Chapter 18: Interlude - Son of Stone
Hey everyone, welcome back! Sorry for the deadline update, I’ve been spendingsome time this month going back and doing some significant edits to chapterone, which has not been updated to reflect them yet. I’ll be sure to let youknow when it’s finished, for those of you interested in going back and readinga (hopefully) spruced up and more compelling first chapter!
Additionally, this one was going to be longer, but I decided to cut a portionof it near the end for not being up to my standards. Hopefully I’ll have timeto work at it soon and maybe edit it back in: it’s nothing immediately plotrelevant, so isn’t important for the immediate future, and again, I’ll be sureto inform in a later update if I get around to adding it in.
As usual, I’ll go through this one multiple times for minor edits and tweaksat various points tomorrow and the day after, so all feedback welcome, eitherhere or in the /r/rational post! Enjoy!
When the gods came upon the earth, it was a single, massive lump of solidstone, floating through the Great Dark. So Brock’s great-grandmother taughthim as a child, practicing his basic sums as she knitted a sweater withmesmerizing fluidity. Iron and tin, gold and silver, granite and obsidian, allthe metals and minerals blended and fused into one cosmic body. The gods hadargued over how they might shape this world, and were still not decided whenthey reached it. Kagu-tsuchi wished to scoop out the earth’s insides like anegg, and fill it with magma until it became a sun. Watatsumi wished to poundrain upon it until the stone eroded and pitted, and craters formed for lakesand oceans that would cover its surface. Every god and goddess had their ownpreference for what the world should be, and what manner of creatures theywould fill it with.
Soon the argument became more than words, and each god began to form it asthey wished. Fire filled its core until the whole planet glowed, until waterfell on the surface and cooled it before it burst. Lightning blasted the stoneinto soil, and plants grew and sucked up the water before it washed it allaway. It was a time of endless destruction and strife, and the gods were sobusy trying to dominate each other that a hundred thousand years passedwithout a single creature they created surviving past a generation.
It was the god and goddess Haniyasu-Hiko and Haniyasu-Hime that decided tofashion creatures that could live even in such endless turmoil. Though thefire filled its belly, still the stone was there. Though the lightning blastedpits in it, still the stone was there. Though the waves and rain pounded it tosand, still the stone was there. Though the greedy roots cracked it, still thestone was there. And so, they made their beings from stone, which weatheredall things, cracked and scorched and pitted and split, but still there.
The rest of the gods’ creatures, crafted from other elements, lived where theycould, but the stone people were capable of surviving in the mostenvironments, and spread the farthest. Eventually the gods exhaustedthemselves into a stalemate, and left to regain their strength on the way toanother world. The various creatures and demigods that they had crafted andleft behind reached a relative peace of their own, and lived in their domains.As generation after generation passed, the people of stone softened and becameflesh and blood. But just as the bones of the earth remained stone, so did thebones of the people, hard and strong enough to stand against the storms of thegods with a straight back.
“That is our legacy, Takeshi,” his great-grandmother told him in her nativetongue, thin hands ceasing their waltz to grip his arm with surprisingstrength. “Stone endures.” Her thumb dug into his skin, not enough to hurt,but so she could feel the bones beneath his flesh. ”Inside you lies thestrength of the very earth itself. Others have forgotten their ancestors, butour people will always be the children of stone.”
Gym Leader Brock, who no one alive still calls Takeshi, sees the forest aroundhim in the green glow of infrared. More than that, he can feel it through thepokemon he rides. Aeosis’s body winds between the trees, but his sides are sowide that they constantly strip the bark clean off the trunks he brushesagainst. Sharp cracks come from all sides as smaller trees and bushes snap andget trampled under the onix’s many segments.
Again and again throughout the forest, trainers stop what they’re doing andlook on as the massive rock snake passes by, almost sixty meters long fromhead to tail. The boulders of its body are the height of a tall man, and fromhis saddle a few segments behind the onix’s head, Brock’s messy brown hairbobs just below the tree branches.
“Leader Brock is here!”
“Brock! Brock and Aeosis!”
“At your side, Gym Leader!”
