Chapter 5: Stirring Shadows
Wes couldn't help but grumble a little once Phenac City came into view.
Yesterday he had hoped to never have to lay eyes on this city again, and yet here he was, shielding his eyes from its brightness even with his shaded goggles on.
He parked in his usual place outside the city wall, released Neo and Novo immediately, and stalked back through the city entrance with Rui close behind. He'd alerted the two Eons to keep close and stay watchful; he didn't think Wakin's impatience would have kept him in the city for very long, but he couldn't afford to be careless. Especially not since he still had the Snag Machine...he spared a glance at the metal sleeve.
Someone was shouting their names. Wes cursed quietly under his breath; having someone shouting his name in a busy city was not an idea he was fond of. He looked for the source, but Rui spotted them first - Dash and Marla, running towards them from across the street.
"Oh my goodness!" Marla panted once they'd reached them. She was looking at Rui with dismay. "You...I can't believe you're still here! You should have left by now, dear!"
"W-well, we technically did leave, but-" Rui began.
"That's not important now!" said Dash. He looked panicked. "Rui, those men that took you - they're back! They're here, and they were headed to the mayor's house!"
Rui's face drained of color. "Are...are you sure it was them?"
Dash nodded solemnly. "I'm sure. Positive. It was definitely them." He looked between her and Wes with worry. "I-I'm really worried for the Mayor! You told him about them yesterday, right? What if they found out and...and..." he trailed off and gave Wes a pleading look.
Wes was rubbing his temples in frustration. Another distraction. Another. Damned. Thing. He sighed yet again. Rather than fight it this time, he figured if they could power through the issue quickly, then he could still be heading to Gateon by the end of the day.
He raised his head and fixed Dash and Marla with narrowed eyes. "All right, here's the deal. We'll go check on the Mayor and make sure everything is fine. Maybe we can even report that you two saw those men back in the city. And then we'll get going, because we really need to be on our way."
He could have sworn Marla had watery eyes as she thanked them. "Such incredible young people you are!" she sniffed. She and Dash said they would continue to look for the suspects before they parted ways.
"Do-do you think the mayor's okay?" Rui's face was taut with worry as they made for his home. "What if they did find out and they're here to do something to him?"
"He'll be fine," said Wes shortly. "First of all, those two thugs had less than one brain cell to share between them, and second of all, we're talking about the mayor. He'll have security with him. Remember that doorman?"
"Yeah...yeah, you're right," Rui said. She relaxed a little. "He should be fine - but I am glad you offered to check on him. I'll be glad to know for sure." She smiled at him. "You're a really good person, Wes."
No, I'm not, Wes thought with annoyance. He felt ready to sock the next person who needed a favor in the jaw. He wanted to get. Out. Of. Here.
They made it to the Mayor's house in good time, largely due to Wes walking so fast and Rui almost needing to jog to keep up. The massive estate looked very much unchanged from the day before. Wes snorted and shook his head. Such a waste of time.
Still, they marched up the steps. Rui bounded forward to knock on the door with her usual enthusiasm -
And the door creaked open.
She let out a gasp, and even Wes felt an unpleasant sinking feeling in his stomach. Certainly there was an explanation. The doorman had just forgotten to shut the door tight and lock it...right?
Rui hesitated, then pushed her way inside.
"What - Rui!"
But the girl had already stepped through the doorway. Wes could see that the lights were out inside, and he uttered a few more curses under his breath. Did this girl have a death wish?
He hastily followed her inside with Neo and Novo at his heels. She had only ventured in a few steps and was now looking about the room. Wes grabbed her by the arm with a growl.
"Are you stupid?" he hissed. "What do you think you're doing?"
Rui turned to look at him with horror in her eyes. "Wes..." she whispered. He could feel her trembling in his grip.
Wes noticed their surroundings, and he immediately understood her fear.
The office was unrecognizable from the day before. Not only were the lights out, but the room was destroyed; papers were scattered all over the floor, the fireplace was shattered, furniture was upended everywhere. Wes noticed the tea set that had been used to serve them yesterday was smashed into pieces on the floor.
