Someone brought it to my attention that I left Chapter 49 ("She Blinded Me with Psyshock") out by accident. So I stuck it in! I apologize to anyone I have hopelessly confused. 45: Gloomleaf Burning "Breathe in."
Tilla pillowed Ollie's head against her hand as Chad placed handfuls of leaves under to prop her up. Ollie breathed in and coughed.
"What happened to Deep's Heart, did--" A coughing fit cut off the oddish's voice.
"Stay calm. I just healed your lungs last night and they're still tender." In the drizzly morning Tilla's hand absently felt one of Ollie's leaves, the one going orange at the end. "And your poor leaves. You almost became a roast yourself."
"Did anyone--" Ollie sat up with the support of Chad's hand, coughing weakly on the smoke in the air. Chad felt the coughs rack her round little body. "--anyone die. . ."
"I know we lost a few," said Tilla, looking back at the mat of smoke dividing the pale sky with a billowing void. The rain, too little too late, had slowed the blaze, but would not quench it. The feather skirt on her belt hung wet and bedraggled. "To Team Rocket more than the fire. More and more are trickling in, although several, including Anina, are still missing."
In fact, there was Vixen streaking down through the green, a pale tawny gold in the damp. Seeing Chad breaking through the foliage, she barked, and doubled back. Struggling through the bushes and vines were Raelle and Friana, led by a Gloom. Chad and August helped them through.
"Thank Chah!" Vixen barked, bounding past the charizard. "If it weren't for Anina here we'd still be running in circles. You guys hiked a long way."
"We walked most of the night," said Chad, remembering the coughing, wheezing, foliage-hacking journey in intermittent rain, while carrying Ollie and a Vileplume who had succumbed to smoke inhalation.
Raelle hopped up and hugged Chad's middle, then fell down, unable to keep a hold on his girth. "My guy!" The smile left her face. "What's wrong? Anyone missing. . ."
"Chivonne." He told her what he had seen.
"Where are we?" Ollie's eyes rolled around to look back at Chad.
"Down the Poliwag stream," said Tilla. "We will soon reach the river it meets. I made a cairn on the bank trail leading everyone up here. We must begin moving again soon, or the fire will catch us."
Chad stoked his tail flame brighter against the drizzle. He knew the last thing the Vileplumes wanted to see now was more fire, but he didn't want to be in bodily pain.
"I can't tell you how sorry I am Tilla." He looked to the side at his own flaming tail. His shame.
"You were defending us," said Tilla. "If not for you Ollie would be dead."
"If not for Ollie, I'd be dead."
"Yes. You may not realize the full significance of what she did. She is my heir. This tribe now has a Rafracia to look to after my death. She will channel the powers of the Goddess herself to Deep's Heart for the next few generations."
"What Deep's Heart?" Vernon rose from his seat on the ground, grunting with the effort to get his old legs under him and hoist himself to a stance, heavy head and all. "Look behind us. That's our home!" Tears sprang to the Vileplume's old eyes as he whipped his head away from the distant smoke. "All this time I warned all of you! Our ancestors let Lizardon roam loose and you all know what happened!" The tears pooled in his wrinkles. "We knew never to give him a second chance. His wrath would be the death of Gloomleaf! This is what it takes for you to listen. How many forests must burn!"
Vernon's red flower bowed as he sobbed.
The other Vileplumes were holding hands, pointing, looking back towards the fire. Several began to wail; the oddish, numbering no more than twenty, whimpered and then squealed with cries. Ollie squeezed her eyes shut and looked hard at the ground, letting tears fall on her feet, with the rain that had beaded on her leaves. August, his clothes and hair slicked, looked uncomfortably at the crowd, his teeth chattering. His face was pasty in the rain, his nose and ears red. And yet, he still didn't remind Chad of Dorien at all. But Raelle, like always, stayed away from him. Chad moved his flame out and August rubbed his hands over it. "Thanks."
Tilla let them cry a moment.
She let the quiet soak in. The rain had intensified and pearls of water ran off her cream-freckled petals. But in the stark light her velvety red plume vibrated.
"We can never know if Rafracia is proud of us today. But all of you have made me a prouder Rafracia than I ever was. Your persistence has proven every one of you to me, and should have to yourselves. And now comes a new part of your journey--the part without me."
"What?" said Ollie.
"What?" said Vernon.
"What?" said Chad. The others all poured out asking what, and why. Tilla quieted them again.
