36: The Truth about Vileplumes & Charizards (Or: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden)
The sun had tucked behind the forests into dusk; small purplish clouds drifted across a pink sky. Above them, tall trees strained for sun, drowning the understory in shadow. The plane had not returned. On the grassy patch, Chad folded his tired wings and listened, slipping back into old modes of survival; find water, find shelter, find food. And do it before dark.
"I guess we're starting from scratch," said Raelle, dusting off her butt, where she'd landed after falling off Chad. "We're by a river, that's something."
"Do remember that we have no idea who or what is out here," said Friana from Raelle's back.
"Anything that's living in here's better than what's living out there," said Raelle.
"They might still be coming," said Chad. "We got to move."
On the stream bank, Chad squatted in the reedy grass and ducked his head to suck the stream dry, while Vixen lapped it daintily. As the water chugged into his throat, Raelle poked him.
"Careful your tail. A forest fire would give us away for sure. And probably kill us."
"Nah, I'd fly us somewhere." As the cold water chilled his stomach, Chad wrapped his tail in front of him, which had become almost second nature. After their drink they found a trail through the choking growth and followed it along the stream, deeper into Gloomleaf. Chad wondered what animals had made this trail.
When no sign of human pursuit showed up by twilight, Friana spoke from Chad's arms.
"Humans must have taken the advice of one of their old sayings about Gloomleaf. 'If the Victreebels and Scythers don't get you, the Vileplumes will.'"
"Real encouraging," said Vixen. "So they didn't bother following us because we're as good as dead here anyway."
"Well actually, Vileplumes are nearly extinct in these parts nowadays."
"I am so out of shape," Raelle breathed, her ears drooping as she plodded behind Chad. She fumbled for Chad's hand, and he let her hold it so that he towed her up the gentle hill. Vixen walked lightly on ahead, leaping with a flash of tails over rocks and rotting logs, clearly having the easiest time of all of them.
"Watch your tail, Chad. Everything looks very flammable."
"Yeah." Chad held the flame against his belly. He had never walked through woods so dense. Chad's legs were telling him to rest, but he preferred sore feet to the interior of a Poké Ball or another death sentence. "Uh, Friana, you were saying we're in such a dangerous place that even humans won't chase us in?"
"Dangerous for humans," said Friana. "Your fire will fend off most any threat. If we look hard enough, we can probably find friends among the native Pokémon."
Something small rustled in the leaf litter and creepers on the ground to their left. Vixen trotted over as whatever it was disappeared in the brush. She sniffed the ground. "Nothing, just plants." Her nose twitched.
Raelle walked closer next to Chad as Vixen returned to his other side. "These trees are like, so dark anything could be hiding. Uh, how big are Victreebels?"
"Not sure," said Chad.
"Between five and six feet in height," said Friana. "Closer to six."
"You'll be our bodyguard, right?" Raelle smiled at him, but he felt her fear.
"Sure, unless it's a Gyarados."
Raelle laughed; it sounded forced.
"You people," said Vixen from ahead, "We're never going to find any shelter by next year at the rate you are walking."
"Yeah, well some of us are fat couch potatos who haven't exercised in ten years!" Raelle hollered. Vixen's tails puffed and she marched back to Raelle.
"I can tell you haven't been in a forest in over ten years either! Do you know how many Pokémon probably just heard you?" she rasped.
"My tail's lighting us up for miles anyway Vix."
"Yeah Vixen. Go ahead if you want."
"You wish." Vixen took her place by Chad. Raelle stopped.
"Guys, nature calls. Be right back, okay?" She shot Vixen a glare, then shoved through the bushes down towards the stream.
"Don't go too far," said Friana.
"I gotta go where you can't see me!" she said from the bushes.
"Vixen," said Chad when Raelle was gone, "Can you please be more agreeable? This isn't easy for any of us."
"Shut up. You have nothing to complain about. We're all doing what you want."
"I never made you come!"
"I rescued you. The least you could have done was just gone back to Chah. I stayed with you because I knew you'd be in trouble again before I could say 'DNA.' As soon as you yapped up in the car that night, I knew something was up. You obviously don't want to tell anyone what it is, but I'll figure it out."
"Glad you find me so fascinating."
