Of Sand and Shadows @helloyellow
Chapter 11

Chapter 11: Defeated

Wes stared at the scene before him, at an utter loss for words.

The kitchen had transformed from the previous night; the table had been scooted to the very center of the floor, with a second, foldable one set up and pushed against one end to make a single long, mismatched dining table. The air was buzzing with chatter, and the smells of a variety of breakfast foods wafted about the busy, cramped space.

"Mar? Where'd you put the bacon?" Secc's voice sounded from where he stood near the stove, scrambling eggs in a large pan.

"I put the plate over there, on the counter." Marci was busy flipping pancakes next to her father and made a vague gesture to the other end of the kitchen; Wes did a double take at the sight of the massive mayor in a flowery apron and wondered for half a second if he was in a bizarre dream.

"Where?"

"Over there."

"I don't see it-"

"That's because you're blind."

Before Secc could snark a reply, the side entrance to the kitchen swung open, and in walked Silva, Rui, and two dark haired children Wes did not recognize. The kids waved excited greetings to Duking and his kids as Silva and Rui brought in what looked to be grocery bags.

Rui caught sight of Wes and grinned. "Good morning!" Plusle, who sat sat atop her head, mimicked her greeting with a chirp.

Wes blinked in surprise; Rui looked entirely different today, and it took him a moment to realize why. Her usual pigtails had been let down and pulled back into a half ponytail, allowing the rest of her red hair to cascade down to her shoulders, and her skirt and jacket had been replaced with a plain, light blue T shirt and blue jeans. She suddenly looked much older than before.

"Morning," he said slowly.

The two unfamiliar children stepped into the kitchen to greet Secc and Marci, and Wes met Duking's eyes with a bewildered look.

"I thought you only had two kids," Wes said.

Duking raised an eyebrow at him. "I do," he said cooly. He gestured to the pair. "This is Nett and Megg, Secc and Marci's friends. They come here often and take online classes with my kids."

"Hello!" Nett chirped in response. Megg grinned and gave a shy wave as the two carried a stack of plates to the table.

Wes responded with his typical nod, but the kids still looked at him hopefully, as if expecting more. "Um, hello," he mumbled awkwardly.

Megg set her last plate on the table before fully turning to him. "Are you the Trainer helping Duking?" she asked eagerly.

"...Yes."

Marci chipped in from her end of the kitchen. "And he has the coolest Pokémon, Megg!"

"Really?" Megg glanced between Wes and Marci as her eyes lit up with excitement. "Can I see them?"

Wes shrugged. "Sure, you-" he broke off with a frown as he looked about the kitchen and found his Espeon and Umbreon were nowhere in sight. Where had they gone? They'd only just entered the kitchen with him -

"Umbri?" Novo poked his head out from under the table and looked up at his Trainer.

"What are you under there for?" Wes mumbled. He gestured for Novo to step out, and the Umbreon happily trotted to his side. Neo, apparently also under the table with his brother, followed suit with a chirp, though Wes noticed he moved a little sluggishly. He frowned at him, but Neo merely blinked up at him contentedly.

"Oh, wow!" It was the boy, Nett, who spoke up this time; he'd already taken a seat at the table, and Megg sat down beside him. "An Espeon and an Umbreon! They're really rare, aren't they?"

Wes felt a prickle of unease. He was not keen on where this conversation could be heading, and he preferred to avoid questions about where he got Neo and Novo if he could help it. He decided to vaguely answer this question with a noncommittal shrug.

Nett looked like he had more questions to ask, but before he could continue, Duking broke into the conversation as he brought a plate full of waffles to the table. "Alright, everybody, let's settle in and eat, shall we?"

Wes was still digesting the sight of him in that obnoxiously frilly apron. Rui surprised him by nudging him in the ribs - how long had she been standing next to him? - and the two took a seat.

Everyone settled in around the table - the now very crowded table, Wes realized. He found himself needing to take deep breaths. There were so many people, it was so loud, and there was so much food -

Wait.

He'd been so busy taking in the busy scene, he hadn't noticed just how much food there was sprawled atop the tablecloth. Wes stared in disbelief; he'd never seen so much food all in one place, being offered to him for free. Unless he included snatching food from the open-air markets in Phenac, but he had a sneaking suspicion that didn't count.

"This looks amazing!" Silva exclaimed from his place at Rui's other side. "Looks like you guys worked hard this morning!"

"It'd be better if Marci hadn't lost the bacon," Secc muttered.

Marci swelled with indignation. "I didn't lose it, I left it on the counter right where I said it was!"

"Well, it's not there anymore!"

"Probably because you moved it somewhere and forgot about it!"

"Why on earth would I-?"

"Secc. Mar," Duking sighed. "Drop it."

The two siblings exchanged glares and fell silent.

"Now, then!" Duking beamed at them all (well, everybody aside from Wes), his massive form towering over everyone else at the table. "Dig in!"

The chatter multiplied as everyone dished up their plates. Marci, Secc, Nett and Megg all conversed about school - Wes only knew this because Marci's voice was so loud it carried easily from their end of the table - and Silva was saying something that made Rui laugh and Duking chuckle. He quietly dished some food onto his plate, and when nobody was looking, stashed some biscuits in his pocket, just in case; rule number one of his upbringing had been to never pass up an opportunity for a meal, whether current or future.

He may have been likely to stay here for a while and receive regular meals in the process, but nothing in life was certain. That was another thing his childhood had taught him.

"So, how do you two know each other, again?" Rui's voice tugged him from his memories, and he decided to focus on it, if only to attempt to drown out the rest of the noise in the small kitchen.

