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Under The Lights: The Grasses of Rose Cup

Bring on the petals and thorns! This is ROSE Cup, after all!
The "Under The Lights" article series provides deeper dives on Pokémon, typically from outside the center of the meta, that I think may deserve a little more attention, ones that are under the radar a bit but may have breakout potential in the current Cup format. And today, we're looking at a group of Pokémon that are surprisingly few in Rose Cup. Today we put the handful of relevant Grasses... under the lights.
There aren't many. Only six Grass Pokémon are eligible at all, and two of them are the lowest evolution in their line (Lileep and Exeggcute), with a third just having a horrid typing for this Cup and is just not viable (Parasect). Those are all uuuuuuuuuuugly.
Thankfully, the other three do good things. We're going to take a look at them and their strengths and weaknesses, and how they may fill a critical gap on YOUR team.
But first, let's briefly discuss the role of Grass in Rose Cup. Grass is super effective against Water, Ground, and Rock, so that's where you want it the most. Water doesn't exist in this Cup, of course, but there are a lot of potent Grounds and Rocks... and three of the best ones--the Rhyno line--are both Ground AND Rock, and thus take terrible, terrible damage from Grass moves. Grass is also widely unresisted, with Flyers, Grasses, and Poisons being very limited in numbers, meta Bugs being basically non-existent, and really only a few potent Fires and Steels to worry about. And of course, Razor Leafers tend to shred things in neutral (and sometimes even resisted) matchups, and two of our useable Grasses, as you will see, fall into that camp.
In general, you expect Grasses here to handle Grounds and Rocks with relative ease, and also take down things like Fairies, Fighters, and other things that succumb to heavy neutral damage.
Keeping all that in mind, let's see how the candidates do.

