The evening sun cast the trail in long, slender shadows as an open field and sea revealed themselves. As Fluttershy, Pinkie and Rainbow left Petalburg Woods, Fluttershy’s nose was assaulted by the sea’s briny air, but she was calmed by the sound of waves as they crashed on the beach and docks.
“I am not being a picky Pinkie,” Pinkie protested, glaring at Rainbow.
“Yes you are! We went through the entire forest twice already and you haven’t captured a single pokémon yet.” Rainbow hovered in front of Pinkie, flying backwards as they walked. “There were plenty of worms you could’ve caught.”
“If I get a worm, Igni might gobble him up! Birds eat worms, you know.”
“No he wouldn’t. Really Pinkie, we all need to have at least one if we’re going to be here long,” she stated, then landed and resumed walking along side Pinkie.
As they turned down the path, Rainbow stopped walking and pointed south with a smile on her face. “Look, the cruiser is still docked. We made it in time!” In front of them, at the end of a long wooden dock, stood a large passenger ship with groups of ponies lined up at the entrance ramp. Stripes of white and blue streaked along the stories of glass windows above the matte, charcoal hull. Just off of the docks was a small wooden booth, a line of ponies waiting to purchase a ticket extending from it. “It’s a lot bigger than I imagined.”
“Do you think that’s where Mr. Briney is? The one Rari—I mean Roxanne talked about?” Fluttershy asked.
“I think he lives in there.” Rainbow pointed to a small wooden shack with a rust colored roof. Several small groups of ponies sat around its entrance, conversing with one another while others sparred with their pokémon. Another dock extended just past the gathered ponies, leading to a much smaller, more cramped looking boat. It was a quarter the size of the cruise liner and the hull was cased in iron. Remnants of red paint desperately clung to the sides, existing only as a testament to the ship exterior’s age and wear, the ship seeming to be in otherwise fine condition. “We should probably get some tickets before we end up stuck on that trashy boat.”
The line that extended from the booth was short, but to Fluttershy it was still another line; the third in just a day’s time. She could feel herself falling into the routine she felt funneled through on her first day, the idea of it chewing at her psyche as she shifted in agitation.. Even with Rainbow and Pinkie at her side, the voice of the girl made its way to the forefront of her thoughts, telling her she was to go south, and only south. As she stood in the line, she could only think of heading in the opposite direction, hiding somewhere until Twilight brought them all back home. With a listless stare, she looked up at the ticket vendor, hoping that by the time she bought the tickets the passengers will have been let on the ship.
“Three tickets to Dewford, please,” Fluttershy said, looking along the back of the stall.
“That’ll be 1,500 bits,” he responded, looking over the three mares.
“E-excuse me?” Fluttershy asked, refusing to believe the stallion’s words.
“It’s 500 per ticket. Three tickets, 1,500 bits. Take it or leave it, we’re about to close and there are still a lot of ponies waiting to get tickets,” he stated, his hoof pushing into his cheek as he leaned on the counter.
“Uh, yes, well, let me check my bag.” Fluttershy took Alerce off her back, stripped her bag off and dug through it. She pulled her satchel out and counted the gold bits that accumulated inside. After a few moments, she opened her mouth, but she couldn’t come up with anything to say. She sheepishly looked up at the vendor, then lowered her head and walked away from the line without a word.
“Fluttershy, what happened?” Rainbow asked as she hovered in front of her friend. “Why’d you leave like that?”
“We don’t have enough,” Fluttershy sighed, eying the old, rickety boat. “I have enough bits for one ticket. Seven-hundred and forty-eight bits, that’s all.”
“Maybe you and I can fly there and Pinkie can go on the boat. It can’t be that far away, right?” Rainbow suggested before flying over to a laminated poster that hung on one of the booth’s posts. After a quick scan, she flew back as Fluttershy tied up the satchel and slipped it back in her bag. “To Dewford is a little over a four hour trip. Ninety miles,” Rainbow stated, looking south across the sea. “If I go fast enough I can fly there in about thirty minutes, but...” she yawned, covering her mouth as her face scrunched up. “You know what, never mind. Let’s just visit that ‘Briney’ pony. I’m too tired for that kind of stunt today.”
Solemn-faced, Fluttershy began her march to the shack’s door, wading through the sea of ponies laying about in the grass. Before she could reach the front door, she heard Pinkie and Rainbow strike up a conversation with a pair of ponies. She sighed then turned around, trotting back to her friends.
“...bribing him. I heard that works if you have the bits,” a filly unicorn said, petting what looked like a small blue mudskipper. “We gave him 300 bits on top of the ticket price. A lot of these ponies think they can just muscle their way through. It’s hilarious.”
“So, bribe him with enough bits, huh?” Rainbow asked. “Sounds good to me, but what’s the downside?”
“The boat is slower. A lot slower... and only a few groups can get on. He’s very selective.”
“Thanks, we’ll keep it in mind,” Rainbow said, taking off for the front of the cottage. As the two ponies returned to their conversation, Fluttershy and Pinkie ran to catch up to Rainbow who stood near the front door.
“Well, they seemed nice. I hope they get on,” Pinkie said.
“Yeah, but only after us,” Rainbow said, pressing a hoof to the shack door.
With a creak, the door swung open to reveal an old, tan-furred, white-maned stallion chasing a frantic seagull around the room. The walls were paneled with wooden planks, and only a small bed, table and stove stood inside. As Fluttershy took another look around the room, she found herself only able to stare at the seagull, seeing the injured hummingbird she had bargained her and her friends’ safety to help. Her eyes darted as the ephemeral, emerald bird flapped around the room, dipping often due to its damaged wing. As the three entered, Fluttershy’s breathing stuttered as she tried desperately to keep her composure.
“Are you Mr. Briney?” Rainbow asked, causing the grizzled stallion to cease his pursuit. He dusted himself off and watched as the bird ran across the room, eating stray bread crumbs off the floor.
“Haven’t you kids learned to knock before barging into an old sea pony’s home?” His gaze pierced Rainbow Dash, but she remained calm and stoic. “What do ya’ want? You can’t be here to give me those ship parts I ordered, that’s for sure.”