Brock uses the metal claws at the end of his gloved fingers to tap a quickpattern on one of Aeosis’s neck boulders, and the onix raises its head up androars, a response to the the trainers they passed and a rallying cry to thoseahead.
It took under twenty minutes to rouse and mobilize the Gym and any volunteersfrom Pewter once Brock got the emergency alert from Viridian. Brock was filledwith pride when he stepped outside his gym and saw the size of the crowdwaiting. Nearly twice as many as the last Tier 1 threat, and plenty offamiliar faces.
He wasted no time sending out support teams to different parts of the forestbased on the Ranger requests, only retaining five groups of five to ride withhim toward the biggest fire, where the most help will be needed. A few havepeeled off to assist Rangers they passed, and one from each group formed anescort unit for a group of injured trainers.
By the time Brock can see the glow of the fire above the trees, he’s down tofive groups of three, each trailing his onix to either side on their ownmounts. The others ride a variety of types to be prepared for any situation.Those from his gym tend to favor rock types, but few rock pokemon are fastenough to keep up with an onix anyway.
“Sir, some trainers eight degrees to your left, around what might be a downedtree.” Jarod’s voice murmurs from his earpiece. Brock’s Third is flying abovethe canopy and looking down with thermal imaging goggles. With the receptionout in this part of the forest, the radios are their only way to relayinformation and help navigate. “I think they’re trying to shift it.”
“Got it.” Brock switches frequencies to the others. “Turning left. Watch thetail.” He taps a subtle rhythm to the left of Aeosis’s neck, and the onixforges a new path through the trees, barely caring about foliage density.Brock’s body is high up enough to avoid most of the brambles and bushes thatsurvive his pokemon’s passage, the rest scratching harmlessly at his armoredleggings.
Soon he spots light ahead, blazing in the green tint of his goggles, and hequickly tugs them off until they hang around his neck. Within moments they’reat the downed tree where the the lanterns are hung. The trainers around it arestanding at the ready, their pokemon prepared for a fight. Once they spotBrock on Aeosis’s back, their shock and terror gives way to relief, and one ofthe younger men leans against a tree with a hand over his eyes. “Oh, thankArceus…”
Before Brock can ask what their situation is, one steps forward. “Leader, ourfriends are trapped under-”
Brock’s heart sinks. The trunk is nearly as thick as Aeosis, and anyone caughtunder it would be crushed like a caterpie. But his fingers are already movingin a rapid pattern on Aeosis’s neck. “Stand far back, all of you.” There aresome branches extending from the trunk, and it’s possible the broken onesunder it are holding some weight off…
They withdraw their pokemon and scramble to the sides as Aeosis rears up, thenlowers his gaping maw over the trunk and bites down. Brock grips the handle onhis saddle tight with one hand, then taps again to tell Aeosis to lift.
The tree rises slowly as Aeosis brings his head back up. Brock is lifted tooas the segment he’s seated on rises, bringing him partway into the canopy. Assoon as there’s room, a couple of the trainers begin to crawl under the tree,one holding a lantern. There’s a cry of relief, then dismay, and the othersquickly join them to assist in bringing the bodies out.
By then his Gymmates and volunteers have arrived, and a few get off theirmounts to help. There’s the flash from under the tree of a pokemon beingwithdrawn into their ball, though in what condition Brock doesn’t know. Onceeveryone’s out from under the tree, Brock taps another command, and Aeosisdrops the trunk with a crash, its middle imprinted with the onix’striangular bitemark.
Some of the trainers are weeping over one of the bodies, while others surrounda second, an unconscious girl whose arm was crushed. The grass is dark withblood in some places, and the smell of it fills the air around them.
Brock turns to the only trainer still standing. “What happened here? Did aRaichu bring down the tree?” The woman doesn’t respond, staring in disbeliefat her dead friend.
Brock feels a stab of empathy, then pushes it aside. He unstraps himself fromhis saddle and falls to the grass with a thump that gets her attention. Sheseems to realizes how close she is to the massive onix, grief and shock joinedby sudden fear.
