ACT II - DUST OF DREAMS
Chapter 23 - Sucker Punch
Cautiously, Sabrina made her way through the dark passageway, the steady thrum of power from her own psychic strands being the only dim source of light. Despite having practiced weaving and traversing psychic matrices and mindscapes growing up, the mind of Red Ketchum was… strange. Not because the fellow teen had powerful defenses or latent psychic powers, but because of how exceedingly easy it was.
Navigating a mindscape usually meant tweaking the victim's mind into thinking in specific directions without leaving behind signs of manipulation. The inception of ideas was a difficult thing to do because the human mind was quick to identify which thought was conceived by itself versus foreign stimuli. Most minds quickly recognized intrusions and sent out flares to their consciousness, causing the victims to scream in mind-melting agony.
Red Ketchum, however, was different.
His mind was an enigma.
When she had met him for the first time, his strands had been odd. If she hadn't known better, she would have thought him to be similar to Karen, given how his mental strands actively cannibalized her own.
Not only was his mind free of those oddities, but it was also open. Welcoming, even.
Traversing through mindscapes was no different from trekking through a forest at night. But this was akin to sliding down a pipe, as a feeling of weightlessness and ethereality consumed her.
Sabrina slowly felt the sensation of having a body come back, despite knowing such feelings were purely illusory. Closing her eyes for a moment, she allowed her other senses to come to the fore. Satisfied there were no hazards nearby, she looked around and—
Blinked in surprise.
The land in front of her was a blur. Lightning flashed across the horizon, rain and mist covered the land, fire and frost split the world in shapes that made little sense. There was a clear, starry night sky above her filled with dense, black fumes and flakes of snow falling down at the same time and—
Sabrina tilted her head in confusion.
"I suppose that counts as exotic."
For Red, it was over in an instant.
One moment, Sabrina was tearing through his maelstrom of deep emotions, slipping past the walls he'd been hopelessly trying to erect against her intrusion. Try as he might, his little tricks were only useful against amateurs in the field of psychic manipulation.
And Sabrina was no amateur.
The black-haired psychic had grabbed one of his fingers and twisted it backward. Instantly, all of his prepared defenses came crashing down, the jolts of pain cascading through his arm making it impossible to prepare for her sudden assault.
The intrusion quickly escalated from trickles to a nigh endless, dark sea. One moment, he knew he was doing something important, and the next, he was just… sitting there. Floundering, in a way. Whatever he'd been doing, it was at the tip of his tongue. His head throbbed and his thoughts were jumbled, as if he'd gone through a drawer of folded laundry, pulled out something from the bottom, then slapped it shut without straightening anything up. If he could just focus for a second, he'd be able to remember.
And then it was over.
Red found himself back in the hall. His body was restrained by Disable and one of his fingers hurt like hell.
He remembered now—
Red furrowed his brows. Had… had he actually forgotten anything? He blinked, remembering that he did, in fact, have eyes. Eyes with which he saw the girl with black tresses— Sabrina —sitting in front of him, her face inches away from his own as her eyes drilled into his. Eyes that were every bit as blue as the ocean—
No. No, no, no. His mind reeled at the sheer wrongness of it. Sabrina's eyes were a dark crimson, not blue.
"I think the problem is," she finally spoke, with an unfamiliar tilt in her voice, "is that you simply do not sound very bright, Spawn. Perhaps that is skewing my expectations."
Red froze. She— it couldn't be— it couldn't be— Him—
Red didn't have much left in him. Not after the constant exertion against the Disable and trying to resist Sabrina's mental attack on top of that.
"You listened to what I said back then," he murmured. It wasn't a question. Merely a fact.
"Petty squabbles are beneath me. But if you break the law, I'll punish you. There is no room for discussion."
Somehow, Red knew what Sabrina— no, what Mewtwo —was talking about.
Sabrina had entered his mind. He was connected to Mewtwo through the Mew-cells. The Shapeshifter may not care for humanity, but a human entering his realm would not go unpunished. The real question was… Just how was this punishment going to affect the situation?
