"Knew he'd be the one to tie you down and make an honest woman of you the moment I met him." Zinnia had rolled her eyes at her grandmother's ridiculous claim of clairvoyance. The old woman was fond of boasting about making correct predictions she could never be proved to have made in the first place.
"He was fourteen, nagyi. How could you possibly know, or even imagine, the kind of man he would grow up to be?" she asked her grandmother. The elderly woman tsked at her doubt.
"Don't question the wisdom of your grandmother, child. I was the one who raised you." Her nagyi smiled mischievously. "Though with how you turned out, perhaps my wisdom should be questioned after all."
Brendan's parents reacted to the news of their engagement with far less smugness. Annette screamed in joy, and embraced Zinnia fiercely. Any harder, and her future mother-in-law might have cracked her back. Norman hugged her far more gently, but mirth tugged his lips apart into smile that went from ear-to-ear.
"Thank you," Annette said to her, while Norman was speaking with Brendan. "It's been too long since we've seen him happy like this." She sniffled a bit, eyes watery. "I'm glad you'll be a part of our family."
A family. Something she didn't really have for a long time. No parents, siblings, aunts or uncles. Her grandpa died when she was twelve, then Aster when she was sixteen. Her grandmother was all that was left, until now. "Thank you," Zinnia replied, tears stinging her eyes as well. "I'm glad, too."
"I hope your kids like Pokémon battling. They'll have a long, long childhood otherwise," Norman joked. He looked at his wife. "It's going to be twice as hard not to talk shop at family dinners now, honey."
Annette shook her head, smiling. "I guess I'll have to make an exception from now on. But stories about Slaking's grooming habits are still banned from all shared meals."
Steven and Clair were happy for them as well. Clair went from happy to ecstatic when Zinnia asked her to be the maid of honor, vigorously answering yes. After they left the other couple's room though, Brendan told her that Clair seemed a little upset Steven hadn't proposed yet. "She should've taken a page out of your book," her fiance remarked.
"I'm surprised she hasn't," Zinnia replied. "I didn't take her for a traditionalist. Maybe this'll give Steven a kick in the butt to lock her down. Clair is hardly a patient woman when it comes to romance."
Clair had once told her that while she and Steven were just dating, she quickly grew annoyed with his slow, methodical approach. "It took him until the fourth date to kiss me!" her blue-haired friend exclaimed. "I just dragged him into my house, I was so wound up."
Wally was their last stop in the hotel. The young man bear hugged Brendan at the news. A comical sight, given that he was over half a foot shorter. Brendan laughed as he managed to pry the other man off him. "Before I ask you a question, do you promise to not try to crush me?"
"I'll try, but no promises." Wally responded, a massive grin plastered on his face. He was jittering with excitement, clearly knowing what question was coming.
"Will you be my best man?" Wally ignored Brendan's previous request, enveloping him in another vice-grip of a hug.
"Of course I will, you idiot." The green-haired man released him after a moment, then embraced Zinnia, causing her to gasp in surprise.
"Thank you for helping him," he whispered in her ear. Wally let go, and took a step back, so he could look at them both. "Is it weird to think of you two as a second set of parents?"
"Not at all," Zinnia told him. "We'll be back to make sure you've eaten your vegetables and washed behind your ears."
Now, they were in Konikoni City, to visit Olivia's jewelry shop. Brendan called in advance, and the kahuna was gracious enough to close down her shop to the public an hour early. "The pressure of picking a good ring is bad enough without people watching your every move," Olivia had stated.
The crowds in the street were dying down slowly, as some of the markets began to close. Good, maybe she won't lose too much profits on our account. People doing her favors out of friendship was something rare for her; it was usually sexual interest that drove them.
Well, I guess there's a bit of that, Zinnia admitted to herself, recalling the threesome. Still, sex with strangers was always awkward after the fact. There was no such feeling with Olivia.
