MONSTERS IN PARADISE
By: Curtis Wildcat
Pokémon and the Touhou Project are the properties of their respective owners and copyright holders.
Apologies for the delay, but my work, my writer's block and my chronic tiredness take priority over actual writing. Night owls and 40-hour work weeks don't mix, people!
"Cat's House", by the Rireba doujin circle, has recently become much harder for me to read. You'll understand why at the bottom of the page.
Find the Prince of Tennis reference and go microwave a chimichanga.
The playground that Amber led Yukari to for their battle was four blocks north and another two west from the library, and possessed all the equipment that was expected of such. One corner of the playground had a moderately-sized sandlot for softball games, and just beyond the edge of the outfield was a designated battle field; past that a chain-link fence and a stream, the latter no more than a meter and a half wide, bordered the edge of the playground. With school still in session, only a jogger and his two Mightyenas were present when the group arrived, and it didn't take long for them to finish their exercise anyway.
Amber had taken note of Yukari's anger as they walked, counting herself fortunate that the other woman had wanted to vent her frustrations in a Pokémon battle instead of outright clocking her in the face. Now that she wasn't overcome with a righteous fury, she was able to consider Yukari's physical strength; if she'd wanted, she could've broken Amber's pin- - -and more- - -easily. When Amber was keeping her arms restrained, the back of her mind had discovered that for all of Yukari's laziness and dislike of work, there were some serious muscles hidden behind that soft and flimsy exterior. Extraordinarily serious muscles.
I'm no bodybuilder, she thought as they entered the park, but even I know that's unnatural. When a person just lays around all day, every day and doesn't put his or her energy to work, it becomes evident to all before long. Flabbiness, shortness of breath, an unwillingness to travel, and weakness all around compared to the average person...
So, then... Amber took up a position at one end of the field, eyes focused on Yukari but her mind not following suit. Nearby, Ellen and that blind girl who'd been following them sat down on a park bench to watch the proceedings. ...'Youkai', huh? An unfamiliar term for an unfamiliar woman. Some research is in order, I feel. Is 'youkai' another synonym for 'monster'? What secrets is she hiding? Will she be willing to tell me? She remembered the discarded book that had been left behind when Yukari had gone upstairs, having glimpsed it on her way out the library. And why are Dialga and Palkia so important to her? She said she was researching legendary Pokémon, but why is she doing that?
...Well, I guess there's only one way to safely determine whether she's truthful about everything. People can talk about things all they want, but it's their actions that show what they really believe. Amber glared out at Yukari. But first, I have just the Pokémon to give her a workout- - -...huh?
Yukari, slouching just a little where she was standing, drowsily stared out at nothing with her eyes half-closed. Images of the sea, bright white buildings, baklava, and pelicans danced through her head.
Amber snarled, whipped a paperback novel out of her pocket and winged it at Yukari across the field. "Hey, don't fall asleep when I'm thinking about you, blast it!"
The book caught Yukari right between the eyes, jolting her awake. "Ow... I'm up, I'm up," she grumbled, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "What time is it?"
"Time to wake up and smell the drubbing!" Amber yelled, pointing a finger at her. A black-marked Poké Ball on her person opened, and an elegant Liepard emerged from it. "Freshly brewed with two cream and sugars, just the way you like it!"
"I prefer the green tea of victory, thank you," Yukari retorted, straightening; her anxious Ninetales took this as a signal to follow Liepard's lead and appear on the field. "Your fare does not suit my tastes. How about a meal at Cafe Yakumo? Would you like to make a reservation?"
"I already have a reservation, and it's about your cooking! You won't get any glowing reviews from me, woman!"
"I have no respect for critics who won't touch the food they're offered," Yukari warned. "Eat up or shut up."
"Put a lid on it before you boil," Amber shot back. "Like it or not, humble pie's on the menu today."
"We may as well cook your goose to go along with it. I understand rump roasts have become popular in Hoenn."
As the two of them volleyed boasts and insults, the two kids turned to each other. "So," Merril deadpanned to Ellen, "how much do you want to bet that it'll take at least another ten minutes and a commercial break before either of them call out an actual attack?"
"...It's not a bet if we both agree," the book-lover told her, scrawling something in a little notepad. "Nothing ever gets accomplished when she's reduced to this."
"Don't I believe it." Merril gave both Pokémon a once-over. "Huh. Never seen that- - -"
"...It's a Liepard," Ellen interrupted, still writing. "Native to both the Unova and Kalos regions, but more commonly seen in the former. Dark-type. Has a bad reputation as a deceiver and thief."
A few blinks. "Oh. ...Well, um... thanks. So... you from Unova?"
"...Mom is." Ellen closed her notepad. "...I used to hear a lot of bedtime stories. Maybe I'll tell them to you sometime."
Merril took another look at the field. Yukari and Amber were still arguing, and looked as if they were going to keep this up for a while. Even when Ellen got up to retrieve her mother's thrown book, Yukari didn't take notice of her presence.
Meanwhile, both Pokémon had grown bored with the whole affair. Liepard was sitting on its haunches and was in the middle of grooming one of its forepaws, whereas Ninetales had rolled onto its back and was swatting imaginary insects out of the air. Merril's eyes flicked between all four figures once, then again...
And suddenly, she decided she'd had enough. "Oi, nutters!" Merril shouted, successfully getting everyone's attention. "The Pokémon are awaiting their trainers' directions!"
Everyone was silent for several long moments, staring at each other and at Merril. After a few more seconds, Yukari sighed; her features settled into a pout. "And here it was so enjoyable matching wits with Amber. You children are no fun at all." She gestured, and Midori sprang to her feet.
"'Enjoyable'? I had you on the ropes, and you know it." Amber clapped her hands once; Liepard heard that signal and raised itself off the ground, ready to battle. "So. Ladies first?"
Yukari smiled. "Certainly. Midori- - -"
"Liepard, Assist!" Amber declared, cutting her off.
As the cat Pokémon purred an affirmative and glowed with a soft blue light, the smile gained a sweatdrop for a companion. 'Ladies' first, huh? Is chopped liver all I am to you?
The light faded, and Liepard raised its head into the air and yowled for as long and loud as it could. Yukari's eyes narrowed as she saw the dark-type's lithe form become the slightest bit muscular. If memory serves, it can use moves at random from amongst her entire team... "Midori, Heat Wave."
