Part 2: Evasion
Until he saw the giant statue in question peek over the buildings in the distance, the only reason Ace knew he was going the right way was that the sounds of chaos were getting steadily louder.
Resisting the urge to stand and gawk at it (Seriously, it's that big??? he thought), he instead doubled the pace. His heart was lead-heavy with great anticipation - but he knew that if he wanted to help, this would be his only chance to do it.
"Whoa, watch out!"
Ace ducked in time to avoid a Koffing, hurtling through the air at high speed, a satchel of various mechanical bits suspended from its weightless body.
"GANGWAY, GANGWAY!" Ace jumped to the side. An Eevee and Mudkip dashed past him, headed towards the statue. He followed them. Incredibly, it was only about five seconds later that they were out of his sight.
So many Pokemon, all helping in their own way.
Ace sped himself up even more. If he was to have any chance of making a difference, he had to get there quickly.
It came out of nowhere.
Not fifty yards from the site of the Statue, and Ace remembered being back at the Hunter's Guild.
Sitting nervously, waiting to be called into the room ahead of them.
And then he saw the newspaper. There he was, right on the headlines.
He turned the paper over. He didn't want Nanuq to notice him. And he definitely didn't want to talk about him just yet. It was only a picture, but for some reason Ace felt, at that moment, much closer to him than he had ever been since --
"You sure these things will be enough?"
The Bulbasaur shook her head. "Once Flint and his guys finish that device, it will be!" she said.
The Froslass rubbed her chin. "Why are we still waiting?" she said. "The time's now!"
The first to speak up - the Cyndaquil, as Ace only realized once he was in view - hopped up and down. " Chelle said we should wait, otherwise we'll just get ourselves killed!"
The Spheal was the first to notice him. "Who's that guy?"
The Bulbasaur and Cyndaquil both tilted their heads. " Which guy?" they asked in chorus.
"That thuggish-looking Zangoose what 'only wants to help'!"
Ace turned around, surprised that this last voice came from a Pikachu. He, along with his Dewott companion, were making a beeline towards him.
"Or don't you think we know about you?"
He remembered again. The Zangoose on the front page. He hoped he was wrong.
"What are you talking about," asked Ace, "mister...?"
"Yuri," said the Dewott, "and Tails. We're Team Xilla Tail."
"...not that it's any of your business, thug," said Tails - the Pikachu.
Ace moaned. He was afraid something like this would happen! He'd obviously read the paper, and thought that the Zangoose on the front page was --
"THAT WASN'T ME!" he shouted. "It's a different Zangoose!"
Ace turned around. The Froslass was still rubbing her chin. "You got a mark on your left shoulder," she said. "Same mark as the Pokémon on the front page."
I don't believe this, he thought. "Look, I get this a lot, believe me!" he said. "But we're different Zangoose!"
Tails glared at him. "Now, why don't we believe you? You LI-!!"
" ENOUGH!! "
Everyone turned to look at this latest voice's owner.
A Pancham - somewhat mature looking for her age, but the leaf sticking out of her mouth helped in that regard. The end of it was lit, slowly crumbling away, with a faint trail of smoke ascending the whole time.
"Everyone," she said. "If you'd actually taken the time t' read the article, you'd know the Zangoose in question was last seen - very recently - far from here, elsewhere in the fog. This fellow, obviously, is right here in front of you." She shrugged. "Anyone care to guess how an ordinary Zangoose can trek at least a three-day's journey in less than eight hours?"
Somewhere close by, the giant statue finally took another step, shaking the ground all over and punctuating her next point:
"Now, regardless of what your feelings are about this Zangoose, or what Guild you plan on joining - YOU ALL STILL GOT A JOB TO DO!! " she roared. "Now GET. TO IT!! "
Team Xilla Tail ran off in a hurry - Yuri said something involving the need to "find Cassidy," and both Researcher Teams went back to determining whether or not this was a good time to go do - whatever it was they were waiting on.
The Pancham walked off, and Ace followed her. "Thanks," he said.
She turned around, and extended a paw. "Not a problem. Kara - Hunters Guild Luminary, and Sundance's second-in-command."
Ace shook it. "Then you're just who I need now," he said. "Ace Carter, of Team Cobalt Blue Moon, Hunters-Guild hopeful. Where can I find Sundance?"
