I really put off doing this chapter for a long time and that's probably because I was afraid to write it. Not because the source material is particularly gory or nauseating but because I was afraid of not describing something faithfully. I've done some research into amputation and phantom limb, but I guess the dream is that someone who's lost an arm could read this and say, "yeah, that's what it's like."

I like to do what I call method writing, where if I want to describe how a character experiences something, I go out an do it...to a reasonable level. Obviously I wasn't going to chop off my own arm just to know what it's like to be missing a limb, so I read articles, watched videos, read journals about people's experiences with that kind of hardship. I guess one thing I didn't do was go out of my way to ask an actual person what it was like as I can't help but feel like it would be inappropriate.

"Hey, could you please describe in detail what it was like those initial days when you lost your limb?"

"Why would you ask me to relieve such a painful memory?"

"I...need to know for my fanfic..."

I've also never woken up from a surgery and been put under any kind of drug to go to sleep, I guess I'm lucky in that way. So I hope my description of that event was adequate.

With the knowledge I've amassed I feel like this was the best I could do and I hope to any of you who've gone through something like this (or know someone) can let me know if I was anywhere remotely close to what it's really like. If I was able to capture a tiny percentage of that thought process or emotion. If not, then that's completely understandable and I can only strive to do better.

Hope you guys enjoy the final chapter of this arc and as always, major thanks to Zarrelion for his part in this chapter.

August 20

The first feeling to trickle into Gary's mind was one of floating. Odd, considering how his entire being felt weighted down. His world was one of murky darkness. One that was simultaneously forbidding, yet comforting. A part of him felt that this hazy existence was preferable. Muffled sounds reached him — some seeming foreign. But others familiar even if he couldn't quite pinpoint where he recognized them from.

In time, light began to enter his world. It was too bright at first — blinding and disorienting in his realm of shadow. The sounds he heard slowly gained form as voices — not that he could make out what they were saying. His body felt as though it had been replaced with bags of sand and every attempt at movement made him acutely aware of every gram that made up his body.

Other sensations began to surface, many of which made Gary want to retreat back to the numbing blackness. His mouth was dry, lips cracked and a dull ache in the pit of his stomach reminded him once more what hunger and thirst were. Formless, hazy shapes appeared from the light as they moved about him. Every so often his mind would manage to pluck a word they had said but he was never able to derive any meaning from it. Part of him felt like he should know what it meant but rather than deal with the helplessness and frustration, he gave into fatigue and embraced the warm and comforting arms of slumber.

Color returned to his world the next time he awoke; the shapeless blobs began to gain some definition. A prickling crust had formed along his eyelids but the strength to reach up and rub away the irritation was lost to him. His voice was absent as any and all sounds he made were reduced to simple groans. Fatigue found him once more and whisked him away to another dreamless sleep.

The next time he awoke he was in a bed, in a room he didn't recognize at all. He looked around, trying to get a grasp of where he was and what had happened. Moving his head to the side, he realized his head now lay on a pillow and looking down he saw a blanket covering his body. His mind felt fuzzy; every thought that came to him, sluggish and vague.

Sunlight filtered from the window above him. Specks of dust caught in the sunlight danced aimlessly in its rays. A closed door lay at the end of his room. But beyond that, the room was bare in its furnishings. Pale blue featureless walls, wooden floors and a ceiling fan that spun quietly above him. His limbs still felt three times heavier than usual while the triad of exhaustion, thirst and hunger plagued him.

"Hello?" he croaked, wincing at how hoarse and dry his throat felt when he spoke and swallowed. He tried a second time with renewed vigor and heard movement from beyond the door of his room. The man that came through the door was not who he had expected.

The new visitor was gigantic, having to bend low to move through the door and he wore a blue mask that covered most of his face.

"Gary, right?" the man asked, watching him as if carefully gauging his reaction to his name.

"This man knows me," Gary thought. He nodded in response.

"You may not know me, but my name is Wake. Crasher Wake. I'm the gym leader of Pastoria," the man said.

Gary nodded once more, absently drinking in the information and letting it stew in his mind in hopes of it meaning something to him.

Wake's brow furrowed, his eyes narrowed and hardened for a moment before the man fell to the floor with a sigh.

"Gary, you're in Pastoria. You've been out for a few days," Wake said.

Gary's eyes widened at the words as he tried to grasp what exactly had happened before he wound up in this bed.

"It's been rough but you pulled through. Infi and Newton say you'll make a…full recovery." Wake tried to force some hopefulness into his voice but failed miserably.

Gary only stared at the giant gym leader then looked down at his bed, his body hidden beneath the covers.

"Do you…remember Newton Graceland and Infi? Do you remember Paul?" Wake pressed on, wondering if the boy's memory had been affected as well.

With the mention of the names came flashes of memory. It was quick, gone in an instant and while he couldn't make out everything in the burst of images, the feelings of dread that pervaded those moments were all too fresh in his mind. Gary nodded slowly and watched Wake exhale through his nose.

