The Enigma Chronicles - Echoes
Chapter 12: Person of Interest
I always fancied having an office of my own, with windows looking out over Fuchsia's busy streets, gas lights twinkling through a bank of smoke and taint. On a quiet night, I could hear the distant ocean, just a few miles away, but nights were rarely quiet. And for that matter, so were the days that often went unchecked. Sure, I could pretend to look preoccupied behind my luxurious desk while every other poor sap in HQ worked to their last fiber and bone; I was the future face of this company, after all, so what more could I contribute to this corporate empire besides an intellect that surpassed that of its chief executive officer?
In one daze-shattering second, Kade Sorhagen barged through the doors of my office, skulking his way across the floor in a pompous stride. "Well, well, well! Look who finally decided to show up on the job!"
I sat up in my chair and grinned. "Oh, you caught me red-handed," I drawled, indulging him for the sake of an amiable work morning. Though he was bold to criticize me of my long absence from HQ, I didn't much feel like squabbling with him.
He didn't appear amused by my reply, as that tricky smile on his face was almost always present. And with a pair of shady sunglasses to couple that unwavering smirk, one could never truly read his intentions for certain. I suppose that was one trait of his I admired, though the rest of his sassy self I could have done without. His very attitude irritated me to act as his supervisor.
I had to admit, I'd always thought I'd procure a dame to go with the office, one of those sultry types, who'd sport scantily clad outfits and long ruby nails. Someone who'd give me dark glances through the net on her hat while she dropped off my messages. It would make fitting in with this company's bigshots a whole lot easier. But alas, the closest thing I had to a secretary was Kade, who'd been assigned by Daken to report to me directly. I couldn't blame the old man for sticking him with me; Kade was a smart-mouthed nuisance and no one really wanted him around.
At last, before he could stare me down into submission, I severed the silence that hung thick between us. "What can I help you with, Sorhagen?"
There was a hint of anger in his tone. "Rita's been prattling on about how you offered her a position here," he managed after some conflict. His voice had nearly lost its decisiveness, and his will to fight against this was nearly gone—the price to pay for something as silly as compassion. "Generous... but mistaken."
"Rita's purchased a substantial share of the company," I answered nonchalantly, leaning back into the cushion of my chair. "It was a fine investment, if I do say so myself. She's an adult. She can make her own choices without your help."
"You don't know the woman like I do," he husked out, dropping his voice enough to show me just how serious he was—a wasted effort, to say the least. "Naturally, she's up to her ears in her husband's loot, but she doesn't know the first thing about shareholding. You're pitilessly taking advantage of the woman's gullibility, that's what you're doing."
I remained unfazed by his concerns. "As future CEO of Briskomy, I can elect whomever I please to be on the board of executives. It's one of the many acting privileges Daken's entrusted me with."
"And what makes you think you'll be assuming Daken's mantle?", Kade intoned darkly.
"Oh, well that's simple, really," I purred, leaning forward with a criminal smile. "I'm his son-in-law."
"Ooh! A challenge, is it?", Kade fake-pouted, pushing his lips into a self-conceited pucker, then matching my smile to the very root. "That just tickles me pink! May the best man win!"
"I plan to," I answered sharply, accepting his challenge. "Now move aside." When he didn't move an inch, I had to wonder just how bold he was really feeling today. "Unless there was something else you wanted?"
"Actually, yes," he said as he turned for the door. "Someone's here to see you. I took the liberty of escorting her through the building."
I already knew it was Sa'lu standing outside the door. I could sense her distinct Aura. Nevertheless, I played it casual. "Send her in."
Kade nodded, then proceeded to usher the notorious Dragon Trainer herself inside my business quarters.
I stood from my desk to greet my guest, but not before Kade let out with another one of his arrant remarks. "Well, fancy that!", he giggled, looking over Sa'lu from head to toe, then back in my direction. "I take it this is the harlequin you've been fooling around with behind Maria's back?" Before I could bite back, Kade muttered into her ear, "You could do much better, if I may say so myself."
Though Sa'lu payed him little regard, I decided to dismiss the little nag before he could hurt himself jumping to the wrong conclusions. "Don't you have someplace you need to be?"
"Oh, how I could ask you the same thing," he sighed with a thespian edge in his tongue, then spun to Sa'lu with a suggestive wink. "Until we meet again, my dear." Much to my ireful notice, he took a dramatic pause before exiting the room and gazed about my quarters, muttering audibly beneath his traitorous breath, "This office should be mine..."
Sa'lu watched the stilted weasel take his leave, then raised a suspecting eyebrow in my direction. "Correct me if I'm mistaken, but... is he not 'playing for the other team'?"
I shrugged back in my seat with a labored huff. "No one really knows."
The subject, though debatable, didn't appeal to either of us. Instead, she took a seat at my desk like she'd been in my office a million times before and turned to face me with a waiting expression, almost as though I should have been impressed with her very presence. She didn't waste my time with formalities and was quick to voice her thoughts, sarcasm flowing with her words. "I'm surprised to see you sniveling behind a desk while Wilma roams abroad with our prized Legendary Pokémon."
I rolled my eyes and gave way to a cagey smile. "Always so quick to cut to the chase, aren't you? Never one for conversation."
"Fair enough," she sighed with a mere shrug, threatening to get up from her seat. "Thank you for wasting my time."
I held up a hand to halt her. "I haven't forgotten about Wilma, Sa'lu," I pronounced, my words slipping into an almost feral hiss. "Cayman will snuff out our fugitive. It's only a matter of time now."
"That boy again?", she asked coyly, lips arcing as her brows knitted with a serpent's knowing stare. I knew why she was upset—not because she loathed Cayman, but because I'd originally promised to silence Wilma personally. Sadly, company business had put a dent in those plans, so I wouldn't have the pleasure of killing that two-timing dragon widow myself.
My mouth tightened. There was no need to talk about the matter any longer since it would resolve itself soon enough. I stared at her steadily, the ice glazing over my eyes. I realized she was waiting for an answer and I was quick to supply a jive she'd better sympathize with. "As you can see, I've got my hands tied here at HQ, and I don't have time sneak away to Sinnoh at the moment. In fact, I've a board meeting to attend in fifteen minutes."
She simply stared at me as I though I was rambling on about nothing, which was technically correct. She leaned back in her chair and heaved an indifferent sigh. Her words were crisp, curt. "Yes, well, are you near finished? Or is that all?"
I was about to elaborate... until I spotted Kade leering in the doorway. I had no choice but to wave him inside. "You're a persistent little boomerang, you know that?"
"You have a phone call waiting on line one," he reported dryly, standing just behind Sa'lu. "Miles Lafluer's wife. She says she's coming to Kanto... and she wants to meet with you."
For this shocking revelation, there was only one name fit to say: "Anna."
Sa'lu arched a brow. "Anna?"
Kade arched both brows. "Anna, eh? Exactly how many ladyloves are you hoarding, you sly dog?" A speculative smile flourished from the corners of his lips, wrenching them into a smirk that could define him at first sight. "Funny. I always knew you detested Miles, but I never thought you'd go so far as to sleep around with his beloved! Oh, how scandalous! I now have a whole new respect for you, Metsuma!"
"We're not having an affair, Sorhagen," I expressed bluntly, wishing he hadn't put that image in my head. Sex was a repugnant chore, not a leisure pursuit.
The poor fool looked almost disappointed with my answer. "But... why not!"
I couldn't help but chuckle at his sneaky intentions. "You just don't want Miles' business. Admit to it."
"How could you imply such a thing?", he sneered, pledging a hand over his black heart. "I am nothing if not a man of principle and moral integrity!" His slick smile promptly resurfaced and he pointed a finger to the 'call waiting' toggle blinking at the corner of my desk. "Now answer that damned phone and woo your secret mistress!"
"Get out," I motioned a hand to the door to dismiss them. "Both of you."
As Kade scampered off, Sa'lu leaned inward and whispered in a grimly voice, "Don't bother contacting me until Wilma's pushing up daisies."
I sat expressionless, as she followed Kade out the door, letting it slam shut behind her. I brought a hand up to my mouth to stifle a yawn and then waited for a few seconds before picking up the trebling phone.
There was a sharp click, and then that familiarly spunky, unfeigned voice oozed into my ear, "You got a fellow board member answering your calls? You really know how to work your way to the top, don't you?"
I gave an honest chuckle, then greeted casually. "Glad you haven't forgotten about me."
"Actually, I'll be coming to Kanto strictly on business," she purred through static, her voice taking on a more serious verge.
I leaned back in my chair again. "My, have the tables have turned," I joked, humored by the irony. "Then... I take it you don't want to see me?"
She was swift to object to this. "No! I do. I really do." Her voice dropped to a low purr, and I could tell she was trying to form her words more carefully. "It's weird... it's just... I can't stop thinking about you." She chortled, audibly embarrassed at how she'd phrased that, as it was too intimate for either of us to handle. "Plus... I don't like how our last conversation ended."
I laughed silently at the coy reminder of our fierce altercation not long ago—just after our stay at the shore. "The feeling is mutual," I lied.
Silence passed between us for a long hiatus before she finally spoke again. "Look, I have to take care of something in Celadon City this afternoon... but if I were to stop by the park in Fuchsia afterward, would you be there?" Her words were kind, but their intent was blatantly clear: she wanted to mend the rift that had sparked between us that day at the beach.
"Of course I'll be there," I replied, still endeavoring to sound sincere. "I've... missed you."
She seemed to misinterpret my sentiments. "Alright, very funny."
"No, I mean it," I pressed, leaving no hint of sarcasm this time.
Her reply was short but sweet, "See you soon." She hung up without another word, as was her custom, though I wasn't too chuffed about this. It was in her nature to be impersonal to those she felt detached from; apparently, I had just made that list. And that was just the way I wanted it. Of course, it wouldn't last for long, but hopefully I could still keep her in the dark to some extent.
Difo's getaway vessel was like a torpedo skimming across the water, the last specs of the distant Tatto Region miles upon miles behind. Below deck, Cayman rolled out of his hammock with a thump, the tides rocking the ship beneath him. He rubbed his tired eyes with a groan, then climbed to his feet, careful not to tumble forward again. The jolts of the restless ocean pressing through the hull of the ship were magnifying, so he knew to keep his weight on both feet, especially on these waters.
As he made his way above deck, passing Torino operatives and Team Righteous prisoners alike, his stomach churned spitefully. There was something more to the sea that set him off-balance, and not just in the literal sense. He preferred hot, dry land: the feel of the earth at his command, the touch of the sun kneading down his back. The absence of those sensations made him feel powerless and ecologically enstranged. There was only one fix for that.
Approaching the bow of the vessel, he unclipped two Pokéballs from his waist and tossed them into the sunlight that just barely peaked behind storm clouds overhead.
Lunatone and Solrock emerged from the two beams of lights, but were immediately daunted by their watery surroundings, just as their master was.
Regardless, Cayman didn't feel so alone anymore. The company of fellow Rock-Types eased his worries and supplied a charitable comfort zone. "Thought the two of you could use some fresh air," he grumbled under his breath, facing towards the horizon. "Enjoy it while you can."
The astral duo looked to each other for a long moment, then shared their testimony in a single voice, "The command you bestow upon us may be a difficult one to fulfill, as this environment is entirely unstable for Pokémon of our class."
"Join the club," Cayman snorted, not bothering to give them a second glance. "Be lucky we don't have to swim home."
The two Pokémon obliged and began to roam the deck, inspecting that everything was in tip-top shape.
Cayman paused, mulling over his little joke. Home. The word didn't ring well with his conscience. Where was home anymore, besides his place at Metsuma's side? As far as Eden was concerned, not even Metsuma could be trusted, so... who did he really have left to turn to in this world? Of course he didn't want to believe the younger Fabula's direful omen... but ever since Konani's murder, his trust in Metsuma had been coercive at best. Feelings of anger and insecurity seemed to be all he could cultivate lately, and a part of him blamed his alleged 'father' for that.
Lunatone froze against the breeze upon sensing its master's irrefutable rue. "Is something bothering you, Kami?"
Cayman whirled and sputtered, "What's it to you, sickle-face?"
"I fear you are distracted," the more masculine-sounding Pokémon defended, emerging beside its lunar counterpart. "As your humble guardians, it is our duty, if not honor or privilege, to look out for your best interest."
