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You guys deserve waaayyy better than these ridiculous updates. The bad news is this chapter Is a month late. The good news is this chapter is a month late because the next chapter (which I was writing) is ridiculously long. Thus, I've decided to split the next chapter so I WILL BE POSTING ANOTHER CHAPTER A WEEK FROM TODAY.

On another note, has YET AGAIN decided to mess with the formatting so now it looks like 'o' on a single line is a new point of view. I don't like how it looks, but I'd rather spend my time writing than going back and fixing every single one of my chapters. From now on, the division line for new point of views will look like: o ~ o ~ o ~ (until, of course, decides to erase that formatting). If you happen to notice major formatting problems (like nothing between changes in point of views) PLEASE LET ME KNOW, because that would be important to fix.

Review time, and there were a lot. Seriously guys, thank you so much! It's you guys that keep me writing (even when it seems like I'm not because of lack of updates) and I would be even less on track without your encouragement. Thank you.

mikk317- I feel like your expression applies to this chapter, too. :( But thanks, and I can't wait to go!

pikachucat- Thank you!

OBR- Hope the AP Test went better than mine went back in the day...

StattStatt- My editor often scolds me for making the Celebi of this story such a bad example for her stuffed Celebi. X)

Sandy Star- Tehehe. You'll know soon enough. Let me know if you guessed right!

ChaosAngel4us- Celebi can be very confusing. But then again, only Celebi knows which events trigger each other in the long scheme of time. And it gets harder and harder to have all the characters in every chapter- they're so spread out now! Thanks!

Montimer S- Thank you. When it comes to Landon, I don't think Liam can help but be a bit emotional...

Umbreon of Darkness- Thanks for adding me!

MAnon- Just so you know, when I read this review, I flipped. I'm still obsessed with that song, and you totally made my day.

Last Warrior- ...Guess you've had plenty of time for rereading. Sorry! You'll have to wait and see what happens. ;) But I like your predictions!

GRCDarkWolf- I do my best, and I'll keep at it. I do promise that this story will have an ending, no matter how long it takes me. I have a goal of finishing before I'm out of school so...

Raichu- Thanks!

JacobTheNerdy1- Cute name. Thank you very much!

Alright guys, thank you. I've never received so many reviews. If this writing back at the beginning of each chapter is becoming a nuisance, and you guys would rather me PM my thanks, let me know. I just really want to make sure I acknowledge everyone who's taken the time to read this. It seriously means a lot to me.

WARNING: WHILE THIS CHAPTER DOES NOT CONTAIN GORE, IT ALLUDES TO VERY MATURE AND VIOLENT THEMES.

Previously on An Apple a Day:

Styx, the normal gym leader's strange-powered girlfriend, tries and fails to help Anita break Liam's Forced Transformation Device. Anita achieves this herself, making Liam furious. Anita manages to convince Liam to battle the the normal-typed gym leader twins. In exchange, she will tell Liam everything she knows about the whereabouts and habits of Mew. During the gym battle, Anita manages to deceive everyone watching into believing Apple evolved into Umbreon, thus proving Apple's 'innocence' of being Mew.

Several miles away in Drape Town, the tracking device picked up Apple's transformation. However, a Team Glop'emm grunt, presumably paid off, broke the machine as soon as it emitted this information.

Both Jamie Arkle, assistant to the Master, and Seth Hastings, Mel's father who traveled back in time, were jailed and happen to share a cell. Jamie Arkle was thrown in jail as a suspect for leading Team Glop'emm. Seth Hastings was accused of child abuse and withholding information on the dark gym leader's location. They are being held in Zahavah City, home of the psychic gym leader, Tamara Lilac. Tamara is being partially held hostage by Liam's Spiritomb, who prevents her from telepathically showing anyone else Liam's face or doing anything that might endanger his trainer.

Meanwhile, after the gym battle, Celebi takes Liam back in time to rescue his cousin Landon from certain death. Celebi forces Liam to return to his own time without Landon; Landon is left under the care of Seth Hastings. Liam also leaves Rita Teal's Ditto, Sticky, back in time so Sticky may pretend to be a dead Landon washed ashore.

Anita and Erin see the green light emitted from the Artemis Town Pokemon Center from Liam time traveling.

The Master requests a new Forced Transformation Device from Rita Teal. However, as soon as she gets off the walkie-talkie with him, he appears on Team Glop'emm's doorstep...

