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Nicholas watched Galina talk with the others with a slight frown on his face. She was smiling and laughing, but there was no joy in her eyes. It was easier to read her expressions now that she wasn’t in the middle of a battle, since the skull helmet had drawn back slightly to expose her mouth and jaw while keeping the rest of her head covered.
He stepped forwards when Cassidy broke away to leave the Marowak alone. “Hey, Galina.”
Galina jumped. “Oh! Um, hi… Master.”
“Is everything alright?”
Galina glanced away. “It’s a bit strange, but everyone is nice, and-“
“-and there’s something still bothering you.”
Galina gazed off into the distance. “I just feel… I don’t know. Empty. Everyone else is smiling and moving after yesterday but-“
Nicholas nodded. “You haven’t stopped to think until now. About what happened in that tower.”
Galina’s fingers pressed into her arms. “I… don’t think I did.”
“The adrenaline must have helped, constantly pushing you forwards. Now it’s gone.” Nicholas reached out to comfort her. “You don’t have to come with me, you know. I mean you’ve never had a tamer before; I’m sure we can find a different solution. Together.”
Galina shivered in his arms. “No, no... I want to be with you. That’s not an issue. It’s just that the others, they’re so eager and...” She trailed off. “Can I just have a few days?”
Nicholas nodded. “Sure. We’ll be traveling for a while and, while I’m sure there will be a lot of tamers looking for a fight, the others can keep us moving.”
“Thank you, Master.”
“Want to be in your pokeball?” Nicholas asked.
Galina hesitated. “Maybe for today.”
“I’ll ask again tomorrow.” Nicholas recalled her and turned to the rest of the harem. “Alright! Cassidy, you’re probably exhausted from the last few days.”
Cassidy gave him a weak smile. “I am.”
“Then let’s see...” Nicholas looked around. “Victoria. You want to redeem yourself a bit?”
The Gyarados scowled. “Redeem myself?”
“Maybe learn how to pick your fights.” Nicholas replied. “Unlike your attitude in Vermilion.”
Victoria dropped her gaze with a mumble. “I’m sorry.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Nicholas chuckled and recalled the others. “Hey.”
Victoria slowly looked up at his call. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I acted that way.”
“Are you sure it isn’t because of what happened in Cerulean?”
Victoria blinked at him. “What do you know about that?”
“I know that after your match you started acting very differently.” Nicholas replied. “What happened?”
Victoria’s eyes wandered off into the distance. “After the fight, the girl... Misty... she said she had a Gyarados too.”
“Doesn’t surprise me.”
“She said hers was stronger because she has forgotten how to fear.”
Nicholas frowned. “I see.”
“So, I... tried to ignore my fear.”
Nicholas began laughing and Victoria covered her face with her hands. “You’re laughing at me.”
“I’m not, I swear.” Nicholas caught his breath. “I’m laughing because of you, not at you. You and Elizabeth, man. So worried about how strong you’re supposed to be.”
“Victoria, you won. Sure, Misty’s Gyarados might have been stronger than you then, but did you fight Misty’s Gyarados? No! You fought her Starmie and you won. You proved that thing you were saying around Mike. What was it...?”
“I’m strong and you made me strong.” Victoria mumbled.
“And that’s the truth.” Nicholas said with a smile. “Besides, there’s a difference between not being afraid, and being stupid. You were a little bit stupid in Vermilion.”
Victoria felt her face burning. “I guess.”
“You’re horribly weak to electric-type attacks.” Nicholas replied drily. “‘I guess’ doesn’t even cut it.”
“Alright. I was stupid.” Victoria let out a massive sigh. “I just... I just wanted to prove that everything you’ve done to help me wasn’t for nothing. After my fight with Hannah.”
Nicholas nodded. “That’s still eating at you, huh.”
“I shouldn’t have let it be a tie.” Victoria whispered. “Even if I had lost I should have finished it.”
“She’s the one who backed down first.” Nicholas offered.
“No, it was mutual. Which is wrong, because look at me now.” Victoria spread her arms to show off her body. “I’m massive. Stronger than I ever dreamed I could be. I’ve discovered that I love something I was too afraid to try before.” She settled back down. “And I backed down from the best fight I’d had. Have had. It was my opportunity and I let it go.”
It wasn’t easy to do but Nicholas managed to get his arm around her shoulders. “You remember what I told you after you evolved?”
Victoria avoided his eyes. “Just because I make you horny, Master, doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I made a mistake.”
Nicholas shrugged and gave her shoulder a squeeze. “Don’t beat yourself up too much. You’re supposed to do that to our opponents.”
Victoria couldn’t help but giggle. “Yea, that’s true.” After a moment she turned to him with a smile. “Let’s get moving, Master.” When Nicholas let go she continued. “And... thank you.”