"Yeah, well, get over yourselves," he snapped back at them, turning towards the sea again. "I can take care of myself. Hell, I practically raised myself." Silence ensued until he realized just how idle the two space rocks were. Knowing very well why, he groaned, "You telepathic twits are probing my mind, aren't you."
"Our sincerest apologies, Kami... but it is for your own good," Solrock answered for the both of them.
Cayman swung around in a rage, unable to hold it all in any longer. It was too much. "Alright, quit it!", he growled, flailing his arms at them in violent motions. "You want to know what's fucking wrong? I'm struggling, okay!"
Lunatone was the first to speak up. "Perhaps Metsuma can—"
Cayman clenched his fists heatedly at the very mention of the name. "I don't need his fucking help! He doesn't own me! I can think for myself!" His emotions had split from their leash, venting all that irredeemable hatred Metsuma so often applauded. He knew he was being a bit of a brat, but so what? He was plain sick of being treated like a two-month-old Bonsly.
Solrock, though initially hesitant, uttered, "Kami... I do not believe Metsuma would condone this sort of talk."
"You think he's above me?", Cayman scoffed, laughing violently. "You think he's stronger and smarter than me? I'm the one who blew up Cosma Point and saved his precious army, not him! I'm the one who killed Odessa, not him! I've been captured by Dragon Elders, beaten up by mobsters! You name it! I risk my life for that guy every fucking day!"
Solrock faulted to answer to something so powerful and could only look on with displeasure. The poor boy's eyes were bigger than ever. He was trembling psychotically. And they knew that his thoughts were betraying him, hurting him; mutating him into an unrestrained weapon of aimless animosity.
Finally, Lunatone inched towards the breaking boy, pressing in that feminine voice, "Forgive me, Kami... but perhaps this has something to do with what was said between you and Eden Fabula back at the capitol? From what I can gather, you feel insecure... and endangered. And you can only cope through the compelling rage building inside of you."
Rather than outright deny what he knew to be true, Cayman let the silence hang tensely in the air for a handful of heartbeats, then drew in a breath and whispered, "I just... need a break from all of this."
"If you feel you are struggling internally, perhaps you should seek the comfort and counsel of your mother," Solrock suggested, nudging his arm affectionately. "As far as we're concerned, she will always love and appreciate you, no matter what trials you are confronted with."
Warmth filtered through him, his love for his mother suddenly trumping all else within him. "She does love me, doesn't she?" His grip on the mast of the ship tightened, and he kept his gaze locked firmly ahead beyond the bow of the vessel, to the swirling grey green waves that reached for the horizon. "I've been a real asshole to her, always too busy to at least stop by and tell her I'm safe. I promised I'd visit her again... and I haven't kept that promise."
Lunatone nodded. "It's not too late."
Cayman bit his lower lip and glared. "Metsuma would go out of his mind if he found out."
Knowing Cayman would respond with such hogwash, Lunatone twisted his words, wielding them with a notch of reverse psychology. "So I am given to understand that you fear Metsuma more than you value your own mother?"
His head snapped up. "Fuck no!", he hissed, pushing off the rail. He stood proud with his chest puffed out, the haze of his thoughts clearing, revealing the image of his mother. "And now I need her more than ever." Finding the will to smile, he took a second deep breath and muttered to himself, "Hang in there, mom. Your boy's coming home."
"At last, Kami, you are smiling!", Lunatone cheered, circling Cayman excitedly.
"We are most pleased!", Solrock chimed in.
The special moment fell to shambles the moment Marcus Difo stepped onto the deck. "Don't get too comfortable! We'll be arriving at our alternate destination very shortly."
Cayman couldn't help but stare at Metsuma's apprized military scientist with a petulant expression. "Huh?", he chuffed out angrily. "You got something you wanna say to me, four-eyes?"
Before Difo could retort, Viper stepped out from behind him, immediately putting Cayman in his place. "Front and center, soldier!"
Rolling his eyes, Cayman assumed his brittle stance and saluted the other boy with little enthusiasm. He was getting real tired of this routine.
"We're setting a course for the Sinnoh Region," Difo continued once Cayman was still and silent. "And I'll have no protest to it."
Cayman's brow arched a fraction. "I thought we were heading back to Savile Island!"
Viper merely grimaced. "Metsuma's tasked us with new orders—more specifically, you."
Cayman stammered angrily, trying to get air into his lungs. "But... I need to get to Kanto—"
"I said no protests!", Difo squawked, his voice cracking. "How dare you speak out of turn, you little fool!"
Cayman merely ignored the madman's outburst, his desire to see his mother voicing every objective thought, "What's so important in Sinnoh that I can't take care of some other time?"
Viper chose to speak this time, as the very sound of Difo's voice bludgeoned even HIS ear canals. "A renegade Dragon Trainer by the name of Wilma Ketu has stolen a valuable possession of your father's and fled Johto. He demands it back immediately." He frowned, a hint of jealousy lurking in his tone. "He requests that YOU carry out the operation."
Cayman turned his head to him sharply. "He wants me to do his dirty work AGAIN? But I just—"
"We'll supply the rest of the details once we make port," Viper cut him down, then promptly left the scene. He obviously didn't want to listen to Cayman's complaints anymore than Difo's bellyaching.
Difo caught Cayman off guard with a disarming sneer. "In the meantime, you'd best prepare for your next mission," he scorned with an evil smirk, leaning in close. "Wouldn't want to upset your daddy, now would we?"
Cayman mockingly matched the older man's smile, then blew in his face.
Difo stumbled back in disgust. "Agh!" Retreating below deck, he threw one last menacing glare over his shoulder and muttered, "Stubborn boy!"
Cayman heaved a sigh and turned to the two Pokémon stationed at his right. "Hmph. Looks like I'll be making a detour."
"And we'll be right there beside you, Kami!", they chanted with as much optimism their deadpan voices could convey.
Hearing this, Cayman brought a hand up to his temple slowly. "Oh dear God..."
A short time later, following an audience with Daken, I received an earful from one of the security guards stationed outside the boardroom. He went on about a potential client begging to meet with me, and I was hurriedly pointed to the nearest corridor, where a man ensconced in the shadows whispered me hither.
I didn't sense the stranger to be any potential threat, but his Aura did feel familiar. Dismissing the security guard, I entered the dimly lit hall and came face to face with none other than Mos Vinci, proprietor of the Celadon Game Corner and an associate to the infamous Saffron Imperium. We'd last cross paths at Calypso's warehouse, where I 'encouraged' the stubborn crime family to change their attitude towards Briskomy.
Vinci stepped forward at my prompt. At first, we both just stood there. Though there was something noticeably different about the hazel-eyed man. He almost seemed afraid of me. But I couldn't blame him. I'd nearly left him with a crushed lung following our last encounter. And the fleshly red scars scribbled across his face lived to tell the tale, courtesy of Zangoose.
"Well look what the Glameow dragged in," I remarked teasingly, earning a frown from him. "I thought I made it clear that we were not to be seen doing business in public."
"Calypso sent me," he countered in a tongue that was rich with panic. "We got trouble, Metsuma. Big trouble. Dat friend of yours from Sinnoh has got our boys down at duh Celadon Police Precinct under global investigation! She and them Global Police schmucks are comin' to investigate them stolen Pokémon!"
I smiled whimsically to myself, as Anna's unscheduled appearance now made sense. "So that's why she's returned..."
Vinci flinched. "What are we gonna do!"
I glanced over my shoulder, ensuring there was no one around, then leaned towards Vinci and made my valid argument, hoping to pinpoint the fettle of his supposed loyalty. "The way I see it, you pulled yourself into this mess when you faxed that incriminating evidence to Lafluer and her police companions."
The mobster looked almost disheartened. Fighting down a lump in his throat, he drew upon the courage to fight down my accusation, "We never would've blackmailed ya in the first place if ya hadn't acted like such a—"
In one swift but inconspicuous motion, I lowered my hand to my side and quietly flicked it into a fist. Within seconds, Vinci's entire body was enveloped in a purple glow. He winced and choked in pain as he was wrenched into the air, throttled by the shackles of my psychic power. "Feel familiar?", I silently chortled, tightening my fist. I could feel how much he was suffering… the fool…"Or perhaps you need to learn your lesson again?"
He squirmed frantically. "O—Okay, I get duh... ugh... picture!"
I released my invisible grip and let him sag against the wall. "Tell Calypso not to worry," I spoke at last, brushing my hands together, as though mentally strangling him had replenished my physical strength. "Those crooked cops you have working under your thumb are to act as casual as possible when Anna and her task force arrive in Celadon. There is to be no memory of that missing Pokémon list, not even if asked or mentioned. Am I understood?"
Regaining his breath, he stammered, "Y—You sure dat dame of yours will back off?"
"If I know her well enough, she'll pace herself, but only until she's compiled enough evidence to work against your claim," I explained, true to every word. "I can assure you I won't let that happen. She's a devoted officer... but hardly a match for my cunning. I'll slowly but surely persuade her to drop the convictions."
He arched a brow. "Ya bragging, aren't ya..."
"A little bit, yes," I answered with a shrug and a slight grin. "Now get going."
"I'm on it," he muttered breathlessly, then made a dash for the elevator.
Now alone in the dusk of the empty corridor, I took a moment to ponder what was at stake. Between Wilma's treachery and Anna's relentlessness to serve justice, my plans were slowly slipping into jeopardy. Maybe this was the universe sending me a message. But if that was the case, I'd send one right back.
Cayman climbed out of the life-raft and quietly tiptoed onto the boardwalk of the empty shoreline, keeping his distance from the lookouts stationed near the water. Everything so far was going according to plan. His presence had not been noticed by those guarding the Sunyshore port. And behind him, Difo's vessel was retreating back to the distant horizon, ferrying Metsuma's infantry back to Savile Island.
Further up ahead, the coastguard units patrolled the walkways up and down, most of them accompanied by a Growlithe or Luxray. The silence of the boatyard felt like an invisible net slowly surrounding them, as they were utterly oblivious to the young intruder skulking beneath their watch.
Cayman closed and unclosed his fingers speculatively on the crown of a Pokéball dangling from his waist. The balcony from which he was watching over things attached to the commodore's quarters—a risky vantage point, but a good one.
He narrowed his eyes skeptically at the closed sliding door behind him that led into the commodore's personal quarters. He walked over to it in silence and inspected it suspiciously, leaning one ear against the wooden plank of the door to listen for sounds of activity. After several seconds of silence, he slipped through the entrance and ambushed the boatman from the unguarded rear, coiling an arm around his throat to curb any sudden movements.
The old salt writhed manically in his chair, unable to turn his head against the weight of Cayman's sinewy binds. Choking for air, his voice was ragged and ineffective when calling for his fellow mariners outside.
Cayman easily held him latched in his forearm. "Pipe down, you old geezer. I'm not gonna hurt you." He smiled and tightened his arm around the teetering throat, his thumbs resting on the back of the man's neck. "Just answer my questions. Deal?"
"Wh—Who are you?", the captain gargled as he wrested Cayman's choke-hold, failing miserably.
Barely putting up a fight, Cayman had to think about this for a moment, then answered with a shrug, "Just a deeply disturbed kid. That's what my dad says, anyway. I guess he thought it was a compliment."
When the old man submitted to the youth's dominant muscle power, Cayman leaned inward and whispered against the back of the other's grey hairs, "If you so much as squeal for help, I'm gonna have my Flygon knock the living fossils out of you. Nod if you understand."
The commodore nodded, no longer fidgeting—or rather, too terrified to even try.
"Halle-freakin-luiah," Cayman growled, then began with the interrogation. "You keep records on who comes in and out of Sinnoh, right?" He earned only the slightest nod in response, but didn't relent. "I'm looking for a woman. She's a loner, and she got a thing for the Dragon-Type. She recently left Johto in a hurry. Any ideas?"
"No!", the old sea captain gasped. "I—I know nothing!" Before he could utter anything else, he felt his throat constrict as Cayman started strangling him all-over again.
"Don't play games with me, man." Gritting his teeth, he squeezed the man's neck but did not use a fraction of his strength. "You must have put her on file somewhere! Where are you stashing those documents!"
"We receive hundreds of arrivals per day!", the old man retorted, his panic swelling up again. "Besides, those files are stored in the Sinnoh League Registry, as most new arrivals are competing trainers! Only local government officials have access to those records!"