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Chapter 43: Break Away

"It seems, you've been deceived…"

The Master grabbed a long, black cloak hanging by the door and pulled it on as he walked down the hall. He pocketed my walkie. I hurried after him, my lab coat brushing against my ankles with each step. When I realized I was still holding the FTD prototype, I clipped it to my belt.

"Sir, if you weren't on the other end of the walkie, who was?" I asked

"A very good question," the Master answered. He slowed his pace, peering into offices as we walked past them. I fell in step beside him, examining the boy out of the corner of my eye.

He looked scrawny, as if he hadn't eaten for a few weeks. He was taller than I remembered, having grown at least an inch since he left the base.

If he didn't know who was on the other end of the walkie, we were in trouble. And Sticky… "Sir, do you know what's happened to Sticky?"

"Sticky?"

I felt the blood drain out of my face. "One of my Dittos, sir." Just how long ago did he lose the walkie-talkie? How many Team Glop'emm secrets had I shared with the man on the other side of the walkie? Dear Arceus, I'd supplied him with the Forced Transformation Device.

And Sticky. Sticky was endangered because of the Master's carelessness.

The Master shrugged and continued walking. I suddenly felt a rush of anger towards the boy walking in front of me. Why hadn't he called as soon as the walkie had been lost? There were plenty of other means of communication. If anything happened to Sticky, there'd be hell to pay—

"Take me to the device," the Master said.

"Of course," I said stonily. The corner of the Master's mouth twitched. Almost a smirk.

I could punch the brat.

I frowned as we turned a corner, feeling slightly guilty. Punch the brat. No, I couldn't. Just the thought made me sick to my stomach, made me feel as low as that shithead Arkle. I pressed my thumb to the DNA scanner at the end of the hall, granting us elevator access.

Something was wrong, I thought as we rode to the lower basements. Something felt wrong. I glanced at the Master again. He'd put up his hood. I'd never felt the urge to act in such a violent manner, even while sitting through the hundreds of meetings in which Arkle constantly spouted nonsense.

We exited the elevator. Eyebrows of Team Glop'emm employees shot up as we passed. A few of the lab researchers we passed nodded to the Master or murmured, "Welcome back, sir."

We stopped before the door where the device was located. I took a deep breath, knowing this would not go over well. "Sir, you should be informed that there has been an accident. Something in the device's circuitry shorted, and the tracker is currently down. We're working hard to fix—"

The Master waved a hand nonchalantly, turned heel, and walked back towards the elevator.

I narrowed my eyes. No, something was certainly not right. "Sir," I said. "There's an important matter I'd like to discuss with you. Can we go to your office?"

The boy nodded, his eyes an eerie green beneath his hood.

"You remember Janet, your secretary…" I chatted relentlessly as we returned the way we came, and rode the elevator up to the office floor. I watched the boy carefully for a reaction.

When we reached the Master's office, I moved aside. I'd opened every other DNA scanning door. The cloaked boy didn't immediately press his thumb to the scanner. Perhaps he'd still expected me to open the door for him.

I watched him expectantly.

He pressed his thumb to the scanner. The light glowed red. Access denied.

My suspicions were confirmed. This boy was not the Master. I swiped my thumb across the scanner, opened the door, and shoved the boy into the office.

The door swung shut behind us. "For the record, the Master's never had a secretary," I said. I walked around the Master's desk and took a seat in his cushioned swivel chair, folding my hands atop the desk. "Now you're going to tell me who the hell you really are."

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~

I wearily pressed the "end call" button on the communication screen and leaned back in my office chair. So much for gaining assistance from Morty, Johto's ghost gym leader. Espeon rubbed against my legs in an attempt to provide what little comfort she could.

{You do realize that I'm not even trying to get you out of my body,} I said. As usual, the Spiritomb didn't respond.

Espeon looked at me sharply. She knew something was wrong; after all, every time Liam Mendol's damned Spiritomb interfered with my body or psychic powers, Espeon felt my presence disappear. I was also fairly certain that the Spiritomb was filtering what telepathy I received from Espeon, preventing me from even listening to her questions.

If only she would tell one of the other gym leaders that something felt strange…

I yawned as I pulled out Acceber's prison reports. Really, it was about time I hired someone else to deal with all this paperwork.

Frowning, I paged through the paperwork until I found Jamie Arkle's file. {This case would be over if it weren't for you,} I told the Spiritomb. {If you would allow me to contract a powerful ghost user, we could kick the ghost out of this psychopath's body, interrogate the man, and get him permanently thrown into a higher security prison.}

Every time I had attempted to broach the subject of ghost Pokemon residing in human bodies, Spiritomb had prevented me from speaking. Morty was probably still wondering why I had contacted him in the first place.