VILEPLUME

Grass/Poison Type
Attack: 131 (126 Maximized)
Defense: 114 (114 Maximized)
HP: 114 (122 Maximized)
(Maximized/High Stat Product IVs: 0-15-15, 1497 CP, Level 22)
Amazingly, this is the only Grass/Poison in the entire Cup, a typing combination usually represented by many Pokémon. And that typing gives Plume some important advantages over its other Grassy peers, especially its built in resistances to Fighting and Fairy moves (thanks to Poison). It also takes only neutral damage from Poison and Bug attacks (both of which deal SE damage to pure Grasses). Plume retains the other common Grass resistances (Electric, Grass, Water) and vulnerabilities (Fire, Flying, Ice). The notable downsides to adding on Poison are Psychic becoming a weakness and Ground dealing neutral damage (whereas pure Grasses resist Ground damage). Got all that? Good, because there will be a quiz later. 🤓
As for the stats... well, they're not great for PvP Great League. High attack, mediocre (at best) bulk. Plume can dish it out, but it isn't going to handle a lot of punishment coming back its way. That will play into things later too....
Fast Moves:
Razor Leaf (Grass, 5.5 DPT, 2.0 EPT, 1.0 CD)
Acid (Poison, 3.0 DPT, 2.5 EPT, 1.0 CD)
And there it is: the mighty Razor Leaf. I'll save you the time of looking it up: Acid just doesn't do it here in Rose. Poison is resisted by a ton of relevant things and Acid is a bad move anyway. Razor Leaf or bust!
And as per usual with Razor Leafers, it alone is really all you need to get nearly all the wins Plume can reach. There's the Graveler and Rhynos we'd expect to be topping the list, but more encouraging is what follows them. Machamp and Medicham and Scrafty. Wigglytuff and Clefable. Haunter, even though it actually resists Razor Leaf. And then the bonuses like Sableye and the Lickys and Magneton (which, as with Haunter, resists Razor Leaf but even the resisted damage is too great for it), and even a tie with Flying Gligar. Digging into the results versus all of Rose Cup, you can see that Plume can Leaf to death all Rocks and Grounds except the Steely, sturdy Probopass and Steelix, and Flying Gliscor. Beats all the Fighters that aren't part Fire, all the Fairies except way-outside-the-meta Confusion Mr. Mime, all Electrics, all Darks and Ghosts that aren't Dark/Poisons or Flying (Drifblim) or Fire Spinning (A-Wak). Even everything Normal except the Flying Tranquill/Unfezant and the please-don't-ever-actually-use-it Chansey. So basically, keep it away from things that deal super effective damage to it--Fire, Flying, Poison--and it will beat the stuffing out of most everything in a neutral ground slugfest. The Poison typing is more strength than liability in this meta.
But let's take a look at the available charge moves before we go any further, because they're key to another point I want to make....
Charge Moves:
Sludge Bomb (Poison, 80 damage, 50 energy)
Petal Blizzard (Grass, 110 damage, 65 energy)
Moonblast (Fairy, 130 damage, 70 energy)
Return (Normal, 130 damage, 70 energy)
Solar Beam (Grass, 150 damage, 80 energy)
You know, it wasn't all that long ago that Vileplume didn't even have Sludge Bomb. That means it would take 17 Razor Leafs--and seventeen seconds, a lifetime in a PvP match--for Plume to reach a charge move, and it would be a move of the same typing as Razor Leaf (Petal Blizzard). Blech. 🤢 Sludge Bomb isn't massively better (it's still 13 RLs/seconds), but it's at least more realistic to reach, and offers different coverage than Razor Leaf.
However, that doesn't really translate to more wins. As I've discussed in numerous articles in the past, Razor Leafers (and now Charmers too) are best played like this:
1.) Razor Leaf initial opposing Pokemon to death. Do NOT use charge move unless strictly necessary to win the match.
2.) Either throw charge move at next Pokémon up after initial one dies, or if a VERY unfavorable matchup, consider swapping out to return with charge move ready to fire near end of game.
3.) Get in whatever additional Razor Leaf damage you can before dying. Do NOT use any more shields on the Razor Leafer.
So following that plan, what Sludge Bomb DOES give you is a very good chance of reaching one charge move in time to throw it at the next 'mon up. And as anyone who's been left stranded with a Venusaur against a Charizard in GO Battle League can tell you, Sludge Bomb can deal very good damage to even the toughest Grass counters. And hard Grass counters are what the opponent is most likely to throw at your Plume.
And the discussion really could end there. Technically Moonblast would be the second move to add, on typing alone, but it doesn't help Plume at all versus most of its counters, being resisted by Fire, Poison, and Steel. And Petal Blizzard and Solar Beam are very redundant with the high Grass damage output of Razor Leaf. Return... meh, I guess. At least it's not resisted by much. But really, Vileplume is one of the easier Pokémon in the Cup to label as a "thrifty" option... no second move necessary, so I would recommend saving your hard-earned 50,000 dust. Razor Leaf stuff down, throw a Sludge Bomb afterwards when it's most advantageous to do so (though really, it'll probably be immediately upon Plume's second opponent entering the battle), and be content with Plume doing that much for you.
Because the other ugly truth of Razor Leafers is this: they usually require a shield to even REACH their own charge move. There is very little you can finish off with Razor Leaf alone without having to use a shield, though at least the Rhynos, A-Grav, and the Charmers are all still on there. (And even Machamp, though JUST barely... that might still be a spot where it's better to use a shield and get out with over half of Plume's HP left instead.)
And if you want to walk on the wild side and burn BOTH of your shields, Plume is terrifying, especially if you just pocket all that energy and straight Razor Leaf. This CAN create some crazy possibilities, like Vileplume taking out Magneton or Medicham or Gliscor and having a ton of HP left and a Sludge Bomb ready to go with energy even left over, but really, I probably wouldn't recommend that. Even in those spots, yes, you'll either deal big damage with the first Sludge Bomb or force a shield to help balance out the two you used yourself, but you're still not likely to reach a second Bomb, and now you could start falling behind. Usually best to settle for taking out one Pokemon, using a single shield to get there, getting off a single Bomb as a parting gift to whatever follows, and moving on. Doing that is a good day at the office for a Razor Leafer.
Which may leave you scratching your head a little at the next one on the list:

CHERRIM

Grass Type
Attack: 122 (120 Maximized)
Defense: 115 (117 Maximized)
HP: 129 (132 Maximized)
(Maximized/High Stat Product IVs: 0-13-15, 1496 CP, Level 28)
So there's good and bad here as compared to Plume. Let's start with the positives: noticeably better bulk means that Cherrim can hang in there long enough to get off a couple extra Razor Leafs that Vileplume sometimes can't. (We'll see a couple direct comparisons in a minute of how that can matter,) And mono-Grass typing means Ground damage is now resisted, and sneaky Psychic moves deal only neutral damage.
The downside? The typing is probably more of a bad thing than good. As discussed with Plume, a Poison subtyping removes weaknesses to Poison and Bug, both of which Cherrim "gains", and adds resistances to Fighting and Fairy, neither of which Cherrim benefits from. Remember that as we dive in further....
Fast Moves:
Razor Leaf (Grass, 5.5 DPT, 2.0 EPT, 1.0 CD)
Bullet Seed (Grass, 1.67 DPT, 3.67 EPT, 1.5 CD)
Here we have a second fast move option that initially seems worth at least checking out... but uh... no. Don't do it!
Cherrim is a Razor Leafer, pure and simple. And in that role, she does much better than you might think. For one thing, she can Razor Leaf Steelix, Gligar, and even Gliscor. No frills, no tricks, just straight Razor Leafing and taking advantage of the bulk it has that Plume lacks, because Plume cannot overcome that trio without some kind of advantage in its favor.
But then the bad news: the Fighters don't mind Cherrim nearly as much as Plume. Machamp still technically loses, though really results that close can go either way in practice. Scrafty you hope to just tie, and Medicham is probably a write-off assuming it has Ice Punch (and it really should). Sableye slips away as well, as does Wigglytuff.
However, that's not quite the whole story. There are still IVs to consider. With Vileplume, there was actually a very slight DIP in performance with maximized GL IVs, but that's not the case here. With high stat product IVs, Cherrim actually show more promise, shoring up Machamp, regaining Scrafty and Sableye, and even flipping what's still admittedly a super close result against Wigglytuff. Medicham sadly still escapes, but really, that much more closely mimics Vileplume's performance, and even slightly exceeds it with the pickups against Steelix and the Glisboys.
But the roller coaster ride continues, as we crest that last positive vibe hill and slope down the other side....
Charge Moves:
Dazzling Gleam (Fairy, 110 damage, 70 energy)
Solar Beam (Grass, 150 damage, 80 energy)
Hyper Beam (Normal, 150 damage, 80 energy)
You want to hear something ironic? Cherrim is one of the super cheap 'mons that only requires 10,000 dust to unlock a second charge move... and it is uncertain whether it can reach even ONE charge move at all in actual play. So yeah, sure, go ahead and add Solar or Hyper Beam, but don't expect to ever use them unless the game is a sure lock for you already.
More realistically, we're left in the unenviable position pre-Sludge Bomb Plume was in for so long: needing to grind out a 70 energy Fairy move, which will take a slow seventeen seconds and more than a little luck. So while Cherrim is a nice little bulky Leafer than can perhaps get some initial wins easier than Vileplume, it's advantage: Plume when it comes to the followup play. No guarantee Cherrim will ever reach Dazzling Gleam at all, and even if it does, it doesn't provide the more advantageous coverage of Poison moves like Sludge Bomb. Cherrim has good things--genuinely good!--going for it as a pure Razor Leafer, and I would dare say it's better in that specific role than Vileplume. But it just isn't able to do much for you beyond that, while Plume can at least drop a Bomb (or maybe even two!) before giving up the ghost.
Please give Cherrim a halfway decent charge move, Niantic. I want to use it, but it's hard to justify for this very reason. All that good bulk going to waste....
Anyway, one more to cover, and it is distinctly NOT a Razor Leafer.

