Bonds of Eeveelution - Chapter Twenty-nine: Caged“Don’t know when to quit, do they?” Dawn commented on the avian reinforcements, figuring these were among the last to receive word about the talisman hunters. “Glace,” called Summer, wasting no time. “We got this.” She jerked her head in the direction Ramiel was travelling. “You guys go.” There wasn’t time to formulate any other plan, Mika acting on Summer’s words and assuming the role of distraction. If Summer wasn’t already getting an earful from Lilah, rest assured she would hear it from Glacia later. But whether or not Glacia approved, her sister’s team had the birds preoccupied. “Cal, let’s go!” barked the Glaceon, and Cal set off in hot pursuit of the Keeper. Hard rain was making their pursuit of Ramiel even more difficult. The possessed Keeper weaved expertly through the maze of islands around Rugged Coast, his speed unrivalled by any of his flock, and his familiarity with the place giving him a distinct advantage. One such show of this came when he went through an island, not around it: Travelling at high speed, the Staraptor confidently rotated ninety degrees (his wings reading six o’clock) to slip through a fissure in the rock, coming out the other side in seconds. Though this fissure was marginal, Cal didn’t gamble the risk, playing it safe and going around — The Tropius was promptly punished for his lack of awareness, a sudden cut opening up across his shoulder, struck by an Air Slash from above. “Gah!” Looking up, Glacia, Dawn, and Eclipse all saw Ramiel hovering in place, his wings still bathed in a white glow as he prepared to attack again. Glacia reacted just in time, firing off an inaccurate Ice Beam at the same moment Ramiel fired a double Air Slash; although her attack missed, so too did his, two bright saw discs shooting past the team on either side. Infuriated, Ramiel targeted the Glaceon with a move sure to pummel her to a pulp. “Let’s get personal!” he screeched, and a maroon-coloured aura engulfed his outline. They all knew what was coming — reckless, unbridled power — a Staraptor’s Close Combat; devastating for Glacia and Eclipse, not so much for Dawn. And so, as Ramiel charged full pelt at Glacia, there was only one thing for it — Everything happened in a sudden: Glacia heard Dawn shriek something, next second, she’d been thrown down into her saddle embraced wholly by the Sylveon. Glacia felt Dawn’s bones absorb every blow and impact, helpless to stop the onslaught. Until Ramiel tired, she could only hope her sister’s Fairy qualities would defend her from the worst of it. With wing swipes, pecks, and kicks, Ramiel bombarded Dawn’s back, punching holes in her melee vest and causing considerable damage to it before she began blocking using her feelers. Thanks to her natural resistance to Fighting moves, she herself was able to tank damage better than the synthetic fibres. Mercifully, Ramiel had to relent in order to get back his breath. Cal took this opportunity to deliver a heavy blow using his head, like a tree-sized baseball bat smacking into the raptor and staggering him. Strained after his prolonged attack, Ramiel beat a calculated retreat; a hundred places to ambush these fools. “Don’t let him get away!” barked Glacia, rushing to break free of Dawn. There wasn’t time to waste on expressing gratitude. Cal fought through pain and exhaustion to give chase once again, Ramiel that much fitter and pulling ahead. The Staraptor led them down a narrower section of the maze, limiting Cal’s manoeuvrability for when he turned and fired back Air Slashes, arcing his wings in an underarm fashion to prevent his attacks going wide and detonating against the walls of rock. By repositioning, Eclipse was able to counter the saw discs with Dark Pulse streams, defending Cal. Not today, brother, thought Eclipse, his covert operation strangely satisfying. Not even other Shadows knew of his and its importance; infiltration; the inevitable undoing of Black Nex’s enemies. But Ramiel kept on going, Glacia picking up on his extensive loop heading back to the maze’s heart. He couldn’t be allowed to regroup with his flock. They had to catch him — Glacia had to catch him. Now. “Give it everything you’ve got!” she motivated Cal, “Overtake!” Cal poured what spare energy he had left into a burst of speed, drawing level with Ramiel in a moment fast fleeting. Wings of both Flying types nearly touched, and in a second of total insanity Glacia leapt across, grabbing hold of the bird of prey around his muscular neck. “GLACE!” screamed Dawn too late. His energy spent, Cal fell behind to leave Glacia to hold on for grim life. “Come for a ride, have we?” said Ramiel, something despicable about his tone. “It’s your funeral.” First, he swayed from side to side, Glacia managing to keep steady; next, he threw in harsh bumps, Glacia redoubling her grip as her back half bounced limply. “Watch out for this one!” toyed Ramiel, executing a slow barrel roll, pure terror flooding down Glacia’s throat. Still she hung on, a will of iron refusing to be defeated. But she could not hold on forever. Feeling that they had levelled off, though at an accelerated pace, the Glaceon braved opening her eyes before shooting an ice-cold beam into Ramiel’s spine. At once, he gasped, his entire body paralyzed. And yet, even