Nicholas grinned back at her, stretching up to accept her kiss before the two began walking west.
A few mornings later Nicholas was putting away the tent after breakfast. Victoria and Elizabeth had still been eating so he’d left them alone.
Nicholas popped his head up when he heard the crash. “Everyone alright?”
There were multiple voices shouting and he quickly ran towards the noise.
“I WAS WHAT GOT US THE BADGE!” Elizabeth screamed, nearly standing pressed up against Victoria. The Gyarados’ tail was slicing angrily through the air behind her. “The more difficult badge. The one you were unable to even participate in.”
“And I got us the badge you couldn’t participate in.” Victoria snarled. “Master relies on us both.”
“He relies on me more.” Elizabeth crowed. “I got a KO in ‘your’ badge. You GOT KO’d in mine!”
“ENOUGH!” Both pokegirls whirled to see Nicholas staring at them. “I walk away to put away the tent and it takes you TWO MINUTES to be at each other’s throats? Victoria! We’ve been talking about this.”
Victoria winced and turned away. “But she started-“
“So you allowed her to bring you to her level?” Nicholas turned to look at Elizabeth. “What the fuck possessed either of you to start screaming? We’re a team! You’re supposed to have each other’s backs, NOT BE TRYING TO TEAR EACH OTHER DOWN!”
Elizabeth’s anger slowly began to melt away. “I- she-“ she stammered. “I-“
“Did you start it like Victoria says?”
Elizabeth gulped. “Started...?”
“I shouldn’t have given you that Thunderbolt TM.” Nicholas muttered. “What the fuck, Elizabeth. One little battle, one new advantage, and it’s as if everything you’ve worked towards was forgotten.” He raised her pokeball, recalling the Nidoqueen without seeing the tears that had begun to fall from her eyes. “Victoria.”
The Gyarados jumped. “M-Master?”
“I don’t have time to talk to you two right now. But this isn’t over.”
Victoria slumped. “Yes Master.”
Nicholas recalled them both. He was lost in thought for a few minutes before he pulled out a pokeball and released Dahlia.
The Ivsaur stretched before giving him a quick curtsy. “Morning, Master.”
“Dahlia, hey. I need to talk to you about some things.”
Dahlia nodded. “What’s on your mind, Master?”
“Would Ashley be a good Alpha?”
Dahlia was taken aback by the sudden question. “Well, maybe? She fights well and-“
“You of all people should know that I don’t care about fighting strength in an Alpha.” Nicholas cut her off. “I care about leadership. Whether or not she can pull the harem together.”
“I thought Elizabeth would be the one who knows that.” Dahlia murmured.
“She’s the one who needs to learn it.” Nicholas countered. “You are the one who already understands it.”
Dahlia barely shook her head. “Ashley is a great girl, but she’s too competitive. Everything is a contest with her.”
Dahlia awkwardly kicked at the dirt. “Why are you asking me that?”
“How about Cassidy?” Nicholas asked, ignoring her question. “She’s new, sure, but she’s smart. I’m sure she could bring her skills to make a good coordinator.”
“She’s too rigid.” Dahlia replied immediately. “I like her too, but she sticks to her plans without considering other options. If something doesn’t go precisely her way she freezes up. She’d never work as the Alpha.”
“Oh?” Nicholas pretended to think. “Wow, I guess nobody here is capable of being an Alpha.”
“Maybe the new girl.” Dahlia offered. “She seems confident in herself. That’s a good trait.”
This time it was Nicholas who shook his head. “She’s also trying to reconcile what’s happened to her. Her mother was murdered in front of her, for god’s sake.”
Nicholas didn’t speak for a while. Eventually he glanced at her. “I can’t consider Victoria or Elizabeth right now because they’re the reason I’m thinking about this in the first place. Were you aware that they’ve been riling each other up?”
Dahlia thought. “Now that you mention it, Ashley and Elizabeth have been rather happy around each other recently. Yea, Victoria has been taking Ashley’s place and sniping back and forth.”
“Elizabeth is a problem, isn’t she.”
Dahlia hesitated but shook her head. “No, I don’t think she is, Master. She’s egotistical, maybe, but she has reason to be. And she has her moments; I’ve seen her kind side before. I think seeking conflict is just what she does.”
“I wonder why that is.”
“To get stronger, probably. Just like she says.” Dahlia replied. “She’s very focused on that.”
“And she has a reason to be.” Nicholas agreed. “She probably hasn’t told you.”
Dahlia looked mystified. “Nope, sorry Master.”
“Hmm.” Nicholas shrugged. “Well, I’ll try to be understanding when we talk later.”
Dahlia nodded, watching him get to his feet and grab the packed backpack. “Was that all, Master?”
“I needed someone to discuss things with. Thanks for being that person.” Nicholas paused with his back to her. “Dahlia, what are your own weaknesses? We’ve talked about everyone else.”
