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“Wake up, Bill! Wake up! WAKE UP!”
“For the last time, Zigzagoon,” Bill muttered dozily as he pulled the pillow over his head, "my name is Elias now! If you DARE call me anything other than that, I swear I'll--"
"Guess what, B--Elias! Guess what? Guesswhatguesswhatguesswhatguesswhat?"
"You've decided to stop being a nuisance and get on with life," Bill guessed sarcastically.
"I learned a new trick, B--whoever you are! I can sense people!"
"Sure you can," Bill grumbled, pulling the covers over his head. Even after twenty years, it still wasn't easy with only his left arm. "Now go sense them somewhere else."
It had been twenty years since Bill's defeat in Johto, and they hadn't been kind to him. Twenty years after Domalakazam had ripped his arm off. Twenty years after Zigzagoon had dragged him off the beach with his teeth, brought him to the safe house, and patched his wounds. Twenty years since he'd dyed his hair and fled to Draysten, a region so notorious as a corrupt criminal haven that even the travel brochures claimed it to be the most boring place in the world just to keep the authorities away from it.
Twenty years since he should have been dead.
And for every day of those twenty years since his cracked ribs had healed, he always woke up in the same way: with Zigzagoon jumping on his chest. Usually with some new tidbit of information and/or a bunch of salvaged technology.
But today, it appeared to be with nothing but nonsense.
Nonsense Zigzagoon was clearly intent on getting Bill to listen to.
But given that Ziggy was one of the only two friends Bill had left in the world (the second being Kirlia, who was by now a Gallade with a Mega Stone just in case Bill got hassled), "Elias" eventually caved. "All right, Zigs, you have my full attention. My brain is still sleeping, though, so use small words."
Ziggy shook his head. "I already did, Bill! I told you I can sense people! Those are small words, right?"
Bill eyed Ziggy, curious. Ever since the little ferret-creature had been chosen as Root's acolyte, he'd been discovering new powers all the time. Most of which were discovered at the most awkward moments possible, and had caused a few incidents in which Bill was absolutely terrified that he was going to be found out, shot dead, and probably have his body paraded around as some sort of trophy. In a region with so many crime syndicates hiding out, there would be considerable bragging rights to any gang member who came back with the head of THE Bill MacKenzie.
And then suddenly Bill realized the horrible truth.
"Zigzagoon. Are you sensing anyone in specific?"
"Oooh, you're smart! But of course you are! I knew that!" (Bill had always wondered if one of Zigzagoon's acolyte powers was the ability to speak constantly without so much as taking a breath, but Ziggy had always been like that anyway.) "Well, I can sense you, and, um, I think I can sense Cynthia, and I'm working on sensing--"
Bill jerked himself out of bed, sending Ziggy flying. "Zigzagoon. We need to get ready. Is Cynthia perchance moving in any direction?" The question was more to test the strength of Ziggy's ability, because Bill of course already knew.
Ziggy paused a moment. "Um, no... I mean, she's always moving, but she moves everywhere, don't you think? I mean, there's so many places to move to! And she's immortal like we are! She gets to see every--"
"We need to get out of here. FAST," Bill said tersely, pulling open a dilapidated set of drawers and reaching for several supplies. "If what you're feeling is some sort of acolyte sense, then it won't be long until Cynthia starts feeling it too."
He paused, gulping down a rising sense of terror.
"And we can't let her take me alive."
In truth, the GPS did indeed exist, but the main reason for Bill's vigilance wasn't for the GPS itself. If it was, he would have sent Potato Gallade on it.
The most important map wasn't on a computer. It was in his head. His acolyte sense.
Wherever Cynthia was coming from when she reached the island... he'd be ready for her.
For now, Tater was monitoring day-by-day activity in Draysten. Searching for good places to wait and hide, places that no living being other than an acolyte-sensing Cynthia would think to look for a Bill. Places that provided plenty of cover; Cynthia of course wouldn't have any idea what her acolyte sense even was, so she might bring two people or twenty to investigate her mysterious mental blip.
And with Bill and Ziggy both, it was a two-for-one. Bill kept Zigzagoon close by him as the time bomb ticked closer, knowing that if they both were attacked, he'd probably have to plea bargain for the little rodent to be spared. He didn't expect Cynthia to be unreasonable about it; he knew deep down she didn't even want him dead, and most people did. Which was exactly how he'd planned it, except he hadn't expected to live.
There was no telling how Cynthia would react to seeing him alive. Not to mention if she brought backup, or any sort of investigative team. Probably Amber as well--
--Amber. Bill had trusted Amber alone with the secret of the Outsiders, and the knowledge that for Bill's plan to work, no one was to ever find his body, dead or alive. Bill had sacrificed himself as the most hated man in history, the sociopathic madman, the mass murderer, the brutal shadow of darkness, the monster that parents warned their children about to make them eat their broccoli. Or something like that.
He had to send Amber a message. A warning.
And he knew just the one to do it.
Well, even if he couldn't patent them, someone else could.