in knowing they were about to drop to their deaths, Ramiel forced a warped grin. “Fool. . . .” he breathed voicelessly, making no effort to stop himself falling like a rock. Knowing it was all she could do to survive this, Glacia held on tighter than ever, doing her utmost to keep on top so Ramiel could take the impact. She only just heard the terrified shouts of her family — SPLASH!Slam! He was woken by the locking mechanism of the laboratory’s steel door, a single, loud crash whenever locking or unlocking. This time it was the latter. From his metal cage, he turned to face the door, reinforced by two inches of steel and accessible only via a key card and follow up three-digit passcode; despite the double windows, one thick pane of glass near the bottom and another toward the top, he could not clearly see whoever it was now entering. The door unlocked with a small hiss, then opened, heavily, inwards. Voices floated in first, followed by the harsh brightening of the lab’s automatic lighting, blindingly white. Dazed and still in great pain from his recently-treated leg wound, Fall remained on the bare mattress he’d been provided, and literally his only source of comfort. He could tell this wasn’t the daily round of someone bringing him food and changing his litter tray, too much commotion. He watched a Beheeyem drift in, speaking in a robotically feminine tone as it scrutinized the medium-sized room. “Oh yes!” she stated excitedly. “A laboratory of adequate dimensions. I trust I can rely on your assistance whenever I call on it?” she turned to ask the Pokémon coming in behind her. Fall’s heart immediately swelled, recognizing that Vaporeon anywhere. “You’ll get someone, as agreed,” retorted Marcelo, carrying Raina over his shoulder. Raina wasn’t conscious, but Fall knew she was alive. For fear of her getting hurt, the Flareon kept calm and did not antagonize the Greninja. And then, she saw him — her beautiful test subject! “As I live and figuratively breathe,” said the Beheeyem, giddy, floating her way over to the caged Eevee, “Shiny Flareon! I must admit I reserved my doubts . . .” But Fall wasn’t interested, ignoring the alien being as she introduced herself as Doctor Amberly Penrose. He watched Marcelo bring his sister to the neighbouring cage, separated by heavy, metal, vertical bars; Fall could compare it to a prison cellblock. With a free, webbed, hand, the Greninja swung open the cage door before crouching down and depositing Raina within. Fall didn’t express gratitude for Marcelo’s gentle handling of his closest sibling. “Son of a bitch,” growled the Fire-type through clenched teeth, trying and failing to stand on his bandaged leg. “You knew we were coming.” Marcelo said nothing, instead locking the cage and turning to Amberly. “They’re all yours,” he muttered, handing over a key card that he withdrew from one of the pockets of his utility belt. “Don’t,” he stressed, “forget your code.” And with that, he turned to take his leave. “Don’t ignore me!” Fall snapped, and Marcelo paused. With laboured breaths, Fall went on, “You set us up . . . at Lake Blalock. . . . Somehow you knew.” Marcelo turned his neck in Fall’s direction but did not make eye contact. “If I were you,” he croaked, “I’d cherish the here and now.” Meeting Fall’s gaze, he added, “Fate sucks when it’s in someone else’s hands.” Fall spat at this. “Fuck you . . . All of you!” “Such appalling language!” cried Amberly. Marcelo contemplated the Flareon for a moment or two, always poker-faced. “Anything else?” he said stoically. But Fall, knowing it was pointless in his current state, laid down his chin on his mattress, watching Raina’s breathing. Again, Marcelo turned to leave. “Wait!” came a plea from Fall, Marcelo having the decency to acknowledge; Amberly had gotten distracted examining her new work space, floating over here and there, identifying equipment with titters. Expecting nothing to come of this request, Fall asked, brazen, “Can I get a blanket? For her?” Marcelo finally exited the room without a word more. With the Beheeyem otherwise engaged, Fall went back to resting, oddly conflicted about having Raina prisoner with him. When he wasn’t wondering what they were going to do to him here, he thought on where he left his three youngest sisters. They had come so close to escaping, too — his own stupid fault for getting injured and slowing them up. Fall couldn’t help but be hard on himself, after all, it was his responsibility to look after his family. He had led them down that labyrinth against his better judgement, allowed himself to be convinced they could pull off the task without complication. More fool him. He honestly believed he was a goner when Ulric caught him. He remembered narrowly avoiding drowning to death riding with Raina, only to then be dragged back under with immeasurable force, the water’s surface fast receding before he blacked out. It could only have been hours between those final moments and him waking up here, finding his wounded leg all patched up. He had debated on whether to starve himself the first time he was delivered dried food, his inner fighter eventually setting him straight. As bare-bones as Fall’s prison was, Raina’s was worse. While Fall at least had been provided a basic mattress for his leg, Raina had nothing but