Something broke through the overhead branches in a buzzing descent nearby, close to the stream. Chad made out a flash of transparent wings and green bodies.
Chad crashed through the brush towards Raelle's scream, Vixen sprinting ahead of him. "Scyther! Scyther!" came high cries of the creatures who dived at the kicking Raelle, slashing her with knifelike forelimbs. Chad jumped into the fray in a Rage, batting Scythers with tooth and claw as two more joined the original three. He kicked out into the dark; his heel met solid chiton with a crack. Suddenly it looked as if there were over a dozen, all around flashing green and silver, the orange of Chad's swinging tail flame glinting off their shiny wings. As he grabbed Raelle's body he felt something sharp slice into his back. Erupting with a roar he twisted around and whacked the Scyther behind him, finding flesh through the exoskeleton. With a spray of blood it fell, screaming. Chad stomped out the small fire that had started as the other Scythers fled, all except two, one slashed, one kicked. Raelle sat panting on the leafy floor. Blood streaked her face from a gash on her forehead.
Raelle lifted a paw to her cheek and it came away bloody. "Oh God, my face."
"It's a cut on your forehead. You'll be okay."
"Feel dizzy." She lay down.
"Don't fall asleep!" called Friana, who had been left up by the trail. "You could slip into a coma."
"Are you hurt anywhere else?" said Chad as he went to fetch Friana.
"One of them whacked the back of my head real bad."
"Sounds like a concussion," said Friana.
Raelle got to her feet, and wobbled before sitting back down. "Can't balance."
"I'll carry you." Chad bent to scoop her up.
"What about Friana. . ."
"I'll carry you both. You're little guys."
Raelle smiled, eyelids fluttering as she lay in Chad's arm like a charmander. He brought them down to the stream and placed them on soft moss.
"What about the Scythers?" said Vixen. "Two of them are dead up there."
"You and me can have'em," said Chad. "I'm starving."
Raelle groaned. "Don't leave us."
"We'll eat in shifts," said Vixen, "me first." She bounded off. Chad helped Raelle clean her face at the water, and he ran his tail flame along his back to scab over the throbbing gash. Grooming himself, he discovered the blood had run around his tail and down his leg.
When Vixen finally returned, licking her chops, Chad hiked up to see what she'd left him. It was just as well that she had called it first, because he could have eaten both. He polished off the remaining Scyther-and-a-half--and the company picked up again on the stream trail, with Chad carrying Raelle and Friana. Two wounded, one immobile, they walked on.
The night was clear, but the moon was gone. A Houou hooted from lofty branches. Now Chad knew that creatures were watching them. He heard their little movements, and then, their little, whispering, voices.
"Am I paranoid or is anyone else hearing things in the bushes?" murmured Vixen, her tails low as she slinked along, stopping and starting. Each time one of the invisible creatures came close, Chad or Vixen stopped to inspect it, but found only leaves.
"Raelle, are you awake?" said Friana.
"We'll stop at the first halfway good shelter," said Chad. He would have scouted out a place, but charizards could barely see past their tail flames at night.
From bushes in front of them came a clear, small voice:
Resounding cries bounced from around them.
"It's Lizardon. . ."
"Who's there!" Vixen leaped at the voice. It squealed and Vixen's paws landed on dead leaves. Growling, she shrank back against Chad. "Your idea! This was your idea!"
The voices and rustles faded as the creatures ran off.
"I think they're gone," said Chad.
"I don't think we can take much more," said Vixen.
Chad snorted. "I'd rather die here than by humans." In his arm, Raelle groaned. He smelled fresh blood.
"She's not doing well," said Friana. "We need help."
"Flying us to the nearest town is about the only option," said Vixen.
Raelle stirred, wiggling. "No. They'll kill you."
"I have to do something."
"I'll live. Lived through worse."
Chad's tail chilled, straight up his back as he heard more rustling. He and Vixen backed against each other, growling as snapping twigs, crunching leaves, waving branches closed in. Bigger creatures, maybe four feet high, surrounded them. Vixen's growl broke off, and she threw her head down in a big sneeze, tossing her furry crest.
As the creatures broke through the foliage onto the trail, Chad's tail flame illuminated grayish bodies, beady black eyes, and huge, puffy, crimson petals topping their heads, a flower at least three feet wide. They glared in at them, the shadows cast by their flowers flickering over their faces. One pointed up at Chad, bravely stepping forward with a big foot on a short leg. The Vileplume's mouth fell open.
