From behind me!
I twirl around, all senses alert, spraying freshly-fallen snow everywhere. My face quickly switches to a determined, fierce expression, though inside my heart is hammering away – I hope no one sees the slight trembling that has nothing to do with the cold. My forepaws go to my muzzle in a fighting stance, ready to beat the living daylights out of –
- no one. No one.
No one at all – who, then, could have snuck up behind us and then left without eve-
I blink once, twice, stare at Pichu, who had fainted and fallen backwards onto the snow.
"Pichu." I bend down, lifting up one of his oversized ears. "Piiiichu." No effect. Perfect; all I needed on my hands now was an unconscious mouse. "Wake up," I urge, slapping his face lightly.
And then, remembering our previous spar in the graveyard, I slap him a little less lightly.
It does the trick, though; Pichu blinks and murmurs and staggers to his feet.
"Uh?" He wonders blearily. "What?"
"What?" I hiss, dragging him close. "I'll tell you what – I had a fainted rodent on my paws, Navy-Blue's dead in that factory, Hitmonlee's after our blood and we can't find him, and this grave was empty this morning."
Pichu takes one look at said grave and steps away, shuddering. The grave is filled, very not-empty-at-all, a rock placed mockingly on top of freshly-turned soil and snow – just like in Gardevoir's vision. Some distance away is a battered trolley we had seen earlier in the factory – in the same room which we knocked out Hitmonle-
Both of us freeze. Maybe – simultaneously, a single thought enters both our heads.
We had left Hitmonlee bleeding and out cold in the factory, hoping he would stay that way until we returned. We left, and encountered one problem after another – Navy-Blue was dead, the murderer invisible and undetected, and Hitmonlee gone, hiding somewhere, waiting to pounce on us.
Maybe Hitmonlee isn't hiding somewhere, waiting to kill us both. Maybe Hitmonlee isn't at the police, giving a detailed account of how I appeared to be the murderer of the group (and of Navy-Blue). Maybe – just maybe –
I turn to Pichu and I mouth No.
I make a move, as if to go. I reach for Pichu's gun, but suddenly, a paw lands heavily on my shoulder. Wincing from the sharpness and the coldness of the touch, I turn around. "What?"
"Y'know…" breaths Pichu, "maybe we should – you know – check."
"Check." I say the word slowly, not quite fully daring to believe what he had just said.
"Check. Check the grave. We could be jumping to conclusions too soon."
"Alright, Pichu, the cold's finally gone to your head and made mush out of what once was your brain. Might I remind you that there's a dead officer in the factory, and we're the only ones with a gun?"
"It's a toy, remember," Pichu argues. "Look, I'm every bit as scared as you, but I really, really want to know."
I sigh exasperatedly. "Look, every minute we spend here, we increase the risk of being caught. Who knows, Navy-Blue might have already called for backup! Do you really want to spend the rest of your short little life living on mouldy bread and stale water?"
"Which is why we have to dig up the grave as quickly as possible."
I stare at him, his face intently scrutinizing mine. Where did the cowardly Pichu I know so well go? Ever since the murders, a lot had changed in the little rodent. I had expected him to want out, as quickly as possible; like that day we went to explore the cliff.
…but now, he's starting to call the shots. He's starting to become a little bolder. I can still taste the fear coming out from him, but mixed with a slight tinge of exhilaration. At a different time, I might have felt kind-of-proud, but right now all I can think of is how this is inching us closer to getting caught by Navy-Blue's cronies.
"Alright." I breathe out, a long sigh, watching my breath make swirls in the air and die away. "Just make it fast."
Despite everything, Pichu grins darkly. "Alright then."
Silently, we scratch away at the earth. It comes away very easily – too easily – and soon Pichu and I are throwing up heaps of soil and snow. Very soon, however, my paws become tired and aching, and pretty soon they're practically screaming for relief. Panting with the effort, I pause for a while, forepaw to my heaving chest.
"Strange." Pichu comments between digging. "Thought you were stronger than that, Riolu."
I jerkily wave a paw at him, too concerned with catching my breath to make a witty comeback.
"The old you could have done this, no problem."
I turn to glare at him. He doesn't respond, but continues his silent digging, occasionally glancing back at me with one eye. In the perpetual winter of Snowpoint, the dark falls fast, and shadows are already starting to creep up Pichu's face.
It's dusk already? I wonder. Only a few hours ago we were sitting in the Inn, eating breakfast. Now, we're suspects on the run, and Hitmonlee –
Gritting my teeth, I double back and scratch away on all fours, suddenly very aware of Pichu's suspicious glances over my shoulder. Faster and faster, till it was a continuous shower of grit and dirtied slush. I hear Pichu's breath beside me – he's tiring out too, the hypocrite – and my own ragged breaths – and then suddenly –
"YYYyyyeeeesh – " I reel back, clutching my paw, biting back a bark of pain.
While I painfully pull a splinter out from my throbbing paw, Pichu examines the spot where my paw once was. Dusk was advancing in all earnestness, and I could barely see his expression past the veil of increasing darkness, much less what I had just hit.
