N trailed behind while Touko and Red searched for Steven and the rest amongst the chaos. They kept having to dodge Pokémon and attacks, but no one had directly engaged them in battle yet. Oh God, the battles. They were terrible to just watch. The trainers of Viridian City who were trying to fight back didn't stand a chance. A few of them were starting to realize this and were retreating before they lost any Pokémon. Or any more, that is. Cases just like the Spearow's were all around. Touko had never seen anything like this before. It was making her feel sick. This was disgusting. Why would anyone get any enjoyment from doing this to Pokémon? Every single one of these bodies strewn on the ground was somebody's friend. She hesitantly looked back at N, who had fallen even further behind. She couldn't even imagine how he must be feeling now. "Red, I'm going to walk with N," she informed him. "You can go on ahead and look for Steven."
Red looked reluctant to leave them, but he continued ahead at a faster pace. "Be careful!" he warned.
Touko stood there and waited for N to catch up. When he had, she fell into step with him. They walked without a word to each other at first. She noticed that whenever there was an exceptionally loud Pokémon cry, he would flinch and scrunch his eyes tightly shut. "Are you doing okay?" she asked, watching his face carefully.
"I can hear them, Touko-- their voices. They're in so much pain... They're hurting, and there's nothing I can do to--"
Without warning, Touko wrapped her arms around his neck in a comforting hug. Since N was quite taller than her, the top half of him was pulled down and his back gained a small arch. Her shoulder now supported his head. "You shouldn't talk like that," she spoke. "It doesn't suit you."
"But Touko, things are different from before. I no longer have followers to assist me. When it comes down to taking on the Dire Army..." he voice trailed off as he went silent again.
Seeing and hearing all these Pokémon like this had obviously shaken him up. The determination he had shown earlier must have ebbed away. He had only ever heard about this sort of thing from the ones Ghetsis had brought him, it seemed. "Before you even think about taking the whole organization down, why don't we focus on stopping this attack? That 'Dread' person will probably be around here somewhere because he anticipated Steven showing up, right?"
"And if we can somehow defeat him..."
"... the rest of them will flee?"
Touko nodded. "That's the idea. With the combined power of the Heroes of Unova, surely we can take him."
N reached behind his neck and pulled her arms from around it, holding both by their wrists. "I'm not hero. The only thing I did was give everyone grief. I know I should have said this earlier, but I'm sorry; for everything. I am so--"
"N," she interrupted. "Shut up."
He looked confused at her slightly harsh choice of words.
Touko continued. "If you don't think of yourself as a hero, well, whatever. Help me as a friend then. Come on!" she urged, pulling him along. Much to her relief, he went with her, matching pace.
"Wait," said N, halting. "I think I know a way to make finding Dread a lot easier." A Rattata ran by them, desperately trying to escape the all-out brawl. N scooped it up as it neared him. At first the small Pokémon squirmed in N's grasp, reaching its head around to bite. "I'm not going to hurt you," he assured. The Rattata visibly relaxed, but still looked frightened. "You look terrified! What happened to you in the midst of all that?" The Rattata squeaked a reply that could only be understood by N. "And do you have any idea who their leader is...? Really? Where is he...? I'll keep that in mind."
Touko smiled as she watched the back and forth conversation between the two. It was so odd. To anyone who didn't know about N's ability to speak with Pokémon, he would come off as crazy. She envied his gift. She would love to be able to talk with her Pokémon. N was amazing in more ways than one. If only he knew it...
N placed the Rattata back on the ground and it continued its frantic run away from Viridian City. "It said that it saw someone who might have been their leader near a big building at the back of this city. He is apparently being protected from the trainers that were fighting back by the invading forces. No one can get close to him."
"But since Steven is here somewhere, he should be showing himself soon to fight him off. Once one of the Dire Army notices that Red, Blue, and Green are in the area, that'll bring him out for sure," said Touko. "So that means we have to find the others and tell them!"
