Brockton Bay, NH, USA
Monday, January 10, 2011
I woke up to the ringing of the bell. This. This was fucking bullshit of the highest caliber. Mandatory education past the age of thirteen? What kind of sadistic fucker decided this? He deserved to be burned alive and fed to houndoom.
I grumbled as I joined the herd of students shambling out into the hallway. First day back at school and I already wanted to strangle the teacher, most of my "peers," and then myself for deciding to put up with this shit.
One would think being a reincarnated soul would give one an immense advantage at life, but one would be sorely mistaken. Nothing worked right.
Things that were common sense in my old world were treated as insanity here. Pokemon? Fantasy creatures. Aura? Only for lunatics and hippies. Hell, even basic laws of physics seemed to differ here compared to back home.
My only saving grace was my power, the gift from Arceus to change myself into absolutely any pokemon at all. Even now, I could feel a comforting pulse of aura, that shapeless, colorless energy ready to mold me into new and exotic forms. The first time I got to fly as a pidgey would forever be a treasured memory in this life.
I continued my aimless woolgathering and allowed the flow of the crowd to steer me to the cafeteria. At the very least, Arcadia High School was one of the better schools in the city. Being an orphan, just being able to attend this institution was considered a privilege, one I earned through a writing scholarship during middle school.
The school board set up the scholarship in an attempt to sponsor the arts. It was a simple matter for me to write stories about my past life. It wasn't good, but it sure as hell impressed the judges, seeing how it was over 200,000 words long.
What? I had a lot of material.
They were especially impressed with my "depiction of the bond of friendship forged through strife." Their words, not mine.
I slumped into my seat alone in the cafeteria. That story just made me think about my old team. I missed them. I wasn't like those idiots who caught a whole menagerie's worth of pokemon. Throughout my entire journey, I stuck with six: Luca the lucario, Eos the volcarona, Titania the gardevoir, Marsh the ursaluna, Blitz the scizor, and Regis the tyrantrum.
Every one of them were worth entire teams on their own. Hell, if my job as Arceus' whipping boy didn't take me all over the place, that smug fucker Leon wouldn't have gone undefeated for so long.
Of course, I personally missed Luca most. That lucario was a bro, the broest of all bros. We found each other when I was an orphan playing in the forest around Canalave City and swore we'd be the strongest, the freest, the most badass team ever.
We succeeded, perhaps too well.
Other than Luca, I missed Eos. She was named for some ancient goddess of the dawn that I read about and damn did she live up to it. She was a later acquisition, but also the only one I hatched from an egg. In a lot of ways, she was like a daughter to me and as I felt the pulse of flame within me, I thanked Arceus for this little reminder of what we had.
I swallowed my melancholy and ate quickly. The lunches here weren't terrible, one more reason that silly writing contest was worth it, anything to get out of Winslow. Still, I missed some of the food from my old world. Was it appropriate to think of it as the "pokemon world?"
The cafeteria filled quickly, but I managed to finish my meal without any awkward conversations thanks to some new year's drama in Victoria Dallon's court. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that the girl lived for this stuff. We were in many of the same classes since freshman year and she was… she wasn't a bad person, but she certainly could be a bit much.
She'd broken up with Dean seven or eight times now since they started dating and the simple fact that I knew this at all was a testament to how much the Arcadia rumor mill revolved around our queen bee.
Shrugging, I tossed my tray on the rack and walked outside. Her drama wasn't my business. What was my business was what I wanted to do with Arceus' blessing.
Truth be told, I was… not tired, but… done. I'd fought my battles, won my wars, and slain my demons. I started my region-hopping adventures by murdering Cyrus for being a lunatic with delusions of godhood. It was what drew Arceus' attention to me in the first place. From there, I hopped around challenging champions, breaking up teams, and calming the Legends when someone inevitably pissed in their Cheerios.
It was a terrifying task, though I did get rewarded handsomely to be fair.
The conundrum of my future cape career was one I'd been mulling over for days. I didn't really have any intention of ever being a villain, at least nothing like Cyrus, that rat bastard, but that didn't mean I wanted to be a hero either.
Heroes were… complicated here.
Most of them joined the Protectorate, the federal agency that turned heroism into a nine-to-five, but that didn't mean they were all bad. They just… missed the mark sometimes. Even if I did choose to put on some spandex, I wasn't sure if I wanted to drink that particular flavor of kool-aid.
I could see myself being an indie, though it'd be harder. My power… was random. As awesome as "every pokemon" was, I really wished I could have some more control, too. Maybe someday…
The other options were to be a rogue, a cape businessman of some sort, or to simply do nothing.
