The sunlit gravel burned all that walked across it, yet the Luxray dashed through. Even as his paws blistered from the bare dirt and his wounds burned with the intense heat in the air, he had to. His sensitive ears picked up the footsteps of his pursuers, chasing from behind.
He ran towards the cityscapes ahead of him, where humans awaited, along with the promise of relief from his injuries, and afterwards, a normal life. Behind, though, was them. He didn't want to imagine what they had in store for him if they caught him.
The more he ran, the more he wheezed with exhaustion, and by the time he reached the junction where the roads from the other cities converged, he stopped to catch his breath. Cars, vehicles, trucks, all honked in cacophony. And in them, humans. He ran alongside the asphalt, shouting to anyone that might've listened as he ran. Surely, one person must've seen his condition and stopped to help, but nobody did. They blitzed through the road, which even he couldn't catch up with in his faltering condition. Why did nobody notice him? His heart pumped. How far behind were those grunts?
In desperation, he flung himself into the highway, into the path of oncoming cars which swerved in different directions and blared furiously. Sense came back long enough for the Luxray to dodge out of the way out of the road, only for another car to come hurtling towards his way, and crashed into his side, sending him spinning towards the hot asphalt before rolling on his back. He groaned as dull pain spread through his stomach, as he tried to get a sense of how bad his injuries were. Then it struck him. He was about to die. There were so many questions, so many injustices left, and so many dreams waiting to be realised, all of which would be undone. He only hoped anyone listening might've heard his last words.
"P-please," he croaked in human tongue, "I, I wanna l-live. P-please, h-help."
With the sun shining above him, his vision faded to black.
The Chase Arc
Shine woke up with the memory of his escape five years ago burning in his head. He squinted as light from the windows danced on his face, stirring him from his slumber, and for a while, he stayed there, curling himself in a ball at the end of the bed, just for a moment longer. Only for a moment though, as a familiar hand patted Shine's belly, firmly, but softly, across his scar where the car had hit him.
"C'mon Shine," his trainer Tony said. "We should get ready soon."
The Luxray only groaned, retreating further into his half-sleep. Each day usually started like this, which was always for hardest for him as he preferred to sleep in. Why wake up? The days were the same and the world moved around Shine while he lay dormant. Why bother? No matter how much he tried to delay those thoughts with distractions, those fractured memories wouldn't leave him alone. What was the point? The only thing that brought him back into the world was the feel of his trainer's hand, soft and firm, stroking at his side.
"I woke up a little earlier than usual so I'm willing to give you a wash, since it's been a bit long. Would you like that?"
Though it was just another part of his routine at that point, it was hard to say no to Tony's soothing voice. So he opened his remaining eye, stretched on the bedspread and followed Tony, who was already dressed in his anti-static gear, into the bathroom where he sat down on the smooth floor and allowed his trainer to rinse him off with the shower, taking extra care to suppress his electric field. As he waited, the question burned on Shine's lips, and although he didn't wish to complain to his trainer, who had worked so hard on their project in between shifts, he had to ask.
"Sorry to bring this up again," Shine said in his human tongue, "But are you planning on going back to the documentary at some point?"
Tony grunted as he squirted pet shampoo onto Shine's body with gloved hands. When Shine first met him, he remembered his speech skills took Tony by surprise, but after living together for so long, his trainer got used to his special talent.
"To be honest, I really don't know. I want to work on it, sure, but there's not much else we can do. We only know partly about what happened to you, we don't know where your friends have gone, or who was even responsible for the takeover in the first place. I've looked in the papers, in the libraries, everywhere, but can't find any more info on the facility than what you've given me. I'm really sorry, but that's all I can say for now."
He sighed. As much as it frustrated him, they had found no leads at all, even after months of sifting through all the contacts, as there was no other trace of the GeL project's existence anywhere. It was like finding a needle in a haystack, or perhaps a less-cliched human idiom to the same effect.
"I see. Again, I'm sorry if I'm being a pain."
"Don't be silly, Shine. If I wasn't interested, I never would've started this documentary business in the first place. You're doing fine. Personally, I'd just sit on it for a few days and come back later, we both deserve a bit of a break from it."
Shine winced as a wooden brush combed through his thick fur.
