Chapter One: Meetings
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Crumm does not change his mind.
When I wake up the next day, it's not in my own personal room – heck, I'm not even in a bed, let alone in my own bed. I am lying sprawled across something hard and cold, staring up at a low ceiling. There's something I think I should remember – something about a party, something about my friends, but – no, it's gone. I brush it aside; it was likely a mere dream. I see no need for friendship; after all, what use is canon fodder when one is attached to it?
For a moment, I wonder how I got here – wherever here is – but it is with a shudder that I remember the events of that morning. You see, at what I do hope was no earlier than five in the morning, I was dragged out of my safe, warm bed by not Crumm, or even by some dashing young Braviary – just some scruffy young Herdier.
He was large, larger than most Herdier I'd seen, but that would be about all that was out of the ordinary with him. As he grabbed my leg in his mouth and pulled me into the hallway, a golden badge had gleamed in the light, pinned to his collar – almost impressive, if only it hadn't read 'Hall Monitor'. Now, I was expecting to be guarded by someone who had, for instance, made it onto the Elite Four, or was some very honored member of the PRT – but even with my failing vision, I could tell that this youngster was clearly neither of those.
"Wild Charge!" he had shouted, and then we were going far, far too fast, my beak skimming inches from the ground.
"Wh–what are you doing?!?" I cried, outraged at my rough treatment. "Where is my honour guard? I demand to be transported to my destination with some semblance of decorum and dignity! I will lodge a complaint! I will – I'll–!"
But I got no response, unless the sudden lurch that choked my words was a response in itself. We must have gone into a lift of some sort, a very dark lift at that, and then– no, I don't remember anything after that. My guess would be that the idiot dropped me in the lift or something. There is only so much one delicate bird can take, after all!
Shaking my head in disbelief at such a awful chauffeur, I decide to rise and survey my situation. Whatever I am trying to stand on, it is smooth and polished; several times, my talons scrabble for a grip, and I almost slide right off the edge of this–
Yes, despite the fact that the whole thing seems to be made of polished crystal – possibly amethyst, going off the light purple hue – it is a desk. I tuck my legs under myself and sit on it, determined not to break a wing on my first day at a brand new school. It must be my first day, and the school must be brand new, since I am clearly in a classroom of sorts – albeit one far more elegant and pristine than any of those one might find at my own base. Around me are only nine other desks, spaced about the room in two even rows; though each is a different hue to mine, and some are certainly larger than others, each one is as polished as the one I am seated upon. They add some colour to what otherwise might be a rather sterile room – the walls and ceiling are a plain cream colour, and though they do not carry the scent of fresh paint, I can see no marks upon them, no matter how hard I squint. At the far end of the room, there is not a whiteboard nor a teacher's desk, but a screen that takes up most of the wall–space. It, much like the walls, seems to be in perfect condition; even with my failing vision, I can see my own reflection quite clearly.
"It's where we send the ones that aren't cut out for this life - the blind, the deaf, the permanently injured, the mentally unsound."
Crumm's words ring in my mind, and I shake my head in some confusion. For the supposedly 'unwanted' Pokeumans, I had been imagining something far more run–down, and yet this place is far above and beyond the quality of any of the classrooms at my own base. Only ten students per class, that enormous television, the polished desks – the principal must have been lying, I decide. He has clearly sent me to an elite academy of some description, since my leadership skills are clearly more than worthy of it.
Suddenly, the door opens, and a young man sticks his head into the room. I can only assume that he was a mistake on the academy's part, since he's scruffy by anyone's standards, with a jacket, shirt, and jeans that I imagine he grabbed off the floor when he woke up in bed that morning, so creased and loose–fitting they are. That gaudy headband isn't at all keeping his pink–streaked hair from looking ridiculous, either; it's just making it stick up in every direction. The only reason I do not immediately reprimand him for such sloppy dressing would be due to him disappearing almost as soon as he's met my gaze, calling out to what I hope are not imaginary friends:
"Hey, she's woken up – finally. Now we've just gotta coax the dino–thing out from under that desk, and we'll good to go."