"Son, this isn't…you've got a lot to be thankfu…" Wake shook his head and abandoned the sentence, fumbling for where to begin or how to delicately broach the subject.

"'Delicate'. Hah! A masked wrestler is the last person you'd ask for comfort! Dammit Newton! This was supposed to be your job, not mine! Where in blazes are you!?

"Gary. When you, Paul, and Newton came to us…the Croagunk had found you in the Great Marsh. You were on your way to the place where we host the Croagunk festival. You were with Eugene. Your group was being attacked by the Drapion…"

Pain in Gary's left arm flared up at the mention of the attack, the events he went through slowly beginning to unfold in his mind again.

"Newton's been talking about building something that'll help. He just needs to get his hands on some mat—"

"—what happened?" Gary coughed as he forced the words out, silencing Wake's rambling instantly. Gary's memories of being in the carriage ended in darkness after a poisoned needle had embedded itself in his hand. He wanted to remove the covers and see what had happened but despite being able to move his fingers the comforter that was over him didn't move.

"Are you sure you want to know?" Wake asked, wondering how the boy didn't know already. Gary nodded, lying there and waiting as Wake tentatively walked over and grabbed the edge of his blanket. "You're sure? We can wait until Newton gets here. He's got a doctorate or something and can probably explain all of this better."

It was like a carpet had been pulled out from underneath him. All the bravado he'd mustered up dissolved instantly. Knowing now suddenly seemed like the last thing he wanted. Underneath those covers was something that scared Gary — the boy. Gary — the researcher — had always been hungry for knowledge; hungry to uncover the secrets the world had hidden from him. Yet here, just a few inches from him was a secret that he would eventually need to discover.

Gary nodded, watching the sheets reveal more of his body inch by inch. His chest seemed fine; shoulders didn't seem out of the ordinary. Then the bandages on his left side peeked out from the covers. Wake continued pulling the covers away until half of Gary's stomach was revealed and then he let the sheet fall. He watched the boy's expression, saw his eyes widen the longer he stared at the bandaged stump that remained of his arm.

"I…I don't understand." Gary's voice shook with every word. He could feel his arm; he could feel his fingers move when he told them to. The needle he'd been shot with was still there; he could still feel embedded in his palm and burning sensation of the poison spreading through his veins.

"What happened to my arm?" His voice was cracking now. Whatever fatigue he had was gone in the wake of the adrenaline pumping through his system. His heart was beating harder than ever; the air in his lungs suddenly felt insufficient.

"It was amputated. They had to remove it before the poison spread from your arm to the rest of your system," Wake said calmly. Despite the calm façade, the boy's anguish struck deep within him.

"But I can feel it! It's still there!" Gary's yelling was cut short by a coughing fit. Wake waited until the boy caught his breath. For all his weight and muscle, he felt powerless as he watched Gary's tears streaming down his face. Gary kicked off the covers on his legs, swinging them over to the side of the bed as he tried to get up.

"Gary, wait you need to rest," Wake said, trying to keep his voice calm. In the back of his mind, he wondered if he would be forced to pin the boy to the bed until he gave up. The youngest Oak wasn't hearing any of it. He just wanted to run, to get away from Wake, from the room. From the world. It was the moment he stood up that he realized the painful reality of his situation.

The sudden change in his body had thrown off his center of gravity. The world was starting to tilt as he lost his balance and watched the ground come up to meet him. Wake's massive hands caught him before he hit the ground, but the damage had already been done. As he fell, his "arm" instinctively reached out to break his fall.

Except his "hand" never felt the hard surface of wood; it didn't feel anything but the poisoned needle in his palm.

Wake hefted Gary into the air, the researcher's body dangling limply in his arms. He lay Gary back on his bed and backed away, keeping to the farthest corner of the room but ready to leap into action should the boy try doing anything dramatic.

In his wrestling career, he had seen a lot of pain and anguish — dislocated joints, broken bones and other, more gruesome injuries. He'd seen grown men — bigger and stronger than he was — reduced to bawling wrecks from the pain of their injuries. But nothing in his career had prepared him for the sounds that the boy screamed into his pillow.

Wake's hand hovered over the syringe in his back pocket, remembering Newton and Infi's words to him before.

"If things get too out of hand, this is the last dose of epibatidine and a few other things that will make him fall asleep. I'd rather not use it immediately but I'll understand if you need to."

The wrestler moved his hand away from the syringe, hoping Gary didn't force him to use it.

Ursaring dropped onto all fours, closing his eyes as he lifted his snout into the air and taking a few experimental sniffs. Finding nothing, he lowered his head to ground, his nose hovering just a few centimeters from the earth. After another few whiffs, he lifted back onto his hind legs, swinging his paw over his head and giving a grunt. Paul and Newton moved out from the cover of the bushes with Shieldon bringing up the rear.

"We're close. It should only be a few meters away," Newton commented aloud, watching the HUD eyepiece retract into his backpack. The whirring of it being stowed away blocked Paul's disgruntled murmur.