for a water bowl and litter tray. A row of five cages lined the rightmost wall, Fall taking up residence in the one closest to the exit. Barring the two found on the door, the room lacked windows all around; Fall had hazarded a guess they were underground, maybe in some kind of basement. One thing he knew for certain was that this place was used for scientific purpose, research-conducting. He’d been quick to spot the two security cameras here, one in opposite corners. From the few visits he’d so far had, he learned the cameras tracked movement, always spying and possibly listening; Fall was unsure of the latter. At present, the Beheeyem had settled into a swivel chair by one of the lab’s computers, softly humming to herself whilst doing whatever. Fall didn’t care to know, the Flareon now kicking himself for losing his rag so soon with Marcelo. Other than disgruntled and curt orders/responses, nobody else had given Fall the time of day. It was a long shot, he was aware, but Fall suspected his best bet for answers laid with the Greninja. They had not encountered either him or Hunter since Azure Town, since Rose’s all-too-lucky escape. Had she been in Hunter’s grasp . . . Fall did not want to picture it. The Houndoom radiated horribly twisted vibes, his bloodlust practically tangible. But the Greninja . . . he hadn’t the stomach for murder, that little bit of morality sparing Rose that day. Perhaps Marcelo was the reason both Flareon and Vaporeon lived. And what of Summer and Rose? Were they safe, had they managed to escape with the talisman? Raina had been brought in without any possessions, and Fall could only hope she did not have it on her when captured. The very last thing they needed was arming Black Nex’s goons with Elemental Talismans. Gentle groaning from the neighbouring cage immediately grabbed Fall’s attention, entirely focused on his sister as she started coming round. Raina wasn’t facing his way when she sat up, rubbing her head, left sore after being kicked unconscious by Marcelo. But before she could really get her bearings, a familiar voice spoke her name. The Vaporeon’s elation was somewhat hindered by her grogginess but she turned to face him nonetheless. “F-Fall. . . .” she breathed, absolute joy and relief reflecting in eyes and smile. Further words caught in her throat as both Eevees moved up to the bars dividing them, closing their eyes as they bunted and held heads, the next best thing to a hug they were going to get. “It’s really you,” she added, reassured by his familiar scent. “Can’t get rid of me that easily,” he said, trying to lighten the mood, and an anxious giggle escaped Raina’s mouth. Fall pulled away from her in order to sit down, taking the weight off his recovering leg. He took a moment to simply appreciate Raina, his smile one of bliss. “I can’t believe . . .” He dropped his smile with a sigh. “This doesn’t seem real.” Sitting down also, Raina reached a paw into Fall’s cage, setting it on his cheek. “Feels real to me.” Fall took her paw in his own, another wave of comfort washing over him. “Did they hurt you at all? You were a bit woozy before.” Raina withdrew her paw to rub her head, claiming, “I’m like you: made of tough stuff. Just a baby hangover. . . .” Her attention was drawn to his bandaged leg. “They’re looking after you, then?” she said, confused. “It won’t be for my better benefit,” grumbled Fall, turning his gaze on some doctor’s handiwork. “Nex must need us for something . . . Arceus knows what.” Raina looked ill at ease all of a sudden. Tentatively, she roamed her gaze over the laboratory. “This is bad, isn’t it? They’re gonna torture us, I know it,” she said hopelessly. “Hey,” started Fall, his brotherly instinct to protect and reassure kicking in. “C’mon, look at me . . .” (Raina did so, unable to hide her fear) “ain’t no one laying a finger on you. Not so long as I’m here.” Raina wanted to place more faith in his words but she couldn’t ignore that which stared her in the face. Fall was injured, plain and simple. And besides, he could no more protect her than she could him. Whatever happened, it was down to them to stay strong for each other. It hadn’t slipped Raina’s mind that the Beheeyem was paying no heed to their discussion, still engrossed transferring files from a USB drive to her new computer. “Who’s that?” asked the Vaporeon. “No clue,” said Fall, having already forgotten the doctor’s name, though this ignorance didn’t make him any less wary of her. “She came through with that Greninja bloke.” “Marcelo . . .” said Raina thoughtfully. “Wait, they haven’t got Rose and Summer too?” “It’s just us down here,” he explained with a quick head-shake. “But they were hunting us —” said Raina, turning a fearful face on him, “Marcelo and that Houndoom creep! What if he’s still out there, with no one to yank his leash? Summer, Rose . . . they wouldn’t stand a chance . . .” “You can’t think like that,” said Fall firmly. “Your sisters are resourceful and clever, far more so than some bonehead canine. And it’s no good you getting worked up over it.” “I’m scared for them, Fall,” admitted Raina. “They’ve got the talismans. I don’t even know if they’re searching for me or if Summer’s still mad.” Something didn’t quite click in Fall’s mind. “Why would Summer be mad?” he quizzed her. When