“We heard that you give rides to trainers over to Dewford,” Rainbow said.
“I see, so you’re just like the rest of those freeloaders outside. Let me see your credentials, Missy. Why should I let you on my vessel?” He walked up to her and leaned in, staring her right in the eyes.
“I, uh, what do you want to see?” Rainbow stammered, trying to keep her cool.
“Your badge. Rustboro City’s Stone Badge; let me see it.”
“I don’t have it.” She pointed to Fluttershy. “My friend, uh... May does.”
“Then what am I talkin’ to you for?” He broke his stare and trotted to Fluttershy, pacing back and forth in front of the pegasus, his eyes now locked onto hers. “So you’re the trainer that needs the vessel, eh?”
“Y-yes,” Fluttershy answered, hoping the stallion would keep his distance. She took the badge from her bag and held it in her hoof, letting the sun’s light from the window reflect off its surface.
“That’s the one. So, what’s your excuse? Did you spend all your winnings on that ridiculous garb?” He glanced at Fluttershy’s outfit and laughed. “That cruiser hasn’t left yet, so I know you didn’t miss it.”
“‘Winnings?’ As in... money? I never got any from the gym.” Fluttershy explained, baffled by the captain’s words.
“Roxanne never forgets to give money to winning trainers, she’s far too generous for that.” the captain stated, wheeling on the flustered pegasus. “Are you calling my friend a cheapskate?” he asked before he resumed pacing back and forth, quickening his steps.
Fluttershy looked over to Rainbow, who mockingly twirled her hoof near her head and crossed her eyes, making her and Pinkie laugh. The staunch captain huffed and stopped, overlooking the three.
“Now tell me, why should I let you on instead of all those ponies outside?”
“Um, I...” Fluttershy started before glancing at Rainbow who motioned her and Pinkie over. The three quickly huddled, occasionally looking back at the old curmudgeon. “What are we going to do? He seems a lot worse than what Roxanne told us.”
“Maybe pull some of that ‘gym leader’s daughter’ clout. That could work.” Rainbow suggested.
“I don’t know. Don’t gym leaders make enough money that affording a ticket wouldn’t be a problem?”
“You aren’t a gym leader though.” Rainbow rubbed her chin. “Well, we’re right by Petalburg, we could always ask that Norman guy for some cash.”
“I... I’d rather not. Especially after the scene I made in the gym, he would never give us anything.” Fluttershy lowered her head. "What makes you so sure that he'd help?"
“He gave me that chip to put in your Pokédex, so he can’t be too stingy.”
“Well, this isn’t helping. By the time we get over to Petalburg, the ship will have already left!” Pinkie blurted, trying to keep the two pegasi on task. “Hmm... what about that letter we got from that Devon Corp. guy? That seemed pretty important.”
“That’s perfect! If you pull out that and your tie to Norman, we’re sure to get on that boat,” Rainbow exclaimed as Briney tapped his hoof impatiently on the wooden floor. Fluttershy broke away from the huddle and stared at the tan stallion, her chest out and head high. She knew she had to perform this act perfectly.
“So, what is it? I’m choosing in a half-hour, so you’d better hurry.”
With a deep breath, Fluttershy began, “I am May Stannis, daughter of Norman of the Hoenn Pokémon League. I have been requested by Mr. Stone of the Devon Corporation to deliver a letter to the his daughter in Dewford, and I humbly request passage on your ship.” Silence fell as Fluttershy finished her speech. Mr. Briney stood wide-eyed, then closed his eyes and laughed, making her lower her head with a flushed face.
“Hah-ha, you’re a gym leader’s daughter with no money, AND you’re a mail carrier? What, did you spend all daddy’s money on a designer saddle?” He laughed derisively. “I heard stories from him about his daughter, but I never expected her to be as pathetic as this!”
“Hey! Leave my friend alone!” Rainbow yelled, pushing her face into his.
“Dash, I can take care of myself,” Fluttershy stated, causing Rainbow to back off reluctantly. Fluttershy’s breathing grew heavy and her heart raced as she spoke. “I’m sorry that I can’t live up to your expectations, but can you please tell us what we need to know?”
“Aha-ha, what are your names so I can call you if I let you on?” Briney asked, his laughter subsiding.
“I’m Rainbow Dash, and she’s Pinkie Pie,” Rainbow explained, pointing at Pinkie who had put on a smile.
“Do you have the 200 bits per ticket at least?” He asked before writing their names down on a scraggly piece of paper. “Fuel and food ain’t free, you know.”
“Um, yes,” Fluttershy answered, moving to retrieve her bits.
“Don’t take it out now, I haven’t picked you yet. You kids are so hasty.” He walked to the door and opened it, motioning them outside. “Wait out there with the others, I’ll have made my decision soon enough.” They quickly left the cottage, the door slamming behind them.
As time passed, the cruiser raised its anchor and smoke rose from its funnels. It chugged off from the docks, leaving the poorer ponies behind to await Briney’s decision. Fluttershy kept quiet, watching Alerce and Igni play in the field while her Poochyena, Wovler, stood watch. The ponies that had gathered outside had become more and more impatient; their conversations growing louder and testier. Each minute felt like an hour as the sun descended past the horizon, making way for the soft glow of twilight. With a contented sigh, Fluttershy watched the purples and reds of the sunset dissipate into a blackened sea of stars.
“Listen up, you freeloaders. I’ve made my decision!” Mr. Briney yelled, snapping Fluttershy out of her stargazing. Everypony ceased talking at once, chomping at the bit to hear the old sea pony’s decision. “It was a hard choice, but there are some who need this more than others. Let’s get to it then.” Alerce stopped playing and ran back to his owner, nestling in her lap. “The first group is Ethan and Lyra.” A pegasus with a gold and black jacket with his suspender-clad friend jumped up in joy, hastily grabbing their supplies and running to the dock. “The second group is May, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie.” Fluttershy’s mouth hung agape.
Had her speech worked? Was it how, dare she say, pathetic she looked to him? The mix up at Rustboro Gym? She couldn’t figure out the reason, but before she knew it she had recalled Wolver and Alerce, and was on her hooves, rushing towards the dock. Rainbow and Pinkie jumped around with joy, Igni happily flapped his wings and chirped between them.
