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TEEN: Pokemon: Journey (Rated T for violence)

Chapter 1: Boulder

joshthewriter

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Boulder


The hallway was dank and dark. It smelled like sweat and blood, crude reminders of what it would take to actually accomplish my goal. There was no noise of the crowd, no searing lights for the cameras, just an old loudspeaker that crackled and fizzed as it spat out its call.

"Challenger to the field!"

I stepped forward, my hand dropping to the belt on my side. I only had two balls there, only two pokemon for this battle, but I hoped to all hell that they'd be enough.

I didn't have the luxury of time. There would be no second challenge if I failed here. I'd blown through every scrap of my savings and then half a starter training loan in pursuit of this dream. Failure meant crawling back to the smallest speck on the map and staying there for the rest of my life. I'd marry a suitable girl, probably Sarah Walker or Jenny Mathers if my Pa had his way, and take over the farm once he got too old to do so.

I hardened my expression. Like hell I was going back there as anything other than champion. Yucca village was a small farming community, not even on most maps unless you bought a local regional map from the northern gate of Saffron City and managed to find the smallest dot on it. Our proudest moment was when the hamlet of a half dozen families got mentioned on the evening news one time nearly twelve years back for naming our village after the cash crop we were most known for.

I stepped onto my platform, heart pounding in my chest. I knew that nobody would be watching this match live. I was a nobody, a bumpkin from a tiny stinking backwater that didn't even rate a mention on any local travel guides. I'd be lucky if I even rated a slot in the evening league recaps for my first attempt at a gym challenge.

I hoped that it was recorded. I wanted at least some record of this, for my own sense of selfish pride. I wanted some record of the validation that I was looking for. Maybe I could even pay Brock for a copy of the tape, to send back to my Pa so he could see I wasn't completely full of shit.

The platform jolted and rose towards the hole in the ceiling. I blocked out the stadium lights as my eyes adjusted to the sudden light. I nervously tapped my fingers against the pair of balls on my belt. The battlefield was a mess of rocks and sandy dunes, with a single massive rock that had been hollowed out serving as the arena's centrepiece. Many a challenger had attempted to use the hollow network of tunnels and chambers to their advantage and found themselves outclassed by an enemy that knew every corner of the arena as if it were their homes.

Brock was already waiting, standing implacably atop his command platform. He had forgone a shirt, his arms crossed over his chest and clearly flexing to show off his impressive muscles. I wasn't afraid, I knew it was for show. He wanted me off balance, fretting over appearances while he picked away at at my team. I was a novice, but that didn't mean I was an idiot.

Brock was an elite-level trainer, one of Kanto's Gym Leaders. He'd been Pewter's Leader for almost fifteen years, after his father before him. He was a powerful trainer, placing in the top ten in last year's Pokemon World Tournament. He was also the traditional first gym of the circuit, a bar that every serious trainer had to clear.

The referee's voice boomed out through the loudspeakers and I flinched visibly. It was louder than I'd expected. "This will be a novice challenge to the Pewter City Gym leader. Leader Brock will use two novice-ranked pokemon, with no substitutions. The challenger may use as many pokemon as he is able to, with two substitutions."

I nodded, remaining silent. I wasn't giving Brock a damn thing, not false confidence, no boasting bravado. I was a novice, a beginner who hadn't even gained a single badge let alone challenged a gym yet. I hadn't earned any confidence yet.

Brock smirked and raised his first ball. I knew it was a geodude before he even reached for the ball. His novice teams were pretty consistent, usually just a geodude and an onix. Sometimes he replaced the geodude with a graveller, but that was usually reserved for higher level novices. Beginners like me weren't worth that kind of effort, something that I was counting on. He tossed the ball into the air. Sure enough, the little floating rock appeared from the flash of red light.

I smirked, lifting my first ball. I would start strong, and give Brock a taste of what I was made of. I may have been a novice, but I was absolutely not a pushover. It was important to show that, something Pa taught me on the farm. You couldn't let people push you around. I may not have agreed with my Pa about many things, but he had a point.

I tossed my first ball into the sky with a firm expression. My starter appeared in a flash of red light. A little vulpine pokemon growled menacingly at the rock opposite it, flaring her tails aggressively. Her opponent had the type advantage, but I had learned the hard way never to count Luna out of the fight. My vulpix was a tenacious little monster, well used to fighting unorthodox battles in environments that favoured our opponent. Our month spent making agonizingly slow progress westward over Mount Moon had paid impressive dividends.

"Your move!" Brock shouted. "Challengers first!"

I nodded. I knew that, of course. I'd been studying training almost my whole life. No need for Brock to know how capable I really was. Not yet at least. "Alright Luna, lets get started. Confuse-wisp!"

I saw Brock's eyebrow raise from across the field. He hadn't expected a combo move, not from a novice like me. "Don't let it set up!"

Luna hacked and coughed, a burning ball of eerie blue flame dripping out of her mouth. With a flash of her eyes, the flame soared into the air. Wisps of supernatural light followed the flame, dancing across the battlefield towards our opponent.

The geodude wasn't idle, for its part. But there wasn't much it could do. Luna was quick. It was very definitely the exact opposite of quick. It tucked its arms into its body and threw itself into a rollout, a vain attempt to dodge the attack.

The wispy flame slammed into the geodude mid-roll, doing nothing to affect its momentum. That hadn't been the intent though. Luna would never be able to outright stop a geodude mid-roll, not even once she evolved into a ninetales. Creative evasion and distruption were our only real hopes at breaking through its defence. "Now, quick attack!"

Luna shot off like a rocket, darting out of the geodude's path with practiced ease. The rock type attempted to compensate and follow, but careened off course. It plowed into one of the hundred boulders dotting the arena and cracked the gigantic stone in half as easily as I could crack an egg. I grimaced internally. That would hurt if it landed. Luna needed to be perfect, and the geodude only had to land one solid blow. It was a recipe for disaster.

However, reality proved far less pessimistic than I was. Luna kept up the assault, barraging the geodude with eerie wisps of flame and forcing it to fight an uneven battle. It wasn't the boldest strategy, or the flashiest. Hell, it wasn't even a particularly brave tactic. That didn't matter to me. It limited how much damage Luna would take. My entire gym challenge hinged on her doing the heavy lifting in this battle, at least until I could train up my other team member to a respectable degree. I needed to take the geodude down with minimal damage in return.

The geodude changed tactics, slamming into another boulder and smashing it into pebbles. It didn't look like it had taken much damage at all, but rocks were like that sometimes. Something to do with their heavy outer carapace or something makes them more resistant to physical damage. Resistant however, did not mean immune. It had plowed through at least half a dozen of those boulders chasing after Luna, and it had to at least be feeling it at this point.

I spotted the opening I had been hoping for. The geodude wobbled slightly and shook the confusion from its eyes. It dug both hands into the ground, tearing loose a slab of rock that had been hidden under the sand. "Another confuse ray!"

Another spinning helix of eerie lights erupted from my vulpix. They sank into the geodude's eyes and I smirked knowingly as a simple expression crossed the rock type's face. It's arms wavered and bent as the slab of rock dipped dangerously back towards it.

"Toss it away! Now!" Brock was shouting, realizing the threat. It was too late though.

His geodude pitched the slab as hard as it could. But it's dizzied confusion had already taken a toll. The stone slab slipped free of the geodude's hands as it fumbled the throw. It crashed down on top of the little rock, utterly crushing it beneath.

My shit-eating grin probably burned into Brock's mind permanently. I smirked and pointed forward with a simple, decisive order. "Incinerate!"

Luna leapt atop the cracked stone slab, hunting for a suitable crack. She found one within seconds, all while we could hear the geodude angrily struggling to break free. She puffed her chest out and inhaled deeply. A torrent of flame poured from my little vulpix, superheating the slab of rock and melting the sand beneath.

Now, I knew that the fire itself wouldn't do much to the geodude. But that wasn't the point of the attack. I didn't have anything that could hit them effectively. My only choice was to trap it, so that Brock would be forced to concede his geodude.

As the sand beneath the slab melted further, I looked over at Brock. His arms were held calmly at his side. His hands were clenched into tight fists, betraying his outwardly calm expression. He had seconds before the molten sand hardened into a tomb of glass, seconds before his geodude was trapped and I won this round. "Rollout!"

I grimaced. It could work. "Get clear of it!" I shouted, too late to make a difference.

The geodude rocketed through the molten sand, emerging from the ground several meters away. It was bright red, dripping with molten sand and glowing with heat. We had it on the ropes, but now the little ball of rock was gonna try to turn the tables on us.

Luna leapt away from the geodude's attack, barely rolling out of the way as the glowing rock barrelled past. It crashed through another boulder and barely slowed down as pebbles showered down on the battlefield.

"Get inside the big rock!" I ordered, hoping that Luna had enough left to keep the speed up until the geodude ran out of steam.

She turned on her tail and bolted, sand kicking up in her wake. The geodude was coming around, still gaining speed as it looked around the arena.

I saw it coming. Luna wouldn't be quick enough to avoid the geodude. It would smash into her side and the battle would be over.

"Incinerate!" I shouted again. "Melt the sand in its path!"

Luna, bless her little soul, knew exactly what to do. She planted her feet as the geodude rounded the arena and bore down on her. She puffed her chest out and sucked in a quick breath. It wasn't as powerful as the last one, but the jet of flame that she spat was still enough to melt a patch of sand several feet wide into a pool of liquid glass.

The geodude plowed into the puddle, spewing molten glass in its wake. Luna dove for the side, too slowly to avoid the geodude. They collided and Luna yelped something fierce as the scorching hot ball of rock tossed her like a flailing rag doll and crashed face-first into the central boulder.

I raised her ball and returned her immediately. She'd done enough, and I needed her for Brock's second pokemon. The geodude had to be-.

"Leader Brock's first pokemon has been defeated. The challenger has taken the first round and used one of his substitutes."

I leapt nearly a foot in the air, not expecting the referee's voice to come so soon. I forced down the feeling of elation, knowing that the easy part of the battle was done. What came next would be immeasurably harder.

Brock smirked and nodded to himself. "You're good, better than I expected for a novice." Now it was Brock's turn to wear the shit-eating grin and he knew it. "Still, this isn't over and we both know that." He lifted another ball off the pedestal on his platform and tossed it into the air. "Let's see how you handle Shale!"

Brock's prized onix appeared with and earthshaking roar. She tossed back her pale green tinted head and screeched a defiant challenge. I knew what to expect. Shale was Brock's pride and joy, bred from the titanic onix that fought on Brock's championship team. She was a pale green, flecks of silver metal running through the boulders that made up her serpentine body. It was a side effect of her parentage, something to do with being the offspring of Brock's first onix and Galar's Raihan's prized duraludon. He would be a monster in a few years, but right now he was just a baby.

It made for a damn impressive showing. I knew my second pokemon would look downright feeble compared to it, but that's what I expected at this point. It was common practice for Gym Leaders to use at least one pokemon that outclassed anything you could throw at it. Helped you think on your feet and formulate strategies that played to the strengths of your pokemon.

Unfortunately, my second pokemon didn't have many strengths for me to play to. She was nearly useless in battle, even when she did decide to listen to me. It was absolutely hopeless. She just didn't have a violent bone in her body. Even if she could have lifted things fifty times her size, she would never use that strength in a violent way.

I raised my second pokeball and grinned in a way that betrayed the lack of confidence I had.

"Play time, Curie!"

My two-foot tall, ball of pink joy materialized on the field and I felt our momentum come to a crashing halt as my precious happiny goo-gooed adorably at the terrifying onix.

Brock couldn't help the burst of laughter that came forth. His rock snake mirrored him, shaking the entire arena with deep rumbling laughter.

Now, Curie might not be a violent soul but she can stall a battle somewhat effectively if she's coaxed into it the right way. She was a baby. All she really wanted to do was play, and if I could present the battle as a game then she'd cooperate for the most part. At least as long as her attention span held out.

So I did the only thing I could. I blatantly lied to my little baby. I got down on one knee, looking down at Curie with a happy smile on my face. "Hey, Curie!" I shouted.

She looked up at the sound of my voice and started hopping happily at the sight of me. It melted my damn heart.

I pointed over at Shale, putting on my playful voice. "See that big mean onix?" I asked. "She wants to play!"

Curie hopped up and down on the spot, looking back and forth between Shale and I. She squealed happily and bounded towards the onix without waiting for my command.

Brock stopped his laughing and raised an eyebrow. "Defence curl!" He ordered. Shale rumbled a response and coiled herself around a boulder. My little happiny wouldn't be able to do a single thing to hurt the onix, which was fine by me. That wasn't the plan anyways.

Curie bounded over to the coiled onix, giggling madly. She bounded up Shale's coils and made her way towards the massive serpent's head. She puckered her lips and planted a sopping wet kiss on Shale's nose.

Now it was time for Brock to learn the hard way why I still had confidence that I could pull off a win. Curie might not have had a hope in hell at actually beating Shale, but she was a charming little shit. Once she sunk her adorable little claws into you, you were completely at her mercy.

Shale raised her head, studying the little ball of joy on her coils. Curie cooed at the terrifying rock monster, melting that stone heart as easily as she did mine. Shale rumbled softly and nudged her opponent with her nose.

"Shale! Crush that weakling!"

The onix looked back at her trainer and whined, something I had never heard from an onix before or since. She shook her head and looked back down at my gibbering happiny with a fond rumble.

Curie pulled the small, smooth stone from her pouch and held it up towards Shale. The onix rumbled again, low and slow. Shale lowered her head and nuzzled my Curie affectionately.

Brock was absolutely livid. He was practically hopping in place, his face bright red. Shale was completely ignoring his frantic commands, enamoured with Curie's adorable antics. She was nuzzling Curie with her nose and laughing deeply when the little happiny planted another kiss on her nose.

I didn't have to do anything. Curie could entertain that onix for the rest of the round, keeping her attention off the fact that this was a gym battle. Nothing and nobody could resist Curie's adorable attitude if she wanted your attention.

Then, disaster struck. Shale must have shifted as she laughed, because Curie stumbled and flopped onto her back. Hard. I winced, knowing that we were all in very deep shit.

Curie's little rock, the one she had offered to Shale, bounced off the onix's coils and rolled into the sand as Curie watched on in abject horror. I plugged my ears with two fingers, waiting for the inevitable.

Curie absolutely exploded with sound, wailing at the top of her infantile lungs. Shale recoiled from the noise, wincing and shutting her eyes. They were across the arena from me, still at Shale's starting position. Curie's agonized wail was still ear-piercing at this distance. I could scarcely imagine the discomfort that Brock was feeling, let alone the punishment Shale's eardrums were enduring.

Shale lashed out, flinging Curie across the arena with a flick of her tail. Curie bounced twice and came to a crashing halt against the hollow boulder in the centre of the arena.

"Curie! Hide and seek!" I shouted, hoping desperately that she would forget the little round stone she had dropped and stop wailing long enough to hear me.

I had no such luck. She just wailed harder, mourning her lost rock with all the fury of a confused infant. With a satisfied grin, I lifted her ball off my belt and returned my happiny to her ball. I couldn't be more proud of my baby girl. She had done her job and eaten up all but two minutes of the round just by being an adorable baby. She'd get her chance to shine in battle eventually, but for now she could be the best damn stalling tactic a guy could ask for.

That had been the crux of my whole strategy. Neither Curie nor Luna had anywhere near the strength to bring down Shale. Our only hope at victory was a wing and a prayer, stuffed with one hell of a bullshit technicality. If I could outlast Brock, run the clock out without Luna going down, then I would win the match. I still had two conscious pokemon to Brock's one. I would win by virtue of outlasting a titanic onix that I couldn't even scratch.

I lifted Luna's ball and mouthed a silent prayer. There were no more substitutions. It was just me against Brock, Luna against Shale, raging fire against stoic stone. I tossed Luna's ball and smirked as my confidence came flooding back. We could do this.

"Alright Luna, remember the plan. Be fast, be smart, be strong."

My vulpix looked up at me, eerie light already flickering behind her eyes. She knew exactly what she had to do, what I expected of her. She snorted a puff of smoke at me, as if outrunning a 400 pound rock serpent was beneath her.

Brock took the first move, ordering Shale into pursuit of Luna. His onix didn't even wait for him to finish, lunging forward in an attempt to end the battle quickly.

Luna was gone in a flash, bounding out of Shale's path faster than the onix could turn. A barrage of levitating blue flames slammed into Shale's side, superheating the stones and drawing a rumble of annoyance from the onix. It wouldn't do much, but there was a chance it would show Shale down.

"Quick attack!" I shouted as Shale pivoted on the centre of her body. She swung a bladed tail through the sand, wiping away a pair of small boulders that had the misfortune of standing in the wrong spot. Luna was a rust-coloured blur, dashing out of the way of Shale's tail in a spray of sand.

She was quick, but Shale was faster than I had anticipated. Fortunately, we had a way to slow the massive onix down. We just had to land it.

"Confuse ray!" I shouted.

Luna skidded to a halt, eerie wisps of ghostly light conjuring from nothingness. They spun off towards Shale as Luna dashed away from the Onix's descending tail. It slammed into the ground, throwing sand into the air with the impact.

I swore under my breath. Shale was fast. Faster than a gigantic rock monster had any right to be. Brock had covered his ass well. Luna was faster, but not by enough for me to get comfortable. The battle was going to come right down to the wire.

"Get clear!" I shouted. "Long range barrage now, confuse wisp!"

Luna scrambled away from the thrashing serpent, kicking up a spray of sand behind her as she went. She skidded to a halt halfway across the arena and spun.

Before she could cough out a single wisp a boulder slammed into the ground not three feet away from her. Luna yelped in surprise and dashed away, barely avoiding the second boulder that crashed down where she had been standing mere moments before.

"Top speed!" I shouted, knowing that Shale held damn near every advantage without confusion muddying her mind. "Find cover!"

Luna turned in a blur, weaving through the barrage of rocks that Shale was pitching at her with ease. She ducked and weaved, cutting and turning just in time to avoid each incoming rock. I felt my pride swell in my chest as my precious little vulpix motored at speeds that would have even impressed a pikachu.

Shale roared in frustration as her last boulder sailed just wide and crashed harmlessly into the sand. She surged forwards as the clock ticked down to the last twenty seconds.

Luna turned as the onix gave chase, cutting close to the massive hollow structure in the centre of the arena. It was a gambit, banking on Shale moving to quickly to turn easily. Luna led the massive rock serpent on a desperate chase, dashing into the hollow rock as Shale slammed into the base of the rock when she cut too closely.

Luna was gone, disappeared into the rock. Less than fifteen seconds was left on the clock, but our greatest advantage was nullified in close quarters. All Shale had to do was twitch the wrong way and Luna would be nothing more than a smear on the wall.

Ten seconds left as Shale disappeared into the rock.

Seven seconds left and the arena shook as Shale found her prey inside the rock.

Five seconds left and the rock shook violently with a titanic impact.

Three seconds left and Luna peeked out of the top of the rock.

Two seconds and Shale was following her onto the top of the rock.

One second left and Luna was out of space. There was nowhere to go. Shale was raising herself to her full height. My precious starter would be nothing more than a smear of blood and hair.

The horn blared and I exhaled the breath that I hadn't realized I was holding. I unclenched my fists, realizing that my nails had been digging into my palms so tightly that they drew blood.

The referee's voice crackled over the loudspeakers, sounding sweeter than I had ever imagined a bored teen sounding. "After expiry of the final round, the challenger has two pokemon left to Leader Brock's one. The challenger has been declared the winner!"

I didn't hear the small smattering of cheers from the stands. I didn't hear the referee continue to drone on about my victory. I had won, I had beaten Brock. My eyes found Luna and I didn't care to hide the tears that fell freely. I was a trainer now. For real. And there wasn't a damn thing anybody could do to change that.


Pokédex Entry #95: Onix

Onix are large, serpentine pokemon that are native to nearly all mountain ranges in the Kan-Jo supercontinent. They serve as the region's supreme apex predator, capable of going toe to toe against any landlocked opponent.

Nearly fifty feet long when fully grown, most onix resemble titanic serpents made from a series of connecting boulders. A few specimens have been comprised of darker, harder boulders. This is possibly a result of the aging process.

Unfortunately, study opportunities are exceedingly limited due to the species' aggressive nature. Most specimens succumb to battle wounds long before they age to maturity, and even fewer survive to old age. Legends persist of an ancient onix comprised of solid diamond, but few credible sources can confirm this with any reliability.



Novice Trainer, KT#07966101

Luna, Vulpix

Curie, Happiny
 

Dorothy

My love is stronger than my fear of death
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Starting with the first Gym battle is an interesting choice, and not one you see in journey fics often. I'm not sure how I feel about it - I usually prefer to have a while for the characters and Pokemon to breathe and become familiar. A Gym challenge, to me, should be an Event that culminates an arc of the story. As an example, I don't anticipate the first Gym battle of my own journey fic occurring until sometime around chapter 8 or 9.

Otherwise, this is a competent first chapter. You're good at describing the action of a Pokemon battle, which isn't an easy thing to pull off, so kudos for that. I didn't feel very connected to the protagonist, which I feel is related to the issue I discussed earlier. Hoping to get more fleshed-out characterization from him.
 

joshthewriter

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Starting with the first Gym battle is an interesting choice, and not one you see in journey fics often. I'm not sure how I feel about it - I usually prefer to have a while for the characters and Pokemon to breathe and become familiar. A Gym challenge, to me, should be an Event that culminates an arc of the story. As an example, I don't anticipate the first Gym battle of my own journey fic occurring until sometime around chapter 8 or 9.

Otherwise, this is a competent first chapter. You're good at describing the action of a Pokemon battle, which isn't an easy thing to pull off, so kudos for that. I didn't feel very connected to the protagonist, which I feel is related to the issue I discussed earlier. Hoping to get more fleshed-out characterization from him.
Personally, I’ve always disliked the opening slog of most journeyfics. I didn’t really have any interest in spending 8-10 chapters before I’d even touched a gym battle. You’ll find that the pacing of this fic is fairly fast compared to most others. We do have a few arc-ending gym battles, but it’s not so cut and dry (the arcs are fairly clear themselves).

We get a ton of characterization with him and his team in the next chapter, but not a whole backstory yet. This is very much a story about found family (among other things). I like the method of providing a character and filling in the blanks in the background as I go.

Thanks on the action writing compliment! It’s something I take pride in!
 

Juliko

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This was pretty good. Definitely going against the grain by immediately starting off with the first gym, but you already explained your reasons in the recent post, so no complaints here. This was pretty good! You're definitely off to a good start here! Curious to read more and see how it goes!
 

joshthewriter

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This was pretty good. Definitely going against the grain by immediately starting off with the first gym, but you already explained your reasons in the recent post, so no complaints here. This was pretty good! You're definitely off to a good start here! Curious to read more and see how it goes!
I’ll be back with more tomorrow!
 
Chapter 2: Wilderness

joshthewriter

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Wilderness


It was dusk when we finally made camp. I'd walked as far eastwards from Pewter as I could in a day and still barely covered a quarter of the distance to Mount Moon. If I'd had the money to pay for a teleport back to Cerulean, I would have. Unfortunately, what little prize money I earned for beating Brock went into supplies for our journey. Between enough of Curie's specialized formula to last until Cerulean and a few emergency rations, I barely had enough left over to cover the cost of the three empty poke balls that sat at the bottom of my bag.

Fortunately, Luna was an excellent hunter. She'd already brought me a trio of pidgey while I built our makeshift camp. By the time the sun was setting, we had a fire crackling and I was halfway through mixing Curie's specialized formula with some of the oran berries that Luna had sniffed out for us. Technically I wasn't supposed to mix the formula with anything but boiled water, but when I'd researched how to stretch the formula longer I found dozens of training articles that recommended mixing with crushed oran berries and water to stretch my supply just a little bit longer.

I handed Curie the bottle of pale purple liquid with a smile. She gently deposited her precious rock back into her pouch and eagerly took the bottle from me.

I set back to work on the pidgey, removing the unwanted innards and skewering them on my hastily carved spit. I left them leaning over the fire and turned back to the cuttings. I lifted the flat rock that I'd found to use as my cutting board and offered the scraps to Luna. She turned her nose up at me and I couldn't help but smirk. She was a snob with her food. If it wasn't prepared specially for her, she wouldn't even sniff it. She could cook her own food to be clear. She just didn't want to. Why do something for yourself when you have a perfectly good human to do it, I guess.

Most trainers balked at eating meat from pokemon, something that I simply did not have the option of. I was broke, to say the least. I couldn't afford more than a few emergency rations, let alone a full supply of meals for the trip. Hunting for our food was by far the cheapest option, so with a lack of funds compared to the sponsored trainers of the world, meat was the only option. I supplemented that with berries that I recognized and went hungry most nights.

I set down the scraps and turned back to back to the fire. I froze. A little tan pokemon was sitting patiently at the edge of the firelight. It sat back on its hind legs, sniffing cautiously at the air.

Luna growled suddenly, following my gaze to the minuscule sandshrew watching our meal. I hissed at her to be quiet, hoping she wouldn't launch at our guest and spook him. A sandslash could be a powerful member of our team.

I reached down, grabbing a handful of the cuttings. The sandshrew's tongue flitted out and it looked nervously between me and the meat in my hand. I tossed the meat towards the sandshrew and it disappeared into the night as the meat landed harmlessly in the dirt.

I sat down by the fire, dunking my hands in the pot of warm water and scrubbing the viscera from them. By the time I looked back up, the meat was gone and the sandshrew was looking at me from the other side of the fire. It licked its chops and looked down at my cuttings expectantly.

I smiled and turned the pidgey over. I got to my feet and picked up the flat rock full of cuttings. I walked over to the sandshrew. He ran as I approached, but not out of the firelight this time. He watched me put the rock down and walk back to my side of the fire. Only when I had taken my seat and gone back to roasting the skinned pidgey did the sandshrew move back into the light.

It was smaller than I had expected, probably the runt of the litter. The smell of fresh meat cooking had drawn it in, overriding its natural fear of humans. It was hungry, likely malnourished if its size was anything to go by. I wondered for a moment about it, watching the sandshrew inch closer to the food.

It stole a bite from the rock, eyes never leaving me. I went back to my spit, checking the pidgey to be sure I didn't burn it. The sandshrew abandoned all pretences, scarfing down the feast of scraps that I had left for it.

I smiled happily as I pulled my meal off the fire. It was charred and blackened, but it was edible. Luna whined as I presented her a charred chunk of pidgey.

"Come on, you knew I was a bad cook before we even started this." I waved the burnt pidgey at her and left it in front of her, knowing that she was gonna refuse it until she was damn near starving. "If you don't like it, then cook your own food next time."

I sighed as Luna sniffed at the pidgey cautiously and turned her nose up at it. "Fine, starve yourself." I tore a chunk off my own meal and ate it as noisily as I could. It was dry and bland, but I hadn't eaten anything since I had a few handfuls of the berries we'd scavenged along the way. It was the best damn meal I could have wished for after a long day of travel.

I reached for the second pidgey as I finished the first. My hand brushed something hard and smooth and I damn near jumped out of my own skin. The sandshrew squeaked madly and scampered off into the night, my second pidgey clutched in its little jaws.

I swore and leapt to my feet. My hand went into my bag for a ball, whipping it uselessly off into the night. I made it two steps after the sandshrew before I realized that it was futile. "Little bastard! That was mine!"

A high pitched yipping erupted behind me. I turned and locked my eyes on my starter. Luna was yipping madly, her meal forgotten in the dirt. I thought she was choking for a half-panicked moment, and then it hit me. Luna was laughing. My own starter was laughing mercilessly at my misfortune.

I frowned and sighed angrily. As if it wasn't enough to lose my dinner to a damn sandshrew, my own starter was laughing at me. I sat down in a huff, leaning back against my oversized pack. I pulled out the bag of berries that we had scavenged, resigned to my meagre dinner.

Then Luna took that moment to decide that my lap looked more comfortable than the ground. She curled up on my lap, lounging her head on her tails and looking up at me with her big brown eyes. I I scratched under her neck and smiled as my frustration faded away.

"Y'know," I started. "Good thing you're cute. Cuz I don't know how else I'd put up with your stubborn tail."

I lifted a berry up to my mouth and opened it to toss it in. Luna whined loudly. I sighed heavily and resigned myself to a hungry night as I fed Luna every last berry.


The next two days went by relatively smoothly. We didn't run into any trainers, save for a five-badge intermediate that wasn't interested in conversation with a novice like me. His flareon growled at us as we passed and I could feel the temperature rise several degrees.

Luna growled at the provocation, but I shut her down quickly. We didn't need to pick fights with trainers that could accidentally maim us without trying. As much and Luna wanted to, my vulpix was nothing compared to anyone above a novice level. She just didn't have the raw strength yet to battle at that level.

I let Luna loose while we walked along the trail. She bounded ahead on the trail, scouting out the path ahead. Every so often we'd come around a bend and Luna would be sitting there with a smug look. You could see signs of a struggle, scorch marks on the ground or claw marks on one of the tree trunks. Luna would always be sitting there grooming her tails and acting like nothing had happened.

Curie sat on the top of my hiking bag, strapped into the makeshift carrier I'd fashioned from an old shirt. She kept reaching up at the tree branches and trying to grab on as we went by.

It was still early spring and the route was still muddy from the snowmelt off Mount Moon. There weren't many other trainers taking the scenic route at the moment. They'd all be ten miles south, travelling along the much larger thoroughfare that followed the coast and skirted the mountain.

The League maintained the thoroughfare, defending the fortified motorways from aggressive wild pokemon and repairing damage when needed. Trainers tended to cluster along these routes, challenging each other in lieu of powerful wild pokemon. It made for a hellish gauntlet of battle, one that could help a starting trainer build their record or sink their dream.

I simply couldn't afford to take it. With next to no cash left, I'd be wiped out by even a single loss. I just didn't have the time or money to spare. Of course, I'd have probably taken the scenic route anyway. I preferred nature and wanted to run through Mount Moon again anyways. Maybe this time I'd actually take the tunnel, rather than hike over the lowest part of the mountain like I had before.

There was one time that day, where Luna came bounding back with her tails between her legs. She was limping slightly and blood was leaking from a wound on her left flank. I nearly crapped myself when I saw the violet coloured liquid oozing from the wound. I emptied one of the two antidotes that I'd bought into the wound and wrapped it as best I could. It had to have been a nidorino judging by the size of the hole. That worried me.

Nidos always travelled in packs. They didn't usually come this far east of Pewter though. They preferred the drier plains north and south of Viridian Forest. I hadn't counted on encountering anything like that and briefly considered turning south at the fork in the trail we had passed a mile back.

However, I forged on. I didn't let Luna out of sight after that though, and Curie stayed in her ball until we made camp beside a small stream that night. She wouldn't be happy with me for that, but I wasn't taking chances with a nido pack on the prowl.

This time, Luna brought me a few spearow while I built the camp. We didn't get any visitors so I managed to focus on cooking the whole time. I still burnt it to a crisp, but it was at least slightly less dry than my last attempt.

Luna took one look at the meal and stalked off into the night. She reappeared maybe half an hour later, licking her chops and sprawled herself out in front of the fire. I didn't mind because it meant that I got a halfway decent meal compared to the day before.

I scraped the bones into the fire and plodded over to the stream. I scrubbed my hands off, splashing water on my face as I wiped my mouth off. My reflection gazed back at me from the calm stream, ragged hair falling down into my face. It had been short when I left home, cropped close to my head. Maybe I'd get it cut once I arrived in Cerulean. I dunked my whole head in the stream, scrubbing frantically and slicking it back. I came back up, looking at least slightly refreshed even if I was a greasy mess.

My mind wandered back to food as I lay back and watched the stars. My dinner had been enough to keep me going, but my mind couldn't help itself. I dreamt of flame-grilled tauros steaks, sweet yucca casserole, and a tall glass of Saffron-brewed iced lemonade. They taunted me from beyond a line of trees that I couldn't cross.


We woke with the sunrise, same as the day before. I silently packed the camp and doused my fire with some water from the stream.

Luna woke as I lifted my bag and strapped Curie in. She stretched and yawned as I lifted my oversized hiking bag onto my back. I felt her nestle herself deeper into my pack and knew that she would likely sleep half the morning in her makeshift nest.

We were close to the mountain, having made fantastic time the day before. It wasn't long before the gradual rolling hills made way into a rocky path that snaked its way up the mountainside.

No wild pokemon bothered us. We came across a few geodude picking through the loose rocks covering the path, but none of them even bothered to spare us glances. I gave them a wide berth anyways. You never knew when you'd accidentally provoke a wild pokemon. Geodude have been known to be temperamental at times, so I wasn't taking any chances.

After two more such detours around other groups of geodude, we finally began to come up on the hill I'd been waiting for. About halfway along the overland path over Mt Moon, there's a hill that looks down on both Pewter and Cerulean. I'd made camp there for half a week while Luna and I trained for our battle with Brock. Even though it was barely even mid-day, I fully intended to stop and train for at least the rest of the day.

Imagine my surprise when I reached the top of the pass and looked down onto a pile of rubble that stretched halfway down the mountain. I swore and looked up at the wall of loose stones in frustration. It was too loose for me to safely climb down and I could still hear the rocks shifting as they settled into place. The ground began to shake and I heard the rumble of rolling thunder storming down the mountain at me.

I looked up, confused by the sound. There wasn't a rain cloud in the sky today, and the ground was dry as a bone.

Then I saw them. An avalanche of rubble was racing down the mountain towards me, knocked loose by the pair of graveller rolling down the mountain. They were locked in a race, seeing who could get to the bottom of the hill first. Humanity learned long ago what happened when you built towns right at the base of mountains. Some dumb-as-a-rock graveller would decide that it would be fun to use the shiny new town at the bottom of the hill as the finish line for their race.

I returned Curie to her ball as I turned and ran. The avalanche of rubble bore down on the mountain, the thunder growing until the unending storm of stone was right on top of me. I hugged as closely to the wall of the pass as I could, avoiding a rock the size of a pokeball as it smashed into the ground beside me.

I saw the opening in the pass wall and made my decision. I was never going to outrun an avalanche of stone, and I knew that the tunnel network under Mount Moon was one of the most extensive in the world. Half the mountain was hollow, dug out by miners in the ages past. I dove for the cave opening just as the deluge crashed down and blocked the opening.

For a brief moment, a crack of light shone through the blocked cave entrance. Then what sounded like half the mountain rumbled past and Luna and I were plunged into complete darkness.


Thank goodness that I was as prepared as I was. I hadn't really intended for travel underground, but I had prepared for just about anything. My electric torch was held high, casting precious light in the completely dark cave. I only had a pair of spare batteries hidden in my bag, but I was confident that it would be enough to see me through.

Food however, was an issue even if it wasn't an immediate one. I only had three emergency rations, and nothing for Luna to eat. I had intended to have her hunt most of our food, but underground that wouldn't be an option. Curie could remain in her ball until we were safe, but I couldn't keep her in there forever. We had to move quickly and get back above ground at the first possible point.

So that's what we did. I pointed us eastwards with my compass and kept us moving slowly towards Cerulean, knowing that eventually I'd find a tunnel that led back up to the surface or at the very least one of the larger tunnels that the Takeshi mining company maintained. At least there, I'd have some light and probably a better sense of direction.

Luna and I wandered for what seemed like hours. It probably was hours. I couldn't tell. With no light other than the torch in my hand, I had no idea how much time had passed.

Wild zubat harried us more and more often as we moved deeper into the caves. Luna dispatched them all with ease, though I was worried that she'd run out of stamina before the cave ran out of zubat. I found myself desperately wishing that I had a second battle capable pokemon but Luna met every challenge with gusto. Even still, she had limits. I kept her from instigating battles, but it still felt like we were fighting off a new group of zubat every few minutes.

Exhaustion was setting in though and we were starting to make mistakes. My eyes fooled me more than once when reading the compass. We'd have to double back every now and then, erasing my idiotic mistakes at the cost of precious time. Then there were the dead ends. At one point, the tunnel we had been following for over an hour simply narrowed until I couldn't go any further. I sent Luna ahead to see if it led anywhere, but she returned less than a minute later. It was simply a dead end.

Finally, after having burned through my second emergency ration and swapped the battery in my torch to the last one, I heard a voice. It wasn't one of the far-off echoes that I'd thought I'd heard, it was a real human voice. I forged on, ignoring the aching pain in my ankles and the exhaustion in my bones.

I stepped into a cavern that stretched nearly fifty feet across. A thin beam of moonlight shone down from a crack in the cave roof, illuminating a rough, pockmarked stone in the centre of the cavern. I changed my torch into beam mode and swept the light across the cavern.

I felt a pit in my stomach. Scat and bones lined the cavern floor like some macabre carpet. All around me were signs of pokemon, warning signs that I was standing somewhere I absolutely shouldn't be. I glanced down at Luna, confirming my fears. Her ears were flat against the sides of her head and her tails flicked back and forth aggressively. She knew this was not a welcoming place.

I swept the beam of my flashlight across the cave wall, searching for another exit. It was covered in little alcoves and small passageways. Whatever this place was, I didn't want to stay for long. If it had Luna spooked the I sure as hell didn't want any part of whatever called this place home.

Then I heard it. The same voice as before, chanting and singing. A dozen more voices joined it, adding to the eerie melody.

Light began to glow from the tunnel Luna and I had come from. We turned to run and I stopped dead in my tracks. A second cave mouth was glowing, the chanting voices growing louder and stronger with every second.

Luna growled and I returned her to her ball unceremoniously. She was brave, but this was not a situation we could fight our way out of. I crammed myself into one of the alcoves on the cave wall. I clicked off my torch and pressed myself into the cave wall as far as I could go, praying that I was damn near invisible.

They came by the dozens, little pink creatures still chanting in some strange arcane language. I shrunk back as I fearfully realized what I was watching.

There are some theories about the origins of the clefairy of Mount Moon on the fringes of the scientific community. They're mostly the work of conspiracy theorists and online whack jobs, but unlike most other theories this one had at least a few major supporters, Professor Samuel Oak chief among them.

Clefairy are rare. So rare that Mount Moon houses the only known population. So when people suggested that these strange pink creatures could have originated somewhere other than earth, it made at least a little sense. Watching them dance and worship a meteorite, I couldn't decide if the whack jobs were right or if the clefairy were just nuts.

The meteorite seemed to respond to the strange ritual around it. It lit up like some kind of messed up beacon, filling the cavern with blinding light. I covered my eyes and shrank back into the alcove as deeply as I could.

The light faded and I cautiously uncovered my eyes. I could still see spots, misshapen figures dancing around the edge of my vision. I rubbed my eyes and prayed that they were telling me lies.

The clefable twirled and sang, clearly overjoyed by the evolution. I shrunk back in fear, I knew the reputation of the fae was a false one. They were not the simple, happy creatures that weekend cartoons painted them as. Fairies were cruel, sadistic and capable of intelligent thought. They wouldn't hesitate to punish the dumb little human for accidentally stumbling into their den.

I didn't dare to move a muscle. My only hope was that the psychotic little monsters didn't notice my presence.

Something touched the back of my neck. I nearly leapt to my feet screaming, but the threat of certain death stopped me. I shimmied, trying to peek over my shoulder to see what it was. I heard a panicked squeak and felt something crawl down the back of my jacket.

That did it for me. I clamped my hand over my mouth, stifling a scream of terror that nearly gave me away. I fought with everything I could to remain motionless, ignoring every instinct in my body to run screaming from whatever creepy crawly had taken refuge in my clothes.

The squirming lump struggled around my torso, crawling over onto my stomach and digging into my body with too many sharp points. It was a bug of some kind and my mind leapt to fearful conclusions. I swatted at the lump, trying to shoo the pokemon away without drawing the attention of the murderous fairies.

The lump seemed to turn around. It oriented itself towards my head and began inching up my chest. I could do nothing but watch in terrified silence as the little lump slowly crawled towards my head.

My jacket parted as a pair of claws worked the zipper open. A small set of beady black eyes looked up at me with the same fear I was feeling. Then it sneezed a cocktail of spores directly into my face.

I tried to get to my feet, crawl away, do anything at all but my legs refused to move. I felt my eyes grow heavy and shut. Then I felt nothing at all.


I sucked in a breath of cold, damp air and choked on the saliva pooling in my mouth. I sat up, hacking my lungs out into the darkness.

The fairies were gone, something that probably saved my life. I heard legs skittering away and shrieked as I felt the pool of sticky warm liquid under my hand.

I felt the pain as my senses slowly came back to me. I coughed madly, hacking up a congealed paste of spores that gagged me on the way up. My head was throbbing and pain throbbed with every heartbeat. I felt at my aching ear and pulled my hand away in horror. Half my left ear was missing.

I stared dumbfounded at my bloody hand, looking back down at the pool of blood behind me. "My ear." I said dumbly. "It ate my ear."

I rolled out of the alcove and got to my feet, dumbly looking around the cavern. It was bright, with a ray of sunshine beaming in through the crack in the mountainside. The paras chattered at me from behind and my hand dropped to my belt.

Luna was out in a flash of light. She growled instinctively as I mumbled a string of garbled words. The smell of my blood was thick in the air and she could tell that something was very wrong. My vulpix lunged forward, tearing into the little bug with reckless abandon. All my little girl knew was that I was hurt and that the paras was covered in my blood.

I didn't wait for her to finish eviscerating the paras. I steadied myself on the meteorite in the centre of the room, dropping my pack heavily to the floor. It landed in pokemon scat and shattered bones, but at that moment I could have cared less. I poured half my remaining water over my ear, washing away the fresh blood but doing nothing for the caked and dried mud and blood running down my neck.

I pulled out my bandage and carefully wrapped my head. It wouldn't do much, but I hoped it would hold until I could reach Cerulean. I tipped back my water bottle and drained the rest in two long gulps. My empty stomach protested as I eagerly drank my water and I glanced down at my last ration.

I couldn't resist. I tore open the packaging, devouring half the ration in moments. I offered Luna the dried tauros jerky and she reluctantly gulped down the remnants of my ration.

I dug back into my bag and pulled out my compass and torch. I glanced down at the compass and oriented us eastwards. The other tunnel into the cavern led off to the southeast, sloping slightly down as it went.

"Only one choice," I said. "Not enough supplies to go back."

Luna nodded and trotted towards the tunnel. I smiled and lifted my pack onto my back. At least my starter had confidence enough for both of us.

The tunnel narrowed considerably as we continued down it. All over the walls and ceiling there were little holes and alcoves like the one I had hidden in. I didn't spot any more paras, but I gave them all as wide a berth as I could. The last thing I needed was another face full of spores when I was weak and extremely low on supplies.

We didn't run into a single pokemon down that tunnel. I found that eerie. I didn't dwell on it though. I didn't have the energy.

I didn't see the dead end coming. Walked right into the cave wall and smacked my face off the smooth stone. I stepped back, looking at the wall dumbfounded.

"Where the hell do I go then?" I asked to nobody in particular. I cast my light around the tunnel and closed my eyes in frustration. It was a dead end. There had been no forks in the tunnel. It just simply ran into a dead end. "Where the hell do I go!" I shouted.

"Hello?" Asked a muffled voice.

I dropped my torch in shock. "Hello?" I half shouted, not sure if my sleep deprived mind was playing tricks on me. "Is someone there? I'm stuck at a dead end and I have no food or water left. Please help me!"

I heard a scratching at the wall of the tunnel and raised my torch. "I think you're behind the wall," the voice said. "Step back and whatever you do, don't freak out. Domitian doesn't really like that."

I opened my mouth to ask who or what Domitian was. The wall of the cave shook and I realized that I didn't really care. I stepped back from the end of the tunnel as a grey skinned arm blasted through the stone. Impossibly powerful muscles tore through the tunnel wall with ease. They ripped away at the wall and cleared more space. A second arm appeared, forcing the opening larger, then a third, then a fourth.

The machamp forced its way into the tunnel with a grunt. It turned its head to look at me with a happy grumble. Luna growled at him, her tails flaring and her hair standing on end. I returned her to her ball before she could start a battle that she had no hope of winning.

"Domitian, let him out," said the voice. It was a woman's voice, a smile in her tone.

The machamp nodded and lumbered back out of the hole he had made. I stepped through the hole and into the light. I heard the woman gasp as I blocked the sun out with my arm.

"You look like hell, honey."

I brushed my fingers against the patchwork of scratches on the left side of my face. "Paras ate my ear," I responded. "Think he got some of my cheek too," I added as I gingerly poked at the exposed skin.

I looked at her as my eyes adjusted to the sunlight. She was pretty, in a rugged sort of way. Her brown hair was up in a messy bun and her face was covered in a network of fading scars. She was older than I was, likely a veteran trainer if her gear was any indication.

"You're lucky it was only a paras. One of the big ones wouldn't have left enough for you to walk away." She peered at my wrapping and gently poked at the bloody bandage. "Name's Gemma. Mind if I take a look at that?"

I was too tired to protest, simply grunting in pain when she peeled the bandage away and began to rewrap it with a fresh bandage from her own pack.

She whistled appreciatively. "Gonna leave a hell of a scar, kid. I'm almost jealous."

I raised my eyebrow. "Jealous?" I asked.

She smirked knowingly. "Hell of a way to get your first real training scar." She lifted up her shirt, showing me the faint trio of lines that ran across her stomach. "Got my first one from a persian that thought I was an easy meal. Domitian got it though, back when he was still just a machop!"

I raised my eyebrow. "Do you expose yourself to every trainer you meet?"

"Just the handsome ones," she said. She looked down at my bag and grinned at my ragged state. My clothes were caked in scat and dried blood and I had an exhausted scowl on my face. "Where you headed, novice?"

"Cerulean," I started.

She raised a ball and returned her machamp. "It's the opposite way I'm heading, but can give you a lift there. That cut could use some proper attention before it gets infected." She smirked again and I felt a twinge of annoyance at her cheery demeanour. "You seem like you're entertaining too, to say the least."

I didn't protest the help. I was bone tired, my stomach was burning and my head was pounding. I'd be dead if it weren't for Gemma.

She raised another ball and shot me a look. "Lilith is a little skittish, so just don't make any sudden movements and she won't peck your eyes out." She narrowed her eyes and seemed unsure of herself for a moment. "Probably," she added suddenly.

My eyes widened. "That's not very-"

She tapped the release on the ball before I could even finish. Lilith stretched her neck up to the sky and unfurled her wings. She stretched, enjoying the evening sun on her feathers. Then she saw me.

I froze. She froze. Gemma froze. Then the fearow screeched and I felt my stomach drop. I saw my life flash before my eyes as the fearow lunged with a beak that could skewer me in a flash.

Gemma was faster though. Somehow, she got an arm around Lilith's neck and stopped her from killing me. She pulled her fearow down to the ground, petting the murderous pokemon's neck all while she struggled to impale me with a three foot-long beak.

I stepped back, heart pounding and eyes wide. "I'm supposed to ride that?" I asked incredulously.

"Hey," Gemma started. "It's that or have her carry you."

I took one look at Lilith's wicked talons and instantly made up my mind. "On second thought, I'm fine with riding."

Gemma shot me a devious smile and released her chokehold on her murderous fearow. She straightened out and dusted herself off. "Best get on our way then. The light's dying and Lilith here gets real ornery at night."

I looked up at Lilith in fear. If this was her calm, then I really didn't want to know what ornery was. Unfortunately for me, I had a sinking feeling that I was sure to find out.


Pokédex Entry # 46: Paras

Paras are most commonly found on the foothills of Mount Moon as well as under the mountain itself. Some reports of unique colonies of the species across the Orange Islands have been reported, raising questions as to how this landlocked pokemon managed to cross an ocean.

Paras are small, segmented insects. They have three pairs of legs, with the forelegs possessing a set of rather sharp claws. Paras are not traditionally dangerous, though trainers should take caution not to become trapped in close quarters with them. The small mushrooms on the backs of the paras secrete spores that can induce sleep or paralysis in large doses.

Paras and parasect spores have a multitude of medical uses and have become a staple among Kanto farmers for the many uses for their spores. The species' timid nature and lack of aggression has made the domestication process surprisingly smooth.



Novice Trainer, KT#07996101, Current Roster

Luna, Vulpix

Curie, Happiny
 
Chapter 3: Capture

joshthewriter

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Capture


It turned out that by ornery, Gemma meant that Lilith got real fighty at night. More times than I could count, the fearow would throw us into a steep dive as she chased off some perceived threat. Gemma hooted and hollered in joy while I held on for dear life. When we finally touched down in front of Cerulean's pokemon centre I could have practically kissed the solid ground.

"Don't got your flight stomach yet?" Gemma asked, slipping off Lilith's back with practiced ease. She had that same mischievous grin, like she had truly enjoyed torturing me about the paras the whole way here. "It'll come with time. Every trainer adjusts eventually if you last long enough."

I clambered to my feet, glaring at the trainer and her psychotic fearow. She returned the bird to its ball and turned back towards me as I gathered some semblance of my lost dignity. "I don't know how to thank you enough. I would have died there, starved to death and been chewed on by another paras."

She shrugged. "Any trainer would have helped. Just make sure you do the same. It's dangerous out there and the league isn't always around to help." She reached into her pocket and pulled out an angular device and flipped it open. A pokegear, something far beyond my means. "What's your number, novice?"

I looked at her sheepishly. "I don't have one. I… I can't afford anything like that." A pokegear cost almost as much as my family farm made in a month. I had struggled to buy pokeballs and potions, a pokegear was definitely a pipe dream at this point.

She raised an eyebrow. "Figures, you did say you were just a berry farmer." She tapped into her poke gear for a few minutes and then looked up at me with a mischievous smirk. "I need a new one anyways, so give me a minute and you can have mine."

I put up my hand in protest. "I can't take-"

"I've got a league sponsor," she interrupted as her brows furrowed. "Don't worry. I won't have to pay for a thing."

"I can't take this," I repeated sternly. Pa had instilled a distrust of handouts in me over the years, something I was hesitant to shake even if Gemma was being nice. "It wasn't earned."

She stopped and looked at me with an honest smile for what felt like the first time. "That's sweet," she said. "Consider it a gift. I got a soft spot for novices like yourself and to be honest, you could use the help." She winked as the evil grin returned. "You did get your face chewed on by a paras after all."

I looked down at the device as she handed it to me. The screen blinked, booting up to a blank screen with a revolving Silph logo in the centre. "This is the most expensive thing I've ever owned," I said nervously. "I've never really used anything high-tech, so…"

Gemma just smiled. "I'll help you out with it in the morning. For now though, you should probably get some rest."

I nodded, exhaustion seeping back into my bones. The flight here had flooded me with adrenaline, but it was starting to wear off. I knew I had twenty minutes at most before I crashed hard. "Good idea," I half mumbled.

I turned and went to push the door open and walk through. My face collided solidly with the glass door, giving everyone inside a nice close up of my messed up face.

It turned out that the centre only had one room left. I was fully prepared to give Gemma the room, but she insisted I take it. I tried to insist that she take it, but she already had somewhere to crash.

And so it was that after dropping Curie and Luna off at the desk for a checkup and being cleaned up and having the remaining half of my ear stitched back together by the overnight nurse, I crashed into the bed and let sleep take me.


I woke to a furious pounding on the door. Gemma was here.

"It's half-past ten, Novice!" She shouted. "We've got work to do!"

I dragged myself up and shuffled over to the door. I pulled it open, looking at her through half-shut eyes. "You couldn't let me sleep?" I asked grumpily.

She barged in past me, not caring the slightest about my grumpy ass. She put the breakfast tray on the side table and sat back on the bed as she devoured a greasy looking sandwich. "So," she mumbled between bites. "I watched your gym battle last night."

I closed the door and sighed. She certainly did not care about appearances or decorum at all. "So?" I asked as I sat in the small chair beside the bed. I reached over, taking the second sandwich and coffee Gemma had brought. "You watched me outlast Brock by tricking his onix. Big whoop."

"It won't work again. Not against Misty. She's a cold hearted bitch at the best of times and won't allow something like that to work. She'll order her starmie to kill that baby just to prove a point." She downed the last bite of her sandwich and smirked at me with a twinkle in her eye. "You made waves with that little stunt. Indigo is buzzing with the embarrassment that an unknown novice handed to Brock." She lifted her coffee and downed a large gulp. "Rumour has it, that novice arrived in Cerulean late last night and is already preparing for his next challenge."

I sipped gently on the coffee. It was strong, barely a hint of sugar to temper the harsh unovan blend. Perfection, as far as I was concerned. "Your doing?"

She smirked at me and I knew the answer. "Word is, your next match has sponsor eyes all over it. Play your cards right and you'll have a league sponsor by the end of the week, novice."

I nodded appreciatively. A sponsor was a big deal in the league. They'd bankroll my league challenge, something that was already proving to wring every drop of cash from me as possible. Truth be told, I had no clue how anyone could challenge the league without one. The Indigo Conference had an entrance fee of almost three times what my family's farm had made per year. Training, I had learned that hard way, was not a poor man's sport.

In return for bankrolling our challenge, the trainers were expected to act as a spokesperson for the company. We could be expected to appear in ads, battle in exhibition tournaments and lobby high ranking League members on the company's behalf.

But, first things first. I wasn't ready to face a gym leader in a proper battle yet, especially one with a mean streak like Misty. I didn't have a type advantage and my second pokemon wasn't able to battle. "So," I started as I looked back up at her. "Where do we start?"


We headed north, ignoring the impromptu tournament forming at the end of the Nugget Bridge. As much as I wanted to stop and try my hand, Gemma had other plans for the day. She insisted that we get off-route as soon as possible, so we ducked off the League maintained route as it bent towards the small communities on the easternmost point of Cerulean Cape and kept heading straight north.

The entire way out, she kept up her pokegear tutorial. It had a phone, with several numbers already saved in. Gemma had put in her number, plus the number of her League representative and several regional emergency numbers. She showed me how to add new numbers as well, something that I was ashamed to admit I had no clue how to do. I didn't even know how to make a call until she showed me how.

The map is what excited me the most. I was an information junkie with an entire world at my disposal. It was interactive and overflowing with information. I could zoom into specific locations and see what pokemon were commonly found in the area. I could overlay a map from the Ranger alert network, identifying specific reports and threats monitored by the Rangers. I zoomed in to Route 25 and raised my eyebrow at the yellow alert highlighting the area.

Caution – Dangerous Wild Pokémon – Ranger Command Cerulean has received multiple credible reports of a nido pack east of Mount Moon. Possible presence of King/Queen, novice trainers take extreme caution– Ranger teams investigating

My eyes kept scanning the report as it continued on about nido packs. It wasn't anything that I didn't know already. So long as we had strength in numbers we would be safe. Nido packs rarely attacked groups, preferring to pick off lone targets in overwhelming surprise attacks. Despite their penchant for surprise attacks, nido packs were not stealthy. They were easily spotted from the air and made few efforts to conceal themselves when not actively hunting.

I showed Gemma the alert and told her about our own run in with the pack on the slopes of Mount Moon. She just shrugged it off, telling me she could handle a nido pack without much trouble. I wasn't sure how many badges she had, but I guessed six or seven based on what I'd seen. She kept five balls on her belt, and I doubted that any of them were significantly weaker than the two I'd seen so far.

We continued on, forging further north until I could hear the distant crash of waves on Cerulean Cape's rocky northern shore. All the while, Gemma kept up the pace, forcing Luna and I to strain ourselves to keep up with our guide. She didn't slow her pace at all, instead giving me the option to fall behind and fail her little test.

I crept through the underbrush, carefully watching where I stepped. Gemma was somewhere up ahead. She'd disappeared several minutes before, claiming that she'd be back after she investigated something. She told me to keep heading north until I hit the coast. I wasn't happy about being left alone in the wilderness, but to argue would have failed her test.