Amber had probably been expecting a Flamethrower. What billowed from Midori's mouth was instead an intense eruption of red-hot air, covering a wider area. "Out of the way!" the woman ordered, throwing up her arms to shield her face.
Liepard bounded into the air, just skimming the edge of the Heat Wave with nary a wince. A snarling grunt told the Pokémon that the Wave had caught its trainer instead, but as long as most of her skin was covered she ought to be alright. Hearing Amber's yell of "Shadow Claw!", Liepard dropped to the ground just behind the end of the air burst and sprang at Midori, a dark gray aura manifesting around one of its forepaws and lengthening its reach.
Liepard's Shadow Claw slashed at its target... which wavered and dissolved into thin air. Upon landing, it surveyed the immediate vicinity in confusion: arrayed in a semi-circle around it were five Ninetales, each one a perfect copy of the original. At first glance, it would be impossible to tell which one, if any, was the real one.
Yukari smiled. "Heat Wave."
Amber's order to go evasive didn't come in time, and at close range Liepard took the attack's full force. The cat grimaced and growled, enduring the hot air until Midori's exhalation ran its course; seeing it still standing- - -and grinning toothily- - -irked Yukari a little. Much higher level than I anticipated. They've been together a while, I'd wager.
"Night Slash them all, Liepard!"
Liepard turned and swiped at the nearest two illusions, its claws a blur of black and purple. Not waiting for the illusions to finish dissipating, it immediately gathered its feet beneath it and sprang to the left, claws in position- - -...
"Niii- - -?!"
...and made contact with Midori's flank, dissolving the last illusion in so doing and slinging the Ninetales near the field's indicated boundary.
A cackle from one of the bench warmers. "BAM!" Merril crowed, pumping a fist and eliciting a disapproving stare from Ellen.
Yukari winced as her Pokémon landed; her vision had caught each movement that Liepard made, but it had moved too quickly for Midori to cancel the Double Team and move out of the way. "Are you still able to fight, Midori?"
A sharp bark. "Nine!"
Yukari nodded as Midori got its feet beneath it and stood up. The Ninetales was hurt, and getting tired, but the drive to battle still burned in its eyes. "That's my girl."
Amber didn't waste time commenting on the fox Pokémon's determination, probably having seen it enough times in similar opponents to consider it old hat. "Liepard, Assist!"
The dark cat again glowed softly, and a few moments later it lunged at Midori with its mouth wide open; whether it was a Bite or a Crunch attack, Yukari wasn't sure. Didn't matter much in the long run, though. "Heat Wave."
Midori complied and opened its own mouth. Bits and pieces of yellow and green energy appeared inside, expanding rapidly- - -...
Yukari did a double-take. Hold the phone...!
Liepard's fangs never reached their target, instead charging directly into a vaguely spherical Energy Ball. This time it was the dark-type's turn to be thrown across the battlefield, although it caught itself and came screeching to a stop on its feet. "Paaaard," it hissed, its pointed tail twitching.
Merril whistled in admiration. "Such energy!"
"..." Ellen stared at her new friend for a moment. "...Please don't do that."
If Amber was surprised, she didn't show it. "You ask for a Heat Wave, and you get an Energy Ball. I wish springtime cooperated like that," she joked.
Well, there's some flashbacks. "Don't we all? Will O Wisp, Midori," Yukari ordered.
The Ninetales whined, but reluctantly nodded and focused. Fist-sized purple fireballs blazed to life around her, circled for a few seconds, then broke off one by one and flew in an arc towards their target.
None of them got there. Following through on another Shadow Claw command, Liepard happily swatted each fireball out of the air, its speed and reflexes outpacing the Will O Wisp easily. Reduced to ribbons, the flames fizzled out before they hit the ground.
Yukari aimed to capitalize on Liepard's preoccupation. Let's try again. "Heat Wave this time, please."
The furnace-like exhalation from Midori's mouth caught her opponent squarely. Liepard grimaced and snarled, its head bent low to the ground- - -...
"I'm afraid you still have a ways to go."
- - -...and slowly stood up straighter, bearing the Heat Wave with an almost regal disposition; it felt the obnoxious temperatures, but refused to react to them. Amber's matter-of-fact comment had been directed at the opposing team, not at the Liepard, but the cat Pokémon regardless took it as a signal to show that it would not back down before this experience-less upstart. Its action surprised Midori enough that she cut short her attack by several seconds, 'nine'ing an inquiry.
One problem with that action: Liepard would only answer that inquiry with its claws, and both participants knew it. Sure enough, on Amber's orders, it came rushing in quickly enough that it seemed to be a barely visible blur.
"Evade- - -!"
Yukari's hasty command did not come soon enough; even as Midori's muscles tensed, Liepard was already upon her.
"Niii- - -!"
One set of claws flashed in, disrupting Midori's jump before it began with a Night Slash and causing her to stagger- - -...
...- - -followed closely by another, this one with the express intent to end the match decisively. Midori took the attack in its entirety with a pained bark- - -...
...- - -and was blasted straight at the fence that bordered the battlefield, slamming into the links and making them ripple all along its length before she fell to the ground; Yukari flinched as she turned, seeing the impact. Liepard settled down warily, its forepaws their normal coloring once more.
"...So, is it over?" Ellen asked softly.
Merril shook her head. "Not until the fish jumps."
Midori struggled to get to her feet, whining, but her willpower gave out and she collapsed in a faint. A passing Goldeen chose that moment to splash about in the stream nearby, scattering water in all directions.
The technophile nodded decisively. "It's over."
Yukari regarded the dazed Midori and the victorious Liepard, itself breathing heavier than normal, with a conflicted expression. Clearing it, she nodded and raised Ninetales' Poké Ball. "Return and sleep for a bit, Midori," she said as the Pokémon disappeared in a dim flash of red light. "We can talk later."
Across the way, Amber stooped down to congratulate Liepard; the dark cat purred and nuzzled the side of its trainer's face, pleased at a job well done. There was a fair bit of wincing as they celebrated, as both trainer and Pokémon had to deal with a tremendous amount of heat being thrown around; the air was cooling down quickly, though, and they along with it. Still, a visit to the Pokémon Center later would be in order...