"Lizardon," it said in a high and husky voice.
Vixen sneezed again.
"Please," said Chad. "Please don't hurt us."
Hearing Chad's rumbling voice, which practically used different wavelengths from the others', the Vileplumes turned to each other and whispered. Chad only heard, "The Oddish were right."
Another one stepped forward. "Before you burn our forest you will face us."
"No, that's not it at all!" said Vixen, sniffling.
"We had to hide from humans--"
"Lies!" said the first Vileplume. "We remember you, Lizardon! Our ancestors taught us the stories." It looked at all of them. "So! Who are your accomplices, Lizardon!"
"My name is Chad. This is Vixen, Friana, Raelle--"
"Are they not your prey?" asked another Vileplume.
"No. And--one of us is hurt badly. We were attacked by a swarm of Scythers. I swear I won't ever hunt your kind or anything. Just please, please let us go. I don't want to have to fight."
The Vileplumes just stood there in a ring.
"He breathes fire when he's angry," said Vixen. "So do I."
"We've come here to escape humans, who are hunting us," said Friana. Several Vileplumes gasped, noticing the Metapod for the first time.
"You say one of you is hurt?"
Chad bent and showed them Raelle, whose head moved, but she barely seemed to notice what was going on. The Vileplumes came forward, wary of the tail flame giving them light. One touched Raelle's cheek, and looked at Chad from underneath its red, speckled flower.
"There's no choice." The Vileplume glanced at its fellows. "This Raichu must see the Rafracia." To Chad it said, "She heals any creature who is wounded. Even Lizardon himself."
With Chad's tail for light, the Vileplumes made faster progress on the return trip. They were leading the four even deeper into the forest. A chilly wind rustled the branches overhead, but the air was still inside the thicket. As they walked along a wider trail than the one Chad and Vixen had been taking, Chad kept hearing, between Vixen's miserable sneezes and sniffles, the rustling of what might be the oddish of which the Vileplumes had spoken. But he saw none.
Chad noticed the trees becoming thicker, ancient. Near a shelf of boulders jutting up in a rough semicircle, their hosts halted the group.
"Ah-choo!" said Vixen.
"We are in Deep's Heart now, our home," said the lead Vileplume. "We would suspect that you're playing some trick on us, but for that Lizardon cannot play tricks."
"In other words, their trust hinges on your stupidity," said Vixen in a nasal voice. Chad looked back at the Vileplume and shrugged.
"Someone must forewarn everyone," it said. "They must not attack."
Vixen twitched her nose. "What happens if they do attack?"
"You would be poisoned to death by toxic pollen. Stay here." He ran down the trail ahead of them. Chad noted that Vileplumes could not run very fast.
"Tilla! Tilla!" it cried. "Nobody fear! Lizardon will not burn us! He himself has come in need of the Rafracia!"
"Lizardon?" More Vileplumes and young popped crimson-petaled heads out from behind bushes and rocks, as if they'd awoken. The two-legged creatures with flowers and/or leaves on their heads shouted at the sight of Chad flooding their home with warm light. "Lizardon?"
"Lizardon!" shrieked the smallest ones, radish-like Pokémon that Chad now recalled from the auction. They ran away over the leafy forest floor, disappearing into the foliage and the dark. "Eeeee!"
"Tilla! Tilla!" The others, taking the oddishes' cues, dashed into hiding, then peered out from concealment, faces shuddering in the firelight, to stare.
"Lizardon." "It's really Lizardon."
One Vileplume threw its face down, hands outstretched on the mossy ground. "Rafracia save me from your fire Lizardon!"
"You can call me Chad." From all around came gasps and oddish shrieks at his deep, foreign voice. The praying Vileplume recoiled behind branches.
"I don't think they get out much," Vixen mumbled. Then she threw her head back and down with another sneeze.
"Do not fear!" The leader of the party climbed onto a nearby rock; Chad's fire illuminated its slate-gray face. "Lizardon is here because he is wounded, and a friend of his is near death! They were attacked by Scythers."
"Impossible!" Another one popped out of the bushes. "Lizardon cannot be harmed by the Scyther's blade."
