Chapter 1: Arrival
Off the coast of Slateport, Hoenn, a white cruise ship advanced through the clear, tropical waters toward the lively harbor. On the top deck, passengers gazed eagerly toward white beaches and bustling wharves in the distance. Waves burst against the hull and splashed over the rails, peaked white with foam.
Humans and Pokemon scurried along the steel-sheltered docks. Grunting fisherman hauled their early morning catches off their boats as workers unloaded fresh fruit from cargo vessels. Trainers emerged from ships and stepped down onto the pier, inhaling fresh sawdust from the shipyard.
Fourteen-year-old Slick Silversky emerged from Slateport Inn, wearing a tan-and-blue jacket, his team hanging from his belt by islander custom: one Poke Ball on the left, and five others on the right. Watching the cruise ship approach the docks, he set off down the stone path toward the market.
In the second ball on Slick's right sat a Pikachu, unfit and pudgy.
He smoothed down his fur and twitched his ears, cheeks crackling, staring out from his capsule. He'd heard the explanation of how the Poke Ball worked a hundred times already, and he still didn't get it. But it was cozy and warm at night, and he didn't want to whine.
In his Poke Ball, Lightning felt isolated from the world outside. He stared out at streets of interlocking gray pavers, grassy lawns rippling in the wind. The world bobbed up and down with Slick's every step, all outside sounds muted by insulation gel.
The Pikachu could almost imagine the cool feel of salty spray as they entered the market-square. Strung flags waved in midair overhead as merchants manned their rows of stalls, advertising their crates of freshly caught fish, ripe produce, and hiking supplies to the lively crowds in the marketplace.
The Poke Balls on Slick's belt swayed as the Trainer moved through the crowd. As Lightning's capsule knocked against his neighbor's, he heard a growl as the Umbreon on his right stirred, giving him a filthy look. Quickly, the Pikachu ducked down, laying flat on the gel pad until Insyte turned his head away.
Through the shell of his Poke Ball, Lightning's ears could pick up the muted clamor of eager sellers and awed customers, boisterous but cheerful. Slick moved awkwardly through the market, stopping at a dingy stall in the corner. He showed them his ID, and they handed him a silver disc.
They watched as Slick continued onto an antique vendor, polished Wingull pendants dangling from a rack. Twelve stone balls rested in a velvet rack, each with a red-tinted groove that ran around the center; it took a moment before he realized they were Poke Balls.
"Pretty, aren't they?" said Rush, the Marshtomp in the lone Poke Ball on Slick's left side. His voice was hard to hear through two layers of fiberglass, but the Pikachu thought he caught the gist of his words. "Long ago in Johto, Poke Balls were made from from Apricorn shells. And long before that, tribes in Hoenn made Poke Balls from stone."
Lightning squinted toward the Marshtomp, but couldn't get a clear line of sight. "Then they were made from from iron and wood, which led to the Apricorn shells. Others were made from leather and bone." The Pikachu shivered, but said nothing. "Some convenience stores today sell Poke Balls that look like the old iron ones. Oh hey, Shanala, that might interest you--"
The others all glanced to the Vulpix on Lightning's right as she suddenly pressed her muzzle to the capsule-window, eyes aglow. Outside, Slick was approaching a jeweler's stall, the Vulpix watching his every move. Staring up toward the counter, they saw Slick's mouth move, the jeweler taking out a box.
From Slick's belt, they couldn't see inside, but when the box was opened, the stone inside cast a fiery orange glow on the lid. Shanala's tails wagged with excitement as she saw Slick reach for his wallet.
"Calm down, Shanala, you don't know it's for you," said Rush. "He's already got Firaga for fire attacks. He'll probably drop you soon." Insyte gave the Marshtomp a dirty look. Lightning felt his fur rise at Rush's bluntness, but that was how the Marshtomp usually spoke, he reminded himself.
To Shanala's disappointment, the jeweler frowned at the money in Slick's hand and shook his head. "Not nearly enough," muttered Rush--the only one who could fluently understand human speech. Ears drooping, the Vulpix curled up in her ball quietly and said nothing. "Sorry, Shanala... better luck next time."
A bread knife, a few loaves; some potions, some berries; perhaps Slick was just as disappointed as Shanala, as he hurried through the rest of his errands, quickly leaving the market afterwards.
Their attention turned to the vast expanse of trees beyond Slateport. Lightning's eyes traced the winding dirt-paved trail up ahead towards the rocky shores, the foaming waves crashing in Slate Bay to the northeast. Lightning tasted the earthy scents of the wild, drifting through his Poke Ball's micro-vents. These were scents he could appreciate, even if a human couldn't.
The Pikachu could see the tangles of short and tall grasses that were decorating the shores in the distance. A gleaming bridge of concrete and steel spanned the width of the bay, connecting Slateport to the distant buildings of Mauville, while leaving the Pokemon dwelling in the wilderness undisturbed.
As they passed through the north gate, Lightning glanced up to Slick, suddenly worried. Six months at a human's side and not a day of training to show for it. He'd watched Slick's travels unfold from his Poke Ball, never used in battle, always left in safety, never challenged, always set aside. What would Slick's Hoenn tour hold in store for him?
Chapter 2: Inside a Poke Ball, Part 1
The best recognizable symbol of the bond between human and Pokemon is the Poke Ball.
Two thousand years ago, the hero Aluxiver joined forces with the Eevee warrior Mythic, leader of the wilderness. With the powers of the ancients, they defeated Giratina, lord of the underworld, and established a lasting peace between mankind and Pokemon throughout the lands.
The hero's victory proved to the world that despite the differences between the two races, humans and Pokemon could accomplish great deeds together. And though cooperation had long existed between Pokemon and humans, Aluxiver was immortalized as the world's first Pokemon trainer.
As friends and allies, Pokemon and humans would bond through adventure, through terror, through shared pain. From man, Pokemon learned compassion; and from Pokemon, man learned instinct. Thus was born the legacy of the Pokemon Trainer, and with it, the rise of the Poke Ball.
An mysterious yet widely used device, the modern Poke Ball has an outer shell of semi-rigid polymer. The top half is transparent red, while the bottom half is opaque white. The interior contains an eight-lens laser that, when focused on a Pokemon, transforms them into a compressible state of matter.
As energy, the Pokemon is shrunken down to fit inside the capsule. Its aura will resonate with an energy crystal, which acts as a medium for the bond between the Pokemon and the trainer. This crystal also ensures that the Pokemon cannot be recaptured.
If a newly caught Pokemon is able to escape before the ball registers a capture, however, the crystal shatters, rendering the capsule useless. In recent models, the memory unit stores the auras of both the captive Pokemon and its trainer to prevent theft or misuse.
It is unknown why Poke Balls are immune to the effects of electromagnetic pulses or any form of electronic interference, or why they have no detrimental side effects on the Pokemon. Yet one thing remains certain, for no known reason: Regardless of ability, size, type, or free spirit, any Pokemon can live comfortably inside a Poke Ball...
And it was one such capsule from which a Pikachu watched his trainer approach his opponent, one sunny morning. Sektek still remembered the day of his capture, nine months ago, the whirling capsule that cut short his battle, his terror within the Poke Ball, hearing Slick's voice from every direction... The boy had named him "Lightning" on that day.
