Loki paused and cocked his head to one side, as though listening intently – although I had heard nothing. A strange expression crossed his features and he unfurled himself from the sofa with the grace of a persian, stalking across the chamber. “My little pidgey,” he cooed, his voice sounding sickly, sarcastically sweet. “What did I tell you about spying on me?”
The slap-slap-slap of bared feet on stone. Loki’s pupils flared bright orange, and static electricity started dancing across his bald head. He stalked across the room like a predatory beast and swept aside the curtain.
“Eva? I’m not going to hurt you my dear.” He disappeared out, into the corridor.
I levered myself upright, and gingerly placed my feet to the floor. Although my legs still felt as brittle as sun-bleached twigs, I found I could stand, and even take a few unaided steps. There was precious little in the room that could be used as a weapon; I very much doubted cushions, plush toys or DVD cases would dissuade Loki.
“Run Eva,” I whispered, almost pleading. “Run and hide.” Would he hurt her? His own daughter? Surely not?
But then again, he was a sociopathic monster…
“Kataryna,” a voice came, hissed from somewhere behind the bookcase.
Outside in the hallway, Loki’s footsteps faded away, although I could still hear his voice. “Where are you, Eva? If you don’t come out of hiding, there’ll be no dinner for you.”
“Over here.” A small, pale hand waved at me, beckoning me over.
It took far too long to stride the distance, but Eva slid the book case forward, revealing a low tunnel.
“In here,” she urged. “It’s okay. Papa gets a bit moody sometimes. He gets a bit grumpy when I’m naughty.” Her hand closed tight about mine, pulling me into the tunnel and sliding the bookcase back into place. “I try to be a good girl,” she whispered, close to my ear. “I really do… but… I had to come back. I wanted to make sure you were okay. Come on.” She tugged me into a darkness so profound that it was as though I’d gone blind. The walls pressed in close around me, catching an elbow here, a knee there. I stumbled and staggered behind her. Then came a light, a tiny pinprick glowing up ahead.
At first glance, it looked like a candle, small and squat, with a tiny flame flickering atop it. Closer inspection revealed a golden eye, peeking out from beneath the melted wax. As we entered the chamber, the flame flared brighter. Bright enough to illuminate a small cave, equipped as a hideaway, complete with: a pile of blankets, a small mountain of pillows, a stuffed pikachu (that looked slightly the worst for wear), and a rather battered collection of fairy tales.
It looked cosy, and even the short walk had exhausted me. I sunk down into the pile of pillows and hugged one to my chest. It felt so soft. It would be so easy to rest my head on them, to close my eyes and drift off…
“Litwick,” Eva snapped. “Stop that at once. Don’t take it from her – take it from me.”
The candle flickered, the flame dying back.
“Sorry about that.” Eva sat down beside me. “He’s just excited to have a visitor. He didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“A litwick?” I blinked, feeling slightly more alert. “I’ve never seen one of those before.”
Eva burst out laughing, then shoved her hand in her mouth to stifle the noise. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled around her fist. “You sounded exactly like Ash.”
“Well, I haven’t.” I must have sounded offended, because Eva’s face flared red. “Sorry,” I apologised immediately. “We’re related. Distantly. It was he that inspired me to run away and become a Pokemon trainer, actually. But, well, I guess I’m a little jealous of his fame.”
“You’re related to Ash?” She stared at me, her eyes so wide that I’d swear, had this been the cartoon, they would have turned into stars.
“Distantly,” I replied. “I haven’t seen him in years.” And he was probably dead too. Dead – like everyone else.
“Is it true?” Eva whispered, as though she had picked up on the dark turn my thoughts had taken. “What Papa said? Did he really do all those terrible things?” She nestled into me, resting her head beneath my chin. In a move so trusting I could not help but feel touched. It wasn’t like we knew each other, really. Or did we? She had cared for me through her entire life, after all; I was no stranger to her. I rested my hand on her hair, letting my fingers trail through the copper-red locks. “Is papa a villain?” she continued. “Like Jessie and James? You know, Team Rocket?”
I laughed at that – although not a particularly humorous one. Should I tell her? It wasn’t exactly fair to lie to her, was it? “Loki WAS Team Rocket,” I explained. “He had a partner named Freyja.”
“Freyja.” Eva savoured the word. “He spoke of her. She was his first true love. But she betrayed him, abandoned him when he needed her most, and joined his worst enemy.”
Oh dear… that worst enemy had been us. And the last time I had seen beautiful Freyja, had been bidding her ‘farewell’ on the shore of Mewtwo’s island. Loki had tormented her dreams, all but shattered her mind, and hollowed her into a fragile husk of the woman she had once been. Was she, too, now dead? I swallowed hard.
“Eva,” I said. “Your father has done terrible things. He has hurt a lot of people – including people I care about very much. He’s kept me unconscious for..” – Ten? Fifteen? Longer? – “… many years.”
