Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Phoenix
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Forrest sighed in relief whenever Pandora let out a pulse of cooling energy. The sweat across his body sent a brief chill through him at first, which could only be noticed by his shrinking nipples. It didn't seem cool enough to make him cold as the tropical heat couldn't be staved off entirely with a simple Mist. But it definitely made it comfortable. The mist eventually gave way to dewiness. Even Shaq'ti managed to relay the feeling of relief to Pandora, directly.
Forrest gave some food to Shaq'ti which made her drop her scanning for the moment. He then offered food to everyone else and even asked if Antligon or Oracle wanted some food via Ether. He didn't press anyone to eat since he wasn't very hungry, himself, but forced himself to eat. He nodded to affirm Tristan's offer as he fed those that wished to eat and finished the last few bites he was able to tolerate.

Oracle closed her eyes as she glimpsed to somewhere into the future. She saw orbs - purple and orange and blue - streak down through the clouds. The sky was a solid blue. They looked like orbs of energy falling straight toward the ground from past the clouds. She looked up and saw only faint wisps of clouds that streaked the sky that was a gradient of blue from the horizon to directly above her and Antligon. She couldn't shake the feeling that the orbs were awfully similar to Flygon's Draco Meteor. But Forrest specifically told him not to perform that move. She confirmed this with Antligon, himself, who said he wouldn't perform the move unless Forrest directly told him to or if he needed to for them to get away from a threat - but that he hadn't seen anything unusual and hadn't been notified of any danger yet. She still notified everyone of this vision to ensure that everyone was on high-alert - to not be caught off-guard.
She glimped again into a point in the future and saw the cabin on fire. It roared and seared her feathers within the vision. She saw papers swiftly go up in flames and float into the air as ash that soon disintegrated into nothing. People dumped boxes of papers into the flames and then the people, themselves, went up in flames. They were trying to destroy evidence before any of it could be found. She urged Tristan to go as quickly as Shaq'ti could to get and learn as much as possible before that could happen.

And so they did. As was agreed, it was only Tristan and Shaq'ti who approached the cabin while Forrest and all the other Pokemon stayed behind. Forrest was, understandably, more on-edge since learning about Oracle's visions, but he took several deep breaths to try to calm himself. He took her first vision to mean that Flygon was going to have to use Draco Meteor for some reason or another. The second made him worried for Tristan that he would be caught within the base as it burned. But he remembered Shaq'ti was capable of quite accurate teleportation, and so that concern was relieved.
There were three people carrying out boxes from within the cabin. There was a man and a woman wearing common civilian clothing and appeared, otherwise, normal. This made the other man stand out that much more. He was hulking - at least 7 feet tall. He was built like Forrest, but proportional to his height. The giant was terrifying. He carried two large boxes, one on the other, filled with books out of the cabin and about thirty feet away from the building. He wore an open suede vest, blue jeans, and leather boots. His hair was short but had tight dark brown curls. He was evenly furry across his entire body, it seemed. His face and everything on it was wide and large. It might have looked cartoonish if he wasn't so massive. Most would consider him "ruggedly handsome." He was clearly performing likely the only job he was hired to do - lift heavy things and put them down.
Investigating the boxes, they appeared to filled with common books found in any personal library. There was fiction and history and myths of various topics. Nothing stood out since there wasn't anything as esoteric as the myth of Jirachi. There were cook books and gardening books. It was all rather mundane. They couldn't be scoured too thoroughly as having books disappear and reappear elsewhere would certainly be suspicious.
The cabin, itself, was rather nice. There was no central heating or cooling system, which was immediately felt. But it was furnished rather nicely. And though the scent of sweaty adults permeated the immediate area, it, otherwise, smelled nice enough. There was a living room with a couch and seat and coffee table and fireplace. The kitchen was rather cluttered with non-perishable food that appeared to be in the process of being eaten. A quick check of the drawers and cabinets only revealed typical things found in kitchens. It was then that Tristan remembered that the cabin, itself, was a front for the base underground. But he had to make sure he found everything he could within the cabin before descending into the base.
He quickly scanned bedrooms and bathrooms, where nothing of note was found. Tristan was expecting to find something of interest in the office, but there was virtually nothing of interest - it didn't even look like the office was used. The papers spread out on the desk and the table were blank or just receipts. The pens had never been used. More reams of blank paper were found in the drawers. Typical office supplies filled other drawers. Dissapointing.
The only talk among the people that puttered around was about what needed to be gotten and what was going to stay. But one individual said something that unconsciously put the fear of Arceus in him. "Taurus" was referenced as being here. Tristan hadn't seen anyone that appeared particularly authoritative or even dressed at least similarly or uniquely as he remembered Pisces appeared. But he had to stay focused despite how his heart skipped.
Tristan saw someone come out of the floor in the room across the office. It was a trapdoor that was left open. A ladder led down into relative darkness. Tristan had to wait a few minutes to find the right time where he could climb down the ladder without getting in the way of the pully system that was rigged to bring up supplies from below.
He kept a lookout for anyone who he believed might have been Taurus. Tristan wondered if it was the giant as he looked the most distinctive, if only for his size. But it didn't make sense since he was just carrying things out of the building.
The base was massive. He moved as quickly as Shaq'ti could. Corridors led to corridors led to bunk rooms led to mess halls led to showers led to weight rooms led to storage rooms...
The storage rooms appeared mostly full of clothes and linens and office supplies. But one such storage room made Tristan froze. Explosive. Massive bombs that were stacked on top of each other and lined in rows. Most of the room appeared to have been emptied considering the unworn portions of the floor. From a quick calculation, there were probably 100 medium to large explosives that were recently removed from this base. Tristan found himself audibly panting and was reminded by Shaq'ti to remain quiet. Useful information, to be sure, but nothing that led to finding answers to unanswered questions.
Tristan felt like he was racing to explore as much of the base as he could. He eventually came across a rather important looking office. There were two people puttering around in there. There wasn't too much room to really do much without threatening to bump into them. But it looked like they were packing up books from the wall behind the desk. So he stood in front of the desk and examined the kinds of books that he could make out.
They were ledgers - activity ledgers. He wanted to take them all. One of the people suggested that it was going to be fun to "watch all of this go up in flames." His heart sank and skipped at the realization that so much of this information would be lost since he knew he wouldn't be able to take all of it, or even much of it.
He quickly investigated all around the desk. He moved slowly so his opening of drawers wasn't noticed as one of them carried out a box and the other moved to another corner of the room. Files. Individual's files of activity and position and authority. Perfect. He grabbed seven files that had the most recent information in them that he could find. He then turned to quickly analyze the organization system of the ledgers. It took a few minutes to find the most recent ledger, which was larger up close and realized he'd only be able to take the one without being noticed and without threatening to drop what he was able to get.
Oracle was right. They were going to burn all the evidence they could. But why were they taking out so many of the ledgers and files instead of lighting them on fire directly in the base? He looked around and noticed all the walls were made of concrete and there was an impressive sprinkler system. Perhaps it was faster this way than trying to disarm it - or maybe it couldn't be disarmed? He wasn't about to take the time to figure out that piece of information given how precious the information he had in his hands was and how desperate he was to get out of here as soon as he could.
Tristan realized it was going to be between difficult and impossible to climb the ladder with the files and ledgers he had. Shaq'ti offered to carry them as she was just going to levitate herself up the same way she levitated herself down. But it would cut her speed down exponentially as she wasn't used to being concerned with anything on her body as she affected the perceptions of those around her. Tristan had to reassure himself that it would be fine, that whatever means he needed to use to get these files out of here and to the Rangers was of the utmost importance.
Again they had to wait to find the time they would be able to use the ladder. It felt like an eternity before he could hand over the files to Shaq'ti and begin to climb the ladder at the speed she could handle. Panic was setting in at the realization that Taurus was here and they could found out at any moment and if he had Pokemon anywhere near as strong as Pisces, they'd have to teleport away as quickly as possible.
Tristan took the files from Shaq'ti as soon as he could and they rushed through the cabin and down the steps and toward where he knew Forrest and their Pokemon were waiting.
"There!"
Tristan looked around and noticed the very large man a few other people were looking directly at them. He glanced at Shaq'ti who's eyes mimicked his own.
He felt a low rumbling up his body from the ground. It felt like minutes as the rumbling grew into a near-earthquake. His heart could burst out of his chest as he saw a massive Tauros come into view directly toward them. He managed to glance over to see Malamar atop the roof - surely that was the reason they were found out.
He felt a firm but soft hand land on his chest as the hooves of the Tauros pounded into the ground and tore so much earth underneath them. He blinked and they were among Forrest and their Pokemon.
"I'm sorry. I'm exhausted. I could only teleport us here for now," she thought to only Tristan and Ether.

----------


Forrest stood up as Tristan and Shaq'ti disappeared. He nodded to Ether who's mind immediately went to all around them while he kept a link with his trainer. He looked at Pandora, the Jynx. She put her hands all over him, which felt nice considering how cold her touch was. She reminded Forrest of Damselraed and encouraged her behavior. Damselraed started to vie for his attention from Pandora. Forrest found it amusing how jealous she was getting but tried to reassure her. But Pandora recoiled as she went to kiss Forrest's cheek. Veritas relayed that she was going to Lovely Kiss him, which they definitely did not need. Forrest tried to reassure Pandora that he would accept her affection and that she didn't need to go so far with it.
They all eventually settled as Ether relayed everything Tristan was seeing and hearing. Forrest found it difficult to keep track of how quickly the thoughts entered his mind. Oracle sent the occasional update as well - that nothing was happening from what they could see from their vantage point. But Oracle unconsciously filled with anxiety as she learned her second vision would be true and couldn't help but think back to the vision she'd seen those few days ago - with Pisces and Forrest and Damselraed. She wanted so badly to warn Forrest, but she would continue to wait until Tristan allowed her to.
Their own shock at learning about the bombs was naturally muted as they weren't physically there. It felt like so much time had passed until Tristan had found files and was working to leave the cabin.
Oracle's first vision of the Draco Meteor flashed in her mind. She instinctually looked up to learn that the vision was coming true at this very moment. She warned Antligon who looked up quickly and thought for her to retreat as he engaged the move. He didn't perform the move, after all.
Her mind was then filled with all the action that took place seemingly all at once as Tristan left the cabin. Shaq'ti was concerningly tapped of her psychic energy, it seemed. She communicated to them all that Antligon was also going to try to counter a Draco Meteor that was falling as this was all happening.
Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Akacen
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The only consolation of all of this is that, at the very least, in a way he was correct. There was a veritable treasure trove of information, documentation, and intelligence here. A shame that they would only be able to get a fraction of a percent of it. He hoped beyond hope he had picked correctly.

Tristan had been in some tight spots before, sure. But none of them had been this outright dangerous, nor nearly as important. At the same time, it felt like it took all day to move through the base, collect what they could, and leave, and just minutes as they rushed through to not get caught. His heart was racing from the excitement and anxiety of it all.

“Fuckin’ bitch,” he gasped as he witnessed the charging Tauros and glaring Malamar. The last syllable would be heard by Forrest and their Pokemon on the ground as they materialized. “Fuckin’ shit…” he said again out loud before he got his thoughts together. Luckily, the files were already in his bag, though a bit over-filled what with all the medicines already in there.

”Get Oracle back here. Now.” He was frantic, desperate not to have her add physical injury to the mental ones she was already dealing with. Ether relayed the message to which Oracle reached out to her Trainer directly.

”I will help…” Her smooth, lilting, echoing mezzo was nearly as captivating as Veritas’. More importantly, though, Oracle spoke with an authority and gravitas that Veritas simply couldn’t possess. With as much time as Oracle spent in various moments in time, when she bothered to speak there was an undeniable weight to it.

Tristan was fuming, but he knew better than to argue. ”You’d better keep your Detect up.” His anger masked his fear and despair. It was a beautiful day - no rain in sight. So, he figured there was no fear that Damselraed would die today. And, also, Pisces wasn’t here, so doubly true.

She didn’t respond - of course she was already doing this, and she saw right through him. Shooting up into the sky at an impressive speed (for a Xatu), she started to form a Reflect Screen in such a manner as to leave enough space to get Antligon behind it when the need inevitably arose. Certainly not a fighter like Flygon, she would do what she could to support him in his endeavor to protect them from this Draco Meteor.

Back on the ground, Tristan knew that Veritas and Ether combined could teleport them out of safety, but neither he nor Forrest were about to leave their Pokemon behind. Not with someone as conceivably powerful as Taurus here. “We need to stall until Oracle and Antligon come back, then Veritas and Ether can get us out of here.” Tristan was decidedly on the verge of panicking. Indeed, he was barely keeping it together. Only the worst scenarios rushed through his head over and over as he considered what they should do.

What could they do?

Almost on instinct, Tristan released Vertigo from his pokeball. “Do your thing…” Vertigo was only more than happy to comply. It seemed that, even in the most stressful of situations, Tristan possessed the ability to keep things together and enact a decent plan.

At least, he thought it was a decent plan.

