Well, that certainly took awhile. My apologies for the delay. God, I really have to work on my time-management skills but alas, studies come first.
Hope you guys enjoy this chapter. It sheds a bit of light on Kellyn's personality.
Disclaimer: I don't own Pokemon or the characters appearing in this fic.
The Dimension In-Between
If there was anything that Kellyn hated more than people abusing any sort of power granted to them for their own sick amusement, it was finding himself in these kinds of situations. He was not one to let doubt creep into his mind so easily but looking around the blank expanse that surrounded him, he was not feeling too sure about his chances of finding a way out of his current predicament. About some odd moments ago—Kellyn couldn't tell how long he had been deposited into the area since all of his equipment had mysteriously stopped functioning—he had awoken from his involuntary slumber and was greeted by the present scenery, or lack thereof. Directing his eyes forward, he projected a detached and calm disposition but he was inwardly seething for allowing himself to be caught off guard.
"Damn it," he hissed as he clenched his fists in anger. "How could I let myself freeze like that? Thanks to my carelessness, I am wasting precious time in Arceus-knows-where with my only source of protection suffering some sort of malfunction." As if to punctuate that statement, he slid out a random card from his right card guard and smacked it onto his χ-gun's card reader, pushing the ejectable magazine back into the grip of his weapon. Instead of announcing the nature of the incoming attack like it would normally do, the χ-gun remained silent. He hung his head in dejection and sighed, "Guess there's no point in me keeping this on then."
Grasping the χ-driver belt buckle and detaching it from the belt, he shut his eyes as his clothes were engulfed in a bright flash of light. It gradually decreased in radiance to reveal a completely different set of apparel to the one which Kellyn was donning previously: a black shirt with silver barcode designs printed on it under a red leather jacket, a red belt with a silver belt buckle, red leather pants and black military boots with the inclusion of a simple leather string necklace and pocket chain, looping around two belt loops, as the accessories. He promptly kept the device in his jacket's inner pocket and once again stared straight ahead, wondering if the vast expanse was truly endless.
"Whether that is true or not remains to be seen," he said. "My only option is to move forward. I won't accomplish anything by wallowing in self-pity." He put one foot in front of the other, hesitating for a moment before he settled into a brisk walking pace. Onward he went, his destination unknown even to him.
Kellyn faltered in his steps, exhaustion beginning to take its toll on him. He did not know how long he had been walking but he could feel his energy leaving him. As a Pokemon Ranger, he possessed greater stamina than most people; however, this did not mean he was not susceptible to the effects of fatigue. He could feel the sweat rolling down his scalp and making his bangs stick to his face like glue. He easily remedied this by flipping his hair, getting rid of some of the sweat drops that clung to his hair strands. For all of his resolve to not give in, it was futile as he stumbled and ended up sprawled on the ground. Straining himself, he managed to roll onto his back and stared at the non-existent sky.
A pitiful chuckle slipped through his lips as he lamented, "Falling to fatigue of all things. Heh, what a laugh. Going out in this manner is not what I imagined my manner of death would be like." He took a deep breath and gradually exhaled it. "Maybe if I just close my eyes—" Kellyn felt the muscles around his eyes relax. "—fading from the world wouldn't be so bad." Resigned to his fate, he allowed the sweet embrace of sleep to claim him.
Though he now could see nothing but darkness, he preferred it over the white-themed world he left behind. He always felt more at peace with himself when day shifted to night. It was during those times that he truly felt that he was at the centre of his own universe, free of his worldly burdens. He pressed a hand over his chest, feeling his strength slowly leaving him. This was it. Sparing a thought for Rhythmi, Keith and even his family, he prepared to depart for the next world which he hoped was as discord-free as people made it out to be.
He expected to be bathed in warmth so it came as no surprise that his eyelids flew open when he felt something akin to water droplets repeatedly pound his body. Kellyn discovered that they were rain droplets and that the blank canvas-like surroundings had suddenly changed into one found in thunderstorm-afflicted areas. The dark grey clouds above him squeezed out torrents of droplets of water that left him completely drenched. At first, he wanted to dismiss it as an illusion but he smothered that thought when he found himself shivering due to the drastic change in temperature.
"They say that rain can wash away anything...so why can't I shake off this feeling of fearful apprehension in my chest?" he mulled tiredly as he pushed his body up to a sitting position. Examining the new setting, he took note of the limestone surface of the ground, the destroyed stone-based pillars, the decrepit monuments and the temple-like structure. "Ruins of some kind?" Kellyn deduced in his head. "I'm sure that the change of scenery did not take place purely on a whim. If anything, I must have played some role in it. My memories, perhaps?" He let his eyes wander about the place again. "Strange, I don't recall—argh!" The Ranger shut his eyes and clenched his head as a sharp pain suddenly pierced his skull. Foreign images flashed before his closed eyes, the pain in his head increasing in intensity by the second. Just when he thought that his head was going to be split wide open, it stopped: he was relieved from the pain.
Unfortunately, the damage had already been done—his mind was now focused on a long-suppressed memory.
"N-no, this place...this feeling..." Kellyn shakily stood up on his feet; his form, usually brimming with composure, radiated both dread and anxiety. The memory playing out in his head left behind huge psychological scars which prompted his suppressing of it in the first place. Now though, everything about that mentally scarring incident five years ago was coming back at him full force. Voice full of desperation, he whispered to himself, "Arceus please...please don't make me remember."
As if it were taking full advantage of Kellyn's loss of composure, the rainy setting began to ripple slightly as a number of apparitions appeared before the Ranger. His breath hitched at the back of his throat as his eyes widened in realization—it was the same scene he saw through his eyes during a solo mission five years ago, the difference being that he was now witnessing it from a completely different viewpoint. He saw a battered, younger version of himself kneeling down on both knees and panting in exhaustion while another Pokemon Ranger stood protectively in front of him. The latter's expression was one of immense and rather eerie calmness despite the numerous firearms pointing at his frame.
Kellyn's eyes remained solely on the familiar Pokemon Ranger. He knew what was going to happen next; he did not know if he could stand seeing that scene play out before his eyes again. And yet, he forced himself to watch as the Ranger pulled out a χ-driver belt buckle—his χ-driver belt buckle.
"Tezuka..." The Kellyn-based apparition drew in a sharp breath upon noticing the device in his colleague's hand. "W-why do have—wait, don't tell me that you're thinking of..." His next set words died on his lips when Tezuka pressed the belt buckle against his abdomen, a silver belt strap looping around it and securing the device in place. He then opened the square case attached to the left side of the belt and pulled out a black card which had a white, capital letter A in 'Cloister Black' font depicted on one side. In one last act of desperation to halt Tezuka's actions, Kellyn shouted, "Don't do it, Tezuka! You know that you're not meant to use it! You damn idiot, be selfish for once and think about your own life!"
Unfortunately for the worried apparition, his plea fell on deaf ears.
Though Tezuka had long decided that he would not back down from his next course of action even before Kellyn attempted to persuade him to do so, Tezuka was nevertheless touched by Kellyn's words: he was glad to know that despite Kellyn's constant dismissal of it, Kellyn truly saw the friendship between them as something real and genuine. Tezuka glanced over his shoulder and gave Kellyn a soft smile—it was his method of saying goodbye—before he shifted his attention back to the hostile mercenaries who looked extremely eager to go all 'trigger-happy' on him. Being the kind of person that he was, he decided that it was best not to keep them waiting longer than necessary, lest he wanted any harm to befall his wounded friend. With a deep breath, Tezuka slid the switch on top of the χ-driver belt buckle, prompting it to emit a strange-sounding siren, and smoothly inserted the card with the white side facing forward through the slot located on the right side of the belt buckle.
"ASSAULT MODE!" the computer voice of the gadget announced, the colour of the χ symbol shifting from gold to white. As small white shards burst out of the device and coalesced around his body, Tezuka broke into a dash towards the hostiles whilst brandishing the weapon that came with the χ System, intent on taking out every single one of them.
The sounds of gunfire exploded throughout the area, drowning out the apparition Kellyn's scream of "Tezukaaaaaa!"
Meanwhile, the real Kellyn dropped to his knees and clutched his head, pressing his palms tightly against his ears in a futile attempt to block out the noise. He was shaking, and it was getting progressively worse as the seconds ticked by. "S-stop it...," he murmured shakily, squeezing his eyes shut. "I-I don't...I don't..." The gunshots were getting louder and louder. It soon became too much for Kellyn to bear: he finally snapped. "Damn it, enough! Stop it with the noise! I don't fucking want to remember any of this!"
And just like that, the torturous sounds suddenly stopped much to Kellyn's immense relief. Curious, he opened his eyes but immediately regretted doing so. Though the previous scene he witnessed was painful in its own right, the current one was just plain gut-wrenching—he saw himself kneeling on the ground, supporting a dying Tezuka.
"Damn it, Tezuka!" the younger Kellyn shouted as he shook his comrade's body in both anger and frustration. "Why the hell did you have to go and do something that reckless?! Is your life really so worthless that you think you can just toss it aside like that?" When Tezuka merely responded with his signature smile, Kellyn grasped the former's clothes even tighter. "Stop smiling! You're dying, idiot! How the heck can you keep smiling with your body full of bullet holes?!" He bowed his head, tears threatening to spill from his eyes as he loosened his grip on Tezuka's bloodied form. "I-I hate you...so much. 'Till the very end, you didn't listen to a damn word I say. Well, look where that's gotten you!"
Tezuka's ever-present smile left his expression as he started coughing out blood, but it immediately returned after he managed to momentarily put a lid on the coughs. "K-Kellyn," he wheezed, "do you recall...me mentioning to you that m-my fortune-telling is always accurate?"
Kellyn fixed Tezuka an unblinking stare. He queried, "Where are you going with this?"
Taking Kellyn's response as a 'yes,' Tezuka added with a slight rasp, "Remember when I-I told you a week ago th-that my death...was all but imminent?"
"You...," Kellyn trailed off before he paused in thought, trying to recall the aforementioned conversation. Eyes widening upon remembering the details of the colloquy, Kellyn gritted his teeth in lividity and punched the other Ranger in the cheek, intentionally disregarding Tezuka's current condition. "Are you saying," he growled, "that you were trying to prove a point to me? To make me believe that you could actually foresee future events?! Stop fooling around! If you truly foresaw yourself dying in this manner, then you would have taken steps to prevent this from happening! Any sane person—"
Those words halted Kellyn's tirade. "...What?" It came out as nothing but a mere whisper.
"At that time, I...didn't foresee my death," the dying Ranger elaborated, his words laced with guilt. "Rather, I foresaw someone else's—yours."
Even as the sky rumbled and lightning flashed down to the ground near their location, neither of them flinched as they gazed at each other, Kellyn rendered speechless at the revelation while Tezuka silently awaited his fellow Top Ranger's reaction. It came soon enough, but it was more subdued than what Tezuka had expected the reaction to be.
"Why...would you save me then?" Kellyn asked softly, completely confounded by Tezuka's actions. "With the way I've been treating you, there's no reason for you to risk your life for me."
Despite being worse for wear, Tezuka still found the energy to chuckle as if his body had not been riddled with bullets. "I think we've already established...that I'm not like most people," he quipped. He turned his head to the sky, ignoring the raindrops pelting his face, before he continued, "I've always believed in predestination. Even so, I strove to challenge destiny and change fate. I became obsessed with the goal I had set for myself...and it soon became the driving force behind all of my actions. As long as I could do it at least once, just once, then I'd be content with the rest of my life."