Something was off though. We'd been bushwhacking for nearly half a day. The rough terrain of Route 25 was difficult and slow going, especially off-route where the league had no real presence. You might run into the odd Indigo Ranger on a wilderness patrol, but they were few and far between. Far too often, the sight of a Ranger was a sign of trouble. It meant that there was something dangerous nearby.


Our entire journey out here had been full of noise. Nature had a way of just never shutting up. Rustling grass, wind in the trees, the distant crash of waves on Cerulean Cape's rocky shore, the far off cry of pokemon, all joined together in nature's cacophony. It was silent now, like something had just flicked off some giant switch.

Luna's ears perked up as we stumbled out of the waist high grass and into a small clearing with several small trees, ringed by a wall of waist high grass. Her ears swivelled and strained for any sign or sound. Her tails swelled and flared and I widened my eyes. That was not a good sign. I put my hand on Luna's back, attempting to calm her while I figured out what to do.

Nature was content with not giving us that chance. All the warning I got was a rustling of dry leaves as the underbrush began to crawl with movement. I widened my eyes and clenched my fists. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that this was Gemma's test.

I looked down at Luna and let my nerves fade. She wasn't scared. She was pissed off from a frustrating morning fighting through wilderness, ready to fight. As long as I had her at my side, I didn't have to be scared either.

The first rattata burst from the bushes, fangs bared for my neck as a half dozen more burst from the bushes. Luna swatted it out of the air with a blast of flame that sent it squeaking away in fear. Then they came. Dozens of them, flinging themselves at us with reckless abandon as yet more surged past us and into the grass. Every one that Luna scorched and sent running was replaced by two more. We were hopelessly, impossibly outnumbered.

I ducked, one of the rattata sailing over my head as another clamped down on my arm. My jacket held though, and the little pokemon tore furiously at the thick leather sleeve. I smashed it against a tree and it let go with a yelp. "Luna, stem the tide. Incinerate the grass!"

She responded admirably, shrugging off a pair of rattata that attempted to bite at her flanks. She sucked in a breath and spat a stream of flame that ignited the wall of dry grass.

I didn't have time to enjoy the victory. The grass shook as dozens more rattata burst from the flaming grass. They rushed past us, running headlong into the grass behind me and ignoring my Vulpix's inferno. Luna ducked back, retreating towards me as the swarm surged past her in terror. I felt my heart skip a beat. This was no test. The rattata were running from something. I felt my heart pound in my chest as I got the strange notion that I should be running too.

A raticate leapt from the grass, heaving madly. Her breaths were ragged and uneven, blood leaking from a trio of oozing purple puncture wounds along her side. Her eyes darted around the clearing, flitting between me and Luna frantically.

A purple blur slammed into the raticate from the side, goring her with a three-inch long horn. The raticate shrieked, scrabbling madly at the nidorino's tough hide ineffectually. A second nidorino burst from the flaming grass, taking the raticate from the other side.

I heard the low rumble of a feral growl and felt the ground shake slightly. It rose from the flames, all purple spikes and armoured plates. Wicked looking spines jutted out from its back. The nidoking flicked its tail back and forth, locking his beady black eyes on me. I felt the earth rumble in response to his growl, like the ground seemed to respond to his displeasure.

I glanced down at Luna as the fear crept back in. We were in danger, mortal danger. Wild pokemon did not conform to battle rules. They fought until their foe was dead or ran. She looked back up at me and I heard myself whisper one word. "Run."

We turned as one, fleeing for our lives. Luna split off from me as I heard the nidoking bellow angrily at his escaping prey. The ground bucked, nearly tossing me as I staggered away as quickly as I could. I fumbled with the pokegear as I ran, tabbing over to the phone feature and desperately mashing at Gemma's number.

I didn't know if it was ringing, I didn't know where she could have gone, but she couldn't have been that far ahead.

One of the nidorino leapt at me from behind, sailing over me as I ducked and scrambled away to the side. The second one bore down on me as I came back up, but Luna was there. She slammed into the nidorino's flank, throwing off its charge. It tripped as it tried to compensate for the change in direction and plowed into the dirt. A third gave chase as I turned to run, the cry of yet more nidos echoing around me.

"Break the chase!" I shouted as I sprinted headlong into the grass. I couldn't tell which direction I was going, but away from the vicious pokemon was enough for me. "Set the grass on fire and stay on my ass!"

I didn't wait for her, knowing she was only half a step behind me. The dry field of grass went up like it had been doused with gas. I could feel the heat licking at my back. Luna ran at my back, spitting tiny embers of flame into the grass. I could see the nidos out the corners of my eyes, dark purple and pale blue blurs racing to stay ahead of the growing flames.

I heard a voice screaming out of my pokegear and I raised it up to my mouth. "Nido pack!" I shouted. "Follow the smoke!"

I vaguely heard her shriek an answer but lost it in the roar of the flames and angry grunts of the nidos on my tail. The earth cracked open and shook below my feet. I tripped, my foot catching on a lump of earth that hadn't been there a moment before.

I slammed facedown in the dirt, landing hard on my face. Luna shot past me, the pair of nidorino hot on her tail. I knew a third wasn't far behind, but couldn't tell where it could be. They barely spared me a glance, attention locked on the little vulpix giving them absolute hell. I groaned in pain as I tried to rise, feeling at the warm wetness on my face. My hand came away bright red and I suddenly felt the searing pain in my nose.

Then I saw him. The nidoking saw me. He stepped through the flames like they were nothing, stalking towards me like he knew he had already won. The flames cast terrible spiked shadows across me, giving the nidoking a demonic appearance. I struggled to my feet, my head spinning and protesting the action as I tried to move.

He loomed over me, growling menacingly as he drew to his full height. The flames behind him cast him in glowing red light. The nidoking towered over me, stretching at least two or three feet above me and casting an imposing armoured figure. He raised one armoured paw and I saw his three claws extend slightly.

His expression went slack and a simple look overtook his eyes. The nidoking cocked his head at me and looked at me in apparent confusion. Luna appeared from behind the beast, spitting a barrage of embers at the gaps in the nidoking's armour as she scampered up his back and over his shoulder. He narrowed his eyes as Luna leapt off him, planted her feet and growled furiously.

She was brave, but it was hopeless. She just wasn't strong enough to actually harm the nidoking. The nidoking shook the confusion out of his eyes and sneered contemptuously down at the little creature that dared oppose him.

I heard a piercing shriek and looked up as a winged shadow passed over me. A grey blur was plummeting towards me, moving too fast for my eyes to follow.

Domitian led with his fists as he fell. He slammed into the nidoking at a steep angle, knocking it off balance with a crushing blow as he landed. Gemma's machamp followed up with his second set of arms, hammering his fists into the nidoking's armoured chest repeatedly. The nidoking growled and swung his tail for Domitian's chest. Domitian caught the nidoking's tail in three of his arms and seemed to smirk knowingly at his opponent.

With one last crushing blow to the jaw by his free arm, Domitian knocked the nidoking senseless. The hulking beast stumbled back, swaying on his hind legs. With one more dazed step, the nidoking crashed heavily into the ground.

I vaguely heard Luna yelp in pain and turned in shock and fear. One of the nidorino had decided to stay and fight rather than run like the rest. It pulled its horn out of the puncture wound it had made in Luna's leg, purple ooze dripping from the horn.

"Confuse wisp!" I shouted, knowing we had to level the playing field. Fire types like Luna ran hot, giving them a slight resistance to things like poison. It would still hurt her, but her internal flame would delay the most severe damage. "Keep it off balance."

I heard Gemma land behind me, but paid her no mind. I could hear something roaring angrily and Domitian bellowing back but spared it no mind. My attention was for Luna, for the battle at hand. My vulpix spat a swirling ball of eerie flame. She willed it towards the nidorino. He charged her, choosing to press the attack rather than avoid the unnatural flame.

It was the wrong choice. The nido's expression went soft and I caught the simple look in his eyes as he barrelled wide of Luna. He buried his horn into one of the trees and grunted in surprised pain. I watched him thrash violently as he attempted to free himself and felt a sudden clarity come over me.

My hand went into my bag, feeling for the cold metal balls at the bottom. I had two left after losing my first with the sandshrew. My hand closed around one of the poke balls as the nidorino broke free. I planted my feet and stared down the spiteful little nidorino. I was a trainer. I was a pokemon trainer. It was time that I proved it to myself.

"Luna," I said calmly, all trace of fear gone from my voice. My voice was calm and collected and my mind was racing through strategies with every heartbeat. "Soften him up. It's time we added to the team."

She padded over to me, standing between me and the beast that had gored her with his horn. Her limp was almost unnoticeable, but it was there. She was favouring her leg and didn't dare put weight on it. We had to finish this quickly. She growled as the nido stared her down, puffs of smoke curling out of her mouth.

They charged each other, the nido lowering his horn and intending to run her through. Luna leapt to the side, avoiding the nidorino's charge by inches. She torched his flanks as he skidded past. I heard the nido roar in pain as Luna's embers scorched the already badly burned pokemon's flanks.

"He's coming around," I called, watching the nidorino turn back and snort angrily. "Keep him at a distance and hit him with an ember barrage."

The nido pawed at the ground and glanced at me. He glanced back to Luna and I saw realization dawn in his eyes. He knew she was protecting me. He knew I was directing her. He lowered his horn again and charged. Straight at me.

Luna peppered him with embers, doing nothing to slow down the angry nidorino. He shrugged off the barrage and poured on the speed. I made to leap out of the way, but there was no way I would be able to get clear in time. He was just moving too fast.

Luna was a tan blur, slamming into the nido's side with a fierce growl. She drove him slightly off target once more, barely steering the nidorino away as I dove clear.

I used the momentum from my dive and rolled to my feet. I spun on my heels and readied the empty ball. Luna desperately separated herself from the panting and burnt nido, trying to get some distance. Her injured leg gave out, a loud whimper of pain reaching my ears. She collapsed to the ground less than a stride away from the nidorino. I threw the ball with all my might even as he kicked Luna in the side with his powerfully built hind legs.

It hit him on the side, sucking the nidorino in before he could deliver a second blow and kill my precious vulpix. He disappeared in a flash of light as the ball went rolling away into the brush.

I waited for what felt like ages, watching the grass where my ball had disappeared intently. There was no way that I had captured him, he was too strong, too fierce for just one ball to capture. He was terribly burned, but had fought like a caged demon. I stared in half fear and anticipation, waiting for him to burst back out and finish us off.

Luna limped back to my side, whimpering. She stood strong, but I could see how bad she was doing. Her ears were flat against the side of her head and her tails hung low between her legs. She was hurting. The poison had to have taken its toll and she was covered in small gashes. Nidorino tended to be covered in small spikes that secreted a powerful poison.

I dug into my bag, pulling out a pair of antidotes. I emptied the first one entirely into the deep wound on her leg. It had a sickly, rancid smell to it and worried me the most. I opened the second and sprayed it liberally onto every scratch or cut that I could find. Her shoulders and neck were covered in them and I found several long, shallow gashes on her sides. The nidos had probably grazed her with their horns more than once. I emptied the rest of the antidote into them.

Gemma laid her hand on my shoulder and I just about jumped out of my skin, almost forgetting she had just saved my life. I turned, eyes frantically scanning back and forth along the grass. It had felt like an eternity and the nido still hadn't reappeared.

"Hey, you can relax now," Gemma said, her voice low. "You caught him."

I let out the breath that I hadn't realized I was holding. Then it hit me. The smell of charred flesh was thick in the air and the bitter taste of smoke lingered on my tongue. "What happened?" I asked numbly. I looked around finally, taking stock of our surroundings.

The field of grass was nearly gone, consumed by the fire. Domitian was kicking dirt onto the few remaining blazes and Lilith sat lazily atop the prone form of a powerfully built nidoqueen. Half a dozen smaller nidorina lay around their queen, all of them motionless.

She tried, but Gemma couldn't hide the shame and embarrassment on her face. "I went to set up your test. Released a few water types off the shore to give you an idea of what you'd be up against with Misty." She frowned and looked away. "The nido pack must have been tracking us since we went off-route. This is all my fault. I'm better than that, I should never have left you alone."

I gingerly poked at my nose and winced. I felt something running down my face and tasted blood. "Think my nose is broken, but otherwise I'm fine. Wasn't even the nidos that hit me. I just tripped over a damn rock." I poked gently again and couldn't help the wince. "Definitely broken," I repeated.

Gemma looked at me closer and I saw the hurt in her eyes. "Here," she started, her voice low and apologetic. "Let me set it for you at least. It'll help with the bleeding somewhat." She pulled a cloth from her bag and gently placed her hand on my now crooked nose. "This is going to hurt."


The rangers arrived not twenty minutes later, a pair of them atop pidgeot that kept their eyes firmly on Lilith. Gemma explained what had happened and kept them off my case too hard. I still got an earful about the dangers of travelling off-route, but not half of what I would have gotten had I been alone. Hell, alone I wouldn't have been around when the Rangers arrived.

They complimented us on our work, despite their admonishments. The nido pack had been terrorizing the wilds around Cerulean. Three trainers had been hurt in the past few days and another two were missing and presumed dead. The League had actually placed a bounty on the pack the day before, one that Gemma and I were only too happy to claim for our troubles. We split it both ways, despite my protests that I hadn't done anything.

We left the rangers at the site of the battle. I wasn't keen on flying again, but Luna and my new capture needed proper medical attention and my nose still ached something fierce. So despite my reluctance, Gemma and I flew back to Cerulean in near silence.

We dropped our pokemon off at the centre. I warned them that the nidorino was a new capture that I hadn't had a chance to tame yet and they assured me he would be kept sedated the entire time. Luna was mostly fine, despite the multitude of gashes along her. The antidotes I had used seemed to have stopped the poison and her physical injuries would heal within the week, even faster as long as she stayed at the centre to heal. I kept Curie with me though. I wanted the company.

Gemma's pokemon were fine, but she checked them in anyways. I counted five balls when she handed them to the nurse, noting that she didn't bother giving the nurse any information about them.

She insisted that we go for a drink after our day, and I was in no mood to argue. So we found ourselves in the back of some seedy bar, the lights down low. Gemma had ordered us both some cocktail from the bar as we passed and paid for them both without waiting for my insistence that I pay. I'd tried to pay for the next four drinks, but Gemma would have none of it. She was determined to make it up to me.

I looked across the table at her. It had been quiet. Despite our half-eaten meals and array of empty drinks, we'd hardly said a word. "So, mind telling me what you're doing?" I asked. I stared blankly into my drink as I talked, barely looking up at her. "You take an interest in me, and what? Train me for nothing in return? Drop all this cash on some nobody novice?"

She shrugged, quietly sipping her drink. "Trainers help others. It's something that we all do," she replied stubbornly. "You just remind me of someone I used to know. He never got a fair shake. He asked me for help, practically begged me for it." She looked at me nervously and tipped back the rest of the drink. "He didn't make it and it was my fault. I didn't do enough." She shrugged, her words slow and slurred. "Like I said, you look like him. Same stupid grin, same farm boy kinda style."

"So that's it," I said. "Righting a past wrong." I looked down at my drink again and felt like an ass for pushing Gemma. "I'm not him," I said. "I'm not whoever you lost. You can't let that loss rule your life." I smirked and put my hand on hers. "For what it's worth, I am grateful for everything you've done for me. You've given more of a crap about my dream than my old man ever did. That alone is more than I could ever repay." I felt my heartbeat quicken and tightened my grip on her hand.

"You don't want help like this," she finished. "I get it. Two days with me an' I nearly got you killed. Happens to everyone around me."

I shook my head. "It's not that. I knew what I signed up for when I became a trainer. I knew it would be dangerous." I sighed and tipped back my drink. "But it's exactly what I wanted. The adventure, the excitement… it's everything I'd dreamed about on the farm. And it's thanks to you that I know I can handle myself out there."

She looked at me with a mix of half-drunk sadness and acceptance in her eyes. "Ask the paras if he thinks you can handle yourself."

My jaw dropped. "That hurts."

The sadness faded in moments and Gemma's constant façade reappeared with her usual savage grin. "Just like your ear?" She quipped. "Or your nose?"

I closed my mouth, smiling at her.. "And that right there is why you're alright in my books."

She sat back, wiping the trace of a tear away. "You think you got Misty without my help then?" She asked.

I smiled and shook my head. "Not a chance." I leaned back and smirked as I signalled the waiter. "But training can wait. Tonight, we drink."


Pokédex entry #34: Nidoking

These apex predators are native to western Kanto, making their homes on the vast coastal plains north and south of Viridian forest. Operating as the patriarch of their packs, nidoking tend to respond aggressively to any perceived threat.

Nidoking are large, quadrupedal pokemon that are capable of standing and moving on their hind legs for short durations. Their body is covered in small spines that secrete a powerful poison. Many a trainer have fought off the initial assault of a nido pack and succumbed to poison before they could seek medical attention.

Nidoking tend to be particularly aggressive towards other males. Only one "alpha" may exist per pack and any successful challenge to the alpha will result in a change of leadership and the loser dead or exiled from the pack.



Novice Trainer, KT#07996101, current roster

Luna, Vulpix

Curie, Happiny

Nidorino
 
Chapter 4: Cascade

joshthewriter

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Cascade


I stared intently at the catalogue, reading the prices with dismay. Gemma had suggested that we take a look at the trainer's market for a technical machine. I had no clue how they worked, but they could impart certain techniques into the minds of pokemon.

Luna's list teased me with possibilities. Agility, an ability could increase her speed even more than her usual quick attacks did. Hex, a ghost technique that targeted injuries like burns and used them to inflict as much pain as possible. Then, the one that I couldn't take my eyes off, energy ball. A grass technique that would give us a legitimate weapon against Misty. It wasn't an instant win, but it could turn the battle in my favour.

The list for my newest pokemon just baffled my mind. Ice beam and blizzard, shadow claw, and the most interesting of all thunderbolt and thunder. My mind danced with the ideas of forcing Misty onto her back foot with moves that would never be expected. Then I looked at the prices and sighed with all the earned frustration of a poor man in a rich world.

With my half of the bounty we had claimed, I could afford one. Only one. Only one counter to Misty. I sighed heavily. One wasn't going to win me the battle by itself and I was having serious doubts about my chances since the video session I'd had with Gemma in the morning.

"What do you think?" I asked, turning to Gemma. I showed her the page with my heart torn.

She scanned the page, looking over from her own catalogue of organic supplements and enhancements. "Why not both?" She said, knowing what I was torn between without asking.

I pulled the catalogue back. "Fine, I won't ask." I was sick of charity and despite everything I tried, Gemma was insistent. I slammed the catalogue shut, making my choice and handing my order slip to the clerk. I turned to look at Gemma and sighed as she scribbled a hasty addition to her own slip. "I hate feeling like this, Gemma. I don't like you buying everything for me."

She shrugged. "I already told you money wasn't a problem for me. Consider it a loan, if it bothers you that much." She passed her slip to the clerk. "You can pay me me back in instalments, no interest."

I glared at her with frustration obvious on my face. "Gemma, seriously I don't want it. Use it on one of your pokemon or something." I crossed my arms and turned to take the small disk from the clerk. "I'm not going to just TM my way to victory."

"Suit yourself, Novice." She took the three disks she had chosen and slipped them into a case in her bag. "Don't cry to me if she wipes the floor with you. You don't have a single counter to any of her pokemon."

I sighed as we left the market. "Like I'm gonna just let her beat me."

"It's not about what you'll let happen," she retorted. "The second gym badge is the first real test of the gym challenge. It might still be a novice challenge, but it's intended to weed out the truly interested from the pretenders." She crossed her arms and looked at me as we exited onto the street. "Earning your first badge is easy. Your second?" She trailed off and I caught a far off look in her eyes. "It's meant to test what you're made of. It's meant to push you to the breaking point, to show you that you aren't invincible and force you to overcome adversity."

I smirked and the motion brought a twinge of pain to my still recovering nose. "Good thing that I've already learned that," I said with a dry tone. "Heaven forbid she send out a paras. I might collapse in fear."

She punched me in the arm, scowling. "Don't be a sarcastic little shit. Do you know the numbers?."

I nodded, shit-eating grin still plastered on my face. "Less than half of all trainers manage to make it to their third badge, a quarter of those dropping out due to significant injury. I know what the odds are." I shrugged. "I'm not one to care about odds. I know what I want and I know what I have to do to earn it."

Gemma smirked knowingly. "We'll see about that."


Introducing ourselves to my newest team member turned out to be a chore in its own right. I spent half the night researching training methods. Most of the league registered nido were trained from near-birth. Pack instincts were incredibly hard to break once ingrained in the mind of a pokemon and my new team member had fought me to the point of exhaustion. I couldn't find damn near anything about training freshly caught nidorino, save for a few warning videos where the nidorino gored the trainer.

Fortunately, I knew one potential way to establish a relationship with my new pokemon. Nidos were pack animals. I had to kick its ass and establish myself as the alpha of his new pack. I wasn't entirely happy about that either. Something felt wrong with beating a creature that I'm damn sure was at least as smart as I was. By the time the sun rose on the next day, my eyes were bleary and my head was splitting. I grabbed a coffee on my way out of the crappy motel I found myself at and met Gemma at the north gate.

We crossed the bridge out of town and passed by the now-empty tourney grounds. We kept to the route for the most part, only ducking off the route to keep away from other trainers when we'd left Cerulean far behind. I had Gemma stay upwind and out of sight. I needed the nidorino to respect me, not Gemma. I wouldn't be able to gain that respect if I had Gemma looming over my shoulder with her fearsome machamp. Hell, I would just be setting myself up for an ambush once I wasn't around her.

I raised the ball on my belt, Luna standing resolutely at my side. I glanced down at her and gave her my most confident smile. "Ready for this?"

She planted her feet and growled in agreement.

I raised the ball and set the auto-return function. It'd return the nidorino if he attempted to flee and got more than thirty feet from me. I tossed the ball into the air, waiting for my newest pokemon to appear.

He materialized in a flash of red light, his head held low. He was small, much smaller than I remembered. Either he was a runt or he had just evolved from his nidoran stage. I had probably been one of his first real battles, and I had thoroughly embarrassed him in front of his pack before stealing him away.

He made no move to flee, no move to attack. He glanced between me and Luna as if he were analyzing us. I stopped, unsure of what to do. I'd been so sure of his guaranteed aggression, so sure that he would attack us on sight. I hadn't put any thought into a peaceful solution.

Luna barked once, stepping forward. I didn't move a muscle, my eyes glued to the nido. He still made no aggressive moves, watching and waiting as Luna slowly stalked towards him. His tail flicked back and forth slowly and I made my decision before Luna could ruin our opportunity.

"Hold," I ordered. "He isn't dangerous," I said, watching the little nido shiver in fear.

Luna stopped and sat. Her eyes never left the nido and the tension never left her body, but she sat and obeyed my order. I saw the smoke curling out from my vulpix's mouth and knew she was not happy with my order, but she obeyed it without question.

I stepped forward, petting the back of Luna's head as I passed. I watched the nidorino's ears perk up and swivel towards me. "That's good," I murmured. I slowly lowered myself to his level, meeting his eyes and finding them surprisingly clear of anger. He had something twinkling in his eyes, something that I instinctively understood as good. "Want something to eat?" I asked softly. I kept my voice low as my hand slowly dove into my pack.

I raised an oran berry and smiled. His eyes followed it, leaving Luna for half a moment before flitting back nervously. I smirked. He wasn't aggressive. He was scared. Lost and separated from his pack, he needed a new pack leader and he needed it now. I stepped back, my heart pounding in my chest. With one smooth movement, I raised Luna's ball and returned her without a word. She wouldn't do me any good growling and spitting fire like she thought she was a houndoom. I had to be the pack leader here, not her.

He cocked his head to the side. I heard a growl and feared for a moment that I'd made a terrible decision. I raised the berry and attempted my best calming smile. I still saw the twinkle of fear in his eyes and knew that I wasn't in any danger. He was just scared.

"It's ok," I said quietly. "I won't hurt you again. You're my pokemon. You're the first one I ever really caught on my own."

I dropped the berry in front of him and lowered my hands. He crept forward and snatched up the berry eagerly, looking up at me with some confusion.

"You can come with me," I said softly. "You can be a part of something different."

My hand dove into the bag again and produced another berry. I held it out in my open palm, keeping my voice low. "You're with me now, part of my pack. I know it's not like it was with your family, but if you stay with me you'll become strong. Stronger even than your old pack leader ever was."

He took the berry again, brushing his snout against my hand as he pulled the berry away. He devoured the berry and looked up at me expectantly, his tail wagging excessively. I smirked back and knew that the bond was there. "That's a good boy," I said, dropping to one knee. He nuzzled into my hand, careful to avoid scratching me with the spines covering his body. "That's a very good boy."


"Any names yet?" Gemma asked. She had her feet up and a drink in her free hand. Her other hand had her pokegear up to her face, browsing through the day's news. "I still think your first idea was your best." She glanced up at my nidorino as he shook off the confusion Luna had inflicted on him. He grunted angrily and blinked away the slow look on his face before bounding back after Luna. "Fits him best."

I shrugged. "Pride?" I suggested halfheartedly, quickly losing my patience with the entire naming process. "It's alright, but it just doesn't sound great to me."

"Well how did you choose Luna?" She asked. She bent down and scooped up Curie in her arms as my happiny bounded towards her. My baby had taken an absolute liking to Gemma, practically demanding that the new lady spend her time cooing in her face rather than training me and my team. "How did you choose Curie?"

"They just came to me, naturally. It wasn't like I was giving them a name. They had their names already and I just figured it out." I stood up, grinding my teeth as I watched Luna spar with the nido. He wasn't quick, or even overly powerful. He didn't fight dirty or resort to clever tricks like Luna liked to. Try as I might, I just kept coming back to the same name. "Pride," I repeated, glancing back at Gemma for reassurance.

I got none as Curie incessantly bounced on Gemma's lap, delighted by the exciting new game. She burped and turned a violent shade of green.I suppressed a chuckle as Gemma learned firsthand why bouncing a baby after feeding was a bad idea.

I turned back to Luna and the nido and made my decision. "Front and centre, team!"

Luna looked up at me as my nido barrelled down on her. She leapt over him easily and landed lithely in front of me. My nido attempted to skid to a halt, but he had already built up too much speed. He tumbled end over end and slammed into the tree with enough force to knock a half dozen berries from the branches.

I waited until he had sauntered back over to me, watching him give Luna jealous glares as he joined her side. He plopped down haggardly as his chest heaved with exhaustion. He was raw, not in battle shape and slow to react. It was a wonder that he'd put up the fight that he had against Luna the first time. I didn't have a hope in hell unless we fixed that and made him a little more nimble.

"Alright, team, we have a lot of work ahead of us. Misty is a tougher test than Brock. She's got the type advantage and she knows that we're coming for her. I won't lie to you. This will not be an easy battle." I paced back and forth, looking down at my troops with all the fiery confidence I usually lacked. I produced a trio of TM disks from my pack and held them aloft. They glinted pink, green and yellow in the evening sun. "However, we've got a chance. If we're smart and lucky, we can pull off another upset." I lowered the TMs and looked down at Luna. "You're up first," I started. "How does moving even faster than a quick attack sound?"


I groaned with exhaustion and stretched my legs. I tossed the pokegear onto the crappy motel bed and got to my feet. I crossed the room and stared down at the parking lot of dilapidated cars, happy to be looking at anything that wasn't more battle footage. I'd been poring over Misty's gym challenges for days, watching every one of her opponents and analyzing her battle style. I'd even gone back to her own league challenge, watching battles that taught me nothing about her current team to glean some weakness in her style.

She was all attack, pushing the pace of the battle relentlessly. Very rarely would she pull back and play a defensive game, something that I mourned. I wouldn't have the time and opportunity to run circles around her like I had with Brock. Instead, she attacked until she knocked your pokemon out of commission, trusting her starmie's regenerative abilities to win her the day. The only league losses on her record were from Lance and Agatha themselves, two trainers that had both been undefeated for decades.

I had to admit that her style countered Luna quite well and downright terrified me when it came to Pride. I'd seen half a dozen videos of Misty's starmie just tossing nidorinos around helplessly and knocking them out without even worrying about a single blow. I'd turned it off after realizing that the nidorino weren't going to win that matchup.

It was demoralizing, to say the least. I was living my dream and yet I found myself up against a wall with prospects for victory bleak.

Gemma had abandoned me for some family business after pushing the TM for thunderbolt into my hands and demanding that I make myself presentable for sponsors. She wouldn't take the TM back, but I was determined that it wouldn't be all that useful in the battle anyways.

I'd used it on Pride and he just couldn't seem to get the hang of it. He had to stand there for several seconds while he charged up the necessary energy to fire off a bolt of lightning. Several seconds that we just wouldn't have against a murderous mermaid and her sea star. It made for a stunning spectacle to be sure, but I couldn't think of any situation where I'd manage to find Pride that kind of time in the middle of a battle with a starmie that outsped him easily and held the advantage at range.

I turned away from the window and sighed. We weren't ready. Luna was getting stronger every day, mastering the use of her two TMs almost effortlessly and even beginning to exhibit some rudimentary extrasensory abilities. It wasn't ready to be used in battle yet, but I still devoted an inordinate amount of time to her practicing with them. We needed every edge and I wasn't going to leave any stone unturned with less than two days to my challenge.

Pride's training however, was going about as poorly as it could have. He was tougher than Luna, but not by much. He could hit harder than Luna as well, but again not by much. He had speed to burn when running in a straight line, but he couldn't corner worth a damn. I'd taken to devising him increasingly difficult obstacle courses, but there was only so much you could realistically improve in half a week. It looked like yet again I was relying on Luna to be my ace in the hole.

Curie rolled over, whining at me from the bed and breaking my concentration. I smiled and let myself forget the upcoming battle. I could rest for one night. I crawled into the bed, my eyes half-shut in exhaustion. Curie cooed happily and cozied up against my chest. I felt Luna stir on the bed. I lost myself to exhaustion and sleep mercifully took me.


I made my way down the corridor with my head held high. It was dark, darker even than the one in Pewter had been. I caught the faint scent of salty water and felt a cool breeze rush down the corridor as the league's challenge theme began to swell.

I nervously ran my hand through my newly cut hair and straightened the pale grey jacket that I'd bought to replace the ratty one I'd left home in. Gemma had appeared at noon, handing me a new wardrobe and forcing me out the door and to a hairstylist. I wasn't used to the fuss of doing myself up all nice, but I couldn't deny that I looked damn fine compared to the night before.

I emerged into the blinding light, blinking as my eyes adjusted to the dazzling arena. A massive wave pool dominated the field, with a pair of winding rivers that emptied into the pool cutting the land portion of the field into three roughly equal portions.

Misty was waiting on her platform, her hair up in a fiery orange bun. Her swimsuit left nothing to the imagination, sweat and saltwater beading up on her bare skin. It was intoxicating, even though I knew it was just for show.

I ignored the theatrics and pushed away the distractions. Misty was good. She wanted me off balance, thinking about her body, the music and a thousand other things besides the battle.

I glanced out at the crowd for half a moment and felt my heart flutter. It was nearly full. For a novice match. I caught a glimpse of Gemma waving some absurd oversized sign and knew that she had been busy with more than just family business. Novice matches weren't spectated by this many people ever. I briefly wondered who Gemma really was, but I pushed the distraction away.

I took my place on my platform and it began to raise into the air. The massive screen across the arena wall lit up and the League emblem faded to Misty's personal crest, a single cerulean drop of water.

"GOOD AFTERNOON LADIES AND GENTS, DO WE HAVE A TREAT FOR YOU TODAY!"

I jumped slightly. The speakers were damn loud here. That or the emcee had practically swallowed the mic.

"THIS WILL BE A NOVICE CHALLENGE TO THE CERULEAN CITY GYM. LEADER MISTY WILL USE THREE POKEMON WITH NO SUBSTITUTIONS. THE CHALLENGER MAY USE UP TO SIX POKEMON, WITH TWO SUBSTITUTIONS."

The massive viewscreen on the wall flickered, mine and Misty's faces flashing across the screen to our respective sides of the arena. Three balls appeared under both our faces and I tightened my fists nervously.

I heard the roar of the crowd, and vaguely caught Gemma's shriek of encouragement over it. I blocked it out as best I could, focusing on Misty and only Misty. The lights were blinding and the noise was deafening but they seemed to fade away as I focused on my opponent.

I saw her smirk with utmost confidence as she released her first pokemon. A staryu dove into the pool and disappeared under the surface. The tan sea star erupted from the surface a half moment later, spinning into a deft landing on the shore. It stood there motionless, a picturesque example of obedience and discipline.

My eyes met Misty's cold glare and I let go of my fear. I would be a trainer. I would crush this cocky gym leader and leave her team flailing in my wake. I was a trainer. My hand dropped to my belt, lifting the first of my three balls.

"Pride, let's show them what we're made of."

My nidorino appeared in a flash of red light. He pawed the ground aggressively and sighted his first target with an angry snort. He growled at the staryu and lowered his horn threateningly.

"THE CHALLENGER HAS CHOSEN A NIDORINO TO GO UP AGAINST MISTY. CAN HE STAND AGAINST THE TIDE?"

Misty planted her hands on her hips and leaned forward slightly. "Your move first, novi-"

"I know how this works," I barked, cutting her off. She met my hard stare with a look of utter contempt. I swallowed the lump that formed in my throat and pointed forward. "Pride, horn attack!"

He bounded forward as the staryu levitated off the ground and rocketed towards him. They slammed together and separated half a moment later, blood dripping from the spikes on Pride's armoured shoulders. Pride spun on his front paws and attempted to kick the staryu with his hind paws.

The little tan sea star hit the sandy shore hard, but rose back into the air. One of the staryu's limbs was bent at an uncomfortable angle. The jewel in the middle of the sea star shone a dim red. Its bent limb began to bend back into position and the bleeding gashes began to seal shut.

I knew we couldn't let Misty finish healing. She still had two more pokemon to get through. Attack was the only option.

"Push the pace! Fury attack!"

Pride was back on the staryu, slamming into it several times. He drove it further inland, away from the wave pool. It whined and spun as Pride came in for another attack.

The staryu connected solidly with Pride's jaw. He recoiled in pain and shrunk back as the staryu came to a halt and emitted a high tone. Its central gem began to glow as the tone built to a deafening level.

Then the sound was gone, drowned out by the beam of screaming psychic light that erupted from the staryu's gem. It hit Pride cleanly in the side, catapulting my nido across the arena and through one of the streams flowing into the wave pool.

I grimaced for Pride. That had to have hurt. He struggled back to his feet as the staryu floated lazily towards him, the same terrible tone as before building in volume.

"Get clear!" I shouted.

Pride heard the urgency in my voice and it seemed to spur something in him. He bolted as the staryu let loose a second psybeam that tore a shrieking path through the sand. Pride bounded out of the way and dashed along the edge of the shore, giving the staryu a wide berth.

The staryu turned and fired off another psybeam, this one weaker and only half charged. It ploughed into the sand in front of Pride, a vain attempt to lead the target.

"Tighten up," I shouted. "Don't give it the space."

Despite his unfamiliarity with taking orders, Pride was relatively bright. He knew that he would never win a duel with the staryu at range. His only chance was to get in close and pummel the sea star into submission. He turned mid-stride, avoiding another beam of psychic energy that carved uncomfortably close to his flank.

The staryu let loose with a barrage of beams, hoping to trip Pride up or knock him off balance so it could deliver another solid blow. They weren't half as powerful as before, but there were so many of them. The air seemed to saturate with psychic energy and my mind struggled to fight through the haze. We had to close the gap to stop the barrage, but there was no path. There was no clear path to close the gap.

Pride's chest was heaving with exhaustion as he struggled to stay in front of the psybeams. His feet were moving a mile a minute, desperately running an ever tightening circle around the staryu. Any misstep would have resulted in failure. A single mistake would have ended the battle. Pride fought through it all with every ounce of pride in his body.

Then I saw it. One of the psybeams glanced off his flank and he shrugged it off with hardly a thought. We'd closed the distance now, cut the corners of the circle until we were within striking distance. The noose was tightened. The battle would end with the next exchange.

"Now!" I shouted. "Horn attack!"

Pride changed course more quickly than I had thought him capable of. He cut hard under the staryu's barrage and the sea star overcorrected hard. The psybeam tore into the sand harmlessly as Pride closed the last few paces completely unchallenged.

Pride gored the staryu on the edge of its gem, horn sinking deep into the base of the limb. My nidorino didn't let up. The staryu attempted to flee, but its levitation failed as it soared towards the pool. Pride bore down on it, determined not to let his quarry escape.

The staryu disappeared in a flash of red light. I breathed a sigh of relief and looked down at Pride. He limped back towards our side of the field, away from the water. His chest was heaving and I could see him fighting to suck down air.

I got down on one knee and leaned over the edge of the platform. "You remember the plan for this one?"

"WHAT A START FOR THE CHALLENGER!" Boomed the emcee. "MISTY'S STARYU IS DOWN! THIS NIDORINO HAS SOME SPUNK!"

Pride nodded and turned back to face Misty as she released an absolutely stunning goldeen. I paused for a moment, marvelling at her pokemon's flowing fins and radiant colours. It hit me then that I'd never actually seen a goldeen outside of pictures. Pictures that couldn't do justice to the magnificent creature in front of me. I resolved right then and there to learn everything I could about aquatic pokemon, even if only to satisfy my curiosity.

My attention turned back to Pride. He'd taken a few blows, but seemed to be no worse for wear after he caught his breath. He could take a fish. Even one as gorgeous as Misty's.

"MISTY'S CHOSEN HER GOLDEEN NEXT! CAN THE CHALLENGER STAY AFLOAT?"

I grinned ear to ear, knowing that my next move would send shockwaves through the gym. Literally. "Pride," I started. "Light it up!"

He closed his eyes and I watched him bow his head in concentration. Sparks crackled along his flanks, electricity jumping along his spines as they raced for his horn.

I saw Misty's eyes widen in realization. I heard her voice panic as she shrieked at her goldeen to dive. I watched her face twist in frustration as she realized that there would be no escape.

A bolt of lightning erupted from my nidorino's horn. It split and forked into a half dozen spears that dove eagerly into the water. It lasted all of a second, but the damage was done. I'd forced her to concede the second round before she could inflict even a single blow on Pride.

Misty already had her ball up, returning the goldeen before any real damage could be done. I nervously bounced back and forth on the balls of my feet. This had all just been an elaborate show. I'd learned something in my research. Misty had a preference for the dramatic finish. She liked to let trainers whittle down her pokemon just so she could crush them with her starmie. She was an entertainer through and through, and her battle style showed that beautifully.

"I DON'T BELIEVE IT! CHALLENGER WRIGHT HAS CRUSHED OUR LEADER'S GOLDEEN WITH A SINGLE MOVE!" The crowd was roaring, Gemma's voice loud and clear over the din. "THIS NIDORINO HAS TAKEN DOWN TWO OF MISTY'S POKEMON, CAN IT KEEP GOING?"

Misty raised her last ball. We both knew what was coming. She smirked at me from across the field and tossed her ball in the air.

The starmie that had kept me up fro the past week spun through the air with ease. It stopped short of landing, the arena humming with psychic power. The starmie let out two low, threatening tones and I vaguely heard the crowd roar with delight in response.

My arm went up with Pride's ball and he disappeared with a flash of red light. A thirty second timer appeared on the screen. I didn't need it. I knew what my choices were. I knew what my only real choice was.

"WHATS THIS? THE CHALLENGER IS BURNING ONE OF HIS SUBSTITUTIONS!"

"Luna!" I tossed her ball and she appeared with a prance. She tossed her head to the roof and let out a pitchy howl. Her tails flared and she planted her paws in the soft, damp sand. "Let's finish strong."

Misty cocked her head to the side, smirking at me with supreme confidence. As far as she knew, I had played my only trump card. I had shown my hand and ensured her victory. How wrong she was. "Ready to watch your vulpix get washed away?" she spat in derision.

I smirked back with the confidence of someone who refused to lose. "We'll see who's the one that's all washed up!" I looked down at Luna and met her eyes. "Agility!"

Luna rocketed off as I finished the command, appearing as little more than a rusty tan blur as she streaked across the sandy field.

The starmie rose into the air, putting itself out of physical range. It let out a powerful tone and I felt reality bend to its will.

"Faster!" I shouted. Desperation crept back in. One hit would be all it needed. One blow and Luna would be vulnerable to a follow up that would put her out of commission.

Luna redoubled her efforts as an unseen force slammed into the sandy beach behind her. A plume of sand kicked into the air and I realized that Misty was not kidding around. She would pummel Luna into the ground to prove that I hadn't actually earned my Boulder badge.

"On the offensive!" I roared. "Just like we practiced!"

Luna stopped for half a heartbeat, green light swirling in her jaws. She loosed the energy ball and leapt away. Another telekinetic slam pounded the sand where Luna had been standing.

The energy ball tore through the starmie's limbs. One of the sea star's limbs crashed lifeless to the sand as two more hung on by the barest threads of tissue. It shrieked a shrill, pained tone as it dove for the water.

"Again!" I shouted. "Before it gets underwater."

Luna surged forward. Green light began to leak from her mouth, giving her tan blur a green streak. She skidded to a halt at the shoreline and let the growing ball of green energy loose.

It sheared into the starmie's bloodied legs again as it fled. Blood sprayed again as it disappeared into the surf, leaving a pair of limbs behind.

I frowned. We hadn't beaten it. Not even close. We hadn't even dealt it any lasting damage since it could just regenerate those limbs for the next bout. All we'd managed to do was annoy it.

The wave pool began to stir and I felt my heart skip a beat. Now we were well and truly at a disadvantage. Our opponent had found her way into her own terrain. Now we would face the wrath of the sea.

"Luna, run!"

My vulpix took off as the starmie burst from the cresting wave. The severed limbs had regrown and its gem was shining with psychic light. I felt the roar of the crowd in my chest and I knew it was hopeless. Luna was fast, but there was nowhere to run.

Luna barrelled inland with a roaring surge of water at her back. The furious starmie soared high above the wave, jets of water forming up on each side of it. Luna skidded and scrambled away from the first jet, but the second struck true. It hit my vulpix on her flank, sending her stumbling. She tried to keep moving, but she'd lost too much speed to stay in front of the tidal wave.

It crashed down on my vulpix, pounding the shore into a frothy mess. I lost sight of Luna in the surf and felt my heart beat into my chest. It was over. We had lost.

The surf receded and I spotted Luna, sopping wet and covered in sand, but still stubbornly conscious. The starmie was unfocused, concentrating on the enormous amounts of water surging back into the pool. Luna looked up at me, an expression of complete and utter displeasure on her vulpine face. She was sopping wet, something that I'd only witnessed once when she fell into the pond near my farm.

The starmie let out an angry tone and spun back from the water. It closed on Luna as she struggled to her feet, terrible psychic noise building as its gem began to glow.

I had moments, not enough for Luna to fire off an energy ball. She was spent, her chest heaving in utter exhaustion. She couldn't run. She couldn't fight. She could only watch as the starmie toyed with the final moments of her battle.

"Confuse Ray!" I ordered, silently praying that she had the strength to give Pride a ghost of a chance. It wasn't much, but it was all I had.

Luna's eyes glowed as she flared her tails. A trio of eerie lights twisted forth as the starmie loosed a devastating psybeam. It pummelled into my vulpix, finally knocking my starter out of the battle.

I raised my ball, defeat setting in. Luna had been my only hope. She had been my only real counter to Misty's terrifying sea star. Curie was just a baby. Pride didn't have the speed and agility to contest the match. We were completely and utterly done.

"CHALLENGER WRIGHT'S VULPIX IS DOWN FOR THE COUNT! MISTY'S ACE TURNS THE BATTLE ON ITS HEAD YET AGAIN FOLKS. CAN HE TURN THIS AROUND?"

I raised Pride's ball as my heart sank into my stomach. He appeared on the field, his head held high. He growled at the starmie and I felt my pride swell at my newest team member. I stiffened my spine in response. If he was going to face his fate with defiance then I would too.

"Pride, horn attack!"

The starmie spun towards him, wobbling almost imperceptibly. My eyes widened. Luna had done it. The confuse ray had landed. We had our ghost of a chance.

Pride charged without fear, his horn lowered in anticipation. The starmie blared another tone and built the same terrible noise as before. I swore as it loosed a powerful psybeam. It went wide, the starmie's aim compromised in its confusion. Pride closed the gap in a bound, burying his horn up to the base in one of the starmie's limbs.

It shrieked in pain, recoiling instantly. It spun, using its telekinesis to catapult Pride away as oozing purple goop leaked from the wound. It shook violently as it levitated away and I saw our opening. It was hurt. The poison likely would interfere with its regenerative abilities, at least until it could purge itself. We had our ghost of a chance.

Pride landed on his feet, skidding to a halt and growling angrily. He lowered his horn, seeming to know exactly what my next command would be.

"Thunderbolt!" I shouted to the heavens.

Pride was already beginning the charge, electricity jumping along his spines. I heard the noise in the arena fizzle and die as my nidorino primed the finishing blow.

Misty's starmie rocketed forward abandoning its long range abilities. The confusion had compromised its aim and it couldn't be sure of a knockout. It spun as it closed and I clenched my fists. It was close, so close.

A bolt of lightning erupted from Pride's horn. It jumped through the air, impaling the starmie's central jewel before arcing again into a dozen forks that drove into the ground. It was over as soon as it began, but the damage had been done.

The roar of psychic power faded and the starmie crashed into the sand. It remained motionless for a long moment, its gem dark and silent. The crowd was silent. I was silent. Misty was silent. The the silence popped and the crowd erupted with noise.

"LEADER MISTY HAS BEEN DEFEATED. THE CHALLENGER HAS EARNED THE CASCADE BADGE!"

The roar of the crowd was the sweetest noise a guy could ever have asked for. I dropped to my knees, looking down at Pride. His eyes met mine and I knew that we would be champions together. Together, we could do anything.


Pokedex entry #121: Starmie

This peaceful creature lives on the ocean floor. Despite their formidable psychic abilities, this creature is relatively docile. Their diet consists of microscopic plankton and algae. When threatened, starmie have been known to tear off their own limbs and leave them for the attacker.

Many divers have reported that when gathered in large numbers, starmie will synchronize their gems to pulsate in time with the rest of the swarm. it is unknown what the purpose for this is, but theories range from outlandish ideas like interstellar communication to a much simpler mating display.



Novice Trainer KT#07996101, current roster

Luna, Vulpix

Curie, Happiny

Pride, Nidorino
 
Chapter 5: Goodbye

joshthewriter

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Goodbye


Gemma met me after the battle, shepherding me through an interview with the waiting Indigo News 4 reporter. I stumbled through her questions, blinking like an idiot with that absurdly bright light in my eyes. She thanked me for my time and pressed a piece of paper into my hand that Gemma assured me was her phone number. I saw stars all the way to the dive bar that Gemma had picked out for us.

By the time my vision had completely returned, Gemma had me a dazzling array of drinks and shots waiting for me. I grinned down at them and looked up at her. "You like to party?" I asked. I'd never drank much on the farm, only a few stolen sips of wine or beer over the years. Hell, I'd never even been into a bar except for the one time I'd tried to sneak into one with Sarah Walker when we were sixteen.

She smirked and lifted the first pair of shots. "To victory!" she said. "And to celebrating said victory properly!"

We tipped back the shots and so began my night of endless revelry. I'll be completely honest, I don't remember much. I vaguely remember a few people congratulating me on my win, but the other patrons left us alone for the most part. I know that we left the bar at some point, possibly because Gemma drank through their entire stock. Gemma wasn't entirely clear on the reason we had to leave and I was in no state to ask. Where we went from there was even more hazy. I think we frequented another bar, but I'm not entirely certain.

I know that I got back to my hotel room fine because I woke up on the edge of my motel bed with my pants pulled halfway down one leg and my pokegear stuck to my side. Luna was curled up against Curie on the pillows and Pride was lounging at the foot of the bed. I stood up groggily and instantly regretted the sudden movement.

I dashed to the bathroom as the contents of my stomach evacuated in a hurry. I made it into the bathroom just in time as I cursed Gemma for all she was worth.


The pokegear screamed at me, rousing me from my slumber. I rolled over, reaching for the device. An angry knock at the door startled me. I glanced down at the pokegear screen. Gemma's call ended and I saw that I had missed half a dozen others. I rolled out of the bed and crossed to the door, peeking through the peephole. Gemma was staring back at me.

I stepped back and desperately scanned the room for my pants. I pulled them on and opened the door with the best grin that I could muster. "Mornin," I grumbled.

She was in the door before I could even blink. She pushed through me and had the door closed and locked as I stumbled over my own feet. I landed on my ass and looked up at her in confusion.

She closed the blinds quickly, peering out at the parking lot. The pokeball logo on her travel jacket was shredded. Her back was stained a dark red and I had a horrified realization that it was bloody flesh I could see through the torn leather.

"Gemma," I started, sobriety coming back to me as I fought back a gag. "you're bleeding. I looks really bad."

She glanced back at me and I saw the fear in her eyes. She had a shallow cut on her cheek and her left eye was swollen shut. "They got Lilith when we tried to run. She's gone."

My heart dropped in my chest. "Shit." I said plainly. "What do we do? Who is it? Who's after you?"

She stepped away from the window and sank into the ratty chair, staining the faded green fabric. "I don't know. They came out of nowhere." She glanced over at the bed and spotted my pokegear. "Can I make a call? I have to reach my father."

I nodded and retrieved it for her. She dialed the number silently and I sat back down on the bed. My mind was racing. Gemma was nearly invincible to me. To think that Lilith, the impossibly feisty fearow was dead just made my mind spin faster. Whoever had gone after Gemma was ruthless, cutting down her means of escape and nearly killing her.

"Dad," she said. I looked up at her. "Someone just tried to kill me." There was a long pause while he talked. I retrieved one of the water bottles from the room's mini fridge and handed it to her. "I don't know who it was, dad. They killed Lilith, cut her goddamn head off when I let her out. I barely got away myself!" She took the water, nodding at me thankfully. "No, I'm safe now. I found a friend to lay low with."

There was another long pause while she listened. Then she looked up at me. "He wants to speak with you too." She pressed the speakerphone button and I heard a frustrated voice barking orders. "We're both here, dad."

"Thank you, darling." The background noise faded and I got the sense that he had moved to a quieter room. "I am sending Leader Sabrina to collect you. She should be there in less than an hour. You are both to remain where you are until she arrives." There was a small pause and I glanced nervously at Gemma. "I apologize to both of you for the situation I have put you in. Silph is on the edge of a breakthrough that will revolutionize the world as we know it. I had hoped that knowledge of this breakthrough would not leak, but perhaps that may have been naïve."

Gemma's face screwed up in frustration and pain. "This is about your work?" She asked. "They killed my goddamn fearow to get at you?"

The man's voice seemed to waver. "Yes," he started. "It seems that there have been recent threats to Silph, threats that we should have taken more seriously before now. Regardless, we-"

"YOU MEAN YOU KNEW!"

I stepped away from the phone. This was something that was very much not for me. I felt my chest tighten and I nervously glanced out the window.

"YOU KNEW THERE WAS A TANGIBLE THREAT TO ME AND YOU DIDN'T SAY A DAMN THING!"

There was a stunned silence for a moment. Gemma's face was one of utter disappointment and shock. She slowly lowered the pokegear, looking blankly at the floor.

"Sabrina will collect you within the hour, Gemma. You will remain in Saffron until the danger is gone." He paused and Gemma remained silent. She was unresponsive, staring at the ground in defeated silence. "Is the young man still here?"

"I am," I said, finding my voice. "How can I help, sir?"

"What is your name?"

"Marcus," I replied.

"Unfortunately, Sabrina will only be able to take Gemma with her. You will have to leave Cerulean immediately. You have my thanks, young man. Keep her safe until Sabrina arrives and you can consider yourself a Silph sponsored trainer."

I glanced down at Gemma, looking over the bloody mess of her back. "I'll keep her safe, sir."

"Thank you," he replied. "Is Gemma still there?"

She looked up at me and shook her head.

"No sir, I think she's gone to the washroom."

He sighed softly through the phone. "I understand. I am sorry, darling. I love you. We will speak more when you arrive."

"Thanks, Dad." She ended the call and looked up at me with bleary eyes. She was on the verge of tears. I picked up the half eaten pack of yucca berry muffins and held them out to her. She reached out and took one. "Thanks," she said numbly.

I pointed down at her back. "We need to do something for your back."

She shook her head numbly. "Sabrina will be here soon," she replied. She gingerly poked at her swollen eye and winced.

"Here," I opened the fridge again and pulled out the other cold water. "Wash it off. We gotta get you cleaned up."

"No," she started, already protesting. "I'm fine-"

I put the water bottle down beside her. Hard. "Enough, Gemma. You're covered in blood. Now, I don't know what's going on, but you have an open wound on your back and a nasty looking cut on your cheek. We gotta at least clean you up and make sure you aren't still bleeding."

"Bastard had a scyther," she said weakly. I saw the pain and emotion on her face, saw the hurt in her eyes. I could hardly imagine the pain of watching one of my pokemon die.

I smirked, trying to lighten the mood slightly. I shoved away the morbid thoughts and knew just what to say. "Better story than a paras chewing my face off."

She laughed and I saw her wince in pain as she realized that it hurt to laugh. "Thanks, novice." She turned and I silently set to work bandaging the shredded mess of meat that had been her back.


Sabrina arrived less than half an hour later. She was practically a child, but she had this aura of supreme superiority about her. Everything about her told me that this diminutive pre-teen was not what she seemed. She had me gather my things and teleported me halfway along Route Five, so I could leave the city without being seen. I worried about racking up late check out charges, but I pushed the thought away after I called to tell the motel that an emergency had popped up.

Gemma didn't call that night, nor even the next. I wandered aimlessly south towards the tunnel to the traditional third gym in Vermillion, devoting my time and energy into training Pride and Luna. I briefly considered stopping at home, but decided against it. Even with the teleport out of town, Someone could still be following me. Like hell I was leading them home. I may not have been on the best terms with my Pa, but I would never do anything to put them in danger.

I kept to the fringe of the route, avoiding most of the trainers looking for challenges there. I was more confident in Luna and Pride now, but still would rather they save their strength for training and wild pokemon. There were less wild pokemon along route five, partly due to the proximity to two of Kanto's largest cities and the increasing urbanization of the area. It was still relatively heavily forested, but I came across more and more small communities much like the one I'd grown up in.

Most of the wild pokemon that we came across were weaker pidgey or rattata, with a few meowth every now and then. The few trainers that we did face off with were mostly two-badge novices like myself. I fared pretty well against them, only losing once to a girl who only had a politoed. I steered well clear of the three-badge trainers. We weren't ready for an intermediate challenge yet, something that I was acutely aware of.

On the third night, just after I got the fire started, my pokegear started ringing. Luna and Pride were lounging in the heat and Curie was snoring on top of my pack. I sat back, flipped it open and smiled when I saw Gemma's contact picture smiling at me.

"Was beginning to wonder when you'd call," I said with a grin. "Had me worried there."

"Sorry," she replied. Her voice was ragged and tired. "Just got out of surgery last night, I've been sleeping since then. Apparently the asshole that jumped me poisoned his scyther's blades. Almost didn't make it off the table."

"Definitely a better story than the paras," I remarked. "Glad you're gonna pull through, Luna got worried." I looked down at Luna, who rolled her eyes at me. "Any idea when you'll be back out here with me?"

She sighed heavily and I felt her frustration through the phone. "I can't. My back won't heal for a while and Father has me on lockdown until these threats blow over. He's been getting them for months, but this is the first time they've actually carried through on one."