Vertigo considered various Nasty Plots as he hovered in the direction of the charging Tauros. Upon entering range he would start with Confuse Rays. If those didn’t work, he’d go straight into Hypnosis. While Vertigo liked to play as much as the next pokemon, he knew this wasn’t the time or place to do so lightly.
Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Phoenix
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Forrest glided his hand across all his Pokeballs. Everyone materialized nearly on top of each other. He glanced over to what Tristan had in his hands and his heart raced. Of course they were found out right at the end. It didn't register how a Psychic and Dark type Pokemon would be the perfect counter to invisibility. The flashes of images and commands that flooded his mind all at once made him focus on the fact that there was a Tauros charging toward them and a Draco Meteor falling toward them from above. He knew Shaq'ti couldn't teleport them away at the moment, and it never crossed his mind that Tristan's Pokemon were likely more than capable to getting them out of there immediately, but his first instinct was to fight back, of course - and to protect those files and Tristan, by extension.
"Go," he nearly roared at Tristan. "Get out of here!"
His face was mean - angry. Nothing like the look he'd have during a competitive battle. But this was certainly not a competitive battle. After experiencing the Mauville attack and the Wharf, their lives were in immediate danger.
Veins across Forrest's body started to push through his skin and his posture shifted to something like a protective Ursaring prepared to kill those that threatened her cubs. "Do it, Syressa," Forrest growled through his teeth.
Syressa's siren of a voice pushed through the space. Ether caught the glimpse of a move he'd never seen before. Fairy Fall was the Fairy-type equivalent to Draco Meteor, it seemed. And given the relation they had to each other, it could certainly effectively counter it. But he noticed how Syressa was concerned with how much effort and energy it took to perform. But she twirled straight into the air to chase after Oracle and Antligon. She'd never be able to catch up even without his summoning of a Sandstorm that naturally increased his speed. It was probably because Oracle was so close and he didn't want to harm her unnecessarily. Her eyes glowed in marbled patterns of purple and pink and blue. Her siren call rang out clearly and far. Her body began to glow a marbled white and pink as the clouds above parted and the sky darkened unnaturally. White spots like stars appeared in the nearly-black sky and slowly grew. An amazingly ginormous Altaria was revealed when the clouds parted. Syressa had to stop and focus on making her Star Fall speed downward so it might catch the Draco Meteor, if not the Altaria that, likely, produced it.
"Distract it, Marionetta," Forrest growled next.
The Banette moaned in glee and disappeared. She materialized behind Vertigo and cooed at him as if to try to encourage him to do his best. She disappeared again and then appeared right in front of the Tauros. It moved so quickly that it phased right through her before she could even notice. She believed it must have been a Giga Impact, which looked like it would be devastating with whatever it connected. She disappeared and reappeared behind the Tauros but tried to speed forward with it, which she could only do by performing Pursuit. She realized it had closed its eyes as the Confuse Rays shot toward it. She noticed Vertigo was preparing a Hypnosis and worried that with the Tauros now blindly charging toward them, it wouldn't matter if it fell asleep given the power with which it charged at them. She tried to cast out Will-o-Wisps, but the earth the Tauros kicked up splashed away the searing energy.
"Cut it up, Wickengu," Forrest commanded.
The Shiftry nodded and vanished. He was only a blur as he dashed around the trees and then back and forth in the clearing. A wide curve of dark green collided with the Tauros, but didn't slow it down at all. The Leaf Blade certainly connected, but the Tauros was simply too powerful. As strong as Wickengu was, this Tauros was like a steel wall. He remembered that it was part Steel-type and worried that they wouldn't be able to do much against it, especially Marionetta. But he continued to cross back and forth against the Tauros with Leaf Blades, as many as he could fit in before it would reach its target, whatever that was at this point.
"Halcrow, go get 'em," Forrest growled next.
The Cacturne grinned wide and ran past the Tauros toward the Malamar atop the roof. Once he got close enough, he fell onto all fours and seemed to Ingrain himself should anyone try to get him away. Needles flew from his body and directly toward the Malamar. Pin Missile was the perfect move against that type of Pokemon. It Protected itself, but Halcrow kept the missiles flying. The ugly squid formed screens in front of it, but the pins shattered through it and the Malamar tumbled onto the ground. A fist met his side and he was sent flying despite being Ingrained into the ground. The large man in the suede vest breathed deeply and wore a smirk on his face.
"Kangooroom, with me," Forrest said.
The Breloom nodded and paced toward the people fleeing, all except the giant man that he could assume was the owner of the Tauros and Altaria. Kangooroom thought he should take Wickengu's spot as he'd be more effective, but he also knew that taking out their trainer was probably a better route to take. They both watched as the Malamar tumbled off the roof and watched in awe and horror as the giant man sent Halcrow flying in a single punch to its side. Forrest fell forward into a sprint that Kangooroom followed. The giant man turned to face Forrest and Kangooroom. He even appeared confident in taking them both on at the same time.
Antligon glanced back at Oracle and roared out a "thanks," and pushed forward. He was disappointed he couldn't Sandstorm, but he believed Oracle's screens would prove more effective than just his speed. But he soon reached the position he wanted to be to intercept the Draco Meteor and stopped to brace himself. This Draco Meteor was massive - powerful. More powerful than any he'd seen or produced himself - he could tell. But he breathed deep and had to believe in himself. The brief notice that Syressa was behind him helped his confidence. He then warned that Oracle would be affected by the Boomburst he was about to perform to neutralize as many of the meteors as he could. In just a moment, Antligon cried out a screech that violently vibrated the air around him. As it reached the meteors, they barely fizzled away before they reached Antligon. But there were so many more that continued to streak past them. Then it went black.

The residual chimes of the Hypnosis did something - but not nearly enough. The Tauros was still charging blind toward them. It had veered to Vertigo's right enough that he wouldn't have to move out of the way to dodge it, but he knew it was heading straight for his trainer and the Pokemon still around them - Ether and Damselraed, at the least. Trees shattered against the Tauros' head. Not even that slowed it down. A giant torrent of water collided with the bull, and it still pushed forward - even though Damselraed's Hydro Pump that she let out in vain.
The Altaria reached Flygon as the Boomburst ended. He was cut through with a Rainbow Rush, the equivalent of a Dragon Rush, by the Altaria, which was somehow larger than the Flygon who was already large for his species. He was instantly knocked out. This was unprecedented for Flygon - to be taken out in a single hit and so soon. The force of the blow hurled him toward the ground fast. Syressa used a last bit of concentration to aim her Star Fall onto the rest of the Draco Meteors. She moved to shoot a Heal Pulse at Antligon and urged him to wake up from it. If he didn't, she prepared a Psychic to try to catch him. Still, she worried about Oracle. If that Altaria did this to Flygon, she worried the Xatu wouldn't have a chance.
Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Akacen
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Tristan couldn't go. Not yet.

Pokeballs appeared in the air and the remainder of his team was released. He wasn't about to leave Forrest here all by himself, after all. At the speed of thought, commands were given, allowing only a moment for each of them to perform their duty.

Oracle rarely showed her true skills and capabilities in battle. While she was far from Tristan's strongest battler, she was not to be taken lightly. Even by an impossibly powerful giant Altaria. Her rather typical size allowed her to Detect the trajectory of each of the Meteors and glide around them as she moved away from Antligon's Boomburst. She was already Wishing for Flygon to recover, the eyes on her chest glowing a dull yellow, even before he was hit by the Rainbow Rush. Still Syressa's Heal Pulse would reach Antligon first. Oracle's mind reached Syressa to reassure her, "I've got him... focus on Altaria." Her assuredness was comforting despite whatever doubt Syressa might have had.

In a graceful divebomb, Oracle met up with the unconscious Antligon to be nearby and slow his descent with her own Psychic if he didn't manage to wake up in time. However, she knew he would. Her attention then shifted to focus on the giant foe hurdling around. Oracle froze in the air, floating motionless while her eyes glowed a deep yellow and, from out of nowhere, the winds shifted. And they would keep shifting to blow from behind Syressa and into the Altaria. However, Oracle was rather compromised in this position and would rely on her colleagues to ensure her safety.

Veritas, from the Tauros' opposite flank in relation to Vertigo, unleashed a desperate Aura Sphere. Her hands collected Aura from herself, even as she drew it in from all around. Then the orb was sent forward, winding and weaving through the forest to meet its mark. She knew it wasn't going to stop the thing, but their task was just to do as much damage as possible while it thundered forward.

From the other side, Veritgo's fiery Hidden Power rushed in pulses at the Tauros as he flew, hovering just over the ground and barely keeping up. His spoons glowed white hot as the concentrated energy released towards his mark. Veritas had no hope of keeping up and just kept releasing small Aura Spheres, one from each hand, over and over. Each one found its mark, weaving through the trees and branches to do so.

While Aequitas would have preferred a head-on assault, he was strictly ordered not to, and instead started a flurry of Mach Blades, each faster than the next as he increased his Agility bit by bit with each slash of his blades. He'd jump and float over the Tauros, slashing in an X over its back. His feet moved ever faster, and within only a couple of Mach Blades was he easily keeping up with the Giga Impact.

Arine was allowed the forward position, unleashing an unrelenting stream of Water Pulses into the Tauros. Her gem glowed as water streamed from the tip of each arm while she spun into a blur, her gem a nearly perfect circle. Tristan, and by extension Arine, hoped that if all of this didn't fell the Tauros, that after it would be sufficiently confused. They figured it couldn't block its hearing and inner-ears. She would Rapid Spin and lift herself with Telekinesis should the monster not stop before reaching her.

And Zen, from underneath the creature, would compel the Earth's Power to erupt in perhaps an attempt to trip it up, throw it off course, or stop the attack altogether. It's eyes glowed while each leg impacted the ground as pistons into the ground, the power of which erupted just before the charging Tauros.

They were all lucky to have worked together for so long (and, you know, the whole psychic thing), ensuring each of their attacks didn't hurt Aequitas as he rushed back and forth over the beast.

Pandora would be last. Once the Tauros stopped, she would a Lovely Sweet Kiss on it, and also do her best to Attract it to her. And, oh boy, was she ready!

Only once commands were given did Tristan's hand brush against Ether and two would disappear from sight. They would appear in Tristan's office in the Ranger Headquarters. His head whipped around to ensure no one was around. Lights were on, but no one seemed to be nearby or passing the door. "Good..."

Ether ensured the door was locked while Tristan rushed and fumbled the documents into the safe behind his desk. He cursed at himself through the whole thing, his thumb too sweaty for two attempted readings. Papers and folders would fall out of his bag and onto the floor, so he'd have to pick them up. Everything was a mess and he hoped they'd be able to make sense of it all afterwards.

Once he was done, which took entirely too long he thought, the pair would teleport back, this time a safe distance from the engagement area they hoped. His heart seemed to stop beating as his eyes took in what happened in all of probably 20 seconds.
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The Heal Pulse coursed through Antligon and he began to stir as he fell. He saw Oracle and felt her Wish to prove his strength. His eyes shot open and found a deep determination with his second chance. Sand spun out from him and he was obscured by an orb of swirling sand. He shot past Oracle wide enough to not catch her in the Sandstorm and rocketed straight up behind Syressa. None would be able to see the barrel rolls he performed as he worked up a Dragon Dance that turned into a Dragon Rush that pushed him even faster toward the Altaria.
Syressa quickly adapted to Oracle's response. She Coiled upward. Her body shone with brilliant blue energy that spread out from her in a giant sheet. The Wide Guard was just large enough to catch the rest of the Draco Meteors. She refocused her Star Fall toward Altaria at the last moment. A bright blast of glittering energy exploded around the Altaria who let out a long cry, though notably not terribly pained.
As the Draco Meteor met the Wide Guard, the meteors phased through the shield and were greatly diminished in power to the point of being negligible. The Altaria appeared largely unaffected by the Star Fall as the glittering energy subsided. The Altaria then opened its beak and a horrible purple and pink energy formed and shot toward them all. This combination of Moonblast and Dragon Pulse shouldn't have been nearly this strong and devastating, but it shot through all three of them as they unintentionally lined up perfectly to be caught simultaneously. Antligon's Dragon Rush negated much of the blast, but he was still badly injured by the move. The Moonpulse instantly shattered the Wide Guard and enveloped all of Syressa and she immediately passed out from the force much like Flygon did from its Rainbow Rush.

Shaq'ti felt bad for taking the time to Meditate and Recover so that she could be of greater use. She established a firm link with Oracle.

The Water Pulses and Hydro Pump didn't even physically reach the Tauros due to the sheer power caused by the Giga Impact. Luckily they were still able to barely steer the Tauros a little further away from from themselves and Pandora. But Arine was surprised to be clipped by the edge of its Giga Impact despite the Telekinesis-assisted Rapid Spin. Their combined efforts were at least enough to where Damselraed easily dodged out of the way.
Wickengu and Aequitas crossed over the Tauros with their blades simultaneously and from opposite directions with each pass. But the residual energy from the Tauros' front lessened the effect of their attacks despite how effective Aequitas' Mach Blades should have been, and they could both tell. Even Vertigo's Hidden Power appeared to be resisted to some degree.
The ground erupted under Tauros much more violently than Zen had ever been able to do before. And it spread straight forward toward nothing in particular. As it felt the Earth Power form under it, it instinctually created a devastating Fissure. The Tauros stopped before it could reach Pandora. But she wouldn't be safe as all the residual momentum the Tauros had left was focused into its horns that glowed the sickly green of a Megahorn that aimed straight for Pandora.
Pandora, herself, was quick, however. She skirted around the Megahorn and was able to land a perfectly-aimed Lovely Sweet Kiss. But she could quickly notice the Attract didn't work and soon spotted the reason as to why - the Tauros was female. Still, the Tauros stumbled forward and struggled to keep upright. But the barrage of Aura Spheres from Veritas kept it awake due to how effective they appeared to be. But it was frightening that the Tauros turned back toward them and simply appeared winded.

Shaq'ti found Antligon within the Moonblast.

As explosion after explosion blasted from the Tauros, Marionetta considered what kind of Nasty Plots Vertigo must have thought of and prepared her next attack. As the Tauros turned around, she appeared before the bull Pokemon with a wide grin. Her eyes and mouth glowed a sinister yellow and a black void erupted from her. It was one of the only things she could do, but she'd made sure it'd count.
Wickengu followed Marionetta's lead and Plotted how his Swords would cut more effectively into the Tauros. As Marionetta erupted in her inky darkness, Wickengu sped across the Tauros. His elongated fronds were cloaked in a dark gray energy. He knew, same as Marionetta, that he was mostly ineffective, but a Dark Blade might prove more effective.
As Damselraed watched Pandora dance around the Tauros, she performed a Quivering Dance to better prepare herself physically and mentally for what they could be up against, since she still didn't quite know. Her four wings beat so quickly that it vibrated the air around her until it formed a kind of vortex that snaked toward the Tauros. The Whirlwind she created barely lifted the Tauros off the ground - far too heavy to be effected as it should have been. But it kept it from charging them for the moment.