"Tezuka, please—" Kellyn wanted Tezuka to stop talking because every word that the latter uttered was making him feel more and more ashamed of himself; furthermore, he did not want Tezuka to speed up his death by expending his remaining energy so carelessly.
"Granted, forfeiting my life wasn't part of the plan," Tezuka cut him off light-heartedly, "but at least I gave it up for a friend...so it's not all bad."
Guilt welled up inside Kellyn and, to his astonishment, he felt something wet run down his cheeks. Numb arms moved and barely-moving fingers wiped away the warm liquid that seemed to come from his eyes. "I'm crying...," he shakily thought. "I guess I see you as a friend as well...I just realized it too late."
Sensing that any breath could be his last as his vision became more blurry, Tezuka onerously reached out and grasped Kellyn's shoulder. "I wouldn't want...to needlessly burden you but can you do me...a small favour?" he tiredly yet politely requested. A hesitant nod was sent his way. Straining himself, he grabbed the χ-driver belt buckle that was lying on the ground next to him with his free hand and held it up towards his fellow Top Ranger who wordlessly accepted it. Allowing said hand to slowly descend onto his chest, Tezuka then weakly murmured, "I know how much you loathe having so much power at your disposal...but you have to accept the reality of the world we live in. Power is required if one wishes to make a difference, regardless of their intentions. And given the magnitude of your goals, it is an absolute necessity." He stifled a cough and forced the blood back down his throat, grimacing at the coppery taste. "As for the favour, I want you to promise me that you will accept the power that I've bequeathed to you as your own—though it was yours to begin with—and use it to fight the destiny that fate has in store for you. P-promise?"
"Fight my intended destiny...?" Kellyn echoed speculatively. "Does that mean...that I'll...?"
Tezuka merely smiled at his comrade. "Promise?" he repeated.
With a sombre expression, Kellyn nodded. "I promise."
Nodding back at Kellyn, Tezuka shifted his hand from Kellyn's shoulder and placed it behind his neck. He then pulled Kellyn closer and pressed the latter's head against his chest. "Your words...put me at ease, Kellyn," Tezuka softly respired. "S-sorry to...leave you." Mustering the last bit of energy he had left, Tezuka moved his hand back to Kellyn's shoulder to push him away. Kellyn's face, now framed by bloodied bangs and stained with tears, was the last image that his brain registered before his vision went completely dark and his hand fell from Kellyn's shoulder and flopped limply onto the ground.
By then, the real Kellyn had decided that he had had enough: he did not need to be reminded of his sin any more than necessary. Rising to his feet, he approached the two apparitions, dragging his feet across the small bodies of water separating him and the duo. Upon reaching them, Kellyn stared down at his younger self who was in turn gazing down blankly at Tezuka's still form. Seeing himself putting forth such a pitiful expression irritated him, so much that he sent a clenched fist straight at it. As he expected, his fist phased right through his younger self's head. Growling audibly, he began to assail the illusion formed in his likeness with multiple punches and kicks but no matter how hard he tried, he could not make it disappear as his attacks would simply pass through the illusory being. Realizing the futility of his actions, Kellyn relaxed the muscles in his extremities; despite the simplicity of his attacks, he was panting heavily from the exertion due to putting more force than he normally would behind those blows. As he settled on simply staring at the apparition again, he deigned it to not be worth his time and decided to take out his frustrations on something else: his χ-driver belt buckle.
Kellyn wordlessly slipped a hand into his jacket and pulled the gadget out, intentionally hovering it in front of his face as to cut off his younger self from his stereoscopic vision. "If you hadn't been created," he snarled, "things wouldn't have gotten so fucking complicated. Tezuka would still be alive and my mind wouldn't have become such a freaking mess." Gritting his teeth in silent fury, he hurled the belt buckle down so hard that it actually bounced off the limestone surface a couple of feet and shouted, "This is all your fault!" Trembling fingers darted into his hair and nails scraped his scalp as he threw his head back and let it all out. "AHHHHHHHHHH!"
Suddenly, the rain droplets slowed in their downward motion and froze in place. Kellyn ceased screaming when he opened his eyes and became aware of the strange phenomenon. Seconds ticked by before time began to move forward again, but instead of plopping down onto the ground, the droplets began to converge about ten feet in front of Kellyn. He was so mesmerized by the droplets' uncharacteristic behaviour that he did not notice the disappearances of the two illusory beings nor the reappearance of the blank, canvas-like setting in which he found himself when he first came to. As far as Kellyn was concerned, the latter two occurrences were like surplus words in a word-restricted essay: they were undeserving of even an ounce of his attention. Instead, he kept his sights focused on the convergence of droplets which ultimately became a translucent, rippling wall of sorts.
Tilting his head in slight curiosity, Kellyn ventured closer to the wall until he was only half an arm's length away from it. He raised a hand and lightly touched the surface of the wall. "Hmm, I wonder...," he mused as he pressed harder against the wall. He blinked when his hand up to his lower forearm sank into the wall instead of going through it; immediately, Kellyn retracted the limb out of the permeable structure. "As I thought, this 'wall' is actually a portal. While I should be thrilled about the prospect of finally finding a way out, there's the question of where this thing will actually take me once I step through it." He crossed his arms and directed his gaze skyward, receding into his thoughts. "It's not like staying here would do any good for my sanity...what's left of it rather." Nodding to himself, he moved forward to advance to whatever destination the portal would take him but suddenly stopped—he felt a sudden chill run down his neck. He sensed a familiar presence, and it was right behind him.
He swiftly turned on his heel and raised his arms in a standard CQC stance, but the air of hostility he projected immediately evaporated when he took into account the figure's appearance: the ash-grey blond hair, the green eyes and that insufferable smile. "N-no, it can't be...," he stammered as he took a step back in shock. Standing before him was Tezuka and he did not look a day older from when Kellyn last saw him. Not only that, he was completely uninjured and looked more opaque than translucent. "Tezuka, what are—no, it's just not possible. I saw you die before my very eyes. What are you? A phantom seeking to mock me for my sin? Do you derive pleasure from seeing me lose my mind?!" Kellyn's heated questions failed to faze Tezuka in any way much to his chagrin. If anything, the eyesore of a smile—in Kellyn's eyes anyway—grew wider than before. The Top Ranger palmed his forehead and exhaled a breath of exasperation. Shaking his head, Kellyn weakly whispered, "Are you...really here, Tezuka?"
Instead of verbally responding, Tezuka merely knelt down and picked up the χ-driver belt buckle on which Kellyn took out his frustrations. Dusting it off, he stood up and held out the device with the front side facing Kellyn.
"Ah..." Kellyn broke eye contact with Tezuka, remembering the promise between them five years ago. "That's... I-I didn't mean to—" He flinched when Tezuka grasped his right wrist and opened up his clenched fist. Feeling a familiar weight settle in his open palm, Kellyn peeked at the gadget which played a role in Tezuka's demise. He then peered up at the green-eyed teen who gave him a subtle nod. A small smile crept onto Kellyn's face as he recalled, "That's right... I promised you, right?" Willingly, Kellyn secured the device around his abdomen and jumped slightly at the amount of power rushing into his body. Kellyn inwardly frowned as he instantly realized that it was providing him with more energy than usual. Having been provided with some food for thought, he committed the unusual occurrence to memory for him to muse about at a more appropriate time.
"Whether you're real...or just a figment of my imagination," he muttered, "it doesn't matter because I need to get this off my chest before I really go off the deep end." Sucking in a deep breath, he looked at Tezuka straight in the eyes and continued in a more audible tone, "I've treated you horribly from the day we became acquainted with each other. Not a day goes by that I don't regret my past actions. I wish...I could go back and start all over. I would've accepted your offer of friendship...and to be honest, I don't find that idea to be completely unappealing like before. But I can't...and I've to live with this—" He placed the palm of his right hand on his left breast. "—black stain in my heart for the rest of my life. I know what I'm going to say is long overdue...and I don't blame you if you don't forgive me but—well, I'm sorry...and thank you. Not only is your presence here comforting, but it has also allowed me to reaffirm my resolve and reminded me to take your words that day to heart. Tezuka, thank you."
Kellyn saw his fellow Top Ranger's lips part open slightly as his response was sent in the form of a grin. Despite the simplicity of the gesture, Kellyn knew that Tezuka was touched by his words if the happiness in his eyes were anything to go by.
"I forgive you," Tezuka unexpectedly said. Chuckling at Kellyn's stunned expression, Tezuka tilted his head back and closed his eyes as he faded into nothingness.
Alone once again, Kellyn stared at the spot where Tezuka once stood. "Sayonara, Tezuka." His shoulders feeling somewhat lighter, he turned around and unhesitatingly stepped into the portal.
The Reverse Realm
The abrupt change of scenery prompted Kellyn to move his hand closer to his futuristic-looking firearm. The portal had immediately vanished the moment he emerged from it, preventing him from turning back and exposing him to the potential dangers that the latest environment had to offer. His senses heightened subconsciously as they swept about the area, trying to pick out any signs that would indicate a threat was present nearby. He maintained this state of alertness for quite a while just in case something would suddenly appear on his inner radar but nothing came up. Concluding that the area was secure for the time being, Kellyn relaxed slightly and felt that it was time for a bit of recon. Relying solely on visual observation, he first took note of the ambience of the place: it was too dark and dreary for worldly standards. He had a hunch of where he was but Kellyn preferred to be 100 per cent certain of his deductions so his eyes darted about the place again. The humongous door engraved with glowing skulls and the black flames burning atop two tall fire columns—one stood on either side of the door—were peculiar enough but what really hammered his suspicions home were the random placement of waterfalls about the area and the vegetation 'blinking' in and out of existence.
"The Reverse Realm, huh?" he mused. "I went through that Arceusforsaken place...only to end up in a world parallel to the realm of the living? Aah...I wish things were that easy but they rarely ever are. It seems too much of a hassle to have that desolate piece of existence separate both worlds when there is almost no threat of human intrusions unless they are accidentally spirited away from the real world by Giratina or Shaymin." He moved his lower jaw from side to side as a sign of annoyance. "I cry foul here. The circumstances that led to my being here were far from coincidental. Why did that portal appear before me of all people? This series of events is definitely orchestrated by someone or something other than cosmic force." In an almost tiresome manner, he grabbed his χ-gun before he raised his arm and, by extension, the firearm to the side. He then sarcastically queried, "Perhaps you would like to shed some light on my current situation, hmm?"
A highly amused chuckle echoed throughout the area before its progenitor dropped his invisibility and revealed himself to Kellyn in a shower of black sparkles. Unperturbed by the human's weapon positioned in-line with his head, Reaper mulled out loud in a devious tone, "It would seem that the entity you humans refer to as 'Lady Luck' is smiling down upon me." He traced a claw along his jawline, the smirk on his face getting more pronounced by the second. "Millions of souls out there, yet the one I end up with is an alternate version of one of the few humans that I mildly respect. Detecting my presence is no easy feat so I applaud you for that."
Kellyn fully rounded on Reaper, his other hand moving up to cup the bottom of the grip of his weapon as he still held the Pokemon at gunpoint. Notwithstanding its cloaked appearance, Kellyn could tell that he was dealing with a Latios based on its overall shape and build but he could not shake the feeling that there was something...off about the particular one in front of him. "And you are?" Kellyn asked straightforwardly whilst managing to keep his tone barely civil. The cloaked figure's indirect response to his earlier question practically confirmed Kellyn's suspicion that he was in an alternative reality. He was beyond crossed but wisely held himself back: he knew better than to push his luck while in the presence of a legendary Pokemon, his pride be damned.