"Oh, I'm just a family friend-" Silva began.

Duking barked out a laugh. "I may have introduced you as such, but that's a bit misleading." He clapped Silva on the shoulder and grinned at Rui. "Silva here is family to us. Been with us since he was a kid, and he's one of the best people I know."

Silva shrugged off Duking's grip on his shoulder, looking a little embarrassed at the praise. "You make me sound so noble, Duke." He then addressed Rui. "Duking's the one who deserves all the praise, though. He and Dahlia took me in when I was really young - I lost my parents to Noctis, see. I was wandering the streets when they found me. Practically raised me as their own." He flashed the mayor a grateful smile. "I owe everything I have to him. Who knows where I'd be now if he hadn't found me."

Wes held in a bitter snort. He had a pretty good idea of where Noctis orphans usually ended up: either on the streets, in a gang, or dead. More often than not, the first two options led to the third one fairly quickly.

"Oh, that's so sweet!" Rui beamed at them both. "I take it Dahlia's your wife, then?" she asked Duking.

A small shadow passed over Duking's face, and he gave her a pained smile. "Yes...she was. I lost her a few years back. To Noctis."

"...Oh." Rui's face fell. "I-I'm so sorry, I didn't-"

"Not to worry, Miss Everlin." Duking waved a dismissive hand. "You couldn't have known. The last several years haven't been easy on us, but we've been able to manage."

Rui murmured something in response, but Wes' attention was directed elsewhere when Secc spoke up from his end of the table. "Um. Wes? What's wrong with your Espeon?"

What? Wes frowned and glanced over his shoulder to where Secc was pointing; Neo was slouched on his haunches in the doorway to the kitchen, head bowed and panting slightly.

"Neo?" Wes asked, concern flickering in his chest. "What's wrong?"

Neo blinked up at him with a somewhat dazed expression. He staggered to his feet and took a wobbly step towards his Trainer...then another...

...And then vomited a massive heap of undigested bacon all over the floor.

Silva, who was closest to the mess, hastily scooted his chair away with a squawk of disgust; Marci's mouth dropped open, and there were a few seconds of stunned silence.

Wes slowly bowed his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Oh, for the love of Arceus."

Rui erupted into a fit of laughter, breaking the tension and sending the kids into a fit of giggles. Silva chuckled weakly, still edging his chair as far away from the puddle as possible.

"Well. S'pose that explains where all the bacon went," Duking grunted. He fixed Wes with a deadpan stare. "You're cleaning that up, kid."

Rui leaned over her plate, laughing so hard that tears were leaking from her eyes. Wes heard a loud burp; he snapped his head around to see Novo sitting contentedly near the kids' end of the table, licking his muzzle.

Wes couldn't help but feel a little betrayed. "You too?"

Novo blinked, then ducked his head, paws shifting guiltily.

The laughter multiplied, and this time even Duking joined in with a light chuckle. Cursing under his breath, Wes rose from his chair to take care of the nightmare on the floor.

So much for having an appetite.


Rui insisted they give the other Pokémon breakfast before heading to meet with Sherles. Wes agreed on the condition they do so outside once again; he didn't trust one of them not to snap and go berserk, and he was already on rocky enough terms with the mayor without being responsible for the destruction of his house.

Duking took notice when Wes set Bayleef's Pokeball aside on the table and frowned. "Why aren't you taking that one?"

"He's too aggressive," Wes answered curtly. "I figured I'll deal with him when I have the time and space."

"Hm." The mayor eyed the Pokeball thoughtfully. "Silva and I have some work to do in the Colosseum today. I could let him out with my team and see if I can wrangle him."

"That would be great!" Rui chirped, but Wes threw him a wary look.

"Maybe. He's pretty wild and attacks on sight," he said.

Duking narrowed his eyes. "I think I can handle it," he answered coldly.

Wes held back a scoff and finished packing his bag before heading out the door with Rui. It's your funeral.

Duking had been generous enough to provide Wes' team with Pokémon food from his own supply. It was low-grade quality, but Wes hadn't expected anything much (it was Pyrite town, after all), and Neo and Novo had lived their whole lives living off odd meals of questionable quality and had turned out healthy enough. High quality Pokémon food was a luxury that most Trainers simply couldn't afford.

The Espeon and Umbreon, however, were in no need of breakfast after their display in the kitchen. After a thorough scolding ("Just because it's bacon doesn't mean it's yours!"), they were promptly returned to their balls for a time-out. Wes was certain they would both sulk and pout afterwards, but he would have to deal with that later.

"Do you think it's a good idea to let them all out at once?" Rui asked as she eyed the three Pokeballs in Wes' hand.

"They'll have to get to know each other sooner or later," he said. "Might as well introduce them now." He shot her a sideways glance. "Let me know if any of them show signs of getting out of hand, though."

Rui knotted her eyebrows together and nodded.

The three Pokémon blinked in the sunlight and shifted as they took in their surroundings. Maku sat passively, taking in the scenery with no expression whatsoever; Kohna snorted and twitched, pawing at the ground anxiously, and Nani (Maybe? Had she accepted that name?) immediately crouched into a battle stance, snapping her jaws ferociously at the other two in turn.

Wes had no way of interpreting her fierce growls, but the message was clear, nonetheless: "Which one of you do I get to tear apart first?"

Kohna squeaked and recoiled, flames sputtering as she twitched and spasmed with more intensity. Maku met the Croconaw's gaze head on, and Wes thought he could hear a low growl rumble from within.

"Easy."

All three heads snapped to him, noticing him for the first time. Wes kept a cautious distance, crouching down in an attempt to look as non-threatening as possible.

