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Interlude - Volkner
INTERLUDE - VOLKNER

"Victory to Leader Volkner!"

Volkner Doyle watched as electricity and poison washed off his Toxtricity, who roared in celebration after his victory over Mira Compton's Alakazam. He had savaged the psychic, turning the entire field into a minefield full of electrified poisonous bombs. The pink-haired girl, for her part, looked to be quite shaken at her loss. Not terribly sad, but somewhat disbelieving. Volkner recalled Toxtricity and left without another word while his Gym Trainers came en masse with their Pokemon to fix up the field. Pyukumuku to absorb any poison, Hippowdon and Dugtrio to mold the earth back into a relatively flat field and recreate his spires. Durant to tunnel and replenish the supply of iron under the field and the rocks themselves. The Gym didn't only raise electric type Pokemon, even if keeping all of them fed and taking care of them in general came at a hefty cost.

That wasn't counting maintenance, salaries for Gym Trainers, equipment, utilities, security… every single Gym in Sinnoh ran at a loss, and the government covered the majority of the costs even if negotiations were sometimes fierce. There were tricks to use, though. Candice liked to spend any money she had left over on useless things just so she'd get the same amount of money or more from each subsequent budget passed.

Now that Cynthia ruled alone, Volkner didn't think that they would have any problems with the budget this year.

Volkner reached his office and kicked off his slippers with a yawn. Now that Mira Compton had lost, he was done with battles for the day, but that didn't mean he was done with work. He could still afford to take a break for twenty minutes or so. Mira had good instincts. She seemed to know how to respond to every problem or test Volkner gave her and how to counter them. The problem had been that she didn't actually have the tools to do so. Tricks like mass Teleportation from her Alakazam and Gardevoir worked in lower levels and the Gym Leaders might have let her through, but the sixth badge was the big leagues. It wasn't something she could rely on and win, and Volkner wouldn't allow her to rely on one gimmick to win. She had done nothing to stop him from altering the field or countering his influence and he'd been in a dominant position from the start of the battle.

Volkner wasn't very impressed, for a child that had been supposedly blessed with Knowledge.

Oh, Cynthia had told him and the other Gym Leaders all about the blessings right after they'd left Veilstone. Volkner still couldn't believe it, nor did he fully understand the ramifications, but he appreciated being in the loop. Cynthia had also not-so-subtly hinted at the fact that she wanted the four of them to be 'as strong as possible' by the end of the year, and he hadn't missed the implications. She had wanted him to evolve her Electabuzz for free, and Volkner was sure she wouldn't miss a beat if Mira Compton ever asked her to evolve her Haunter.

Mira apparently had enough morals not to ask for it to be done. Days with a Haunter was not something many would wish on their worst enemies.

He had refused to evolve Grace's Electabuzz for free, telling Cynthia that a test would be more appropriate, and Grace Pastel had passed, for better or worse. Volkner did not look forward to the political blowback he would get after all was said and done. He could already hear the whining about favoritism from here, and if he was being honest, it wasn't like it was wrong.

The Gym Leader leaned back against his chair and sighed. What he wouldn't do to spend his break with Jasmine right now… but she was at her support group.

There was an obvious reason Cynthia wanted Cecilia, Mira, Chase and Grace to be as strong as possible by the summer. Team Galactic had somehow vanished. The League was going house by house, searching Veilstone with a fine tooth-comb, and still nothing. The fact that they were holding out for a big assault was apparent.

When else to strike then when all the best trainers in the region and many of the League Trainers would be at the Conference? Cynthia had planned for this already. The League would not be caught off-guard.

"Well, time to get to work," Volkner groaned.

His twenty-minute break passed in a flash, and Volkner went through his day. A new batch of baby electric Pokemon for the Gym that he quickly signed off, and they were a lot more expensive now that the Hunters were gone because their Daycare did not run anywhere as smoothly now that the League had taken it over. He also had to inspect their capabilities. Some Pokemon were more talented than others, even when they'd been born a few weeks ago, and he had to individually pick their training regiment. Thank Arceus his Gym Trainers could handle that.

After around two hours, he was back in his office for a video chat meeting with the City Council. Volkner wasn't one to leave his Gym unless it was absolutely necessary. He dozed off for most of the meeting. The topic of housing wasn't exactly his favorite.

"Home prices are rising far too quickly. Young people are moving here in droves and we simply don't have enough space for them. Homelessness has been on the uptick for the fifth year in a row. It's simple, gentlemen, we need to build more housing," Mr. Brandt listed as he tapped on a piece of paper.

"I don't appreciate your use of 'gentlemen' here," Ms. West said.

"Oh, yes, yes, whatever! Fucking political correctness"

"We could always loosen our building code a little. Are we going to let some NIMBYs get in the way of progress?"
Mr. Rozen shrugged. "We can't let the older folk go 'fuck you, I've got mine'. We need high-density apartments."

"Mayor Sanchez won't approve,"
Ms. West spoke again. "His election is next year. He'll get ousted if he does."

Volkner twirled his pen and sighed. "I'll talk with Sanchez about housing. We have other things to discuss either way."

Everyone in the conference call froze, and Volkner's pen stopped in his hand.

Mr. Serrano was the first to talk. He cleared his throat and unmuted his microphone. "Um, could we know what this is… about?"

"No need to worry. Your jobs are safe," Volkner lazily said.

Every single City Council Member in this call feared Cynthia.

Every single one.

Speaking out against her in a position of power was career suicide, or worse, you'd be investigated for ties to Team Galactic.

They had not forgotten how half of the Directorate had been fired or arrested. The Directorate was quite literally a stone's throw away from Sunyshore, and the political ramifications had been felt. They had not forgotten how all of Solaceon's own City Council and other positions of power had been swiftly replaced with loyalists either. Days passed, the world turned, and they all pretended Sinnoh was still a democracy. Unova, Galar and Kalos had already offered scathing remarks about 'democratic backsliding' and Galar had put sanctions on the table. It was the price to pay for Cynthia's silence on the matters of Team Galactic.

The world did not see what she saw. They saw a rag-tag group of crazies on the verge of defeat while she saw a threat capable of ending the world.

Volkner felt a chill run down his spine, and the meeting resumed.

No matter how much the City Council pretended to have a hand in policy, they had not had any real power in months. Elections still existed, but the final say would be always Cynthia's.

And Volkner would rather have her in charge than them without a shadow of a doubt.



"Mr. Sanchez! How are things?" Volkner said. "How was the surgery?"

"Well, you know, my eye still hurts and I'll be wearing an eyepatch for the next few days. Thank you for asking, though," the mayor said. "I heard you wanted to speak to me?"

"Two important matters," Volkner said, pressing down on his pen. "Housing first—"

"I've already told them I will not be signing any kind of housing reform."

Volkner put his feet on his desk and restrained a groan. "We can make it incremental. Set up areas with different zoning laws so your voters can still enjoy their view on the beach. Expansion into route 222 is not an option at the moment. Too expensive of a project, and the government's coffers have seen better days as you know."

"The only cities not running at a deficit are Sunyshore and Jubilife, I know," he acknowledged.

"Sinnoh's credit rating is about to be downgraded, the loans from Galar are going to run dry soon and the 'softer' regions will think twice before letting us borrow, and that's not even counting sanctions. We'll have to start relying on austerity measures soon enough."

Sanchez laughed dryly. "I'm not looking forward to my constituents' pensions running dry. But let me guess. Cynthia wants Team Galactic dealt with before the entire region plunges into an economic depression never seen since the Great War?"

"You got it," Volkner shrugged.

"It's at times like these that being an Autarky like Kanto-Johto would have paid off—"

"Let's not deny that Cynthia opening up our economy has drastically improved the quality of life," Volkner interrupted.

"You open yourself up to globalism, you expose yourself to the double-edged sword," Sanchez said. "Anyway, back to housing… what does Cynthia think about it?"

Volkner pondered on how to answer the question. He could very well lie and say that she'd have his head if he didn't sign a housing bill, especially when Gym Leaders were a part of the League itself. They had a direct line of contact with Cynthia while mayors did not— or at least not at the moment.

But that wasn't really his style.

"I'll be honest with you Sanchez. We've worked together for a while, I think you're an intelligent guy," Volkner replied. "She doesn't care, at the moment. This is a local matter."

Sanchez finally found his voice and started speaking more confidently, as if he'd been scared that Volkner would snitch before asking him that question.

"Just like she doesn't care about the rising crime rate in Jubilife, the deficit issues, the poachers near Pastoria and the crumbling tourism industry. We have 36% fewer tourists than last year, and it isn't even summertime yet, Volkner. 36%! Sunyshore's never seen such a sharp drop in tourism in a single year. The Conference this summer will have half of its seats empty. The Champion is growing lax. I'm not the only one that thinks it. Why do you think they stopped doing approval rating polls?"

Volkner inhaled, letting the bubbling rage subside before he answered. Cynthia had given him so much. All of them too. And when the going got hard, people drew their knives behind their backs while they shook your hand. Cynthia worked harder than all of them combined. There were no breaks, no respite, no time to breathe. She took it all upon her shoulders and bore with it.

"I'd suggest you don't continue this," Volkner said. "We're living through extraordinary times."

"And those times require action, which hasn't happened since Solaceon, and I'm convinced that was because that city was almost destroyed. The rest of us get crumbs."

Volkner stayed silent for a few seconds

Better not rise to that level. Threatening was beyond him.

Maybe Jasmine was rubbing off on him too much.

"I had another matter I wanted to bring up with you. Consider it a favor," Volkner said. "In approximately… a week and two days, I'd say. I'm going to need you to prepare the city for blackouts."

"Blackouts? What section?"

"All of it," Volkner added. "Call it a ten-minute maintenance at a press Conference or something. Say that the grid is overloaded and we need to do some check-ups. Have our key infrastructure run on their generators for those ten minutes, and it should be fine."

"Could I have the real reason?"

"No. I'm sorry."

Sanchez sighed. "We've had a good relationship, Volkner. It isn't often that a Mayor and Gym Leader cooperate as closely as we do."

"Hmhm."

"Yet being kept in the dark like this… still bothers me," the mayor sighed. After a short bout of silence, he continued. "But I'll get it done."

"Appreciate you, Tom," Volkner said.

"That's Mr. Sanchez to you," he joked before hanging up.

Volkner nodded to himself and placed his phone back onto his desk. Electricity was a complex thing. Electabuzz's evolution would be a long and grueling process. He still remembered being in Grace Pastel's position like it was yesterday. Grace would have to wait a while before revealing Electivire, but he doubted that many would corroborate the two events. People often didn't look at the simplest solution to a problem.

Still, for safety's sake, he would get his dark types to disable the thin stream of dark TE and allow her to Teleport in and out so no one would spot her.

The Gym Leader heard a knock on his door, and Jasmine barged in like she owned the world.

"Hey!" He smiled. "What happened? You look happy."

"Volkner! Guess what, guess what?" She yelled as she scurried toward him.

He wrapped her into a tight hug and kissed her. He couldn't help but feel guilt when he instinctively felt relief that he couldn't taste any alcohol. Trusting her with this was hard, especially when she was coming back home alone because of work.

"What is it?" He asked.

"I passed by a bar on the way home and I felt nothing," Jasmine grinned. "No primal urge to run in there and order something, and I didn't even feel thirsty! I did look back for a second, but I mean, I didn't actually have to release Metagross so they could stop me—"

"Arceus… I'm so proud of you."

Volkner hugged her again.

"Are you crying?"

"Shut it. I don't cry."



Another day, another flurry of battles— most of them high leveled. His final fight of the day had been against another one of the blessed kids, and he had performed incredibly well. Chase Karlson's Pokemon might not have had the firepower others had, but their fundamentals were all trained far beyond their level and his Darkfire attack had even caught Volkner off-guard. It wasn't often that six-badgers knew how to play with dark TE to such an extent.

That Houndoom would be a real menace when it reached its full potential. It leaned against its dark typing a whole lot, unlike Flint's Houndoom who had basically neglected that entire side of him save for a few tricks that Volkner knew by heart. His Abomasnow had coated the entire arena in a Sleep Powder combined with Blizzard which made all of his Pokemon sluggish. Sigilyph could Teleport Volkner's attacks away from itself and didn't have to spend energy on dodging. Lucario's aura manipulation was something he would only see out of Maylene's. Zangoose had come already poisoned and was not only incredibly fast, but could tear his Pokemon to shreds from up close and at a distance. Vikavolt's maneuverability was incredible and it had forced Volkner not to set up Electric Terrain because it could take advantage of it more than his own Pokemon.

But Chase Karlson still had much to work on. His Pokemon had clearly been at the sixth-badge level, but his mindset was not, and because of it he had only won 4-5. The cap-wearing teenager battled like no one would punish him for his mistakes and took too many risks.

Oh well, it was just more talent to nurture. Byron would probably shut him down hard if he didn't fix his issues. Gym Leaders would not allow a trainer to pass the eighth Gym with such glaring problems, and he wasn't the only one in his group with issues.

Volkner's eyes narrowed when one of his trainers waited for him at his office.

"Leader Volkner! Cynthia on the line in your office, sir!"

"Leslie? Since when do you speak like that?" Volkner frowned. "Did Jasmine put you up to this?"

The young girl blushed. "Um, yes."

"Relax, okay? This technically isn't the League. Speak to me however you want. You don't even have to add Leader before my name."

"R—right."

"And stop listening to Jasmine. She likes to trample meek people, it's how she copes with her withdrawal. I'll talk to her, okay?"

"Thank you, Lea— Volkner."

"Gotcha. Say, there's a second-badge Gym Battle after this one. Tell Rocky I told you that you can take over that one. Get yourself some more practice," he said.

The girl beamed and ran off, nearly tripping when she stepped into the elevator. Volkner opened the door to his office and smiled when he saw Raichu sitting at his desk.

"Get off there, you," he smirked. "I hope you didn't send any emails. And that you didn't scare Leslie."

The electric type snickered and climbed on his shoulder, his long whip-like tail hanging next to his back. Just like almost every Gym Leader save for Roark, Volkner's Pokemon liked to wander the Gym wherever they pleased. Raichu usually spent the most time with his two kids— The Pichu and Pikachu who wore ribbons on their ears— but he'd swung by to hang out. Electivire was still brooding about his loss to Electabuzz because he was still a child at heart. Jolteon was definitely asleep on his and Jasmine's bed, hogging all of the space for himself like usual. Luxray was downstairs helping Pokemon train, and Ambipom was helping whoever was currently at the Gym's reception. Octillery and Lanturn were the only ones in their Pokeballs at the moment.

Just like Flint, Volkner hadn't always been a type specialist. Ambipom and Octillery were his second and third Pokemon, but he'd decided to lean fully into the type after realizing its limitless potential.

Although Volkner was sure that any type specialist would say the same about their own type.

The Gym Leader picked up the phone, and Cynthia's smooth voice rang out.

"Volkner. How's your day going?"

"So and so," he said. Raichu clamored in his ear, and he changed his answer. "It's going great, actually. You?"

"Terrible. But it could be worse," she said. "Did you hear the news?"

"Cynthia, if you have to ask if I've heard the news, I haven't heard the news."

The Champion laughed— and Volkner caught himself laughing too. It was a rare sight, to see her genuinely laughing. Unfortunately, the event was short-lived.

"Bad news, I'm afraid," she sighed. "International trouble."

"I've been battling and crawling through paperwork all day."

"Galar's started to move. They've frozen our foreign currency reserves and the assets of a lot of our politicians, and the riff-raff aren't happy. Then there are the usual sanctions they already have on Indigo. Restraining loans, investment, trade… I'll have Lucian write you up a report."

Volkner drummed his fingers against the desk. "Already? I just spoke to Sanchez about that yesterday… I thought they'd wait."

"Oh, they've got a new Champion that's incredibly charismatic, so you know how that usually goes," Cynthia said. "You come in, sit in that chair for the first time and you start thinking you can save the entire world."

Cynthia stopped, and Volkner didn't exactly know what to say.

"Leon, right?" He probed.

"Yes. He's invited 'all of the democratic nations of the world' to do the same," Cynthia chuckled. "But the other so-called 'democratic' countries haven't done anything but condemnations so far. I've tried talking to him, but Leon doesn't want to speak to a dictator. I also thought that Unova would stay on our side after all of the rapprochement we had this past decade, but I suppose they don't like seeing the system we imported from them be ripped to shreds."

"You're doing it because you have to."

"And yet it hurts."

Volkner blinked. He didn't often see her espouse weakness before— not that he minded! And he understood. She'd torn apart the system that she'd taken decades to put into place in less than a year. Volkner couldn't even imagine Sunyshore losing all of the progress the city had made during his tenure.

The moment of weakness lasted only a second. "I wanted to warn you personally because Sunyshore is going to get hit particularly hard. I apologize."

"I know. I'm guessing the materials to create solar panels are in the sanction package."

"Yes. Solar cells specifically. Sinnoh's still lacking in semiconductor manufacturing. It has come to my attention that there was some debate about some housing bill… that'll have to wait, I'm afraid."

She already knew,
Volkner noticed.

"What do I do about Grace Pastel's Electabuzz—"

"Evolve him. There's only so much electricity we can store, so it does not matter in the long run," she instantly answered. "I'll have to call Mark Obel to negotiate some kind of deal, otherwise we'll be pushed into the arms of Kanto-Johto for trade and politically as a whole. Honestly, we might still strike a deal with Indigo. I'll see if I can wrangle the two sides together. Hoenn… well, Hoenn has no backbone. They'll stay neutral, but maybe we can use this. Still, this risks an entire political realignment…"

Volkner opted to let her ramble about geopolitics for a while. Cynthia didn't really have many people to vent to.

"Mark Obel. Quiet, reserved, and often underestimated," she continued. "And yet, just like Galar, he's in the hands of a few corporations. Looks like I'll have to trade him his father back."

"Clarence Obel?!" Volkner stammered.

"The investigation on him is nearly done anyway. If Galar and Unova drop us, Sinnoh will collapse," Cynthia said as a matter of fact. "We have fewer people, less economic power, and we import our food to have a surplus. We're small, Volkner. I am a realist at heart. I know how Mark works. He could care less about his father. Do you know about what is happening in Unova?"

"An energy crisis."

"Correct. There's also the start of a political upheaval going on and a refugee crisis due to Orre, but that isn't relevant at the moment. The people that are truly in power, the suits behind the seat, they want Clarence Obel back to stabilize the Obel Energy Company."

"That's the issue when you rely on one company for the majority of your energy… majority of anything, actually."

"A lesson we learned dearly with Harvey Bianchi and the Hunter family," Cynthia agreed. "Either way, I am sure that if we free Mr. Obel, then Unova will look the other way. Then it's just a matter of convincing Kalos not to follow their dear old rival Galar into their plans. It should be easier said than done. I already have our diplomats talking at their embassy."

"Should I talk to Jasmine? She could get Lance to support us, and unlike Unova and Galar, whatever the Champion says goes in Indigo."

"I would appreciate that. This is going to hurt, Volkner. I've already got my economists and Lucian's Alakazam on it, but there's only so much we can do when the central bank of the world decides to destroy us. We're looking at a way of dodging them by trading for sanctioned goods through Hoenn, but that'll be inefficient and they'll extort us."

"The knives are out. So much for sharing a bond from living on the same continent."

"Yes. I haven't felt this way since I was a child," Cynthia said. Volkner almost thought she was smiling, but that must have been his imagination. "Regardless, get that Electabuzz evolved, and remember to talk to Jasmine. A report will come to you shortly, and like always, let me handle the press."

"Are you sure you don't need help—"

"Let me handle the press, Volkner," she repeated more firmly.

Volkner wanted to protest. She already handled everything.

"Fine," he sighed. "Arceus, what a shitshow. I fucking hate politics."

"I'll see you later."

The Champion hung up, and Volkner stood to look through his office window. Sunyshore lay below him in all of its glory. A colorful pattern of blue solar panels. A home to millions of people. His people. They had no idea what was coming, did they? Sanctions sounded scary on television, but they didn't know what it truly implied.

"Fuck," he swore through clenched teeth.



"So you want me to call Lance?"

"Yes," Volkner nodded. "Sorry to use you for work stuff, but my boss asked, so I've got no choice in the matter. Butter him up and get him to call Cynthia. A conversation between the two would solve a lot of problems, but she's the only one who doesn't care about two Champions actually talking to each other. It rarely ever happens."

"Well Lance likes to cultivate this image of being above everyone else, but I'll try," Jasmine said. "I might have to sell that you need him. He respects strength, though, so I think I can make it happen. I've always wanted to fight Cynthia's Spiritomb!"

"Do it by any means possible. And Cynthia doesn't care about what you have to do, she doesn't have much of an ego," Volkner shrugged. "When it comes down to it, she'll get down to crawl in the mud. She would die for Sinnoh."

"Any good Champion would die for their region," Jasmine said. "I'll call him right away. This'll just make you more of a pariah, though. A rapprochement with the world's boogeyman? How exciting."

"Not like we have much of a choice in the matter. Sinnoh's got 30 million people to Kanto-Johto's 250 million and you're self-sufficient."

Jasmine hugged Volkner from behind. He was still sitting in his chair, and her arms wrapped around his neck.

"Maybe that'll stop you from trying to become like Galar and Unova," she softly said. "The culture's different. You can't fight against that."

"I disagree, but it's not like we have the luxury of choosing at the moment."

There was a flurry of reasons Kanto-Johto was self-sufficient, but the one Volkner was the most familiar with was Pokemon-generated energy. Something that had been banned in almost every region due to the horrible abuses suffered by the working Pokemon was still legal and common in Indigo. Volkner was an electric-type specialist, and he knew first-hand how terrible those conditions must have been. For all he loved Jasmine, getting closer to her country left a bad taste in his mouth.

"Oh well," Volkner sighed. "They forced our hand."

The next day, Cynthia and Lance called. A few hours later, a brand new partnership between the two regions was announced, and Kanto-Johto spoke out against Galar's 'unjust persecution' of Sinnoh.

The world was moving.

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Chapter 240
CHAPTER 240

If I had to describe Mira's performance in one word, it would be underwhelming. The way she'd fought had no mistakes I could spot, but it had all been so small-scale compared to what Chase and Denzel had done that she'd been at a disadvantage from the first second of the battle.

"I really thought you wouldn't care," Cecilia told Mira. "I thought you didn't want to bother with badges."

Mira's face scrunched up. "I didn't think I would care. But as it turns out, I don't know what the fuck I care about."

Chase shrugged with his arms crossed as he leaned against the Center's wall for support. We'd just tested if the Voice worked through a phone by having me leave the room, and we'd quickly found out that it did not. Next on the list was trying a delayed command and asking someone to act normally for… say forty minutes before having them do something.

"You slacked off," he said. "That's what happens when you take it easy for too long."

"I— I know," she said. "It's not the stupid badge I care about, it's the weakness. I'm weak."

I raised a hand. "That's—"

"True," Chase said. "She is weak."

"And to think I wanted to stand up to Team Galactic admins? If I hadn't been lucky or hadn't had guards, I might have died a thousand times over. I thought it was at least partly skill… but it was all luck. Luck and that blessing."

"So? What are you going to do?" Cecilia asked.

"I don't know. Gather my thoughts for a few hours, maybe. One thing's for sure, I won't challenge Volkner again. Two weeks is too long to be stuck in this city. We were already thinking about leaving soon."

As soon as Honey had evolved, I subconsciously added.

"But Wake?" She continued.

"I mean, I'll try. But as it stands, I'll lose. I thought I could just do what I usually did… just rely on Teleportation to overwhelm, use my head to find an easy way to win and call it a day, but that's wrong. I need to actually push myself to win and get better so I can fight Galactic."

"So the Conference…?" I trailed off.

"Is a no-go. But hey, if everything goes well, I'll be in the stands cheering you guys on," she said with a sad smile. "This sucks. I fell behind."

"Everyone's been training their asses off in Sunyshore. You needed to do the same," Chase said.

"She did train," I said.

He nodded half-heartedly. "But not enough."

"Not enough," Mira repeated. "Damn it."

There were no jokes. No asking Chase on a date to cheer her up, or that sarcasm we'd learned to know her for.

Nothing.

She was just genuinely disappointed.



"Okay," Denzel sighed. "I'm ready… I think. I'm nervous. Do you think we should maybe only have Sylvi out for this—"

"Dude, no," I interrupted. "This problem relates to your entire team, and we've already said they'd be here."

Denzel's face and shoulders tightened. We had decided to do this on the isolated patch of beach I'd found in case things got bad. Sylveon was in a very volatile emotional state, so we weren't going to take any risks and Alakazam and Gardevoir were still getting fixed up at the Pokemon Center. My nose tingled at the salty smell of the ocean and the sound of waves crashing against the sand was constant, but somewhat reassuring. The sun was a semi-circle just above the horizon and the entire sea shone with a bright orange.

"Remember, I'm here no matter what," I reassured him. "You can count on me to help."

"Okay. Thank you," he said. "You're a great friend."

Denzel released his Pokemon one by one. Swablu scowled at me before settling on her trainer's head. Since she was the newest member of his team, she was the one I understood the least, but that was fine. If I really needed help translating, I'd just go through another Pokemon. Roserade immediately tensed, her roses bristling in the evening wind. Milotic appeared closer to the sea, and the waves brushed up against his scales. The sheer anxiety bleeding off his body was palpable, and he coiled up while he waited, comforting himself with the water's touch. Froslass was focused. Not once did she blink in and out of existence, nor did she spread frost around her. Lopunny slapped her cheeks and nodded pumping herself up and her team with encouraging words.

They had all been forewarned as soon as they'd been out of the Pokemon Center.

I released Princess as well, because she was Sylveon's best and possibly only friend outside of his team. She'd gotten much better at hovering, and she instantly started twirling in the air to practice her balance. Princess knew what was coming, but she always spent every minute out of her Pokeball practicing. She hadn't sculpted anything or worked on her moves in days.

"Now, I'm going to serve primarily as a translator, but I only have one mouth, so try to speak one at a time so I can relay to Denzel," I said. Lopunny's grammar still wasn't good enough for text-to-speech and it would be quicker this way. "I'll be a neutral observer too."

"Before we start I want to… I want to apologize to you guys," Denzel spoke up. He hesitated, picking up Swablu into his arms. The flying type didn't nip his fingers like she used to. "I've neglected the problems brewing in the team and for that, I'm sorry."

Denzel was almost always cheerful, so seeing him like this hurt. He was nervous, but he tried to appear confident and smiled for his team. Here was possibly the hardest worker of our entire group. He juggled so many aspects of life that I had no idea how he handled everything at once.

"Here goes nothing— and be calm, okay?" Denzel said.

Sylveon appeared in a flash of red and eyed all of us— at first, with cheerfulness. I supposed it wasn't often that he got Denzel alone to himself at this time of day, since he usually hung out with Emi and Pauline this late in the evening or was streaming, or marketing, or speaking with his sponsors, or…

There was so much.

"Sylvi," Denzel said as he crouched next to the fairy type. "We need to talk about you and me."

Immediately, I felt the dread leaking out of Sylveon. And yet his face stayed the exact same. He smiled, nodding at Denzel. If I hadn't become an empath, would I have been able to tell he feared what was to come? No. And herein lay the problem. Sylveon had gotten so good at tricking his team and Denzel, pretending that everything was fine. If we hadn't decided to speak to him now, who knew what would have happened when he couldn't handle the pressure any longer?

"It's come to my attention that you've tried to ruin my relationship with Emilia and Pauline."

Sylveon's feelers tensed. Now that the confrontation was in full swing, he wouldn't be able to hide any longer. The fairy type was good at hiding his true feelings, but not that good. He shot Lopunny and I dirty looks—

"No. Look at me," Denzel said. His tone was gentle, yet firm. "That's not okay, Sylveon. You can't just meddle in things like that."

The fairy type spoke up for the first time.

"He wants to speak alone," I translated before shaking my head. He probably thought he'd be able to salvage things if it was only him and Denzel.

"No, Sylvi. We're doing this together. All of us. And we won't leave this beach until we've made up."

Sylveon's lips quivered, and he cried out in protest. Denzel's entire team had different reactions. Swablu huffed and I was pretty sure she threw out an insult his way. Milotic profusely apologized, bowing his head over and over but said that this was for the good of the team. Froslass silently agreed as she drifted in the wind. Roserade sat on the sand and closed her eyes, her head hanging low with disappointment. Lopunny told Sylveon that this was for his own good.

"He called them traitors," I relayed. "I don't think he means it."

Sylveon barked at me and told me to shut up. Princess' eyes narrowed and she landed on the beach, glaring at him.

"Stop it," Denzel said. "Just stop. You've been found out. You can't wriggle your way out of this. It's over."

The fairy type took a step back, and for a second, I thought he'd run. He didn't. Instead, he teared up and sobbed. Princess' look softened and she floated over, patting him on the head with a wing.

We let him cry for a while. It would do no good to strike at him while he was at his weakest emotionally. His ribbons drooped to the ground and swayed in the sand and his tears glimmered pink in the setting sun. No one dared to approach, even if Milotic clearly wanted to. Consequences, I thought. Harsh, but unfortunately fair. Better it happen now than when irreparable damage had been done.

After a few minutes, Sylveon was tapped out of tears. He resigned to his fate and waited for Denzel to speak.

"First, I want to ask you. Why?" My best friend asked. "Why do this?"

Sylveon sighed in defeat, but he didn't resist. He explained himself, calling Pauline and Emilia all kinds of names in the process. I opted to glance over those details.

"He says you've been spending no time with him and all of your time with them," I said.

"That isn't true!" He exclaimed. "I make time for all of you— we spend time together every day for hours!"

I waited for the fairy type to speak again.

"It's gotten lower, that's his problem," I said. "And he thinks that if you start dating, it'll go down and down until he barely sees you any longer. He knows that Pauline doesn't like him and he thinks that she's trying to purposefully take you away."

Denzel exhaled, chewing on his next words. "Sylveon. You've been such a big part of my life— and things won't change if I start dating anyone."

The fairy shook his head.

"It's always been you and him. He didn't mind when you were just friends with others. You never spent as much time with friends as you do with them. Now he thinks he'll disappear and become irrelevant," I translated.

Roserade spoke up for the first time and shrugged.

"She says Sylveon is being extra and that this isn't like him. That you should be allowed to do whatever you want and that no neglect has come her way or the way of your team."

The fairy type tried to pretend like he ignored the comment, but I could tell he'd felt emotional pain. Roserade— Denzel's oldest, first teammate that he'd caught had just spoken out against him. When I told Denzel what had been said, he raised a hand.

"Don't make it so personal," he tried, but the grass type spoke over him and said that this was personal.

There were no more relationship games. It seemed that Sylveon's behavior these last few weeks had eroded Roserade's love for him so much that she felt no problem speaking out, and the poison type wasn't one to be gentle when she spoke. Milotic stammered out a few words to try to calm the situation down, but Denzel was the one who stopped the dispute.

"Look. In your ideal world, I know that I just give up and never see Emilia or Pauline ever again, but that's not possible. Even if this thing doesn't work out with them, then I'd like to stay friends," Denzel said. "And I won't be single forever, even without them."

Sylveon barked.

"One woman, he could maybe handle. That was a really shaky 'maybe'."

"So the number's the problem?" Denzel sighed. "I get it. I mean, it's kind of weird to me too, but it hasn't made me uncomfortable yet, at least."

Lopunny talked this time, and Sylveon nearly gasped in disbelief.

"She says she really likes Emilia and Pauline's company, and that they make her laugh," I said. "Froslass likes Pauline too, and Milotic likes Emi—"

The water type shrunk, retreating further into the water.

"Sylveon's the only one with the issue, and he'd like to figure out a way to fix things together."

"We all would," Denzel nodded. "Is there a— a compromise that can be reached, somehow?"

Sylveon laughed dryly.

"I'm serious," he said. "Let's communicate. We should have been doing this from the start. I don't want you to feel the need to hide things from me."

Milotic hesitantly murmured to Sylveon.

"Milotic's saying that Sylveon spending time with Pauline, Emilia and their Pokemon instead of always glaring at them could help—"

Sylveon pushed him away with his ribbons, and Denzel shot up.

"Hey! Relax, okay? No need for anything violent."

Milotic shrunk away, nearly crying as Froslass floated toward him. The ice type placed a cold hand on his head while Swablu landed on his back and chirped. I'd never heard the flying type be so comforting. Sylveon whispered an apology to Milotic, but no one bothered to listen.

He was losing all of his friends.

"Milotic's suggestion was good, but I'll throw in something else. I can't just ask you to give something. I'll give something away too. Now that we've got our badge and we're in a good spot money-wise, I'll take some time off streaming. What do you say?"

Sylveon blinked, and then turned his head.

"He's saying that things will just return to how they were as soon as they leave Sunyshore," I sighed.

This was difficult. Far harder than I thought it would be.

"Compromise is how we work through this," Denzel said. "Please. Give it a try."

Swablu squawked at Sylveon in agreement, saying that even if she thought Pauline and Emilia were dirty, she still wasn't demanding anything out of Denzel. Lopunny chimed in and said to just try and she swore that things would get better. Froslass tried to lift the mood with a joke, but I didn't hear the end of it before Roserade told him to stop being a baby and return to how he used to be.

He was always the same, I thought to myself. Just better at hiding it when Denzel wasn't in anything official. He had hid or dragged Denzel away while they trained on multiple occasions and despised any girl that looked to have feelings for him even if he didn't return them.

They all spoke as one, and Sylveon stepped back again, but he was cornered— Denzel approached him, walking on his knees since he'd been crouching. Sylveon screwed his eyes shut, closed his eyes and screamed to leave him alone

"Princess—"

The ribbons lashed out like whips in every direction. They cracked against the sand, Sylveon's own body and… Denzel's shoulder. I quickly dug through my backpack for a bandage while almost all of Sylveon's team jumped on him to restrain him from doing any more harm. Froslass raised her hand, and all of Sylveon's ribbons froze in place. Lopunny tackled the fairy and pinned him to the ground. Milotic wrapped around him and held him tight. Roserade watched and shook her head in disappointment, but Denzel called out to them and raised his arm.

The front of his shoulder had been branded red, and blood dripped onto the sand, both from Sylveon's ribbon and the gash in Denzel's skin. His face was pale and his breaths trembled, but he wasn't scared.

"Let him go," he winced. "Thank you for the help."

This time, Sylveon looked ready to run, but the guilt superseded his need to get out of there a thousand times. He cried, desperately apologizing for what he'd done.

"I know, Sylvi," Denzel said. He dragged the fairy type into his arms and brushed his fur. "I know."

I sighed in relief, but still whispered to Princess to stay ready. Her new form had made her instincts grow awkward. It was hard to instantly put up a barrier when she was spending so much of her brain power focused on floating. When they finished hugging, I patched Denzel up with a bandage around his armpit and shoulder. He'd have to go see a doctor as soon as possible. We all knew that he was only putting on a brave face. His paleness showed that he was in extreme pain right now.

"My offer's still on the table," Denzel said. "And tell you what, why don't I look into hiring a… uh, manager or something so I don't spend as much time working."

My eyes widened. "That's a great idea! If you had your own Melody, then you'd have so much more free time! They can help you with your online stuff too. Like, a secretary."

My friend took a bit to answer due to the pain in his shoulder, but he nodded. "Except that they'd be independent instead of bound to a single company."

"Coordinators do it all the time, no?"

"Well, not all the time… but Emi's been looking into them lately. I wasn't sure if I needed one before this, and it's kind of scary to give so much control away, but I'll do it—"

Sylveon shook his head. He was sobbing so uncontrollably that he was almost impossible to understand. Half of Denzel's shirt was soaked in tears.

"He says you don't have to change anything. And that he's sorry. Multiple times," I said.

Lashing out against Denzel had been as big of a wake-up-call as he could have gotten. He was ready to fold so easily now.

"No."

Denzel's team stared at him in silence. There was no sound but the sea brushing up against the sands and the cries of a flock of Wingull overhead.

"I'm the trainer. I am responsible for this," he said, touching his bandage. "I should have spotted that something was wrong. I should have done this much earlier before it blew up like it did. It was hard without understanding you all besides a few common words, but with Lopunny getting better at writing, I'll hope that if you have a complaint— any of you," he paused and looked at every teammate. "That you'll have her tell me. No matter what it is. And Lopunny, I trust you to actually tell me the problem this time. Okay?"

The normal type nodded, apologizing for keeping this hidden from him for so long. She teared up and began to blame herself, and Roserade tapped her on the back. The grass type might have been a thorny flower, but she loved her team all the same.

They all did.

In the end, Sylveon agreed to try to spend more time with Pauline and Emi to learn to know them, and this time, it truly felt like there had been a breakthrough. Like it would turn for the better after so many months of burying the issue.

"Could you let us be for a bit," Denzel asked. "Just for ten minutes or so."

"Okay," I said. "Um, I'll be behind the rocks, okay? You really need to get to a Center."

"I will. Just… let us watch the sunset."

I dipped my head and called on Princess, who followed me without missing a beat.

"And Grace. Thanks for the help. For everything."

"I love you, you oaf," I smiled.

"I love you too."

Sylveon ended up falling asleep next to Denzel. He was emotionally and mentally exhausted, but my friend hadn't stopped saying how much Sylveon had apologized while he drowsed off. When we reached the Pokemon Center, he was taken into the human wing to get looked at by a doctor. I didn't really know the extent of the wound, but the sound the ribbon had made when touching Denzel's skin was still fresh in my mind. I hadn't known when I'd gotten tired either, but my bed seemed like the best thing in the world right now. I considered telling Pauline and Emilia about the intervention and Denzel's wound, but I decided against it. Denzel would prefer to tell them himself, and I doubted the doctors would keep him for long.

I spent around thirty minutes with Justin and Cecilia before heading off to sleep.

Princess really did make a good pillow.



As it turned out, Denzel's wound wasn't as bad as it looked when I had bandaged it, but his doctor had said that it would most likely leave a shallow scar on his shoulder. Even if he'd spoken to Emi and Pauline last night, I knew he had a lot to do and he'd be busy the next few days, so I only saw him once in the morning.

I would have slept in, but today was an important day. It was my first practical flying lesson with Princess, and if I was even more than five minutes late they'd give my spot to another trainer. I had passed my first test with flying colors, getting 95% because of some stupid nightlight question I had gotten wrong. They had to be attached to the Pokemon, not the trainer, although putting some on both was common. It was the best way to avoid collisions mid-air in the dead of night.

The closer I got to Flight School, the more excited I got and the more my tiredness melted away. I ran toward the courtyard, which was currently only occupied by my apparent teacher and ten other students. Far fewer than had been in my theoretical classes, but that was probably because she needed to focus on us individually. She was a tall-looking woman with a towering Staraptor standing next to her with a saddle already on his back.

As soon as the clock struck ten in the morning, our instructor started to speak.

"Good morning, aspiring fliers!" She smiled. "My name is Coraline Herrera, but you can call me Coral or Ms. Coral, if you want to be formal. Today's your first day actually flying. How are you all feeling?"

Excited cheers ran through all of us, and I would have been lying if I hadn't yelled too. Who wouldn't be excited at the prospect of flying?

"Excellent! Now, the first step is actually the most important— you always need to check with your Pokemon before you fly. If they're feeling tired, angered, or emotional in general, accidents may happen…"

I internally groaned. Procedure again? I wanted to get in the sky already! After she rambled for at least five minutes, she continued.

"Next up, this is the 'bird' body type class, so you'll be able to pick up your saddles over here on the hanger," she said, pointing toward the edge of the courtyard. "When you've got them, release your Pokemon and I'll teach you how to put on your saddle on each of them. Even with the same body type, every Pokemon species is different! I already see some of you rolling your eyes. For the people who swear they won't need a saddle, you'll be learning how to ride with one in my class. If that bothers you, you're free to leave."

Her amusing demeanor disappeared in an instant. Ms. Coral took flying very seriously.

I grabbed the saddle (which looked a lot bigger from up close, but they were all foldable to fit in bags, just like the one I'd buy), and we all released our Pokemon. Two Pidgeot, another two Staraptor, a Corviknight, two Unfeazant, a Talonflame way bigger than Cece's, a Bombirdier, and a Swanna. I released Princess, who looked uncomfortable in front of all of these new faces, but she puffed up her chest and closed her eyes to show off.

As it turned out, putting on a saddle was a lot more difficult than I thought it was, and I was the only one with the problem. Everyone else had finished in a flash, and Ms. Coral had to help me buckle the straps around Princess' wings. I swallowed the embarrassment and listened to our instructor tell us about making sure the saddle wasn't loose anywhere by having our Pokemon move around to check, and maybe even take a small test flight for a few seconds.

Then, we put on our eye goggles, and she told us to always wear them just to stay safe. There were a few stories about trainers getting their eyes hurt, or even worse, injured from getting stuff in there while they flew.

But at last, we actually mounted on our fliers. I felt goosebumps on my arms as soon as I stepped on Princess' back. I strapped a belt around my legs and waist to keep me from falling over.

"It's up to you now, young trainers!" The instructor cheered as she got on her Staraptor. The flying type flapped his wings and slowly rose up into the air. "You know your Pokemon better than I! We'll do a loop around the courtyard at first. Follow me!"

I was amongst the last to rise, mostly because Princess was incredibly nervous she'd drop me. Her wings trembled and the little crown on her head twitched.

"We'll be okay," I softly said, petting her head. "Just relax. Act like I'm not here."

I froze up when the air around her swirled, and she floated up— just a few feet at first. Then, she rose far above the courtyard and joined Ms. Coral in the skies.

The ocean lay in front of me in all of its glory, and for the first time, it did not feel like an insurmountable barrier any longer, despite how foolish that thought was. The Lily of the Valley island sat there, imposing as always. I adjusted my goggles and gasped, in awe of everything.

My feet dangled in the air, and a cold brush of wind blew past me.

I was in the sky.

We were flying!

"You're doing great, Princess," I said, leaning in toward her ears. She chirped in response as we followed Ms. Coral around the courtyard.

Everything felt so freeing, as if I had wings of my own. For an instant, I wanted nothing more than to tell Princess to speed up and fly away to anywhere we wanted, but I was sure she'd disagree even harder than Coraline would. This was how people that flew felt every time? How liberating! I wanted to scream for joy. My bindings had been smashed and I could finally be free. I giggled as I caressed Princess' head. She was starting to get into it and have fun too, and she was even speeding up at times.

To hear the wind whistling past my ears when she'd be able to go faster… I couldn't wait.

"This could get addicting," I told her.

Unfortunately, the lesson only lasted two hours. We learned how to handle ourselves on a saddle (and I learned that sitting on that saddle design for two hours straight hurt my back), how to handle sharp turns, all kinds of landings, and we even had a few of our Pokemon use attacks while we were flying on them. Aerial battles are a skill that every trainer with a license needs to know, she had said. I understood completely. Craig had told me that he often got attacked on Roxie's back when he flew near Mount Coronet.

I stretched as Princess hovered over me next to the bus stop.

"That was fun, wasn't it? I wish we could take another class right now."

The fairy type chirped, but she said that I'd need to watch my back.

"I'm alright! Now that I walked around for a bit, it's feeling really good. We might have to take breaks during extended flights, but that'll be fine."

Princess nodded and wondered if she'd be able to sculpt while flying any time soon to pass the time.

"Let's not get too ahead of ourselves," I laughed. "But maybe one day."

We waited in silence for a few minutes, and she was such a baby that she landed in my arms. The hold was extremely unsteady and awkward, but she was only eighty pounds. I had to recall her when we got on the bus.

All of my goals for after the seventh badge were now within reach. First, I'd head to Lake Verity to talk to Mesprit. Then, I'd loop around and visit my dad for a day or two in Jubilife… maybe I'd see my mom in Twinleaf too and visit Denzel's parents, come to think of it. Then I'd go to the Lost Tower to speak to Ruth and Mathilda about finding Honey's old parents, visit Bellatrix and Night with the paint and books I promised to buy, and finally, I would enter the ruins on route 210 to find a Claydol before flying back toward Canalave.

Had I been on foot, this would have taken months. With Princess? I could be on the other end of Sinnoh in days.

And I would do it all on my own. I had never traveled for that long without my friends, so it would be a new and unique experience, if anything.

Oh, and I also had something else to ask Ruth and Mathilda.

Was truly killing a ghost possible? Mars' Dusknoir flashed in my mind, and I shuddered as I sank into my bus seat.

And what would I feel if I looked at him again now that my gift was fully developed?

Questions for later.



When I entered the Center, I thought nothing would be able to sour my mood after having flown on Princess for the first time, but I was evidently wrong. Cecilia sat at her desk with Louis, leaning against her hands with her phone next to her. Not crying. Something worse. Her fingers tightened, interlocking with each other and her breath was perfectly steady. She was quiet, and Louis breathed a sigh of relief when he saw me enter. Cecilia was like ice. Unmoving, just thinking to herself about whatever had happened. Even my presence didn't soothe her. There was no immediate beaming smile or soft greeting. There was only a terrifying silence I had never seen from her before.

It was rage.

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Chapter 241
CHAPTER 241

"What's wrong?" I immediately asked. "What happened?"

Cecilia's hands clenched around the desk, and Louis took a step back, almost like he was scared of her.

"I just got off the phone with the Champion," she explained. Her voice was perfectly still, and yet I couldn't help but notice the rageful feeling hidden deep within. "Clarence will be freed and sent back to Unova."

The information dropped on me like a ton of bricks, and my eyes widened. "No."

"Yes. Tomorrow, he will be put on a nice, private plane and go back home, and there is nothing we can do about it."

"Why?!" I yelled. "That's fucking bullshit!"

"Politics," Louis said. "Galar is leading the charge against Sinnoh and is implementing sanctions, and Unova would have followed had Cynthia not used Clarence as a political bargain—"

Louis' words died in his mouth when Cecilia drummed her fingers against the table.

"After everything he's done," she said. "He doesn't even get a slap on the wrist. The deal is already finalized."

"They won't do anything to him in Unova?"

Cecilia chuckled dryly. "In Unova? He's a king there, Grace," she said in a forceful tone. "I always knew that there was rot beneath Unova, but I was too naive to think that it wouldn't spread here. The world is more connected than it's ever been."

"Rot?"

"Mark is a spineless coward," Cecilia hissed, her voice full of venom. "You don't know how Unova's run, Grace. Let me explain."

She turned her seat toward me, her face still perfectly still. "The Championship is fake."

Louis scoffed. "It's not fake—"

"Louis."

The blond teenager froze up and bit his lip.

"The Championship is fake," she repeated, "and so is the Elite Four and parliament. No matter what political party you're a part of, you're beholden to the five conglomerates that actually rule the country. X Technologies, the Obel Energy Company, Avalon, Crescent Global, and the Opelucid Group. Together, these five companies account for 57% of our GDP."

X Tech, I internally muttered. Melody had spoken to me about them. They were most known for the Xtransceiver, but they delved into a lot more than Poketch did.

"Uh, is that a lot?" I asked.

"Grace, it's fucking enormous," she sighed. "Do you understand, now? They control everything. Politicians, the media, the Elite Four, and even my dear brother," she continued through clenched teeth. "Every child dreams of working at one of these five companies when they grow up. Even trainers dream of being sponsored by one of them. They're ingrained in every part of our culture."

"Ah. So what you're implying is that they got together and put pressure on Mark to free Clarence."

"I am not implying, I am saying," she forced. "I thought I could fix Unova from the inside, but the entire system needs to be blown up to smithereens and be rebuilt anew."

"You still plan on going?" Louis muttered.

"What? You want me to run? I've had enough of running," she declared. "I will be treated like a pariah. Now that tensions are rising, my closeness to Sinnoh will make me a target if I ever get anywhere close to the Conference there."

"Can't you call Cynthia? Get her to try to… negotiate, maybe?" Louis asked.

Cecilia chuckled, and I smiled wryly.

"You're too nice for your own good, Louis," Cece said. "Nothing can be done."

She clenched at her clothes, and I placed a hand on her back.

"So much abuse, and he gets nothing," she muttered, her voice finally breaking. "Nothing."

"We'll get him," I said. "I'll help you."

Something shifted in my head, and I reached an understanding.

Clarence was no longer paying for his crimes. Someone needed to fix it.

Some of Cecilia's rage was directed at Cynthia, but most of it was actually pointed at Mark. According to her, he had folded like a piece of paper and he was the worst Champion Unova could have, since he played into the hands of his 'owners' instead of actually fighting back. Apparently Galar was in a similar boat, although it was less an equal oligopoly (I had just learned that word today) and more like a hierarchy of companies with Macro Cosmos sitting at the top. Macro Cosmos handled everything in Galar, so much so that it was omnipresent. Technology, transport, media, the internet, construction, insurance, banking, energy… the list went on and on.

And Unova was just a different side of the same coin.

I didn't understand much of it, but it kind of sounded to me like they were just like a… whitewashed version of Kanto-Johto.

Cynthia had promised Cecilia a favor, but she had refused as strongly as humanly possible. Cecilia understood that Cynthia had done this to protect Sinnoh's interest, but that didn't mean she wouldn't be angry. She wanted nothing to do with the Champion, and she would want nothing to do with her until she needed to catch her Spiritomb or Team Galactic struck.

I just hoped this wouldn't impact her Gym Battle tomorrow.

When Louis left, Cecilia exhaled like the world was weighing down on her.

"Do you know what my first reaction to the news was?" She asked with tired eyes. I shook my head. "It was to use the Voice, Grace. To somehow force things to go my way."

"Well—"

"And it would be so easy," she interrupted. "So, so, easy. But I must not succumb to temptation. These powers are… a slippery slope. If anything happened to Clarence, then Sinnoh would reach the brink, and Team Galactic would take advantage. Things are never as simple as they seem."

I paused. "You're a good person, Cece. Just because you thought about it doesn't mean that you'd actually do it."

She tapped a finger against the table. "I don't know."

There wasn't much left to be said. Cecilia ended up sleeping alone that night.



Cecilia's anger had not subsided. It had carried over, magnified, twisted so much that I couldn't recognize her. I had seen her angry a few times, but never to such an extent. She was not one to scream in anger like I was. Instead, she would silently glare at you, pick you apart with words until you gave up or she won the argument by stepping all over you. Except that there was no argument to be won this time. Cynthia had made a decision, and it would be done no matter how much we pleaded. I wasn't one to understand politics. I didn't even know what sanctions were. Denzel had told me that tensions between the 'east' and the 'west' were growing a few months ago, but anytime he opened his mouth about politics I just started to snore.

Either way, none of that mattered now. Her Gym battle was finally starting. Cecilia had come dressed looking her best. Makeup dusted every inch of her face, and she wore a vibrant, high waisted yellow skirt that made her flawless dark skin pop, and a brown belt tied around a tucked pale blue chambray shirt.

Cecilia glared at Volkner when he approached the podium. He was just another outlet for her cold, calculated rage. Her battle would be the usual five-on-five with three switches allowed. Her first Pokemon materialized inside of the arena, the red light growing and growing until it reached thirteen feet tall. Lehmhart hummed, releasing vapor through every crack in his body as his eyes slowly lit up. She was starting strong, I thought. Volkner released a Heliolisk— one of the Pokemon I'd studied the most.

"Begin!" The referee yelled, slashing down with her arm.

"Sunny Day," Volkner said.

Heliolisk's frilled neck fanned out, and a second sun appeared in the sky. A Solar Beam was obviously next, but Cecilia swept her arm.

"Resonance and Hammer Arm."

Her tone was firm, resolute, and anything but loud. Lehmhart sang— a cacophony of sounds from machinery, to beeping, to hums, but there was also a melody there. A joyous one. He had gotten far better at playing music. The pulse of ghost type energy passed through Heliolisk, dispelling the huge glob of sunlight that had been charging in his mouth.

Golurk raised a glowing fist, and the world held its breath. No, it flinched.

Impact. The entire Gym quite literally vibrated at once as pure destruction was unleashed onto the field, and the referee blanched, calling for a second Kadabra.

Boulders exploded upward like shrapnel, and the arena split down the middle, opening up a huge crevasse and threatening to sink Heliolisk. A hole opened in Lehmhart's arm, and steam hissed out of it as if he needed to release the extra heat his punch had generated. The electric type was just recovering from Resonance, and he crawled up the walls with surprising dexterity.

"Shadow Punch."

Golurk brought up his other arm, and something snapped. A jet of powerful flames erupted around the arm, and half of it detached itself. The purple arm flew at full speed toward Heliolisk, golden flames and shadows mixing as one.

"Dragon Tail," Volkner said.

"Phantom Force. Crush him."

Heliolisk crawled over the chasm, and a blue light overtook his tail. He waited for the exact right time and slammed it against the flying Shadow Punch. The two stayed frozen there for a second as the electric type screeched to deflect the attack, but Lehmhart disappearing meant that he had other worries. His music cut off as soon as he slipped into the shadows like someone had forcefully pulled out or unplugged my headphones.

With a high-pitched roar, Heliolisk redirected the Shadow Punch toward the barrier, and the attack blew up with a deafening boom accompanied by echoing screams of spirits.

"Sweep the arena with Solar Beam," Volkner ordered.

Globs of light materialized in front of Heliolisk's opened maw, and he hit the entire width of the arena. The beam left behind a trail of destruction and explosions, and it did hit Lehmhart. The ground type reappeared right above Heliolisk, crawling on all fours as his eyes sputtered. His arm independently flew back toward him, but Volkner immediately struck.

"Change of plans. Climb on him and strike from there."

"Scorching Sands and Stomping Tantrum."

The ground around Lehmhart turned to quicksand that burned at Heliolisk's feet. The normal type screeched as sand clung to his body like it had a mind of its own, but Lehmhart kept up the pressure. Still on all fours, he stomped his knee against the ground, creating a massive earthquake that broke the entire arena apart. Heliolisk blurred with a Quick Attack to prevent as much damage as possible and began to climb on Lehmhart's arm, but multiple Shadow Balls appeared all along his limb to stop the normal type's climb. Ghostly strings kept them attached to his arm, but they always rushed toward Heliolisk as soon as Lehmhart let them loose. The electric type weaved in between the first two, but the next three slammed into his chest, head and brushed his arm.

But he had his Solar Beam ready.

Lehmhart's song reached a crescendo, and this time his entire arm rumbled. Volkner grinned, and Heliolisk spat out a Solar Beam that was way larger than anything Angel could muster. Golurk's left arm flew out like a rocket, propelled both by the Solar Beam and whatever powered Lehmhart, and it smashed into the barrier. The entire structure shimmered, and the crowd gasped, but the barrier held. The sheer force of the impact interrupted Heliolisk's solar beam, and Lehmhart rose back on his feet.

"Swallow him up. Crush him. I don't care."

The electric type attempted to get up, but more Scorching Sands appeared below him and clung to his skin, covering him in burns and wrapping around him like ropes. Lehmhart's detached arm convulsed for an instant, and then the hand snapped around Heliolisk, squeezing him like a grape until he fainted.

Volkner recalled the normal type and nodded to himself as the sun slowly petered out. The entire arena was a mess of ravines, uprooted mountains, ridges and hundreds of boulders. I trusted that Slowking would be able to work something out despite his lack of mobility, and Talonflame and Scyther could fly.

But Zweilous? He'd be screwed in such an environment, unable to move anywhere. Golurk's arm clicked back into its socket, and his music intensified. Even with the microphones, it was difficult to hear what Volkner and Cecilia were saying from up here.

The Gym Leader sent out his Lanturn next, the same he'd used against me. Lanturn spat out water until—

"Resonance and Hammer Arm," Cecilia said.

Before Lanturn could even start to float in the sky, another pulse of ghostly energy washed over the entire field. The water type froze, water still dripping from his mouth and Lehmhart only had to take three steps to get close enough to punch. Every time he put everything he had into an attack, the world stood still—

Volkner recalled Lanturn.

The fight hadn't even begun, and he'd been forced to get him out of harm's way. One Hammer Arm to the electric type's body, and he might have even been out for the count. If I had to guess, Volkner probably thought that Resonance had been a one-time attack or that it would weaken with subsequent uses, and it would, just after being used twice on the same Pokemon. The Gym Leader settled on Magnezone instead, and he ordered him to get as high as possible as soon as he got on the field.

"Resonance and Shadow Balls."

The same, eerie aura passed through Magnezone, but he was high enough to be out of reach from any of Golurk's most powerful attacks. Instead, a flurry of Shadow Balls slammed into his metallic shell, and he dodged the next volley with relative ease.

"Use Flash Cannon repeatedly."

No need for Lock On when Lehmhart was so big, I thought to myself. Magnezone summoned two balls of white light in front of his magnets, and both turned into thick lasers that cut across Lehmhart's chest. The ghost type's eyes dimmed as smoke emanated from his wounds, and he yelled out in song. Cecilia ordered Golurk to send his fist flying another time, but Magnezone shot it out of the sky with Flash Cannon and moved out of the way. After another two beams slammed into Golurk and made the golem stagger, Cecilia recalled him.

Talonflame was next. She released the fire type into the sky, and she was undisturbed by any damage the arena had taken. Talonflame spread her wings and sized up Magnezone, her eyes narrowing at him. An Electric Terrain snapped into place, but Talonflame wasn't as frail as she used to be. It would hurt, but it would not be enough to bring her down.

"Lock On and Thunder."

Already, Talonflame had begun setting up. No longer did she use a simple Tailwind. The wind was hers, and it would blow at her back wherever she went. Flames appeared around the flying type as she blurred with a Flame Charge and a Quick Attack to further boost her speed, and the air around her warped when she finally added Agility to the mix.

Thunder cracked, flying out of Magnezone's magnets, and it missed when Talonflame flattened her wings and dove closer to the ground. Instead of hitting the barrier, the attack unnaturally twisted and followed Talonflame. She was quick, but Thunder was catching up. Every time Talonflame flapped her wings, hot air descended onto the field. The Heat Wave would prove too much for Magnezone if Cecilia bought enough time, but two Thunders would be enough to take down Talonflame.

"Flare Blitz," Cecilia snapped.

Talonflame screeched, and she made a sharp turn toward Magnezone.

"Thunderbolt—"

Before Volkner could even finish his command, the fire type crashed into Magnezone at full speed and they both tumbled to the ground like a huge fireball. The full force of the Heat Wave followed next, because she was so quick that she was faster than her own attack. The Thunder curved downward and barrelled toward Talonflame, hitting her right in the back. The flying type and Magnezone landed on the ground with a loud crash, but the flames never left Talonflame's body. Magnezone's head had a disturbingly large dent, and some of the metal had begun to melt and fuse together in a horribly wrong fashion, twisting and continuously melding together. Electricity around Magnezone's magnets winked out of existence, and the steel type fainted. Even if Talonflame wasn't in any state to battle, she'd gotten one of Volkner's Pokemon out of the way.

Clean and efficient, I noted. A play to allow Golurk better matchups. Lehmhart was the lynchpin of Cecilia's entire strategy, and it seemed that she didn't mind making sacrificial plays to give him better prospects. Volkner sent out his Lanturn again, who was pissed that he'd been recalled so quickly. The water type summoned a thunderous storm and began to float using hydrokinesis and an Aqua Ring shimmered in his bubble.

Talonflame flapped her wings, but she'd been too hurt to fly up and even the subsequent Heat Wave was weakened. Lanturn smirked when a few clouds of vapor rose from his bubble and finished her off with a quick Water Pulse.

Cecilia opted to release Scyther next. The bug type screeched, fanning his wings and sharpening his blades against themselves while Lanturn looked down on him. He'd already felt Golurk's resonance once, so a flier like Scyther was the best way to take him down, especially when he stayed so high up in the sky.

"Rain Dance," Volkner said.

Lanturn's light shone, and clouds gathered right above him, spreading throughout the entire field. Droplets of rain started to fall, and soon the whole arena would be flooded.

"Night Slash. Cut him off," Cecilia ordered.

Agility and Quick Attack were left unsaid. Scyther broke into a run, hovering in the air with each jump with his wings. He jumped over a ravine and flew up toward Lanturn, his scythes wreathed in darkness.

"Thunderbolt."

Scyther couldn't do much to dodge with the Rain Dance here to power up Lanturn's attacks, and the electricity slammed into his chest. He grunted, his wings faltering for a second, but then he slashed across the air. Darkness blurred toward Lanturn and cut across his flank. It was void given the form of an Air Slash. The wound stuck, leaking dark type energy and blood like a sieve. The rain immediately weakened, and the electricity in Lanturn's bubble died out. Even his hydrokinesis began to falter, and the water type lost altitude at an alarming rate.

"Signal Beam," Volkner quickly spoke.

Lanturn's light shone, emitting a neon green light that Scyther narrowly dodged. The bug type sliced Lanturn's forehead with an X-Scissor and he didn't stop. Slash, Night Slash, Air Slash— he savaged Lanturn until Volkner decided to recall him. Scyther let out a taunting screech and landed on top of a small hill. Scyther was still frail, but the sheer brutality he brought to the table couldn't be ignored. One Night Slash was all it took, although I knew dark TE was not infallible as Signal Beam had shown.

"Focus, please," Cecilia said.

The bug type shrugged, but he listened, squaring himself for his next opponent.

A Vikavolt spread and fanned her wings with a loud buzz, her body chock-full of electricity. The air hummed, and electricity began to spread, striking Scyther at regular intervals. Vikavolt took to the air and instantly flew with a burst of speed, just like Chase's own Vikavolt, only slightly slower.

"You know what to do," my girlfriend spoke.

Scyther bared his sharp teeth and sped upwards, challenging Vikavolt with a taunting cry.

"Don't get close and Thunderbolt," Volkner said.

Scyther was faster than Vikavolt, but any time he got close or he struck her with Night Slash, she would fly off with a burst of speed and hit him with Thunderbolt. Vikavolt didn't even have to turn to use the move in the right direction. Cecilia frowned, and she decided to switch up tactics.

"Razor Wind."

A bubble of air sharpened around Vikavolt and sliced her up before she could blur away with another explosion of electricity. The electric type screeched, her pincers clicking in irritation, but as it stood, she would easily win long-term. Volkner had other plans, however.

"Vise Grip."

Vikavolt turned in a way that seemed impossible to the naked eye. It was so sharp that her entire body jerked unnaturally and in a split second, she was facing Scyther. The flying type screeched, coating his arms in darkness, but another burst of speed took him off-guard and Vikavolt's powerful jaws snapped around his exoskeleton, pinning his scythes against his waist in the process. Volkner cracked a finger and told Vikavolt to finish Scyther off.

Cecilia could have switched at this point, but she opted not to. Golurk was her key to winning, as morbid as it was. Scyther had been at a disadvantage from the beginning and he'd done very well. Vikavolt fried Scyther with electricity and dropped him on the ground.

Cecilia thanked the bug type, recalling him into his Pokeball. Golurk would be a terrible matchup with a Pokemon with quick bursts of speed like Vikavolt, so she decided to use Slowking instead. The psychic would essentially force Vikavolt into staying far away, but how would he actually strike her? The Electric Terrain was already hurting him, and he couldn't really move around this destroyed arena.

Volkner ordered a Thunderbolt, and Slowking raised a hand. A barrier instantly shimmered— no, it was three barriers. Layers. The empowered Thunderbolt broke through the first, but the second only strained against the electric energy. Even Volkner seemed surprised at that. Alakazam had told me that layered barriers were an advanced concept.

All this time, Slowking had created barriers for us to train, and he was putting the experience to good use.

"Thunder," he said.

Vikavolt hovered high in the air, and a blinding light overtook her. Electricity crackled, bearing down on Slowking like a hammer. All of the layers shattered, but the attack was weakened enough to leave the psychic type standing. Each had taken just a little bit more time to break.

"Again," Volkner said.

"Water Cutter!"

Vikavolt needed to sit still to charge up a Thunder, and Cecilia used it to her advantage. The tiny laser-like jet of water dented Vikavolt's exoskeleton and stabbed into her like a knife. The move's force threw off her aim, and the bug type opted to let the move loose now rather than miss. The world screamed, and Slowking grunted as another Thunder struck him.

"Power Gem!" Cecilia swept her arm.

Five— twelve— dozens of rocks that had been unearthed by Golurk floated around Slowking like moons around a planet as his eyes shone. Light enveloped each of them, and they turned into lasers. Beams of light that Slowking could aim wherever he pleased. Vikavolt screeched, dodging with another explosion of speed and leaving a trail of electricity behind her, but Slowking was micromanaging so many. Eight beams were continuously following her while the remainder tried to corner and hit her wherever she flew. Smoke emanated from Vikavolt every time the Power Gem hit due to the sheer heat from the attack, leaving red blotches on her exoskeleton.

Volkner switched to Bug Buzz and Thunderbolts instead of Thunder. Slowking could only keep one barrier going with so much focus, so Thunderbolt broke his barrier apart and Bug Buzz's green hue would sneak inside. The lasers veered off course, as if Slowking's brain had been scrambled.

"Thunder."

Cecilia inhaled sharply, switching Slowking out before the beam of electricity could hit. Had a bug type move just broken his focus? I'd never seen that before, but I had also rarely seen a bug type move hit a psychic type in my short career, let alone a bug type of this level.

