"Ship is prepared to dock. On your order's Captain."
"Proceed," said Vince Korinek, finally raising himself from the Captain's chair. He reached down and hit one of the buttons on the arm of the chair. "Aero, I'm heading into the base. Have the research team meet me in the conference room close to my quarters in half an hour."
"Sure thing, Sir," came Aero's voice.
Korinek left the bridge and made his way to one of the docking ports in the ship that would allow him to exit to one of the upper levels in the docking bay. As he exited the ship he looked around, still impressed by the space he was in even though he had joined J's Hunters years ago. The space that housed the ship was massive. Though well lit, it was still difficult to make out the walls and ceiling. There were multiple entrances to the base from the ground, and there were several raised platforms that had access to some of the higher levels. He could see a large number of people moving to the ship on the ground to begin the external repairs. It was sometimes difficult to believe such a base actually existed within Mt. Coronet. When he first joined the Hunters, J had explained how most people knew very little about anything they did. The few that were aware of the fact that she had an airship though that it was her flying base. Little did they know that her Pokemon hunting organization was as well established as Team Rocket or any of the other teams throughout the regions. And now he commanded it all.
Realizing that he was getting caught up in memories, Korinek shook his head and entered the base. Despite its size, he knew the entire facility like the back of his hand. It was one of the things that had allowed him to take control so easily. Now, he headed for his personal quarters.
"Vince," came Aero's voice again, though this time through his earpiece.
"What is it?"
"The R&D team heads are all waiting for you in the conference room. I told them you wouldn't be there for a while, but they went anyway. I guess they're excited," he said, amusement in his voice. Korinek smiled. They were a strange bunch.
"They should be. I've got some great material after all," he said, pressing his thumb against a reader on the side of a door. The light next to the reader turned from red to green and the door opened. He was now in a private section of the base. Only a select few had access to this area.
"I'm going to get back to my own projects," Aero continued, "Anything else you need me to do before I get to it?"
"Thank you but no, Aero, you're free. Just let me know if anything important comes up."
"Business as usual then. Enjoy the meeting, Sir." Korinek took the communicator out of his ear and made his way towards the end of the long hallway, taking a turn about half way down. One more minute of walking and he was home. After another thumb print reading, he walked into his living quarters. Taking off his jacket and throwing it over the arm of the couch, he approached the large panel on the back wall of the room. It was the height of a large window and stretched from on end of the room to the other.
"Just pick a random one from my favorites," he said to the room at large. Sunlight shown into the room, making it considerably brighter. The panel had instantly turned on, showing a beautiful view of rolling hills and mountains. A herd of Pokemon could be seen moving to a lake on the right side of the scape. The scene was so detailed it was hard to believe there wasn't a window against the back wall. This was one of the pieces of technology that he had introduced to the Hunters when he took over. J's leadership was marked by a cold dictatorship with respect for her ability to do anything she wanted without limit. Everyone respected her, but feared her. It was a tightly run organization, but it lacked in many areas. After working as J's second for a while, he knew that when he made his move to take over, he would need to change some policies and living conditions. The result was that everyone treated him the same way they treated J. but with the added bonus that most of his subordinates actually liked him to an extent.
"Perfect, now it doesn't feel like a dungeon," Korinek said, moving to his desk. It was covered in a stack of reports one of his secretaries had left there while he was away. Instead of looking through them like he normally would, he walked through a door and into the one joined with his. J's room. At first he had wondered about moving into J's room. It was certainly much, much larger than his own. The connection to his own was fairly new as well. However, it felt better to use the room as his private study. He was the only one who could get into the room apart from J, and after what he had done to her, she was certainly dead.
He walked over to the computer station against the far wall. Taking a small computer chip out of his pocket, he inserted it into the computer. A DNA strand sprang into life as a hologram over the projector. He couldn't help but smile at his own work. Pressing a few buttons, another chip popped out of the computer next to the one he entered. He took the copy and left the room. It was time to meet with the heart of his operation.