They walked up to her store, and Zinnia rapped on the door three times. The door opened to reveal a Probopass. "How'd you open the door if you don't have any hands?" Brendan asked. The Pokémon glanced towards the door handle, which was iron. "Oh, right. Magnets, how do they work?"
They stepped inside, and followed Probopass to Olivia's workshop. The tall woman was sitting at a table, using a lens to examine what appeared to be an emerald. Music was playing, the Rolling Stones. It was loud enough that she didn't hear them come in.
"You train Rock-types, you sell rocks, you listen to rock, and you're practically sculpted from it," Zinnia joked. "You're so dedicated to the aesthetic, I'd be surprised if you don't sleep on a bed of quartz."
Olivia looked up at her, smirking. "Nope, my bed is softer than sand. Gotta have some contradiction in our lives." She stood up. "Enough about my rock obsession for now. Congratulations on your engagement!"
"Thank you," Zinnia and Brendan said in unison. Zinnia continued talking. "We'd like to keep it quiet for now though, so…" Olivia waved her hand to cut her off.
"I get it, no need to explain. Though, it's only a matter of time before the paparazzi sees you two wearing rings, and puts two and two together."
"You're right," Brendan said. "Might be better to get it out of the way now, so they don't pester us for weeks asking about it."
"And if they ask about when the wedding is, during the press conferences?" Zinnia asked him.
He shrugged. "We know a few people, Zee. I'll make sure the League is abundantly clear to the journalists that those questions are off limits. I can call someone up later. Back to why we're here."
"Right, the engagement rings. Did you have anything specific in mind, or do you want to take a look at the rings I have? I can make a custom one too, if you want."
Brendan fished something out of his pocket. "I'd like you to incorporate this into Zinnia's." He opened his palm, and Zinnia peered at what he held. A large shard of some sort, containing a vein of a strange metal, which scintillated under the light.
"What… Where did you get this?" she asked, shocked at the sight of the Comet Shard. "How long have you been carrying this thing?"
"About seven months now. Picked it up in Meteor Falls, when we were training Return on Salamence." Brendan turned to Olivia. "The metal inside, can you use it to make the band?"
Olivia took the shard, and examined. "Hmm, maybe. I've never worked with this metal before though. I'll have to research it a bit." She looked at Zinnia. "I've heard of Draconids making jewelry out of meteorites."
Zinnia shook her head. "I'm afraid I don't know much about it. I only kept knowledge of our traditions and legends, not our artisanal techniques. My clan hasn't had a jeweller for a century, at least." She thought for a moment, resting her hand on her chin. "Opelucid City would be my best bet. Another Draconid clan founded that place, and they are far more advanced than mine."
The kahuna nodded. "You have an idea for what jewel you want as the centerpiece?" Before Zinnia could think of an answer, Brendan spoke.
"A ruby. Matches her eyes, plus the band will be a dark color. That's her favorite color scheme." She slapped his shoulder lightly.
"Stop upstaging me!" she exclaimed, with mock irritation. Her fiance grinned.
"You upstaged me by proposing first. Let me get even." Zinnia huffed and rolled her eyes, looking back to Olivia.
"He's right, a ruby would be perfect." The other woman chuckled at their squabbling. "Now," Zinnia continued. "I suppose I get to choose what his ring is made of." Brendan opened his mouth to protest, but she lifted a finger to cut him off.
"You'll get to give your input, kedves. After I'm done." He closed his mouth, and relaxed his shoulders. "The metal should be platinum. Gold looks ugly to me, and it's not really his color. The centerpiece ought to be a star sapphire."
There was a time past that a ring like this would put her in deep debt. Prize money was enough for motel rooms, food, and medicine. Not for luxuries like this. But the marketing deals Brendan helped her with changed that.
Zinnia knew her fiance had no issue with footing the bill for anything and everything. Brendan had been given a two percent share of Devon, as a "thank you" present from Steven's father. Between that and all the money he made from being a League Champion, Brendan was worth at least two billion dollars.