Dahlia glanced away from him. “Um... You’ve told me that I don’t believe in myself enough. That I... hide my skills behind a nervous mask, but that’s not completely true. I’m just shy.” She gingerly stepped forwards. “I’m not like Elizabeth, or Ashley, I don’t seek out fights just for the fun of it. And... I’m rigid, like Cassidy. If I’m not supposed to do something I don’t do it.”
“But you’re willing to bend when necessary.”
“...I guess.” Dahlia admitted. “Why, Master?”
Nicholas reached over and drew her into his embrace. “I need an Alpha, Dahlia.”
Dahlia’s heartbeat quickened. “You’ve decided it’s time?”
“I have and I felt that little gasp, you silly girl.” Nicholas chuckled. “I think there’s only one woman who can control this crazy group.”
“You can’t be-“
“I think you’re the right choice.” Nicholas replied firmly. “You really don’t give yourself enough credit, Dahlia. I never asked you to watch the others and yet when I asked you today about how they’re interacting you had all the answers. You’ve been practicing for this ever since I met you.”
“It’s been maybe a month.” Dahlia weakly joked.
“Yea, each day keeps throwing us towards the next.” Nicholas agreed. “But even still, you’re acting in every way I told the others I wanted my Alpha to act.”
“They’ll say it’s favoritism. Because I was your first.”
“They can say that all they want, because you stepped back and let Elizabeth and Ashley have their time. They didn’t take the opportunity and now it’s too late.”
“But am I really...?” Dahlia started.
“I’ve made my decision.” Nicholas stated firmly. “If you don’t want it, say so. Otherwise, unless you think someone else can do it better, the job is yours.”
Dahlia remained silent for long enough that Nicholas started walking towards the city. They were almost to the first buildings when Dahlia finally spoke. “I’ll do it, Master. Thank you for believing in me.”
Nicholas smiled back at her. “You’re welcome, but don’t thank me yet. You’re about to have Elizabeth’s target painted on your back.”
Dahlia swallowed. “I don’t think I can win that fight yet.”
“The Alpha doesn’t fight alone.” Nicholas replied. “Not unless she wants to.”
Dahlia slowly nodded.
As they entered Celadon Nicholas’ eyes were drawn to a massive skyscraper at the other end of the city. “Wow. There are some crazy buildings here in Kanto.”
Dahlia peeked past him. “That’s the Celadon Department Store, Master. It’s the largest distributor of goods in the region.”
“That’s crazy.” Nicholas craned his neck to try and see the top. “I almost don’t want to go in there... we’d be broke before we got to the second floor.”
Dahlia giggled. “Probably.”
“Yea, let’s avoid that.” Nicholas started looking around. “Alright, where is the...”
Dahlia looked at him when he trailed off. “Master?”
Nicholas stared at a walking tamer. “Dahlia? Does that guy have a...”
Dahlia turned to where he was looking. “Wait, that’s a-“
“I thought so.” Nicholas watched the Team Rocket member disappear between some buildings. “Casually walking down the street in the middle of the day.”
Dahlia slowly pointed at the nearby pokecenter. “The center is... over there.”
Nicholas found himself constantly looking over his shoulder while the NurseJoy treated his pokegirls. There had been more people walking when the grunt was around. None of them had reacted. Why? Weren’t they criminals?
The words of the recruiter back in Cerulean came to mind and he scowled. Don’t let the actions of a few taint your image, huh? Yet that guy showed his true colors right after that claim.
Wearing that uniform is an admission of guilt, isn’t it? Nicholas’ thoughts kept churning as he left the pokecenter and began wandering through downtown Celadon. There’s no way you don’t get a uniform without breaking some law in the process.
He sighed. Maybe, but it wasn’t illegal to wear a black shirt with a red R. It probably wasn’t reasonable cause to arrest someone either. Not to mention how the police force itself might contain Rocket members.
Now that he’d seen how widespread their influence was, he was starting to rethink what Team Rocket might be. Not just some gang. An organization.
Noise to his right caught his attention and he slowed to look. And stare. There was a building nearby with a large crowd streaming in and out, looking like some sort of casino with a giant light up rocket-ship as the sign. And while he couldn’t see any uniforms right away, the name couldn’t be a coincidence.
“Rocket Casino.” Nicholas said in disbelief. “How? How can they so blatantly operate in these big cities?”
He had to pull himself away before his anger could rise. Michael had been right. Somehow, they weren’t just a gang anymore. They had become a part of the region.
This couldn’t have happened without help. Someone - or a number of someones - highly placed in the league government must be sympathetic to the group. It was the only explanation.
Nicholas’ hand clenched tightly on his backpack strap. If he was going to work up through the gym leaders and to the elite four, he’d meet someone on Team Rocket’s side. He needed to prepare.