"Maybe you could pass on your special skills to another Pokemon looking to connect with their trainers, if it'd help take your mind off things."
"Perhaps." He had quite a bit of fun teaching Bobby arithmetic and parts of the human tongue, as he learned during his first year at GeL, but aside from that, he found little motivation to teach every Pokemon in Ambrette that language. There were only a few that had similar skills to him, and they usually had business somewhere else.
"Or maybe, you could get yourself a treat, like a turnover or another good book to read. I don't mind spoiling you if that's what you want."
"Thanks, but the library's enough for me. Besides, I don't want to sponge off of you too much, if that's what they call it."
Tony chuckled as he turned the water off and patted Shine dry with the towel. "I really don't mind. Look at me though, Shine."
He obliged and looked into his trainer's eyes, which visibly smiled even though he couldn't see the mouth through that electric-resistant mask.
"You've got to enjoy yourself more. You're here where it's peaceful, and you have freedoms that a lot of Pokemon wouldn't dream of having without your skills. Why not make the most of it?"
A pang of guilt nestled in Shine's gut. As much as he wanted to keep up with Tony's boundless energy, he always found himself lagging behind. There were still the memories that revisited him, some good, but buried by the rest. The eye. The arm. The smell of burning fur. The taste of oxidation. The screams. The broken dreams. But he was free from that now. At least, he hoped so. His eye moistened as those fragments of time resurfaced, and Tony embraced him, hugging him tight through that suit. It felt strangely comforting even as the rubber stuck to Shine's coat.
"It's alright, it's alright. You don't need to worry anymore."
"I-I know," Shine said through his sniffles. "I-I'll try to en-enjoy today. T-thanks."
After Tony dried him off, the two made small talk over a breakfast of Tepig rashers about the things Tony experienced on his marine trips, including taking a selfie with a Mantine, which temporarily made Shine forget about his worries. After his trainer waved goodbye to head for work, though, the house was silent once more. Shine laid down on the couch for a minute, staring at the clock that ticked constantly, and sighed.
There were so many hours left in the day, yet he was still waiting for it to pass. He had to get out of there, even if it was temporary, and so, Shine walked through his door flap out of the apartment complex and into the sunlit streets of Ambrette Town. His collar jingled proudly as he padded along the pavement. The townsfolk passed, nonplussed to the Luxray's presence, with some familiar, yet nameless faces greeting Shine, alongside their Pokemon that stared on with passing interest, while he looked straight on and made his way to the library.
His presence there was welcomed by the members of staff, who had gotten used to the prospect of a visiting Luxray at that point, and attended to his needs, retrieving a fantasy book for him to sink his teeth into and newspapers for him to leaf through. He took those in his maw and laid them out in the garden in the shady spot underneath a tree.
There, he read under the cool spot, and moments later, a Murkrow appeared, fluttering towards him before perching on a bit of tree bark. Her name was Bauble, and she wore a red string anklet above her foot, which she shook proudly to Shine.
"Why Shine!" she cawed, wiggling her three toes, "Someone tied this for me! Do you like it?"
"Yes," he said with a smile, "It suits you."
"And so does your collar!" It didn't take long for her to stick her beak into Shine's neck, fiddling about with the red accessory Tony had given him. "I bet it'll look great in my collection!"
He shook his head, almost whipping Bauble in the face with his mane in an effort to get her off.
"You're not stealing this again. You don't just take from other people."
"Sure I do!" she said with a grin below her beak, "But anyway, you know what I came for, so let's get to it!"
He hummed a reply and the two nuzzled close to each other. Shine got his paws on the Regional Roundup first, as Bauble liked to hear about events happening within Kalos, particularly those that centred around Pokemon related affairs. When Shine read on his own, he would read about a variety of topics, from book reviews to political features, but mainly, because there was some hope left he would find out more about the GeL project from there, or the whereabouts of the remaining subjects. However, once when he attempted to read a piece about Kalos' national debt, Bauble flew off in a huff, so whenever they were together, Shine made sure to read on her interest level.
There was a picture of a Machoke holding up a championship belt triumphantly. Although he had no interest in sports, Shine knew him as Rex Revolver. On the top however, was the headline 'REX RETIRES!' with the caption 'Consecutive four year Machampion calls it quits!'
