It had been a shitty day of travel. Rigorous mountain terrain and a horrible game of cat and mouse had drained both Arti and Gary. Every turn along the mountainside lead to more soldiers or dead end trails. And now rain poured down in buckets, slowing their progress. The dry ground, unable to absorb the harsh rainfall, gave way to small streams of dirt coloured water washing away the top layers of soil.
Neither of them were sure how exactly they had gotten away from them in the first place. They had woken along the riverside what felt like shortly after they had been knocked out. Gary was sure he'd seen a shadowed figure run into the bushes when he woke up. Whatever it might have been didn't stick around. It was far too large to be a human, and the only human he knew with a tail had been laying beside him, unconscious.
"I'm hungry…" Arti groaned. She came to a hard stop and sat on a fallen tree. The dry rotted wood cracked under her weight but remained intact. "The water diet just isn't doing it for me."
"It's not like you didn't just eat yesterday..." Gary sighed. "I haven't seen anything in the sky since the storm started, I wonder if they gave up."
"Probably not. They're just waiting for the rain to drive us out."
Hazy gray clouds completely blocked the sun and the once distant thunder grew louder. Stray bolts of lightning struck ahead of their path at the mouth of the valley. Gary pulled his phone from his pocket to check the time, dead.
"Great. Even if Gramps got my messages, we're not going to know."
"Like I've said, for all we know they've got someone sitting on him in Pallet Town, just waiting for us to contact him."
"Well, it's not like we can contact your family to help."
The silence between them was made more awkward by the rattling thunder and Arti's stomach. Her stomach which was loud enough to be heard even during the the loudest part of the boom.
"I'm going to take my chances in the sky."
"Blue, don-." Before he could stop her, she took off into the sky. "God damnit, we agreed no flying..."
Even if he wanted to, he had no way to chase her. Of the six pokemon on his belt, none were capable of flight. The only one with either of them capable of flight was Arti's weird flying eeveelution they dubbed Zyphyreon. Zephy for short. Neither of them were able to tell what caused one of her two lifelong pet Eevees to evolve into the flying type, but their research showed he seemed to be prompted to evolve because of Arti.
Twigs under gary's feet snapped as he paced back and forth while he watched the sky. Under his breath he worried about Arti being spotted or over exerting herself only to crash to the ground. Thankfully her trip didn't last long. She landed with a splash. The ground was deceptive, leaves covered pools of water and muck like hidden sink traps.
"Ugh, nasty. Why did the rain decide to come back now of all times." She shook one foot then the other trying to get the mud from her sandals. "I don't see any sign of anyone. No drones, no pokemon, no helicopters."
"They're probably waiting at the mouth of the valley then."
"Then we're just going to have to fight past them." Her stomach roared again. "I don't think even Articuno will be much help though. I'm spent."
"The pokemon haven't eaten either, I'm not sure using them is a good idea."
Another flash of lightning struck, this time nearly on top of them. The ground shook and came loose under them as a small mudslide began. Water rippled and sloshed down the hillside washing dead leaves and branches with it down into the river.
The river wasn't far from them, they made a point to stay close enough to it that they could stop for a drink if needed, but far away enough that they couldn't be tracked along the river's edge. The landslide that took out their home had blocked most of the water from reaching where they were but it looked as though the rain had broken up the blockage. Chunks of wood from the house passed by as an explosive burst of water began to carve into the river's edge. They were safe where they were, but the change in events was an opportunity.
"We need to find a way to ride with that mess and get out of here." Gary pointed upstream where a large part of the roof of their house was crashing along. "If we can hide in there we might get past them."
"You're crazy, right? We'll be crushed."
"Not if we get some help."
In the blink of an eye, Gary's oldest pokemon appeared. Blastoise grunted and stretched. Both his cannons and shell showed age, scapes and chips from battles long ago scarred the old turtle.
"Alright then…" Arti's hands rested on her hips. "What now-ow,ow,ow?"
"We make a run for it to catch up with the debris," Gary grabbed her by the arm and pulled her along. Together they ran with Blastoise towards the wreckage. "Blastoise will help us steer it with hydro pump."
The water that had been trapped behind the house-dam created an immense tsunami like effect. Water violently threw trees, and rocks. Even cars from before the village had been abandoned were shoved along the mucky embankment.
Once they reached the side of the raging river, they had little time to think. Immediately the three jumped into the floating wreckage and tried to find cover so that they wouldn't be seen. Blastoise positioned himself to hold the rickey raft from caving in on them. Between the raft of broken logs and the ravaged roof they felt every jolt as wreckage collided with each other and the rocks hidden below the rapids.
