Whew, this one is significantly longer than the first chapter, and boy did I have trouble writing it. My computer kept freezing, deleting bits of text and even corrupted (no pun intended) the entire document! Anyway, I hope you guys like it, and I hope it was worth the trouble.
And a very special thanks to my anonymous reviewer, Dice, who always leaves me the most thoughtful and detailed reviews. This one's for you!
Chapter 2 – Departure
"Ah, Green, Red." Lance smiled ominously, displaying a mouthful of slightly pointed teeth. "How nice of you to come."
Red had not realized how utterly drenched and frozen he was until that very moment. The rain was coming down harder than ever now, droplets pelting him harshly as they made their way towards the goldenrod cobblestones that lined the ground below. He continued to stare, transfixed, into the dragon master's piercing eyes and, as he did so, Red's body temperature dropped lower and lower. Lance – ice – frozen. Had it been his imagination, or had his wrist suddenly started to ache? Frost – shackles – trapped forever.
Red shivered – he didn't think he could bear it for another second. In his moment of panicked disorientation, Red completely forgot his resolution to be polite and to leave past events behind him, and nearly demanded of Lance, rather tactlessly, an answer as to why he and Green had been summoned.
Green had beaten him to the punch.
"What do you want from us?" The Viridian Leader's eyes flashed suspiciously.
Lance smirked and gave a little chuckle.
"I can see that you're in no mood for idle chit-chat. That's excellent-" With a swift flick of his wrist, Lance deftly repositioned his cloak and gracefully motioned to the set of sliding glass doors that lead into the League's reception room, "neither am I."
The two younger trainers did not move. Red shot Green a sidelong glance, and he could tell that they were both thinking the same thing. Once they were inside the League, they would be completely at Lance's mercy. At least here, outside in the garden, they could make a run for it if necessary.
Red now felt slightly childish for the way he had argued with Green earlier that morning. After all of Red's talk about how he was ready to trust the Elite Four member, he was beginning to have second thoughts about Lance based on the mere sight of him. Red wondered miserably why him and Green had even bothered to show up.
Red and Green's furtive glances had not gone unnoticed by Lance, whose amber eyes glided over the younger trainers slowly, one after the other.
"Come now, boys. You two are soaked through – let's get inside, hm?"
Red chanced another fleeting look at Green, who wore an expression that seemed to say, 'It's up to you'. Nodding quickly, Red turned and looked Lance directly in the eyes. They had come this far – there was no point in turning back now. Red was tired of hiding.
"Alright." He replied finally, his voice determined.
"Very good." Lance smiled and Red got the impression that the dragon-user was patronizing them – finding their hesitation to be amusing.
Lance stepped up to the sliding-doors once again and bowed slightly, his arm unfurled dramatically in the direction of the entrance so that he looked rather like a trained butler, waiting to welcome guests graciously into his master's home. Green snorted at the showy gesture. The glass doors slid open and Red, wanting to prove that he was not intimidated by the red-haired man, immediately strode up to Lance, nodded curtly in thanks, and then proceeded into the grand reception area. Green followed close behind him, but did not so much as look at Lance as he too crossed the threshold into the lobby.
As Lance slid into the building after them and the doors slid shut once more, Red was instantly met with a sweeping sense of relief – the spacious reception area was warm, wonderfully decorated and had an air of coziness about it. He was reminded at once of the homey atmosphere that he often associated with the lounge of a Pokemon Center. Furnished with large, dark, leather armchairs along with matching side tables, carpeted with deep reds and accented with warm oranges and vibrant yellows, Red figured he could have comfortably curled up and gone to sleep in this room – the light, tinkling piano music being played through speakers on the ceiling only relaxed him further.
Red was in the middle of studying one of the room's three, massive bookshelves lined up against the far left wall, marveling at the many musty volumes and expensive looking marble busts of once great Pokemon trainers that lined its shelves, when he registered movement out of the corner of his eye.
Lance had crossed over to the great, mahogany reception desk that stretched half the length of the room, and reached down over the polished top to retrieve a small stack of papers. Red was sobered somewhat by the sight of the dragon-tamer. Although he was grateful for the warmth of the lobby, he reminded himself that it would be a smart idea not to let his guard down again. Wondering what Green was making of their situation, he turned and glanced at the other boy, who was looking around the room in what Red could only describe as disgust. He was obviously determined not to be suckered-in by the reception area's warmth and comfort.
"Okay, boys." Lance's voice cut through the dainty piano melody still flowing from the speaker system, "Sorry for the wait. Shall we?" He tucked the documents he was holding under his arm and motioned to the right side of the room, which branched out into a long, white, marble hallway, minimally decorated with expensive-looking jade and soapstone sculptures; the passage stood out in stark contrast to the luscious waiting room. Lance began to walk, and Green swept resolutely after him, wrinkling his nose in distaste. Red spared one last look at the inviting, leather armchairs before rushing after them.
As they progressed through the hall, the music playing in the lobby behind them began to fade, echoing off the walls in ghostly waves. Before long, the only sound in the corridor was that of three sets of footfalls. Red found the silence to be extremely unnerving, and wondered absently just how long the hallway was; it stretched on with no end in sight. After another five minutes or so of walking, the group came to a six-way junction – the brilliantly white hallway that they had been walking branched out in five separate directions. Each conjoining hall was unique, their walls made out of various high-quality woods, stones, precious gems and even things that looked like plants. Red was only able to get a good look at one, however, as Lance led them swiftly down the hall farthest to their right.