Aero watched on the monitor as Korinek entered the private wing he lived in. There were surveillance cameras in there as well, but he wasn't able to see those. It wasn't that his boss didn't trust him, it's just that it wasn't his job. By splitting up the areas of the base, the security department was able to keep a tighter watch on everything, rather than a loose one on only some things. Suddenly a face popped up in front of him; a girl with strawberry blond hair, wearing a lab coat.
"What is it this time, Melody?"
"Is he coming?"
"He will get there when he gets there, please stop calling me," said Aero, sighing. He closed the communication. The less he had to interact with Korinek's research team the better. They were not the kind of people he liked getting into extended conversations with.
"Aww he cut me off again," said Melody to the room at large. The other three people in the room looked at the young girl.
"That's because you won't leave him alone," said Ernest, the eldest of them. He sat patiently in a chair, going through notes on a data pad.
"Vince will probably be here in a few minutes anyway. It's been about half an hour since we were called," said the other woman, resting against a wall.
"True, Arianna, he is quite punctual," said the last of the four. He sat across from Ernest, leaning back in his seat with his eyes closed. "And it's not Vince, it's Mr. Korinek."
"Ronan, I keep telling you to call me Aria," said the woman with a huff. "Arianna is what my grandmother called me. Yuck."
"A nickname is just a waste of a beautiful name itself," said Ronan poetically. Ernest and Melody rolled their eyes. The door opened to reveal Korinek. Everyone stood and faced him at attention.
"Relax, all of you. With me you're the heart of this entire operation. I don't see any reason to treat you like the others," he said, shaking his head.
"With all due respect Mr. Korinek, you are the head researcher, so it's natural for us to do this," said Ernest simply. To this the others nodded. Korinek grinned.
"Whatever you say," he walked to the head of the table and drew the chip out of his pocket. "This has all of the data I gathered during the recent field test in Element City. The Guardians proved to be extremely useful."
"I still don't understand why we had to go and drop them in the middle of the tournament like that," said Ronan, arms folded. "All of the subjects were lost right?" Korinek nodded.
"Most of them. It's unfortunate that the first round ended the way it did."
"But they all volunteered right?" said Melody. "They knew the risks just like we did. We won't ever get anywhere if we think to hard about the dangers."
"True," said Aria. "I mean we are trying to rewrite a portion of the human genome."
"Still, we must never forget why we are doing this," said Ernest. "This is for the future of mankind."
"And that's why I've gathered you all, the brightest minds this world has ever known. I believe we can truly do this," said Korinek. He inserted the chip into the computer in the room and hit a few buttons. The same image of the DNA was projected in the center of the table. "Let me recap what we've accomplished so far." Everyone took a seat.
"Our first problem was figuring out exactly what had to be done to inhibit the change on current humans to produce the evolution we wanted. We managed to understand what that was by analyzing the DNA samples I have of Miranda Eon's siblings, as rough as they were. In each sibling there was a specific area in the genetic coding that differed from a normal humans DNA. We also determined that it was the same area in each siblings DNA." Korinek hit a few more buttons and a different image appeared. It was the specific section of the DNA that he was talking about.
"However, when we initially began attempting to alter the code, we failed miserably. I hesitate to think of the kind of creatures that would have been created if we actually tried to implement it. Fortunately, we have made a great amount of progress over these past few years. An outstanding amount of progress. Though we still lack the understanding of specifically why it works, we now have the ability to create a bond with a single Pokemon of our choosing."
"Within limits of course," said Melody.
"Right," continued Korinek. "However, the human body is not capable of withstanding the strain this connection puts on it. This is where we are currently at." More button presses and data flashed around the table, showing charts and other statistical information regarding their latest experiments.
"I saw what the data said," said Ernest, "but what is your opinion from a first hand standpoint? What was it like?" Korinek leaned back in his seat and waved a hand at the table, causing the images to disappear. He threaded his fingers together in thought.
"Well, first of all it worked. The serum caused the genetic mutation that gave them their powers, which they were able to use. And they worked. The Pokemon had seemingly unlimited energy from the trainers, and even the most mundane attacks were exponentially stronger. However..." he broke off.
