When Shine came out, the sky turned a dusky blue with streetlights illuminating the paths before him. Aware of the dangers lurking in the shadows, he turned his golden vision on, making the outlines of the buildings a milky white and everything else transparent. Almost everyone and their Pokémon were settling down for the day, all except a few that looked particularly feline, scattered in various alleys and little hideouts further away from the town centre.
Shine took a deep breath, going through everything in his head that had already been ruled out about Curio's whereabouts. The square was worth another check, but after that, it was safe to assume she wouldn't be lurking there during the night. The windmill was out, as she likely had no reason to return there again. Everything else inside the town was out, as Shine asked around for hours with little to no results. Even with his ability to see through objects, Curio was nowhere in his view.
Even with Barley and his friends back at the Vine, she was just as elusive to them as she was to every other stranger in Dendemille. She seemed to tell a lot about herself, yet very little about her true nature. With that, more questions swirled around in Shine's head. What was she doing there in the first place? When did she arrive? Did she have somewhere to stay? Then the Delphox's motto played back in his head.
'You don't find Curio, Curio finds you.'
He shifted his focus back to the hollow streets he stood in the middle of, as he was still safe while he was nearby the openly lit pub, but once he ventured further into the darkness, his undivided attention would have to go towards keeping out of harm's way, somehow. With nowhere else to go except forward, Shine took one slow step into the night, mentally repeating the motto like a mantra.
The trip to the square was easy, as he spotted none of the Claws lurking about on the way there or nearby the centre. His hope was that there was still a stall open that had more information, but when he reached the area, all of the tables had cleared out and the camper vans had driven away, leaving an entire section of the area empty. The only other human activity happening was the nightlife, and even then, they stayed isolated inside the pub windows that cast a warm orange glow out to the cold open. After a minute of combing through humankind and Pokémon alike, he found no results, although there was one Lucario sitting idly beside their trainer in a booth at a pub named Charizard's Spit.
They certainly weren't Curio, as their left arm would've been transparent if that was the case, but they still had the power of aura, which was a step beyond Shine's night vision. While a Luxray was limited to its sight, a Lucario's aura could easily stretch beyond that, for hundreds of meters and miles in exceptional cases, even with closed eyes, and with that, Shine made his way towards the door.
The place was a lot more lively than the Vine in terms of its patrons where a lot more adults chatted around the counter holding all sorts of various liquids in shots, pints and pitchers, with a few younger trainers sat in various places drinking soda. Shine wrinkled his nose at it as he walked through the bar area, thinking back to the sickly smells of the vineyard, but it didn't take long for him to find the Lucario, who sat in a corner amongst different young trainers and their Pokémon, tracing their paw on the rim of an empty glass. Eventually, they looked up and the two made eye contact with one another, which was quickly broken as they made a face and tugged on their trainer's shoulder.
"What's wrong?" the young girl asked. Without a word, the Lucario pointed to Shine, bringing her into contact with him.
"What do you want with Luccy?" she said, glaring at him
He hoped for a more tactful introduction as he had business with the Lucario alone, but he remembered most trainers weren't as lax as Tony was, especially not in a place overrun by criminal cats, so he had to remedy it with a polite greeting. He approached them slowly and bowed.
"Sorry Miss." He raised his voice to speak over the commotion. "I don't mean to alert you but I have something I'd like to ask him if you have the time."
"Oh, yeah yeah, sure!" Her eyes almost leapt out of their sockets as she scurried past out of the booth. "I'll refill our drinks, just give me a minute, okay Luccy?"
Luccy rapidly nodded their head and their trainer reached out for the glass, leaving the two in their own company. The Lucario stared at Shine with their mouth agape.
"You c-can speak?" he stuttered.
"Yes," Shine said back in his own tongue, "But never mind that. I'm looking for someone important to me and I need your help. Do you sense a Lucario with a metal arm named Curio nearby?"
"I-" Luccy covered his mouth, and balled his paw into a fist before letting it fall to his lap.
"S-s-sorry, I have no id-d-dea what you're t-t-talking about."