Forrest rushed up to the giant man who didn't move as he crashed his fist into the man's abdomen. The man didn't move - or flinch. This was a greater monster than even Jonton. The terror he felt with Jonton quickly filled him, but this time Forrest used it to his own advantage. He remembered how Rai had taught him to use his fear in a fight. The giant man swung his massive arm around to punch Forrest in the side of his head, but he ducked and pivoted out of the way. Forrest found himself facing the giant's back and he put his arms up under the giant's arms to hold them back. The giant's feet were then tangled in the grass he stood upon due to Halcrow's well-timed Grass Knot. The giant was also positioned perfectly as Kangooroom curved up against the giant in a Sky Uppercut after he Bulked Up while Forrest had engaged him.
The giant went flying in the same way he had made Halcrow fly. Unfortunately, he flew in the same direction and landed in front of Halcrow. But Halcrow wanted his Revenge, and he'd take it. But as he swung toward the giant, the giant grabbed Halcrow's arm - needles and all - with a single hand and started to crush it. He then pulled Halcrow back then threw him further than the giant had punched him before. The giant turned back toward Forrest and Kangooroom. "This is fun," he said with a wild grin on his face as he let the blood drain from his hand.

Shaq'ti found Syressa who'd fainted and was falling to the ground.
"I'm going to teleport them soon," she thought to Ether as they returned and showed Oracle, Antligon, and Syressa to him. Her voice had no elegance now. She was straining hard to find the concentration and strength to do this one last thing to at least save the ones that were the furthest away from the rest of them. She unconsciously hoped Ether would get the rest of them out of this battle soon after, but couldn't think it to Ether directly.
She noted that Ether and Tristan had gone to the Rangers Headquarters and verified that she would teleport the four of them to that location. She didn't even notify Forrest that this was what she was doing - and the four of them were gone.

It was all she could do. Deep in her Recovering Meditation, she could only find three Pokemon far from her and teleport the four of them away. When they appeared at the entrance of the Rangers Headquarters, Shaq'ti promptly joined Syressa and the two laid on the ground unconscious. Flygon looked badly injured, but he panted and looked around to realize they had been taken from the fight. It initially irritated him, but once he saw the state of Syressa and Shaq'ti, his attention went toward attending to them.
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Oracle’s saving grace was her ability to Detect and be aware of the near future even in the heat of battle. Despite this, to move quickly enough out of the way of such a devastating attack proved impossible. It was no surprise she wasn’t used to such power. Not being the fastest flier, her Light Screen proved largely ineffective as it shattered when the Moonpulse contacted it. Half of Oracle’s back seared black and she tumbled in a spin towards the ground with the other three. Despite Antligon and Syressa almost absorbing some of the impact, Oracle was not in as ready a state as she might otherwise have been.

While she usually would have tried to continue the fight, she saved her energy, feeling Ether and Tristan having returned, and Shaq’ti’s plan to teleport the three of them to safety. One wing was able to work on more or less controlling her spin and her descent somewhat. Before they teleported, she’d report to Ether that Forrest was engaging Taurus with Kangooroom and Halcrow. The Malamar seemed to be out of commission - perhaps the weakest battler of the three?

“What a fucking idiot…” Tristan grumbled out loud, shaking his head. “Azelf, Mesprit, and Uxie,” he continued, cursing the situation they found themselves in.

Luckily Ether had the situation well in hand. Well, as much as he could, at least. He didn’t need Shaq’ti to communicate that she hoped he would ensure the rest retreated safely. That was already the plan.

Zen was, literally, a life saver here. Pandora was the only of Tristan’s team who was, more or less, forever grounded. When the Fissure tore through the landscape, Zen would Magnet Rise itself and use Telekinesis to lift Pandora to safety. Veritas and Vertigo rarely deigned to touch the ground. And having already passed Arine, it was already floating and trying to control its spin after being clipped by the Giga Impact, almost threatening to break one of its legs.

Zen, however, couldn’t have anticipated that the Tauros was as agile as it was fast. Impossible that such a gargantuan creature was also so deft, it thought. Setting Pandora down, she was at the monster’s mercy, but she proved resourceful, just barely sliding away on some ice she made for herself. If she hadn’t, she likely would have been gored and split in two.

Vertigo was tasked with meeting up with Forrest, Halcrow, and Kangooroom. The fastest of Tristan’s team, he was the best choice. Hovering just above the forest floor, he flew right for them, his mind reaching out to Forrest to let him know he was coming and that they were going to rendezvous back at Ranger Headquarters. This wasn’t a request or something to discuss. An order coming from a Pokemon, especially not one’s own, might have been disconcerting if the situation wasn’t so dire.

Upon reaching the scene, Vertigo first wanted to ensure that Malamar was still down. Should it be, he would command the three of them to gather around him. None of Tristan’s pokemon had tried to teleport anyone or anything without physical contact. Tristan always considered it superfluous and unnecessarily draining, if not outright dangerous. In the meantime, he first attempted to use his Telekinetic power to hold Taurus in place. Should that fail, which was likely given his immensity, he would try to send Taurus back with a Psychic attack, if only to give them the moments they needed to teleport out of here.

Ether coordinated the others: Veritas was to get in touch with (literally) Marionetta, Wickengu, and Arine; Aequitas was to catch up with Pandora, Zen, and Damselraed. Tristan and Ether were sticking around to make sure everyone was accounted for and got out of there safely. To the point of Ether throwing a Swift at the Tauros just to get its attention, if possible.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before the Altaria made it down to them, so time was of the essence. They needed to move fast.
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With the combination of Damselraed's Whirlwind and Vertigo's Psychic after Pandora's Lovely Sweet Kiss, they effectively immobilized the Tauros, despite wanting to throw her far away. But together they allowed them all just enough time to escape. With the Tauros trapped in the Whirlwind, he was able to fly to Forrest, Kangooroom, and Halcrow.
"Oh, we're leaving? Back to the Headquarters it is!" Marionetta thought to Veritas. Her tone was inappropriate for the situation, but it seemed her voice was perpetually mischievous and playful.
She was only capable of teleporting herself with her ability to travel through the realms. But in this situation, it was a boon. Shaq'ti was usually the one in charge of teleporting, given her affinity for performing it onto others from afar. Syressa was a capable teleporter, herself, but only at close range. And since Shaq'ti was only able to teleport herself and three others and Syressa being knocked out, Marionetta getting herself away would have been that much more efficient for Tristan's Pokemon.
Wickengu immediately reached Veritas without hesitation. Damselraed would alit onto Tristan, instead, since they reappeared right next to her when she released her Whirlwind at the moment it was safe for her to do so. The real issue was Forrest, Kangooroom, and Halcrow.
When Vertigo reached the Malamar, it was returned to a Pokeball from afar. A different person seemed to be its owner and she fled as fast as she could in the opposite direction. Well enough, but the fact Halcrow had been thrown by the giant would make reaching the three of them quickly a little more challenging. But at least he was able to verify that the very large man was, indeed, Taurus.
Forrest reacted to Vertigo immediately. Halcrow had been thrown further away from them, and he wasn't getting up. He motioned for Kangooroom to duel the giant so he could get Halcrow up and to Vertigo. Thankfully, Vertigo worked with the three of them so they'd all have to travel the least amount of distance in order to reach him.
Forrest found Halcrow in immense pain and with his arm as broken as a plant's arm could be. He lifted the Cacturne up and ignored the spikes across his body to do so. Halcrow managed to find his own footing and the two raced toward Vertigo as fast as they could.
Kangooroom's specialty was one-on-one combat. The giant wasn't quite twice as big as the Breloom, but Breloom packed more of a punch. He streaked forward with a Mach Punch that the giant simply blocked with his forearms and wasn't even pushed back. But Kangooroom's goal was to get close enough so the Spore he released would surround the giant and make him sleepy - hopefully enough to pass out. But the giant stood dazed for a moment and Kangooroom retreated to Vertigo so he could teleport them all to the Rangers Headquarters.

A Lieutenant noticed the sudden teleport at the entrance and quickly worked to bring Syressa and Shaq'ti into their infirmary. He obeyed Oracle's commands that Tristan and Forrest would be there soon. He said he'd get the Master General to them as quickly as he could.
Tristan and Ether appeared next with Damselraed. Veritas and Aequitas arrived nearly simultaneously with Wikengu and Arine, Pandora and Zen, respectively. Vertigo was the last to arrive with Forrest, Kangooroom, and Halcrow.
Forrest's shoulder and arm was covered in small puncture wounds and cuts that were actively bleeding, but apparently not too profusely as he seemed to not even notice. Halcrow held his arm with the other and was soon escorted to the infirmary. They tried to take Forrest as well but he waved them off and asked where his other Pokemon were and made sure they had all escaped. Oracle would have also been ushered to the infirmary.
Forrest walked up to Tristan. He stood with a bit of a slouch and his uninjured arm hugged his abdomen despite not having any injuries here. He allowed the bleeding arm to hang limp beside him as blood slowly dripped onto the concrete. His body was soaked with sweat and now blood. His skin was reddened and he was breathing somewhat heavily as the adrenaline hadn't stopped yet.
"You got them here safe, then?" Forrest asked low and gruff. "Thanks," he added and sounded somewhat defeated, though rightfully so.
They were both well aware of how much they had tried to plan their infiltration and how well it went despite only being able to get very little information. Still, they were somehow caught off-guard. They were supposed to be the aggressors. How did it turn out like this? Those Pokemon were monstrous. That man was monstrous. As much as they prepared, they couldn't expect that. He didn't expect that. They both knew the threat of the mental trap that was left in Jonton's mind by Pisces' Gorebyss (allegedly). They both understood how powerful something like that was and that his other Pokemon was likely just as strong. Forrest thought back when they learned the rumor that Taurus was there and how little he thought of it at the time. He underestimated them. There was no way they were going to overpower any of them. He was furious with himself. He was furious for underestimating them and furious with how weak he was proven to be. He wouldn't make that mistake again.
But it was even more frightening to learn that there were, very likely, 12 of them and that they were all equally powerful to each other. That one of them was able to fend off to the point of forcing a former Pokemon Champion and sitting Elite Four member to flee was terrifying to consider. Each of the other bases, surely, had one of these Zodiac people at them. The Rangers stood no chance. Were they all going to be killed? Would they really go that far so quickly? They had to know the Rangers would find out that their reconnaissance failed. It was all still so overwhelming.
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Oracle had a hard time standing and keeping her typical statuesque demeanor. Even though it was a glancing blow, it still hurt.

A lot.

Canting to one side, she waited for the rest to arrive. She was probably the most calm of everyone there as Rangers started scurrying about. Perhaps that had to do with the fact that she was staying in the moment and working on a few Wishes while Syressa and Shaq’ti were brought to this infirmary. They didn’t need to be within line of sight to enjoy the benefits of her Wishes, after all.

She spoke to the Rangers only enough to let them know the rest would be following momentarily and that they would need medical attention. Any debrief or insight into what happened would have to wait for her Trainer and his colleague.

Otherwise, she enjoyed the company of Antligon for the few moments before the rest began to arrive. ”I’m sorry…” More than the words, Antligon would feel her regret for being somewhat ineffective and not terribly helpful. Of course, from a more objective point of view, their collective struggle was ultimately futile, so it didn’t really matter who did more or less.

As soon as Tristan, Ether, and Damselraed arrived, Tristan was on his gauntlet to call Frederick. “Pick up, pick up…” he muttered to himself. “Frederick,” Tristan started before he could even say hello. “Where are you right now?”

“I was just about to meet up with Lois and head to Fallarbor, why?” He sounded confused, but could easily tell that this was serious and so a tinge of concern could be heard in his voice.

Tristan sighed heavily. “Good…”

“Tristan, what is it? What’s going on.” Frederick’s brows furrowed, his confusion shifting further to concern.

“If you’re still planning on checking the place out, do not engage. One of these… Zodiac people are probably there. We barely got out of there with everyone.

Look, I’ll explain everything later. I gotta go.” He ended the call unceremoniously as Forrest finally arrived. Looking to Vertigo, he looked around to see if the Master General was here yet. Not likely, given his age and physique.

Tristan replied flippantly, “Of course,” to Forrest’s largely rhetorical question. It was only after the “Thanks” that Tristan properly looked at the man and his injuries and overall state of being.

“Forrest,” he started, his tone soft and comforting; the nicest he had ever spoken to Forrest. “Of course.” He wasn’t going to get into it further, though.

Tristan only nodded to Veritas so she might offer Forrest some Life Dew to at least alleviate some of the pain while they waited for proper medical attention. The rest of his team would be returned to their pokeballs. He was glad, and lucky, that most of his team got out unscathed. Of course, the engagement didn’t even last a full minute, so it was really too quick for anything to really happen.

He’d stick with Forrest as they hobbled into the building. Tristan was already forming what he was going to tell Rich. First, it was going to be that the Rangers sent to the other locations were to not engage. Even better was to cancel the missions altogether.

As he debriefed the Master General he didn’t allow his despair to show. The only silver lining to all this was that Jonton’s bases were important enough for Zodiac members to personally oversee their decommissioning, as it were. Though, he wondered if these bases were given to Jonton and they were merely cleaning up his mess.

Tristan informed Rich that he was going to review and organize his findings so he could submit his report. It was his way of saying that he had first dibs, and the contents would be revealed when Tristan was good and ready. He didn’t want anyone else messing around in it. And he wanted to ensure that none of the documents might be compromising for him or anyone else.