Raina lowered her gaze to the floor, penitent, Fall pressed, “Raina, what happened after Ulric?” She heaved a sigh but knew she had to spill the truth, however immature and pathetic it seemed in hindsight. “It wasn’t Summer’s fault . . . I didn’t wanna give up on you . . .” And she came clean about her behaviour afterward; how she had been a total mess, snivelling and wallowing in self-pity until pinning the blame on her Espeon sister. She felt rotten telling Fall this, realizing now how sensible and adult Summer was; as the oldest, Raina should have shouldered that responsibility. She would not have blamed him for being angry or disappointed in her, now waiting for him to speak his mind. “Don’t be,” said Fall, in response to her apologizing. “Your . . . your head was all over the place. Summer’s bound to know you didn’t mean any of —” The unexpected return of Marcelo cut him off, both Eevees and Penrose facing the bipedal frog; Fall was surprised to see him juggling two bowls of dried food as well as a blanket over his arm. Marcelo first approached Fall, crouching to set and slide his bowl in through the rectangular gap, which was found on every cage. Fall said nothing as he then approached Raina, repeating what he’d just done but offering the blanket through the bars. “It’s not booby-trapped, if that’s your concern,” said Marcelo impatiently, for Raina appeared distrusting of the gift. Turning his unamused gaze on Fall, he dropped the cream-coloured blanket, Raina watching it land in a crumpled heap. “Don’t thank me.” And as quickly as he’d arrived, Marcelo went to leave. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Raina challenged her fellow Water-type, holding him up. “Can’t you see how sick this is — locking us up like criminals!” “If I may interject,” said Penrose with her robotically feminine tone, drifting alongside her associate. “Your imprisonment is for the benefit of science. Were you not born the species you are, my opinion on your treatment would be open to prejudice; gotta look after my test subjects!” “I swear to Arceus if you dare touch her —” growled Fall. “Aggression,” Penrose interrupted. “Is aggression a typical trait of the Shiny mutagen? Too long I have been denied this knowledge. The coming months shall change all.” Something malice about the doctor prompted Raina to appeal to Marcelo’s better nature, sensing a heart not devoid of empathy: “Why would you want to be a part of this? Reverse roles, we’d never do this to you. Because good people don’t deserve —” “Shut — fucking — up,” rasped Marcelo, and Raina, whom recoiled, could tell he meant it. Feeling a need to emphasize himself, Marcelo approached the Vaporeon’s cage, his right knee clicking as he dropped down to her height, fixing her a stern stare as he said, “Maybe you got the wrong impression about me, sweetheart, but I don’t give a toss about what happens to you. I’m paid to do a job, nothing personal.” “It got personal when you attacked my family,” said Fall warningly. Marcelo’s eyes darted diagonally downwards, Fall’s and Raina’s cells half-and-half in his vision. He returned to full height saying nothing more to their captives. He did, however, need to inform Penrose of his master’s progress, where the Darkrai stood currently in his plan. Beckoning Penrose over to the door with his head, Fall caught only a hint of opening dialogue before the Greninja and Beheeyem exited, shutting the door; any sound from outside the laboratory was abruptly eliminated, now just the soft drone of the computer’s fans. “Prime Minister . . .” whispered Fall, worry creeping across his face. “What?” said Raina, left shaken by Marcelo’s enmity and having not heard any of the private discussion. The movement of Fall turning to her was enough to trigger the security cameras, little blinking red lights indicating their constant recording. Talking in hushed tones, he said, “Whatever Nex’s planning, it’s gonna involve the Prime Minister! We have to warn him somehow — we have to escape!” And he started looking for weaknesses in his prison. “How?” said Raina feebly. “Even if we got out, you’re in no state to fight or run.” “No,” he agreed, strangely not despondent. “But you are.” Raina was going to stop him there, shutting down his thought process. “Don’t you dare think it!” she scolded. “I won’t be going anywhere without you, end of.” Fall only had himself to blame for her stubbornness, a consequence of living together the past nineteen years. But this wasn’t what Fall needed right now; everything seemed to be happening at once and he needed time to breathe, to contemplate. Not meaning to come over as giving the cold shoulder, he hobbled back to his mattress, sticking out his bad leg as he eased himself down. Raina, not taking it the wrong way, could tell her brother was overwhelmed and so left him to it, her stomach complaining of hunger, anyway. Fall saw her sniff at the bowl of food before tucking in, obviously satisfied she hadn’t smelt anything harmful. He would have told her regardless; his own food and water, although bland, had not tasted off. The fact Raina wasn’t more hurt was something to be grateful for — that and knowing Summer and Rose had evaded capture. Fall earnestly hoped that Summer still trusted her instinct, keeping to that same mentality Raina had described. As much as Fall loved Raina, the Vaporeon’s decision to attempt a rescue was ultimately foolhardy. The best thing Summer could do for them was to regroup with the others as planned, avoiding contact with anybody suspicious. Fall half wished for no rescue effort, believing that, with enough patience, they could bust themselves out of here. Not trying to overestimate their abilities, he could see them escaping from confinement — from there, destroying any piece of equipment would be enough to trigger a response, opening the door to freedom. Certainly he was going about it very Hollywood; a stealthy approach would work far more favourably. And then, just as his thoughts turned to the Prime Minister, the lab’s lighting cut out, the darkness good enough to sleep in.