After the last group was called, the rest of the crowed dispersed back to Petalburg Town. The final passenger was a lone mare who rushed to the end of the line with Mr. Briney close behind. As he passed, the line fell silent, patiently awaiting their instructions. With a quick tug, he pulled on a hanging string, pulling down a ramp that clung to the edge of the boat.
“Now, before you all board, place the 200 bits for the ticket in this pan here and be on your way. I’ll give you more instructions after you're aboard,” Mr. Briney explained, setting a collection pan on the ground and watching as the line of ponies made their way up the ramp. Fluttershy counted out 600 bits and and placed them in the pan before motioning for her friends to follow her up to the deck.
When the final passenger was aboard, Mr. Briney grabbed and pulled the ramp up before standing tall in front of the passengers. “Welcome to my vessel. Down on the lower deck are two rooms with some cots and a bunk-bed. That’s where you’ll be sleeping if you choose to. There are some rations in the small kitchen at the end of the hallway, but there aren’t many. The trip should only take about six hours depending on the choppiness of the sea. If you need me, I’ll be at the helm.” With that, the sea pony reeled up the anchor from the sea, letting it dangle off the side of the hull before disappearing into the wheelhouse.
As the ship's engine roared to life and the ship began moving, Fluttershy, Rainbow and Pinkie made their way to the lower deck, followed by the last, white coated passenger. They went to scope out their temporary living conditions, the sway of the boat causing Fluttershy to stumble into the narrow walls of the deck as they went down. The room was a lot smaller than she had imagined: two cots were laid on the floor and one bunk bed stood in the corner. The walls were painted in a cream white, but was chipping off as badly as the paint was outside. It wasn’t ideal, but it was somewhere to sleep. Rainbow seemed to be content with roughing it, and without hesitation stripped off her jacket and shirt, leaving only her shorts. She flopped into the top bunk, mumbling incoherently as she drifted to sleep.
“So, are you going to sleep too? I was thinking of going up to the deck for a bit. I’ve never been on a boat before. This is so exciting!” Pinkie stated, bounding back down the hall towards the stairwell. “Are you coming?”
“I guess I could. You know, I’ve never been on a boat before either,” Fluttershy responded, flying up the stairwell and into the cool, maritime air. The darkness of night draped itself over the sea, with only a few stars and the moon shining down on the pegasus. She trotted to where Pinkie Pie stood and leaned against the railing. They watched as the silhouettes of distant islands and lands floated by. As the winds tugged at her mane, she smiled and shut her eyes. One moment of peace was all she needed, and the soothing rocking and cooling breeze provided just that.
“You think we’ll ever get to visit those islands?” Pinkie asked, gazing out into the distance. “There’s so much out there, but we might not get the chance to see it all. Wouldn’t it be exciting?”
“I think it would. Maybe after we get some more answers about what’s happening, we could afford to get a little sidetracked.” Fluttershy looked over to Pinkie. “How long do you think we’ll be here?”
“I think he said six hours or something, but I could be way off—”
“No, I mean here in Hoenn,” she interrupted. “As interesting as these new creatures are, I really miss home. My cottage, Ponyville, our friends, everything.”
“I’m sure Twilight will find the spell and we’ll be back home in no time. Besides, I’ve always wanted to go on an adventure, so I don’t mind how long it takes,” Pinkie said with a smile. “I’m having fun so far.”
With a yawn, Fluttershy took her hooves off the rail and trotted back to the stairwell. “I’m going to get to bed. It’s been a long day.”
“Good idea! I’ll come too,” Pinkie said, trotting along side Fluttershy as they made their way back into the barracks. Only the white mare had since joined Rainbow and was now sleeping on one of the grounded cots. Before Fluttershy could move, Pinkie had hopped into the lower bunk with a giggle, draping herself with a single sheet before laying down to sleep. With a long sigh, Fluttershy gently lowered herself onto the remaining cot and closed her eyes, quickly falling to sleep.
Fluttershy awoke with a scream, her breathing heavy and quick as sweat dripped from her brow. Her hooves shook as she clutched her neck, bloodshot eyes glancing about for any movement, but the room was still. With relief, she looked down at the floor and her blanket, letting the engine’s sound drown out her recollection of the nightmare. It was the second nightmare she’d had in this world, but the first had never been so visceral. She couldn’t even recall what the other dream was, but this dream... this nightmare hurt. It physically hurt. As she calmed down, she sat in the pitch black room, trying to stay awake until the ship docked in Dewford.
As her breathing slowed, she heard the door creak open, sending her back to full alert. She looked up, noticing a blurry wisp of a pony slipping out of the room into the hallway. Fluttershy stripped off her covers and crept over to the steel door, peeking her head through the small opening. The shadowed pony stood at the end of the hall, just out of reach of the upper dock’s halogen light. Fluttershy gulped and opened the door further, allowing her to slip through the doorway. She knew that whoever was out there was simply a pony that was aboard the ship, but her frightened state clouded her judgment, her mind composing monsters from the shadows. Apprehensively, she crept out from the room and trotted down the hall. With a bound, the shadowed pony lept up the stairs, leaving Fluttershy alone in the hallway. She quickened her pace and charged up the stairs, frantically pursuing the wisp.
Outside, the air was frigid, leaving her bristling from the cold. She took a deep breath and sidled towards the bow, scanning the deck for any signs of life. With each step, the wooden deck creaked, leaving Fluttershy even more timid than before. When she reached the edge of the cabin, she poked her head around the corner.
There, leaning on the railing, was Pinkie Pie, her tail violently twitching. With a sigh of relief, Fluttershy trotted to the side of the pink pony, watching as Pinkie stared into the distance.
“Pinkie? What are you doing awake?” she asked, drawing the pink pony's gaze. Pinkie's eyes were bloodshot and she had dark circles under her eyes, but she smiled as she saw Fluttershy.
“Oh, I heard you scream just a few minutes ago. I just hopped out of the room to get some fresh air,” Pinkie explained.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” Fluttershy apologized as she turned to face the open water. “It just felt so real. I remember it quite well unfortunately.”
