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MATURE: Nori Carino: Official In-Training

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Fair point. I was never one of the cool kids so I'm deaf to that sort of thing.
You and me both, dude.
I personally was A cool kid, even though I wasn't one of the cool kids, if that makes any sense. Idly, that's where Nori's social status was partially inspired from: someone just about everyone likes, although he has few (if any) real friends and about the worst luck in retaining any due to external factors

That aside, I did mention in a reply that image is a theme of the fic!

I was afraid he'd just run away on his own.
I'll abstain from answering this one just yet. :)
 
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Lux Blomgren had made a mistake.

He had realized this minutes after running away from school in his depression. He should've gone back. He knew this, even at the time, yet he did not. Instead he decided there was no going back after how he'd acted. Better to go home and wait for tomorrow.

He had no way of knowing his mistake at the time. He told himself this repeatedly. But...

##########​

GAIDEN: Démarche of Lux
February 26th, 2015

It took Lux almost a whole hour to get home. He didn't have the energy to get there any sooner. He was thankful his mom wouldn't be there. He hoped his dad would be. His van was in the driveway, but that didn't mean anything - he could be at a client's. He would have to face his parents. It would be far easier to explain things himself first, before the school told them about it.

He stood on the doormat for half a minute, mentally preparing himself. Lux reached out and gripped the handle. He slowly turned it, finding it wasn't locked. The boy quietly opened the door, for a moment hoping he could sneak inside.

"Hey, son!" his dad greeted immediately with a hearty wave and wide smile. He was a short, slim man with tawny hair in a crew cut. He was wearing his blue and white flannel work shirt and his black jeans, as he often did when repairing vacuums. "School get out early?"

"N-no, dad," he admitted.

"Then what're you doing back here for?"

"I...um, well..." His dad wasn't angry at him. Yet. Knowing that didn't make this any easier, because his reasons could make him mad. How was he supposed to explain this?

To his relief, his dad walked over and patted his back. "I understand, champ. We'll talk about it. Come in, I just fixed lunch."

The living room was a mess. His dad's toolbox was on the black couch, various pieces were lined up on the coffee table, more were around it, and there was a beast of a vacuum cleaner in front of the television. It was twice as thick as any other vacuum he'd seen. The handle at the top was in the middle, and seemed more a broomstick jutting out. It had a thick hose attached, which at least looked similar to other vacuums.

"Got an antique to restore!" His dad clarified what he suspected. "Not my usual forte, but I couldn't pass up the chance when they called me and brought it over. It's an old Baby! Company that made this isn't even in business anymore. Always wanted to work on one of these, not to mention own one, heh. Turned down my offer to buy it off'em, though."

"An...old baby?" Lux had heard of many types and brands before, but he'd never heard of this one. Its name was an oxymoron.

His dad nodded. "That's what it's called, a Baby Daisy!" That made more sense. "One of the first vacuums ever made. Don't even need power to run it, just another person to pump the air."

Lux always liked hearing about his dad's work, even if he couldn't understand all of it. It was interesting learning about all different kinds of vacuums and how different even modern ones were from each other.

The aroma of a thick soup was wafting from the kitchen. "Come on. Food's waiting."

---​

While he already had lunch with Nori and the others, the split pea soup his dad had made smelled really good. He couldn't help but try some, and soon found that he couldn't get enough of it.

"This is really good, dad!" he praised.

The slim man beamed with pride. "I'm glad you like it, son. It's called ärtsoppa. A traditional dish from back home." His dad came from a region in Sweden, although he rarely spoke about it. Its name even escaped Lux right now. "I've been trying to get your mother to try it, but you know how she can be."

He did. His dad may have run the household, taking care of the cooking and cleaning, but his mom was in charge of it. If she wanted something, she would get it. If she didn't want something, that was the end of it. It was nigh-impossible to get her to concede even the tiniest things.

"Is the sandwich good?"

He nodded. Simple ham and cheese. "It is. Thanks, dad."

"You're very welcome, son!"

His father tried, oh how he tried, especially when it came to him and his brother. Lux could count the number of times he'd convinced her of something with just two fingers, three if you count her conceding his friendship with Nori, which external reasons played a larger role in. Lux had become something of a small hero for saving Nori's life at Tonsen Land. She gave him a harsh scolding for lying about still being friends with him, but she knew it was best to back off from the issue given the publicity.

Father and son finished eating. Mr. Blomgren put their bowls and plates in the sink, gave them a quick rinse, and sat back down at the table. "So want to tell me what happened?"

And here it was, the moment Lux was dreading. He was already wishing he hadn't run away from school, and not just because he now had to explain it. The boy gulped down what was left of his lemonade. He took a deep breath, and got into it. He explained Jamie, what happened that day, how he was feeling leading up to it.

Towards the end of his story, his father interrupted. "You like him, don't you? That friend of yours?"

"No!" he protested with a shout. "I don't!"

His dad laughed. "No use hiding it, son. Can tell by your face and the way you talk about him." Lux winced. He wasn't going to say anything about his feelings for Nori, but his dad saw right through him. "Now, there's nothing wrong with it, Lux. It's fine if you like other boys. There's nothing strange or unnatural about it. Some people are just attracted to the same gender."

Hearing this came as a small relief to Lux. His dad didn't care. He knew, so there was no sense denying it to him. "I don't know if I like other boys," he confessed. "But, I do like Nori. He just...I don't know how to describe it." He probably could, but he was too embarrassed to say it. "We hug all the time. He doesn't mind, it was just as friends. But..." Lux paused. He groaned, taking a deep breath. "I'm worried what he'd think if I told him how I feel. Just because you're okay with it doesn't mean he'll be."

The two things Nori had mentioned was not wanting to hug out in the open, and not wanting people to get the wrong idea about them. That gave Lux all the more reason to be concerned.

"I'm more worried about your mom," his dad mused. And that was the other thing. His dad accepting it was one thing, but his mom was the one who mattered. "She's always talked about wanting grandkids someday, and with your brother gone, that leaves only you. I'll fight tooth and nail for you if it comes to that, though. Promise you that, son."

Even though he was saying that, Lux wasn't sure it was a promise he could keep. His mom could be more stubborn than a Mudbray.

"But for now," his dad continued, "I think you should be honest with your friend. You never know unless you ask, right? And you might not get another shot."

His dad was right. Jamie might finally win his heart. Or someone else. Then he would never have a chance with Nori. Yet even knowing that, he remained reluctant. "But what if he's creeped out?" he protested. "What if he doesn't want to be friends anymore?! I don't want to lose him!"

"You really think he's the type to throw it all away over something like that? He's stuck by you so far, hasn't he?"

That...that was true. Nori had stayed with him. No matter what. If someone else wanted to invite him to something, Nori always made sure that he got to come along too. When his mom didn't want them being friends, he didn't accept that. He took a stand against his bullies, and never minded they targeted him too because of it.

"I think the worst he'll do is say no. And you never know. He might say yes."

Lux closed his eyes. Maybe? He considered this for a long time.

---​

The more Lux thought about it, the more he realized. His dad was right. Nori wasn't going to stop being friends with him. Nothing bad would happen if he told his friend his feelings. And he might even say yes! Then they could hug a lot more, and maybe even kiss! And if he said no...he was fine with that, too. As long as they could stay friends, which he was sure they would be, always.

His dread gave way to excitement as he made up his mind. He was going to tell Nori at lunch tomorrow! In their usual spot, where it would just be them. No one to interrupt them. As he went through the possibilities in his mind, Lux couldn't help but blush and giggle. He couldn't wait!

Just before 3pm, he heard a car pull into the driveway.

"Looks like mom's home," said his dad.

Lux had been daydreaming, being ripped back to reality on this news. This was going to be the hardest part of today, one he had tried to avoid thinking of. His mom had likely gotten a call at work about what happened. No doubt he was in for a tongue-lashing.

The door of the station wagon opened, and slammed shut. She didn't even go into the garage. Seconds later, the door banged against the wall as his mom stormed inside. Lux turned just in time to get a vicious smack right in the face.

The Byzantium-haired boy's vision blurred as he was knocked off the couch to the ground. He cried out, clutching where he had been struck.

"What is the matter with you, Lux Blomgren?" she chillingly asked. "I get a call at work saying you left school. And here you are just sitting with him." She also addressed his dad.

Lux grasped the side of the couch, managing to pull himself up. He opened his mouth, but his mom cut him off before he could even begin to speak, thankfully without further discipline.

"I don't want to hear your excuses. Go to your room. Now."

Tears flooding his eyes from pain both physical and mental, Lux ran upstairs. Minutes later, he heard the lock click from the outside.

---​

Day turned to evening, and into night. Lux hadn't been allowed out, not even for dinner. He was so hungry, and so scared. He expected a harsh reaction from his mom, but never in his wildest nightmares did he think it'd be this severe. He contemplated at one point jumping out his window and running away. But if he made it down safely, his mom would be on him in a heartbeat. He wasn't sure where he'd even run to.

His mom and dad had a screaming match for the first five minutes. He overheard them talking again just after 8pm. Lux threw the bedsheets off, got up, and pressed his ear to the door.

"Don't you think you're being a bit harsh on him, dear?" He hadn't heard the first part of their conversation, but it appeared he hadn't missed much.

"To be frank, I feel this was lenient. He absconded from school, skipping not only his classes, but an important assembly regarding his future. He needs to understand that is unacceptable behavior, no matter the reason. Punishment is the only way to make him understand. And when he doesn't listen to words..." She let her words hang in the air.

