakana stood near Isaque in his blanket, swaying but never falling over, a blank look in his eyes.

Something changed in the scene of battle because Farore looked to Isaque as the men shouted to each other. Bambi strained to listen.

“Isaque! Don’t let them get away!”

It was odd to want to contain and capture men that wanted to capture you, but Bambi didn’t ask. Maybe there was a reason. She heard the men.

“Lock this place down. Get every bolt, lock and chain from this town and keep them at bay!”

A smokescreen went up. Noise and commotion became best friends in that fight. And then wind. Gas was sucked out of the warehouse on account of the door being opened, and the men were gone.

“We lost them!” Farore ran to the door. She opened it, looked out, and studied the scene before her. “Shoot!” Shoot! Shoot!”

Bambi trembled as Farore flew back to the group.

“If they want to have a lock down, we’ll show them what we’re made of.”

“Why don’t we just get out now, while we can?” Isaque asked.

“Because,” Farore said, “men and Pokémon are already out there waiting for us. We won’t make it very far without flyers.”

“So then . . .?”

“We hold out until I can get a message to Glaukus and the other leaders.” Farore paused and seemed truly troubled by what she had seen, not just in the past few days but especially today. “This is a matter of national security. The Viterals . . . they’re completely wide out in the open and no one seems to be showing any signs of stopping them.”

Isaque and Farore looked down at Bambi. They both knew what had happened to her family. They knew Zakana hadn’t been mentioned but that they were cousins. They knew about Kirish. They knew nearly everything, except the one thing they all shared, and that was the location of Yumin.

Bambi had to believe her big brother would come. He’d save them for sure.

“No one gets in or out,” Farore said. She moved around wildly, and with the help of Isaque, began securing all the windows and doors.

“How do you know they won’t just send a big fire blast at us?” Bambi asked.

“For one, they want you intact and alive,” Farore said. “And the other is they want this warehouse. They aren’t going to destroy it.”

Zakana stopped swaying and finally said something audible.

“It may not be much. But those are the only advantages we have to work with.”

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To be continued . . .

If you missed Chapter 16, you can find it here.

Artwork credit here and here.