He steps up to her and puts his hand on her shoulder. “What’s your name,trainer?” he asks, putting his will into his tone and grip, the same will thatallowed him to catch and train the largest onix in Kanto.
The woman snaps to attention, eyes alert in a face full of loss. “Aiko, sir.”
“What happened here, Aiko?”
“It was… some breloom, we got caught up in their fight with the ‘chu… one ofthem shot seed bombs out. The trunk was already damaged by other attacks, andthe seeds ripped right through it. Brought the whole thing down… we tried toget out of the way, but… Suki…“ Tears gather in the trainer’s eyes, and sherubs them away with one hand, stifling a sob.
He squeezes her shoulder, gently but firm enough to bring her focus back tohim. “What happened to the breloom? Are they still in the area?”
“Two captured, the rest fled when the tr-tree came down.” She takes a deepbreath, then another. “Same with the ‘chu. We didn’t… we haven’t seen themsince, but they ran that way.” She points, and her hand is steady.
Brock nods and looks at his people. “Gestov, Mark, stay with them and get theinjured to a hospital. Paula, Avanni, see if you can find the breloom and‘chu.”
They confirm, and he turns back to Aiko. Her face is full of loss and pain,but her eyes are clear, her breaths steady. Satisfied, Brock lowers his voice,speaking with quiet confidence. “Thank you, Aiko. I know your heart is heavy,but the others may yet need your strength to survive the night. Can I count onyou to get them through this?”
“I… Yeah. Yeah, I won’t let them down.”
“I know you won’t.” He squeezes her shoulder again, thumb feeling hercollarbone. “You have the strength of stone.”
She bows her head. “Thank you, Leader.”
Brock returns to Aeosis and climbs up its boulder segments until he’s back inthe saddle. From so high up, he projects his voice for all to hear. “Tonighthas taken much from you all, but it’s not yet time to mourn. We don’t know howextensive the rampage is, but the nearest Ranger Outpost has been destroyed,and you can’t stay in the forest. My people will lead you to Pewter, where youwill be safe. Courage, for a little longer! Dawn is coming!”
Most of the trainers are looking at him by the end, brushing tears away orstanding again, heads held high. Brock turns Aeosis toward a clear paththrough the trees, and they swiftly leave the gathering behind, his followerswaiting until the onix’s long body and tail is gone before following.
Once he’s away from the lights, Brock puts his goggles back on, bringing theforest into green tinged sight again. One hand goes to his ear, and heswitches to his Third’s frequency. “Jarod, some breloom may be in the area.Keep an eye out and relay to Paula and Avanni.”
“Yes sir. Be aware, you’re approaching the smoke surrounding the fire. I can’tsee through it.”
“Got it. Stay clear for now.” He switches to general chat. “We’re approachingthe fire. Groups four and five, spread out and circle around to lend supportto the Rangers at different points. Groups two and three, disperse and checkfor distress signals to assist trainers wherever you find them. Without asteady signal to update them some might be obsolete, but keep looking.” Brockbarely ducks in time to avoid a branch that sweeps just over Aeosis’s horn.“Group one, with me.”
A few moments later he sees the smoke, lit by scattered lanterns and the fireat its heart, and then they’re plunging into it. He guides Aeosis with taps ofhis fingers, a few on the side to turn him toward the denser smoke, andanother quick pattern on his back to slow him down. The smoke makes hisinfrared goggles worse than useless, and he takes them off so he can see bythe distant, diffused glow of the fire. As they get closer to the center ofit, the light grows, as does the heat in the air.
Within a minute though, Aeosis begins showing signs of distraction, swinginghis head around and growling. Brock looks around in the smoke for what mightbe upsetting his pokemon. Onix are used to navigating in the pitch blacknessof mountains and deep within the earth, but maybe the ethereal lights and thethick smoke are making him twitchy.
Aeosis suddenly slows to a stop, and there’s a sharp crack as his pokemon’shead swings around, the horn on his forehead messily splintering a branch intopieces. Brock feels bits of wood rain down on him, and the stoney skin beneathhis saddle vibrates with the onix’s growl as it peers into the smoke to theirside. He taps a pattern along its skin, frowning. “Aeosis, calm. Forward.”
