Author's Note: This was originally intended to be a oneshot, but, big surprise, I got carried away in planning and it got overwhelming. As such I've decided to divide it into parts. Not sure how many of those there'll be, but it shouldn't be that long. Enjoy!
There was a hand… just a hand. That was all he could make out in the swirling world of blacks and grays and purples. It was a human hand, he was sure. It wasn't one of the deathly pale disembodied things that you sometimes found floating around in the in-between places—a mere physical projection of some spiritual thing—a grasping, astral limb. No, not this one. Just because he couldn't see the body the hand belonged to didn't mean that it didn't have one. The flesh had colors and textures and imperfections like the hand of any mortal, and it wore a gray and red armband. Yes. He knew instinctively without having the break down the reasons why, that this was the hand of a living, flesh and blood creature.
He also knew something else as white noise poured into his ears: he was afraid—desperately afraid.
The hand moved, sinking into the black ooze which hid the rest of its body. It thrashed and struggled, but something from beyond the void was pulling it away.
He lurched forward through the syrupy air, knowing that there was no way he could reach the hand in time, but that didn't stop his muscles from screeching into action. There was no way he could let…
The fingertips reached out desperately for a final second, but then disappeared too as the static breathing in his ear reached an almost deafening volume. He slammed against the wall that had once been as solid as water. He pounded against the prison, but it wouldn't break, it wouldn't bend.
Morty opened his eyes and for one horrible moment didn't know where or when he was. Then he rubbed his forehead and sat up in bed.
A dream? No. He knew better than that. More like a sign of things to come. But the problem with premonitions was that they were so hard to understand until you found yourself in the middle of them. Then it was too late. Not only that, but searching for answers for too long could leave a person completely unfocused temporally.
He got up and trudged over to his wash basin to splash some cold water on his face. He didn't think he'd manage to get back to sleep, so he might as well make an early day of it.
The present beckoned… but so did the future.
Three weeks into the future Morty marched out of the forest path and into Violet City. He hadn't been there in… oh, quite awhile. He owed himself first and foremost to Ecruteak City and as the city's gym leader there were many responsibilities he had locally. But when his special skill-set was needed elsewhere, then he had no other choice but to travel.
He walked across the bridge, tucking his scarf more firmly around his neck against the night's chill. Above him loomed the Sprout Tower. He couldn't help smiling faintly as he looked at it, rising above its elegantly maintained lake surroundings. It reminded him of home.
Ahead of him, on a small island between the two bridges, was a circle of lanterns and an assemblage of sages. The sages looked up expectantly at his arrival and bowed their heads respectfully to him.
"Leader Morty?" one of the sages said. "We thank you so much for agreeing to assist us here. I am Sage Neal, the one who sent the message asking for help."
"What appears to be the problem?" Morty asked.
Sage Neal's face looked grave. "It's… the Gastly, sir. Generally speaking they're no trouble, but lately something has really disturbed them. They're usually shy and only populate the mostly empty hallways at the higher levels, but now they've been swarming through the entire building and even the apartments where we sages live. And there have been… accidents."
Ah, (pause) accidents. Those were the worst kind of accidents.
"Has anyone been hurt?" Morty asked concernedly.
Sage Neal shook his head, sweating. "No, but with the amount of… disturbances, we're afraid it's only a matter of time. It's not even safe during the daytime anymore. We've had to close the tower off to tourists and temporarily move out. The ghosts have been throwing furniture around… if someone got in their way it could be very unfortunate."
Morty nodded. "So there's been a lot of poltergeist activity?"
Sage Neal nodded vigorously, feeling glad that there was finally an expert on hand. "I'm at my wits end, I don't mind telling you. Elder Li has taken ill for the past couple of weeks and had to be moved to the Pokemon Center, and Sage Troy has taken the neophytes out on a camping trip just east of Mahogany Town to catch their first Bellsprout. So we're dreadfully understaffed and even Leader Falkner couldn't—"
"I never claimed to be an expert on ghosts," a voice from behind Morty said stiffly.
Morty turned around to see a face he recognized.
"Ah, Leader Falkner," Sage Neal said, giving a short, deferential bow.
Morty had met Falkner before at functions that gym leaders were required to attend. They'd never spoken much, beyond salutations and a little bit of small talk, but Falkner had always struck him as polite and respectful.
Falkner crossed his arms and treated Morty to a sour look. "So, you're the ghost buster who's come to fix all of Violet City's problems?"
Polite and respectful sometimes, but… well… no gym leader likes knowing that there's something on their turf that they can't cope with themselves. It's a big blow to their self-esteem.
"I'll do my best," Morty said, as humbly as he could.
"Well, I'm here to let you know that as the Violet City Gym Leader I will be accompanying you on this mission," Falkner declared as though there was no arguing with this statement. "My father would expect no less of me."
Morty hesitated for a moment. Technically he could put his foot down, could say that it was too dangerous in there for someone inexperienced with ghosts. Maybe he could share that story about the medium he'd trained with whose eyes had started bleeding when she tangled with the wrong ghost. That tended to scare people.