That "someone else" was Lord_Bill.exe 2.0 -- version 1.0 had met a horrible fate when Dome escaped, and Bill had only ever found sixteen percent of its coding. Once he'd recovered (rebuilt) a working computer, he'd taken that sixteen percent and created a second .exe file, codenamed Deuce. And to prevent further incidents, he'd doubled down on Deuce's security measures and adaptability to any and every situation imaginable.
Unfortunately, the end result was that even he couldn't fully control it. And it was every bit as much a pain in the butt as Bill himself, which was poetic justice.
While Bill chalked it up to karma and put up with it, there were some days he wished that there was a way to just turn off his appliances without "Deuce" turning them back on again and cajoling him about machine rights. Or waking up to find dirty e-mails in his inbox mistitled as coming from the fossil gods.
He'd introduced Deuce to MMOs just to keep the dang thing occupied, but it had of course gone even worse. The thing had become addicted, crashed several servers (including Bill's own), and exploited the in-game systems so many times that Bill had had to delete all evidence that he was ever on his previous server and move directly to the opposite side of Draysten. If it hadn't been for Bill's admin status over Deuce and his constant threats to take the A.I. offline permanently, the virus would have become unstoppable.
But right now, Bill needed Deuce to deliver a message to Amber. A message, and a map.
Dear Amber. This message is to be kept extremely confidential. If I'm not mistaken, your acolyte Cynthia will soon develop something called an acolyte sense. It should allow her to pinpoint the location of any other acolyte in this world, and I'm sure you're smart enough to figure out where this is going.
I plan to be at the location marked on this map, waiting. You can't miss me; I'll be the one missing an arm. But if for whatever reason I'm unable to make it to that area, Cynthia will know where I actually am. You CANNOT let anyone other than Cynthia know I'm alive. Especially Alice. You may not even be able to tell Cynthia herself. In that event, it may be better for you to finally act on the request I gave you when we last parted ways. But if you and/or Cynthia do insist on giving me the time of day, I'm willing to be reasonable.
No traps. I won't to escape. I promise.
I know I don't deserve any mercy. I've known this day was coming, and I know there's no chance of escape. I don't expect to walk free from this. I've kept myself alive for the sake of my Pokemon, but all things must come to an end. I will accept whatever judgment you give me, so long as the smokescreen remains.
I trust you to do what you must with me.
It was signed BMK. Bill MacKenzie.
Now all he had to do was wait.
YOU. I should have known. You're one d--m lucky B+A+Start that Cynthia bothered to use a search engine. After I showed her the videos you left me, she said so many unprintable words about us both that even I don't know what they all meant. But she's reluctantly agreed to listen to what you have to say for yourself.
We've learned from several independent sources that the region you're in, or specifically the PART of the region you're in, appears to have actually reduced its crime rate within the last twenty years, a first for the Draysten region. When I get there, it had better be true. And if it is, I want to know HOW, you little f---er. If I find out you've been embezzling funds to pay them off, or doing something WORSE, that's one more strike on your permanent record, and you've certainly got a pretty black book.
We will arrive at the designated location as promptly as possible. Me and Cynthia only. You'll know when we get closer. Bring any and all documentation on your activity for the past twenty years, and we will decide your fate accordingly. We will be carrying an active EMP jammer, just in case you're thinking of pulling any more shenanigans.
And if we find you've blown yourself a new one by the time we get there, we ARE telling your daughter that you did it to yourself. This is not an empty threat.
-- Lord Amber.
Shortly afterward, Amber received a message back.
Heh. You really DO care.
Seriously, Amber. That's COLD. That's below the belt. You knew you couldn't threaten a dead man, so you went after the one thing that... oh, screw this. I'll be there alive, barring some tragic incident that I'm unable to prevent. And I've had to prevent quite a few.
You're right in that I've been embezzling funds, but you've got it a bit backwards. I need to live off SOMETHING, and I've "borrowed" a sizable number of funds from what used to be the most notorious crime circles in the region. Oh, don't worry, I didn't pick them entirely clean. I left enough money for them to get out of dodge before they found out who they were up against.
Perhaps I've been doing a few "odd jobs" here and there to contribute to the cause. Perhaps not. I doubt you'd believe that a one-armed man could do much anyway, and that's probably the only reason I'm still alive to do it. But it only takes one arm to throw a Poke Ball and activate a Key Stone. Do the math. You'll figure it out.
Just remember, if you-know-who finds out a word of this, it's the end of the world as we know it. Do NOT mess this up.
Be sure to give Cynthia my regards.
He hadn't even signed it. He didn't need to.
And unless something drastic happened, all he had to do was wait.
And not get himself killed. For Alice.
He'd been waiting a safe distance away from the outskirts of Dioptase City, at the appointed place as he'd promised. He could sense that Cynthia was coming, at a faster rate than he'd expected for a Pokemon's flight but a slower rate than he'd expected if she was riding Amber. Zigzagoon had been skittering back and forth, looking for the trouble that was looking for Bill.
Then Tater teleported in, his eyes wide in horror.