"This better be worth it," Paul grumbled to no one in particular, wiping away the newly formed beads of sweat from his brow.

"If the distress signal Infi found is right, then an airship would be well worth this trip," Newton replied, doing his best to remain positive despite the hardships of their journey. Traveling with Paul was an endeavor that could charitably be called "unpleasant". Every instance of communication with came was rebuffed with an irritated quip or a criticism.

And sometimes both.

If someone had been told him that Paul had smiled at one point in his life, Newton would've been skeptical. Nothing ever seemed to please the boy and Newton couldn't help but wonder what Paul's life had been like up until this point. His attempts at trying to learn of his past were shot down immediately with the prompt reminder him that he needed to live in the present and not get lost in the past. There was always another task to keep their settlement going; another objective they needed to complete to keep Pastoria's survivors going for another day.

Newton could tell Paul wanted to leave but he also knew that Paul had weighed the consequences of going alone and found them - unfavorable, at least for the moment. To Newton, it seemed that Paul saw the citizens of Pastoria City merely as tolerable burdens. He ate in silence, never joining the others in conversation. He was polite and cordial to anyone who spoke to him but never allowed for any dialogue he had to partake in go past a few sentences.

The most he was able to gather from watching him was that whoever raised him had taught him to respect his elders. At least until they lost his respect. From what Newton and Infi were able to gather, Paul respected efficiency and competence. If he saw you as having one of those traits, he would acknowledge that you existed. If you had both then he would respect you. It seemed that to Paul the number of people around him that fit either criteria could be counted on one hand.

Paul's Ursaring held up his paw, signaling them to take cover before he dropped to all fours and smelled the air again. Newton watched the hairs on his shaggy body bristle in anticipation. He shifted back onto his hind legs before signaling them to hold their positions. Paul watched his pokémon disappear into the woods, his hands hovering over the pokéballs that held Weavile and Gliscor.

Dozens of scenarios played out in Paul's mind. Each and every scenario had a counter and contingency plan. Type and stat weaknesses and advantages, moves and counter moves for the native pokémon that Infi had told him resided in these areas were all fed into his brain. None of them seemed like the type to set up an ambush. But Paul wasn't about to rule out the possibility. Those who were prepared were the ones that won battles.

The bushes rustled again. Infi's clawed arms extended from Newton's backpack and hung at the ready while Shieldon readied an Ice Beam. Ursaring appeared once more, unscathed but sporting a puzzled expression.

"Any hostiles?" Paul asked. To his surprise, Ursaring shook his head. It wasn't like his pokémon to overreact over nothing.

"What did you find?" Paul pressed further, his tone turning sharp and commanding. Ursaring thought for a few seconds before eventually turning away and beckoning them to follow him with his claw. Newton looked to Paul for some explanation but the boy never met his eyes. Without a word, Paul left the cover of the branches and followed his pokémon deeper into the woods.

"He's their trainer, but he isn't above following their orders," Infi noted aloud.

"He must trust them," Newton replied. He then followed Paul through the bushes.

"Ursaring may have found what we're looking for. The signal's getting stronger," Infi said as they entered a massive clearing.

Stationed on the grassy plain was a massive gray airship as long as the battlefield in a pokémon stadium. Newton was about to take a step towards it until Ursaring's large shaggy arm barred his way.

Paul was silent for a heartbeat before he spoke. "Explain."

Ursaring brought his paw to his face, aiming one of his claws to his nose before bringing that same claw over to his free paw and poking it into his flesh. A tiny bead of blood rose from the incision. The bear pokémon pointed to the droplet of blood and then to the lowered ramp at the belly of the airship.

"How much?"

Ursaring spread his arms out wide in reply. If Paul reacted to the news, he didn't show it.

It was then Infi who cut in. "That would make sense. If the crew of this airship had any pokémon on board, the removal of their limiters may have caused a high number of casualties in such an enclosed space. The damage and lack of crew would've forced them to land."

"Infi, what kind of aircraft is that? Military? I want to know what kind of pokémon they had on board," Paul said.

"Scanning," Infi replied, bringing the HUD eye piece over Newton's face. Newton did not say anything but he made mental note to have a talk with Infi later about taking orders from Paul.

A few minutes later, Infi spoke."Scans do not reveal any military markings or designation numbers. Or for that matter, markings of any sort. It may be that this is a privately owned airship."

"So we still don't know what killed the people inside there and I do not like going in blind," Paul growled.

"You think the pokémon that brought this ship down might still be there?" Newton asked.

"It's a possibility and with how things have been lately, I don't want to rule anything out."

"Fair enough. We'll be cautious when we approach."

"I'd rather send in Gliscor and Weavile in to scout it out." Paul's hand moved towards the pokéballs that held the two.

"We may still need them for night watches," Newton said.

"I'm well aware of that, but my pokémon are used to working without sleep. They'd be fine."

Newton gave the boy from Veilstone a look, unsure if that tidbit should comfort or sadden him. "All right, but just for a bit. Do you think your Gliscor could take Infi with him? She might be able to see something of interest with an aerial view."

