Pierce could tell Fi was irritated. She had been the entire helicopter flight here. He credited the sleep deprivation. Well, that and their disguises. If one could indeed call them that. Judging from the number of puzzled stares they’d gotten so far strolling through Saffron City, his plan had backfired in a big way and Fi, naturally, wasn’t going to let him forget it.
“Remind me again why we have to wear these stupid costumes?” She eyeballed him over a pair of punkish sunglasses that fit rather well with the studded black leather she had tossed on over her uniform. Not the agent trench coat he’d suggested.
Pierce tugged his own coat collar a little tighter around his neck. “To avoid looking suspicious,” he told her again. And again Fi rolled her eyes.
“Sabrina’s a psychic. Pretty sure we’re not going to surprise her.”
“Yes. But that doesn’t mean we need to go announcing ourselves to the entire city. We need to be more tactful. More subtle.” He dropped his voice. “Now will you put those back on?”
Fi grunted, readjusting her glasses to hide her unnatural red eyes and muttered, “Subtle. Right. This coming from the guy who drove a truck off a bridge and soared away with a jetpack.”
“Humph,” replied Pierce. Okay, so maybe he’d concede on that one point… but he wasn’t about to admit it.
When they arrived at the Saffron Gym, they were greeted just inside the foyer. Not by Sabrina. The renowned psychic could probably predict their arrival to the second, but it seemed such powers kept her far too busy to answer her own door.
Instead, they were waved in by a scruffy-haired young man in white coat and mask who looked more like a mental patient than a professional psychic. Considering some of the rumors he’d heard about Sabrina herself over the years, Pierce wasn’t entirely surprised. “We’re here to see Sabrina. I believe you’ll find she’s expecting us,” he informed.
The man snorted and mumbled something along the lines of, “You ish to shala ange the greof mabrina?” into his mask.
Pierce exchanged a glance with Fi. “You have extra-sensitive hearing. Did you catch any of that?”
Fi scratched her cheek with a gloved hand, a mischievous smirk crossing her face. “Something about becoming a pretty ballerina?”
The man’s face went crimson and he garbled again, louder this time.
“Oh!” Fi exclaimed, moving her hand into her palm. “You wet yourself in the arena.”
The man yanked off his mask, stomping in fury. “NO! NO! I said you wish to challenge the great Sabrina?” He all but shouted the last part, which was unfortunate for him as Sabrina chose that exact moment to teleport in directly behind him.
“For the last time, Florance, will you please stop referring to me as ‘the great Sabrina,'” scolded the gym leader, rubbing her temples.
Now Florance looked like he might wet himself for real.
“Great Sabrina! I… er, that is… I was only–”
“Some tea. For our guests.”
“Yes. Tea. Of course, great one. I mean, Miss Sabrina. Ma’am.” He took off running, colliding with a fellow student and causing the box of spoons he was carrying to go crashing to the floor.
A small sweatdrop appeared on Pierce’s head as Fi snickered aloud. “And here I thought we were scraping for lackies.”
Sabrina cracked the barest of smiles. “You must be Fi.”
“Oh?” Fi dipped her sunglasses low giving Sabrina a long look with no shortage of sarcasm. “How ever could you tell?”
The gym leader’s smile didn’t break. “Well, I am a psychic.”
Pierce groaned. He definitely wasn’t living this one down. He cleared his throat quickly. “More to the point, Sabrina–”
“Your girlfriend needs help controlling her newly emerged powers. Yes, I’m aware of that, too,” Sabrina interrupted.
Pierce felt his face flood with sudden heat.
Fi’s head whipped around instantly. “His what now?”
“Oh no, we’re not–” Pierce blurted awkwardly as Fi stared at him with arched eyebrows. Where had Sabrina gotten that idea from?
Sabrina turned, held up one finger and made a tsking noise “Psychic. Now, let’s get started, shall we?” Sabrina glanced over her shoulder and narrowed faintly red eyes at Fi. “And yes, you can take off the ‘stupid disguises.'”
“We’ll be working in the Reflection Chamber,” Sabrina was saying as she led them through one creepy, candle-lit hallway after another. “It often helps my students who are having trouble contorling their power.”
“Uh-huh,” said Fi, trying to sound engrossed as she followed. She was concentrating more on keeping her hands busy than listening. Helped settle her nerves, for one. But more importantly, it let Sabrina have a better look at her claws without being overly obvious. Not her usual merger-promotion strategy, it was true. But Sabrina wasn’t a gullible kid like Misty. Sob stories flavored with lies were useless against a psychic. And using blunt force would be downright idiotic. Sabrina definitely wasn’t a pathetic pushover like Diva and Dunce. If Fi was going to complete her mission and convince Sabrina to get a merger, she was going to have to be more creative. Oh, and submit herself to whatever training Sabrina required. There was that, too.
