Act i Stage i


Her flashlight was going out.

Misty stopped before the door she was about to enter and banged the cheap plastic device against her palm. It blinked once, feebly, before sputtering out completely. She banged it again, harder, and grunted when pain shot through her forearm. Dammit, she did not need this now! Not when she was so close! She beat it against the thick stone wall as hard as she dared, then flipped it over and tugged at its batteries, switching them with each other in an attempt to wring the last ounce of life from them. When a frail yellow ring appeared on the floor before her she wasted no time in tugging open the thick wooden door and slipping inside, closing it softly behind her. She only had a few seconds now to find a light switch...

The beam of light flickered briefly over row upon row of plain metal cages before she aimed it at the wall beside the door, roving up and down the grey stone in vain. She tried the other wall. Nothing. Frowning, Misty took a step into the room and peered up at the ceiling. Had they even installed electricity in here? What was she going to do if they hadn’t? She couldn’t find her Totodile in complete darkness!

A flicker of movement in the rafters caught her eye and she swung the beam toward it, unconsciously backing up until the rough wood of the door scratched at the thick black jacket on her back. Her eyes tried unsuccessfully to pierce the gloom; her flashlight just wasn’t strong enough. There was nothing there, as far as she could tell. Had she imagined it? Or was a Flying-Type out of its cage? She groped automatically for the PokéBelt slung loosely around her waist, but her fingers met only air. She’d left it in her dorm to avoid questions if someone caught her—like Gary Oak, the Master of Security in the Stadium. He would have demanded to know exactly what had been so important as to get her out of bed after midnight fully dressed and with a flashlight. The absence of her ‘Belt would help stave off a few unwanted inquiries—she'd never been one for those illegal midnight Battles—but she’d never felt so naked.

Her flashlight flickered dangerously, reminding her that she was on borrowed time as it was. Misty whipped it against her palm until it reluctantly spit out a few more seconds of radiance. Eyes flashed anxiously around the large room; a thin string dangling from a rafter a few feet in front of her caught her attention, where she thought she’d seen something move. She stared at it, her heartbeat pounding in her ears. It was waving slowly, as if someone had disturbed it recently.

Just then her flashlight went out completely.

Misty cursed and banged it against her palm uselessly. Nothing. She fixed her eyes on the spot where she'd seen the string and forced herself to walk to it, her hands out in front of her to catch it in the dark. The hair on the back of her neck and arms was stiff with fear. She felt as if she was being watched.

Nonsense, she scolded herself, jumping when her shoe caught the corner of an empty cage with a clang. Of course she was being watched. The room was filled with Pokémon, and her blind shuffling had probably woken most of them up by now. They could probably see better in the dark than she could.

Her forearm brushed against something wispy and she almost fell over another discarded cage in fear before she realized it was the string she had been searching for and not a spider web. She bereted herself for being stupid and reached for the string again, her arms brushing against it a few times before she could grab hold of it. After a quick yank and a familiar clink she found herself blinking in the brilliant light spilling from the bare bulb just a few feet above her, dangling from the low overhead beams. The room's ceiling was unfinished and cloaked eerily in dusty shadow.

The caged Pokémon did not appreciate the sudden light. All around her she could hear them rustling, resettling feathers and fur as they glared at her with sleepy eyes. Misty blinked away the last of the spots from her vision and peered around herself anxiously, searching for a hint of blue. She was almost certain he was in this particular containment room. The headMasters had said Number Seven, and she’d confirmed the number on the door before coming inside.

A deep anger stirred within her at the memory of what else the headMasters had said. “Inadequate,” they'd called him. “Unfit for Battle.” And having seen him fight only once! Misty hadn’t had more than a week to work with him! How could they even consider selling him without giving her a chance to Train him correctly first?

An uneasy glance confirmed one of the nastier rumors she'd heard about containment rooms: while most of the Pokémon were busy curling up with their backs to her, a few weren’t moving at all. Misty shuddered and tried her best not to look at them. It was no secret that some Pokémon couldn’t be sold and lived out their lives in these cages instead. But how often were they checked? Weren't they fed, watered, and exercized every day? Surely they wouldn’t allow dead Pokémon to just lie around, waiting for the Battle Ghost to find them.