"Can't see a thing…" he muses, then –
Pichu squeezes his eyes shut in full concentration, to the point of burying his head in his paws. I look at him, slightly amused, and also even more thankful that no one's around to see us digging up the grave (let alone standing around in awkward positions). A few seconds pass, which is enough for me to go "You know, Pichu, if you really need the washroom –"
Some short-lived sparks crackle from Pichu's cheeks, throwing a smoky light around us and pushing back the approaching darkness. Gradually, they become a soft glow from his cheeks, intermittently sending small sparks flying in my direction with a soft zinging sound. He smirks. I don't bother to return the gesture, but stare ahead at the grave. His arrogant look melted away as he, too, looks into our newly-dug hole.
A square of familiar wood stares right back at us.
"What, scared?" I whisper.
CRKKK CRKZ –
"No." The sparks intensify.
"Good. I think," I add under my breath.
We continue digging around the container, carefully moving around the now-open grave. As soon as we unearth the four corners, we pause, our breath coming thick and fast, oddly loud in the silence of the night.
"So, uh," Pichu begins.
I scratch my head awkwardly, hindpaw tracing a circle in the snow behind me.
"Do we lift it up?" he offers helpfully.
"It was your idea," I reply. "But if you wake me up in the middle of the night with your nightmares, I swear I'll kill you in your sleep."
Pichu laughs mirthlessly.
We grip the edges of the box, struggling to search for the locking mechanism. My tiredness comes back to me in a rush, causing my knees to tremble and threaten to buckle. I grit my teeth, feeling Pichu's glare, and force my weakening paws to continue grappling with the lid.
Out of my field of vision, I hear a triumphant grunt from Pichu.
The container unlocks, Pichu involuntarily shoving the lid upwards with his body weight. There was an ominous moan and a whiff of long-rotten Poffins as the container yawned open. Both of us are forced to dance along the grave's edge, desperately holding on to the lid, trying not to fall in. Instinctively, I turn my head away, burying my snout and eyes in my paws.
An inarticulate, muffled scream from Pichu, and the dim light gives an agonized whine and fizzles out in a shower of sparks.
Chapter Five: Hidden Waltz
"Step by step, beat by beat / dance, dance your invisible dance"
I stifle back a yelp as the weight on my paws double. Pichu had staggered away, leaving me to hold up the heavy lid by myself. I curse inwardly as I struggle to hold the lid overhead, feeling my already weak paws giving way.
"Pichu!" I hiss.
The rodent spins off into the darkness, yammering gibberish and half-gargled whimpers. I don't think I'm going to get any help from him tonight –
With the last of my strength I heave the lid back on the container, barely avoiding slipping in and falling in myself. The coffin booms shut, sealing the body of Hitmonlee within.
Reeling backwards, I glimpse the shadow of the disappearing Pokémon on my left and the dull glimmer of the gun on my right. Feeling exhaustion creep up on me, I curse inwardly and stumble to my side.
I swipe the gun from off the ground and turn to start running after Pichu, a combination of fatigue and dizziness sending me spiraling left and right in my pathetic attempt to walk in a straight line. Wait up, you idiot, I plead inwardly.
Both of us begin a mad half-run, half-drunken totter across the silent town. No shouts, no screams, just a mindless dash to nowhere. The silence was only broken by the crunches of snow beneath paws and our heaving breaths, the two of us leaving a path from of vapour from our gasps.
"Pi - chu," I gasp, as soon as I catch my breath and catch up to him. By now, his adrenalin rush has run out, and just as I approach him, he collapses on all fours, breathing hard. His heavy breaths are punctuated by loud, dry coughs that sound oddly loud in the night.
"Where – in this Arceus-forsaken place – are we?" he asks tiredly.
"How would I know?" I shoot back hotly. "I was following you all the time – after you left me alone in the cemetery!"
Silence from Pichu, just the sound of his breathing slowly but surely returning to normal.
We study our surroundings, trying to piece together some idea of our location. The answer was quite obvious, as the weak moonlight winked at us across a large area of water. Or was it ice? I move forward, right towards the edge where the land disappears into a mirror.
We ran all the way to the lake? I wonder.
Pichu pants "Seems like it," and flops down into a sitting position.
"So, who do you think did it?"
The question out of nowhere shocks me. Pichu glances at me sideways, face unreadable in the dark night. We are currently plodding along in the snow, trying to find some shelter for the night, and we are no closer to it than we were ten minutes ago.
"Me?" I murmur. Honestly, I've given the question a lot of thought the past couple of nights. Who could I say the most likely suspect was? Snowpoint appears to be the perfect getaway from all the city hullabaloo, but it seems even the specter of murder takes his vacation in this sleepy town in the middle of absolutely-bloody-nowhere.
"I dunno." Mumbling, I choose my words carefully, circling my paw in the air in a wait-I'm-thinking gesture. "Hitmonlee, maybe?" I shrug. "Isn't he the one we voted 'most likely to commit multiple murders'? But ever since tonight, I've found a little bit of a problem in that theory."