At first, the Pikachu had been terrified and ashamed, barely able to even look at his teammates. He'd heard stories about humans in the wild, of course, how trainers sometimes mistreated their Pokemon. But for six months, Slick had barely touched him at all...
In that moment, Slick's hand grasped his capsule. Palm and fingers curled over the dome-window, the thumb reaching for the silver button. Still not used to the sight, the Pikachu cringed as the capsule flashed with white light around him. "Lightning, you're on!"
Paws leaving the gel-pads, the Pikachu was swept out from the capsule in a flood of white light and tossed out into the open, the ground shrinking as he resumed normal size. The world rushed upon him in a thrill of senses, his heart pounding a mile a minute. "Pikapi!"
Pungent, earthy scents swept over the Pikachu, cool grass gently pressing on him as the breeze filled his fur. The wilderness had more light and more shadow than the view from a Poke Ball would suggest, no longer filtered in red, but displaying resplendent green hues.
With a thump, a Lombre landed on the other side of the battle ring. A Pokemon battle had begun.
"Lombre, headbutt!" ordered the trainer at one end of the arena. Nod ding, the Lombre at the trainer's side sprinted down the grass and sprang headfirst into the other trainer's Pikachu with a croak, knocking the rodent to the ground.
Wincing as his Pikachu hit the turf, Slick examined his opponent carefully- a triathlete in a blue jersey, shorts, running shoes, and shades. "Lightning, use thundershock!"
Getting to his paws, Sektek stared hard at the Lombre, his paws clenched. Electricity flashed in his yellow-green eyes as twin bursts of golden sparks flashed from his red cheeks and struck his opponent, electrocuting the Lombre.
"Lombre, Water Gun!" ordered the triathlete. Grunting, the Lombre shook off the last of the sparks, crouched low, and spat a pressurized burst of water at Lightning, stinging the Pikachu and sending him reeling back a few steps.
"Lightning, Shock Wave!" Soaked fur flat against his flesh, Sektek pointed at Lombre with a paw and sent a jagged column of blue sparks slashing across the grass with a sharp cry. The swift electric cyclone crackled loudly as it engulfed his opponent, drawing a yell from beneath the Lombre's lilypad hat.
"Lombre! Mega Drain!" Breathing hard, the Lombre got up and pointed a gnarled finger at Sektek. The Pikachu gasped as green tendrils of energy shot from his chest and swirled into the Lombre, sinking to the ground, suddenly fatigued as if his blood was drawn.
"Lightning! Don't give in!" called Slick, his voice firm but supportive. "Secret Power!" Breathing hard, the Pikachu stumbled to his feet and glanced back up at his trainer, then stared at the Lombre.
"Hey, you're a member of the Secret Power Society?" said the triathlete, grinning. "Nice! I've heard they have great training regimens."
Slick didn't return the smile. Ignoring Slick and the triathlete both, Sektek ran at the Lombre, cheeks crackling as he sprang up and somersaulted in midair, striking down with a glowing Lightning-bolt tail towards his opponent's head. As the Lombre crumpled to the ground with a moan, the Pikachu prepared to finish his foe off with a spinning tail strike.
But then, right as he was about to deal the final blow, the Pikachu caught sight of his target and completely froze, his paws shaking as he stared down at his opponent. The Lombre's eyes were terrified, wide with the fear of a cornered animal--just like Venvel, one year ago...
Chapter 3: First Time
"Well, not bad, Lightning," said Shanala as the team rested on a couch in the Mauville Pokemon Center. "I suppose you'll be joining the rest of us now, hm?" Sektek nodded silently, not sure how to answer. Outside, the sky was growing dark; Slick was picking up food from a deli next to the bike shop.
To Shanala's left, Insyte stretched and yawned."He won't be with us long," said the Umbreon, prodding Sektek with a paw. "Lightning here almost lost to a little Lombre. From what? A weak absorption attack or two?" Annoyed, the Pikachu glared at him, but again, didn't know how to answer; the Umbreon was probably right.
"Pikachus are pretty frail, statistically," pointed out Rush. "Not so much heavy warriors like you or me, you know? He'd have a key niche in a larger plan. Besides, according to Slick's PokeTool, Lightning's experience rating is level twelve. Our ratings are all at least level twenty. Give him some time to catch up."
"PokeTool? Don't trust that garbage," snorted Insyte. "He ought to get a proper Pokedex someday. Right, Firaga?" He nudged the Charmleon next to him, who paled and nodded, his eyes dull and unfocused. Sektek stared.
"So, Lightning, how was it like, fighting a real opponent today?" asked Rush, looking at Sektek. Shoot, they were all looking at him now. "Come on, little guy, we don't want you to be left out or anything!" Insyte snorted from suppressed laughter, but said nothing.
All these stares were making Sektek uncomfortable. What answer would make all the stares go away? "It was... um... fine," said the Pikachu nervously, still looking down, avoiding looking any of them in the eye.
"Yeah, sure it was," said Insyte snidely, looking at the Pikachu with glittering red eyes. "So you think you're part of some beautiful plan, huh? Well, let me tell you this, kid! You're completely wrong. He's a human! He doesn't understand us. He does what he feels like doing."
"What do you mean?" blurted out Sektek, looking around, confused. "What'll he do with me?" But the others just gave Insyte strange looks, not really agreeing or disagreeing, passing thoughts that he didn't understand. And so he fell silent, still struggling to understand this tactic-driven world, so different from the one he remembered.
But miles away, deep in the woods, another traveler embraced this world with open arms.
"You crossed through time and shadow, and yet you stand with a resolve undeterred," said a Sneasel as he and the Grovyle sparred. "What is it like, to be older than the first human cities in Kanto, to predate the ancient war of legend? Tell me of these ancient times, of the village shining on the western coast."
The Grovyle grinned as his leaf-blade met the Sneasel's cutlass. "The town itself was nothing," said Elias, crouching as he angled his blade under and around the other sword. "No, what made it great were its explorers, teams of Pokemon who wandered the world in search of riches and glory."
"Some sought gold and silver. Others sought fabled relics of great heroes. Some sought ambrosia, sacred food and drink. But it was their dedication to their quests, no matter how meaningless the rewards, that were great."
Breaking blade contact, the Sneasel stepped back from the Grovyle's upward slice. "At the head of society stood an exploration guild, which trained and funded these adventurers," continued Elias. "Of course, not all teams affiliated with the guild, such as Team Retrievers, which made its operations on a crumbling cliff just outside town. But when the Guild thrived, so too did the town."
The Sneasel swung up at the Grovyle, who just barely deflected the blow. "I think I can relate," said the Sneasel as he stepped past Elias for a slice at the Grovyle's shoulder. "It's like how they say the Swordwrit was, in its prosperous years. So what happened to it?"
Elias flinched as the flat of the blade struck his shoulder. "One day, a being called the Master of Darkness appeared and attacked Temporal Tower, home to the Master of Time," said the Grovyle, tucking the arm behind his back before continuing. "It is said that Temporal Tower was built long ago to maintain the flow of time. The resulting backlash of energy was enough to destabilize the planet's orbit, threatening to cast the earth in darkness."