Hearing footsteps, the both of them looked up to see the kids and Yukari stop a few meters away. "So," Amber spoke. "Did you work off that anger?"
Yukari considered this. "About as much as I could, considering the situation I'm in."
A nod. "For what it's worth, Yakumo, I really am sorry for attacking you unprovoked. It's just- - -"
"Were I in your situation, I would've done something similar, I assure you," Yukari said, waving it off. "You probably could've taken action through less violent means, but under the circumstances I can let it slide. It's not entirely your fault." If her childhood had been a normal one, Ellen would be out traveling by now. That source of worry would've been long gone.
Amber gave Liepard one last pat and stood up, recalling it. "So," she repeated. "What happens next?"
"Well, first I've got to get Midori over to the Pokémon Center..." Yukari paused, concealing a yawn behind a fan. "Then I've got to get some shut-eye. I was feeling tired even before I was ambushed."
"I meant as far as your mission is concerned. Don't think I didn't see you reading about Sinnoh's legends earlier."
Yukari would've reclined against a gap if one had been available to her. She settled for smiling in such a way that Merril and Ellen shivered at seeing it. "I've determined my destination, Mrs. Harrison. Sinnoh's own Mt. Coronet awaits me. I have a few words to say to Dialga and Palkia for endangering my home and depriving me of my beauty sleep."
Ellen had heard her mention this once already, but that tone of voice she'd used... it almost made her pity anyone idiotic enough to get in the woman's way. "... ...If anyone else were saying that," she intoned, echoing the others' silent sentiments, "I'd ask if they were a few cards short of a blackjack."
"I'll be checking through that book one more time to see if I missed anything," Yukari continued, "but for now everything seems clear-cut. ..." She frowned. "Or that's what I'd like to say. I'm ready to go, but Midori sure isn't."
"That goes without saying." Amber rested one hand on her hip. "If someone like me, who hasn't battled seriously in more than a decade, could take you in a Pokémon fight, Mt. Coronet would swallow you whole. I wouldn't suggest travelling there without either a full team or some strong trainers backing you up."
Yukari's eyes narrowed. "I don't have time to collect and raise a full team of six. It would take me months or even years to bring them up to an adequate level. It's imperative that I finish this job as soon as I can. Recruitment seems like a better alternative."
She wasn't sure if the kids had noticed Amber's brief uneasiness before she got her answer. "Perhaps. Of course, that doesn't mean that you can neglect your Ninetales..."
"Wouldn't dream of it. Is there a place where I can sleep?"
Amber considered this for a few moments, then gave Yukari a few PokéDollars out of her pocket. "The Pokémon Center ought to do just fine. It's no high-class hotel, but they'll let unregistered trainers sleep there for a fee. Just don't make a habit of it."
"'Tis all I needed to know. Talk to you later." Yukari turned away and strolled off, nodding at the kids as she went.
"Hey, lady. Are you still with us?"
Amber stared out at Yukari as the youkai left the park, her thoughts and expression as conflicted as her opponent's had been; she barely heard her child and new acquaintance try to get her attention. When she finally spoke, her voice was heavier than Ellen was used to hearing from her. "Ellen, be a dear and call your father when we return, would you? Let him know that we'll be having some company for dinner tonight."
Her daughter's typical delay allowed Merril to beat her to the punch. "Why couldn't you just do it yourself?"
Amber walked away from them, exiting the park and not responding to their inquiries; the kids gave each other a quick look, then hurried after her.
Halfway back to the library, both kids jumped in surprise at a sharp sound. Merril looked around her, unsure of the source, but Ellen immediately focused her eyes on her mother. Though she was curious enough to wonder why Amber felt the need to crack her knuckles, she suppressed that curiosity and kept quiet.
As soon as she was sure that no one was listening, including the Chansey assistants, Rustboro's resident Nurse Joy released an irritated sigh. Sure, she could have gotten away with it if the others in the room were close enough to hear it, but she had an image of serenity and kindness to maintain.
Sitting back down behind the front counter and leaving the assistants to do their work, Joy looked over at the source of her irritation. The woman had turned over her Pokémon for a checkup and healing, handed over some money for the use of the Center's sleeping quarters, then hadn't even bothered to walk over there; she'd instead draped herself across a couch in the lobby and immediately zonked out. That quiet blowing noise Joy was hearing wasn't the heat vent; it was the woman's soft snoring.
A quiet jingle; another trainer's Pokémon were finished with their checkup. Joy had them out and ready to present to said trainer when he walked up to receive them. "Here you are," she told him happily, forgetting about Yukari. "All of them are perfectly healthy and fit to go."
The cloaked man nodded his thanks. "Do you know whether there are any strong trainers currently in Rustboro, aside from the gym leader?"
"Or to put it another way, 'How many trainers in town could push a Darkrai to its limits?'" Joy answered playfully.
The man closed his eyes for a moment. "You're not going to let me forget it, either."
"I mean no offense, Tobias," Joy hastily told him, not wanting to annoy anyone. "I caught most of the Sinnoh tournament on television." She sat down to update a few files on the computer. "But if you don't mind me asking, don't you feel that entering a tournament with legendary Pokémon in tow is rather unfair?"
"In my defense, I wasn't the only one." Tobias reclaimed his team as he spoke. "The Heatran in the atrium wasn't hard to spot."
"...That doesn't answer my question, though."
Tobias smirked. "I take it you missed the semi-finals, Nurse Joy?"
Joy frowned as she looked up at him. "Yes, I did. An emergency case arrived at the Center, and I had to see to it. Why? What happened?"
"Ever see a Latios and a Pikachu battle to a draw? It's quite the show."
To say that Joy was surprised was understating it. "A Latios and a what?!"
"I am completely serious, Joy." There was a hint of happiness and pride in the man's voice. "Why the media didn't give him a larger focus is beyond me." He gave a brief explanation, elaborating on how Darkrai and Latios were taken down.
"...Forgive me, Tobias," Joy spoke, surprise still coloring her voice, "but I find that rather difficult to believe."
The cloaked trainer shrugged, the motion barely visible. "They'll be re-airing the tournament on the local networks soon; you can see for yourself then." Again, his eyes closed for a moment. "Do you see my point, though? I have no regrets about overpowering everyone in my path, for if anyone deserves to be the Champion, it will be the person that can accomplish the impossible."