"And Lizardon has no friends," said another.
"I'm not Lizardon."
Again the Vileplumes recoiled, but most stood their ground, as if realizing Chad wasn't going to attack. Chad knelt and showed them Raelle. "She needs help."
"She has a concussion," said Friana, and the Vileplumes looked about for the source of the high, bell-like voice.
"Lizardon has a Metapod friend!" one called, motioning to the others. Seeing the Metapod held by Lizardon, more came out.
Through all this Vixen sneezed three times. She sniffled and rubbed her eyes with her front paw.
Another Vileplume strode out of the shadows, frowning at the spectacle. Old scars marked its faded body and petals. It walked on stubby legs right up to Chad and pointed.
"Be gone, Lizardon. Tilla will only see you in battle. And so will we."
"Please," said Friana. "Raelle's in need of medical attention. If you have a doctor--"
"Our Rafracia will not see Lizardon." The scarred Vileplume faced the crowd. "As for the other three, they are illusions!"
Vixen sneezed, but came up talking. "Hey, I may be a bitch, but I'm not an illusion!"
"Vixen, please!" said Chad.
"Chad, I feel like shit," Vixen growled over the growing murmur of Vileplume voices. "Something's making me sick. If they won't help Raelle, we need to leave." She sneezed again.
"Viiiiiiiiii!" came a new voice from above. Everyone stopped talking and looked through the branches. Up on top of the rock ridge, barely lit by the flame, stood another Vileplume. "What is this!"
"Tilla Rafracia," said one, and they all bowed their heavy flowered heads, careful to keep their balance. Chad looked uncertainly around at the blanket of flowers all arrowed toward the rock outcropping like it was the sun.
Only a sneeze from Vixen broke the silence. Tilla climbed down the ridge, slowly but expertly, grabbing roots and rocks she must have climbed a thousand times. On the ground she wove towards the fire through her people as they got up from bowing. She, too, carried old scars, and in addition, a belt of vine looped her waist. From it dangled a skirt of colorful feathers and little pouches. She looked up at him; on her cheeks were painted small reddish circles outlined in yellow. Three vertical green lines dabbed her forehead. "Lizardon," she said, "why did you come back?"
Chad bowed his head to her and lifted it slowly. "I. . . guess everyone must have met another charizard," said Chad. "Who did something bad. I'm Chad. I've never been here. We came to get away from humans. On the way in we, uh, got attacked by Scythers. Some of your--friends, picked us up because they said you could help us. I don't want to beg, but I think she's dying." He nodded toward Raelle.
"Let me see her."
He laid Raelle on the leaves and brought his tail forward for light. Tilla's beady eyes, framed by wrinkled flesh, squinted at the fire as she bent over Raelle. The other Vileplumes gathered round, but left a small space, whether out of respect for Tilla or fear of Chad, Chad couldn't tell. Now the oddish came out of hiding, eyes wide at Tilla kneeling before the flame.
Tilla placed her hands to Raelle's yellow cheeks, closed her eyes and whispered something, then Raelle's eyes fluttered open.
"Oh. . ." Raelle found herself gazing straight at Tilla, who moved back. Raelle's eyes fell closed.
"Raelle?" said Friana from Chad's arm. "Can you hear me?"
"She's still tired," said Tilla, "but she'll make it. Before I can heal her further I need to bring her to the alcove. It's right around the ridge."
Tilla led the procession around the great rock ridge. She had Chad lay Raelle down inside a large alcove on a bed of leaves and grass. Tilla reached in one of her pouches, sprinkled a pinch of dust over Raelle, put her hands to Raelle's cheeks and began murmuring again.
Raelle sat up. She looked at Chad, the brightest thing in the room. Then she looked at all the Vileplumes.
"What the hell. . . Friana?"
"I'm here," said Friana as Chad sat her next to Raelle. "We brought you to be healed by the Vileplumes."
"What's. . .that. . .smell."
"Mostly pollen," said Friana. "I also taste a trace of Gloom. Gloom is said to be the worst stench in the world, although one in a thousand likes it."
"Ohhh. . .no lectures right now. My head, feels like a. . ."
"Still hurts?" Tilla finished. "You aren't completely healed. You'll need some rest before we're sure you won't have any relapses. Head wounds are tricky. However did you come to make friends with Lizardon?"