Shine grunted. Although he would take most things at face value, one look at him made it obvious he hid something. He leered at the Lucario, something he hadn't had to do in a while.
"I can't stress this enough. It's very important for you to tell me the truth if it helps me find her. I know you of all Pokémon can help even if your aura isn't very strong, and I know she's around these parts; she couldn't have gone outside this town already. So tell me where she is, please, sir Luccy."
Luccy broke out into a sharp fit of laughter.
"I'm telling you, I d-d-don't know them. I mean, a Luc-c-cario with a metal arm, that's stupid!"
Shine leaned in as close as the space could allow on the opposite side of the table, stopping him from outright pouncing on the Lucario. Shine was starting to run out of options and this was his only lead, else he would have to throw himself back into the chaos of the night. To restrain himself, he took a deep breath and sat back down on the bench.
"If you don't tell me where she is, then I'm afraid we'll have to take this outside, your trainer be damned. I have to apologise for this, but for the final time, I can't let this opportunity pass me by. So tell me now and-"
Luccy gasped and pointed to his trainer, who held two pints of cola.
"What's going on here?" she said. Shine smiled to her, trying his best to look genuine.
"Hello again Miss, I was hoping for sir Luccy to give me some information, but now that you're here, I'm trying to find a Lucario wielding a metal arm, if you've seen her recently."
The trainer's eyes drooped and she thumped both glasses on the table, sitting next to Luccy who clutched her arm.
"Calm down. I'll explain for you. We'd rather not talk about it, for his sake. I don't wanna fight you for it if you have nothing else to say."
This was Shine's last chance to get a response out of them, and to do that, he would have to come up with something desperate, even if it was a lie. Not having seen her for five years wasn't a good enough excuse as it required a long winded explanation of his plans, so he took another breath and tried to give his best performance.
"My friend Curio is lost. Me and my trainer's team have been trying to find her for days. We were originally supposed to pass by here straight to Anistar when she started an argument and left in a huff, and she tends to create trouble when she's in a bad mood. I apologise for anything of ill she's caused you, but we've been trying to remedy that by getting her to come back with us. It's only in her nature, I'm sure you understand, so please, it's important to fix the mess we made if it will help her stop causing havoc, or fighting with other Pokemon in the street, or trespassing windmills."
"That's not t-t-true." Luccy tugged on her shoulder. "Don't believe him, he's lying, he's a bald faced liar, please!"
His cries of protest came out as nothing more than animalistic whimpers which only Shine and his kind could understand. Shine felt the familiar twist in his stomach, seeing how desperate the poor Lucario was to communicate with his trainer, but there were more pressing issues at hand than a wounded conscience. The trainer held up her hand to him and he stopped, then she gave Shine a friendly smile.
"Well, I did see her pass by the square to that path that leads to the outskirts just ten or so minutes ago, but that's about it. Something must've happened between these two because I don't know why, but Luccy started growling and chasing her tail. I mean, you went straight for it, didn't you?" She placed her hand on his paw. "I guess she must've said something terrible to you to make you so angry, huh?"
He hummed to himself, letting go of her arms at last and cast a sullen look at his glass. The trainer sniggered and took a sip of her own.
"This is kinda sudden, you know. I thought the metal arm was strange, but I've only been here a few days and I've already met two Pokémon that can speak like us! I guess lightning's gonna strike down on my head next time I go out."
A chuckled escaped Shine's lips. Considering his powers, that was funnier than the trainer would've thought.
"I understand. To be honest, I'm finding all this strange myself, but let's get back on track. You stopped Luccy and..."
"And that's it. He calmed down soon after, and now we're having a few drinks before we take on the next gym in Anistar, just like you. Well, not drinks drinks but, you know."
Flushing a hot pink, the trainer took a swig of the cola and exhaled. Along with her, Luccy chugged the entirety of his drink in one go, letting out a series of quiet hiccups. Shine sussed out that the Lucario knew about Curio and would hint to her whereabouts, but there was the gut feeling to do some more prodding.