It felt like an eternity as they clung to each other. The great roar of the river made it impossible to hear anything no matter how loud it was yelled. Still, Blastoise knew his job. Cannons fired in small bursts to keep them from crashing into the jagged rocks along the shore. As fast as everything began, it ended. The water slowed and quieted. It was deeper now, and less brown, they had made it into the lake past the mouth of the valley. With the wider capacity, things began to drift apart, the raft was quickly disintegrating.
"I think it's time to abandon ship." Gary said, beckoning Blastoise to follow them. "Get us to the shore."
Blastoise lowered himself into the water so that only his head, shell and cannons were visible. Gary helped Arti onto its back before climbing on as well.
"Fuck me." Arti suddenly swore. She pointed to the shorelines behind where they had emerged. "They're right there still."
Lined along the rim of the valley was an encampment. Tents ravaged by the storm were mostly intact, the ones that had fallen or become damaged were being repaired by people in the same armed suits that had tried to capture them the night before.
"Let's keep it low," Gary said. "Heads only above water. If we can get to land we'll be able to get out of here."
Slowly, Blastoise swam towards the shore. He paused behind debris giving Gary time to watch for any sign of being spotted. Once they climbed on shore, he recalled the giant turtle back to his pokeball. Both him and Arti made a dash for the trees, a difficult feat with sopping wet clothes. They crashed to the ground behind a mass of moss covered rocks. Gary's heart was thumping hard against his chest. Catching his breath felt harder than usual.
The quiet mountain life had caused them both to become comfortable, too comfortable. Never had someone came so close to catching them. Part of him had hoped the outside world had given up on finding Arti and they'd be able to go back to Pallet Town, or wherever they wanted, and live a normal life. Normal obviously wasn't on the menu yet. In fact, straight up fucked up was the new special.
Although he had been unconscious at the time, hearing that Arti's father was responsible for the attack on them was a surprise, to put it lightly. As far as either of them knew, he was supposed to be dead, and that was probably a good thing. The first time Gary met him when he was still only a pokemon trainer and he knew something was off about the crazy old man. Over time, his gut instinct just proved to be more and more factual. Right up to the day of the Prussian Lab explosion.
Slow drips of water fell from the leaves above onto their heads. The racing thoughts finally slowed down. He had caught his breath and his mind began to relax with each drop of water falling on his face. Even though rain was still falling, it was nothing like the torrent the valley was getting.
"They're gonna be in Goldenrod." Arti moaned. She tried to wring out the excess water from her shirt. "I... don't think we're getting out of this one."
"Don't talk like that." Gary snapped. "You're not giving yourself up to th-"
"If I don't, they're going to hurt you too." She looked away to where the soldier's encampment would be if not for the tree cover. "Running away from crazy trainers is one thing. This is a fucking army."
"We're going to get out of this."
"And what the hell is my father doing alive?" She threw her arms into the air and shook off the water collecting on her wings. "I don't even want to begin to wrap my head around that. If he's been around since this happened to me, why didn't he do something? A fucking article in a newspaper, a call out on TV, anything. He's my fucking father. He's supposed to protect me not be hunting me."
Whenever the fuck-train came chugging along, Gary knew to let her have her rant and things would blow over when she was done. He gave her a few minutes to calm down before taking her hand.
"We need keep moving."
"Alright. But if we get into another situation like last night-"
"I'm not leaving you."
She shot him a frown before conceding the fight. "Okay, okay… let's go then."
It was dark by the time they reached Goldenrod, it felt well past midnight. The storm had long since passed and a full moonlit sky gave the feeling of it still being dusk. Silence fell over the small town, it was almost as if it had become a ghost town. Not even the pokemon center, something that was normally available 24 hours, was lit up.
Since the fall of the village in the valley, Goldenrod was almost like a second home to Gary. He spent a lot of his time making use of the small research lab which Nurse Joy was kind enough to share with him. It was usually only for when he needed to get in contact with colleagues, but having somewhere else to talk that kept his actual location secret was vital. A lot of the research he shared was actually Arti's work too, but he was sure never to reveal her being with him to anyone but Professor Oak or Ash Ketchum back in Pallet Town. There had been a few near slips, most of them being Prof Oak having others at the lab and not warning Gary before they began to talk. Gary was pretty sure Ash probably had slipped a few times by now too but at least nothing came of it. Even in his twenties Ash still often acted like a ten year old.
The pair crouched behind a short cinder block wall that surrounded the edge of the town. Thorny bushes climbed the stone wall edge making it awkward to simply jump over but not impossible. Overall, It seemed like quite an ineffective wall. Only being a few feet tall, even if it was meant as decorative, it could have at least been made of something, anything, else more aesthetically pleasing.
"I'm pretty sure they're here." Gary whispered. "We'll have to be quick."
