Chapter One

It was cold and the light was so bright, too bright. I blinked my eyes closed, feeling it burn against my retinas. Where was I? I tried to sit up, but I couldn’t move. There were things jabbing into my skin, Through half-slitted eyes I regarded them. Needles.

What the hell was going on? I began to struggle but my body felt weirdly weak. Feeble.

“Don’t.” The voice came soft, soothing, the voice of a child. “You’ll hurt yourself.” A hand on my arm, fingers stroking.

My eyes, gradually, adjusted to the light, focused, bringing into clarity a girl. She could not be more than 11 or 12. Her hair fell shoulder length in copper-red curls and her eyes were a bright and oh-too-familiar blue. Blue, like those of Loki, my nemesis.

Loki, whom in my last memory before waking, had been him – now a mutated being, halfway to a god – descending from the sky, his recently-acquired wings blazing fire.

“Who are you?” The words croaked out of my dry throat.

“I”ll get you some water.” The girl walked out of my line of sight, returning a few short minutes later with a glass and a straw. “Here.”

I tried to rise, to sip it, but even that made my head spin in uncomfortable loops and swirls. My last memory had been of Loki snatching me away, as sirens roared and newly released Pokemon fled. My friends – Kameron (my boyfriend), sweet-natured Coral, Doctor Francis Warwick, Rowan and all of our assorted Pokemon – and I had been investigating a secret laboratory hidden in the heart of Tasmania’s rainforest. Whilst we had sought to rescue the last of the seven Mews, the Mew of the Underground, we had failed in our mission to find her. Instead, we had released the poor captives, many of whom had been affected by experimentation with the horrible shadow stone. What had happened then? Had Kameron and the others escaped? And who was this child? With hair like copper fire and eyes the same as Loki’s. Had he a little sister, all this time?

The girl inserted the straw between my lips. “I’m Evangeline,” she said. “But you can call me Eva.”

I sipped deep. Water had never tasted so sweet. How long had I been unconscious? I gulped and gulped, relishing the cool feel of moisture against my parched throat.

“I’m Kataryna,” I said, my voice sounding much stronger. “Kat.”

“I know,” Eva giggled. “I’ve been looking after you forever.”

Forever? I tried to drag myself up into a sitting position but found that I was too weak. My arms were little more than skin clinging to the bone, with very little muscle and next to no fat. “Eva,” I whispered, tone becoming urgent. “How long is forever?”

Eva shrugged. “All my life,” she replied. “Papa used to bring me to visit you when I was a baby. Not that I remember that.” Her forehead creased. “So, at least ten years. Maybe more.”

Ten years! I had been asleep – or unconscious, or whatever this was – for ten years! My heart raced and something began making bleeping noises. I must’ve been in a coma, I’d read about them in books, even seen them in movies. But… Oh… My… God. Did this mean Loki had won? Or had Kameron and the others gone on to stop him? Could they stop him? I wasn’t so arrogant to think that they couldn’t save the world without my assistance but still… And Kameron! Was he looking for me? He would be an adult now. Maybe he was married, with children.

Oh my God. Ten years! That meant… that meant I must be almost 30. Thirty! Ten years had been stolen from me.

I think I must have been flailing, because Eva was shouting, trying to pacify me. “Calm down, please calm down. Papa’ll wake up and you don’t want Papa to wake. Please, calm down.” The shouting didn’t really help, but the urgency in her tone, the hint of fear, made me stop. Lie still.

“Eva,” I said, keeping my voice as calm as I could. “Eva, do you have a mirror?” I know it sounds arrogant, but I can assure you, it was not. I wouldn’t fully believe, or comprehend the truth, until I saw myself.

Eva nodded. “Please,” she said, patting me on my all but skeletal arm. “I know it’s scary, and that’s really big news I’ve just told you, but I’ve been waiting my whole life for you to wake up. Papa said you would, eventually, when the time was ready.”

Ready for what? And who was Papa? Her eyes and certain other features held a familiarity that made me feel sick and hollow in the pit of my stomach. I had an inkling, but was afraid to put my thoughts into words.

After all he had done to himself, twisting his body with the power of stolen Pokemon, could Loki have conceived a child? I felt a sadness for the poor mother, having to lie with mutated monstrosity he had become – and yes, I will agree, looks are not everything, and love can come in all shapes and sizes, but Loki was a megalomaniac, his soul and spirit as twisted and dark as his body. I could only hope Eva’s mother had been a willing participant in the proceedings.