I frowned. I'd enjoyed Gemma's company and I knew she was enjoying the mentor role. "Any idea when that'll happen? I'll be honest, I kind of miss the relentless teasing."

"Apparently the product in question doesn't launch until next winter. Maybe then, maybe after that. Father hasn't made up his mind yet."

"I'm gonna miss you out here," I said. "Not the same without you. I might just take it slow so when you get out, we have the same amount of badges."

"Don't you dare," she retorted. "I have less than nothing to do all day. You better be in the opening ceremony of this year's Indigo Conference, or else I'll be literally die with boredom."

My smile returned. "Any tips for Surge then?"

I could practically feel the life come back to her voice. I heard her chuckle and felt a chill run down my spine. I knew what that chuckle meant. "Prepare for war."


I emerged from the tunnel after almost an entire day spent trudging down a dreary tunnel, shielding my eyes from the mid-day sun. The tunnel ran underneath Saffron, crossed by another tunnel running east-west. The stairs up to the surface were blocked however, heavy doors that looked out of place shutting every stairwell. Heavy doors that looked as though they were designed to stop an angry ryhorn. Gemma had mentioned that Silph was stepping up security, but these seemed excessive.

Curie squealed with joy at the sight of the sun and I felt her pound happily on my shoulder as we emerged onto a tall hill. It was all downhill to Vermilion City and I could see the sun sparkling out on the bay. A massive cruise liner was slowly pulling out to sea, wake spreading out behind it.

My hand dropped to my belt, releasing Pride and Luna. They bounded off into the brush, scoping out possible routes that would keep us away from most of the trainers along route six. They both returned to me within a minute, ears perked up and noses raised to the air. Something had spooked them.

I pulled out my pokegear and flipped over to the map tab. A flashing orange alert was overlaid on Saffron and the surrounding routes. I tapped on the alert.

CIVIL DISTURBANCES REPORTED. COMPLY WITH ANY/ALL INDIGO LEAGUE DIRECTIVES. SAFFRON CITY IS CURRENTLY UNDER LOCKDOWN. NO ENTRY/EXIT PERMITTED.

I frowned. Gemma hadn't mentioned anything about Saffron being locked down, and the North gatehouse had seemed open when I entered the tunnel. Something serious must have happened.

I flipped over to the phone tab and hovered over Gemma's number. I shook my head and turned off the pokegear. She had enough on her plate. I didn't really need to know what had happened and I doubted that Silph would want their dirty laundry Aires out to everyone who asked.

We moved south, cautiously as my pokemon were still spooked by something. Pride and Luna stayed within eyesight, both of them keeping the path ahead clear. Wild pokemon were more common here, along the stretch of route six that ran along the coast. Mostly rattata, but a few meowth came across our path. I swear we came across persian tracks once, but we never saw another sign of the Vermillion corridor's premier predator. I kept my eyes peeled nonetheless and the tension seemed to ease the further we got from Saffron.

We stayed just off the marked path, following along game trails that traced Route Five south. Luna kept up her practice with her burgeoning psychic abilities while Pride honed his thunderbolts. He still had a delay while he charged the bolt, but he had noticeably improved the size and strength of the bolt itself.

We made camp that night under a clear sky. Pride and Luna sprawled out by the fire, with Curie curled up in my bedroll. I watched the stars for a long while that night. It was peaceful.

We woke with the sun. I packed my camp and we were on our way again. Surge was waiting, and we still had a long way to Vermillion.


Three days. I kept the pace for three days. Vermillion was less than a day's walk and I had to restock on supplies. I was running dangerously low on potions and only had enough food left for another meal or two.

We had made camp not even an hour before. Luna started me a fire while I hastily strung up my small tarp. It wouldn't do much, but I could tell it was going to rain. I didn't want to get caught sleeping in the open when it finally did.

My pokegear buzzed angrily and started barking a furious tone in my pocket. I flipped it open.

EMERGENCY ALERT. TENTA SWARM DETECTED IN RAINBOW BAY. ALL INDIGO RANGERS ROUTE TO VERMILLION FOR COASTAL DEFENCE. TRAINERS STAND BY TO ASSIST.

Luna barked once, then growled a warning at a noise in the trees. I looked up. Two kids were staring at us from the tree line. Neither of them wore a pack, but I could see the balls on their belts. Trainers. They couldn't have been more than eleven or twelve, they were just children.

"Hi there," I said calmly, folding away my pokegear. "Can I help you two?"

The girl shoved the boy forward. He mumbled at me nervously, glancing back at the girl as he fumbled over his words.

"Slow down," I said. I returned Luna and Pride to their balls and approached the two kids. They were shaking, terrified of something. "What happened?"

"W-w-we were just training and…" the boy stuttered. He a dark complexion and his hair was close cropped to his head.

"It came out of the water," the girl continued. "Scared us away from camp and t-t-took our friend when he tried to stop them."

I frowned. Water pokemon were not my specialty. Even if I had beaten Misty, that was mostly luck and bullshit. Real wild pokemon would not hesitate to go for the easy meal. "What came out of the water?" I asked, a sinking feeling growing in my stomach.

"Tentacruel," the boy replied. He slowed his breathing and seemed to calm himself somewhat. "Two of them came out of the bay, right onto land. I though tentacruel couldn't leave the ocean?"

I scowled. "They shouldn't be able to," I replied. "I don't know much about water types though. What pokemon do you two have?"

"Magby," said the boy.

"Bulbasaur," said the girl.

I frowned. "Then we don't have the firepower to take down two tentacruel. Hold on, let me call in for ranger support."

"Our friend has a hitmonchan," interrupted the boy. "And a togetic. He could help us."

"And where is he?" I asked. "If the tentacruel took him…" my voice trailed off. I didn't have the heart to tell two kids that their friend was likely dead already. "Look," I started. "Either way, I'm not going in without some backup. You two aren't strong enough to stand up to wild tentacruel yet. Hell, I'm not even that strong. Alone, we all die."

"Ronnie needs our help, mister. Call the rangers, but we have to go now." He looked me in the eyes and I felt him looking at my very soul. "Trainers help each other."

That cut me deep. Gemma had said it to me before, as a happy reasoning for saving my life. Who was I if I didn't pay that favour back? I flipped over to the phone of my pokegear and dialed the ranger hotline.

It rang only once before it picked up. I could hear loud shouting, a dozen different voices talking over each other. "Indigo Ranger assistance line," said a gruff voice.

"I have an active emergency situation on Route Five. I have two kids trapped by a pair of tentacruel just south of Saffron. Possible third trainer already down." I hoped desperately that they had someone, anyone in the area.

The voice on the other end paused for a moment. "Ranger coastguard is currently engaged with a large tenta swarm on Rainbow Bay. All other rangers have been routed to Vermillion for coastal defence." He paused for a long moment. "I've pinged Saffron Command, but they've got their hands full with the attacks on Silph. Looks like you're on your own, kid."

I swore. Loudly. I turned to the two kids as the line went dead, my heart pounding in my chest. I was on my own, no backup to help me, no experienced trainer to pull my ass out of the fire. Just me and two scared kids to save a trainer in trouble. I had to help. There was no choice.

I got to my feet, clipping Pride and Luna's balls onto my belt. I looked down at the kids with all the confidence I could muster. They didn't need a scared novice right now. "Take me to your camp," I said calmly. "Trainers help each other."


It took us entirely too long to reach the camp. More than fifteen minutes passed while the two kids led me towards what I was sure would be the site of a massacre. We stopped about fifty meters away from the clearing. I could smell some terrible putrid odor, mixed with the unmistakable bitter stench of smoke. I ordered the kids to stay well back while I checked out the scene. I didn't want them to see what was left of their friend.

I crept through the trees, looking down at the clearing. A half dozen trees had fallen, knocked aside by the tentacruel when they'd come ashore. I could see the smouldering remnants of their campfire still belching smoke into the air. The entire clearing was damp and the trees that still stood had water dripping down them.

The tentacruel themselves were nowhere to be seen. There were several large scrape marks leading to and from the ocean, as though the tentacruel had dragged themselves on shore. I saw bloody tracks leading back to the ocean and felt a shiver going down my spine. That could have been this Ronnie's blood. Could have been his pokemon's. I steeled my nerves. Then I saw it. The hitmonchan was propped up against a tree, a bloody puddle spreading out underneath him. There was a gaping hole in the pokemon's chest and it's limbs were splayed out at strange angles. I didn't see a togetic, or Ronnie.

The tentacruel were gone, but the kids didn't need to see what had happened to the hitmonchan. They had things they needed in that camp and I wanted us out of here before something hungry smelled the waiting meal. I turned around and began to pick my way through the underbrush. A flash of yellow eyes in the shadows caught my eye and I stopped dead. I stared into the dark and felt a pit in my stomach. I was not alone.

I let Luna out for my walk back to the kids, watching intently for movement at the edges of my vision. I didn't see the flash of yellow eyes again, but I knew that I was still being watched. Probably by a persian if the yellow eyes were any indication.

I looked down at the kids once I reached them. "What do you need from your site?" I asked solemnly. "The tentacruel have left, but I don't know how long they've been gone. I want to be quick, before any hungry pokemon decide to take a look at the camp. Last thing we need is more trouble right now."

"Ronnie?" asked the boy. I saw the hope in his eyes. He must have been close with him. I knew he wasn't gonna like my answer.

I shook my head slowly. "I didn't see him," I said. My voice died in my throat and I had to avert my eyes. "I found his hitmonchan. It didn't look good, kid."

The boy looked down at the ground. "Stinger didn't make it?"

I shook my head and watched the boy's world crash down around him. "Look," I started. "you two stay here. I'll grab anything you two need from the camp. It's getting dark now, but in the morning I'll take you to Vermillion."

They both nodded and began relaying the essentials they left behind. I left Luna with them and let Pride out. I was loathe to part with Luna for any reason, but I wasn't letting a persian ambush my new wards while I collected their things. Pride sniffed cautiously at the air and I knew that he could sense something was wrong. His ears twitched nervously as we made our way back to the camp, but again I didn't see the flash of yellow eyes.

I collected the kids' things and stuffed what I could into my pack. I transferred the essentials from the smaller bag into the larger one and kept an eye over my shoulder while Pride prowled the edges of the clearing. By the time I was done, the light of the sun was fading rapidly and the storm clouds over Rainbow Bay were starting to move towards the shore. I glanced over at the hitmonchan and felt a twinge of regret in my chest.

I crossed the clearing and looked down at the pokemon sadly. This could easily have been me, or either of the kids. Whoever this Ronnie was, he had saved the kids and given his own life in the process. I couldn't help but wonder what he must have been like, what must have been going through his head in those last moments. I knelt in front of the hitmonchan and whispered a silent apology. I hadn't been fast enough to save Ronnie. But I could make sure his sacrifice wasn't in vain.

I got to my feet, still regarding the hitmonchan mournfully. Pride whined and trotted over to my side. I deftly scratched between the spines on his shoulder, drawing a satisfied grunt. "Let's go, Pride. Nothing more we can do."

I returned to the kids, again with the feeling that something was hungrily watching me. I didn't see anything, which infuriated me to no end. Both the kids had their pokemon out, sitting against the base of a tree. Their eyes were wide, scanning the encroaching darkness for any dangers. The boy took the pack without question and I motioned for them to follow me.

We made our way back to my camp just as the rain began to fall. I let the two of them crash in my bedroll and sat back against a tree. Luna curled up against my leg and I stayed there, just watching the rain fall.


I nudged the kids with my foot. They stirred and slowly began to crawl from my bedroll. The sun was still hidden by the rain clouds and the sky was grey and dull. I'd stayed up the whole night, watching the darkness for any more signs of the persian. The foreboding sense that something was watching us never left, but nothing disturbed my watch.

"We should reach Vermillion by lunch," I started. "You can use my phone to call your family, if you'd like."

The boy nodded ecstatically. He clambered out of my bedroll and took my pokegear.

I turned and began to pack my camp. By the time I was done, the girl had woken and called her parents. They were planning on meeting us in Vermillion, along with the boy's father.

The journey to Vermillion went smoothly. We cut back to the main road through the route and joined the traffic heading to the city. Dozens of trainers were all heading the same direction we were. It was only a few at first, but more and more trainers kept ducking onto the route as we got closer to the city. Apparently the tenta swarm was pushing closer to Vermillion. They were defying all attempts at repelling them and pushing through the Ranger cordon.

I glanced at the kids. They seemed scared, but no more so than the day before. I kept them close to me and we just followed the crowd to Vermillion. We reached the gates before noon and called both the kids' parents.

Not twenty minutes later, two hysterical middle-aged folks appeared from the crowd. The balding man scooped up the girl in a crushing hug while the mother hysterically fussed over every single scratch on the girl. They thanked me half a hundred times, promising me a reward for saving their little girl. I turned them down on the spot. I hadn't done anything really, just kept them out of danger after their friend had died. Ronnie deserved that reward. Not me.

They left as quickly as they came, taking the girl with them into the crowd. The boy turned to me and I saw his question coming before he even asked it.

"Why did you turn down the reward?" he asked. "Lily's parents have money. They could have afforded it."

I looked him in the eyes. I wanted him to know just how much what he said affected me. "It was something you said," I started. "A friend told me it once before too. Trainers help each other." I shrugged and looked up at the grey sky. "You needed help. Ronnie needed help. I didn't make it in time to help Ronnie, I don't deserve that money."

He looked down at his feet, and I caught the tears in his eyes. "He was my cousin," the boy said. "My mom only let me go on my journey because I was with him. Now he's gone, and all this is over." He looked back up at me, practically shaking. "I lose my cousin and my dream in the same day."

"I know," I replied. "It sucks. Life isn't fair most of the time, kid." I shrugged. "You picked a dangerous dream. This life… this dream… it's not for everyone." I turned my head and lifted my scraggy mess of hair to show him my ear. "I got this right after I earned my first badge. I was embarrassed by it at first, but I was wrong. Things like this? They're the cost of living this life. I wouldn't trade it for anything, and if your cousin was anything like that then he wouldn't have either."

He looked at me as the tears began to clear from his eyes. "It looks so different on the TV."

"I know it does, kid." I dropped to one knee and levelled with him. "But if this is what you want, then you gotta accept that."

He nodded slowly to himself. "Thank you, mister…" he raised his eyebrow. "I just realized I don't know your name."

"I'm Marcus. Marcus Wright."

"Thank you, Marcus." He let his tears fade and shot me a weak smile. "I'm Robert."

"Thank you, Mr. Wright." A deep voice beside me startled me. "Our family is in your debt."

I leapt to my feet, my heart pounding. I turned and gave my best smile to the towering mountain of a man. "It's not a problem," I started. "My only regret is that I wasn't able to do more to help Ronnie. Robert here tells me he was part of the family."

The man frowned. "Yes, my nephew." He sighed heavily. "He convinced us that he could keep Robert safe." He crossed his arms and frowned. "I guess he did so."

Robert turned and hung his head. "I'm sorry, dad."

The mountain shook his head. "We'll deal with it when we get home. You'll have to call auntie Dot when we get home. She's been beside herself since you called." He looked at me and gave me a weak smile. "Thank you for your help. Our family is truly grateful."

I nodded and smiled. Robert mumbled his apologies and thanked me without meeting my eyes. They turned and left without another word, disappearing into the crowd.

My pokegear beeped angrily and I heard the alert of a hundred other pokegear in Vermillion chirp along with mine. I flipped open the device and opened the alert.

EMERGENCY ALERT. ALL TRAINERS ARE HEREBY PLACED UNDER LEAGUE AUTHORITY. ALL TRAINERS IN VERMILLION REPORT TO LIEUTENANT COLONEL SURGE FOR ORDERS. TENTA SWARM ATTACK IMMINENT. CIVIL DEFENCE PROTOCOLS ACTIVE.


Pokedex entry #53 - Persian

This apex predator has adapted marvellously to urban and semi-urban enviroments. Originally making its home in the large forests of central Kanto, this feline pokemon faced extreme habitat loss due to expansion of farmlands around Saffron City.

These pokemon become noticeably more aggressive in recent years. Persian have been spotted wandering into smaller towns or villages and disembowelling family pets for sport. They have been known to feign affection in order to get close to humans. Any sightings of this extremely dangerous pokemon should be reported to Rangers immediately.



Novice Trainer KT#07996101, Marcus Wright, current roster

Luna, Vulpix

Curie, Happiny

Pride, Nidorino
 
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Chapter 6: Vermillion

joshthewriter

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Vermillion


I stood at the seawall, a pair of trainers flanking me on each side. I'd arrived at the rally point too late to catch a glimpse of Surge and was folded into the waiting defenses by one of the few Indigo Rangers on site. He had me change the dial on my pokegear radio to the local emergency broadcast and pointed me towards a particularly thin section of the defense, a small beach in central Vermillion. I found the place easily enough, five trainers and a pair of grizzled old Rangers waiting at the makeshift fortifications on the edges of the beach with a second line of defences further back to pick off any straggling tentacruel.

We were lined up along the seawall, waves serenely lapping at the beach. I'd been placed in the second line along with the other trainers, with the Indigo Rangers taking up the forward positions on the flanks of the beach. I was one of three novices at this particular beach, with the rest of the trainers intermediate level. There was one elite-level, but he stood alone on the right side of the beach. One of the Rangers stood with him, deep in a rushed conversation.

Harold, the man to my right shifted nervously. He was short and pudgy, a rarity for a trainer. We were hardy folk, not prone to pudgy guts or excess weight. "Heard they couldn't find any 'cool when coast guard hit the swarm." He was an intermediate, having defeated Surge in battle the week before. "All 'cruel, took down half the initial strike before they pulled back. It didn't sound good on the radio."

I turned my head. "That doesn't sound possible," I said. "But it does explain the pair of 'cruel that came ashore yesterday evening."

He raised an eyebrow. I explained the kids, and the horror scene I had discovered at the camp. He simply shook his head and looked back at the ocean as he muttered nervously under his breath.

The Ranger turned away from the elite and began jogging back towards the other mound of sandbags while yelling something that was lost in the wind. I followed where he was pointing and my jaw damn near hit the ground.

The sea was alive with movement as far as the eye could see. The swarm stretched across the horizon, churning the choppy sea into a frothy white. I swallowed the lump forming in my throat. Trainers were obligated to assist Indigo Rangers whenever ordered. It was part of the League contract, part of the original reason for the League's creation. It was the civic duty of every trainer to defend humankind when called upon. Despite the knowledge that I was doing my duty to humanity, I felt a growing pit in my stomach. The swarm inched closer by the second and more than ever, I became acutely aware of my own mortality.

My hand dropped to my belt, releasing Luna and Pride. They stood at my side, seeming to innately understand the gravity of the situation.

The Ranger turned to us, cupping his hands over his mouth. "Get ready! Take down any who get through!"

I glanced behind me, at the hasty barricade of cars piled up along the two boulevards into the city centre. They seemed tiny now compared to the swarm. I didn't see how just six trainers and two Rangers could hold even a fraction of the swarm back. We were nothing against a force like that.

A pair of helicopters buzzed overhead, heading straight out to sea. I watched them circle around and drop lower, searching for something. Maybe the centre of the storm, maybe their leader, I didn't know. I had larger concerns.

The white water roared closer and I realized that it wasn't the wind that I could hear. It was the roar of the water as thousands upon thousands of tentacruel thrashed towards us. The swarm entered the harbour and I began to hear the sounds of battle break out across the city as the swarm began to come ashore.

The beach began to stir with movement. The elite released his pokemon and the rest did the same. I nervously patted Luna on the head for support. She pressed into my hand, sensing my nerves. Pride barked at my side, whining for some attention of his own. I obliged him with a scratch under his chin. It did nothing to calm my nerves.

Harold had released an electabuzz and a gloom, both of which huddled close to him. The other two trainers were novices, both of them releasing a pikachu. I glanced down at the rangers and the elite. A rhydon and a nidoking stood shoulder to shoulder in the centre of the beach. A raichu and a jolteon stood at the flanks of the beach. The elite had a scizor at one shoulder. A hulking magmortar stood at the other, careful to stand at a safe distance from the steel bug.

"Ever been a part of civic defense before?" Harold asked.

I shook my head. "Only been registered for two months. Earned my second..." I trailed off into thought. "Just under a week ago."

"Damn," he replied. "Two badges in two months? Colour me impressed, kid. What's your name?"

"Marcus."

He looked back down to the beach. "Well, Marcus. This is the third time I've been called on. It's not gonna be a walk in the park, but the Rangers will see us through."

I looked down at the beach as the tentacruel began to beach themselves. The rhydon and nidoking were there, dispatching the 'cruel with every blow. Still, they came by the dozens, more and more of the creatures forcing themselves ashore. The two titans gave way, ceding the beachhead as the ranged attackers began to bombard the tentacruel. Bolts of lightning leapt across the beach, energy balls sliced through thrashing tentacles, a frozen beam of blue light erupted from the nidoking and impaled the centre of the swarm. The front line withered, but more tentacruel pushed through the barrage and slowly but surely began to gain ground.

There was no stopping them, not with how many there were. Luna raised her head, another energy ball gathering in her jaws as Pride shocked one of the lead tentacruel. She released the attack and I watched it shear through a tentacruel's beak and into the blubbery mass of its body. The swarm simply swallowed the injured mon, a dozen more of the tentacruel climbing over it to advance inland.

The elite's scizor disappeared in a metallic blur. It carved a path through the swarm, a trail of amputated tentacles and shredded carcasses in its wake. An eruption of flame from the magmortar washed over the swarm, vaporizing the front line of tentacruel completely. A second blast punched a hole clean through the centre of the swarm and left it scattered.

The scizor doubled back, a mirage of death that simply left nothing living in his wake.

My jaw hit the floor. The elite decimated the swarm in moments. It went from an unstoppable wall of death to a scattered few survivors in one exchange. More tentacruel dragged themselves ashore, but the scizor was there, cutting through the swarm before it could reestablish a proper beachhead. The magmortar lumbered over to the shore, flame beginning to leak from her hand cannons.

The rhydon and nidoking were there, pushing back on the tentacruel still coming ashore. A few of the swarm managed to push through but found their deaths at the claws of the scizor not ten feet inland.

The magmortar erupted again, fire streaming from both cannons and washing over the swarm. The water erupted into steam on contact with the jets of flame and I couldn't help but marvel at the raw power of the fire-type. I heard a terrible screech of pain and I realized that the swarm was screaming as the magmortar attempted to boil it alive.

Then I saw them. The tentacruel had forced themselves up on a concrete jetty on the right side of the beach. Only a few had managed to pull themselves up the sheer wall and onto land, but even one behind the front line could cost us the entire defence. I saw it all unfold in my mind, watched the trio of tentacruel descend on the elite before he could turn and face it.

I knew what we had to do. The second line wasn't being tested, wasn't offering any real support from this distance. All we were doing was wasting our energy. We weren't having any effect on this battle. But we could.

"Harold, the right flank," I started. "It's gonna fall."

He shook his head. "That's an elite. He's fine."

I shook my head and pointed. The tentacruel were hauling themselves ashore, another pair pulling themselves up the wall to escape the boiling water. The swarm below was realizing they had a path ashore and were beginning to push harder up the wall. "We gotta go now!"

Harold followed my arm and swore. He whipped his head around, looking at the other two novices. "Hold the centre," he ordered.

I didn't hear their responses. I was already halfway to the jetty. Luna dashed ahead of me, an energy ball swirling in her jaws. She loosed her attack as Pride bounded past both of us. He lowered his shoulder and slammed into the lead tentacruel just as Luna's energy ball impaled its bulbous crown. It stopped short, falling backwards into the trio of tentacruel that had climbed ashore. The one in the back clumsily slipped off the jetty and knocked the rest of the tentacruel attempting to climb up off. I watched four of the pokemon splash back down in the water and felt a small sigh of relief.

Pride crackled with electricity before I even gave the order. I grimaced as I realized that he was too close to effectively hit all the tentacruel. It would hit one, and only one.

"Thunder punch!" Harold roared as he dashed to my side.

His electabuzz was alive with lightning, his fists wreathed in living electricity. He pummeled into the tentacruel, beating back a pair of the wild pokemon before they could roll over Pride and force us back.

Pride erupted with lightning, skewering the first tentacruel as it attempted to rise. The pokemon convulsed rapidly, tentacles writhing as my nidorino electrocuted it relentlessly. He cut off the bolt and I watched him sag with exhaustion.

"Push them back into the water!" I shouted. I turned to Harold. "Get ready to shock the water!"

Pride lowered his shoulder and plowed into the tentacruel. Harold's electabuzz joined him a half a moment later. Luna's eyes flashed as one of the tentacruel attempted to drag itself over it's comatose kin. I watched the tentacruel's form ripple slightly and it went completely slack. It collapsed on top of the first tentacruel, beak agape and tentacles slack.

I stared at that tentacruel while our pokemon shoved them back towards the water. Its proportions were all wrong, it's crown bulbous and misshapen like it had undergone an extreme growth spurt on certain parts of its body. Only two tentacles protruded from the bottom of its crown. I stared harder. The longer I looked the more I noticed. It's beak was misshapen, only half as large on top as it was on the bottom. This was no ordinary tentacruel.

My eyes flitted to another one of the tentacruel, spotting the same kind of deformities as I had on the first one. I looked over at Harold as the pair of conscious tentacruel splashed down into the bay. "Something's wrong with them."

He shot me a look. "With who?"

"The tentacruel," I replied. "They don't look right. Almost like they didn't evolve properly." I strode over to the two tentacruel still on land and pulled the top one off the pile. "Look," I said. "The crown is all messed up and there's not enough tentacles."

Harold shuddered slightly at the sight of the tentacruel. "There's plenty tentacles for me."

I shook my head. "Put that aside for a moment. The swarm is all tentacruel. That's not something that should be possible in nature." I looked out at the bay, watching the pair of helicopters circling lower. "This wasn't a natural event."

A bolt of lightning erupted from the first helicopter. It forked and split into a dozen points of white hot light that eagerly leapt to the water below. A second bolt from the other helicopter dwarfed it, washing over the swarm and bathing the bay in electricity.

I stepped back as Pride turned and kicked the tentacruel off the pier with his hind legs. "Thunderbolt!" I shouted.

Harold was beside me, ordering his electabuzz to do the same. Our pokemon stepped up to the ledge, electricity sparking and racing along Pride's spines and between the electabuzz's horns. They loosed their attacks together, bathing the swarm in electricity as Surge did the same from the helicopters.

I glanced sideways at the misshapen tentacruel. It stared back at me with dead eyes. I felt a pit grow in my stomach and I knew that the sight of that grotesque mockery of evolution would haunt me in my sleep. I averted my eyes. I still had a city to defend.


Surge had decimated the centre of the swarm from the choppers, leaving us with the remnants of the tentacruel still coming ashore. At least half of the swarm disappeared out to sea. Surge then pressed towards land, trapping the rest of the swarm up against Vermillion's harbour. The choppers were still closing, bolts of lightning wiping out entire swathes of the swarm.

Harold was further down the pier, pushing the swarm back into the water. They'd attempted to come ashore further down to avoid us again. More trainers had come from other positions, spreading ourselves out along the shore of Vermillion. We held the swarm at bay while Surge systematically slaughtered the rest of the swarm. It wasn't until silence fell on the city and the water fell still that I finally let myself relax.

I looked down at the beach. It was covered in wild tentacruel. The elite and the two rangers stood in the centre of the carnage, their pokemon battered and bruised but still standing strong.

I wandered over to the beach, horrified by the scene. Every step brought more death, more terror. The tentacruel were misshapen and hardly half-evolved. Each and every one of them were disfigured in some fresh way, stunted in some horrible new way. I looked over at the Rangers and elite, deep in a hushed conversation.

"What's wrong with them?" I asked, bluntly forcing myself into the conversation. "It's like they're still half a tentacool."

The elite turned his head and I felt his cold glare on me. His hair was the colour of snow, his eyes piercing grey. I shuddered as he regarded me with that cold, unforgiving stare. "That is what we were just discussing, novice."

I frowned. "My name is Marcu-"

"I know who you are. Just like all the rest." He turned away with a sneer on his face. "Prideful fool who thinks himself above orders."

I raised an eyebrow and glanced at the Rangers. Neither of them said anything. This elite-level trainer had them cowed into submission. "Look, you asshole," I started, rounding on the trainer. "I don't know who you are and I don't particularly care. But at least show some appreciation when someone watches your back for you."

He cocked his head to the side and gave me a cold smile. "What makes you think I don't already have someone to watch my back?" I felt the temperature drop imperceptibly as a shiver ran down my spine. A shadow shifted behind the elite and my eyes widened as the shadow thickened into a shapeless form clad in a wide brimmed hat and flowing robes. I couldn't see its face under the hat, only two glowing eyes that called to me, chanted my name. They wanted me, wanted me to-

Luna snarled and stepped in front of me, smoke curling out from her jaws. I snapped out of the trance and nearly stumbled over my own feet. I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat and tried to block out the terrifying urge to throttle the elite where he stood.

He looked down at Luna with an expression of amusement. "Such loyalty," he started as his smirk faded. "Impressive, for a novice." He turned back to the rangers and bowed his head. "It has been an honour, gentlemen." He looked over at me. "Novice," he said, bowing his head. He strode off into the city without another word.

I watched him go, my eyes burning holes into the back of his head. "Who was that prick?" I asked.

Harold walked up to my side. "Elias Greenwin, second runner up at last year's Indigo Championship." He turned to the rangers and bowed his head slightly. "Rangers," he said in a respectful tone.

They nodded back and looked over at me. "You said something about the tentacruel?"

I turned away from Elias and looked back at the rangers. "Yeah, there was something wrong with them. It was almost like it hadn't finished evolving."

The Ranger on the left furrowed his brow. "We noticed too," he replied. "Reports from all over the city are saying the same things."

His colleague took over. "If it's any consolation, that's a good thing. A full swarm that size of all tentacruel should have breached the city worse than this."

"How bad?" I asked.

The rangers looked at each other and then back at me. "We're not really supposed to share that information," the one on the left started. "But it wasn't good. At least a dozen trainers still missing, six confirmed deaths so far." He glanced in the direction that Elias had disappeared in and then back at me. "You know, he may be a prick but the swarm didn't breach our line primarily because of him."

"We pushed them back when they tried to flank him," I protested. "I wasn't expecting a thanks, but he didn't need to degrade me in public."

The ranger on the right shrugged. "Don't take it too harshly, kid. Mr. Greenwin has been a part of over a hundred civic defence operations. He didn't need your help there. He's seen his fair share of novices kill themselves disobeying orders." He turned and motioned to the carnage surrounding them. "No novice, no matter how competent, could have survived being on this beach during the assault. Our orders were there to protect you as much as they were to protect the city." He smiled softly and met my eyes. I could tell he was trying to be nice. "Despite what the general public might think, we don't want to use trainers as cannon fodder. Our battle plans always take into account the danger to you trainers. You're still civvies at the end of the day, just temporarily conscripted ones."

I paused, looking down at the ground. The Ranger was right, even if it hurt to hear.

He put his hand on my shoulder and I looked up at him. "You did good, kid. Even if you did disobey orders. You took charge of the situation and proved you can think on your feet and adapt to changing situations, which is what the gym challenge is really meant to teach you."

The second Ranger piped up, a smile crossing his face. "Speaking of, you got a date set for Surge yet?"

I turned to look at him. "You know who I am?" I asked incredulously.

He nodded with a knowing smile. "First time getting recognized?" He nodded to himself. "I'm a bit of a battle-nut myself. Saw your battle with Misty the other day. Not a bad show, kid."

My cheeks flushed and I felt a rush of adrenaline. "Thanks," I said. "I actually just got to Vermilion. No date set with Leader Surge yet."

"Word of advice, find yourself something that can take a hit. Until you have three battle-capable pokemon, you aren't a match for Surge."

I frowned. "I have three pokemon."

"That happiny doesn't count," The Ranger scoffed. "You need something that can fight. We both know she'd be killed if you brought her into the battle."

I looked down at my feet. He was right. Curie was just a baby. She couldn't compete in a gym challenge. That would end in only one way. A pink smear across the battlefield. "I'll have to think about that." I replied quietly.

I turned away as the two novices with the pikachu came down the beach. I returned Luna to her ball and put her next to Pride and Curie's balls.

I slunk away from the beach after that. I passed Harold while he sat against a wall. His eyes were closed and he was talking into his pokegear in a sad, hushed tone. I didn't bother to intrude and figured I would make my way to the nearest motel.


I made it two blocks before I happened across her. The corpse of a tentacruel was draped over a woman's lower half, tentacles wrapped around her legs. She was squirming, trying and failing to get out from under the pokemon. Her shoulder length blonde hair was plastered with jelly and tentacruel guts and more leaked out of the dead pokemon every moment.

"Could you help me?" She asked, waving me over. "Some asshole saved me, but he walked off before helping me out of this thing's grip." She looked off down the street. "Stupid white-haired asshole. Didn't even stop to make sure I was ok."

I frowned. I'm pretty sure I knew who she was talking about. "I'll help you," I said. I grabbed the top of the tentacruel's crown and lifted it slightly.

She squirmed, trying to tear the tentacles off her legs. She pulled herself out from underneath the pokemon and I dropped it to the side.

I held out my hand to help her up. "You ok?" I asked.

She nodded, taking my hand and getting to her feet. She stumbled and almost fell, but I caught her as she went down against me.

"I'm sorry, my ankle hurts." She stood back up and tested it experimentally. She winced and looked at me. "I don't know if I can walk on it."

I smiled. "I'll help you, where do you need me to take you?"

"I have a friend staying at the pokemon centre down near the gym," she said. "If you could help me get there, I'd be so grateful."

I carried her there, supporting her the whole way. She talked my ear off the entire way there, running through a myriad of topics and telling me far more about her friend's life than I felt comfortable with. I lowered her onto one of the benches in front of the centre and nodded a quick goodbye.

I'd have stayed at the pokemon centre, but they were swamped with all the injured trainers and their pokemon. There wasn't room for the patients they did have, let alone any uninjured guests. Luna and Pride hadn't been hurt, just exhausted from the fighting.

I released them as soon as I closed and locked the door. I tossed my belt and pack towards the bed. Curie could wait at least until I was showered. I disappeared into the bathroom and revelled in the glorious sensation of warm water running through my coarse, filthy hair.

I emerged from the bathroom more than an hour later, wrapped in the absurdly fuzzy robe the motel had provided. I collapsed onto the bed and fumbled in my pack. I pulled out Curie's formula and bottle. I mixed her a full bottle and reached over for her ball. I froze. It was gone.

I rummaged through my pack frantically. It wasn't there. I lifted the mattress and tossed it aside, praying that the ball had just fallen off my belt and rolled under the bed. Pride scrambled away, shredding the mattress and sheets with his spines as he fled the flying bed. The ball wasn't there.

I stood there, panic setting in. I'd had her ball before the swarm had attacked, definitely had seen it when releasing Pride and Luna and then again when I had returned them. My heart sank as I realized that I hadn't seen it since then.

My belt was back on, Pride and Luna were returned to their balls and my pack was slung back over my shoulder. I slammed the door behind me, not wasting time to lock the door. I sprinted off headlong towards the beach, towards my precious Curie.

I could only pray that her ball was still there.


Curie was gone. I'd combed every inch of the beach, walked the path that I'd taken helping the woman. The Rangers still on the beach hadn't seen a stray pokeball and I found nothing retracing my steps. I was absolutely shredded inside. My Curie, my precious little soul was simply gone.

I wandered back to where Harold and I had pushed back the tentacruel and stared out into the water. The Rangers had begun cleanup, two small ships dragging trawling nets behind them. I could see more ships further out on the bay, no doubt doing the same as they cleaned up.

I sat down and looked out at the water. My legs dangled off the pier. My hand went to the empty spot on my belt, where Curie's ball had been. I felt the tears flow. There was nothing I could do to stop them. My pokemon was gone. She was gone and I hadn't even noticed.

I stayed there a long time, just staring out at the ships clearing the bay. I felt numb, like I might never feel right again. I don't know when I rose from that pier. I found myself walking slowly in the direction of the motel I'd checked into. I was climbing the stairs to the motel's second floor before I knew it.

I reached out for the door handle and pushed the door open. It swung open and I realized that the door hadn't been closed. I stepped inside and immediately recoiled from the dank smell of cigarette smoke.

Curie bounded off the perfectly made bed. She squealed happily and leapt into my arms. I pulled her close, my heart pounding in my chest. "Where did you just come from?" I asked. I held her at an arm's length. "And how'd you get out of your ball?"

Curie disappeared in a flash of red light. I felt her form evaporate in my arms as she was returned to her ball. I looked up. The room was dark, but I could tell it had been cleaned. The room was pristine, the bed put back together with a new sheets and mattress. The door swung shut and a lithe figure rose from the chair by the window.

"I have your attention, I presume?" she asked. Her voice had a musical, lilting cadence to it and her words were slow and deliberate. "It's disrespectful to leave a woman waiting."

I turned to get a better look at her, my hand dropping to my belt as I went for Luna.

She tutted and whipped her arm towards me. I felt my hair stand on end and tasted ozone for half a moment. Then lightning erupted from the flower in her hand. It hit me in the shoulder, tossing me backwards onto the bed like I was a rag doll.

I scrambled back towards the headboard as she leapt up onto the bed. She whipped her arm out again and the device in her hand extended into a short staff. The stylized tulip on the end crackled and sparked with electricity as she held it out towards me.

I pushed off the headboard as hard as I could, kicking her legs out from under her. She fell forward as I bucked to the side, rolling us both off the bed. I continued the roll, trying to pin her against the floor.

The woman was faster and smarter than I'd hoped though. She used the momentum from our roll and slammed me face down against the floor. She dug one knee into my back and wrenched my arm up behind me in one swift movement. I roared in pain and attempted to buck her off but she slammed me back into the floor.

"Give me my pokemon!" I shouted. "Give her ba-"

She shoved a rolled up sock into my mouth, gagging me. "Look," she started in a bubbly tone. "As much as I'd like to kick the crap out of you for the rest of the day, I do have better things to do." She jabbed me in the ribs with her taser-pole and I stopped squirming. It was the woman from earlier, the one I'd helped to the centre.

"Good," she remarked, a sly grin crossing her face. "I think you get the picture." She leaned in close and I felt her shoulder length hair brush against my neck. "It's time we established how this relationship is going to work. You're Silph's newest prize trainer. My organization has a vested interest in Silph's going ons. You're going to do what we say when we say it. If not?" Her voice trailed off and she let go of my arm as she leaned back. "There are so very many ways to destroy a pokeball."

I reached up and pulled the sock out of my mouth as she got off of me. I rose to my feet, carefully regarding the woman. She was shorter than me by at least a full head, but built like a slim tauros. I knew instantly that I'd never had any realistic chance fighting her. She'd had me at a disadvantage before I'd even known an advantage could be had. She'd tricked me by pretending to need my help, then used that to steal my Curie and blackmail me.

"She's just a baby," I said carefully, gauging my words. "Please don't hurt her."

The woman shot me a dazzling smile and I almost forgot that she was threatening me and my pokemon for half a heartbeat. "I won't have to, if you do what I say."

"Which is?" I asked impatiently.

She cocked her head to the side, her eyes studying me openly. "Nothing for now. You're well on track," she said. "Continue your gym challenge. We'll let you know what we need when the time comes."

I stood there in silence. She nodded her head towards me and smoothed her jacket. I noticed the stylized red R on the collar and filed that detail away. She smiled again, a smile so charming that again I found myself disarmed by the woman. "Until next time then, Marcus Wright."

I followed her to the door, watching her go. She walked calmly down the stairwell and disappeared into the night.

I didn't move from my doorway for a long time. I just stood there, staring out at the night until the morning fog began to roll in and the sun began to rise over the bay. Only then did I close the door and cross to my bed. Only then did I finally let sleep take me.


Pokédex Entry #73 – Tentacruel

This large aquatic pokemon gathers large numbers of its unevolved brethren in massive swarms when hunting for prey. While typically not overtly aggressive towards humans, some "Tenta-Swarms" have shown some aggression towards isolated vessels. Caution is advised, as tentacruel are capable of hauling themselves aboard passing vessels when prey is scarce.

Long theorized to possess rudimentary psychic ability, the recent discovery of a powerful paralytic agent secreted by this pokemon's tentacles has put this theory to rest.



Novice trainer KT#07996101 Marcus Wright, current team:

Luna, Vulpix

Pride, Nidorino
 
Chapter 7: Fault

joshthewriter

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Fault


I needed another pokemon. As if the mysterious woman walking off with Curie wasn't enough, the Vermillion gym wouldn't even schedule my challenge without a third team member. Surge's intermediate challenges were different than most gyms.

He was a warrior, a born and bred soldier that had earned his respect through blood and sweat. He'd spent years as part of Kanto's Ranger Corps, defending the civilian population from wild pokemon attacks since before I was even born. He was a living legend and demanded to be treated as such. He didn't accept novice challenges, only intermediate and elite. If you came to Surge, you came for war.

His challenges were always a triple battle. The battle format had first taken root in Unova, during the XIVth Pokemon World Tournament. Surge had been the victor of the triples tourney, and taken a liking to the chaos. He'd imported the triples format to Kanto for his own gym challenges, claiming that it better taught trainers what pokemon battles could be like in the wild.

No matter what the reason for the triple battle, I had only two battle-capable pokemon. So I was stuck until I expanded my team. I scowled at the thought. It would have been the same situation with Curie. It was only my own negligence that had led to this point. I'd trained Luna and Pride well, but they were only two. No matter how well I trained them, they were still only two. I'd neglected my team as a whole by not thinking about this sooner. Most trainers would have had three or four pokemon by this point, if not a full team of six already.

That was why I had decided on hunting down a ground type. I knew Pride would eventually gain that typing when he evolved, but I had no clue how to evolve him. It wasn't just with experience and age like most pokemon, there was some kind of external factor. Nidoking and queen weren't exactly common in the league, and trainers tend to be secretive about evolution methods themselves. Until I figured out how to spur that evolution, I was stuck without a ground type.

That was part of the reason that I had spent the better part of a month travelling up the coast of eastern Kanto. The other was that I was utterly ashamed of myself. I had failed to defend my team and little Curie was in danger now. She was a hostage, ensuring my loyalty for some future event.

I couldn't do anything, couldn't tell anyone. My online searches came up blank, although I had completely expected that. It's not like typing in 'crazy acrobat lady broke into my room and kicked my ass' is gonna spit back any decent results anyway. I found more adult videos than I had expected and abandoned that search plenty quick.

I'd been avoiding Gemma completely, only responding to texts when I came across an area that actually had cell service. She was obviously still bored out of her mind, but saying anything would have gotten Curie killed. I didn't know how the woman had even known I was a Silph trainer, but it pointed to Silph being compromised. I knew Gemma would never betray me intentionally, but the pokegear she had given me was on Silph's network. I didn't know if the messages could be stolen or looked at, and I wasn't going to risk my Pokémon's life for anything.

I'd left Lavender town and it's creepy atmosphere far behind, stopping only long enough to fill my pack with supplies for at least two weeks underground. Silph had opened me an expense account before I left Vermillion, and I had made sure to stock up on anything and everything I could have needed for a long trip into the wild.

One benefit of travelling further off the league-sanctioned route, was that trainers were few and far between. I came across maybe four or five other trainers after I left Lavender, most of them weary from the long trip through Rock Tunnel. They all passed me without a battle, unlike the gruelling slog that the journey to Lavender had been.

I grimaced as I remembered the many losing battles we had fought. Intermediate challenges were too much for the moment, but it hadn't stopped me from testing my team against the other intermediates anyways. Luna and Pride both received their share of beat downs during those few weeks, but both still found their own small victories that gave me hope.

Luna had practically mastered her new psychic attack, using it to great effect in a desperate win against a clumsy machoke. She couldn't communicate telepathically yet, but I could tell that she was beginning to explore her psychic abilities on her own. It was only a matter of time before she figured out how to communicate with me.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. My quick searches brought only vague esoteric explanations of telepathy. There was only one common link. Telepathy was trippy for the trainer, especially when the trainer possessed no psychic ability of their own.

I let Luna experiment with her abilities while she hunted for us. More and more, she'd bring me pidgey or pidgeotto with no marks on them. Pride refused to adapt to my preferred hunting methods, instead shocking his foes with a thunderbolt from a distance and eating at his own leisure. At the very least, his thunderbolt was getting larger and stronger.

When training, I'd started Luna towards attempting a full stream of fire rather than short jets or embers. She wasn't there yet, but she was starting to hold the flames for longer before she was exhausted.

Pride had been put to work improving his speed and agility. He'd never be as fast as Luna was, but he was almost embarrassingly slow compared to some of his opponents. He was tough and hit hard, but he needed to be faster. I was seeing improvements, but it was very slow going.

Both of them had learned to work as an efficient, if a bit unorthodox team. Luna was a speedy hit and run attacker that goaded opponents into opening up so Pride could gore them with his horn. It worked well enough against wild pokemon, but the first double battle I had been challenged to had ended with Pride and Luna isolated and picked apart by precision teamwork. The trainer had taken pity on me and offered a few training tips. It wasn't anything I didn't already know, but I appreciated the gesture anyways.

It turned out that my extensive training regimen was well worth it when we arrived at the Rock Tunnel. That's where I met him. That's where I met the one and only, Gary 'Blue' Oak.


I was knelt on the ridge overlooking a small depression on the slopes of the mountain. I'd kept as close to the surface as possible, only dipping underground when Luna wasn't able to find me a path overland. There was no official route here, north of Lavender. The league rangers maintained a small outpost at the Kanto National Power Plant, but that was mainly for monitoring the wild pokemon in the area and maintaining the dam reservoir. This section of Kanto was well and truly one of the last properly wild places in the region, only rivalled by the safari zone north of Fuchsia.

I looked down the ridge and breathed a sigh of relief. I'd finally found them. After chasing reported sightings for over a week and a half, I had finally stumbled across a cubone colony.

The little ground types were exceedingly rare. Mostly due to their reclusive nature, they stayed far far away from human habitation. Not one of the current elite-rated trainers in Kanto had a marowak on their teams, which was an indication of rarity, not power.

It was the perfect addition to my team. Every article I could find extolled their loyalty and dedication to the team. They were intelligent, creatures that lived in small family units. They had been known to gift worthy trainers with young males that were ready to establish their own family units. My only problem was finding them.

I hefted the sack I'd been carrying since Lavender and crept forward, Luna silently working her way down the hill ahead of me. My hand was cautiously on Pride's ball as I made my descent. I didn't want to send him out. He was a blunt instrument, more likely to set the colony on us than win it to our side. I did not need a dozen angry marowak beating me with their bone clubs.

I caught glimpses of several cubone watching me on my descent. They would creep through the rocks, peeking at the strange creature working his way down to the colony. I spotted what looked like several juveniles and I hoped that there was at least one intrigued by me.

I finally reached the bottom of the hill. The cubone were hiding, peering at me from behind the rocks surrounding the depression. The marowak were still lazing in the sun, regarding me with cold curiosity. I bowed my head in respect and slowly lifted the sack I'd been carrying off my shoulder. I set it down gently and opened the drawstring at the top.

"I bring you an offering, in the hope that you may allow me to take on one of your young for training." I tipped over the bag and spilled the contents out. Poffins and pokeblocks went spilling out, rolling across the uneven ground. "Judge me worthy and I will raise your child up to be a formidable warrior."

One of the marowak rose to her feet, bone club clutched in her hand. I watched her cross the distance between us, sniffing cautiously at the offerings I'd brought with me. She turned away from them and I feared the worst as she raised her club up to inspect me. She circled me cautiously while Luna watched at attention. Her club tapped against Pride's ball and she looked at me through her skull cap.

I nodded. She wanted to know what kind of trainer I was. She was testing me. My hand slowly dropped to Pride's ball. I raised the ball and prayed that Pride was in an accommodating mood.

He appeared before me, pawing at the ground as he appeared. His eyes widened and his ears flattened against his head as he growled at the strange pokemon surrounding us.

"Pride, enough."

He glanced at me, then at the marowak beside me. I watched his rump slowly lower and he sat carefully, muscles still poised to leap into action.

I glanced down at the marowak and nodded. "These are my allies. Luna, and Pride. They are strong, loyal friends."

The marowak nodded, sauntering over to Luna. She looked my starter in the eye and I felt Luna's mind nervously brush up against my own. I caught a flash of fear and nerves before the sensation faded as the marowak slowly inspected my vulpix. The marowak turned to me and gestured at Pride with her bone.

I shook my head. "He will not allow it," I said, knowing that the marowak wanted to inspect him too. "He will think you're challenging him."

The marowak nodded and then pointed at the gathering crowd of cubone and then to me. I understood what the message was. The marowak wanted to test Pride. She could tell that Luna was a loyal friend. Pride's own arrogance shone through despite his allegiance to me. She wanted me to show her that I truly was a worthy trainer.

I nodded. "Pride," I called. "Ready for battle!"

He barked twice and leapt to his feet. He circled the small depression anxiously and came to a stop just in front of me. Luna slunk over to my side, laying down on the sun-covered rock.

The marowak turned, waving her club at the crowd of cubone. The younglings retreated to the other side of the clearing and joined the other marowak.

I bowed my head in respect as Pride pawed at the ground. He was antsy, wanted to fight. Despite his usual soft demeanour with me, he was aggressive towards other pokemon. Luna had escaped his ire for the most part, but I had to guess that was because she could run circles around him without trying.

I had no clue what to expect from this marowak. She seemed to be the one speaking for the group, I had to guess she was the leader. A mother perhaps, likely with a son ready to leave and begin his own family group. She was no doubt a powerful pokemon. I watched her spin the thick bone in her hands and knew that this would be a difficult battle.

She stopped spinning the club abruptly and charged forwards. She whipped the bone like a boomerang at Pride.

"Double kick it away and dodge the follow up!" I shouted.

Pride pivoted on his front feet and kicked just as the bone closed. It sailed off into the air. The marowak leapt up, grabbing the club from mid air. She brought it down in a leaping strike as Pride leapt away.

Pride charged over the rocky ground, his agility training coming in handy. He didn't stumble, nimbly leaping through the rough terrain and keeping away from the chasing marowak. I watched the ground type effortlessly follow and I knew we were outclassed.

"Turn and charge!"

Pride turned on the spot, skidding to a halt and charging back the way he came. The marowak changed direction, but not quite fast enough to get out of the way. Pride slammed into the marowak, leading with his shoulder. I watched the marowak roll away with the momentum. She felt at her side, blood leaking from a patchwork of pinpricks and gashes.

Pride prowled towards her, his horn lowered in anticipation. He wanted to charge. The marowak gave ground, giving Pride what looked like an opening.

He leapt forward intending to seize on the opportunity. The marowak met his horn with a deft swing of her club. Pride's head cracked to the side with a sickening crunch and he stumbled back. She reared back her head and slammed it heavily into Pride's side, leading with the hard bone cap covering her head.

Pride recoiled from the blow, grunting in pain. He attempted to bound away but the marowak was faster. She spun her club and slammed it into Pride's underside, launching him into the air.

He landed hard and rolled to a halt against a rock. I heard him groan with pain and I knew that he was hurt. He struggled back to his feet and glanced back at me.

"You good, Pride?"

He nodded and turned back to the marowak. She was stalking towards him, the bone club spinning like a baton. I couldn't help but marvel at the coordination. She was beautiful.

"Get in close, you have to poison her." I glanced at the marowak, studying the spinning of the bone club. "On my mark."

Pride lowered his horn, watching the marowak carefully. She walked in a slow circle as Pride paced opposite her. Both watched the other carefully, waiting for any opening to appear. I watched the pattern of movement, watching the marowak's hands. Her hands were in an uncomfortable position at one point, the bone resting on the side of her off hand for a half a moment. We could take advantage of that and interrupt the pattern of movement.

I watched her start the pattern over and waited for the perfect moment. "Now!"

Pride lunged and I saw the marowak fumble the response. It wasn't much, but she swung half a moment too late. Pride buried his horn in the marowak's thigh and bowled her over. The two went down in a tangle and I knew the battle was nothing more than a coin toss.

The marowak was smarter and stronger than I had expected though. She bucked Pride off and shoved him away with her club. He scrambled to his feet as the marowak hauled herself back up using the club.

Pride backed up, giving the marowak space. She looked at me and placed the end of her club on the ground. The battle and the test was over.

"That's enough, Pride." I ordered. He sat down as I raised his ball and dismissed him. I put his ball back on my belt with a satisfied smile. He had done well.

The marowak approached me, her head cocked to the side. She was looking into my eyes. There was sadness in them, but also hope. She waved over her shoulder, beckoning to the group of cubone.

One of the taller cubone stepped out of the crowd. He had a small bone in his hands and was walking slowly. He looked up at me with fear and nerves in his eyes and then back at the marowak. They touched their noses together for a moment, then continued towards me.

I lowered myself to one knee, holding out a hand as mother and son approached. He sniffed at my hand and then looked up at me. He held out his bone cautiously and tapped it against my hand. I smiled as he gently handed his club to me.

I held up an empty pokeball. He pressed his hand into the button and disappeared with a flash of red light. I felt my hand lighten and smiled at the curiosity as the bone club disappeared too.

The marowak met my eyes and nodded gently. She held out a hand to me and I shook it softly. "Thank you," I said quietly. I don't know how she learned a human custom, but I understood that I wasn't the first to have been given a cubone. I opened my pack and pulled out some of my medical supplies. "I can help heal you." I pointed at the wound on her leg and held up the spray bottles.

She shook her head and pushed them away. She stepped back and lifted her club. She pointed up at the ridge and then at me and back up the ridge. I understood. It was time for me to leave.

I climbed back up the hill with Luna at my side. Three balls sat on my belt now. Three balls with three battle-capable pokemon. I wasn't ready for Surge yet, but by the time I got back to Vermillion I would be.

Unfortunately, fate had worse plans for me.


It wasn't even a week after I captured him when I decided on a name. My new cubone was a tenacious fighter and a voracious student. He was an acolyte in my training, entrusted to me by his family. Acolyte was his name.

He learned fast. He was quick and nimble, but still possessed enough stopping power to handle some of the wild pokemon in the area. If I had to judge, he was probably close to evolution already, just waiting for a chance to push himself over the edge.

Luna tolerated him well enough. She didn't actively fight with him at the least. Pride on the other hand, seemed to strike up a particularly fierce rivalry. He would challenge Acolyte to a battle at the end of every training session, the two of them working in what they'd been training on that day. It did wonders for them.

I adopted the routine into the end of our usual training sessions. Luna seemed to grumble and resist it slightly, but she still participated. It worked wonders to foster the kind of situational awareness that I wanted them to have. At the end of the day, they were the ones fighting. They'd be able to react faster if I could teach them to react to changing situations if they could learn to think on their own.

We were in the middle of one such session when the pidgeotto swooped down on me. The sun had set and Luna had brought me a few pidgey for our evening meal. I was bent over the fire, adjusting the makeshift spit I'd fashioned.

The bird's talons closed on the ration bar as I went to take a bite and tore it from my hand. It landed deftly on the shoulder of a boy, dropping my ration bar into his hand.

"Thanks," he called, brushing his hand through a mess of jagged brown hair. "I like this kind!" He took a bite and tore off another bite for the raticate at his knee.

I turned as Luna and Acolyte separated and looked over at the newcomer. Pride jumped to his feet, already growling. I raised an arm, whistling once to get my team's attention. Acolyte ran to my side and Pride stalked over to me as he cast wary glances at the boy. Luna laid down and yawned.

I sighed and looked over at the boy. "Not polite to steal someone else's meal, kid."

"Name's Blue," he replied in a brash tone. He reached up and scratched his pidgeotto under the chin. "Peri was just practicing her aim."

