A/N: Hi! So, it hasn't been too long since the first chapter's been posted, but I figured I might as well get the second one up now, especially since I'm not totally sure how long the next one will take; I've still got some final assignments to take care of before graduation, but I should be good to go during the summer!
I've read every review I've gotten, and each and every review, favorite, and follow lights up my life! I can't thank you guys enough!
A pair of crimson eyes stared into a metal door, its owner's brows furrowed and long, silver hair disheveled. Each passing minute seemed to evoke another impatient grunt from this man, whose only company was a bipedal, taloned being with a hooked, red beak. The Blaziken rested a clawed hand on his trainer's shoulder and cooed reassuringly–an unlikely source of comfort from a Pokémon that seemed to have a perpetual glare–a gesture to which the man responded simply by giving the Blaziken a brief nod.
The two had been expecting the door to his office to slide open at any minute with two peons and a young girl who had made herself their target. When the first of this man's organization's modified Pokémon had begun to make public their appearances in the hands of trainers, little thought had been given to the possibility of psychics detecting anything unusual about them. "They're essentially the same Pokémon," the engineers had told their leader. "There's little reason to believe that they would have any unusual auras."
Rendering them into fighting machines would have no effect on the auras they gave off to psychics? Were these scientists that idiotic?
Was he so idiotic for blindly trusting their word?
The flat-screen on the wall adjacent to his desk flickered to life and a man with hair styled to resemble a Poké Ball appeared on the screen. As was usual for him, his feet were moving in place without regard to what the rest of his body was doing, but his steps seemed harsher and angrier than usual.
"Miror B.," the silver-haired man said, trying to keep his voice as unwavering as possible, "why are you calling me? I've expected your minions to arrive here with the girl by now."
"Master Nascour, that's exactly what I'm talkin' to you about." Only his dance steps and gritted teeth betrayed Miror B.'s frustration. "I trusted those boys with that very task. The darlings they are, they let her go run off with the most grizzly little roughneck I done seen in my life! I can't-?
"They what?!" Nascour smashed his fists against his desk, his face dyed a bright red. "And you did nothing to get her back?! To think I ask so little of you and—"
"Now, now, Master Nascour." Miror B. grimaced. "You ain't givin' me no easy task. You want me to run Pyrite—"
"I do not give a damn what else you have to do!" The conversation had swiftly erupted into little more than a shouting match between Nascour and Miror B.; thus far, Nascour seemed to be overpowering Miror B. in the same manner that a cannon would overpower a yapping Growlithe. "I give an order, you and your peons follow through. Is this so hard for you to understand?!"
Miror B. was given no opportunity to respond when Nascour pressed a large button on a remote control, ceasing communication with the eccentric dancer. Nascour slumped into his seat and massaged his temples. Why in Arceus' name did he ever even hire, much less give an admin position to, such a clown who couldn't even separate dancing from his duties? It would be the fault of Miror B. if Nascour had to face any more wrath because of his minions' incompetence.
Fear of facing the worst from him, in fact, was why the very thought of imperfection made Nascour feel sick to his stomach.
He had been given the task of overseeing the entire organization, from its operations to many of its future plans. Hell, he was lucky to have known his superior for long enough to be blessed with this position.
But he had seen what befalls anyone–Nascour included–who steps a toe out of line. He couldn't allow anything to end up a hair short of perfect.
A low, slow caw came from the direction of Nascour's Blaziken. Nascour swiveled his chair to see the Pokémon he had called his friend since childhood looking at him with as much concern as the face of a giant raptor could possibly show. Though the two spoke different languages, they had known each other for so long that Nascour needed not hear a human tongue to know that his Blaziken was asking if there was anything else that could be done; there had to have been, those yellow eyes seemed to say, surely.
"You couldn't ask me that, Tor." Nascour sighed. "So long as I have these degenerates working under me, what could you expect me to do?"