"Well, thank you for your time," Shine said, bowing, "I'm rather new to this place, so I think I'll need someone to point me in the right direction of those outskirts."
"Right, right," the trainer said, "You know, I dunno if I can describe it so easily." She stopped and grabbed ahold of Luccy's paw again. "Can you show this nice Pokémon the way?"
Luccy darted his eyes back to Shine, then back to his trainer, and sighed.
"If I must," he said, more for himself than his trainer.
"Thanks!" She shook it and made some room for the Lucario to scurry out of the booth. Shine didn't wait for him to show him out before heading for the door.
"And don't stray out too far! Those Claws are dangerous!"
Luccy gave another low grunt from far away before joining Shine outside, whose paws tightened into fists.
"Um, d-d-do you mind if I do something quickly?"
The knot in Shine's stomach grew taut, and he took a deep breath, preparing himself for what was about to come.
"Go ahead. I'm sorry if-" A ball of aura flew past his face, but missed, only brushing past Shine's mane.
"If you wanted a free hit, you could've just said so."
"Yeah, I know, b-b-but-" Luccy paused, then waved his arms in the air. "That was so unfair! You can't do that to me, you never lie to a Lucario!"
"Yes, I know that little maxim, but lies also beget lies. Now please, for the last time. Tell me what you know about Curio."
Luccy grumbled, pulling on the appendages behind his head.
"Oh dear, I guess there's no point hiding it, now you got my trainer to spill it. You know what, though? I hate that Lucario's guts. Whenever she passes me by, she feels the need to poke me with that arm. I get goosebumps whenever I feel that cold thing. Not only that, I can't pass her by without her saying something like 'Hey Lu-lu-luccy, how's your st-st-stutter today?' When I saw her back there, it was the last straw with me, you know. If you don't mind me saying so, I wanted to swipe that smug little face off."
Shine closed his eye and exhaled. Even though his memory of her was still fuzzy, there was something about Luccy's words that struck a nerve. Shine fought back the urge to pounce on him again. Luccy must've sensed it with his aura, so he nervously smiled.
"Hey, s-s-sorry. Nobody likes having someone else insulting someone you c-c-care about. I just don't understand her." He cast a glance to the road and rubbed his paws together. "She creeps me out. Not just that arm, but her aura. It's like nothing I've felt before, just a whirlwind of emotions and random thoughts without any way to read into them. I sense many dark secrets from her, and you as well, like you both have been through something terrible, yet all locked away in some v-v-vault, or something. I w-w-wish I could help you with that."
"I understand that, but I'm in a hurry. Do you sense her close by or not?"
"Go straight up that path to Route 15," Luccy said, pointing,"And you'll see her on the outskirts there. I can see she's adding something to something. I think she's lighting a fire. It's kind of hard to-"
"Alright, thank you!"
Without turning back, Shine sprinted for the path and kept running. His heart pumped. His breaths were light. His heavy paws pounded on the pavement and echoed through the streets. That was it. He finally found Curio, the Lucario that would lead to him regaining his memories. As the momentum of his limbs carried him, he saw himself catching up to her any second, even if he couldn't see her with his naked eye.
Shine's ears twitched. Sets of paws pitter-pattered from the distance behind him. As he ran more and more, it got louder, turning from faint slithers of noise to an assortment of marches sounding in different rhythms. Shine didn't look back, but his heart quickened and he continued running. As Shine finally saw the border that separated the town from the route, he sprang forward and sprinted, but his movements became erratic, no longer going in a straight line. The sounds of the Claws behind him went from marches to stomps as their paws slapped the floor. Shine still focused on his goal, not taking an eye off the gate.
A hot streak of red tore through Shine's leg, staggering him instantly. His face met the concrete. Without thinking, Shine clambered his way forward with his forepaws, but he only covered a few paces before a mass of paws grabbed him by his uninjured leg. They spoke amongst themselves, all understanding obscured by a cacophony of dozens of mewling voices, and dragged him into the darkness of the alleyway.
"Right guys, I wanna good look at his mug!"