The Sneasel stepped back as Elias advanced with three swift blade-strokes. "Half in chilling darkness, the other half in burning light," amended the Grovyle, striking the Sneasel's arm as well. "And so it would have been, but for two Pokemon, River and Saffron. With the help of their friends, both inside and outside the Guild, the duo gathered up five artifacts known as Time Gears and brought them to Temporal Tower, stabilizing it."
"But the world was not yet free from peril. Furious that his scheme was thwarted by mortals, the Master of Darkness collected three more of the artifacts called Time Gears, and summoned from the abyss an army of shadow beasts to invade the world. Enraged, the Master of Time called upon divine warriors to meet his enemies in battle. And so, war broke out between the Masters of Time and Darkness."
"In the resulting wave of violence, hundreds of Pokemon were wounded, slain, or swallowed by time, never to be seen again. Many of those casualties were close friends of Team Storm. It would be many years before River and Saffron finally stopped the Master of Darkness for good."
Evenly matched, the two Pokemon continued to spar, blocking each other's strikes, circling, moving in and out of each other's range. "You talk about them as if that was a while ago, but they might've found their way to the present day, just like you did," said the Sneasel. "Do you think any of them survived--"
The Sneasel broke off as Elias dealt a flurry of blows from his sword, forcing his opponent back from his rapid blade. "I imagine that anyone who survived to this day would be shocked by what they saw, and would need to adapt or die," said the Grovyle as the tip of his blade touched the Sneasel's throat. "Well? Yield?"
Eyes widening, the Sneasel lowered his sword, watching as Elias too lowered his blade. "Your skill is admirable." The two opponents stared at each other, then returned to the center of the clearing and bowed.
Chapter 4: Rest and Relaxation
A few miles from Littleroot, Slick's Pokemon sat around a fire ring by their master's tent. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the team was relaxing while Slick gave private training sessions in a forest clearing nearby. Today's session belonged to Aohane, Slick's Taillow.
"Aspears, anyone?" offered Rushing River, cross-legged at the forefront of the fire, trying to passing around a basket of plump Aspears. "C'mon. Eat up, boys."
Next to the Marshtomp, Shanala rolled her eyes. "And what about me, Rush?" asked the Vulpix quietly, curling up by the fire's warmth, gazing up at him coolly. "Or am I a boy to you?" Insyte stared at Shanala, his fur bristling. For a moment, Sektek was reminded of another Vulpix and Mudkip pair, old friends from a much older time...
In the past...A Pikachu and an Eevee cheerfully bounded down the road together towards the crossroads, leaving the town market behind them. Both wore Team Retriever neckerchiefs, their leather satchels packed and ready for a day of exploration.
Up ahead at the crossroads, a Mudkip and a Vulpix were waiting by the watering hole, both carrying explorer bags as well, though their neckerchiefs bore the logos of Team Storm. "Team Retrievers!" called the Vulpix, waving her forepaws to get their attention. "Over here!"
"Hiya there, Saffron!" exclaimed Leaf-Light as she arrived at the Watering Hole, with a panting Spark-Tail following right behind her. Grinning, the Eevee glanced Saffron up and down, then looked to the Mudkip. "And River too! What're you guys up to?"
Wagging his rudder-tail, River grinned at Leaf-Light and Spark-Tail, then filled them in. It was no secret that River and Saffron, the legendary duo, were preparing for their final exams at Wigglytuff's Guild. If they passed, they would graduate and earn First-Class Guild Approval status, an extremely prestigious honor amongst explorer teams.
"Anyway, we'll be moving back to Sharpedo Bluff, once we graduate," said Saffron with a sly grin. Wagging her tails in the cool breeze, she poked Leaf-Light with a paw. "I guess we'll be neighbors again, eh Venvel? Just like old times. And now we can help each other out!"
Yes, just like old times. Except that this time, Saffron and River would be the stronger team...
Back in the present
Things were different now. After all this time, he still could not hope to comprehend what Team Storm had done for the world. Between Kanto, Johto, and Hoenn, the world was much larger, deeper, and more complex than he had ever known under human rule.
He didn't like talking to the rest of Slick's Pokemon about his childhood memories. The stories sounded ridiculous when he told them, even in his own head. He'd looked up to River and his extraordinary feats, even though the Mudkip had been much younger than him. But Rush was a different story.
"Aw, come on, Shan, you know what I mean!" chuckled the Marshtomp, prodding the fox's flank and earning him a warning glance from her. "Everybody needs to eat, we've gotta keep our energy up. Chow up, team! You too, Lightning."
Sektek said nothing- he disliked his own voice and avoided talking whenever possible. "Oh for christ's sake, put your shoulders down," said Insyte irritably, while Rush pushed the fruit basket over to Shanala, who turned her head away. "We're your teammates, we're not gonna rip out your heart in your sleep."
"Naw man, Lightning just needs to chill out," put in the Lombre, nodding at Sektek. "See, man, he's gotten all filled up with the fightin', and all the eatin', and all the storytellin', and all that stuff, man. He just gotta chillax for a bit, y'know?"
The Vulpix sniffed at the Lombre rather disdainfully. "I think you're high again, Leroy," said Shanala, shaking her head and tails in disapproval. "Don't you ever think you ought to cut back? All that smoke can't be good for your lungs or your hat."
From Leroy's other side, Insyte snorted and pushed the untouched basket over to Sektek. "Rush, you twit, you know none of us like Aspears," snorted the Umbreon, eyes gleaming and rings flashing. His voice dropped into a crude imitation of Rush. "'Okay, pucker up boys! Let's eat antifreeze! What's that? Your tongue's swollen? I can't hear you!'"
Ignoring the berries, Sektek pushed the basket to Shanala, not looking up from the fire. Grinning at Insyte, Rush got up onto one knee and began cracking his knuckles. "Oh, you wanna play like that, eh?" replied the Marshtomp, raising his fists. "You and me, Insyte. I'll take you any day."
In the past"My daddy thinks you'll be able to handle Level C jobs now, since you've evolved and all," giggled Leaf-Light as she and Spark-Tail sat in the shade, across from the Kecleon Market. "Mmhm. Say, did you hear about Saffron? Well, you'll never guess what happened last night..."
Blinking, the Pikachu looked up at her. "Saffron? You mean that pretty Vulpix who lives next door?" uttered young Spark-Tail. "I- um- I thought she didn't come home last night. Wasn't she at the beach or something...?"
"Heehee! Yes, of course she was at the beach again," replied the Eevee cheerfully, poking Spark-Tail with a paw. "But but, see... you remember that huge storm from two nights ago? Well, I guess a little fishy-fish washed up on the shore!"
"Yeah!" said Leaf-Light excitedly. "So like, she was walking down the beach, and then she sees this cute Mudkip boy lying unconscious on the beach. Apparently his name was River. And he lost his memory or something. But like, that's not all... She said he said he used to be a human!"
"What's a human?" asked the Pikachu, confused, but wanting to hear more.
The Eevee blinked, then shrugged. "I dunno, but I bet it's something cool," giggled Leaf-Light, watching as a Wurmple and a Swellow haggled with one of the Kecleons. ""Anyway, Saffron and River took to each other really nicely. They even went into Wigglytuff's Guild together!" The Eevee grinned. "I heard they're called Team Storm."
"Y-you mean- she's an apprentice now?" blurted out Spark-Tail. Even though he was a full explorer on Ilun's team while Saffron was just an apprentice, the Pikachu was just a rookie, and the Guild had really good training. "Is Ilun still giving her money for explorations?"