Bemused by the human's frank approach, Reaper curled his claws under his hood and threw it back. "My name is Reaper," he introduced himself, fixing his slitted and crimson eyes on the human's pair of blue orbs. "A pleasure to meet your acquaintance." Though it was an amiable enough greeting, Reaper purposely added a condescending edge to it. His lips quirked upward a little when he noticed that the human's steely gaze did not falter one bit.
"The feeling's not mutual I'm afraid," Kellyn replied tersely, staring back at Reaper with equal intensity. The Top Ranger was a bit unnerved by the unnatural quality of the Latios's eyes, but he smothered it almost instantly: he was unwilling to relinquish control of the situation to the legendary Pokemon. He slid a digit into the trigger guard and fingered the trigger, ready to fire should Reaper grant him a good enough reason to do so. "Send me back to my universe this instant."
Reaper reciprocated Kellyn's demand with a deadpan-sounding "What is the point of sending you back when you have just arrived here a mere moment ago?"
"I don't care," Kellyn retorted. The trigger of his weapon sunk into its slot somewhat. "I don't know your reason for spiriting me away from my universe nor do I particularly care about it. If you think for one second that I'll allow you to attach strings to me and control me like some puppet, you've got another thing coming. I won't say it again—send me back now."
The Ascended Latios tilted his head, contemplating on Kellyn's rather forceful request. "How about...no?"
That answer set Kellyn off as he loosed a round, the noise associated with the firing of a firearm resounding throughout the Reverse Realm. Puzzled as to why he did not hear the hum of a barrier that he expected Reaper to erect as a self-defence mechanism, Kellyn lowered his χ-gun to get a better look at the legendary Pokemon. He gasped in surprise when he saw the bullet he had just fired wedged between two of Reaper's claws, mere inches from the Ascended Latios's face.
"Just like your counterpart...brave yet exceedingly foolish," Reaper drawled in a disappointed manner as he disintegrated the bullet with his mind, its particles becoming one with the unique air of the Reverse Realm. "Do you honestly think that you are in any position to be making demands here?"
Kellyn scowled at the unexpected turn of events. He was now completely at Reaper's mercy as he desperately racked his brain for a way to turn the tide in his favour. Unfortunately, he was not given ample time to do so as the sight of Reaper suddenly vanishing—the Pokemon left a smoky black aura in his wake—snapped him out of his stupor. The Pokemon Ranger promptly brought his weapon closer and now took each step with greater caution, his senses going into overdrive to reduce Reaper's chances of exploiting any openings he may unintentionally grant to the legendary Pokemon.
"Where are you?" Kellyn breathed out softly, his vision darting from left to right and vice versa. "Here," he heard Reaper's voice whisper in his ear as the twenty-year-old felt a tap on his shoulder. He swiftly spun around and lashed out with the dagger portion of his weapon, only to swing through the leftover residue of Reaper's teleportation technique. Just before he could reassume a defensive stance, Reaper appeared directly before him in a burst of wisps of black energy and thrust a paw into Kellyn's gut. The legendary Pokemon merely exerted approximately five per cent of his strength into the attack, yet Kellyn was still blown about three-quarters of the diameter of the platform on which they were fighting backwards. The human skidded to a halt and dropped to his knees, a hand clutching the struck area as he smirked at his quarry.
"Not bad at—" Blood suddenly rushed up his throat and out of his mouth, splattering on the rocky platform he was on. Overcoming the shock of himself coughing out blood, he looked up and glared at Reaper. "You manipulated the wind pressure generated from that strike to deal additional damage to me," Kellyn deduced. "Tch, how annoying."
Reaper examined his claws, sheathing and unsheathing them as he nonchalantly stated, "When you are the Prince of the Dragon Empire, techniques involving the manipulation of the element of air are mere child's play."
The Top Ranger scoffed, "For a prince, you sure do have a questionable taste in presentation. Shouldn't you project yourself in a more princely and regal manner instead of—" He was promptly silenced when Reaper teleported in front of him and swung Harvester—Lady Giratina suggested that he name the scythe as a sign of his emotional attachment to it—into his left shoulder, making him drop his weapon and strain his throat as he screamed in agony.
"You know nothing of me, mortal," the Ascended Latios enunciated tonelessly, shoving the blade of his scythe deeper and revelling in Kellyn's pained cries. "You haven't a sliver of a clue of what I endured. You forget your place. Provide me a reason why I shouldn't just bifurcate you from where you kneel."
In spite of the severity of his predicament, Kellyn let loose a snicker reminiscent to that of a Zorua's.
The Ascended Latios raised an eyebrow at Kellyn's response, wondering whether the pain was causing the human to become delirious. "Are you failing to fathom the gravity of your situation...or do wish to face death with an exuberant disposition?" Reaper inquired. "If it is the latter, then I commend you for that."
"Neither," Kellyn replied humorously. "Tell me, you did mention the me of this universe to be one of the few humans that you mildly respect, didn't you?"
Reaper's eyes narrowed ever so slightly. He riposted, "What of it?"
Kellyn's grin threatened to split his face. "Then should you be underestimating me?"
"WILD: ILLUSION!" Kellyn's stationary weapon announced without any prompt from its user.
On cue, Kellyn split into three copies of blue, red and green colouration which disappeared almost instantly, leaving behind a surprised Ascended Latios with the blade of his scythe now lodged in nothing but air.
Before Reaper could snap himself out of his stupor, the pressing of the barrel of a gun against his temple did it for him. From the corner of his eye, he spotted Kellyn who was eyeing him with a rather unreadable expression. Perhaps the human was feeling hesitant about pulling the trigger to end their little bout? Upon further observation, Reaper noted the blood dripping off his left fingertips: Kellyn did not get away unscathed from his gambit like Reaper had originally thought.
"That was quite the gamble you took," Reaper remarked calmly with a hint of respect in his tone.
Kellyn blinked at the legendary Pokemon, pondering why he was feeling extremely fatigued all of a sudden. Licking his lips, the blue-eyed young adult heaved, "I...had no choice. This was a mismatch from the very start. I know that you are more than capable of killing me with just a single slash of your scythe...so I had to resort to sending an indecent remark your way...and I guess the strategy paid off—" He turned his head and stared sadly at the gash on his left shoulder. "—despite my having to entertain the reality that I may never use this arm again. It's...completely lost its feeling."
"While I admit slight admiration for your effort," Reaper admitted, garnering Kellyn's full attention, "I am afraid that it is sadly all for naught." With that said, Reaper disappeared and reformed behind Kellyn in a flash, curving Harvester's blade around the latter's neck in the process. "You've failed to entertain the thought that you may have been facing another strategist in me. As one well-versed in tactics, you must realize that the greatest strategy often comes with the greatest risk. By sacrificing your left arm, you virtually eliminated any chance of walking away from this little bout with your life intact should I find a way to turn the tide back in my favour—naturally, I fully grasped the opportunity when it presented itself." The Ascended Latios pressed the sharp edge of his weapon against Kellyn's neck, his sensitive sense of smell instantly picking up the scent of blood. "It shall be quick. You deserve that at the very least."
The realization that he was going to die hit him hard, yet no visible emotion was expressed on his visage. Resigned to his fate, Kellyn hung his head down dejectedly and released his hold on his χ-gun, eyes trailing its descent to the ground. Eyelids closed over his blue orbs, and he awaited to be claimed by death's embrace.
Reaper watched on apathetically as Kellyn threw in the towel. Truthfully, he pitied the human to an extent and was tempted to spare him but Kellyn's earlier insult, though the mortal was unaware of the suffering he endured, resurfaced in his mind and completely smothered his rarely-seen, merciful nature. Clutching the handle of Harvester tighter, he prepared to grant Kellyn a swift death...but his arms suddenly went numb. The legendary Pokemon frowned and wondered why his body was acting this way. A theory came to mind but it only served to deepen his frown: he had little to no understanding of the nature of Kellyn's heart which fueled his indecisiveness. As he refused to be caught in a moment of indecision any longer, he begrudgingly decided to read the human's heart, an ability associated with all Latii.
"I do not hold any high expectations for this one. If anything, I expect his heart to be, in Laia's words, 'pure and beautiful' just like the Kellyn of this universe, despite his actions speaking otherwise," Reaper thought dismally before he tapped into his psychic capabilities to utilize the technique. As he was narrow-minded enough to not think of the possibility that his assumption could be wrong, he was completely stunned when he sensed the tainted nature of Kellyn's heart: it was filled with darkness, yet enveloped in light. Thoughts of disinterest turned to thoughts of fascination as the Ascended Latios grew more and more intrigued by the second. It was rare for him to encounter a kindred spirit in a human; the last time he felt the sensation of excitement stimulate his nerves was when he became acquainted with Kotarō's descendant. A feral grin replaced his frown as he removed his scythe from Kellyn's neck and dismissed the weapon in a flash of blue flames.
Noting the lack of pressure on his neck, Kellyn turned around and affixed Reaper a questioning look.
The aforementioned legendary Pokemon placed his claws in between his eyes, the grin on his face stretching even wider. "Apparently, I almost made the mistake of judging you based only on your actions," he articulated in an unusually soft tone. "I've clearly forgotten that the silent voice in one's heart...whispers the most profound wisdom. And the wisdom I've managed to procure is that of what you truly are on the inside—simply...exquisite."
"Excuse me?" Kellyn unconsciously took a step back, rather perturbed by the sudden shift of Reaper's mood.
Reaper expelled an unnerving chortle as he resumed, "We are kindred spirits...you...and I. You are not bound by right or wrong. You only do what's necessary to ensure the world's safety. It's a shame, honestly. If there were more humans like you, the unintended losses we suffered in the war could have been averted." He thought back to the mass desertion of the forces of the Pokemon Ranger Corps led by the traitorous Flynn Dacote and chided himself for not acting on his suspicions on the human before it was too late. As he focused his thoughts back to the present, he immediately noticed that Kellyn was no longer standing but rather on his knees, clutching the wound on his shoulder and shaking uncontrollably.
"I-it burns...," Kellyn muttered in a pained tone. "Please...make it stop." His complexion was pale and he was starting to hyperventilate.
It only took a second for it to register in Reaper's mind that he had subconsciously coated Harvester's blade with Phazon. "Not again," he growled to himself. Drawing out the last vestiges of his caring nature from the days when he was but a simple Latios, Reaper hovered down to Kellyn's level and placed a reassuring paw on the human's uninjured shoulder. "Calm down," he said steadily, hoping to soothe Kellyn's nerves. Fortunately for Reaper, Kellyn complied with the order without question as he began taking deep and slow breaths. Once Reaper was sure that Kellyn had calmed down sufficiently, the former tenderly removed the latter's hand from the wound before he did the same with the jacket. He then hooked his claws into the tear on Kellyn's undershirt and ripped it slightly to get a better look at the injury. The Ascended Latios allowed the rare luxury of a smile to grace his features upon noticing the lack of yellow and green veins around the wound: the Phazon antigens still had not been converted into their active states by Kellyn's antibodies. Without warning, he opened his maw and bit into the wound.
Kellyn's eyes snapped wide open in shock. The urge to scream was unbearable, but he managed to keep in under wraps by biting his inner checks. In spite of the sudden explosion of pain, the sensation of having his blood sucked out left behind a pleasurable feeling which dampened it somewhat.