“Shit. I need to talk to those two.” He muttered. “And then it’s probably a good idea to find the gym...”
Pewter City – Boulder Badge
Cerulean City – Cascade Badge
Vermilion City – Thunder Badge
Dahlia, Ivysaur – Level 26 (Alpha)
Ashley, Pidgeotto – Level 24
Elizabeth, Nidoqueen – Level 25
Victoria, Gyarados – Level 26
Cassidy, Kadabra – Level 26
Galina, Marowak – Level 28
“I know we came out here for me, Master, but don’t you think you should release Elizabeth and Victoria?”
Nicholas shoved past the latest bush. “I don’t want to have that conversation without including your status, and you don’t want to reveal that until you can stand up to Elizabeth. So, no, while I know it likely sucks for them to be in their pokeballs for a full day, the first step still needs to be taken care of.” He sighed and looked around. “Unfortunately there’s barely anything out here for you to train on. Just that one nice lady who gave me this.”
Dahlia gazed at the HM he held. “What if we don’t...”
“No, we’ve been over this. They’ll keep fighting each other and won’t listen unless they know you’re the Alpha. We need to get you stronger.” He shook his head ruefully. “Should have had you assist Cassidy back in that cave. There were tons of rock-types.”
“No, hush, it’s not your fault. You have a good reason to not want to do this as an Ivysaur.” Nicholas sighed. “We’ll figure it out.”
“I was actually going to say that I’m alright with trying this meeting as I am.” Dahlia finished. Nicholas came to a halt and she walked up beside him. “If she challenges me, she challenges me. I’ll try to delay a battle but if she insists, it will be as you said.” Her voice was nervous but her eyes were steady. “The Alpha doesn’t fight alone.”
“You think the others will back you up immediately?”
“Ashley will.” Dahlia replied. “And Victoria doesn’t care about the position. She’ll stand behind me because I’m standing up to Elizabeth.”
“What about the others?”
“I don’t know, but even Elizabeth can’t win a three on one.”
“Yea, about that. I taught her Thunderbolt yesterday.”
Dahlia let out a defeated sigh. “Master.”
“It was the right call for the harem’s strength.”
“I agree, but did you have to do it now? That makes Ashley and Victoria’s support less effective.” Dahlia shook her head. “Fine. I’ll figure something out if I have to.”
Nicholas grunted. “Told you that you would.”
Dahlia gave him a nervous smile. “I’m not really thinking about it.”
“Exactly.” Nicholas gave up on the path and turned around. “Let’s head back to the city. Do you want to do this today?”
“Alright. Get ready.”
The walk back took much less time than their exploration and soon Nicholas was standing near their hotel. The normal bustle of Celadon City moved past him as he pulled out all of his pokeballs.
“You talk to the others while I talk to them. Alright?”
Dahlia nodded. “Sounds good, Master.”
“Victoria! Elizabeth!” Step over here. The rest of you, stretch your legs.” Nicholas walked away from the group and was pleased to see both pokegirls follow without argument.
“Hey.” Victoria mumbled.
“What’s this about, Master?” Elizabeth asked, shooting a sidelong glance at the Gyarados. “Or can we have some... ‘free time’?”
“Elizabeth, shut up and let me speak.” The Nidoqueen was shocked into silence as Nicholas continued. “I’m going to ask you a very simple question and I want a very simple answer. Has Victoria become your next target?”
Elizabeth hesitated for a few seconds before lowering her gaze. “Yes, Master.”
“Thank you. Victoria I expect the same. Do you see Elizabeth as an enemy?”
Victoria winced. “No, Master.”
“Despite her actions and both of your spats.”
“Elizabeth?” The Nidoqueen glanced up. “Same question.”
Elizabeth didn’t reply for a while. “Victoria is my harem sister and I-“
“I said I want a very simple answer.”
Elizabeth swallowed. “Yes and no, Master.”
Nicholas sighed. “It’s called a yes or no question, Elizabeth, not a yes and no question.”
“No.” Elizabeth barely whispered.
“Then stop fucking treating her like one!” Nicholas roared.
“I know! Victoria already got her tongue lashing. Now you’re getting yours.” Nicholas retorted. “I am sick and tired of watching my pokegirls fight each other for no reason! You are supposed to be a team, so act like it!” He turned. “Ashley!”
The Pidgeotto jumped. “Yes Master?”
“You’re doing better about it but I had to tell you these exact same things back in Cerulean. I’m tired of it. All of you claim that you get along, so why do you keep fighting? Not training, not being competitive - I know what that looks like. You all keep fighting with each other.”
Ashley didn’t respond since Dahlia had caught her attention and so Victoria spoke. “Because I selfishly wanted to be better than Elizabeth.”