"Vernon will lead you away from the fire. I will be accompanying Chad and his friends on an important mission. Do not concern yourselves with what it is; that is for myself and my party to know. Just be content with the knowledge that I will be back for you, and then I'll tell you everything. I am doing this for the good of all Gloomleaf, indeed, all the world."
Vernon stepped up to Tilla. Slightly shorter, he nevertheless kept his head level, shading his eyes under the veil of his scarred petals.
"I can't fathom what it is that you confide to Lizardon yet keep from me."
"I have placed our people in your care," said Tilla. "Isn't that more important for you to worry about? Isn't that what you always wanted?"
"I always wanted for us to follow Rafracia's way. You. . ." He trailed off. Chad realized that if he defied Tilla now, chaos might prevail.
"Vernon," Chad heard himself say, "Maybe the fire. . . is my fault. But don't think everyone's been corrupted by me." Chad sighed. "I don't know what you want me to say."
"I want you to shut up, and fly to the Holes of Hell like you said you would," said Vernon. "You can never know you have not corrupted us. Even if you haven't, you have done more than your share of damage to our lives. Rafracia curse you."
Cursed by two gods now.
Vernon spat on Chad's cream-colored belly.
"Vernon!" Tilla cried as Chad flamed it clean, waved the steam away and returned the Vileplume's glare. But it was halfhearted. Hadn't he been there when Chiffy's wing got crushed? When Chivonne got captured? If he wasn't an active evildoer, he was sure a bad luck charm.
"I take leave of you now." Tilla motioned Ollie over to her. "And I take Ollie under my petals. To all my flowers, Rafracia bless you. You have been brave and strong. Vernon is Rafracia in my stead; follow the stream to the river and keep to it. I will be traveling to meet you again as soon as I can. And on the day when you see me running through the forest to you, all secrets will be revealed." Tilla held her arms out. "Rafracia's petals shelter you."
"And you," answered the others. As they bowed, Tilla walked away, holding her head high and murmuring an incantation under her breath. "We are going to get the ball," she said in her lowest voice. "Rafracia guard us." One by one Chad and his soggy company turned to follow her. Chad saw she was crying. "Forgive me. I keep thinking as I walk through this forest how it will be the last I see of it before the flames move in. Rain will not kill them. They will not stop until they have nothing left to burn." Chivonne got to her shuddering feet; her knees kept buckling. Finally she gripped the thick black bars lining one wall of her cage and hauled herself up, her breath shaking in her lungs. She blinked her eyes awake, unable to let go and rub them. Her head spun. Surrendering back to the floor, she looked around, her legs lying to one side. She knew she had been drugged, but had hoped to wake up before they'd intended.
She was in a round room of dark masonry, halved by thick black bars caging her in. By one part of the wall, towards the back, was a small pile of rocks, and a litter pan. Otherwise it was empty. She had been put in here by Poké Ball, since there was no door. Bracing herself on her hands, she stretched her neck toward one bar, took a breath and flamed, arrowing white heat at it. It remained unscathed.
Creeping forward she tried to reach out. Her hand felt a forcefield just beyond.
Daninger walked in the door, leaving it ajar. The clacking of his black shoes on the cracked masonry floor were the only sounds beside her own quietly burning tail. He held his hands behind his back, staring at her with her hand pressed on the forcefield.
"Up early, aren't we. That wall's for double protection. Just in case, through some miracle, you find a way past the bars. Oh they're flame-proof. The entire cage is."
Before she released the flame building in her gut, she forced her body to stand. The last thing she would do now was give him her dignity too.
Daninger folded his black-sleeved arms across his chest and smiled. She caught a flash of something small, round and shiny in his right hand before he concealed it. "You were probably beginning to think charizards are smarter than people, hm? Well, if that were the case, this would be in your hand." Between thumb and middle finger he held up a strange Poké Ball. The Master Ball. Chivonne let out a tongue of yellow fire.
"Not so fast," he said, wagging his finger. "You're starting to act like your boyfriend. I know just how impulsive he can be. I may know him better than you or he suspects. Regardless, I'll soon find out."
He felt his chin, studying her. His eyes focused on her middle. There had to be a reason why he had not killed her yet; obviously he was going to use her to lure the others.
Daninger twiddled his fingers. "I'll give you a little time to think on all this. Whether or not you cooperate, your plans have failed. Not to mention your boyfriend started a fire that will level all Gloomleaf. But don't fear, the ball of Marius will be safely in my hands before fire can threaten it."
"You don't even know where it is."