Raelle rubbed her forehead. "Who?"
Chad turned away, not wanting to be a part of this conversation.
Tilla gasped. "Lizardon! Your back!"
Chad remembered the slash wound, which had stopped hurting noticeably. "It's not bleeding. . ."
"It could be infected--that's a horrible gash. Lie on your stomach."
Chad lay down and spread his wings to expose the wound, and when Tilla's little hands touched his back, he felt the throb fade. He wondered if any Vileplumes would spring a surprise attack, but no one made a sound. Tilla pulled a pinch of powder from one of her belt pouches, went over to a back wall, and returned with a tiny wooden bowl. She applied a cool liquid to the scab, touched it again, and when she lifted her hands he looked around at his back to see the wound gone.
"I was tempted to say that I would only heal you if you promised to give up your destructive ways forevermore," said Tilla when Chad sat up, "but that is not my way. I heal everyone, regardless of species, regardless of the past. Pain is blind. We all feel it."
"I swear--I never hurt this forest," said Chad. "Thank you for saving Raelle, and healing me, but you don't have to worry. I was always just Chad."
"I'd say worry more," Vixen mumbled. He nudged her with his foot. Vixen sneezed.
"Are you sick too?" Tilla touched Vixen's back. "You are. Hold still."
When Tilla took her hands off, Vixen breathed in sharply through her nose. "Hey. Not bad."
"Hmm." Tilla went to the rocks her medicines were on, and returned with another wooden bowl. "Take a sip of this elixir."
Vixen made a face as she swallowed.
"It'll clear your congestion," she said as she set it back on the rock shelf. "You seem to have an allergy to something."
The other, scarred Vileplume stepped up next to the kneeling Tilla. He glared at Chad.
"So you have renamed yourself Chad."
"My parents named me Chad. It's a name of Chah."
"Lizardon goes by many names."
"Chad's not one of them," said Chad. "I didn't even grow up on this continent."
The scarred Vileplume whirled around to the crowd of adults and leafy young. "That proves it! 'When Lizardon flames through the rocky ground. . ." he chanted at the ceiling.
Tilla lifted her hand. "Vernon."
No more questions, no more worry tonight. We all need rest." She smiled. "Lizar--Chad, and his friends, will rest in the alcove. Don't worry, he's not about to burn the forest down. Everyone else, let us sleep. The night belongs to the oddish."
"The oddish?" said Chad as he curled up.
"No more." Tilla put a finger to her mouth, went over to her rock shelves and brought out another tiny bowl. "This will help you sleep. Tomorrow we'll answer all your questions. And find out why you've come. Chad, spread your wings out if that's comfortable, don't worry about the space."
Chad smelled the sweet stuff as Tilla held the bowl out. He scooped a bit with his claw and held it to his mouth.
"Nectar of the Stun-stem flower, a pinch of Gorlara grass. It relaxes you." She put her finger in the bowl and put it in her mouth. "It's safe."
Chad's pink tongue licked it off his claw and he swallowed, feeling it tingle. "Thanks." Soon he felt pleasantly groggy, on top of already wanting rest, and he lay on his Scyther-filled belly, his 15-foot wingspan loosely laid out, nearly the width of the cave. Raelle took some, and Friana went to sleep easily without. Vixen refused, and sneezed.
"Ohhh, my sinuses."
37: The Black Box
Ever since going to Yellow Town, Chivonne knew it was no longer a question of whether it had to be done. Everything she was learning convinced her more that there was no choice. The question was how.
Today Daninger and Lunia were out for the day. They had said it was for a Pokémon convention, but Chivonne knew they hadn't been to any conventions or tournaments for quite some time, unless it was Team Rocket. Daninger had not gone anywhere overnight since the meeting in Yellow Town. She knew why.
August was napping on the living room couch as Chivonne crept up the stairs. Yesterday they had been to a small tournament down in Plum City. A small win, a small prize, August had gone out with a few friends he'd met at the tournament and returned home late. Chivonne knew whom the real money was going to. She felt so stupid for not having figured out earlier that the whole world had become infiltrated with Team Rocket. She would have preferred to wait until Daninger and Lunia left for the night, but who knew how long that would be. She had to do this now.