"Oh well, you know how Daddy is," said the Eevee, grinning at the Pikachu. "He's gonna be funding Saffron's and River's education and the rest will come out of their earnings. Makes you glad that we get to keep the full rewards, hm?" Leaf-Light paused and glanced towards Kangaskhan Storage. "Anyway, we've got a few minutes before we meet Cory and Daddy at the crossroads, so let's go get supplies."
Back in the present
The air grew thick with tension as Rush and Insyte glared at each other from opposite sides of the fire. Then, as Shanala, Sektek, and Leroy stared, both Umbreon and Marshtomp burst into laughter, dispelling the hostility as quickly as it had come.
"So, Lightning, got any more stories from the 'ancient past'?" snickered Insyte as he settled down by the fire, curling his lip at the Pikachu as Rush grabbed an Aspear from the basket. "Tell us about your friends from, uh, 'Treasure Town!' I need a good laugh."
Sektek signed inwardly, wishing he'd never told anyone where he came from. On top of that, he particularly hated talking about how was he supposed to explain that a freak wormhole in time and space appeared out of nowhere and swallowed him up, then deposited him in the future? Even he didn't really believe what happened to himself. He certainly didn't want to believe it.
"Come on, let's hear some of your stories again!" called Insyte, slapping the ground with a paw and startling Sektek out of his thoughts. "That last one about the big fat Wiggly who punched a hole in a wall, that was a really good one. Tell us more about that one place, 'Carvanha Cliff!'"
"Whoa man, it's 'Sharpedo Bluff', not 'Carvanha Cliff', and his real name is 'Sektek'," laughed Rush, giving Insyte a friendly punch in the flank and grinning at Sektek with mirth. "Get it right, dude!"
"Oh yeah, right," chuckled Insyte, curling up by the fire and grinning at the Pikachu. "Yeah, talk about 'Sharpedo Bluff', Sparkle boy! Talk about the big cliff that looks EXACTLY like a shark!"
The Pikachu looked away and glared down at the grass, fuming silently. Insyte and Rush were the last two people in the world Sektek wanted to talk to. Thinking about the cliff brought back too many painful memories; it reminded him of River, Saffron, and- most painfully of all- Venvel.
He was on the verge of getting up and walking away when Shanala prodded him gently with a tail, beckoning him to stay. "I'd like to hear about Team Retrievers too," said the Vulpix quietly, giving the Pikachu an encouraging smile as she lay down beside the campfire, her eyes soft and warm.
Well, that was it, there was no fleeing now. Sektek glanced around the fire, looking to Rush's and Insyte's grins, then glancing back to Shanala- and back again. "W-well, um... there was once a Linoone- named Ilun," began the Pikachu, staring at the ground, hard. "And, well- he was sort of the leader of Team Retrievers."
Insyte was already smirking. Sparktail wished he could wipe that snide grin right off the Umbreon's face. But then again, he knew it must be a pain to listen to him.... "Ilun? That's a nice name," said Shanala, nodding to Sektek, beckoning him to continue. "Was he a nice guy?"
"Y-yeah, he was pretty nice," said the Pikachu, growing annoyed with his own voice. No small wonder why Insyte and Rush made fun of him. "Anyway... uh... He had a wife and- well- and a daughter." Sektek trailed off for a moment, then added quietly, "I was- well- friends with the daughter. They all lived at Sharpedo Bluff, see- and they... sort of... took me in."
"Oh, I'm sure they did," chortled Rush as Insyte snickered with laughter. "What, did you all live in the fin or something?"
Shanala gave Insyte and Rush a dark look, conveying something that Sektek couldn't read. "Go on, Lightning," said the Vulpix without looking back at the Pikachu, voice trembling as she looked at the Umbreon. "Tell the rest of the story."
Sektek hesitated. He didn't want to talk, and he really didn't want to think about the past, but... it seemed he had no choice. . "Well- there's a lot of caves in the cliff, so they had plenty of room for me," he said. "Umm, well- I never met Ilun's mate, but... her name was Laurel. And... the daughter was called... Venvel."
In the pastAt Sharpedo Bluff, in a spacious cavern within the stone shark's makeshift gills, where enclosing stone walls protected the inhabitants from the elements, six Pokemon sat in a huddle around a campfire, mourning the disappearance of their dear friends, River and Saffron.
As the warmth of the fire gently Leaf-Light huddled up close to her father and leader Ilun, who placed a comforting paw on the Eevee's shoulder. Beside the Pikachu sat Ilun's partner, Cory the Lucario; and between Cory and Leaf-Light sat the fire-tender, Vulcan the Quilava. They, too missed Team Storm with all their hearts.
It wasn't just that Ilun had been paying for Team Storm's training at Wiggyltuff's Guild, no. River and Saffron had an innocence like no other. Growing up in Sharpedo Bluff's mouth-cavern, Saffron had been like a sister to Leaf-Light, and Ilun had been the father that Saffron never had.
They didn't know River as well; Saffron found River on the night she moved out of Sharpedo Bluff. But River always seemed confident and hopeful. Spark-Tail really liked and admired that, though he was always too shy to talk to the Mudkip.
Cory thought vaguely that Ilun had never looked so sad, not since the day that Laurel passed away.
Back in the present
Sektek trailed off as Insyte yawned loudly. "So you heard that she heard that someone heard that Riverboy said that he was a human?" snorted the Umbreon, sneering at the Pikachu from across the fire. "I swear, Sparkle boy, your stories have gotten stupider, if that's possible."
"Hey, watch the language," warned Rush sharply, swatting Insyte's flank. "There's a lady present." Next to Sektek, Shanala rolled her eyes while Insyte shot the Marshtomp a poisonous glare, but said nothing. "Now Lightning, m'boy, when are you going to show up this 'Venvel' friend of yours?"
Rush didn't believe in Venvel. None of them believed Sektek's stories, really, and he could tell, no matter how much Shanala tried. And the Pikachu had to admit to himself- reluctantly- that he wouldn't believe his own stories if he heard them.
And so, late that night, the Pikachu lay in his Poke Ball, clutching his volt charm and staring into its crackling depths, thinking about Venvel and wondering what the coming days would bring.
Chapter 5: Private Training
"You've been doing good, Lightning, but your tail attacks are getting sloppy," said Slick, squatting down beside Sektek in the sunlit forest clearing. His mouse-heart humming, the Pikachu stared down at the bread knife placed before him, alone in the woods save for his trainer. "Today, let's practice some basic techniques. Now stand!"
Though he couldn't understand every word and every subtle meaning, the Pikachu got the gist of his trainer's words. With an obedient 'Pika!', Sektek got up onto his hindpaws and picked up the bread knife. "Stance!"
He moved into front posture: one foot forward, right paw grasping the knife near the blade and left paw at the handle's base. "Hold position," ordered Slick, and Sektek obeyed, his muscles straining against the weight of the breadknife. "Five, four, three, two, one; good job."
Lowering the bread knife, Sektek relaxed and took a moment to catch his breath before Slick continued again. "Now... lift!" Instantly he shifted back into posture, holding the blade by his cheek. "Five, four, three, two, one; and back down."