That brought other alarming thoughts to mind. If I had been lying here, unconscious, for ten years… entirely at Loki’s mercy…

Thankfully, the dark direction my thoughts were taking were interrupted, as Eva thrust a small mirror in my face. It was the hand held kind that dentists like to use when they show you what teeth they’re about to drill. I took it off her, clutching it in fingers that looked like claws.

What it revealed was not exactly pleasant. I found myself staring into the eyes of a stranger. Sure, they were the same blue with a hint of green that I was used to, and my lips and nose were still, more or less as I remembered, but my cheeks were hollow and gaunt, and my hair seemed thinner. It wasn’t so much that I’d aged – truth be told, that was the least of my concerns – I looked like a skeleton giving flesh.

Then again, I clearly hadn’t eaten a decent meal in ten years; what could I expect?

The tubes and needles studding my arm must be all that had kept me alive.

Eva perched behind me on the bed, and I realised, with sickening certainty, that her hair was almost the exact same shade of red-gold as my own. Maybe slightly lighter, but the resemblance was uncanny.

She stroked her fingers through my thinning hair and pressed her lips against my forehead in a butterfly-whisper of a kiss. “I’m glad you’ve woken up, mama,” she whispered. “Now we can finally escape.”

I think I might have fainted then, to have my worst fears confirmed, but I’d spent so long asleep already, it would be a waste. Instead I took a deep breath, clenched my hands into fists (that still worked, at least) and closed my eyes for a long moment, fighting to compose myself.

“I can’t,” I finally managed to say.

“You can’t?” Eva’s forehead creased in confusion. “You want to stay here?”

I pointed at my skinny arms, and down at what I expected were my equally atrophied legs. “I don’t think I’ll be walking for a while, yet.”

“Oh,” Eva looked disappointed.

“Is it that bad here?” So far all I could see were walls and medical equipment. The walls were rough cast and rugged, as though the room had been hacked into the rock – an underground cavern, perhaps? The medical equipment…. while I suppose I could thank that for handling all my body functions for the last ten-plus years (UGH). “Is your papa mean to you?”

“Papa’s not often here,” Eva explained, and I sighed a little in relief. Perhaps I wouldn’t have to face him until I was better prepared. “And when he does, he’s mostly asleep. But it’s boring, and lonely. All I have are books and television, and Ampharos.”

Ampharos? “You have a Pokemon?”

A nod. “Ampharos is my only friend,” she continued. “Papa says we need him to keep the battery charged up, so we can have power, but he also stays with me at night – his light helps to keep the nightmares away. I taught him how to read,” she added. “After I taught myself. Papa is too busy to be a good teacher.”

Somehow, I wasn’t surprised, then I remembered what Eva had said earlier. “But Papa is here now?”

She nodded. “He comes home every few weeks to sleep. It takes a lot of energy to be a god,” she added, quite matter-of-factly. “And here’s the only place he feels safe. Do you think you would be all right if I were to unplug these things? You’re not going to die or anything?”

I was malnourished and pale, but I didn’t feel like I was imminently at risk of death. Besides, I really, really, didn’t want to remain here at Loki’s mercy. I nodded. “Just be gentle.”

Eva was very gentle, her fingers brushing my skin as she eased out the various needles, dabbing the blood away with cotton swabs and applying plasters. A practised hand, for one so young. “I’ve been looking after you for years,” she explained. “Since I turned seven. Papa said I was a big girl enough to move the needles and change your bags.”

A nurse at seven-years old, the poor girl – my daughter! – had never had a proper childhood. She’d never gone on adventures, training Pokemon with her friends, exploring forests and deserts. And never had to save the world from egotistical maniacs…

Perhaps some childhoods weren’t all they were cracked up to be.

Freed of my bindings, and with the bleeping machine finally fallen silent, I managed to find the energy to sit up – bolstered with pillows – and study the rest of my body. My legs were, alas, as withered and weak as my arms, although Eva assured me that she had (with Ampharos’s help) turned me regularly and massaged my limbs to help them keep me free of bedsores and retain some semblance of muscle-tone. It did not seem to have helped much, but I wasn’t going to blame her. She was only a child! No, if anyone was to blame, it was Loki. How had he kept me unconscious so long, and what had he done to me while I was in the coma? I shuddered to think, focussing instead on Eva. I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I – we, me and my arch-enemy! – had a daughter.