Tor shook his head, a hunt of frustration with Nascour's hopelessness beginning to reveal itself. Nascour knew precisely what Tor was thinking: He was still obligated to make the most of what they had. Nascour held his head in his hands as if physically forcing himself to find some sort of solution. Miror B.'s division had already seeped its way into power over Pyrite, a virtually lawless slum to begin with, and Nascour had received reports that Duking Ginzar, the closest Pyrite had to a competent authority figure as head of the Pyrite Colosseum, was beginning to lose morale in the face of Miror B.'s virtual takeover.
The Pyrite Colosseum. The only reason any outsider would willingly travel to Pyrite that even had some popularity among the town's locals. The stadium where battles were staged and prizes – directly from the Colosseum itself as well as given out shadily via the submarket – were given generously to its victors.
Nascour was beginning to think that maybe he could scout for a few prizes there, himself. After all, the girl he had initially set his sights on couldn't have been the only psychic out there, and more Pokémon taking part in battles would surely draw more psychics' attention as well as bring them out from the shadows. Besides, it would be better to draw them out now than to search through all of Orre, Nascour believed.
He took a deep breath. "Tor," he said, "there is still something I can do.…"
Beginning to regret hanging up on Miror B., Nascour redialed him. After a very brief dialtone, his face appeared on the screen once again, his chipper demeanor nearly back as if Nascour's outburst has never happened.
"Master Nascour," Miror B. asked, "now what brings you back?"
Nascour wasted no time in delivering his order. "Forget about the girl for now; there are likely to be many more out there like her. I'll need you to make some arrangements at the Pyrite Colosseum."
A rush of black fur, a jolt of pure terror, and the desperate pleas of his mother and father were the last things that seven-year-old Wes could remember before darkness overtook his senses and tore him from everything that he knew and loved.
Had an hour passed before he opened his eyes to a tiny room apparently composed of scrap metal and throbbing ache on his right shoulder? Had a day passed? A week? A month? At that moment, the answer did not seem to matter. Only one question lingered in his mind, and it was the only question that he cared to have answered:
Where are Mom and Dad?
Wes only vaguely remembered him and his parents being held at knifepoint, three huge, black, wolf-like Pokémon flanking them. Panic so consumed the young child that he just barely made out the attackers' demands; something about money, something about repaying a debt….
And now his parents were nowhere in the tiny, steel room with him. Wes forced himself to arise from the springy, scratchy cot he had awoken on and cried out, both from the pain in his shoulder and the confusion he felt alone in this strange place.
"Dad? Mom?" His wail bounced off the walls. "Where are you? It really hurts…."
As Wes gripped his injured shoulder, he felt the texture of a coarse fabric that he did not recognize as his shirt. He looked down and saw that, in place of the brightly-colored tee shirt he had been wearing, his bare chest and shoulder were now clumsily bandaged by a white cloth that was stained with red splotches.
If he had bandages, Wes thought, then his mother, at least, had to be nearby! Who else could have been there to care for him? This tiny spark of hope prompted Wes to move for the metal door; if his parents were behind it, they could tell him where this strange place was and what had happened!
That spark was extinguished when the door slid open before he could read it. A gigantic, muscular man appeared before him. Wes shivered under his gaze; this man loomed over the boy, his eyes–one brown and one blue–piercing Wes like daggers under jagged brows. Two tiny, trembling mounds of brown-and-tan fur were in his huge arms; Wes recognized them both as baby Eevees.
"Finally awake? Good." The newcomer's voice was rough and lacked any semblance of warmth.
"Where are my mom and dad?" Wes squeaked. "Where'd they go?"
The stranger snorted. "They're dead, kid. And you ought to be grateful you aren't, too."
Dead? They're dead?
Wes' parents were gone? That couldn't have been right; he had to be wrong.
"How would you know?!" Wes demanded, desperately trying to convince himself that what he just heard was false. "They're not dead! Just go and ch—"
"I saw them myself, kid," the man growled. "Of course they're dead. Just be thankful I even went and saved you in the goddamn first place; Arceus knows how you even survived that attack. Here; just take these two."
He placed the two baby Pokémon beside Wes' feet; shaking, scared, and as confused as the child in their presence, they looked up at him and cried out.
"And get your ass back in bed. We'll talk more once you've healed some."