"What is it?" said Aria after a second. Korinek looked at her.
"Though I know there are major problems with what we currently have, such as the extreme harm it causes to the human, two things struck me." He held out a finger. "First was that Ash Ketchum called them weak. Now I know they are nothing like Miranda Eon, but I certainly would not call them weak. I think we are missing something in our formulas that is causing us to create shadows, instead of the real thing."
"An interesting theory, and totally possible," said Ronan, shrugging. Melody fidgeted in her seat.
"What was the second thing?" she asked.
"Ah, that I can show you," said Korinek, busying himself with the computer again. "This is a video that one of the airship cameras took. It is magnified several times so we can see what is going on." The five watched as a girl with a Flareon raised her arm, shouted something, and then the Flareon decimated everything in front of it. A few seconds later it was over and they continued the fight like nothing happened.
"I wasn't aware that Miss Eon took part in the battle," said Ernest, scratching his chin. Melody shook her head.
"Well Ash was there wasn't he?" she said in a matter of fact way. "She's usually relatively close to wherever he is."
"True," said Aria smiling slightly. Young girls could be so cute. She looked at the hyper Melody and sighed. Well, sometimes. "What are you showing us here specifically?"
"The girl actually has some level of control on what she is doing," said Ronan, genuinely interested. "As far as we knew, she would go crazy and destroy everything until she burned out, but we didn't know that her ability could be controlled."
"Precisely," said Korinek. "I hate to say it, but humans don't have anything akin to her power that could be called a consciously activated ability. We have nothing to base our work off of and I shudder to think of the number of years that it would take to actually produce some kind of result... but I don't have the leisure of years of failure to get a single success. It's time we focus our efforts and solve our problems by going right to the source."
"I agree," said Ernest. "Subtlety has lost it's place. It's time we got Miranda Eon's DNA."
Miranda sat in a guest room in the Guardian HQ. Ash had just left her, saying that her accommodations were much better than his had been when he first came to the mansion. She had originally planned on going back to her apartment to wind down, but Ember convinced her to take a room in Headquarters. It wasn't that she didn't like the place she was staying in, but the prospect of having someone cook for her for every meal was too good to pass up. Also, she would be able to see Ember more easily, and Miranda really wanted to get to know Ash's new found sibling.
Letting her Pokemon out, Miranda moved to the large bay window at the rear of the room. It was evening now, but her room was so high up that she could still see perfectly bright blue sky in the distance to the west.
"This place is fancy," said Leafeon, jumping into a chair and looking around at the large room. It was easily twice the size of her entire apartment; kitchen and all. The others spread out, exploring the room.
"Well, for now this is going to be where I'm staying so make yourselves comfortable," explained Miranda, scratching her Espeon's head. There was a light knock on her door. "Come in," she said loudly. The door opened and Ember poked her head in.
"My debriefing is over so I can show you around now, if you want," she said.
"Yeah, I'd like that," said Miranda, happy to have something to do. "Be good you all," she said to her Pokemon as she closed the door behind herself. As they made their way to the center of the floor, Miranda asked, "Have you heard anything about how the injured Guardians are doing?"
"Yes, many of them are recovering rapidly, thanks to our Healers. Ah, you don't know anything about our system so that doesn't mean anything to you does it," said Ember absently. In the Aura Guardians, there are those who are doctors as well as Guardians. They specialize in a difficult application of Aura manipulation that helps people recover their own Auras. Ash probably never explained how Aura worked to you did he?" Miranda shook her head, bemused. After an immensely incomprehensible attempt from Ash she hadn't broached the subject again. Ember sighed.
"Alright, Aura is—this is the main area for your floor by the way. It's a nice lounge area with a great view of northern Element. Sorry- Aura is more or less like a force that resides in everything, living and non-living. By the way, living things contain exponentially larger amounts of Aura than non-living things do. Actually, non-living things contain so little Aura that as far as I know, no one can sense it. Anyway, back to what I was referring to earlier, every living thing has it in varying amounts. Some living beings have more of it than others; lots more. Usually it's humans and some Pokemon. When you're badly injured your Aura is diminished as well. A Healer tries to help restore Aura and promote natural healing. Sometimes they will boost your Aura a bit to help too, but not by so much that they do it all the time."
