𝕬𝖘𝖈𝖊𝖓𝖘𝖎𝖔𝖓


ACT TWO - DUST OF DREAMS


Okay seriously, this is becoming a bad habit. I might just need to visit a doctor and get some medications prescribed for— whatever! Hello everyone, welcome to yet another AN from The BlackStaff and NightMarE. Nope, this is not a message declaring Ascension to be on a permanent hiatus. No, we are not restarting Legend with a heart full of inspiration. No, we are not asking you for reviews on our Original Work, not that it helped much, and no, there are no more silly statements left before we get down to business.

We will try to be candid here. It's been two years since Ascension started and it is still going strong, even though Red is yet to leave Pewter City. But, because of the workload from our OG novel STRANGER THAN FICTION, as well as our other fanfictions that we are currently working on, Ascension has at times, taken a backseat even though we have almost always maintained a steady monthly update. To cope up with the stress, we had even introduced the concept of Voting, allowing readers to vote for their favorite fanfictions every month.

Well, not anymore.

From this very month onwards, Ascension will get a chapter update on the 10th of every month. The 1st, 5th, and 15th of every month are reserved for our other fanfictions, which is, well, not of relevance to this AN. Since it's been a while, we'll give you guys a double update this month, with another chapter on the twentieth.

Apart from the awesome news of this month's double update and the constant monthly update from this month onwards for the foreseeable future, we are also offering 𝒫𝒶𝓉𝓇𝑒𝑜𝓃𝓈 4 chapters of Early Access. We are hoping to get some insight from early readers on the chapters, so that we might be able to incorporate those suggestions into the chapters before they get officially posted.

Enjoy the chapter,

The BlackStaff and NightMarE.


Chapter 15 - Opening Night


I'm afraid everyone here might be in terrible danger.

As Oak's ominous words hung in the air between them, the overhead lights chose that moment to flicker on and off once more. Red ignored them this time around, focused on the disquiet in his aged mentor's eyes.

"Old man," he replied, uneasiness creeping into his voice, "what's going on? Are you okay?"

Oak looked to Delia instead. "There are certain things I must talk to your son about. You should get to the hotel as quickly as you can."

"I'm not leaving my son alone," she began—

"And I'm not asking you to." Oak's calm tone did nothing to hide the undercurrent of sternness within. "This is the stage for the main event of the decade. Hundreds of delegates are here, plus security for each of them. He will be fine here. It's you who is getting out."

"Then why—"

"I'd explain more if I could," the professor went on, his voice growing tense. "You know the possible repercussions should something go wrong here—"

"Then why the hell aren't you stopping the event?"

Red's eyes widened, surprised by the open hostility in his mother's voice.

"Because there is no other option. The whole world is watching right now, and we have no choice but to deliver. Besides…" He paused. Bringing his palm over his mouth, he let out a mirthless chuckle. "I can hardly believe it myself. I have never allowed myself to be moved by fear like this, but this time… Well, let's just say I have a strong reason to do so."

"Professor, you're not making any sense," Delia tried.

"I know, I know," Oak shook his head, his frustration apparent. "Perhaps when this is all over, we can discuss this in greater detail. For now, I have some things I need to discuss with Red, and Red alone. So if you would…"

She gave the professor a frustrated look before Red found her glare directed at him. It was clear his mother wanted him to say no, to say that he needed her presence— no, to demand that she also stay there and listen to everything the man had to say.

But Red knew better than to doubt Samuel Oak's judgement.

"Go," he softly muttered, and Delia's face became crestfallen. "I'll be fine. The old man's here, after all."

"Remember, get Orca and Kaz," Oak reminded. "And when you get Red's team off the ranch, wait for my signal. And keep in mind this entire city block is under a psychic ward. Nothing can teleport in or out. Do you understand?"

Delia tersely nodded. Casting another desperate glance at her son, she quickly walked off towards the exit.

Red watched her go with mixed feelings. It really was a pity that he had to deny hier wishes. He had been trying to slowly mend his relationship with his mother. This wasn't going to help matters any.