"It's safe to assume it's in Gloomleaf; I have all I need to pinpoint where. You seem to keep forgetting, you're up against Team Rocket. We got hold of the Master Ball decades ago. The rest will be easy."
Daninger took from his pocket another, ordinary, Poké Ball. Popping it open he released the strange Electabuzz.
Chivonne stifled a flame as the Electabuzz melted into purple plasma with a smiling face, wiggling like jello by Daninger's feet. That charizard--
"You're probably realizing now that you fought no charizard last night, but this little fellow."
"Are you planning to actually try the two balls?"
"You can't think I'm that stupid. I just happened to have the Master Ball on hand to show you how we handle things in Team Rocket. You probably don't know of the little tests we ran on you while you lay unconscious."
Chills slithered on the backs of her legs. Her tail lashed.
"But you must know what I found out. It's the real reason you're still alive."
It confirmed the settled feeling she had felt but had attributed to sharing pleasures with Chad. She was safe as long as she had this egg inside her. From that egg would hatch a young charmander, worth millions to a human. To her, priceless.
"The egg is mine by the way. But I've provided a nice little nest for you to keep it warm." He nodded towards the pile of small stones. "Rocks of a refractory substance that only melts under white heat, anything cooler and it just swells a little. Perfect for charmander incubation because it holds heat for hours. I have the little one's best interests in mind. Of course it's about nine weeks away now, but that's ample time for the father to fly in to witness the miracle of life. Along with the rest of his female menagerie, and your beloved trainer. "
Chivonne held her middle as Daninger turned to the Ditto.
"Copy Chivonne." As the creature rose from the white light to look at her with Chivonne's own eyes, Daninger pointed back to the door. "You are Chivonne now. Speaking human will certainly help you pull it off. Fly past the fire and go right into Plan A. Her boyfriend should fall for it like charizards would. Only. . .one thing." He looked from Chivonne's copy to the real one, behind the bars. "I suppose you won't be so kind as to give me your partner's name?"
Chivonne Leered at him. Daninger shrugged, swaying his head back to Ditto. "Oh well, you'll just have to act. If it comes up, feign amnesia."
"Brilliant," said Ditto in Chivonne's voice.
Chivonne watched her double leave the room, swishing its slender flamed tail. Daninger left behind her and closed the door.
Her body had recovered from the drug. Examining the cage from floor to ceiling, about 9 feet high, she found a small crack running vertically between the stones, but all her flaming, clawing and kicking could not budge it. Her Rage only exhausted her. She sank in a gold pile to the floor, out of breath. Peering out the crack, she saw the white light of day threading through from the other side.
46: And Make It Double Chad felt crazy following them while Chivonne remained captured, possibly being tortured. Watching his orange feet tramp the undergrowth, he said, "Guys I gotta split."
"Chasing your lust to Yellow Town, I suppose?" said Vixen.
"If it was just lust do you think I'd risk my life?"
"You did once already."
"Vixen I'm not arguing now. I found my mate. Yes--I love her. You don't need me right now and she does. August could come with me too--"
"Well I am going to argue. What do you think's going to happen? You waltz in there, somehow find the right building, pop in and they hand you her key? You bet they will, they'll put you in with her. It'll be over. This is Team Rocket, Chad, not Chiffy standing guard and Chizmo with his mudpies! Any plan of springing her out of there will require all of us! Even then we'll need a lot of luck!"
Chad puffed steam out his nose, his head reverberating from the blow of common sense. His toes dug in the dirt. "I can't let her stay there!" "I understand your urgency," said Tilla as they fought through the foliage. "But first, we need the ball. Not only may it be our only way of rescuing Chivonne at all, but Team Rocket is searching relentlessly for it. If we don't go for it now it will be too late."
Chad forced himself to calm down and take their advice. Off behind them, all day as they traveled, he heard the distant roar as the wide curtain of black smoke draped the sky. Despite the opposing winds the smoke smell reached them as the fire advanced, like a great sweeping ghost, falling behind their steps but burning steady.
They headed south, away from Deep's Heart, while Vernon led the Vileplumes east towards the river. As they climbed high hills, blooming with spring growth oblivious to the fire on their heels, Tilla looked down to see the bright plumes of her people traveling away, just visible through open patches in the brush. Far behind both parties, the black wall of smoke rose from flaming trees.
As they descended into a valley on the third morning, the smoke smell faded, giving them fresher air. On the far side of the valley, Chad saw the remains of one or more stone buildings, long collapsed and overgrown.