A sudden uproar from ahead told Touko that her senior Pokédex owners had been spotted and recognized. They followed the sound of shouting to the place where their new friends were cornered. She and N went to join them.
"There you are!" greeted Red. "We were beginning to worry about you two. Get your Pokémon ready. This might get ugly."
Touko sent Samurott and Excadrill out of their Poké Balls while N did the same with Zoroark. "Dread is in Viridian City somewhere. He's going to be here soon."
"You're from the hotel..." remarked Steven. "Never would have guessed I'd see you again in these circumstances. Stay on your guard around Dread. He is not your conventional villain per se... but he's dangerous, nonetheless."
"Over there!" exclaimed Green, pointing as a few of the Dire Army members parted and a figure stepped out, followed by another. The first one was male with jet-black hair. He was dressed in a gray shirt and blue jeans with a black coat. On his face he wore a pair of shades and snakebite piercings on either side of his lower lip. To Touko there was something about him... maybe it was the way he strolled out with a smirk on his face, or even the way he approached them without any caution whatsoever. He looked like a jackass.
The person that followed him was a woman in a short white dress with one sleeve, where a shoulder was exposed. She had long, wavy, copper hair and hazel eyes. Her face was far more serious than her associate.
"That's him," noted Steven, refferring to the black-haired young man. "That is Dire General Dread. I don't know who the woman is."
This guy was one of the feared generals of the Dire Army? Unbelievable.
"Spread the word that I said to stop the attack," commanded Dread to one of his subordinates. "It's getting tedious anyway."
Touko couldn't believe he was stopping the assault just like that. Sure enough, the rest of his followers came to stand behind him. They hadn't brought as many people as she thought. There were only a little over twenty of them.
"I was beginning to think you guys wouldn't show again," began Dread, that smirk never leaving his face. "It would have been a shame for this nice city to end up like your poor hometown."
This inflamatory remark aroused anger in the Pallet Town kids. "If you only wanted us, there was no reason to destroy the homes of people who are not involved," Red proclaimed.
"Oh," replied Dread sarcastically, shrugging. "Well, it's not my problem." This only made them angrier.
"What do you want with us?" questioned Blue. He looked furious, but his voice was level and calm.
"Me? Nothing-- but someone wants you taken care of apparently. Some old guy came to our leader with an interesting proposition. He also said that you guys posed a threat to that proposition. I personally don't see it, but orders are orders. I have to get rid of you."
"Quit talking to them and do it, you idiot," hissed the woman in an irritated fashion. "I want to leave this wretched place as soon as possible."
Dread moved his head in a way that Touko was sure indicated he was rolling his eyes behind those shades. "You're free to leave whenever you want, love."
The woman wrinkled her nose. "You know I can't do that. As much as you disgust me, I was told to babysit your pathetic self to make sure you didn't screw up like yesterday."
"I got bored," was Dread's reply. "Throwing around Mr. Steel over there's poor excuses for Pokémon was no fun at all. If these guys had taken any longer to get here, I probably would have done the same thing, regardless of whether or not you were present. Watching all these Pokémon get beaten down so easily was fun at first, but after a while it gets old."
Before Touko knew what was happening, Zoroark shot from behind her, going straight for Dread. She turned her attention to N, who was angrier than she had ever seen him before, with eyes like blue fire. There was a loud CLANG as Zoroark's claws collided with the large, toothy, head appendage of a short human-like Pokémon.
"Mawile, use Crunch," instructed the eccentric general. Mawile's jaws clamped shut around Zoroark's arm, causing the Illusion Fox Pokémon to let out a deafening wail of pain that made Touko shudder.
"Zoroark!" shouted N, his rage dissolved to be replaced by horror as his friend struggled to free itself, all the while howling in agony.
"Have you guys ever seen a one-armed Zoroark before? Wouldn't that be an interesting sight?" wondered Dread, his tone no different than before. He spoke like the whole thing was a game to him, and Touko couldn't stand it.
