My parents knew I was Ariados-Man. There was no way they couldn't. They were the people who found me after the attack. I called them from Blackthorn, the place of my first public appearance on the very same day.
Let's face it, my dual identity is one of the worst kept secrets in history. Anyone who knows about my attack could figure it out if they wanted to.
I was home in Goldenrod, sitting at the kitchen table. Since Harry's death, I hadn't done much of anything. I hardly ate and I slept only when I was too tired to stay awake.
To their credit, my parents did a great job of pretending they were ignorant about my powers, especially during this time of grief. But they really were ignorant to the fact Harry was the Green Gengar, and that he inherited that identity from his dead father. Hell, until last week, NO ONE knew Harry's dad was even dead! Harry was that good an actor and secret-keeper.
The point is, they don't know how much of Harry's insanity and death are my fault.
Dad sat on one side of me, Mom on the other, both holding cups of coffee.
"Ben, dear," Mom said.
"Not hungry," I said flatly.
"Harry's not coming back, son."
"I'm grieving, Dad. Not stupid."
"Harry was a good kid an--"
"I know you know," I said softly.
They both froze.
"Some hero, huh?" I continued. "The whole experience made me realize Ariados are more powerful than people give them credit for, and I couldn't save him. We were closer than brothers and I couldn't help him. I couldn't be there for him..."
"Ben," Mom said, taking my hand. "It's not your fault. Harry--"
~You don't know everything,~ I said telepathically, scaring both of them. They didn't know I could do that. In fact, until recently, I couldn't do that.
Not giving my parents time to recover from the surprise, I got up, grabbed one of my pokéballs, and went into our back yard.
Once outside, I must have spent twenty minutes staring at my mask and out into space. My last little adventure cost me more than my friend. My faith was shaken. Not just in myself, but in the world in general.
Was I making any kind of difference? To anyone, anywhere?
And to make matters worse, I'd learned some things about my powers that confused the hell out of me.
I opened the pokéball, releasing the mutant Ariados that had given me my abilities. It screeched and tried to attack me yet again. I sighed as I recalled it. Whenever that thing was let out, it tried to savagely attack the closest living thing. Once, it even killed two Pidgey before I could hit it with the return beam.
And why were my psychic abilities suddenly ten times stronger? Before, I could only sense and read minds. I'd never been able to send messages, or alter thoughts and memories. And then there was the agility.
I began to leap and bounce around the yard, which I shouldn't have been able to do. Ariados are not agile. In fact, they're one of the slowest Pokémon ever discovered.
The thing that disturbed me the most however, was what Giovanni told me about the mutant Ariados:
"Its venom has the ability to transfer Ariados-like powers to the victim, but none of the test subjects have survived the process. I wonder how you did."
I was wondering that myself as I came to a stop, clinging to the side of my house. When I was first attacked, more venom was pumped into me than any other recorded case of Ariados attack (not hard to do, as there were only two others), but the doctors purged it out my system. So technically, I shouldn't have any powers.
Then I remembered: the Ariados also attacked me with its Night Shade attack! Did the energy somehow mutated the venom? Or had the doctors missed some? And if that was the case, was I dying as we speak?
With a roar of frustration, I blasted the back bushes with a Night Shade bolt. And nearly fried Ebony, the family Umbreon.
Actually, Ebony was really mine, but she's stayed home throughout all my adventures and such. She was given to me as an Eevee for my fifth birthday, and I raised her as a pet really, not to battle. She evolved into Umbreon the night of the attack, helping to scare the Ariados off, and she's been a bit protective of me ever since.
"Sorry, girl," I said, jumping to the group as she ran over to me. I pet her and she rubbed against me. "I've missed ya. Have you been good for Mom and Dad?"
"Hey, maybe you can help me out. You know about me and dressing up in that silly costume, right?"
"Well, what would you say if I told you I was thinking about not doing it anymore?"
She trotted away, picked up my mask in her mouth (which I had dropped in my bouncing around), and shoved it into my hands.