FERROTHORN

Grass/Steel Type
Attack: 107 (105 Maximized)
Defense: 158 (158 Maximized)
HP: 122 (128 Maximized)
(Maximized/High Stat Product IVs: 0-13-13, 1500 CP, Level 25)
The only Grass/Steel we'll see for a while, with nice resistances that go with it, but potentially crippling vulnerabilities to Fighting and a DOUBLE one to Fire. At least it's bulky... gotta love that Defense especially!
Fast Moves:
Bullet Seed (Grass, 1.67 DPT, 3.67 EPT, 1.5 CD)
Metal Claw (Steel, 2.50 DPT, 3.00 EPT, 1.0 CD)
Before I analyze what we have here, one question: WHY does this thing not have Vine Whip? Its body IS, like, 80% whips of vine. What the heck? Oh, the lost possibilities!
Instead, we're left looking at Bullet Seed for our Grass fast type. It's not the worst thing in the world, but MAN, it's so lackluster. You're hoping to squeeze off as many charge moves as you can with it, since it deals practically no damage itself.
Metal Claw is okay-ish too, but it's a below average move (only average EPT and 0.5 less DPT than the average), but it's been alright on other 'mons in past metas where it could abuse Ices and Fairies and the like. But there are no Ices to speak of here, and while there ARE notable Fairies, Bullet Seed can take care of them anyway (as we'll see in a sec) and is the move I recommend.
So, with the high energy Seed in mind, let's see what it is we want to charge up....
Charge Moves:
Mirror Shot (Steel, 35 damage, 35 energy, 30% Chance to Decrease Opponent Defense -1 Stage)
Acid Spray (Poison, 20 damage, 50 energy, Decrease Opponent Defense -2 Stages)
Power Whip (Grass, 90 damage, 50 energy)
Thunder (Electric, 100 damage, 60 energy)
Flash Cannon (Steel, 110 damage, 65 energy)
Oh man, my Charge TMs just hid under the couch, whimpering.
And yes, you're likely to need some, because there are some frontrunners of note here.
The first one I strongly recommend is actually the weakest on paper: Mirror Shot. There are a few reasons why, but the main one is that it is, yes, a bait move. Especially on a 'mon like Ferrothorn where opponents may not know what move(s) to expect, whether due to newness of the Pokémon or the fact that it has such a varied movepool, having a good bait move gains a bit more importance as there's a better chance of "panic shielding" than you may normally encounter. And Mirror Shot is a better than average bait move because it comes with a chance to debuff (whether shielded or not), AND is blessed with a Steel typing that is pretty good in this particular meta. Why, with Mirror Shot alone, you can take out the likes of the Rhynos (even with the threat of Mud Slap), other important Rocks like Alolan Graveler, all the main Fairies, and the other Grasses as a bonus. No baiting in THOSE scenarios, which is nice.
But realistically, Mirror Shot is just there to bait shields and set up other damaging moves. I'm gonna go ahead and eliminate Flash Cannon, as the main things you'd want it for are already met with straight Mirror Shotting. And the relevant wins it DOES gain (Probo, Magcargo, and Sable) are also gains for Power Whip... and then some. You still pick up everything Mirror Shot could do, plus the same Probopass and Sableye and Magcargo you got with Flash Cannon, AND for the first time, Steelix and Magneton and Gligar and Lickilicky (and yes, Lickitung too) on top of it. It represents Ferrothorn's best moveset in the Cup overall, including in shieldless and shield disadvantage scenarios. (Most Rocks and Fairies just ALWAYS lose to Power Whip.)
There is some consideration for Thunder, which gains you Flyers like Skarmory and Golbat, but it gives up a lot to get there, including Steelix, Sableeye, Gligar, even Magcargo, which seems like a lot to me. And no, combining Thunder and Whip doesn't work out so well either... like I said, the baiting (and Rock shredding) potential of Mirror Shot is important with Thorn... specifically, note how previously sure win Rhyperior escapes now.
So again, if you want to get spicy with Ferrothorn, I DO think it's a valid and viable course of action for certain teams, and BS/MS/PW is the way to go. But log some practice time and get a feel for Mirror Shot especially, as proper utilization and timing is pretty critical to much of Thorn's success.
And that's a wrap! Grass in Rose Cup, in a nutshell. What can it do for YOU? Hopefully you can better answer that now. Not every team needs it, but there ARE teams that can definitely benefit from what they bring to the table. Give them a try!
Shout-outs as always to my buddies in the GO: Stadium PvP Discord (join today!) and the MD PvP Alliance for their guidance and brainstorming. And as always, the simulated battles above from my go-to simming resource at PvPoke.com are a good start to the story, but they are certainly not the whole story. Run some sims yourself, test with the Grasses yourself, and please: discuss! I always love to hear your feedback and any discussions that come out of these deeper dives.
Thanks for the continued support and for sticking with me through these long analyses. I hope you continue to enjoy these articles as much as I continue to enjoy writing them!
P.S. - At the insistence of several folks here on Reddit and elsewhere, I have a Patreon now for anyone interested:
https://www.patreon.com/JRE_Seawolf
And I'm also on Twitter with near daily PvP tidbits as well!
https://www.twitter.com/JRESeawolf/
submitted by JRE47 to TheSilphArena