He waited for no reply before leaving, the door slamming behind him. Without his rescuer in the room, Wes fell to the ground, his wobbling knees no longer able to hold him. Mom. Dad. They're dead.
He would never see his parents again. He would never even be able to go home again. He would never play with his father or see his mother's warm smile again.
As far as Wes knew, as long as he was stuck in this metallic prison, he would forever be estranged from everything he once knew.
The young Eevees scratched at the door, their distressed cries mingling with Wes' blubbering sobs.
It was all Rui could do to gawk at Wes in horrified shock. Wes, a Team Snagem member… She had been warned about that criminal gang before she left her quaint, little hometown in Unova; in fact, she had nearly been forbidden to leave alone precisely because of dangers like them and her kidnapping ordeal, and it had taken at least a month of pleading before her parents finally allowed her to see her grandparents in Orre. And now the man she trusted to help her find safety was one of those threats?
"Wes…!" Rui finally gathered the courage to speak up. "I trusted you!"
Every inch of her body screamed for her to get as far away from the situation as possible, but one of the Snagem grunts must have picked up on her intention to flee, for her locked his arms around her abdomen and held onto her tightly in spite of her attempts to squirm away.
"You ain't goin' anywhere," he jeered, "not if you got anything to do with Wes."
"But I don't!" Her voice erupted into a plea for freedom. "Just let me go, please!"
With Rui restrained, the oldest of the group–their apparent leader for the time being–could feel confident in facing Wes head-on. "You forgetting what great care we took of you, Wes?" he spat. Anger was rising in his voice, and yet… Rui could almost detect the smallest hint of hurt in his rough voice. "You really so ungrateful that you just shit all over everything we gave you and steal all the rest?!" He withdrew a Poké Ball from his belt. "Glin—" He tossed it to the ground. "—Just like we planned!"
The Gloom that this Snagem member released–a stout, indigo-and-red, mushroom-like Pokémon–immediately began to release dark green spores from his capped head. Rui saw Wes' eyes widen in shock; Wes flicked one of his Poké Balls out of his coat pocket, but his fingers were crushed by the same black boot that had kicked him down.
"Now, I ain't having any of that," the boot's owner smirked. "You just keep—Dammit!"
"Tesni!" And thank Arceus, Rui thought. The Poké Ball Wes happened to grab belonged to his Espeon.
"Confusion!" Wes had time only to bark out a command before Glin unleashed his spores. Tesni's psychic energy disabled Glin and thrust his entire body into the marble wall. Though Tesni's swift victory calmed Rui's nerves somewhat, she was still very far from at ease. What were these thugs going to do to them now? All of the stories she'd heard about wrongdoers from Orre and all of the worst-case scenarios she could think of played out in her mind.
But, to her surprise, Glin's trainer took a step backwards and glared at Wes, who found enough strength in himself to rise to his knees.
"I thought you'd have been a little more prepared than that…" Wes coughed, then continued, "…if you thought you could steal from Snagem's best thief."
The glint in Wes' amber eyes was so fierce that suing it caused Rui's blood to run cold. He looked vicious, almost, like a Sneasel whose nest had just been disturbed.
"What the hell, Wakin?!" Rui's captor shouted; with his face so close to her own, Rui felt his voice ringing in her ears. "Ya knew that might happen; ya should have brought Rig along, too!"
Wakin hesitated to answer, his gaze still fixed on Wes, but he finally muttered, "Damn you, Wes. You're still sharp as a tack even without us." Eyes hard as stone, he grabbed Wes by the collar of his coat. "But don't think this means we're letting you off the hook. You'd best watch yourself, because by Ho-oh's name, we'll be watching you. And we'll make you pay."
Shoving Wes back to the ground, Wakin ordered a retreat; Rui gasped as her midsection was freed from the Snagem grunt's grip. She watched the gang flee, Glin recalled back into his Poké Ball, and finally allowed herself to take in what she had just learned.
Wes was of Team Snagem, but not only that, he was their second-in-command. He stole something from them.… And Wes declared himself to be Team Snagem's best thief, didn't he?
"You… you're a… you both are, and Koray…" Rui's gaze flickered from Wes to his Espeon and back again.