“We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this breaking news report,” said some male announcer’s voice over a flashing alert by the TNC (Tavolous News Central). “What da hell?” mumbled a portly, Amped Form Toxtricity, lounging back in his worn armchair. He had been watching his usual quiz show like a zombie when this bolt from the blue sprung. “Hey Joana!” he shouted back to his partner in the kitchen. “C’mere an’ check this out.” A Low Key Form female Toxtricity emerged from the kitchen of the grotty apartment, drying off a plate with a tea towel. She stopped beside her slothful partner, moderately intrigued by the coming report. “Reporting live from outside the Dragons’ Court for TNC, I’m Whitney Frey,” reported a well-groomed, female Liepard, wearing a wireless microphone headpiece. Around her neck she wore her ID, proof of her profession as a journalist. Precisely as stated, Whitney could be found within the front court of the legendary building, she and her camera crew among hundreds of others. The whole scene was abuzz with activity, a line of uniformed police officers blocking off entry into the Court. It was a cloudless sky above Verculum, making for a warm, orangey sunset, unlike the dulling darkness of the Toxtricities’ home; nothing but overcast all day long. “What they got goin’ on, a rock concert?” said the first Toxtricity, flippantly rocking out to an imaginary guitar before being chided by his missus, whom clipped him one with the tea towel, saying, “Turn it up!” The male judiciously obeyed, cranking their television volume up. “Horror and disbelief for the Prime Minister after finding his family kidnapped,” said the Liepard, loud and dramatic, her voice easily lost outside the range of her microphone. “Leaked information regarding the safety of Nikita and Jack Thieldel hit . . .” “No friggin’ way —” boomed the sitting Toxtricity, facetious. “SHHH!” hissed the second, taking the news more seriously. Her partner buttoned his lip after this, both listening to the Liepard’s report in full: She explained everything currently known about the crisis — when and how the victims were taken, speculation of motives behind the atrocity, who was assigned to the case — often stammering in an unprofessional capacity due to the chaotic environment. But the Toxtricities were merely two of millions now being informed of the truth. All across the region (and beyond), televisions, radios, computers, smartphones — media went wild, aided massively by the severity of the situation, too great for most to simply ignore. Suffice to say Tavolous had not seen such bustle in quite some time. Back with Whitney the Liepard, she was among the first to notice a Bisharp approaching the Court, carrying a black briefcase and accompanied by a single officer for protection. By looks alone, the Bisharp appeared important, sporting a black cape which trailed down to his heels and emblazoned with a light-grey dragon head, symbolizing his allegiance to the Dragons’ Court. One could assume he was married, going off the gold ring worn on his left hand’s thumb. “That is Xen Seki; newly-appointed adviser for Regional Security,” Whitney updated her audience. The Liepard was conflicted for a moment, looking from Seki to her camera crew before proposing an interview; her crew agreed, seconds later filtering their small unit through the mass media. Once in shouting distance, Whitney called out for the Bisharp, grabbing his attention at the expense of alerting her rivals; speed helped her get to him first as an onslaught of white camera flashes bombarded the half Steel-type. Nearly overwhelmed by the tumultuous crowd calling his name, Seki focused on the Liepard reporter at his feet. “— Mr. Seki,” she started, and a sudden calm fell over all, “any new information on the kidnappings?” But as quickly as things had settled, commotion picked back up: “Why is this happening now — ?” “Can you confirm underhanded dealings made behind the public’s back — ?” “Is this a publicity stunt gone wrong — ?” Seki raised his free hand, knowing already he could never appease such a voracious mob. “As of right now,” he announced, his accent distinctly Kantonian, “we have nothing more to disclose. I am about to meet with the PM to discuss tactics on this delicate matter. Should any developments occur, positive or contrary, I will be at liberty to respect strict confidentiality unless instructed otherwise. Thank you and good evening.” Having said his piece, Seki made for the Court entrance, turning his