While they spoke, Tristan demanded updates from the Ranger detail from each of their families immediately. It was unlikely that they would retaliate so quickly, but it would ease his mind at the very least. Allow him to dive into the documents in his office with relative calm.

Once in his office, Ether rested on his bed next to Tristan’s desk as he started to lay everything out and try to put it all back together. He’d get caught up on this document or that photo as he went through making the process take longer than it should have otherwise.

Ether was good with communicating with Oracle and Shaq’ti to request, when they were ready, to meet him in his office with Forrest. He also made sure to get Tristan fed and hydrated so he didn’t pass out.

The office of a Senior Inspector of the Ranger Internal Affairs division was rather nice. A small, plush couch with a glass coffee table by the door. A small rectangular table with four chairs for small meetings. And he managed a decent enough view out a tall, though slender, window.
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Rangers Headquarters - Rustboro City
"No, I'm sorry," Antligon thought. Emotions blanketed the flashes of his recent memory of being completely overwhelmed by the Altaria. There was shame for not being able to protect Oracle or Syressa. There was despair for being made felt so weak and helpless. And there was terror from the idea of how powerful that one Pokemon.
The Rangers worked around them silently as they all arrived. Their visual analysis was enough to tell them who needed immediate attention and who was alright. Through the doors a few commands toward others could be heard. But they left the men alone despite Forrest actively bleeding. They must have been familiar with his constitution and may have seen him in similar states before. They would only obey the orders of the Bounty Hunter and Personal Investigator.
Forrest was visibly sad. His stoicism had its limits. He looked over his Pokemon that weren't taken into the infirmary and silently apologized to them all for failing so completely. The fear he'd felt when he engaged the giant (which Vertigo verified to Forrest that he was called "Taurus") turned into shame and regret. Shame that he and his Pokemon weren't nearly as strong as he believed them be. Regret for having slacked on his own training and that of his Pokemon as well as for underestimating the situation as much as he had.
He couldn't see at the moment that they had prepared as best they could with what little information they had. Their response to the situation was what kept them all alive - any other "lesser" trainer or Ranger would have soon been killed. But he couldn't know just how powerful his foes - the foes of Hoenn - were. It would be much later he would realize their power. For now, it would be enough that he knew he nor his Pokemon could stand up to them.
The floating liquid from Veritas formed a sleeve around Forrest's arm and glowed sloftly. It didn't register to him that the wounds were closing and the bleeding had stopped. He didn't notice Damselraed zip toward him to fret over him and try her own Aqua Ring to at least cool him down and clean him of the sweat that covered his body.
"Marionetta," he said. "Go tell my wife that I'm okay and that I'm safe and that I'll be home in a bit."
She was the last one of his party that could teleport, so he relied on her to ease his wife's concerns. She moaned gleefully and nodded. She vanished in heavy black smoke. Forrest took a deep breath which raised his chest that felt unusually heavy. He laid a hand onto his chest to check what caused it. His heart - his nerves were weighing him down.
Forrest's arm was entirely healed but still had thick lines of blood around it. He saw the Master General rush out into the courtyard where they still stood. Forrest remained still and seemingly calm, but only because he had to use all of his willpower to not break down, to not rage and thrash out at everything around him, to not hurt himself as punishment for his failures. He could do that later.
"You're back so soon. What the fuck happened?" the Master General said without any hint of formality.
He ushered them into his office so he could be briefed as to what they had experienced. His expression turned immediately grim as Tristan explained the details rather calmly. Forrest's heart raced - thudded loudly in his chest - at Tristan's demand to receive updates from the Rangers assigned to their families. Luckily for the both of them, the responses were quick and positive. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened or was happening. Everything was normal. Forrest couldn't help but feel the twinge of doubt as paranoid conspiracies filled his mind. But everything else he felt soon quelled those concerns.
The Master General promptly agreed to Tristan's request and encouraged him to learn as much as he could and to use any and all resources that he might need that they could grant him. He then immediately ordered the retreat of each of squads that were sent to the other safehouses and base. If they couldn't get inside, there would be no use in scouting it out since they already knew their locations. At a later date he would order much more powerful and skilled investigation teams to learn what they could from the assumed-rubble they would find.
The Master General shared that he would update the other Grand Rangers of this and for them to heal and clean up and get started on their research. The Master General was obviously disturbed. The Master General was afraid. The leader of the military of the entire country feared the vague images of a person none of them have ever seen and the brief battle with a single other individual. But with the way an Elite Four member and a former Champion and his strongest Bounty Hunter looked after such an encounter, he understood quite plainly how powerful these individuals likely were.
As Tristan opted to go straight to his office, Forrest looked down at his arm and decided he would shower and then visit the infirmary to check on his Pokemon. It felt like a long walk to the gym. He'd only used it a few times since he had his own at home, but he'd personally trained a handful of Rangers, mostly Marines, and so was familiar enough with it. The hallways still buzzed as they had the day before, but with seemingly more organization and purpose.
Forrest pushed open the door to the gym and saw that it was filled with Rangers, which he thought was unusual considering the times he was there, it had 10 patrons at the most. He wondered if they understood a fraction of what he knew and that they were preparing to fight with everything they had. It was some kind of relief, some peace of mind.
"Whoa, Johnson, you okay?" Sergeant Broadson said after he dropped the weights he was working with and walked over to Forrest.
Forrest left his thoughts to address one of the Rangers he'd personally helped train some years ago. Last Forrest saw him was at the Day-care after an egg was stolen but ultimately saved by Haven. Sergeant Broadson was noticeably pumped from working out as vigorously as he must have been. Forrest always noted how small he was when they first started training together and how much he'd grown since then. There was a small amount of pride that was quickly snuffed out by the rest of the emotions he felt.
"Oh, yeah. I'm healed up, just gonna shower to clean off," Forrest said rather flatly.
"Great, I just finished my workout. So, what happened?"
Forrest kept silent. He gestured for Sergeant Broadson to follow him so they could speak privately. The Sergeant registered the seriousness Forrest was displaying and silently obeyed. They undressed and chose a showerhead stand that wasn't being used. They turned on the water and started to wash themselves, but Forrest kept quiet. Sergeant Broadson looked at him expectantly. Eventually Forrest took note of this when he realized he was just standing still under the running water.
"You can't tell this to anyone else, not even your superiors."
Sergeant Broadson froze and curled his brows with a cocked head. "Okay," he said slowly.
"So, this only happened because I had to pick up Halcrow so we could escape."
The Sergeant's expression only grew more exaggerated. Forrest continued, "There's people that go by the names of the zodiac signs. They're horrifically powerful. Tristan - Mr. Aeros and I had to flee even though we were there to take them by surprise if it came to that."
He had started to rub his bloody arm to encourage the blood to run off. Sergeant Broadson kept quiet as Forrest started to lather himself to actually get clean.
"I was so weak. My Pokemon weren't strong enough and it's my fault. If there's actually 12 of them, they can do some real damage. And I'm not strong enough to protect my family or my Pokemon."
It looked as if he was talking to himself - rambling. The thoughts racing through his mind started to leak and he did all he could to contain them and keep himself from spiraling. He shook his head and rinsed himself off quickly to just stand under the running water.
"I'm too weak," he said low and angry.
Vibrating metal sounded loud and short around them. Forrest looked forward and saw his hand against the central column of the showerhead stand. There was a notable indentation around his fist. He pulled it back to look to see what had happened. He saw his knuckles were misshapen and his skin was quickly growing purple. Broken.
"Fuck me," he said quietly in a groan.
He held his hand up to keep himself from using it - to keep from damaging it more. He turned off the water and walked back to grab a towel. He fumbled to dry himself with one hand. He then draped it over his shoulders and sat on the wooden bench in front of the lockers they had put their clothes in. He breathed deeply and slowly. He rested his forearms atop his knees and hung his head down. His head slowly fell into his hands to mask himself - to contain the emotions - to hide them - to show them on his face so no one else could see.
"Guess I gotta train that much harder," Sergeant Broadson bellowed confidently. "You too, Johnson. You look pathetic - feeling defeated so easily. What happened to 'failure is set-up for the next success'?"
Sergeant Broadson slapped Forrest's shoulder blade a couple times then gripped his shoulder. He shook Forrest a couple times with a "come on," but stopped when he heard a quiet sob from within Forrest's hands. So he sat next to him and put his arm around his shoulders.
"You're the strongest man I know. You have to be - you have a lot to prove and a lot to protect," Broadson said quietly. "And if not physically the strongest, you have the strongest will I've ever seen. You've just gotta train yourself and your Pokemon that much harder. You have a goal to reach. So now you can surpass it."
Sergeant Broadson brought his hand up to Forrest's head to push both of theirs together in a tight hug. "And we all fight as one, you're not alone."
Forrest sobbed quietly again and sniffed loudly and sharp. He wiped his face with his hands and forearms and let out a shot embarrassed chuckle. He let Sergeant Broadson pull them both their feet and then turned to hug the man tight in a brief intimate moment between good friends.
"Thanks," Forrest said and sniffed again.
"Fucking nasty, you got snot on me, Johnson," he said with a scoff and laugh. "Gotta shower again 'cause of you. Though you do, too, with that face," he said and pointed and laughed.
"Fuck you, Broadson," Forrest said in a restrained bellowing laugh.
They both returned to the shower to actually relax and make sure they were cleaned off. Broadson shared his sexual exploits with Forrest to maintain the air of levity. Vulgarity usually helped to take his mind off more serious matters. They continued this into the sauna that they decided to enjoy at the last moment. They both drove most people away with their hyper-graphic descriptions and comments and gestures. A few joined in briefly, which helped to lighten Forrest's mood a little more. When they finished, Forrest decided to forgo his own clothes as they were sweaty and, instead, put on ranger panties and a tank top from the cabinet for Rangers to take if they needed. He put his boots back on and left for the infirmary.


Fallarbor Town
It took a while for the two to fly to Fallarbor Town. Lois' Skarmory and Fredrick's Hydreigon weren't known for their speed, but it was certainly faster than Surfing and traveling on foot. They both considered Tristan's warning and were, understandably, concerned. He was the last one of them that could be surprised and they all knew his Pokemon were highly capable. For him to express the level of worry he seemed to got to both of them, and rightfully so.
They agreed they wouldn't engage anyone and would, instead, simply walk around and be present should anything potentially dnagerous occur. But the sleepy town was just that - sleepy. People went about their business quietly and greeted others warmly. Most were slow to recognize that two Elite Four members were walking their streets, but they eventually had a modest level of attention turned toward them. They even asked if anyone had seen or heard anything out of the ordinary recently, and all said "no."
Both of them decided to stop in a cafe for some lunch. They kept their guards up as they chatted about mundane things happening in their lives away from the Elite Four. They got polite waves in their direction but were, otherwise, left alone. The people here seemed to respect privacy and personal space than in other places across Hoenn.
"Hello, Mr. Vant and Ms. Preato. Do you mind?" a woman said and gestured to an unoccupied seat at the table. "How are the two of you doing today? It's quite exciting to see two Elite Four members traveling together and to such a quiet town. What brings you here?"
She looked utterly plain - average. Brown hair and brown eyes. She wore round glasses and casual clothing that were relatively fashionable, but she certainly wasn't trying to call attention to herself.
"Oh, hello," Frederick said. "We're doing well, thank you. We're here just checking up on the refugee camps. The Elite Four is closed down while Mauville is put back together," he said with a smirk.
"Yes, that's right," Lois said to confirm the story. "It looks like the town has been mostly unaffected even with refugees here."
"I learned that this town has plenty of housing that is unoccupied, which seems to help," the woman said.
"Oh, that's good," Lois said. "And what was your name?"
"I apologize," she said through an exhale and with a smile. "I'm Sarah, it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, both."
"So you're not from here, then?" Lois asked.
"Oh, no. I'm from - Sinnoh. Jubilife City," she said and giggled at herself for nearly forgetting where she was born. "I sometimes forget since I've been traveling around the world since I was a young teen."
"Your Hoennese is great," Fredrick said with raised brows. "Do you miss speaking your native tongue?" he asked in Sinnohese.
"Not really, no. I enjoy speaking other languages very much," she said in kind.
"You better not be talking about me," Lois said sternly but with a smile.
"Oh, I would never," Sarah said with a bright smile.
"She's can be insecure, sometimes," Fredrick said with a chuckle.
"She doesn't look it," Sarah said with a soft smile at Lois.
"What? What did you say?" she said, almost shouting.
"Just that you're insecure sometimes. Nothing no one doesn't already know," he said wryly.
"Bastard," she said and shook her head with a smirk.
"Well, I must be going. I have prior arrangements I'm going to be late for. I've very much enjoyed meeting the two of you. How serendipitous for me to meet two of this country's Elite Four members at the same time and without having to have to search for them," she said with smile and rose from her seat.
She nodded after Fredrick and Lois gave their farewells and then she left the cafe. Fredrick and Lois finished their food and drinks and simultaneously thought to try to follow the woman. There was no real reason as why they suspected her of anything. She was perfectly pleasant. And she was foreign, which made her behavior not appear odd or out of place.
But they were right. They followed her far from the town, westward and then northward deep into the woods. They managed to keep their distance. But it was unmistakable what they saw through the trees. She stood some distance away from what they both knew to be the safehouse. On either side of the small cabin was a Ninetales and Chandelure performing Flamethrower against the structure that was in the middle of being burnt down to nothing. They stood in amazement for a few moments before they turned to each other and quickly left before they could be noticed. Their hearts raced as they took flight and straight back to the Elite Four Headquarters. Frederick managed to call Tristan on his gauntlet during the flight.