Shine tried to squirm away, however, many sets of paws pinned him down, only giving him leeway to move his head and swish his tail. Another set of paws picked him up by his side and flipped him over, giving a full view of the Thousand Claws for him to see. Shine took a deep breath and prepared himself for their big reveal after all this searching.
It wasn't quite a thousand, not even by a quarter, but it was still a lot.
A mix of shadows blended into one another, all shifting at the sides of the walls. Although he hadn't adjusted to the dark immediately, one thing that stuck out to him was the stench, somewhere halfway between wet fur and rotten eggs, which made him gag. One look with his golden vision revealed all. Various cat Pokémon crowded around the sides, all marked with scars and fur discoloured with garbage and grime, sitting in formation around a Meowth. They looked the most battle scarred out of the group, with three massive orange streaks covering the face save for their eyes, two thin irises of bright blue. They sniffed around him, poking their nose in various places on Shine's body, who was still pinned down by the gang before him.
"Say," the Meowth said in a high pitched drawl, "Ya smell awfully nice, ya know. Not like us. We can't getta decent place to bathe. We don't even wanna lick ourselves clean, we're that awful. But youze." He coursed his calloused paws through Shine's mane. "Youze is very smooth, and soapy. There's only one type-a Pokémon that smells like that around here, izzat right?"
A few weak mewls came from the stray pack.
"So, where's your trainer, huh? Seems like the kinda fella that has a lot of dough. Tell ya what, why don't you walk us over to him, huh?"
Shine grunted, his leg still throbbing from the open wound. They were interrogating him over how nice he smelled, of all things. Why did Tony have to bathe him beforehand?
"Why does that matter to you?"
To that, the Meowth frowned and swiped a claw across Shine's face.
"Did I say ya could talk back? Hell no, you don't realise who you're messin' with! This is our turf!"
More mewling came from the circle.
"Come on, least you can do is tell us!"
"He's nowhere near this town."
The Meowth tugged on Shine's mane, pulling him closer to his face to the point Shine could smell his decay-ridden breath.
"Whaddya mean, he's nowhere near this town? What're you doin' here then, huh?"
"That means I have nothing to offer you. Now, if you let me go, I have places to be, forget the leg."
"Like I said, that doesn't tell me nuthin'! Don't screw with me like-" The Meowth's eyes widened and he let go of Shine's mane. He held a paw close to his face and muttered to himself before turning to the rest of the pack, speaking in a chaotic chorus, and when he finally turned, the Meowth hissed at Shine, making every other member join him in unison.
"So you're one of them, huh?" The Meowth threw another swipe at him, but instead of scratching, he punched, clocking Shine across his jaw. Shine groaned as the Meowth pulled him up by his mane again.
"You're the kindsa Pokémon I hate da most, the kindsa Pokémon that act so high and mighty on their own, the kindsa Pokémon that think they can jus' waltz anywhere they like without trouble! Ya wouldn't be nuthin' if it wasn't for your trainer, you're nuthin' but a pet!"
Punch after punch flew across Shine's head. He gritted his teeth, withstanding the blows and trying to find some other way out of the situation. Although he couldn't move his body, his tail was still free, which was enough, and so he wagged it back and forth, charging up the static field around his body.
Shine released his charge, shocking everyone that restrained him, including the Meowth. The rest of the Claws let go, vibrating on the floor, and the Meowth stood, shaking rapidly. Without hesitation, Shine stood up and limped his way out of the alleyway, trying to run. His leg burned from the still open wound, but there was no time to think. He sprang towards the border, gritting his teeth as he focused on reaching Curio, bad leg or not.
The familiar sets of paws stomped behind him. He tried not to turn back as he got closer and closer, and finally, like Luccy said, plumes of smoke rose up into the night sky.
All at once, the Claws tackled him. A dozen sets of calloused paws smothered his back and dug into the skin. They hissed and growled, tearing new open wounds in various places around Shine's body. With each new cut, he sent screams that echoed into the night. Each attempt at storing up electricity was interrupted with more flashes of pain. They stopped, pinning him down to the ground for their leader to stagger in front of Shine, blocking his view of the border, and the Meowth caressed the part of Shine's face where his eye was missing.
