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COMPLETE: [Everyone] The Legend of Ampharos

Introduction
Lone Scribe for the Lord of Time
Joined
Jun 10, 2018
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The Legend of Ampharos takes place directly before the events of Pokémon Gold and Silver and follows the events of the video games to some accuracy. Follow Bryan Schneider, the former gym leader of Olivine City as he deals with the loss of his gym and discovers a danger that could threaten the safety of everything in the Indigo Plateau and farther.

EVERYBODY.
-Mild Cartoon Violence


A New Wind Blows

Ampharos sidestepped the oncoming Tauros and lashed out with a powerful FirePunch. Tauros went sprawling across the smooth gym floor, but then turned and renewed its assault. Ampharos may have been slow, but he was strong and he grasped the charging Tauros by both horns. It bucked, trying to free itself, but Ampharos countered with a shockingly powerful Thunderbolt and the enraged bull collapsed to the floor.
"Uncle B.," a sweet voice echoed done the hallway, and Bryan quickly paused the old battle video to better hear his niece, "dinner is almost ready."

"Coming," Bryan answered down the hall, pushing STOP on the controller.

The television screen blinked briefly blue before the news channel appeared.

"And that concludes our special on the Legendary Articuno, mystery of the Seafoam Islands. Stay tuned next for our continued coverage on the newly discovered Steel-type and how it is changing the face of the Pokémon League Challenge forever."

Bryan switched off the television set and tossed the controller into his old, blue recliner. Sighing, he ran his hand through his crop of short, brown hair and turned for the door. His room above the Olivine City Gym was small, but comfortable. Other than his comfortable chair and the small tv, only three pieces of furniture decorated the dimly lit room. A bed sat in the corner opposite his television and a long, wooden desk with matching chair nearer to the door. As he walked purposefully toward the door, his eye couldn’t help but catch the single white envelope sitting upon his desk. The official Pokémon League seal decorated the top right corner and the middle-aged man signed again, remembering its contents. He tried to push the depressing declaration within from his mind, but he knew it would continue to nag him until he came to grips with the news it delivered. So forever.

"Uncle B.," the voice echoed down the hallway again and Bryan increased his pace.

He passed his niece's room and the living space's only bathroom before pushing open the door to the small kitchen. The delicious smell of spaghetti and meatballs hit him full in the face and he immediately smiled. His niece was already at the small table, scooping great servings of noodles and sauce on to both plates. Her curly, brown hair cascaded down her back, nearly to the seat of the chair, and her light brown eyes sparkled as she looked up at her uncle.

"Could you grab the garlic bread from the oven," she asked politely.

Bryan moved to do so. Before he took two steps, a Magnemite floated from beneath the table and across to the oven. Using one of its magnets, it pulled open the oven door, attracted the metal sheet the bread was baking on, and returned to the table. The gym leader shook his head in amusement before kicking the oven door shut and switching off the heat. He followed Magnemite to the table.

Sitting opposite his niece, he locked eyes with Magnemite and motioned for it to come closer. It did so without hesitation. Glancing over it quickly, he found what he was looking for. A small seven marked on the top of its left magnet. Patting it gently on the screw, Bryan let Magnemite float away and back to his niece's side.

"Jasmine, you have done an excellent job training Number 7," he said brightly, smiling. An action that lit his normally gloomy blue eyes.

Jasmine returned his smile, but didn’t respond, as her mouth was full of spaghetti. A drip of sauce spilled down her lips and she quickly, and embarrassedly, reached for a napkin. Bryan didn’t mind. She had lived with him since she was 10 and she was more a daughter than a niece. Her parents had sent her to study under him and, though they visited from Azalea Town several times a year, he felt primarily responsible for her well-being.

They finished their dinner in silence, listening to the soft hum of Number 7 from beneath the table and the occasional loud crash from the gym below. After the third such crash, Number 7 peeked its head from beneath the table in concern. Jasmine patted it softly in reassurance.

“Those two will never get along,” she sighed, a near perfect mimic of her uncle’s earlier sigh.

“Peter is still holding on to the past,” Bryan responded, shrugging, “I will take him with me when I leave.”

“So you have decided to go,” the young girl responded, her normally happy eyes losing some luster.
Bryan nodded, “you are ready to handle this place on your own and you already have a disciple.”

As if to prove his point, another thud sounded from the ground floor and the room shook ever so slightly.

“Besides, Myron will be here if you need him.”

Jasmine nodded her agreement, but the light failed to return to her eyes.

“Kanto?”

“Yes,” Bryan confirmed, “it is an easy trip to Vermilion City from here and Lt. Surge has his Electric-type gym there.”

Jasmine nodded again, but it was clear she was sad that her uncle was leaving.

“Don’t hang your head, Jasmine, or I can’t see your pretty eyes beneath all that hair,” he uncle said, trying in vain to cheer her up, “besides, it is time to feed Amphy.”

The girl perked up slightly and pushed herself back from the table. Hurrying to the cupboard, she began rummaging around for Amphy’s dinner. Bryan busied himself clearing the dishes from the table with Number 7’s help, but the young Magnemite was little help because the only metal on the table was the baking sheet. Once dinner was cleaned up, Jasmine and Bryan headed down the stairs. As they passed the door to the main gym, they could see Peter and Jasmine’s new disciple, Steven, continuing their battle. Peter’s Raichu cast a Thunderbolt toward the waiting Forretress. The bulky Bug/Steel-type was strong, but practically immobile defensively. Despite its lack of speed, the attack glanced off, doing little damage, and cracking one of the walls. Plaster fell from the strike point and several Magnemite hovering below scattered to avoid being hit.

Bryan shook his head, “That is a powerful Forretress, Steven will make an excellent disciple.”

“I suppose,” Jasmine shrugged as she pushed open the front door and they stepped into the cool, evening air, “but he refuses to catch or train any other Pokémon.”

“It is your job to teach him,” her uncle reminded, “did you want to train anyone but Onix when you first started out?”

“You’re right,” she responded, punching him playfully on the shoulder, “like always.”

He rubbed his shoulder jokingly, “now would…”

“You don’t have to say it,” Jasmine cut him off, “I already know.”

Bryan smiled again as the shorter girl reached for a Poké Ball at her waist and tossed it skyward. It popped open and Skarmory burst forth, screeching loudly. It glared down at the pair of them, then sped off toward the north. They both watched as it sped off, knowing it would return eventually, but not knowing truly when. Bryan took a deep breath of the wonderfully salty air off the coast and headed toward the lighthouse near the edge of town. They walked in silence, the cool night breeze rustling long and short brown hair alike, Bryan mulling over the events of the past several weeks.

Three weeks ago to the day, a letter had arrived to the gym bearing the official Pokémon League seal. Peter, who was his oldest, most dedicated disciple, received the letter and immediately rushed it to his Master. The letter, however, contained bad news, not good. It was brief and to the point and the words still echoed through Bryan’s head.

Mr. Schneider,

With the recent discovery of the Steel-type by the esteemed Professor Samuel Oak, the Pokémon League Council has decided to integrate the new typing into the Pokémon League Challenge. As the Electric-type is already represented by Lt. Surge in Vermilion City, it is your gym that will be converted to Steel-type. The official change will take place on October 1st. Thank you for your years of dedicated service to the Pokémon League.

Pokémon League Council


Bryan supposed that their rationale was sound, but they could just have easily converted Surge’s gym instead of his. In addition, Dragon, Fighting, Psychic, and Poison-type were each represented twice in the Pokémon League Challenge, even if the second representation occurred in the Elite Four. If anything, the new Fuschia Gym Leader, Janine, should be replaced. In the four months since replacing her father, Koga, she had yet to defeat a single challenger and her technique was laughable.

Bryan tried to push the thoughts from his head, but he felt singled-out and betrayed. Only Pryce, Blaine, and Bruno had represented the Pokémon League longer and no-one, save Professor Oak’s newly installed grandson, had a better winning percentage. He shook his head, again trying to escape from his own mind, but the nagging feeling of betrayal refused to leave. If anything, it felt like the league was lashing out at him for being vocal about their refusal to change policies. In recent years, the league seemed far more interested in money than truly challenging trainers and the limitations set to Leader’s Pokémon were becoming more and more stringent. As such, winning matches was becoming more and more difficult and even mediocre trainers were earning the right to compete in the Pokémon League Tournament and challenge the Elite Four. Bryan felt ire for the league rise into his cheeks and his face begin to grow red.

“I think Skarmory dislikes the moist air,” Jasmine said, snapping Bryan from his internal raging, not a minute too soon. He collected himself before responding.

“I hadn’t thought of that, perhaps the salty air isn’t good for his metal body.”

Jasmine nodded her head in agreement, “how can we fix it though?”

“If we keep it warmer in the gym, the air will be dryer,” Bryan responded, thinking aloud, “and if you take him north occasionally to fly, he may appreciate that as well.”

“You’re the best, Uncle B.,” she said, pushing open the lighthouse door and stepping aside to allow him to enter first, “no wonder you’re the best leader in Johto.”

“Not for long,” Bryan responded, a little more sourly than he intended, especially to his niece.

“Sorry,” she muttered, deflated.

“It’s ok,” he reassured her, patting her curly hair gently, “you will make an excellent replacement and I couldn’t be prouder.”

Jasmine’s bright, youthful smile returned in full, but the two remained quiet, saving their breath for the long climb up the lighthouse. Bryan let her take the lead, her young legs better equipped to deal with the strain. He was far from old, he had just turned 30 in March, but he had been a gym leader for 13 years and rarely left his beloved port city anymore. The long climb gave him time to return to his musing, but he reflected more positively as he watched his young niece climb ahead of him.

The one good thing about his replacement was that Jasmine had won the right to take his place. A plethora of challengers had stepped in to compete for the position, but she had defeated them all with poise and honor. She was a smart, powerful, and loving girl who would do Olivine City proud. At 16, she would be the youngest gym leader in the Indigo Plateau, younger even than him when he took over the gym at 17.

“Do you think you can catch me an Abra while you are in Kanto?” Jasmine asked, interrupting his musing a second time.

“Why?” Bryan replied.

“To Teleport me up all these stairs,” she said, half-serious, half-joking.

Bryan laughed aloud as they reached the landing on the final floor and a loud coo from beyond the thick wooden door answered him.

“Amphy is waiting,” she called loudly, opening the door, and the loving female Ampharos on the other side cooed a second time.

While Jasmine rummaged through her bag for Amphy’s dinner, Bryan tapped on one of the PokéBalls at his waist and it popped open. His own Ampharos greeted Amphy with a friendly hoot and the classically awkward hug they always shared. Amphy was the daughter of Bryan’s older Ampharos, raised by Bryan from a Mareep after he had completed his own Pokémon League Challenge years ago. His own Ampharos, whom Jasmine lovingly called Jolter, had battled with him through thick and thin, but Amphy, though well-trained, battled very little. Its job of lighting the lighthouse was far more important. Her isolated life, however, had made her untrusting and she refused aid from anyone save himself and Jasmine.

Once Amphy and Jolter released their awkward embrace, Jasmine handed both of them carrots and set a basket full of them on the stone table behind them as well. The two Electric-type Pokémon ate quietly as Jasmine and Bryan bustled about checking the lighthouse’s functionality, as they did every night. In addition to running the gym, it had always been the Olivine City Gym Leader’s responsibility to maintain the lighthouse and care for its Ampharos. When uncle and niece completed their nightly check, they returned to the stairs and waited for their Ampharos to finish eating. Seeing his Master waiting, Jolter took a last bite of carrot and handed the remainder to his daughter. They bent forward and touched noses in a customary farewell before Jolter ambled to the door and returned to his PokéBall. Jasmine waved a cheery good bye to Amphy before they descended the stairs and returned home.

One Final Challenger

The following day, Bryan awoke promptly at 6 a.m. and wandered down to the beach. As he walked through the quiet streets, his mind again returned to the letter and his impending life change. He had been a gym leader almost half of his life and, before that, he had spent seven years training his Pokémon and winning all 16 gym badges in the Indigo Plateau. Perhaps he was scared of the mystery that lie ahead, a break from the norms of the lifestyle he had built over the past decade.

He stumbled slightly as his sandaled foot stepped off the paved sidewalk and into the sand of the beach. The ocean stretched before him for miles, disappearing over the horizon toward the mysterious Whirl Islands and, eventually, Cianwood City. Bryan loved living in a coastal city and taking walks along the beach, but, to be completely honest, he wasn’t a fan of the ocean. One of his Pokémon, however, was. Reaching inside his light jacket, he pulled out a Lure Ball and tossed it in front of him. With the customary flash of red light, Feraligatr leapt forth and stood expectantly before him. Bryan fiddled briefly with his jacket pocket before producing a Green Pokéblock and tossing it in Feraligatr’s direction. The skilled jaws snapped it quickly from the air before the excited creature turned, dropped to all fours, and ran for the light surf.

Bryan watched for a time as Feraligatr swam powerfully through the weak crests just off shore before heading for deeper water to float lazily in the rising sun. He again turned his thoughts to the prospects of his unknown future, but his mind was again tugged to the past. He’d had a chance, in April, before discovering he would lose his gym, to take a step down the path to becoming the Pokémon League Champion, but had failed on the doorstep. After Agatha had retired from the Elite Four, and with a vacancy in the Viridian City Gym following the debacle with Team Rocket two years prior, the Pokémon League Council had decided to use the yearly Pokémon League Tournament to fill their vacancies.

Tournament attendance hit a record high, as trainers from every corner of Pókran traveled to the Indigo Plateau to compete. The new champion was deserving, Bryan couldn’t deny that. Lance was a phenomenal trainer and had been champion once before, while his second-in-command, Karen, was as beautiful as she was powerful. Bruno, too, was an excellent trainer, but it was Bryan’s bad luck to face the incumbent member of the Elite Four in the quarterfinal. He had replayed their battle in his head over and over. The quarterfinal match was 3v3 and they had traded blows. Bruno’s Onix took down his Heracross after a brutal dual. Feraligatr had finished a weakened Onix before defeating a surprising choice by Bruno, Ursaring. A tired Feraligatr was no match for Machamp, however, and the bout came down to each trainer’s preferred Pokémon: Machamp vs. Ampharos. The 1v1 dual was voted the best in the tournament, with each Pokémon taking and giving ferocious blows and always rising for more. Fatigue, however, set in late in the match and Machamp outmuscled his tired Ampharos. He fingered the only other PokéBall in his jacket, apologizing silently to his old friend for failing him, but deftly withdrew his hand as he heard heavy footsteps approaching. He assumed it was Feraligatr returning from his swim and trained his eyes to the ocean, but a woman’s voice to his left was the source of the footsteps.

“The loss was not your fault or his,” she said knowingly, reading the emotion on his face.

“Elizabeth,” Bryan responded in surprise, his voice husky from the emotion of his memory, but he quickly remedied it.

He glanced over her beautiful face just once before turning his blue eyes back toward the ocean. His heart raced slightly in her presence, she had always had that effect on him, but he did his best not to show it.

“Morning,” she returned softly, letting the subject go, “I saw a challenger headed for the gym, you should head back.”

“Thank you,” Bryan replied, his voice back to normal, “but I have to wait for Feraligatr.”

He turned back to look at her once more. She was the picture of beauty to his eye, reflecting the peace and serenity of the beach in the early morning. Her long, golden hair caught the morning sun’s radiance and her kind, blue eyes mirrored the soft waves. She wore a long dress that waved around her ankles in the morning breeze, but a heavy coat was pulled around her shoulders to ward off the chill. Bryan wondered momentarily how her light, bare feet had sounded so heavily in the sand when her Phanpy peered around her left leg, snout hovering over the soft sand.

“Phanpy found a strange feather on the beach this morning,” Elizabeth started, Bryan’s gaze causing a grin to form on her pretty face, “I thought you should have it.”

She pulled a long, silver-white feather from the pocket of her heavy coat and handed it to the gym leader. Phanpy was famous in Olivine for turning up strange stones and beautiful seashells from the beach, but this feather was entirely different. It had a dull sheen in the early morning light, but was far larger than any Pokémon Bryan was aware of. In addition, the color was strange. Skarmory automatically jumped to mind, its metallic feathers were similar, but this feather was not metal and Skarmory hated the beach.

“Thank you,” he said again, carefully placing the feather in his trouser pocket.

“Do you know what it is,” she asked.

“Honestly, no,” he replied.

He might have lied to someone else, as he was supposed to be the Pokémon expert for the area, but he knew he couldn’t lie to her. She didn’t have the psychic abilities others claimed to have, but she always seemed to know what he was thinking. He suddenly realized she was lingering, expecting more.

“I will look into it. After all, I will have some free time on my hands soon.”

Elizabeth smiled sadly at him, “Jasmine said you are thinking about traveling to Kanto.”

Bryan only nodded.

“We will miss you.”

As if to emphasize who “we” meant, Phanpy nuzzled Bryan’s leg with her short trunk. The gym leader bent and scratched her long ears, evoking a happy snuffling sound. A loud slapping and huffing interrupted the moment. Feraligatr was finally returning from his morning swim and was jogging up the beach. Phanpy panicked and ducked behind Elizabeth. She may have been a beloved public figure, but she hadn’t seen a battle in her life. Knowing that, and seeing the meaningful look in his own Pokémon’s eye, Bryan pulled out his Lure Ball once more and returned Feraligatr.

“Sorry,” Bryan apologized to his lady friend, “he is very protective.”

“I recall,” Elizabeth laughed and bent to pick up Phanpy, “I do believe he took a swipe at me once because I gave you a hug.”

Bryan nodded knowingly, “should I swing by later to check on the Staryu you rescued?”

“No need, she is recovering well and should be fine to release in a couple of days. It would be nice to see you again before you leave though.”

“That I can guarantee,” Bryan promised and headed back toward the gym.

Peter was waiting for him upon arrival, two Poké Balls in hand. Without saying a word, Bryan took them and attached them to his belt alongside Ampharos. He handed Feraligatr’s ball to Peter. His disciple rushed off as Bryan headed for the gym floor. As he pushed open the two metal doors leading to the arena, he saw his opponent had already taken up his position and was boxing lightly with a Poliwrath in preparation. A few people had gathered to watch the match, but, since his other disciples had left weeks ago, the bleachers seemed decidedly empty.

Jasmine sat in the front row and waved quickly as he entered. She was still munching on a bagel and talking softly to a Magnemite. Number 7, he was guessing, but it could be another, as he had no less than twenty roaming about the place. He had taken to numbering them years ago as a way to keep some sort of order. As Bryan waited for Peter’s return, he fingered the PokéBalls at his waist. His disciple had handed him Electabuzz and Magneton, which meant 3v3 at full strength against a seasoned opponent. From this distance though, he wouldn’t have judged his opponent at much past 20.

Peter finally returned, having changed into the uniform he had to wear to judge the match. Stepping into the middle of the arena, he pulled a wireless microphone from his pocket, tapped it twice, and the slight chatter in the room ceased.

“Today’s challenger is Joseph Baron, hailing from the Kanto Region. As he possesses all eight badges of Kanto and four Johto badges, this battle will be contested in a 3v3 format at full strength. The challenger’s three Pokémon will be: Poliwrath, Hitmontop, and Heracross. The incumbent gym leader is our very own Bryan Schnieder,” a small cheer went up at the announcement, “who will be using Magneton, Electabuzz, and Ampharos.”

As Peter finished his announcement, he backed up slowly and took his position beside the arena. Poliwrath sauntered cockily out onto the floor and Bryan unhooked Ampharos’ PokéBall from his waist. Three fighting types, he thought to himself, strange decision. He opened Jolter’s ball without tossing it and his Pokémon sized up his opponent. Poliwrath was at a distinct disadvantage and, though Bryan doubted he would need more than Ampharos, he also knew not to underestimate his opponent. Joseph made the first move.

“Poliwrath, Hydro Pump.”

Poliwrath held its clenched fists forward and a powerful stream of water burst forth.

“Light Screen,” Bryan responded calmly.

Without moving, Ampharos produced a powerful Light Screen that absorbed Poliwrath’s attack. Even before the last attack faded, Joseph gave his next command and Poliwrath sprung forward. A well-aimed Dynamic Punch shattered the Light Screen, but slowed his momentum and the battling Pokémon locked arms. Without waiting for the command, Jolter released a Thunderbolt into the stationary Poliwrath, mimicking the move it had used against Tauros weeks before. The Pokémon’s wet body amplified the attack and it collapsed, unable to continue. A cheer rose from the crowd for their experienced gym leader and Peter stepped forward.

“Poliwrath is unable to battle, please choose your next Pokémon.”

“I choose Heracross,” Joseph shouted, frustration written into his face after the easy KO.

Heracross burst forth and flexed its big, bug muscles. Its small, heart-shaped horn indicated it was a female. Knowing that females, though often weaker, are faster than males, Bryan decided to take his opponent off guard.

“Ampharos, Go.”

Jolter lurched forward, barreling down on the equally-sized Heracross. Speed was not his strong suit, but the move was essentially a feint.

“Hera, Horn Attack,” Joseph commanded, and his Heracross dropped to its front claws, predictably waiting the oncoming challenger. At the last second, Berem gave the command he knew Ampharos was waiting for.

“Strength.”

Jolter stopped on a dime and, as Heracross wildly swung its horn forward, he grabbed it and lifted her from the ground. A shocked cry escaped from Heracross’ mouth as Ampharos heaved her across the large, flat arena. Before she hit the ground, however, her experienced trainer gave another command.

“Hover, Hera, and counter with Take Down.”

Just a foot above the ground, Heracross opened her wings and prevented the impending impact. Turning its surprise manuever into an advantage, she shot back across the arena. Ampharos was ready again. At her hovering height, Heracross was at the perfect level for a FirePunch, which Jolter delivered with amazing speed and accuracy to her underbelly, sending the Bug-type flying once more. The fire surging through the punch was enough to guarantee the lack of a second recovery and, when Heracross hit the floor, it too had fainted.

“Heracross is unable to battle,” repeated Peter officially once more, “please choose your final Pokémon.”

“Hitmontop,” Joseph shouted, retrieving Heracross and summoning Hitmontop in quick succession.

Again, the Pokémon sized each other up, waiting for their Masters’ first command. Bryan was cautious with Hitmontop, they could be tricky. Detect could be a game changer, but it was only effective if he attacked first, so he waited. Joseph, though, was patient. Strategies surged though Bryan’s head and he finally decided on one.

“Ampharos, Light Screen.”

Jolter threw up another Light Screen, and Joseph, reacting to Bryan’s voice, immediately shouted, “HItmontop, Detect.”

Hitmontop deftly flipped from its ungainly feet to its pointed head and prepared to dodge the incoming attack, but it never came. Frustrated and knowing Detect was likely to fail in succession, Joseph played directly into Bryan’s hands.

“Hitmontop, Rolling Kick.”

Joseph’s Pokémon surged forward, shattering the Light Screen, but, concentrated as it was on attacking, it couldn’t defend.

“Ampharos, Thunderbolt.”

Electricity surged forward once more, catching Hitmontop mid-spin. To his credit, Hitmontop maintained his Rolling Kick through Ampharos’ Thunderbolt, but, by the time he reached his stationary opponent, all momentum was lost and he collapsed at Jolter’s feet. The final attack again came without command, Ampharos knowing his Master’s wishes as few Pokémon do. Bending, he grasped Hitmontop by his small tail and flung him unceremoniously across the arena. Hitmontop landed hard at his Master’s feet with a groan and Peter stepped forward to announce the verdict.

“Hitmontop is unable to battle, Bryan Schnieder has won the match.”

The crowd erupted into cheers and Bryan waved once to his fans before turning and walked to the middle of the arena to shake his opponent’s hand. As he turned, he saw the metal doors behind him swing shut, but he thought little of it. Joseph, on the other hand, had no interest in speaking to the gym leader and stomped off in a huff to the locker room’s beneath the bleachers.

“Seems to be happening more and more these days,” Peter commented softly as his Master approached.

“Because these children are unprepared for real battles,” Bryan responded seriously, “the restrictions placed on gym leaders makes it too easy for trainers to win badges and so when they lose…,” he held a hand in the direction Joseph had left to complete his thought.

Peter nodded his understanding. As the rest of the crowd followed whoever had rushed out after the fight, Bryan handed Electabuzz’s and Magneton’s PokéBalls to Peter and turned to his approaching niece. His disciple took the hint and hurried off.

“The next time there is a battle in this arena, you will be in my place,” Bryan greeted his niece with a smile.

She returned it warmly, “but I doubt Elizabeth will come to see me fight.”

“She was here?” Bryan responded in awe, “but she hates fighting.”

“She was the last one in and the first one out,” Jasmine stated seriously, “and, as much as she dislikes fighting, she loves you more.”

Bryan scoffed at the notion, but was impressed at the maturity of the young girl he had helped raise. He had raised and loved many Pokémon in his life, but they all paled in comparison to the wonderful young woman standing before him now.

“It would never have worked,” he finally responded, placing a hand on the girl’s back and gently leading her to the kitchen. He had missed his own breakfast.

“Her husband died five years ago now,” Jasmine pushed, though Bryan couldn’t figure out why now, “and she has loved you since you were kids. You grew up on that beach together.”

It was true, he and Elizabeth had been neighbors as children and her mother, Mrs. Reed, had tutored both of them in math and writing before he had left to challenge the Pokémon League. He stuffed a bagel in his mouth to delay responding and, for seemingly the hundredth time that week, took a trip down memory lane. Long afternoons playing in the sand with Elizabeth, then laying in the shade of a huge umbrella while they read each other stories. Drinking lemonade from the stand on the beach front as they walked home, holding hands, thinking of excuses for their sunburn and whose parents would be more likely to believe them.

Things had changed when Bryan caught his first Pokémon. A Krabby he had found snapping at another kid’s toes on the beach. He started challenging every other trainer in Olivine, but Elizabeth hated the fighting and, for a time, they stopped being friends. When she discovered he was leaving, however, she cried and begged him to stay. He refused, this was his chance to become something great, but he would come back for her.

After traveling to New Bark Town and receiving Totodile, he decided he would send Krabby to be with Elizabeth, but decided against it when he remembered how it liked to snap at her toes. The solution, however, came to him in Cherrygrove City. During their annual Cherry Blossom Fesitval, he found a trainer willing to trade her young Phanpy for Krabby. Feeling the young, docile Pokémon was a better match for his best friend, he sent it instead.

Years later, when he returned to run the gym at Olivine, he found that she had married a sailor from Cianwood City and was extremely happy. His emotions on the development were confusing, even to himself, but, over time, they returned to the harmonious friendship they'd had as children.

Bryan was so engrossed in his memories, he forgot to chew the bagel he had shoved in his mouth and Jasmine began poking him in the ribs.

“Uncle B., Uncle B., are you okay?”

She poked him again and he snapped from his memory, accidentally spitting the piece of bagel across the room.

“He died in a shipping accident,” Bryan spluttered, though Jasmine hadn’t asked.

“I know,” she responded, “she told me once. I asked if you are okay.”

“Oo, yea, just, umm, hungry,” he managed, “I am going to eat, meet me in the arena at noon, we should train."

The End of an Era

The next five days passed in a blur for Bryan. He, Peter, Jasmine, and Steven trained in the mornings, while giving their Pokémon time to relax in the afternoons. Bryan continued to prepare Jasmine for her new responsibilities, though he knew she was ready. He was just keeping himself busy and out of his own head. The Saturday before the 1st of October, he finally found the courage to visit Elizabeth one last time. They shared a light lunch, a lemonade, and a beach walk reminiscent of their youth before Bryan awkwardly and somberly bid her farewell. As Bryan awoke tiredly on the 1st, intent on catching the noon ship to Vermilion with Peter, two surprises met him before his bowl of cereal.

“Peter, what are you doing here so early,” he yawned, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he made his way down the hallway to the kitchen. He also briefly wondered why Peter had come to his living quarters, but his sleep addled-mind pushed the thought aside in anticipation of breakfast.

“The Pokémon League Council is here AND Jasmine has her first challenger.”

Bryan wasn’t sure what surprised him more, but either way his eyes snapped open and his fatigue vanished. Rushing to the kitchen, he elected to bypass the cereal for a much quicker donut before hurrying back to his room. Peter waited patiently outside as Bryan traded out his old jeans and t-shirt for a pair of khakis and his official Pokémon League polo shirt. Together, he and Peter took a deep breathe and headed for the arena.

The battle had already begun when Bryan and Peter snuck in through one of the locker rooms and slid quietly onto the bleachers, joining a good size crowd that had come to see Jasmine in her first official gym battle. Three Pokémon League officials stood on the far side of the arena wearing matching black suits with the Pokémon League emblem emblazoned over the right breasts. Their arms were crossed seriously and they looked on impassively.

“Not a good place to stand,” Peter commented under his breathe, having followed Bryan’s eyes to the far side of the arena.

Bryan agreed, they were definitely in a danger zone, but he didn’t verbally respond to his young disciple, simply nodding his head. Curious who had come to challenge Jasmine on her first day, he re-focused his attention to the far end of the arena and gave an audible gasp. Peter again followed his gaze and confirmed Bryan’s surprise.

“Joseph Baron?”

“It would seem he thinks Jasmine will be the one to give up the Olivine City badge since he couldn’t defeat me,” the former gym leader commented, holding down his ire, “I think he will find she isn’t a push over.”

“He defeated Chuck,” Peter noticed, checking the board on the wall above.

Bryan shrugged. Chuck was a tough cookie and he would like to see the battle video from a purely Fighting-type battle, but he wasn’t surprised Joseph had defeated him. He looked on as the battle before him continued. Joseph had begun with Poliwrath again, while Skarmory took to the skies for Jasmine. They had traded blows several times, but Skarmory was clearly avoiding too much contact, perhaps its dislike of the water dissuading it from its full potential. Jasmine had the metal avian drop low to the ground for a Wing Attack, but Poliwrath dodged and turned to release Hydro Pump. The jet of water struck Skarmory squarely in the tail feather and knocked him into the wall.

Steven, officiating for the first time, stepped forward and raised on arm, “Skarmory is unable to battle, please choose another Pokémon.”

On the far-side of the arena, the Pokémon League officials exchanged concerned looks, but Jasmine was an experienced battler and took the KO in stride. Calling back Skarmory, her newest Pokémon, she replaced its PokéBall at her waist and chose again.

“Is that Number 7,” Peter asked incredulously at her choice.

Bryan couldn’t help but laugh, “this should be fun.”

The Magnemite hung in the air before Jasmine and Joseph spent no time renewing his assault.

“Poliwrath, Fury Attack.”

Poliwrath surged forward, fists at the ready, and began to pummel at Magnemite, but with no luck. Number 7 was a small, quick target and Poliwrath’s powerful swings couldn’t find contact. Looking for an opening, Magnemite swung around behind the bigger Pokémon and slammed its full weight into his back. Poliwrath didn’t flinch, but turned and finally found contact with the much smaller magnet. Number 7 bounced off the smooth floor once before finding its bearings. Poliwrath took no time in coming forward again.

“Magnet Bomb,” shouted Jasmine.

Number 7 responded immediately, shooting dozens of small magnets forward. Poliwrath answered by turning his Fury Attack on the projectiles. Big mistake. His fist punch hit home, causing the magnet to explode and set off a chain reaction. As Poliwrath covered his face protectively with his arms, Jasmine moved in to finish him.

“Magnemite, Thunder.”

Number 7 didn’t hesitate. A single, massive bolt of electricity surged forward from its small, metallic body and struck the beleaguered Poliwrath squarely. He convulsed for a long moment before collapsing and Steven stepped forward again to announce the KO.

“That is amazing,” Peter whispered and a murmuring from the crowd confirmed their agreement.

“He can only do it once though,” Bryan informed in the same undertones, “the next battle is likely to be short.”

The former gym leader was correct. A few stray magnets from a quick Magnet Bomb did minor damage to Heracross, but Joseph wouldn’t fall for the same trick twice and a well-aimed Arm Thrust spelled the end of Magnemite. The Pokémon League officials exchanged concerned looks again as their new gym leader fell behind and Steven stepped in a third time.

“Only Steelix left,” Peter whispered.

Bryan nodded, but he still had confidence in his prodigy. He had seen Steelix fight hundreds of times and knew its true potential. Jasmine just had to concentrate and limit mistakes. An audible gasp went up from the crowd as Steelix burst forth. The Iron Snake Pokémon averaged around 30’ in length, but Jasmine’s exceeded that by a decent amount. Even her opponent seemed awed by its sheer size, but refused to back down.

“Hera, Earthquake.”

Heracross jumped slightly into the air, hovered there a moment, then slammed her entire body, thorny forearms first, into the floor. A thick crack appeared, racing toward Steelix, an attack the monstrous Pokémon had no chance of dodging. Jasmine…smiled.

“Steelix, Terremoto.”

Steelix swung his heavy tail forward with blinding speed and struck the ground before the oncoming crack. A similar, but much larger, crevice formed, racing toward the first. When the two met, Steelix’s attack engulfed Heracross’ and continued surging on. So shocked by the turn was Joseph, he reacted too slowly and Heracross took the attack head on. It didn’t stand a chance.

“Heracross is unable to battle, please choose your final Pokémon.”

For once, a look of approval crossed the faces of the Pokémon League officials and, as Joseph prepared Hitmontop for the final bout, Peter asked the question on all the spectator’s minds.

“What was that?”

“Years ago, when Jasmine first came to live here with Onix,” Bryan answered, “I asked my friend Pablo to aid her in training. He spoke only Spanish to Onix for nearly two years and, as such, even fully evolved, Steelix responds best to that language.”

Peter shook his head in amazement and turned back to the bout. Steelix struck first with Iron Tail, but Hitmontop dodged nimbly with Detect. Turning defense into attack, it spun forward and repeatedly struck Steelix with a powerful Rolling Kick. The bout looked to be over quickly, but Jasmine’s strategy soon revealed itself.

“Steelix, Contraatacar.”

Steelix’s shiny body glowed a shimmered brown and Hitmontop flew off of him and skidded to a painful halt at her owner’s feet. Pushing herself up, she delayed Steven’s announcement and the two dueling Pokémon sized each other up.

“Counter,” translated Bryan before Peter could ask, and his disciple passed the word down the bleachers to the confused spectators.

“I didn’t know Steelix could learn Counter,” Peter commented.

“He can’t, I don’t know how she was able to teach him, but it is devastating when used properly.”

The battle before them had slowed. Both Pokémon were injured from the last engagement and awaited the fatal mistake from the other. Steelix towered over the arena, but Hitmontop’s speed was enough to make him wary. Finally, Joseph ordered the attack.

“Hitmontop, Rolling Kick.”

The diminutive fighter again surged forward, hoping to surprise the weary Steelix, but Jasmine was ready.

“Steelix, Iron Tail.”

Steelix lashed out, but another Detect saw Hitmontop launch herself into the air and away from the metallic whip. Her dodge, however, put her in range of a different attack.

“Steelix, Tritrurar.”

Steelix’s jaw snapped into action and closed around one of Hitmontop’s spinning feet. Holding the helpless Pokémon in his mouth like a dog might hold a toy, he flung Hitmontop across the arena and crashing to the floor. Hitmontop was out before she hit the ground, but Steven waited appropriately before stepping in and making the announcement.

“Hitmontop is unable to battle. Jasmine is the victor.”

The crowd erupted into far greater cheers than the previous week when Bryan had defeated the same opponent, though Joseph reacted in the same way, storming off like a pouty child. Jasmine exhaled in great relief and returned Steelix to his ball. Steven scurried over to retrieve her Pokémon, they would need treatment and he would see that they got it. Bryan stood to take the floor and congratulate her, but a small boy broke from the crowd and beat him to it. Before the boy had left, the Pokémon League officials approached her and Bryan decided it best to retreat to his room and speak with her later.

--

Bryan heard Jasmine’s light footfalls outside his door before she pushed open the door with a creak and whispered his name.

“Uncle B.?”

“Here,” he replied, standing with a backpack in hand. He had been bent over it packing the few things he would need for his journey. He was again wearing the old jeans and t-shirt he had donned that morning, accompanied by a new pair of tennis shoes and his trusty blue jacket.

“You’re leaving,” she said, a tear forming almost immediately in her eye.

“Not until I saw you one last time,” he countered, “and congratulate you on your first win. You were stupendous.”

She smiled through the tears on her face and remained modest, “I had an advantage, I saw you fight him last week.”

Bryan shook his head at the maturity of his niece and walked to the open door where she was standing. Placing his bag on the ground, he embraced her warmly and kissed her on the forehead.

“I am going to miss you so much,” she cried, wrapping her arms around his mid-section as he was several inches taller than her.

“And I, you,” he said, his voice emotional, “and if you ever need me, I am just a phone call away.”

He tapped the PokéGear on her arm and she nodded her understanding into his chest. They stood in the doorway for a long moment before a single chime from the old grandfather clock on the wall indicated the time as half past five.

“I have to go,” Bryan said softly, though he didn’t exit the embrace immediately.

Jasmine, understanding, stepped back and looked into Bryan’s blue eyes above her.

“I am ready,” she said, “be careful.”

The two walked down the stairs hand-in-hand without speaking. They passed the steel gym doors that had seen so many intense battles and pushed open the exterior doors into the salty, sea air. The sun shimmered off the ocean in the distance as it set beneath the waves and the two enjoyed the spectacle together one last time. Another long moment passed as they stood there, then Bryan stepped away and bent to kiss his niece again.

“Peter is waiting for you,” Jasmine finally said, pushing open one of the front doors to the gym.

She smiled at her uncle one last time, then stepped through the door before she began crying once more. Bryan held back the tears as he turned from his beloved gym. He would miss his niece dearly, but he needed to do this. He had said his farewells to Amphy and Elizabeth, so, with resolve and determination, he walked briskly toward the port on the edge of town. Twirling two Poké Balls slowly in his hand, he had decided he would only take Feraligatr and Ampharos with him, his thoughts turned to the future.

The stroll to the port wasn’t far. Olivine wasn’t a large city. As he approached, Peter waved to him from a bench on the dock and he increased his pace. They heartily shook hands and Peter opened his mouth to greet his Master, but stopped short and pointed just over Bryan’s shoulder. Turning, Bryan saw Elizabeth’s blonde hair reflecting the setting sun as she approached him them from the beach.

“I have both tickets,” Peter said so only Bryan could hear, “take your time.”

Peter walked down the dock toward the ship and Bryan took a deep breathe, contemplating what to say, but Elizabeth beat him to it.

“I wanted to see you again before you left.”

Bryan let out a long breathe as he looked into his childhood friend’s eyes and noticed she was near to tears as well. He hadn’t expected leaving would be so hard, but now, as he stood on the doorway to the future looking back, he realized how much he loved this town and its people. Two in particular.

“I will miss you,” he finally said, and one of the tears Elizabeth had tried so hard to suppress broke loose and ran down her cheek.

Bryan leaned in to wipe the tear from her cheek and she took the moment to embrace him tightly. He returned the embrace, mind racing, but the whistle from the ferry sounded and he knew time was short.

“I will miss you too,” she said, a pushed a small object into his hand.

He looked down to see a very special seashell necklace. The seashell was the first one Phanpy had found after Bryan had sent it to her years ago. She had sent him the seashell as a thank you for the gift and he had later created a necklace from it and gave it to her for her birthday. The braided rope from which the shell hung was made of nine individual hairs braided together, one from each tail of a Ninetales. She had worn the necklace for years and he couldn’t believe she was giving it to him.

“I can’t…,” he started, but she interrupted him by leaning in and kissing him on the cheek.

The whistle sounded a second time and Peter called down the dock.

“Go,” she said.

He nodded once, dumbfounded. Then, finding his courage, he stole a kiss of his own and sprinted down the dock to the boat.

--

The trip to Vermilion City from Olivine City was a short one. Years ago, it had been nearly impossible to make the trip from Kanto to Johto, but with the installation of the Magnet Train and the advancements in high-speed ships, Kanto was a few hour trip away at most. Peter and Bryan talked quietly over the small dinner they had packed for the trip or stared out the windows at the marvels of the ocean. Once the lights of Olivine disappeared, no artificial light was seen, but the Pokémon of the sea came out in force. Staryu and Starmie could be seen floating near the surface, their red cores giving the sea an eerie light. Further on, the Starfish Pokémon gave way to the lights of Chinchou and Lanturn. As they turned north into the Bay of Southern Kanto, Tentacool and Tentacruel could be seen communicating by flashing the red orbs on their heads. Later, they passed under the elevated bike paths of Route 17 and a few Noctowl could be spotted flying overhead, but eventually the lights of Vermilion appeared in the distance and the Pokémon vanished into the night.

As the ship gave its last push of speed before slowing to dock, Bryan and Peter headed for the deck and peered over the side into the dark oceans of Kanto. Just off the port side, racing the speeding ship, was a school of Horsea. When the ship finally slowed, the school overtook them and disappeared into the shallower waters of the bay. The ship’s horn blew twice as the it finally docked and the two displaced Johto-jins made their way down the long dock and into the city. Bryan had been to Vermilion a few times, but it had been decades ago, and it was Peter's first time in Kanto. As they strolled off the wooden dock, they turned west toward the city.

The first building they happened upon once entering the city proper was the PokéMart and Bryan indicated to Peter that he wished to step inside. The PokéMart was furnished in the same fashion as every mart in Johto and Bryan made his way immediately to the counter. He momentarily contemplated removing his jacket because the temperature in the store was near unbearable, but, when he reached the counter, he discovered both the purpose and the source of the heat. A tiny old woman was sitting behind the counter half-asleep and a quick glance at his PokéGear reminded Bryan that it was nearly 11:00 p.m. The old woman was so short that only her frizzy black hair bun could be seen over the counter. Laying beside her, the flames on its back blazing to keep the old woman warm, was a snoozing Cyndaquil. Bryan chuckled to himself and gently cleared his voice to wake the lady. Despite his gentleness, the woman jumped and rattled her chair, causing Cyndaquil to wake and assume a defensive position. Glancing up and seeing a customer, the woman comforted Cyndaquil and turned to Bryan.

“Boat just get in?” she asked.

“Indeed,” Bryan answered shortly, looking around for Peter as the vendor rubbed the sleep from her eyes. He was checking out the medicines on the far wall and letting his Master take care of his business.

“How can I help you,” the woman asked after a moment, hiding a yawn.

“Do you have a map of the area,” Bryan asked politely.

Without speaking, the elderly saleswoman opened a drawer behind the counter and splayed several maps before Bryan. They read: Metropolitan Kanto (Cerulean, Vermilion, Lavender, Celadon, and Saffron), Western Kanto (Pallet, Viridian, Pewter, and Cinnabar Island), Southern Kanto (Fuschia City, Seafoam Islands, and connecting Routes), Pokémon Trainer’s Map (Rock Tunnel, Mt. Moon, Diglett’s Cave, Viridian Forest). There was also an Advanced Trainer’s Map with Victory Road included and several individual route maps.

“Nothing with all of Kanto,” Bryan queried, trying to hide his disappointment.

“Sorry,” the woman said, shaking her head, “sold out. Every trainer coming off the boat wants one.”

Bryan nodded his understanding and turned to tell Peter they were leaving, but the woman had another thought, “Lt. Surge down at the Pokémon Gym might have one.”

“Thank you,” replied Bryan kindly, smiling warmly at her, “how might we find the gym?”

“Straight down the street you came in on,” she said, indicating with her finger, “all the way on the far side of town. It is surrounded on three sides by the bay.”

Bryan smiled his thanks a second time and picked up the Pokémon Trainer’s Map from the counter, “I will take this just in case.”

“On the house,” the woman replied, returning to her chair, “because I am too tired to ring it up.”

“Have a nice evening,” Bryan responded, the smile on his face more genuine.

Stowing the map in his backpack, he walked quietly to the back of the store, spoke softly to Peter, and headed for the exit. As they passed the front counter, the elderly saleswoman was snoring gently and Bryan silently removed the money he owed her from his pocket and laid it discretely on the counter. If she remembered him in the morning, she could ring it up then.

By the time they reached the Vermilion City Gym, it was the only building in town that still had lights shining in the windows.

“It is nearly midnight,” noticed Peter, “maybe we should stay at the Pokémon Center this evening and come back in the morning.”

“A good leader would let us stay here,” Bryan disagreed, “we will be fine.”