Red squinted as he entered the new hallway. The lighting had changed significantly as they had rounded the corner and, now that his eyes had adjusted, Red realized that it was because the new hallway's walls were made almost entirely of glass, save for the thin tendrils of ornately crafted, cerulean coloured wrought iron bars holding the large panes in place. From outside, rain pounded against the glass and, through the downpour, Red observed a multitude of overgrown trees, bushes and wildflowers; the passage was exactly parallel to the garden path they had entered through, although the goldenrod stones weren't visible through the greenery.
This corridor was not nearly as long as the previous one had been, and the group soon found themselves standing in front of a ragged, ancient-looking oaken door, which was horribly out of place in the clean and modernly designed passageway. Red's mind conjured up a snide image of Lance ripping the door free of some medieval castle and bringing it home as a souvenir.
Pulling a large, black key from his traveling cloak, Lance unlocked the heavy, wooden door, which swung back on its hinges with a loud and unnerving creak. The dragon-tamer was the first to step into the dark room that had been revealed, and the two younger trainers hesitantly followed suit, only to find that the space in which they were attempting to occupy was non-existent.
Red knocked into something, causing an object that felt like a stiff, wooden pole to jam painfully into his side and, beside him, Green swore under his breath as a great clatter resounded. Red felt something heavy crash down upon his foot, making him draw in a sharp, hissing breath – he presumed that Green had caused something to topple over and onto his abused appendage. While the darkness of the room did not allow Red to observe his surroundings, he knew for sure that the space Lance had led them into was very small, and very cramped. Green snarled in annoyance and Red could tell that whatever remained of the Gym Leader's patience was quickly dwindling. But before Green could reprimand Lance for his shoddy hosting skills, a soft crack was heard and a tiny flicker of light cut through the darkness.
"Sorry about the clutter." The dragon-master said offhandedly as he raised the matchstick he was holding to the wick of a candle, "I find it difficult to concentrate in a room with too many electrical appliances, so I like to do my work by candle-light – there are far fewer distractions that way."
Lance lifted the lit candle from its holder and dipped the burning end towards another candle's wick, repeating the process until the room was alight with a warm, orangey glow.
Taking a look around, Red confirmed that the room was indeed both small and cramped. The 'wooden pole' lodged into his ribcage turned out to be the backrest of one of the room's three ornately crafted chairs; Red carefully maneuvered the seat back into position, and reached down to pick up the large and weighty book entitled "An Intensive Look into the Study of Pokemon Taxonomy" that had fallen on his foot. He held it out to Green who was grudgingly restacking the large pile of reference books he had knocked over. The taller boy snatched the musty object ill-temperedly from Red's hands, completed his pile, and pushed it against the side of a sizable desk taking up the majority of the room. Guessing that the space couldn't be much bigger than fifty square feet, he observed the massive bookshelves leaning against the far wall of the room, towering over the large desk before them, more rustic than the ones in the lobby and packed with many dusty volumes. The two sidewalls were lined with thin, dark wooden shelves that housed what looked like at least one hundred candles, of which a quarter were currently lit.
Lance shuffled into the narrow space between the desk and the bookshelves and lit two antique kerosene lamps on either end of the long table before he squeezed back to the stack of shelves on the left side of the room and, reaching past Green, restored the candle he had used to light the rest to its holder.
"Would either of you like some tea or coffee?" Lance asked pleasantly.
"No thank you…" Red murmured, and Green stuck his nose in the air defiantly.
"Good." Lance laughed, "I wouldn't have been able to get you it anyway – the League's closed on Sundays, you see; we're the only ones here. The receptionist that usually brings me my coffee is off." Lance smiled, "Not even the security guards bother to stick around when I'm here… there really isn't much of a point."
Red nodded politely, but Green didn't look amused.
"Why don't you boys take a seat." Lance said, clearing his throat and motioning to the two chairs situated very close together on the side of the desk nearest the door.
Red and Green struggled to move the chairs far enough away from the desk to slide into the seats without hitting the wall or the door behind them. Once they had settled, the pair scooched closer to the long table and watched as Lance took the papers he had brought with him from the reception area and, extracting a small, silver key from a drawer on the opposite side of the desk, turned to face a small filing-cabinet. Red had not noticed the cabinet earlier, and vaguely wondered why he had not seen the off-white, industrial unit before; positioned tightly in the left corner of the room, between the candle-lit shelves and one of the large bookcases, it stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the rest of the richly coloured wooden furniture.
"I'll be right with you," Lance said as he unlocked the second drawer from the top and fiddled through a number of dividers marking off different documents. "I just have to see to some police business first."
Green snorted loudly, and Red was surprised when Green spoke for the first time since entering the League.
"Police business?" Green leaned forward in his seat, a look of incredulity on his face, "Who the hell would trust you with police business?"
Red stared at Green, his mouth agape. Lance merely placed the papers into a slot in the drawer and calmly closed the cabinet. Sitting himself down in the cramped chair opposite the two trainers, he replaced the tiny key in the desk drawer before lifting his head to look at them.
"Why," Lance's amber eyes danced dangerously in the candle light, "the police of course."