But as he looked at Falkner's closed stance he knew that there was no scaring him off. So he nodded. "Fine," he said. "I could probably use the help of someone more familiar with the tower."
"Absolutely," Falkner said, making a fist. "I've trained in this tower since I was a little kid."
Morty nodded. He felt uneasy about allowing Falkner to come with him. Sure, Falkner was strong and sure, he could be helpful, but the spirit world held dangers that even Morty feared. But there was no changing it.
Morty looked to the sages. "Falkner and I will go in to check out the situation. I would ask that you all stay out here where it's safe."
The sages bowed to both of them and held their hands together. Morty and Falkner made their way toward the tower entrance with Falkner making a point of walking in front.
Morty was already well aware that he wasn't in Falkner's good books, but if they were going to do this then he needed more information. "So… you tried to take care of the problem yourself and it didn't work out?" he asked, well aware that he was rubbing salt in Falkner's wounds.
Falkner stopped and clenched a fist. "It's not as though it's a reflection on me as a leader," Falkner declared. "I couldn't even see the Gastly in any case, and all my flying type Pokemon are part Normal type. Most of their moves weren't effective."
Morty nodded. "True, but the same applies to the ghosts against Normal types. Your Pokemon didn't get hurt, right?"
Falkner whipped around to face him. "No, but I did! Do you know how much it hurts to get hit with a Night Shade?"
Morty gave a little internal shiver. "I'm very familiar with the feeling," he answered.
"What?" Falkner asked, crossing her arms. "You get attacked by Ghost types a lot? I thought you were good with them."
"Ghosts," Morty began, looking up at the tower rising above him, "can be a bit… tetchy."
Falkner raised an eyebrow. "Tetchy?"
"To put it mildly," Morty mumbled, his thoughts elsewhere as he took in the details of the tower. "It looks like a temple," he commented.
"I suppose it does," Falkner came back with impatiently, not pleased that Morty's talk of ghost temperament had been derailed. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Morty shrugged. "Something or nothing," he said.
"Well, that's a helpful answer," Falkner shot back.
Morty felt the gilded ornamentation on the door, and then pulled gingerly on its handle. The door slid open with a slow, whining creak. Now, the sages didn't seem like the type to skimp on such basic maintenance as oiling door hinges. But ghosts believe in atmosphere. A creak like that was a sure sign that they were in charge.
He walked in with Falkner following. He looked around at the seemingly empty lobby. All the lights were out, but Morty was used to working in the shadows. The constantly swaying pillar disrupted some of his senses though. It put him on edge and gave him the constant feeling that something was moving to make an attack.
"They could've at least lit some lanterns since they knew you were coming," Falkner commented, entering the darkened foyer.
"I'm sure they did," Morty answered distractedly. "No doubt the Gastly put them out."
"It doesn't look like they're here anyway," Falkner said, squinting in the pale light of the moon that filtered in through the open windows. "If they were, they'd be attacking."
"It could be," Morty allowed. "…Or maybe they're just watching us and deciding what to do."
"Are you going to battle them?" Falkner pressed, scanning the shadows all the more carefully for watching Pokemon.
"Not if I don't have to," Morty said with a frown as he looked for the staircases. "Beating them won't work unless we find out why they're upset in the first place."
"…And how are we supposed to do that?" Falkner asked.
"By sending out an ambassador," Morty said, taking out a Poke ball from his bag. "Gengar, go!"
The Poke ball plinked open and the shadowy Pokemon appeared in a haze of purple, spikes, and a highly disturbing smile.
"Gengar," Morty said, regarding his Pokemon seriously, "search the tower and see if you can get the Gastly to tell you what's wrong."
"Gen-gar!" Gengar nodded, with an even wider my-what-big-teeth-you-have grin. With that, it whisked off into the shadows until it could be seen no more.
Falkner followed the Pokemon with his eyes until it was gone. "So, they'll talk to Gengar because it's a Ghost type too?"
"Possibly," Morty said. "Gengar is Gastly's evolved form, so hopefully it can exercise some influence over them."
"…So are we just supposed to wait here for Gengar to come back?" Falkner asked, in a way that said: 'if this is ghost busting then I'm not impressed.'
"No," Morty said. "I think we should get moving. There's no guarantee that Gengar will be able to get anything out of the Gastly. And I want to get to the bottom of this," he walked over to the staircase, "by getting to the top."
Getting to the top was a little more convoluted than Morty had expected. According to Falkner, the staircases didn't go directly up. You had to meander back through different sections of floors you'd already been on, and even basement levels. Whoever had set up this tower had designed it more like a maze than anything.
It was difficult to navigate without the lights too. It was dim on the lower levels, with just the moonlight coming through the windows, but the windowless upper levels with practically pitch black. Morty himself was fine; he had second sight which allowed him to find his way without the use of his eyes. But Falkner hadn't had the special training that all Ghost type trainers undergo. He would be completely lost.
Morty sighed as they rose into one such darkened chamber. He knew he wasn't going to make any friends this way, but… he reached out and took Falkner's hand.