Silence fell as her words echoed. Nicholas nodded slightly. “Can you explain what you mean by that, Victoria?”
“I wanted to be better than her, not because it would make me stronger, but because it would mean she lost to me.” Victoria replied. “Our friendly competition became a fight. Instead of working with each other we worked to tear each other down.”
“That’s... what happened between me and Elizabeth as well.” Ashley slowly agreed. “It was all fun and games until... it wasn’t.”
“I’ve noticed it’s not like that anymore.”
“No, I thought about it and realized what had happened. So, I apologized. And have tried to be her friend first and rival second.”
Cassidy and Galina were watching with undisguised interest when Victoria looked towards Elizabeth. “Liz- Elizabeth, I started this. I set a bad example back in Cerulean and it was a mistake.” She bowed her head. “I’m sorry.”
Elizabeth didn’t respond, her eyes distant. It took Nicholas calling for her for her to look up. “Huh?”
“Is there anything you have to say in response?”
Elizabeth looked over at Victoria. “I… I wasn’t aware that we had gotten to that point.”
“I started it.” Victoria repeated. “I don’t blame you for not knowing, you were just responding to what I was doing.”
“Elizabeth.” Nicholas called softly. “Was the relationship you and Victoria had… and you and Ashley… was that what you had, well… before?”
Elizabeth’s shoulders shook. “Y-yes.”
“Ah.” Nicholas uneasily rubbed his arm. “So you had no idea anything might be wrong. It’s… all you’ve known.”
Victoria watched in shock when tears began to spring to Elizabeth’s eyes. “Y-y-yes.”
“Hm.” Nicholas decided to take a chance. “In that other harem, I assume your master decided you were too weak for him, and your Alpha didn’t stand up to him.”
“Why would she have?” Elizabeth replied miserably. “I wasn’t worth making him angry.”
Nicholas sighed in relief when Dahlia jumped in. She’d understood what he was going for. “Elizabeth, that’s ridiculous!”
Elizabeth raised her tear-streaked eyes to the Ivysaur. “What do you care? It’s the same thing here.” She waved in Nicholas’ general direction. “I know Master Nicholas isn’t like that, but we don’t even have an Alpha. I thought I could become his, to keep myself here, but he doesn’t want me there! HE DOESN’T WANT ME!”
Nicholas winced but Dahlia reached out to grab Elizabeth’s hand in a firm grip. “Elizabeth. Haven’t you stopped to think that maybe, because there was no Alpha, we all acted as the best we could be? If he had tried to make a decision that hurt one of us, the rest would have spoken up! Even when there is an Alpha, that won’t change.”
“Words are cheap.” Elizabeth replied bitterly. “None of you can promise that. I bet I’m the only one who can release herself from her pokeball.” She glanced at Nicholas. “And you were so interested in that, weren’t you.”
“You’re right. I don’t know how to do that.” Dahlia replied. “But I can learn.”
“He won’t want you to.”
“I’d love it if you could teach everyone how you do it.” Nicholas countered.
Elizabeth snorted. “Sure.”
“I’m serious. Teach Dahlia first.”
Elizabeth looked around at the watching harem. “Why her?”
“Because he’s asked me to be our Alpha, Elizabeth.” Dahlia replied. “If you teach me how to release myself, there will never be a situation where I can’t stand up for you.”
Elizabeth stared numbly at her. “He- He chose you?”
Elizabeth glanced between Nicholas and Dahlia. “Dahlia is… my Alpha?”
“Not Ashley. Not You. Not Victoria, or Cassidy, or Galina. Me.” Dahlia replied softly. “He made the decision yesterday.”
“I’m not the Alpha.” Elizabeth almost cried. “But that means-“
“That you’ll never be thrown aside.” Dahlia interrupted. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“I was wondering if you were a problem.” Nicholas offered. “And-“
“And I told you that you were a moron for considering it.” Dahlia shot back. “Now shut up, you’re not helping.”
Nicholas quickly raised his hands and took a few steps back.
Elizabeth sniffed. “You told him that?”
“I just did it again.” Dahlia pointed out. “I’m not lying to you, Elizabeth. Please, won’t you teach me the pokeball thing so that I can always be there for you?”
Elizabeth slowly nodded. “Yea. Yea, I’ll show you.” She sniffed again. “Th-thank you… Thank you, Alpha.”
Dahlia smiled at her. “To be honest, I was expecting you to try to fight me when you found out.”
“Erm… I guess I get why you’d think that.” Elizabeth bowed her head. “I’m sorry, Victoria. Ashley, Dahlia, all of you. I never tried to change what I was doing.”
“Can, um, can I talk now?” Nicholas asked.
Dahlia rolled her eyes and beckoned him over. “Yea, Master.”