She turned the knob to Daninger and Lunia's room; of course it was locked, electronically. Chivonne ran down to the basement. August stirred in his sleep. The TV rambled on. Chivonne turned down the volume, watching August; he stirred again as she shut the TV off; he stayed asleep.
Down in the basement, her tail lighting the way, Chivonne opened the little dark gray door to the power switches, reached up and grabbed the main lever. She pulled it. Overhead, motors groaned downward. She watched her tail's firelight, shaped by her shadow, quiver on the walls; she heard only its soft, soft fffff sound. Charizards never knew silence or darkness.
She crept upstairs, passing still-sleeping August again, back to Daninger's room. The door swung open; she closed it and dived for the little black trunk under the bed.
Chivonne took out an unfolded paper clip and started in on the lock. She had seen the short mention in the news of the illegal clone tracked to Gloomleaf and lost there. She had connected it to the apartment crime log she had uncovered a few days before that (the day after her computer search for the mysterious male) of a mad charizard who had attacked a tenant and fled with several others. The reporter had confirmed they were the same. But now, as she picked the lock at last, she was putting it behind her. She had to stop thinking that every charizard-related incident somehow involved Blue-eyes. He is dead.
Her eyes were sore; she wasn't getting enough sleep these days. And this lock was taking a long time. How easy it would be to flame through it all, but normal charizard powers would ruin things. Glancing around the room, she saw no sign that it was bugged, but that meant nothing. She had to assume Daninger knew the power was out, knew that she had something to do with it, and was on his way home. That still gave her at least an hour. She tried not to think about fingerprints as she twisted the wire this way and that. She couldn't do this with gloves even if they had made them for her kind.
She would put aside mating. Any charizard who came near her, near this house, would be in danger. Even if it were Blue-eyes himself, she owed it to him to drive him away. Hormones would not stop her from this chance to save her kind. She would not let them make her selfish.
And ever since Blue-eyes had died, something in her had followed him. Though she knew he was dead, she had still not let go. Time would smooth it over, but until then she knew she could not love.
The lock turned. Chivonne's hands swung the lid up showing a stack of papers and folders. So combustible, yet so precious. Her shaking fingers opened the unlabeled folder on top, revealing printouts of trainer profiles. She saw none she recognized. Were they undercover Team Rocket agents? Or a hit list? Chivonne set it aside and dived into the folder beneath. It contained police records. Some of this stuff must have been obtained illegally. Or how many undercover TR members were there? How far had their money bought the government out? The third folder had only a few handwritten papers, in Daninger's writing.
". . .If I hadn't killed the Mewtwo so quickly I might have found out where he hid the thing, or even how he made it. When you get past their powers, they have little stamina. A charizard would have stood up to it easily. All I got was the name he uttered as he breathed his last: "Tilla." For the longest time I thought it was "till."
To this day we have yet to find who or what Tilla is. Marius must have known her. I shall compile the most complete list I can of everyone in the world who goes by or once went by that name. See folder 5."
Folder 5 contained the beginning of this list. Not many people appeared to have the name Tilla. Behind the profiles were other notes, apparently on what they knew about Marius's life. It was known that in his youth he had spent time in the deeps of Gloomleaf, studying the Vileplumes and documenting their culture. Nothing else definite was in these records, mostly dead ends. Marius had cleverly concealed his past.
One group of records, paper-clipped together, appeared to have nothing to do with Marius but caught her interest. The records of a secretly Rocket-run auction house in Saffron City. No wonder the Pokémon offered there were so unusual and endangered.
That meant the six-yearly trip to obtain charizards from Chah might also be run by, or at least supported by, Team Rocket.
Where did it all stop? What else was run by them? Where in the world could she and August run to safety?
At the bottom of the box was a small diary-like book, with one entry: August's charizard has to go, and soon. She's too smart for her own good, and may already be onto our entire plan. I doubt she is, but I can't take chances. I do not want to have her killed until she has bred. For now, hold out.
It was dated last year, but that didn't put her more at ease. A charmander was potentially worth millions these days. If she did lay an egg, she could guess where it would be sold.
She replaced the diary and as the little brown-covered book bumped against the inside wall of the trunk, something flat and round fell over on top of it. She picked up the disk labeled with a circled B.