Zweilous announced their presence with two twin roars. They'd grown since their last Gym Battle and grown a foot since their evolution in Snowpoint, and yet there was much more progress to be made before they evolved. Cecilia snapped her fingers to get their attention. They'd been released on a heightened platform, and they wouldn't be able to leave it without tumbling and leaving themselves open to attack.

"Nasty Plot and Hyper Voice! Dark and dragon!"

Volkner's eye twitched. "Cut in and X-Scissor."

He couldn't dodge sound, so the best move was to hit before they even started yelling. A thin, dark aura surrounded the dragon and their breaths grew quicker and quicker. Drool fell onto the ground and both heads froze as Vikavolt blurred toward them.

Then, they screamed.

I could see the sound travel and bounce through the arena. One, full of darkness and the other full of draconic energy. The two Hyper Voices intercepted and mixed into a blue that was almost pitch black. Vikavolt cried out in pain, but the momentum was already there. She crashed into Zweilous, her mouth snapping around Sol's neck.

"Dragon Rush, Zerst," Cecilia said.

Zerst's head glowed blue, and he swung himself at Vikavolt as much as he could. The bug type's jaw was locked onto Sol. Her saw-like pincers had punctured his scales and blood started to leak out of his neck. Volkner squinted, but he didn't switch. Instead, he had Vikavolt use Bug Buzz.

I understood his plan at that moment. Take down one head, and see how she reacts. Sol hadn't fainted, but he was incredibly wounded. His flesh had been serrated. Vikavolt had fainted with her jaw still locked around his neck.

Volkner's next Pokemon was an Ampharos, and he was finally locked into his five choices for the battle. The floor under the electric type's feet rumbled, and electricity rose through every inch. Not Rising Voltage. It was Static Terrain. Zweilous' movements grew sluggish and their heads jerked around at random intervals.

"Hyper Voice again," Cecilia said.

Best use an attack where they don't need to aim, I nodded. Zerst screamed at full force, but Sol was barely conscious and the attack was just normal this time. Ampharos bleated, wincing at the pain. Had this been Zachary's Ampharos, he probably would have ordered him to cover his ears with cotton. Instead, Volkner did this.

"Dragon Pulse. Aim at the screaming head."

Cecilia's eyes widened, and Ampharos gathered the draconic energy in his mouth. With a soft scream, he let loose the attack.

"Counter with Dragon Pulse!" Cecilia yelled.

Even alone, Zerst was powerful enough to stop the attack. His Dragon Pulse overtook Ampharos'—

And it cut off when a bit of Static caused him to freeze up.

Ampharos' Dragon Pulse slammed into Zweilous at full force, finally fainting the half-conscious Sol and greatly hurting Zerst since the attack had been focused on him. Cecilia ordered the dragon type to keep using Hyper Voice until Ampharos finished him off with three other Dragon Pulses.

Cecilia recalled Zweilous. Volkner's sacrifice play had worked. Together, they would have easily beat Ampharos, but one head? That wasn't enough. Cecilia released Golurk, and Volkner didn't even give him a chance to strike, using his last switch of the battle to get Lanturn back into the fight instead. Cecilia huffed and recalled Golurk. Slowking appeared in a flash of red and stared blankly.

It was almost comical, how they both desperately wanted to avoid bad matchups. Cecilia placed her hair behind an ear and pursed her lips. If she could knock out or weaken Lanturn with Slowking, then she would have the advantage. A normal Electric Terrain replaced the vicious Static Terrain, and Volkner again had the electric type use Rain Dance. Water already clung to the deepest crevices, but it hadn't particularly affected the field so far. Lanturn was still covered in cuts and deep gashes from Scyther's assault and blood and flesh seeped into his water bubble.

Slowking's barrier would protect him from the worst of the terrain, but Volkner wouldn't just be content to let it stand. A quick Thunder struck from the storm clouds and snapped Slowking's three layers. The psychic's body burned and smoked, but he raised a hand.

"Disable!" Cecilia yelled.

Slowking's eyes shone with a dull grey, and Lanturn glared. Now that Volkner was out of switches, he'd never be able to shake off the Disable. More Power Gems rose from the ground and all of the lights converged toward Lanturn, who exploded with a Discharge. It only stopped the first wave, however, and more struck him, turning his water bubble into vapor.

Electricity hummed around Lanturn, and he actually moved closer to Slowking, who raised a hand to ready himself to use Psychic, but Lanturn abruptly stopped. The electric type's light shone, and a Signal Beam broke through Slowking's barriers. Thunderbolts would never be enough, I realized. The psychic's eyes narrowed, and Lanturn immediately struck with a Thunderbolt.

"Avalanche!"

My eyes widened. Rain drops turned into huge spikes of ice that broke through Lanturn's bubble and penetrated his back. Candice had given us the move months ago, and yet only now had Cecilia taught it to Slowking. Lanturn screamed, and another bolt of electricity slammed into Slowking's chest. He was running on pure spite at this point.

"Keep up your barriers!" Cecilia snapped. "Power Gem!"

"Signal Beam."

The multicolored ray of light flew through the barrage of Power Gems, and both attacks hit their mark. Cece had absolutely no opening for Slack Off, and she knew it, so she decided to go for full-on offense. The two Pokemon kept exchanging blows, but Lanturn came out on top. There wasn't much Slowking could do when Signal Beam could tear through his barriers— not anywhere as good as dark type moves could, but still far better than Thunderbolt, and every time the barrier did break, another stream of electric energy would ransack through his body.

It was up to Lehmhart. The giant appeared on the field, which was now completely flooded. The waters only went up to his ankles, but he would have to watch his footing due to the red tint of the water from the iron particles swarming the liquid.

"Hydro Pump," Volkner said.

Resonance wouldn't work. Not when Lanturn had heard the music once before. Instead, Cecilia ordered the golem to use Phantom Force. Lehmhart slipped into the shadows, and I assumed the water passed through his invisible body— still dealing damage, but not actually pushing him back.

"Ice Punch," Cecilia continued.

Lanturn was already out of range, but that didn't matter. Lehmhart raised a fist, sending it flying toward Lanturn as soon as he reappeared. The ground type tripped and stumbled, landing with a deafening crash into the water due to the uneven terrain under his feet. Another Hydro Pump slammed against the icy fist, but the water froze upon contact and Lehmhart's fist broke apart the ice with the force from the jet-like propulsors in his arms.

The fist only clipped Lanturn, but that was enough to freeze his entire bubble. The electric type fell to the ground like a rock, plunging into the water. Lehmhart instantly fished for Lanturn and grabbed him with his huge hands as soon as his arm was back in place. He brought the water type up to his face, and began gathering a Shadow Ball.

The shadows grew. And grew. And grew. It was so big that Golurk had to extend his arm fully to not let the attack actually touch Lanturn's frozen body yet. Volkner had already grabbed the water type's Pokeball and waited, just in hopes that he would be able to unfreeze himself, but that didn't happen.

Instead, the Shadow Ball touched Lanturn at last, and purple smoke filled half of the arena. Volkner waited the full thirty seconds to let some of it dissipate and sent out Ampharos.

Static Terrain and any kind of electric tricks would be useless. The electric type was struggling to keep his head above the water and could barely swim as it was. Volkner had bet everything on Lanturn being able to beat Golurk, but it had not come to pass.

"Dragon Pulse," Volkner said.

"Grab them and finish them off," Cecilia said.

Golurk leaned forward, and a Dragon Pulse hit him in the chest. That was barely enough to hold him back for a few seconds. The ground type grabbed Ampharos and just squeezed.

The electric type fought back, but there was only so much he could do with that much of a size difference. He fainted after forty seconds, and Volkner recalled him.

Cecilia had won.



The days passed quickly after that. Everyone else won their Gym Badge— mostly because Volkner couldn't be bothered to actually battle them. The only one he'd fought by chance was Louis, and he netted a narrow win thanks to Ninetales pulling her weight. Vespiquen had barely fought in the battle, since Louis was still too scared of her killing a Pokemon, but I was sure that she would have made him win by a far wider margin. I finished getting my flying license, and I'd practiced flying with Princess every day since.

At last, however, the time had come.

It was time to pick up Honey from the Pokemon Center and evolve him.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Benjamin R, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Chester, Powernap
 
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Chapter 242 - Grit
CHAPTER 242 - Grit

"How're you feeling? Can you walk okay?"

Honey stretched an arm in front of me and grunted that I was worrying too much. His movements were slow and deliberate, as if he was scared of breaking something since Nurse Joy had told us numerous times that his bones were still in a fragile state. Volkner's Electivire had done a number on him, and all of that from one Hammer Arm. Honey jumped on my bed, after which I clamored at him not to in case he got himself injured again. He clung to the fabric like it was gold, and after a while, I broke into a smile. He was just happy to be back.

"I want to tell you again, you were amazing during the battle, Hon," I said, patting him on the back. "You used your last seconds of consciousness to use Discharge without even knowing if it would work out or not."

The electric type rolled onto his back and flashed his fangs, saying that everything paid off in the end.

"It did," I smiled. "And today's your big day. Volkner said to come at… five, since he'll be ending his shift early for this. We have a bunch of time to kill, so I have something to show you."

Honey raised a non-existent eyebrow.

"Trust me! Let's head to the beach, and we'll let your siblings out so you can say hello."

Honey hopped off the bed, and with every sudden movement, I felt my heart jump. He was thankfully fine and said I was worrying for nothing. All those times I'd told my father the same was now recontextualized in my brain and a creeping feeling of guilt crawled up my neck, but it was only short-lived. I locked my arm with Honey's and we decided to go to the beach by foot. The electric type had never really seen Sunyshore aside from the boardwalk and the street our Pokemon Center was in, so he was exploring it for the first time.

I noticed his eyes glance over a store— a book store, to be exact.

"Want some new books?" I asked. "You hate history."

Honey rolled his eyes, saying that there was more to reading than tiresome topics. He still couldn't really read properly, but if he wanted a book, I would never say no. We perused the two-story book store for a while, and I was more preoccupied with its interior design than the actual books. I already had a lot of reading on my plate, so I wasn't exactly looking for something new.

Honey yelled at me to come over, and he shrunk when a bunch of people shushed him.

"Yeah, you shouldn't be too loud in here," I said. "What caught your eye— is that the—" I caught myself and lowered my voice. "Is that the brand new comic book in the Detective series?"

He nodded, and I quickly scanned the pages. The first edition had come out years ago and had a detective partner with his Pikachu to solve mysteries, but it had expanded and these days there were a lot more Pokemon involved. This one had a Murkrow accompanying a brand-new main character.

I knew he didn't want to say it, but Honey also liked the images.

"I wanted to read it too," I said. "I betcha the others will like it. Find anything else you like?"

Honey scratched his cheek and then dropped another five books in my arms.

"Okay. Let's buy 'em!"



It was barely noon when we reached the beach. Honey grabbed my waist, lifting me over the large rocks before hopping over in a single jump.

"Nice. No one's here," I smiled, staring at the entire beach. "So… before I let the others out of their Pokeballs, is there anything you want to tell me? Are you nervous?"

Electabuzz shrugged, saying that the excitement he felt easily dwarfed any anxiety.

I nodded. "Good to know."

I paused, turning toward him.

"You worked incredibly hard these past few weeks, and I'm so, so proud of you," I gently told him. "You deserve this."

He blinked, and then chuckled. The electric type scratched his belly and said to keep the sentimental words for later.

"I don't want to cry in front of Volkner," I scoffed. "That'd be embarrassing. Anyway, I have something to tell you about Princess. This might be sudden, but I bought her a Shiny Stone that she used to evolve. I'm sorry you weren't there to see it, but if I had waited, we would have had to wait until Pastoria to get our flying license, and she would have wasted precious days when she could have gotten better at getting used to her new body. The setback would have been too big."

Disappointment flashed in Honey's eyes.

"But! I recorded it," I smiled. "Let's watch it together first."

I grabbed my phone and browsed my camera roll, quickly finding the desired video. After handing Honey the device, I put my head on his shoulder and watched in silence.

"To future me— and future us. Today was the day Princess evolved into a Togekiss…"

The evolution was just as emotional to me as it had been the day of. I held back tears and wiped my eyes while Honey grinned as he watched his sister evolve. He was so proud of her that I could feel it permeating from his fur.

"I recorded her first flight too," I sniffled. "Uh, I'll let you watch."

I let the electric type have his fill, and he cackled at Princess flailing in the air over and over. I did let him know that she was a lot better at it now, however. If she wasn't there was no way I would have gotten my flying license.

"Oh! Look at my license, by the way. The picture kind of surprised me and now I look stupid on it," I snorted, pulling out the silver card. My eyes were half-closed due to the flash, and I looked like I was about to sneeze.

We shared a good laugh at that. I'd be willing to bet I was the only idiot in my friend group that was going to happen to.

"You ready?" I asked.

Honey nodded, and I released everyone on the sand. Immediately, he was swarmed by Angel's vines. The grass type surrounded him with so many that his yellow fur was barely visible any longer. Sweetheart burst into tears of joy, cried at how much she'd missed him and demanded a hug. She might have been a brat to him, but she'd never been separated from her big brother for that long. Angel pushed him toward Sweetie and he wrapped his arms around her cocoon. She was far larger than he was now, but they made it work.

Buddy sprayed the back of Honey's head with a tiny jet of water, and the electric type laughed at the harmless prank. He poked the ghost back with a finger, and from the way Buddy rippled, it was clear that he'd been given a small shock. The electric type waved to Sunshine, who slowly approached and awkwardly patted him on the back. Strength was something he admired, and Honey had proved himself ten times over since I'd watched my battle with Volkner at least twenty times.

Which Sunshine and Buddy didn't hesitate to report on, prompting a laugh from Honey. He turned toward Princess, who hovered in the air like a queen in front of him, her chest puffed up and her eyes staring toward the horizon in a dramatic fashion.

"I already told him about you, no need to do a pose."

Princess' face fell, and she cleared her throat, pretending that she hadn't been doing a pose. When she landed, Honey touched her fur and yelled at how soft she was now. I let the entire team mingle for a while, since we had time to waste and I ended up buying lunch on the boardwalk for them. Honey tried to fly on Princess multiple times, but she kept refusing because she feared that him falling would break his bones again, so he decided to read his comics with Sweetheart instead.

"Don't get sand all over those, okay?" I warned.

They answered with half-hearted grunts.

Sunshine lay in the sun, and he growled in annoyance when Princess flew overhead and covered him with her shade. He told her to get away this instant unless she wanted all of that useless fur to burn. The flying type sprayed him with some pink dust and zoomed away as she giggled. From an outside perspective, their relationship would have looked terrible, but I knew they were just fooling around. Sunshine was looking forward to the summer very much, and each day the temperature was just a little higher, his face brightened.

Buddy floated along the beach, and half of Angel's body was in the water as well. The grass type had anchored himself in the sand, stabbing his vines through the ground while he played with the water by splashing it everywhere.

I crouched next to Sunshine and closed my eyes after setting an alarm for 4 in the afternoon.

Life was good.



I ended up not needing my alarm, since a group of people claiming the beach for themselves ended up showing up and waking me. They were a bunch of new-ish trainers. If I had to say, they had… three badges? And they'd started fighting low-stakes battle on the beach, much to Sunshine's displeasure. I watched for a little while, and they didn't seem to pay any mind after getting used to Sunshine's glares. Princess had been too busy flying far off into the horizon to care, and Buddy was the closest he could get to sleep at the moment, so my most belligerent Pokemon were under control.

I slipped away at 3:30 and reached the Pokemon Center by 4, so I was pretty early. Cecilia had been completely fixated on politics this last week, and I wanted to try to learn at least a little so I wasn't completely ignorant when she vented to me about what was happening in Unova. Clarence had reached Castelia safe and sound, and Unova was going to turn a blind eye to Sinnoh. Kalos hadn't done anything beyond denounce us, and apparently Galar had been somewhat humiliated because their plan to rally the international community hadn't worked. They were sticking with it, though, and the first round of sanctions had been implemented. According to Louis and Cece, it would take a few weeks for them to actually be felt, so the entire region was bracing itself for an economic crisis (that would be nowhere near as bad as it could have been).

At five in the evening, Metagross came to pick me up by the Pokemon Center's entrance. The hulking, metallic Pokemon still felt odd to look at. So many emotions flashing at once. The fact that he'd already come to pick me up here so many times when I trained with Jasmine meant that it wouldn't turn many eyes. It was just business as usual, or at least we wanted to pretend like it was.

"Jasmine isn't here with you?" I asked.

She said that she told you the next time you would be seeing each other, Electabuzz would be an Electivire and she tends to attach meaning to meaningless words, Metagross sassed, ignoring the passersby looking at him. Alas, it is a part of what makes her stupidly lovable. Let us be on our way.

Before I could even speak, Metagross had snatched me away, and I was… somewhere in the Gym. In front of Volkner's office, I realized.

"Should I knock?" I pondered.

Obviously, they rolled their eyes before mentally scoffing. Humans.

"Rude," I huffed.

I knocked at Volkner's door, and after twenty seconds I knocked again. Volkner opened the door as he scratched the back of his head.

"Thanks, Metagross. I'll take it from here," he said.

Oh, are you sure you don't want to leak your state secrets to us to celebrate the new partnership between our two regions? Metagross said. Maybe a crumb of classified information?

"Very funny. I'd bet you know the way already but that Jasmine hasn't been informed," Volkner shrugged.

The probability of that is extremely high, the steel type nodded. Oh well, I will be on my way. Jasmine is probably whining again, and I'd better use the opportunity now that the dark emitters are off. Your trainers hate it when I dent the ground due to my weight when I walk around.

"You do that."

Metagross disappeared out of thin air, and Volkner sighed.

"Very sarcastic for a supercomputer," he said. "Come in."

"Oh, we're going inside?" I asked. "Okay."

I entered the Gym Leader's office, and I crouched when I saw a Jolteon sleeping soundly under his desk.

"Don't worry about the noise, Jolteon's a heavy sleeper. You'd think she was using Rest," he chuckled. "Sit."

I dragged the cushioned chair and sat down. Now that I wasn't as nervous as the first time I entered his office, I actually noticed that every inch of Volkner's office was built to be comfortable. Cushioned chairs, rounded edges on his desk, a carpet so clean it looked like I could sleep on it without a problem… he'd definitely fallen asleep here a ton.

Volkner dialed a number on his phone, and he leaned so far back against the backrest of his chair that I thought he'd fall over.

"Mr. Sanchez! The blackouts are imminent now," he said. "Can you confirm the state of our infrastructure one last time so I don't accidentally shut off all of our Pokemon Centers?"

The Gym Leader spun around on his chair, and I heard a faint voice on the other end of the line. The name was familiar, but I was too interested in the blackouts to care.

"Gotcha. Thanks again for the help. Yeah, we'll talk about the sanctions soon. See you."

The Gym Leader hung up and exhaled as he stood. "We're ready to go."

After locking the door to his office, Volkner shuffled toward one of his walls and grabbed two of the Pokeballs on his desk. There was a large shelf full of books hugging the wall.

"Oh! Are you going to pull one of the books and reveal a secret area—"

Volkner grunted as he dragged the shelf away from the wall with all of his might. Jolteon's ears twitched, but the electric type only rolled over, settling into a deeper sleep. Volkner clenched his teeth and pulled, but it was a… pretty pitiful display. Not that I would be able to do any better. He wheezed and wiped the sweat off his forehead.

"The Gym Leader lifestyle is seriously unhealthy," he wheezed. There was a set of doors behind the shelf that were made of stainless steel. Volkner typed in some kind of code on a keypad and nudged his head up. "Get in."

I shot up from the chair and leaned toward the newly-revealed door. It wasn't actually a door, but a secret elevator.

"Has this always been here?" I asked as I hesitantly stepped inside.

"No. It was built during my tenure," the Gym Leader answered.

There was only one button, and we plunged into the depths of the Gym. The elevator rattled and lights flashed as we descended further down.

"It was built specifically for my Electivire the year I became a Gym Leader," he continued. "It looks shabby, but it got the job done."

My body shivered in anticipation when the elevator doors opened and led us to a long, concrete corridor that was barely large enough to fit the width of two people. Thankfully, I wasn't claustrophobic, and we quickly reached another door that Volkner typed another code into. I flinched when a section of the wall slid open, revealing a camera that he stared right into.

"Leader Volkner Doyle recognized," an artificial voice spoke. "Steer clear of the door when it opens."

There was a loud pop and then a hiss as the enormous door strained open. And strain it did. I winced, covering my ears as the unused door slid against the floor with a horrible screech. Volkner rarely came here, and it showed. What came next, however, was a colossal battery the size of Erin's house. It was composed of gigantic cells and interconnected table, and the battery hummed as loud as a truck. Adjacent batteries surrounded the huge device, but each one was still bigger than I thought they could ever get.

And in front of the entire structure lay two large metallic bars, protruding out of the biggest battery with two cracks in the concrete that I couldn't explain.

Volkner whistled and released his Electivire, who grinned at the familiar setting. This place probably held a lot of good memories for him.

"Release your Electabuzz."

I inhaled sharply, and Honey appeared next to me. Electivire squinted at his junior, but chuckled when Honey shot him a dirty look. That Hammer Arm had hurt.

"This is it," I told him. He only responded with a silent nod.

"Do you know why Electivire was virtually unheard of until the harnessing of electricity and urbanization?" Volkner asked. I shook my head. "Because there was never enough electricity to trigger the evolution."

"So when you said blackouts—"

"I meant the entire city."

Goosebumps ran up and down my spine and arms.

"You said virtually unheard of?"

He smirked. "Good catch. Yes, there were some Electivire before urbanization."

"How?"

"The answer's simple. Legendary Pokemon."

I blinked, finally understanding, but Volkner continued anyway.

"Things like natural thunderstorms or other powerful electric types was never enough. Legends? They were. The odds of it happening were virtually nonexistent, but it did happen a few times in history. An Electabuzz struck by an avatar of Zapdos that actually survived the attack would evolve. It is the same for Raikou in Johto and Thundurus in Unova. Odds were, they would instantly die instead," he shrugged. "But when they didn't?"

He pointed a thumb at Electivire.

"What if you could build up electricity throughout an Electabuzz's life?" I asked. "Going slow and steady?"

"No. It needs to happen all at once, or it won't work," Volkner shook his head. "Don't worry, it's safe. We stretch the process out as long as we can to ensure safety and evolution at the same time. Ten minutes."

I swallowed. "Does that mean he'll have enough electricity to power a city after?"

"Oh, he'll stabilize downward," Volkner dismissed. "Most of the energy will be consumed for his evolution, but the potential will be there. That's a pretty lofty goal, though. Even my Electivire can't do it. Think of it like an ultimate goal to strive toward."

Electabuzz grunted, and I caressed his arm.

"I've been looking at trying to build an artificial way to evolve Electabuzz using an item so we don't have to hide it anymore," Volkner muttered. "The last thing the League wants is kids having their Pokemon try to steal electricity from cities in hopes of evolving them. The name I workshopped is Electirizer, but Jasmine says I'm terrible at names. Oh well, that's still a work in progress."

"What's Magmar's evolution like, then?" I asked, thinking of Lauren. "The Pokemon are closely related, right? I can't think of an equivalent… is it getting swarmed by flames?"

"Why would it be equivalent?" The Gym Leader chided. "The two evolutions have nothing to do with each other. But today isn't about that. Don't fish for more information out of me, I've already sent your friend Lauren's battle to Flint. He'll get to it when he has time."

"Thank you."

"I won't lie to you," Volkner spoke grimly, turning to Honey. "It will start with an overwhelming feeling— like you have more power than you know what to do with. You have to retain it. Keep it inside of you no matter what. The electricity will desperately try to find an outlet, and that feeling will slowly turn into agonizing pain. You won't die, but it'll hurt. Are you still ready?"

Honey took a deep breath.

And he agreed.

"Good, good," Volkner said before releasing a Kadabra.

Greetings, the psychic spoke.

"Good evening. Thank you for being here. This is a Kadabra from the League— the same one that stood there with me all those years ago," Volkner said. "I had him sent for the occasion since this is beyond what Gym Kadabra are allowed to see. Grab onto those two handles, and start sucking as much electricity as you can. And don't stop."

Five layers of barrier appeared in front of us, each one thicker than the last, and Honey wrapped his hands around the two metallic handles. His fists tightened around them, and then electricity surged everywhere around him.

I had covered my eyes on instinct, expecting a blinding flash as bright as Thunder, but instead, it started slow. Like a trickle of water that would build and build until it became a waterfall. Honey gritted his teeth and tightened his hold as if it was already hurting. Because it wasn't his electricity, I realized. Electivire observed with a calmness that was entirely out of character and his arms were crossed while Volkner had his hands in his pockets.

The minutes stretched until they became comparable to hours. The electricity grew in power until smoke began to emanate from Honey's fur. Until I could see through his skin and look at his bones. Until I had to cover my eyes because of the brightness of the light. Until I could see said light through my eyelids. And yet, that was nothing compared to the screams my son was letting out.

Each second, another agonized howl. Part of him wanted to give up. His hand slipped from the metallic bar, and Volkner barked to not let go, or all of his pain would go to waste. He was so close. I sniffled, realizing I was crying.

"You're almost there," I sobbed. "You're almost done."

I didn't even know if I was telling the truth or not. Time might as well have been infinite and not have mattered down here. Kadabra's first barrier shattered like glass and flickered into nothingness— or at least I imagined it evaporating. I couldn't see anything.

Minutes. It was only minutes.

"How much longer?!" I snapped. "He can't keep going!"

"Trust him," Volkner said.

An undetermined amount of time later, something in the light shifted.

It was softer. Less erratic. There were fewer flashing lights and more of a uniform glow. I cracked an eye open and saw the electricity slowly subside. I rapidly blinked to chase away tears to bear witness.

It was his height that changed first. Honey stretched, reaching more than 7'5. His stout body became lean, but that was only for a moment. Muscles grew and bulged. His fur thickened. His arms grew and his fingertips turned black. The two claws on his feet turned to three and dulled, and his tail split into two. The smell of rubber filled my nostrils as the tails thrashed around, creating two cracks in the ground. Two more. Honey's teeth flattened, his eyes turned to a deep red and something within him began to hum.

Until it stopped, and Honey fell to the floor with ragged breaths.

"Honey!" I yelled. "Are you okay?! Put the barrier down!"

"Don't get close. He's still overcharged. You'll die through no fault of his own," Volkner said. "Electivire. Go check on him."

Kadabra lowered his barriers, allowing Volkner's Electivire to approach Honey. He leaned on the floor and touched Honey's chest. For a second, they shared a moment, looking into each other's eyes until Electivire pulled him up. Honey staggered, and he could barely stand up straight. His fur was still smoking, and electricity was jumping around erratically. Volkner ordered Kabadra to activate his barriers again and exhaled in relief.

"You did it," he said. "Eleven minutes and thirty-seven seconds."

Honey let out a tired laugh— like the sound of a starting motor, just like Volkner's Electivire. He said he was okay, but he was too exhausted to even speak properly. His words were slurred, and he collapsed on one knee.

"Should I recall him? Send him to the Center?" I stammered.

"Recall him if you want, that'll let him rest some," Volkner nodded. "But I have a few more things to say to you."

I half-heartedly nodded and recalled Honey into his ball. "Rest up, okay? You did perfectly."

"Congratulations to both you and him," Volkner said. "I didn't think I'd see an Electabuzz evolve again. It made me somewhat emotional. First things first, keep him away from the public for a while. At least a week. Some people will associate the blackout with his evolution, but it's nothing a little discrediting can't deal with. So long as it's a small, vocal minority, it'll be fine. That means no giving him to Nurse Joys, which means no battling."

"Got it," I nodded.

"Next up, don't use him in any battles for at least two weeks. Don't touch him or get too close for that long too. He has a lot of power within him now, and he doesn't know how to control it yet. He could accidentally electrocute you without meaning to, and you will die. Feel free to use your other Pokemon to know when he's ready. That Turtonator of yours should be able to resist it no problem."

I felt a pinch of sadness, but I knew it had to be done. I nodded, and Volkner moved on to his next tip.

"And I don't think I need to say this, but just in case. Everything you saw today is top secret and must not be revealed. Even to your friends that are blessed by the Lakes."

"Of course— wait, you know about that?"

"Yes? All of the Gym Leaders know. Anyway, I would give you tips about how to handle battling and how to use Motor Drive properly, but I don't want to make it too easy for you. You were already given more than most will ever get. Figure it out on your own."

"I wasn't going to ask."

He raised an eyebrow. "I'll hold you to that."

Volkner led me back up to his office, and I stared out the windows of his office and saw that lights were slowly turning back on throughout the entire city. My throat suddenly felt dry, and my fingers trembled in excitement. Volkner pushed his shelf back on the wall and unlocked the doors to his office— Jolteon was still sleeping.

"Off you go— actually, before you leave. Jasmine wanted to see you before you get going to Pastoria. If you could pass by tomorrow when Electivire can actually stand on his own, she'd appreciate that. She wants to bid you farewell and probably give you some last-minute advice. Instill some wisdom."

"I would appreciate it too," I smiled. "Uh, I guess I'll go? Thank you?"

The Gym Leader was already sitting at his desk and staring at his computer with his usual terrible posture. He shooed me with his hand, not even looking at me. The League Kadabra Teleported me back onto a random street a few blocks away from my Pokemon Center and immediately vanished to where I assumed was the League or somewhere in its vicinity.

I drew a long breath when I realized what I'd done today.

It was over. We had done it. Months of work and perseverance had led to this. I placed a hand around Honey's Pokeball and exhaled.

Honey was an Electivire.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Benjamin R, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby
 
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Chapter 243
CHAPTER 243

The blackout had barely been a blip on people's radar thanks to its short length. The next day, no one was talking about it, or at least no one online. I was starting to browse Chatter a lot more to get accustomed to something other than the forums for social media, and it wasn't even a trending topic any longer. It was hard to be more popular than current political happenings, and part of me was glad it was out of public consciousness so quickly. A day had passed since Honey's evolution, and other than telling my team about it, I hadn't spoken to anyone else. He'd stuck around in his Pokeball the entire time since releasing him in my room would be a disaster in the making.

"A day should be enough, right?" I whispered to myself as I browsed my phone.

Press Conferences from Leon with Macro Cosmos' CEO— who was also the League's Chairman— by his side, Clarence Obel restarting his duties in Unova and meeting with the Elite Four—

"Gah! I want Sinnohan stuff!" I groaned, scrolling past the headlines.

Economic news— Melody had already filled my head with those. The board was bracing itself for the worst, and they were not happy with Sinnoh's closeness with Kanto-Johto. They were apparently the antithesis of a free market, and Poketch had only risen to prominence when Cynthia opened the country up. Before she rose to power, Sinnoh was kind of in between the more liberal Hoenn and the draconian KJ government… a mixed economy was the correct term.

"Learning things not related to Pokemon battling is hard," I sighed. "Enough politics for now."

I had barely managed to sleep last night due to all of the anticipation I had built up. How could I not? Honey was in his new form, and I couldn't even do some limit testing. Asking a trainer to have some patience when a new evolution had just come to pass was like asking them not to breathe. Eventually, they would have to do so or they would pass out. For some reason, I sneakily left my room as if that made a difference. It wasn't like anyone could see Honey through his Pokeball.

Unfortunately though, Mira had taken her loss to heart and was getting wrung dry by Chase and Lauren in some new training regiment. Her Porygon was lagging way behind the rest of her team, and even though Haunter was no longer the murderous, blood-thirsty ghost he had been, he still lacked discipline in fights and liked to do whatever he wanted most of the time instead of listening to her.

Anyway, the point was that there was no way she'd let me waste Gardevoir or Alakazam's energy on Teleporting me away.

I hummed, reaching the Pokemon Center's lobby. The mood wasn't grim, but it was a lot more quiet than usual. Worried whispers about trainers' parents possibly losing their jobs, or being unable to pay mortgages, rising prices… trainer supplies would be relatively secure, but everything else was going to get worse very soon. Possibly by the time we got to Pastoria. The entire group was planning on leaving soon— although Louis, Justin and Maeve were going to leave today.

Denzel, Emilia and Pauline would stick together once again, and I assumed Sylveon would try to be a lot more involved. Chase, Mira, Cecilia and I would travel together to Pastoria too, while Lauren would stay on her own (mostly due to preference), so the groups were the exact same save for Justin. Very little of the groups that had formed today would actually matter in the long run, however. We weren't planning on staying in Pastoria for as long as we had in other cities, and everything would change as soon as we all beat Wake.

Some of us like Chase and I would leave on our own, but new groups would form and old groups would fragment. For some of us, it would need to be a desperate sprint to the finish while for others, it would be the final stretch. The year was coming to an end, I mused to myself. A strange thought to have when it was still March.

Since Mira's Pokemon weren't available, I figured I'd try to see Jasmine again. I quickly hopped on a bus and left for the Gym, and when I asked for her, one of the Gym Trainers called her over. It had been a while since I saw her, and she looked a lot better than she had before cutting alcohol out of her life. She offered me a bright smile and waved, reminding me of the first time we'd met on that beach.

"Jasmine, you look so good!" I exclaimed. "Your skin is brighter somehow."

"I do have better skin," she smirked. "Why don't we go somewhere we can speak in private? Metagross can bring us to route 205."

"Oh, that would be perfect," I said.

The psychic was released in the middle of the lobby, jump scaring many of the trainers there, and they walked out of the huge, sliding doors to Teleport us to the same mountain Craig and Jasmine had battled in— as well as where we used to train almost every day. We weren't at the summit, though.

"Congratulations on Honey's evolution. It's obvious the blackouts had something to do with it, but I promised Volkner to stay quiet."

"Thanks. I guess it's easy to tell if you had prior context that I was going to evolve him," I said.

"I still don't know the exact mechanics behind it, so it's technically still secret," the Gym Leader shrugged. "Let's have him show off, shall we?"

"Uh, can you put up some barriers, Metagross? Honey's still going to be unstable—"

Already done, they said. They've been there since we appeared.

"What?!"
I scoffed, holding a hand out. The cold, invisible wall was indeed here. "Damn, you're fast."

It would be shameful if we were not.

I grabbed Honey's Pokeball and held it within my palm for a moment as I stared at it. I opted to release the rest of my team first— all of them within the constraints of the barrier except for Sweetheart since she was immune. Sunshine wouldn't be hurt too badly, but I didn't want him to feel pain for no reason. Princess nearly knocked her head on the barrier's ceiling before I called out to her. She'd become as addicted to flying as I was.

"We're going to see Honey for the first time," I warned. "Remember what I said? That he's still going to be dangerous to be around for a while?"

They all grunted or nodded. I had been the most worried about Angel. I felt like he would have hugged Honey without giving it a second thought, so Metagross' barrier was welcome. In fact, he was rubbing the steel type's head right now, much to their annoyance. A psychic cut sliced all of the vines making contact, and Angel blinked.

"So it sucks, but we'll have to stay far away for now. I don't even think Princess' barriers would be enough… we'll have to wait it out."

The fairy grumbled, but she knew I wasn't lying. Honey was still supercharged, and I didn't want to risk any accidents. I released the electric type in the distance— around twenty feet away, since there was less to worry about with Metagross here. Jasmine grinned as Honey stared at his hands, and then at us. Sweetheart excitedly crawled toward him and bumped her head against his shoulder now that he was taller again. Electricity crackled all around Honey, some of it reaching even us, but Metagross' barrier didn't even tremble. The rest of the team greeted him as loud as they could, and he grinned, exposing his flattened teeth. It felt odd to see him without his fangs, but I would get used to it.

"So tall already!" Jasmine exclaimed.

"How are you feeling?" I asked.

He hesitated to answer but finally settled on better. He was still extremely tired, and his body felt like he'd just finished working out or coming out of an intense fight, but worse than that.

"Let's keep the limit testing for another time, then," I said. "For now, why don't you just try walking around? Get yourself accustomed to your new body."

Princess agreed, but couldn't help but add that he was lucky it would be far easier than what she'd needed to do to learn to deal with her new form, and Angel shook his entire body. He reminded her that Honey's evolution had been extremely painful and that now wasn't the time for that by signing with his vines.

Angel might have been… well, Angel, but his compassion was second to none. Togekiss quickly apologized, but Honey told her it was okay. The electric type hesitantly raised a foot, sending sparks of electricity everywhere. They were so powerful that they created fissures on the floor, and stones levitated around him without him even being conscious of it. Honey took a step—

And blurred forward, leaving a trail of electricity until he slammed his entire body into the mountain's slope. Along with the crash came an explosion of electricity that worsened the impact, and a huge crater formed in the wall. It was a deep hole at its center, and tiny cracks at its edges, like a spider's web, but a lot less even.

"Honey! Are you okay!?" I yelled, feeling my stomach drop.

Sweetheart flew over to him, and her propulsion cleared away most of the dust. Electivire was pulling himself out of the crater with much difficulty. He pulled out his arm and let out an exhausted sigh.

"Okay, just don't move!" I yelled. I recalled him and released him close to us again.

He couldn't even walk without going uncontrollably quickly.

"Fascinating," Jasmine muttered. "I'm sure Surge would love seeing this."

"From the stories you told us about him, I don't want to be anywhere near Surge," I sighed. "Okay, try sitting!"

Honey plopped himself on the ground as slowly as he could, carefully supporting himself with a hand. When he moved his other one, a giant beam of electricity flew at us, but Metagross' barrier absorbed it without flinching. Every time, Honey kept apologizing.

"You'll be back to normal soon," I reassured. "Just relax for now, okay? Jasmine said she had some advice for you!"

My mentor crossed her arms. "I never said that. I said the advice was for you, not for him. I'm sure he'll figure things out. Maybe mortally wound a few Pokemon and children along the way."

"Not funny, Jasmine," I rolled my eyes. "For me, though?"

"Yes," Jasmine smiled, vaulting herself on Metagross' head.

Your bottom on our head is quite uncomfortable.

Jasmine laughed, patting the psychic on the head. "Sorry, it won't be for long. Now, Grace. You've obtained two evolutions in Sunyshore, and pivotal ones at that. The only Pokemon that you have left is Pupitar—"

The rock type clamored, her true body shaking in her cocoon.

"The power you wield is not yet great, but it is more than most will ever get to use in their lifetime. So the question remains, what will you do with it? Beyond the competition between you and your friends, the Conference, and your badges."

"Uh…"

"Me, for example? Before coming to Sinnoh, I used it to rule Olivine and protect my community. Most Gym Leaders will say similar things if you discount the fakes in the West," she snorted. "You want to battle every Champion, do you not? That is… admirable. But that is a child's dream. I am asking for something real."

"It's not a child's dream," I frowned. "It is real."

"Forgive me, then. I am asking for something that you can at least grasp."

"Well it's not like I haven't thought about it before," I muttered. My legs shuffled, and I shifted in place. "It's kind of lofty, though. I don't know if you'd say I could grasp it quite yet."

"If it's close enough," she shrugged.

"The picture isn't all clear yet, but I want to help wild Pokemon… uh, protect them from human encroachment, give them better rights. I also want to help owned Pokemon too, to prevent abuse and stuff like that. I know you'd disagree, but that's what I want."

"I will admit, I care more for human advancement than wild Pokemon, but we can just chalk that up to priorities. Either way, you know that you can't do that by being a social shut-in, right?"

I flinched back, and Princess protested while Angel soothed me with a vine. Buddy and Sunshine stayed silent.

"Harsh words, I know," Jasmine said. "But given that you want to go to Unova despite my warnings, you'll need to. Everything is politics there, Grace. You can't change laws in Unova because you have the bigger stick, and hell, you won't even have that. You need to actively work toward your goal, chip at it for a long time until something gives, and that means getting to be more outgoing."

"I, uh, did consider that."

"You'll have to be a public figure. Nuh-uh, don't look at me like that. You aren't a public figure at the moment. Not a proper one, anyway. Want to change laws in Unova? You have to play politics. Speak to politicians, give speeches, engage with local governments, make connections… and that's only on the human side of things."

I gulped.

"Overwhelming, isn't it?" She smiled.

"Cece was already talking about doing all of that months ago," I muttered. "I thought I wouldn't have to, or at least not that much. We have different goals, but the avenues are similar."

"Dreams are nice," Jasmine shrugged. "But you need blood, sweat and tears to make them come true. You think it'll be easy? That Unova— one of the most urbanized regions in the entire world will just play nice and let you change their laws without you gathering any kind of support? Without speaking your cause? Of course not. It'll be procedure, procedure, procedure until you want to kill all of them."

"So what should I do, then?" I asked.

"Why don't you start by not being a shut-in outside of your friend group?" she chuckled. "On a more serious note, meet like-minded people. Get to know the progress and the fighting that has been made toward your goal by others. You aren't the first one to have this goal, and you won't be the last."

My mind flashed back to Mallory, who I had spoken to during the interview with SGNC. I didn't care for her, but she had said that she'd been to multiple protests, so Jasmine was correct. There were probably plenty of groups in Sinnoh and Unova that were the same. It was unfortunate that this Plasma organization seemed so extreme. It could have interested me otherwise.

Jasmine continued. "You don't change society by being passive, Grace, and as it stands, you're a passive individual. You have to be proactive— and you are. Just for Pokemon battling and training instead of everything else."

"I understand," I nodded. "I'll try to look into some in Pastoria. It's a pretty small city, but there's bound to be something."

Granted, I'd have to ask Poketch, but they were quite preoccupied at the moment and with how I'd basically been the perfect sponsee during my stay in Sunyshore, I had a lot of leeway so long as the group wasn't extreme.

"Good," Jasmine smiled, hopping off Metagross. "Another warning. If these tensions are anything to go by and they keep rising, there'll be a stigma against Sinnohans when you get there, especially for one seen speaking with Cynthia on multiple occasions. Clarence Obel coming back might put a pin on things for a little while, but this didn't happen for no reason. The powers behind the Champion wanted this, and they won't change their mind."

"Oh, I knew that already," I said. "Cecilia told me. I don't think it'll be that bad with the general public, though."

"You underestimate the power of propaganda. Indigo is no stranger to it, but Unova uses it in more subtle ways. Now that we got the heavy topics out of the way, let's get back to Honey, shall we?"

Honey's antennae twitched when he heard his name.

"You were a wonderful student," Jasmine started. "One of the hardest workers I've had the pleasure of working with. Amphy, Electrode and Magnezone will miss you, but all good things must come to an end."

My teacher released the three Pokemon. Ampharos' tail swayed from side to side, knocking on Metagross' leg as she excitedly stared at Honey. Electrode's permanent saddened expression turned into his species' usual grin. Magnezone's magnets twirled, and he beeped above Electivire. It was their first time seeing him after his evolution too.

"We will miss you all."

My throat suddenly dried, and I wiped my eyes. "We'll miss you too."

Jasmine hugged me. "I'll be cheering for you at the Conference. Put everything I've taught you to good use and sharpen yourself. There is potential within you."

"Hmhm. And I'll remember the Rapier of Olivine," I sniffled.

"I've already willed the nickname into existence," she chuckled. "Now, let us bring you back home."



We decided to all get lunch together before Louis, Maeve and Justin left together. The entire ordeal ended up being very fun, even if most of it ended up having us asking Justin ridiculous questions and him coming up with answers so factual they ended up being ridiculous. We sent them off on route 222 and waved until they were dots on the horizon. Louis was somewhat apologetic that he didn't have a flier, so Maeve and Justin would have to walk with him and hold themselves back, but they'd made their choice.

Or Maeve had made her choice. Justin had signed a contract.

The next few hours were a flurry of packing and making sure we weren't forgetting anything. Stocking up on potions, just in case, buying food and supplies for the road. At least it was relatively hot now, so traveling would get a lot less cumbersome. My hands brushed over the three Hyper Potions that remained in my bag from Craig, and I thought back to the Darkest Day. Without those… half of Princess' throat, ripped out in a semi-circle. Almost all of Sweetheart's scales, gone and her flesh torn asunder, her small frame bleeding out in the darkness.

"I need to get myself some as soon as I get my paycheck," I whispered to myself. "Having at least six at all times would be nice."

One for each member of the family, in case they were ever mortally wounded. Still, even Hyper Potions had their limits. Full Restores were almost considered magic. They were restricted technology only available to the League. They were a lot more expensive than potions— a lot more. Up to twenty-thousand per Hyper Potion compared to the thousand that their less-effective model cost.

"Sculpture of me, check. Books… check. Arceus, I need a bigger bag."

A few minutes later, a knock sounded at my door. Cecilia. I quickly made sure my phone was charging and went to let her in.

"Is it time already?" I asked.

"Erin's waiting downstairs," she nodded.

We made our way to the lobby, and Cecilia's eyes widened when she saw Erin. The tall girl was already tearing up, and it wasn't even tomorrow yet.

"She was fine when I left to get you," Cecilia muttered. "Erin."

"Y—yeah? I just got something in my eye— both my eyes."

"It's okay to cry," I said. "I feel like crying too."

"I can't believe you guys are leaving already," she cried. "I always knew you'd leave, but in my head, I guess it was like… I guess I thought I had more time."

"You'll be fine," Cecilia said. "You've always been good at running New Wave. Now you just have the muscle to do it. And a badge!"

"And you have our numbers," I added. "It's not like we're never going to talk again. We can call all the time!"

"Yeah," she sniffed. "The compulsive part of me wanted to come with, but I know I'd just slow you all down. Plus, the club would flounder like a Magikarp without me."

"So you're stopping at one badge?" I asked.

"I'll try to go for two by the end of the year if I train up Sandy enough to run things while I'm gone."

"I'm sure you'll get it," I smiled.

"You two changed my life… I'm not sure you realize it," she sniffled. "Next year, I'll try to go on a journey. A real journey, even past Mount Coronet and into the west of Sinnoh. I'll have to convince my mom, but—"

"Oh, Erin, that's so wonderful!" Cecilia exclaimed. "We'll be rooting for you!"

Erin smiled, letting out a sad chuckle. "Thanks. I'll try to go for as many badges as I can, and maybe spread New Wave's wings beyond Sunyshore."

"Just try your best," I said. "As long as you do that, you'll feel fulfilled, win or lose. I promise you that."

"Of course."

"And call before you get into Mount Coronet or Eterna Forest!" I warned. "We'll have plenty of tips to give you."

Erin blanched and cleared her throat.

"Don't get cold feet now," I laughed. "You'll be stronger than we were when you enter. You'll be able to handle it."

"Or maybe I'll have a flier to skip both. A ton of flying types share the normal type too," the girl stammered. "Um, are you two still busy, or… could we hang out one last time? My mom made some cookies at my house for you, and you can stay for dinner too."

"Really?!" I yelled. "I'm done packing. Cece?"

"I'm done as well," she nodded. "Let's be on our way, then."



We all ended up crying when we told Erin goodbye for the final time. Her mother had practically attempted to kidnap us to get us to stick around longer, but we really had to go if we wanted to wake up early tomorrow. A good night's sleep was essential to traveling quickly, and we all wanted to get to Pastoria quickly, all for different reasons. Chase had floated the idea of 'getting a seventh Pokemon' for his team, although he had no idea which one. He thought the Safari Zone would be a perfect opportunity to find another Pokemon with enough drive to be on his team. Cecilia obviously wanted to find her sixth Pokemon and start training them as soon as possible as well. Mira, meanwhile, had heard of someone in Pastoria capable of upgrading her Porygon, which was something she claimed was impossible to teach herself.

We woke up the next day at the crack of dawn and rode a bus to the gate. Denzel, Emilia and Pauline would leave later, and so would Lauren. She was in one of her phases where inspiration had struck, and she would only focus on creating a new move until it failed and she gave up, or she succeeded.

The sky was as clear as it could be without a single cloud in sight. The sun bore down on my skin, and Princess raced through the air as fast as she could, desperately trying to keep up with Cece's Talonflame, who was tutoring her in manipulating flying TE. Slowking spoke to Alakazam, who rolled his eyes and facepalmed with an audible groan. Lucario strode next to Chase, and Houndoom rubbed his horns against his trainer's legs. Route 222 was full of trainers, but they would slowly filter out the further we got.

"Should we swing by the hotel again to check on Sergei?" I asked.

Chase groaned and threatened to fly to Pastoria instead of walking if I ever suggested wasting more time. It was true that we could potentially get him in trouble by being there, so I shrugged and agreed.

Maybe I'd tell Erin about him. It'd be nice if they could journey together. He was fourteen and planning on running away the next year.

Well, I'd try to put them in contact.

The endless road stretched in front of us, and the wind was at our backs. Our legs felt light, and we were content to stay silent for the time being. It would take six days to get to our destination— five if we were fast enough.

Pastoria City awaited us.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Benjamin R, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby

A/N: And with that, the Sunyshore arc comes to an end! With a shorter chapter than usual, just to wrap the arc in a neat little bow.

It was much lighter in tone than the others, and that was a purposeful choice. I mostly wanted to focus on the characters training, reaching new heights and the classic, simpler aspects of what makes a Pokemon story Pokemon. This story has a lot of aspects and plot threads (how can't it, with more than 1 million words?) and I know that some people enjoy these more than others. The stakes were generally lower, but they still mattered. Honey and Princess finally evolved after hundreds of thousands of words of build up and teasing. Plus, I thought it'd be a nice break for both the readers and the characters to have one arc where nothing goes horribly wrong. Grace called it a vacation, and that's essentially what it was. I think the lighter moments make the darker ones hit much harder than they would if the story was a suffering sim. The fact that I saw a lot of comments try to guess at when Team Galactic would strike/when would the shoe drop during this arc gave me plenty of laughs, and it kind of proves to me that the way I do things is working.

Anyway, thanks for sticking around like always. It's kind of hard to believe I've come this far in the plot already, but here we are. I'll be taking a longer break than usual this time, since I think my hands deserve some rest and it'll be my longest one yet. The next chapter will be on Saturday the 16th. I hope you aren't bothered by it too much, but hey, I write a whole lot, so I think it's not that bad of a break. There will be a side story uploaded tomorrow that's already written.

Hope you're looking forward to Pastoria and what I have in store for you there! See ya on Saturday!
 
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Side Story 4 - Autobiography I
You could have read this early on my Discord or even earlier on my Patreon

Side Story - Autobiography I

"Arceus, I'm so excited to read this," Cece said as I nestled my back against her chest with Cynthia's autobiography in my hands.

"Excited? I'm more intrigued," I muttered. "Can you see okay?"

My girlfriend nodded, wrapping her hands around my waist. "It's more like I'm wondering what experiences could have turned her into the woman she is today. Plus, this is knowledge few people have. Sure, trainers from her generation probably heard about her a whole lot, but delving into her thought process is an entirely different thing."

"That's true enough," I nodded. I couldn't lie that I was salivating at the thought of getting to know Cynthia's psyche, even if she had written it a decade ago after having spent ten years in power.

I turned the first page, we started our reading.

This book is dedicated to my twin sister Celeste, my grandmother Kirsten, to the people of Sinnoh, to the past Champions who had to walk the path I tread and to future Champions who will follow in my wake. The mantle of duty is heavy, and I hope history will look upon me favorably. I have done all in my power to do good to Sinnoh, and I will continue to do so for as long as I live. On that, you have my word.

Chapter 1 - Encounter

I'd always found Celestic boring in my childhood. These days, I desperately want to go back to simpler times like the ones I lived through in that town.

In my childhood, Celestic was even more barren than it was today. The people were almost all old or young. Adults mostly left the city as soon as they could to go to greener pastures, even if they had to brave route 210 to do so. There was one school, one grocery store around a few hundred people at most. There were no televisions and only a few radios, and I remember going to the Pokemon Center to hear battles commentated on their radios as a young child. However, even the Center was old. It was underfunded, understaffed and used outdated equipment that wasn't even using the new revolutionary Ditto cells to heal Pokemon yet. The city was flanked by Mount Coronet in the west and a land of fog in the east. We were an island. Lonely, forgotten, we did not matter.

But that did not stop me from seeing all the trainers passing through the city each year. I remember asking my grandmother about the scary strangers as I looked at them out our dusty window, and she would answer 'trainers' with much disdain.

Celestic didn't like trainers. They were rude, did not respect their religion, and walked all over us because who would even stop them? Rangers? We didn't have any of those. The League was preoccupied with more important matters, and Celestic always got the short end of the stick. My grandmother blamed the government for this, and by extension trainers. It was hard not to when Celestic got no funding and help from wild Pokemon attacks always came weeks too late. We had to rely on a few old trainers and their old partners for protection.

My grandmother's hatred for trainers passed onto my sister Celeste, but me? I'd always been intrigued. They were a gate into the outside world. They carried stories, scars, new things I'd never seen before. They reminded me that there was a world beyond my little island. A world I wanted to explore.

One day when I was six, the lid blew open and I failed to contain my urges. I decided to skip school and run away from home.

It was a foolish choice by every single metric. I ran into route 210 as far away as my little legs could carry me and I got lost in the fog. The stories from trainers had made it sound like Floaroma was just a stone's throw away, and I believed I'd get there in an hour at most. And yet, I ran and ran until I collapsed on the ground and wheezed to desperately pump air into my lungs. The fact that I'd still been alive after so long out of Celestic was a miracle in itself. I stayed on the ground for a long time, just staring into the foggy sky as the mist clung to my throat. It was hard to breathe. Hard to see. Hard to think. It wasn't the middle of winter quite yet, but it was cold up in the mountains and my clothes were wet from the fog.

I thought I'd die here, but I was happy I'd seen something else. A new slice of the world I'd never known. I remember it clear as day, laughing and coughing as I waited for a wild

Pokemon to snatch me away.

What came up to me was a Gible.

She'd been wounded, and I didn't know from what. She was practically crawling on the floor and her eyes were hollow. Dried blood covered her and bled into her red stomach. Gible collapsed next to me as I stared at her.

I held out a hand and touched her head.

She blinked at me and growled.

I don't exactly remember who fell unconscious first. Eventually, I closed my eyes and just drifted off to sleep.

I didn't wake up in the afterlife. There was no Arceus to greet me and hug me with its thousand arms. No bliss. Instead, I felt a hand touch my shoulder. Old man Richmond had come to look for me with his two Arcanines. He was a Great War veteran that was arguably the most powerful trainer in Celestic. He'd seen fighting at the front between Kanto and Johto and seen one of Zapdos' avatars with his own eyes. The war had abused him. Scars covered his entire body, from shallow ones to large ones that couldn't be ignored, and it was the same for his two Arcanine. At first, he thought that Gible had hurt me, and he considered killing her. War veterans are almost all gone today, but they were everywhere when I was a child, living out their twilight years. The war had scarred them all, and they knew killing and death as much as breathing, sleeping and eating. He wasn't going to let a member of his community be hurt without passing retribution.

I vehemently defended Gible, yelling with such vigor that my throat hurt for hours afterward. I distinctly remember the shift in his eyes then. He'd turned from a soldier back into an old man. Still, no matter how many times I pleaded with him, he left Gible there to die and carried me on his shoulder back to Celestic. I got an earful from every single adult I passed that evening. An event like a child running away was obviously the talk of town, and everyone had something to say about it.

As for my grandmother? She was just glad I was alive, as was my sister. People told her she needed to raise me right for this to never happen again. Kirsten never hit me or my sister. She'd gone through so much, losing her daughter in childbirth and we never knew our father. My mother had been too scared to tell her the man's name, and it is easy to understand what happened to her now that I'm an adult.

I am the daughter of a rapist, and so is my twin sister Celeste.

It has weighed on my mind for years, and it is my first time exposing that fact to the world. I now know who my father is since he contacted me when I became the Champion, but we're getting ahead of ourselves, aren't we?

A few weeks passed, but the attention around my escape never died down. Again, Celestic was slow in every aspect of life. Whenever I went to school, the other children would ask me to tell them about the outside. The world beyond the fog and the mountain. I lied and embellished what I'd seen, saying that I saw great towers of steel like those 'skyscrapers' the trainers from other cities liked to talk about, or that I saw great battles between wild Pokemon. It was the first time I'd made any friends. I didn't know it at the time, but our family were outcasts, and adults often told their children not to play with me or Celeste because we'd been born out of wedlock. They'd call us bastards under their breaths when our backs were turned. Celestic was old, and with age came prejudice and discrimination.

The Gible I'd seen still fascinated me. We had shared a moment, and yet I had abandoned her. Was she dead? If she wasn't, where was she now? Had the Pokemon that attacked her struck again? Questions upon questions. I wanted to run away again, but my grandmother would suffer again if I did. I'd asked old man Richmond to take me there again, but he wouldn't budge.

Curiosity has always driven me from a young age, and it still does. Questions have always consumed me, and I needed answers even if my life was at stake.

So I hatched a plan.

Celeste and I shared a bed due to how small our home was, and after begging for days, I convinced her not to tattle to our grandmother, but she would only agree if I let her come with me to protect me. We snuck out in the middle of the night, armed with a kitchen knife and one of grandma's old gas lights. Two six-years-olds in the middle of one of the deadliest routes in the region with no Pokemon of their own.

Our bravado didn't last long. Celeste clung to my arm the entire way through as I called for Gible's name. I didn't even know if she was still there, and the plan was stupid, but we were children. We didn't know any better.

My actions would not be without consequences.

It was a Zangoose that came upon us first. It was probably famished, because it was thin and ragged. Two human children would be easy pickings for it even if it was weakened. I gripped the knife tightly and waited for it to come. In retrospect, Zangoose was rather weak, young and inexperienced. Its movements were clumsy and slow as it dashed toward us, but we had no way of outrunning it.

That didn't mean we didn't try.

Celeste ran slower than I did, and I turned back when I heard her scream. She was lying on the ground with two huge gashes in her back and blood seeped out of her wounds. The gas lamp had fallen on the ground, the glass around it having shattered. I couldn't think. I ran toward Zangoose with a knife in hand to save her, but I stopped dead in my tracks when Gible appeared out of the fog and bit into its shoulder. Her wounds were healed, but still present. The first scars that would ever mar her body. I dragged my sister away from the fight and tried to press down on her back to stop the bleeding. That was all I knew about wounds. Bleeding was bad, and it needed to be stopped. I nearly hurled when I saw all the blood on my hands, but after thirty seconds I turned back toward Gible.

She was losing.

Zangoose was too quick and nimble to get caught without the element of surprise, and its claws could pierce through the young dragon's scales. The last licks of light from the lamp illuminated their battle, but everything beyond was a sea of fog and darkness. As if the four of us were the only people in the world, fighting for survival. A primal feeling rose in my chest at that moment. It was the first time I'd ever felt something like this. As my sister lay, crying and bleeding at my feet, as Zangoose fought desperately not to starve, as Gible defended us with all she had.

I felt joy. A twisted, broken kind of satisfaction.

I gripped my knife as tight as I could until the color drained from my hands, and I circled around the fight. I abandoned my sister. I wanted to fight. To live.
To experience.

Something clicked in my brain. I saw battle. I understood it. I wanted it. I craved it. It was my oxygen! My sustenance! Without it, I would die, or at least that was how I felt in the moment.

Orders flew out of my mouth before I even had time to think about them. Not moves, but strategy. I told Gible when to jump back, to go in and claw or bite Zangoose. When openings presented themselves, I would run in as quickly as I could and stab my knife into Zangoose. My arms were that of a child, so the wounds were shallow, but it served as a distraction for Gible to strike. We fought for what seemed like forever. My mouth was wide open, grinning from ear to ear until it hurt.

I was having the time of my life.

Until Zangoose slashed across my gut and sent me flying.

Gible managed to force it the flee as I got up. My cut was shallower than Celeste's, and I could still walk, although barely. My smile vanished when I realized that Celeste was still on the ground. She was still breathing, although barely. We were forty minutes out of town, and I would never have the strength to carry her the entire way. The magnitude of the situation slowly sunk in. My sister was almost dead, and it was my fault.

What would the adults say?

I spoke with Gible with a trembling voice, and she helped me carry Celeste with her mouth. She was careful not to bite down too hard and we got back without further incidents. I put as much pressure on her wounds as I could. When we were home, she was unconscious. I told Gible to meet me at the city's entrance again in a month and she fled into the night.

I was given the dressing down of a lifetime. Dozens of people yelling at me, saying that it was a miracle Celeste was alive, that I was the devil in disguise, possessed, awful, a monster. My grandmother joined in this time, and it was completely justified. I had done a mistake, and we had only just barely survived.

The voices sounded far away to me. What I cared about was what I'd felt during the battle. It was a burst of ecstasy that I needed to feel again no matter what. I was placed under lockdown in my grandmother's house as soon as my wounds were patched up, and my sister would have to stay in the hospital for months. We were twins, and we would have twin scars. Hers on her back and mine on my stomach.

From that point on, I wanted not only to explore but to chase the thrill of battle.


Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Benjamin R, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby
 
Chapter 244 - The Thief
CHAPTER 244 - The Thief

Togekiss cried out as a vicious Razor Wind tore apart her feathers. The cuts were superficial, but the attack still hurt. With a fierce cry, she flapped her wings and sped away from the harmful bubble of sharpened air, a gust of wings blowing at her back. Talonflame shrieked and dove down to her level, her body wreathed in flames as she sped toward Princess with a Flame Charge. As it stood, the fairy type was nowhere near as fast as her opponent. We had to go on the offensive.

"Air Slash!" I yelled.

With a barrel roll, Princess sent two arcs of blurry air flying at Talonflame, who dispelled the attacks with a powerful burst of air before she continued speeding toward the fairy type. A Charge Beam slowly built up in front of Princess' mouth, and she abruptly turned to face Talonflame. The electricity hit the fire type in the chest, but her momentum still carried her and she rammed into Princess with everything she had. The sheer force of the impact and Flame Charge knocked Princess down, but she caught herself and floated inches from the ground.

"Darn it," I sighed. "We lose again."

"Well, she's getting a lot better," Cece smiled. "Two days ago, that Charge Beam never would have hit."

"That's mostly because we caught you off-guard. I bet you thought we'd keep running."

"Well, admittedly you should have, since the strategy didn't work," she chuckled.

"Right, but we've got to get better with Charge Beam anyway. In a battle with stakes, you'd be right."

Princess floated toward me and waited so I could apply a potion to her burning fur and cut skin. I spritzed the liquid over her wounds, and despite not being able to see through her fluffy fur, I imagined them closing before my eyes. Cecilia did the same with Talonflame, and we returned to where Mira and Chase were staying. It had been three days since we had left Sunyshore, and we had finally reached the huge stretch of beach that would lead us to Pastoria. Talonflame had become Princess' tutor in everything relating to flying TE, and we were rapidly improving, but we needed to go faster if we wanted to beat Wake. We weren't going to stay in Pastoria for long, and we would have less time to train compared to the amount we'd gotten before Volkner.

We came upon an intense fight between Chase's Lucario and Mira's Gardevoir when we arrived at the shore. The fighting type grunted, holding out an arm, and Aura exploded out of his palm in a dozen different tendrils that stabbed into Gardevoir. She winced and flickered, but her attempt to Teleport away failed, and she decided to strike with a Fire Punch instead. Psychic was not allowed during sparing.

Still holding out his hand, Lucario bared his teeth and pulled Gardevoir toward him before punching her in the gut with a one-handed Bullet Punch. Silver danced within his fist and intensified with each strike, and he'd struck a dozen times by the time Gardevoir hit him in the head once. The battle came to a stop when Mira and Chase spotted us, and the Aura stabbing into Gardevoir receded. The fairy type let out a tired huff and sat on the sand.

Training never stopped for us, even if we'd adopted the short but intense battles that Louis and Maeve had coined and refined them, pushing them to its limits.

"You guys finished your fight too?" Mira asked. "Did Princess finally nab a win?"

I stared up at the Togekiss, who was flying high up in the sky, and shook my head. "Not yet, but we're getting there! She's got a good handle on Air Slash now, and Charge Beam will help for Wake."

"I wonder how good he'll be," Chase said with a hand over his mouth.

"Well it's going to be our first six-on-six against a Gym Leader, so it's bound to be intense," I shrugged.

"Speak for yourself," Mira said with a half-sigh.

"Stop self-deprecating," Chase scolded. "That's an excuse people use to not bother working as hard, because if they suck, what's the point? You've got to believe you're the best."

"Chasey, only you can do things like that. You're obviously not the best."

"It's about belief!"

"Today's pretty warm. Why don't we go to the beach?" Cecilia asked.

Mira scoffed. "And get myself killed by some Tentacool in the water? No, thank you."

"I figured it'd be safe in the shallow waters," she sighed. "What should we do, then? Keep traveling for a few hours?"

"As long as you don't fill my head about politics—" Chase started.

"Chase, you want to do politics. You asked Cynthia to improve the Iron Islands! That's what politics is!"

Our friend worked his jaw for a few seconds and his feet shifted in the sand. "You know what, fair point."

"She did get you there," Mira shrugged.

"But I still don't care about Unova and what's happening there!" He exclaimed, then turning to Mira. "I'm just going to keep training the shrimp. Mira, get your Porygon out. She needs exercise."

The pink-haired girl groaned. "Against who?"

"I'll give you an easier matchup. Zangoose. We're going to have them battle for thirty minutes."

"You're on!" She grinned.