The gym was twice the size of Bryan’s in Olivine City and, as they pushed open the opaque glass door, they were met with quite the spectacle. A large grid of some kind was laid out on the floor and, at random intervals, an electric charge would run through it, causing it to glow in variety of colors. Behind the grid was a gate of pure electricity, sparking dangerously each time a surge ran through the grid. Bryan and Peter exchanged a look, but, before they could speak, they were interrupted by a tall, well-built man in a military uniform.

“Are you challengers,” he asked sternly.

“No,” responded Bryan, stepping forward and extending a hand, “we are new in town and wished to speak with the Gym Leader.”

The soldier took the proffered hand and nearly broke Bryan’s fingers in the resulting shake. After he released Bryan’s now-injured hand, he motioned for them to follow. He led them away from the grid and the electric gate. Approaching a wooden door, he knocked twice and a deep, stern voice from the opposite side told them to enter.

“Two men to see you, Lieutenant,” the soldier said, indicating Bryan and Peter.

“Thank you, Gregory,” Lt. Surge intoned from behind the desk, “that will be all.”

Gregory saluted and left the office.

“How can I help you boys,” continued the gym leader, his short-cut, blonde hair and menacing eyes intimidating even the seasoned trainers, “it is a bit late to be ambling about town.”

“We are from Johto,” Bryan said, finding his nerve, he had met Lt. Surge once before, but he had been a younger, more cocky trainer and didn’t recall the man seeming so…scary.

“We need a place to stay for the evening and my associate, who is already an accomplished trainer, wishes to study under you.”

Peter threw Bryan a confused look, which the former gym leader fully understood. His disciple thought they were both staying, but Bryan had other plans. Before Peter could question the comment aloud, Lt. Surge responded.

“I will have someone pull some cots out for you this evening and we are always looking for new trainers.”

He stood and looked over Peter thoroughly, “despite your experience, you will have to work your way up the ranks, understood?”

Peter nodded once and swallowed hard.

“What Pokémon do you have with you?”

“Raichu and Magnemite,” Peter responded.

“Excellent choices,” commented the lieutenant, “but remember, once you officially become a trainer here, you will have to refer to me as sir, understood?”

“Yes, sir” Peter answered, in a strange tone.

“Good,” continued Surge, ignoring the tone, “Gregory will show you to your bunks.”

Bryan and Peter turned and followed Gregory out the door again. He must have been standing outside the door and heard his Master’s orders through it. It wasn’t difficult to imagine that the former military man’s voice would travel. Gregory led them to a small room on the first floor with several cots stacked beside a window overlooking the sea. He pulled two down, arranged them on the floor, and turned to leave.

“Bathroom is through that door,” he said as an afterthought, indicating another door at the far end on the room. Bryan and Peter sat wearily on the cots and sighed simultaneously.

“Are you sure you want to stay here,” Bryan asked.

“Yes, if only to get my feet on the ground,” Peter answered confidently, “Lt. Surge sounds tough, but I have trained under you for years, I have confidence I can handle it.”

Bryan patted him on the shoulder, taking the compliment with a deep gratitude. Peter stretched out and laid down on his cot, but his Master stood and walked to the window, looking out over the calm waves of the bay. In the distance, from the direction of the Seafoam Islands, Bryan saw the moonlight reflecting off something silvery high in the sky. He remembered the feather in his pocket and his mind began to wonder.

“Why aren’t you staying,” Peter said suddenly, interrupting Bryan’s thoughts.

“I just need to get out of a gym, see the world again,” Bryan responded truthfully, “I forgot how amazing the world can be.”

Peter didn’t respond, but laid his head back on the cot and his breathing soon steadied to indicate he had fallen asleep. Bryan needed some rest too, he knew tomorrow would be long, but before he returned to his cot, he moved silently to the bathroom at the end of the room. He needed to make a phone call and he didn’t want to wake his former apprentice.

A New Challenge

The next morning, Bryan and Peter were awoken by the sound of a loud siren resonating through the gym. Peter jumped at the noise and landed painfully on the ground, but Bryan simply stuck his fingers in his ears until the siren died down. Glancing at his watch, he noticed it was just after 8:00 a.m. and he needed be on his way. Aiding Peter to his feet, they gathered their things and headed to the gym’s entrance. Apparently, a challenge was about to begin because there was a flurry of activity about the gym and the two had to stick to the exterior wall to avoid being trampled. As they approached the front doors, they saw a young boy with a Sandshrew standing before the grid on the floor.

“What is going on,” Bryan heard Peter ask one of the bystanders that had gathered by the doors.

“The boy has issued a challenge, but, before he can face Lt. Surge, he must pass a test,” the stranger explained, “each of the grid points hides a switch and Sandshrew must find the correct switches to de-activate the gate and get to the gym leader.”

“Interesting,” Peter voiced his opinion, but Bryan scoffed.

“More tricks and ridiculousness by the league,” he commented, pushing open the doors and shutting out of the hubbub that was growing inside.

Peter followed.

“Thank you for everything you have done for me, Master,” he said, extending his hand, “I will forever be indebted to you.”

“I am no longer your Master, Peter,” Bryan responded seriously, “and thank you for sticking with me until the end.”

They shook hands briefly and exchanged farewells before Bryan turned and headed back in the direction of the port. He stopped once again at the PokéMart to pick up a Max Repel, then continued to Route 11 and Diglett’s Cave. Before entering the cave, Bryan stopped and sprayed himself thoroughly with the Max Repel. The Diglett in the cave were weak and Feraligatr was more than a match for them, but he didn’t want to deal with the constant headache. He passed through Diglett’s Cave without incident and then turned south toward Viridian. He had made plans the night before to meet a friend in Pewter, but it would take him a couple of days to arrive and Bryan had other things to handle first. He had intended to pass directly through Viridian City and on to Pallet Town, but a large sign posted just inside the city limits caught his eye.

TRAINER HOUSE, NOW OPEN. TEST YOUR SKILLS IN OPEN BATTLE AGAINST THE BEST IN KANTO.

Intrigued, the former gym leader altered his course and followed the big red arrow on the sign. The Trainer House wasn’t hard to find and, as he stepped inside, a friendly voice greeted him.

“Welcome to the Trainer House,” a thin, blonde girl chimed, “how may we help you?”

“I would like to battle,” Bryan answered, “how does it work?”

“Just head down those stairs,” she said, pointing to the far corner of the room, “the Battle Master will register you.”

Bryan thanked her and skirted a couple of children playing with PokéDolls in the middle of the room, giggling wildly. The basement was set up with a simple arena design and, at the base of the stairs, the Battle Master sat behind a window doing a crossword puzzle. He registered Bryan for the next battle and informed him it would begin shortly and to wait on the challenger side of the arena. Bryan did as he was told and only had to wait a brief moment before his opponent appeared and a voice that was clearly the Battle Master rang over a loud speaker.

“This match with pit the current Trainer House Champion, Oliver King, against a challenger from Johto, Bryan Schneider.”

There was mild applause from the few people who had ventured down from upstairs and the Battle Master, acting as referee over his loud speaker, began the battle. He announced it as standard 3v3 without limitation, which mildly concerned Bryan because he had only two Pokémon. His concern, however, was unwarranted.

Oliver called out Weezing to start the match and, after coating the arena in a Smokescreen, ordered a Take Down. Jolter was patient and waited for Weezing to emerge from the smoke before landing a well-timed FirePunch. As Weezing recovered, Jolter finished him with Thunderbolt, much to the surprise of the crowd. Pokémon number two was Blastoise. He charged immediately at Ampharos with Skull Bash, but Jolter dodged the rush and, as the large turtle skidded to a stop, Jolter latched on to one of his water cannons and used Strength to fling him across the room. He landed hard, but pushed himself to his feet before firing off a Hydro Pump. Ampharos countered with another Thunderbolt, which traveled up the oncoming water stream and threw Blastoise backwards for another KO. Ampharos barely broke a sweat with the final battle either. The opposing Pokémon opened with a powerful Sludge Bomb, which was block by Light Screen. The ensuing Razor Leaf cut through the Light Screen, but Thunderbolt wilted the Razor Leaf in mid-air. As Victreebel recovered from consecutive attacks, Jolter charged forward. A weak Vine Whip landed on the charging Ampharos, but it did little to stop the well-aimed FirePunch and the end of the match.

A shocked silence filled the arena instead of applause and Bryan, disappointed with the quality of opposition, called Ampharos back and headed for the exit. The Battle Master called after him as he ascended the stairs, but he ignored the lazy man. The two children were the only people left on the upper floor and Bryan took the opportunity to disappear without being accosted. He knew the walk from Viridian City to Pallet Town would take a couple of hours and it was already past mid-day. Pulling an energy bar from his bag, he zipped his old jacket against the chill in the air and headed south.

The city soon gave way to a clearly marked dirt path lined with tall trees. Most of the trees were decorated in stunning orange and gold leaves as the autumn approached, while the grass patches near the sides of the road were tall, but well-kept. He saw no other people and was so absorbed in his own thoughts that he failed to see the Pidgey flying low in front of him until it hit him directly in the stomach. Although the force of the blow wasn’t great, the surprise knocked him backwards several steps. Looking up, he saw the Pidgey jump to its feet, unharmed, and stare up at him. He laughed at the silly bird before picking it gently from the ground and walking to the nearest tree. Holding his hand up, he allowed the Pidgey to jump to the lowest branch.

It wasn’t long before a few red roofs appeared over the colorful trees, but for some reason Bryan couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being followed. Turning back, he saw nothing. As he entered the quaint town, he easily identified the Pokémon Lab, but again felt eyes on him. Again he turned back. Again, he saw nothing. The roads of Pallet Town were dirt, like the ones he had taken down Route 1, but better maintained and easier to follow. A woman in a large hat was tending the garden in front of her house with aid from a Mr. Mime, looking somewhat comical in a pink and green apron. They both smiled warmly and waved as he passed. He returned the greeting.

When he reached the door to the main building of the Pokémon Lab, he again suspiciously glanced about, unable to shake the feeling of being followed. Again, seeing nothing, he pulled open the door and walked inside. A soft thud and a sad chirp sounded from behind him, but he was too distracted by the immensity of the lab to pay much attention.

“Professor Samuel Oak?” he asked one of the dozen men in lab coats.

The man pointed to an elderly, but healthy-looking man with gray hair. Bryan thanked him and moved forward. The Professor was discussing an old piece of vellum with one of his assistants and Bryan waited patiently until he finished. When the assistant moved away, taking the vellum with him, Oak turned his attention to his visitor.

“How may I help you?” he asked politely.

“I would like to register for the Pokémon League Challenge,” Bryan responded seriously.

Professor Oak sized him up curiously, “you are quite a bit older than most of the people I register, but I would be glad to get you started. Do you have any Pokémon to claim?

“Just…” Bryan was cut off by a scream from the front door.

One of the professor’s assistants had opened the door and immediately jumped out of the way. A blur of feathers shot through the opening and landed at Bryan’s feet. It somersaulted twice, then hopped happily to its feet and chirped at Bryan. For the second time that day, Bryan bent and scooped up the Pidgey.

“I only have Ampharos and Feraligatr with me,” he finished the answer to the Professor’s previous question.

“And this little rocket,” Professor Oak chuckled.

Bryan shrugged his shoulder, “I suppose. The little guy has been following me all day. I think he tried to enter with me, but missed the first time.”

“Fiery little thing,” Oak commented, “I will need to see your Pokémon. Do you have a PokéBall for this one?”

Bryan shook his head and handed his PokéBalls to the Professor, who walked over to a computer on the back wall.

“Would you like to register a nickname for Pidgey,” he called over his shoulder.

Normally, Bryan didn’t nickname his Pokémon, he thought it was silly, even though Ampharos was unofficially called Jolter. He was about to tell the Professor 'no' when he had a thought.

“I like Rocket,” he said with a small laugh.

Oak laughed lightly as well and turned back to the computer. He spent several minutes inputting information, walked to a printer in the corner of the room and returned. Holding out his hand, he presented Bryan with a small card.

“This is your official Pokémon League Challenge Trainer Card. It has your name and your official number on it,” he indicated to both on the front, “on the back, each Gym Leader you defeat with stamp the card to indicate you defeated them. This is done in conjunction with the awarding of a badge, thus, in the event that one is lost, you have the other.”

“That is a good system,” Bryan commented thoughtfully, “one they should adopt in Johto.”

“They will soon enough,” the Professor added, “I also have some bad news.”

“Yes?”

“Both your Ampharos and Feraligatr are at too high of a level to challenge the first few gyms in Kanto, you will have to leave them with me until you have defeated six gyms.”

Bryan hung his head at the thought of losing either Pokémon, even for a short time, but he understood the rules. As a Level 1 Trainer in Kanto, the gym leaders would be forced to use weaker Pokémon as well and it would be unfair to use either Ampharos or Feraligatr.

“Can I send them home?” he finally asked.

“Of course,” Oak responded, “where?”

“Olivine City,” Bryan answered, “can I use your phone?”

Professor Oak nodded and indicated that it was in the corner opposite the printer. Bryan made his way to the corner and dialed the Olivine City Gym. Steven answered, but he left momentarily and returned with Jasmine. His niece was excited to see him and told him how the young boy she had spoken to the day before had decided to stay and train with her. Bryan congratulated her on her success and explained the situation. She was sad that he had to part with his Pokémon, but promised to take good care of them and take Ampharos to see Amphy everyday. Another call came into the gym and they wished each other farewell after promising to speak again soon.

“Can you have them sent to the Olivine City Gym, please?” Bryan requested upon returning to the professor.

“It would be my pleasure,” Professor Oak said genuinely, “how do you know Jasmine?”

“She is my niece,” Bryan answered simply.

“I knew your name sounded familiar,” Professor Oak exclaimed after thinking a moment, “you were the gym leader at Olivine City.”

“I was, but no more,” Bryan said seriously, “I would appreciate if not too many people knew.”

“Understandable,” the Professor admitted, “also, we have one more matter to attend. Since you no longer have your other Pokémon, would you like a Pokémon from here at the lab?”

“Do you have an Electric-types?” Bryan asked excited.

“Unfortunately, Level 1 Trainers are only offered Charmander, Bulbasaur, or Squirtle,” Oak answered.

“No thank you then,” Bryan finished, “Rocket and I will be good for now.”

“Fair enough,” Professor Oak said, understanding, “it is getting late, if you need a place to stay for the night, I have plenty of rooms here at the lab.”

Bryan again rejected the offer, “I think I will head back north, I am meeting someone in Pewter City in a couple days.”

The Professor wished him good luck and left him with a warning, “My grandson recently took control of the gym at Viridian. Even if he is there when you reach Viridian, he won’t except challenges from anyone under Level 3.”

Bryan nodded his understanding and headed for the door. Pidgey, still sitting on his hand, jumped to his shoulder for a better view and more comfortable ride.

“Come on, Rocket,” Bryan whispered as he stepped out into the cool, early evening air, “this is going to be fun.”

Rocket chirped his agreement and the two disappeared into the growing night and back up Route 1.

Some Kid

Bryan spent the night sleeping under the stars and trees off of Route 1, backpack under his head as a pillow and Rocket snoozing peacefully on his chest. He woke early the next morning and finished the short trek to Viridian City. Already he was remembering the excitement of his youth, traveling with his Pokémon, sleeping under the stars, battling and catching new Pokémon. As the thought crossed his mind, he veered east and toward the PokéMart to pick up some PokéBalls.

As he headed for the edge of town, he heard a strange voice from behind him and he turned to see a young boy sprinting to catch him.

“Hey Mister, Hey Mister,” he yelled, his changing voice in throes of adolescence, “is that your Pidgey?”

Bryan indicated that it was, then held out his finger and Rocket hopped down his arm, “do you want to pet him?”

“No,” said the boy surprisingly, turning up his nose, “I want to battle him.”

Bryan was taken aback. The normal age for kids going out on adventures was 10 and this kid was probably 12 or so, but to be so bold in a challenge, especially to someone of Bryan’s age…wow. The former gym leader contemplated it for a moment, then looked down at the boy.

“Only if Pidgey wants to,” he decided, and Pidgey chirped his desire to do so.

“Awesome,” the boy nearly shouted, “there is a good place to battle beside the Pokémon Center.”

Bryan followed the excited boy back down the paved road to a rectangular patch of grass near the Pokémon Center. The area was clearly used by the local kids as an arena, and for good reason.

“Rules,” the boy shouted across the make-shift arena.

“I only have Pidgey,” Bryan returned, using his normal voice and knowing it would carry, “but you can use as many Pokémon as you want.”

“Ok,” the boy continued to shout, “my name is Patrick, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, Patrick,” Bryan couldn’t help but smile at the boy’s enthusiasm, “I am Bryan.”

A wide smile cut across the boy’s face as well and he lifted up his overly large t-shirt to reach the PokéBalls at his waist. Bryan quickly noticed that he had six and perhaps he had been rash in accepting what was about to be a 6v1 match, but he was confident in his abilities, even if he had never battled with Rocket.

“I choose Rattata,” Patrick shouted, still not realizing he didn’t need to be so loud.

Bryan relaxed inwardly seeing the small rat and hoping the rest of his Pokémon were similar. Nodding to Rocket, Pidgey hopped forward and matched his opponent.

“Rattata, Quick Attack.”

Rattata zoomed across the grass at high speed and Bryan was impressed at the training of the small rodent, but he maintained his composure.

“Rocket, Up.”

Pidgey responded immediately and moved out of the way of Rattata’s attack.

“Rocket?” Patrick murmured to himself, though his voice carried across the arena, “that’s so cool.”

The kid’s enthusiasm was contagious, but Bryan concentrated on the battle.

“Rocket, Quick Attack.”

Pidgey dived and leveled off, hitting Rattata square with a strong attack. Even Bryan was surprised with the speed at which Pidgey attacked, but, as in the lab, he had some trouble stopping. Thankfully, most of his momentum was halted by the impact with Ratatta and he didn’t crash to the ground. Patrick tried to take advantage in the momentary loss of balance.

“Rattata, Bite.”

“Rocket, Gust,” Bryan countered.

It was a dangerous gambit, as Pidgey had his back to the attacking Rattata, but, with a beautiful aerial flip, Pidgey dodged the attack and positioned himself perfectly for the counter. Gust hit Rattata mid-air, forcing him to the ground and scoring the KO.

“Wow,” Patrick finally lowered his voice to a normal key, “that was an amazing move.”

Bryan had to agree. He had gotten lucky that Rocket had chosen him. The small bird was lightning quick and an amazing flyer. As he admired his own Pokémon, Patrick chose his second.

“Squirtle, Go.”

‘Level 1 Trainers are only offered Charmander, Bulbasaur, or Squirtle,’ Professor Oak’s voice echoed in Bryan’s head as he observed the new Pokémon. So he was just a new trainer, but one with promise.

“Squirtle, Water Gun,” Patrick said, intent on taking the upper hand.

“Rocket, Evade.”

Pidgey dove under the first jet of water and spun cleverly so the second shot just under his wing. Detect is a highly popular move in Johto right now, Bryan thought to himself, but it is nothing compared to the natural skill and speed of some Pokémon. Even as he thought this, Squirtle’s third blast caught a glancing blow to Pidgey’s talon. He lost some altitude, but stayed in the air. Bryan tried to turn it into an advantage.

“Rocket, Quick Attack.”

Pidgey dropped into its lightning quick dive, but Patrick was ready for it.

“Squirtle, Withdraw.”

The tiny turtle quickly retreated into his shell and Bryan realized that the kid had baited him.

“ROCKET, PULL UP,” he shouted, but it was too late.

As fast as Pidgey was, he needed to work on his brakes. He collided full speed with the hard shell and bounced off. Squirtle popped back out of his shell, ready to attack, but Patrick respectfully waited. Pidgey shook his head a couple times, but was determined to continue and returned to the air. Bryan didn’t know what surprised him more: Pidgey’s strength, Squirtle’s training, or this young boy’s poise.

“Squirtle, Tackle-Rocket, Sand Attack,” the two trainers shouted almost simultaneously.

Pidgey reacted more quickly than Squirtle and the tiny turtle was unable to locate his opponent to launch an attack. In the intervening seconds, Bryan racked his mind for a strategy. Quick Attack would result in another catastrophe, while Gust might land a blow, but it would also clear the sand. The delay, however short, was enough for Patrick to form his plan.

“Squirtle, Water Gun, 1-2-3.”

Three jets of water shot out of the sand cloud in quick succession. The first missed high, but startled Pidgey, who took the second full in the chest and fell. The third caught Pidgey as he fell and Bryan knew it was over. He ran forward to catch Rocket before he hit the ground. Patrick recalled Squirtle and walked over to where Bryan stood holding Rocket.

“You’re really good, Bryan,” he said, his manner professional, very different from the excitement he had showed during battle, “I didn’t even get to use Scyther.”

“Scyther,” Bryan questioned, wondering who this kid was and how he had the fortune, or misfortune, of running into him.

“Yea, Scyther,” Patrick responded, not fully understanding the comment, “big green bug, evolves into Scizor. He is my favorite.”

Bryan’s confusion only got deeper as the boy spoke and he looked him over again. He would definitely put his age at around 12, though he was short for the age. He was small in general, with very happy features and glittering blue eyes beneath a veritable mop of brown hair. His shorts and t-shirt, though clean, were too big for him and his tennis shoes were well-loved. He carried an official trainer’s backpack, much like his own, but nothing seemed overly extraordinary about the child. Except his manner and abilities.

In the absence of Bryan speaking, Patrick continued on, “Here, take a Potion,” he said, proffering one from his bag.

“No, Thank you,” Bryan finally responded, “I will head to the Pokémon Center.”

“Suit yourself,” the boy said, “maybe we will meet again one day and I will get to use my Scyther.”

“Perhaps,” Bryan agreed.

Taking his responses as a sign that the battle was over, Patrick practically skipped away toward the northern end of town. ‘Wow,’ Bryan muttered to himself, ‘some kid.’
 
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Grache and Buterfree
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Grache and Butterfree

After swinging by the Pokémon Center to get some treatment for Rocket, Bryan again headed north, intent to conquer Route 2 and get to Viridian Forest before the end of the day. Pidgey seemed more subdued after the loss, but he had fought well and Bryan couldn’t be more proud. He showed his appreciation by feeding Rocket some Berries he had been given by the nurse at the Pokémon Center.

As it approached mid-day, the sun reached it zenith and Bryan loosened his jacket in the warming air. Despite the time of day, he noticed a strangely dressed man asleep on a bench beside the path leading out of town. Bryan paid him little attention until he screamed loudly and jumped off the bench. Concerned, Rocket took to the air. The man, whose hair was white but whose face looked young, ran down the street after Bryan.

“Take it, Take it,” he yelled in a high voice, shoving an object into Bryan’s hand, “I can’t bear it anymore.”

Before Bryan could react or reject the item, the strange man turned and ran the opposite direction.

What a weird day
, Bryan thought to himself looking over the object the man had given him.

It was a small box and inside was a disc. Written on the disc, in sloppy letters, it said: TM 42-Dream Eater. Closing the box, he slipped into one of the side pockets of his backpack on continued on.

He finished the trek from Viridian City to Viridian Forest before nightfall. He had been challenged by a couple Youngsters along the way, but Rocket easily dispatched their weak Caterpie, Rattata, and Weedle. The early evening was even darker under the dense canopy of trees, but the path was clearly marked and Bryan made good progress. Rocket either sat on his shoulder or flew ahead and, after about an hour, they reached an intersection. Pulling the map he had bought in Vermilion from his bag, Bryan looked over it carefully. To the right was the path to Pewter City and, to the left, the path only continued for a short way before ending. Naturally, Bryan went left.

The path ended more quickly than he anticipated and he had to maneuver his way carefully past thorny bushes and large trees. Rocket flew higher in the trees, helping him find the safest path, but it was slow going. The moon rose quickly over the thick foliage, but the light that filtered down was minimal and Bryan knew he would have to stop soon and call it a night. Just as he began to look for a safe place to sleep, Rocket chirped twice in the trees above and drew his attention east. Through the thick trees and underbrush, Bryan could make out a small fire. Pushing his way forward, cutting both his hands, he finally emerged in a clearing. The small fire sat in the center of the clearing, unattended, and Bryan was wary in his approach. Pidgey flitted back down to his shoulder and, after about three steps, a voice rang out across the glade.

“You lost the path quite some time ago.”

Bryan was half-expecting the voice, but it still startled him and he jumped slightly.

“Sorry for the spook,” continued the voice, and its owner scooted to the end of the tree branch he was sitting on and dropped to the ground, “I don’t get visitors out here too often, especially this late in the year.”

“You live here,” Bryan asked, incredulously.

“More or less,” the man returned, extending a dirt-caked hand in greeting, “my name is Grache.”

“Bryan,” the confused trainer answered, wondering how much stranger his day could get as he shook the dirty hand.

“Alone,” he queried.

“Of course not,” Grache laughed, his voice was deep, but pleasant, “Venusaur, Vileplume, and Bellossom keep me company.”

As he said their names, the Pokémon stepped from the bushes where they had been hiding and greeted them in their own fashions.

Grache, assuming he knew the reason for Bryan’s visit, pointed to the south, “the Beedrill nest is in that direction, but I would take some rest before heading out, they can be nasty in the evening.”

“I am more interested in Butterfree than Beedrill,” Bryan corrected, “but if you don’t mind, I was looking for a place to get some rest.”

“By all means,” Grache welcomed, “I don’t own the forest. Besides, I love my girls,” he indicated his Pokémon, “but they aren’t the best conversationalists.”

Bryan doubted he was the best conversationalist either, but since he felt like a guest in this man’s home, evening if it was just a forest clearing, he started the conversation.

“How did you end up way out here,” he asked, removing his backpack and taking a place near the fire.

“Long story,” Grache countered, sitting opposite Bryan and extending his hand toward Pidgey. Rocket flitted across the fire to the wild man’s hand and allowed Grache to stroke his neck.

“I used to live in Celadon City, to the east, and train at the Celadon Gym. I specialize in Grass-types. The former gym leader was a man named Ramos, but the Pokémon League re-located him to a region called Kalos and replaced him with Erika. She is nice girl, but she made a lot of changes at the gym, including only allowing girls to train there.”

“So you moved into Viridian Forest,” Bryan questioned.

“Not immediately,” he answered, “I spent some time petitioning the League, but they denied me, so I left Celadon and decided to test my skills. I traveled to Pallet Town and got my Bulbasaur,” he patted Venusaur affectionately on the head as he spoke, “and took the Pokémon League Challenge.”

“Really,” Bryan interjected, surprised, “what year?”

“That would have been 1990,” Grache replied, scratching his head as he thought, “though I didn’t finish. Brock had just taken his position in Petwer and was easy pickings with my Grass-types, while Misty's older sisters fell pretty quickly in Cerulean as well. Sabrina, however, was too much for me, so I tried my luck in Celadon instead, I fared no better against Erika. I retired for a while, unsure of my abilities at that point, but got my confidence back by beating the former Vermillion City leader. I think his name was Charlie.

Grache took a breath to think and Bryan contemplated asked him an obvious question, "if you were struggling, why didn't you decide to train other types of Pokémon."

The crazy wild man shrugged, "Not sure really, I have just always loved my Grass-types, never saw a reason to train any Pokémon I don't love. Anyway, I figured I would build up my strength by traveling south before returning to finish Erika and Sabrina. It never happened though. I lost to Koga once and repeatedly to Blaine and decided I had had enough of battling and retired here. End of story."

Bryan laughed aloud, “Good old Blaine, I always liked that guy. And I remember Ramos too, I beat him in ’80 when I took my first challenge.”

“You must have been young,” Grache observed.

“Twelve,” Bryan confirmed, “I left home at 10 and beat all the Johto gyms before I came here and did the same.”

“Amazing,” the likable hermit breathed, “and now you are doing it again?”

Bryan confirmed that he was, explaining that, since he was originally registered in Johto, he could do so again by registering in Kanto. Even though both were organized by the Indigo Plateau Pokémon League, they were considered separate in some ways. The two spent several hours telling stories of their old adventures before dowsing the fire and turning in for the night. Some time after the conversation had ended, both lay on their backs, staring at the passing stars, and remembering the freedom and joys of youth.

Grache was nowhere to be seen when the sunlight sneaking through the branches woke Bryan the next morning. The former gym leader wasn’t surprised or disappointed, he liked the man and knew how to contact him if he wanted, so he pushed himself up from the soft grass and headed north. His new friend had mentioned that Butterfree could sometimes be found guarding the nesting grounds of the Caterpie in the northern reaches of the forest, so he marched in that that direction. It wasn’t long before Rocket chirped a warning call and dove back into the trees in front of Bryan.

Hovering before the protective Pidgey were half a dozen Butterfree, their wings flapping fiercely in the morning breeze, clearing guarding a massive tree that rose up behind them. Hanging from some of the lower branches were numerous Metapod and more than one Caterpie scampered out of sight as Bryan gingerly approached. As he pushed through dense underbrush nearer the tree, the lead Butterfree released a shrill warning and sent a Gust in his direction. Rocket defended his Master with his own Gust and the Butterfree fluttered forward, answering the unspoken challenge.

Without warning, Butterfree unleashed a much more powerful Gust than previously and Rocket shot upward, without being told, to avoid the attack. Bryan threw his arms up to shield himself from the dust and branches kicked up by the attack and was blown backwards and into a bush. His Master unable to concentrate, Rocket took matters into his own wings. From his vantage point, a Quick Attack was imminent and struck Butterfree hard in the side, but the agile bug recovered quickly and countered with a powder attack.

From Bryan's viewpoint behind the bush he had fallen into, the powder appeared to have a green tinge, indicating it was Sleep Powder. Reacting to the danger before Bryan could give a command, Rocket used Gust to re-direct the powder into the massive tree, causing numerous Caterpie to fall from its branches. Enraged by the damage done to its ward, Butterfree targeted Pidgey again and cast Confusion. Caught off guard by the Psychic move, Rocket took the blast squarely and was forced to the ground. Pidgey, however, refused to give in and shook off the attack. Flapping his wings for altitude, he unleashed a second Quick Attack, but Butterfree fluttered out of way.

Bryan smiled broadly as Rocket slammed on the air brakes and flipped to face his opponent once more. They had been working on that since they left Viridian and Rocket finally succeeded. He had little time to bask in the success though, as Butterfree unleashed another Confusion. Rocket countered with Gust and, as the two attacks met mid-air, vying for dominance, Rocket began to glow. Suddenly, he released Gust and the Confusion washed over him. The attack had no effect. Rocket burst forth in a flurry of feathers, having evolved into Pidgeotto. The shock wave caused by the evolution knocked Butterfree backward. Taking two strong flaps into the sky, Pidgeotto brought its new, more powerful wings together, unleashing consecutive Air Slashes. Butterfree could do nothing to avoid the attacks and was knocked to the ground. Jumping from behind his bush, Bryan produced a PokéBall and launched it at the fallen Pokémon. Butterfree disappeared into the ball. It bounced on the ground twice, shook once, and Butterfree was caught.

Bryan had no time to celebrate. Infuriated by the defeat, and subsequent capture, of their leader, the other Butterfree attacked. Mustering all the speed his out-of-shape legs could muster, he sprinted for the PokéBall. A couple of powerful Gusts from Rocket covered his escape, but trainer and faithful Pokémon soon found themselves lost deep in the forest. They were no longer on the limited map he had bought and the rush of escape had destroyed Bryan’s sense of direction. Even Pidgeotto, flying high over the trees, couldn’t seem to find the path out of the forest.

“If you walk that way far enough, you will hit Cycling Road.”

In any other circumstance, Bryan would be mad that he had been snuck up on, but he recognized the voice and what it meant. Endless hours of walking lost through the woods would be prevented. To confirm his conjecture, Grache dropped out of a tree in front of him wearing the same filthy blue jeans and green hoodie as the night before.

“Follow me.”

Bryan did as he was told.

“You have a Caterpie on your back,” he said after about ten minutes of silence.

His companion extricated the sticky worm and responded, “happens all the time, they think I taste good. And you could have said something sooner.”

“I didn’t know what to say,” Bryan returned, but he got a dark look from his guide, “and it was funny.”

The two shared a laugh. Grache halted briefly, took a reading from his compass and changed direction. They walked mostly in silence for a long while, the only sound the twigs snapping beneath their feet. A Weedle stuck its head out of the foliage at one point to investigate the passing noise, but quickly retreated when it saw two humans passing. Grache finally broke the silence as they escaped the dense line of trees and returned to the marked paths used to traverse the forest between Viridian and Pewter.

“So, you caught your Butterfree AND Pidgey evolved?”

It was more a statement than a question, but Bryan answered anyway.

“Yes, they were protective creatures, thus my confusion in the woods.”

“No worries,” laughed the hermit, “I have saved more than one person from wandering aimlessly though these woods.”

“And I am sure they appreciate you as much as I do,” Bryan thank him sincerely.

Grache shrugged him off modestly, “this is where I leave you.”

They had reached the crossroads where Bryan had taken a left the day before. They bid farewell to one another, something Bryan seemed to be doing increasingly often recently, and they went their separate ways. Bryan was accosted by another young trainer as he left Viridian Forest, but his new Butterfree handled the situation well. Mulling over his latest victory, picturing the Rattata snoring at the boy’s feet, Bryan had a sudden idea. Forcing his tired legs into action, he sprinted out of the forest and into Pewter City.
 
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The Solving of One Mystery and the Introduction of Another
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The Solving of One Mystery and the Introduction of Another

Pewter City was smaller than Viridian City, but more spread out, as it sat near the foot of Mt. Moon. Bryan had little time to admire the city, as he was running hard for the Pokémon Center. The automatic door slid open and he took a deep breathe to compose himself before approaching the nurse at the counter.

“I would like to use your Technical Machine,” he stated professionally.

“Do you have a corresponding disc,” the woman asked automatically.

Bryan nodded and pulled TM 42 from his bag. The nurse checked to verify its authenticity, then pulled an odd-looking machine from below the counter. Bryan had used the machine on a few previous occasions, but he didn’t pretend to know how the thing functioned. Sliding it down the counter, away from the main check-in, he slid TM 42 into the disc drive and placed the PokéBall containing Butterfree on the receiving pad.

A long moment passed as the machine processed the information. A click and beep accompanied a message running across a small screen that read: COMPATIBLE. Several more messages ran across the screen, Bryan made the proper selections, and the machine began to whir and beep. Bryan watched the other people in the Pokémon Center as the strange machine did its work. An elderly gentleman was lounging on a couch beside the front doors, a Jigglypuff snoozing along beside him. At a table in the far corner, two teenagers sat looking over what appeared to be a map. The front doors opened again and a young boy walked in carrying four PokéBalls. He approached the counter sadly and handed them to the nurse. She took them from the boy knowingly, but Bryan was distracted by a soft beep that indicated the machine was finished. He waited patiently as the nurse served the young boy and then he returned the machine.

“Shall I dispose of the disc,” she asked politely.

“Please,” Bryan answered simply. He knew Silph Co. was researching how to make a TM last more than one use, but, until they did, they were expensive and valuable commodities.

As an afterthought, he turned back to the nurse, “is there a good way to spend an afternoon here in Pewter City?”

“Normally, I would suggest the museum,” she responded, “but it is closed for renovations. You could swing by the Pokémon Gym and see if there are any challengers today.”

Bryan thanked her and meandered thoughtfully to a vacant table near the teenagers. He had contemplated challenging the gym himself, but he had to meet his friend Pablo for dinner and he didn’t know how long a challenge would take. As he contemplated how to spend his free afternoon, he began to munch on an apple and his eyes caught the young boy excitedly running out of the Pokémon Center, his now healed Pokémon ready to battle once more.

Pushing himself up from the table, Bryan strode to the PC in the corner and booted it up. The young boy reminded him of the challenger in Viridian City. Opening the Pokémon Database, he searched for the name ‘Patrick’ and only came up with six results in Kanto in the last five years. At the very top of the page was the wide grin of the blue-eyed kid he’d lost to the day before. As he scrolled through Patrick’s profile, his eyes got wider with every line.

Pokédex Completion: Kanto 129 of 151, Johto 27 of 100

Boulder Badge, March 31, 1995
Cascade Badge, April 24, 1995
Thunder Badge, May 15, 1995
Rainbow Badge, May 30, 1995
Soul Badge, June 18, 1995
Marsh Badge, July 6, 1995
Volcano Badge, August 28, 1995
Earth Badge, September 14, 1995


def. Lorelei, May 5, 1996
def. Bruno, May 5, 1996
def. Agatha, May 5, 1996
def. Lance, May 5, 1996
def. Blue Oak, May 5, 1996


Pokémon League Status: Reigning Champion
Pokémon League Tournament: Champion-1996, 1997; DNC-1998;

Notes: Suspected involvement in Team Rocket confrontations in Cerulean City, Celadon City, and Saffron City
Last known person to see Rocket Boss Giovanni before his disappearance


“Holy …,” Bryan stopped himself before he muttered the expletive, but had to read over the profile a second time to believe it. That excitable little munchkin was the reigning champion? That explained so much, yet was unexplainable in itself. As much as he disapproved of the way the Pokémon League ran itself on a daily basis, he had to admit that the Elite Four was formidable. In their former configuration, only three people had succeeded in defeating all four of them and the Active Champion: Blue Oak; his rival, Red; and, apparently, this kid.

“You know that kid,” a voice from behind him asked. Bryan turned to see one of the teenagers who had been perusing the map on the table behind him.

“Yea,” Bryan answered, still a little shell-shocked, “ran in to him in Viridian City a couple days ago. Why?”

“He wiped the floor with me last week after I beat Brock at the Pewter Gym.”

“He has some skill,” Bryan admitted, nonchalantly, closing the Pokémon Database and standing up, “excuse me.”

The teenager slid into the seat Bryan was occupying and switched on the PC. Bryan headed for the door. As they slid open before him, his PokéGear rang. He hastily answered.

“I am early, can you meet now?” came the voice on the other end.

“Of course,” replied Bryan, "where?”

“Outside the museum,” came the reply and the line went dead.

Bryan remembered where the museum was located and headed north. He passed the gym on his way and made note of it for the following day. As he approached the closed museum, he saw two men standing near the back door. He recognized the shorter man with messy, brown hair and brown eyes.

“Pablo,” he said from a distance to catch the two men’s attention, “long time.”

“Too long,” Pablo agreed with a hint of an accent, “I would like you to meet Mortimer.”

“A pleasure,” greeted Bryan, extending his hand and receiving a hearty shake.

Mortimer’s gray hair hinted at an advanced age, but his dark eyes still shined with vigor and he was extremely well built.

“Come inside,” Mortimer said, producing a key from his pocket and pushing open the back door to the museum.

Bryan threw Pablo a questioning look, but his friend held up a hand and Bryan held his questions. They all shuffled inside and closed the door behind them. They stood in complete darkness while Mortimer fumbled around for the switch. Bryan shielded his eyes when he found it, but, as his eyes began to clear, he saw they were behind the ticket counter. Several barricades and tarps were set up in the main portion of the museum, the renovations the nurse mentioned. Mortimer led them past the ticket counter, some administration offices, and down a set of stairs to what looked like a storage room or archive. He knelt beside a shelf full of old scrolls and began to shuffle through them. Finding the right ones, he tossed them, still rolled, on a work table and turned to the two friends.

“Now, let me see this feather you found.”

Bryan threw Pablo another disapproving look.

“Sorry,” he said, putting his hands up innocently, “I didn’t have time to do research on such short notice and Mortimer is the local expert.”

“Fine,” Bryan acquiesced, removing the feather and placing it on the wooden table beside the scrolls.

“Stunning,” muttered the expert, staring at the feather long and hard before reaching into his own pocket and producing a similar feather, but golden in color.

He laid his feather beside the first and both began to glow. Bryan snatched his feather away and the glowing stopped, but curiosity got the better of him and he moved his feather back within range of the golden one. The glowing resumed.

“It seems you were right, Pablo” Mortimer breathed, clearly excited, “this feather does belong to a Legendary Pokémon.”

“De verdad,” Pablo exclaimed, reverting to his native language in his surprise.

Mortimer nodded and unrolled one of the scrolls on the table. It was an ancient drawing depicting six different Pokémon arranged in a pyramid. At the bottom were three great beasts representing fire, water, and lightning. In the middle were two enormous birds in flights. At the top, a single, tiny Pokémon with something resembling hair swept back on its head.

“The Legendary Pokémon of Johto,” Bryan murmured.

“Yes,” Mortimer confirmed,”Ho-oh,” he laid his golden feather over one of the bird, “and Lugia,” Bryan laid his feather over the other, “legend says they once lived in twin towers overlooking the city of Ecruteak.”

“I have heard the story a thousand times,” Bryan signed, but Pablo cut him off.

“I haven’t.”

“It is an ancient Johto bedtime story,” Mortimer intoned, “the Legendary birds kept vigilant watch over Johto from those two towers, but one day, lightning struck the Bronze Tower and set it alight. The tower burned for three days until a great rainstorm washed over the city and doused the flames. Three unnamed Pokémon died in the blaze, but Ho-oh descended upon the ruins and resurrected them. They were re-born with the power of the elements that destroyed them. Fire, Water, and Electricity.”

He pointed, one at a time, to the great beasts at the bottom of the pyramid for dramatic effect.

“I know, I know,” Bryan said, “Raikou, Suicune, and Entei. The great runners. It is just a legend.”

“Is it,” questioned Mortimer, “dozens of these scrolls have been recovered from all over Johto. There are murals depicting the great birds in Tin Tower, the Whirl Islands, and some believe a hidden message about them is written in the Ruins of Alph.”

Bryan scoffed, but Pablo defended the expert he had brought into the venture.

“We have legends of mythical birds here in Kanto too.”

Mortimer nodded and unrolled the second scroll. It depicted three great birds arranged in a triangle around a fourth, smaller and less identifiable creature. Each of the birds represented an element: fire, ice, and electricity.

“Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres,” Pablo said, pointing to each in turn.

Bryan made to brush off the second scroll as well, but suddenly a memory struck him. A mysterious bird flying high over the sea, the moon reflecting off its icy wings.

“This one,” Bryan said, belief rising, “Articuno, you said.”

Pablo nodded, he knew the legends of Kanto better than those of Johto.

“It is said to live deep in the Seafoam Islands and create great snowstorms over the ocean when it is angry.”

“I saw it,” Bryan said, his voice rising, excitement getting the better of him.

“When?” Pablo and Mortimer practically yelled in unison.

“A couple of nights ago,” Bryan remembered, thinking hard, “I had just arrived from Johto and was staying at the gym in Vermilion. I was staring out over the ocean, thinking about Jasmine, and I saw it flying under the moonlight in the direction of Seafoam.”

“And Lugia’s feather,” Mortimer pressed, “where did you find it?”

“I didn’t,” Bryan admitted, “a friend of mind has a Phanpy who searches for lost treasure and special stones on the beach. They found it.”

Bryan reached unconsciously for the necklace he now wore around his neck. A memory of Elizabeth he carried with him at all times. Neither Pablo or Mortimer noticed his distraction, but continued chatting excitedly about the legends of Kanto and Johto.

“Moltres lives in the mountains northwest of here,” Mortimer was saying, “it supposedly has been seen as far west as Mt. Silver.”

“And Zapdos was rumored to live in the abandoned power plant before they fixed it up for the Magnet Train,” Pablo added.

“And Lugia,” Bryan asked, returning to the conversation.

“Most conjectures put Lugia somewhere around or in the Whirl Islands,” came Mortimer’s answer, “which is supported by the location of the feather.”

“Where did you find the golden one,” Pablo asked the question on Bryan’s mind as well.

“Decades ago,” Mortimer started in, “when I was the gym leader in Ecruteak City, I was charged with maintaining the Tin Tower. One day, to test my strength and skill, I decided I would climb to the very top. Upon achieving the summit, I saw a great bird flying away toward the setting sun and found that feather floating on the evening breeze.”

“Ho-oh,” Pablo questioned.

“I believe so,” Mortimer nodded, “I became obsessed with the Legendary Pokémon after that day and soon passed the gym leadership onto my son so I could concentrate on my studies.”

“You are Morty’s grandfather,” Bryan concluded.

“Mmhm,” the old man confirmed, “the gym has been in the family for three generations now.”

All three men were quiet for a time as they puzzled over the two scrolls, the feathers, and the legends that accompanied them. Bryan had never been a believer in the old stories, but the evidence laid before him made him question his beliefs ever so slightly. How powerful would one of these Pokémon be, he thought to himself.