"As long as she's not heavier than me then she should be fine."

Newton began removing his backpack while Paul summoned his pokémon in twin flashes. Although somewhat tired, they immediately took defensive stances and surveyed the area for threats. Finding none they looked to Paul for guidance and awaited their orders.

"Gliscor, you're going to be our eye in the sky, take this backpack with you and don't drop it. Weavile, check out the ramp and come back. Do not be seen and do not attack. Give me a count if you can," Paul ordered.

Both pokémon nodded in unison and about their duties. Gliscor grabbed the backpack and pushed off the ground with his tail, rocketing dozens of meters into the air. Weavile instantly became a blur and disappeared from sight. Not a single blade of grass in his path was bent.

Weavile arrived well before Gliscor, who swooped back down a few minutes later. The ice weasel noticed no hostiles but Infi had noticed something interesting in her flight.

"This airship is armed. And with military-grade ordnance at that. There's also a command center situated atop the very center of the ship, equidistant from each antigravity generator. I also detected evidence of a onboard cloaking system," Infi said.

"So whoever owns this isn't hosting parties," Newton commented dryly. "Whatever they're doing, they wanna do quietly and out of sight."

"So pokémon poachers or…" Paul began.

"—Bounty hunters might also be possibility. Newton, if I may be so bold…I want it."

Newton's jaw dropped at his AI's sudden verbalization. "Infi?"

"Your backpack is nice, but I was once the onboard AI for the Megarig. You can't fathom how cramped and powerless I feel now compared back then. Your backpack has served its purpose; I've been able to repair myself to near full functionality. If this airship is AI compatible, then consider the possibilities."

Newton couldn't hide his smile. The fact that his creation had wants and desires spoke volumes of how far she had come since her initial conception. Zero would've been just as proud of this moment.

"Even if it wasn't compatible, I'd make the alterations until it was," Newton finally replied.

Paul promptly returned Gliscor his ball but didn't do the same with Weavile as he started making his towards the airship's ramp. Venturing inside, they found several six-wheeled vehicles still parked in what looked like a hangar bay within the ship.

"Business is good," Newton said after giving a low whistle at the sight. It was then he noticed the bodies sprawled around them. Paul seemed to notice the bodies a lot later, his focus set on the vehicles for what Infi considered longer than his usual acknowledgement of certain things.

"Not too good from the looks of it," Paul replied, his nose wrinkling from the sight. The smell of the bodies wasn't too overwhelming but the sheer number of them and the state of their corpses was straight out of a horror movie.

"My sensors indicate that these bodies have been decaying for several days but the state of their bodies does not correlate with normal decomposition. Their body mass should not have decreased so substantially in that short time scale. I am also detecting several puncture wounds over their bodies," Infi said.

"Infi, would you be able to tell if the wounds on their bodies are from slashing or stabbing attacks?" Paul asked with a degree of calm that Newton couldn't help but find unnerving.

"Judging from the distance between each wound, it would appear that each puncture on the body is part of a pair. A biting attack would be the best fit."

"Next question. Can your sensors detect any blood on the floor around them?"

Infi was silent for a few seconds. The HUD eyepiece deployed and swung around, capturing a full panorama of the room. A faint whirring noise indicated that Infi had also taken some air samples as well. Newton could only imagine what she was processing to make her take so long.

"I've checked several times but I only detect faint traces of blood from the victims on the floors around them. I did however find salivary enzymes where I did find traces of blood," Infi replied.

"That answers the rest of my questions." Paul sighed irritably.

"Those being?" Newton asked.

"For there to be no blood from all the wounds on their body and for them to be shriveled up like this, something in here is literally bloodthirsty. There's only one pokémon that I can think of that would do this: Golbat."

"How astute of you." A disembodied female voice rang out through the hangar, sending everyone into a defensive stance.

"Intercom system," Infi whispered while Newton took cover behind one of the vehicles.

"I do hope the two of you have more than those pokémon."

One of the doors at the end of the room opened. A screech and the fluttering of wings filled the room. As Paul had predicted, a pair of Golbat flew into the hangar bay. What they hadn't predicted was that he had already set up a countermeasure while they telegraphed their approach. Weavile's victim only ever felt the freezing tip prick its skin before the icy dagger plunged through its brain.

Shimmering motes of silver floated around Shieldon's face, congregating into a quivering amorphous sphere of light. The Golbat, however was faster and already in the process of using its technique. Its glowing crimson eyes seemed to fade back into normalcy while the rest of the room seemed to have traded colors. Dozens of bulbous and glistening eyes grew out of the walls, aimlessly sliding along the now scarlet surface.

Shieldon unleashed his Flash Cannon, the beam of concentrated light tearing the Golbat in two and slamming into the wall behind it. The nightmarish scenery disappeared from the room by the time the two corpses crunched onto the floor. Newton released a sigh of relief but Paul started running over to the ramp.