Blue-eyes. Chivonne felt the need inside, making her want to wrap herself around something big, strong and warm. She lowered the stack of folders back into the trunk and slid the disk down sideways where it had been. She had promised herself she would forget about him. She re-locked the trunk up and pushed it back under the bed.
How long had she been up here? Chivonne raced down to the basement. The couch was empty. "Chivonne?" August called from the kitchen as she ran down the basement stairs. Her hand landed on the power switch and pushed it back up. Her breath locked, her heart pounded as she heard answering machines beep, motors hum back to life. The lights were on again as she sauntered upstairs.
Was Daninger already back? Unless he knew about the outage, and unless he checked for fingerprints, she had made it through. Now she had to get them out the door. She needed an alibi.
Yes, Daninger had to die. But she must avoid framing August. After all, if they uncovered a clever plot they would not assume it was concocted by a charizard. If Lunia were blamed, that was just too bad, though she wanted to avoid that too. But if they traced it to Chivonne, Team Rocket would track her down, and put her to death for the murder of so powerful a person. As for August, he would automatically be in trouble, as her trainer.
It had to look like an accident.
"Chivonne? You in the basement?" called August as Chivonne came in the kitchen. "Oh, there you are."
"Daninger back yet?"
"Nope." He turned around from the counter, where he was fixing himself a sandwich. "There was a power failure, did you see?"
"Yeah. Wanna go hunting?"
"Sure, lemme finish this and call Jeff, I said I might be going over there later today."
"I'll wait outside."
August took a bite of peanut butter and jelly, crossing the room to the phone as the back door swung shut behind his charizard. "Hungry, huh. Those Odoshishi aren't going anywhere."
When the front door opened, admitting Daninger in his light gray spring coat and Lunia behind him in a windbreaker, August and Chivonne had just left for the outskirts of Gloomleaf. Daninger picked up August's note: Gone hunting, be back this evening.
"If they won't be back till this evening, they easily could have left after the power went down," said Daninger. He didn't want to jump to conclusions, but couldn't help privately scolding himself for overlooking the detail that would render all his surveillance on that room useless. There was no lock to the power box.
Chivonne wrapped her arms, and legs, around him.
"Blue-eyes. . ."
"You can call me Chad."
"Oh, Chad," and they rolled on the floor . . .
He heard little voices behind them. A whole line of oddish stood pointing and laughing. "Look at Lizardon!"
He tried to shoo them, but suddenly he could not open his eyes. He felt the lair slipping away, Chivonne dissolving in his arms. A dream! He shut his eyes tight, trying to grab hold and slip back in. It was more than worth it, even with the oddish there. "Chivonne, come back!"
Chad sat up, looking outside. A small crowd of Gloom and young Vileplumes stood beyond the entrance, watching him. Seeing his head rise, some shrieked; they scattered out into the morning sunlight obscured by the buds and young leaves of thickly woven branches. Chad felt the early April chill sweep inside, and stoked up his tail. He was a little hungry, but could put off a hunt. Yes--out here he could hunt again, at least for a while. Thinking of the possibilities, he almost forgot to look around before he got up and stretched his wings. He didn't want to bean anyone. The imitation leather collar still ringed his neck; he unbuckled it and chucked it in a corner, and stretched his neck, enjoying the freedom of movement.
Vixen was gone. Raelle and Friana still slept. "Good morning, Chad," said a scratchy but high-pitched voice behind him. Tilla stood at the far wall, petals already perky, working with her herbs. When she turned around Chad saw that her face paint and feathery belt was gone, and instead a whitish spiral decorated her belly. 'I have you to thank for giving me light to see by when I woke up. Never did I get so much work done so early!"
"No problem." Chad nodded, feeling like he should give her some extra measure of respect. The memory of the Vileplumes gazing with awe in the firelight, bowing to her, flashed back. "Thanks for letting us sleep here. Did you see Vixen?"
"Your Ninetales friend? She went off to hunt. She's not feeling well. I'm afraid she has hay fever. A bad thing when you live with Vileplumes."
One more reason why, if Vixen were Chah, she would give him the Cave of Ice and Darkness if she found out why he had brought them here. A hot thought throbbed back from his dream, of Chivonne solidly in his arms as he twined legs and tail about her. Dreams could feel so real.