"You're not here to fight, all right? I'm your Trainer now, which makes all of you teammates. I figured we could get to know one another."

Kohna relaxed a little, though she stil raised a hind leg to scratch obsessively behind her ear. Maku simply stared, while Croconaw huffed and leered at him.

Wes met her eyes. "Nani, right? Is that what we can call you?"

She snorted at him. Wes had no idea how to respond to that.

"I'm...going to take that as a yes." She glared at him, but didn't protest, so Wes assumed his guess was correct and continued. "Right. Nani, meet Maku and Kohna." He gestured to the other two.

All three exchanged wary glances with one another. Nobody seemed eager to break the ice.

He sighed. Well. So much for that.

"Let Neo and Novo out." Rui's hand rested lightly on Wes' shoulder as she spoke, and he only barely managed to hide his flinch. Her touch wasn't unpleasant, per se, and was much less threatening than most, but it was far too foreign of a sensation for him to be comfortable with it.

He glanced at her over his shoulder and saw that she was closely observing the Pokémon before them. "You think that's a good idea?" he asked.

She nodded and shifted her gaze to his. "I do. They're the only...ordinary Pokémon here, and maybe some interaction with them will do the others some good. Besides, they're teammates, too."

Wes was aware of that, though he knew he would look like a pushover for letting them out of their time-out so early. Other issues were more pressing, though, so he gave a nod of agreement and rose to his feet before turning back to the three before him.

"You have two other teammates I'm going to introduce you guys to. Their names are Neo and Novo, and they are not-" he broke off to give Nani a hard stare, as he saw her tensing into battle position once again, "to be attacked. We don't attack teammates. Ever. Got it?"

Nani lashed her tail in frustration and reluctantly relaxed her shoulders. Kohna and Maku listened quietly.

They all flinched a little at the bright bursts of light; it seemed they were highly sensitive to sudden sounds and movements. Novo stretched luxuriously in the sunlight, and Neo immediately set to bounding about playfully at Wes' feet. "Spi, spi, spi!"

Novo pricked his ears forward, his attention fastened on the three Pokémon eyeing him warily. The hairs rose on the back of his neck in apprehension.

"Neo, Novo." Wes stepped closer to his Umbreon in an effort to calm his nerves. He gestured to Nani, Maku and Kohna. "Meet your...new teammates."

Novo relaxed a little, but stayed where he was, craning his neck forward and sniffing the air so as to smell them from a cautious distance. Neo, however, cocked his head, then pranced right up to them with a cheerful greeting, tail waving in the air. "Spiiiiii!"

Kohna flinched back. Nani growled, curling her lip to show her impressive fangs. Maku simply stared.

Neo paused, looking at each of them in turn before rubbing up against Maku with a friendly purr. "Esp!"

For the first time, the fighter showed something other than rage or dull acceptance. He blinked and took a step back, and Wes saw utter confusion overtake his face. "...Ma?"

Rui giggled from beside Wes. "This is so cute!"

It's cute until it isn't. Wes was still keeping a close eye on Nani. She growled whenever any of the Pokémon came too close, and stiffened as Novo cautiously approached the group, but so far she was behaving herself. Still, he didn't think it wouldn't take much for her to snap her jaws at any one of them.

Once greetings had more or less been exchanged, Rui helped Wes break out the food and sat beside him as the team ate. He took extra care to keep everyone apart as they are, just in case one of them had any food aggression; Novo, though now much calmer, had been a nightmare to deal with when he was a young Eevee, and Wes was not about to risk unpleasant exchanges with the newcomers.

While they waited, Rui pulled out Wes' P*DA. She'd asked to borrow it the night before, and ever since, she'd been obsessively searching all over the internet for any possible information on the Pokémons' afflictions, but so far her search had come up empty. Wes wasn't surprised at this, and even told her she was unlikely to find anything, but she insisted on searching nonetheless.

Once they were all set and returned to their Pokeballs, they rose to their feet. Rui slipped Wes' P*DA into their bag and hefted it onto her shoulder, and Wes spared the old thing a disdainful glance. Much as he disliked the idea of spending more money, he would probably need to get a new one. The old tote from Grogan was not at all suited for Training.

Rui was practically chomping at the bit to be on their way to the police station, so they quickly made their way into town. "Today's our first official day on the job! Isn't that so exciting?"

Wes grumbled. "Sure."

She scoffed. "Gee, Wes. I'm gonna have to ask you to turn down your enthusiasm a little."

He shot her a look. "Well, why are you so excited? I thought you hated the police, yet here you are, helping them out."

"That's exactly why I'm excited!" Rui beamed at him. Wes vaguely wondered if her face ever hurt from smiling so much. "You don't understand, Wes - I've had this gift of seeing aura all my life, and was always treated differently because of it. And now I've found a real use for it, a way that I can not only help Pokémon, but people, too." She turned her head back to the road in front of them. "And if I can help with this investigation...maybe I can prevent other Trainers from experiencing what I did. Maybe I can actually do something."

"So it sounds like you still don't have much confidence in the police's ability to get anything done," Wes remarked dryly.

Rui shrugged. "Well, to be honest, they don't seem confident, either. Why else would they be looking for volunteers? Still, at least they're trying to do something. It's more than what I expect-"

THUD.

She wasn't able to finish her thought, as at that exact moment, a blur rushed at them from a side alley and collided straight into her. Wes jumped, someone yelped, and Rui tumbled to the ground with a cry; when the dust settled, both she and a young boy on roller skates were sprawled in the dirt.