The Ascended Latios was mindful to keep the amount of blood he gulped down to an absolute minimum as he sucked out the Phazon from Kellyn's bloodstream; it would be quite a hassle for him to fish out another human from the multiverse should Kellyn die from blood loss. The blood tasted extremely bitter at first, signifying its Phazon-contaminated nature. Gradually though, the bitterness was replaced with a slightly sweet taste: all the Phazon had been drained out of Kellyn's body. As this was case, Reaper hastily retracted his teeth and lifted his head away from the wound. He then channelled all three types of energy in his body—Ghost, Dragon and Psychic—into one claw before he dragged it across the incised cut, burning the wound shut.
"Ugh...," Kellyn whimpered tiredly as the searing pain on his shoulder faded away. Getting stabbed with a poison-coated scythe and healed via an archaic method completely sapped him of his energy. He did not think that he could even lift his head, not that he wanted to in the first place. Therefore, the surprise on his expression was justified when he felt his head being tilted back and a glassy surface touch his lips.
"Open wide" was Reaper's laconic request. "This vial contains a fast-acting potion. It will take care of your torn muscles and damaged nerves—painlessly, you have my word."
Again, Kellyn could not care less about his pride and willingly permitted entrance of the bluish liquid down his throat. The effects were almost instantaneous as the muscle cells in his body began to staple themselves back together and the nerves cells reconnect with one another. Not only that, his complexion had regained some of its colour and his breathing pattern had relaxed considerably. He gave his left arm an experimental jerk and winced at the pain shooting up the limb, but it was considerably inferior compared to what it was a moment ago. Massaging the stiffness away, he inwardly pondered on the poison that was ravaging his body. The agony he suffered eclipsed every ordeal he had gone through in his career as a Pokemon Ranger.
"It is called 'Phazon'," Reaper articulated suddenly, providing an answer to his guest's unspoken question.
Suppressing the desire to rebuke the Ascended Latios for reading his mind, Kellyn simply replied, "I don't think I've ever come across that particular poison in any scientific book I've read."
"I do not blame you for your ignorance as this toxin is not of this world." Kellyn's doubtful expression prompted Reaper to elaborate with a sigh, "It is a virus mutagen with sentience that seeks out intelligent and powerful lifeforms to assimilate. Those who manage to survive its influence long enough become corrupted and Phazon becomes their blood, both literally and figuratively. At the cost of free will, their offensive, defensive and support capabilities are considerably enhanced. Phazon-plagued individuals are guided by a voice of an unknown origin—at least, until we took care of its progenitor."
Though Kellyn was still unconvinced, he admitted that his interest was stirred. "You mentioned a war a minute ago, right?" He received a nod. "Would I be wrong in guessing that this 'Phazon' is related to this 'war' somewhat?"
"Interested?" A smirk found its way across Reaper's features once again.
Kellyn shrugged and respired, "It's not like I have anything better to do." The Top Ranger added, "Besides, I lost. You, as the winner, are entitled to do whatever you please without any regard to my opinions."
A devious chuckle rolled off Reaper's tongue. "Very well." He turned away from Kellyn and hovered towards the edge of the platform, motioning for the latter to follow him. He heard a huff before he sensed the human getting back on his feet and making his towards him with unsteady steps, stopping just beside him. Staring up at the spatial clouds in the sky, Reaper began his tale with a question. "Are you familiar with Deoxys?"
"I can't say that I've ever encountered one," Kellyn returned truthfully. "All that I know is that the first known Deoxys came into existence through the mutation of the DNA of a space virus which happened as the meteor that it was resting in flew through the atmosphere."
"I see," Reaper mused. "Have you ever wondered how that alien virus came to be and where it came from in the first place?"
Kellyn caught the true meaning behind Reaper's query as he huffed, "I'm well aware that I'm not all-knowing like you legendary Pokemon are so you don't have to rub it in my face."
"Sensitive, aren't we?" Reaper mocked the human light-heartedly. A grumble of indignation from Kellyn served to only fuel Reaper's amusement. "I am unsure about our counterparts in your universe, but over here we legendary Pokemon are known as Arceans, a race of powerful beings that have watched over the development of this universe since the beginning of time itself. I use the phrase 'watched over' since we never planned on becoming its protectors in the first place. My ancestors mostly kept to themselves but they did have a penchant for meddling in the affairs of other races. Given that most races back then were primitive and very impressionable, well, I suppose you could say that they reaped what they have sown. My opinions aside, they eventually grew into their roles as peacekeepers but nothing could have prepared them for the ordeal that they were about to face. Whenever there are those who value peace, those who relish in chaos and destruction are not too far behind. In this case, they came in the form of Entity Three and his legion of planet-consuming Phaazeans."
The blue-eyed Pokemon Ranger crossed his arms and listened to the legendary Pokemon with rapt attention.
Reaper paused and habitually dragged a claw across one of the many scars on his forearm. He then resumed, "The inevitable intergalactic war between Arceans and Phaazeans soon became a reality. It completely ravaged the Arcean Empire during the early stages... Our ancestors were unfamiliar with the whole concept of actually engaging another race in combat while the opposition had countless skirmishes under their belt. I would not even be here today had they did not do what was necessary—adapt. The researchers worked tirelessly and successfully created archaic and more destructive versions of the offensive attacks used by the modern day Pokemon. Slowly but surely, the war began to turn in favour of the Arceans. Victory was finally achieved when Lord Arceus's forefathers managed to lock Entity Three away in a rift."
"Eh, Arcues had forefathers?" Kellyn voiced out in confusion. "I thought he was supposed to be the Alpha and Omega or something."
"Human ignorance at its best," Reaper scoffed. "You humans came up with that outrageous claim, not us. Why Lord Arceus turns a blind eye to this folly is beyond me...not that I particularly care. But I digress." Composing himself, he went on, "Let us move forward from that eon-old cataclysmic event to several hundred years in the past, on the planet Pokemon and humans call home. I'm sure you've heard of the legend where a 'monster' from the stars devastated Alto Mare."
"I presume that it wasn't a legend, was it?" Kellyn cut in.
The Ascended Latios nodded. "Correct. It was by far the one of the darkest recorded events in history and served as the catalyst for the war which had recently reached its conclusion. After Entity Three's banishment, the Arceans turned their attention to eradicating Phaaze, the home world of Entity Three, and eliminating every single Phaazean off the face of the universe. Unfortunately, one battalion under the command of a high-ranking Deoxys managed to slip out of the Arceans grasp and made its way towards Earth. The warship touched down on Earth's moon around the 14th century and an escape pod was ejected to the planet where it crashed off the coast of Alto Mare. This was when the holocaust and annihilation of humans and Latii began. I could not forget that catastrophe... It has been seared in my mind." His eyes took on a distant and faraway look as he recalled, "I witnessed the slaughter, mutilation, zombification and rape of humans, Pokemon and my kin. Not only that, it was during this time that I was beaten, tortured and poisoned to within an inch of my life. Just when I thought that I was about to die, my captors would heal me of my injuries and repeat the process, again and again. I begged for them to stop, to end my suffering but they merely cackled and proceeded to torture me with even more glee and vigour than before. Ironically, their amusement at my suffering proved to be their undoing. My body was subjected to a tremendous amount of strain and pushed to the very limit, enough to evoke my Ascension."
Kellyn stared silently at Reaper, the raw emotion exuded by the Ascended Latios ripping straight through him. "I know the feeling," he thought dismally, reminiscing about the incident that completely changed his whole outlook on life. "I guess we do have things in common after all."
"I was consumed in an explosion of destructive, corrupted light which managed to take out a sizable amount of invaders within a three-mile radius," Reaper continued, "but my contribution, if you could call it that, wasn't enough to end the siege on Alto Mare. Rather, it took Siegfried—our leader at that time—siphoning his entire life energy into one final attack to seal the leader of the invaders and nullify their threat for the better part of eight centuries." His tone of melancholy suddenly shifted to one of extreme self-loathing. "I cared not for the scent of death...nor the ruined state of Alto Mare upon regaining consciousness. Consternation, repulsion and hatred swelled deep within me after I took notice of the change my body had gone through. In spite of my captors' deaths, they have forever left their mark on me by transforming me into a freak of nature...an abomination."
"Don't you think that you may be overreacting just a little?" Kellyn ventured cautiously. "According to your tale, it has been eight centuries since the ordeal. Shouldn't you get used to the fact that what's done is done and like...move on?" Inwardly, he sneered at himself. "What a hypocrite I am, giving advice to a legendary Pokemon even though I don't follow it myself." Unfortunately for the Top Ranger, he did not realize the effect his words had on Reaper until it was too late; he was jolted from his reverie when a paw grabbed his neck and lifted him up into the air.
Reaper glared at the struggling human, eyes glowing crimson with uncontrollable rage. "How can you even suggest that I do that?!" The Ascended Latios began to apply pressure on Kellyn's Adam's apple and maliciously smiled as the latter's squirming became more pronounced. "It was my dream to undergo the Ascension Ceremony, to receive Lord Arceus's blessing but those scum took it away from me! Their toxins tainted the entire process! Do you have any idea what it feels like to have the substance that sustains them course through your veins?!" The platform noticeably cracked at the amount of power Reaper was exuding, and Kellyn found it extremely hard to breathe given the amount of killer intent that was directed at him. "I am something that should never have existed in the first place! I am neither Arcean, nor Phaazean! I don't belong anywhere! Do you think that I can simply toss all of this aside and 'move on?'" He gritted his teeth and snarled murderously. "I should kill you for your insolence, mortal." Just when the legendary Pokemon was about to follow through on his threat, he reeled his power back in and released Kellyn from his chokehold.
Said human crumpled down on his knees and hacked violently. "I-it wasn't my... I didn't mean to—" he attempted to apologize as he struggled to form the words with his sore throat.
"Save your breath," Reaper interjected, any previous evidence of anger all but gone from his expression. "It's unbecoming of me to allow myself to be overwhelmed by anger due to an ignorant human's earnest advice. It is I who should be offering you my apology...but keep in mind that the only reason I am projecting a more forgiving stance is due to my interest in you." With a patronizing smirk, he added, "You should count yourself lucky, human."
Kellyn was unsure on how to react to Reaper's words. While it was flattering that he had gained the interest of a legendary Pokemon, the fact that said legendary Pokemon had pushed him to the brink of death twice in the span of five minutes made Kellyn extremely wary of him. He ultimately settled on responding with a neutral-sounding "I guess."
Deeming that to be a good enough response, Reaper cleared his throat to continue on with his retelling of the events of the Uprising War. He parted his lips to articulate the first few words, only to snap it shut when Kellyn raised a hand with the palm facing outward, the universal gesture of 'stop.'
With his other hand tenderly massaging his neck, Kellyn hoarsely suggested, "As much...as I would like for you to resume your tale, I'd much rather you get straight to the point and tell me the exact reason you brought me here in the first place. I admit that I am curious to know of the 'unintended losses' you mentioned earlier...but my close brushes with death thanks to you made me reconsider." He coughed throatily and grimaced at the surge of pain around his throat. "How the war was conceived, the happenings in it and how your side emerged victorious...are all immaterial to me."
Reaper saw the logic behind Kellyn's remark and concurred, "You have a fair point there. I sincerely doubt that sentimentality suits your character." He swiftly turned away from Kellyn, the coattail of his tattered cloak billowing out behind him. "Though we triumphed over the Phaazeans if you were to put it in technical terms, it is far from over. Without a voice to guide them, most of the surviving Phaazeans have regressed into their feral states while some have somehow managed to attain their own sentience. This causes Lord Arceus a great deal of distress as he fears that another war could be conceived should a single Phaazean be able to exert its will on the other mindless ones. It is for this reason that he has ordered that the remnants of Entity Three's forces be hunted down aggressively and wiped out from existence." Popping his neck, Reaper then divulged, "Recently, I have been tasked by Lady Giratina to eliminate one of these remnants but I have unfortunately been afflicted with a sudden bout of bone-idleness."