The onix’s agitation fades slightly and they travel deeper into the smoke, butbefore long Aeosis becomes unruly again. Brock begins to worry at hisbehavior. Combined with the low visibility around them, he’s not sure they canavoid crushing someone in their path, and soon he taps the command to stop.
“Something’s got Aeosis riled,” he tells the others through the radio as heunbuckles and leaps to the grass. “I’m dismounting.” Aeosis rears up once he’sclear, head snapping more branches and making them fall in a series of crashesthat are almost lost in the onix’s roar.
“Aeosis, down!” Brock yells once the sound fades, ears ringing. He looksaround, but can’t spot any threat that his pokemon might be responding to. Hereaches forward and taps the command against its body, but the onix doesn’theed either.
The Gym Leader quickly grabs the nearest boulder segment of its body andbegins climbing, fingers gripping the edges to pull himself up and up, pasthis saddle.
Aeosis sways and turns a bit, an automatic reaction rather than an attempt toshake Brock off. He holds on tight until Aeosis is steady again, then reachesup to the last few boulders so he can grip the horn on its head. He braces hisfeet against the onix’s right jaw so he can look it in the eye closest to him.
The onix’s head is a bit bigger than he is, its eyes each the size of hisfist. The smoke makes it too hard to see the shape and size of his pokemon’spupil, and Brock has to go by other cues to judge his pokemon’s mood.
“Aeosis! Down!” He taps out the command on the rocky skin of his pokemon’shead as he says it, staring into the onix’s right eye as best he can throughthe thick smoke.
Its jaw opens, and Brock kicks off, gloved fingers carefully gripping theblunt side of Aeosis’s horn. The jaws snap on empty air, and then Brock isswinging back, heels slamming into his onix just beneath its jaw.
Brock hangs on tight as his pokemon rears back, more in surprise than anypain. Before it can try anything again, he pulls himself up past its mouthuntil he can crouch on its snout, staring into its eyes from an inch away.“Aeosis! Down!”
Brock is distantly aware that his remaining gym members have arrived, fanningout in a loose circle as they watch. They know better than to interfere, butif Aeosis begins to rampage…
His pokemon shakes its head to the side. Not hard, barely a fraction of itsfull strength… but a fraction of its full strength is still enough to topple abuilding. Brock is whipped around its horn, the rough edges scraping his heavygloves as he holds tight to avoid being flung off. He distantly hears yells ofalarm from the others as the wind whistles in his ears.
He lands with another doubled kick on its jaw, pain jolting up his legs andpelvis, shoulders and wrists aching. “Stay back, everyone!”
Aeosis growls, eyes rolling to Brock’s new position on his left side. Brock’shand goes to the heavyball at his belt. He could return Aeosis, get him undercontrol where it’s safer… but that would have to be after tonight, since itwould be impossible to find a space big enough to release him within theforest.
Worse than that, it would prove that he’s incapable of controlling his ownpokemon.
His hand goes past the ball and unzips his pocket, then pulls out some smallquartz shards. He presses them against the pokemon’s lips, letting its tastebuds there feel the crystals. Aeosis makes a sound of hunger, and Brock whipshis hand away just as his pokemon opens his mouth and snaps at the air.
A drop of sweat rolls down Brock’s neck, easily attributed to the diffuse heatof the nearby fire. “No, Aeosis. Our people need us, and you will listen tome, now! Down, Aeosis, down!”
The only sound is the rapid beat of Brock’s heart as his pokemon shifts itshead from side to side… then lowers itself to the grass, laying out flat witha crash that nearly dislodges him.
He holds on for another few seconds, and then slowly steps down, ignoring thepain in his legs, merely glad that they’re still steady. He brushes the quartzagainst its lips again. “Good, Aeosis. Very good.” His pokemon opens itsmouth, and he throws the crystals into its maw for it to crunch and swallow.Aeosis makes a contented sound from deep inside the long caverns of its body.
Brock strokes the ridges above its eyes until it closes its lids insatisfaction. Only then does his Second approach, dismounted from her dodrio.“What happened?” Sharzad asks.