HG anniversary: Flesh Wound

Warning: dark themes, violence
“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."
Bill had the entirety of the Draysten islands mapped in his head. He'd had Zigzagoon run to every inch of the islands and report his position via intercom, under the cover story of mapping out the entire island on a GPS system. This "map" had been recreated once a year, or whenever some natural disaster occurred that changed typography, or on the rare occasion that some actual development occurred in the region (mostly from Gengar Corp, which as good as ran the banana republic that Draysten had become).
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.
Most of the tech Zigzagoon brought in on a daily basis was broken or useless -- useless, that is, to anyone but Bill. Over the past twenty years, he'd invented quite a few useful devices from discarded scrap, useful devices that it pained him that he could never patent and mass-produce. Many of which he'd developed for amputees like himself, to help him get through life with the fact that he'd permanently lost his right-handedness.
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.
He didn't need to wait long.
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.
Something drastic happened.
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."
There were in fact twelve thugs, through two of them were Machoke. When Bill, Tater, and Zigzagoon teleported in a close distance away, under cover of some crates, but they could already hear the screams. Bill had his face obscured by a thin cloth mask over the lower half of his face, but the alleyway was too dark to wear a hat or sunglasses. He needed maximum visibility. But he did wear a dark cloak that matched the color of his cloth mask, for the sake of looking about as intimidating as a one-armed man could reasonably expect to look.
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.
The enraged, half-blinded roughnecks hadn't taken two steps out of the alleyway until the burning crates fell in front of them, crates shoved rudely off the top of a large building, landing on the two unlucky ones in front, burning them alive. The remaining thugs' natural reaction was to look up, to see who the h--- would do something like tha--
--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?"
Cynthia had been riding Amber to Draysten for longer than it would have taken Amber to fly on his own. But there were certain speeds a god could reach at which not even an acolyte could survive the flight, and Amber, for all his years, had more than an adequate knowledge of physics to know how rapid a journey Cynthia's body could handle.
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?"
They swooped into the abandoned street, scattering the thugs in fear. Tater had felled most of them, but somehow they'd just kept coming. Apparently even Tater hadn't been able to tell that the "deserted" part of town wasn't entirely deserted at all.
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.
The world was a blur as Bill awakened, sharp pain stabbing him like daggers in his chest. Oh, yeah, those actually had been daggers in his chest. Lucky him. He could barely see, hear, or feel anything but pain, but he tasted some sort of potion on his lips, and his acolyte sense was going haywire.
"Zi...Zigzag..."
"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.
Bill watched in silence as Cynthia dressed his wounds, reset broken bones, applied SecretPotion to potentially infected areas. And Cynthia, for her part, said nothing as she worked.
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..."
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."
Amber and Cynthia stayed at Bill's house the entire week, and I won't say they weren't apprehensive about it because then I'd be lying. I also won't say that they didn't leave with as much of Bill's technology as they could fit on Cynthia's private jet, as well as quite a bit of confiscated suspicious flora from his garden in back.
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...
HER.
She was every bit as beautiful as he'd imagined her to be, every inch the fine young woman her mother had been. He'd seen her in the news, tracked her every movement -- why hadn't he heard that she was flying to Draysten?
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.
"A... Alice...?"
"F-Father..."
"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."
FIN.
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