"So what happens if you get someone who's been impaled by a spear or something?" asked Miranda, looking out of the windows at the city below. "I mean natural healing only goes so far you know?"
"That's why they're doctors to begin with."
"Ah, I see."
"Let me show you where the most common places you'll be visiting are," Ember continued, pressing a button on the back wall. Double doors slid apart, revealing an elevator.
"This place is so elaborate," said Miranda as they sped downwards.
"Yeah, you get used to it after a while. I've been here practically my whole life so it's nothing special to me anymore."
"How- old were you when you started living here?" asked Miranda.
"I lived with my Mom and Dad in Pallet town for about a year before Dad took me to live here," said Ember. "Just relax, would you? I'm not going to bite your head off or anything."
"Sorry," said Miranda slightly abashed. "Ash told me that he took you to meet his- your mom. It must have been great to see her after all this time. I know what it's like to be away from family for a long time."
"Trust me, it was more of a 'nice to meet you' thing than 'it's been a while.'" Miranda's sensitive ears picked up Ember's murmured line, "Haha, I have a mom now." Ember smiled to herself, unaware of Miranda watching. She smiled as well, though it was a sad smile.
The elevator finally came to a stop on the second floor. Ember led the way down the main hallway, pointing out certain peoples' offices and such. After a minute they arrived at the largest room in the mansion: the dining room. Ember watched as Miranda's eyes lit up at the sight of so much different food. They walked to the nearest station where a man stood surrounded by frying pans and chopped vegetables
"Hey Tom," said Ember, smiling while trying to ignore the child Miranda had become.
"Good evening, Ember. You look lovely as usual," said the cook, winking familiarly. Ember rolled her eyes. They were good natured flirts. All of them. Sometimes she didn't know whether she enjoyed it or was simply tired of it. Whatever the reason, her father had decided that getting food should be just as fun as eating food, and here they were.
"You smell great, are you an Aura Guardian too?" said Miranda suddenly, catching the other two off guard. A few people around them chuckled and continued their meal. Ember felt her face heating up.
"Of course he's an Aura Guardian," she said before Tom could speak. "Everyone who works here is an Aura Guardian in some capacity or another."
"She's quite right," said Tom, "and who might you be? A new member I hope?" Miranda blinked at him.
"Are you hitting on me?"
Everyone within ear shot snorted into their plates, stifling their laughter. Even Ember was forced to turn her face away, biting her lip. This girl...
"Miranda, what are you doing?" came a tired voice from behind them. Ash had just come in through the main doors. "I just came to check out the dining area. It's huge!"
"Sorry for the idle chatter, Miss," said Tom with a smile. He was apparently unaffected by Miranda's words. "Can I get you three anything to eat from here?"
"I'm actually going to come back later," said Ash. "I've just got a few more things to take care of before I eat. How late is this place open until?"
"Hunger never stops so neither do we," said Tom with a shrug. He flipped some sizzling veggies in a pan to his side without a glance at it. Ash grinned.
"My kind of place. What are you two up to anyway?" he asked Ember.
"I'm giving her a tour. I was going to do it earlier but I had to stay at the debriefing longer than everyone else. The Commander chewed me out for disobeying orders." Ash's mouth twitched slightly. Ember wasn't sure what he was thinking.
"Well I'm sure it was worth it. We were all glad for the reinforcements," he said after a moment. "Anyway, I'm off." And with that, he turned and left, back into the main hall.
"Come on," said Ember, "lets keep walking around. There's still a bunch of things you should see."
They walked around the full of the dining room before making their way back to the main hall. Apart from waving hello to a few people she knew, Ember said nothing. Miranda also was silent, tasting things as she went, but otherwise normal. They followed the hall until they reached the large circular room Ash and Sonia had battled in earlier.
"I know it's not easy to talk about family around him, but give him some time and he'll figure out what to do," said Miranda suddenly. Ember looked at her with a frown. It certainly was awkward whenever it came up. "I think he just needs some time to think, you know?"