“What are these two,” Pablo finally said, breaking into both of the other men’s inner thoughts.

He was indicating the two smaller creatures on the scrolls. The one that sat at the top of the pyramid and the other between the legendary birds of Kanto. They definitely shared certain similarities, but were distinctly different from one another as well.

“I am not sure,” Mortimer confessed, “they appear on some other scrolls and murals too, but they are never given names. In addition, modern people have claimed to catch glimpses of the legendary birds or beasts, but I have never heard a whisper of any Pokémon myth resembling these two.”

“If you want to know more, I would suggest going to see Bill at Cerulean Cape,” Mortimer continued, “he is renowned for his knowledge of rare Pokémon and is a certifiable genius.”

“Thanks, perhaps I will,” answered Bryan, pocketing his feather as Mortimer returned the scrolls to their respective shelves and retrieved his feather too.

“I have to be going now,” Mortimer said, heading for the stairs and motioning for the others to follow, “if you discover anything or need any more information, Pablo knows how to contact me.”

The three made small talk as they ascended the stairs and made for the back door. Once outside, and with the door locked behind them, the three exchanged farewells and went three different directions.
 
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The First Step on a Long Road
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The First Stop on a Long Road

Bryan rose early the next morning, as he always did, and quietly gathered his things. He had stayed on a cot in the Pokémon Center the night before, after spending a relaxing evening training with Pidgeotto and Butterfree. The teenagers he had seen yesterday were sleeping in the opposite corner and the only other person in the building was the nurse behind the counter. She was watching television, but the sound was low and Bryan couldn’t hear it. She waved a polite good-bye as he exited the building into the pre-dawn morning. The outline of daylight could just be seen over the mountains to the east. Laying his backpack on the ground beside him, Bryan sat on the soft grass beside the Pokémon Center, leaned against the cool metal of the building and watched the sunrise. After a moment, he let Rocket out to fly as well. The excitable bird took to the skies and disappeared into the clouds before returning to have its neck stroked.

Bryan lost track of time as he watched the sunrise, but shift change at the Pokémon Center indicated he needed to be on his way. Pushing himself up with some effort, his body aching from the strenuous activity of the past few days, he made his way toward the Pokémon Gym. The front door of the gym opened to the arena, which was in great contrast to many that Bryan had seen in his life. During his original journeys, most of the gyms had been very basic. A flat, simple arena with a viewing area and a place for the leader and his or her followers to live. He knew the Pokémon League had become more theatric in recent years, and his experience at the Vermilion Gym proved that, but what he saw before him was quite the spectacle. Small mountains of rock rose up from the gym floor, truly representing the concentration of the gym. Some were small, while others nearly touched the ceiling. Even the lower lying ground was covered in loose rocks and boulders.

The former gym leader was against most of the changes the League was making, but this one he thoroughly approved of. The terrain would make strategy just as important as strength in the coming battle, something young trainers sorely lacked. In addition, it would balance the gym leader's odds of winning a match with the weaker Pokémon he was forced to use by the League.

"May I help you," a deep voice rang clearly across the arena to his left.

Bryan turned to see a well-built man, probably in his mid-20s standing before a set of metal doors, likely leading to the living quarters. His dress was plain and practical, the well-worn trousers and heavy shirt indicating that he spent a large amount of time in the surrounding mountains.

"I have come to take the Gym Challenge," Bryan responded simply.

"Your level," asked the man, advancing toward Bryan and running a hand through his unkempt and, for some reason, wet hair.

"One," answered Bryan, "this will be my first gym match in Kanto."

"Excellent, I like a good challenge. I am Brock," he said, extending a hand. He realized his hand was wet from running it through his hair and quickly retracted it.

"Sorry," he continued, "I had a training exercise with my students in the mountains this morning and it seems I am still sweating. They will not return from some time, but, if you wish to proceed, we can officiate our own match."

"Of course," said Bryan, shaking the newly proffered hand after Brock dried it on his dirty shirt.

He had never met the current gym leader, having faced Pedro on his previous visit, but he approved of the young man who had taken his place. He was serious and professional, while maintaining his own personality.

"Level 1 matches are 2v2," Brock stated, moving toward the opposite side of the arena, "but I am sure you know that. We shall begin immediately. I am using Geodude and Onix."

"And I will be using Pidgeotto and Butterfree," said Bryan loudly so his voice would carry across the gym.

His effort was unneeded, however, as his voice echoed clearly off the mountains in the room. Brock didn’t react to Bryan's announcement of his Pokémon, despite the obvious knowledge that the new trainer would be at a great disadvantage. He just nodded his confirmation and called out Geodude. The Rock Pokémon flexed its hard arms and waited patiently as Rocket burst forth and sounded a shrill challenge. Pokémon and trainers sized each other up, developing strategies and awaiting the first move.

Bryan knew that Geodude's attacks would be extremely effective against Pidgeotto, so his only hope was to dodge most of them, while most of Pidgeotto's attacks would be minimally effective in return. He had the speed advantage, but he was loathe to make the first move. Brock, though, was clearly willing to wait all day. With Rock-types came defense and patience and Bryan's respect for the man continued to grow.

"Rocket, Air Slash."

Pidgeotto responded instantly, unleashing two strong blasts toward Geodude. The first struck a solid blow to one arm, but the sturdy Pokémon fought through it and ducked behind a boulder. The second strike shattered the boulder in two, but Brock countered.

"Geodude, Rock Throw."

What the small rock lacked in speed, it made up for in quickness. It scooped up the neatly sliced pieces of the boulder before it and heaved them upward. Rocket attempted to duck under them, but the first piece caught his wing and he dropped. The loss of altitude caused the second to miss and Rocket was able to right himself before hitting the ground. His opponent was already moving.

"Body Slam."

"Fly higher," Bryan called, praying Pidgeotto had the energy.

He did, but Geodude, at home on the rocky surface, continued up the side of one of the smaller mountains and heaved itself at Rocket. The move was completely unexpected and a sign of the leader's experience in his own arena. Although Flying-types were weak to his Rock-type attacks, they could normally evade the grounded Pokémon by flying. The arena floor countered this by allowing the hardy Pokémon access to fliers by climbing the rock faces.

"Gust," Bryan shouted, almost panicked. He wasn’t sure what he expected, but he needed to do some damage to Geodude or the match would be over quickly.

His panic paid dividends. Rocket couldn’t avoid the Body Slam, but the Gust slowed Geodude’s momentum and cushioned the blow. Instead of being smashed into the opposite rock wall, Pidgeotto wheeled several times in the air before finding his equilibrium. Geodude, on the other hand, plummeted downward in an uncontrolled fall, its own weight causing it damage as it smashed into the ground. A heavy Pokémon, perhaps a fully-evolved Golem, would have taken more damage from the fall, but in its first stage, Geodude weighed less than 50 lbs and promptly pushed itself up. The gambit, however, gave Bryan an idea.

"Rocket, Quick Attack."

This time, Brock did react, if only briefly. He knew well that no Quick Attack was going to damage Geodude, if anything Pidgeotto would hurt himself. The experienced leader overcame his momentary surprise and gave his command.

"Mega Punch."

Bryan smiled slyly, this might work better than I thought, he said to himself as Pidgeotto plummeted downward and Geodude readied himself. At the last moment, Bryan altered his command.

"Gust."

Rocket reacted as quickly as possible, but it was a move they hadn't practiced and was a major gamble on Bryan's part. Something Bryan had found himself doing a lot recently. The ensuing chaos was almost comical. The Gust, as Bryan had intended, forced Geodude into the hard ground a second time, but Rocket was moving so fast, it only stopped his descent as opposed to pushing him back into the air. Two things happened next that neither trainer could have anticipated. First, Gust re-directed Mega Punch and Geodude punched himself directly in the face. Second, the added force of Mega Punch forced Geodude into the ground so hard that he bounced. Although he didn’t bounce high, it was enough to collide with the exhausted Pidgeotto, who also fell to the ground.

As the dust cleared, both trainers waited in anticipation. Geodude was sprawled unconscious in a small crater he had made in the floor and, surprisingly, Pidgeotto was standing tenuously on his taloned feet. Brock returned Geodude and Bryan made to do the same, but Rocket fluttered into the air and shot him a look. He wanted to continue. Bryan was dubious, but he rarely doubted a Pokémon's natural instincts.
Brock called out Onix and Bryan's first reaction to his second Pokémon was that the Rock Snake seemed...small. Many Onix could reach nearly 30 feet in length and he had fought one of Bruno's that exceeded that. Perhaps Brock's Onix was young. It didn’t seem to be much more than 15 feet in length. The confused trainer soon realized size wasn't everything.

"Onix, Slam.

Onix flew forward with surprising speed. Although Onix, in general, wouldn't be considered fast, they were among the faster Rock-types and this smaller, lighter Onix was possibly the fastest Bryan had ever seen. Another clever ploy by an experienced trainer. Knowing nearly all common rock-types will lose the majority of speed battles, he had bred a lighter, faster Onix.

Fast though he was, Rocket was faster. The hard tail whipped forward and the swift bird swooped sideways and upwards. Onix followed up the slope of a small mountain, but missed a second time and then a third. Tiring of the chase, Brock switched tactics.

"Onix, Dig."

It was Bryan's turn to be surprised. If attacks above ground were failing, how would hiding underground help? Bryan's momentarily lapse was costly when he discovered the answer to his mental question. Onix shot out of the side of the tallest mountain and smashed, head first, into the unaware Pidgeotto before landing deftly on the side of the other mountains. Bryan returned Rocket before he hit the ground, shaking his head both at his own lapse and the ingenuity of his opponent.

Butterfree was all he had left and though it was a better offensive match-up than before, it was a nightmare defensively. A single hit could be all it took. Brock was thinking along the same lines as he ordered Rock Throw, but Butterfree creatively dodged, folding its wings in as the rocks flew past and billowing them out again before she plummeted into the ground. A second Rock Throw was dodged by flapping upward and Bryan went on the offensive.

"Confusion."

Psychic energy radiated outward and washed over Onix, momentarily slowing it, but it pushed through the mental barrage and dove underground. Bryan refused to allow the same tactic to work twice and ordered Butterfree to hover near the walls, giving her the biggest cushion possible to avoid an incoming attack. Onix, however, shot upward again at high speed and Bryan knew the chances of dodging were slim.

"Sleep Powder."

The green powder struck Onix directly in the face, almost instantly putting him to sleep, but it barely slowed the rock snake’s momentum. He still made solid contact with Butterfree and they both fell toward the ground. Onix, being heavier, hit first and harder, but continued to doze as he waited for his opponent to join him. Butterfree’s wings acted to slow her descent, but, as she floated down beside her slumbering opponent, she was clearly on her last leg. Even asleep, Onix would win the match if Butterfree couldn’t continue. Bryan, however, wasn’t worried.

“Butterfree, Dream Eater.”

With what energy she had left, Butterfree turned to her sleeping foe and tapped into her psychic abilities once more. Although Onix showed no outward sign of damage, Butterfree had life flood back to her and Brock knew the match was over. Recalling his final Pokémon, he placed both Pokéballs in a large pocket and climbed over the uneven ground to congratulate Bryan.

“Quite the risky tactics you used,” he said, holding a hand forward, which Bryan shook heartily before retrieving his Trainer Card from his pocket.

“Bryan,” the gym leader mused, stamping the Trainer Card and searching his pocket for something, “I think you will do well in Kanto.”

“Thank you,” Bryan responded sincerely, “I am glad Kanto still has tough leaders, you were quite a challenge.”

Brock smiled slyly at the comment and finally found what he was looking for in his deep, trouser pocket.

“This is yours,” he said, brandishing a gray, octagonal badge, “the Boulder Badge, proof of your first victory in the Kanto Pokémon League.”

Bryan took the badge, thanked Brock again and turned to leave. He heard the gym leader’s booted feet heading back across the arena floor. Looking down at the Boulder Badge in his hand, he flashed back to his first victory in Kanto nearly 20 years prior. It had been much smoother, but less satisfying. Now, holding the shiny, new badge and recalling the identical one collecting dust on a shelf in Olivine City Hall, he knew he had made the correct decision in leaving his home and family.

After leaving the Pokémon Gym, Bryan made the mandatory stop at the Pokémon Center for healing. Both of his Pokémon had fought hard for him and needed a rest. While waiting for Rocket and Butterfree to heal, he ate a hearty lunch and stopped by the PokéMart for supplies. Mt. Moon was a small pass compared to Rock Tunnel, but he wanted to be prepared for anything. His Pokémon were ready upon his return to the Pokémon Center, but he had one last task before he headed out. Switching on the PC in the corner, he accessed the new Pokédex feature, likely a product of his young friend Patrick, and researched the available Pokémon on his route. Butterfree and Pidgeotto had served him well so far, but he needed a better variety and more than two for coming battles.

Rattata and Spearow, he read. No, he thought, they are common everywhere and not really my style. Jigglypuff and Sandshrew, he continued. Maybe, but rare, so unlikely. Zubat and Geodude, he finished and sighed. The primary reason I stocked up on Repels. Route 24, north of Cerulean looked more promising and he mentally noted to look high and low for an Abra. Until then he would have to continue with his faithful fliers.

Bryan spent a leisurely afternoon trekking the well-worn path down Route 3 toward Mt. Moon. Several young trainers had challenged him just outside Pewter City, but, after a couple easy wins, they may have sent word to their friends along the path to avoid eye contact with him. He didn’t care much, they weren't much of a challenge and he planned to do some training on Mt. Moon. The Pokémon Center conveniently built at the base of the mountain loomed into view as the sun began to settle behind the mountains and Bryan faced one last challenge before he turned in for the night.

A jovial young girl caught sight of him as he entered the valley leading to Mt. Moon's main cave and put up quite a fight. Her Furret and Ponyta were trained for maximum speed and she had a strategy to accompany it. In the end, Rocket was able to triumph, but Bryan was impressed by her potential and they shared a small meal at the Pokémon Center before she headed toward Pewter City, the bright moon lighting her way through the clear night.
 
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A Trip to Bills
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A Trip to Bills

Another good night's sleep and Bryan was off again the next morning. He sprayed himself with Repel for the first leg of the journey and kept Rocket for company. With map in hand, he expertly navigated the commonly used path through the mountains and exited the cave within sight of Cerulean City just after midday. Instead of heading into town, he released both Butterfree as well and turned to climb the eastern face of the mountain. The lower reaches had some small paths used by locals or traveling mountaineers, but, as Bryan climbed higher, the beautiful rivers of Northern Kanto laid out below him, the terrain grew rougher and more dangerous. As night drew near once again, he threw on a heavier coat, pulled a blanket from his bag and made camp on a wide plateau.

For the next three days, Bryan trained his Pokémon in the mountains above Cerulean, sometimes fighting wild Pokémon, but mostly practicing techniques and strategies that might be useful in coming battles. He knew the gym in Cerulean concentrated on Water Pokémon, so there would be a distinct neutrality to the battle, but he knew from experience that preparation could mean the difference between a narrow loss and an easy victory.

As snow began to fall high in the mountains on his third day away from the noises of the humanity, Bryan collected his things and returned to the world below him. The air was still cold on the ground, but the snow ceased to fall as he neared the twinkling lights of Cerulean City. He contemplated running into town and visiting the Pokémon Center, but Pidgeotto and Butterfree were still in good shape, despite the hard training, so he stuck to the outskirts of town and headed north. He knew Routes 24 and 25, commonly known as Cerulean Cape, were a hangout for local trainers and he hoped to avoid a ton of battles undercover of night and the cold. In addition, Abra were more likely to appear at night, in the absence of the normal crowd of trainers.

Both of Bryan's hopes came to fruition in quick succession as he neared the bridge leading to the Cape. First, a large group of teenagers stepped off the bridge, laughing loudly and talking amongst themselves.

"Can't find girls or Pokémon at the Cape this time of night," said one.

"Yea, and all the chumps who tried to challenge us ran home earlier," laughed another.

Bryan stayed to the shadows as the group tramped through. He had heard about the "Nugget Bridge Brigade," a group of local trainers who patrolled the bridge, forcing anyone who wished to travel north to defeat them first. Perhaps some other time he would teach the hooligans a lesson, but he had a mission. That mission was Abra and it was shockingly easy.

As he crossed the bridge, he saw a bushed-lined path to his left leading toward Bill's house, but, to his right, a single tree at the base of the mountain caught his attention. Sitting, or more accurately, floating there, with its back to him was an Abra. It appeared to be scratching something into the trees with its sharp fingers. Stealthily, knowing Abra would Teleport at the first sign of danger, he unhooked Butterfree's PokéBall from his belt. Abra noticed nothing as Butterfree's Sleep Powder fell silently over its distracted head. To increase his likelihood of success, Bryan tossed an Ultra Ball he had picked up in Pewter City at the snoozing Psychic-type and, after a tense moment, he added another Pokémon to his collection. He wouldn’t have Abra long, he intended to send it Jasmine for use in Glitter Lighthouse, but the thrill of catching Pokémon never wore off.

With Abra in hand, the short trip through the near maze of bushes to Bill's house was brief and pleasant. Bryan relished in the cool air, it reminded him of home. A smart rap on the door was answered by a plain, brown haired man who introduced himself as Bill. Bryan judged them to be of similar age and succinctly informed Bill of the reason for his visit.

"I don’t get too many visitors this late in the evening or the season," stated Bill, "but I am afraid your journey may have been for naught."

He motioned for Bryan to sit in a soft chair in a small sitting room and took up a similar chair opposite before continuing. The former gym leader sunk into the plushy blue chair, a stark contrast to the mountainous living of the past few days, and listened intently.

"Although it is true that I am an expert of sorts in rare Pokémon, my knowledge of the legendary ones is lacking. I have heard of the elemental birds; Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres, as well as lore about another trio in Johto, but I am afraid my knowledge stops there."

Bryan nodded his understanding. He was a little disappointed, but understood that the Pokémon he was seeking were legendary for a reason. After a long moment of silence between the two, Bryan continued the conversation.

"I know the lore of the Johto Pokémon well, having grown up hearing it, but it is more the ones from Kanto I am interested in. Have you met anyone who has supposedly seen them? Or that might know more?"

Bill laughed a little before he answered, "finding people who have supposedly seen them isn't hard. Ask anyone who has traveled the southern coasts or the northern mountains and they will tell you how they have seen mysterious birds flying high in the clouds."

Bill stood and offered Bryan some tea before he continued once more.

"There have been reports of Moltres from here to Mt. Silver. The mountain range starts here on the coast and runs west all the way to Mahogany Town. And how far north it runs, no-one really knows. While Articuno sightings are rarer, they are concentrated to the Seafoam Islands, plus Routes 19 and 20. Although I have heard tell that, sometimes, in the depths of winter, it can be seen flying over Cycling Road."

"And Zapdos," Bryan queried, pressing for information. Bill was just confirming much of what he learned in Pewter, but, for some reason, it greatly excited him.

Bill shrugged, "it used to be seen regularly near Rock Tunnel and trainers would travel out to the old Power Plant hoping to find its nest, but since the Power Plant re-opened, I haven't heard any more rumors of it."

Bill paused and took a long drink of tea.

"Actually," he said after a moment, setting his tea on an end table, "a friend of mine in the Sevii Islands mentioned seeing a strange bird flying south toward Tanoby some time ago, but I didn’t think much of it."

"Tanoby," Bryan asked, unfamiliar with the area.

"The Tanoby Ruins," Bill confirmed, "on the southern tip of Seven Island. They share a lot of similarities with your Ruins of Alph and the Solaceon Ruins in Sinnoh."

"I have never heard of Tanoby or Solaceon," Bryan admitted, "you are much better traveled than I am."

Bill laughed heartily again.

"I get around a lot with my job. I designed the PC System here in Kanto and Johto and most of the other regions’ systems are based off my original designs. I have traveled to each region at some point to help with the integration process of the newer systems with mine. Did you know that Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and Sinnoh all have the capability of transferring and trading Pokémon?"

"I had no idea," Bryan responded, a little confused at the turn of the conversation.

"And soon, Unova, Kalos, and Alola will be integrated into the universal system as well," finished Bill smiling broadly. He was clearly proud of his designs.

"Congratulations," Bryan said, unsure how to respond. He had heard of the other regions, but had never traveled outside the Indigo Plateau, nor did he know anyone who had.

"Perhaps I should be going," he concluded, "it is getting late."

"Of course, of course," said Bill standing and disappearing into an adjacent room, "since you came all the way out here and I couldn’t be of much help, you should take this."

Bryan turned to tell him no thank you, but what he laid eyes on made him change his mind. It was an Egg. Pokémon Eggs were a huge mystery and, even though Johto's Professor Birch was the world's leading expert, his research had just begun. Such a gift was amazing. Bryan stuttered a little, but couldn’t find the words.

"My grandfather is a personal friend of the man they call Mr. Pokémon who lives north of Cherrygrove City. My grandfather was unsure what to do with it, but Mr. Pokémon told him that your Professor Birch believes the key to hatching Eggs is walking with them. In that spirit, my grandfather walked all the way here from his home in Fuchsia hoping it would hatch."

"And you're giving it to me?" Bryan asked incredulously.

"Well it isn't going to hatch sitting here and I don’t get out much during the cold months," confirmed Bill, "so it will be better off with you."

"T-T-Thank you," stuttered Bryan, almost shaking in excitement, "I don't know what to say."

“What is important is the advancement of Pokémon,” Bill stated, almost sounding like a commercial, “and this advancement is beyond my expertise.”

Bryan just nodded, at a loss for words. He looked with awe upon the Egg as he took it from Bill and placed it gently in his backpack. It was almost entirely brown, but the tip was white. It reminded him of something, but he couldn’t place his finger on what.

“Take this too,” Bill interjected into Bryan’s reverence of the egg.

Bryan looked up to see a glossy greenish-yellow stone with a distinct lightning bolt sitting in his host’s outstretched hand.

“A Thunderstone,” Bryan said, recognizing the artifact.

“They are common in the foothills behind the cottage,” Bill said, shrugging, “I give them to most of the trainers who come out to visit me.”

“I really don’t know how to thank you,” Bryan said, placing the Thunderstone beside the Egg in his bag.

“Just give me a call when that Egg hatches,” his host replied, helping him gently lift the backpack and slide into the shoulder straps.

“No doubt,” Bryan responded, smiling, “and isn’t your number programmed into all of the PCs?”

“Indeed,” Bill said, showing him to the door. He waved once before closing the door and Bryan was alone again in the night.

He walked slowly back toward Nugget Bridge, the lights of the city clearly visible in the distance. Although he hadn’t received what he intended from the Pokémaniac, he had acquired two very rare items. Evolutionary Stones were pretty common in the mountains, but they were expensive to buy, and a Pokémon Egg. Wow, he didn’t expect to ever possess one. He knew that Pokémon bred, after all, Amphy was Jolter’s daughter, but he always thought it a private business. His Ampharos had disappeared into the wild for days before returning with a tiny, female Mareep.

As he exited the path behind the shoulder high bushes, the lights of Cerulean became more evident. He paused briefly as his backpack began to shake. Whipping it off his shoulders, excitement overcoming his fear of breaking the egg, he unzipped his bag and flung it open. No sooner had the zipper opened, two long, brown ears popped out, followed by two shining brown eyes. An Eevee. Of course, Bryan thought, the design on the Egg represented the Evolution Pokémon’s tail. As he reached into the bag to pull out his new Pokémon, a strange countenance overcame the newborn and she began to glow. Eevee began to shake violently and a terrified Bryan dropped the glowing Pokémon and scampered backwards. After what seemed like an eternity, the glowing ceased and standing where Bryan had dropped Eevee was a Jolteon.

“Of course,” said Bryan aloud, slapping himself in the forhead, “the Thunderstone.”

Jolteon called out once and sparks jumped between the spikes on her back and ears. Looking up at her new trainer, she leapt forward and Bryan held his arms out to catch her. Despite being barely seconds old, Jolteon was aware enough to fold down her spikes to avoid stabbing her trainer. Bryan was thrilled. He had successfully hatched an Egg, even if Bill’s grandfather had done most of the work, and now he had a Jolteon. He loved Electric-types. A love that dated back to catching his first Mareep two decades ago. Carrying his purring Jolteon in his arms, he walked back over Nugget Bridge and into Cerulean.
 
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Battling the Champion
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Battling the Champion

As Bryan stepped down off the bridge, he couldn’t believe what he saw.

“Hey, kid,” he shouted at the distinct baggy shorts and worn shoes of the reigning champion.

Patrick turned on his heel and, with surprising speed for such a short kid, sprinted up to the surprised former gym leader.

“Nice Jolteon.”

Bryan smiled at the kid’s enthusiasm, it was contagious. He remembered being similar at that age and he wondered briefly if his had been contagious as well. He set Jolteon on the ground and Patrick bent to scratch her small nose. She yipped in pleasure and nuzzled the boy’s ankle.

“Care for a rematch?” Bryan asked.

“Sounds great,” replied Patrick, a more serious demeanor invading on his boisterous spirit, “I know a good place near the river.”

“You know all the good places,” Bryan laughed.

“Well I have to,” the boy responded, practically skipping off, “I am trying to complete a Pokédex for Professor Oak, so I travel around Kanto a lot.”

“How is that coming,” Bryan asked nonchalantly, forgetting the exact number he had read the week before and not wishing to admit he had looked at the kid’s registration information.

“Caught an Oddish yesterday and evolved my Squirtle too, so 131, I think,” he answered.

Bryan shook his head in disbelief, but Patrick had his back turned. They approached a clearing near the river running down from Mt. Moon. Patrick took a position near the bank and turned back to Bryan.

“Format,” he asked.

“Best of three matches,” responded Bryan, “Jolteon is my first.”

He knew that a newly hatched Jolteon stood little chance against the young phenom, but it would be good experience and it would be needed for the battle against the gym leader in town. Patrick chose Oddish, a minor advantage for him defensively, but, admittedly, just caught. Bryan knelt and patted his new Pokémon reassuringly on the head as Oddish waddled forward and took up her position.

“Oddish, Acid,” Patrick opened the match.

“Jolteon, Dodge.”

The aptly named Lightning Pokémon jumped sideways and away from the oncoming spray. Bryan quickly ordered a Tackle as well and Jolteon shot forward toward her opponent. Patrick, in his composed, intelligent fashion, knew Oddish couldn’t dodge, so he prepared for his following assault.

“Growth.”

The diminutive Weed Pokémon closed her eyes and nearly doubled in size before Jolteon’s attack struck home, knocking her backwards and off her ungainly feet. Oddish, now about the same size as Jolteon, rolled back to her feet and launched a second Acid on command. The nearer proximity guaranteed a hit and Jolteon retreated, shaking herself furiously in an attempt to shake off the Acid.

“Oddish, Absorb,” came Patrick’s voice from across the field.

“Jolteon, Thundershock.”

Bryan knew Thundershock wouldn’t do much damage to the Grass-type Pokémon, but it might break the inexperienced Oddish’s concentration or cause paralysis. As Thundershock hit home, Bryan realized it had, at least, succeeded in halting Absorb and he pressed on with another Tackle. He called off the Tackle to avoid another Acid, but, as the two small Pokémon sat, sizing each other up and awaiting their trainers’ decisions, Bryan noticed Jolteon’s back legs twitching.

“Double Kick.”

Jolteon leapt forward, but Oddish danced backwards and away from the attack. As Jolteon landed on her front paws, she pivoted, bringing her back paws within striking distance of Oddish’s face. Double Kick struck Oddish’s bulbous body squarely and she collapsed sideways, unable to continue. Bryan was a little shocked with his own win in the first bout and called Jolteon back to him. He had other PokéBalls, but he wasn’t sure how to go about having the newly hatched Pokémon get in one. Putting the thought out of his mind for the moment, he chose Butterfree to match Patrick’s Slowpoke.

“Confusion,” both trainer’s shouted at once.

The attacks met in mid-air, but Slowpoke’s attack was stronger and buffeted Butterfree. Bryan countered with Gust and Slowpoke attacked with Water Gun. Although the Gust pushed the Dopey Pokémon back a few feet, Water Gun hit home as well, doing significant damage to the fragile butterfly. Bryan’s only hope was the gambit that won him a BoulderBadge.

“Butterfree, Sleep Powder.”

Flapping hard, Butterfree spread the green powder over the entire area and Slowpoke didn’t move. In fact, Patrick didn’t order anything at all. Bryan was perplexed by the reaction, but he had hesitated before against the boy and it had cost him.

“Dream Eater.”

Butterfree spread her wings and closed her eyes, readying her strongest attack. It wouldn’t KO Slowpoke because of his dual Psychic/Water-typing, but it would put the match back in his favor. Patrick, on the other hand, had a trick up his sleeve.

“Slowpoke, Snore.”

Slowpoke rolled over in his sleep and unleashed a powerful Snore. It washed over Butterfree, breaking her concentration and knocking her from the sky. Even with a sleeping Pokémon, Patrick had succeeded in completing his victory, but it was tied at one match a piece and Rocket was Bryan's best Pokémon. He still had a chance.

Patrick chose Nidorino to match Bryan and he pawed excitedly at the ground in anticipation of the battle. Rocket screamed his normal cry as he sensed the tension in the air and Patrick briefly congratulated Bryan on the evolution of his Pokémon. Bryan politely responded and they turned their attention to the final match.

“Nidorino, Horn Attack.”

“Pidgeotto, Gust.”

Nidorino kicked at the ground with his powerful back legs and flew into the air, but the strong downward air current forced him back. He quickly found his footing and launched himself skyward again. Clearly, Nidorino was well-trained, but Bryan had been working hard with Pidgeotto too. He wheeled sideways in the air to avoid the second attack and lined himself up for what he knew was coming.

“Quick Attack, Rocket.”

“Tackle,” Patrick countered.

The two hit shoulder-to-shoulder with great force. Nidorino was marginally stronger, but Pidgeotto was the larger of the two. They both recovered well, Nidorino digging his claws into the ground, Rocket flapping several times and hovering in the air. They attempted to exchange blows again, but Rocket was too fast for Horn Attack to land and Bryan was unsure who was taking more damage from the combined Quick Attack-Tackles.

“Rocket, Sand Attack.”

Rocket flapped his wings with great intensity, stirring up the dust in the area and hiding Nidorino from view. Patrick, however, was ready for the move and ordered Poison Sting. Dozens of tiny, poisonous barbs shot upward from the dust cloud. Although true aim was impossible due to the Sand Attack, sheer quantity practically guaranteed at least one hit. Rocket used Gust to deflect many of them, but two small barbs stuck in his wing. Knowing the poison would quickly sap Rocket’s strength, Bryan returned to the offensive.

“Air Slash.”

The concentrated blast of air cut through the cloud of dust below, but missed Nidorino. A second blast forced the Poison Pin Pokémon to leave the relative safety of the obscuring cloud and a third finally scored a blow, knocking him backward. Using his momentum, Bryan ordered another Quick Attack. Rocket plummeted toward his opponent, hoping to take him down before the poison ate away at his health, but Patrick was not to be undone.

“Nidorino, Ice Beam.”

The look of shock and disappointment hit Bryan’s face before the beam of cold hit Rocket’s. At full dive, there was nothing to be done and Bryan’s favorite Pokémon, his wings icing over, fell hard and bounced to Nidorino’s feet. He stood silently for a long second, disbelieving what he saw before him. When he finally closed his dropped jaw, he walked sullenly over to Pidgeotto and Patrick returned Nidorino. Bryan turned away from Patrick, still holding Rocket, and headed into town. The young boy fell in step behind, but remained quiet. As they approached the Pokémon Center together, Bryan slowed his pace and turned to him.

“How,” he asked simply.

“Nidorino may be a strong physical attacker, but he has deceptively strong special attacks as well,” Patrick responded, as if expecting the question, “and through the use of TMs, he can learn powerful moves like Ice Beam and Thunder.”

“I could use a Pokémon like that,” Bryan said seriously, “where did you catch him?”

“Nidorino are pretty common along the eastern coast between Lavender Town and Fuchsia City, while Nidoran (M) can sometimes be found west of Viridian,” he answered, showing his knowledge once more, “but if you want, I will trade Nidorino for your Butterfree.”

“Seriously,” Bryan almost shouted.

“Sure,” Patrick said, acting far more mature in the moment than the man twice his age, “I already have a Nidoking in my Pokédex, but my Metapod is stubborn and won’t evolve. Besides, Sleep Powder+Dream Eater is an amazing combo and I have a TM for Psychic that I can use on him too.”

Bryan readily agreed to the trade and they increased their pace to the Pokémon Center to complete it. They spoke with the attendant at the desk and, as she disappeared into a backroom to fetch some paperwork, Bryan asked Patrick a question that had been nagging him for a while.

“How did you end up working for Professor Oak?”

“Technically, he is my legal guardian,” Patrick answered, surprising Bryan even more, “after I defeated the Elite Four a couple years ago, he asked me to help him with some of his research. He is like a grandfather to me, so I couldn’t say no.”

Bryan nodded his understand, but another question came to mind, “how did he come to be your legal guardian?”

Almost as soon as he asked, he wished he hadn’t. If the professor was his guardian, it likely meant the boy’s parents had passed at a young age and he shouldn’t have brought it up, but the answer was far more complicated than that.

“A few years ago, I was found by a trainer on the shore south of Pallet Town, unconscious. She took me to Professor Oak’s Lab since there isn’t a Pokémon Center in Pallet and waited until I woke up a couple days later. I have no memory of a time before waking up in that bed with the professor and Lucy looking over me.”

Bryan was astounded by the revelation and the mild manner by which the young boy presented it, but, despite the obvious shock on Bryan’s face, his companion continued.

“Professor Oak thinks I might be from North America, but I don’t really understand what that is. He said something about a parallel dimension, but it is all over my head. Since I don’t remember anything, we decided March 2nd, the day I woke up, would be my birthday and they found my name in a book I was carrying in my bag.”

Patrick slung his backpack over one arm so he could unzip it and handed a water damaged book to Bryan. The hardbound cover was brown with golden letters reading ECHOHAWK scrawled across the top. Flipping to the inside cover, Bryan saw, in highly faded black ink, Patrick.

“No last name,” Bryan asked.

“Nope,” Patrick answered shortly, “don’t really need one.”

Bryan supposed that was true, in a way, and had a thousand more questions for the increasingly interesting boy, but the attendant returned with their paperwork and they fell to silence as they filled it out. Once the paperwork was complete, they returned it to the attendant and placed the PokéBalls into the trading machine she produced, with great effort, from beneath the desk. The skinny attendant flipped some switches on the machine and it began to whir. Both PokéBalls vanished, only to re-appear moments later in opposite places. Just another technology I don't understand, Bryan thought, hefting the Great Ball that held his new Nidorino. He knew several Pokémon evolved when exposed to the energy in a trading machine, but, other than that, he didn't really understand their purpose. All of the information needed for the Pokémon Database was given on the paperwork he had filled out and he could have easily just handed Butterfree's PokéBall to Patrick. In reality, it didn't matter, so he shrugged it off.

The two stepped outside before releasing the newly exchanged Pokémon, both trainers wishing good-bye to their respective companions. Once they finished, Bryan turned back to Patrick, intent on asking more questions, but the short boy pulled out another PokéBall and spoke first.

“I have to be going, but I am going to be in Lavender Town a week from today if you want to battle again.”

“I will make sure I am there,” Bryan agreed, “but it is nearly midnight, where are you going?”

“I promised Professor Oak’s grandson I would train with him on Cinnabar tomorrow, so Charizard and I need to get going,” he answered, opening his PokéBall and releasing the intimidating Pokémon. Bryan was a few inches taller than the winged lizard, but it towered over the shorter child. And it was…black.

“Umm, what is wrong with your Charizard?”

Patrick laughed at the question, no doubt because it had been asked a dozen times.

“Nothing,” he answered, climbing onto Charizard’s back, “Professor Oak calls him ‘Shiny,’ its a rare skin coloration that a minuscule portion of all species have. I will explain some other time.”

With that, he patted Charizard’s black neck twice and the Pokémon pushed off with his strong legs and took flight. Bryan stepped back as the wings beat for altitude and returned Patrick’s jolly wave farewell. As Bryan pushed the door of the Pokémon Center open and approached the desk to ask for a cot, he internally questioned whether he would ever have a normal interaction with that astounding child.
 
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Pleasant Surprises
Lone Scribe for the Lord of Time
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Pleasant Surprises

The next morning, Bryan slept. Despite his normal 'rise with the sun mentality,' the events of the night before, coupled with his days in the mountains, left him exhausted. Even the early morning business of the Pokémon Center didn't wake him, but the ringing of his PokéGear just before 10 a.m. brought him to his senses. Pablo was on the other end. His friend was disappointed that Bill couldn't provide much information, but suggested he speak with Mr. Fuji in Lavender Town. Bryan confirmed that he would, especially since he was headed in that direction, and said good-bye.

Yawning and stretching, he shook the sleep from his body and returned the cot to the kind lady behind the receptionist's desk. The Kanto Pokémon Centers had beds to offer, and she informed him of this, but Bryan preferred the feel of the cot. As he walked out into the mid-morning sunlight, he looked around Cerulean City in the daylight for the first time in decades. A cool mountain breeze flowed down over the city, but it hadn't changed at all since Bryan's last trip. He could see the Bike Shop and the PokéMart to the south and knew most of the residences lived in the north of the city. Directly beside the Pokémon Center was the Cerulean City Gym, Bryan's destination.

This gym had been one of his favorites on his last trip and it, like the city around it, hadn't changed. The front doors opened to the arena, which was a large pool of water with several islands situated at random intervals on the surface. He remembered Feraligatr swimming powerfully through the still waters, propelling him to an easy victory. This time wouldn't be so simple.

The pool was currently full of trainers, both girls and boys, all training their Pokémon. As Bryan saw no registration desk, he walked up to the pool and addressed a young woman with short, orangish hair who was watching the proceedings with a Horsea.

"Excuse me, I am looking for the gym leader," Bryan said professionally, "I wish to make a challenge."

"Excellent," said the girl, pulling herself out of the pool and tossing on a light blue jacket laying on the pool side, "I am Misty, the gym leader. What level are you?"

"Level One," he responded, sizing her up. He had been impressed with the last gym leader, but he had some questions about this one. Although she was definitely embracing the water discipline, as Brock had the rock discipline, he just couldn't believe she was as serious as the slightly older leader at Pewter. Perhaps it is the swimsuit, he told himself.

Misty motioned to one of the trainers in the pool and he swiftly swam in her direction. She leaned down and gave him instructions before he climbed out of the pool and disappeared through a door to the left that Bryan hadn't noticed. A bell chimed twice and an excited chatter rose over the arena as the various trainers and their Pokémon exited the pool. Most threw on towels or t-shirts, but some simply walked to the viewing area and prepared for the upcoming battle. Misty's Number Two returned promptly with two PokéBalls and she excused herself to move around to the opposite side of the pool.

As the ruckus died down and the official, who had thrown a Pokémon League polo over his swimsuit, announced the match, Bryan began running over strategies in his head. Rocket would have the advantage of flying over the pool, but his second choice was less obvious. Jolteon had a major type advantage, but was far less trained than Nidorino. The young Electric-type had surprised him once though, so when Misty chose Golduck as her first Pokémon, Bryan sent out Jolteon.

"Golduck, Bubblebeam."

"Jolteon, Thundershock."

Bubblebeam streamed toward Jolteon, but the electricity in the air nullified the attack and shot toward Golduck instead. Without waiting for a command, he dove in the water to avoid the attack. He immediately re-surfaced and Misty continued the offensive.

"Golduck, Water Gun."

Dodging anything with limited footing was unlikely, but Bryan was experienced with Jolteon. He knew that their spikes could absorb electricity and serve to heal them, so he decided to test a dangerous theory.

"Jolteon, Thundershock the Water Gun."

Jolteon obeyed without question, either too naïve or loyal to question the strange command. An audible murmur from the crowd, however, clearly indicated they thought Bryan was crazy. The murmur turned to a gasp of surprise when Bryan's gambit played out. The Thundershock electrified the jet of water, but didn't change its course. As the Water Gun hit Jolteon full force, the attack did its expected damage, but the electricity surging through it simultaneously healed the Lightning Pokémon. A silence rolled over the arena as everyone anticipated the next move. Bryan knew what he wanted to do, but his timing had to be perfect to pull it off. Misty, on the other hand, continued her assault.

"Golduck, Scratch."

"Jolteon, Dodge."

As Golduck erupted from the water, claws bared, Jolteon leapt to the nearest island to avoid him. The Duck Pokémon gave chase. Jolteon was the second fastest Pokémon native to Kanto, but, in the water, Golduck was gaining on her. At random intervals, Golduck would leap from the water and swipe at her, but she was always one step ahead. Jolteon made a full circle around the arena before Golduck outsmarted her. Instead of attacking from behind, he used his swimming abilities to outpace her and attack from the front. As Jolteon leapt from one island to the next, the spray of water blinded her and Golduck finally landed a solid hit. Jolteon landed hard on the island she was aiming for and Golduck landed gracefully back in the water.

"Golduck, finish her with Confusion."

Floating with only his head and arms above the water, Golduck concentrated on the psychic attack and gave Bryan the opening he was looking for.

"Jolteon, Thundershock the water."

Concentrated as it was on attacking, Golduck had no time to react to Misty screaming to get out of the water. The full force of the Thundershock, amplified a thousand times by the pool of water, surged through the aquatic Pokémon and scored the KO. As Misty recovered Golduck and sent out Starmie, Jolteon returned to her starting point and sized up her second opponent.

Bryan started the second bout with Thundershock, but Starmie dodged and countered with Bubblebeam. Instead of dissipating the Bubblebeam as before, Jolteon jumped to another platform and countered with Tackle. Starmie, unfortunately, was stronger and when Jolteon's Tackle met Starmie's Rapid Spin, it was Jolteon who was KOed.

Rocket was the obvious choice for Bryan's second, especially since Starmie secondary Psychic-typing would wreak havoc on Nidorino. The experienced trainer was wary though because he knew many Water-types carried secondary Ice-type moves. Although his concerns were founded, Misty overplayed her hand.

"Starmie, Ice Beam."

"Rocket, Dive.”

Pidgeotto easily dodged the attack and swooped low over the water. As Starmie continued to exhaust her energy trying to freeze the flier, the Ice Beam froze patches on the top of the pool where it missed.

"Rocket, Quick Attack."

Starmie attempted to dodge the incoming bird, but to no effect, and the impact threw her into the water. She re-surfaced with a Bubblebeam, but Rocket soared away from the attack and the two reset.

"Rocket, Air Slash."

Starmie whirled away from the initial attack and Pidgeotto followed with a second. Again, Starmie spun away, landing on another platform and countering with Bubblebeam. At such a great range though, the attack was easy to dodge and Bryan had formulated his strategy.

"Rocket, Air Slash again."

Again, the blasts of concentrated air rained down on Starmie, forcing it off another platform, then another. Rocket had clearly realized the game. As two more Air Slashes missed their mark, Starmie leapt to the next platform, only to realize it wasn't a platform, it was a layer of thin ice cause by Ice Beam. The ice shattered and Starmie sank. Despite being a Water-type Pokémon, the fall confused her and, as she re-surfaced, Rocket bombarded her with perfectly aimed Air Slashes. Starmie weathered the attack and countered with an Ice Beam, but the momentum was completely in Bryan's favor.

"Rocket, Quick Attack."

Rocket dropped under the Ice Beam and raced toward Starmie. He was so fast and so near the water, waves shot up around him like a tunnel. As the Ice Beam passed through the channel, it froze the splashing water, hiding Rocket from the onlooking crowd. When Rocket exited the tunnel of ice, the sound was indescribable, but it was followed by a collective gasp from the crowd as Pidgeotto smashed into Starmie and ended the match.

The referee announced the results and some impressed applause sounded from the crowd as they dispersed. Misty returned to Bryan's side of the pool holding a blue, raindrop-shaped badge in her hand.

"The Cascade Badge," she said, handing it to him, "and you deserve it. I don't often see strategy like that from a Level One trainer."

"Thank you," replied Bryan, taking the badge and fishing around in his pocket for his trainer card, he handed it to her and continued, "I was surprised when you chose two fully-evolved Pokémon, Brock only used Geodude and Onix."