North of Route 102 - Between Petalburg Woods and Verdandale Forest
It was a particularly hot day. The air was relatively still which added to the humidity. Jeanne worked the berry crops around the house to keep her mind of her husband risking his life for his family and country. Jerrek was self-sufficient by now, if only because his father was away so often and having three younger siblings meant he felt obligated to ease the burden off his mother as much as he could. Elizabeth played with the Surskit she'd befriended. Shelynn eventually joined them while Rowan stayed with her in the gardens. His hands were always stained brown with dirt. She appreciated how much he enjoyed gardening with her.
She chatted with the Rangers over lunch. She was surprised they helped her with preparing the meal and even mediating the children when they needed mediation. She wondered if they pitied her because of who her husband was. But she decided to not focus on such negativity and simply enjoyed the help - and protection. She appreciated how much they encouraged Jerrek and his interests and how gentle they were to Shelynn and how tolerant they were of Rowan. Elizabeth kept to her own world with her little bug that blew the occasional bubble at her.
Jeanne kept in the house the rest of the day with cleaning and tidying. She found some quiet time to knit the sweater she'd been knitting for the past two years for Forrest. She always prioritized clothing for her children, which got in the way of finishing the project. She felt bad that it'd been so long since she last made something for her husband, but she knew he understood considering how much he left for her to take care of while he was away.
A wide toothy smile glowed yellow upon the completed portion of the sweater. Yellow eyes appeared and Marionetta phased herself through and in front of Jeanne. She hadn't realized how much time had passed and glanced at the clock before she turned back to the ghost doll. Marionetta moaned and croned with her perpetually-wide smile and gestured what Forrest had instructed her. Jeanne sighed heavily and closed her eyes in relief. A small smile formed on her face and she looked back at Marionetta. "Thank you," she said.
She returned back to knitting with a newfound vigor. But soon after Major White entered the house and found her sitting on the couch next to an open window in silence.
"Mrs. Johnson, we just received word that your husband has returned to the Rangers Headquarters in Rustboro," he said.
"I know where the Headquarters is, Major. There's no need to be so formal," she said with a playful smile.
"We have reported that there has been no unusual activity. I wanted to verify with you that there has been no unusual activity."
"I have not seen anything unusual, Major. Thank you," she said with a nod and returned her attention to her knitting.
"Ma'am," he said with a salute and then a bow.
She chuckled to herself and shook her head but continued to knit in peace, both inner and outer, while she had it.


Ranger Internal Affairs Office - Rustboro City
In the case Jonton Fairfax is arrested or killed, enact the following:
Reallocate resources to Southern Island.
Destroy all incriminating evidence.
Aires to oversee destruction of Rustboro Wharf.
Sagittarius to oversee destruction of Fallarbor safehouse.
Capricorn to oversee destruction of Central Desert base.
Taurus to oversee destruction of Fortree Jungle base.
Cancer to oversee destruction of Southern Sea safehouse.

Note: If Jonton Fairfax is arrested by Rangers at a base or safehouse, do not attempt to obstruct any efforts by Rangers in their acquisition of information and resources from that location.

...

Blueprints of Sea Mauville with the note "Scorpio" at the top.
Blueprints of the Ener-Geo Corporation with the note "Sagittarius" at the top.
Blueprints of New Mauville with the note "Gemini" at the top.
Blueprints of Fairfax Hospital, Fairfax Institute, and Fairfax Manor and background checks on all the Fairfax's with the note "Aires" at the top.
Blueprints of Pacifidlog Mills with the note "Cancer" at the top.
Background check on Henrietta James (Mrs. James of the Pokemon Day-Care) with the note "Capricorn" at the top.
Background checks on Mossdeep Space Center and Mossdeep Astronomy Institute personnel (including Leon and Deirdre Aeros) with the note "Pisces" at the top.
Blueprints of the Lilycove Megamall, Lilycove Harbor, and Hoenn Art Institute with the note "Libra" at the top.
Background checks on Prof. Fir's Laboratory assistants (including Herbert Johnson) with the note "Aquarius" at the top.
Blueprints of the Johnson Academy and a background check on Barbara Johnson with the note "Virgo" at the top.
Blueprints of the Elite Four Headquarters and Championship Arena and background checks on Elite Four members (including Tristan Aeros) with the note "Leo" at the top.
Background checks of all Gym Leaders (including Percival Gutermuth) with the note "Taurus" at the top.

...

Aires: Volcanion
Taurus: Diancie
Gemini: Zeraora
Cancer: Cresselia
Leo: Victini
Virgo: Deoxys
Libra: Meloetta
Scorpio: Darkrai
Sagittarius: Shaymin
Capricorn: Celebi
Aquarius: Magearna
Pisces: Jirachi

----------

There was an entire roster of all the names, locations, and appearances of all those that worked under Jonton. Since they were current, it did not include any of the secret agents that Tristan had learned about. There was an entire log of all purchases and sales of black market goods for the past year, complete with dates, times, locations, and names. It was a veritable treasure trove of information that surely the Rangers would be elated to receive. Unfortunately, there was no such specific information regarding the more serious information found before. It was easy to assume they planned to destroy these places and kill these people. It was hard to hope that they weren't so maniacal.
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While Tristan at first didn’t want to bother his family and was fine to wait on the report from the Rangers acting as a protection detail, once he organized the files and discovered what he did he had to. Veritas was released from her pokeball almost absentmindedly. He didn’t even look up from his work, but she would read his mind and soon enough teleport to his parent’s house. He wasn’t going to leave this to chance, and she was tasked with gathering Deirdre, Leon, and Percival to inform them that they were all targets and try to convince them to stay at the Ranger’s HQ until further notice.

Given that there was evidence that they were explicit targets, he felt comfortable allowing Veritas to inform them of this to convince them, if it was needed. Otherwise, he would have preferred to do it himself.

Tristan considered it curious that the Ranger Headquarters seemed to be the only important structure or organization that wasn’t to be directly targeted. He was also somewhat disappointed that there was nothing on the Mauville attack that would reveal what their mission was and what they had discovered through it.

In speaking with Frederick, he made sure to note her appearance, which pokemon they saw, and the name she had given to include those in their descriptions. This was added for Pisces and Taurus as well. Now only 9 more to learn about…

”Oracle? Please gather Forrest and his team and bring them to my office.” Oracle had been in touch with Tristan, along with Ether, all while he was going through the documents. It was actually nice; they helped him remember what he had just gone through so he could marry the papers together. They also guided him to make sense, and viable inferences, of all of this.

These Mythical Pokemon concerned him, though. Were they already in possession of, or otherwise have control over, these Pokemon? Were they still searching for them? What did they hope to accomplish with all of them? He figured one by itself was enough to reshape the entire world. But gathering them all together, he couldn’t fathom what they were going to try to do.

While Oracle went to find Forrest, Syressa, and Antligon, Tristan summoned the Secretary to ask him to procure the most current blueprints and personnel files of all the individuals listed in these Zodiac files. He wanted to compare them and see if they matched and were up to date. He would investigate any discrepancies to find who had the better and more accurate information. Even with this limited amount of documentation, he was going to determine how much they knew.

Getting into his work allowed him to ignore the near-hopelessness of the situation. He wondered if he was lying to himself, but figured it didn’t matter much either way. It was better that they knew as much about their enemy as possible. Especially about themselves, he figured. He knew that, moving forward, they would need to overestimate their enemy and underestimate themselves. By doing this, they would increase their chances of successfully thwarting whatever was going to happen next.

It was at this point that Tristan had the secretary reach out to the other Elite Four members to let them know that they are likely targets, and that he would like to get them involved in whatever was to come. He suggested that they join him at HQ, but knew that collecting so many high-profile, and clearly targeted, people in one location was unwise. The only reason he felt good about it was that they were capable battlers themselves and would be able to stall for time, at the very least.

It was weighing whether they should scatter and be easy pickings, or gather and be available in one convenient location.

And he’d need to inform Lady Fairfax of all this. They would have to discuss whether Jonton was still a target and perhaps on some burn list, or if he was now of no use and would be left alone. Admittedly the latter seemed unlikely, but still something to consider. Then they would need to discuss where to keep him. The background checks on the Fairfax’s would need to be combed through so they knew exactly what these Zodiacs had on them.

For now, he would allow this to play out and see what everyone here thought about this on their own without prompting them. He would be sure to give Lady Fairfax advance notice, though. It was the least he could do after leaving her in the lurch like that.

He also wondered what side Ms. Shade was on.

While he had managed to procure surprisingly pertinent and insightful documentation, it wasn’t everything. And when it wasn’t everything, there were always more questions. They were probably going to destroy and kill everyone listed, sure. But, when? Was it going to be simultaneous, or over a period of time? Regardless, when was it to start? How would they defend against all of this?

Tristan considered the Hospital the most vulnerable and important location. Objects could be moved or recreated. Hospitalized people, not so much. Sea Mauville, Ener-Geo, New Mauville, and the Pacifidlog Mills were next priority. If they went off-line, there would be utter chaos. Not to mention that mustering a response would be heavily impeded.

”They’re here…” Ether lifted his head to inform his trainer.

Tristan pushed his head back and pulled at his clothes to make himself more presentable as Oracle shuffled towards them. Oracle knew to take her time to allow Tristan some room to consider all of this before she arrived.
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A last glance through the personnel roster and inventory records proved beneficial. Tristan happened upon a complete list of all the individuals involved with the attack on Mauville City. Unfortunately, none of these Zodiac characters seemed to be directly involved, if these records were to be believed. It was easy to assume that such information was kept out of the records. But with everything else that was revealed, it wouldn't make much sense to hide that information. The Rangers would take great value from these records, surely. But the rest of these plans - well that was something none of them could be truly prepared for.
Forrest entered the office shortly after as if he was already headed in that direction. Only Shaq'ti hovered beside him. Oracle knew that they had been returned to their Pokeballs as they had fully recovered in the infirmary by this point. Surely Tristan didn't take that much time looking over all these documents - they must have simply been that efficient, which was ultimately a boon.
Forrest's size was somehow betrayed by the jeans and t-shirt he usually wore. In only high shorts and a tank top, Forrest's physique on display and so made it that much more obvious how large he actually was. He held himself as he usually would - tall and erect and confident. He sat down with his arms crossed and legs spread wide on the chair in front of Tristan's desk. Shaq'ti hovered in meditation beside him.
"So, what did you find out?" he said and pointed his chin toward Tristan's desk covered with papers.
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While it was difficult to properly comprehend the scope of the coming pandemonium, it was palatable after having engaged with just one of these Zodiac people directly. These plans would utterly destroy and upend the lives of all the people in Hoenn. It would be overwhelming for most anyone to shoulder on their own.

Luckly, Tristan was never alone.

”How are you feeling?” He spoke to Oracle first, seemingly ignoring Forrest. Rather, he was preparing the documentation and his thoughts to debrief the now less-modestly-clothed man.

”I am well enough…” She never lied. She never particularly felt the need to. Still, she wasn’t incapable of placating and speaking around the full truth. Tristan pulled his lips in, knowing well what she meant, but knowing he couldn’t do anything about it. Either way, it was more important to relay the information and start to formulate a plan.

Tristan raised an eyebrow once he physically looked at Forrest. It’s like he was trying to get a rise out of him.

“Well, quite a bit. I guess Shaq’ti and I make a good team.” He looked at her and offered her a forced half-smile. “We found essentially exactly what we were looking for.” He was stalling, that much was clear.

But, it wouldn’t be for that long. “First, it seems that the Zodiacs weren’t directly involved in the attack on Mauville. Though, we do have a list of individuals that are allegedly involved, along with quite a list of names that worked under Jonton. Oh, and their business dealings too. I’ll be giving all of this to the Master General momentarily.” One of Tristan’s many gifts, other than his impeccable sense of style, was his ability to multitask. Even as he spoke fluidly to Forrest he was typing up some sort of report.

“Second, we have a list of targets. Luckily, you, your wife, and your kids aren’t one of them.” He paused, allowing Forrest to make the inference for himself. A moment later, Tristan pointed to the TV on the wall behind him revealing the report he was working on, scrolling back to the list of targets to which he was referring.

“I’ve already sent Veritas to collect my parents and Percy. I figure it’s better to have them here. I wanted to let you decide how to handle your parents.” He’d pause and allow Forrest some time to digest all of this.

And he had only just begun.

“Luckily, as you can see, HQ isn’t listed as a target. I’m not sure how much I believe that, though. Hopefully we can confirm this… somehow.” Tristan might have seemed worried, but he was at the same time trying to come up with some sort of solution.

“In any case, the personnel files here are 3 years old. I’m not sure if another location would have more updated documents. It’d be annoying if they were organized enough to not have everything in one location. Spread everything out, as it were. Makes our job harder.” Tristan continued to effectively mask his concern as he spoke. He tried to keep focused on the task and his job. His personal feelings and emotions would have to wait until later.

And it wouldn’t be pretty.

“Now, there aren’t any dates or indications of when or what they plan to do at the locations or with the personnel. So, we’ll have to come up with a few contingencies to account for possible plans of attack they might have. What I’m most concerned about, though, is…” and he would scroll down to the portion he had written up about the Zodiacs themselves.

Taurus, Sagittarius, and Pisces were the only ones with information regarding their appearance, Pokemon, and aliases (only in the case of Sagittarius as “Sarah”). They would also list the Mythical Pokemon, but the rest only had this last piece.

“I don’t know if they are already in possession of these, if they’re still looking for them, or what they plan to do with them. The only thing was their names next to the Pokemon. But…” He wasn’t going to allow them much time to consider the implications of this, and would rather focus on their next task.

“We need to head to the Southern Island base as soon as we can.” He’d finally turn to face Forrest. “How much do you trust Rich?” he asked. With the two of them here, with what they had just experienced, there was no mental energy remaining for formalities. Also, the question was serious, and his eyes bored deep into the man. Even managing to ignore his physique for the moment.

“I have 2 reports I’m prepared to send out. One with just the information about Jonton, the information regarding those that worked under him and their business dealings. And one with everything I’ve just told you.