"He seems pretty satisfied!" Bauble said.
"Aw. Well that sucks."
"Do you want me to read on?"
"Eh, don't care for sports."
Having said that, Bauble still had her biases. They continued on, flicking from page to page. The next article of interest had a picture of camera footage, with a group of Scraggy and Scrafty crowding around something in the middle. Shine read out the headings.
"Scraggy Syndrome - Should we arrest criminal Pokémon?"
Bauble crowed in anger.
"That's the stupidest thing I've heard in a while! Why don't they just let us be! Do humans really get paid to write this crap?"
"Yes, depending on whether or not they're freelance, they can either get paid for each article they write or..." Shine trailed off, realising that he was going off a tangent. It was pointless to explain to someone of Bauble's fleeting interest all the intricacies of the judicial system, and how there was essentially none for Pokemon, allowing the police or trainers to take matters into their own hands, for better or for worse.
"I don't really have a good answer for that."
"They shouldn't be paid at all if you ask me!"
Shine brushed aside her comment and continued looking.
"Oh, Shine!" Bauble said. "When can I see your film?"
"Probably never at this rate," he said, not taking his eye off the paper.
"What?" Bauble screeched, "Why not? Do you hate me?"
"Trust me, it has nothing to do with that. We've worked on it a lot, but doesn't look like we have the right angle for it yet."
"Can't I take one little peek at it?"
"It's not up to me, I'm afraid. It's mostly Tony's project, since he's the one putting it all together."
"Forget Tony! Why not do it when he's out?"
Shine sighed. Perhaps he shouldn't have let it slip to a random Pokemon that frequently tried to steal from him. But she already expressed interest in their project, so it was too late to say no at that point.
"I'll consider it."
Bauble pouted and turned her head dismissively.
"A Future Without Cars - Gogoat leads to less congestion, study finds."
"Boring," Bauble said. "Slow news day, isn't it?"
"A little," Shine muttered.
When Shine turned the next page, the photo sent a chill through Shine's spine. The picture, taking up half the page, featured a night-time scene of a Lucario throwing a punch at a gathering of shadows, where the most important detail was their left arm. The arm they used to punch with wasn't the same length as the other, had five fingers instead of three paws, and shone like a jewel underneath the street-lamps. Shine's heart leapt in his chest. He brought himself as close to the photo as possible, checking the details of the arm multiple times to see if it really was like that Lucario's, and more after that, trying to prove himself wrong. But after the seventh time, there was no doubt about it. The Lucario in that picture had an artificial arm.
The Lucario in that picture was none other than one of the old subjects of GeL: Curio.
"T-that's her!" he exclaimed.
"Whozzer?" Bauble shrieked. "Read the darn paper, why don't ya? It's the only interestin' thing here so far!"
Shine almost leapt from his spot. All he wanted was to run to Tony's workplace and tell him they had a lead, but when he thought about the context behind the photo, he anchored himself down and read through the article.
"A Lucario was spotted at night battling against the gang of Pokemon, believed to be known as the 'Thousand Claws', who have terrorised Dendemille Town ever since their arrival, with burglaries and reported kidnappings of other Pokemon. The altercation lasted only a minute as they dispersed when the police came. So far, the details of the Lucario are elusive, but as they have speech skills similar to that of humans, they are wanted for questioning by the force, as they're believed to be a part of the rogue criminals."
Shine's eye widened upon reading that last sentence.
"Bless the white god's tail!"
Shine ignored Bauble's cries of protest as he stuffed the newspaper in his mouth and made a beeline for the library's exit, dashing off further into town where the coast was to Tony's workplace. He didn't care how fast he went or whether or not he accidentally bumped into things on his way.
He didn't even slow down when he reached the cliff-side, going only by inertia and almost fell off the edge, kicking a few pebbles off the cliff face in the process, but staggered back to his feet and carried on his route.
Eventually, Shine reached the coast where the main part of Ambrette Town sat, rushed past the aquarium over to the neighbouring Marine Conservation Centre, and charged through the entrance into the reception. He remembered where Tony's office was, which was by his right, and without thinking, ran towards the direction of the door.
"Hey hey hey!" an unfamiliar voice of an old man called. "What do you think you're doing here?!"