The captain-ranked Pokemon Ranger gave Reaper an unimpressed look. "Shirking from your duty?"
"Not necessarily," Reaper denied smoothly. "Lady Giratina failed to mention how I should go about accomplishing this task so I figured that I should pass on the responsibility to you."
"And what makes you think I'll go along with it without question?" Kellyn retorted.
The Ascended Latios hummed before he vanished and reappeared behind Kellyn, placing his paws on the human's shoulders and lowering his head so that it was parallel to Kellyn's. "I know you better than you give me credit for, whether you choose deny it or not," he whispered. "You crave, hunger for power but you do not seek to use it for your own self-interest. No, you wish to protect the world even if it means casting away the bonds you may have with others. You don't care if you have to play the villain for the world to live to see another day, that suits you just fine. So what better way to measure the extent of strength—" Reaper chuckled deviously for added effect. "—than to take on creatures that are unfamiliar to you? Also, did you honestly think that I would send you back to your own universe without demanding some form of compensation for my services?"
Kellyn directed his gaze to the ground as he contemplated on what Reaper was asking of him. "Say that I do accept it," he began guardedly, "how on earth would I go about accomplishing this task without arousing any suspicion?" Circling around, Kellyn pointed at his face as he deadpanned, "I don't exactly have an inconspicuous face now, have I? I'm positive people can recognize it a mile away...not to mention that the aspect of disguise is not really my strong point."
"There is little cause for concern," Reaper assuaged the Top Ranger. "I have already taken the liberty of providing you the means of seamless integration into society which you will discover as soon as you step through that portal over there." He followed this up with a jerk of his head to the right.
On cue, a small blue flame flickered into existence in the direction in which Reaper jerked his head before it expanded to reveal a swirling blue vortex.
"Super..." Kellyn did not know whether to feel grateful or agitated. What he did know was that portals had made their presence known on his list of top ten most hated things in the world.
"Now then, the trick to a good disguise," Reaper began to elaborate, "is subtlety. Trying too hard like donning black spectacles or a brown overcoat serves to only increase the public's suspicion of you." Scrutinizing Kellyn's appearance from head to toe, the Ascended Latios noted, "Hmm, your hairstyle mirrors the one the Kellyn I'm familiar with sports but the hair colour is different—while he is full brunet, your hair is brown within the top half and in a darker shade within the bottom half. This is a disguise in itself but you better change your hairstyle just to be safe...perhaps make it spikier and brush the bangs down diagonally to cover your forehead."
He could not believe that he was receiving hair-styling tips from a legendary Pokemon of all beings. "Anything else?" Kellyn intoned dully.
"Contact lenses," the Ascended Latios stated in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. "You and he have the same shade of blue for the colour of your irises. You cannot do much for the structure of your face so you should consider purchasing a pair as soon as possible. Arceus forbid you cross paths with any Psionic Rangers before then. They will notice the similarity instantly and seize you in for questioning."
"Psionic Rangers?" Kellyn pondered silently. "I wonder—ahh, screw it. I'll worry about them later." Kellyn locked his gaze on Reaper. "So I have to change my hair and buy a pair of contacts?" he echoed Reaper's suggestions. He shrugged. "I guess it's not too much of a hassle. Unless you have any more info you wish to share with me, I'll be going now." The legendary Pokemon merely stared at Kellyn, giving him the impression that the Ascended Latios either no longer had any more information to give him or simply did not wish to impart more than what was necessary. He could not care less to be honest as having everything spoon-fed to him will make things a lot more dull and boring on his end. When it became clear to him that he would not be getting a response from Reaper, Kellyn swivelled around and approached the portal, only to be halted by Reaper's voice cutting across the air.
"There is...one more thing that you should be aware of."
Keeping his back turned to the legendary Pokemon, Kellyn queried in annoyance, "What?"
Reaper did not reply immediately as he contemplated the pros and cons of revealing to Kellyn the little titbit of information he was withholding: he ultimately decided against it. "Forget it," Reaper mumbled with a shake of his head. "It's bound to happen whether I tell you or not." Giving Kellyn a dismissive wave of his paw, he ordered, "Go. Be on your way."
Kellyn wordlessly complied, if only it was to get as far away from Reaper as possible.
As Reaper watched the portal close, he could not help but think to himself, "I shall have a lot to answer for when this is all over." He spotted a blot of blood near the corner of his lips and licked it up. "As I thought, he's the same as Kotarō's descendant, only far deadlier and more ruthless... My, and the Ranger Corps already have their hands full with the whole Phaazean matter. I ponder on the chaos that will ensue...once the grey chess piece enters the board."
Puel City, Almia
A small Beautifly fluttered along in the sky, searching for an appropriate spot on which to settle down for a while. As much as it loved the feeling of wind sweeping across its wings, they were getting rather heavy from the moisture in the air and the extra weight it had to bear was tiring it considerably. It knew that it was only a matter of time before it could no longer fight gravity's pull of it so it frantically moved its head in all directions, hoping to locate at least a small branch of a tree where it could rest and regain its strength. It was not able to spot any tress through its stereoscopic vision though; therefore, it had to settle on the next best thing: a human's head. It hastily descended onto an unsuspecting human's head and made itself comfortable on the soft mass of hair.
The unexpected introduction of a pressure equivalent to the weight of a Beautifly on his head snapped Leon out of his reverie. "Wha...?" he breathed in puzzlement, unaware that his little 'guest' had departed in search for a more stationary resting place. "Oh, looks like I was daydreaming again. Man, I gotta stop having these episodes." Sighing softly, he let his eyes wander about the park—the ruins of it to be more precise. Most of the grass was burnt black and multiple craters of different sizes littered the place. The large fountain at the centre of the park which was designated as one of Pueltown's landmarks was all but destroyed and the trees were either uprooted or standing with their upper halves missing. Leon pressed his back against the bench's back rest and jerked his head upward to stare at the sky.
"So many innocent lives lost...and it was all due to one man's hubris." His fingers dug into his thighs as the thought of his former superior crossed his mind. He could not believe that a person that was so revered in the Pokemon Ranger Corps could stoop so low as to abandon the pursuit of peace and justice all for the sake of being granted overwhelming wealth and power. "What does it mean to be Pokemon Ranger?" Leon mused. "To safeguard this world from all who wish to see it destroyed...or abuse your authority as an enforcer of the law to suit your own needs? Are peacekeeping organizations like the Pokemon Ranger Corps really no different from the so-called 'villainous' teams who are repeatedly blamed for the troubles of the world?" These sort of questions keep popping up in his head, leaving him more doubtful of the cause of the Pokemon Ranger Corps than ever before. "It's no wonder than human-Pokemon relations are at an all-time low. We are supposed to represent the good side of humanity yet we've betrayed the trust of the public—humans and Pokemon." Though he ultimately chose to stay on in hopes of one day changing the Pokemon Ranger Corps from the inside, there were days where he just could not find the will to remain loyal to the organization and entertained the thought of quitting. More often than not, it was Kellyn who would convince him to not do so and believe that the Pokemon Ranger Corps will emerge out of its self-dug grave.
His stomach suddenly growled, sending all those negative thoughts right out the window. With a grumble, he unfurled the rolled-up upper portion of the paper bag next to him and pulled out a sugar-coated doughnut. He stared disdainfully at the fried dough confectionery before he took a bite of it, his face immediately scrunching up as the sweet taste overpowered his taste buds. Immediately after the conclusion of the Uprising War, Leon began to take notice of the moments of intense hunger that would strike him on a daily basis. At first, he attributed them to the drawn-out length of the war but soon debunked that theory; even after eating a three-course meal, he would feel as though he had not eaten for three days only two hours later. He seriously thought that he had been afflicted with a terrible hunger-based illness until Reaper divulged to him the truth: his conversion into a hybrid caused his body to burn up the calories from the food he eats at an astounding rate to sustain both the human and Pokemon part of him, meaning that he has to constantly consume at least ten small meals—with snacks in between—daily unless he wanted to pass out and die of starvation.
"As if I haven't been sucked dry enough," he mumbled between bites. "Seriously, I barely have enough money to spend on other things besides food even with the raise in my salary. Arceans are capable of healing the deadliest of injuries yet they can't even suppress this troublesome desire of mine to constantly consume more and more food. Granted, Ash has the same problem but unlike him, I don't have a bottomless pit for a stomach. Arceus, what the hell did I do to deserve this?" He was feeling particularly depressed so he decided to drown it out the only way he knew how: with food. He literally scarfed down the final piece of his doughnut and licked his fingers clean of the leftover sugar. Patting his hands on his thighs, he reached into the paper bag for another doughnut.
A twitch spread around his right eye as he reluctantly withdrew his hand from the bag full of doughnuts. "Jeez, they always pick the worst times to contact me," Leon murmured in annoyance as he pressed a finger on his earpiece to set up a connection.
"Howdy there, Leon," 1st Lieutenant Havoc's rugged yet friendly-sounding voice greeted him via codec. "Hope I'm not interuptin' one your infamous 'snack times' or anything like that." Doing very little to suppress a jovial chuckle, he added, "Seriously, watching you wolf down all that food without abandon makes me think twice about sticking to my gluten-free diet."
While Leon was normally a good sport when it came to jokes, he did not particularly enjoy people—even his superiors—poking fun at his uncontrollable eating habits. "With all due respect, sir," he deadpanned, "go jump off a cliff."
"Haha, now is that any way to talk to your superior?" Havoc did not seem to take offence to Leon's questionable choice of words judging by his cheery response.
"Why, I am only following orders, sir," Leon cheekily replied. "After all, you gave me clear-cut instructions to treat you like a friend, not my commanding officer."
"Heh, I guess I did, didn't I?" The laid-back air about Havoc simmered down to a degree as he took a sudden shift to a more serious demeanour. "Alright, enough with the banter. Corporal, we've got a situation in the financial district."
Leon shot up to his feet, his attention fully garnered. "Phaazeans, sir?"
"No, nothing of the sort," Havoc intoned calmly, inwardly amused at his subordinate's enthusiasm. "I just got a call from our Pueltown Police Department friends—well, I suppose acquaintances would be a better term given the fragile state of our partnership. Apparently, they've got a little hostage predicament going on."
The Latios/human hybrid's mood deflated somewhat. "And they require Ranger assistance because...?"
"Now, I won't have you take that tone with me, soldier," Havoc reprimanded him. "We have to make full use of every opportunity to patch things up with them. I know it won't happen overnight, but helping them out with lesser problems is a step in the right direction. If we can somehow convince them that there's still some good left in the PRC, then I'm sure that the general public will follow suit. So you better get off that high Rapidash of yours and start doing your job as a Pokemon Ranger. Do I make myself clear, Corporal Leon?"
Havoc's stern reminder clearly had an effect on Leon as he immediately regretted his earlier arrogance. Having played a role in ending the Uprising War, Leon felt that the 'everyday' jobs he used to love carrying out were now beneath him until Havoc's well-timed dressing down. "Yes, 1st Lieutenant Havoc," Leon responded meekly.
