Act iii Stage i

“Twisted every way, what answer can I give?”

Rudi's phone bill came on Friday, just like it had on the last Friday of every month since he’d arrived.

Phone calls made from his private suite to other phones in the Stadium were free, so he only used it for that. Otherwise his cell had much better rates, and he preferred to save his income for more important things—like finding and eliminating dangerous human/demon mixes before they dragged down his girlfriend’s name, for instance.

His girlfriend, Rudi thought happily. He reached for the elegant letter opener carved in the likeness of a Dratini and slit the thick envelop open. Yes, Misty was definitely his girlfriend now. Finally. As he’d gradually learned to accept his inheritance of the Trovita island chain, he’d also had to learn how to deal with the girls that inevitably came with the fame. He’d had the occasional girlfriend, it was true, but none of them lived up to the image of the scruffy redhead he'd held onto from his childhood.

“Scruffy...” He smiled to himself, balancing his morning coffee on his knee and settling comfortably in an armchair to glance through the convo logs that were automatically recorded to help him keep track of his monetary contributions. It was so much easier to file away a carbon copy of his conversations with the headMasters than try to keep track of a bunch of scribbles he’d jotted down on sticky notes. A memory of the way Misty had looked when she’d answered her door Wednesday night suddenly filled his mind; fresh from the shower, with damp hair and clean pajamas, smelling vaguely of the ocean...She’d been beautiful. Hell, she was always beautiful. His smile widened. “Not so scruffy anymore...”

His eyes roved the clipped dialogue vaguely; he was distracted by the way Misty’s aqua eyes—not quite blue and not quite green—had been brought out by the deep emerald of her sweater yesterday, when he’d managed to catch her for a quick kiss between two of her classes. The memory brought another smile to his face. “Definitely not scruffy.”

He was in the act of cautiously sipping from his steaming mug when he realized that the call he was skimming through had not been placed by him, and that it was not about money. His eyes widened as he backtracked through it, then caught at the name and date on the top.

He did not remember calling a Mr. Brock Slate, room 937, on Wednesday at 10:37 in the morning, nor on any other day for that matter.


Misty shivered in the crisp air as it rushed by all around her, lifting the loose orange strands of her hair and whipping them viciously around her face. She shook them free and gripped the pages of her book tightly; she had to read four chapters of From ‘Diles to ‘Gaters: The Remarkable Evolutionary Chain of a Totodile and the Anatomical Changes it Undergoes for her class on Pokémon that resembled ancient animals by Monday, as well as a small book on Kabutops and about a hundred Critical Thinking questions. She thought about all the other homework she had to catch up on as well, in addition to exercising her team properly—letting one or two loose on the roof for a while was only a temporary solution. There was a tricky problem concerning Haraia; she’d Evolved quickly enough for people to take notice, so Misty had procrastinated on filling out her Evolution file until she could come up with a logical explanation for her drastic shift in power. Withholding something as important as a Pokémon’s Evolutionary date was a punishable offense, and Misty did not want her Training license revoked—even temporarily—when she was so close to graduating. Less than two more months...

Thoughts of Ash were keeping her from concentrating on her text. It was fairly early Friday morning and she hadn’t seen him since Wednesday; she’d expected him to stop by her room or something last night, but he hadn’t, and a quick peek in Arena Five had revealed it to be devoid of him as well. Not even Pikachu had come to see her, and Delia’s unexplained absence had finally been noted by the staff. Was Ash really all right, or had his condition worsened? How was Misty supposed to focus on her homework when she didn’t know?

Haraia’s nose nuzzled her cheek suddenly, warm and wet, and Misty jumped. She looked up quickly to see a playful sparkle in the Rapidash’s large amber eyes, and she smiled wistfully. “I’m sorry, girl, but I just have so much homework...Here, why don’t we find an empty arena so I can get Totodile or Starmie out, all right? The wind’s too much for them up here; they’d dry out too quickly.”