“Do you want to tell me about it? I had a bad dream too so that’s why I woke up. I think I screamed right when you did... maybe it’ll help both of us,” Pinkie stated.
Fluttershy turned her head up, perplexed. “You had a nightmare too? That’s strange, but alright.”
“Well, I was sitting in a meadow and it was bright, and sunny. I was surrounded by a flock of butterflies, and several bunnies and squirrels were playing in the grass. There wasn’t any fighting, just playing. It was so nice to just close my eyes and soak up all the sounds... to just let the wind run through my mane.
“Before I knew it though, I opened my eyes and all the animals were gone. Dark clouds gathered over me, blocking out the sun. I stood up and frantically searched for my animal friends, but I couldn’t find them. I ran trying to find them, and the grass crumbled under my hooves. It had all died; the entire field was dead and brown. Even the trees were withered and bare. I stood there, scared to even move, and behind me there was this horrible, ear piercing screech. I turned around and saw a huge black griffin coming after me with large melting wings and extended talons. It was its eyes though; its cold, gelid blue eyes. They felt as if they were cutting straight through me.” She shuddered, sinking down and curling around herself from the thought. “I turned and tried to out run it... but moments later I felt its claws wrap around my neck, pulling me back towards it. I woke up screaming. I... I think I’m going to stay out here for the rest of the night.”
“Hmm...” Pinkie muttered, rubbing her chin. “That monster sounds exactly like the one in my dream. The blue eyes and everything!” she exclaimed, prompting Fluttershy to jump back up to her hooves. “I was flying in my dream, then a huge, gigantic storm whooshed in and almost knocked me straight down into the ground. There were huge bolts of lightning, downpours and everything! Just when I straightened myself out, I heard a loud roar behind me. It was the same creature, and I woke up screaming as well! I don’t think I’ve ever had a dream like that before.”
Fluttershy’s mind exploded with a million questions, but she kept her mouth shut. Nothing added up to her, but she was too tired to put much thought into it, chalking it up to pure coincidence. “So, do you want to just wait up here until we get to Dewford? I’m not too keen on going back down-”
She was interrupted by a hoof to the mouth, Pinkie shushing her as she peered over the pegasus’ shoulder. “Do you hear that?” Pinkie perked and wiggled her ears. “It’s coming from the back of the ship. It sounds like claws scratching.”
With her ears perked and Pinkie’s hoof now extracted from her muzzle, Fluttershy listened closely, tuning out the sound of the motor and flowing water. Just at the edge of her hearing, she heard a slight tapping at the other end of the boat. Her heart raced once again as she slowly made her way over, following Pinkie’s lead. As they moved, Fluttershy hugged up against the wall, trying her best to be not caught off guard.
On the deck lay a small blue alligator, smaller than Fluttershy had ever seen. It walked in its hind legs, searching the boat with crimson eyes. After a while, it yawned, showcasing its sharp teeth, and plopped down onto the deck. Fluttershy approached in a side step, halting Pinkie from getting any closer. Alligators were nothing new to her, having taken care of Pinkie’s pet, Gummy. Like Gummy, this was a baby and was alone, but it could either be friendly, or extremely volatile. She begged that it was the former. As she drew within a few steps away, the alligator swiveled its head and stared at her.
Fluttershy reached for her bag to see what it was, but her hoof met nothing but air. With her backpack back downstairs, she had to fall back on her own animal knowledge. She had become so used to the machine’s guidance, that it felt awkward, but refreshing to rely on her old skills. “Hey there, little guy. Are you lost?” Fluttershy cooed, extending a hoof towards the gator. Before she reached it, however, the alligator stood, staring past her for a moment before taking off, shooting through the yellow pegasus’ legs over towards Pinkie. It hovered around the pink pony, looking at her with curiosity and sniffing at her legs.
“Hehe, stop it! That tickles!” Pinkie giggled as the alligator’s snout brushed up against her leg.
As Fluttershy looked away, a faded strip of orange rose above the horizon, signifying the coming dawn. She glanced back down at Pinkie, who had laid down and was now playing with the gator as if it were her own from back home. It hopped up, mirroring Pinkie did as the pair chased one another around the bow. She caught up to it, hugged it mid-jump, and rolled around on the deck, each of them laughing.
“Pinkie,” Fluttershy called out, hoping she wouldn’t ruin their fun.
Pinkie was flat on her back, holding the squirming alligator in her hooves. “What is it?”
“Maybe you should try catching it. Rainbow has been bugging you about it so much lately,” Fluttershy stated, watching as the ribbons of light grew higher and brighter.
“That sounds like a good idea!” Pinkie exclaimed as she dug through her suspenders’ pockets. She whipped out a Poké Ball and enlarged it, holding it in her hoof in front of the alligator. “Boop~!” Pinkie said playfully, bumping the button on the gator’s snout. The alligator was enveloped in a white light before disappearing into the Poké Ball. It dropped to the floor and wiggled, leaving Pinkie in heated anticipation. With one final shake, it ceased moving, leaving Pinkie with her very first pokémon. She loudly gasped, then scooped up the ball. With a smile, she placed it in her pocket just as the first rays of sunlight pierced the horizon. “Ooo, should we wake up Rainbow Dash? She’ll be so excited to hear the news!”
“Maybe when we get to the island,” Fluttershy stated, looking over the railing at the approaching dock.
Dewford resided on an island at the end of a small island chain, its being the largest. On the west side of the island was a large cave, with the eastern path leading to the small town. As the ships made its final approach, the bell on the ship’s tower loudly tolled and echoed off the nearby cliff faces. Both Pinkie and Fluttershy trotted to the stairwell entrance, waiting for Rainbow Dash to make her way up. “What are you going to name it!?” Fluttershy yelled, trying to make her voice heard over the ringing bell.
“I think I might name her Lady Gummy II!” Pinkie yelled back.
“Her? How do you know that its female!?”
“I don’t know!”