Parahumans in this world seemed drawn to conflict, a theory that had been all but proven by the overwhelming number of data. I wasn't that. I wasn't a normal parahuman; I was an aura master who had been blessed by Arceus. I felt no need to go punching faces in, at least not without a decent reason.
I woolgathered through the last class of the day, thank Arceus for vocational programs, before marching towards Arcadia's gates and the sweet release of freedom.
After school found me at the vocational program of my choice. I wasn't sure what made me volunteer at an animal shelter, besides getting out of school two hours ahead of schedule, but I did. Perhaps I wanted to relive my glory days as a trainer, or maybe I wanted to confirm with my own hands that pokemon didn't exist here.
Either way, I was "that caring orphan boy" who showed up since freshman year to scrape dog shit out of the cages. Still, at least the puppers were cute. Not as cute as a growlithe, but they tried.
I gave Bella the cocker spaniel a final belly rub and got up to go home.
It was five-thirty by the time I finished, which meant the matron of the orphanage, one Carrie Wells, would be expecting me. She was a kindly older woman with graying hair and laugh lines around her eyes. Unfortunately, she was also either willfully ignorant or a tad oblivious. She took care of the younger kids well enough, but left us high schoolers to our own devices for the most part.
I bid the other volunteers a good evening and headed back home. I was lucky in that the shelter wasn't too far from the orphanage.
The orphanage was a place called Sunnyside, which I guessed someone named in an effort to encourage positivity. It was more often than not just called the Egg House. Hardboiled youths for the streets and all that.
I stumbled as I stepped into the orphanage and shot Derek a glare.
The unfortunate truth was that I was an anomaly in the orphanage. We weren't in the "wrong side of the tracks," but we weren't far either. The neighborhood was a bit of a no man's land between the Empire and the ABB, one created artificially thanks to the presence of Winslow High only six blocks away.
Since the other older kids went to Winslow, they often ended up building some connections to the gangs, if only because that's how you survived there. Of the five other kids here in high school range, one joined the Merchants outright, one slept around for weed, and the other three had "friends" in the 'hood.
I wouldn't go as far as to say they were scum, but we didn't exactly get along either. I got the impression that they felt that I didn't get it since I went to the nice school. To be fair to them, it was probably true. I didn't know what it was like to get shaken down by the Empire or ABB because I wasn't the right color. If I went to Winslow, I probably would have done something drastic years ago.
I didn't, so I hadn't. I therefore didn't want to judge their life choices too harshly. I knew I had it good.
Still, Derek? He made it hard. I could get why Kevin, Mark, and Tyrone made friends with the Merchants. They weren't members, but they got some protection by association and the Merchants were the least strict about joining officially. I could even understand Leah's willingness to do anything to take her mind off things, though I wished she'd do a bit less of that around the orphanage.
Derek… Derek reminded me of the likes of Petrel back when I did my tour of Kanto. He didn't associate with the Merchants; he dove in headfirst.
He was the kind of kid I imagined Petrel being in his youth. He wasn't just greedy; he was hungry. He was the kind of man who had nothing, got a taste of power, then decided he wanted more no matter what. Usually, that meant bossing around the younger kids, but I also knew that he'd conscripted several of the middle schoolers into dealing for him.
"Yo, how was the puppy mill, fucker?" he called with a shit-eating grin that made me want to feed him his teeth. I didn't fail to notice the sky-blue bracelet wrapped around his left wrist.
"Fuck off, Derek. Lemme just grab dinner and I can pretend you don't exist."
"Ey, come on, bro. You think about what I told you? You go to Arcadia, man, the rich kids school. You sell a few things for me and the boys and we'll make bank."
I shuffled past to the room I shared with Mark, a street-savvy Asian kid who decided that fitting in with the breakdancing crowd was the way to survive Winslow without joining the ABB. "Thought about it," I called back. "Not worth it. You get your cut. Your boys get their cut. Then what? I get my cut? Helping you expand your business isn't worth a bit of pocket change, dickhead. There's a reason it's the Wards school."
"Man, you're a fucking pussy, Blake. It's why you ain't got shit to show for going to that fancy-ass school. Me? I'm going places. Skid's got my back. Fuck've you got?"
"You wanna start shit?"
I rolled my eyes. "Sure, whatever. Let me know when you fuckers grow a dick and act on it."
I knew he wouldn't start a fight here. For all the shit that came out of Derek's mouth, he was a coward. Or, more realistically, he was a teenage boy with a chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove but zero experience to back his boasts. So long as he didn't have his "boys" to show off to, he wouldn't act on his own.