Haraia snorted and took a step back, her flames popping and cracking wildly in the wind. Misty unfolded her legs slowly and painfully; they were still sore after being spread across Haraia’s broad back for so long on Wednesday, though they definitely felt better than they had yesterday. She closed her book on her thumb and recalled the Pokémon, then glanced out over the ledge at the city far below and sighed. It’d been so long since she’d been able to relax up here, one of the few places she knew that wasn't constantly thronged with Trainers. She’d missed the prettiest time of the year, when the leaves on all the trees in the city were various shades of red and orange and yellow, and the wind that tended to pick up was a bit warmer. She wondered if she’d ever be able to see it again, after she left in December.

She wondered too if Ash ever left the Stadium. If so, why did he return? And if not...

She shivered again, and pulled her jacket tighter around her chest, though it did nothing to warm the cool ache inside it. Just one more worry atop a mountain of others. Misty sighed again before turning and picking her way through the various stone statues of famous Pokémon who had gotten their start here. The door that led back inside was half-hidden behind a snarling Typhlosion that had won its Trainer the Indigo League nearly a century ago.

The doorknob gave her a vicious shock when she reached for it, and she jerked her hand back with a yelp. Cursing fluently as she shook it out—this happened every year around this time and she hated it—she was startled when the door opened for her.

Rudi was on the other side. He met her eyes grimly and thrust forward a small packet of papers. Misty reached for them automatically, puzzled by his clipped demeanor.


“I was hoping you could tell me.”

His voice was carefully devoid of any emotion. Misty’s eyes scanned the flapping papers in annoyed confusion. He’d folded the packet over its staple near the bottom of the pile, and it was hard to keep it rigid enough to read in the fierce wind. Then she realized exactly what she was reading and froze, eyes wide.

Rudi was watching her carefully. He snatched the packet from her as soon as she stiffened, and jabbed an accusatory finger at a dozen different places as he rattled off a string of vaguely familiar sentence fragments.

“‘Break me out as soon as possible...’ ‘tried everything I could think of, and no one will listen...’ ‘need your help to get out and help Ash...’ ‘tell you everything...’ ‘hurry, before Rudi comes back...’ Misty, just what is this?” It wasn’t really a question. He fisted the papers in his hand and prodded her with them furiously. “You told me Oak broke you out. You told me he tricked you into going down there. You lied to me!”

Misty took a step back. She’d never experienced Rudi’s anger when it was focused on her before, and it was more than a little discomforting. “I—” Her brain rushed to find something to say. “I didn’t—I mean, I—”

“You what, Misty?” Rudi interjected. “You got your little Brock friend to help you, and played me for a dupe? You broke the Elemental out yourself and tried to eliminate Oak so he wouldn’t squeal? You lied to Drake’s face when he found you wandering around downstairs? Please, tell me! You what, exactly?”

Misty’s mind was blank. What could she possibly say to explain that conversation? What could she say to make him think she was still under Ash’s falsified influence at the time? What...How had he gotten a hold of it, anyway?

“Oak’s awake.” Misty’s breathing quickened at that statement. She watched helplessly as Rudi calmly and meticulously folded the crumpled packet in two, then tucked it inside his jacket. He wasn’t meeting her eyes. Misty cleared her throat and struggled to piece a coherent sentence together.

“What...did he say?”

Rudi shrugged. He made a big deal out of adjusting his collar so his jacket fit more comfortably around his shoulders, glancing only briefly at her wind-chilled face. “I don’t know, I haven’t spoken to him yet. Should I? What will I hear, I wonder? A story to match his guards’, one of a wild Rapidash stampeding through the waterways, or a wild tale about a pod of homicidal Tentacool? Where’s that Ponyta, anyway, Misty? I didn’t see you use it in your public Battle yesterday, even when your opponent used a Grass-Type.”

Misty’s heart was racing. This was it. He knew. He wasn’t stupid. He was her only solid defense against what she knew Gary would say, and now he knew the truth. What would happen to her now? Would she be expelled? Stripped of her title? Imprisoned? What was worse?

“Are you...” She hesitated, then forced herself to pull it together. It was over now; he knew, and there was nothing she could do about it. Her voice strengthened and she met his eyes evenly. “Are you going to turn me in?”

His expression lost some of its resolve and he lowered his eyes, sighing heavily. When he replied his voice sounded tired and strained. “I don’t know, Misty. Should I? Would it make any difference if I did?” He met her eyes again, and they looked so pained that Misty felt a wave of guilt wash through her. She lowered her own.