The bell ceased its ringing as the boat slowed down to dock. Up the stairs came yawning ponies, followed closely by Rainbow Dash with Fluttershy’s bag and Igni on her back. She let out a large yawn and stretched out her wings as she reached the upper deck. “Hey, Pinkie Pie. Hey Fluttershy. What’s up?” Rainbow asked as she fluffed her jacket. “Oh yeah, you forgot this in the room,” Rainbow said, tossing the bag to Fluttershy.
“Hey, Dashie! I caught a pokémon, and we’re almost to shore!” Pinkie exclaimed, whipping out Lady Gummy II’s Poké Ball.
“You did? Finally.” Rainbow breathed a sigh of relief. “So, what were you two doing up so early?”
“Nothing. Just watching to see when we would get to Dewford,” Fluttershy lied, hoping Dash wouldn’t pry any further.
“Oh, alright. Man, that bunk really beat that thin bedroll from the other night. Slept just like a foal.”
The boat slipped along side the wooden dock, and with a small sputter from the engine, it stopped and simply bobbed in the water. The clanking of chains filled the air as the anchor sank into the water and made its home on the sea floor. When the sound stopped, Mr. Briney stepped out from the wheelhouse looking as if he hadn’t needed a wink of sleep. The conversing ponies ceased talking and looked over at the captain who stood and surveyed his passengers.
“Listen up, we’ll be docked here for two days. That should be long enough for the trainers among you to get your badge. After that we head to Slatleport, and that’s where we’ll part. I’ll be around town if ya need me, so I leave you to your duties.” The passengers sprinted eagerly off the boat as the captain finished his instructions, leaving Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie to casually make their way down the ramp.
As Fluttershy’s hooves hit dry land, she waited for the familiar ring of her Pokédex. She assumed as she hit land, she would be notified of her gym fight. When it failed to ring, she took it out and flipped it open, staring at the illuminated display. Nothing. With a sigh, she put it away. Perhaps it might be broken. She brought Wolver and Alerce out of their Poké Balls and turned west down the path, headed for the opening of the cave. Its mouth was lined with stalagmites, each hung like pointed daggers. Its maw was wide and ragged, swallowing the eastward cliff face. Rainbow and Pinkie trotted to the edge, each surveying the inside of the cavern.
“See anything?” Fluttershy asked. The sun filled the entrance of the cave with a brilliant orange light, reaching far into the cavern’s depths. She only hoped that they wouldn’t have to venture far to find Mr. Stone’s daughter.
“Nope, just a bunch of rocks!” Rainbow called out, allowing Igni back up onto her back. “It looks very homey though, maybe a bear lives in it.” She giggled, prompting Fluttershy to follow suit. Pinkie stared at them in dismay, knowing she was the butt of their joke.
“Hey!” Pinkie yelled, huffing as she let Lady out from her Poké Ball. “Don’t think I forgot about that.”
“We did throw you a birthday party that day. Relax a little, it’ll make going through the caves a little easier,” Rainbow stated, making Pinkie grumble.
With the two ponies’ tiff over, Fluttershy made her way through the mouth of the cavern, peering at the smooth cave walls. The inside was even larger than she had anticipated, considering what she had seen as they sailed into port. It extended far past the sun’s reach, the path disappearing into a void of blackness just beyond. She gulped, wondering how far the path may take her and her friends. Rainbow and Pinkie looked around the cave as Fluttershy dug through her bag, searching for anything useful. A small plastic tube with a tiny bulb and power box lay between her medical supplies and Pokédex. She took it out and placed it around her neck, the plastic harness easily sitting in the groove of her vertebrae. Fluttershy clicked a tiny button making the bulb flare to life, lighting the cavern walls.
“There we go,” she said, beginning her trek down the path.
“Where’d you get that?” Rainbow asked, peering at the small flashlight, “I didn’t see you buy anything in Rustboro.”
“Oh, it was just in my bag from the beginning. I guess May’s mother thought I needed it.”
The sound of dripping water and scratching filled the cave as they delved deeper, putting Fluttershy on edge. Rainbow hovered; To avoid stepping on a rogue stalagmite or falling down an unlit hole, Fluttershy guessed. The yellow light filled only a portion of the trail, leaving a clear path only big enough for two ponies. Pinkie smiled as they went deeper, playfully bouncing over elevated rocks and small cracks, Lady clamped down on Pinkie’s fluff of a tail.
The sound of scratching grew louder as their trek continued. Fluttershy averted her gaze from the path and shined the light on the walls, revealing creatures covered in steel clinging to the smooth surface. She wanted to check what they were, but she was afraid that the Pokédex’s loud beeping would stir them. She estimated that thirty or forty clung on the walls in view. They rested, unmoving. Fluttershy only hoped they stayed that way in case they were dangerous. Rainbow gazed along with her, their eyes darting back and forth between the creatures as Pinkie hopped along, ignorant to their situation.
“Is that a light ahead?” Rainbow asked, pointing to a small sparkle of azure deep within. “Maybe it’s another way out.” Without another word, she blazed ahead, leaving Fluttershy and Pinkie to catch up.
“We’re in the middle of the sea, that can’t be an exit,” Fluttershy hesitantly called out. With no other options, Fluttershy sent her pokémon back into their Poké Balls and galloped after Rainbow Dash. Her eyes darted between the ground and the path ahead, trying to keep tabs on everything. Her legs grew sore as she ran; the lack of sleep made it hard for her to maintain her gallop, but she continued unabated. Fluttershy saw that Rainbow had landed just up ahead, waiting for them to catch up. With one final push, Fluttershy caught up to the speedier pegasus, halting to investigate the source of the light.
Fluttershy tilted her head up and looked at the large expanse that lay before her. The cave ceiling rose to twice its normal height with a small stream of rushing water hugging the outer wall. No pokémon could be seen in the ghostly blue light that filled the cavern. As Fluttershy looked about she found the source to be a lantern that sat alongside what looked to be a purple-furred pony. She looked to be a unicorn, surrounded by a wall of thick books and research materials. Fluttershy could hear a simple tune coming from the purple mare, the unicorn humming softly as she flipped through the pages of a book.
“E-excuse me?” Fluttershy called out, hearing her voice echo softly off the cavern walls. “Are you Stephanie?” she asked as she began her approach.