"Hikari, you need to stop controlling Lux's life."

"How often must I repeat myself? It's my job, our job to raise our child to be a proper, functioning member of society. To raise him so he'll have good-paying job, good health, and a good family. I don't want him ending up like that other son of ours. Or worse."

There was a pause. His father mumbled something, but Lux was still able to understand. "This is exactly why Calix left home."

Calix. His older brother, who had left several years ago to journey and hadn't returned since. The sudden noise of flesh smacking flesh and his father's pained grunt made Lux jump.

"How dare you," his mom droned. Her words were slow, deliberate, and threatening in tone. "Do you want me to throw you out again, Felix? This time, it'll be for good. And I'll take everything you have."

"...no, dear. I'm sorry."

"Good. Now just sit at home, look after the house, keep your mouth shut about how to raise our son." His mom paused for a moment. "I have settled on a decision I've been contemplating, however. We're moving."

"What?" Lux whispered, his words echoed by his father downstairs. Moving? Did he hear that right?

"An acquaintance of mine has had an abode set aside for us for a while. A little home in a rural border town to the south." He did. And his mom was completely serious about it. "We need to depart this city, Felix. There are too many negative influences present, not just for us, but for Lux. That brat who's always bullying him, that Gym, and that Noro Carini or whatever his name is. He...no, we all need a fresh start."

"We can't just decide to move, honey! Even if we have a place to go! What about your job? My business!"

"Quite frankly, I'm not that attached to it. Too many incompetents, and they've made clear where my ceiling is. I can get a better job anywhere else, easily. And you can keep up your hobby in any town or city."

His mom started to walk off, coming upstairs. His dad called out. "When?"

Without stopping, she stated, "Within half a month. Start packing now."

##########​

February 27th, 2015

Lux went to sleep that night pondering his parents' argument. Sometimes his mom would get in moods where she'd say a lot of things, but everything would be fine in the morning. He held out hope that this was one of those times.

In the morning, the first sign that something was wrong was how his mom wasn't in her usual suit. She was sitting at the kitchen table in a simple traditional dress, the type of clothing one would wear casually at home.

"G-good morning, mom," he nervously greeted. She briefly glanced in his general direction. It was always hard to speak with her, especially as of late. "Um, sh-shouldn't you be dressed for work?"

"I quit my job last night," she stated, without even looking up from the newspaper she was reading. "I'll be cleaning out my office over the weekend. If you didn't hear last night, we're moving within a month."

It was true. Lux closed his eyes. Within half a month, his life would change. He would be uprooted and thrown into a new city, just like that. At least, there was time to say his goodbyes. But a question lingered in his mind. Should he still tell Nori? Maybe he should. And maybe Nori could find a way out of this. For him, and maybe, for them.

He nodded. "I should start getting ready–"

"You're staying here. I've already called your school."

The boy was aghast. "But I have to see Nori–"

"Don't even say it. I know everything." Lux froze up as his mom leered at him, with an expression that could make an angry Gyarados think twice. "You're never seeing him again, young man. You've already lied to me about him once, and I'm making sure you don't this time. He's a bad influence, and not the type of friend you want to have."

Internally, Lux breathed a small sigh of relief. At least, it seemed she didn't know everything. With how bad she punished him last night, he couldn't even imagine what she would do if she found out he liked another boy.

"But..." he protested. "I have to go to school! There's tests soon!" Not even his mom could stop that! She had to send him to school!

"I've arranged you to write them at home."

With those eight words, Lux completely deflated. He fell to his knees in despair. His mom went that far? He wasn't going to be able to go to school? Not be able to see Nori? It was all over, just like that?

The light became dim as his mom towered over him. "I suggest you start studying. An instructor will be arriving on the 6th and 7th for your exams."

##########​

March 6th, 2015

For the next week, Lux was not allowed out of the house, not even in their backward. It was the longest week of Lux's life. In a contradiction, it was also one of the fastest. The moving process started at the beginning of March, a couple days after his mom had made that fateful decision. It was initially just packing, but the deal for their new home was made final last night. His dad wasn't here, taking the couch and a few other things there in advance. His mom, meanwhile, was attending to other business, though promised to periodically check in.

His tests were today and tomorrow, at his kitchen table. A teacher he didn't recognize was overseeing them, Mr. Chans. The slim suited man with a tiny black mustache and beard was all-business and made no attempt to hide his displeasure, at his mom or at him.

"You'll be given an hour and a half on each test," explained the teacher. "Pencil down when I tell you to. Thirty minute breaks in-between each. Start...now."

It was Social Studies to start off with. His least favorite subject. Worse, he wasn't sure if he could keep his focus. His thoughts were preoccupied with how quickly his life had been turned upside-down, and Nori. His beloved friend.

With a reluctant sigh, he got started. He was at a table taking a test, that much was familiar. Yet every time he turned his head to the right, he was expecting to see Nori right there next to him.

##########​

March 8th, 2015

There was no relief for Lux in the wake of his tests. The day after, his mom wasted no time in sending him off. Not even an hour after waking up, he was in his dad's truck, driving to their new place. They were bringing a few of his belongings, including his bed, most of his clothes, and thankfully, his radio.

"So how'd you do on the tests?" asked Felix Blomgren. They'd been on the road for a while now. By Lux's watch, it had been nearly five hours. They just left Pastoria Town and were heading southwest. He hadn't heard where they were moving to. Would they still even be in Sinnoh? His mom said a border town, but...

"I don't know," he replied to his dad's question. "They haven't been graded yet."

"Ah. Sure mom'll get them back to you."

Lux's real answer was, he hoped he had done well. He wouldn't hear the end of it from his mom if he'd done poorly. His mom, the person who decided to up and move on a whim.

"Sorry, son," his dad said, no doubt noticing his anguished expression. "When her mind's made up, not even God can stop her."

A god. His mom went to a shrine, his dad to a church. One that said there were many gods, one that said there was only the one. He had experienced, and was disinterested in both. But the past week, he had gotten to thinking about them some more. If there was a god or gods out there, did they hate him?

"She'll be at the old house for a while longer, until the rest of our stuff's ready. I'll be heading back tonight to help her out, so it'll just be you for a few days. Think you can handle it, son?"

"I don't know..."

"I'll introduce you to the neighbors when we get there. Just call one of them if you need help."

Help. He badly needed help. But none of them could provide the help he so needed.

##########​

March 21st, 2015

It had been a couple weeks since Lux moved. He'd still not gotten used to the new neighborhood. All the kids in it were either much older or much younger. Plus, there were barely any radio stations out here. Just a couple music stations that weren't even genres he liked, and a news channel that had sports on it half the time.

It was late afternoon. He was sitting in their kitchen, over a cold bowl of ramen, when there was a knock at the door. His mom was upstairs, and his dad was out at a client's. Thankfully, neither of his parents had trouble finding work. He got up and opened the door.

To his utter shock, it was a chestnut-haired boy with eyes like cherries. Dressed in a green t-shirt and jeans. "Nori?!"

"Lux!" greeted his friend. His friend, who he thought he'd never see again!

"Nori!"

Lux jumped into his friend's arms. Nori spun him around and pulled him in. They hugged tighter than they ever had before. Lux held Nori as close as he could. He missed this. He didn't want to let go, ever.

"Nori, what are you doing here?!" he asked, snuggling in tighter still.

"To see my friend, duh!" Nori broke it off. Lux did so too, with some reluctance. He wished they could've held each other forever. Or more realistically, until his mom found them. "It took forever, a whole week of nonstop work," he explained. "It's a long story, too much to explain here. I even had to get the guys' help, all of them, much as I didn't want to. Even Ollie. He helped the most." That was a total shock to Lux. The really big rude guy helped? "But it was all worth it to see you!"

Lux couldn't help himself, and hugged Nori again. His friend returned it, comfortingly stroking his back as he did so.

"Why didn't you tell me you were moving?" Nori asked.

Lux heavily sighed. He found out about the move, but not about the circumstances. He elaborated, "It was sudden. Mom decided on it the day I ran away." He pulled back, still holding his friend, but now looking in his eyes. He had to stop himself from getting lost in their warm depths. "I'm really happy to see you, Nori. But you probably shouldn't stay here too long. Mom–"

"YOU!"

The two were violently separated by Hikari Blomgren. Lux fell over, banging his head against the side of the building. Nori managed to keep his balance, exchanging furious glares with his mother.

His mom pointed. "Get out of here immediately or I'll phone the police. Never show your face here again."

Lux was expecting his friend to start screaming right back at her. He was prepared to step in. To tell Nori it wasn't worth it. To tell him he wasn't worth it. Not for getting arrested. But instead, Nori started to laugh.

"And what is so funny, young man?" Hikari Blomgren was not impressed, crossing her arms.

Nori grinned smugly. "I already called the police."

On cue, two muscular officers and a blue-haired woman in a red sweatshirt walked out from behind the bushes. His mom's jaw dropped, seething at them. Nori watched her reaction, laughing a bit more.

"Well, child services," he composed himself. "They talked with your husband. He told them everything!" He mimed her arm-crossing. "Lux is being removed your custody!"

The officers advanced, causing his mother to lash out. "No. NO!" She roughly grabbed hold of him with one arm, trying to haul him back inside the house while fending off the officers with the other. "He's MY son! You can't do this!"

"I just did it," Nori calmly boasted.

"You can't take him! I won't let you!"

