My feet and paws scuffled uncomfortably next to my side. They were bound tightly with first-class ropes so I could not move an inch. The mouth of Nadal the Persian quivered ever so slightly as I wriggled within, but it always kept a firm hold of my all-too-fragile body. She uttered not a sound, nor did she question Virok’s command when he had told her to take me to the holding cells.
From the look of the dilapidated halls I could tell we were travelling further underground. There were no windows carved within the stone, only oddly shaped lanterns that hung from the ceiling. The light they gave was low and dim, but it was sufficient for anyone traversing the corridors.
I had soon found it was useless to struggle, as every time I tried several pairs of sharp fangs indented themselves into my body. It seemed my wounds would never heal at this stage, if I kept running into trouble like I had been.
As Nadal’s footsteps died down my ears picked up the faint sound of whimpering and the scent of blood rose to crinkle my nose. I now recognised the smell all too well, for someone who had once never been acquainted with it.
Within a moment the Persian rounded a corner and stepped into a large room laden with cells, all with the same grey bars. From what I could glance as Nadal steered me past the cells, each only contained a single window. There was nothing to sit on, albeit the moss that grew from between the stone cracks. The only light came from a tiny, flickering lantern housed within a single cell to the far right. The closer we came to the light, the stronger the scent of blood grew. It was then that I recognised who’s it was.
Nadal halted by the cell and opened her jaw to release me. Being unable to break my fall, I crashed to the ground in a heap and rolled until my face hit the bleak metal bars, a sharp cry emitting from my mouth. I cringed and opened my eyes, a familiar sight slowly blurring into focus. But it was none I was too happy to see, and my stomach lurched in response. Tali.
The Buizel was covered in cuts and bruises, the dried blood she’d neglected to clean staining her once bright orange fur. She didn’t even glance up at our approach, but remained huddled in a far corner of the cell, knees drawn up to her chin. I had never seen her as vulnerable as she was at this moment. Tali was usually full of fire, but now…she seemed almost lost.
I thought it would be worth calling out to her, maybe I could do something, anything. “He-” But just as I opened my mouth Nadal’s paw crunched down on my tail, silencing any words I had been about to utter. I winced at the pain but didn’t give the Persian the satisfaction of hearing me cry out, instead biting my tongue between my teeth. It didn’t help that the part she hit had been exactly where Rye had broken it, and it still wasn’t properly healed.
Tali raised her head at the sound, finally glancing in my direction. Her eyes were hollow and glazed, almost as if she’d been stripped of any free will. She blinked once and, within a moment, returned to her meditations, not giving any of us a second glance.
Nadal casually raised the paw that was not crushing my tail towards the bars. Using a claw, she inserted it into the lock and turned until a soft click was heard. The door then swung inwards, the Persian releasing her hold on my tail and nudging me none-too-gently within the confines of the cell. Again I rolled uncomfortably until a rock barred my way. My eyes found the back of the Persian as she was retreating.
“You can’t just do whatever Virok says!” I cried out after her. “Don’t you have any pride?!” But Nadal merely continued walking as if she hadn’t heard me at all, or was just accounting my voice as the wind. I sighed and returned to wriggling. The ropes that bound me were very uncomfortable and I was sure would leave bruises. Not that a few more would matter.
A swift, silver flash blurred past my eyes and I flinched, my heart skipping a beat. Before I had any time to register what it had been, the ropes that bound me fell to the ground in a matted heap. When I had the time to gather my wits, I raised my head to see Tali holding out a claw, a piece of the rope still attached to it. She lowered it and the brown clump fell to the others. The Buizel stared at me blankly.
“I lost Lani.”
My mind buzzed at the words she said, the first that came from her mouth. Her voice was hoarse and dry; no hint of feeling could be traced. Had Rakai gotten to her? What had the Weavile done? I shook my head slowly in her direction.
“It…it doesn’t matter now. It was all my fault to begin with, I should have stayed away.”
“Yeah, you got that right,” she muttered in response, her eyes shifting to meet mine.