cape on the babel of questions. Restless and unsatisfied, some tried to follow the Bisharp only to be halted by the line of police. The noise followed Seki inside, fading almost entirely as the heavy glass door shut gently behind him; he did not envy the police’s task of crowd control. Although this wasn’t his first time being here, the pure grandeur of this hall was inspiring. Despite current events, it was still business as usual for Court regulars, most beginning to knock off for the day. As Seki stood there, mesmerized by the Dragonite statue profiling the centre, somebody off to the side called, “Oi, guv.” The Bisharp turned his head, identifying the caller as a member of Court security. “They’re expecting you upstairs, PM’s office,” added the Granbull in a no-nonsense tone. It was then Seki realized his police escort was no longer with him, remaining outside to aid in restoring order. Nevertheless, Seki made his way up to the top-most floor where Quinton Thieldel’s office was situated, bringing along his briefcase. Treading carefully to avoid damaging the tiled flooring, the Bisharp walked the elaborate corridor to the Flygon’s office door; he rapped on it three times, staring at one of the Rayquaza statuettes while he waited. A Barbaracle soon answered the door and gestured the newcomer inside. “Superintendent,” nodded Seki upon passing the Collective Pokémon. “Seki,” returned Hollins, closing the door. “Any trouble getting in?” “Just the Wolves sniffing around for fresh meat,” said Seki quietly, his attention on Quinton, whom was sat behind his desk, obsessed with his telephone. “Had his eyes glued to it all day,” Hollins filled Seki in. “Barely eaten or drunk anything. Sergeant Tacie,” he referred to the female Herdier present, “is doing everything she can to allay his fears.” The hours since learning of his family’s abduction had been the roughest of Quinton’s life. His appearance, normally well-groomed and smartly-dressed, was dishevelled, having removed his black jacket and wearing his white collared shirt half-unbuttoned; physically and mentally, he looked drained. Still conversing quietly with Superintendent Hollins, Seki asked, “When did you say they’ll be calling?” “Not until midnight. We’ve rigged up listening equipment.” “You plan on tracing the call?” said Seki, clearly sceptical of such an idea. “Won’t work,” he dismissed with a head shake. “Whoever we’re dealing with here are professional. They’ll use a secure network, non-trackable.” “Why don’t you let me handle that — start putting that noggin to good use,” said Hollins, nodding to the Bisharp’s head. “If you’ll excuse us . . .” And Hollins requested his subordinate, leading her outside the office. Quinton did not seem to notice the leaving pair, still sat there with his hands on his desk, fingers interlocked. He soon snapped to attention when Seki set his briefcase down on said desk. “Seki,” fumbled the Prime Minister. “Th-thank you for coming.” The Bisharp extended his hand. “We’ll have this mess resolved in no time,” he said over a firm handshake. “Negotiations will be critical.” Quinton let his hand fall to the desk, following with his gaze. “What could they possibly want from me?” murmured the Flygon. “I’m not a millionaire, if it’s a question of money.” As a thought came to him, he met Seki’s gaze. “Power,” he said, sounding conclusive. “I could approve power of any magnitude, they’ll know this.” “And I’m prepared for it,” said Seki, confidently petting his briefcase. “I’ve gone over a list of scenarios and possible solutions,” he explained as he opened the case, a compilation of papers within. “It would be in your best interest to review them.” Dusk turned to night as Seki went over each of his plans, taking numerous breaks for Quinton’s benefit. The Flygon was in a frail mindset which compelled Seki to tread softly, the Bisharp offering his reassurances and encouraging his leader to have faith. Hollins and Tacie returned before long, the Herdier’s presence helping to calm Quinton. They were waiting for the phone call at midnight, seemingly prepared for whatever demand that was to come. Outside the Court, without much to go by, the news media began to thin, only the most committed reporters hanging around in the hopes of a juicy development. Those that remained found sustenance at a nearby twenty-four hour café, the summer temperatures leaving the night air comfortably warm. 21:09. 21:44. 22:30. 23:02. With each check of his watch Quinton grew more and more restless, sweating profusely from his armpits; the others could smell it, yet they all spared his feelings. Even getting him to drink was difficult, Tacie having to hold his arm steady as he lifted a glass of water to his mouth. 23:19. 23:34 . . . 23:45 . . . Quinton had never felt so afraid. Hollins made it Tacie’s responsibility to record the conversation soon to happen, the Herdier sergeant ready on a second telephone hooked up to Quinton’s everyday phone. He wouldn’t normally permit anybody to sit on his desk, but Tacie was an exception. 23:59 . . . 