Act i Stage iii


Misty was terrified

She had checked her room over and over, had searched under her dresser, her bed, beneath her blankets, in her drawers, behind anything that could be moved, but it was nowhere to be found. She'd never felt so scared and alone in all her life—not years and years ago when her parents had unexpectedly died in that horrible shipwreck, not when she was sure she had felt the Battle Ghost’s cold, bony hand on her shoulder one horrific night in an empty arena as a child, and not when that Ariados had tackled her to the ground just a few nights ago.

Misty could not find her Pokémon. Her PokéBelt and magnetic strap had completely disappeared.

And here she was, in the middle of a throng of Trainers—near the head, since she was one of the oldest— bare and naked without that familiar warm weight on her hip. She was awaiting the arrival of the stadium’s new patron, and she didn’t even know who she was looking for. The headMasters had kept their new benefactor’s identity completely under wraps, though it was rumored he was planning to completely renovate the stadium, even knocking out some of the ancient stone walls to finally install electricity, heat, and water in every part of the huge building. For what reason Misty didn’t know—she liked the old building just the way it was—but she knew he was a very influential man, by listening to the talk around her, and that he even owned his own small chain of islands just south of Kanto. But power and influence wouldn’t be his problem here; the Phantom that lurked the dark halls and raised havoc wherever havoc could be raised was said to protect his domain viscously, and he lived in the very walls of the stadium. Which was ridiculous, of course, but a few Trainees seemed to believe in it.

Misty rubbed the sleep from her eyes harshly and forced her mind back to the present situation. It wasn’t difficult; the fear that she would be called on to demonstrate her Battle prowess for the patron was strong enough to overcome even the constant ache in her side. She was one of the more advanced Trainees, and students of her level were often called on to effectively display the Stadium’s talent. Everyone around her was chatting excitedly, their PokéBelts proudly displayed, Pokéballs shined, magnetic straps polished. All Misty could do was hang back in the crowd and hope she wasn’t discovered. Easier said than done, she knew. She tried to edge uneasily backwards.

Wild, teal-haired Duplica had sidled up to her when she was peering anxiously in the direction of the imaculately groomed headMasters. Misty spun around in surprise as a pair of hands grabbed her waist—she was highly ticklish—and forced a smile on her face at the sight of her grinning friend. Duplica snapped her ever-present gum loudly and leaned her head close to whisper boastingly in Misty’s ear.

“I saw the new patron.”

Misty’s eyes widened despite herself. She glanced around to make sure no one was listening and hissed, “Seriously? How? I thought they were keeping him secret.”

Duplica waved her comment away with a purple-nailed hand. “Oh, puh. I totally saw him in the hallway on my way here. He is so hot. He’s got that hot islands tan, you know? And his hair—ugh. Gorgeous.”

“Really?” Misty asked absently. She was already distracted. As excited as she was to finally meet this guy, she was still nervous about her missing team. She didn't dare report them missing, either; Trainees had been kicked out for much less.

“Hey, I have a hot islands tan too, you know,” a low, gravelly voice cooed suddenly from Misty’s other side. Misty didn’t have to turn to know who it was. Duplica rolled her eyes and popped her gum.

“That is so totally not true, Brock,” she jeered, and crossed her arms disdainfully. “Yours is more of a like, dirt tan. Like the color of mud, not sand. Right, Misty?” She elbowed Misty in the ribs and Misty jumped, startled; she hadn’t been paying attention.

“Eh—what?” She blushed and apologized when Duplica made a disgusted sound. “Sorry, I was just—um, I was just thinking...”

Duplica waved a hand at her. “Whatever. Listen, I’m gonna go get a front row seat. Wanna join?” Misty hesitated. Brock found the pause appropriate for his comeback.

“You go ahead, Gumball Girl. Me and Misty here’ll enjoy watching you compete with Miss Prima Donna.” He draped a thick arm around Misty’s shoulders and grinned, nodding at something behind Duplica. Duplica turned and snorted.

Miss? You’ve gotta be kidding. She’s probably slept with half the staff. And you know what?” she added when Brock laughed and Misty smiled uneasily.

“What’s that?”

“I’ll enjoy giving you a show.” Brock snorted. “And one more thing.” He raised an eyebrow in lieu of a question. Duplica set her face and fixed him with a stern stare. “Ditto will not let that gumball comment go. Don't come crying to me if you're smothered in your sleep.”