Arti nodded. The plan was simple in theory, but execution could easily backfire. Get in. Get out. Get the hell outta town with the loot. It wasn't like them to steal things, but walking into a store wasn't an option. Even if things weren't closed, they'd be spotted instantly. A mud caked, soggy, pair - one of whom is part articuno - walking into a store isn't exactly incognito, it sounded more like a punchline of a bad joke. If only that's what the past day had been, a horrible joke.
"Come on, Umbreon." Gary called the dark eevee from his ball. "Scout out ahead for us."
Umbreon offered a grunt of approval then hopped to work. Over the fence and nose to the ground, off he sprinted ahead.
They stayed as close behind as they could. Waiting at the edge of each building before moving forward to the next. The further into the town they crept, the more obvious it was guards were hiding in the shadows too. Silhouettes on roof tops shone brightly in the starlit night. Occasionally a cracking voice over a radio would alert them to their hunters' presence and force them to change course.
Finally, they arrived at their destination. A medium sized building made of perfectly laid gray stone bricks and two bright red doors. A handwritten sign hung in one of the windows of the door "Closed. Open tomorrow at 8AM". Above that, a shabby wooden sign "Louisa's Market" clacked lightly against the doorframes in a passing breeze.
"Sylvie, get the locks for us."
Arti didn't even have time to take sylveon's ball from her belt. Sylvie popped out and stretched her neck bow ribbons forward. "'Veeeeon!" she yipped a bit louder than anyone desired.
Under the door and up the other side went the ribbons. Click. The lock popped and one of the doors slowly creaked open.
"Good girl, come back for now, sweetie."
Umbreon's ears twitched, he pointed his nose up and began sniffing.
"We'd better get in," Gary nudged Arti inside ahead of him. "I think someone's coming."
Even inside, Umbreon was still on alert. While Gary began looking over the merchandise lining the shelves along the walls, the pokemon walked off on his own.
"We can't take much." Gary reminded her. 'And be quiet, she lives upstairs."
Arti had already walked off to the tiny clothing section in the corner. He could hear the hangers shuffling as she ravaged the rack.
It looked as though someone had left a light on in the back somewhere, that would be all the light they would have to use, that and the moonlight through the window. The extremely dim lighting made it hard to see the items on the shelves. Thankfully he knew his way around, somewhat.
Unlike her, he was trying to be more practical. He had been here countless times to pick up supplies so navigating around wasn't so bad once he got his bearings. A backpack to carry everything, random snacks, a few cans of food items… a can opener too of course, a pair of water bottles with built in water filters, a few other essentials for camping out, nothing crazy. He packed everything into the backpack as he pulled it from the shelves.
Oh wait, a flashlight. He wasn't sure where that would be located. After a bit of fumbling along the shelves and knocking a few things to the floor, he finally conceided that there may not be one.
"Arti?" he called out quietly as he moved to the checkout counter in the back. "Are you done?"
He pulled his wallet out and thumbed through the soggy wad of cash he had with him. It wasn't enough to cover what they were taking, but he felt bad not paying for anything. He spread the bills out on the counter beside the cash register and hoped the shop owner wouldn't be too pissed. Oh, right. He grabbed a few things from the candy display. Hopefully Arti would appreciate him thinking of her sweet tooth.
Another light suddenly popped on over his head as he was laying out the last bills.
"What the-" The shop keep stood with a shotgun pointed toward Gary but quickly lowered it when she saw what was happening. "Gary Oak, what the heck?"
Gary's heart stopped. He didn't even realize he'd thrown his hands in the air but now lowered them slowly.
"I guess the girl is with you?" Louisa tipped another light switch with the tip of the gun barrel, the entire shop came to life. Her gray-streaked, brown hair, blue eyes, and wrinkled face showed her age, "Let them go, Liepard."
Arti quickly ran out from the back of the store with Umbreon and Leipard close behind her. Sporting a frilly tank top and blue jeans, she apparently had found something she liked to change into at least. Over her arm looked to be something she had chosen for Gary as well. She nearly plowed into him him and his still muddy and wet clothes, but he managed to catch her by the shoulders then frowned. Even without saying anything they both knew what he meant.
"We need to get out of here." Gary didn't know how to explain the situation, but the fact Louisa wasn't freaking out over Arti's appearance left him even more unsure what to say.
Umbreon and Liepard growled at each other, slowly getting louder and louder. He recalled Umbreon to his pokeball to prevent it escalating to more than growls.
"Running from th' asshole brigade, I assume? Excuse my language." Louisa shouldered her gun and began to pet Liepard's head with her free hand while the huge cat circled around her. "They came in here yesterday lookin' for you… and her…" Louisa passed an odd look at Arti.
"They found us yesterday, we're trying to find a wa-" Arti stopped.
Everyone went silent. Listening. The sound of people talking outside was coming closer.