I skimmed through the guards' report for the day of Arkle's activities. Ate meals as usual. Spewed profanity. Tried to stab another prisoner with a pencil during the recess period. It was noted that the other prisoner attacked first. At 7:05 pm, demanded and received his single phone call.

{Did any guards report anything unusual about Jamie Arkle's phone call?} I asked Espeon.

She shook her head, but sent a series of psychic pulses at my computer, psychically navigating to open the video on my computer screen.

The scene began with Jamie Arkle entering an empty interrogation room, bare except the communication screen across from the door. A guard I knew by the name of Willis entered behind Arkle, softly closing the heavy door.

Espeon continued to psychically push keys on my computer keyboard and the screen divided. The left half of the screen continued to show Arkle in the interrogation room while the right half was a fuzzy grey, indicating Arkle had not yet made a phone call.

On the screen, as Arkle dialed a number, there was a loud wrapping on the door. "Yo, Will, get out here. We need backup getting that lunatic professor back into his cell."

My eyes narrowed in on Willis as he left the room. Major protocol breach. All phone calls were supposed to be supervised—the cameras in the room were solely for security purposes. They were not regularly reviewed. I'd have to have a word with Willis and his supervisor…

{Isn't Jamie Arkle's cellmate a 'lunatic professor'?} Espeon asked.

{Yes.} A feeling of misgiving settled in my stomach, something that had been occurring with less frequency since Mendol's Spiritomb entered my life.

On the right half of the screen, a boy with brown eyes and ridiculous bleached hair hanging in his face appeared. He appeared to be in an upscale flat. Behind the boy was a double sized bed with an ornate headboard and plush comforter. There was a pretty blonde girl lying on the bed reading a magazine.

What would Arkle want with teenagers?

"Oh, it's you," the boy said. "What do you want?"

"Good to see you, Reece. I'll be taking the favor you owe me, now," Arkle replied.

"Dude, now's really not a good time—" Reece, the boy, started.

"I don't particularly care. The Gallade I gave you has been trained in hypnotism and mind control. You will teleport to Globert City and hypnotize as many poison Pokemon as possible to attack Cereal City. You will then teleport the poison Pokemon into Cereal City."

Reece scratched his head. "By attack, do you mean like kill people?"

"I mean cause as much destruction as possible, and if people happen to die…"

I paused the video. Hell. I glanced at the clock at the computer clock. The call was made six hours ago, which meant it might already be too late. Despite the immense power it would use, I sent my mind out to Cereal City's gym, searching for Kyle or Tounsil, his Vaporeon.

I located him in his loft above the gym. {Kyle, wake up. Look out the window.}

Drowsily, the gym leader rolled out of his bed, untangling himself from his sheets. "Tamara?" he asked. I didn't answer; it was hard enough to maintain this connection. I could only sense a portion of what Kyle could because of how often I'd entered his mind in the past. Kyle shook his head and stumbled to the window.

I felt the cool air hit his face.

And then smelled the poisonous fumes.

Immediately, I returned to my body. "Espeon, we have to go."

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~

Erin and I swung the Pokemon Center doors open in unison and stumbled into the building. Apple nearly tripped me as she bolted ahead.

SMACK

I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting to find, but certainly not Styx slapping Liam across the face. It was a loud slap, like the sound of someone belly-flopping into a pool. Liam's cheek was cherry red. I was shocked Liam didn't move out of the way. I'd seen him dodge hundreds of kicks and punches, and this had to have hurt.

"That's for before, you asshole," Styx said.

Liam blinked. "You're not Landon."

"No shit." Styx shook her head, then examined Liam's belt, snatching the PokeBall clipped farthest on his right hip. "This is mine." Styx took a step back and crossed her arms.

They watched each other for a moment. Styx's eyes flicked to me, and a minute smile crept on to her face. "And this, Liam, is for helping me meet the love of my life." She bent over and kissed Liam's head.

Erin and I exchanged bewildered looks.

{Err, did I miss something?} Apple asked. {I'm pretty much an emotional-vibe expert being psychic and all, but I don't know what to make of that.}

The doors to the emergency care area were flung open as Dustin kicked them open with his casted leg, using the crutches to create forward momentum. Somehow I didn't think the doctors would be pleased with the innovative use of the cast as a battering ram.

Dustin immediately spotted Styx leaning intimately towards Liam.