Cayman rolled his eyes and released the commodore. "Thanks for nothing, chump." While the man shuddered in his seat, too afraid to turn and face his attacker, Cayman seized the opportunity to send forth Flygon's Pokéball. "Flygon, use—"
But as soon as Flygon emerged from the afterglow of its Pokéball, it crumpled to the floor in anguish, too weak to even stand. The Pokémon's breathing was harsh, and it looked deathly ill as it lay at Cayman's feet like a lifeless pod.
Cayman quirked a brow to his fallen dragon. "Flygon? What's wrong with you?" He knelt to the floor to examine the scaly specimen. He pondered inwardly, "The resulting radiation of the Cosma Point explosion must have really did a number on you." He bit his lip as he tried to compromise; he couldn't afford to lose his only means of air-travel. "But I can't take you to a Pokémon Center without a trainer's license, so what else I can I do?"
"Might I recommend the Pokémon Day Care in Solaceon Town?", the commodore suggested in a faint tone, still frozen in his seat. "They accept currency."
Cayman glanced up at the sea captain—the back of his head, anyway—and smiled wickedly. "You really wanna get rid of me, don't you."
"I'm telling the truth!", the older man shrilled.
Recalling Flygon to its Pokéball, Cayman slowly climbed to his feet and propped his arms over his chest. "And just how am I supposed to get to Solaceon without a Flying-Type, genius? I don't plan on walking there."
The captain was in hysterics now, but never did he turn in his seat. He simply threw his arms up in surrender. "Take my Fearow! Take whatever you want! Just please don't kill me! I won't tell a soul about this! You have my word as a sailor!"
Holding that same cocky grin, Cayman snatched the mentioned Pokéball fastened to the back of the captain's life vest and took a pausing moment to examine it as he held it to the light. "Yeah, that'll do. I guess I don't have to kill you after all." With the flick of his wrist, he clobbered the old man over the head, then stepped back as the unconscious body sunk to the floor. "You're welcome."
I didn't care for the public park. There were too many people—routine people, of course. Not exciting, but dull to a fault. It was just crowded and uncomfortable. Not enough thrill to scatter their likes. And at this late in the day, it was all leisure. I blamed the Pokémon Zoo and the Safari Zone. It made Fuchsia a jading place to live in. Naturally, I had to act like I enjoyed the citified life, for Maria's sake anyway; as far as she was concerned, I was a real people's person. In reality, I'd take a burning city over an urban city any day.
As I stood unmoving in the eye of the sunset, I let my gaze roam to the passerbys meandering by: valets walking Growlithe, a young boy feeding a gaggle of wild Pidgey, ladies in lush dresses escorted by gentlemen in top hats and tails. I allowed myself a brief chuckle. They all looked so prim and proper, the gentlemen, holding their arms out for their wives and ladies, but I knew this was just a social facade; unlike me, however, they didn't care to notice such.
Turning my head, I spotted Anna sitting alone on a park bench, donning a black pea coat and a lacy white scarf. Her lightning blue hair glimmered brilliantly in the dull light. Her coat fluttered in the breeze, willowing behind her like a cape. A frown creased her forehead, and each time she exhaled, her breath would come out in a small cloud. She stared longingly at a couple walking by, looking lovingly into each others eyes and their hands intertwined. I sensed the desire in her eyes... the covert desire to find true love of her own... but I tried to drive the implication to the hind of my mind, as the subject matter hardly interested me.
What else could I do? I'd blend in with my surroundings, of course—camouflage myself. I approached Anna in a stately posture, stepping up from behind the bench. "Good afternoon, Sergeant," I said politely, giving her a slight startle. I offered her my arm, courting her, just as all gentlemen were dictated to do in this trivial society. "Shall we?"
"You know, you're actually quite charming when you're not treating me like a pest," she said as she took my arm and rose from the bench.
Winking, I chuckled haughtily, "And yet you always come back for more!" We walked arm in arm down the sidewalk. There were a handful of people who stopped and looked at us, probably surprised to see the notorious playboy millionaire locked in the limbs of another woman, but I didn't care. She was just a friend and nothing more.
"I came back to apologize, actually," Anna finally spoke up, pushing past an exhale. "What happened in Olivine... with the Wailord and everything—" She bit her lip as she tried to word her atonement into something more meaningful. "I just... I know I came on a little too strong and... I just hope we can put this whole thing behind us."
I wouldn't let her live this down, not as long as I was the one to blame for what had happened to that damned fish. "I was the selfish one." I remained expressionless, but I tried to ensure my sentiments were clear and believable. Honesty was the only way to win back her respect. "I was only thinking about myself. You don't have to apologize."
She grinned weakly in response. She probably hadn't expected me to act so... authentic.
I blinked and smiled slowly. "So does this mean you won't be watching my every move like Staraptor anymore?"
"Whoa, I never said that," she chortled, giving me a cheeky smirk. "You're still an unsolved case. And cases can't be left unsolved, Metsuma." She paused; this was the first time she had said my name out loud since our last reunion. It must have felt strange on her lips, like it no longer belonged there, for her voice immediately caught in her throat.
"Is that why you're here?", I pressed, ignoring her lapse of words. "To solve a case?"
She nodded. "Not yours, unfortunately. I'm hunting the Soul Robber." Her words had seemed prepared and too finely honed for casual conversation, as if I just had to know every juicy detail.
Fortunately for her, my eyes lit up with excitement, but I endeavored to hide it from her detection. "Ah, yes. The infamous Pokémon killer."
She turned her head and quirked a brow at me. "You've been following the investigation?"
"It was all over the news, Anna," I laughed. "It still is, last I checked."
"Damn reporters don't know when to keep to themselves," she muttered in a distant, placid demeanor.
Curious as to what else she knew about Cayman's exploits, I casually prodded, "I'm sure that business in Tatto didn't help matters."
"Well, that's the thing," she huffed. "There might be a connection between the two."
I cupped my mouth, feigning surprise. "You're joking, surely!"
"Two of the bodies recovered in the explosion had thoracic puncture wounds that match the M.O. of the Soul Robber," she explained, quite proud of her findings. "The very same mark and incision trajectory found in the body of that island girl! And get this: all three of the victims' bodies were... hollowed out."
I stopped in my tracks and gave her a wry look. Honestly, I was impressed with how quickly she and her cop buddies were piecing together this investigation.
"I think they were murdered with an Aura weapon, Metsuma," she concluded in a deadly serious pitch. "An Aura Blade."
Immediately, I withdrew my hand from hers and asked in a clipped tone, "Like the one illustrated and detailed in the professor's research notes?"
"Exactly like that one," she bit back with a nod. "Then the trail picked up again in Tatto. That was the cue for the International Police to step in and take charge. I'm part of the task force."
"Interesting." My mask stayed the same, and I pretended to have no clue what business she had here. "Why are you here in Kanto?"
"Not long before the investigation kicked off, my department was sent a list of missing Pokémon reports," she started. "Half the Pokémon on that list were among the butchered bodies found on Floe Island. I was sent here to do so some questioning. Strangely enough, nobody at the Celadon Police Station knew anything about it. It was like they were purposely avoiding all my questions." Her voice took on a blunt edge. "They were the ones that faxed those reports in the first place. I don't want to believe that that's a coincidence."
Just as I had promised Vinci, I slowly began to make her doubt her detective abilities. "You never could let things go."
"What, you think I'm on some wild goose chase?", she snorted, her eyes dancing from mine. She was obviously nettled by my comment.
"You're a fine cop, Anna," I answered with a shrug. "But you're not a perfect one."
She paused and risked a glance at me. Was she angry? I couldn't tell; she was just watching me with quiet, calm eyes. "You're saying I'm flawed?"
My tone brooked no argument. "Maybe it's the justice system that's flawed," I said coolly, almost analytically. "This killer... he's feeding, Anna. He's doing it for the sheer thrill of it. His inner chaos has peaked. He can't be stopped so easily, not even by you. You can't go against what you don't understand." My calculating eyes assessed her from head to toe, and as an afterthought, "I hate to say it... but your course is meaningless."
"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence," she murmured, disheartened with my lack of credence in her abilities. "And here I thought the one thing you and I shared in common was our quest for fulfillment."
Again I smiled at her, the old, dusty plastic smile rising to the surface of cynicism comprising my mind. "How poetic."
The witty sarcasm only succeeded in bristling her nerves, and she snapped at me. "Nothing I do is ever good enough for you! You're like my father."
"Maybe he was the smart one," I quipped right back.
"Oh, be quiet." She clenched her teeth. My playful ridicule must have been tiresome for her. "You're doing it again. Treating me like a thorn in your side. You probably only agreed to meet me so you could shut me up."
I gritted my teeth in frustration. "Will you stop being so pessimistic?" Seeing the familiar expression in an identical set of eyes, I felt my heart pitying her and nodded my consent. It wasn't in my best interest to get on her bad side again, yet I didn't want her getting too close and intimate. I did my best to compromise. "Hey, I like you. All right? What's not to like? But you need to access your graceful side. You came to apologize, not push my buttons more than you already have."
"Crazy, isn't it?", she sighed, on the brink of a wistful chuckle, which I found rather odd. "We're in a love-hate relationship... without the relationship part." And without the love part—for me, anyway. She had to know that I was fond of her, to the point where I almost envied her. But I could never feel... love. Not for her—or anyone.
"You're something else, Anna, you know that?" When I felt that rush of praise flee from my mouth, that's when I came to another realization. I trusted Anna. Without knowing how it came about, I still trusted her, no matter how hard she tried to unmask me. It was ironic, in a sense, that the only person I could ever really trust... was also the greatest threat to my plans. Perhaps I liked that she was always watching out for me, pushing me and challenging me... or perhaps it was something more, something I had yet to fully understand. And it concerned me. Trust always led to betrayal.
"Miles is a lucky man," I said following a pause. "And no, I'm not being a smart-ass."
One side of her mouth lifted at my last words. Her porcelain skin shone like alabaster in the fading sunlight. She tilted my head and looked straight up at me. "Yeah, well, if you really did love me, you'd have snatched me up when you had the chance all those years ago." Her mouth thinned, and she placed a loving hand upon my shoulder. "That doesn't mean I won't always be there for you."
I flashed her a genuine smile, one from the black of my heart. It was the best I could manage.
Her frown deepened, and she stared deep into my eyes. Then, she tugged at my hand and pulled me towards another bench in the corner of the park. We sat down and she leaned against my shoulder, letting her head rest there. Her eyes practically pleaded with me not to reject her again.
I shifted uncomfortably for a moment, trying to find my voice. The sudden intimacy was a bit too much for me, but I decided to let it be, lest I not upset her again. "How long will your visit last this time?", I asked quietly, changing the subject. "I hope this won't be our only day to catch up on things."
Her eyes met mine again. Something forbidden flashed in them before she smirked and shrugged, as if to say 'why don't you answer that?' But instead of waiting around for me to speak up, she gave a casual, though truthful, answer. "I... have one last stop to make before I head back to Celadon and rendezvous with the force."
"More police business, eh?", I said chipperly, hoping it would be a good diversion. "Let's hear it."
She seemed alert to my change in mood and line of questioning. Nonetheless, she was too pledged to the confidentiality of the case to share anything more. "Not for your ears to hear, Metsuma."
My eyes narrowed. I smirked slightly, hoping to pull her into a trap. "Then why is Clint so well-informed on this case?"
Laughing, she rolled her eyes. "That's different. Clint has priority. He's a member of the PLC. You're just a corporate drone."
"Yes, but I'm your corporate drone," I joked, earning a giggle.
Her grip grew stronger as she drew me closer to her. "How long were you waiting pull that line out your ass?", she laughed.
"Are you going to tell me or not?", I asked again, then decided to gloat a bit, just as she would so often do. "I'm a very busy man, you know. You want to get my attention, don't you? Well then spill it out."
She waited patiently, still holding me, then finally looked up and locked eyes with me. "Whatever I tell you is off the books?"
"Well, I have to contribute something in the break room tomorrow," I jokingly murmured into her hair.
She took a breath and shifted against me, pulling out a photograph tucked into her scarf. "Get a load of this."
I took the photo and paled. What did this have to do with the Floe Island murders? "Where did you get this photo?"
"This is just a copy." Her eyes glinted at me, lively and playful, yet biding. "We found the original photo laying on the apartment floor of our prime suspect. I've been tasked with the questioning the woman in this picture."
Then it dawned on me. The woman in the picture was Cayman's mother, though I wasn't so sure that Anna was aware of this. I swallowed, grimacing as I inwardly cursed my student for practically serving the police a piece of incriminating evidence on a silver platter. Idiot boy. What was he thinking? How could he have been so careless?