Other voices – far too many to document here – ring out in the corridor in answer, and footfalls soon after, mixing with the click and clack of claws scrabbling on a polished floor. Appallingly Dressed Human comes back into the room, offering me an encouraging smile that I meet with a glare. "…Hopefully we'll all know where we've ended up soon", he says, then draws nearer, extending a hand. "The name's Taki. Taki Osaka, but – uh, only call me Osaka if ya decide y'hate my guts, okay?"
"A pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Osaka", I reply, enjoying the stunned look on his face as he shakes my talon. "Now, kindly leave me alo–"
"FRIENDSHIP BRIGADE, COMING THROUUUUUUUGH!"
"Teamwork brigade, classmate! Teamwork!"
“Friendship sounds cooler, though!”
“It most certainly does not!”
And just like that, there's not one overly excited puppy, but two, right in my face. I hop back, flapping wildly, but they’re both too fast – the Eevee with the stupid black highlights just about bowls me over, and the Herdier right behind her is close on her paws, barking almost as loudly as he then yells: "Calm yourself, classmate!"
Apparently somehow incited by this, the Eevee jumps on top of me, and promptly starts trying to lick my face, calling out a word between each attempt. “No! Way! Shadowclaw! Is! Never! Ever! Calm!” Shouting something about rules, the Herdier leaps onto me in order to grab the Eevee by her stupid black doggy jacket with the silver spikes, but since the two of them are of about the same size, this accomplishes very little. Taki does absolutely nothing to help me; he just stands and stares at the melee, hopefully feeling about as useless as a human faced with three superpowered creatures ought to.
“Remove yourselves from my person at once!” I squawk, flailing until after what feels like an age, someone with some degree of common sense steps in, bends down over the three of us, and comes up with one overenthusiastic dog in each hand.
“’Scuse me,” he says, “but I’m not plannin’ on anyone getting hurt today, ‘less it’s me doing the hurtin’” – and my beak is hanging open at the sight of not that awful line, nor at the fact that he’s holding both flailing dogs with ease, but more to do with the nature of my rescuer. Now, I’m no judge when it comes to looks, but – well, this Lucario is rather well–toned, his fur lustrous, his eyes full of fighting spirit. If it wasn’t for his coarse way of talking, I might – actually, perhaps his way of speaking makes him even more attractive. I know I’m a little weak to what some might refer to as ‘the bad boys’, after all. I feel my heart flutter a little; I will definitely need his phone number, and vow to stop at nothing in order to get it.
“Axel”, says the Herdier – he and the Eeevee must have been set down, he must be introducing himself now, but I only have eyes and ears for my rescuer. I also couldn’t care less about Taki’s whining about Axel calling him ‘Osaka’ for whatever reason, nor could I care about the Eevee’s name, (which is clearly a false one – Shadowclaw is just a completely ridiculous name, that I hope no parents ). No, all I care about is the Lucario’s name – Russ – the way his teeth clench at the end of the word, the way that ‘s’ hangs in the air when he says it, like a hissing snake.
“…Gloria”, I eventually remember to reply. “Gloria Maurice Van Rudwick. And may I say, Sir Russ, that it is a complete and utter pleasure to meet such a dashing youth–” And here I stop, staring hard at the Herdier – or more specifically, his lovely golden ‘Hall Monitor’ badge. Few things could have distracted myself from such a good–looking, good–natured Lucario as Russ, but that badge combined with the fact that its owner is a Herdier is enough.
“Do you like it?” he asks after a moment of silence. “I was presented with it by the Headmaster himself–”
“I do not like it, for it clearly marks you out as my kidnapper!" I snarl at him. "You treated me in the roughest way possible, ruining my plumage in some fiendish attempt to sabotage my very first day at this elite academy!”
“I most certainly did not do anything like that!” Axel barks, but I am not about to let him off so easily.