{Anita, I'm getting a weird vibe from Styx. You've tried to read her mind before, right? Well, when I try to look at it now, its like she's not even there—she feels like Liam feels.} I frowned and tried to sense Styx myself. Nothing. Apple was right.

Dustin leaned on his right crutch and pointed the left one at Liam. "Alright, kid, unless you want to become minced Mendol bits, you will explain to me exactly what is going on here."

Liam's expression was uncharacteristically lackluster. Something was wrong. Usually by this point he'd be goading Dustin with a smirk and some derisive language.

"Your girlfriend's a Ditto," Liam said, stepping back from Styx.

A childish comeback, I thought, and really random. "Liam, are you okay?" I asked as he walked towards us. "What happened?"

Liam strode past us through the Pokemon Center doors into the night. Erin, Apple, and I followed.

Liam had already started down the concrete stairs. "Liam, what happened?" I asked again. He didn't stop.

"We're your friends, Liam. We're only trying to help," Erin called.

Liam had reached the bottom of the stairs. He turned to face us, with eyes glowing like green miniature moons in the moonlight. Next to me, Apple's yellow rings were just as bright.

"I have a family emergency I must attend to immediately," Liam said.

"Alright, well we'll come," Erin offered. "Where is it?"

I didn't say anything, hesitant. {Apple, something's fishy. He made me swear earlier today to give him all information about Mew and now he's just leaving?}

{You know, it's very possible that he considers his family more important than destroying Mew,} Apple said. {That's how most people think.}

{Most of Liam's family's dead,} I said, recalling our conversation in line for the Adventure Quest roller coaster.

Apple didn't have a reply to that.

"You're not coming." Liam turned around and continued down the street. Erin hurried after him, and I followed, trying to track Liam with my eyes. In his dark shirt and muddy cache pants, Liam seemed to slip between shadows cast by the dim streetlights.

Erin broke into a run when she hit the bottom of the stairs, and Liam darted out of sight into an alley. I caught up with Erin when she stopped in front of the alley, squinting through the darkness. It was empty.

{Look up,} Apple called. I turned around. Apple still sat at the top of the stairs. I followed her gaze to the stars and spotted the faintest black silhouette of a large bird against the dark sky.

{Liam?} I asked Apple.

{Likely. It flew out near the alley you're by.}

I tapped Erin on the shoulder and pointed. She swore, yanked out her PokeTech, and dialed Liam's number. Of course, he didn't answer.

"Damn, if I had a Pokemon that could carry us…" Erin muttered as we walked back to the Pokemon Center.

"He'll be back," I said. He would if he wanted the particulars about Mew.

"He will if I have anything to say about it," Erin grumbled. "We could follow him; he was heading west. Maybe Dustin would lend us a bird—"

"All of Acceber's west of here," I reminded Erin. "We don't know where he flew off to."

We walked in silence up the Pokemon Center staircase. As I opened the Pokemon Center doors, Erin started, "Actually, Anita, there's something I've wanted to—"

Dustin was speaking to Styx. "—time travel. And he knows that you're a Ditto, Styx. Can't you see how dangerous—" Dustin noticed Erin and I had reentered the Pokemon Center.

"What about time travel?" Erin asked at the same time I said, "Liam wasn't joking about Styx being a Ditto?"

Dustin looked at us, opened his mouth then closed it. "Well, this is awkward," he finally said.

{Even if Styx is a Ditto, that doesn't explain how she fought you off psychically and how now she's disappeared from my mind's sight like she's got a dark gift,} Apple said. {It's like she can just imagine exactly what she wants to transform into and poof…}

{And none of that explains how she knew about the FTD.}

"I think you have some explaining to do," I told Styx pointedly.

Styx rolled her eyes and threw her ponytail over her shoulder. "I don't have to tell you anything."

"Well, I for one, want to know why you kissed Liam," Dustin said, turning towards Styx as if he'd been lightheartedly arguing with her the whole time Erin and I were outside the Pokemon Center. "Don't think I didn't see that through the windows on the emergency care doors—"

"Will you guys SHUT UP," Erin yelled. She pointed at Dustin. "You need to stop trying to distract us from our questions. It won't work. If you actually thought something went on with Styx and Liam you wouldn't be talking about it in front of us." Erin turned her death glare to Styx. She visibly flinched. "And you asked me to research Celebi so if you know something about time travel, I should be informed. More importantly, Liam just flew off somewhere because you did or said something to him. I don't care if you're a Ditto, a Magikarp, or a dead frog—as Liam's friends, Anita and I deserve some answers."

