ASHWOOD FOREST, 3:28AM
Loneliness gives the dark a physical presence. It crawls under the skin like a thousand miniature venipede legs, causing the heart to flutter and the brain to go faint. N paused to pull his coat tighter about himself, gaining a false sense of security from its touch. He wanted Zahir to be with him, but for all he knew something could be lurking past the range of his lamp. They were a paranoid culture. The presence of his zoroark could be all the incentive needed for an attack.
For the umpteenth time the light flickered and he glanced around to reassure himself that it was a shadow and not a living thing that had lurked into his space.
N loved pokemon, he really did. It was just horrifying to be stalked by one in the forest. Alone. At night. The light flickered again like a whip and vanished. He blinked and couldn't even tell that his eyes had closed. N shuddered.
"Keep your pokemon in their balls."
A telepathic voice touched his mind.
N did not realize his hand was hovering over Zahir at his waist. He pulled it away.
The darkness was pushed away by the florescent glow of the pokemon's rings. An umbreon. N relaxed. He'd imagined something much bigger.
The umbreon sat before him, poised like a cat. Her eyes refracted light like mirrors as she looked him up and down. She leaned forward, sniffed in his direction, and finally said, "My name is Mila. Because of my experience with humans I've been assigned to be your partner in overlooking Recovery Center Three."
Her eyes glittered up at him. "There are no humans in this war. Why are you getting involved?"
N appreciated her bluntness.
"I have a moral obligation." There was something more, but N felt it better not to say.
"Morals." Mila deadpanned. "Morals will not protect you from death."
"I'm aware, thank you."
The umbreon did something along the lines of a shrug and circled his legs slowly, brushed her flank against his calf briefly and went to make a fighting stance at a distance. An edge of excitement sharpened her mental voice.
"Enemy patrols will not begin until dawn. We have until then to see how well your pokemon can fight."
UNOVAN POKEMON LEAGUE, 3:28 PM
Tsarmina the liepard propelled herself into the air, a sinewy beast of muscle and loose skin. Her polished ebony claws caught the unsuspecting braviary in the gut as he was in the midst of a wing attack. His wings beat frantically to maintain altitude but ended up drawing both himself and the big cat high above the posh arena.
It hardly needed to be said. Grimsley's faithful cat had already slid her hooked claws into the bird and was tugging upwards. Her foreleg quivered with effort as the bird began to shriek.
"Oh Arceus!" The challenger cried. "Stop! I forfeit!"
Tsarmina kicked off the braviary with her hind legs and dove the stomach churning distance to the ground. She landed perfectly on all fours and returned to her master's side to self-servingly push her forehead under his palm. Downy feathers sprinkled over the stage like snow.
Grimsley scratched her behind the ears "If somebody wins a battle, then, without doubt, someone else has lost the battle. That's the way of battle. A real warrior doesn't dash off in pursuit of the next victory, nor throw a fit when experiencing a loss. A real warrior ponders the next battle."
The challenger glared at him over his injured braviary. "That was a dirty move."
"Ah. Well, welcome to the pokemon league." Grimsley tossed the boy a full restore. "Perhaps next time luck will smile on you."
Grimsley waited until he was gone to kneel and give Tsarmina an adoring kiss on the cheek. "You were stunning."
On the leather couch behind Grimsley, almost unnoticeable in the scene, Unova's champion lounged on his back with one foot hanging just above the ground. "You say that every time." Black said.
Grimsley didn't look away from his liepard. "What?"
"The warrior thing."
The elite trainer nodded. In fact, he repeated it so often that the meaning was void. "The League requires me to say it for show. When you start working here you'll get your own phrases to memorize."
"The more I learn about this place, the less I want to work here."
Grimsley went to stand over Black. He looked like he wanted to say something, but walked past instead and took a seat at his desk. The surface was pushed against the back of the couch so that it remained out of view from the arena's many cameras.
Black could not see him, but he could hear the unzipping of a cosmetics bag and knew that Grimsley was reapplying his makeup for the umpteenth time that afternoon. He frowned. This is exactly what was bothering him. The pokemon league was so superficial.
Alder was so old that he needed a pill calendar, Caitlyn pretended to sleep in front of her challengers, Shauntal wrote mostly fanfiction and Marshal's veins were so distended that Black was pretty sure he was taking steroids.
"Would it kill you to sit properly?" Apparently the remark Grimsley was holding back finally got past his lips.
And what about Grimsley? Black straightened up and turned to look at him. Watching the aristocratic "gambler" brush on foundation, he wouldn't be surprised to hear that he had never stepped foot in a casino.
Black stood. "I'm heading off."
"Alder won't like that."
"Does that matter?"
Grimsley put the mirror down with a hard snap. "You know, Alder doesn't HAVE to give you his position. He could easily pick someone out of Smogon University's alumni."
Black held his tongue and considered that. It seemed very unlikely, given that the media end of the pokemon league would birth a miltank if it had to take back all of the hype it had constructed around Black. Still, it might be possible. With a sigh, he fell into the couch on his back once again. "Arceus damn it."
He heard Grimsley sigh. "Can I tell you something?"
"Just give it a few years. It's not like you're too old to try something different if you end up unhappy."
Grimsley stayed silent this time. Good. Black hated his dainty voice. It didn't suit an elite trainer.
Black hated how Grimsley could be satisfied with being fake. He hated how all the elite trainers made him believe they were something greater than they really were. He hated how he didn't figure this out before he defeated the league, because now he had the opportunity he thought he always wanted and he was terrified to let it go. He was terrified of getting stuck too.
Tsarmina, oblivious to Black's inner turmoil, trotted past him and trilled to her trainer like a pidove. Grimsley's laugh sounded like a girl's.
This place was a living hell.
Later that night, Black returned to his new, League sponsored apartment. It was spacious with two bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a 230 square foot living room. The walls and furniture had a color theme of honey, red and white, and the kitchen counters were topped with Wausau granite. There was enough room for a family to live comfortably, yet Black occupied the space by himself.
Above the headrest there was a 30x40 canvas which Black had rescued from the street curb. He was no painter, and had no desire to be. However, he found that on bad says he would find himself grabbing a bottle of black shoe polish and leaving a round smudge with his thumb. This night he added another spot.
When he stood back and smiled, it was not an expression of pride at his skill, or the reflection of some private and entertaining thought. That is not at all what Black's smiles meant anymore. When someone creates he cannot help but leave a part of himself in the work. And so it was with morbid curiosity that Black observed the collection of black that swarmed over the canvas like shiny durants.
He washed his hands and crept under the sheets. It was early for him to sleep, but he felt a chill. Maybe he would wake up sick and not have to attend the battles tomorrow. Maybe he would die in his sleep. Did he really just think that? Black flipped over.
His stomach hurt and he wasn't sure if it the ache was real or psychological. Something was missing in his life, Black didn't know what. Was it a loss of purpose? Was it loneliness? That would be ironic. Black was an introvert.
His mind began to meander back and forth between sleep and consciousness. He was ready to doze off, but the pain kept pulling him back. Slowly, it grew stronger and like a dragon dancing haxorus, it hit him suddenly and with devastating force.