"Rui," he said slowly, "we need to get out of here. Now."
He was just about to drag her back outside when the door at the other end of the room burst open.
At first, he wasn't sure what he was looking at. For half a crazed second, as he saw massive ball of red and white, he thought he might be looking at a bizarre Pokemon. And then he realized it wasn't what he was looking at, but whom.
The man that stood before them was tall, lanky, and dressed in some kind of ridiculous bright yellow track suit. His face was covered with gaudy shades, and he was adorned with flashy jewelry. But most noticeable of all was his hair; a massive afro that, for all intents and purposes, looked as though it defied the laws of physics just by how big it was. But the absurdity didn't stop there - the hair was dyed two colors and split evenly down the middle, one side white, the other a fiery red.
Wes briefly wondered if this wasn't just a hallucination. What did he have for breakfast, again...?
Afro Hair was apparently talking to someone else as he entered. His high, nasally voice carried a lilting accent that was almost as obnoxious as the fluff on his head.
"Now, now, darling, ain't no need to get your hair worked up in a frizz. Why, that lil' gal can't have gone far, can - oh!" He squawked in surprise upon noticing Wes and Rui in the room. "Boys, I think we have company!"
Two more men stepped into the room from behind him, and Rui gasped in terror. She grabbed Wes by the arm and stood close to him. "Those - they - they're-"
"I know," Wes replied. He looked Folly and Trudly up and down with disgust. So these men had the nerve to come back to this place?
Neo and Novo stepped forward and faced the three men with bristling fur and low growls.
"Gah!" Trudly barked in alarm and pointed an accusing finger at Wes. "That's - that's him, boss! He's the one who ran us out of town yesterday! An' that's the girl, there!"
The "boss" placed a hand on his hip and cocked his head to the side as he surveyed the newcomers. He scoffed and turned his head back to Trudly. "Are you boys tellin' me you lost to this lil' scrap?"
Trudly shuffled awkwardly. "Uh, Folly battled him, sir," he said quickly.
"What're you throwin' me under the bus for?" Folly snapped. "You'da lost, too!"
Wes had started to inch toward the door, pulling Rui along with him. If they could just make a break for it while they were arguing amongst themselves -
The strange man's gaze suddenly snapped back to Wes in his escape attempt. "Oh, I don't think so, sonny boy!" he said. "Trudly, care to prove to me you're not a pathetic lil' sap like our dear Folly over here?" Folly made a noise of indignation, looking highly affronted.
"Sure thing, Boss!" Trudly barked. He whipped two Pokeballs from his belt and hurled them onto the floor.
Two beams of light faded to reveal a Duskull and a Spinarak. Wes almost shook his head at the pitiful Pokemon. Did these thugs really think they stood a chance against Neo and Novo?
But still, getting into another messy situation was not on today's agenda. He took another step closer to the door -
A web shot from the Spinarak's mouth and stuck to the door over Wes' shoulder. With a fierce tug, it was slammed shut.
"Oh-ho!" the odd man cackled. "Tryin' to run away, now? And here I thought you was some gentleman lookin' out for this girl!" His eyes rested on the redhead as he mentioned her. Rui shivered and took another step closer to Wes.
"Here's the deal, sonny! You hand that girl back over to us, nice an' easy, and we let you go free! How do that sound?"
"What do you want with me?" Rui snapped. She was quivering, but her eyes were fierce.
"Well, lil' gal, we was hopin' you could tell us." A sneer slid its way across the man's face. "What are you doin, goin' around and seein' things you're not supposed to see?"
Rui's eyes widened in horror. "So you did do something to that Makuhita!"
A sudden ringing interrupted the exchange. The man gave a start and giggled. "Whoops-a-daisy! Pardon me, boys and girls!" He pulled his P*DA out of his pocket and answered. "Hellooooo?"
There was an incredibly awkward silence as he listened to the other side of the phone call. Nobody else in the room dared to speak. Folly was seething with anger near the opposite doorway, and Trudly was growling at Wes, clearly itching for a battle. Neo and Novo stood planted firm, snarling at the men and now Trudly's Pokémon. The Spinarak and Duskull were shifting in front of them, eyeing their opponents warily.