Shine spat the newspaper out. "Sorry, my trainer's in there, I have to speak to him!"
Shine balanced himself on his hindpaws to pull the handle down, but when he did, the door wouldn't open. It was locked. Shine glanced at the old man who was practically white with confusion, mumbling to the other person at the desk who Shine knew as Ines, the communications head. No interaction with her ended in a friendly conversation, but regardless, Shine thought it best to explain his situation to someone familiar with Tony. He padded over to the desk, balancing on his tip-toes and making eye-contact with Ines, who shot him a glare that could've frozen the air around them."
"Shine, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"Please miss Ines, let me explain myself, I need to-"
"Everyone in there, including Tony, is busy taking care of something important, and we're trying to bluff our way out of a PR disaster. They can't have anybody else coming in no matter what for the whole day."
She retracted a Pokeball from her belt and held it towards Shine.
"I said you can't come in no matter what. If you don't leave, you'll have to answer to Tundremie."
Even for Ines, this was rather cold for her. Each time Shine wanted to visit Tony on-break, she often refused to let him in unless either of them gave notice, but there, she turned him down instantly. Her treatment always seemed unfair to him, and she seemed to have a bias against Pokemon in general, but he understood Tony had to deal with delicate situations if a rescued Pokemon ever went into surgery, and besides, dealing with her Aurorus was another issue entirely. Despite the burning sensation in his paws, he took a deep breath and relaxed his stance.
"Can you at least pass a message to him, please?"
She lowered her Pokeball but didn't change her glacial expression otherwise.
"Make it quick."
Shine rushed over to where he dropped the newspaper and picked it back up, propping it onto Ines' desk.
"Tell him to read page twelve."
"I'll see if I have time to, now please, we've got calls to make here." Her expression softened, letting her guard down for just a moment. "Sorry."
He walked out of the centre with pent-up energy surging through him. When the beach came in sight, he took off towards it and vented his frustrations through his run, kicking sand everywhere he went and tasting the burn of the seaweed nearby.
After five years of waiting and not knowing anyone's whereabouts, something had surfaced from the ashes, but the most burning question, amongst many others was what happened to force the two to separate in the first place. He slowed down his pace to a brisk walk as the realization dawned on him. What was that Sinnohan Pokemon doing in Dendemille, or getting involved with dangerous Pokemon for that matter? Was she docile or was she a threat? And even more than that, trying to get his answers meant he would have to cross half the region to get to that town, which was easier said than done.
He could've ran all the way through the wild, leaving him to face the indifferent wildlife all on his own, and Curio might not've been there by the time he arrived, if he lived through that. Going by train would save a lot of time, but it would've been much faster to rent a flying Pokemon. Not even the fastest trains in the world held a candle to a Dragonite; if he could find a ranch that owned one, it would've taken an hour to get to Dendemille. The only issue was cost.
Pokemon could hop on buses and trains for free as long as it wasn't during peak hours and fitted the size and weight limit, but transport by flying Pokemon was a different matter entirely. The handlers were the ones in charge, and their services to pilot the Pokemon required payment just like any other human selling goods. The faster the Pokemon, the more their fliers were likely to charge. He wasn't sure how much it was for a Dragonite exactly, but probably a lot. He thought about putting his plan into fruition, but when he took the time to consider it, he stopped in his tracks.
Doing all of that meant he would have to venture on his own accord, without Tony's help or anyone else in Ambrette town that knew him. Having stayed with his trainer for so long in the comfort of his abode, he was at a loss for himself, and since he was so busy at that moment, he couldn't run his plans through him first. And so, Shine slowly padded back to the apartment, tail dragging on the ground beneath him, and even as he stepped through the flap, his mind was in a muddle.
His stomach rumbled as it approached noon. It would probably be good to grab some lunch, and as he headed towards the kitchen, the window above the sink tapped. Bauble came flying in through the open slit, which she often did whenever they didn't meet straight at the library.
"Care to tell me why you dashed off like that?" she cawed, her beak pointed downwards.
"Oh, sorry," Shine said. "Something came up, so I want to head to Dendemille later."
"What? How in the world are you gonna get there?"
"I don't know yet. At the moment, I'm not even sure if it's worth it yet, unless the trip is quick."
"And what're you thinkin'?"