“Now… I need you to be honest with me. I don’t care how you feel about the Master General. I need to know if there is anything that might cause you to hesitate to give him this information. Anything at all.” He was deadly serious, and would go on to explain why.

“Right now, the only thing we have going for us is that we have an inkling into what they might be doing. We know that they’re looking into all of these people. We can’t overpower them. So the only thing we can do is try to out-maneuver them, and even that is going to be near-impossible. We need to make sure they continue to underestimate us, and we need to overestimate them.” He paused, wondering if it were even possible to overestimate these Zodiac people.
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Rangers Headquarters - Rustboro City
Forrest's jaw seemed to bubble as the muscles flexed and contracted as he listened and looked at what Tristan had discovered. He remained silent, his face was perfectly still, nearly emotionless. It looked as if Forrest was unable to respond to Tristan's question at the end of his monologue. He simply looked into Tristan's eyes for a long moment without blinking. This silent anger was possibly more unnerving than when he'd physically express it. The muscles across his body twitched as if to fight himself from getting up or moving. His skin was reddening on his face and chest. The volcano had been made dormant only a little while ago thanks to Sergeant Broadson. That could all be undone any moment.
Bob B. Jeanne's father. Forrest was very fond of the man despite how much Bob criticized him for getting Jeanne pregnant at 16. Bob was stereotypically protective of his daughter and still very much was. But all that time they spent together to build his cabin made his eyes water. His mom and dad - all their work would be destroyed. Everything they worked for his whole life - gone. There was no relief that Mitchell nor Mrs. Honnings was on the list since he saw Mrs. James was on the list. A tear fell from his eye but his face remained expressionless.
Forrest breathed deep but didn't take his eyes off Tristan. He blinked rapidly and adjusted himself but didn't bother wipe away the tear track on his cheek. He lowered his jaw but words didn't come out until another moment passed.
"I - don't know," Forrest said. His voice was quiet - weak. "We've never been in a situation like this. I trust that he wouldn't send the entire country into a state of emergency, and he'd likely manage to call other country's Rangers to help. Can I talk to him first?"
He felt a little strange sincerely asking for permission from someone he hardly worked with. But he understood enough to know that all of this beyond what he could even imagine. He was neither mentally nor physically prepared for any of this. They were going to destroy the country. With those mythical Pokemon, they would destroy the world. Nihilistic thoughts flashed in his mind. Why bother to try to stop them? They saw how powerful just one of them were. If they were going to destroy the world, what hope did the two of them have at stopping them from succeeding?
But they, alone, certainly could not stop these people. Forrest knew they needed the Rangers and the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four to work together and quietly so as to not send the country into a panic. They didn't have a choice to not trust Dick. They would need to trust the Gym Leaders as well.
A revelation passed through Forrest's mind: they knew; they could tell the others; they could organize; they could strike back before they had the chance to do so. Sure, that Taurus guy would certainly tell that Pisces guy or whatever their chain of command was. But did that truly matter? If they were to follow through with what could be assume from the documents Tristan studied, we would be prepared. They might think they need to change their plan. What if they would just give up on the plan for a while - for years? He'd have so much time to train himself and his Pokemon.
No, that was wishful thinking. They could just as well push their timeline up to "immediately" and strike before either of them had the chance to share what they had learned. Then it wouldn't matter who they trusted and didn't trust since the Hoenn would be on the path of destruction they seemed to want to take. As much as Tristan discovered - Forrest realized how little it seemed to matter. Without times or dates, all they could do was hope they would have the time to prepare.
"We don't have a choice, though," he said after a pregnant pause after asking for permission as all these thoughts flooded his mind. "We don't have the strength to fight against them, the two of us. Even with the other Elite Four members, there's twelve of them. We don't stand a chance. We have to trust the Rangers, the Gym Leaders, and the Elite Four."
His voice quickly changed to deep and authoritative. Forrest was known to be "volatile" with his moods and emotions by those closest to him. Tristan would get to learn that soon enough, if he didn't already figure it out, that is. But his arms remained crossed and he straightened himself in the chair. He'd slowly been slouching through learning all of this and he looked tall again, even sitting down.
"We've got to trust them all," he said eventually and gestured to the television where he'd seen the list of people they had collected information about. "They need to know."
He was absolute in this opinion. The idea that it might be bad or naive didn't even enter his thoughts. He only thought how they deserved to know they were being targeted. It went back to his bounty-hunter process - those with bounties on them knew they had bounties on them. If even criminals got to know they were being targeted, normal innocent civilians certainly deserved to know.


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Talk to him? Was Forrest really so naive?

Yes. Yes he was. Forrest’s line of work didn’t require him, necessarily, to consider everyone a potential hostile. His line of work didn’t need him to believe everyone had some ulterior motive or two. Forrest didn’t really need to be on the lookout for the subtle lies, half-truths, and re-directs from everyone.

When the good guys could do things that were just as vile and horrific as the bad guys, the lines blurred.

It required to believe that no one was to be trusted. Perhaps more importantly, that no one could be trusted. Not completely. Not forever. Goals could align in the moment, but they could just as easily come into conflict. These goals could change, or the individual could have a change of heart.

Tristan desperately wished that he could trust people again. He’d been burned too many times, though. That softness had long ago been worn away by harsh reality.

The only things Tristan could trust were Ether and Veritas. They were intrinsically linked to him unlike any of this other Pokémon. In a way they shared a mind and spirit. While that was comforting, when Tristan thought about it for too long, it was also incredibly lonely.

“We don’t have a choice but to suspect them. Look at it. Look,” he said, pointing to the map he had generated that highlighted all of the targeted locations. “See something missing?” He’d allow a beat for the rhetorical question to sink in. “Ranger Headquarters. And see this list?” He pulled up the list of people who were targets and had background checks performed on them. “You see any Rangers here? No.”

He’d pause for a moment in deep thought. “But why?” He was more asking himself at this point. “Why aren’t they listed at all? It doesn’t make any sense. They’re either leaving it for last, which would be kind of illogical. The only thing I can think is that they want to spread the Rangers thin so they can weaken them before they attack HQ.

“Or it’s their next target. If they’re really that powerful, then it would be a rather simple matter for them to come here and blow a crater in this very spot to deal a devastating blow and scatter the Rangers. Though, if they were going to do that, it would have made sense to do so while all the Grands were gathered.”

He looked up at Forrest with that. “They’re not all still here, are they?” This was a real question. Tristan had been too engrossed in his work to notice while walking in, or otherwise ask.

Ether immediately reached out to Veritas to let her know to not bring Tristan’s parents or Percival here yet.

“You’re right, though. We’re going to need all the help we can get. Of course we’re going to let everyone on the list know they’re being targeted. It’s safe to assume that they aren’t allied in any way with the Zodiacs. Anyone not listed, though, is suspicious as far as I’m concerned. Doubly so with an entire group and organization as important as the Ranger Corps.”

Tristan was hoping he was making sense to Forrest. His convictions were well enough, but this wasn’t the time to allow sentiment and feeling cloud proper rational judgement. They couldn’t afford it.

“We will question him together. With Ether. If he is innocent in all of this, then we’ll read him in.” With that, performed numerous clicks, saved the documents to an external drive, pocketed the drive, ensured nothing was on the computer, and stood up to place all the documents into his safe behind his desk. Finally, he faced Forrest, a signal that he was ready to go and interrogate Rich.

Oracle was returned to her pokeball upon leaving his office, and he made sure it was locked behind him.
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Rangers Headquarters - Rustboro City


Forrest stopped breathing. It never crossed his mind that the man he'd worked directly with for years now could be involved in anything these Zodiac people were doing. But Tristan pointed out the obvious evidence in front of them that such was a very real possibility. The rest of Tristan's conspiratorial hypotheses never registered with Forrest as he thought about how betrayed he felt - how betrayed he would feel if this were true.
No. There was no proof other than omission. That couldn't be valid - right? But Tristan was right. Why would every single other key institution and company and person be listed, but nothing and no one related to the Rangers? Even Mrs. James was a target. An elderly lady but not the head of the country's military? It didn't sit well with Forrest. He felt nauseous.
Forrest nodded at Tristan's offer to interrogate Dick together with Ether. They had to. If there was any possibility that this could be true, they had to know. There was some relief that Tristan agreed with his initial opinion, though. And he added a good point - they needed to underestimate themselves while overestimating their enemy. He'd already thought of this himself, but it hit differently being spoken aloud by someone else.
Forrest had to keep his composure. He felt he was losing his temper, his patience, his sanity. But he couldn't release any of this - not yet. When they revealed Dick's role in all of this, then he'd be able to unleash all the rage those emotions built up inside him. He wanted to hold out hope for Tristan to be wrong - but it made too much sense.

----------

They were escorted into the Master General's office. He wasn't in a secret meeting anymore, which was convenient. But the Master General was visibly stressed - frazzled. Papers and files blanketed his desk and voices sounded out of the intercom on his desk that he seemed to ignore.
"Grand Conserve has returned to the Zephyr Base."
"Sentinel Law's team has gathered the information you requested."
"Special Agent Hawly has arrived."
"The Guard Force has set their perimeter around the Wharf."
"Grand Watcher has returned to Lavaridge."
The reports felt like background noise considering everything else that was going on. Ether quickly felt how stressed - panicked - the Master General was feeling. His breathing was quickened and he heart was beating hard in his chest. He didn't acknowledge when the two of them entered his office.
Forrest decided he'd start off with the questioning so Tristan and Ether could focus on reading his mind.
"Master General, Dick, we need to talk."
"Yes, we do," he said plainly. "This is not good - this is not good..."
"Tristan has a list of suspects related to the Mauville Attack for you to look into," Forrest said and gestured for Tristan to hand over that file first.
"Great," he said dismissively and didn't look up to take the file or see who even handed him the file, so it was just set on his desk. "She didn't find a fucking thing - useless bitch," he thought with the image of the Grand Conserve, Regina Kline, handing him a file labled "Project Shadow."
"But you need to tell us what you know about these Zodiac people," Forrest said with an almost frightening level of authority in his voice. The vibrations from his chest could faintly be felt throughout the room.
"Fuck," he thought and froze where he was. He took a few deep breaths and pulled himself back into a neutral tone. "Of course they found out, damn." He looked directly into Forrest's and Tristan's eyes. He then glanced down at Ether and pursed his lips and nodded once. "You're right, I was hiding it from you. I'm sorry that I put you both in that position." His eyes started to turn red and began to well with tears. "Kline has been researching all she could about about them. 'Team Zodiac.' Their leader is 'Pisces.' They're just as if not more powerful than you experienced with 'Taurus.'"
The only images that showed in his mind were the files from which he recalled this information. "That's really all she's been able to find out since he - Pisces - revealed himself to Kline five years ago. She's found nothing fucking else out," he spat.
"Arceus fucking damn it," he growled loudly. "Of course they were fucking involved. So fucking stupid," he continued to reprimand himself. "I'm sorry," he said as he composed himself and looked back up at the pair. "We don't even know what they want or why they formed their 'Team.'"
He shook his head. The memories flashed through his mind about all the times Grand Conserve Kline tried to bring up the topic, which he always waved off. The memories of the times she requested resources to further investigate Team Zodiac, which he always denied due to the always-limited resources they had. The memory of his concern that the Mauville Attack could have actually been the work of Team Zodiac, but was ignored since he'd heard nothing about them for the past two years since Grand Conserve Kline ceased requesting help and resources from him. Another one of his failures as Master General of Hoenn.
"She currently has the file on Team Zodiac," he finally said and pressed the button on the intercom. "Mr. Johnson and Investigator Aeros will be meeting with Grand Conserve Kline at the PI's convenience," he said matter-of-factly and leaned back to the two of them.
The look on Forrest's face struck him. He couldn't understand why Forrest still looked suspicious. "Look, I'm sorry, but that's all I can give you," he said with a shrug. The feeling of defeat exuded strongly from the Master General.
"You don't know anything else. Anything at all? You've never seen any of them before?" Forrest said in a deep and harsh growl.
Dick's brow's curled and his eyes widened as if he was confused and afraid of this response from Forrest. Ether felt this confusion and verified that there were no seals hiding anything within the Master General's mind and that he was actively allowing to see everything he could recall to Ether. There was no hint of deceit or fabrication or even omission. But his face shifted out of fear and fully into confusion.
"What did you find?"
"We know who and what their targets are. You're saying you have no idea," Forrest growled again. It sounded more like an accusation than a question. It took Tristan to rein Forrest in to shift his expectations.
"You do? That's great, but I don't -" he started. "know," he finished the sentence in his mind as it raced to think of possibilities as to what it could have been.
"You're not one of them. None of the Rangers are. None of the bases or this HQ are on any of the lists of targets they have." His voice still growled, but it wasn't nearly as intense as before.
"Really?" Dick said incredulously.
It made no sense to him. How would the Rangers - the military of the entire country - not be on any kind of list or plans they had for whatever it was they were trying to accomplish? Surely he, himself, would be at the top of the list. Grand Conserve Kline should be on the list since their self-proclaimed leader exposed himself to her. Surely what they had was an incomplete list.
"I'm sure they must have plans to deal with the Rangers in another file that you didn't get," he said, still visibly confused. "A file on how to deal with the Rangers would be huge. They couldn't have gotten it with the few files they had. But it's probably destroyed by now so we can't know what they plan to do about us. They could only get a few files. Of course their plans on dealing with the Rangers weren't among them. Or it's with Kline and she's in league with them and they recruited her to dismantle the Rangers from the inside."
These were theoretical thoughts. Again, there was no deception or concealing of thoughts. There were no barriers or blocks. Unless there was an impossibly more sophisticated manner in hiding truths that Ether had never experienced before, the Master General was being honest. He seemed to have no connection to this Team Zodiac. He was just as bewildered that the Rangers wouldn't be in some sort of plan or another.
Dick's eyes widened as the realization hit him. "Oh," he said low and slowly. "This makes me - us - look like we're accomplices. Of course it does," he said to himself and shook his head. "But," he started again and gestured to Ether, "I know less than either of you. I've never seen any of them. I don't know if it's just the twelve of them or if they have hundreds within their ranks."
The shrug he offered was one of defeat. Sure he could tell them the truth that he knew, but even he understood that his truth could be false - implanted, possibly. If he was a sleeper agent, he wouldn't even know. He understood well enough that he - the entire Rangers Organization - were suspects. He breathed deeply and kept quiet as he had no excuses or pleas to offer them.
"Again, I'm sorry," he said softly and shook his head. "I don't have anything else for you." His eyes were sad - almost pathetic. "But I've sent Special Agent Hawley to your office, Aeros, if you'd like to speak with him. If not, just let me know and I'll cancel the meeting."
Forrest stood there with his arms crossed and his chest puffed out. He had never shifted from his aggressive and authoritative stance directly in front of Dick's desk. He stood with his feet shoulder-width apart and his head held straight and his eyes down at the old man. A few more moments passed and he turned to look toward Tristan and Ether with a raised brow so they could verify what he was saying and the thoughts they could find.