The mare shut her book and stood, looking over the shoulder at the three as they entered the clearing. “I am, yes.” Her voice sounded so familiar, but Fluttershy couldn’t quite place it. “I’m assuming you have a letter for me?”
Fluttershy stopped in her tracks. “H-how did you know? Your father said he had no way to contact you!” As the bookish mare approached, details began to reveal themselves. She was a unicorn in a black dress with silver cuff links on her forelegs. Her hair was silver with magenta and purple stripes coursing down her mane and she stared with piercing purple eyes. “T-Twilight?” Fluttershy murmured. Stephanie looked so close to her friend, yet just a little off.
Stephanie chuckled. “I’m not sure how I knew. I was expecting you to come... just not like," the unicorn paused a moment, gesturing at the three with a hoof, “This...”
“What do you mean you were ‘expecting’ us?” Rainbow cried out.
“I don’t know. It’s the strangest thing; just the other day, I started getting visions, and one of them involved a trainer such as yourself coming, yellow one... Except I was only expecting one. Every other trainer came alone.”
“I’m sorry we aren’t what you were expecting.” Fluttershy stated, trying to avoid asking the strange unicorn any more questions. She sounded just like Twilight, but her mannerisms seemed just a bit different. She was less confident about her information, making their conversation frustrating. Fluttershy dug through her bag and retrieved the letter, letting Stephanie take it from her hoof.
“Thank you,” Stephanie said as she magically tore the letter in two. All three were taken aback as the letter gently landed in pieces on the cavern floor. “I won’t be needing it, though. I already know what it says.”
“Uh... er... wha—” Fluttershy stammered.
“We came all the way down here just so you could rip up that letter? What’s wrong with you?” Rainbow yelled, stomping her hoof down in anger.
Stephanie closed her eyes and wore a cocky grin. “As I said, I already know what the letter says. The blueprints for ‘Project 746’ were stolen from an employee and you were able to retrieve it. It was then stolen again, and you took it back in Rusturf Tunnel and delivered it to my father.”
Fluttershy looked nervously at Rainbow and Pinkie as the yellow pegasus shuffled her forehoof.
“Uh, we never did any of that. We found a stallion lying on the ground with a bite wound in his shoulder in Petalburg Woods, but that’s it,” Rainbow explained. “What are you even talking about?”
“What do you mean you didn’t-” Stephanie snapped her jaw shut, staring at the three wide-eyed. “T-that’s impossible. If you didn’t stop Team Aqua from getting those blueprints, then-” She quickly raised the letter from the ground and a purple light ran up the tear, mending it back together. After scanning it, the unicorn lowered the paper, her mouth hung agape. “This is just a financial document for Devon Corp. I’ve read this letter a thousand times, how can it be different!?”
The tension in the air built as the unicorn paced around the room. Nothing she was saying made any sense to Fluttershy, but somehow Stephanie knew about the attack in Petalburg Woods. She had to know what she was talking about.
“You said something about us not being what you expected. What were you expecting?”
Stephanie halted and turned to Fluttershy. “Well, from what I recall, the one who normally wears those clothes is a unicorn, at least if it’s a pony. And, well... you’re a pegasus.” She resumed her pacing, glancing at Rainbow and Pinkie. “Also, they were always alone, and you’re traveling with two others.”
“Why a unicorn?” Fluttershy asked. A split-second later, the reality of what Stephanie said smacked her in the face. “Wait, the one who normally wears these clothes? What do you mean?”
Stephanie sat down, looking over to the mouth of the expanse. “Two days ago I started having a weird sense of déjà vu about everything I did. When I looked to the front of the cave, I saw the faces of a thousand different beings: ponies, griffins, dragons, humans, almost any creature you could imagine. Each of them held the same letter and wore the same clothes. Each a ‘May, or a ‘Brendan’.” She stopped and scratched the back of her head. “What’s your name?”
“It’s... uh... May Stan—”
“No no, not the name this world gave you. Your real name! The one your parents gave you in Cloudsdale.”
“How—what?” Fluttershy stammered. She couldn’t wrap her head around the unicorn’s words. “How did you know where I was born? What are you even saying?”
“I don’t know how I knew, it just sounded right to me. Please, just give me your name, I need to know.”
“It’s Fluttershy,” she answered, hoping the mare would start making sense with this new information.
“Fluttershy... that name somehow sounds familiar. No one that I can recall has ever remembered their real name...I think. The details are still foggy on my end.” She looked over at Pinkie and Rainbow. “What are your names?”
“I’m Rainbow Dash, and she’s Pinkie Pie,” Rainbow answered with her head held high.
“I see. You two look and sound very familiar as well.” She took a book from her pile and flipped through it. “Now where was.... A- ha!” Stephanie exclaimed, planting her hoof into the book. “That’s what I was looking for. Analogue; a facsimile, or other worldly counterpart. You two fit the bill quite nicely,” she explained, pointing at Rainbow and Pinkie. “You look so familiar, but not quite what I remember.”
“You mean like Roxanne, and you?” Fluttershy asked.
“Wait, me?” She ran over to the flowing water and looked into it, inspecting her features. “So that’s why I’m a female now...” she droned. “I was wondering why my blazer had turned into a dress.” She turned her head back. “What’s the name of your world’s counterpart for me?”
“Um... our world? We live in the same world you know, just... far away,” Fluttershy explained, trotting over to the unicorn mare.
“Uh, Fluttershy? Twilight said something about ‘transporting through space time’ as the deviation for that spell. I don’t think we’re in the same world as we used to be,” Rainbow said, taking the butter pegasus aback.
Her body shook, sick from nerves as she made every attempt to keep herself calm. “Her name is Twilight Sparkle. She’s the pony that sent me here.”
“Sent you here, huh? Well that’s a first. Also, Twilight was it? You know I like that better than my silly gender bent name... but that would be so confusing for you.”
“Why... how do you know all this? Why are these ‘analogues’ popping up? Just... who are you?”
“I’m sorry, let me first introduce myself better. My name is, well, was Steven Stone, former champion of Hoenn’s Pokémon League. I seem to recall being human originally, or at least that’s what my memory seems to be telling me. With so many sessions, it’s been hard to keep track.”