Kara looked past the giant statue. She tossed the remains of her leaf, and quickly produced another.
"Sundance seems to think our priority ought to be maintaining order," said Kara. "So he's off getting other 'Hunters-Guild hopefuls' to evacuate civilians in that statue's path. I, on the other hand..." A prism-shaped device was in her hand.
With a flick of her paw, the device produced a flame, igniting the tip of her leaf. A faint stream of smoke floated slowly upwards.
"I'm getting would-be Hunters to...help out the Explorers distract that statue and drive it out of the city."
Ace knelt in front of her, that the two of them could look each other in the eye. "You mean they're actually fighting that thing? Why?"
Kara shrugged. "Beats me. I hear Flint of the Researchers is building some kinda device at the edge of the city limits to stop that thing, and other Researchers are planting signal receivers on the actual statue's body. Not sure what they'll do, though..."
"So which are we doing?"
Kara looked around, as though making sure they weren't being listened in on. "Neither," she said eventually.
She examined Ace. "You look like the strong an' fast type," she said. "I already got a few Pokémon on the job, but you look just as capable..."
"What exactly are you talking about?"
In response, Kara pointed at the top of the statue - they were so close to it that Ace had to look up in order to see it.
It was a truly massive, and colorful, statue. It appeared to have been motionless for so long that leaves of some sort were growing about the top of the statue's head (was it a head? It all looked like part of the body!). "Look closely," said Kara. "You see something glowing up there?"
Ace had to squint in order to see it. "That one of those signal-boosters?"
Kara smiled. "Pretty darned close, isn't it? I had someone up there earlier to check out what it could be. He got shaken off - he'll live, lucky soul. He told me it was some kinda orb up there." She looked around again. "I don't know what it is or does," she said, "but I think Sundance would be very interested in it. So I want you to go up there and try to get it."
Ace gawked. "What, on top of that thing?"
"Remember what I said about you being strong and fast?" she said. "You're going to need every bit of it."
"Yes." She turned around, but then looked back. "And bring some of those leaves down with you, too, if you can. The Guild needs them." She paused. "Do that, and then I'll put in a word with Sundance about letting you into the Guild."
Ace stood up. "Me, and my partner?" he asked.
" Partner?! " Kara turned back around. "Where is he?"
"I don't know," said Ace. "But he's kinda the leader. Nanuq - a Cubchoo."
Kara stared up at him. Then she turned around once more, and this time didn't look back.
But she still said, as she walked away, "Wherever he is, he'd better be helping this city out in some way!"
A few minutes of running later, it occurred to Ace that the statue was not moving much farther, and he then realized why - other Pokémon were, indeed, confronting it head on.
Incredibly, the statue had actually paused to fight them - not much taller than thimbles compared to its mass - while others on the sidelines looked up at it.
"This is crazy!" exclaimed a Houndour right next to Ace. "How are we supposed to take that thing down? It's huge!"
A Snivy, equally awestruck, didn't dare glance at his companion. "The same way everyone else is supposed to - any way we can!"
Other Pokémon were on the other side of the "battlefield", a pile of glowing devices beside them. Roughly conical in shape, Ace guessed that they had to be the signal boosters that the Researchers were putting on the statue's body.
"This is what you wanted to do," barked the Houndour. "Well? Basil? What are we gonna do?"
"Give me a moment!" said the Snivy. "I'm thinking!"
The statue held one of its massive hands out, somewhere over its "head". Without warning, a bright-blue beam, brighter than the late-morning sky, shot out of the hand. Only half-thinking about it, Ace followed the path of the beam - a bird Pokémon, too far away for Ace to identify, had narrowly avoided it.
Someone grunted. Ace looked to the side.
Barely ten meters from the statue's feet, a Cyndaquil was peering all over one of the boosters.
He saw an opening!
As he rushed towards the Cyndaquil, it occurred to him that he was from one of the two Researcher Teams he'd just met. Someone, somewhere, shouted, "What are you doing? You can't just stand there!!"
A coil of rope lay at his feet. Ace didn't know where it was from, but to him, it was useful now. He picked it up.
"Does it have an on switch?" the Cyndaquil muttered to himself. "How do I-?"