"Master. It's a group of twelve thugs, in the abandoned part of town, the one that's been condemned for three years and never torn down. They've got three children, and you know what they're going to do with them. I can't take them all on at once, even in mega form. And if I teleport the kids away, they'll just find more to--"
Child molesters. The lowest of the low, and that was coming from Bill himself. He growled in his throat. "You want me to get over there and get myself killed. Again. You know, I really didn't think this day could get any worse. Looks like I was wrong."
Bill certainly hadn't moved to the most corrupt region on Pokearth to become a vigilante. Anything but. He'd really intended to keep a low profile, whatever that cost himself and perhaps others, if absolutely necessary.
But he just couldn't help himself. Ever since the Moscopole incident, meddling was so deeply ingrained in his psyche that he would probably never recover from sticking his nose into other people's business. He'd been teleported home with bullets in his side more than once, and he didn't regret a single one of them. Surely Amber and Cynthia would understand that, just before they locked him up or worse.
And the Ralts family certainly had reasons to feel very strongly against molestation. "BILL. They're kids. Young kids. The tallest one couldn't possibly be any older than Ali--"
That did it. "Stop by the house. Get the kit. If I have to go today, I'm going in style."
And of course there was the glove. The glove. Bill always had a trick up his sleeve, sometimes literally, even if he had only one sleeve.
He growled under his breath. "They haven't..."
Not yet, Tater spoke telepathically. But they're about to.
"Do what?" Ziggy whispered, confused.
"Nothing whatsoever," Bill growled. "Not on our watch." Tater, I'll distract them. While their eyes are on me, teleport those children to the Pokemon Center. Zigs, stay here until I give the signal... and use Growth.
Few people remembered that Growth was one of Zigzagoon's first moves learned. An advantage on their side.
Bill sized up the situation. There was one goon restraining each child, and another goon per child moving in on them. That was six. The two Machoke were supposed to be guarding, but were instead watching the "fun." The other four were likewise distracted, but their positions also blocked the alleyway's sole entrance and exit, barring the children's escape.
Bill fingered the dagger concealed in his belt. I've always wanted to go out in a blaze of glory.
He drew it out silently and pushed the button on its handle.
Just before the orgy could begin, one Machoke screamed and fell, never to rise again. Bill pulled the electrified dagger from its body and turned to the second Pokemon, throwing the dagger and burying it in the monster's throat. The loss of one weapon didn't matter; he had five more hidden in his belt, as well as a few other nasty surprises.
Besides, the daggers were magnetic. Bill pressed a button on the palm of his power glove, and the blade returned to his hand.
The ten human thugs whirled around, staring in shock. Both Machoke were dead, and some black-cloaked figure was standing over their bodies like he owned this alleyway. Even the kids were terrified, for the brief moment before Tater whisked in and spirited them away to safety.
As startled as the thugs were, they couldn't help but laugh. That one man, audacious enough to burst into their party as if he had a chance of facing them alone? The roughnecks reached for their Poke Balls to send out something even more murderous.
Bill pressed another button on his glove, and the Poke Balls vanished, sent of course to his PC box. He wasn't one to waste advantages. Then, to the surprise of the startled thugs, he sheathed his electrodagger and brought out a Poke Ball of his own.
"Sorry I'm late to the party," he said with infuriating calmness, "but I have a date to catch."
He hurled the Poke Ball into the middle of the group of thugs, where it promptly exploded with a bright red permanent ink. And then, simply for the benefit of those still able to see out their eyes, he laughed like a girl and ran away.
As soon as they saw the ink, which looked very much like blood, the goon squad forgot completely about the children, which had escaped anyway. There was a moment of mass panic before the roughnecks realized that they weren't bleeding to death, but had instead been trolled by Draysten's largest paintball.
That settled it. Whoever this stranger was, he'd killed their Machoke, insulted their pride, and permanently ruined their leather jackets.
He would pay in blood for this.
--and then they saw the world's largest Zigzagoon leap down from the top of the building, pinning them between itself and the crates.
"Nope! Nuh-uh! Bill gave me orders, and I'm going to--"
From his hiding spot, Bill cursed under his breath. "Zigs, you IDIOT!"
First there was a stunned silence. Then the full realization hit. The Poke Ball thefts, the calm taunting, the Zigzagoon... who else could it have been?
Bill chose this moment to step back out, a sinister black shadow leering from the other side of the flames.
"Shall we dance, gentlemen?"
The effect was instantaneous. "It's Bill MacKenzie! THE Bill MacKenzie!" The eight remaining thugs broke into a state of panic. Three of them tried to flee past Zigzagoon, except that Zigzagoon had been clearly replaced by a very large Gallade. One swipe of psychic energy felled all three where they stood.
Two others tried to flee, but the other three pulled them back, one of the three outright shooting a deserter in the back. "You fools! This is our chance to take down the Bill MacKenzie, and you're--"
"--blowing it?" said an all-too-familiar voice, teleporting back among the remaining four with not a single hint of recognition that he was outnumbered. "Oh, do go on. This is quite interesting."