I had always thought that Kameron and I might have children, one day. Perhaps a daughter like this one – although she’d probably have darker features. But me and Loki. I felt a conflicting mix of defilement (which I tried hard not to think too much about), combined with pride that – despite growing up with literally no motherly influence – Eva seemed to be turning out all right. She might have my hair, and certain other similarities in her features, but she was still a complete stranger. I wasn’t sure I was ready to become a mother – Hell, as far as I remembered, I hadn’t even finished being a teenager.

Now, it seemed unlikely I would ever see Kameron again.

“Are you alright?” Eva asked. I must have fallen into contemplative silence for too long, but honestly, I’d experienced a lot of sudden and quite shattering revelations in a short period of time. I believe I was handling things quite well, all things considered.

“Um, it’s just a lot to take in,” I said. “My life has changed a lot and very suddenly. The last thing I remember happened over ten years ago.”

Eva nodded sagely. “The Genesis of the Change,” she said. “That’s what Papa calls it.”

How very biblical of him, I thought, but did not say. “Eva,” I wondered, “I had friends then, friends who probably wonder what happened to me. I’d like to contact them, to tell them that I’m okay.” Or alive, at least, I wasn’t yet 100% sure that I was okay, or would ever be okay again. Loki had won, and clearly now considered himself a god. Excuse me if I was a little cautious. “Do you have the internet?”

Eva’s brow furrowed. “The internet? What’s that?”

I sighed. I suppose it was too much to hope that Loki might let his sheltered daughter have access to the big wide world. She’d probably lived in this underground bunker – if that’s what it was – her entire life. “How did you teach yourself to read?”

“Television,” she replied. “There was a program, where they taught the letters of the alphabet, using Pokemon puppets. A is for Ampharos, B is for Bellossom, that sort of thing.”

I knew that show. Had television really not progressed much further in twenty years?

“Are you hungry?” Eva asked suddenly. “Papa said you got all the nutrients you needed through the bags, but well, you don’t have the bags any more. Would you like a sandwich?”

Would I? My stomach felt hollow and I seemed to have gone beyond hunger. “Yes, yes please.” A sandwich, I hadn’t eaten a sandwich in years. “Um, no meat, if that’s okay.”

“What’s meat?” Eva asked. “We have cheese and lettuce,” she added. “And some tomatoes. Is that okay?”

What’s meat? Was it too much to hope that Loki had raised his child – our child! – without even the concept of eating Pokemon flesh? I hadn’t eaten it since my parents had, unwittingly, revealed where it came from, although my Pokemon had still consumed fish: magikarp and goldeen, mostly. They were common, and bred fast and, well, you couldn’t force a carnivore into a vegetarian diet just because it went against your values. My thoughts were digressing again, I realised, in an effort to try and distract me from the rather heavy truths of reality. “That’s fine. Great,” I replied quickly, and Eva scampered away.

With her gone, I decided to try something that was, perhaps, a bit on the foolhardy side. Using the bar beside the bed, I managed to manoeuvre myself so that my skeletal legs dangled over the side of the bed, then tried, still clutching the bar, to lower myself onto my feet.

My legs wouldn’t support my weight, and crumpled beneath me, almost wrenching my equally weak arms out of their sockets and depositing me in a sobbing, hopeless pile on the floor. I felt like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

Eva came back in to find me sobbing on the floor. “Oh mama!” she cried. “Don’t be sad. We’ll fix you up, won’t we Ampharos?” Through my tear-stained vision, I saw the proud yellow Pokemon with his striped ears and red jewel. He nodded. Between him and Eva, they managed to help me upright, and held me erect.

“What am I supposed to do?” I sobbed, tears staining my cheeks. I collapsed into a seated position on the bed. “I’m old. I’m broken. Loki won.”

Eva wrapped her arms around me. “It’ll be alright,” she said. “You’ll see. Here, eat this, it’ll make you feel better.”

The sandwich was not what I had remembered: the bread was thick and dry, the texture (and possibly taste) of cardboard. The tomato so pale that it must be anaemic. The cheese didn’t taste like cheese at all, and the lettuce seemed to have a chlorophyll problem and, like the tomato, was drained of colour. It may have been over a decade since I’d eaten an actual meal, thus it was possible my taste buds had deteriorated like the rest of me. Eva watched with an intent expression, so proud of her presentation that I attempted – not very well – to fake enthusiasm as I ate it. She saw right through my deception and looked disappointed.

“Not as you remembered, I guess,” Eva muttered. “We grow them ourselves: the tomato and the lettuce that is. Papa says they’re not as good as they were before the Genesis.”

I was liking the sound of this Genesis less and less. I did my best to finish up the sandwich.