"I mean, it's not like I'm happy the way things are either," said Ember after a second. Miranda was so innocent in everything she did it was hard not to open up to her.
"I know you guys will figure it all out. Family will always be family, no matter what happens."
"Yeah I guess you're right," said Ember, shaking her head. "Come on, let me show you the underground."
"You mean there are things below the mansion?" asked Miranda surprised.
"It goes almost as far down as it goes up."
Many floors below ground, Ash sat alone in one of the large combat training rooms. There were a large number of small ones throughout the underground, however they felt too closed in for him at that moment. This room was different from the others in that it was completely empty. The ceiling was a number of floors high and there were reinforced windows along the higher reaches of the wall, wrapping around the walls like a long headband of glass. At ground level there were two doors. One led into the rest area for this training room. It had a number of amenities for people spending more than a few hours in the room at a time, as well as bathrooms. The other door led back in into the facility.
Closing his eyes, he fell into meditation, something he hadn't done since the start of the tournament. First he focused on his breathing, bringing it under control and silent. Once he felt more at peace, he focused on his Aura. He grimaced. If the Elders ever saw how badly maintained he was keeping his Aura they would put him through his paces like demons. Thinking of the Elders, he unconsciously straightened his back. Memories drifted lazily in and out of his mind...
"This is hopeless..." A woman paced in front of Ash who sat quietly on the ground, legs crossed and eyes closed. Unfortunately, his ears could not do the same. "I told the others we couldn't rely on external help for something so critical. You, boy, just stop. It's useless." Ash bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself from saying anything back to the woman. He was still having a difficult time accepting that this rude, obnoxious woman was Cynthia's close friend.
"Look, I barely know what I'm supposed to be doing to begin with," Ash said for what seemed to be the hundredth time. "I told you, I've only ever been able to use Aura once, and that time I had help. I don't even know what Aura is!"
"Boy, you couldn't be more right about that if you tried," said the woman, looking over at him. Silently Ash counted to ten. 'It's alright,' he thought. 'I am not thinking about killing her. Fifteen year old boys don't think about killing people.' The woman pulled out the compass that had started this whole mess to begin with. "Stupid thing must be broken or something."
'Maybe I'll just kill her a little?'
"Well, nothing for it. Try again," she said. "Just this time do it right. According to this thing," she shook the compass slightly, "you have some incredible Aura wedged in that short body you've got. If that's really true than I don't understand how you can't feel it."
Getting an itch, Ash came back to reality. That damn woman... she had made so many days of his life a complete hell. Almost as if he could hear her shouting orders at him, he took a slow and steady breath. It was easy to regain his rhythm. On the intake, he mentally drew himself in, gathering his Aura like it was the folds of a cloak, then breathing out he released it, driving his Aura away to fill the room. Mentally, he registered one source of Aura, his own. True to what one of the Guardians had told him about the training rooms, they were well shielded against Aura in general so that what was happening inside wouldn't disturb anything happening outside, and the other way around. Breathing in he gathered his Aura again, though this time he pushed away much harder, forcing his mind past the reinforced walls like they were made of paper. He began to sense the area around the room. It widened gradually until he was able to register the whole of the Guardian's Headquarters. He retracted back to the room, only sensing himself again.
Twenty minutes later, Ash had sweated his shirt straight through. He had repeated the exercise again and again, each time trying to reach a bit further and sense a bit more. With the added obstacle of the shielded room it was very draining. Now he needed a short break.
"God what are those walls made of anyway?" he said to himself, as he walked into the side room. It was simple but perfect for what he needed. Ash got himself some water and sat on a couch only to notice a large closet against one wall. Opening it he was surprised with training outfits and other clothing. Apparently he was not the first to end up in this room wanting a new shirt.
"Gardevoir?" he said to the room at large as he sorted through the plain shirts for one his size.
"Yes?" came the mental response instantly. Ash smiled. She was always keeping an ear out to him.