"You think she'll hold this against me?"

"She's your mother. She'll understand."

Red could hear the unsaid I hope at the end. "So," he turned around, "what's so important that you have to talk to me alone? And how is it important if you have to talk to me about it?"

Samuel Oak chuckled. "Give yourself a little more credit, Red. It may be a bit too much to digest all at once, so I'll just cover the important bits. When the presentation begins, find an opportunity to meet Dr. Fuji. Tell him who you are, and talk to him about your… issues. The ones we discussed on the mountaintop."

"Is that really relevant now? This event is supposed to be in danger or something, isn't it—"

"Red," the professor finally snapped, looking more serious than Red had ever seen him, "for once in your life, do as I say." The old man's hands went into his coat pockets and dug out a device that looked an awful lot like a pokédex, only with some extra augmentations of some sort. "This will serve as your research-dex. I have synchronized everything from your old Dex into this one. It also lists you as a field researcher working for the Parthenon, answerable only to myself and the senior research wing. The documentation regarding your growlithe—"

"Professor," Red interrupted, anxiety slowly turning his gut to ice, "you're starting to scare me. What's going on? Why are you acting like— like you won't be here anymore?" His throat felt dryer than a desert. "Has anything happened to you—"

"Nothing's happened, Red. It's just a hunch." Oak offered him a small smile. "You have a good head on your shoulders. Make sure you don't lose that." He momentarily glanced towards Cynthia who, Red realized, really needed to work on her 'I-am-trying-to-appear-indifferent' look. "Stay with her during the rest of the event, and keep your eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary."

"I don't even know what this is all about," he hissed back. "How am I supposed to look out for something abnormal?"

"You'll figure it out. One more thing—"

"No more things," Red snapped back. "Let's get this event over with, and then you can sit me down and patiently give me all the facts you want. In alphabetical order, if you want. But I'm not gonna keep listening to you like you're orating your last will and testament or something, damn it!"

That earned him choked laughter from the eccentric professor. "Forgive me, but this is the last one. After this is all over, you should go to Celadon City and meet Dr. Eusine. Does the name ring any bells?"

"The guy who did research on Pokéspeech and Shifts?"

"The very same," Oak beamed. "Make sure to keep an open mind as you speak with him about Mia."

Keep an open mind?

"Old man, I—"

The overhead lights flashed again.

"Ah, is it that time already?" Oak quickly looked down at his watch, his eyebrows heading past his hairline. "It's time for me to depart. Chop-chop!"

"But—"

Red raised his hand in protest, but the professor was already halfway to the doors on the other end of the hall. His hand dropped like a stringless puppet.

Damn. He was faster than he looked.

"Is something the matter?" he heard Cynthia ask.

Suppressing the urge to tell her off, he exhaled. The professor had asked him to keep the girl close, for whatever reason. Did he suspect her involvement with something? Though that wouldn't explain his genuine surprise when she had introduced herself. Perhaps it was something about her grandfather Atsushi Shirona?

Red shook his head. The old man had given him a job. Now was no time for random theories.

"Nope," he replied, offering Cynthia a small smile. "Nothing is wrong."

He glanced at the research-dex in his other hand. The professor had taken away his old pokédex the previous day, telling him that he would be getting a newer, upgraded one soon. At the time, he hadn't quite imagined such… strange circumstances for it.

He glanced back at the stage. In another half hour, the biggest event of the year would kick off. And along with it, something terribly wrong. Something that made even the great Samuel Oak worry.

But what could it be?

His mind came up blank.

Damn it.


Twenty minutes later, Red found himself standing with Cynthia in an unexpected situation.

He had anticipated a large, comfortable sit-down auditorium where he could kick back and relax. But instead, hundreds of high-profile guests were packed into a cramped, white-walled gallery space. The room contained no visible artwork and no seating— just a podium near the far wall, with a large LED screen behind it that read:

Live Program begins in: [ 07 ] minutes [ 57 ] seconds

Feeling a surge of anticipation, his eyes continued down the screen, to the second line of text. One he needed to read twice over to believe.