00:00. . . . Quinton lowered his watch and fixed attention on his phone, his palms sweating, heart hammering, awaiting the call. And, sure enough, within thirty seconds, it came, the Dragon-type blenching. As instructed, he let Tacie answer hers first; she gave him a nod and then he picked up, ending the ringing. “H-hello . . . ?” he opened with, his voice quavering. “Prime Minister. Very good,” came a heavily-altered, male-sounding voice in both Quinton’s and Tacie’s ear. “What say we make this as quick and painless as possible?” “Who are you?” asked the Flygon, zero force behind his question. “That is not your primary concern, Mr. Thieldel; the safe return of your wife and boy, on the other hand . . .” “Please don’t hurt them!” Quinton pleaded, emotionally unstable. While Hollins and Seki watched intently, Tacie reached her free paw up and onto Quinton’s upper arm, reaffirming he was not alone in this. Somewhat calmed, he added, “L-let me hear them.” It wasn’t an unreasonable request, but one couldn’t possibly predict how well or poorly the kidnappers might react. A few moments of silence rolled by, Quinton fearing the worst until — “D-Dad . . . ?” said a second, timid voice over the phone, the voice of a young boy. Quinton recognized it at once as his son’s, springing to his feet and overcome by relief. “I’m here, Jack — Dad’s here! You being brave for Mummy — is Mummy okay?” Soft whimpering on the line betrayed Jack’s fear. “T-they won’t let us see . . . k-keep our heads covered . . .” Jack’s voice faded out, superseded by his captor’s. “Nikita and Jack are shaken but unhurt. What happens next depends on you, Prime Minister.” “Name what you want, I’ll make it so,” Quinton took the appeasement route, much to Seki’s disapproval. “A wise attitude.” The captor took great pleasure in hearing this, evidenced in his tone. “There is but one thing we want: for you to step down as prime minister.” The kidnapper’s demand struck both Tacie and Quinton dumb, the two turning to each other. Noting her superior’s agitation, Tacie encouraged the Flygon to keep talking by rotating her free paw. “. . . Wh-what would that achieve, exactly?” questioned Quinton. “That is for us to know and you to find out, Prime Minister,” came the response. “You are well-loved by the people, and you have served the region dutifully. But prosperity is a lie, unity a ticking timebomb. As of right now, your cause is unjust. Take this offer and let things be. You have forty-eight hours to reach a decision —” “Hello? Hello!” It was no use; the line had gone dead. “No!” shouted Quinton, slamming the phone down. Tacie put hers down much more gently, at a loss of what to think. “Well?” demanded Hollins. “Out with it, Sergeant, what did they want?” “Sir,” she said, his authoritative tone snapping her to attention. “They, erm,” she swallowed, “they’ll release the hostages . . . if the Prime Minister resigns from office. . . .”Glacia broke the surface gasping. Powerful underwater currents fought to keep her under, but grit determination saw her swim upwards toward the light. Ramiel did not surface with her, and it seemed unlikely that he ever would. . . . In the midst of survival, Glacia couldn’t spare the Staraptor any sympathy; she most certainly didn’t regret her decision to use his body to take the impact. Unfortunately, the raging sea had shifted her some ways off where she’d originally gone under and where her rescue was currently hovering over. But before she could call out for Cal to come and pick her up, she had to lift her right paw out of the water, holding it in front of her face and confirming what she was clutching. There it was, coloured a shade of blue and feather marking aglow, the Gale Talisman, recovered from Ramiel’s flaccid body. Perhaps if she’d taken a second to think on it, she could’ve used the talisman to fly herself to safety. “Cal!” she screamed, praying that her voice had reached the Tropius. “Down there!” barked Eclipse, pointing a paw over the side of Cal, whom soon got a fix on the Glaceon. With her rescue imminent, Glacia focused on staying afloat, a strong sense of relief causing her to drop her guard . . . at the wrong moment. Coming straight out of a horror scene, Ramiel’s Shadow emerged from the water behind her, slowly and unaffected by either storm or sea, as though conditions were calm. Cal and his two passengers all yelled out to Glacia in warning, the wind both muffling their words and impeding flight. However, Glacia cottoned on to the fact that something was bothering them and so turned, coming face-to-face with death. It grabbed and choked her aggressively, lifting her clean out the water; not relinquishing her hold over the talisman, she tried to kick herself free of its grasp, to no avail; her feet merely passed straight through it, while its hold couldn’t have been more tangible. The monster cocked its head, as though debating what to do, Glacia staring into its soulless black eye. And then, it raised its free hand, moving it toward Glacia’s mouth. She knew its intention and struggled, hurting her throat but feeling its grip loosen. And then, it dropped her, having ascended all this while, Glacia opening her mouth to gasp as the Shadow vanished from sight — Cal timed his swoop beautifully, able to catch Glacia in the spare back saddle next to Eclipse. “Nice!” called the Umbreon, “Get us out of here, quick!” “Did you see it?” Dawn called, referring to the Shadow, but Eclipse writ it off as unimportant, telling her to radio Mika’s team to regroup on the mainland. Dawn