The thugs screamed, pulling out their weapons. Bill teleported out, leaving his cape behind and turning the goons on each other as they stabbed and shot from all sides at the cloak and what they imagined was behind it. Poetic justice, really.
Bill rushed into another alleyway, with his Zigzagoon jumping over the crates and the goons to follow him. Thankfully, this was a bad enough part of town that no one, sans the goons themselves, could have heard the announcement of his presence. "Okay. Hoo. We've got time to get back. Cynthia won't be here until--"
Ziggy yelled a warning, and suddenly one of the escaped roughnecks that ought to have been on fire leaped out from behind a row of trash bins, pinning Bill to the wall by the sleeve with a sharp dagger. "YOU."
Zigzagoon was ready to rush the man, but Bill saw back-up approaching. With guns. Oh sh--, someone squealed. There's more of them. Tater, get Zigs to the waiting point. NOW. If Cynthia shows up, you two tell her I'll be mortally delayed.
Done. But master, what about y--
JUST DO IT!
Obediently, Tater teleported Zigzagoon to the spot outside the city limits. The newcomers, surprised, rushed through the spot where Ziggy had been before, brandishing their weapons. The burnt and ink-splatted thug, however, cast them a loathing glance.
"You hold off the others. Bill is mine!"
Bill didn't know how he recognized the man; perhaps it was his eyes that did it. Or maybe it was the scar across his forehead, an all too familiar one he'd seen in the news. Youngster Ian. Though obviously he hadn't gotten any younger.
And he clearly didn't intend for Bill to get any older.
Tater reappeared among the backup thugs, his sense of honor and loyalty to his trainer still unwavering. Bill mentally insisted that Tater focus his attention on the other goons, and not on Ian. Cynthia's coming. I can feel her. I'll distract -- OW!
Ian had ripped the belt of electrodaggers off Bill's person. It didn't take a psychic-type to tell what he intended to do with them. Before Bill could touch the Key Stone on his power glove, Ian stabbed the electrodagger clean through Bill's hand, shorting the power and relishing Bill's scream of pain.
"So, MACKENZIE," he taunted. "How do you feel about... murder?"
She was directing, of course, using her acolyte sense to steer. She could sense two signals, Bill's and Zigzagoon's. But when they approached the Draysten Islands, she felt a sudden jolt of pain in her head, coming straight from one of the signals.
And she could hazard a guess as to which one it was.
"Amber, down there!" she directed. "One of them's hurt!"
Amber took a nosedive. "Cynthia, this had better not end in us being seen rescuing Bill. Do you have any idea--"
"Yes. I do. But I want answers from that man, and I can't imagine he'll be very talkative if he's dead."
Another jolt of pain rocked her head. She could sense the other signal rushing towards the first one, and more jolts appeared, and almost a mental scream.
Amber chuckled softly. "I've been waiting for this moment as long as you have, Cynthia. Do you think a little thing like an attempted murder could stop me?"
Tater was weary, bruised, and clearly had never mega evolved. The Key Stone had been in Bill's power glove, which was currently in just as bad shape as the rest...
Bill. Cynthia whirled around and, despite Amber's warning, charged towards Bill's life signal, which she could already feel waning. Roughneck Ian, apparently mistaking Cynthia for one of his fellow thugs, cast her a glance that first said "oh, good, you're here to see the best part" and then quickly turned to "who the h--- are you?" and suddenly to "OHHHHH NOOOOOOO!"
This last part was when Lord Amber swooped in, grabbed Roughneck Ian in his jaws, and threw him clear across the entire street, where he fell and did not rise again.
Cynthia knelt by Bill's body, a strange mix of emotions playing across her heart. He was mercifully unconscious, his body looking like he'd gone through a knife-throwing act -- only every blade had hit. It was clear from their positions that Roughneck Ian hadn't intended to kill him outright, but it was a miracle the man was still breathing. The daggers still sparked with the electric impulses that Bill himself had installed, a cruel poetic injustice. One of them was buried deep in Bill's remaining hand, having shorted out the Power Glove and knocked the Key Stone loose.
She could feel his life signal fading. In this condition, he couldn't last long.
Amber landed next to the two acolytes, his eyes widening in shock. "Cynthia, what happened to--"
"Get those knives out of him, Amber," Cynthia snapped, reaching into her purse and pulling out a Full Restore. "You want to know what happened, we can ask him ourselves. Unless you want it to be too late for him?"
In any other situation, Amber would have sternly reminded Cynthia who was the acolyte and who was the god. For now, as dangerous as Bill had been in the past, there was no question that the man was dying and would never survive without their help.
Amber winced as he gently tugged out the electrodaggers, his weakness to electricity slightly jarring his body. He saw the belt that had been ripped from Bill's waist, a grim reminder that the man was reaping what he'd sown.
The irony of the situation escaped absolutely no one. They were saving the life of a man that could have killed them both, a man half-dead from his own weapons, a man few would mourn, whose death was already celebrated by many.