"Control your pokemon," I said calmly as I dismissed Pride and Acolyte to their balls. Luna looked over at the boy, her tails flicking back and forth. "They shouldn't be doing something like that on their own."

The boy smirked at me. "I asked her to though." He yawned and looked around at my makeshift camp. "Wanna battle?" He asked. "I saw you have a cubone. Never battled one of them before. Course, I have my own vulpix and nidorino…" he trailed off, looking up like he was thinking. "Actually, he's a nidoking now."

I couldn't help but roll my eyes at the boast. "Thanks, but I'm good. We've been hard at training all day and none of us are at our best." I cast him a look. He was a braggart. I didn't like that.

He smirked and I caught the look of derision he gave me. "That's fine, you don't look so tough anyway."

I narrowed my eyes. The little shit was testing me. "How old are you?"

Blue's smirk was practically burned into my eyes at this point. "Just turned fourteen," he said. "And I could still kick your butt, mister."

I rolled my eyes. I had an egomaniac on my hands. "Look, like I said earlier, we aren't looking for a fight."

"I was," Blue replied. He shrugged and waltzed over to my small fire. "Guess you're too much of a weakling."

I sat down opposite him and raised an eyebrow. "So you'll be joining us for dinner?" I sighed and shook my head. "Did your parents never teach you to talk to strangers?"

He nodded. "Yeah. That's why Clothos keeps watch over night." He smirked as he glanced down at the raticate. "So I'd keep your hands to yourself, she likes catching pickpockets in the act." He shot me a look and I almost got the sense that he wanted me to try, just so he could see what would happen.

I pulled one of the pidgey roasts I'd been cooking off of the fire and smirked at Blue. "Well, I hope your pidgeotto is fine with hunting something for herself. All we've got is some pidgey cuts left, and I wasn't planning on sharing until you showed up."

Blue just smiled. "My team can hunt for themselves," he said. "I'll be fine, I don't eat meat."

I sighed. I might have instantly disliked the kid but I wasn't gonna let a child starve. "Funny thing," I started. I shot Blue my best smile as I went into my pack. I hoped I didn't look nuts. "I'm not as hungry as I thought." I pulled one of my vegetarian emergency rations out, tossing the silver packet over to him.

Blue took it from me without a hint of bullshit on his face. He looked up from the food and I saw sincerity in his eyes. "Thanks, I don't know how to cook."

I widened my eyes as I sat down, pulling my own meal off the fire. "Nobody ever taught you survival skills?"

He shrugged. "Never really had anyone to teach me. Not like it's been a problem so far."

I narrowed my eyes. "Who are you, really?"

"An Oak," he replied.

"Oh," I said. I nodded slowly. "My condolences then." Even I knew what had happened to the Oak family. It had been the largest news story of the decade.

They'd been the reigning dynasty of the pokemon world. Old Samuel Oak was grand champion, having dethroned Unova's Alder Adeku at the Pokemon World Tournament. His son was a rising star in the Indigo league, set to take the position of Viridian Gym Leader once the old leader retired.

It had all come crashing down in blood. A shocking murder mystery gripped all of Indigo when the Oak's were found dead in their Viridian home. No evidence was left and the investigation led nowhere. It was as if the murderer had simply disappeared into the ether. All the Oaks' pokemon were still in their balls and there was no sign of a struggle.

Samuel Oak retired from his champion position and retreated into his research. He took the kids in, shielding them from the hellish media attention. I hadn't seen or heard anything about the kids since, but clearly little Gary was set on the same path as his father. By the looks of things, he was already well on his way.

"Yeah," he replied curtly. He finished his food and set the plate down beside me. "I'm gonna get an early start tomorrow. I'm heading down to Lavender if you're going that way."

I nodded. "Gotta get back to Vermillion for my battle with Surge."

Blue raised an eyebrow at that. "How many badges do you have?"

"Two," I said. "Needed a third pokemon for Surge's battle."

"So you came all the way out here?" Blue asked. "Why didn't you just catch yourself a diglet? Or evolve your nidorino and catch something else? Wouldn't matter what, Surge was a pushover for any ground types."

I sighed. "I like the view," I said, voice dropping with sarcasm. "Can't get anything like this in Vermillion."

He smirked. "I like you," he declared. "You're one of the good ones. You can take a joke." He unfurled his bedroll and laid it out on a flat spot.

I shrugged. "Gotta be able to laugh at yourself once in a while."

Blue settled down into his bedroll, his raticate curling up beside him. Her eyes bored into me as the kid slowly drifted off. I snorted in laughter and rolled over. Luna trotted over to the fire and curled into my side, watching the raticate in return. I didn't mind letting myself drift off to sleep, knowing the two pokemon would be keeping a close watch on each other.

I woke only once, when the droning buzz of a helicopter roared by in the distance. It faded away and I went back to sleep quietly.


We woke with the sun, both of us packing the camp silently. Blue helped me with my things, putting the fire out and washing up the dishes we'd made the night before. I thanked him and we got on our way before the sun began to climb higher into the sky.

I let Acolyte out while we travelled, to at least get him used to travel with me. Luna stayed well ahead of us, keeping an eye out on the trail. We didn't run into many wild pokemon, which I found slightly odd. The size of our party should have attracted attention, if nothing else.

Blue let out some of his pokemon. They stayed close to him, mistrusting the new human with their trainer. His eevee sat on his shoulder, his raticate prowling the tree line for threats. Peri the pidgeotto kept swooping overhead, keeping an eye on things from above. I had to keep turning to look at the kadabra, as well as keep an eye on the arbok that slithered through the grassy forest floor behind us.

It was about mid-day when Luna pulled back to us. Her ears were perked up, swivelling back and forth. Her tails flicked angrily and I took a moment to calm her before we continued on.

Less than ten minutes later, it happened again. Luna was standing still as a board in the centre of the path we were following. Acolyte stiffened and his grip on his bone club tightened.

"Stop," I ordered, looking at Blue. "Something's wrong."

He looked at me, then back down at my pokemon. "What do they hear?" He glanced around at his pokemon, watching for any signs of discomfort.

I shrugged. "Don't know, but it can't be good if it's got both Luna and Acolyte tense." I looked down the path and rubbed my temples. I could smell something, something burning. It was faint, as though carried on the wind. The wind died and our pokemon fell silent.

A wailing cry of pain echoed across the forest. Blue and I met eyes. The cry repeated as we heard a terrible screech echo, like metal was being torn through sheer strength.

"Sounds bad?" I asked.

Blue listened again, waiting for the cry again. "Could just be a pokemon. Maybe pissed off a fire type."

I shrugged, then we heard the sound. The chopper roared by in the distance, heading towards a plume of smoke we could see rising through the trees.

It was mid-summer. The dry season. The entire forest was dried out as the summer heat baked the forest until the fall storms returned to replenish the plant life. The entire forest was a tinderbox, ready to spark into a fire that would be uncontainable.

I met Blue's eyes again. "We should help," I started. "You have a water type?"

He nodded. "Wartortle," he replied. He lifted a ball off his belt as he looked off at the smoke. "Let's go."

The chopper got to the crash site first. We watched it circle overhead as we jogged through the trees. Blue surprised me with his stamina. I was winded and lagging behind, but the teen just kept running.

Acolyte charged ahead as we closed with the downed chopper. He surged faster than Blue and I poured on the speed to keep up with them both.

I burst through into the small clearing the helicopter had made as it crashed. The second chopper was still hovering overhead. I shielded my face from the heat, fire beginning to spread from the cockpit of the downed chopper. Pokeballs were strewn around the ground, glistening in the flames.

The pilots had been thrown free of the crash. Both of them were clearly dead, their heads caved in by blunt blows. Their uniforms caught my eye. All black, with a stylized red R on the chest. The chopper had a stylized R on the bent wreck of the tail.

I froze. I knew that symbol. It was the same one I had seen on Curie's kidnapper's collar. I looked up at the chopper hovering above and knew we had stepped in deep shit.

A terrible screech of metal tearing from the downed chopped drew my attention back to the ground. The door on the side of the helicopter wrenched ever so slightly open and ground to a halt. Acolyte let out a terrible cry and my heart dropped in my chest.

It was a marowak. It was the marowak. I knew it. She looked at me from across the clearing, then down at acolyte. She looked back up at me and I saw the desperate pleading look in her eyes.

"Get the fire under control!" I shouted at Blue. "Now!" I dashed across the clearing, vaulting over fallen trees and crunching the underbrush underfoot. I slammed into the side of the helicopter, grabbing hold of the door handle as Acolyte and his mother struggled against it.

It wouldn't move. It was well and truly stuck. No matter how hard we pulled, the door would not move. The smooth metal was hot to touch, and I felt my skin searing as I pulled desperately to open the door. I fell back, my hands burning.

Blue's wartortle was putting out some of the fires, but there was only so much he could do. The helicopter itself was on fire, and there was only so much we could do to slow the spread. I looked up at the marowak as she stopped struggling. We'd wrenched it open just far enough for Acolyte to squeeze through and he had disappeared through the door.

They embraced and I felt my heart pounding. Then the mother pushed Acolyte away and pressed a pokeball into his hands. She gestured around her, pointing to the rest of the pokeballs. Then it hit me.

The pokeballs were cubone. All of them. There were dozens, enough for the entire colony I had come across. I looked up at the hovering chopper and felt a newfound hatred for that red R. Somehow, they had seen my newest capture. Somehow they had access to the location data through Silph. They had taken the entire colony and it was all because of me.

The marowak tapped the door to get my attention. She held up the ball and nodded at me. I nodded back.

"Blue! Get the pokeballs! All of them!"

He looked around at them all and then back at me. "Why?"

"They're pokemon traffickers."

He looked around. Without another word, he began grabbing the balls and stuffing them into his bag.

I turned as Acolyte emerged from the chopper, pushing a half dozen balls towards me. I stuffed them into my bag as the marowak brought a dozen more. All of them went into my pack without hesitation.

A loud crash behind me drew my attention. A man had leapt from the chopper and landed on one knee. He had a bandolier strapped around his chest with a trio of strangely coloured pokeballs on it. He grinned at me from under a half-mask that covered the top half of his head. "Best hand over those pokeballs if you know what's good for you."

"Funny thing," I started. "I was never much good at that." Luna stepped out in front of me, growling at the man as my hand hovered over Pride's ball.

The man smirked. "We get to do this the fun way then." He pulled one of the balls off his belt and tapped it open.

The flash of light grew, stretching up to the tops of the trees. It's tail elongated and stretched out behind it, thudding heavily onto the ground. The tyranitar tossed its armoured head back and roared, a sound that shook the earth beneath my feet.

I released Pride and all hell broke loose. To call it a battle would have been folly. It was war.

Pride charged the tyranitar as Luna shot off like a rocket. The earth rumbled below us, but my pokemon kept their footing as I turned back to the chopper and frantically filled my bag.

The tyranitar spun, swinging its oversized tail. It connected solidly with Pride, tossing him effortlessly through the trees. An energy ball from Luna connected solidly with the side of the beast's head. It cracked to the side, bellowing in pain as it looked around for Luna.

A stream of water carved into its back as Blue's pokemon began their own assault. His raticate leapt at the tyranitar's leg, scrabbling at the rock-hard scales. Peri circled above, looking for some opportunity to harass the monster from above.

The tyranitar roared as it tore the raticate off its leg and tossed it headlong into the trees. Another energy ball slammed into its head from a different angle as Luna kept out of its range. I lost Clothos' form in the chaos as I rose to my feet and turned back to the chopper for Acolyte.

I felt a powerful grip on my shoulder and cried out in pain as I was wrenched around. The masked man's fist slammed into my face, knocking me flat as pidgey danced in my head. I vaguely felt him haul me to my feet, but the whole world seemed so far away and my ears were ringing from the blow. He was yelling at me, yelling as the tyranitar spun after Luna.

He tossed me back to the ground and I lay there limply. The man stood there, a vicious look of satisfaction worn on his face. He was leaning over me, still talking as if he was oblivious to my stunned condition.

I saw bright light from the corner of my eye, saw Acolyte's limbs lengthen and his body grow in a flash of light. His head grew, the bone cap around his head growing a pair of horns near the back of his head and thickening considerably. He stepped away from the flaming wreck of the helicopter, his mother's club in his hands.

My marowak slammed into the masked man from the side, clubbing him over and over with the bone as they rolled. The man used the momentum to roll Acolyte off of him and came back to his feet. He turned, making for the rope ladder that hung from the underside of the second chopper.

I clumsily climbed back to my feet and steadied myself against a fallen log. My hearing was still ringing, but even I could hear the roars of the tyranitar as it crashed through the trees like they were toothpicks. Luna was on a mad dash, staying barely ahead of the tyranitar as it gave chase.

Blue's pokemon could do nothing to slow it down. I watched Clothos leap from a fallen log and land on the tyranitar's back. She found a purchase and held tight, fangs furiously gnawing on one of the tyranitar's spikes.

I watched Pride bound from the underbrush and slam into the tyranitar's knee just as Blue's arbok wrapped around its other leg. Luna turned and let off an energy ball just as Blue's wartortle clocked the the monster in the jaw with a jet of water that chipped away at its rocky hide. I watched as the tyranitar toppled and came crashing to the ground. It landed on its back. Hard.

I watched the prone tyranitar disappear in a flash of light as the chopper rose into the sky. The man rose up out of the clearing as the ladder retracted and I lifted my pack off the ground. It was heavy, filled to the brim with pokeballs. I didn't dare look inside the burning chopper. Smoke had filled the cabin and I could see flames where the marowak had been standing.

"Blue, we gotta go!" I groggily shouted, my head still ringing. "Gotta go now! Fire's getting worse!" I staggered over the the young trainer and stopped dead in my tracks.

In the dirt, dead centre of the impact crater the tyranitar had made when it fell, was the crushed and broken body of a raticate.

I dropped to my knees as my eyes found Blue. He was sitting there, perfectly still. His eyes didn't waver, or show any ounce of hurt. He just sat there motionless, as though his eyes couldn't process the image they saw in front of him.

I pulled myself up. "Blue," I said. "We have to go."

He looked at me and I saw the tears behind his façade. He was hurting, but he would never show another soul. "Why?" He asked simply.

I didn't know the answer to that. There was no reason why. No reason except me. And that? That was the worst part.


Pokédex entry #105 – Marowak

This mysterious pokemon sports an exoskeletal skull that has inspired all manner of tall tales throughout the ages. From stealing rhydon skulls to wearing the skull of their dead mother, it is difficult to separate fact and fiction when dealing with marowak and their ilk.

What little is known is due to scattered reports from trainers around eastern Kanto. These pokemon seem to live in small tribes, far from human contact. Small colonies have been discovered in the Argent Mountains, as well as Fuchsia's Safari Sone, however most colonies are clustered in the inhospitable terrain north of Lavender.

Some of the colonies near Lavender have gifted young trainers with cubone who are ready to undergo evolution. The cubone traditionally travel with the trainer for a time, before returning to their colony after evolution and forming a new family unit of their own.



Novice Trainer KT# 07996101, Marcus Wright, current team

Luna, Vulpix

Pride, Nidorino

Acolyte, Marowak
 
Chapter 8: Mourning

joshthewriter

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Mourning


A pair of rangers arrived less than ten minutes later. They put out the fire, a golduck and a poliwhirl dousing the blaze before it could spark into a forest wide inferno. They'd seen the smoke on patrol, seen the chopper flying west in a hurry. One of them had given chase on the back of his pidgeot, but the masked man had released a scizor that had driven him off. The bastard was gone, leaving us to deal with the mess left behind.

Blue went kind of non responsive for a bit. The rangers couldn't get a word out of him so I explained everything. I gave them as much as I could without mentioning Curie or the woman who had taken her. I couldn't be sure who to trust with that kind of information. I showed them the cubone we had collected, almost thirty pokeballs in all. They balked when I told them, but didn't tell me what to do with them. I was hoping they would know what to do. I certainly didn't.

They'd lost their mother. I didn't know about any of the other marowak, but I had a sinking feeling that none of them had made it onto that chopper. I wasn't going to just release them. That would be a death sentence out here. Without a marowak to lead them, they didn't stand a chance in the wild. And as selfish as it was, I didn't want to let Acolyte go so early. I reasoned to myself that he wasn't ready to lead yet. I knew the selfish truth behind that lie. I just didn't want to lose my newest pokemon.

The rangers had teleported us back to Lavender after that. Blue hadn't been hurt, but I'd taken a serious blow to the head and was still feeling dizzy. They checked us in at the pokemon centre and then disappeared again, leaving me with a contact number in case I remembered anything useful.

The nurse checked our pokemon in and stuck me in the centre's infirmary. It was a slow day in an already sleepy town and I was the only human patient they had. I was basically left alone in a darkened room while Blue left to go visit the Pokemon Tower. He mumbled something about saying goodbye. I couldn't blame him. I didn't think I'd be in much better shape had it been one of my pokemon.


It was maybe an hour before the pokegear rang. I didn't recognize the number. I picked it up cautiously. "Hello?"

A haggard voice came out of my pokegear. "Is this a Marcus Wright?"

"Yes," I said. "Who is this?"

I heard the sound of rustling and a pained grunt come through the speakers. "Professor Samuel Oak," he said. "I hear you helped my grandson out of a tight spot."

My spine instinctively stiffened. "Yes, sir."

"Well, I just wanted to thank you personally. I had a contact in the rangers pass this number on to me, and Gary hasn't answered my calls."

My heart sank. "I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this. He lost a pokemon today. His raticate."

The elder professor sighed and I heard a long pause. "I was afraid of this day," he said. "It is not a happy day to lose a pokemon. How is he managing?"

"I'm not really sure, sir. I was injured in the incident and he left shortly after we arrived in Lavender. He hasn't really said anything about it."

Oak sighed heavily through the phone. "So much like his father, internalizing everything." I heard him mumble under his breath and couldn't make out the words. "Well, in any case, thank you. If there's anything I can do to help you at this time, please let me know."

I sat up a little straighter, an idea popping into my head. Oak was a researcher, studying pokemon behaviours. I had a suspicion he would leap at my idea. "Actually, there might be something you can help me with," I started. "The traffickers had captured most of a cubone colony. I have twenty-six cubone and one newly evolved marowak in pokeballs. I don't know what to do with them. They won't survive in the wild on their own and…" My voice trailed off and I despised that I couldn't give the professor the whole truth. I couldn't be sure who was listening. "I feel responsible for their safety. The colony had gifted me with a marowak two days before this."

I heard Oak's voice quicken with excitement despite my somber tone. "Cubone are exceedingly rare. I've never had a chance to study them up close." I heard the sounds of papers rustling and then Oak was back. "What did you have in mind?"

"Well, I have nowhere to house them until they can fend for themselves. It would only be until enough of the cubone evolve and take charge of the group."

"My lab has extensive facilities designed for such an occasion, although I'll have to have the enclosure expanded of course. We've never had quite so many specimens at one time.." I could practically hear the man gushing with excitement. "I would be more than happy to oblige you, young man."

I breathed a sigh of relief. Whoever that masked man was, I knew he was connected to the woman who had taken Curie. While I would no doubt hear about it at some point, I didn't want the cubone to be in danger because of me. A former champion turned pokemon researcher was the perfect guardian for the vulnerable cubone.

"They are all freshly captured and likely hostile," I said. "You'll likely have some work on your hands."

"That's what all the assistants are for, my boy." A loud crash echoed through the phone and I heard Oak wince audibly. "My apologies, I have a situation that requires my attention. Thank you for everything you've done, Marcus. I'll send one of my assistants to pick up the pokeballs immediately."

"No, thank you." I replied.

Oak ended the call and I looked cautiously around the room. I swung my legs off the side of my bed, ignoring the spike of pain in my brain. I had things to do, and concussion be damned, I still had to do them.

I picked up my pokemon from the front desk just as the apprentice teleported in, alakazam standing motionless behind him. He looked haggard and exhausted.

I crossed the room and hefted my pack onto the floor in front of him. It thudded heavily onto the floor and he jumped. "You the professor's assistant?" I asked.

He nodded. "Yes, you would be a mister Wright?"

"Yeah."

He pulled the duffel bag off his shoulder and began to transfer the balls into his bag. "You were with Gary? How is he? We were all so torn up when we heard."

I frowned. "He's down right now, but he'll get back up."

The assistant finished transferring the balls into his bag. He thanked me again before disappearing with a short pop along with the alakazam. I left the centre, ready to leave the sleepy town behind me. I only had one more thing to do.


I found Blue exactly where I expected him to be. He was in the sprawling graveyard that surrounded Pokemon Tower, a small marker and the freshly filled earth the only sign that a pokemon was buried at his feet.

"Hey, kid," I said quietly. "Got a call from your grandfather."

"So did I," he replied curtly. He didn't look up at me, his gaze fixed on the hand-carved marker. "Didn't really feel like talking."

I nodded to myself. "Of course, I get it." I joined him in silence, looking down at the grave. "She was a good raticate," I said. "She'll be missed."

I saw Blue bow his head slightly, caught the tears begin to form at the edges of his eyes. The kid looked down at the grave. "She is missed," he said plainly. "She didn't deserve that, to die fighting that thing."

I stood there, my mind racing. This kid had lost his pokemon because of me, all because I had caught Acolyte. I couldn't help coming back to that again, finding the event that all of this stemmed from sticking in my mind.

"I never got the chance to thank you," he said quickly. "I stole your food and you gave me more without even thinking."

"Trainers help each other," I said. "We're on our own out here, just us and our teams against the wilderness." I smirked. "Besides, what kind of person would I be if I let a kid starve to death while I had food?"

He set his eyes on me, that determined glare that I would come to know so well boring into me. "You didn't have to share it," he said. "You didn't have to, but you did." He reached into his pack, pulling out a small pockmarked stone. "I found this in a cave on Mount Moon. There was a big meteorite underground. It evolved my nidorino when he touched it." He paused as I took the stone, his glare softening. "I want you to take this. I broke it off the meteorite after the evolution, thinking it might be valuable." He shrugged and handed it to me. "Maybe it could help you evolve your nidorino."

I put up my hand, holding the stone back out to him. "I can't take this," I protested. I was the reason his pokemon was dead. I didn't deserve a reward, even if it was as tempting as this. "You might need it."

He shook his head. "Trainers help each other," he said. "You said that yourself. You helped me, I'm helping you." He stepped back, pushing the stone back at me. "If you give that back, I'm throwing it away."

I smiled as best I could. He didn't deserve to have this hanging over his head. He was just a kid. "You sure?" I asked.

He nodded, looking back down at the grave. "She would have wanted me to pay you back," he said solemnly. I saw tears threaten in his eyes and watched him look away. "She was a good pokemon like that."

I put my hand on his shoulder. Blue flinched, but he didn't move my hand nor move away. "I know what you're feeling," I said. "I know that you feel guilty about what happened to Clothos."

"How could you?" he asked coldly.

I didn't let my smile fade, even as the memory of the tragedy that incited my departure from home came surging back. "I lost my little sister a few months before I started my journey. We think it was a persian attack," I said, my voice shaky. It still hurt to think of Margaret, but he needed someone to help him through his loss. "I didn't understand at first. I blamed myself. I blamed my family…" I met his eyes, knowing that he needed to hear what I was saying. "Sometimes there's just nobody to blame. Sometimes, it's just the way things go. They aren't fair or right, or even someone's fault. They just are."

His gaze fell to the dirt. "I could have-"

"You can't dwell on what could have been, or what you could have done differently," I said. "What happened in the past is set in stone now. The only thing left is how you move on." I squeezed his shoulder, his eyes betraying the stoic demeanour he wore. "You're a good trainer, Blue. You're smart and a damn sight more mature than I was at your age. Clothos may be gone, but you can carry on for her."

He nodded and I saw his expression soften for a moment as he regained his composure. Then his hard, sarcastic gaze was back. "What kinda weakling do you think I am?" he asked with a cocky smirk.

I smirked. "That's the attitude I remember." I looked around me, at the rows of graves surrounding us. "What's your plan, kid?"

He shrugged. "Still got Celadon waiting for me."

"I meant right now."

He met my eyes. "Might say goodbye for a little bit." He looked back down at the marker. "I… I got a call to make. I've got a friend that's been through this before." He grimaced. "Thank you, Marcus. I'm sorry you had to see me like this."

I sighed and shook my head. "You don't have to apologize, kid. I gotta get back to Vermilion myself. Still got a match with Surge waiting for me."

He smiled. "Smell ya later then."

I couldn't help the chuckle. Despite the badass team of pokemon and the cocky attitude, Blue was still just a kid. It was easy to forget that. "I'll see you around, Blue."

I left that place, only pausing to look back once. Blue was still standing there, looking down at the marker. A boy in a red training jacket and hat had joined him, both of them staring down at the marker in silence. I turned back, leaving the grieving trainer behind.


I made it partway to Saffron that night. My plan had been to cut through the underground path and head back to Vermillion that way. If all went well, I'd be back in Vermillion before the month was out.

I should have expected her after my run-in with the masked man. I should have been ready. I was watching the fire and picking at the scraps from my meal, fighting off nausea and dizziness as I ate. She emerged from the darkness, the masked trainer towering over both of us at her side.

I shot Luna a look. "Enough," I said as I calmed her down with a scratch behind the ears. "Not today, Luna."

I looked up at the woman with a bored expression. "What do you want?"

"To remind you the terms of our arrangement," she spat.

A loud buzz filled the air and I realized too late that I knew what it was. The scizor hit me from the side, tearing Luna away and knocking me flat in one smooth movement.

My vulpix struggled briefly, spewing a jet of flames that scorched the ground beside our campfire. The scizor knocked her out with one swift blow to the base of her head. It dropped my starter into the dirt unceremoniously and let her lay there motionless.

I clambered to my feet, fists clenched. I returned her to her ball and gritted my teeth for what was coming next. I couldn't fight back, not against her. Not if I wanted Curie back alive. I had to take this with a smile.

"Did you forget what you were supposed to be doing?" She asked. "Did you forget what your only job was?"

"Run the gym challenge," I replied curtly. "Which I was doing."

She shook her head. "No, you were off playing hero halfway across the country. Your battle is in Vermillion, not Lavender."

I shrugged nonchalantly, trying to keep calm. "I needed a third pokemon for Surge. I was hoping to have Curie evolved by now, but without her I needed to catch something new." I glanced at the masked trainer. "Someone decided to track the location of my latest capture and capture a bunch of rare, probably expensive pokemon."

The masked man narrowed his eyes. "That's enough out of you. Release him," he ordered. "Now."

I slowly reached down and lifted Acolyte's ball. He materialized in front of me, bone club held lazily at his side. He saw the masked trainer and let out a feral growl.

"Stand down, Acolyte," I said firmly. I stepped in front of him, pleading with my eyes.

He hefted his club with both hands and looked at me furiously. He wanted to fight.

"Please, Acolyte," I begged. "Please don't.

He lowered the club slightly but still kept it in a ready position. I breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed I had some measure of control over my newest pokemon.

The masked man scowled and looked my marowak up and down. "So this is what we missed out on?" he asked. He sighed and his fists tightened. "Woulda been a damn good return on the colony. Return him," he ordered. "What about the cubone?"

The woman stifled a laugh as I returned Acolyte to his ball. I was completely alone at their mercy. "He handed them off this morning. They're out of our reach now. Probably already safely at Oak's lab."

The masked man shook his head. "Now, that sounds like it was a poor choice."

I balled up my fists as righteous anger swelled up inside me. "No, tracking a trainer's capture location was a poor choice." I stepped forward, indignant as I could be. "They aren't yours, to be caught and sold to the highest bidder like they're barely even animals. The cubone were intelligent. They had their own society. You don't get to take that away."

The man said nothing, but exhaled slightly through his nose. My eyes widened and I knew I had made a mistake.

"I didn't give Oak anything on you," I said quickly. I stepped back, fear swelling in my chest. "Or the Rangers. Nobody knows a-."

The masked trainer's fist slammed into my chest, driving the wind from my lungs. A second fist into my gut doubled me over and made my vision swim. I felt a third blow into my ribs and grunted as I dropped to my knees.

He lifted me off the ground with one arm, meaty hand wrapping around my throat. I felt him squeeze, felt myself panic as I tried and failed to draw a breath.

"That's not the point," he spat in my face. He tossed me to the ground and crossed his arms. "You interfered with our operations and cost us the cubone colony. The organization is after my head for this. You're lucky I'm not cracking your happiny's ball as we speak." He glanced back at the woman with a look of disgust. "Someone has a bleeding heart and doesn't think that's earned yet." He turned back to look at me and scowled. "If it were up to me, you would already be dead."

"Fortunately, that decision is not yours." The woman stepped forward, speaking with more force than I had expected. "He's not your mark, Vicious."

He backed off, but kept his cold gaze on me. "Bah, this is why I don't work with other divisions. You're all a bunch of softhearted shits. No spine when it comes time to put the screws to your mark"

The woman ignored him and stepped closer to me. "Let me put it in very simple terms. Your battle with Surge is in the morning." Her voice dropped low and she leaned in close. She produced a pokeball from one pocket and held it out to me. "You will win that battle," she said. "Or you will never see this ball again."

I took Curie's ball and curled my hand around it. I couldn't let that happen. "Not to ruin the plan," I started, my voice hoarse and my throat aching. "But how am I supposed to get to Vermillion by the morning?"

She smirked and looked back at the masked man. "We have our ways."


Their way turned out to include a white knuckle helicopter ride just over the tops of the trees. We roared over the trees, low enough to stay off of any ground based radar. I worried that we might be seen by an aerial patrol, but none crossed our path that night.

I had Curie asleep on my lap the entire ride. She passed out barely even ten minutes off the ground. I spent the entire ride staring daggers at the masked trainer, my free hand gently caressing the back of Curie's head. It passed by far too quickly.

We touched down in a clearing just north of Vermillion. I returned Curie to her ball and handed it over when ordered. It crushed me to do it, but I didn't have a choice. Like it or not, Curie and I were only alive because they needed us for something, something big. Otherwise, why blackmail a Silph trainer? I would play along for now, until the moment was right. Then I would find my way out.

The helicopter roared back into the night, leaving me completely alone in the small clearing. I relaxed my fists and looked down at the small, round, white rock in my hand. Curie's rock. She had dropped it in my lap and it didn't return to her ball with her. I made a silent promise to myself, that I'd get her back, give her back the silly little rock in my hand.

With a grunt and a sigh of exhaustion, I made my way to Vermillion. My legs felt like they were dragging through a snow drift and my head was groggy but I powered through the pain. I reached the gates of Vermillion before the sun rose. The rangers waved me through after checking my ID, something that I hadn't remembered when I first arrived. I chalked that up to entering the city during an active emergency.

I pulled out my pokegear and plugged it in once I reached the pokemon centre. I still had a few hours until sign in for my match, so after checking my pokemon in for some last minute emergency care, I flipped over to the phone feature. I had twelve missed calls and several texts from Gemma overnight.

I hit dial before I read the text. It rang once. "You sneaky little novice bastard," she said as the line picked up. "How the hell did you catch a cubone?"

I couldn't help the effortless smile that came to my face. I may have been in pain, but Gemma's enthusiasm was infectious. "Luck and persistence," I replied. "He's a fierce one too. Not a fan of Pride though. I swear I have to separate them at the end of every sparring session. He's already evolved into a marowak."

"Surge won't stand a chance against him," she said in a giddy tone. "His teams are mostly energy based attackers. The only real threat you'll face is his raichu, maybe his magneton but Luna counters that pretty well." She paused for a moment. "How did you even get a match? I thought you were still hiking up the coast another week at least."

I hesitated for a moment too long. "I… uhhhh… caught a teleport from Lavender. Something opened up for me and with Acolyte evolving so quickly I figured we were ready."

"You definitely are," she continued, missing my slight hesitation. "He walls basically anything Surge can throw at him. He always runs raichu-magneton as his core for intermediate matches, but the third always plays to your weaknesses." She paused for a half-moment. "What are they?" She asked.

"You'd know better than me," I said.

"No, I haven't seen Pride or Luna in over a month. Acolyte is completely new to me. I have no clue what their synergy is like, nor what their weaknesses would be."

I thought for a long moment. "Stopping power. We don't have the strength to brute force our way through a battle. We have to win with strategy more than strength."

I could practically hear the laugh in her voice. "Good luck, then. He's gonna bring his biggest glass cannon and try to blitz you down." She paused a moment. "He has speed on his side, with the exception of maybe Luna. He won't give you any time to set up. You'll be in for a fight from the opening moments of the battle."

I nodded. I missed Gemma, her sage advice and battle tips. It wasn't her fault that I couldn't tell her about Curie. "Thanks, Gemma."

She stopped talking. "No problem, novice."

"How's Saffron treating you?" I asked. "Still bored?"

There was a long pause, with both of us remaining silent. "Things are pretty bad," she finally said. "There was an attack the same day someone came after me. They hit Silph headquarters in broad daylight and incited a riot in the market. They put the city on lockdown. Nobody in or out of their homes. The streets are clear every day now. It's almost creepy to look down at what should be the busiest street in Kanto and see not a single person."

I sucked in a breath. It had to be connected to the masked trainer and the woman. I was beginning to suspect that there was a much larger conspiracy going on than I had originally thought. The woman likely worked with whoever was threatening Silph, and Vicious was from an entirely different division of their organization.

"You alright?" she asked. "You seem a little off today."

"I've been up all night. Couldn't sleep and…" I trailed off, unsure of what to say. I knew I was likely being listened to. "I… I watched a friend lose a pokemon yesterday." She didn't say anything so I continued. "I watched it happen and it was my fault. I led us into the situation. I was just trying to help some wild pokemon. I escalated the situation and his pokemon paid the price."

She was silent for a moment. "You didn't do it, you know. You didn't kill the pokemon yourself."

"I might as well have," I replied. "It was my fault. He wouldn't have been there if I hadn't led him into it."

She sighed. "Look, Marcus. You might be naïve but you aren't an asshole. Don't treat yourself like one. You tried to help some wild pokemon. It's not your fault that something bad happened."

I smiled. Maybe I couldn't tell Gemma what happened. But it was nice to talk to her all the same. She cared. Sometimes that's all you needed.


I was waiting at the doors of the gym when the receptionist arrived. She gave me a weak smile and unlocked the doors. She took my name down and disappeared into the back to flip on the lights.

The rows of lights flipped on one by one. The room was bare, save for the reception desk. It was large enough for my whole team and another dozen more pokemon. It was large enough to stage a battle in. I briefly thought that perhaps the battle would take place in here, but I cast the idea away as absurd.

A heavy set of footsteps followed the receptionist and I looked up. The Lightning Hero himself, Lieutenant Colonel Emmett 'Surge' Roth, Gym Leader of Vermillion City was looking down at me.

He was massive in a way that I had never seen before. He towered over me, his legs at least as thick around as my chest. I felt completely and utterly dwarfed by the monster of a man in front of me. "So you're my morning challenge?" he boomed. "Not often that I see a gym challenge set for twenty minutes after open." He smacked me on the back, practically dragging me with him.

I shot the receptionist a terrified look as Surge wheeled me away. She smirked and shook her head as we passed through the doors deeper into the gym.

Surge led me by the shoulder through his gym. We passed training rooms by the dozen, passed by a rowdy sounding hallway, deeper into the gym. Surge practically shoved me through the small door at the end of the hallway and squeezed through behind me.

He shut the heavy door and he deposited himself into a reclining chair behind the desk. He pulled a thick rolled cigar out of his shirt pocket and offered me one. "Genuine petilil. Straight out of Unova," he said. "Rolled it myself."

I reluctantly took the roll and held it awkwardly in my hand as I sat in the chair opposite him. "I was hoping we could have our battle, sir. I'm on a tight schedule, sir."

Surge eyed me through a growing cloud of smoke. "Cut the shit. I'm not your superior officer." He leaned back and glanced over at the trio of magnemite that I only just realized were hovering in the corner of the room. "Are we good?" He asked.

The magnemite let out an angry buzz and I felt my pokegear vibrate slightly in my pocket.

Surge looked at me and narrowed his eyes. He slowly opened a safe on the wall and pointed to the bulge in my jacket pocket. He gently took my pokegear from me and placed it in the safe. He gently closed the door and pressed the lock button.

"What was that about?" I asked cautiously.

His scowl could have curdled milk. "I don't trust anyone, much less a Silph trainer. Corruption runs deep in Kanto and Silph is at the centre of everything." He gestured at the safe. "You never know who could be listening with one of those things."

I raised an eyebrow. "So my league sponsor is up to no good?"

He shrugged. "I didn't say that. But I do know that an expert-level trainer who had been expecting an in-depth training session this morning was suddenly bumped and replaced with you, a novice with only three reported pokemon." He crossed his arms across his chest and looked me up and down. "Would you be able to explain that to me? Because I'm of half a mind to deny your challenge and go on my merry way."

"Please don't," I said quickly, discretion falling by the wayside as the woman cracked Curie's ball in my mind. "They'll kill her if I can't earn your badge."

The expression of frustration on Surge's face morphed into a sympathetic smile. "There are no ears in here except mine." He leaned forward and puffed heavily on his cigar. "Tell me everything."

I did. I spilled everything to the war hero in front of me. I told him what happened after the Cerulean gym match, told him about how I'd helped defend Vermillion during the tentacruel attack, told him about the woman who had shown up in my hotel room and taken Curie. I told him about my trip up the eastern coast of Kanto, about the cubone colony.

I told him about Blue, about how his raticate had died. I told him about the same stylized red R that I kept seeing. I told him how the woman had appeared last night with the tyranitar's trainer and threatened me with the death of my pokemon if I didn't earn the thunder badge by the end of the day.

He leaned back in his chair, chewing on the end of his cigar. "Did you get any names?" He asked carefully. "Any aliases we could use?"

I thought back carefully, mind racing through the night. "She called the man Vicious. He had a metal helmet that covered the top half of his head." I wracked my mind again but came up with nothing. "I didn't catch the woman's name at all."

Surge sighed and shook his head. He sat up and looked me in the eyes. "Look, kid," he started. "What I'm about to tell you is secret. Nobody can know. Not your mom, not your best friend. Nobody."

I nodded slowly, wondering what fresh mess I was getting myself into.

"When I said corruption runs deep in Kanto, I meant it. Silph is compromised to a degree that I'm scared to even investigate." He got up and slid open the desk drawer. He pulled out a folder and opened it. For a short moment, he looked at the photo mournfully. "Something is rotten at the core of the league. Lance won't give me any straight answers about anything, we've had an empty Elite Four slot for months, Agatha has gone silent, Lorelei is her usual ice-bitch self… And Bruno is stuck in Saffron, dealing with whatever the hell is going on there. Pokemon traffickers run rampant, swarms of strangely evolved pokemon are attacking cities that haven't faced attack in decades, and I have Rangers across Kanto noting unusual wild pokemon movements."

He flipped a page and his expression hardened. "Someone is playing a dangerous game here. Someone powerful."

He looked up at me and I saw the gravity of the situation in his eyes, saw the weight of responsibility laying on his back. "And that red R? It's at the centre of it all. It's on the periphery of every major event, just taunting me with its presence." He dropped the folder in front of me. "Notice anything?"

I looked down. It was three men, all of them laughing and posing for the picture. They were clad in fine suits and all held glasses of bubbly liquid in their hands. "A younger you," I said. "Is that the champion?" He nodded and I looked over at the last man and immediately focused in on the stylized R on his collar. "Who is that?"

"That is Leader Giovanni Sakai, of Viridian City. This is before he took that post, of course. Back when he was just part of the Indigo Aces. It's also the first instance I could find of that R appearing." He rose to his feet and massaged his temples. "I don't have much, but something big is coming. I'm a soldier at heart. I can feel it in my bones. War's coming. And whatever that R is, it's at the centre of it all. It appears in too many places, is connected to too many unusual disturbances and events to be a coincidence. Someone is up to something, and I'd bet on Leader Sakai having answers."

I looked at the rest of the pictures. "More people with the R?" I asked. I pointed at the masked trainer. "That's Vicious," I said. "And that's the woman…"

"Domino," he said. "She doesn't appear to have any pokemon that we know of, however it doesn't appear as though she needs any."

I looked up at him, unsure of what to make of this. "What do you need me to do?"

He sighed and shook his head. "I never wanted the bullshit of command," he started. "I was always at home in the middle of the fight, not giving the orders from the back or sneaking around in the dark. All this conspiracy bullshit? It's not my kind of fight." He turned around and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Here's what we do. We have our battle."

I raised an eyebrow. "And then what?"

He met my eyes and I saw the tired in his eyes. "You'll play along, at least until I can figure out a way to get your happiny back safely." He turned and entered the combination for the safe. He pulled out my pokegear and held it out to me. "I only have one question, trainer Wright. Are you ready for our battle?"

I nodded and looked him in the eyes. I wasn't ready. I was exhausted from a night of no sleep. My brain was throbbing and my throat still aches from Vicious choking me. My pokemon were not rested and we hadn't done any specific training for the battle. We were strong, probably strong enough to win, but I didn't like leaving things to chance. "I am ready, sir."

He rose from his seat and opened the door. "Follow me," he ordered. "Your battle will begin shortly."

I rose to my feet and followed the living legend through the gym. We didn't speak. We didn't have to. I had to win. Everything else was irrelevant.


Pokédex Entry #248 – Tyranitar

This fearsome predator is almost solely found in the Argent Mountain range that divides the Kan-Jo supercontinent. These impressively powerful pokemon are capable of reshaping entire landscapes with their raw strength.

Tyranitar are inherently aggressive. They attack at the first perceived slight, often for trivial reasons. It is highly recommended that trainers avoid these pokemon at all costs.

They make their nests in the hollowed out shells of broken mountains. Almost no records of tyranitar reproduction exist, but mother tyranitar appear to have strong bonds with young larvitar. It is unknown whether this bond remains as the young age, as tyranitar are solitary creatures that are seldom seen in a peaceful state.



Novice Trainer KT# 07996101, Marcus Wright, current team

Luna, Vulpix

Pride, Nidorino

Acolyte, Marowak
 
Chapter 9: Thunder

joshthewriter

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Thunder


My platform rose into the air, Surge mirroring me across the arena. There was no crowd, no onlookers save for a pair of gym trainers that Surge had asked to spectate. The cameras were rolling, broadcasting live to whatever league network decided to pick up an early match. There was no announcer, hardly any noise at all. It was a harsh contrast with the spectacle that had been my battle in Cerulean.

I fought the exhaustion in my mind, fought against my drooping eyes. My head was splitting and I felt dizzy as the platform rose, but I held myself up on the platform's railing. I squinted, the arena lights burning into my brain.

I needed to win a League Intermediate challenge. Something that I was certain Surge wouldn't be content to just hand me. He might have pledged to help me, but the League did not take kindly to thrown matches. I would have to win on my own merit. I knew my pokemon were strong enough, but I didn't know if I could direct them to victory.

He cupped his hands around his mouth, looking at me from across the field. "Three on three!" he shouted. "Last mon standing wins!"

I tossed my three balls into the air. Luna and Pride instantly adjusted to the flat field, growling at Surge before he even sent out a pokemon. Acolyte stood numbly, marvelling at the massive vaulted ceiling overhead.

Surge released his pokemon and I frowned. A raichu and a magneton were side by side, just like Gemma had said. A round ball, divided seamlessly into red and white sat beside them. An electrode. It sparked slightly and I hardened my gaze as I tried to focus my mind. That was the main threat.

I knew what Surge's play would be. The electrode was a suicide bomber, intended to take down any pokemon that might have an advantage against his before they could strike. Pokemon like Acolyte. I couldn't let that happen. To lose Acolyte early in the match would mean a loss. Pride and Luna didn't have the speed to pull off a victory if he went down.

One of the gym trainers blew a horn and the battle began. "Pride, Acolyte, advance as one. Luna, agility!"

Surge shouted his own orders from across the field. His pokemon rocketed forward, the raichu veering off to chase Luna as she paced the edge of the field. The magneton rose above the field, keeping itself out of melee range as sparks of electricity began to jump between its magnets.

The electrode rolled forward, gaining speed as it barrelled down on my pokemon. An explosion from that strange electric ball would likely wipe out both Pride and Acolyte if it caught them. I let my fear of the explosion colour my decision.

"Pride, scatter!" I shouted. A bolt of lightning leapt across the field, tearing my attention in another direction as my stomach swam.

I turned my head, trying and failing to keep track of Luna and the raichu as they sped past. They were little more than jagged blurs, flashes of lightning and flame stabbing my brain and jumping between them. Luna sped past me, barely even glancing in my direction. I didn't dare issue her an order, not with the raichu giving chase. Her reflexes were far faster than I could ever hope to be. I would only slow her down.

Pride bolted to the side, veering out of the Electrode's path and separating from Acolyte. The electrode barreled past harmlessly, giving Acolyte's club a healthy distance. A bolt of lightning erupted from the magneton, forking suddenly towards Acolyte as he leapt up into the air. He deftly intercepted the bolt with the bone, moving faster than I had thought capable. He landed deftly, watching warily as Luna and the raichu flashed past him.

Newfound confidence filled my mind as I realized the breadth of our advantage. Acolyte was a gem, capable of intercepting Surge's electric attacks and walling them completely. I pointed up at the magneton as Acolyte looked to me for orders. "Bring it down! Bonemerang!" I shouted.

Acolyte wound up and pitched the club. It spun through the air, curving slightly as it honed in on the fleeing magneton. The bone club smacked the pokemon from the air, spinning unnaturally back into Acolyte's waiting hand.

Pride bounded after the magneton, horn lowered. He wouldn't be able to do much to the steel-type's thick carapace, but all he had to do was buy Acolyte enough time to dispatch the electrode. He slammed into it, knocking the magneton back to the ground as he leapt atop the levitating steel type.

I turned my attention back to Acolyte, hoping that Luna could hold her own for just a little bit longer. "Ready with a bone club!" I shouted as the electrode came around and bore down on Acolyte.

We would only have one chance. Electrode were notoriously volatile, capable of bursting open and releasing a massive explosion of energy without killing themselves. It would be enough to knock any of my pokemon out of the battle if I was lucky. If I wasn't lucky? Well, it wasn't like fatalities were uncommon in the higher ranks of the league.

The electrode veered away from Acolyte at the last moment. Its rollout continued, gaining speed as it barrelled past Pride as he mauled the magneton in close quarters. My marowak raised his club and charged after it, moving noticeably slower than the rolling ball.

The magneton hummed with vibration, a harsh metal screeching that pierced my ears. I dropped to my knees, covering my ears and closing my eyes. I fought the urge to barf and grabbed the railing to steady myself.

Pride shied back as I opened my eyes, scrambling away from the steel type. It rose from the ground, finally clear of Pride's mauling and I gasped as a blue-green ball of electricity spammed into life. The magneton launched the zap cannon, smiting Pride in the side with the writhing ball of electricity. He seized up, joints locking as his limbs went stiff and his body began to shut down.

I turned, already shouting as my vulpix sprinted past. "Luna, flamethrower! Take the pressure off Pride."

I saw Luna bound past a pressing bolt of lightning and realized my mistake too late. The raichu pushed the attack, forcing Luna off the perimeter of the arena with a blinding flash of lightning. It missed her by inches, forcing her into the centre of the field. She saw the electrode coming and made one last desperate leap to get clear as she bathed it in flame.

She wasn't fast enough. The electrode hammered her in mid-air, catapulting her back towards the raichu. She desperately attempted to right herself but the raichu was already there. He launched itself up to meet her, slamming his body into her and launching my starter back over Acolyte. Another bolt of lightning followed her, but Acolyte was there to intercept it with his club.

The electrode spun back into another rollout and began pacing the arena as it built up speed. Surge's raichu stalked carefully towards the edge of the arena, watching and waiting for another opening as Luna struggled to her feet.

I grimaced, chastising myself for my carelessness. The concussion had practically disabled me. I had to power through, had to ignore the pain. I couldn't keep track of the chaos of a triple battle in my exhausted state, but I had to be better. I had to slow the battle down to a more manageable pace.

"Retreat to the centre!" I shouted. "Acolyte, cover them!"

Pride turned, his legs still spasming wildly. He took one half step and toppled over before he had made it another step. The magneton rose higher off the ground, electricity sparking at the ends of its magnets. It erupted, bathing Pride in a storm of lightning.

I heard Pride's shriek of pain mingled with the thunderous crackle of lightning. He spasmed violently and I felt the battle slipping away. The bolt ended and Pride slumped to the ground. He struggled to rise, his legs still stiff and still jittery.

I turned just as Luna limped weakly to Acolyte's side. She had been hurt, badly from the look of it. She was frail compared to my other pokemon. I couldn't afford another series of blows like that, or the battle was over and Curie was dead. "On the offensive, advance as one!"

Acolyte bellowed a challenge and stomped angrily towards Pride. The magneton let out another shrill metal sound as it retreated into the air, barraging me and my pokemon with the harsh noise. Acolyte roared as he charged through the pain, bone club raised high to intercept an incoming thunderbolt from the raichu that was meant for Luna.

Luna dashed past him, flames spilling from her jaws. She leapt into the air, using her agility to launch herself up at the magneton. It lit up, electricity sparking between its magnets, but it was too late. A jet of flame erupted from Luna's jaws, engulfing the steel type completely.

Luna landed deftly at Acolyte's side as he intercepted another thunderbolt from the raichu that had been meant for her. The magneton wobbled away, metal carapace glowing red-hot. It was hurt. Not enough to knock it out, but it was still something.

I pointed up at the magneton, knowing that I was leaving an opening for Surge with my next attack. I didn't have a choice. The raichu was pacing the arena, waiting for a shot at Luna. The electrode was waiting out of range for my pokemon to expose themselves. I had to turn the odds in my favour and thin out their numbers.

"Bonemerang!" I shouted.

Acolyte hurled his club at the magneton as Surge bellowed out his orders. I couldn't hear them, I was too far away.

The electrode spun towards my pokemon again. It seemed to spark erratically and I knew what order Surge had given. I knew we had to keep it away from Acolyte. He was making a play to force an early end to the match.

I grimaced. I only had one choice. I looked down at my proud marowak, knowing he was the key to my success and gave the only order I could. "Pride, intercept it!"

My nidorino took a step, then another. The magneton crashed to the ground several feet away and whined in pain, startling him into action. His legs relaxed and he lowered his horn as he charged towards the electrode.

The raichu darted in, already sparking madly as he rushed towards Luna. My starter reared back, flames already gathering in her mouth as if she knew my next order before it came.

"Flamethrower!" I roared as my heart pounded against my chest.

Acolyte's club was still spinning back towards him, and he wouldn't be able to intercept the attack. Luna wouldn't be able to tank the hit and the battle would flip completely in Surge's favour.

Luna spat a stream of fire at the raichu. It swerved suddenly, barrelling through the flames and veering towards Pride. Blue-white lightning erupted from the raichu's cheeks, completely enveloping it as the electric type built up speed.

I saw the trap, saw Surge's play too late. His raichu slammed into Pride from the side. I shielded my eyes as lightning erupted from the impact point and both pokemon soared through the air. Pride came to a crashing halt at the edge of the arena and lay deathly still.

The explosion of lightning rocked the electrode, throwing it off course as it rolled towards my pokemon. It sparked wildly and I had a horrified realization that the battle was coming to a fast end.

"Bone club!" I shouted, knowing that only Acolyte would have a chance at surviving any kind of close up encounter with that electrode. Pride was down and not moving, Luna was squishy and had already taken a beating. Only Acolyte had a shot at winning me victory.

He caught his club expertly as he charged towards the electrode. Luna dashed away, putting as much distance as she could behind her. Acolyte only made it five steps before he planted his feet and swung his club with all his might.

I heard the loud crack of Acolyte's club impact the electrode. Then a flash of light erupted and I threw my arms up to shield my face. The shockwave hit me like a fist to the chest and I fell back. I landed hard against the railing of my platform, sucking in a ragged breath as my vision swam. I saw darkness creeping in at the edges of my vision and forced myself up onto the railing.

I dragged myself forward, eyes scanning the arena field desperately. My head was throbbing and I fought the urge to barf, but I was up.

The field was devastated. A massive gaping hole had been opened in the centre of the field, chunks of earth tossed aside like they were nothing.

The electrode was gone, likely returned to its ball. I raised Pride's ball and returned him, spotting him just outside the edge of the crater.

Acolyte was laying in his own impact crater, having been catapulted across the field and half buried in the earthen field by the explosion. He stirred slightly and I felt my pride begin to swell. He struggled to his feet, favouring his left leg. My marowak hefted his bone club and growled defiantly.

I didn't know where the raichu was, but the magneton was already rising off the ground. Its steel carapace was still glowing red-hot and it wobbled slightly as it rose into the air.

Luna was crawling to her feet, glancing up at me. She planted her feet proudly and snarled at Surge's magneton as it rose into the air. My heart pounded in my chest. We still had a battle to fight and my pokemon had proven their worth. I could finish this.

"Luna, get in close." I ordered as Surge bellowed out his own orders. "Use your speed, and torch it once you're in range."

I turned to Acolyte. "Keep your distance. Cover Luna if that raichu is still mobile."

My marowak hesitantly limped off in the direction of the raichu. He raised his club and turned his back on the magneton, trusting Luna to take care of the wounded steel-type.

The magneton formed the same blue-green ball of crackling electricity as before. It let out a shrill screech as it launched the zap cannon in one last desperate attack.

Luna darted under the ball, letting it wash harmlessly against the ground behind her. She pounded towards the magneton as it fled skyward for everything it was worth. Luna leapt into the air, a stream of fire erupting from her jaws and taking the magneton from below.

With a terrible, pained screech, the magneton dropped out of the air and crashed against the ground. It buzzed weakly and attempted to rise, but Luna was there. She planted one paw on top of the magneton, flames dripping from her maw.

A horn blew and I let out the breath I hadn't known I was holding. My platform slowly began to descend as my heartbeat finally began to slow.

Acolyte was standing over the raichu, gingerly poking at Surge's pokemon with his club. It disappeared in a flash of red light and he looked up at me proudly.

Luna looked up at Surge as the magneton was returned to its ball. She flared her tails and snarled, her teeth bared at the imposing man.

"Easy there, little one." He looked up at me with a surprisingly soft grin. It was a harsh contrast with the stoic demeanour he had held himself in during our earlier conversation. "You won the day, kid. Congrats. I'm proud to award you with this thunder badge."

I returned Luna and Acolyte as I jogged over to him. I had been so wrapped up in my troubles that I had scarcely even thought about what victory would feel like. "I'm honoured, sir." I met his eyes and he nodded slightly. "You put up one hell of a fight."

He smirked and cocked his head. "Come back here when you make elite and we'll have a real battle." He shook his head. "As nice as this was, my real team would have wiped the floor with you."

The smile on my face was genuine. "I definitely will," I replied. "Thank you sir, that was a great battle."

He nodded. "Not completely," he replied. "You're sloppy though. You got through that battle on sheer luck and bullshit. Gotta tighten that shit up if you ever want to get out of the intermediate rank."

I stood there in stunned silence as his statement sank in. "Intermediate?" I said. "I made intermediate!"

He nodded. "You know the perks of the status?"

"Licensing to access league certified breeders and mandatory preliminary training for Indigo Ranger Service."

He whistled low. "Done your research, have you?"

I smiled mareepishly. "I've dreamed of being a trainer since I watched the Indigo Conference of '08. I've known the trainer classes and their perks since my Ma taught me to read." I wrung my hands, desperately fighting the embarrassment of being called out by a living legend. "I didn't have much to do on the farm. It was either learn everything I could about training, or stare aimlessly at the clouds as the berries grew."

He raised an eyebrow. He glanced over at the two gym trainers. A third trainer had joined them, a man I vaguely recognized from League highlights and then back to me. "Look, kid. I still have that trainer waiting for his specialized session. I gotta get started with him, but I have an offer for you."