She was gone before Brock could respond. He watched her waltz over to May Haruka with a smirk on his face, then released Misty and asked her something. Misty jerked out of her trance and looked up at him apologetically.

“What was that, Brock?” He frowned and brought up a large tanned hand to cup her forehead.

“I said—nevermind. But seriously. Are you okay? You feel warm.”

Misty ducked Brock’s hand and crossed her arms over her chest lightly, mindful of her aching wounds. “Of course,” she assured him. “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.”

“Yes you would,” said Brock seriously.He was watching her closely. “Actually, I’m surprised you’re not up front with the rest of our year. I had to come back here specifically to find you. What’s up?”

Misty didn’t respond, which made her feel guilty. Brock was the only person in this gigantic building who she trusted; she told him everything. But how to say she had misplaced her ‘Belt...? Not even novice Trainers made such a careless, stupid mistake.

The crowd fell suddenly silent, saving Misty an awkward answer. She and Brock looked up; Master Whitney was standing with her arms crossed, glaring at the undergraduates. She was dressed in full Master apparel, which looked unusual on her; she was more of a jeans-and-polo-shirt kind of woman. The open off-white robe brushed the tops of her feet, broadly declaring to anyone in doubt that she was a Normal Master; the Plain Badge glinting bright gold from her neck further announced her upper-level status.

The students filed obediently into rank-based rows, excited whispers filling the large entrance hall with a low buzz. Brock pulled on Misty’s uninjured arm until the two were against the polished wooden wall. He steered her easily behind a group of particularly tall lowerclassmen and bent down to whisper in her ear.

“I don’t see your ‘Belt on you. Have you still not found it?” She grimaced and shook her head; he bit his lip. “Man, you better hope the headMasters don’t see you. They like what you do with your Poliwrath on land; they might want you as a demonstrator.”

“Thanks, Brock, you’re making me feel so much better,” she mumbled, and positioned herself behind a Sequoia of a blonde youth. The Trainees in front of her lined themselves up in proper rows and gradually the whispers hushed. Misty’s uneasiness grew. She could get in a lot of trouble for hiding out back here, but she could get in a lot more for misplacing her ‘Belt.

Applause swept the hall. Misty halfheartedly clapped along, praying that her absence wasn’t noticed, and scooted closer to Brock, who was straining to see through a gap between two of the guys in front of them.

“There’s Giovanni and Koga,” he murmured for her benefit, and lunged forward suddenly in the deep bow that tore through the mass of Trainees. Misty peeked up from behind her hair as she stood again, but it was no use; she couldn’t see anything. And that was good, wasn’t it?

“Here come some of the Elite,” Brock narrated in a whisper, squinting. “Look like escorts. And here come the rest of the Masters...There! I think I see him. He’s shaking hands with them.” Misty could barely hear the murmured voices of what must have been the exchanged greetings and welcomes; the rest of the hall was obediently silent. She wanted to see him, despite her fear of being caught. Hell, the man had been the main topic of nearly every conversation in the Stadium for a month now!

“Yeah, it’s him all right. He looks tall...Silk blue shirt, sort of open in the front, I think...looks islandy...khaki pants, sandals...Mew, doesn’t he know where he is? The headMasters are dressed in friggin’ Armani suits! Um, reddish hair...Here, he’s coming this way...”

Misty instinctively ducked lower, though she couldn’t resist attempting to peer through the forest of elbows before her. There was nearly just enough of a crack to let her see...

The cheerful banter grew steadily louder as the troupe of Masters drew near. Brock resumed his narration softly.

“They’re almost here. Man, the patron guy looks really happy. He’s so casual! Looks sorta familiar, too...almost like...” Misty glanced up at him and frowned. His face was scrunched up in a furious squint. Curious, she bent again to peek through the elbow forest, but she could only see a bundle of bright yellow. Oh, of all the people...Surge was probably the largest Master there!

Brock’s whisper drew her back to him again. “Misty, it’s...hmm. I think it’s...”

She resisted the urge to hit him. “Who, Brock?”

He looked down at her. “That Trovita guy, Rudi. You know, from the Orange Islands. I think he’s got his own Gym down there.”

Misty froze, her brain going oddly blank. Brock watched her, concern evident on his face, but she paid no attention to him; she could see him now, in a tiny gap between two Trainees, and how he had changed.