But she had never been the type to let others take care of all her needs and wants. She resented men and women who married just for the money, who worked not a whit. Zinnia had seen plenty of the poor and lower-middle class, who worked hard just to put food on the table. Many Trainers she had battled came from these families, looking for a way to move up in life.
We're lucky, the two of us. She hoped she never took her status for granted. Brendan nudged her, and Zinnia realized he was trying to tell her something. "What is it?"
"I'm fine with the ring. Olivia wants to know if you want to get wedding rings while we're here?" She thought for a moment, then shook her head.
"No. I'd like to put a lot more thought into those." Zinnia looked at Brendan, who nodded in agreement. She turned back to the kahuna. "How much for the rings?"
Olivia cocked her head, likely doing rough calculations. "Well, already have the metal for your ring, so we can cut that cost out. Hmm, the time and difficulty in working a new metal… the cost of the gems and platinum… about eight thousand, give or take a grand. Though, I'll take some off. Friend's discount."
Zinnia shook her head. "Nope. You've done enough just by closing up early for us. We'll pay full price. Just send us seperate bills."
They said their farewells, and she and Brendan departed from the store. Zinnia half expected him to say his usual bit about how she didn't need to pay, but he remained silent. I hope he's finally accepted that I don't always need or want his help.
That was perhaps his greatest flaw; having a hard time knowing when to step back and let someone handle a bill or some other payment on their own. They had gone out to eat with his parents several times, and Brendan always made sure he picked up the bill first. The last time they went out, Norman looked somewhat frustrated when his son paid for the fifth time in a row.
"So," Zinnia started. "Are we going to announce it, or let it get out on its own? Actually, why don't we just wait to wear our rings? We say nothing until the tournament's over, then we let the media know."
"Well… I guess… damn it." Brendan shook his head in disappointment. "I can't believe I didn't think of that. Yeah, let's just do that." He was quiet for a bit, as they walked around, searching for a restaurant. "I guess we should really start thinking about what we're going to do after this is all done. The tournament, and whenever those terrorists or whoever are beaten."
"What do you mean? Like when we should have the wedding?" He chuckled at that, shaking his head.
"No, I'm sure my mom has been planning my future wedding since I was old enough to know what marriage was. I mean more like, how are we going to live, and where?"
She thought long and hard, and found herself stumped. Zinnia had never planned anything more than a year out. Besides avenging Aster, she had completed every goal she had. "I… don't really know. Being aimless for so long, my future plans were generally what I was going to eat the next day."
"I get what you mean," Brendan responded. "But I know what I want to do. When we're done here, I'm going to challenge Wally for my title as Champion."
"Figured you'd want to do that," she replied."I guess we'll just live together, and I could copy down my people's stories, be a Lorekeeper again. Do a tournament every now and again. Challenge you occasionally, make sure you don't get complacent."
"You know," he started telling her. "I was speaking to Drake the other day. You've never met, I'm aware, but I'm sure you're familiar with him." Zinnia nodded. "Well, he was telling me he planned on retiring soon. Wants to live his twilight years out by sailing around on his yacht, battling hotshots and upstarts. Problem is, he's reluctant to give his spot up without another worthy Dragon trainer to take his place."
The Elite Four? It was an honor, to virtually every trainer. "Hmm," she said, considering. "I might know of someone who'd be interested. But, she'd have to know her superior, was actually superior."
"Oh, she'll get her chance. After I become Champion, she can challenge the league. Drake won't give his spot up without a fight, after all. I think he'd rather spend his last years of life in the Elite Four, if he saw no replacement as strong as him in sight."
"I have a feeling he'll have proof enough when this tournament is done," Zinnia said slyly. "Enough third person talk, I'm getting hungry. Let's just settle on a place."
"Yeah," Brendan conceded. "Let's do that pizza place over…" The ringing of his smartphone interrupted him, and he pulled it out, glancing at the caller ID. "I.. think it's Looker." He answered the phone.
"Hello?" He gasped slightly. "Is she okay? Damn, that's horrible. Anyone else hurt? Goddamnit." A few seconds later, Brendan's raised his eyebrows in surprise. "You did? Well done Garchomp! Alright, I'll be there." He disconnected from the call.