At this point, the social worker spoke up. "Mrs. Blomgren, unless you want to find yourself in legal trouble or jail, I suggest you back down."

With this, she looked to the officers. She looked to Lux, and back to them. With a discretionary grumble, she shoved him towards them. "You'll be hearing from my lawyers," she threatened. Lux shuddered. His mom could really yell, but when she was extremely angry, her voice became low and cold. "This isn't over. I'll expose that no-good husband's lies for what they are. I'll take all of you for everything you have."

"Honey, eno–"

"And you," she said to his dad, who had overheard the commotion and run over. "We're getting a divorce."

Lux and Felix Blomgren exchanged glances. The latter gave him a sad smile. He was doing this for him? His mom was going to rob his dad blind if he ever left, and he saved him anyway? He didn't have time to dwell on it or even say goodbye before the door was closed.

He was left with very mixed feelings. On one hand, he was free. On the other hand, his dad was going to suffer for it. And what about his mom? He hoped everything would work out for her, too. Even if she was being abusive, she was still his mom.

The officers were on their way to a red sedan. The social worker kneeled down beside him, placing a hand on his shoulder. "We're sorry about everything, Lux. It's going to take a while to take care of this situation. We'll talk more about it at the station."

He solemnly nodded, and gazed at his friend. He was standing there, evidently wrestling with some dueling emotions himself. There was so much Lux wanted to say to him. He never dreamed he would get a chance to. In fact, he feared this might be his last chance.

"Can I say bye to Nori, first?"

To his relief, the social worker nodded. "Of course."

She stepped back as Nori sauntered up. Lux wanted to say so much. He wasn't sure how much of it he'd be able to say. He wasn't sure what he wanted to say first.

He started by again hugging his friend, a quick tight one. "Nori, thanks so much for this!"

Nori didn't return it. He glanced away, and shuffled his feet. "Are you...really okay with this?" he asked, suddenly self-doubting. "I kind of interfered with your life, maybe even messed it up. You're not mad, are you?"

"I'm not mad. I'm..." He hesitated, suddenly feeling unsure. "I don't know what to think about some of this. But I am happy. Mom didn't want me seeing you ever again, we moved because of it. I never should've run away from school. I only realized how much I'd miss you when you were gone."

His friend softly turned to him, a vague smile on his lips. "I'm glad to hear that. I missed you too, I was so worried."

"I'm so sorry for worrying you. I don't know what's going to happen, but..." He turned to the social worker. There was one important question on his mind. "Can we still see each other?"

"Well, you'll most likely be getting assigned a foster family. We'll try to make sure your friend can come by anytime and visit."

The two friends nodded. It wasn't perfect. But it was the best they'd have. And something would be better than nothing.

"I'll try to do that when I can, then," said Nori.

"I wish I could live in Sunyshore."

"It'd be easy if your dad could just move back, but sounds like he won't be able to."

He wished that could happen, yet like Nori said, it seemed so unlikely. His dad had always been good to him, He'd always been supportive. Even when his mom was being assertive, he'd always done his best to stick by him. He gave Lux advice when he needed it, and always made time for him.

"I guess this is goodbye for now, then."

Nori nodded. "Yeah."

They hugged again. A thought fleeted through Lux's mind. What his dad said to him, the advice he gave last month. Should he? Maybe. What if? No. He might not get another chance. It might be his only chance. Yet...

"Nori, I..." He let go and started to speak, yet tensed up. "Um..."

"Yes?" He flashed a comforting smile.

"Well..."

He tilted his head. "Uh?"

"I...th-there's...s-something..."

As he took a step closer, Nori snapped to. "Uh, Lux..." he nervously asked. "D-do you..."

Did he know? Did he figure it out? He had to have. He was making it so obvious. Lux wanted to run off into the social worker's car and never look back. In fact, he almost did. His brain was saying to get out now, while there was still time. Yet his legs refused to obey, feeling like he was wearing heavy boots in a meter of thick snow. His heart was pounding, screaming in opposition.

He wanted to say words, yet no sound came from his mouth. Lux shut his eyes. Maybe this was a mistake, but it was the only thing he could do. He moved his face to Nori's. Slowly. His friend didn't stop this, given the opportunity. It was just a light peck on the lips. He tried to make it as quick as possible.

It didn't even last for half a second. Yet it felt amazing. Like a surge of blissful electricity coursing through him. Lux recoiled, silently gasping in surprise.

"Y-yes," he whispered, in awe. "I do."

There, he'd said it. And...it was surprisingly liberating. He couldn't help but beam, and not just at the euphoria. He told Nori how he felt. He'd told him and gotten it out there! Now...what would he think about it?

He wasn't saying anything. "Um, was that...okay?"

"It's..."

Nori remained still, processing what just happened. He didn't react with disgust, which Lux already counted a huge win. But...was this too much? Was he just being polite? Was he trying to figure out how to gently turn him down? He stayed quiet for what felt like forever. A painful eternity. Soon, Nori spoke again.

"It's...fine, I guess?"

It's fine? Did that mean...he didn't mind? It took a moment for it to sink in. Nori was fine with him. Even though they were both boys, he didn't mind. Lux couldn't believe it.

"Yes!" He jumped into his friend's, maybe now boyfriend's arms. He was beginning to cry. "Nori, I love you! I love you so much!"

"I, uh...guess I love you too, Lux?" Nori was completely flustered, his face beat red. But he said he loved him! Nori really wanted to be his boyfriend! Lux couldn't be happier.

He wished the moment could last forever. If only he didn't have to go to the station. "Can we..." Lux glanced away, suddenly feeling shy all over again. "Er, one more? Before I go?"

Nori silently nodded. In sync, the two moved together for a more proper, mutual kiss.

##########​

March 10th, 2015

Lux woke up. He turned over, pulling the sheets a bit closer as he groggily reached for his watch. It was 5:36AM. He was in his new house, in his new room, with just his bed, his radio, his plush toys, and a small bag of clothes. He was sweating, breathing heavily, and his pyjamas were tight just under the waist for some reason. Like he'd grown down there overnight. It was all a dream. A cruel, cruel dream. But he wished it wasn't. Or that he could've dreamt forever.

Because in reality, he was alone, in a new town, in the middle of nowhere, with no friends, and no hope of making any.

##########
=========
##########

This effectively ends the first 'act' of the fic. A fun behind-the-scenes side-note: everything at the school, including Lux, wasn't in the original plan. Kallisto was also originally called Spike Caras before I wildly changed his concept. Spike became his own character at school with the original personality, with Eddie also inheriting a lot of traits. Tono in turn became Kallisto's closest friend.

Much as I liked him, Lux was too incompatible with the rest of the fic. How he left changed in development (to the point of where several scenes later on got changed), but I still ended up stabbing Nori in the heart with no closure. I did come up with a plot thread for keeping him around longer but...it would've caused problems, both with the present fic, and future works he'll show up in. So, look forward to more of him in the future, eventually!

As a Bulbagarden Exclusive, here's my rough outline of how the Nori+Lux relationship would've gone if I kept him around longer.
- There would be no incident with Jamie. Nori would quickly decide 'no' to her in any case, and he wouldn't be attacked.
- I'm not sure exactly how it would progress or start. One way or another, Nori would figure it out. Cue awkward shyness from Lux, and Nori being very confused and conflicted. He'd eventually figure, Lux is okay, there's nothing wrong with it, and it helps Lux is girly. Lux would want to keep it a secret, more from his parents.
- Awkward/adorable/funny scenes follow, because that's how (pre)-teen romance tends to go; one scene I had in mind was Lux missing Nori's lips on the attempted first kiss. If I wanted to go for drama, Lux would be clingy.
- The guys would soon find out. They would give Nori a similar speech and request, but would treat the situation far more delicately, not rudely at all except on Ollie's part. Nori would get even more pissed at them than he did in the original draft of M3-1, and ultimately nothing would happen.
- That is, until Kallisto tips off Lux's parents (I hadn't yet separated his mom and dad like I did in this chapter). Still want grandkids, can't have those with another boy. They would show up at the Gym, and drag their son off and away, but in thanking Kallisto would let slip he told them.
- Cue Nori trying to assault him and ending up with a broken arm or leg. Kallisto would just claim self-defense here and openly get away with it. Not even sure how he'd justify telling them, beyond saying 'they were going to find out eventually'.
- Lux's family would move away shortly thereafter. It's over just like that.

Obviously this way has MAJOR consequences. Kallisto is more irredeemable, the relationship having briefly happened taints anything future, it messes with a thing near the end of March (that was delayed from the end of February, actually), and interestingly (and this is a character spoiler on one of the guys, you might guess who anyway): Eddie would have to be much more amiable. Just like he didn't approve of the attack in the actual fic, he would even more strongly disapprove of what could be construed as homophobia.
 
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I've got spurs that jingle jangle jingle
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*Lux's dad seems pretty great.
*His mother not so much.
*Saw the dream coming. I've had a similar experience of a wonderful dream leaving an empty feeling after waking up.

Well, we have answers more or less what I was expecting after the previous chapter. There isn't a ton for me to say, I'm afraid. Certainly a strong first act.

Thanks for sharing those behind the scenes notes! It's something I'd like to do with my fic (there are a lot of things that have changed over the writing process, per usual, even some scenes written out that won't make it in but exist in text form).
 