Tesni hung her head in shame, while Wes refused to look Rui in the eye.
"Run." Wes' command was clearly non-threatening; if anything, he spoke to Rui in the same manner that a parent might warn a child against touching a hot stove. "Find the quickest way back to your family and get as far away from here as ya can."
With the feeling of betrayal heavy in her chest, Rui gave one last glance–she would be a liar if she did not call it a glare, for that matter–and dashed away. She covered only a few paces before she heard Tesni mewling what sounded like a protest. Rui only briefly took note of this, however, and disappeared behind a building.
What am I going to do now?
That thought repeated itself over and over again in Rui's head as she took cover behind a trashcan that rested just beyond the building. It seems as if everywhere she turned in this place just led to one awful run-in after another. She thought back to what her mother and father had told her back in her sleepy, little town of Nuvema: You're not even a trainer and you think it's alright to… even if you were one, you wouldn't last a day! There's nothing but trouble out there, we're telling you.
They were right.
And even after her parents had finally given in and allowed her to visit Orre, she promised that she would go right to Agate. She should have known what even heading straight for a village in the northwestern part of the region, one of the only areas nearly untouched by Orre's violent reputation, would still bring her trouble. She still had to pass through Orre's more treacherous lower half, after all.
Tears welling up in her eyes, Rui moaned and slumped even further back against the wall. Doing so caused her toes to push the trashcan too far toward, however; it toppled to the ground and created a deafening crash. Rui flinched, then looked around for anyone who could have heard her. When her field of vision detected no one in the alleyway or beyond it, she breathed a sigh of relief….
…Only for a pair of glowing, amaranthine eyes to stare right back at her when she turned her head forward.
Rui clasped her hands over her mouth to prevent herself from shouting, but a few seconds of allowing herself to figure out who was looking at her revealed that those eyes belonged to no one else but Tesni.
"Eeeon?" Tesni tilted her head as if to ask Rui a question.
Rui allowed herself to take a few, deep breaths to calm herself. As she could with all Pokémon, Rui could see Tesni's aura, and she detected not a single trace of maliciousness in it; in fact, everything about it was gentle, like that of a mother cradling a child in her arms. For now, at least, Rui was not in danger.
"Tesni? What is it?" Trying not to sound hostile, Rui added, "Why did you follow me?"
The Espeon leapt from her perch on top of the fallen trashcan and, purring, snuggled up against Rui's calf.
Rui couldn't help but smile. "Yeah, I know you don't mean any harm. But what about Wes?" Perhaps she should have been more cautious about question Wes' nature in front of his Pokémon, but she continued nonetheless: "He said he's from Team Snagem; I… I'm sorry. I just don't know what to think of that."
Tesni ceased purring and flattened herself against the concrete ground, hiding her muzzle behind her tiny, front paws. A little squeak escaped Tesni, and Rui immediately got the message that Wes—as far as she could assume, at least—didn't even want to stay with the criminal gang. They had been hunting him down after his supposed betrayal, after all, and he fought right back rather than trying to cooperate with them. He may not be a threat; after all, nothing about Wes sans Rui's recent discovery about him indicated that he could have been a threat to her. If anything, hadn't he said that she shouldn't put herself in danger by being around him? Wouldn't that have meant Wes was concerned for her safety?
"Well…" Rui sighed, "what do you think, Tesni? About Wes, I mean?" Rui trusted Tesni's judgment; not only was the Espeon a Pokémon under Wes' care, but Rui was certain that Tesni's nature was genuine. An enormous part of Rui did not want to believe that Wes was dangerous; he'd saved her, for Arceus' sake, and he was probably her only hope for safely finding refuge in Agate Village.
Tesni erupted into a much more audible purr than before and squeezed cozily onto Rui's lap; a reflection of her feelings for her trainer, Rui figured. Tesni loved Wes, for that matter; when Tesni looked up at Rui, a distant look overcame the fennec Pokémon's eyes, as if she was reliving years of memories she shared with Wes.
It was as much of a confirmation as Rui believed she would get. She had to go back to Wes; with little alternative to wandering Orre's deserts alone, she needed to trust Tesni's word.