"Well, do you know if there's a ranch nearby that takes care of Dragonite?"
"Hmm," Bauble said, turning her head away. "There might be. But. But-but-but." She looked at Shine with a cunning smile. "What would you give me in return if I did know there was one? Perhaps, your collar?"
"Excuse me?" Shine sputtered. "What is your obsession with my collar?"
"Oh nothing, it just looks so nice! Besides, I think I deserve something for being abandoned."
"My collar is-" He paused. Bauble had asked for his collar since she met him, which got tiring. Tony had given it to him as a present when he got his trainer license, which was why he'd been reluctant for her to snatch it off him. If he gave it up, that would mean betraying him. Then it dawned on him that was the reason he had been so reluctant to travel in the first place. Since time was of the essence at that point, Shine steeled his resolve. It was time to tear off the band-aid. He hesitated before he lifted his neck up for the intruding Murkrow.
"Fine. Come and get it, then."
Bauble flew to the back of Shine's neck to unclasp his collar and ran her beak through his fur, which tickled a little, but within seconds, the collar released and Bauble held what was Tony's memento in her mouth. Seeing how pleased Bauble was with her prize, Shine felt a knot of guilt tie itself in his stomach. Nevertheless, his goal was more important than keeping himself leashed to some sort of tradition.
"Are there Dragonite, Bauble?"
"Why yeth, there are," she said, slightly muffled by what she was holding. "You haff money for that, yeth?"
"I'll sort that out in a minute. If you don't mind, can you wait outside for me while I get the cash?"
"Cointh?" Shine anticipated she would ask about that, as if she imagined there was a vault in the flat that had a pool of solid gold she could gawk at.
As soon as Bauble hopped out of the door with the collar, Shine's eye flickered gold, which turned on his special vision to find the safe in Tony's bedroom closet.
Tony was the one that taught Shine how to use money in the real world. While his days in the facility gave him the knowledge of basic arithmetic earlier on, to even differential equations in his later years, currency was alien to him in such a closed-off environment. Not long after the two officially partnered up, Tony shared the code to his safe, as he trusted Shine to only use it for emergencies. He hadn't needed to use it in the two years he stayed in Tony's flat. This, however, was an emergency. A largely personal emergency, but an emergency nonetheless.
Unfortunately, the safe wasn't Pokémon friendly, as the code could only be punched in on a small keypad. He had to type in the code with his muzzle, which took a few tries but once he entered the right combination, it opened with a satisfying click, revealing the vast amounts of money inside. He gasped at the sight of it, which held seemingly endless stacks of paper, but he would only take what he needed however. The price of the Dragonite, he didn't know, but if he had to guess, it would be around 20000 Pokedollars, so he took ten 2000 bills out and after counting it twice over with his paws, Shine locked the safe door shut.
Travelling to the middle of nowhere with a loose stash of bills in his mouth was undesirable, especially as a Pokémon, so Shine searched in Tony's drawers for a little bag he could bundle them in. He found a small drawstring bag, stuffed the bills in it, then placed it in his mouth. Now he was ready to go.
As he made his way to the door, however, Shine realised what he was about to do: fly half the region to see someone that might not even be there and hadn't met in half his life. As unsure as he was though, he needed answers to unlock his past, and if Curio's reappearance helped him retrieve those again, it would've been worth it.
But something still nagged at him, as he also realised how much it would worry Tony to travel for a few days unannounced, so he backtracked to Tony's bedroom and got out a pen and a pad. Gripping the pen with his mouth, Shine wrote as best as he could on the lined paper.
'Looking for a Lucario. Will be back in a few days - S.'
With that, Shine picked the money-bag back up and left the flat.
Bauble had waited on the railing, absent-mindedly staring out into the noon sky, and when Shine came back, she took the drawstring bag in her talons and wrapped it around Shine's neck, which he supposed was an adequate enough replacement for the collar.
She glided over to the road at the other end of the block, leaving Shine to follow her, and when they got close enough, she flew off again, gliding into the distance up the main street, and although it took some time for each other to find their rhythm, once the two knew each other's patterns of movement, Bauble no longer had to wait for Shine to catch up as he ran after her. They went further up the road, reached the outskirts of Ambrette towards the more mountainous areas of land where the ground got more bumpy, and to a path that sat outside of the forest of Route 9.