“I’m sorry,” she told him honestly. She was startled when Rudi snorted.

“For what? Helping that Elemental escape? I’m not stupid, Misty, and I’m not about to fall for that again—”

No,” she interrupted forcefully. “I’m sorry I lied to you. I didn’t want to, and I wouldn’t have if you had just listened to me—”

“Oh, so now everything’s my fault, is it?” he exploded. “I suppose it’s my fault the Elemental was captured in the first place—”

Misty’s anger swamped her at his words. “His name is Ash, not ‘Elemental,’ and yes, it is your fault! You told Gary what I told you!”

Rudi’s eyes flashed. “I told him nothing! I told the headMasters nothing! I respected your wishes and said nothing to anyone! They were so frustrated that they would have told me to leave if they hadn’t needed my money so badly!”

“Well you told someone!” Misty flared. “I didn’t tell anyone about Arena Five—”

“I didn’t say anything until I woke up and found you gone! I was so terrified for you that I didn’t know what to do—” His voice broke, and he tore his furious eyes from hers. Misty was surprised to see a hint of tears in them. He took a deep, slightly shaky breath before continuing. “I called the headMasters that morning and told them where I thought you were, and why. That’s all. That’s all they needed. And I was right.”

Misty’s body was still trembling with indignant rage. Whatever sympathy she’d felt at glimpsing his tears was quickly swept aside at the accusatory tone his voice had taken. “Yes, Rudi, you were right. I was wrong. I shouldn’t have told you anything. I shouldn’t have expected you to let me have any privacy—”

Privacy?” Rudi sputtered. “You went straight to that Elemental!”

“Of course I did! I owed him an apology for running away and actually trusting his safety with you!”

“You snuck away from me the first chance you got!”

“I knew you wouldn’t let me go where I wanted to go!”

“Of course I wouldn’t! He’s a demon!”

“He’s my friend, and I’m a grown person! I can make decisions about who I want to see myself!”

“Well dammit, Misty, you’re making the wrong decisions!”

“I’d rather make the wrong decisions on my own than let you force me into ones I don’t agree with!”

“Lugia, Misty, why can’t you understand? Every decision I’ve made for you has been to help you!”

I don’t want your goddam help!

“Good! Because I’m not going to help you anymore!”

The two glared at each other fiercely, faces set and breathing rocky. Misty was gripping her textbook so tightly she could feel her fingers aching. This wasn’t what she wanted. Rudi had been so good to her since he’d arrived, the last thing she wanted to do was drive a stake between them, especially after they...When they were...Dammit, everything had been so good between them!

“Does this mean you’re going to turn me in?” she asked bitterly. She was forcing as much anger as she could into the empty hole clawing ruthlessly at her chest. Rudi pressed his lips together.

“And what good will that do?” he asked tersely. “What’s done is done. It’ll cost thousands to flush him out again, but the headMasters are determined to do it. And I’m going to help.”

Misty felt angry, frustrated tears spring to the corners of her eyes. “Dammit, Rudi, why? What has Ash ever done to you?”

Rudi eyed her carefully for a moment before replying. Then, in a voice shaking with some unnamed emotion, “Because he took the wonderful, beautiful girl I’ve loved all my life and turned her into a lying, conniving backstabber who’d as soon use me as trust me, and I’ll never forgive him for it.”

He turned on his heel and disappeared through the door before Misty could respond. All the anger she’d forced into her chest had flown out at his words, leaving behind a wide, gaping hole. She couldn’t stop trembling.


Brock was still in bed when Misty found him. He threw on a shirt and jeans when she knocked and stared sleepily for a moment before ushering her inside, surprised to find tears in her eyes. He hadn’t seen her cry since...since...Well, he hadn’t seen her cry in a long time. She didn’t like to put her emotions on display like a vid-screen.

He’d only just sat beside her on his rumpled bed when she started to really cry, and that jolted him awake pretty quickly. In between sobs she managed to tell him what had just happened. Then she hugged her knees to her chest and Brock could tell she was struggling to control herself, and couldn’t. After a moment’s hesitation he did the same thing to her that he did to his younger siblings after a nightmare had left them terrified: he pulled her close and wrapped her up in the best big-brother hug he could muster.