His hair wasn’t long anymore—it had looked so bad hitched up in a ponytail when he was a kid—but about shoulder length and...flippy. His brightly colored shirt fit; casual, yes, but obviously enormously expensive, and tailored to drape about his sinewy frame like a silken second skin. She couldn’t imagine anything but sandals that might accompany it properly, even if it was late August. He smiled suddenly at something the Etiquette Master had said, and his lightly tanned face split gracefully to reveal a grin that He looked like the sandy island boy Misty remembered, but at the same time he was someone else entirely. Like the centerfold of Master Me or...or the cover of some surfing magazine.

And she was just a lowly Trainer—Trainee, she didn’t even have her Pokédex yet—one in a thousand at the Stadium. How had their social statuses changed so much?

“You look like you know him,” Brock observed quietly once the troupe had passed. Misty didn’t respond for a moment. She was...stunned.

She waited until the crowd began to disperse, until excited whispers started up again, to respond. “We used to be friends.”

Brock’s dark eyebrows disappeared into his hairline. “Seriously? How?”

Misty looked at the ground. She hadn't thought about this in years. “Our parents were friends. The Trovitas bought an infant Staryu from us and they sort of...bonded over it.” She paused to glance at Brock. “We used to play together all the time. Then when we were eleven...” She trailed off and stared at her shoes, unwilling to go on. Brock picked it up from there, his eyes wide.

“You mean they...His parents were the ones on that cruise with your family?” Misty nodded. Brock whistled and put his hands on his hips, dropped them, then decided to cross them across his chest. “Mew. I forgot all about that. I mean, I remember seeing the Trovitas in the paper when they died, and your parents, but I never thought...Wait, why weren’t you two there?”

Misty shrugged, the gesture stretching the fresh skin on her neck painfully tight. She crossed her arms as well. “We were too young. I was staying at his place, I think. As soon as it happened they separated us. He went off to, I dunno, inherit his island chain or whatever, and I went here, since my parents were planning to enroll me here anyway and most of my classes were already paid for. I haven’t seen Rudi in nearly ten years.

“But he’s in the newspapers, Misty!” Brock objected loudly. “I mean, come on! You just forgot to mention that you used to be friends with Rudi friggin’ Trovita?”

“Well it’s not like he called me every week, Brock!” Misty hissed back. “I haven’t seen him since I was eleven, for Mew’s sake, and then it was when his parents’ Pokémon Exercisers came and got us from the beach to tell us that our parents were dead. He probably hates me.”

Brock’s frown deepened. “Why on earth would he hate you? I mean, you were both sort of in the same boat, weren’t you?”

Misty sighed. “My parents were the ones who bought the tickets. They bought some for the Trovitas specifically. If it weren’t for my family...”

Brock made a move as if to say something, then stopped. “Oh.” He said flatly. “But still. I mean, he wouldn’t blame you for that, would he? I mean, it wasn’t like you had anything to do with it. And they didn’t know the ship would sink.”

Misty shrugged again, a little smaller than before. “His little sister hated me for it. And they got me off that island as fast as they could.”

Brock made a sympathetic expression. “That’s harsh. So you’re not gonna go say hi?” he teased, trying to lighten the mood. “Compare Gyarados spines? Polish Starmie gems together?” Misty flashed him a tired, grateful grin.

“No. I’ll let him leave without seeing me. Don’t wanna bring back bad memories you know?” Brock nodded in understanding. “Besides,” Misty added with a smile, “you saw the way he was dressed. His Starmie’s probably got some one-of-a-kind diamond for a center; mine would feel bad. You know how self-conscious he is.”

Brock smirked. “Holding back for the Starmie, eh? How considerate.”

Misty grinned back. “I try.


Brock dropped her off on her floor when they were dismissed; he was another three up. The hall was deserted. Misty hesitated before stepping away from the elevator, peeking nervously into the shadows lining the corners. She just had a...a feeling, like she was being watched. But that was impossible; everyone was downstairs trying to catch the patron’s attention, showing off and making themselves known. There was no one up here.

Her door was one of the last on her floor, around two corners and across from only one other room. She walked slowly towards it, swipe-card at the ready, shoes echoing eerily with each step on the creaky wooden floor, eyes darting into the darkness of the ceiling. She was on the sixth floor of fourteen. The newer furnishings would stopped on floor five; her walls and floor were rough wood and her ceiling was nothing more than open rafters. Ancient- looking sconces on the walls spilled light on the floor, but they were powerless against the darkness above. At least they were powered by lightbulbs and not candles; the topmost floors didn’t even have that luxury.

