My new novel-length fic, which will take you somewhere very different than my Hunger Games stories.


May 18th 341 - Monday.

Route 111 cut through the sandy hills, gray against the dark of night. The first stirrings of dawn erased one by one the stars lighting the clear spring sky. Mount Chimney stood tall, blackest among shadows, twenty miles to the North, a beacon to those seeking to reach the fires and springs of Lavaridge Town.

One by one, lone torch-lights lit the sides of the road as the savvier trainers climbed out of their tents and rubbed the sleep out of their eyes. Dawn and dusk, not midday, hid the pokemon they most prized. Those very pokemon crouched low, taking advantage of the shadows, their eyes spying for strength and kindness, for the human that would help them rise to power.

An hour's march from the route, thick bushes with deep roots crawled around the gnarly trees that offered shade to those willing to brave the edge of the wilderness. Almost invisible in those bushes, a lone wide tent was fastened to three thick tree trunks. It stretched out two feet above the ground, safe from dust, water and curious crawlies.

Inside slept two trainers, both brand new, fingers curled around the belts carrying the little red-and-white balls that housed their precious companions. They dreamed dreams of adventure, relishing in their first taste of freedom.

Silent and stealthy, a cold shadow cast by no object or body slid inside the tent.

Oo*oOo*oO

Anabel jolted upright, a violent shiver coursing up her spine. She reached out blindly for her nightstand's lamp switch. Her fingers stilled at the feel of hair. V's hair.

Anabel let out a big breath, reminded of where she was. The tent. Journeying. A grin split her cheeks.

Total darkness gave way to blurred shadows. Cool wind brushed Anabel's face. The tent fabric rippled, the zipper glinted silver.

It was open. V must've gotten too hot during the night.

V's arms and legs were wrapped around her big pillow. She'd somehow ended with only one leg still in her sleeping bag.

Anabel swallowed her laughter. Pity it'd be mean to take a picture.

She crawled to the edge of the tent and poked her head out. The edge of the sky glowed pink. Yesterday's clouds were almost all gone. Awesome.

She leaned backwards for her belt-pouch. She'd fallen asleep with it on her pillow, but she was pretty certain it crawled away on its own as soon as she closed her eyes. This time, it had ended up between the feet-end of her sleeping bag and her backpack.

Her fingers dove into the first pocket and found only air. What?

The ten-year-old scrambled to a crouch, groping around her backpack.

Where was Torchic's pokeball?

Anabel found her flashlight and winced as the glare hit her eyes.

Had the ball fallen in – she rummaged through her stuff and pulled the miniaturized bins out before throwing them to the side with a huff. Why had people been thinking when they made the cardboard bin red like pokeballs? The flash of white was just the miniaturized portable toilet.

"Ghosts!" Anabel cursed. Cursing was bad, mostly, but that was why journeying without grownups was fun.

Anabel dug through the backpack feverishly. Clothes, food, the set of cardboard plates, extra shoes… She could fill the whole tent with all the stuff she had inside, but Torchic wasn't in there.

Where was he! Sleeping bag -no-, pillow -still nothing-, V's sleeping bag – Anabel's knee accidentally dug into her best friend's side.

"Ow, what'ya doing?" V sleepily mumbled.

"Torchic!" Anabel crawled out of the tent and jumped onto the hard ground. "Torchic!" She could barely see!

A growly sigh escaped her lungs. Her starter was totally the kind of pokemon that would break out just to annoy her.

Anabel crouch-walked in the gloom, her hands groping at stones and twigs. How far could- OW! Her ankle twisted on a root. Her shoulder slammed hard against grass, the blow barely softened by the scraggly grass. Anabel groaned, spitting dirt and sand out of her mouth.

She needed her eyes to adapt to the darkness, and fast. "Valeria!" She forced herself up, wincing as her scraped hands protested. "V, do you have Treecko?"

"Ann, what -"

"I can't find Torchic! Get up!"

She kept searching, finding nothing. She forgot to breathe when V threw her thick tangled curls behind her shoulders. V had gathered all their pokeballs, and Anabel saw her own confusion mirrored in her best friend's sleepy eyes.

"They're the empty ones," V muttered, slapping down the pile in frustration. "They could have warned us if they meant to go exploring."