"Looker?" Zinnia inquired. Brendan nodded. "What happened? It isn't Clair or your mom, or… my grandmother is it?" He shook his head. "Well what is it, then?" she demanded impatiently.
"Remember the scientist, Christine Roche?" Zinnia nodded, remembering the meek, traumatized doctor from Aether. "The compound she was being kept at was attacked. Four dead officers, more wounded. One attacker died somehow, another was captured. Cynthia was nearby, and her Garchomp caught the guy in the leg."
"By Rayquaza… Is Roche okay?" Brendan's face was grim, and he shook his head.
"No. She took two bullets to her spine, fell out a window. Paralyzed below the neck, probably for life." Zinnia hung her head in pity. I don't know if that's a life worth living.
"At least they caught the guy," she stated sadly. "Does Looker want you and Lucario to interrogate him?" Brendan nodded. "Alright, go. I'll get us something to eat, and meet you there. Where is it?"
"The Hau'oli Outskirts, a compound about a mile west of Kukui's lab. See you there, Zee. Pizza with jalapeno and pineapple for me."
Riding on Flygon, Brendan flew over the road leading to the compound. He could see news vans held up by a blockade, right before the dirt road leading to the crime scene. They always know. Hopefully not the full extent. After the attack on Aether, it was best to keep this under wraps.
Once over the compound, Flygon landed, and he returned the Pokémon to her ball. The area was filled with investigators, but this time the bodies were gone. Less to take care of this time. Brendan let out Lucario, and communicated the situation to the Aura Pokémon.
As they approached the main building, Lucario voiced a concern to him. "Master, you know this… criminal may be less forthcoming with information than Doctor Roche. Looker's ethical dilemma regarding the use of telepathy will likely prevent us from performing a successful interrogation."
"You may be right," Brendan admitted. "But let's be patient, and exhaust all other methods first. Looker might be willing to relax his personal rules, given that our target is a criminal and attempted murderer, rather than an innocent scientist. But we can't antagonize him."
"You are correct on that account, master," Lucario conceded. The two entered the fortified house, and Brendan was greeted by a familiar blonde woman, with a Garchomp at her side. The Sinnoh Champion looked exhausted, but she perked up a bit upon seeing him.
"I see you've been moonlighting as a vigilante superhero," he joked. Cynthia's lips curved into a smile, and the tired bags around her now twinkling eyes briefly disappeared. They shared a brief hug, then pulled back.
"Look who's talking. Though, I suppose you're moonlighting as an interrogator these days." She looked at Lucario. "Shame Trent is still resting from a battle. You two could have bonded over breaking a criminal down."
"No shame whatsoever," Lucario responded with disdain. The Aura Pokémon had formed a bitter rivalry with the other Lucario, which started with a philosophical debate. Trent possessed an Epicurean outlook on life, contrasting heavily with Lucario's more Stoic and spartan temperament.
Brendan and Cynthia laughed at the Pokémon's laconic reply. "Let's not irritate him anymore," he said teasingly. "Or he's sure to take it out on our prisoner. Speaking of which, how did Garchomp take him down? And how'd you get here?"
"Didn't have to get here. I was asleep in a room across the building from Roche when the attackers showed. After Aether, I offered my services to Interpol. Looker asked me if I could stay here, instead of at a hotel."
"I woke up to the sound of the Arcanine raising hell, and grabbed Garchomp. We saw a group of grunts sneaking around in the hallways, and I sent him after them. They shot at me, so I hid. He gave them a licking, but they tricked him into the basement. Didn't take long for him to get out, though."
"The assassins were running off to a helicopter, when he broke out. One was wounded, and lagged behind the others. Garchomp tore the guy's calf with his talon, and knocked him out with Poison Jab."
Brendan winced. "Ooh, Sceptile can certainly sympathize with him on that one. Where is our unfortunate and uninvited guest?"