I chuckled and rubbed her head. "Let's go for a walk," I said, getting up and shoving the mask into my pocket.
I love Goldenrod City. You couldn't ask for a better place to call your hometown. Our crime rate was the lowest in all of Johto. Almost everyone was friendly and jerks were few and far between. Our Pokémon Mega-Mart has the best prices in the country. Whitney is one of the nicest, sweetest gym leaders ever (and I admit, she's not that bad looking).
Speaking of girls:
"Gallo?" a voice called from behind me and Ebony. "Benjamin Gallo, is that you?"
I turned around "Zoë?! Zoë Tuner?!"
The girl in question laughed and nearly knocked me over with a hug. "I haven't seen you since my 15th birthday party! Where have you been?"
"Around," I chuckled as I returned the embrace. I've known Zoë almost as long as I did Harry, but when she turned 15, she went to a fancy school for journalism soon after and we lost touch. I honestly thought I'd never see her again.
"God, look at you!" she said as we broke apart. "Where's that skinny little nerd I used to pick on? Who's this buff looking Pokémon trainer?"
"Probably the same place as the little geek with freckles and glasses," I replied. Holy smokes, she was hotter than a Magmar in Cinibar's volcano! I had to fight the urge to read what she really thought about me.
She laughed. "Probably! So, what have you been up to?"
"Oh, wandering around, pretending to be a trainer. What about you?"
"I'm home for the summer, but my mom got me a part time job at the Radio Tower. I'm an intern for Mary. On my way there right now, actually. Which means I gotta go. Call me sometime, alright? Your mom has my cell number."
"I'll do that," I said.
"Great!" She then grew sort of sad. "I heard about Harry. I'm here for you, Gallo. You hear me?"
I smiled. "Thanks," I said. "And the same goes for you. He was your friend too."
"Thanks," she said, so softly that I was barely able to hear her. She then gave me another hug and ran off.
I watched her go (Man, she is so freaking HOT) and then looked down at poor Ebony who had been ignored during the whole exchange. She looked like she was on the defensive, just in case Zoë tried to pull anything.
Like I said, protective.
"Come on you freak," I said to her. "Let's get going."
I tried to spend the rest of the day not thinking about Harry and more specifically, Ariados-Man. I went shopping, visited some old friends, played a few slot machines at the Game Corner. I was doing so well too, but then an old enemy of mine went and ruined it for me.
I was playing with Ebony in the backyard when Mom came running out. "Ben!" she called. She looked terrified. She tried to say something, but all that came out were stammering sounds.
"Mom, what is it?" I asked, walking towards her.
"Someone took over the Radio Tower," she forced out. "The Rhyhorn or something..."
I ran past her and into the living room where Dad was listening to the radio and looking grave.
"I repeat," said a familiar voice over the radio. "This is the Rhydon. I've taken over this radio station and unless you do what I say, I'm gonna start smashing heads. Literally. I think I'll start with this little hottie of an intern."
Then someone else's voice came on the air, and she was crying. "Please, don't hurt me..."
"Zoë!" I shouted.
Dad turned around to say something, but I was already gone.
Okay, like the name implies, the Rhydon is a guy dressed in a Rhydon suit. However, he's not to be taken lightly. At all.
That suit gives him all the powers of his namesake. Namely, he's HUGE, nearly unstoppable and probably the strongest human on the planet. He's dumb, but he learns. It used to be that he had all a Rhydon's weaknesses too, but after I exploited each one, it was fixed when he came back. He even completely covers his face now. Last time we fought...well, we didn't actually fight. As Ben Gallo, I saw him coming a mile away and just fried his brains with a psychic bolt. He's probably got some sort of immunity now.
I didn't find out that day, because I wasn't thinking at all. I put on my costume and swung to the tower with one thing in mind: make him pay! I already lost one friend, no way in hell was he gonna take another!
I crashed through the window just as he the Rhydon was reaching for Zoë.
"Get away from her!" I shouted. "NOW!"