I grinned at Styx over Erin's shoulder. Erin turned around to face me, wiping the smile right off my face. "And I don't know what has gotten into you, Anita," she said quietly. "I thought whatever issues between you and Liam were through, but you didn't even try to stop him from leaving just now."

"Erin, I…" I honestly didn't know what to tell her at this point.

"Well that last one can be explained easily enough," Styx said, pulling out a chair from a nearby table and sitting down. "See Erin, Anita's Mew, and Liam intends to destroy Mew."

{Wow, this is better than a soap opera,} Apple commented dryly. She pushed a chair under my legs, forcing me to sit before I decided to yank someone's hair out.

"Anita, I had no idea—" Erin started.

"I'm not Mew," I snapped.

"Then I'm not a Ditto," Styx said sarcastically.

"Seriously, Liam tested me with that freakin' FTD and nothing happened."

"FTD?" Erin asked.

With one hand, Dustin pulled two more chairs around from the other side of the table, forming a circle. He sat down next to Styx, and Erin sat next to me. Apple lied down under my chair.

Erin held the edge of her seat intently, glancing from me to Styx.

"We should start from the beginning," Styx muttered, looking at me expectantly. I nearly rolled my eyes—Styx knew more than me.

Styx continued watching me. Fine, whatever. I turned to Erin and said, "Liam's been hunting Mew from the moment we met him at Peepin Pond. I had suspicions, but wasn't totally sure until I saw him use this FTD—Forced Transformation Device—on Sticky, that Ditto his Professor person sent him."

Erin frowned. "I fail to see how you can conclude he is pursuing Mew based on a piece of transformation technology. You're paranoid—it could be totally unrelated." Erin blinked. Geeze, she sounded just like Liam in encyclopedia mode. "Just so you know, I accept you for you are whether or not you are a legendary Poke—"

"I'm not Mew," I growled. "He already tested me with the FTD—it was disguised as that syringe he told you was a disease cure or something. If he's not chasing Mew, why do you think he would lie to you about the syringe?"

"Some non-disclosure rule, I don't know," Erin said, folding her arms. She looked at me thoughtfully. "As much as I'm tempted to, as a friend it really wouldn't be fair of me to just blow off this ridiculousness… So, supposing I believe you about this forced-transformation device, why would Liam be hunting Mew?"

"He told me he was hunting Mew, Erin. A lot of Liam's family was killed in the Slateport City tsunami, and Lily—the girl Liam knew in Vintage Village—her parents were killed by Mew. He has a thing against legendary Pokemon."

"And you're not Mew?"

"Correct."

"Then… why do you care?"

Styx smirked, looking at me like I was a mouse in a trap. Dustin was leaned forward, closing his eyes and resting his elbows on his cast.

"I've… kind of have had a connection to Mew for a while now. I sometimes run errands for her." Beneath me Apple shifted, and I just knew she was hiding a smile. Well, it was kind of true, and that's what I told Liam.

Styx raised her eyebrows doubtfully.

"Errands?" Erin asked.

"Well, I've done her favors—gave her my observations of a couple of cities, brought her medicine once—just small stuff. In exchange, she told me about the gift, and got me started training with telepathy." Still all technically true.

"And you haven't tried to catch it…her… yet?" Dustin asked, his close-eyed expression unchanging.

"With what, a PokeBall?"

"Why didn't you tell me?" Erin asked.

"Would you have believed me? Do you even believe me now?"

Erin sighed and bent over to scratch Apple's ears. "So you're emotionally attached to Mew, and won't give up its location to Liam, who's trying to destroy Mew."

"Yup, that about sums it up."

"But where would Liam get the resources to…" Erin trailed off. I found it slightly annoying that I couldn't read her mind when she was touching Apple's fur; a side effect of Apple transforming I really hadn't considered. "Yes, I believe you."

I nodded, turning my attention to Styx. "Your turn. Why do you think I'm Mew, how do you know about the FTD, and are you actually a Ditto?"

Styx pointed a finger at me. Her arm extended disturbingly long, morphed into a tentacle, and reached for my head. I instinctively drew back, but Styx's limb extended until it was touching my forehead. "Yes, I am a Ditto," she said. "Until recently, I worked under Rita Teal, the Professor that Liam works with. I helped create the Forced Transformation Device."

{Apple, how does she do that? Pokemon shouldn't be able to transform straight from one form to the next, right?}

{I have no idea. It could explain why we can't feel her mind though. If she can incorporate Liam's dark gifted DNA into her own…}

"You work in a Pokemon Center inventing medical devices, are majoring in Linguistics and Biomechanical Engineering, and in your spare time assist whack-jobs with their Mew-destroying projects?"