I'd be keeping an eye out for him later on though. I was worried about what he might do outside the orphanage.
Not for the first time, I thanked Arceus that my power finally finished maturing over New Year's. He told me that he'd be converting my aura into the same kind of multi-type energy he had, but that it'd only be doable by rewriting my soul. Including my past life's memories, that was a bit much for a child to handle so my power came in gradually.
Ever since I could remember, my power felt like a star, a node of energy with eighteen branching tethers. These tethers began as strings but grew stronger over time until about a week ago, when they finally "clicked" into place.
Hence my recent ponderings about the nature of heroism.
Brockton Bay, NH, USA
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
I had some time to think over dinner. I wanted to be a hero, but not join the Protectorate. They were good enough at maintaining the status quo, but that wasn't enough for me. I was known for a great many things, but "toeing the line" sure as hell wasn't one of them.
No. If I was going to go out and be a hero, I'd do it on my terms. Morality wasn't a lawbook.
But before I could go out and be a hero, I had to decide on a number of things, from a costume to how I wanted my first week to go.
It was time to plan.
I thanked Arceus that Mark was a heavy sleeper. I liked the kid, truth be told. He was the "work hard, play hard" sort who dove headfirst into his passions, even if it got him some weird looks. Luckily, it also meant he was the sort to collapse into bed each night exhausted beyond belief.
The second that the clock struck twelve, I felt the aura in my soul pulse. Like the hand of some ponderous clock, it shifted forward, only to land at a choice I'd not felt thus far. Still, it was an aura type that I was familiar with.
Ground type energy, the aura of the very earth beneath my feat, was a lazy one. It was powerful and slow, cumbersome almost, but also purposeful and determined. When it moved, few things could stand in its way.
It reminded me of Marsh, my ursaluna. I met her when she was terrorizing some poor mareep ranch, only to defeat her and befriend her. Finding a long-lost evolution for the ursaring was a hell of a shock and I'd had professors from every region demanding I turn her over for study for weeks.
I held on to the comforting aura and pulled.
"Sorry, dear friend, but you are not who I need right now," I whispered. "Shift: Galarian Yamask."
I felt myself shrink. For lack of a better word, I became less real. It was an odd feeling, becoming less corporeal despite very much being alive. The eerie blend of ground and ghost type energy warred within me, but I was ultimately able to calm myself. Fortunately, the tablet of a Galarian yamask being cursed was mostly superstition.
I floated out the window, making not the slightest noise. I drifted down to the ground and made my way to the neighbor's shed.
Carl Wurst was a crotchety old man, but a good one. He often helped out at the orphanage, saying he missed his own grandkids. He'd tell the kids stories about how he used to be an avid biker way back in the day.
I apologized inwardly as I snuck in his shed.
I wasn't much for plans. Usually, most of my adventures began because neither Luca nor I could think through our actions. Hell, that was how we ended up stumbling on Galactic's plans so long ago, setting us on this bullshit journey.
But, after a lifetime of this, I had to admit that at least some of Titania's care and foresight rubbed off on me. My transformations didn't last long, so that meant I needed something to keep my face covered.
As wrong as it was to steal from Carl, I bit down on my guilt. I needed it more. I shifted back into my human form and unlatched the shed before picking out his old motorcycle helmet. I winced. It was… tacky… and bright. Very bright.
Unfortunately, the beat up old helmet was as good as I was going to get.
Face disguised, I walked towards the Merchant grounds. Derek certainly was no secret about "their turf," the shithead. No matter what he said, the Merchants were no better than mandibuzz, vultures preying on scraps that neither the ABB nor the Empire wanted. They occupied some of the Trainyard and Boat Graveyard, but tended to walk real soft whenever Lung even vaguely gestured in their general direction.
It sucked, but that cowardice was also their biggest strength. They were hard to find. I figured that with them being the least of the Bay's gangs and me being somewhat aware of their operations thanks to Derek's loose lips, they were prime targets for a fledgling hero like me.
Hence the scouting.
Twenty minutes of walking later, I stood at a crossroads. One street led to the docks, not-very-lovingly nicknamed the Boat Graveyard. It used to be a fairly busy port back before I was alive, but some idiots grounded a tanker to close off the port because… because reasons…
God, humans were fucking retards…
The district was all but abandoned by most of the city now. Now, it was a hub for the homeless, vagrants, and ne'er-do-wells. In other words, prime Merchant territory.
Another street led towards the Trainyards. It was basically a junkyard. When the docks got abandoned, trade dried up and the logical conclusion followed: No boats, no goods, no trains to continue that supply chain.