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Copied from FFN: Called it. Totally called it. I absolutely KNEW that Lux wouldn't have spent that much time away from Nori for that long of his own volition. I knew his mother was an overzealous control freak, but to actually lock her son in his room for a whole day, confine him to the house, and basically keep him prisoner. Would unlawful imprisonment of a child be considered endangering the welfare of a child? Because it's pretty clear Hikari is an abusive bitch, not just to Lux, but to her husband. I know there's an actual real life case of a guy imprisoning his daughter in his house for her entire childhood that happened back in the 70s, and this admittedly gave me flashbacks to that, though not nearly as severe, but since Lux's case isn't anywhere near that level, I am concerned about what this will entail for his future. Plus, the foster care system in and of itself isn't perfect, and I hope to Arceus that Lux isn't stuck with an abusive family. The kid deserves a break for once! Also, what exactly did Hikari tell the school? Did she convince them that Lux was in the hospital or on vacation? Because a child being absent from school for a whole week without a valid explanation is considered a huge deal.

I'm also wondering just how the hell Nori managed to find Lux and convince the gym trainers to help them. Considering that I still absolutely don't trust them at all, I'm honestly hoping Nori wasn't forced to do anything really humiliating or degrading to achieve everything that he did. Though you'll probably address this later, so I'm both eagerly and dreadfully looking forward to it. Also, as you showed with Hikari, domestic abuse isn't just limited to a husband beating his wife, as women and wives can be abusers as well. Another great chapter as always! I can't wait to read more!
 
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*Lux's dad seems pretty great.
He is! He went in a completely different direction than I expected him to.

*His mother not so much.
She is! She also went in a very different direction. See some of my response to Juliko for that.

*Saw the dream coming. I've had a similar experience of a wonderful dream leaving an empty feeling after waking up.
It was a minor scene that I ended up getting carried away with, but I liked the result. And yeah, know exactly what you mean. Sometimes the dreaming world is much more pleasant than the real one.

Well, we have answers more or less what I was expecting after the previous chapter. There isn't a ton for me to say, I'm afraid.
Well then I'll point out a couple tiny details you missed or didn't mention:

- [Nori] glanced to the left by habit, once more seeing an empty seat. He was going to keep doing this by reflex, and be reminded of his friend's absence every time.
- [Lux] was at a table taking a test, that much was familiar. Yet every time he turned his head to the right, he was expecting to see Nori right there next to him.


They did the same thing.

- It's called ärtsoppa. A traditional dish from back home.

This is in fact a real thing. It's usually served on Thursdays. Guess what day it is on February 26th, 2015? This was actually a semi-coincidence, the real point was as a way to confirm Lux's half-Swedish background his surname only suggested.

Thanks for sharing those behind the scenes notes! It's something I'd like to do with my fic (there are a lot of things that have changed over the writing process, per usual, even some scenes written out that won't make it in but exist in text form).
No problem, glad you enjoyed them. Reminds me I should read the second part sometime.

Copied from FFN: Called it. Totally called it. I absolutely KNEW that Lux wouldn't have spent that much time away from Nori for that long of his own volition. I knew his mother was an overzealous control freak, but to actually lock her son in his room for a whole day, confine him to the house, and basically keep him prisoner.
Now this actually ties into Daren's comment from earlier. Lux actually DID do so in the original draft, provoking his parents into moving through some way for Nori's sake. Then I thought that was too severe. So I made it his mom's doing, amping her up from "selfish and controlling yet not completely unreasonable" to "actually evil" in the process.

Would unlawful imprisonment of a child be considered endangering the welfare of a child? Because it's pretty clear Hikari is an abusive bitch, not just to Lux, but to her husband.
You mentioned Caiseal from your own fic a couple times. Earlier things weren't intentional, but in this case I very much WAS with him in mind and actively thinking how I could top his parents. Most of which is in the future, but one thing: Hikari is very much in control of her actions, compared to Caiseal's mom who implicitly (my interpretation at least) went insane.

(Speaking of, more than once I typed Hikaru. I almost called her that. Her name comes from "light" just like Lux's name does.)

I know there's an actual real life case of a guy imprisoning his daughter in his house for her entire childhood that happened back in the 70s, and this admittedly gave me flashbacks to that, though not nearly as severe, but since Lux's case isn't anywhere near that level, I am concerned about what this will entail for his future.
Yuuuuup.

Plus, the foster care system in and of itself isn't perfect, and I hope to Arceus that Lux isn't stuck with an abusive family. The kid deserves a break for once!
Heh heh heh. Please choose your response.

A. The gods seem to hate him.
B. Remember, not even God can stop Hikari Blomgren.
C. Prayer doesn't help, action does.
D. Ah, a Ceuristian?

Also, what exactly did Hikari tell the school? Did she convince them that Lux was in the hospital or on vacation? Because a child being absent from school for a whole week without a valid explanation is considered a huge deal.
It's implicitly implied that Hikari has some sort of influence or connections. Or maybe she's just that annoying to deal with and they'd rather not. And yes, they didn't cave to the League, but they did to her. Over something more minor than telling them how to run their school, but it stands out. Maybe because the League won't make their life a living hell if they won't listen?

Also, as you showed with Hikari, domestic abuse isn't just limited to a husband beating his wife, as women and wives can be abusers as well.
A very sad fact. There's actually a line addressing this in mid-April, pointing out that not only can they be just as bad, those incidents tend to be overlooked because of an assumptive standard. And although I don't go into this part about it - even though it fits theme of image - a lot goes unreported by men because of potentially compromising their masculinity by it being revealed a woman is taking advantage of them.

I'm also wondering just how the hell Nori managed to find Lux and convince the gym trainers to help them. Considering that I still absolutely don't trust them at all, I'm honestly hoping Nori wasn't forced to do anything really humiliating or degrading to achieve everything that he did.
You uh probably missed or forgot the last scene where it was revealed it all just a dream. Nothing on March 21st actually happened. Nothing changed about Lux's situation, with only despair and some arousal* to show for it. Extra surprised you had nothing to say on the relationship "starting".

In the context of the dream, who knows? Probably nothing that bad, because to Lux, the incident at the start of the month didn't happen. So he was still on good terms with Kallisto, at least. If it actually did hypothetically happen, well, one thing to remember you might've glossed over last chapter: Ollie was VERY concerned about what happened. He definitely would've helped any way he could. And the others aren't ACTUALLY evil, so he could probably have swallowed his pride and convinced Kallisto and Tono. Not to mention Volkner would help. It's one of the details I put in to make it seem more plausible. It was hard to design, something that made sense in both the context of reality with what we know from Nori, and what Lux is still under the impression of. I settled on what was in there, especially because Nori being reluctant to get help from them makes sense both before and after.

*Not even kidding, "his pyjamas were tight just under the waist" after waking up dreaming about kissing Nori. >_>
 
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March of Flux (fourth part)
March 15th, 2015

An obese man in orange overalls ran through the darkened corridors of a massive fortress. Bursting through a door, he took a moment to relax and assess the situation. He was right in the heart of enemy territory. It had taken a lot of work and effort to make it here. He and his brother, waiting outside, had more than a few brushes with danger along the way, and they weren't done yet. But their goal was in sight. Just a little further. With a deep breath, he took a few steps forward onto the brick floor...

...only for the ground to shake beneath him. A massive reptilian monstrosity came crashing down from high above. It had sharp horns, a spiky green shell, and an orange face and underbelly. With a roar, it began spewing flame at the man. He ran, jumping out of the way of the fire with a deftness that defied his weight.

The creature barred his way. He had to defend himself or die. He chanced getting closer and started blasting at it point blank. The reptile didn't even flinch from this, continuing to breath fire and forcing the man take cover.

Suddenly, it launched into the air. He barely escaped as it stomped down where he had been standing milliseconds earlier. It struck with so much force, that it actually made a noticeable dent in the floor. Bricks went flying everywhere; the man considered it a miracle none struck him.

The creature looked down, hoping to see its prey squashed beneath its feet. Seizing the moment, the overall-wearing man rushed in and unloaded on his enemy with everything he had. The shelled monster looked about and spotted him. It continued to endure the many rounds hitting its body. It reared back, taking a deep breath to incinerate the human.

But with one last burst of shots, it was all over. The creature flipped and fell down with a massive thud that sent the man off-balance.

He had to pause compose himself after that battle. It was over. The door that the creature was blocking opened, a glowing light coming from the other side. He triumphantly stepped through it...

---​

"And that is gg."

"Nice one, man. Thought you were a goner for sure."

"I was counting." The glasses-wearing teenager nodded. "Thirty shots. I had enough time."

Kallisto Kervanos was in his apartment with his best friend, Tono Takuma. His fellow Gym Trainer had brought over an old video game console, and the two had spent the better part of the afternoon playing it. While he didn't play games as much as Tono or Ollie, he did his best to enjoy them. He was actually fairly good, it was just that he didn't have much time for them between his training and hobbies.

The red and white box that was the console was unusual, to say the least. The controllers were attached to the machine itself. His controller was even stranger: it didn't have a start or select button. A microphone port was where they should've been.

"Guess this makes it my first Famicom game completed," he remarked with a chuckle as the ending sequence unfolded.

"There is nothing quite like the classics," Tono said.

He would be lying if he said this wasn't fun. "I do have to admit though," the teenager stated, "That felt a bit clunky. What with only being able to run, duck, and jump." He'd played a few games in this series before, but its eponymous plumber had more techniques at his disposal in those - all sorts of different jumps in particular. Tono once demonstrated you could wall jump in this game, but it was an abnormality. A glitch, as it were.

"True, it does lack the features that came to the series after," Tono said. "But that is no reason to dismiss it. The series would not be where it is today without the innovations in this game."

