The sandstorm had kicked up without warning, leaving Michael with precious little time to find shelter. There was a rock formation nearby, little more than a slab of stone jutting out of the dunes that provided a space where the winds passed over. Michael jetted his scooter into the protection of the stone's lee and dismounted, curling himself behind it for extra cover. He wasn't used to extended travel through the open desert, having spent most of his life in the oasis pockets that clustered closest to the infant rivers and lakes that stretched into Orre.
"Can't they even try to predict these things?" the redhead muttered, shielding his face behind the silver device on his left arm, the Snag Machine MKII. The researchers had told him it was the second one in existence, modeled after one that had been used eight years ago by someone who rebelled against Team Snagem. They claimed the silver machine was an upgraded model, built to work with the Aura Reader and styled to look less menacing than the original. And yet rumors went in the cities that the Snag Machine the 'Prince of the Desert' wore was capable of perfect snags, without even needing to weaken the target in a battle.
It had been a childhood dream of Michael's to someday meet the Prince and Princess of the Desert, the heroes of Orre that defeated Cipher eight years ago. There was talk of them wandering the region, leaving behind lush oases as they moved. The new founded Terra Corporation took credit for the miraculous terraforming and always disavowed any knowledge of the couple's location. This was commanded by the young royals themselves.
Orre was ruled by a council of elected officials under a governor in Phenac City, with three branches of government spread to three towns. For an infant government system, it worked to a certain degree, with a few tangles here and there and the occasional corrupt official who would wind up lost in a sandstorm for a day, emerging to beg for a place in jail. All in all, not bad. And yet, there were factions of people all over Orre who pushed for the region to become a regency or kingdom, thereby placing the Prince and Princess in their rightful places as rulers of Orre.
The royal couple made no comment on it, simply smirked at one another before vanishing into the desert they loved with not so much as a wave.
"Would it have been too much to ask for a simple yes or no?" Michael sighed, listening to the winds howling as sand piled up around his shelter while he reflected on that story. Maybe it was; no one ever could get them to show up anywhere long enough for an interview or a cup of coffee. They'd appear from time to time, running normal errands like grocery shopping or hitting up a Pokémon Center for healing, but by the time anyone got out of their shocked frozen moments to do anything, the couple would be gone.
The boy shifted suddenly, catching his thoughts wandering. The sandstorm was beginning to fade, but the heat of the sands surrounding him still was starting to burn and make him feel both itchy and dizzy. He wished for cool forests and light breezes to replace the harsh desert and fiery winds. The sand piled higher, no matter how much he moved around to keep it off of him. Oh, why couldn't the terraforming be done faster? What was the hold-up? The sooner this stupid desert was gone, the better everyone would be, right? Michael grimaced as the winds blew harder, sweeping more sand over him as punishment for his thoughts.
Stupid desert. He hunched down as far as he could, listening to the storm finally fade after that blast. Another few minutes just to be sure, and the boy pulled himself unsteadily from under the pile of sand and pebbles that had tried to bury him alive. He spat some of the grit out and proceeded to struggle with the effort of hauling his scooter out of the shelter. Sand had gotten into it or something, as the engine refused to start up and the wheels were a pain to get moving. The sun beat down on him, shining in a hot fury while Michael worked to get the scooter freed and operating.
He began chuckling after a while, sweat dripping from his face as he ran one hand through his spiky hair. What was he doing? Why was he even out here in this Ho-Oh forsaken place? He didn't belong out in the middle of the sand and the rocks and those Skarmories circling overhead like they were eyeing him for lunch. He should be at home, with his mom and his sister and helping out in the lab. He should be hanging out with friends, playing with his Eevee, messing around in the battle simulator, collecting more stories about the Prince of the Desert... anywhere but here!
The chuckling turned to laughter and tears as he collapsed against the scooter. What was he doing? What had he been thinking when he agreed to put on the Snag Machine and the Aura Reader and just take off on some 'save Orre' crap mission? Who the hell did he think he was? The legendary Snagger he heard about in the stories? He wasn't fooling anyone, that's for sure. He was lucky those first few times, that's all. Got some easy Snags and used them to whale through several battles. Hero of Orre, he was not.
He laughed and cried until even those began to fade as his mind swam in the desert heat. Michael managed another chuckle as he started to realize what was happening. Delirium, the heat was driving him crazy, killing him with despair and the scorching climate. He was soft, too soft; this desert was just eating him up. He hiccuped and closed his eyes against the light, sagging against the scooter. Might as well just throw in the towel, since he wasn't getting out of this place anytime soon. Not with his scooter stalled and him being stupid enough to not carry enough water with him on this trip. He could blame the sandstorm for that last one, though. He'd have had plenty of water if he hadn't been caught by that storm and drank it up through the little straw as he curled up under that stone.
Something was crunching the sand nearby. Sounded like footsteps. Michael wanted to open his eyes, call out for help. Maybe someone spotted him? Sand seemed to glue his eyes shut, weighed down his body. Felt much nicer to just lie here, limp against the gleaming white of his scooter. Who would be out here anyway? Fools and death-wishers only. He should know. He was one of them. Crunch, crunch. Sounded louder. Closer.