She shrugged mildly as she pulled the Cascade Badge stamp from her jacket pocket, "not all of us like the restrictions placed on us by the Pokémon League. Starmie and Golduck technically don't fall under the strict guidelines required for a Level One battle."

Bryan was perplexed, he had been vocal about the same thing for years, but he didn't know anyone else agreed with him. Especially someone so young. It was becoming clear that his stubbornness had been holding him back for years and the world was moving on without him. He had a thought though.

"What if I had lost?"

Misty shrugged again, "then when you came back to try again in a week, I would have used Horsea and Staryu instead."

"That seems like a far better system than what the League currently has," Bryan commented off-handedly, fishing for a reaction from Misty.

She simply agreed with him. Hoping to speak with her further, Bryan invited the young girl to lunch and they spent the afternoon discussing reform of the Pokémon League. Bryan admitted his history and why he was far more advanced than most Level One trainers. Misty was shocked and admitted that she had seen an increased number of trainers from Johto recently, though none has strong as him.

They bid each other farewell around 3 p.m. and exchanged phone numbers, just in case. Bryan made his customary stop at the PokéMart before heading out of town, his mind wondering to a thousand different places. Even though he was only a gym leader and had never won the Pokémon League Tournament, he had always considered himself one of the best trainers in the Indigo Plateau. He had become a gym leader at 17 and had concentrated on little else since. True, he knew everything there was to know about the local Pokémon in Johto, yet he was beginning to realize that his knowledge was far from what he had originally believed. The world was growing and leaving him behind. With advancements in travel, the other regions had become far more accessible and Patrick had even mentioned a place called North America. The world of Pokémon was changing and he needed to catch the wave. His skills as a battler were still sharp, but he was going to have to grow as a trainer and a person to stay competitive.

His inner musings were interrupted by a deep voice calling to him. A Hiker wanted to battle. Nidorino triumphed over Graveler and Machop before Bryan was on his way. The rest of the afternoon and evening was much of the same. Routes 9 and 10, running through the foothills of the northern mountains, were rocky and uneven, but well-traveled. A few more Hikers challenged him as he continued on, as well as a young man with Golduck and Sandslash. Nidorino’s Ice Beam was highly useful, but he was disappointed he couldn’t train Jolteon more. By the time twilight set in and the bright stars became visible in the cool night sky, Bryan had reached the Pokémon Center at the entrance to Rock Tunnel. He spent another night snoring peacefully on an attendant-provided cot and was out early the next morning. Like Mt. Moon, he sprayed himself thoroughly with Repel and stuck to the designated path. He ran into several trainers who had spent the night sleeping in the cave, but only one wanted to battle and he defeated the girl’s Bellsprout and Clefairy with Pidgeotto.

Rock Tunnel took longer to navigate than the previous mountain pass, but, as night fell again, Bryan found himself near the cave’s exit. Instead of leaving, though, he made for a secret passageway that Pablo had told him about. The entrance took some time to find, but the passageway led up a steep incline and into a sheltered valley high in the mountains. Bryan again donned his heavier coat and made camp.

Bryan spent four days training alone in the mountains, concentrating his efforts on his young Jolteon. She made excellent progress, especially fighting the local Spearow and practicing her agility on the rocky slopes. Rocket and Nidorino also showed improvement. Pidgeotto had difficulty flying in the cooler, thinner air to start with, but the practice would be extremely useful down the road. Nidorino, on the other hand, spent most of the days digging at the mountainside or lazing about on the rocks. He was strong-willed and proved himself tougher than both Jolteon and Pidgeotto in battle, but Bryan knew that when the right challenge came along, he would be ready for it.
 
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Growing Mysteries
Lone Scribe for the Lord of Time
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A Growing Mystery

On the Wednesday before his challenge with Patrick, Bryan returned down the secret passage and exited Rock Tunnel. Lavender Town sat in the valley below the great mountain and Bryan could see the peaceful skyline from his vantage point. Something was missing.

“Where is Pokémon Tower?” he wondered aloud, though only Nidorino was around to hear him.

The Poison Pin Pokémon snorted in the cold morning air and looked up at his master. Bryan shrugged at him and motioned for him to lead the way down the mountain. Nidorino did so with glee, jumping from rock to rock, a complete contrast to his mentality of the last few days. Quite suddenly, Nidorino stopped playing and walked stiffly back to Bryan’s side, his horn displayed menacingly. He kept pace with his master. When a Hiker appeared around a bend in the path, Bryan had to suppress a laugh. Nidorino was too proud to show his true personality in front of strangers or other Pokémon. Alone, he would gladly skip along and play among the rocks, but, if anyone other than Bryan was present, he had to present himself as a tough, well-trained Pokémon worthy of respect.

The Hiker and Bryan exchanged greetings and continued on their ways. As Bryan and Nidorino rounded the bend that had hidden the Hiker, Bryan was shocked to see the remnants of Pokémon Tower being cleaned up by a mass of workers. The area was marked off with warning tape and groups of men, along with various Machoke and Graveler, were busy sifting through the rubble and loading it into large bins. The bins filled with stones were tethered to Rhyhorn that were carrying them back into the mountains, while the wooden debris was being carried south by a flock of Fearow. Curious about the fate of the fabled Pokémon Tower, Bryan hailed a worker who had stepped away from the demolition sight.

“What happened here?”

The worker looked around quizzically, confused at being addressed, but answered Bryan’s question succinctly, “the old tower here was torn down and we are clearing out the rubble.”

“Why,” blurted Bryan, flabbergasted. The Pokémon Tower had been the pride of Lavender Town and was well-maintained, he couldn’t fathom why anyone would have it torn down.

“For the new Radio Tower,” the worker responded, giving Bryan a strange look, “if you are interested in funeral services for Pokémon, try the House of Memories in the south of town.”

Bryan was confused, but the worker clearly had no interest in continuing the conversation and moved away. Taking a deep breath, Bryan took in his surroundings and discovered he wasn’t far from the Pokémon Center, so he trekked in that direction for some healing and, possibly, some answers. The nurse at the counter took a quick look at his Pokémon, but they were in good health and only needed minimal treatment. He wanted to question her about the destruction of the town’s iconic tower, but he had more pressing business.

“Do you know where I might find Mr. Fuji,” he asked instead.

“He is either at the Pokémon Volunteer House down the street or the House of Memories on the south end of town,” she responded kindly.

Bryan thanked her and left. Mr. Fuji wasn’t at the Volunteer House, but a kind, young girl and her Meowth walked him to the House of Memories. It was a quaint building near the edge of town and it didn't seem large enough to house even half the graves Pokémon Tower had. The little brunette girl escorted him inside and indicated Mr. Fuji was the older man near the front with bushy, gray eyebrows. Bryan smiled down at her and she disappeared back out the door. Mr. Fuji was busy speaking with an elderly woman, so Bryan took a moment to look around. The inside of the building was as basic as the outside. A row of candles decorated a long table at the front and several alters were set up for people to pray and leave items of remembrance for their departed Pokémon. The general air of the place was depressing, but it was a cemetery, so that should have been expected. When Mr. Fuji finished speaking, he strode forward, leaning lightly on a cane, and addressed Bryan.

"Can I be of some service?"

"Umm, yes," Bryan answered, unsure how to address the man he had never met, "my friend Pablo told me I should speak with you about your knowledge on Legendary Pokémon."

"Of course," Mr. Fuji replied, "he told me you would be arriving soon. Your name is Bryan?"

Bryan nodded, he hadn’t been aware Pablo had called ahead. The bald man indicated that Bryan should follow him and lead him to the far corner of the room, near the table with the candles. Bending down, he yanked hard on a cast iron ring embedded in the floor and, with some effort, opened a trap door in the floor. Tapping a PokéBall at his waist, it burst open and a Cyndaquil appeared on the dirt floor below them. Bryan followed Mr. Fuji down a ladder to where Cyndaquil stood, lighting the way. They stopped at the first landing, but Bryan could tell that the ladder continued for a long way.

"We are in the Pokémon Catacombs," Bryan breathed in awe.

"Yes," Mr. Fuji confirmed, "when the town council decided to have Pokémon Tower replaced with a Radio Tower, all of the Pokémon graves were moved here. Only a select few people have access to them, but they run under the whole city and down twelves stories."

Bryan was amazed at the depth and size of the catacombs, but was more interested in why the old man had brought him down. Cyndaquil had moved away from them and stood beside a sturdy wooden table. The light from his back threw eerie shadows against the walls, but it was the only light in the room, so it would suffice. Sitting on the table was a stone tablet, but Mr. Fuji had to place Cyndaquil on the table before it could be seen sharply. It depicted three great birds arranged in a triangle around a fourth, smaller and less identifiable creature. Near each of the Pokémon was a word. The letters seemed familiar, but he couldn’t read them.

“I have seen this before,” Bryan breathed, afraid to speak above a whisper, “but without the words.

“Where,” Mr. Fuji asked calmly, he obviously was familiar with the legends.

“On a scroll at the Pewter Museum,” Bryan responded, tracing the strange letters with his fingers.

“Aww,” Mr. Fuji sighed, he was apparently hoping for a different answer, “I have seen tons of scrolls depicting similar visages, but this is the first tablet. I found it in the ruins of Pokémon Tower when they demolished it. I was shocked because I knew every inch of that tower and had never seen it.”

“And the words,” Bryan asked, realizing he was finally speaking with someone who might be able to enlighten him further.

“They are written in Unown,” the bald man answered, he took a breath to continue, but Bryan cut him off.

“Unown? Like the Pokémon at Ruins of Alph?”

“Exactly,” Mr. Fuji confirmed, “recent research has revealed that each individual Unown represents a letter of the alphabet. Words written in Unown have been discovered in every region of Pokéarth, but they couldn’t be deciphered until now.”

“But you can read them,” Bryan said, his voice rising, unable to contain his excitement.

“Of course,” Mr. Fuji responded, pulling a pair of glasses from his shirt pocket, “above Moltres,” he said, pointing to the bird at the tip of the triangle, “it says, Faith; next to Articuno, Love; next to Zapdos, Courage; and below Mew, Curiosity.”

As he finished and removed his glasses, Bryan ran his fingers reverently over each of the ancient Pokémon and then he realized something Mr. Fuji had said.

“You know this Pokémon,” he asked, pointing to Mew.

“Umm, yes,” Mr. Fuji admitted, “that is Mew, but that is all I know. I heard the name once, a long time ago.”

The change in demeanor that overcame Mr. Fuji at the mention of Mew was sudden and drastic and Bryan thought he might be hiding something. He wanted to press for more information, but he doubted he would get much out of him. A long silence pervaded the dark catacombs, the dancing flames giving everything a sinister appearance. Finally, Mr. Fuji excused himself.

“I have other duties to attend to, but feel free to stay for a while. My notes are on that shelf if you are interested.”

Bryan thanked the old man and stepped around the table to a shelf housing a myriad of scrolls and several leather-bound books. As Mr. Fuji made his way back to the ladder leading to the main floor, it seemed to Bryan that he was leaning more heavily on his cane. Pushing the strange occurrences from his mind, Bryan turned to the shelf before him. He rifled through most of the scrolls, but many were written in Unown or simply depicted other murals, some known to the former gym leader, others foreign. Losing interest in the scrolls, he began leafing through the books. Again, many were written in Unown, but Bryan took an interest in one written in a shaky handwriting he assumed to be Mr. Fuji’s.

Since there were no chairs in the chamber, Bryan sat on the table beside the tablet, his long legs dangling over the edge. Cyndaquil shuffled nearer and laid its head on his leg as he read. For hours, Bryan leafed through the poor handwriting, constantly seeing references to Tanoby, an ancient war, and the words ‘original resting place’. He also noted the number 7579 in the top corner of every page, but with seemingly no reference. The name Tanoby seemed familiar to him, but he couldn’t seem to place it and the rest was completely foreign to him. A loud growl from his stomach reminded him how long he had spent in the catacombs, so he tucked Cyndaquil under one arm and ascended the ladder. Mr. Fuji was not at the House of Memories, so Bryan replaced the trap door and asked an attendant where he had gone. She directed him back to the Volunteer House, but, again, Mr. Fuji was unaccounted for. The same young girl he had spoken to before took Cyndaquil off his hands. Confused at the old man’s disappearance, he turned to leave, but the girl hailed him in a high voice.

“Mr. Fuji also wanted you to have this,” she handed him a thin journal with a red, leather cover, “also, if you are staying the night in Lavender Town, you are welcome to take a room here.”

“Thank you,” Bryan responded, taking the tome.

He considered turning down her offer, but he had a better chance of seeing the old man again if he stayed. Her bright smile lit the room and, taking his hand in her tiny one, she led him toward the back of the main room. The room she showed him was tiny and had only thin mattresses laid out on the floor, but it wouldn’t be any different than the cots he was used to. Another stomach growl evoked a cheerful laugh from the child and she invited him to dinner as well. As Bryan sat hungrily devouring soup and bread, he noticed the time as after 6:00 pm and realized he had spent seven hours in the catacombs and missed lunch altogether.

After two bowls of soup and half a dozen buttered rolls, Bryan bid his young friend good night and retired to the tiny room she had shown him. Taking the mattress opposite the window, he plopped down in exhaustion and flipped open the book Mr. Fuji had gifted to him. It was a list of Unown letters and their translations. The book was useless at the moment, but no doubt he would need it in the future to unravel the mystery he had found himself so interested in. Tucking the book safely inside his backpack, he leaned his head against the smooth, wooden wall and stared out the window into the coming night.

Legendary birds fluttered across his mind, followed by the strange creature called Mew. As the images of the Pokémon faded, Jasmine’s face took their place, then Elizabeth's, and, finally, Ampharos. Ampharos was in trouble, but it was dark and he couldn’t help. A great bolt of lightning streaked across his mind and Bryan jolted awake. He had fallen asleep sitting up, eyes trained out the window. During the night, two children had entered the room and taken mattresses too. Trying not to wake them, Bryan shifted his body around carefully and lay down, using his backpack as a pillow. The luminous backing of his PokéGear showed the time as 3:11 a.m. and Bryan quickly found himself back in dreamland, chasing after the legendary birds that a week ago he would have sworn were just a myth.
 
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Unbeatable
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Unbeatable

Without meaning to, Bryan slept late the next day. Someone had pulled the curtain closed on window to prevent the bright sunlight from streaming in and waking him. Perhaps one of the children he had seen the night before, both of which were gone now. Stretching and yawning loudly, he wondered where he was to meet Patrick for their battle, but a growling stomach interrupted his thoughts. Not wanting to overstay his welcome, he pulled an energy bar from his bag and munched on it. His mind turned from the mysteries of Pokémon to his match with Patrick. He pushed open the door to his room and found what he was looking for.

“How did you find me?” he asked Patrick, who was sitting in the main room, playing with a Gloom and the girl he had met the day before.

“The Volunteer House is always my first stop when I come to Lavender Town,” Patrick answered, “and Tonks informed me that you were staying with them, so I waited until you woke up.”

Bryan smiled politely, mostly to stall as he tried to waken his sleepy mind. Somehow, he had gone the entire previous day without learning Tonks’ name and yet she knew exactly who he was. Patrick stood from his chair and headed for the door, followed closely by Gloom and Tonks. Bryan followed at a distance, rubbing sleep from his eyes.

“There isn’t a good place to battle in Lavender Town, so I thought it would be more interesting to battle on the elevated paths over Route 12,” Patrick said back over his shoulder as he headed for the outskirts of town.

Bryan didn’t respond, but the two children that he was following continued on, so he took it that they understood his silence. Route 12 ran south from Lavender, past Vermilion, and turned into Route 13 east of Fuchsia. Instead of running along the coast, it essentially ran over the coast. Most of the shoreline was forested and impossible to traverse, so, at some point in the distance past, elevated pathways had been built over the water to make travel easier. A ten-minute walk took them to the edge of town and another ten minutes saw them standing on the wooden walkways just a few feet above the waves.

“I am a little pressed for time today,” Patrick admitted when they finally stopped, “I was hoping we could fight 1v1 with Flying-type Pokémon.”

“Of course,” Bryan acquiesced, Pidgeotto was his strongest Pokémon and the use of Flying-types would put them at an equal advantage on the interesting terrain.

Gloom and Tonks moved away from Patrick as Bryan walked further down the path and called out Pidgeotto. Patrick chose Crobat as his Flying-type and the battle began. Flying-type Pokémon in general are known for their speed, but Crobat was a step above most. In the air, Crobat could match the likes of Jolteon on the ground and that was saying something. Also, Crobat had both a size and strength advantage, but Bryan expected nothing less from the reigning champion.

“Crobat, Cross Poison,” Patrick yelled and Bryan could hear Gloom and Tonks cheering him on from behind.

As the attack shot forward, Rocket dodged beneath it. Normally, Bryan would use the maneuver to send him into a dive and use Quick Attack, but Crobat had the high ground, metaphorically, so Rocket wheeled around and awaited orders.

“Air Slash,” Bryan called.

Patrick called for another Cross Poison and the attacks collided in mid-air, causing a shock wave and buffeting both Pokémon where they hovered. Being heavier, Crobat dropped faster and Bryan used the temporary elevation difference to his advantage.

“Quick Attack.”

Rocket dropped into his normal dive and lined up for the attack, but Crobat recovered and dodged to the right. Not to be outdone in flight, Rocket slammed on the air brakes and attacked again. Crobat fled from the speeding bird, unable to shake its relentless attack. As the two jetted through the air, their trainers cheered them on, hoping the other made the first mistake. At last, Crobat dove underneath the elevated platforms hoping to evade its quarry, but Rocket followed. Water shot up on to the path as they zipped underneath, flinging spray. Exhausted, both Pokémon called off the chase. Pidgeotto landed on the platform’s railing, while Crobat flapped slowly to maintain altitude.

“Crobat, Steel Wing,” Patrick called, after both Pokémon had time to recover slightly.

Crobat swooped downwards, the edges of its wings gleaming like hard metal. It came in low over the platforms for a better angle, giving Rocket a chance to counter.

“Gust.”

Rocket pushed upward with his taloned feet and aimed the Gust for Crobat’s exposed back. The Bat Pokémon shifted its attack around the Gust, but the air pressure rebounded off the wooden platform and threw the speeding Pokémon off target. Its hardened wing crashed through the railing, throwing splinters everywhere and sending Crobat cartwheeling through the air. Although Rocket dodged Steel Wing, the flying debris knocked him about and he was forced to land again.

“Crobat, Cross Poison,” Patrick said as his Pokémon recovered before Bryan’s.

Cross Poison hit Pidgeotto squarely and Bryan was afraid he had lost again, but Rocket began to glow. For a moment, both trainers thought Pidgeotto was evolving. Bryan had seen it happen twice in recent weeks (Pidgey and Eevee) and Patrick saw the phenomenon on a regular basis. Both of them, however, were wrong. When the glowing ceased, Pidgeotto remained. Bryan scratched his head in confusion and, for once, even Patrick didn’t seem to know what to do. After a long silence, while both trainers contemplated, their next move, Rocket let out a deafening screech and attacked…with Cross Poison.

“Mirror Move,” Patrick shouted, slapping himself in the forehead as what happened dawned on him.

His exclamation, however, confused Crobat, and Cross Poison hit the Pokémon hard. Crobat shook off the attack and Patrick, with a sheepish look, returned to the assault.

“Steel Wing.”

“Rocket, Cross Poison,” Bryan shouted, hoping to replicate the result of the last attack.

Rocket cawed weakly once and took Steel Wing without defending himself. He bounced once on the hard wooden platform and Bryan caught him before he could hit the ground again. Another loss.

“I don’t understand what happened,” Bryan said, as he approached Patrick, still holding Rocket in his arms.

“Take this,” Patrick said, handing Bryan a Max Revive before explaining.

“Pidgeotto didn’t learn Cross Poison, he learned Mirror Move, so when you told him to use Cross Poison, he was confused.”

“And Mirror Move,” Bryan pressed.

“A highly useful move if deployed properly,” the boy responded earnestly, “it can copy the most recently used move of the opponent’s Pokémon, but it often requires taking a hit and can be difficult to execute properly.”

Bryan was intrigued, but remembered his young rival had said he was in a hurry. He gladly accepted the Max Revive, it would save him a trip back to Lavender, and bid them farewell. Patrick returned to his Gloom who was waiting with Tonks. They all three waved farewell and Tonks shouted after him in her high voice.

“Bye, Mister Bryan, it was so nice to meet you.”

Bryan, grinning, watched the trio disappear back toward Lavender Town before turning and heading toward Vermilion. He had never really liked children. Until now.
 
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Sad Story, Happpy Ending
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Sad Story, Happy Ending

The trek down Route 12 to the intersection of Route 11 was short and peaceful. Bryan enjoyed the salty air blowing in off the sea as he was reminded of home once more. I am lonely, he thought to himself, perhaps I will ask Peter to travel with me when I reach Vermilion. He arrived in Vermilion by early evening, slowed only by a few battles in the grassy field that was Route 11. A hard-fought match between a Growlithe and his Jolteon attracted some attention, but, after he won, the rest of the Youngsters left him alone.

After a short stop at the Pokémon Center, Bryan re-traced the familiar path to the gym. He was surprised to learn that Peter was not there. According to Lt. Surge’s assistant, he had left about a week after Bryan to train on his own. The burly man suggested that Peter just wasn’t strong enough to cut it under Lt. Surge, but Bryan new his former disciple better than that. It was more likely that he didn’t agree with Lt. Surge’s style.

Since Bryan was at the gym, he made an appointment to battle Lt. Surge the next morning and left. He spent the evening relaxing by the port, enjoying the sea air, and thinking of home. The next morning, he returned to fulfill his appointment with the Vermilion Gym and found Lt. Surge waiting for him.

“Fashionably early,” the huge man boomed as he walked through the door, “I like it.”

The Lieutenant was dressed in his military fatigues, as before, and a dozen men dressed the same way lined the edges of the arena behind him, six on each side. A gate blocked the path to the arena and the gym leader stood between it and the strange electric “test” Bryan had seen on his previous visit.

“Before you can challenge me,” Lt. Surge continued in his booming voice when Bryan didn’t respond to his first comments, “you much solve the riddle of my gym. Two switches on the floor must be tripped in the correct order to open the gate and allow you to continue.”

Bryan sighed at the theatrics for second time and called Jolteon from her PokéBall. Kneeling down to her height, he whispered something in her long, pointed ears. She responded with a sharp nod of her head and walked confidently out into the middle of the floor. Bryan laughed internally at the befuddled look on the gym leader’s face as Jolteon unleashed a Thundershock over the floor. The surge of electricity short-circuited the switches and the gate behind Lt. Surge swung open.

Bryan followed Jolteon on to the floor and led her passed the speechless Lt. Surge. He collected himself, crossed his arms behind his back, and matched pace with Bryan.

“Your Trainer Card, please,” he asked politely, some of his bravado lost after watching his previous machination fail.

Bryan fished the card out of his pocket and handed it to him. He placed it in the breast pocket of his uniform and broke stride with Bryan, quickening his pace to the far side of the arena. As always, the referee announced the battle as Level One, 2v2, and the board high on the far wall flashed into life with the pictures of the two trainers. Raichu and Electabuzz were pictured beside Lt. Surge, but the two spaces for Pokémon beside Bryan were blank. As the gym leader sent out Raichu, Bryan encouraged Jolteon forward and a small picture of the Lightning Pokémon appeared beside his face on the board.

“Raichu, Thunderbolt,” Lt. Surge boomed, his voice echoing off the close walls.

As Thunderbolt arced toward Jolteon, Bryan laughed to himself. This might be easy, he thought,Jolteon can absorb electric attacks, any Electric-type master should know that. The powerful jolt of electricity hit Jolteon and practically acted as a charge, doing no damage at all.

“Jolteon, Quick Attack.”

Jolteon shot across the arena, a nearly invisible streak. Raichu was powerful offensively, but lacked defensively and had no answer for the lightning speed of Jolteon. Quick Attack struck him hard in the stomach and knocked him backward. Raichu countered with Mega Punch, but Bryan had a new trick to pull.

“Jolteon, Double Team.”

Jolteon began to shake violently and then a mirror image of her appeared, followed by a second, and a third. Within moments, a dozen Jolteon decorated the arena. Raichu looked around, confused, and punched at the nearest shape, it vanished. He tried and failed a second time. And a third.

“Jolteon, Thundershock.”

Thundershock shot across the arena and hit Raichu in the back, doing minimal damage, but irritating the Electric Mouse, who turned and punched where he thought the attack came from. Jolteonunleashed another Thundershock with the same result. As the number of Jolteon in the room dwindled, Raichu became wearier. As he finally approached the true Jolteon, Bryan was ready to finish him.

“Jolteon, Double Kick.”

One foot struck Raichu in the stomach and the other in the nose, knocking him to his back and out of the match. Lt. Surge returned Raichu and sent out Electabuzz with little emotion. Bryan knew he still had the advantage because Electabuzz couldn’t use his electric attacks, but he knew Electabuzzwell and was wary. Having been put on the defensive in the last match-up, Lt. Surge came out swinging. Literally.

“Electabuzz, Fire Punch.”

Predictable, thought Bryan.

“Double Team.”

For the second time, Jolteon filled the arena with mirror images, but Lt. Surge lost patience with the game and Electabuzz unleashed a Thunderbolt through the arena. Almost all of the trainers lined up along the sides of the arena had to duck for cover, but the attack had its desired effect, eliminating the extra Jolteons. The real Jolteon, however, had snuck in behind Electabuzz and a well-placed Double Kick to the back sent him tumbling forward. As he turned, two more paws struck him in the stomach and he doubled over.

“Electabuzz, Cross Chop.”

“Jolteon, come to me,” Bryan shouted, as he could see Jolteon between the legs of her opponent.

Jolteon knew exactly what her master wanted and sprinted through Electabuzz’s legs as he swung wildly downward. Although taller than Jolteon, Electabuzz was far from tall and the Lightning Pokémon’s spikes grazed his legs painfully as she went under. Off balance from the missed attack and hopping in pain, Electabuzz fell face first into the ground. Bryan scratched Jolteon on the ears when she reached him and then she turned to face her embarrassed opponent.

“Jolteon,” Bryan said calmly, “Quick Attack”

“Electabuzz, Ice Punch.”

Bryan laughed internally again. His Electabuzz had the same moveset, but was far better trained. How much better trained became evident in an instant. Lt. Surge’s Electabuzz swung wildly at the charging Jolteon, but was just too slow to stop the oncoming attack. Jolteon, back spikes extended, slammed hard into the bigger Pokémon’s stomach and scored her second KO. Lt. Surge sighed deeply and returned Electabuzz as well. As he walked back across the arena, his disciples dispersing back to their duties, he pulled Bryan’s Trainer Card from his shirt pocket and stamped it.

“It would seem your friend was right about us,” Lt. Surge stated, as he handed Bryan both the Thunder Badge and his Trainer Card.

“About what?” Bryan asked, confused.

“The League should have replaced me and kept you.”

“You know who I am,” he replied, taken aback.

Lt. Surge nodded, “your friend let it slip in his frustration just before he left. He was a far better trainer than any of my disciples and, without my knowledge, they were treating him poorly.”

“Do you know where he went,” Bryan asked, hopeful.

“I am sorry, no,” the gym leader responded, “I asked, but he wouldn’t tell me. I do hope you find him soon, you are both excellent trainers.”

“Thank you,” said Bryan, “out of curiosity, are those the Pokémon you would normally use against a Level One trainer?”

“No,” the bigger man admitted, “but you are far beyond a normal Level One, so I bent the rules a little. Besides, now you are officially Level 2. Also, take this.”

Lt. Surge handed Bryan a small, yellow disc with the number 24 on it.

“TM 24,” Bryan confirmed.

“Thunderbolt,” said Lt. Surge, “for your Jolteon.”

Bryan thanked him again and bid the burly man farewell. The new gym leaders in Kanto had been interesting, if nothing else. Not seeing the need to stop by the Pokémon Center, Bryan headed directly north toward Saffron. Route 6 was short and the trainers there were easily defeated. Bryan spent an hour or so searching a small pond for Poliwag. With the coming of dusk, Bryan conceded defeat and headed into town. The guard at the gate greeted him kindly, but the southern part of the city was very quiet. He intended to turn left and take the road to the Pokémon Center until a rapid movement caught his eye and he turned right.

A small shape darted between two buildings and, curious, Bryan followed it. He lost the shadow momentarily, but caught sight of it again as it rounded a corner into an alley. Thinking it must be a Pokémon, Bryan gave chase. The creature darted in and out of the buildings, staying to the outskirts of town. Eventually, it turned north and sped up an empty street toward the city’s eastern gate. As Bryan approached the gate, he thought he had lost his quarry, but as he searched outside an old warehouse, an intense heat washed over him and he had to throw himself to the ground to avoid be roasted by the Pokémon’s Flamethrower.

A bushy tail disappeared around another corner and Bryan re-doubled his efforts to catch the elusive Pokémon. The street became brighter as he approached the northern corner of town and the Pokémon Gym came into view. From across the street, Bryan saw a black and orange striped shape vanish into the shadows between the gym and the dilapidated building beside it. He slowly crossed the street and looked up at the other building. It was the Fighting Dojo or…sort of. The building was clearly abandoned and had fallen into disrepair. Keeping on eye on the alley where his quarry had vanished, Bryan tried the front door. It was locked.

Moving slowly and staying in the shadows as much as he could, Bryan entered the alley. The Pokémon was nowhere to be seen, but Bryan pushed on. At the very back of the building, near the wall that surrounded the city, was a hole in the wall. By getting down on his hands and knees, Bryan could just crawl through the small opening. The sight that greeted him was depressing. The Fighting Dojo was rotting from the inside. Two gaping holes in the ceiling gave way to the elements and they had done their work. The walls were peeling and warped, while numerous holes decorated the floor. It was over one of these holes that his quarry stood defensively.

It was a Growlithe. It barred its teeth and growled. Hoping to avoid being victim to another Flamethrower, Bryan put both hands up submissively and inched toward the lone Pokémon. It didn’t attack, but it didn’t back down. Bryan could see that its back legs were trembling and it seemed thin. Slowly, as to not startle Growlithe, he knelt and unzipped his backpack. Pulling a few RedPokéblocks, Rocket’s favorite, from a plastic bag, he tossed them toward Growlithe. The wary Puppy Pokémon jumped backward at the movement before cautiously sniffing the Pokéblocks. Timidly, it picked them up. It didn’t eat them. Instead it dropped them in the hole it was protecting. Bryan heard a whimpering followed by the sound of chewing. Growlithe was carrying for another Pokémon.

Curious and concerned, Bryan took another step forward, but Growlithe decided he had come far enough and barred its teeth again. Realizing Growlithe would never trust him alone, he openedJolteon’s PokéBall and appealed for help. Jolteon understood perfectly and communicated back and forth with the wild Growlithe for several minutes. When at last they ceased, she looked back at her master and he advanced once again. Growlithe backed down, but remained on its guard.

When Bryan was close enough, he peered over the hole and gasped. A newborn Growlithe, tiny and crying, was stuck at the bottom of a deep hole, pawing at the side. As fast as he could, Bryan pulled out Rocket and explained the situation. He nodded and chirped before floating gently down into the hole. Carefully wrapping his taloned claws around the baby, Pidgeotto began slowly flapping out of the hole. The area was slender, but Pidgeotto made slow progress and, when he crested the floor, Bryan grabbed both of them, just in case. He set the baby Growlithe gently on the floor and tossed Rocket one of the remaining Pokéblocks.

“You’re its mother, aren’t you?” Bryan said aloud, looking at the larger Growlithe.

She barked once in a happier tone, as if to confirm what he said. Amazing, thought Bryan to himself,Eevee hatched ready to do battle, while this little guy is small enough to fit in my hand. The diversity between species is amazing. As Growlithe sat licking her newborn and his Pokémon chatted back and forth, Bryan contemplated his options. He had followed the Pokémon in hopes of catching it, but he couldn’t separate it from its child. As he mulled over ideas in his mind, he finally came to a decision. Bryan tapped his PokéGear twice and searched for the phone number he had found on Patrick’s profile in Pewter City. After explaining the situation to his young rival, Patrick told him he would have Tonks meet him at the Fighting Dojo and take the Pokémon back to the Volunteer House. She wouldn’t arrive until late the next day, but it was the best option Bryan felt he had.

Bryan didn’t sleep that night until after both Growlithe and his Pokémon had nodded off. When he was awoken by the sun shining through the broken roof the next morning, Rocket was resting in the destroyed rafters and Jolteon was guarding the hole in the wall through which he had entered the night before. The mother Growlithe had left again, but her baby was still resting peacefully against the back wall, using some old scroll paper as bedding. Bryan noticed that the baby appeared to have doubled in size over night and, at that rate, would be full size in only a couple of days.

The mother Growlithe returned before mid-day, but was again empty-handed. Bryan, however, readily shared his Pokéblocks with the two wild Pokémon and let Nidorino out to enjoy some freedom as well. The five of them spent a lazy afternoon resting in the old, abandoned Dojo, the only disturbance coming from the occasional sound of passersby in the street outside. By the time the sun began to set and a gentle knock was heard on the front door, the young Growlithe had visibly grown even more. Bryan, tearing his eyes away from the sad Pokémon, cautiously pushed the door open to allow Tonks in. Her normal boisterous attitude was subdued as she looked over the Pokémon. She had brought additional medicine, but, despite being underfed, the Growlithe were in good health.

“Shall we head back this evening,” Tonks asked Bryan, “it's not too late to make it back to Lavender before ten.”

“Then we should, yes,” responded Bryan in a quiet voice, “the air here is damp and unhealthy.”

As if to support his theory, Nidorino sneezed loudly. While Tonks bustled about with the Growlithe, speaking with them softly and petting their beautiful fur, Bryan rounded up his own Pokémon and prepared to leave. He looked over the Fighting Dojo one last time and found an old tennis ball laying in the corner. For some reason, he decided to pick it up and stick it in his jacket pocket.

Bryan led the way out of the Fighting Dojo. He pushed the door open just a crack to check for people in the street and then pushed it wide enough for Tonks and the Growlithe to follow. After sneaking out himself, he pushed the doors back closed with a creak. They walked together in silence to the eastern gate. Just before they passed through and onto Route 8, Bryan stopped.

“Can you make it on your own, Tonks?”

“Of course,” she replied, “you don’t need to come if you have business here.”

“Thank you,” he responded, kneeling to pet both the Growlithe good-bye, “let me know how they recover.”

She smiled brightly at his kindness, “if you ever have need of me, just call the Volunteer House and I will come running.”

“I know you will,” Bryan smiled back. If I ever have a daughter, he thought, I hope she is half as fantastic as you.

Tonks turned and led the Pokémon toward the gate and their new home, Bryan watching them go. As the small girl pushed open the door to the guard house, the mother Growlithe stopped and turned back. She ran at full speed back to Bryan, who held his hands out for her. Instead of jumping into his arms for a hug good-bye, she began sniffing at his jacket pocket. He remembered the tennis ball and pulled it out. Growlithe barked once and Bryan tossed the ball to Tonks. Growlithe chased after it and Tonks handed it to her. However, instead of turning to follow Tonks, she returned to Bryan with the ball in her mouth.

“I think she wants to stay with you,” Tonks called.

Bryan scratched the hairy girl’s head and she dropped the ball to bark happily.

“I would love to have her,” Bryan responded, picking up the now damp ball. He tossed it into the air and Growlithe expertly caught it in her mouth.

While Bryan searched his bag for a PokéBall, Growlithe returned to her son one last time. They rubbed their noses together in farewell and she turned and trotted once more to Bryan’s side. Tonks waved a final farewell and she disappeared through Saffron’s Gate with the younger Growlithe in tow. Bryan, having found a PokéBall, pushed the small white button, but instead of Growlithe being captured, Abra popped out.

“Wow,” Bryan exclaimed aloud, “I forgot I had caught you.”

Re-calling Abra, he turned on his heel and tossed the tennis ball out in front of him. Growlithefaithfully and energetically ran it down and returned it to him. The two continued to play all the way to the PokéMart. Despite seeing practically no-one the previous day, the street was now packed with people, which only seemed to encourage Growlithe, who was enjoying weaving through their legs. A few children stopped to pet her too. After stocking up on PokéBalls and medicine, Bryan headed for the Pokémon Center on the far side of town. The city was so big, he had wondered previously why they hand’t built a second Pokémon Center.

When at last they reached the Pokémon Center, Bryan wanted to immediately sleep, but he knew he needed to eat first. Growlithe received a quick check-up as Bryan enjoyed a hearty bowl of noodles and, luckily, the nurse informed him that Growlithe was in good health. Taking his normal cot, Bryan retired to a dark corner of the Pokémon Center, but not before he called the Volunteer House in Lavender. Tonks had just arrived and Growlithe was already acclimating well to his new home and friends. Bryan was glad. Hanging up and turning to his own Growlithe, he intended to return her to her PokéBall, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead, he abandoned his cot and slept on the floor, backpack as a pillow and holding Growlithe tight to his chest.
 
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Mind Games
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Mind Games

Daylight came too early for Bryan’s liking the next day and he found it odd that he was becoming a later riser now that he was traveling again. Perhaps it was just because the journey wore him out. After using the Technical Machine on Jolteon and sending Abra to Jasmine, he headed out. His next stop was the Saffron City Gym to see Sabrina. She was the only member of the current gym leaders he had met, save Blaine, and he truly liked the girl. She was only a couple years younger than him and mysterious in a beautiful way. He had fought her at the Pokémon League Tournament a few years prior and had been warned that her beauty was so striking that she could win matches before they even began. Bryan had won that match, but only barely, and was more concerned about his match with Sabrina than any of the previous leaders.

Any nerves he had were melted away by Growlithe’s demeanor as they walked through the city. The sad, scared Pokémon of the previous couple days had been replaced by a happy, carefree Growlithe that enjoyed chasing her own tail and seeking affection from every child they passed. So contagious was her attitude that any concerns regarding the match had vanished before they approached the towering edifice that was the gym.

The Pokémon Gym was the second largest building in the city, dwarfed only by the massive Silph Co. building at its center. Saffron was the heart of Kanto. It was surrounded by four smaller cities, was the most populous, and most visited city in the region. The development of the Magnet Train only increased those numbers. As such, Sabrina had more disciples than any other gym leader and needed the massive gym to support their numbers. Inside, Bryan found himself in a wide atrium, a receptionist’s desk on the back wall and stairs leading up to another level on either side of him.

“How may I help you,” a perky receptionist asked as a small bell accompanied the opening of the door.

“I am here to challenge Sabrina,” he stated matter-of-factly, but any professionalism he wished to portray was overshadowed by Growlithe putting her paws on the counter and barking happily at the receptionist.

Thankfully, the smartly dressed girl took it in stride and patted the soft patch of hair on Growlithe’s head affectionately.

“Unfortunately, Sabrina is unavailable for battle at the moment, as she has a lunch appointment,” the receptionist said, sounding truly disappointed, “but I can schedule you for after 4 pm.”

Bryan was about to say he would take the next available time when a familiar voice sounded from the landing above them.

“My lunch appointment is with him and we can commence the battle as soon as we return.”

“Of course, Sabrina,” the girl responded promptly, typing furiously on her computer.

Bryan looked up to see his old acquaintance standing above him, her black hair hanging over her shoulders and her strange pink eyes gleaming. She was wearing long, white pants, but a loose fitting and somewhat revealing pink top. Sabrina winked at him and descended the staircase fluidly.

“Shall we,” she asked, extending a hand to him and pushing open the front door.

“Of course,” he responded, taking her hand, befuddled, but he recovered quickly from her initial blow, “so the battle strategy starts now,” he commented, indicating her clothes.

She smiled her normal, mysterious smile, “would you like me to put on something that makes you more comfortable?”

'Perhaps' was the answer that immediately popped into his mind, but he refused to admit that weakness to her. He did briefly wonder how she wasn’t cold, it was mid-October and the air was far from warm, but he kept his thoughts to himself and changed the subject.

“How did you know I was coming?

“I am psychic, of course,” she said, teasing, but said no more for the moment.

He knew she wanted him to be distracted by her beauty and the fluidity of her movement. It was working. His mind briefly flashed to Elizabeth. Her long, blonde hair blowing in the sea breeze…a squeeze on his hand brought him back to reality. Sabrina had led them to the nicest restaurant in town and was addressing the hostess. As he looked around at the fancy decor, painfully aware he was underdressed, his mind wondered again. He loved Elizabeth and treasured her friendship beyond anything, but the woman before him was beautiful too and had once before expressed her feelings for him.

“You seem a million miles away,” Sabrina broke in on his thoughts and dropped her charming demeanor for a moment, “are you ok?”

“Yes,” Bryan responded, a little slowly, “just tired is all. And this was unexpected.”

“Sorry,” she returned, crest-fallen, “I was just excited to see you again.”

“And I, you,” Bryan reassured her, drawing a smile back to her face, “now, what does this place have to eat?”

“We will have two orders of Kanto Spicy Chicken, a jar of Lemonade, and one Icefall Cream for dessert,” she told their waiter, who quickly scurried off.

As they sat waiting for their food, Sabrina’s flirty nature re-surfaced and Bryan, tired of fighting it, gave in. They laughed and joked all through lunch, thoroughly enjoying every second of it. Bryan was almost sad to see it end and have to return to the less flirty and attractive world outside. When the Icefall Cream was brought out for them to share, however, Sabrina’s manner became more serious.

“I am impressed with your Growlithe,” she began, indicating the obedient Puppy Pokémon at his feet.

She had followed their confusing flight from the gym, stuck near to Bryan the whole trip, and been quietly vigilant throughout lunch. Although it appeared that she was sleeping, Bryan knew that is something threatened either one of them, she would be awake in seconds.

“Are you really here to challenge me?”

“I am,” he responded, matching her serious tone, “after I lost my gym, I decided to re-find myself. In doing so, I discovered I was more lost than I ever knew. I don’t know exactly why I started this journey, but I know I must see it through.”

Sabrina gave him a piercing look, but she could tell he was serious, “and this business with the Legendary Pokémon?”

“I am…,” he started, but paused before continuing, “how did you know?”

“I received a call last night for Mr. Fuji in Lavender Town, which is how I knew you were coming. He told me to pass on a message, but I wanted to know your intentions first.”

“And lunch was buttering me up,” he asked.

“No, lunch was me having some fun,” she responded, a small smile playing on her lips again, “you know I have always liked you. But my job, first and foremost, is Pokémon, so I have to ask, what is your business with the Legendary Pokémon?”

“Honestly,” Bryan thought out loud, taking a deep breath, “I don’t know. Before I left, a friend of mine gave me this feather,” he produced it from the inner pocket of his jacket where he knew it was safe, “and later that week, upon my arrival here, I saw Articuno flying over the Seafoam Islands. Since then, I have been hearing the same legends over and over. I am just…intrigued.”

Sabrina stared at him with her penetrating pink eyes, all of their mystery and laughter replaced with a burning intensity and sense of duty. Bryan matched her stare, for the first time understanding that his research into the Legendary Pokémon could be dangerous or possibly deadly.

“I believe you,” she said at last, “Mr. Fuji said you should travel to Pokémon Mansion on Cinnabar Island. You may find some answers there.”

Bryan met her eyes again, but she continued seriously, “Bryan, please be careful.”

He nodded and reached across the table to squeeze her hand, it had been an interesting day, but he took her warning to heart and wanted her to be aware of it. After the bill came and she paid, she reverted to her joyful, flirty nature and they enjoyed a walk in the cool sunshine back to the gym. The already busy gym became a flurry of action when the two walked in the front door and, within 15 minutes, Bryan was standing opposite of Sabrina waiting for the referee to start the battle. As his first Level Two battle, it would be 3v3 and he knew Sabrina would be testing him for all he was worth. She proved it with her first decision.

“Alakazam, Psychic.”

“Rocket, Air Slash”

A wave of psychic energy surged forth and washed over Pidgeotto, but the attack was cut short when Air Slash made contact and broke Alakazam’s concentration. Bryan decided to gamble early instead of draw the battle out and pressed the attack.

“Rocket, Mirror Move.”

Psychic surged in the opposite direction across the arena and Alakazam, after taking consecutive hits, looked winded, but Sabrina was prepared.

“Alakazam, Recover.”

The Psi Pokémon’s body glowed green briefly and its health returned in full. Bryan hung his head, he was right to be concerned about her skill. Before she could attack again, he pressed his offense again.