Green twitched uncomfortably under Lance's piercing gaze, but his words did not falter.
"And they think they can trust you with that kind of information?" Green's tone was as mocking as it was skeptical.
"Clearly." Lance said with a smirk as he gestured to another stack of papers on the far right of the desk, all of which bore the insignia of the Kanto Police Force – the head of a regal Growlithe surrounded by a wreath of Ho-Oh's feathers.
Green crossed his arms and gave a frustrated humph.
"They send me transcripts of cases that they deem to be highly important, confidential or… out of their hands." Lance continued, looking thoughtful, "Nothing like petty crime or theft… things along the lines of natural disasters, anything resulting in mass casualties, witness protection – those kinds of things."
"Sorry, sir, but what do you mean by 'out of their hands'?" Red asked sheepishly. He was intrigued, but was still, as much as he hated to admit it, skittish around Lance.
Lance laughed openly, and Red felt an embarrassed flush creep up his neck.
"There's no need to call me 'sir', Mr. Champion." The dragon-tamer winked roguishly at him, and Red could feel his face begin to heat, "What I'm talking about when I say 'out of police hands', are incidents that require the attention of very skilled Pokemon trainers, such as myself and the two of you;" Lance inclined his head towards the two Pokedex holders, "There are some instances in which police action is rendered useless – take Team Rocket for example – If there's something a criminal organization with that kind of power wants, far be it from the police to stand in their way. The Elite Four and myself have pledged our allegiance to both the Kanto and Johto Police Forces in order to ensure the protection of those in the most critical of situations."
Both Lance's tone and expression were earnest, but Green rolled his eyes.
"Sure. That's why you tried to kill Red and enslave the entire Kanto region, right?"
"Green -!" Red lowered his voice in warning.
"No!" Green snapped at Red, his annoyance finally bubbling over, "None of this makes any sense – he tries to murder you, and then, years later, he just decides to invite you over for a casual Sunday-morning get together? No – just, no." Green held one hand out to stop Red from retaliating while his other grasped again at the bridge of his nose.
"What's wrong with you?" Red grabbed Green's outstretched hand roughly in his own and yanked the other boy towards himself, forcing Green to look him in the eye, "When we met Lorelei on the Sevii Islands, you never showed her this kind of treatment! Why him?" Red jerked his head in Lance's direction, but didn't once take his eyes off of Green's.
"Because she proved herself!" Green roared as he ripped his hand free of Red's, "The Sevii Islands were her home, and she allied herself with us to protect them! What has he done to gain our trust?"
"I can assure you," Lance interjected from across the table, "that I mean neither of you any harm. Now, if you'll allow it, I'd like to move onto more pressing matters." Both his voice and gaze were steady as he studied them – daring either of them to speak. His sharp eyes penetrated them in such a way that they were transfixed, unable to argue any further.
Reluctantly, both boys repositioned themselves in their seats so that they were fully facing Lance and quietly waited for him to continue, Red's eyes gleaming with curiosity and Green's face screwed up in a distrustful scowl.
"I need you boys to do a job for me." The dragon-tamer said rather bluntly.
Forgetting their argument entirely, both Pokedex holders turned to face each other, stunned. Green was the first to direct his attention back to Lance and, when he spoke, his tone was laced with suspicion as well as confusion.
"What kind of job?" The Gym Leader asked cautiously.
Lance leaned forward across the surface of the large desk, so that his face was just a little over a foot away from Green's.
"A job that's 'out of police hands'." He whispered, each syllable leaving his mouth slowly and deliberately.
Green wrinkled his nose in distaste at the close proximity between himself and Lance, but did not recoil.
"Oh, really?" Green's voice dropped to the same hushed volume as Lance's, his lips forming a dangerous sneer.
"Yes." Lance smiled, once again displaying two jagged rows of teeth.
"Then answer me this," Green glared contemptuously at the dragon-master, "Why can't you and that group of rejects you call the Elite Four do this job yourselves? Are you afraid you're not strong enough?"
Red thought he saw Lance's amber eyes flicker in annoyance, but the dragon-tamer soon regained an air of collectedness.
"The Elite and I cannot accept this job at the moment." Lance leaned back in his seat, reached under his desk and retrieved two items from one of its drawers.
"We've all been invited by the Elite Four of the Sinnoh region to attend the grand opening of Sinnoh's new underground – I'm sure you've heard of it." He brandished an envelope bearing a seal that Red had never seen before – he guessed that it belonged to the Sinnoh Pokemon League, "The others left for Sinnoh last night, and I will be leaving shortly after we've finished our business here." Lance explained as he played absently with a letter opener he had also pulled from the drawer, it's beautiful golden blade glistening in the candlelight.
"Never the less," Lance's tone grew serious, "this is an issue that needs attending to, and I couldn't think of anyone more competent than Professor Oak's Pokedex holders."
"What do you need us to do?" Red asked quite suddenly, surprising both Green and Lance.
The dragon-master laughed as he returned both the invitation and the paper knife to their drawer.
"I thought you'd never ask." Lance flashed Red another pointed smile, but this time Red wasn't bothered. He was beginning to think that this was just Lance's way of being friendly – that the Elite Four Leader might not wish them ill after all.
"You two are of course aware of the Cinnabar Island Massacre." It was a statement, not a question.