They repeated the exercise three more times before Slick moved onto the next stage. "Now as I taught you, lift- step forward and slash down!" ordered the trainer. Blade level with his eyes, the Pikachu strode forward and slashed down, simultaneously dropping to one knee, before stepping back to front stance. "Again."
Forward, slash-down, up, back. The rodent's fur grew damp with sweat in the afternoon sunlight as Slick led him through the standard swordsmanship drills. Tiny blue sparks crackled down the bread knife's length from Sektek's paws as he practiced down slashes, side slashes, high slashes, cross blows, thrusts, lunges, and dodges- executing each technique just as his trainer had taught him.
"Okay, Lightning, I'll leave you to do some private training," said Slick finally, rising to his feet and turning to leave the clearing. "Don't wander off, okay? Just give me a shout if you need me!"
Taking a deep breath as his trainer strode off into the trees, Sektek smoothed down his sweat-slicked fur and raised the bread knife to eye level again. Pressing the cool metal blade to the side of his head, just above his crackling red cheek, the Pikachu stepped forward with a slash, then back again. Step forward, slash, step back; step forward, slash, step back.
As the minutes drew on, and his paws grew sweaty on the bread knife's handle, Sektek tried to pretend that he was fighting a real enemy. Conjuring up a memory of a Houndoom, the Pikachu stepped forward, and slashed an X into the hellhound's chest before stepping back. Stepping forward again, he whirled around as he slashed, slicing at each of the four legs before returning to opening stance.
"As always, you're putting too much force into the blade," said a calm voice, startling Sektek into dropping the bread knife. "Let the knife do the work, my friend. Don't waste your emotions on a sword- they don't have any."
Blinking, the Pikachu glanced up to the tree-tops. "Who's there?" he called, eyes darting around. Chuckling, a Grovyle with a woven leaf blade dropped into the clearing, sending Sektek leaping back. "You-- you're Elias, the Time Gear Thief!"
The Grovyle's eyes narrowed. "Time Gear Thief," he repeated. "Few know me by that title now. But of course, few have seen the glory of Treasure Town." He frowned at the Pikachu. "You seem familiar. Have we met?"
His heart pounded as the Grovyle circled him. Elias, Team Storm's ally, who helped to save the world. A living legend. "I... I'm Sektek. Sektek, of Team Retrievers." After all this time, trying to forget about those days, the name sounded hollow, empty. "Please! You have to help me." The Pikachu reached up toward Elias. "I... I have to get back home."
The Grovyle looked at the Pikachu sadly. "This may sound harsh," he murmured. "But you must forget about Team Retrievers." The Pikachu's heart skipped a beat as Elias rested a hand on his shoulder. "Sektek, don't you realize? You've been gone from this world for three thousand years."
In the pastStumbling through the desert, his throat parched and his eyes burning from the searing heat and the harsh sweeping winds. Everywhere was hot and dry, the earth baked and hardened into clay.
But he and Venvel had to keep going. Because of Team Storm, River and Saffron, and the warning they had brought home. Because Ilun had promised Team Storm that Team Retrievers would help save Temporal Tower.
Little Spark-Tail had to do his part to help his friends, had to help find the Time Gears. But he couldn't go on. His head throbbed with every step.
A pair of eyes gazed through the cruel haze. A green hand reached out for him, pulled him into a craggy alcove where the desert's wrath could not touch him. Blinking, the Pikachu stared up at the hand, stared up at the eyes that he had feared until River came home, and told the world that the Time Gear Thief had been trying to save the world all along.
He lay still in the shade on the sand, gasping for breath, barely able to understand everything that was going on around him. Beside him lay Venvel, just as exhausted, just as thirsty. Together the two children stared up at Elias as the Grovyle gently pressed waterskins to their lips. "We can rest here," said Elias, his eyes kind but firm. "Let me know when you can continue."
Back in the present
Numbly, the Pikachu stared at the ground. "Cheer up," said the Grovyle gently, patting his shoulder. "You might not have your old team, but Slick and his Pokemon are still there for you. How are they doing? Are you getting along with them?"
The Pikachu hesitated. No, he didn't get along with the others. But he must be very annoying to them, so the flak from Insyte and Rush seemed reasonable. No, no, he was overthinking this. How long had Elias been waiting for a response? "Oh--um... yeah, they're fine," said Sektek quickly. "I think..."
Half-concerned, half-amused, Elias studied Sektek. "Are you sure?" said the Grovyle. "You've spent all hours of the day with these Pokemon for how many months, and you still aren't comfortable around them?"
What could he say to that? The Grovyle seemed to understand his thoughts before he even spoke. "I... I can't. I keep thinking about... well... the old days... I-I'm sorry." It felt silly to apologize, but he didn't want the Grovyle to get mad at him.
"Oh, don't apologize to me," replied Elias, crossing his arms. "Listen, Sektek. I know it's hard to forget your old team. But you've got to move on; there isn't any other choice. The Age of Explorers ended three thousand years ago. All you can do is make the most of what you have. Just like River and Saffron."
The Grovyle's words were familiar, painfully familiar."Wherever, however you go through life, always look to the road ahead," Ilun had always said. "Because no matter what, the road behind you is one that you won't be traveling again."
Sighing, the Pikachu sat at the base of the stump, staring at his reflection in the bread knife. Of course he missed his friends. River, Saffron, Fluff, Vulcan, Mint, Sir Tane, Venvel... what happened to them all? What sort of adventures did they go on? He'd lost all contact with them, just like human boys and girls parting with their friends from kindergarten.
And there were things that sounded very simple back in the past, which now seemed very complex and unlikely. He remembered the Time Gears, remembered the announcement in Treasure Town when Team Storm returned, but he'd never really wondered about the entire incident until after he'd landed in the present era. What was Temporal Tower? Why did it nearly collapse? How could River be from the same world as Elias? He might never know the answers.
"Sektek, did you get all that?" Silently berating himself for letting his mind wander, the Pikachu quickly glanced up at Elias. "See, this is part of the problem," sighed the Grovyle. "You get displaced from the present too easily, Sektek. You need to learn to stay in the here and now. River didn't have me, but he found Saffron. And you? You're surrounded by potential friends, but you're shutting them out!"
"I don't want new friends," muttered the Pikachu. Three thousand years? The whole incident still felt as if it was just a year ago. These thoughts were stupid, childish, but he didn't know what else to say. "I... I can't forget Venvel. We played, we talked, we laughed... I don't want Rush, or Insyte, or the others--"
Elias gave him a stern look that made him recoil. "Your allies may be rough, but they have good intentions at heart," replied the Grovyle, rising to his feet. "Slick feeds you; he clothes you; he shelters you; he teaches you. Don't you understand what your trainer does for you?"
Keeping his eyes down, Sektek regretted saying anything, and didn't answer. "People want to talk to you; but you don't answer them. Instead you retreat. You don't say a thing to them, and when you talk, you're so reluctant to communicate that no one can hear you. You mustn't be like that. Domestic Pokemon eventually forget what it was like to be wild... but a wild Pokemon never forgets what it was like to be domestic."
Sektek flinched; the Grovyle was almost always right. Elias padded over to the edge of the clearing, then stopped. Drawing his leaf blade, he whirled around to face the Pikachu, slipping back into stance. Sektek had learned a while ago that Elias' sword was much sturdier than it appeared, and was not easily slashed apart. "Now stand, pick up that bread knife, and let's spar."