"You are a ruffian of the worst sort!" I spit, and he flinches back. "A criminal! Do you understand?!?"
Taki sighs noisily, and steps up to stand next to the Lucario, absent–mindedly scratching the Eevee (who I hereby refuse to refer to as 'Shadowclaw') behind the ears. Incredibly, this doesn't result in him getting cheap black dye all over his hand. “Wait. Axel, if y'brought her here – you’d know where we've ended up, right?”
“I have absolutely zero knowledge of that, classmate! This place does not at all match my prior research of our previous destination!”
"Great – just great", Russ growls, somehow all the cooler when he's angry. "So none of us ten have any flippin' idea where we are, or what we're supposed to do? Makes me wanna punch a wall…"
"Ten?" I ask. "But there are only five here in this room. I understand that you may be strong enough to count as two, Sir Russ, however that does not explain the other four."
"Hmm… D'ya think maybe four of my abs count? I'm pretty strong, so…"
Taki rolls his eyes at both of us, then starts counting off on his fingers. "I'm guessing Russ's muscles aren't separate characters. So – Gloria, me, Russ, Axel, Shadowclaw, and whatever the dino thing under the desk is called. Then there's the sweary one, the two–headed thing, the actual Playboy bunny, and… Mmh. That only makes nine, doesn't it?"
"Does it?" asks the Eevee, and I shake my head in disbelief. Apparently, today is the day I am supposed to face true stupidity. I can only assume that it's some sort of test of leadership skills, so I hold back on the straight insults and instead try for something more passive–aggressive.
"If ever our teacher arrives, I hope they teach you basic addition before kicking you out."
That'll show her.
"H–hey now! I'm Shadowclaw, of course I'm good at addition! And negaddition! And plotication! Actually, I'm good at all the things!"
Axel harrumphs. "Do not fight, classmates! We clearly must pull ourselves together, and in a grand display of teamwork, bring all ten of ourselves to the room in which we all first woke, one by one! Then–"
"The answers to our questions will shine brightly in the light of our friendship, right?!? Right! That's exactly what Shadowclaw would say, anyway!" says the Eevee, who is either not called Shadowclaw at all despite her introduction, or just referred to herself in the third person. Either way, I've just lost even more respect for her, which I didn't think was even possible at this point.
"Tch… So, y'reckon we should get everyone together an' brawl, Axel?" asks Russ, then smirks. "Best idea I've heard all week. I'll take the lot of ya on, so bring it! "
Needless to say, Taki cringes back from the possible fight, and Axel leaps out in front of him to try and stare down the far taller Lucario, fur bristling."Classmates, I repeat – we are not to fight! We must stand as one!"
"But I like slapping things!" whines the Eevee, waving a paw at Axel. Russ nods along with her declaration, and when he nods, it's hard for me to stop myself from following him. "After all," she goes on, "Assurance is Shadowclaw's favourite move!"
"Incorrect, fellow classmate! You are clearly an Eevee, and an Eevee is unable to learn–"
"Why are you all so bloody noisy?" growls a voice from just outside the classroom, and in comes a Grovyle, followed by a Zweilous. Only one of the Zweilous's heads – the left one – seems to be paying attention to us right now; the other merely stares about the room. Not that either of them are at all that chatty; the Grovyle is doing all the shouting here. "Some of us are trying to do fricking important things, like napping, and then there's you lot flapping your traps! Teamwork, my a–"
"Eliza, please", the Zweilous's left head snaps. "We are trying to make a decent impression here." The Grovyle 's rant descends into low growl at the command, and the Zweilous nods to our group with its left head. "My name is Ali Allen, and I'm the dominant head. The other one doesn't matter." She inclines her head; unsurprisingly, the right one doesn't pay attention to the gesture. "I hope we won't fight too badly here. "
"And I'm Eliza, in case she didn't already goddamned tip you off. Daughter of some high–rankin' headmaster, born with the ability to kick butt, blah blah blah – and currently in need of a nap, since some of you couldn't keep your fuckin' mouths shut!" So saying, the Grovyle stalks over to a desk I hope is hers, one of shimmering green crystal, and stretches right out on it. "Man, you guys… Shut yer whinin', and lemme have my friggin' sleep."