Everyone knew about the Cinnabar Massacre. It was common knowledge. Four years ago, an underwater volcano located on the East coast of the island, that had previously been labeled inactive, had erupted, destroying the majority of the island and covering much of the Kanto region in dark, ashen clouds for months. Hundreds of island dwellers were killed during the incident and thousands more escaped with serious injuries; some residents had inhaled so much smoke and soot that their lungs had been permanently damaged. Red had been visiting his hometown of Pallet when the eruption occurred, and witnessed first-hand the choking, black clouds that had drifted up the coast to engulf the rural town. The horrible tragedy had strained the entire Kanto region.
Green threw Lance a curious look and seemed interested despite his attempts to preserve a cold indifference to what the dragon-tamer had to say.
"Yeah," Red mumbled, "a good friend of mine lost his home, his gym and his lab to the eruption." He frowned slightly, thinking of Blaine who was now, unbeknownst to most, residing in one of the Seafoam Islands.
"Yes," Lance nodded grimly, "It's been a difficult trial for many."
"I don't see what this has to do with us." Green interrupted impatiently.
"Right," Lance's mouth curved into a small frown, and Red could tell that Lance was becoming as tired of Green as Green already was of Lance, "getting back on track… You two will remember the catastrophic environmental damage done by the resulting smog, then?"
The two younger trainers nodded.
"Well, because of the devastation, research crews wishing to investigate the cause of the sudden eruption were forced to wait nearly a year before it was deemed safe to travel to Cinnabar – even with the most advanced equipment and protective suits, the pollution and toxins were just too much."
Lance paused for a moment before continuing.
"Recently, however, crews have begun to return to Cinnabar Island in order to conduct new studies; all of the investigations done a few years ago were inconclusive – no one was able to figure out why a seemingly dormant volcano went off without any warning."
"But that's good, isn't it?" Red asked, confused, "I mean, if we find out what caused the eruption, we'll be able to tell when another one's about to happen, right?"
"Yes, yes," Lance said hurriedly, "finding the cause of the eruption will be enormously beneficial in predicting future eruptions - that's not the problem."
"Well, then what is?" Green snapped, irritated.
Lance narrowed his eyes ever so slightly at Green before responding, his voice chillingly cold.
"The problem is that none of the research crews have returned from Cinnabar."
Red gritted his teeth.
"Groups were dispatched a month ago and, since then, no one has so much as heard from those researchers – their radio signals are jammed with some weird kind of static."
"And this is 'out of police hands'?" Green asked in a bored voice, "Isn't this about the time when the police and some worried civilians form a rescue party? It's as simple as that, reall—"
"It is not that simple." Lance cut in angrily, "Search parties were organized two weeks ago, and all those involved, civilians and police officers, have gone missing as well."
It was Green's turn to narrow his eyes.
"What, exactly, is happening on Cinnabar?"
"Currently…" Lance sounded almost dejected, "we have no idea." He glanced down at his desk and then purposefully back up to face the two Pokedex Holders. "What I need you two boys to do, is to travel to Cinnabar on a rescue mission."
Green stared at Lance in disbelief.
"You're suggesting that we do this job of yours with virtually no information, no plan and no backup? Do you really expect us to succeed?" Green's eyebrow arched disbelievingly.
Red was worried, as well as curious, about the scientists, civilians and officers that had gone missing, but he knew Green was right – as powerful as Pokedex Holders were, Red and Green knew next to nothing about the situation, and it didn't seem as though Lance had much information himself. If Cinnabar Island was dangerous enough to keep any visitors from leaving, a rescue mission could prove to be suicidal.
"Or…" Green said quickly, pulling Red from his thoughts, "do you not want us to succeed?" His voice was dangerous. "Do you want our names added to the casualty list – is that it?" Green spat furiously.
"I'm not going to tell you again," Lance spoke determinedly, a cold fury detectable in his voice, "I do not mean the two of you any harm." He fixed his harsh, amber eyes on Green. "If I wanted you dead, there are much simpler ways I could go about the task."
Green, for once, was silenced.
"I have given you all of the information on the subject that I possess." Lance continued, "As for a plan, I've heard that you two are very resourceful when it comes to tricky situations – don't think I chose you both for this mission without doing some research in advance; I know all about your assist in the victory over the Mask of Ice, your help in freeing the Battle Frontier from Archie of Team Aqua, and about your battle with Deoxys, the DNA Pokemon."
Red smiled weakly and scratched at the back of his capped head in modest embarrassment. Lance stared thoughtfully at them for a moment before pressing on.
"And allies… I thought, seeing as you two have seniority over your fellow Pokedex Holders, that you'd have many competent trainers to choose from." Lance smiled slightly, "I tried to get a hold of your friend, Blue, but it seems that she's unavailable at the moment… it's a shame, really, I would have liked it if she'd attended this meeting as well."
"Blue likes to move around a lot." Red said affirmatively.
Lance smirked knowingly, and a pregnant pause enveloped the room before the dragon-tamer spoke again, his tone almost encouraging.
"I've seen what you boys can do first hand;" Red shifted uncomfortably in his seat as he realized that Lance was referring to their battle six years previous, "you're talented, driven and resourceful. I can't think of any two trainers outside of the Elite Four that I'd place more trust in than you two."