“Rocket, Quick Attack.”

“Alakazam, Ice Punch.”

Pidgeotto shot downward on a good line to make contact, but Alakazam’s timing was perfect and Ice Punch scored an easy KO. Bryan gritted his teeth and re-thought his strategy. Alakazam was easily the toughest Pokémon he had faced in a long time and bringing it down was proving to be a monstrous task. Nidorino was at a distinct disadvantage, so he chose Jolteon second. Jolteon began with newly learned Thunderbolt, but Alakazam deflected most of the attack with Light Screen. Quick Attack was no more effective, as Jolteon took Psychic in the process, and Alakazam proceeded to heal off all damage a second time. Double Team fell to Psychic as well and Alakazam scored a second Ice Punch KO when Jolteon tried to land Double Kick. Seemingly outmatched, Bryan stood on the brink of defeat and fiddled with Nidorino’s PokéBall momentarily as he stalled. Suddenly, he felt a tug at his pant leg and Growlithe strode confidently onto the arena.

“Growlithe, Flamethrower,” Bryan shouted, trying to mask his lack of confidence and not knowing what else his new Pokémon could do.

An intense Flamethrower surged across the arena. It was so powerful that it was only partially halted by Light Screen. Before Sabrina could command Recover, Growlithe shot across the arena of her own accord and latched her teeth onto Alakazam’s arm. Crunch, Bryan realized, good to know. Alakazam shook its arm to try and loose Growlithe, but with no success.

“Alakazam, Ice Punch.”

The attack made contact and finally freed Alakazam from the tenacious Growlithe, but it did minimal damage to the hardy Fire-type. Concerned Sabrina would heal off all of the damage a third time, Bryan racked his brain for any moves Growlithe might know when he noticed the Puppy Pokémon’s claws were glowing a bluish-purple. He had seen the phenomenon only once before, but Lance’s Dragonite had used it to devastating effect.

“Growlithe, Outrage.”

The demeanor that overcame Growlithe was terrifying, but brutally effective. She scratched, bit, kicked, and all-around mauled Alakazam. The Psi Pokémon tried furiously to fend off the savage assault. It was no use. With one exceptionally powerful blow to the jaw, Alakazam collapsed and didn’t get up. Sabrina’s countenance showed only shock at the turn of events, but she still was in the lead and wouldn’t give in so easily. She chose Mr. Mime as her second Pokémon and Bryan quickly realized there was a problem. Growlithe was exhausted and Confused from the previous attack.

“Mr. Mime, Psywave.”

“Growlithe, listen to my Voice, come to Me,” Bryan called across the arena.

Growlithe was still confused, but the sound of Bryan’s voice was familiar and she ran toward it and out of the path of Psywave. Bryan patted her twice on the head and she shook the Confusion from her system. Turning, she starred down her new opponent with new confidence.

“Ready,” asked Bryan. She shook her head and barked once.

“Crunch.”

Growlithe’s feet pounded across the metallic floor, bearing down on her opponent. Sabrina commanded Barrier and Mr. Mime threw one up. Growlithe leapt over it. A second and a third. Growlithe weaved one way then the other. A final Barrier materialized directly before Mr. Mime, but Growlithe jumped it as well and locked her teeth tightly around Mr. Mime’s arm. She drug the struggling Pokémon to the ground and tossed him to one side.

“Growlithe, Flamethrower.”

The great burst of flame washed over the helpless Mr. Mime and, in no time, Bryan evened the score. Sabrina’s countenance, which had been enjoyment, then contentment, was rapidly becoming frustration. All good trainers are upset when they lose a Pokémon, but the best must maintain their composure and battle on. Sabrina was struggling to control her emotions as she called out her last Pokémon.

“Espeon, Psychic.”

“Growlithe, Flamethrower.”

Neither attack was possible to dodge, but each Pokémon took only part of the attack as the impact at either end broke their respective concentrations. Growlithe charged forward with Crunch again, but Espeon dodged. Once. Twice. And third time. Tiring of the chase, Growlithe took up a defensive position and awaited the next move.

“Espeon, Shadow Ball.”

A tight ball of dark energy formed in front of Espeon and shot forth. Growlithe expertly dodged the attack, but the trajectory couldn’t be stopped and Bryan had to throw himself to the ground to avoid taking the blast in the chest. Looking back, Growlithe could see the impact of her foe’s attack on her master and her claws began to glow with the same tinge as before.

“Growlithe, Outrage.”

Espeon tried to run. Growlithe’s jaws latched onto a leg and tripped her up. As soon as she hit the ground, Growlithe was on her. Sabrina tried to counter with another Psychic. The flurry of blows was too intense and, in the end, the combination of blows was too much for Espeon. Sabrina sighed deeply and returned her final Pokémon as her referee stepped into the middle of the arena and announced the result. The large crowd of trainer’s dispersed with little fanfare, yet Bryan was too concerned with Growlithe to notice. The second Outrage had left her Confused and she stumbled around the arena, unaware of her surroundings. He ran to her and reached her just ahead of on equally concerned Sabrina.

“Feed her this,” she said, holding out a peach-colored berry with a green stem.

Bryan did as he was instructed without asking questions and Growlithe immediately recovered from her Confusion.

“What was that,” Bryan asked.

“A Persim Berry,” Sabrina explained, “Outrage may be a devastating attack, but it causes Confusion. A Persim Berry can instantly cure that.”

“Thank you again,” Bryan said looking up into her kind eyes, “I re-call a similar Berry being used by some trainers years ago, but it had a Bitter taste and Pokémon didn’t like it.”

“Items that Pokémon can consume or use in battle are becoming exceedingly popular in competitive battling circles,” Sabrina commented, “you should take some Persim Berries with you for future battles.”

Sabrina helped Bryan to his feet and Bryan held his arms out to carry Growlithe, but she, like Nidorino before her, wanted to prove her toughness and walked off under her own power. The trio walked back to the front desk where Sabrina asked the receptionist for a bag of Persim Berries. She produced one from beneath the counter. Bryan added the bag to his own bag and, when he turned back, he found Sabrina handing him his already stamped Trainer Card and the Marsh Badge.

“How did you…” he started, but Sabrina cut him off.

“I was a pick-pocket as a child,” she jested. At least, he thought she was joking.

They shared a laugh and Sabrina leaned in to kiss him on the cheek before he left. A rush of heat washed over the middle-aged man and he decided to take a gamble in his personal life as well.

“Would you like to go on another date with me,” he asked Sabrina boldly, “I am sure Celadon City can do without me for one more day.”

Sabrina was flustered and her cheeks turned the same color as her eyes. She was used to being the one who initiated and intimidated, though usually for a strategic advantage. Having the tables turned on her was exhilarating and terrifying.

“I would love to,” she finally responded, her voice a little higher than normal, “and you shall stay here this evening.”

Bryan agreed that the arrangement would be preferable to walking back across town and she personally showed him to a private room away from the trainer’s dorms. He cleaned up as best as possible and left Growlithe in the capable hands of Saffron City Gym’s personal nurse. Together, Bryan and Sabrina spent a blissful night away from the rigors of being a trainer and a gym leader and just enjoyed being themselves. They shared a wonderful dinner and walked a short way down Route 8 to watch the sunset over the distant sea. Upon their return to the gym, they kissed each other good night and went their separate ways. As soon as Bryan’s head hit the soft pillow of his bed, he was asleep because it had been a long time since he had been so happy…or so tired.
 
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Old Friend and New Information
Lone Scribe for the Lord of Time
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Old Friend and New Information

The next morning Bryan woke well rested and ready for the day. He enjoyed a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs with Sabrina before heading out. Their farewell was predictably sad, but they embraced tightly and Bryan promised to visit when he had another chance. A teenage girl ended the moment abruptly when she stepped out of the gym to speak with her leader, but Sabrina was able to lighten the moment as he walked west, Growlithe in tow.

“Call me,” she yelled, in a high-pitched voice.

Bryan wasn’t sure if she was joking or not, but he would definitely give some thought to speaking with her in his free time. The journey from Saffron’s western gate to the outskirts of Celadon City took less time than actually walking from the gym to the gate itself. The two cities were the largest in all of Kanto and were only separated by about a mile of grassy fields. Despite the proximity of the cities, the paved roads of Saffron ended at the gate and only a dirt path connected it over Route 7 to the cobblestone streets of Celadon.

Although Bryan contemplated heading directly for the Celadon City Gym, his day with Sabrina only accentuated how lonely he was, so he decided to look up an old friend first. He passed the Pokémon Center, a tall business tower, and a couple of condos before coming to a high-rise apartment. He had to pick up Growlithe because she couldn’t navigate the revolving door. Looking around the atrium of the building, Bryan found the residential listings on the wall. Running a finger down the listing, he found what he was looking for.

CASSANDRA HESLOP, B-4.

Growlithe still in his arms, Bryan took the elevator to the fourth floor and roamed down the hallway until he found B-4. He knocked loudly and a tiny girl, no more than four years old, answered the door.

“Who is it, Ali?” a voice called from down the hallway.

The little girl just stared at the stranger in silence until footfalls could be heard behind the half-open door. Ali stepped away from the door as it swung fully open and took up a position hiding behind the legs of the newcomer.

“Bryan Schneider,” said the woman, and it wasn’t a question.

“Cassi,” replied Bryan, setting Growlithe on the floor and embracing his old friend.

Normally, he wasn’t a prolific hugger, but it just felt right at the moment. Growlithe took an immediate liking to Ali and began licking her face, as it wasn’t any higher off the ground than hers. Cassi motioned for Bryan to come in and closed the door behind him.

“I wasn’t expecting company,” she stated obviously, “but I am making cookies if you want some.”

“I could never say no to a cookie,” he answered sincerely, looking her up and down as she entered the kitchen.

She had remained fit since he last saw her and she was wearing a plain blue apron over well-worn jeans and a long sleeve, white t-shirt. Her hair had silvery streaks running through it, which was a new development, but, all-in-all, she looked well and he told her so.

“Thank you, I do what I can with my spare time, but it isn’t always easy with kids running around.”

“Is she yours,” Bryan asked in disbelief, eyes drifting to the child who was playing with Growlithe in the middle of the room.

“Adopted,” came the muffled response from the kitchen, so Bryan, satisfied that Growlithe was in good hands, joined Cassi in cookie paradise.

A dozen or so chocolate chip cookies were already cooling on a rack and Cassi indicated that he should take one. He did so greedily. He politely waited for her to remove the next batch from the oven before continuing the conversation.

“I heard you had gone abroad.”

“I did,” she responded, laying the new cookies out on a sheet and taking a seat opposite him, “all the way to Alola. It's a tropical paradise. In fact, it wasn’t long after I saw you last, early 1991.”

“But you're back now and doing well,” he queried.

She nodded, “the battle system in Alola is much different than here, but I conquered it in under a year. They don’t have anything like the Elite Four there, so I spent some time learning about the differences in the species that live there and came back to teach here. Now I travel around Central Kanto teaching classes on the differences and equality of all Pokémon. I liked the children aspect of it so much, I adopted Ali last year.”

“I am so glad you have found something you love,” Bryan responded sincerely, “but what are these species differences?”

“You need to take one of my classes,” she laughed, “but I can explain a bit to you now. For example, what type are Sandshrew and Sandslash?”

“Mono Ground-Type,” he answered.

“Correct,” she confirmed, “but the climate and atmosphere in Alola is so diverse and different that Sandshrew and Sandslash are Ice/Steel-type Pokémon.”

“Impossible,” Bryan shouted without meaning to.

“I thought the same myself until I saw it,” she agreed, “but nearly twenty Kanto-native Pokémon have micro-evolved into entirely distinct new forms in Alola.”

“Micro-evolved?” Bryan questioned, though he was still contemplating the principle of Sandshrew that weren’t Ground-type.

“A term coined by Professor Rowan in Sinnoh. When Pokémon in a species change form, for example when Spearow evolves to Fearow, it is known as macro-evolution. However, when Pokémon as a species change to something new entirely, like with Alolan Pokémon, it is called micro-evolution.”

“This is completely over my head,” said Bryan, taking another cookie.

Cassi laughed again, “if you think that is strange, have you heard about the Fairy-type?”

“Only vaguely, but I thought it was a myth.”

“If only,” responded Cassi, “there are certain Pokémon native to Alola and Kalos that possess the Fairy-typing, but it is not known to exist in the other regions. However, several Pokémon native to the other regions, such as Marill and Ralts, have micro-evolved into the Fairy-type in Kalos and Alola. What’s more, Professor Rowan believes that it is possible for these micro-evolutions to effect Pokémon even here in Kanto or Johto.”

“So, you're saying that Pokémon here in Kanto could just turn into the Fairy-type?” Bryan asked.

“Not overnight, but essentially, yes,” she responded.

As Cassandra continued to bake cookies and Ali occupied Growlithe, the two old friends discussed the recent changes and developments in the Pokémon world. As the day wore on, they turned to talking about old times and then about how their lives had changed more recently. As Ali helped set the table for dinner and Bryan finished boiling the water for the spaghetti, he finally decided to reveal the main reason he had come to visit.

“I want you to come with me to finish my challenge,” he said.

“Wait, what,” Cassi stuttered, taken aback by the unexpected comment.

“I want you to come with me,” Bryan repeated, but decided to elaborate, “for the past decade, I have always had Jasmine or Elizabeth and I realize now, as I am traveling alone, that I am lonely. My Pokémon are great, but it isn’t the same as having someone to talk to.”

Cassi thought hard about it for a long while as they began to eat and Bryan decided to let her think. Silence pervaded the small kitchen as the three enjoy their meal, the promise of cookies for dessert pushing them along. Growlithe slept between Ali and Bryan, breathing steadily. When all three people had finished their meals, Cassi stood, cleared the dishes, and brought a plate of cookies for them to share. As they munched, Cassi finally broke the silence.

“I can go as far as Fuchsia.”

“We go on trip,” Ali said, the first words Bryan had heard her speak and her language seemed underdeveloped.

“No, just mamá, you are going to stay with abuela,” Cassi told the girl, whose face fell slightly until her mother handed her another cookie.

“Teaching her Spanish, I see,” Bryan deduced. Oddly, he knew a large number of people who spoke the language, but his was decidedly rusty these days.

“I wish,” Cassi laughed, “she speaks Spanish, it is the English she struggles with. I blame my mother, she rarely speaks English anymore.”

“She still lives here in town?” Bryan asked.

“In one of the condos you no doubt passed on the way into town,” the brown-haired woman confirmed, “she hit the jackpot at the Game Corner about two years ago and has been on top of the world since.”

Bryan chuckled as well, remembering the hard-working woman who had raised Cassandra on her own. He was immensely happy he had decided to visit and even happier that she had agreed to travel with him, even if only for a time. They spent the rest of the afternoon and evening playing games with Ali and watching a Pokémon special about Electric-types. Nothing Bryan didn’t already know, but it was always good to be sure. He felt decidedly ignorant recently when he spoke to anyone who had left the Indigo Plateau.

Cassi made arrangements for her mother to care for Ali until she returned to town and the three went to bed around 10 pm. The house had only one bedroom, but Bryan happily took the couch with Growlithe curled up beside him. A sharp rap at the door woke all four of them the next day and Growlithe was the first to the door, barking loudly. Cassi’s mother, Maria had arrived for Ali. She had brought traditional breakfast pastries filled with chocolate and they were just as delicious as Bryan remembered from his childhood.

As Cassi gathered some of Ali’s things for the vacation to abuela’s condo, her mother turned to Bryan, “so where are you whisking my daughter off to?”

“Not far,” Bryan answered politely, recalling Maria’s no-nonsense attitude, “we are going to the Celadon Pokémon Gym and then taking Cycling Road to Fuchsia City.”

Maria opened her mouth to speak again, but Ali’s high voice cut her off, “gim, gim, want to go to gim.”

“I guess I should have expected that,” Cassi remarked as she stepped out of the kitchen, packing half of the remaining cookies in Ali’s bag and the other half in hers.

When everyone was ready to go, Cassi and Ali led to way, followed by Growlithe. While Bryan grabbed his bag, Maria pulled him aside.

“Be careful on Cycling Road,” she said in a highly serious tone, “I know you two can take care of yourselves, but the gangs out there have become exceedingly dangerous. The news is saying a new jefe has united all the gangs and they are calling themselves ‘Ghost Riders.’”

“We will,” stated Bryan, noting the seriousness in her tone.

“If anything happens to my daughter…,” she let the threat hang in the air to give it more impact.

Bryan didn’t respond, but was glad to see that the older woman’s recent affluence hadn’t changed her personality at all. She was still highly dedicated to her daughter and, no doubt, her granddaughter. The five of them had to cram into the elevator, Bryan again carrying Growlithe. When they reached the street, Bryan released Nidorino as well. Knowing the walk to Celadon Gym would take some time, he let Ali ride Nidorino to save her short legs. The young girl had a blast riding through the streets on the back of his Pokémon and they arrived at the gym in good time.

“I should warn you,” Cassi said as they approached the flower decorated gym, “as a Level Two, this match will be 3v3, but Erika employs the duel system at this stage.”

“Interesting,” Bryan murmured aloud, but went quiet afterward, thinking how the style would affect his strategy.

In a normal 3v3 match, the winner is the person who successfully KOs all of their opponent’s Pokémon, but in the duel system, it is essentially three 1v1 matches. He had battled in the duel system recently against Patrick, but it wasn’t a very common method of battling. Luckily, he had four Pokémon to choose from now and that would make the match-ups easier.
 
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The Mysteries Behind the Masks
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The Mysteries Behind the Masks

The Celadon City Gym looked more like an arboretum than a gym. The high glass ceiling intensified the mid-morning sun, making the inside of the gym stifling, despite the cool air outside. An attendant in a kimono greeted them and led them to a tree-shaded grove to wait further instructions. Ali played with Growlithe and Nidorino while the three adults took in their diverse surroundings.

The floor was covered in thick, lush grasses, while trees and plants outlined the walkways throughout the gym. The glass ceiling acted as a greenhouse for the gym and Bryan could see other women in kimonos tending to the plants. At certain intervals along the walls, bright splashes of color from different flowers drew the eye and, if one looked closely, one could see various species of Pokémon frolicking about. From his vantage point alone, Bryan could see a group of Hoppip floating between the trees, two Bellsprout drinking from a small stream, and a Gloom hiding in the bushes to his left.

By the time the attendant returned for them, Bryan was sweating profusely, but the women all seemed to be in good spirits. They were led to a line of tall trees and Bryan was told to enter through a fancy gateway in the trees while his friends were led around. Bryan did was he was told and found himself standing on the edge of a large, grass covered arena completely surrounded by trees. The only viewing area for the match was a window high above the arena and he couldn’t see Ali, Cassi, or Maria because of a glare on the glass. Directly opposite him, also wearing a kimono, was Erika. A loud speaker buzzed and announced the match, much like at the trainer house, and Erika sent out Victreebel. Bryan felt strangely alone at that moment, the stillness of the arena playing tricks on him, but he opened with Growlithe and she trotted out to take her place.

“Victreebel, Razor Leaf.”

“Growlithe, Flamethrower.”

Growlithe’s attack withered the Razor Lead instantly and enveloped Victreebel in its scorching heat. When it finally cleared, Victreebel still stood, but looked dazed.

“Growlithe, Crunch.”

“Victreebel, Vine Whip.”

Growlithe darted toward her opponent, dodging the incoming Vine Whip as she ran. Victreebel lashed out again and again before Growlithe latched onto a vine with her sharp teeth and bit down hard. Her opponent screamed and thrashed and was able to throw Growlithe off, but the Puppy Pokémon dug her heels into the ground and pushed up rows of grass and dirt as she slid backward. Another Flamethrower was plenty to finish off the first duel and Growlithe trotted proudly back to Bryan’s side.

The second duel was no more difficult for Bryan. Erika chose Vileplume and he sent out Nidorino. Vileplume tilted the large petals on her head down like a shield and absorbed the first Poison Sting attack. She countered with Petal Blizzard, which Nidorino pushed through to land a hard Horn Attack. Although both Pokémon were laboring, a well-aimed Ice Beam was enough to defeat Vileplume as well. With the match over, Bryan recalled Nidorino, but the voice over the loud speaker announced that he would receive a special prize if he could win all three duels.

The final match-up was Pidgeotto vs. Tangela, but, in the end, it only left Bryan disappointed in the quality of his opponent. Tangela lashed out with Vine Whip, but Rocket dove under the attack and opened with his customary Quick Attack. Tangela attempted to counter with Sleep Powder at a close range, but Gust sent the Sleep Powder back toward its originator. Although the Sleep Powder wasn’t entirely effective against Tangela, it was too groggy to defend against Rocket’s Air Slash and Bryan won the match in what could have been record time.

Erika disappeared from the other side of the arena as the referee announced the result of the match. Bryan turned and walked back down the path between the trees with Growlithe in tow. He was met by yet another woman in a kimono who handed him the Rainbow Badge, TM 53, and asked for his Trainer Card. She stamped it too and told him he could wait for his friends where he had come in.

Bryan did so and, by the time they arrived, the pollen and the heat had made him feel groggy. He quickly rushed his friends out into the cool, fresh air before they could speak and stood outside the gym taking long, deep breathes and clearing his head.

“Are you okay,” asked Cassi, patting him gently on the back.

“Yes,” he responded slowly, “my head just hurts. The heat, the pollen, I think it got to me.”

“Well you haven’t lost your touch,” Cassi commented, trying to turn his mind to other things.

“Thanks,” Bryan accepted the compliment, "but that seemed far easier than all of my other matches."

“It wasn’t Erika,” chimed in Maria from where she was standing, watching Ali wrestle with Growlithe.

“Truly?” the younger adults said in unison.

The older woman nodded, “all of the women at the gym dress the same and have dark hair, but I have met Erika and that wasn’t her.”

“Then does it count officially?” Cassi asked, turning to Bryan.

“Yes,” he said contemplating, “any trainer that is registered with the gym can technically fight in the gym leader’s place if they are unable. It happened to me a few times in Olivine when I was sick.”

“It is still strange,” Maria commented.

“Indeed,” agreed Bryan, “and it explains all the mystery.”

The women agreed and they began walking together back toward the center of the city. They grabbed a small lunch at a local café and bid farewell. Maria and Ali went north, while Cassi and Patrick walked west. They chatted animatedly as they navigated the well-maintained city streets and made good time as they saw the Celadon Department Store rise in the distance. Bryan made a quick stop for supplies and Cassi moved on ahead. They met up in the gatehouse separating Cycling Road from the short path outside Celadon City where Cassi had rented bikes for the both of them.

Knowing that, even on the downhill path, Cycling Road would take a couple hours to traverse, they set out immediately. With any luck, they would reach the far end before darkness set in. The downhill course was fast, but neither Cassi nor Bryan was an overly experienced rider, so they had to reign in their speed to prevent crashing. Bryan enjoyed the cool sea air rising up from beneath Cycling Road and the chill breeze that whipped his light jacket into a cape. The huge smile on Cassi’s face indicated she was enjoying herself too.

Cycling Road was a bit hard to explain to anyone who had never ridden it. The northern and southern ends sat on the rocky coasts of the southern sea, while the central portion was essentially a giant bridge. The bridge, however, was partially natural and partially man-made. Pokémon were rare on Cycling Road but, as Maria had mentioned, local bike gangs liked to stake out their turf there.

Bryan and Cassi zipped off the northern coast and out onto the strange hybrid bridge, passing over the Straight of Vermilion; the passageway that ships used to enter and exit Vermilion Port from the Great Sea. Night fell sooner than expected and, as visibility lessened, disaster struck. Cassi’s rear tire caught a hole or crevice and she lost control of her bike. She fell hard to the smooth pavement and, suddenly, half a dozen men appeared from the growing darkness and grabbed her.

Without hesitating, Bryan called out Nidorino and Growlithe to defend her. Two of the men began grappling with Nidorino, and Growlithe shot around, biting at the men’s ankles. The gang countered by releasing some Koffing, who tried to cover their escape with Smokescreen. Bryan, his ire rising, called out Jolteon and Rocket. Rocket cleared the Smokescreen with Gust and Jolteon KOed multiple Koffing with Thunderbolt.
Cassi was struggling with her captors, but a Horn Attack from Nidorino on the man holding her arms allowed her to call out her own Pokémon. Bryan didn’t recognize either of them. One looked rather human-like, but with a long fish tail and the other looked like Sandshrew, but was….

No way, Bryan thought, an Alolan Sandshrew. It really is Ice/Steel-type. So distracted was he by Cassi’s Pokémon, he didn’t see the man come up beside him until the fist connected with his face. The man who punched him apparently expected Bryan to drop, because he turned and ran when Bryan, blood running down his face, turned and bared his own fist.

“Cease,” echoed a deep, commanding voice across the chaos that Cycling Road had become in the growing darkness.

The ruffians immediately backed down and shuffled back towards their bikes; many of them hidden in the bushes or behind outcroppings of rock. A tall, imposing figure stepped off his bike and helped Cassandra to her feet before turning to Bryan. Men of a lesser countenance had definitely withered under the intimidating stare of the newcomer, but Bryan mustered every ounce of courage he had and faced him.

The man, or more accurately, boy, he couldn’t have been much older than 20, looked Bryan up and down intently, giving the former gym leader time to do the same. If he had though Lt. Surge was big, this man put him to shame. He stood several inches taller than the Vermilion Gym Leader and the muscles that bulged beneath his tight shirt and ripped jeans were larger and more defined. The dark, black hair was thick and hung down past the well-developed shoulder, while the terrifying black eyes continued to evaluate Bryan. After what seemed like an eternity, he extended a giant hand toward Bryan in greeting.

“My name is Mitellos Ziguener, but the men call me Vaga. We are the Ghost Riders.”

The accent with which he pronounced his name was strange, but the rest was perfect English. Bryan wasn’t sure how to react, so his only thought was to stall for time.

“Bryan Schneider,” he said, shaking the man’s hand. The grip was firm, but not hostile.

“Mmm, Schneider, good strong name,” Vaga commented, his accent only noticeable in certain words, like Bryan’s last name, “sorry about the roughing up, but business is business and we have to make a living.”

Bryan was still at a loss, but his intimidation at the man was gradually turning into curiosity. What was the origin of his periodic accent and why was the ruffian so well-spoken? Also, why did a gang of evidently hardened gangsters follow such a young man?

“We should battle,” Vaga said, making a response to his previous comment unnecessary.

“Ok,” Bryan blurted out, happy to do something he was familiar with and perhaps earn an escape from the Ghost Riders.

“Mmm, good, we will fight 3v3 with the dueling rules,” he said, his accent evident in the strange noise he made to indicate his approval, “and you,” he said, pointing to Cassi, “I like your Primarina.”

Bryan wanted to scream aloud, but he controlled himself. What was everyone’s obsession with dueling??? And how did everyone know more about foreign Pokémon than him??? The former gym leader had little time to contemplate the dozens of questions running through his head. Vaga’s gangsters formed a semi-circle behind him in anticipation of the battle and Cassandra recalled her Pokémon and limped to Bryan’s side.

“Are you alright,” he asked her.

“I will be,” she said in undertone, “just twisted the ankle a little when I fell.”

Bryan patted her on the shoulder and stood opposite Vaga, waiting. He knew that his size would evoke no fear against a man of that size, but he was hoping that his Pokémon surrounding him might have some effect.

“Let’s begin,” Vaga said in his normal tone, which easily carried across the pavement to Bryan.

He tossed out a PokéBall, but the Pokémon that erupted from it was foreign to Bryan. His confusion must have shown on his face because he heard Cassi whisper beside him.

“Shedinja, it is native to Hoenn, but no-one is completely sure how to come by one.”

Bryan found her hand hanging beside his and squeezed it to thank her. Perhaps I do need to take one of her classes, he thought briefly, as he sent out Rocket first.

“Rocket, Quick Attack.”

Pidgeotto screamed forward at a blistering pace and Shedinja made no effort to move. It didn’t need to. Quick Attack went right through it. Luckily, Shedinja was hovering in the air some distance off the ground, so Rocket was able to stop his momentum before crashing. He wheeled around in confusion all the same.

"Ghost-type," Bryan cursed under his breath at his own ignorance.

“Shedinja, X-Scissor.”

Pidgeotto was too close to avoid the attack, but the damage wasn’t severe and Bryan countered with Mirror Move. Again, Shedinja made no attempt to dodge and again the attack had no effect. Bryan was perplexed. X-Scissor should affect all types, nothing was immune to it.

“Do you need some help, “Cassi asked, somewhat politely, yet with a hint of amusement in her voice, “Shedinja is Bug/Ghost-type and can only be effected by Super-Effective attacks.”

Bryan sighed, “Rocket, Air Slash.”

“Shedinja, Evade.”

The previously immobile bug began dancing lightly around the Air Slashes and finally halted them by firing off another X-Scissor. Rocket dodged and then returned to the assault, yet Shedinja easily dodged each of the attacks that would affect it. Bryan had an idea…he ordered a Quick Attack. As expected, Shedinja made no effort to avoid the attack it knew wouldn’t harm it.

“Rocket, Gust.”

As they had practiced many times, Pidgeotto threw his wings forwards, halting his own momentum and throwing Gust forward simultaneously. Shedinja was too close and too shocked to dodge and was KOed with just the one hit. Cassi elbowed Bryan playfully at the ploy and both trainers returned their Pokémon. Bryan sent out Nidorino second, but again failed to recognize Vaga’s choice.

“Dusknoir,” Cassi informed him, “Ghost-type native to Hoenn. Though he wasn’t known to evolve past Dusclops until Professor Rowan in Sinnoh began studying different evolution techniques.”

Bryan nodded his understand, but Ghost-type was all he really needed to know. He was at a disadvantage again, as Double Kick and Horn Attack would have no effect and Poison Sting wouldn’t be effective either. Nonetheless, he opened the attacking.

“Nidorino, Ice Beam.”

“Dusknoir, Disable.”

Dusknoir took the brunt of the blow, but Disable would have long-lasting ramifications, Nidorino could now do very little damage to the Ghost-type.

“Nidorino, Poison Sting,” Bryan ordered the only thing remaining that would affect his foe.

“Dusknoir, Will-O-Wisp.”

His opponent again took the brunt of the blow, yet came out on top. Nidorino was burned, clearly suffering, and the status would likely diminish his already low attack power. Bryan was backed into a corner and hadn’t even seen a straightforward attack. He refused to give in.

“Nidorino, Poison Sting.”

“Dusknoir, Pain Split.”

Vaga’s Pokémon made no attempt to dodge. It wanted to take the damage. The more it suffered, the more Pain Split would affect Nidorino. As the hundreds of tiny darts shot forward, Dusknoir held out a flat hand and a chain burst forth, wrapping itself around the beleaguered Nidorino. He tried to break free, but failed, and an eerie glow emanated down the chain, sapping his health.

“Dusknoir, Shadow Punch.”

Bryan wanted to order Nidorino to dodge, or run, or counter, but he knew it was no use. His only effective move was disabled, he was burned, and suffering. Besides, Shadow Punch couldn’t be avoided. Dusknoir vanished. Nidorino, still alert despite the suffering, searched everywhere for the invisible Pokémon. It was no use. The Gripper Pokémon appeared behind Nidorino and landed a perfect Shadow Punch. The match was tied: 1-1.

Vaga’s final Pokémon was Gengar, but Bryan took his time deciding between Growlithe and Jolteon. His opponent had already proven a high capacity for training and strategy in the face of sheer assaults, but Bryan didn’t have much choice in the matter, that was how he fought.

“Growlithe, Flamethrower,” he decided at last, motioning the Puppy Pokémon forward and not waiting to attack.

“Gengar, Levitate.”

The Shadow Pokémon flew into the air and over the incoming attack. Floating high above the make-shift arena, it looked down on the assembled crowd with a strange smile upon its ghostly face. The look on Vaga’s face practically matched it.

“Gengar, Thunder.”

“Growlithe, Dodge,” Bryan screamed, his voice filled his with concern. He could sense Cassi’s nerves beside him.

A great blast of electricity dropped from the sky. A second. A third. Growlithe scampered away from the first two with alacrity, but the shock wave from the third knocked her off her feet. Gengar continued the assault with a Shadow Ball. Growlithe quickly scampered to her feet and away from the incoming attack. She shot another Flamethrower skyward.

At the distance Gengar was keeping, the attacks were too easy to dodge and Bryan had only one option in attack. Growlithe’s other moves required contact and she couldn’t make any at this range. He needed to bring Gengar down…but how? Luckily, Vaga provided the solution.

“Gengar, Sludge Bomb.”

“Growlithe, Flamethrower Gengar’s Sludge Bomb.”

The Shadow Pokémon cackled as he lobbed the poison downward, but Growlithe attacked just as commanded and the cackle became a howl of surprise. Flamethrower caused Sludge Bomb to explode and shower Gengar with hot poison. In pain, Gengar dropped within reach of Growlithe’s fangs.

“Growlithe, Crunch.”

The Puppy Pokémon latched onto Gengar’s exposed arm and bit hard. Gengar danced about furiously attempting to dislodge her, but to no avail. In a last-ditch effort, Vaga ordered another Thunder.

“Growlithe, Release.”

As the electricity surged downward, Growlithe freed Gengar from her clutches and the Ghost-type stumbled backward. Unable to stop the aforementioned Thunder, it struck its wavering caster and ended the match. Bryan had won another Duel Match, but he wasn’t sure what the gang boss would do next.

“You are quite the trainer,” Vaga said, striding forward passed Growlithe.

So menacing was his presence, Growlithe tried to impose herself between the two men. Bryan called her off. The big man's intentions seemed harmless. To prove as much, Vaga extended his hand and Bryan shook it enthusiastically, glad that whatever ordeal they had been facing had come to an end.

"You are the first trainer that has defeated me since I came to this region," Vaga stated in his deep voice, "so I will let you go. Also, should you have need of the Ghost Riders, give me a call."

He handed Bryan a handmade business card and, turning, ordered his men to leave. Bryan looked down at the card, read the phone number briefly and wondered why he would need a gang of hooligans.
Cassi's mind, however, was elsewhere.

"Where are you from, Mitellos?"

“Hoenn, originally,” he responded, turning back to them, “but I had a run in with the law and I fled to Sinnoh. It seems I was born to get into trouble, though, because now I am here.”

Cassi clearly wanted to ask more questions, but Vaga wasn’t in a speaking mood and returned to his bike. He led the Ghost Riders north and the other two promptly continued in the other direction. The wind was the only sound breaking the silence as they traveled the short distance further to the southern gate house of Cycling Road. The trip down Route 18 to Fuchsia City was short, but Cassi was struggling to walk on her bad ankle, so she called out another Pokémon to ride.

Bryan was baffled once again by her choice, but she explained that it was a Gogoat, a Grass-type native to Kalos. She had received it in a trade while in Alola. They spent the hour long trip into town discussing the other regions and some of the Pokémon that lived there. Bryan was beginning to think he needed to travel abroad, but he was going to need a partner and he had a journey here to finish first. Upon arrival at the Pokémon Center, they left their Pokémon for treatment and went to bed. Sleep came readily to Bryan and he found himself still in bed much later than he intended once more the next morning.

Cassi had awoken before him to have her ankle treated and retrieve their Pokémon. She woke him with bagels and hot coffee and they continued their conversation about foreign regions and Pokémon from the night before. Now that he had company, time flew for Bryan. The two spent a week in Fuchsia, battling, talking, and visiting the Safari Zone. Bryan’s Pokémon benefitted immensely from the training with Cassi. Nidorino learned to use Earthquake and Rocket added Steel Wing to his arsenal.

Both trainers were shocked to discover that the Safari Zone was being closed, but they had arrived just in time to catch some new Pokémon before the area became a wild habitat once more. Cassi was lucky enough to catch a Nidorina and a Doduo on their first trip, but it wasn’t until the last day before closing that Bryan caught an Exeggcute. The warden gave Bryan a Leaf Stone as a gift and the two watched him swing the gates of the Safari Zone shut for the last time and hang a CLOSED sign on it.

Bryan decided to evolve his Exeggcute immediately and he trained with Cassandra for another day before challenging Janine for his sixth badge. He was disappointed, though not surprised, at the quality of his match with Janine. His new Exeggcutor was able defeat her first two Pokémon, Venomoth and Weezing, with relative ease, but some poor luck and a type disadvantage saw him fall to Crobat. A single Thunderbolt from Jolteon, however, was enough to bring the Bat Pokémon down and advance Bryan to a Level 3 trainer. Along with the Soul Badge, Janine gifted Bryan TM06, Toxic. Although a common TM, it could be extremely useful and Bryan stored it in his PC for future use.
 
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Alone in a Cold, Dark World
Lone Scribe for the Lord of Time
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Alone in a Cold, Dark World?

The next couple of days passed too quickly for Bryan’s liking because, at the end of them, he had to bid farewell to Cassi and set out alone once more. In addition, he was headed southwest over the Seafoam Islands and he wasn’t a fan of the open water. True, he was excited to search Seafoam first-hand for clues to Articuno’s whereabouts, but that is where his excitement ended.

The same morning he escorted Cassandra to Fuchsia’s eastern gate, which opened up onto Route 15, Bryan purposefully strode down to the shoreline south of the city to rent a boat. A myriad of fishermen had gathered in the early dawn to head out and a man named Navas agreed to take Bryan to Seafoam and then on to Cinnabar for a reasonable price. The sailing was smooth down Route 19 and they turned west onto Route 20 just after midday. As Bryan unpacked a sandwich to share with his guide, the small boat suddenly began to shake wildly.

“A WILD CLOYSTER IS ATTACKING THE BOAT,” Navas shouted, pulling an extra oar from the bottom of the boat and trying to fend it off.

The Cloyster snapped its shell shut on the oar and snapped it in half.

“HELP,” Navas continued to shout, throwing himself in the floor of the boat as Cloyster once again began to ram them.

Remaining as calm as possible for a man who can’t swim and is in danger of being thrown overboard, Bryan called out Jolteon to combat Cloyster. The wild Pokémon wasn’t easily threatened. It backed off the boat, but launched an Aurora Beam at Jolteon. Jolteon dodged sideways, but, in the tiny confines of the boat, she knocked Bryan from his feet. Navas, standing in an attempt to give Jolteon more room to battle, was thrown from the boat as Cloyster shot forward and rammed it once more.

Bryan immediately moved to help the fisherman, but Navas motioned that he was a practiced swimmer and to deal with Cloyster. Bryan did so. With more space in the boat, Jolteon was able to more effectively avoid the next attack and counter with Thunderbolt. The wild Cloyster, tiring of its fun in the wake of being attacked, fled, but Bryan had other ideas. Searching through his backpack as quickly as possible, he pulled out a Great Ball and launched it at the fleeing Bivalve Pokémon. His quick thinking resulted in success and Bryan finally added a sixth Pokémon to his party.

After helping a soaked Navas back into his vessel, the two continued on. As Seafoam drew within eyesight, storm clouds began to brew and the fisherman, cursing his luck, attempted to make landfall before the rain hit. He failed. The torrential downpour blinded both men and only the occasional flash of lightning illuminated their destination in the distance. Bryan was unsure if they were making progress. As he stood to ask Navas if he could be any help, a bolt of lightning slammed into the sea route just a few feet from them and capsized the small vessel.

Bryan heard Navas scream as they both flew through the air, but he lost sight of the other man when he hit the water. Kicking and splashing, Bryan tried to stay afloat. It was no use. Despite having grown up on the coast, he was a horrific swimmer. Holding his breath and closing his eyes, he slowly sank into the sea. As he sank, he fiddled with the PokéBalls at his belt until he found the correct one. Cloyster burst forth and, seeing its new master drowning, clasped onto his foot and drug him to the surface. Able to breathe once more, Bryan removed his foot from Cloyster’s shell and held tight to one of the spikes protruding from it. Finding Seafoam by the flashes of lightning, he directed Cloyster in that direction and they were soon ashore.

Bryan, thoroughly soaked from his adventure in the water, lay coughing on the rain drenched rock for several minutes before he was able to push himself to his feet. When at last he was able to stand, he stumbled to the rocky shore and began shouting Navas’ name over the wind and thunder. No response came. Concern for the man growing, he sent Cloyster out to search for wreckage. She came back with a piece of the mast, but, despite an extended period of searching, Navas could not be found. Calling back Cloyster, the storm still raging, Bryan took shelter in one of the many caves that decorated the Seafoam Islands.

Finally sheltered from the chaos that raged outside, Bryan released Nidorino to serve as some protection against wild Pokémon and checked his PokéGear. He was curious how late it had gotten, but he also intended to call for help. He was able to do neither. Either the lightning blast, his watery adventure, or a combination of both had caused his PokéGear to cease all functioning. Cursing his luck, he spent a sleepless night absent-mindedly talking to Nidorino and worrying about the ship-wrecked fisherman.

The storm broke with the morning sun and Bryan carefully traversed the still-slippery rocks back to the place he had come ashore. More wreckage had washed onto the rocks, but Navas was nowhere to be seen. Taking note of the sun’s position in the sky, Bryan sent both Rocket and Cloyster to search for his lost guide. When two hours had passed, based on the sun’s rising, Bryan called both of his Pokémon back and gave up the search. He hoped Navas had been able to cling to some piece of wreckage and was picked up by the Coast Guard, who would have come through looking for people after the storm.

Trying to put the incident from his mind and concentrate on his own problems, he ate a small breakfast and contemplated his next move. Although it would be unpleasant, Cloyster could take him to Cinnabar, but he wanted to explore Seafoam more first. Deciding Nidorino would be his best escort, he called out the Poison Pin Pokémon and started out. Bryan also pulled his map from his drenched bag. The map was also wet, but readable, yet Bryan was disappointed to discover it had no information on the caves that dotted the Seafoam Islands. Shrugging and replacing the map, Bryan pushed forward.

The Seafoam Islands were strange, mysterious, and beautiful. Although they appeared small from the surface, the caves ran deep beneath the sea, burrowed into the bedrock of the earth. Somewhere from deep within the caves, a chill wind constantly blew upward, creating glistening icy stalactites and giving the rocky floor an icy glaze. Wide crevices in the ceiling allowed the sun to shine through, while weak parts of the floor had given way as well, providing light to the lower floors. Bryan had to be careful to avoid these spots or risk tumbling down to the icy floors below.

It was difficult to judge time in the cave without his PokéGear, but, after what seemed to be a few hours, Bryan grew tired of exploring the upper level and found a ladder leading deeper into the caves. Above, he had only seen a few Zubat, but he found a solitary Slowpoke staring uninterestedly at him as he landed on the floor below. The former gym leader ignored it. He had caught a Slowpoke in Slowpoke Well years ago and didn’t have the patience to raise it. Bryan continued wandering until his stomach told him it was time for lunch and then again when it was time for dinner.

He had traveled down two more ladders before the light in the cave began to fail and he began searching for a place rest. With the coming of the night, the wild Pokémon in the area became more active. Numerous Krabby scuttled out of crevices in the walls or out from under rocks and Bryan saw a pair of Seel doing flips in a semi-frozen underground river. Finding a secluded corner he felt would be safe for the night, Bryan recalled Nidorino and called out both Growlithe and Jolteon. Jolteon would be an excellent stand-in for Nidorino as he rested and Growlithe would provide some much-needed warmth.

Although Bryan had dried his clothes as best as possible after the storm, his clothes were still damp. The cold air constantly blowing through the caves served to keep his clothes moist and, more than once during the day, Bryan found his teeth chattering. Cuddling up on the floor, his moist backpack once again serving as a pillow, Bryan pulled Growlithe close and tried to rest. Sleep was elusive for a while, the strange noises of the Seafoam Caves playing tricks on Bryan’s mind. Eventually, exhaustion got the better of him and he dozed off.

Despite the need for sleep, his dreams were unforgiving. A creature with a long, thick tail loomed threateningly over him, starring into his soul with its odd, triangular eyes. The stubby horns on its head were menacing and it reached out a three-fingered hand to grab Bryan’s neck. Growlithe leapt forward to defend him, but the mysterious Pokémon swatted her away with ease. Panicked, Bryan called out his other Pokémon to defend him. The result was the same. The powerful purple Pokémon laughed raucously at the pathetic Pokémon and Bryan could hear its laughter inside his head. He turned to run, but was paralyzed. He screamed for help and none came. He screamed again and again and again. Nothing.

