Lemon could deal with a lot of things. She hadn't gotten that worked up when it took her three tries to earn the Mineral Badge. She'd been relatively calm during the Team Rocket debacle in Goldenrod three years ago. And she'd been putting up with Sienna's generalized craziness for the last six years without snapping, which was no mean feat. But then...
...then, there were days like this.
Lemon stared up at the thick black smoke rising from the vicinity of the Pokemon Center a block away, transfixed by the sight. A piece of charred roof tile landed a meter away, and she barely blinked. She was still trying to figure out exactly what she ought to be doing when Sienna dropped the backpack she'd been wearing into her hands.
"I'm going to go help," said Sienna, unhooking a pokéball from her belt.
"What—no, are you crazy?" Lemon blurted out, dropping the bag. Oh God, oh God, she had that determined look in her eye, and that always meant the beginning of trouble... "You're going to get yourself killed, it's dangerous! Sienna, stop being an idiot!" This always happened. This always happened. Sienna always had to be the hero, dammit, regardless of safety or sanity. At this rate Sienna wasn't going to live to see twenty—and Lemon probably wasn't either, from the stress induced by her friend's antics. Good heavens.
"I'm closer than the fire department, and I'm here. I can help. I'm going." Sienna turned, not in the least bit deterred, and jogged off in the direction of the still-smoldering Center.
Lemon watched her leave, mouth hanging open—and then shook her head, and rummaged in her pockets for her phone. She might not be suicidally brave, but she could at the very least call Emergency. Cursing under her breath, she waited for the operator to pick up, and hoped that Sienna knew what she was doing.
Pokémon Centers were made to be sturdy. Someone had cleverly realized a long time ago that a place that drew a lot of injured and frightened pokémon would probably need to withstand fires, floods, earthquakes, scratches, acid, freezing and all manner of other unusual damage. In short, very little outside of the explosion of a nuclear warhead in the vicinity could put a scratch on one.
The Blackthorn Pokémon Center, which had been in excellent repair not ten minutes ago, was in ruins.
A lot of the roof was either gone or crumbling, and had the walls not been specially reinforced, they would have been falling in already. Parts of the building were on fire.
What happened here?
Sienna stared up at it for a moment before remembering that, ah, yes, she was here to help and not just gawk. Some people had gotten a window clear and were getting out that way, older trainers helping the young ones through to safety, but there had been a lot of people inside. And something caught her eye—the wall on that side was beginning to buckle.
"Poli, go!" she yelled, flinging the pokéball in her hand. A poliwhirl materialized instantly in a burst of red light, shaking his head at the sudden sunlight—he’d last been out in the nighttime. But there was no time to spare.
"Poli, I need your help," she said—with more than a hint of urgency, since the wall was looking dangerously unstable... "Uh, we need to hold that wall together somehow, maybe if we use your strength—" But that wouldn’t work, would it? They couldn't push from the outside, and they couldn't get inside fast enough—
The poliwhirl considered the scene for a moment—and then froze over the wall with an ice beam, causing the older trainers nearby to jump in surprise, but they recovered quickly and gave her a wave. "Warn us next time!" one of them said, a tall girl in a baseball cap, but gave Sienna a weary smile. "D'you think you could help get some of the other ways clear? We could probably get more people out through the door if—"
Sienna blinked. "Ah, sure," she said, waving back, and then glanced at Poli. "Uh—well, that works. Good call, mate," she added, in his direction. It was a very clever solution—which she ought to have been able to come up with herself. Then again, her pokémon did outsmart her on a regular basis, so it was nothing new.
But this Sienna knew how to handle—brute force was her specialty. She grinned. "All right!" she yelled. "Let’s punch through that rubble!"
Not for the first time was Sienna reminded of how much she wished she had the money for a Water Stone, but she’d already blown a lot of money on Fire and Leaf stones for Niney and Oddball to evolve. Still, though, Poli had pretty good strength for his size, and soon enough they ran into some trainers from the other side who’d been working on getting out themselves.