Anna's attention sharpened with a serious tone. "Our person of interest is named Cayman."
All pretenses dropped, masks forgotten. My pulse sped up to a maddening pace and my throat was dry. An immediate tingle shot up my arm and, instinctively, I attempted to snatch my hand back, but she didn't let go. This was it. She knew everything now. Such a clever girl. And she'd have me hauled away in handcuffs at any given moment.
To my shock, however, she didn't seem in the least bit fazed. She just continued to clasp my palm. "At least, we think his name is Cayman. It could just be an alias." She sighed, rubbing her chin thoughtfully with a free hand. "His prints matched the DNA records found in the Indigo League registry. Apparently he was a competitor last year, entered the tournament with a Charizard, possibly stolen. We don't have a visual I.D. of him yet, but the islanders gave us enough physical descriptions to go off of. Let's just pray they don't leak anything to the media."
I didn't quite know how to respond. What was I supposed to do? Or say? I was sure there was a script that I was meant to follow but I didn't know what it was. Or maybe... she didn't know anything yet that could tie me to Cayman's crimes? Perhaps she was squeezing my hand not out of conviction, but out of... affection? I should have known. Realizing this probability, I replied in my most natural sounding voice, "And the woman in the photo?"
"How should I know?", she mumbled with a shrug. "I haven't even met her yet. If I had to guess, I'd say she's a relative or something. I'll find out first thing in the morning when I go and question her. She lives just outside the city."
I didn't miss a beat. "Could I possibly sit in when you do?"
She broke into incessant laughter. "Are you crazy? I'm not even supposed to be telling you any of this! Be lucky I still consider you a close friend." Glancing from left to right, she leaned in close and whispered, "Listen, keep this to yourself, okay? If the press catches wind of these developments, I'll be demoted to department custodian."
"Not a problem," I finished with a weary sigh.
The expression on her face was one of content. Releasing my arm from her hold, she gathered herself and climbed to her feet. "I better go check-in to my hotel." She looked to me, as I had yet to stand from the bench. Part of me was too distracted to care. "Metsuma? What, did I scare you with my war stories?"
Escaping my daze, I jumped to my feet. "No... I was just... thinking how nice it is to see you again." Uncertainty laced through my smooth, knee weakening voice.
"Sarcasm never gets old, does it?", she chuckled, waving me off. "I'll swing by your office tomorrow afternoon. You can give me the grand tour of your corporate palace."
I looked at her levelly and chuckled right back. "Excellent. It'll give me a chance to show off all my success."
She snorted, rolling her eyes. "Oh brother. Put a sock it in, will you?" She flinched as my eyes, as hard as stone, stared straight at her. Her next words sent me reeling, "I think... I think you and I have a great deal ahead of us."
Not sure of what to do next, I took both her hands in mine, and pressed a chaste kiss to her forehead. Why did I do this? It wasn't so much of an impulse as it was a measure of precaution, to keep her from slipping off my radar. I knew she still had feelings for me, and I knew if I reciprocated, she'd be too bound to those feelings to ever betray me, no matter the penalty of Cayman's stupid mistake.
Anna's face blushed bright red. Her brows were furrowed together as she attempted to process what I just did. She opened er mouth to speak, but, instead, just offered a warm smile. She lifted her hand and twiddled her fingers in a farewell gesture, then quietly vanished into the night.
Mulling over the events of today, I headed off in the opposite direction. I ground my teeth together. Irritation wormed its way into my heart. I knew what had to be done. The last thread that held Cayman bound to his old life needed to be severed. I'd have to silence his mother once and for all to keep Anna's investigation on the fence.
I made my way quickly and quietly across the sidewalk and toward a nearby phone booth, my sharp yellow eyes scanning the street for any glimpse of law enforcement. All was quiet, the village city settling in what seemed to be peace. The streets were emptying, the shops were closing. I didn't have to worry about attracting attention.
I stepped into the phone booth. The receiver was dangling on its cord, swaying slightly and clattering against the glass of the cubicle. I snatched it into my palm, my other hand pulling Calypso's business card from my vest pocket. I didn't hesitate to the dial the number of the man I typically spurned. Besides, I needed a favor, for he was in debt to me for keeping Anna off the trail of those missing Pokémon reports.
That night, Cayman stepped into the Pokémon Day Care, his boots squeaking on the floor boards. They were wet and shined in the growing moonlight that crawled in from the open door. He approached the front counter and rang the bell impatiently, then moved to sit in the wooden chair nearest him. Flygon was already in treatment and he was in a hurry to learn the Pokémon's condition. He had to off Wilma by morning, but without access to the skies, tracking her down would be next to impossible.
Cayman buried his head into his palms and gave a tense but lengthy sigh, letting his shoulders slowly relax as he tried to focus on other things: the real reason he was in such a hurry to complete his assignment. He wanted to see his mother, to be in her comforting arms and languish in the love and care saved just for him. She was all he had now. And he knew if he was ever to regain control of his spiraling emotions, she'd be his only hope. He was afraid of going mad, doing something he might regret.
"Your loyalties are misplaced," Eden's ominous warning echoed over and over in his mind, like the whisper of a ghost, "Your father is only molding you into a tool, not a prodigy. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you can pull yourself together and overthrow him. Otherwise, you've doomed yourself..."
Cayman clenched his fists and barred his teeth, for his rattled conscience, too insecure to defend his father as it had back in Cosma, had now resorted to condemning the man. "I'm not his tool!", he muttered incoherently, pulling at his hair. "Hell, I'm not even his equal! I'm stronger! I'm stronger than that twisted bastard! If he ever tries something on me, it'll be the last fucking mistake he ever makes!"
At last, the lovely wife of the elderly daycare couple appeared at the front desk. "Young man?"
Cayman lifted his head to meet the face of the voice, then stood up from his seat. His thoughts quickly sundered to pave way for new information.
In the hanging silence that followed, the old woman shook her head, then lowered it wistfully. "I'm so sorry, but there's little we can do for your Flygon," she uttered finally. "Our treatments don't appear to be working. Even my husband is at a loss as to what should be done to cure your poor—"
Cayman cocked his head to one side. "In other words, you've wasted my time and money?"
Though startled by his temper, the woman looked past his shoulder to find another customer coming through the door, but quickly gathered herself as she tried to focus on Cayman again and soothe his umbrage. "A—As I said, I'm quite sorry—"
"Just bring me my Flygon, you old bag," he sighed, leaning against the counter-top. "I ain't got all night."
As the daycare lady started for the backdoor that led into the playground, the new arrival hollered to her, "Maybe you could fetch me my Prinplup while you're at it? I've gotta be a Gym Battle tomorrow, so I hope it's leveled up some." The young lass, no older than Cayman, gave the boy standing next to her a withering look as she spindled her fingers through her golden tresses of hair, hoping to beckon his attention.
Though he found her rather attractive, just as she apparently found him, Cayman's belligerent side had yet to wear thin, and he couldn't help but scoff, "What's your deal? What are you looking at?"
"Easy, hot stuff," she rebuked, poking her tongue out at him. "I couldn't help but overhear your... dilemma. In case you're interested, there's a woman who lives a few miles north of here that can probably help you. She's a Pokémon specialist. In fact, she healed my Bagon back to health in the blink of an eye."
"Is that right?" A devious smirk sprouted from the dry corners of his lips. He knew exactly why she was dragging this on. "Go ahead, keep talking."
She shrugged her shoulders and gave a dramatic huff, batting her lashes ever so precariously. "But... her lodge is well hidden. She's the secluded type, I reason."
He licked his lips and shifted closer to her. "Then maybe you ought to give me specific directions, babe." His voice became rough, yet inviting. "I'll make it worth your while." He didn't see the harm in giving her the one-night fling she wanted in turn for information. And he needed a stress release anyhow.
The girl's response was swallowed by her grin and she cupped the back of his neck. "Oh yeah? What did you have in mind?"
He arched a brow. "How about we start by getting outta here and going somewhere a little more private?"
She nodded, her smile never moving. "And how do you want to finish?"
"At the same time," he retorted cleverly, pulling her into a searing kiss that scoured away all thoughts of Eden and Metsuma.
She pushed away gently, grinning wider. "You're horrible."
With a forced but lustful smile of his own, he snorted, "You won't be saying that once I'm through with you."
She threw her head back and laughed, swatting Cayman away, then scurried out the door while gesturing him to follow.
He didn't miss a heartbeat and chased after her. "I'm taking one for the team, chief," he muttered to himself, almost breathless. "You better not give me crap for this when I get back."
Just then, the kindly old daycare woman ran up to the counter, calling out to them, "What about your Pokémon?"
"Cool your jets, lady," Cayman jeered over his shoulder, the door swinging shut behind he and his new lady friend. "We'll be back in a few."
The poor old shrew heaved a collected sighed and shook her head in dismay. "Filthy teenagers..."
The next morning, Cayman's mother anxiously unhinged the locks of her door and opened it just as Anna arrived on the porch, clad in her uniform and accompanied by her Absol. The woman gave a worried look to the lot and froze in place when she detected the platinum badge pinned just below Anna's neckline.
Anna sniffed the air quietly, then let her focus rest upon the woman huddled in the doorway. "Ms. Kace? Ms. Pamela Kace?"
"Yes?", the other replied nervously. "Can I help you?"
With that, Anna took on a friendly but authoritative tone, not sparing a second to cut right to the chase. There was little time for formalities. "I'm Sergeant Lafluer, and I'm working with the International Police. Could I possibly have a moment of your time to ask a few questions?"
The mother nodded slowly. "Oh, of course. Is... is something wrong?"
"We're investigating a young man local to the Sevii Islands in connection with three homicides and the massacre of several stolen Pokémon."
"The Soul Robber?" The older woman cupped her mouth in horror, fearing that her own son was the latest in the mystery killer's track record of victims. "Oh, my God. Landon! H—Has something happened?"
Though now knowing the culprit's birth name, Anna frowned, unsure of what to say next, then decided it was better to show, not say. "We found this in the suspect's home." She reached into her pocket and pulled out the photograph, flaunting it in her hand. "You are the woman in this photo, correct?"
Pamela's mouth hung open. "T—That's the picture I gave to my son before... sending him to the orphanage."
"Mame, this may be difficult for you to hear... but we have indisputable evidence that suggests your son is affiliated with the Sevii Island kill spree." Her voice resigned to the fact that she had just delivered an emotional bombshell. Moments like these were the worst part of her job.
"L—Landon?", the mother stammered, narrowing her brow. Her eyes lit up in alarm. "My Landon? A murderer? Sergeant, this must be some sort of mistake—"
"I wish it were." , Anna said softly, biting her lip. She knew how devastating this must have been for the other woman, but couldn't back down now. "We believe he was committing these crimes under an alias."
The woman nearly collapsed against the frame of the door, her legs wobbling. Her breathing became heavy and all other noise became muffled in her ears. Tears strung down from her eyes and she had to look away from Anna to keep herself in check. "H—How did this happen?", she choked over a wave of flooding tears. "This can't be right! This just has to be a mistake! My Landon would... would never—"
Anna tried to sound comforting, but never abandoned the tenacity of her tone. "I realize this must be difficult for you, mame. I have a child myself. But... we really need any information you can provide us with." She took another step forward and whispered, "When did you last see Landon?"
The older woman stood brokenhearted, her voice crippled and withering. "Oh, it must have been a little over a month ago. He stopped by for supper, then took off into the night like he always does."
"He visits frequently?" Anna shifted slightly as she brought out a notepad, "I thought you said you put him up for adoption?"
"I did," the mother sniffled. "He left the orphanage to live with someone else, but I never did find out who. Landon barely ever speaks of it. Every time he visits, I try to get him to open up about his new life... but he just shuts me down. Of course, I never pressure him too much. I feel like if I push him... he'll resent me."
Anna quirked a brow. "So you two aren't close?"
The woman's gaze fell apart. "Well, Landon isn't really the type to talk about how he feels about things," she lamented softly. "Not even to his mother." A bitter tear rolled down her cheek. "It's hard, having someone so close to you bottle everything up." She shook her head, as if speaking nonsense. "You'll have to forgive me. I don't even know why I'm telling you all this."
"Trust me, I know the type," Anna sympathized, Metsuma suddenly coming to mind. "I'm sure your son loves you very much. He just... doesn't know how to express it." Regaining her senses, Anna straightened her posture and tried to sneak a peak past the mother's shoulder. "I'm sure you've had enough for today. Could I possibly speak to the father? Is he home?"