“Hey, shoo.” Nicholas chuckled, waving Dahlia away. “Elizabeth, it kind of sucks that you’re so big.” Before she could react he tenderly kissed her mouth. “I can’t sweep you in my arms and promise you that everything will be alright.”
Elizabeth’s eyes filled with fresh tears. “I’m so sorry, Master.”
“You may never fully trust me. I understand that.” Nicholas said. “But I’ll keep proving myself to you, Elizabeth. Every single day I will work my hardest to prove to you that I’m the kind of tamer I claim to be.”
He yelped when she lifted him into her arms. “Thank you.” She rested her forehead against his. “I know it seems stupid and irrational but-“
“You’ve got all of us.” Dahlia said as she stepped back next to the pair. “Right, girls?”
“Yea!” Came the chorus and Elizabeth looked around to see the rest of the harem surrounding them.
“Th-thanks, everyone.” She mumbled.
“If you don’t want to put me down, you can carry me to the gym.” Nicholas teased.
Elizabeth made a face and dropped him. “No thanks, Master.”
Nicholas laughed, scrambling to his feet and dusting himself off. “Ashley, Cassidy, you’re our anchors for this one. It’s probably going to be really tough since we haven’t done much real training since Surge’s battle.”
The two nodded in unison.
“Right. Elizabeth, Dahlia, you want to talk about the pokeball thing, and then we’ll get going?”
“It’s not that simple.” Elizabeth hesitated. “It can wait, Master. If you want to challenge the gym today, we should do that.”
Nicholas shook his head. “I appreciate that, but no. This is more important.”
“We won’t be fighting right away.” Dahlia said. “How about you show me while Ashley and Cassidy are battling?”
Elizabeth nodded. “Alright.”
“Here’s your pokeball.” Nicholas tossed the ball to Dahlia. “And to the gym!”
Laughter followed them through the streets until they were walking down a beautiful maintained grassy path. “Right, that’s it.” Nicholas nodded at a large building ahead. “Dahlia, Elizabeth, I’ll come get you before the final battle, alright?”
“Sounds good, master.” Dahlia replied. “Right, Elizabeth, so how do we do this…?”
Nicholas stepped into the gym and look around. Strangely, the hype man wasn’t anywhere to be seen. “Hello?”
Silence greeted his call. He exchanged glances with a few of the girls before stepping forwards. “That’s strange… HELLO! I’D LIKE TO CHALLENGE THE GYM!”
There was some noise from nearby and Nicholas turned. “Alright, there’s-“
He cursed when a door burst open and uniformed people poured out, two, four, he counted ten Rocket uniforms before the group crashed into him. It was all he could do to keep hold of his gear as he was thrown aside by the mob.
“MASTER!” Victoria roared and the crowd scattered around her when she charged to his aid. “It’s-!”
“GO BOYS, GO!” Someone yelled and the mob shot through the gym doors, leaving a coughing Nicholas and frantic group of pokegirls in their wake.
“Master, are you alright?” Galina cried, pulling him to his feet. “That was… did they…?”
Nicholas carefully checked his gear. “No, nothing’s missing.” His eyes widened. “Oh no.”
Cassidy was a step ahead of him and she dove through the doors, casting her gaze back to where they had just left Elizabeth and Dahlia. “Master!”
Nicholas pushed outside and cursed. Elizabeth was forcing herself back to her feet as they ran up.
“Elizabeth! Are you alright? What happened?” Nicholas’ blood ran cold when he didn’t see Dahlia. “Where- where’s-“
Elizabeth moaned, clutching at where blood ran down her face. “What… what hit me…”
“Dahlia, WHERE’S DAHLIA!” Nicholas screamed, almost shaking the recovering Nidoqueen.
“I was showing her how to escape…” Elizabeth woozily replied, her hand clutching at air. “Her pokeball…”
“They went this way!” Nicholas turned to see a large group of humans and pokegirls burst from the gym, led by a middle-aged woman in a flowing dress. “You there, did you see a group of Team Rocket members exit my gym?”
Nicholas ignored the woman. “Elizabeth, please. You were helping Dahlia escape her pokeball. Was she in her pokeball?”
“Where is she.” Nicholas moaned. “Please, Elizabeth, tell me you’re lying on her pokeball or something.”
Elizabeth’s hand curled around an imaginary object. “I was… holding it…”
Nicholas released her and slumped back, tears forming in his eyes. “No. No, this isn’t happening.”
Cassidy took a firm hold of Elizabeth’s head and concentrated. “She has a concussion, Master. She needs healing.” She gently read the Nidoqueen’s memories. “She can’t remember what happened to Dahlia’s pokeball. Is it nearby?”
By this time the group had run up and Nicholas started casting around. “It has to be… It has to be…”
“Tamer. Did you see them or not?” The woman repeated.