Usually she liked the fact that her floor was softly lit; it gave the place a warm, sort of antique look. But now it only helped fuel the fear burning in her gut.

Misty’s mind placed an Ariados up there in that darkness with startling clarity. She shivered and forced herself to move on. Mew, she could even hear the scratches it had made up there, that horrible clacking and hissing...

She stopped cold when she realized there really were sounds coming from above her, and that they had been following her steadily down the hallway since she'd gotten off the elevator.

A cold sweat broke out on her forehead and she shivered violently. That Ariados was not here, she told herself. It was two floors down and all the way across the Stadium, and locked in a cage to boot. But it had gotten out before...

A soft scrabbling just above her made her cry out sharply and duck away, her hand going for her belt knife. She flicked it open and held it out before her, desperately wishing—yet again—for something, anything better.

The scrabbling subsided into a soft rhythmic clicking that moved steadily toward one wall. A moment later a bulky yellow bundle dropped from the shadows onto a sconce and clung there. Misty stared at it with her knife at the ready, crouched, breathing hard. It was a Pikachu, draped in something.

Draped in her PokéBelt. She recognized it instantly.

“Hey!” She pocketed the knife and approached it quickly, determined not to let it escape with her Pokémon. “Hey! That’s mine! You stole it?” A lot of people didn’t believe Pokémon capable of human calculation and motivation. Misty was not one of them. She wanted to know why a Pikachu would nick an incomplete PokéBelt; the Pokémon on it were Trained to answer no one but her, even if someone else were to press the nose buttons.

The Pikachu watched her calmly. When she was only a few feet away it braced its paws carefully on the rough wooden wall and scooted down towoard floor, leaping off about three feet from the ground and landing with a dull padded thump. She stopped a few feet away and stared at it. It watched her without any discernable expression on its furred face, sitting like a cat, head tilted like a bird’s.

“You know that’s mine, don’t you.” It wasn’t really a question. The Pikachu grinned and twitched an ear. Misty crouched, draped an arm across her knees, and held out a hand for it. “I could have gotten into a lot of trouble today. Give it back.”

She was surprised when the Pikachu started obediently forward. It stopped within reach and nudged her palm with its tiny nose, purring softly. Misty didn't know Pikachu were capable of purring. Smiling despite herself, she reached to undo the ‘Belt and it stood still, obviously used to being handled. Definitely not wild, then.

“Who put this on you?” she asked softly. It was draped loosely around its small body, but buckled so that it wouldn’t fall off. She didn’t care how smart the Pikachu was; you needed fingers to do that, and the mouse’s small claws weren’t enough.

“Pikapi,” it cooed, and bounded away from her as soon as the ‘Belt fell free.

“Hey!” Misty protested, but she wasn’t fast enough; it was already up the wall, leaping from the sconce up into the darkness. She put her back to the light and stared, trying to mentally force her eyes to adjust to its depths. How high was the ceiling, anyway? There were no windows here, so it was perpetually black; she didn’t think she’d ever seen it. Of course she'd never really cared before, either.

A scratching sound behind her made her whirl around quickly; the Pikachu was back, picking its way down the wall and leaping gracefully to the floor. This time her metallic strap was belted securely around its middle. She stared. Someone had to have put it there. Just now.

“Pikachupi...” the Pikachu said teasingly, and began backing down the hall. Misty looked at it, then returned to squinting desperately into the darkness. If she concentrated she could just make out a human figure...

“Is someone up there?” She couldn’t see past the light, even when she shielded that side of her face with her hand. She turned to the Pikachu. “Is your Trainer up there?”

The Pikachu turned and bolted.

“Hey! Hey—” She started after it, then remembered the figure in the rafters and turned back, cursing. This could be her only chance to find out who it was. She started back.

“Pikachupi!” She glanced back to see the Pikachu disappear around the corner. Dammit, she couldn’t lose her strap; they were expensive and she was dangerously low on funds as it was. Growling a few obscenities, she started after it.

It was waiting for her at the next corner, but disappeared around it almost as soon as she saw it. She trotted after it and hoped they didn’t run into anyone; the Stadium’s policy did not welcome strays, and she was a devout Water Trainer; she had no Electrics, and people knew it.

“Wait! Where are you...” It started down the stairs. Misty followed hurriedly, picking up her pace. She was panting when she reached the third floor.