"There... there was never a father," the woman sniffed, wiping another tear away. "To tell you the truth... I'm not even Landon's biological mother. I found him as a newborn, abandoned on the side of a mountain trail. I used to do a lot of hiking back in my day. I would explore the entrails of Mount Moon and feed the local Pokémon there. It was nothing special, but I enjoyed the company." She looked up and let her gaze level with Anna's. "But when I discovered Landon, I knew I didn't have to be alone anymore. I raised him as my own." She squeezed her eyes shut, as if wishing her troubles away. "I'm sorry... it's just... I've never told anyone this. Not even Landon."
Anna's voice became firm. "If you were so alone, then why did you give him away?"
"I'd... rather not discuss that," the other spoke with a deep sorrow thick in her voice, turning her head away. "Forgive me, Sergeant."
Realizing she had touched a sensitive nerve, Anna gathered herself and again tried to console the hysterical mother. "Calm down. You're not in any trouble." She lifted her notepad again and continued with the cross-examination. "If you'd please, I'd like the address of that adoption agency you mentioned so I can get the name of Landon's current guardian."
"Oh, that would be hopeless," the other woman cautioned. "The building burned down three years ago, not long after Landon's adoption. I'm sure those records don't even exist anymore."
Anna couldn't help but pale at this revelation. "That's... some coincidence." , She uttered, suspicion rising with her brow. "How exactly did the building catch fire?"
The woman shrugged. "After a while, they dismissed it as an accident, that a wild Fire-Type Pokémon was responsible. But I don't think they ever found out for sure."
Anna, however, knew that something was out of place, and that the cause of that fire was no accident. "Seems like someone was trying to cover their tracks."
Cayman's mother stiffened. She nearly lost her breath. "You don't think—"
"Your son may have accomplices," Anna finished, her face contorting as she tried to puzzle these developments together. "And if those incriminating documents truly were the motive for arson, I think his adoptive guardian just may be one of those conspirators."
"Oh, Landon, how could you do this to me?", the other whispered to herself, fighting back another tearful tide.
Anna reached out to touch the mother's supple shoulder. "Mame, if we're going to catch your son, I'm going to need you to cooperate. Please, the next time Landon visits or contacts you, please notify me immediately. But you can't let him know we were here."
The woman face dropped and she gasped out, "You won't hurt him, will you?"
Anna could see how the mother's eyes pleaded with her, but as an enforcer of the law, she had to be honest in her answer. "Justice hurts sometimes... but this is about right and wrong. Your son is a danger to society. We can't have him running loose, preying on innocent people and Pokémon."
At last, the woman nodded, her head bowed sorely. "I... understand."
"Thank you for your time, mame. You've been extremely helpful." Anna smiled to the woman one last time, with as sort of hopeful gleam in her eyes, then started back towards her patrol car, Absol chasing after her.
The other woman stepped back into the house and closed the door behind her. She traveled to the kitchen and crumpled at the table, her head buried deep in her palms. "Cayman, please be safe!", she sobbed uncontrollably. "Please just stop this madness! Come home to me! If you don't surrender now, they'll hurt you... and I won't be able to bear it!"
After several more minutes of grief, a loud thud hit the front of the house and Cayman's mother leapt out of her seat. "Huh?" A hopeful smile suddenly scaled over her face and she raced for the door. "C—Cayman! Is that you?"
But as she reached for the doorknob, a cackling Gengar with amber-like eyes flung open the door and lunged at her, silencing her delayed screams.
That same morning, Cayman followed his female guide into the far outskirts of Solaceon, his attention fixated on her every step. This narrow route was lined with deep, tall grass that tickled his nose the further they strayed off the path of Route 210. In the distance, however, his destination was visible. The meager little cottage stood alone in an isolated spot deep among the mountain barrens.
"That's the place," said the girl, levering her finger to the uncharted province. "Try to be nice, okay? She's new to the area."
Cayman thought nothing of it, then started towards the house, "Thanks, babe."
The girl paled, calling out to him, "You still have my number, right? You'll call me?"
He glanced over his shoulder, nodded, then proceeded forward and mumbled quietly, "Not a chance." He had what he wanted. He didn't need anything more from the girl. All he wanted now was to nurse Flygon back to health and continue his search for the rouge Dragon Trainer. It was the only barrier keeping him from returning to Kanto, no thanks to Metsuma's agenda.
Upon reaching the front porch of the lonesome property, Cayman knocked on the cottage's wooden door, sighing at the thought of rest. He looked around. The terrain was fairly empty, yet it had a distinct serenity about it. He closed his eyes and breathed the fresh air of the mountains. It was rejuvenating. This was his first trip to Sinnoh, now that he thought about it, and while he'd previously studied up on the Pokémon native to the region's soil, the calming environment of the landscape itself was never covered in his lessons with Metsuma.
After a few more moments, the door opened, and Cayman turned to greet the owner of the house. He offered only a frown to the stoutly woman standing before him.
"Oh, a visitor!", she warbled.
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, listen, I'm told you're a Pokémon specialist? My Flygon is in pretty bad shape."
"Ha! You came to the right place!" She stepped back a few paces, careful not to trip on her kimono. "Come in and make yourself at home! Let your Pokémon out of its Pokéball while I ready the elixir." She rushed into the next room, leaving him dumbfounded in the doorway.
"But... you don't even know what's wrong with Flygon yet," he called out to her as he stepped into the house, unsure of what to make of the woman's first impression. "You didn't even examine—"
"Don't fret," her voice carried through the walls. "My special herbal tea can cure any ailment imaginable!"
"And it... really works?" He unclipped Flygon's Pokéball and released the spoken Pokémon, whom instantly crumpled to the floor in the same exhaustion demonstrated before.
"You'd be surprised," the woman replied, carefully carrying a teacup in both hands as she reentered the room. Wasting no time, she knelt before the washed out dragon and tilted its head slightly upwards, pouring the refreshment into its quivering mouth. "There, that should do the trick."
Cayman's jaw nearly dropped when the reptile's exotic colors immediately resurfaced, the tone of its scaly skin no longer ashen like before. "H—How did you—"
Laying the Pokémon down to rest, Wilma rose to her feet and gave Cayman a brief scrutiny. "You don't look so well yourself."
The observation didn't seem to sit well with him. "Yeah?", he snorted obnoxiously. "Well who asked you?"
"Sit down, won't you?" She gestured to the nearby table, then again vanished into the next room. "I'll be back in just a moment."
With a silent grunt, Cayman sat himself down at the dining table, which was teeming with cuisines, deserts, and all manner of beverages. His stomach burbled, and he fought the urge to gulp down all the food. He ate enough junk food under Metsuma's carelessness, so the idea of a real meal almost always appealed to him.
The woman returned in the blink of an eye with yet another sizzling cup of tea. "Try this." She placed it in front of Cayman and took the seat across from him. "And I won't take no for an answer!"
"You're giving me Pokémon medicine?" Cayman pushed away the cup in disgust. "Gross!"
The woman laughed. "Just try it."
"I'd rather puke."
"Try the tea!", she growled firmly, then quickly cleared her throat upon realizing how brash she'd sounded. "Err... it will relax you."
Cayman, wide-eyed, slowly lifted the teacup to his mouth. "You're a cooky broad, you know that?", he said, then took a sip.
She merely shrugged, apparently taking no offense with the comment.
Cayman swallowed and put down the cup, "Heh. Not half bad." A fraction of a familiar smile tugged at his lips. "Reminds me of my mom's tea." Jasmine tea was his mother's specialty, and the distinct taste never left him, no matter where he was. "It's got that same tart but sweet aftertaste."
The woman nodded with a smile and folded her hands in her lap. "Harvested specially from the dragon lilies found on Mount Silver, brewed to perfection by yours truly! Legends claim that for every dragon Pokémon that passes on into the next life, a dragon lily grows from its burial place. It signifies second chances for all living things."
In a tone as flat as a board, and dead as a doornail, Cayman spat, "You don't really believe in that mythological crap, do you?"
She eyed him with intrigue. "You don't believe in second chances?"
Cayman leaned back in his seat and waved a dismissive hand at her. "Me? No. I'm more of a... hands on kind of guy. I make the best with what I've got."
She smirked. "But it isn't enough, is it? You're afflicted. Why else would you try the tea?"
He couldn't help but furrow a deterrent brow. "Umm... maybe because you shouted at me?"
She paused for a second. "Oh... well then allow me to rephrase that." Finding her grin again, she pressed, "Why do you CONTINUE to drink the tea?"
Cayman's dim eyes seemed upset and frightened, but he answered the question, no less, "Because it reminds me of my... mom."
"Hmm." Pleased, the middle-aged woman clenched her teeth. "I think we're getting results!"
Cayman shook his head irately, folding his arms across his chest. "Alright, what are you, some kind of magician?"
"Dragon lilies bring about the best in people, both physically... and emotionally," she explained.
He had the grace to look ashamed. "Alright, whatever," he mumbled, surrendering at last. "I just... I just miss my mom. I need her, now more than ever." Slowly, his hands curled into fists, as if squeezing the anger belting through his veins. "I feel lost... and she's the only one I have left to turn to. She's the only one who would care."
"Then go to her," the woman urged softly.
He grumbled crossly, "After everything I've done, she probably wouldn't even fucking look at me."
The woman arched a brow. "What did you do?"
Cayman looked up from his pulping fists and glared across the table. "That's none of your Beedrillswax."
But the stranger sitting opposite of him only took further interest. "But she's all you have left. I'm sure she'll be there for you. What have you got to lose in trying?"
He shrugged. His only response was effortless. "I don't know."
"Then what's stopping you?", she attempted again.
"My... boss." He didn't want to believe his own words. The lingering thought of Metsuma holding more power than him did nothing to ease his conscience, so he'd deny those thoughts any measure of truth. "He'd disown me. He controls every little fucking thing that I do, even though I know I don't have to take it. I respect him... but I'm not sure I trust him anymore."
She fell silent, mulling over his confession, then spoke of her own experiences. "You know, some years back, when I was about your age, there was something I enjoyed so much, it was the one thing in life I knew I could fall back on if all else failed. But... the people I was associated with at the time... they didn't like it. They forbade me to do what I was doing." She managed a smile, turning it in his direction. "But guess what? I continued, regardless of what they thought. Sure, they cast me away, but at least I still have my pride in doing what makes me comfortable, not what makes others happy."
He combed over her words, face blank. "You're saying... I should be able to do what I want." The idea seemed too good to be true. The problem itself was the lack of freedom and honesty, not that he didn't share Metsuma's ideals and philosophies, which he did. "I should be able to see my loved ones if I want to? That I don't need... approval?"
"I think that's what YOU'RE saying," she hymned with a nod, seeing the spitting image of herself as a young trainer. "This... is your second chance. Don't let someone else boss you around. You need to have a serious chat with this boss of yours and let him know your demands. Just take it slow, one baby step at a time."
"I can manage that." He smiled cheekily, then gulped down the last of his tea. "By the way, what was it you did that got you thrown out by your own people?"
"Teaching Dragon-Type attacks, of course," she chuckled. "It's silly, isn't it? I'm a move tutor, after all."
Cayman blinked, looking down at his empty cup. "And you said... you found these dragon lilies on Mount Silver?"
Again, she nodded, her true identity now exposed to the boy.
Remembering his mission, Cayman lunged from his seat and kicked the table over, drawing an Aura Blade on the defenseless woman. "This must be awkward," he hissed with a devious little snicker, taking another step at her. "Just hand over Rayquaza and I won't hurt you... much."
"You'd harm me?", Wilma panted, backing up against the wall. "After all we just talked about?"
He chewed on his bottom lip, not bothering to consider her logic. There was simply no time. "The sooner I deal with you, the sooner I can see my mom." He raised the blade higher. "Besides, you've pissed off enough people this week. Now don't piss ME off. Make this easy on yourself. I ain't kidding around."
The dragon widow merely grimaced. "You're a wicked one, you know that?"
His smile widened. "It's how I get by." He knew she wasn't going to cooperate. He had to use force. Before she could react, he whipped around and delivered a swift kick to her gut, hurtling her into the wall behind her.