"What if they get lost?" It felt like an ekans was squeezing her chest. "Did… did we do something to make them hate us?"

Starter pokemon were supposed to be your best allies. With new pokemon, you had to be confident and know your stuff, but starters were supposed to know you were new at this and needed their help.

"No, pokemon challenge their trainers. That's normal. " V had a power, and that power was to sound certain. "They're loud, though, Ann." V pushed herself out of the tree tent and flashed her own flashlight around. "Did you hear anything? I didn't."

Anabel was starting to panic. She couldn't journey without a starter!

Dad would say 'see, I told you Journeys aren't worth it' and V… No! Anabel would make Mom and Dad proud. She'd make Dad see that Journeys were good. She'd prove to Grandma she meant this.

Anabel sucked in a deep breath. "TORCHIC! TREECKO! COME BACK!"

"Lavaridge is that way."

Anabel gasped, whipping to the side to find the speaker. What-

The foreign voice had sounded wrong, a cold echo, loud but whispery, as if... It wasn't a real voice, well yes, it was real. It was just–

V had picked up a stick almost as big as her. She poked at the shadows, her eyes wide and spooked.

V let the stick fall to the ground when she saw it.

Anabel screamed.

It was dark purple, misty, like it hadn't decided on a real shape. It floated between the trees, less than two yards away, its red eyes huge and mocking. Miss Lecter had told them in class that those weren't exactly real teeth, those sharp glowing things in that huge mouth, but they totally looked real.

A gastly? No too big, too… solid. A haunter or gengar, it had to be.

"Stay away," Anabel croaked.

She shuddered. The air… the ghost had made the air so cold, and she was still in her pajamas. With no pokemon to defend her.

Short clawed arms escaped the mist and pointed left. The ghost's gleaming fangs made the creepiest smile. ~I said: Lavaridge is that way.~

The cold alien voice was in her mind.

"You can speak. How did you learn?"

V sounded awed, but ghosts were bad. Dad said 'ghosts' when he wanted to swear. Anabel had picked the habit up from him. And this ghost… if it was a gengar, it was…

But Anabel had to be brave. "Did you see a torchic and a treecko?" she managed. "They're ours."

Torchic. Her little torchic. He was scary sometimes, when he didn't listen and his feathers burst into flames, but he was hers.

~No. They are not.~

Something flashed in the stormcloud of purple mist, swift as a blink. A pokeball. Torchic!

"Wha- Give it back!"

The ghost's red eyes glinted with cruel delight.

Anabel took a step back. And a second. "V, it's a thief. It's with bad guys," she breathed, looking wildly around. Nothing. She saw nothing.

And nowhere to run.

"Wait, this isn't a prank?" V said. "You're with actual people?"

A prank. Yes, yes! That's what ghosts did. An evil prank to get them terrified. Okay, it had totally worked. Could they get their pokemon back now?

~We are magnanimous -~ it paused. ~That means nice.~ Anabel jerked her head. The cold pulsing words shattered her thoughts, emptying her mind to fill it with echoes. It was wrong. She didn't want it there. Get out! ~ You may leave unharmed.~

"This isn't what 'nice' is," V protested, pushing long tangled curls out of her face.

That only made the horrible grin wider.

Anabel couldn't move. The sharp chill bit into her exposed skin. She waited for the pokeballs to drop out of the ghost, for the evil joke to be over.

"Pokeballs have trackers," she shakily managed. "We'll get them back. We…" She squared her shoulders. She was bigger than it! "We'll tell the Rangers!"

The ghost's grin sharpened further, its eyes burning with evil.

It was so dark. Around them there were only sandy hills and clusters of tall trees. Fear. Ghosts fed on fear. If Anabel stopped being scared, it would get bored and stop this.

"That's enough," she said more strongly. "Give it back."

The wilds could be trouble. They were for experienced trainers only, those with five Gym badges or more. But these weren't the wilds. They were less than a mile off the route. They'd not broken any rule. Rangers were supposed to keep places safe!

"Are you male or female?"

Ghosts, V, what?

Two more clawed stubby appendages popped out of the… gengar. Anabel shuddered. She'd never wanted to see one like this, not before she was experienced and had a full pokemon team.