“I’m not sure.” Brock looks around in the thick smoke again, where the othergym trainers have formed a loose semicircle. “Everyone, scout out in pairs,and stay alert!” They begin to move in expanding loops, disappearing betweenthe trees as they explore outward.
Sharzad approaches and strokes Aeosis’s other eyeridge, long black hair tiedback in a heavy braid. “What is it boy? What got you so spooked?”
Brock smiles as his onix responds positively to her touch, some of his tensionfading. That had been far too close for comfort. Luckily Aeosis seems finenow.
Despite how responsive Aeosis often is, it would be a mistake to treat himlike any other pokemon. No matter how much they trained, the onix’stemperament remains wildly unpredictable at times, and with so much power eventhe slightest mistake can be disastrous. The thought of what Aeosis would doif he ever went on a true rampage has kept Brock up many nights, and compelledhim to spend more hours training the onix than the rest of his pokemoncombined.
A year before, Brock fought a fully grown tyranitar that came down from MountSilver. Four stories tall, each of its feet the size of a car, able to topplea building with a sweep of its tail. He commanded Aeosis to wrap around it,hoping to bind it into submission for long enough for help to arrive. Butafter a few seconds of grinding, there was a massive crack, and thetyranitar’s struggles ceased. Brock stared in shock as his onix began feastingon its the broken granite skin of its opponent, the enormity of the power hehad harnessed truly registering for the first time.
Ever since Brock captured the legend of Mount Moon two years ago, he becamesomething of a mythical figure in Pewter. It helped him expand the gym’s powerand influence, but many of the residents began treating him with a deferencethat bordered on worship, and was distinctly uncomfortable. A number of thecity’s citizens, especially the older ones, viewed Aeosis as a god, theprogenitor of his race. Brock tried to convince others to work with the onix,but most were too afraid or reverent to attempt it.
As he told anyone who would listen, such talk was foolishness. A god would notbe captured and tamed like any other monster, however perilous it had been toaccomplish. Like the storm birds, they would be forces of nature beyond humancontrol.
In private though, he can occasionally admit how that might describe Aeosisafter all. Sharzad was the only one besides Brock willing and able to trainthe onix. She explained that in her home country, the onix grew nearly as bigmore regularly than in Kanto, though she admitted to never seeing one quitehis size. It gives Brock a measure of peace to know that if something happensto him, Aeosis would be in good hands.
“He’s probably just unused to the smoke,” she says after a moment, reachinginto the pouch at her waist and feeding Aeosis a small amethyst. “Maybe if hewent underground he would feel more comfortable?”
Brock rubs his chin. “Maybe. He could submerge just enough that I could stillride him, if we’re careful. But it would heavily damage the tree roots, and-”
Brock’s hand goes to his ear piece. “Go ahead Wallace.”
“We found two trainers, dead. They were absorbed almost to the bone, whichshow deep cuts.”
Brock relays the info out loud, and Sharzad swears under her breath, hand ather belt. “If we assume what absorbed them is also what cut them down to thebone, nuzleaf or shiftry come to mind.”
“And shiftry would be virtually invisible in the smoke.” Brock switches togeneral chat. “High alert to all points! There may be camouflaged shiftryaround us.” He switches to group one’s frequency. “Regroup everyone. With anyluck Aeosis scared away any that were near, but don’t take any chances.”
“Return!” Sharzad’s dodrio disappears in a flash of light, her hands moving ina blur. “Go, Skydart!” Her huge fearow bursts into existence mid air, and shecatches its ball with one hand as her other points outward, spinning in a slowcircle. “Gust!”
The fearow caws and tips into an angled spin, flapping wings barely able tofit in the limited clearing Aeosis created above them. The gusts of air sendthe smoke billowing outward in every direction, and the shiftry are suddenlythere like a magician’s trick.
Brock counts five of them standing well away from Aeosis, and when he turns tolook look back the way they’d come he sees another dozen approaching the manysegments of the onix’s body, possibly more hidden in the smoke farther back.They must have been following them for awhile, more and more drawn to gatherfor a feast.