"I'm gonna take a little flight," I muttered, slipping away. "I won't be gone too long. Maybe an hour or two."

My friends all nodded or acquiesced, and I called to Princess with my hands cupping my mouth. Cecilia couldn't fly on Lehmhart yet, because she had only passed the theoretical flying exam. Lehmhart was still too inexperienced to actually have her fly on him, so her license would have to wait until Pastoria. Talonflame was still growing, but I doubted she'd ever be large enough to have Cece fly on her. She was smaller than average for her species, but that meant she had traded bulk for speed.

I'd pay to see her try, though. That'd be a funny way to spend an hour or two. Too bad it was way too dangerous.

Princess landed on the beach, and I gasped in horror when sand got all over my pants and shoes. I guess wearing jeans and sneakers on the beach isn't smart, I thought. One day, she'd be good enough to land without any disturbances just like Cynthia's Togekiss. I petted Princess' forehead and she preened.

"Yes, yes, you did very good," I smirked. "Ready to go fly around?"

The fairy type squealed in excitement, and I got to work on putting the saddle on her. I unfolded the entire… contraption and slowly but surely buckled it around her wings. I was getting the hang of it, but if I ever needed to fly away in an emergency, I would definitely have to make do without a saddle. When I finished putting it on her and put on my goggles, I slung my bag over my shoulders, hopped on her, and strapped myself in. After one pat on the head, she slowly floated upward. Sand pulsed on the ground and then burst upward when Princess rushed to gain altitude. I did not flinch, nor did the uncomfortableness of the forces pressing down on my shoulders and back surprise me.

We'd grown a lot more confident than we used to be.

Wind whistled past my ears, and the world below us became smaller and smaller. A grin stretched across my face as I took in the sights. To our left and the general south was an endless ocean with a few uninhabited islands in sight. Technically, they were in Pastoria's jurisdiction, but they hadn't ever done anything with them. Wild Pokemon lived on them by the thousands— mostly groups of Wingull and Pelipper, but also Seel, Spheal, Sealeo, and Buizel. A singular cargo ship headed in Sunyshore's direction could be seen in the distance. I leaned in and yelled.

"Let's go and say hi!"

Princess chirped, but the wind drowned out the sound of her voice. She sped up, and I held onto the saddle despite being strapped in. It was hard not to be scared when my body felt like it was going to fall off any minute, despite knowing that was absolutely not the case. I leaned to the right and noticed a Mantine breaking through the ocean's surface and floating for what seemed like thirty seconds. I squinted at the water type, but hummed when I saw I couldn't tell their gender from that far. A flock of Mantyke followed them, each jumping and desperately trying to keep up with their apparent leader, who slowed every so often to let them catch up.

In a matter of five minutes, we hovered over the cargo ship and waved at the sailors there. Most of them ignored me, probably because I was far from the first trainer to have this idea and they were focused on work, but a few of them whistled or waved back. I noticed a bunch of water types surrounding the ship, and there was a Gyarados at its head to keep it protected from wild Pokemon. We followed the ship for a few minutes before Princess sped back toward the coast. It was hard to discern, but I could easily see different groups of trainers on the ground, some large and some small. Route 213 wasn't as safe as 222, but it was still nothing compared to the routes out west. Even the ocean was safe if you got close enough to Pastoria (which we were not, at the moment).

Speaking of Pastoria, I could see it far in the distance. The city appeared foggy due to how far it was, but it was there. Mount Coronet loomed even further, its peak hidden far above the clouds. I found it astonishing just how far I could see from up here. There were no routes. It was just Sinnoh. Massive, but not as large as it had seemed before I'd become capable of flying. It was finite, now. Every corner of the region was within my reach.

I let out a bellowing, excited scream as Princess zipped to our true location. Route 213 wasn't only known for its huge beach. There was also a relatively small mountain here that I'd flown to yesterday. On the way there, I only noticed two other trainers flying. I would have thought it to be a common occurrence before getting my license, but the sky was really big. Seeing another trainer up here was rarer than not, with the exception being outside of cities. One of them, I recognized. It was hard not to see Dragonite's resplendent scales, even when they were hidden behind the clouds. Ariel was thankfully still following us.

Princess landed on the mountain, which actually had a flat plateau at its summit and a lot of vegetation, which was the last thing I would have expected from a place like this. Every other mountain peak I'd seen was just barren rock.

"Good job, you aced that landing!" I cheered, hopping off her back. "Let me get this off of you."

Hiding Honey from my friends had been a challenge, but as it turned out, going on a flight was a very convenient excuse. Omitting was not lying, and I did enjoy flying every day. I wasn't going to keep him in his Pokeball the entire trip. That would have been awful for everyone involved, and that was time where he wouldn't be able to grow used to his new body. After taking the saddle off Princess, I released the entire team and followed up with releasing the electric type far away— twenty feet, to be exact. He was getting a lot better at not randomly blowing up, and he could actually walk. I had done the same thing for him yesterday.

"Hi! It's the afternoon right now," I greeted him. Sweetheart did the same, although she immediately crawled toward him. "Just a few more days of this, and you'll be set to get close. You keep an eye out for any Pokemon," I told Princess.

This place was technically off-route. We'd been attacked twice before, but they'd been deterred pretty quickly. Once by a Victreebel that Sunshine had scared away, and the other by a Budew Colony that were led by an aggressive Roselia. That brought back memories. I wondered how Denzel, Pauline and Emilia were doing right now. Thankfully, I hadn't suffered a Bullet Seed to the gut this time, and my team chased them away rather easily.

Honey answered with a thumbs up, and a few Thunderbolt-sized bolts sparked out of his hand. Thankfully by now, Princess' barrier was enough to stop them. Sweetheart called him a wet blanket when he apologized again. She was back to her usual, trash-talking self now that the novelty of the situation had passed. The thing about her was that she did it so innocently too. My dad had always said that kids just blurted out whatever was on their minds, and it was the same for Sweetie. Jellicent grumbled in my ear that I hadn't released him close to the ocean, and I promised I'd do it when we got down.

Sunshine complained about the grass being too tall and prickly on his scales, then asked if he could burn it, but I shook my head.

"Don't alter the place. People live here," I sighed. "Just relax and enjoy life. If the grass is prickly on your scales, then think about how it must feel on my skin. I'm just a little human, and I'm bearing with it."

The dragon rolled his eyes in his usual diva fashion, finally deciding to lie down on the ground. I could tell he was growing more nervous the closer we got to Pastoria. Mudsdale was there, and the closer we got, the more the weight of what he considered his failure stacked up. Not only that, but he would still have to tell the rest of the team about his story before that. I approached Sunshine, leaning in to whisper in his ear.

"You'll be alright. This will be good for you. For both of you," I softly said.

Sunshine answered with a half-hearted grunt, and Angel motioned that he'd be here for him if need be despite not even knowing what we were talking about. Turtonator snorted, and Angel clapped two clumps of vines together while he smiled with his eyes. Making Sunshine happier was the goal, and the fact that the fire type was laughing technically meant that it was working. I grabbed my chemistry textbook and my laptop, lamenting that I was almost done with the thing. Somewhere along the way, I'd actually started to enjoy the topic. This was just an introduction, however, so there was a lot more to be learned even after I finished both my physics and chemistry textbooks.

Princess' feathers swayed in the wind while she settled down next to me and Sunshine. Sweetheart and Honey were playing a game where the electric type essentially tried to bench-lift her as many times as he could, and he was having… some success. Electivire were strong, but he was still starting from his baseline. It would take a while for his muscles to build up.

Maybe I could give him that workout routine Chase had given me for my birthday.

"Do you think I could give him that workout Chase gave me?" I asked my family, eliciting a few chuckles from them and an indignant cry from Princess. "What? They have the same body type! Of course, he'd have to do, like, ten times the amount of everything for it to work, but who knows?"

The flying type scoffed in disbelief.

"You know what, we'll ask him and see what he says! Lucario does the same routine he does, and it's clearly worked!"

Princess rolled her eyes

"Since when do you roll your eyes at me? Is this… is this some kind of new phase?"

Did she think she was grown up since she'd evolved? And yet she still wanted to be babied half the time! She couldn't have it both ways. The fairy type lifted a ball of mud from the earth and began to sculpt Honey in his new form. We stayed there for forty minutes, mostly in silence save for a few conversations. Buddy asked Sunshine about help with Will-o-Wisp since it was the first move that actually stumped him somewhat, but the dragon type was of no help, answering that he had no idea how to mess with anything ghost-related.

Angel just enjoyed the sun, although he had wandered a few dozen feet away to find some wildflowers and come back to stick a few in my hair, which Sweetheart loved, so she ended up getting some too. Honey worked on retaining his electricity, and Buddy loomed over my shoulder to read my textbook. Princess sensed a few Pokemon coming close by, but none dared approach.

That was, until now.

"They're not stopping?" I muttered, closing my book. I quickly put my laptop and the textbook back in my backpack. "How fast?"

My question was answered right away when something leaking an incredible amount of rage entered my senses. It was nothing I'd ever seen before. Pokemon usually were threatened or scared when they attacked you and just wanted you out of their territory or away from their kids or group.

But this?

I stood up from my crouching position and inhaled. They were going so fast. "No time to run. They're already—"

I flinched when a large Carnivine appeared in front of us, floating slightly above the ground. It was as if the tall grass bent away from her bundle of multicolored vine-like feet. A sweet smell filled the air as drool accumulated in her mouth and fell to the ground. Her eyes were blank, and her pupils barely visible, but it was easy to see she was furious

My entire team took to their positions. In a second, Honey blurred in front of us, electricity humming through his skin. Princess let the barrier fall for a moment and immediately placed it around only me, allowing Sunshine to take a few steps forward with hot air gathering in his mouth and snout. Angel moved himself with massive clumps of vines and pointed them at Carnivine with the most menacing look he could muster while Sweetheart let loose a juvenile roar and a few puffs of air from her vents. Buddy's eyes flashed with fury, but I held out a hand.

"I can tell you're angry. We'll be leaving now if you'll allow us," I said, keeping my voice as steady as possible. I could tell from a single look that Carnivine was not to be messed with. "We mean you no harm. Everyone, stand down."

What had caused her so much anger? Was it born from injustice? Pain? I couldn't delve deep enough to know. I took a step toward Princess, hoping to mount her without a saddle, but Carnivine growled and I stopped. It was a croaky, grave sound that made my ears rumble.

"I was trying to leave," I said.

The grass type snarled, sending spittle all over.

"Someone translate," I quickly spoke.

Honey spoke up first, keeping an eye on Carnivine at all times. We were six, but as the seconds went on, the nagging suspicion that Carnivine was extremely powerful only grew. She didn't fear us whatsoever, which could have been because she was blinded by rage, but even then, the vegetation here listened to her. Grass twisted when she growled, lashed out when she screamed. It was hers.

Honey said that she'd lost a son to another human a week ago. A thief had caught him. I bit my lip and frowned.

"I'm sorry," I exhaled. "I understand why you don't want to see any humans now. If you'd just allow us to leave, we'd be on our way."

We reminded her of the pain she'd felt, and it was still fresh. One did not recover from loss that quickly. I assumed some trainer had come and caught her son without asking for consent, as trainers unfortunately usually did—

I covered my ears when Carnivine yelled again, and the grass under her feet lashed out. A whisper from Princess revealed that she'd called us all the same. Humans. I took a step back—

Through the barrier, grass straightened, sharpened and wrapped around one of my ankles. It crushed—

My mind went white for a second. My vision shook and blurred around its edges. For that moment of agony, it felt like up was down and right was left. What was happening to me? My breaths caught in my throat, struggling, until they came out as a ragged cough— argh, fuck—

Suddenly, something snaked around my waist.

It was Angel. He grabbed me right away and threw me onto Princess' back with a vine, but more grass grew in seconds and kept her away from flying by wrapping around her. Sunshine spat out a huge Flamethrower toward Carnivine, who flapped her two appendages and flew away like a damned flying type. Angel grabbed my waist again and decided to keep me on his head from now on to keep me away from the grass, and I tried to ignore the agonizing pain in my ankle. It was slowly fading away— pulsating over and over as the adrenaline filled my bloodstream. Princess moaned as the grass slowly started to twist around her like a vise.

I spoke to her with a shaky voice, "Free yourself with Air Slash—"

With a rageful scream, two shades appeared next to Buddy and began battering Carnivine with Acids and Shadow Balls. They were too slow to hit, however, but Honey's Thunderbolt was practically instant. The grass type grunted in pain when the attack hit, but she continued speeding up until she was continuously flying in circles around us. Every single step from my Pokemon was slowed by the grass. It wasn't a lethal thing— or at the very least not while Carnivine was focused on something else, but it was like a continuous Grass Knot that made moving twice as difficult here.

Princess yelled, finally slicing all of the grass from her body and she took flight alone, but not too far away from me, since she wanted to keep her barrier going. Now that we knew that Carnivine could fly this fast, going on her without a saddle would be suicide. The grass type would follow us to knock me off Princess, and I would just fall to my death.

A tornado full of leaves was starting to form around us. I clenched a fist and stared up at Carnivine, who was so quick that she'd just become a green circular blur above our heads at this point that none of our attacks could reach save for Swift. The leaves were so sharp that they cut across everyone's skin except Sunshine's scales. Princess was barely holding on to her barrier as it was, so there was no way she'd be able to extend it to everyone else. She was still somewhat tired from her bout with Talonflame.

Princess is too focused on keeping me protected to do anything substantial, I thought to myself. Sunshine heating up would just hurt the others. Sweetheart can't do much, Honey's already continuously throwing Thunderbolts… Buddy's Night Shade would blow up in seconds from the storm, but he could maybe…

"Buddy, you need to go up there and cut her off!" I yelled.

The water type listened at once, propelling himself through the tornado as he continuously regenerated himself. I bit my tongue when his head swelled, and Carnivine didn't manage to swerve out of the way in time. The grass type rammed into Buddy, and I snapped.

"Now!"

A Flamethrower, a Thunderbolt and an Air Slash managed to hit Carnivine— and Buddy, since he was so close. Tendrils of water clung to Carnivine and solidified around her, allowing another volley of attacks to hit. A single seed flew out of Carnivine's mouth and blew Buddy to smithereens, sending chunks of his body everywhere around us, and Carnivine glared at me.

We were all bleeding. Wounded. Hurt. My eyes flitted over to the skies for a moment.

Where the hell was Ariel?

Darkness intertwined in Carnivine's mouth, and my stomach dropped. The grass type rushed toward us, but Honey blurred with a bright Radiant Leap and jumped, grabbing the Carnivine in a chokehold. Another second, and I had to cover my eyes when he let loose a huge Thunder. Sweetheart carefully waited for her turn and then rammed right into Carnivine's flat head when she found the right angle, and Honey held the grass type in position for her. Carnivine snarled when Pupitar hit her at full speed with an Iron Head, but the damage on her head healed in seconds.

Carnivine's two arms grew as they shone neon green, and she slapped Electivire in the face and sent him flying so far I almost gasped. The electric type rolled on the grass like a rag doll, and a spark more powerful than the others lit some of it on fire, leaving a trail of flames behind him. Carnivine huffed and got back in the air, but a Shell Trap and a Scale Shot from Sunshine tore right through her and her body combusted until a burst of air freed her from the flames.

Right then and there, she identified Sunshine and Honey as her greatest threat. Carnivine screamed and pushed herself back into the air. She blurred toward the electric type, who was just getting back up.

"Angel," I whispered.

Vines shot out of Angel and converged toward Carnivine. In her rush to get to Electivire, she hadn't gotten enough altitude to stay out of range. The vines wrapped all around her and darkened in an attempt to cut off her TE.

"Pin her!" I yelled to Princess.

Lances emerged from below the ground and stabbed into Carnivine's body, staggering each one to buy as much time as possible. The grass type snarled, and her spit grew purple and began to melt Angel's vines away. Honey yelled out a warning, and Tangrowth finally let go of Carnivine, allowing him to let loose another Thunderbolt while Sunshine crashed into the grass type with a fiery Rapid Spin.

I was protected from the heat, but my other Pokemon were not. Princess winced as smoke emanated from her fur while Angel had to throw himself back in order not to catch on fire.

That meant Carnivine was free.

I could almost see her shifting eyes. Sunshine was too hot to approach and potentially the one Pokemon that could deal any real damage to her. Honey was too close to us and had too much support. The stone spears that had penetrated her head and torso melted off thanks to her Acid, and she turned to—

"Get back to us!" I screamed.

Pupitar narrowly dodged what looked to be some kind of Leaf Blade by propulsing herself up in the air, but Carnivine was close behind her. The ground type dove down to the ground, and Carnivine followed. The others tried to get their attacks to land, and some did, affecting Sweetheart in the process. Thankfully her shell protected her from the worst of the damage from Flamethrowers and Air Slashes, and she was immune to electric attacks.

My eyes met hers, and I flinched when she passed me, leaving only a large billow of dust and powerful currents behind her. Carnivine did not dare approach the entire team and opted to let her run for now. I felt frustration and rage swell

Now!

"Smack Down!" I yelled.

A rock erupted from below Carnivine and reached her in an instant, burying itself inside of the grass type and dragging her toward the floor. I barked an order to Sunshine, and he spun toward Carnivine, who spontaneously combusted into bright blue flames. Contrary to what I had believed, though, the battle did not end.

A cluster of seeds leaked out of Carnivine's burning mouth, and the subsequent explosions rocked the entire mountain. Smoke swelled high into the air, and Sunshine wasn't visible any longer. Buddy had finally begun to reform to my right and was ready to go again.

"Keep yourself solid," I squinted in a desperate attempt to see through the smoke, ash and flames to no avail. "Try to send a chunk of you to check on Sunshine, and keep the Acids and Shadow Balls coming. Honey, you're muscle and our frontline. Sweetheart, hang back and find openings and get her back on the ground whenever you can. Angel and Princess, you're support."

To keep me from getting killed.

It was a shame, that battles like these were different. My team had progressed leaps and bounds, but they did not know how to fight such a dominant opponent without hurting each other, and worse, they had no way of going all out without the barrier shattering and me dying.

But Carnivine was also in a dilemma. Alone, she could easily deal with us. Together? She had no easy way to win.

Buddy reported that Sunshine was still fighting in the smoke and asked if he should aim to kill. I hesitated for a few seconds, then clicked my tongue.

"Aim to knock her out," I answered. "She's still—"

Carnivine emerged from the smoke, heavily wounded from her short fight with Sunshine. I felt a twinge of worry until Sunshine exploded from within, sending hot smoke flying everywhere with another Shell Trap. With the ash dispersed, I could finally see his state. Much of his body had been wounded by poison that still ate into his scales. His flesh was exposed to the elements, and the dragon type clenched his jaw from the pain.

Vines stretched up from the ground and stabbed into Carnivine. When I noticed the glow, I bit my lip. Was that healing?

"That's Ingrain! Cut it!"
I snapped.

Princess hovered in the air next to me, but she didn't need to move. A dozen Air Cutters sliced across the Ingrain, and Carnivine roared in anger as her vines collapsed. She was narrowly seared by a Dragon Pulse from Sunshine, and Sweetheart immediately tried to hit her with another Smack Down, but Carnivine knew how to react to it now. The rock still stabbed through her arm. There wasn't enough material to for the Smack Down to bury itself in and drag Carnivine down, so it simply tore a hole through it, and it regenerated in seconds.

The same could be said of every part of Carnivine's body. It appeared burned, but she'd regenerated past Sunshine's attacks. How?

"This is a stalemate," I said in an attempt to negotiate. "Again, I'm not here to do any harm! Just let us leave!"

Unfortunately,

Carnivine was not done with us.

Multicolored leaves appeared all around the grass type and sharpened before Carnivine sent them flying at all of us. Honey blurred in front of Sweetheart with a Radiant leap and put up a protect, but everyone else was hit. Buddy summoned a Night Shade at the last second in front of him, which exploded and damaged him in the process. Princess tried to use the same Air Burst technique as Talonflame, but she failed and the Magical Leaves hit her head and wings. Sunshine spun, opting to let his shell get hit instead of his exposed flesh while Angel simply took the attack in stride, barely feeling anything.

Then, she planted herself on the ground with a thump, and the grass all around us grew until it was taller than all of us. I was still on Angel's head, and Princess sliced across the grass around us with Air Cutter as soon as it gave any signs of life so we wouldn't get attacked by it or caught by surprise.

"Burn it!" I yelled out.

The sound of a Flamethrower went off in the distance, and I gulped. My heart was going faster than it had in a long time— I hadn't fought like this in what felt like a lifetime ago. A battle with lives at stakes was so much more terrifying than I remembered, and I had to dig my nails into my palms in order to focus. The pain in my ankle grew worse every time I didn't, and I couldn't afford to worry about that right now.

The sound of battle rang out in the distance, and then I noticed a huge ball of electricity rise into the sky. Discharge— no! I couldn't afford to fucking dally and observe. My team was buying me some time. What were Carnivine's strengths and weaknesses?

She can regenerate through anything like Buddy can, but through different mechanics. Enough power to pierce Sunshine's scales, which means she can basically punch through anything. Luckily, she's too angry to actually focus and strike where it matters. I was the head of the Ekans, and Princess kept me alive.

Granted, we wouldn't just have let her attack Princess. Angel was here for backup, and Sweetheart was close by.

Restraining her wouldn't work, so what, then? Attacking until she gets too exhausted to regenerate? Was overwhelming her regeneration at my level a possibility? Cutting it off with dark TE hadn't seemed to work very well, but Angel wasn't the best at it.

Well, no time to fucking think. The entire forest of tall grass around me had started to burn to smithereens. I stared at one of the blades of grass for around ten seconds and blinked when I realized it was regenerating too, but not fast enough to do so through the flames. Hopefully it'd be the same for her if we kept her burning long enough.

But that grass… everything here was hers, then? Had she created this place, or had she appropriated it—

Electivire bellowed like an engine, his muscles bulged and he slammed a Fire Punch right in Carnivine's jaw. The grass type had hidden herself in the grass and anchored herself with an Ingrain, and he had found her. Jellicent slipped into the ground while Sunshine grabbed onto Carnivine's arms with a mighty roar before Carnivine pushed him off with a well-placed Seed Bomb, allowing her to escape.

"Princess, how tired are you?"

If she could sweat, she'd be doing so. She answered that she was fine with a tired huff as Carnivine slashed across Honey's chest, but he slipped back with a Radiant Leap, leaving only a shallow cut in the place of what would no doubt have been a debilitating injury. Thank the Legendaries for his speed. He didn't hesitate to go back into the thick of it, weaving in and out to dodge most of her attacks.

"Keep back. You need to put everything you have into the barrier," I muttered. "Angel, I'm going to need you to go in. As it stands, we're slowly losing, and your vines might be able to keep things in our favor. Buddy's going to strike soon, so wait for him. Sweetheart, you stick around. Keep us protected."

The grass type dropped me on Togekiss' back, and the barrier morphed, growing slightly larger around us. A larger barrier was a more unfocused one, and I felt a hint of heat on my face and skin from the fires raging around us. Carnivine saw this and immediately turned her attention to me. Every vine in her 'stalk' burst open and pushed Electivire off of her with whip-like vines. Each strike left bloody imprints on his fur and forced him to let go while Sunshine was off on the side and biding his time to not harm us too much.

A Crunch built itself up in her mouth. The second time, now. She might have been wild, but Carnivine knew how to deal with barriers.

At that moment, Jellicent emerged below her. Before she could swoop toward us. He screamed in agony from the Crunch, but he lost his form slipped inside her mouth and started to burn her with Hex from the inside. A Water Spout exploded from within her, and every part of her broke.

I gasped, thinking he hadn't listened to me and that she'd died.

But despite Jellicent wanting her to, Carnivine hadn't died. Instead, thin, green tendrils burst from every inch of her skin and linked all of her body parts back together. I'd known grass types were resistant, but this bordered on functional immortality! Jellicent was left without a target as he emerged from her broken insides, and a bundle of grass grew from the ground within the flames in a second and whipped him away. He crashed into the dirt with half of his head missing.

Angel wrapped dark-coated vines around Carnivine's neck, stalk and arms as soon as she had a shape again, and she desperately cut at them with poison and the grass itself when she realized that Leaf Blade wouldn't work with her leaves restrained. Buddy spat out a glob of Acid right at her head, causing her to scream and Honey arrived with the deafening roar of Electricity and slammed another Fire Punch into her stalk.

He'd been speeding up this entire battle thanks to Motor Drive, but he was at the point where exhaustion was catching up to him.

"Let Sunshine pin her!" I yelled.

The dragon grinned and propelled himself with a Rapid Spin. Angel's vines burned when he arrived, but that was fine. The grass type simply detached them before the flames could reach him. Turtonator finally got on top of Carnivine and began to burn. Vines and grass writhed from her body and the ground, but Sunshine never let go no matter how hard she whipped and cut across his exposed, burning flesh. The air around them warped until the grass type finally fell unconscious.

"Arceus," I sighed as the weight of a thousand bricks lifted itself off my chest. "Is everyone okay?"

Sweetheart and Angel were basically unharmed, and Buddy could just regenerate from most of the damage. Princess' blood soaked her fur, but it was nothing too bad. Cuts upon cuts that would heal with a potion.

Honey and Sunshine? They were in a horrible state— the fire type even more so. Electivire had fought Carnivine in close combat and had suffered for it. Poison had eaten at the flesh on his arms, torso and face, and of course he had the same cuts that Princess had, but deeper. Had that Leaf Blade hit him in the chest, I would have had to recall him and we would have never won the fight. The electric type also had surface-level burns from Sunshine. The fire type was barely recognizable. His beige scales had been destroyed or peeled off, and he could barely stand on his own any longer.

"Angel, could you go up to Honey and apply five potions," I asked, wincing when I hopped off of Princess' back. Pain had shot up my leg even though I had landed on my non-wounded foot. Walking was going to hurt. "I can't approach him, still. Do the same for Sunshine when he cools off— Sunshine, get off of her. We don't want to kill her. Buddy, you extinguish the remaining flames. It's getting hard to breathe because of the smoke."

The dragon responded with an annoyed grunt that would have been ten times as loud had he had the energy. Carnivine had tried to kill us, so why not kill her?

"I don't think she was trying to kill you," I shook my head. "Me, yes. All of you? I think she was holding back. Thank you for getting yourself hurt so much for us. I'll recall you as soon as you get some potions—"

I flinched, and would have fallen over had Princess not used her body to support me. Ariel and her Dragonite landed upon the mountain's peak with Ariel at his back. The same League Trainer that had shown us around Lake Valor.

"You're a little late," I said through clenched teeth.

"My apologies. That was intentional," she said, looking around the burned battlefield.

I scoffed. "Intentional?"

"I phrased that badly. Adversity breeds skill. Had you started losing in any serious capacity or your Togekiss been struck and been unable to use barriers, I would have intervened. Your ankle getting hurt wasn't a part of the plan, so I apologize for that. I originally wanted to let you fight Carnivine, and I did not expect her to strike at you with such lethality. She is not usually this… aggressive. I thought she simply wanted to drive you away."

Sweetheart growled within her shell. The temperature around Sunshine rose again, and only Honey's voice managed to stop him. Angel continued diligently applying potions to his wounds, and I did the same for Princess. Ariel was just so emotionally distant that she was hard to understand, but it wasn't the first time she'd done this. She had let us fumble around in an attempt to find Lake Valor for hours until she helped, but at least our lives hadn't been threatened.

"That's a lot of risk," I muttered. "And my family is hurt because of you. My ankle is…" I stopped, and my eyes drifted to my ankle. It looked swollen and red. "I don't know. Broken, maybe."

"We ACE Trainers are excellent at evaluating risk, and wild Pokemon are usually far more predictable than humans are. The League knows of Carnivine and I believed you to be able to take her down. Have you not learned valuable lessons from this fight that could be applied in… less official manners of battle?"

I had, I thought to myself. There were minor facts like Princess needed to be able to fly while shielding me— or best case scenario, I would nab myself that Claydol so she wouldn't have to worry about me all the time and would be able to make full use of her newfound mobility. Honey could be excellent at last resort barriers with Protect and Radiant Leap and a few ideas about what Angel could be able to do with his vines that I'd be stealing from Carnivine. But there were also broader concepts, like needing to manage to find a way to fully utilize Sunshine in a battle like this without hurting the others or actually working in tandem.

We weren't in Solaceon any longer. We had the power to deal real damage, and that meant that we could hurt ourselves, but our opponents would also not allow Sunshine not to go all out. I needed to get these issues in order before we set off for our cross-Sinnoh trip. I knew for a fact it wasn't the last time I was going to face an enemy stronger than my entire team. Ruth in the Lost Tower, that thing down in the ruined city… and possibly more that I didn't expect quite yet.

But more than that, my head had grown too big. Even with my Pokemon being as strong as they were, that didn't mean the wild was safe, and my affinity for Pokemon also didn't mean that I could talk my way out of fights all the time. The high from the battle was leaving now, and I could barely think straight with my busted ankle.

"That's still a really dumb policy, and my opinion of you just cratered," I said, glaring at her.

"That's a problem. Ideally, we would have a relationship that allows us to work together. I'm sorry about your ankle, but your getting hurt was unfortunately guaranteed. Again, I believed that Carnivine would not strike you with this much ferocity, and by the time she had, I had been caught off-guard. I decided to see how you would deal with the threat to allow you to grow."

At least we were all fine, I sighed in relief before mumbling to Ariel. "So you knew about this Carnivine?"

"The League and the Rangers track many of these powerful wild Pokemon. She is not that strong just yet, but given a few decades… she could grow to anchor herself and start accruing Presence."

Obviously, the League knew about Presence, I pondered. ACE Trainers were pretty high up in the food chain as things went, so there wasn't a lot Ariel wouldn't know.

I stayed quiet at first and observed a few wild Pokemon swarm around Carnivine and mourn her loss to us. Most were grass types like Seedot, Bellsprout, or Oddish, but not all of them were. Taillow, Starly, Bidoof… there were a lot of them here. Carnivine might not have been a domain holder, but she was most likely their protector and the most powerful Pokemon on this mountain.

"At first I might have thought her to be a domain holder, but she's too weak," I muttered. "I guess she's just really strong and can make use of the vegetation around here."

All but the most courageous wild Pokemon scampered off as I approached Carnivine's unconscious body, hopping on a foot until Angel carried me over. I hovered my hand over her head to make sure she was at a safe temperature for a human to touch, and made sure there was no more poison dripping from her mouth. I started applying one of my potions to her as well. It wouldn't do much, but maybe it would make the pain more manageable once she woke up.

"Indeed, she is far from a Pokemon with a domain," Ariel said with her arms crossed. "I feel the need to reiterate my surprise at how aggressive she's gotten. Usually, she doesn't strike at people like this."

"She said her kid was stolen."

The ACE trainer paused, crossed her arms and tapped a finger on her elbow. "Really?"

"I was hoping to learn who before she attacked me," I continued. "I mean, they'd have to be a really good trainer to actually get past her, so I figured I'd maybe be able to get a description to find them nearby. If it wasn't long ago, maybe they're still in Pastoria or on the route and I could have convinced them to bring the Pokemon back."

Angel nodded at the suggestion and caressed Carnivine's head. He was the only one who loved the idea. The others were a lot less… agreeable, except Honey who was neutral on the entire matter.

Ariel ignored me and her eyes drifted to my ankle. "Do you have something to patch yourself up? I recommend flying to the Pokemon Center in Pastoria as soon as you can."

"Oh, yeah," I said, touching Carnivine's rough skin. "I can make a splint and bandage it for now, but I'll have to— well, I don't know. I'll have to talk to my friends first."

She didn't answer, but she did stay until I was done healing the entire team. As soon as Angel applied potions on Sunshine, I recalled him. He was growing delirious from the pain. Seeing him like this made me fume every time I stared in Ariel's general direction. After having Princess create a splint out of stone with Ancient Power, I bandaged my swollen ankle as best I could. I hissed every time I pressed on it too hard, but it needed to be tight. After taking a breather for around a minute, I was ready to leave. A whole lot of the plateau had been burned, but we were nowhere as experienced as we needed to be to regrow the place and Ariel said she had no grass types.

Fucking hell, it hurt. Every movement was slow and laborious, desperate not to move my ankle too much. It felt like even my clothes touching my swollen skin was too much. My face was drenched in cold sweat, and biting my tongue to distract myself from the pain didn't work. Ariel offered to lend me a hand, but I refused right away. I wanted nothing to do with her. Trial by fire worked, but I enjoyed walking.

While I unfolded Princess' saddle, I heard a gurgle from Carnivine. My head whirled toward the grass type, who was still too tired to even move. How had she recovered so quickly? Was her regeneration at work again? Sweetheart berated Carnivine, telling her to stay down and that she had lost, but she wasn't looking for another fight. Her voice was so quiet I could barely hear it.

"So now that we beat you, you're willing to talk?" I spoke before stopping. That sounded a lot more aggressive than I'd wanted it to. "Sorry. You're— you're hurting. More than we are."

I kept my distance, but I did explain to her that I was willing to go look for her son if she told me what Pokemon he was and described the trainer that had taken him. The Pokemon himself was a Leafeon. Anything that had evolved from Eevee would be rare (and especially one that could either evolve deep inside of Eterna Forest in Sinnoh or from the highest quality Leaf Stone which was extremely expensive), but that was no excuse to rip some poor Pokemon from their mother.

Carnivine let out a miserable, depressed cackle, and Honey translated her next words.

The thief hadn't been a normal trainer. He had hypnotized her, and by the time she'd woken up, Leafeon was gone. She'd gotten a glimpse of him before falling into a trance. Brown hair and eyes, average height, clean-shaven, thin eyebrows and an angular face. He smelled of tobacco and smoke.

I nervously tapped my foot the more of his Pokemon she listed. Machamp, Mimikyu, Shedinja, Malamar—

"What the fuck…?" I exhaled.

What in the world was Abel doing catching random Pokemon?

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby, ShipGoSync
 
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Grace and Cecilia
A user on my Discord called Yemdm drew Grace and Cece! Give them a warm thanks!

IWTTSgracececilia.png
 
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Chapter 245
CHAPTER 245

The sharp pain at my ankle vanished for an instant when I realized that Abel had been involved, only to return like a wave crashing against the sand. I winced, and I caught my leg spasming in erratic motions. I took a deep breath and prepared to ask questions, but Ariel had already started to speak.

"Was there a Pokemon capable of turning into something else? A female dark type," Ariel asked, more forceful than I'd ever heard her. Dragonite seemed content to listen, but the inquiry had piqued even his interest.

Carnivine, who had already started to stand up and crawl away shook her head and hovered a few inches in the air with a tired sigh. Ariel had already grabbed some notepad and was writing this information religiously with a pen she'd gotten from one of her many orange uniform pockets. No doubt she was going to report to her superiors about this. Unfortunately, Carnivine was done talking to us. She didn't believe us when we— well, when I said I'd get Leafeon back, and the fact that Abel had stolen him changed things greatly.

I had struggled so much against Carnivine while Abel had slipped in and out. Granted, his team was kind of built for stealth and crimes like these…

I sighed.

He hadn't committed a crime. In the eyes of Sinnoh's law, all he had done was catch a wild Pokemon, despite how horribly wrong that was. Stealing a child from his mother was among the most horrifying ways you could catch a Pokemon.

But he was still a criminal. Even if his team wasn't focused on strength, he would still beat me at the moment, and while I knew I would actually be able to deal some damage now with Sunshine and Honey being heavy hitters, I didn't think it would matter. The risk was far too high.

And yet, I didn't want to just give up.

"Why would Abel steal some random Leafeon? Sure, he could sell it for a million or two to the right buyer, but that doesn't really seem his style," I took a step back and remembered my ankles hurt, causing me to wince as a sharp pain shot up my legs. "Ariel, does the League know anything?"

"We knew he was in southern Sinnoh, but we didn't know where exactly," the ACE Trainer said with a hand on her chin. Dragonite growled in agreement, which made my hair go all over the place. "This narrows things down slightly. We still don't know if he's nearby or not. With a Xatu seemingly efficient in long-distance Teleportation, he could be anywhere."

"Could you have the League investigate this?"

"We're already investigating," Ariel said. "But there isn't much else I can do. The interrogation from Mira Compton showed that Abel does not know where the main Galactic base is, since her Gardevoir was there to tell if he was lying or not. He would not be of much use at this point except for gaining further favor with Unova."

I laughed dryly. "Favor? Was being freed not enough for Clarence? He needs to have his revenge for not paying the criminal mercenary that he hired?"

Ariel stared. "Yes."

"Damned manchild," I clicked my tongue. Carnivine was gone, now, having left a trail of grass where she had floated off to. At least her home would be rebuilt soon. "I guess I'll be leaving."

"And I will be following."

"Hard to tell," I snapped before pausing. "How do you eat? And sleep?" I asked.

"We work in shifts, obviously, but we never go lower than three at a time. I am the one who was assigned to communicate with you. Regardless, you don't need to worry yourself for my well-being. I believed you said your opinion of myself had cratered."

"It has, but that doesn't mean I have to be an asshole or that I can't be curious," I said as I mounted Princess. Angel thankfully helped with a few vines around my waist so I wouldn't have to put weight on my legs. "Goodbye. And don't hurt Carnivine!"

"I will not. She has a good relationship with the League, and I believe she is just grieving at the moment. She will be back to her normal self soon enough."

How clinical, I restrained a wince and exhaled.

I recalled the rest of my team and flew off on Princess. From up there, I could thankfully see that the damage I'd caused to the mountain wasn't too much. The flames hadn't spread far thanks to Buddy extinguishing them, and Sunshine hadn't gotten too hot— not to his lava-creating temperature anyway. With a lazy, tired glide, Princess set off in my friends' direction.

Ariel was an odd person, and so was every ACE trainer I'd seen so far. She was just so… detached and unemotional, but not in the same vein Justin was. It had been trained into her by the League, probably to let her stay calm and focused in every situation. And maybe to listen to every order no matter how dangerous it was too. Lou was something else entirely, however, but she hadn't been the one to intervene today.

My hands tightened around Princess' fur, and she let out a worried chirp.

"Sorry," I said. "I'm just thinking."

And trying to distract myself from the horrible pain in my ankle. Having my foot over in the air like this was debilitatingly painful, but placing it on the saddle also hurt.

How in the world was I going to get Leafeon back? The odds of finding Abel were basically zero. I was sure that he had found a new trick to get past Gardevoir's Trace, and with how uncommon the fairy type was, Mira's was the only one with the ability pushed to such a level that Sinnoh could pull on, probably because she'd spent their entire time together inside of Mira's head, even while she'd been a Ralts and Kirlia to track her different moods.

Was it impossible, then?

"Even if it somehow was, what was I going to do?" I sighed. "Ask nicely?"

Plus, he'd probably already sold it… but to whom? Would anyone in their right mind work with Abel after all the targets he had on his back? Did he work through a third party? Or maybe he pretended to be someone else? With that Ditto and the other strange dark type Mira had told us about, it was certainly possible, but then again, criminals were criminals, and the League was distracted and lacking manpower at the moment.

I bit my lip and sighed again. I was in and over my head, wasn't I? I had called Ariel out for risking too much for waiting to swoop in and save me, and now here I was thinking about ways to find one of the most wanted criminals in the world. And that was if he hadn't already sold Leafeon.

As much as it pained me to admit it, odds were I wasn't going to be able to do anything about it. A normal trainer would have been possible to find and speak to, but there wasn't much else I was capable of. I turned my head back and stared at the mountain's peak with pity.

Still lacking, I thought to myself. Carnivine had been right. We were too weak to handle Abel, at the moment.

Princess swooped down, flying only a few dozen feet above the beach, and seeing the ground pass us by so quickly improved my mood, if only slightly. Trainers battling, a few scant wild Pokemon brave enough to walk the routes, the endless waves… it felt nice. The pain in my ankle came in pulsating waves, each more hurtful than the last. I would definitely have to go to the Pokemon Center and cut our trip short, but first I had to talk to them.

It was about time I revealed Honey to my friends. This entire thing had shown that it was unsustainable to keep him hidden from them for that long. Volkner would probably hate me for it, but I wasn't strong enough to hang out off-route as long as I wanted with him, and keeping them in the dark was hurting me. I'd still keep him hidden from the public, of course.

I couldn't help but crack a smile when I reached Mira, Chase and Cecilia. Zweilous was busy digging a hole in the sand with their mouths instead of their clawed feet while Talonflame had her feathers puffed up as she took in the sun next to her trainer. Porygon and Zangoose were still battling, and their respective teams were cheering them on in their own ways. Most of Chase's team watched with a respectful silence while Mira's team was as loud as they could be— save for Alakazam, who looked like he was dying inside.

Porygon was launching every elemental attack under the sun. Thunderbolt, Ice Beam, Flamethrower, Scald… was that Scald? Zangoose raked her claws against the sand, sending white arcs toward Porygon, who beeped when one of the arcs hit her. The fight was cut short when Togekiss landed, however. Mira and Cecilia's eyes darted toward my ankle, and they noticed that something was wrong right away. I released Angel onto the beach and had him help me down. I perpetually balanced myself on one foot and leaned against the grass type for support.

"What the hell happened—"

Cecilia cut Mira off. "Who hurt you?"

Her eyes focused on my ankle as she approached me, and the same cold rage furiously bled out of her. She had been quick to anger ever since Clarence had been sent back to Unova, and she didn't hesitate to lean into the emotion any longer.

I turned back and pointed to the mountain in the distance with my thumb. "I was up there, but a Carnivine attacked me," I said, carefully picking my next words. "I won the fight, but she crushed my ankle with some grass— it might have been an advanced version of Grass Knot, or she was just manipulating it however she wished."

"You were off-route?" Cecilia asked.

"Yeah. I thought I was—" I inhaled sharply as pulsating pain shot through my leg. "I thought I'd be fine. I got a big head and I paid for it. Before you ask why, it was because of…" My eyes darted around and a sigh escaped my lips when I saw that we were in the field of vision of multiple trainers. I leaned in and whispered. "Honey evolved into an Electivire."

Reactions were muted, mostly because they were quite preoccupied about my potentially broken bone, at the moment.

"So you beat that Carnivine, then? Do you need us to beat it up?" Chase asked.

"No. Don't approach her— especially you, Chase. Your Sigilyph's barriers aren't good enough. You'd win, but you'd get horribly wounded or die unless you used the Voice. Just let her be."

"You should have used the Pokeball trick," he muttered. "Do you need anything? Mira has some Aspirin."

The Pokeball trick meant just throwing empty Pokeballs at an opponent to stall and buy time, just like he had done against the ghost in the underground city.

"It might have worked once or twice, but she was smarter than that," I shook my head. "More importantly, I have news. Carnivine didn't attack me just because I was in her territory…"

I explained the situation as best I could, telling them that Abel had snuck on the mountain and stolen her child and also went over the battle in general. By the end, I was skimming the details. My ankle needed a Pokemon Center.

"So Ariel watched and did nothing?" Cecilia scoffed. "My respect for the League sinks lower by the day."

"It did teach her things," Chase shrugged.

"Her ankle is broken—"

I cut in. "That's not a sure thing—"

"Forget about Ariel for a second," Mira raised a finger. "Abel is catching Pokemon… to sell?"

"I mean, that's what I assumed. I doubt he wanted Leafeon for his team," I said.

"Didn't you say something about poachers a few days ago?" Chase asked.

I blinked, and context clicked into place. "No… wait, maybe yes. They're supposed to be in the swamp west of Pastoria, so I hadn't even made the connection, but it's possible that Abel sold Leafeon to them. That's one of the rarer Eeveelutions."

"I'd say it's almost guaranteed. Now, we don't know if that's just a one-time thing or a recurring business. Abel is someone who prioritizes money above all else." Mira said with crossed arms.

"I really thought he'd lay low after his close call in Veilstone," I muttered. "Either way, if he's involved, we can't really do anything, can we?"

"Well I wouldn't want to," Mira nodded. "But hey, I roped you in a bunch of stupid situations before, so I'd be willing to help."

"Destroying some poachers sounds like a nice way to spend our time here," Chase agreed. His jaw tightened, and he looked back to Zangoose. "I fucking hate criminals."

I nodded. Chase had busted into Valley Windworks without any backup before, so I was sure what he said came from the heart. In a one-on-one, Abel would best all of us, but together?

It was still a risk. I bit the inside of my cheek and shook my head.

"Granted, this isn't a sure thing," I said. "I mean, how long will it take for this ankle to heal? I don't think it'd be a great idea to do this."

Mira smirked. "Think Ariel, Carlos, and the other ACE trainers will intervene if we throw ourselves in danger?"

Her eyes twitched, and she turned to Alakazam and Gardevoir, who were no doubt screaming in her head.

"With humans, they will, I think. Ariel did emphasize that wild Pokemon were usually predictable. But I don't want to be the one to force them to risk their lives to protect us. What if one of them dies? I don't want that debt in my hands. It would eat me from the inside."

Her smirk flattened. "You're right. My bad."

"Cecilia. What do you think about this?" Chase said.

My girlfriend's eyes shifted as if she had been in a daze. That was unlike her, I thought.

"I… you shouldn't risk yourself," she finally spoke. "And to be frank, I have started to hope for Abel's—"

Her mouth stopped.

"Never mind."

Mira's eyes narrowed, and I frowned. Abel's what? I shared a look with Mira, and she discreetly nodded. She'd get to the bottom of this... hopefully.

"I'll need to fly to Pastoria ahead of you guys to get my ankle looked at," I said. "Sorry to cut our travels short, but it'll only be a few days apart. Plus, Sunshine needs to get looked at too. He got hurt really bad, and I don't think potions will be enough."

"Go on," Chase said.

Mira nodded. "We'll be right behind you."

"Do you want Chase to come with you?" Cecilia asked, placing a hand on my arm. Her inner thoughts from earlier looked to have been put on the wayside, but there was still conflict deep within her. I'd known her for long enough and spent enough time with her to be able to tell. "He can follow on Sigilyph."

"I'm fine. Princess will be here if anything happens, and I'll be strapped in tight," I said with a bittersweet smile. "Sorry about keeping Honey hidden from you."

"Nah, I get it," Mira shook her head. "The blackouts, right?"

I didn't answer, but must have given something away, because she kept going.

"Yeah, I figured."

"Keep it a secret," I pleaded. "I want to make it look like he evolved on the route."

"Obviously I won't rat you guys out," she rolled her eyes.

"Let's meet when we're all in Pastoria and make a decision," Chase said. "Let's bring Williams and Lauren in. The others are too weak, I'd say."

"I'm weak," Mira acknowledged.

"But you're smart, shrimp," he said. "You can help us figure things out."

"Nothing is set in stone, okay," I said as Angel placed me back on Princess. Thanks to his dexterity with his vines, he strapped me in tighter than even I was capable of. "We aren't even sure if this Abel-poacher link is right."

Once I placed the grass type back in his Pokeball, we were on our way up. Despite her exhaustion, Princess pushed to bring me to Pastoria as fast as she could, but also made sure not to make any sudden twists or turns to spare my ankle from any extra pain. The city was still a few hours away, so I'd need to fill my mind with something while we flew, or I would definitely pass out from the pain.

"Arceus, I'm going to need crutches," I groaned.

Even with the wind as loud as it was, Princess heard me and responded with a sad chirp.

"Don't beat yourself up over it. It could have been a lot worse," I said, petting her head. "You know, when we get a psychic type, you'll be free to fly during battles and you'll be able to reach your full potential. You might not have as much power as Sunshine and Honey, but you'll be a menace."

The fairy type nodded half-heartedly, and she asked if I wanted… help.

Her new evolution had also brought her powers to a new level. Back in Eterna Forest, I had used her as a sleeping aid when I'd been plagued by nightmares, but she could do a lot more, now, and apparently she was confident that while she wouldn't be able to stop me from feeling pain, she could make the flight more bearable—

I shut her down. "No, Princess. Things haven't changed. I can't become reliant on you for everything. Cynthia might be… a character, but her advice is still valuable."

Togekiss stayed silent for a few seconds, gliding across the sandy beaches of route 213, but after a bit, she said that she'd be like a painkiller.

"You'd be a lot better, which is worse," I gently said. "Thank you for worrying about me, though. And look, if we're ever in a fight— an important fight like the one with Carnivine, and I get hurt to the point of not being able to think straight, then maybe. If it's absolutely necessary."

She seemed content with that, at the very least. When the pain came back, I started talking again.

"Okay, I'm feeling… a little better, mostly because I'm getting used to the pain," I said, leaning toward her ear. "If you ever need to take a break, you can land. I know you're tired."

Princess answered by saying that flying was no big deal.

"I'll hold you to that, then. Hey, since the swamp is a no-go because of the poachers and Abel, Cece'll have to go to the Safari zone to find her Croagunk."

She hadn't settled on Mienfoo exactly, but they couldn't be found anywhere near Pastoria, so I suspected that Croagunk would be her final Pokemon. There was only so much time she could waste. She'd have to bring them up to speed as fast as possible, and there was also the Zweilous evolution to worry about… granted, she wasn't worried yet. I hoped she would still call her brother despite their relationship having been irreparably broken.

"There's also Sweetheart," I muttered. When Princess asked what I was talking about, I spoke again. "She's getting close to evolution. The timeline points to her doing so at some point during our travels after Wake. We'll have to contain her somehow. I need to start thinking about that."

Togekiss suggested having me fly on her in the distance while the others fought Sweetheart.

"I need to talk to her. She can't go through this alone," I shook my head, clinging to the saddle. "But staying on the ground would be dangerous too. I guess we can compromise. As long as we aren't too far and she can hear my voice, and it should be okay. I don't know if she'll be too blinded by rage to know that her dark type attacks would break through your barrier. At least she'll lose her ground typing so Honey will be able to help out. Let's bounce ideas off of each other and outline a plan now."

There was also another thought in the back of my mind. Dissociating— the trick Bella had taught me— was a lot harder to pull off when lives were actually on the line. In Gym Battles? All I needed was around ten minutes of set up, but how would I lean into it when I'd have no warning and I'd have to watch my family member actually be at risk?

More food for thought, I thought to myself, sinking my hands into Princess' fluff. Anything to keep myself thinking.

The hours passed, and I managed to distract myself until we reached our destination.



The sun was almost setting when we arrived.

Pastoria looked unpopulated from the air, but I knew that wasn't actually true. Sure, it was one of Sinnoh's smaller cities, but it was still inhabited by hundreds of thousands of people.

Pastoria differed from Jubilife, Sunyshore, and Veilstone in that there were no skyscrapers, but it also wasn't tightly knit like Eterna City either. The entire city looked suburbian, for lack of a better word. Long, winding roads with similar-looking homes and Pokemon Centers and Marts were peppered throughout. The only place that looked like a proper city was Pastoria's large port and its surroundings. The low density allowed nature to flourish everywhere throughout the city, and more Pokemon called Pastoria their home than any other major city in Sinnoh, which was one of the reasons I'd looked forward to coming here the most. There were even patches of forests in the city— parks where Pokemon and humans alike could enjoy a day out in the shade. The Safari Zone was tinier than I'd expected. Apparently there were some local populations of rare Pokemon there along with what you'd expect to find in a swamp. Paldean and Alolan species that were fit to live in the environment and that the Pastorian government had fostered over the decades. Needless to say, there were some stringent quotas on the number trainers could catch.

Princess circled over the city, making sure to adhere to the rules we'd learned in Flight School as she searched for a landing pad that was as close to a Pokemon Center as possible. The city was surrounded by the swamp to the west and north, and a forest even further north hugged the Safari Zone and stretched on for what seemed like forever. There were plenty of other trainers flying around too, as there always were in cities. It was just odd that I was one of them now instead of the ones looking at the sky in awe.

Well, that was just me having delusions of grandeur to distract myself from my ankle. Most trainers didn't give a crap of what went on over their heads.

Princess landed on one of the pads with giant Pokeballs on them, and I released Angel to support me the rest of the way. The long streets did not work in my favor here. Pastoria was even more car-centric than Veilstone and Hearthome had been. I passed by a group of curious Bidoof and waved, keeping my face as still as I could.

When I reached the Pokemon Center, I was ready to collapse. I gave over all of my Pokemon with the exception of Sweetheart and Buddy and moved on to the human wing. I was dragged into one of the hospital rooms and checked right away. The doctor that had been assigned to me looked quite young, but I paid him no mind. He introduced himself as Dr. Hemsworth.

"So. Will you tell me what happened to your ankle?" He gently asked.

The answer took a while. It was hard to talk when he was actively undoing my bandages. At the very least, he didn't say my splint had been bad, but he didn't compliment it either.

Why was I even expecting a compliment on my splint? Arceus, the pain was making me go crazy.

"I fought a wild Carnivine, and I think she hit me with some strengthened Grass Knot. Either that, or she could manipulate the grass as she wished."

"Hm…"

"Ow!"

I hissed, clenched at my leg as he palpated at my swollen ankle.

"My apologies. It definitely feels and looks broken, but we'll do an X-ray just to be sure. Take off your ring and undress, please. I'll hand you a special gown and step out of the room to let you change."

My entire procedure was a blur. Having to stand and keep my leg still was so painful sweat started to drip off my forehead. When all was said and done, he produced a series of images that showed my ankle fractured in a few pieces. I gulped and turned to the doctor.

"This is good," he said, much to my surprise. "The bones weren't displaced, so you'll be able to heal without surgery. We'll need to immobilize it with a cast, of course, and I'll have to ask for you not to put any weight on the leg—"

"How long will it take to heal?"

He hummed. "You're looking at a few months for your leg to feel normal, at the very least. In around a month and a half, walking will become possible again…"

His words faded into the background, and a mixture of rage and disbelief bubbled in my chest. Fucking. Ariel! Months! Months of healing! Yes, she said that she was caught off-guard, but had she intervened the moment Carnivine appeared instead of wanting to force me to grow in strength, then none of this would have happened.

Calm down, I exhaled. You shouldn't have gone up there in the first place. And there was no way she could have known about Carnivine wanting to kill me when she usually only chased humans off her mountain without injury.

At that point, I'd be expecting her to step in whenever I came across any wild Pokemon, and that was unreasonable.

But still, fuck her!

The fact that even ACE trainers were not infallible was not something I'd wanted to figure out.

Doctor Hemsworth donned me with a cast for my ankle that looked more like a damn ski boot than anything and gave me a pair of crutches to help me walk, along with some painkillers that I knew would be a lot less effective than Princess was.

I was too tired to do anything. After getting myself a room and downing a pill, I let the numbness take me and fell asleep.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby, ShipGoSync, Kcx1
 
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Chapter 246
CHAPTER 246

I slept for so long that I woke up the next day.

My stomach rumbled, and my throat felt horribly dry. Pain pulsated through my ankle, and it took me a split-second to remember that it was broken. That would take a while to get used to.

"Water—"

Arceus, my voice was croaky, as if it wasn't actually me speaking.

My foot froze mere inches from the ground. I'd been about to put my full weight on it. I carefully shuffled to the mini fridge and poured myself a glass of water. I'd been so tired yesterday that I hadn't even released Buddy and Sweetheart before sleeping. In fact, I'd been so focused on getting myself to a doctor that I hadn't even told my friends that I'd made it to Pastoria. Strangely enough, since I'd flown there instead of walking, I was actually the first of the group to make it to the city. I'd even arrived before Louis, Maeve and Justin. I sent a text explaining that my ankle was broken, explaining that a Carnivine had done it, and opted to tell Melody the same thing so Poketch would know. I sat back on my bed and downed another pill for my pain. The label said once every six hours and a maximum of twice per day, so I needed to be careful about that. After taking a picture of my cast to send to the others, I groaned and considered what the hell to do today.

"Exploring would have been fun if I hadn't been crippled," I sighed, gripping my bedsheets. Not only could I not put too much weight on my foot, but I couldn't leave it hanging in the air either. Both hurt like hell, although the painkiller was kicking in and was turning the intense pain into a duller ache. "I guess I could have Angel carry me."

I was sure the grass type was healed since he hadn't suffered too harshly. Honey and Sunshine were the only ones who would have to stay longer. The Nurse Joys were probably a little taken aback by the fact that I owned an Electivire, but I was sure that very little surprised them after everything they saw through their career and training. I'd have to ask them not to say Honey's species out loud when they handed him back to me while I picked up the others, though. I wanted to wait a few more days for the reveal, and I was sure they'd understand.

I released Jellicent into my room and told him about my broken bone and the time it'd take to get better. The ghost simmered with hate toward Ariel, but I touched his cheek in an effort to calm him down.

"It's going to suck, but we'll be stronger for it," I gently said. "Don't think about Ariel for now. Want to go hang out outside? Angel can carry me around, and I have a few spots I want to check out."

Of course, Buddy wanted to keep me confined to my room as much as possible so I could rest up and heal, but I didn't want that, even with a broken bone.

"I used to do that without being injured," I said, standing up to grab my crutches. I placed them under my armpits and took a few tentative steps. "Uh… these are a lot less intuitive to use than I thought, but I guess I'll get used to it. Anyway, back in Jubilife, I was kind of a shut-in. Did Princess ever tell you about that?"

He shook his head. Princess didn't really talk about my faults from the time before I'd gone on a journey, only the good memories. I leaned against the wall and struggled to open the door.

"I've got it," I quickly added before Buddy could help. Hiding my frustration from not being able to do mundane things was going to be a challenge. "Anyway, I'd get home from school and stay in my room all day except when I'd go on these father-daughter dates with my dad. I had some friends at school, but none of them were really that close like the ones I have now. None of them have tried to contact me, funnily enough. I think I prefer it that way."

The water type squeezed past a few trainers, and then stopped me with a small click. I'd been going toward the stairs instead of the elevators. When I turned back, he asked if any of them were trainers today.

"I haven't really looked," I shrugged. "Like I said, we weren't close. I sat next to them at lunch, and we'd speak a little. I wasn't really invited out because I was sort of a weirdo, and either way I think I would have said no because I preferred being home and watching whatever show or battle was on TV."

Buddy hummed, saying that I didn't really watch TV any longer except when the kids wanted to watch cartoons.

"Yeah, I mean I do the real thing now," I smirked. "Oh, there it is."

The elevator dinged, and I slowly entered it. Luckily, since it was morning, there weren't that many trainers out and I didn't have to wrangle to enter, because that would have been an entire dilemma. I picked up Princess and Angel's Pokeballs from the Nurse Joys, confirmed that they'd keep Honey's status anonymous, and released them after I grabbed a quick breakfast and exited the Pokemon Center, along with Sweetheart. Every single eye darted toward my cast.

"Morning guys," I smiled, wanting to appear strong. "So yeah, I'll cut to the chase. As you can see, my ankle's broken."

Sad or angered grunts ran through the team. Angel patted me on the head and ruffled my hair.

"It's going to take a month and a half for me to be able to walk without crutches, and even longer to actually do things like jog and run. It's going to suck. But we're going to tough it out, alright? Princess, don't be so mopey. I'm fine!"

I was not fine. But I had to act like I was. I hadn't lied in so long, I realized. It felt so wrong. Like I was speaking a different language that I didn't actually understand. I knew from the way Princess squinted at me that she saw through me right away, and she snitched to the rest of the team, who all yelled at me for lying.

"Okay, I'm sorry. I'm pissed," I said. I clenched my fists around my crutches and bit my lip. "I hate this. But it's already done, okay? Let's make the best out of it. I want to go out and about while the painkiller's still in my system and I can actually do things. Angel, could you carry— woah!"

The grass type wrapped a vine around my waist. Sharp pain panged in my ankle when he lifted me off the ground.

"Gently! Do it slow."

He plopped me down on his head, strapping me in with more vines like a seatbelt. He dragged the crutches out of my hands and planted them inside of him. They still stuck out a little, but at least they'd be easier to carry. He also carried my backpack and my piano, so he was basically doing everything, which I appreciated greatly. His vines were very convenient for things like this.

"Okay, just walk around wherever you want for now," I said as I grabbed my phone. "Sorry Sweetie, but you're too slow and you'd probably damage the streets, so I'll have to recall you, okay?"

The rock type didn't yell like I'd expected her to. Instead, she just nodded, even though I could tell she was annoyed. Was she behaving because I was hurt? I thanked her again and she disappeared into her Pokeball. Soon enough, we were on our way… wherever we wanted really. Princess hovered a few feet above my head. It was important not to go too high because otherwise she'd be breaking the law and the last thing I needed was a fine.

The good thing about Pastoria was that with streets this wide, traveling with a lot of my Pokemon was so easy that it was a wonder every trainer wasn't doing it. Oh, I saw some traveling with multiple, but others kept them all in their Pokeballs. Funnily enough, the town Pastoria reminded me of the most now that I wasn't practically delirious from the pain was Solaceon, only a little bigger in every single aspect. We passed by a home with a pool, where a Wooper and her trainer were enjoying their morning. Every house looked almost the same, with brown rooves and dark, different-colored bricks, although there were unique ones sprinkled once in a while that stood out.

"Uh… okay, here goes."

'Pokemon activist groups in Pastoria.'

Those were the exact terms I typed on my phone. Jasmine's words had been harsh—

Well, they hadn't been harsh. Just unexpected. I needed and wanted to get involved in the scene and actually talk to people with similar goals that I had. It was about time that I took action instead of just thinking about doing this. Granted… I'd probably better get the okay from Melody first.

I wondered what Jasmine would say if she saw me like this? I quickly thought. I hadn't sent her a message because she'd probably laugh and say I got off easy.

"Better call Mel," I muttered.

Angel's vine tightened around my waist in his usual 'what are you talking about' way.

"Don't worry about it, baby. It's just sponsor stuff," I scrolled through my contacts and called her. She answered immediately. "Hi Melody—"

"Grace! What happened to your ankle?!" She asked, stressing the last word.

"I sent you a message! I told you, we were attacked by a Carnivine!" I yelled, feeling slightly defensive.

"Oh. Did you? I'm so used to having to find out things about you through other people that I didn't even check. What's the damage?"

"You should have more faith in me. It's broken."

"Shit. Let the company know if you need anything. How long will it take to heal?"

"One month and a half to walk. Longer for everything more advanced than that," I explained.

Angel waved at a couple of Pidgey, who screeched at him when he tried to touch them. Buddy chided the grass type and told him to keep his vines to himself.

I continued. "I'll be okay. I was calling to know if me getting involved in a Pokemon Rights group was an issue or not?"

Melody paused. "That depends on a multitude of factors, Grace. And isn't your ankle broken? What are you doing, looking into things like that? Shouldn't you be resting?"

"Buddy said the same thing," I chuckled. The water type turned at the mention of his name, his tentacles shifting slightly. "Mel says I should stay holed up in my room."

He nodded and strongly reiterated his stance.

"Yeah, I'll rest up soon. I've got a few hours in me," I said. "So, Mel, what are these, uh, factors?"

"Send me a list of names, and I'll give you the ones you can look into and maybe join. It would depend on their history, if they're non-violent, their leaders, what those leaders had said in the past… then I've got to send it to the higher-ups. It'll take a few days for the decision to come back. The sanctions have them quite panicked and busy."

"A few days?" I grumbled. "Okay. I'll do some research and send you some names."

"And you absolutely must not be seen anywhere near them until we allow you to, okay? Don't associate yourself with any until we give you the approval."

"Yes, I get it. I'll just find something else to do today."

"Like resting?"

"Later. I'm hanging up now, okay?"

"See you soon, Grace. Keep your leg still!"

I blew a raspberry and stared into the sky. That was a no-go for now, then. I kept scrolling through my phone as Angel took us wherever he wanted. He was having quite a lot of fun, since it was the first time he actually decided on where to go for the entire group. Even then, he kept his walk steady so my ankle wouldn't move around, and he had a few vines keeping my tibia against his body. He brought us to one of those forest-parks that was relatively empty save for wild Pokemon. The grass type waved at an Aipom hanging by a tree with his tail and settled down in the shade. I caressed the top of his head, knowing that he would have much rather been sitting in the sun, but had decided otherwise since I was sitting on him.

I'd settled on two organizations that looked legit enough for what I needed. One was a lot larger than the other and was called the United Pokemon Advocacy Network, or the UPAN for short. They were the biggest organization in eastern Sinnoh and was actually one Mallory from the SGNC had been a part of before she had moved onto Team Plasma. They had a branch in Pastoria, and the address was somewhere next to the port. They were known for their moderate and incremental demands. Most recently, they had started lobbying politicians to ban another wave of Pokemon humans wouldn't be allowed to eat, but of course that had gone out the wayside with the numerous political crises Sinnoh was dealing with at the moment.

The second was called the Pokemon Freedom Alliance, or the PFA. The PFA was a lot more localized to Pastoria and was considered more radical, with demands like having a psychic stationed at every Pokemon Center to ask trainers' Pokemon if they were treated right or wanted to leave. Their key goal, however, was to end the Great Marsh. They called the Safari Zone a cage where Pokemon were essentially 'farmed' for trainers to catch them.

Honestly, they appealed to me a lot more. I sent Melody the two names, emphasizing that I'd rather look into the PFA if possible. Their demands weren't actually that bad, despite the internet framing them as this horrible thing. Granted, I wanted to learn more about the Safari Zone for myself before coming to any conclusions, and I'd go there whenever Cecilia arrived in the city.