"Sabrina—" Ariana immediately demanded. "What's wrong? Did he do something?"
But Sabrina did not deign to answer.
Not all that surprising, really. The only reason Mewtwo even considered him worth his time was because he had his cells. Because he was a Spawn.
"Is that it, then?" Red asked. The whole room, some of the most important VVIPs in the world, was hanging onto each and every word he uttered. "You're now going to punish us with some apocalypse?"
Sabrina threw her head back and laughed. "An apocalypse is not an event, Spawn." Her head was slightly tilted. "It is simply a state of mind."
"SABRINA!" Ariana snapped, her frustration bleeding through. "What's wrong? Should I—" She plucked an ultra ball from her belt. "I'll kill him, just say the word. I will—"
The rest of her words remained unsaid as a rush of something exploded out of Sabrina. And suddenly, Red could move. He could move. He was—
He was free!
"Magnemites!" Ariana screeched, now in a frenzy. "Kill him! KILL RED KETCHUM!"
There were flashes of red and gold and blinding white as hundreds of electrical discharges flashed across the air, lighting up the hall. Red almost shut his eyes at the inevitability of what was about to happen. His ears registered the panicking voices of the crowd around him and a shriek from someone that sounded eerily like Cynthia. But most importantly, it picked up on an eerie whisper.
One that made all the difference.
Another flash of light appeared in front of him, nearly blinding him. This time, however, it wasn't a bolt of electricity, but something larger and metallic. A translucent bluish dome formed around him, glowing at the spots where the electrical beams splashed against it left and right.
Realizing he wasn't quite dead yet, Red straightened up and looked around. All of the magnemites were down on the floor, no different from inert chubs of metal. By now, the light fully faded, and a few feet away from him, floating above the ground, was a massive eight-limbed mechanical behemoth. The creature raised its forelimbs and let out a large, metallic roar that painfully reminded him of an airhorn.
Before he knew it, Ariana had already moved back, releasing her pokémon in front of her. Red spotted a rabid-looking houndoom, a crimson-colored crustacean that looked like a kingler's evil twin, a large beast of black and blue fur that sparkled with frizzles of electricity, and finally, a frozen floating head with horns that sent shivers down his spine just by the sight of it.
Standing between him and the monsters was Steven Stone's infamous white Metagross.
"Sabrina!" Ariana frantically yelled. "You're deviating from the plan!"
The girl's otherwise beautiful face had been marred by darkness, making her appear less like a fighter and more like a cornered animal, ready to lash out at the slightest provocation.
But Mewtwo-Sabrina didn't care. Instead, she languidly twisted her neck in the girl's direction, and simply sent her a look. It was enough for Ariana to take a shaky step back, realizing she was all alone. Red could see her fumbling around with her belt, but it would be of no use. No matter how many pokémon she had at her command, this was Steven Stone's Metagross. She had no hopes of defeating it or its trainer, a Champion who was currently staring at her like she was worse than scum.
"Miss Ariana," Red heard Giovanni say. "It would be best if you surrendered. Anything else on your part will result in potentially disastrous consequences."
Ariana answered him promptly. With an icicle spear shooting out from that levitating head's mouth.
It was stopped before the spear could even traverse halfway.
"I will not ask again!" Giovanni warned her sternly.
"Shut up!" the girl snapped. "You're the Indigo League. You only know to kill and snatch! You—" She looked absolutely hysterical. "KILL THEM ALL!"
A blur of action followed.
The houndoom and the black-and-blue beast went for the kill, belching dark crimson flames and arcs of lightning at the hostages without any care for repercussions. Giovanni instantly released a strange, blackish mud-doll with three pairs of creepy red eyes, with black beads in their center. The pokémon opened two of its eyes, forming a screen of translucent energy that blocked the lightning and sending a wave of psychic energy that deflected the flames with effortless ease.
"Engage," came Steven's composed order.