The ground practically quakes with Aeosis’s growl, but he doesn’t lose controlagain, glaring at the plant monsters with dilated pupils. Brock and Sharzadexchange a look, and then she holds both arms up and yells “Fly!”
Her fearow swoops down and grabs her arms in his talons, lifting her off witha few beats of his powerful wings. Brock leaps up onto Aeosis’s saddle andstraps himself in with one hand as the other goes to his earpiece. “Everyone,use wind to push away the smoke,” he says in general chat. Smart enough foran ambush. Probably even smart enough to recognize a type advantage. “Aeosis,Bide.”
His onix immediately surges around into a coil, Brock holding tight as theywhip around and around over Aeosis’s lower body with the grinding sound ofstone on stone. Within moments, the pokemon’s entire length is wrapped in anascending circle, with Brock riding the boulder near his neck at the top, wellabove the bulk of the onix’s body. Aeosis continues to churn slowly in place,letting them watch all sides.
If the shiftry were distracted by the sudden movement, they get over itquickly. Some bound forward, sharp leaves extended, while others stay back andbegin to spit seeds out. They crack against Aeosis’s sides without leaving amark, but moss and roots swiftly grow where they struck, spreading their waybetween the boulders as the forward shiftry slash and hack at him, their sharpleaves tearing against his rocky skin and leaving behind lines of acid thatetch into the stone of his hide.
Aeosis’s body vibrates as he growls, but Brock taps out his custom commandagain. _Bide, just a little longer… _Shiftry are some of the most subtle andcunning pokemon around. If Aeosis just rushed at them, they would use theirspeed and agility to keep their distance, harry his sides and rear with quickstrikes. It might take hours, but eventually they would whittle the titaniconix down.
More and more of the shiftry close in, covering Aeosis’s outer coils with acidscars and roots. Brock keeps his body low and slides his arms into strapsalong the saddle to avoid any seed that might shoot higher, and to be preparedfor what comes next. He watches one of the shiftry in the distance finishspitting seeds out and leap forward to use its leaf blades.
A mirthless grin peels Brock’s lips back. Smart as the shiftry are, humans aresmarter. And combined with his training and guidance, the prey they trapped isfar too large for them.
Aeosis trembles beneath him and coils himself tighter, almost as if he’strying to shrink into himself, and the shiftry’s attacks grow more frenzied,most of the remainder swooping in for the kill.
_Now. _Brock’s claws tap six times against Aeosis’s skin.
Brock keeps his eyes tightly closed as he’s whipped left and right, body tiedso securely to the saddle that he’s in more danger of throwing up from nauseathan he is of getting flung off. He’s long since grown used to thedisorientation however, and simply holds tight and endures it while his onixunleashes the rage it had built up.
First the tail, swinging out in an unwinding arc that sends shattered shiftrysailing through the air, most already dead before they smash into trees. Thenthe head, darting left and right, rising and falling again and again to chompdown on the plant pokemon that had avoided the tail. In less than ten seconds,over twenty shiftry lie dead and dying, some chomped in half, the rest brokenand battered into pulp.
Brock suddenly tastes eggs, hears a creaky door, feels the chill of the winterwind. A kaleidoscope of colors explode behind his eyelids, and his nose feelsstuffed with cut onions, the acidic fumes melting his brain into jelly as thesensations all shift, then shift again, then overlap in a maddening mix. Hisskin feels both hot and cold in overlapping waves, and his sense of gravitycompletely unhinges so that it feels like he’s clinging to the saddle to avoidfalling into the sky, then feels the pull to his left side, then alldirections at once.
Aeosis makes a sound of confusion, slowing to a stop and writhing spastically.Brock struggles against the whirlwind of sensations and opens his eyes a crackas he bounces up and down. The three shiftry that remain are standing farback, and through his goggles, their eyes glow a brilliant green.