"Mmm." Pichu nods thoughtfully.
I rack my brains a little more. "You know, that Pokémon in the Center… he gave me the creeps."
Pichu tilts his head to the side. "In the Center? Aren't you letting your Center-phobia get to you?"
"No, no," I shake my head once, feeling my sensors bounce tiredly. "There was this Mightyena in the Center. Did you see his grin?" Thinking back to the awkward encounter in the Center made a little shiver run through me. "All that teeth, I swear, his aura felt a little off – "
"Aura!" Pichu suddenly blinked awake. "Can you use Aura yet?"
I remember his great experiment, trying to see whether I could mind-read or transmit thoughts. Despite myself, I let loose a soft chuckle. "Look, Pichu, if I could, I would have mind-wiped Navy-Blue while I had the chance."
Pichu hmms. I shoot him a stare.
"You know what? I take that back – I'd scramble your brain first."
"Hah." Pichu glances downwards, and we resume our silent trek. Mushmushmush went the snow as we tiredly plowed through it like a very inefficient half-mile-an-hour lawnmower.
"You aren't gonna ask me about my thoughts?" Pichu's voice breaks the silence.
I blink. "You can think?"
I admit, I wasn't aware Pichu could have had such complex thoughts, but then again, my theories have been proven wrong a couple of times already. I knew that Pichu was having one of those grins on his faces, the ones before he announced his stupid theory of the day. Shrugging, I decide to let him speak, if only for some comic relief. Arceus knows I need to laugh right now.
"Alright, I give up. What's your big theory?"
Heh heh. Pichu snickers deviously. It's insanely creepy, hearing the sound coming from nowhere in the middle of the night. I half-expect a relatively sound theory now.
I stop dead, and Pichu shuffles his snout into my back.
"Hoi! Don't stop like that."
"Don't make stupid theories like that!" I round on him. "Have you gone completely nuts? This is even worse than all your other theories." I emphasize the point by jabbing a finger into his chest, only to miss and poke his eye. "Combined."
"Look, look, I know it sounds incredible…" Pichu tries his best to calm me down while fending off more eye-related attacks, "but don't you think Gardevoir has been behaving rather odd lately?"
"Definitely. Because, you know, her lover was found dead at the bottom of a cliff."
"Don't you find it odd that they never found any scratches on Gallade? There was no physical contact whatsoever. And I can't exactly imagine Gallade jumping off a cliff himself."
"Yes. In fact, I remember telling you that. So?" I raise my eyebrow (if I have one). I think I see where this is going...
"There's only one Pokémon who can get close enough to Gallade to lure him to the cliff, and only one Pokémon who doesn't rely completely on physical attacks." Pichu joins imaginary dots in the air. "Gardevoir."
I sigh. "Good idea, Pichu: you've got the who and the what, but do enlighten me why Gardevoir would kill her own lover? You know, I was half-expecting you to have a good idea. Are you saying that she killed everyone else, too?"
"Didn't she seem too... enthusiastic in tackling Hitmonlee? You were there, you saw the sparks fly. If Magneton didn't step in when he did Hitmonlee and Gardevoir would have literally killed each other."
I sigh, slapping a paw to my forehead and dragging it slowly down my muzzle. "Once again, Pichu, I might remind you that this concerned her lover, and as far as emotions are concerned, just about anything could happen. You'd go berserk if it was your loved one lying face-down in the snow."
"Hmph." Pichu folds his arms with an air of a stubborn child. "I'm not buying that; doesn't seem likely that anyone would do that kind of thing."
"Ah, Pichu," I clasp my paws to my heart exaggeratedly. "You have never loved."
"Neither have you," he shoots back, then a sly grin slowly spreads itself across his face. "Unless you count your bunny friend…"
I wince. Touché. "No. Now do carry on with your very interesting theory."
Pichu gives a little snort of triumph and a look that seems to say: now, listen. "Out of all of us, Gardevoir was probably the one closest to the Trainer: and yet she didn't seem too upset about it… She even went out for a romantic stroll with Gallade after that."
I think back; it was true, even if it seemed more likely that Gallade was the one who made the suggestion first. Pichu and I had tried to sneak up on the lovers' conversation, only to be, ah, discovered by Gallade, no thanks in particular to a too-loud rodent. Meanwhile, in real life, the too-loud rodent continues:
"Hence, either herself or her loverboy must have done the deed, so – "
"Hold it," I pause, "so maybe she killed the Trainer, but she killed Gallade too? Pichu, wake up and smell the roses."
"There aren't any roses, stupid," Pichu argues, the figure of speech flying over his head and hitting an unfortunate bird passing by, "But anyway, my point is that maybe, just maybe, she didn't kill Gallade."
"No? But you were just saying how she could have k-"
"I said she might have killed Gallade – and if she did, it's still very possible," argues the little rodent. "But I believe she didn't kill Gallade, someone else did. It could have been Magneton, or Hitmonlee, or it might actually have been an accident. Remember that there weren't any signs of a physical struggle."