Quickly, Louisa snapped the lights back off. "Out th' back, now." she said. "Take th' bag... and th' money." She grabbed the cash Gary had left for her and shoved it back towards him. "Go in th wine cellar, I'll meet you there when it's clear."
There was no time to protest. Into the hall and out the back, as quick as they could while they still tried to not make a huge ruckus.
"The cellar's under the shed in the back." Gary whispered. "I helped her around the store when we first moved here, it's kinda hard to find."
Out the backdoor, along the cobblestone path to the rickety shed. The smell of rotting ground mixed with fomenting fruit blended together in a horrible smell. The shed door was only being held on by one of its two hinges now making it difficult to open and impossible to close.
Gary, with Arti's help, shifted some of the wine barrels off to the side of the room. Under the layers of dirt and dust, a door to the underground cellar. He dusted off the handle area and huffed it open to reveal a packed dirt stairway.
"Get in, be careful."
Arti carefully stepped down into the pitch dark with an audible "ugh" of disgust. "It smell like death. I can't see a thing."
"Watch out for the roots." Gary warned. He entered and closed the lid behind him. "We need to get to the room below where it's ventilated. Put your hand on the wall and walk slowly down, you should find the second door."
He really wished he had that flashlight right now.
"Ow. I found the door. Or maybe it found me." Arti groaned. "I don't feel a handle."
"Just push it."
The door creaked and Arti grunted. "It's not moving."
Gary slowly squeezed in beside her, the stairway felt like it had gotten smaller since he was last there, roots were coming down farther from the ceiling than the last time he'd visited.
"One, two, push!"
A branch had grown behind the door. The added push power cracked both it and the rotted door. Together they tumbled forward into the room and onto the cold stone ground. The air changed immediately upon entering the room. Cold, clean, almost crisp but not quite as nice as the mountain air had been.
Louisa clearly let the place go to hell since Gary stopped helping her. Maybe she'd never really found someone to replace him when he told her he was too busy to continue. He wished he had a way to repay her for helping them now, but it wasn't exactly the best of time to clean shit up.
"I think I broke my butt." Arti said from somewhere beside him. "I was expecting a nice, soft, muddy landing."
"I guess I should have warned you about that." Gary sighed, staring into the darkness. "I think they carved out the middle of a giant rock to make this cave. It used to be lit but I guess their lighting burnt out."
"What a time to not have a light."
"If only you were a moltres, huh?"
"Oh, fuck you."
Both laughed despite the shitty situation.
"If only Arcanine was still around." Gary sighed.
Silence... In the past several years Gary had given up on catching new pokemon. Instead he held close bonds to some of the first pokemon he'd ever caught on his adventures. Arcanine was one of the first of his original team to pass. Old age was the official cause but they suspected it was poisoned by something much stronger than pokemon could do. Something made by a human. Just mentioning Arcanine caused his eyes to sting.
Arti's hand slowly patted along his arm, moving downward as it searched for his.
"You're still nasty. Wet and muddy."
He felt the dry fabric from the clothing she grabbed for him being shoved his way.
"I know…" He sat up and threw his soggy shirt off in a random direction.
"Do you trust her to not set us up?" she asked.
"Louisa? She wouldn't do something like that."
"She had a gun in my face…"
"She thought we were robbing her…"
"This is true…"
The darkness had one benefit, if anyone way secretly around at least they didn't get a peep show while he changed.
Sylvie's ribbons wrapped around his hands and made a disturbing 'petting' motion.
"Your Sylveon is a complete creeper, you know that right?"
"She just loves you, and hates the pokeball."
He popped Umbreon's ball form his belt letting his eeveelution out as well. The dark type's eyes glowed brightly as it looked around the room. It wasn't exactly the best lighting, but at least everyone could see a glimpse of each other's faces now.
"Hey, buddy. Go control your girlfriend."
Sylvie instantly moved her affections from her people to her lover instead. Snuggled together, the two eeveelutions laid down on the ground with their trainers.
"We just got rejected." Arti snorted. "Ah well… How long do you think we'll be down here?"
"Maybe an hour, maybe til morning." Her stomach loudly rumbled and interrupted him. "I guess you thought clothes were more important than food, huh?"
He reached into the bag at his side and pulled out some of the snacks he'd managed to grab. She quickly snapped up the chocolate covered peanuts. He knew her all too well.
"No… You know-"
"I'm kidding, Blue."
"No, you're just a jerk, Spikes."
"Wow, you haven't called me that in a while."
"And you know I hate being called Blue."
"Alright, alright." Gary held his hands up in defeat. He tried to suppress a yawn but it was impossible to stop it. "I'm about to pass out. Let's take a rest."
Arti shuffled close and settled her head on his shoulder. "Where do we go from here, love?"
"I think we need to get back to Kanto and see what's going on. They'll be expecting us, but something about their story isn't adding up."