Would I even be able to with my ankle the way it was? Would Angel be able to carry me through the marsh? Or maybe I'd have to hover slightly above ground on Princess. Walking in a swamp with crutches would basically be impossible.

PFA's psychic Pokemon in every Pokemon Center idea, though? I agreed wholeheartedly! It would make abuse so much more difficult to hide, and maybe they'd be able to use the Rangers to return the Pokemon to their homes too.

A slight, earthy smell filled my nose as I settled down on Angel's head. I was almost sinking inside of him with how comfortable he was, and had I not slept for twelve hours straight, I definitely would have gotten drowsy. The soft cries of Kricketot and Burmy rang out throughout the park, and my lips stretched into a smile. Yeah, I was miserable, but this was kind of nice. I released Sweetheart, since we'd stopped walking around for now, and the rock type calmly swayed in the forest. A few wild Pokemon approached me after I told Buddy and Princess to stop being so overprotective. They were becoming unbearable because of my broken ankle, asking if I was okay every two minutes. I knew they meant well, but I preferred to focus on other things. These were just two Kricketot— friends, most likely.

"Hi little fellows," I whispered, touching Angel's head. "Baby, can you put me down?"

Angel gently placed me back on the ground, placing the crutches under my shoulders by the time my healthy foot touched the forest floor. I let them go for now and crouched next to the two bug types. The first Kricketot was a little bigger than the other, and he was also a lot more outgoing. He let me touch the little strings on his stomach and then cheered.

Come to think of it, I internally said.

I sat on the ground and asked Tangrowth to hand me my piano. I dragged the electric keyboard out of its casing and turned it on. I'd practiced a whole bunch, both in Sunyshore and on the way to Pastoria. Of course, I was nowhere near good quite yet, but at least I was sort of okay. I pressed on a key, and the two Kricketot shivered in excitement. Their antennas twitched and the smaller one touched one of his strings on his stomach.

"Uh, you two should lead. I'm not good at coming up with stuff," I said, turning to Buddy, Princess and Sweetheart. "You three sing."

The water type shrunk— which was one of his ways of scoffing.

"Yes. Sing! Come on, give me something! I have a broken ankle, so cheer me up! Pretty please?"

The Kricketot slowly began to play a melody with their stubby little arms, along with slamming their antennas together in a gentle rhythm. The strings sounded like violin, and the antennas like... xylophones? Smiling, I joined in soon after. It was a clumsy thing with mistake after mistake. My fingers would slip, or I would press down a note that I thought would sound good, yet did not, or I would press on it for too long or too little.

And yet, it was beautiful to me. We were all trying our best.

Princess tapped the back of Buddy's head with a wing and told him to start singing. The water type blinked, his eyes dimming as he resigned to his fate. My eyes widened when Princess sang. Her voice was far deeper than her usual tone, which went perfectly with the song we were playing. Jellicent added some clicks and whistles at regular intervals— a little like a beat that he got more and more into the longer the song progressed. Sweetheart was a lot less uniform, yelling as loudly as she could until I managed to help her find a good tempo and volume. Angel started twirling— breakdancing, for lack of a better word. Spinning on himself and using his vines to keep his momentum.

My hands sped up as much as they could, and the song reached its apex. It was a brutal, frantic rhythm that I had no idea two little Kricketot would be able to make, but I followed them as best as I could. When the song ended, the same Aipom we'd seen clapped with a wide grin, and a few other Pokemon that had gathered to listen left after giving us their thanks. A Spinarak pulled herself up back into her web. A Petilil floated off into the wind and behind some trees. We'd been seen by plenty of people.

"That was awesome. Thank you both for joining us," I dipped my head at the Kricketot, who nodded in return and left after gesturing at my leg. Healing wishes, maybe. "Thank you. Stay safe," I said. I wriggled my fingers over my piano and smiled. "Playing music for others feels good. You three sang great!" I turned to Angel. "And your dance was awesome,"

Buddy huffed, turning away from me. If ghosts could blush, I thought with a smirk. Meanwhile, Princess did a smug pose, saying that she hadn't even tried, and Angel just kept… doing whatever that cute dance was. Had he seen someone dance like that on TV and wanted to replicate it?

"Wish Honey and Sunshine had been there to see it, though," I said. "We can come back here when they're all healed up. Angel," I stopped to snort. He'd spun so much that he was dizzy and barely standing straight. "I wanted to talk to you in particular about a new technique."

I waited for the grass type to return to his senses, and he focused on my voice. I could tell he'd wanted to wrap a vine around my ankle in that moment, but he quickly moved on to the other one. His usual one was broken.

"Carnivine could manipulate the grass as a whole, right?" I explained. "She made it wrap around things and had it regenerate nearly instantly. Only Sunshine could burn through it fast enough. I was thinking, what if you could do the same thing?"

Tangrowth shifted his entire body.

"Not with grass. With vines."

His entire body wriggled as one.

"You've been working on Solar Blade and using your powder moves through your vines, of course, you'll keep working on that. This is more of a long-term thing… it's a lot harder than it looks, and there are going to be a lot of steps. You'd have to teach yourself to extend your range so you could cover a lot more of the battlefield, but you'd also need to lean into regeneration a lot more so you can keep churning out vines without running out. Without Giga Drain, that's a lot more difficult. And I know that you're great at multitasking, but managing an entire field of vines would be impossible for you, at the moment."

I paused and called over Princess, who allowed me to lean on her. A Pidgey above us screeched and nearly got caught in Spinarak's trap before escaping with a small gust of wind.

"But just picture it," I continued with a wild grin. "The field. Your field, covered in your vines, each one independently controlled by you and regenerating continuously. Ten of them stab into your opponent with Solar Blade while another… hundred just grab them to keep them still while you finish them off. Doesn't that sound awesome?"

Angel shivered in excitement and nodded, waddling around as happy as he'd ever been.

"That sounds like an Elite-level technique to me, and it'll take a long time for us to get there. There are a lot of steps to take before we reach its full potential, but that doesn't mean we can't create proto-versions of it or start working on it now."

And of course, the technique wouldn't be usable in an all-out brawl like the battle with Carnivine, or at least not on that large of a scale. I'd have to wait for the entire family to be there to start brainstorming on that. We at least needed a Band-Aid until a psychic joined us and made things a lot easier.

"First, you've got to start working on regeneration, I guess. Does anyone have a good guess at how the hell Carnivine was regenerating so quickly? It wasn't only Ingrain, although that was part of it. Maybe a passive Synthesis?"

Princess shook her head, giving up on finding an answer. Jellicent hummed, then nodded after thinking about it for a while. Angel brought up two vines and mimicked a shrug with them while Sweetheart followed whatever Buddy said to appear smart.

"It was pretty sunny. Not that many clouds were out yesterday, so Carnivine's regeneration would have been pretty strong if it was Synthesis. And I guess that applied to her plants too. Angel, you can learn both moves, although I guess Ingrain would be a lot easier for you."

The thought of Angel potentially becoming an absolute monster like Carnivine was quite pleasing to me, and I felt a tingle run up my spine.

"We'll get started soon. For now, you finish up on Solar Blade, and then we'll move on to Ingrain. I guess Buddy was teaching you Acid too. Think you can handle that?"

Angel nodded without a moment's hesitation.

"Great! After that, we'll work on the range of your vines, but that's far off. Anyway, let's just… relax here for a little while, yeah? The weather's nice, and the company's nice too. I hope those Kricketot come back soon."



Pastoria's port was a lot bigger from the ground than it had felt like in the air. The floor was paved completely white, and the smell of the ocean clung to my nostrils. Angel carried me along the private part of the marina, where a dozen luxury yachts sat unused. Personally, I didn't see the appeal of a yacht when the ocean was so deadly, but if I had to guess, the owners never ventured too far from the coast. The waters around Pastoria were routinely patrolled by Rangers to ensure no accidents took place. This was a stark contrast to the more industrial parts of the port. There, I saw people holding signs that read 'Laid off' or 'Lost my job' and that were asking for money. I handed as much as I could, but there was no way I'd be able to help everyone.

The effects of the sanctions were already being felt. A lot of sailors that would have been on ships going to Galar were laid off, it seemed, and this was only the beginning.

I munched on a ham, cheese and lettuce sandwich as I observed the luxurious marine front. I was technically not looking for anything, but my eyes were drawn to the hotels and five-star restaurants. Pauline and Emilia would love it here, I said, jotting down the location in my long-term memory. It was hard to ignore the strange looks I got due to Angel carrying me on his head. What did surprise me was some kind of commotion when I largely left the port and passed by Ranger Headquarters around fifteen minutes away from the marina.

HQs were different than outposts. The outpost was where Mudsdale would be, but this was just where all the offices and the paperwork were run. A small protest was taking place— a protest of trainers. There couldn't have been more than thirty people there, but it was a striking image nonetheless. Usually, trainers didn't protest. It wasn't really in our culture, even if times got really bad.

But times were worse than bad here.

They were demanding action from the Rangers. 'DOWN WITH THE POACHERS', 'DO-NOTHING RANGERS', 'MY POKEMON WAS STOLEN' and similar slogans were etched in red into signs, and despite there being so few trainers, this place was louder than anywhere I'd seen on the bustling port.

Five Rangers had been stationed at the door to keep the people out, but it didn't look like it would actually hold. They were pushing in, and even the press was there, filming, interviewing and taking pictures. I asked Angel to take a wide berth around the street to avoid getting in any shots, but I did ask him to stay to see what would happen. These poor trainers had lost Pokemon dear to them, and they deserved to be heard. If I had one of my family members taken away, I'd be going head-first into route 212 to slowly kill whoever was the culprit in the most agonizing way possible, but not that many people had the capacity to do that, so this was their next best option.

I stayed there for another few minutes, and the trainers didn't actually breach into the building. It appeared they got reinforcement both from Rangers with actual Pokemon Teleporting in from the outpost in the marsh out west and law enforcement setting up a barricade around the building.

"It's truly a tragedy what's happening here," someone said beside me. He was a boy with a pretty high-pitched voice.

"Hmhm," I hummed. "The League has other priorities, but I can't help but think they could send…"

I didn't finish my sentence. Surely a squad of fifteen ACE Trainers would be enough to deal with these poachers, but then again, they hadn't even found their hideout yet somehow. If Abel was helping, that would certainly make a lot more sense. I didn't know how much experience he had with hideouts, but the fact that he hadn't been caught by either the Unova or the Sinnoh League spoke volumes. I turned to the boy who'd been speaking to me—

"Uh…"

The blond teen adjusted his green scarf with a look a lot more serious than I'd ever seen him described with.

"I wish I could do something for them," Barry Lane said.

"Right," I nodded with a shaky voice. I had not expected to see him here. "But we're just people, right? It'd be difficult to strike them down, let alone find their base of operations."

Had he forgotten about me despite Denzel introducing us in Veilstone? I questioned in my head. Not that it bothered me at all.

"I tried to get Professor Rowan to speak to the League about it, but he said it was out of his hands," Barry said. "I've got to keep toughening up. One day, I'll be strong enough to deal with things like this on my own. My old man could come down here and fix it in one afternoon! Although I guess he'd have to find their base first. What's your name?"

I blinked. "Grace Pastel."

He tilted his head, staring up at me and Angel. "That rings a bell… oh right! You're Denzel's pal! He told me about you after you fought in Sunyshore!"

And he introduced us in Veilstone, I internally screamed. "Right. I didn't know about that. And I also didn't think things like this would interest you," I said, turning back toward the protest. It had largely dispersed, now, but I had no doubt it would start again somewhere else. "Denzel said you were a lot more scatterbrained."

"I can focus when it matters," he said. "Either way, I need to go. I've been training day and night to fight Crasher Wake, and then I'm off to fly for Snowpoint! I want to be the first first-year with eight badges!"

"Honestly, you'll probably make it," I resigned.

"Denzel said you were pretty strong," Barry said, poking at Angel, who poked back. "Maybe a battle would be nice. I've been lacking a rival— not that you could be my rival! You and your friends are all far too slow for that!"

I scoffed. "We have the same number of badges!"

"For now," he shrugged.

"Uh, could you wait until my other two Pokemon are healed?" I asked, tempering my need to accept right away. A big battle would be a perfect way to reveal Honey to the world. "We got into a nasty run-in with a wild Pokemon off-route, and they got really hurt."

"And your ankle too," Barry noticed. Now that we had moved on to a less serious topic, he started speaking a lot faster. "I can wait a few days, but not too many. Then, you'll just slow me down!"

"Two days," I specified.

"Two days stretching it… gah! I don't want to turn into a Slowpoke, but fine! Six-on-six with three switches! I want to fight your Turtonator."

"Sounds like a deal," I said. "Um, I need your number, though. To organize, and things like that—"

"Meet me at 890 Adelaide Road in two days at one in the afternoon! Okay, thanks, bye!"

He ran off into the distance, not bothering to stop at my calls.

"O…okay," I stammered.

So... that had just happened.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby, ShipGoSync, Kcx1, ArgentumTriKeras
 
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Interlude - Horizon
INTERLUDE - HORIZON

Cecilia looked onto the beach and listened to the ever-calm waves crashing against the sand intently. She focused on the horizon and squinted at the thin, almost indistinguishable line that separated the ocean and the sky. Beyond the horizon was obscured, and it would be no matter how far she chased. Walking, running, flying, swimming, none of these would work. The horizon would march on in front of her, forever alluring, out of Cecilia's reach. Her feet did not move one inch in the sand, even when a particularly large wave hit her ankles. She was still, ever staring at the horizon.

Cecilia was beginning to despise her lack of power— not only physical, tangible power that her Pokemon could dish out on a whim, but soft power as well. When the people she wanted to emulate spoke, the world moved. Cecilia's word did not matter. She could scream, kick, destroy, throw a tantrum, but the situation would not change at all no matter what she wanted. Cecilia was at a stage where she was powerful enough to feel like she mattered, but not powerful enough to actually do. She sighed as she heard soft steps in the sand approach behind her.

My lady, Slowking spoke into her mind. Chase and Mira request your presence.

"Tell them I'll be a little while," she answered. "Ten minutes."

Very well. Make shore to ask me if you need any help.

Cecilia turned to the psychic and gave him an amused look.

"That was a… five out of ten. Maybe a six, if I'm feeling generous."

Was shore on a beach too on the nose? That was the point, Slowking shrugged. I wanted to cheer you up.

"That worked some. We need to get you started on Chilly Reception. I'm sure you'd be able to make puns so terrible even the opponent would freeze."

I've wanted to learn the move for weeks, Slowking laughed, rubbing his hands together. Don't get cold feet now. You aren't ready for what's to come.

"Cold feet? Was that another one?"

The water type's mouth gaped. I swear it was not. You can't fault me for using a common human idiom.

Cece snorted. "Just go tell them I'll be on my way."

Of course, my lady.

"Thank you, darling."

Slowking began to jog back to the rest of the group, almost hovering in the air every time he took a step. Training himself to step on barriers was going well, Cecilia mused with pursed lips. Levitation was too advanced of a concept for most psychics even though all of them could theoretically reach such capabilities, so Cecilia and Slowking had settled on the next best thing, especially with how good Slowking was getting at shielding. Plus, it would be a wonderful tool to have against Crasher Wake, since his arena was a giant, rectangle-shaped sea with a few islands. Slowking might have been a water type, but he would not be able to compete against Wake's Pokemon in the water.

Cecilia let out a long exhale, turning back toward the ocean.

The decision the League had taken to send her father back had completely blindsided her. Cynthia had warned her beforehand, but that hadn't even mattered. To paraphrase the Champion, she had basically said that they were doing this whether she liked it or not. There was too much at stake to let feelings get in the way of things, Cynthia had told her, and that she would make it up to Cecilia when they traveled together this summer. Arceus, that would be miserable. Cecilia closed her eyes, focusing on the anger that rose from within her chest. Think, she shouted at herself. There was no use letting the anger consume her. Focus. Channel it and clear your mind.

Cecilia opened her eyes with newfound clarity, and she took a breath. Talonflame could be seen in the distance, flying so fast over the ocean that Cecilia could barely keep track of her. The sound barrier was as elusive as ever. There were no more tricks they would be able to employ to gain more speed, or at least none that Cecilia knew of. From now on, Talonflame would need to train herself until she reached her goal.

Yesterday's revelation had thrown her for a loop. Abel was near, or at least he was involved with some 'business' nearby. The first thing she felt when she heard the news was not terror, which had been extremely surprising, and not something even Cecilia had expected. She had spent so many nights dreading Abel and Malamar taking what was worth the most to her. Freedom. Being a mindless puppet forced to listen to the whims of her father for however long Abel would have been under his employ. By the time they'd let her go, it would have been too late to change anything. Cecilia blinked and felt her throat tighten. Even imagining herself stripped of her will terrified her.

So why had she been… no, relieved would have been the wrong word. Cecilia still despised Abel from the bottom of her heart, but she'd never felt so— so—

Dirty.

The first thought that popped into her head was,

I want Abel back in Unova so he can burn and destroy everything my father had ever loved and cared for.

She had not cared for the stolen Leafeon, nor had she bothered to feel bad for Carnivine. Cecilia had only thought in terms of how she could use Abel for her own gains, and that terrified her. Cecilia disliked Cynthia, but a part of her could not help but understand how the Champion had gotten to where she was in the first place. Cynthia was a ruthless pragmatist who did not care what she had to do so long as her decision helped Sinnoh, and it would be easy for the teenager to let that side of her take over.

After all, what was one sin? But then it would turn into two, three, and years later you looked back, and you were unrecognizable to even yourself. Or maybe that version of you had never been real in the first place. Just pretending to be normal.

And it was not like she could just convince the others not to get involved— and the fact that she was even thinking about that disgusted her. Grace was a kind soul. Cecilia was sure that she would convince herself to get involved one way or another. Chase wanted to bring the poachers to heel, and despite Mira having changed for the better, she was still not risk-averse. If a fight between them and the poachers took place, the League would intervene and Abel ran the risk of getting caught.

"Damn it," she sighed. "Damn it all."

Cecilia could almost imagine Azelf giggling at her with their child-like voice, mocking her dilemma and just telling her to take what's hers or something along those lines. There was a fire in Cecilia's throat, begging to be let out, but she would stamp it out every single day. She would never use the Voice.

What if my friends are in danger? She thought as she took a few uneven breaths.

Cecilia gulped. Then, she would.

But for a selfish goal that only she cared so much about? No.

She could not.

We'll see how long that lasts—

Cecilia's head whirled behind her, but there was nothing. Just Mira and Chase in the distance, getting ready to set up for the evening now that the sun was starting to set, along with their Pokemon surrounding them. She swore that she heard something taunt her.

She buried the concerns and made her way toward her friends. She released Zweilous along the way to accompany her, and the dragon followed in her wake, content to be by her side. Sol and Zerst were growing a lot more cooperative these days— not with her, but with each other, a telltale sign that their evolution was not near, but at least within reach. She dreaded and reveled in the day she would finally get a Hydreigon.

How ironic, that she would miss Zweilous having two personalities when she had feared that very thing when they had just been a Deino. She would also still call Mark, if only to give him a piece of her mind and eviscerate him as well as get his advice. Cecilia and her brother had never been close, but he had essentially knifed her in the back. Instead of listening to special interests in Unova, he could have grown a backbone and punished their father for all of his abuse.

Then again, Cecilia had no idea what the view looked like beyond the horizon. Cynthia did. Mark did. And yet, they all seemed so evil to her. Did power truly corrupt even the most well-intentioned individuals, then? Did responsibility doom you to immorality? Was the weight of a region simply too much to bear? Continuously twisting and bending yourself for the 'greater good' until you became a part of the system that you tried so hard to destroy, change, or reform? What did Mark, Cynthia, and the other Champions see that she did not, and why did it push them to act so?

Cecilia placed a hand on Sol's rough head and smiled when Zerst demanded attention as well. They both licked her hand, but their tongues might as well have been concrete with how tough and rough the texture was.

"Thank you for worrying," she smiled, scratching both of their chins.

Cecilia walked the rest of the way in silence, and soon the beach bled into grass and dirt. Mira and Chase sat atop a log that Zangoose had cut and brought over for them, and Houndoom had already started a fire to cook their meal. Today was… grilled cheese sandwiches, which Mira apparently knew how to cook. Houndoom snored at Chase's feet, and Vikavolt was off flying somewhere just like Talonflame was. Zangoose and Sigilyph were speaking a few dozen feet away, and the normal type was showing off a new way of sharpening her claws to her friend while Scyther compared his scythes with them. Abomasnow had started spending more and more time in his Pokeball now that the weather was shifting gears. Lehmhart was also in his Pokeball for now because he had exhausted himself trying to fly. He was getting a lot better, though, and Cecilia was sure she'd be able to get her license in Pastoria. Lucario sat next to Chase, quietly meditating with Aura diffusing out of him.

The plan for her and Chase was to go to Canalave right away after their seventh badge, even though they weren't exactly going together. Cecilia hadn't exactly asked yet, but she was sure Chase was planning on going to visit the Iron Islands, and she wanted to go with him. Not because she wanted to do anything there, but because she didn't think it'd be good for him to go alone. He had finally opened up and told both her and Mira about what had happened to his hometown and father, and Cecilia didn't want to leave a friend in need hanging, especially when the Iron Islands would hold traumatic memories for him.

Alakazam and Gardevoir flanked Mira, as they always did. Porygon was playing some kind of gacha game on her phone and had hacked it to give herself infinite in-game currency somehow. Haunter and Magnezone sparred in the distance. The ghost was irritating his opponent to no end by taunting him every time an attack missed, and Slowking contained the damage with a barrier. The battle must have just begun, she mused.

"There you are," Mira cheered, gesturing at Cecilia to come over. "You were brooding so hard that I could see it from here."

"Well, no, you couldn't," Chase shook his head.

"Manner of speaking, Chasey. Sit down, Cece. We want to talk about things with you."

"Just to preempt this, I do think Mira's spouting a bunch of bullshit and is way in over her head."

"Pfft. That never happens," Mira said with a sarcastic chuckle. "You'll be getting the first sandwich as revenge so you can be our lab Rattata."

"I thought you knew how to make them?"

"Uh, yeah, but cooking in the middle of nowhere is different than cooking in a kitchen."

"Arceus, I miss Grace's cooking," Chase grumbled. "Your sandwiches are definitely going to taste bad."

Cecilia cracked a smile. "I wish I'd been recording that. Her hearing Chase say that ought to have cheered her up with her broken ankle."

"Well I heard online that she was having fun playing piano to the wildlife in Pastoria earlier today, so you shouldn't worry too much about her," Mira joked. "Your girlfriend will be fine."

"It's a long time not to be able to walk. I know how frustrating that is from experience, let me remind you," Cecilia paused to sit on the long log and pat her clothes down to look presentable. "And Grace isn't one to enjoy feeling restricted. What do you want to talk about?"

Mira grabbed the only skillet they had left now that Grace was gone and started making the sandwiches.

"You've been out of it ever since Abel's name was mentioned yesterday."

Cecilia blinked. "Out of it? Perhaps I was more distant because of my worries—"

"Grace knows something is up too. We shared a look before we left, and I have to figure you out now. We're friends, Cecilia. Talk to us. You don't need to hide."

Cecilia sighed, not knowing what to say.

"Oh, shit. She was right?" Chase faltered.

"I… um, I was worried for— well, not for Abel, but I ideally would want him to get back to Unova and wreck havoc on his path for revenge," she said, calmer than she expected. "So this whole poacher business made me uneasy. The ACE Trainers intervene, he gets caught, and then what? He gets extradited to Unova, and Clarence wins again," she hissed through clenched teeth. "Do you know how he was greeted back to Unova?"

Both of her friends shook their hands in silence.

"With accolades. My brother shook his hand and smiled for the cameras," Cecilia raged. "He smiled! There was this whole party thrown in Castelia, my mother welcomed him with open arms and a kiss, and they're saying he was a political prisoner and that there was no evidence against him, which is bullshit. Almost all of the Gym Leaders and half of the Elite Four came to his party. Marshal, Caitlin and Brycen missed it, thank the Legendaries."

"He still abused you," Mira muttered. "How does he get welcomed back into society after that? He hired Abel!"

"The law's different for him," Cece bit her lip. "He's pinning it all on Louis' father. Throwing his old business partner under the bus."

"Bullshit," Chase spat.

"He's also using my closeness to Cynthia as a foil," she continued. "Saying that I'm getting manipulated by a foreign dictator. Of course, I'm a damsel in distress getting manipulated again. He used the same excuse when Pauline exposed him in Eterna City. Amy ate it all up too."

"Amy?" Chase frowned.

Cecilia frowned. Had she never told him her former friend's name?

"Trash. Don't bother asking," Cecilia said.

"A likely story," Mira scoffed. "Can't believe you still want to go there. You should stick around next year with us. Bring Grace too."

"See that?" Chase pointed at Mira. "That's her saying she'll miss ya both and she wants to spend more time with you. Savor it."

The pink-haired girl blushed and stammered out an answer that made no sense.

Cece smiled, but she shook her head. "No. I've made my decision. I will not run away any longer," she firmly declared, reminding herself of how Azelf had mocked her for it. She wanted to be taken seriously. If she stayed away from Unova like an exile, then her enemies would win and have the last laugh. Imagining them toasting over Champagne about how their plans had all worked out infuriated her so much that she forgot to breathe.

Cecilia continued with a firm voice. "I just can't. Even if Grace hadn't agreed to come with me, I would have gone."

"So what? Are you gonna have, like, a political revolution? Kick some ass?" Chase asked, his eyes fixated on the fire.

"Please," Cecilia rolled her eyes. "A revolution? With all the death and destruction? And with what support? Revolutions aren't born from nothing. You can't just declare one and hope for the best. I plan on working within the system and using all of its glaring loopholes to my full advantage."

"Yikes. Take notes, Chasey. You'll have to do it too," Mira said.

"I can hire people for that, right?"

"You're never becoming the Champion," Mira laughed. "Maybe aim for Gym Leader of Canalave instead. You've already got Ri for a steel type."

"Fuck off."

Cecilia retreated into her thoughts to ignore their bickering. It was not like she had been idle all this time. Her father being sent back home had lit a fire under her, and she had been doing research. She did not expect to beat Mark next year, but that did not mean she'd have to play nice. Unova was not a monolith, despite what her friends believed. Not everyone approved of the status quo. The problem is that they never got enough power for it to matter.

Whereas Sinnoh was split into two parties— or used to be before it became a fancy group full of 'yes-men'— with a pro-Champion coalition and the opposition, Unova's political life was much more alive. Cecilia had looked into a few of them. 'Forward Unova!', The 'Anti-Corruption' party, The 'Radical Party'. She did not exactly see eye-to-eye with any of them, but they did share a common goal, so ideology was not exactly a problem quite yet. There was also the 'Plasma Organization', which was actually the largest out of the four and had gained steam this past year, but they were far too extreme for Cecilia's liking— although she had noticed that their message was getting toned down a little as they gained more and more influence. Still, they were just populists saying whatever was the best to get themselves elected. Only their Pokemon rights policy seemed to be something they believed in.

Not that she would not be content to let them shake up the status quo. The status quo was the enemy.

Cecilia refocused on her friends, who seemed to be back to their normal selves.

"Here's your sandwich, Chasey."

The teenager lifted his cap and bit into the bread.

"Meh," he said with his mouth full. "Good effort, I guess."

"Hell yes!" Mira clapped her hands. "I'll make yours, Cece. I've given some thought to your Abel problem while I was arguing with this guy—"

"I personally think you should just let Abel rot and take the fight to your old man yourself," Chase interrupted. "Oh, my bad, shrimp. Go ahead."

"Right. Uh, I obviously wasn't going to say what Chase said. On the off-chance that we get involved in this poaching thing—"

Chase cut in. "I'll go with or without you."

The pink-haired girl flicked him on the forehead. "Let me finish! Arceus! On the off-chance that we do something about it, then y'know, maybe just don't bother thinking about Abel getting arrested."

"Huh?" Cecilia frowned.

"Think about it. If he can't stand up to or run away from a few first-years and some ACE Trainers, what makes you think he'll even bother your dad in Unova?" Mira shrugged. "Clarence is dumb, but surely he's hired bodyguards— real bodyguards. Not the one you told me about that were in the hotel in Eterna City that were only as good as kids with a couple of badges. You don't just get kidnapped and not change your hiring process."

Cecilia blinked. "It's true that Clarence would do that," she muttered. "I remember seeing a lot of faces filtering in and out growing up. He'd have dozens of different guards every month… but now, he probably has some ACE Trainers of his own. Hell, maybe he had some before going to Sinnoh that never showed their faces. I wouldn't know."

"But it makes sense, right?" Mira asked. "If he can't deal with us, well, he sucks."

"Well, we're strong," Chase said. "This Abel guy is what? 8-Badge level?"

"Probably higher, but I don't know, he doesn't really fight people, as you know. When he does, it's to stall to allow him to escape," Cecilia paused, grabbing the sandwich from Mira's hands. It was so hot she almost dropped it. "I'll give your suggestion some thought, Mira. Thank you for the help."

"I live to please," she bowed. "But I know it's not that easy."

It was not, Cecilia thought to herself with a visible nod. What if Chase let his hatred of criminals get the better of him and used the Voice on Abel to trap him? Granted, they were keeping their capabilities a secret from their guards, which was why they hadn't practiced or experimented with it ever since they left Sunyshore and only did so inside of their Pokemon Center rooms. They still feared that a power like that would have the League completely reevaluate their relationship and decide they actually were too valuable to let travel around the region or let go of after this whole Galactic situation was over.

What if, against all odds, she was the deciding factor between Abel escaping and getting caught?

Cecilia internally groaned and bit into her food. There were too many 'what-ifs' for her to even know what to do at this point.

"This tastes… okay," she said, trying to change the subject. After chewing for a few seconds, she recoiled. "Ew, what cheese is this? Plastic?"

"Excuse me, princess! I didn't buy you gourmet Miltank cheese, because we don't all have the money to spend on that!" Mira yelled. Cecilia couldn't tell if she was fooling around or she was genuinely offended. "I've got to save for my Porygon Upgrade, and I barely have enough as it is considering I wanted an Eevee."

"Sorry, sorry," she waved a hand. "Come to think of it, Chase, how's your money doing?"

"Well aside from getting paid from the LTIP, I don't get much," he shrugged. "I'm still never getting myself a sponsor. I'm not going to whore myself—" he stopped, and considered his next words. A smart decision, considering Cecilia had been about to destroy him with a verbal essay about sponsorships. "It doesn't align with my morals. I want to be self-made, and I don't want to be beholden to some half-dead men in suits."

"Meh. I'd kill to get sponsored by a professor," Mira shrugged.

Cecilia beamed. "Me too! I was actually looking into Unovan Professors too!"

"You? You don't seem like you'd be interested in research," Chase said. "Mira, I can see it."

"If you couldn't, you'd be blind," she chuckled.

"It's not about the research, it's about the information and supplies they'd be able to give," Cecilia repeated what she'd told Grace in Sunyshore. "They're treasure troves of knowledge— Mira, do not make that joke."

"Wasn't going to!"

Cecilia couldn't bear to finish her sandwich and threw the remaining bits to Zweilous, making sure to divide it into equal parts. Even then, Zerst got jealous and glowered at his fellow head, who was too busy chewing to care.

"As much as it pains to admit, I'll definitely have to do something for money," Chase acknowledged. Every word coming out of his mouth looked like it pained him, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "The Conference has a bunch of items, or whatever nonsense, and I still haven't bought vitamins… although we're keeping up through sheer dedication."

"I'm sure you'll get an idea," Cecilia said.

"No, he won't. He'll put it off because his standards are impossible and go into the Conference without items," Mira said.

Chase glared. "You're the one who was complaining about money and wishing you could get sponsored by a Professor. Your standards are impossible."

"Guess we aren't so dissimilar," she teased.

They spoke deep into the evening, and Cecilia was content to let herself be a part of the fun even though she was still far from having fixed her internal dilemma. Still she was at least enjoying herself tonight, and that was more than she could ask for.



Cecilia hadn't really drifted off to sleep when her phone rang, but her eyes had been closed, and she'd been leaning against Talonflame's comfortable fluff. She was no Togekiss, but she was still comfortable and warm. Chase slept huddled next to his team while Mira had her head on Gardevoir's lap. The fairy type stroked her hair while her trainer snored. Grace had told her that Gardevoir thought Mira to be a daughter, and she'd seen more evidence of that every passing day.

Speaking of Grace, she was calling at an unspeakable hour. Cecilia didn't care, nor did she manage to contain the burst of happiness within her. One day apart, and she already felt like this? This wasn't healthy, she told herself. She had not figured that out on her own, of course. Denzel had spoken to her about it once in Sunyshore, but she hadn't wanted to act on it beyond making some vague promises. Co-dependency, he had called it. And of course, Denzel had not expected Sylveon to be suffering from a very extreme version of it.

Maybe those weeks apart would do them some good. Right now, though, all she felt at the idea was dread. It was hard not to feel distressed when they literally spent the majority of every single day together in some form.

Cecilia picked up the phone and rose, opting to get away from her friends and Pokemon so she wouldn't disturb their sleep.

"Ceeeeceeeee," Grace drawled.

Cecilia giggled. "What's up with you? How's your ankle doing?"

"The pain meds have worn off, and now I'm stuck on my bed trying to go to sleep. The pain makes it hard, but what really grinds my gears is the fact that I can't fucking change positions without sending terrible spasms up my leg, so… yeah. I'm not sleeping, I guess. Did I wake you— Buddy, please don't get this close, you're going to get my cast wet and I already got into that close call when I showered."

Cecilia sat on the sand, not caring about any that could potentially get on or in her clothes.

"I can stay up with you, if you want," Cecilia said.

"Oh! I mean, I wouldn't want to keep you, you sound tired."

"I am," she agreed. "But I can stay an hour or two. Maybe three."

"Let's settle on one," she said. "I did a bunch of fun stuff in Pastoria today! Here, I played the piano and two wonderful Kricketot joined in the melody— it was this entire thing. I wish I recorded it! I bet you'd be proud of me…"

Cecilia intently listened to Grace's day. Her girlfriend did not hold back from venting about the pain she was in or the poacher situation, but she did not let that deter her from focusing on the good either. The good food, the pretty streets, the wild Pokemon, the parks, the fun she had with her team… she sounded like she was doing okay for herself.

She had also looked into Pokemon Rights and was apparently going to battle Barry Lane. Denzel would go crazy for it if he was there.

"You won't believe what Mira said today!" Cecilia gasped, suddenly remembering. "Well, not said, but more implied. She basically admitted that she'd miss us…"

Grace laughed when Cecilia finished the story— and especially at the notion of Mira blushing. That was a rare event, and every happenstance was stored in their core memory.

"Chase is the best for forcing that out of her. How's he doing?"

"He misses your food."

"I'll make him some chicken and veggies when you guys get here. Honey will probably tell me to stop working and cook alone."

"He'd be right."

"Meh. I can do it if I have the painkillers in me."

"I don't like the sound of that."

"Any update on the Slowking pun front?"

"There is an update, but don't change the subject," Cecilia chided.

"Don't worry, I only take two per day, spaced six hours just like the doctors said. Otherwise I'd be passed out sleeping right now."

"Right," she nodded. "Um, say, Grace. I have something to tell you about Abel. I told this to the others already, but…"

Cecilia stared upon the horizon and blinked as she explained her dilemma. It was so dark out that she could not tell where the ocean ended and the sky began as if the horizon had disappeared from view completely. Cecilia held out her hand, her palm outstretched, and closed it around where she thought it would be.

There really was no way to know what was beyond there until you made it there yourself through sheer force of will.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby, ShipGoSync, Kcx1, ArgentumTriKeras
 
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Chapter 247
CHAPTER 247

"I think you've got to penetrate the ground and, uh, absorb the nutrients. You can try to use Solar Blade to make it quicker. It's a lot more efficient at stabbing than Power Whip."

Angel nodded, and a bright light slowly overtook his vines. Our Solar Blade was still clumsy and slow to charge, especially on a cloudy day like this one, but even with the sun, the move wasn't really usable in battle yet. The principle behind Solar Blade and Solar Beam was the same: draw upon the sun for energy to charge your attack. That was where the similarities ended, however. As it turned out, Solar Blade required far more control over that energy than Solar Beam because while the beam was just letting the attack loose once he'd gathered enough of the sun's energy, Solar Blade needed fine control to work. Coating a vine with the power without it exploding all over the place had proved a challenge in the weeks Angel had started to learn the move.

Now, though, he had a grasp on it good enough to avoid any accidental explosions, but even with the sun, he wouldn't be able to use Solar Blade that quickly out of fear of the attack blowing up and hurting him.

Tangrowth stabbed eight vines coated with Solar Blade deep into route 213's soft soil. It was hard to tell if he was regenerating or not because, well, he hadn't actually been hurt, but he did say he was feeling something, and his vines were growing slightly longer, kind of like someone with overgrown hair.

I did need a haircut, come to think of it. I ran my hands through my puffy hair and hummed. We'd gone to train right after Barry had challenged us, and Princess had flown me to an isolated spot that was still on the route. It was a small clearing in the middle of a well-maintained forest a few miles inland away from the beach. I did avoid route 212, because that was where the poachers were located. I'd heard online that the route was practically a ghost town nowadays. It had already been somewhat empty before this whole situation because the swampy part of the route was one of the most dangerous spots in Sinnoh, but even the stretch going up to Hearthome was empty.

While Angel was experimenting on Ingrain and practicing Solar Blade at the same time, Princess practiced her aim while flying as fast as she could, hitting boulders she had set up with Ancient Power with Air Slash and Charge Beam from a distance, and practicing with flying TE in general. She had a lot of catching up to do to stand up to flying types of our level, but she was chugging along. Eventually, though, I would like for her to delve into Tri Attack. It wasn't the attack as a whole that interested me, but the individual blasts of electricity, fire and ice themselves. They would serve as an excellent base for Princess' future foray into elemental attacks. Togekiss could learn things like Flamethrower through TMs, and knowing how to handle weaker versions of those moves would speed up the learning process. I thought that for now, however, it would be best to bring her up to speed with the techniques that every flying type of a high level needed to compete in the air.

Buddy's Will-O-Wisp and Sludge Bomb were coming along alright. The water type had never been this challenged when learning a move. Sludge Bomb was easy. It was just a natural progression to Acid, except that it was larger and was supposed to explode when it landed, which meant that he'd need a better grasp at manipulating poison TE. But Will-O-Wisp? Jellicent's eyes shone bright red as he summoned another wave of the cold, purple flames in the distance. They screamed some in joy, others in sorrow or agony— but summoning the flames wasn't the problem. In fact, he could do it quite easily at this point.

It was getting them to listen that was.

There was a reason he was so far and isolated from us. Two of the Will-O-Wisps entered his own body and burned him while the rest scattered in every direction. Luckily, he'd gotten good at at least sending them back to wherever it was they came from before they could run off. The wisps usually died off after two minutes or so, being unable to sustain themselves in our world for long.

Where did Will-O-Wisp come from, actually? The Dusk? Bellatrix had told us that ghosts drew power from another plane of existence, so the logical conclusion was that Will-O-Wisps also came from there.

But what the hell even were they? Half-formed ghosts? They had voices but I wasn't sure if they were real, conscious beings or just pretending to be.

Well, maybe that'd be another question for Mathilda. I doubted Bella would answer me for free.

Sweetheart was working on Stone Edge. The move's concept was simple sharpening rocks and having them burst out of the groundbut it actually had a lot of applications that Rock Slide just couldn't fill. Precision and speed were two, but most of all, a Pokemon that knew Stone Edge well enough could basically do whatever they wanted with rocks, sort of like what Princess did with Ancient Power except they wouldn't be able to shape them like she did.

The team was very hard at work, as always. Not just because of the fight with Barry, but because of Wake too. He tended to be underestimated by trainers later in their Circuit because he wasn't the best Gym Leader in terms of skill or power, but even then, people often forgot that still meant he was far better than the vast majority of trainers and certainly he would be an incredible mountain to climb.

Today, though, was about my research on Barry Lane. I sat back on the ground a few feet away from Angel with my laptop on my lap and hummed a little song as I looked up some of his battles. There were actually a lot more than I expected to find, mostly because he did actually battle people in cities whenever he stayed there mostly second and third years these days, because he'd crush any first year at this point. People weren't going to refuse a challenge from Palmer Lane's kid. Of course, there was nowhere near the amount of video footage that other trainers usually had. I'd say he had a similar number of appearances as I did, except I battled my friends and he battled strangers.

So I looked up and studied the first battle… then another, and another. I tried to keep the battles recent so I'd learn his Pokemon's moves as well as his style, but the problem was that Barry was a different person in every single fight. Sometimes, the differences were stark, like going from having a slow, stalling strategy against Maylene where he controlled the field to an all-out blitz against Volkner, but most of the time, they were subtle changes that only a good eye would catch.

At first I thought he'd be like Candice. That there'd be patterns or categories I could slot him in, and to an extent there were, but this was like Candice on steroids. Sometimes he would completely switch up a strategy mid-battle too, even if it wasn't failing completely. Other times, he'd create a brand new move, use it once and then never use it again. The sheer amount of creativity and techniques Barry had was mind-bogglingly large, and whenever he battled, he seemed to do so on pure instinct.

But I did not despair, nor did I think victory was impossible. First, I had a lot more firepower than he had with Honey and Sunshine, and I had come far from the days where I'd been almost incapable of thinking on my feet or dealing with new elements in battle.

"Let's look at that Empoleon…" I muttered.

Empoleon, Staraptor, Roserade, Rapidash, Heracross— Barry's team was quite simple in theory, although that newly-evolved Snorlax was going to be a big problem. Granted, the normal type was also getting used to his new body just like Honey and Princess were, so that equalized the playing field a little bit. He had only been seen in a single fight three days ago, and he moved very clumsily.

Empoleona master of steel and ice moves (he could actually shape ice however he wanted), and excellent with water too. Surprisingly one of Barry's fastest Pokemon due to how quick he moved on ice, I mused as I watched the water type battle against Volkner. He also knew a bunch of coverage moves, but that was honestly all of Barry's team. I assumed that his sponsorship with Professor Rowan meant that he had gotten a lot of TMs to use on his Pokemon. As it stood, Empoleon wasn't that big of a problem compared to the rest of what was on Barry's team, but he did know Roost, which meant that combined with ice type moves to slow his opponent, Empoleon could excel in long, drawn-out slogs.

Granted, he could also crash into you with Liquidation or Drill Peck and destroy your Pokemon quickly too.

Staraptor was a scrapper. Not a massive hitter like Cecilia's Talonflame, but someone who could be a lot more consistent while she fought. She focused on maneuvering instead of speed, which meant that Barry could do a lot of strange stuff with her. Strangely enough, she was also Barry's main way of setting up the weather, with Rain Dance, Sunny Day and a bootleg version of Sandstorm that was still relatively weak.

In a battle he'd fought and lost against a third year in Sunyshore, Barry's Staraptor had spent half of it grounded and fought with Close Combat, Acrobatics and Steel Wing. Against Maylene, Staraptor had used Sunny Day and Heat Wave to completely neutralize the same Lucario I'd fought and had forced her to switch. As it stood, she would dominate Princess in the air, so I'd have to come up with something else to deal with her.

"To be honest, Staraptor fights more like a Togekiss than an actual Staraptor," I muttered.

Angel twitched next to me.

"Stay focused," I said. "I'll talk to everyone about Barry later."

Togekiss were known for the sheer versatility of their moves and fighting styles, and that was where Barry had taken his Staraptor, it seemed.

Staraptor even knows Ominous Wind, I thought, feeling slightly impressed. Using ghost type techniques for a non-ghost was extremely difficult, even with TMs. There was a reason Princess didn't use Shadow Ball very much. It was much too slow to charge, too weak, and too difficult to control. I did plan on working on it eventually, but it wasn't anywhere near what we prioritized at the moment.

"Roserade next," I said. It didn't take long to find a video with her, seeing as she carried Barry for most of the fight against Volkner.

What if Denzel's Roserade had focused on grass instead of poison? That was basically what Barry's Roserade was. A master at using grass in a multitude of unique ways. She didn't use many moves save for Leaf Storm, spores, Seed Bomb and Petal Blizzard. The rest was all Barry telling her to do some wild thing, and her somehow following up on that. She could extend thick, thorny vines from her flowers that served as extended arms and whips. Luckily, she seemed nowhere as sturdy as Denzel's Roserade. She traded that weakness for mobility, though. The poison type liked to use Grassy Terrain and Grassy Glide to move around.

Rapidash was where things really got wild. The fire type wasn't exactly Barry's ace from the videos I could see, but he might as well have been.

First of all, he could fly.

Fly might have been a strange way of putting it. Rapidash could jump in the air with Bounce as many times as he wanted. Thankfully, he wasn't fast when he did it, but he could land back on the ground to gain momentum before quickly jumping back into the sky with a surprising amount of speed.

"Arceus, it looks so wrong," I chuckled. Rapidash casually hopped in the air, raining down flames into Maylene's arena.

There was a drawback to Rapidash having focused on the technique for what I assumed was months. He was Barry's only Pokemon that was somewhat predictable and didn't have much else under his sleeve. Hypnosis was kind of scary, but he needed a long time to get it off. There was also Solar Beam and Charge Beam to deal with water types, but other than that, Rapidash was focused on what he did best. Fire and flight.

Heracross was another one of his fliers. The species were normally only capable of crude flight unless they were mega evolved, but he had mastered it in his own right. He was also adept at using sound-based attacks through his wings, which meant that my orders might be obscured while he was out. The problem with Heracross wasn't as much the variety of his moves, but the fact that if he ever got close to your Pokemon, you were in trouble, especially with Swords Dance.

Sunshine and Honey would be a great counter for him.

Last but not least, Snorlax, who I'd seen in exactly one battle. There wasn't much to go off of with him, but I could at least learn his moves. What I knew from Craig's own Snorlax was that they were incredibly resistant to all attacks. Fire, frost, electricity, any elemental attack wouldn't go past their layer of fat. Snorlax was the only one of Barry's Pokemon who I thought Sunshine couldn't take on through his passive heat. Lava would hurt, but it wouldn't be game-changing. Stabbing him with elongated spears would just have them bounce back before they did any real damage or they'd get stuck in his fat.

I knew there was a solution to all of these issues. I would just have to come in with an outlined plan and keep up with Barry's pace and switch-ups. I didn't want to just react, however, and there were plenty of things I could do to assert my presence on the field.

I opened an empty page of notes and began planning.



"Gah! This is so fucking hard!" I groaned, clenching at my hair. "I've never experienced this before!"

Angel, who was taking a break from his Ingrain training, caressed my hair and unruffled it. Every single time I felt like I was planning something correctly, I realized that it wouldn't work. The main issue was that Sunshine and Honey were pivotal in this fight, but they were only two and Barry had six Pokemon. That wasn't to say that the others would be useless, but Electivire and Turtonator needed to be my lynchpins, while all of Barry's Pokemon could serve as one.

"Relax," I sighed. "Look at the big picture."

What if I used them as a battering ram to turn the tide of the battle? They were no doubt my two most powerful Pokemon at the moment, and should there be a stalemate or Barry gained the advantage, they'd help me kick the door down, so to speak. I was going into this half-blind, but one thing was for sure, Sunshine and Honey would force Barry to react.

"Well, I might as well take a break too," I said with a stretch. "Angel, you hungry?"

The grass type shook his head, but said he'd be willing to eat anything I made. All of those Ingrain had given him the nutrients he needed.

"Okay, gather up the others," I said. "I'll have Princess fly me back to the Center and I'll make something for you guys… wait, my phone is ringing."

Melody again, I thought. Already? She'd told me it would take a few days.

"Something wrong?" I asked.

"Regarding your political aspirations, a decision was taken. You will be allowed to join the United Pokemon Advocacy Network."

I raised an eyebrow. "That was fast."

"Well, the UPAN is widely known across eastern Sinnoh. I was expecting you to send me more choices akin to the Pokemon Freedom Alliance and more obscure organizations that would take a while to vet, but you went with a moderate, popular choice. I'm very proud of you."

"Thanks?" I hesitated. "So the PFA's a no-go? They have pretty decent ideas."

"Obviously it's a no-go. It's not just about their policies, but the way they conduct themselves— or at least that's what my colleague said. I've been too busy to look into it."

"What's new?" I asked, gesturing to my team. Angel had gotten distracted and tried to get Princess to blow him with the most powerful gust of wind she could muster. When my Pokemon noticed, they started to make their way toward me. "I mean, obviously you're taking care of me, but what's got you so busy?"

"Oh, meetings that could be emails about the plan of actions to counter the sanctions," she said. I easily visualized her rolling her eyes. "Don't worry about it. Nothing will change regarding your salary."

"Got it," I nodded.

"By the way, nice music stunt," she said. "Someone recorded it and posted it online. You're trending on Chatter, and you were wearing your Poketch Watch."

"Someone recorded that?" I shrunk. "I was playing like garbage! This sucks."

"You were playing okay," she said. "And it's a striking image that'll stick in people's minds."

"As long as the board is happy," I muttered. "Um, are you going to be flying to Pastoria? It's been a while since I've seen you."

"Aw."

"Don't aw me," I quickly said.

"Sorry, that wasn't a conscious aw," she laughed. "I'm afraid I won't be able to see you, though. I'll be stuck in Jubilife for the next few months. Do you think you'll have time to pass by the city during your off-the-grid flight that you warned me about?"

"Uh, maybe when I'm done with the entire thing and I'm on my way to Canalave. Why?"

"The board would like to meet you. Both with and without Craig."

I froze, not knowing how to answer.

"It isn't that intimidating. I'll help you before the meeting."

"You're telling me that meeting my bosses isn't intimidating?" I scoffed.

"Look at the bright side, you'll see me there."

"Great," I sarcastically said. "What will it be about?"

"Transition procedures, mostly. That really is what it is. Procedure," she said, emphasizing the word. "You'll be fine."

"Okay. I got it," I said.

"The board would like a tentative date for the meeting. Craig has already agreed upon the 25th of April, but early May should work as well."

"Early May works a lot better," I said. "Plus, it'll only be one afternoon, right? If I get to Canalave early, I'd be able to fly back to Jubilife if needed."

And by then, I'd be able to walk, I willfully thought. "Okay, Mel, I'll leave you to work— wait! Actually, I'm going to be battling Barry Lane in public in two days. Is that fine?"

"What?"

"I'm battling Barry Lane."

"Palmer's son? The only trainer on the Circuit sponsored by Professor Rowan?!"

"Yeah! Why are we screaming?!"

"Legendaries…"

"It was spontaneous! He asked me out of the blue today."

"Okay. Okay," she breathed. "Can you stream this?"

"Stream? I don't even know how any of that works," I said. "I guess I could ask Denzel for help."

"Excellent! And don't worry about your showing! Even if you lose, this'll bring us so many views that it'd make up for any result!"

"I'm going to win," I declared.

"I never said otherwise. Good luck out there! And enjoy your time at the UPAN."

"Will do."

Yep, she'd definitely freak out when she realized Honey had evolved.

I hung up, and after recalling my team, I was on my way back to Pastoria on Princess' back.



After feeding my team some kibble mixed in with their vitamins, I had Angel carry me to the UPAN's building, which was situated in Pastoria's city center close to the port. It was about time for me to start specializing with my team's vitamins too. Sunshine was already doing so since he'd been with Kamaile before, but the rest of my team had been eating every vitamin to give them a good base to build off of, as I'd seen online and Cecilia had told me all the way back when we had traveled in Eterna Forest.

With Angel, for example, I would prioritize Magnesium and Zinc. His defenses were already high, and special attacks were mostly what we had to worry about. With Princess, Carbos and Calcium to focus on speed and special attack. Sweetheart would get Protein and Iron, Buddy Magnesium and Calcium, Honey Carbos and Calcium. Sunshine was already taking Calcium and Magnesium, so there would be no changes there.

The UPAN Pastoria building looked quite large and wealthy. It looked like one of those old buildings you sometimes found in Canalave. It was old. Pastoria, like Canalave and Sangem, was among the oldest in Sinnoh. The history book I read most nights with Buddy did state that the earliest settlers had come from Johto south of us, so them having created towns south of the region on the coast at first made sense. Of course, the majority of these towns had been lost to time. War, disease, Pokemon attacks, the world was unforgiving back then.

The facade was made of beige bricks whose colors had chipped away with time, and the roof was made of old, gently sloped rusty clay tiles. Many small, decorated windows littered the front of the building, and small pockets of vegetation were growing through the cracks in the building. There was no banner or sign advertising that this place belonged to the UPAN, and I had to double-check to make sure I'd come to the correct address.

"I guess this really is the place," I muttered, looking up from my phone. "You can let me down, Angel."

Tangrowth gently placed me on the floor and handed me my crutches and my backpack. I'd dropped off my piano at the Center, since I knew I'd be going inside of a building and didn't want to walk with that extra weight. After recalling Angel, I stepped inside of UPAN headquarters. It wasn't full of activity as I had expected. There were only a few people inside, and most looked bored out of their minds. The interior had been hollowed out and renovated to look a lot more modern, even if the ground was still made of plywood and the walls still had this old feel to them. The furniture looked completely out of place, as did the lights on the ceiling.

Seeing as there was no reception for any questions I might have, I decided to ask one of the faces there. I approached an older-looking teenager— although I could tell he was still a trainer thanks to the two Pokeballs he carried. He had a buzz cut, dark hair and he was so engrossed in his phone that he didn't even notice I was in front of him.

"Uh, hi? I need help?" I tried.

He lifted his eyes up at me, and I saw something shift in his eyes. He recognized me, I realized.

"Sure, what's up?" He asked. "You're Grace Pastel, right?"

"Yup. I'd like to— well, join might be too fast, but I'd like to look into the UPAN. It's pretty empty… uh, is anything going on?"

"Not at the moment, no," he said, straightening up. "My name is Alex Gilliam," he extended his hand, and I shook it. "I'm a member, but I don't have the authority to let you join. That'd be Harley Webb. She's at the head of the UPAN's Pastoria division. She's a little busy at the moment, but I could go knock on the door of her office."

"I mean, if she's busy I can always come back later," I shrugged.

"No! No, stay here, okay. Grab a seat, I'll be right back," Alex blurted out.

"Okay."

He ran off into a hallway, and I heard him jump up some stairs. Parts of me almost wished I could spy on whatever he'd say with Buddy, but I didn't want to be rude or get kicked out of this office before I even talked to the leader here. Alex seemed way more excited than I thought he'd be. I was a famous trainer, but I hadn't really been involved in the Pokemon Rights scene before. Maybe he thought that my experiences with wild Pokemon would be able to help them advance their cause, and that was certainly what I believed, at least. With my ability to actually speak to Pokemon without a psychic, I could make things a lot easier for the UPAN. I sat down and ignored the stares of the other four people in the room.

Alex came back five minutes later with an older-looking woman— in her early thirties, so around Melody's age, if I had to guess. She had shoulder-length, frizzy brown hair and wore really thick glasses. She had no Pokemon of her own, or at least none that I could see with her.

I shot up from my seat to greet her.

"Grace Pastel," she said, looking at me from head to toe. "Good afternoon. I hope Alex wasn't rude to you or anything—" the dark-skinned teen besides her shrunk. "My name is Harley Webb, but you can call me Ms. Webb."

Right, I thought. I wasn't exactly used to calling adults like that anymore.

"Nice to meet you, Ms. Webb. And Alex, again," I said. "I'd like to look into the UPAN?"

Ms. Webb exhaled. "You're not coming at a great time. We've been largely inactive since… the crackdowns in the Directorate. Any societal pressure is shut down. We cannot do much at the moment, but…"

Ms. Webb tapped her chin and smirked, narrowing her eyes.

"We'll take you in. Have Alex show you around," she gestured at him. "I was busy coordinating with the rest of the UPAN leadership on how to go forward, so I'll get back to it."

I turned to Alex, who stared blankly in my direction, as if he hadn't expected Ms. Webb to leave him alone with me.

"Well, I guess I will show you around," he shrugged.

I looked down at my leg and crutches. "Do you think I could fit a Tangrowth in here?"

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby, ShipGoSync, Kcx1, ArgentumTriKeras
 
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Chapter 248
CHAPTER 248

"Sorry again that you can't use your Tangrowth to walk here," Alex apologized with an awkward smile. "He's way too big."

Alex was almost done showing me around now. The building was mostly full of empty offices because no one had been called in due to the UPAN's current inactivity. Since the place was old, there was no elevator and I hadn't gone up the stairs, so I technically hadn't seen most of the place, but according to Alex, it would just be more of the same. In a way, it was kind of underwhelming, and not at all what I'd pictured when I first heard about this organization, but Alex swore that it was temporary. It was easy to tell that he didn't want to let me go.

"No worries. I'll deal," I answered with a tired huff.

I followed him down a hall, although it was clear he was slowing himself down so I wouldn't fall behind.

"Ms. Webb seemed really excited to have you here," he continued. Clearly, he was trying not to let this fall into awkward silence, and I was happy to bite.

"That's her excited self?" I asked. "I thought she was going to yell at me."

"Yup. She doesn't smile very often. The last time I saw her do that was her birthday two months ago, but even that didn't last very long. Blink, and you'd miss it," Alex said. "It's probably because you're a big deal."

I nodded absent-mindedly. "So you're a trainer?"

"Technically. I don't battle, though. Not because I oppose it or anything!" He quickly stammered. "It's just not for me. I tried it out when I was fifteen for a few months, but it never went anywhere. I… well, at least it made me come here. Been in the UPAN ever since. I volunteered at first, but now I work here."

He opened a door and gestured at me to go inside. The door looked more like a living room than anything else. Bookshelves hugged the walls, but they had very few books and a lot of decorations like artwork, ceramic vases, unlit candles, and plants. It did smell really good in here, though. Everywhere else else smelled of wood and freshly printed paper.

"This is a meeting room. Sit down so you can rest, you look pale. I wanted to show you one last thing first, but it can wait."

I'd put on a brave face the entire time, and that didn't change, but I did feel grateful he had noticed I was tired. I hadn't wanted to say anything because not being able to walk for long pissed me off, but a relieved sigh escaped from my mouth as soon as I collapsed on the couch. I let my crutches fall to the ground and splayed out on the sofa like a slob.

"Damn. I guess I pushed you, my bad," he said, scratching his head. "Do you want anything? I'm sure we have something in one of our medicine cabinets upstairs… maybe water?"

Arceus, I'm pathetic, I bit my lip to contain a groan.

"I'm okay," I sighed. "Thanks for asking. So you said that your time as a trainer made you join the UPAN?"

Alex looked startled for an instant as if he hadn't expected me to ask a question while I'd been hurting. Unfortunately, I needed a distraction from my throbbing ankle. He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall.

"Yeah. I'm actually from Sunyshore. I traveled with two other people originally, and they were… well, they were pretty awful to their Pokemon."

My breath trembled. He kept going.

"They'd treat them fine almost all of the time. More than fine, really. But when they lost in a battle? They'd put all the blame on their Pokemon and spew the vilest words at them. Worthless, trash, useless… and worse insults that I don't really feel like repeating. We all got stuck at the second badge, and needless to say, after a while I just separated myself from them. I couldn't — I can't be friends with people like that," he paused and frowned. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," I breathed. "Yeah, I am."

"So then, I tried for another month or so until I got tired of the Circuit, and I looked into Pokemon abuse. That got me involved in Pokemon Rights as a whole. I still specialize in abuse today, though. It's a sizeable problem with weaker trainers. zero and one-badgers, mostly. Physical abuse is a lot rarer than psychological, thank Arceus."

"There's no way you'd be able to be a good trainer without treating your team correctly," I muttered as my heart stirred. "You blame your Pokemon for battles, and you'll never improve yourself."

My mind flashed back to the trainers we'd seen during our second crossing of Mount Coronet, with their Pokemon so wounded that they could barely walk straight, and yet they hadn't been brought back in their Pokeballs despite them being near the entrance. There had been a few incidents close to Sunyshore I had to stop as well. Of course, there were always one or two exceptions, but even Saturn seemed to care for his Pokemon with the way Sunshine had spoken about him, and Mars seemed to care for her Dusknoir too in some messed up way.

Not that that made me hate them even a fragment less. I still wanted them to die by my hands.

"People don't want their egos hurt," he said. "They think they're going to be the next Cynthia their entire lives, and then it turns out, they aren't, and they feel the ground sink under them when they realize they'll probably have to quit for one reason or another. Not everyone can afford to try for years."

"You can't justify the way they think!" I scoffed.

"I'm not justifying, I'm just telling you that's how they think."

I bit my lip. "Right. Sorry."

"I can tell you're passionate about this, at least. That's a good thing, but it's important to get in the heads of the people you're trying to change."

"Some people are beyond saving," I said. "There comes a point where you've done too much to be forgiven."

"I have faith in people and humanity as a whole," he shrugged. "There's a lot of things you can do beyond punishment. Education is important. What if every trainer had to take a class on how to treat Pokemon before they left off? Yeah, that wouldn't fix everything, but it would help. You've got to chip away at the issue. Hell, I'd make wild-traveling classes mandatory too instead of optional, but that's an entire other problem."

I nodded. "That's a great idea! But I didn't see it on your platform."

"Oh, that would rock the boat way too much to actually be on our official program," he laughed. "They're just a few pet projects of mine I try to push whenever Ms. Webb gives me the time of day and is willing to entertain me."

"I looked at your program, and I also looked at the PFA."

Alex's mouth flattened, and his back straightened. "The PFA's kind of a taboo around here. They just say anything to get in the headlines and get attention instead of making tangible progress."

"They have some good ideas, don't they?"

"Well, I won't deny that they have some," he reluctantly said. "But there's a difference between good ideas and ideas that are actually achievable. The world isn't a vacuum. You can't just do whatever you want."

"What about the psychic idea? Putting some in every Center?"

Alex hummed. "Good in theory. Tough in practice. First, you'd have to breed thousands of psychics, and that's expensive, especially now that the Hunters aren't in the picture. They also can't just be set up to punish bad trainers. That's a narrative waiting to blow up, with how little trust there's in the government right now. And even then, the PFA is suggesting to make them therapists too, and to be honest, I agree. Trainers get free therapists, so why not Pokemon? The problem is that we just don't have money for all of that, and we didn't even before the sanctions."

"Right," I realized.

"There's always going to be a fear of control, though. Pokemon Centers are government-run, and that's a slippery slope a lot of people wouldn't be okay with."

"Okay, I kind of get it," I said. Trusting the League was something even I couldn't do. "I mean, I do think we also have to figure out a way to stop trainers from catching Pokemon against their will too, and I thought psychics would help with that, but I get that it's a lot more complicated than I thought. What else is there?"

"Well, why don't you try to guess?" He smiled coyly.

"A quiz, huh?"

I leaned on my palm and pondered his questions for a few seconds.

"Would it make trainers that abuse their teams less likely to take their Pokemon to the Center?"

His eyes widened slightly. "That wasn't what I had in mind, but I… I guess it's true? You see the same thing with parents that abuse their kids. They don't take them to the hospital for bruises they give them and things like that. I never really thought about that."

"What is it, then?"

"The vast majority of Pokemon abuse doesn't come from trainers," he said. "It comes from people who would never have a reason to bring their Pokemon to the Pokemon Center in the first place. People who find loopholes in laws to still use Pokemon as labor, people that hunt rare Pokemon and only keep them to sell to breeders, things like the Game Corner— when there's money involved the chances of abuse skyrocket."

"That… makes a lot of sense."

"See what I'm saying?" He said. "The PFA is focusing on things that aren't really a priority. To be honest, the UPAN is just ignoring most of what I just said because they don't want to be written off as extremists, so all of this is just me rambling. The only hardline stance the UPAN has is the banning of breeding Pokemon for food."

"That's considered hardline?" I scoffed, raising my tone. "Fucking awful."

Alex sighed. "Yeah."

After a pause, he perked up.

"You know, I think we're going to get along. And to be honest, this whole breeding thing needs a revamp too…"



I'd taken a fifteen-minute break for my ankle, during which Alex had told me about all of his ambitions for his future. Ideally, he would like to become the head of one of the divisions of the UPAN to lead their operations in a city, and from there he would hope to actually have real influence on policy. For now, though, he was content to work under Ms. Webb. According to Alex, she was considered a 'centrist' in the organization. Not too 'extreme' like him and I would be considered, but not one to want to pass only minimal, almost meaningless change like the head of Veilstone was.

Now, he was bringing me to the last spot he wanted to show— a small yard at the back of the building, and he still hadn't told me what was in it

Alex was also astonished by my lack of knowledge in politics and sometimes didn't even believe I didn't know the answer to the questions I was asking him.

"You thought we could just implement this without running it through the City Council?" He asked with widened eyes. The dark-skinned teen brought his hand up to his mouth and stared at me like I was stupid— which I guessed I was— and like he wondered how I'd even survived up until now. "Holy shit. So what, did you think we could just talk to the League and get it done?" He snapped a finger. "Just like that?"