Newton watched Paul stop in his tracks, his hands struggling against some unseen force. Paul gritted his teeth and redoubled his effort. Streaks of sweat poured down his face while his hands trembled to move another inch out of the airship. Eventually the strain was too great and Paul collapsed onto the floor just before the ramp.

"Dammit!" he growled, slamming his fist down onto the floor.

"What was that?" Newton pointed at the walls, but Paul never turned to face him.

"That was Mean Look and it's the reason no one's body is even by the ramp and why the vehicles haven't been moved," Paul replied.

"But…that's a pokémon move. It's not supposed to effect humans," Newton said.

"Then why don't you tell that to the other Golbat in this airship! While you're at it you can remind them they're not supposed to be able to kill people!" Paul snapped.

The ensuing argument was defused by the click of the intercom turning on.

"I apologize for having to do that, but I hope you'll understand my reasons." The woman's voice came over the intercom again, her tone sounding in no way sincere or apologetic.

"Are you trying to kill us!?" Newton yelled.

"Not exactly. I needed to make sure that we were all in the same boat. I've been stuck in my airship for days and I'm running out of food. Our goals seem to coincide. You want to make it out of this airship alive and I want my airship back with considerably less Golbat. Remember, I control all the doors aboard this ship. I'll guide you through it by opening and closing doors as needed."

"You're a real piece of work, lady," Newton grumbled.

"We'll do it," Paul said, earning him a look from the Reverse World researcher.

"Paul, you're not honestly-"

"We don't exactly have many options," Paul shot back, getting off the ground.

"It's not the most ideal solution for either of us, but do we have a deal?" the voice asked.

Paul said nothing but nodded, wondering if the woman could see him.

"Excellent. So if you could please proceed to the hallway where those two Golbat came from, I'll get the next door. Pardon the mess."

"Mind answering a few questions before we go?" the Sinnohvian youth asked.

"Depends…" Paul could practically hear condescension in the woman's voice.

"It's just about what we're facing. I hate going into a situation without knowing what I might be up against."

"I can respect that. Very well, ask away."

"Do you have an estimate of how many Golbat we'll be eliminating?" Paul asked.

"Hard to say, but you may be dealing with four or five dozen."

Newton sighed while Paul's fists tightened.

Paul began formulating a plan with the little information he had. "Any other pokémon we have to deal with?"

The voice came back on after a few moments. "No. Just the Golbat. Any other pokemon I had are either dead or left days ago."

"Aside from the doors, any other assistance you can give us from your end?"

"Just reporting what surveillance shows me, working the lights and speakers."

"What exactly happened here?" Newton interjected.

Newton practically heard the woman scowl over the intercom. "You're an awfully chatty bunch. Tell you what. You do this for me and I'll answer your questions when you eliminate all the Golbat."

"Last question. You have a name?" Paul asked.

The intercom system was quiet for some time before the woman spoke again. "You may call me J."

Wake exited the house and descended the steps down the porch, seeing five figures waiting patiently outside.

"I think it'd be okay if you all went to see him," he said, gesturing at the door with his hand before walking past them. Electivire's tail extended and pushed the door open for Umbreon, who was the first to dart in through the crack. Blastoise managed to squeeze himself through while Electivire waited for Nidoking who was last but made no attempts to follow the others.

"You should go, it'll be cramped with me in there," Nidoking said.

"There's plenty of room, Nido." Electivire then looked over Nidoking with a scrutinizing eye. "You're not still upset about what Blast said, are you?"

"He's right though, I failed him. Twice! I didn't stop him from losing the arm and I fainted in the battle with the bugs."

Electivire shook his head. "Blast just likes having someone to blame. You did the best you could and you have just as much right to see him as he does. If he gives you any more trouble, I'll talk with him. The two of you have been with him the longest. Gary'll be happy to just know that we're all okay."

"Not all of us. He won't know that we lost Houndoom and…well if Skar's not back now, then she's probably gone too," Nidoking said

"Get over here!" The thunderbeast practically pushed him through the door. Nidoking eventually relented and squeezed himself through the door while Electivire took the rear.

"My hope is that being around his pokémon will help him to heal in some way," Wake said aloud, leaning against one of the houses across the street from where Gary was being kept. He watched as Gary's party talked amongst themselves.

He sighed. "There were times when I was in the hospital and Nurse Joy brought in a Growlithe pup. Apparently it was some kind of therapy. Didn't really work for me but I figured it might work for other people. His pokémon ain't no pups, but I'm hoping they'll have the same effect seeing as we don't have any of his family here."

"Quag." His pokémon sighed back at him.

"Sometimes I wish I knew what you all were really saying,"


Wake turned and stared at his pokémon, unable to hide his grimace at the sight of the stumps where his arms should have been. To his credit, when Wake finally left the carriage to greet his pokémon, Quagsire didn't seem remotely bothered by the loss of his two limbs and Wake was starting to see why.

Growths were already starting to form from Quagsire's stumps. At first he had thought that they were some kind of blister or odd scar tissue as the skin healed but he could swear that his pokémon was regrowing his limb.