She glanced over her shoulder and found Pierce lagging a few steps behind. He refused to meet her gaze. Still flustered, maybe, after Sabrina called out his little secret that wasn’t really secret. Fi had always known the guy was a sentimental fool. But her boyfriend? That was a stretch. Pierce was loyal to a fault, but that didn’t necessarily mean he loved her like that… did it? Was it even right for him to love her now that she was part Pokémon? And if he was, if he wanted to take their relationship further, what then? Fi had no idea. But this was some intriguing new territory. Territory she intended to explore.
As soon as her mission was over.
Fi set her jaw when they arrived through a pair of ornate doors. For something as fancy-sounding as “reflection chamber,” there wasn’t much to the place. Aside from a marble brazier burning incense at its center, the room was like all the others they’d passed. Marble floor. Candles. Distinct creep factor that made Fi’s neck hair bristle.
“So, what am I supposed to do exactly? Meditate until I have some miraculous realization that the skill I needed was inside me all along or some–?”
No one was there. Pierce and Sabrina were gone. So was the door.
Seriously? Shouldn’t dark types be immune to psychic mind tricks? Obviously something she needed to practice.
“Okay, guess I’m by myself now. Could’ve told me what I’m supposed to do, but fine. Whatever. I’ll just figure it out.”
She paced the perimeter, starting where the door had been. She found no hidden passages. The wall was simply a wall. Like there had never been a door at all. But they had walked in together, so surely she was just not seeing some secret switch or something. Unless had Sabrina teleported her somewhere different? Fi brushed herself off. Then shook out her limbs. Her molecules didn’t feel any more scrambled than usual…
A voice sounded behind her, calling her to attention. “Are you lost?”
She whirled and froze. She was no longer in Sabrina’s gym or even in Kanto. She was back home in Kalos, standing, of all places, outside Professor Sycamore’s lab. He was standing just inside the entrance staring at her like she was some curiosity.
No, I’m not lost, you piece of crap! I’m not even supposed to be here. It’s just a mind trick. She wanted to snap in his face. But when her mouth opened, her voice came out small as a child’s. Was a child’s.
“No, I–” she clutched her arms to her chest, tightening them around the plush Bulbasaur that hadn’t fit in her kiddy backpack. “I’m your daughter. Fiora.” She looked up at the tall man with Lillipup eyes, her chest thrumming with hope just like it had when she was eight. Surely he would take her in this time. Surely he would let her start her Pokémon journey. He had to. He was her father, after all.
Professor Sycamore rubbed a hand uneasily through his messy hair as he exchanged nervous glances with his attractive lady assistant.
“I’m sorry, little girl, there must be some mistake. I don’t have a daughter.” He gave a little laugh like the very idea was ludicrous. Then he smiled a big, warm, completely fake smile. “You run along home now. I’m sure your mother is worried sick.” He shut the door in her face.
Fi clenched her fists, hating when that same swell of disappointment and hurt filled her chest even now.
Don’t be an idiot! It’s just Sabrina playing with your head.
She shook her head, like that might dislodge whatever hold Sabrina had on her.
“Okay Sabrina, you’re starting to piss me off. Now get out of my head or else–”
Or else what? Could she even fight a psychic? Her hackles bristled. No. I am not helpless. She tried to affirm the thought, but was having trouble focusing. Or maybe that was just her eyes going hazy. Something in the air was making them water terribly. Fi rubbed her face with a sleeve and blinked hard.
The pain in her chest congealed into dread. She had moved again. Now she was back in her childhood room. The lavish prison with its plush furniture and suffocating scented candles. Her mother’s effort to beautify all the medical sights and smells. Fi had tried her best to make it hers. She really had. Pokémon posters. Pokémon plushies. Bookshelves loaded with every Pokémon book she could get her hands on. But they were never enough. Nothing she did was ever enough.
“Next year, Fiora.” was her mom’s favorite lie. “You can start your journey next year when you’re stronger.” Of course, Fi knew now that was just a ploy to shut her up. Still, as a kid, it had fooled her for a few years. Until she turned twelve and finally started to wise up. Then, instead of begging to take a journey she knew her mom would never allow, Fi started planning more realistically. Like taking the Pokémon League exam instead. Fi spent the next two years of her life preparing for that stupid test, too. A lot of good that did. To think she’d actually let herself believe her mom would keep her word.