Number of remote attendees: [ 763,694 ]

Eight hundred thousand people?

He hadn't known the program would be broadcast online, but in hindsight, he should've guessed they were going to livestream it for all those who weren't high-profile enough to be there in person. Even then, the number seemed unfathomably large, considering it was only those who contributed to the Parthenon research— and their families.

And with each passing moment, it was only climbing higher.

Red grinned from ear to ear. His former mentor had certainly done well for himself. The only question was, what in the world did Parthenon plan on revealing?

"Do you have any idea what this is going to be about?" Cynthia whispered, her shoulder pressing into his. Why the League had all these people crammed into this small space was beyond him.

"He wouldn't tell me," he muttered. Oak's ominous warnings and stressed behavior rang all sorts of alarm bells in his mind, but the old man trusted him to keep an eye out on things. And so, he would keep a calm mind and do just that. Maybe a conversation would help?

Though, with Cynthia, it could just as easily give him a mild headache.

"That being said," Red reluctantly continued, "he kept me from going on the Mt. Moon adventure course until after this event. So I assume it's going to be something pretty big."

"You seem rather close to him."

"Yeah, he's a pushover," he fondly replied. "You'd think that the big bad Boogeyman of Kanto would be more stern or intimidating, but he's just a softie on the inside."

He suppressed the urge to pinch himself. Were they really having a civil conversion about Samuel Oak without her going all fangirl-mode on him? Maybe now that she'd met him once, he had to be in front of her to elevate her to that state?

Red snorted. That would be field research even he would be interested in.

"I've heard of that title before," she affably replied. "Professor Oak is something of a legend back in the Sinnoh region. Did you know he's considered an honorary native by the tribes of Snowpoint?"

"Snowpoint?"

Cynthia beamed. Apparently, she was one of those people. "It's a very sacred place in Sinnoh. Thousands of tourists visit each year, and it's adjacent to my home town. Snowpoint is one of… three places in the known world that are classified as a Baetylus."

Red's face scrunched up as he tried to recall where he'd heard that name before.

"What does it mean? Baetylus?"

"Depends on who you ask," she immediately replied. It was glaringly obvious she was now in her element. Red didn't know whether she was researcher material or not, but she definitely overcompensated for it with enthusiasm. "Some researchers describe it as places where Distortion energy leaks into our world. I asked some of my teachers to explain Distortion energy to me, but they kept talking in allegory and metaphors without clear, concise explanations. Maybe they don't understand, or they don't want to understand." Her smile strained. "Or maybe they're just jealous old fucks who don't want to share—"

Red cleared his throat.

"…What I meant to say," Cynthia cleared her throat, a bit of red in her cheeks, "is that there is no clear answer."

"You said it depends on who you ask," Red pointed out. "If that's the researcher's version, then what are the rest? Surely there are some old accounts of lore passed down in nearby settlements or something."

Cynthia looked at him with undisguised awe. "So you were paying attention!"

He gave her a weird look. "Shouldn't I be?"

"Most of my friends are bored by this kind of stuff," the blonde shrugged. "They, uh, they think it's weird."

"Well, I think you're pretty bonkers too," Red snorted. "You're already a High-Inter trainer, and you're still trying for a Parthenon job."

"Excuse me!" Cynthia hotly began—

"But," he interjected, "I don't think the stuff you talk about is weird. At all. At least it's better than listening to my mom drone on about fossil typings and analysis." He blinked. "Wait, you're a High-Inter trainer, so why are you all the way here from Sinnoh trying to impress the old man? Don't they have entrance exams for the Parthenon there?"

Cynthia's blush crept from the tips of her ears all the way down her neck. Red idly noticed that it did wonderful things to her dimples.

"—st well."

"Sorry, what was that?"

"I said I don't test well," she grumbled. "I'm pants at cramming all the random material they ask for in the Parthenon job interviews. Give me a test battle and I'll hand you your butt. You need someone to read and concisely summarize findings in proper form, I'm your girl. But cramming material is just…" she shivered, as if struck by something truly vile and despicable. "I hate it! I hate it! I hate it!"