"I'm not saying it's bad."

"I know you are not. I am just venting about those who do."

Kallisto huffed. "Had an argument online recently?" He could make that guess.

"Yes, with a fool named BigJimmy69 or whatever." Tono was an avid gamer. He even nicknamed all his Pokemon after video game entities. Mothula the Mothim, Gracie the Girafarig, and his signature and strongest Pokemon: McCloud the Jolteon. To say he was passionate about gaming would be an understatement. One time he even slapped Eddie for saying gaming was for nerds.

"You really need to not get, ‘baited,’ as you say, by these people." If Tono had one flaw, it was that he could get drawn into petty arguments easily. "They aren't worth your time."

"Oh, and like you don't try to make others see what's right?"

He chuckled. "Guilty as charged." There was a distinct difference in how Tono's instances of this tended to be opinionated, but he chose to leave it at that. "So what was this person complaining about?"

"The old Pokemon games."

Those of all things? Kallisto had played them a couple times, but they didn't really compare to the real experience. He found their history more interesting: they were invented by a Kantonese man whose paraplegic daughter couldn't go on a journey. He thought up the idea of a virtual adventure as a way to sate her. He conceptualized everything and took it to a company. Despite its barebones nature and sometimes questionable programming, it proved an unexpected success.

"Why would they hate it, though?" Who could hate a father's gift to his daughter?

Tono pushed up his glasses. "They say that it is old and dated," After the original game's success, it became a series. Each one more expansive than the last. It was especially popular with kids and adults who couldn't go on a real journey like his daughter couldn't. "They also say that it inspired Kanto elitism."

"I mean, to be fair, that's a real thing." They themselves had met a couple Kantonese challengers boasting about their region. Yet even Ollie was more than capable of taking them down a peg or two. "But I think that game's not a reason for it."

"And now you see why these people frustrate me so much. That is what they actually believe." He shook his head. "Furthermore, I have never heard anyone say that the original games were the best. These people are far more prominent and more obnoxious than any of those supposed Kanto or Kanto game elitists could ever hope to be."

Most of this was going way over Kallisto's head, but he took it in as best he could. "It's a generational thing. Those who live through something can appreciate it more," he stated. That original game came out before their age group was born. "Plus, remember that guy who came into the Gym the one time complaining about modern training techniques? He was just ten years older than us. Ten years from now, kids might be doing things that confuse us, too."

Tono shook his head. "There are three problems with what you just stated, my friend." He raised a finger. "Firstly, we're talking about two different issues. You're talking about people who can't adapt. Which is the second issue," he spoke as he raised a second. "And that's a matter of not being able to adapt. I am talking about those who can't respect the past. Most of these people hate old things simply because they're old. To them, there's no sense in bothering with anything but the newest."

Yes, that was a real problem. He'd even seen it in certain trainers. They'd focus so much on catching new Pokemon, they forgot to train their partners who'd been with them longer.

Tono raised a third finger. "And lastly, we can look at those just a few years beneath us to see examples. Case in point, Nori Carino."

Kallisto blinked. He wasn't expecting Nori to be brought up here and now, of all places. He shrugged. "I think he's just someone who thinks differently."

"Too differently."

"That's true." Kallisto sighed.

"What's on your mind?" his friend asked.

"Oh, just worried about him." Even Kallisto was surprised he was saying this, to say nothing of Tono. "You've noticed how he's shut down completely the past couple days, right?"

His friend snickered. "Is this genuine regret I am hearing from you?"

"Just a little." If he could do things over again, he wouldn't have hit Nori. He acted in the heat of the moment. He didn't feel bad at the time, he was trying to justify his actions to himself, but guilt had quickly caught up with him. "I can't take back what I did. But I didn't think he would be affected this badly."

There was a brief pause between them. "Volkner sent me to talk with him," Tono said. "His current attitude is primarily related to his friend. He apparently moved away, and he somehow blames himself for it." He shoved up his glasses. "It's ridiculous. You said so yourself. He needs to get over this."

"Well if it's just that, you're right." That was being a little ridiculous about this. Getting worked up about something out of his control and blaming himself. He could understand the pain; if Tono left, it would sting for him too. But it wouldn't be the end of the world, and he'd know his friend would be headed to new heights elsewhere. "Not being on good terms with us anymore isn't helping, though." Maybe it was simple pity he was feeling there. Nori was pitiable.

"Are you suggesting we try to make amends?" Tono asked. He seemed indifferent to the idea, one way or another.

Kallisto shrugged. "It's up to him at this point." He could try to extend the olive branch further, sure. But whether or not Nori knew it, Kallisto knew him well. He'd ask for him to confess everything, and that wasn't going to happen. People might not even believe him, or say Nori somehow forced him to do so. It'd make things even worse for the future Pokemon Rehabilitator, in a way neither would like. This was for the best.

Tono looked at the screen, which was now showing a red curtain and ‘THE END’ on-screen. He turned the console off and placed the cartridge back in its container.

"By the way," the head Gym Trainer spoke up. "I've been meaning to ask you something."

Tono had taken out two more games and was mulling over them. "What is it?" he asked, without looking.

"Why did you beat on Carino? I was expecting Ollie to after I hit him. I wasn't expecting Eddie not to. But I really wasn't expecting you to." Come to think of it, perhaps it was that which spurred him into acting more drastically.

To this question, Tono went quiet. He actually put the games back in his bag and stared up at the ceiling. He only did that when deep in thought.

"If it's personal, you don't have to say."

"No," Tono shook his head, still looking up. "I trust you enough. But don't tell the others."

Kallisto gave him a thumbs up as his friend looked back down. He had a dark look in his eyes.

"He reminds me of Radovan." Kallisto blinked. That was Tono's former bully in grade school and junior high. "He's belligerent, stupid, violent, pretends to be cunning, and he has that Nidorina. Just like his Nidorino. He also gets far more respect than he deserves from others. He even has red eyes, same as Radovan." He clenched his fists. "I despise him. Of late, every time I look at Nori Carino, I see the spitting image of that bastard."

"Just remember, Carino isn't Radovan. It's not right to take out your frustrations about other people on him." He could understand if Tono hated Nori because of those similarities. But it wasn't right to live out his revenge fantasies through him.

"Perhaps. I will admit, he is far more sensitive than Radovan, and he has shown a capacity to learn at times." Tono shrugged and nodded. "In any case, I can't wait for the day Radovan's journeys bring him back here." He had moved to his relatives in Kanto to travel there, but made a promise he'd be back some day. His friend's brow furrowed with uncharacteristic fury. "Once he walks through our Gym's doors, he's mine!"

"I know," Kallisto chuckled. They had an agreement about that one, no matter how strong a trainer Radovan turned out to be.

Tono rubbed his hands with sinister glee. "I have a special place in my Glory Book for conquering him." He wrote down all of his major accomplishments in life in that journal of his. He said it was his way of keeping good memories. Worryingly, it included his exploits of hacking activities, although Tono did not care about the risk.

As Kallisto was about to reply, his cell phone started to vibrate. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the screen. It was Volkner.

He swiped to confirm the call. "Hello?"

"Hey," came the terse reply. "Come to the Gym as soon as you can."

Kallisto glanced at Tono. This was supposed to be a day off for them. "Did something come up?"

"Flint's coming tomorrow. We need to get ready. Bye."

Volkner hung up, leaving the two to exchange worried expressions. Flint Donaldson contacting their Gym Leader never led to anything good. And him actually visiting always meant trouble.

##########​


March 16th, 2015

Nori and the Gym Trainers were called to the arena first thing in the morning. They and the Gym's staff had spent all of yesterday polishing the Gym clean. This ranged from the mundane such as washing the floors and dumping the garbage, to the excessive such as scrubbing the ceilings and making sure the cushions in the lobby had no wrinkles in them. The Leader even closed the Gym early yesterday.

Presently, the five were lounging in the arena, made to wait there by Volkner. The Gym Leader was restlessly pacing, cell phone in hand, and more than once he stared at his watch.

His mind was consumed by thoughts of Lux. Whenever he wasn't doing anything, Lux was all he could think about. After about fifteen minutes of waiting, Nori groaned. He had to think about something different. He whispered to the others. "With all he made us do, it's like he's trying to impress Flint."

"He's just trying to be better than him," Kallisto remarked.

Tono affirmed. "He is this way all the time when it comes to that man."

The Gym Leader's phone buzzed. "He's here. Stand in a line, all of you, right there."

"Always fuckin' dumb," Eddie muttered, making no attempt to be quiet. If Volkner overheard this, he didn't care.

The challenger side entrance opened. In walked a man with an oversized red 'fro, nearly triple the size of his head. He wore white boots adorned with fleece, thick dark red work pants, and a log-brown shirt. Over top was a snow jacket; the bottom third was all the colors of fire, a gradient from yellow to dark red. It gave way to black with a smoky gray pattern.

"Hey, V! Good to see you." Flint Donaldson spoke casually to his fellow Gym Leader. "I see you cleaned the place up, as usual. Haha! You know, you don't have to do this much for little ol' me."

Volkner coldly glared. "It's proper Gym maintenance. Nothing more."

"Sure, if you say so." Flint winked and made a lip-zipping motion. "So did you hear that Byron's son's being considered for the next Gym Leader position?"

"Hmph."

"When an opening pops up, he's likely going to be running a Gym out of Oreburgh."

"It's going to be me." Volkner's words were flat.