“You were asleep,” she replied. “He said you needed it – that you were like Sleeping Beauty in the fairy tale, cursed to sleep until…”
“… Until the drugs ran out,” I muttered. Certainly not a prince’s kiss.
“Did he really destroy the world?” Her voice wobbled, tremulous. She was scared to hear the truth.
My heart ached. I was about to tear away her fragile innocence, and reveal her father for the monster he was. I shouldn’t have felt guilty about it – Loki was the worst kind of monster, a psychopathic murderer with no love for anyone except himself, and – presumably – his daughter, but looking into those enormous blue eyes, with tears starting to shimmer at the corners… I stalled for time.
“Were you listening?”
She nodded. “I left, just like Papa asked me to, but, well, I know that sometimes Papa can be a bit moody, and you seemed scared of him… so I only pretended to leave. I stayed outside the curtain. And, I heard him talking about things – bad things like earthquakes and tsunami and… well, papa gets angry when I ask too many questions about where he goes and what he does. And I thought maybe that was what he was doing – maybe he was saving people from disasters. But he wasn’t, was he?” She blinked quickly, tears trickling glistening trails down her cheeks. “You don’t love him, do you?”
The sudden change of topic made me jerk in surprise. “No,” I replied quietly. I hate him with all my heart and soul.
“He lied about that too.”
“He lied to me about everything.” She blinked back the tears and I realised with a start that they were not tears of sorrow, they were tears of outrage. “He lied to me. He locked me up in this… this burrow, while out there people were dying terrible, violent deaths. I’m like Rapunzel,” she concluded, chewing her lower lip thoughtfully. “Only my tower’s upside-down and no prince is going to come and rescue me.” Her eyes met mine, bright and determined. “We have to leave,” she said. “But not so I can begin my Pokemon journey… No, we have to fix what my father’s destroyed – we have to heal the world.”
Brave words, and who was I to dissuade her? Had I been about her age – or maybe a teeny bit older – when I had set out to make my mark upon the world? And when Loki and Freyja had decided that my little Maki (oh how I missed him) would impress their boss (the same boss, might it be added, that good ol’ Jessie and James decided required one certain pikachu). They’d hounded me, and my friend Rowan, and then I’d met Kameron.
Kameron who was also in Team Rocket.
He’d quit (or been fired, he’d never been completely clear about that), and we’d joined forces. Meanwhile, Loki had turned megalomaniac, Team Rocket’s boss had been overthrown by an equally aspirant alakazam and things had, generally, gone from bad to worse. We’d been wounded, had Pokemon killed, and friends badly injured. Meanwhile Ash and his ever-changing group of Pokemon-loving buddies had continued the same endless quest of catching and imprisoning (or, to be fair, befriending) screes of different species of Pokemon, whilst his bumbling Team Rocket duo trailed along behind them. Okay, so maybe I was a bit bitter…
Still, I was alive, and he was, most likely, dead.
Like everyone else.
First things first, however.
“Loki said we’re on an island, right? Aotearoa? If we’re going to help fix the world, we need to find other people, yes?” That was, presuming, that we didn’t just kill Loki in his sleep. But that wasn’t something
Eva nodded sagely. “I think it’s a pretty big job for just two of us. We’re going to need help.” She scrambled free of my grasp and started digging around in the pile of blankets, eventually unearthing another – rather more battered – Pokemon encyclopaedia. She opened it to a page near the front, holding it near litwick’s flame. With the other hand she stifled a yawn.
“Arceus,” I read. It was a strange looking beast, shaped not unlike a ponyta or absol, but with an elongated head crest, horns, and golden rings encircling its midrift.
“According to Sinnoh myth, Arceus was the first.” Eva read aloud, although it was so dark, she must’ve been reciting from memory. “It emerged from its egg in a realm of nothing, and shaped the world with its 1,000 arms.”
I squinted at the picture. “It doesn’t have arms.”
“Must be one of those… meta-things,” Eva replied.
“Yeh. Anyway, if we can go to the Sinnoh region and find the temple, we can awaken Arceus with a magic flute and he’ll help piece the world back together.” She winched as something thumped above them.
“Evangeline!” There was anger in Loki’s voice now. “Where are you hiding her?”
“Does he get like this often?” I whispered, wrapping my arms around the girl. She had begun shaking.
“His moods?” she whimpered into my shoulder. “No. Papa’s great. As long as I’m a good girl and do what I’m told, and don’t wake him when he’s sleeping or ask too many questions. But… Sometimes he gets grumpy. Usually I hide here and wait until he calms down. Or leaves.”
“Kataryna! What have you done with my daughter? What lies are you feeding her?”
The litwick’s flame stuttered, as though even he were fearful.
“He can’t find us here, can he?”
Eva head shook, her hair tickling my nose. “I don’t think so,” she whispered. Her fingers tightened about my arm.