Bryan woke screaming as well, swatting at the darkness with his bare hands. A shape moved in front of him and, grabbing his backpack, he began brandishing it like a weapon. His breath came hard and fast. Another movement in the darkness caught his eye, but it was only Jolteon, concerned for his well-being. Comforted by the sight of his own Pokémon and Growlithe rubbing up against his cold legs, Bryan began to calm and breathe normally. He felt in the darkness for the cold, damp wall and slid down it, more exhausted than before he fell asleep. Both Jolteon and Growlithe crawled into his lap, but Bryan would find no more sleep that night.

As the weak sun’s rays began to filter through the crevices above with the dawn, Bryan decided it was time to leave the Seafoam Islands behind. Gathering his things and waking Nidorino, he retraced his steps to the last ladder, but couldn’t find it. Looking for a landmark or some object to give him his bearings, Bryan searched high and low for his way out, but again to no avail. The light in the cave grew bright and then dim again, yet Bryan could find no trace of the ladder he had come down or any other way out. Night fell, but Bryan could not find it within himself to sleep and spent a horrible, freezing night cuddling close to his Pokémon staring into the unwelcoming darkness.

He renewed his search for the exit the following day, but his attempts were no more fruitful and he began to wonder how long he would be stuck in the icy caves. That night, sleep was unavoidable and the terrifying purple Pokémon terrorized his dreams once more. He awoke to find daylight streaming through the holes in the floor and half a dozen Krabby scampering away from his bag. Snatching it up, he was horrified to see that they had stolen nearly all of his food. Releasing a loud, depressing sigh, Bryan broke one of his remaining meal bars in half to conserve what he had left. In an effort to conserve their energy, Bryan also returned all of his Pokémon and continued wandering about the frustrating cave alone.

After only a few hours of searching, Bryan had all but given up hope and paused to look up through one of the narrow crevices in the ceiling. From his vantage point, he could see up through all four layers of rock above him and out to the beautiful blue sky beyond. He contemplated whether he would ever see the entire sky again and plopped down hard on the slick floor beneath him. The floor collapsed.

Bryan didn’t know how long he fell. And screamed. But it felt like an eternity before he hit the fast-flowing water below. He sank nearly to the bottom and, when he felt his toes touch something solid, he kicked himself back to the surface. He saw the shore within sight, but the strong current pulled him under and away from safety. He attempted to release Cloyster once more, but the current was too strong and he struggled to keep his head above water without help. Spluttering and swallowing a ton of cold, salty water, Bryan was tossed about like a rag doll. The longer he was under, the harder it became to maintain his composure and his consciousness began to waver. As blackness began to envelope him, a picture of Sabrina crossed his mind, then Elizabeth, and finally, for some unknown reason, Articuno.

Bryan woke gagging and spitting up water. The taste in his mouth was terrible, but it was better than drowning. As his vision cleared, he spotted a Seel watching him from a distance. He pushed himself painfully to a seated position and locked eyes with the Sea Lion Pokémon. They shared a strange, tender moment, Bryan realizing that Seel had possibly saved his life. Seel, however, satisfied Bryan was no longer in danger, jumped back into the icy water and disappeared from sight. Standing was no less painful than sitting and, upon surveying his surroundings, Bryan thought it may have been better not to wake up.

He was on a tiny island surrounded by the fast-moving water than had carried him there. No light shown through the ceilings like the upper floors, but an eerie light emanating off the ice-covered walls allowed him to see an odd nest composed of ice crystals occupying most of the tiny island. To make matters worse, he had lost his backpack in the water and, more devastatingly, Cloyster’s PokéBall. Without the Bivalve Pokémon, he had no way to escape the tiny island. None of his other Pokémon could swim well enough to traverse the currents, especially not carrying Bryan.

Bryan kicked at the ground in frustration and tossed a small ice crystal into the flowing water. The underground river was so cold that the ice didn’t melt, it was simply whisked away at high speed. The former gym leader shivered and tried to wring the water from his clothes. It helped very little, but, in the dim, radiant light of the cavern, Bryan saw a tiny ray of hope. The bag of Persim Berries Sabrina had given him.

Snatching it up, Bryan scarfed one down, suddenly ravenous. Regaining control of himself, he saved the rest for a later time. Finding a boulder to prop himself up on, Bryan sat down to work out his situation. He didn’t think it could have been much worse than being lost deep in the Seafoam Islands with no idea how to escape, but he had evidently been wrong. Now he was lost, wet, freezing, without food, and stranded on a tiny island. The ice nest intrigued him, but his mind was too busy contemplating survival to explore its origin.

Without the sun shining through the ceiling, night and day were impossible to tell, so Berem had to rely on his stomach. When it began to growl, he assumed it had been about six hours since he fell through the floor, though he had no idea how long he had been unconscious. He took another Persim Berry from the bag, ate it, and squeezed the bag to his chest. Doing so pressed a hard object into his chest and he reached beneath his wet shirt and jacket to discover what. It was the seashell necklace Elizabeth had given him.

He had been wearing it for weeks and become so accustomed to it that he had forgotten it was there. He pulled the unique string over his head and held the seashell in his hand. Despite his predicament, he smiled. Even deep in the cave, utterly alone, he was surrounded by the people he loved. In his lap, a gift from Sabrina; in his hand, the shell from Elizabeth; on his wrist, a friendship bracelet Jasmine had given him years ago; and at his waist, his Pokémon. A deep, warm feeling of love bubbled up inside Bryan and something exploded out of the icy water before him.

Icy droplets of water rained down on Bryan, but, when he saw what hovered in front of him, all other concerns evaporated. A majestic, icy blue bird floated effortlessly in the air over the water. Its long, feathered tail and three-pronged crown were a darker color than its other feathers and a tuft of white hair adorned its graceful chest. It locked its cold eyes on the human sitting beside its nest.

“Articuno,” Bryan whispered, unbelieving.

From head to toe, the Freeze Pokémon was almost as tall as him and its aura radiated power. Fear and awe filled the former gym leader as he stared up at it in silence. He opened his mouth once, but no words came out and Articuno responded with a high-pitched shriek. Its open mouth began to glow a sheer white and Bryan realized what was about to happen too late. An Ice Beam shot forward.

Bryan flinched and expected to feel the cold wash over him. When he opened his eyes, however, Articuno was still flapping silently in the still air. The Ice Beam had missed him and carved a word onto the floor of the tiny island. The letters were Unown, but Bryan had no time to decipher it; Articuno was about to dive back under the water.

“Wait,” Bryan said desperately, trying to control the panic in his voice, “I am lost and stranded, how do I leave?”

Articuno halted in its graceful dive and fixed its cold stare on him once more. A loud shriek filled Bryan’s ears and a flash of cold, white light filled his field of vision. He clapped his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut to mask the sensory overload. When, at last, the sound died down and Bryan dared to open his eyes, he found himself sitting on the shores of Cinnabar Island, smoked curling out of the chimneys and the volcano alike.

Bryan jumped to his feet and patted down his entire body. He was whole and not dreaming. Although his bag was missing, everything in it could be replaced. He had lost Cloyster’s PokéBall, and that frustrated him, but the rest of his Pokémon were safe and sound. He remembered he had been holding the bag of Persim Berries and his seashell necklace in the cave and quickly searched the surrounding area for them. He found both of them a short distance up the coast accompanied, surprisingly, by the book Mr. Fuji had given him. He picked the shell up and gently replaced it around his neck. As he picked up the bag of berries, though, he gasped in surprise. Laying on the sand, gleaming in the early morning sunlight, was an ice-blue feather belonging to Articuno.
 
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Some Long-Awaited Answers
Lone Scribe for the Lord of Time
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108
Some Long-Awaited Answers

After checking his Pokémon in with the nurse at the Pokémon Center, Bryan swallowed his pride and took one of the beds offered. He slept long and fitfully for the first time since Cassi had left him in Fuchsia City. The next morning, he picked up his Pokémon, had a large breakfast, and headed to the PokéMart to have his PokéGear looked at. Apparently, the electricity from the lightning bolt had simply fried the battery, so Bryan purchased a replacement and it was up and running again.

In addition to a new battery, Bryan had to re-stock everything he had lost when his bag was swept away in the Seafoam Islands. He contemplated buying a newer style saddle bag, but decided against it, and just bought the newer version of his old backpack. His shopping done, Bryan headed back to the Pokémon Center to make some phone calls. The first was to Professor Oak to report his missing PokéBall. The professor informed him that if anyone found it and reported it, it would be returned, but, given how and where it had been lost, the likelihood of that seemed low. However, the professor also gave Bryan some good news. Now that he was a Level 3 trainer, he could use his Ampharos and Ferligatr once more.

Bryan was so excited that he immediately wished Professor Oak farewell and called his niece. Jasmine was just as excited to talk to him and the two chatted for a long time. The young leader told Bryan about a new trainer who had come to join the gym. His name was Taran Barash and he was from Kalos. Despite being only 10, he had proven to be far stronger than all her other disciples, mostly because his Aegislash was a force to be reckoned with. Bryan made a mental note to research what an Aegislash was and told Jasmine about his time with Cassi and his trip to the Seafoam Islands. He left out being shipwrecked and seeing Articuno because he didn’t want to worry her.

Once they were properly caught up, Bryan asked her to send over Feraligatr. He had contemplated asking for more of his old Pokémon, but he thought better of it. He loved his new Pokémon and he would continue on with them. He needed Feraligatr because he had lost his Water-type, but he could do without the rest. Although he struggled leaving Ampharos with Jasmine, he knew that Jolteon was an adequate Electric-type and Ampharos would be happier living with Jasmine and spending time with his daughter.

When the two finally finished talking, Bryan left the Pokémon Center and strolled back down to the coast of the small, island city. He unpacked a picnic lunch and, pulling out his PokéGear, called Sabrina. The coast provided some privacy for the conversation and Bryan pretended it was another date as he watched the surf roll in and ate his lunch. Sabrina was happy to hear from him as well and listened intently while he told her every detail of his trip to Seafoam. He felt the need to tell someone about his trials and his dreams and Sabrina was the right choice. She agreed it could have been much worse, but that didn’t lessen the intensity of his time lost at sea. He had discovered it was November 1st upon his arrival on the island, which meant he had only been missing for three days. It seemed ages longer than that.

As Bryan finished his lunch, he bid Sabrina farewell and she repeated her warning about the Legendary Pokémon before she hung up. After his ordeal, Bryan didn’t need the reminder. A lazy, relaxing afternoon was spent researching Pokémon from other regions and visiting the Pokémon Lab in the southwest corner of the island. His research was fruitful, as he discovered Aegislash was a Ghost/Steel-type Pokémon that had the ability to alter its stats by shifting its stance and that Steel-type Pokémon, though rare in Kanto and Johto, were more plentiful elsewhere. The Pokémon Lab also gave him some valuable information on the advancement of Pokémon technology, but, more importantly, details on Pokémon Mansion.

Pokémon Mansion had once been home to a famous Pokémon researcher, but no-one seemed to know his name. The same man had founded the Pokémon Lab, yet continued to do most of his important research at his home. A few years early, September of 1995, someone guessed, a fire had started in the mansion and then an explosion destroyed part of the building. Everyone fled, but the researcher was lost in Pokémon Mansion and most believed he had died. A few rumors said that he had escaped and changed his identity, but nothing could be confirmed.

Bryan took the information to memory and turned in early that night. As such, he rose before the sun the following day and headed for Pokémon Mansion. Mr. Fuji’s message had told him he might find answers there and, after his journey into the heart of the Seafoam Islands, he desperately needed some. The building was large and confusing; three-stories tall, with a maze of rooms and hallways, but all Bryan could find as he combed through each of the areas systematically was garbage and wild Pokémon. On the top floor of the building, tucked away in remote corner, he discovered an active bank of computers being powered by an Electrode. Intrigued, he staked out the room, only to discover that another researcher had moved in, attempting to discover the secrets the Pokémon Mansion held.

Sadly, the dirty man in the lab coat told him, he had discovered nothing of interest in his six months of living in Pokémon Mansion. He mentioned rumors of an old basement, but said he had never found it. Disappointed in the lack of results in his first day’s work, Bryan headed back for the entrance, but happened upon a squirrelly man digging through a pile of trash with little regard for the noise he was making. He was shocked at Bryan’s arrival and tried to scare him off with a Ninetailes, but Nidorino easily dispatched the thief’s Pokémon. The former gym leader threatened to report the man to the authorities. The thief rightfully pointed out that no-one owned the building anymore, so he wasn’t technically breaking any laws.

Bryan supposed he was right, but was curious what the thief expected to find in a building that had been abandoned for over three years. With a shrug of his filthy shoulders, the man suggested maybe he would get lucky and find something someone else had missed. Bryan didn’t believe him. When pressed, the man admitted he had heard rumors of a secret basement. He also mentioned discovering a mechanically locked door on the third floor, but Bryan scoffed at the man’s imagination and left him to his garbage.

Despite his reaction to the thief’s mention of the mechanically locked door, it, and the rumors of a secret basement, gave Bryan hope when he returned to the mansion the next day. Somewhat paranoid that he was being followed, Bryan zigzagged through the mansion before making his way, in a roundabout fashion, back to the third floor. The computer banks in the new researcher’s room were silent as both the man in the lab coat and the Electrode slept fitfully on the floor. Assuming he had missed the aforementioned door because of his preoccupation with the computers, Bryan began his search there and soon discovered a shuttered metal door partially hidden behind a tall bookshelf.

A keypad was mounted on the wall beside the door, but, when Bryan tried to push some of the numbers, it fell loose from its mounting and hung dangling from its own wires. Someone had obviously tampered with it in order to attempt entry. Bryan knew nothing about electronics, but he knew a lot about electricity, so he called out Jolteon and had her Thunderbolt the door. Nothing happened. Bryan hadn’t expected it to be that easy. You never know unless you try. Next, he tried Thunderbolt on the keypad.

The electricity surging through the system re-activated the old keypad with a sharp beep, but the door remained closed. Careful to avoid some of the exposed wires, Bryan replaced the keypad on the wall and looked over it with scrutiny. There were tool marks around the edges from where it had been pried off the wall and the ‘2’ key was broken, possibly someone pounding it in frustration, but little else of note. Upon a second inspection, Bryan noticed a black smudge partially covered the ‘7’ and suddenly a number popped into his head, ‘7579.’ He had seen the number over and over in Mr. Fuji’s notes and it was he who had sent him. Holding the keypad in place with one hand and typing in the numbers with the other, he held his breathe and waited. The system beeped twice and the door groaned, yet it didn’t open. Perhaps it doesn’t have enough power, Bryan thought, so he ordered another Thunderbolt.

The surging electricity did the trick and the old door creaked open revealing…nothing. The room protected by the mechanical door was empty except for an empty picture frame on the far wall. Striding across the barren room, breathing the stale air, Bryan pulled the frame down from the wall and inspected it. It was an ordinary wooden frame, nothing special. As he replaced it on the wall, he heard a hiss from the opposite side of the room and turned in time to see the mechanical door slam shut. Sprinting across the room, he pounded on the door to no avail. There was no keypad on the interior of the door and even another Thunderbolt wouldn’t make the heavy door budge.

Frustrated and disbelieving, trapped once again, Bryan sullenly strode back across the room and sat beneath the picture frame, staring with intense frustration at the locked, metal door. It didn’t move, not that he expected it to. Leaning his head back against the wall, he closed his eyes. And the wall began to shift. Bryan could do nothing to stop himself falling backwards through the opening wall and heard a scream escape his lungs as he plummeted downward. It was like Seafoam all over again, except he knew there wasn’t water to catch him at the bottom this time.

Light flashed by and then darkness and then light and then darkness again. When light shone a third time, it illuminated the wood paneled floor rushing up at him. Bryan threw his arms out in front of him. He knew it wouldn’t do anything to save his life, but it seemed like a natural reaction. His fear, however, was unwarranted. His descent gradually slowed until he was about a foot above the floor, when he stopped entirely. Bryan was baffled, yet ecstatic, and lowered himself to the floor. He was in a small room with a square table and two upturned chairs. On the far wall, two generators whirred quietly and, nearer to him, a strange, yet oddly familiar statue stood motionless.

It is the terrifying Pokémon from my dreams, Bryan realized, stepping away from it. Eventually, curiosity overcame his fear and Bryan ventured closer to inspect the creature. Thick cables ran from the generators to the statue and the stone edifice emanated an energy field of some kind. Stepping in front of it for a better look, Bryan again found himself suspended about a foot above the ground.

“Amazing,” Bryan said aloud, speaking to Jolteon who had followed him down into the secret basement, “the statue’s energy field acts to slow the descent of people falling from above. No wonder no-one has ever found this place.”

Jolteon yipped once at his voice and jumped lightly up onto the table in the center of the room. Bryan’s eyes followed his Pokémon and he noticed an old, leather bound journal sitting in the center of the table, covered in layers of dust. He blew it off and looked at the cover. On the top, right corner it read AF1979, nothing more. Bryan flipped through the first couple of pages, curious what such an old book was doing hidden in the secret basement of a burnt-out old building. The shaky handwriting was difficult to read, but it appeared to be a scientific journal. It described how an expedition of scientists had been assembled to recover a stolen Pokémon from the distant land of South America. The first few pages were uninteresting beyond that, so Bryan stowed the book in his new bag and began investigating the long-abandoned basement.

The basement was no larger than the rest of Pokémon Mansion, but its hallways and rooms were less convoluted, so it took less time to explore. Two doorways exited the room in which Bryan had fallen. One led west, to an empty corridor; the other led north to a rickety staircase and deeper into the basement. Bryan ignored the stairs for now and wandered deeper in. He found four rooms in the back hallways. The first was devoid of everything, except dust; the second was full of old computer banks; the third appeared to be a meeting room of some kind; but the final one drew Bryan’s attention.

Long, thick grass grew between cracks in the floor, great vines climbed up the walls, and exotic trees overflowed their pots and stretched toward the ceiling. The temperature in the room was stifling and the air was moist. Captivated, Bryan investigated the room thoroughly, but found nothing save a plaque on the wall that said Jungle Room. It was amazing that such a phenomenon could exist, let alone thrive, without anyone to maintain it.

Sweating from the heat, Bryan returned to the conference room and plopped down in an old, ragged chair. Sitting in the center of the table, like the one in the earlier room, was another journal. It was identical to the first except the stamp in the top corner. AF1990. Different date, same author. Curious, Bryan removed the first book from his bag and settled into a long day of reading. After all, he had found the secret basement and the only thing extraordinary was the Jungle Room, so maybe these journals were what he was intended to find.

He skipped through the first few pages, having already read them, and began searching for interesting passages. For over a month, it only talked about the strange journey by boat they took to South America and trekking through the uncharted jungle aimlessly. For some reason, no names were mentioned, only initials, and never the same initials more than once or twice. AF, the author, clearly had some authority, but, beyond that, Bryan was unable to extrapolate much about the people. After about an hour of reading, Bryan found something that caught his attention.

July 5, 1979 –Guyana, South America
A new Pokémon was discovered deep in the jungle


…and…

July 10, 1979
We christened the new newly discovered Pokémon Mew


Mew, he whispered to himself, the Pokémon Mr. Fuji had mentioned. The expedition had discovered it. Somehow it was sleeping on a continent devoid of other Pokémon. The narrative continued on excitedly about how the team had almost immediately stopped their journey and left South America with Mew in tow. It had stirred when they left the jungle, but remained asleep.

A foundation was set up in Saffron City to study Mew and a lot of the following text was scientific jargon that Bryan had difficulty understanding. As his stomach indicated it was time to eat, Bryan took a break. He ate a light meal and stretched his legs by walking around the basement, looking it over for anything he had missed. Deciding he wasn’t interested in continuing that evening, he trained his Pokémon in the lab’s open spaces before turning in for the night. The next morning, the narrative took a strange turn.

October 11, 1981
A team leader called a meeting today, with the heat of the war rising, they want us to use Mew to create a weapon


Bryan leafed back through the previous pages, but found no other mention of a war prior. No cause, no initiation, this was the first mention and it already seemed serious. He checked the date and realized he would have been about 10. He seemed to recall rumors of a war between Kanto and someone, but he didn’t know who or when. They also confused him. It indicated that someone else was controlling the project and the scientists had little control over it. Interestingly, it was the only overt mention of the entity so far.

The meeting, however, caused a schism in the group and many left the project. AF stayed on and was promoted, but the scientific jargon resumed and Bryan had difficulty pulling any useful information from it. Occasionally, depressing passages would interrupt his research ramblings.

September 24, 1983
The war drags on with no sign of ending, but we are no closer to completing the weapon


…and…

August 18, 1985
News from the battle field is grim…but we must not give up hope


At that point, the narrative became more about the war and lessening team moral and the science decreased. AF seemed to be holding the team together, but just barely. The scientific jargon became minimal enough that Bryan could skim over it without the threat of missing anything important and soon neared the end of the journal. Midday approached as he flipped to the last page, but what he read there shook him deeply.

December 25, 1989
I can not give up, but I can not continue here. I am going to take Mew and run, it is the only way


The tone of the passage was much different than most of the journal and ended abruptly. At first, Bryan had seen AF as the hero in his own story, but the final page painted a man more obsessed and deranged than heroic. So upset by the final pages was he, that he pushed the book away and took a walk to clear his head. On a previous walk, he had discovered the rickety stairs led to a tiny room on the ground floor. No doors led from the room. A small window allowed in sunlight and would be his escape when he decided it was time.

He sat on the floor, back against the wall, staring at the sun pounding down on the well-maintained streets outside. From his vantage point, he could see the back wall of the Pokémon Lab and the occasional passerby. The window, however, was masked by a dozen others that decorated the front of the building and no-one else knew its secret, so Bryan was safe.

Bryan decided to call out Growlithe for company as he contemplated how to continue. His first thought was to give up. What had happened, had happened, and he couldn’t change it, but he could stop learning about it. Whatever AF had done was in the past. He sat for a long time, sun warming his legs, Growlithe in his lap, momentarily chewing on an energy bar. Eventually, curiosity got the better of him and he returned to his reading table. Leaving the first journal where he had tossed it, he pulled the other from his bag and picked up soon after the first ended.

January 9, 1990
Many other scientists have given up the project, so I have re-located to my ancestral home on Cinnabar to continue my work


The tone of the second journal reverted to what much of the original had been; hopeful and enlightened. No-one else’s initials appeared in the new book and it appeared AF had established his secret lab to work alone, the following entry supported that.

April 16, 1990
I have founded the Pokémon Lab to continue funding my research because the scientific community has cast me out


More science filled the pages after that, but AF remained optimistic in his research and the mystery of the Jungle Room was solved. Plants were imported from every corner of the world to try and re-create Mew’s home. AF hoped that by doing so, he could goad Mew from its long slumber. It worked.

March 31, 1991
Finally some good news, Mew has awoken from its long slumber


Sadly, that was the last positive entry in the journal. Despite Mew’s awakening, progress didn’t ensue and AF became increasingly frustrated. The narrative became darker, with occasional mindless rants that defied understanding. And the nightmare was just beginning.

May 2, 1992
The war is over, but still I soldier on, if this comes to naught, so does my life


At this point, the madman who had surfaced on the last page of the first journal seemed to have returned in full. His obsession had reached a manic point and the few friends who hadn’t already left had difficulty seeing him. He wrote how he would spend entire weeks without sleep trying to achieve his goals without success. The initials BK began popping up with regularity and it appeared that whoever it was kept him from traveling to an even darker place than he already was. The nightmare continued.

June 14, 1993
Mew is more aggressive than it once was, but it may hold the key to what we are doing


The page following the entry appeared to be missing, but the dates had become more spread out since the beginning of the year, so it was difficult to tell. In addition, some of the other pages were torn or stained, something Bryan hadn’t seen before. The reference to ‘we’ was also confusing, as no-one else had been mentioned in the research stages for years. Bryan glanced back over the recent pages, looking for something he missed, but no other initials or mentions of collaboration were seen.

February 6, 1994
Mew gave birth, we named the newborn Mewtwo


The term ‘we’ again with no other reference. Perhaps he had developed schizophrenia. Or perhaps ‘we’ referred to himself and Mew. Whatever the case, it wasn’t the most disturbing part of the page. AF’s description of Mewtwo sent shivers down Bryans spine. Purple. Long, thick tail. Stubby horns and three-fingered hands. Odd, triangular eyes. Deformed feet it rarely used as it floated above the ground.
Mewtwo was the terrifyingly powerful Pokémon from Bryan’s dream and the subject of the statue in the front room. Bryan forced himself to continue reading, but he had already guessed how the story would end.

September 2, 1994
Mewtwo is too powerful, we can’t curb its vicious tendencies


The final entry. What few pages remained after we charred, torn, or missing. Mewtwo had clearly been the cause of the explosions and fires that ravaged Pokémon Mansion three years earlier. The journal answered many questions, but also raised just as many. Where is Mewtwo now? What does this have to do with the Legendary birds? Did AF escape? Shockingly, Bryan received an answer to his final question.

“He lives,” came a high-pitched voice near his ear.

Bryan’s head snapped up and, floating above the table, not two feet from him, was a strange Pokémon. It was entirely pink and resembled a mouse, though it clearly walked on two feet when not floating. A long, slender tail extended out behind it and it had spoken.

“Mew,” Bryan whispered in awe.

The New Species nodded confirmation, “you have part of the story, would you like the rest?”

Bryan couldn’t deny his curiosity at the end of the story, but it was to the past that Mew directed his attention first. The Pokémon spoke in a steady tone, but its mouth didn’t seem to match the words and Bryan heard them more in his head than in his ears.

“Hundreds of years ago, I lived on one of the Sevii Islands and was worshipped by the people who lived there. One day, I foresaw a great war approaching the island and I warned them to flee. They did so, and they took me with them, but it was too late.”

“The warriors ran down our ships and sank many into sea, most were lost, but those who were not found themselves in a new world. They returned to their simple lifestyle, but I felt I had failed them and so I entered a deep sleep. As I slept, their civilization slowly dwindled and eventually vanished.”

Bryan stared with rapt attention as Mew told his story, yet more and more questions surfaced as he did. The first one he asked was poor, but it prompted Mew to continue.

“The expedition found you in South America?”

“Yes,” Mew continued, “ancestors of the ancient tribe that had once worshipped me were intent to return me to my ancestral home. The people of Guyana refused to part with me. A great war ensued and I was whisked away to here.”

Mew looked around wistfully as Bryan absorbed the information, then continued in a sadder voice, “scientists did experiments on me for many years as I slept, attempting to create a weapon from my DNA to win the war. However, even after the war ended, the research continued. When at last I awoke, I was enraged and from that rage was born Mewtwo. Mewtwo is a threat to Pokémon and people alike.”

“The beast,” Bryan confirmed, “I have seen it in my dreams.”

“Then it is you who must find a way to stop it,” Mew said to Bryan’s great surprise.

“Me,” he spluttered, “but how, I do not have the power to stop something so powerful.”

“The world is full of mysteries yet to be uncovered,” the Pokémon said in its strange voice, “travel to Tanoby Ruins in the Sevii Islands. If you can solve the mysteries there, you may find a way to stop Mewtwo.”

Bryan opened his mouth to argue, but Mew had disappeared. He pushed himself up from the table, intent to find it, yet he somehow knew that, if Mew didn’t wish to be found, he wouldn’t be. The Pokémon’s words kept ringing in his head. Then it is you who must find a way to stop it.

Bryan sullenly stuck both hands in his pockets and felt the feathers within. One from Lugia, the other from Articuno. Could the Legendary birds have something to do with this? He didn’t know. What he did know was that he needed to escape the dust and breathe the sea air once more. After that he would look into the Tanoby Ruins. Despite the questions and trepidations that Mew had risen, three questions had at last been answered. Bryan now knew what Mew was and understood the references to Tanoby and the ancient war in Mr. Fuji’s journal.
 
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A Trip to Tanoby
Lone Scribe for the Lord of Time
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108
A Trip to Tanoby

In order to return some order of normality to his life after a couple strange days in a secret basement talking to an ancient, mythical Pokémon, Bryan headed to Cinnabar Island Gym first thing the next morning. The gym was tiny, understandable given its remote location. When Bryan walked in, he didn’t see any trainers, so he approached the front desk and rang a bell. Nothing happened. Bryan rang the bell a second time and sat on one of the wooden benches in the small atrium to wait. Behind the desk with the bell was an old portrait. Ironically, Bryan recognized both men. On the left was Blaine, his thick, white mustache unmistakable under his sunglasses and hat; on the right was Mr. Fuji. The caption under the portrait confirmed Bryan’s assumption: Blaine Katsura and Ambrocio Fuji, 1994.

Bryan stared at the portrait as he waited, as there was nothing else in the atrium to focus on. Suddenly, a thought hit him. Ambrocio Fuji, AF, and Blaine Katsura, BK. It all made sense. Mr. Fuji had sent him to Pokémon Mansion and the handwriting from the journals in Lavender Town were similar to those he had found in the secret lab. And if both men had grown up together on Cinnabar, it was likely they were good friends. Bryan’s musings were interrupted by approaching footsteps and Blaine appeared around a corner.

He apologized for his tardiness. He didn’t currently have any disciples and he heard the bell as he had been preparing breakfast. Bryan waved off the apology and followed Blaine around a wall to the arena. It took up most of the gym. Try as he might, the former gym leader couldn’t seem to remember his last battle with Blaine, but, as a Level 3 battle, it would be 4v4 and Blaine informed him thusly. They would officiate their own match.

The competitors took their respective positions and Bryan opened the match with Growlithe. Blaine chose Arcanine.

“Growlithe, Crunch.”

“Arcanine, Body Slam.”

Growlithe shot forward, but Arcanine was faster and more powerful. Body Slam threw Growlithe across the arena and she skidded hard to a stop in front of her master. Unwilling to give in, she pushed herself up and turned for more.

“Growlithe, Outrage.”

“Arcanine, ExtremeSpeed.”

Bryan knew it was dangerous to use Outrage so early, but he was hoping to do as much damage as possible before being forced to switch. His ploy was unsuccessful, though, as ExtremeSpeed smashed hard into Growlithe and scored a quick KO. Nidorino was next in line and faired far better.

“Arcanine, ExtremeSpeed.”

“Nidorino, Earthquake.”

Arcanine shot across the arena again, trying to continue the momentum he was building. Earthquake forced him to pull out of the attack. Neither opening jaunt did damage, but it gave Bryan an opening.

“Nidorino, Horn Attack.”

“Arcanine, Fire Blast.”

The heat from Fire Blast was intense, yet Nidorino was able to dodge the incoming attack and land a solid Horn Attack. Arcanine was no flake defensively, however, and countered with Fire Fang. Nidorino jumped aside and broadsided his opponent with Poison Sting. The howling that followed was intense, but Arcanine continued.

“Arcanine, ExtremeSpeed.”

“Nidorino, Ice Beam the floor.”

A nearly invisible Arcanine shot across the arena as Nidorino froze the floor with Ice Beam. The result was interesting, if comical. The heat of the gym combined with Arcanine’s natural high body temperature almost instantly melted the ice on the ground, creating puddles. As Arcanine ran across the puddles at high speed, he lost his footing and slid, out of control toward Nidorino.

“Horn Attack,” commanded Bryan calmly.

Arcanine had no chance to evade and Horn Attack buried itself in his exposed back. The score was even. Blaine moved on to Rapidash and the match continued its intensity. Rapidash dodged an Earthquake with Bounce, but took a Horn Attack as she landed her own attack. Flame Wheel was also met with a Horn Attack and both Pokémon were soon suffering from the blows.

“Nidorino, Earthquake.”

“Rapidash, Fire Blast.”

Fire Blast landed more accurately, KOing Nidorino, but Rapidash couldn’t fully evade a massive Earthquake and was on her last leg as Bryan called out Rocket. Rapidash attempted another Fire Blast, but Pidgeotto dodged and finished her with Quick Attack. 2-2. Blaine’s next Pokémon was Ninetales and she utterly changed the complexion of the match. While they had been matching physical blows, Ninetales concentrated more on special attacks. Rocket evaded an incoming Flamethrower, but took partial damage from Psyshock before finally landing a successful Air Slash. He tried to close the gap with Quick Attack, but Ninetales swiftly evaded the physical attacks, its lustrous tails trailing gracefully behind. Another dodged Flamethrower led to another successful Psyshock.

“Rocket, Mirror Move.”

“Ninetales, Dark Pulse.”

Psyshock rained down on Ninetales, but Dark Pulse partially cancelled the effectiveness of the move and struck the concentrating Pidgeotto hard. Rocket fell KOed and Blaine maintained his slim lead. With only one Pokémon remaining, the choice was obvious.

“Go, Feraligatr.”

Bryan had been saving him for last because he finally remembered his original match with Blaine. Feraligatr had fought valiantly against Magmar, but failed to defeat him. That wouldn’t be the case this time. Before Feraligatr took the arena, Bryan handed him a small object and patted him once on the scaled shoulder. Feraligatr nodded back and faced down Ninetales.

“Ninetales, Dark Pulse.”

“Feraligatr, Dragon Dance.”

The Big Jaw Pokémon lifted his head to the ceiling and screamed a challenge to the sky. As Dark Pulse washed over him, doing damage, he spun in a circle, flexing his muscles and pumping himself up.

“Ninetales, Psyshock.”

“Feraligatr, Hydro Pump.”

Feraligatr took a little damage from a distracted Psyshock while doing catastrophic damage with Hydro Pump. Ninetales went down and the match was even once more. Predictably, Blaine chose Magmar as his final Pokémon and the two trainers sat in the same situation they had over 15 years before. Blaine had won that battle, forcing Bryan to challenge him again when he was stronger. It wouldn’t happen again.

“Feraligatr, Ice Punch.”

The Big jaw Pokémon screamed forward on its short legs, Dragon Dance augmenting his speed. The attack wouldn’t do a lot of damage, but that wasn’t the ploy, Bryan wanted to close the distance between the two. Magmar could deal a lot of damage, but he couldn’t take it well.

“Magmar, ThunderPunch.”

The attack was new and unexpected. Bryan knew if ThunderPunch landed, Feraligatr wouldn’t have much of a chance, but time away from the arena hadn’t dulled the Big Jaw Pokémon's abilities at all. He dropped his shoulder, like the experiences boxer he was, and ThunderPunch glanced off of him while Ice Punch caught Magmar directly in the jaw. Magmar staggered back at the blow and Feraligatr used the opportunity to continue his assault. Ice Punch after Ice Punch landed on the reeling Spitfire Pokémon, yet another ThunderPunch forced the bigger Pokémon back and gave Magmar an opening. Bryan knew what was coming and had prepared for it.

“Magmar, Confuse Ray.”

“Feraligatr, Eat.”

Confuse Ray washed over Feraligatr and he lost his bearings immediately. It had been the ploy that had won Blaine the match all those years ago, it wouldn’t work again. Feraligatr, responding to Bryan’s command, stuffed the object he was holding in his mouth and swallowed. The Persim Berry cured his Confusion and he fixed an intense glare on Magmar.

“Feraligar, Hydro Pump.”

The explosion of water shot forth and Magmar threw himself out of the way, leaving himself exposed for the following attack. Sprawled as he was on the arena floor, he had no chance of surviving the assault.

“Feraligatr, Earthquake.”

The arena floor heaved, tossing Magmar about and ending the match. Bryan breathed a sigh of relief. After the simple wins against Erika and Janine, the match against Blaine had tested him to his core and, happy though he was, he was also glad it was over. The gym leader motioned that Bryan should join him on the opposite side of the arena and the two took a reprieve in Blaine’s office.

“You have improved, my boy,” Blaine said, as he sat behind his desk and pulled open one of his drawers, “all those years as a gym leader did you some good.”

Bryan thanked him for the compliment and supposed he shouldn’t be surprised Blaine remembered him. They had worked for the same organization for over a decade and the battles they shared all those years ago were no less intense than the recent one. Blaine tossed a Volcano Badge across the otherwise empty desk and stamped Bryan’s Trainer Card as well. They spoke briefly about the circumstances surrounding Bryan’s exit from the league and then Bryan excused himself. As he pulled open the door, he thought of a question.

“I am looking for a way to get down to Tanoby, do you have any suggestions?”

“Tanoby,” Blaine replied in a questioning voice, rubbing his bald head under his white hat, “down on Seven Island?”

Honesty, Bryan wasn’t sure, so he agreed that it was and hoped that he was correct. Blaine nodded briefly and picked up the phone. He spoke for a long time with a man on the other end. When at last he hung up, he turned to Bryan again.

“The only way to and from the Sevii Islands is via the Seagallop Ferries,” he stated, “but they normally only travel to and from Vermilion. Luckily, the captain owes me a favor, so he will come and pick you up from eastern beach tomorrow at 10 pm.”

“Wow, thank you,” exclaimed Bryan, “what can I do in return?”

“Nothing at all,” Blaine laughed, “consider it a reward for defeating me. The Seagallop that will pick you up can only take you to Three Island though, you will have to transfer to get down to Seven Island.”

Bryan asked for a piece of paper so he could write down the instructions. Blaine provided it and then handed him a plastic, blue card with a rainbow on it.

“My Rainbow Pass,” Blaine explained, “it will give you access to all of the Seagallops.”

Before Bryan left, Blaine opened another drawer in his desk and removed a yellow stone with an orange flame on it. He dropped it heavily on the desk to draw Bryan’s attention.

“Have you considered evolving your Growlithe?”

“I have,” Bryan responded, reaching his hand into a side pocket of his bag and producing an identical stone, “but it is a hard decision.”

Blaine agreed with the sentiment and walked him to the front door. Bryan spent the day resting, deciding his battle was enough training for the day. He contemplated fishing off the coast, but, after seeing a local fisherman pull in six consecutive Magikarp, he changed his mind. The day passed more slowly than Bryan hoped, yet ended on a high note as Bryan decided to call Sabrina for another phone date on the rocky beach. He contemplated telling her about his discoveries in Pokémon Mansion, but held off until he learned more.

His trip to Three Island the next day on the Seagallop was speedy, yet somewhat sickening, and he spent part of his time waiting for the next boat recovering from an upset stomach. He skipped lunch because of his ailment and had time to wander around the port for a while. The town was small, yet interesting, and he was able to buy a map of the islands at the local PokéMart. He studied the map closely as he traveled from Three to Seven Island.

One, Two, and Three Island sat directly south of Cinnabar Island and were neatly arranged between the regions of Hoenn, Sinnoh, and Oblivia. Four Island through Seven Island were even further south and the moon had risen in the distance before he landed. A light dinner on his still upset stomach preceded bed.

The next morning, he explored the tiny port of Seven Island. Other than the Pokémon Center and the PokéMart, the only other building was a rest house for people visiting the island. A road led out of the tiny port to the north, but it was blocked off with a large fence covered in CAUTION signs. Bryan learned from other trainers that the league was building an elite battling facility called Trainer Tower on the northern tip of the island and, though intrigued, Bryan set his sights south on the Tanoby Ruins.

A few trainers were searching through the grass for Pokémon and ignored him. Near the middle of the canyon, a plateau extended over the path and Bryan stopped to rest. A shadow passed overhead and he looked up to see a wild Skarmory flying high above. His thoughts turned to Jasmine as he stared upward, causing a young man to crash headlong into him. They both tumbled to the ground in a mess of flailing arms and legs. Another trainer, a girl, came panting up behind him, pointing in exasperation at the escaping Skarmory.

“Leroy, it is getting away,” she called.

Leroy pushed himself to his feet and did nothing to help the toppled older man. Bryan, appalled at his manners, stood up himself, intending to ignore the couple and continue on his way. Leroy wouldn’t have it.

“You lost me a Skamory,” he practically yelled, brandishing a finger in Bryan’s face, “now I am going to take it out on your Pokémon.”

Bryan held back a laugh, but he liked the kid’s spirit, if not his attitude and manners. He agreed and they took up positions on either side of the wide plateau. Leroy and his friend put their heads together discussing a strategy and he opened with Rhydon. Impressive, thought Bryan.

Feraligatr was the obvious choice for Bryan and they exchanged blows before Feraligatr landed an Ice Punch for the KO. Feraligatr was able to handle Kangaskhan and Machoke as well, yet Bryan was impressed with the quality training Leroy had done with his Pokémon. With fatigue began to setting in, Bryan switched to Jolteon to match-up with Slowbro and a couple of Thunderbolts were enough to finish it. Ursaring was Leroy’s final Pokémon and it put up quite a fight, yet, in the end, Jolteon was triumphant.

Shocked at her boyfriend’s loss, the girl stepped in to battle. Bryan overheard Leroy refer to her as Michelle, but the name meant little to him. For some reason she opened with Dewgong, which Jolteon dispatched easily. Dewgong did cast Rain Dance, which caused a light rain to fall, but it worked against Michelle's strategy as her next two Pokémon were Fire-types. Again managing fatigue, Bryan withdrew Jolteon in favor of Nidorino. He easily handled Ninetales and Rapidash, though he struggled somewhat against a tough Girafarig. Persian was the final choice for Michelle and Bryan contemplated switching to Growlithe as the light rain ceased, but decided against it. A couple of Horn Attacks later and Bryan defeated Michelle too. The two trainers marched off in a huff without saying anything.

Bryan reached down to pat Nidorino for a job well done. As he did, a scent must have caught the Poison Pin Pokémon’s attention because his nose shot up in the air. Sniffing wildly, he wandered away from his trainer and down off the plateau. Bryan followed at a distance as Nidorino sniffed through some high grass and came to a halt beside another trainer rest stop built conveniently in the middle of the canyon. Near the edge of the building, Nidorino began to dig with his sharp, front claws. Suddenly, he stopped and stiffened. He had found something. Bryan inched nearer to see what. It looked like nothing more than a shiny gray rock with jagged surfaces. Nidorino examined it with intense curiosity. The former gym leader realized why as his Pokémon started to glow. It was a Moon Stone. Bryan stepped back to give Nidorino the space needed to evolve. Nidoking would be considerably larger and more aggressive than his pre-evolution.

When the glowing stopped, Nidoking turned and looked at his master. He flexed his new muscles and walked proudly over to Bryan. Reaching out his hard, sharp claws, he pulled Bryan into a big, painful hug. Bryan laughed until Nidoking squeezed the breath from him, then tapped his Pokémon hard on the back until he was released. He wasn’t sure what he expected from the new evolution, but that wasn’t it. He walked with Nidoking out of the canyon and to the water’s edge south of them. The Tanoby Ruins lay on seven different islands protected from the sea’s fury by massive boulders running around the perimeter. Bryan pulled out his new map as Nidoking approached the water. The Pokémon, courtesy of his new Ground-typing, bulked at the water, so Bryan called him back and brought out Feraligatr. The Big Jaw Pokémon was itching to get in the water, but Bryan held him back. Each of the islands in the bay had a chamber on it marked with a strange name, but Bryan decided it would be easier to refer to them by numbers, so he penned a number above each of them and jumped on Feraligatr’s back. They swam to the far eastern island of the map which Bryan had marked 6. It was the largest of the islands and seemed the best place to start.
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Inside Chamber Six were a series of free-standing walls, arranged in squares, one forming a larger square around the second. The walls were covered in Unown writing. Bryan glanced over them quickly, but no immediate pattern became evident. As he moved through the chamber toward the back wall, he also noticed seven carvings on the ceiling. A flame, a thunderbolt, an ice crystal, the sun, the moon, an eye, and a strange symbol that looked somewhat like a key or upside-down F. They key-like symbol was in the middle of a circle created by the other markings.

At the back of the chamber, beyond the free-standing walls, great pillars supported the ancient structure and served to frame three different murals. In the very center of the back wall was a large depiction of a mysterious Pokémon. It had two slender arms and matching legs, with small fairy-like wings. Its head was shaped like a swept-back rain drop, yet was colored green. Two words were engraved with the Pokémon, one above it, the other below. Pulling the Unown book Mr. Fuji had given him from his bag, Bryan translated them. The upper word read, Celebi; the lower word, Peace.

Bryan laughed slightly at the last word, he had known very little peace of late, though that was partially his own fault. The mural to the left of Celebi was similar to the ones he had seen in Pewter and Lavender Town, but had more Pokémon. A pentagon was formed by five bird Pokémon. The three forming the top were Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres; the bottom two appeared to be Lugia and Ho-oh. In the center of the pentagon, side-by-side, as if holding hands, were Mew and Celebi. Bryan briefly wondered why the running Pokémon were missing from the mural until he realized that this ruin might pre-date them.