~Male. What could a cub like you have of interest for me?~ It, he, spoke every syllable of every word, like a professor, except evil.

Slowly, it floated towards V. Towards them both.

It was so cold, and those glinting eyes -

Anabel wrapped her arms around her chest. "They're our starters!" She was too upset to manage more than an outraged snarl.

Stubborn, rowdy, but they were theirs. Torchic and Treecko were supposed to grow together and become awesome! He couldn't do this!

"If you fainted them," Anabel spluttered, "I'll… I'll…"

"What do you want, Gengar? You can't be a thief for real."

V's hand was warm around Anabel's arm. Almost warm enough for bravery. Would Torchic hear her shout for him, from inside his pokeball? Anabel's scream died in her throat. A gengar. What if the ghost attacked them?

She gasped when her mind filled once more with frost.

~They are needed elsewhere.~

"You liar!" Anabel exploded. "They're -"

~Bad bad little girls, deep in the wilderness.~ The ghost's grin was huge, fangs glinting brighter than the moon. ~How foolish you are to think you could survive here.~

Anabel lunged with a furious scream. V yanked her back.

"We're going to tell on you!" Anabel shouted, struggling against V's grip.

~We know your faces and names, Valeria, Anabel. You do not want us to be enemies.~ Anabel shuddered. She couldn't stop shivering. ~The Professor's records hold your parents' addresses. I will come and go unnoticed and, because of you, they will pay the price. ~

"No, you know," V whispered. "You don't have to tell. Who's your trainer? They're no good. Don't listen to them."

Anabel's heart punched against her ribs like a furious machamp, droning out V's voice. He'd threatened their families. He'd hurt Mom and Dad and it'd be her fault.

Anabel breathed in deeply, and then out. She had to calm down. Fix this. She was supposed to be good with emotions. She knew that June was mean because she was angry all the time. She knew that Nico said stupid things because he panicked around people. She knew Mel was loud and hyper because attention made her so happy. But the gengar… his red eyes shone like he was happy, a hungry type of happy that made her sick, but she sensed nothing, not even the faintest chimes of happiness.

Just chill sucking everything good out of the air.

"… lose their Trainer's License," V was saying, as if the ghost was a six-year-old kid who just needed things explained instead of an evil! ghost!

The ghost's smirk was gone as he stared back at her. ~Rules is an empty word where there is no strength, cub.~

"Catch, you're dumb," V snapped, taking a step forward. "You're clever, except dumb because you let them make you bad." Her skin glowed purple. She was way too close to that monster. "You've got to steal your own pokeball, not ours. You'll get stuck in a computer forever when your trainer gets caught. They're not worth it. You can come with us."

Was V MAD? The ghost had threatened –

"If you don't like it, we'll free you," V continued. "You don't have to be a… a villain."

~To the buyers, I am a hero.~ He straightened, taller, leaner but still very much a beast of mist and darkness. ~You overestimate yourself, Valeria.~ His teeth were hidden now but the voice in their minds was fangs of ice. It hurt.

Suddenly, the sharp toothy grin was back and the ghost was pointing. ~Lavaridge is that way. Do not get lost: I dislike carting corpses.~

Corpses.

The ghost's red eyes blinked out. A shapeless shadow glided away between the trees.

"No, wait!" Anabel cried. "You can't -"

Nothing but darkness, low bushes, and those sharp painful roots. He'd vanished.

"No," Anabel breathed. Torchic, with his big round head and soft red feathers and piping willful voice. "NO!" Not her pokemon. Not her starter. Not like this.

A furious scream left Anabel's lungs. She grabbed V's discarded stick and broke into a run. "COME BACK HERE!"


Author's note: Those of you who are familiar with anime canon (Battle Frontier episodes) might remember Anabel (Lila in the OV). She's the psychic who tell Ash that she's been able to feel what every living being (including plants) feel since she was a little girl. In this tale, I consider that she exaggerated to wow Ash, and because the truth is too complicated and personal to share with strangers. Anabel's psychic abilities are still fledgling in this story. They will become a major plot point in the sequel.

I am using a mix of various canon materials and have taken a number of liberties. I try nevertheless to be faithful to the spirit of the pokemon world.

Don't hesitate to share your thoughts.