Stunned by Lance's praise, neither boy so much as moved. The dragon-tamer leaned in towards them from the other side of the table and glanced between the two younger trainers, his usually harsh, amber eyes oddly soft in the dim candlelight.
"Can I trust the two of you to do this?" Lance's voice was uncharacteristically imploring, "If not for me, then for the people whose lives may depend on you?"
Slowly turning his head to look at Green, Red watched the other boy consider Lance for a moment before closing his eyes and letting an exhausted sigh escape his lips. Hesitantly, Green returned Red's gaze and, for the second time that morning, sent the Champion a furtive glance that seemed to say 'you decide'. Smiling weakly, Red nodded at his friend.
Dropping his gaze to his still rain-soaked lap, Red examined his fingers, his palms and, finally, his wrists, feeling the fleeting pain of his old injuries resurface. For one brief moment, he allowed the icy chill to envelop him and take complete control of his mind and body – letting the pain push him, drive him forwards rather than shut him down - before he abruptly clamped his fists shut.
Lifting his head purposefully, Red's crimson eyes locked onto Lance's glowing amber ones; he had made his decision.
"When do we leave?"
"Do you have any Hyper Potions?" Red called over his shoulder as he rummaged through his worn, untidily filled backpack.
Green, who was leaning over the coffee table in the center of the apartment's cramped living room, glanced up from the sheet of paper he had been writing on.
"There should be about five in the drawer behind you." The Viridian Leader inclined his head towards one of the kitchen cabinets near the island chair in which Red was perched.
"There are six." Red said inspecting the contents of the drawer, "Wanna split them?"
"Sure," Green didn't look up as he continued to scrawl across the paper in large letters, "just throw three in my bag." His tone was non-committal, evasive.
Red frowned slightly as he shoved his share of the Hyper Potions into his already overflowing pack.
"Green, if you don't want to do this…" Red started, but stopped when Green lifted his eyes from the paper to glare at Red.
"You're not doing this alone, Red. Either we go together, or no one goes at all."
"I know you don't want to go –"
"It doesn't matter what I want, idiot. You made the choice, and there's no way that this is a one-man job." Green tapped the end of the pen he was using to write with against the surface of the table absently.
Red lowered his eyes to the floor; he was starting to feel guilty for being so quick to sign both Green and himself up for something that the other trainer quite obviously was not keen to do.
"Oh, don't look so pathetic." Green said in what Red assumed was supposed to be a biting tone – it came out in a slightly endearing way, "Red, what you have to understand is that I want to help these people, assuming they exist, as much as you do," He sighed and placed the pen down on the table, "I just don't trust that bastard."
"I think he's telling the truth." Red said quietly fiddling with the zipper on his backpack.
Green sighed exasperatedly and reclaimed his pen.
"I'm just saying that this could very easily be a trap – there may not even be people on Cinnabar that need rescuing. We have to be prepared for that possibility."
"But if there are people, if they really are in trouble, we have to at least try."
Green nodded grimly.
"Yes, we have to at least try." He turned away from Red and continued writing.
"Johto?" Green snarled disbelievingly as he held up a small, glossy postcard.
"Johto." Red stated blankly, "No wonder Lance couldn't find her."
Both trainers stood at the top of the fire-escape steps underneath the loft apartment's narrow overhang, rain pounding against the sheet-metal above them. They had just finished their final preparations and were about to take off when Green had noticed the tiny card slipped halfway underneath the apartment door.
On the front of the card, a trio stood beside the large, iron entrance-way of the famous Goldenrod city radio tower. Blue beamed happily up at them from the photo, her arms slung amiably around the shoulders of two shorter trainers that Red recognized immediately as Silver and Yellow. Blue's easy smile stood out from both of the younger Pokedex Holder's embarrassed flushes.
Flipping the postcard over, Green scanned the written message quickly before giving a small groan and rolling his eyes.
"What does it say?" Red asked quizzically, taking the card from Green's outstretched hand.
"'Dearest Green,'" Red read allowed, quirking his eyebrow at Blue's choice of greeting and paused to watch Green grimace before continuing.
"'Yellow and I are currently touring the beautiful region of Johto. It's so nice to be able to relax and do some sight seeing – it's a nice change from battling, and they have the cutest little stores here! The antique jewelry market is incredible! And guess what? Last week, we ran into Silver! Can you believe it? He's even decided to take some time off from training and join us-'"
"'Join'? Yeah, right. I'll bet you anything she dragged him off, bound and gagged for good measure." Green cut in snidely.
"'We're heading off to Ecruteak city tomorrow, but we'll be returning to Kanto for the Pewter city Museum's Grand Re-opening – the three of us won tickets by participating in the Goldenrod radio tower's Lucky Number Show! It's all expenses paid! You should come meet us there, Green! It's been far too long, darling.'" Red sniggered at the embarrassed blush that had found its way across Green's cheeks.
Green scowled, evidently not amused.
"'I hope everything's well on your end,'" Red gasped out in between laughs, "'Love, Blue.'"
"Ugh." Green grumbled.
"Wait, there's more." Red said, trying to regain his composure, "'P.S. I am very hurt that you haven't responded to any of my letters! Write me back, okay?'"
"Not likely." Green said petulantly.
"'P.P.S. -'" Red resumed.
"There's more?" Green asked feebly.