I spotted a plastic bottle on the ground and gave it a hefty kick. It spun against the curb before the lip pointed towards the Trainyards.
"Welp, Trainyards it is. Here's to hoping you're looking out for me Arceus," I muttered.
Still, it was probably a good plan. Everyone knew that the Merchants had a tinker, one of the only reasons they were still competitive with the other gangs. And, like magnemites and power plants, there just weren't many other places for a tinker to be than a junkyard.
Grinning, I made my way towards my goal.
I thought about shifting again, but it wasn't worthwhile. From my tests, I could remain in my pokemon form for a random variable of time, anywhere from a single minute to ten. And then, I'd have to revert to human form and wait for a minute or so, kind of like catching my breath.
I didn't want to use my power to travel then get caught off guard because I wasn't careful.
Another twelve minutes later, I huffed and puffed against a light pole. "Holy shit I'm out of shape," I gasped. Gone were the whipcord muscles and aura-enhanced abilities. I swore I'd earn them all back again because this was fucking pathetic.
I sighed with relief as I saw my destination. The Trainyard was a fenced off area, but it wouldn't take much effort to climb over. Or hell, if I walked along the fence long enough I was bound to find a tear in the rusted chain-link fence.
Now that I was here, it was time to decide how I wanted to approach things.
I hopped the fence while making as little noise as possible. There weren't many working street lamps around here, so I didn't have to worry about the light bouncing off my garishly bright helmet. Still, I made sure to be cautious, just in case.
The Trainyard itself was divided into three sections: what used to be the admin building, a huge garage that used to house cargo, and a smaller garage for passenger trains. Not that I could read the minds of drugged out idiots, but I could make some educated guesses based on the layout here.
The cargo hold would be best to use as a garage for the creation of whatever monstrosities Squealer wanted. I doubted it'd be the only garage she worked out of, but it'd be a good place to store and distribute goods as well as keep their cars.
The passenger side was less likely to have useful materials lying around, besides the cars themselves. It might either be used as a meth lab or a stash house, maybe somewhere the gang members could crash.
The admin building… could be anything.
Since this was meant to be a factfinding mission, I decided to just head to the closest one to me, the cargo hold.
I kept to the shadows as I approached the cargo hold. That unfortunately didn't last me very long. On the plus side, the fact that it was lit and had working lamps along the outside meant it was occupied. On the downside, I could see some guards walking around with flashlights.
"How oddly responsible for Merchants," I grumbled. I couldn't expect all my enemies to be idiots, as convenient as that would be, so I decided to sneak as close as I could.
"Hey, who the fuck are you?" I heard someone slur behind me.
It was shit luck, really. Some bastard was pissing behind a corner and I didn't notice, my attention caught up in the guards with flashlights like a mothim to a flame.
He could have gotten the drop on me. The only reason he didn't immediately pull a knife or something was because I didn't look much like a cape, just a dude with a motorcycle helmet.
I stared at him with for a long second. He was dirty, with a white wifebeater shirt that had more stains than clean spots. He stuck a hand in his spotted sweatpants, scratched at his piss-covered dick, then scratched at his nose.
I could practically feel my nose hairs curl at that. In my rush for an answer, I decided to pull a page from Zinnia's playbook: Bluff. Bluff like hell. Hey, if it worked for her with Magma, I didn't see why I couldn't work for me here. Maxie would die of shame for ever being compared to Skidmark of all people.
"Who the fuck do you think I am, shit-stain? I'm the new cape Skids called in 'cause you fuckers keep getting your shits kicked in by everyone and their grandma!"
"Huh? Oh, shit, that's you?"
"Yeah, that's me, now come on, let's go get high."
"Yeah," his hand reached back into his pants. "After you, new boss."
"Good, I can use some of the good shit right about now."
I scrunched my nose in disgust and turned back. The trick was to be bold, Zinnia had said. If you walked like you knew what you were doing, most people never bothered to look twice.
No matter what, if I wanted this to remain a factfinding mission, there was nothing for it but to lean into the act. I marched out of the shadows like I was hot shit, only for the piss-stain to tackle me to the ground.
"Fuck you, you fucking cock-sucking shithead! You think I'm fucking dumb huh?" he hollered in my face as he bashed my head.
The helmet held. Whatever he was on, druggie-strength wasn't enough to punch through a motorcycle helmet so I barely felt it. The bigger problem was that I'd drawn attention to myself. I could see one of the guards holler back into the garage. I'd really stirred the beedrill's nest now!
Seriously, what the fuck was I thinking? It worked for Zinnia because she pretended to be a Magma grunt, not a lieutenant!