“Of course I saw them and now MY IVYSAUR IS MISSING!” Nicholas roared, whirling to the woman and shooting to his feet. “SO SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LET ME SEARCH FOR HER!”
The woman returned his desperate gaze coolly with one of her own. “And so is one of mine, along with a dozen of my assistants’ girls. If they’ve come this way, we’ll find them.”
Nicholas watched her begin to rapidly talk at someone on a pokedex. This wasn’t real. The world kept moving around him but it couldn’t be real. It was a dream. All a dream.
Ashley got up from her search. “It’s not here, Master. I’ll-“ she stopped when she saw Nicholas fall to his knees. “Master?”
When he still didn’t respond she gritted her teeth. “Master, I’ll find her. I promise you, I’ll find her!”
“Ashley, wait!” Cassidy cried, but the Pidgeotto had already taken to the sky. “Master, please, snap out of it!”
“Dahlia.” Nicholas mumbled.
“Snap out of it!” Cassidy snarled.
Nicholas jerked and brought his eyes around to the watching pokegirls. “Wuh?”
“They haven’t gotten far.” Cassidy explained. “We need to chase them. Come on, Master, let’s go!”
Nicholas grabbed her shoulder when he felt his body begin to tremble uncontrollably. “Cassidy, help me.” His eyes pleaded with her. “Help me!”
Cassidy brought her hand to rest gently on his cheek. “You don’t need me to help you, Master.” She whispered. “You already know what you need to do.”
Nicholas’s breathing slowed as the two stared at each other. A few seconds later he nodded.
“I just notified the police. They’re not getting out of the city.” Erika explained as she put her pokedex away. “You there, tamer. What’s your name?”
“Nicholas, I want to catch those thieves just as much as you do. Let’s go.”
Nicholas nodded and got to his feet. “Ashley, get in the-“ he stopped when he didn’t see the Pidgeotto. “Oh no, Ash-!”
“She’s already there.” Victoria interrupted. “While you were panicking she took off.”
Nicholas took a deep, shaky breath. “Okay.” He recalled Elizabeth. “Okay. She’s hurt, Ashley is in the air. Galina. Are you okay?”
A smoldering rage was hidden in the Marowak’s eyes when she responded. “They won’t take my sister too. I won’t let them.”
“Okay.” Nicholas turned to Erika. “If they can’t get out of the city, I know where they’ll go.”
Erika looked surprised. “You do?”
“Obviously. The Rocket Casino.”
Erika slowly nodded. “I’ve long suspected that to be one of their hideouts, especially since every ‘investigation’ into it mysteriously gets abandoned. Unfortunately, I’m not the police. I can’t force entry and even if I could, I doubt they’d air their dirty secrets in the open.” She sighed. “I’ve been there numerous times. There’s nothing advertising that they’re owned by Team Rocket – well, except for the name.”
“And I’m not a league official.” Nicholas replied.
Erika gazed at him. “And I am, with a duty to protect the law, even though I’m not an officer of it. You can’t legally force entry any more than I can.”
“Who said anything about forcing entry?” Nicholas asked. “It’s open. I’m walking in there.”
“Tamer-“ Erika sighed when he ran off. “Ali, Mary, come with me.”
Erika caught up to Nicholas near the casino. The man was talking to an avian pokegirl and when she got closer he turned to her. “Ashley saw black uniforms going into the casino a few minutes ago. I’m not going to do anything blatantly illegal, so don’t try to stop me.”
Erika shrugged. “Like you said. The casino is open to the public.”
Nicholas nodded and headed for the doors. As he shoved them open movement caught his eye and he quickly ran down one of the rows of slots.
The grunt glanced back before moving faster, weaving past the machines until he hit the back wall.
“I said stop!” Nicholas yelled, coming to a halt. “What’s wrong, bud? Get separated from your mob?”
The grunt was breathing heavily but he did his best to look innocent. “What are you talking about? Hey, don’t come any closer – I’ll yell for security. You’re assaulting me.”
“That’s fine. I don’t need to get any closer to you.” Nicholas replied with deceptive friendliness. “Just tell me where the others ran off to.”
“Again, no idea what you’re talking about.” The grunt replied, easing his back to the wall. “I’m just going to stand here. You get any closer, I’m calling security.”
Erika rested her hand on Nicholas’s shoulder. “Wearing that uniform isn’t a crime.”
“This guy was part of the group that stole the pokegirls!”
“I think so too.” Erika replied. “But we have no proof, and even if we did, as I’ve already said I am not a police officer. We’ll get them, search the casino.”
“That will take too long.” Nicholas growled. “By the time the police decide to listen Dahlia could be anywhere.”
“She’s not getting out of the city.” Erika replied. “She’s here. In this building.”
“All the more reason that I have to find her. Now.” Nicholas snarled.