"W-Wes..." Rui's frightened whisper reached his ears. "I'm so sorry - we shouldn't have come here - I shouldn't have barged in -"
"You think?" he growled at her. Rui ducked her head; Wes could still feel her trembling. Despite his annoyance, he felt a small tug of sympathy for her.
"I won't turn you over, if that's what you're worried about," he mumbled back to her. Rui kept her gaze on the floor, but she tightened her grip and nodded.
"You...think we can get out of here?" she whispered.
Wes snorted. "Please. Neo and Novo will take care of this."
But even if we escape, what happens to the mayor? he wondered. There was no indication of where the mayor might be. Maybe, just maybe, he wasn't actually home and they hadn't come for him after all, but something else...?
It was a small thing to hope for, but he did anyway.
"Ah, just lovely! Goodbye, darling!" The man with the afro ended his phone call with a flourish of his hand before returning the P*DA to his pocket. He turned to the grunts behind him. "Well, boys, I'm off to Pyrite now! Ta-ta!"
"Wh-what?" Trudly spluttered. "You're just gonna leave us to deal with this alone?"
"Yes indeed, darling," his boss drawled with a wink. "I have frightfully important business to attend to, so I'll be on my way. But I do trust you'll have the girl with you the next time we meet." His last sentence, though still drawled in his light, lilting voice, suddenly contained a cold and dangerous edge to it.
Trudly paled in fear and nodded. "I-I'll do it, boss!" he stammered.
"See that you do." The man glanced back over his shoulder at Wes and Rui and winked. "Was lovely meeting you, darlings!" He sauntered off through the back door and was gone.
"Was he for real?" Wes mumbled dazedly. Rui gave a nervous laugh.
"All right, boy," Trudly snarled. His face was twisted with fierce hostility, but there was something akin to desperation in his eyes. "You heard the boss! He needs the girl back. Pronto. Hand her over and nobody gets hurt."
"No, thanks," Wes said cooly.
Folly glanced between the two of them nervously. He sidled towards the door.
"You wanna do this the hard way, then?" Trudly roared. "FINE! Hard way it is!" He addressed his Pokemon. "String Shot and Shadow Ball!"
"Neo, Confusion on that Spinarak!" Wes barked. "Novo, keep that Duskull away from him and Bite whenever possible!"
The Eeveelutions acknowledged their orders with a bark. Novo was immediately tied up in a String Shot, but he gnawed his way through the sticky webs with Bite; Neo dodged the Shadow Ball and plowed into the Spinarak with Confusion. The spider screeched as it was thrown into the opposite wall and fell motionless to the floor in one hit.
The Duskull fired another Shadow Ball, and this time it struck Neo's shoulder with enough force to send him tumbling. The Espeon yowled in pain, but before the Duskull could launch another attack, he was yanked out of the air by Novo's jaws. The Umbreon had leaped onto the desk to reach his foe, and now hurled him down to the ground with a fierce tug. The Duskull wailed and shot another Shadow Ball at the Pokemon; the attack rolled off Novo's shoulders with hardly any effect whatsoever. He lunged and ended the scuffle with a swift Bite.
Trudly roared and raged. "You - you PATHETIC LITTLE -" he swore vehemently and returned his fallen Pokemon to their balls before turning on Wes. "I'M NOT FINISHED YET!"
Rui's eyes widened. "Wes-"
"Not now, Rui." Wes focused intently on his opponent.
"But - Wes -"
She didn't get to finish her thought. Another beam of light filled the room as Trudly unleashed his third and final Pokemon.
Rui choked a cry from behind Wes. "That's the one, Wes!" she cried. "There's something wrong with that Pokémon!"
Wes looked the Makuhita up and down; it didn't seem like there was anything wrong with it. Sure, its tense posture and fierce growls were aggressive, but he didn't see how -
Without a command, the Makuhita hurled itself at Novo with terrifying speed. Novo scrambled to get out of the way, but he'd been caught off guard. The Makuhita slammed a fist into the Umbreon's side and sent him flying into the lounge area, crashing into a knocked over couch.