His metagross's eyes glowed, and the pokémon vanished, immediately reappearing next to the Houndoom. The metallic pokémon grabbed its head with one of its claws and slammed another into its long neck. The fire-breathing dog's eyes bulged out and an agonized whimper left its throat. The next moment, Metagross was right behind the evil kingler-twin, slamming one of its forelimbs on its head. The crab was thrown headfirst into the ground, but Metagross was already gone, ready to punch the living daylights out of the electric black-and-blue creature.
And then the cycle repeated.
In that order.
Over and over.
Red simply took in the sight with jaw-dropping awe. Steven's Metagross was fighting all three of Ariana's pokémon by itself and absolutely demolishing them without so much as a scratch. And despite what it seemed, it wasn't teleporting around.
The psychic ward that went around the city for the event prevented that.
Nor was this Agility. It was faster than that.
No, what Metagross was doing was something different… and far more dangerous.
It was a highly dangerous, theoretical branch of spatial manipulation where the user established a boundary field around itself, controlling the entirety of spatial mechanics within it. Distance had no meaning. Speed had no meaning. Metagross could move at speeds faster than one could think 'Teleport'. It could make its victim as slow as it wanted. It was absolute control.
Within the field, Metagross might as well be God.
It was the kind of spatial manipulation that even the Abra-line, who held a natural affinity for teleportation, failed to master. Hell, he wasn't sure if even Kaz could accomplish it.
And Kaz was a well-accomplished alakazam.
This is it, Red thought to himself. This is what it means to be Champion-tier.
Meanwhile, Ariana was frothing in the mouth, like a raticate thrown into a pit of charizards. She had snapped, Red realized. The constant pressure, the tension that had been building— all of it was coming to a head, and it looked like it was too much for her to bear any longer.
"ATTACK, GLALIE!" Ariana screeched at the floating head. "ICE COFFIN!"
The floating head fired a dense, white ball towards Metagross which exploded at the last moment, forming a vast corona of rime, an ever-increasing conical mass of frost and ice shards, spinning and contorting into itself as more and more balls of rime began exploding out of it. And yet—
Not a single one came remotely close to touching Metagross.
"It's futile," Steven sighed, to Ariana's growing dread. "Nothing escapes his control as long as he is within his territory. Not even energy."
Ariana threw one last glance at Sabrina, who seemed utterly apathetic to her circumstances. Whimpering, she drew a knife and lunged toward Red, who quickly staggered backwards.
But it was unnecessary. A leg kicked out at her right above her ankle, causing Ariana to lose her balance and plummet face-first into the ground. She turned around, her face a splotchy red from fear and anger alike, and found Cynthia's smirking face above her.
"What?" the blonde smugly offered. "Didn't see that coming?"
"Cynthia—" Ariana tried—
But she had no time to say anything else. Metagross turned its large, polygonal glowing eyes at the girl and Ariana just slumped, dropping like a stringless marionette.
"Well," Sabrina said, at last, shattering the silence in the room. "That was dramatic."
Red warily stared at Sabrina— or rather Mewtwo —wondering what it would do next. Like the ancient shapeshifter had said, it didn't care for humanity and would bring about its destruction. But a rational part of him pointed out that Mewtwo had never specified the destruction would have to happen right then. If anything, Mewtwo seemed utterly content to wait.
"Sabrina," Lance said, assuming command of the room. "Or are you some alter-ego?"
Sabrina didn't so much as twitch a single muscle in response. Frowning, the Champion of Kanto glanced towards Lorelei, who looked shaken. "I assume you don't know anything about this?"
Lorelei shook her head, her wide eyes never leaving the Saffron City Gym Leader's form.
"I presumed as much," Lance sighed. And then, Red found the man meeting his eyes. "Red Ketchum, perhaps you can shed some light on these circumstances?"
"I— uh—" Red tried. Part of him noticed that even Metagross was maintaining a formal distance from Sabrina. The steel behemoth hadn't so much as looked at Sabrina, and instead chose to ignore her for the other pokémon. Giovanni and Steven Stone had a pained expression on their faces, and Lorelei, the former High Priestess of the Sevii, had a pallid expression on her face and her hands tightly clenched.