"Bug boy," he growled. And swung his tail at me. I caught it, and used it to throw him out the window, breaking it even more (the guy is like five times my size). I then jumped after him. He had created a small crater when he landed, and was getting up. "That almost hurt."
"Here, try this!" I screamed, blasting him repeatedly with Night Shade.
He didn't feel it though. He just waited till I was close enough and pounded me with his huge, rock hard fist. I slammed into the wall of a building.
My ribs were cracked. I didn't care. I got up. I leapt at him. And I punched him square in the jaw. He actually fell on his back.
"I'll kill you for that!" he said as he got up. "Then I'll smash that pretty little girl!"
"You so much as touch her and I'll peel your face off!"
He laughed, tapping his face mask. "How?" The drill-like horn on his head than began spinning and he charged. I caught him with one hand and jammed the talons of my other into the face plate.
"Like this!" I cried, ripping the mask off with all my strength.
Rhydon screamed. Holding his face, he swung around and his tail creamed the side of my head. I went flying, crashed into another building, and could only see colored spots in front of everything. My body was no doubt screaming in agony, but I still didn't care.
As I tried to get up, he slammed me into the wall by charging into me. He backed up, let me fall, and then did it again. Calling whatever strength I could, I jumped straight up. Rhydon went crashing through the wall, and when he came back out, I landed on his back.
"Who are you?" I said as I placed my hands in his face. "I mean-" I fired two Night Shades at point blank- "who the hell do you think you are?!"
I jumped away as he screamed and tried to swat me like the bug he thought I was.
"You think just because there's something different about you, something that makes you stronger and tougher, that you're better than everyone?!" I landed feet first right on his head, slamming it into the pavement.
"Just because you can squish people like grapes doesn't mean you should!" I ducked another massive punch and delivered two of my own to his gut. "Doesn't mean I'll let you get away with it!"
I jumped up again and punched him in the face. He fell down, and I webbed him to the road. I then landed on top of him and just started pounding him in the face. I just started screaming, letting all my pent up rage and grief out.
Harry is gone.
I couldn't save him.
I failed him as a friend.
This monster was going to kill Zoë.
I would not fail her.
Finally, through my tear and blood soaked mask, I saw that the Rhydon was out cold and he wouldn't be waking up anytime soon. I stood there gasping for several of the longest seconds of my life, and then passed out right on top of him.
To be perfectly honest, I don't remember what happened next. Hell, I don't remember most of that fight. What I do remember is waking up in my own bed in my own room, and dressed in some of my old clothes. Ebony was lying next to me, and again, I was somehow completely healed.
Dad knocked on my door. "Great job son," he said.
"I'll take your word for it," I groaned, sitting up.
He chuckled. "You gave me and your mother quite a scare, but it's a relief to see you're okay. And you have company."
He backed out of the doorway and Zoë walked in. She was carrying a box under her arm. "Hey, Gallo," she said.
Ebony woke up at the sound of her voice and again got into a defensive position. She actually growled when Zoë tried to sit on the bed.
"Dad!" I called.
"Come on, girl," he called. "Give them some privacy."
Ebony glared at Zoë one last time and went to my Dad. Dad then closed the door, leaving me and Zoë alone.
"You saved my life," she said softly. "You were almost killed."
I was about to say something but then I realized what she just said. "You know?!"
She rolled her eyes. "I'm a reporter, Gallo! Plus, your mom told me all about your attack and that you were in the Blackthorn the day and time of Ariados-Man's first appearance. Face it Gallo, your dual identity is one of the worst kept secrets in history."
I sighed. "I'm gonna have to talk to her about what she tells people."
She chuckled and shook her head. "Our parents think we're engaged."
"Despite the fact we haven't even seen or talked to each other for two years."
Upon my request, she filled in what happened in the fight with Rhydon and what happened afterwards. Apparently, paramedics took me off the huge freak (hopefully before the press got any embarrassing pictures) and put me in an ambulance. However, they got distracted with checking on the casualties of the (nothing serious, thank God) and since I seemed to be healing fine on my own, they forgot about me. My parents and Zoë then snuck me home, treated my wounds (what was left anyway), and put me to bed.