Wes hissed through clenched teeth. This Makuhita was fast. No matter; it was still outnumbered, with a type disadvantage to boot. "Neo! Confusion!"
The Espeon was back on his feet and ready to rumble. He blasted a wave of Psychic energy at the Makuhita. Wes could hear Rui shouting in alarm, but he didn't listen. What was she so worried about? This battle would end soon enough, they were fine -
The Makuhita barreled straight through Neo's Confusion. Wes blinked. That was new.
Neo let out another howl as his foe tossed him effortlessly to the side and kept gunning forward - straight at Wes.
He barely had time to react. He ducked and dove to the side, but he wasn't quite fast enough to dodge the entire blow. The Makuhita's fist glanced off his right shoulder, and Wes felt something pop, followed by a thrill of pain shooting down his arm as he crashed to the floor.
Rui's screams filled his ears. The Makuhita lunged for her next, but Novo rammed it out of the way with a Return. The Pokémon tumbled across the floor, then scrabbled to its feet with another snarl, and Wes got a good look at its eyes.
He felt a shiver go down his spine; he'd never seen such empty, such soulless eyes in a Pokemon before. He'd seen more than his fair share of abused and neglected Pokémon during his time in Snagem, but none of them had been quite like this. This Makuhita was filled with nothing, nothing at all, except pure, unfiltered hatred.
"Rui - Rui!" Wes shouted, sitting up and trying to put some distance between him and the Makuhita. "The bag! Give me the bag!"
"Just give it to me!"
She did as told, and the canvas bag fell into his lap.
The crazed Pokemon lunged at Wes again; Neo blocked it this time with a Protect, then another Confusion. Though the Espeon's Psychic-type attacks should have greatly weakened the Fighting-type, it seemed hardly fazed at all. If anything, it was even angrier than before. Both Neo and Novo lunged at their foe, only to be thrown aside yet again.
The Makuhita locked eyes with Wes, and launched at him a third time.
Wes' instincts kicked into overdrive.
He was hardly aware that he had dug into the bag and was now holding a Pokeball in his hand. The machine on his arm came to life, soft orange lines glowing as they ran all the way down to his fingertips. The Pokeball in his hand glowed and hummed as the machine did its work.
The Makuhita bore down on him, and Wes threw the ball.
The Pokemon vanished in a beam of light. The ball fell to the floor with a light thunk, then shook once...twice...three times.
And then clicked.
A stunned silence filled the room, only to be broken by Trudly's scream.
The ball flew from its place on the floor to Wes' open hand - the one with the machine. He stared at it numbly, unsure of what to think or feel.
"WHAT DID - HOW DID YOU - THAT'S MY POKEMON!"
Trudly was practically foaming at the mouth. Wes looked up into the man's eyes.
"Not anymore," he said bluntly.
Trudly took a step forward, looking about ready for murder, when Neo and Novo limped out from under the wreckage of the battle. Neo's forehead jewel gleamed menacingly, and Novo's rings pulsed with anger.
"Doesn't look like your friend is here to back you up, either," Wes added.
Folly was indeed nowhere to be seen. Trudly balked, glancing at the advancing Pokemon and where his friend should have been. He bellowed a volley of insults at Wes before retreating hastily through the door.
Wes' shoulders slumped in relief, and he stared at the Pokeball in his hand. Never, not once, had he seen a Pokemon behave in such a way before...
A shuffle from near the door caught his attention. He turned his head to see Rui backing away from him, her face white with shock. "You...how...how did-"
Wes staggered to his feet and sucked in a sharp breath at the pain that laced through his shoulder; something was definitely wrong with it. He grimaced at Rui. "I'll explain later, okay?"
Rui continued to stare at him. "You...you just...you just stole-"
Wes didn't have time for this. He grabbed Rui by the arm and made for the door. "I'll explain later. But for now we need to get out of-"
"I'm not going ANYWHERE with you!" Rui's voice was shrill as she wrenched her arm away from him. "Not until you explain to me what just happened! Right now!"