"If only we could give a little bit of that to Gary," Wake muttered. He looked away to find three people making their way to him.

Peggy — Pastoria's Nurse Joy — walked with some difficulty as her Croagunk — Chrissy — practically hugged her leg. Hamilton walked to the left of her with his Croagunk — Craig — clinging to his chest. Miraculously, the Croagunk was still wearing the Croagunk festival crown on his head. To her right walked Carny, station chief of the Pastorian railway.

"Is he awake?" Peggy asked once they were close enough to Wake. Carny shared her concerned expression while Hamilton inspected his nails for any dirt.

"Yeah." Wake nodded and looked back to the house he was resting in.

"A darned shame a boy so young has to go through that. A darned shame indeed." Carny closed his eyes and shook his head.

"I'm assuming you're not just here to check up on him," Wake said as he eyed Hamilton. His response was to snort back in response.

Hamilton spoke. "We're here because Eugene is causing a ruckus." He paused for a moment. "Again. He's claiming that he and Marcie were an item before all this stuff started happening and that he's entitled to the things in her home. But her kids don't want to give him anything since they don't recall their mother ever mentioning him. Some of the other adults have tried talking to him, but he doesn't seem to care about what they have to say. We figured you might be able to get through to him."

Wake's brow furrowed. "Do you think he's telling the truth?"

"If they've ever been close, then no one has said anything about it around me at the center," Peggy replied.

"Marcie lived pretty well off whereas Eugene was barely able to make ends meet. Wouldn't surprise me if scum like him were trying to get something out of her dying," Hamilton added.

"We'd appreciate your help on the matter. Your position holds a lot of sway with the citizens, especially with recent events. The boy will be all right, he's a fighter that one. He'll still be there when you get back. His pokémon will make sure of that."

Wake relented with a nod and made his way over to them.

"Quagsire, stay here. If you see something that needs my attention, launch a blast of water," Wake ordered.

The waterfish nodded and watched them walk away, eyeing the Croagunk that had accompanied the Nurse Joy and the younger human male. The Croagunk raised by the people of Pastoria were by no means fighters. More like pampered pets to show off during the festival that he now doubted would even take place this year.

Or ever again.

They had gained some experience by fighting alongside their wild brethren in the swamp. But when it came to defending the carriages in their escape from Pastoria's Great Marsh, they were ill-suited for the task due to lack of experience and ill-equipped to help unless the attackers were physically boarding the carriage. If things were to continue as they were, Pastoria's Croagunk population would have to get stronger if they were to survive.

Thoughts of Shieldon flitted through Quagsire's mind and brought a small smile to his face. He could only hope that Shieldon's journey with Newton was going well.

Shieldon was having a terrible time.

The purple tiled floors were littered with bones, cracked and drained of their marrow. The smell of death and decay permeated the air and every breath that he sucked in through his mouth felt like he was slowly poisoning himself. Metallic cyan walls were spattered with gore, illuminated by twin rows of fluorescent light along the ceiling.

Weavile ripped his claws out of another Golbat's skull, flicking the blood and brain matter still clinging to his claws. The strategy Paul had come up with was simple and was already becoming routine.

J would warn them when she was about to unlock another door that opened into the long corridor they found themselves in as well as alert them to the number of opponents within. Shieldon would stand at the center of the room in clear view while Weavile stuck to the shadows and readied a set of ice spikes between each claw.

She had requested (more like demanded) that they refrain from damaging the ship with any large and flashy attacks. Gliscor lacked any significant offensive capabilities in enclosed spaces and Ursaring's sheer power and size precluded the surgical precision that this operation entailed. Hence, Weavile was the obvious choice, but someone needed to distract the Golbat while he moved in for the kill.

It was the first time Shieldon had cursed his own durability.

"There's three in the next room," J said. "Let me know when you're ready."

"Weavile, standby for battle." Paul took cover behind Gliscor's extended wings.

"You know the drill, Shieldon." Newton also took a defensive position behind Gliscor.

With a hiss the next door began to slide open, revealing the next room. The moment the door was fully open, the lights rapidly flashed on and off and the sirens wailed. Newton flinched at the noise and nauseating flashes while Paul seemed totally unaffected.

Granted, he was the one who suggested to J that she use the lights and alarms to disorient the Golbat and make them easy targets..

Shieldon immediately braced himself for the onslaught of attacks that would be aimed for him. A green protective barrier shimmered into existence around himself. The Golbat responded predictably, Confuse Ray and Air Cutter were launched his direction the moment they registered a target. Weavile watched the attacks dissipate harmlessly against Shieldon's Protect before he moved in for the kill. The glow from Shieldon's barrier dimmed and faded from view, leaving him open for another strike.

If there were any follow-up attacks.

Weavile leapt through the air, pirouetting as he launched icy daggers at the vitals of his targets. The centermost Golbat began to notice something was wrong when the heartbeats of his kin to his left and right disappeared. By the time he registered what was happening, all he felt was a chilling stab through his forehead. And then nothing.