I narrowed my own. I was trying to be sympathetic but she sure wasn’t making it easy on me. “Look, I’ll get us out of this. Jarre and the others should be here soon. If Dash is as smart as you say he is, he’ll pick up on the hostility around the Missionary and avoid it. I know they won’t get caught.”
Tali merely blinked at me. “Maybe you’re right.”
I sighed. This wasn’t the direction I wanted to take the conversation in, and it clearly wasn’t helping any. “What happened to you?” I asked slowly. I wasn’t sure how she’d take it. But she simply shook her head.
“Rakai happened. That’s what.”
So she had encountered Rakai. I didn’t know what was going on, but it was clear the two of them had some kind of history. I hesitated; this wasn’t something you touched on lightly with a friend, let alone an acquaintance you just met. “Tali?”
The Buizel cocked head to the side at my call. She was listening.
“Why…I mean, you and Rakai…” I had no idea how to ask the question and my resolve wavered.
A hoarse cry issued from Tali’s mouth. “You want to know how I know Rakai. You want to know what I have to do with him?” She watched me warily as I nodded. It was a time before she spoke again, but when she did the whole room grew silent, the only sound being Tali’s voice echoing through the walls.
“It was years ago. We grew up as kids right here in the Marble City.” She sighed then with such happiness that I couldn’t be sure she was the same Buizel I was now trapped with. “Rakai and I went to school together. Neither of us liked school much; we weren’t into learning. Heh, the teachers certainly didn’t like me – I was always such a troublemaker, causing havoc everywhere I went. It was shortly after that we decided maybe we would be better suited as soldiers. As you can imagine, they were more than happy when I left for the Missionary. My parents were, too, as a matter of fact. Yes,” she answered my quizzical gaze, “I do have parents. They’re probably still alive here somewhere. I don’t keep track of them.” She waved a paw dismissively.
“So Rakai and I trained to be soldiers within the Missionary. It was here that I met Dash and Rye. They were both around my age and were training as well. But it’s strange around here; we don’t pick which unit we go into. A series of training sessions are undertaken to see which unit best suits us; where our talents lie, I suppose you could say. Rye, of course, was born and bred to be a soldier. It runs in his family line. Rakai was chosen for a band they called the Hunters. At the time, it was nothing more than an experimental group Virok’s father had come up with. The Hunters, as the name implied, were in charge of hunting down those who had gone rogue. It was a very serious job here in the city. To have someone with the kind of information you gather around here go rogue was a very bad thing. So they were in charge of eliminating them.
“Dash, being the quick witted fool he is,” she laughed airily, “was trained to be an agent. As it happened, I was also destined to become an agent. The idea hadn’t struck me as a great one, at first, but it soon became apparent that I had skills of immense use for this unit. Agents are adept at slinking around quietly and gathering information where others can’t. I guess you could say in a way we’re like assassins of the Missionary, only we don’t go around killing blindly. At first I was rather depressed that Rakai and I weren’t in the same unit. For ages I rebelled against my teachings – just as I had at school – but when I suddenly found out that I had skills others didn’t, I was amazed. So were the teachers. They praised me. It was the first time someone had ever said something good about me that didn’t involve someone else’s doing. I took to praise like a Combee to honey,” she muttered none too proudly.
“And I know I shouldn’t have let it go to my head, but no one had ever praised me. Dash was jealous before too long and it became awfully tough to handle when we were paired into partners. Each squad works in two-Pokemon unit. The pairs are chosen based on skills that compliment the other.” She paused. “Type advantages aren’t taken into much account at the Missionary. I guess, through training, you’re expected to overcome the weaknesses of battle. We were trained to face every type – not just those that we happened to be strong against, but also those that were weakest. For instance, if I ever got into a fight with you, Pikachu, I could undoubtedly hold my own and much more.” Tali’s eyes narrowed. “I know your weaknesses perhaps even better than you, yourself, and I can play that to my advantage.”
Ignoring her stern gaze upon me, I asked a question that had been nagging me for quite some time. “If you and Dash were part of the Missionary, how come they don’t treat you like soldiers now? Shouldn’t you be in their quarters, not here?”