"Ya know, I wonder what happened to that eye of yours." If there was any hint of compassion in his voice, that faded away when the leader smiled and pointed a claw at his remaining eye.
"Don't matter. Now you'll have a matching set."
No matter how hard he tried to free himself from his grasp, the other Claws held his head back too, preventing him from even tilting it. With no options left, Shine braced himself for the impact. The moment lasted a few seconds, but it felt like minutes to Shine. In that time, he reflected on the journey that brought him there so far, and how he ended up going from the comfort of Tony's home to facing his death.
He was born in GeL, that much he remembered. He didn't even have a name, or anything of the sort, rather, he was just a Shinx. He knew they had parents somewhere else, but he didn't. No matter how much the other Pokémon born in GeL comforted him or how much the staff tried to get him to socialise with the other Pokémon, he left himself alone, curling up in a ball in his dormitory, sometimes refusing to eat. Then came Curio. Though he only remembered bits and pieces of their interactions together, something warm sparked inside of him whenever they did. Over the next four years, everything was fine, until they came along. The rest after that was a blur, up until the point Tony met him, as well as that car accident.
Would the news even reach Tony back home? Would humans find his body and report on it like the columns Shine read in the obituaries? Of course not. Millions of Pokémon died every day, maybe more. What would his death mean to anyone else except for Tony, his trainer, and Curio, another Pokémon? Would she find his body somehow? She was right over there while he was still pinned down. What was she doing? And finally, what truly happened at the facility that forced them to escape?
With all of these questions left unanswered, hot tears dripped down Shine's fur, stinging his facial wounds.
A cloud of sugar and sweet tea wafted in the air. One whiff of it distracted him from his fate and brought back memories of the vineyard and all its familiar smells. He opened his eye, and all of the Claws in front of him, including the leader, turned their heads towards the border, sniffing at the air. One by one, the Claws wandered into the distance in a pack, and the Meowth took a few paces before he turned around with a wide smile on his face.
"Hey, hey, don't forget him, we still gots business with him! Dat smell though..."
He joined the rest of the pack, cackling as he padded over to the source of the pleasant stench while a set of paws lifted Shine off his feet and slowly carried him. He shivered with all the cuts around his body, and he fell limply into the paws of his captors. His eye flickered open and shut. Everything in his system told him to sleep, but the thoughts of Curio kept him awake.
The rest of the trip continued like this, drifting between alertness and sleepiness, and eventually, Shine closed his eye for a moment and caught a wink of sleep.
"They want us to name ourselves, or somethin'. I came up with one already, so what about you, huh?
Nothing yet? You could talk to me if you want help with one.
Okay, I'm gettin' sick of this silent treatment! If you wanna be that way, fine, but I'm namin' you anyway, something like, like...
Shine! You're Shine from here on out! S-H-I-N-E. Got me?"
When he awakened to a glow of orange, there she was, standing in front of the fire. The Lucario with the metal arm. The Lucario that hung out with strangers at night. The Lucario that wrecked the crops in the vineyard. His old friend, Curio.
"How's it going, you bastards?" She presented a bag to the Claws that crowded around her feet. "This is what you've been lookin' for, a bag full of catnip, silvervine and many other things to stuff your faces with!"
She lowered it for a moment, and raised it back into the air when all the other Claws leaned against her legs, trying to nab their prize.
"What's this? You want it all, huh? Well, I guess I could hand it to you here, buuuuuuut..." She turned to the leader, who drooled in the bag's presence. "I think you have somethin' of mine you need to return first. So how 'bout it?"
The Meowth stared for a moment before slapping himself in the face, pulling him out of his catnip coma. "Yeah, yeah, sure, we ain't had much use for him anyhow. So we'll take the bag now and-"
"Ah, ah, ah, one thing I forgot to mention, there's something else you've gotta do before you earn this." Her cheerful expression dropped. "Get outta this town and split up."