Wes clenched his jaw and took a long look at the girl. If he told her the truth, would she understand? Would she allow him to continue on his way without turning him in? Or would she give him away to the authorities in a fit of rage?
He thought of her face in the Pokémon Center when she spoke of Team Snagem, and he knew the answer.
He heaved a long, weary sigh. "Okay. Okay. I'll explain. But can we please go somewhere else? I don't want to be here when authorities get here. It won't look good for either of us."
Rui seemed to accept this answer, as she tersely nodded her head after a moment's pause. "Fine."
They took the back exit to avoid being seen, and Neo and Novo were returned to their Pokeballs until they could be taken to the Center for their injuries. Wes made an effort not to let his own injury show, partly out of attempts to avoid suspicion from curious onlookers, but mostly out of habit. He led Rui to a bench that was tucked away next to a few artificial waterfalls; their conversation would be safe here, with the rushing water to discourage potential eavesdroppers.
Rui sat far away from him, on the opposite side of the bench. Though she'd been clinging to his arm just moments earlier, now she wanted nothing to do with him, and was putting as much space between them as possible. She fixed him with a burning glare. "Well?"
Wes took a deep breath. He would have to be careful, very careful, on how he approached this. The low voice spoke in his mind once again, repeating words from yesterday: The best lies are half-truths, boy.
And as much as Wes hated that voice, he listened to it.
"I...I told you I grew up on the streets, right?" He started slowly. Rui narrowed her eyes at him and nodded. "Well...I associated with all kinds of people. Living that life, you have to make connections to survive. I had...had some close friends who got caught up with Team Snagem."
Rui's hands curled into fists as they rested atop her knees. She said nothing, so Wes continued.
"I didn't like what Team Snagem did. I never liked it. But these friends of mine...they did what they thought they had to do to survive. So they stayed with Snagem for a long time, until something happened." He paused and stared hard at the ground. "They...killed one of my good friends and his team."
Rui's expression remained unchanged, but she pursed her lips at this revelation. "Why?" she asked.
"Because he broke one of their rules...I don't know all the details." Wes ran a hand through his hair. "I just know that they killed his team and made him watch before they killed him." Anger started to rise in his chest. Horrifying images, ones that plagued his nightmares, began to flicker across his mind. He shook his head and pushed them back as he took another deep breath.
Not right now. Keep it together.
"So," he pressed on, "I got together with a couple of friends and we decided to do something about it. We rigged up some explosives and infiltrated the base. That explosion that happened a few days ago? That was me."
Rui's reaction was clearer this time. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. "That...was you?"
"Yeah." Wes gave her a bitter smile. "Best damn thing I ever did."
She stared at him in shock for a moment, then her eyes went to the machine still on Wes' arm. "That doesn't explain that, though."
"I stole it before I - we - blew up the base. Snagem had a whole bunch of machines made to convert Pokeballs for stealing, so we set the bombs off in all the rooms that held them. We destroyed them all...except this one." He looked down at the metal contraption. Sunlight glinted off its many curved surfaces. "This was the only portable one they had. I stole it because...well, I'm actually not sure. Part of me wanted to use it against them, I guess. Somehow."
"Then how did you automatically know how to use it?" Rui's voice hardened a little with suspicion.
"I had a general idea of how they worked from what my friends told me. Plus, it's pretty straightforward. You just throw a Pokeball with that arm." He raised head back up to meet Rui's eyes. "That's the story."
Rui scanned his face as if looking for any traces of falsehood. "So...you were never part of Team Snagem yourself?"
"No," Wes said firmly. "Never."
"You've never stolen a Pokemon?"
"Today was the first."
She sat still for a long time, staring hard at him, fists still clenched. Wes tried to calm the pounding in his chest as he met her gaze evenly. Please let her believe me. Please.
"Okay." Her voice was quiet. "I believe you."
Wes allowed himself to breathe a tiny sigh of relief. Thank. Arceus.