To the right of Celebi was the final mural and it didn’t take Bryan long to decipher it either. It was a map, that was evident, but of what, Bryan was unsure. Until he looked at his own map. They matched. Carved on the wall was a 20-foot tall map of the Sevii Islands. The only thing extraordinary about the map, other than its size, were the placement of seven distinct symbols; one on each island. The symbols matched those carved on the ceiling and, there was no doubt in Bryan’s mind, represented each of the Legendary Pokémon.

Comparing his map to the one of the wall, Bryan deciphered where each of the Pokémon was located on the ancient map. Moltres was located on One Island, at the peak of Mt. Ember; Ho-oh on Two Island, over Cape Brink; Zapdos on Three Island, in the area marked Berry Forest; Articuno in Icefall Cave on Four Island; Lugia on Five Island, in the Water Labyrinth; Celebi in Ruin Valley on Six Island; and Mew, here at Tanoby. A phrase came to mind that Bryan had seen in Lavender over and over again. Their original resting places.

“But where did they go,” Bryan said aloud to himself. His voice echoed off the close walls of the chamber and Mew’s voice answered.

“When the war came, Lugia and Ho-oh fled to Navel Rock, hidden and protected by its labyrinth, though they would eventually migrate to Johto. Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres flew north to Kanto, taking refuge in the mountains until the war ended. Of Celebi, even I do not know.”

Bryan heard the words in his head as clearly as if Mew was standing before him, but it was nowhere to be seen. Another trainer had entered the chamber as Mew spoke to Bryan and the former gym leader jumped when the burly man touched his shoulder.

“Are you ok,” the man asked.

“Yes, fine,” responded Bryan a little too quickly and ducked passed the man toward the door.

Feraligatr was waiting for him outside, splashing playfully in the shallows at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the large chamber. The fresh air felt good and he splashed water on his own face. His heart returned to its normal pace after the surprise given by the man inside and Bryan hopped on Feraligatr to the next island. The island itself was smaller, but the chamber was the same size and designed in nearly an identical fashion to the first.

The free-standing walls were still arranged in two squares with minute differences in their size and continuity. All seven symbols were etched into the ceiling as well, yet instead of the key-like symbol being in the center, the moon was surrounded by the others. The back walls were practically identical too. The map and group mural were unchanged, but Celebi was replaced by Lugia. Bryan didn’t need to translate Lugia’s name, but he pulled out his book again for the word beneath the mural. Patience.

The rest of the chambers proceeded in much the same fashion as the first two. The free-standing walls, covered in Unown writing were arranged in minutely different ways and two of the three murals on the back wall were identical. The symbols on the ceiling changed each time with the symbol representing the Pokémon depicted on the back wall being centered between the others. Chamber Four, as Bryan had them numbered, had the sun centered on the ceiling and Ho-oh depicted on the back wall with the word: Power. Chamber Three was Moltres, the flame, and the word, Faith; Chamber Two, Articuno, the ice crystal, and Love; and Chamber Seven Mew with the eye and the word, Curiosity.

In addition to the changes in the larger murals, Bryan also found a consistency in the writing on the Unown walls. Near the front, left corner of the exterior free-standing walls in each of the chambers, he found the words 'Only a true master can control the titans.' Another constant was found written on the back, right corner of the interior walls, ‘Bring us together when at last is unleashed the unstoppable force.’

Bryan lost track of time as he delved into the mystery of the Tanoby Ruins and, the more he found, the less he understood. All of the legends and myths he had been told as a child and recently came back to him and all the puzzle pieces seemed to fit together. The ancient war had been explained, as had Tanoby, the number sequence, and the term ‘final resting places’ seen in Mr. Fuji’s notes. Despite the explanations, their meaning was beyond Bryan and the references to ‘titans’ and ‘unstoppable forces’ raised new questions.

As Bryan stepped out of Chamber Seven into the cold, night air, a vibration from his PokéGear made him look down. The time indicated it wasn’t night at all, but early morning; 3 a.m. to be exact. Comically, Feraligatr was already curled up and sleeping around the corner from the entrance and Bryan begrudgingly curled up beside him. He had only one chamber remaining, but it would have to wait. His dreams that night were fitful and normal. No Mewtwo, no strange occurrences, just pleasant thoughts of Jasmine and Ampharos.

The next morning, the sun reflecting off the sea woke Bryan and Feraligatr early and they were off again. The only chamber remained was marked ‘1’ on Bryan’s map and the former gym leader knew what to expect when he entered. Feraligatr, despite staying outside of the other ruins, followed Bryan inside. As anticipated, Bryan found the two phrases written on the walls exactly where he looked for them. The only Pokémon remaining was Zapdos and its lightning bolt decorated the ceiling and its visage the back wall. Beneath Zapdos’s mural was the word, Courage.

The meaning of the different words baffled Bryan too, but he had little time to contemplate them. A strange, high-pitched noise echoed through the chamber and an invisible force knocked Bryan from his feet. He tried to push himself up. Another invisible force knocked him back. Suddenly, the Unown writing on the walls began to dance and pry itself off the wall. It wasn't writing at all. They were sleeping Unown. Feraligatr jumped forward to defend Bryan and the invisible force buffeted him too. An Ice Punch swiped one Unown from the air and Hydro Pump forced some others to retreat.

Using the temporary reprieve in attacks to push himself up, Bryan sprinted for the entrance of the chamber. More and more Unown pried themselves from the walls, imposing themselves between Bryan and the exit. Feraligatr fended off as many as he could, but there were too many. Bryan found himself standing directly in the center of the chamber. Where once the free-standing walls had been completely covered in Unown, now they were blank and hundreds of the mysterious Pokémon floated menacingly around him. Feraligatr reared back to attack with Hydro Pump again, but Bryan called him off. The walls weren’t blank as he had first thought, a single word repeated itself seven times…Courage. Just like on the back wall. Bryan inched closer to the nearest word and noticed a small, moveable panel beneath it. Having nothing else to lose, he pushed it. And fell.
 
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Unexpected
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Unexpected

Feraligatr, being heavier, hit the ground first and attempted to catch Bryan. The Big Jaw Pokémon failed, yet semi-cushioned his master's fall. It was still immensely painful as Bryan hit the ground, but at least he didn’t break anything. A strange, radiant light filled the chamber. All Bryan could see was the blank wall in front of him. The strange noise created by the Unown drew his attention upward and he saw a wave of the Symbol Pokémon surging downward through the same trap door from which he had fallen. Painfully jumping to his feet, Bryan turned, hoping a corridor led away from the attacking Unown. There wasn’t.

Instead, roosting before him in a nest of surging electricity was Zapdos. Staring menacingly down its long, orange beak, Bryan thought it looked the very definition of a legendary God of Thunder. The Thunder Pokémon screeched at the intruders and the surging Unown halted in mid-air, hovering in circles around Bryan and Feraligatr’s heads. Bryan took a deep breath and, remembering the word repeated constantly in the ruins above, took a brave step toward the Legendary bird. Wrong move.
Zapdos screeched again and Thunderbolt surged through the room. Feraligatr, more concerned with Bryan’s safety than his own, pushed his master from the direct path of the blast. His claw tore a hole in Bryan’s new bag, scattering PokéBalls and Potions alike, while Feraligatr took the brunt of the attack.

Feraligatr dropped to the ground, unconscious, along with some of the Unown who had taken random bolts. Furious and concerned for his Pokémon, Bryan rushed forward and a blinding flash filled his field of vision. He halted, blinking rapidly, and his vision slowly returned. When it did, he realized he was no longer in Zapdos’ chamber. He was on the southern shore of Pallet Town. How or why he had come to be there was a mystery, but the journey had born more fruit. Lying on his unconscious Feraligatr, reflecting the midday sun, was a yellow feather in the shape of a lightning bolt.

Adding the feather to his growing collection, Bryan recalled his injured Pokémon and hurried up the coast to Professor Oak’s lab. After getting attention for Feraligatr, he sat down and had a peaceful meal with the aging professor. They spoke of Bryan’s journeys since he left Pallet Town a little over a month before, yet Bryan left out many of the details of his interactions with the Legendary Pokémon. As they finished their meal and Professor Oak served them tea, he asked a surprising question.

“Have you just been in Johto, your PC received about half a dozen Unown not fifteen minutes before your arrival?”

Bryan was baffled. He replayed the memory of his encounter with Zapdos in his head and realized what must have happened. The giant Thunderbolt had struck many Unown in addition to Feraligatr and the cascading electricity may have activated some of the PokéBalls that fell from his bag. By some miracle of chance, the Unown had been captured and transferred as Bryan was already carrying six Pokémon.

“Not Johto,” Bryan corrected, “Tanoby.”

The professor gave him a strange look and Bryan knew he was going to have to explain in detail. Nothing, save the truth, would explain how he had traveled from the far reaches of the Southern Sea to Pallet Town in less than fifteen minutes. Professor Oak listened with rapt attention to his story, not interrupting once. When at last Bryan finished, his companion thought long before responding.

“I have only traveled to Tanoby once and it was many years ago, but I was unable to discover anything close to what you did in twenty-four hours,” his voice was steady, but questioning, “how did you decipher the Unown?”

“With this,” Bryan said, placing his Unown book on the table.

He was about to explain where he had received it, but, as the professor leafed through the pages, he came to the conclusion himself.

“You spoke with Mr. Fuji.”

“Yes,” Bryan confirmed, “in Lavender Town. He showed me the catacombs and a stone tablet he found in the ruins of Pokémon Tower. I used the information he gave me, and some found in Pokémon Mansion, to discover what I could at Tanoby.”

“In just a short time, you have uncovered more than many scientists and archeologists have in their entire careers, but I must warn you,” the professor said seriously, “be careful. The legends and myths are so for a reason. The Pokémon you have read about and met are extremely powerful and can be vicious.”

“I know, and thank you,” replied Bryan, “many people have warned me about the dangers and I have seen them first hand, but now I have this drive I haven’t felt since I was a boy. An unending, nagging curiosity that pushes me on.”

Professor Oak smiled knowingly, “I know the feeling well. But you must promise me, for the sake of your own safety, if you meet Mewtwo…run.”

Bryan raised an eyebrow. He had told Professor Oak a lot about his adventure, but he had purposely left out both Mew and Mewtwo. How had he known?

“Come with me,” the professor said before Bryan could ask. Professor Oak led him outside into the cool sunshine before he continued.

“My grandson, Blue, heard rumors of an unstoppable Pokémon living deep within a cave north of Cerulean and he went to investigate. What he found was Mewtwo. It was savage and brutal. It defeated his Pokémon like they were infants and attacked Blue as well. He was sensible and ran for his life and, luckily, Mewtwo didn’t follow.”

The two walked in silence for a long time after Professor Oak finished, wandering through the pastures of the Pokémon Lab. A couple of Tauros butted horns in the corner of a field, while two Nidorina raced across the open land. Pidgey and Spearow in great numbers flitted among the trees and a horde or Rattata teased some Caterpie cornered in a tree. Bryan enjoyed the sight of the Pokémon playing, but a question nagged at the back of his mind.

“Has anyone else encountered Mewtwo?”

“Yes,” Professor Oak admitted, “and, though more prepared, they were no more fortunate. The acting champion, Lance, and the reigning champion, Patrick, traveled to Cerulean Cave together to face the beast. They took a special Pokéball developed by Silph Co. called a Master Ball with them. The Master Ball has successfully caught every Pokémon it has been used on without fail. The two hoped to use the new technology to capture Mewtwo and end the potential threat it presents.”

The white-haired man trailed off for a moment as if remembering, “they failed. Mewtwo destroyed the Master Ball and single-handedly defeated Lance’s Dragonite and Patrick’s Charizard at the same time. Those are two of the strongest Pokémon I have ever seen and it didn’t break a sweat. If they can’t stop it, I don’t know what can, it is an unstoppable force.”

Unstoppable force. Unstoppable force. Unstoppable force.

The words rang through Bryan’s head over and over. ‘Bring us together when at last is unleashed the unstoppable force.’ The other legendary Pokémon had the power to stop Mewtwo and he had already gathered three of them. A hand on his shoulder halted his movement and Bryan realized he had drifted off into his own mind again. Thankfully, Professor Oak had stopped him because a duo of Ivysaur raced in front of him, biting at each other’s heels.

“Are you ok,” the professor asked.

“Of course,” Bryan lied, fingering the feathers of Lugia, Articuno, and Zapdos in his pocket, “maybe a little woozy from the trip is all.”

Professor Oak offered to take him back inside. Bryan said he was fine and they continued on. The conversation turned to more mundane topics and the professor showed him more of the lab. Pallet was an excellent location for the lab because the professor had a diverse range of habitats for Pokémon to live in. The mountains were a little distant, but most of the Pokémon who lived in them naturally adapted well to other environments. Bryan was familiar with many of the Pokémon that were playing and frolicking about the place and the professor introduced him to the ones he didn’t.

He knew that Professor Birch had recently discovered that Magmar, Electabuzz, and Jynx each had pre-evolutions, but was shocked to discover that Sudowoodo, Snorlax, and Mr. Mime did too. In addition, he learned more about the research of Professor Rowan in Sinnoh on Pokémon evolution. Professor Oak showed him pictures of Mamoswine, Honchkrow, and Mismagius, all newly discovered evolutions of Johto-native Pokémon. He even had a Gliscor at his lab, the evolution of Gligar. Bryan was continually shocked by the new information that he was discovering and, when the Professor showed him a list of all the newly discovered pre- or post-evolutions, he was speechless. Aipom, Chansey, Sneasal, Magneton, Lickitung, Rhydon, Tangela, Electabuzz, Magmar, Togetic, Yanma, Eevee, Porygon, Nosepass, Dusclops, Kirlia, and Snorunt. He hadn’t even heard of the last two Pokémon on the list and had only recently learned of Dusclops’ existence, having battled Dusknoir against Mitellos. Two specific names on the list caught his eye.

“Magneton and Rhydon evolve?” he confirmed with the professor.

“Surprising, I know,” responded Oak, “but only in special circumstances. Magneton only evolve when exposed to a special energy found inside Mt. Coronet in Sinnoh and Rhydon when exposed to the energy produced in a Trade Machine while holding an item called a Protector.”

Bryan was disappointed and his face showed it. He would love to evolve his Magneton or Rhydon. Or Magmar and Electabuzz for that matter, but it wasn’t for no reason that it was only recently discovered how these Pokémon evolve. He asked for specific details on Magmar and Electabuzz too, but the news wasn’t any better.
Confused about how his day began and disappointed with how it ended, Bryan retired shortly after dinner and was off early again the next day. Professor Oak, who was also an early riser, wished him luck and warned him about how difficult it was to defeat Blue in Viridian City. He had defeated the Elite Four and only grown stronger since. Bryan thanked him again for his hospitality and the information and was off. The trip up Route 1 was easy and Bryan caught a Rattata on the way for a break in the monotony. He parted ways with the Mouse Pokémon soon after, however, gifting it to a young boy on the outskirts of Viridian City.
 
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Bryan vs. Blue: Full Power Showdown
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Bryan vs. Blue: Full-Power Showdown

Upon arrival in Viridian City, Bryan headed directly to the gym, but was frustrated to find it locked. He backtracked to the Pokémon Center and asked the attendant where he could find the gym leader.

“Are you a Level 3 trainer,” she asked.

Bryan proved that he was.

“I will make a call or two and get back to you,” she said, “Blue spends most of his time training at Victory Road or Mt. Silver, so he will have to be contacted. You may have to wait a couple days.”

Bryan gave his phone number to the attendant and left. He was upset, at first, but decided a few extra days to train couldn’t hurt and he decided to stop by the Trainer House again. The man behind the glass was ecstatic to see him again, but the battle went little differently than the last and Bryan was quickly on his way. He returned to the Pokémon Center for lunch and the attendant informed him that Blue would return on November 14th. His match was scheduled for 2 pm. Bryan thanked her and switched on the PC in the corner. Apparently, he had caught Unown…P, L, I, T, Q, and M at Tanoby, but none of them would be useful against Blue. In numbers, they were formidable; alone, practically useless. Next, he called Jasmine and arranged for some of his older Pokémon to be sent. He was comfortable using Pidgeotto, Feraligatr, and Nidoking, yet some of his other Pokémon he had questions about. He had not used Exeggcutor in battle since Fuschia, Growlithe needed to evolve to stay competitive and Jolteon, though powerful, was not as strong or talented as Ampharos. In the end, he decided to replace Exeggcutor with Heracross and Jolteon with Ampharos. He couldn’t decide between Growlithe and his old Magmar.

Bryan also made a brief call to check in with Sabrina and intended to spend the rest of the night relaxing on his own. To his pleasant surprise, he didn’t have to. Early in the evening, Sabrina found him mulling over the decision to evolve Growlithe and invited him to dinner. After receiving his phone call, she had flown to Viridian on her Xatu. They spent a relaxing evening together and Sabrina decided she would stay with him until after his match with Blue. Instead of staying at the Pokémon Center, Sabrina produced a key to Blue’s chateau on the eastern outskirts of town and they spent the night there. The following day, they trained, enjoyed their time together, and turned in early. With two days remaining before the match, dozens of people began rolling into town. News had spread that someone had challenged Blue to a match and fans and trainers alike were traveling in to see it. Bryan was glad they were staying at Blue’s place because the Trainer House and Pokémon Center were soon full of travelers. Surprisingly, a little after Sabrina and Bryan finished a light lunch, a knock came at Blue’s door. Bryan opened it to find Patrick.

“Hey, old man,” he mocked, punching him playfully in the stomach, “I heard a pretty lady was staying here.”

Bryan gave the kid a strange look, but Sabrina had apparently been waiting for him. With mock rudeness, she pushed past Bryan and bent to give the short boy a kiss on the cheek.

“How is my favorite champion?” she cooed.

“Kick ass as ever,” he winked at her, “came to see if this pretender has what it takes to beat a former champion.”

“Really,” Bryan asked, slightly disgusted by the ridiculous display.

“Yep, really,” Patrick answered in his normal, childish way, Bryan had difficulty remembering he was only 10 or 12, “Ms. Strange here gave me a call, said you could use some pointers.”

“Ms. Strange,” Bryan questioned, giving Sabrina a perplexed glance.

“He likes comic books and likens me to Dr. Strange, but, since I am a girl, he calls me Ms. Strange.”

Bryan didn’t fully understand, but he appreciated the thought and the help. The three spent the next two days preparing for Bryan’s big match. Patrick and Sabrina went full out with some of their strongest Pokémon and Bryan’s were able to hold their own. Alakazam still wreaked havoc on most of his Pokémon, but with Ampharos in his team, he had a more solid counter for the powerful Psychic-type. Patrick threw a myriad of different Pokémon at him, testing his match-ups and strategies in a variety of ways. The Squirtle he had faced a month or so before was a powerful Blastoise and the duel between him and Feraligatr was epic. Neither had an upper hand and both grew tired before a true KO could be assessed. Bryan also got to fight Scizor for the first time. Its strength and durability were incredible, but its insane weakness to fire could be exploited. He also agreed that Patrick’s Charizard was possibly the strongest Pokémon he had ever faced. The strange, black skin tone produced on intimidation factor that couldn’t be denied, yet it was the training and loyalty that made him truly formidable. Both Sabrina and Patrick suggested he evolve Growlithe as well, but for some reason, Bryan couldn’t bring himself to do it. When the day of the gym battle finally arrived, Bryan was as ready as he could have been. Patrick and Sabrina escorted him to the Viridian City Gym. To his great surprise, Pablo, Jasmine, Cassi, and Ali were also there to cheer him on and his confidence went through the roof. He was ready.

Despite league rules stating that Level 3 battles should be conducted in a 4v4 format, an official from the league, who would be the match’s referee, informed Bryan that Blue preferred 6v6 matches. Bryan was again surprised by how most of the gym leaders in Kanto defied the outlined rules of the league. He bid good-bye to his friends as he was led to his end of the arena. The Viridian City Gym was huge. It had been renovated following Giovanni’s departure and consisted of nothing more than the arena, the stands, and a small atrium. As Blue didn’t live at the gym and had no disciples, nothing more was necessary. Bryan was instructed to wait in the middle of a long tunnel and he ran over some strategies while he waited. After a short wait, he heard his name echo down the tunnel and the referee urged him forward.

Bryan emerged onto the arena floor and swallowed hard. The spectators completely surrounded him; on both sides of the arena, as well as in front of and behind. The tunnel he had walked through ran beneath the southern bank of stands. He doubted, even in his League Tournament matches, that he had ever been witness to such a crowd. Every seat was full and the cheers was deafening. Luckily, he saw his small, personal cheering section sitting near the front row to his left. Sabrina’s bright, pink shirt caught his eye and he discretely waved to them. Blue ten entered the arena to thunderous applause and Bryan had to wait a moment longer as the rules were announced and the referee took his position. The former gym leader tried to swallow his nerves, but the formidable presence of the former champion made it difficult. Blue was only 18, yet looked old for his age, and his experience was evident in his manner and movement. Full of confidence, his opponent chose Pidgeot.

Bryan contemplated his choices. Ampharos or Feraligatr would be the best match-ups, yet he knew that the order in which he chose his Pokémon was just as important as the match-up. In a battle like this, only one Pokémon would be likely to finish and he didn’t want to waste his best Pokémon first. That thought in mind, he chose a neutral match-up and drew a murmur from the crowd.

“Rocket, Quick Attack.”

Pidgeotto zoomed toward the larger bird. Pidgeot might have the advantage statistically, but Rocket’s agility, determination, and size could be an advantage. In addition, if Blue was carrying Mirror Move, Rocket would be best prepared for the counter. Pidgeot flapped upward for altitude and Rocket skidded to a halt. Unfortunate, yet expected.

“Pidgeot, Air Slash.” “Rocket, Dive.”

Pidgeotto dodged downward and Pidgeot followed at a distance, trying to find contact with Air Slash. Bryan had a strategy in mind, though he hadn’t successfully used it before; Patrick had used it on him the day before. As Rocket neared the floor, the Air Slashes he dodged made impact with the metal floor and cause updrafts. Hoping Rocket was ready, Bryan launched the attack.

“Rocket, Steel Wing.”

Pidgeotto pivoted and, using the updrafts from the incoming Air Slashes, closed the gap between himself and his opponent quickly. He caught Pidgeot off-guard and Steel Wing struck a solid hit. The proximity, however, allowed Pidgeot to catch the smaller bird in a strong Hurricane. Rocket took damage, but escaped using Quick Attack, landing another solid blow to his opponent. With both Pokémon weakening, their trainers became warier. Pidgeot kept his distance and attempted another Hurricane. Rocket dodged and countered with Mirror Move, yet had no better luck. Looking to end the first round, both trainers had the same thought.

“Quick Attack.”

Both Bird Pokémon lowered their heads and shot forward at full speed, no thought given to pulling out. Neither trainer expected them to. It was a contest of strength and endurance now, who would come out on top. The collision was painful to watch and the crowd confirmed as much when an ‘ooo’ that rippled through the arena. Neither Pokémon fared well from the attack. It was unclear as they fell if either had weathered the initial attack, but, if they had, the resulting crash into the ground finished them both. A double KO.

Mild cheering spread across the arena at the result. No-one seemed to know how to take it. In any case, Blue chose his second Pokémon and Bryan stuck with his strategy of team management. A louder murmur, as well as some indistinguishable shouts arose from the crowd when Bryan sent out Growlithe. The former gym leader was confident though. Despite all of the advice to evolve, his gut told him otherwise. He knew it had to be for a reason. Knowing that many Arcanine had the ability to absorb and benefit from Fire-type attacks, Bryan bent and gave Growlithe some last-minute instructions before ordering an attack.

“Crunch.”

“Arcanine, Thunder Fang.”

Growlithe’s sized played a major advantage in the first jaunt. Arcanine, nearly three times larger than its pre-evolution, was unable to coral Growlithe as she dodged nimbly beneath his fangs and latched on to a rear leg. Arcanine howled and tried to shake her loose, but to no avail. Blue, similarly wary of using Fire-type attacks, got creative.

“Arcanine, Sit.”

“Growlithe, Release.”

As the larger Pokémon lurched backward, attempting to smash Growlithe, the Puppy Pokémon released Crunch and pranced away. Blue tried to counter with Thunder Fang a second time. Arcanine lost his balance and found himself sitting uncomfortably before his master. Bryan took the upper hand and hit Arcanine hard with Body Slam. Once recovered from the first two attacks, Arcanine found its feet and stared down its short nose at his opponent. Growlithe was fresh and unharmed. Blue intended to change that.

“Arcanine, ExtremeSpeed.”

“Growlithe, Flamethrower.”

Arcanine halted as Flamethrower blasted toward him, wishing to take the blow and augment his strength. Flamethrower…missed. Bryan smiled and a confused looked crossed the faces of both Arcanine and his trainer. Growlithe had been instructed to purposely miss any Flamethrowers, using them for a distraction instead of an actual attack. It would only work once, but it worked beautifully.

“Growlithe, Body Slam.”

A second consecutive heavy blow took Arcanine off guard and the crowd, normally quiet, reacted ever so slightly to the successful strategy being employed by the challenger. Bryan knew, however, that his success might be short-lived. He had landed several blows, but it wouldn’t take much for a powerful Pokémon like Arcanine to bring Growlithe down. He played his last card.

“Growlithe, Outrage.”

The Puppy Pokémon’s countenance changed as the adrenaline took over and she launched herself onto the bigger Pokémon. Blue countered with the same attack and the resulting melee was intense, if short-lived.

Growlithe scratched at the underbelly of Arcanine, trying to evade his huge paws, before latching onto his bushy tail with her teeth. Arcanine swatted at her once. Twice. Three times before making contact. Growlithe hit the ground hard, but returned to the scrap. They exchanged bites, kicks, and scratches, Growlithe’s size allowing it to land more blows, but taking more damage from the few she received. Finally, Growlithe shot beneath Arcanine’s outstretched fangs and leapt up to attack the vulnerable belly once more. Her opponent howled in pain and kicked out, but couldn’t find contact with his smaller opponent. At the end of his endurance, Arcanine collapsed sideways, all 300+ pounds careening toward the floor. Growlithe, Confusion setting in as Outrage wore off, lost track of her surroundings.

Bryan saw the events unfold in slow motion, unable to stop their momentum. As Arcanine hit the floor with ground-shaking force, Growlithe was caught beneath his bulk and crushed. Another audible gasp went up from the crowd. Another double KO.

Next up, Rhydon vs. Nidoking. Although similar in appearance, Rhydon was considerably larger and heavier than its counterpart. Nidoking, proud as ever, flexed his muscles and prepared for battle. Both trainers opened with Earthquake and the result was catastrophic and surprising. The entire building, arena, stands, and foundations shook with the tremors passing through them and dust fell from the ceiling as the powerful attacks collided. Despite both Pokémon being weak to the attack, both survived. Rhydon continued the assault with Rock Slide, while Nidoking dodged. The counter was Poison Sting, which Rhydon took for minimal damage. Not wanting to risk another Earthquake, Blue ordered Take Down and the immense Rhydon lumbered forward with surprising speed. Bryan took the attack in stride.

“Nidoking, Ice Beam.”

The blast coated Rhydon in its icy grasps and he finally slid to a halt at Bryan’s feet. The former gym leader had the first lead of the match and emotion finally flickered across Blue’s face. The cheers from the crowd at the KO were louder now and Jasmine’s high voice could be heard distinctly in the hubbub. Bryan’s lead, however, was short-lived. Blue chose Gyarados next and, after dodging a desperate Poison Sting, finished Nidoking with Hydro Pump. With the match tied 3-3, Bryan’s choices in Pokémon were becoming more important. Again, Ampharos had the type advantage, but the strategy involved in the neutral match-ups seemed to be favoring Bryan, so he went with Heracross instead. Heracross could normally do a lot of damage with Earthquake, but it would be ineffective against Gyarados, so Bryan employed a more kamikaze-style strategy.

“Gyarados, Hydro Pump.”

“Heracross, Close Combat.”

Heracross, if only slightly, was faster than Gyarados and ducked under the incoming attack. Close Combat hit hard, yet, because of its nature, it left Heracross open to being easily countered. Gyarados did so with Dragon Tail for immense damage. Exactly as Bryan wanted.

“Heracross, Counter.”

Heracross returned the damage of Dragon Tail two-fold and Blue’s Pokémon was flattened against the back wall with the force of the attack. The defeat was demonstrative and Jasmine’s cheer was again the loudest in the arena. It was she, after all, who had taught him the technique. By using Close Combat and dropping Heracross’s defenses, almost any attack would do massive damage to him. However, with the Focus Sash wrapped around his arm, he could endure the assault. With the damage taken, Counter was nearly a guaranteed KO.

The only problem with the strategy; it was a one-time thing. Exeggutor proved that with a single Egg Bomb and the match was tied again. Feraligatr was next for Bryan, if for no other reason than he had decided Ampharos needed to be his anchor. Both Pokémon had certain advantages in the match, it simply depended which could take advantage of them. Exeggutor opened with Razor Leaf, which Feraligatr nullified with Hydro Pump. Unfortunately, Bryan had no time for a Dragon Dance, but, being naturally faster than Coconut Pokémon, closed the gap for his preferred form of fighting. Feraligatr took damage from an Egg Bomb on the approach, yet landed a strong Ice Punch. Exeggutor staggered under the blow and Feraligatr closed in for the KO.

“Exeggutor, Physic.”

Ice Punch was halted in mid-air and Feraligatr, unable to break free of the Psychic assault, was thrown backward. Exposed by the powerful attack, the Big Jaw Pokémon was unable to dodge the following Razor Leaf and it was Blue who took the late lead. With only Ampharos left, Bryan would have to defeat two Pokémon if he wanted to succeed. Exeggutor opened with Razor Leaf and Ampharos nullified it with Light Screen. He didn’t want to show his hand too early, but he needed to keep his Pokémon healthy. A couple of Egg Bombs were handled by Thunderbolts, all the while Ampharos closed the gap between himself and his opponent. Exeggutor wanted the distance, Bryan didn’t. Blue, too late, noticed the ploy and ordered Psychic.

“Ampharos, Fire Punch.”

Psychic did some damage as Ampharos lunged forward, but, tough as Exeggcutor was, it couldn’t take Ice Punch and Fire Punch. The match was even for a final time. No cheering rose from the crowd as the final duel was set. Just stark and tense silence. Alakazam vs. Ampharos. Bryan had saved Ampharos for this moment. None of his other Pokémon could properly counter the Psi Pokémon. Bryan knew if he could weather the first assault, he had a chance. The assault came quickly.

“Alakazam, Psychic.”

“Ampharos, Light Screen.”

Psychic flowed forward with intensity and shattered the first Light Screen. The quick reflexes of Ampharos, however, produced a second and Psychic didn’t have enough energy to break it down. Blue continued attacking with Shadow Ball, yet a well-timed Fire Punch dissipated the projectile and Bryan decided to counter. Thunderbolt streaked across the floor. Alakazam couldn’t dodge the attack, but Bryan knew he would Recover off the damage and he took advantage of his opponent’s concentration. The first Fire Punch landed before Alakazam could complete self-healing and the second doubled him over. Bryan thought he had a chance to land a third. He was wrong.

“Alakazam, Focus Blast.”

Although not an accurate attack by any means, Ampharos was too close to contemplate dodging the ball of energy and was launched backwards. For a moment, the crowd held their collective breathes, wondering if the match was over. It wasn’t. Ampharos, winded and suffering, pushed himself up. Blue tried to take the opportunity to Recover, but a weak Thunderbolt interrupted the attempt and Blue returned to the assault. Ampharos, channeling the last of his energy, evaded a second Focus Blast and Alakazam unleashed Psychic in its wake. Ampharos threw up another Light Screen and held out. As a continuous Psychic buffeted Light Screen, Ampharos pushed forward, knowing his only chance was in close combat with the physically weak Pokémon. All the while, his opponent attempted to break down the last defense and decisively end the match. Ampharos’ willpower won. When finally within range, he dropped Light Screen and launched Fire Punch. Alakazam released Psychic and dodged the blow, but Bryan had his opening.

“Ampharos, Strength.”

A look of sheer determination crossed Ampharos’ face as he latched on to one of Alakazam’s arms and lifted. Ampharos’ strength, though not great, was often underestimated. And against a Pokémon as physically weak as Alakazam, it didn’t matter anyway. The Light Pokémon turned in a tight circle, lifting Alakazam from the ground, and flung him in the direction of his master. Blue dove out of the way. Alakazam crashed hard into the lower barrier of the stands and fainted. A sixth KO. The win.

Bryan took a breath.
 
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Prepping for the Pokémon League
Lone Scribe for the Lord of Time
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Prepping for the Pokémon League

Bryan hardly remembered the rest of the day. He had a brief recollection of being begrudgingly presented with the Earth Badge before a mob of crazed fans swept over him and carried him off. The sensation was surreal, though not thoroughly enjoyed, and he was thrilled to find himself sitting at Blue’s dining room table surrounded by his friends as the moon climbed higher in the sky. Although Pablo had returned to Pewter City, his other friends were still present. Sabrina and Jasmine were busy in the kitchen, while Cassi monitored Ali’s joyful playing with Patrick and a Shellder. Shaking himself from the daze, Bryan briefly wondered where Blue was before turning his attention to his friends. They were all congratulatory and excited, yet the tone of their celebration was more to Bryan’s liking. As they settled in to a nice dinner together, they had a rousing discussion about the intensity of the match, the amazing Pokémon, and the gutsy strategies. They also shortly discussed Bryan’s plans for the future, but the former gym leader wasn’t ready to set anything in stone yet.

Jasmine produced a large chocolate cake following dinner and the six of them each enjoyed a large slice. Ready to put the excitement of the day behind him, Bryan produced a deck of cards from a side table. After a couple of hands, Cassi excused herself from the game to bathe Ali, who was covered from head to toe in chocolate icing. The group shared a laugh and, with only four now playing, Bryan dealt out a game of Hearts. He was partnered with Sabrina and, though they struggled through the first few rounds, they found a rhythm mid-way through the game and ended up running away with the game. As they finished, Cassi returned, informing them that Ali was down for the night and they all agreed it was probably a good idea that they do the same. Mentally and physically drained, Bryan was asleep shortly after hitting the pillow and was once again whisked off to the strange edge of his subconsciousness where dreams seem so close to reality.

He saw Zapdos again, sitting in its nest beneath the Sevii Islands, and witnessed, from his mind’s eye, the courage in which Feraligatr threw himself in front of the tremendous Thunderbolt. Zapdos screeched and morphed into Articuno. Once again Bryan was deep beneath the Seafoam Islands, his life slowly flashing before him. The icy blast burst from Articuno’s mouth and carved the Unown letters into the floor. Sitting in that strange place between awake and asleep, where the mind has some modicum of control over its dreams, Bryan paused and stared at the letters. They seemed familiar. L-O-V-E. He deciphered the letters and, moments later, snapped back to reality. His movement shook the bed and Patrick, who had taken up residence on the floor with a blanket and pillow, stirred. He didn’t wake.

Bryan thought back to his dream and the words again. Love had been the word associated with Articuno in the ruins. Thinking on it now, he had been feeling a great amount of love when Articuno had appeared to him. Love for Elizabeth and Jasmine and Sabrina and his Pokémon. A second word flashed across his groggy mind.
Courage. The word associated with Zapdos. He had attempted to show courage in that chamber, but it was Feraligatr whose courageous effort saved him great harm or even death. Was that the key to the Legendary Pokémon? Bryan thought, demonstrating great emotion and humanity in times of crisis. It had happened twice. In the face of a slow, agonizing death in the depths of a sea cave, Bryan had expressed his deep and unending love…Articuno. Later, faced by the untold power of Zapdos’ Thunderbolt, Feraligatr had shown unwavering courage in defending his master. Both times the Legendary birds had seen fit to grant him their feathers. Bryan blinked rapidly, trying to clear the sleep from his mind. What was the word associated with Moltres? He fingered the three feathers in his pocket, trying to remember. He couldn’t. Rising, careful not to wake Patrick, he left the bedroom and snuck quietly to the kitchen. The rest of the house was silent and the brilliant moonlight shone beautifully through the windows. Silently, he made himself a cup of coffee and rummaged through his bag until he found the notes he had taken at the Tanoby Ruins. Faith. He read, finding the passage he was looking for. How does one demonstrate their faith? And did it matter if he wasn’t in a life-threatening situation? These and other questions tumbled through his head as he spent the long night sipping coffee in the noiseless kitchen. When at last the sun began showing over the not-to-distant mountains, Bryan had finished a dozen mugs of coffee and made a decision.

Sabrina was the next to rise. She entered the kitchen and kissed Bryan gently on the cheek. As she bustled about gathering the necessities for breakfast, Jasmine entered, smiled, and went to help her. Like her uncle, Jasmine had always been a morning person, but the other three in the house clearly weren’t. Bacon was sizzling before Patrick made an appearance, a childish grin decorating his ever-hungry face and he had finished his first egg and piece of toast before Ali scampered into the kitchen, followed by her mother. The only sound for a long time was the tinkle of silverware on plates and mugs being replaced on the wooden table. When at last the silence was broken, the friends discussed their plans for the coming days. Obviously, Sabrina and Jasmine had to return to their gyms, they were likely already missed. Ali and Cassi, too, would return home. Patrick planned to visit Professor Oak in Pallet Town and invited Bryan to do the same. Bryan politely declined. He had contemplated traveling up Victory Road and challenging the Elite Four, yet wanted to test his strength at the Pokémon League Tournament first. He had about six months until it started, so he intended to do some training in the intervening months.

The attitude following breakfast was somber as they each gathered their belongings and prepared to go their separate ways. Jasmine was the first to go, followed soon after by Cassi and her daughter. Sabrina lingered until nearly lunchtime when Bryan said he was ready to head out. Patrick would be staying for a time, so they bid him farewell and headed out together. The fastest way to both of their destinations was Fly, but Pidgeotto was too small to carry Bryan and Xatu didn’t have the strength to bear two fully-grown adults. As such, the two took Diglett’s Tunnel and enjoyed another two days together. Bryan was headed to Lavender, and Rock Tunnel after, so they headed east down Route 11 and turned north. When at last they said good-bye, neither wanted to do so, but they knew they would see each other again soon enough. Sabrina made an off-hand comment about how the gym had survived without her nearly a week, why did they need her back at all? Both knew why, thus they shared a sad hug and smile. Sabrina headed west, Bryan went north.

Bryan backtracked to the secret passageway he had traversed in Rock Tunnel weeks before, pushed the rock aside, and set his mind on training. It didn’t stay there long. Instead, when he crested the mouth of the tunnel into the valley beyond, he gasped in surprise. A Charizard. It had been years since a wild Charizard had been seen outside the fabled Charific Valley in Johto. The valley itself was so well-hidden that few even saw them there. Bryan ducked his head back inside the cave to think and heard a voice rise over the wind howling outside.

“Charizard, Dive and Flip.”

Peeking his head back from the cave, Bryan saw the Charizard flap twice for altitude, fall into a graceful dive, and do a backflip before landing gracefully on the ground. It wasn’t wild. Yet, who else knew of this training spot? Emerging from his hiding place, the former gym leader saw a tall, thin man with long, black hair pulled back in a ponytail balancing precariously on a rock formation. He was wearing thick, black leather trouser and a heavy, white shirt under a full-length, red trench coat. His face was tanned and weather-beaten with several small white scars visible even from a distance. As Bryan approached, the man greeted him.

“You must be Bryan, I have been waiting for you.”

Bryan’s mouth opened in shock. He wanted to respond. Ask how the man knew him, but he couldn’t seem to get his mouth to work. Instead, the man answered the questions without prompting.

“My name is Drago. I am Pablo’s younger brother. He asked me to meet you up here.”

Bryan nodded once, more questions racing to his mind, but his jaw had ceased to function. He felt like such a fool standing before the man, mouth agape, unable to speak. Drago broke the silence, if not the tension and awkwardness.

“Figured you could use some assistances training for the league, so I brought the strongest Pokémon I possess.”

“Thanks,” Bryan finally managed, sweeping his eyes over Drago a second time.

He was confident and experienced, a good training partner, but he was unsure how he felt about the situation anyway. The man was still a stranger and appeared just strange on top of that. Charizard looked healthy and ready for a good bout or two, but that did little to sway Bryan either. He wanted to know how Pablo had known of his intention to train at Rock Tunnel, yet the answer seemed obvious enough. One of his other friends could have told him or he had possibly deduced it himself. Whatever the truth, he couldn’t politely tell the man he wished to be alone, so he dealt with his presence.

Over the next two weeks, Bryan retracted his original thoughts at having Drago as a training partner. He was like Pablo in many ways and they became fast friends. In addition, Bryan began to realize he was becoming accustomed to spending time with others, a significant change from the previous chapter in his life. If not for Drago, it likely would have been a boring, depressing, unproductive couple of weeks in the slowly freezing mountains. Not only was Drago a boon companion, he was an apt battler. He had defeated all of the Kanto and Johto gyms in his youth, had finished Top 8 at the Pokémon League Tournament six times, and was skilled enough to make a living as a professional trainer. Charizard was his oldest, strongest, and most talented Pokémon, but his others weren’t slouches either. He had an affinity for Fire-types, strange, given his brothers interest in Rock-types, yet in deference to balanced training, he only brought one other with him. Magmortar. It was Bryan’s first interaction with Magmar’s evolution and he was impressed. As the two experienced trainers had never battled or trained together, their strategies in battling and raising their Pokémon were new and different to one another. As such, they both found themselves growing immensely from the experience.

When at last Drago bid farewell, Bryan intended to stay and train a few more days. His plan faltered by the first night. He already felt alone and, even huddled close to Growlithe, the night’s cold was penetrating him more than he wished to admit. Therefore, the next morning, Bryan packed up his things and hiked back to Lavender. He didn’t even think twice about his next destination. Saffron City. Sabrina was as pleased to see him as he was to see her and they spent their first night together sharing a romantic dinner in front of the fireplace in Sabrina’s private quarters. Bryan inadvertently fell asleep on the plush carpets and found himself there the next morning, alone. A note was tacked hastily on the door. Challenger came in this morning, hope you're awake in time to see it.

Luckily, he was. It was a Level 3 battle and the challenger had a 2-0 lead when Bryan found his way groggily into the stands. Sabrina leveled the score at 2-2 before her Espeon fell, but the challenger had nothing that could stand up to Alakazam and lost the match. So happy was Bryan in his decision to visit Sabrina that he stayed for over a month. Personally, they grew closer and happier, spending nearly all of their free time together. When Pokémon League matters drew Sabrina away, Bryan would train with some of her disciples or alone in the ruins of the Fighting Dojo. He loved watching the Psychic Master battle trainers and never once did she lose an initial match. Occasionally, when trainers came in for re-matches, she wouldn’t use Alakazam and they would find a way to defeat her, but, at full strength, she was a monster. Although he had no intentions of leaving, an excited phone call from Jasmine in mid-January finally drew him away. She and some of the other gym leaders in Johto had been working closely with Professor Birch to prove some of his theories about breeding. As such, she had been attempting to breed her Skarmory with a Ditto. It had succeeded. Skarmory had laid an Egg and, after due diligence, another Skarmory had hatched. She had a favor to ask him. She was sending her new Skarmory to Professor Oak to study, but she wanted someone to look after it for her. Bryan agreed that he would make the journey to Pallet Town and packed his things to leave. He affection for Sabrina had only grown in the intervening months, yet if they wished to have a future together, both knew they would have to spend copious amounts of time apart. It was simply their nature. Bryan borrowed Xatu for the journey southwest and made good time.

Over the next two weeks, Bryan enjoyed the relaxed nature of living at Professor Oak’s lab and training when he truly felt the need. Out of his respect for both Bryan and Jasmine, the professor concentrated his research efforts on Skarmory so Bryan could leave when he wished. Thus, by the beginning of February, he had completed his work and Bryan was free to leave. Bryan, however, remained. The environment of Pallet was relaxed and simple, which gave him time to train and think. In addition, a few trainers, fresh off victories in Cinnabar, were excellent practice as they passed through the hamlet. He helped Professor Oak with some of his research and concentrated on expanding his knowledge of foreign Pokémon. Any knowledge he could glean from the professor’s humongous library could prove useful in battles to come. As February flew by and became March and then slowly faded into April, Bryan’s training progressed. Sabrina visited him half a dozen times, at first under false pretenses, but, by the final visit, she openly admitted that she missed him. Patrick also spent random days popping in and out of the lab on assignments from Professor Oak. His Pokédex was nearly complete.