"Hey, might not be either of us! Warutsu's thinking of shuttering the Celestic Gym soon. Wants to focus on his duties at the shrine full-time." At this, Volkner's lip twitched. It was just for a moment, but reflected his surprise and confusion. It did not go unnoticed by his fellow leader. "Come on man, you should've known about that. You've been closing yourself off the past few months. The other leaders are worried about you. What's up?"

The blond man went deadpan. "You know what's up, Flint."

"Heh heh. I guess so." Flint pirouetted and gave a V-sign, compounded with a prolonged wink and grin. "Just so you know. The Heat of Snowpoint doesn't intend to lose to you!"

"If you have a reason for coming here, get to it."

"What's their deal this time?" Ollie rasped.

"I can't say for sure." Even Kallisto seemed at a loss.

Nori, despite how he was feeling, was paying attention. "Um," He was a little hesitant because, well. It was Kallisto and his friends he was talking to. "It sounded like one of them's not going to be a Gym Leader anymore?" Did he get that? He wasn't sure.

To his relief, Tono concurred. "They must be in contention for promotion to Elite Four, in that case."

"That'd make sense." The head Gym Trainer tapped his chin.

Eddie nodded. "Gotta fill that opening before the League happens."

"You. Over here." Their conversation was interrupted by Volkner's booming voice. He was pointing straight at them. No, at him.

"Me?" the boy asked.

"Yes, now."

Even the Gym Trainers were confused. Nori sulked over without much enthusiasm. What was this all about?

"So, the Demon Tamer himself, eh?" Flint mused aloud. He stuck his hand out. "Nice to meet you. Heard some great things about you from Gasha."

What? That's all? "Um!" Nori hurriedly accepted it with a smile. "Nice to meet you too!"

They firmly shook. "Heh heh! And you got a positive attitude, too. I like it!" Positive attitude? Well, right at this second, yes. It was a pleasant distraction from Lux, and what little else remained of his life. But it was good to meet a Gym Leader who was normal! Not overly serious and awkward like Volkner, or overly theatrical like Gasha!

His mentor immediately shut this interaction down. "Don't fraternize with the enemy."

The red-haired man turned his attention back to his seeming rival. "Well, the higher-ups certainly gave you a future legend to train. But don't forget, they gave me one too." The redheaded man suddenly got a determined twinkle in his eyes. "Want to meet her?" When Volkner shrugged and muttered a whatever, he hollered. "You can come in now!"

On that cue, a young woman in her late teens or early twenties entered from the right side. She wore a black tank top and jeans that looked like they had holes intentionally cut into them. She had two different wristbands; a black one with spikes on the left, and one with an orange skull that Nori recognized as a Scrafty Bastards band on the right.

"Holy tits..." Eddie blurted under his breath. Nori spared the Gym Trainers a side-glance. They were all slack-jawed, surprised, or wide-eyed over something.

"Those are bigger than..." Ollie huffed. "Well."

Kallisto patted his fellow Gym Trainer's shoulder. "It's fine, Gooch."

Her gray eyes were bored, almost empty as she walked inside. Until she caught sight of Nori. The young woman sleeked over with interest, making the boy uncomfortably shuffle back. She ran her gaze up and down his entire form. She flashed a wry smirk; she was wearing dark red, nearly black lipstick and shadowy eyeliner.

"Wow," she remarked in amusement. She flipped her flowing hair, which was mostly black except for a red streak running down the the front right side. "Wasn't expecting the Demon Tamer to be so cute."

"C-c-cute!?" At once, all the blood rushed to Nori's face.

She leaned in. "How old are you?"

"I'm twelve, why?" What kind of question was that?

"Damn." She tapped her right foot.

Nori awkwardly looked to the others. The Gym Trainers remained stunned at this exchange, even more than before? Volkner was dismissively shaking his head. Flint just looked bemused. He outstretched his arm fully and held out his palm. "Meet Sofie Shadden!" he presented.

"Oh! Ohhhhh!!" Nori heard that name before, last October! "The one who stood up to that street gang in Jubilife?" he asked.

"The very same!" Flint replied. Nori was relieved at that reply. He didn't want to have asked that and be told no, what are you talking about.

"So you know me." Sofie nodded her approval. "Nice to get a little respect for once."

"Yes, but do you know him?" The Gym Trainers suddenly sprang into action, led by Tono as the head one remained standing in place. "He is a fool who doesn't know the first thing about Pokemon training."

"He's also a baby who cries over any little thing that upsets him," Eddie exaggerated. He complained a lot, but he only cried a couple times!

"And he wets the bed at night!" Ollie completely fabricated. "All the time!"

After staring them down, Nori yelled in protest. "They're lying! They're making it all up!" It was just like them to try to make him look bad in front of others. Sofie laughed and patted him on the head, ruffling up his hair. Did she believe them or not?! It was hard to tell!

"All right, enough of that." He wouldn't get a chance to ask either as Volkner interrupted with irritation. "Get to your positions."

"What?" the boy asked.

"You're battling each other," said his mentor.

"Badass." Sofie grinned in a slightly unnerving way. "Just what I was hoping for, a chance to face the Demon."

"Nope!" Flint corrected. "You'll be using the Pokemon we gave you."

Sofie crossed her arms. "That's bullshit. We come all this way for a nothing fight?"

The red 'froed man shrugged."It was his idea, not mine." This did nothing to help the punk girl's mood. Girl would be better than woman, right? She was like nineteen or twenty if Nori remembered those news reports right. "Come on, now. There'll be time for that later. You need to relax more, enjoy things. Even battles like this can be fun." Sofie complied mid-sentence, muttering bitterly the whole way.

Being honest? Nori already liked this Flint guy. Why couldn't he have been the one to train him? He was way nicer, and he wouldn't have to put up with the stupid Gym Trainers here. Sure, living in Snowpoint would suck, but he'd get used to it.

"Ca–"

"Don't screw this up." Kallisto had moved to speak, but Volkner cut him off with a cold order. So much was it that even the head Gym Trainer shuddered. Tono lowered his head. The other two appeared outright terrified.

"Y-you better win, man," squeaked the hefty one, the fear palpable in his tone.

The boy sighed. "I'll try."

"No trying. Just winning."

Nori motioned, and Pachirisu came and followed him to their side of the battlefield. The boy was swiftly reverting to his depressive state. Why did they have to have a battle now of all times?

Sofie grabbed one of the two Poke Balls off her belt, covering the lower part of her face with the elbow. "Hellbiter, let's kick ass and take names." She swung her arm sideways, casting the ball away with a flick of the wrist. Out came a black canine Pokemon with bones on its body and horns. A Houndoom.

"Okay, let's go." The blue and white squirrel fearlessly hopped into action. Electricity crackled around his cheeks. It was good his Pokemon was into this, because Nori wasn't.

His opponent was unimpressed. "Seriously? A Pachirisu?"

"Ugh. I know, I know." He may have been fine with the squirrel himself, but that didn't mean he was still sometimes self-conscious about people's perceptions of him over it. "It's not a cool and awesome Pokemon. I didn't get a choice about this."

Sofie laughed the same way as before, yet it transitioned into a sad sigh. "This'll be way too easy."

Yeah, it probably would be. His Pokemon noticed his total lack of enthusiasm, sauntering up with concern.

"I'm fine," he lied, telling the truth under his breath. "No, I'm not." He checked around. The Gym Trainers were calmly watching. The leaders were engrossed in conversation. There was no way out of this. "We'll just have to do our best."

Flint waltzed up to the side. Nori supposed he was acting as the self-appointed judge. "Alrighty then! This here's a one-on-one battle between ‘The Demon Tamer’ Nori Carino of Veilstone and Sofie Shadden of Jubilife." He clapped his hands. "Let's get started!"

"Get its scent, Hellbiter!" The black canine started off by leering unnervingly as it sniffed in Pachirisu's direction. Strange.

"Okay," Nori softly spoke. "Get in close with Quick Attack."

A nod, and the squirrel charged. The impact was strong enough to send Houndoom staggering back. Somehow.

"Big mistake! Bite it!"

The boy hummed. "Back."

Pachirisu tried to avoid, but the Houndoom caught it anyway. It held onto his Pokemon, squeezing with its jaws. Nori sighed.

"Well. Discharge."

The electricity arced everywhere. "Damn it!" screamed Sofie. Maybe some of it went down Hellbiter's throat? From how it was convulsing after releasing its grip, it seemed that way.

"Smog, Hellbiter! Make a smokescreen!" While straining, it breathed a thick purple smoke. This didn't reach Pachirisu, but it created a barrier between them. Nori did nothing, gave no orders. So Sofie gave another, "Now, Flamethrower!"

A jet of flame shot out from the cloud. It hit, precisely. Pachirisu squealed; the attack must have hurt a lot.

He couldn't focus at all. He didn't care to, either. There were too many other things on his mind. Although he was curious. "How'd it hit through that?"

Tono answered from the stands. "It used Odor Sleuth at the start of the battle." That made sense.

"Now, come through with Body Slam!"

Nori closed his eyes. "Grass Knot. When you see it." He heard a surprised yelp seconds after. Pachirisu must have hit perfectly. For what it was worth.

"A waste of time!" called Sofie. "Burn it away with Flamethrower!"

And there went that. He just couldn't think right. His thoughts were on Lux, the Gym Trainers, his life, his future. This battle. What was the point of this battle? What was the point of anything here? Tomorrow, it would be the same routine. His friend wouldn't be here. The Gym Trainers would still be jerks. The training would still be hard. There would be impossible expectations upon him. And there was little to look forward to. He might not even make it out of this long tunnel towards being an Official.