As the wall caved in and coated her unconscious body, Cayman promptly took to his assignment. He returned Flygon to its Pokéball and began ransacking the house for Metsuma's prized Pokémon, tearing up furniture and rifling through shelves. He imagined finding the oversized beast would be a lot easier if it were outside its tiny Pokéball.
Finally, after several minutes of searching, he found the Ultra Ball nestled underneath her pillow. He cradled it in his palms to authenticate it. He felt the powerful energy reading broiling inside, confirming he hadn't picked up a false one. It was a good precaution to take, especially after going through all this trouble.
Then, without a moment to spare, he clipped the capsule to his belt and dashed out of the house like a madman. "I'm coming, mom!", he grumbled to himself, but a sharp and painful twinge in his chest immediately brought him to his knees, and he collapsed in front of the house. "Agh!"
The vice grip clamping down on his Aura was indescribable, but it had him lurching in agony, as if something somewhere... had just gone terribly wrong. He stood back up on shaky legs, one hand pressed to his chest, the other cradling his forehead. He had to fight down the pain and regain his senses.
Suddenly, Wilma burst out from the house and watched the groaning boy climb back to his feet. While she couldn't fathom what was wrong with him, she didn't let her attention slip from the Ultra Ball hanging from his waist. "That Rayquaza is an innocent creature!", she lectured shrilly. "Why should it be subjected to bullies like you!"
Catching his breath, Cayman swung his head around to the dragon healer and belched, "Because nice guys finish last!"
She coupled her hands behind her back composedly and snorted, "Maybe that's why you put your superior before your own mother!"
Rage suddenly seethed inside Cayman. He could feel himself tense up, his hatred compiling. Then, snatching a Pokéball from his side, he spun his body around and roared, "Now you've really crossed the line, lady!" He pitched the Pokéball in her direction with a fierce and rippling throwing arm. "Onix! Thrash her!"
Only a yard away, Wilma supplied a Pokéball of her own. "Dragonair, I choose you! Retrieve Rayquaza at once!"
In the sweep of flashing red beams, both Pokémon stood braced for battle, staring each other down with scowls that rivaled their masters'.
Cayman could feel that familiar pang in his chest again, the reading of a distant Aura shuddering against his own. "Mom...?" He lost focus and stumbled backward, his frustration more prominent than ever as he tried so damn hard to figure out what was happening to him.
Wilma didn't seem to notice, nor care, and took the initiative. "Dragonair, use Flamethrower!"
The dragon serpent craned its head back, unleashing a blast of fire into Onix's eyes.
"Groooar!" Roaring, the rock snake jerked back, temporarily blinded by the scalding flames!
"Dragonair! Wrap!", Wilma followed up! "Then use Hyper Beam!"
In a flash, Dragonair had twined its elegant body around the blinded opponent's bouldered neck. With Onix caught in its coils, Dragonair opened its mouth, belching a beam of light at its prey.
"Groooar!", Onix roared in pain, stumbling and then crashing to the ground, unmoving. "Grrr..."
At last, Cayman whipped his head to attention, gritting his teeth. He pushed down his inner disturbance and used his anger to shift into a murderous set of mind. "Onix! Sandstorm!"
A mighty gust of a sand of sand suddenly swept into the battlefield, veiling the weakened Onix in a protective barrier.
Wilma faltered to make a counterpoise. She was stunned to see Onix still functioning after such a lethal blow. Biting down on her lip, she could just barely see past the wall of sand, her gaze set on Cayman, whom looked unsettlingly ferocious in his battle stance. She feared he would use his desultory rage to twist the tide of the battle.
Once the storm subsided, a newly empowered Onix rose from its bust. "Groooar!"
Cayman narrowed his eyes and snarled, "Slam!"
Onix's tail swept across the battlefield, but Dragonair flew aside with ease, jumping the obstacle ever so daintily.
But Cayman had anticipated this. "Now use Rock Slide!"
A scourge of jagged rocks suddenly rose from the ground and lurched for the skies, pelting Dragonair like gunfire.
Wilma gasped while watching her Pokémon plunge to its fate.
Cayman, however, was far from finished. "Bind it, Onix! Make it squeal like a Grumpig!"
As instructed, Onix bucked its rugged tail into the air and caught Dragonair mid-fall. It pulled the dazed opponent into its coils and proceeded to wrap itself around the smaller serpent, leaving little freedom to put up a struggle.
Wilma trembled before the unseemly sight. "You can't do this!", she shouted to Cayman, whom payed little mind to her. "Stop this! This is inhumane! You wouldn't kill a Pokémon!"
Thrashing wildly in squelched gasps, Dragonair cried out in horror, but Onix only tightened its grip, growling faintly.
Cayman was too lost in his fury to even acknowledge what was happening. His lower lip quivered and his eyes flashed with ire. He didn't care how this ended, as long as he could go home after. That was all he wanted now. To go home. To be with his mother. To be free of this goddamn pressure.
"Draco Meteor!", Wilma cried out as a last resort.
In Dragonair's final rasped breaths, it fired a sphere of radiant light into the clouds, then instantly perished in Onix's fettering shackles.
Onix tossed the slain Pokémon aside like a tattered rag doll, then quietly slithered back to its master's side.
Wilma ran to her deceased Pokémon in tears. "Dragonair! No!"
But even with Dragonair destroyed, Cayman sensed danger still lingering about. He tilted his head back to see the sky flash white. "Draco Meteor," he recognized, before quickly gesturing to Onix. "Dig us to safety! Now!"
Onix snatched Cayman into its tail and dove deep into the ground, just barely evading the shower of pummeling beams that defaced the property into a lifeless crater!
Poor Wilma was battered on the spot, caught in the eye of the meteor shower. She hugged her dead companion close to her chest and braved the worst of it. Explosions flickered across the terrain with each ground-shuddering impact, brilliant flashes of light still spanning across the heavens!
In the end, only smoke brimmed the domain. Returning Onix to its Pokéball, Cayman climbed out of his burrow and crossed over the battlefield to gauge Wilma's life-signs. She was thrashing on the ground, near-buried in a pile of rubble. Rolling his eyes, Cayman lifted the rocks with ease, then drew his Aura Blade on the woman writhing helplessly at his feet. "Don't worry," he gnarled huskily, barring his teeth. "I'm sure a pretty little dragon lily will bud from your blood."
"Don't harm me!", she pleaded, shifting closer to her expired Pokémon. "Have mercy! Second chances, remember? This isn't who you are. This is that wicked man! Metsuma!"
"Metsuma doesn't have anything to do with this!", he gritted out hotly, losing all self-control. "I can make my own choices! You said it yourself! That I have the power to choose! This isn't about right or wrong! This is about what I want!"
"Let go of all his teachings!", Wilma countered, her voice becoming stronger. "You must understand you're not thinking clearly!"
Cayman's eye twitched slightly. "I'm in too deep now!", he huffed, readying to strike. "I won't!"
Suddenly, a voice masked in static echoed in Cayman's left pocket. "What's happening?", Viper's voice rattled from the transmitter. "Is she dead?" When Cayman failed to reply, the voice grew impatient. "Soldier! Answer me! Metsuma wants her dead!"
"Leave me alone!", Cayman bellowed into the transmitter. He was about to deal the final blow, but the spasm in his chest abruptly reappeared, this time more powerful than ever. He could hear voices in his head as the disturbance in the Aura became distinct, plaguing him with thoughts of Metsuma. Thoughts of Eden. Thoughts of his mother. Their voices crying out to him. "Agh!", he seethed, the blade flickering away as he faltered backwards. "What's... happening to me! What the fuck!"
Wilma was flabbergasted. "Are you going to finish me or not?"
"I... I don't fucking know anymore!" He turned away suddenly, his hands pressed to his aching head, trying to drive the voices away. "Mom! I... I need to see her!"
Wilma seized the opportunity and scrambled to her feet, hurriedly carrying her fallen Pokémon back to the cottage. She couldn't risk another attempt at retrieving Rayquaza, not with Cayman in such a dangerous state of mind.
Cayman couldn't handle this inexplicable torment any longer. It was eating him alive. He had to take action. Pulling himself together, he did the unthinkable. He released Rayquaza from its Pokéball, in broad daylight. "To Fuchsia city!", he wailed, clumsily mounting the Pokémon from behind. "Go! Now!"
Rayquaza let out a menacing roar, then bolted into the sky at unmatchable speed.
Cayman held on tight to the emerald monstrosity as the wind whistled through his ears. They zipped above the clouds to avoid attracting any attention, but with so much speed at their jettison anyhow, they were like a green blur. At this rate, they'd make it to Kanto in less than an hour, and that was just what Cayman had intended.
"Soldier!", Viper's voice sounded from the transmitter a second time. "Soldier! I want a report!"
Cayman reached into his pocket with a free hand and brought the device to his lips. "I'm heading back to Kanto!", he reported anxiously, absently. "I killed Wilma! I got Rayquaza! Now let me do what I want!"
"You are to remain in Sinnoh until further instruction!", retorted the officer's voice. "Metsuma's orders!"
Cayman cringed at the name, then sputtered, "I don't care what he says! You can't stop me! I have to do this! I have to see her!"
Viper was deadpanned. "See who? Cayman, if you so much as—"
But Cayman switched off the frequency before the other could finish, then let the stifled device fall to the ocean below.
For the first time in a long time, well, Anna was feeling listless. She'd been cooped up in her patrol car all morning, on her own, waiting on new developments. She drove around Fuchsia City for hours and kept her eyes peeled for any bizarre activity. It was the most she could contribute to the investigation at this point, especially since she didn't have the court order needed to set up surveillance around the Kace household.
She kind of wanted to sleep, since she hadn't been doing that very much in recent weeks, but of course she couldn't do that because she was still on duty, and rookie cops who slept on the job were not favorably regarded within the law enforcement community. Hell, she was almost relieved when the siren of the police scanner jolted her from her daze.
"Yo! Anna!", Detective Jordie's voice thrummed from the dashboard of the car. "We're still patrolling Celadon. We stopped by the local police station again like you wanted, but we got squat regarding the appearance of those missing Pokémon files. We think the local mob might be connected, but we don't have anything solid enough to incriminate them."
Anna picked up the transmitter and sighed, "If the Saffron Imperium does have mobsters running that town, be on your toes. They're not exactly cop-friendly."
"Rodger that," Jordie replied.
Anna pondered a moment, her thoughts circulating her earlier encounter with Pamela Kace. "Patch me through to Special Agent Peer, would you?"
"Why?", the other voice yawned, seemingly unconcerned. "Any new findings?"
Deciding to divulge her latest discovery, she exhaled, then went on, "I interviewed our suspect's mother this morning. I think the Soul Robber may have accomplices."
The line went quiet for a brief moment, leaving only static. "Huh," mumbled Jordie with intrigue. "Funny you should say that. Our investigators at the Vermillion docks just dug up some similar information, getting complaints about a renegade ferry. Apparently a few weeks ago, a ship sailing from Kanto to Hoenn was hijacked to the Sevii Islands, just around the time the Soul Robber bludgeoned that girl and all those Pokémon. The passengers are still reportedly missing."
"The hijackers were probably using the ship as a carrier for their cargo," Anna pieced together the rest, giving way to a knowing smile. "You want to bet that cargo was the stolen Pokémon?"
"Well if that's true, the Soul Robber may have an entire cult of murderous thugs at his feet." His tone went soft, borderline frightened. "Your accomplice theory is starting to make sense. We should report this to Special Agent Peer."
"I'll get right on it," she answered back. "In the meantime, see if you can learn anything more about that stolen ferry. If we can find out where it last made port, we'll have a new lead to go on. Besides, you'll have better luck tracking that ship than you will questioning those crooked cops in Celadon."
Suddenly, a new voice blared her scanner from a separate frequency. "Sergeant Lafluer! Emergency!" It was a woman's voice, and she was in considerable panic. "This is the Kanto Regional Coastguard! Suspect has been sighted and is heading in your direction! He's crossing the border on a large, possibly Legendary Pokémon!"
Anna shuddered, her mouth agape. "Where in God's name could he have gotten one of those?", she muttered to herself, pulling the patrol car into a sharp u-turn. "Quick! What else can you tell me!"
"We're pursuing him on our speedboats!", the voice shouted back! "He's moving so fast, we can't get a clear visual! We can't keep up with him!" After a brief pause, the voice sighed, then cursed, "Dammit, he's gone!"