"What the hell-" Wes helped Rui to her feet and snapped at the boy, who was clumsily picking himself up off the pavement. "Watch where you're-"

"I-I'm so sorry!" Rui gasped. She brushed past Wes and approached the stranger. "Are you okay?"

...You're welcome, I guess.

"Y-yeah, I'm okay!" the boy grinned sheepishly at her. "Uh, real sorry miss, I guess I wasn't paying attention-"

Wes narrowed his eyes at him.

"No, no, it's alright, I'm not hurt or anything," Rui said kindly. "But you should be more careful, you might not be so lucky next time."

"Yeah, sure thing, miss! Uh, I gotta go, but thank you!" he flashed her another charming grin, then made to breeze past them both.

Wham.

Wes seized the boy by the collar and pinned him up against the wall near the alley.

Rui squawked in dismay. "Wes! What are you-"

"Give it back," Wes snarled.

The boy's eyes widened in fear. "I - I dunno what you're-"

"I wasn't born yesterday, kid. Give it back. Now."

A fire sparked in the boy's eyes. "You're crazy!" he spat.

"Wes, stop!" Rui shouted. She pulled hard at the back of his coat. "What is wrong with you?"

"You've got five seconds to hand it over before I make things difficult."

"I - I ain't -" The boy struggled weakly against Wes' grip, but was quickly realizing his efforts were futile. "Fine!" he snapped. "Just lemme go, okay?"

Wes released him, but remained tense and ready in case the boy tried to bolt. With a hateful scowl, the boy slipped Wes' P*DA from his pocket and thrust it out to him. "Here. Happy?"

Rui's eyes widened in shock. "What - how did-?"

"I'll let you go this time, but don't push your luck. Others won't let you get off so easily." Wes fixed the boy with a cold stare.

"Fine, then!" the boy bit back. "I didn't want your stupid P*DA, anyway!"

He straightened out his rumpled shirt, and Wes noticed his trembling fingers, the barely restrained tears in his eyes. The ripped and smudged clothes, the greasy hair, and the boy's thin frame were all a dead giveaway to his life on the streets.

The boy glared bravely up at him, and Wes heaved a small sigh.

Damn those sad, frightened eyes.

"Here." He thrust a handful of bills out to the boy. "It's not much, but it'll fetch you a good meal. And for Arceus' sake, don't target anybody you can't run from."

The boy stared in disbelief for a second before cautiously taking the money from Wes' hand. He glanced at it, then shot Wes a hateful look and spat out an obscene insult that made Rui gasp in horror. Before either of them could respond, he shot off like a rocket and disappeared around a corner.

Rui gaped after him, utterly speechless for a moment. "That was...something else," she said feebly.

Wes gave a resigned shrug. He took Rui by the arm and continued forward to their destination before answering.

"That's Pyrite for you."


Duking was already inside the station with Sherles when they arrived. Rui greeted him with a warm hello, which he returned. He did not acknowledge Wes, and Wes was perfectly fine with that.

"All settled in, I take it?" Sherles asked brightly. He briefly glanced at Wes with the tiniest hint of surprise in his expression. Wes wondered if he'd expected him to attempt to cut and run already.

"Oh, yes!" said Rui. "Duking's home and family are wonderful, aren't they, Wes?" She faced him with a smile. He noticed both Sherles and Duking glance at him.

"...It's nice," he said curtly.

Rui shot him a look, as if to ask, that's all you have to say? He ignored it.

"Well, that's good to hear," said Sherles as he straightened his uniform, "Now, let's get to business, then. If you'll follow me-"

"Oy, Chief!"

Wes heard the door burst open behind him with a shout only a split-second before something rammed into his back. He stumbled forward in surprise, then whipped around with a snarl. "The hell?"

He was face to face with a young, ginger-haired officer that looked to be close to his age. The officer stood tall in his navy uniform before saluting the Chief and continuing loudly, "Chief Sherles, sir! I'm here to give my report of this morning's-"

He broke off as he finally noticed Wes for the first time. He blinked, then greeted him with a bright smile. "Oh, hello! Who're you?"

"Johnson." Sherles narrowed his eyes as he addressed the officer. "You're late."

"Yes, sir, sorry, sir. Got held up by those kids again on my way here, they wanted to say hello to Frego and -"

"Johnson, if you're going to let those kids pet your damn Arcanine every morning, then leave earlier. No more excuses."

Johnson straightened and grinned wider. "Yes, boss!"

"Don't call me 'boss'. I'm your Chief."

"Sorry, boss."

Sherles sighed. Duking chortled in amusement.

Wes couldn't help but stare at the young officer in disbelief. Is this guy for real? The lopsided grin on his face reminded him of a dopey, idiotically happy Growlithe with their tongue lolling out of their mouth.

"Right, then. Johnson, this is Wesley Lycas and Rui Everlin, the volunteers for our savage Pokémon case I briefed you about yesterday evening."

"So you're our brave volunteers, then!" Johnson chirped cheerfully. He smiled at both Wes and Rui in turn. "A pleasure to meet you both!"

"You too, Officer Johnson!" Rui said warmly. When Wes didn't reply, she jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow.

He sighed. "Yes. A pleasure."

Mother of Arceus, I have to deal with too many damn people.

They filed into Sherles' office, and for the second time that morning, Wes forced himself to take a few deep breaths. The room was entirely too small for so many people, and the fact that Duking was large enough to fill the space for three individuals didn't help matters.

Sherles had pulled a few mismatched chairs into the room for everyone to take a seat; Wes made a point to choose the chair closest to the door. Rui pulled one back to sit beside him, to his mild annoyance.