Chapter 6: Domestic or Wild? Part 1
-------He raced through the trees. The Eevee was just up ahead. His eyes widened as he recognized her scent. Could it be?
A dry leaf crunched under his paw. The PIkachu froze as the Eevee leapt up, terrified. He struggled for words, trying to call out to her, to assure her that it was all right.
Backing away, the Eevee turned and fled into the brush. "Wait!" cried the Pikachu. "Come back!"
Sektek woke abruptly as Slick's fingers wrapped around the red dome window, the Poke Ball detatching from the Trainer's belt with a click. Sitting upright, the Pikachu grabbed his volt charm before glowing light surrounded him and swept him out into the battlefield.
Landing with a thump on the grass, the Pikachu found himself crouching before a Zigzagoon and its trainer. Another forest, another Pokemon; but this was no dream, no memory. "Ziggu ziggu!" barked the raccoon, baring its teeth at Sektek, who gulped.
"Lightning! Thundershock!" ordered Slick, pointing at the Zigzagoon.Lightning.
Sektek's other name. He clenched his paws and shot sparks at his opponent, who howled as the electricity flashed through its body.
"Hang in there, Zigzagoon! Tail whip!" ordered the other trainer. The Pikachu cringed as he heard the sounds linked with tail attacks, expecting a stinging tail blow. But instead, the Zigzagoon let out a soft woof and gently brushed its tail against him.
At once, the Pikachu's leg muscles slackened, softened; he tried to tense, but couldn't. What did the Zigzagoon do to him? "Shake it off! Zap it again!" ordered Slick. Still worried, the Pikachu seized the Zigzagoon as it started to run, sending a strong jolt into its body.
Yipping, the Zigzagoon reeled back with tottering steps. "Keep at it! Take him down!" called the other trainer. Quickly, Sektek tried to duck as the tiny raccoon lunged at him, but his foe was too close; he was knocked off his paws, landing on his back in the mud.
"Tail swipe him!" Grunting, the Pikachu scrambled to his paws and swung out with his tail, striking the Zigzagoon across the muzzle, sending the raccoon skittering away with another howl.
Falling forward, Lightning's paws hit the dirt. His chest heaved for breath, his rapid pulse approaching a steady vibration. "His guard's down! Scratch him good, quick!"
As the Zigzagoon rushed in for another blow, the Pikachu thought he saw another swish of brown fur--a lighter, softer brown--but before he could get a good look, the Zigzagoon's claws came down on his back, snagging at the Pikachu's fur.
"Yeah! Don't let up!" hollered the opponent trainer as the Zigzagoon circled back around, still panting. "Aim for the cheeks!"
"Careful, Lightning!" called Slick, cupping his hands around his mouth. "You're both on the ropes! One more shock should do it!"
Barking loudly, the Zigzagoon leapt up at Sektek again with raised claws. Sliding under his foe on his back, the Pikachu released a strong burst of electricity up into the Zigzagoon's belly. "Piii-KA!"
The Zigzagoon squealed as the electricity shot through its body, all its nerves firing at once. As he tumbled past the raccoon, Sektek could faintly smell burnt fur. "Zigzagoon!" cried the other trainer as his Pokemon collapsed to to the ground.
As the dust cleared, Sektek slowly got to his paws, wincing at the cuts on his back, but feeling satisfied. The other boy knelt down by the unconscious Zigzagoon, patting its head before returning it to its Poke Ball with the click of a button.
"Good game," said the other trainer after a moment, crossing the battle ring and shaking Slick's hand. "I did my best, so no regrets. The name's Eddie. How much did we wager again?"
"500 Pokedollars, I think," said Slick awkwardly. His shoulder grew tense, eyes avoiding the other trainer; but he held a somewhat friendly expression--or so Sektek thought, anyway--while Eddie counted out the money. "I'm Slick."
Leaning on his trainer's leg, Sektek let out a relieved sigh, body still warm and throbbing with his rapid, rodent's heartbeat. Brushing down his filthy fur, he glanced around for that other Pokemon, but saw no one. Had it just been the Zigzagoon?
Eddie frowned at Slick for a moment, then grinned. "I live over in Petalburg, see," said the boy as Slick tenatively accepted the money from him. "Well, I guess I'll be seeing you!"
Retying his shoes, he rose up and jogged off down the forest trail. As Eddie's footsteps faded, Slick's shoulders finally relaxed, expression growing warm, voice loosening up.
Sqatting down, he smiled and gently scratched Sektek behind the ears. "Good job, Lightning," he said. "Looks like you've got the upright slash covered. That makes seven techniques!"
Content, the Pikachu slowly closed his eyes. For once, he was pleased with his performance, his every step fluid, anticipating his opponent's movements. Perhaps, he was finally embracing the world as he saw it.
Probably not enough to best Elias. The Grovyle always prevailed over him, always without leaving a scratch on the Pikachu. "But of course,
" Elias would say. "A bloodless victory takes more skill than simply battering down your foe's will. This is the difference between domestic and wild.
Domestic. Wild. As he returned to his Poke Ball, Sektek stared at his volt charm, troubled. Why? Why did Elias care so much about whether he called himself domestic or wild...?
Chapter 7: Domestic or Wild? Part 2
Domestic Pokemon. Wild Pokemon. The Grovyle's words left a mark on Sektek. In the coming days, Elias continued to visit Sektek, shaping the young Pikachu's life, tugging him out from the curtains of youth and into stern reality.
Striding back and forth in front of his Pokemon, Slick delivered his pep talk with fire in his eyes. "Remember, Hoenn's not like Kanto or Johto," translated Rush. "The forests are denser, the roads are narrower, and the Pokemon are bolder. No jumping out early, okay? We can't afford to be ambushed."
Time passed. Slowly, Sektek became a stronger warrior under Slick's tutelage. With increasing urgency, Elias urged the Pikachu to bond with his teammates.
"Teamwork is very important, you know," Elias would say after a sparring round, returning his leaf-blade to his back with a twirling flourish. "Take Shanala's techinque, 'Sunny Day.' She calls down the sun's light and intensifies its rays."
"What about it?" asked Sektek.
"It's all about timing," explained the Grovyle. "Normally, in the time that Leroy has charged and fired his Solar Beam technique, the opponent has already had time to strike him twice. But because the sun's rays are much stronger, he is able to absorbe energy far more quickly--"
"A-all right, I get it," said Sektek weakly, trying to cut off Elias before the Grovyle went too far.
Now Sektek found himself in Storage. He stood in a grassy meadow, bordered by trees, false sunlight on his back. Anxious, the Pikachu gazed up at the sky, waiting for his trainer to call upon him again.
He shouldn't feel such shame, of course. This wasn't the first time he had been switched out. The team lineup changed all the time. Insyte would get switched out with a Geodude when Slick went spelunking. Aohane was switched out with that Wingull, Bailey.
Even so, he was dismayed. Hadn't he worked hard? Wasn't he good enough? Perhaps, when he was first caught, Sektek might've been happy here, in this artificial world, isolated from reality. But now...
Finally, he heard Slick's voice echoing from the outside world, faintly vibrating through Storage. "I'm sorry, Firaga. We've made a lot of good memories together. But if you don't give me anything to work with... Lightning, you're up."