Fi went to the window. Then the door. Both were locked shut, bringing and involuntary swell of panic in her chest.
Another mind trick? Fi went to her dresser mirror, desperate to be sure. Her heart plummeted as a sickly pale face with glass blue eyes stared back. Her claws. Her strength. Her power was gone.
“No!” the cry burst out of her. “No! This isn’t right!”
Beyond the door her mother’s voice answered in her usual cruel calm. “You’ll forgive me someday. I know you will. Someday. Before it’s over.”
She needed to get out. Get away. Now. She brought up a fist. Tried to slam it into the door. But she found her legs giving out instead. Fi fell to the floor with a gasp. Her head fogged with pungent carpet cleaner–and something else. Her chest spasmed as she struggled to breathe. To think. To remember that none of this was real. She had lived this once before, and it was over now. Pierce had helped her escape. Helped her find her new home and her new life. A life she had built for herself. A life no one was ever going to take from her…
She struggled up, spots swimming before her eyes. As they cleared an arena emerged before her–she in the challenger’s box, Ash in the gym leader’s. Beyond them seated in a plush balcony, she recognized Giovanni. He was watching the match with intense interest. Perhaps to reward whichever of them won.
Ash gave her a deranged little smile as he sent out his Pika-Rai chu.
“Well,” he prompted. “What are you waiting for?”
Fi reached for her belt but found it empty. She had no Pokémon. Why? Hadn’t she sworn to become a trainer? Hadn’t she worked hard enough?
Ash just shook his head. “To bad. Guess you lose.”
Lose? Was she seriously going to let herself lose to this little punk?
Muscles shaking with effort, Fi stepped forward from the trainers box into the arena itself. Even if it was foolish, she needed to make the Boss see. Make him understand the lesson her parents had taught her long ago. That blood ties were nothing more than an illusion. That true loyalty wasn’t inherited. It was earned.
“Thunderbolt!” Ash commanded. Pika-Raichu’s cheeks sparked with power.
“Pikachu!” it yelled as electricity flew from it’s body.
The shock wracked through her, bringing her to her knees. Her body spasmed and she leaned over, coughing out blood.
“This can’t… I can’t… lose. Not like this!” Her vision was starting to blur out. Beyond her, Ash’s voice commanded, “Quick attack!”
“Pi-kaa!” shouted Pika-Raichu.
It hit Fi full in the chest, slamming her backwards. She skidded and tumbed along the hard ground until she finally lay still. She clutched at her chest with frail, bony fingers, gasping for breathe as heart struggled to keep beating.
She felt a strange pressure on her hand. Strong fingers curled tight around hers.
“Fight!” a voice sounded, next to her ear and somehow far away at the same time. “Fi! Whatever your seeing, whatever your feeling… it isn’t real! It’s all in your mind! Do you hear me?”
For a moment, the arena rippled around her, and she saw him as she had that first time. When he was still a nervous teenager in a cheesy appraiser disguise trying to steal some trinket from her mother’s collection. Then, in a blink, she was back facing Ash. Back getting her butt kicked by some snot-nosed goodie-goodie who was going to dismantle the only real home she had ever had.
She pushed herself up onto her side with a new reserve of strength. If this was her mind, why was she the one losing? As if she would ever let herself get beaten to the likes of the Boss’s ungrateful spawn? She glared down Ash, her eyes darkening from glass blue to a vengeful blood red.
“Get out of my head!” she snarled. A deep, inhuman sound. She rose to all fours, pale white fur enveloping her skin. Sharp, hooked claws grew from fingers and toes, and a sickle shaped horn from her skull. Absol weapons. Now her weapons, too. But they were not enough. Not nearly.
She drew in deeper, willing her body to change further, beyond her own limits. Beyond her own spliced DNA’s evolution.
She saw Ash take a step back, his mouth open.
“That power…” he murmured.
Fi advanced a step, her Absol body glowing with mega-evolution light. All around her the arena was starting to crumble away. But she wasn’t afraid this time. This time she saw things as they really were. This illusion wasn’t the Viridian City gym, and her opponents weren’t Ash and Pika-Raichu. Absol’s powers. All its wondrous secrets and strengths were hers now.
Before her, as the last of the psychic energy drained from her newly realized dark-type mind, she saw her opponents, Sabrina and Alakazam. Fi let loose a Perish Song howl. Alakazam reeled back, squinting in pain. Beside it, Sabrina slammed her palms over her ears. Then, in a blueish blink, they were gone.