"Well, no point in beating around the bush," Sherles said as soon as he'd taken his seat behind his desk. "We need to formulate a plan on how to go about this investigation."

"I thought you already had a plan, boss?" Johnson asked lightly. "That's why we got these two, right? Speaking of which," he grinned at Wes and gestured to the metal sleeve on his arm. "Is it really true that's a Snag Machine? And that you stole it?"

Wes eyed him warily. How much, he wondered, did this officer know? Did he know who he was, or had he been told the same cover story as Rui?

"Yeah, it's true," he said tersely.

That dopey smile spread wider across Johnson's face. "I guess you could say you snagged the Snag Machine, then. Heh. Snagged, get it?"

Wes stared at him. Sherles heaved a long-suffering sigh while Rui at least gave him a weak chuckle.

...Yeah, he has no idea.

Duking shook his head at Johnson, though he had a small hint of a smile showing under his mustache. "It's no wonder you and Silva get along so well."

Sherles cleared his throat, drawing everyone's attention back to him. "As I was saying," he said pointedly, "we have a plan, but the specific details have yet to be worked out. Namely, the details of how we intend to get these savage Pokémon away from their Trainers."

"But - I mean - don't you have the authority to seize Pokémon if you have proof of abuse or criminal conduct?" Rui asked with a frown.

"Oh, believe me, we've tried that route a handful of times," said Sherles. "Unfortunately, it has only served to slow us down. The moment an officer shows up with their badge, all suspects scatter and go into hiding for weeks, sometimes months. We haven't been able to get anywhere with that."

"Oh…" Rui looked down at her lap, brow furrowed in thought.

"Which is why we've come to this," Duking said. He shot a wary glance at the machine on Wes' arm. "We need to make progress on this case, and the only way to do so at this point is through...less orthodox means."

"Which is where you come in, right?" Johnson asked brightly as he turned to Wes.

Wes looked Sherles steadily in the eye as he answered. "Yes," he said slowly, "but we haven't gone over the details of how I'm supposed to Snag these Pokémon."

Johnson glanced between Wes and Sherles in confusion. "Well...with that thing, right?" He pointed at the Snag Machine.

Sherles rolled his eyes. "He means how we plan to get away with it. Which, to be frank, is the reason I've called you all here. I can't imagine any one of these Trainers will take kindly to having their Pokémon stolen from them, and it certainly wouldn't take long for word about your snagging to get around to the others."

"And then none of them will want to come within fifty feet of me," Wes remarked dryly.

Unless they're trying to kill me, which...wouldn't be unlikely.

"Precisely. Which begs the question: how we plan to move forward." Sherles looked at each of them, but nobody said anything for a moment.

"So we have to find a way to take these Pokémon from their Trainers without them noticing…" Johnson frowned at the Chief. "I don't think that's even possible, boss. No Trainer is going to just not notice someone's missing from their team."

"Oh, they'll notice eventually," Duking said as he rubbed his chin. "But if we can at least make sure they don't notice right away, and don't make any connections between that and Lycas…hmm."

Nobody spoke for a moment as everyone pondered the situation. Wes folded his arms and sat back in his seat, unsure of how they would find an answer.

I really wish they'd thought this through before blackmailing me, he thought bitterly. This might have all been for nothing.

He shot a glare at Sherles, but the Chief was looking down at his desk as he rubbed his temples. He spoke and acted like he was perpetually tired with a headache - which, if he was constantly having to work with the likes of Johnson, was probably true.

Wes glanced about the room as he rifled through his thoughts in search of a solution. Both Rui and Duking had focused expressions, evidently lost in thought. Johnson appeared focused as he looked at the bulletin board over Sherles' shoulder - wait, no. He was just distracted and looking at the wanted posters. Wes sighed and returned to his thoughts.

Stealing something without anybody noticing right away…

Wait.

"Pickpocket."

Everybody turned to Rui as she spoke. She was suddenly grinning widely, a gleam of mischief in her eyes. She turned to Wes, and he knew she was thinking the exact same thing he was.

"With all due respect, Miss Everlin, I don't think anybody here has the qualifications for that - except maybe you." Duking narrowed his eyes accusingly at Wes. "And you're too well known among those Trainers to get away with it."

"I am, but she's not talking about me." Wes looked at Rui, and before he even realized it, he was returning her mischievous grin with his own. He turned back to the others.

"We might know a kid…"


The late afternoon sun relentlessly showered its rays over the city of Pyrite. The old metal buildings absorbed and then amplified the heat, sending ripples through the air. It felt for all the world like the town was a dry, dusty oven.

Not that Wes was complaining; he'd grown used to the heat long ago. He did notice, however, that Rui was panting and frequently wiping sweat from her brow, even as they stood in the shade of a building next to the town square and observed the battles taking place.

She noticed him looking at her and shifted a little defensively. "Agate doesn't get this hot, okay?"

"I didn't say anything."

"Honestly, though, how are you not dying?" She threw a disbelieving look at Wes' coat. "That thing doesn't look light at all."

He shrugged. "It's common knowledge to keep yourself covered in the desert to protect from sunburn."

"Yeah, but is a heavy coat really necessary?"

"I'm used to it."

Rui shook her head at him. "You're crazy."

"Thanks, I'm flattered."

She snorted and turned her attention back to the square where two Trainers were preparing to start a battle. Wes folded his arms and leaned back against the wall. He had his reasons for never parting with the old, worn out coat, but he was not eager to share any details.

Light flashed from the square as the Trainers summoned their Pokémon; he threw Rui a sideways glance. "Anything?"