"Ah you see it," said Tilla, grasping a tree and swinging herself onto the next safe area down the steep incline. "You've good eyes. That's where I'm taking you. Raelle," she called up to the Raichu, "tell August to join us down here. Chad will fly us to the opposite side of the valley in two groups. We don't want to waste time, or risk ourselves on these rocks. We are approaching the Charmountains, some of the tallest mountains in the world, and it gets worse the farther south you go." Tilla chuckled as the company gathered together, leaning on trees for support. "'Worse' is a relative term. I imagine that you, Chad, will absolutely love it when you go there."
"If he gets to." Vixen scratched an itch with her hind leg.
Tilla's petals shadowed the fox from the late morning sunlight.
"Do not talk that way. We need all the confidence we can muster, and fear is contagious."
Raelle, Friana and Vixen dismounted from Chad, joining the first group at the front of the ruins. An entrance partly blocked by fallen rocks and trees showed a black hole in the mountain. Tilla led them in.
Vixen hesitated in the broken archway. "You're sure the ball is still in there."
"I am sure of nothing. But I left it here and if I'm to get it, now's my only chance. When the fire sweeps through this area it will destroy everything in its path." Tilla sighed. "I wish I could figure out why Lizardon rose against us."
"Wow," said Friana, her eyes wandering all around at the cracked walls, lit by Chad's tail. The fire revealed ancient relief carvings scissored with cracks. Rocks and debris lay in their path, but in some places the hall was clear.
"I admit it's much easier to make my way through here than the last time," said Tilla, "with Chad for light. Vileplumes don't see well in the dark."
"I can," said Ollie, "well, I used to."
"You may have noticed, Ollie," said Tilla, "that colors are becoming brighter to you, though."
"Yes. Before, day and night looked kind of the same. I like it more this way."
"When I'm a butterfree I'm revisiting this valley!" Friana said, in human talk. "What ruins! I wish we could do some excavations now."
"I wonder who built it," said August, hardly looking at the walls. Chad could tell that he too was more eager to go and rescue Chivonne. He supposed Friana couldn't feel the same as he, or August, did.
"There are so many speculations about the ruins in Gloomleaf's deeper parts," the Metapod went on. "Humans tried numerous times to settle in the region. Many ancient civilizations worshipped Pokémon. But they never lasted long; the most common theory is that the resident Pokémon. . .overwhelmed them."
Score one for our side! Chad chuckled.
"Pretty vicious," said August.
"That's the breaks," said Raelle in human language, talking to August for the first time. "Humans'll push us around, but when the chips are down we will win. We were made for this world and this is our land. The Poké Gods watch over us."
"Yeah." August stuck his hands in his pockets and kicked a pebble. The bouncing stone echoed in the cavernous space as Tilla led them on.
They reached the end of the hall and came into a little room. How in Chah's name had she navigated this place in the dark on her previous trip? thought Chad. Tilla crouched by a ruined wall, where rocks had tumbled through a wide crack into a pile. Chad, Raelle and August knelt to help her remove them.
"Nothing seems to have been disturbed," said the Vileplume as they worked. They set rocks aside until they had dug well into the niche.
"Here." Tilla lifted the tiny, metallic ball out of its rock nest. She blew off the dust and held it towards Chad's tail tip; all leaned in to look. The silver ball was barely bigger than a marble. A hairline seam halved it.
"It's so little," said Raelle. "Hard to believe this is the Ball to End all Balls."
"Now to Yellow Town," said Chad.
"If we're sure Team Rocket has the Master Ball," said Vixen.
"Yeah, they say it's been with TR for years," said Raelle. "Just no one knew where."
"It's not just the master ball, Chivonne too."
August nodded. "It's northeast of Deep's Heart. Chivonne was the only one who went there, though."
"I can fly over and spot it," said Chad.
"Is everyone really coming?" said Vixen.
Raelle stepped forward. "Count me in. Time we gave'em their due."
"Of course I'll be on your back," said Friana, "for all I'm worth." She chuckled from her net backpack.
"Hey, you could evolve any day," said Raelle, "You think I'd do this without you back there to be my brain?"
"I'm coming too," said Ollie. Then, in confusion, "Why are we going to Yellow Town?"
"To get the Master Ball and save Chad's girlfriend," said Vixen. "Chah damn me if I'm letting you go traipsing all over the place alone, Chad. I'm in. That is, if we're sure this little silver marble's going to work?"
"Marius was sure," said Tilla. "So was his Alakazam friend, who helped him develop it."
"That would be Kora," said Raelle, strutting proudly as they walked back up the corridor. "I got friends in high places."
