Snowcrystal made sure to keep as hidden in the darkness of the backpack as possible, but she could still see as Katie gave Damian a worried glance.
“Can they stay out?” Katie asked. “They won’t be much trouble; they’re well trained. They know the heracross…and well…they don’t like poké balls too much, and…”
“Fine,” the nurse’s voice said grudgingly, and Snowcrystal heard a few odd sounds and then they stepped into what she realized must be the metal door. Suddenly she felt a horrifying sensation, like the floor itself was moving
. She had no clue what kind of room they were in or if something was going horribly wrong, but she had the sense not to move or make any sounds.
Soon the odd motion sensation stopped, and they stepped out into what Snowcrystal realized was another hallway. Katie handed the backpack to Damian again and he put it back on his shoulders; now Snowcrystal could only really see the other side of the hallway as they walked further and further down it. Soon they turned and walked into a smaller room. Snowcrystal couldn’t see much of this room, but she wanted to get a better look. Not knowing if it was safe, however, she stayed put.
“Blissey, will you stay here, please?” the voice of the nurse human asked. A pokémon agreed happily, and Snowcrystal heard footsteps again, which faded quickly.
“All right,” Damian whispered. “The nurse is gone. There are just pokémon here. But we have to make this quick.” He set the backpack down and opened it, and Snowcrystal gladly stepped out.
If any of the helper pokémon working at the center stared at her odd fur color, Snowcrystal didn’t notice. She was too busy looking around at the room. This room had an odd smell to it that Snowcrystal didn’t like, but like the room where the pokémon and their trainers had been waiting, this room was very clean. It was a long room with a lower ceiling than the first room they had walked into upon entering the building. There were several beds lined up near the opposite wall, most of them occupied by various pokémon. On the beds nearest to her, she saw a beat-up looking raichu with a slightly bloodied bandage on its head, a victreebel with what she was pretty sure were burn injuries, and on the nearest bed, Nightshade.
The pokémon working at the center paid no notice as the visiting pokémon, minus Blazefang, approached Nightshade’s bed. Snowcrystal felt herself being lifted up by Damian and placed on the edge of the bed, where she could see him up close. With the humans’ bandages all over him now, she couldn’t tell how bad his injuries were. However, she could see that there were a lot
of bandages. Nightshade’s eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving.
“Is he asleep?” Snowcrystal asked. Before anyone could answer, Alex reached up and shoved Nightshade-a bit too hard, Snowcrystal thought-and he opened his eyes wearily.
“Alex!” Snowcrystal hissed.
Nightshade blinked a few times as his eyes focused on the pokémon around him. He tried to push himself up off the bed a little, but quickly abandoned the attempt.
“Nightshade…” Snowcrystal began. When the heracross didn’t reply, she glanced at the others, who simply looked back at her.
After a moment, Blazefang sighed and turned away. “Hurry it up,” he muttered. “We need to get back to looking for a way to stop the Forbidden Attacks.”
At Blazefang’s words, Nightshade began to speak. “I am glad that you have all found help,” he began in a weak voice, making the pokémon surrounding his bed turn their heads toward him. Even Damian and Katie leaned closer, though they wouldn’t be able to understand his words. “Listen, Snowcrystal,” he began, still sounding dazed but looking steadily into the growlithe’s eyes. “I know that Blazefang is right and that we don’t have a lot of time to speak to each other. I also know that these humans can help in your search more than any pokémon can. Don’t wait for me to recover to keep searching, even if you have to leave the city, and don’t spend too much time coming to visit me. You need to do all you can to find a way to help the legendaries.”
“I…all right,” Snowcrystal replied. She didn’t like the idea of possibly having to leave behind the oldest and wisest pokémon in their group, but she knew that Nightshade wouldn’t want them to delay for his sake.
“Will it take a long time for you to heal?” Alex asked.
“I believe so,” Nightshade sighed. “I’m not sure how long. The nurses and pokémon haven’t told me. It may be a long time.”
Rosie growled. “If Thunder ever shows her face near one of us again, I’ll tear it off!”
“Rosie…” Nightshade said wearily.
“Um, guys, you might want to stop chatting now,” Wildflame began, and suddenly Snowcrystal felt Katie snatch her away from the bed and she was shoved rather unceremoniously back into the backpack.
From a small opening she could peer through, she saw a human nurse walk in just before Katie zipped the backpack almost closed and blocked her sight.
Standing beside Nightshade’s bed, Damian turned to face the nurse, trying to act as if nothing unusual had happened, though not doing a very good job of it. The nurse gave him a funny look and walked over to the victreebel’s bed.
“We’d better go,” Katie said nervously, watching the nurse and the wild pokémon standing around the bed nervously.
“Yeah, you’re right…” Damian replied as he looked at Nightshade. “We still have to see Stormblade.”
“Right…” Katie replied, giving the wild pokémon another worried glance.
“Well, goodbye,” he told the heracross, reaching out to stroke his head. Nightshade looked up at him with what he was sure was a grateful look.
“Her-crroh!” the heracross told him in a weak but calm voice. Damian couldn’t understand him without Arien’s translation, but he was sure he understood the meaning.