"I didn't know what the FTD would be used for when I was initially working on it. Later, I learned it was supposed to be used on you—Liam was convinced you were Mew. I know what its like to adjust to life as a transformed Pokemon, and I wasn't going to let a little syringe destroy all the work you've put into building a life and relationships…" Styx leaned back and tugged on her ponytail. "A pity you're not actually Mew. I'd have a tip or two for you on transformations."

{Can you think of any way I can ask about transformation without sounding ridiculously suspicious?} I asked Apple.

Apple sighed in pleasure when Erin scratched a particularly sensitive spot on her ear. {Mmm, nope.}

"So what about the time travel thing?" Erin asked.

Styx shrugged. "Dustin just mentioned a new side project of mine—time travel. If Celebi can do it, theoretically we should be able to build a machine that can also manipulate time."

I frowned. Styx's dismissive attitude didn't quite fit the situation. Then again, without the ability to use my gift on her, it was difficult to tell whether or not she was lying.

I caught Erin's eye. She agreed with me.

"So why'd you slap Liam?" I asked. "And why did he have your PokeBall?"

Styx raised an eyebrow at me. "Suspicious, much? Don't worry, I didn't abuse your boyfriend."

"You slapped him," Erin pointed out.

"What, is he your boyfriend, too?" Styx asked, pulling Dustin's hand into hers. "Liam figured out I was a Ditto, took my PokeBall—yes, I have a PokeBall—and taunted me. What would you have done?"

Well yeah, I probably would have tried to hit him.

"You're four or five years older than us," Erin said.

Styx smirked. "You sure about that? I'm a Ditto, remember?"

And once again, Styx was drawing our attention away from Liam. Maybe it wasn't on purpose. Maybe. No, it probably was. Ugh, something just didn't feel right…

I replayed the scene Erin and I'd walked into earlier, and felt Apple's presence heighten. She watched with me. Styx slapped Liam. "You're not Landon," Liam had said.

{Who the hell's Landon?} I asked.

{Probably family if he's dealing with a family emergency,} Apple said.

{Maybe.} I shook my head. {Apple, he let Styx hit him. When was the last time anyone's hand connected with Liam's face?}

"…borrow a Noctowl to fly after him?" I heard the end of Erin's question. She watched Dustin intently.

Dustin didn't look interested in Erin's question; in fact, with his head in the palm of his hand and his eyes shut, he looked like he was going to fall asleep. I yawned and checked my watch. 3:14 a.m. Definitely well past my bedtime.

"Erin, it's late. Maybe we should just follow him tomorrow," I said. "Or we can wait. He'll be back eventually—"

Suddenly, Dustin jumped up, clutching his head in pain. "Shit, shit, shit. Tamara… ow."

Styx quickly moved to support Dustin's shoulder so he didn't fall over. "What is it?"

"We have to go. According to Tamara, Cereal City's under attack."

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~

Even flying in the moonlight on this cool summer night was failing to effectively clear my mind of images of Landon. The Landon I'd abandoned in his own time. My four-year old cousin, Landon.

Upon my take-off, I'd pointed Honchkrow towards Winsk City, where Hastings, and assumedly Landon, had been residing ten years ago. In my initial attempt to find Landon, I'd overlooked the very obvious fact that it'd been ten years since I left Landon in Winsk City and it was likely he no longer resided there.

I quickly rectified my error, redirecting Honchkrow to Artemis Town's library to look up the current residence of Professor Hastings.

My findings were disturbing. Beyond disturbing. Something in my stomach seethed, threatening to collapse.

Professor Hastings had recently been arrested for suspected child abuse.

Even when my mother died, both times she died, I didn't feel—

I momentarily shut my eyes, trying to let the moonlight wash over me and absorb my thoughts. Now I was headed to Zahavah City, where Acceber's central jail was located.

The wind rustled my clothes, still damp from the snow in Winsk City. I shivered.

"Landon, if anything separates us, I will come find you."

Hours ago. I'd said that hours ago. My stomach churned again, this time because Honchkrow had begun to descend.

Zahavah City twinkled at night. Lights shimmered on skyscrapers, streetlights, and trees, all reflected off of the encompassing psychic screen that surrounded Zahavah City. The screen was used to detect and track every person who entered and exited the city.

Well, almost every person.

Honchkrow dipped through the barrier. We passed above the Zahavah City Gym and over a tree full of Murkrows, one of the few wild Pokemon that populated the streets of Zahavah City.