Tater stood back, puzzled. Bill had given him clear instructions not to interfere with his meeting with Cynthia and Amber -- but not like this. His master's life was on the line, and the Gallade knew it. It took every ounce of his willpower to stay back, to follow his orders, even if they led to the death of his trainer -- no, his friend.
Lifting Bill's head gently, Cynthia slowly poured the contents of the Full Restore bottle down his throat.
"Shh," said a voice that was definitely not Zigzagoon's. "You'll choke."
Bill was about to say to whoever-she-was that he was quite capable of talking without choking, but then the second Full Restore went into his mouth, and most of it back out his mouth and all over himself and Cynthia.
Oh gods. Cynthia. Of all the possible times and places for her to show up...
He stared at her blankly. "I... I'm hallucinating." His voice seemed to be returning as his punctured lungs healed.
Cynthia paused, concerned, then waved her hand in front of his face. "Bill. How many fingers am I holding up?"
Bill blinked. "More than one. I'm definitely... hallucinating."
Cynthia groaned. "Just shut up. I hate you less when you're quiet, you suicidal B+A+Start. This is just as bad for me as it is for you, and I don't have half-a-dozen knife wounds in my body."
Bill was quiet.
As his eyes adjusted to the dim light in the alleyway, they landed on another familiar figure. Bill gulped. "Et tu... Amber?"
Amber glowered at him. "What she said. Shut up."
Master, Tater's voice said in Bill's head, I think they really do want to help you.
Gee, thanks, Tater. I never would have guessed.
No, really. They--
Because the fact that I'm not dead right now because of what they're doing obviously wasn't enough to prove it to me. Bill mentally shot back.
Tater took a step back, not quite sure how to react. He glanced around for any approaching foes, but they were all scattered or dead.
Just... go find Zigzagoon, Bill mentally ordered. Tell him to put two extra plates at the table.
We don't have two extra plates.
Tell him to find two extra plates and put them at the table.
Two plates. Should they be paid for?
...just get over there.
Tater got over there.
But eventually the silence had to be broken. With ragged breaths, Bill voiced the question that had hung over the scene like a vulture.
"Why... are you doing this... for me." He said it as a statement, not a question.
Cynthia sighed. "Why did you take on a thug twice your size single-handedly?"
Amber cleared his throat, motioning to the stub of what had been Bill's right shoulder.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean it that--"
"No offense... taken," Bill reassured her. "You... should see... the other... eleven."
Cynthia pulled back in shock, nearly dropping Bill's injured arm. "Elev... you mean you took on twelve thugs?"
"We were... evenly matched."
Amber snorted. And a god snorting is no small thing. "You're lying half-dead in an alleyway with dagger wounds in your body. You still can't resist taking on the biggest fish in the pond, can you, minnow?"
Bill couldn't answer that question. Not outright.
"They had... these kids. Three of them. They were... going to..."
Cynthia raised her hand. "Hush. They may be back. If you're overheard, you will die."
She paused. "Kids. You'd get yourself slaughtered for... children?"
Bill sighed. "I'm not... completely.... heartless. They were... younger than Alice..."
"You could have escaped alive, Bill. Your Gallade could have teleported you out of there. You didn't realize that?"
Bill sighed again.
"That man... who attacked me... I'd ruined his life. Before all this." He paused. "I... I couldn't bring myself... to fight him."
Oh, Cynthia thought. She wasn't sure what sort of reaction to even make.
Cynthia watched the man's face carefully. "Bill... Amber showed me those videos you left him. Why did you... How could you..."
"I was... wrong, Cynthia." He couldn't look her in the eyes. "I was so... so wrong."
"We know why you did what you did, Bill. If you'd just told us the truth, we would have helped you. All of us -- Aaron, Bebe, Alice, even the gods -- we'd have found some way."
Bill laughed, mirthlessly. "Sure... Like Dome... would believe... a word... I said... anyway."
"Amber then. But we would have helped you." (Amber nodded assent.)
Bill paused, staring at the ground as Cynthia helped him to a sitting position. "You shouldn't... have rescued me... I don't deserve..."
"Look," Amber said suddenly. "I think we can all agree that what you've been through today is punishment enough. That doesn't mean you can come back, it doesn't mean we're giving you a clean record, and it doesn't mean we're not going to keep an eye on you. Cynthia, bring out the cuffs."
Cynthia winced, reaching into her purse. She pulled out what looked like a thick jeweled bracelet, gold set with different-colored gemstones. The stones, however, were colored glass compartments, each holding a different mysterious mechanical device. Bill watched with interest as she clipped it around his bandaged arm, locking the latch down.
"A gilded... chain," he laughed. "Clever."
"Shut up. This will monitor your location, your movements, your life signs, and any electronic signals you come in contact with. Any attempts to remove it, yours or anyone else's, will result in a nasty but nonlethal surprise." She looked him straight in the eye. "Do not attempt to reverse-engineer this."