He turned and followed Katie as she moved toward the door, checking to make sure that all the pokémon were following them. “Now remember,” she said. “Behave yourselves…
” Behind Damian, Rosie snorted. Turning away from the room one last time, Damian followed Katie out of the door.
This was the forest where the scyther swarm was…the same place she and the others had been to before. Was Master going toward Articuno?
She hoped he was. She hoped the bird pokémon guarding the mountain would kill him. But it didn’t seem like that was going to happen. Master was only interested in the forest and the strong pokémon in it. She was, for the first time since being recaptured, allowed out of her poké ball for more than just a few minutes. Yet there was no escape.
Every time Thunder had been sent out of her poké ball so that Master could treat her wounds, he had ordered his magneton to paralyze her. Now was no different, and with Volco watching her closely and waiting for any excuse to get revenge on her for his lost eye and other past injuries, there was no way she could do anything in her weakened state even if the paralysis wore off early. As she lie on the forest floor, looking up at the leaves of the tree above her, she desperately wished the paralysis could wear off, not so that she could attack Volco, but because she wanted something, even if it was just the tree she was lying next to, to vent her frustration on. Everything had gone wrong. Everything. She had made a mistake in trying to attack Master and lost everything she had to live for.
She thought of the group of pokémon she had followed during her freedom. For just a short, short while when she had first been returned to the poké ball, she had expected them to come looking for her. Yet they hadn’t, of course. They hated her more than she hated them. That much had been clear.
She also thought of the moment in which she had attacked Nightshade. She wasn’t even sure why she had done it. She had simply reached a breaking point, a point when she couldn’t take it anymore-the pain, the hunger, the sickness, the exhaustion, the stress of being around all those pokémon she didn’t like, learning that they planned to go near a human city and she had to follow them or starve in the wild, the sheer frustration of everything-and lost control, or simply lost the ability to care. Looking back, however, she wished it had been someone else that she attacked. Not Nightshade.
In the days after heading back from Articuno’s mountain, she had tried so hard to figure out why he would ever be so willing to help her that she had started to believe he was only using her for some purpose of his own, but it wasn’t until her capture that she really allowed herself to think about it, more so than she had before, and had began to believe that maybe Nightshade wasn’t there to manipulate her at all. She had started to believe she had been wrong.
Maybe Nightshade really did just want to help her. Maybe there really were pokémon out there that naive, or stupid, or whatever it was, to invest so much time in caring for another pokémon. She hadn’t seen much point in it at first. She often remembered the pokémon she had befriended as a young scyther, only to watch them die at the hands of Master and his training methods. She had long thought that was a lesson taught to her not to rely on others, and that was why she had been so reluctant to tell anything to Stormblade or Nightshade at first. When she’d discovered that she liked talking about her plans to kill Master and Volco and about how horrible they were and how they deserved to die to someone who wouldn’t tell her to be quiet about it, she had kept doing it, but she never realized what it meant to her until now, when she had no one.
She remembered Nightshade’s insistence that he understood how she felt, or at least a little bit, he had said. She had thought he was crazy or just really stupid. When he’d told her why, she’d told him she didn’t feel sorry for him and that he was an idiot. Now, she wondered if maybe he did understand in some way…but how could she ever know? It was too late. She was far away from Nightshade now, and his injuries had seemed very severe. He might not even be alive anymore. Thunder felt a sudden feeling of hopelessness as she realized that she had probably killed her only friend.
She heard Volco calling something to one of Master’s other pokémon who was a little ways away. It was something about the forest and the pokémon in it. Thunder didn’t know how many of the forest pokémon Master had captured so far, but she knew he wouldn’t be pleased if he hadn’t capture many. From what she’d heard Volco say, he had tried to capture pokémon in the canyon and did capture some-others he killed-but most of them had gotten away. She knew that the forest pokémon he did capture would mostly likely be used as Redclaw had, not as actual fighting ring pokémon, but pokémon used to train those who would be. Though their job was mainly to be little more than a target that could fight back for Master’s stronger pokémon, they didn’t have to go through the type of hellish training that she had. They simply had to be strong enough to be able to dodge and fire a few powerful attacks. Some of them got killed during the practice battles, but even that was preferable to what the fighting ring pokémon had to go through…what she was going to have to keep going through. And she still had no idea how Master was going to punish her for running away.
Master was strange for a human, even among the other humans Thunder had seen and heard in the fighting arenas where Master earned much of his money. Most of the others were afraid to go near their pokémon. Most would never even dream of trying to hit them with a whip. But Master did, and he did it for no other reason than because he could, because he could get away with it. He loved to defy the stories humans talked about that told of masters trying to hurt their pokémon only to be killed when the pokémon found a way to turn on them. He loved being in control, and he controlled his pokémon well. The image of a cruel human with a whip was, as Volco had said, the image that came to most humans’ minds when they thought about the humans like Master. Volco had said that he was simply living up to it. Why this was important to him, Thunder had never known nor cared to try to understand.