My crutches raked against the floor and I irritatingly groaned. "I thought that you'd send a petition to them or something. They handle the Pokemon stuff, so I thought it'd be fine."

"Holy shit," he repeated. "You desperately need to take a civics class to refresh your memory! We can't just talk to the League. First, we'd have to lobby the City Council and convince the mayor to test out a policy locally. Then after a few years, if it worked and was popular enough, the Directorate could maybe consider implementing it federally, but even then, the Champion would have to sign the bill. We'd have to work with both wings of the government."

"Oh. I guess that's why nothing substantial ever gets done," I said as I committed his words to memory. I didn't want to be ignorant forever. These were things I had to learn if I wanted to make a difference.

"Yeah, you can't rock the boat too hard, which is why moderate demands are unfortunately the only thing that has a chance of ever passing," he explained. "Here we are."

The doors to the yard were already open, and Alex helped me down the steps. It wasn't large— smaller than the building itself. It was then that I realized that the yard was actually at the center of the building and surrounded by its four walls. A courtyard, then, I thought. There was a singular tree along with a small pond, but what caught my eye were the Pokemon there. There were only a few. A Sewaddle, Wurmple, Cacnea, a Luvdisc in the pond, a Cherubi and a Buizel. They immediately swarmed Alex, although Luvdisc could only look on in the water. He crouched, greeting each Pokemon individually. Surprisingly though, he didn't release his two Pokemon. He hadn't even told me about them this entire time, granted we'd been too engrossed in political talk (essentially him teaching me how things work) for me to ask.

"They're Pokemon that were abandoned, but are too weak or emotionally scarred to be released back into the wild here," he said as he approached Luvdisc to greet her. "Ideally, we try to give them a home to stay at, either with a trainer or a civilian. Buizel and Cacnea are here temporarily, but the others have decided to stay and have been here for years."

"You're doing a great thing," I smiled, holding out a hand toward Luvdisc. She sprayed it with a gentle stream of water, which I assumed was her greeting. "Thank you for giving them a home."

Wurmple screeched and crawled up on my back. His ten legs felt very ticklish, and I picked him up in my arms instead.

"Can I release my Tangrowth here?" I asked.

"Is he friendly? He's kind of scary when he battles."

"Oh, yeah," I laughed. "He loves things like this. I didn't know you still kept up with the scene."

"Eh, it's just nice to have something on from time to time," he shrugged.

I released the grass type, who blinked with his large eyes as he observed his surroundings. Sewaddle's leaf shivered, and she stayed completely still, flattening herself against the grass until Angel introduced himself and she realized he was a friend. In the wild, that was probably how Sewaddle avoided predators. She'd been operating on instinct.

"This is Angel," I said with a bright smile. "He loves meeting new people! Feel free to hang out with him, I promise he won't hurt you."

Buizel was the bravest of the group and decided to approach with a confident step. The others soon followed, and I placed Wurmple back on the ground so he could join in. The bug type tried to crawl up Angel's body while Cacnea curiously poked at his vines. Sewaddle was content to let herself be pet, and Luvdisc started to shoot at stray vines with more jets of water to play. Cherubi, meanwhile, opted to stay near Alex's leg. She was quite a shy little thing compared to her other companions.

"Ms. Webb will want to speak with you at some point. I think she looked fired up back there," Alex said. "She might be thinking that we can finally get some sort of progress going again. Everything's been stalling."

"So let me guess," I raised a finger. "She's going to contact the City Council… and ask them to do something? Try to sell her policy?"

"Well, at the moment they would say no. Too scared to rock the boat when Cynthia's breathing down their necks," he said, whispering the last part of his sentence. "And dealing with us instead of doing anything against the poachers would probably start a wave of protests like there was earlier in the year here."

"Hm. I don't think I—"

I paused.

I was close to Cynthia and the League. The world knew it, and my interview with Goalducc and Archive proved that they had questions about it.

"Is she hoping to utilize me to get the City Council to budge?" I asked.

Alex was genuinely taken aback. "You learn fast. Utilize might be too harsh of a term, but that's what makes the most sense to me, so I think that is what is going on. You just happen to be a big deal, for some reason."

I raised an eyebrow. "Fishing for info?"

"Who wouldn't?" He nonchalantly shrugged. "You're a sixteen-year-old that routinely speaks to the Champion, and some of your pals do too. You were also seen talking to ACE Trainers in Veilstone. Anyone would get curious."

Cynthia did owe me for undercutting my contract without a warning, I thought. But I really doubted that she would care about things like Pokemon rights, at the moment. As much as the issue compelled me, I was under no impression that they did the Champion, and she had more to worry about at the moment.

But maybe that didn't matter. An idea sparked in my head, and I smiled.

"Well, I'll try my best, I guess. I'm very green at politics, though."

He snorted. "I can tell. You're in luck, though. Local politics are usually annoying and full of drama, but Cynthia runs a pretty tight ship. It shouldn't be… well, it'll be hard, even with you, but at least it'll be more doable."

"What is Ms. Webb trying to push, at the moment?"

"Last time we were active, food regulation, but that's mostly on the federal level. Locally, we were trying to put some checks on the Safari Zone. This year's seen a big influx of new trainers, and everyone wants to go there to catch some rare Paldean or Alolan Pokemon. The quotas already in place for their species aren't equipped to deal with things like this, and we're scared that some species will struggle to recover."

"I was planning on going there at some point to check it out," I said as I observed Angel have the time of his life. "The PFA wants to shut it down, right?"

"Yeah," he chuckled. "But I disagree. The Great Marsh is a nice place for them. Pastoria's always been good to their wildlife, at least relative to the nation. The reason the PFA wants to shut it down is because of some nonsense about systemic oppression and it being a zoo."

Alex paused, the smile on his face vanishing.

"It was at first. The reason Alolan and Paldean Pokemon live there was because the city government bought them decades ago to boost trainer tourism. When trainers pass through a city, they spend, which is good for the economy. I won't lie to you, the Safari Zone used to be a terrible place, but it's improved a lot."

"Well, I'll see for myself," I said. "But I want to believe you."

"You're going with that ankle?"

"Angel and Princess— my Togekiss— will carry me, and my friends will be there. How dangerous is it?"

"It's no route 212 or Eterna Forest, but it's got its fair share of dangers in some areas. They'll explicitly warn you before you go in, though, so they're pretty easy to avoid."

Considering ignoring dangers had come back to bite me yesterday, I wasn't about to think I was invincible again and go into the Pyroar's den when it wasn't needed.

"Could you tell me which species are endangered and which ones are cool to catch?" I asked. "For my friends. I think a bunch of them will be trying to catch something there, at least."

Louis, Maeve and Justin would probably arrive at some point tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, and the others would follow soon enough. Louis and Maeve still lacked a sixth Pokemon, as did Pauline and Cecilia. Chase had talked about catching a seventh too.

"Sure thing. Wimpod are fine to catch, then there's…"

I stayed with Alex in the courtyard for another hour before I left, mostly because I needed to return to training. I only had two days— or a day and a half left, and I was planning on making use of all of my time. He asked for my number to call me when Ms. Webb would need to call on me again, and I did tell him I would most likely not be available until my battle with Barry was over. If I wanted to join for real, I'd have to pay them a monthly fee, but it was small enough for it not to matter much to me. During training, most of our short-term improvements would come from Princess' skill in the air and Angel's Solar Blade, but anything to push our team to the limit was appreciated.

While we were training, I called Denzel for help setting up a stream, and he screamed so loud through the phone it was like he'd been sitting next to me.

"You're. going. to. battle. Barry?!"

"You can do it too when you arrive here— actually, probably not. He'll be saying you're too slow, if I had to guess," I said, observing the setting sun in the distance. "But yeah, we met by pure chance."

"Okay, okay, you're going to listen to me very carefully. First, you want to…"

Denzel went step by step on how to set up a stream, and after thirty minutes or so, I believed I'd gotten the hang of it. He also advised me to go buy a tripod, since Louis, Maeve and Justin might not be here to hold my phone. Of course, he said he'd make full use of the signal on route 213 to watch the stream, and he handed me his, Emilia's, Pauline's and Lopunny's usernames so I could make them chat moderators. He also had me mod a bunch of strangers who were apparently mods on his stream, so in the end I ended up with twenty-two of them in total. A lot more than the two we had during our battle.

"So," I hesitantly said. "How's Sylvi doing?"

"He's doing… well, okay, I guess," he said in a slightly defeated tone. "Better than before. Progress is slow, but he only glares at Pauline half the time now instead of all the time. She says she doesn't think he'll ever like her, and I don't know if she's right or wrong."

"Well, tolerance comes before liking," I said. "If he can reach that point, then anything is possible. I hope you're spending more time with him too."

"I am! Like I promised," he said. "I hired a manager that runs all of my sponsorship stuff and an editor to edit down my streams into videos, so I have a lot more free time. Y'know it's nice to press down on the break pedal for once."

"Right?" I smiled.

"Yeah. You do something for months, and you think that you can't stop, or you'll lose all of your motivation to work. I thought the routine was the only thing that kept me in it. That if I took a break, I'd disappoint everyone who looked up to me. I thought that stopping would make me burn out, when it was really the opposite. I think I was burning out."

"Oh…" I trailed off. "And now, what do you think?"

"Well, that was all bullshit," he laughed. "This is so much better."

"I always thought you worked way too much," I said. "I'm sorry, I should have said something sooner. I didn't want to get involved, since it seemed like you knew what you were doing."

"No worries, Grace. At least I fixed it before irreparable damage could be done," he paused for a few seconds. "Is that training I hear in the background?"

"Oh, yeah! My team's hard at work— though Honey and Sunshine are at the Center, as you know."

Arceus, he was going to freak out when he saw Electivire.

"Hope your leg's doing okay,"
he said.

"It's not, but I can take another painkiller in—" I took my phone away from my ear to check the time. "—two hours and forty-seven minutes."

"Damn. It's so bad you're tracking it down to the minute, huh?"

"Well, when I talk to people or I focus on something else, it doesn't hurt that badly."

"I'll help, then. What are you working on?"

I let out a taunting hum. "I guess I can let you on a few secreeeets."

Denzel groaned—

"Don't roll your eyes at me," I said.

"Damn it, how did you know?!" He chuckled.

"Seriously though, I'll tell you a bit of what I'm working on. For Princess, I…"



I arrived in my Pokemon Center room late at night, and despite my best attempts, falling asleep was impossible. I had taken another painkiller during training and I wasn't allowed to use any more today. I lay still in my bed for hours until I cracked and decided to call Cecilia. It was three in the morning, so I was almost certain she would be asleep, but she actually answered the phone after a little while. The sound of her voice alone soothed my pain. Or not, it was definitely just a placebo effect and me being way too happy to hear her after one day apart.

We told each other about our days and everything was going well (despite her relentlessly worrying about me) until Cecilia said that she had something important to talk to me about.

"Um, say, Grace. I have something to tell you about Abel. I told this to the others already, but… I'm feeling conflicted about him."

I paused. "Conflicted how?"

Cecilia went on to explain that despite everything Abel had done to her, she wanted him to be freed from his chains in Sinnoh so that he could go to Unova. She justified herself in numerous ways, mostly by saying that she wanted her father to burn— a sentiment I understood very well. What I couldn't understand, however, was the fact that she wanted someone else to do the burning for her. A criminal that had caused her so much pain and suffering— that had almost pushed her to commit suicide! A scumbag that was worse than trash and that justified all of the horrible deeds he did by saying it was just a job.

"Cece," I muttered. The words almost died in my throat. "Why?"

My girlfriend stayed quiet for a few seconds. "I told you why."

I frowned. "I don't understand. I mean, I do, but I guess I don't understand how your mind prioritizes things."

"The short term isn't everything, Grace," she told me with a firm voice. "You have to look beyond what's on the horizon, or at least try to."

"I…"

I sighed. I didn't want to argue or debate. Not tonight.

"Fine. I'll try, but don't expect me to just let him escape."

I had to stop myself from scoffing at my own words. Me? Abel would run circles around me for a lifetime if he needed to, but the words had just come out before I could think. It was the same thing whenever I thought about Mars and Saturn.

"Sorry," I said. "I just feel like him getting off scot-free for what he did would be really hard for me to accept."

"He went after me, not you," she said, raising her tone slightly. "So let me decide. When we inevitably have to follow Chase to stop him from getting himself killed, we don't even know what will happen. Mira suggested we give Abel no quarters because if he can't escape here, then he wouldn't be able to put even the smallest of dents in Unova. Plus, we don't even know if he's truly involved. I am hoping he isn't, to be honest with you."

But then, that meant Leafeon would never get back to Carnivine,
I thought to myself.

"And you shouldn't even be involved with your broken ankle in the first place!" She yelled. "Do you want to get hurt again? Abel doesn't kill unless he's paid or absolutely forced to, but he can still leave you in the hospital for weeks or months! And even then, the poachers could be paying him to do so, and I am sure they will have no mercy either. I know we'll have the ACE Trainers, but they aren't infallible, as you know now."

Buddy, who hovered closely above me, nodded as his eyes dimmed.

I ignored the bad taste in my mouth along with the surge of pain in my ankle at its mention and sighed. "Yeah. I guess that would be the best choice, logically speaking. But I don't see myself sitting in a Center while you're all out there."

She exhaled. "Let's just change topics. I don't like fighting. We can all hash this out when we meet."

"Fine. But I am telling you that if you decide to go into route 212, I will come. I don't care how much you all push back against my decision, I will be there."

"I'm not even the one wanting to do this. Chase is. He wants Denzel and Lauren involved too, but he won't force them to come if they don't want to."

"Denzel and Lauren don't have ACE Trainers," My stomach dropped, and I shifted in my bed, ignoring the pain in my ankle. "They shouldn't get involved. The ACE Trainers won't be able to cover for all of them and protect us adequately."

Denzel was too good of a friend not to come, and hiding it from him would basically be impossible. Lauren, I was less sure of her commitment.

It dawned on me.

"Cece, this is a really stupid idea."

"Like staring at two trains about to collide," she affirmed. "We could convince Chase not to do this, maybe?"

I rubbed my forehead and thought for a few seconds. "We can try. What I'd really like is to talk to the ACE Trainers and tell some of them to do something, but I'm not naive enough to think they'd do it. We'll have to talk to them about it anyway, though."

The conversation died down for a little bit, and I decided to change the subject. I didn't want to talk about dark things for the entire hour.

"So. What are you thinking to beat Crasher Wake?" I asked.



The next day passed in a flash, and I spent almost its entirety training. I finally picked up Honey and Sunshine from the Center, and they were surprisingly excited to get in a tough fight so soon. The fact that Sunshine had struggled against a plant— and yes, he had called Carnivine a plant— had him thirsting for a good fight where he could get his revenge. Personally, I didn't know how the hell his revenge made any sense when we wouldn't be fighting Carnivine, but I just attributed that to him being his usual self. Honey was just eager to get a better feel for his new form, and for that, he needed to fight more battles. The electric type had spent his day of training learning to better control himself. He was almost no longer super-charged (and he had probably given the Nurses a lot of trouble), but he still had a lot more power than he'd ever been used to.

Now, another day had passed, and we were ready for Barry, although none of my friends had made it to Pastoria quite yet. The closest ones would make it this evening, and the rest would make it tomorrow. I showed up at the address he had given me on Angel's head and saw him already waiting there. He waved at me with so much gusto that I thought his arm must have been hurting. His Empoleon stood tall beside him. The water type was slightly bigger than Louis', but just from one look at him I could tell he was nowhere as serious. His resting face was a smile, just like Barry's.

"You're late!" He exclaimed.

I grabbed my phone and checked the time. "It's 12:55. I'm literally five minutes early."

"Cutting it real close, though," he waggled a finger at me. "My mother taught me to always be twenty minutes early everywhere you go."

"Uh, I think that's just a you thing," I said. I leaned toward the door and saw that the place was packed, but that should have been obvious from the number of people already outside. Looks like my and Denzel's advertisement on Chatter helped. "Should we go in?"

The blond trainer pumped a fist, and Empoleon mimicked him, which ended up looking extremely awkward. "Sure thing! We're all excited to fight."

We stepped into the arena, and I took a deep breath.

This was going to be tough.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby, ShipGoSync, Kcx1, ArgentumTriKeras, AnotherUser
 
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Chapter 249 - Everything Everywhere All At Once
CHAPTER 249 - Everything Everywhere All At Once

Since I'd made a social media post to advertise my stream, the entire arena was already packed, and every battlefield had been cleared so we'd get all of the attention, for better or worse. What did surprise both me and Barry was that these fields were not normal as we were used to. Instead, each one was a swamp. A marsh that mirrored Pastoria's surrounding environment with numerous islands, vegetation and even a few trees. It looked pretty deep too, but the water was obviously too murky for me to be sure of anything.

"Uh, I had no idea these were like this, it's my first time in here," Barry said, scratching his head. "Does it bother you? We can go somewhere else if you want. It'd kind of be a waste of time, but I'm game. It's my fault, since I picked the address without looking."

With a head tilt, I considered the advantages and disadvantages of this. Barry's Snorlax would be neutralized in this environment, but Sunshine would be too. This much water wouldn't evaporate fast enough, and lava couldn't form on this marshland unless I radically altered it somehow. Still, Buddy would be at home in this terrain, and I wanted to lead with him anyway. Empoleon was less good with water than we were, Rapidash could fly, but if any of my Pokemon knocked the fire type into the water, it was basically over for him. Sweetheart would be able to skid across the water here too, and the nutrients in the soil would be great for Angel…

Yeah, I was definitely okay with battling here. Plus, win or lose, a field like this would definitely help me prepare for Crasher Wake, even if his arena had fewer islands than this. I'd have to text the address to my friends whenever they made it here so they could practice. This was too good to pass up on.

"Yeah, if you want to," I innocently said. "Good practice for Wake."

"Right!" He exclaimed. "So can we start, or—"

"Just a second. Uh, I need to set up a stream. Could you go find someone willing to be a referee in the crowd? Someone that looks dependable?"

"Leave it to me!" He saluted before running off, his Empoleon following behind him with an awkward step.

What a goofball, I chuckled. I grabbed my phone and tried to remember all of the steps Denzel had painstakingly guided me through and used the foldable tripod I had bought at the last minute. After checking that I was actually capturing the whole battlefield, I got ready to start the stream. Already, my 'pre-chat' was going crazy. I didn't really care for them. Mostly, I was sad that my channel wasn't monetized since I had never uploaded anything on it and I wouldn't make any money from the stream. If account sharing hadn't been banned on the platform, Denzel would have lent me his so I could actually get something out of this, but at least the board was going to be happy.

"Oh well," I said. I was too focused on the coming battle to care, and it wasn't like I was planning on making streaming a regular thing either. Less than a minute spent looking at chat and I already wanted to end the broadcast out of spite.

Once Barry came back with a guy he dragged by the arm, he introduced us with a flurry of words. Samuel— the ref— asked each of us the rules of the battle, and then privately which one we would send out first. Barry told him that he didn't have to call out when a Pokemon fainted because it slowed down the battle too much. I locked in Jellicent, started the stream, and made my way toward the edge of the battlefield. When I arrived at my spot, I leaned on one crutch, dropping the other.

Barry was already squirming in excitement on his trainer platform when I stepped on mine, and he excitedly— and comically and repeatedly stomped with his two feet on the metallic floor. He had to readjust his scarf after he was done because of how wild he'd been going. I'd seen plenty of trainers be excited for a battle, but I'd never seen someone be so agitated they literally couldn't sit still. I took a deep breath and held it, counting the seconds until the kid we'd asked to referee told us to send out our first Pokemon. Jellicent appeared high in the sky, and his red eyes scanned the battlefield from corner to corner. This was swampland. Unusual to fight on. In every public arena we'd been in before, the terrain had been flat, rocky ground with maybe a few boulders in between. This was a new environment that he'd excel in, although I doubted it would stay the same for long with how much power we had at our disposal. A piece of himself discreetly stuck to the barrier so we could communicate without Barry hearing.

Of course, by the time I'd been done thinking, Barry had already released his Staraptor. The huge bird flapped her wings, sending ripples through the murky water, and she hovered right over the surface. As far as predicting his first Pokemon went, I'd stopped after trying for two hours yesterday. There was no consistency in what Barry picked first, so it would have been pointless to waste time instead of trying to learn more about the way he fought. Buddy was the safest choice I could have picked. Only Roserade would have countered him.

But there was no more time to monologue. The referee slashed his arm across the air and bellowed.

"Begin!"

Immediately
, I braced for the coming Sunny Day, but instead out of Barry's mouth came this.

"Spinning Swift!"

That was a new one. Staraptor landed on solid ground for a split second, and then twisted. Wind, water and stars gathered around her and started orbiting the flying type with a menacing, loud spin. Then, they exploded outward. The Swift shattered into a hundred pieces, each traveling toward Jellicent like bullets and homing in on him. I didn't have time to express an order, but that was fine. Buddy propelled himself back with Water Sport and retreated into the swamp below the water. The Swift burst through the surface, each shard of the stars creating actual waves. So much power behind a divided Swift? I thought to myself before leaning against one knee. Then, I remembered my ankle was broken, and I stopped before the pain could get too bad. Below the water, the Swift would slow enough not to hurt Buddy that much.

"Night Shades and attack with Hydro Pump," I whispered.

"Double Team and dive!" Barry yelled with a wide grin. He was having the time of his life even though the battle had just started, and I couldn't help but return his smile.

Staraptor took to the air once again, but she left behind blurred clones that dove into the water like an Empoleon would. Some disintegrated from powerful jets of water that Buddy and his clones were no doubt sending at the moment, but most made it through. The water began to stir, as if the clones themselves were applying force to the water.

"Hurricane!" Barry yelled.

With a low-pitched screech, Staraptor beat her wings, each subsequent flap generating an ever-strengthening storm that picked up the stirring water and mud. Thankfully, we were safe under the water, but I squinted when Barry stacked a Rain Dance on top of that order. Rain Dance against a water type? I knew he was planning something, but I couldn't get lost in his pace. I understood what made Barry so threatening now. Being proactive against him was terrifying. With how unpredictable he was, it was impossible not to want to wait to see what he'd do despite my better judgment.

You've got this, relax, I exhaled, loosening my shoulders. I felt better when a Hydro Pump clipped Staraptor in the wing, but she was adept at riding the winds to dodge anything Buddy and his shades threw at her while submerged in the water.

"Try Will-O-Wisp," I muttered.

Even from deep below and through the storm, I heard the screams. Six purple flames impossible to extinguish burst from the water's surface. One of them tried to make a break for the spectators, but disintegrated with a shriek when it hit the barrier. The other five rushed toward Staraptor, and her wind had no effect on the wisp.

"Ominous Wind!" Barry yelled.

Staraptor's eyes dimmed with shadow, and her plumage seemed to grow pale even though that shouldn't have been possible. The tiniest of fissures opened in the air. A hole through reality. It was too small to actually see what was inside, and there were none of the screams I had come to expect from ghost type moves. Instead, the world grew purple, and the fragment of Jellicent's body began to squirm. The wind was so silent. As if it muffled everything else in the arena. Under the water, both of Buddy's shades exploded. The rain started to fall in every direction instead of just down. Water started flowing up, sideways and small pieces of mud began to float.

I was not deterred. "Whirlpool."

The water around the swamp began to spin until it exploded upward as one with the force of a Hydro Pump. It wrapped around Staraptor as if it had a mind of its own and dragged her into the swamp. The Ominous Wind weakened, but it kept going. I knew from research that it would take at least one minute for it to disappear completely. The Will-O-Wisps— which had actually been slowed by the Ominous Wind— jumped at the occasion and all entered Staraptor's body as she fell under the water.

Unfortunately, a Hurricane from Barry dispelled the Whirpool, allowing the bird to free herself before Buddy could go ahead and drag her deeper under the water to force a switch by drowning her or finish her off. She made a wide sweep around the arena, strengthening the Ominous Wind once more as she almost brushed around the barriers. Despite the fact that she was burning, Barry was beaming in excitement. He hasn't researched me at all, I noticed, feeling slightly offended. Everything is new for him.

"I know you're struggling, but try to Whirpool again, but hide inside of it. We need to catch Staraptor by surprise to use Acid and melt her feathers—"

Barry held out a Pokeball and recalled Staraptor, causing me to frown internally. Yeah, Staraptor had been burned, but Ominous Wind was wreaking havoc on Buddy, and they were basically winning the trade. Unless he'd figured out something. Or not? Gah! I was growing paranoid. Not bothering to care about Ominous Wind, Barry immediately sent out his Empoleon, whose steel creaked from the ghostly attack.

Everything started to make sense when frost began to spread from the tip of his flippers. The steel type dove into the water—

"Run," I warned with a fist clenched around my jeans. "Blow him up with shades, use Shadow Ball, just keep away."

"Freeze!" Barry screamed.

Buddy barely made it five seconds until he rose from the water encased in ice. His eyes glowered with a deep red as he no doubt tried to break out, but Empoleon jumped out of the swamp and skidded on some ice he'd formed under his feet. He held out a hand, and the rain falling spontaneously froze, adding to Buddy's prison. At the same time, the Ominous Wind finally abated, the gap in reality closed, and my sense of hearing was right again.

"Focus," I gently said. "You still have shades, don't you?"

Empoleon waved his hand around, and with every movement, Buddy's ice prison would violently crash against the barrier. The steel type's eyes narrowed, and he finally lost his smile as he reached the apex of his concentration. The center of Jellicent's prison hollowed out, turning to water that allowed him to move, but the ice formed into spikes that stabbed into every inch of the ghost's body.

I breathed a sigh of relief when his two Night Shades emerged from the depths, both flanking Empoleon. One of them blew him away with a quick Shadow Ball while the other enveloped him with a weakened Hex.

"Water Spout," I said.

Every single cell in Jellicent's body shook, and the ice prison shattered, allowing him to break out of the shell. The massive, gaping holes in his body regenerated— albeit slowly. That Ominous Wind had dealt a lot more damage than I thought it'd do. When Barry ordered his Empoleon to freeze Buddy again, I recalled him before the ice could cover his entire body. There had been so much ice the first time around that I hadn't even been sure if I'd be able to recall him. I didn't know if Barry realized he might have created a technique that prevented opponents from recalling their Pokemon.

"Come on, send on your next Pokemon! I'm having a blast!" He yelled.

That technique on Empoleon is mighty impressive, I mused, ignoring his tantrum. Even ice types of our level don't have the know-how to control ice this well.

At the twenty-eighth second, I released Electivire onto the field. Murmurs from the crowd, which then turned into excited cheers or gasps— I cut them off. Electricity hummed and sparkled as Honey whirled his arm around, the largest burst of energy reaching halfway to the barrier's ceiling. Barry's mouth gaped, but he was only still for an instant.

"Oh man, oh man, oh man!" He yelled. "Empoleon, Stealth Rock and freeze him!"

"Radiant Leap! Get up close!" I exclaimed, unable to contain my excitement.

Metallic shards fell off of Empoleon's body as frost coalesced in between him and Honey using the rain. The electric type grinned, taking a step—

Even now, his speed never failed to surprise me. In a second, he leaped over the swamp, landed on Empoleon's ice platform, and placed a palm on the water type's head. A Thunderbolt— no, a Thunder exploded in every direction, drowning out Empoleon's pained screams. The metal in his body worked very well at conducting electricity. Electivire's excellent start was short-lived, however. The sheer power coming from Thunder destroyed the thick sheet of ice both Pokemon had been standing on, and they fell into the water.

"Keep a hold of him," I said, feeling breathless.

Another Thunder ransacked through Empoleon's body, but Barry did not recall his water type. Instead, he swept an arm and grinned.

"Steel Beam!"

A giant metallic rod as thick as Empoleon's stomach rammed into Honey's gut, sending him flying back. The electric type landed in the water, and he wasted no time swimming back to land as he hit the swamp with a Thunderbolt, this time. Empoleon was far, but the electricity still spread to him in an instant.

"Aqua Jet! Back onto an island!"

The steel type flew up, although it was only for a short amount of time. When he landed on the nearest island, he rolled on the sand and barely managed to get up. Meanwhile, Honey held onto the giant bruise forming on his stomach. My eyes scanned the field for the steel beam that had been used, but it had probably fallen deep into the swamp. We could have used magnetism to send it back, I lamented.

"Thunderbolt."

A thick sheet of ice formed from the moisture and the rain, barely managing to block the attack. It had been a while, so Empoleon was probably keeping the Rain Dance going despite Barry not having said anything.

"Thunder."

"Dodge and Weather Ball!"

I smirked when the Thunder still hit Empoleon's flipper, even though he had immediately begun to slide on an ice slide he was continuously generating with a honk-like laugh that was both weird and cute. A huge ball of mist, ice and water formed in front of Empoleon's mouth, growing and growing until it was larger than Honey himself. Empoleon twisted his body, and the ice slide turned accordingly. With a defiant and humorous cry, he sent the Weather Ball flying at Honey. His attacks were still powerful, but his movements were sloppy. Empoleon was tired, and how could he not be?

The next Thunder was too fast for him to swerve out of the way, but I scoffed when he raised the path instead. The Thunder crashed into it, destroying all of the ice in the process and allowing Empoleon to fall back into the water— never mind, he landed on another slide, and got away from us. Barry cackled, slapping his stomach like it was all a big joke, and Honey dispatched the Weather Ball with a Thunderbolt—

The Weather Ball exploded with the deafening roar of a storm. Shards of ice tore through Honey's fur and skin while the water was so highly pressurized that it pushed him back a few feet.

"Go in again," I said. Empoleon is too tricky to take down from afar, and Barry adapted to Honey incredibly fast. "Leap from island to island until you get close—"

Before I closed my mouth Electivire was gone. Empoleon fired off an Ice Beam, which he sidestepped like it was the slowest attack in the world. He was speeding up, I smiled. Each island, his step grew more confident. More solid. Every time, he would fire off another Thunderbolt toward Empoleon, who was getting closer and closer to getting hit. Upon Barry's very upbeat order, the water type landed on the furthest island from Honey he could find using Aqua Jet to fly away and his ice slides to swerve out of attacks.

"Now Grass Knot!" Barry ordered.

With haste that I could never have expected, layers and layers of grass twisted themselves around Honey's ankle. The electric type easily tore through them with Radient Leap and reached Empoleon with a Thunder Punch in the gut. Empoleon doubled over, drooling all over the ground until Honey let him go and he collapsed in the mud. His ice paths would remain until they melted, but Empoleon was finally down.

We'd taken the first Pokemon.

"That was so cool," Barry said in an admiring tone. "I didn't even know you could evolve those unless you were high up in the government!"

At the same time, he'd already sent out his Snorlax as close to us as he could, and I instantly barked out an order to retreat. Honey jumped toward another island, stumbling during the landing, and I could finally take in Snorlax in full. Honey was tall for his species— slightly shorter than Volkner's Electivire, and he would keep growing for a good while, but Snorlax dwarfed even him. The normal type was truly massive in a way that none of my Pokemon would be able to stand up to in a melee. Snorlax yawned as he scratched his belly, his slit-like eyes barely open enough to actually see what was going on in the battle.

This is it, I thought to myself. "Honey, try out a Thunder."

I bit my lip and watched as the Thunder hit Snorlax, lighting up his surroundings. When the light receded, Snorlax tilted his head and bent his head toward his belly with confusion radiating out of him.

It was burned.

Just burned. And maybe bruised too.

"Amnesia!" Barry shouted.

Ah, shit. Snorlax stared around, and his body diffused a pale, pink glow. Another Thunder did even less damage than before, and the normal type seemed to forget he'd even been in a battle. He lay down on the island and decided to go to sleep.

"Snorlax! Concentrate!" Barry said, stomping a foot.

At least I had time, and Honey was still raring to go.

"Cross Chop."

My jaw clenched, and I waited for Honey to get to Snorlax with bated breath. If this didn't work, then I was in big trouble. The electric type's arms shone bright white, and he blurred with Radiant Leap, his tails lashing out against the muddy ground. He landed on Snorlax's stomach. I smiled when Snorlax actually groaned from the fighting type move, but my lips flattened when he swept at Honey with a glowing fist. The electric type narrowly managed to put up a Protect before getting hit, and he was unharmed.

That did not mean he stayed where he was. The… Mega Punch? Sent him tumbling in the water, and he spun so many times that he was disoriented. Anger washed off of Snorlax like an open sieve and he let out a bellowing roar that made even the mud and water around him ripple.

"That's what I'm talking about! Get your revenge! Ice Beam!" Barry grinned, pumping a fist.

"Keep hitting him with Thunderbolt," I said.

The first Ice Beam hit Honey in the shoulder and the second in the back, but once he got back on an island, a burst of electricity destroyed the ice and a Thunderbolt slammed against Snorlax. The attack barely had any effect, but as it stood, we could consistently dodge when far enough while Snorlax could not. In fact, the normal type hadn't moved from his spot since the start of the battle, and despite having good coverage moves, his usage of them was still slow and awkward, just like his movement.

"Ack! Too fast, huh? Snorlax, Bulldoze!"

I blinked, and the ground under Honey's feet began to shake. Small bursts of rock and earth slipped through the opening cracks, and I had to stop myself from freezing to recall Honey fast enough. Snorlax could consistently hit us from afar. Damn it, I bit my tongue. Honey was my best bet to take Snorlax down, but I wanted to keep him for later in the fight. I could technically have kept harassing Snorlax with electric type moves, but I wanted to keep Honey's energy high enough for other threats, and he needed to be at the back of Barry's mind to keep him thinking and worrying. Not that he looked worried at all right now. The blond teenager was having the time of his life. Bulldoze immediately canceled out Sunshine too, so I was left with… Buddy? It was either him or Princess. Angel and Sweetheart would have absolutely no effect on him. We'd have to release an insane amount of powdered move for it to actually have an effect on a titan like Snorlax.

Buddy it is, I convinced myself. I sent out the water type once more and immediately told him to get as high as he could. He was still tired from the Ominous Wind since he hadn't rested as long as I had wanted him to, and the steel Stealth Rocks that stabbed into him didn't help, but he was our best bet.

The way I planned on taking down Snorlax was not going to be pretty, but it had the highest chance of working. The water type flew upward with a few bursts of Water Sport that splashed down into the swamp while Snorlax tracked him with angry eyes.

"Ice Beam!" Barry ordered.

But we were thankfully too far for it to matter. The slow, weak beam of ice missed by a large margin, and then Buddy kept dodging every subsequent attack. First came the setup—

"Will-O-Wisp."

Now that Jellicent was close to me, I shivered and saw my breath when he summoned the spirits, even through the barrier. This time, though, his hold on the wisps was sloppier because of how tired Jellicent was. One of them tried to burn him, but his eyes flashed and it winked out of existence before it could harm him. Two others again tried to escape through the barrier, but the rest made a mad rush toward Snorlax.

"Uh oh! Can you eat those?!" Barry asked, unsure of himself.

For the first time, Snorlax moved. It was almost hilarious, how he stumbled on his two huge round feet. The normal type stood, and his mouth darkened. Crunch! With surprising haste, Snorlax chomped down on each Will-O-Wisp, and all of them died in his mouth. He stuck his tongue out as far as he could after the fact, as if he'd just eaten something disgusting.

Okay, I blinked as the normal type tried to retaliate with a Thunderbolt that Jellicent narrowly dodged. Had we gotten better control of Will-O-Wisp, we would have been able to out-maneuver him. I tried twice more, just to be sure, but each time, Snorlax managed to eat the flames with Crunch. They never went around him to try to avoid his mouth. Instead, they all rushed at Snorlax without any coherent strategy.

Well, it was time to go with the original plan. I'd wanted to try burning Snorlax, just as insurance for the future as I'd done to Staraptor, but that wouldn't be possible.

"Into the water. Drown him," I whispered—

"Hey! She's whispering again, Snorlax! Get ready!"

I waited for Buddy to slip through the water's surface and continued. "He's going to try to eat you with Crunch, and it's going to hurt. If you can Recover and win the battle of attrition, then we win. You just need to last long enough to make him pass out. Hell, you can try to burn him now that you'll be close."

Night Shades broke through the water's surface and harassed Snorlax with Hydro Pumps that didn't deal any substantial damage. There was another reason I couldn't just strike him from afar to take him down. The hits would stack up eventually to take him down, even through Amnesia.

Unfortunately for us, Snorlax knew Rest. Not Sleep Talk, but he would wake up again before we could take him down. Electivire would have been in the same dilemma.

Jellicent's red eyes stalked under the water, and Snorlax hit his surroundings with Thunderbolts so weak that even Buddy wouldn't be that hurt. Variety was good, but focusing on so many techniques had left a lot of Barry's Pokemon's moves lacking. Buddy slipped into the muddy ground, and then emerged behind Snorlax with a silent scream. He lost all of his form, becoming a liquid blob that wrapped around the giant's head. Snorlax brought his hands up to his face and clawed away, but he could not get rid of water given form. The normal type fell to the ground and rolled around like a ball as he desperately tried to get rid of Buddy. At the same time, the Night Shades kept the pressure up. Their Hydro Pumps didn't do much, but anything would help.

"Will-O-Wisp," I whispered.

"Focus!" Barry yelled. "Lick!"

Before the spirits could appear, Snorlax lolled out his tongue, dimmed with a purple light. Jellicent froze around Snorlax's head as he moved his tongue as fast as he could.

"Now Crunch!"

Damn it

"Acid."

Poison seeped everywhere.

Snorlax let out an uncharacteristic shriek. The Acid ate into his rolls of fat and his face. The normal type lost layers of his skin, but he didn't stop. The pain only enraged him further, and he slammed his face against the ground as he Crunched down on Buddy's form. The ghost lost his shape as darkness coursed through his body, and I restrained a sigh when the piece of him began to slide down the barrier. He was done for.

Snorlax wasn't much better off, with layers of skin and fat peeled off, but Barry didn't order him to rest because he couldn't. Electivire was still in the back now, and he was the only one that would be able to overwhelm Snorlax while he slept. He might have been fine with that before because it would force me to use my last switch, but now that Buddy had fainted, I could do it for free. His instincts are good, I thought as I moistened my lips. I wiped the sweat off my hands on my pants and grabbed my next Pokemon.

A flash of red, and then Honey appeared on the field, grunting in pain and holding his arm up to protect himself from the Stealth Rocks. Barry immediately recalled his Snorlax, not even entertaining the fight. My eyes would have widened had I not held myself from emoting. I expected him to at least try Bulldoze, but then again, I was ready to let Honey be hurt if it meant I could take Snorlax down, and Barry clearly wanted to keep the normal type in the fight. Empoleon's ice slides were basically all melted at this point, but the extra water meant that the islands had shrunk some.

At least I'm caught up in switches.

"Roserade, you're up!" He called out with never-failing enthusiasm.

He released the grass type a few islands away. Now that I could look closely, her roses were a slightly different tint than Denzel's Roserade, but both grass types were basically the exact same size. Barry immediately called out.

"He's faster than you! Get a hold of him first!" He shouted with never-ending vigor.

I inhaled sharply when the grass below Honey's feet started to grow and twist. Like a crude version of Carnivine's control. Honey stayed on the move, never staying in one place for long, but even the reeds in the water were trying to get a hold of him. At the same time, Barry called out for a Sunny Day, which came out a lot faster than Angel's ever did. Electivire would sometimes get caught, but he was strong enough now to just tear through the grass.

"Thunderbolt while you get close!" I said, leaving the Fire Punch command unspoken— wait! "Railgun! Use the Stealth Rocks!"

A smile spread across Honey's face as he swept through the arena, speeding up as he did so to pick up the Stealth Rocks. Electricity hummed around him, and the metal levitated around him. The electric type held out a hand, and they all barrelled toward Roserade so fast that they all tore through her like bullets through papier-mâché. Now go get her, I thought with a shiver of anticipation.

Barry grinned. "Cotton Spore!"

Plants all around Honey exploded, diffusing massive amounts of cotton and stopping him right in his tracks like adhesive. How?! I squinted at the ground and nearly scoffed in disbelief when I noticed the little flickers of white on the ground. He'd been growing a damn field of cotton and I hadn't fucking noticed! Grass types could pick what plant they grew?! Without fucking seeds?!

"Fire Punch! Free yourself!" I cried out, cursing having to reveal the attack.

"Grassy Glide and Thorn Whip!" Barry ordered.

Honey snarled as his fists caught on fire, and cotton withered into blackened husk, and then smithereens. Roserade slid across the islands like she was ice-skating, and then across the water. Lilypads grew everywhere she stepped, leaving her enough space to make her way toward Honey. She aimed a rose at him, and another burst of cotton exploded, swarming him, but he was quicker to react this time and clapped his hands, creating sparks of flame and electricity that burned through the cotton in a single second.

Two thorny vines raked across Honey's arm and shoulder. The one that hit his arm actually wrapped around it and started to glow neon green with Giga Drain while the other kept hitting him over and over.

"Grab it!" I yelled.

Honey's muscles bulged, and he pushed past the pain, clenching a hand around the thick vine. He yanked it toward him, dragging Roserade forward.

"Energy Ball!" Barry countered.

There was so much vegetation here that the green, fluorescent ball coalesced in a split second. Plants shriveled and died, and Roserade hit Honey's face with the Energy Ball as soon as he got her near him. Electricity surged, as it did every time he felt pain, but he stayed focused. He grabbed onto Roserade's frail arms and punched with flaming fists as he Screeched into her ears—

"Flash!"

Light exploded out of Roserade with an audible explosion— like a damned flashbang. I felt my shoulders sag in relief when the poison type's body flew back, half of her body a smoking husk from the Fire Punch until grass wrapped around her and sacrificed itself to heal her. That was new too, I said, licking my lips. Not as quick as Synthesis, though.

"Listen to my voice!" I yelled.

Electivire hadn't been hurt by the Flash, but he was disoriented and couldn't see where he was or hear very well. Still he managed to catch what I said, and my words calmed him down some, allowing the electricity around him to settle down. So much waste, I thought. We'd probably used the equivalent of five Thunders from all the electricity leaking out of him. Approaching would mean getting hit by Flash, but that was fine.

"Thunderbolt," I ordered. Better save some energy for Snorlax. I needed to weaken her and switch in the next minute or so.

"Seed Bomb!" Barry ordered.

Roserade giggled, and a cluster of explosions rang out all around Electivire. My eyes narrowed as I instinctively protected my face despite the barriers. Had Roserade left those seeds when they'd been close? During the Flash, maybe. Honey shot out a Thunderbolt, but he couldn't see very straight and it wasn't even close to its target, instead landing on the ground a few feet away from Roserade and kicking up some mud. I recalled Honey before he could get hurt any longer and licked my teeth. I was out of switches now, so my next one really had to count

Sunshine? Despite the type advantage, I feared that I'd underestimated Roserade's versatility in such terrain. He'd be largely contained to one island, just like Snorlax, while the grass type could grow lilypads to walk on. Sweetheart was a no-go, not right now. It was either Angel or Princess—

Twenty seconds left to make a decision.

Princess would have the advantage, but the problem rested with Barry's remaining Pokemon. I needed to save her for threats like Heracross and Staraptor. Sending out Tangrowth here was a risk, because there was a possibility that Barry would switch to Rapidash, and even if I took Roserade down, Rapidash would no doubt come out next. It was a risk I was willing to take, however. I clenched the grass type's Pokeball, taking in its familiar shape to relax my mind. I released him an island away from Roserade with ten seconds to spare, and Barry sprung to action.

"Exploding Pin Missiles!" He ordered.

Roserade mirrored his excitement, and nearly thirty—forty— damn it, fifty Pin Missiles launched from her flowers, leaving trails of smoke behind them.

I spoke on instinct. "Ancient Power!"

The attack came out much quicker thanks to Sunny Day. Four walls surrounded Tangrowth, and a roof built itself just in time for the first Pin Missiles to explode around his 'house'. The earth here was soft— just mud, but the advantage of Ancient Power was that it could shape the ground into anything. The thickened walls were barely standing by the end of the explosion flurry, and Angel lowered them himself.

"Throw some rocks," I quickly continued.

The walls collapsed into small bits that Angel swept in his vines, and in one smooth motion, he threw them toward Roserade.

"Seed Bomb!"

I had expected another wave of seeds to explode against Angel to distract him, but instead, Roserade beamed, as if she'd been waiting for this moment the entire battle. The poison type slid with Grassy Glide, but it wouldn't be enough to dodge. Then, an explosion under her. Seed Bomb after Seed Bomb, and suddenly, she was flying. Timing and strengthening each subsequent explosion with such precision that she could basically travel in the air, which was exactly what I'd wanted to do with Sunshine. I grinned when Roserade landed in the distance on another half-submerged island and spoke up. Our proof of concept had just essentially been proven possible.

"Get close to her," I said, trusting in his speed with Sunny Day still active. "Use Ancient Power to create more rocks as you go."

They'd be useful for Sweetheart, because she would actually need a supply of rocks to use in this arena. Earth was not rock. Angel propelled himself with his vines, almost jumping in the air as he pushed into the ground with so much power he was creating small craters in the mud. He shot his vines down to prevent himself from sinking and essentially floated in the water. Each of his vines worked as one, filling a specific duty that he needed to move with such grace.

But Barry was not idle. His Roserade would launch small globs of Acid, which Angel easily stopped with Ancient Power. The poison wasn't weak by any means. This was Barry we were talking about. Focused on grass typing Roserade might have been, but she still excelled in poison type attacks. It easily melted through our Ancient Power walls, but that was fine. The fact that it didn't punch through like Poison Cutter did meant that only a few droplets could reach Angel.

"Charge up a Solar Blade," I said when he'd closed half the distance. A select few of Angel's vines began to glow bright white with solar energy. "Watch out for Flash when you get close!"

Barry was, however, determined not to let us get close, falling back on grass manipulation. Cotton Spores exploded in Roserade's wake, although I knew how to stop them this time and Angel largely avoided the field of white flowers. Seed Bombs might not have hurt Angel that much, but the force of an explosion that massive was still nothing to scoff at and slowed him down slightly.

"Shadow Leaves!" Barry yelled.

Hah! I fucking knew this one!

"Knock Off all around you!" I yelled.

Roserade lowered her two arms to the ground, and a Shadow Ball slammed into the ground. Instead of exploding uncontrollably, the ghostly energy weaved itself in the grass until Roserade's entire island was filled with purple vegetation. The leaves writhed around, that it wasn't Roserade doing it. Spirits had possessed the plants, and they tore themselves from the ground. Stalks, leaves, grass, bark, lilypads, anything that was near flew off and rushed toward Angel. He stopped, and the vines he wasn't using to charge up Solar Blade were all submerged in darkness.

Then, he thrashed around.

Everywhere.

His vines were so quick they'd become a blur of blue all around him, and the ghosts were all knocked out of their leaves before any could even hit him. It was one of Roserade's most powerful current moves despite taking a while to charge, but Angel had too many vines to use to get hit more than three times. Roserade's face fell in disappointment, and she prepared herself to use Seed Bomb to retreat again—

"Knock Off, detach!" I yelled with a thrill in my voice.

Angel threw a vine forward that wrapped around Roserade like a lasso, and the explosion that came out of the Seed Bombs was a lot weaker than before. Then, Angel's Solar Blades shot forward and all converged toward the poison type as soon as he reached his fifty feet range. An Acid leaked out of Roserade, but it would take time to chew through the dark-coated vine.

Solar Blade was a grass type attack, but the four vines still stabbed into Roserade like butter. The sheer force of the impact also staggered the poison type and we basically skewered her. I'd gotten an idea to trigger one of the unstable explosions from Solar Blade after stabbing an opponent, but just like using Water Spout inside a Pokemon, that was far too lethal to use in a fight like this. Roserade was no Carnivine.

Barry recalled Roserade, and I wiped a few beads of sweat from my face. Instead of the expected Rapidash, Barry sent out his Heracross. Arceus, this is so much fun, I immediately thought with a widening grin. I blinked to moisten my eyes and studied the lean bug type. Those plates of armor look tough. I doubt I can stab through those. I cracked my neck and exhaled as the fighting type took flight with buzzing that only Vespiquen could beat.

"Sustain the Sunny Day," I said, remembering that it was Roserade's. "He uses sound-based attacks, and you won't be able to hear me for most of the fight. He's going to get up close…"

As my words went on, the buzzing grew louder. Not as debilitating as it was with Pressure, but it was still way too loud for Tangrowth to hear anything I'd say, especially when he was on Barry's side of the arena. Barry yelled something, but I knew the disadvantage was two-fold. Heracross couldn't hear anything he'd say either.

Not that that mattered. Pale, green energy diffused out of Heracross' wings, and the fighting type flew toward Angel as he strengthened his Bug Buzz. He angled his face downward, and his horn glowed bright white. I could only watch and hope Angel would figure out a way to counter Megahorn on his own. Heracross would be able to break through Ancient Power with his physical prowess, and despite being a slow flier, he would still catch up to Angel due to the swamp.

Vines burst toward Heracross as soon as he crossed into Angel's range, both with Power Whip and Knock Off added to the mix. Heracross didn't even try to alter his course. Dark type effects could not suppress bug-type or fighting type moves, or if they could, it wasn't for long. The Bug Buzz hit Angel, whose entire body shivered in pain, and yet his focus didn't waver. Vines wrapped around Heracross' body, so much that he was barely visible under them. The force of the vines actually managed to restrain his wings, flattening them against his body, and for a second, the Bug Buzz stopped.

"Break his wings," I snapped at the opening.

"Huh?! Strength!" Barry said, slightly taken aback.

Heracross flexed, and the sheer force tore apart many of Tangrowth's vines. Heracross clumsily landed in front of the grass type, who slammed him away with a Power Whip.

He didn't budge. Instead, the Bug Buzz started again, and he rammed a Megahorn deep inside of Angel, whose vines shot out everywhere in a desperate attempt to hit the bug type away from him. Spores exploded, Power Whips dented his armor and Knock Offs wrapped around Heracross' body.

None of it was enough.

I thanked my lucky stars when Heracross' wings bent in the wrong direction and Angel stabbed hasty Solar Blades into the ground to use Ingrain—

I closed my eyes, but saw the light from the massive explosion through my eyelids anyway. Angel had been so hurt that he hadn't managed to stabilize his Solar Blades to use Ingrain. The Bug Buzz was manageable now thanks to the broken wings, so I spoke again.

"The ground is soft! Just use Ingrain normally!" I yelled.

I had to scream the order five times until my throat hurt for Angel to hear. In that time, Heracross had been goring him with Megahorn. The vines stabbed into the mud, and the grass around Angel started to die as he healed himself. We are severely behind when it comes to the complicated techniques grass types can work with, I realized with a bouncing leg. Luckily we'd started work to remedy that soon.

"Pin Missile!" Barry ordered.

I clicked my tongue. Not much I could do about that from point-blank range.

"Power Whip as much as you can!"

Tangrowth desperately slammed as many Power Whips as he could against Heracross' back, denting his armor. Each attack grew weaker and weaker, but it was all we had. The Pin Missiles buried themselves inside of him, and that was the finishing blow. Ingrain couldn't heal through both Pin Missile and Megahorn. Angel fell to the ground, and Heracross removed his horn from his body. Then, something shifted in Heracross' body. He was reinvigorated, stronger, almost glowing with glee. Moxie was a terrifying ability that could snowball out of control very quickly and allow a battle to get out of control.

Which was why we couldn't let that happen.

I didn't waste any time. I sent out Princess, who took to the air and stared down at Heracross with disdain. Now that we'd broken his wings, the best the fighting type could do was hover at most to travel from island to island, and Barry couldn't switch any longer, and their Bug Buzz was no longer powerful enough to mask orders. We had a clear advantage here, but Barry was still Barry, and he was grinning from ear to ear. I couldn't underestimate him.

Earth rose, still dripping to the ground until Princess compacted it into stone. It morphed into a solid ring that started spinning around her, and she flew around the field awaiting my command.

I didn't keep her waiting.

"Moonblast."

We were going to hit hard and hit fast. Fragments of light coalesced in front of Togekiss, and she swooped down toward the ground with the attack. Once she got close enough, mud, water and grass started orbiting the Moonblast, spinning faster and faster around the attack.

"Stone Edge!" Barry yelled.

The fragments of rock Angel had created for Sweetheart blurred upward, slamming into Princess' barrier. The tension in my shoulders peaked, and then vanished when only the last volley broke through. Utterly silent, Princess threw her Moonblast forth. The gravitational pull on the attack was so potent that it had been buried. Enveloped by muddy water. Heracross tried to run, but his wings weren't powerful enough to let him escape.

"Endure!" Barry yelled.

The bug type sank in the water perpetually spinning around our Moonblast, and Princess took back to the air, triggering Moonblast's explosion. Light, dust and pink surged out of the attack, along with steam and water.

"Air Slash as soon as you see him—"

"Aerial Ace!" Barry yelled.

My heart sank when I saw Heracross emerge from the billow of steam and pink dust. Somehow, he was still flying. Could the momentum from Aerial Ace overcome a broken wing?

"Psychic when he's in range!" I yelled.

We couldn't let him hit her. A gust of air pushed Princess back, and she rode the current, hoping to outrun Heracross' attack. Unfortunately, she couldn't. Instead, the ring of rocks orbiting her split, and massive chunks blurred toward Heracross.

Who dissolved into nothing.

Transitioning into mind games now? My eyes darted everywhere around the arena in a desperate attempt to understand what the hell had just happened. Barry called out for a Stone Edge, and a volley of rocks all flew toward Princess, who retaliated with an Air Slash where the rocks came from. The arc of sharpened air sunk into the depths, but there was no sign of Heracross anywhere save for the fact that he was still fucking attacking us. Togekiss' eyes shone pink, and the Stone Edges turned to dust before they could reach her barrier.

Either Barry's found a way to turn his damned Heracross invisible, or he's under the water, and he can create clones of some kind. The terrifying part about fighting this dude was that I had no idea which one was more likely, but at least my gut told me that that clone looked like a Double Team. More Stone Edges burst upward in an attempt to catch Princess off-guard, but with how high she was, she could easily stop each volley, and her barrier stopped the stragglers that made it through.

Heracross emerged from below the water with Aerial Ace, and Princess immediately hit him with Air Slash— no, he dodged with maneuverability that shouldn't have been possible with broken wings. Then, it came to me. Afterimages from Double Team wouldn't care about broken wings. Princess managed to dispatch the clone with another Air Slash, and I told her to bide her time. I'd come into this battle expecting Heracross to be a ruthless fighter in a melee, but he was stalling us. No, stalling was the wrong expression. He was building up the tension, hoping to fuck with us in an attempt to find an opening for the real body to attack.

But eventually, he'd have to come up for air.

So I waited.

Two minutes of this stalemate passed. Then another two.

Heracross wasn't coming up for air. And I knew he hadn't drowned either, because he kept attacking and baiting us with Double Teams. More and more came at a time. First, two, then three, and the number kept rising. We were at five, now. Princess tried to hit the water with Air Slash and Charge Beam in hopes to get a lucky hit, but it wasn't working.

Think, Grace, think! Why the hell would Barry put so much importance on Rain Dance as a strategy on Staraptor if Empoleon was the only one capable of making use of the damn water. Barry was more silent than he'd been during the entire battle, and no matter how long I stared at him, he wasn't giving away anything. Not glancing in Heracross' potential direction, not panicking when an Air Slash maybe landed closer than he expected. Either he had the best poker face of all time, or he himself didn't know where Heracross was— just that he was underwater. If I had a psychic type, I would have been able to track him, but as it stood we were fumbling in the darkness and hoping for the best.

"Moonblast," I said again.

The stalemate needed to be broken. Togekiss summoned another sphere of light—

"Now!" Barry yelled.

Fifteen Heracross burst from the water, all flying with Aerial Ace. A bubble of water clung inches from their skin, and I realized he'd been using pockets of air to breathe. Was this an actual attack? Was my hypothesis about Heracross' real body not being able to fly bogus? No time to think about it. Princess released the Moonblast early, and half of the Heracross were sucked in toward the move, disappearing as soon as they made contact with the moon.

"Reversal!" Barry screamed, pushing a fist forward.

I inhaled more air than what I thought was possible. Time seemed to stand still as my eyes darted between each remaining Heracross to find which one was real or not— but nothing seemed to give them away. Every single instance of Heracross flew in the exact same painful-looking way. Gone was the maneuverability that the first clones had showed. He'd been tricking us when acting like Heracross couldn't fly. Pin Missiles exploded out of every clone, leaving behind trails of smoke that obscured the skies, and every single of of them converged toward Princess.

"Dazzling Gleam!" I snapped.

Light surrounded the fairy type, and then popped with a blinding explosion when as many Heracross as possible were close. Most of them dissolved into nothing, but there were still four left. Stones burst like shrapnel in an attempt to destroy the last remaining Heracross, and we finally managed to hit all of them. The final Heracross screeched in pain when the small shards of rocks slammed into his shell, and Princess grabbed him with a Psychic—

Her hold on him broke in less than a second, and the bug type shattered her barrier like glass, slamming into her with all of his strength. Togekiss went flying toward one of the barriers, but she caught herself before she could hit the psychic wall. Heracross fell into the swamp below, his body limp. He'd exerted everything he had left to use Reversal.

Moxie shouldn't have been enough to break through Princess' Psychic. Had he used Swords Dance underwater? I clicked my tongue as Barry recalled his Heracross and sent out his Staraptor once more. The flying type would have the advantage in the air, but she was still burning from the Will-O-Wisp, and she'd been hurt quite a bit by her previous fight.

"Sunny Day!" Barry ordered.

Staraptor clapped her wings together, and the waning Sunny Day came back in full force. The harsh light shone down on the swamp, illuminating every inch of the arena. Roserade and Rapidash would make full use of that Sunny Day, which meant that unless this was another one of Barry's misdirects, he would send one of them next.

"Wish," I said. "Keep your distance and Charge Beam. She'll beat you from up close."

"Heat Wave!" Barry yelled.

I wanted to sigh in relief. The air around Staraptor warped from the scorching temperatures, and she sent them toward Princess with a flap of her wings and a screech. Barry still didn't know our barriers could work against temperature. The Wish left Princess' body and flew through the ceiling, and Princess sent a beam of electricity toward Staraptor. The normal type flattened her wings against her body and dove down, extending them once again inches above the water to stop herself. She weaved in between each Charge Beam and Ancient Power Drill with dexterity I couldn't wait for Princess to reach. Every time I thought one of our attacks would strike true, it buried itself in the swamp instead.

But Staraptor was not coming closer. One Brave Bird would have no doubt been too powerful for Princess to do anything beyond slow her down, so what was he planning? Staraptor was slowly burning, and she would until she fainted.

"Moonblast," I said as soon as Staraptor was an appropriate distance.

"Ominous Wind!" Barry continued.

Yeah, that made sense. I understood now. Barry considered every Moonblast an opening to strike, and as much as it pained to admit, he wasn't wrong. Moonblast took time to get going. Staraptor's eyes dimmed as she circled the arena, slowing to concentrate on controlling the alien force, and another minute crack appeared in the sky. Ghost type moves would cleave through Princess' barrier like a knife through butter.

"Let go and Charge Beam!"

The fairy type released her Moonblast, and instead, a thin electric current struck Staraptor in the wing. Staraptor shivered, falling onto one of the islands as the Ominous Wind got started. The fact that it was silent still disturbed me. Arches of water floated up like gravity no longer existed, but none of them bothered Princess, and she could still fly fine. Instead, she used Staraptor's fall as a means to stab her wings with two elongated spears. The normal type screeched as the stones tore through her wings, grounding her— hopefully permanently, this time.

"Good job," I said. "Keep hitting her with Ancient Power or Charge Beam."

"Aerial Ace!" Barry yelled.

Before the words were out of his mouth, Staraptor was back in the air with some kind of proto-flight that looked wrong but somehow worked, just like Heracross, and she managed to get out of the way of another Charge Beam. So it was Aerial Ace, that allowed them to keep flying, then. The normal type reached another island, although she was clearly less proficient at this type of flight than Heracross had been.

"Focus on the wind!" Barry ordered.

Staraptor turned to face the sky, and the Ominous Wind strengthened. Princess' Charge Beam somehow swerved out of the way and impacted the wet dirt instead.

"Roost!" Barry continued.

Staraptor glowed. My eye twitched.

"Air Cutter."

The air around Staraptor sharpened, slicing her with a hundred different cuts. Blood seeped through her plumage. The wound looked bad, but I knew better than that. Air Cutter was weak, and it had only stopped her from focusing on using Roost. I couldn't allow them to heal.

"Keep stopping her from using Roost and get close," I said. My eyes never left Staraptor, who was now only a blur behind the ever-growing purple flames. "Ancient Power. Break her."

The Ominous Wind hurt, but she still listened without hesitation. A gust of air blew at Togekiss' back, allowing him to speed up until she was a blur. When she reached Staraptor, the bird hit her with a Whirlwind. The burst of air stopped Princess dead in her tracks, but that was fine.

Two blocks of stone rose at Staraptor's sides, and then they slammed together with her in the middle. Bones crunched, and Staraptor howled in agony. Barry quickly recalled her— damn it, what the hell? Even after hurting his Pokemon this much, his smile didn't even falter. I knew I would have been pissed, or at least worried, and I thought it would have made him slip and become more predictable, but none of it worked.

Trainers at the top, they're all a kind of unhinged, some more than others, Jasmine's voice rang out in my head. I smiled, and Barry sent out his Rapidash while the Wish reentered Princess' body, healing some of her wounds. The fire type neighed with a wince that twisted his face, then turned toward Barry in annoyance, probably from the fact that he was getting hurt by Staraptor's own attack. The Ominous Wind was still going, and would for another minute, but when it ended?

Rapidash would be able to make full use of Sunny Day.

"Wish again, then Moonblast and Air Slash," I said. "Just like I showed, he's going to fly at you." If we could take down Rapidash…

"Agility and Flare Blitz!" Barry yelled.

Rapidash broke into a run, and then a blur that left a trail of fire behind him. He jumped off one of the islands and then jumped again, and again. Each subsequent jump, a powerful gust of air that shot Rapidash up and gave him more height. The momentum he'd gotten from his run carried over, and he appeared like a meteorite aiming right at Princess.

"Scrap the Wish—"

I smiled when I realized she'd already been crafting her moon, having taken the executive decision not to use Wish when a giant ball of fire was flying right at her. The Moonblast didn't have as much time to gather, but it was enough to pull Rapidash away from us— my eyes! Ringing in my ears! Rapidash slammed headfirst into the Moonblast, causing a giant explosion as he tore through Princess' barrier and slammed right into her with Flare Blitz.

"Keep going and Smart Strike!"

My fingers twitched around my crutch. "Hold him."

Princess' eyes snapped open at the sound of my voice. Her body was a smoking husk, and she was falling toward the water, but her eyes brimmed with psychic energy, and Rapidash's body twisted.

"Break his legs," I said.

"Megahorn!" Barry yelled.

The fire type's horn extended and seemed to twist, allowing him to break out of the psychic hold before Princess could cripple him permanently. A series of Air Slashes cut across Rapidash's flank as he retreated far enough away to dodge most attacks. Moonblast is a no-go, I thought as the Ominous Wind finally ended, reinvigorating Rapidash's flames. He would just fucking brute force his way through, and he had more energy left in the tank than Princess did. The fire type landed on one of the islands, his mere presence burning the wet grass, drying the mud and evaporating the water. His steps on the islands broke the now-brittle ground, creating tiny fissures.

"Hypnosis!" Barry yelled.

From there?! I swept my arm. "Ancient Power!"

Hypnosis from a non-psychic would always be slow, but we couldn't afford to get caught off-guard. Princess landed on solid ground, and a set of spears blurred toward Rapidash, who was forced to interrupt his technique in order not to get impaled. Barry called out for a Flamethrower, but that helplessly washed over Princess' barrier, and the fairy type got back into the air. This was nice. Familiarity. I knew what to expect with Rapidash, and I could actually think instead of solving one catastrophe after the other.

"Agility and Poison Jab!"

Never-fucking-mind.

"Thunder Wave!" I said, feeling a mix of anxiety and hope.

I'd hoped the mere order of a Thunder Wave would get Barry to reconsider, but instead, Rapidash hopped into the air once again, even faster than the last time. Electricity crackled through Princess fur, and it rushed toward Rapidash, who side-stepped the Thunder Wave with a sideways bounce before jumping back toward his target. Poison somehow leaked from his hooves, and I bit my lip. Unless this is the weakest Poison Jab known to man, this is going to break through the barrier. With his speed, he would probably break through psychic—

"Shrapnel!" I said, making a split-second decision.

Rocks buried themselves in Rapidash's hide like bullets, creating countless bloodied bruises and holes in his neck, flank, and head. The fire type slammed two of his hooves through Princess' barrier and slammed them into her chest. The poison melted through her fur and skin, and she screeched in pain as she tumbled to the ground. Instead of using Psychic, which we knew would be useless due to Megahorn, she sent another volley of rocks toward Rapidash. Togekiss crashed into the water, and her fur clung to her body. She couldn't swim, but she kept herself afloat with fairy energy.