As Friana opened her eyes and said "good morning," Chad noticed, behind her and Raelle, the back walls of the alcove. Spanning almost the entire wall were pictures painted in red, black, white, green and yellow, and slate blue. Most scenes depicted large monsters or Vileplumes; one scene had oddish. One was unmistakably a huge charizard, torching trees with its fiery breath.
"Tilla, did you paint that?" He pointed a claw at the wall.
"Tilla did not."
In the entrance stood Vernon. Morning's light showed that his red petals had faded with age, and his face likewise sagged. He, too, had a white spiral painted counterclockwise on his front. "It was painted by our ancestors hundreds of years ago, Lizardon."
"Uh, that's something else I meant to ask. Who is Lizardon?"
"Don't try to put me on. You know very well."
"Vernon." Tilla marched over with an age-defying sturdiness. "If you're so eager to speak that you interrupt pleasant conversations, you owe it to our new guests to tell them the stories."
"Of course." He bowed to Tilla. "What else am I here for."
Tilla went back to her rock "counter", grinding dry grasses under a stone. "Don't do it yet. First I want to see how the Raichu's doing. And we should wait for the Ninetales to return, if she does."
"She will," said Chad.
Raelle's eyes were just opening as she lay on soft grass."Whoa. My head." She winced at her own groggy speech, apparently having worsened her headache. Tilla held a little wooden bowl to Raelle's lips and Chad helped her sit up.
"This will help your headache. I was afraid you had become comatose during the night, but you're a tough one." Tilla chuckled as Raelle drank. "That's quite a wound you sustained."
Raelle stopped to wipe her chin. "Yeah."
"I also noticed you hurt your tail."
"It did not respond to my healing powers. The wound is so old that the body no longer views it as such. I'm sorry."
"A lot of the herbs you use are also components in modern healing potions used by humans," said Friana. "I'd like to study it sometime."
Raelle felt sturdy enough to get to her feet and have a light walk, holding Chad's hand. Outside, Vileplumes and a few Gloom were gathering seeds, digging with sticks, picking leaves and flowers. Some Gloom hung around by the alcove, to stare at Chad.
"Whoa," said Raelle. "Gloomleaf sure is pretty."
"It's hard sometimes, but always pretty," said Tilla, sadly. "You can stay as long as you need to."
Vernon was standing under a tall, white-flowering tree. "Let Lizardon into your home, he will burn it to the ground," he growled. Tilla faced Chad, standing in his way.
"Vernon our story-teller is blunt and often rude, but he means well. I'm afraid Gloomleaf is too fragile for you to remain here. My people fear your fire, even though you've been very well-behaved. But you may stay for today. After we've answered your questions, we'd love to have you answer ours." Her petals drooped. "I hope you understand."
"Sure I do." He scratched an itch with his foot. Even Tilla kept a few feet from him; he could never feel at home where he was feared. Besides, he needed to move on in search of Chivonne.
Vixen came trotting in, past several Gloom and over to the entrance. Chad saw that all along the top of the entrance, grasses and old dried leaves hung down, a decorative fringe. In the middle of the entranceway, a little to the left, sat a low boulder, partly dividing it into two entranceways, upon which someone could sit or stand. Chad walked up to the rock and ran his hand over the surface. It was worn smooth. On his left, at the far edge of the entranceway, a gray-blue roundish rock sat a couple of feet high. Painted on it were eyes, white fisted hands and a white spiral--a Poliwrath. On the other far side, a Venusaur statuette of roughly equal size sat looking outward, made of rock, feathers and painted tree bark.
Vixen sat next to the middle rock, scratching an itch with her hind leg. She sneezed and grumbled unintelligibly. Chad leaned his hand on the smooth rock and opened his mouth to ask her how her hunt had been. Vernon spoke first.
"When you dare touch the Entrance Rock of Deep's Heart, you bow and show respect."
Not wanting to argue, Chad bowed, and stepped back. He backed away even further when Vernon climbed on it, standing eye level with Chad.
"So," he said, "you want to know about the scenes, the statues, even though as Lizardon you must know some?"
"I'm not Lizardon," Chad said in a tired voice.
"Well perhaps I can jog your memory. I shall tell you a story that every Pokémon should know. The First Story of Rafracia."