From what she could hear, Master’s magneton was hovering near him, no doubt ready to paralyze her again if she showed any sign of movement. It was pointless, she thought, knowing that she couldn’t go anywhere. When she had been recaptured and let out of her poké ball for the first time, she had been fitted with a new type of collar that the rest of Master’s pokémon now had. Not only would this strange new collar electrocute her with the press of a button on the device that Master had to control them, but it would kill her if she moved too far away from Master, or if she somehow managed to badly damage it. Master also needed to activate a certain button on the device that controlled the collars each day to prevent them from detonating. Even if she could run away, there was no hope of survival. The only time the collars would be taken off was in an actual arena battle, when there was a risk of an unusually powerful attack setting them off, and she couldn’t escape the arenas. She had tried many times.
She wasn’t sure what she was going to do now. Master and Volco were not alone against her. Some of Master’s pokémon…even some of the ones who had been abused as badly as she had, were fiercely loyal to him. Master’s pokémon did not work together. There was a hierarchy among them, and each and every pokémon was as vicious as they could be to those below them in the hierarchy. This behavior was highly encouraged and those who cooperated with Master and were vicious toward those ranking lower than them earned more food, more rest, and better sleeping places. Any pokémon stupid enough to try and make friends with another pokémon was punished and quickly abandoned the habit. Those who were the most vicious were awarded higher ranks, and better treatment as well as more power to do as they pleased to the lower ranking pokémon. They could take out their anger on them and get rewarded for it. Those at the top got there by not only being excellent fighters, but by keeping the other pokémon in line. Master’s pokémon always sought to move up in rank or get more rewards, or simply keep from losing their rank. It was easier for them to win more rewards and keep from being the victim of the other pokémon’s cruelty than to try to fight back against Master and his other loyal pokémon, impossible odds. If one of the pokémon turned on Master, another pokémon looking for a reward would jump at the chance to put them in their place and earn Master’s respect. That is, if the attacking pokémon even got far enough with their attempt. Some of the pokémon at the top of the hierarchy were even twisted enough to like Master and agree with his ways. These pokémon saw newcomers as simply new pokémon to break. They never thought of running away, nor did any of Master’s fighting ring pokémon, who had been raised by him since they were very small, because they had no idea how to hunt or forage or survive at all in the wild, and running away would lead to them losing everything they had in the hierarchy.
Thunder had never had any place in the hierarchy. She was of the lowest rank in Master’s group of stronger pokémon because she refused to play his game. In the past she had often openly defied Master, but after that had been beaten out of her, she obeyed him, but still refused to try to gain a place in the hierarchy. She didn’t care about hurting the other pokémon; her hate was for Master alone. She did not want to please him any more than she had to. She had always chosen to forgo rewards and let the other pokémon abuse and insult her rather than do what Master wanted when she didn’t absolutely have to. She knew that Master found this endlessly amusing, which infuriated her, but it did not infuriate her as much as his pleasure with having even more control over her would. But she wasn’t going to concern herself with how she would escape again. That opportunity was gone. Escape was no longer possible. Maybe, she thought, during the next battle that would be to the death, she would simply let the other pokémon kill her.
As she was thinking this, she heard Master mutter something to himself. She caught the words ‘white growlithe’ and listened, but couldn’t hear much more. If Master was going to go after Snowcrystal, there was nothing she could do, but she hoped he wouldn’t find her. She didn’t want Master to be happy with having a rare pokémon, and as much as she didn’t like Snowcrystal, she didn’t want Master to capture her either.
After they were done resting and Master’s other pokémon had been returned, Volco waited eagerly to see what Master would decide to do next. He had managed to capture quite a few forest pokémon, many of them strong ones. The typhlosion wasn’t sure whether he was going to stay to find more or if they were going to move on.
“We’re heading back to town, Volco,” Master stated, answering the fire type’s silent question almost immediately.
Volco watched Master return Thunder and the other pokémon and then turn to look back at the forest. Though Volco could smell the scents of many dangerous pokémon that had passed through this area, he knew Master wasn’t afraid, and he had no reason to be.
“Come on,” Master told him after a moment. The typhlosion got up and followed his trainer and partner as they began walking back toward a forest clearing they had passed through before. From there, they could easily fly back to the town where Master had kept his old training facility. He could no longer use it, now that the police had discovered it, but he needed to retrieve his other pokémon from the trainer he had left them with. If the trainer had any sense, or wanted to live, all the pokémon would be there in the condition Master had left them in. Enough time had passed since the police had come that Master now thought it was safe to sneak back to the abandoned town, retrieve the pokémon, and leave.
Where they would go after that, Volco wasn’t sure. The next big fighting ring competition was a few months away. As Volco watched Master release his drifblim-one of the few pokémon he trusted enough to ride on-into the clearing, he thought back to the white growlithe. That strange boy, who couldn’t have been older than seventeen or eighteen, had taken her with him. Volco promised himself that if he could find that boy, he would tear him and his pokémon apart until he found the poké ball he was keeping the growlithe in. That boy had disappointed his master. Volco was going to make him pay.
(Continued in next post...)