The Battle Ghost. Right. Misty couldn’t help but smile at such a childish story. That the bloodthirsty Battle Ghost would pick apart neglected Pokémon was a common story, but one used to make some of the younger Trainees care properly for their charges, not one used seriously. Besides, the Battle Ghost was said to eat the Pokémon he found—after murdering them in horrific, painful ways, of course. Even if he were real, he’d want nothing to do with decaying corpses. In any case, the headMasters shouldn’t be keeping the Pokémon here at all. They needed to Battle and Train to stay in shape; if some couldn’t be sold, couldn’t they be given to the younger Trainers as pets instead? The weaker, more timid ones would make nice bedside companions.

A familiar flash of blue pebbled skin caught her eye suddenly, and Misty picked her way around the haphazardly stacked cages to kneel before a small one on the floor. Her Totodile was inside, sleeping restlessly in a tight ball, his bruised tail curled up under his snout. Misty grasped the bars of the cage tightly. She fought to control herself as her aquamarine eyes traveled over his bruised and mottled skin. They hadn’t even healed him! What the hell were they thinking? Her hands grabbed automatically for her PokéGear, but she had left it behind as well. Dammit, he needed to see a Healer right away!

“Totodile?” she cooed softly, her voice thick with anger. “Totodile, can you hear me? Are you awake?” The Pokémon blinked wearily and looked at her through blurred eyes. Misty reached through the bars to gently stroke an unbruised patch on his forehead. “Hey, pal, I’m here to get you out. Are you okay? Can you understand me?” He wagged the tip of his tail sleepily. Had they drugged him as well? “Hang in there, buddy, I’m not leaving here without you...”

Her initial plan had been to make sure he was okay—perhaps even hide his cage if the headMasters had made him look good enough to be sold quickly—but now she knew she had to get him out of here. Now. Tonight. He couldn’t wait until morning—may not even make it that long. Trembling fingers found a thick padlock securing the cage door to a bar and she cursed, tugging on it uselessly. Where did the headMasters keep their keys...?

In their office, no doubt, safely out of reach of students and illegal peddlers, but it wouldn’t hurt to search the room anyway; perhaps she could find something that could break the lock, or pick it open. She searched the room with her eyes, but she was distracted by dozens of frail gazes that matched her Totodile's. She peered more closely at the Pokémon and realized that they looked pale and weak. They trembled in their cages; the floor was dirty, the bottoms of the enclosures obviously unkempt; the rafters were home to dozens of glistening spider webs. Misty shivered when she thought of spiders and muttered the worst word she knew. There was nothing in here but dirty cages and unhealthy Pokémon. She couldn’t carry the whole damn cage all the way up to her dormitory! Then, the goddam headMasters had bolted it to the floor. What was she supposed to do now? And what about the rest of the Pokémon? Could she just leave them all here, just turn her back on them when they were all so obviously miserable?

Something metal clinked softly on the floor just behind her, so close that she whirled around on the balls of her feet and had to grab the nearest cage to keep from falling over. There was nothing there. Her heart was beating madly. Had it been a Pokémon’s claws she’d heard? Or was she just going insane? She shook her head irritably and started to turn back to her Totodile, but something shiny on the floor caught her eye. A small silver key lay glistening beside her feet.

Misty stared at it for a moment, dumbfounded, then lurched all the way around, peering nervously into the darkness that seemed to swallow up the light pouring from the single bulb. That key had not been there before. “Is someone there?” she demanded, her voice a little weaker than she liked. She cleared it and tried again. “Is someone hiding from me? Why? Come out!” Her voice reverberated off the thick stone walls and awakened a few more Pokémon, who blinked stupidly at her and rearranged themselves in their cages. Misty looked to the ceiling impulsively. The string from the light was swaying again.

Her thoughts turned immediately to the Battle Ghost, the Phantom of the Stadium, and she shivered at the memory of the old stories that had thrilled her as a child. But the Phantom was evil, an apparition who preyed on the weak Pokémon of the stadium and took pleasure in frightening those people who found themselves alone in the corridors at night. He wasn’t real, and he had certainly not left her a key to free her Pokémon. It probably wasn’t even the right one, and that string had probably just caught on some draft. She decided to prove that to herself and grabbed the key up off the floor. The fact that it was warm did not deter her. She glared at the old padlock and stuffed the key inside, then twisted. It turned easily, and the lock popped open with a cheerful click. A chill slid down Misty's spine as she stared at it.

A soft scuff. This time she knew there was something behind her.