"I'm doing some meditation. Come join me. Actually bring Lucario too, he could use the exercise," he added after a thought. By the time the fresh shirt was over his head, Gardevoir had appeared with Lucario's pokeball. He emerged in a ball of red light looking bored.
"Hey, let's meditate," said Ash jerking his head to the open door. Lucario shook his head.
"It's about time you got back into your routine. I was wondering if you were beginning to forget what we do," he said evenly walking past him into the large empty space. Ash watched his back, still caught in the past.
"What's this?" Ash had just been led through a series of rooms to an immense outdoor area. The immediate area was a square of sorts with a small but wide fountain in the middle. The edges of the square had paths that led off and out of sight. The most distinct feature of the area however was that it was covered by Riolu and Lucario. There were tons of them. The demon Elder nudged Ash forwards and they walked into the throng.
"This is the Temple's Riolu and Lucario population," she said. "We raise and train the best guardian partners here. Guardians who already belong to the Order usually come here to get a Lucario partner, though some choose to go out and capture a wild one. Not to say that these are tame by any means." Ash shuddered slightly. She was grinning in a way that could only possibly mean trouble for him, and he hadn't improved at all in their meditation lessons.
"So wait am I here to choose a partner?" he asked, feeling somewhat enthusiastic. One look at the Elder's face crushed his hopes.
"Pfft, you really think we'd give one of our trained Lucarios to an amateur like you? You're still as hopeless as the day you showed up and that was over a month ago. Even a Riolu would be too much." Ash just looked at the ground. Damn woman.
"I said I'm done," said Ash. He couldn't even muster any force behind his words. "I really can't believe that someone as kind as Cynthia would even associate herself with a person as cold blooded as you are. Find some other toy to look down on. I'm leaving." He started walking in a random direction. The Pokemon around him parted to let him through. The Elder just crossed her arms.
"Don't be such a baby. Where on earth do you think you're going to go?"
"Anywhere, as long as you're not there."
"Ash?" Ash gave a start. He had drifted off for a second, staring into space. Lucario watched him closely.
"Is everything alright?" Gardevoir put a light hand on his shoulder. Her eyes were filled with concern. Ash smiled at her.
"I'm alright, sorry about that. I was just caught up in some memories. What were you saying Lucario?"
"I was just saying that this place is strange. I can't sense anything outside this room," he said.
"Yeah it's got something to do with how it's made. It isn't impossible to read through though, you just have to actually try for it." Ash sat down. "I mean, sensing Aura is so second nature for an Aura Guardian so it's easy to forget what it's like without it. Anyway, match my breathing you two. And in..."
They focused on breathing for a few minutes. Once it felt like they had gotten their inner peace Ash set them each to individual training. As they hadn't done much in the past month, Lucario was given the same task Ash had been doing earlier; expanding and condensing. With the walls of the room it would give him a good work out.
"What would you have me work on?" asked Gardevoir. Ash scratched his head.
"Well, honestly I'm not too sure. I've really done everything I can think of to teach you something new. I'll do some thinking on it for later training. For now though it would be good for you to work on improving your control of multiple objects at once." Gardevoir tilted her head slightly to one side.
"Together or separately?"
Ash smiled. This was one of the things he loved the most about her. She was quite intelligent and didn't take him literally when he didn't mean for it. "Separately. I want you to try manipulating two objects in two completely different ways. You do it subconsciously when you're protecting yourself, but it that's more of a sixth sense reaction. Want to give it a try?"
"Sounds interesting," she said.
"Alright then, grab a few things out of the side room to practice with. If you get some confidence then we'll help test it out." Lucario grinned from his seat, eyes still closed. To him there was no better an opponent.
Half way to the bottom floor and Ember had a ferocious headache. She and Miranda were talking about random things now, having exhausted normal conversation topics. Another pulse of head pain made Ember lose balance, falling sideways against the wall. Miranda looked around alarmed.
"Ember are you alright? What's wrong?"
"Sorry, it's my head. I don't know why it's hurting so much," she said gripping Miranda so as not to fall over again. The dizziness passed after a moment and she stood up straight. "Thank you."
"Of course, why don't we try to find you something to drink," said Miranda.