Rangers Headquarters - Rustboro City


Toward the end of interview with the special agent, the door was unlocked and a woman walked through - a familiar woman. Her long straight black hair and pinched eyes and pale skin were unmistakable. She wore the same style blouse and pants and shoes but in different colors.
"Mr. Aeros, hi," she said with a warm smile without any hint of appearing as if she'd interrupted anything. "It looks like Ms. Shade wants me to work with you more closely. So, what have you found out?" she said and gestured for Forrest to get out of his chair so that she could bring it up to Tristan's desk and sit in it. Of course he complied if only because he was too confused to not surrender his seat to the young woman.
"Uh, who are you?" Forrest asked gruffly as he realized what was happening.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Johnson. I'm Asuna, pleasure," she said and offered her hand to shake his gently, which he did as he looked incredulously at Tristan.
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”If there’s anything there, I can’t sense it…” Ether confirmed to Tristan as they listened to Forrest interrogate the Master General. ”It feels like he’s not trying to hide, either.”

This intrigued Tristan as he listened to Forrest’s somewhat impressive interrogation skills. Well, they impressed Tristan at least. And it was an admittedly low bar.

A whole separate file for the Rangers. Curious. It made sense, sure, but after experiencing the power of a single of these Zodiac members, he wondered why they would need any sort of elaborate plan requiring its own filing and plans. He fully believed that, if they wanted to, they could all blitz on the Headquarters and just obliterate it in a moment, killing everyone inside. This would have been especially effective if all the Grands were still here. Everything would have fallen into chaos with, he believed, minimal effort on their part.

However, overhearing that the Grands were returning to their bases, hope threatened to flutter in Tristan’s chest. The Zodiacs either weren’t powerful enough to do this, or they believed they were. The former would be ideal. However, as he had mentioned before, they had to overestimate these terrorists in all things.

Still, the Grands had scattered, and the Headquarters was still standing. The Master General seemed to not be in league with them and Grand Kline seemed to have been looking into them with this “Project Shadow” - intriguing. He was absolutely going to have that meeting with Regina as soon as he could.

However, he was going to follow through with his previous requests. He wasn’t about to rule out that Agent Hawly had nothing new to report. If nothing else, it might help add context if not new information altogether. Both of which could be helpful to someone who knew what to do with such intelligence.

At this point, Tristan only had two data drives; one for the intelligence gathered about the attack on Mauville and everything related to Jonton’s work. The other had all of the intelligence gathered about the Zodiacs specifically along with the locations they were to target.

“I’ll still speak with Hawley.” Tristan spoke with a rather flat and expressionless tone as he approached the desk again. He’d pick up the drive that he had left on the desk at Forrest’s first motion. He then gestured for the Rich to move out from behind his desk. His other hand lifted the drive and he asked, “May I?” referring to uploading the information.

After verifying that his system was secure and uncompromised he would start with the Mauville attack and Jonton intel first. As he did so he would give a brief summary of what it was he was uploading. Once complete, the drive was placed back into his pant pocket and the other drive was revealed and input into Rich’s computer.

As this information was uploaded, Tristan similarly provided an overview of the information - The Zodiac’s aliases, their targets, the physical descriptions of the three that they knew, and the Mythical Pokemon they were listed to acquire if they hadn’t already.

There wasn’t really much to discuss at this point. For now, Tristan wanted to relay his thoughts to Rich as he had with Forrest. He wanted to impress upon the Master General that, if the Zodiacs are all as powerful, or more so, than Taurus, then the Headquarters could easily be leveled in a moment if they wanted to. Clearly they had something else in mind, but he made sure to suggest that they not have another in-person meeting of the Grands if they could help it.

He would express that this would pose its own challenges and consequences. In keeping their authoritative structure spread out it would make a single sweeping blow less straightforward. However, with as many of these Zodiacs as there were, they could just split up and attack everyone all at once and likely overpower them regardless. Perhaps that was their plan.

So, they needed to decide if they were going to gather everyone in one location so it was potentially more defensible, or remain spread out to make their likely attack on the Rangers more inconvenient.

More importantly, though, they needed to quickly come up with a plan on how to evacuate or defend the remaining locations and individuals. And do so without creating panic among the general populace.

Most importantly, he needed to ensure that this information didn’t get out and that it was only disseminated to entirely necessary personnel. Even better was to compartmentalize the information, only letting individuals know the parts that were pertinent to their position and capabilities.

A difficult needle to thread, all said.

This was something he would leave up to Rich to make the decision based on his best judgement. An awful lot of trust to place into someone he found himself at odds with more often than not. It was ultimately his job and responsibility, after all. ”Veritas, HQ is clear… for now. Bring my parents and Percival here when you get them.”

On the way back to his office, Tristan suggested that Forrest should think about what to do about his parents. While Tristan debriefed Hawley, he instructed Veritas to acquire rooms and get his own parents settled in. He would visit with them soon enough, but had quite a bit of work to do before the day was done.

It was entirely disconcerting that there was no warning of someone entering his office. Both he and Ether hated it. While he tried to remember that this was how most everyone else experienced things, Ether’s tail flicked back and forth in annoyance. Tristan’s brows crinkled at the abrupt entrance, but he did his best not to outright jump as she approached.

Asuna was absolutely not someone he expected to see. Not here. Not now. While he was surprised and somewhat confused, his interest and curiosity was overpowering in this moment.

“Yes, Asuna. It’s good to see you. Please,” he said even after she already took Forrest’s seat. It was his way of confirming to Forrest that he, indeed, knew this young lady and this was acceptable. Acceptable only in that he didn’t want to act the reality that he was caught completely on the back foot here.

“I’m glad. To be honest, I was a little worried which side Ms. Shade was on.” It reminded him that he was curious what Lady Fairfax was up to and how she felt about all of this. How she would feel once she learned what he decided to tell her.

But, he needed to focus on the here and now. ”Ether, don’t let me forget that we need to talk to Kline and Frederick, Lois, and Bingham. Ugh, this is going to take forever. Veritas, let them know it’s going to be a late night, but I’ll get to them as soon as I can.” Ether impressed upon his training an affirmative while Veritas replied, ”Of course…

“So, as for what I found.” He had allowed just enough time for her to offer her opinion and thoughts on his previous spoken statement, half-listening and hoping that Ether would remind him of any important details that he missed. He would, again, pause while he brought up the summaries he had shown Forrest and Rich already.

He’d start with the information around the Mauville attack and Jonton, allowing Ether to focus on her reaction to this information. Even no apparent reaction might be something. However, he reminded Ether to keep out of her mind - not that he could infiltrate her defenses anyway. He was only to observe her non-verbal communication while he went through each set of intelligence.

After everything was relayed, Tristan - showing an uncharacteristically generous amount of trust and confidence in this woman he’d only met once - turned to her to ask, “And that’s all we gathered.” He’d wait a beat before asking, “How much of this did you already know?” He wanted to see her reaction and see if she was, indeed, who he thought - part of this Project Shadow.
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The Master General agreed that Team Zodiac could take out the Headquarters swiftly and without much difficulty. He admitted he hoped their communications wouldn't be intercepted by them, but they only had so many anti-hacking measures, and anything could be overcome. He also agreed how they were easier to pick off now that they were separated from each other. The best they could do was increase their personal security, both personal and of their bases. But this would consume even more resources that were already lacking. He admitted that both options had different but seemingly equal risks involved. He thought aloud how he'd have to reassign Grand Watcher Clark so she could focus all her attention on anti-terrorist measures and decide their best courses of action going forward with what they knew. He then agreed that they would need to be very careful with how they discuss their plans and orders and their reasons with care.

Forrest hadn't stopped thinking about what to do about his parents - what to tell them, how to protect them. It was all a mess in his mind and he struggled to organize any of his quickly meandering thoughts. Bringing them to the Headquarters - it would be the same as having all the Grands in one location - to have several of their targets in one location would result in the same. They would have to stay with him in his house. Shaq'ti would be responsible for Teleporting them away if they were attacked. He felt conflicted putting his wife and children at risk. He wondered if Rob and Sue would stay with them as well despite having no room for them. He shook the plans out of his mind as he and Shaq'ti entered Tristan's office. He'd ask his parents what their own opinions were on the situation.

"Hello Mr. and Mrs. Aeros. I have come to collect you, Mr. Gutermuth, and bring you to the Rangers Headquarters."
They were taken aback for a moment and looked at the Rangers who were stationed to them. They looked at each other and shared their understanding of the situation. It seemed their son was unharmed, which allowed both to breath more easily. They called upon Percival who arrived soon after via his Grumpig's Teleportation. They were provided little information and were soon teleported into a basement level of the Headquarters that were assigned to them for the time being. They were understandably uneasy when they learned Tristan wasn't meeting with them immediately - that he was still busy working and would visit them soon. So Deirdre started and kept a conversation between them as they waited.

Special Agent Hawley had only one new piece of information to share - and it was purely conjecture. He believed that Pisces or one of the Team Zodiac members was behind the killings of the previous special agents before him. He'd learned that they had all been murdered, which was new but unfortunately not surprising. The other grunts - Jonton's grunts - never knew what happened to the previous secret agents when he was able to ask in a way that didn't blow his cover. Eventually he found deleted security footage that showed Special Agent Bobby Baloy being torn apart by a Lycanroc that seemed to be owned by a tall and thin man wearing a white button-up shirt, suspenders, khakis, and leather shoes. At the end of the footage, this man was approached by another man who wore a fine suit with a vest and no jacket and the two of them teleported away via a Gorebyss. This led him into learning about the existence of Team Zodiac and that they were working with Jonton, but wasn't able to learn about their relationship beyond that before the same tall and thin man attempted to kill him, which was how he ended up in the hospital. He admitted that had he not come across that deleted footage, he would have been killed. Only because he knew what to expect was he able to escape.

"So paranoid, Trissy," Asuna said with a giggle. "Not everyone is a criminal mastermind," she added with a wink. She amused herself with her hyperbolic hypocrisy.
She nodded along as she listened and saw what Tristan had learned. She rolled her eyes and said "yeah yeah, we know about that already," when he started to explain the Mauville Attack. "We're based in Mauville and know about everything that goes on there. They moved their timetable which is why we couldn't stop it," she explained and shifted to a slightly dejected demeanor. "But anyway, I'm here about Team Zodiac, so get to the good stuff."
She took no notes but sat attentively and was obviously paying attention. She nodded a few times and looked around to connect some pieces of information that she had to the ones Tristan shared. She flinched a few moments after Tristan asked his question. She was in her mind and snapped back to the present at the question.
"Well, we know about Team Zodiac and that their leader is Pisces. He met with Ms. Shade about 6 or 7 years ago," she said and paused. "6 years and 9 months ago," she clarified with a nod. "She's been trying to track them since then. I only started to work with her 2 years ago and that's all I've been doing this whole time."
She took a deep breath and looked up to find the next piece of information they had in common. "We know what Pisces looks like and what his Pokemon are, but we have no idea how strong they are. It's really great that you got to actually battle against one of them so we have a frame of reference," she said with unironic enthusiasm despite the very real and mortal danger they were in to learn how powerful only one of their members were.
"Otherwise," she said with widened eyes and looked directly at Tristan, "he shared with us his 'goal,' if that's what you want to call it. He said 'the modern way of life is an abomination. Our dependence on advanced technologies and Pokemon, themselves, would lead to the ruin of the world.' Oh, and he claimed he'd be the one to set the world back to its 'intended state of perfection.'"
Her brows curled as she recited what she remembered. It wasn't out of the struggle of recalling the information. Rather, it was the concern such ideas rose in her and how sinister and destructive enacting such a ideal would be.
"Oh, and we know what Aries looks like and the Pokemon she has," she said with a kind of enthusiasm that betrayed the gravity of their situation.
She explained how Aries was a woman of brown skin, black curly hair, brown eyes, and relatively tall with an athletic build. She seemed to usually wear athletic clothing and had a very 'energetic' personality. She had a Talonflame and a Dubwool. She was last seen walking northward through Mauville fifteen months ago, which is how they learned about her.
"But now we know much of their plans as well as their motivation. At least, we know about the leader's motivations. I think these targets definitely line up with what he claimed. Take out the major contributors' to the country's source of energy. Take out the leading source of technology and wealth (the Fairfax's). Take out a person with conflicting philosophies," she said with the inflection of a question - bewildered that Mrs. James would be a target they would even bother to put on a list of targets given her age.
"I'm curious, though. None of the Rangers, their bases, or this Headquarters appears to be a target. Do you think that information was missing from what you managed to gather? It seems odd..." she said and trailed off in thought for a moment with furrowed brows.
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Before leaving Rich’s office, Tristan asked the Master General to let him know what he figured would be better - scattering the targets or gathering them. If nothing else, it would help Tristan determine Rich’s state-of-mind. He also floated the idea of the Gym Leaders and Elite Four to perform a sort of blitz on the Southern Island base. Tristan only wanted Rich to consider it for now, and he would be sure to get Forrest’s thoughts about this on the way to his office.