"I'm interested," I replied.

"Before you even know what the offer is?" He shook his head slightly. "Never agree to something before you know what it entails. The league won't hesitate to take advantage of that, and neither will…" he trailed off and looked at me pointedly. I knew what he meant. "I can give you one week. One week of my time, one week here to train under my direct tutelage. I'll even count it as special forces training towards your Ranger certification if you'd like. But in return, I want you. At least one year of service in my personal Ranger outfit upon making elite rank, pending that you pass all required entry exams."

I paused for a moment. "You want me to join the Rangers?" I asked cautiously. "Why would you want that?"

He smiled. "I like your attitude," he said cautiously. "And you have potential. I'd hate to see it wasted for a company like Silph."

I searched his face for an answer but found none. "Can I think on it?" I asked.

"You got to the end of the week to decide, kid. After that, my schedule is filled." Surge turned and walked away, leaving me alone in the centre of the field.

I returned Pride and Acolyte to their balls and slowly made my way towards the gym med-bay. My heart and my mind fought with every step, unsure of what I should do.


I waited anxiously outside the gym's med-bay. My feet paced the same steps back and forth for hours, impatiently waiting for my pokemon to recover. The gym's healing machines were working, but not fast enough for my liking. I'd slept for almost an entire day at the barracks in Surge's Gym while I waited, but they still weren't ready.

Pride had cracked several ribs to go with his extreme paralysis. He wouldn't be back in battle shape for at least another week, and even then would need rest for the better part of a month. Bones could be mended, but it took time. The healing machines would speed that up, but they were not miracle machines.

Acolyte had fared even worse. The explosion had knocked him senseless, even if he hadn't been seriously injured. His leg was alright, just a minor bruise where I had feared a full break. He was still woozy and clumsy, but the gym medic seemed sure he would be fine with time. His concussion had likely been less severe than mine, and I was already starting to feel better.

Only Luna had come out relatively unharmed. She was badly bruised and sore where the electrode had hit her. A short stint in the gym's healing machine had been enough to heal her, at least enough for her to be returned to me.

So there I stood, still pacing back and forth and stealing glances through the med-bay window every few minutes. I must have caused an annoyance because the next time I looked, the smiling face of the gym medic was at the window.

She stepped through the door and regarded me with a soft smile. "Mister Wright, I am afraid that checking on your pokemon every ten seconds will not make them heal any faster. They will both be at least a few more hours until they are fit for travel."

I sighed heavily. "Is there no way to speed that up?" I asked. "I'm on an extremely tight schedule."

It was her turn to sigh. "Look, Surge told me about your next match. I know you're planning on running off to Celadon to try and make the date. I'm not discharging your pokemon while they're not in fighting shape." She shook her head. "Have some care about your pokemon. Their welfare should matter to you."

I stepped back, taken off guard by the sudden news of my impending match. "What do you mean, my next match? I haven't even…" I trailed off, knowing that I was on the shortest of short leashes. Domino likely hadn't spared any time in booking my next match. She was probably just waiting for me to leave the gym to pounce on me. "Ah," I started as I made the realization. "Apologies for asking, ma'am."

"Look," the medic continued. "Go have a few drinks or something. It's too late to travel at this point, and your pokemon would do well with a full night of healing." She smiled sympathetically. "They'll be as good as new in the morning."

I nodded and thanked her, leaving my phone number in case anything came up. I left the gym with Luna's ball on my belt and my head held high.


I sauntered into the nearest sports bar, a dingy little hole in the wall, and sat myself at the bar. The tv behind the bar was running the league highlights of the day. The bartender glanced at me and smirked coyly. She raised a finger and went back to the drink she was making.

My gaze wandered back up to the tv as the commercial cut and returned to the highlights.

"Huge news out of Celadon today," the sportscaster started. "Only a day after a record had been set for the fastest four badges in Indigo League history, a second challenger has defeated Leader Erika to claim their fourth gym badge."

The screen cut and my jaw dropped. Blue was standing beside an unremarkable boy that was clad in a bright red travel jacket and cap. He had a cocksure smirk much like Blue, but wasn't waving for the camera. Blue shone like he was born for the spotlight, his grin practically radiant in the evening sun. The screen cut again, changing to some highlights from their gym battles.

"Damn prodigies, those two are. Handled Surge with no problems and now Erika too. Hasn't been a crop of challengers like this in damn near forty years." The bartender leaned over the bar, smiling gently at me. Her light brown hair framed her rounded face and cut short just above her shoulders. "What can I get you, darling?"

"Something stiff," I said without hesitation. "I'm celebrating."

She nodded, thinking for a moment before pulling a large bottle of Johtan firewine from the shelf behind the bar. "What's the occasion?" She asked. "Don't get too many celebrations around here. Mostly just folks looking to drown their sorrows."

I shrugged. I was still unused to being recognized in public and like hell I wanted any extra attention at the moment. "Came into some money. Seemed as good a place as any to blow it."

The report on the two prodigies in Celadon ended and I sucked in a sharp breath as my oblivious face popped onto the screen. "In local news, a surprise challenge in the early hours yesterday morning has earned Yucca village's Marcus Wright the intermediate status. The relative newcomer has proved himself as one of the league's rising stars since his unorthodox first match against Pewter gym Leader Brock Takeshi."

The screen cut and changed to Curie babbling on Shale's coils like the adorable baby she was. My happiny dropped her rock and Shale catapulted her across the arena. I couldn't help but wince at the sight. My heart pounded against my chest and I pushed away the pain of seeing her again.

"Challenger Wright already has a match scheduled with Leader Erika one week from tonight, in prime time! It seems this young man is in a hurry to catch up to his peers."

My chest contracted suddenly and I struggled to pull in a breath. Curie's terrified eyes were burned into my mind. Domino was going to kill her. I was going to lose one of my challenges and Domino would kill my precious Curie. Surge had said it himself, I'd never make it out of intermediate without some serious improvements.

The bartender slid a tall glass of the firewine into my hands, drawing me back to reality. "As ordered," she grinned. "Spiced johtan firewine, the stiffest drink I got. Good for wiping your mind when you've experienced something that you'd rather forget, so go easy on it."

"Thanks," I said. I took the drink and sipped cautiously. It was warm and sweet and tasted faintly of honey. My stomach rumbled angrily in protest as the drink burned down my throat and into my empty stomach.

I pulled the Silph expense card that I'd been sent out of my pack and put it on the bar in front of me. "Any chance you serve food? I haven't eaten a thing since yesterday."

The bartender shot me a sideways glance. "And you're drinking firewine?" She shook her head and disappeared into the back with promises she would be back.

I opened my pokegear and began to absentmindedly found myself a hotel to stay at for the night. I found a place only a few blocks away and quickly booked their last room.

My saviour arrived just as I gently sipped on the amber-hued wine. She slid a plate of pidgey wings in my direction as the pudgy drunk at the other end of the bar spluttered incoherently. "Keep your tits on, Frank!" she half shouted in his direction as she hurried back towards the kitchen. "Your wings are coming!"

I dug in, my surroundings seeming to fade away as I pounded back the wings. They were perfection on a bone, crisped the perfect amount and sauced without being drowned. I would have been ashamed of the way I devoured them, had I not been half starved.

I pushed the plate away and washed down the meal with the rest of my firewine. I drained the glass and smiled to myself as the liquid warmth ran down my chest and into my stomach.

The bartender returned, taking the plate with a smile. "Everything alright over here?" She asked as she filled my empty glass.

I looked her in the eyes and for a moment I felt the weight all the things that had been hanging over me since Gemma's fearow had been killed. I'd been a normal trainer, just a young man trying his hand at his lifelong dream. I was terrified out of my mind, in way over my head. I didn't know what to do, and I had no clue how to get myself out of it.

The woman in front of me was kind and friendly. Even if she did want to separate me from my money, she wasn't underhanded about it. I looked down at the bar and mumbled some nonsense about needing some rest.

She smiled softly. "You alright?" she asked, leaning over the bar. "You got that far off look in your eyes. The kind I only see on the miserable drunks that are in here each day. Thought you said you were celebrating?"

"I am," I replied dryly as I attempted a weak grin. "Can't you see my smile?"

Her smile faded. "Listen," she started. Her voice was low and soft and she leaned closer to me. "I been here long enough to know when a person needs someone to be there for them." She gestured around at the bar, at all the drunken regulars. "I've been unfortunate enough to see a lot of people when they're at their bottom. I can see you working your way there, just by that look on your face." She placed one of her hands on mine. "If you want to stay until closing, I can walk you to wherever you're staying and we can talk about whatever it is."

I raised an eyebrow. "Why would you want to do that?" I asked. "Nobody's that nice, not without a price."

"Sometimes they are, Mister Wright. Sometimes they are." She turned away as a shout from Frank drew her attention with a drunken shout.

I didn't say anything as she walked away to serve her other customers. I didn't have to. She knew I was staying. I didn't budge from my spot, only raising my glass each time I emptied it.

I spent most of the night looking through the League's breeder network. There were a fair few pokemon breeders between Vermillion and Celadon, but nothing leapt out at me. I dithered over an ad offering powerful water types, but eventually navigated away from the page on my gear when I found only Kanto-native pokemon. With my next gym challenge being against grass types, I was in no real hurry to find a water type.


By the time closing came, it was just myself, Frank and the bartender. I rose from my chair, steadying myself on the bar.

The bartender finished wiping down the counter and smiled softly at me. "I just gotta lock up and I'll be out in a minute."

I pointed at the drunken man sleeping on the bar. "What 'bout him?"

"Frank?" She asked with a laugh. "He owns the place. He'll still be here in the morning, so long as he doesn't get lost looking for the bathroom."

I nodded numbly and fumbled my way to the door. I had downed the entire bottle of firewine and who knows what else during the night. I managed to make it outside without embarrassing myself and leaned heavily against the wall of the bar. I looked out at the water, listening to it lap peacefully against the shore.

The door opened a few moments later and the bartender emerged wearing a long black coat. "Feeling alright?" she asked.

I nodded as my head cleared slightly. "Fresh air is helping."

"And the water I've been giving you since you polished off the firewine." She locked the door and turned to me. "Alright, where are you staying?"

"Lonely Lanturn," I replied. I turned and pointed down towards Surge's gym. "It's a few blocks that way."

"I know the place," she said with a smile. "It's actually on my way home."

She hooked an arm around mine and started us off towards the motel. I stumbled on the first step, but regained my footing and shot her a cheesy drunken grin.

"So," she started. "what was Kanto's newest intermediate challenger doing in my bar?"

"How long did you know who I was?"

"Since this morning. I watched the repeat of your match while I opened up the bar." She shrugged. "Frank only paid for the League channels, so there's nothing else to watch."

I shrugged. "Well, you know my name. Mind if I ask yours?"

She cast me a look and I felt her studying me. I forced a smile and she shook her head. "You're a deflective one," she remarked. "Uncomfortable with spotlight?"

"How can you tell?" I asked. "Was it the deflection?"

She bit back a laugh. "Could have been." She turned and I saw the happy smile on her face. "You should have seen your face when they started recapping your gym challenge behind me. I've never seen someone go quite so red." She let go of my arm and glanced up at me. "Didn't expect the fame?"

I smiled mareepishly. "I'm new to this. I don't think I knew more than thirty people back home. Now, people I don't know are recognizing me on the street and I don't know how I feel about that." I stopped walking and she stopped a few paces away from me. "I'm not sure what I expected. I should have known that success in the league would earn me some fame, but it's just so strange to see my face on tv, to hear people I used to watch say that I'm one of the League's rising stars…" I trailed off and looked out at the water. "It's surreal, like I was plucked out of my own life and put into someone else's." I looked back at her. "I lived in a village so small that it didn't have a name until I was six. I had spent my whole life in that place, never venturing further than a few miles from the house. Now I've been halfway across Kanto and back, people I've never met know my name."

She nodded. "It's an adjustment that you'll never be completely comfortable with." She gestured back at the bar. "I've been here six years and I still don't feel used to the city. I doubt it'll ever feel like home to me. Sometimes, I wish I could go home and just live my life the way it used to be."

"Where are you from?" I asked.

She smirked. "You don't even know my name, and you want to know where I'm from?"

I couldn't help the effortless grin. "For the record, I did ask your name," I replied. I was buzzed and she was genuinely charming. I couldn't help the flutter in my chest. "Who's the deflective one now?"

She chuckled and looked away for a brief moment. "I guess that'd be me now." She hooked her arm back into mine and half-dragged me into walking. "I'm from Johto. Family owns part of a communal farm outside Ecruteak." A nostalgic look came over her and her smile faded slightly. "I miss it, even if I am happy that I left." She shook her head and wiped away the slightest trace of tears from her eyes. "I guess that's not what we were talking about though. My name is Aya."

I stepped closer to her and held out a hand. I'd sobered up some with the warm ocean breeze and I could see that she was hurting. I knew what being alone was like. "My name is Marcus, Aya. We can talk if you'd like. Nobody should be alone."

She took my hand and I felt my heart flutter. I didn't know if getting close to anyone with all my baggage was a good idea, but at the moment I didn't care. She was holding my hand and that was all I could think about.


Aya looked me in the eyes and I realized just how blue her eyes were. They were deep, dark, almost stormy. Just like the sea. She smiled. "I know a place we can talk."

Aya led me past the motel I had booked, past the road she said her apartment was on. We walked for almost half an hour, until I recognized where I was.

The beach was clean, not a single mark left on it from my last visit. The sandbags were gone, small park benches sitting where the rear line of sandbags had been. The sand was practically pristine, nothing like the blood and venom soaked lagoon that the tentacruel swarm had left it.

I had to consciously close my mouth. The peaceful moonlit beach was such a harsh contrast with the carnage that I had seen here. I had trouble reconciling the two in my mind. "This looks nice," I said quietly. "It's beautiful."

"Isn't it?" she replied happily. "It's so peaceful here. My own little slice of home." She sat herself down on one of the benches and looked out to sea. "I had a little secret beach on the coast back home. The krabby would come right up to me, take scraps of bread right out of my hands." She looked down at the shore, looking intently. "Sometimes, there are krabby in the shallows. They aren't quite as friendly as the ones back home though. And they haven't come around since the tentacruel attacked last month."

I sat gingerly beside her, fighting my nerves. This place made me think of Curie, made me think of my failure to my pokemon. I pushed the thoughts away, focusing on the ocean and the beautiful girl at my side. "I had never seen anything like the ocean before I started my journey. Closest thing to it was the pond near home." I smiled out at the ocean. I couldn't help but feel calmed by the pale moonlit water. "Didn't do it justice."

"Do you miss home, Marcus?"

I turned and looked at Aya. "I miss it more than anything…" I trailed off. "Sometimes I wish I could go back. It… It didn't end well."

She smiled at me. "Would you like to talk to someone about it?" She asked. "It must be terribly lonely to be a trainer, with nobody around to talk to."

I paused for a moment. I didn't know Aya and she didn't know me. But she seemed to care. "My sister disappeared, just before I left home," I started. "She tried to follow me out training one night. She tried to follow me, but she got lost in the dark. I wasn't supposed to be sneaking out, but my parent didn't approve of pokemon and I thought nobody would notice." I stopped. I hated what I'd done, hated what had happened to Margaret because of me.

"I saw it on my way back to the house. I saw the persian. It was all covered in blood." I shook my head. "I didn't know. I didn't know she had left her bed. We…" I trailed off again. "We found her the next day. At least, the parts of her that it didn't like."

I hid my face, ashamed of the part I played in my sister's death. "I knew it was my fault. I knew she had to have followed me out. I told my parents. I told them everything, about my pokemon, about the nightly training and they blamed me."

"I told them for years that all I wanted was to be a pokemon trainer, to travel the world and become the greatest trainer in Kanto." I shrugged and couldn't help but look away in shame. "When I finally tamed Luna, I thought they would see that I wasn't meant to stay on the farm. I thought it would prove myself to them. It didn't prove anything to them. But it showed me that I didn't have to be what they wanted. I didn't have to stay there if I didn't want to."

I stopped talking as my heart rose into my throat. Aya's hand touched mine and I was grateful for the company. "Family, huh?"

I nodded. "Family," I confirmed with a sad smile.

She inched closer to me and lay her head on my shoulder. I looked out at the waves and let the serene calm of the night wash over me. We didn't speak for hours, but it was the calm that I needed.

The sun was starting to rise when we finally got off that bench. I walked Aya home and promised to answer the phone when she called. I don't know what I expected to come from the night, but all I could think about was the peaceful calm as she lay her head on my shoulder.

I checked into the Lonely Lanturn, making sure to purchase the late checkout and book several wake up calls. The reception staff handed me my keys and I groggily made my way to my room as sleep danced in my eyes.

I pushed the key into the lock and opened the door. Pride and Acolyte's balls sitting on the end of the bed, a neatly folded paper laying beside them.

I looked down at the paper and picked it up, my eyes widening in horror. A single photograph fell out, blurry but unmistakably the outline of two figures on a park bench. Only two words were on the paper. I read them over and over, knowing what Domino was insinuating.

Erika awaits!

-D



Pokédex Entry #100 – Electrode

This strange pokemon has only been recently encountered near large power sources. They are attracted to the electricity bleeding off into the atmosphere.

Electrode are capable of absorbing and building up vast amounts of electrical energy. They store this potential energy as pressure within a specialized internal organ and are capable of releasing it in a massive explosion. This "explosion" is typically enough to knock out an electrode for some time, rendering it unconscious.

These pokemon have quickly become necessary for the safety of humans in highly charged environments. Workers at the Kanto National Power Plant have recently begun a pilot project entirely replacing on-site humans with trained electrode.



Novice Trainer KT#07996101, Marcus Wright, current team

Luna, Vulpix

Pride, Nidorino

Acolyte, Marowak
 
Chapter 10: Roads

joshthewriter

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Roads


I woke with the morning call, scrambling out of bed to make it down to reception in time for checkout. I made it with four minutes to spare, my balls slotted into place on my belt and my pack hastily crammed back together. I wasn't pretty, but I was awake. I'd be on the road anyways, so it didn't matter too much if I missed a shower.

I stopped by the gym on my way out of town. Surge apparently wasn't in, so I left a quick message with the gym receptionist. I apologized that I had to refuse his offer and promised to return for an elite challenge when I was ready.

The bar I'd frequented the night before was open, but still empty as I passed it. I thought I could see the figure of Frank, still sleeping at the bar. Aya wasn't behind the bar, a wiry man with ragged blond hair was pouring a beer and shoving it towards Frank.

I opened my pokegear and scrolled through the unread messages. Gemma had been spamming me with unintelligible nonsense, probably trying to get my attention since I hadn't answered her celebration calls after the match. I scrolled past them and set my eyes on the only message I cared about.

Call me when you reach Celadon. Hope we can meet again soon,

-Aya


I read the message half a hundred times before I sighed happily to myself and tapped out a quick answer promising that I would call as soon as I could. I scrolled back up to Gemma's messages with a happy heart. I started typing out a message, and my gear began ringing.

I answered Gemma with a huff. "Y'know, I was literally just answering you."

"Can it, Novice. Domitian was worried. We hadn't heard from you a whole day."

"Got to drinking," I said quietly. "Spent the night out."

"Ooooooooo," Gemma squealed. "Made yourself an appreciative fan, huh? Getting a nice juicy taste of that fame?"

I sighed heavily. "Wasn't like that, Gemma. We just talked, about family mostly." I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose. Despite the sleep I'd gotten, I was pushing myself harder than ever before. I needed rest, real rest that I wasn't likely to get any time soon. "I'm just tired."

"You alright?" she asked. Her tone was softer and I felt the sincerity in her tone. "The match looked rough. Is everyone alright?"

"Pride might not be ready for Erika. Cracked half his ribs in the explosion and Acolyte can barely walk without crashing into something. Luna's alright for the most part, but I don't think I can rely on her to solo an intermediate gym challenge."

"So delay the match. Nobody's gonna think less of you. He'll, you might even get some good press when they put out the news, maybe I could get daddy to pull some strings with one of the networks. We could get a whole deep dive into your previous matches in the same time slot. It'd get some good traction, probably start building your fan base more seriously."

I stopped walking. More fame. More praise heaped on me when none was deserved. "Is it weird to be uncomfortable with the spotlight like this?"

She paused for a moment. "You get used to it," she said. "It isn't easy at first, but after a while it's like nobody's watching."

"Easy for you to say," I replied. "You're a natural. I've never met anybody else this…" I trailed off, looking for the word.

"Enthusiastic?" she asked.

I smirked. "I like that. You're definitely enthusiastic."

"Oh shut it," she replied. "I've been cooped up in a stupid boring office tower for a month and a half. I deserve some kind of outlet for my enthusiasm."

"No more attacks on the building?"

"None," she replied. "There's been rioting in the streets every so often since the attacks, but nobody has made a move on the building since the day I got here. The people are fighting back against the lockdowns and someone has started to stir shit up." She got quiet and I could feel her hesitation through the phone. "Things are bad here, Marcus. Silph's close to something huge, but there's something shady going on. Someone wants this new product and they're willing to kill for it."

"Mind if I ask what this product is?"

"You can ask all you want," she replied curtly. "I don't even know what it is, and my father is the project lead." She paused for a minute and I didn't break the silence. "I… I'm scared, Marcus. I don't know who to trust. Dad's been saying that Silph might be compromised and that I shouldn't trust anybody but him…"

"Listen to him," I said. "If what he says is true, then even our conversation can't be trusted as secret."

I heard her sigh in frustration. "Look at you, being all responsible. Of course you'd agree with him. When did you lose your balls?"

"Well, maybe he's right. What does it hurt to be careful?" I paused and contemplated my next words. My heart was pounding, screaming at me to tell Gemma that her father was right. My mind couldn't look past Curie and tell my friend the truth. "Look," I started, carefully considering every word. I couldn't be too overtly open or Domino might catch wind of me warning Silph. "let's say that Silph is compromised. Let's say that the company has been infiltrated by whoever is after this project. Both our poke gears were provided by the company. Both are on Silph's mobile network. Someone, somewhere in the company could access the calls, read our texts. Maybe it's just me being paranoid, but I don't trust that this is truly a private line if what your father suspects is true."

She was silent, contemplating my words. I couldn't come out and tell her anything concrete, but I hoped that she was smart enough to figure out where I was leading her.

"And if my father is just being paranoid?" she asked.

"Do you want to take that chance?" I asked. "It doesn't hurt anybody to be careful, Gemma. These people already tried to get to you once, they killed Lilith. What's stopping them from pulling the same shit again? I don't want to see you get hurt because you weren't careful."

"I know," she replied in a defeated tone. "It's just so damn boring here. I sit and watch league highlights day after day. My team is bored, I'm bored and the other Silph trainers here are bored."

"There's worse things than being bored," I replied. I stopped walking as I reached Vermillion's north gate. "Anyways, I gotta get on the road. Still have a date to keep with Erika."

She sighed heavily and I could practically feel her frustration through the phone. "I guess," she said. "Call me when you get to Celadon?"

"Of course," I answered. "You'll be the second call I make."

I heard her voice rise. "Cheap booty comes first?" she asked playfully.

I couldn't help the goofy smile. "Wasn't like that, Gemma. And it definitely wasn't cheap. Silph would know, they paid."

"Atta boy!" she said. "Get moving then. Good luck, Novice!"

She ended the call as I spluttered angrily at being called a novice. I sighed and closed the gear. With a smile on my face and my troubles mostly forgotten, I stepped out onto Route Eleven to begin my journey to Celadon.


With Saffron locked down, the easy route through Kanto's largest city was closed. I had two options. I could take the long road east from Vermillion and loop back around by way of Lavender town so I could pass through the underground tunnels under Saffron. I didn't have the time for that, so I was forced to travel towards Saffron and cut through the harsh wilderness southwest of the city. It was not my first choice, but teleport services were backed up for weeks and the other path would take too long.

The road to Saffron was nearly empty, only a few novice trainers making their way to Vermillion by way of Cerulean. They didn't deign to challenge an intermediate like me, something that I was privately happy for. My team was in no shape for a serious battle and I would have been thoroughly embarrassed by a loss to a novice.

We made camp along with a trio of kids, all making their way to Vermillion for their battle with Surge. I stayed around the fire, happy to have a chance to sleep comfortably for a portion of the night. None of them were in the mood for conversation, something I learned after one of them angrily shouted at another over a pokemon's death. I kept out of it, not wanting to get involved in someone else's drama.

I took last watch, waiting until the sun was well above the tree line. I woke one of the trainers, apologizing and confessing that I had to get an early start to my travels.

The sun was damn hot that day. We kept off the main road as much as possible, keeping to the shady forests that flanked this part of the road. We followed a game trail that kept the road within view most of the time. Luna kept us well clear of anything dangerous and we cut back onto the road more than once to avoid a victreebell nest.

I reached Saffron's southern gate by the end of the second day. Saffron Ranger Command had an entire camp set up, directing passing trainers into the underground path. I didn't have any intent on travelling further that day, so I set up in one of the temporary bunks and got an early start to planning my journey across Kanto's always dangerous central forests.

My chosen route would get me to Celadon the day before my challenge was scheduled. I had no margin for error, only three days before I absolutely had to be cutting back onto the league sanctioned route between Saffron and Celadon. Any later and I was forgoing my pokemon a night in the pokemon centre before what was likely to be a tough battle.

My thoughts drifted to possible new team members as I stared at the map. I contemplated searching out a growlithe, but the thought of facing down a wild arcanine for one of its young was daunting to say the least. I didn't really need a second fire type either. My team was already going to have two ground types once Pride evolved, so adding a second fire type would only increase my team's overall weakness to water types.

I stared bleakly at my pokegear map, scrolling through the pokemon usually found around Saffron. Persian leapt out at me, both as the strongest catch and a decent add to my team. Oddish, bellsprout and tangela intrigued me and would be great counters to water types. That didn't really help me against Erika though, who would be sure to outclass any grass types I brought to battle. I noted them down as options anyways and made a mental note to keep an eye out for them. Tangela were exceedingly rare and I could likely trade one for a comparably rare pokemon if I ultimately wasn't happy with it.

I switched over to evolution research, pulling up known methods of nidorino evolution. Most cases involved waiting until the nidorino in question was between four and eight years old, however some cases of spontaneous evolution had been recorded in younger specimens. Pride was only two at my best guess, still young enough to have most of his spines intact and not snapped off from years of battle.

A pack of nidorino had been reported to undergo spontaneous evolution when exposed to samples of moon rocks by researchers in Pewter. However, the result was not consistent and the researchers suggested that it may still rely on the individual pokemon's strength. Some sporadic research had been done since with conflicting results, but no in depth studies had been conducted since.


I don't know when I passed out, but I woke with Luna nudging my hand. The sun was starting to rise and several rangers were already up around the camp. Luna stretched herself out alongside me and yawned.

I had my things packed and ready to go in minutes. I stopped at the camp's mess tent and grabbed a quick breakfast. Scrambled pidgey eggs and fried hash browns weren't much but it was free. I stuffed a few ration bars into my pack and left before the sun started to climb the sky.

I followed a game trail, feet carefully tracing Luna's path. She kept us to the trail while I glanced back down at my compass after every turn. It twisted and wound through the forest, crossing small streams and winding back on itself as we went.

Pride was further off the trail, crashing through the underbrush as he went. He seemed incapable of stealthy movement and I tried not to worry about the attention he was drawing. He seemed back to his regular stubborn self and I heard him bellow a challenge at some unseen pokemon more than once. He never did come limping back, but I could tell he was hurting the few times he drew back into view.

Acolyte followed close behind me, his club held up warily as he glanced nervously around at the forest. He was uncomfortable with the forest pressing in at him and was clearly claustrophobic. He was used to rocky, open expanses and jumped at every shifting leaf.

Despite the claustrophobia, he fared well enough. He had healed enough for some lighter training and didn't seem overly affected by the concussion he had experienced.

We forged a path westward as best we could. I made sure to keep Saffron's south wall within view, only losing it when the trees began to get thicker. I called Pride back to me and had him stay close after that. Even with Acolyte watching my back, I didn't want a persian getting the drop on me. I wouldn't last long enough under one of the big cat's claws for Acolyte to save me.

We made decent time even in thicker brush. Acolyte and Pride proved themselves relatively able at clearing my path, as unsuited as they were for the heavily forested environment. We didn't have much trouble with wild pokemon either, most of them giving us a wide berth. A few overly aggressive bellsprout tried to start shit at one point, but Luna took care of them easily.

Luna was right at home. I had caught her on the edge of the forest near our farm. Vulpix were native to forests like this and my starter acted like she had barely been away for a moment. I kept catching glimpses of her tails flashing past in pursuit of some unseen pokemon. She would come back a few minutes later, licking her chops and looking satisfied.

We made camp against Saffron's south wall when the sunlight peeking through the trees began to dim. I didn't dare start a fire for fear of attracting a persian, so I chewed on one of the ration bars I'd taken from the Ranger camp. I clambered up a tree and tied myself to the trunk as night fell and the light began to die.


The rain woke me. I felt the light splatter of raindrops falling on my face and yawned with a stretch.

My pokemon were happy to stretch their legs after a night in their balls. They fanned out around me, never straying out of earshot. Acolyte kept close to me the entire time, eschewing exploration for diligence. As far as he was concerned, I was his to protect.

More than once I heard the telltale scuffle of pokemon battling. Luna or Pride would come trotting back, proudly displaying their battle wounds as if they were showing off. There was nothing too bad, mostly just small cuts or bruises where grass types had attempted to latch on. I emptied most of a potion throughout the day, tending to my pokemon's injuries as we forged west.

The forest started to thin as the day went on and we left Saffron's wall behind. Trees were thicker, but but further in between. The canopy seemed to blot out the sky, giving us some cover from the increasingly heavy rain.

Luna pulled back to me and scowled as the rain began to fall on her fur. Her tails looked sad and thin, the fur soaked down to the skin. I couldn't help but hide a smirk whenever she shook off.

I set to training while we travelled. Luna needed stopping power, some real heat behind her flames. Right now they were dangerous, but dangerous only gets you so far in the league. She had honed her technique well and could hold a jet of flames about twelve feet in length. However, it wasn't nearly hot enough.

I had her focus exclusively on improving the heat of her flamethrower. She was improving, but we still weren't where I needed her to be. It wasn't fair to expect so much from her. Even if she would never voice a complaint, I couldn't expect her to win every one of my gym challenges for me.

Pride was more difficult to train with his injuries. He was still sore, especially along his sides. He had cracked nearly every rib in his body and tanked a volt tackle from Surge's intermediate raichu. I was sure that the same attack from his elite raichu would have killed him outright. As it was, he could still barely deliver a blow without pulling back from the pain.

I kept up his agility and endurance training, easing up my expectations. I think he understood his limitations because he didn't venture out half as far as he had the day before. He kept just ahead of me, pulling back to my side whenever an aggressive pokemon came near us.

Acolyte seemed to relax somewhat once the dense foliage cleared. He still seemed somewhat jumpy, but he was much more receptive to direction now that his anxiety was easing. I had him dispatch anything that got close to us. I was still analyzing his fighting style, so I hadn't managed to put together a specific training plan yet. Instead, I had him battle as he saw fit. I kept a close eye on him, watching his style of feints and counterattacks.

The rain let up at some point in the evening. I decided we'd gone far enough and set up camp the same as the night before. I nodded off as the skies began to clear and the stars started to peek through the canopy.


I woke to a soft scratching sound. It seemed to come from somewhere above me, but I couldn't see exactly where. I knew it wasn't a persian. I'd be dead already if one of the predators had found me. I twisted around and peered up the tree as I slowly untied myself. I dropped the rope off the branch and pulled myself up to my feet.

The scratching stopped suddenly. I heard something scrape loudly and begin descending towards me. My heart leapt into my throat as I envisioned myself being disemboweled thirty feet in the air.

I scrambled down that tree, nearly losing my footing on the first branch. The scraping continued, following me at a steady pace. I reached a relatively stable branch and looked back up at the descending noise. It was gaining on me too fast. I wouldn't be able to reach the ground before it was on me. I steadied myself for half a moment and jumped.

Something grabbed me by the wrist as I leapt and pulled back hard. I felt myself rising into the air and thrashed madly. Then disaster struck. My arm popped out of its socket with a sick crunch. I shrieked in pain and felt the pressure on my wrist disappear as i dropped from the sky.

I landed on a branch, the wind driving from my chest as I wrapped myself around the branch. It was still maybe a fifteen foot drop to the ground and I held on for dear life. Then a pair of armoured green feet landed on the branch beside me.

The branch bent and I heard the unmistakable groan-pop of cracking wood. I glanced up at my attacker and felt my stomach rise as the branch gave way. I slammed down on my side, grunting in pain. A sharp pain shot down my arm and I swore loudly over my groans of pain.

My left arm lay limply on the ground. I groaned and rolled, scrabbling at my belt with my good arm as my vision swam. I found the release button on one of the balls and prayed.

Acolyte appeared from his ball, raising his club instinctively at the encroaching foliage.

"Up!" I shouted. "It's in the tree!"

A deep, green blur slammed into Acolyte. He took the blow in the chest, sliding backwards as he held his footing. They ground to a halt and I got my first clear look at the pokemon. It had a long horn that ended in a pair of wicked prongs that were buried in my marowak's chest. A pair of thick wings buzzed angrily on its back and folded back under a plate of chitin that slid back into place.

The heracross pressed harder, forcing the prongs of its horn deeper into Acolyte's chest. It chittered incoherently and tossed its head back. Acolyte flipped end over end, slamming into a tree trunk and crashing to a violent stop in the dirt.

I scrambled backwards, fumbling desperately with my ball belt. My left arm hung limply at my side, every movement bringing another wave of sharp agony. I stopped as my back hit a tree trunk and looked up at the heracross. It flicked its tongue, a long thin appendage the length of my arm.

I was gonna die, eaten by a bug the size of me. I closed my eyes as my hand brushed against the belt's emergency release function. Two spears of red light erupted from my waist. They landed on either side of the heracross, coalescing into my two pokemon. I didn't have time for orders, I only prayed that my pokemon knew what to do.

The heracross glanced between Pride and Luna dumbly. He was confused, baffled by the appearance of new set of foes. Time seemed to slow down as the wild pokemon curiously sniffed at Luna. It's tongue flitted out again, lightly brushing against Luna's flank.

It took all of a fraction of a second for Luna to flare her tails and spew a jet of flame at the bug.

The heracross screeched in pain as the flames chewed away at its carapace. It charged through the flames, instinctively responding to the attack. It barrelled through Luna's flamethrower and drove an armoured fist into her side. Luna yelped in pain and dashed away before the heracross could follow up with a more serious blow.

Pride slammed into the heracross from behind, attempting to draw the attention off of Luna. The bug shifted its weight and lifted Pride off the ground. My nidorino came crashing back down, his own momentum used to counter his attack. He whined in pain as he slowly dragged himself back to his feet and kept his distance from our foe.

Acolyte leapt out of the underbrush, his club raised as he crossed the small clearing at the base of the trees. The heracross' carapace opened and it lifted off the ground as its wings buzzed furiously. The bug turned laboriously as Acolyte swung with all his might.

Acolyte's blow knocked the heracross out of the air and sent the bug skittering across the clearing. It fluttered and wobbled, trying to regain its balance as Acolyte bellowed a challenge.

Luna leapt into action as the heracross righted itself, hacking up a glowing ball of spectral flame. She sent the will-o-wisp spinning through the air. It splashed harmlessly against a tree, a half a moment too late to catch the heracross.

"Pin it!" I shouted. "Slow the damn thing down."

Acolyte leapt across the clearing, intercepting the heracross with a mighty swing of his club. The bug batted away the club with its horn and grabbed Acolyte as it charged. They soared across the clearing and into a tree. The heracross slammed Acolyte into the tree, holding fast to his bone club. My marowak shoved back, trying to free himself and his weapon.

The heracross' wings buzzed again and Acolyte flailed as he was lifted off the ground. It was all the opening the heracross needed. It hammered one fist into Acolyte's dominant elbow, forcing him to release his club. The heracross hooked its arms around Acolyte's chest and lifted off the ground.

My marowak struggled in vain. He thrashed for all he was worth, but the heracross was unyielding. It carried my pokemon higher, punching through the canopy and rising into open air.

My eyes widened when I realized what the heracross meant to do. I fumbled at my belt for a moment and raised Acolyte's ball. I would have moments, maybe a fraction of a second for what I had in mind. I watched carefully for any sign of my marowak, any sign of the heracross.

The canopy burst half a moment later, Acolyte screaming in abject terror. I tapped the return button, praying that it would work fast enough.

Acolyte disappeared in a flash of red light inches off the ground. I released him again in front of me, completely unharmed from the attack. He knelt down and picked up his club just as the heracross burst through the canopy to view its handiwork.

"Bonemerang!" I shouted.

Acolyte's aim was true. The club soared through the air, curving unnaturally as it turned towards the heracross. It wasn't expecting a ranged attack from Acolyte and turned away in a vain attempt to escape the flying club. It smashed into the heracross from behind and the flying bug lost control of its flight.

It smashed off a tree and spun helpless to the ground. It crashed down hard, mangled wings buzzing uselessly in a hopeless attempt to rise. It rose to its feet, looking nervously at the three pokemon facing it down. It was at a disadvantage for the first time since the thing had ambushed me and it was realizing that.

"Confuse wisp!" I shouted to Luna. Inspiration was striking and like hell I was letting something as rare as a heracross get away from me. I had almost fifteen empty pokeballs in my bag and seriously doubted that the murderous bug was going to burn through them all.

Luna's ball of eerie flame washed against the heracross' carapace. It shrieked in pain as it righted itself, its tattered wings folding back away. It glanced around the clearing, eyes settling on me with murderous intent. I felt it sizing me up, recognize that I was the one directing its opponents.

"Luna, flamethrower."

My vulpix reared back, sucking in a breath. The heracross moved to dodge it, but without its wings it wasn't nearly as fast. The gout of flame took it in the side, forcing another pained screech out of the battered bug.

I raised my good arm, readying the first ball. Luna cut the flames and the heracross stumbled towards me. It was smouldering in half a dozen places and smoke curled lazily off of it. I pitched the pokeball as it groaned wearily. It bounced off the heracross' head and sucked the bug inside in a flash of red. It bounced twice, shaking madly as the heracross fought against capture.

"Be ready for when it breaks out," I said to my team as I readied another ball. I turned to look at Pride. "Shock it with a thunderbolt when it pops out."

Pride nodded, electricity already beginning to spark along his flanks. White-yellow electricity jumped between his spines, racing up to his horn. He held it for a long moment, stray voltage bleeding off while he waited for the heracross.

The bug popped back out, snarling as it attempted to orient itself. The bolt of lightning shot from Pride's horn and impaled the bug on the side. It convulsed as electricity coursed through it, Pride channeling everything he had into his attack.

The bolt ended and I pitched the ball before the heracross toppled over. It disappeared into the ball and I repeated my order to Pride.

The heracross broke out two more times. Pride met it with another thunderbolt each time and I pitched another ball at it each time. On the fourth ball, it finally fell still. The ball came to a halt and stopped shaking in the roots of the tree I had been sleeping in.

I didn't move for a long while. I just sat there staring at the ball. A twinge of pain in my shoulder brought me back to reality.

I crossed the clearing and retrieved the ball. I clipped it onto my belt and groaned in pain as the adrenaline began to fade. My shoulder was dislocated for sure. I'd seen my father do it to himself half a dozen times before and knew exactly what to do.

I unfastened my belt as fast as I could with only one hand. I stuck the belt between my teeth and took the wrist of my dislocated arm with my good hand. I pulled my arm straight forward and bit down on a groan of pain as my arm popped back into the socket with a sickening crunch.

I cradled it close to my body as I steadied my breath. It had hurt, but not as much as I had expected. I'd get it checked out when I reached Celadon. I wasn't overly worried as I'd seen my father do the same thing half a dozen times growing up.

I pulled out a potion, glancing around at my pokemon. They weren't badly hurt for the most part. Pride was limping again, but Luna and Acolyte seemed fine. I emptied the rest of the potion into Pride's side and leaned tossed the empty bottle into my bag.

Pride whined, still limping. I frowned and examined his side again. There were no obvious breaks, but I couldn't rule out a broken rib. I returned him to his ball, determined to give my stubborn nidorino a break even if he didn't want one.

I pulled out my compass and turned myself north. I'd given myself three days to get my ass back onto the road to Celadon. This was the third day. I couldn't afford to arrive on the day of my challenge. My team needed rest. I needed rest.

With a resigned sigh, I flipped the compass shut. The sun was rising and daylight was already burning. I trudged into the forest with Acolyte and Luna close behind.


I broke through the line of trees just after sunset. The lights from Celadon were shining above the trees and the stars seemed to dim slightly in their presence. I had neglected to make camp and set myself on travelling through the night. It was coming up on the sixth day since I had left Vermillion and I was determined to arrive as early as possible.

I retired Acolyte to his ball after he had nearly stumbled into a victreebell nest after lunch. He was showing his fatigue and I couldn't afford an avoidable injury because he was too tired to think.

Luna proved herself yet again. My starter never seemed to tire, keeping a steady pace just ahead of me for damn near the whole time. She never once faltered and I resolved to train myself as hard as I was pushing her.

We crushed the rest of the road to Celadon easily. With the oppressive claustrophobia of the forest left behind, we didn't have to clear a path as we went and could follow the safely paved road. We passed dozens of small service roads that crossed the route, no doubt leading off towards small hamlets like my own home village.

Luna and I rolled up on Celadon's gate before the sun had even started to brighten the sky. It was a warm night, with not a cloud in sight. I was waved through by the night guard and directed towards the pokemon centre a few blocks away from the gate.

I checked into the centre, handing my four pokeballs into the front desk for immediate assistance. They had a few spare rooms so I booked one for the next week and left them my Silph expense card.

With my pokemon being cared for and another full day until my challenge, I finally felt like I could rest. I closed my eyes and let my mind finally drift away.


Pokédex Entry #214 – Heracross

This bug was originally indigenous to Ilex forest, however it has spread across most of The Kan-Jo supercontinent thanks to the many trainers that crisscross the region. It can be found almost anywhere that forests are heavy enough to sustain large-scale flora that heracross feed upon.

It has a large horn on its head with powerful shoulders. The horn varies in shape between males and females of the species. It has thick claws on their hind legs, which it uses to grip onto tree trunks and plant itself for powerful attacks.



Intermediate Trainer KT#07996101, Marcus Wright, current team

Luna, Vulpix

Pride, Nidorino

Acolyte, Marowak

Heracross
 
Chapter 11: Expansion

joshthewriter

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Expansion


I scowled at the shelves of merchandise, my eyes falling on the item I was here to buy. It had taken me three floors of useless guided shopping to reach this point. I may have been in a good mood at one point, but shopping never was my thing. Especially when one of my arms was trapped in a sling.

I pointed at the lumpy and misshapen stone that seemed to glow faintly red. "The fire stone," I said. "Along with the medical and training supplies that I picked out earlier and the larger travel pack that you sold me on. Pack in a full set of all-weather training clothes as well, a pair of new boots too. I've worn through my jeans and my coat could use replacement with one of the super-durable softshells that you showed me."

"Absolutely, mister Wright! Is there anything else I can assist you with?" The store clerk was nothing but helpful. He'd droned on for hours about the many different products that I had no use for. I think he had caught my annoyance at some point on floor two and mercifully cut out the beauty products on three. "As well, our TM selection is unrivalled in Kanto and…"

My uninterested glare cut his sentence short. "I think the bill would be fine, sir. You've been incredibly helpful."

He nodded and handed me the itemized bill he had been writing. "Not a problem, mister Wright. Your items will be waiting for you at the checkout down on One."

I nodded in thanks as he left and pocketed the bill. I fumbled with my pocket as my ringtone started blaring. I flipped open my pokegear as he walked away and sighed at the incoming call. "Morning, Gemma."

"So, how was the trip?" she asked, hardly missing a beat. "Heard you caught a heracross."

"Also made it into Celadon with an entire day to spare. I don't have to fight Erika until tomorrow night, so I think the team will be ready to go."

"Even Pride?"

I nodded absently. "Yeah, nurses gave me the go ahead to use him for the battle. He might still be a little bruised, but his ribs will be healed by the morning." I paused for a moment. "How'd you know I caught a heracross?"

I heard her chuckle. "I did tell you I was bored. I got daddy to give me access to our sponsored trainer program and figured I'd try my hand at being your handler."

"Was I supposed to have one of those?" I asked.

My entire tenure with Silph had been incredibly informal. I'd met with a man at the pokemon centre in Vermillion. He had me sign a temporary league contract and given me an expense card. That had been the entirety of my interaction with Silph outside of Gemma.

"Technically, everyone has one. You were assigned to Lionel Bonne, but I doubt he ever reached out to you outside of an email."

"I don't have an email address," I replied in a droll tone.

"Explains things," she replied. "He's a bit lazy, hands off for the most part. Now you have me!"

"Great," I replied with a sarcastic grin. "So what do I get?"

"Since you're my only charge at the moment, you'll have my full attention. I'll work with you every step of the way, at least until I can get out of this prison and join you."

"I think I would like that. It hasn't been the same without you."

My phone beeped and I pulled the gear away from my face. Aya had answered.

Glad you made it safe! Frank called me in for a double tonight, so I won't be off until late. Call me if you're still up?

I tapped out a quick response as I stepped onto the escalator. I answered quickly but not quickly enough to escape notice.

"That your booty call?" Gemma asked, positively giddy by the idea. "I bet it's some nice saucy pictures."

I inhaled quickly, suddenly uncomfortable at the thought of that. "Don't wanna keep telling you it ain't like that. We just talked. She took me to the beach that I was defending during the tenta-swarm attack and let me vent about some shit."

She laughed and I could hear the smile in her voice. "It's just fun to tease you, novice. I do remember being your age, you know."

I smirked as I stepped off the escalator onto One. "So what can I expect from my inexperienced new handler?"

Gemma cleared her throat and I heard her put on some professional speaking voice. "You get my support for every step of your league journey. Looking for a particular evolution method? I can look into Pride's evolution, same with Curie."

I stopped dead in my tracks. My heart skipped a beat and I forgot how to breathe. I'd had Gemma at an arms length for so long. It had been easy enough to lie during our once a week conversation, but this was different. I could never keep this up if we were going to talk every day.

"Look," I started. I had to be careful with my words. I knew who was listening. "I lost Curie. Almost a month ago, before I even caught Acolyte." I heard her gasp and knew she had bought it. "Pride spooked a ryhorn herd. I couldn't return her in time, and…" My voice trailed off and I cleared my throat as if I was choking up. "I don't really want to talk about it," I continued. "Please just don't bring her up if you can help it."

"I understand," Gemma replied. "Lilith was my second loss. They never get easier. I still feel for her ball on my belt almost every day." She paused for a long moment and both of us were silent. "I'm sorry, Marcus."

I silently breathed a sigh of relief. She had bought it. "Thank you," I said in a somber voice. I stepped into line at the checkout. "I'll call you in the morning, alright? Once I have most of the team back for training."

"Most?" She asked.

"Pride needs as much time as possible in the healing machines."

"Alright," she answered. "I'll send you some video to go over as well. Erika shouldn't be too difficult now that you have a heracross."

"Hold up," I interrupted. "I haven't even let the thing out of its ball yet. There's no way I can get it to listen to me in a single day."

"It doesn't have to listen intently. Just enough to follow basic orders and fight. I'll do some research and send over anything useful."

I nodded as the line moved up and the cashier waved me over. "Alright Gemma, I gotta get going."

Talk to you later," she said. The line went dead as I fumbled with the gear and dropped it into my pocket.

"Alright there, sir?" the cashier asked.

"Fine," I replied, thoroughly done with shopping for a long while. "Just tired. It was a tough trip to get here."

He smiled. "Well, you get your rest today. Everyone is excited for your battle tomorrow!"

I raised an eyebrow, trying to keep a neutral expression. "You know who I am?" I asked as he swiped my Silph expense card.

He nodded. "How could I not? You're big news! Kanto hasn't had 3 new challengers in a season like this in decades. You and those two kids are hot shit right now."

I nodded respectfully. "Well, I'll try to put on a good show."

He handed me my receipt and passed back my card. "I'm sure you will, mister Wright." He gestured to a row of bags behind me. "Your purchases are ready for you."

I glanced down at my ragged, filthy outfit. My boots were caked in mud and dirt, my jeans more brown than blue. I looked back at the cashier with a grin. "Do you have a changing room I could use?"


Celadon was the second largest city in Kanto, behind only Saffron City. Vermillion was third, but it had maybe a quarter the population of Celadon. I had been utterly lost in Vermillion. Celadon had me baffled. It seemed as if the entire city had been designed by a smeargle that had ingested some messed up hallucinogens.

It was claustrophobic in a different way than the forest had been. I felt eyes on me the entire time, jumped at every backfiring vehicle, bumped into passerby's without noticing. I knew to expect pickpockets so I kept everything in my inside pockets and fastened the small lock on my new pack.

I'd found the gym after almost an hour lost in Celadon's horticultural quarter. I originally wanted to introduce myself to Erika, but the gym leader wasn't in so I wound up just exploring the area around the gym.

The gardens that dotted the horticultural quarter were well worth the trip. Exotic plants sat in dozens of connected greenhouses and foreign grass types looked at me from a few of them. I couldn't place some of them and realized that I didn't know much about grass types.

I had intended to make my way back to the pokemon centre I was staying at, but found myself hopelessly lost once I left the gardens.

The city was a haphazard mess outside of the horticultural quarter. Roads were run-down and crumbling, houses were condemned shells. I even caught the howl of wild growlithe once or twice when the roar of the city died down for a moment. Lines of people waited outside warehouses, dark clothed people handing out bags of food to the people. I caught a few suspicious stares from some of the people in line and hurried along before I could get myself in trouble.

I rounded a corner, looking for one of the map booths that were dotted around the city. Not one of them were visible, instead more shady looking warehouses lined the lonely street. I had passed through several neighbourhoods of dilapidated houses and seen far too many people watching from the shadows.

A single man stood under a streetlight, intently watching me. His eyes didn't move away from me and I felt a chill run down my spine. I got the sense that this man's eyes were not the only ones trained on me.

I turned and kept walking. I didn't like the steely look in his eyes and didn't want to tangle with anyone without my pokemon. I felt alone without them, exposed like I was in danger with every step.

The next street had a few crappy motels and a small diner nestled among the warehouses. I figured asking directions wouldn't hurt and walked over to the diner. The smell of freshly cooking eggs wafted under my nose as I opened the door.

"Hi there!" shouted the server behind the counter. "Sit anywhere, I'll be with you in just a moment!"

I took a seat at one of the empty tables as she pulled a plate of eggs and bacon off the counter and dropped it with the only other patron of the diner.

She pulled out a pad of paper and smiled at me. "What can I get you?"

"The biggest, greasiest burger you have," I replied. "And some directions, if you'd be so kind."

The server nodded. "Any bacon and cheese with that?" She glanced at me and smirked at my questioning look. "I'll take that as a yes." She tore the paper off her pad and looked down at me. "Where you headed?"

"Closest pokemon centre to the east gates," I replied. "Went for a walk to see the gym and got myself lost on the way back."

"Good news is, you're close. The east gates are just a few blocks away from here. You'll be heading right past the Game Corner on your way." She scrawled a quick map out on the next paper on her pad. "That should get you there," she said. She turned and dropped my order on the kitchen counter.

I ordered a drink when my food came. My burger was as large and greasy as I had been expecting and my stomach did a happy somersault at the smell of it. The plate had been stacked high with fries and I got the sense that I had been the first customer in a while.

I tipped her well, adding on forty percent of my bill as the tip. It wasn't much to Silph, but these people were struggling. It would mean the world to them. I left with a happy spring in my step and a full stomach.


True to word, the Celadon Game Corner was just a few blocks away. It was huge, covered with glittering lights and flashing dollar signs like an oversized tribute to opulence. I couldn't shake the contrast with the rest of Celadon's run down tenements and dilapidated houses.

It was impossible to ignore. The gaudy lights only served to draw me in further, just like the trio of girls at the door begging me to come in for a game. I shook my head and offered a weak smile. Like it or not, I had no cash of my own to gamble.

Then I saw her. Her hair was different and she was in a stunning sheer dress, but I couldn't mistake her charming smile for anyone else. She stopped dead in her tracks as her eyes raked over me. I saw her eyes widen and realized that she hadn't been expecting me.

The man walking with her stopped and followed her gaze. His eyes were cold and I suppressed a shiver down my spine as he looked me over.

"Marcus," Domino started as she approached me. She glanced nervously at the man as if she wasn't entirely sure what she should do. "Enjoying Celadon?" She asked hesitantly.

I crossed my arms, hoping that I could be left alone. "I was just on my way to the pokemon centre."

"That was not the question," remarked the man. He looked at Domino and raised an eyebrow. "This is the one?"

"Yes, Archer. This is the Silph trainer."

I glanced over at Domino, her show of deference scaring me. She hadn't backed down from Vicious, so this man was clearly a superior of some kind. I turned towards him, the gears in my head starting to turn as I realized I was in mortal danger.

He looked at me, his eyes seeming to analyze me with cold precision. A wry smile crossed his face and I fought the instincts to run. "Join me for dinner, if you would be so kind. I have a business proposition for you and this establishment has the best restaurant in Celadon."

I shook my head. "I'm out," I started. "Not interested in any more business with your organization." I turned to leave, but he stopped my with a gentle hand on my chest.

"I'm afraid that I wasn't really asking." He nodded at Domino without taking his eyes off me. "Mister Wright will be joining me in my private booth for dinner." He finally turned to look at Domino and I breathed a silent sigh of relief. "Domino, would you be so kind as to inform the boss that our meeting will have to be delayed?"

She bowed her head. "Yes, Archer."

He turned away from her and put a hand on my shoulder. He spun me around and steered me through the doors of the Game Corner. I tried to follow Domino with my eyes, but we rounded a corner and left her behind.

I didn't say a word as the man led me through the restaurant portion of the Game Corner. We passed dozens of tables, walking past posh patrons wearing outfits that likely cost more than the farm I grew up on.

Archer arrived at a booth that was tucked away in the back corner of the restaurant. A waitress was waiting with a bottle of chilled wine in her hands. The server behind my chair pulled it out, ushering me into the seat and setting utensils in front of me.

Archer took the wine, admiring it with a keen eye. "An excellent choice, Nadia. However, Domino will not be joining me tonight." He handed the bottle back. "If you would be so kind, some of the Unovan whiskey. The oldest bottle we have." He looked at me and raised an eyebrow. "Unless there are any objections?"

I realized he was testing me. "I don't drink," I replied.

A knowing smile spread across his face. "Well, what an auspicious occasion for your first! You just have to try our Unovan whiskey. I do believe we have some of the oldest bottles still in existence. Nothing quite compares to proper Unovan liquor after a century or two. A shame they drank most of it." He smirked. "They may be bloodthirsty savages, but those unovans can make a fantastic whiskey."

I watched him carefully, remaining silent as the server returned with a pair of glasses and a well-worn bottle.

"Thank you, Nadia. Please bring two of my usual order when you get a chance." Archer turned to look at me, as if he was expecting some kind of resistance.

"I'm not hungry," I said. I saw the sly smirk spread across Archer's face and knew that was what he wanted.

He sat himself in his chair and slowly pulled it into the table. "Nevertheless, you are my guest." He turned his head. "Nadia, bring a few takeout containers with my guest's meal. He can enjoy my hospitality in the comfort of his own space." He looked back at me as the server walked away. "It really is the best restaurant in the city."

"What's your game?" I asked. Something strange was up, and this man was the closest I had come to answers. Even if he was toying with me, he might be able to give me some information. "Who are you?"

