Ethan wiped the sweat off his face with his sleeve as he entered the shade of the garden. He had been at a nearby clearing in the forest, tossing pebbles and rocks of various sizes into the air for Zubat to practise its new move. Ethan had gotten a TM from the merchant at the market with a large portion of his monthly allowance. He would have trained longer, but he had some school homework to do. As he got in the house, he saw his mother and Kate arguing in the kitchen.
"...but Mom, it's so close, and it's deserted," Kate said, her tone dangerously close to a whine.
"No. You never know who or what might be lurking in that cave! I heard that it's pitch black," Ethan's mother said firmly.
"Only part of the cave is pitch black, Mom. Anyway, they say that Brawly trains there. It can't be all that dangerous," Kate retorted.
"Brawly isn't a gym leader for no reason. Between his pokemon and himself, they are quite capable of fending off any sort of danger-" At this point Kate opened her mouth to speak, but her mother raised a finger, silencing her. "-unlike you, young lady."
"It can't be all that dangerous," Kate repeated petulantly.
"It is," Ethan's mother insisted. "All sorts of things might happen to you. Off the top of my head, you could easily get lost in the cave, get attacked by dangerous pokemon, get kidnapped by bad people…" she said, ticking grim predicaments off her fingers. "Not to mention that if you get a sudden heart attack, there won't be anyone to help you."
Kate exhaled. "I'm fourteen, Mom, not forty. Besides, I told you, I'm going with my friends," she said with exaggerated patience.
"Exactly. You're fourteen, Kate. Don't try to grow up too fast." Even though his mother's expression remained calm, Ethan could hear a strain creeping into her voice, a sure sign that her patience was expiring.
"You would have done it," Kate murmured darkly.
"You would have done it when you were young, Mom," Kate clarified waspishly. "I saw some of your old photos, Mom. You picnicked at Diglett's Cave. And you were holding pokeballs in some of them," she emphasised the last accusation ominously.
"Now, those were just-"
"Just what, Mom? Your identical twin?" Kate sneered.
"Go to your room, Kate," her mother said quietly.
Kate wasn't about to back down. "This is about Dad, isn't it? What'd he do-"
"Katherine Bailey!" Ethan's mother exploded, "Go to your room!"
Ethan flinched. He had never seen his mother flare up like that, not even during the stressful periods when they had to move. Ethan's mother had always been even-tempered, dealing with Kate's sometimes impertinent behaviour firmly but mostly serenely.
Kate also looked shocked, but quickly became defiant again, glaring at her mother. She glared straight back with unusual sternness. After a few moments, Kate gave in. She turned out of the kitchen and stomped up the stairs, not showing any sign of having noticed Ethan.
Ethan's mother took a deep breath, and appeared to compose herself. It was then that she noticed Ethan standing by the doorway. "Ah, Ethan! I didn't know you were there. How did your training go?" she said, as if nothing had happened.
Ethan muttered a non-committal reply, sitting down on a couch below the lazily rotating ceiling fan, allowing his sweat to dry off. "Mom," Ethan started.
Ethan's mother stiffened, and stopped fussing over the cutlery on a rack. "Yes, dear?"
"Just now, you and Kate-"
Ethan's mother sighed resignedly. "I know, Ethan… I know. I'm just very worried that anything should happen to her."
Worried about what, Mom? Ethan wanted to ask, but didn't. He suspected that the answer wouldn't be forthcoming even if he asked. "You let me train with Zubat," Ethan pointed out.
"Kate is -different, Ethan," Ethan's mother said, chewing on her lower lip, "you know how she is. She likes to run about and poke around, and…… well…" she tapered off.
Ethan kneaded his temple. Despite the gentle caress of the fan's draught, he was feeling very sticky. "I think I'll just go up and have a shower, Mom," he said, standing up. He wondered if his mother's uncharacteristic outburst had anything to do with the oddly-attired goon Ethan's mother called 'Rocket'. It probably has everything to do with that, Ethan mused, nearly stepping on the sleeping form of Token, blissfully unaware of what had transpired in the kitchen.
"Go away, River," Keira said, laughing. The ralts had been prying into Ethan's thoughts and feelings, searching. Ethan, still unused to psychic pokemon, had been unnerved by the odd sensation. The ralts did a little shrug, and hopped off the arm of the couch and out of the room.
Ethan was at Keira's house after dinner for a school project for Pokemon Studies, both Ethan's and Keira's favourite subject. Ethan glanced at the clock on the living room wall. "It's late. I have to get back," he said. He gathered his books and headed for the door.