And of course, Lance Wataru was either oblivious to the entire exchange or had actively chosen to ignore it.
"Red Ketchum," he asked again.
"Lance—" Steven hissed.
Red's breath stopped short as he felt Sabrina's electric-blue gaze on him. He felt it sweep across the entire room, tracking from face to face. She gave Lorelei a look of pure contempt, before looking at the entire room with a mask of absolute indifference.
"Insects," she said, her voice brimming with power and authority as she shook her head in disapproval. "The world has gone to insects." Her gaze fell on the Metagross for a moment, as if studying it. "An arachnoid. I sense potential within you, but to see you falling so low as to consort with these… maggots. You're barely more than an insect yourself."
No one moved.
No one spoke.
Red felt her aquiline gaze fall on him.
"Whoever you are," Lance spoke up, his voice filled with all the authority of a regional Champion, "you are breaking this nation's laws by trespassing into this event."
Sabrina's gaze flickered towards Lance, watching him with the same revulsion normally reserved for a swarm of grimer. She shook her head and looked towards Red again.
He tried his best to not squirm.
But he failed. Badly.
"This is your Champion?" Sabrina angrily demanded. "This is what you boasted as potential?" She shook her head. "Truly, this world has gone astray." She stared back at Lance condescendingly and pointed a finger at Red without even looking. "Spawn, introduce me to this ephemeral!"
Red felt a strange sensation take hold of him like someone was dragging something out of him. His throat constricted and he felt an overwhelming urge to speak. "This is… Mewtwo," he said in a ragged, throaty voice, ignoring the sudden squeaks of surprise that transpired into the room. "The greatest shapeshifter of the ancient world. A Living God that Survives All."
Sabrina slowly lowered her finger.
Red coughed and gasped, falling down to his knees feeling sick. His body trembled from head to toe.
"The experiment?" Lance's words reverberated across the room. "You mean to say that the fossil cells have possessed Sabrina?"
Red felt an overwhelming urge to smack the Champion.
Lance met Sabrina's gaze. "We created you to help bridge the gap between humans and pokémon. To understand the roots of our existence." He spread his arms out wide. "The whole world has gathered tonight to witness your birth. It'd be for the best if you cooperated with us."
"Lance, I don't think—" Steven began.
"Best for whom?" Sabrina asked, amused. "Do not tempt me to show you what I can do by making an effort, worm. You cannot begin to comprehend the power I have at my command. My true form would shatter this pathetic gathering and crack the earth upon which I stand. Your life is a flickering candle to me, and your civilizations rise and fall like grass in the summer."
"Well," Lance retorted, something dangerous in his eyes, "I don't know anything about your true form, but the weight of your ego sure is pushing the crust of the earth toward the breaking point."
Sabrina's eyes blazed.
"What did you say?"
Lance crossed his arms. "I don't like bullies. I don't care where or when they're from. If you think I'll genuflect to you because you were some hot-shot in a bygone era, then you're mistaken. You may have immense power, but humanity is far from weak. Oh," he grinned, "and you're currently standing within my friend's metagross's territory. And within it, Metagross is God."
Sabrina threw her head back and laughed. "God? Do you even comprehend the meaning of that word, worm? It is true, that the arachnoid is in control of this field. Such a feat may seem impressive to you insects, but to me…"
Her eyes darted towards Metagross.
"Not so much."
The eight-legged behemoth was suddenly flipped over, its legs folded shut, and as it slammed down to the floor.
"You think this is power?" Sabrina tilted her head slightly. "Allow me to correct your ignorance."
The force of a thousand anvils smashed into everyone in the room. Red felt like he'd suddenly gained three thousand pounds of weight, and his lungs strained to haul in a breath. His vision began to cloud with stars, and darkness lurked just outside the bounds of his mind.