"But in any case, she went on a rampage, killing Magneton and Hitmonlee who she thought were the murderers," I finish Pichu's train of thought for him, trailing off into silence. Strange, could the mouse have actually come up with a workable theory this time round? What happened to the Pichu I used to know and love to prank?
I glance back at him. "But why should she frame us?
The rodent shrugs. "Dunno. Maybe she wants us gone too. Or we were just unlucky enough to be in the way."
I point out a large tree that could possibly be used for shelter, and Pichu – not wanting to be completely at the mercy of Snowpoint's bizarre and unnecessarily cruel weather – gladly agreed.
"Anyway," he continues, three mushmushmush shuffles later, "it's creepy how the evidence piles up. Heavy metal beams that are too hard to lift? No other footprints other than our own around the factory where Hitmonlee died? And a floating, Psychic suspect?"
"Hold that thought," I bring up a paw to halt him. "How do you think she actually killed Magneton and Hitmonlee? The trainer was obvious: 'Gardevoir, in the Bedroom, with a knife', but those two aren't explained so easily."
Pichu shudders: from the wind or from memory I do not know.
"Do you remember Magneton?"
Hitmonlee and me picking our way through wreckage that resembled a metal scrapyard left to rust and die. Crushed steel on steel. A beam must have toppled straight through his Magnemite-components, splitting the metal monster cleanly into two. Or three. Split and smashed without even allowing instinct to kick in. We had arranged him as neatly – as dignified as you can arrange blasted pieces of metal that used to be alive – on the Inn floor.
Only his eyes were the same as they were in life.
Staring. Forever drilling straight into you.
Except this time when the pieces were moved, they rolled in their sockets. All three eyes ended up fixing Gardevoir with their stony, monotone, dead glare.
I shall forever remember the look on Hitmonlee's face when he first pulled a sixth of his Teammate out from the wreckage. It wasn't morbid curiosity; it wasn't the snarky undercurrent he had when he pretended to be serious in front of the Trainer.
It was something that I had not seen, a new emotion flickered across his face. He tried to quash it under his half-hearted attempts to put on a brace face, but I saw it for what it really was. It was truly a rare creature that invaded Hitmonlee's mind that day.
It was fear.
Involuntarily, I shudder too. "Yeah. That kind of death? How do you think Gardevoir, who had her hair fried by a single Zap Cannon, could have killed Magneton?"
Pichu's voice is dark. "Have you seen a TM Shop around?"
I pause. "Yeaaaahh, there was one in town. We went there together, didn't we?"
He nods. "And there's powerful TMs in there, right?"
I nod slowly, seeing where his train of thought is going. "But wait, hold it, hold it – even if Gardevoir really wanted to learn a TM, how would she get it? We Pokémon have no money, it's not like she could just – what, – walk right in and – "
" – and steal it," completes Pichu. "Remember the Earthquakes you felt? Or what kind of attacks could have brought down the steel poles? Giga Impact, that's what – or Earthquake, I dunno, it doesn't really matter which she stole. Brought down the poles like toy blocks."
"But – "
"Before you say anything, Riolu," Pichu interrupts, bringing his voice down to a dark whisper, "remember what Gardevoir's been telling you? About her… visions?"
I nod slowly. I had been idiot enough to share some with Pichu, and now I'm starting to regret it.
"What if –" Pichu continues, "in her visions she sees the murderer? She sees the murders taking place, how they take place, how they could be concealed? She might have seen our deaths, Riolu! And what if she sees that the murderer – is herself?"
"Pichu, don't be an idiot," I plead with him. "Gardevoir isn't going to snap simply because she had a dream of herself hacking your head off. In fact, I have those sort of dreams myself, if you must know – I've killed Gallade and Hitmonlee in a variety of gruesome ways and I admit that I enjoyed myself immensely."
"Seriously, Riolu," Pichu's tone takes on the desperate tinge that stops my jokes dead. "What if that's really the case? And after the fight with Hitmonlee, she just might want to make those things become reality. You know how you can't tell a dream from reality when you just wake up, no matter how ridiculous or frightening that dream is? That's why we're scared even after we wake up, that's why we huddle up and shine lights around to tell ourselves we're back in good old solid reality. Who knows what those vivid Psychic visions are like?"
"Did the vision take place in the night or day?"
"Oh." She closes her eyes as she seemingly tries her hardest to recall. "I… I don't know…"
My eyes narrow slightly at her words. "Couldn't you see if it was dark or light in your vision?"
"You've never had these visions – you wouldn't understand," she retorts.
Observing my stunned silence, the mouse goes on. "I don't even think I need to tell you how plausible it is that Hitmonlee could have been done in by her…"
I nod, Pichu's line of logic clear in my head.