There was a dangerous silence. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
"Guiding you," Morty said. "I can see into the spirit world, at least partially. But you don't have that kind of advantage and must be completely blind."
Morty could sense the temperature of the blood in Falkner's face rising angrily. The Flying type trainer shook off his hand and reached toward his belt. He pulled out a Poke ball and lobbed it into the hall in front of him.
Morty could see two red, but friendly-looking eyes glowing the darkness and sense the aura rising off the small bird Pokemon like multicolored steam.
"Hoot?" the Pokemon cooed, shifting its balance from one leg to another.
"Hoothoot is nocturnal," Falkner explained in a huff, "so the best time to train her is at night. Any Hoothoot trainer worth anything at all soon learns to function effectively in even the worst lighting conditions."
"I see," Morty said, taking a knee to look at the little owl Pokemon. So that's where Falkner got his night eyes. "So I guess you won't be needing any of my help."
"That's right," Falkner spat.
Morty was about to reply when he felt a chill at the base of his spine. Suddenly it felt as though the entire universe was rearranging itself, like a doorway was being opened to…
"Forget that for now," Morty said through gritted teeth as he reached for his bag. "One of them's coming and it's not just scouting. Stay back and let me handle this," he said, feeling a malevolent aura getting quite close.
"Not a chance," Falkner said, holding up a fist. "We came prepared this time! Hoothoot, use Foresight!"
The little bird gave a cry and its eyes glowed even brighter than before. Light shot out of both of them as if from a flashlight and stabbed into the darkness of the room.
Morty pulled out a tiny Poke ball from his bag and felt it expand in his hand. "It's a good idea, but that won't work unless you actually hit it," he said urgently. "Just let me take care of this."
"No, she can handle it!" Falkner called out defiantly. "If that's how it's going to be, then just fill the whole room with Foresight!"
Morty took a step back as, for just a moment, the entire room was bathed in red. It reminded him… yes, of another trainer and another battle.
"There it is!" Falkner said, pointing to two eyes glowing palely in the total darkness, revealed by Hoothoot's Foresight. "Now use Peck!"
Hoothoot spiraled toward the revealed Gastly, surprisingly quick in flight despite its round shape, and jabbed Gastly straight in its ghostly forehead with a tiny but sharp beak.
"Gassstly!" Gastly cried in its Transylvanian moan. Wisps of purple light began generating around it's black core.
Morty recognized the signs. "It's going to use Confuse Ray!" he warned.
"Well that's okay!" Falkner exclaimed, "because no one can match a Flying type Pokemon when it comes to dodging!"
Hoothoot called out its assent as it looped and soared away from the blast of disorienting energy.
"Now, Hoothoot, return the favor with Confusion!" Falkner ordered.
"Hooooot!" Hoothoot screeched, glowing with Psychic energy as it concentrated its store power straight at its foe.
"Ssssssss!" Gastly hissed, taking the brunt of the blow. It had taken all it could take. With a fangy frown it disappeared into the darkness.
"She did it!" Falkner said, holding out his arm, which his Pokemon gracefully landed on. "Excellent work, Hoothoot!"
"Good girl, Hoothoot!" Morty agreed, patting the little bird on the head.
Suddenly, the mood in the room felt extremely awkward. Falkner was giving him a look as though he'd sprouted a second head, Weezing-style. Hoothoot was giving him a befuddled look, unpleasant in a creature with eyes that large.
"What?" he asked.
"She's not a girl," Falkner said, as though this were obvious.
That one had Morty stumped. The first part of Falkner's sentence seemed to contradict the first part.
But wait… "This is a falconry thing, isn't it?" he asked.
He'd read a book about it, long ago when he'd had to put the spirit of a Spearow to rest. Falconry was an ancient hunting sport and it apparently had a lot of dense, but fanciful jargon. He couldn't remember most of it, but yes… there'd definitely been something about hawks (and all hunting birds were called hawks in falconry) always being referred to with female pronouns regardless of their actual gender. It was a tradition that had started because female birds are more prized due to being larger and easier to control.
So, to a falconer of the classical sense, even male birds were called 'she'.
Morty had to wonder if being raised on a confusing pronoun rule like that had left Falkner with any interesting gender confusion later in life, but he knew better than to ask.
"Obviously," Falkner answered sourly. Falconers, Morty also remember from the book, tended to be rather elitist about their terminology.
Well, they probably thought they had a right to. Falconry wasn't a sport for commoners. Of old it was practiced only by noble samurai, and it was considered a sign of status.
"Anyone should be able to see that she's male," Falkner insisted.
"I guess I'm not really an expert on bird Pokemon," Morty explained, still a little put off by the odd pronoun switch.
"Well then maybe you should get your inner-eye checked!" Falkner shot back, sending Hoothoot back into his… eh… her Poke ball in a stream of red light.
"Sorry," Mort said, scratching his cheek nervously. "Well, now that that's over, shall we move on?"
Falkner fell into step behind Morty in a sort of sulky silence, until he finally asked: "You going to do anything useful next time there's a battle?"
"Only if you let me," Morty responded playfully.