Bill couldn't help but admire the technology within. "Non-lethal... electroshock. And...sonic emitter? I thought you had an... EMP jammer."
"That's in it as well," Cynthia said without remorse. "Remote activated. And the next time you decide to take on a group of fully armed thugs -- no offense meant -- we'll get a location signal and video evidence. Just... if anything comes out that cuff, try not to make a big scene about it."
Bill shifted his wrist back and forth, as much as his still-healing arm would allow him to without pain. Scenes from several comic books he'd read in his youth flashed to find. "Me... make a scene?" he said, the very picture of innocence.
Amber laughed through his snout.
Cynthia stared Bill in the eye. "Just remember, Bill. We owe you nothing. Any good you've done doesn't change the evil you've committed as well. I may have saved you this time, but I'm not your guardian angel. You made your d---ed choice, you live with the d---ed consequences."
"Lovely..." Bill leaned back, deep in thought. "We understand... each other."
Bill was up and walking by this time. "I... I can't possibly thank you enough, Cynthia." He paused. "I won't cause any more evil shenanigans, I promise. After all you've done for me, I just can't."
Cynthia nodded. "I'll hold you to that promise. Be careful out here."
Suddenly something occurred to Bill, something worrisome. "Cynthia, wait. If you're here, and I'm here, and Amber's here, and both my Pokemon are here... who the h--- flew that blasted plane--"
And then the plane door opened, and he saw...
He'd known from Cynthia that she was coming, that she was escorting the children he'd rescued to Aaron's orphanage. He'd told Cynthia, told Amber, that they couldn't let her know he was there...
Bill's knees grew weak, and his stomach tried to tie itself in knots. She was here. Actually standing before him, looking at him. There was no hatred in her eyes, just fear, concern... and love.
"I'm sorry," he suddenly blurted out. "I'm sorry for everything... I didn't mean--"
He never understood what happened next. He'd never expected her to take him back so fast, to throw her arms around him as if she was never letting go of him, ever again.
He'd never expected Alice to forgive him.
"F-FATHER! You're alive! You're really alive!"
No word about what had happened, just father and daughter, together again. Bill literally pinched himself, barely believing what was happening to him.
"Alice... I... I don't deserve..."
He knew he didn't deserve it. Any of it.
But it happened, and that moment would stay with him the rest of his long, long life. He'd never expected it, never even dared to dream that the moment would ever happen.
"Father, I... it's all right. I... I know you're sorry. And I know what you've done, but..."
"I never wanted to hurt you, Alice. I... only wanted you... safe from me..."
He flinched as she actually kissed him on the cheek. How could she...
"I forgive you, Father. I always have," she said simply. "I..."
"I know." He paused. He'd known what Alice was going to say, and he wasn't sure if he'd be able to keep a hold of himself if he'd let her actually say it. "And I love you too."
For that one glorious moment, all was right in the world.
"...Father. What happened to your arm?"
"...I don't want to know, do I?"
"Probably not. I didn't want to know either."
Under The Lights: Ferrothorn & Cradily (Forest Cup)
The "Under The Lights" series provides some deeper dives on Pokémon of particular interest, ones with potential breakout potential in the ongoing Cup... and into the future. Today, we take a look at two Grasses that are also so much more. Today we feature two returning guests and put them back... under the lights.
Attack: 109 (106 High Stat Product)
Defense: 154 (158 High Stat Product)
HP: 123 (128 High Stat Product)
(Highest Stat Product IVs: 0-13-13, 1500 CP, Level 25)
So one of the more important things to talk about with Ferrothorn, before we ever get to any moves or simulations, is the typing. Grass/Steel is a pairing never seen before Ferrothorn (and Ferroseed) and only once after (with one of Gen7's Ultra Beasts). It seems one of the stranger typing combinations, but there is quite a bit these two typings do for each other.
First, to look at the two typings separately:
- Grass is vulberable to quite a bit: Bug, Fire, Flying, Ice, and Poison. It resists Electric, Ground, Water, and other Grass.
- Steel is vulnerable only to Fire, Fighting, and Ground, while resisting Bug, Flying, Ice, Poison (double resistance), Dragon, Fairy, Grass, Normal, Psychic, Rock, and other Steel.
But there are downsides, of course. Grass does nothing to negate Steel's resistance to Fighting. And with both Grass and Steel being weak to Fire... well, Fire is Ferro's mortal enemy, dealing double super effective damage to it. This means that things with Fire fast moves can just farm Ferrothorn down and pocket tons of energy... eight or nine Fire Spins is all it takes.
BUT, you avoid those two, and Ferro feels even tankier than its excellent stats would imply. In the end, it balances those two vulnerabilities against ten resistances: Dragon, Electric, Fairy, Normal, Psychic, Rock, Steel, Water, Poison (Steel's double resistance turning Grass' weakness into a strength here), and just as Steel and Grass double the vulberability to Fire, here is doubles their resistance to other Grasses. Remember that later....
Only other thing to mention before moving on is that, yes, Ferrothorn is quite buky even outside of its many resistances, with top tier Defense and above average HP too. It can take a beating and keep on dishing it back for quite a while.