Travelling through the dappled path, with the open space in front of him and the quiet rustling of the leaves overhead gave him time to reflect, making him remember something before he dashed off to Tony.
"I think I might've stolen that library's newspaper."
"Yeah, so?" Bauble cawed. "It's just paper."
They continued their trek in silence, and when the two arrived, Shine saw the most dragons he had ever seen in one area. When he first heard of the ranches, he didn't know what to expect with how it was organised, however, what he saw was separated by a fence was an open field, as the dragon types and dragon-looking Pokemon freely flew around the area and ran through the shallow grass. There were Charizard, Dragonite, Salamence, Goodra and all the like, but as well as that, their young accompanied them in their previous evolutions. While most species kept within their own circles, there were a few that freely mingled with others scattered across.
Plenty of humans operated the field as well. Some tended to their own Pokémon by feeding them, playing with them or resting by them, and others worked in the farmland area separate from the Pokémon area. There was so much happening at once there, Shine didn't know where to start. It made him feel dizzy looking at it, trying to keep a track of all the activity there and turning his head back and forth to where his blindside couldn't see.
It was kind of similar to how the facility functioned during its golden age, except outdoors and less densely packed. He supposed some things never changed.
He remembered what he came there for however, and padded over to the closest barn on the path, with Bauble hopping alongside him on the fence. When he reached the entrance, Shine was greeted by a woman dressed head to toe in flight gear, who drew her hand close to her belt, seemingly cautious of the two that approached her.
"If you've come here to steal our crops, beat it," she said.
Shine gulped as he mustered up the confidence to speak.
"Um, I need a ride to Dendemille Town as quickly as possible, please." To complete the request, he bowed politely to her. The woman took off her visor, not taken completely off guard but still revealing her surprise as she arched an eyebrow.
"Well I'll be. Did that Murkrow bring you here?"
Shine nodded, and the woman gave him a pointed look.
"Well I must apologise. I don't know what she told you, but we don't make no exceptions for Pokémon. Even you have to pay."
"No problem. I'm looking to buy a Dragonite."
Upon hearing this, the lady chortled, holding her fist in front of her hand to stifle herself.
"A Dragonite? Good one! Where in Arceus' crack did you find that much money to buy one?"
"It's hanging by my neck."
The woman laughed again, slapping her knee.
"Naw, naw, I apologise, I believe ya. Forgive me for bein' so rude." She took a deep breath and presented her gloved hand to him.
"Name's Adele. Pleasure to do business with ya. What's yours?"
"Cool! If you'll follow me to the field, I'll walk you through what we have."
Adele jumped over the fence. Before Shine could follow, he winced as Bauble's beak tugged at his fur.
"Yeah, I'm kind of banned here, so I'll take my leave now. I hope whatever you're doing in Dendemille works out for you."
Shine partly wondered what she did to earn such ire from the rancher, but he smiled anyway and bowed to his sticky-beaked helper.
"Thanks. Enjoy your collar."
"Will do!" Bauble gave an appreciative chirp and swooped up in the air, disappearing past the trees.
Shine crawled under the fence and caught up with Adele as they weaved through the field. Already, he sensed the attention he was getting from a group of Charmander nearby who all stared at him and talked amongst themselves from a distance. As he couldn't hear them, he brushed it aside.
"If you don't mind me asking," Adele said, "Where'd you learn to speak so well?"
"Through a caring enough trainer and lots of practice," Shine said, which was half true.
"You don't say. All things considered, you speak much better than half of my workers on the farm!"
"I wouldn't say that."
"Don't humble yourself. Actually, we've tried our hand at teaching our Pokémon here to speak, and it ain't easy, let me tell you. We've had problems finding other Pokémon that speak like us for the job, so we do it ourselves, and some of them can carry conversations, but they've still got a helluva way to go. Others though, they have no focus for it whatsoever. I can't even get one peep out of them before they fly off!"
Shine couldn't help but laugh, thinking back to how often he stumbled in the language tests at first.
"It is always the hardest trying to get the first word out, after all. If it's not in their nature, leave them be."