"'Tell Red to write me too. I've been sending messages to his home in Pallet, but I'm not sure if he's been back there in a while.'" Red wondered just how many letters would be waiting for him upon his return to Pallet.
"'P.P.P.S.'" Blue's writing was beginning to bunch at the bottom of the card as if she had been struggling to make her message fit, "'Call Silver's Pokegear if you want to get in touch.'"
"'P.P.P.P.S.'" Blue's writing was now so tiny that Red was having a hard time deciphering it. "'Yellow and Silver say 'hi'.'"
When Red had finished reading, Green waited for a few moments, as if anticipating even more text to be written on the impossibly small card. When Red made to hand the card back to Green, a look of relief swept over the Viridian Gym Leader's face.
"So, they're going to the Museum Re-opening, huh?" Green said, finally, choosing to ignore the numerous sappy segments of Blue's letter and focus on something that both boys deemed to be much less awkward, "I wonder who's not going."
Red remembered Lance's instructions from earlier that morning; they were to reach him at his hotel in Sinnoh by phone if they ran into any problems and, no matter if the mission had been successfully completed or not, they were to meet Lance and the other Elite at the Pewter Museum Re-opening (where the Elite would be present on their first day back in Kanto) for a status report.
Red unconsciously patted the back pocket of his – now dry – jeans, where the two admission tickets Lance had given him were folded haphazardly.
"Let's get going, then." Green said resignedly as he tossed Blue's postcard onto a small table in the apartment entrance before shutting and locking the door – Red could have sworn he heard Green mumble something along the lines of 'Pesky Girl' as he did so, "Copper-top wants us on the island before evening." He pulled the bulky radio transceiver that Lance had given them from his jacket pocket and began to descend the stairs into the rain.
"We'll see if we can pick up any sign of a distress signal as we go." Green said as both trainers touched down onto the soggy front lawn of the Viridian Gym, "I've just got one last thing I need to do."
Green knelt down next to the Gym's glass doors and extracted a roll of tape and the piece of paper he had been writing on previously from his traveling bag. Sticking the sheet carefully to the door, Green turned to Red and nodded.
"I know you hate closing the Gym." Red said sympathetically, gazing at Green's makeshift sign, which read: 'CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. Sorry for the inconvenience.'
"Well," Green sighed as he hoisted his bag back over his shoulder, "With any luck, it won't be closed for very long. Besides, my two top Gym apprentices have spare keys—they know they're welcome to open the doors to the rest of the Gym trainers in my absence."
"Yeah." Red smiled reassuringly.
Green was never one to get nervous or over-emotional, but Red suspected that the Viridian Leader liked leaving his Gym about as much as Red liked being punched in the stomach. A quick glimmer of anxiety in Green's emerald eyes proved Red's theory right.
"So," Green cleared his throat pointedly, as if he wanted to avoid an uncomfortable and personal conversation, "Are you ready?"
Red nodded hastily – he could feel the stony gaze of the two Rhydon statues situated on either side of the Gym's doors boring into the back of his skull, making him feel nauseous; he was thrilled to be leaving them behind.
At Red's affirmation, Green took a Pokeball from his belt and released his most trusted Pokemon.
Charizard appeared on the sodden ground next to them with a roar and a shake of its great head; the large dual-type did not appear to be happy about the rain.
"Charizard, we need to fly somewhere. Do you think you can handle the rain?" Green placed a hand on the dragon's back.
Despite Charizard's obvious discomfort, it nodded loyally and dipped its long neck, allowing Green to climb between its wings, its tail-fire burning brighter than ever in an attempt to compensate for the rain. Green positioned himself and his large pack before turning to Red.
"Climb on." Green instructed.
"B-but," Red stammered, "Charizard can't handle two people's weight! And we've got too many supplies-"
"Charizard can handle it." Green stated confidently, patting his Pokemon in reassurance, "Besides, Aero hasn't been able to fly since its encounter with Deoxys, right?"
Red's hand strayed unconsciously to his belt, stroking his Aerodactyl's Pokeball gently. A fresh wave of guilt washed over him as he remembered how much his Pokemon had sacrificed for him, and the rain pounding down upon him felt just a little colder.
"Yeah, okay." He said finally, his voice thick as he sauntered over to the large, flying Pokemon.
Red placed a hand on Charizard's flank and was about to pull himself onto the dual-type's back when Red felt a warm hand close softly around his wrist. Looking up in surprise, Red saw Green fix him with a slightly embarrassed look of concern.
"Red, I'm sorry." Greens tone was milder and kinder than Red was used to, "You know it's not your fault."
Red felt a hot wall of pressure build up behind his eyes, as if he were about to cry, but no tears came – instead, rainwater streamed down his upturned face as a kind of substitute.
"Your Pokemon would do anything to protect you, Red. And feeling guilty about what they did for you only belittles their efforts."
Red swallowed a large lump in his throat and shuttered, not from the cold, but from the torrent of emotions coursing through him. After Red's first fight with Deoxys, Green had snapped him out of his depressed and discouraged state in order for him to focus on protecting the Sevii islands. But now, nearly two years after their conflict with the DNA Pokemon, there was no goal to work towards, no activity to divert his mind from the sting of remorse – the knowledge that he had pushed his partners past their limits, and that he'd have to live with his decisions for the rest of his life enveloped and smothered him.