"Basement. Looker is in the room above, planning the next approach. Guy is surprisingly hard to break, for how young he is. Just keeps saying the same phrase over and over. La-li-lu-le-lo." Cynthia shook her head. "Promises of a plea deal, swinging lights, stewing in the dark… they haven't worked."
"Could just take time," Brendan offered. "He'll break eventually, right?" The blonde shrugged.
"Interpol can't hold him indefinitely. They'll have to turn him over to the Hau'oli police in 36 hours, so he can be charged with crimes. We doubt they'll be able to get anything out of him either."
"Perhaps he will let us try a far more effective method, with such time constraints." Lucario walked off, in the direction of Looker. "Very distinct aura, his is. He is desperate."
Brendan and Cynthia followed the Pokémon to the room. They found Looker sitting at a desk, a fresh cup of coffee in front of him. The agent was deep in thought, and didn't notice them until Cynthia coughed.
Looker's head jerked up. "Oh, sorry. Come in." He beckoned them forward with his hand. He, too, looked terribly tired. Brendan suspected that the agent didn't get much sleep to begin with, on top of likely having been awake all night and all day.
"I assume you know the situation?" Looker asked him. Brendan nodded. "Good, because I'm too tired to explain it. I've bargained, gone as far as I can on mind games without tiptoeing into torture... " He sighed. "I have no options left but to wait, and hope he caves. But he won't, because the smug grin on his face tells me he knows we can't hold him here forever."
"Then let my master and I handle it," Lucario interjected. "No matter how strong his mind is, he cannot resist our combined powers of telepathy for long." Looker's face soured at the Pokémon's argument.
"No. Not a chance. It's unethical to go rooting around in someone's head, even if they are a criminal." Brendan had to scoff at that, irritated by the agent's inflexible moral code. Screw it. I don't care if this antagonizes him.
"Even if people's lives are on the line?" he countered. "We don't know a fucking thing about these assholes, other than that they have Deoxys, and all the scientists they need to revive it. More than one clock ticking here."
Looker searched his face, and started to argue back. But Brendan rolled over him, too angry to even allow the agent to say his piece. "Remember Lilycove? That's just the beginning. Someone changed those Gyarados, and turned them into weapons. What do you think they can do with that… monster? And don't tell me we don't know if they're the same group. Don't even try it."
"I've lost too damn much to these sons of bitches for you to tell me we're going to have to let this guy go without learning anything, because of some bullshit moral code. We're not going to turn him into a vegetable. Even if we did, I'd rather see a murderer piss and shit into a diaper, than watch innocent people and Pokémon get crushed by collapsing buildings again."
"You saw the bodies at Aether, twisted in ten different ways, directions bones were never supposed to be bent. Roche, paralyzed for life, and five dead here. Hundreds at Lilycove." Brendan's rage turned cold. "I'm not asking you for permission here."
There was a long silence when he finished his furious tirade. Cynthia and Looker were too shocked to say anything, while Lucario watched intently.
"Fine," Looker said quietly. "Go, interrogate him. Just… try not to cause any lasting damage." Brendan nodded, and walked out with Lucario in tow.
The two stopped in front of the door of the basement. "Alright Lucario," he started. "How are we going to do this?"
"I should be able to search his mind on my own. If I need help, I will reach out to you telepathically. It is no longer necessary for you to touch me." Lucario's next words carried a sense of warning. "Should you enter the man's head, it will be disorienting and disturbing. His mind will know your presence to be that of an intruder, and it will try to dissuade you with frightening images from his subconscious."
"An intruder?" Brendan repeated, confused. "I've read Zinnia's mind before, and there were no visions at all. Just… warmth."
"You'll only be joining because he has been resisting me. He will already be in a hostile state of mind. And I hope I don't have to explain why a criminal's subconscious will perceive you differently than your betrothed's does."