From there on it was quick work. There were a lot of injuries ranging from stubbed toes to broken limbs to some pretty nasty burns, but the nurses that had been on duty were handling them.
It was as she was returning Poli to his pokéball for a rest that it occurred to her who she hadn't seen among the crowd: Dolly.
She dashed back outside, looking at the group of trainers and center staff huddled a safe distance away. Some of the doctors and nurses were standing there, but she didn't see the one that had been with Dolly. She definitely wasn't there—she was pretty distinctive, after all. And not inside the building, either...
She ducked back inside. Maybe they'd missed a spot in looking. There were a lot of places a small girl like that could be hidden in the Pokémon Center's ruins, after all. Peering into the back hallway from the lobby, she wondered if she ought to try looking back there—
There was a cracking noise overhead, and Sienna belatedly registered that a section of the ceiling was about to fall on her.
Then something slammed into her from the side, knocking her to the floor a few meters away. "Honestly, are you some kind of idiot?" a familiar voice chastised, as a large hunk of ceiling thudded to the ground in the same place she'd just been standing. "Walking around in here all by yourself, you know it's dangerous—“
"Lemon?" Sienna said, blankly—it was Lemon who was picking herself up off the floor next to her, neatly brushing dust off her skirt. Her magneton floated over their heads, a screen of reflective energy emanating from its three terminals directed at the ceiling to catch falling debris. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to check on you, of course," she grumbled, while brushing dust from the rubble off of her clothes. "It didn't take long to call Emergency, and I figured you'd find some way to get into trouble. Looks like I got here just in the nick of time. What were you doing in here, anyway?"
Sienna sat up, wincing—although she appreciated the save, she would have been a little more grateful if Lemon hadn't knocked her head into the floor. "Looking for Dolly," she said. "She's not outside."
Lemon's eyes widened. "Well—I'll come along. Let's make it fast, though."
Sienna spared a cautious glance toward the ceiling. "Yeah," she said. "I think we'd better."
It wasn’t very hard to find Dolly. In fact, she was right where they’d left her minutes ago, standing in the very center of the room. Well, if it could even be called a room anymore—the ceiling was completely gone, and the walls looked as if they'd had a wrecking ball taken to them. One was even completely demolished, leaning over into the next room. Dolly herself was standing stock-still, looking down at her hands with a look of mixed bewilderment and horror. And—oddly enough—there didn't seem to be even a scratch on her.
She looked up as they came through the door, visibly relaxing as she saw them enter. "You’re all right," she said.
"We’re just glad to see that you’re all right—we ought to get you out of here," said Lemon, taking her by the shoulders. "It’s dangerous here, the building could collapse completely at any moment, you know—"
Dolly turned away and mumbled something. "What was that?" asked Sienna.
"...’s all my fault..."
Sienna frowned. "Why would it be your fault?" she asked. "Look, it was just an accident, that’s all—"
Dolly raised her head, shakily, looking at something in the rubble across the room. "He was g-going to t-t-take me back, and I was s-s-scared, and I d-didn’t want t-to hurt him but I c-couldn’t go b-b-back, not n-now, and then b-bad things happened, and it’s all my fault, I’m so sorry—"
"Hush, sweetie, slow down—everything’s going to be all right," Lemon began, but Sienna held up a finger.
"Hang on a second, who—" She could make out some vague features under the pile of debris that Dolly had been looking toward... She dashed over, pulling at stone and drywall and wood. Underneath, unconscious (she hoped) was the doctor from earlier. "He was going to—" She jabbed a finger in the direction of the sleeping man. "He tried to kidnap you? Why?"
Dolly froze, looking like a deer in the headlights. "I... I don’t know," she stammered. "H-he’s not a real d-doctor, though."
"Where did he want to take you?"