"Dangerous places," said Vixen.
"Can someone please tell me what just transpired?" asked the helpless August.
"We're going to Yellow Town to rescue Chivonne and get the Master Ball!" said Ollie.
August laughed. "Uh, thanks, Gloom."
"He don't hear Pokémon talk right," said Raelle as Friana explained things to August.
"Yeah I only heard gloom, gloom, gloom," said August.
Ollie did a jump. "So then I really am a Gloom now!" Chivonne scrabbled at the ceiling, pulled the bars. She exhausted her fire sack blasting the whole cage, in vain. She knew by now, after several days, that she would die here. Why not take her anguish out with her fire? Out of breath and flames, she slumped onto her side and lay staring at the small pile of rocks where, in only a few more days, her egg would rest. Her only child would grow up fighting for the ones who had killed its parents, almost its entire kind. It would live and die by their hands.
Then she lifted her head. She crawled to the rocks. She picked one up in her hand, and flamed it with the last of the power she had foolishly wasted. In her hand, it swelled slightly, as Daninger had said. As it cooled it returned to its original size. She flamed again, figuring out just what temperature (color) made it swell the most.
Chivonne stood up with her back to the bars and wound her arm. She hurled it against the back wall; it smashed in pieces. She picked up another rock. And another. Slamming them on the wall, the floor, she broke each one into shards.
"So, the proud lady is reduced to childish fits," said Daninger, stepping in as Chivonne flung another rock against the wall, bracing her feet amidst chips and slivers. "I was wondering what the hell all the racket was."
Chivonne whirled around and flamed at him, to make it all the more convincing.
Shortly after he left, Chivonne threw the last stone. When the pieces skittered across the floor and came to rest, she fell to collecting them. She could have done better using her hottest fire to mold them, if she hadn't stupidly wasted it. And it wasn't worth the time needed to recover.
She selected one of the thinnest slivers and inserted it into the crack at the back of the cage. One by one she inserted whatever pieces fit, cramming them as snug as she could. She used more pieces to push the first ones in further. It had to reach at least the middle of the wall.
By the time she finished, her hands were sore and scratched. Her fire sack would not recover full power until she ate, but she didn't want to wait for breakfast, her one big meal a day. No, she needed tonight. She had already lost so much time.
Chivonne backed up, churning up her fire stomach, preparing to do the longest, biggest flamethrower she had ever done--but not the hottest. White heat would melt the rocks. She needed to swell them. And then, brace herself. Who knew what would happen--if it would do nothing, blast a hole or kill her. She had nothing left to lose. The tension seemed to buzz in the wall as her orange heat hosed steadily up and down the crack, stimulating it.
A few minutes later a chunk of the tower wall blew. Rocks flew at Chivonne, knocking her head, shoulder, stomach. She had tucked her wings behind her, but the force of the blast slapped her back against the bars. She dived and rolled to the left corner as a stone struck the side of her head.
Chivonne scrambled over the jagged rocks and, despite bruises and dizziness, was flapping out over the trees without looking back. She headed toward Deep's Heart, knowing she would find them somewhere between here and the burnt-out shell of the ridge and the semicircle. As she flew the dizziness abated, and she felt the slight weight of the egg growing inside her. It was the 5th day of hiking. Or the 6th? It wasn't Chad's habit to count, but it had been too long. Every other minute he thought of Chivonne's flaming eyes, her tongue on his neck, her body rubbing his. He knew the Marius and Master Balls were important, but without Chivonne, nothing counted.
Last night he had a nightmare that Dorien chained Chivonne in a machine and was torturing her in the pool. In the far end, Chad kept trying to wade through, flapping his wings and flailing his arms, dragged down in the water by weights on his feet. He looked up this morning, emerging from sleep, to see Chivonne gliding far overhead. But then he rubbed his eyes fully open. If real, it was almost certainly the look-alike that Team Rocket had defeated her with. One more reason why he had been smart to not fly after.
Today his stomach overrode everything. He had put hunger aside in favor of maximizing their concealment, and speed, in search of Chivonne, forgetting how long walking took. He'd only had one chance to hunt since leaving Deep's Heart and he had had to cut it short (foregoing an Odoshishi) and settle for digging a Rattata from its nest. The other days had been a mix of Digletts, an Otachi, an Ekans, a clutch of Pidgey eggs and bugs on the side.
August walked alongside him. The human sometimes talked to Chad of Chivonne, as if sensing that he, too, thought her more important than the Master Ball. "They say a Pokémon's personality becomes more like its trainer's over time," he said. "I feel like it's the opposite, like I've taken on traits of Chivonne."