The Pikachu lead her out of the northern dorms and in a long, lopsided trek around the closed cafeterias and through the Fire-Type classrooms. It was making a beeline for the arenas; there were smaller ones located near each of the dorms so that the students could Train between classes or in their free time. They sprinted past the closed doors at a dead run: one, two, three, four...

Five’s door was slightly ajar. The Pikachu darted inside.

Misty burst through the door and froze, her eyes searching the darkness for the Pikachu. Her hand fumbled up and down the wall until it found the light switch and she clumsily flicked it on. A single bare bulb near the door flickered reluctantly to life; the other fizzled out. Arena Five was flooded with a sort of half-light that couldn’t pierce its far side or its raftered ceiling.

Misty stood in the doorway, panting. She hadn’t been in this particular arena in years; it was unfinished and therefore undesirable, really just a bare packed dirt floor surrounded by a six-inch thick three-foot tall wooden plank wall to keep the Battle in and any spectators out. Seniority had eventually earned her the upper floor arenas; fully finished and well-lit.

The Pikachu was standing in the long shadow Misty’s silhouette cast across the floor. She approached it slowly. She didn’t think she’d spook it, but she definitely didn’t want to chase it around the Stadium again.

“Easy now, boy...girl? Boy,” she quickly corrected herself when the Pikachu bared its tiny fangs. “Don’t run again...please don’t run again...” It held still while she gently undid the strap. And that’s when she noticed the light.

A warm flicker had barely caught her attention from the corner of her eye, but when she looked up she froze in shock. A tiny, long-legged Ponyta was curled up as close to the wall as it could get—and as far from her. At least she thought it was a Ponyta; the flaming mane and tail were right, but it looked too young to be on its own—Pokémon generally stayed longer with their mothers than regular animals—and the color was off. Its coat was a soft eggshell white, speckled with dark grey dots over its rump and down its neck. All four hooves were socked in the deep grey, as well as its muzzle. A small brown bump of a horn was just visible on its forehead, peeking out from beneath the lashing flames.

Misty was scared. There was obviously horse blood in it, and it was spooked enough to lash out if she made any sudden moves. Discolored Pokémon were generally gotten rid of quickly in the Stadium; their animal blood resented Training and rejected it fiercely, which made them dangerous. This one had obviously escaped from somewhere, and it was obviously wild.

“Pikachupi, pika pi.” Misty looked at the Pikachu, who slid out of the newly-loosened strap in a single fluid movement, then patted the back of her hand reassuringly. “Pikachu kachu, ka.” It scampered suddenly over the wall at the back of the room, too fast for Misty’s slow-witted brain to form a protest. Swallowing heavily, she turned back to the Ponyta.

Neither moved, though the Ponyta was obviously trembling. Misty looked down at the worn leather 'Belt in her hands. That’s right; she had her Pokémon back. And they were Water. And Ponyta was Fire. She was okay. She was fine. She would not be burned to death in place of being poisoned. She had a defense now, and a familiar, dependable one at that.

Her hand went to her ‘Belt and her eyes widened. Something was off; she quickly realized that that familiar weight was just a little too weighty. She looked down and saw an extra Pokéball; a warm one, too cool to be currently occupied, but containing enough heat to support a Pokémon. Frowning, she quickly recounted. Five Pokéballs. Wait maybe Totodile—but no. He wasn’t broken into a ‘Ball yet; he’d be struggling to get out. And besides, he wasn’t there. Damn. Then where was he?

The Pikachu reappeared, this time with a torn note in its mouth. Misty took it with a shaking hand, suddenly scared. It said, in scribbled, sketchy letters, “Take care of her for me.”

Her eyes darted immediately to the depths of the shadows in the rafters but, as always, couldn’t pick out anything specific. They returned immediately to the terrified Ponyta, then widened in shock. No, it couldn’t mean...

She looked to the Pikachu, eyes wide. The mouse blinked innocently, then tilted an ear and grinned. It padded over to the Ponyta and, astonishingly, patted it affectionately on the neck. The flames licked its paw harmlessly. The Ponyta neither started nor burned it, merely watched it with wide, rolling eyes. Misty looked from the paper to the Pokémon, her mouth forming words her throat couldn’t. The Pikachu watched her expectantly, grinning.

“You mean she...It’s a she?” The Pikachu nodded triumphantly. “But I can’t...I mean, who...”

What was she going to do with a Ponyta?