The expression on the Buizel’s face became unreadable. “During the training I had here at the Missionary to become an agent, I often sneaked out of classes to see Rakai. He had free time when my classes were on and I always wanted to see him. For a time, he was glad to see me, too. We grew closer as friends; laughed, ran off into the city and sometimes went on missions – just the two of us – behind the Missionary’s back. They never found out what we were up to. But one day, when I went to visit Rakai, I noticed something different about him. He’d just come back from a mission with the Hunters. The Commander at the time, Virok’s father, had overseen the mission himself. I gathered it must have been very important for him to be involved, for the Commander hardly ever went on missions with other units.
“Well Rakai seemed distant, almost disturbed. I asked him what the mission was about but he said it was “classified; top secret information”.” She snorted at the words. “Rakai had always told me everything, even secrets. For him to not tell me this, well, I grew suspicious. From that day on I changed my ways. I shortened my visits to Rakai during classes until I just gave up going altogether. He would no longer talk to me about many things and I was beginning to feel like an outcast. I had more time to focus and grew much better at my training, accelerating in skill. It wasn’t soon before Dash and I had been chosen to go on our first solo mission as fully-fledged agents. With our skills, the general in charge assured us that it would be no problem.
“It was a covert mission and we were to keep to the shadows. There were rumours that Deoxys had pulled together a band of followers far larger than we had thought possible. It was our job to check it out. Pokemon from around the Missionary seemed to be disappearing – and not just rogues. Our own soldiers disappeared without a trace. Everyone thought that Deoxys had to be the one involved.”
“But that was true, wasn’t it?” I asked Tali. “No one else could have been taking Missionary soldiers like that other than Deoxys.” There was silence and a grinding sound. “Tali?”
“It wasn’t Deoxys,” she said flatly. “Dash and I found the entrance to a secret part of the Missionary. It was around the side where it was forbidden to enter. The Forbidden Room they called it. I know that even the lord’s son had been reprimanded for trying to access that room. When he came out he was never the same,” she shrugged. “Dash and I followed the tunnel to access the room. We heard voices; loud and irritable. There was a lot of growling, but we figured it was just someone fighting. We weren’t the most polite Pokemon, being soldiers, so there were always such fights going on. But when I peered through a hole at the end of the tunnel, I saw something I had never expected to see. The Hunters – mostly bred Sneasel and Weavile – were gathered around these dark beings. They were Pokemon as far as I could tell, but they were dusky grey, sometimes fully black. Almost as dark as the black of night itself.” She shuddered.
“One of these beings – I couldn’t see what Pokemon it was – took it in turn to slash each of the Hunters’ in the chest, just above their heart. Rakai was a Sneasel back in those days. My eyes instantly found him and I was terrified as the Pokemon struck him. I wanted to scream and yell out to him, even though he’d been so cold to me over the past few months, but Dash stretched a claw across my mouth and held me back. So I watched in silence as the night grew darker still and all the Sneasel and Weavile began to shudder. They fell to the floor and convulsed, crying out in agony. The Commander’s son, Virok, was with them. He was by the dark Pokémon’s side and merely watched the writhing on the ground. He didn’t help those Pokemon. I had no idea what was going on until the writhing stopped.
“One by one they rose, and their fur started to change hue. At first it was as if the colour was being drained from them. They each turned a dusky grey, their eyes becoming crimson and blank. I thought they were going to become dark Pokemon, like the one already in the room, and I bit Dash with all my might to try to save them, but he held me. Dash was such a kind soul. He held me back even though I had bitten him so fiercely. But Rakai’s fur didn’t stay that dark hue for long. In a few minutes he had regained his colour. His eyes were still crimson and dazed, but he wasn’t dark. I wondered what was going on. I wanted to go to him then, as they retreated from the room, but I knew I couldn’t. My career would be over if Virok spotted us. It took all the strength Dash had to convince me to retire to our quarters that night. I followed him, but I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t, thinking of what they had done to Rakai. I told myself I would confront him and ask what had happened.