I sighed internally. "Well, there goes my scouting trip," I grumbled. Still, if Titania, my lovable gardevoir, taught me anything, it was that I should have a plan handy.
In this case, it was a shift already set, something I'd kept in my back pocket so I wouldn't run out the clock.
"Shift: Alolan dugtrio!" I shouted.
Then, things got… weird… and dare I say, FABULOUS.
One became three and despite the distinct divide between each head, I could think in perfect synchronicity. I knew then that I wouldn't have any trouble in this form despite the unusual way a dugtrio saw the world.
It was like my eyes had been opened to a whole new world. The golden "whiskers" were steel wires, wires I could sense from. Vibrations painted a picture of perfect clarity all around me and I knew that even if someone gouged out my eyes, navigation would be a breeze.
I took a quick stock of my surroundings. There were four guards who were converging on me. They'd be here in seconds. Inside the cargo hold, I could see another six men reacting to the roused alarm. Someone who could only be Squealer rolled out from beneath a truck and began to shout some orders. Behind the garage, a wide array of tendrils sprouted from a man, picking up trash and forming some kind of trash armor.
I sighed. I seemed to be doing that a lot tonight. If tonight taught me one thing, it's that I need better plans.
The Merchant mook was still hammering away at one of my heads, but it did even less than before. It still pissed me off though. My hair was FABULOUS, damnit. I didn't want his piss-stained fingers on my heads!
Perhaps the form was influencing me a bit more than I expected…
No matter. My opponents were honestly lacking. If anything, I was a little embarrassed to call them opponents. No, if I was to be truthful, my biggest opponent was the clock.
"Let's get started then," I told myself. I flailed my hair like a Pantene commercial and cried out, "Sandstorm!"
All around, the dirt began to rise to obey its master. I called and the earth answered, because I am FABULOUS. I felt the Sandstorm empower me, giving my affinity to the earth an extra boost. Just being in the middle of one, even self-created as it was, was energizing.
'I'll have to be careful to pull my punches,' I thought. I didn't want to be labeled a murderer after all. These idiots weren't worth that hassle.
"Gah! Fuck!" I heard the mook on top of me cry out as the sand got in his eyes. Pocket sand? I had the whole fucking Sahara because I am FABULOUS.
That was plenty to get him to let go of me, but I didn't let go of him. My hair wrapped around him like the coils of an arbok before I pondered what to do with the idiot. Then, I had an idea. As per usual, sand was the solution to all of life's problems.
I smiled as the earth beneath him became as quicksand and he sank up to his neck into the ground. Problem solved.
At this point, I could leave. There was nothing keeping me here. But… I didn't want to. I didn't want this trip to have been for nothing and if they were going to know about me anyway, I'd give them something to remember me by.
I dug into the earth, vanishing from view of the guards. Then, one by one, I yanked them down into the ground with Sand Tomb. As I was grabbing the third guard, I got a little too excited and yanked him down with more force than strictly necessary.
I winced as I felt the sand constrict just a bit too tight. He'd be nursing a few broken bones from that.
Their screams filled the night as I played a demented game of whack-a-mole with the Merchants. Then, the garage door burst open and Squealer's truck rumbled outside.
It was a monstrosity. Every surface had some weapon bolted to it, like something out of a zombie survival game where you're expected to run over dozens of people. It was impractical. It was idiotic. It was… honestly kinda cool, but that was probably the Mad Max fan in me.
Pity it was Squealer in the driver's seat.
"Fuck you! Who's the fucker attacking my lab!" I heard her yell. It was a grating voice, ruined by years of hard drugs. I couldn't help but wonder if she had once been a decent singer. She certainly could hit the high notes.
She'd built the truck with violence in mind, but certainly not against someone so close to the ground. Most of the turrets bolted to the truck couldn't even aim this low so I was largely safe from retribution. I just kept digging, using Sand Storm, and otherwise ruining everyone's night.
Honestly? I started to feel a little bad when I turned half the yard into quicksand. Squealer couldn't even drive her truck more than ten feet out of the garage before it got stuck.
Something must have finally clicked with her because she didn't jump out. Had she done so, I would have captured her immediately and that would have been the end of the Merchants as a relevant power. Instead, she just holed herself in the driver's seat, no doubt armored as much as she was able.
I looked around. Mush had arrived, but finding me through Sand Veil was damn near impossible. Most of the downed gangsters were nursing friction burns and itchy eyes. I saw more than one dribble snot onto the sand.
That left me with nothing better to do but to loot the cargo hold and make off with what I could carry. Just in time too, as I felt myself begin to switch back.