"Glad to hear it." Clearing his throat, Havoc, maintaining the serious tint to his voice, then resumed, "Now with that outta the way, let's get back to more immediate matters. Elaborating on what I said before, they're currently in a stand-off with some robbers who have barricaded themselves in a bank and taken the workers and some civies hostage. Negotiations to secure the release of the hostages are still on-going, but they haven't had much luck so far. Normally, we'd leave this problem to their SWAT team but after running the descriptions of the robbers I received through our intel, I have reason to suspect that the robbers might be former UAAF or Team Rocket-aligned mercenaries."
It took Leon a moment to digest the latest information. He evenly returned, "That certainly complicates things."
"You took the words right outta my mouth, soldier," Havoc agreed. "I've given the inspector in charge of the operation there instructions to not order the stand-by SWAT team to engage those armed opportunists. For all we know, they might be carrying some high tech equipment they've somehow managed to procure from their former employers. Thankfully, Inspector Smith bears no ill will towards the PRC unlike most officers in the police force so he gave me his word that they would not attempt to do anything that could endanger those hostages."
"Glad to hear there's some decent people left," Leon voiced out his opinion. "But why send me, sir? Wouldn't any specialist Ranger stationed here be as qualified for the job as me?"
"I'm not playing favourites here if that's what you're thinking," Havoc drawled. "I'm assigning you this job because you would pose less risks to the hostages. I could just send another Psionic Ranger to snipe those bastards but the sight of one of their own collapsing with a bullet in between the eyes would be all the reason they need to kill those hostages." Thinking for a moment, he suggested, "Given your circumstances, you could use your...ahem, 'special' abilities to sneak into the bank undetected and incapacitate them all at once."
A hint of a pout appeared on Leon's face. "You make it seem like it'll be a walk in the park," he grumbled. Since being assigned to Puel City—the mayor intended to call it that once the place had been completely rebuilt—to help out with the reconstruction efforts, he has had several opportunities to hone his abilities as a Latios during times of leisure. Though his brother commended his progress, Leon knew that he just said that to not grate his feelings. At best, Leon chalked up his progress as 'mediocre.'
"Have a little more optimism, son," Havoc advised. "That's an order."
"Roger that," Leon respired evenly. "Commencing mission." He cut the connection on his end.
Following that, he executed some ten-second stretches to get the blood flowing before he dashed towards the financial district, the bag of doughnuts on the wooden bench all but forgotten.
He expected to be greeted with a gathering of people upon reaching the bank following the directions to the marked point on his holographic map as people would readily abandon their respective activities to flock over to places where hostage situations were taking place without fail. Leon felt that it was less out of concern for the hostages than the need to feel the thrill of a life-and-death situation up close and personal. Therefore, it came as a surprise to him that people were actually leaving the scene rather than crowding it. Minor surprise turned to complete bewilderment as he watched five bruised and bloodied men—he could tell they were the robbers given that their hands were cuffed behind their backs—getting manhandled into a couple of police cruisers.
"What the...?" He was momentarily lost for words. "I thought that Lieutenant Havoc made it clear to me that Inspector Smith won't do anything drastic until I arrive. Something doesn't add up here." Leon scanned the area for the aforementioned person but his eyes failed to spot anyone whose clothes befitted those worn by inspectors. Determined to get some answers, Leon proceeded closer to the crime scene. The area was still fairly packed with people so Leon had to push the ones who were blocking the way aside, muttering some half-hearted apologies in the process. Most of them did not take too kindly to this and, realizing that Leon was a Pokemon Ranger, took the opportunity to launch some jeers and insults at him like they would do to any other Pokemon Ranger who just so happened to cross their paths.
"Pfft, another eyesore of a Ranger," a passer-by remarked distastefully. "I don't know why we are even tolerating their presence here."
"The PRC should just be disbanded," another muttered. "After betraying our trust, I can't stand the sight of them."
"You should just pack your bags and go home, Ranger-boy!" exclaimed a third directly at him. "Who needs you when we got the cool new superintendent?"
Having lived in the shadow of his brother for as long as he could remember, those taunts were easily blocked out by Leon but the last one got the gears in his head turning. He never recalled receiving word that a new superintendent would be assigned to the local police force and this latest information did little to relieve him of his confusion. Seeing no other alternative, he continued on his search for the elusive inspector and finally came across the man locked in conversation with a person half his age.
"Probably just a civilian," Leon contemplated, noting the young adult's stylish yet informal attire. Once the person departed, Leon approached the fedora-wearing inspector and spoke up, "Excuse me, Inspector Smith." The middle-aged man rounded on Leon who courteously held out his gloved hand towards the high-ranking police officer. "I'm the Pokemon Ranger 1st Lieutenant Havoc may have informed you about."
Inspector Smith's cool eyes lingered on Leon before they softened as Leon's identity registered in his head. "Ah yes, Corporal Leon, was it?" he asked for confirmation as he shook hands with the eighteen-year-old Pokemon Ranger.
Leon nodded. "Yeah, that would be me." Withdrawing his hand back, Leon's gaze swept about the surroundings before they settled back on the inspector. "What exactly happened here, sir?" he queried earnestly.
The inspector took off his fedora and ruffled his hair a little. He answered, "To be honest, I'm still trying to comprehend it myself."
"What of the hostages, then?" Leon prodded Inspector Smith. "Are they all safe? Did anyone—"
"Whoa, slow down there," the inspector interjected. "There's little cause for concern, son. All of the hostages are fine and dandy. Some of the younger ones may have some psychological scars from the ordeal, but nothing a couple sessions of counselling won't fix." Catching the frown on Leon's face, Inspector Smith calmly added, "Now before you go on accusing me of going against your superior's orders and disregarding the lives of innocent people, allow me to inform you that Havoc and I have cooperated on several joint missions between the PPD and PRC in the past. I have trust in that man's judgement and have always honoured it."
The Latios/human hybrid sighed and decided to give the man a benefit of a doubt, partially due to his non-aggressive stance towards the PRC. He recalled one of the insults aimed at him which mentioned a superintendent and questioned Inspector Smith about it. "From what I heard, a new superintendent has been transferred here and played a role in the rescue of the hostages. Is this true, sir?"
Inspector Smith placed the fedora back on his head and chuckled, "Well, I wouldn't say he played a role. Rather, he played the role."
"It's as I said. He did all the work." The inspector recalled, "He told us to enter the bank a minute after he did. Most of us were sceptical, myself included, but he simply waltzed in just before we could stop him, leaving us very little choice but to follow his order. A minute passed before me and the SWAT team moved in. We threw a flash grenade as a precaution but when the smoke cleared, it turned out that our worries were for nothing—all five robbers were piled up on top of one another while he was off to one side nonchalantly taking apart their firearms as if it were an everyday routine for him."
Leon found the story a little hard to believe so he subtly probed Inspector Smith's mind, only to discover that the middle-aged man was telling the truth. Even though he was slightly crossed at the superintendent for jeopardizing the lives of the hostages, he was nonetheless glad that the guy had it in him to take the initiative. "Hmm, colour me impressed," he pronounced. "If it's possible, I'd like to meet this superintendent."
"Well, you just missed him," Inspector Smith informed Leon. "You know, I had a hard time believing that he was a superintendent at first, probably because of his informal clothing and youth."
"W-wait, hold on a second," Leon stammered in disbelief. "Are you saying that the guy you were talking to just now was the superintendent!? B-but he is..." He struggled to form the next set of words as he simply could not comprehend what the inspector had just told him.
The inspector offered Leon a sympathetic "I feel for you." Exhaling a sigh, he resumed, "How old are you, son? Seventeen? Eighteen? If you ask me, he's at least two to three years older than you but already he has achieved quite a high position for someone of his age and outranked us both. I don't know whether to feel proud that the youngsters are beginning to step up or dismayed by the fact that the older generation are so overlooked these days."
Silence pervaded between them until the younger of the duo decided to move the colloquy forward. "Um, if you don't mind me asking, what was he like? The superintendent, I mean?"
At first, Inspector Smith was tight-lipped to reveal more information about his superior officer than necessary as standard protocol dictated that information other than officers' achievements should be kept private, even from members of a different peacekeeping organization. However, he decided to let the matter slide just this once; he knew Havoc was listening via the communication device affixed around the corporal-ranked Ranger's ear anyway. Clearing his throat, he enlightened Leon about his meeting with the charismatic superintendent—Nero Sinclair.
"To the criminals!" Inspector Smith called out, his voice amplified by the megaphone he was holding. "You are completely surrounded! Surrender now or be prepared to face the consequences!"
In response to that threat, one of the criminals fired a beam from his plasma gun which tore a hole through multiple layers of marble before it shot out of the roof of the building. Each police officer assigned there, including the SWAT team members, instinctively took a couple of steps back while some of the by-standers ducked their heads in fright.
The inspector muttered to himself, "This is not good." The criminals had access to plasma-based weaponry and as talented as his SWAT team was, Inspector Smith was unwilling to expose the team to that kind of danger. On the other hand, there was still the matter of rescuing the hostages. With each passing second, their lives inched closer to being extinguished. Even after twenty years serving in the police force, split-second decisions never got any easier. Should he send his team in to rescue the hostages or attempt to negotiate the release of them? He immediately shot down the second course of action since the hostages were basically the criminals' form of leverage against them. The grey-haired man tirelessly worked his brain for a solution but nothing came up. Fortunately for him, a godsend had chosen to announce his presence and aid him in resolving the conflict.
"You're the one in charge here?"
That question brought Inspector Smith out of his reverie as he turned to face the owner of the voice. "Huh, how did a civilian get past the barricade tape?" he pondered. He came to that conclusion after he took the young man's appearance into account. Notwithstanding his clothing appearing more decent than what most youths would wear these days, he still was not dressed like a self-respecting enforcer of the law. The young man's hair, while viewed by most to be both stylish and unique, only made the inspector cringe. Even if the dual-coloured trait of his hair was natural, Inspector Smith was of the opinion that the least the guy could do was to not have the bangs cover his forehead in such a messy manner and brush down the spiked-out lower half of his hair.
"I'm sorry, young man but I'm going to have to ask you to get back behind the barricade tape," the inspector told him authoritatively. "Why did my officers let you go under the tape in the first place?" He intended that slip of thought to be rhetorical so he obviously did not expect an answer in the form of the guy producing a badge and an ID card. A single glance at the ID card made the veteran of twenty years recoil a couple steps back in surprise. "Y-you are a s-superintendent?"
"Superintendent Nero Sinclair," the brown-eyed man introduced himself. "I've been assigned here on a momentary basis. This is my first day."
Inspector Smith remained doubtful of Nero's declaration and decided to play along with it as a way of gauging whether the latter was superintendent material or not. "Alright then, sir," he let out in a barely respectful tone. "There's about five armed mercenaries in there with a dozen hostages. How do you suggest we solve this predicament?"
The response was immediate, and it made Inspector Smith question the man's sanity. Raising a finger, Nero calmly announced, "Let's enter in one minute."
"What?!" Inspector Smith flabbergasted as Nero walked past the SWAT team. "W-wait a second, didn't I just say that there are still innocent people in there? Those criminals are armed with plasma-based weaponry! You can't just—"
"And what do you propose that we do?" Nero cut Inspector Smith off. "Just sit back and leave all the work to the PRC? Unless you start taking some initiative and stop depending on others to get the job done, you will never progress. Let us show these good folks here that the PPD is just as or if not more dependable than PRC." Each police officer there found his words to be just the injection of confidence they required as they voiced out their approvals. Flicking a wrist at a stunned Inspector Smith, Nero smirked and articulated, "The time for inaction is over. From this point on, the PPD shall become Puel City's beacon of hope."