He couldn't look up. Couldn't focus. Couldn't speak.
And then, the immense pressure vanished.
Sabrina hadn't so much as moved a muscle, but the point had been made.
She looked down at Lance's form— sprawled on the floor, spread-eagled — and spoke dispassionately. "It is barely a chore for me to end your existence, worm. If I could be bothered enough to do it, you would cease to exist.."
Paused, she turned towards the door, her eyes narrowing for a moment. "It seems like things are more interesting out there. Perhaps I will take part in the festivities."
There was a sudden surge of power, this time darker and somehow more nebulous. The air around her blurred, and then Sabrina was—
Just like that.
Red felt his stomach do a nasty little flip.
Events of this magnitude couldn't be ignored. They were on international TV, and the live footage had ended horribly— magnemites gunning down news folk and Museum staff like prey. People all around the world had seen Team Rocket take over the event and hold important delegates hostage. People from Indigo Plateau, the Chayron Brigade, Elite Four, Gym Leaders, and so much more.
Destruction of this scale simply couldn't be pushed under the rug. Even the explosion earlier must have immediately attracted attention. It was enough to get Proton to leave, which was probably the intention behind it. It was too well-timed to be anything else, and part of him couldn't help but wonder if Mia had something to do with it.
Or maybe his mom?
When Delia Ketchum wasn't trying to keep things subtle, that was a good sign that shit had truly hit the fan.
Damn it all. This catastrophe could turn into the greatest nightmare Kanto had seen for a long while. He could almost imagine the governments collaborating against Team Rocket, who currently held Oak captive. The war that would be born from that conflict would redefine barbarism, and it was being kickstarted right in front of his eyes.
And then there was Mewtwo.
The ancient shapeshifter's actions had not attracted trust or cooperation, but a growing dread about what could happen if pokémon were allowed to gain too much power. Already, the Legendary had brought a room full of people, including Champions, to their knees, and played with Steven Stone's Metagross like it was a mere beldum.
And then it had vanished, freely roaming their world without any checks or balances.
Focus, Red. Save the old man. Get to your team.
Don't mess this up.
Already, people in the room were taking action. Most of the elder delegates had been allowed to stay within the hall, with Giovanni providing his claydol— the six-eyed mud-doll —for safety. Lance had bristled over how the Viridian Gym Leader had chosen to willingly break League Protocol by bringing in pokémon to the Museum because of paranoia.
Then again, it was only paranoia if you were wrong.
He didn't bother turning around. He knew who it was.
"I'm scared," Red admitted.
"Me too," Cynthia replied, standing next to him. Their shoulders touched.
"Do you think he'll be alright?"
There was no doubt to whom she was referring.
"Not if that guy is the one running things around here," Red bitterly said.
With Sabrina vanishing, Lance had immediately pulled rank, forcing everyone else into following his directions. As it turned out, Team Rocket had set several jammers all over the area to disrupt all electronic signals and methods of communication and had systematically destroyed every Summoning Station in the Museum's lounge, cutting off the chance to teleport pokémon from outside.
In essence, the delegates inside were sitting ducks.
With the senior delegates secured, Giovanni and Steven Stone chose to act as walls on the eastern and southern end, respectively, while Lance stood in the antechamber issuing orders. But the worst part of it all was—
"I'm trapped in here with nowhere to go," Red snarled, feeling the frustration boiling inside him. He could hear explosions in the distance— not the commonplace ones from regular trainer battles, but more akin to something from a war movie, with fire and lightning thrown around for good measure. "I hate it. The old man is somewhere out there, my mom is out there, my team is out there, and that oaf wants me to stay in here because it's too dangerous. "
Cynthia gently clasped his shoulder. "As much as I hate the guy, he's right. Team Rocket might attack you as a target out there."
Red sneered. "In case you didn't notice, I nearly died earlier. How much worse can it be out there?"
Another explosion happened, only farther north. This one was softer and broader. It didn't go kapow so much as it went whoomph. Light flared out and showed him the shadows of buildings in a city block for a quarter of a minute, though he couldn't see the source of the light.