As if grabbed by an invisible hand, the Pikachu was lifted up into the air.Calm, stay calm; this is nothing new.
A spherical wire-frame enclosed him as his Poke Ball was reassembled around him, piece by piece.
As he was whisked down the glowing pathway, Sektek caught a glimpse of Firaga, passing in the opposite direction. Just a glimpse. Just enough to register the Charmeleon's dull, defeated eyes.
Light brown walls and wooden coffee tables. The motel room was cheap, but clean. Slick was sprawled on the couch that night, fast asleep, his Pokemon huddled on the rug in the middle of the room.
"The Petalburg Gym Leader's name is Norman," said Rush in a hushed voice. "Four years ago, his son Brendan intervened in the Sootopolis weather crisis and became the Champion three weeks later."
"And then disappeared two weeks after that," muttered Insyte. "How useful."
Paying no attention to the others. Sektek appproached the TV against the wall. The glass screen was cool to Sektek's touch. In the back of his head, he knew the console could come to life at the touch of a button.
Now, 'Route 50' was a pretty good show. Apparently, when humans had been developing the lands west of Cianwood, they'd forgotten to build a Route 50. The show focused on a fictional idea of what life in such a place would be like.
Though the writers had taken great artistic liberties, the series was a major hit, thanks to its wide variety of characters. The fifth season had recently premiered.
Personally, the Pikachu thought most of the male cast needed to be dropped, especially that one Ninetales that rode on Skarmories, but it didn't matter. His favorite character was probably the red-and-blue Torchic.
Why? Why should it remind him of Team Retrievers so much? A TV show was just a story. Venvel was real... wasn't she?
Maybe Rush and the others were right. Maybe it really was all a dream. Maybe, just maybe, he really had imagined everything.Elias is real,
he reminded himself. Elias is proof that the past is real.
But Elias was too mysterious. Someone he hadn't known very well.
Six months had passed since Slick arrived in Hoenn, since the Pikachu began training. Even if Team Retrievers had once been real, it wasn't relevant to the present anymore.
Silently, Lightning looked back at the others. He opened his mouth to speak. Wanted to say something. Wanted to gain their respect. But he couldn't bring himself to speak, to let his thoughts become words. Couldn't bring himself to join in.
Suddenly, Rush looked straight at the Pikachu, a pair of searching orange eyes. "You okay?"
"Huh?" The Pikachu shrank back from the Marshtomp's gaze. "Yeah, I'm fine." Why did he retreat? Why did he always retreat? Why couldn't he just talk to them normally...?
Even though this strange world was becoming familiar, the Pikachu couldn't help but hold back, couldn't help but remain quiet on these nights when the entire team huddled together.
But still, Lightning took a seat on the rug between Bailey and Insyte. After all, this was where he belonged. No matter how many times he was sent to Storage, he always returned. And that meant Slick saw something in him, after all.
Chapter 8: The Light Ball
As Slick and his Pokemon camped on the banks of Route 110, Lightning found himself sitting in the shade of a tree, listening to the whirrs of bicycles crossing the steel bridge overhead A little ways off, Insyte and Rush were off bickering with each other as usual, while Shanala curled up on a rock and fell asleep.
Leaving Rush, Insyte, Shanala, and Lightning to rest up after a particularly tough training session last night, Slick had gone out fishing with Leroy and Aohane earlier in the morning. From Rush's and Insyte's comments, Lightning gathered that Slick was having little success.
From between the tree's roots, the Pikachu watched the others idly with a yawn, relaxing in the cool breeze. It was nice to kick back and relax every now and then, watching time float by, alone with his thoughts.
The Pikachu glanced down to the volt charm next to him. It had been months since he last looked at the golden orb, let alone took it out of his Poke Ball. And now here he was, somewhere in the wilderness, holding this mysterious sphere.
Why was it so special, again? Ah, right, it'd been the reward from his last mission with Team Retrievers. Or was that just something he'd made up? He rubbed his face, feeling annoyed that he couldn't remember what actually happened and what was a dream.
"Now just where've you been hiding, mouse?" hissed a voice from behind him. Lightning froze as Insyte and Rush emerged from behind the tree. How long had they been there, watching him? "Look at that, Rush. Someone thinks he needs a little boost to his bolt! "
Leaves rustled as Bailey dropped down from the branches overhead, flapping to the ground. "Man, do you two ever shut up?" yawned the Wingull, waddlng over to Lightning. Her eyes widened as she saw the Pikachu's volt charm. "Hang on! When did you get a light ball?"
Trying hard not to move, Lightning found himself at a loss for words as usual. Did Bailey mean the volt charm? What was the volt charm, anyway? He'd never really figured out what the volt charm was, or what it was supposed to do.
Rush patted the Wingull's head, earning an annoyed peck from her. "Hey, hey, be nice," chuckled the Marshtomp, resting back on his haunches. "Maybe it was a gift from Slick or something. For his sparkling ninja."
Insyte rolled his eyes. "Oh, yeah, because these are so easy to find, maybe there's one up your butt," scoffed the Umbreon. " Have you any idea how rare these are? No way Slick can afford one."
"That's enough from you, Darky," said Bailey loudly, swatting Insyte until he moved aside. Lightning gulped as the Wingull trotted up to him. "Hey you. Where'd you get the light ball? Family heirloom?"
"The vol..." He caught himself, just barely. "The light ball?" He fumbled for words, staring at the volt charm. Team Retrievers, his last mission with Team Retrievers. No, that was just a story, right? "Um... maybe I stole it?" said the Pikachu tenatively
Bailey blinked. "Whoa there! Are you saying you're a thief?" laughed Rush, slapping Lightning's back just a tad too roughly. " That's kinda shady, don't ya think? But also cool in its own way, I guess!"
Insyte groaned. "Shut up, he's just messing with you," said Insyte, shoving the Marshtomp aside. The Pikachu shrank back from the Umbreon. "All right, very funny, kid. What're you hiding? Answer Bailey's question."
He tried not to sound nervous as Bailey and Insyte stared at him. He couldn't bring up those stories again! Not when they didn't believe them. Not when even he didn't believe them. "A... an Eevee gave it to me," choked out the Pikachu finally. "It was the last mis... the last time we saw each other."
Bailey's eyes narrowed. "Haha! Who's the Eevee, eh?" chuckled Rush, giving the Pikachu a friendly punch that made him wince. "Whoops. Anyway, she your girlfriend or something?"
At that moment, a flailing Slick tumbled off Leroy's back and into the water with a great splash. "Right, I'd better go check on the boy," sighed the Marshtomp, hurrying over to the bank. "On my way, Slick!"
Lightning stared as Rush dove into the water and paddled toward the spluttering, flailing trainer. Then, Bailey suddenly flew in front of his face, wings flapping and talons waving, startling him into dropping the volt charm. Catching the charm, Insyte tossed it up to Bailey.
"Good boy, Insyte," said the Wingull, landing on a low branch with the volt. Distressed, Lightning tried to grab it back, but couldn't reach. "Oh, calm down. We'll give it back in a second. Useless to us anyway."
Anxiously, the Pikachu waited as Bailey examined the light ball. What was the Wingull so fascinated about, anyway? Was it just because the volt charm was something rare? Rare or not, he really hoped he'd get it back.