Erika closed her eyes with a sigh. “I’m going to go ask at the counter. See how much plays are.”
Nicholas was dumbfounded when she began to walk away. “What are you doing?”
“Hi, can I ask about play tokens?” He heard Erika ask when she came to a halt in front of the nearby counter. “Yea, pricing and all that…”
Nicholas understood when he saw one of the gym assistants drift in Erika’s direction, parking herself to better block the counter’s view of the grunt. The man was smirking when Nicholas turned back to him. “You should join her. Play some rounds. Relax.”
“You’re going to tell me where my pokegirl is.” Nicholas replied quietly. “And if you don’t…”
“If I don’t what.” The grunt gloated. “You attack me, you’re going to jail, bud.”
“I doubt that.” Nicholas snarled, lunging forwards.
The grunt yelped and threw his hands up to block Nicholas’ fist, pausing when he didn’t feel anything. “Help! He’s-“
“Shut up.” Nicholas grabbed the edge of the poster the grunt had been pressed up against. “Thanks for jumping out of the way.”
The man popped his eyes open with a gasp. “Hey! You can’t-“
“You seemed to reeeeeally carefully block this with your body when I cornered you.” Nicholas explained as he ripped the poster down. “I wonder why.”
The grunt tried to scramble back into position to hide the keypad. “Hey! No!” He cursed and pulled out a pokeball. “You stupid fucking-“
“HELP! I’M BEING ATTACKED!” Nicholas screamed as a pokegirl materialized. “Victoria, protect me!”
Victoria laughed as she finally realized how the two humans had tricked the Team Rocket grunt. “With pleasure, Master.”
“Wait, I’m the one…” The man trailed off when he noticed his witnesses had been blocked off. “Oh, shit.”
Victoria threw his Rattata away and towered over the nervous grunt. “Oh, shit.” She agreed.
“Attacking me with a pokegirl.” Nicholas said conversationally. “That’s a pretty serious crime there, bud.”
“You’ve got no case.” The grunt replied, but his voice was shaky. “You’re still threatening me and-“
“Oh, give it a rest.” Nicholas sighed. “Hey, I wonder what this does?”
The grunt swallowed when Nicholas moved to the keypad. “I’ve never seen that before in my life.”
“Sure you haven’t.” Nicholas gazed at the screen. “How interesting. It’s not even locked.”
The grunt gulped when Nicholas hit a button and a nearby door clicked open. “That’s probably an employee area…”
Nicholas glanced at the door. “I don’t see any signs. Must be part of the casino.” He started towards the door but paused and looked at the grunt. “Sucks you got separated, but you decided to go get an early dinner to calm down. Isn’t that right?”
The grunt slowly nodded, edging away from Victoria. “Y-yea. I never even came back to the casino.”
“See? I knew we’d come to an agreement.”
The remaining assistant shook her head in bemusement when the grunt fled. “I knew Team Rocket attracts the idiots, but that boy was something else.”
“What’s going on over here?” Erika asked, walking up with the other assistant in tow. “I heard shouting.”
“Nothing happened and nobody is here.” Nicholas breezed. “I found this cool door, though. Looks like it goes to another part of the casino.”
Erika frowned. “You can’t trespass…”
“No signs denying entry.” Nicholas pointed out. “I’m just going to take a look.”
Erika nodded slightly. “Would you like any help exploring?”
“You’re a gym leader.” Nicholas was turning to his harem. “And Gary seemed to think highly of you, so I’d rather not see you get mixed up in this.”
Erika looked surprised. “Gary? Gary Oak, the Champion? You know him?”
“Somewhat.” Nicholas replied.
“Then… be safe.” Erika said. “You came to my gym for a reason, right? I’d hate to miss out on your challenge.”
Nicholas paused to let his harem take the lead. “I’ve faced Team Rocket three times. The first, we escaped. The second, they escaped.” He gritted his teeth. “The third, they didn’t escape. I look forward to seeing how the fourth time goes.”
Erika watched him disappear down the stairway. “Ali, get the police. Mary, you and I are watching this place. I don’t want a single person escaping without us knowing about it.”
Pewter City – Boulder Badge
Cerulean City – Cascade Badge
Vermilion City – Thunder Badge
Dahlia, Ivysaur – Level 26 (Alpha)
Ashley, Pidgeotto – Level 24
Elizabeth, Nidoqueen – Level 25
Victoria, Gyarados – Level 26
Cassidy, Kadabra – Level 26
Galina, Marowak – Level 28
Pewter City – Boulder Badge
Cerulean City – Cascade Badge
Vermilion City – Thunder Badge
Vanessa, Wartortle – Level 29
Petunia, Raticate – Level 25
Hannah, Mankey – Level 26
Riana, Sandslash – Level 25
Madeline, Spearow – Level 18