There had to be something she could do to free Zoroark. Excadrill and Samurott were the two Pokémon she had out. Neither any attacks that would help with the situation. Any moves that would send Mawile flying would potentially send Zoroark-- or its arm-- with it. Could N send it back into its Poké Ball? Touko didn't think so, judging by the distance between the two. If N or anyone else moved to get closer, there was no doubt in her mind that Dread's Mawile would deprive Zoroark of an arm.
"Confusion, Golduck," came Blue's voice. The Pokémon that Blue had with him's eyes glowed in response, as well as Mawile's whole body. Dread's Pokémon tried to struggle against the attack, but its jaws were forced apart just enough for Zoroark to be freed. The injured Pokémon hurried back to N with its arm hanging useless at its side and was quickly returned to its Poké Ball.
N had that expression again. The one he had shown when he saw the Spearow. She didn't like it at all. That empty look scared her. It was a reminder to her that the scars Ghetsis had left were still very much there, creeping to the surface at N's most vulnerable times. Touko took his hand, which seemed to do the trick, because he snapped out of it and gave her hand an appreciative squeeze.
"You guys are such wet blankets," sighed Dread, sounding somewhat irritated that Zoroark had escaped.
The woman who was with Dread walked forward. "You are useless after all," she said over her shoulder as she passed him. "I'll take care of them myself."
Dread opened his mouth as if he was going to protest, but stopped himself, a smile decorating his face. "Be my guest."
The woman released a purple sludge-looking Pokémon with a horrible stench, and a yellow one that was striped with black and released electricity. "I am Dire General Anica. Which one of you wants to battle first? The price for losing is both you and your Pokémon's lives."
Steven at once stepped forward, releasing another Pokémon to fight alongside his first. "Metagross and Claydol, go!" he commanded, sending the two Pokémon charging. "Prepare yourselves, guys. Claydol, Sandstorm!" The Claydol responded by whipping up a huge sandstorm.
Touko braced herself as she and everyone else in the area was buffeted by wind and sand. An exceptionally strong gust knocked her off her feet and actually carried her around a bit. She let out a scream, which she instantly regretted, because at that moment sand came rushing into her mouth.
"Where are you?!" She could barely hear N's voice through the whistling sandstorm. Touko was deposited by the wind roughly on the ground. She stayed there on her knees, wondering what to do. She couldn't see. She couldn't hear. She couldn't even breathe properly without covering her nose and mouth with her hand. She was defenseless. Touko jumped when she felt something nudging against her back. Unsure of what it was, she scrambled in the opposite direction. The thing followed her, nudging her arm this time. She reached her hand out to touch whatever it was, and instantly recognized it.
"Excadrill!" she said, throwing her arms around the ground and steel-type Pokémon. Another nudge told her that Samurott was there too. Excadrill, not being affected by the sandstorm, must have guided his water-type friend to her. She put Samurott back into its Poké Ball. "Excadrill, I can't see, so I'm pretty much lost here. Would you lead me out of this sandstorm?" She placed her hand on Excadrill's head and it began to guide her. After a while of walking, Touko felt that she was no longer being punched in the face by sand. She was out! She then wiped the sand from her eyes and slowly blinked them open. "Thank you!" she said to Excadrill, returning it.
"Hello, there," said a dark, smug, voice. Before she could run, Dread grabbed her arm and pulled her close to him, her back against his chest. He had one arm around her waist and the other crossed uncomfortably between her breasts and covered her mouth. "You made three fatal mistakes to end up in this position," he spoke directly into her ear. "The one you just made, mistake number three, was not having any Pokémon out to protect you. Mistake number two was letting yourself get separated from your boyfriend and your little group. And mistake number one..."
"Get your hands off of her!" shouted N, a steely look in his eyes. He had just gotten out of the sandstorm and found them.
Dread's grip only tightened. "If you even try to save her, I'll have Beedrill here run her through." With a buzzing sound, a yellow and black bug Pokémon flew down from a tree and stood next to them, showing off its twin stinger arms. "Oh wait, that's not a nice thing to say, Dread..." he added to himself out loud. He talked to himself, too? Gosh, this guy was a creep.