Joy wasn't sure whether he was referring to himself and the team he had collected, or to the trainer that had impressed him. Either way, she felt she understood things a little better. "That's a day to look forward to. Thank you for enlightening me."
Tobias accepted her thanks. "You're welcome. So, about that request I made...?"
Nurse and trainer turned towards the nearby couch. Yukari's head and left arm were visible over it, and Joy belatedly realized that she hadn't heard the woman snoring in the last few minutes. "Do you need something, Mrs. Yakumo?" she asked politely.
Yukari gazed at them both through a half-open left eye, her right eye unwilling to open for the moment. "Yes. I'd like a few minutes of his time... Tobias, is it? I have an inquiry to make regarding recent events in Sinnoh. You were there recently, yes?"
Joy and Tobias exchanged looks for a few seconds before the latter decided to humor her. "What is it you wanted to- - -"
"One more thing," Yukari interrupted, this time addressing Joy. "I've never married and never will marry. The next person who calls me 'Mrs. Yakumo' I'm going to smack, so help me."
The peaceful and good-natured Nurse Joy, who would be hard-pressed to remember a time when she'd ever thought badly about anyone, silently wondered if Yukari was deranged. It wouldn't have surprised her that Tobias was thinking along similar lines. Neither of them voiced their thoughts aloud, though, and it wouldn't be until much later that they would figure out the truth behind Yukari's strange behavior.
The rest of the day passed by swiftly. Amber bustled around the library, keeping busy and continually checking up on Ellen and the blind child- - -'Merril', she reminded herself. All the while, multiple scenarios checked in at her brain's front desk for their appointments. After Yukari returned to the library a few hours later (and was immediately distracted by Merril), Amber slipped away and hustled off to the Pokémon Center to follow through on a plan that met with her approval; she was back quickly enough that only a few people realized that she was even gone.
Yukari too was planning, answering on auto-pilot Merril's questions about her time in Hoenn. There was so much to accomplish before she reached her final destination, and not enough time in which to do it...
Midori had to become strong enough to assist her, and at the same time Yukari had to hurry before it became too cold. Sinnoh was known for being less than temperate a fair chunk of the year, especially in the north, and being there for too long this late in the year would likely trigger her subconscious urge to hibernate; she could resist it, like she did in order to launch her "attack" on the Lunar Capital years before, but doing so would be... troublesome. Trekking over and through Mt. Coronet could be disastrous unless she was prepared for it.
And Yukari was nothing if not excellent at preparation.
Before they realized it, it was time to close the library for the day. Yukari started to inquire about a list of restaurants, but was sharply interrupted by Amber's declaration that she and Merril would be spending the rest of the evening at her house. When she asked why, she was told only that no one wanted her to bike anywhere else, for fear that she'd cause a tidal wave clear out at Sootopolis. She shook her head at that, but followed Amber to her house in Rustboro's residential section.
Honestly. You take one bike ride, and suddenly you're a pariah. I knew I should've flown.
The meeting between Yukari and Amber's husband, a well-muscled security guard who worked the morning shift at the Devon Corporation, was short and polite; immediately thereafter, the overseer glimpsed a Swampert and a Raichu relaxing in the back yard, and when she inquired about it he confirmed that they were his. Yukari wondered if perhaps Raichu would object to a Pokémon battle and considered asking the man for one, but eventually decided that Midori needed more training first. If Amber's Liepard was any indication...
It didn't stop her from letting Midori play with them while the meal was in progress, though, and it looked like the Ninetales was having fun being chased by Raichu around the yard. That left Yukari free to focus on certain... other things.
Yukari was a trifle surprised when she found that dinner that evening was comprised of hot dogs, potato salad and small bowls of wonton soup, a reaction that was mirrored on Merril's horrified face. Even taking into account the family's mixed origins, it didn't raise any pleasant thoughts about where the hot dogs came from.
Seeing their surprise, Amber had chuckled and explained to them that no Pokémon was involved in their creation. "That would imply that people couldn't tell the difference between a Miltank and your standard bovine," she had said. "The markets are required by the League to make it known that no Pokémon were harmed, and kids are taught to differentiate between them and our food sources for their own safety." She reached over and patted her husband's arm as he flexed it. "You can't get this strong on a vegeterian diet alone, dears, and berries can only do so much."
...Don't question it, Yukari. Don't question it. Just smile, nod, and eat the food. Don't ask any embarrassing questions.
Thankfully, Merril had just enough good sense to follow her lead.
While they were eating, Yukari noticed that Amber seemed a bit nervous about something or other. Her husband noticed her behavior, but chose not to comment on it; this told the overseer that he already knew what was going on. She considered asking Amber about it, but decided that if it was deemed important, the librarian would broach the topic herself- - -...
"Oh, to blazes with it. I can't take this waiting anymore," Amber snapped suddenly, standing up and getting everyone's attention. "There's something I have to say. Yakumo, I've decided that I don't trust you enough to wander off to Sinnoh on your own. I'll be going along as your chaperone, and I will not take 'no' for an answer."
The room was completely silent for three long seconds.
"Beat," Merril uttered softly.
"...Did you just say what I thought you said?" Ellen asked her mother, the spoon she was using almost falling from her hand.
"Every word of it, Ellen. I'm not leaving her to wander around and cause trouble. Can you think of anyone else qualified to keep her in line?"
Another short silence.
Yukari looked pleased, but the lone sweatdrop on her temple betrayed her unease. "Should I be happy to know that I have your support, Mrs. Harrison?"
"Happiness doesn't factor into this." The gray-skinned woman paced back and forth a bit as she spoke. "You're heading right for disaster, and you're treating this like a softball game. I don't care how calm you are about it all. This is one big warning sign, and I'm going to make sure it's shut off."
Merril took a long sip of her tea and looked up at the ceiling for a moment. "Beat."
Yukari's eyes bored into Amber's. "So you're serious about this, then. But what about your family? How do they feel about this?"
"...Yes," Ellen softly murmured. "...How do we feel about this?"
"Amber and I have already talked about it," her father stated. "While I don't like how she decided to leave on the spur of the moment, we both agreed that you're better off not going solo. It's better this way, both for you and for Hoenn."