"Forgive me for the rushed introduction outside," he began. He lifted the bottle of whiskey and casually uncorked it with his free hand. "My name is Archer, I represent the same organization that our dear friend Domino works for."

"That's not your real name," I retorted. "You know mine, why shouldn't I know yours?"

He smirked. "Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to hand out that information. You understand of course, my alias is to protect my family." He lifted the first of the two glasses and poured a generous amount. "Now, as for what I am after?" He poured a second glass of whiskey and pushed the first towards me. "That would be you, Marcus."

I raised an eyebrow as I pulled the drink towards me hesitantly. "You have me," I started. "You have a hostage over my head and have threatened people close to me. What more could you need?"

Archer sighed and sat back in his chair. "I believe an explanation is in order." He raised his glass. "To getting the full picture."

I raised my glass, mirroring him but not saying a word. He tipped his glass back and I did the same, savouring the bitter amber liquor.

Archer set down his glass as I set down mine. His was empty. "Have you noticed anything about this city? About any of Kanto's cities?"

I thought for a long moment. I looked up at Archer's analytic gaze. "They're overcrowded. Too many people, not enough space. Not enough work either. People can't feed themselves and they're scared." My gaze hardened. "I lived outside the walls, on a farm. I know how dangerous it is out there. I know the cost. I know that settling the frontier is not worth the blood it would take."

He nodded and I saw some measure of approval in his eyes. "You are smarter than I have been led to believe." He lifted the bottle and poured himself another glass. "Our civilization is crumbling under its own weight. We dare not leave our strongholds, even while they fall to ruin around us. We fear the death that waits us outside the walls." He looked back at me and smiled knowingly. "You see what is happening, no? We must act, or our species will face extinction." He shrugged. "So we do," he said. "We feed those who cannot feed themselves, protect humanity from monsters that the Rangers could not fathom."

I took another drink. He was trying to appeal to the humanity in me, something that I thought was ironic.I just couldn't figure out exactly what he was getting at. "So, you mentioned a business proposition. I'm listening."

He smirked. "Right to business? I thought we might enjoy a meal first." He glanced back, his smile genuine. "And here it is."

Nadia appeared over his shoulder with a pair of plates. Both were piled high with steaming vegetables and a large tauros steak. She placed one gently in front of Archer and glared daggers at me. She pushed my plate towards me and dropped an armful of takeout containers on the table beside it.

"That will be all, Nadia." He pulled out a bill and held it out for her. "You have been excellent tonight, my dear."

She disappeared with her tip, leaving us alone again.

Archer stared at me with a calculating glare. His smile died and I saw that he was testing me again. "Eat. This is the best restaurant in Celadon," he said. "It's rude to refuse hospitality."

"I told you I wasn't hungry," I retorted. I tipped back the rest of my drink and slammed my glass down. I was scared to shit, but I wasn't gonna let him intimidate me. "Thank you for the meal, I'll take it to go. Now, what was your business proposition?"

He scowled at me, eying his plate. "I would have preferred this to be a relaxed conversation, but no matter. Team Rocket recognizes your talent."

"Team Rocket?" I asked incredulously. "Stupid name. I guess that's what the R stands for?"

Archer sighed and I sensed some frustration in his voice. "I was not the one responsible for naming the organization. Nonetheless, we see that you are talented, skilled and highly principled."

"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked, narrowing my eyes.

"It means that we trust you to do the right thing. To do what's best for everyone. You're a good person." He smiled softly. "You may not agree with some of our less honourable methods, but please understand that our organization is essentially good. We only want what's best for humanity."

I raised an eyebrow and had to stop myself from storming out. "So, my happiny was pokenapped and threatened because of good intentions?" I paused as righteous anger started flowing. "And a cubone colony was captured to be sold to the highest bidders because of good intentions?"

He sighed. "I did say that our methods were less than honourable at times." He shrugged. "We are the only ones doing what is necessary. The league sits complacent, watching us die while they do nothing!" He crossed his arms and looked at me down his nose. "Team Rocket will save the world, with or without the League's help. We would prefer to have you work with us willingly, but-"

"Like Domino?" I spat. "Or that masked asshole? No, I'm not a part of your goddamn criminal syndicate. You aren't saving the world any more than you are serving your own interests. I want out. I want no part of this."

He raised a hand. "I would suggest you think this through. Do what's best for your own interests."

I closed my mouth and glared daggers at him. I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of bending me to Team Rocket's cause. I was better than that. I was better than them.

He lowered the hand and I felt his eyes studying me again. "You will be working with us either way, Marcus Wright. I would prefer that you work willingly. You would be well compensated for your time." A shrewd grin tugged at the edges of his mouth. "Perhaps financial support for your family would help you come to a decision? I do believe the bank has been in the process of foreclosing on your old family farm…"

I don't think my brow could have furrowed any further. He was straight up trying to bribe me. I didn't know if the bank foreclosure was true, but I sensed the threat underneath his offer of assistance. "How would you know that?"

He smirked again and I felt the malevolence behind it. Gone was the polite, courteous gentleman. This was the real Archer and he terrified me. "We have eyes in Silph. What makes you think that a family farm is so safe and secure?" He leaned forward and smiled as the shadows crept over his face. He lifted the bottle of whiskey and filled my glass nearly up to the brim. "We have eyes everywhere. We can reach anywhere. It would be smart to stay on our right side."

My eyes didn't leave his. I didn't show him anything. I slowly reached down for the takeout container and picked up the first one. "I'll be taking my meal to go," I said calmly. I slowly began transferring the meal into the containers

He leaned back, his face an emotionless mask. "I see," he replied. "Best of luck with Erika then." He looked down at my take out containers and smirked slightly. "I do hope you enjoy the meal. This really is the best place in the city."

I saw his eyes soften and couldn't help but believe that he was really being truthful about the food. I got to my feet and pounded back the drink he had poured me. "Thank you for the meal," I said plainly.

He didn't say anything. I turned and left, not daring to look back. I didn't look back until I arrived safely at the pokemon centre. I collapsed against the door and breathed a deep sigh of relief as I locked it.


I picked up my pokemon some time after breakfast. One of the training fields was open, so I booked it for the morning. I headed outside before the sun managed to break through the thick morning clouds.

I let Pride and Acolyte out first. Both of them ran the length of the field in an impromptu race, one that Pride won by a healthy margin. I smirked at the sight of Pride's happy trot and knew his ribs had properly healed.

Luna was next, materializing at my side with a lazy yawn. I scratched her affectionately behind her ears and smiled as she leaned into it.

"Gather round," I ordered.

Pride and Acolyte lazily trotted back to my side. They took their places on either side of Luna as I pulled out the container of honey I'd bought the day before.

"We have a gym challenge later today," I said plainly. "Now, I know we haven't done much training for it, but I think we can pull out a win. It'll be a tough battle, but Surge was probably tougher." I lifted the heracross' ball, knowing I was going to draw a reaction. "And he's gonna help us."

Luna sniffed cautiously at the ball. Her lips curled back as she bared her teeth and growled at my newest capture.

"I know he tried to kill us, but we don't really have any better options." I opened the jar of honey and smiled innocently at my starter. "And besides, I read that heracross go crazy over honey. Makes them compliant. maybe we'll get lucky and he'll be a softy like Pride."

Her teeth were still bared, but she didn't continue growling. I set the auto-return function on the heracross' ball just in case it decided to run.

I raised the ball and tapped the release button. A spear of red light erupted from the tiny ball, coalescing into a five foot tall bug. I got a clear look at him for the first time and gasped.

He had a hard shell of matte blue-green chitin covering his body. His horn stretched another half a foot above my head and I realized that he was larger than I had originally thought.

The plates on his back shifted and a pair of powerful wings flitted out experimentally. I watched the bug gingerly test his wings as if he was expecting them to still be damaged from his battle with us.

Then he saw me. His tongue flitted out, tasting at the air. His eyes darted around his surroundings, jumping from Pride, to Luna, then Acolyte and back again. His wings buzzed slowly and I sensed that I had little time before he attempted to take off.

I lifted the container of honey and smiled as best I could. "Good morning!" I offered the honey out and the heracross flitted his tongue out hungrily. "I'm Marcus, and you've already met my team.

Luna growled at her introduction and I couldn't help but roll my eyes.

"Pay her no mind," I continued. "She's just protective of me. I know that you'd never do something to hurt me!"

I had heard long ago that pokemon understand tone and body language innately. I was willing to bet that the heracross had no clue what I was actually saying. However, I knew I had his attention and that was the first step.

"You can have some of this honey," I said. "I read that your kind really love honey and I thought you'd like some." I gently put the honey on the ground and slid by it towards my bug.

He lowered his head towards the jar, his tongue flitted his out again to test the honey. I saw his eyes light up and his tongue dive eagerly into the container.

"Give him some space. Practice evasion for now. Dodge and counter drills just like we've been doing," I ordered to the rest of my team. "Except you, Luna. I have something for you."

Pride and Acolyte wandered off into the field and began the drill. They would prowl around each other in circles until one decided to attempt a physical attack. The idea was to dodge the attack and counter it with one of your own.

Despite their rivalry, Pride and Acolyte were fantastic training partners. They constantly pushed each other harder, going above and beyond to improve themselves. Their sparring matches were the fiercest by far and I would often have to heal minor injuries when they were done. It had done wonders for them both.

Luna sat patiently in front of me, carefully eying the heracross with disdain. She didn't dare outright challenge it, but I could tell she was not impressed by the bug. Probably because it had nearly torn my arm off.

I pulled the fire stone out of my pack and it was like a trance came over Luna. Her eyes seemed to deepen and her gaze lingered on the stone.

"I know how we can evolve you," I started. "But it'll be difficult. I don't think you're quite ready yet either." I put the stone down on the ground in front of her. "Vulpix evolve naturally after enough time in the wild. Usually when they reach about fifteen to twenty." I frowned. "But evolution can be sparked early with the use of a fire stone."

Luna stepped closer to the stone, sniffing gently at it. She reached out a paw, cautiously batting at it. I half expected a rush of energy to flow out of the stone at her touch even if I knew better.

"You have to break open the outer shell with your fire. Only when your flames are hot enough to crack the stone will your body be strong enough to handle the transformation." I smiled and stepped back. "Try, if you want."

My starter planted her feet on each side of the fire stone. She looked at me and I saw the recognition in her eyes. She knew what this was. She knew what her evolution was. I didn't understand how, perhaps instinctive memory, perhaps just intelligent intuition. Either way, Luna knew what I was asking her.

She sucked in a breath of air and I felt myself go silent. A stream of white-hot flames erupted from her mouth, washing over the fire stone. I heard a high pitched whine and what sounded like glass slowly cracking.

Luna's stream of flame withered slightly and the sound died. I looked carefully and watched in dismay as a hairline fracture in the fire stone closed and sealed back together. Luna coughed and the flamethrower died suddenly.

I smiled, proud of my vulpix. "It's ok, Luna. Remember, I did say that I wasn't sure if you were ready for this yet."

She hung her head and I knew that Luna was ashamed. She hadn't failed at anything I'd asked of her up to this point, always my infallible stalwart. She had outlasted Brock. She had enabled victory against Misty. She had survived Surge.

I scratched her behind the ears. "You're close," I started. "Maybe we'll try again after Erika?"

Luna's gaze met mine and she nodded. I saw the resolve burning in her eyes and I knew that this one failure would not break her. She would be a ninetales and the league would fear that day.

The rest of our pre-challenge training revolved around acclimating our newest team member to professional battling. He was still yet to understand that we were his allies, but he had stopped attempting to flee from every attack. A few times he lashed out when Pride and Acolyte got too close, but he would allow me to come close to replace the honey.

We hit a break through just before we broke for lunch. I had my team practicing follow up moves, switching from long range to close in quick succession.

I had my back turned to him, but I knew that the heracross was watching. Luna splashed an energy ball off the target dummy and dashed forwards, using her agility to close the distance.

I heard a loud buzzing drown out the noise of the city. A rush of wind buffeted me and I stumbled forwards from the force of it. For a half a moment, I thought that the heracross was attempting to escape or attacking me. Then he shot past me, speeding just over the ground.

He clipped the practice dummy with his horn and cut his flight at the same moment. My heracross landed deftly on the other side of the dummy as it rebounded towards him and drove an armoured fist into it. The dummy bounced away, rolling to a stop against the wall of the pokemon centre.

I grinned ear to ear as my newest team member looked to me for approval. "Great job!" I shouted.

He buzzed off the ground excitedly and circled me as he chittered with joy. His long, thin tongue flitted out rapidly and he came to a stop in front of me.

"So," I started. "You want to be a part of our team?" I asked. A coy smile crossed my face and I knew his name before I even said it. "Vector?"

He chittered happily and buzzed his wings in agreement. The smile on my face was real. I was a trainer, and this was why. Erika didn't stand a chance.

I cracked my knuckles and let my smile show. "Alright then, let's get to work."


Pokédex Entry Addendum – Evolutionary Catalysts

There are some stones formed in extreme environments that are imbued with certain elemental energy. Some pokemon have been found to react with these stones, most notably the eevee family, however many pokemon have shown reactions to exposure.

A pokemon must be physically strong enough to withstand the evolution process. They must typically crack the stone itself, which is usually comprised of a protective shell over an elemental core, and absorb the catalytic energy from the elemental core.



Intermediate Trainer KT#07996101, Marcus Wright, current team

Luna, Vulpix

Pride, Nidorino

Acolyte, Marowak

Vector, Heracross
 
Chapter 12: Rainbow

joshthewriter

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Rainbow


Good luck, Marcus! Whole bar is rooting for you! Wish I could be there!

I looked up from my gear, a confident smile etched on my face. I had this. I could win this battle. I had people behind me, people I didn't even know who knew my name.

The doors cracked open and the sweet smell of flowers wafted into the hallway. I exhaled one last time and stepped out into the arena.

I held up one arm, blocking the blinding stadium lights. I could barely see, but my feet knew which way to go. I crossed to my waiting platform, peering across the battlefield at my opponent.

Erika was already waiting on her platform, clad in a dazzling kimono that shimmered in every colour of the rainbow. Her smile was kind and genuine and I resolved to speak with her after the battle regardless of the result. She met my eyes with her own and nodded respectfully.

"WELCOME ONE AND ALL!" Boomed the announcer. "WE HAVE A TREAT FOR YOU TONIGHT!"

The crowd roared in answer and I felt my platform rise off the ground.

The lights dimmed and the announcer's voice quieted slightly. "Intermediate challenger, Marcus Wright has challenged Leader Erika Minwha for his fourth Indigo League badge."

The massive screen adorning one wall of the arena lit up, the league crest spinning into view. Erika's face appeared alongside four pokeballs. My own face appeared on my side of the screen, my four pokeballs appearing under my face.

"Both Leader and challenger will be using four pokemon today. The challenger may use two substitutions at any point while Leader Erika may not."

The lights flooded the field and even though I knew what was coming, it could never have prepared me. The ground split open, the two halves of the opening sliding apart to reveal the true battlefield beneath.

I gasped as a slice of tropical greenery rose into place. A canopy of leaves rose towards me, obscuring the battlefield floor. I fought to keep my jaw from dropping as the trees kept rising, stretching far above my head.

The battlefield ground into place with the heavy whirr of machinery. I closed my mouth and smirked across the field at Erika. I'd seen stadiums change battlefield's before but never in person, much less as one of the participants. It was truly awe inspiring.

I raised my first ball, already knowing who I was using as my lead. I pushed away the distractions, tuned out the crowd, and set my eyes on my opponent.

Erika imitated me from her own platform, her first ball ready and waiting. She nodded slightly, giving me the courtesy of releasing my pokemon first.

I tossed my ball up, watching it burst open with a confident grin. I had a heavy edge, with three of my four pokemon possessing type advantages over grass types. Typing wasn't everything, something that I had proved in spades during my challenges, but it definitely was an advantage.

Pride materialized from the flash of red light. He trampled a small path through the underbrush and looked up at me. My nidorino pawed at the ground and snorted impatiently, waiting for an opponent to appear.

Erika's pokemon appeared opposite Pride and I nodded in acknowledgement. The pokemon's signature stench filled the air, making my eyes water even at a distance. The strange little pod shook the flower on its head and I fought back the urge to gag on the smell.

"Leader Erika has chosen 'Gum' the vileplume to start the battle against the challenger's 'Pride' the nidorino."

I smirked. Erika's intermediate team had nothing that could hit Pride effectively. He would be immune to any poison effects and could effectively wall most of Gum's grass type attacks.

Erika bowed her head, ceremonially conceding the first move to me. I bowed my head in return as the crowd began to swell with excitement.

"Light as a feather!" I shouted, my voice booming over the field louder and more confident than any of my previous battles. "Get in close!"

Pride bounded forward, keeping his head up instead of lowering his horn and charging. We'd been working on his agility almost since I had caught him. He would never be as fast as Luna, or even Vector, but he was faster than he looked.

Gum pointed the flower on his head at Pride and I watched it bulge slightly. I waited carefully, watching the bulb of the flower quiver slightly.

"Sidestep turn!" I roared, knowing that the vileplume was close to losing hold on the attack.

Pride leapt to the side mid-stride. Gum tried to compensate as my nidorino charged off on a different trajectory, but the vileplume couldn't follow fast enough.

A cone of paralytic spores nearly twenty feet long erupted from the bulb of Gum's flower, painting the forest floor with pale yellow dust.

"Take down!" I roared, spotting our opening.

Pride changed direction again, bearing down on Gum as he waddled away lethargically. The vileplume would never be fast enough to dodge effectively though. Pride slammed into his opponent, tossing the grass type into a tree with the impact.

"Follow up! Fury attack, keep up the pressure!"

Pride skidded to a halt, careening off a tree and bouncing through a particularly thorny bush. I heard him bellow in frustration and he burst out of the bush a moment later.

Gum closed his eyes, face screwing up in concentration. Nothing happened for a long moment and I counted the moments until Pride connected with the vileplume.

The sun hadn't completely set yet, still bathing the arena in a warm evening light. I had to shield my eyes as the sunlight grew harsher and hotter than a dry summer day. It nearly blinded me with the sudden intensity, but Pride knew what he was doing.

Again, my nidorino smashed into Gum. Instead of launching the vileplume with a toss of the shoulder, Pride had him pinned against a tree. My nidorino hammered Gum back into the tree a second time, then a third.

I heard the sharp blast of a whistle come from Erika and followed her eyes down to her pokemon. Gum hit the tree a fourth time and I saw a puff of yellow dust eke out of the pokemon's bulb

"Clear away!" I shouted, hoping Pride was fast enough.

He reacted before the words had even left my mouth. Gum's bulb exploded again, covering the place Pride had just been with another cone of yellow spores.

My nidorino came back around, pacing the vileplume just outside of spore range. Pride snorted, his eyes glued to the flower dancing towards him.

"Shit, look out!"

A storm of petals shook from the vileplume's flower. Gum's seeming clumsiness must have been feigned, because he dashed forward faster than Pride could react to.

The storm of petals wouldn't be overly effective against poison types like Pride, but Gum had sudden speed and surprise on his side. He thrashed my nidorino with the storm, growing closer with every step. Pride shied back, his eyes shut as he dashed through the storm.

We didn't have the advantage anymore. I needed to do something.

"Poison jab!" I shouted as Erika yelled her own desperate response.

Pride closed the gap, his horn lowered as Gum turned to face him. Pride buried his horn up to the base even as Gum opened his mouth and vomited a gob of putrid purple sludge in my nidorino's face.

Erika's vileplume shrieked with pain as Pride happily shook the toxic sludge off his face. Nidorino blood for all intents and purposes was poison. While vileplume could produce their own toxins, they were not overly fond of foreign toxins.

What that meant, was that Pride could practically bathe in whatever vomit Gum was producing. He happily would frolic through a lake of the stuff and probably come out smiling.

I saw Gum's bulb compress and quiver again and knew that we had moments. Erika wasn't going to let us do what we wanted, even if she was at a type disadvantage.

"Clear away!" I shouted.

Pride tore his horn free, bounding away as fast as his legs could carry him. He made it three paces before Gum lowered his head. A second cone of spores exploded from the vileplume, shimmering slightly in the bright stadium lights.

I inhaled sharply. The spores were different, falling slower than the first batch had. They were pale silver, with none of the brilliant yellow sheen that the paralytic spores possessed. Soporific, most likely.

"Pride, run!" I shouted.

He doubled his speed, plowing his way through the spores. I watched his head droop and he plowed off a tree trunk. He landed heavily on his side, snoring deeply before he even hit the ground.

I swore as Gum lumbered over towards Pride with all the time in the world. The round little pod pressed his bulb up against Pride as dozens of tiny vines grabbed hold of him. I watched helplessly as Gum lifted my nidorino into the air and began to drain the life out of Pride.

It was slow at first, watching the vileplume get a good hold on the larger pokemon while I shouted my lungs out. He couldn't quite get his vines all the way around Pride, even if Pride offered no resistance whatsoever.

Then I saw it. The telltale glow of fain green swirling around Gum's bulb that told me he had a hold. He would drain the life out of Pride before my pokemon could even wake up, erasing all the damage we had done like it had never happened.

I gritted my teeth. I had no clue when Pride might wake up. He was as good as useless to me until he did though. I raised his ball and did the only thing I could. I returned him, conceding my first substitution.

The crowd roared as Pride disappeared in the usual flash of red light. I slotted the ball back onto my belt, taking a long moment to select my next while the massive screen flashed with a thirty second timer.

Pride's eyes closed and his icon greyed out. The league's theme swelled over the dull roar of the crowd.

"Challenger Wright has used his first substitution! Looks like Gum is more than that nidorino can handle."

He paused for a moment, then continued droning on about Erika's invincibility. I tuned him out, tuned out the crowd, tuned out the lights. I shut it all out until it was just me and Erika. The noise and the light was still there, but it didn't bother me anymore.

Acolyte was at a disadvantage to grass types and I wasn't keen on sending him to fight a suddenly empowered Gum. Luna was to be kept in reserve until I really needed her, which left me with only one choice.

I lifted my newest ball, a cocksure grin on my face. It was all fake confidence, false bravado that I prayed would win me the round. Vector didn't know any proper commands, barely listened to the simplest of order. But he could fight. He was fast. He was fierce. He was perfect.

"Go, Vector!" I shouted, tossing the ball up into the air. He materialized just above the treetops and disappeared into them with a flutter of his wings.

"Looks like challenger Wright has brought a new pokemon onto his team, folks!"

I smirked at the announcer's words. Erika hadn't been expecting another pokemon with an advantage over hers. She was going down.

I cracked my knuckles and blew a quick whistle blast. I hadn't had much luck with teaching Vector any proper commands, but he had at least learned to come when called. He buzzed above the treetops, looking up at me with his beady black eyes.

"That vileplume is hurt. It's fast. It'll try to take you by surprise. Wait for your opening and watch out for spores."

I didn't know whether he could understand my words. But pokemon understand intent better than any person I've ever met. He knew what I wanted. He knew that I believed in him. He buzzed his wings and disappeared back into the trees. He was on the ground in a flash, glowering menacingly at the vileplume.

The horn blared to signal the start of the battle and I leaned back with an easy smile on my face. Vector didn't need my help. Not yet.

"Gum, petal dance!"

The vileplume bounded forwards, racing towards my heracross as a storm of pale pink petals billowed out from the flower on his head. Vector buzzed his wings and took off before the grass type could close the distance. A few of the petals whipped against Vector's carapace, but the rest whistled harmlessly through the air.

Gum stumbled and tripped over his own feet suddenly. He flailed wildly, trying desperately to right his oversized head.

I howled an order to attack, but I didn't need to. Vector knew an opening when he saw one.

My heracross sliced through the air so quickly that I would have missed it if I had blinked. 'Aerial ace,' I thought to myself, recognizing the move from one of the videos on heracross' move pool. I leaned over the edge of my platform as Vector clipped Gum as he soared past.

The vileplume was catapulted from the force of the impact. He soared through the air, bouncing off a pair of trees before crashing heavily through a bush and out of sight.

Vector landed in front of the bush triumphantly and I let out a breath I hadn't realized I was holding. That had to have done it. No way Gum had tanked tha-

"Solar beam!"

I didn't have time to shout. I didn't have time for anything. The sun was still beaming down from above and Gum hardly needed any time to gather the necessary energy. A beam of pure sunlight erupted from the bush, blasting my heracross through the artificial forest.

Vector rolled to a halt in the dirt, hardly making a noise as a pair of trees clipped by the beam crashed down. He struggled to to rise, his limbs fighting the pain. He was resistant to grass type attacks, but something like that was going to hurt regardless.

I grimaced as I realized that Surge's words were painfully true. I had to tighten up and stop leaving myself open to counters. Forget clearing intermediate rank, I was in danger of losing this battle. Something that would get Curie killed.

I clenched my fists and stared down at the field. Vector hardly knew a single command. But I had a feeling that it was more him refusing to listen than a lack of understanding. I had to change that fast.

I did the only thing I could think of to slow the battle down and give me a second to talk to my pokemon. I lifted Vector's ball and returned him. The thirty second timer appeared on the screen again as I released Vector beside me.

"What's this?" exclaimed the announcer. "It looks like challenger Wright has burned his second substitution before Erika has lost a single pokemon! This battle is not going the way the challenger was hoping."

I reached out to my bug and tuned out the announcer, brushing my hand against Vector's still warm carapace. His chitinous exterior was still smoking where the solar beam had hit him. His wings buzzed warily and I swore a sigh of relief when I saw that they weren't damaged. He jumped at the touch but didn't move to fly away.

"Look," I started in a stern tone. "I know I didn't ask if you wanted to come with me. I know I didn't give you a choice in the matter, and you're smart enough that I'm uncomfortable with that." I softened my face and smiled warmly at my heracross. "Listen to me for this one battle. Let me prove to you that I can help you be stronger than you are. I promise you that I can help you be stronger than you would ever be on your own." I reached into my pack, pulling out one of the sugar cubes I'd bought to woo my newest pokemon over. "What do you say?" I asked.

His tongue flitted out, curling around the sugar cube. It disappeared into his mouth and he nodded at me.

"Good," I said as the horn marking the thirty seconds blared. "Don't get caught admiring your last attack. Always expect a counter and be ready to evade."

Vector nodded and his wings buzzed out. He took off onto the field, hopefully ready to listen to my direction. He landed in front of Gum, his wings buzzing as he tended for action.

Erika pointed forward, already mouthing her next order.

I did the same, drowning her order out with my own. "Aerial ace!"

Vector lifted off like he had been shot from a cannon. He weaved a jagged path through the trees as motes of sunlight began to gather in the bulb of Gum's flower.

The solar beam erupted with the same ferocity that it had before, carving through a half dozen trees as the vileplume tracked after my pokemon.

Vector changed direction suddenly as Gum's attack veered closer. My heracross cut directly across Gum's path, cutting under the solar beam as Gum failed to correct fast enough.

Trees fell in droves as Gum carved his beam after Vector. But he was too slow, too slow to stop my heracross from ending it.

The solar beam fizzled out just before Vector connected with his pronged horn. I saw the exhausted look on Gum's face and almost felt sorry for him. Then my heracross tossed his head and catapulted the beaten vileplume into one of the few remaining trees. The trunk snapped and slowly but surely, the tree toppled to the ground along with the unconscious vileplume.

Gum's battered body disappeared in a flash of red light. I finally let out my breath and caught the happy look in Vector's eyes. We had won the round. I almost didn't care that we were losing the battle. Gum was the strongest pokemon we had battled yet and I couldn't help the swell of pride in my chest.

A squat reptilian pokemon landed on all fours, the bulb on her back quivering in anticipation. I smirked as a tangle of vines emerged from the base of the flower. An ivysaur. We could take an ivysaur.

"Erika has chosen Lush, the ivysaur to battle against the challenger's heracross. Let's see if that tenacious bug can handle a real battle!"

I pointed forward, crowd roaring in my ears. "Horn attack!"

Vector buzzed off the ground, charging the squat ivysaur. She shook the flower on her back, casting a storm of razor sharp leaves at my heracross. Vector plowed through the razor leaf with his head lowered.

Lush attempted to bound out of Vector's path, but my heracross adjusted effortlessly. He buried his horn in Lush's left flank, drawing a spurt of blood that painted his face.

"Get above it!" I shouted. I saw the tensing up of Lush's bulb and I knew what she was about to do. We would only have moments.

Vector rose straight into the air, buffeting the ivysaur with wind from his wings. It wasn't strong enough to inflict damage, but that hadn't been the point.

Lush let loose with a spout of spores that would have put Vector out of commission. The wind off his wings caught them, pushing the stun spore back onto Lush and the surrounding area. The pale yellow dust painted the ground, coating Lush in such a thick layer that she was more yellow than green.

I knew the spores wouldn't affect Lush, but it was supremely satisfying to see the ivysaur's attack nullified so completely. Made me proud of my newest pokemon.

"Now, horn attack!"

Vector cut his flight, dropping back towards Lush like a rock. He led with his wickedly pronged horn, wings guiding him down onto the fleeing ivysaur. He skewered the grass type again, burying his horn deep into Lush's other flank and lifting her off the ground. The ivysaur struggled desperately as Erika shouted orders but there was no escape now.

"Now seismic toss!"

Vector tossed Lush off of his horn, smashing her into one of the fallen tree trunks. His wings buzzed and he took off again, a storm of yellow spores kicked up in his wake.

Lush stumbled to her feet, clearly dazed by the blow. A a pair of vines extended out from her flower but she wasn't moving fast enough to grab a hold of Vector.

My heracross slammed into the ivysaur bodily, bowling her onto her side. He wrapped both arms around her torso and grabbed hold with a crushingly strong grip.

I heard Lush wail in pain and realized that Erika had started with one of her stronger pokemon. Gum had been far stronger than Lush was and I was realizing that I wasn't quite as overmatched as I had thought. Perhaps I could still win this battle.

Vector buzzed his wings again, carrying the ivysaur up into the air. I saw Lush's vines flailing and whipping uselessly against Vector's armoured exterior and knew that the round was won. It was only a matter of time.

Vector turned in mid air, diving towards the ground with all the strength that he had. Lush's vines wrapped around him, desperately holding on for dear life. She would never be strong enough to hold.

My heracross let go of Lush as he flipped and put everything he had into gaining altitude. The ivysaur's vines would never have been strong enough to hold on. Erika's pokemon lost her grip and plummeted down into the earthen field. I didn't watch the impact, but I knew from the cold stare Erika gave me that Lush was down for the count.

"How the tables have turned!" boomed the announcer. "Challenger Wright seems to have turned this battle back onto our dear Leader with a single pokemon. Can that heracross keep it up?"

Erika tossed her next ball into the air. A sweet scent filled the air as the victreebell bounced on its leafy feet. A tangle of vines snaked out from the bell-shaped pokemon and it locked its unfeeling eyes on Vector.

"Leader Erika is bringing out the big guns for this challenger! Ronin the victreebell, one of Erika's original league challenge team, has joined the battle here today!"

I clenched my fists. I'd seen Erika's challenge run six years ago, watched her crush team after team with seemingly frail grass-types. Ronin might have been getting a little softer with age, but an elite level pokemon never really forgets those skills.

Vector landed in front of the victreebell, waiting for my order. He was ready. I closed my eyes for a moment, listening to the roar of the crowd. I let the smile cross my face. We could do anything.

Erika pointed forward as the horn blared to start the round. "Leaf blade!"

"Aerial ace!" I answered.

Vector buzzed off the ground, accelerating towards Ronin. The victreebell bounced himself into the air, extending a wickedly sharp vine. The two pokemon collided in a vicious crash, both of them bouncing through the brush.

Ronin popped back up like nothing had happened, already slashing at Vector as he regained his composure. He bounded forward at an unnatural speed, looking almost comical on the leafy appendages he used as feet.

My heracross launched himself off the ground, pushing through a whipping vine and burying his horn as deep as he could in the victreebell's body.

The victreebell recoiled, swinging another leaf blade at my heracross as he pulled himself off my Pokémon's horn. Ronin caught Vector in the shoulder, hewing through the chitin armour like it was nothing and spraying green-blue blood across the forest floor.

Vector shrieked in pain, his wings buzzing and carrying him out of harms way. He looked at me fearfully and I knew that Ronin had likely just dealt my heracross the worst blow he had ever received.

"Aerial ace!" I roared again. We could still take him, but we had to be aggressive. Ronin was too skilled, too experienced to let him have the initiative. We had to force him on the defensive.

My heracross dove back in, trying to hit Ronin before he could set up another attack. We were not fast enough.

A beam of vibrant sunlight erupted from Ronin's mouth just as Vector made contact. The solar beam went wild, clipping Vector in the side as Ronin tumbled away from the impact. My heracross crashed heavily into the dirt, unable to control his flight after such a heavy blow.

I grimaced. The sun was speeding Ronin up, just like it had for Gum. Except this time, Ronin had all the learned experience of an elite level pokemon.

Ronin came up swinging, his vines slashing at Vector's armoured exterior as my bug drove a fist into the grass type's side. Both pokemon leapt back, smarting from the blows and giving the other space.

"He's fast in the sun," I shouted. "Use your power!"

Vector's wings buzzed out and he lifted off the ground. Ronin bent towards my heracross and belched a stream of leaves that smote him in the side.

Vector flailed and wobbled as the leaf storm battered his wings. He struggled to gain some altitude, but he was tiring and couldn't rise as fast as he had before.

Ronin bounced up at my heracross, slashing with his vines again. Vector bobbled and dropped out of the air, bouncing off the ground and landing heavily on his feet.

Vector groaned, retreating towards me slowly. His armoured hide was cracked and bent in a dozen places. He held his fists up, still committed to the fight.

I knew Vector couldn't finish off Ronin right then and there. The grass type was just too fast in the sun. But we could still do damage.

"Get in close! Don't let up!"

Vector charged, leading with his horn. Ronin deflected his horn away with a vine but my heracross followed up with a vicious cross punch.

The victreebell jerked back, surprised by the quick follow up. Vector kept up the assault, swinging wildly with his other arm. Ronin was ready though and we'd gotten greedy.

The victreebell caught the wild punch on impact with a vine and seized hold. Another vine whipped out, wrapping around Vector's horn and pulling him closer. More vines curled around my heracross as he thrashed wildly, trapping him in a tight wrap even as he hammered his free arm into the victreebell's side.

"Seismic toss!" I roared, knowing this was our last chance to deal damage. Vector's wings were still free, but it wouldn't be long until he was completely entangled in Ronin's vines.

Vector's wings buzzed out and he rose a few inches off the ground. More of Ronin's vines whipped out, wrapping around Vector's free arms but missing his wings.

My heracross struggled with all his might, rising higher and higher as more vines worked their way around him. His legs were tangled in vines, crushed closer to Ronin's body.

Then it happened. One of Ronin's vines curled around his back, crushing Vector's wings against his body and cutting their thrust. The two pokemon rose a few more feet in the air, carried higher by the momentum Vector had been building. They hung above the ruined treetops for a long moment, suspended in the air at the top of their arc. Then gravity asserted her control over the two pokemon.

They dropped like a pair of imbalanced stones that had been glued together. The two pokemon tumbled through the air, flipping end over end in an inescapable embrace. I lost them in the mangled forest and heard a sickening crash as they landed. A puff of spores spewed into the air from the impact and I knew that Vector was down for the count.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I don't believe it! The challenger's heracross has taken Ronin down!"

I peered through the cloud. Sure enough, both pokemon were splayed out on the ground. I smirked and lifted Vector's ball. He had proved himself stronger than I had ever imagined. I only hoped that I had proved myself a worthy trainer.

I returned him to his ball, hand hovering over my three remaining balls. Erika had ended Blue and Red's challenges with a tangela. There was no reason to assume that would change. My smirk widened. Even if Pride was still fast asleep, Luna alone could probably take a tangela.

Erika raised her last ball, a smug looking smirk on her face. She tossed the ball, the beam of red light growing into the shape of a tangela. It kept growing. Arms sprouted from the sides of the tangela and it tripled in size.

A full-grown tangrowth raised its arms, thick vines all over its body writhing erratically. I felt a shiver run down my spine as my smirk died and immediately knew that I did not like this pokemon.

"LOOK AT THIS SURPRISE!" The announcer's voice was booming, nearly drowning out the ecstatic crowd. "Bramble, the tangela, seems to have evolved since Erika's last match! Erika seems set on crushing this newest challenger!"

My hand dropped to my belt. I only had one pokemon who stood a chance against a tangrowth at full strength. Luna was my only choice. I raised her ball. I tossed it up and lost it in the scorching hot evening sun.

Luna materialized in the midst of the destroyed forest. She padded carefully over a patch of spores and looked up at me. I nodded and she looked back at the tangrowth with no fear in her eyes.

The horn blared for the start of the match. Erika pointed forward as Bramble began to charge. "Poison jab!"

"Agility!" I shouted in response. We couldn't win on strength alone. We had to tire out Bramble, exhaust her as much as possible and only then would we be able to overpower her.

Luna slipped away through the tangled underbrush, practically made for this kind of battle. She was damn near impossible to see, let alone catch. She was born for a test of speed like this.

Bramble charged anyways, barrelling through the underbrush that Luna would slip under or around. Luna was faster, but the tangrowth was larger and heavier. With the sun beaming down, she was even faster still. It would only take one mistake.

"Confuse ray!" I shouted. We had to give ourselves an advantage. We had to slow Bramble down. Or Erika would turn the battle around in a flash.

Luna skidded to a half, her eyes glowing. A spinning vortex of light shot from her eyes and sank into the side of Bramble's head. The tangrowth stumbled suddenly, then tripped over a fallen log. The mass of twisting vines crashed to the ground, crushing the log underneath.

"Flamethrower!"

Luna leapt atop of a tree stump, giving herself a bit of elevation. She sucked in a breath and exhaled a stream of blindingly hot flames.

Bramble shrieked in pain as her vines ignited. She flailed her arms, attempting to put out the fire. The spores coating the ground burst into flame, racing along the ground as the underbrush began to catch.

I smirked. All those spore attacks hadn't done a whole lot to my team, but they had coated most of the forest in a layer of flammable dust. A layer that was now catching alight.

"More fire!" I shouted to Luna.

She was already sucking in another breath. I had barely finished my command when she let another flamethrower loose.

The jet of flames washed over Bramble, igniting mores spores and drawing another shriek of pain from the thrashing tangrowth. The forest floor was alive with fire and I lost both pokemon in the smoke.

"Solar blade!" Erika roared over the fire.

I sucked in a breath as a blade of pure sunlight pierced the smoke. I could hardly see Luna, could only see Bramble by the blade of light she wielded.

"Confuse wisp!" I shouted.

An eerie light appeared in the smoke. It split in two wisps of blue flame, spinning around the tangrowth. It split again, then again. Bramble roared and raised her blade as the wisps of flame circled closer.

Bramble swung her blade, tearing into the mangled and burning forest with a blade of pure sunlight. Shards of flaming wood and chunks of molten earth spewed into the air as the sunlight blade tore into the arena floor.

Luna hit the arena wall hard, catapulted out of the inferno by her opponent's attack. She slid down the wall and limped a step away as she attempted to get her bearings. She collapsed in a heap, her rear legs giving out on her.

Bramble rose from the flaming forest, her vines aflame. It had to be excruciating, but the tangrowth stood strong. She bellowed furiously and charged towards my prone starter.

"Luna, get up."

My vulpix whined in pain, struggling to get her feet under her. She had been tossed headlong into a wall by the solar blade, to say nothing of the damage by blade itself. She attempted to rise, but whimpered in pain

"Luna, please get up."

She planted her feet, hauling herself back up. I could see she was hurting. I scowled at Erika. She had brought the strongest intermediate team I had ever seen. She was playing for keeps. It was something I would make her regret.

I set my feet as the sun dipped below the edge of the stadium. Bramble lost a step as she charged headlong into the shade. I saw her vines burning, saw that her arms were just a braid of vines that was beginning to fray.

"Tear off her arm," I ordered coldly. We hadn't used her newest abilities in battle yet, but she had proved she could manage in practice. "Use psychic."

Luna's eyes flashed purple and time seemed to stop for half a moment. A flash of purple light tore across the field, taking Bramble at the base of her right arm.

The arm tore free effortlessly, spinning off into the ruined forest. Bramble continued her charge unperturbed.

"Again!" I roared as Bramble raised her good arm.

Luna's eyes flashed as the tangrowth swung her good arm like a club. The psychic attack hit dead centre, catapulting the tangrowth across the arena as she smacked Luna back into the wall.

Luna hit the wall with a thud and slumped to the ground. She stirred slightly, looking up at me in pain.

I felt something touch my mind, felt a strange presence intrude for half a moment. All I could feel was sorrow and the crushing pain of failure. My eyes widened as I realized that Luna had finally figured out telepathy. The sensation faded and Luna slumped back to the ground.

I raised her ball, swallowing the lump in my throat. The announcer was booming and the crowd was roaring, but I shut it all out. I returned Luna and prayed that she would be alright.

I lifted my next ball, knowing that the match was coming down to the wire. It would be decided here, decided by my next pokemon. Pride wouldn't be able to do a damn thing to Bramble, leaving me with only one choice.

"Acolyte, go!"

My marowak appeared in the ruined forest, his club already spinning at the ready. He didn't waste any time, locking eyes on the tangrowth and planting his feet.

Bramble strained herself for a moment, and I watched the vines covering her side shift and twist around themselves. A new arm braided around itself and extended to the length the old one had.

Bramble bellowed a challenge, spotting her new opponent. She flexed her arms and I saw a glimpse of blackened skin through a gap in the vines.

I couldn't help the smug smirk. I had just seen the path to victory. Erika had just shown me how to win without even knowing it. The horn blared and I let the smug smirk fade.

"Acolyte, get in close! Bone club!"

Erika pointed forward. "Intercept it with power whip!"

The tangrowth reared back, raising both arms. It snapped the vines forward like a pair of whips, snagging both vines around Acolyte's swinging club.

My marowak grunted as the tangrowth attempted to tear the bone out of his hands but he held fast.

"Tear off those vines," I ordered, a cold calmness coming over my voice.

Acolyte tugged back, spinning his club deftly. He tore the vines from the tangrowth's body at the base, watching as the larger pokemon shifted and braided more of her vines into new arms.

More patches of blackened skin peeked through the tangrowth's vines and I knew that we weren't far off from ending the battle. We just needed to expose a little more.

"Again!" I roared, letting the roar of the crowd fuel me. It was intoxicating. "Bone Club!"

Acolyte raised his club again, ready to deliver a decisive blow. Bramble's arms whipped forward, grabbing at my Pokémon's ankles before he could swing.

Acolyte went down, his club swinging wildly at empty air. Bramble descended on him like a feral beast, arms whipping forward as a dozen more vines extended themselves to strangle the fight from my marowak.

Acolyte got his club up in front of him, intercepting most of the vines before they could snare him.

"Headbutt!" I shouted, hoping that Acolyte had enough room to pull off the attack.

Acolyte thrust his head forward with as much force as he could muster while Bramble attempted to get a few vines around my marowak's club. He connected just between Bramble's eyes, drawing a sickening crunch that I could hear clearly over the crowd.

The roar of the crowd died as Acolyte pushed the dazed tangrowth off him. He got to his feet, tearing his tangled club away along with a half dozen vines that were still holding on.

"Finish her," I ordered.

Bramble staggered to her feet, vines shifting to cover the new gaps that had been created. The tangrowth's body shape was half visible through the gaps in her vines and I could tell that she was humanoid for the most part. She had no arms to speak of and was thicker than I was where her shoulders would have been.

Acolyte charged, raising his club. Bramble shifted her vines into a pair of arms that were barely half the length than she had started with. She raised her arms and charged, a futile exercise at this point. The battle was done, barring any unexpected surprises.

Acolyte swung his club to intercept the tangrowth's arms, tearing them off the grass type in the same movement. He followed up with the butt-end of his club, driving it into the tangrowth's face and knocking her flat.

He planted a foot on the tangrowth and raised his club, ready to deliver a final blow. Bramble disappeared from under him and a horn blared to end the match.

I stood there in stunned silence for a moment, unwilling to believe that it was really over. Then the crowd erupted and I felt the cheers shake my platform. I let my fists relax and breathed out. I had done it. I had won.


I scrubbed at the impurity, squinting my eyes as the stubborn speck of dirt refused to leave the boulder badge. I sprayed it with another squirt of the polish solution and picked up the rag again for another go.

After another several minutes of scrubbing, I held up the badge and scowled at the stubborn speck of dirt. Resolving that Brock must have purposely marred the badge with a bit of dirt, I reluctantly placed my badge back into the case I had bought for them. My other badges shone brightly at me, all spotless and reflecting light gorgeously at me.

I leaned back in the comfortable chair, looking at the vibrant rainbow on the badge Erika had given me. It twinkled in the low light, seeming to change colours before my very eyes. I closed the badge case and smiled happily to myself.

A hard knock at my door shattered the calm scene. I got up, slipping the badge back onto the table beside the polish kit. Luna stirred, but I shook my head and let her lay back down.

"Hello?" I said as I opened the door.

A pair of hooded boys in black outfits pushed in past me, shoving me back a few steps. I opened my mouth to protest as Luna growled a warning and rose to her feet.

"Mister Wright, if you would please return your vulpix."

I turned my head to the door and nearly let my jaw hit the floor. Her kimono was gone, replaced by form fitting body armour that was darker than anything I'd ever seen her in. Erika closed the door behind her, folding her arms across her chest.

She cocked her head to the side and looked at me inquisitively. "I have an infestation in my city," she started. "And you're going to help me wipe it out."

I looked over at the boys and nearly did a double take. Blue pulled his hood down, a cocky grin worn on his face. The other boy did the same and I recognized him as the boy who had been standing beside Blue when he'd set his record.

I looked back at Erika with a knowing look on my face. I knew what infestation she was referring to. "What do you need from me?" I asked, finally ready to face Team Rocket, and Domino, on my own terms.


Pokédex Entry #465 – Tangrowth

Tangrowth were long thought to be a myth, simply due to the rarity of discovering them in the wild. Tangela are exceedingly rare even in their home grasslands of southwest Kanto, and Tangrowth are even more scarce.

They are a large bipedal pokemon with a fuzzy black body. Their arms are formed from masses of vines that are braided together. It is unfazed if these arms are torn off, as it can easily braid more vines into a new arm.



Intermediate Trainer KT#07996101, Marcus Wright, current team

Luna, Vulpix

Pride, Nidorino

Acolyte, Marowak

Vector, Heracross
 
Chapter 13: Expansion

joshthewriter

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"So, let me get this straight." I stood up, pacing the end of my room. Luna looked up at me, unconcerned by my panicked tone. "You want me to walk in, demand to speak to the crazy bitch that's already kicked my ass, demand my pokemon back, and pray that I don't get executed for my attitude?"

Erika smirked and I couldn't help but think that this woman was more than just the pampered rainbow princess she presented to the world. "Yes," she said "that's the entire point. You're the distraction."

I shook my head. "There's got to be another way. I'm not risking Curie's life like that." I turned to look at the boys. "Would either of you risk one of your own pokemon like this?"

"That's not the point," Blue retorted. "We don't have the opportunity to get our foot in the door. You do."

I raised an eyebrow. "What the hell do you mean by that?"

Erika stepped in, taking my attention back. "It means that I can't set foot in that game corner without my every move being watched by Rocket and these two are underage and can't even get in. You are literally our only way in that doesn't involve fighting our way through an army. All you have to do is find a washroom or something and activate that beacon. Then, my exeggutor can teleport us in."

I closed my eyes and calmed myself. "If you're wrong, Curie is dead."

Erika rolled her eyes. "If I'm wrong, then we're all dead. I understand that you're in this for your happiny, but try to understand that we need your help for this to work." She sighed. "My city is dying, Marcus. These people are bleeding it dry and I can't get close to them. They have the police in their pockets, the mayor as well. They have every angle covered except for one, except for you."

I grimaced. I could feel myself agreeing with her, even if I didn't want to. "Trainers help each other," I said. I knew I couldn't back out of this, not when they'd all put their lives on the line to even bring it to me.

Red turned, his pikachu squeaking suddenly. He offered me a weak smile as he attempted to calm his pokemon.

Erika's hard scowl faded slightly. "Trainers help each other," she affirmed. "We'll have backup coming, but we will be on our own until they can clear the game corner of civilians."

"There's the other thing," I said. "How do you plan on doing that?"

"The second an emergency call goes out, I'll have my gym trainers ready to respond. They can be inside the game corner in under two minutes." She shrugged. "It'll be up to us to create that emergency."

I sighed and massaged my temples. She was asking a lot of me. "Why can't the league do anything? Shouldn't they be stopping Team Rocket?"

"They should," Erika responded. "But Lance is stubbornly narrow-minded. He doesn't view this as his problem and thinks it should be left to the local authorities. He refused my request to deploy the Elite Four, he wouldn't even give me access to the Aces." She scowled and I saw resentment in her eyes. "So, as the only local authority not in Rocket's pocket, it's up to me to deal with this shit."

I nodded slowly. "Do you think we can pull it off?"

She nodded. "I wouldn't have brought it to you unless I did. We have a chance to-"

Red yelped and jumped back as his pikachu sparked angrily. "I'm sorry," he half-shouted. "He doesn't normally-"

The pikachu moved faster than I could track. Luna growled and leapt to intercept him, but the pikachu was just too fast.

He slammed into my stomach, driving the wind out of me. I doubled over as the pikachu tore madly at my jacket pocket, bolts of lightning haphazardly flying off the little pokemon. My pokegear tumbled away, smoking, as Luna telekinetically flung Red's pikachu off of me and into the far wall.

"What the hell was tha-" I started, but a digital scream drowned me out before I could finish.

The pokegear twitched, echoes of the artificial shriek still coming out of the device's tiny speakers. It shook once and the screen seemed to spasm with pixelated light.

Spears of jagged light erupted from my pokegear's screen. Something screamed in pain as my pokegear shook itself to pieces. The lights in the room flared and died as something unnatural forced itself into being, sparking erratically from the pieces of the pokegear.

Strange pixels shifted at the creature's jagged edges. It turned its head, reality crackling and pixelating as the artificial creature strained itself into being. Electrostatic noise whined and static electricity raised the hairs on my neck.

"A porygon!" Erika shouted over the digital scream. Her hand was dropping to her waist, but there was no time.

White-hot light erupted from the artificial pokemon. I saw a blinding flash as I dropped to the floor and felt a sudden rush of hot wind blow past me. A thunderous crash came from behind and I was suddenly aware of fresh air streaming in through the gaping hole in the wall.

I rolled onto my back, scrambling away from the ruined remnants of my pokegear. Red and Blue were shouting over each other and the porygon kept shrieking that same digital scream.

Luna leapt at the porygon, flames already dripping from her jaws. The porygon turned, strange light shining in its artificial eyes. A shimmering wall of light appeared in front of her, stopping my vulpix in mid-air.

Red's pikachu surged forward, taking advantage of the opening Luna had created for him. A bolt of electric light erupted from the little yellow pokemon and I threw my hands up to shield my face from the light.

The porygon screamed in pain, electricity coursing through its form. It seemed to glitch, digital spasms running through its program as Red's pikachu pumped untold amounts of electricity through it.

Luna dragged herself to her feet as Blue released a kadabra beside her. The psychic pokemon bowed his head immediately, the air growing thick with psychic energy. My vision swam as my mind fought to cope with the surge of mental power. Luna's eyes flashed as she added her strength to the kadabra's.

The porygon turned towards the gaping hole in the wall, making a desperate play to escape. It let out a shriek and exploded in a violent maelstrom of electricity just as Luna and Blue's kadabra loosed their combined psychic power.

I rolled over again, shielding my face and curling into a ball as the discharge of lightning tore apart my room. The air rippled with psychic power, both of our pokemon struggling to manipulate the electricity away from us all.

My bed exploded into flames, spewing tatters of flaming fabric into the air. Sparking, smouldering furrows were carved into the walls and I could do nothing but cower in fear.

The porygon slammed into the floor, an unseen force smashing the artificial pokemon through to the floor below us.

I clambered to my feet, my hand finding its way over Pride's ball. Red and Blue did the same, looking around at the destruction. The air was thick with dust and smoke, burning my lungs as I coughed madly.

"Everyone ok?" I asked between coughs. I scanned the room as the boys answered, looking for Erika. "Erika?"

She sat up, looking over at me with a dazed smile. "Did we win?" She asked deliriously.

I scrambled over to her, helping Celadon's Gym Leader to her feet. She slumped against me, suddenly losing her strength. I barely caught her before she collapsed into my arms.

"Shit," I said dumbly. I looked up at the boys as I laid Erika down. "Get her to the gym," I ordered, taking charge of the situation. Both the boys were stunned into silence and someone needed to step up.

Blue nodded. "I'll teleport her there. I'll be back in a minute."

He knelt beside her, touching one hand to her shoulder and the other to his kadabra. They disappeared with a pop, leaving Red and I alone in the shredded room.

The porygon had blown a massive hole in the side of the hotel, knocking out the walls to adjacent rooms with its opening attack. It must have been extremely powerful to have done so much damage with a single attack. I crept towards the gaping hole in the side of the hotel, ready for anything.

A half dozen people were looking up at me from the hotel courtyard, with more being drawn by the second. Part of the building was aflame and I could hear movement from the room above us. The porygon was struggling on the floor beneath us, its body glitching erratically as it tried and failed to rise.

"We can't let it get away," I started, turning to look at Red. "It'll tell the Rockets what we were doing." My fists tightened and I looked back down at the struggling pokemon. "And Curie will die."

"What do we do?" Red asked. I heard the fear in his voice, and remembered that he was just a kid.

I looked down as the porygon finally rose off the floor and began floating down towards the courtyard. We were on the third floor, and I could see a clear path down after it. I turned to look at Red with a serious scowl on my face, slinging my pack over my shoulder. "Follow me," I said.

I slipped down through the hole, landing heavily on the ruined carpet. The couple that had been in the bed when the ceiling had collapsed shrieked as I landed. Luna lithely slipped down from the floor above and leapt out after the porygon.

"Official League business!" I half-shouted as Red landed beside me with his pikachu perched on his shoulder. "Stay back!"

I didn't wait for them to answer before I vaulted myself out the ruined window. I hit the roof of the hotel's covered courtyard and kept after the fleeing porygon. Luna was already halfway across the roof, moving faster than I had any hope of catching.

"Confuse wisp!" I roared, fear creeping in as the porygon floated towards the street. If it got away, Rocket would come crashing down on us, our families, anyone we were close to.

Luna spat a spinning helix of blue flame, hardly even breaking stride as she gave chase. She leapt off the end of the roof, the air distorting in front of her as she reached out for the porygon with her mind.

The porygon spun in mid-air, erecting a barrier of light that absorbed the spinning helix of blue flame. The barrier split open and I gasped as I realized the porygon was already building up some terrible energy in front of it.

Luna's eyes flared purple and I saw her psychic attack manifest physically for the first time. My heart swelled with pride and I knew she had the damn thing.

The porygon loosed its attack, a swirling matrix of elemental energy that defied explanation. A spear of ice smashed through Luna's attack, wreathed in crackling electricity. It drove into Luna's lead shoulder and ignited into a roaring explosion.

I lost Luna in the flames, a tan blur that might have been her soaring off the roof and into the courtyard. The roof shook and I stumbled to one knee, steadying myself as it swayed dangerously.

A bolt of lightning smote the porygon in the side. It shrieked again, its angular body glitching and spasming wildly. Red's pikachu was there, moving so fast he was nothing but a brown and yellow blur. The little yellow pokemon leapt off the roof, spinning and leading with his tail.