"Nearest place would be one of the lounges connected to the training rooms. I'm sure I can find something for my headache there too."
"Where are they?" asked Miranda. Ember pointed down the hall.
"The training rooms are actually really close. We'll be able to see into one of them as we go down this hall," she explained as they walked slowly. "A little after that are some stairs we can take straight down to the floor with the entrance." They could see the long window getting closer to them on their left.
"Hey, it's Ash," said Miranda pointing down into the room. "Gardevoir and Luca too. Are they training?" Ember looked down curiously. The Lucario and Gardevoir were certainly battling but Ash seemed to be involved as well, running around the room with them. Blinking, she squinted at him. The air seemed to ripple around his body. Suddenly the rippling got more intense and she felt another spike of pain in her head. Was it a coincidence? Could he possibly causing it?
"What?" Miranda looked over at Ember, who was shakily making her way down the hall. Ember turned back to face her.
"Hurry, we should stop him."
Ash dropped to the floor in exhaustion. Lucario was also panting, having used far more power than he was accustomed to. Of course, that was the whole point of the training. If you didn't push yourself, you'd never get results. Ash looked over at Gardevoir. She was perfectly fine. Her rate of improvement was always staggering. Considering their semi-serious spar, sometimes he truly wondered which of the two Pokemon was stronger.
"They're finally here, Ash," she said.
"Yeah I know, thanks," he responded. He had felt Ember and Miranda approaching for a while, and figured he would stop when they showed up. As Gardevoir said, the two girls opened the door seconds later.
"Ash, what are you doing?" said Miranda, coming over to him. "You look beat... and sweaty."
"And my headache is gone," said Ember, looking at Ash with some sort of understanding. "Why don't we head into the lounge here so Ash can wash up." Ember immediately walked to the other door and entered the lounge.
"What's up with her?" asked Ash.
"I don't know, she was fine until just recently," said Miranda, walking to the lounge with him. "She got really dizzy and fell over when we got close to the window up there. She said she had a terrible headache." As they entered, Ember looked straight at Ash.
"Go freshen up, there's a full bathroom in the back. I need to straighten something out with you."
"Sure," said Ash, wondering what it would be this time. Ten minutes later, they all sat around the table.
"I'll get straight to it," said Ember, "You're hiding something about who you are. You have to be. You have too much power to be a regular old Aura Guardian." Ash opened his mouth to speak but Ember forestalled him. "When I first met you I felt something not normal about your Aura. Since then I didn't feel anything special so I dismissed it, but today... I've never in my entire life had someone affect me like that. And you were inside the training room."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you," said Ash honestly. "But to be frank, for you to be affected by Aura like that means you're not what you appear to be either."
"I told you, I'm a Reader. How many Readers do you really think there are in the Guardians?"
"What's a Reader?" asked Miranda curiously. "Being a Reader, what does that mean?"
"It means I have an extremely high sensitivity to Aura... how should I put this?" Ember scratched her cheek then said, "See, an average Aura Guardian will be able to sense Aura within a few hundred feet in all directions. In general, the better the ability, the farther that goes. I..."
"Ember naturally senses the Auras of everything in Element City," said a voice at the door. "And that's without trying." They all turned to see Sonia standing there. "Hey guys, I've been looking all over for you. Had to call security to put a bead on ya."
"Man, the whole city? Even that's a bit of a stretch for me," said Ash scratching his chin. Miranda gaped at Ember.
"Then you're like a Super-Guardian or something," she said awed. Ash stared at her.
"What about me?" he said to her. Miranda shook her head.
"You're a Knight Master or something like that right? That isn't anything like what she is, is it?" Ash sighed, putting his face into his hands.
"Knight Master!" shouted both Sonia and Ember at the same time. "Knight Master?" repeated Ember, slightly bemused.
"Nice one Miranda," said Ash at which Miranda smiled apologetically. "Look it's complicated," he added to Ember. She was lost for words.
"Sorry, Ash," said Miranda. Ash just sighed.
"It's alright, they'd have found out eventually," reasoned Ash, "I'm sure someone's got a file on me somewhere."