"Yes." Red took a small step away. "I can see that."

Oddly enough, he was reminded of how Mawile had acted when Scyther had stolen her poképuff jar in the forest. So long as Cynthia wasn't as vicious as his cute little starter, they wouldn't have any problems.

Cynthia's response was to stare daggers at him. "You don't get to laugh at me, Mr. I-am-a-prodigy! Professor Oak's literally handing you an opportunity to become a researcher, and you're bargaining for a lesser job instead. You have an experimental hybrid thrown your way just to keep you in the research world. You don't get to laugh at me."

That wiped all traces of mirth from his face. "Growlithe wasn't thrown my way," his voice hardened. "I found it in Viridian Forest. Team Rocket, a band of criminals, they were torturing it. Experimenting on it. Me and my… friend, Misty, we had to fight the two of them. Skarmory nearly burned herself to death. I was poisoned. My team was injured, and we all would've died in the fire if not for the rangers. Hell, my friend's starter was actually killed, so don't give me that crap about things being given to me. I bled for them."

Tense silence pervaded for a few moments.

"Sorry," he sighed, taking in her sight of her ashen face. "I shouldn't have dumped it all on you like that."

"I'm sorry too," she replied softly. "Though, it seems like you've wanted that off your chest for a while now, didn't you?"

Red chuckled. "Yeah, I suppose."

"…"

"…"

Alright, this is weird.

Uncomfortable silences were, after all, uncomfortable.

"So," he awkwardly began, wondering at what point he had started seeking out a full-blown conversation with the old man's number one fangirl. Only now, it seemed like there was more to her than met the eye. "What's this about other interpretations of the Batty-us?"

"Baetylus," she absentmindedly corrected. "The tribes of old believed the palace to be a House of God."

Ah. That was why the term sounded so familiar to him. "The old man mentioned it to me before," he admitted. "Something about some 'House of God'" he added air-quotes, "and how it proved to be fake and everything. My mom even brought back a souvenir."

That seemed to put some wind back into her sails. "Yes, my grandfather actually wrote a thesis on it. We have a copy of it in Grandpa's old lab, and I tried reading it, but it all feels like gibberish to me. Most of his findings involve strange symbols. You know, like the one on that weird stone your mother wears as a necklace."

Red owlishly blinked. That meaningless scratch was lettering in a script? That meant—

"Your grandfather detailed out an entire script like that?"

Cynthia bobbed her head. "He worked with Professor Oak on deciphering the script. Well, them and this third guy too. I don't remember his name though," she frowned. "You Swoon? You Swine?"

It can't be a coincidence.

"He was from Kanto, but I can't—"

"Eusine?"

"Yes, Eusine!" she clapped her hands excitedly. "That's the one. I was hoping to meet him as well. I looked up his address, and he has a lab in Celadon, though he seems to be pretty isolated from the world. I was hoping once this event is over, I could go and visit him about my grandpa's research or something." A blush crept up her neck again. "You know, just in case this Parthenon thing doesn't work out."

Red felt floored. That was exactly what Oak wanted him to do. Just what were the chances?

"How do you know Professor Eusine?" Cynthia demanded, hands on her hips.

"I…" he began, wondering where to even begin. What was he even supposed to say? That the old man had mentioned the man's name exactly twice before, with one of those instances being just moments ago in one of the most nerve-racking conversations he had ever had in his life?

Maybe… maybe talking to Cynthia wasn't a good idea after all. Every word that came out of her mouth threw more fuel into the worrisome wildfire that was his life. As if he hadn't already had enough to juggle.

"I've… heard his name in passing before," Red lied. "Why? What does he do?"

"He studies legendary activity."

Red wheezed as all air deserted his lungs. Now that he definitely didn't know. Pokéspeech, Shifts, and now legendary activity? Who the hell was this guy, and why wasn't he more well-known if his fields of research were that eye-catching and diverse?

"Le–legendary activity?"