His pokemon suddenly flips himself over, rolling into a tree and collapsingits trunk over his back. The spike on his head keeps his foremost bouldersegments from touching the ground, and ensure that Brock isn’t crushed in hiscarefully located saddle. Brock doesn’t know what sensations his onix is beingoverwhelmed by, but he can feel his own mind scrambling under the assault, andhe grits his teeth as he struggles to stay conscious-
At first his brain interprets the high pitched screech as just anotherhallucination, but then the mental attack abruptly ends. Brock’s whole bodysags, and he opens his eyes again to see Sharzad and Skydart diving at ashiftry. They stop mid-air, and there’s a flash before they fly back up. Theshiftry they dived at is gone.
The others look up and around, but Skydart dives at them from the other sidethis time, and silently. He flaps his wings to stop just above them and hoverfor a couple seconds, displacing the newly gathered smoke. Sharzad hangs onehanded, the other holding a greatball out so that it locks on to one of theshiftry, then tossing it for the capture.
The last one tries to spit seeds out at the fearow, but Sharzad shouts “DrillPeck!” and lets go, rolling along the grass as Skydart dodges the seeds andstrikes, beak piercing straight through the shiftry’s eye and into its brain.
Brock looks away as the shiftry topples to the ground and the bird pokemon’slong, cruel beak darts in and out to feed, stomach queasy enough. Sharzadcollects her great balls and stuffs them in her bag, then goes around to allthe shiftry spread out in a circle around them. A couple more get captured asthey lie bleeding and broken, but the rest are apparently dead.
By the time she approaches, Aeosis and he are mostly recovered, and Brock hasunstrapped himself to feed the onix some more gems. “You two alright?”
“Yeah.” He rubs Aeosis’s eyeridge, then checks his wounds. None are seriousenough to warrant medical attention: the onix’s hide is so tough that theacids had burned themselves out before penetrating far. “Nice timing.”
She smiles. “They’re vulnerable when they link up to do mental attacks. Do youthink there are more around?”
The Gym Leader frowns. “I doubt it.” Shiftry are fairly rare, and while groupsof them ambushing trainers aren’t unheard of, it’s strange to see quite somany. “In fact I’m surprised there were even this many in one area. They musthave come from all around…”
The others have begun to arrive, staring around at all the dead shiftry andmurmuring in surprise and alarm. Wallace approaches Brock, holding a pair ofIDs. “The trainers we found. I marked their coordinates for later.”
“Well done.” He reads their names, Pamela Harris and Derek Watson, committingthem to memory and studying their pictures as best he can in the dim light.Their deaths had warned him and his gymmates of the danger they faced. Theleast he could do is know who they were.
“Everyone else okay?” Sharzad asks, and the others confirm that they hadn’tencountered any trouble. “They must have all been drawn to Aeosis.”
Brock nods and puts the trainer IDs away. “Let’s get going then, before anymore show up.”
The fire is a fearsome thing, burning hungrily for kilometers and constantlythreatening to spread further. The Rangers and trainers have done a good jobwith the firebreak, but even with dozens of them working together, they couldonly expand it outward a bit at a time.
Aeosis almost doubles its size in one lap, then doubled it again in anothertwo.
Brock stands on the onix and holds onto his horn as he tunnels just a bitbeneath the surface, guiding him along the edge of the firebreak by tapping onit. Grass, roots and bushes are no obstacle, and the occasional tree take onlya few minutes to uproot and push aside.
After about an hour, the firebreak stretches far enough to safely contain theit in every direction. Brock returns to Ranger Haru, who thanks him profuselyfor his aid. Most of the other rangers and trainers have begun to disperse,some to rest farther from the heat and smoke, others toward preregistereddistress signals. Brock already sent the remainder of his group along to helpthem, and now that the fire is contained, he begins to search for a trainer orRanger that might recognize the trainer IDs they found.
Someone eventually tells him he saw them with Ranger Malcolm, and when Brocktracks the coordinating Ranger down, his face falls as he takes the IDs.
“Yes, I sent them out,” he says taking his cap off and wiping at the sweat onhis forehead. “Those damn shiftry… we had some others encounter them too.” Hegestures toward three trainers, two boys and a girl, who are helping with somefinal cleanup efforts.