"I read about that," said Friana. "Sometimes they influence each other, meeting halfway. They often form a deep bond, depending on how the Pokémon is treated."
"You read a lot, don't you."
Friana smiled. "I've had a lot of time."
"I know we have to stay hidden," Chad cut in, "but I got to hunt. I'm slowing down."
"You are looking thin in the belly," said Friana. "You poor thing. I didn't even realize that while the rest of us had our fill, you couldn't take to the skies. Why didn't you speak up sooner?"
"We're practically on the outskirts of Yellow," said Vixen. "You could've grabbed something when you flew up this morning."
"I can't catch something in a glimpse. I got to break. I need meat."
"You gotta do what you gotta do," said Raelle, then she added in Pokémon, "Maybe you'll get lucky and find a few humans."
"We can break on the edge of the woods while Chad hunts," said Tilla. "We'll need to take stock of ourselves and of how we plan to locate Chivonne, and the Master Ball. Not to mention, have a little meal ourselves. To those foraging, watch out for stun-stem--I've seen it in these parts. It has long, ragged leaves."
Ollie, who had been traveling slightly ahead, gasped unseen in the bushes and burst through the foliage.
"Humans!" she breathed as she reached Tilla. "Two! Right up ahead of us."
"Shhh," Tilla put her hand round Ollie's back, drawing her closer. "Did they see you?"
"No but I think they heard me. They're very close."
"Chad, Vixen. Get them. They will know about us."
Chad and Vixen broke through the bushes and ran into two startled, black-uniformed soldiers of Team Rocket.
"Chaaaaarrr!" Chad flung himself on one while Vixen flamed at the other, who danced backwards out of forest-fire-safe range. As the creature turned on its two legs to run, she jumped its back. It screamed, flailing its arms and landed, the wind huffing out of its lungs. The others arrived on the scene just as Chad sank his teeth into his victim's jugular and jerked, blood spouting up and raining red on his face.
"Oh my god!" August clutched his stomach and turned, doubling over. He stumbled away up the path, holding one hand out, as if groping for something to lean on. As Vixen pinned the other human face down, Chad heard August vomiting beyond the bushes.
Chad did not want to begin eating then and there, for more than one reason. But saliva filled his mouth as he tasted the blood. He buried his teeth in the carcass. Vixen had clamped her jaws round the neck of her live prey, but had not made the final bite.
"Don't kill him." Tilla held a leaf of stun-stem out to the human's face, momentarily paralyzing him. "He may know the things we must learn."
Raelle winced at the gorging Chad, who had slit the kill down its back to one thigh, and turned back to the man with his face turned sideways in the moist dirt. In human she said, "And I know how to get it out of him." She snapped her fingers. "Chad. Take a break and help us tie him up." August crept back up through the bushes, and peered around a tree.
"We'll let Chad finish first," Raelle was saying, sitting in a comfortable mousy crouch on the ground. Vines lashed the man's legs and bound his hands behind him, while Vixen pinned his back. "What's the hurry."
"There's lots of hurry, we have to get Chivonne," said Chad, holding a bone in his hand and stripping gristle off with his teeth. August clutched his stomach and stepped back behind the tree.
Chad chucked the bare bone and put his bloody muzzle close to the live man's ruddy, sweating face. "Where's Chivonne?"
"He can't understand you." Raelle grabbed the man's hand. "Where's Chivonne."
"--don't know--" The man gasped, his cheek smooshed against leaves and dirt in the dew-kissed forest. "Let me up, I'm gonna puke."
"Where is she!"
"Aaaaahhh!" he screamed, his voice cracking, as she bent his fingers back.
"No one can hear you. Now start talking or Chad starts flaming." She nodded toward the charizard. "The Ninetales could use a lunch too. Where's Chivonne and where's the Master Ball. We kinda want both, and kinda soon."
"Master Ball--It's with the boss."
"Where's the boss." Raelle twisted his finger and the man's breath hissed in. Chad winced.
"They'll kill me--they'll kill me if I tell! Aaaaa. . ."
"We're gonna kill you if you don't!" Raelle bent his fingers further back. "Chad drag him over to those bones and shit! Maybe he gotta kiss some guts!"
Chad stepped back. Tilla, waist-high in bushes nearby, was looking at Raelle, not the human or Chad, in fear. Friana lay underneath a bush. Chad smelled urine. Apparently Vixen did too, although it was hard to say at this point why she was wrinkling her nose.