Cynthia looked more than a little smug. Probably because she knew something even the great Professor Oak's protégé didn't. "That's right," she replied, trying— and failing —to sound indifferent about it. "He's also considered a complete crackpot in all the scientific circles though. I'm only interested in him because of the Unown."

"The what?"

"Unown." She pronounced it as 'uhn-nown'. "That's what my grandpa called these strange symbols. I even asked Miss Ketchum the other day about them. She, uh…" Cynthia looked down at her feet, looking like a kicked growlithe. "I don't think she liked me very much."

So that's what happened.

His mother had never been all that forward about the happenings of her Galar expedition, especially the grittier details of what went wrong. The only thing he knew for certain was that it was her last mission as an Explorer, after which she settled down to work for Oak.

That, and for as long as he remembered, she had that stone necklace around her neck.

"I'm sorry about her," Red apologized. "My mom doesn't like talking about it."

At the end of the day, Delia Ketchum was a headstrong woman who did not like being pushed around. That, and she sometimes lost herself when immersed in her research. You couldn't get simpler than that when it came to describing her.

Cynthia giggled at that, causing Red to glare at her.

"Sorry," she apologized with an impish smile. "It's just that everyone who's studied the script has the exact same reaction. Not a single one wants to talk about it!"

Red stared at Cynthia like she had a few screws loose in her head. What she was describing couldn't possibly be right. She herself had admitted she was obsessed with the Unown script, yet here she was talking herself hoarse about it.

"You're not making any—"

His words died in his throat as an elegant woman emerged from behind the curtains. She was strikingly beautiful— tall and willowy with long purple hair, wearing a form-fitting white dress with a black stripe cutting across diagonally. She seemed to drift effortlessly across the floor as she walked towards the podium. Taking center stage, she adjusted the microphone, took a deep breath, and gave the attendees a brilliant smile before pointedly looking towards the screen.

Live Program begins in: [ 00 ] minutes [ 10 ] seconds

Number of remote attendees: [ 984,376 ]

Red instantly recognized her. "That's—"

"Shhh!"

The woman closed her eyes for a moment, gathering herself, before opening them again. She was a portrait of poise as she stared back at the audience.

The cameraman to her right held up five fingers.

Four, three, two…

The room fell completely silent as the woman raised her eyes to the camera. The LED display dissolved from a timer into a live image of her face. She fixed the audience with spirited dark eyes as she casually brushed a strand of hair from her olive-tone cheek.

"Good evening, everyone," she began, her Johto-accented voice dripping with culture and grace. "My name is Felina Ivy."

"Aunt Ivy," he whispered in surprise.

Cynthia's neck whiplashed towards him. "She's your aunt?"

"My mother's work associate really, but she's a family friend and a researcher located in the Seafoam Islands on—" Red smacked his fist against the center of his other palm. "I still haven't told her about the shellder I caught."

"You have a shellder?"

Red happily ignored her incredulous questions, giving all his attention to his aunt.

"Ladies and gentlemen. For the past decade, I have been incredibly lucky to work in collaboration with the Parthenon. And tonight, I am here to welcome you to an incredibly special evening presented by a truly remarkable man."

The crowd applauded enthusiastically, and even Red quickly began clapping along.

"Since its creation, Pewter Museum of Natural History has borne witness to incredible advances in fossil research thanks to our benefactor and partner Devon Corporation, one of the proud owners of Resurrection Technology. And tonight, we are here to witness the results of a collaborative effort between Parthenon and Devon Corp, a great leap for all of mankind, a dream that will be made into reality here in the lap of our own Pewter Museum."

A jolt of excitement shot through the room.

"Of course, our very own Professor Oak was at the helm, tying Devon Corp's technology with Parthenon's efficiency to produce a true miracle." She pouted playfully at the crowd. "I begged him to give me a clue as to what this was all about, but he refused to give so much as a hint."

A round of laughter was followed by more jubilant applause.

"Tonight's special event," she continued, "will be presented in Kantonese, our native language. For those of you attending virtually, we are offering real-time translation in multiple languages and dialects. And now," Ivy dramatically posed, stretching her palm straight out in front of her, "I will let you leave this sterile space and advance. To the future."