“Really?” Brock eyes the trainers, impressed. There probably hadn’t been asmany as had attacked him, but they all seem fairly young, one of themespecially so. In fact…
The youth looks up from the branch he’s dragging, then snaps to attention. Hehesitates and looks at the other two, who nod at him to go ahead before hejogs over. “Yes, Gym Leader?”
“I thought that was you.”
“You recognized me?”
“Of course. You were with your grandfather last year when he visited Pewter.”
The young Oak nods. “Of course. I forgot.”
Brock smiles. He can’t tell if the boy is implying that he regularly forgetsmeeting Gym Leaders, or if he’s just being modest of recognition he gets forbeing with his grandfather. “I hear you survived an ambush by some shiftry.”
Blue blinks. “Yeah, about an hour ago.”
“How many were there?”
Six more. “This was within the smoke, yes? How did you spot them?” Brocklistens in quiet fascination, then shakes his head. “You got incrediblylucky.”
Blue stiffens a bit, chin rising as his brow draws down. “Yes, Gym Leader.”
“So did I.” Brock grins as Blue’s stormy expression turns to surprise, andexplains what happened with his own encounter. “Did you check the area, see ifthere was anything that caused them to attack you?”
“No, we came back to warn others.”
“Could you find the spot again?”
Blue hesitates. “Maybe. The smoke…”
Brock nods. “Maybe when the sun rises, then. I’ll contact you again.”
Blue bows his head, “Yes, Leader.”
Brock is about to turn away when the boy looks back up, seeming poised to saysomething further. “Yes?”
“You brought help, right? From Pewter?”
“I did. They’re spread out now assisting others.” Brock frowns. “What’swrong?”
“I left some friends to come help with the fire. One was injured. If youwouldn’t mind, could you…”
Brock already has a hand on his earpiece, picking up on the boy’s concern.“Names?”
“Red Verres and Leaf Juniper.”
Brock asks over every frequency if anyone has encountered either, and gets theaffirmative from Julie. “One of my people has your friend, Red, and is takinghim to Pewter. She says the girl stayed behind at your camp.”
For a moment Brock thinks Blue is going to faint in relief, the young boyrocking back as his shoulders sag. He puts a hand out and grips his shoulder.“You alright, son?”
Blue takes a deep breath and nods, standing straighter again. “I’m fine. Ijust… thank you, Leader.”
The new sincerity in his voice makes Brock smile. He squeezes Blue’s shoulder,feeling the strength of his bones before letting go, remembering Aiko. Hisposition often carries with it many burdens, but it’s moments like this thathe feels most deserving of his title. “Thank you, trainer, for yourassistance. Feel free to stop by the Gym, if you’re going to Pewter.”
Blue nods. “After I stop by my camp, my friend and I will head there.”
“Until then, then.”
The boy says goodbye to the other two, then Ranger Malcolm, then heads offinto the forest at an odd hopping jog.
“What will you do now, Leader?” the Ranger asks.
“Head farther south. The Viridian Gym might need help with emergencies closerto their side of the forest.” Especially since Giovanni isn’t usually in hiscity, Brock refrains from saying. It would be uncouth to speak critically ofhow another Gym Leader manages their city. “Yourself?”
Malcolm sighs. “Once this fire dies down, we’ll have to assess how big animpact tonight will have on the ecology, and decide where and when to rebuildour outpost. The initial pikachu and raichu rampage that started this mess isjust the beginning of our worries here. Combined with poachers that will cometo take advantage of the confusion and chaos, a Ranger’s work is never done.”
“So it’s said.” Brock holds out his hand. “On behalf of Pewter, thank you foryour service. If you need anything from my city, please let us know.”
The Ranger takes it. “Thank you, Leader. Your people made a great differencehere, as did your onix. Good hunting.”
Brock nods and heads to Aeosis. He notices that it’s a bit easier to see thanit was, and checks the time. Half past five in the morning. The sun’s rising.
Weariness numbs the edges of Brock’s thoughts, but he ignores it and remounts.“Group One, we’re headed south. Form up.”
There’s a lot of forest to cover, and a Gym Leader’s work is never doneeither.
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