She shook her head and sighed. "Nothing. They're all normal." She slumped back against the wall dejectedly. "After seeing two at once yesterday, I thought there'd be a lot more."

"If Sherles' reports are accurate, then there's quite a few of them around here," said Wes. "We just have to figure out where they are."

He'd made a point to keep his Pokémon in their balls as they watched. Having a Pokémon by one's side was a common enough occurrence in Phenac, but in Pyrite, it was only an invitation for unwanted attention; at best, a Trainer wanting a battle, and at worst, Pokémon traffickers looking for new targets.

"What happens when we do find one?" Rui asked.

"Well, until we can find that kid again, we'll just make a note of who the Trainer is. Try to catch their name. But nothing much is going to happen until we can find our pickpocket."

"I barely even remember what he looks like," she said. "It all happened so fast."

"I remember. We'll find him." Wes heard Rui snort, and glanced at her to see her frowning at him.

"Yeah, I'm sure you got a good look when you pinned him against a wall and threatened him," she said dryly.

Wes scoffed at her in disbelief. "Are you seriously guilt tripping me right now? Over not letting him steal from us?"

"I'm just saying, you could have been a little gentler with the poor kid," Rui shot back. "You didn't have to put the fear of Arceus into him!"

"Yes, I did," Wes snapped. "All it takes is one failed attempt to get you killed around here. I was teaching him a lesson."

She looked at him with narrowed eyes for a moment before relaxing slightly. "All right, I'll take it. But for Mew's sake, Wes, you don't have to be so rough with people. Not everybody is out to get you."

He snorted and turned his head away. Of course she would believe that. She had yet to learn what he had as a small child: everyone was out to get something.

You know nothing about how the world works.

In a small, strange way, he almost envied her for that.

They sat in silence for a while as they watched the battle unfold. Wes had to admit he shared a little bit of Rui's sentiment; they'd been out here for hours, hoping to at least spot another strange Pokémon, but had had no such luck. He'd been under the impression that they were everywhere, but perhaps the other Trainers were more careful than the two they'd seen yesterday.

"Look who's back in town, hmmm?"

A silky feminine voice sounded from the street and broke through his thoughts. Wes turned to its source - and only barely managed to hold back a groan.

She sauntered up to him like a prowling Persian, hips and hair swaying from side to side as she moved. Her tight clothing accentuated her curves in all the right places, and her boots clicked against the dusty pavement with each step.

"Emok," Wes said flatly, "what do you want."

She came to a stop several inches too close for his liking and smirked at him, one hand on her hip. "Is that any way to greet me? I've missed seeing that handsome face of yours, you know."

"What do you want, Emok."

Emok laughed softly. "Oh, there's a number of things I'd want from you, darling." She reached out to his chest and traced the clasp of his coat with an idle finger. "But maybe a battle would do...for now."

She gave him a sultry, half-lidded look that nauseated him.

"Wes?" Rui spoke up uncertainly, frowning between the two of them. "Who is this?"

Emok raised an eyebrow at the redhead, apparently noticing Rui for the first time. She snorted and grinned back at the Snagger. "What are you doing around town with this wallflower?"

"Wallfl - EXCUSE me?" Rui spluttered angrily. "Just where do you get off calling me a wallflower?"

Emok tossed her a simpering smile. "Don't get too bent out of shape, sweetie." She stepped closer to Wes, bringing her face uncomfortably close to his as she addressed him again. "Surely you don't intend to keep this...little thing around for company?"

Wes scowled at her, but Rui broke in before he could reply.

"What, like you're better?" she spat. "He's far too good for you!"

Emok snapped her attention back to the redhead with a gleam in her eyes.

Mew help us all. Wes needed to do damage control, and fast, before things got too heated.

"Rui." He fixed her with a burning look. "Shut it."

Emok barked out a laugh. "'Rui'? Arceus, even your name sounds prissy."

"Oh, that's rich, coming from you!" Rui bit right back, blatantly ignoring Wes altogether. "What were you named for, the sound of a Meowth coughing up a hairball?"

Emok's eyes flashed; she stepped toward Rui with a snarl, hand reaching for a Pokeball on her belt.

Wes shoved Rui back and stepped between them. "Enough." Arceus above. Between Emok and Cail, it was like the redhead was trying to pick a fight with every stranger on the street. He glared at the Trainer in front of him. "Emok, I'll let you have your battle, but afterwards, you get to answer some questions for me."

There was still fire in her eyes, but she met Wes' gaze with a flirtatious grin nonetheless. "I'm flattered, sweetheart, but if you want to know more about me, buying me a drink will do just fine."

Rui snorted loudly from behind Wes' shoulder. He shot her a scathing look.

"Next battle, then," he said to Emok. The one in the square was winding down, its victor already apparent.

"Glad to hear it," she said smoothly. Her eyes flickered to the Pokeballs on his belt. "Oh, and don't think I didn't notice you've got some new additions. I'm excited to see them in action."

Oh. He hadn't thought about that. "They're too new," he said quickly. "I'm still getting them used to the team, so I don't plan on-"

"Are you holding out on me?" Emok narrowed her eyes and folded her arms. "You know how I hate the idea of someone going easy on me."

"That's not-"

"Don't patronize me, Lycas. If you want answers to your questions, then I want to see what you've got."

Rui snarled from behind him. "You little-!"

Wes threw an arm out in front of her to stop her from approaching Emok. He matched the Trainer's fiery gaze with his own. "Fine."

A sly smile curled over her lips. "Good," she purred. She jerked her head to the now empty battle square. "Shall we?"

Wes nodded, and she turned and strode over to her side of the ring. Rui spoke up in a hesitant murmur.