"Basically, that's when all my doubts about him evaporated," Inspector Smith concluded. "I suppose I have to call him 'superintendent' or 'sir' now, huh?" Shaking his head in exasperation, albeit with a smile, he muttered, "It'll definitely take some getting used to but I guess it's better to swallow you pride than lose it." He readjusted his tie and rapped his right shoulder with the underside of his closed fist. "Well, I better get going to the station. We'll send those mercenaries over to you after we recorded their statements. As for their dismantled weaponry, they should be on their way to the temporary Ranger base of operations here."
Leon nodded at the grey-haired inspector. "Thank you, Inspector Smith," he said in appreciation.
"Don't mention it," the inspector replied warmly. Recalling Leon's earlier request, he informed him, "If you're still up for meeting Superintendent Sinclair, I think he was heading over to the commercial district. He won't be hard to spot since you don't really get many people with dual-coloured hair in these parts."
"I understand. Once again, I appreciate it."
The inspector merely turned around and gave Leon a backwards two-fingered wave before he went along his business.
Once Inspector Smith was out of sight, Leon contacted Havoc via codec. "Did you get all that, sir?"
"Sure did," Havoc replied in affirmation. "I took the liberty of doing a little digging on this 'Nero Sinclair' character...and he certainly does not disappoint. He gets around, this guy. Started off as an unranked member of the Castelia Police Department where he ended his service there as a sergeant before being transferred to Viridian Police Department. Shortly after attaining the rank of Assistant Inspector, he was then sent to work for the Lilycove Police Department where he achieved his present rank. Impressive when you consider that he's been in the police force for only three years."
"Arceus, this guy is like a police version of my big bro," Leon grumbled, drawing a laugh from his superior officer. "Any reason for the constant transfers?"
"Well, according to his profile, it's due to his being a pain in the ass to his superiors," the 1st lieutenant revealed, an amused grin plastered on his face. "He was involved in many operations, primarily the ones that involve drug cartels or Pokemon fighting rings. Though he carried out these operations successfully, he almost always gets rapped for his unconventional methods and disregard for standard procedure. He was repeatedly threatened disciplinary action but he still persisted with doing things his own way. When it became clear to the higher-ups that threatening him wouldn't work, they simply settled on transferring him to another police department and placing the burden on them. The VPD viewed him the same way the CPD did and sent him over to the LPD. Unlike the two previous ones, the LPD generally accepted his quirks so long as he did not act beyond reason."
Leon summarized, "So in short, the new superintendent of the Puel Police Department is somewhat of a rebel with a creative mind?"
Havoc leaned back into his chair and respired, "I prefer the term 'untameable genius.'" Pouring himself a glass of whiskey, he promptly emptied the glass of its contents in one gulp. He was about to pour himself another glass when he experienced an epiphany. "I got it!" he exclaimed as he banged the bottle of alcoholic liquid on the table.
"What...is it, sir?" Leon murmured, reeling from the unexpected declaration that was still ringing in his ear.
"We could use this chance to fix our ties with the PPD!" Havoc enthused. "I'm assigning you another mission, soldier. I want you to meet up with this guy and give him the lowdown on the situation here. Regardless of the simplicity of the gesture, I'm sure that he'll appreciate us for not being so secretive about the magnitude of the problems this place is dealing with. He strikes me as the kind of person who thrives in challenging environments, and us supplying him with up-to-date information about the goings-on here should give him plenty of incentive to work his magic on the rest of the police force. Who knows, maybe the good ol' days when you'd see Pokemon Ranger and police officer work hand-in-hand to bust crime are just around the corner."
Whenever his superior was in this sort of mood, Leon knew that it was pointless to argue with him. "Fine, I'll do it...but I don't share your enthusiasm, sir," he opined.
"What was that, corporal?" the 1st lieutenant dared his subordinate to repeat his words.
Suddenly remembering Havoc's order for him to be more optimistic, Leon hastily responded, "Nothing, nothing! I'm just looking forward to the day when it comes—erm, hahaha."
Havoc simply harrumphed, "That's what I thought you said. Now, get going." The decorated veteran of the Pokemon Ranger Corps promptly severed the communication link.
"Huh, why do I always get stuck with the icky jobs?" Leon fretted to no one in particular as he followed the paved path leading to the commercial district.
Kellyn silently walked down the familiar streets of Puel City—he thought the name sounded weird rolling off his tongue since it was still referred to as Pueltown in his universe—with no particular destination in mind. He allowed his feet to carry him wherever they please as he was simply interested in observing the extent of damage the war had inflicted upon the place. Despite being in a different universe, the general layout of the moderately-sized settlement remained mostly the same, and he immediately registered the fact that he had entered the commercial district.
"This is depressing...," he thought gloomily as his eyes wandered about the surroundings. Most of the shops were nothing but rubble, the stone path had chipped away so badly that Kellyn feared that every stone he stepped on would collapse on itself and the vibrant colours of the surviving buildings had dulled and now evoked the sense of sadness rather than happiness. The smell of death lingered on in the air and judging from the people's expressions, he knew that they thought the same as well.
"Hey, wait up!" he heard someone call out to him. Kellyn immediately halted in his steps and clenched his fists. He recognized that voice anywhere: it belonged to his annoyance of a younger brother. "What the hell is he doing here?" he growled inaudibly. His thoughts went to Reaper as he inwardly cursed the Ascended Latios for failing to inform him that his younger brother—an alternate version of him rather—was one of the many Pokemon Rangers stationed in Puel City. "Then again, that Latios couldn't have possibly known of my non-existent bond with Leon, could he?" Gulping down a calming breath, Kellyn mellowed down his expression of anger into one of complete indifference before he turned around to face one of the eyesores in his life.
Leon's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates as the primarily red-garbed superintendent's face came into view: he looked exactly like his brother. Even though his eyes were of a different colour and his hair was styled differently besides being dual-coloured, the facial features was simply too similar to be a coincidence. From the sharpness of his eyes to his overall youthful visage due to some lingering baby fat around his cheeks, they reminded Leon of his brother. The Latios/human hybrid was so enraptured by the guy's likeness to his brother that he did not notice the latter waving a hand in front of his face.
A smirk found its way across Kellyn's lips. "So he noticed the resemblance already, huh?" he pondered deviously as he snapped his fingers and jolted Leon out of his trance-like state. "I'll enjoy this."
"Ah, sorry about that," Leon apologized sheepishly. "I've been getting these sort of episodes a lot lately."
"Do you now?" Raising an eyebrow, Kellyn affixed Leon with a critical look and chided, "Such behaviour does not befit a self-respecting enforcer of the law. Get your act together."
"Boy, even his stiffness resembles Kellyn's," Leon thought in exasperation. "Uh, I guess but I really am trying to overcome this habit of mine." For some reason, he was glad that the brown-eyed young adult gave him a nod of approval.
"As you may already know, I am Superintendent Nero Sinclair," Kellyn introduced himself using one of his many pseudonyms.
Leon nodded at the introduction and reciprocated, "Nice to meet you. I am Corporal Leon of the Pokemon Ranger Corps." He duly stretched out his right arm for a handshake.
'Nero' stared at the outstretched hand before him. Instead of shaking it, he shifted his gaze to Leon and inquisitively queried, "Don't I warrant the knowledge of your surname since I have given you mine?"
His lips curved downward as he lowered his arm, disappointed that 'Nero' did not shake his hand. "I apologize...but that's confidential, I'm afraid."
"Right, confidential," 'Nero' uttered distastefully, putting emphasis on the latter word. "So what does a Pokemon Ranger want with a run-of-the-mill police officer such as myself?"
The aforementioned Pokemon Ranger did not think that a question that was both sarcastic and modest was even possible up until that point. Shoving down his new-found reservations about 'Nero,' Leon answered, "Well, I'm here to give you a rundown on the daily challenges the PPD and PRC are facing in this town—I mean, city as per my superior's orders."
'Nero' snorted and turned away from Leon. "No thanks," he rejected Leon's offer. "I have no interest in someone who feels as though he is being forced into a position such as yours. You don't have to trouble yourself." He began to distance himself from Leon, only to stop when the latter reached out and clasped his shoulder.
"Wait, just hear me out," Leon requested in a pleading tone. "I'm sorry if you assumed that I was forced to do this…but I truly want to be of help to you." He awaited a response, yet 'Nero' remained silent. Seeking to convince him further, Leon continued, "I don't blame you for thinking lowly of us Pokemon Rangers. After the majority of us betrayed the public's trust and deserted them during their time of need, I think your disgust with the PRC is justified." The Latios/human hybrid released his grip on Kellyn's shoulder as his voice became naught but a mere whisper. "To tell you the truth, I'm starting to have doubts about the whole thing, you know, about remaining in the PRC. I…don't even know why I stayed on but I guess it's because there's still some genuinely good people left in the organization and I really want to help them regain the public's trust and change how the PRC handles things. I can't say if we can really get back those golden years…and maybe the PRC really is a lost cause…but I want to at least try. There's a chance that things may not work out but as long as I tried my best, then failure is irrelevant. After all, the PRC is just another organization, right? So please, help me feel as though I've contributed at least something to their cause."
Despite Leon conveying an emotional performance, the sob story had little to no effect on 'Nero.' In his opinion, 'Nero' felt that Leon only had himself to blame for thinking that becoming a Pokemon Ranger would be all sugar and rainbows. Nevertheless, 'Nero' decided to mellow down his coldness towards Leon, if only to save him the trouble of wasting time gathering information about the situation in Puel City. "Fine," he accepted Leon's plea, "but I'll listen to what you have to say over a cup of hot cocoa."
Leon tilted his head in puzzlement. "Don't you mean 'coffee?'" he corrected 'Nero.'
"No," the 'superintendent' affirmed. "For some unexplainable reason, coffee does not agree with my stomach acids. Know any good cocoa shops around here?" He actually knew that there was only one cocoa shop in the commercial district but he was not sure whether it was still standing or not.
"Well, there is—"
"So it's still standing then." 'Nero' released a sigh of relief and happily thought, "I really need a cup of Grandpa Alex's hot cocoa."
"—one but…" Leon became tight-lipped all of a sudden.
Noticing this, 'Nero' prodded, "But what? Has the owner of the shop passed away or something?" Inwardly, he was praying that it was not true.
The Pokemon Ranger looked away from 'Nero' for some reason. "I think," he began hesitantly, "it's better that I just show you."
A few moments later, 'Nero' completely understood Leon's discomfort on the subject.
"Welcome to Grandpa Alex and Bo's Cocoa Shop," a small boy with noticeable tear-stained cheeks greeted 'Nero' and Leon sombrely. "What will you be having?"
It was tough for 'Nero' to not feel bad for the boy who he guessed to be Bo, Grandpa Alex's grandson. He shot Leon a look of contempt which only made the Latios/human hybrid look guiltier than he already was. Focusing back on the youth, 'Nero' kindly ordered, "I would like to have a Grandpa Alex's Special Hot Chocolate please."
"Coming right up," Bo replied with a sad smile. The smile all but evaporated as he set his sights on Leon. His lips were stretched into a thin line, giving his two customers the impression that he was undecided on how to act towards the Pokemon Ranger. He ultimately settled on a neutral-sounding "And what about you, Mr. Pokemon Ranger?"
Leon flinched at the way the boy addressed him. A toneless, almost mechanical-like voice was very unnatural for a boy of his age and did not suit him at all. Leon mildly told him, "I'll…have the same thing he's having."
"Done" was the deadpan response Leon received.