The gym was strategically placed less than half a mile from the Zahavah City jail. Tamara always had at least three psychic Pokemon, usually accompanied by Pokemon that worked for the police department, patrolling the area.

As I flew above the barbed wire fence, I scanned the area. No psychic Pokemon by the gym. Eight guards patrolling the prison ground's perimeter, each accompanied by an Arcanine. A single Alakazam near the prison's front gate.

Odd, where were the rest of Tamara's Pokemon?

After my previous break-in to the gym, I'd expected an increase in security. This was rather… disappointing.

The actual building possessing the prisoner holding cells had only one entrance. Lights illuminated the path that led from the front gate to the single door.

Once I landed, the lights would take away my advantage of being able to see clearly at night.

For a moment, I contemplated landing at the front gate, flashing my gym leader ID and legally gaining access to the prison. That plan would certainly minimize damage to the ever-increasing rift between me and the other seven gym leaders. However, there would be protocols to follow and no doubt questions of my rather sudden appearance to answer. Tamara would be contacted. It could be several hours before I would be able to speak with Hastings.

Too slow.

I directed Honchkrow into a nosedive at the Arcanine nearest to the gate, but far enough away from the illuminated path that I would not be spotted immediately. I released Bree from her PokeBall as Honchkrow hit the Arcanine with a drill peck, and ordered a psychic before the Arcanine's human partner, a hefty man with a beard, could utter a world.

"The key card?" I asked Bree.

The guard's eyes bulged as a card fluttered from his pocket to my hand.

I spoke to my Umbreon softly as I returned Honchkrow to his PokeBall. "Bree, move the Arcanine's body and walk with the guard until someone notices your unusual presence. This shouldn't take long. When you're attacked, react accordingly." Bree nodded at me and forced the guard to walk awkwardly beside her.

I darted into the darkness towards the jail. I had between four and eight minutes until the Alakazam noticed the Arcanine or Bree's control over the prison guard. I had approximately another six minutes to use as Bree fended off attackers.

Not far from the entrance, I strode into the lamplight and walked confidently towards the entrance. On the off chance another prison guard caught a glimpse of me from a distance, I would likely be taken for another guard.

Flashing the key card at the scanner on the door gained me access to the building. The first prison guard I encountered I incapacitated with a strike to the jaw. The second guard I encountered was already asleep at his post.

I systematically walked through the narrow prison halls on the first floor, where Hastings was likely being held for the time. Upper and lower levels were typically reserved for prisoners already found guilty of their crimes.

Most of the prisoners I passed, like the second guard, were asleep. The few wake ones paid me no mind, perhaps falsely assuming I was an inspector.

To my surprise, at the end of the third hall, I peered into a cell to find a very awake Jamie Arkle peering right back.

"To what do I owe the pleasure, Master?"

An unfortunate turn of events I should have considered, I mused. From the security cameras I'd spotted along the walls, Tamara would certainly now know or further suspect my status within Team Glop'emm.

My former assistant looked more haggard than usual, with the dark dips beneath his eyes and his facial hair a centimeter longer than it was in our previous encounter.

My eyes darted to movement in the bed behind Arkle. Wild white hair, bifocals.

I blinked, surprised for the second time in a matter of seconds. Hastings.

"Where is Landon?"

Hastings sat up in his bed, looked at me, and began to giggle. His waist was thicker than it had been ten years ago and his skin was wizened.

"Didn't you get the memo? Your cousin died years ago," Arkle said, pressing his hands against the metal bars dividing us.

Continuing to gaze past Arkle, I pulled out Notal's PokeBall and pressed the release button. There was a flash of red within the cell. "On the old man," I ordered.

My Mightyena pounced on Hastings, sharply snapping his shoulder back onto the bed. She growled threateningly and snapped her jaws near his throat.

"What—"

"This does not concern you, Jamie," I said quietly. "Professor Hastings, you will tell me exactly what you have done to Landon and exactly where he is currently located, or my Mightyena will tear out your throat."

"Ah, so you've finally deemed torture an acceptable means of gaining information." Arkle sniffed. "My boy's growing—"

"Shut up." I didn't have time to deal with this crap. "Hastings, start talking."

The professor smiled dreamily. "She promised. She promised I could save my son, my son with hair the color of the sun just like my beautiful Abetzi. She promised I could save him if I raised the other boy. If I kept the other boy safe and quiet."

'She' could only refer to Celebi.