A raised eyebrow. "Me I understand, but for Hoenn?"
"It beats being labeled a natural disaster, doesn't it?"
"...I'm starting to get the feeling that none of you have any confidence in me," Yukari commented dryly, finishing her hot dog.
Merril giggled at this. "And you're just getting that now?"
Yukari sighed and shook her head. "You'd think they'd never seen an evil bicycle before."
"Inanimate objects are not evil," Amber objected. "They don't have the capacity for it."
"I wouldn't be too sure, now..."
While the conversation swung off the 'serious' route and onto the 'ridiciulous' route, Yukari kept one eye on Ellen. Throughout the discussion, the girl's lips occasionally twitched as if she wanted to say something. When both parties ran out of things to talk about, Ellen opened her mouth to speak...
...but nothing was said. She had an intense look on her face, and her breathing had picked up the tiniest bit... but she just could not bring herself to say the words that were on her mind, whatever they were. Yukari knew that Amber's announcement came out of nowhere, so it must've been a small shock for the girl; she probably wanted to lodge a protest, as it were.
Or maybe she wanted to come along...
No other expressions were forthcoming. The Harrison child was silent on those matters, instead making tracks for the back yard after finishing her meal. Yukari stared at Amber questioningly, receiving a soft sigh in response. "Don't worry. I'll talk to her before I go," the woman said.
"We both will," her husband added, giving Amber a quick look.
Yukari certainly hoped so. The less distractions she had before she got to Sinnoh, the better.
Night fell on Rustboro.
The time had come for all children, intellectuals or not, to get a good night's sleep. The stars twinkled in the sky outside the house. Merril, who was bunking in the boys' old bedroom, slept like a stone. Yukari too was asleep, utilizing a futon down in the living room; Ninetales had snuggled close to her before falling asleep herself.
Upstairs, sitting up in her bed and listening to her parents talk to her, Ellen couldn't close her eyes. She was still dwelling on Amber's intent to leave home...to leave her... to try to keep Yukari from causing some sort of calamity. Deep down she felt distressed and angry, but for all her knowledge she couldn't figure out how to safely express that anger; she wanted to say aloud that she wanted to be taken along, and got only that strange impulse to stay at home instead. She did manage to tell her parents that she was very... displeased by it all, but it still felt like something was eating away at her stomach.
"...Mother, are you sure there's no other way? Do you really have to go? ...Are you sure you can't get anyone else to keep tabs on her?"
Amber let a touch of the sadness she was feeling enter her voice. "Dear, there isn't anyone else. Roxanne has her duties to the Gym and to the school. Calico's not in the right state of mind for any sort of assignment. Any acquaintances we have that would be able to do this are either out of contact or have their own lives to experience. I'm the only one of any significant ability whose commitment to Rustboro is loose enough to allow for a vacation."
Ellen knew enough about her mother's traveling days to determine that "significant" wasn't enough to describe it. Before she married she'd claimed enough badges to partake in Unova's, Sinnoh's, and Hoenn's respective tournaments, finishing in at least the Top 16 in all three and winning in Unova's by the time she was 20. She had seen and done a great deal before she decided that she'd had enough, and her Pokémon were with her every step of the way.
It wasn't Amber's strength that worried her. It was something much more selfish, and yet entirely meaningful for any child that has ever experienced the happiness of living with a loving mom and dad: she didn't want to be left alone, to be without someone who had been a familiar presence all her life.
Ellen looked away from her parents' eyes. "...It isn't fair. Why is this happening? Why do you have to go and leave me here?"
"Why do you feel that you have to remain in Rustboro?" Amber softly returned. "What sort of connection do you have with the library?"
"...We've been over this before, mother. This isn't something I can express in words. It's just something that I feel I have to- - -..."
But as Ellen spoke, she realized that the reason she was giving Amber was the exact same one that her mother intended to give her. One of her hands gripped the edge of her blanket. "...That isn't very nice..."
"I'm not happy about her going either, Ellen," her father spoke. "But this is something she has to do. She may be able to prevent a complete disaster if she goes with Yukari, whether it's her doing or someone else's. Wouldn't it be thrilling to know, after the fact, that your mother saved the world? What child hasn't wanted to brag that his or her parents were heroes?"
Ellen's eyes narrowed just a bit, and her grip on the blanket tightened. "...She already is a hero," she murmured, almost too softly to hear. "...She's put up with me, little anti-social me, for a decade. She's given me everything I've asked for, and given me the things I didn't ask for but needed regardless... and now she's leaving to look after a nutcase?"
Amber reached out, a tear edging out the corner of her eye. "Please, Ellen," she whispered, drawing Ellen into a hug. "Please try to understand. And... please forgive me. I promise I'll be back as soon as I can."
"...Can I have that in writing?"
Both parents smiled weakly at that. "I don't know about any writing," Amber said as she let go, "but I could probably be convinced to procure a starter Pokémon for you. A Grass-type, even."
Ellen stared at her mother for about ten seconds before slowly nodding. "...I'm holding you to that, mother. But if you don't mind, I have one thing to ask of you before you go to bed."
"What is it, dear?"
"...Could you please sing to me?"
Amber blinked. "Ellen, aren't you a little old to be sung to sleep by your parents?"
Ellen's eyes stared out at absolutely nothing. "... ..."
Her father snorted in amusement and stood up, patting Ellen's shoulder before turning towards the door. "I'm going to bed, Ellen, Amber-chan. And dear, don't forget to give Swampert his vitamin supplements before you turn in."
"I won't forget," Amber promised. "Good-night, Ricky."
"...Good-night, father," Ellen said, her voice back to its normal volume.
"Good-night, you two."
Amber waited until Ricky shut the door behind him before sighing. "So you want me to sing you to sleep, huh? Sometimes you're an incorrigible child, you know that?"
Ellen rested her head against her pillow. "...I love you too, mother."
It was Amber's turn to give an amused snort. "I get the idea, Ellen. I get the idea. ...Alright. I have just the song, and it's one you know well. Open your ears and listen carefully, alright, little Deerling?"
Taking a deep breath and letting the words she wanted to sing come to the forefront, she began...
"Here I am, just an old soul here in the dusk, captivated by the gulls..."