"Yeah, good points, all in all." He took a deep breath. "Alright, let's do this." Brendan opened the door, and descended. A dank, musty smell greeted his nose, the scent much like any unfurnished cellar's.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Brendan flicked on the light above the captured criminal, illuminating just him. The man was hunched over in a chair, hands cuffed behind his back, and legs zip tied to the legs of his seat. There were bandages on his calf, arm, and collarbone.
There was something bizarrely familiar about him. As he walked forward, Brendan concentrated on the man's aura. A mixture of anger, hate, and self-resentment. Can it really be him?
The man lifted his head up, and squinted in an attempt to see through the darkness. Freckles dotted his face, and scabs from popped zits. Closely trimmed red hair poked out from his black beret.
Bobby. The crass and misogynistic young man who Zinnia thrashed in the first round of the wild card. Surge's pupil, though the Gym Leader was quick to throw him to the curb after the kid's exceedingly poor showing of sportsmanship.
Brendan stepped into the light. "What an unpleasant surprise." The youth adopted a malicious sneer, and spat at his feet.
Outside the compound
"Oh, come on. Just get Looker already so he can tell you to let me in." The guard grumbled, finally walking off to fetch the agent. Zinnia tapped her foot impatiently, hoping the pizza wouldn't be too cool by the time she got inside. She held the box in one hand, carrying a bag of drinks in the other.
A few minutes later, the guard returned. "Alright, you can come in. But follow me, and don't wander off." She did as the guard asked, and he led her to a room in the far right side of the main building.
The guard opened the door to reveal Looker and Cynthia sitting at a desk in silence. Looker motioned for the guard to leave, and gestured for Zinnia to enter. She did so, closing the door behind her. "Your boyfriend is in the middle of an interrogation right now."
"Fiance," she corrected. Cynthia gasped, standing up from her chair, while Looker raised his eyebrows in surprise. Zinnia put the pizza and drinks on the desk, finally relieving her arms of their burden.
"I'd not heard," the detective stated tiredly. "Congratulations. I'd get up, but I'd rather not waste the precious moments of rest your intended has given me."
Cynthia did stand up, and hugged her. "Oh, that's wonderful!" She released her, still wearing a bright smile. Zinnia's first impression with the champion hadn't been the greatest, but Cynthia had never expressed an ounce of disapproval. It wasn't hard to see why Brendan treated her like a big sister, as understanding and kind as the older woman was.
"He didn't tell you when he got here?" she asked the blonde. "I'll have to scold him when he comes back. Though I suppose I could just dock him a slice of pizza instead."
The champion snorted. "He and his Lucario were too eager to shake down the assassin. He yelled at Looker until he agreed, then marched down to the basement, about twenty minutes ago." Cynthia paused. "When and where did he propose? Somewhere so romantic it's smothering, I assume."
Zinnia smiled. "Actually, I did. Last night, in our hotel room. Out of the blue, really. While we smothered each other." Looker groaned. She ignored him, continuing on. "We had just finished commissioning a pair of rings when he got the call."
"Wow, you beat him to the punch?" Cynthia pointed at the Salamence amulet draped around Zinnia's neck. "Knowing him, he did his best to make up for it by going all out on the ring?"
"He most certainly did," she replied with a giggle. "That show-off had been hauling around a comet shard for months, and…" The door burst open, interrupting her.
Brendan and Lucario stood in the doorframe, silent and looking grim. Concerned, Zinnia strode over to him. "What happened? Did you learn who the assassin is, what group he belongs to?"
Her fiance nodded slowly. "Yes. The assassin… it's the kid you faced in the wild card. Bobby." Brendan pinched the bridge of his nose. "Arceus, eighteen years old and already a killer. He murdered a guard, and killed one of his comrades to prevent his capture."
Looker stood up from his desk, now full of excited energy. "The group he belongs to, did you get it out of him? Who they are, how many, and who leads them? And where is-" Brendan raised his hand for quiet.
"I learned a lot. About his organization, its members, and their strength. I'll tell you all of the nitty gritty details after I eat, but… it's Team Rocket. Giovanni is back, and all of this is his doing."