"She brought me back six years, six years before my son died on August 9, 2009." Once again, Hastings began laughing. Notal growled and pressed a paw against the professor's throat. He wheezed and then continued, "I had six years to raise and keep the boy. Wrote a lot. He was like a son. I always kept him inside, just like she wanted. He never left. Never, never." Hastings frowned. "He was a strange boy. Made me feel… I hit him when he was loud, when he whined. I never hit my son."

I struggled to control my breathing. "Where is he?"

"Six years later it was August 9th again. I could save my son; she had granted me that opportunity. I would have, if… But no, the boy locked me in my room. Boarded up the windows. Said he wanted me to feel what it was like to be cooped up the whole day. Took my Pokemon, too. That ten-year-old boy lived that day. He went sledding and eating and playing while my son died again." Hastings snickered. "When the boy let me out of my room two days later, I made sure he'd never escape again. He killed my son."

"Where is Landon?"

"The boy was strange. Liked to bleed. I was going to take away his Pokemon, but they began attacking him. His Houndoom was vicious—biting and clawing and—"

"Spare me the gory details. What have you done with Landon now?" I focused on a rectangular stone in the wall beside Hastings' head. I would not let my calm façade be destroyed, no matter how sick I felt. I would not allow Arkle to see any signs of weakness.

"Oh, but I haven't gotten to the best part. I thought perhaps she'd left the boy to unlock some mystery of traveling through time—she'd promised after all—I'd save me son. I performed some experiments and found something was wrong with the boy. It wasn't my fault I always wanted to hit him—I'm not a violent person, you see—"

"Unfortunately for you, Professor Hastings, I am. Notal." I continued to stare at the stone as Notal bit down on the professor's ear. Hastings shrieked, surely awakening the other prisoners and nearby guards. Blood spattered onto the stone. "Where is Landon now?"

"Stop! Stop—I don't know where he is," Hastings sobbed. "One day he was slumped in my living room, chained to the wall. The next day he disappeared. Ask Niami Shivicle—she knows—she thought he was you when he escaped."

Loud footfalls were approaching quickly on my left. I returned Notal to her PokeBall for a moment and then released her outside the jail cell, by my side. Together we turned to our left and raced down the corridor, directly at the oncoming guards and Arcanines.

The two Arcanines leapt in front of the officers, clearly preparing to execute an Extreme Speed attack.

"Sucker punch," I ordered. Notal rammed the first Arcanine before his attack could hit, and neatly jumped over the second Arcanine, knocking both officers to the ground as she landed. The second Arcanine continued forward, jumping at me with claws outstretched. I dove under the Pokemon, colliding into one of the guards and bruising my arm.

The guard I'd hit twisted around to grab and pin me. I rolled over and landed a solid kick in his gut before jumping to my feet.

Notal charged past me. I turned my head in time to see the second Arcanine was leaping at me again. Notal hit the oversized dog's stomach midair, knocking the wind out of the Pokemon. Notal and I turned and fled.

Prisoners banged on the metal bars confining them as we ran past. Some begged to be released; others yelled profanities. We finally turned the last corner and reached the hall leading directly to the entrance. I stopped running. There were too many guards coming in. I snapped my head around. The two Arcanines that'd attacked us had recovered and were heading at us.

Tamara would be pissed at me after this.

"Notal, Strength." Notal ducked her head and rammed through the stone wall, leaving a gaping hole in the wall to the outside. I released Honchkrow, grabbing a hold of his feathers with one hand and returning Notal to her PokeBall with the other.

As Honchkrow took off, I spotted Bree battling the Alakazam near the front gate. "Night Slash the Alakazam," I said. Honchkrow nodded, quickly flying forward. I wrapped my arms around his neck and ducked down to minimize my air drag impedance.

As Honchkrow slashed a wing across the Alakazam's back, I returned Bree to her PokeBall. The Alakazam was knocked out.

"Hey, kid! What in Arceus's name are you doing?" a man yelled behind me.

"Honchkrow, let's go." As we flew upwards, I heard several guards cursing behind us. I knew we were being tailed when we departed from Zahavah City. Two Pidgeots and a Swellow. Neither had great night vision.

Losing them was a simple matter of landing in a tree on the outskirts of Apoosh forest and lying low until the Pokemon had flown past, oblivious.

I yawned as I climbed back onto Honchkrow's back, then shook my head. I couldn't afford to be tired. I had to find Landon. Without Hastings' input… Well, perhaps there was another way to locate Landon. Honchkrow turned his head around, giving me a questioning look.

"Drape Town. We're going home."