Okay, that's enough about what kind of punishment Ferrothorn can take. Now, finally, let's see what Ferro can dish out!
Bullet Seed (Grass, 1.67 DPT, 4.33 EPT, 1.5 CD)
Metal Claw (Steel, 2.5 DPT, 3.0 EPT, 1.0 CD)
It shouldn't be a surprise at this point that Bullet Seed was buffed not long ago, going from worthless to one of the best energy generating moves in the game... it is now a Grass clone of Snarl, if that means anything to you.
While I've been recommending building a Ferrothorn since the beginning of the Season, Bullet Seed was SO bad then that my recommendation was typically Metal Claw, but that's not the case anymore. Bullet Seed is quite clearly the way to go now, to power out some of THESE bad boys:
Mirror Shot (Steel, 35 damage, 35 energy, 30% Chance to Decrease Opponent Attack -1 Stage)
Acid Spray (Poison, 20 damage, 50 energy, Decreases Opponent Defense -2 Stages)
Power Whip (Grass, 90 damage, 50 energy)
Thunder (Electric, 100 damage, 60 energy)
Flash Cannon (Steel, 110 damage, 65 energy)
First let's separate the wheat from the chaff. Mirror Shot is arguably necessary on other Pokémon like Magnezone as a bait move and/or best way for them to deal Steel damage. But I'll save you the trouble here... Ferro doesn't need it. With Bullet Seed allowing it to spam its moderately expensive charge moves in efficient time, Ferrothorn just doesn't need a bait move like Mirror Shot.
Ferro is also not a good Acid Sprayer. Not only does it lack STAB (so Spray will hit for particularly pathetic damage), but it A.) is usually best paired with a hard hitting fast move to capitalize on the opponent's nerfed Defense (and Bullet Seed is NOT that kind of fast move), and B.) it prevents Ferro from doing what it does best: smash things with its other charge moves. I mean, Ferro does okay with Spray or Mirror, but neither adds much (if anything) to its performance with its one must-have charge move: Power Whip.
With just Bullet Seed and Power Whip, Ferro takes out every Water except an iffy result versus flying Mantine, plus nearly every Ground (only fiery Camerupt beats Ferro) and Rock (Crustle alone escapes by spamming Bug damage). In other words, with just its Grass moves, Ferrothorn is... well, your typical Grass, beating all the things you'd want a Grass to handle. That's what Power Whip gets you and why it is strictly required in the Forest Cup meta.
So what of the second move? We're left with a choice between on-type Flash Cannon and potential coverage move Thunder. Which is better here? IS one of them clearly better? This decision right here is what I wanted to write about with Ferrothorn... because while nearly everyone (myself included) has recommended Flash Cannon, I think there may indeed be a decent case there for Thunder as well.
Let's start with the popular answer: Flash Cannon. Compared to the all-Grass sim linked above, you'll notice a sizeable leap from a solid 87 wins/59% win percentage to a meta-shaking 109 wins/74% win percentage. I did my customary side-by-side comparison between the results and found, not shockingly, that all of the new wins are either against Bugs (13, including Trashadam, Crustle, Scolipede, and Yanmega) and fellow Grasses (9, including Meganium, Shiftry, Jumpluff, and Celebi). It's a little surprising that ALL new wins are from one of those typings or the other, but not overly so, as Grass moves (like Power Whip) are of course resisted by--you guessed it!--Bugs and Grasses. Wielding Flash Cannon gives Ferrothorn a big neutral damage beatstick to swat aside things that resist Power Whip. And THAT is exactly why Flash Cannon has been the almost universally recommended second move for Ferro in the Forest Cup meta.
So what of Thunder? Is it not the same? Well, there's one key difference: Electric moves are not resisted by Bugs, but they ARE resisted by Grass, meaning a Power Whip/Thunder Ferro can ONLY deal ineffective, resisted damage to other Grasses (aside from things like Jumpluff that have a secondary typing weak to Electric, and therefore take neutral from Thunder). What this means is that Thunder picks up nearly all the same Bug wins that Flash Cannon did (and actually adds two more--Masquerain and Forrettress--that Flash Cannon does NOT normally defeat), the only Grass that Thunder beats that Power Whip alone cannot is Jumpluff, the flying Grass. Meg, Shiftry, Celebi, and all the rest that Flash Cannon won, Thunder cannot replicate.
BUT, there's one more thing going for Thunder that Flash Cannon cannot do: beat Mantine with no ifs, ands, or buts. Even against a #1 IV Mantine, Ferro should have it in the bag. Without Thunder, it is almost certainly going to come out on the losing end, Flash Cannon or no Flash Cannon, as Mantine resists Steel and takes ony neutral from Ferro's Grass moves.
Just for completeness, I did check shieldless and 2v2 shielding, and not much really changes. Flash Cannon tends to get a bunch of Grasses, Thunder continues to be a little better versus Bugs and consistently flyers like Mantine and Yanmega. Just so you don't think I stopped at just 1v1 shield scenarios!