"I don't know, we've been surprised before. Still, a Pokémon such as yourself is somewhat of a rarity around these parts. It's hard to—"
She paused as a glob of green slime splashed over her glasses from her left side, which came from a Goodra who waved at Adele with a slimy paw. She chortled as she wiped off the gunk and approached the dragon.
"Hell-o A-dell," the Goodra pronounced carefully in the human tongue.
"Good to see you too, Petri." She welcomed the Goodra with open arms and didn't hesitate to hug Petri as he coated her with more slime.
"How's the lessons coming along?"
"Slow and a-nnoy-ing. But not bad."
"It'll get better," Shine chimed in, bringing Petri's attention to him. "I found it hard to string together words as well."
Petri gasped, clutching his chest with his paw. "A new tea-cher?"
"Nope," Adele said, "Just a visitor of ours."
"O-K." Petri gave a disappointed smile.
"Sorry, we gotta go Petri. I'll come back in a bit. See you then!"
Adele waved to Petri which he returned, and also waved in Shine's direction. He nodded before catching up with Adele, who was still covered in slime.
"Does that come off easily?" Shine said.
"Depends. You hardly notice it after a while."
Perhaps it was easier for humans to get slime off their clothes, but he winced at the thought of getting it stuck in his fur.
The two reached the part of the field where the Dragonite congregated, a group of five who were all huddled around each other.
"Attention!" she shouted, and the Dragonite all turned to face her. She counted them all with her finger, then pointed to a blank space.
"Lyra." The Dragonite on the far left took a step forward. "Would you be so kind to fetch Accendare, please?"
They nodded. Shine couldn't even see them flap their wings before he had to shield himself from the gust of wind, and when he opened his eye, Lyra was nowhere to be seen in the sky. After a moment, he saw the two approaching from the air and flinched upon their landing as the ground rumbled, getting a crowd of laughter from the Dragonite already on land. Once he recovered, he eyed Accendare, whose ribs stuck out slightly and seemed smaller compared to the rest, with the addition of a Postmon's pager around their ankle. They looked off into the distance with their arms crossed.
"Good! Now," Adele turned to Shine, "What's your poison?"
The Dragonite gossiped on their own.
"What is a Luxray doing here?"
"By golly, he must be loaded!"
"He can't be serious."
"Who's the fastest?" Shine asked, mostly for curiosity's sake.
"Well, that'd be Bally!" She pointed to the Dragonite in the middle, who was the tallest of the bunch. "Easy to handle, and can reach the peak of Snowbelle City in just an hour."
Bally gave Shine a smug smile. So he could've gotten to Dendemille in half an hour.
Shine had anticipated the steep price tag just to see how far up he could go.
"And who's the cheapest?"
"Figure you'd say that next." She pointed to Accendare. "You know this lil' stowaway's name. I don't know how urgent your situation is, but she'll do a good enough job for you if your only destination is Dendemille. She can get there in roughly an hour and a quarter if you don't mind the bumpy ride."
It wasn't exactly within the hour, but it was close enough and much better than he expected for the cheapest. Dragonite truly were first rate.
"Oh," he whispered. Somewhere, he had miscalculated how much he needed. Speed, handle-ability and rarity were his first standards of measurement, but there must have been something forgotten in the rush.
"I see. I'm ten thousand short, unfortunately."
There was a collective sigh from the group of Dragonite.
"I might as well mention this is a very generous price around these parts. You might get cheaper further east, but for what's available here, that's a bargain."
That was it. He forgot to take availability into factor as well. Adele grunted as she retrieved Shine's pouch from her pocket and knelt down to Shine. Only then did he realise how foolish he must have looked.
"Sorry for wasting your time," Shine said.
"Nonsense!" She smiled. "I completely understand. We haven't had a customer like you come to our ranch before, so you've made it worth my while!"
"I see. Well, thank you."
He bowed once more before turning back to the path. That was it. He'd have to return home to Tony, to his peaceful neighbourhood, to his mediocre life since leaving the facility with his questions unanswered. The train was still a possibility to travel through, but by taking the longer route, he risked losing his only other lead to fully understanding his past. As he pondered this, he saw Petri, the Goodra from earlier in the distance. Thinking back to the conversation he had with Adele about finding teachers for the Pokémon on the ranch, he couldn't help smile at what he had in mind. Once more, Shine turned to Adele who was checking on Accendare.