Gardevoir, floating over the white snow, drifting into the factory like a ghost. It would be the simplest of tricks to camouflage herself amongst all the machinery and rubbish in that factory, after all, we had did it, didn't we? The loud crashes and shouts that came from our fights and flights probably only helped her to locate us – or more specifically, a bleeding, unconscious Hitmonlee or a surprised Navy-Blue…
The body of Navy-Blue was left on the ground. The body of Hitmonlee, however, would be placed into the container on the trolley, pushed out – that would explain the trolley tracks – all the way to the graveyard.
Psychic attacks. We saw their devastating power on the snowy field over Gallade's body – this was power; not attacks used for mere battling or proving one's strength, but fuelled by something deeper, darker, and more powerful. It would have been so easy to throttle an unsuspecting, unconscious Pokemon, or even –
It would have been absurdly simple to just bundle the knocked-out Pokémon into the waiting trolley and ship it over to the graveyard, just like a ready-made coffin. Gardevoir wouldn't even have had to lift a finger; the unfortunate victim would have suffocated to death in a Poffin-container.
...which would make us accomplices, since we were the ones who knocked Hitmonlee out in the first place. Pichu seems to realize this at the same time as me, shooting me with a gaze that veered between frightened and terrified. I wonder if he imagined Hitmonlee's blood on his hands, and couldn't help wonder at how happy we were, grinning and patting each other on the back when we knocked that big bully out cold.
Navy-Blue wasn't even a consideration. If she could have killed her powerful Pokémon nemesis in cold blood, an overweight human police officer that should have long given up the security business and gone into the doughnut industry should not have been a threat to her at all. I wouldn't care to think about how bloodlust would get to one's head – even if she didn't need to kill him, there's no saying that she didn't.
The chain of possible and impossible events swirl about in my mind, causing me to screw my eyes tight and clutch my head. "Unbelieveable…"
"Suit yourself, if you want to argue with the facts."
"Okay, okay, okay," I throw up my paws in defeat. "So you're right. So what? Everyone else has bit it, Gardevoir's snapped, and might be coming after us next. What do we do now?"
My companion's response was nothing short of illuminating.
"…nothing?" I echo, incredulous. After all that he had said (and it's starting to make some sense, too) this response was the last thing I had expected to hear. Then again, I hadn't expected to hear this at all…
"Look, pal, I've gotten a little bit of respect for this – this crazy idea of yours, because it's actually believab-." I check myself. "Slightly believable. Very slightly." I place a paw on his shoulder, and am surprised at how suddenly icy cold he is. "So don't destroy that respect by suggesting our best course of action is to lie down and wait to die."
But by now Pichu's gone a little overboard, his ideas chaining together in his head, whispering and mumbling to himself and shrugging off my grip. "Butterfrees in a net… stumbled into it ourselves, and before you know it, wham!" He pounds his fist into a palm, and turns to me abruptly. "We'll be pretty trophies for her growing collection soon enough."
"Stop right there," I halt him. "There's a couple of flaws with your Theory of the Day. One," I say, counting off my paw, "…you're not pretty. Two, you're not much of a trophy, either, I'm afraid. Three, I – "
"Riolu, this is serious!" There's something in his whine that makes me stop dead for a moment and stare at him. Pichu is fixing me with a look that I have never seen from him, a kind of determined and pleading glare that looked eerily out of place on his features.
"We're trapped, right where she wants us. We've no one to run to, no place to hide, nothing to eat, and – and – " As if on cue, the hunger pangs strike up a new fervent drumbeat in my empty belly. I realize that I haven't eaten since – since…
"A-and then we'll go to her, 'cause she's the only living soul we know here," Pichu continues, breathless.
"…and then?" I prompt after a couple of seconds of silence. "And then what?"
Pichu attempts to find words but fails, settling for a resigned shrug. "And then whatever she wants, I suppose," and an icy wave of fear dances across the crisp winter air. We become silent for a while, the crunch-crunch of our footsteps surprisingly loud in the night.
The snow continues to fall.
"…come on, you're imagining wayyy too much, pal," I finally say, gently. "C'mon, let's go." My paw on his shoulder, I slowly guide him out of the snow. He doesn't resist, but shuffles shivering, sniffing, but not from the cold.
We're shuffling towards a large, blackened tree. Dusk had fallen quickly, leaving us with precious little time to find suitable shelter if we didn't particularly want to freeze to death. The tree is partially hollow, with a hole smashed into its side, revealing a surprisingly big area inside that must have once been a birdnest. To the two of us – desperate, depressed and cold – it looks like heaven on earth.
We quickly clamber into the abandoned hollow, just as the snow and the wind kick up a tantrum outside. I shake off the flecks of ice that had caught onto my fur, and place the gun by my side. Too fatigued to even look around for any hungry predators that might have been lurking in the shadows, we collapse into a sitting positions, inching away from the biting wind that blows into our newfound shelter. For a time, no one says anything, both of us opting to listen to our breathing blend into the whistling of the wind outside.
"Riolu?" Pichu's voice is muffled.
"I don't wanna die."
"…mm. Me neither. Look, just keep moving on, before you catch your death of cold and exhaustion, okay?" I gently pat his paw. "We'll think of something tomorrow, I promise. It'll be all better in the morning."