Red sighed. "Don't—"
"I told you so."
His stomach quivered as a current of uneasiness flowed through him. He saw fires flare up from the right. Someone must have used Flamethrower. At least they weren't close enough to hear any screams.
And Mawile was somewhere out there.
His fists clenched tighter. His heart began throbbing faster.
"I need to go."
"But your Champion—"
"He can suck an egg, for all I care. I need to go find my team and my mom, and I need to get the old man back."
"Fine," Cynthia snorted. "Looks like I've got no option but to join you."
Red arched an eyebrow. "You realize I don't have any pokémon with me, right?"
She pointed towards her own waist. "My pokémon are out there too, remember?" She shot him a brief grin. "Besides, if I help save your 'old man', maybe he'll get me a special entry into the Parthenon?"
He snorted. "You have a one-track mind."
"So I'm told," Cynthia quipped. "But we have a bigger problem. That surly gym leader and the Hoenn Champion are guarding the eastern and southern gates. The western side has no entrance and the enemy is almost at the northern front. Unless you have an Elite-tier pokémon inside your sleeves to fight the incoming horde off, I don't see a way out."
"Lance is probably expecting his great Dragonite to come flying and clear the crowd," Red growled. And then he paused as he considered every possibility. He thought of his team, of the explosion, of the ward around them. He thought of Mia and how she maintained a steady presence in his mind. He thought of the Disable ward that had crashed, and how Mia's presence was back and fluttering, keeping track of every emotion that flitted through his mind. And finally, he thought about how the cacophony of explosions and fire was constantly increasing.
The delegates were safe inside the rooms.
Team Rocket was outside, and—
—they had just broken past the outer perimeter. And he and Cynthia were there by themselves. Unarmed. With nothing to use against the terrorists.
And finally, his whirring mind stopped at a definite conclusion. A horrible, horrible idea.
Cynthia bumped into his back. It made him realize he'd just stopped walking and was staring at the large Museum chamber around him.
Or, rather, at the largest piece inside it.
"Red!" Cynthia let out a shriek. "Look! They're right outside!"
Now, the only thing between them and Team Rocket's army of grunts and pokémon was a thick glass door, one that would not stay standing for long should the terrorists keep their pace.
"We've gotta run away!" she yelled, urgently shaking him.
But Red didn't move. If Team Rocket came inside, they were as good as dead. And if they wanted to get out, they'd have to sneak past the incoming barrage, which meant they needed something of that magnitude to create a distraction that big.
Taking a deep breath, Red closed his eyes and stepped out of the ocean of fear threatening to overwhelm his mind. By his own admission earlier, shit had hit the fan, no matter what else happened today. Stalling wouldn't help anyone, least of all the old man.
It was stupid. It was foolhardy. It was most certainly going to get them all killed.
But it was their best shot.
They had to take a stand.
"I… may have an idea that'll work," he murmured hesitantly. "But it's going to be dangerous."
"It doesn't matter. Just do something!" Cynthia shouted, panic rising within her.
"Don't say I didn't warn you." Red's expression turned serious. Mia's presence gathered around him even more. He knew what he was about to do. She knew what he was about to do. And yet, there was no reaction from her, except perhaps an earnest flutter, a promise to stay with him no matter what happened.
He had always known Mia to be special. Her power, her presence, her abstract abilities… Nothing about her was ordinary.
Mewtwo's words had only cemented that notion.
It was time to trust her.
"You'll need to find a good place to hide."
"Huh? What for?"
Red didn't answer Cynthia. Instead, he just looked up. And up. And up. Another explosion lit up the sky, illuminating the fleshy, towering terror of Tyrannus Rex, the one and only specimen of Tyrantrum resurrected by mankind.
"Okay," Red grinned. "Here goes nothing."
He grabbed the multitude of pipes entering the creature and pulled.
Editor: Solo Starfish, the best goddamn starfish the world has ever seen.
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