"Adele!" he shouted.
Adele faced him again with a confused look.
"I'll pay the twenty thousand for Accendare, and work for as long as it takes to teach Petri to speak properly!"
A glint appeared in Adele's eyes and she clapped her hands together.
"Now we're talking business! As long as you're fine with it being unpaid work, we're square!"
"I don't mind."
"Good!" Adele gently undid the pouch from Shine's neck and opened it, counting its contents, 20000 Poke dollars in ten bills, before making it disappear into her jacket.
"We need to make sure you'll come back to us to start your first lesson, so me and Accendare will be there to pick you up in two days at the most."
"Two days?" he asked. Even he wasn't sure he would be able to get Curio back in that time.
"Yup. We can't make the returning time too open, otherwise it'll be like you're getting a trip for free. Is that fine with you?"
Shine looked to his side. Again, he wasn't certain Curio would still be there, but he had nothing to lose by not taking up the offer except his trainer's money.
"Yes, but I might need to bring a friend of mine back here."
"Same size as you?"
"She's a Lucario."
"Fine. The spikes might be a problem, but it's doable. In that case, we'll be there at 2PM on Wednesday, so don't forget that. Oh, one more thing." Adele approached Shine and knelt down to his level, uncomfortably close to his face with a serious expression.
"We kinda have a serious policy on customers paying us back. If you try to weasel your way out of it or aren't there in time two days from now, well, your ass is grass."
"I can assure you I'll be there."
Adele backed away from him, smiling again.
"Good! Ahem." She pulled out a walkie talkie and spoke into it. "You two! Accendare's gear please, on the double!"
A moment later, two young assistants, a scruffy boy and a ribboned girl, lugged the gear in front of Adele, and she commanded them to tend to Accendare, who held up her paws in the air for them to equip her. The scruffy looking boy tried to wrap the harness around Accendare's arms, who knelt down with all four paws on the ground, and took one step to the side in an effort to pull the strap back, but missed and ended up slipping off of her, catching Accendare's arm with the loose strap which made her shriek.
"Damn it, I told you to be careful!" Adele said, stomping over to let the boy down. "The last thing I need you to do is to hurt Accy!
"Sorry miss," he said, looking up at her with guilty eyes.
"Never mind, I'll handle this from here on out. Clearly, you need more training. Girl, you've done a good job, so that's it for now. Go take him back and make him run a lap across the field."
The ribboned apprentice nodded and left with the glum looking boy. Adele leaned in to stroke Accendare's head.
"It'll get more comfy with time, sweetie. That clod really doesn't make it easy for you, does he?"
Accendare shook her head in reply.
"There there." She turned to Shine. "Shall we?"
From there, Accendare went on all fours, presenting the saddle on her back. Adele offered a hand to Shine, gesturing to pick him up, and he sat in her arm as she climbed up Accendare to the front. She placed him in one of the empty backseats of the saddle which were mostly fit for humans but not Pokémon that weren't bipedal. Nevertheless, he gripped the belt in front of him with ease, but a chill washed over him when he realised he was on the back of a dragon that could cycle the globe in less than a day.
"Accendare, any tips for first timers?"
"Um, hold on for dear life?" she said. He couldn't see her face, but he imagined she looked quite nervous herself. "Oh, and um, thanks for picking me by the way."
With that, the Dragonite leaned forward and started flapping her wings, sending a wave of movement through the seat, where Shine lightly bobbed up and down. Adele gently raised the bridle, and Accendare's wings beat, progressively getting more rapid. Eventually, the ground below Shine felt weightless. Accendare was in the air.
The rest of the dragons cleared the way, each flying to opposite ends of the field; the young were either picked up on the way or were left to rush to their parents as quickly as possible. Then Adele whipped the bridle.
Accendare burst forward, slapping Shine across the face with a burst of wind. The ranch was behind him in an instant, and next, the trees all became a blur of green, and a blur of brown as they passed the cliffs. All the while, Shine had no time to process the level of speed he was riding at. Already, the spike in speed left him feeling dizzy, but all he could focus on was holding onto the strap and not letting go. It was something he never wanted to experience again, but the two motivating thoughts were finding Curio and by extension, regaining his lost past.