"Hey." Green's grip on Red's wrist tightened encouragingly, "We don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves, remember?" Green flashed Red a genuine smile, "There are people that need our help."
Red stared blankly up at Green for a moment before weakly returning a grin.
"Okay." Red murmured, feeling immensely grateful towards Green – the taller trainer was overly sarcastic and stoic at times, but Green always seemed to know when Red needed either a kind word or a punch in the face; he was a good friend.
"Here." Red felt Green's hand slip from his wrist and slide into his own open palm instead. The feeling of Green's skin, which was significantly warmer than his own, comforted Red as the other boy helped him onto Charizard's broad back.
"Ready to go?" Green turned to face red from his position near Charizard's neck.
"Alright then, hold on tight." Green motioned for Red to grab a hold of him for stability, and Red wrapped his arms securely around Green's already rain-soaked torso.
"Charizard!" Green called, and the fire-dragon took off from the ground without a moment's hesitation.
At first, it seemed as though Red had been right. Charizard struggled to lift both boys and their heavily laden packs into the air, and Red squeezed Green much harder than was necessary out of anxiety. But as Charizard climbed ever higher, icy rain pelting its thick hide, the creature's laborious breathing began to even out and its wings flapped in a steady repetition. Red was in the middle of wondering how such an amazing turn around in Charizard's abilities was possible, when he realized that the dual-type was using the lashing wind to its advantage by riding the slicing currents.
"Good job!" Green yelled, patting Charizard's neck before he turned to Red, "I told you he could do it!"
The wind was so strong that Red could barely make out what his companion was saying. Instead of replying, because he doubted his words would reach Green through the storm, Red let out an elated laugh – the joy of flying helping to ease the guilt he felt for his own damaged Aerodactyl.
The afternoon sun was definitely a welcomed sight after weeks of oppressive rain; the beautiful golden light accented everything it touched, and Red watched in silent awe as the glistening blue waves of Route 21 rolled beneath them.
Both boys were shocked to say the least when the dark, suffocating clouds and icy rain began to dissipate just forty-five minutes into their flight. Expecting the ocean route to be even worse weather-wise, the pair was pleasantly surprised when the storm vanished just a few kilometers past the Pallet town coast. Now, on the open water, the only reminders that it had ever been raining were Red and Green's soggy clothes.
"Now that we're clear of the rain, I'm gonna try to get a signal." Green told Red from over his shoulder as he brandished Lance's bulky radio-transceiver.
Charizard was gliding through the air easily now, and the still air around them barely made a sound as it was sliced by the dragon's expansive wings.
There was a loud screech followed by an unpleasant crackling sound as Green switched the transceiver on. As the Viridian Leader hastened to change the frequency, the crackling became less obnoxious but, no matter how many channels Green tried, the only intelligible signal was that of the Kanto Broadcasting Corporation's DJ Lily, playing a relaxing mix of jazz tunes.
Giving up on locating a distress signal for the time being, Green dejectedly placed the transceiver back into his jacket pocket, and the two trainers soared towards their destination in silence, save for the soft music still emanating from the borrowed radio.
After another ten minutes or so of flying, the outline of Cinnabar Island began to rise up from the water, painted black against the bright horizon.
"We're almost there." Red murmured.
"Yeah." Green replied expressionlessly.
As Charizard ferried the two boys towards the ruins of Cinnabar, Red noticed that he was becoming increasingly nervous. Before leaving, both trainers had been so preoccupied with either mentally preparing themselves for any traps Lance may have set for them or trying to piece together a rescue plan that, Red now realized, they had neglected to consider a rather obvious question: what if they were too late? If there were indeed people that needed rescuing, would the two trainers be on time to save them?
At the thought, Red's heart began to pound against his ribs and his mind began to conjure horrific images of mangled bodies, strewn about the wreckage of the Cinnabar Massacre.
The island was coming into focus now, and Red was able to make out the silhouettes of old, toppled buildings, his heart hammering in uneasy anticipation.
"Green," Red blurted, needing to express his concern, "what if-"
Red was interrupted as, without warning, a blast of earsplitting static emitted from Green's jacket pocket, completely overpowering DJ Lily's easy listening playlist.
Charizard roared in surprise, and both trainers tried to cover their ears while still maintaining a firm grip on the now frantic Pokemon.
"What is that?" Red yelled through gritted teeth.
"How the hell should I know? Charizard – calm down!" Green through an arm around the startled dragon's neck as he desperately tried to change the radio's frequency with his free hand.
Despite Green's efforts, the transceiver continued to produce a loud, frenzied whirring that made Red's head throb and his vision blur. Red felt as if he were about to be sick when, from the midst of the static, he heard a voice.
"Green!" Red called loudly over the deafening noise, "Green – I think I heard someone!"
"What?" Green was clutching the radio tightly to his chest as he tried to steer Charizard in the right direction.
"Try to adjust the frequency just a bit more! I hear someone!"
Without replying, Green hurriedly fiddled, one handed, with the radio's tuning knob until the static had subsided and a dull buzz remained in its place.
"I don't hear anything." Green said, trying to sound annoyed, although obviously relieved that the static had been silenced; Charizard had begun to calm down as well.
"No, I'm sure I heard something – a voice."
"Red, there's nothing but dead air-"
Green stopped dead when the voice of a young girl came, clear as a bell, through the radio's speaker.