Meanwhile, Rush and Leroy dragged a drenched Slick out of the river and onto the sunlit bank. "And here, we thought you were like a Meowth when it came to water," sighed Leroy, flopping down next to Slick as Shanala dried the boy off with her hot breath.
There was a pop of static, and Bailey gave a shrill cry. Catching his light ball as it fell, Lightning stared up at the Wingull, worried. Uh-oh. Was it his fault? "Ah! Sorry about that," said Lightning quickly. "Uh... what happened, exactly?"
Flapping to the ground, Bailey looked at Insyte grimly. Her feathers were sticking up, but somehow, she seemed otherwise unhurt. "You're not going to believe this," said the Wingull finally. "Hey, so, you rememberSektek
's stories? Did he ever talk about a volt charm...?"
The Pikachu froze. Did Bailey just call him Sektek? Not Lightning, but Sektek. His old name. "I... I don't really know anything about this light ball," admitted the Pikachu, looking down at the volt charm. "I... I know it might be valuable, but that's it. And I sometimes see electricity in there."
Insyte sighed. "Ever heard of the Spear Pillar?" asked the Umbreon, frowning at the Pikachu. Lightning shook his head. "No? Hmph. Everyone should know what that is. How about...'Temporal Tower'
The Pikachu froze.Temporal Tower.
Why? Why was he hearing that name again? Watching the Pikachu's reaction, Bailey nodded and glanced at Insyte. "You've got to be kidding me," muttered Insyte, clawing the ground. "This stupid brat! Bailey, you really think...?"
The Wingull spat on the ground. "Yeah, it seems pretty likely now," replied Bailey, dejected. She prodded Lightning. "Hey, you. You know all those stories you used to tell? About Treasure Town and Team Retrievers and... all that other stuff?"
The Pikachu nodded silently, feeling his heartbeat in his throat. The Wingull glanced away. "Well, uh... looks like they might've been more than just stories after all."
"Huh?" Lightning felt as if he was splashed with ice water. Where did this come from? No, no. They were stories. Not memories. They were blurred and filtered, like a distant dream. That's what everyone had been telling him all along. So he couldn't let himself believe in them anymore, right? "But... but-"
Insyte swatted the Pikachu on the head. "Don't gloat over this," warned the Umbreon. "We're sorry, all right? It's just, everything you said sounded it came out of a history book. But screw it, you probably can't read anyway."
Lightning stared back at them numbly. "The Spear Pillar is all that's left of a flying castle called Temporal Tower," explained Bailey. "Legends say it was almost destroyed about three thousand years ago, but was saved by a pair of heroes. Just like in your stories. It all matches up."
Temporal Tower. The tower that River and Saffron climbed on that fateful day. River and Saffron, Ilun and Elias. And Ilun... Ilun never came back.
"As for Treasure Town, it's probably the Canaan Ruins west of Olivine," mused Bailey thoughtfully. "The bay seems like the right shape, and those caves might've been a guild at one point..."
Insyte frowned at Bailey. "No way. That place? How do you explain the Sharpedo-shaped cliff, then?"
Bailey shrugged. "They say the cliff at the west side of town used to be several hundred feet longer. Maybe, there really once was a cliff shaped like that."
The Wingull described the ruins and the surrounding terrain. Slowly, Lightning's thoughts thawed as he listened. Yes, these ruins did sound a bit like the town from the Pikachu's memories... stories... memories.
"Don't get me wrong, it still doesn't make sense," muttered the Wingull. "You're just a kid. How could you have lived three thousand years ago?" She lifted her folded wings in a shrug. "But this world's full of strange, inexplicable things. Maybe this is just one more."
Lightning stared at the ground. The stories seemed so bizzare, so fantastic, so impossible to him now. How could they be real? "But, but I was just a little kid. Maybe I did imagine everything...?"
"Ugh, knock it off," said Bailey irritably. She nodded at the Pikachu's light ball. "Your light ball's the proof. It's not like a modern one. It's got a higher density, and the crystal structure's all different. They didn't call it a light ball, either. They called it a volt charm."
In the past
From the trailhead, Spark-Tail, Leaf-Light, and an Absol stared up towards the mountain ahead, their Team Retriever neckerchiefs blowing in the wind. Dry chaparral plants lined the arid slopes, as the hot sun beat down on their backs, and they shielded their eyes with their paws.
Four months since the red light in the skies. A crying Saffron had returned to town alone--without Elias, without Ilun, and without River. Bit by bit, piece by piece, she shared the harrowing tale of her journey. And so the town had mourned their lost heroes, until two weeks ago--when River turned up on the beach.
Sektek still remembered the shock when he and Leaf-Light heard about Ilun's death. The old Linoone had died like a hero, taking a fatal blow so that River and Saffron could fulfill their duty. But still he didn't understand why Ilun had to die. And anything that Sektek was feeling, it must be twice as horrible for Leaf-Light.
With both his wife Laurel and his partner Cory dead, Ilun had left his entire estate to Leaf-Light, who would inherit Team Retrievers when she became of age. In the meantime, Sir Tane would manage it in her stead. But the Eevee didn't care. She just wanted her father back.
"Well, well, this is it," said the Absol, turning back around to face the trio, reaching into his bag to pull out the job description. "All right, let's review. We're searching for a Nidorino, last spotted somewhere on this mountain. The reward's a volt charm." Smiling grimly, he nodded to each of them. "Let's do this, Team Retrievers!"
Back in the present
Sektek took a deep breath. There was quite a bit for him to absorb. To think that the others would accept the stories as memories, just when he'd started to accept the memories as stories. He wiped his eyes, and his paws came away wet. Why were his eyes watering?
Lying in the grass, he stared at Shanala and Rush by the water. Under the afternoon sun, Shanala and Rush looked like River and Saffron, playing on the beach. "Thanks, Bailey," said the Pikachu quietly. "So, um... how'd you... uh... know all this?"
The Wingull grinned. "I used to live near some archaeologist dig sites. I picked up a lot of information on this sort of thing." She spread her wings and hopped up into the air. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna check in with those dorks."
The Pikachu watched as Bailey flew over to Slick. The others all treated him like a kid, and he thought of himselfe as a kid. But it seemed he was thousands of years old. Thousands! He could barely wrap his head around a single year, let alone a thousand.
He'd been dreaming in darkness for three thousand years, but he couldn't remember what that felt like. Sektek took in his surroundings, the lush trees, the swaying grasses, the rolling waves, the glint of cyclists along the paved road overhead. The past didn't feel real anymore. Only this felt real.
Groaning, Insyte lifted his head and stared at Sektek. "Ugh, what is it?" said the Umbreon irritably. "You're still not happy? We were wrong. You were right. What more do you want from us?"
Startled, the Pikachu quickly shook his head. "No, it's- it's... something else," mumbled Sektek, staring off into the distance. "Well... I didn't really think about it too much... I mean, it feels strange... and... I guess I thought I knew everything back then. But... now that I think back, well... the past was scary."
Insyte closed his eyes. "Things always turn out that way," said the Umbreon bitterly, curling up into a ball.
Breathing deeply, Sektek stared into his light ball, muttering to himself. "But also... if I wasn't imagining those days, then... was Venvel real, too?"