As Axel promptly grabs one of the Grovyle's ankles and begins trying to shake her awake ("Laziness is not welcome amongst classmates!"), Taki sighs again, rubbing at his temples. "Tch… Well, that makes eight of us, if that dino thing under the desk over there is even alive."
A Totodile finally sticks his head up from under the desk in question, one claw trembling in the air as he stammers and stutters. "U–um–! I'm alive… And, um, I’m not a ‘dino–thing’, my name’s Mark, s–so… Maybe you can call me that? Er, though – only if it's okay with you… Y–you can totally kill me for s–suggesting it, if it's not okay!"
The human balks, though whether it's at the sight of the Totodile or at its words is anyone's guess. "Wha–? I couldn't kill you, even if I wanted to! Y–you're another one of those overpowered monster things, just like…" He trails off there, and for good reason – the whole room's gone eerily quiet at his words. I look about myself; every other Pokeuman's gaze is fixed on Taki right now. Even Axel and Eliza have stopped thrashing around on the desk, just so that they, too, can stare in silence at him.
"…Uh. Um. I mean. Well." Taki takes a step back from us, deciding there's something very interesting about the carpet.
"I–I'm not a monster", the Eevee begins – and she looks almost hurt, what with her ears drooping and tail between her legs. For a moment, I feel half–sorry for the little fluffy fox–thing with the terrible name – "I'm a Pocket Monster", she finishes, and all sympathy I might have had for her evaporates instantly. Taki looks straight–up confused at her words, and takes another step back towards the door, but he's the only one of us who doesn't get the Eevee's terrible joke – a few snickers break out amongst the noisier ones, and one of Ali's heads goes under a wing to try and stifle its laughter.
Axel, of course, won't have any of that. "We do not laugh at classmates, and we certainly do not call each other monsters! I thought these were basic class rules, but apparently they are not so!" With surprising agility, the little Herdier hops off Eliza's desk, leaps up onto another, then sits on his haunches, waving one paw about at us as though he is a conductor of some sort. "From this moment on, all of you are going to learn proper teamwork skills!"
I'm not sure what he's really trying to achieve here; I hop from talon to talon, looking about at the others. Taki just kind of stares at Axel with his mouth hanging open. The Totodile looks like he might be trying to muster up the courage to say something, but then Eliza flops down on her desk with a loud noise that makes the little guy jump and swallow. Not that the Grovyle seems to notice Mark’s obvious discomfort; she closes her eyes and rolls onto her back on the desk, waving all five limbs in the air. "Three words, dog: Too much fuckin' work."
"That's four words," Ali growls, but all she gets in response is a yawn. Both heads glare in the general direction of the sound, though thankfully the two–headed–dragon–thing doesn't decide to try attacking her fellow Pokeuman. I wouldn’t normally mind such petty bickering turning into something more serious, but I really rather not have a catfight between two possibly strong Pokemon in the middle of such a pristine classroom.
Definitely not on the first day, in such a prestigious–seeming academy… Whatever would our teacher think–?
“As a team of classmates, I believe a swearing jar should be the first thing we implement. Allow myself to explain this concept, then we shall have a round of questions!”
Russ cocks his head to the side, then speaks in his usual rough draw: "'Ey, puppy. You wanna boss me 'round? Try beatin' me up, and then we'll see about it." The Lucario flexes his muscles for extra emphasis, throwing his shoulders back and swinging his arms a little, and I feel just a little faint. I'm not the only one – Mark is apparently so intimidated by this display of might that he disappears back under the desk with a squeak.
Axel notices neither of our reactions; he waves both his paws at Russ, who doesn't look very impressed. "I would never do such a thing! Fighting is absolutely anti–teamwork, classmate!"