She went rigid at first, then collapsed against his shoulder, shaking. Brock ignored the wet spot spreading slowly over his shirtsleeve and tugged a textbook out from between them to keep it from poking him painfully in the ribs. He didn’t try to shush her, just traced soothing patterns on her trembling back with one hand while he held her with the other, rocking slowly. He should have known she’d break down sooner or later. She’d been under so much stress from her Masters these last few months, then Rudi had come and mixed her up good, and then all that stuff with Ash...Mew, he really should have seen this coming.

After a few minutes he could tell she was trying to get herself under control. He didn’t say anything when the sobs turned to occasional soft hiccups, or when she pulled her hand free from between them and rubbed at her eyes. When she finally sniffled and pulled away, Brock let her. She looked embarrassed.

“I’m sorry—” she began weakly, but Brock cut her off.

“Don’t be. Do you feel any better?”

Misty snorted, her eyes rimmed bright red, and looked around his room. “No. Am I supposed to? What am I supposed to feel?”

Brock looked down. He didn’t know. He wasn’t any good at this type of thing when it was serious, and he’d never really discussed it with her before. Sure, the two of them had pulled the occasional all-nighter to watch movies and make fun of Misty’s newest ex, but usually she was the one to break the relationship, and everything they’d done had been in lighthearted jest. He’d never seen her cry over anyone before, but he didn’t think she’d loved any of them as much as she did Rudi. What was he supposed to say to that?

He heard Misty sigh heavily as a fresh wave of tears filled her eyes. She looked at her lap and wiped them away with a harsh laugh. “This is all so stupid,” she told him thickly, and sniffed. “I’m so stupid. I should have known this would happen. Rudi’s not stupid. He would have figured it out sooner or later. But he didn’t have to yell at me like that, you know? He didn’t have to say all those things. And he didn’t have to—guh! He’s so stupid!”

Brock wanted to hug her again as he watched her struggle to banish another flood of tears, but thought better of it. What he really wanted to do was storm into Mr. Fancy Pants’ super deluxe suite and knock him around a little for what he’d done to her, but he thought better of that too—barely. He was in this mess as deep as she was now, and he doubted punching Rudi Trovita would help their situation any. Though it might have made him feel better, he added grimly, and maybe Misty too.

“You wanna know what I think?” he asked her softly. She looked at him and sniffed.


“I think you’re better than Trovita. If all he can think about is banishing Ash or whatever, then let him. We’re both out of here in two months anyway—think about it! There are prettier Goldeen in the sea.”

Misty snorted. “Who told you that one?” she bit out, and Brock smiled for her.

“My dad. Who else? I get my lecherous ways from him, you know.”

Misty rolled her eyes, now merely shining with unshed tears instead of leaking them, and muttered, “Believe me, I know.” Brock scrambled to come up with something to get her mind off Rudi.

“Well hey, why don’t you let me shower and then we can go get some breakfast and watch some movies or something? Or play videogames. You haven’t even tried that new one yet.”

Misty gave him a weak, shaky smile. “I already ate breakfast, actually. I got up early to catch up on my homework, but I don’t know how much I’ll be able to finish now...Dammit. Earlier it was Ash and now it’s Rudi and Ash. Why is all of this happening at once?”

“What do you mean, ‘earlier it was Ash’?” Brock asked, frowning. “Is he not okay either?”

“I don’t know!” Misty burst out, and had to wipe away more tears. “I haven’t seen him since Wednesday. Wednesday! What if he’s not? How am I even supposed to know? Dammit! I just—I can’t concentrate on anything, and I have everything to concentrate on! I can't stand it!”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

She flashed him a grateful grin and stood to leave. Brock could see from the way she moved that she was still sore from Wednesday, and sympathized for her. It really was all coming on at once, wasn’t it?