"…… and we still have that essay on the ecology of Kanto to do. Should be a breeze for you, you're from Kanto," Keira finished as they reached the door. Zubat, hanging upside-down from the doorframe, swooped down to Ethan's shoulder.
Peril awaits your family, a disembodied voice said. Ethan started. River stood beside the door, and Ethan got the feeling that she was looking at him, even though ralts don't have eyes. His pause wasn't lost on Keira. "What, River told you your family is in danger or something, didn't she?" She picked up the tiny psychic pokemon. "Don't mind River, she just likes doing that to people."
Ethan could only nod. At the back of his mind, he felt a lingering unease as he stepped out into the dark night. Being in the outskirts of Dewford Town, the houses weren't closely-packed like nearer the town centre. A gravel path of about a hundred metres separated Ethan's and Keira's houses. Ethan didn't particularly mind. The night air was cool, and as it was a cloudless night, he could even see a few stars twinkling.
As he approached his house he saw a group of a dozen or so men and women huddled outside the garden. They were all wearing full-body black, with a familiar orange 'R' on their backs. Shit! Ethan instinctively got off the gravel path, crouching to hide in the tall grass. Another four uniformed goons appeared out of the house marching Ethan's father out tightly. His face was swollen and bloody, as if he had been beaten.
Ethan saw another man stride out of the house. He was attired in the same style, but his jacket was white instead of black, making him stand out against the other goons. He was obviously a superior officer of some sort. Ethan couldn't help but feel that he had seen that man somewhere. He took off his white-striped beret to reveal an almost bald pate. In a flash, Ethan remembered who he was: Skipler. He was Ethan's father's childhood friend, who helped them move to Dewford.
Ethan was shaken out of his reverie by Skipler ordering his goons to half-march, half-drag Ethan's father away. What am I doing? I should do something! He stood up, preparing himself and Zubat to confront Skipler. One of the goons heard the rustle of the grass and turned in his direction, spotting him. "Hey, you!"
Zubat flew right at the goon, who ducked just in time. As he began to draw a pokeball from his pocket, Skipler stopped him. "Keep with the plan. Leave this whelp to me."
The goon hesitated a little, scowling at being denied battle, but backed down, following his fellow teammates. "Roger, Admin."
Skipler dodged another one of Zubat's flybys. He now drew a great ball of his own from his jacket. "Mach, I choose you." A large crobat, twice the size of Zubat, materialised from the great ball.
"Now, listen to me, boy," Skipler began.
"You betrayed my father! He was your friend!"
"It's not quite as simple as that, boy, now back down," he said authoritatively.
Ignoring Skipler's admonishments altogether, Ethan said, "Zubat, Aerial Ace!" Zubat obeyed, speeding up to a blur towards the crobat.
"Fine. Mach, Faint Attack." Skipler's crobat suddenly disappeared from view, causing Zubat to miss. It appeared right on top of Zubat, tackling him with full force. Zubat lost height, but managed to avoid crashing and stay airborne. Zubat started glowing softly, like the moon, and began to grow bigger, evolving. When the evolution finished, Ethan's zubat had become a golbat.
Ethan, despite the circumstances, smiled with pride. All those months of hard work finally paid off. "Golbat, Confuse Ray!" Golbat opened its now-large mouth, an odd ray starting to form between them.
The crobat, however, was too fast. "Mach, Air Cutter." The crobat flapped its wings, generating mach-speed winds in a narrow area. Golbat wasn't quick enough in evading the razor-sharp winds, and was knocked out of the air. His unconscious form landed with a thud a few metres behind Skipler.
"Zubat!" Ethan started in the direction of the inanimate golbat, but Skipler strode briskly up to him, unclipping a baton on the way. Instinctively, Ethan raised his arms to block, but the expected blow did not come. Instead, Skipler gave him a swift shove with his baton hand, causing Ethan to lose his balance and fall on the ground. Skipler towered over him. When Ethan tried to rise again, Skipler crouched down quickly, slamming Ethan's face into the dirt again.
He's pretending to hit me…… what the hell? Skipler put a hand on Ethan's throat as if to check his pulse, and leaned closer to his ear. "Listen up, boy. Go to Mt. Chimney. All the answers will be found there," he hissed urgently.
As soon as he finished saying that, Skipler rose up and aimed a kick at Ethan's ribs. It knocked the wind out of Ethan when it connected, exquisite pain shooting through his body. Casting a final contemptuous glance at Ethan's writhing body, Skipler put on his white-striped beret and strode away.
A/N: And here's Chapter Four. R&R please. Again, thanks to Farla for patiently beta-reading my chapters. The chapter would have been much choppier without her advice.