"Them's fightin' words, right there! C'mon, show me some bite to go with that bark–"
For the better or the worse, there's a long, drawn out whine from under the desk, causing that awful Eevee to go rushing over to it – again, with the Herdier sprinting at her heels. I get the funny feeling that these two might know each other – though what they’re shouting is very different (“Shadowclaw to the rescue!”, “Classmate, are you injured?!?”), this would be the second time I’ve seen them move together. Yes, I decide – either they know each other, or stupid minds think alike. Perhaps it is both.
At any rate, Mark doesn’t appreciates their synchronicity. In fact, he bolts out from under his desk and runs across the room, wailing “D–don’t kill me! I–I can run fast for you! See? See?” at the top of his lungs – and just like that, the whole situation has descended into complete chaos. For one thing, the two canines carry on chasing him, knocking over desks and chairs in the process; for another, Russ tries to grab one of the dogs as they charge by and misses, hitting Ali instead (who promptly tries to claw at him), and for a third, Eliza decides to start a running commentary, most of it consisting of words no fine lady should know. It’s little surprise that I stretch my wings nervously, ready to flap out of the way if necessary, and that Taki decides to step out into the corridor–
“What, in the name of me, is going on?”
–but he can’t, since there’s a big, blue dog standing there. I get only a split–second to look at it before it is suddenly a big blue blur of motion, but I know what it is; and when he slows to a halt at the front of the classroom, with an Eevee, a Totodile, and a Herdier dangling from his jaws, I get my confirmation.
A Suicune… A real Suicune.
A Lopunny comes in after the Suicune, and promptly starts telling Taki off for looking at her the wrong way, but I don’t think a single Pokeuman in the room is paying any attention to her. We’re all staring, slack–jawed, at the Legendary standing before us, a Legendary who is still very much recognizable despite the white waistcoat, tie, and top hat. There’s a long silence, which starts out awed and then turns into a ‘well, what do we do now?’ sort of affair – we are in the presence of a Legendary, a literal god walking amongst us. However, it doesn’t become at all awkward – since before he can introduce himself or put down Mark, the Eevee, and Axel, the screen just behind him lights up, displaying a fancy PRT logo, with the words The Academy For Gifted Leaders beside it in gilded, shimmering letters. A piano begins to play, soft, tinkling notes; some seconds later, there's a voice speaking over it.
"Welcome to the Academy For Gifted Leaders. Now that you have all met each other, let us proceed."
A thrill runs through me. Just as I thought, this is indeed an academy for only the best of the best–
“Your school life here begins now. And unless a certain condition is fulfilled, it will not end.”
Murmurs go about the room at this, and for good reason; that, right there, is one ridiculous statement. “All school lives have to end!” I say loudly, and the murmuring increases in volume. “If we are to use whatever skills we have in the outside world, we must be let outside the school grounds eventually!”
“You will not leave the school grounds unless you have passed your exam. That is the rule.”
“What’s the exam on, then?” Russ growls.
“As a leader, you are required to make difficult decisions. Decisions which can endanger – or even sacrifice lives. This exam tests that ability.”
Though I can’t see most of her face, Ali’s anger is evident in her voice. “So? Just get on with it, and tell me what it is we have to do!” I think I already have an idea of what it might be; I almost go to stop the voice from oh–so–gently telling us, but… No, I need it confirmed.
“You must kill at least one, and at most three of the nine people around you. A proper murder investigation will of course be held after the fact, complete with a trial; each of your classmates shall discuss, then vote on who they thought committed murder. A leader must be able to bluff and lie; this part of the exam will test this. Lead the others to the wrong conclusion about who did it, and you alone will be allowed to walk away from this place. The others, having fallen for your lies, will be disposed of accordingly. However… If you are found guilty, I will see to it that you are executed. You will have failed our test of leadership, and the Academy For Gifted Leaders is no place for a failure.”
So begins a nightmare I may never wake from.