Down in the living room, during the song's second loop, Yukari's eyes opened halfway. She listened carefully, not moving lest she disturb Midori, and let the lyrics roll across her mind.
"Here I am, just an old soul here in the dusk, captivated by the gulls."
Yukari could feel the sentiment in those words. She was no Keine Kamishirasawa, but for all that it was a simple lullaby, she thought she could get some inkling of the woman's history by listening to it. It showed a side of Amber that had barely been present during their prior interactions.
"Here I am, just an old soul here in the dusk, captivated by the gulls..."
Ellen's eyes were almost closed, and her breathing was becoming lighter and easier. Not that she had showed it to anyone other than her family, but from her perspective it had been an eventful day. Listening to her mother sing that short but wonderful song one last time before she left for who knows how long... she would miss it, she knew.
"Here I am, just an old soul here in the dusk, captivated by the gulls."
As her eyes fully shut and she started to drift off, Ellen promised herself- - -not for the first time, and probably not for the last- - -that she would finally leave Rustboro someday. A sea and an entire region away, the Bridge that her mother had once called home waited silently. Of all the places that Ellen longed to see in person, that place was at the top of the list; mere photographs would never be enough.
Yukari was contented and asleep by the time the last of the notes reached her ears. She already knew what she wanted to learn.
"What is it?"
"Are you feeling alright today? You're smiling, but it seems rather..."
"...Let's just say, Koakuma, that my dreams were less than stellar. It's nothing I can't handle, so don't concern yourself with it."
"Oh. ...Well, alright; if you say so. Should I go and grab your research materials?"
"Please. And bring me both that manual and the orange stone, too."
And as Koakuma flew off, Patchouli continued to smile sadly at nothing in particular. Without raising her voice or putting any real effort into it, her lips formed the lyrics that echoed in her short-term memory. Even without having experienced it, she could still feel the nostalgia that radiated from them.
"I cannot help but cry as I stare out at the sea, yearning for those winsome gulls above the blue harbor and me..."
A blue sky. A bit breezy. Bunches of clouds, but no sign of rain. Somewhat cool, but not terribly so. As far as Ellen was concerned, it was the wrong sort of weather for her mother to be leaving her behind. It should've been raining, the atmosphere gloomy and her mood even more so.
In any event those were the weather conditions when she got up the next morning, so she'd just have to deal with it. She hoped her mother's replacement- - -Cory something or other- - -didn't mind her being crankier than normal.
As she finished getting ready for the day, Ellen frowned as her thoughts turned to Yukari. Trustworthy or not and friendly or not, she wasn't sorry to see the woman go. It was difficult for her to believe that no one else was feeling antsy from being in Yukari's presence; yesterday, the girl had even asked Roxanne for her opinion when she came to return her lesson materials...
"Hmm... well, she seems quirky, but beyond that I don't see anything really 'dangerous' about her. Are you sure you aren't imagining things, Ellen?"
...and found out that if the gym leader didn't think about the bike-induced wreckage (which was presently being cleared away by citizens and Pokémon alike), she wouldn't be drawn back into the insanity that was Yukari's very existence. She couldn't blame the older girl for her behavior; Roxanne always did her best to keep a level head, and being distracted by oddballs wouldn't help with that at all.
Granted that everyone agreed that Yukari was a rather intelligent sort of oddball...
...This trip that they're making had better be worth it.
Everyone else was awake by the time Ellen left her room. Ricky was already gone, his line of work requiring him to leave the house early. The remaining adults were wrapping up their respective breakfasts. Merril hadn't finished hers yet, instead telling the grownups a story of some kind. "- - -and when he answered the phone, he told me that the cannon had malfunctioned and made it rain PokéBlocks from the ceiling."
Yukari's fan was hiding her mouth, something which told Ellen that she was laughing on the inside. Amber had instead shut her eyes as if she were in pain. "I don't suggest any careers in stand-up comedy for you, Elliot."
"Hey, I thought it was funny..."
Ellen ignored the rest of the conversation as she sat down to eat, not daining to respond when she was told "good morning". She didn't want to put up with this, or the truth of her mother leaving home and leaving her last child behind.
Unfortunately, she had no choice. The minutes flew by as Ellen ate, mind drifting and her expression unfocused. Barely remembering to pick up her feet to keep from tripping, she brought the dishes to the kitchen and rinsed them off before leaving them in the sink to finish later. Returning to the living room, she found that everyone was there waiting for her. ...Had that much time passed so quickly?
Amber stooped down to hug her, something which she almost didn't notice. She did notice, though, when her mother pressed something into her hand before standing up. "...What is it?"
"Protection," Amber said bluntly, her voice heavy. "I'll want it back when I come home, okay?"
Ellen took a look at it. She recognized it immediately: it was a slightly dented, black-marked Poké Ball. ...Liepard's Poké Ball...? Her eyes met those of her mother's. "...Why? I'm not a trainer. I have no experience with anything like that. Would he listen to me if I gave him a battle order?"
"You won't need to."
...I won't need to? That's odd... why would that...?
No answers were forthcoming as Amber smiled sadly at her, mouthed the words 'I love you', then turned to discuss something in low tones with Merril. Ellen stared down at the ground, unsure of herself. ...I get the feeling I should be doing something here... but it's an empty feeling. What does she mean? How should I be reacting?...
Yukari's voice cut into her thoughts. "It's not good to withhold your feelings from others, little bookworm."
Ellen's head turned sharply towards her at that comment. "...If it wasn't personal before, it is now. Leave me alone, Yakumo."
A fairly offended sniff. "What, a woman isn't allowed to say what's on her mind?"
"...This coming from the person who claimed that her bicycle was responsible for who-knows-how-many millions of PokéDollars worth of damages to public property?"
"Just stating a fact, Ellen." Yukari stooped down to eye level, something between her fingers. "You'll have to use something other than that monotone to communicate sooner or later."
Ellen's expression had a hint of a challenge in it. "...What do you intend to do about it?"
Yukari's smile shifted into the realm of the enigmatic. "All in due time. All in due time. You'll understand someday."
"...Give me a hint."