The porygon sailed through the air, smashing down through the roof and landing heavily in one of the flowerbeds in the courtyard. It whined sharply, struggling to rise out of the dirt.

I felt the roof shake violently again and stumbled as a terrible crack ripped through the air. Red looked at me, terror wide in his eyes. The roof shifted and part of it dropped half a foot as the cracking noise ran down the rest of the roof's supports.

"Run," I said breathlessly.

The roof dropped out beneath us, plunging us towards the ground before we could even move. A cloud of dust rushed up to meet us, rising into the air as the rest of the covered courtyard collapsed.

I hit the ground, landing hard on my side. Something jabbed into my side and I sucked in a breath sharply. I could hear people screaming, the kind of screams that you only get when someone is really hurt. Sirens were blaring in the distance and I could hear the sound of water splashing off of something.

I groaned and sat up, clutching at the aching pain in my side. Red did the same a couple feet away, looking around at the carnage surrounding us. Flames were eating away at the hotel, more of it coming down onto the pile of growing rubble. I looked, but I couldn't see into the room the couple had been in or even mine. The smoke was obscuring everything and flames painted the entire scene in hellish red light.

I clambered to my feet, trying to block out the pain. Luna was picking her way towards me, looking around cautiously for the porygon.

I heard it before I saw it, whining faintly from under a pile of rubble. I pulled a chunk of concrete away, grunting from the strain. The porygon was utterly trapped, eying me with one pixelated black eye.

"What do we do with it?" Red asked. "We can't leave it here."

"I know," I replied. I reached into my bag, pulling out one of the empty pokeballs at the bottom. I offered Red a weak smile and tapped the ball against the side of the porygon's head. "I'll take it with me."

Blue appeared behind us with a small pop, already talking a mile a minute. "We gotta get out of here. Rockets got word Erika was hurt. They're already surrounding the horticultural quarter and blocked the route to the hospital. There are already more Rockets marching in force. Won't be long before they're all over the streets." He looked around incredulously, then back at us as if he couldn't believe that we'd caused all of it. "I missed it all?" he asked.

"No," I replied coldly. I turned to face them both, the pokeball completing the capture as I dropped it into my pack. "If the Rockets are moving in force against the gym, then their hideout's gotta be close to empty."

Blue grinned, already seeming to guess where my mind was heading. "And you want to hit them while they're away?" He nodded to himself. "It'll work." He held out one hand, putting his other on his kadabra's shoulder.

I put my hand on his, Curie's face in the forefront of my mind. If I did nothing, she died. If I went now, she had a chance. My choice was made for me. A chance was better than nothing, better than knowing that I killed Curie because I was a coward.

Red faltered. "Guys," he started, fumbling over the word. "We could die."

I looked over at Blue, unsure of what to say. The cocky little shit was grinning. "Yeah, we could. But we won't. We're too good." He looked over at me. "We have twelve badges between us. We can take a few two-bit thugs on a power trip." His smile seemed to grow even larger and he slapped me happily on the back as he riled up his friend. "I took down a tyranitar with this guy, Red. Remember what we did on the S.S. Anne? We can do this!"

Blue's cocksure confidence was infectious. I found myself grinning, looking back at Red who couldn't help the small crack of a smile starting at the edges of his mouth. "C'mon," I started. "It'll look good on the resume for champion."

Red cracked. He looked down sheepishly in a vain attempt to hide his grin. "Let's go kick some ass." He touched his hand to ours and we disappeared with a pop, leaving the burning hotel behind.


I strolled through the front doors of the game corner, my rugged travelling clothes clashing terribly with the posh and elegant outfits that the rest of the patrons were wearing. I walked with purpose, ignoring the girls beckoning me over to slots for a game. They were just in the way.

I scanned the casino, looking for anyone or anything I recognized. Our entire plan hinged on a tiny chance that I could get us into whatever secret hideout that the Rockets apparently had beneath it. I hadn't seen anything the first time I had been here, but there was always a chance that I'd seen something without realizing.

Try as I might though, the casino floor was far too chaotic. I would never be able to find a damn thing in here, not before the Rockets wiped out the Celadon gym trainers. So I did the only thing I could. I went somewhere that I knew would attract attention.

The lights in the restaurant were darker than the rest of the game corner, probably for the ambience or something. I walked through, ignoring the derisive looks that I got from the service staff. I saw Nadia disappear into the back and knew I had gotten the attention I was looking for.

There were only three tables seated at the moment, so I did the most provocative thing I could. I sat down in Archer's booth, warily watching out for anything or anyone suspicious.

I hardly had to wait. It had barely been ten minutes when Domino stormed out of a nondescript door that I would have overlooked. The sheer dress was gone, replaced by combat pants and the same smoothed jacket with an R emblazoned on the chest. Her eyes were locked on me and her expression was murderous.

I stiffened my spine and turned towards her, refusing to let myself act on the fear racing in my mind. "What are the odds I find you here?" I asked, feigning a smile.

She had me in a flash, one of my arms twisted up against my back as she disguised the movement by pressing herself against my side. She slid into the booth beside me, keeping my arm firmly twisted behind my back. "What did you do?" she growled.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I hissed through gritted teeth. "I was coming back to give Archer what he wanted. Why do you think I sat here?"

She relaxed her grip slightly but didn't let go. "You being serious?" she asked. Her tone was different, softer even. It took me by surprise.

"Why else would I be here?" I asked incredulously. "Did I really look like I enjoyed my last visit?"

She got me up without a word and steered me through the nondescript door she had come from and down the hallway. For a moment, I thought that we were looking out a window onto the casino floor until I realized that the walls were one-way mirrors that gave an almost perfect view of the entire floor. We made two left turns at branching hallways and came to a stairwell that led under the casino floor. She led me down the stairwell and whisked me down a second flight to a lower floor. She stepped out of the stairwell and led me straight to a room down the hallway, just before a massive freight elevator. It took me a moment, but I realized that it wasn't some torture room. It looked more like a break room than anything else.

"Sorry, had to get you away from prying eyes. Too many people up there." She smiled at me and for the first time it felt genuine. She let go of me and walked over to the coffee machine. "So, you decided to join us after all? Can't say I'm surprised. They have you by the balls. Almost as bad as they had me."

I raised an eyebrow, almost dumbfounded by her change in demeanour. "What do you mean?"

"Gods, you're dumb," she started, shaking her head. "You really think that you're the first trainer they coerced into working for them? That you were the only person they did this to?"

I sighed. "I wasn't sure, but I figured you were all a bunch of criminals and thieves." I smirked, trying to keep my composure. "Can't say that you haven't given me that impression up until now."

She shrugged, but I caught her mixed expression. "Orders are orders," she said quietly. She looked at me, her eyes studying me hard. I stared back, trying to mask my own churning emotions.

It was a long silence, both of us staring at each other. I was trying to get a sense of her, trying to understand what was going on underneath her impenetrable mask. "You follow all the orders?" I asked cautiously. "Even the bad ones? That's a dangerous line to walk."

"You wouldn't understand what it's like, what they do to you. You don't get a choice," she said. She turned around and gestured to the coffee machine and I got the sense that she was hiding her face. "Want anything?"

I nodded, casually unzipping my jacket. "So, you really do have an underground lair?" I said with a smile, trying to defuse the tension.

She laughed as she turned back towards the coffee machine. "What secret organization would be complete without one?" She set about making a pot, emptying the filter into a trash bin and grabbing a new one out of the cupboards.

I slipped my hand into my interior pocket, feeling for the tiny beacon that Blue had taken from Erika. I gently squeezed it, feeling it click satisfactorily. I pulled my hand back out before Domino could turn around and got to my feet.

Domino turned to look at me, an eyebrow raised. "No sarcastic retort?" she asked. "You're slacking." She took a step towards me, leaving the coffee machine for a moment. She had a warm smile on as she crossed the room and seemed to look straight into my eyes. "Want anything to ea-"

A loud pop broke the tension in the room as Red and Blue appeared at once. I wrapped an arm around Domino's neck as she turned, dragging her down to the floor and pinning her right arm underneath my body weight. She bucked wildly, hissing and spitting as the boys jumped into action and helped me pin her to the floor.

"Domino," I growled, all the friendliness gone from my voice. "where is Curie?"

"Not going to work," she squeaked out. "You're so dead."

I crushed my arm tighter around her throat. "Wrong answer," I said coldly. "where is Curie?"

She choked on her words, trying and failing to say something through my crushing grip. She tapped on my arm and I loosened my grip slightly. "Bottom floor," she gasped. "She's with all the other prize pokemon."

"Prize pokemon?" Red asked. "The hell are those?"

She looked over at him, her eyes judging him harshly. "Don't be naïve, boy. You think that the rich pricks of the world don't want rare pokemon to brag about to their rich-"

I didn't give her the satisfaction of an answer, just squeezed hard enough to cut her off mid-sentence. "Put her out. She's not gonna help us," I said calmly.

Red moved slightly, letting his pikachu creep up his shoulder. The little electric pokemon sparked slightly and tapped his tail against Domino's temple.

I felt a small jolt and released Domino suddenly. She went stiff, her joints locking up and her muscles going stiff. I turned to look at Red, feeling a moment of pity. "She gonna be ok?"

He looked back at me with a reassuring nod. "Just scrambled her nervous system for a bit." He smirked and I realized that he'd regained his composure before they'd teleported in. He'd been a nervous wreck after teleporting away from the hotel. "She should be back up to terrorize you some more in a few hours."

Blue shot me a look of derision. "Why do you even care?" he asked. His thought on the matter were perfectly clear, glancing at Domino with barely disguised disgust. "It's not like she'd do the same for you."

"She already did," I replied. "She could have let Vicious do what he wanted and make an example of me, but she wouldn't let him." I looked down at her, a pang of pity in my heart. "It was something she said. I don't think Team Rocket gave her a choice of joining or not."

Blue shrugged and crept open the door. If my conscience bugged him, he wasn't going to let me see that. "C'mon, Amadeus can sense something big below us." He turned back and looked at me. "This place won't stay empty for long."

"Hold on," I said. I dove into Domino's pockets, looking for anything useful. I pulled a keycard from one pocket and tossed it to Blue. "There you go. Stairwell is down the hallway and on the right. Wait there, I'll be right behind you."

Blue raised an eyebrow, but Red ushered him out of the room without a word. I turned back to Domino and crossed my arms. She was staring back at me, eyes following me.

"You know, I don't know how much of what you said was true…" I trailed off for a moment. Slowly, I knelt beside her and put my hand on her shoulder. "But you don't have to be this. You don't have to be on the wrong side." I stood up, trying to offer her a hopeful smile before I left. "You always have a choice."

I turned and left the room, closing the door quietly behind me. I turned, looking down the hallway and towards the stairwell. The boys weren't there. I turned to the left and saw them just as Blue swiped the keycard in the freight elevator's card reader.

I jogged over, tearing the key card from Blue's hand. "Are you an idiot?" I hissed. "How the hell do you think we're gonna sneak in if we take the elevator?"

"Relax, there's nobody here." He gestured around. "We haven't seen a single soul."

I shook my head. "Domino was here. If she was here, then I doubt she was alone." I motioned for the boys to follow me and turned towards the stairs.

I took two steps and the freight elevator dinged upon arrival. The doors scraped open with a loud grinding of gears that was impossible to ignore.

"Hold it right there!" shouted a man's voice. "Identify yourselves."

I swore under my breath and turned. Four men, clad in black outfits with clean red trim, were standing in the freight elevator. A crimson R was emblazoned on their chests. Even as I turned, the pair in the back carrying a large crate dropped it in between them.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and found my voice. "I'm a new recruit, just joined up. Domino gave me her card, told me to get downstairs to help out."

He raised an eyebrow. "Where is Domino?" he asked cautiously.

I glanced to my left. Blue's hand was waiting on his ball belt, just waiting for an opportunity. "Said something about going back to grab something off the casino floor. She told me she'd catch up with us in a few minutes."

He scratched his chin, seeming to mull over my words. I couldn't read his expression, couldn't tell what he was thinking. "Why would Domino send you downstairs?"

I opened my mouth, mind racing for an explanation. I never got the chance to give it. Blue tapped a ball, already roaring an order to attack. His arcanine bounded forwards as a half dozen pokemon appeared behind the Rockets.

My hand dropped to my belt, releasing Acolyte as a hulking machoke charged towards me. My marowak intercepted the machoke with his club, beating the fighting type back with a flurry of devastating blows.

I caught a flash of lightning as Red's pikachu leapt from his shoulder, bathing an arbok in electricity. The serpent writhed for a moment and fell still, Red's terrifying pikachu dashing away through the battle. Red pushed forward with his pokemon, his poliwhirl pummeling a sandshrew into the wall with a devastating punch. The little ground type crashed through the drywall, leaving a perfectly shaped hole behind.

A door behind us burst open, a trio of uniformed thugs pouring out of the room. My hand dropped to my belt, releasing Pride and Luna as the Rockets released a raticate and a pair of koffing into our only path of escape.

"We gotta move!" I shouted, straining to be heard by the boys over the battle. My pokemon stood in front of me, glaring daggers at the Rockets as they waited for an order.

The boys backed towards me, realizing we were trapped and cut off from our only way of escape.

Blue turned suddenly, pointing at the newcomers with a vicious grin. His arcanine separated from a prone machop, seeing her master's intent. "Flame charge!"

"No fir-"

His arcanine shot past me, abandoning her battle with the pair of raticate that were surrounding her. Living flames wrapped around her body, leaving a trail of fire that spread behind her as she ran. I turned and covered my ears as Blue's arcanine bore down on the pair of koffing.

Koffing and their evolution are basically shells of highly pressurized, highly volatile, highly toxic gas. They were unstable at the best of times, prone to detonation when threatened. In the wild, it was a defence mechanism to keep predators away from their home colony. In an enclosed space like this, it was a devastating.

Heat and smoke blasted over me and I heard the familiar sound of groaning supports as the building above us buckled and threatened to fall. Rubble landed on me, pieces of smouldering drywall knocking me onto the floor

I struggled to rise, my ears ringing and my head spinning. The pile of rubble on top of me shifted slightly, but I couldn't lift it. I tried again, grunting in pain and desperation. A thick bone appeared, wedging underneath the sheet of smouldering drywall that had trapped me. Acolyte grunted, heaving with everything he had as I wiggled free.

A grey fist connected solidly with Acolyte's jaw, sending him tumbling. The machoke was on him in a second, following up with blow after blow as Acolyte flailed at it with his club.

Pride was there, intercepting the machoke with a horn attack to its midsection. The hulking fighting type whined in pain, as my nidorino withdrew his horn and stepped in front of Acolyte. I felt a swell of pride as I watched the two rivals on my team stand side by side against an enemy.

I looked away for a moment, forcing my eyes to move past the grisly aftermath of the explosion and focus on finding us a way out. Red and Blue were both struggling to their feet, their pokemon already back on their feet and keeping the Rockets from the elevator engaged.

"Let's go!" I shouted, grabbing the boys by their collars and dragging them along with me. We didn't have a choice. We couldn't stay here and the elevator wasn't an option. Fire was already licking up the walls that were still standing, and the temperature was rising by the second. This place would be an oven in minutes, if the roof didn't cave in and drop the casino on top of our heads first.

I raised Acolyte's ball, returning my marowak as the machoke intercepted a body blow with his arm. Pride seized on the confusion, burying his horn into the machoke's thigh and dropping it to one knee. The beast bellowed angrily at us as we retreated towards the stairs, unable to rise.

We burst into the staircase, Red and Blue racing ahead of me as they overtook me. Blue's arcanine disappeared into her ball, too big to fit through the doorway. The boys bounded up a pair of steps before turning and dashing for the stairs deeper into the basement. I bounded after them, stealing a glance up the stairwell as Luna and Pride ran past me.

Another trio of Rockets stormed down the stairs from the casino, joining the group from the elevator as they gave chase. We took the stairs in twos and threes, but the Rockets kept on our asses.

I glanced down at Luna, a suicidal plan rapidly taking shape as I ran. "Flamethrower! Block their way!"

She stopped, inhaling deeply. Agile as ever, my vulpix spun, a jet of flame superheating the concrete stairwell just behind me. The first Rocket skidded to a halt, too slowly to avoid Luna's flamethrower. He dropped to the ground, screaming in pain as he clutched at his flaming face.

"Keep going!" I shouted, leaping down the last few steps to the bottom floor. The air was hot and dry, ripping at my throat as I sucked in breath after breath. It was rapidly becoming harder and harder to breathe. "Luna, on me!"

My vulpix cut the flames and dashed down the stairs towards us. I could still hear screams of pain, but more shouts were coming closer down the stairs. I'd bought us seconds, a minute at most.

Blue was already at the end of the hallway, frantically waving me over. I dashed the length of the hallway as more frantic shouting echoed down the hallways branching off of ours. We were trapped, the building coming down on top of us.

"The elevator?" I asked incredulously. I slammed into the doors as I skidded to a halt, sucking down ragged breaths as I dug in my pocket for the key card.

He practically tore the card from my hand. "You have a better idea? The stairs ended!" He swiped the card. I didn't answer him. "If there's anyone inside when it opens, we swarm them."

Red nodded grimly, raising one of his pokeballs in preparation. I'd barely seen him use another pokemon, but he hadn't needed one. His pikachu sat proudly on his shoulder, waiting for another opponent. His poliwhirl was gone, returned to his ball.

I took my place beside them both, stealing a glance behind me. I could hear the shouting getting closer and knew we didn't have much time.

The elevator door slowly opened, gears grinding as the massive freight elevator opened for us. It was empty.

The Rockets streamed out of the stairwell, six of them running headlong down the hallway. We stepped into the elevator and I turned, taking cover behind the crate the Rockets had dropped in the elevator as Blue madly mashed at the bottom button.

The heavy metal doors ground slowly shut, moving agonizingly slowly. I closed my eyes, praying that the doors would shut in time. We were dead if they didn't.

The door slammed shut, sealing us away from the angry Rocket grunts. I opened my eyes, breathing a heavy sigh of relief.

"Well, that went well." Blue sat unceremoniously on the floor, leaning back against the elevator wall. His chest was heaving and he hung his head in exhaustion. "Let's not do that again. Like ever."

I plopped down opposite him, Luna curling affectionately into my side. I struggled hard to catch my breath, my hands shaking as adrenaline coursed through me. Pride sat dutifully in front of me, panting heavily.

Red did the same, his pikachu nuzzling his cheek affectionately. "Agreed," he replied, his voice hoarse. "This was a bad idea."

I shrugged, still trying to catch my breath. "Any idea how we get out of here?" I asked. "Not to spoil the fun, but we just set our only way out on fire."

Red sat in silence, looking dumbly at me. He looked at Blue as if he were unsure and deferring to him.

The young Oak got to his feet, finally seeming to catch his breath. "We worry about that after. Right now, we have to shut this place down. They're storing prize pokemon down here and that stops today." He held out a hand to Red, hauling the smaller boy to his feet. He looked at me with a quizzical look. "You said that you dealt with a pokemon poacher that worked for the Rockets?"

I nodded. "Vicious…" my voice trailed off and died at the thought of facing him again right now. "The name fits him. He's not a pleasant person."

Blue's face went cold and I got the feeling that the young Oak wouldn't soon forget the masked trainer who had killed his raticate. "I remember him," Blue answered. His eyes were dark and I saw the fury clearly in them. "We're gonna burn it all down," he continued. "Whatever this Team Rocket is, whoever they are, they're evil. They hurt people. They hurt pokemon. They act all self-righteous, like they're the good guys in all of this." He paused and his expression faltered slightly.

Red turned and put his hand on Blue's shoulder. "We'll do it together," he said. He was smiling warmly, offering Blue some small comfort. "These people need to be stopped. We'll stop them."

Blue offered a weak smile in return. "Thanks, Red."

The elevator ground to a halt, stopping as it finally reached the bottom floor. I got to my feet, Pride and Luna taking up places in front of me. I turned to look at the boys, ready for whatever fresh hell was waiting outside the elevator.

The doors opened and nothing greeted us. No angry shouts, no furious pokemon, just deafening silence.

I stepped out, scanning the room quickly. It was a large cavern, seemingly carved from the surrounding rock. Various cages lined the walls of the cave, a veritable menagerie of pokemon stuffed into them like some sick kind of zoo. There were pokemon from all across Kanto, even a few Johtan pokemon mixed in.

"This is wrong," I said, walking out into the cavern. I couldn't take my eyes off the cages, eyes racing along them as I looked for Curie. I passed by a charizard that regarded me coldly, its jaws chained shut and its wings tied together. Red stopped to help the fire drake, but I kept moving, looking for my pokemon.

"It's barbaric," Blue said. He stopped in front of a smaller cage, an eevee looking up at him with soft brown eyes. "How can someone do this to pokemon?"

I ignored him, my heart leaping into my throat. A happiny was seated miserably against the wall of her cage. My happiny was alive. She looked up at me, hope filling her large round eyes.

My hand dropped to my belt and I released Acolyte. Curie shied back from the unfamiliar pokemon and I felt my heart break just a little bit as Luna nuzzled at the cage in an attempt to calm my precious child. "Stay back," I ordered to Curie. "We're gonna get you out of there."

I pointed at the padlock holding the cage shut. "Get it open," I ordered, looking to Acolyte.

He raised his club, smashing the lock with ease. The cage door swung open and I saw hope flicker in Curie's eyes.

"It's ok, Curie." My voice was low and I kept my eyes locked with hers. "I'm here now. You're safe. I'll never let anybody take you from us again."

She took a step towards me, her eyes filling with tears. She was thin, thinner than a little round pokemon like her should ever be. I pushed away my anger at how she'd been treated, just happy to have her back.

My hand went into my bag, wrapping around the small stone that she had dropped on my lap in the helicopter. I didn't know why the stone was so important to her, but she was inconsolable without it. I pulled out the small, white, oval stone and held it out in my palm.

"You dropped something," I said, getting down on one knee. I held the stone out to her, smiling as best I could. "I kept it safe for you, until I could rescue you."

She looked at the stone, then up at me. I saw tears glistening at the edges of her eyes and held the oval stone out to her. My happiny reached out, taking the stone in her tiny hands.

A stunning white-hot light shone from Curie's hands as she touched the stone. The light enveloped her, growing in size until she was just over half my size. The light faded, leaving my chansey looking at me with an expression of sheer adoration.

I clapped my hand over my mouth, trying and failing to suppress a joyful sob. Tears of pure joy ran freely down my face as my pokemon looked at me. "You evolved!" I said hysterically. I threw my arms around her, pulling my chansey into a crushing hug. "I'm so proud of you! You're so strong."

A door slammed shut, echoing loudly through the cavern. I pulled Curie's ball from the cage and returned her as I swivelled around to look for the source.

He was tall, broad at the shoulders and built like a tauros. He barely fit into his expensive-looking suit, muscles practically bursting through his sleeves. His face was half obscured by shadow, his eyes cold and calculating. He stopped at the end of the cages, a single pokeball in his hand. He studied the three of us coldly and I got the feeling that he was deciding exactly how he was going to kill us.

Luna and Pride shied back, standing defensively in front of me while Acolyte raised his club warily. Red and his pikachu stood at my side, Blue and his arcanine on the other side of them. Both the boys had another ball in their hands, waiting for the man to make a move.

He looked down a hooked nose at us. "It is rare when one person stands up against my interests. Rarer still when it is three people standing in my way." His expression morphed into one of pride. "I know that you have all been offered positions in our organization. I will make our last offer now. It will be your last chance to call off your little crusade before I end it."

"Save your breath," Red spat, finding his voice. He stepped forward, locking eyes with the man. "This place is proof enough, the things your organization does is proof enough. We will not join you. Let's settle this now."

The man smirked, and I caught a proper look at his face. Realization hit me, and I couldn't help the shiver running down my spine. We were alone underground, outclassed by our opponent, with no hope of escape. We needed a miracle.

Giovanni Sakai, gym leader of Viridian City, stepped into the light. He tossed his ball up into the air, a kangaskhan bellowing as she was called out. The walls of the cave seemed to shake and the pokemon in the cages

His calculating gaze bored into me, lingering for a moment on Blue. Then he settled his gaze on Red and I saw something akin to respect flicker in his eyes.

"Then let's settle this," Giovanni said. "Like adults."

His kangaskhan roared and the room erupted into pure chaos.


Intermediate Trainer KT# 07996101, Marcus Wright, current team

Luna, Vulpix

Pride, Nidorino

Acolyte, Marowak

Vector, Heracross

Curie, Chansey
 
Chapter 14: Survival

joshthewriter

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"So, let me get this straight." I stood up, pacing the end of my room. Luna looked up at me, unconcerned by my panicked tone. "You want me to walk in, demand to speak to the crazy bitch that's already kicked my ass, demand my pokemon back, and pray that I don't get executed for my attitude?"

Erika smirked and I couldn't help but think that this woman was more than just the pampered rainbow princess she presented to the world. "Yes," she said "that's the entire point. You're the distraction."

I shook my head. "There's got to be another way. I'm not risking Curie's life like that." I turned to look at the boys. "Would either of you risk one of your own pokemon like this?"

"That's not the point," Blue retorted. "We don't have the opportunity to get our foot in the door. You do."

I raised an eyebrow. "What the hell do you mean by that?"

Erika stepped in, taking my attention back. "It means that I can't set foot in that game corner without my every move being watched by Rocket and these two are underage and can't even get in. You are literally our only way in that doesn't involve fighting our way through an army. All you have to do is find a washroom or something and activate that beacon. Then, my exeggutor can teleport us in."

I closed my eyes and calmed myself. "If you're wrong, Curie is dead."

Erika rolled her eyes. "If I'm wrong, then we're all dead. I understand that you're in this for your happiny, but try to understand that we need your help for this to work." She sighed. "My city is dying, Marcus. These people are bleeding it dry and I can't get close to them. They have the police in their pockets, the mayor as well. They have every angle covered except for one, except for you."

I grimaced. I could feel myself agreeing with her, even if I didn't want to. "Trainers help each other," I said. I knew I couldn't back out of this, not when they'd all put their lives on the line to even bring it to me.

Red turned, his pikachu squeaking suddenly. He offered me a weak smile as he attempted to calm his pokemon.

Erika's hard scowl faded slightly. "Trainers help each other," she affirmed. "We'll have backup coming, but we will be on our own until they can clear the game corner of civilians."

"There's the other thing," I said. "How do you plan on doing that?"

"The second an emergency call goes out, I'll have my gym trainers ready to respond. They can be inside the game corner in under two minutes." She shrugged. "It'll be up to us to create that emergency."

I sighed and massaged my temples. She was asking a lot of me. "Why can't the league do anything? Shouldn't they be stopping Team Rocket?"

"They should," Erika responded. "But Lance is stubbornly narrow-minded. He doesn't view this as his problem and thinks it should be left to the local authorities. He refused my request to deploy the Elite Four, he wouldn't even give me access to the Aces." She scowled and I saw resentment in her eyes. "So, as the only local authority not in Rocket's pocket, it's up to me to deal with this shit."

I nodded slowly. "Do you think we can pull it off?"

She nodded. "I wouldn't have brought it to you unless I did. We have a chance to-"

Red yelped and jumped back as his pikachu sparked angrily. "I'm sorry," he half-shouted. "He doesn't normally-"

The pikachu moved faster than I could track. Luna growled and leapt to intercept him, but the pikachu was just too fast.

He slammed into my stomach, driving the wind out of me. I doubled over as the pikachu tore madly at my jacket pocket, bolts of lightning haphazardly flying off the little pokemon. My pokegear tumbled away, smoking, as Luna telekinetically flung Red's pikachu off of me and into the far wall.

"What the hell was tha-" I started, but a digital scream drowned me out before I could finish.

The pokegear twitched, echoes of the artificial shriek still coming out of the device's tiny speakers. It shook once and the screen seemed to spasm with pixelated light.

Spears of jagged light erupted from my pokegear's screen. Something screamed in pain as my pokegear shook itself to pieces. The lights in the room flared and died as something unnatural forced itself into being, sparking erratically from the pieces of the pokegear.

Strange pixels shifted at the creature's jagged edges. It turned its head, reality crackling and pixelating as the artificial creature strained itself into being. Electrostatic noise whined and static electricity raised the hairs on my neck.

"A porygon!" Erika shouted over the digital scream. Her hand was dropping to her waist, but there was no time.

White-hot light erupted from the artificial pokemon. I saw a blinding flash as I dropped to the floor and felt a sudden rush of hot wind blow past me. A thunderous crash came from behind and I was suddenly aware of fresh air streaming in through the gaping hole in the wall.

I rolled onto my back, scrambling away from the ruined remnants of my pokegear. Red and Blue were shouting over each other and the porygon kept shrieking that same digital scream.

Luna leapt at the porygon, flames already dripping from her jaws. The porygon turned, strange light shining in its artificial eyes. A shimmering wall of light appeared in front of her, stopping my vulpix in mid-air.

Red's pikachu surged forward, taking advantage of the opening Luna had created for him. A bolt of electric light erupted from the little yellow pokemon and I threw my hands up to shield my face from the light.

The porygon screamed in pain, electricity coursing through its form. It seemed to glitch, digital spasms running through its program as Red's pikachu pumped untold amounts of electricity through it.

Luna dragged herself to her feet as Blue released a kadabra beside her. The psychic pokemon bowed his head immediately, the air growing thick with psychic energy. My vision swam as my mind fought to cope with the surge of mental power. Luna's eyes flashed as she added her strength to the kadabra's.

The porygon turned towards the gaping hole in the wall, making a desperate play to escape. It let out a shriek and exploded in a violent maelstrom of electricity just as Luna and Blue's kadabra loosed their combined psychic power.

I rolled over again, shielding my face and curling into a ball as the discharge of lightning tore apart my room. The air rippled with psychic power, both of our pokemon struggling to manipulate the electricity away from us all.

My bed exploded into flames, spewing tatters of flaming fabric into the air. Sparking, smouldering furrows were carved into the walls and I could do nothing but cower in fear.

The porygon slammed into the floor, an unseen force smashing the artificial pokemon through to the floor below us.

I clambered to my feet, my hand finding its way over Pride's ball. Red and Blue did the same, looking around at the destruction. The air was thick with dust and smoke, burning my lungs as I coughed madly.

"Everyone ok?" I asked between coughs. I scanned the room as the boys answered, looking for Erika. "Erika?"

She sat up, looking over at me with a dazed smile. "Did we win?" She asked deliriously.

I scrambled over to her, helping Celadon's Gym Leader to her feet. She slumped against me, suddenly losing her strength. I barely caught her before she collapsed into my arms.

"Shit," I said dumbly. I looked up at the boys as I laid Erika down. "Get her to the gym," I ordered, taking charge of the situation. Both the boys were stunned into silence and someone needed to step up.

Blue nodded. "I'll teleport her there. I'll be back in a minute."

He knelt beside her, touching one hand to her shoulder and the other to his kadabra. They disappeared with a pop, leaving Red and I alone in the shredded room.

The porygon had blown a massive hole in the side of the hotel, knocking out the walls to adjacent rooms with its opening attack. It must have been extremely powerful to have done so much damage with a single attack. I crept towards the gaping hole in the side of the hotel, ready for anything.

A half dozen people were looking up at me from the hotel courtyard, with more being drawn by the second. Part of the building was aflame and I could hear movement from the room above us. The porygon was struggling on the floor beneath us, its body glitching erratically as it tried and failed to rise.

"We can't let it get away," I started, turning to look at Red. "It'll tell the Rockets what we were doing." My fists tightened and I looked back down at the struggling pokemon. "And Curie will die."

"What do we do?" Red asked. I heard the fear in his voice, and remembered that he was just a kid.

I looked down as the porygon finally rose off the floor and began floating down towards the courtyard. We were on the third floor, and I could see a clear path down after it. I turned to look at Red with a serious scowl on my face, slinging my pack over my shoulder. "Follow me," I said.

I slipped down through the hole, landing heavily on the ruined carpet. The couple that had been in the bed when the ceiling had collapsed shrieked as I landed. Luna lithely slipped down from the floor above and leapt out after the porygon.

"Official League business!" I half-shouted as Red landed beside me with his pikachu perched on his shoulder. "Stay back!"

I didn't wait for them to answer before I vaulted myself out the ruined window. I hit the roof of the hotel's covered courtyard and kept after the fleeing porygon. Luna was already halfway across the roof, moving faster than I had any hope of catching.

"Confuse wisp!" I roared, fear creeping in as the porygon floated towards the street. If it got away, Rocket would come crashing down on us, our families, anyone we were close to.

Luna spat a spinning helix of blue flame, hardly even breaking stride as she gave chase. She leapt off the end of the roof, the air distorting in front of her as she reached out for the porygon with her mind.

The porygon spun in mid-air, erecting a barrier of light that absorbed the spinning helix of blue flame. The barrier split open and I gasped as I realized the porygon was already building up some terrible energy in front of it.

Luna's eyes flared purple and I saw her psychic attack manifest physically for the first time. My heart swelled with pride and I knew she had the damn thing.

The porygon loosed its attack, a swirling matrix of elemental energy that defied explanation. A spear of ice smashed through Luna's attack, wreathed in crackling electricity. It drove into Luna's lead shoulder and ignited into a roaring explosion.

I lost Luna in the flames, a tan blur that might have been her soaring off the roof and into the courtyard. The roof shook and I stumbled to one knee, steadying myself as it swayed dangerously.

A bolt of lightning smote the porygon in the side. It shrieked again, its angular body glitching and spasming wildly. Red's pikachu was there, moving so fast he was nothing but a brown and yellow blur. The little yellow pokemon leapt off the roof, spinning and leading with his tail.

The porygon sailed through the air, smashing down through the roof and landing heavily in one of the flowerbeds in the courtyard. It whined sharply, struggling to rise out of the dirt.

I felt the roof shake violently again and stumbled as a terrible crack ripped through the air. Red looked at me, terror wide in his eyes. The roof shifted and part of it dropped half a foot as the cracking noise ran down the rest of the roof's supports.

"Run," I said breathlessly.

The roof dropped out beneath us, plunging us towards the ground before we could even move. A cloud of dust rushed up to meet us, rising into the air as the rest of the covered courtyard collapsed.

I hit the ground, landing hard on my side. Something jabbed into my side and I sucked in a breath sharply. I could hear people screaming, the kind of screams that you only get when someone is really hurt. Sirens were blaring in the distance and I could hear the sound of water splashing off of something.

I groaned and sat up, clutching at the aching pain in my side. Red did the same a couple feet away, looking around at the carnage surrounding us. Flames were eating away at the hotel, more of it coming down onto the pile of growing rubble. I looked, but I couldn't see into the room the couple had been in or even mine. The smoke was obscuring everything and flames painted the entire scene in hellish red light.

I clambered to my feet, trying to block out the pain. Luna was picking her way towards me, looking around cautiously for the porygon.

I heard it before I saw it, whining faintly from under a pile of rubble. I pulled a chunk of concrete away, grunting from the strain. The porygon was utterly trapped, eying me with one pixelated black eye.

"What do we do with it?" Red asked. "We can't leave it here."

"I know," I replied. I reached into my bag, pulling out one of the empty pokeballs at the bottom. I offered Red a weak smile and tapped the ball against the side of the porygon's head. "I'll take it with me."

Blue appeared behind us with a small pop, already talking a mile a minute. "We gotta get out of here. Rockets got word Erika was hurt. They're already surrounding the horticultural quarter and blocked the route to the hospital. There are already more Rockets marching in force. Won't be long before they're all over the streets." He looked around incredulously, then back at us as if he couldn't believe that we'd caused all of it. "I missed it all?" he asked.

"No," I replied coldly. I turned to face them both, the pokeball completing the capture as I dropped it into my pack. "If the Rockets are moving in force against the gym, then their hideout's gotta be close to empty."

Blue grinned, already seeming to guess where my mind was heading. "And you want to hit them while they're away?" He nodded to himself. "It'll work." He held out one hand, putting his other on his kadabra's shoulder.

I put my hand on his, Curie's face in the forefront of my mind. If I did nothing, she died. If I went now, she had a chance. My choice was made for me. A chance was better than nothing, better than knowing that I killed Curie because I was a coward.

Red faltered. "Guys," he started, fumbling over the word. "We could die."

I looked over at Blue, unsure of what to say. The cocky little shit was grinning. "Yeah, we could. But we won't. We're too good." He looked over at me. "We have twelve badges between us. We can take a few two-bit thugs on a power trip." His smile seemed to grow even larger and he slapped me happily on the back as he riled up his friend. "I took down a tyranitar with this guy, Red. Remember what we did on the S.S. Anne? We can do this!"

Blue's cocksure confidence was infectious. I found myself grinning, looking back at Red who couldn't help the small crack of a smile starting at the edges of his mouth. "C'mon," I started. "It'll look good on the resume for champion."

Red cracked. He looked down sheepishly in a vain attempt to hide his grin. "Let's go kick some ass." He touched his hand to ours and we disappeared with a pop, leaving the burning hotel behind.


I strolled through the front doors of the game corner, my rugged travelling clothes clashing terribly with the posh and elegant outfits that the rest of the patrons were wearing. I walked with purpose, ignoring the girls beckoning me over to slots for a game. They were just in the way.

I scanned the casino, looking for anyone or anything I recognized. Our entire plan hinged on a tiny chance that I could get us into whatever secret hideout that the Rockets apparently had beneath it. I hadn't seen anything the first time I had been here, but there was always a chance that I'd seen something without realizing.

Try as I might though, the casino floor was far too chaotic. I would never be able to find a damn thing in here, not before the Rockets wiped out the Celadon gym trainers. So I did the only thing I could. I went somewhere that I knew would attract attention.

The lights in the restaurant were darker than the rest of the game corner, probably for the ambience or something. I walked through, ignoring the derisive looks that I got from the service staff. I saw Nadia disappear into the back and knew I had gotten the attention I was looking for.

There were only three tables seated at the moment, so I did the most provocative thing I could. I sat down in Archer's booth, warily watching out for anything or anyone suspicious.

I hardly had to wait. It had barely been ten minutes when Domino stormed out of a nondescript door that I would have overlooked. The sheer dress was gone, replaced by combat pants and the same smoothed jacket with an R emblazoned on the chest. Her eyes were locked on me and her expression was murderous.

I stiffened my spine and turned towards her, refusing to let myself act on the fear racing in my mind. "What are the odds I find you here?" I asked, feigning a smile.

She had me in a flash, one of my arms twisted up against my back as she disguised the movement by pressing herself against my side. She slid into the booth beside me, keeping my arm firmly twisted behind my back. "What did you do?" she growled.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I hissed through gritted teeth. "I was coming back to give Archer what he wanted. Why do you think I sat here?"

She relaxed her grip slightly but didn't let go. "You being serious?" she asked. Her tone was different, softer even. It took me by surprise.

"Why else would I be here?" I asked incredulously. "Did I really look like I enjoyed my last visit?"

She got me up without a word and steered me through the nondescript door she had come from and down the hallway. For a moment, I thought that we were looking out a window onto the casino floor until I realized that the walls were one-way mirrors that gave an almost perfect view of the entire floor. We made two left turns at branching hallways and came to a stairwell that led under the casino floor. She led me down the stairwell and whisked me down a second flight to a lower floor. She stepped out of the stairwell and led me straight to a room down the hallway, just before a massive freight elevator. It took me a moment, but I realized that it wasn't some torture room. It looked more like a break room than anything else.

"Sorry, had to get you away from prying eyes. Too many people up there." She smiled at me and for the first time it felt genuine. She let go of me and walked over to the coffee machine. "So, you decided to join us after all? Can't say I'm surprised. They have you by the balls. Almost as bad as they had me."

I raised an eyebrow, almost dumbfounded by her change in demeanour. "What do you mean?"

"Gods, you're dumb," she started, shaking her head. "You really think that you're the first trainer they coerced into working for them? That you were the only person they did this to?"

I sighed. "I wasn't sure, but I figured you were all a bunch of criminals and thieves." I smirked, trying to keep my composure. "Can't say that you haven't given me that impression up until now."

She shrugged, but I caught her mixed expression. "Orders are orders," she said quietly. She looked at me, her eyes studying me hard. I stared back, trying to mask my own churning emotions.

It was a long silence, both of us staring at each other. I was trying to get a sense of her, trying to understand what was going on underneath her impenetrable mask. "You follow all the orders?" I asked cautiously. "Even the bad ones? That's a dangerous line to walk."

"You wouldn't understand what it's like, what they do to you. You don't get a choice," she said. She turned around and gestured to the coffee machine and I got the sense that she was hiding her face. "Want anything?"

I nodded, casually unzipping my jacket. "So, you really do have an underground lair?" I said with a smile, trying to defuse the tension.

She laughed as she turned back towards the coffee machine. "What secret organization would be complete without one?" She set about making a pot, emptying the filter into a trash bin and grabbing a new one out of the cupboards.

I slipped my hand into my interior pocket, feeling for the tiny beacon that Blue had taken from Erika. I gently squeezed it, feeling it click satisfactorily. I pulled my hand back out before Domino could turn around and got to my feet.

Domino turned to look at me, an eyebrow raised. "No sarcastic retort?" she asked. "You're slacking." She took a step towards me, leaving the coffee machine for a moment. She had a warm smile on as she crossed the room and seemed to look straight into my eyes. "Want anything to ea-"

A loud pop broke the tension in the room as Red and Blue appeared at once. I wrapped an arm around Domino's neck as she turned, dragging her down to the floor and pinning her right arm underneath my body weight. She bucked wildly, hissing and spitting as the boys jumped into action and helped me pin her to the floor.

"Domino," I growled, all the friendliness gone from my voice. "where is Curie?"

"Not going to work," she squeaked out. "You're so dead."

I crushed my arm tighter around her throat. "Wrong answer," I said coldly. "where is Curie?"

She choked on her words, trying and failing to say something through my crushing grip. She tapped on my arm and I loosened my grip slightly. "Bottom floor," she gasped. "She's with all the other prize pokemon."

"Prize pokemon?" Red asked. "The hell are those?"

She looked over at him, her eyes judging him harshly. "Don't be naïve, boy. You think that the rich pricks of the world don't want rare pokemon to brag about to their rich-"

I didn't give her the satisfaction of an answer, just squeezed hard enough to cut her off mid-sentence. "Put her out. She's not gonna help us," I said calmly.

Red moved slightly, letting his pikachu creep up his shoulder. The little electric pokemon sparked slightly and tapped his tail against Domino's temple.

I felt a small jolt and released Domino suddenly. She went stiff, her joints locking up and her muscles going stiff. I turned to look at Red, feeling a moment of pity. "She gonna be ok?"

He looked back at me with a reassuring nod. "Just scrambled her nervous system for a bit." He smirked and I realized that he'd regained his composure before they'd teleported in. He'd been a nervous wreck after teleporting away from the hotel. "She should be back up to terrorize you some more in a few hours."

Blue shot me a look of derision. "Why do you even care?" he asked. His thought on the matter were perfectly clear, glancing at Domino with barely disguised disgust. "It's not like she'd do the same for you."

"She already did," I replied. "She could have let Vicious do what he wanted and make an example of me, but she wouldn't let him." I looked down at her, a pang of pity in my heart. "It was something she said. I don't think Team Rocket gave her a choice of joining or not."

Blue shrugged and crept open the door. If my conscience bugged him, he wasn't going to let me see that. "C'mon, Amadeus can sense something big below us." He turned back and looked at me. "This place won't stay empty for long."

"Hold on," I said. I dove into Domino's pockets, looking for anything useful. I pulled a keycard from one pocket and tossed it to Blue. "There you go. Stairwell is down the hallway and on the right. Wait there, I'll be right behind you."

Blue raised an eyebrow, but Red ushered him out of the room without a word. I turned back to Domino and crossed my arms. She was staring back at me, eyes following me.

"You know, I don't know how much of what you said was true…" I trailed off for a moment. Slowly, I knelt beside her and put my hand on her shoulder. "But you don't have to be this. You don't have to be on the wrong side." I stood up, trying to offer her a hopeful smile before I left. "You always have a choice."

I turned and left the room, closing the door quietly behind me. I turned, looking down the hallway and towards the stairwell. The boys weren't there. I turned to the left and saw them just as Blue swiped the keycard in the freight elevator's card reader.

I jogged over, tearing the key card from Blue's hand. "Are you an idiot?" I hissed. "How the hell do you think we're gonna sneak in if we take the elevator?"

"Relax, there's nobody here." He gestured around. "We haven't seen a single soul."

I shook my head. "Domino was here. If she was here, then I doubt she was alone." I motioned for the boys to follow me and turned towards the stairs.

I took two steps and the freight elevator dinged upon arrival. The doors scraped open with a loud grinding of gears that was impossible to ignore.

"Hold it right there!" shouted a man's voice. "Identify yourselves."

I swore under my breath and turned. Four men, clad in black outfits with clean red trim, were standing in the freight elevator. A crimson R was emblazoned on their chests. Even as I turned, the pair in the back carrying a large crate dropped it in between them.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and found my voice. "I'm a new recruit, just joined up. Domino gave me her card, told me to get downstairs to help out."

He raised an eyebrow. "Where is Domino?" he asked cautiously.

I glanced to my left. Blue's hand was waiting on his ball belt, just waiting for an opportunity. "Said something about going back to grab something off the casino floor. She told me she'd catch up with us in a few minutes."

He scratched his chin, seeming to mull over my words. I couldn't read his expression, couldn't tell what he was thinking. "Why would Domino send you downstairs?"

I opened my mouth, mind racing for an explanation. I never got the chance to give it. Blue tapped a ball, already roaring an order to attack. His arcanine bounded forwards as a half dozen pokemon appeared behind the Rockets.

My hand dropped to my belt, releasing Acolyte as a hulking machoke charged towards me. My marowak intercepted the machoke with his club, beating the fighting type back with a flurry of devastating blows.

I caught a flash of lightning as Red's pikachu leapt from his shoulder, bathing an arbok in electricity. The serpent writhed for a moment and fell still, Red's terrifying pikachu dashing away through the battle. Red pushed forward with his pokemon, his poliwhirl pummeling a sandshrew into the wall with a devastating punch. The little ground type crashed through the drywall, leaving a perfectly shaped hole behind.

A door behind us burst open, a trio of uniformed thugs pouring out of the room. My hand dropped to my belt, releasing Pride and Luna as the Rockets released a raticate and a pair of koffing into our only path of escape.

"We gotta move!" I shouted, straining to be heard by the boys over the battle. My pokemon stood in front of me, glaring daggers at the Rockets as they waited for an order.

The boys backed towards me, realizing we were trapped and cut off from our only way of escape.

Blue turned suddenly, pointing at the newcomers with a vicious grin. His arcanine separated from a prone machop, seeing her master's intent. "Flame charge!"

"No fir-"

His arcanine shot past me, abandoning her battle with the pair of raticate that were surrounding her. Living flames wrapped around her body, leaving a trail of fire that spread behind her as she ran. I turned and covered my ears as Blue's arcanine bore down on the pair of koffing.

Koffing and their evolution are basically shells of highly pressurized, highly volatile, highly toxic gas. They were unstable at the best of times, prone to detonation when threatened. In the wild, it was a defence mechanism to keep predators away from their home colony. In an enclosed space like this, it was a devastating.

Heat and smoke blasted over me and I heard the familiar sound of groaning supports as the building above us buckled and threatened to fall. Rubble landed on me, pieces of smouldering drywall knocking me onto the floor

I struggled to rise, my ears ringing and my head spinning. The pile of rubble on top of me shifted slightly, but I couldn't lift it. I tried again, grunting in pain and desperation. A thick bone appeared, wedging underneath the sheet of smouldering drywall that had trapped me. Acolyte grunted, heaving with everything he had as I wiggled free.

A grey fist connected solidly with Acolyte's jaw, sending him tumbling. The machoke was on him in a second, following up with blow after blow as Acolyte flailed at it with his club.

Pride was there, intercepting the machoke with a horn attack to its midsection. The hulking fighting type whined in pain, as my nidorino withdrew his horn and stepped in front of Acolyte. I felt a swell of pride as I watched the two rivals on my team stand side by side against an enemy.

I looked away for a moment, forcing my eyes to move past the grisly aftermath of the explosion and focus on finding us a way out. Red and Blue were both struggling to their feet, their pokemon already back on their feet and keeping the Rockets from the elevator engaged.

"Let's go!" I shouted, grabbing the boys by their collars and dragging them along with me. We didn't have a choice. We couldn't stay here and the elevator wasn't an option. Fire was already licking up the walls that were still standing, and the temperature was rising by the second. This place would be an oven in minutes, if the roof didn't cave in and drop the casino on top of our heads first.

I raised Acolyte's ball, returning my marowak as the machoke intercepted a body blow with his arm. Pride seized on the confusion, burying his horn into the machoke's thigh and dropping it to one knee. The beast bellowed angrily at us as we retreated towards the stairs, unable to rise.

We burst into the staircase, Red and Blue racing ahead of me as they overtook me. Blue's arcanine disappeared into her ball, too big to fit through the doorway. The boys bounded up a pair of steps before turning and dashing for the stairs deeper into the basement. I bounded after them, stealing a glance up the stairwell as Luna and Pride ran past me.

Another trio of Rockets stormed down the stairs from the casino, joining the group from the elevator as they gave chase. We took the stairs in twos and threes, but the Rockets kept on our asses.

I glanced down at Luna, a suicidal plan rapidly taking shape as I ran. "Flamethrower! Block their way!"

She stopped, inhaling deeply. Agile as ever, my vulpix spun, a jet of flame superheating the concrete stairwell just behind me. The first Rocket skidded to a halt, too slowly to avoid Luna's flamethrower. He dropped to the ground, screaming in pain as he clutched at his flaming face.

"Keep going!" I shouted, leaping down the last few steps to the bottom floor. The air was hot and dry, ripping at my throat as I sucked in breath after breath. It was rapidly becoming harder and harder to breathe. "Luna, on me!"

My vulpix cut the flames and dashed down the stairs towards us. I could still hear screams of pain, but more shouts were coming closer down the stairs. I'd bought us seconds, a minute at most.

Blue was already at the end of the hallway, frantically waving me over. I dashed the length of the hallway as more frantic shouting echoed down the hallways branching off of ours. We were trapped, the building coming down on top of us.

"The elevator?" I asked incredulously. I slammed into the doors as I skidded to a halt, sucking down ragged breaths as I dug in my pocket for the key card.

He practically tore the card from my hand. "You have a better idea? The stairs ended!" He swiped the card. I didn't answer him. "If there's anyone inside when it opens, we swarm them."

Red nodded grimly, raising one of his pokeballs in preparation. I'd barely seen him use another pokemon, but he hadn't needed one. His pikachu sat proudly on his shoulder, waiting for another opponent. His poliwhirl was gone, returned to his ball.

I took my place beside them both, stealing a glance behind me. I could hear the shouting getting closer and knew we didn't have much time.

The elevator door slowly opened, gears grinding as the massive freight elevator opened for us. It was empty.

The Rockets streamed out of the stairwell, six of them running headlong down the hallway. We stepped into the elevator and I turned, taking cover behind the crate the Rockets had dropped in the elevator as Blue madly mashed at the bottom button.

The heavy metal doors ground slowly shut, moving agonizingly slowly. I closed my eyes, praying that the doors would shut in time. We were dead if they didn't.

The door slammed shut, sealing us away from the angry Rocket grunts. I opened my eyes, breathing a heavy sigh of relief.

"Well, that went well." Blue sat unceremoniously on the floor, leaning back against the elevator wall. His chest was heaving and he hung his head in exhaustion. "Let's not do that again. Like ever."

I plopped down opposite him, Luna curling affectionately into my side. I struggled hard to catch my breath, my hands shaking as adrenaline coursed through me. Pride sat dutifully in front of me, panting heavily.

Red did the same, his pikachu nuzzling his cheek affectionately. "Agreed," he replied, his voice hoarse. "This was a bad idea."

I shrugged, still trying to catch my breath. "Any idea how we get out of here?" I asked. "Not to spoil the fun, but we just set our only way out on fire."

Red sat in silence, looking dumbly at me. He looked at Blue as if he were unsure and deferring to him.

The young Oak got to his feet, finally seeming to catch his breath. "We worry about that after. Right now, we have to shut this place down. They're storing prize pokemon down here and that stops today." He held out a hand to Red, hauling the smaller boy to his feet. He looked at me with a quizzical look. "You said that you dealt with a pokemon poacher that worked for the Rockets?"

I nodded. "Vicious…" my voice trailed off and died at the thought of facing him again right now. "The name fits him. He's not a pleasant person."

Blue's face went cold and I got the feeling that the young Oak wouldn't soon forget the masked trainer who had killed his raticate. "I remember him," Blue answered. His eyes were dark and I saw the fury clearly in them. "We're gonna burn it all down," he continued. "Whatever this Team Rocket is, whoever they are, they're evil. They hurt people. They hurt pokemon. They act all self-righteous, like they're the good guys in all of this." He paused and his expression faltered slightly.

Red turned and put his hand on Blue's shoulder. "We'll do it together," he said. He was smiling warmly, offering Blue some small comfort. "These people need to be stopped. We'll stop them."

Blue offered a weak smile in return. "Thanks, Red."

The elevator ground to a halt, stopping as it finally reached the bottom floor. I got to my feet, Pride and Luna taking up places in front of me. I turned to look at the boys, ready for whatever fresh hell was waiting outside the elevator.

The doors opened and nothing greeted us. No angry shouts, no furious pokemon, just deafening silence.

I stepped out, scanning the room quickly. It was a large cavern, seemingly carved from the surrounding rock. Various cages lined the walls of the cave, a veritable menagerie of pokemon stuffed into them like some sick kind of zoo. There were pokemon from all across Kanto, even a few Johtan pokemon mixed in.

"This is wrong," I said, walking out into the cavern. I couldn't take my eyes off the cages, eyes racing along them as I looked for Curie. I passed by a charizard that regarded me coldly, its jaws chained shut and its wings tied together. Red stopped to help the fire drake, but I kept moving, looking for my pokemon.

"It's barbaric," Blue said. He stopped in front of a smaller cage, an eevee looking up at him with soft brown eyes. "How can someone do this to pokemon?"

I ignored him, my heart leaping into my throat. A happiny was seated miserably against the wall of her cage. My happiny was alive. She looked up at me, hope filling her large round eyes.

My hand dropped to my belt and I released Acolyte. Curie shied back from the unfamiliar pokemon and I felt my heart break just a little bit as Luna nuzzled at the cage in an attempt to calm my precious child. "Stay back," I ordered to Curie. "We're gonna get you out of there."

I pointed at the padlock holding the cage shut. "Get it open," I ordered, looking to Acolyte.

He raised his club, smashing the lock with ease. The cage door swung open and I saw hope flicker in Curie's eyes.

"It's ok, Curie." My voice was low and I kept my eyes locked with hers. "I'm here now. You're safe. I'll never let anybody take you from us again."

She took a step towards me, her eyes filling with tears. She was thin, thinner than a little round pokemon like her should ever be. I pushed away my anger at how she'd been treated, just happy to have her back.

My hand went into my bag, wrapping around the small stone that she had dropped on my lap in the helicopter. I didn't know why the stone was so important to her, but she was inconsolable without it. I pulled out the small, white, oval stone and held it out in my palm.

"You dropped something," I said, getting down on one knee. I held the stone out to her, smiling as best I could. "I kept it safe for you, until I could rescue you."

She looked at the stone, then up at me. I saw tears glistening at the edges of her eyes and held the oval stone out to her. My happiny reached out, taking the stone in her tiny hands.

A stunning white-hot light shone from Curie's hands as she touched the stone. The light enveloped her, growing in size until she was just over half my size. The light faded, leaving my chansey looking at me with an expression of sheer adoration.