"Give it here!" said Ace.
The Cyndaquil looked up at him. "Wha-?!"
"Look, I know how to fix it!"
He looked down at it, then back up at Ace. "You sure?"
"Sure, I'm sure!" said Ace.
The Cyndaquil backed away from the device. "Well, if you say so," he said. "I guess we'll have to find some other way to help out."
"I think Flint needs help building something at the edge of town," said Ace. "That's what I heard, I mean."
"Flare! COME ON and do something!"
The Cyndaquil - Flare - looked aside, and then back at Ace - almost apologetically. "I have to go," he said. "Good luck!"
Instead of replying, Ace looked up towards the top of the statue.
"Looks like I'll need it."
After looking over the signal booster, Ace found a notch wide enough for the rope he picked up. He threaded it through, and tied it around his body like a satchel. It was actually too long to fit tightly without a lot of leftover rope.
Unfazed by the statue's next ground-shaking step, Ace quickly untied it, swiped at it with one claw, and tied the majority of it back around him, faster than last time. He tied the leftover rope around his waist, in case he needed it.
I really need a backpack.
Once more, Ace looked up the statue.
Then, he stuck a claw into it - a bit like a chisel into old wood. The giant statue didn't seem to notice - but it did at that moment take another step.
Taking Ace with it.
With a yowl, Ace was yanked off the ground, almost flying behind the statue's massive leg. Then, right before the foot hit the ground, Ace's claw slipped out - he hit the ground hard, and then rolled right into the leg even harder.
Ace put a claw over his ribs, right where the signal booster broke his fall. If it wasn't broken before, it definitely wouldn't work now. But it continued to glow.
The statue lifted its other foot to take another step. Quickly, Ace stuck his claw into the leg once again - then his other right above it. Pulling himself up, he yanked the first claw out, and then stuck it back in right above him.
He dared not imagine how far he had yet to climb, especially after these three, altogether small, "steps" up the statue. He only knew that it had to be done, and it was in this way that he continued to climb.
Only five minutes in, and Ace simply had to rest. He guessed he was somewhere on the statue's torso, because he had significantly more room to maneuver. A ledge of sorts stuck out on either side of the body. Ace chose the left - finding, though, that there was barely room to stand on them.
He hooked his claws in and stood with his back to the statue's back - panting, his fur matted with sweat all over. Ace felt the strong urge to look down, knowing that if he did, he would regret it instantly.
So he looked up, instead.
The canopy of leaves on its head, the same kind as those surrounding its feet, was practically right above him. Higher still was the orb he sought - and it was, as Kara suspected, an orb. About the same color and size as the glow of the now-defunct signal booster hanging from Ace's shoulder.
With a sigh, Ace carefully turned back around, and continued his climb. He almost wished he could stay and rest - but as he was so close to his goal, he wanted to finish the climb even more.
The statue swayed more than it appeared to from the ground - with each step it took, Ace had to dig his claws in to keep himself from being dislodged. A fall from this height would definitely kill him. The tremor of each step shook the statue itself, making the whole ordeal just a little bit worse.
As tired as he was, Ace could get about four or five "steps" up the statue for each step it took. He counted the last few to himself:
Forty-one "steps" later, Ace was close enough to the canopy that he could reach up and grab some of it.
He'd expected to find a branch supporting the leaves, so that he could pull himself up. Instead, the handful of leaves he grabbed came out of the statue itself; one or two fluttered down, a trajectory Ace had to concentrate harder than ever not to follow.
Instead, he let go of the rest of them; as he had nowhere to put them, he decided it would be better for him to grab some leaves on his way down.
So, he reached up, jamming a claw into the top of the statue's "head," and pulled himself on top. He remained low, concealed by the leaves, and crawled towards the orb at the center.
Ace could not form any mental picture aside from one where he was still climbing.
Right before he reached the orb, he realized the statue had stopped walking. It was still shifting, though, almost like it was looking around - and Ace felt each movement. Left - then right - a bit to the left, then back to the right. Suddenly, a full reversal, and Ace had to dig in to avoid getting thrown off.
Finally, though, he reached the orb at the center. It was even about the same size as the device he had brought up with him - held in place by a stone pedestal. All he had to do was remove the orb.