"There!"

He slowly opened his eyes. Hellbiter had indeed freed itself. Pachirisu looked back at him. He could only whisper, "I'm sorry," to his Pokemon. His eyes pleaded with Pachirisu to figure something out on his own, but this only made the squirrel freeze up in panic.

"Now finish it off! INFERNO!"

Nori looked up at the ceiling. Why did things have to be like this?

"Welp. Seems like little Pachirisu's out," said the red-haired Gym Leader. "That means Sofie and Hellbiter are the winners."

"I was expecting more a fight," the dark-haired girl remarked with disappointment. "Guess you aren't my type after all."

Whatever that meant. He went to collect his unconscious Pokemon, only for Volkner to start screaming.

"How the hell did you screw that up?!"

This caught the boy's attention. He'd never seen the Gym Leader that angry before. Nori picked up Pachirisu and gently held the squirrel against him. He started to speak, but Volkner interrupted.

"I don't want to hear anything you have to say! You had her right where you wanted her! And then you kept screwing up! Then you just gave up and did nothing! Have you learned absolutely nothing since you got here?"

The Gym Trainers and even Sofie went wide-eyed at this outburst. Flint spoke up. "Don't you think you're being harsh on the little guy?"

"I run my Gym and raise my student the way I want! You had your fun, so get out of here already!" Without looking to see if they were going, which they weren't, he sneered at Nori. "As for you. Wipe that empty look off your face. You should feel humiliated. What's more, you humiliated me. You're going to make it up. Starting right now!"

##########​


March 17th, 2015

Nori was put through the wringer as a result of his loss to Sofie. He was ordered by Volkner to clean the entire arena floor. This came in the wake of the leader having a battle with a challenger; between the mud moves the challenger's Gastrodon used and Volkner using his Octillery, there was a lot to clean. The Gym Leader went to the back room, leaving the Gym Trainers to watch over him. He hadn't been looking, but was sure they were watching like a Staravia for any slacking. But it was getting to be too much.

"Ugh!" the boy shouted, his anger overpowering his sorrow. "I'm tired. And my back hurts! And I can't hold this mop right with this arm! And I'm not even a third done!"

"Yeah, this is pretty fucked," Eddie commented. They'd been silent up until now, speaking with each other low enough not to be heard.

The head Gym Trainer sighed. "We're sorry, Carino."

Nori shot them a death glare. "Really!?" That wasn't what he needed right now. He wasn't sure how angry his visage was, but it was enough for Ollie to hastily clarify.

"We mean it, man!"

"You're sorry. Really? If you're really sorry, why don't you help me here?"

Eddie dismissed this. "We'll get in shit if we help you. But we won't rat you out if you need to rest for a bit."

All four compounded it with nods. They seemed sincere, at least. Or maybe they were just pitying him. Or they could just be lying to get him into even more trouble. Ugh, which was it? Nori's throbbing back compelled him to reluctantly accept their offer.

"This is stupid!" he growled, throwing down the mop. "Why do I have to clean the floors all by myself? That's what janitors are for!"

Tono harrumphed. "How about you use your brain to figure that one out?"

"As far as I see, this isn't helping me at all!"

"That is it," he said, pushing up his glasses. "This has nothing to do with training. It is simple humiliation."

Kallisto shrugged. "As far as we can tell, anyway. He's made us do some things for making him mad, but he's never gone this far."

Humiliation?! He didn't want to think that, but it was the only thing that made sense. He was so, so wrong about Volkner. Nori thought he was just someone who had trouble expressing himself so generally chose not to, but no. He only seemed to care about certain things. And this? All this from losing a battle because a stupid feud with his rival? What was wrong with him?!

Nori stamped the floor. "Can't you guys do anything?!" If they were really sorry about everything, including earlier this month, they would!

"I tried," replied Kallisto. "He wouldn't hear it, sorry."

He huffed, collapsing and sitting down. He actually didn't doubt Kallisto genuinely tried, even after what they'd been through. "Why do you guys bother with him..." the boy lamented. If he had it like this now, they probably have gone through some bad things themselves.

"In my case, I was sent here to learn, just like you were." Nori already knew that. Kallisto smiled. "Of course, difference is you're going to be a Rehabilitator, and I'm hoping to make it as a professional trainer."

Tono went next. "I have a personal reason for wanting to be a Gym Trainer."

Eddie arched an eyebrow. "First I've heard of this."

"Yes, and it is none of your business," the bespectacled teen said. Eddie stared at him in annoyance, which Tono coldly returned. "I will say that tolerating that man's antics will be worth it. Remember that."

"For me, it's because I like Electric-types!" Ollie chimed in.

"My case, 'cause it's fun. Good way to get stronger, too. And yeah, Volkner can be a pain in the ass sometimes. Wish we could do something for ya, kid." Well, it was good to see there was still some solidarity between them. However much that meant. Eddie stretched. "Reminds me, I'm taking a week off starting tomorrow. Family's going on a trip, and I don't want to miss it."

"Oh yeah?" Kallisto asked. "Where are you going?"

"Around the Mt. Coronet area."

Tono placed a hand on his hip. "Why that remote location, of all places?"

"Use your brain you're so proud of," Eddie retorted, mockingly. Tono lowered his gaze. "Mom and pop are geologists."

The dark-skinned teen gave Nori a glance as if to excuse him from this. "Oh..." Yet he actually had an idea what Eddie was talking about. He heard something about Mt. Coronet on the news recently. "That discovery they made there?" He forgot what it was. It was vague in his mind.

For the first time since they met, Eddie appeared genuinely impressed at him. He whistled. "Damn. See? He gets it."

"Uh, I don't!" Ollie spoke up. Eddie shook his head in annoyance, turning to Kallisto to explain. The heterochromic teen did so.

"A spelunker recently found a previously unknown section of the cavern. People have been speculating it may hold one of the plates believed to have a connection with the Original One." He scratched his chin. "The Mitsutri Clan's addressed the possibility, but not the Kannagi Clan or any of the others. I'd love to come see it for myself, actually."

"Heh, you and everyone else." Eddie stretched. "My folks are more interested in the cavern. Sticks out since it's not natural or made by any burrowing Pokemon."

"Hope you have a safe trip," said Kallisto. Nori nodded in concurrence. He certainly wouldn't object to this. Eddie would get to have fun, and he wouldn't be here. Tono turned his head away.

"Yeah, me too," agreed Ollie, before recoiling in realization. "Wait! Dude! If you go now, you'll miss exhibition day!"

"I know. But I couldn't miss this opportunity." He chuckled. "Got another reason for going there, after all."

"What the hell are you doing?!"

All five turned to see the Gym Leader in the doorway breathing angrily, his eyelids twitching. "Fuck," cursed Eddie.

"You were supposed to be making sure he's working!" the blond man screamed.

Kallisto tried to speak up. "Volkner, we were–"

"No excuses. I'm docking your pay for the month." The four flipped out, Nori in particular hearing a string of curses from Ollie and Eddie, but Volkner was having none of it. "And you. I want this floor spotless. Get to it."

Nori wanted to tell him exactly where he could shove the mop at that moment, but his better judgment kicked in. If he wanted to be a Pokemon Rehabilitator, he had to ride through this. And hope that this didn't last.

##########​


March 19th, 2015

Anger at the Gym Leader was grappling with his sorrow about Lux. However, this only worsened the boy's mental condition. Now he couldn't think of anything but his problems, no matter how hard he tried not to. There was even one point where he went downstairs to tell Volkner he was quitting. Only Pachirisu's begging stopped him, when he was halfway down the stairs. He still had his Pokemon. There was that much consolation. Still, they weren't the same as people.

Late afternoon on the 19th, Nori was made to battle Tono in a one-on-one match. He was thankful he was able to chose the Demon to battle the Raichu. He was still in no condition to battle, but his Pokemon was more than capable of holding her own - much to his opponent's frustration.

"Tactics, Munchie." Tono spoke with a haste Nori had never heard from him before. Likely as his Pokemon was again seconds away from being throttled. They barely got away twice before, unable to keep the distance they'd been wanting to. "Flash copies, now."

Nori was half-looking away. When he heard Flash, all he had to do was shut his eyes to avoid being dazzled. His Pokemon was not so fortunate. As she squinted and blinked away the light, she found there were now uncountable Raichus surrounding her. A Double Team attack.

Unfettered, she charged towards them. She sliced three times, revealing three copies.

Tono let out a superior, "Hmph!" He pointed. "We have you now. Munchie, Thunder!"

The real one was a ways behind her. The orange mouse Pokemon raised its tail, tensing all the muscles in its body. An ominous cloud materialized over the battlefield. But the Demon was much too fast. She cleanly avoided the lightning crashing down and closed the distance. The surprised Munchie reared its fist back on instinct for a Thunder Punch, but before it could even crackle, the Demon rammed into it.

She nearly embedded her face in the Raichu's belly as she ran it through into one of the pillars. The Demon bucked her head, throwing her opponent over her. Munchie hadn't even landed when it was violently kicked in the face. The orange Pokemon went tumbling across the floor.

"Get up, Munchie!" its trainer urged, actually a bit of anger in his tone. "Do not let this brute defeat you."

The electric mouse strained to do so. However, its attempt to sit up from its back ended before the Demon even got to it. Nidorina skidded to a stop before their fallen foe, punctuating her victory with a snort.