"--no, no! Daninger's in the tower. . ."
"--Black tower." He paused for air. "It's masonry."
"Is Chivonne with him."
"I don't know!"
"All right!" Raelle started dragging him by his uniform shirt and he started screaming again. "Wanna see Chad's leftovers?"
"What? Chad, he's got to talk."
"There's gotta be another way to do this!"
"Outta my way." She yanked him past Chad, grunting with each tug.
"No!" The man's hands clawed the ground; his legs tried to kick. His body heaved and he vomited. Raelle, out of breath, stopped dragging him and began bending his finger again. He retched and coughed, gaining breath to speak as his face lay in bile. "Chivonne's with him somewhere in there! That's all I know! Don't kill me, please, please!"
Chad stepped between Raelle and the remains.
"Fuck you Chad, get out of the way!" Rivulets of tears glistened on her face.
"I'm putting him out of his misery." He bent forward. They could never let him go and Chad would have no more torture.
Raelle tried to block his opening jaws. "You kill him now we're all dead! Ow--don't push me, get your hands off me--"
August stood, shaking and sweating, against a tree. "Chad--Raelle--stop it. We'll find the tower ourselves." He swallowed, pale-faced. "You can't kill him."
"No more torture, and no more death." Tilla stepped out from the bushes. "But he cannot be released."
"I can't let you kill him, I--"
"I have an idea. Ollie."
The young Gloom crept out from the vines and their tender spring leaves. She winced at the smells and sights, and cowered under the bush near Friana, but Tilla called her forward again.
"Use your Stun Spore, close to his face. Everyone, hold your breath."
Ollie released a small cloud of golden dust in the man's face. He was obviously holding his breath too, but the dust was directed at him and he succumbed. His arms and legs soon lay limp. Chad dragged him out of the vomit.
Tilla lay him down and softly shooed the others back. "I will give him my strongest dose of sleep powder. He'll be out at least a day." Out from her flower's center wafted sandy-gold powder. The man closed his eyes, and she laid her hands on him, healing his wounds as the powder settled over him, glinting in the sun. To Raelle with her mouth hanging open, she said, "I heal everyone." "I'm sorry I got carried away," said Raelle as she helped Chad use vines to tie the man to a tree further into the woods, away from any trails or streams, lessening the chance that he would become some Victreebel's lunch. August kept his distance from Raelle and especially Chad, staring at the charizard with the now-huge stomach like he was some horrible monster.
Chad snorted, almost flaming out his nostrils. "Yeah, well, I got carried away too."
"No, you were starving. For me--it's my tail. Just when I think I'm fine, this shit happens." Raelle secured the last thick vine binding the unconscious human. "Damn--it started to feel good."
"It doesn't feel good now," said Tilla, "and that's what's shows you are not a heartless brute."
"It was dreadful but necessary, without you we wouldn't know to head to the tower," said Friana. "Let's just forget about it Rae. I guess Chad'll scout for the tower?"
"I don't know about that," said August as they walked back up the path. "We're in Team Rocket territory and I sure don't want another. . . encounter."
"Get used to it," said Vixen. "All of you, get used to it! Chah! This was only the beginning! Do you have any idea how many more we'll run into before we even reach this building? This is Team Rocket headquarters! We can't just saunter in! If we don't come up with some kind of plan. . ."
"Well I think we need to know where it is before we can plan, and we won't see it from here." Chad spread his wings. "I'll just be a minute."
Chad broke the canopy surface, and Vixen's voice fell away. Flying out around the outskirts of Yellow Town, he spotted Chivonne herself in the distance. Bellowing, he flew towards her at full speed. They met in midair.
They circled each other and landed on a grassy spot. "Charrrrr. . ." His neck wound with hers. He licked her face, growling, crying. His flame of relief breathed down between her wings. "Chivonne."
She wriggled in his grasp, flapping her wings. He eased up.
"How'd you get out?"
"I. . .I slipped out--he left the forcefield off for a moment! I was lucky."
"Yeah." Chad embraced her again. She stiffened in his arms. "What's wrong?"
Chad stepped back. Why did he feel so cautious?
Chivonne found her voice again, seeming more comfortable at this distance. "Where's Tilla? I have to tell her and the others something very important. Did they find the ball?"
Chad nodded his head. "Yeah. But all I wanted to find was you."
"Let's go to them--where are they?"
"Not yet." His wings cupped her, he stepped close again, sniffing noses. It was Chivonne's scent; no two charizards were alike. "You seem different. Did they hurt you."