did so, getting the second team to disengage with whatever hostiles remained while Eclipse tended to Glacia. No interference saw Cal make it to land in no time, the Tropius touching down and completely exhausted. “What’s wrong?” said Dawn worriedly, turning about on her saddle to face her siblings and finding Glacia sprawled over hers. She was displaying the signs of a panic attack. “She won’t calm down,” explained Eclipse, trying to hold the Glaceon steady. Dawn reached over and helped. “It’s all right,” she tried getting through to her. “Glace, you did it, we can get outta here!” Still Glacia continued to convulse, apparently trying to say something. However, before she could spit it out, her eyes shot open, all traces of blue gone, replaced with red and glowing yellow — next second, Glacia had activated the Gale Talisman’s power, ascending vertically into the rainy air and bringing her siblings with her before both let go; they landed hard, but on their feet, on the muddy ground. Eclipse cursed, he and Dawn aware of the host transfer. Glacia let out a diabolical laugh that wasn’t hers, something witchcraft about all of it. Without warning, she targeted Cal with an Ice Beam, Dawn forced to meet the attack with her Moonblast. “Hey! Same team,” shouted Cal, once the explosion’s smoke had cleared. “Wasting your breath, man,” said Eclipse, watching Glacia like a hawk in a battle position. “That ain’t our sis.” Cal clearly needed further clarity, but there simply wasn’t time. “We’ve gotta get through to her!” Dawn told Eclipse, who then had to dodge to the side to avoid being Air Slashed. “Oh sure!” he replied sarcastically, “Coz plainly she’s in a listening mood!” “Insignificant worms,” spat Glacia, looking down on the mortals and unaware of Mika’s team flying up on her, having the sense to listen in. “What must you lose to learn you’re in over your heads? Only Black Nex and Mythus matter in this conflict, all else is collateral —” A surge of rage saw Lilah dive for the levitating Glaceon, coming down on and grabbing her wholly; screams of concern rang out but Lilah didn’t care. Glacia, with major difficulty, managed to stay aloft but had suffered to the heavier fox’s frame, Lilah actively trying to ground her and succeeding. “Collateral!” repeated the Ninetales furiously, both grunting as they fought to best each other. “Is that what my tribe was — collateral!” In one deft move, Lilah swiped the talisman from Glacia’s grasp, the pair dropping like stones — plash! — onto the muddied sludge. Lilah immediately got the upper hand, rolling over Glacia and pinning her against the soil. “I’ll kill you — every last stinkin’ one of you!” “So quick to sacrifice this body?” spoke the Shadow through Glacia’s mouth, raising a toothy grin. At once, Lilah hesitated, realizing she couldn’t just flame this Pokémon into submission. “Don’t hurt her!” Summer implored, leaving Lilah in a catch-22 situation. Playing on that advantage, Glacia moved to sink her fangs into Lilah’s leg, the Ninetales prepared for such a move and thrusting her foreleg down on the possessed Vee’s throat, immobilizing her. “All suggestions welcome!” grunted Lilah, urgency in her tone. “’Clipse,” started Summer, dismounting from Mika’s back once she landed, “let’s try Psychic.” The Umbreon nodded, moving in on Glacia with Summer, turning the tide in their favour. With it now a three-on-one struggle, things weren’t looking good for the Shadow. It tried to kick Lilah off, but the Glaceon’s weaker body proved insufficient. “Pathetic female!” it roared in frustration. “Sorry Glace,” said Summer regrettably, as her eyes flashed light blue, bombarding her sister’s body with a bizarre energy that tricked pain receptors into flaring. Touch wood, this would deceive the Shadow to think it was under attack and exit subsequently. What Summer couldn’t have known was that Eclipse had made contact with the inferior Shadow, expelling it from Glacia under the guise of assisting with Psychic. Lilah and the two Eevees pulled away near-instantly as the crimson creature flooded out the Glaceon’s mouth, all trace of possession lifting from her eyes as her screaming turned to words. “— OOOOUT! Get out of me!” Freed of its control, Glacia rolled onto her front and crawled away with what strength she had, Lilah taking no chances and burning it; dumbfounded by the betrayal, the smoke Darkrai perished without resistance. The rain showed no sign of easing as a sense of normality descended over the group. While Dawn and Summer helped to calm Glacia, Eclipse prioritized Lilah, telling her with approval, “Nicely done.” The Ninetales reciprocated, “Not half bad yourself.” And then a reminder that this mission had not gone without casualties: mournful cries turned the group’s heads toward the scattered islands, seeing the remaining flock circling the drowned body of their leader. “They’ll be coming for us,” Eclipse pointed out, a genuine hint of remorse in his tone. “We better book it.”Nobody disagreed, both Tropius encouraging their passengers aboard and taking off for the Defiance. It wasn’t the ending Lilah had set out for, but at least they got what they came for. Six down, Nex, she thought to herself, gazing at the latest talisman clutched in her paw.
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