"Mommy? Where's mommy?"
"Do you hear that?" Red asked, delighted, "There's someone there! Someone's alive!"
Green was still for a moment, his mouth agape in disbelief before he flashed Red a grin, and hurriedly pressed the talk-button on the transceiver.
"Hello, is there anyone there?"
"Mommy? I want my mommy!" The girl's voice came again, crackling through the speaker system.
"Hello? Please, can you tell me if you're stranded on Cinnabar Island? Do you need rescue assistance?" Green bellowed into the mouthpiece.
"My mother, where is she?" The girl's voice was coming in sobs now.
"Don't worry, we're coming to get you! We'll help you find her, just hold on!" Green turned away from the radio to address Red, "Get the medical supplies from my bag!"
"Right." Red leaned forward and reached inside the traveling bag on Green's back, pulling out the rescue supplies they had brought.
"Mommy…" The girl's voice continued to drift through the transceiver.
"We're coming! Red, hold on tight!" Green yelled, before commanding Charizard to accelerate.
A sudden rush of wind pounded against Red's body, and it was everything he could do to keep a hold of Green and the medical supplies. They were now directly over top of the ruined island city, and Red could see how extensive the volcano's damage had been. Buildings stood half erect, burnt cinders and broken glass littered the streets, and a solid mass of rock had completely engulfed one side of the island, its center almost exactly where Blaine's Gym had been. The only building that seemed to have escaped most of the damage was the abandoned research facility on the West side of town, nicknamed 'The Pokemon Mansion' for its sheer size.
"Charizard, descend!" Green called, and the dual-type Pokemon obeyed immediately, spiraling tightly towards the blackened ground below.
Glancing around, Red managed to make out a small ship docked on the East coast of the island, the word 'Arbiter' painted across its side in large, blue letters; Red wondered if it could have been the ship that had transported the police and rescue workers to the island.
Charizard touched down hard, jarring Red from his thoughts. Disoriented and confused, Red could feel Green grab him by the arm and help him off the Pokemon's back.
"You alright?" Green asked, panting.
"Yeah, you?" Red inquired, also out of breath.
Green nodded before turning to Charizard and returning the creature to its ball with a quick, 'good job'.
Though both boys were still rattled from their rough landing, they wasted no time in scoping out the area. Red re-arranged the medical supply kit in his arms as he walked through the rubble, bits of broken glass crunching beneath his sneakers as he went. Charizard had landed on the Southern half of the island, and Red thought he recognized the broken foundations of what had once been a laboratory used for restoring Pokemon from ancient fossils, but there was not a living soul in sight.
"Hello?" Red called, cupping his hands to his mouth in order to amplify his voice, "Is anybody here?" There was no response, save for the creaking of old sheet metal.
"Hey, we're here to help! Is anyone hurt? We've brought bandages!" Red tried again.
"Here," Green said, coming to stand beside Red, "I'll try the radio again."
As soon as Green had clicked the device on, the voice of the little girl from earlier came blaring through the speaker.
"Mommy! Mommy! Where's mommy?"
Without a moment's hesitation, Green put the transceiver to his mouth and pressed the talk-button.
"We're here! Please, can you tell us where you are?"
Red and Green waited anxiously for a response.
"Mommy! Where are you? Please come and get me, mommy!"
"We'll help you find her if you tell us where you are!" Green yelled, a slight hint of irritation detectable in his voice.
"Look, kid, we want to help, but you have to tell us where-"
" Green, over there!" Red shook Green's shoulder violently and pointed off in the direction of the Pokemon Mansion.
"Is that…?" Green trailed off as he too looked up from the transceiver.
"Yeah, it is!" Red exclaimed happily.
From in between the enormous, rocky mound on the East coast of town and a heap of scrap-metal, a group of people were making their way towards them – what looked like thirty people, men, women and children. They all seemed to be considerably dirty, but alive and well nevertheless.
"Hey! Over here!" Red cried ecstatically, "We're here to help!"
Green and Red shared a small, triumphant smile before rushing towards the scraggly group, kicking up soot and glass as they ran. Finally, coming to stand in front of the survivors, Red let out a relieved laugh.
"We're so glad you guys are alright!" Red said, repositioning his cap which had started to slide off his head, "We thought you might be…"
Red had to stifle a scream.
As he looked into the faces of the survivors, his blood ran ice-cold, and every muscle in his body locked into place – he couldn't move; thirty sets of white, pupil-less eyes were fixed on both him and Green.
Red's breath caught in his throat as he quickly backed away from the group; to his right, he could hear Green shudder. The mob began to advance slowly, taking small stumbling steps. Their ashen skin stood out in sickening contrast to the blackened soot around them.
Red unconsciously reached out and gripped Green's shoulder tightly, needing to steady himself – his muscles still tensing uncomfortably, making it difficult to stay standing.
"Who – who are you?" Red asked, unable to raise his voice above a whisper.
A woman in a long, dirty and ripped lab-coat near the front of the group stumbled forward a few more steps, causing Red and Green to back up cautiously. Her blank eyes revoltingly unfocused, she opened her mouth and, without moving her lips, a voice resounded from deep within her throat. It was not the voice of a woman. Instead, it was the voice of someone much younger – the voice of a little girl.
"Mommy? Where's my mommy?"
To Be Continued…