And she was still capable of fighting. Rapidash turned, twisting his body in the air as he got ready to finish us off with one last Poison Jab. Flames spun around him like an unending inferno. Drills emerged from the water with a devious spin, and she sent them flying toward Rapidash.

Not enough. The fire type was hurt, but he landed at full force on Princess' head, slamming a hoof coated in poison in her head. I exhaled, recalling Princess after thanking her for her hard work. It might not have been a flashy debut for her, but no one else would have been able to take down Heracross like she had, especially when Sunshine would be stuck on a single island.

"You're up," I said, releasing Sweetheart. The rock type's eyes widened with glee at all of the water around her. "Sandstorm."

Pupitar expunged specks of sand from her vents, masking the full power of the second sun from Sunny Day, which Rapidash was no doubt sustaining.

"High Horsepower!" Barry yelled.

Wait for it, I internally screamed, holding a breath. Rapidash landed, using the ground to maintain his momentum, and then flew toward Sweetheart. Wait for it… I clenched a fist to calm my nerves, waiting until the last possible moment.

"Smack Down!"

One of the rocks Princess and Angel had left for Sweetheart burst upward before circling back and slamming into his back. The force behind the move brought Rapidash back to the ground before he could hit us. Not enough rocks for a powerful Rock Slide, and we weren't good enough with Stone Edge yet.

"Again," I said.

Barry said something, but I didn't hear over the strengthening Sandstorm. Flames burst from Rapidash, swarming the entire island they were on as another Smack Down bruised him.

"Earthbreaker!"

With a burst of air, Sweetheart jumped. She maneuvered using the gas to turn her body and slammed back into the ground. Rapidash neighed at the mini-Earthquake, and Barry evidently told him to run away, because he was back in the air as soon as he could.

"Lower your Sandstorm!" I yelled. "I need to hear him and to see what's going on."

Yes, he couldn't hear me either, but I'd rather know what the hell he was saying.

"...Beam!"

Ah, shit. A bubble of pure solar energy appeared in front of Rapidash's horn— slowly, thanks to the Sandstorm.

"Go as fast as you can! Across the water!"

With the sound of a jet engine, Sweetheart flew, skidding on the water's surface like a skipping stone as she carried as many rocks with her as she could. Rapidash released the Solar Beam, which landed in the water where Pupitar had just been, leaving only steam instead. The attack didn't end just there, though. Rapidash angled his head to track Sweetheart wherever she went, and the tail end of the Solar Beam grazed her back.

Of course, Rapidash immediately started charging up another one. I was waiting for him to lose enough speed so that he would either have to come down to the ground for more momentum, or he would be slow enough for Sweetheart to ram into… there!

"Full speed! Ram into him!" The words left my mouth before I was conscious of them.

More gas left Pupitar's vents, and she sped up until she became a blur skipping across the water. Rapidash's eyes widened in surprise, and he tried to get back into the air instead of actually building up some momentum with a running Agility.

But that was fine. It was too late.

Sweetheart rammed into the fire type at full speed, and then the rocks followed suit. There was a crack— multiple cracks, and Rapidash rolled on the ground until he landed in the water, his flames only a flicker of what they'd just been. The Solar Beam he'd been charging exploded with a surge of light, and Sweetheart let out a scream that was half due to the pain and half due to excitement at having taken down Rapidash. Barry recalled the fire type, and I wiped the sweat off my head. Two Pokemon left, and I still have Sunshine and Honey.

Barry didn't send out Roserade. Instead, he sent out Snorlax— still with a lot of his skin missing and that rage had only built up since the last time he'd been out. I internally cursed when I realized how fucked I was.

"Defense Curl and Rest!" Barry yelled.

Arceus fucking damn it, I had fucked up. Or had I? I maybe could have used Honey against Rapidash, but then Roserade would have probably managed to take him down or close to it, and Snorlax would have been left. If I'd sent Sunshine, Rapidash would have managed to outlast any Scale Shot—

Focus!

I was still in an advantageous position, and there was one way to maybe salvage this. Snorlax's wounds were progressively healing while the normal type snored without a care in the world.

"Iron Defense and ram into him," I said. Arceus, I should have brought a bottle of water.

Pupitar bounced off of Snorlax like a kid on a trampoline, and the normal type only moved a few inches. She let out a frustrated screech, but I called out to calm her down.

"Smack Down," I continued.

It was hard not to feel angry at how little our attacks were doing, but at least Rest was done now and we were dealing some damage. That wasn't the plan, though. Snorlax's snoring stopped, and the normal type blinked, as if he'd forgotten where he was.

"Bulldoze!" Barry immediately ordered.

Good.

The earth shook, creating tiny fissures, and Pupitar clenched her eyes tightly shut.

"Payback!"

The Bulldoze was still ongoing, which was perfect. Sweetheart's eyes dimmed, then flashed with anger as she hurled herself at Snorlax. The normal type bellowed when her multiple horns actually tore through his belly, but he grabbed onto her. She was so heavy, and he lifted her like she was a backpack he could sling over his back. I ordered the rock type to try to fly away, but she couldn't wedge herself free from Snorlax's hold even after expunging more air through her vents.

"Heavy Slam!"

The normal type fell forward with Pupitar under him. Snorlax smiled lazily with satisfaction that was hard to miss, and he pushed himself back up. His smile fell when Sweetheart wasn't down. Instead, another Payback—

I internally cursed when Barry yelled out for Ice Beam, and Snorlax finished Pupitar off with the beam of frost.

I drew a deep breath. Okay.

I grabbed Honey's Pokeball, and the electric type appeared with a burst of electricity. Snorlax's eyes narrowed at his old opponent, and he clumsily stood on two feet, almost stumbling down toward the water.

"Amnesia," Barry ordered, more quiet than he'd ever been.

"Thunder."

The massive burst of electric energy struck before Amnesia could take effect, and Snorlax grunted in annoyance. The giant hit back with an Ice Beam that missed by a mile thanks to Radiant Leap.

"Keep your distance, keep attacking with Thunderbolt," I said. "Save your energy."

Force them to change, and not us. They would have to Rest, eventually, leaving an opening for Honey to strike with Cross Chop.

So long as Motor Drive kept chugging along and Honey didn't reach his limit, we'd be okay. The problem was, I wasn't so sure he'd be able to last that long, but it was the best strategy I had. Get too close without Snorlax sleeping, and we'd get hit by Bulldoze.

For nine minutes, Honey hit Snorlax with Thunderbolt over and over. The normal type's belly had been burned until it turned black. And it wasn't like our tactic had done nothing. Snorlax was struggling to stay awake, and couldn't even stand. We'd hurt him a lot. Just another few minutes of this, and he'd fall. It was astonishing how many hits he could take. Professor Rowan probably had him on the best fucking diet possible.

Calm down, I breathed. My thoughts were straying and my head felt numb.

Unfortunately for us, Honey was starting to slow. His breaths grew ragged, his Thunderbolts weakened and his reflexes dulled.

Nine minutes of non-stop Thunderbolts, Radiant Leaps and the past fights took their toll, and unless he somehow got hit by a damn electric type attack to sustain himself, it was only down from there. Like a hawk, Barry instantly noticed the weakness and pointed forward.

"He's weakening! Keep using Ice Beam!"

I only had one chance.

"Cross Chop."

Electivire blurred toward Snorlax, hopping from island to island. He snarled when an Ice Beam hit him in the shoulder, but that barely stopped him from reaching his target. Without Barry's order, Snorlax started a Bulldoze while Honey sliced across the normal type's flank with Cross Chop—

Snorlax leaned forward, pushing against the Cross Chop as he hit Honey with another Heavy Slam— or was it Body Slam? Electivire bellowed, and a Thunder struck Snorlax as he pushed with Cross Chop as hard as he could. The Bulldoze weakened, but his legs still buckled under Snorlax's massive weight. Honey got down on one knee, then both, and Snorlax managed to let himself fall on him. A surge of panic, immediately tempered by clearing my mind. Snorlax huffed, rolling off of the electric type. I instantly recalled him and sent out Sunshine on the same island Honey had been in. The temperature instantly began to swelter, but that would do very little against Snorlax.

"Rest!" Barry said with a thrill in his voice.

"Focus Blast!"

Energy gathered in front of Sunshine's snout, and I painfully counted the seconds it took for it to charge up. The attack hit Snorlax, but he'd already healed so much. Fucking bullshit— Don't panic— but it's still fucking bullshit!

"Yes!"
Barry cheered. He was so sweaty, but there were no signs of tiredness. I was so fucking thirsty it was unbelievable.

The Focus Blast dealt a substantial amount of damage, but Amnesia was still active.

"Sunny Day!" You don't have the raw power, think outside of the box.

A second sun rose high above the arena as my thoughts went a million miles an hour. Think. Think. Sunshine tried his best, hitting Snorlax with a series of Focus Blasts, but it wouldn't be enough. Snorlax would wake up soon, hit us with Bulldoze and then Rest again. Fucking awful move, Arceus fucking damn it, and he didn't even know Sleep Talk yet.

With rage came the insatiable desire to burn Snorlax to smithereens, and an idea popped into my head—

"Shell Trap!" I yelled. "Push him off the island!"

Sunshine turned, the water around their island quickly turning to vapor. His shell glowed with a dark red hue, and the force of the explosion moved Snorlax a few feet. Just a few feet. If I could get Snorlax to drown in his sleep, Barry would be forced to recall him out of the fight to save his life.

"Again," I quickly said.

One explosion, Snorlax slipped away from the island's center. Two and three explosions, he made it onto the beach. Four—

Snorlax woke up with burns covering his body, and Barry instantly told him to use Bulldoze. The normal type tried to get back on his feet, probably to hit us with a Heavy— well, a Body Slam, but another explosion from Sunshine knocked him off-balance.

"Forget it, just put everything you have into Bulldoze! Rest when you feel yourself fainting!" Barry yelled.

The panic in his voice was delicious, but I was also panicking and sweating so much it got into my eyes. The Bulldoze intensified— air filled my lungs. The island was sinking. Collapsing. Why now? The information took a split second to click in my mind. Sunshine's heat had dried the mud, making it easier for the Bulldoze to destroy the island. Then, my eyes widened. This had been the same island Rapidash had stayed the longest on. Had that been intentional? Snorlax and Sunshine sank beneath the waves like rocks. Both were too heavy to have any hopes of swimming to another island.

"Shell Trap!" I yelled.

Turtonator could propel himself with his explosions. There was a red hue below the water—

"Grab him, Snorlax!"

No! Forcefully drowning a Pokemon had been my idea!

The water bubbled as another explosion rang out from below. Turtonator's snout peaked through the surface until Snorlax grabbed onto his tail and dragged him down with him. Shit.

"Dragon Pulse!"

Turquoise light illuminated the depths, and I didn't know if it was because Sunshine could actually hear me or he'd just decided to do this on his own. I waited with bated breath to see if he'd be able to come back up.

Ten seconds. Another burst of light. He was giving it his all.

Twenty seconds. They grew less frequent.

Thirty seconds. No more Dragon Pulses.

I snapped out of it before Sunshine could actually drown and recalled him without thinking. The beam from the Pokeball took a nauseating amount of time to actually reach him, but he was safely tucked back in his ball. Barry leaned against his knees and sighed in relief, recalling his Snorlax as well before the normal type could actually drown.

Of course, he still had Roserade left in the back.

I bit my lip. I wanted to scream into a pillow. The way we'd lost was so— so—

No, not unfair. There was no fairness in battle. It had been my fault. Had I told Sunshine not to heat up his surroundings, the island wouldn't have sunk so easily and we might have managed to finish him off. It hadn't been like Snorlax had infinite amounts of endurance either. He'd been starting to grow tired. I doubted that even Barry had expected that to happen. I sat down on my platform, dropping my crutch and ignoring the throbbing pain in my ankle.

How the hell could I counter Rest on a Pokemon as bulky as Snorlax without murdering my opponent? Drowning them to snap them out of the sleep worked, but that wasn't consistent enough for my liking. Damn it, there definitely was a way other than hoping to blow past the opponent with power, otherwise everyone and their mother at the Conference would be running Rest on their bulky Pokemon that could learn the move. It was an expensive TM, but Conference-goers didn't exactly hurt for money.

Relax, I sighed. Think back to the battle. Argh, it was too fresh in my mind to look at it objectively. My nails dug into my palm enough to leave marks. I was so pissed at myself for failing Sunshine. He had all the tools to snatch a win, and I—

Oh. Right.

I'd been battling for a crowd.

I blinked, and the sound of cheers filled my ears. I didn't care very much for those. I wanted to learn a way to shut down Rest permanently, and I wanted to figure out the mistakes I'd made during the fight. I tried to stand up, but I hissed when my ankle flared up. I hadn't even been putting any damn weight on it—

"Let me help you out."

I turned toward Barry— when the hell had he even gotten here? He outstretched his hand, and I took it after wiping the sweat on my hands on my jeans, and he pulled me up.

"How do I counter Rest?" I asked.

"Huh?"

"How do I counter Rest?"

"I— I'm not sure— I think you could do something with either dark, psychic or ghost TE to keep a Pokemon awake forcefully, but that's just a theory I have—"

"Thank you," I said, committing his words to memory. That was just more I'd have to look at with Buddy, and maybe Princess.

Was trying to hard-counter a move only he used this much petty? Well, it wasn't like I wasn't petty.

"That was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time," Barry said.

"It was fun," I acknowledged after a pause. "Thank you for battling me."

"I should be saying that!" He exclaimed with a child-like grin. "I never thought a first-year would give me this much trouble. I think the battle would have gone your way had the island not collapsed—"

"I don't think so. I think Roserade could scrape off a win by keeping her distance by using the Seed Bomb trick to fly," I spoke over him. "Don't pity me. I know you hoped for the island to sink, or you wouldn't have released Snorlax on the island Rapidash had already been on. I lost, and… that's okay. I'll use this to my advantage."

"This… what?"

"This battle," I said. "Could you pick up my crutches?"

The blond boy handed them to me, and I cursed the fact that I'd have to walk back to the Pokemon Center. He helped me down the platform and scratched the back of his head while we walked toward my phone so I could end my stream.

"I guess you're worthy of being my rival."

I snorted. "I'll take it."

"The way you fight is way too brutal, though, I mean breaking my Rapidash's legs? Spewing Acid on Snorlax's face while drowning him? And there was also…"

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby, ShipGoSync, Kcx1, ArgentumTriKeras, AnotherUser, SmallBusinessBoi, Papito12495
 
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Side Story 5 - Silph Co. Raid
You could have read this early on my Discord or even earlier on my Patreon. Have this Side Story while I rest my fingers.

Side Story 5 - Silph Co. Raid

Silph Co. Headquarters was his.

Giovanni Campione sipped on some gin as he sat on President's Koyasu's luxurious, leather couch. He let out a satisfied groan as he enjoyed the strong flavor. Two Team Rocket Grunts and Executive Archer stood by his side. The thin, pale, blue-haired man's face was twisted with such disturbing pleasure that Koyasu couldn't help but recoil every time Archer stared in his general direction, and his lean Houndoom kept growling at Koyasu as well. Giovanni had always despised that psychopath Archer. Unlike Giovanni, he wanted nothing more but to inflict suffering. So long as he could have his fun, he would be a useful dog.

And loyal. One could not forget that.

"Mr. President," Giovanni smiled, leaning in to exude confidence. The truth was, this was a dangerous play. For him to be anywhere near where Team Rocket operated would have been madness to his previous self, but the opportunity here warranted it. "Let's talk business. You know what I want."

Giovanni had Teleported here before having his dark types flood the building to delay the League, and more of his Executives had struck important regions all over the country to confuse them. More importantly, though?

Mewtwo had been let out to play. Let Lance, the Elite Four and their trainers chew on that for a good few hours.

"W—what could you po—possibly want from us?" President Koyasu stammered.

"The Master Ball, you buffoon!" Archer snarled.

Giovanni raised his hand, and Archer silenced himself. "The Master Ball, and its schematics. We want to… be able to recreate it."

"Madness!" Koyasu exclaimed. "I will give you the Master Ball, but I can't allow its production to fall into your hands!"

"Look at that! You've found a backbone," Giovanni grinned.

"Thousands— tens of thousands are dying because of your very actions, Giovanni," Koyasu said. "Why? Money? Why would a Gym Leader like you do something like this—"

"Why?" Giovanni scoffed sarcastically. "Ah, yes, why? Money is only a secondary goal. It is for the greater good of Kanto, of course."

Giovanni sipped on some more gin and calmly placed the glass on the coffee table. "Tell me, my dear president. Did you fight in the war?"

The man shook his head.

"Coward," Giovanni spat. "Had I been of age, I would have volunteered instead of letting the conscription officers come at my door. Let me guess, your wealthy family paid them off? We have time… so why don't we talk a little."

Giovanni cursed at himself. Why talk instead of running out of here? Part of him felt compelled to tell his story, and it wasn't like they were going to let him live regardless. Koyasu was the only one who had seen him, after all. Team Rocket had been slandered by the League for years ever since its inception in the post-war years. His mother had been at its head until he realized she was only after profit. He realized there was no grander goal to her actions, and then he killed her and took control. For the greater good of Kanto.

President Koyasu could only muster a tight nod.

"You want to know why, Koyasu? Because Kanto and Johto being a part of the same nation makes me sick," Giovanni growled. There was so much anger in his tone that he felt his vocal chords strain. "Indigo must be dissolved, and the war must be started again. Kanto must rule Johto. We are not equals. They must be subjugated. But that is not all, Mr. President. Kanto had broken through the front line in the last months of the war. Victory was right within our grasp."

Giovanni held out his hand and clenched a fist.

"But those damned Legends," he slammed his fist against the table. His glass rattled against the old wood. "They ruined it all."

Giovanni remembered it as clear as day despite having been a child. Fire incarnate, flying over Viridian. Moltres hadn't even aimed at them, and it hadn't even been that big. It had just flown over his city on the way to the front, and half of it had burned to smithereens, killing hundreds of thousands. The city still bore the fire's scars to this day.

Mewtwo, Giovanni thought to himself. A clone of the progenitor Mew, mixed with Ditto and human cells that had been designed over the course of decades and who was capable of dispatching any Legendary Avatar in a one-on-one fight. Once Giovanni took over and the war started again, he would be their contingency should the birds intervene once again.

With a little luck, Mewtwo would kill Lance and his Elite Four to soften Indigo for him.

"Madness," Koyasu finally answered with a trembling voice.

"I'm afraid you don't have much choice in the matter," Giovanni said.

"I do. You'll kill me anyway," he said with a tired sigh. "I will not be allowed to live now that I've seen who truly leads the Rockets."

"Oh, of course," Giovanni nodded. "But your family might."

President Koyasu's face lost all of its color. "No…"

Team's Rocket leader snapped his fingers, and one of his grunts produced a picture in his hand. It was President Koyasu's two daughters, their husbands, his son, his wife and his grandchildren, all tied up and with tears streaming down their face.

"Now we can stop playing these games," Giovanni said "You must—"

At that moment, another grunt knocked at the door's office and let herself in. She saluted Giovanni and whispered into his ears.

"Sir, a trainer has broken into the building. He is currently breaking past all of our forces and was last seen on the third floor."

Giovanni drummed his fingers over the seat, and his Pokeballs seemed a lot heavier on his belt. "Drag Koyasu out of here for a second."

His two grunts quickly executed his order and grabbed the president out of his office.

"Do you have any more information for me?" Giovanni said.

"The descriptions all point toward it being Red Isamu, sir."

"Arceus, damn it!" Giovanni snarled. "Why now of all times?"

This wasn't Team Rocket's first scuffle with Red. First in Mount Moon, where some low-level grunts were trying to steal some fossils to sell, but Giovanni had not worried about that event. Those grunts had been the lowest of the low. New recruits trying to prove themselves.

But then, it never stopped. In Cerulean, he dealt with a group of grunts trying to smuggle TMs. In Celadon, Red broke into one of their bases and defeated an Executive. Giovanni had been too busy pretending to be a Gym Leader to keep his cover to intervene. Then, there was the Pokemon Tower incident with that damned Blue where they had stopped Team Rocket from killing Cubone to sell their skulls.

Again, again, and again.

The sheer amount of growth he had shown these last few months shouldn't have been possible outside of war. Never had he seen a trainer grow this powerful this quickly, but then again, Red had practically been raised by that peace-loving fool Samuel Oak, and had his full backing. Blue was the same.

"Swarm him," Giovanni said. "Don't let him get up here, or I'll have your heads. Bring Koyasu back in."

The woman paled. "Um… there's also another individual in the building. Blue Oak, sir. It appears they are teaming up to bring us down."

Giovanni clenched the bridge of his nose. "Bring. Him. Back. In."

The grunt scampered off, and President Koyasu was dragged back into the room— with an extra bruise forming around his eye, Giovanni noticed.

"The Master Ball and its schematics. Now."

"You'll spare my family?" He asked with desperation oozing in every part of his body.

"I will. They have no blood in this fight."

President Koyasu pointed toward his desk with a trembling hand, and Archer tried to open the drawer. When he realized it was locked, he had his Houndoom smash it open with a Headbutt, and the Master Ball fell onto the teal-tiled floor. Its dark purple tint and yellow 'M' were almost hypnotic. So much power at the tip of his fingers.

"The schematics are downstairs in the basement where we experiment on making new types of Pokeballs," he said. "You'll have to send your grunts and have them talk with one of our scientists. They'll know."

"Very well," Giovanni said. Koyasu winced, expecting his death, but Giovanni could only laugh. "You aren't dying yet, Koyasu. Not until we verify that the schematics are actually there. Archer! Go downstairs— avoid any battle at all costs. Let our grunts slow Red and Blue down. Take a few scientists with you. They'll help us get started on producing our Master Balls."

"Yes, Giovanni sir!" He bellowed before running off with his Houndoom.

With a monopoly on Master Balls and Mewtwo, Team Rocket would be unstoppable. Many dangerous Pokemon in the wild would now be able to be caught on a whim. Who cared if they hated their new masters? Drop them in the middle of a fight, and ninety-nine percent of trainers wouldn't think twice before attacking first and forcing them to retaliate to save themselves.

And if he lost a few grunts to them? No matter. Those were always expendable.

The minutes passed agonizingly slowly. Giovanni couldn't help but stare at the clock and internally curse when only a minute or two had passed. Archer was too slow for his liking, and their radios had been jumbled by the darkness swelling around the building. Giovanni moistened his lips and couldn't help but feel his hands start to sweat. It wasn't so much that he thought he would lose. Talented or not, he would not suffer a defeat from two trainers that were this green.

It was that should one of them escape, his entire plan would collapse. He could always run. Order his dark types to stand down and Teleport away. But Giovanni was so close. Should the state of the building shift, then that might alert the League that something had changed, but more than that, Giovanni's vanity would not allow him to not be present for the culmination of years of planning and work.

An explosion rang downstairs, and the entire building rattled. Giovanni dusted his head and sighed as he stood up.

"You keep Koyasu bound in this room," he said to his two grunts. "He must not be allowed to escape."

Giovanni arranged his suit and tie, making sure to look his best before stepping out of Koyasu's office. Large, window panes allowed him to face Saffron in its full glory. The streets down below were swarming with Rockets. The city was his. He had conquered it through might alone, and he planned on conquering many more. The hallway was large with a high ceiling and plenty of space to battle, but Giovanni could not exactly go all out here. If he collapsed the entire building, he would die, and all of his plans would be reduced to ash. With Mewtwo here, he would have been able to do whatever he wanted…

It is too late for regrets, Viridian's Gym Leader steeled himself, and he released his Nidoqueen and Nidoking.

"Prepare for battle," he spoke.

The two poison types grunted.

The two boys arrived three minutes later.

Blue Oak, always with that haughty smirk on his face and that necklace his mother had given him. A simple stainless steel charm that he kept around his neck at all times. Red Isamu was shorter and wore his usual red cap and jersey and his face sported his usual blank expression that he'd gotten known for. Pokemon swarmed them on all sides.

For Red, a Pikachu sat on his shoulder while a wounded Charizard and Snorlax flanked him. Espeon rubbed itself on his leg. He released a perfectly healthy Lapras onto the cold tiles. Five Pokemon left, then, Giovanni acknowledged. And that Pikachu would be useless against his ground types. Blue was in a better shape. An Arcanine, Exeggutor, Kadabra, Blastoise, an Umbreon, and lastly a Pidgeot flying overhead.

Mere children, Giovanni thought. Both were only eleven and yet they had caused so much trouble. It was his first time seeing them in person, and it was hard not to feel rage at the thought that two eleven-year-olds had been thorns at his side for so long.

"So it was you, jackass?" Blue smirked, leaning forward with his hands in his pockets. "Arceus damn, Viridian's Giovanni at the head of Team Rocket. Gramps always said you were a patriot, but you're a damned terrorist? Think you're hot shit?"

"Focus," Red whispered.

Blue shrugged. "Fuck off."

"Aim to kill," Giovanni said.

Poison belched out of both Nidoking and Nidoqueen's mouths, but each served a different purpose. Nidoking's poison hovered in the air and grew into solid balls while Nidoqueen's spread throughout the ground, separating both. Nidoking grunted, and his poisonous spheres rushed toward both trainers.

Red whispered something under his breath while Blue screamed.

"Leaf Storm, Hurricane, Icy Wind!"

Exeggutor's eyes shone, and it released hundreds of leaves into the air that immediately set to strike at Giovanni. Nidoqueen dragged him toward her and wrapped him in a soft protect, but that was not the end of it. Pidgeot flapped its humongous wings and the Leaf Storm intensified while Blastoise added to the attack with a frigid wind that froze Nidoqueen's poison and Nidoking's poisonous spheres. The purple ground type grunted in pain when he was hit by the combined attack and actually slid back. The entire facade— the huge window— shattered with a deafening explosion, and the wind rushed inside of the building.

Espeon followed and targeted each of Nidoking's spheres with a rush of psychic energy, blowing them up. Giovanni frowned when each explosion was contained in an individual barrier to keep their trainers safe. Such skill, Giovanni lamented. Children they may have been, they would have made excellent Executives.

Charizard roared as it soared in the air and Blue's attack sustained itself. A white-hot Flamethrower submerged Nidoking's armor. Nidoqueen was forced into keeping up her Protect for as long as possible. Giovanni realized he would have to go all out, consequences be damned. These children were aiming to kill him as well, it seemed.

He released the rest of his Pokemon. Persian, Rhydon, Dugtrio and Kangaskhan.

"Nidoqueen, you keep protecting me," Giovanni muttered through the howling Leaf Storm. "The rest, rush in and overwhelm them."

Pikachu hopped off Red's shoulder and in a split second, it rammed into Persian's flank with a Volt Tackle. The normal type hacked as it rolled away, shards of glass penetrating his skin. Dugtrio spat out a few globs of mud at the electric type, but it was far too fast to get hit. Rhydon flexed, and shards of rock exploded out from his hand and barrelled toward Red. Exeggutor joined with Espeon to protect Red, and the Leaf Storm intensified.

A barrier combined with a technique as intensive as Leaf Storm, Giovanni mused. Impressive. "Nidoking, Kangaskhan, Rhydon! Go in!"

The three Pokemon ran forth to carry out Giovanni's will while the rest of his Pokemon hung back in support.

Snorlax rolled in front of Blue and Red while Kadabra propelled him forward through Psychic. Nidoking heaved to stop the massive normal type while Rhydon and Kangaskhan sidestepped it. An Ice Punch rammed into Nidoking's gut, and the poison type retaliated by stabbing Snorlax with poison dripping from his horn. Pikachu kept dodging every single strike Persian dealt and retaliated with quick, focused Thunderbolts while Charizard and Pidgeot struck from afar.

Rhydon came upon Blastoise, who angled its cannons and struck at the rock type's armor with a Hydro Pump. Kangaskhan was free to reign, however. The normal type broke into a run, her fist glowing bright white as it struck toward Blue. No psychic would stop her Mega Punch.

Giovanni's face fell when tendrils broke out of every inch of Umbreon's body and wrapped around Kangaskhan. She would have broken through had Espeon not begun to assault her mind.

Red spoke, and an eerie light escaped from Lapras' horn. Confuse Ray!

"Kangaskhan, stand back!"

The normal type took a step backward, but psychic force restrained her long enough for the Confuse Ray to get her. Giovanni clicked his tongue, grabbing his Pokeball to recall her, but it was then that Arcanine teleported—

No, it was Extreme Speed. The fire type rammed into Kangaskhan and threw her off the side of the building. Giovanni's heart sank as Kangaskhan's screams grew more distant, and then he heard a huge crash and a car alarm. If she wasn't dead, she was only barely alive. Giovanni clicked his tongue. Persian finally slashed across Pikachu's gut, sending blood splatter everywhere. The electric type cried out in pain, and Charizard swept into the Leaf Storm. Pikachu quickly hopped onto its back and retreated to safety.

"Power Gem."

Persian's gem shimmered bright red, and Rhydon screamed as he ripped off chunks of rocks from his body. The shards turned white and shot out like lasers. Even then, Rhydon was too busy overwhelming Blastoise with sheer power. Shards of rocks flew off of him like shrapnel with every strike. The sharp rocks easily tore through Blastoise's gut, and he didn't have a good angle to strike back with his canons. Kadabra tried to hold the rock type off of it, but there was no way it was going to stop Rhydon.

Kadabra was the weakest link.

"Dugtrio!" Giovanni yelled. "Kill that Kadabra!"

The ground type blurred, catching both Red and Blue off guard. Not many people were used to his Dugtrio's speed. Pikachu jumped off Charizard's back in an attempt to slam Dugtrio with Iron Tail, but the ground type buried itself to avoid the attack and got in front of Kadabra. Claws reached out of the floor and slashed as deep as he possibly could across the psychic's chest and arm. One hit was enough to penetrate any barrier and send it flying, and Blue recalled the psychic type before more harm could be done to him.

Lapras screamed and let out a frigid Ice Beam that froze everything in its vicinity. The attack was so quick that one of Dugtrio's head were hit. Pikachu took advantage and hit the same head with Iron Tail while Exeggutor's Leaf Storm switched focus.

"Swap with Persian," Giovanni whispered to Nidoqueen.

The poison type wheezed, finally letting go of Protect and Persian instantly replaced the shimmering green barrier before Charizard had a chance to hit him. Giovanni had trained the two in absolute defense. They could keep Protect going for a long time.

Nidoking finally broke through Snorlax, whose gut was bloodied and torn open and his hand loomed over Exeggutor with a Poison Jab while Nidoqueen stood on all fours and spat out a glob of poison in their general direction. Arcanine blurred in front of the Poison Jab and bit into Nidoking's tough hide with all of the elemental fangs at the same time. Many times, Arcanine had tried to find an opening to fling his Pokemon off the building again, but he had not found any.

Meanwhile, Pidgeot was not silent. The flying type screeched, and a huge sphere of energy concentrated in its mouth. Hyper Beam?! Here?! Giovanni internally screamed with a surge of panic. Blue was going to get them all killed! The attack swept through the hallway, creating an enormous explosion that—

Everything collapsed, and Giovanni fell to the floor below with his entire team. Red had somehow climbed on top of Charizard in the nick of time, although his arm was bleeding heaps while Exeggutor had spared Blue from the worst of the blast and held its trainer in a psychic bubble.

Giovanni's face and suit were caked in dust, debris and his own blood. Charizard swept down with a Flamethrower aimed directly at him, but Persian jumped in front of him with Protect. Giovanni's eyes swept the current floor. Umbreon, Lapras, Snorlax, Blastoise and Pikachu had fallen down while the rest remained on the upper floors. Exeggutor placed Blue back on the ground and Giovanni's head split open until cold numbing darkness coated his every pore.

"Finish off that Lapras," Giovanni spat, standing up and dusting off his suit. Confuse Ray was too much of a threat, but it had tired it out somewhat.

The water type was largely stationary and as good as a target as any. Nidoking and Rhydon rushed forward, but Pikachu couldn't stop being everywhere. It harassed their legs, dodging every single one of their slow attacks and hitting back with Iron Tail. It split itself off with Double Team just like it had done against Persian and bought Lapras enough time to hit Rhydon with a Hydro Pump. Red pointed forward, and Charizard blurred. The trainer dropped off of his back, landing with a clumsy roll while the fire type slammed into Rhydon at full force and grabbed him.

"Nidoking, keep going after Lapras. Dugtrio, help against Charizard."

The flying type's claws shimmered white and buried themselves into Rhydon while the rock type repeatedly hit it in the head with a fist that exploded with Stone Edge every time it struck. Nidoking mauled Lapras, who cried out in pain as Nidoking gored its neck and secreted poison into its bloodstream. Red quickly recalled the water type, and Espeon jumped down to meet him while Blue did the same, not bothering to use a Psychic or his massive Pidgeot.

Charizard flared up with power that came from nowhere— Blaze! Dugtrio sent a few balls of exploding mud at the fire type, but it only had eyes for Rhydon and grabbed the rock type into a Seismic Toss, flying off into the air and out of the destroyed window.

Nidoking turned to Snorlax, who landed with a boom on the floor and created a crater, but Giovanni signaled the poison type, and he took a few steps back, returning to Giovanni's side.

"Whew," Blue sighed, noticing a lull in the fight. "This really gets my blood pumping. Hey Red, get a load of this guy! He really thinks he can take us."

Blue recalled the rest of his team and set them down on this floor, and Red did the same.

"Surrender to the League," Red said, ignoring his fellow trainer. "Strike a deal with Lance."

"Hah!" Giovanni cackled. From the corner of his vision, Charizard carried Rhydon back down and a shock wave rocked his body. A second later, he heard a huge crash. Rhydon was down. "It is true what they say! You are a child of few words, Red," Giovanni spat out the name. "A deal? Lance would rather see me killed, and I have gone too far to give up now."

"Well, die," Blue shrugged. "Not my problem."

Four Pokemon left to their nine, Giovanni's mind raced. And that was if he counted Persian, who was straining to keep up his Protect. They were stronger than he expected. Easily past the level of eight badges already.

Giovanni could not afford to send off his Pokemon into the fray any longer.

"Stick together. Persian, swap with Nidoqueen. You're going to hit their psychics—" Giovanni whispered.

"Keep whispering, loser! You'll still fucking lose," Blue grinned. "Umbreon, go on the offense! Arcanine, you're support!"

The dark type sunk into the floor and crawled up on the half-broken walls while Arcanine ran toward Giovanni's Persian. The feline's eyes glared, and Arcanine froze for a split second, allowing the normal type to pass him. Umbreon snarled as he jumped out of the wall, darkness exploding out of him with a harrowing silence.

The dark submerged all of Giovanni's Pokemon, and Nidoking blindly swept his arm and tail around. Right at that moment, Charizard flew back into the building, not blinded with rage but with determination as it spat out a Dragon Pulse at Dugtrio, who buried to avoid the blast.

Blastoise's Rapid Spin sent high-pressurized water flying everywhere, including the building's walls. They easily collapsed from the strain, and Persian yowled in pain, but a Night Slash cut across Espeon's barrier and Dugtrio was close behind with a Night Slash of his own. Persian quickly ran back to Giovanni's side, going around every opponent and dodging their attacks with ease until Arcanine slammed into him with another Extreme Speed.

Snorlax was too slow, so Pikachu was the last line of defense. Thunder roared, and Persian was caught in the blast until his fur caught on fire, but Dugtrio was immune. Espeon cried out as Dugtrio's claws slashed at her, but Giovanni's smile fell when Exeggutor kept the ground type still with Psychic and began to assault his mind. At the same time, he expended his barrier to include Red while Blastoise focused his attacks on Dugtrio.

A Sludge Bomb from Nidoking would have killed off Espeon had Red not recalled it. Next to Giovanni, Blue's Umbreon still clashed with Nidoqueen, and it was losing. At least until Pidgeon swooped down with something akin to a remote Steel Wing, and Snorlax reached them with a Rollout that led into a Heavy Slam onto Nidoqueen. The Protect around Giovanni nearly collapsed when the full weight of the massive normal type landed onto Nidoqueen, and Umbreon pawed at her leg with some kind of dark type attack—

Which quite literally destroyed her leg. Such power! That could only be Foul Play! Giovanni's eye twitched as Snorlax used Ice Punch repeatedly on Nidoqueen's face and her protection collapsed. Persian was still reeling from the Extreme Speed.

"Now," Red said.

Pikachu appeared from nowhere like an assassin, and it would have killed Giovanni had Nidoking not drawn the electricity with his horn. The poison type kicked the rodent away and turned to continue spewing his poison on the opposition. Umbreon had struck many blows to Nidoqueen, but even with a broken leg, it was no match for her. Nidoqueen roared, and she clapped her hands around the dark type's face, crushing its skull. Giovanni clicked his tongue when Umbreon hadn't died. Blue's mask of confidence slipped, however, and he placed Umbreon back into its Pokeball.

"Blastoise, Hydro Cannon! Pidgeot, Arcanine, Hyper Beam!" Blue snapped.

Red side-eyed him, and Giovanni blinked.

That was suicide.

Fucking Oak giving his grandson these damned TMs! Giovanni watched as two spheres of concentrated energy materialized in Arcanine and Pidgeot's mouths and the air around them shifted from how hot these attacks were. Water gathered in Blastoise's mouth and cannons so powerful it was just foam and vapor. Red just ran away without a single word, leaving Blue and his wild suicidal grin to face Giovanni.

His ears popped, and everything exploded.

When Giovanni opened his eyes, he tried to move his arm and restrained a scream. Broken, he acknowledged. He had fallen multiple stories, and he was nearly dead.

But not dead.

He had noticed Persian and Nidoqueen desperately use Protect in front of him the moment of the attack.

And yet, he had lost everything. To two children. Giovanni stared around in hopes of finding a teammate as he strained to stand up. Bodies littered the floor. Dead employees he had taken hostage and the Rockets he had brought for this mission. Was it over, then? He no longer had the Master Ball, and he doubted he could recreate it now. Giovanni's skills had rusted. He had not focused on or loved Pokemon battling for years now. Was Kanto doomed to irrelevance—

No.

He still had Mewtwo.

Giovanni limped toward the stairs and his Persian soon joined him.

"Go find the others," he hacked.

Koyasu had probably died of collateral damage, but Giovanni's identity was going to get leaked. The knives were out.

It was war.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby, ShipGoSync, Kcx1, ArgentumTriKeras, AnotherUser, SmallBusinessBoi, Papito12495
 
Chapter 250
CHAPTER 250

"There… there, my stream is over," I muttered. I double-checked my phone to make sure I wasn't about to carry it while still streaming on accident. "Yep, over."

It was pretty hard to ignore the swarm of trainers no doubt waiting for me outside so I could no doubt explain how the hell I'd gotten an Electivire. I already had twenty-nine notifications— half of them from Melody and Denzel alone, the other half from all of my friends. Even Candice hadn't known, for some reason. Maybe Cynthia had kept the deal contained to her, me and Volkner? A congratulation from Jasmine, a panicked text from Louis about how hurt our Pokemon had been, Pauline calling me a badass and desperately wanting her Vigoroth to evolve into Slaking after seeing Snorlax at work… there were some similarities with the two. There were more texts than I could count. My viewership had peaked slightly lower than my battle with Denzel, probably because I didn't have his reach online.

"I'm pretty bad with internet stuff," Barry said, leaning forward. For a second, I thought he'd been snooping and I covered my phone, but he didn't even pay attention. "We didn't have it when I grew up."

"Damn. Did you just watch TV?"

"I wouldn't watch cable. Most of the time, I just played outside, but sometimes I'd put my old man's old VHS tapes on to see his battles," Barry said with a fond smile. "We've got every single one of his Gym Battles, some other ones where he battled random trainers, all of his runs in the Conference and his battles against the Elite Four and the Champion."

"Holy crap," I muttered. He had a treasure trove of videos that were no doubt worth millions. None of this footage was available to the public, if I had to guess. Maybe they kept them in some archives at the League, though. "Did he get far?"

When he said the Elite Four and Champion did he mean that Palmer had actually gotten that far in the Conference?

"Got to fight the Elite Four twice," Barry said, his face beaming in admiration— and competition. "The second time, he got up to the Champion, but lost. After that, they recruited him in to work for the League."

I nodded with a grunt, surprised he hadn't pushed on to become the Champion himself.

I placed my phone back in my pocket, folded my tripod and put it in my backpack. "Who was the Champion back then?"

"Leo Florentius!" He instantly answered. "Half dragon, half steel type specialist! Of course, he lost a few years later to Gabriel Radetic, who then lost to Cynthia way later, but Leo was really cool! They say he sent his Salamence out during the war, who would fly down south to attack Kanto's armies on his own. He was really strong."

"War isn't cool," I said.

"Oh… well, of course," he nodded. "But my old man couldn't even take him down at the tail-end of his career, so you know he was really powerful."

"I can see why you and Denzel are friends," I smirked. They'd probably nerded about trainer history together for hours as young kids. I turned to face the crowd, who had largely dispersed outside by now. Trainers were respectful enough to give their opponents space after such a battle. "Okay, I'm going to go home now. I need to get my Pokemon healed and answer some texts."

"I can bring you if you want!" He exclaimed.

"Oh. I thought you'd run off."

"Well, my Pokemon are beat up too," he shrugged. His eyes were such a light brown that they almost appeared orange. "It's not like I could do anything anyway. My battle with Wake is in four days."

"Oh. Oh. I'm sorry," I said.

"What for?"

"Well, had I known that I wouldn't have tried to hurt them so much," I muttered. "I could have delayed your battle by weeks if you were forced to miss the deadline! Why didn't you tell me?"

"I wanted you to give it everything you had with no holds barred, that's all," he answered as if he was saying the most obvious thing in the world. "That way, we both come out of the battle satisfied no matter the result."

"Okay," I said, still thinking I'd almost ruined his stay in Pastoria. Luckily I hadn't actually broken any bones… except maybe Staraptor? They were pretty tough, as far as flying types went. "I guess I'll take you up on your offer. It's not often someone gets to talk to Barry Lane."

"Why talk when I could train instead?" He deadpanned.

Had I been someone else, that definitely would have rubbed me the wrong way. Right now, though, I just smiled. Barry was short— well, no, he was short compared to the friends I had. He was only an inch taller than me if I could estimate correctly. He pushed through the crowd, using my ankle to make people clear the way so I could pass through. Already, I could hear the numerous questions on everyone's mind. Honey was the Pokemon of the hour, even if I had lost. It was all everyone could even speak about. Barry didn't seem to care, though. Once we were through, I embarked on the long journey back to the Center with Barry in tow.

"What about your Pokemon? You should probably get them checked in, and if we stayed at the same Center I would have known."

It would have been hard to walk through the lobby without people whispering that Palmer's kid was there.

"My mom taught me that I need to be a gentleman," he shook his head. "My team's tough! The Pokeballs will keep them from hurting."

"If you say so," I hesitated.

"We're in the same direction anyway!"

Arceus, I was sure that without my broken ankle, I would have loved to walk Pastoria's long streets. Thankfully, the painkillers were still in my system, so I was doing okay. They really needed to invest in public transport here… maybe we'd see a taxi I could get in pass by at some point.

"So what'd you think about me?" I asked.

"You were exciting," he smiled. "All of your Pokemon are so cool! I didn't know Pupitar could go across the water like that, let alone fly! That's like something I'd come up with! I'm a little bummed I didn't get to fight Turtonator the way I wanted, but I saw an opportunity to win, and I needed to take it or things might have gotten bad. I don't know why, but when I battle fellow first-years who can stand up to me, I get really thrilled. I hadn't felt that in a long time."

"When was the last time?" I asked.

"Well I pretty much pulled away from everyone else our year after the first month or so," he slowly answered, staring at the sky. "But I guess Lucas and Dawn were still great until I got my third badge."

"Oh, Denzel told me about them! They're researchers, right? For Professor Rowan?"

"Yup, they're his assistants. They have real talent, let me tell you. A spark no one else has…" he trailed off and held onto his scarf. "Right now, they're probably good enough for four badges, and they aren't even training that hard because of how busy they get. They would have made it to the Conference if they tried. There's no doubt in my mind!"

"Any reason why they didn't try?" I asked.

"Well, they were always nerds, so when Rowan offered them their positions as assistants, they couldn't refuse. I like that old man, but he robbed me of two great rivals!" He exclaimed, comically clenching a fist. "But I guess I have you, now."

"You should give Lauren a try," I said. "Cecilia doesn't have a sixth Pokemon yet and Denzel is still training up Swablu, so you'd have to be content with five-on-fives."

And he was fixing things with Sylveon, little by little.

I omitted Chase's name, because I knew for a fact that he and Barry's personalities wouldn't mesh well at all.

"Unfortunately for you and fortunately for me, I'll be out of here as soon as I beat Wake," he said. "I finally managed to get my flying license, and now that it's almost April and the weather's gotten better, I'll be able to fly to Snowpoint to battle Candice."

"Oh, nice! How many tries?"

"Four for the written exam, one for the practical one," he said. "I can't pay attention in classes. My mom homeschooled me because she was the only one that could get me to learn anything. Not that there were that many kids in Twinleaf anyway. We've got a single school and like, three certified teachers for all of it. The rest of them are just adults that like to teach but aren't actually teachers."

"One school? I don't think I'd be able to live there."

Barry's lips stretched upward. "In a way, I like how small it is. The calmness of it all."

He was the last person I would have expected to say that. Barry seemed like he would fit in perfectly with Jubilife's bustling city life.

"I miss it sometimes, but you can't sit still if you want to be the best," he gripped his scarf and frowned. "Win or lose at the Conference, I'm off to the Battle Frontier this summer."

To confront his father about whatever problems they were having. Was it abandonment? I didn't have much context, but it looked like Palmer hadn't seen Barry in years due to his duties at the Battle Frontier.

"You want to beat Palmer?"

"Yes," he nodded firmly. "It'll be so tough! He managed to knock out four of Leo's Pokemon, and that was back then when he didn't have Rhyperior."

I swallowed. How strong was Palmer, exactly? Like, I knew he was insanely powerful, but at that scale of power, the lines got very blurry.

"Is he stronger than the Elite Four?" I asked, voicing my thoughts.

"I guess, yeah. The other Frontier Brains aren't as strong as he is, but they're usually comparable to the Elite Four," Barry explained. "Want to know my dad's team?!" He asked, then went on without letting me answer. "Milotic, Rhyperior, Dragonite, Darmanitan, Tauros, Hariyama, Gallade and Absol!" He machine-gunned their names, each one faster than the last.

"Sheesh."

Talk about powerhouses. Granted, every Pokemon could become strong, but there were some more associated with power than others.

"So he has fun beating all the people with eight badges that flood the Battle Frontier to train during the summer?" I wondered.

"The Battle Frontier is where a lot of our military-trained Pokemon are," Barry said, as if he was reciting from a textbook. "You know, the League has a ton of Pokemon and not enough people to train them, so they send them to be loaned there so they don't get rusty. My old man doesn't use his personal team very often, other than when he has to fight wild Pokemon that attack the few cities we have up there."

"Are they frequent?" I asked.

"Oh, a lot more. The Pokemon on the Battle Frontier don't really like negotiating with humans, since we only arrived there in big numbers around a century ago, and they're a lot stronger on average. Again, it makes for good training grounds for the government's Pokemon, though."

I caught myself, not wanting to spark some political debate with a friend I'd just made. He seemed a lot more knowledgeable than I was in this field (somehow losing his scatterbrained and hectic temperament just for this). I knew it must have been more nuanced than 'we're just defending each other', though. There must have been something up there that made the League want to settle that island. Wasn't Cecilia's Spiritomb up there too? A Spiritomb there implied that humans had been there before in ancient history to actually make them, or maybe they'd been dropped off after conception on the mainland? Bellatrix had also told me there was some kind of domain holder up there that kept the temperatures warm all year long and the climate tropical even though it was even further north than Snowpoint.

"Well, I hope you'll beat your dad," I said. I knew it wouldn't happen this year, despite how good Barry was.

"What about your parents? Are they trainers?" He asked in an upbeat tone.

I snorted and then broke into an uncontrollable laugh. The image of my dad being a trainer wearing sneakers and with a backpack had been too much for me to bear, even if I knew he had actually tried for a month or two when he'd just turned fifteen. My mother didn't even know the first thing about Pokemon battling either despite trying her best to keep track of my progress.

"No," I coughed, leaning on a crutch for support. "No, absolutely not."

Arceus, I couldn't wait to see dad again. He was busy being a worrywart about my broken ankle these days, and he'd told me he couldn't focus on work. I felt a twinge of guilt, and my smile fell.

"I didn't think that would set you off."

"I just got a really funny image in my head," I said, shaking my head. "Don't worry about it."

"You look sad, now, though."

"Yeah. I miss my dad," I said. And I was going to have to betray him again with this poacher business when I'd told him I'd try to stay safe back in Hearthome. "I mean, we message almost every day and call at least once a week, but I want to see him, y'know? I haven't… since Hearthome. You ever miss your…" I paused, considering my next words. Dad would be inappropriate and stepping on his toes. "Mom sometimes?"

"All the time. I try to stay focused on other things, though. And I smile! Y'know, she'd tell me, 'Barry, if you're tired of being sad, you should smile and try to cheer yourself up!' Apparently she's seen some study on TV where people are more likely to be happy if they smile. Fake it 'til you make it, or something like that."

"Hmhm," I grunted absent-mindedly. "She sounds like a nice lady."

"She's the best." His lip twitched. "She had Lucas and Dawn follow me to Jubilife to get me a map that I forgot about, and I had to tell her phones were a thing. Then she told me, 'Barry, you don't know how to use a phone!' And I told her I was learning. The twins gave me the map in Jubilife anyway, though. It soothed her worries."

I blinked.

"Lucas and Dawn are twins?"

Barry paused, stopping in his tracks. "Yeah! I thought that was obvious?"



Obviously they were twins. Now that he had shown me an old picture, they did really look alike. Dark blue hair, grey eyes, their noses and faces were the exact same shape— even their smiles were similar. I painstakingly opened the door to my Center Room and Barry left to get his own Pokemon healed. I didn't know if I'd see him again. I had given him my number, but he'd told me he never used his phone other than to locate himself and call other people— mostly Rowan who'd send him on jobs or his mother. Of course, I hadn't wanted to launch into the ethics of Rowan asking Barry to catch Pokemon to send him, but I did try to pry, and at the very least Rowan would send the Pokemon back when he was done with them if they wanted to.

So, temporary kidnapping? Yikes, that was still awful.

"I guess I gotta check on my phone now," I groaned.

Beforehand, I drew a cold bath for Buddy and released him inside. The Ominous Wind had really done a number on him, and he'd need hours of resting to be back in top form.

Resting. Rest. On the way there, there had been a few techniques that had come up to counter moves like Rest and its ilk. First, Taunt. The most obvious answer that I hadn't even considered until Barry brought it up. The problem with Taunt was that it wasn't permanent, and the more a Pokemon used it on another, the more tolerance that opponent built toward the move for the battle. The first Taunt would have put Snorlax into a rageful state where even Barry wouldn't have been able to command him. The second would have angered him enough to snap him out of his sleep, and the third maybe would have made him hesitate to Rest.

Would that have been enough to beat him? Probably. I certainly would have had a much better chance, and I could have kept its use hidden for a pivotal moment that would have allowed me to take Snorlax down. Either way, I'd move the technique up to the top of Buddy's pile, since we desperately needed something to stop setup moves in general anyway.

Two, Electric Terrain would sometimes snap a Pokemon out of Rest if given enough time, but that one was a lot less consistent. Pokemon adept at Rest would probably be able to work through it— or at least that was according to Barry. He was very knowledgeable when it came to stuff like this because he experimented a lot to create concepts for new strategies or moves.

Three, Worry Seed. This one would be explicitly for Rest, so I didn't really want to focus on it now that the bitter feelings from the loss had largely passed. What I wanted Angel to do was continue work on Solar Blade, Acid, and most importantly manipulating his vines to control the field. Roserade's performance had inspired me and given me plenty more ideas, but we'd stick with our simple baseline for now and build from there. Spreading vines through a large chunk of the field would be a good start.

So it would fall onto Buddy to be our Taunt user. The move was also a relatively cheap TM, but I was confident I knew how to get him started on it, and I wanted to save my money for actual necessary TMs since I was going to get paid in a few days— the last Friday of the month. Dark TE was neutrality and could dampen feelings, but the Elder in Solaceon had used it to leave only an undying loyalty toward him remaining in the Hunters' brains.

So, you could technically pick and choose what feeling to leave untouched. Taunt was, well, a taunt, which meant that Buddy would have to leave something like anger, rage, irritation, impatience, or something along those lines intact. Easier said than done. Buddy had a grand number of zero dark type attacks at the moment, so he didn't even have a base to work with.

Angel and Sweetheart would be able to help him with that. I let out a silent chuckle when I imagined those two teaching anything. Poor Buddy would probably have a terrible time, but he was a genius that learned moves in record time, save for his issues with Will-O-Wisp. He was the smartest person in the family, despite him not acknowledging it. I was confident he'd be able to learn it relatively quickly. Not in time for Wake, but soon after that.

Sweetheart could potentially learn Taunt too, but the minute manipulations needed didn't suit her well. She wasn't dumb by any means, just too unfocused to make it work. Even with a TM, I believed she'd struggle to master the move.

"Right. My phone," I whispered. "Will you be okay in here?"

Buddy answered by letting bubbles out of his mouth.

"Gotcha," I said.

First, Melody. Calls, calls, more calls and texts. She was flabbergasted that I'd even managed to get an Electivire, let alone the fact that I hid it from the Poketch Company. Unfortunately for her, that had been an order from Volkner, and he was technically my superior in the League's food chain since I was in the LTIP. I called her and soothed her worries by saying that this was really the last secret I'd keep from her. She didn't like it, and I could tell that she wanted to scold me, but she was too excited to even care.

After telling me I shouldn't have ended my stream so soon, Denzel basically gushed over the battle from start to finish. He was really fired up, as were the rest of my friends. Unfortunately, when he asked me to tell Barry to battle him next, I had to break the news that my new friend wasn't going to stay long, so he decided he'd battle Chase, Lauren or Cecilia instead of the best first-year in the Circuit. Cecilia had said that she was going into the Safari Zone to catch her sixth Pokemon as soon as she got there, but even then Wake was going to be the hardest for her. She'd have to essentially fight a five-on-six. I doubted that her new Pokemon was going to be that strong.

Social media, now. I hadn't wanted to check Chatter, but I'd tried to be a little more online ever since Sunyshore. It wouldn't hurt to check what people were saying about the battle and maybe make a post too.

Right. I'd make a post! I wracked my head for a few minutes, sent the draft to Melody and waited for her to approve, which she did. It wasn't a revolutionary post. Just one saying that I'd enjoyed the match a ton, thanking Barry for the opportunity when he had such a busy schedule and that I'd learned a whole lot. Electivire was a trending topic, funnily enough. Most people were sharing moments of the battle they'd loved with him in it, but there was a minority— a very vocal minority that wasn't very happy with Honey's evolution.

Heardemsay_oO

Why is it that this girl gets everything handed to her? The mentorship with Jasmine was already bullshit, but this takes the cake. Why does she get to have an Electivire without going through the proper channels, which is getting promoted high enough in the League? If I had an Electabuzz, I'd be left out to dry. Even Volkner had to wait to become a Gym Leader!

Ampren7a

This is blatant favoritism from the League. Volkner must have told her. That has to be what that Electabuzz vs Electivire special match during her Gym Battle was about. No one else gets special treatment like she and her friends do.

There were a lot of these. I typed a response to a few, but just deleted it afterward, realizing that it wasn't even worth interacting with them and that Melody and Poketch as a whole would hate me for posting behind their backs. From the outside, I supposed that it looked unfair. And to be honest, there was some degree of favoritism.

So what? Had I lost against Volkner, I never would have gotten Honey to evolve, and Craig Goodwill had told me that making connections was a skill that trainers at the top needed. Heardemsay_oO… after a few minutes of research, I got his real name. Two badges, third year. Ampren7a, three badges, second year. I wasn't looking them up to make fun of them or even threaten them. I wasn't about to turn into Chase from early in the year. I was just satiating my curiosity since I wanted to know the demographics of who was complaining the most.

"Might as well follow some people," I said.

Denzel, Cece, Emi, The Poketch Company, and maybe some of my co-workers too? Ramon, Bobby, Sharon and… yeah, not Aubri. She'd probably hate me even more now considering she had brought up this favoritism issue up before, but from the Company instead of the government. It was strange to see my fans jump into the comments to defend me. Some claimed I'd only lost the battle because of my painkillers or my ankle when that was completely bogus. My mind had been completely clear during the fight. I passed by Goalducc's account and laughed when I saw him analyzing every minute of the battle with Archive. They were apparently doing so on the forums too to grow their fanbase on both sites.

I gave them both a follow too.

I laid down on my bed and outstretched my arms as I scrolled through Chatter for an hour. It was a special and strange feeling, to see people talking about me that much. Psychoanalyzing my every move, calling me a saint who could do no wrong or an evil trainer who hid behind a veneer of innocence and using every minute detail in my life to prove their narrative (those that hated me mostly used how brutal my orders were as 'proof'). Fans and haters, pitted against each other in a fight that apparently mattered? Not to me, but to them. I couldn't deny that seeing people defend me felt good, and that seeing people badmouthing me hurt, but at least it hurt a lot less than it once had.

At the end of the day, I was just a girl.

What really pissed me off were the people blaming my Pokemon for my failures, but I always scrolled through those quickly so I wouldn't convince myself to respond. Hopefully Sunshine wouldn't beat himself up too hard for that loss. We'd proven that movement through explosions was possible and not some hallucination he had had from when he'd been half-dead in a volcano. Roserade was just a lot lighter and nimble, so it was easier for her than it would be for him, but it was still within reach and growing closer by the day.

The afternoon passed slowly, as it always did whenever my Pokemon or friends weren't with me. Buddy was too tired to keep me company, so I ended up falling asleep while brainstorming which TMs I would get. It was hard to balance cost and utility, especially when I wanted everyone to get at least one TM. When I was eating dinner in my room, my phone rang.

My friends were about to arrive. Including Chase, Mira, and Cecilia. They'd apparently sped up after I'd left, going as fast as humanly possible, and they'd caught up to Louis' group in the last few hours, so they were going to enter Pastoria together. Denzel's group was still a day behind, but it was still hard to ignore the surge of happiness coursing through me.

They were back!

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby, ShipGoSync, Kcx1, ArgentumTriKeras, AnotherUser, SmallBusinessBoi, Papito12495, KeMon C
 
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Chapter 251
CHAPTER 251

I didn't know what I'd expected when I'd seen that my friends had arrived.

Running at them and wrapping them all in a big hug close to the gate? With my ankle the way it was? Maybe if Princess had been in a state to fly me there, it would have been possible. Plus, I knew I probably would have slipped on the pavement and broken another bone because of how hard it was raining. The sound it made falling on the street outside was almost hypnotic, and the soft, warm lights of the Pokemon Center made for a very cozy atmosphere.

Sitting in the Pokemon Center's lobby to wait for them to come was a lot less climactic than what I'd wanted, especially with the trainers harassing me. Harassing might have been too harsh. They were mostly trying to get Honey's evolution method out of me, and I didn't have a Pokemon to scare them away this time, since I had left Buddy in his bath. All I answered with was I'd been in a tough fight while I'd been traveling between Sunyshore and Pastoria and let them come to their own conclusion. My broken ankle certainly helped them think that a hard fight had something to do with it, but they also knew it couldn't have been just the battle.

My breath caught in my throat— which I then let go with a sigh when I realized I'd mistaken a large group of trainers for my friends. I constantly browsed my phone to see when they'd be arriving. I hadn't really picked the closest Pokemon Center available to the gate, and Pastoria's layout would mean they'd take longer to make it here.

But after a half-an-hour wait…

"Legendaries, it's fucking pouring," Chase gruffed. Water clung to his clothes and he swore under his breath, shivering from the Center's cold air conditioning.

Mira and Maeve followed next, although they were dry from Slowking and Alakazam shielding them from the rain. Louis, Cecilia and Justin had been protected by Gardevoir, although the latter was slightly wet. Save for Justin, they all beamed when they saw me, and hurriedly got to the couch I was sitting on so I wouldn't have to take too many steps. They were going to treat me like a damsel in distress, weren't they? That was going to be awful. Justin stayed in the back and gave me a simple, half-hearted wave, and I nodded back with a smile. Greetings were, well, greetings. Hugs all around, except for Cece, who got a very long kiss out of me while I wrapped my arms around her neck.

"You don't have to act so scared," I told her. "You can hug me tightly and stuff, as long as you don't jerk me around."

"Oh. Sorry, I just didn't want to make it worse."

"Goodness," Maeve sighed. "That looks a lot worse than the picture you sent. Maybe it was the angle?"

Louis crouched, ignoring the fact that Justin had already gone off to get his Pokemon healed and was getting a room. Back in Sunyshore, he would have been way too paranoid to ever let his eye drift away from Justin even if they were in the same room. Their travels together must have done wonders to mend that trust.

"At least you have an excuse to skimp out on working out now," Chase smirked.

I eyed him from head to toe. "Why are you wet? Did Sigilyph—"

He let out a frustrated groan, but Mira jumped on the occasion to explain.

"Little Sig exhausted herself training during one of his regiments, and he said he deserved to suffer the consequences for pushing her too hard."

Maeve stared at the floor. "Well, people are going to have to clean this up…"

"Bah, I'll help them if they really need to." Chase waved dismissively, accidentally sending water on Louis' jacket. "I thought I deserved it."

"Oh yeah, by the way, Sig?"

"Just a nickname I came up with," the pink-haired girl said with a shrug. "She likes it."

The discussion died down so they could all give their Pokemon to the Nurse Joys for the usual check-up. When Maeve, Justin and Louis decided to pack it up and go to their rooms, Chase called Mira back over before she called it a night so we could talk. Everyone was exhausted after their travels, but she was especially so, given that they'd basically jogged over here. It was a wonder, considering she had been so unfit when we'd just left Veilstone.

"Any idea of when Lauren's getting there?" Chase asked with a curious tint. The meeting about the poachers. "Williams is being slow, but I haven't heard of her."

"She'll come around. Before you throw us into a, " Cecilia lowered her voice, "suicidal mission, I'd like to go catch my sixth Pokemon. Preferably tomorrow."

"What?! But I won't have my team back tomorrow!" I whined. "Maybe I'll have Angel back, actually."

"Yes," she said with a devilish smile. "You can go and relax while you wait for us to come back. Maybe go do the UPAN work you were talking to me about. I'll be happy so long as you're in the city."

"Was this a plan of some sort?" I glared.

"A plan? No, we were just lucky that you decided to battle Barry Lane," Mira smugly said.

"Which was a great performance," Cece added. "It appears to me that I might be lagging behind a little, which is why I want to remedy that as fast as possible by getting started on training a sixth Pokemon."

"Chase'll be in the Safari Zone too. I'll be busy tracking down that Porygon guy. Uh, I don't know about Louis and Maeve." Mira said. "They looked somewhat hesitant."

"Any idea of what you're looking for?" I asked, turning to Chase.

"Meh. You know that's not how I do things. If a Pokemon catches my eye with its—" he winced, as if he knew I'd get on his case about pronouns. I knew he didn't care, but the effort was appreciated, "—their drive."

"Okay, well I actually have guidelines for you to follow. Like, a list of endangered Pokemon you shouldn't catch," I said.

Chase groaned, and Cecilia looked uninterested since she already knew what Pokemon she wanted, and there was no way Croagunk of all species would be endangered in Pastoria.

"I'll send it to the group chat," I said. "Don't look so annoyed, it's only a few Paldean and Alolan species." I rolled my eyes and stood up on my crutches. I restrained my usual pained grunt, because I knew they'd all freak out. "It's important we don't let them go extinct in the Great Marsh, or they'll be all gone from Sinnoh."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," he said. "Uh, you want some help to go up, or…"

"I've been living here for days without you." I rolled my eyes and shook my head. "No need to treat me any differently unless I really look like I'm hurting."

"Well, you walk at a Slugma's pace, so—"

I hit him in the leg with a crutch, and he stared blankly.

"Was that supposed to hurt me?"

"No, it was supposed to make you stop," I said. "Anyway, we can go up. Obviously, I'm taking the elevator."

"We are," Cecilia corrected me.

I smiled, probably like an idiot. "Right."



"Man, I can't believe I let Rest screw me over like that," I complained to Cecilia. I'd been venting to her about the battle for the last twenty minutes, and she had been content to listen. "Well, at least I know I need Taunt to counter moves like that."

My girlfriend's hands tightened around me. My back was lying on her, and she was hugging me from behind. There weren't that many positions to cuddle with my ankle, but this worked. Buddy, who had finally recovered from the battle, was talking to Slowking about ways he could use water to his advantage beyond just using it as a hiding spot, but unfortunately, both of them had been slacking in their water typing lately.