"Yes." Chivonne hung her head and her hands covered her face.
"How?" Chad circled her, touching and sniffing. Her body was still strangely stiff, but unscathed. "What did they do?"
"They. . .violated me."
"What?" The word shot out on a cloud of flame. Chivonne flinched.
"Oh, it was horrible. They took a--a--" she put her face in her hands again. "And that's why I feel so. . .strange." Before Chad could speak she looked up, trembling. "Where's Tilla and the others? I need to warn them! Team Rocket's coming. And they'll do the same thing to everyone! If their physical. . .body. . .permits." A nervous smile played on her face.
His fury and compassion were rippling in and out, like the consistency of Chivonne's statements. Why wasn't he flaming up the place, flapping into the sky in pursuit of the perpetrators?
Because this didn't feel like Chivonne. Not like that shrewd yet so passionate female who would wrap wings and tail with him, stoking his fires--making him feel mighty, and beautiful.
Could this be that lizard look-alike? Could two people be that similar? Chivonne had never mentioned a twin. No, it wasn't possible.
What happened next wasn't possible either.
"No!" From the same direction flew another charizard. Another Chivonne. Before he could react, she drew her feet forward to land. "Stop! That's not me that's a Ditto!"
Chad slapped his forehead. Why hadn't he thought of that!
The first Chivonne stomped over to the second. "That's not true! You're the Ditto!"
"All right, what's his name?" said the second, thumbing at Chad. Chad stepped over and his tail found hers. He squeezed his real mate; he had found solid ground with reality again.
"Okay, okay." The Ditto shrugged haughtily. "But I can beat you in battle again."
Chivonne's arm draped Chad's shoulders. "You're pressing your luck. I'm fresh this time."
"And she's not alone." They separated and faced Ditto, heads lowered, tails lashing.
"No fair!" Ditto fluttered back. "You can't attack me! Daninger's on my side and he'll kill both of you if you harm one inch of my protoplasm you wild Pokémon!"
"Eh shut up," said Chad. He jumped and tackled Ditto easily, followed by Chivonne, who attacked Ditto's legs and tail. They pinned the flailing, flaming impostor on the grass.
"Chad's my name," he said to its roaring face, "and don't wear it out."
Chivonne grinned over at him. "Good line."
Through the bushes ran Vixen. . .Raelle. . .August. . . Ollie. . .and lastly Tilla, as if she knew she could take her time.
"What the hell is going on?" said Raelle.
"Your luck just keeps improving, Chad." Vixen looked at the tangle of orange and gold bodies.
"Who is this third party?" said Tilla.
"Everyone hide," Chivonne cried, removing her mouth from Ditto's shoulder. "Team Rocket's coming now, for Tilla. He sent this Ditto after us. We'll just be a minute with it then we'll fly everyone out of here!" She shouted the last words through a veil of flames spouting from Ditto's mouth. "Chad, we just have to weaken her till she can't hold her shape. She'll turn ditto again--"
"DANINGER!" Ditto screamed.
"Stop where you are!" boomed a voice over a distant megaphone. Chad, Chivonne, Ditto, and the others all looked up at the pink hot-air balloon drifting closer, backlit by the late morning sun.
"So!" Daninger hollered from the goldola of a balloon that looked like an enormous Ditto. One hand held the megaphone, and the other operated the controls guiding the balloon closer. "Ganging up on my ditto, eh? Well I have the power of numbers now! This time there's no colony of stinkweeds protecting you!" He ducked out of sight and came up holding two Poké Balls in one hand and three in the other. "Go!" He threw them over the side. They hailed onto the ground close by, releasing red lights that shaped into a Persian, a Weezing, a Gyarados, an Aerodactyl and an Electabuzz. "Attaaaack!"
Chivonne took flight while Chad held Ditto down, and she flamed down from the skies onto the Pokémon below, managing to hurt the Gyarados and Weezing before the Aerodactyl took her on. While the Gyarados loosed a bubble beam onto Chad and the Ditto who was now changing into another Gyarados, the Weezing, Electabuzz, and Persian chased the others in the bushes.
"Ollie, use your Foul Odor!" cried Tilla. The Vileplume aimed her solar beam as the advancing Electabuzz held long sparking arms out towards the two weed Pokémon. As the Electabuzz fell back in the white light, the air filled with a hideous stench.
"Ah, August," said Daninger into the megaphone as the Persian chased him around a tree, "I always tried to explain to you that you needed more Pokémon!"