The final surprise that Bryan had before heading out to the Pokémon League was a visit from Blue. The Viridian City Gym Leader was visiting his grandfather, but was unperturbed when he discovered Bryan was a guest in his grandfather’s house. The two had a serious and long-winded discussion about training habits and battle strategies over dinner one evening and had various mock battles the next day. Bryan was rather astonished at the boy’s demeanor throughout all of their interactions. He had assumed that the focused, no-nonsense, somewhat dour attitude was only a mask Blue wore to intimidate opponent’s, but if so, he never dropped it during his visit home. Bryan could also see how some people could take his seriousness as prickly, or even unlikable, but he respected the young man’s pursuit of his goals.
 
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The Pokémon League Tournament
Lone Scribe for the Lord of Time
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The Pokémon League Tournament

When at last March gave way to April, Bryan was ready for his next challenge. The trip from Pallet Town north to Viridian City was short, yet trekking out Route 22 and through Victory Road would take the better part of a week. Most of the other trainers attending would Fly on Pokémon or take the transports provided by the league. They were intended for spectators, but that didn’t stop most trainers. As expected, the journey north took no time at all, yet what was waiting for him there caught him off-guard.

“You didn’t think you could sneak off to the league without us, did you?”

Bryan turned on his heel to see Pablo and Cassandra coming up behind him. He embraced them both warmly, confused, yet excited.

“How did you know I would be here?” he asked.

“We have been here for a couple of days,” Cassi admitted, laughing, “knowing you would come through at some point to take part in the league.”

“We are coming with you,” Pablo added, in case Bryan hadn’t guessed.

The former gym leader was ecstatic to have them and they set out at once. The journey that Bryan had anticipated to be rather daunting was, instead, rather pleasant and the three old friends had no trouble with the strong Pokémon or trainers they met on Victory Road. They traveled through the days, told stories or played cards around the fire at night, and embarrassed a few younger trainers on their way to their first tournament. When at last they arrived, the Indigo Plateau was teeming with activity and they split up to find their registration booths. They were separated alphabetically, so Bryan searched for ’S’, Cassandra ‘H’, and Pablo ‘M’. Registration was swiftly followed by dinner and a frantic search for lodging. The Indigo Plateau wasn’t designed to house more than a dozen trainers at a time, so when hundreds of trainers, plus spectators, flocked there for the tournament, lodging was iffy. In the end, the three decided it would be easier just to use the tent Pablo had brought and pitched it a good distance from the flutter of activity.

The next morning, the tournament started. Pablo was matched up with a very talented child, but he pulled out a last-minute win. Bryan, on the contrary, cruised through his first match. Cassi, in a crazy twist of fate, battled Oliver King in her first match. His Fighting-type Pokémon succinctly fell to Primarina. The second and third rounds of the tournament also saw the three friends pull out victories. Following the third round, Sabrina called him from Sinnoh, where she was vacationing during the extent of the tournament. She congratulated him on his progress and queried about Patrick’s as well. Bryan, who hadn’t seen the boy since arriving, surfed through the tournament database to discover that the reigning champion had won each of his first three matches 3-0. Sadly, Round 4 was the end of both Pablo and Cassi’s success. In a wildly intense and entertaining battle, Pablo fell to his brother, Drago. Cassi, on the other hand, had the misfortune of drawing Karen. She did her best to stay competitive, losing the match 3-2. Bryan also had a tough match-up, he drew the incumbent gym leader of Azalea Town, Bugsy. It was an interesting match, yet nothing Bryan couldn’t handle. With the victory, Bryan advanced to the Round of 16. He had advanced to the stage on several occasions in the past, but he couldn’t deny his nerves to his friends the night before his next battle. His nerves, however, were misplaced. He cruised past Goldenrod City’s Gym Leader, Whitney, and into the Quarterfinals.

As Bryan’s Round of 16 was the first battle of the round, he was able to relax and enjoy the fierce battles that followed. Patrick joined Bryan and his friends in the stands after defeating a tough trainer from Hoenn. They watched the last six battles together, discussing who they didn’t want to meet in the next round. The young champion also joined them for dinner and the reveal of the Quarterfinal match-ups. Patrick, as reigning champion was revealed first.

Patrick vs. Drago…rolled across the screen. Pablo sighed.

“Well Drago had a good run, but I guess that is the end of that.”

“He is a tough trainer and I do lose,” Patrick chuckled, “everyone always has a chance.”

Bryan raised an eyebrow at his modesty, but it was Cassi who contradicted the boy.

“I checked your record, ya goof, you have never lost a registered battle.”

Patrick returned a sheepish grin and shrugged, but any response was cut off as a murmur went through the gathered crowd at the next match-up.

Lance vs. Clair…

“That should be entertaining,” Patrick laughed again, “they don’t like each other very much.”

“Really,” Cassi responded, “aren’t they cousins or something?”

“They are,” Patrick confirmed nodding, “and Lance is the elder of the two. Clair thinks that Lance stole her birthright when he became part of the League though, while she was disparaged with remaining in Blackthorn to run the gym.”

“How do you know all this,” Pablo asked.

“Lance told me,” the boy said, shrugging, “we train together quite a bit.”

Pablo looked like he wanted to ask more, but never got the chance. Two more names rolled across the board.

Karen vs. Asabe…

“Who?” Cassi spurted, not recognizing the final name.

All of the other names on the board were from Kanto or Johto, but if she recalled correctly from her introduction in the last round, Asabe was registered in Kalos. Since its induction in 1967, the Pokémon League Tournament had been held annually at the Indigo Plateau. As new regions added gyms, their badges became eligible to allow entry to the tournament, but, with the founding of each region’s Elite Fours in 1991, many of the foreign trainers stopped making the yearly journey to the mountainous reaches of Kanto and Johto.

“She is from Kalos,” Patrick confirmed Cassi’s unspoken thought and his knowledge again floored the trio, “if memory recalls correctly, she defeated the 2nd Seat of Kalos’ Elite Four, the 1st Seat of Sinnoh’s, and is Unova’s Reigning Champion.”

“Wow,” Pablo breathed, disbelieving.

“I have watched most of her matches,” Patrick admitted, “she hasn’t been challenged much, but Karen will give her an excellent battle.”

During the duration of the short conversation, Bryan kept quiet, a pained expression on his face. He had realized, with the announcement of the other match-ups, what the others hadn’t. When Cassi saw his expression, she promptly asked what was wrong, but all Bryan could do was point as the final match-up rolled across the screen.

Bruno vs. Bryan…

“Again,” Cassi and Pablo spoke in unison.

Bryan covered his face in his hands. He had faced Bruno three times in his life. Twice trying to defeat the Elite Four and once in last year’s tournament. All three results had been the same. Patrick placed a comforting hand on Bryan’s lower back.

“Bruno is a tough opponent, but you have become much stronger since you last faced him.”

The boy’s comments buoyed Bryan’s spirits, if only a little. The match-ups set and the disappointment of facing Bruno set in, the three friends began discussing plans for dinner. Buying food from any of the stalls set up around the plaza would be an expensive and lengthy process, but they didn’t see an alternative. So, Patrick provided one. Being the reigning champion had its perks and he showed them to the private room he had been provided and they ordered room service. Patrick also offered up his room in lieu of their tent and they readily agreed. They couldn’t scrounge together any cots, but the thick carpet was a nice change from the rocky ground beneath their tent.

The following morning dawned bright and warm, an excellent day for battling. At precisely 10 am, Patrick took the stage opposite Drago and, predictably, beat him 3-1. To Drago’s credit, however, it was the first time any of Patrick’s Pokémon had been defeated. Clair and Lance were next and their battle was charged with emotion. Lance won 3-2 and Clair stormed off. After a break for lunch, the battles resumed with Karen and Asabe. As Patrick had indicated, both women were highly skilled, but the 1st Seat of the Indigo Plateau Elite Four proved too much for Unova’s Reigning Champion. At long last, the re-match.

Bryan stood opposite Bruno, watching his opponent’s tan face radiate in the afternoon sun. He swallowed hard, waiting. The introduction process for the late rounds of the tournament was lengthy; an odd attempt to entertain the crowd further. To Bryan, it was just pomp and circumstance, something he could sorely do without at the moment. When at last the introductions had ended, the massive crowd roared its approval and Bryan switched his focus from his opponent’s face to the battle at hand.

‘None of the previous battles matter,’ Patrick had told him, ‘today is a new day.’

Bryan tried to remember that and the other words of advice his friends had passed along. Both Jasmine and Sabrina had called the night before to wish him luck too. He gritted his teeth and waited some more. After what seemed like an eternity, with the spring sun beating down on them, the trainers were called to step into their boxes and choose their first Pokémon. Bruno opened with Krookodile. Bryan smiled. A new Pokémon for the tournament, but one that the 2nd Seat of the Elite Four had used with brutal efficiency in previous rounds. The former gym leader was ready with Feraligatr.

The two alligator Pokémon duked it out in a brutal physical confrontation, yet in the end, typing won. Krookodile was able to dodge all of Feraligatr’s Hydro Pumps, but two well-aimed Ice Punches were the end of him. Luckily, the Big Jaw Pokémon had come out practically unscathed and was ready for the second duel. Bruno, however, surprised everyone by choosing Vikavolt. The Stag Beetle Pokémon was new to Bryan. Despite his months of study, he hadn’t been able to cover all 800+ of the world’s Pokémon and that was one he missed. It was clearly Bug-type, which gave no-one an advantage. Beyond that, Bryan was guessing. Feraligatr’s opening Hydro Pump damaged the exceedingly slow bug. That was the end of Bryan’s luck. The attack gave Vikavolt time to aim Zap Cannon and hit Feraligatr with an electrical force possibly rivaling Zapdos.

With only two Pokémon to choose from and, having a set strategy in mind, Bryan progressed to Golem. He had used his old Megaton Pokémon only once during the tournament, but he felt that its physical bulk would provide a good counter to many of Bruno’s favored Pokémon. Although Golem’s Earthquake would be ineffective against the Levitating bug, so would Vikavolt’s Zap Cannon be useless against Golem. Both Pokémon were extremely slow as well, but Bryan remedied that slightly with a Rock Polish and Golem charged. The increased speed guaranteed a hit before Vikavolt could counter. The Stag Beetle did so with Bug Buzz. Golem took some damage from the attack, yet, within the confines of Rollout, was a near unstoppable force. Vikavolt, its speed beyond mediocre, had no chance of dodging or surviving the second blow. Bryan had the lead. Bruno’s final Pokémon…Machamp.

Bryan steadied himself and focused. Golem spun around and charged again with Rollout. After last year’s tournament, a vote had been taken judging the best overall Pokémon in the tournament. Patrick’s Charizard had been first, Lance’s Dragonite second, and Bruno’s Machamp third. The thought only strengthened Bryan’s resolve. The Megaton Pokémon careened toward Machamp. Under normal circumstances, the Superpower Pokémon would be the faster of the two, but, after Rock Polish, Golem had some surprising speed. Machamp didn’t seem to care.

“Strength,” called Bruno calmly.

Machamp braced himself and caught the oncoming Pokémon with all four arms. Golem’s momentum refused to be stopped. He continued to roll, pushing Machamp backwards. Bruno’s Pokémon preserved. It was an awkward stalemate and the gathered crowd held its breathe. Eventually, Strength halted Rollout. Golem was exposed.

“Machamp, Dynamic Punch.”

“Golem, Explosion.”

It was a last-ditch effort by Bryan and it was only partially effective. Golem began to glow a hot white as Dynamic Punch struck and launched him backwards. Explosion succeeded prior to Golem losing full consciousness, but only the shock wave from the attack buffeted Machamp, who had retreated a few steps after punching Golem away. 2-2. Again. Machamp, possibly third strongest Pokémon in the world against…a shocked gasp went up from the crowd. Nearly everyone in the arena expected to see Ampharos. He had been in every team Bryan had fielded so far; leading the early rounds in easy victories and anchoring his teams in later rounds. True, the Light Pokémon was his strongest, most experienced, most loyal Pokémon, but, sometimes, the wild card wins. And at the moment, Bryan was the wild card. Everyone else advancing to the Semi-Finals was experienced there. Patrick was reigning Elite Four champion, Lance was Acting Champion and Reigning Tournament Champion, and Karen had made a name for herself as being dominant in past tournaments. Standing before Bryan was another member of the Elite Four. He had been the the Semis the previous year and many other years. Bryan was clearly the wild card, so he decided to play like one.

“Skarmory, Spikes.”

Machamp could only watch as the Armor Bird Pokémon soared high overheard, dropping strange looking Spikes on the ground all around him. Some bounced harmlessly off of the hulking Pokémon, but, once scattered, they were a danger to every step he took. So Skarmory tried to make him move. He dove in low, goading Machamp into a few flailing ThunderPunches. They all missed and, off balance from trying to swing with planted feet, Machamp stumbled and pierced his feet on the waiting Spikes. Roaring in pain, he turned to Bruno, looking for guidance. Bruno gave it to him.

“Rock Slide.”

Predictable, Bryan thought to himself, and just what I wanted.

“Skarmory, Toxic.”

Rock Slide would be less accurate at close range, so Skarmory zipped in close and raked poisonous metal claws across Machamp’s back, inflicting Toxic. The sickly purple lines drawn across Machamp’s exposed back swelled and it was clear the Superpower Pokémon was suffering. Skarmory zoomed away. Spikes littered about his feet, Toxic sapping at his strength, Machamp breathed hard and glared across the arena at his opponent. A glint in the determined Pokémon’s eyes and a stiff flexing of his four arms told Bryan the match wasn’t over yet. Steeling himself, Bryan played his last card. If it succeeded, he would advance farther than ever before. If it failed, he could only be proud of how far he had come.

“Skarmory, Brave Bird.”

The Armor Bird Pokémon flapped its steel wings for altitude and then dropped into a kamikaze dive. Machamp waited for it. Moving to dodge would mean damage from Spikes and the increased flow of Toxic. Waiting for the attack meant weathering the most powerful Flying-type move known. It was a gamble for both trainers. Who would succeed?

Skarmory screamed closer, the wind whistling past his metallic wings letting off an eerie sound. The crowd held its breathe. One way or another, this was the end. At the last possible second, Machamp reacted.

“ThunderPunch.”

It was too late for either Pokémon to dodge, it was simply a matter of endurance now. ThunderPunch hit home. Brave Bird’s momentum devastated Machamp. The two Pokémon collided and rolled over one another in a crazy scene of flying arms, legs, claws, and wings. Still, the crowd didn’t breathe. Machamp was the healthier of the two Pokémon on most days, yet Toxic, Spikes, and residual Explosion had sapped at his health. Skarmory had been fully healthy and could weather physical blows with the best of them, but Brave Bird’s recoil could be deadly. Bryan had prepared for a similar situation though. He had trained Skarmory against Ampharos, Magmar, and Jolteon. Taking Thunderbolts, ThunderPunches, and FirePunches. If anyone could survive, it was him. His confidence, however, was limited. He held his breathe as well.

The referee, who had retreated to the far edge of the arena following Golem’s Explosion, rushed forward now. Machamp and Skarmory were laying in a motionless heap. The man, dressed in his official Pokémon League polo shirt and dark jeans, reached the exhausted Pokémon and assessed the damage. There had never been a tie in the Pokémon League Tournament. Bryan was unaware of the protocol if one occurred. The referee stepped back to announce the result. Movement from the heap. One of the Pokémon had survived the collision. The anticipation in the air could be cut with a knife. One of Machamp’s arms moved and the crowd took a collective breathe, but didn’t exhale. The arm twitched again. And fell heavily to the ground as Skarmory pushed himself up from under the muscular appendage of his fainted opponent.

The crowd exploded. Bryan nearly fainted. Too weak to fly, Skarmory ambled awkwardly toward his master on razor-sharp claws. The former gym leader was just cognizant enough to call him back before collapsing to the ground, suddenly exhausted. His head swam and his eyes grew blurry, but a strong arm lifted him up and helped him to the bench behind the trainer’s box.

“One hell of a match,” a deep, gruff voice said in his ear, “haven’t had one that intense since the last time we battled.”

Bruno. Bryan managed a weak smile. If he felt this drained after watching his Pokémon battle, he couldn’t begin to imagine how they felt. He patted the PokéBalls at his waist and thanked each in turn for their hard work. Bruno thrust a bottle of water into the exhausted man’s hand and sat down beside him. The two didn’t speak. Bryan grunted his thanks for the water. Thankfully, spectators were not allowed in the arena and, when Bryan had recovered enough, he and Bruno walked to the staging area together.

“Do you need anything else,” Bruno asked politely, approaching the exit and leaving Bryan sitting dazed on a bench.

The screams of spectators could be heard outside the door, waiting to greet both of the trainers when they exited, and Bryan really wanted to ask for some quiet. He knew that wasn’t possible though. In the end, he asked if Bruno could find Cassi and Pablo. He said he would and opened the doors to the deafening roar of the fans beyond. About fifteen minutes later, Cassi and Pablo were shown in by a league official who congratulated Bryan and told him to take him time in leaving. In addition to his old friends, Ali had joined them.

“Madre brought her up for the last couple of rounds,” Cassi explained, “I am surprised you couldn’t hear her screaming, she is officially your biggest fan.”

Bryan managed a laugh and embraced the small girl who had jumped into his lap. Naturally, his friends were happy for him, and made it known, but Bryan wanted to do anything except think back on the match or forward to the upcoming one. He wasn't sure how long they sat and made small talk. Eventually the crowd outside quieted a bit, but all three adults turned to the door when the volume beyond intensified ten-fold. Nothing happened for a moment and then the door swung inward and Patrick entered.

“Quite the fan base you have there,” Pablo joked.

Patrick shrugged. He knew he was popular but the crowd fickle. If someone else won the tournament this year, they would turn to the new champion instead. Even though Lance was the reigning tournament champion, most people who followed the rankings closely still considered Patrick the best. He hadn’t competed the year before, despite having won the two previous, so many considered Lance’s current title unimpressive. Strangely, the normally jovial boy looked somber. It was partly because he didn’t like the attention from the crowds, yet it seemed more than that too. Bryan questioned his attitude and Patrick responded by handing him a slip of paper.

“I was hoping it wouldn’t happen yet, but I can’t control these things.”

Bryan unfolded the slip of paper to see an official match notice with the Pokémon League crest at the top. The quarterfinals had been announced to the public, but the semi-finals were kept a secret until the commencement of the first match. Built the suspense. Obviously, the trainers involved had to know. After reading the paper, even Bryan wished he didn’t. He read it over twice and then handed it to Pablo. He read it aloud.

“Semi-Final Number One, 10:00 p.m., Central Arena, Patrick vs. Bryan.”

“I was hoping we could battle in the Final,” Patrick re-emphasized his earlier comment.

“It doesn’t matter,” Bryan said clearing his throat and raising his hand, his demeanor a drastic difference than just moments prior, “if I want to be Champion, which is the goal of the tournament, I have to defeat the best. You are the best, so it doesn’t matter when I face you, I have to defeat you.”

Patrick smiled brightly at that, recognizing the compliment, but also the challenging tone in Bryan’s voice. All the matches at this point in the tournament were spectacular, yet somehow all of Bryan’s were becoming personal. That would just make the match more fun. Both trainers knew each other well and, though Patrick had a plethora of Pokémon to choose from, Bryan had proven he could use surprise to his advantage. Everyone was quiet for a while until Ali began banging on one of the lockers against the wall.

“Perhaps we should go somewhere else and hang out,” Cassi mentioned.

“I can cover your escape,” Patrick suggested, half-joking, half-serious, “I will go out the front, you take the back door. I will meet you back in my apartment whenever I can get free.”

They all agreed it was a good plan. Cassi picked up Ali and Patrick opened the front door to the renewed roars of the fans outside. The others easily snuck out the back and found their way back to Patrick’s room. Unsure how long it would take Patrick to escape the crowds, they ordered room service and clicked on the television. The Pokémon Channel was already showing a replay of the quarterfinal matches and Bryan decided it would be beneficial to watch both his and Patrick’s a second time; allowing for time to process and see things from a distance.

It took nearly two hours for Patrick to return and he looked highly ruffled when he did. His noodles had gone cold in the interim, so he tossed them in the microwave and suggested they relax. To take their minds off the stress of the next day, they partnered up and played Hearts, like they had in Viridian City. Patrick was an excellent partner and they won two matches in dominant fashion before Cassi decided she had had enough and requested a new game or a partner swap. They enjoyed the rest of the evening and turned in early to rest for the trials of the next day.

For some reason, Patrick had left at dawn and didn’t return the next day prior to the match. Brushing it off as a superstition or the like, the friends ordered breakfast and wasted a couple hours until Bryan had to report to the arena. Like the day before, he quickly grew bored of the pomp and circumstance, but used the time to prepare himself mentally. He had used a lot of his tricks on Bruno and would have to develop some new ones if he was going to overcome an even tougher opponent.

On the opposite side of the arena, Patrick looked his normal, happy, casual self; unconcerned with his opponent or the coming match. He was likely think about lunch. The boy could really eat. Whatever the case, the ceremonies finally ended and the battle begun. Bryan went with the balanced and tough Nidoking. Patrick chose Kingler. Not a Pokémon Bryan had battled in quite some time, or one he had trained against, and the match-up favored Patrick slightly. Ice Beam wouldn’t be overly effective and Crabhammer would be devastating if it landed, so Bryan treaded carefully. He needed to use his speed advantage.

Kingler took an Ice Beam and countered with Bubblebeam; a surprising tactic that was more effective than Bryan hoped. Poison Sting also did some damage and opened Kingler for a Horn Attack, but the Pincer Pokémon took the physical attacks with aplomb and countered. Nidoking was able to dodge Crabhammer on its first two attempts, yet, as the match became exceedingly close-quartered, Kingler’s signature move gave Patrick the early advantage. Bryan sighed and berated himself. Why had he used Patrick’s former Pokémon against him? Any advantage the surprise would have given him was negated by the Champion’s familiarity with Nidoking. Bryan’s decision for his second Pokémon was difficult. He had an Electric-type in his arsenal, but he wanted to save it. He went with Exeggutor. With the advantage in power, Bryan was able to even the match, but not before Kingler’s speed advantage resulted in damage from Vice Grip.

Pokémon number two for Patrick was Crobat. If anything, the decision to use the Bat Pokémon was more confusing than Kingler. With the plethora of Pokémon at his disposal, Bryan had expected to see only one of the boy’s Pokémon that he was familiar with. He had battled Crobat once with Pidgeotto. It had been a loss, but he knew the basic tactic. Not that it mattered much, Exeggcutor was at a major disadvantage. As such, it didn’t take long for Crobat to wear down the Coconut Pokémon. He was faster and more effective. Two solid Cross Poisons put the match back in Patrick’s hands. Bryan, however, wasn’t concerned. He had chosen his final Pokémon carefully and she had an advantage over both of Patrick’s remaining Pokémon. A speed battle between Jolteon and Crobat would have been entertaining, but that didn’t make the bout last very long. Patrick fired off a couple of attacks and Jolteon dodged them easily. Jolteon’s first Thunderbolt went just wide, but the second brought Crobat crashing down. 2-2. Final bout. And Bryan was ready for Charizard.

What Bryan wasn’t ready for was Sandslash. So naturally, Patrick used Sandslash. The boy had read Bryan like a book. Assuming Bryan would prepare for Charizard as the anchor, likely with Ampharos, Patrick had chosen a Ground-type. It was the same strategy Bryan had used against Bruno. This time, however, it would be far more effective. Bryan wasn’t ready to throw in the towel, but any confidence he once had was now miles away.

“Jolteon, Double Team.”

“Sandslash, Earthquake.”

No move known to Bryan countered Double Team better than Earthquake. It erased each of Jolteon’s doubles as they appeared and struck the Lightning Pokémon hard. Jolteon hung on, but just barely.

“Sandslash, Fury Swipes.”

“Jolteon, Double Kick.”

Weakened and laboring, Jolteon tried to lash out. Sandslash swatted the attack away and laid into the spiky fur with his claws. Outmatched, Jolteon tried to run. Sandslash pinned her down. With ruthless efficiency, Patrick ended the match. Bryan sighed again, but refused to feel sorry for himself. He had made it to the Semi-Finals. He had lost to the best trainer in the Indigo Plateau. There was no shame in losing in the fashion he did, even if he had been caught overthinking his strategy. Raising a hand to the sky, he waved a thanks to the gathered fans and they roared their approval. He met Patrick in the center of the arena and they shook hands. The crowd was too loud to hear much without shouting, but they exchanged words anyway. Patrick was going to be sequestered until the Championship the next day, but Bryan and his friends were still free to use his apartment. Bryan nodded his understanding and they went their separate ways. After a brief lunch, Bryan joined his friends for the second semi-final.

Lance won. Instead of anchoring with Dragonite, as was his norm, he led with it and Karen had no answer. He tore through Honchkrow and Slowking with minimal effort. Weavile was able to take down the Dragon Pokémon with a phenomenal effort, but Lance’s own Charizard then made short work of Weavile. The final was set. Patrick vs. Lance. You wouldn’t find anyone complaining. In fact, many people hoped from the beginning that this would be the result. Each of the strong competitors had developed a following throughout the tournament, but everyone wanted to see Lance and Patrick duke it out again. Patrick had taken the title from Lance in 1995, just a month before conquering the Elite Four. The following year, Patrick had repeated as Champion, but it was Blue he beat in the Championship. Lance had re-taken the title in 1998, but many people believed only because of Patrick’s absence. It was time to see.

Bryan was just as excited as everyone else for the Championship and anticipation made the night fly by. As a semi-finalist, he was given prime seats to the Championship and his friends were allowed to accompany him. Karen also sat with him, as the other semi-finalist, and they spoke cordially until the match started. They would face each other the next day in the third-place match, but no-one was thinking about that at the moment. By then, most of the spectators would have traveled home, leaving the technicality that was the third-place match mostly unattended. For now, it was the Championship and nothing else. The battle didn’t disappoint.

Patrick and Lance both opened with their strongest Pokémon. Charizard vs. Dragonite. Bryan had never seen a more unbelievable duel. Razor sharp claws, savage teeth, and brutal tails bashed and beat at one another. They grappled on the ground and in the air, ever looking for an advantage. Both Pokémon unleashed breathtaking Flamethrowers though, if Bryan was forced to guess, he would say Charizard’s was more powerful. Neither trainer gave much guidance, they just let their experienced and trustworthy Pokémon find their own way. Lance with serious concentration painted across his face; Patrick’s standard, playful smile on his. In the end, Charizard triumphed, but was weakened to the point of exhaustion. Lance’s Gyarados easily finished him and a second entertaining bout followed. Patrick used Blastoise, a Pokémon Bryan was highly familiar with. Like the first bout, the Pokémon exchanged various blows before Patrick found the advantage. Blastoise grasped hard onto the end of Gyarados’ tail and unleashed Strength. Swinging the Atrocious Pokémon about like he weighed nothing, Blastoise smashed him repeatedly into the ground and then heaved him back to his Master.

Patrick’s smiled never wavered, but a disappointed look overtook Lance as he sent out Pokémon number three. Blastoise exchanged a couple of blows with Kangaskhan and again the battle was even. The match continued in much the same fashion throughout. Back and forth, but Patrick always seemingly in the lead and appearing miles ahead of the older, more experienced trainer. Mankey was chosen to deal with Kangaskhan. The only Pokémon by either trainer not evolved to her final stage. As such, the quicker Aerodactyl easily finished her off. Gengar then brought down Aerodactyl with a single Thunder. Gengar also had a chance to take down Electrivire, but the Thunderbolt Pokémon edged him out in the end. Quick Attack from Weavile put an end to all hope for Lance, giving Patrick a 5-4 lead with two fully healthy Pokémon remaining. Bryan was actually disappointed he didn’t get to see witness Patrick’s final Pokémon, as he had come to love seeing the different Pokémon the child had succeeded in raising. Weavile, however, was up to the task of defeating Lance’s final Pokémon, Haxorus. It was an entertaining duel, sharp claws and blades flying hither and yon, but Weavile’s type and speed advantage overcame Haxorus’ sheer power.

Patrick had reclaimed his title. His third championship in four years. For some reason, Bryan had no interest in watching the crowning ceremony and excused himself from the privileged seat he had been given as a semi-finalist. Outside of the arena, the noise was still thunderous, yet more manageable, and the concourses were practically empty. A couple of vendors in the plaza had skipped the Championship Battle, or hadn’t been able to get tickets, and were open, so Bryan sidled up to one and stared at the menu. The vendor was sound asleep at his window, but snorted, coughed, and woke quickly enough when Bryan rang the bell. His food came shortly, as well as dinner for his friends in doggie bags. He wasn’t sure if Patrick would return to his apartment that night, but he ordered food for him anyway. Bryan wandered through the empty concourses munching absent-mindedly on his Monte Cristo. He headed away from the plaza and the stadium, deep in memory.

He had first visited the Indigo Plateau in 1979 after defeating all eight gyms in Johto. Victory Road had more challenging at the time and the facilities north of it more modest. In reality, the Pokémon League had still been in its infancy. The Indigo Plateau League, a compilation of Kanto and Johto, had come into being in the late 1960’s. Other leagues in other regions began to form as the Indigo League had some success, but always Kanto and Johto reigned supreme. Bryan had finished in the Top 16 in his first year in the tournament; though less than 100 trainers participated, so the success of those early years seemed fleeting. At the time, all that existed on the plateau situated between Kanto and Johto was a stadium and a Pokémon Center. It had come a long way since then. In 1991, when Kalos was finally organized under Pokémon League affiliation, the first Elite Fours were established. A separate one for each Hoenn, Sinnoh, Unova, and Kalos, while Kanto and Johto shared. The old stadium and Pokémon Center on the plateau had been torn down then and a portion of Victory Road excavated for space. In their place, a modest facility to house the Elite Four was built and, beside it, the new stadiums, plazas, and accommodations for trainers.

It was at that point that Bryan felt the League became more a business and less an educational tool for children and trainers, more interested in making money than shaping the next generation of youth. He pushed the thoughts from his mind as he pushed open the doors to the Elite Four’s facility. Twice before he had entered, proud and confident. Both times, he had left, shamed and defeated. He came first in 1991, curious about the new structure and challenge the League was providing its trainers, and again in 1995 after Blue and Red defeated the Elite Four in consecutive months. On both occasions he had defeated Lorelei and been beaten to a pulp by Bruno.

Hanging on the wall as he entered, above the Pokémon Center and Mart, were portraits of the original Elite Four: Lorelei, Bruno, Agatha, and Lance. Beneath those four pictures were five newer ones: Will, Koga, an older looking Bruno, Karen, and Lance again. On the right wall, leading toward the arenas where one challenged the Elite Four, was the word Champions. Beneath the word were three pictures: Blue, Red, and Patrick. Each picture had the date of their victories. Blue’s picture also had the dates in which he was Acting Champion, as both Red and Patrick were uninterested in doing so following their victories. Bryan sighed and his eyes ventured back to the portrait of the woman with long, silvery-blue hair.

“She isn’t unbeatable, you know,” a voice said from behind him.

The voice, unfamiliar and unexpected, jolted Bryan and he was glad he had finished his sandwich; otherwise, it would have ended up on the floor. Standing before him was a pretty, red-haired women in a tight black blouse and a purple skirt. Her glasses covered eyes that matched her fiery hair, which was tied back in a ponytail. She was an older version of one of the portraits on the wall and her fiery hair, eyes, and demeanor made it difficult to believe that she specialized in Ice-types.

“Lorelei...” he gasped.

She smiled at him. They were about the same height, though the former Elite Four member was a few years older than him. She repeated her previous statement.

“I know,” replied Bryan, “but…”

He trailed off.

“But nothing,” Lorelei said seriously, “your own greatest enemy is yourself. Your Pokémon are ready, but the confidence you once brimmed with has faltered and you have begun questioning yourself. Why?”

“I…” Bryan started, thinking.

His first thought was, ‘I don’t know,’ but then he realized that he did know.

“Patrick.”

He expected Lorelei to laugh or say something chiding about having lost his confidence to a child. She didn’t. Instead, she looked him up and down, considering. After a long moment of silence between the two, she spoke again.

“You aren’t the first. That kid is special, but you can’t let him inside your head. If ever you defeat him, celebrate that day, yet you can’t let his childishness cover the fact that he is skilled and intelligent well beyond his years.”

Bryan nodded, agreeing with her. Everyone lost, except, apparently, the prodigy that had just claimed his third League Title. He couldn’t let a couple of losses, no matter who they were to, affect him so much. He was going to thank Lorelei for her sage advice, but she continued to speak.

“When I first battled him, in 1996, he was already the Tournament Champion and had come to challenge the Elite Four for the first time. Obviously, I had lost matches before, but never had I lost the confidence or edge that had earned me the Fourth Seat years prior. Until I lost to him. He embarrassed me. Utterly and thoroughly. His Raichu swept through my entire team without breaking and sweat and I cracked. I lost to every challenger who came through after him, unable to overcome the shame of that defeat.”

She took a deep breath and continued, her eyes reflective in memory.

“When the League announced reformation last year, I withdrew myself from consideration and returned home. I didn’t think I would ever be able to battle again.”

“What changed,” Bryan asked.

“I battled Patrick again,” she responded, “naturally, I lost, but I saw the thrill and excitement on his face. The way he handled his Pokémon. The love, the caring. That is what Pokémon is about. If you can remember that, you can defeat Karen.”

“Thank you,” Bryan said, a warm smile on his face, “and, out of curiosity, how did Patrick fare against the other members of the Elite Four?”

“He was just as dominant,” she replied, serious, yet a hint of a smile played across her face, knowing she wasn’t the only one who got her butt kicked by a kid, “Alakazam single-handedly defeated Bruno and Agatha, while a combination of Raichu and Charizard beat Lance. Blue had a modicum more success, but in the end, I think Snorlax defeated four of his six Pokémon.”

Bryan shook his head, imagining the playful, childish youngster bullying his way through experienced trainers, most at least double his age. He was about to turn and wish Lorelei farewell because he heard the noise level outside growing and assumed the crowning ceremony had ended, but she caught him by the shoulder and handed him something. It was a battered and slightly cracked PokéBall. Pushing the partially warped button, a Pokémon popped out.

“Cloyster???”

“I found this last week when I was down in the Seafoam Islands,” Lorelei explained, “I reported it to Professor Oak and he said it belonged to you. I wanted to deliver it to you first-hand.”

“Th-th-thank you,” Bryan stuttered, at a complete loss for words.

“Take my advice and your Cloyster and get your confidence back,” she advised, “and do less thinking.”

She turned on her black heeled shoes and disappeared out the front doors. Bryan returned Cloyster and begrudgingly followed. The throng that had gathered outside pushed him along and he had difficulty steering his way back to Patrick’s apartment. Once inside, he discovered that his friends and Patrick had already made it back, so he dished out the meals he had bought them. They wasted the rest of the evening talking and playing games, the previous and upcoming battles ignored in the enjoyment of their time together. That night though, as Bryan lay awake staring at the ceiling, Lorelei’s parting words came back to him. Do less thinking. How? He had to strategize and prepare. True, he had overthought his match with Patrick, but that was just one occasion. Then another memory struck him. Patrick and Lance looking on as their Pokémon battled for supremacy. Neither trainer said but a few words to their Pokémon the entire bout and not once did they scream their commands across the arena as most trainers do. Their training and bond was so strong, there was no need for words. Their emotions and feelings flowed freely back and forth between their Pokémon. Is that what Lorelei had meant?

Bryan had little time to think on it as he drifted off to sleep and then got caught up in the hubbub of preparation the next day. More people had stayed for the third-place battle than he had anticipated. The late rounds of the tournament had all been sold out, some 50,000 people in the stands. It wasn’t that crowded, but at least half of the seats were full and the remaining crowd was still making quite a racket. Thankfully, the pomp and circumstance of the tournament was bypassed for the formality that was the third-place match and the battle was quickly underway.

True to his word, Bryan did less thinking. He didn’t watch any of Karen’s previous battle videos or do in-depth analysis of her strategies. He took three strong, loyal Pokémon and let his training and instincts decide the rest. His first Pokémon was Growlithe. They shared as strong a bond as any and he knew, no matter what Karen threw at him, Growlithe would fight with tooth and nail to win for her master. In the end though, Growlithe was simply outmatched by Karen’s Mismagius. Normally, Bryan would have saved Ampharos for last, but he was trying to go with the flow of the match and not some set strategy, so it was Ampharos in to finish off Mismagius. It made sense, logically. Cloyster was slower than the Magical Pokémon and took special attacks very poorly, no need to waste the Bivalve Pokémon’s health. Ampharos tangled long and hard with Karen’s second Pokémon, Sylveon, too. The newly discovered evolution of Eevee was frustrating, constantly healing off damage with Wish. Ampharos held his own though and, in a final moment of chaos, Moonblast finished Ampharos and Thunderbolt finished Sylveon.

Always loathe to lose his favorite Pokémon, a flash of remorse overcame Bryan. He pushed it away. Ampharos had fought his hardest for his master, the least Bryan could do was win the match for his efforts. With the match tied at two KOs a piece, both trainers chose their final Pokémon. As Lorelei suggested, Bryan used Cloyster. Karen chose Honchkrow. A mixed bag when it came to match-ups. Both Pokémon had distinct strengths, yet glaring weaknesses. Cloyster was a defensive wall and could do good damage in the right situation. This was the right situation. Honchkrow had well-balanced offenses, but its ability to survive hits was questionable. By means of speed, little separated the two. Bryan closed his eyes and let his instincts take over.

“Honchkrow, Dark Pulse,” Karen screamed from across the arena, intense emotion and concentration contorting her pretty face.

“Cloyster, Protect,” Bryan responded, his voice calm, zen.

Cloyster closed her shell and a magical aura surrounded her. Dark Pulse bounced off, doing no damage. Protect, like Detect, was flawless, but difficult to use repeatedly. Karen knew this.

“Honchkrow, Brave Bird.”

“Cloyster, Counter.”

Obviously Cloyster didn’t know Counter, but that wasn’t Bryan’s intention. He was giving his Pokémon freedom to act as she saw fit. As advanced and sophisticated as humans pretended to be, Pokémon still knew how to defend themselves better than any human could tell them. As such, Cloyster responded by launching Spike Cannon. Three powerful blasts smashed hard into Honchkrow as she approached, doing damage, but not slowly the high-speed attack. Brave Bird crashed into Cloyster’s tough shell. Honchkrow bounced off, possibly doing more damage to herself than her opponent. She retreated back to the air.

“Honchkrow, Dark Pulse.”

Bryan considered ordering Protect a second time. He stopped himself. He wouldn’t have ordered Spike Cannon, yet Cloyster’s instinct had been spot on. He trusted it again. Giving a slight nod to the Bivalve Pokémon, he instilled all his confidence in her and watched her work. Dark Pulse surged downward in a great arc and Cloyster rolled forward and underneath the incoming attack. As she righted herself, she opened her shell wide and fired a flashing Aurora Beam at Honchkrow. Direct hit. Karen re-called her Pokémon before it hit the ground, an impressed look upon her face. Bryan smiled slyly and stepped onto the arena grounds to give Cloyster a congratulatory hug and PokéBlock. He hadn’t done much in the final bout, it was all Cloyster. True, he had given her the reigns, allowed his instinct to become hers, but the strategy and the skill was all hers. He had nothing to do with it. He never would have thought to have her roll under Dark Pulse or counter Brave Bird with Spike Cannon. Lorelei had been right and he wanted to thank her, if he could find her.

First, he walked proudly across the length of the arena, waving once to the cheering fans, and shook Karen’s hand. She was prettier in person than in the portrait and Bryan’s mind turned to his lovely Sabrina, vacationing alone in Sinnoh. She would joke that she didn’t miss him, but he sorely hoped that wasn’t the case. Karen congratulated him on the victory. She seemed sincere and suggested he challenge the Elite Four soon as well. Bryan said he would consider it, but he had other things to do first. She nodded, congratulated him again, and left the arena. Ironically, finding Lorelei wasn’t that hard. She was waiting to greet him with Pablo, Cassi, Ali, and a few dozen fans who had taken to following him during the tournament. He signed a few autographs, received some awkward hugs and a daring kiss on the cheek, and was finally let to his own devices.

“Being a celebrity looks exhausting,” Pablo joked.

They all laughed, yet there was some truth to the statement. Bryan had no interest in the limelight. Lorelei, who had sat with his friends during the match, invited them all to a nice lunch and they ventured into the plaza to find some food. Many of the vendors had packed up shop and those still open were in the process of closing up. The group promptly ordered and took up residence at a picnic table to enjoy the warm, spring sun. For the first time since the tournament started, Bryan was interested in discussing his matches. They were all intrigued by his strategy with Cloyster, but he openly admitted he had little to do with it.

“I am glad you took my advice,” Lorelei told him when he finished, a smile playing at the corner of your lips.

“As am I,” Bryan responded seriously, “and I am glad you allowed me to discover the lesson in all of it instead of telling me forthright.”

The two shared a knowing look. That wasn’t enough for the other two.

“What lesson,” Pablo asked first, though the question was clearly on Cassi’s lips too.

“That we have just as much to learn from Pokémon, as they have to learn from us,” Bryan concluded.

Pablo raised an eyebrow. Cassi, on the other hand, seemed to understand better than her friend. Lorelei decided to elaborate anyway.

“Pokémon survived hundreds, possibly thousands, of years without us,” she explained, “battling for supremacy in the wild, growing stronger, evolving on their own. We may organize their battles and share their pains with them, but, in the end, they still know better than us how to survive.”

“Instincts,” Cassi added simply, “their instincts.”

“Exactly,” confirmed Lorelei, “the best trainers trust not only their own instincts, but also those of their Pokémon. That deep, loving bond taken to its fullest extent.”

The group fell into silence as they contemplated the strange inner workings of the human-Pokémon relationship. A loud bark interrupted their musings. Ali, taking advantages of her mother’s distraction, had crawled under the table and pushed the button on one of Bryan’s PokéBalls. The group erupted into laughter and Growlithe licked the small girl’s face vigorously. A thought struck Bryan as she watched Ali tussling with his Pokémon in the growing evening.

“Where is Patrick?” he asked, noticing the other child from their group was missing.

“Not sure,” replied Cassi, her tone unconcerned, “he watched most of the match with us, but an official-looking man from the League came and fetched him before it was over.”

Bryan shrugged his shoulders. The boy could take care of himself. After they finished eating, Lorelei excused herself and the friends returned once again to Patrick’s apartment. He wasn’t there, but they spent another fun evening playing games and telling stories. Just before bedtime, Growlithe finally acquiesced to Ali’s desire for a ride. The adorable Pokémon wouldn’t make that mistake again. Ali decided to use the Puppy Pokémon’s ears as reins. To the Pokémon’s credit, she maintained her composure and simply shook Ali from her back, but the young girl took it as part of the game and tackled Growlithe with all the might in her little body. Growlithe didn’t budge. Mimicking the Pokémon battles she had been watching for nearly a week, Ali sank her teeth into Growlithe’s orange and black fur. The Puppy Pokémon yipped and tried to dislodge the persistent girl. The result: Growlithe hobbling about the room, dodging furniture, dragging the four-year old along who had clasped onto her back leg with an iron grip.

The three spectators to the comedic display burst into tearful laughter. When Cassi could at last stem the flow of joyful tears, she picked herself up from the floor and dislodged her daughter from the grateful Pokémon. Bedtime swiftly followed for the feisty girl and the adults weren’t far behind. They all rose early the next morning to catch the final transport leaving Indigo Plateau. With Ali in tow, the couldn’t risk the dangers of Victory Road a second time. The transport made a stop in Viridian City and Pablo disembarked, waving a sad farewell to his friends. The second stop, en route to Fuchsia City, was Saffron. All, save one passenger, got off in Kanto’s biggest city, including Cassi, Ali, and Bryan. Bryan walked all the way to Celadon with the duo of enjoyable ladies. After spending a peaceful night on their couch, he returned to Saffron. A few more days were wasted in Saffron with Sabrina and then he jumped on the Magnet Train and headed home.
 
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