"Lehmhart definitely would have overpowered Snorlax with Hammer Arm, but he's so strong the collapsing issue would have come up, still," I rambled. "I've been slacking too much in the TE department! I need to start… moving grass and water around to do things!"

"At the end of the day, it was close," she soothed me. "And you've learned from it."

"Yeah, I guess. I need to start studying Crasher Wake tomorrow, but I already have a better idea of how the heck I'm going to fight. Oh! You should definitely go and practice in that same arena, by the way! Get a feel for fighting in a field full of water."

"That was the plan as soon as I saw it on the stream. It's too good of an opportunity to just pass up." She poked at my cheeks and gently tugged at them. "You're angry."

"At the battle? Not really angry, just frustrated at myself. I could have won."

"No, no. You're angry that you're not going to be able to come with us to the Safari Zone tomorrow. You can be angry about multiple things at once."

"You can parse through what I'm feeling?" I asked. "Scary. But you know, I could go with Angel and Buddy."

She chuckled. "No."

"No?"

"No, you won't."

"Well, maybe I could stay near the entrance! Hang out with the wildlife there while you guys go off and try to convince Pokemon to become a part of your team."

It was the first time that Cecilia actually tried to catch a Pokemon this way, which was a wonderful improvement for her. Lehmhart hadn't been sapient enough to refuse. As I settled deeper into Pokemon activism, it would have been impossible to date someone who still treated her catches like she had Scyther.

Cece said nothing, but I knew her silence was a disagreement.

"Come on, I really wanted to see you convince a Croagunk to join you. What's your strategy? Just don't let Sol and Zerst get close, because they'll scare that Croagunk lifeless."

"Sol and Zerst wouldn't be able to navigate the swamp anyway," she sighed. "Their evolution would remedy a lot of the problems I have working them into my strategies, but it's also a terrifying prospect."

She paused, then chuckled.

"Maybe I'll have Slowking convince Croagunk with a pun."

The psychic turned toward us and spoke. I fear that might actually be counterproductive, as much as it pains to admit.

"I fear you underestimate yourself, but perhaps you might be right. Better play it on the safe side and just try to have you translate."

Talonflame can give them a list of pros and cons, Slowking said. Con, Zerst eats anything that moves. Pro, he's strangely endearing. Con, Scyther will look at you wrong just for being there. Pro, he's also strangely endearing.

Cecilia snorted. "Of course. By the time she's done, it'll be sundown already."

"Hey! You can't do inside jokes! Buddy and I don't get them!"

The ghost type rumbled, saying that he didn't really care to know another team's inside joke, but Cecilia explained anyway.

"Talonflame has this thing where she makes every hard decision with a pros and cons list," Cece explained. "Granted, I think Slowking likes to exaggerate the translations."

Me? I would never! Slowking said with an indignant look.

"Okay, now I believe you," I told Cece. "You're a terrible actor, Slowking."

The psychic sighed. There goes my future career.

"Wait, what—"

"He's just fooling around," Cecilia cut in.

You say that, but we'll see who has the last laugh when I'm starring in the biggest movies. I'd make a mean main antagonist.

She scoffed. "You don't even want to do that."

He winked. I don't. Stand-up comedy would be nice, though.

Buddy's eyes dimmed, and he decided he'd be better off clinging to the ceiling like usual. He did not mesh well with Slowking's humor. After multiple calls to get him back down that went nowhere, I continued.

"Anyway, about Barry, I heard some interesting things about the Battle Frontier. I figured you'd want to know…"



"Be careful, okay? And remember, you need to be non-threatening. Speak softly and gently, and don't get too close at all. Not worth the risk when you're dealing with a poison type and I won't be there to advise you. And also, pay attention to the guide's advice. There should be a map they hand over to you— mhm!"

Cecilia bent down to interrupt me with a kiss. It was early in the morning, and the Pokemon Center's lobby was rather empty. Couches with just a few people filling them, a single nurse at the reception, and most trainers immediately entered the cafeteria to eat breakfast. Not that she would have cared if it was full anyway.

"Thank you love, but you've given the same speech to Chase and he left—" she grabbed her phone. "—six minutes ago, and I was right there. I've got to get going if I want to be back in time to sign up for my practical flying classes. Lehmhart's ready."

"Right, you're doing those," I said. "Uh, good luck. Don't go to the dangerous areas."

"You're the last person who should be telling me that," she laughed. My heart swelled when she did, even if she was technically calling me a hypocrite. It felt nice to just be like this, despite us knowing that there was underlying tension with Abel. "I'll see you this evening."

"I love you."

"Love you too."

Arceus, I was going to miss her when we went our separate ways. A week or two I could handle, but months? And this wasn't even going to be with phone calls, since I was going to be in the middle of nowhere the majority of the time. One crisis at a time, I thought. I knew it hardly constituted an actual crisis, but that sure as hell didn't stop it from feeling like one. Like a sinking feeling that would grow stronger and stronger as time went on. I waited until she was out of view to get back inside.

Just like I'd thought, Angel was ready to be picked up, and Sunshine was too. I had wondered if the potential water in his lungs would hamper his recovery, but it thankfully hadn't. My ankle could thank its lucky stars that I was going to get carried everywhere again. I was even happier when I saw that the Turtonator line was allowed in public in Pastoria. They were banned in cities like Veilstone and Jubilife outside of designated zones like Pokemon parks, but thankfully he could hang out everywhere here.

I released the two, along with Buddy. Angel was the same as always, not shaken up by the battle at all. His vines drooped slightly when I told him we'd lost, but he wasn't a competitive Pokemon and generally only cared about battles because I cared about them. Sunshine, though? His disappointment was palpable. His nose flared, and he couldn't stare me in the eyes.

"Hey. None of that," I chided. "Your loss is on me."

The dragon dismissively snorted and shook his head, launching into some kind of hypothesis about him not being able to use Focus Blast fast enough being the reason we lost.

"No. We lost because I failed to identify that the islands could collapse. Because I was tunnel visioning on Snorlax being so frustrating," I firmly said. "Look, it's true that we've relied on you being quite literally a thermal bomb to win fights and that we shouldn't have neglected your coverage moves other than Flash Cannon, but you had all of the tools to win. Both the fight against Snorlax, and Roserade after. I just didn't know how to use them, and I'm sorry for failing you."

I touched his scaly arm, which was a lot colder than usual.

"But I'll do better next time. And we know that you moving through explosions wasn't a one-and-done deal by that Turtonator up Mount Wela. You can do it too. You've been getting better at it. Without Snorlax dragging you down, you would have made it back up to land through Shell Trap. You almost have the power to stand at the Conference already, all you need is to refine your technique."

That seemed to have gotten him over the hump, although I knew he was still down in the dumps. I handed my crutches to Angel, allowed him to pick me up and we were on our way toward the UPAN Headquarters. I had already texted Alex that I was coming, and he seemed ecstatic. Part of him apparently thought that he'd scared me away by pressing on my lack of general knowledge about politics when we'd spoken, but that had already been forgotten. The reason? There was a rumor about me online that I held grudges.

Well, it wasn't wrong, but the rumor itself was grossly exaggerated. I wasn't going to dislike someone just because they didn't keep their reservations about me quiet. That'd make me really annoying to talk to. I pulled out my laptop and started opening up Pastoria's Gym website. It felt odd, to actually click the number seven. Like it wasn't real.

And yet it was. The battle for my seventh badge.

"Oh, right," I turned to Sunshine. "Whenever you're ready to go see Mudsdale, we can go."

He nodded, a little more sure of himself than he'd been before. Soon, then.

So.

Crasher Wake. An icon of Pokemon battling, mostly through his bombastic personality that made Candice look tame in comparison. Every battle was a show with him, and his referees acted like it, announcing things like battles were damn wrestling matches. They were more commentators than referees at this point, but they seemed to enjoy it. It was a part of their Gym's culture, and because of that, Pastoria's Gym was packed more than any other Gym in Sinnoh. Who wouldn't want to hear an insane ref talk about a first-badge Starly fighting a Buizel like this was the most important battle in the history of the entire world? Crasher Wake and his Gym were just fun, and they didn't take themselves seriously. Even for the eighth Gym Badge, battles were run the same way. There had been multiple complaints about the referees snapping people out of their focus and causing them to lose, but Wake just answered that it was a part of the test itself.

"Do you think people are quiet at the Conference?" He had answered with a hearty laugh. "The cheers and commentators are so loud there that you can hardly hear yourself think!"

The better lesson— at least in my opinion— was that Wake's Gym taught people (who weren't water type specialists) to fight on a completely disadvantageous field. A crucial lesson for any trainer wanting to reach the top.

A nice tidbit was that Wake was the only Gym Leader of this era who hadn't made it to the Conference even once as a kid. He'd stalled out at seven badges four years in a row and decided to become a Gym Trainer instead. Yet, he'd gotten to his position regardless through sheer perseverance and hard work. Anyway, I wasn't there to watch Wake's interviews, even if they were funny, especially when his husband was there with him and desperately attempting to stop him from saying something stupid or provocative. Jean-Pierre, he was called. Some Kalosian who'd met Wake when they were young, and he was actually quite involved with running the day-to-day at the Gym even if he wasn't a trainer. An administrator, then.

First, there was the arena. A giant, rectangular-shaped sea with five islands. Four at each corner, and a larger one in the center of the battlefield. All of them had at least a few palm trees and some vegetation, along with sandy beaches to potentially glass. Thankfully, these were a lot more solid than the ones in that shoddy swamp, so the chance of them collapsing was basically zero. They'd been built into the arena's foundation.

The problem with Wake was that even his least threatening Pokemon would be tough to beat with a Pokemon who couldn't go in the water. Buddy would be instrumental in this victory. Without him, I would struggle to nab a win, and that wasn't even a question. The seventh Gym Badge wasn't one where Wake would take pity and order his Pokemon out of the water to fight if he knew they'd lose up close— which they would against Honey, Angel, and Sunshine despite his fire typing. Princess was safe enough with her flight, and while Sweetheart could skip across water, I believed she'd take a backseat for this Gym Battle.

Of course, this was a six-on-six, so a backseat probably meant that she'd have to fight anyway, and I could… maybe teach her to propel herself underwater like a submarine? It would be nerve-wracking, but Buddy could supervise her and leave a part of himself with me to say if I needed to recall her or not.

In fact, I was better off training all of my Pokemon and their movement in water so they could escape back to an island in case they were dragged into the sea. Honey already knew how to swim, but he could get better. Sunshine could navigate with explosions, but he also could improve. Princess needed to learn how to float faster, and Angel could probably propel himself with his vines to reach some kind of proto-swimming. I didn't want Wake to blow one of my Pokemon into the water and be forced to recall them.

So, the threats. The Pokemon who went above and beyond and weren't just adept at using the water to their advantage (something I was sure I'd need to take inspiration from).

First, the heaviest hitters. Gyarados and Wailord. While their huge size would make them easy for Honey to take down, I doubted that Wake would ever let the battle end up with them facing each other. Every single attack from them would deal massive amounts of damage. Wailord's Water Spout was so powerful that it could rain back down all over the field with the same force it had while coming out of his blowhole, and if the water type ever hit your Pokemon with a Heavy Slam, they were basically done for. Gyarados, meanwhile, knew Hyper Beam, Hurricane, Hydro Pump, was deceptively fast with Dragon Dance and could easily snowball out of control with Moxie. He could also fly in the air to snatch flying types trying to keep their distance with Ice or Thunder Fang— so Princess would be in danger there. And he was way too heavy to even hope to stop with Psychic or gusts of air.

Without Honey, these two would have been unsurmountable opponents. With him, though, they could become manageable if I managed to set up the switches correctly. Their sizes would work against them and would make them easy to hit with Thunder.

Next up, two Pokemon that shone through the variety of attacks they could pull from, Starmie and Octillery. Their hold on every attack was solid, and that meant they could throw a wrench in any plan. Starmie could levitate— although not very well— and could use Recover, while Octillery could turn almost invisible through camouflage and had Lock-On. Basically, they were incredibly annoying to fight and made battles last a lot longer than they should, and their coverage was insane.

And yet, the referee and Wake still found a way to make them exciting for the spectators.

Gastrodon, Quagsire, Whiscash and Swampert were problems just because they could shut down Honey completely with sophisticated ground techniques, but luckily Angel would be able to deal with them if needed. I'd still need to watch for Ice Beams and Ice Punches, though.

Pokemon like Sharpedo or Gorebyss were all capable of Hydrokinesis like Volkner's Lanturn, so they could basically fly however they wanted. Jellicent and Alomomola could stall through Recover and Wish and whittle a Pokemon down with Toxic, but luckily for me I knew exactly how to take down a Jellicent. I had to admit that this one was a lot better than us at messing with water TE, though.

That's on the to-do list.

Of course, there was the biggest problem of them all. The wall. Palafin. A Paldean Pokemon that had a second form that could be triggered… uh, well, by the time I'd researched and watched six different videos with Palafin, I still hadn't figured it out. Every instance of the transformation had happened at different times— most of them late into the battle, but one super early in too, when three of Wake's Pokemon had fainted to take down one of his opponent's in what would have possibly been a sweep—

No… no, there was something there. A common link that was on the tip of my tongue, a strand I needed to grasp.

"I fucking have it," I said, exhaling in relief after five minutes of introspection.

The transformations had happened when the tide of the battle had turned against Wake. When victory seemed all but impossible. When all odds were stacked against him and it would take a miracle to turn things around. When this condition was met, Palafin would change into its Hero form and become a juggernaut capable of taking down virtually anything. This wasn't like Kingambit. It didn't matter how many Pokemon Wake had left. So long as things were desperate, Palafin would transform.

In its normal form, Palafin was… well not a problem. Just an average water type under Wake's care. Certainly powerful, but nothing to write home about. One of his weakest members on the seventh-badge roster.

In his Hero form? He could fly (without hydrokinesis!), bend water to his will, punch as hard as a fighting type, and hit hard from afar with moves like Ice Beam or Hydro Pump too. He was an Arceus-damned superhero, and he and Wake leaned fully into the persona. He felt so unfair that I'd even consider his Hero form to be a badge ahead when powered up by the rain, which was basically always.

That battle where Wake had lost three Pokemon to one? Palafin had singlehandedly turned it around, fainting after taking down another three Pokemon of his own. Wake hadn't even switched him out, probably to give his opponent a chance. I noticed that was a consistent pattern with Palafin. Whenever he switched forms, Wake would never recall him until he fainted.

But Wake's true constant strategy, the one that had sent so many trainers five badges and up packing was the weather. More precisely, the rain. He could call upon a deluge with basically any of his Pokemon to power up all of his water type Pokemon. Not just their attacks. Moves like Aqua Ring or Life Dew would also be strengthened. Hell, it seemed like even their non-water type attacks were stronger in the rain.

What was peculiar was that even with the rain, the islands were never completely buried underwater. Sure, they flooded a little, but they always remained. Did they have drains under the water? I supposed it would be a bit unfair if Wake could just turn his field into a full-blown sea with no land for non-water types to stand on. This was supposed to be one of the easiest Gym Leaders in Sinnoh? I didn't want to see what the hell the others did for the seventh badge!

I didn't have the time to finish my research by the time we'd made it to the UPAN building, but that could wait. I'd make sure to start learning the Pokemons' movesets later while my Pokemon trained. Alex was waiting for me out in front, and he gave me a short, lazy wave as I approached on top of Angel's head with Sunshine and Buddy in tow. The fire type didn't even greet him until I forced him to.

"Mornin'," he yawned. "Sorry, I'm sort of tired. Ready to go to work?"

"Yep! What are we doing today?"

"Making food and feeding our rescues, sticking pamphlets on walls, trying to do outreach by talking to trainers and civvies… I have a list of addresses to knock on doors, and we're just one of the teams doing this. We're kicking things back into high gear— oh, you have to join first to volunteer. Sorry about that, I forgot."

I stared at him with rising curiosity. "Difficulty sleeping last night?"

"More like I didn't sleep at all. I was busy catching up on paperwork for Ms. Webb. Me, her and a bunch of others stayed at the office the entire night," he said, pointing back to the building with his thumb. "Don't worry, though. You won't have to do any kind of paperwork."

"Oh. Was yesterday special or something?"

"I told you, didn't I? We're kicking things back into high gear, which means we had a lot of catching up to do. We're not even halfway done, but I'll get to go home tonight, at least."

"Because of me?"

"Yes, Grace," he smiled. "Your presence here is an opportunity to get some good work done. Now—" he yawned again. "—are you ready?"

I nodded. "Sure thing."

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby, ShipGoSync, Kcx1, ArgentumTriKeras, AnotherUser, SmallBusinessBoi, Papito12495, KeMon C, Geo, Pedro B, Rat
 
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Chapter 252
CHAPTER 252

"So remember!" The… Ranger? Said as he tapped the wide map with his palm. "Areas six and five are not recommended for anyone five badges and lower! The Pokemon there are aggressive and will most likely attack you! Areas one from four, you should be relatively safe! But of course, no guarantees. Am I clear?"

A cacophony of yeses and grunts rang out around Chase, who had his hands shoved into his pockets and his shoulders slouched forward. Just like the time he'd gotten lessons before Mount Coronet or Eterna Forest, this was basically torture for him. These days, though, he at least tried to pay attention. He couldn't slip up, not when he carried so much weight on his shoulders. He wasn't about to die to some stray Poison Sting, not when the Iron Islands needed a fighter to represent them.

Oh, and there was also that Legendary bullshit too, he guessed.

"Will you be alright?"

Chase turned toward Cecilia, who handed him one of the Great Marsh's maps. At the back was a list of 'probable encounters' a trainer could get in each zone, but that wasn't something Chase was interested in.

"I'll be fine," he grunted. "I think I'll just wander around until a Pokemon catches my eye. You?"

She shrugged. "Zone four is where the Croagunk are, so zone four is where I'll be. I could try to go to zone six for a Toxicroak, but I'd rather not."

Trainers around them were already filtering toward the Great Marsh's entrance. There was only a set number of people allowed in at a time, and they were only allowed in for three hours total, so they had to make every minute count.

"Right, right, you wanted a fighting type," he remembered as he grabbed Sig's Pokeball. That damned Mira had gotten the nickname stuck in his head. He could already imagine her fucking smugness. "Stay safe out there."

"You too… and also," she stopped, grabbing him by the arm. "We'll be the two first of the group in Canalave, so I was wondering if you were going to go to the Iron Islands?"

Chase's skin tingled, and not in a good way. "Yeah."

A simple answer. One meant to hide the fact that he dreaded seeing Falkirk's ruins again. It wasn't like he'd be forced to go there. The Iron Islands were plentiful, and Falkirk was just one town, but he owed it to his father and to the hundreds that had died to that fucking Steelix. He had no plans of revenge— he knew the people to blame were the mining companies— but that didn't mean he wasn't going to despise that Steelix with every ounce of hate in his body.

"I was wondering if I could come with you?"

Come with me? The suggestion rang out a few times in Chase's mind, and he was too flabbergasted to answer. No. Yes. Maybe. He opened his mouth, then closed it when the words died in his throat.

"We'll see when," his voice cracked, "we get there."

"Alright. Just let me know, okay?" She said.

Arceus, he hated how gentle she was with him. It was annoying when she warmed his heart with her damned friendship and he had to hold himself back from smiling. It was difficult to remember that he hated her at one point.

"Yeah, will do," he nodded. "I'll be on my way, then."

They bid each other good luck, and Chase got on Sigilyph's back after showing his license to one of the Rangers nearby. They weren't exactly Rangers. Some bullshit about an auxiliary branch focused exclusively on Pastoria's Safari Zone or something that was directly under the city's control instead of the federal government. Chase didn't know why the Great Marsh wasn't just under the Rangers' jurisdiction, but he had other fish to fry. The air grew cool and crisp as Sig gained altitude. The Great Marsh was divided into multiple areas but further divided in two by a huge railroad network that stretched until the end of the Safari Zone. The Pokemon knew better than to destroy it, and it helped the Rangers that didn't have fliers move quickly to each zone of the marsh. Chase wondered why they didn't just use Teleporters, but maybe they didn't have enough to be reliable? Either way, it wasn't his problem. The marsh was spread out before him and was a large spread of mud, trees and shallow water.

"You recovered from yesterday?" Chase asked Sigilyph. His grip tightened around her wings until his knuckles were white. A custom saddle for her would have cost an arm and a leg, and he'd grown used to flying like this now.

Sigilyph let out a series of beeps that were happy, so he assumed she'd said yes. She tended to ramble about anything, even if he didn't really understand without Ri there to translate. He had looked it up, and her species could technically talk through telepathy, but it took a lot of practice for them to learn to do so and they hadn't even started yet. Chase observed the world below, as hundreds of trainers traveled the murky swamp. Some of them were flying like he was, while others rode their Pokemon in order not to get caught in the water and mud. The ones that couldn't do either? They were out of luck.

They got pretty far for a ten-minute flight. Sig wasn't the fastest flier, but she was enough. Chase hadn't wanted to be with a crowd that would distract any Pokemon he tried to observe.

"Okay, we're in zone four," he muttered. Sigilyph beeped in response. "Don't get too excited. You've got to stay focused, alright? Land us on solid ground. There's some right below you at one 'o clock."

The psychic quickly lost altitude, and Chase jumped off of her before she could land, eliciting a few angry-worried cries.

"Relax," he whispered, scanning the area. Zone four was a lot more encased in trees and less open than the other ones.

Before him was a serene expanse of shallow water with small islands peppered throughout, which was where he was currently standing. Although standing was a bit of an exaggeration. The mud felt more like quicksand than solid ground, and Chase constantly had to shift his feet around to not sink ankle-deep into the island. The water was so murky that there'd be no way to know if some Pokemon was swimming down there without a Pokemon capable of sensing others. There were no bridges between the islands, or anything to allow trainers to navigate the place without getting wet. It was hard to build anything in a swamp. Chase's head snapped to the left, toward a distant cry of a Pokemon that he didn't recognize. The air felt thick and humid here now that he was down on the ground, and it coated his throat and lungs.

Chase released Vikavolt, who screeched happily as soon as he appeared and fanned his wings.

"Yeah, you look good today too," Chase commented. Vikavolt buzzed in excitement, and Sigilyph… probably said the same thing? He released Zangoose too, just because she and Sig were best pals and almost inseparable. Lastly, he released Ri so he could sense their surroundings. He could do it a lot better than Sig could, even if he used Aura instead. The last thing he needed was for some aggressive Pokemon to jump at him from the water. "Now, we wait."

Are you sure that waiting is wiser than striking out to search for our new comrade? Ri asked.

Chase waved a hand as he sat on a half-rotten wet piece of log. "Yeah. Just tell us when you feel something—"

There are approximately twelve Pokemon in a range of one hundred feet, the fighting type interrupted.

"Breathe a little, will you? We have the majority of our time left. A Pokemon is bound to stumble here."

Ri sighed, and Zangoose snickered.

Zangoose, I would appreciate it if you didn't encourage this. The best course of action would be to at least move around.

The normal type shrugged, saying something that elicited a sigh out of Ri and a panicked reaction from Sigilyph.

"What'd she say?"

'Fuck off'

"Good, you're taking after me," Chase grinned. "Anyway, if we move around too much, we'll scare the wildlife away. Staying still will show them we aren't a threat looking for a fight."

Very well, the Lucario relented. But when you have an hour left on the clock, I will have you move.

"Sure."

So Chase settled down, got comfortable, and waited with an arm slung over his knee. With his team here, the Great Marsh wasn't so bad.



It's quite hot today, isn't it?

"I'd rather it be hot than cold. Sinnoh's weather is horrifying and only tolerable half of the year. The other half, it's a frozen hellscape," Cecilia complained. Her legs wobbled as she stepped onto an uneven bump, but Slowking wrapped her in a gentle psychic bubble to stop her from falling.

Apologies. I will focus on the barrier.

"You can still talk to us," she said. Scyther flew close behind her, although he had stayed largely silent except to comment on how weak everything here looked.

Cecilia was not walking on solid ground. She was walking a foot or so above it, on a barrier Slowking had created that served as a bridge that allowed her to navigate the swamp without getting her clothes all mucky, and it generally just made traveling a lot easier. Trainers had looked at her in awe when she'd first shown the trick, but she was far enough to be alone, now. Talonflame was up in the sky, scouting for any sign of a Croagunk. A group of Barboach quickly hid under the water when they passed above them. Pokemon here were weak, and the danger was minimal. If any of them decided to attack, Slowking would simply protect them.

Although his shift in focus might just end up making her fall in the mud.

It didn't take long to come across the first Croagunk. They were common in the Safari Zone, and Talonflame's sharp eyes would spot them from anywhere. Unfortunately though, the small fighting type scampered off before she even had a chance to make her pitch, swimming through the water at surprising speeds.

Should we pursue? Slowking asked.

"No need. We'll find another one," she shook her head. "There's time."

And even if there wasn't she could always come another day. Slowking continued leading Cecilia, and soon enough they crossed into zone three. She was busy imagining how she would beat Wake. Zweilous would be hard-pressed on his arena, and while Scyther and Talonflame could fly and would be fast enough to avoid most attacks, it'd be difficult to hit Wake's Pokemon if they hid under the water. Even Lehmhart wasn't tall enough to stand in his man-made sea.

It would take ingenuity to win, and Cecilia was mature enough to know that ingenuity was not her strong point. Chase, Denzel and Grace, they all had methods to find ways against such a disadvantage, but beyond Slowking using shields to walk on, she was stumped. So she did anything a good trainer would do.

She asked her Pokemon what they thought.

Scyther let out a mocking laugh, his wings fluttering as he shook his head.

The fact that you can't figure something out amuses me, Slowking translated without missing a beat. Maybe this'll be the one you finally lose.

Cecilia smirked. "Is that a challenge?"

Scyther shrugged, sharpening his scythes to pass the time. Ha! A challenge? It was a mere observation, Slowking relayed (he really tried to get the tone too, which failed despite his best efforts. Telepathy was working against him). But I'll be watching, of course. And fighting.

"Thank you for the help," Cecilia dipped her head.

Scyther's throat trilled, and he turned away. Slowking suggested freezing the arena, and that was certainly a possibility, but unless they managed to create a thick sheet of ice, Wake would probably just destroy the ice. Still, it would be wise to work on Slowking's capabilities with ice regardless, along with Chilly Reception. There were strands of a plan there, but she didn't know how to tie the entire thing together quite yet.

"Do you want to speak about Eterna Forest again?" Cecilia asked, leaning slightly toward Scyther.

He does, Slowking guessed. He can't stop himself from talking about the folklore.

Scyther snarled, and Slowking simply chortled in response. Despite his best efforts, Scyther ended up talking about it anyway. The place Cecilia had caught him in was at the forest's periphery, even if it didn't really feel like it at the time. To their young, untrained eyes, he'd been an unstoppable beast that needed all of their combined effort to beat. Today, he would have been easy to dispatch in five moves at best and held in place with Psychic until the deed had been done.

The closer you get to the center of the forest, the stronger the Pokemon get— Slowking stopped. You told us that already, Scyther.

Scyther screamed, probably telling him to keep translating.

There are myths that every Pokemon living in Eterna Forest knows, and all of them are about the Pokemon that lives at its center. Strangely enough— he turned toward Scyther and rolled his eyes. Okay, not strangely enough, but no one really knows what it is, or at least none of the Pokemon living at the edges of the woods. The ones close to the Center would easily destroy our entire merry little troupe.

Scyther nodded, satisfied with himself before continuing.

It is an immortal being that is perpetually asleep and has been asleep for thousands of years. He'd go as far as calling it a demi-God. There are periods where it grows slightly more active and the vegetation grows taller and faster. Grass types grow more powerful too. Apparently, the last time was before Scyther was alive, though.

So more than twelve years ago, then. Still, Cecilia's eyes widened slightly. Scyther never spoke of a Pokemon with such admiration. Usually, he either tried to call them weaker than he was or stayed silent and brooded when he knew they weren't.

Slowking continued. He wants to— you want to what?! To cut him down in a one-on-one?!

"He wants to win in a fight?" Cecilia blinked, slowing her step. "That's… impossible. You called them a demi-God!"

Well, now we know why he didn't mind sticking around, Slowking mused with his hands behind his back. He grows faster here than in the forest. Progress drives him.

"Is this an actual goal of yours? Is there even a reason?" Cecilia pressed. Discounting the fact that she was going to Unova next year, even if she came back to Sinnoh for a few months in some years when she would hopefully be strong enough, she doubted the Sinnohan government would ever let her do that. If the Pokemon had created the forest, then wouldn't it collapse if it died? That'd be an ecological disaster on an extremely large scale. She didn't even want to do it!

He says he just wants to prove his strength, Slowking said.

"Well, there are much better ways to prove your strength, but we'll see," she sighed. "You're basically asking the impossible out of me. Anyway, I actually have another question for you. About your evolution."

That topic caught his attention more than any time she'd tried to get him to open up to the team.

"Your species needs to train in a place full of iron to evolve," Cecilia said. "We're going to the Iron Islands soon… if Chase agrees. Do you want to stay a Scyther? If you turn into a Scizor, you'll lose in speed, but you'll still be able to fly and grow more resistant. You'll still be able to cut things, since I know you love that. At the end of the day, it's up to you. I don't mind either way."

Scyther didn't answer, but she already knew what he'd meant before Slowking translated. To give him some time to think.

"Very well. On another topic, Slowking, do you think you could make these shields last when you're recalled?" Cecilia asked, gesturing at the invisible bridge below.

We discussed it with Alakazam, but that is way beyond me at the moment. Maybe on a small scale, it could be possible. If you want to return to the topic of Wake, you could always—

A screech overhead from Talonflame interrupted him. Another Croagunk. The fire type swooped down to lead them to what she'd seen, and they reached a clearing with a stretch of solid ground Cecilia could actually stand on. This Croagunk was a little taller than the previous one, but slightly thinner as well. They weren't wounded per se, but they had clearly been in a fight recently. Half-healed bruises covered the poison type's body, and her right eye was only half-opened. Cecilia placed a hand on Scyther's exoskeleton to keep him from scaring Croagunk away. He quickly budged his shoulder away like a teenager annoyed that their parents were touching them in public. Talonflame landed to their right as gently as she could to not scare away Croagunk.

Good morning, young Croagunk! I hope you're having a marsh-velous day—

"Slowking!" Cecilia hissed.

I was just breaking the ice. You're the one who gave me the idea anyway. Tough crowd.

"Hello," Cecilia said. Just like Grace had told her, she didn't get too close. Croagunk looked wary, and was completely silent. "I come to you with a proposition. I'm a trainer looking for a sixth Pokemon, and I think you'd be a good fit. That would mean that you'd get caught by me and placed in a Pokeball. That you'd travel with us and grow stronger. Travel beyond Sinnoh."

Scyther complained to her left, probably saying that he wished he could have gotten the same treatment. Granted, he had immediately tried to kill her and her friends, so that was somewhat hypocritical of him. The fact that she'd screwed up with him completely did not change that fact.

Cecilia cleared her throat. How would Grace approach this? "This isn't my full team, but the other two might scare you, so I thought it'd be best if we kept this contained. Do you have friends here you don't want to lose? A family? If you do, we'll be on our way."

For the first time, Croagunk communicated. It was a shrug, specifically at the mention of friends.

"No? What happened to them?"

The fighting type croaked, deciding to sit on the ground. Cece turned to Slowking, but he was already on top of things.

No family. She had a friend, but she was taken by a trainer seven months ago. A Wooper.

"I'm… I'm sorry." Cecilia nervously licked her lips until an idea popped into her head. "I guess we'll be on our way. Before we go, I could administer you a potion. Or… well, I guess you could use it on yourself if I throw it to you. I can tell you were in a fight."

Croagunk nodded and muttered something under her breath.

Two days ago, against a Tangela for food, Slowking said.

Food? Cecilia thought. Angel could just subsist himself on sunlight, but maybe that particular Tangela couldn't? Or maybe they had just liked the taste of food too much to give it up. Cecilia grabbed a potion and approached with a hesitant step. Talonflame eyed her with a palpable nervousness while Slowking told her that this was a terrible idea.

Cecilia didn't go up to Croagunk. She just wanted to show the fighting type that she wasn't terrified and that she was giving her at least a small amount of trust.

"Should I throw it?" Cecilia asked.

Croagunk beckoned her instead.

Cecilia swallowed and took another step on the soft, shallow reeds. Then another. And another. Until she was right in front of Croagunk. She crouched and applied the potion on her skin. It seemed so dry from up close. From afar, it had seemed like a smooth, even blue texture, but that couldn't be further from the truth. It was weathered, rough skin that looked like it had been exposed to the elements for too long. Tiny, almost imperceptible flakes of skin littered both Croagunk and the ground around her.

"How long have you been sitting here?" Cecilia asked.

The poison type answered with an uncommitted shrug.

"You need water. Your skin is basically peeling off," she continued as she inspected Croagunk. "There's plenty of water around. You live in a swamp for Arceus' sake. What happened to you?"

She doesn't feel like moving, Slowking said, suddenly behind her. She doesn't feel like doing anything. She hasn't eaten or drank since the fight.

"That's why you're so thin!" Cecilia gasped. Her hands shot into her bag in an attempt to find some food. Instead, she settled on a water bottle and poured the contents on Croagunk's head. The fighting type's skin started to heal, slowly but surely. Flakes were drawn away, patches of dryness moistened, and her skin looked healthy again, or at least as healthy as that little stopgap could make it. "There you go, have some food." She handed a small can of Zweilous' favorite kibble, and Croagunk downed all of it in five seconds.

She let out a burp, and her cheeks swelled.

She thanks you, Slowking said.

"What was that about? Not feeling like moving? You were going to die in another few days if you kept that up, or some other Pokemon would have snatched you up. I've seen a few Staravia around."

The fighting type shrugged (Cecilia was learning that was a common thing she did), but a weak explanation escaped from her mouth, and she closed her trembling eyes. Even Scyther winced.

She lied, Slowking said. Her friend wasn't taken seven months ago, but two days ago. Croagunk didn't fight a Tangela for food, she fought the human to try to leave Wooper time to escape. It did not work.

"We can do something about this!" Cecilia said. "Grace can help. We can try to find that trainer and convince him— forcefully."

Croagunk chuckled, which was more of a sad, raspy defeated laugh. She explained that her Wooper friend had been special. Her skin was brown, and she was from far away. Paldea.

Paldean Wooper was one of the endangered Pokemon Grace had told her about, Cecilia thought as her fingers anxiously intertwined with her skirt.

Not only that, but Croagunk went into depth with the culprit who'd caught Wooper.

A human woman had done so, along with a Hypno. They'd Teleported out right afterward.

A surge of paranoia overtook her. Abel had a Hypno. Yet he wasn't the only trainer with a Hypno, so were her worries just unfounded? Two of his Pokemon could turn into humans, although his Zoroark couldn't Teleport unless he'd found a way through that, so it would have had to be his Ditto, who had a child-like demeanor. The fact that he hadn't been there made sense either way. In a city, he'd be recognized. She needed to warn the others.

This didn't bode well for her hopes of Abel being uninvolved.

"Okay," Cecilia exhaled. "This… this doesn't bode well. I'm going to need to—"

Her legs wobbled, and she suddenly felt so weak. Once again, a stolen Pokemon. First Leafeon, now a Paldean Wooper and probably many more. Was this the start of a pattern? If this was true… once was a coincidence. Twice would basically confirm it. Abel would be working with the poachers, and he'd be so deep in Pastoria that even this place wasn't safe. Paldean Wooper would sell for hundreds of thousands in Sinnoh due to their artificial scarcity, which she assumed was why it was so close to extinct here in the first place. Trainers looking to make money would travel here to catch and sell them. There were guidelines in place, but Grace had already told her all about how the UPAN thought those weren't enough. Cecilia outstretched a hand and steeled her tone.

"Come with me," she said. "Train and grow stronger. We and our friends will do something about this. When we find Wooper, I'll release you both or she can decide to join as well. I promise you. Scyther," she pointed back to the bug type, "would kill me if I ever kidnapped another Pokemon."

Scyther snorted, but he didn't disagree.

Croagunk hesitated. Her eyes darted between Cecilia, Scyther, Slowking, and Talonflame.

Then, she nodded.

Cecilia placed a Pokeball against the poison type's forehead, and she was caught without any resistance. Once she released her again, she scanned her with her Dex to check her moves.

Croagunk, the Toxic Mouth Pokemon. Its cheeks hold poison sacs. It tries to catch foes off guard to jab them with toxic fingers. Once diluted, its poison can be used in medicine. It rarely fights fairly, but that is strictly to ensure survival. It is also popular as a mascot.

Moves: Mud Slap, Poison Sting, Low Kick, Venoshock, Astonish, Fake Out, Counter, Rock Smash, Mud Bomb, Pursuit, Feint Attack, Poison Jab (Click for more information)

Ability: Dry Skin (Click for more information)




You should have listened to me, Ri said. Now look at you.

Chase trekked through the swamp's mud with annoyance surging with each one of Lucario's remarks. Yeah, he was right, but he didn't have to rub it in! Forty minutes left, and he hadn't found anything. Chase pushed through the swamp, at least thankful that this exertion was just another form of leg day. Zangoose had demanded to get back into her Pokeball, not wanting to dirty her white fur. Ri was down in the muck with him while Sig and Vikavolt flew a few feet above their heads.

Pokemon fighting ahead, Ri said, stopping Chase with an outstretched arm.

He grinned instead of feeling any danger. "Perfect! Now I can go and see which one has potential—"

Actually, they aren't fighting. I'm sorry, Lucario spoke into his mind. One of them is running away from a group. I don't know what Pokemon exactly, but they are flying while the runner is swimming. They should come into view in three, two, one…

Chase squinted at the little grey and purple Pokemon whose two antennas would barely get up to his knees. Following him were three Hoothoot probably looking for a meal. The sight immediately triggered something in Vikavolt. He'd been the same way. Just a little Grubbin in Jubilife getting attacked by Spearow until Chase found him. The difference between him and this Pokemon, however, was that Vikavolt had fought back while it was just running away.

"Go do your thing," Chase said.

With a burst of speed, Vikavolt shot forward, emitting a loud buzz and the crackling hum of electricity. The Hoothoot's eyes widened, and they fled as soon as they realized that Vikavolt was way too strong for them. Whatever the hell that swimming Pokemon was also ran away from Vikavolt, funnily enough, until he saw the electric type chase his foes away and he continued toward him instead. Chase grabbed his Pokedex to scan it.

Wimpod, the Turn Tail Pokemon. This Pokémon is known to be cowardly. When it desperately dashes off, the flailing of its many legs leaves a sparkling clean path in its wake. Its habitat varies from beaches to seabeds, swamps, and even sewers. As a natural scavenger, it will gleefully chow down on anything edible, no matter how rotten. Wimpod usually gather in swarms, constantly on the lookout for danger. They scatter the moment they detect an enemy's presence.

Type: Bug, Water


"What the hell happened to your swarm?" Chase said. The mere somewhat aggressive sound of his voice sent the Wimpod into a trembling frenzy.

It obviously scattered, Lucario said. She got lost instead of rejoining them and regrouping.

Chase let out a long sigh. "Well, I saved ya. Go on. You should toughen up a little. I know it's apparently in your DNA to be scared, but you should go down fighting, if you ever do go down. Don't let some shitty birds kill you without attacking back."

Vikavolt hovered over Wimpod and attempted to cheer him up with some encouraging words that Lucario translated for him. He mostly related to his own experience as a lonely bug living in Jubilife, desperately scavenging to stay alive.

Anyway, after they bonded for around ten minutes, Chase finally decided to leave. They needed to be at the entrance soon, and he'd only get back in time on Sigilyph, and even she was being way too friendly with Wimpod. Chase started to walk away to find dry land so he could get on Sig (the mud here seemed to drag him down every time he tried to pull himself up), but Wimpod followed everywhere they went.

"What's your deal?" Chase growled. "We saved you already!"

Wimpod let out a nervous screech.

She had determined that you were the best person to follow to keep her safe, Lucario explained with an amused look. She's asking to become part of your 'swarm'.

"What the fuck?" Chase groaned.

Vikavolt and Sigilyph want to take her in.

This isn't what I wanted,
Chase silently complained. She didn't have the drive! No spark! Yeah, she was kind of cute if you looked at her the right way, but Wimpod was no fighter.

But… for the cohesion of his team… he might need to catch her. Vikavolt and Sig would be down in the dumps for weeks if he refused, and Chase couldn't have that when they needed to train to beat Wake.

Maybe he could train the cowardice out of her?

"Fine. You can come with us, but you're going to get worked to the bone."

Chase could see the shift in her eyes. So long as she was safe, she'd accept anything. Chase sighed as he threw the Pokeball at her. The device floated in the mud and dinged. It hadn't been what he had wanted, but it was something, and he was lacking a water type. Too bad there was no way she'd be ready for Wake in time, or even Byron for that matter—

Chase nearly choked on his own saliva when he scanned his new capture with his Pokedex. She was even weaker than he'd thought!

Moves: Defense Curl, Struggle Bug, Sand Attack (Click for more information)

Ability: Wimp Out (Click for more information)


That ability was one he hadn't seen. Chase clicked on it again to see its description.

Wimp Out - Wimpod is adept at sensing the exact moment when it has no chance in a fight and will desperately try to run away to avoid further danger. When it does, it grows adept at evading attacks and gains a boost in speed.

"Are you fucking kidding me?"

Wimpod let out a happy screech.

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Chapter 253
CHAPTER 253

"Good afternoon!" I exclaimed with a bright smile. "My name is Grace Pastel, and I'm a member of the UPAN. How are you doing today?"

The thin man lazily scratched his beer belly and squinted. "I was doing great until you knocked."

Uh, that was bad. I wanted to look back at Alex, but I knew I couldn't show any sign of panic. Panic would let the man in front of me grow more confident, and that meant he'd grow more aggressive. I adjusted my crutches (Alex had told me that a Tangrowth at their door would make people call the police) and kept up my smile. Usually, the people on the list of addresses were at least amenable to the UPAN cause, even though I had no idea how the hell they tracked that. Canvassing was still a mystery to me.

"Well, I'm so sorry about that."

The man groaned with a grimace. "No, no, never mind. I was a dick. Sorry, I've just been having a terrible week. I lost my job and stress has been piling up. I need to scrounge up a plan to pay my mortgage. Go ahead. Do your speech, or whatever."

"Well I hope you'll find something," I said, my eyes closing slightly. "Pastoria's really started feeling the sanctions now, huh?"

"Every city," he sighed. "My brother's up in Hearthome, but he managed to be spared in the layoffs. Works for some tech company that won't have the components to make their chips anymore."

"And where do you work?" I asked.

"The docks. I'm no sailor, just a guy that moves— moved things around when they got to port. My wife and I finally managed to buy this house last year, but… maybe this Kanto-Johto thing will work."

I didn't know enough about economics to know if it would. Trade between Kanto-Johto and Sinnoh was just starting and hadn't ramped up yet while almost everything from Galar had been cut off in a few days and the little scare from Unova had given out-of-region investors cold feet. Melody had even told me about how X Tech was scaling back their expansion into Sinnoh, so at least there was some silver lining with all of this.

A silver lining for me and the Poketch Company, I caught myself. Not the common people like this man. I had to be careful not to grow out of touch.

"Uh, I guess I'll give the speech," I awkwardly said, staring down at my paper. "First, can I confirm that your name is indeed Ethan Callahan?"

"The one and only," he sarcastically drawled.

"The UPAN has restarted its operations, and I wanted to know how closely you track… ah, screw the speech," I sighed. Ethan raised an eyebrow, and I could feel Alex stare daggers at my head. "What do you know about the Safari Zone?"

"The Great Marsh? It's that place you trainers love," he shrugged. "Pokemon are easy to catch there, and there are some rare critters running about."

"A lot of those… critters are at risk of going extinct from the Great Marsh if the City Council doesn't convene to update the Great Marsh's guidelines. Wugtrio, Veluza, Toedscruel, Paldean Wooper, Clodsire, Araquanid and Comfey are all critically endangered right now. We'd like for you to sign," I handed him another piece of paper, "a petition and to commit to voting the current councilors out of power if they don't get this done. These are people that are going to be wiped out if we don't do anything. Their rarity makes trainers want to catch them and they need protection."

Ethan stopped leaning against his doorway and actually started paying attention to what I was saying.

"Extinct? Why's this the first time I'm hearing about this?"

"If I had to guess, the media's focused on what's fresh and new instead of long-standing local issues because that drives ratings up. Right now, we have around eleven Councillors willing to do the right thing," I continued, remembering what Alex had told me. "Way short of the twenty-five we'd need to pass any kind of legislation. The only way we're going to change things is to threaten to take away their power."

"Well, I'll be damned." He snatched the paper and pen out of my hand to sign against his wall. I gave him the list of all eleven names before thanking him for his time.

Elections in Pastoria wouldn't be for another two years, but any pressure was good. The strategy wasn't to actually wait things out that long, but to make the politicians sweat and start to feel the current shift in public opinion. According to Alex, they tended to prioritize decisions best to keep themselves in power over anything else.

"You scared me for a second when you went off-script, but that ended up going very well," he said. "Way better than the last house. Good job."

"Well, it's not like I tripped all over my words until you had to intervene," I said with a joking tone. "I think it was the script. It's easier when I can use my own words."

"I get that. I mean, the script is there for a reason— it's been proven to be the best way to keep people from closing their doors on our faces, but if it works for you, it works for you," he paused, slowing himself down to wait for me to release Angel. Like he'd done countless times today, the grass type picked me and my crutches up so I wouldn't have to walk. "That was the last house," Alex continued. "We've reached our quota for the day."

I stretched my arms. "Woooo! That was a lot of work."

I'd been out and about since this morning, and Cecilia and Chase were already done with their Safari Zone. I was very surprised when I saw that they'd both already caught their Pokemon. A Croagunk and a Wimpod. Apparently, Cece had something to tell me about Croagunk, though, but she was currently at Flight School and then would start training her to see what level she was at.

Alex had helped with everything, thankfully. From feeding the rescues to standing around at the city center near the docks to hand over fliers, we'd basically done everything in our power to help the UPAN. He'd also let me ask him questions about anything UPAN or politics-related, and he'd answer after making fun of me. Still, I was learning, and despite his mocking ways, Alex was a great teacher. The way he spoke about politics in terms of individuals made things a lot easier to understand.

"You have to understand, at the end of the day, politicians are people," he had told me. "People with goals, dreams, fears, families, and irrational opinions. Everyone's just pretending to know what the hell they're doing, and somehow the entire system still works."

A sobering yet illuminating thought. Every politician I usually saw had been on TV when dad had hogged it to watch the news, so I'd always seen them as sort of… characters in a show? Not real people in a way. I guess Cynthia's also a politician, I mused as we made our way back to the UPAN to report our work today. But I always saw her as a trainer first and foremost until I saw more and more of her.

"When are we doing this next?" I asked. "I'll probably be a little busy in the coming days."

"Right, you're training for Wake, right?" He asked.

That, and other things.

"I'd like for you to come in and do this at least twice a week," he said. "You know—" he stared up at me, "—I've only known you for a few days. At first, I thought your entire persona was something the Poketch Company built, but I know better now. This is you," he paused to fold and shove the papers into his satchel. "But now that I actually know you're real, I have a question. Why are you so brutal in your battles?"

My lips tightened, and Angel ran his vines over my legs and head to soothe me.

"I've never brought it up before, because I'm not a trainer— well I am, but not in any serious capacity. I was wondering if it was just a me thing, or…"

"No, you're right. I am unique. It's not just me, though," I said, remembering the Orrean Craig had brought up back at that bar in Sunyshore. Ammar Halimi, if I remember correctly. "Every trainer has a different style… does that make me look hypocritical?"

"Eh. Sorta kinda?"

"I mean, I just want to use every tool to win," I explained, patting Angel's head. "Before Ditto were a thing, then yeah, I never would have done it. But these days, medicine for Pokemon can basically fix anything as long as you don't wait days to get there. I think I'm just very competitive at my core."

And fighting that way was just fun, as much as it pained to admit. It was fun to use brutal attacks to mess with the opposing trainer. It was fun to cripple Pokemon in a way that'd make them useless further in the fight. It was fun coming up with different ways for my Pokemon to stab things. It was exciting to see Gym Leaders baffled at the tactics I pulled and get serious— to an extent. That wasn't something I would tell just to anyone, though, so I omitted that part of my answer. The fact that the only person who battled like me was a guy from Orre (and probably a few others I didn't know about) didn't work in my favor.

"And if someone wants to fight back the same way, they can be my guest," I continued. "I'd probably get mad in the heat of the moment, but that's something my opponents could exploit to make me make mistakes. It's a sport at the end of the day. The goal is to use everything at your disposal to win."

He frowned— not in a judging way, but in an 'I'm very confused way'. "I'm not sure I get it, but I wasn't cut out for battling anyway," he said with a protective hand over his Pokeballs.

I still hadn't met his team.

We made our way back to UPAN headquarters, and Ms. Webb was very pleased with our work. So much so that she gave us one of those rare smiles Alex had talked to me about so many times. Ms. Webb tapped her fingers against her desk and eyed all the signatures we'd gotten.

"With all the teams we have out and about, one more week of this, and we'll have enough to present to the City Council," she said with a grin. She brought a pen to the corner of her lips. "Of course, a petition won't get them to move off of their asses and do something. It's only one part of the punch."

"What's the other part?" Alex asked. He'd been tired recently, but all of that had vanished when he'd entered Ms. Webb's office.

She adjusted her thick glasses. "Grace will be there."

There it was, I thought with a sharp inhale. She'd essentially had the same idea I had when I'd first met her. She'd use me not just as a prop to show around, but as a legitimate measure to pressure the Council. No one knew how close I was to Cynthia exactly. Even Ms. Webb didn't know. They had no idea I actually had very little clout in anything she did.

To the outside world? Well, I might as well have been her apprentice.

I sarcastically giggled at that thought.



Maeve Chang's phone was lost.

It had been a stupid mistake. She had dropped it out of her hand as she picked it up from her pocket, and it had fallen into a gridded storm drain. She wasn't rich by any means (although she was starting to look for a sponsor), but buying another Poketch phone wouldn't be an issue. It wasn't an issue, she repeated to herself. For as long as she could remember, Maeve had kept old items, even when they were broken. She'd always attached sentimental value to something she had owned for long. Plushies, broken figurines, shoes that didn't fit her any longer, clothes that were too small, and her lost phone that was four… five models old.

"I don't get the issue," Justin deadpanned behind her. "If you need a new phone, just buy a new phone."

Maeve groaned. "I will. Just let me get my thoughts in order," she sighed, then stood back up from the drain and finally gave up her hopes of one of her Pokemon going down there to get her phone back. Infernape could have kicked the gate down for Starmie to pull through, but that was probably illegal, and her phone was definitely broken after having soaked in water for so long. "Yeah, let's just go, I guess."

She clicked her tongue and tried to abate the ever-climbing frustration rising from within her. Justin and Maeve had been supposed to join Louis for training in the arena Grace had recommended, but there was no way she was going to go more than an hour without a phone with all of these rumors about poachers.

"Sorry for the waste of time," she said, remembering that Justin didn't enjoy staying idle. "There ought to be a Poketch store somewhere near. Could you look it up for me?"

With a discreet glance, Maeve observed how quickly Justin could type. In an instant, he was already pointing in the store's general direction.

"Did Alakazam take another look at you today?" She asked.

"He has more theories. The newest one being that he could counteract the darkness by overcharging my body with fighting, bug or fairy TE. Of course, when he realized that had been tried before in the past and all experiments had failed, he said that they hadn't done it properly."

"Don't let him worsen your condition, alright?" Maeve warned. "You aren't a lab Rattata."

"I might as well be," he said, his voice unwavering. Even his walk seemed mechanical, somehow. Something that had taken her a while to get used to on their travels. "But yes, I did tell him that I would not accept such an experiment unless he could get at least fifty renowned doctors and professors to agree."

Maeve smirked. "Good!"

It was strange, to babysit someone like Justin. Maeve wasn't used to being in charge of anything, let alone someone with such a burden. Following what everyone else said had been enough to carry her this far, even if there had been stumbles along the way. Every day, she had to remind herself that yes, she was a good trainer. Five badges in her first year— and possibly more— was still something rare. The problem was that the people at the top of her friend group were just too good to even hope to compare herself to. It was difficult to live in a perpetual shadow. Maeve's vice was ego searching. Something that plagued many, from trainers, to politicians, to online personalities to singers. Looking yourself up on the internet to see what people were saying about you could either make or break your day, and yet it was so intoxicating at the same time. A drug.

Maeve wasn't the butt of any jokes, nor was she the subject of any admiration. Her megathread was depressingly calm, with a few posts every day, and she had no presence outside of the forums. She just didn't have the skill, nor the interpersonal drama to generate any kind of discussion, and for some reason, that hurt her more than anything else. The fact that she was in a group of such talented people that overshadowed everything she could come up with didn't help. Maeve clenched her teeth but calmed herself with a deep breath. Maybe I shouldn't get that damn phone after all, she thought to herself with a sad chuckle. Thank the Legendaries Louis wasn't there, or he would have noticed and asked too many questions.

"Oh yeah! Are you going to the Great Marsh tomorrow?" She asked to distract herself.

"And for what? I already have six Pokemon."

"Oh, I thought you'd want to come with us or something," Maeve said. "Just to hang out."

"Meaningless risk. If Louis asks me to come, I will be obligated to do so through the contract I signed, but if not, I will be practicing for Wake."

"Fair enough."

Alone time with Louis. Terrifying. Her travels with Justin had broken the routine of it all, and now she feared she'd turn into a nervous mess. It wasn't like he was returning any of her advances anyway. Maybe Gligar would break the awkwardness, with all of his hair-eating ways. After a ten-minute walk, they entered the modern-looking Poketch store, with sleek, rounded tables and displays of all of their devices for customers to test (and to entice them, too).

Out of the corner of her eye, a tall woman— or was she still a teenager?— was buying phones in bulk. Eleven of them, and the cheapest models still available. She was also paying in cash only and not using her Trainer ID. From the two Pokeballs on her belt, she was also a trainer. Maeve thought it was weird for a trainer to buy that many phones, but she paid her no mind. Maeve asked for the newest Poketch model and winced when she saw the price. Oh well, it wasn't like she wasn't going to use it. Justin took the opportunity to buy a portable battery for his own phone—

"What are you staring at?" Maeve asked.

Justin's eyes drifted back toward hers. It was strange, how he could maintain eye contact for as long as he needed. "That girl was staring at us," he said, nudging his head forward. "Looks like she's getting ready to leave."

Maeve turned and noticed it was the same woman— or girl, according to Justin— that had been buying so many phones. She packed them all in a bag, but instead of leaving, she beelined right toward them, her ashen hair swaying from side to side. Maeve's back straightened as she stared at the six-foot-two teenager. She'd rarely seen a girl this tall.

"Hi," she flashed her teeth. "Uh, I noticed you were looking at me? Do you need anything?"

"Oh, uh, sorry," Maeve stammered. "I was just surprised at the number of phones you were buying and your height."

"Oh. People always joked about how tall I was growing up," she muttered, placing a strand of brown hair behind her ear. "I wish I could be smaller, but it is what it is. Both my parents were over six feet. My dad's almost seven feet tall, actually."

Maeve almost shrunk under her intense stare, but she pushed through. "Well, that was it, I guess. Sorry to bother you."

Justin also dipped his head and apologized.

"No worries. And hey, maybe we could hang around more often? This is kind of embarrassing, but I'm a pretty big fan."

"Oh. Of who? Denzel?" She asked, thinking it was the most likely choice. He had the most followers online, after all. Maybe Grace? Cecilia? Chase was too mean to have many fans, but the ones he did have were mostly from Canalave and the Iron Islands.

"You!" She laughed. "I've seen all of your Gym Battles. Your battle with Volkner? Great performance! Your Infernape is a menace. The way you had him throw those flaming rocks at Volkner's Pokemon like bullets? That was cool as hell. "

Maeve inhaled sharply. A fan? Was this a dream? All of a sudden, her jaw started to tremble, and Maeve wanted to crawl into a hole. She'd been so weird! To a fan! She cleared her throat, making her voice a smidge deeper.

"Sure thing. We can do whatever. Just contact me on the forums? Wait, what's your name?"

The teenager beamed. "Zoey Miranda. My account's verified, so you shouldn't have any trouble on that front. So, uh, I'll see you later?"

Maeve excitedly nodded, and Zoey left the store's premises. It wasn't much, but being recognized outside had meant the world to her.

"Justin, did you see that?!" She bumped him in the arm with an elbow. "I have a fan!"

"She could be using you to get closer to Denzel or the other top first-years," he immediately said. Maeve's shoulders slumped, and her confidence vanished. "No need to look like you've seen a ghost. I'm just saying it's a possibility. Why don't you start by looking her up."

The two left the store, and while making their way to the arena Grace and Barry had battled in, Maeve set up her phone. The good thing about Poketch was that she could recover everything she had on her old phone through her Poketch account, even if you had to go through a thousand different loops and steps to actually get your data back for security and privacy reasons. Zoey Miranda. Her account was indeed verified. Two badges, although she'd started later than the usual age of fifteen, which made sense. She was actually nineteen years old, having beaten both Maylene and Volkner.

She had never posted on Maeve's megathread, but maybe she was more of a lurker than anything. More snooping reinforced that theory. Zoey rarely posted anything. In fact, there was a one-and-a-half-month gap where she hadn't posted anything on the forums, or even been active at all, for that matter. Maeve contacted her right away, asking when she'd like to meet. Her heart was beating in anticipation for an answer, but none came by the time they made it to the arena. Louis was already waiting for them by the entrance with his Ninetales next to him. They'd been practicing telepathy the last few weeks.

All in all, today was looking up already.



"Why wouldn't you show me Wimpod?" I whined. "They're such cute little bugs!"

"Because she's terrified of loud noises and new people, that's why," Chase complained, staring at me in annoyance. "She ran away from me when I showed her to Mira. It's a wonder someone like that managed to live in a damn marsh full of other Pokemon. I'd think she would have gotten a heart attack from her own shadow."

I placed my hands on my hips. "Rude."

"I'll show her to you when I get her to sit still in front of strangers," he said. "Right now she thinks me and my team are part of her new swarm or whatever."

I was sure I'd be able to look at Wimpod without scaring her, but I respected his decision and decided not to keep pushing.

"Don't keep us waiting too long," I chided. "I'm happy you got a new Pokemon."

"Sure…"

Chase didn't look very pleased with his capture, but his team was, and I knew he wasn't the kind of person to treat a Pokemon badly. He was prickly on the outside but soft on the inside, like a cactus. He'd probably be gushing about Wimpod's progress in a week and bringing her up any time he could. We were waiting for Cecilia to come back from assessing Croagunk, and she'd be there any minute now. Mira was unfortunately unavailable, having convinced the Porygon expert to let her work for him in exchange for an Upgrade. Supposedly, he'd been impressed with her credentials, having attempted to create a Porygon from scratch.

So basically, we weren't going to be seeing her a whole lot, at least until Denzel got here, which was soon. During her free time, Chase would force her to train so she didn't fall behind more than she had. He told me that they'd made good progress while traveling and that she had a few tricks to alter the terrain now. The others were still out training, which meant it was just me and Chase.

"How'd you like your work at, uh, the…"

"UPAN," I said. "United Pokemon Advocacy Network."

"Right. The UPAN."

"I won't lie to you, it was tiring, but it was also fun. I felt like I was actually doing something." I smiled, and my fingers twitched in excitement. "I'll be working with them the entire time we're here."

"Well, good for you. You know, I've been meaning to tell you. That ancient city up in the mountains? Don't bother looking inside of the city, there's nothing there but Sigilyph and you'll just waste time— time that will leave that ghost enough time to find you and hunt you down. Look inside of the castle instead. Make a beeline for it. The ceiling's high enough for you to fly in Princess."

"I'd thought of that already, but thanks."

"Huh? You did?"

"Well yeah, I'm not gonna look if there's nothing there. You said the Claydol and Baltoy were all drawn closest to whoever the king was, right? That means they'd be in the castle."

"Well, except for that weird metallic Pokemon, yes," he nodded. "I hadn't thought of it that way. I didn't have time to look anywhere but the central hall and the throne room."

"Thanks for the advice anyway."

Such a powerful ghost would definitely have ways to render barriers ineffective, I thought. I was better off playing it as safe as I could.

Cecilia entered the room a few minutes later, a thin Croagunk following behind her. Her bright yellow eyes instantly captivated me, and I nodded at her. Chase raised a hand to make a non-committal wave. The poison type didn't really look happy to be here, but she wasn't angry. Maybe a twinge of anxiety? Or was it anticipation? Slowking followed close by. He had probably served as the translator.

"This is Croagunk," Cecilia introduced her with a gesture of her hand. "As you know, I caught her in the Safari Zone, but she revealed something to me."

Cecilia explained that Croagunk had been friends with a Paldean Wooper who had been caught by an older-looking woman. From the way Croagunk had described her, she was older than your usual trainer. In her forties, maybe. The intriguing part about this was that she had used a Hypno to Teleport away.

More importantly, Cecilia had promised. She had promised to do something to find Wooper, so this was her fully giving in to fight Abel.

Her reservations had not been put to rest, however. I still heard the doubt in her tone when she got to that part of the story. What she was sure of, however, was destroying the poachers.

"I'll just assume she Teleported in," I muttered, both to myself and the others. "But for that, you'd have to have been inside the Safari Zone beforehand."

"And if she didn't, think we can twist some arms and find a log of everyone who's been there? You said it was two days ago, so they probably still have her name," Chase suggested.

"They'd just say no," I shrugged. Unless this soft power thing was way beyond what I thought it was capable of. But that was just a pipe dream. "And Abel wouldn't just let himself get tracked like that."

"Agreed," Cecilia said.

"Did the woman talk at all?" I asked.

Croagunk nodded.

"She spoke well?" Cecilia asked, catching onto what I was implying.

If she spoke well, then it would lend credence to it being his Zoroark. The Unovan Pokemon was extremely rare— one of the rarest Pokemon on the planet, in fact— but it was still a dark type. Dark types couldn't Teleport.

Unless… well, unless Hypno knew Miracle Eye, now. Jasmine had explained how it allowed psychics to 'peer through the world's veil' to affect even dark types.

"Was there a giant eye above Hypno's head when they Teleported? Something you couldn't look at no matter how hard you tried because it was wrong?"

Croagunk's eyes widened, and she nodded.

"Fuck. Fuck!" I snarled.

"What?" Chase asked.

"Miracle Eye," I simply said, and then proceeded to explain how the move worked. Chase struggled to accept it as a concept, but when I told him I'd seen it from Jasmine's Metagross, he changed his tune pretty quickly. "Okay, we'll file a report for now. What was done technically wasn't illegal, and we don't know one hundred percent if it's Abel yet for this one, but Miracle Eye as a move is… incredibly difficult to master."

"So we tell them we think Abel's Zoroark was in the Great Marsh?" Chase asked.

"We know Cynthia. We won't get laughed at," Cecilia said, crossing her arms. "The key is to make the tip anonymous. This means that nowhere in Pastoria is safe, but if we get a headline or something, it'll put pressure on Abel. He'll know he's been found out, and maybe he'll shift tactics."

Croagunk croaked, and Slowking translated whatever it was she was saying— but only inside of Cece's head. It was probably a private matter.

"I'll go talk to Ariel when I get Princess back," I said, biting my lip. "She should be easy to spot in the sky."

"Got it. Williams gets back tomorrow, so we'll bring him into this, and we'll see if Lauren wants to as well. What about Barry Lane?" Chase probed. "He's a big deal. Also a nepotism baby that gets everything handed to him, but that's beside the point."

"He works hard, and you know it. Barry Lane is…"

I trailed off, trying to find the word. Yes, he wanted to do good. Yes, he had spoken to me about the poachers, but he was so… innocent. I was sure he had multiple close calls during his journey, but he still saw the world like, well, a normal sixteen-year-old. He thought a Salamence flying south to Kanto to kill thousands was cool. I wasn't the most mature girl on the planet, but I'd seen my fair share of awful and terrifying things. I didn't want to involve him in this, especially when he had no psychics or barriers to use.

"I think he'll want to leave," I said. "His battle with Wake is soon, and then he's out of here."

"Fair enough," Chase shrugged. "I'll text the shrimp."

The creeping dread from the fact that we were again getting involved in such a situation was hard to ignore. Sure, route 212's marsh was extremely big, but a few flying types could sweep over it in a couple of weeks at most to try to find this poaching base. There were manpower problems, but hell, I was sure the League had at least some Pokemon like Staravia to spare. Was it truly pure negligence, or was there something more than met the eye? Cecilia recalled Croagunk to let her sleep. The poison type had trained hard with Slowking and Scyther and all of today's emotions had tired her out.

"How is she?" Chase asked. "Strong?"

"I assess her to be around the level of three badges?" Cecilia said, unsure of herself. "Maybe slightly lower. She's got a good foundation, and she's quite speedy, but her power is lacking as of yet. It's nothing that can't be fixed, though. What about your Wimpod?"