"Are you sure about this?" Her eyes flickered with worry. "You've seen how they can get in battle…"

"I'll call them off if it gets too heated," Wes replied as they walked to the yellow circle. "Worst case scenario, I'll have to forfeit and we still get to see what she knows."

"That's not the worst case scenario and you know it."

She had a point, and Wes didn't have a response to that. They'll be fine. This is worth the risk...hopefully.

Rui took her place outside of the ring, several paces away, but remained where Wes could see her out of the corner of his eye. If Emok had an unusual Pokémon, Rui would signal to him.

He locked eyes with Emok, two Pokeballs in hand. She gave him a curt nod, and they simultaneously sent out their Pokémon.

A Zubat and a Gulpin materialized across the ring. Novo shook hismself as he emerged, then pricked his ears forward at his opponents; Kohna glanced about, then pawed at the ground nervously when she caught sight of the other Pokémon.

Wes crouched and called them to him as Emok did the same with her team; it was a common practice to fill in one's team on what was happening before throwing them into battle without warning - though not every Trainer gave their Pokemon such courtesy.

Novo trotted up to Wes and affectionately bunted into his arm, which Wes returned with a chuckle and rub behind his ears. Kohna was slower to follow, continuously glancing over her shoulder at the opposing team.

"Kohna." The Quilava turned to Wes as he addressed her. "As you can tell, we're about to have a battle. I know this is your first time with me, but I promise if you just listen to what I tell you, you'll be okay. Alright?"

She fidgeted a little, her back leg twitched, but she nodded her head. "Qu-qu-qui…"

"Novo here will watch your back, and you should watch his, too. Work together and this will be easy." He glanced at the Zubat and Gulpin before returning to look at his Pokémon with a grin. "Too easy."

Novo kneaded the ground in excitement and let out a bark. "Umb!" Kohna sat up a little straighter.

He rose to his feet and found Emok and her team waiting for him. She placed a hand on her hip and tossed him her usual, seductive smirk. "Ready, sweetheart?"

"Don't call me that."

She laughed. "Ooh, you are fun to tease." A glint entered her eyes, and she shouted her first command. "Zazo, Supersonic that Quilava!"

"Novo!" Wes barked.

The Umbreon sprang into action and leaped in front of Kohna before launching his Swift attack. The starry rays smacked into Zubat and sent him tumbling through the air, knocking his Supersonic waves askew.

Another shout from across the arena, and Gulpin lurched forward, poisonous fluid bubbling from his mouth. Wes called to Kohna.

"Kohna, stop that Gulpin! Ember!"

Kohna looked back at Wes with wide eyes. "Quiii?"

He frowned at her. "You don't...know that move?"

She shook her head.

Novo yelped as Gulpin's Sludge grazed his side; he bravely held his own as he fought off both foes at once.

Wes clenched his teeth. They didn't have time for this. He'd never heard of a half-grown Fire Pokémon not knowing Ember; weren't half of them born knowing that?

"Right, ah, how about Scratch?"

Zubat dove for her. She scrambled out of his reach, just barely avoiding his Bite, before looking back at her Trainer in fear.

Not even Scratch? He threw out his last guess. "Tackle?" Surely even she would know -

"Qui…" Kohna whined and hunched low as she shook her head, flames sputtering sporadically, legs twitching.

Her terrified eyes looked up at him, and Wes realized she was not afraid of the attacking Pokémon - she was afraid of him.

"It's - it's alright, it's okay-" Except it wasn't okay; Novo was taking hit after hit from the Zubat as he targeted Gulpin, and even though the attacks were weak, he would surely be worn down soon enough.

Emok cackled from across the arena. "You weren't joking! Are you telling me your Quilava doesn't even know how to battle?"

But she did know how to battle, Wes had seen it. Back in Phenac, she'd been on a rampage, her Trainer letting her run wild. The only command he could remember hearing from them in that battle was -

He looked at Kohna again. "Shadow Rush?"

A spark entered her eyes. Her flames roared to life as her fur bristled, a snarl escaping her throat. At the very mention of the move, Kohna's entire demeanor transformed.

He had no idea what that meant, but he would take it for now. "Right - Shadow Rush Gulpin!"

She moved before he even finished his words. She lunged for the little green Pokémon, teeth and fangs flashing, then slammed into him with reckless, brutal force. Gulpin was sent rolling across the ring, but wasn't out of commission just yet.

Finally! Wes called for her to keep it up before shifting his attention to Novo, who was snapping in frustration at Zubat. The little bat's sporadic flying pattern was making him a difficult target to nail down.

"Dark Swift, Novo!"

"Briii!" Novo let out an enraged snarl before launching a Swift and Dark Pulse in rapid succession. Zubat flitted about to avoid the wave of blackness, but was unable to avoid the starry rays infused with Dark energy. He tumbled through the air again with an ear-splitting shriek.

A beam of light caught Wes' eye; Emok was returning her now unconscious Gulpin, muttering curses under her breath.

"Zazo! Supersonic Quilava!"

The Zubat dove for Kohna, narrowly avoiding Novo's jaws as he lunged for a Bite. Wes was about to give another command when Rui's voice broke through his focus.

"Wes! Kohna - call her off!"

"What?" he barked at her. "What are you-"

"Wes, there's something wrong with-!"

A bellow of rage cut her off, and Wes snapped his attention back to the battlefield.

Kohna was thrashing furiously in the dirt, kicking up a cloud of dust with each movement. Zubat flew at her, but Novo intervened and knocked him back with another Swift. Kohna staggered to her feet and raised her head.