"Mom..." Michael mumbled. Would have said his sister's name but his cracked lips stumbled over the word as his awareness began to dim. Footsteps stopped. Shadow fell, felt cooler now. Sun was being blocked. What was there? Animals, come to eat him. He whimpered, felt something brush against his cheek, and then there was nothing.
Consciousness was slow in coming back, but it came and Michael gagged for a second when something wet was pressed against his mouth. Wet. Water!
"Suck on this. You'll get the water without killing yourself, like some idiots I've seen." an older man's voice ordered him. Michael snapped at the object, clenching cloth between his teeth as he sucked at the cool water soaking it. That voice, it wasn't familiar. He didn't know anyone who sounded as harsh as the desert like that. Well, he was saved, at least, so maybe it was some good Samaritan who found him in the sands and hauled him home to be taken care of.
He chewed the cloth once he'd had his fill of the water and it was taken from him. Something was covering his eyes; he'd tried opening them and found it still dark, and the feel of cloth around his head kept him from flailing in a panic at the idea that he'd gone blind. He reached to push it away, only to discover with a jolt that his wrists were tied together behind his back. His ankles, too! Now, he was panicking. Where was he? Who did this to him? Michael began struggling and cried in alarm as his shoulders were held down firmly.
"Don't fight. You won't win against me. This is for your own safety, until I decide whether or not you deserve to still be alive after all this." the voice growled softly, dark and threatening. This guy wasn't kidding! Michael froze stiffly, swallowing a dry lump in his throat. Was he going to be killed? Why? He was just a kid! "I have questions. You have answers. I'm certain you know where this is going. Nod if you understand." Michael nodded quickly, eager to show that he was very cooperative and not deserving of any kind of torture or death this nut might think was necessary.
He really wished his Pokémon could pop out of their PokéBalls on their own and save him. That feature would be soooo useful about now.
"This machine you were wearing on your arm. It's a Snag Machine. Where did you get it?" the voice growled.
"I..." Michael croaked out hoarsely and clenched his teeth again. This guy knew what it was! What if he was one of the bad guys? Maybe he could make something up; some lie that would make the nut think twice about hurting him? "I inherited it... from a relative... He defeated Cipher with it and passed it to me to do it again." He choked as his throat began to be squeezed and he renewed his struggles. Okay, bad idea, bad idea!
"Don't lie to me. This machine was built by the scientists of the Pokémon Research Laboratory. It's a pale copy of the one that was originally used. Did you steal this machine?" the voice snarled in a fury. The pressure lessened and Michael gasped.
"No! It was given to me!" he exclaimed, "Honest! I'm just a rookie Snagger!" The grip on his neck vanished; had he surprised the other guy?
"Another one? I thought I... No. Team Snagem doesn't exist like that anymore." the voice mused aloud, a confused tone painting it, "So then this... Ah, that explains the ruckus over there."
"Um, is it okay if I asked what you're talking about?" Michael questioned hesitantly, twisting his hands in an effort to free himself without notice. If he could just get hold of a PokéBall, he might be able to cause enough distraction to get loose and get out of here. Wherever 'here' was.
"No. And stop struggling. I'm not blind." the voice griped. A moment more of silence, then. "Hey, Jupe. What's your read on this kid? Is he playing it straight or just playing?" Michael turned his head, trying to figure out who the older man was talking to. Was there someone else nearby? A damp nose pressed against his cheek, an animal's nose. He was sniffed at, he could feel warm air passing against his skin, and then the sounds of 'Espi, epi' or something filled the air and Michael jolted again. An Espeon! An honest to goodness Espeon! He couldn't help the broad grin on his face. He'd seen an Espeon once, though he didn't know that it was called that at the time. When he was little, just a toddler, he'd seen one in Zirconia City with an Umbreon and their trainer was this guy dressed in dark colors with a long blue coat and the oddest colored eyes he'd ever seen on anybody. When he got his Eevee and was told that it could evolve into an Espeon or an Umbreon, among other Eon types, he could hardly contain his glee. The stories had said that the Prince of the Desert had twin Eons, a rare set of Pokémon indeed.
"So he's clean. I suppose that means Rui's gonna expect me to untie him, huh?" the older man sighed in faint exasperation. The Espeon yipped again. "Fine. ...Why the hell is he smiling like that for?" Another Pokémon piped up, adding its own voice to the air and Michael smiled wider. An Umbreon! He recognized that cry; that was an Umbreon! This guy had two Eons! "What do you mean he's that kid? ... No, he does not look like me and Rui! ... Oh, shut up, Pluto. What the hell do you know anyway?" The two Eons barked in sync and Michael could picture the guy throwing his hands up in exasperation. He certainly heard it in the guy's harsh exclamation of, "Whatever! Just go tell Rui I'm untying the punk and she can come deal with him!"