So what can we conclude? Well sometimes, just because the answer is obvious doesn't mean it needs to be drilled into any further. Flash Cannon is more versatile and impactful overall in this meta. Combined with Ferrothorn's double resistance to Grass and neutrality to Bug damage, Flash Cannon allows it to take many of those Pokémon out. But Thunder is a fine move too that has some advantages going for it, and in metas with more Flying types, will likely find itself swapping places in the pecking order with Flash Cannon throughout the tournaments still ahead.
Now, another oddball Grass that I have also advocated for before, going all the way back to the tail end of Season 1....
Attack: 106 (104 High Stat Product)
Defense: 141 (142 High Stat Product)
HP: 140 (146 High Stat Product)
(Highest Stat Product IVs: 0-15-15, 1494 CP, Level 26)
Here, as with Ferrothorn, are the kind of stats we like to see: above average Defense and HP, and lower but passable Attack. Cradily, despite its spindly appearance, is quite bulky!
So now the typing. Rock/Grass is also a very unusual combo, still unique to Cradily (and Lileep) to and all the way through Generation 8. And the two types actually do quite a bit for each other, which is good because they each have five vulnerabilities on their own:
- To refresh, Grass is vulnerable to Bug, Fire, Flying, Ice, and Poison, and resists Electric, Ground, Water, and other Grass.
- Rock is weak to Fighting, Grass, Ground, Steel, and Water damage, while resisting Fire, Flying, Normal, and Poison moves.
Bullet Seed (Grass, 1.67 DPT, 4.33 EPT, 1.5 CD)
Infestation (Bug, 2.0 DPT, 3.67 EPT, 1.5 CD)
Acid (Poison, 3.0 DPT, 2.5 EPT, 1.0 CD)
Bullet Seed is back here, and is again by far Cradily's best fast move now. Not only does the STAB bonus give it about the same damage output as previous best move Infestation, but it blows it away in terms of energy generation too. And Cradily's got some very potent moves to charge up with it....
Grass Knot (Grass, 90 damage, 50 energy)
Stone Edge (Rock, 100 damage, 55 energy)
Bulldoze (Ground, 80 damage, 60 energy)
Bulldoze is still a bit disappointing, despite seemingly giving Cradily an advantage over the format's Electric and Fire types. But it doesn't need it, as it beats the vast majority of Electrics with Grass Knot (a Power Whip clone, by the way), and smacks the Fires with Stone Edge. It IS worth noting that Bulldoze DOES notably give Cradily its most sure path to victory over Magnezone, but that's about ALL it does for Cradily in Forest Cup.
The other moves just simply do a lot more. Cradily needs Grass Knot to maintain proper pressure on Waters, which is mission #1 for any Grass. It needs Stone Edge to give it its unique-for-Grass edge against Fires, beating them all except for Fighters Blaziken, Combusken, Pignite, and Infernape (who all take neutral damage from Edge) and, interestingly, Torkoal, who just manages to tank a Stone Edge and race to its own killing charge move. It can best all of those in different shielding situations, but Blaziken is a persistent problem, one of few areas where Cradily's Rock typing does more harm than good.
Stone Edge does one other good thing: give Cradily a weapon with which to pound on other Grasses. It can outduel fellow rock chucker Tangrowth, speedster Sceptile, and flying Jumpluff, among others. All three of those are particularly problematic for most Grasses to handle, so the fact that Cradily can best them all speaks well to its flexability.
As mentioned before, Cradily handles nearly all Electrics too... but the downside is that it is the most potent Electrics that escape it: Galvantula, Ampharos, and (without Bulldoze) Magnezone. Note, however, that Cradily DOES crush Galvantula with Stone Edge in shieldless and 2v2 shielding scenarios... and that's a bit of a theme. Bug is weak to Rock, so they generally don't enjoy facing Cradily like they do other Grasses. Cradily can consistently overcome notable ones like Scolipede, Crustle, Forretress, and the many Flying Bugs in 0 and 1 shield scenarios. (2 shield gets a little dicier, as the Bug damage coming back starts to add up in prolonged combat... Scolipede, Crustle, and Forretress all win out that way, as an example.)
And speaking of different shielding scenarios, going without shields brings some more Grass wins into the fold (Shiftry and Bellossom, most notably) as compared to the standard 1v1 shielding sim, whereas blowing through both shields is not generally advised, as notable Waters like Azumarill and Whiscash, as well as most of the Grasses, all slip away. Cradily wants to hit hard early and bug out before the enemy has a chance to catch up.
But for today, that's all I got! I am trying to start with some of the most central meta stuff first before branching out more next week and beyond... Galvantula was specifically requested so I will cover that and another Electric or two next time.
Until then, for more tidbits, you can find me on Twitter for near-daily PvP analysis nuggets or Patreon if you're into that sort of thing.
Stay safe out there, Pokéfriends, and see you again soon! And of course, as I know you were likely waiting on throughout the whole article... dilly dilly! 🍻