"Wait wait, everyone stop!" said Sonia loudly, pulling up the conversation short.
"Sonia, do you believe-"
"Ember!" Sonia's shout made them all sit up. "I'm sorry but we don't have time for this. As much as I'd like to pick you apart, Ash, I'm not here for that." She took a breath. "Ash, Ember, you've both been summoned."
"Summoned?" repeated Ash.
"By who?" asked Ember. Sonia leaned against the door frame.
Cynthia stood alone on the roof of her hotel building. Wanting some fresh air, but not wanting to have to take any Pokemon with her, she had sought out a custodial worker. It was not as if people were regularly allowed access to the roof, but not many people could say no to the young Sinnoh Champion. The city lights sparkled like the night sky. Leaning against one of the side walls, she looked at the small white cylinder in her hand. The man who had opened the roof for her had given her a cigarette and a lighter, saying she looked like she may need it. Not knowing how to respond Cynthia ended up keeping it.
"As if I would smoke," she said with a scoff, shaking her head at the thought. "And what did he mean, I looked like I would need it, I'm not a wreck or anything," she added grumpily. Alright, so maybe recently she had been in a sort of emotional turmoil. What of it? She had experienced crushes before and she knew what it was like to not be able to get something she wanted. How was this any different?
The cigarette seemed to stare back at her. "I might as well light it." She held the cigarette out in front of her face, holding the flame up to the proper end. After a number of seconds the end was an orange glow that dimmed after a moment. Did she even do it right? She could just make out a thin rail of smoke coming from the lit end.
"What's so appealing about this thing anyway."
A minute passed, her eyes still locked on the small glow at the end of the cigarette.
Cynthia put the unlit end to her lips and inhaled, sucking hard.
She choked immediately, hacking out a puff of smoke before throwing the cigarette as far as she could over the side of the roof. A chuckle brought Cynthia back to reality with a start. Someone else was on the roof.
"Who's- cough- there?" she managed. It was dark enough that she couldn't make out the speaker against the shadows, though the speaker was definitely male. How did he get there without me knowing? I was the only one here when I came. Although in the back of her mind she was still thinking, I just tried to smoke a cigarette, what's wrong with me.
"I have to say, you're nothing like the reports said you are. Were you always this childish?" said the voice in genuine curiosity. Cynthia's eyes narrowed. Childish? She closed her eyes, concentrating. She hadn't done this trick in years, but she hoped it would still work. Suddenly she had it. She could feel it.
"Light!" she said and the stone set in her ring shone with light, illuminating the surrounding area, and her mystery guest. "There you are, now who are you?"
"Well, well. That was nifty," said the man, stepping forward. He was completely clothed in black; even his head. All Cynthia could see were bright green eyes shining back at her from her light. "Please, allow me to apologize for calling you childish."
"It's alright, just answer my question. Who are you and why are you here?"
"Ah, well I'm known as the Night Courier. Nier for short, if it pleases you," said Nier.
"Uh-huh," said Cynthia raising her eyebrows. Say what?
"As the name suggests, I deliver things. And with the silence and swiftness as the night, I might add." Cynthia sighed. Why was it that she always ended up meeting the craziest people whenever she needed some time to herself. Her evening of reflecting on her current life situations was crushed in the face of, The Night Courier. Good god.
"I'm sorry," said Cynthia, "but you come off as a bit nuts, so you'll have to forgive me if I don't really take anything you say seriously." To Cynthia's surprise, Nier laughed.
"You really are just like your mother." That stopped Cynthia cold.
"What do you know about my mother?"
"We are old acquaintances Well, were, is the proper word isn't it. Time is a fleeting thing after all. Rest her soul," said Nier, placing a black hand over his heart. Cynthia didn't know what to make of the situation anymore. What on earth was going on?
"You still haven't told me what you're here for," she shot, unable to keep the frustration out of her voice. "You said you're a courier right? Couriers deliver things, so what are you delivering?" Nier looked met her eyes and she could instantly tell he was smiling. Involuntarily, she took a step back.
"You, of course."