“Thanks, Brock,” she told him, “but I have to do it myself. I have to learn this stuff. Come get me for lunch though, okay? I’m gonna try and find an empty arena somewhere so my Pokémon can work out while I study. Not Arena Five though.” She gave him a shaky smile and left, and Brock collapsed on his bed in a limp heap, his stomach twisting. He’d thought there’d really been something between her and Rudi—maybe there still was, if Rudi would just get over himself and accept the fact that she and Ash were friends too, and that he wasn’t some evil monster. Which was kind of hard to accept, he acknowledged ruefully, and sighed. Now that Gary Oak was awake and Rudi knew the truth about what they’d done, he had no idea what would happen to them.

They’d buried themselves in the middle of a very thick, very smelly pile of Snorlax dung.


Rudi debated with himself for hours over what he should do. Telling the headMasters what Misty and her friend had done would clear Oak’s name—who was actually innocent for once, he acknowledged with a scowl—but it could also get them expelled, and he didn’t want that. He wasn’t out to ruin Misty’s life. Despite what she thought, he really did love her, and he wanted things between them to go back to the way they were.

But she’d lied to him. Met his eyes and lied to his face.

Rudi had never liked lying. To him it was a cowardly, selfish act used to squirm out of mistakes that people were required to take responsibility for. And she’d done it at the cost of an innocent’s name and reputation, and to cover for that Phantom...

That Phantom.

This was all his fault. None of this would have happened if he hadn’t bullied Misty into meeting him in secret for weeks on end, right under Rudi’s nose. And why had he, anyway? That was the bit that made Rudi nervous. If he really, truly meant her no harm, then why had he continued to risk his own safety just to teach her Pokémon a few new tricks? He had to have realized by now that Misty was certainly capable of Training them on her own. She was the most capable person Rudi knew. Capable and headstrong.

Rudi loved that about her. He adored her strong, stubborn nature—but he also knew it was the reason she was in so much trouble right now. If she’d just stopped and listened to him...Lugia, why was she so adamantly against his help? What was it about this Elemental creature that she loved so much as to choose it over Rudi?

Rudi stopped short, his heart beating madly. Did she love him? Was that why? But he wasn’t even human! How could she love that thing more than him?

But Misty didn’t believe this ‘Ash’ to be a demon. Rudi had to admit he hadn’t looked like one, from what he’d seen of him in Arena Five. But looks could be deceiving, and Gary Oak—who, Rudi acknowledged again, had known this Elemental a lot longer than Misty—was confident in its evil nature. He’d hinted that it’d been the cause of his grandfather’s descent into madness nearly twenty-three years ago. Everyone knew of crazy old Sammy Oak, who had been one of the great minds of his day back before a freak electric accident right here in the Stadium had scrambled his brains. Rudi admitted now that there was probably some truth in that; Old Man Oak still babbled about Elementals and demons to anyone who would listen, and this ‘Ash’ Elemental, though he didn’t look older than twenty, was definitely Electric. Maybe they didn’t age? They were supposed to be demons, after all.

Maybe Oak knew of some way to get rid of this Ash then. Maybe all those rants Rudi had filed away as obsessive and maniacal actually held some shred of truth in them. Maybe Ash really was evil, and maybe his plans for Misty were simply long-term—or maybe Misty wasn’t his target at all. Rudi shivered. It couldn’t have been coincidence that Misty had begun seeing the Elemental right around the time he himself had arrived here, could it? That Ponyta she’d been given had been the perfect opportunity for Rudi to renew his contact with her; he’d heard she was here and had been debating how he could approach her without seeming too forward all day. But what could the Elemental possibly want from him, if anything at all?

Rudi frowned. He obviously couldn’t pretend to know what this thing was after, but he doubted anything that had happened so far was pure coincidence, and he was tired of watching Misty get caught in the crossfire. This Elemental had to go, and there was only one person he knew who might be able to get rid of it, as much as the thought of working with him disgusted Rudi. But there was still a chance to salvage Misty’s name.

Gary Oak was awake all right, though he definitely wasn’t talking. His throat was so swollen from the toxin that the nurses had been forced to put him on an oxygen tank, but they’d said it should go down by the end of the day at the latest. Rudi had to speak with him in private before that happened.

He had to make him understand that Misty’s name was not to be dragged down with this Elemental’s, and that as long as that was understood Rudi would do everything in his power to make sure the demon would never be able to bother her again.