Her heartbeat quickened until the pounding in her ears drowned out the sounds of the Pokémon in the room. She pulled her feet beneath her and balanced stiffly in a crouched position, her eyes frozen to the key, her fingers trembling on the lock. She concentrated on the space behind her and—there it was again, that clacking sound, oddly familiar yet eerily strange. What could it be? If she turned around, would she see anything? Or was someone trying to play an elaborate prank on her? But who knew she was down here? She hadn't even told Brock.

She swallowed and whirled around on the balls of her feet quickly in an attempt to catch whatever it was in the act, but all she managed to catch was a glimpse of something long and hairy pulling itself up into the darkness of the rafters on a shimmering string. This time when Misty froze it was in terror. She recognized that long and hairy something. It was yellow and purple and the string was sticky. Misty felt her breath catch in her throat.

An Ariados was out of its cage.

As if in confirmation of her thoughts, Misty heard a soft hissing sound almost directly above her. She dove as quickly as she could, but a cold, sticky thread managed to catch her on the denim around her ankle, and she quickly doubled over to pick it off. She suppressed wild shudders at the thought of what that string was attached to, and could feel the cold sweat beading on her forehead. She hated bugs—loathed anything with more than four legs—and spiders were the absolute worst. Their hairy, spindly legs, their blank, multifaceted eyes, their dripping pincers...

And it didn’t calm her when she remembered that Ariados were poisonous.

The web finally came free of her jeans, but it now refused to leave her hand. Misty shook it violently and picked at it with the edge of her flashlight, but it clung to her skin with a warm, wet stubbornness. A violent shudder rolled through her at the sensation, and she resisted the urge to vomit. When she looked up she could see nothing beyond the fierce glare of the lightbulb; the rafters around it were veiled in impenetrable shadow. But there was that horrible hissing again...

This time the web struck her squarely in the chest. Misty squealed and swiped violently at it, lost her balance and fell over with a crash, her head striking an occupied cage hard. Its occupant screeched and she scrambled away on all fours, then jerked suddenly to a stop when her shirt refused to follow her. She could feel the web hardening as it cooled the skin on her arm.

The web tugged back suddenly; another hiss and a third strand caught her on her shoulder. Misty shuddered, dizzy and nauseous, and forced herself to swallow the lump in her throat. Three-and-a-half foot spider or no, she could beat this thing, dammit.

She carefully balanced her weight on her elbows and lifted the blank flashlight to the newest strand, still glittering silver in the light; the other two had hardened into a creamy white. Sticking it to the base of the web, as close as she could get it to her chest, she quickly rolled it up, trying not to touch it with her fingers. It worked. The web clung to the plastic and released her shirt, then was immediately jerked out of her grasp as the Ariados reeled in its prey. She beat at the other strings while it was occupied, but while the webs were no longer sticky, they were also too strong to snap. Sweating heavily, shivering violently, trying not to think of what those pincers could do to her if she didn't get away, Misty flicked open her tiny belt knife and sawed the web from first her skin, then her shirt. She left it dangling uselessly as she surged to her feet and raced toward the door.

Her hand was on the doorknob when she remembered her Totodile. She couldn’t just leave him here!

She spun around and glared at the pool of discarded webbing on the ground, then traced a line up into the dark rafters, where the light prevented her from making anything out clearly. But she knew it was up there, watching her. Somewhere. Ariados were very aggressive, and a few had even been known to slay humans for food. She'd been taught that, if neglected or improperly Trained, Ariados preferred their own Trainers to the Pokémon, animals, and insects that they normally preyed on.

She quickly checked her person for anything she could use against the arachnid. She had her belt knife in her hand, her regular black leather belt around her waist, a stretched and faded purple hair tie around her wrist, and some crumpled bills and change in her pocket. And a receipt. She stared at the useless creased paper through unfocused eyes. Dammit! Of all the times to leave her dorm without her PokéBelt...

A soft clicking drew her attention back to the room before her, and Misty looked up to see the Ariados stretching its long legs and touching the ground beside the pool of webbing on the floor. It wasn't even halfway across the room, a mere ten feet or so away from her. She froze, unable to tear her eyes away from the huge Pokémon before her. The spines on its back reached up above her navel. She had a dull blade as long as her pinky. She doubted it could even pierce that thing’s hairy hide.