"Well," Nori said, speaking up for the first time since the battle began. "We beat you."

The Gym Leader had been scowling almost the entire time. His eyebrows furrowed further. "The Demon beat Tono. Not you."

"Yes," Tono spat, bitter about the outcome. "You did nothing, while your Pokemon got the victory. And you call yourself a trainer?" The bespectacled teenager marched up to his Pokemon, placing a hand on its head. "I apologize for allowing this, Munchie. It will not happen again." He said these last words to Nori and his Pokemon as he recalled it. "If this were a proper battle, things would have turned out different."

Nori sighed. "I just haven't been in the mood lately." Tono's excuses aside, this was the Demon's victory. He hadn't been participating, but he was paying attention. He would've spoken up if there was a need to, but there wasn't. What was the point?

"Get over it," Volkner said. "Your friend's gone and not coming back."

Nori gasped at those words. How could he say that?! How could he be so insensitive? Was all that kindness from before just a lie? Or done out of selfishness? Nori wanted to run over there and deck the Gym Leader, and would've in a heartbeat if he could get away with it. He actually had to raise his hand to stop the Demon from doing something similar.

"Exhibition day's tomorrow. I expect you to accept all challenges, and I expect you to do so properly." The Gym Leader briefly paused. "Better yet. It'll be you against Kallisto tomorrow."

Nori looked down with a sigh. The only good part was the head Gym Trainer was upstairs, so he wasn't subject to anything of his lectures. Yet.

Tono laughed. "He will enjoy that. Mind if I come to break the news to him?"

Volkner was already on his way. The glasses-wearing teen took this as not saying no, and followed in behind.

The moment they were both gone, Ollie rose from the bleachers. He pointed and laughed at the boy, ignorant to how the Demon was still out. "Hahaha! You're such a pussy."

"And you're going back on things!" Nori snapped, stomping over to the large boy yelling at him the whole way. "Hypocrite! You felt bad for me when I told you what happened. What happened to that?"

Ollie's eyes went wide. "Not saying it ain't shitty!" he said, putting up his hands and shakily backing away. Nori seethed. He looked down to see his Pokemon was right at his side. Ollie, noticing this, reached for one of his own Pokemon. "B-but dude. Letting your friend being gone get you down this much?" His voice broke, but with a gulp, he continued. "Think he'd still want to be friends with you seeing you whine like this?"

"That's...!" Stupid? Thoughtless? Ridiculous? No. "That's right." Nori had to admit, that was right. "He would still want to be friends, but he wouldn't want to see me like this."

Nori inhaled deeply. He was getting so hung up on Lux being gone that he couldn't focus on anything else. There was no mistaking that it hurt deeply. It still would hurt for a while. But Lux wasn't his entire life. Even if he was, Lux wasn't in his life anymore. There was no changing that. All he could do was try to keep moving forward.

He exhaled. The boy was surprised it was Ollie of all people who got him to realize this. Whether it was by accident or consciously didn't matter. For the first time in days, Nori gave a smile, if a melancholy one. "Thanks, Ollie. That somehow made sense."

Ollie dropped the Poke Ball he was holding, causing something that looked like an upside-down Poke Ball to appear. What was it called, Electrode? "Uhh, okay?" He was almost as confused as his Pokemon.

Nori sighed, sitting on the floor next to his stoic Pokemon. "I just miss him. I miss having someone nice to talk to, who likes me for me. He was..." The boy trailed off, unable to find the words to describe what Lux meant to him.

"Yeah, well not like you can do anything about it," Ollie cut in, albeit with a bit of awkward sympathy. "Uh, right now."

"Not right now...later?"

Ollie shrugged. "I guess so? You did all you could, so uh, try again later?"

That's right. Later. This was starting to control him, too much. He had to keep moving forward. It was all he could try to do. There was nothing to do but do that. It was easy to say that, and another thing to do it, of course. This was still not leaving his mind anytime soon, but it didn't have to be half of everything he thought about. And later, maybe he and Lux would meet again. He could only hope, if only to get some closure.
 
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The #1 Deerling Fan!
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Ugh. Just when I was actually starting to like Volkner, you have him go right back into jackass mode. Seriously, I want to punch him and everybody else in their nards after this. At this point, I'm wondering why Flint isn't the one training Nori. He's actually nice to him! What even is Volkner's deal with Flint? Does he hate Flint that much? At this point, Volkner's just being petty. Even if everyone does have a point about Nori's worry for Lux starting to control him, that in no way justifies their attitudes toward him, especially not Volkner's. I will admit I did like hearing about Tono's backstory a bit and wondering who this Radovan person is that he's convinced Nori is so much like. Looking forward to more...but I do wish Nori would catch a break for once.
 
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Ugh. Just when I was actually starting to like Volkner, you have him go right back into jackass mode.
Even worse. He's in super jackass mode right now.

At this point, I'm wondering why Flint isn't the one training Nori. He's actually nice to him! What even is Volkner's deal with Flint? Does he hate Flint that much? At this point, Volkner's just being petty.
Very petty indeed. A bit more on why exactly Volkner dislikes Flint will be covered later! And as for Flint training Nori, well, to reply to this a bit early since it's related...

*"Hopeless". Starting to think they should have sent Nori to Byron.
So making a further remark on this one: the reason this amused me when you mentioned it, as now revealed, there's actually indeed someone else who Nori could've been sent to. Granted it's Flint, not Byron. And as you may have noticed, Nori is a way better fit for Flint, and Sofie is arguably a way better fit for Volkner. It makes you think, doesn't it?

Even if everyone does have a point about Nori's worry for Lux starting to control him, that in no way justifies their attitudes toward him, especially not Volkner's.
Sometimes you can be right yet wrong about something at the same time. And of course as you once mentioned, saying 'live with it' is never the way to go.

I will admit I did like hearing about Tono's backstory a bit and wondering who this Radovan person is that he's convinced Nori is so much like.
Glad you liked it. It was in-part for that, but also in-part fluff to show how the Gym Trainers act off-duty and when Nori isn't involved, explain their mood/motivations, and explore that bit of backstory. As for Radovan, I have no comment on whether or not it's a hook for something later.
 
I've got spurs that jingle jangle jingle
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*I'd recognize a narrative description of the final battle in Super Mario Bros. 3 anywhere.
*Getting a tiny bit meta with that discussion of the old Pokémon ganes -_^.
*
They'd focus so much on catching new Pokemon, they forgot to train their partners who'd been with them longer.
Is this intended as a callout of the anime, or just a coincidence?
*So Tono had someone somewhat similar to Nori as an old enemy.
*Nice to see Flint is still great.
*And an upcoming promotion to Elite Four we already know the outcome of.
*Sorta creepy there, Miss Sofie
*Volkner being a jerk again. Flint really brings out his worst.
*Pachirisu Vs Houndoom feels like a bit of a mismatch. Flint giving out a rather easier to use "starter" than Volkner.
*Volkner's gotten so bad even the Gym Trainers are sympathetic.
*So they may have found one of Arceus' plates...
*
Now he couldn't think of anything but his problems, no matter how hard he tried not to.
Not good. He needs some sort of help immediately or he'll be potentially stuck in this death spiral.
*Ollie accidentally saves the day.

Hopefully Nori can hit the turnabout he needs.
 
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*I'd recognize a narrative description of the final battle in Super Mario Bros. 3 anywhere.
It was a fun scene to write. Was trying to make it ambiguous if a little confusing as to what was going on while being vague. Like "wait what's going on" and "oh it's just a video game"

*Getting a tiny bit meta with that discussion of the old Pokémon ganes -_^.
Funny, it was intended as a bit of in-character ranting (partially miming my own opinions) that expands the universe and characters a bit, but I was able to easily pivot it into the main talk. It was fun coming up with an idea as to why they might exist in the actual world, however.

Is this intended as a callout of the anime, or just a coincidence?
Coincidence, nothing intended from it. Just philosophical talk about training mentalities.

*So Tono had someone somewhat similar to Nori as an old enemy.
Just keep in mind that two of the similarities he mentioned are 'has red eyes' and 'has a Nido'. He's more than likely exaggerating to himself; his perception might not actually be what is.

*Sorta creepy there, Miss Sofie
To be fair, she backed off when she learned Nori was too young. Although to be fair to creepy, old enough is younger than most would expect, but I'm not pursuing that beyond that, to clarify. The fact that she went for Nori instead of any of the guys though, and given what they didn't want him doing...

*Volkner being a jerk again. Flint really brings out his worst.
Yuuup.

*Pachirisu Vs Houndoom feels like a bit of a mismatch. Flint giving out a rather easier to use "starter" than Volkner.
It was a Houndour at first, for clarification. It takes surprisingly little effort to evolve into Houndoom: lv24 if I remember correctly. Probably could've done that in one and a half to two and a half months of working at it.

*Volkner's gotten so bad even the Gym Trainers are sympathetic.
I mean they're not flat jackasses. They think for themselves, and all have some motivation when they act up. Similarly when they see Volkner is being extremely petty, they have enough of a conscience (and maybe empathy) to put their own grudges aside. It's the same principal that made Volkner ease up when the Gym Trainers started acting up.

*So they may have found one of Arceus' plates...
I actually made the point of this more clear at first, but decided it was too clunky. Reread that part again though, and you might get an idea of where I might be going with it. If not, wait two chapters.

*Ollie accidentally saves the day.
He was actually trying on purpose. Being kind of a jerk in how he went about it, but just enough not of one for Nori to listen and get the message.
 
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