The insight Hawley provided was, in its own way, valuable. If not for its factual substance than for its subjective observations. The description and Pokemon of the individual was noted, though he wouldn’t be able to put it with a name. Or title, or whatever it was they considered these monikers to be. He’d praise Hawley’s resourcefulness and discipline and would submit a commendation for his work.

Hopefully they would all live long enough to experience it.

If he were being honest, Tristan was taken aback by the playful nickname Asuna had decided to gift him. Sure it was cute, but he had a hard time figuring out if he was offended by her presumption, humored by her playfulness, or touched by her thoughtfulness. She was impossible to read, after all.

His annoyance at being so unaware only grew when she revealed they had long known about the attack on Mauville and were planning to stop it only to be undercut by the timing. This whole thing was a complete cluster. Rich really screwed up big time here, and he’d really have to outdo himself to make up for it. Otherwise, Tristan held no love for the man, so it wouldn’t matter to him if he was succeeded.

While Asuna essentially debriefed him on what she already knew he furiously typed this new information into his notes. He was surprised and annoyed at his surprise that this had been going on for so long with him not knowing a thing. Of course he had various matters to attend to on his own, and Internal Affairs, by definition, rarely found him looking outward. Only during the few tasks Lady Fairfax had given him was he out in the wider world. But he made a note to make some time to scour these missions to see if he could find any trace or hints of all of this going on behind the scenes. He didn’t want to believe that he had been so easily evaded all these years.

With the whole thing about Aries, he wanted some clarification. “How do you know it was Aries? What did she do, or what makes you suspect this person to be her?”

Once he was satisfied with the justification to add this description to his notes he moved on to his next steps.

“Ether, Forrest, and I just came from a meeting with the Master General. Ether was unable to find anything in his mind that would suggest he’s under any sort of influence by this Team Zodiac. I’m rather comfortable with his assessment, however…” he’d pause for this moment, thinking of how best to reveal this information to his new associate.

“We’ve encountered, first hand, what this Gorebyss can do to human minds. But if it’s able to create sleeper agents that can’t be detected, then it’s far more powerful than we anticipated.” He’d go on to describe Jonton’s interrogation, including the fact that Oracle was nearly driven mad by it all. Indeed, it was perhaps only luck that allowed her to regain her sanity. Or as much of as she could after something like that.

“You had the same concern that made us interrogate him in the first place. Knowing that they could, at any time, make this whole thing a crater in a moment if they wanted, it was suspicious to say the least that none of the plans that I pulled had anything about not only HQ, but any Ranger whatsoever.

“But, for now I trust him and Grand Conserve Kline,” He’d pause for a moment to observe her reaction to the mention of the Grand Conserve to see if he could glean any confirmation of his suspicion. “Speaking of, we need to meet with her.” He looked to Forrest at this point, indicating that it was he that Tristan included in that “we”.

With this he reached to pick up his phone to call the secretary. “Yeah, Lucas. I need you to get a hold of Grand Conserve Kline so we can meet with her. Ether will take Forrest and myself,” He paused, looking to Asuna to see if she wanted to be included in this conversation before continuing, “to wherever she is now. Ensure she knows it’s to be a private conversation.”

“Yes, Sir.” Lucas replied as he wrote the directive in a notebook he always kept handy.

“And I need you to set up a meeting with myself and the rest of the Elite Four in my office for first thing tomorrow morning. 9am, I think. Make sure you speak to them personally. And let me know if they need teleportation services to make the meeting.”

“Yes, Sir. Anything else?” Lucas kept his professionalism about him. He was rather used to the aloof, largely-absent IA Investigator to be somewhat demanding when he did find himself in the building. Though, Lucas appreciated the directness Tristan usually displayed.

“Oh, yeah. Can we make sure my parents and Percival are fed and they have everything they need for their stay? Oh, yeah, and Veritas is going to need something to eat as well.”

“Of course, Sir.” Lucas wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about running a hotel, but knew better than to complain.

“Thank you, Lucas. That’s it for now.”

“Yes, Sir.” And the call was ended.
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The Master General thought quickly what his first instinct was in regards to the Grands and the Gym Leaders. He shook his head as he compiled the thoughts into words. "We'll use the assignment of each Base to specific Gym Leaders in the opposite. Those Gym Leaders will be assigned to protect that base and the Grand and vice versa," he said.
"As for a assault on Southern Island, we're going to need the Pokemon League's permission with that, which won't be difficult to obtain," he said and gestured to Tristan. "But I'll discuss that with Grand Watcher Clark when she arrives and we'll decide the best course of action with the resources we have," he said with a tone of defeat as he considered how spread thin they already were.

Agent Hawley excused himself as Asuna and Tristan shared what they knew. Forrest struggled to keep up and considered leaving, himself, as he felt he had nothing to contribute to the two's theorizing. But he stayed while Shaq'ti worked to simplify their ramblings.

"She told me," Asuna said with a shrug in response to Tristan asking how she knew it was Aries she had met. "Samantha intercepted some of her unprotected thoughts which led us to believe she was in league with Pisces. When I confronted her, she didn't bother to hide anything, which was rather unsettling," she said as she looked up diagonally as she recalled the memory.
"Oh, well that's good," Asuna said as if unsure as to her own opinion of what Tristan shared about the Master General.
"That's certainly a terrifying though," she said in response to Tristan's consipracy about Pisces' Gorebyss. "But since we can't confirm that, we'll have to continue forward with the understanding of the possibility that the Rangers are allied with Team Zodiac."
She turned grim at his admission to trusting the Master General and Grand Conserve. "You really shouldn't trust Kline," she said and slowly shook her head. Her eyes were wide with a sense of warning. "Samantha's been tracking her since she's the only public figure that's had contact with Team Zodiac. Samantha hasn't seen them meet since the last time three years ago. It was a short meeting," she said and looked up to find the memory of the information she wasn't in charge of collecting. "In a cove off the coast of Lilycove. It was the afternoon," she added with a nod to herself. "Anyway," she started again with a quick shake of her head, "Samantha hasn't come back with anything significant that Kline's done or said so she could be trying to convince him to not go through with his plans, but that's too optimistic for me," she confessed with a sneer.
Her brows raised at the "command" for the two of them to meet with the Grand Conserve. "I need to stay in Rustboro to keep an eye out potential Zodiac activity following the Wharf Raid," she said with a raised brown and turned to look at Forrest who was lost in thought and didn't notice. She turned back to Tristan and said, "But I'll get Samantha to meet up with you wherever you want to meet up. I think it'll be good for her to have a partner for once," she said and pulled a corner of her lip and widened her eyes.

"She is waiting for you in her office per the Master General's request," Lieutenant Cornne replied back flatly. "I will inform her of your arrival."
"At the Zephyr Base, then," Asuna said to herself.
Lieutenant Cornne worked quickly to set the meeting and start communications with the other Elite Four members after he notified Grand Conserve Kline's secretary of Tristan's arrival. He was glad Tristan's first request was already fulfilled by the Master General himself and the third request was carried out as the default procedure for refugees. He brought up the security questions the Elite Four provided every four years to confirm their identities before telling them about the meeting. He knew better than to bother the Head Investigator for something as trivial as teleportation. There were plenty of Rangers tasked with Teleportation that he called upon to carry out the required transportation the Elite Four needed.
She waited patiently for Tristan to ramble off the rest of his commands to this "Lucas." "That reminds me, I should go before someone realizes I shouldn't be here," she said with wide eyes and looked back and forth rapidly as if to search for hidden cameras or invisible people or Pokemon. "That said, you should really get to know who you work with and make sure your employees are familiar with their colleagues and establish better anti-infiltration measures," she said rather disappointed. "It was really easy to forge a badge and walk in like I had a purpose and not be bothered. Didn't even have to get a uniform," she added with a shrug. "Makes you think that any number of Zodiacs could be anywhere in the headquarters right now," she said and looked up and around. "I really should go before this place explodes," she added with a huff and wide eyes and quickly walked out of the office.

It took a few long moments for Forrest to return to the present. Even with Shaq'ti's help, he was lagging behind in the conversation between the two. It was dizzying how quickly they talked to each other. He wondered if they even noticed since he swore Tristan never spoke that quickly to him. He shook his head and blinked rapidly when Tristan, through Shaq'ti, got his attention. "Uh, okay," he said with a quick stutter and a look of general confusion on his face.
He recalled Shaq'ti into her Pokeball as she wasn't entirely comfortable teleporting herself, let alone someone else, while she mentally recovered from their operation. So Forrest rose from his seat he found in the other corner and walked toward Ether. Forrest stared directly at him as if he had to focus to be teleported by a Pokemon that wasn't Shaq'ti.

It certainly felt different. He didn't expect that. He expected Teleportation to feel the same, but apparently it was as unique an experience as each Pokemon was unique. He looked up to see the burnt orange sky of the late afternoon with blue and purple streaks of clouds that brushed across its canvas. The salty air quickly hit their noses and it made Forrest hold his breath for a moment to adjust to the sudden change in air quality.
Before them was a rather large building, four stories. It was a starkly different architectural style from the buildings immediately surrounding it. But it simply looked like a new office building amid old residential homes. The glass walls shone brightly - reflected the sun in the sky in the distance behind them. It was notably quiet here. The buzz of activity at the headquarters had become white noise. The silence of a seaside Ranger Base took a moment to get used to. There were two Rangers standing guard at the entrance. They seemed to immediately recognize Tristan and saluted and addressed him as they approached.
"Investigator Aeros. Ensign Carney will show you to the Grand Conserve's office."
As they were escorted to the Grand Conserve's office, there was no sign of Samantha until a newly familiar voice spoke clearly into his mind.
"Hello, Mr. Aeros," she said with a tone of contempt. "Don't mind me, I'll just be watching and keeping invisible while we're in the base."
It was unique to hear only her voice clearly instead of her Espeon's voice or just her own voice sounding distorted in some way. She didn't hide her appearance from Tristan or Forrest, and so could be seen walking behind them. Her own Espeon's jem glowed as it focused on maintaining a telepathic link between them. Her Bronzong floating just behind her. Its nearly-inaudible ring was able to bend the light around just the three of them so as to make it appear as if they weren't there to anyone else.
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Gyms and Bases protecting one another was… better than nothing. It would have to do for now, if nothing else. And then needing permission for a raid on the Southern Base - the Master General had to say that, Tristan knew. He’d remind Rich that anything they did needed to be of the utmost secrecy. Getting permission for any such operation would be antithesis to that.

When Asuna described the encounter with Aries he couldn’t help but furrow his brows in concerning curiosity. So open about it? If she was so forthcoming, how have they been so good at staying under the radar and being so hard to track and gather intelligence on? How are they gathering followers, then? Or do the followers not even know what they’re actually helping with?

But, yes; he agreed that they shouldn’t trust anyone. And he made sure to pause and suggest that he wasn’t quite to the point of trusting Asuna, never mind Samantha, and far be it from this Ms. Shade. He assured her, though, that Grand Conserve Kline, at the very least, needed to be questioned and debriefed by him, given Rich’s incompetence. Or potential treason. Hopefully the former.

While conversing, he made sure to include a note to ask Kline about and investigate this cove off the coast of Lilycove where this alleged meeting took place.

The suggestion of working with Samantha made Tristan clench his jaw. He had absolutely no interest in the prospect. Sure, they had only interacted once, and in an admittedly stressful situation, but he took personal offense to being so unabashedly attacked. To be so willing to attack an Elite Four member’s person spoke volumes. Though, perhaps he needed to check his privilege there.

Even so, he knew that Samantha, and Asuna herself, would be instrumental on a raid on the Southern Island base.

“I look forward to learning what you find,” Tristan replied to her declining his offer to join him. A good idea, all things considered. He couldn’t trust whatever reports the Rangers submitted following their investigation after all. And, for some reason, he trusted her more than almost anyone at this point.

Scary.

”Veritas, keep your wits about you. If there’s any suspicious activity at all, get them out of there immediately.” This thought reached Veritas as Asuna described the ease in which she infiltrated, and her joke about getting out of here before it exploded. He knew it wasn’t entirely a joke, and he now desperately wanted to stay with them rather than go speak with Kline. But, he had to trust Veritas would do the right thing if anything were to happen.

It was a good thing that Veritas was able to deal with Tristan’s anxiety and stress separately from keeping his parents and Percival company and keeping things as calm as they could be given the circumstances. She picked up on his suspicion of any and all Rangers at this point and took that to put each one she comes across under greater scrutiny.

It was only after teleporting to Zephyr Base and being greeted by the security outside that he was still in the same clothes. His burgundy shirt, khakis and sport coat were rather wrinkly at this point, making him mostly miss the beautiful scenery here as he tried to straighten himself out.

He almost gasped out loud at Samantha’s voice in his mind. Ether’s tail twitched aggressively at first, slowly calming to just an annoyed sway. Still, his eyes widened and he looked around to see her with her Espeon and Bronzong behind him and Forrest. He’d do his best to play it off as they were escorted to her office. His eyes scrutinized Forrest to see how he would react and desperately hoped that he wouldn’t make a scene.

Once there, he only thanked the Ensign for his time and entered the office, Ether close behind. He’d find whatever seat might be available to sit in, Ether sticking right to his side the whole time, and casually rest himself upon it. And, as a way to see where Kline was at mentally and emotionally in this moment, he would wait until she spoke first.
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