"But...what does this all mean?" Rui leaned back with a sigh. "That Makuhita...I don't know what they did to it, but it's badly scarred, and dangerous. You saw for yourself."
"And I'm apparently the only person who can see them...that I know of, at least." She tipped her head back to look at the sky. "I've never met anyone else who can see aura...but then I just happened to meet you, and you just happen to have a machine that lets you steal Pokemon..." she trailed off and gave him a pointed look.
Wes stared blankly at her. "What are you getting at?"
"Well, isn't it all so...convenient?" Rui sat up on the bench, angling to face him. "It's all so circumstantial. Doesn't it seem like we were meant to meet and maybe...I dunno, join forces?"
"Join forces for what?"
"To save those Pokemon!" Rui waved a hand exasperatedly, as though she couldn't believe Wes wasn't getting it. "Whoever those people in the mayor's house were, they're part of something. A gang, maybe, or an organization. And I know there are more corrupted Pokemon out there from what I overheard while I was in that sack. Whatever they're doing to those Pokemon, it's wrong, and it's horrible, and - " she broke off, her voice quivering with emotion. "I want to save them, Wes," she finished. Her eyes were pleading as she looked at him.
Wes sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Of course. Of course this girl, with no knowledge of how the world worked, would want to go charging in to challenge some underground crime ring without evidence, on the off chance they might save some random Pokemon she didn't even know. Really, why did he expect anything different?
His arm twinged painfully, and he held back a wince.
"Look." He raised his head again. "That's a nice idea and all, but you have no actual evidence. You don't have any leads. And you're not even slightly qualified to lead any sort of investigation. It's best to tell authorities everything you know, and let them take it from there."
"But what can they do?" Rui huffed. "They haven't accomplished anything in years when it comes to Orre's crime rings! I mean, you did more to expose Snagem than they have ever done, and you're just one person!"
Wes had to admit she had a point there. Orre's pitiful excuse for a police force was precisely why crime was so high. Few criminals were successfully caught, and even fewer were ever punished.
He shook his head. "I've done my part, all right? I did what I could to destroy and expose Snagem, I hit them where it hurt the most, and now I'm a dead man walking if any of them catch me. I'm also pretty sure that blowing up buildings is still a crime, whether it belongs to a gang or not. So there's that. I'm not in any position to...to play hero, or whatever. And I don't think I want to. I just want to lay low and live the rest of my life in peace."
"That's your answer?" Rui asked in disbelief. "You saw that Pokémon! You saw what those men did - and are doing! And you're just going to ignore it?"
"I never said I was going to ignore it, I'm just going to leave it to the police."
Rui scoffed. "Which is basically the same thing."
"Well, we cant all be heroes, all right?" Wes snapped. Another pang shuddered through his shoulder and down his arm, and he hissed in frustration. Why, why, why couldn't he have just ignored his Pokemon yesterday and let someone else rescue this crazy redhead? He rose to his feet. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to heal my Pokemon and get my shoulder looked at, and then I'm leaving this place. You should find yourself some transportation to Agate, and then I think it's for the best if we never see each other again."
Rui had also risen to her feet and was frowning at him. For a moment Wes wondered if she'd even heard what he said. "You...hurt your shoulder?" She looked concerned.
"A crazy Pokemon tried to kill me, in case you didn't notice."
"I-I didn't realize you were hit! I'm sorry-"
"Doesn't matter." Wes turned away on one heel. "I'm going now." He marched off in the direction of the hospital.
"Wait!" Rui rushed up beside him. "At least let me go with you to the hospital!"
"What the hell for?" he spat. "I don't need you. Go away."
"No! You got into this mess because of me, and the least I can do is make sure you're okay!"
"I'm fine, and I'd be even better if you'd leave me alone."
"At least let me go with you. Okay? Then I'll leave and I'll be out of your hair, I promise."
Her face was so sincere as she looked at him. Wes found it so damned infuriating. How in Mew's name could this girl possibly have the energy to care so much about absolutely everything? Didn't she ever get tired? Like a normal person?
Wes grumbled in defeat. "Fine." And with that, he made for the hospital with Rui in tow.