"Draw your own hints. I'm not going to do your work for you." Yukari pressed whatever it was she was holding into Ellen's hand, her voice dropping in volume until it could barely be heard over Merril and Amber's discussion. "You're smart enough to break out of your secret room on your own. All you need is a nudge in the right direction. Nothing more." She stood up and backed off towards the front door, putting on her pack as she went.
...Did I wake up in Puzzle World or something? Why can't these people make any sense at all? Why?
After a few moments, Ellen realized that the room had become completely quiet. Putting all thoughts of strange grownups from her mind for the moment, she turned towards Amber and Merril to see what the holdup was.
Merril couldn't blame the woman for thinking the way she did, but it did strike her as being narrow-minded. Sure, someone coming completely out of nowhere and volunteering for guard duty was strange, but the world as a whole was much stranger. Why did Amber suspect her to be something she wasn't?
Okay, maybe it's my fault for not understanding how people think, but still...
Amber finally sighed, making a visible attempt to stay calm. "...Tell me, Elliot. You haven't convinced me just yet. Why would you do this for a complete stranger? Can I trust you to keep her company?"
"I set off to find out whether the stories about Yukari were true. Now that I know they are, I feel like I ought to help her finish her mission in some way. My health prevents me from travelling in the sun for long periods, but nothing's keeping me from playing 'mission control'." Merril smiled proudly. "'Tis the power of the Internet. From what I've seen you'll probably have one of your assistants watching me at all times, but you really have nothing to fear." The smile disappeared. "Seriously... there's something about that kid. I've never met her before in my life, but it still feels like we've been friends for ages."
Amber rolled her eyes. "I've never bought into that whole 'reincarnation' business."
"Neither have I, Mrs. Harrison; I'm a girl of science. But that's just how I feel."
Eyes closed, deep breath. "...Alright, I'll take a chance on this. I expect things to be in order here while I'm gone. ...Just remember one thing, little lady."
"What's that- - -AAGGH!"
From Merril's perspective, it was as if Amber's head had quadrupled in size. Eyes, nose, and teeth all became sharper in their own ways. "If I find out that any sort of harm came to my little baby because of you, I'm going to grab a baton and conduct Beethoven's fifth symphony on your posterior! IS THAT CLEAR?!"
"C-clear!" Merril nervously returned, fighting the urge to run screaming back to Mauville. What in blazes is she, a Kangaskhan?! I thought my life just flashed before my eyes!
The abrupt calm and serene smile that graced Amber's face following Merril's confirmation was, in its own way, just as scary as her anger. "Good; I'll be going now. No wild parties, okay?" She grabbed her pack and hoisted it onto her back, still smiling, and turned to join Yukari at the door... ...paused, then reached over to the wall and adjusted a picture frame that had tilted sideways when she'd screamed; with that done, she gestured at Yukari to follow her and left the house behind.
Merril remained standing where she was for nearly half a minute after the two of them were gone... then her knees gave way beneath her, and she fell onto them. Past the terror she still felt, she dimly recognized that Ellen was patting her shoulder in a half-hearted attempt at sympathy. Shaking her head, Merril groaned: "That woman is a lunatic! A completely and utterly nightmare-faced lunatic!"
"...The Creeper's a lunatic," was Ellen's retort, quietly realizing that the situation wasn't as bad as she'd first believed. "She's a mother."
"Still too extreme for me, man. Ugh and a half." Merril finally shook off her fear and stood up with a grunt, turning to face her new friend. Reaching behind her, she checked to make sure her pack and its contents were secure. "But never mind that, Ellen. Are you finished getting ready, and does the library have free wireless?"
"...Yes, to both questions." Ellen tilted her head a fraction. "...How do you intend to stay in contact with Yakumo? I didn't think the PokéGear's range extended out of Hoenn, much less into Sinnoh."
A smirk. "Elly, you are so far behind the times. Now come on and let's go." Merril turned and walked out of the house, adjusting her hat a bit before she stepped into the sunlight.
Ellen remained still as she watched Merril turn at the sidewalk and walk down the street towards the library, giving second thoughts to what her mother had been told before she left. ...She feels like she knows me? ...That can't be right. We've been acquainted for less than a day. I've never seen her before yesterday. She shouldn't be acting so familiar.
"Ellen! Hey, Ellen! Are you coming or not?"
...Still... it's strange, but she's right. I've noticed the same thing: just like she claims to have known me, I feel as if I've known her. When we met for the first time yesterday, I didn't feel like she could ever mean me any harm. A weird feeling, that, even if I keep seeing Golbat wings each time I close my eyes. I'm not saying it's a bad feeling, just... weird...?
Ellen decided that she'd been lost in her thoughts for too long, for Merril had come back, grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the house. She wondered why she hadn't noticed that, her shoes scraping against the ground, or the sound of the front door clicking shut. "What are you staring into space for, Slowpoke?" Merril asked a bit indignantly. "Get a move on! Time waits for no librarian, Marian!"
"...So suddenly there's trouble in Rustboro City?" was Ellen's answer, understanding the reference. She pulled her arm out of Merril's grip and picked up her pace. "...I can walk fine on my own, thanks."
"Hey!" Merril protested as Ellen pulled ahead of her. "I know I said to hurry up, but still...!"
"...Weak in the knees, are we?" Ellen asked, her face calm but her tone challenging. "...I barely find time to exercise, and I'm still walking faster than you."
"So that's what we're resorting to, huh? Come on!" Merril sped up and raced past, tagging Ellen's arm as she went. "You're it!"
Ellen closed her eyes and sighed, but relented and chased after the giggling geek. The sun peeked out from behind a cloud briefly, bathing her in light while leaving Merril covered in a misshapen shadow. The object in her hand glinted a bit in the light, and she finally gave whatever it was she was holding a quick look...
...A Solrock hair-dec?
The moment passed, and everything was shadowed by the clouds once more.
...Eh. I need to stop looking into these things too deeply.
"Professor? Say, Professor? There's a call coming in for you from Pewter City!"
"Okay, okay, Tracey. I'll be right there soon as everyone's breakfast is ready. Would you be willing to handle the feedings while I take the call?"
"Certainly, Professor. I'll be glad to!"
The sun rose over Samuel Oak's laboratory in Pallet Town. On the whole it was a quiet place; no one had attempted to steal from the ranch since Butch and Cassidy's foiled attempt several years past. It couldn't stay that way forever, though, for the news of disappearing Pokémon was not limited to Hoenn.