I clapped my hand over my mouth, trying and failing to suppress a joyful sob. Tears of pure joy ran freely down my face as my pokemon looked at me. "You evolved!" I said hysterically. I threw my arms around her, pulling my chansey into a crushing hug. "I'm so proud of you! You're so strong."

A door slammed shut, echoing loudly through the cavern. I pulled Curie's ball from the cage and returned her as I swivelled around to look for the source.

He was tall, broad at the shoulders and built like a tauros. He barely fit into his expensive-looking suit, muscles practically bursting through his sleeves. His face was half obscured by shadow, his eyes cold and calculating. He stopped at the end of the cages, a single pokeball in his hand. He studied the three of us coldly and I got the feeling that he was deciding exactly how he was going to kill us.

Luna and Pride shied back, standing defensively in front of me while Acolyte raised his club warily. Red and his pikachu stood at my side, Blue and his arcanine on the other side of them. Both the boys had another ball in their hands, waiting for the man to make a move.

He looked down a hooked nose at us. "It is rare when one person stands up against my interests. Rarer still when it is three people standing in my way." His expression morphed into one of pride. "I know that you have all been offered positions in our organization. I will make our last offer now. It will be your last chance to call off your little crusade before I end it."

"Save your breath," Red spat, finding his voice. He stepped forward, locking eyes with the man. "This place is proof enough, the things your organization does is proof enough. We will not join you. Let's settle this now."

The man smirked, and I caught a proper look at his face. Realization hit me, and I couldn't help the shiver running down my spine. We were alone underground, outclassed by our opponent, with no hope of escape. We needed a miracle.

Giovanni Sakai, gym leader of Viridian City, stepped into the light. He tossed his ball up into the air, a kangaskhan bellowing as she was called out. The walls of the cave seemed to shake and the pokemon in the cages

His calculating gaze bored into me, lingering for a moment on Blue. Then he settled his gaze on Red and I saw something akin to respect flicker in his eyes.

"Then let's settle this," Giovanni said. "Like adults."

His kangaskhan roared and the room erupted into pure chaos.


Pokédex Entry #113 – Chansey

This pokemon has adapted almost completely to humans, taking to a domesticated role marvellously. These pink ovoids are often found in hospitals and pokemon centres, using their eggs as an emergency salve. They posses immense strength, but are reluctant to use their power for violence.

Before their domestication, they were hunted to near extinction in the wild for their eggs. As such, they are exceedingly rare in the wild. However, happiny eggs are not uncommon among beginning trainers and non-training sectors.



Intermediate Trainer KT# 07996101, Marcus Wright, current team

Luna, Vulpix

Pride, Nidorino

Acolyte, Marowak

Vector, Heracross

Curie, Chansey
 
Chapter 15: Grief

joshthewriter

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Grief


"Hold," crackled the voice. "Wait for them to cross the ridge."

I gripped the scope tighter, keeping the sights trained on the crest of the ridge opposite me. There was a deep gorge dividing the two ridges, starting further up the mountain where the rock formation split. I could see three heads bobbing along, moving further along the other side of the ridge. "They aren't crossing," I replied into my headset.

"Keep your pants on, rook. The Lieutenant Colonel is always on time. No way he'd pull a stunt like that on last qualifying test."

I chuckled. That was one thing that the last two months had taught me. My commanding officer had drilled the importance of punctuality into me every single day since I'd joined the outfit. He hadn't failed to cross the ridge for some light recon work at the same time and place each day since we'd begun the exercise.

"Right you are, Sergeant." I peered through the scope, watching Lieutenant Surge's closely cropped hairline bob out of sight. I scowled, peering closer and watching the other two helmets of Surge's squad disappear behind the ridge. "Hold on. They all just disappeared."

"I've got movement," my partner said. His voice was panicked, like he wasn't expecting company yet. A burst of static overtook the line and threatened to drown his next sentence. "Ke-p ~-tch o- th- r-~dg-."

I pulled away from my scope for half a moment. "Sarge? Sergeant McCulloch?"

An explosion of static was all the response I got. The magnemite line tended to have an adverse effect on communications and most of Surge's tactics abused that ability extensively. I glanced up, across to the ridge across from me. A flash of sunlight reflecting off something metallic on the opposite ridge instantly drew my gaze.

I hit the dirt. The bolt of lightning tore through the air above me, whizzing uncomfortably close to my head and spearing the dead tree I was sheltered under. I scrambled away as the tree burst into flame, stopping some twenty feet down the ridge. I grabbed Acolyte's ball off my belt, releasing my marowak beside me.

"Keep me covered," I ordered. "I need a better look at what Surge is doing."

He nodded, proudly stepping up onto the ridge as he hefted his bone club. His movement was smooth and practiced, like he'd never had his elbow snapped by a murderous kangaskhan. A bolt of lightning sailed across the gorge as if on cue, only to be harmlessly absorbed by Acolyte's club.

I crept back up the hill, peering through my scope. Surge was staring back at me, his shit-eating grin wide across his face. His raichu stood impassively beside him, like it hadn't just tried to surprise us with a thunderbolt. The magnezone that I had been expecting floated behind them both, supremely focused on its task of jamming our communications. He waved at me and pointed further up my side of the ridge. Both of his pokemon were wearing ill-fitting helmets and I realized that we'd been duped.

I turned, immediately spotting the smug smile of Corporal Reyes through my scope. He raised the flag at me and tipped his helmet in my direction, winking once. He released his ryhorn, preparing to slide down the gorge under Surge's cover. I swore, lowering my scope as I turned back to look at my CO.

Luna's mind touched mine suddenly, panic nearly overwhelming me as the strange sensation of mixed thoughts and emotions overtook my mind. I felt fear and surprise as a memory of a jackbooted thug marching up the ridge behind me played out across the link between us. I spun around, bracing myself behind a boulder as I peered down the ridge.

Luna appeared from the brush below, making a mad dash up the hill towards me. I returned Acolyte, making a mad dash down the ridge towards Luna. I'd only tried this trick once, but I was desperate. No way I was letting Surge steal the flag on the very last exercise of my training. I didn't know where McCulloch was, but he'd join me if he hadn't been eliminated.

Private Wertz burst from the underbrush at the base of the ridge, shielding her eyes from the sun. She peered up the hill, spotting me sliding down the loosely packed dirt at a breakneck pace. Small rocks and chunks of dirt sprayed free as I half-ran, half-slid down towards her.

She threw up her arms, shielding her face as her Mr. Mime teleported in front of her.

I raised one ball in my left hand, returning Luna as I raised a second pokeball in my right hand. I released my newest pokemon, jumping off the ridge with everything I could muster. I only prayed that she would actually catch me this time. I'd missed the first time around, and nearly broken my leg on the fall.

She spread her massive wings, catching on the warm updraft rising off the earth. I hit her leathery, blue-grey back and held on for dear life as the wind was driven from my lungs by the impact. I hollered in fear and joy as my pokemon flapped her wings madly. She stretched and whipped her tail out behind her, nearly seven feet long from nose to tail. She'd be more than fourteen when she finished growing. She'd been too small for us to fly together until last week, but she'd taken to the new challenge admirably.

"No fair!" shouted Private Wertz. "I can't do that!"

I leaned back over my shoulder, laughing as we soared away on the warm updraft. I cupped my hands over my mouth, shouting down to the woman. "Get some wings, novice!"

My aerodactyl tossed back her head, roaring a deafening cry of agreement. I laughed, patting her on the side of her neck. "Now they know you're coming. Couldn't resist the roar just once, could you?"

My aerodactyl growled a happy noise as she flapped hard to gain altitude. She glanced back at me, one eye looking at me nervously.

"Just relax, Artemis," I said. "You know how to fly. It's exactly the same, just with me here too." I leaned in closer, holding tight to the spike jutting out from her neck. "Keep low, and be ready to change direction on my word. We're going ryhorn tipping today."

She growled in affirmation, pushing herself harder upwards with great effort. Aerodactyl are not naturally strong flyers. Artemis struggled with pure flying like we were doing now, preferring to make short maneuverable glides rather than longer airborne flights. It was a side effect of her wings being attached to her powerful forelimbs rather than protruding from somewhere along her back.

I held tight to her neck spike, watching the edge of the ridge rapidly rise up to meet us. "Up!" I shouted urgently. "Up!"

Artemis cleared the edge by maybe half a meter. She gripped the top of the ridge for a moment before launching herself downwards with a pump of her powerful wings. Rocks sprayed out from where she grabbed with her talons.

"There!" I shouted, reaching up and pointing down at the ryhorn. Corporal Reyes dismounted his ryhorn, leaping away as the walking tank turned to face us.

Artemis adjusted slightly, angling herself on a steep approach. Reyes' ryhorn charged back up the hill towards us, but my aerodactyl soared over it effortlessly. We had another target.

We were the defence for Red Team. McCulloch and I had one job. Hold the flag as long as possible, until the rest of the team could capture Surge's flag. Odds be damned, I would do that.

Artemis flared her wings as Surge's raichu began his bombardment. The first bolt cut into our path and killed our momentum. The second was aimed more carefully, to knock Artemis from the sky and ground me.

Unfortunately for Surge, that was exactly my plan. We had already reached my target. All I had to do was run interference. I slipped off my aerodactyl's back, returning Artemis to her ball with a single smooth movement. Luna was out in a flash of light.

Reyes turned, his hand dropping to his belt. He never got the chance. Luna's eyes flashed and a simple expression crossed his face as the confuse ray worked its magic. Acolyte was out half a moment later, intercepting another flying bolt of lightning.

I tore the flagpole from Reyes' hands, a savage grin on my face. "I'll take this back, buddy." I shoved him solidly, sending the older man down flailing.

He reached after me clumsily as he tried to rise, his response severely delayed by the confusion. "Gimme that back…" he mumbled, his words slow and garbled.

Acolyte barked a warning, another bolt of lightning absorbing smoothly into his club. He gestured over his shoulder, at the ryhorn barrelling down the gorge at me.

A ryhorn in motion is almost impossible to be stopped. They move like thunder and nothing can stand in the way of a charge. Fortunately, a walking tank like a ryhorn couldn't corner for shit.

I crouched slightly, waiting for the opportune moment. Too early and the ryhorn would correct his course. Too late and I'd be tossed overhead like a broken rag doll.

I threw myself to the side, Acolyte imitating me as Surge waited for an opening. The ryhorn thundered past, crushing a path through the underbrush and leaving a loose path of rubble and broken twigs behind. He skidded down the gorge as he attempted to stop, rumbling in frustration.

A bolt of lightning speared the earth not inches away from me. I felt the heat from the bolt and glanced up at Surge's shit eating grin as I lifted the my team's flag triumphantly.

"Come and get it, old man!"

I knew Surge was too smart for that. He'd never take the bait and give up such a strong position. However, that wasn't the idea. All I needed was his attention. I had it. All of it.

Acolyte stood tall, his club raised in preparation. I saw a spark erupt from the raichu's cheeks and took cover behind my marowak.

It was as if the sky had opened up and all the fury of a powerful storm focused solely on me. I ducked behind Acolyte, letting him tank the storm with his natural immunity. Stray bolts tore into the rocky gorge around me, but Acolyte kept me protected.

"McCulloch here," my sergeant's voice crackled out of my radio. "Need some help, rook?"

I peeked out from behind Acolyte as the barrage of lightning mercifully stopped. "Give him hell, sarge."

A winged shadow cut across the gorge, deftly spinning off trajectory as Surge's raichu attempted to knock it out of the sky. The skarmory corrected easily, coming in at Surge with a steep dive to close the distance.

I turned away as Reyes' ryhorn finally skidded to a halt. The corporal got to his feet, shaking his head and blinking rapidly. "Dirty trick, rook. Confusion is a coward's tool. Want to see what it gets you?"

I planted the flag in the rocks behind me. Corporal Reyes had been a gym challenger before he'd joined the Rangers. He'd never earned more than the three badges he had now, but almost a decade of training under Surge erased any doubt in his ability. He was a powerful trainer in his own right, even if he hadn't evolved most of his pokemon yet. Still, I was confident I could at least stalemate him.

"Nothing in the rules about confusing opposing trainers," I said calmly. Luna stepped in front of me, growling at our colleague. Acolyte stood at my side, keeping a wary eye on Surge and McCulloch's battle. "But I do take issue with trying to take the flag without a real fight."

He smirked and raised a ball. "Oh you're so on." He tossed the ball into the air as his ryhorn plodded over to him.

Reyes' ace took the field and I gritted my teeth. The flaming simian crouched in front of him, eyes locked on Luna. Flame roared off his tail and I could feel the heat off of him from nearly fifteen feet away. Reyes' monferno beat his chest and dropped into a fighting stance.

Another trio of winged shadows soared overhead, a pair of screeching pidgeot in hot pursuit of Captain Harding and her fearow. Harding's helmet was gone, her fiery red hair streaming in the wind. She urged her fearow into a steep dive, avoiding a blast of lightning from Surge as he turned. McCulloch's skarmory screeched in fury, pressing the opening that Surge had left and forcing the Lt Colonel back on the defensive.

The flag streamed out triumphantly behind Harding, blue fabric flapping in the wind as the fearow swooped overhead. The pidgeot tried desperately to catch up, but the Captain was home free.

I smirked as Reyes looked at me in utter frustration. "Guess you didn't see that coming."


I sat heavily at the mess table, dropping the tray of hardly edible food in front of me. "You'd think that we'd at least get a decent meal for the occasion," I grumbled.

The lieutenant colonel looked up at me from the end of the table. I could see the smirk already tugging at the edges of his mouth. "Come now, we can't be setting the expectations too high," he said jovially. "Then everyone would join the corps."

I chuckled. "And heaven forbid they do that." I picked up my fork, eying the thin gruel that the mess hall served. It was some kind of nutrient paste served over a scoop of boiled rice and a thin cut of boiled pidgey. "We might actually have the manpower to do our jobs."

Surge leaned forward, changing the subject. "So, we have a lead on Rocket."

The table went quiet, all of the side conversations grounding to a sudden halt. I stiffened my spine and sat just a little bit straighter.

"Sir?" Harding asked, leaning over the table. She brushed her hair back over her ear, exposing a trio of jagged scars running down her face and onto her neck. "Is it something a little more concrete than last time?"

Surge's scowl could have curdled milk. "Yes. It it does fit their profile. Poachers seem to have been a little bolder than in recent years." He leaned back, lifting his first bite leisurely. "However, Leader Koga has evidently had some trouble apprehending the poachers. They are very capable trainers and seem to be extremely coordinated compared to their usual culprits. He's forwarded the information to us as part of our operation."

A muffled groan spread across the room as the rest of the unit voiced their displeasure. Surge sighed heavily and sat up in his chair.

"Look, I don't like wild tauros chases either. But this one seems a little more solid than the last few."

Harding raised her hand. "Permission to speak freely, Sir?"

"Always, Captain."

"It's a wild tauros chase," she said plainly.

A few quiet chuckles echoed around the mess hall. Surge cracked a smile of his own. "That it is, Captain. However it is a well substantiated one, so we're deploying anyways." He picked up another bite and looked up nonchalantly. "We ship out first thing in the morning."

She got to her feet, offering a quick salute. "Anything further?"

"We will be actively surveying the Safari Zone, so pack for wilderness survival. Koga's report mentions disturbances in the deepest sections of the park, and Fuchsia Ranger Command corroborates some strange sightings in the last month. Something about half-evolved pokemon, which could connect it to Rocket." He lazily slipped his bite into his mouth, looking around the room slowly as if he was testing us all. "Something odd is going on. If it even has the slightest thing to do with Rocket, then it's the best lead we've had since we started hunting them. It's worth a look at least."

I looked down at the meal, my attention waning as Surge droned on. My mind was already far away, thoughts of avenging Pride drifting unconsciously to the forefront of my mind. I tried to push away the pain, but that was all I had.

Dinner went on the same as always. Reyes and McCulloch spent half the time trying to one-up each other's lewd jokes while most of the unit talked amongst themselves. I spent the meal in silent thought, my mind dominated by my fallen nidoking.

I glanced up at the clock as I scarfed down the last of my meal, gauging the time. I grinned to myself. I had enough time for some training before bed.


Vermillion's gym was a quiet place in the late evening. Everyone else was inside, packing their bags for the morning departure. It was just me in the training fields that sat behind the gym, watching the sun dip lower on the horizon. The entire ocean seemed to be cast in a soft gold glow and not a single cloud dared to mar the sky.

My hand dropped to my belt, finding the empty space that Pride's ball had sat. I'd left it empty, choosing instead to put Artemis in the last empty space on my belt. I couldn't bear to fill that space yet.

I picked up Luna's ball, releasing my starter beside me. She looked up at me, instinctively nuzzling into my waiting hand. I scratched her without hesitation, absentmindedly brushing my fingers through the tufts of rust coloured fur on her chin. I felt her mind brush against mine and felt the soft concern through the psychic link.

"I'm alright, girl. Just thinking about him a lot."

She pulled back and I caught an image of Pride happily sitting at my side. I felt a pang of longing and knew that she was hurting too.

"Yeah, I miss him too." I smiled as best as I could. "He was our first real teammate. He was a damn good pokemon."

Luna hung her head and I felt as though the hole inside me had doubled in size. Her eyes refused to meet mine and I knew that she blamed herself.

I forced her to meet my eyes. "It wasn't your fault," I said softly. "If it was anyone's fault it's mine. I should have trained you guys better, had a better plan, made better choices during the battle…" my voice trailed off. I'd been so up my own ass for the last two months that I had hardly spent a moment to consider how my pokemon felt about losing Pride. "Luna, you are the best damn pokemon I could have ever asked for. If anyone is the failure here, it's me."

She met my eyes and I knew that she was still in there. She was still as strong as ever. She just needed some proof.

"You could never fail me," I said. My hand went into my bag, finding the smooth, warm stone at the bottom. "I know that. You know that." I pulled out the stone. She stared at it as if entranced and I knew that the time had come.

My pokemon needed this, to move on from her perceived failures. I might have still needed to grieve, but Luna needed to move on. I needed her to move on, even if it was only so she could drag me kicking and screaming with her.

"Break it," I said calmly. I knew that she could do it. She'd made so much progress during her time training here. Her fire was hotter, she mentally stronger, and we'd made huge strides with her natural agility. She was ready to evolve, mastering her vulpix form so well that I worried that she would stagnate if she did not evolve soon. "You're strong enough. You've been strong enough for a long time. Probably since we left Celadon."

I put the stone in front of her and stepped back. She looked down at the stone as if I wasn't even there, completely entranced by the faintly glowing rock.

"Luna," I started calmly. I barely even needed to give the order. "Flamethrower."

She sucked in a breath, never breaking her stare with the stone. I felt the rest of the world fade away as her mind touched against mine. Everything else just dropped away and it was only the stone. I could see it through her eyes, feel its presence in every beat of her heart. It was filling my mind, blocking out everything else. Luna and I were as one, both of us completely focused on the fire stone.

She spat a jet of flame, engulfing the stone completely. I felt the stone react, reaching out to our souls as if it wanted this. Luna's stream of fire intensified, melting the sand beneath the stone. I heard it crack and felt a surge of power rush through Luna. The stone whined in protest, but the entrancing power reached out welcomingly. It wanted Luna to do this, wanted to help her reach her full potential.

I heard a louder crack and it was as though the sun ignited on earth. I felt the heat from Luna's fire, and felt her pour on the power where before she would have faltered. The stone fed the flame, urging Luna to break it open and claim the prize within.

And then it cracked. The outer shell crumbled away, leaving a small red rock no larger than one of her delicate paws. A corona of power engulfed Luna, drawing her in as the stone seemed to glow brighter.

She leaned in, her pride swelling as she mirrored my emotions. Her snout touched the stone and a blinding light engulfed my starter.

I stepped back, shielding my face as Luna grew larger. Her tails split one final time, her limbs lengthening and her body gaining cords of lithe muscle. She tossed back her head and howled as raw power like she had never felt before coursed through her changed body. Her eyes flashed purple and I felt her mind touching mine as she tested her newfound ability.

My ninetales stepped back from the molten puddle of glass, her mind embracing mine. She looked dead into my eyes, psychic fire glowing in hers as she strained to process her emotions. I felt her struggle with the foreign concept of words and realized that I knew her intent perfectly.

She looked into my eyes as she finally conquered the concept of language. I felt intense gratitude echo into my mind and knew what she was going to say before she did.

"Thank you, Master."

My hand went to my belt as I searched for my voice. "Let's show everyone what you just did," I said, choking up. I felt my eyes watering and knew that Luna knew I was proud. I lifted a pair of pokeballs and smiled through my tears. "Let's show everyone what you just did."


It was quiet, the barracks practically silent. I lay awake like always. Only the light of the pokegear screen illuminated my bunk.

Surge had set me up with an aftermarket gear that had been specially scrubbed by somebody Surge trusted. It couldn't be tracked back to me, unless I did something stupid and identified myself.

I groaned, swiping away from the open page. I'd been researching Giovanni Sakai almost every night, poring over every single scrap of information that was public record. Surge had even forwarded me a few classified documents that Lance had provided him.

To put it bluntly, there wasn't much. Giovanni was like a ghost, barely even appearing in public searches outside of League article mentions. None of his gym challenges were public record, same with his own League challenge nearly thirty years back. It was as if someone had carefully manicured every aspect of Giovanni's persona until all that was left was useless chaff.

I tabbed over to my messages. I skimmed through the mission briefing Surge had sent out for what felt like the hundredth time. There was nothing there, save for a hunch. I grimaced at the prospect of slogging through the Safari Zone in pursuit of nothing.

If nothing else, I could challenge Koga for the Marsh badge while I was in Fuchsia. Red and Blue had both earned their badges in the same week. The boys were probably halfway up the eastern coast of Kanto by now, closing in on Lavender if my estimates were accurate.

I exited Surge's messages and my eyes lingered on the one below it. The one that I hadn't had the courage to answer yet. I opened it for the thousandth time, emotions churning in my chest.

Marcus. I'm sorry. I don't know if this message will reach you, but it isn't going to work. It was nice to speak with you, but I can't be alone here anymore. I'm going back to Johto to be with my family. Thanks for being there. I'll be watching for you at the Indigo Conference. Maybe if you're ever in Johto, we can meet again.

I'm sorry,

Aya.


I closed the message again, pushing down the pain in my chest. She'd sent the message two days after Celadon. She'd been gone for two months and I still felt this way.

Whether it was losing Pride, or losing Aya, or both, I was lost. My mind raced and without Luna's calming presence, I couldn't stop it. I felt alone, more alone than I ever had before.

Maybe Aya and I had never really been a thing. Maybe it was all just a figment of my imagination, a misinterpretation of intent by my desperate mind. I didn't know. Now I never would. The screen shut off and I scowled at my morose reflection.

I reopened the pokegear, navigating my way back to the browser. I opened the article on training juvenile aerodactyl that Harding had forwarded me. If nothing else, I could bury myself in my training. I had my team. They were my family now. They were everything I had. I would be the best I could be for them.


The chopper swung low, circling over the small clearing in the trees that served as our landing zone. The second, slimmer chopper hovered overhead, waiting for the first squad to deploy. The fat, overloaded transport chopper slowly lowered to the ground as I watched a small herd of ryhorn stampede away from the roaring flying machine.

I felt us touch down with a light jolt and unbuckled my safety belt. Wertz and Reyes did the same beside me, with Captain Harding getting to her feet across from me.

"Squad two, get prepped." Surge's voice was interspersed with static and I had trouble making him out. "Second LZ is twenty-two minutes out. First squad, move out."

The bay door at the back of the chopper lowered as I slung my pack over my shoulder. The Captain was the first out, shielding her eyes from the late morning sun. Reyes was second, with me directly behind him. Wertz brought up the rear, a half-step behind me as we exited the chopper.

We'd made a morning departure, skimming across Rainbow bay in the pair of choppers. We were deploying at the northeast edge of the Safari Zone, with squads two and three deploying further along the north edge of the park. Surge was to go on ahead, making contact with Koga before he returned to update us with any additional information that Koga cared to provide.

We watched the transport chopper rise into the air, joining Surge's sleeker attack helicopter in the sky. They disappeared on the horizon, leaving our four person squad alone in deep wilderness. I felt the skin on the back of my neck crawl and the hairs raise as I shuddered unconsciously.

Wertz dropped to one knee as she opened her pack. She pulled out a ball and released her aipom. The little simian disappeared into the trees, surveying the immediate area for any obvious threats.

Captain Harding raised an eyebrow at me as she released her persian. The massive feline affectionately pressed her head into Harding's waiting hand and was rewarded with a scratch under her chin. "Something wrong?" she asked. Harding was good at reading people, even better than Surge was at times.

I shrugged, warily shifting my gaze off the trees. "I can just feel the eyes on me," I replied. "I don't like it."

The Captain turned, raking the tree line with a quick glance. "If it's any consolation, humans don't normally come this deep into the Safari Zone." She looked back at me with feigned concern. "They're probably just as nervous as you are."

"I'm with the rook," Reyes said nervously. His hand went to his belt, resting on the trio of balls waiting there. "It's creepy."

I released Luna beside me, reaching for her instinctively. I felt her mind touch mine as she nuzzled affectionately at my hand. Her creamy beige fur was warm to the touch and I felt some measure of calm cross my mind.

"When did that happen, Private Wright?"

I turned to look at Captain Harding. "Last night, ma'am. We decided that she was ready to try again." I looked back at my ninetales happily. "She was more than ready."

Reyes sidled up beside me. "Damn, Marcus. She's gorgeous."

"That she is," I replied. Luna held her head high and I felt some small measure of pride. "Don't let her hear you say that too often though. She's got a big enough ego as it is."

The Captain's persian sniffed cautiously at Luna, seeming to test Luna's boundaries. My ninetales puffed her tails up, growling slightly. I watched a puff of smoke curl from Luna's mouth as she curled back her lips and exposed her teeth.

"That's enough," I ordered. "Raxus is our friend."

Evolution has a different effect on every pokemon. When Acolyte had evolved, his stubbornness had practically doubled. Curie's evolution had sparked a newfound maturity in my baby. She was more motherly than childlike now. But Luna? She seemed outwardly the same. However I could tell that something was different. I could feel something new whenever she touched my mind, something angry, something almost vengeful.

I pushed the thought away. Luna and I would figure it out soon enough. Maybe I was still hurting, maybe Luna was a little harder than she used to be. But we'd be alright. We were still together, that was what mattered.

Wertz's aipom swung down from the tree he had climbed, chattering happily. "It's clear. Pommie didn't find anything worth alerting us over."

Captain Harding slung her pack over her shoulder. Raxus padded off, ostensibly to scout ahead. "Alright, children. We're burning daylight. We've got sixty or so miles to Fuchsia and I'm not accepting anything less than ten today."

Reyes let out a long, low groan. Wertz and I just smiled.

Captain Harding's initial estimate turned out to be wildly out of line with reality. She'd wanted us to cover ten miles before we had to make camp for the night. We barely made it six before the sun started to dip on the horizon. The terrain had been rough going, with thick jungle slowing our progress to a near crawl. We'd picked up the pace once we reached the river, but that still left us behind schedule.

Luna crept forward, low to the ground as she stalked the herd. The only clue to her presence were the cream coloured tufts of fur sticking out from the underbrush. I could see the slowpoke's pink skin through the trees, could hear the soft stream of water splashing and the quiet grunting of the slowpoke as they mindlessly fished for food along the banks.

I waited, watching for any surprises. None came. I whistled once and Luna rocketed forward. She clamped her jaws over the back of the closest slowpoke's neck and wrenched it to the side. The pokemon dropped, its neck broken. Not one of the other slowpoke reacted.

I crept out of the brush, trying not to be noticed. I hefted Luna's kill over my shoulders, grunting with the effort. Six months ago, the effort would have utterly exhausted me. I turned, disappearing back through the brush before the group of slowpoke even began to react.

I returned to the makeshift camp less than twenty minutes later, following the column of smoke rising into the sky. Reyes was tending to the fire, both of the women watching him struggle with the smouldering log.

I dropped the slowpoke into the dirt beside the fire, grinning ear to ear. "I went to get dinner and you couldn't even get a fire going?" I glanced over at Harding and Wertz. "You two enjoying the show?"

Reyes turned to face me as Harding chuckled to herself. "Hey, not everyone has a fire type. It rained yesterday. Every scrap of wood I could find was soaked through."

I pointed down at the smouldering log. "Luna, help him." I glanced back at him. "You do have a fire type," I said.

He shrugged. "He's tired," Reyes said. "Wouldn't sleep before the mission."

She sucked in a breath and bathed the log in pure flame. It whined before it finally split with a loud pop.

The kindling under the log ignited and the fire roared to life as Luna sat back on her haunches. She looked at me smugly, licking at her chops and gazing longingly at the slowpoke.

I turned towards my team. Artemis was curled against the trunk of a thick tree, warily glancing over at Reyes' and Harding's teams. Acolyte sat patiently in front of my aerodactyl, keeping the murderous avian calm with his presence. The two of them were practically inseparable, Acolyte doing more to tame Artemis' wilder side than I ever could.

Vector was perched in the tree, at home in the heavily wooded Safari Zone. He had spent the day as part of our team's scout group, mapping the way forward with Harding's scyther. I never could get a good sense where his mind was, but my heracross hadn't tried to leave yet. I figured that was a good sign.

I sat against the tree, smiling absently as Luna plodded over to my side. Curie leaned against me and I sat back to watch the sky darken as the sun set. For a brief moment, I felt peaceful.

All was calm with the world. All was good. For the first time since Celadon, I felt whole again. I should have known that it wouldn't last.


Artemis dove towards the earth, her wings tucked flat against her body. She'd spotted something. I saw Harding circling up above, peering down over the side of her fearow. They were on a much shallower descent than Artemis, but it was clear enough that they were heading towards the same place.

I leaned against a tree that had fallen into the river. Reyes and Wertz trailed behind me, both of them keeping a wary eye on the water since a golduck had gotten overly territorial with us.

"Captain," I started as I activated my comm piece. "We can see you coming down. Any trouble?"

"Got something suspicious on the ground." She replied brusquely. "Maybe a hundred to two hundred feet from the river bank. Heading down to investigate."

Reyes looked over at me. "Think it's something to do with Rocket?"

I shrugged. "Could be anything. The Safari Zone is-"

"Harding here," the Captain interrupted. "It's a massacre. Something violent happened here."

Reyes' hand went to his comm unit. "Any idea what happened?" he asked cautiously. "Can you identify the remains? Wild pokemon tend not to leave much behind. It could give us a clu-"

"It's a nido pack," she said solemnly. "At least what's left of one. I count three queens, one king, and at least a dozen juveniles." She paused for a long moment. "I've never seen anything like this. They've been torn to pieces. Literally."

I felt my hand shaking madly as I reached for my comm unit. "Repeat your last, Captain."

"Something tore this pack apart. Something big." She went silent for a moment. "Converge on my position," she ordered. "I am roughly two hundred feet off the river. You can't miss it. Follow the blood."

My hand dropped to my side. Pride's face was fresh back in my mind. His blank stare, the strange angle his neck was bent, hovered in front of my eyes. Luna's nose touched my hand and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I scratched the top of her head and nervously swallowed the lump in my throat.

I pushed the emotion away. We were on a mission. I had a job to do. I could grieve later.

I wiped away the barest trace of tears and looked down at my ninetales. "Lead us to the Captain," I ordered.

She met my eyes with her own. I felt her reassuring touch for half a heartbeat. I shut the thought of my dead nidoking out. I was a Ranger now. Duty came first.


Pokédex Entry #142 – Aerodactyl

Aerodactyl are a formerly extinct species of avian pokemon that resided in the Argent Mountains nearly 35 million years ago. It is unkown what caused these ferocious predators to go extinct, but it is suspected that an apocalyptic event in the wilds of northern Kan-Jo wiped out vast numbers of species.

Aerodactyl have been resurrected with the assistance of Blaine Katsura of Cinnabar, and a small colony has been established for study of these ancient creatures on Fang Island.

A small number of juvenile aerodactyl have been sold off to trainers for further study of these prehistoric Pokémon's suitability for training. At this moment, the study remains inconclusive.



Intermediate Trainer KT#07996101

Indigo Ranger Corps, Special Task Group, "Zapdos" Squad,

Private First-Class SN# 109-512-6591, Marcus Wright , current team:

Luna, Ninetales

Acolyte, Marowak

Vector, Heracross

Curie, Chansey

Artemis, Aerodactyl
 
Chapter 16: Ambush

joshthewriter

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Ambush


It looked like Pride. His eyes, his horn, the same spikes running down the nidoking's flanks. Except the pokemon's head had been nearly torn from its body. A deep gash was rent into the king's armoured side, a bloody mess peeking out from under the pokemon. I shied back, putting my hand over my mouth as I fought back a gag.

Reyes was a violent shade of green at my side, fighting back the urge to puke. Wertz lost that same battle behind him, emptying the contents of her stomach into the dirt. I didn't blame her, I could barely stomach the scene either.

Harding stirred from the centre of the slaughter and waved us over. She heaved once and flipped the corpse with a grunt of effort. She bent over the body, examining the deep wounds on the nidoqueen's chest.

"Find anything interesting?" I asked, picking my way through the carnage. My gaze found a nidorino whose neck had been snapped. I averted my eyes, focusing on Harding.

She bent over the corpse, examining the wound. "Maybe," she said. "What the hell is this doing here?" She pulled a wicked looking claw from the ruined armour.

I looked closely at the claw. "I'm not sure," I said. I held out my hand, taking the claw. "It looks almost draconic. It's kind of similar to Artemis' talons." I glanced up at Harding as she took back the claw. "Are there any dragons in the Safari Zone?"

"There's not supposed to be. There used to be a dratini colony along the north shore, but they're supposed to have cleared off nearly fifteen years ago," she replied. She pocketed the claw and looked around nervously. "I don't like this. This wasn't a spat between packs, or a meeting of different predators. This was a slaughter." She nervously looked back at me. "We have to put distance between us and this place. Can Artemis carry two?"

I glanced up at my aerodactyl. "Not for long. Even just me is more than she can comfortably carry for long."

"Could she carry two of us to the river?"

I raised an eyebrow. Something had Harding very worried. "Maybe. It'd have to be me and Wertz. Reyes is definitely too heavy."

"I heard that," Reyes said. "I'll have you know that it's all muscle." He slapped his stomach jovially, trying to lighten the mood. But his grin faltered as he approached us and I could see the fear in his eyes.

Wertz was behind him, her eyes wide. She couldn't look away from the carnage, her gaze flickering from corpse to body then back. "Can we go?"

Harding nodded and beckoned to her fearow. The massive avian bent down, preparing to let Harding mount her. "Rendezvous five clicks south on the river. Try not to draw any undue attention on the way." She looked out at the slaughter and grimaced. "We don't need this happening to us too. I got a bad feeling that whatever did this is still around."

She swung herself up onto her fearow and reached down to Reyes. The corporal took her hand, sitting directly behind her.

I whistled once and Artemis bounded over to us. I raised Luna's ball and recalled her. "Get on," I said to Wertz. "Hold onto the spike. This might be a little bit rough."

I clambered onto Artemis' back and held tight to Wertz. She was small, smaller than me by at least a foot and forty pounds. I squeezed Artemis' flanks with my ankles and felt her tense up. "Hold on tight.

Artemis flung herself into the air, flapping madly to gain altitude. I could feel her straining, her wings barely able to keep us aloft. Wertz let out a squeal, holding tightly to my bucking aerodactyl.

I craned my neck around Wertz, a pit growing in my stomach. We weren't up high enough. Artemis wasn't gaining altitude fast enough. "Artemis, up!" I roared.

She flapped for all she was worth, wings beating furiously. I saw the treeline coming. We still weren't rising fast enough. I squeezed Artemis' flanks with my heels and closed my eyes.

"Ohshitohshitohshitohshit!" Wertz squealed.

Artemis forced us higher through sheer will. I opened my eyes as we cleared the trees, holding in a terrified gasp as we soared just above the trees.

"I can see the river!" I half-shouted. I leaned forward, pointing at the gap in the trees as Wertz braced herself against my chest. "Up, Artemis! Up!"

She redoubled our efforts, gaining slightly more altitude. But her wing beats were sloppy, haphazard efforts that were tiring her more than helping. We dipped slightly as Artemis' started gliding rather than actively flying.

I wrapped my arms around Wertz and pulled her close. The river was fast approaching, but Artemis wasn't maintaining her altitude. We'd hit the trees before we hit the river. "Get ready to bail. We're not gonna make it."

I heard the snap-crash of Artemis hitting the treetops and tipped back as she wildly attempted a landing. Her talons wrapped around a sturdy looking branch and crashed through it as she misjudged its strength. We plummeted almost twenty feet as Artemis scrabbled madly at the tree trunk, smashing her way through the branches on the way down.

My world tipped backwards and I felt myself tip upside down as I was flung from my aerodactyl's back. I caught a glimpse of Artemis clinging to a fork in the tree trunk, Private Wertz still hopelessly clutching to the spike on her back. Then I flipped back around, twigs and sticks scratching at my face as I tumbled towards the earth and wrapped myself around a branch.

I groaned, looking nervously over at the base of the branch. I felt it bend, felt the branch struggling to hold my weight. I swung my legs, trying desperately to reach a lower branch before I fell. I never got the chance.

The branch snapped a moment later, dropping me the rest of the way to the ground. I landed heavily on my back, driving the wind from my lungs and laying there stunned.

My earpiece crackled with the sound of Reyes' raucous laughter. "I gotta say, Rook. That may have been the worst landing I've ever seen. And I watched McCulloch train that skarmory of his."

I reached up to my earpiece, groaning with the movement. I could hardly breathe, but I couldn't let that jab stand. "Eat shit, muscle man."


Artemis was a surprisingly strong swimmer. She cut through the water with smooth serpentine movements, like she was more comfortable there than in the air. I watched her set upon the krabby from above, crunching through its thick carapace with hardly an effort. She came back up, bits of the crustacean's shell stuck to her jaws.

"She's a strong swimmer," Wertz remarked as she ducked under a low-hanging branch. "Almost like she prefers it to flying."

"Aerodactyl are actually very strong swimmers. Their wings aren't built for sustained flight." I shrugged and my mind went to my team composition not for the first time. "I might not even need a water type with her around," I said. "She hasn't had a problem with one yet, and I have no clue what I'd want in a water type anyways."

She shot me a raised eyebrow. She'd spent some time after retiring from her League Challenge as a broadcast analyst. Despite her weaker team, she was an expert team builder with a keen eye for strategy. She'd dropped in on a few of my evening training sessions back in Vermillion. I knew that whatever she had to say was worth listening to. "Mind some advice from a former League analyst?"

"Always up for a new perspective," I replied.

"Your team is unbalanced," she said bluntly. "You have nothing that can counter bulky water types. You're lucky that Misty was the second gym you challenged, because I don't think you could beat her intermediate team as it is right now."

My fists balled up as I remembered that battle. Pride had won it for me after Luna had confused Misty's starmie. It was the first time that my stubborn nido had impressed me. "I did recently lose my main water counter."

I saw her grimace and realized that she hadn't meant to upset me. She paused, speaking slowly and carefully. "Which, my condolences, but he was never a true counter. Especially as a king with the partial ground typing. Your nidorino won that battle with a hope and a prayer. Having effective move coverage is not the same as having a true counter. You were outsped and outgunned and you got lucky."

I thought for a long moment, watching Artemis slice through the water in pursuit of an orange and black blur. She might be good in the water, but Wertz was right. I was practically hopeless against bulky water types. "What do you suggest?" I asked. "I only have one slot left, and I was hoping to fill it with a water type. Now you're telling me that I need a counter against water types."

It was her turn to shrug. "That's the challenge of team building. There's always a weakness for your opponent to exploit. It's just up to you to cover those weaknesses."

I went silent, lost in thought as I ran through the possibilities I'd originally considered for Erika's offer before I had settled on an aerodactyl. "I had originally looked for a piplup, or a totodile. Would either have been better choices?"

She pondered my question for a moment. "Either one would add some bulk to your team. It's something that you're sorely lacking outside of Curie and arguably Acolyte." She ducked under another fallen tree that was blocking the trail and stepped onto the small beach. My squadmate turned to face me as I followed her, still thinking intently. "Piplup would probably be a better choice, simply for better type coverage. Both are excellent choices, even if you'd be breaking the bank to acquire either of them."

Artemis tramped onto shore, a bloody fin sticking out of her jaws. She tossed back her head and gulped down the flailing pokemon. I caught a glimpse of gold and orange before the mangled magikarp disappeared into her maw. She looked back at me, her tongue flopping happily out of her bloody jaws.

I glanced back at Wertz as her aipom swung down from a tree, chattering madly. "Maybe I'll get Silph to shell out fo-"

It hit her from the side, moving so quickly that it was barely even visible. A pale, creamy blue blur took her from the side, fangs sinking deep into Wertz's shoulder as she opened her mouth to speak. She reached up, confusion crossing her face as the pain registered. Her hand came away from her neck covered in blood as the serpent coiled itself around her and her aipom.

I came out of the horrified trance as the pokemon tore its fangs free, spraying me with Wertz's blood. I activated my comm unit, my eyes widening as the misshapen pokemon unfurled its wings and stretched up to its full height. Wertz hit the ground, clutching desperately at her neck as the dragonair slithered over her. Her aipom stumbled away, collapsed less than a foot away as his pulverized bones gave out.

"Wertz is down!" I shouted into the comm. She met my eyes and I watched as the light in her eyes faded away. "Confirmed Rocket experiment."

The half-evolved dragonair hissed at me, extending its forearms and raising its wings. Its body was still mostly serpentine, but the Rocket experiment had done a number in its evolution. A dragonite's forearms sprouted from beneath a pair of working wings that stretched abnormally far even for a dragonite. Two small stubs that could have been legs protruded from its flanks, bloody trails running down its sides from the unfinished limbs. One of its front claws was missing, snapped off at the base. I had no doubt that this monstrosity had been responsible for the nido massacre.

I heard the crackle of my radio as Harding responded in a panicked voice. I lost the words in a garbled mess as the half evolved dragon rumbled a low, angry threat.

I saw it tense up and felt a thunderous rumble from behind me. I threw myself to the ground as Artemis launched herself over me, pouncing on the dragon before it could launch. They spun off, hissing and snapping at each other as they battled for dominance.

I rolled away, coming up with a pair of balls in my hands. Luna and Acolyte were out in a flash as the dragon tangled with Artemis. They separated a moment later, Artemis nursing a wicked deep gash on her shoulder.

I stared down the dragon, stepping behind my trio of pokemon. I activated my comm and set my feet in the dirt. This thing was dangerous, it was violent, and it had proved irreparably hostile to humans. It needed to be put down. More than our mission to find Rocket, the Rangers were about protecting people from wild pokemon. I knew what I had to do. I knew what my duty was. "I'm engaging."

The dragon hissed and launched before I could issue an order. Acolyte leapt into action, leaping in front of Luna before the dragon could sink its fangs into her. The dragon flared his wings and flapped once, launching over my marowak.

I threw myself into a roll, realizing that the beast was aiming directly for me. Acolyte pivoted, following the dragon's jaws patiently. It lunged for me, fangs outstretched for my side. Acolyte jabbed with his club, snapping the beast's jaws shut and knocking it off course. It plowed into the dirt, slithering out of Acolyte's club range.

I rolled to my feet, already pivoting to face the dragon. Vector's ball was in my hand as I came up, releasing my massive bug at my side as I started issuing orders.

"Artemis, keep it on land. Acolyte, disable those wings."

I glanced over at Luna. "Long range harass. Confuse wisp barrage."

My gaze shifted to my eager heracross. He smashed his fists together, eyes locked on the murderous dragon. "Vector," I started. He looked back at me and I saw fire in his eyes. "Go for the head."

The dragon hissed, rearing back. I saw blue fire glowing in its jaws and threw myself to the ground. Azure flames tore overhead as my pokemon scattered. Vector and Artemis soared into the air, getting above the dragonbreath as Acolyte deflected most of it away with a spinning club.

Luna hacked up a ball of eerie blue flame. It split into a dozen smaller fireballs, all of them spinning off in the dragon's direction. It hugged its wings and cooled around itself, tanking the wisps on the outside of its wings. Luna joined my side as the dragon uncoiled and hissed at her angrily.

Artemis landed behind the dragon, cutting off its escape into the river. She advanced, her body low to the ground and preparing to pounce. A feral growl escaped her jaws and I saw the claws on her powerful forelimbs extend.

Acolyte plodded forward, his club in a ready position. The dragon glanced from my marowak to my aerodactyl behind it, something akin to fear flashing in its reptilian eyes. It hissed warily as Luna blocked its route further down the beach, retreating into a defensive stance and glancing nervously between my three pokemon.

"Now!" I roared.

Acolyte reared back, pitching his club with all his might. It spun through the air as Artemis launched herself off the ground at the dragon. It batted Acolyte's club away with a powerful forearm, spinning to face Artemis as she bore down on it.

My aerodactyl hit the dragon while it was still turning, clamping her jaws over the base of its left wing. The dragon screeched in pain, driving its claws into Artemis' exposed flank with the fury of a trapped beast. She released her hold, swiping at the dragon to keep it back as she shielded her side with her wing.

The dragon seemed to sense his superiority and drew itself higher, dragonfire beginning to leak from its jaws. Artemis shrunk back, shielding the wound on her side as best she could.

Acolyte snatched up his fallen club, charging the dragon as its attention focused solely on Artemis. He leapt into an overhead smash, aiming for the base of the dragon's outstretched left wing. His aim struck true, and the beast shrieked in pain as it coiled back onto itself. Acolyte kept up his assault, leaping into another downward smash.

The dragon used its serpentine tail like a whip, wrapping around Acolyte's throat and catching him in mid-air. It turned as it coiled its tail around my marowak's throat, azure fire dripping from its jaws.

Artemis whimpered slightly, drawing back as the dragon bathed her in fire. Her tail wrapped tighter and I heard Acolyte desperately gasping for air as he abandoned his club and clawed at the scaly tail throttling him.

"Luna, psychic!" I ordered.

My ninetales' eyes flashed at my side, and I felt my vision swim momentarily as the psychic blast tore across the battlefield. It smashed the dragon from the side, tossing him bodily to the earth. Acolyte went flying, bouncing free of the dragon's grip and sliding to a halt in the sand.

Artemis pounced again as Acolyte hit the ground. She descended on the dragon's prone form, ripping and tearing at anything her teeth and claws could reach. He flailed and wildly swiped at Artemis, but my aerodactyl had the dominant position. She clamped her jaws over the base of his left wing again, ignoring the trio of deep gashes he tore into her side.

The dragon shrieked in agony as Artemis tore the already broken left wing from its body with a triumphant growl. It flailed madly, writhing underneath Artemis in a desperate attempt to free itself.

Its tail found purchase around Artemis' neck, wrenching my aerodactyl backwards. It slammed her into the ground, reversing their positions in a single move. Artemis struggled valiantly, but the dragon had her pinned.

I returned Artemis to her ball, leaving the dragon looking around in confusion. I looked to the sky, ready to end the battle before the dragon could deal any more damage. "Now!" I roared to the sky.

A loud buzzing filled the air. My heracross finally made his triumphant entrance to the battle, streaking across the sky like a meteor. Nothing could stop Vector at full speed, at least nothing we'd ever faced before could.

The dragon turned too slowly, failing to acquire the new attacker before he was in range. It looked up at the sky as Vector swung low and drove his horn in under the dragon's jaw. His horn punched through the soft scales, skewering the beast's brain as it punched out the top of its skull.

I stood there for a moment, waiting for it to retaliate one last time, or spring back to life. Vector dropped the mutated dragon to the ground, pulling his horn free with no small amount of effort. I let out a breath and felt my hands start to shake as the adrenaline started to wear off.

Luna touched my hand with her nose, pulling me back to the current crisis. Artemis was wounded. I lifted her ball, releasing her in front of me. She bared her teeth, growling in fury.

"Calm, girl. It's just me." My voice was low and slow, something I'd learned was somewhat effective in calming Artemis down. It was still not perfect, but the primal instincts of ancient pokemon made training them doubly difficult. Artemis was difficult at the best of times. After a brutal battle like that, while she was still in the thrall of her rage, she was almost impossible to calm.

She bared her teeth at me, forgetting the dominance I'd spent over a month cultivating in her primal rage. I slowly lifted Curie's ball, releasing her beside me.

I held out my hand, making sure my movements were slow and smooth so I didn't spook my aerodactyl. "Egg me," I said calmly.

Curie pulled a large oval egg from her pouch, putting on her serious face as she handed it to me. She took pride in her position as team medic, and continuously proved herself stronger than I expected. She saluted me with her stubby arms as I took the egg, before collapsing into childish giggling.

I sighed heavily, letting a smile come to my face. "Thank you, Curie."

I turned back to Artemis, trying to keep my voice and demeanour non threatening. I cracked open the egg and slathered half the contents onto the wound on her side.

Artemis' eyes lit up as the pain receded. She looked at me, her eyes full of regret. I could tell that she was back.

"You didn't hurt me," I said. I'd learned very early on that she had a nasty tendency to slip into some kind of mindless rage if she was seriously hurt. She had almost killed Acolyte the first time she had lost control, something that clearly weighed heavily on her mind.

"You're actually the only one who got hurt," I continued. I raised the egg, holding it carefully so I didn't lose any of the precious healing liquid inside. "Lift your wings. I need a better look at that."

My aerodactyl knew better than to protest.


Harding arrived fifteen minutes after I finished tending to Artemis. She slipped off her fearow's back, ignoring Reyes' happy exclamation upon landing.

"Walk me through it," she said calmly.

I gestured to the end of the beach. Wertz was still laying where she had fallen, her aipom less than a foot away from her. I hadn't had the heart to move them. They were friends. It felt wrong. "We were on our way to the rendezvous point. It came out of nowhere. She never had a chance."

Harding rolled Wertz's body over, taking great care to close her eyes one last time. She looked over at Reyes, her expression solemn. "Dig her a grave."

We turned as Reyes released his ryhorn, approaching the dragon's corpse. I could see Harding holding the severed claw in her hand. She stopped dead, staring down at the dragon in disbelief. "Are those wings?"

"Yes," I replied. "I'm guessing it was a dragonair before the evolution was triggered. Probably a member of that colony that you said was long gone." My expression was solemn and my voice low. "It was fast," I said quietly. This dragon should have been allowed to evolve naturally, to be its majestic self. Instead it was perverted into some misshapen monster. "and smart. The partial evolution didn't seem to affect its fighting ability. If anything, it made it more deadly."

"They're getting better," she said plainly. "Closer to actually forcing evolution."

"I don't get it," I said. "What's the end goal? Why force random wild pokemon to evolve?"

She was silent for a moment, lost deep in thought. "It's not the wild pokemon they care about. It's the device. They're testing the device. For what, I don't know, but we have to stop them before it's ready." She looked back at me, solemn mourning in her usually fiery gaze. "For Talyn's sake."

I nodded, turning back to our fallen comrade. "For Talyn."

We buried Talyn Wertz under a tree at the edge of the beach, deep enough that she'd go unnoticed by wild pokemon. Reyes carved an epitaph into the tree and the three of us saluted the makeshift grave. I swore I saw tears at the edge of Harding's eyes, but they were gone when I looked back. None of us dared to speak, reserving the silence in Wertz's respect.


We made camp maybe four clicks south of that beach. Reyes took first watch as I built our fire and Harding hunted down our dinner. We ate the charred doduo in silence, the crackling of the fire and the distant cries of wild pokemon the only sounds.

Harding checked in with the other teams just before I drifted off to sleep. McCulloch and team two had suffered a few injuries dealing with a mutated exeggutor, but were essentially unharmed. Team three had actually come across one of the Rocket devices, abandoned in a clearing. They marked the location for retrieval and had pushed further south than either of the two teams.

I drifted off into a fitful sleep. Winged dragonair loomed in my dreams, hissing and spitting at me. I woke with a start as Harding gently tapped my shoulder for the watch change.


It was maybe two hours into my watch. I could see the sun starting to brighten the horizon. Luna sat faithfully at my side, asleep but still there.

The radio screamed to life, crackling and whining with static. The static cleared for a brief moment and I heard the unmistakable sound of a human scream. I cranked the volume, listening as the static screamed back through the radio.

"Status report!" shouted a voice through the static. "Identify yourself!"

A few garbled words echoed through the interference. Then it cleared and I could hear the unmistakable sound of someone breathing heavily over the line. "They're in the forest," said the voice in a hushed whisper. "They've been watching us."

"Who's watching us?" McCulloch roared. I could hear more voices on his end and I realized that the rest of his squad was awake now.

I scrambled to my feet, shouting for Captain Harding as I brandished the radio in her face.

"They took everyone else," said the voice. "Don't let them-"

The voice shrieked in pure fear and Harding sat straight up. She stared at me blankly for a moment, before snatching the radio from me.

"No! Get back! Get back! Get away from-"

The transmission devolved into screaming static and then faded entirely. I sat back against the tree I had been sitting against, looking nervously at Harding.

The radio crackled to life. "This is Sergeant McCulloch. Any Rangers listening, sound off."

The Captain raised the radio. "Harding here. It was squad three."

"Crap," McCulloch spat. "I thought I recognized Matt's voice. Everyone alright over there?"

She glanced up at me. "Rook's a little green around the gills. Reyes didn't even budge."

"Why am I not surprised," McCulloch responded. "Orders, Captain?"

She sighed and I saw the burden of command etched on her face. She sighed long and hard. "Continue due south at first light. We'll rendezvous with you after we investigate squad three's camp."

There was a long pause on the other end. "Roger that, Captain." He paused again and I got the feeling he was unsure about something. "We're all up over here. We're gonna head out now, get an early start."

She nodded absently. "Copy that. Keep in touch, Ian."

"Will do ma'am."

The line went dead and Harding stifled a yawn. She got to her feet, stretching her limbs. "Wake up Reyes," she ordered. She pulled a bulky satellite phone from her pack and started dialing.

"Reyes," I said. I kicked him in the shoulder, jolting him awake. "Get up. We're moving."

He groaned, rolling onto his back and blinking at the brightening sky. "Where is the sun?" he asked miserably. "Why is the sky still dark?"

I grimaced. "Something happened to squad three. We're going to check it out."

He blinked away the sleep, sitting up in his bedroll. "On foot?" he asked hopefully.

I shook my head. "Probably flying."

Harding got to her feet and slung her pack over her shoulder. "Fuchsia Command never got word from Surge."

Reyes and I turned to look at her, confusion clear on our faces.

"This mission wasn't a tip," she continued. "It was a trap. And we walked right into it." She set her jaw and the lines in her face went hard. "Koga betrayed us. He set us up."

Reyes got to his feet, hastily stuffing his bedroll back into his pack. "What's our move, Captain?"

She grinned fiercely, like she'd gotten a wicked idea. "We spring the trap," she said mischievously. "On our terms." She raised a ball, releasing her fearow beside her. "Let's go make Koga regret his decision."


Pokédex Entry #148 – Dragonair

This almost mythical pokemon has long been said to possess weather controlling abilities. Ancient cultures revered these pokemon as rain bringers and often left offerings in the lakes that the dragonair originally lived in.

Due to expansion of human activity and the subsequent pollution issues, most dragonair have fled to the seas in search of cleaner waters. Some remote sanctuaries remain, but these pokemon now make their colonies in the various archipelagos and island chains southeast of Kan-Jo



Intermediate Trainer KT#07996101

Indigo Ranger Corps, Special Task Group, "Zapdos" Squad,

Private First-Class SN# 109-512-6591, Marcus Wright , current team:

Luna, Ninetales

Acolyte, Marowak

Vector, Heracross

Curie, Chansey

Artemis, Aerodactyl
 
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