The last body crumpled to the floor to join the other two corpses in the slowly widening pool of blood. Weavile hopped off the body and made his way over to Paul to await his next order.

"Efficient," Paul replied without a smile. The comment however succeeded in evoking a small smirk from the ice weasel. Having known Paul for years, he knew when Paul was praising him.

"Normally I don't care for children, but you're starting to grow on me. If you weren't so young I'd offer you a job," J announced through the intercom. The sirens grew silent and the lights flickered for a moment and then resumed their steady glow.

"I'd appreciate if you didn't try and recruit him for your evil gang in front of me." Newton's voice came as a sudden shock to Paul.

"We're a business. There's a demand for a certain product and my organization supplies that demand. I'd hardly call that evil."

"You hunt pokémon and sell them to the highest bidder!"

The temperature in the room seemed to plummet as a conspicuous silence fell over the room.

A few moments later, the silence was broken by J's voice. "As opposed to what? To a government that allows — nay, encourages — people to capture these creatures in the wild? A culture that's perfectly content with taking these creatures from their homes and families and brainwashing them to fight so that we may gain prestige among our peers?

"A society that rewards us with easily replaceable tokens because my creature was able to beat up your creature and knock it unconscious? Or how about having them perform tricks and dress them up for the amusement of other humans to determine our own self-worth?

"Both our worlds shit. Mine doesn't pretend it don't stink or bother to dress it up." J's voice was harsh, bitter-cold and deadly calm.

Without warning, the door to the next section began to slide open. Everyone barely had enough time to get into position before the door fully opened to reveal another pair of Golbat. The lights and sirens that J had used as a distraction remained silent this time.

Despite that handicap, the group easily disposed of the Golbat.

But at the end of that encounter, they came away with an unmistakable message: J was in absolute control over how difficult their end of the bargain would be. And aggravating her was not conducive to their health.

It was two grueling hours before J's voice came over the intercom and spoke the words Newton had been waiting to hear.

"It would appear that you've killed them all."

Newton took that moment to collapse onto the ground while Paul visibly relaxed and leaned against a wall for support.

J then continued. "Feel free to either get off my ship or make your way to the control room, I don't care which you choose. If you do decide to come to the control room there's a healing station for your pokémon. I guess I could let you use it as a…shall we say 'tip' for your services today. You can head to the center of the ship and take the lift up."

Newton and Paul eyed each other quietly before Paul nodded.

"We'll both be up there in a bit, we just need a minute to catch our breath," Newton said.

"Then I'll be waiting," J replied. There was a click and then the line went dead.

Paul returned Gliscor back to his pokéball and walked over to where Newton sat, extending a hand to help him onto his feet.

"How do you want to proceed with her?" Paul whispered, pulling the scientist close. His words came out slightly distorted as he spoke through clenched teeth to try and keep his lips as still as possible.

"What do you mean? And why are you whispering?" Newton asked…a little too loud for Paul's comfort.

"She can see and hear everything on this ship. Just play along," Paul mumbled.

He paused for a moment to let Newton get back onto his feet.

"As for what I mean," he continued. "I'm saying that I noticed that you don't like her and your friend wants a new host. I doubt she's going to let Infi have her airship. Once we get in to the control room, I can give Weavile the signal and take her out. I'm just making sure we're on the same page." Paul's words were barely audible but the intent was loud and clear. Newton's eyes widened before he wrenched his hand away from Paul's as if his touch were toxic.

"What is wrong with you!?" he snapped, struggling to keep his voice a whisper.

"Got a better plan, then?" Paul shot back.

"Yes. How about not devolving into savages! Things have not become so desperate that we have to resort to those measures."

Paul sighed. "So you actually trust her?"

"No. Of course not. Especially considering her line of work and our 'bargain' with her. I'm just saying enough blood has been spilled today and we don't have to solve everything with violence." Newton motioned to the scene of slaughter where their pokémon stood, severed wings and pools of blood amidst mangled blue bodies.

The scientist then continued. "We can reason with her, explain our situation to her and she might be willing to work something out. This place is a mess and most of her grunts were killed. We need to get the people of Pastoria out of there before something else from the marsh comes and creates more casualties.

"Her ship can transport us and the Pastorians to the nearest city. I doubt she'd actually do more than that, but it's better than trekking through the woods where we'd be open to attacks from anything there."

Paul's eyes lowered and shifted back and forth, as if reading off of a paper as he assessed the pros and cons of the decision. The moment lasted only a few seconds before his eyes lifted and he nodded.

"We'll play it your way for now," he replied. "But just in case I still want a leppa berry for Weavile. That last encounter used up his remaining Ice Shard attack."

"Sorry to say that I gave the last one to Shieldon."

Paul glowered and walked past him, motioning with his hand for Weavile to follow.

"What did you want me to do? Shieldon can only do Protect so many times a day." Newton grumbled and looked to his pokémon, still waiting for his next order with a worried expression.