Michael felt the ropes falling away from him and listened to the older man complain the whole time, griping about smart-ass Pokémon, annoying kids from the city, and the lack of having finished his patrols because of himself. He didn't want to really stick around for the rest, and bolted the second he felt his ankles come free.
"Hey!" he heard the guy yell. Michael yanked off the blindfold and ran for the first door he could see... only to run head-first into a young woman carrying a tray of food. Plates, sandwiches, utensils and glasses of milk went flying everywhere as the boy thudded to the floor on top of the poor woman. "Rui! Are you okay?"
Owww. Okay, not doing that again anytime soon. How unheroic. Michael groaned softly in pain, rolling off the lady and rubbing his head. He'd smashed it right into that tray; it's a wonder he didn't get an imprint of it on his forehead. Out of instinct, he looked aside to see if the woman he'd run into was all right, and stared in shock at the pretty redhead who was now picking slices of meat off of her blouse. She looked familiar... awfully familiar. His eyes widened further. Incredibly familiar! This was Rui Evice, the Princess of the Orre Desert!
"You okay?" she asked him suddenly, blinking luminous blue eyes at him. He floundered for a response, scrambling backwards away from her. He had smashed headfirst into the Princess! And now she was sitting there, covered in lunch and asking if he was okay?
"If he doesn't quit gawking, he won't be." the man with the annoyed voice muttered and Michael whipped his head around to see who it was that had him all tied up and poking him with Eon noses. For a second, he felt like he was back in Zirconia City, with the dark trainer and his two Eons watching him silently, a smirk on his face that made him wonder what the guy was thinking. It was the same guy, the same trainer, right down to the odd thing on his left arm. The man scowled. "And don't gawk at me, either!" he snapped and leaned against the doorway, looking away from the boy, "Stupid kid..."
"It's you! The Prince of the Desert!" Michael exclaimed in realization, pointing at him as he put two and two together. The trainer with the Espeon and Umbreon, the legendary Snagger with his twin Eons and the Snag Machine, this guy with the same outfit, the same team and hanging out with the one and only Rui Evice...
"I'm getting just the littlest bit pissed about that title." the Snagger growled, shooting him a glare, "I have a name. It's Seth Evice. Stupid kid..."
"Be nice, dear." Rui remarked, standing up and holding out a hand to Michael with a warm smile, "I'm Rui, it's nice to meet you, Michael." He stared at her. How did she learn his name? "You look surprised. It's all right. Seth asked your Eevee for your name. You gave us a bit of a shock."
"You had me tied up and blindfolded!" Michael blurted out in disbelief, "What kind of shock has you do that to a kid? You're supposed to be heroes!"
"I told you that schtick was gonna come back and bite us in the ass, Rui." Seth growled, jabbing a finger in her direction before turning to frown at him, "And it was all for a precaution, kid. What the hell did you expect us to think, with you running around in the desert with a Snag Machine and half a team of Shadow Pokémon on you?"
"Um, that I'm like you, Snagging the Shadow Pokémon to turn them back to normal?" Michael retorted with an eyebrow raised. The Eons, who had come into the room at some point, both looked up at Seth and barked in unison. The older man squinted his eyes shut, clenching his teeth.
"I thought I told you two to shut up and stay out of this!" he barked back at them and Michael could have sworn the Eons only laughed in return. Maybe all of this was a hallucination from being out in the sandstorm? Desert heat must've finally burnt out his brain and he was either in a hospital or the morgue now. He grabbed onto Rui's hand and got to his feet, looking around himself in confusion. Wherever he was, it was all made of rock, granite maybe? He whistled; this was one expensive house, then. "By the fires of Ho-Oh, can we finish getting him cleaned up so I can kick him out?" Seth griped, face-palming at the sound. Rui giggled and Michael turned to stare at him. Why was he so wound up? He didn't much act like the hero he was portrayed to be in the stories.
"Still a little shaken up that he's so much like you?" the Princess asked her husband.
"Quiet." Seth answered gruffly, but his face had turned red and Michael had the distinct feeling that something had gone on that he wasn't part of but somehow made both himself and the Snagger of Orre the butt of some inside joke. Rui tapped his shoulder and he jumped a bit. Here he was, in the same room as the Prince and Princess of the Desert, and all he could do was stare and twitch at everything.
"Let's get you cleaned up and fed. Seth's still fixing your scooter, so let's leave him to that." she told him gently and led him away. Michael followed mutely, then felt the urge to look back at the man who had inspired him to be a trainer and was the reason why he was so eager to get his hands on the Snag Machine the professor had built. He followed the urge, glancing back, and saw the legendary Snagger flex his left arm, gazing at the dark blue and red machine he wore, before sighing and shrugging in exasperation.
"Should've known this was gonna happen someday. Fine. Whatever." he remarked and glared down at the Eons, "You tell Red about this and no treats. C'mon, we've got a wussy little scooter to patch up." The three of them left the room then and Michael managed a smile. His dream come true. He was face to face with the heroes he grew up admiring.
He'd ignore that 'wussy scooter' crack if he could get some Snagging lessons. Pointers from the pro, so to speak.