Anna stepped on the gas as hard as she could. "I think I know exactly where he's headed! I can take it from here!" She quickly adjusted the frequency, calling in Jordie. "Jordie, I'm going to need backup ASAP! Get every available unit to Fuchsia! The suspect is heading in my direction! We have to—" Sensing something out of place, she glimpsed into her rear-view mirror, spotting a mob of people duck for cover as an enormous, sinewy shadow whisked over them. "Scratch that! He's already here!"
"Copy that!", Jordie answered, then the line went dead completely.
The tires of the car screeched as Anna pressed harder on the gas! She put away the device and clenched both hands around the wheel as she hotly pursued the glimmering green blur speeding towards the outskirts of the city. "You won't get away from me this time!"
Cayman descended from the clouds once he spotted his childhood house below. He pulled Rayquaza to a stop once close enough, returned the Legendary to its Pokéball, then restlessly bolted towards the front porch, his heart racing faster than ever before. There was no stopping him now.
He burst through the door, the presence of danger at its most prominent. "Mom!", he cried out, his voice echoing throughout the house. "Mom! Where are you!"
Suddenly, Gengar and Zangoose sprung out from nowhere, blocking his path to the kitchen.
Cayman was about to stand his ground, but an additional presence had him pivoting on his heel. He turned to come face to face with the mastermind himself, spotting a large and bloody shovel in his hand. "Back the fuck off, chief!"
Metsuma maintained his calm, but scowled at the boy. "Sorry, Cayman. We don't have time for your little journey to find yourself. We have work to do." With that, he twirled the shovel forward and bashed Cayman's square in the face, knocking the boy out cold. He turned to his two Pokémon and gestured a hand to the unconscious body. "Take him out front. Be quick about it."
The pair of sinister servants nodded and proceeded to drag Cayman's limp body outside, Metsuma following and surveying from close behind.
Right on schedule, Calypso's limousine pulled up to the front of the house, the backseat door swinging open. As Gengar and Zangoose carried Cayman into the getaway car, Metsuma stood stagnant, smiling soundly and listening to the approaching sirens of police vehicles. Finally, he piled in after his Pokémon and shut the door behind him, signaling the driver to go. They sped off and vanished into the city just moments before the police arrived.
An undelayed hour passed before we reached Mount Silver. I had one last chore to take care of before returning Cayman to Savile Island. I had to leave Rayquaza in good hands before setting off again. Wilma's intervention had been a rut in my quest for power, all the more evidence that I couldn't trust just anyone with my most dire affairs.
Leaving Calypso and his goons in Blackthorn for a brief wait, I hiked my way up to Sa'lu's cottage. The trek wasn't nearly as strenuous as my last visit. Since then, thick plights of snow and ice had given way to easily crossable hills and glades of the most riveting fauna. Normally, the great outdoors was never truly an appeal of mine, but even I could admit that Mount Silver's climate felt best in the budding springtime.
Pressing deep into the wilderness, I soon found the antique cottage without a stitch. The sun was high in the sky now, and light played across the front of the cabin prettily, golden flecks of sunlight swimming across the wooden beam above the door and windows. It made the house look even older than it did in my last visit.
Sa'lu must have heard me coming through the underbrush because she was already emerging from the house to greet me. She looked rather impressed that I took the liberty of hiking all the way up here, rather than making a loud and flashy entrance in a company helicopter. She never cared for that. She always seemed to value her privacy before anything else, as with most Dragon Trainers.
She pulled into the daylight, meeting me halfway. Her face relaxed into a waiting smile. "What brings you by?"
Without uttering a single word, I carefully unclipped Rayquaza's Ultra Ball from my belt and presented to her as a gift.
Seeing me so out-of-character, she gave the gesture closer inspection, hesitating to indulge the the offering. I didn't protest. "Wilma's dead, I take it?", she asked with a furrowed brow, to which I immediately nodded. Only then did she whisk the Ultra Ball from my grasp and stuff it up her sleeve. "Quick work. Perhaps I was too rough on you."
"I can only trust you to complete Rayquaza's training," I explained, a little disgruntled.
Sa'lu, though somewhat puzzled by my indirect compliment, pursed her lips. "Through the Shadow Arts, I will groom Rayquaza to perfection." She pressed closer to me and sneered coolly, "I never once doubted your abilities. I expect the same courtesy from you once in a while." I assumed that was her way of lecturing me not to trust anyone outside our coup.
From my viewpoint, the end-result of Wilma's mutiny was totally debatable. The outcome wasn't all bad, after all. And I made it a point to voice this, "On the other hand, Wilma was... a necessary obstacle." My voice remained void of emotion as I explained. "Not so much for me... but for Cayman."
Sa'lu scrunched her nose in disfavor. "That boy is dangerous, Metsuma. There's something very strange about him."
I grinned impishly instead of being insulted. I was feeling very nostalgic towards Cayman's future. "I share you concern, but with enthusiasm, not anguish." A light grin tugged at the corners of my lips, and I was hopeful she could read the implications of it. "He will be a changed man the next time you see him. I promise you that."
She blinked uninterestedly. "You worry about the boy, I'll worry about Rayquaza."
With that, we shook hands and parted ways, for now.
That night, on Savile Island, Cayman woke with a hoarse gasp, his head throbbing and his strength drained. He slowly returned to the world. He rolled his head on his sore shoulders, seeing black spots every which way he reeled his gaze. He felt himself tied down to a chair, his wrists and elbows held firmly against the steel frame of the seat by tight leather straps. His surroundings were crude. The musty metal dungeon confining him reeked not only of his spouting blood, but a chilling presence as well.
His muscles ached from sleeping strapped to an uncomfortable chair. Even though he knew it was no good, he couldn't help but jerk against his bonds to see how strong they were. He could barely move an inch tied down as he was. And he was far too spent and depleted to call on any form of Aura. Instead, he just sat there, accepting the pain. He took deep but ragged breaths, licking the dried blood off his bruised lips, and shook his head, blinking. The room seemed a bit hazy. His vision cleared.
On the opposite end of the pocket cell, two levitating figures emerged before Cayman, both of them Pokémon. Lunatone and Solrock. He could barely make them out beyond the dim lighting, but it was definitely them. They seemed frozen in fear, unwilling to float any closer to their master. Something was holding them back.
Cayman shifted in his chair, his eyes pleading to the darkness that surrounded the astral duo. "Lunatone! Solrock! Get me out of these binds!"
Before either Pokémon could answer, Metsuma stepped out from the shadows between them, looking Cayman over with a sneer. "The restraints are necessary," he whispered, pacing back and forth in front of his immobilized pupil. "Don't worry. You're not a prisoner, you're a prize too valuable to lose. And I can't afford you turning renegade at our calling hour."
Seeing Metsuma's criminal face, Cayman's mind raced elsewhere, to the memory of their last standoff. And then he remembered—his mother. He'd been searching the house for her, just moments before he was beaten unconscious. "Where is she!", he demanded in a bristled tone! "What have you done with my mom!"
The crime lord's voice suddenly went dark, as smooth as the devil's. "Your mother, whom you hold in such high esteem, talked to the police." Turning slightly, he glared at the boy, muttering, "She betrayed you..."
But restless Cayman wouldn't hear a word of such nonsense, and pressed louder, "What did you do to her!"
At last, Metsuma fell into silence, his finger held to the corner of the dungeon.
Cayman whipped his head in the given direction to find a small television set suspended from the ceiling, broadcasting live footage of his home. With a sharp inhale, he glazed over the news headlines captioned at the bottom of the screen, which read:
"SOUL ROBBER STRIKES AGAIN! KILLS HIS OWN MOTHER! FLACCID BODY FOUND BURIED IN BACKYARD OF FUCHSIA HOME!"
"No.." Cayman's trembling lips whispered, then shrilled, "No!" His heart dropped all at once, and he jerked against his binds in a fit of rage, hateful tears pouring down his face! "NO!"
Metsuma shrugged off the belligerents shrills and curses that so suddenly filled the room, and continued to circle his outraged apprentice, his words creeping up on the tension of the moment. "She's part of it now," he explained, stifling the boy's wailing with the flick of his hand. "Don't you get it, Cayman? She was in the way. She was the only thing holding you back. But now you can come back to our mission, unburdened."
"I didn't want this!" He screamed in rhythm, tears spilling from his eyes in quick succession, blood spraying the floor in front of him as he coughed up more and more blood with each tearing heave of his chest. He squeezed his eyes shut as hard as he could. "I'—I'm never going to see her again!"
Metsuma could only wittily smile at the outburst. "You should have thought about that before you killed her."
"I didn't kill her!", the younger man growled low in his throat! "You killed her, then framed me!"
Again, Metsuma smirked."That's not what the news says. "He leaned in closer to the youth, letting his glittering eyes reach out to defeated ones. "Even your conscience knows different."
"W—Why the fuck are you torturing me like this!", Cayman managed to wheeze through his rapid breaths.
"Because I enjoy it," the devil's silky voice resurfaced once more, breathing down his neck. "More importantly, I won't regret it. You're not broken. You're evolved. No longer are you a simple-minded island boy. Your aggression has made you into a man of unrivaled power. And you're just the first of many. Once we've extinguished the Pokémon League, every trainer will turn to their primal instincts. All of them, replicas of you and I. It will be survival of the fittest—the fair world we've been dreaming of, remember?"
Cayman gritted his teeth, his head throbbing against his skull. "I don't care about any of that! I just... agh!" He couldn't even finish his sentence. The pain swelling throughout his battered body was just so excruciating. He'd broken bones before, but nothing quite this bad. "I'm not in this to be your god damn prototype! I just want to hurt you! You don't know how bad I want to hurt you!"
Metsuma moved behind the inferior, placing his frigid hands over the boy's taut shoulders. "That's it, Cayman. Let the darkness swallow you. It's where you belong. It's where we all belong. There's no turning back now. I sense the trial you bear deep down. Your Aura shudders like a withering candle." He leaned in further and growled, "Do you feel... transformed?"
Cayman jerked against the foul touch of his father's breath, unable to muster a coherent reply. "I... don't know how to feel anymore!", he screamed out! "I'm losing my edge! I'm flying without self-control! I feel like a slave that's being used and plotted against! I can't fucking stand it anymore! I used to be able to trust people... but after everything you've put me through... I have no one left to turn to! No one!" His head sunk inward. "Not even my mom..."
"You only need me," sighed Metsuma as he began to pace in circles again. "You and I are too alike to part ways, Cayman."
Cayman shut his eyes tight, desperate for any measure of truth to that statement. But he could find none. "As much as I want to fucking believe that, I can't anymore. I learned today that I shouldn't have to take orders from someone I can't even put my faith in." He lifted his head to his father and his eyes took on a brazen glow. "You're just in the way of me finding the power that exceeds yours. Admit it! You're threatened by everything I could become without you!"
Metsuma bellowed in laughter, unable to contain himself. "Threatened? Hardly." His voice was as smooth as it was poisonous. "I applaud and encourage your ambition. Chaos feeds on your likes. Maybe one day you'll find the wits to outsmart me. But until then, I'll harvest your power to further my own ends. If you're not already dead by the time I've scarred the establishment, feel free to join in on all the criminal fun that will eat this world alive. I know I'm looking forward to it."
Cayman turned his head away in dismay. "F—Fucking... psychopath," he uttered.
Metsuma shrugged off the comment and reeled towards the exit. "A psychopath is better than no path."
Cayman grimaced. "Eden was right. You're pure evil. And thanks to you, I'm no better..."
"That's hardly an insult, Cayman," Metsuma said as he proceeded to open the cell door. "You'll have to do better than that."
The challenge did nothing to faze the younger man's shroud of spite. "...and to think I defended you when she went on about what a psychotic asshole you are!"
Again, Metsuma laughed. "You weren't defending me, you were defending yourself. The Aggressive Conscience was always there inside of you, Cayman. I merely gave it the proper nudge. I did you a favor." He pulled the cell door completely open, allowing the guard outside to push a suspicious-looking handcart through. "I'm about to do you another."
Viper and an entourage of Torino Officers then entered the cell after the guard, having been summoned by Metsuma to personally watch and learn what became of those who committed deliberate misdemeanor within the ranks.
Cayman looked up in sheer horror as Metsuma moved to the gurney and carefully lifted a scorching-hot branding iron from the metal tray, its groove shaped in a letter 'T'. He gulped and spat out, "W—What is that thing?"
"Your mark, fresh from the coals of Mount Cinnabar," Metsuma casually glossed as he approached with the glowing iron locked in his grasp. "You need to be reminded of what you stand for."