“Um, human? What’s a ‘human’?” Fluttershy asked. “You said it before, but... what is it?”
Stephanie chuckled. “I guess you don’t have any in your world, huh? Well, they look similar to hairless apes, with exposed flesh and hair mostly on the top of their skulls. They are bipedal as well, having hands instead of hooves. Pretty basic homo sapien,” she explained.
Fluttershy remembered seeing them before, appearing in her short memory flashes. The sensation of moving fingers when she woke from her earlier nightmare coming back to her. She had the memory of a human girl. “Let me get this all straight,” Fluttershy started, closing her eyes in thought. “You’re an ‘analogue’, a human, there are these... ‘sessions’, you’re originally a male, and I should be a unicorn. Am I missing anything?”
“You know, now that you say back to me, it does sound a little ridiculous,” Stephanie laughed. “I can’t think about that right now. My mind has been running non-stop for two days, and speaking to you three isn’t helping. How about this-” From near her research supplies floated a computer chip. With magic, she stripped open Fluttershy’s PokéNav and placed it inside. “This is a telephone modification for your PokéNav. If you need to contact anyone, this is the application for it. I only have one since I only expected one of you, but that should be fine. My number is already programmed in, so if you find out anything, just call me. It would really be quite handy.” She looked up in thought. “...or is would it be ‘hoofy’? I never know with your culture’s inane equine euphemisms.”
“Um... thanks,” Fluttershy said, switching between her watch’s applications. The only name on the list read ‘Steven’. “I’ll call you if I find anything.”
“Great! I’ll be heading back to Rustboro to order some research materials.” She jumped up and down with glee. “I can’t believe this! I never expected you to be such an outlier, and you aren’t even insane!”
“Wait, what?” Fluttershy asked bewildered.
“Um... we should probably head out. Gym battle and all,” Rainbow said, rolling her eyes to the cavern entrance.
“Oh right, you’re trainers. How about this, I’ll teleport you out of here so you can go about your business. This cave is way too dark to be traveling in.” Stephanie planted her legs and her horn began to glow in a purple light.
“You’re powerful enough to do that?” Pinkie asked.
“Of course I can, I’m the most powerful psychic in my family’s lineage. Why do you think I was the champion?” As the unicorn finished, Fluttershy felt her body relax as a white light engulfed her. Before she knew it she floated in the air just as she had when she came to Hoenn. She wanted to scream, but she stopped herself in an attempt to steel her bravery. Her breathing quickened as she closed her eyes and clenched her teeth. Before she knew it, the light dissipated, leaving the three in front of the cave entrance. She hit the ground with a light thump, then ran to the hillside, panting as she leaned on it.
“Never... again...” Fluttershy panted as she stared at the ground, continuing to shake.
“It wasn’t so bad. At least we got to stay conscious this time.” Rainbow said reassuringly. She shook out her legs and wings before checking her pockets for her supplies.
“Woo! That was fun,” Pinkie hollered. “Think we’ll get to do it again?”
“If I have my way, we won’t.” Rainbow turned to Fluttershy, waiting for her to remove herself from the hillside. “Come on, we need to get scheduled for the gym fight,” Rainbow said. Fluttershy nodded and made her way to her friends. With a cloud of tension in the air, they trotted towards Dewford.
The town of Dewford was smaller than Rustboro City. Much smaller.
A Pokémon Center and market hugged the coast while the gym stood in the center of town. Besides the three main structures, there were just five other buildings, the number of docks on the island easily dwarfing that number. It was quiet, with only a few voices that could be heard over the sound of the waves striking the docks in the distance. Fluttershy walked down the road towards the gym as her friends discussed Pinkie’s new pokémon. Amidst the relative silence, Fluttershy’s Pokédex joined it, failing to tell her of her coming gym challenge. She stripped the Pokédex out from her bag and opened it, seeing only the same flickering lights as when they stepped off the boat.
Why aren’t you working? she thought, banging the sides of it in an attempt to make it work. Despite her assault, the Pokédex remained silent. She sighed before looking up at the gym, instantly realizing why she never got the call.
“Uhh, Rainbow Dash? Pinkie?” she called out, grabbing the two ponies’ attention. “You might want to see this.”
Rainbow and Pinkie galloped over, confused. “What did you want us to...” Rainbow stopped and looked at the gym. It was completely boarded up on each side, the windows appeared smashed and shattered behind the boards. Upon closer inspection, Fluttershy found a hanging white sign that read: ‘Building Condemned: By the authority of Casein Sea Building Inspection’ in bold, red letters.
“This is the gym? I thought trainers came here for the second badge!” Rainbow yelled.
“Calm down. I’m sure there’s a reason for this,” Fluttershy said, looking around for any pony outside.
“I... ugh....” Rainbow groaned in frustration. “First that weird Twilight... Steven pony, now the gym is shut down. What’s with this place?”
“Maybe Stephanie had a point. She might be right if you think about it,” Pinkie stated. “She knew about Cloudslade, and that we found that Devon Crop employee. Maybe things aren’t happening the way they’re supposed to.”
“You can’t just say something crazy like that. I just...” Rainbow sighed, trailing off into a dejected silence.
The conversation with Stephanie had taken its toll on all three, but Fluttershy feared more so for Pinkie and herself than the cyan pegasus. The nightmare they had shared and lack of sleep, along with the unicorn’s insane ramblings, were doing neither pony any favors. With all that had happened, she had failed to pay attention to her now dry throat and rumbling belly. It’d been almost a day since they had eaten.
“We’re stuck here for two days before the ship sails again, right?” Fluttershy asked, breaking Rainbow out of her slump.
“Yeah, why?” Rainbow wondered.
“I think we should get some food and just relax. We don’t have a gym to worry about, and we haven’t eaten in almost a day. Maybe we can get all of this sorted out in the mean time.”
Pinkie smiled and trotted past Fluttershy. “Oooo, I’ll go see if I can find us some place to eat. Maybe they have kelp or seaweed; I’ve always wanted to try that.” She giggled and hopped down the road. Fluttershy trusted her with food arrangements, so she let her hop off with no qualms.