"It's okay Shiel, he's always upset. Let see if we can get you fixed up. You've certainly earned it today. I'm proud of you." Newton rubbed the crest of Shieldon's head.

"Newton, the control room," Infi whispered, excitement evident in her voice.

"Okay, Infi, okay. Get ready to disengage from me then. I'll try and find a way to hook you up to her system. We don't think she knows about you yet so you're our ace in the hole. Are you ready?"

"I have already prepared a virus to eliminate any other AI currently residing in the airship so that I might have complete control." The AI seemed to be far too excited about using said virus.

Newton had no response to her statement; the sheer exuberance she displayed at what could be considered a brutal act shook him down to his core.

"Et tu, Infi?" Newton thought to himself. "First Paul, now her…or is it really even the same? If the ship's AI is as advanced as she is, then I guess that would almost like murder. Even if they are… where do I draw the line? How can I support her but not support Paul? I'm starting to regret ever having attended that Porygon conference."

"Newton, our prolonged absence has a chance to create suspicion." Infi's voice derailed Newton's train of thought.

"Right…you're right. Let's go. Come on Shieldon." Newton headed towards the center of the ship.

"My last statement has upset you."

"What makes you say that?"

"Your tone, the shift in your facial muscles, the dilation of your pupils…should I continue?"

"No Infi. It's just something that I have to decide for myself and that we can talk about later. I'm nearing the elevator shaft to the control room. Just keep quiet until I can plug you in." Newton hushed her as he pressed the button and waited for the doors to slide open. He entered and looked along the wall for the levels of the airship. He found four buttons in total and pressed the button that was labeled for the top floor.

Infi watched with anticipation as the doors parted, revealing the control room inch by inch. An AI like Infi operated at a timescale utterly incomprehensible for humans. It wasn't uncommon for her to fill in gaps in conversation with another task (or several), lose track of time and then jump right back into the conversation as if nothing happened.

Anticipation only made the waiting worse. While Newton had told her to keep a low profile, she couldn't help but poke the HUD eyepiece out much like a Dwebble would poke its eyestalks out from its stone home. The first thing she registered before them was J — a tall woman wearing a dark purple coat with burgundy bodysuit underneath. Her hair was silver and her eyes masked by a dark visor with a headset and microphone that hovered just over her lips. What captured their attention was her extended arm. Atop said arm was a silver gauntlet-cannon with the muzzle aimed squarely at Shieldon.

Infi watched it all unfold within seconds. In that time span, she had already gone through multiple calculations and scenarios. But despite the inhuman speed of her mind, her body was too slow and too small to stop J. As the door began to widen, she saw Paul and Weavile behind her, petrified into stone.

Weavile and his trainer were frozen into battle-ready stances. Weavile's claws were extended and he was ready to lunge, but after fighting so many Golbat for so long, it was no surprise that his reaction times had slowed. A snarl adorned Paul's stony visage, his hand frozen in the process of grabbing a pokéball at his belt.

Infi watched helplessly as the golden beam burst from her gauntlet and hit Shieldon in the face, his body taking on a dull golden patina as he petrified. Even with the rest of his body free, his mind wasn't. J shifted her aim and fired again. This next shot was aimed for her maker by which hundreds of scenarios ran through Infi's mind.

She could sacrifice one of her light arms to block the shot while the heavy arm delivered a bone-crushing blow to Hunter J's head. But that technique left Newton's legs, head or chest open for the inevitable follow-up shot that would immobilize him.

The heavy arms were more than strong enough to lift Newton's petrified state. But Newton would be as delicate as a glass figurine and there was the very real risk of him chipping, cracking or even shattering if mishandled. Even if they could reverse the effects, Infi didn't want to imagine what a crack in the statue translated to in flesh and blood.

And of course, her most brutal and pragmatic option in the event that Newton tried to flee: taking Paul's body hostage and threatening to reduce the statue to a pile of rubble if Newton didn't surrender to J. It was an unpleasant plan but she had judged it necessary to keep Newton safe since attempting to flee or dodge could result in the petrified scientist falling to the ground with disastrous consequences. Even with the strained relationship between him and Paul, Infi knew that her creator wouldn't risk anything happening to Paul.

There was another option, but it was tantamount to gambling with the safety of those around her if the AI's predictions were off. The beam connected with Newton's chest and the scientist watched the petrification spread down his legs and up his arms in seconds.

Infi immediately chose to take the risk, knowing if she didn't act now she'd suffer the same fate with no one getting saved.

She activated her emergency dismount protocol, loosening the straps to Newton's backpack and inflating the internal shock absorbers. The straps to Newton's backpack came loose, just before he was totally petrified. Infi's body hit the ground just as Newton's head was frozen mid-yell, leaving the room silent once again.

Hunter J lowered her arm and snorted, walking over to her new statues with a smirk.

"You should've told him to kill me when he had a chance."

End of Sinnoh Arc Part 1

Next, Sinnoh Arc Part 2: Poké Wars: The Confluence