Besides, maybe Wes could use a friend. He couldn't have been anything other than lonely if he'd just rejected his entire gang.
Rui stood up and, sighing, brushed gravel off of her skirt. "Guess I'll have to take your word for it, huh?" she said to Tesni. With a chuckle, she added, "But you'll watch my back if he turns on me, right?"
She immediately regretted her half-joke when she saw Tesni since and heard her mew uncomfortably. Rui wanted to slam her head against the nearest wall; of course, she had as little common sense as she always did, it seemed. Idiot, Rui! Idiot!
"Sorry, sorry…." she groaned. "Why don't we just go and find Wes again?"
Sure enough, Tesni and Rui found Wes precisely where they left him: Only yards away from Phenac Stadium and surrounded by only the faint rumbling of the crowd inside as a colosseum challenge was under way. This time, however, Koray was present and—albeit awkwardly—trying to comfort his trainer, who was just about squeezing his scalp in apparent frustration. Rui's stomach tied into a knot and was soothed little by memories of Tesni's reassurance that Wes was not the kind of monster that Team Snagem was. Truthfully, she still couldn't help but dread having to face Wes once more, but at the moment, he was still her best hope of getting to Agate safely. She took a deep breath, but was saved by Tesni bounding over to Wes. She mewed loudly and caught the boy's attention immediately; he cast her and Rui a narrowed, critical gaze. Koray's throat rumbled and he shook his head as if he had been expecting this to occur.
"So, ya dragged her back," Wes grunted to Tesni. He then addressed Rui while refusing to meet her gaze: "Didn't I tell ya to go? You saw what just happened; you'd only find yourself in more trouble stayin' with me."
"That's…" Rui mumbled, "well, no, like… I still need to find a way—"
"Well, you ain't gonna find it through me." Wes allowed himself to chuckle grimly. "Those Snagem thugs? They'll be back for me, and they won't be so gentle next time. I'd been with 'em for ten years; I've seen what they can do."
Rui was silenced by his words, unsure how to reply to him. She couldn't help but feel struck by the information he presented to her, perhaps even more so than the danger that Rui was sure she would face in Orre anyway. Ten years with Team Snagem? Wes couldn't have been much, if any, older than Rui, a teenager herself, based on his appearance and voice. What in the world could have coaxed a young child into joining a criminal syndicate?
Rui, thinking little of her own actions, blurted out, "You don't have anyone else to turn to, do you, other than Tesni and Koray?"
Tesni, Koray, and Wes all stiffened, and Rui immediately got the sense that she said the wrong thing. Wes gritted his teeth and shut his eyes; had Rui triggered something, she wondered? But, after a moment's hesitation, Wes shook his head to confirm Rui's question.
"You know, it was… pretty incredible how you saved me back there." Rui trembled out of fear that the conversation had taken a turn for the worse and she clung to the hope that her new words of comfort might ease the situation. "I think I could even be dead right now if it weren't for you. And, yanno…" She walked over to Wes and bent down to his level; careful to look him square in the eye, she added, "Maybe you need a little bit of saving, yourself?" Rui genuinely believed what she said; she took pity on Wes and wanted to help him if she could. However, she was also concerned with her own safety; when she was faced with ether going out alone again or being accompanied by Wes, what other choice did she have than to convince him to take her under his wing?
Koray's nostrils flared and the Umbreon growled as if he was insulted by Rui's proposal, but Wes seemed… grateful. His yellow eyes watered over, but if any real tears did present themselves, they were quickly concealed by what appeared to be Wes scratching the side of his face. He allowed for a sad smile.
"Well, ain't we a mind reader? Tesni taught you a thing or two?"
Rui chuckled and Tesni purred amusedly despite Koray's shaking of his head. Standing back up and extending a hand to Wes, Rui said, "Maybe she did; maybe she didn't. Now, come on; you don't wanna sit there forever and get trampled on by that crowd from the Stadium soon, do you?"
Wes stood up, but, to Rui's slight disappointment, did not take her hand. He only managed a small, seemingly forced, grin.
But at least he stood up.