The LED screen literally split in half as the wall separated, creating an illusion of a hidden gateway opening into the unknown. But instead of the audience traveling through the gate, it was somehow coming to them. An illusion on top of another. Before he knew it, Red found himself standing in a large expanse beneath the skies, with groups of seats distributed throughout this false meadow and a large dais on the other end. And then, accompanied by the sound of inexorable tides in an ocean, a low creeping fog rolled in from all sides as the sky overhead began to glow with a pre-dawn light, faintly illuminating the audience below.

The spotlight shining down from above fell to the middle of the stage, where Professor Samuel Oak walked out to face the crowd. Within seconds, people were giving their host a standing ovation. Red joined them, unable to hold back his smile as he shook his head in disbelief.

Brilliant puff of smoke indeed.

"You know," Cynthia murmured beside him, "I never pegged the Professor for a showman."

"What can I say," Red muttered. "He has a flair for the dramatics."

"Welcome everyone!" Oak's voice resounded all around. "Tonight, we have gathered her not to hear the news of a novel discovery, but to bear witness to one firsthand. This is Pewter City, a technological hotbed built on a bedrock of ancient cultures and rich traditions. It will be here that we will sow the seeds for a new, brighter future."

The professor paused dramatically. "An old friend of mine used to say, technology is the art of moving to the future, while archaeology—"

"Is the art of moving to the past," Cynthia murmured.

"—Is the art of moving to the past."

Red looked towards Cynthia in surprise.

She smiled back at him. "My grandfather used to say that."

He nodded, before turning back to the stage, wondering if the old man had made the comment knowing his friend's granddaughter would hear it from the audience.

It was more than a little unnerving, truth be told. Oak had freely admitted that the Galar expedition's success was thanks to Atsushi Shirona's contributions in advance. It was an expedition that changed his mother's life as well. And now, Atsushi's granddaughter was here, and Oak's recently given orders had inevitably intertwined Red's path with Cynthia's. The Unown, the rock-necklace, the Galar expedition, Eusine, Mia and the Shift, legendaries…

Red felt a tight knot forming in his stomach.

"Our oldest histories show humanity having a relationship of wonder with the universe, especially with phenomena that were beyond our understanding. To better understand these mysteries, they turned to the titans present in nature. Creatures with such vast potential and power that they may as well be gods themselves."

Several incredibly large LED screens unfolded in the background, enveloping the audience on all three sides. Images of a colossal avian creature, crafted out of flame and rising out of a burning plain came into view. Another image followed, this one of frost and winter upon a mountaintop, while a third was barely visible from behind a thick fog, save for the blue coloration that tinted its edges. Lightning flashed, volcanoes erupted, blizzards blew. Screeches that made him shiver in terror came with roars that redefine the meaning of explosion.

"And yet, that still didn't solve one particular problem. A real head-scratcher, this one."

The images blurred and morphed. This time, it showed the world around them vanish into inky blackness.

"Creation," Oak whispered, his awe-filled tone carried through by the speakers. "Our creation. The most fundamental questions for any self-aware person. Where do we come from? How did it all begin?"

Flashing images of different tribes, different nations, different times… The audience stood captivated as they all flew by.

"Different civilizations each had their own stories of creation. Their own versions of Genesis. The tales of Pokémonopolis speak of a door from which Truth entered into this world, creating everything as we know it. The legends of Sinnoh speak of a gargantuan deity that divided the universe into ten different dimensions, sephiroths, and expressed his own presence through them. Another version, from our own Rota kingdom, speaks of the mystical Tree of Life, the Kalpavriksha, hidden within the maze of Reserata Carcerum. And so on."

As he spoke, more and more images flew into the vast screens behind him. Pristine pillars, hellish landscapes, ancient stone murals and carvings on rocks and caves in various manuscripts.

It was enough to overwhelm Red's senses.

"Ladies and gentlemen. Tonight, we will attempt to answer those fundamental questions one by one. So let us start with perhaps the most interesting one of all."

His voice went down to a whisper.