Oak was finishing making breakfast for those bug-type Pokémon that roamed free on the Lab's property when the call came through. Leaving Tracey to deliver the food, he went to his office to take the call and wondered who'd be contacting him this soon in the day.
He received his answer as Brock appeared on the video screen. "Hey, Professor Oak. How have you been?"
Oak smiled in greeting. "Just fine, Brock. How about you?"
Brock frowned. "I wish I could say the same. Croagunk's disappeared."
Oak mimicked this action. "Disappeared? How do you know that he's missing and not just gone out for a stroll?"
"I started a conversation with Officer Jenny a few days ago, and no one stopped me." Brock waited a few moments to let this sink in. "I looked around, retraced my steps and asked some people if they'd seen it anywhere." A soft sigh. "No such luck. So I talked to Jenny again, and she suggested that I help the department spread the word around. Maybe this should turn up some clues."
"...That may be harder than you think," Oak said, scratching his chin. "Have you been watching the news recently?"
Brock smiled sheepishly. "I've been focusing more on my studies, truthfully..."
"That's quite alright... anyway, yours isn't an isolated case." Oak thought back, trying to remember some of the other reports. "...Ah. On the news last night, they were talking about how many Pokémon were reported missing, whether trained or wild. From what they said, there was nothing in the Pokémons' behavioral patterns that indicated a change in attitude towards their trainer or environment."
"So it's a rash of thefts, then," Brock guessed. "And whoever's doing it, he or she is good."
"I find it more likely that it's a they," Oak told him, frowning. "This isn't just here in Kanto; reports have turned up from as far away as Unova and Kalos. The same M.O., the same circumstances, no clues left at all. With how widespread it is, any Pokémon could be in danger..."
A short silence as Brock considered what he'd been told...
...and then a light clicked on as he realized something. "Say, Professor... doesn't Muk usually try to smother you at this point?"
Oak looked this way, then that. There was no sign of the sludge Pokémon, not even the disgusting smell that often heralded its presence.
In a display of impossibility, the former scientist that Koishi had called 'Hello-san' could be heard frowning.
"...It continues to activate on its own, without rhyme or reason. Something is out of place in this equation..."
On the route heading south and east to Littleroot by way of Petalburg, Yukari strode down the path at a brisk walk, Amber close by. Her face told others she was passive, but inside she planned, planned and continued to plan. Determination to end her home's invasion and the desire to get things done quickly marked every footstep.
I took a shortcut yesterday, and I still feel like I've wasted too much time. I lack Reimu's incredible intuition, yet I can't shake the feeling that my homeland dodged a bullet recently... and that another will be on its way soon. Gensokyo, my wonderful paradise...
Her eyes narrowed and she held a tightened fist close to her chest, something that made Amber raise an eyebrow in curiosity. Your borders will not be violated for much longer. Today, I renew my vow that I will keep you safe against any and all threats. I promise on my name.
Far overhead, undetectable save for very powerful binoculars, a blue and white speck jetted through the sky.
Ninetales' moveset: Heat Wave, Energy Ball, Will O Wisp, Double Team
Approximate Level: 29
Yukari's Notes: Turns out that I didn't need to choose after all; Midori made the decision to forget Roar in favor of Energy Ball. Surprising, really... Will O Wisp isn't her favorite attack by a long shot.
Her battle against Amber's Liepard told me that it's going to take a lot of time and effort to work her up to the point where she can help me handle the more serious business of this trip. There's no question that I'll be up against a major threat, if whatever is going down will involve the great beasts of time and space. No border manipulation means that I'll be walking on very dangerous ground, so I'm going to have to use every resource I have available to me, least of all my brain... I'm going to enjoy doing this.
The relationship between me and Midori isn't the same as the one between me and Ran. As a shikigami, Ran is a tool to be used; she knows that, and she treats Chen the same way whenever she's not overcome with worry over her well-being. Thinking of Pokémon as tools would be considered an insult across the board; it's better instead that I treat Midori like I do Yuyuko, like I've been doing all along. She deserves nothing less, and we'll work much better together as a result.
I just hope that when the time comes to leave her behind, I can force myself to do the right thing.
ORIGINAL CHARACTER ALERT
Name: Amber Harrison
Quote: "'Close' counts in everything. It couldn't be called 'close' otherwise, could it?"
Gensokyo Counterpart: ?
Physical Description: Around 5'11", with average weight; next to other women and even most men in Hoenn, she practically towers over them (due in no small part to her Unovan origins). Has relatively short black hair that she gets trimmed every week or two to keep it from going past her neck; prior to her marriage, it was a foot longer. Is naturally light-skinned, but the stress of parenthood has given it a gray pallor that has yet to go away; some have commented that she looks and acts like a zombie when she hasn't had enough sleep. Eyes are yellow. Unless it's summertime or unseasonably warm out, Amber always wears dark gray pants and long-sleeved shirts/sweaters. Favors loafers (when at the library) and tennis shoes with Velcro.
Personality: Is slow to accept the unusual, believing that the world's supposed to work a certain way and that everything else can take a hike. For all that Amber hates Ellen's strange habits and beliefs, she is still fiercely protective of and loving towards her, letting the child out of her sight only reluctantly and making sure she has everything she needs to live comfortably; her family, her assistants (one of whom, unbeknownst to her, is Koakuma's analogue), and the gym leader Roxanne number amongst the few people she absolutely trusts with her safety. Likes helping people learn.
History: See prior appearances. Is considering signing up to battle at the next regional tournament after the whole business with Yukari is dealt with.
Abilities: Nothing special by Yukari's standards, but considerable when compared to ourselves. Amber has that certain toughness brought on by years of traveling and Pokémon training, accidents and such, and she's still able to find time to train her team when she's home from work. As for her Pokémon, she specializes in Dark-types but also keeps Serperior, with whom she shares the closest bond out of them all, around; on the whole they are formidable opponents in battle, as her trophy case can attest to.
Author's Notes: Whenever I imagine Amber speaking, I think of the voice Candi Milo used for Ophelia in The Life and Times of Juniper Lee.
In Sabrina's Memory
Autumn 1994 - March 30, 2014