At his superior's unspoken gesture, Viper moved in and took a fistful of Cayman's collar. He yanked the already tattered-shirt clean off the other boy's body, leaving his upper-half, and all its accompanying bruises, bare and exposed and ready to be marked.
Using his psychic powers, Metsuma unraveled Cayman's straps, freeing his wrists. Cayman growled and shifted as if he was going to get up, but Metsuma gripped his hair tight, making him yell in pain and shock, and dragged him to the cold floor. He then beckoned Viper to step in once more.
A gag was quickly placed in Cayman's mouth, and the cold bite of betrayal overcame him as he was pinned to the floor. He glanced up at all these watching faces, even Viper's, and could sense sympathy from none of them. He had trusted these people, and they betrayed him. Lost in his thoughts, he was unaware of the hot and bitter tears that rolled freely from his eyes. His breathing slowed as his heart hardened to stone.
"In the days of Ancient Lunan, Umbra Kaisers of the divided Tree Tribes would brand their young to immortalize their roots," Metsuma croaked, standing over his possession with a sneer. "If you withstood the pain, and learned from it, you were considered a fully-fledged member of the Kaiser ranks." Metsuma frowned down at him, before bending forward and placing his hand on Cayman's right hipbone, applying a painful amount of pressure. "Don't misunderstand me. The philosophical precepts of the Kaisers escape me, but their rituals correctly demonstrate the power of one's endurance. You can survive any pain if you survive the coronation. After all... survival belongs to the fittest."
Lunatone and Solrock quickly pushed through the crowd of soldiers to speak out against this! "No! Not Kami! There must be a more suitable means—"
Without shifting his focus from Cayman, Metsuma waved a threatening hand behind him, silencing the Pokémon duo to an immediate halt.
Cayman writhed in panic, his cries muffled by the gag shoved down his throat.
"Be quiet," Metsuma said, harshly, placing a hand over his student's mouth. "That's never helped anyone."
And then everything was white, and hot, and pain. Cayman screamed in agony as fire met flesh. His back arched, pushing his chest harder into the metal floor, and the stifled noises being ripped from his throat sent jolts of laughter through Metsuma and his audience, with the obvious exception of the only two Pokémon in the room.
Metsuma pressed harder against his pupil's back, forcing the writhing boy forwards, pushing the scalding iron against the very base of his spine.
Cayman had never felt a pain like it. Like his flesh was clawing away from the frame of his body, and molding around the hot iron. He wanted to pull away, but there was nowhere to go, and then there was the agony of the Aura in his veins, tugging behind his eyes, desperate to get out. It wouldn't let his eyes shut, and he was doing everything in his power to keep it from fading. To keep it bottled inside. To surrender it to his building rage!
And then, with a gasp, Metsuma wrenched the metal away, eliciting another broken yell from his broken servant. He stumbled back, and dropped the poker into a bucket of icy water, staring down at it, as it hissed and steamed.
Cayman sucked in a sharp and vengeful breath through his nostrils, then went entirely limp, on the verge of blacking out.
Lunatone and Solrock moved in to examine the damage left on their creator. The burn was black around the edges, skin curling sickeningly about puckered, red flesh. The initials of Torino's insignia was marked clearly in blisters upon Cayman's back, ornate and terrible.
The cackling soldiers promptly shuffled out of the room, leaving Metsuma to make the final inspection. He circled the unmoving body, then flipped him over on his smoldered backside, earning a searing howl in response. Then, Metsuma knelt beside Cayman's arm, and touched his finger to the teen's sweat-greased forehead. "When you awaken, your newly developed anger will remain intact... but you will forget the root of it all," he whispered. "You will forget your mother. You will forget Konani. You will forget all thoughts and impulses of straying from my side."
Half-awake, Cayman mumbled something in his delusional state, his breaths slowly evening out in gradual portions.
Applying a second finger to his son's forehead, Metsuma closed his eyes tightly, taking deep and steady breaths. He concentrated his untold power into the youth's barely conscious mind, erasing all links of potential treachery, but sparing the emotions fueled by those said experiences. Anything else was unessential to the psyche. Those memories were best forgotten anyhow.
Cayman finally stilled beside Metsuma, slipping into slumber. The ritual was now complete.
"Poor little puppet," Metsuma spoke softly, smiling wickedly to himself. He stood to his feet and wagged a cautionary finger at Lunatone and Solrock. "I have to catch a flight back to Kanto. You two are not to say a word to him when he awakens. He is to return to Sinnoh and carry on with his work. I'll have a new assignment for him shortly."
The two astral Pokémon nodded, then moved in to tend to their master's wounds, while Metsuma vanished into the shadows of the corridor outside, his maniacal laughter bouncing freely off the walls.
The moon hung thick over Tatto. The primeval trunks of the Nashgri Forest stood like the pillars of a cathedral, the canopy of dark branches above them the vaults through which shafts of light pierced the shade, catching the motes of dust alight, while ferns and soft moss blanketed the rust-colored grasses below.
It was not often did the fallow deer Pokémon, Virizion, enter this deep into the wood, but in his search for repose beyond the reach of the human race, exceptions had to be made. Wandering the lands and aiding defenseless Pokémon was his sole validation. After all, Unova was just a small fraction of a much bigger picture.
Restored and reanimated to her mortal flesh, young Eden Fabula found the Legendary buck grazing near a stream. She expected to find the Pokémon here, at such a quiet location and at this hour of the day. The horned quadruped was less likely to run into people after sundown, after all. She'd anticipated this, and used the knowledge to track him down.
Virizion, on the other hand, drank quietly from the stream, undisturbed. It had yet to be alerted to the intruder's presence.
"Excuse me?", Eden peeped from the nearby underbrush, startling the Grassland Pokémon. "I... had a feeling I'd find you here. You've come a long way from the Unova Region, I surmise." She stepped into the moonlight to reveal herself, letting her cloak roll off her shoulders. "I understand your dislike of man. But as a prophesized Sword of Justice, you share a common interest with my family."
Virizion kicked up its hooves in a guarded stance, but heeded the girl's sentiments. A sinking feeling tore at its heart, forcing it to hold back the rising emotions. "Your words confound me," the swordsman Pokémon gnarled in its telepathic tongue. "I've seen how humans treat Pokémon. I've seen how humans treat each other. Why should I believe you are any different from the rest of them?"
"I wish to rid of the scum of the world," Eden briskly returned. "You wish to protect the Pokémon ecosystem. I truly believe that, together, we can restore a sense of balance to the lands." The call of recent memories surfaced within her, and she shook her head in recollection. "My mother went about it all wrong, so as the rightful heir of Team Righteous, it is my duty to preserve the Seer cause. The Legendaries have spoken. This is their wish. I must put a stop to an evil far greater than you can imagine."
Virizion eyed her wearily. "How can I trust anything you say?", the Pokémon uttered in uncertainty, inching closer to the unmoving heroine.
"We Seers see Pokémon as equals." She offered a reassuring smile, and reached out to pet the dull points of Virizion's horns. "I do not intent to abuse your power. I only ask for a humble partnership. And I do hope you accept."
Virizion felt its earlier skepticism fading away. It was still tiny and just barely present, but it held a considerable amount of fondness to this young woman's ambition. "You have proven yourself, human." The Pokémon bowed its head and knelt on its front legs, antlers bucked and yielding. "Let us walk the path of justice."
Morning flashed around me as I stepped out of my complimentary limousine. I set my sights on the the lorn Fuchsia home hedged in by Global Police units flocking to the crime scene. Yellow police tape covered the perimeter of the property like a packaged parcel. The press was already gathered, but the lurking investigators scorned their foray of questions. I sensed much tension within them.
Slipping past the notice of a nearby Officer Jenny and her Growlithe, I pushed through the gaggle of reporters and ducked under the police tape to rendezvous with Anna and Clint, the both of them like statues at the front steps of the house. They were conversing quietly with a group of detectives. And from what I could overhear, they were briefing with Anna's newest superintendent, Special Agent Peer of the International Police. His signature eyeglass gave away his renown likeness.
Peer was reviewing the timeline of events. "Approximately two hours ago, an unidentified object was seen leaving the Sinnoh Region by sky." He touched a finger to his chin, seemingly lost in thought. "Our coastguard unit later confirmed it was a Pokémon carrying our prime suspect."
"The Pokémon was Rayquaza, sir," Anna spoke up. I was rather surprised that she was familiar with the creature.
The man with the monocle nodded. "A legendary, I presume. Hmm. Remarkable. The Soul Robber won't be an easy target to take down, not with a Pokémon of that caliber at his command. Lord only knows what other Pokémon he might have at the ready." He tilted his chin to Anna, noticing her solemn expression. "Sergeant, don't be so hard on yourself. Thanks to you, we now have a positive I.D. on the perpetrator. You'll get him next time. I'm certain of it."
As Peer strode off to apprise his other men, I took a glimpsing moment to examine Anna, and I too found only a sunken grimace written on her features. I inwardly reasoned she was upset for having failed to prevent the untimely demise of Cayman's mother. Little to her knowledge, I was to blame for that, but since I couldn't be guilted, I wouldn't utter a word. I'd chalk it up to my inner 'psychopath', as Cayman would call it.
Another officer then intervened to report to Anna. "The mother's body was found just like others. Hollowed out. Gutted up. The whole nine yards."
Anna could only pale. "Thanks, Jordie."
"We can't withhold this from the public anymore, Sarge," Jordie continued, much to my stirring excitement. "They want a name and face. The public needs to know who's doing this." In my mind, this would give Cayman a good incentive to take better caution with his assignments and not repeat the brainless mistake of leaving behind key evidence.
Anna scrunched her face, clenched her fists, and nodded. She turned to a separate bunch of officers and flicked her hand for their full attention. "Find Landon Kace right the fuck now, and if you can't find him, put a B.O.L.O. out on him! He couldn't have gotten far, not if we just missed him! I want his picture plastered all over town—no, all over the region!"
Jordie and the other officers scattered on command, and Anna whirled, her eyes glinting like voltage flares. She barely turned her head when Pamela Kace's inanimate body was wheeled out from the side of the house, a thin blanket draping her sunken form as the medics hurried her to the coroner's van. I knew Anna chose not to look—not out of disrespect, but out of a contrite conscience.
Silence filtered between the three of us. Between Clint and Anna, I couldn't tell who was more broken up, as Clint appeared burdened by Anna's burden. It was a silly thing, really.
Anna rubbed her temples, her voice wrestling with frustration. "I still can't believe this. I just interviewed her yesterday morning. Landon must have found out and—" Her head perked up and her eyes went ample. "You think it's because I talked to her? Do you think it was to keep her quiet?"
Clint draped an arm around her, hoping to soothe her woes. "This isn't your fault, Anna."
She pulled away in panic. "But it could be mine! Shit, what have I done..." Not knowing what else to do, she fell hopelessly into my arms, catching me off guard.
I slowly wrapped my arms around her, mimicking my actions from the previous day. "Be strong, Anna," I theatrically acted the hell out of my role, holding her closer against my chest. "I'm sure whoever did this will pay through the nose."
"They will," she growled determinedly. "I'll make sure of it."
I wanted to use this opportunity to further push apart my two egos, to win the props of my friends. "You're off duty soon, right?" I held her at arm's length and looked deep into her eyes. "How about the three of us head into town and I buy us some drinks? I know some of the most exclusive clubs around." I followed this with the loving smile of a devoted friend. "It might take your mind off things."
Nodding, Anna smiled gently, and the smile morphed into a smirk in an instant. "Metsuma," she sighed, pursing her lips. "Thanks... for being there for me."
I stepped back, motioning the two of them away from the house.
Anna hurried off, but Clint stopped inches apart from me, chuckling, "You really are changing for the better, buddy." He patted my neck in a benevolent gesture. "There really ought to be more people like you in the world." With that, he chased after Anna, leaving me to momentarily mull over his kind graces.
My perfectly shaped brow arched upward, and I snickered shrewdly to myself, "Be careful what you wish for, Clint."
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
Disclaimer: Sa'lu belongs to Nafa-Tali and Nashgri Forest belongs to the The Pokémon Rebirth encyclopedia.
Next Chapter: Metsuma assigns Cayman, brainwashed and now a publicly known serial murderer, on a highly-risky operation to the Sinnoh Region to keep tabs on Anna's progress. Meanwhile, Maria finally comes forward with her suspicious about her husband's comings-and-goings.