"What makes us so different from pokémon?"

Red felt his knees weaken as his eyes widened in surprise. This… this was exactly what the old man had been casually talking about back on the mountaintop. Had he done that just to gauge what he'd thought of it? Or had the old man planned it all, down to this very stage in this very event? Just how much had the man thought ahead?

If someone up there was trying to teach him humility, they were certainly doing a good job of it.

"The politically correct answer," Oak rolled his eyes, eliciting a bark of laughter from Red— earning him a strange look from Cynthia, "is this. One, humans don't repeat their own name. Two, humans don't have superpowers. And three, humans don't evolve."

Images of several pokémon flooded the screen. A horde of pinsir fighting heracross in a forest. A pack of tauros feeding on grass alongside stantlers. A lone skarmory flying high in the sky. Volbeat and illumise alike lighting up the night sky. Lapras freely bobbing up and down with the ocean tide. A lone mawile nibbling on what looked eerily similar to a poképuff—

"You've got to be kidding m—."

"Shhh!" Cynthia warned again.

"As we can see, we are not special in the third case. Plenty of pokémon do not evolve further. As for the second…"

A wave of something burst out of the professor's open palm, a white fire that caressed his fingers, twisting and turning and spinning into itself until it was a sphere of pure white energy.

Chuckles broke out among the audience.

With a snap of his fingers, the white fire evaporated, leaving smooth, tanned skin. "That just leaves the first point up for discussion."

Oak paused for more dramatic effect.

"Language. We speak in words, phrases, and sentences. We compose poetry and prose. We have extensive literature in different languages, different forms, different scripts. Pokémon, however, do not. Instead, they repeat their names over and over, employing hundreds of permutations and combinations of broken shards of their own name. A crude lingual approach, one would think."

But is it? Red whispered inwardly.

"But is it?" he heard the old man say. "Despite the crudity that is Poké-speech, somehow every pokémon seems to perfectly understand one another. They even understand human tongues with ease. In fact, we are the only ones limited to understanding only our own languages. Way to set the bar high!"

Several people chuckled at that, including Red.

He faintly remembered the talking meowth— a particular specimen captured in Fuchsia City that spoke fluent Kantonese with a slight Johtoan accent. It was currently an employee at Parthenon, serving as a pokémon translator for the researchers there.

"It is a mystery," Oak went on, "one which we have all endeavored to demystify. A question that humankind has always sought an answer for. To find that ray of light, the link that connects humans and pokémon across the annals of history."

Oak let a proud, weary smile overtake his visage.

"And two years ago, we found it. We found that link. We found the hidden ancestor, the one that was a progenitor to humans and pokémon alike."

Their background became inundated with images of cave explorations.

"Initially, we believed the fossilized remains belonged to a heteromorphic organism that was a precursor to the modern-day ditto."

His eyes glittered.

"But we were wrong."


May Hutton honestly couldn't remember the last time she'd been this excited to come to Pewter City. Sure, it was her mother's old hometown before she married the rich and famous Norman Hutton of Hoenn, but even so, she hated this citadel filled with white-coats surrounded by tribals.

But not today.

Today, she was excited. Because this was where all the action was!

Her secret informant in the League had let her know that the Parthenon and Devon Corp were planning to resurrect something interesting here at the Museum, in front of the live audience, though he wasn't sure what exactly it was. In hindsight, it was a no-brainer, really. Why else would they gather people from all over the world here of all places?

Interestingly enough, that wasn't all. There was so much going on in and around Pewter City related to the event, but many of those happenings seemed to gravitate around a surprising someone.

Red Ketchum.

Son of Delia Ketchum. Samuel Oak's personal assistant and right hand. Given the woman's resting-bitch-face, May was sure she'd find a spicy forbidden relationship somewhere in the works. But Red— Red was far more special. Far more interesting. The child that Samuel Oak chose above his own grandson as his protégé.

Throw in a rumor about his mother and the Professor and the public would eat it up.