Ace sat right in front of it, crossing his legs around the pedestal for support. Then, with both hands finally free, he grabbed the orb and lifted it off.
Nothing happened. Ace almost wondered why it was important that the orb be retrieved, if removing it simply had no effect. Instead, with his only free hand, he placed the signal booster in the pedestal - it wasn't a perfect fit, and in fact Ace could see it wobble as the statue moved again.
Using the rope that held it to him the whole way up, he tied the device to the pedestal - again hooking the rope through the notch he'd found in it, and again through the ring-like part of the pedestal that originally held the orb.
It still shook as the statue took yet another step, but the rope would ensure it would stay there. In addition, the defunct device still glowed very convincingly.
More than satisfied, Ace retreated to the edge of the statue's "head". About three-fourths of the way back, he grabbed a hand-full of leaves, almost as an afterthought.
At the very edge, Ace stopped, readying himself for the trip down. Surely, it'd be much easier!
And that was when he looked down. And instantly regretted it.
The Pokémon below him - most still engaging the statue - looked like little more than tiny pebbles, each a different color from the rest. The buildings around the statue resembled tiny boxes - the kind of box his father kept Seviper fangs in came instantly to mind.
Strangely, though, it was not the height that made his heart heavier than lead again.
He had a handful of leaves in one hand, and the orb was tucked between the same arm and his torso, and so the worry was how Ace was to lower himself all the way down to the ground with just one hand.
He stared at the ground for a full fifteen minutes - enough time for Ace to see the edge of the fog surrounding Andalusst City. It was then that Ace told himself that he didn't have any other choice.
He had to tell himself about three more times before he actually did it.
He flattened his body and then rolled right off the statue's head.
Immediately, he jabbed his one, free claw into the statue's back, stopping his fall. He could feel it take yet another step.
As soon as the statue stopped shaking, he tore the claw out, and fell again. Two seconds later, he stopped his fall again. The force of the fall made him slide further down a bit, carving a gouge into the statue. Ace was even more grateful, now, that the statue couldn't feel what he was doing - or if it could, that it was otherwise engaged with whoever was on the ground in front of it.
His next fall lowered him onto the platform. He rested for a moment, and then continued his fall-stop approach to ground level.
He finally arrived at the statue's legs - more precisely, the same one he climbed up on. He dropped twice more and, as soon as he was done sliding, judged that he could drop himself off altogether, and did, making no attempt this time to stop his fall.
He crashed into the ground, harder than the impact that began his climb, but this time his orb-occupied arm broke the fall.
And, for that matter, broke. Really, though, Ace wasn't sure he had broken an arm, but the gut-wrenching CRUNCH and the intense pain that accompanied it in the upper-left arm both supported the assumption. And someone was laughing.
After the impact, Ace folded his lower lip in and chewed on it - desperate not to make any sound that would draw attention to himself. He still had no way to conceal the orb. Slowly, he stood up, and tried to find who was laughing.
It transpired to be a visibly old, though somewhat youthful-looking Torkoal. His laughter reminded Ace of his great-grandfather, and the way he laughed when recounting some extraordinary feat of his - slow, almost thoughtful, and definitely respectful.
"Now there's a show," he said. "Descent at the speed of gravity! Ee-hee-hee!"
"Gramps!" A Wartortle emerged from behind the Torkoal. "Shouldn't we be…you know, doing something right now?"
Ace smiled. "Thanks. You know, now that I think about it, that's got to be the coolest thing I've done in…" Now he really thought about it.
"Well, in my entire life," he said.
"Sure, sure," said the Wartortle, waving her left hand impatiently. "But we have a job to do!"
"Let me get out of your way, then," said Ace. "I'm pretty sure I broke my arm; I'd better get it looked at."
"Sure, you do that, er…" the Torkoal tilted his head. "What did you say your name was?"
"I didn't," said Ace. "So let me fix that. Ace, of Team Cobalt Blue Moon."
The Torkoal smiled again. "Hector Steamer, of Team Steam Shell! And this is my grand-daughter Aqua."
Ace waved with his free hand. "I hope to see you again sometime."
He turned to run - and as he finally headed away from the conflict, he heard Hector chortle once more.
"Looking forward to it, young Ace!" he said. "Ahh, what a name."