'Nero' took a chance to scan the interior of the shop while he waited for their drinks to be prepared. It was just a small circular shop with half of it being the counter while the other half was the workplace. The colouration of the shop was mostly silver and brown and a sign fixed atop it depicted both Grandpa Alex and his grandson's faces above the name of the shop. Interestingly, the shop seemed relatively undamaged compared to the rest of the commercial district.
"Two Grandpa Alex's Special Hot Chocolate up," Bo informed the duo as he sprinkled some marshmallows and inserted a cylindrical-shaped, chocolate-coated wafer biscuit into each of the frothy drinks. "You guys are my first customers of the day so it's on the house."
"First customers?" Leon echoed worryingly as he looked at the Sun: it was already setting. "Are you sure? I mean, both of us don't really mind paying."
He loathed agreeing with Leon, but 'Nero' truly felt sorry for Bo and voiced his willingness to pay for his drink as well.
Bo shook his head. "No, that's okay," he convinced them firmly. "It is…was Grandpa Alex's policy ever since he opened this shop." The boy sniffled as the thought of his dead grandfather made fresh tears leak out of his eyes. Hastily spinning on his heel and wiping them away with the sleeve of his shirt, he choked out, "I…really don't wanna change anything even though I've fallen on hard times. If I did, then I'll…sully Grandpa Alex's memory." Taking a couple of deep breaths, he decided to take his mind off his deceased relative by cleaning up the shop's workplace.
The 'superintendent' gave Bo a sad glance before he took a sip of his hot cocoa. While the sweet taste of hot cocoa would normally make him grin from ear to ear, the sight of a young boy crying for his dead relative made it taste extremely bland. Placing the cup back on the saucer provided to him, he swivelled his stool 90 degrees about its vertical axis to face Leon.
"You were saying, Corporal Leon?"
"Pardon?" The utter sweetness of his drink clearly had made him forget about why he sought out 'Nero' in the first place.
'Nero' sighed vehemently as he reminded Leon, "You said, and I quote, "Well, I'm here to give you a rundown on the daily challenges the PPD and PRC are facing in this town—I mean, city as per my superior's orders.'"
"Oh, right," he muttered sheepishly. He washed down the wafer biscuit with a couple sips of his hot cocoa before he began, "Hmm, where do I start? Alright then, Puel City is mainly divided into four main districts—the financial district, the residential district, the commercial district and the industrial district. The former two are classified as green zones where people live in normalcy and free of fear of being infected or corrupted by Phazon particles in the air. The commercial district is the yellow zone of the city. This district is heavily monitored by the PRC since there is the threat of infection but no cases have been recorded thus far. As a precaution, we've relocated the people living here to sterilized camps to reduce the risk of infection."
"If this district really is a yellow zone," 'Nero' uttered in a curious tone, "then how come this place is not completely devoid of people?" He added, "Most of the ones I passed by looked as though they don't give a damn about this section of the city being designated as a yellow zone."
Leon pursed his lips and tiresomely respired, "It's primarily because they'd be giving up their livelihoods. The commercial district has provided the permanent residents here with a steady flow of income to support their families and households even before you and I are born. They do not wish to break from their routine despite the inevitable losses they'd incur and the risk of infection. Secondarily, well, they just are unwilling to put their lives in the hands of the PRC again."
"Seems the folks here are rather spiteful," the brown-eyed 'superintendent' casually commented.
"I don't blame them," Leon muttered. "We promised to protect them but at the end of the day, we only contributed to the loss of many husbands, wives, sons and daughters." He paused and took a huge gulp of his hot cocoa, its steaming hotness having little to no effect on him. "Anyway, the industrial district is a red zone. Our base of operations is located just on the outskirts of that district since Ranger operations are heavily concentrated there. Corrupted humans and Pokemon roam the place and we're currently locked in combat with them. It's beginning to take its toll on us since they just keep on coming no matter how many we kill. Our scouts have reported sightings of a full-blooded Phaazean there which would explain the never-ending waves of Corrupted. As this is the case, we're planning a major operation soon to seek it out and destroy it before its influence could spread to the other zones."
'Nero' was only half-listening after Leon mentioned the presence of a Phaazean in the city. "Could this be the Phaazean that Reaper was assigned to take out?" he wondered. "No, it can't be that simple. He strikes me as a lone wolf. There's no way he'd allow anyone, even his allies, to interfere in his tasks."
"Ah, sorry," Leon said apologetically, unaware that 'Nero' was immersed deep in his own thoughts. "I have to take this."
The 'superintendent' effortlessly blinked back to reality and gave Leon the green light. He watched intently as Leon conversed with someone via codec; 'Nero' guessed that it was probably the superior officer that ordered Leon to seek him out who was on the other line.
"I'm afraid that I have to cut this meeting short," Leon informed 'Nero,' once again in an apologetic tone, as he severed the communication link. "That was my superior. He's calling us to the base of operations to discuss the major operation I just told you about."
"It's fine," 'Nero' dismissed Leon's apology with a wave of his hand. "When duty calls, duty calls." He wordlessly stretched out his arm. "I appreciate the info you've shared with me. Though my time here is limited, I look forward to working with you."
Leon gasped slightly as he was not expecting the gesture from 'Nero.' Recovering his composure, he accepted the offer of a handshake with a smile. "Superintendent Sinclair."
'Nero' smiled slightly in return. "Corporal Leon."
Giving him one last nod, Leon stood up from his seat and went on his way.
Kellyn silently observed Leon's form getting further and further away until it was nothing but a speck in the distance. Once he was completely out of sight, Kellyn released a heavy sigh of relief. He honestly did not expect himself to exercise that much self-control. Had Leon remained in his presence a second longer though, Kellyn was positive that he would have snapped and put a bullet in between the former's eyes.
"Excuse me," Bo suddenly spoke up in a meek tone.
The older of the duo swivelled his stool around so that Bo's entered his line of sight. With Leon gone, he could now focus his full attention on the young proprietor of the cocoa shop as he took in his appearance. Bo was a rather small-sized boy with brown eyes that radiated sadness and unkempt black hair. He wore a brown shirt with rolled-up sleeves under an orange vest, brown pants, a pair of reddish orange sneakers and an orange Haxorus-themed cap.
"What is it?" Kellyn prodded him gently.
"Um," Bo intoned hesitantly, "I don't mean to accuse you of anything…but why were you faking it?"
"Faking it?" Kellyn pondered aloud. "Elaborate if you please."
Bo found the ground more interesting to observe. "I…felt it. Your anger…and hatred towards that Pokemon Ranger. Your true feelings…were so scary." His small body began to tremble. "They made me extremely nervous. I—I wanted to get away b-but I couldn't. It was choking me…and I really felt as though I was going to die."
Kellyn instantly knew what he was dealing with in Bo. The latter sensed his innermost feelings despite him burying them deep within his soul and they had an extremely powerful effect on him, proving his heightened sensitivity towards emotions—Bo was an empath. The Top Ranger immediately reached out and placed a hand atop Bo's head. He then thought of positive feelings, and Bo's trembling gradually subsided.
The orange-garbed youth stared up at Kellyn with something akin to gratefulness in his eyes. "T-that felt…wonderful," he whispered in awe. "Thank you…so much."
"Anytime," Kellyn replied as he patted the younger boy's head, smiling at the blush that adorned the boy's cheeks.
"Hehe," Bo giggled in cute manner. His blush intensifying, the boy repeatedly poked the tips of his index fingers together as he mumbled out a request. "C-can you do me a favour?"
The Top Ranger propped an elbow on the counter and rested his head on his palm. "If it is within my power," he teased the younger boy. "Name it."
Bo's breathing pattern quickened slightly as he stutteringly asked, "C-can y-you stop by a-again t-tomorrow i-if you have the time?" With pleading eyes, he explained, "I…want to feel them again—your emotions, I mean."
Kellyn sent a soft smile the boy's way as he nodded. "Sure, an enforcer of the law should always make time for a needy citizen."
"Huh, really?!" Bo exclaimed in excitement. "T-thank you! I can't wait!"
"Likewise." Kellyn then suggested, "How's nine o'clock sound?"
Bo nodded vigorously. "That's great!" he agreed happily. Tilting his head, he then queried Kellyn, "Hey, do you have a place to stay?" Without awaiting a response from the older boy, he tore off a piece of paper from his book of debt and scribbled something on it before he held it out towards Kellyn. "Try this place. I'm sure it has a room with your name on it."
Kellyn chuckled mirthfully. "And what makes you think that?" he playfully riposted as he accepted the piece of paper.
For the first time in a while, Bo's lips stretched out into a genuine smile. "You calmed me down with those beautiful feelings of yours," he said. "A good deed never goes unrewarded."
"I'm flattered that you think of them as such," the red-garbed young adult admitted. He stood up and dusted himself off. "Get home safe, alright?"
"I will," Bo responded chirpily. "See you then!"
Giving Bo a backwards wave, Kellyn opened up the piece of paper Bo had given him. "Incarvillea Café, huh?" he mused. "Well, haven't been there in a while."
Keith drove upon a futuristic-looking motorbike towards a medium-sized structure. He got off and removed his helmet and motorcycle gloves, placing the hand-covering garments into the helmet and swinging the protective headgear over his right shoulder. He proceeded to walk inside to see the café was somewhat empty.
"I'm sorry for imposing on you."
"It's no trouble at all. It's better than letting the room gather dust."
The light brunet paused in mid-step and turned to a table. There, sitting on two chairs, were two figures. The first was easily identifiable as his mother but the other one caught his interest. The male human, whom he deduced to be around twenty years of age, was donned in a black shirt under a red leather jacket and a pair of red leather pants. The most curious aspect of the guy in Keith's opinion was the dual-coloured hair. He first thought it to be dye-job gone wrong, but straightaway realized that the colours were natural.
"Oh, welcome home, Keith," the apron-wearing woman greeted him. "How's the photography coming along?"
"A bit difficult, Mom," Keith replied. He turned his attention to the unknown figure. "And who might this be?"
Keith's mother suddenly remembered of her guest's presence in the room. "Oh," she gasped in a sheepish manner. "I've almost forgotten about our guest. Keith, this is Nero Sinclair. He'll be staying in the spare room upstairs throughout his week-long stay here."
"What business does he have here?"
'Nero' chose that moment to speak up. "I'm a superintendent," he told Keith. "I'm only here on a temporary basis. Nice to meet you."
Save for giving the red-garbed individual a subtle smirk, Keith ignored him in favour of his mother. "I'll be in my room," he said. "I need to develop some film."
Both the middle-aged woman and 'Nero' watched Keith disappear down the stairs.
"Well, he seems like a big ray of sunshine," 'Nero' remarked sarcastically.
"He always will be to me," Keith's mother defended her son. "Though, I will admit that he has changed after he chose to switch professions. I support his decision whole-heartedly, but I can't help but wonder what made him have a change of heart. I mean, being a Pokemon Ranger was his passion."
"People change, ma'am," her guest stated. "Nothing you can do but take it all in stride."
She agreed with him. "True, true."
"Cleanse…corrupt…Phaazean…," Keith whispered to himself as he set his helmet down onto the bed. He then walked into an adjacent room and flipped a switch on. On cue, the room flashed red, making it suitable for picture development. He gazed down at his reflection in the basin of water. For a split second, the reflection changed into a humanoid, blue and white armoured figure.
"Hmph, enjoy whatever time you have left." His reflection turned back to normal but his irises now shined an icy-blue. "Your essence…is forfeit."
In case you guys are curious about the choice of his pseudonym, Kellyn means 'powerful' in Irish whereas Nero is its Latin equivalent.
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See you guys next chapter.