After doing some snooping, May had come to know of so many tantalizing puzzle pieces that somehow all fit together. The forest fire in Viridian Forest, the death of two Ranger Squads, Red suddenly acquiring a 'field researcher' tag as well as ownership of a certain experimental hybrid of a growlithe. Everything was hush-hush, but May was nothing if not persistent. She could read the subtext. Champion Lance invites Samuel Oak to personally sign every invitation for the event, and the professor agrees to it. Then the sudden appearance of the dragonite on Mt. Karpachuka, a lack of information about the explosion— it was all shaping into a sensational piece that was sure to keep her readers turning pages.

May's hawk-like eyes followed the boy and his mother as they entered through the outer gates. She had seen the blonde girl meet up with them and follow them around like a lost growlithe. Like every reporter worth their salt, May had wanted to cozy up to Red Ketchum and see if she could get some insight into the mind of Oak's little protégé. Maybe even some juicy info about what the enigmatic professor was planning to unveil that night.

Too bad the security staff had dashed all hopes of that ever happening.

Still, May Hutton was nothing if not patient. And opportunistic.

Which was why she had subtly followed the woman and her son around. The duo walked around from one place to the next, joined by an unassuming docent and the blonde girl from before.

Seriously, who was she?

When the esteemed Professor Oak himself had come and greeted them, May had thought her chances to get an exclusive would skyrocket, but the security staff— what with their large frames and what not —had made that incredibly difficult.

A few tense whispers later, an opportunity arose.

"Erm, not to question your judgement or anything, but why exactly are we following Delia Ketchum around?"

May turned around and shushed her colleague and cameraman. "Because I said so, and I'm the one who pays you. Now keep your trap shut and follow along, Jonas."

Jonas the cameraman did as he was told and quickly scurried along, occasionally checking to see if they were being followed.

It was one of the things she appreciated about the guy— he did exactly as he was told, unlike her unruly, bespectacled, geeky son-of-a-bitch younger brother. Really, how Max Hutton came out of the same womb that delivered her was a miracle greater than anything the scientists at Parthenon were trying to pull off.

Suddenly, she spotted Delia Ketchum walk out of a Terminal-station, a half-red half-white ball in hand. That in itself was strange, seeing as how pokémon were banned inside the Museum for security purposes. It could be argued that keeping them within their balls ensured safety, but all it took was an itchy finger for a pokéball to accidentally let out its impish inhabitant and wreak havoc.

Besides, the League had posted more than enough security both inside and outside the Museum for the duration of the event.

Delia Ketchum holding a pokéball in her hand could only mean one thing.

She had transported it here.

But why?

For once, she was glad she had ordered her cameraman to leave the museum grounds earlier and collect her bag from the guards.

"Jonas?"

Her trusty associate handed her a pokéball. With a soft click, she released the creature within, allowing it to sag down upon the floor. The bipedal reptile's greenish hue slowly altered itself to match the grey-brown coloring of the floor beneath them.

Smiling, May activated the earpiece in her left ear.

"Go, Kecleon. Fetch me something interesting."

The reptile slipped and skidded across the floor until it was right behind Delia Ketchum, who slowly left the museum complex and walked alone into the night. May saw her scurry all the way to the outer gates, before quickly climbing into a cab.

Kecleon followed her in.

"Wildflower Lodge," she heard the woman say through the earpiece.

She was going to her hotel? Why now, of all times?

Something was definitely off, and May could feel it. Delia Ketchum was Oak's right hand as far as the media was concerned. So why would he send her away from the site of an international event that he was currently hosting? That too just as the event was beginning?

Questions, questions…

The entire thing was befuddling and made no sense. And yet, it made the chase all the more intoxicating. May shuddered. She would get addicted to this feeling if she wasn't careful.

Pfft. Like I'm not already hooked.

Putting two fingers to her lips, she whistled loudly. Another cab quickly arrived, and she got in, Jonas right on her tail. "Wildflower Lodge," she ordered, and the cab driver immediately put the wheels into motion.

As May sank into the leather seats, her lips twisted into a sly grin.

It was time for a hunt.


Editor: Solo Starfish, the best goddamn starfish the world has ever seen.


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