“When I found Rakai the next day he was by the cliff overhanging the lake outside the Missionary. I went up to him and he welcomed me gruffly, as was his custom these days. I asked if he’d been on any particularly dangerous missions lately. He told me he hadn’t. Nothing out of the ordinary. I noted his eyes were still the crimson hue I saw last night and I shuddered. Rakai caught the movement and raised an eyebrow. He asked if I was afraid of anything, and to tell him whatever it was that was disturbing me. That was the kindest thing he’d said to me in so long, I just… I just cried. I cried and I screamed everything at him, saying he should have told me what went on last night.
“Rakai was surprised I knew about that. I said I’d been on a mission to discover why our own forces were disappearing and I’d come across him, the Hunters and the Commander’s son all in the Forbidden Room. His eyes narrowed and he said that they had been given a special power that would help rid the world of Deoxys. He said that the Commander was blind to everything Deoxys was doing and that his son, Virok, was the only chance we had left at defeating Deoxys, if at all. I was shocked! Not only had he been granted some mysterious power, but he was calmly mocking the Commander behind his back! It was no way to treat one of such high-stature, and the leader of the Marble City himself!
“That proved right there that he was no longer the Rakai I had known. Before all this he was always nice. He had time for others and their problems, even when he created half of them.” Tali laughed briefly but was soon drawn back to the present. “He was gone, distant. But he was still my Rakai, even then. Until…” She paused and gulped air slowly.
Tali cast her eyes to the ground forlornly. “Right up until he murdered Virok’s father.”
It was like a sudden blow to my chest. The wind had been knocked clean and my mind sent reeling. “He…he what?” I asked, sure Tali hadn’t said the words I thought I’d heard. It must have been a mistake.
“Rakai murdered Virok’s father, the standing Commander at the time,” Tali repeated hoarsely. “However did you think Virok had taken over the Missionary so soon, if both Dash and I worked under his father’s reign?”
That thought hadn’t occurred to me and I was now too ashamed to admit it and risk looking like a fool.
Tali shook her head. “It doesn’t matter how he did it; I’m not going into details. But I knew after that moment Rakai was dead to the world. Dead to me.” There was a slight silence where I heard chirrups in the air, through the barred windows of the cell that held us, before Tali resumed speaking. “It was also at that moment I realised Rakai meant more to me…more than just a friend. I had never dwelled on it before but it was so clear. As clear as day and he had known it. I loved him.”
A gentle sob escaped her mouth as the Buizel wept. Her guard was down, hostility removed. This was an entirely different Tali from the one I knew, who was always cold and stubborn. Right now she was just as weak and vulnerable as the rest of us. Right now she reminded me more of myself than I thought was possible. She, too, had loved someone who had been taken from her – almost in the exact same way Rye had been taken from me. It was when we had split – that Rye and I had parted – I realised how much I depended on him. I began to grow sour and soon hated myself for it. All the anger I had within needed to be vented. And that vent would come in the form of Deoxys or Virok. Whichever I could crush within my paws first. Rakai, I would leave to Tali. That was her battle.
As the Buizel silently wept, I tried on a happier note, lowering my eyes sadly. “You know, I too have someone I can’t be with because he’s not himself. It’s very…” – I searched for the right word but found none – “…hard, I guess. I can’t tell whether he’s alive o-or dead, but… I think it’s the not knowing that’s a lot harder.” I had no idea where I was going with this. “It’s good that you at least know that Rakai is alive and well, even if he isn’t exactly himself. Perhaps one day he’ll break free from the spell that he’s under and you can be with him again. Be happy, Tali. I feel that I’d rather know – whether he is in pain or not – because at least I have closure. Without that I’ll just be miserable for the rest of my life wondering if…” I trailed off. This wasn’t the direction I had wanted to take the conversation in. I had wanted to cheer Tali up, but I guess it wasn’t working. Suddenly I felt a sharp blow to my right shoulder.
“Ow! What did you do that for?!” I glared at the Buizel, but to my surprise I found her smiling.
“Thanks, Zanna.” Then she punched me again. “But don’t you DARE think that this makes us friends! Because in no way will I ever like you!”
She snorted and crossed her arms, turning away with her head held high. My shoulder hurt and I was still glaring, but on the inside I smiled. It was the first time she had called me by name.
[continued in next post]