The Ariados hissed again, but instead of jetting a line of web it crouched and quickly heightened its hiss into a screech. Misty fell to her knees at the horrible grinding sound, her hand pressed tightly to her ears and her eyes ground shut in pain. She was vaguely aware of the room around her as its occupant Pokémon protested the Attack furiously. The intensity of the Screech lessened as the Bug cut off the Attack, but the sound continued to reverberate painfully off the walls, pinning Misty to the ground. She couldn’t move, she couldn't breathe, she couldn’t think—all she could do was focus on that hideous sound as it pierced the very folds of her brain.

Before she knew it she was being shoved roughly back against the door as something hard and sharp pierced her side. The sudden assault jolted her out of her stupor and she cried out, her head and spine striking the hard wood painfully. The Ariados was on top of her now—she could feel its disgustingly hairy legs brushing against her bare face and hands, its clacking mandibles dripping burning saliva on the base of her neck, its poison-tipped spine digging into her side...

And it was so ungodly heavy...

And then, as suddenly as it had struck her, the weight was gone. Misty frowned, slumped against the door, her side and neck burning terribly as she watched the hissing, spitting Ariados being pulled off of her by a pair of tanned hands wrapped in dark fingerless gloves...

Her vision was blurring. She couldn’t remember why she was slouched so painfully between the stone floor and the hard, unrelenting door. She tried pulling herself up, but as soon as her weight left her elbows a flood of dizziness whirled through her head and she almost fell over, fighting back a sudden surge of bile in her throat. Somewhere before her the Ariados was hissing angrily, but the rest of the room was strangely silent. Weren’t there Pokémon or something in here...?

Her neck ached, but her right side was positively throbbing. She looked down at it in confusion only to discover that her eyes weren’t focusing; all she could see was a mass of red and black and grey. Grey was easy, that was the stone floor, and the black was her jacket, but she hadn’t worn anything red today...

There was a blinding flash of light that made her head reel and the hissing stopped abruptly. Someone said something in a soft male voice. Misty frowned and wondered briefly if she’d been caught when a great wave of nausea rolled unexpectedly through her and she barely had time to turn her head to the side before she retched up her dinner. The pain in her side intensified as she heaved, and her head rolled. She remembered her lessons on Ariados then, and the chapter in her book on how quickly a full-grown Ariados’s poison could race through an average man’s bloodstream. If she were six feet tall and a hundred and sixty-five pounds and had sustained a full injection she could die in an hour.

Well she certainly wasn’t six feet tall, and she was nowhere near a hundred and sixty-five pounds, and that spine had caught her pretty good...

This time the wave of nausea that swept through her system was not from the pain in her wound.

“Pika pikachu pika pi?”

Misty looked up from her mess and directly into the worried chocolate eyes of a Pikachu. What? Where...the hands...

“Is she all right?” Misty tried looking beyond the Pikachu, but her eyes wouldn’t focus much further than the blackened tips of its long ears. She felt her head grow heavy and she wearily leaned it back against the door, her breathing haggard. A dark shape was approaching. It was so fuzzy she could scarcely differentiate it from the silent rows of cages behind it. What was wrong with her eyes? And why was her entire right side suddenly numb? Had the poison really spread that quickly?

“Chu pikachu, Pikapi. Pi pika kachu.”

“You’re right. And she won’t make it up the stairs if we carry her. Come on, we’ll use the roof...You go get an antidote.”

“Pi, Pikapi.”

She felt a brush of soft fur as the Pikachu leapt over her, and then her vision was filled by the blurry outline of an arm as warm, rough fingers wiped the sweat from her eyes. She couldn’t catch her breath now; it was if the air was too thick to enter her lungs. She tried lifting her head to look down at her side—was it turning purplish-yellow yet? She wouldn’t make it if it was purplish-yellow already—but her neck couldn’t support it. She tried again, and managed to gain a few inches before a warm hand wrapped around the back of her head and callused fingers gently pushed her forehead down again. “Easy, now,” the male voice said. Someone shifted into her view, blocking out a large chunk of light, and she struggled to see who it was. She didn't recognize the voice. It was too gravelly for Brock...

She struggled to sit up, to see him better, to find out if he worked for Gary. “ trouble...” She was having trouble remembering the words long enough to form them with her oddly unresponsive mouth.

“Shh. Don’t move. I’ll take care of you.”

The rest of his words blended together as Misty’s mind lost its grip on consciousness and slipped smoothly into oblivion.