Sunlight filters down from above the branches, leaving splotches of brightness on the ground. A gentle wind rustles through the crisp morning air, twisting its way into my little hollow, feeling surprisingly good against my dirtied fur. I realize that I haven't washed since who-knows-when, and guiltily rub the back of my head. Ahh, that's the spot.
I breathe in deep. The cold air fills my lungs and wakes me up fully. Another day, another sunrise.
I stretch, feeling my bones and joints creak and pop a little. It occurs to me that Pichu and I have slept the last night in a tree – holed up like some sort of mere animal. I shake my head. It might be fine for the birds, but for me this delightfully splintery hole just can't beat the Inn's beds.
Hm. For once, humans 1, nature 0.
"C'mon, Pichu, we gotta get moving," I call out.
Moving where? I wonder again.
The serene environment doesn't seem so serene after all.
"Pichu!" I call out impatiently. He's nowhere to be found – he isn't where he was sleeping the night before, he wasn't anywhere in the branches – the twit has probably gone to the police station to make a full confession, the idiot.
And I was the bigger idiot if I was just going to sit there and wait for the search-and-arrest party to arrive and promise me kibbles. Come here, little Riolu, the nice uncle's just gonna give you a ride around town in the police van.
Poking my head out of the hole, I peer around at the snowy environs. Reluctantly touching down, I shiver at the cold snow – it crunches delicately beneath my paw – and break into a run.
Two and a half crunches later, I stop dead.
Beautiful crimson blossoms had spread around the base of the tree overnight, in irregular splashes. They stand out wonderfully against the bleakish dirty-white ground. In the middle of Snowpoint's endless winter, the red flowers are a wondrous sight to see. Coupled with the refreshing breeze that's still nipping at my ears, it almost seems too good to be true.
'cause the rodent had to go spoil the pretty picture, what with lying in the middle of it all with his brains blown clean out of his head. The gun lies two paces away.
I breathe in deep and the metallic smell of blood rushes into my lungs.
"Gardevoir!" I hiss.
The Psychic Pokémon doesn't hear me. She disappears from the window, seemingly pacing the room, lost in her own thoughts.
I curse under my breath. There's still the hole Magneton's final demolition exercise had left; and it's testament to the human builders' complete incompetence and laziness. The hole is larger than it was before, and it commands an excellent view of what used to be my room.
She reappears in the window a few seconds later, appearing to count on her fingers and murmur distractedly to herself. She stops suddenly, eyes shut and squeezing her temples, massaging them slowly with a curious expression on her face.
"Look, look, I know it sounds incredible… but don't you think Gardevoir has been behaving rather odd lately?"
I'm taking this stupid, stupid risk, coming back to the Inn like that. I don't know how much the police know about Navy-Blue, or about Pichu. Granted, the factory and the lake are very far from the city center, but that's only a vague comfort.
Calling Gardevoir looks like a last resort, doesn't it? It's a sobering thought to think that out of the six Pokémon that trouped into Snowpoint, only two are left alive. You might think it's the old sense of familiarity, trying to pick up the pieces, but at this point I really, really need to see Gardevoir.
But if anyone else sees me, I'm dead.
She jerks her head up, her concentration gone. She stares around the room, then outside, then – she spots me, and her eyes grow impossibly large. Gardevoir mouths my name, and bolts for the door.
A couple of seconds later, a perplexed Gardevoir stalks her way across the snowy lawn, stepping out daintily through the hole in the wall. With a quick glance over her shoulder, she gently nudged me to a corner, wary that no one saw the two of us together.
Wordlessly we dash around the corner, into a slightly more secluded area. The way Gardevoir is staring at me, I presume that word about Pichu's and my heroic exploits had made their way into the local press, or at least was told to the Innkeeper and Gardevoir. Who knows what they're spreading about us.
We duck behind a closed shop. The smell of yesterday's food attacks my snout, but I keep quiet. Gardevoir, however, doesn't.
"Riolu! What in the world – I – " she pauses for a moment, looking truly flustered for an instant. A second later, the calm mask is back on her face as she composes herself. "What have you done?"
"Why?" I enquire innocently. "What have I done?"
Gardevoir sighs. "…nothing, really." She sits down on an upturned box nearby, obviously exhausted somehow, kneading her forehead with her paws. She suddenly seems to have aged significantly since the last time I've seen her.
I'm a little concerned now, not quite understanding what's going on. Was Pichu really correct, and is this some elaborate façade meant to throw me off? Or – or, given Pichu's long history of outrageous theories – is Gardevoir innocent, and am I doing something horribly, horribly wrong? I start to place my paw on her shoulder, then hesitate. She doesn't notice for a while, then eventually looks up and stares blankly at me.
"You shouldn't be here," she whispers in a tone of concern. "The Innkeeper's gone crazy after you guys failed to turn up for dinner last night, and she threatened – I was worried sick! Where were you guys? – she threatened to call the police and get them down to haul us back there for questioning, and –"
"Well…" I trace a circle in the snow with a hindpaw. "Things got complicated on my side, too."