"What?" the Meowth exclaimed, pointing a claw towards her. "You're on the freakin' moon if you expect us to do that, this is our town! And what's it to you, you don't care about what we do anyway!"
Curio absent-mindedly picked at her ears, holding the bag close to her. "Well, I guess that's true in a way. I don't care about what you do to get by, every Pokémon's gotta fill their bellies somehow." She gnashed her sharp teeth. "So far though, you guys have been like pests. And I've seen pests like you that've done less crappy things in the cities, and you know what happens to them?"
"They get exterminated."
At that, the Meowth's eyes widened and the pack took a few paces back behind her to join him.
"You heard me. To the police, your kind are nothing but vermin. What's the point of dealing with a bunch of stupid Pokemon like you who won't listen to reason? They don't care about your struggles. You don't even have laws protectin' your kind. So when someone finally gets off their ass here and comes to deal with the situation with all their Growlithe and Arcanine and whatnot, you know what'll happen to you?"
The Meowth stared at her, mouth agape.
"Cat got your tongue? Okay, I'll answer for you. They'll char your bones to dust."
All of the Claws cowered before the leader, and the Meowth turned to the rest of his gang, conversing in shrill mewls, and commanded them to stand in formation around him, hissing at Curio.
"Ya-ya can't threaten us, who d'ya think you are, ya dumbass! My Claws will tear ya to shreds and-" He gasped as Curio held the bag over the fire.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" Curio said in a mocking tone, leaning closer to the gang as the bag hung over the flames. "I don't play that sort of game. Lay a finger on me or Shine and I'll drop the bag! Just think of it. You'll probably never get this chance again in your miserable lives, so I'll give you two options. Leave us alone and never come back, or watch all of this burn! I can just picture it. You'd toss yourself into this fire just to get one more taste of this! So what's it gonna be, huh?"
The gang backed down again, and the Claws stood motionlessly alongside their leader.
"Come on, I ain't got all night. Oh! Maybe you need something to motivate you. How's this, then?"
Curio stepped back and outstretched her metal arm towards the group, giving them a full view of the palm of her hand which had a red spot in the middle of it. The gang kept their eyes tracked on the movement of her hand as she aimed it at them, until the red spot opened like a gate, revealing its metallic insides. Then, a blue ball of energy grew from the inside of it. The gang behind the Meowth screamed at the sight, backing further and further away from their leader, who looked as though he would collapse.
"Wanna see what this arm can do?"
The Meowth hyperventilated and fell on his knees, holding out both his paws in front of him.
"Okay, okay, okay, I'll bite, we'll take the bag and leave, jus' stop whatever you're doin'! Stop!"
The sphere disappeared and the hole in her hand closed over.
"There," she said with a toothy grin. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"
She threw the bag to the ground, revealing a pile of other tiny bags of powder, flowers and colourful looking fruits, and in an instant, the gang poked their heads into the bag and left one by one, heading towards the forest. Eventually, the group that held Shine let go as well, dropping his limp body on the grass as they joined the rest. The Meowth was the last to join, who retrieved a silvervine fruit and cupped it in his paws. Before he left, he scowled at Curio.
"I thought you was crazy for a Pokemon, or even for somethin' like a human, but you're not even that! You're an it!"
Just like the rest, the Meowth ran towards the route and disappeared into the night, but not before Curio flipped the Skarmory behind their backs, blowing a Razzberry.
A moment passed between them. Shine kept silent, not knowing what to say, and Curio cast a glance at Shine's direction. It came back to him. Her green eyes glowed in the dark, like they always did, and even the new scar across her muzzle didn't blemish her face. It was the first time they made eye contact in five years. That moment of serene silence broke as Curio burst into laughter.
"Wow, I can't believe that actually worked! Just goes to show how stupid they were, huh? So, what's cookin', Shine?"
His vision faded as the stinging sensation of his wounds got to him at last. Curio bent over, putting her paw behind his head.
Before he could say anything to reassure her, Shine fainted.