"I stayed by your side until I remembered something," Zoë said. She handed me the box. "The night of the Giovanni kidnaping, Harry stopped by. He said that if something were to happen to him, I was to get this to you. It was like he was saying good-bye." A few tears ran down her cheeks. "I guess he was."
"Thank you," I said.
She sniffed and wiped her eyes. "What now?" she asked. Her voice was shaking, but she was trying hard to regain her composure.
"I'm gonna stay in town for about a week, then--"
"No. Are you gonna keep playing hero? Are you gonna keep doing this?"
I looked down at the box. "I honestly don't know."
"Well, I hope you do." She looked me in the eyes. "It's who you were meant to be. I love you, Gallo."
She then leaned over, gave me a soft peck on the cheek and left.
I sat in silence for a few seconds. I then took a deep breath and opened the box. Inside was a video cassette, a belt with six pokéballs, a plaque with the eight Johto badges and Harry's name and rank engraved on it, and a wrapped package.
I took the video and put it in my VCR. I turned on the TV, hit play, and watched. Harry's face filled the screen.
"Hi Ben," he said. "If Zoë gave you this, that means I'm dead and that I probably got that way through suicide. In the box you find my team. The one I used to get to the top of the Championship and kick your sorry ass everytime we battled. I want you to carry on for me and use those guys to conquer Kanto. If not for me, than for them. They deserve it. The plaque is for you to hang somewhere because you're my brother and those things should go to family."
He sort of glared to me through the screen. "And the last thing. It's a new and improved Ariados-Man costume."
I blinked in surprise.
"Hear me now fan-girl: My death is not in any way your fault! I can never explain to you what happened to me and I pray to God you never find out yourself, but I can tell you right now that this happened because I pushed both you and Zoë away. If everything went according to plan, you won't even know about my dad's death until you come to search my house. I'll probably blame you, but remember, I'm insane. And since you did not fail, you are to continue being a super-hero, do you understand me? I know you, and I know you're questioning whether or not you've made a difference. Trust me, you have. If you doubt me, think of all the lives you've saved. From me and all you're other foes.
"And you were the first real hero this world has seen, my friend. Oh sure, Gligar-Man came out years before you, but he was a walking toy commercial. And yes, Red Dragon gets all the glory, but you deserve twice what he gets. You are a hero Ben Gallo. Unless you quit. Then you're a selfish bastard.
"Take care of Zoë for me. Good-bye."
The video stopped and I turned off the TV. I took and opened the package, not even considering that it may be one last trap from the Green Gengar. He wouldn't have Zoë deliver such a thing.
The main costume was a spandex body suit like the one I currently use, only the top half was red, the bottom black and they sort of swirled together in the center, forming a faint spider design. Very nice. The red mask was just like my old one, only the lenses were bigger and yellow. The gloves were attached to the wrist bands, and just by the look and feel of them I could tell they were designed for better use of my Night Shade. The fingertips hand little slits perfect for my talons. And that wasn't even the best part.
The best part was the black leather jacket. Across one sleeve were the eight Johto badges and the eight Kanto across the other. And on the back was an awesome hand-sewn picture of the mutant Ariados, waiting in its web for its next victim.
I really didn't think anyone would take me seriously in this thing, but they didn't take me seriously in that piece of crap I designed, so I may as well look good, right?
I froze at that thought.
Had I decided Ariados-Man's future already? I mean, I saved Zoë and everyone else, but I was careless. Rhydon could've fallen on someone when I threw him out the window. And I nearly killed him in a blind rage.
Then again, that was the only time something like that's ever happened to me. Was it because I was mourning, or was it a sign I should quit before I do something I'll regret?
I thought about what Zoë said. I thought of Harry's message.
And I put the new costume on.
I guess we'll just have to wait and see.