"Sienna, that’s enough!" Lemon cut in, shooting her a nasty glare. "Don’t you think this is a bit much for right now? We’ve got to get out of here! Please stop and think for a moment—can’t we continue this conversation when we’ve all calmed down a bit?"
Sienna blinked. "I—er, I wasn’t thinking. Sorry," she said. "We should probably go join that group that’s forming out in the front. See if there’s anything else we can do—"
Both Sienna and Lemon turned to face Dolly, who was staring into space. "We must leave," Dolly continued, in an oddly formal tone, "or it will be disaster. Hurry. Danger comes, and time grows short." Then she blinked, and shivered slightly. "We... I can’t go back. I can’t be seen. Not now."
Sienna gave her an appraising glance. "You know what's going on here."
Dolly paused. "Yes," she said, at last. "Mostly, anyway. Sort of. Ish."
"Can you tell us?"
"Not here. Not now."
Lemon looked back and forth between the both of them. "Er," she said. "Would anyone mind explaining to me what exactly is going on here? I seem to be a bit lost."
Sienna ignored her for the moment. "We might be able to help you," she said, cautiously. It was really very funny that this was probably what she would have wished for a half-hour ago—adventure, excitement, a quest—but yet somehow she was feeling more apprehensive than happy. "But once we’re safe, I want to know everything. And you’ll tell us. Got it?"
Dolly considered this—and then nodded. "Thank you," she said.
"Don’t mention it," said Sienna. She frowned. "Unless, of course, this gets us into real trouble. Then feel free to mention it as often as possible, all right?"
"Uh, Sienna?" asked Lemon. "Would you mind explaining to me what exactly is going on here?"
Sienna shrugged. "I have no idea," she said.
"Dodger! Dodger, where are you?"
The long-haired girl picked her way through the rubble—most of the people had collected on the other side of the building, but she was pretty sure her brother wouldn't be there, if she had correctly guessed the cause of the explosion. If something had happened to him—
Well, she wasn’t one to frown on violence in general—it would be a bad trait in her line of work. And if Cady had sent them on a dangerous fool's errand, there would be hell to pay, even if she had done them a favor once upon a time.
He would have been near the back, in one of the rooms near the corner... well, what was left of them, now. "Dodger? Dodger, can you hear me?"
Her breath caught in her throat. If something really had happened to him—
But then, ahead, something in the rubble shifted. And, above the piles of debris—a hand and the sleeve of a doctor’s coat.
"Dodger!" she cried, and dashed over, hurdling stone and ceiling tile and drywalling. He’s alive, he’s alive— She dug through the debris that covered his lower half as fast as she could, and then pulled him into a tight hug.
He winced, and groaned. "Augh. Hi, Alice. Watch the broken ribs."
Alice stood, and placed her hands on her hips, giving him a stern look. "I thought I told you to be careful. And to take that ching-a-ling thing you picked up when you were in Hoenn. The one that knows Protect." She tugged gingerly on his arm, helping him sit up and propping him up against a pile of roof tile and sheet rock bits. "What happened?"
Dodger sighed. "I was. And I did." Wincing slightly, he reached into the front pocket of his filched doctor's coat, pulling out something tassel-shaped—which was followed by the limp, bell-shaped body of an unconscious chingling. "Ouch. Sorry, girl."
Alice stared. "I thought you'd been training that thing for months to block nearly anything."
"I was—" He winced again, putting a hand to his head. "Nngh. She took the full brunt of the attack, which is probably why I’m still alive, but—agh. I don't think Cady told us everything. God damn."
There was the growing sound of sirens. Alice looked up, taking stock of the situation, and frowned. "Think you can walk far enough to get us out of here?"
He nodded, looking a little on the groggy side. Probably meant a concussion. Damn. "I think we'd better," he managed. "I... I might need help."
"Yes, well, that's a given," said Alice, slipping an arm under his shoulders, and helping him to his feet. "And I think after this, I'm going to be giving Cady a call... and she is not going to enjoy it."