"Complicated? As in?"
"…as in, complications occurred."
"What – kind – of complications?"
"…uh, complicated ones."
"No, Riolu, I – look at – no, Riolu, look at me. Look at me." Gardevoir holds my face with a grip gentle enough to be an ally and yet strong enough to stop me from looking elsewhere. She forces me to look straight into her eyes.
"…what happened? And where's Pichu?"
I breathe in deeply, and slowly clap my paws to Gardevoirs, pulling them away slowly. I feel her pressure slackening, then releasing as her paws slip off my fur. This time, without her telling me to, I fix her with a gaze to rival her own, till I detect the scent of anxiety clearly emanating from her.
"Pichu's dead, Gardevoir."
The revelation is met by stony silence.
"But why should she frame us?" Pichu shrugs his nonchalant shrug, oddly out of place, I remember thinking, on such a matter like this. "Dunno. Maybe she wants us gone too. Or we were just unlucky enough to be in the way."
"Aren't you going to kill me now?" After a couple of seconds worth of silence, I figure this is as good a way to break it as possible.
"What?" Gardevoir suddenly flicks her head to me, and I must admit the effect is startling. Then, her features relax, the rigid, tense tone gradually replaced by one of dawning comprehension. "Ohh… you think – you actually think that – Pichu – I – I was the – "
"Ah, but you are, aren't you? You've been knocking us out like flies, haven't you?" I reply bitterly, right to her face. "Bet you're counting down. Four down, one more Riolu to go."
"Four? What happened to Hitmonlee?"
"Don't play anymore, Gardevoir," I whisper tiredly. Truth be told, I am exhausted. Even after the refreshing sleep in the hollow, somehow my mental limits are still at breaking point. I'd like for nothing more than to just fall back into the snow and stare at the sky; though if I did that now –
"You're crazy, Riolu…" she whispers back, equally tired. She's wearing a hurt expression, the how-could-you-think-it-was-me card. Seeing it suddenly made me snap back into reality, out of my fatigue-induced haze of smoke and snow.
I blink, and suddenly the world seems a little more in focus. Shaking my head, I fix Gardevoir with a look, enough to make her feel nervous. "Maybe you should see it for yourself, hm?"
Ten seconds later we are running, helter-skelter through the deserted streets of Snowpoint, making our way back to the clearing where Pichu's taking his eternal morning nap. By Mew, I swear it's like no one's living here anymore; it's persistently quiet in the early morning. The eternal snow probably makes everyone want to sleep in late. Can hardly blame them; if I had my way I'd be snoozing in bed right now, under the warm covers, mm…
"Whaa – " A wrong step and a sideways stumble onto the pavement bring my wandering mind back to the situation at paw very, very quickly. Out of sheer instinct, I hit the ground rolling and get back up soon after, picking myself up and stagger-running forward with Gardevoir still following me. I hear her concerned shouts but ignore it, deciding to focus my energies on the road and the path I must take.
I glance behind. Her face still bears the look of shock, either from learning that Pichu's dead, or from me accusing her, or simply as part of an act – maybe all three. Wait, that doesn't make sense. Either she's guilty, or she's not – and we'll soon see in time.
And as I continue to glance behind, I notice that her feet are several inches off the ground.
"It's creepy how the evidence piles up. Heavy metal beams that are too hard to lift? No other footprints around the factory? And a floating, Psychic suspect? We're trapped, right where she wants us. We've no one to run to, no place to hide, nothing to eat… and then we'll go to her, 'cause she's the only living soul we know here."
We dash past abandoned shops – well, they look abandoned – down the snowy streets of Snowpoint, undoing all the distance I've done running from our hollow to the Inn, the entire way across town.
It hits me that I'm not going to have Pichu around to prank anymore. I almost miss the daily tricks I used to spring on him on every possible opportunity. Turns out that when I promised him everything was going to be okay, it would be fine in the morning – that was my last joke to him.
Instead of waiting for us to come to her, why not lead her to us?
We stumble into the clearing, right on the other side of Snowpoint. Pichu's body's still there, thankfully – I'd imagine flocks of Pidgey or something – the gun still lying right by the side and the lovely red flowers a little duller, a little more dilute, but still no less red and no less everywhere.
"What – "
Gardevoir drifts across the scene like she was in a dream, eyes glassy and staring-but-not-looking at the remains of Pichu smeared across the snow. Her head twitches involuntarily to one side – a sign that she's consciously trying to look away – but like what I experienced the first few minutes, there's an uncontrollable, fantastic magnetism that holds your head there between its paws – just like Gardevoir – and keeps it there.
"That's the gun, I think," I pipe up. She gives a start, looks down – the magnetic connection broken for now – and stares at me as if she doesn't know what I'm saying. She slowly bends down as if to pick up the gun, then suddenly thinks better of it and resumes staring at it, as if hoping it would spontaneously burst into flames if she glared at it long enough.
The sound of footsteps reaches the clearing - Gardevoir whips around, snow billowing around her feet. I, however, am nowhere to be seen.