“So, why were you and Pinkie up early last night?” Rainbow asked. Fluttershy turned to see Rainbow staring at her. “You look like you haven’t slept at all. Everything alright?”
“I’m... fine.” Fluttershy tried her hardest to stand tall in front of her friend. Her heart raced as Rainbow kept up her stare. “I just woke up early, that’s all.”
“I know things have been rough today, but I just want to know. Don’t you trust me?”
As those words hit home, Fluttershy slumped to the ground and looked up at her friend. “It’s just, what happened was so strange. Pinkie and I had the same nightmare. Well, not exactly the same, but they were very similar. We both woke up screaming at the same time, and it hurt. It really hurt.” She looked away, feeling a knot form in her stomach as she spoke. “My neck and chest felt as if they were being stabbed and crushed, and I’m sure Pinkie felt the same way and... I just didn’t want to worry you.”
“Oh...” Rainbow said in a somber tone. She dropped her stare and looked for Pinkie who was still hopping around town. “I shouldn’t be complaining. You came here alone and scared with your memories messed with, you thought your pokémon died, you’ve been getting taken over by some girl named May, you’re getting nightmares,” she lowered her head with a sigh of contrition. “...and I’m just here for the ride.” She lifted the sitting pegasus to her hooves and embraced her. “I’m sorry.” She rested her head on Fluttershy’s shoulder for only a moment, then let go and stood back up.
“It’s alright.” Fluttershy said before walking up over to examine the boards. “So, what do you think happened? Do you think that maybe we never had to come here in the first place?” She paused for a moment, running a hoof across the boards. “These look new.”
“If we ask somepony about it, we should do it tomorrow. I’m sick of answers today,” Rainbow responded as she circled around the building. “You’re right, though, these don’t look weathered at all.”
“Hey, girls! I found us a restaurant!” Pinkie yelled out as she trotted back to the gym. “It’s really cheap too, and from the ponies I talked to it sounds delicious!”
“Great, I’m starving,” Rainbow said as she and Fluttershy followed Pinkie to the restaurant. “I really should’ve gotten something on the ship.”
The restaurant looked more like a stand to Fluttershy; there were no tables on the outside, only ponies sitting on the sand covered ground. A menu scrawled into wooden planks hung above the counter behind which a lone mare stood. After ordering, they sat next to two of the ponies that sailed with them.
“Hey! Do you know what happened to the gym?” Pinkie asked, looking over the two’s plates of food.
“Not sure. There was nothing on the news about it, so it must’ve happened pretty recently. I thought my Pokédex broke when I came into town!” the gold hatted pony laughed.
“Same...” Fluttershy yawned, rubbing her eyes. Her eye-lids drooped as they sat, and she squirmed uncomfortably. She tried paying attention to what the ponies were talking about, but she only stared at the booth, waiting for her food to come. She licked her lips and shifted as she waited, trying to make herself comfortable.
“Fluttershy?” Rainbow asked. “Hey, are you alright?”
“Oh,” Fluttershy mumbled, looking over to Rainbow. She couldn’t stay awake anymore, her body screaming at her for some rest. “I’m just really tired. I think I’ll go lay down after this.”
“Okay. How about this: leave Alerce and Wolver with us, then we’ll get some training in while you get some sleep,” Rainbow suggested, extending her hoof. Fluttershy took out her pokémon and handed their Poké Balls to Rainbow who then pocketed them in her jacket. “I’ll put them right back in your bag when we’re done.”
“That’s sounds nice,” Fluttershy said, yawning again.
Before she knew it, her plate of food was in front of her on a small mat. It was a simple daffodil sandwich which she dug into right away, wolfing it down before she had the chance to even taste it. With a swig of her water, she finished her meal just as the other four were taking their first bites. As she set her cup down, she looked up at the Pokémon Center, hoping it was still open. “I’m going to sleep. I’ll see you all when I wake up,” she yawned, standing up.
“Alright, sleep well,” Rainbow stated, watching as Fluttershy slowly trotted into the Pokémon Center, hobbling from side to side.
The inside of the building was laid out the exact same way as the one in Petalburg, making it easy for her to find her way around. It was empty except for a nurse who stood behind the counter. She looked around, trying to find a comfortable spot to lay down. There, in the corner of the room, she spotted a small cushioned bench. It called sweetly to her, the cushions looking like soft, fluffy clouds beckoning her to lay on them. As she approached, the looked over to the nurse, who was busy with paperwork. “I-is it alright if I get some sleep here?” Fluttershy asked, her voice just squeaking out.
“That’s fine. Have a good rest.” The nurse closed her eyes and smiled.
“Thank you,” Fluttershy said before dragging herself over and plopping onto the bench. She took out her blanket and draped it over herself, shifted into a comfortable position, and let herself drift off.
“Fluttershy! Pinkie! Wake up!” Rainbow yelled, shaking Fluttershy awake. She sat up, looking around the room with her eyes still half closed. It was night, leaving the Pokémon Center shrouded in darkness.
“What... what is it?” Fluttershy mumbled, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
“Come outside, you have to see this,” Rainbow exclaimed as she bolted out the door with Pinkie close behind. As Fluttershy shook her grogginess off, she made her way to the door and stepped outside.
“Rainbow, where are you—” she stopped after she turned to the east. A sickening orange and red glow cast itself over the horizon as a thick billow of smoke rose into the air. “What is that?”
“It looks like something is... burning. I was getting ready to go to sleep after some flight practice, and I saw a flash of light came from over there. Isn’t that where we’re supposed to go next? Slateport, I think?” Rainbow said, hovering above the Pokémon Center in an attempt to get a better view.
“I hope not, not if it’s burning at least,” Pinkie stated.
The way the orange and red light pulsated disturbed Fluttershy. She had seen fires before, but never as large nor as bright as this, nor with as red of hue. As the smoke gathered in the air, it reflected the flames’ light, making the sky appear to be burning. “What do we do?”
“We find out what’s going on,” Rainbow said as she stared out at the inferno. “It can’t be any worse than anything that’s happened today. Hey, maybe it’ll even be exciting.” With a quick swoop, she landed, looking back towards the docked passenger boat. “We should wake up Mr. Briney.”