Wes did not recognize her.

An unearthly rage gleamed in the Quilava's eyes; every muscle was taught, her flames raging higher than ever, her lips curling in a vicious snarl, revealing pointed fangs.

He made an effort to call out to her. "Kohna-"

She spat a massive ball of fire at the fluttering Zubat, striking him directly and ramming him into the dirt where he lay still.

So you do know fire moves.

But Kohna wasn't finished.

She breathed another jet of fire towards the motionless Zubat. Emok shouted and reached for her belt to return her Pokémon; Novo sprang forward and barely managed to deflect the flames with a Protect, giving her enough time get Zubat safely inside his Pokeball.

"Kohna!" Wes could hardly believe this transformation. This was not the terrified, timid Quilava of just a few moments ago.

He stepped into the ring to approach her, and heard Rui shriek behind him. "Wes, NO!"

Kohna was oblivious to Wes' presence, however. Instead, she turned to Novo -

And blasted him with fire.

Novo yelped shrilly as the force of the attack sent him rolling, his pelt badly singed. Wes swore vehemently. "Kohna, STOP!"

She didn't seem to hear him; she advanced on Novo as he struggled to his feet, breathed in to launch yet another assault -

"KOHNA!"

She froze.

In an instant, her demeanor changed yet again. Kohna blinked, her flames dying down as the muscles in her body relaxed. She looked about with apparent confusion - saw Novo, saw Wes running towards them. "Qui...Qui?"

Wes knelt beside his Umbreon to assess the damage. He let out a breath of relief upon seeing that it was nothing too serious; he would need a trip to healing machine and a Burn Heal on top of that, but he would be fine.

Novo leaned into his Trainer's arms, and Wes could feel him trembling. He clenched his jaw and returned him to his ball.

He rose to his feet and glanced over at Kohna, who cowered under his angry stare. "Kohna, what the hell was that!" Wes spat.

"Qu-qu-qu-"

"I'd like to know, too!" Emok stomped up to Wes, her face twisted with fury. "You trying to kill Zazo or something? Huh?!"

"I didn't tell her to do that, Emok-"

"She's your Pokémon!"

"And I told you she was new!" Wes bit back. "I didn't want to use her, if you remember!"

"Wes." Rui's hand on his arm startled him. He shot her a glare, but her eyes were on Kohna, who was now whimpering and curled into a ball.

Rui looked up at him with a saddened expression. "Return her," she said softly.

Despite his anger and Kohna's dangerous behavior, he couldn't help but feel a pang of pity for her. He nodded and quietly returned her. They would have to sort things out with her later.

"I'm not paying you!" Emok snarled. "You played dirty!"

"What?" Rui's voice sharpened. "He won fair and square before any of that stuff happened!"

"'That stuff'? Zazo was almost-!"

"Stop." The two fell silent as Wes pinched the bridge of his nose. "Look, Emok, I won't ask you to pay me. But I do need you to answer some questions for me." He raised his head and met her eyes. "Either you pay me and walk away, or you don't and you answer my questions."

She narrowed her eyes at him. Wes was acutely aware of the fact that she could walk away without giving him anything at all, and nothing short of threats would stop her.

"I'm sorry about Kohna," he said. "I really am."

Her face softened a little. She sighed. "I guess I did sort of force you into using her, but - I dunno what you're doing with a Pokémon like that, Lycas."

I don't know, either.

Emok folded her arms. "Here's the deal. I'll answer three questions for you, and then I'm out of here. Good enough?"

Rui looked like she wanted to argue, but Wes silenced her with a sharp glance. "Yes. Good enough," he said. He jerked his head to a nearby alleyway. "Let's talk somewhere less crowded."

Emok raised an eyebrow at that, but she didn't protest. "You lead the way, then."

He did just that, with Rui beside him. She said nothing, but the worried expression on her face mirrored his thoughts. His mind went back to her question from the previous evening.

How are we going to fix these Pokémon?

And though he hated to admit it, the question left him feeling utterly defeated.

I don't know.


Author's Notes:

Me: *promises that the plot will finally start picking up*

Also me: *publishes like 3 more slow chapters of introducing and establishing characters and plot*

Me: *sweats nervously*

Okay I'm sorry guys, I grossly underestimated how long it would take me to set up all of these new characters.
BUT! It is time well spent, and I do not regret it!

I do apologize if these last couple chapters have been a snooze fest for you, though. This story DOES have lots of action in store, so just hang in there and fasten your seatbelts!

Now for the semi-unfortunate news: I will be moving to a bi-weekly update schedule for now. I'm sorry to have to do this, but I feel that it's necessary. Since I'm behind, I don't want to feel rushed or pressured and risk losing the love and joy that I have for this story. Rather than risk burnout and crank out rushed chapters, I'm going to slow down my updates for now. Hopefully this will give me enough time to get ahead in the story so that I can return to weekly updates!

Aight, this A/N is getting stupid long, so I'm stopping things here. See you in two weeks! Stay safe, and for my fellow Americans, Happy Thanksgiving!

Responses to reviews:

Shocker789: I'm glad you liked the exchange with Wes and Marci! I wanted to highlight the fact that Wes is not your run of the mill Trainer, and that it shows at least to some extent.

Number13teen: Love seeing your commentary on so many bits and pieces throughout the chapter, especially your take on Rui!

Dabber2121: oooh I'm so happy you noticed the different ways the Pokemon are dealing with their trauma. I feel it showcases their unique personalities.

rylek196: AGH. Once again, your review made me grin like an idiot, haha! I am SO happy you enjoyed the dialogue and the POV switches!

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