N froze, looking sick, as if he were imagining one of those arms going straight through her body. "Why? You didn't come here to kill her. She isn't one of your targets!"
"Oh really?" Dread replied. The arm that was around her waist shifted and slipped into her bag. He pulled out the small pink device that was her Pokédex. "The reason why that old man wanted the other three eliminated was because they all had one of these. Because you also have one, you are one of my targets." He removed his hand from over her mouth, allowing her to speak.
"But how did you know I had a Pokédex?" she asked. She hadn't taken it out in from of him.
"You mean you don't remember me?" asked Dread, sounding disappointed.
"Remember you? What?"
With the hand that had been covering her mouth, Dread removed his shades.
She couldn't see for herself what his face looked like, but N's eyes widened in recognition. "Touko, he's that guy from the island!"
All the pieces fell together at that moment. He hadn't had his snakebites in, or his shades on then, but that had been Dread. The attack on Pallet Town had been taking place while they were on the island. That phone call he had received was his subordinates calling him about Steven, who had shown up to stop them. While he was leaving, she had used her Pokédex to identify his Yanmega. According to N, the Yanmega had been saying evil things. It made sense.
"That was your first mistake, sweetheart." By the tone of Dread's voice, Touko knew he was wearing that irritating smirk again. "This might come as a surprise to you, but I actually don't love the idea of killing people your age. I have such a guilty conscience..."
Touko might have laughed had she not been in the arms of this weirdo.
"Then let her go," said N, trying to remain calm. Touko knew how much he must despise Dread and the rest of the army.
"Hey, good point!" Dread shoved Touko forward and stepped back himself just before an Air Slash sliced through the spot they had been standing. N moved forward and caught her.
Touko looked in the direction the attack had come from. Her eyes found a reddish-brown bird Pokémon that reminded her of a Spearow. On its back was Anica, staring down at them all with contempt.
"You fool, I almost hit her! Why did you push her away?"
"...Reflex?" Dread replied in the form of a question.
Anica released an exasperated sigh. "We're leaving!" she dictated.
"Your battle is over already?" asked Dread. He punctuated this with laughter. "You lost, didn't you? That's hilarious! And you called me a sorry excuse for a general. At least I didn't lose."
"Shut up! Don't think I won't be telling the leader about how useless you were in this mission," she retorted with bitterness.
Dread returned Beedrill and produced his Yanmega, sitting on it in the same fashion as before. "Tell him, love. See if he cares enough to do something about it. He'll be too caught up in how you lost."
N tensed at the reappearance of the bloodthirsty Yanmega and tightened his hold on Touko. The both watched in silence as the two generals departed, still trading insults. They were briefly followed by the rest of the army, all on different flying Pokémon of their own. Only when they were all gone did N finally let go of her. "That was too close," he commented awkwardly. "Those two don't think very fondly of each other, do they? That Air Slash would have hit both you and Dread."
"Why did he push me out of the way...? He could have just moved himself and let the attack hit me. Because I'm one of his targets, it would have been convenient," Touko speculated, picking up her Pokédex from the ground where Dread had dropped it.
"It was most likely to spite Anica," answered N.
"I guess you're right..."
"Hey, Touko, N!"
At the sound of their names, they turned their heads and found Red, Green, Blue, and Steven. They didn't look as happy as they should have.
"Steven won the battle, but... one of his Pokémon..." Green explained.
One of Steven's Pokémon was killed. "Oh... I'm sorry, Steven," Touko expressed sympathetically.
Steven managed a sad smile. "You haven't anything to be sorry about. Time heals all wounds, and mine will be no different. Please don't worry yourself over me."
'Time heals all wounds...' Her eyes traveled to N, who was busy looking down at Zoroark through its Poké Ball. Steven was right. The thought of N being able to be happy was enough to make Touko happy herself. N was going to be fine. She would see to that.