The footsteps increase in their fever and frequency, until out of the clearing bursts what must be the remainder of the Snowpoint Police Force and a couple of half-trained Growlithe. Both Pokémon and handlers are panting heavily, mist clouds swirling at their gasps.
Pichu would have laughed – it seems like ice really has gone to their brains.
But the handlers have their pistols out and the Growlithes are literally breathlessly pawing at the ground, waiting for the command to attack. In a short span of seconds, they've fanned out, surrounding Gardevoir in a yawning three-quarter circle of man, gun and Pokémon. Suddenly, the Snowpoint Police Force seem a whole lot more threatening than Navy-Blue was, back in that factory –
Gardevoir's looking around, frantically, either for me or for a road of escape. She can't see either, reason being I, being one with foresight, have long since scampered off to the relative safety of a tree beyond the police perimeter. Staying high up among the branches, the view I'm getting looks pretty much like the one I saw when Gallade took Gardevoir out for a romantic stroll.
…except, of course, there's no Gallade.
…and no romance. And a lot more police. And blood. And –
Okay, you know what? It's just the snow, I swear the snow makes everything look the same.
While I contemplate this from the safety of my tree, Gardevoir's being forced into a corner, yelling my name and getting growled at by two overeager Growlithes. I see her summoning up enough power to take out both of them, mentally calculating the time she would have before the police start firing. I nearly couldn't believe it; Gardevoir actually willing to fight? I suppose these were special circumstances, but still –
And while she's still thinking there was a blur of orange and blue and suddenly, before I even have time to blink Gardevoir's on the ground, being held fast by the couple of Growlithe while the police hurriedly train their guns in her general direction. Gardevoir yells, surprised, attempts to struggle to a sitting position, but the Growlith grrr and bare their fangs at her neck.
I could see Gardevoir's torn expression – she could easily defeat the two out-of-shape Pokémon, and maybe even some of the men, but stopping a speeding bullet was never one of her specialties. For what it was worth, Psychic barriers at this level could only slow down things by so much and over so long a distance. A bullet fired at this distance would simply overpower the Psychic field.
The leader of the police group, another navy-blue wearing chap, advances forward, gun still pointing dead ahead.
I hear that's how they do it for dangerous Pokémon suspects, quite the change from dealing with humans. I suppose it's necessary precaution against beings who can conjure up fire or Psychic you till your brain bubbles out of your ears.
"You are hereby under arrest for one count of alleged murder," he intones. "You ha-"
He motions to his team, not taking his eyes off the Pokémon. "No point tellin' 'im the 'right to remain silent' jazz, right?" There's a slight pause as the other policemen exchange quick glances with each other. A mumbled chorus of "No", "Uhm, nope," and "I'm not really sure, actually" wafts around the clearing.
The leader sighs, wipes his forehead with the back of his free hand. He nods, a signal – a colleague comes in and handcuffs Gardevoir's wrists together with a sharp click.
"Look, I – you know what, let's jus' get 'im back to the station, we'll settle 'vrything else there. Go on already, git!" The last sentence is directed to the Growlithe escorts, who then roughly stands Gardevoir up, marching her off in the direction of a distant police van parked somewhere out of our lines of sight. If she moves a little slower, one of her escorts growl and nudge her a little, forcing her to pick up the pace.
As luck would have had it, they walk away from me, such that I only see their retreating backs. Gardevoir tears her head backwards, as if to scan the area for me, a look of utter bewilderment and anxiety etched on her face. She doesn't look back long, though; the Growlithe guards push her forwards and she stumbles, regains her footing, and disappears from sight behind the trees.
I stare at the retreating shadows, until the last navy-clad policeman is gone from sight. Only then do I climb down from my perch, still looking in the direction of their footprints while standing in knee-high snow.
Huh, I wonder to myself. That was quick.
It seems so surreal: could it be that the Snowpoint nightmare was over? I shuffle forward a step or two, feeling the cold ice bite into my fur. No, it's real – it's real alright, and I've just seen the police handcuff Gardevoir and lead her away with my own eyes.
Quickly, quietly, I follow behind them, sure to keep my distance from the last policeman in the group, and making sure there's always a tree handy to dive behind. I trail them all the way to the edge of the clearing, where I'm just in time to see Gardevoir being pushed onto an intimidating-looking prison van as I peer out from behind a tree.
"…gratulations, I think we're gonna wrap up this case soon," one of the burly policemen chortles to their leader. He swings the back door of the van shut with a resounding CLANG, the noise vibrating in the air. Taking off his cap, he dabs a little at the perspiration that stars to form on his forehead.
"Mmhmm," the leader nods as they get on the van. "High time someone wrapped up this. Too many bloody murders already, what with th-" The sentence was cut off mid-way by the slam of the van doors, and the vehicle rumbled off on the narrow dirt road back towards the city.
I come out from my hiding place, still staring mutely at the disappearing van. Really? Could it be? Is this really the end of the case?
And was the mad killer who had led us a demented dance all around Snowpoint – was it really none other than –