Chase coughed into his fist. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure she's currently at the lowest of the low."

I chuckled nervously and sat on the bed. Cecilia grabbed my hand, placing it on her lap and Chase continued speaking about how his team already loved Wimpod way too much.

Tensions were high.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby, ShipGoSync, Kcx1, ArgentumTriKeras, AnotherUser, SmallBusinessBoi, Papito12495, KeMon C, Geo, Pedro B, Rat
 
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Chapter 254
CHAPTER 254

"So you're saying that Abel Torres is in this city?"

The lights of the interrogation room were so harsh I could feel them on my skin. Apparently this was one of their most comfortable rooms, which was why it had a nice couch that I was seated on, but other than that there wasn't much else. The police officer dragged his chair a little closer to me with a stoic, but worried look. The last time I'd been with an officer was in Sandgem, and that had been a terrible experience. I had come in here thinking that I'd be treated the same way.

"His Zoroark, more specifically. A Unovan dark type that can turn into other living things through illusions," I explained. Could they actually turn into non-organic beings? Questions for later. "She was with his Hypno. Abel himself was on the mountain on route 213 and caught a Leafeon."

Officer Pugh let out a heavy sigh and ran a hand over his bald head. He was taking me seriously. Giving credence to my claims. Arceus, it felt good for my words to matter. Sometimes I wondered what had happened to that officer in Sandgem and what would have happened if they had taken our claim seriously. I doubted that Cyrus would have been apprehended. He'd probably Teleported out as soon as he'd found the lake and called Charon. Maybe it would have made a difference, still.

The chubby officer wrote for a few seconds on his notepad, but I continued. "It'd be nice if you could announce his presence here for people to take precautions and everything. Zoroark could be anywhere," I muttered. And we wanted him to feel the pressure. Better he slows down stealing or stops entirely, even if he might take precautions and become harder to find. "We think he has links to the poachers on route 212, but we have no hard proof yet. Just evidence."

Mr. Pugh nodded. "Is that everything?"

"Yeah, I believe so."

"Thank you for your report," he said. "You wanted this to be anonymous, correct?"

"Yeah."

He went over my story another time to make sure he had gotten every detail correctly, and then let me out of the interrogation room. He led me back to the lobby, where more officers worked around the clock behind reinforced glass. Cecilia was there waiting for me. She'd given her report too, with Croagunk there to confirm everything (every police station had at least one psychic).

"Everything went okay?" She asked.

"Yeah, swimmingly." I grabbed her hand and squeezed it, leaning one of my crutches against the plastic chairs. "Now we wait. Abel will be put on blast, and he'll wonder who screwed him over. Maybe that'll make him stop sending his Zoroark out on these kidnapping missions."

It was hard to remember that what he was doing technically wasn't illegal— or at least the catching part of it was. Who knew what happened to those Pokemon afterward? A sudden shiver shot up my spine and my hand tightened around Cecilia's. I let go, grabbed my crutch and we walked out of the station.

"Denzel, Emi and Pauline are coming back today," she said. I knew she was trying to change the subject to cheer me up. "Pauline said she'd try to catch a sixth in the Safari Zone."

Louis and Maeve had too, although they'd come up empty yesterday. Maeve was specifically looking for a Yanma while Louis didn't even know what he wanted yet.

"Good. Any later, and she'd fall too far behind. How are you planning on getting Croagunk up to speed?"

"Scyther seems to have taken a liking to her, and she enjoys Slowking's jokes, believe it or not," Cecilia said with a beautiful laugh that left just as fast as it came. "She's still having a tough time, but hopes of saving her friend drives her. For now, I'll just work on her basics and have her focus on a few moves. Poison Jab, Venoshock, Rock Smash— and I'll have her learn Brick Break. Then, we can expand."

I paused for a few seconds, and then moved to face her. "Say, why don't we go to the beach later? My team's going to be all healed soon, and I want to teach them how to swim."

Cecilia smiled. "Swim? For Wake?"

"Well, that and the general applications of swimming," I specified. "It's just a good skill to have. What do you say?"

We had gone on a date in Sunyshore where I'd shown her the isolated beach, but the weather had turned against us that day and we couldn't go into the water. It had been too cold, and the rain hadn't been in our favor either. Of course, I wouldn't be able to go in the water due to my cast, but that didn't mean I couldn't go to the beach and sit on one of those chairs or a towel to take in the sun. Cece could go and enjoy it.

"Obviously yes," Cecilia said with a roll of her eyes. "Slowking will be better off improving his swimming as well, and it would be nice for Talonflame and Scyther to practice getting out of the water as fast as they can."

"Awesome."

We walked back to the Pokemon Center, which took a while because of how slow I was. I picked up my team as soon as they were ready. After texting the group chat about the police report going through (we figured it was time to inform everyone that Abel was in this city and possibly working with poachers), we decided it was time to leave for the beach. Beforehand, though, I had to address my team in private. I donned the swimsuit we'd bought at the Hotel Grand Lake and wore a shirt and a pair of shorts over it before making my way to the park on Princess' back.

Actually, could sand damage my cast? I'd better put a plastic wrap around it just to make sure. Eh, I'd look it up later. Right now, I was too busy smiling at how good the wind felt against my hair.

Princess landed near that same park where we had played music for the Kricketot in, and I released the entire team when I got there. Sweetheart, who showed her first signs of molting, shivered within her shell as I rubbed her chin and the spot between the spikes on her head. One more after this one, and she'd evolve. The sparks coming out of Honey's fingers were smaller now. I couldn't wait until I could finally hug him again. They all greeted each other in different ways. Sunshine patted Sweetheart on the head while he grunted at the others until Honey gripped his hand and patted him on the shoulder. At this point, the dragon didn't feel anything from the relatively small electric shocks that never made it past Princess' barrier. Princess hovered above me and let everyone greet her first.

Arceus, she was turning into a brat. For now, though, I let her have her time.

Two minutes of greetings later, I was sitting on Princess' fluffy back. She had lowered herself to the ground for me, and I could almost sink into her.

"So, we lost against Barry— but," I stopped to raise a finger. "The fact of the matter is, we could have won had I just been better. Made better decisions. The loss is on me."

They were reluctant to agree, of course. I knew a bunch of 'what-ifs' were running through their minds right now. What if they'd been stronger? Faster? Dodged that one attack? It was a train of thought that could utterly consume someone if they let it run wild, but we'd learned not to do so. I clapped my hands to have them focus back on me.

"In two days, I'm getting paid enough to buy a TM for each of you," I said. "And we'll keep our heads in the game. Barry Lane is the strongest first-year. He had all of Professor Rowan—" I stopped, remembering that none of them knew who that was. "A really famous Professor. The most famous one in Sinnoh, in fact. He has all of his resources, and we almost got there. We're strong, guys. Revel in it. Doesn't it feel good?"

Honey smiled, revealing his flattened teeth, and he let out a motor-like giggle. Sweetheart roared, causing the floor under her to rumble. Princess rubbed her head against my hand and cheered with a cry. Angel caressed everyone with vines, and Sunshine didn't swat it away like he used to do. Buddy sagely nodded, an almost-silent click reverberating across the woods.

"We'll go further, still," I grinned. "The next time we fight Barry, it'll be our win. For now, though? Back to training! Today's going to be a little special, although Honey will be exempt because we don't want to get anyone electrocuted. Any guesses?"

Jellicent immediately guessed, taking the fun out of the entire situation. Sweetheart and Angel cheered, although Sunshine snorted and waited for me to say he'd gotten it wrong.

"It's true. You're going to learn how to swim."

Turtonator balked.



"You aren't nervous? Not even a little bit?" I asked my girlfriend.

"Why would I be? I'm going to be strapped in a saddle."

I pouted. "You're no fun."

Seeing her be all anxious about flying would have been cute, but then again she'd been completely zen when Craig had flown us back to Eterna City. Princess lowered herself to allow Cecilia to climb on first. It was her first time flying with two people, but I was confident she'd grown confident enough with flight for it not to matter. Two was definitely her max, though. There was no way we'd ever get up to three. Pauline's Braviary, meanwhile, could probably carry six people with the right saddle. Cecilia helped me up on Princess' back, and I strapped myself in too, ignoring the butterflies in my stomach when she wrapped her hands around me from behind. I knew for a fact that she didn't need to do it either.

But it felt good to.

"Go ahead. To the beach," I told Princess. "Uh, preferably a spot without many people?"

Togekiss was already in the air before my sentence finished, and I smirked when Cecilia's hold on me tightened at the sudden burst of lateral speed. Nervous after all, hm? The fairy type rose high above the Pokemon Center (which was the only area other than specific landing pads trainers were allowed to land and take off from) and made her way to the southern tip of the city. We'd be bypassing the docks and continuing that way toward the beach, and obviously she'd have to find the closest landing pad to the beach. With how famous Pastoria was for its beaches though, there was bound to be one near.

Route 212's swamp was far away in the corner of my eye.

"How's your second— wait, third time flying?" I asked, turning my head toward Cece.

She had the cutest grin on her face.

"It feels liberating!" She screamed. "I can't wait until Lehmhart can carry me around!"

"Oh! With everything, I forgot to ask! How did your first lesson go?"

Her smile fell slightly. "Not that great. He could hover, at least, but flying horizontally is still beyond him. So technically, we can fly, but not quick at all. Slower than Sigilyph, really."

"You'll get there," I said. "Oh, by the way, I've been getting better at the piano and stuff. I was thinking, maybe I could do a little something with Lehmhart, since he loves music so much."

"Grace, that's a fantastic idea! He'll be ecstatic!"

She bent forward to kiss the back of my neck. Tingles.

"Maybe I'll get back into music too," she pondered. "It'll be good to have a way to further bond with him."

"You can play, like, every instrument, right?"

"Not every," she scoffed. "Just a lot. I'm quite rusty in anything that isn't the piano."

Which made sense, since she'd been the one to tutor me.

Cecilia continued. "Clarence used to sign me up in all these music competitions," she groaned. "In public, he'd act like he didn't care what place I got, but if I didn't score first, when we got home he'd scream at me and say that I humiliated him," she sighed. "The worst part is that I believed him."

"He'll pay, don't worry," I promised.

After a pause, she spoke up again. "Sorry I ruined the mood."

"You're allowed to speak about anything," I shrugged. "When something's on your mind, just tell me. No secrets, remember?"

Cece spoke— and I knew from the way that she was talking that she had a smile on her face. "Fine, then. You look very attractive in those shorts. I'm glad you're finally wearing them."

My face felt hot all of a sudden. "Not when we're flying please," I stammered.

"I mean, I was basically waiting the entire time for you to put them on. I bought them for you in Eterna—"

I had Princess make a sudden drop, and Cecilia screeched, practically strangling my waist in the process.

"Sorry! That was a little rougher than I thought it'd be," I said. "Are you okay?"

"...Yes."

Princess finally finished her ascent, and we soared through the skies. Almost ten minutes later, we were on the other side of Pastoria. She circled the beach for a few minutes to spot the most inactive area before landing nearby. I had Angel carry me the rest of the way, although he decided to put Cece on his head too. The beach back in Sunyshore had been active, but not crammed with people like this one. A trainer and his Hitmonlee played beach volleyball against another trainer and his Frogadier. It was fun to see the fighting type kick the ball instead of using his hands. Hundreds of people lay on towels splayed out on the beach, tanning their skin while they either slept, read books, browsed their phones or more. There was some kind of race in the background with trainers riding their water types along the beach, and one of them let go of her Sharpedo due to her speed and tumbled into the water.

It was hard not to get swept in the festive atmosphere, and it was also hard to remember that a crisis was currently gripping the city. We reached the final stretch of the beach where sand bled into woods and there was no one here. The closest people were dots to our east.

Cecilia grabbed a towel from her bag, and then dropped it on the fabric as soon as Angel lowered us onto the sand. She snatched my bag out of my hand and said she'd deal with everything, so I was stuck making sure the plastic wrap around my cast was well-adjusted. The weight of the sun felt wonderful on my skin. Cecilia handed me some sunscreen, along with my sunglasses. She'd already been wearing hers on her head from when we had landed.

"Want water?" She asked. "I brought food too. Just snacks, though."

"Oh. I forgot about all of that," I muttered. "I'll have some later, thanks!"

Before our actual date could start, we needed to get our teams started on training. I released my Pokemon, and Cece released hers. I could already see that Croagunk had lingering apathy for Zweilous, who started smelling at the sand. Zerst even took a bite, though he spat it out immediately when Cecilia snapped her fingers and yelled at him. The poison type gravitated toward Scyther the most, and she seemed to outright fear Lehmhart. His huge size made him daunting to approach, but when Slowking happily waved at Golurk and tapped him on the knee, she was content to approach. Lehmhart released a few bits of steam and got on his knees, outstretching a finger toward Croagunk, who… shook it. That had hardly been a shake. More like a pat.

I turned back toward my team, and Sunshine looked as horrified as he'd been before. Usually, it was just because he called Sinnohan beaches trash, but today it was because he feared the water.

"Okay, we're going to do this one by one, okay? Five minutes max in the water for everyone— less for you, Sweetheart. You're going underwater, so thirty seconds max. Am I clear, young lady?"

The rock type froze, then nodded in her shell.

"Good," I smiled. "Buddy will be there as a lifeguard. He'll keep a part of himself here with me so he can warn me if anything goes wrong and I can recall you. Sunshine, your goal is to stay afloat in the water by using Shell Trap. Princess, see if you can glide across the water by floating. Angel, look into using your vines to propel yourself up and forward. Honey… well, you can already swim pretty well, and your electricity would hurt Buddy, and we don't know how far it'd spread, so sit this one out, okay?" I asked. His face fell, and his two tails straightened. "Sorry, but it's just to be safe, okay? The last thing I'd want is for an accident to happen."

The electric type agreed, and it was hard not to feel distressed at how disappointed he was. He was a kid, and kids liked going to the beach to swim.

"And hey, Sunshine, Angel and Sweetie will keep you company when it's not their turn," I said. "So! Who wants to go first?!"

Sweetheart volunteered instantly. I could tell that the most reluctant one (besides Sunshine) was Princess, who was already working on some kind of elaborate sandcastle with Ancient Power. I'd have her and Sunshine go last, then.

Results of our swimming experiments were… mixed. Sweetheart had to constantly output air out of her vents, or the water would flood them. I had to recall her four times until she got the hang of it. Angel sank as soon as he got deep enough into the water. He could keep himself afloat for a little while, but being in water permanently for him was going to be harder than I thought. Princess' swimming was just fine. She was being spoiled about it and hated when her fur got wet, but she could easily glide across the water. Sunshine was surprisingly decent, keeping himself afloat and moving forward as long as his shell was in good condition. Just him being in the water created a great amount of steam, and the explosions only added to that.

All in all, it was a work in progress. The goal was just to give them the tools to escape the water, save for Sweetheart. They were never going to rival Wake's Pokemon on their field. Cecilia was doing the same thing, training Scyther and Talonflame to fly out of the water. Slowking was… somewhere under the surface, training himself to swim faster than he usually did.

After forty minutes or so, I was confident enough to not just spend the entire time looking at the water. Croagunk was training her agility by climbing on Lehmhart's body as fast as she could while the ground type tried to pluck her off. Walking with crutches on the beach is the absolute worst, I thought with a tired groan. Cece had been nice enough to wait for me to finish up presiding over training, and she was already waiting in her swimsuit. Once I made it to her, I threw off my shirt and shorts, trying to forget how silly I must have looked with my cast on, and sat next to her on her towel, even though mine was empty.

She started talking about some movie Denzel had told her about, and then somehow segued into the fact that her movie knowledge was basically zero. I quite literally couldn't believe it, and decided we were going to remedy that at some point by spending an entire day in my room after having rented DVDs.

Times like these were precious.



I'd dropped off Cecilia at the Pokemon Center after our date. I had fallen asleep on the tail end of it because I'd been so tired lately, and she'd been content to let me sleep. Still, I had something to do before I went in as well to shower.

Even though it was the third time I was flying today, it felt freeing to be back in the skies. Princess' back was more comfortable the more I got on it, even with the saddle. I ran a gentle hand over her neck as she gained in altitude, dodging a cloud (flying through clouds was not illegal, but not recommended). After reaching the ACE Trainers' usual height and a cold gust of wind rushed through my clothes, I had Princess scan the surroundings to see if we could spot Ariel. No brilliant spot of yellow ever got my attention, so after five minutes of looking, worry crept up my neck. Was she fired? Can ACE Trainers even get fired? They'd probably be discharged. On one hand, the thought of her being punished for failing us so spectacularly felt somewhat satisfying, but on the other, she was the ACE Trainer I was most familiar with.

And if she was gone, who had they replaced her with?

A cry from Princess snapped me out of my thoughts, and she turned toward a dark spot in the sky. I squinted, still constantly running my hand on her back.

"Your eyesight's better than mine. What is that?" I asked, leaning toward her ear.

She answered Honchkrow, and it was then that I remembered that a man with that Pokemon had revealed his cover when Abra had tried to whisk me away with Teleport back in Veilstone. His name was… Maxwell, I remembered. I ordered Princess forward, and with a flap of her wings, the momentum shifted. Wind whizzed past my ears in the same exhilarating fashion it had our first flight, and my lips stretched into a thin smile.

As we approached the ACE Trainer, something dawned on me.

Honchkrow weren't supposed to be this big. Usually, they were four feet tall, or somewhere around those lines. This one was slightly bigger than Princess was. Was he another insane genetic mutation like Pauline's Braviary? I'd been so shaken during the Abra attack that I hadn't noticed at all. The dark type's feathered cap tipped itself as he hovered in the air with his two wings lazily outstretched. Maxwell's dark hair was unkept and he looked tired, but other than that he was the same as every other ACE Trainer. The orange uniform, strong-looking with lean muscles and a few scars here and there, the most prominent one being a cut stretching from the top of the right side of his lip to his cheek, stopping right below his eye. Lucky. What was particular about him was that he didn't wear any goggles to protect his eyes.

"'Afternoon," he lazily drawled, much more emotive than Ariel ever was. "How can I help you, Ms. Pastel?"

"Hi. Um—" Arceus, now that I was here I didn't know what I wanted to say. "Okay, first off, what happened to Ariel?"

"Rotated through the formation. She recused herself as your contact and I was ordered to take her place," he explained. "She's still hanging around."

How the hell did she hide something like Dragonite? She might have had other fliers— honestly, the fact that I didn't know the Pokemon teams of the people protecting me didn't feel normal, but secrecy and all of that. They weren't allowed to get close to me or become attached so they could make the hard decisions down the line, like… kidnapping me and keeping me locked in a cell should the need for it arise. I have no idea why that's the first thing that came to mind.

"Okay," I exhaled. It was difficult to speak this high up in the air. The sound of the wind was deafening, and it blew against my face, so it wasn't carrying the sound of my voice very far. "I have a few questions for you, if you don't mind!"

"Answering what you want to know is my job so long as the questions are reasonable," Maxwell nonchalantly shrugged. Honchkrow let out a mocking cackle, not at me, but at his own trainer. He didn't care at all, though.

"The poacher's base is somewhere on route 212's swamp. I feel like—" I groaned when more wind interrupted me. "—I feel like a couple of fliers should have been able to spot it?"

Maxwell nodded. "Pastoria has sent a couple already. No reports of any base being found. Hearthome helped by sending their own Rangers down their side of route 212, but there was nothing either. No base found."

So they had tried. The entire narrative online made it seem like the League was doing nothing. Of course, a full search with hundreds to thousands of boots on the ground wasn't feasible. Even if they used the Rangers, the risk involved would send the casualties skyrocketing, both from potential attacks from poachers and the Pokemon in the swamp thinking that humans were invading again. A massive sweep like that happened every time a city expanded. Pokemon fought back as best they could, but at the end of the day, they were always beaten back. The average Ranger wasn't actually that powerful. Less than the usual League Trainer, at the very least. Of course, there were definitely a couple thousand stronger than I was throughout the region, but the point was, there was no political will to send a bunch of Rangers to their deaths in a swamp for a base that may or may not have existed.

I moistened my lips. Good thing Alex was teaching me things fast.

A few powerful trainers could have dealt with this, like Craig, Aubri and the others who routinely made it to the Conference, or at least I thought so. Maybe they wouldn't have found the base either, but they had the power to do things. Unfortunately, trainers like them were more worried about where they'd place in the Conference than things like this, and it wasn't their job to do anything anyway.

"Could it be underground? Out of view from any flier?" I asked.

"Under a swamp? You'd have better luck building a flying castle," he dismissed. "They're good at hiding, which makes sense considering they apparently have Abel involved."

Ariel must have told him about that.

"He learned some new tricks," I warned. "His Hypno knows Miracle Eye, now. He used it to Teleport Zoroark around. You know what that means, right? He can have his Zoroark act independently and have her essentially be anywhere at any time."

Maxwell's eye twitched, and it wasn't because of the wind. It made sense for him to be wary of being in a city. People knew what he looked like, even though he had no striking features. Zoroark could turn into anyone at will. Such an ability still boggled my mind. She didn't even need DNA like Ditto did! So while Zoroark kept to the city and the Safari Zone, Abel kept to catching Pokemon in the wild. How many wild Pokemon had they caught, anyway? There was no way Leafeon and Wooper were the first, and they also targeted trained Pokemon. Why? Wild Pokemon would be possible to influence so they were ready to be sold, but trained Pokemon? Malamar had brainwashing, but he needed to be close to his victims, or he'd eventually lose his connection.

"What's with all this poacher talk, Ms. Pastel?" He asked with narrowed eyes. I couldn't help but notice that he was sticking with that name.

"If I told you to do something about them, would you do it?"

"No. That is not the mission I was assigned to do," he immediately answered.

Of course. My shoulders slumped, and Princess let out an angry chirp, calling the ACE Trainer a bunch of swears that Sunshine had taught her. Some of these were even new to me. Honchkrow smirked at her outburst, and I calmed her down by caressing her head.

I nodded. "Okay. What if I told you that we were going to do something about it, then?"

Maxwell raised an eyebrow, and his Honchkrow cackled once more. The dark type apparently loved when someone went against his trainer. "Then I would tell you that is horribly unwise, stupid, dangerous and that you should keep playing badges."

Playing badges. I didn't like that tone, but he was a grown man, so maybe that was how it looked from his perspective.

"But will you stop us?" I asked.

Maxwell hesitated. "My orders say no, and I listen to my orders. If you weren't allowed to put yourselves in danger, you'd grow slower, and we can't have that now, can we? We'd have to step in should you be attacked by a human trainer, but I doubt you'll have any luck finding a base of operations. At this point, we believe they're Teleporting somewhere else after they steal anything. With Abel's psychics, it would be very likely."

I wanted to smirk and cry at the same time.

Good.

Now, how the hell were we going to find a lead?



It was evening now. I'd spent the last few hours of the afternoon getting Buddy started on Taunt and making plans for him to further his encroachment into water manipulation. I had a lot of ideas swimming in my mind, but I needed something that would actually help him. It was nice to create a move, but what we needed was more utility with the water. He already had Water Spout and Hydro Pump, so he was good on that level for a while. I tapped a finger against my chin and slung an arm around the backrest of my chair, pushing myself back against the desk.

Barry had Roserade possess plants with spirits. Could I do the same with water? Of course, I had Night Shades to fill that niche, so I wasn't looking for pieces of water to attack our opponents.

Buddy had two weaknesses at the moment. One, he was too fragile. Even when he solidified himself, an attack powerful enough could dismantle him and it took a precious amount of seconds for him to come back together— sometimes even a minute if he'd been damaged too much. Two, he could be frozen too easily, and since he was fully made of water, that was a death sentence in a fight. Scald was an option, but that was a temporary fix that would only break him out of the ice just like Water Spout, not stop the freezing entirely. A defensive move, then. Coating himself with water wouldn't work with the ice problem, but what if that water was possessed? Or what if that water was coated in dark TE?

I actually had no idea if it would work, but it was an idea. Wake had at least one ice type move on almost all of his Pokemon at the seventh badge, and Buddy was too instrumental to that battle to leave those weaknesses unaddressed.

We'd practice that tomorrow.

I almost had all the TMs I wanted to buy in mind save for two because of budgeting, and due to the contract, it would be some months until I could renegotiate a raise again. I hadn't understood it at the time, but the Poketch Company definitely hadn't been as lenient as they had looked to the naive person I'd been in Hearthome.

"Next time, I'll ask for a whole lot more," I muttered.

I spent the next hour alternating between studying Wake and rewatching my battle with Barry until my phone rang.

Denzel, Emilia, and Pauline were back.

And Arceus, they'd taken their sweet time.

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Chapter 255
CHAPTER 255

Pauline arrived with a Primeape.

The fighting type walked so peacefully. His eyes were closed, his breaths slow and he practically glided across the Pokemon Center's orange-beige glossy floor without a sound. Pauline wrapped me, then Cecilia into a hug. Emilia followed close behind, her brown hair tied into a ponytail. Denzel came into view with his Swablu sitting on his head, still angry at everything like always. My best friend looked worried, which ended up worrying me. If he was showing his worry, then the sky might as well have been falling. We hugged him too, and the others also arrived at that moment. All of our friends were here— save for Lauren, who was arriving in another two days. The greetings felt long, especially when a meeting hung over all of our heads.

"He evolved when he was meditating or something, I don't really understand it," Pauline told us as she shrugged, staring down at the cross-legged Primeape. "Vigoroth had annoyed him really badly that afternoon, so I think that had something to do with it?"

"They still have that going on?" I asked.

"Oh yeah," she snorted. "Vigoroth will try to get him angry in their spars, but Primeape never rises to that anger. He's making good progress—" she stopped when the fighting type side-eyed her. "Okay, you're making great progress toward reaching enlightenment, or whatever. Good job."

A calm, zen feeling was the only thing radiating out of Primeape. How stable he was surprised me. Emotions were like colored waves, never staying at the same level for long. They ebbed and flowed, but Primeape's was a line, even when Pauline annoyed him. A far-cry from what I had learned to expect from his species. They were depicted as so angry they couldn't think in the media I consumed as a kid. He was the only evolution our friends had, though, but not the only one that had made progress.

"I'd feel confident using Swablu against Wake," Denzel said, continuing a conversation with Chase I hadn't been following. "Craig taught me a lot of fundamentals, which means that training up a Pokemon from scratch is quicker. Granted, I wouldn't call her seven-badge level yet, but she's getting there! That Cloud Nine ability is going to do wonders against Rain Dance."

"So when's she evolving, then?" Chase asked with crossed arms.

"I don't know? Maybe in a few weeks," Denzel hesitantly said. Swablu preened her feathers and puffed up her chest, not to impress anyone here, but to make herself feel good.

"How's Sylvi?" I cut in.

"Emotions wise? Just like I told you on the phone. Battling-wise? He's been doing great— we're working on Moonblast and a few new glamour tricks. By the way, Chase, you caught a fucking Wimpod? I never would have thought…"

I left them to their conversation and slipped back in with Pauline. Emi was talking to Mira, Louis, and Justin, but she was doing great. Every time I saw her, it was like she was more confident, and somehow she ended up being the least worried about these poachers.

"You better not leave us in the dark," Pauline warned Cecilia. "It's just like you and her," she turned toward me, "to try to do everything on your own while we play here like children."

My girlfriend had been entirely too content to avoid the topic, but that was impossible when she was being confronted with it directly. "We'll talk about it tomorrow, Pauline. Just settle into Pastoria for now, okay?"

The redhead nodded, then smirked after a pause when she looked at me. "Did you know she posted, like, a thousand different pictures of your sleeping face yesterday?"

Cecilia shot Pauline a look of what could only be described as pure betrayal. I had taken a one hour nap or so before leaving, having fallen asleep to the sound of the waves.

I gasped. "To the group chat?"

"No! Just to her," she sighed.

"You should have seen her texts," Pauline laughed. "Anyway— where's… ah, there's Justin! Justin! Stop being so emo and battle me!"

The pale teen turned toward her and away from Emi. "I think you should catch your sixth Pokemon as fast as possible. And we wouldn't want your team to be out of commission when you have to train for Wake."

"But Grace battled Barry!"

Justin tilted his head. "Grace has six badges and you have five. She can afford to."

"Blegh. You're no fun."

"He's right, you know," Maeve muttered. "Every day counts for us."

They'd sign up for Wake earlier than we would, and they'd leave earlier too. If I remembered correctly, the plan was for Denzel to go quicker than he'd like so Pauline could carry him to Canalave on Braviary. She would also bring Louis with her since he didn't have a flier while Maeve and Justin had their own mounts. Essentially, Denzel would leave and fight Wake earlier than the rest of us with six badges. I wasn't planning on going last, either. I wanted to give some distance between myself and civilization for Sweetheart to evolve so there were no casualties. Even if I could just recall her in her Pokeball if things got too dicey, accidents were possible. I had done my fair share of research on Tyranitar while planning to contain her, and they had among the highest defenses of any Pokemon.

That was not an exaggeration.

And their mega evolution was even better, although that was never happening this year. Only a few mega Tyranitar had appeared in history and the tales weren't pretty. Apparently, getting them to listen to anything you said was impossible, and when they had the power to literally reshape the landscape, that was a pretty big problem.

The reunion led to one of Emilia's famous parties, where we realized that Justin actually kind of turned back to normal when he was drunk? He had drank of his own volition, despite complaining about how unhealthy it was. The sight of it alone made Pauline tear up, even though she tried her best to hide it. I almost thought she was going to ask him to be permanently drunk, but she didn't. Instead, she just let Mira shirk the info over to her Alakazam, who would chew on it for a day or two and come back with one of his many theories. Hopefully he'd actually figure something out soon. He had declared it his 'life's work', since no other doctor or scientist had solved it before. The only 'cure' known was to wait for years for the energy to disperse, and again, even then he'd still be affected.

If someone could create a breakthrough, I believed it would be him.

When the party came to a close, neither me, Denzel, Cece, Mira, nor Chase had drunk any alcohol, which was normal for me and Chase, but highly unusual for the other three. All of our Pokemon were recalled. I had kept my team up to speed with the poaching situation, but tonight was when we actually formulated a plan on how to tackle this. No one would come out of this room until we did so.

Denzel audibly swallowed as Mira turned the music down. He pulled out a folded map from his bag—

"Woah. When'd you buy that?" Mira asked. "Is that—"

"Route 212 in its entirety," Denzel said, unfolding the map. "And I bought it on the way to the Pokemon Center." He stopped to tape the map on Cecilia's wall. "It was pretty cheap since maps have gone out of style since phones came into prominence. You get a real bang for your buck, and you all basically warned me like a bomb was about to go off at any moment. I thought it was good to be prepared."

It was an impressive map. Route 212 was drawn in excessive detail, from the Marsh to Pastoria's west, with all of its bogs and lakes, to the river that run from Mount Coronet, to Solaceon to cutting the route in two before emptying into the ocean. Then eventually, the route swung north toward Hearthome as a relatively flat downslope. The most unique thing about this section of the route was that a rich family lived in a mansion there called the 'Pokemon Mansion', which really showed how high their ego was. Apparently they had guards around the clock there to protect their home from the wild Pokemon, since it had only recently been built. The family whose name eluded me had come there from Hearthome to 'get away from it all'. I remembered it had been a pretty big controversy when Hearthome's government had leased them the rights to the land. Coming back to the map, it also had a list of common Pokemon found on all areas of the route, but that wasn't what we were interested in.

Denzel tapped on the swamp. "This is where almost every trainer has had their Pokemon stolen," he declared. I was content to let him speak. It reminded me of when he'd give us a rundown on the routes when we traveled as a large group, only in a much worse context. "So you'd think that their base was nearby, but Grace spoke to her… ACE Trainer and was told that they hadn't found anything on all of route 212, is that correct?"

"Yes. They swept the route with fliers in the last few weeks, but found nothing," I nodded.

Chase sighed. "I thought they only meant the swamp."

"No, they meant the entire route, including the non-swampy parts," I reiterated. "And they found nothing."

Mira raised a finger. "So, could they be Teleporting on another route? Off-route, maybe? That bodes badly for us," she said, glancing at my ankle. "If the League's scouts can't find a base, it'll be difficult for us to find one."

"What about your Trace trick?" Chase asked.

Denzel frowned. "Trace trick? Gardevoir's ability?"

"It's how I managed to track Abel. Gardevoir spent so much time in my head from the day I caught her that she's far more attuned to the ability than others— that and I got lucky. She could also sense the Zoroark, so that's a plus. The problem is, I don't think he'd be sending her out if he hadn't found a way to fix that. It was too big of a hole not to patch."

Cecilia glanced at me, and I gripped the edge of my desk. Mira and Chase nodded. It was time, then. "Denzel," I said, a little quieter than expected. "Uh, before I tell you this, I need you to know that if you want to back out, you still can. We are technically breaking the law by telling you this— and even the League doesn't know the extent of how far this goes."

"Uh…" he trailed off. "I mean I would rather not, but if you think this is important."

"No, I need you to agree. I know it's confusing, but this is a big deal. You'd have to carry this to your grave."

My best friend frowned, and I could tell he was considering his options.

"Okay. I agree. You can say whatever you want to say," he agreed, clenching a fist.

Mira beamed. "Perfect! Okay, so long story short, your best friend Grace not only has the ability to understand what Pokemon say freakishly fast, but she can also feel when something is a Pokemon in a way I'm pretty sure could bypass whatever the hell Abel came up with."

Denzel's mouth gaped. "Huh?"

"You know that lake next to your hometown and the one you were at next to Snowpoint? There's a third one north of the Hotel Grand Lake. Three Legendary Pokemon hibernate there— well, according to Cece it's not hibernation, but dormancy. They can still influence the world in subtle ways, including giving a bunch of children powers, for some reason, but we also aren't chosen somehow—"

"Hold on. Hold on," Denzel stammered with his hands up. "Is this a joke? You're fucking with me."

"No, Williams. This is unfortunately true, and we can prove it," Chase shrugged.

"I thought you just had, like, a connection to Pokemon or something," Denzel said, his voice aghast. He was pale like he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You said you can prove it— prove it how?"

"Cecilia and I, we can force people into doing things with our Voice," he said. "She never uses hers, though. I can run a quick test on you if you want. We were saving my one daily use for this."

"Supposedly Mira and Grace will get something out of visiting their lakes just like we did," Cecilia added. "But the point is, we have a way of telling Zoroark apart from other humans. Abel is strong, but she's apparently only carrying Hypno with her and that isn't one of his fighters. The five of us could take them— and if the ACE Trainers come in like you said," she turned toward me, "then it's not even a question. And if she's carrying more Pokemon that day, we can always pretend we didn't notice."

Mira nodded. "See, Abel is still operating from the point of view that we're just a bunch of normal children. He lacks information. And actually, Cece, we wouldn't even need for it to be a fight—"

Denzel yelled, "Slow down! Slow the hell down," he exhaled. "I trust you guys, but… test it on me. Make me, uh, make me jump a couple of times."

"Oh, that's a classic," Mira giggled.

Chase placed a fist in front of his mouth and cleared his throat. "Okay. Jump five times."

Chase took a deep, tired breath as soon as the words left his mouth. Denzel, of course, instantly began jumping up and down. Cecilia stared with the same displeased look, though she had gotten used to it at this point.

"Why five times?" Mira asked.

"He said a couple of times."

"So three," she said.

"Five is fine—"

"Holy fuck," Denzel hissed, his eyes bulging. He gasped for air, like he was drowning and I took a hesitant step toward him. He held out his hand, motioning at us to stay back. "What the fuck? This is actually real?"

"Yeah," I nodded. "I'm sorry you were in the dark for so long, but we thought it was better you knew if you're going to help with this. Even the League doesn't know about the Voice stuff because we don't exactly trust them."

"You don't trust the League?" He asked in a confused tone.

"They've been fucking us with their lies and keeping us in the dark," Chase said, leaning against the wall to catch his breath. Even after practicing with Azelf's gift for so many weeks, he still wasn't capable of using the power more than once a day without passing out— and he never would be. At least he could use it without nearly collapsing now.

"Just let me sit down for a second," Denzel dryly said, stumbling onto the bed. "You said you were— chosen."

"Not chosen," Cecilia said. "Azelf liked to reiterate that."

"Azelf? I think I remember reading that name in a book or something," Denzel muttered. "Uh, do you know why this happened? I assume it's related to Galactic, like, everything is connected."

"It's another heavy topic," Mira warned. "Very heavy. Knowing would not help and would only serve to hurt you. I'm talking world-altering consequences." Her lips flattened, and she took a deep breath. "But if you really want to know, then—"

"You know," he interrupted. "So I want to know."

We told him the world was maybe going to end.



It took an hour for Denzel to have the energy to get up from the bed. He hadn't cried or panicked. Mostly, he had laid his back against the bed and stared at the ceiling the entire time. It had been apathy. Him wondering if anything he'd done in the last half a year and anything he'd do in the future even mattered. It took many attempts to convince him to talk again, mostly by saying that the League had things under control, from what we knew. We didn't trust the League, but we knew they didn't mess around, even if I unfortunately had learned that even their trainers weren't flawless. Nobody was.

But the goal was cheering him up. Denzel was an optimistic person. It was just in his nature to think that things were going to work out somehow. Be it through powering through or finally having processed everything, he sat up on the bed.

"Can— can I have some water?" He asked. He rubbed his chapped lips together and erratically blinked. Cecilia silently handed him the bottle, and he downed it in one go, squeezing the entire plastic bottle down before standing up and shaking his arms. "I think I'm okay. I have to be okay."

"Come on Williams," Chase gave him a friendly pat on the arm and brought him up on his feet. "You're strong."

I hugged him gently. "I know it's heavy. I'm sorry."

My best friend wrapped his arms around me. "You were carrying this this entire time? How?"

"By not thinking about it," I nervously chuckled. "But now, you know everything."

And that was an immense weight off my chest. Since Solaceon, I'd been hiding things from him. Denzel had been with me from the start, through thick and thin. He deserved to know, and even though it was hard to bear, I knew part of him was relieved.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm okay," he exhaled. "Do me a favor, don't tell Emilia or Pauline about this. In fact, don't involve anyone else. I'm not even going to tell my Pokemon this."

"We weren't planning on involving them," Chase said. "I wanted to bring Lauren in, though."

"That Braviary could be a nice scout, and her Gothitelle can see a little into Pauline's future, so…" Mira shrugged. When Chase turned to glare at her, she frowned. "What? I'm just saying!"

"What if I told you to involve Maeve in this?" Denzel asked. "You'd say no."

"I would say no," she agreed.

"Pauline literally asked me to involve her when she arrived in the lobby," Cecilia sighed.

Mira raised an eyebrow. "What'd you say?"

"That we would talk about it tomorrow."

"Do not," Denzel forced out. "This is my red line."

"I agree," Chase shrugged.

"I… have to agree," I spoke up. "Denzel is already going to have to stick with one of us at all times to be covered by the ACE Trainers. We don't want to spread them too thin. Trust me when I say this, they would let you die to save us instead."

"Okay, we have a majority," Mira said. "Sorry, Cece. I know Pauline's gonna get pissed at you."

"Not just at me. At all of you," Cecilia shrugged.

Denzel brought his hands together and leaned against them. "So what's the plan?"

Mira smiled. "Nothing for now. We need to wait until Cecilia finishes getting her license so she can fly on Golurk. You said you already ordered the custom saddle?" She asked.

"As soon as I finished my written exam," my girlfriend nodded. "It's already finished, waiting for me in Sunyshore. I'll pay a fee to have it Teleported… unless Alakazam can go get it for me?"

"I'll send him," Mira said. "He's been wanting to see Erin anyway. It'll take a few hours, though. So many jumps will tire him out."

"Send him tomorrow," I said.

"Gotcha, boss!" Mira yelled with a sheepish grin. "Continuing the plan, when Cecilia can fly, we send her, Chase and Grace flying over the marsh, just to see if the Rangers missed anything. Talonflame could do it stupidly fast, so I'd say we should send our other Pokemon independently, but I doubt any of us want to risk that. The last thing we want is for them to be captured by poachers."

There were nods all around.

"What do I do?" Denzel asked.

"You're a social Butterfree, Denzel. Keep the social cohesion going and make sure our other friends don't do anything stupid like we're doing," Mira said. "Pauline seems like the girl to say, 'Hey, they're doing this but don't want us to help, so I'm going to help in secret!'"

"Other than that?" Denzel added, leaning forward.

"Well, you can't fly since you don't have a license, but you could go on Princess or Lehmhart when Cecilia gets her license. Two pairs of eyes is better than one," Mira said. "But the real goal, the more tangible option is to find one of Abel's Pokemon. He's sending them out on their own. Ditto would be ideal, but that Pokemon has the mind of a child, I doubt he's going anywhere. Then, we have that Pokemon spill the beans through coercion."

"Coercion?" Cecilia asked.

"Yeah." Mira's smile stretched to her ears. "That's what I meant when I said we don't even have to fight. You call Chase, and we use The Voice."

"And you don't think the League will find that weird?" I asked.

"Come on, we can just say we ripped it out of their heads with our Psychics and they got lucky enough to get out of it unscathed. Since it wouldn't have been a fight, all they'd be seeing is us talking with a stranger."

I nodded.

It wasn't much, but it was a plan.



It was Friday. Alakazam had gone to pick up Cecilia's saddle, and Denzel was probably arguing with Pauline and the others. Those were worries for later.

A grin plastered itself on my face when I saw the numbers on my Trainer ID go up in front of my eyes. The Poketch Company had finally paid me for the month and an extra 350,000 had just been added to my account. I'd already been waiting in the Poke Mart for thirty minutes and called Melody three times to confirm that I was getting my paycheck today because of how excited I'd been. I already had a list of moves on my mind that all totaled around 400k in total, so I'd have to spend a little extra, but that was fine. I swept through the store, grabbing disk after disk and paid for all of the moves in bulk. Seeing the money go down after a month's worth of work always hurt more than it should have— after all, what good was money if I didn't spend it?

You could have invested it, I heard an imaginary Emilia say and spontaneously rolled my eyes. First, I needed to finish learning about politics before ever delving into the stock market.

That statement was only semi-ironic. I knew trainers like Craig actually invested a lot of their earnings.

But enough about money! I'd spent a whole lot today, and it was time to give everyone their moves. I had Princess fly me close to 'our' spot at the park and released the family. They already knew about the fact that they were all learning moves today, and it was impossible for them not to be excited. TMs were honestly the best, both for trainers and Pokemon. I knew they'd been created by Silph Co. during the war to train Pokemon quicker, but they had also been independently created in Unova by the Ope… Opelucid Group, I remembered from Cecilia's rants. What a weird name for a city. The two companies still fought about who had created the concept first, but one thing was for sure, there had been a whole lot of spying during the war and someone had stolen the technology from the other.

I smugly presented the six disks, fanning their casings out with my hands. One thing the battle with Barry had taught me was that while coverage moves would never be as good as your bread and butter unless you were really good, it was still a necessity to have them. I'd bought today's moves with that mentality in mind, save for Sunshine's TM. I also wanted to limit myself to moves they wouldn't be able to learn naturally without a lot of struggle. I placed every disk inside of my Pokedex and licked the back of my teeth as the TMs loaded into the device. I'd throw the disks inside one of those TM recycling bins later.

"Sunshine, you're going first," I said. When Sweetheart protested, I continued. "Come on, be patient. You'll be next!"

That satisfied her, and she rumbled inside of her cocoon. I recalled the dragon and placed the Pokeball close to my Dex and selected the 'Flame Charge' move.

Sunshine already had plenty of coverage moves, so I figured a boost in speed would help, even after we figured out how to have him fly. With his endurance, he'd basically be able to have Flame Charge activated at all times and gradually speed up. Since it was a fire type move, he'd take to it pretty fast too. I released Sunshine, and something in his eyes had changed. It must have been weird to have that extra knowledge jammed into your brain in seconds.

As promised, Sweetheart was next. For her, I had picked up Aerial Ace. Why? Because Barry's use of the move had given me a new appreciation for it. Not only would she be able to combine it with her jets, but the move was known to track down the user's opponents and almost never missed. It would work wonders against grass and fighting types and complemented her current battling style very well. There was the obvious question on my mind, though. What about when she evolved? This wouldn't be like Princess and Rollout. The body shape would still be there for her to use Aerial Ace, but the flight aspect? It was difficult to imagine a multi-ton mass of rocks and armored plates flying, even with tricks with the wind and Sandstorm.

Yet the move would still be usable, so I considered it a good purchase.

For Buddy, I had picked Ice Beam, which had been one of the most expensive TMs on this list. I simply believed that he needed a better way than Acid to battle grass types, and Ice Beam could be used from anywhere in the arena. Not only that, but it'd be mighty useful against Crasher Wake's water types, be it to freeze them or create ice platforms on the water for the others. His TM was really the most straightforward, and I knew he'd get accustomed with the move faster than the others, which was good because we needed to work on Taunt and his defensive custom move whose name was still in progress.

Angel had gotten Brick Break. Alone, it might have seemed underwhelming, but he could use it with multiple vines at once. It would be an excellent counter for ice types, but to be honest I'd gotten it especially for Byron, as were all the moves that would follow. None of his grass type attacks would hurt the steel type specialist, so I decided to remedy that with Brick Break. Plus, moves that could make full use of his vines were just an obvious choice in general. Angel's vines shivered in excitement when I let him out of the Pokeball again, and he blinked at me in rapid succession. He was happy.

For Honey, I'd gotten Bulldoze. Earthquake was a move Electivire could learn, but one, it was way too expensive and two, he was nowhere near powerful enough to use the move. Bulldoze would serve two purposes: it would help him defeat Byron's Pokemon, and it would also serve as a tool to shape the arena when he got good enough with the move. I hadn't forgotten how Volkner's Electivire had managed to raise a wall of earth in front of himself to dodge our attacks, so it could also serve as a means to raise a shield whenever he ran out of energy for Protect. Honey hesitantly tapped a foot against the forest floor, as if he was scared of accidentally using Bulldoze right now. Luckily for us though, nothing happened.

Lastly, Princess. For her, I had bought Mystical Fire, the most expensive technique on this list. It was also a move that Mira's Gardevoir already knew. It was less powerful than something like Flamethrower, which I wanted her to learn down the line, but what it traded for power was control, which she excelled at. Users of Mystical Fire could shape the flames however they wanted when they grew experienced enough with the move, and that control over fire could eventually extend to all fire, which meant better coordination with Sunshine.

All in all, I was happy with my purchases. I'd agonized over what moves to buy for weeks now, and there might have been better choices for events I hadn't foreseen yet, but I fully believed the focus on Byron was warranted. I had been warned about him far too much not to. I wasn't disrespecting Wake either, but the eight badge was the badge. No one— and that was not an exaggeration— no one other than truly gifted prodigies won their eighth badge on the first try.

I desperately wanted that to be me.

Plus, I had a specific strategy for Wake that I was workshopping in the back of my mind that only needed the tools I currently had.

"Okay, everyone, I'm going to have Princess bring me toward one of the arenas so we can get you started on these. It'll be important not to hyperfocus on them, though. You're all juggling a lot, so feel free to tell me if you get overwhelmed."

We needed to grow faster.

Twenty minutes later, we were outside of the city. I made rounds while my team practiced their new moves. Princess could create the fire, but her control over it right now was mediocre. She couldn't shape it properly, but she could at least move it around, so that was something. She was doing some nifty things, combining Ancient Power with the Mystical Fire by turning her drills or spears into flaming weapons. It wasn't so much that they were burning, but having a shape to wrap the fire around made it easier for Princess to handle her new attack.

Sweetheart was higher in the sky than she'd ever been. The rock type was quite literally soaring, and the constant, loud jet-like burst of air had now been replaced by the occasional expulsion to keep her going. Aerial Ace would carry her further, make her fly faster, and make her attacks impossibly hard to dodge, even under water. Still, to prevent her vents from flooding, she'd actually have to keep blowing air constantly under the surface.

Honey was far off, but the ground around him was a mess of small ridges and chasms. He was struggling the most with his move, mostly because he didn't know how to not hurt himself while using it yet. Power-wise, though? He was already set.

Angel slapped the sand around himself with three simultaneous Brick Breaks— which was up from the one he could create thirty minutes ago. He was making steady progress and soon he'd be able to be as comfortable with it as he was with Knock Off or Power Whip. Hell, maybe we could even do the detaching trick with Brick Break too.

Sunshine barrelled down the sandy beach, burning sand into a crisp with each step. The force of the flames wasn't much, but that wasn't why we'd bought the move in the first place. I'd never seen him be this quick. He ran faster than I could ever hope to. While he was continuously speeding up, it looked like he'd reached his cap for now— my eyes almost fell out of their sockets when he retracted into his now glowing shell. An explosion sent my hair flying everywhere, and Sunshine took flight, jumping fifteen feet into the air and even further with his momentum. Another slap of his tail, and another explosion rang out, but he lost his balance and tumbled down into the sand.

I circled around him, carefully waiting for him to cool down, but Princess was faster. She landed next to the fire type, not caring about her sizzling fur to congratulate him. That had been a breakthrough. I held out a hand and slowly approached until I realized the heat just hurt and wouldn't actually burn me. I crouched next to Sunshine and grinned.

"You see that?" I asked with an intense stare. "That's only a taste of what you'll do."

I caught a shadow of a smile on Turtonator's face, and he stood up. Sand washed off his scales like water, and he carried himself tall. This singular action? That had been his goal for the past three years, and he had finally tasted it. After thanking Princess, Sunshine gruffed, saying that he needed to practice keeping his balance more, but that the Flame Charge was a huge help to gather starting momentum.

"That's why I got it for you," I said with my hands behind my back and a sheepish smile. "I was thinking of getting you started on Shell Smash too, actually. When you blow up your shell so much that it's fractured? There's supposed to be a way to harness the pain and channel it into power."

The fire type's face twisted into a gleeful grin.

But there was also something else.

He wanted to go see Mudsdale tomorrow.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby, ShipGoSync, Kcx1, ArgentumTriKeras, AnotherUser, SmallBusinessBoi, Papito12495, KeMon C, Geo, Pedro B, Rat
 
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Chapter 256 - Reunion
CHAPTER 256 - Reunion

It was tomorrow now.

I was musing over my strategy for Crasher Wake before heading out to the Ranger Outpost over breakfast. A groan escaped my mouth when I bit into some buttered toast and crumbs got all over my laptop, and I bent down to blow them away. Princess was still sleeping, having claimed my bed for herself like she liked to do while Angel took in the sunlight through the window as usual.

Like I'd noticed and told myself before, the key lesson in Wake's Gym was this: how would a trainer approach battling in an arena that was so disadvantageous it might as well have been unfair? It was a pivotal lesson in any trainer's career and it fell onto Wake to instill those teachings. Well, unless you were a water type specialist, I mused to myself. While the islands were larger than in my battle with Barry, they were too spaced out for Honey to simply jump between them, and even though Angel could always improve at swimming, there was no way he'd be fast enough to cross safely. There were two ways to fight back against such a tactic. Either adapt to it, or bypass it entirely. I was planning on doing a mix of both, with a focus on the former.

While Wake's makeshift ocean would always be filled by Rain Dance, making evaporating it impossible unless your Pokemon were way stronger than the 7th badge level, there were still ways to counter the water. Right now, I was thinking of lava. Again.

A silly concept, unless you stopped to think about it for more than five minutes. Wake could just cool it down with water! Well, yes, but cooled-down lava formed solid rock, and solid rock would extend the range of the islands we had. Add in a little bit of platform-building with Ancient Power because we would need an ample supply of rock to create lava anyway, and I had a skeleton of a plan. Hell, we could even create islands from scratch if we were ambitious enough. I was still studying up on Wake's Pokemon's moves, but that part would come naturally. Ideally, I was thinking of signing up for the Gym in a week's time to leave my Pokemon ample time to settle into the strategy and just better themselves in general.

That alone wasn't it, however. I still needed a way to take down Wake's Pokemon when they were below the water. Honey's Thunder and Princess' Moonblast would be powerful enough to handle that. Moonblast's gravity would pull any Pokemon upward while Thunder would just travel through the water. Sweetheart and Buddy could move under the water already. Sunshine and Angel were the problem. Turtonator could always use something like Dragon Pulse or Focus Blast, but aiming at something underwater was a lot harder than in the air, especially when the water molecules would weaken and slow our ranged attacks. What I'd noticed during our swimming lessons was that his explosions kind of worked like a depth charge— okay, that was maybe an exaggeration, but anytime he exploded, Buddy had been stunned for a few moments by the force of the impact even when he'd been standing far away.

So that was the tactic I decided we would use if he was ever dragged into the water, but we could also use his exploding Scale Shot to force a Pokemon to surface, or at least that was the theory. We still needed to tweak the timing of the explosions, but with how many scales we could send, dodging would be incredibly difficult.

For Angel, things were a little more complicated and a lot more fluid, but my working strategy combined Ingrain and Solar Blade— the exploding variants, of course. His range of fifty feet was already a lot, but it could easily be extended with Ingrain. The nutrients from the soil would allow his vines to grow longer and would allow him greater maneuverability, especially since we'd been training those two specific things in the first place. He'd be able to fumble around the water with his vines and use exploding Solar Blades to either hit or stun any Pokemon in the water. After they were stunned, he'd be able to grab them or hit them with something like Power Whip. I'd also need to use Sunny Day, either with him or Sunshine to at least weaken the Rain Dance.

With all of these plans in place— and it was a lot of plans to juggle— Buddy would lose some of his prominence in the battle, but he was still desperately needed as an anchor I could fall back on. Water Absorb would be key here. With him out, I'd be locking Crasher Wake out of all of his best attacks. Ice Beam would also be able to freeze any Pokemon using hydrokinesis to move. Even though Wake had a few tactics to counter freezes, it would still buy time and slow down the battle's tempo, allowing me to think on the fly, because as every trainer knew, no plan survived contact with the enemy.

I sighed, letting out a satisfied groan as I stretched in my chair. My breakfast was done, so it was time to go to the Ranger Headquarters on route 212. I figured I might as well have used the opportunity to get my first bit of scouting done too. I exited the Pokemon Center with one crutch in hand and my phone in the other, reveling in all of the talk about Abel in the news. Still, even though the news filled my heart with joy, I wouldn't be satisfied until he was at least in a prison cell.

After telling Denzel, Mira, Cece and Chase I was going on patrol, I pocketed my phone, released Princess, and set up her saddle. There was almost no disturbance when she took off (after grabbing a cube of earth with Ancient Power for whatever reason). No woosh of the air, no dust or dirt, and even the sudden lift upward felt smooth. The warm, spring air felt good on my face, but it turned colder and colder the higher we got. Suddenly, the wind shifted and began to blow at my back, speeding up Princess even more. Every day she flew, she was better than she'd been previously. Pastoria's widespread, suburbian design became less and less dense until roads led into dirt paths, and dirt paths led into nature.

The swampy part of route 212 wasn't really a route. There was no path to follow, because building anything in a swamp was a logistical and expensive task that Pastoria wasn't inclined to do, and maintaining it would be even more expensive than that. Part of the reason this swamp was considered one of the most dangerous places in Sinnoh was because there was no pre-determined path. It was like walking off-route, but for days. Anything could jump at you from the water, and there was a lot of water to hide under. Just like in Eterna Forest, going through this place without a Psychic was basically suicide.

I had to admit, it was very appealing to look at at first glance. From high above, the first thing you'd notice was the vast expanse of colorful flowers and lush greenery. Lilypads, reeds and other aquatic plants covered most of the waters. The swamp was a mosaic of vibrant multicolored hues. Intricate waterways interlinked ponds and lakes with each other. Occasionally I'd spot some shifts in the water, but I saw or sensed no Pokemon. We were too high up for that.

From the one time I'd flown over the Great Marsh and the way Cecilia had described it, there were plenty of dry spots to be in, and the water was navigable enough to walk through. Route 212's lakes were deep enough to drown in. One step in the wrong place, and you'd fall into the depths. I was high up, but upon closer look, the bodies of water here were a lot murkier than they were in the Safari Zone. They were so murky that no sunlight would ever shine through, which meant the water was denser and harder to move in.

Harder to escape from, too.

It was impossible to overstate how vast the swamp was too. It went on and on in every direction.

"If you spot anything strange, let me know," I told Princess. She offered me a nod back, having already been focused on looking out for a base. We weren't expecting to find it here, but looking wouldn't hurt. Chase would come in and scout this afternoon, but he'd go further than the swamp. Dividing the route into zones was smarter than doubling up and wasting time.

An hour of scouting done, and all we'd spotted were a few trainers huddling to the only patches of dry land in the marsh and the occasional wild Pokemon. One time, a group of three had even been getting attacked by an Arbok, and I had Princess swoop in to save the day. A Psychic and a couple of Air Slashes were enough to send the poison type slithering away and back into the murky waters. The group of trainers thankfully weren't wounded, and they might have won against Arbok with all of their Pokemon combined, but I hadn't wanted to take that risk. Evidently, they realized that this route was too much for them and turned back right away. If I'd been them, I never would have gone here anyway, with all the poachers running about, but trainers were known to ignore warnings. Route 212 might have been deserted, but some would always try to brave the dangers anyway.

Kind of like me, I thought as Princess doubled back. The Ranger outpost wasn't in the middle of the swamp, or it would defeat the entire point. Instead, it was near the marsh's entrance, where dirt turned into wet mud. I felt a twinge of nostalgia at the sight of the gated community. It was large enough to be a small town and surrounded by an electric fence, with a Pokemon Center, Mart, and a few buildings strewn throughout, including the Ranger Station, which was the largest one and topped by an army-green roof. Just like Mount Coronet's and Eterna Forest's. Here, Rangers patrolled the surroundings. There were signs of wear and tear on the fence, meaning they'd been attacked multiple times recently. No landing pads? I guess I'll just land at the Center's entrance.

There weren't many trainers here, I noticed when Princess landed. Even in the Pokemon Center, there were only two people in the lobby. It made sense, and I had expected it, but it was still depressing to look at. I released Sunshine, who blinked when he realized where he was. The sight of him made the few people walking out and about stare, but we ignored them.

"Yeah, we're here," I said, patting him on the arm as a sign of reassurance. "You're still okay, right? Are you sure you want to do this alone?"

Princess expressed the same worried feelings, but Sunshine nodded. Gone was his anxiety about meeting Mudsdale. He was ready, and grew readier by the minute. I offered him a gentle smile, and my hand slipped away from his arm. To be honest, even I had been nervous about meeting Mudsdale because I feared he would judge me for trying to 'replace' Kamaile, or something of the sort, so I couldn't help but feel some amount of relief. At the same time, I wanted to be there for Sunshine if he needed me, but this was his decision, so I would respect it.

"Let's go, then."

Princess hovered over me while Sunshine walked briskly by my side. The fairy type had sculpted her cube-shaped piece of earth into a full-fledged miniature Mudsdale during our flight. She levitated it into Sunshine's hand, and the fire type clumsily held onto it, dipping his head in thanks for the gift.

"So that's what you were making! Woah, there's a lot of detail on there." I leaned forward to squint at the statue. "How'd you know what a Mudsdale looks like anyway?"

Togekiss answered by saying that she'd seen the Pokemon in one of her cartoons she liked to sing along to.

"Huh. Guess I'd fallen asleep."

She nodded, noting that I'd been studying hard for my written flying exam that night. Still, from one look at the species, she'd managed to recreate a Mudsdale perfectly. We entered the brightly-lit Ranger station and I accosted the receptionist with a wave. She turned toward me as if she hadn't been expecting a trainer in here, but then she cleared her throat and quickly got into work mode.

"Welcome to Route 212's Ranger Station. What can I do for you today?" She asked.

I pointed back at Sunshine with a thumb. "Turtonator's trainer passed away in Mount Coronet before I caught him, but three of his Pokemon survived. His name was Kamaile Nalanie, and the Pokemon we're looking for is Mudsdale. He's supposed to be in this station?"

The receptionist's eyes drifted down to the statue Sunshine carried. "Right. We do have a Mudsdale here— just for procedure's sake, could I have your trainer ID?"

I slid the card down the counter and waited for her to type away at her computer. I assumed that since these two were probably the only Mudsdale and Turtonator in the region and that the story had spread through every Ranger station by now, she was confident enough not to demand more verification.

She continued, "We'll verify this with Mudsdale and then set up a meeting… in the yard. It should only take around five minutes— our psychics are busy with something else, at the moment."

"Sure," I agreed. "And it's okay if Sunshine's alone, right?"

The Ranger took a split-second longer to answer, since she hadn't known Turtonator's name. "He looks fine to go, yes," she said after staring into the dragon's eyes.

I grabbed my ID back and shuffled to the uncomfortable plastic seats. People really took the Pokemon Centers' couches for granted. I theorized with Sunshine about Shell Smash to pass the time for ideas on how to get started on the move, but we came up empty. He didn't know how to channel a broken shell into power and speed, and we were stumped because every instance of Shell Smash was different for every Pokemon capable of using the move due to the different body types—

"Turtonator? Mudsdale is ready for you," the receptionist called out.

Sunshine froze, then turned to me. His mouth trembled, and he asked if I could accompany him outside, his bravado from earlier all but gone. I agreed and hoisted myself on my crutches, and Princess graciously accepted her entry back into her Pokeball. We silently walked through a labyrinth of slick halls and beige walls with chipped paint that seemed to stretch on and on the closer we got to the yard.

It wasn't an impressive one. Shrubs grew everywhere from the rich soil, and it was walled off by high, wooden fences. A tree sat in its corner, and under it, Mudsdale stood. He was a lot taller than I'd expected. Slightly north of eight feet, which meant he was absolutely massive. His brown skin had the texture of leather and his dark hair was so packed together it looked like a helmet. Mudsdale shifted under the tree, first looking at me— but only for an instant— then at Sunshine, with relief radiating out of him like water out of a showerhead. I dipped my head and silently slipped back into the building, closing the door behind me



He truly hadn't changed, in the end.

Mudsdale stood as strong and tall as he had always been. His body was steady, with no unnecessary movement. Not even his hair swayed in the wind. It was far too heavy for that. Turtonator was silent as he approached his old friend, and he noticed a certain tiredness in his eyes that hadn't been there before, and he knew it was not from a lack of sleep. Turtonator took a final step and stared up at Mudsdale, but his words died in his throat.

Mudsdale spoke first, I missed you.

The dragon's eyes widened. A year ago, these weren't words he would ever have expected from Mudsdale, but times were different now. Kamaile was gone, and they'd been separated for what felt like a lifetime.

I missed you too, old friend, Turtonator finally said. He gently grabbed Mudsdale by the neck and let out a relieved sigh.

You didn't hug before, Mudsdale said with a sprinkle of amusement.

Turtonator snorted. You didn't say things like 'I missed you' before as well, so I suppose we've both changed in that regard. How have you been?

Mudsdale lay down under the shade, and the earth itself shook when he did. I've been working for the Rangers for the past few months, he said. They took me in without a fuss and helped me struggle through my grief. Yet, the hole in my heart is not filled.

Turtonator nodded. It never will be, but it gets a little easier every day, he said.

Mudsdale paused, then neighed with a gruff. I thought you were dead, Turtonator.

The fire type blinked for two reasons. One, even though he still referred to himself as Turtonator, being called that felt odd to his ears. Two, he had not expected this topic to come up so soon. Unfortunately, Mudsdale had never been one to beat around the bush.

I wanted to contact you, I just… I just didn't deem myself worthy, Turtonator muttered. I failed Kamaile. I failed you all. Oranguru, Mandibuzz, Drampa, too. They're all dead because of my failures.

Mudsdale shook his head, baring his flat teeth. You don't get to bear the responsibility alone, Turtonator, he said in a commanding tone. We all failed them, but the ones that are at fault are that Team Galactic gang.

Rage swelled inside of the dragon type when he imagined Saturn's face, and was only soothed when he imagined every inch of his body burning. Slowly. Hours spent with a foot on his chest, making it hard, but not impossible to breathe to inflict as much pain as possible while he cooked alive for as much time as he could manage.

I do bear it, Turtonator said. And I will until I kill Saturn.

Mudsdale's eyes narrowed. You want revenge.

It was a statement, not a question. As if the ground type had expected it and was just confirming it for himself.

I do, Turtonator nodded, sitting down in the grass. I want to see his miserable little face slowly cook to a crisp. And I think you should join me in my endeavor.

Mudsdale sighed, and his stare seemed so much heavier. In an instant, he looked far older than he had seconds earlier. Imperfections in his hair, small scars on his body, chips in his hooves.

I am not looking for revenge.

The statement reverberated in Turtonator's head for what felt like hours. How? How did Mudsdale want to sit still while the person who killed so many of their loved ones roamed free?

I can tell that you're confused,
Mudsdale continued. I simply do not have the energy for it, Turtonator. You've still got the spark in you. The drive that made us strive to improve in our heyday. That made us train and practice every waking hour so we could collect badges, he stopped, smiled sadly and stared into the distance at nothing in particular. I'm tired, Turtonator. It's peaceful here, outside of when poachers are involved. They don't even make me patrol. I simply help the newcomers train. The rhythm is enjoyable. Every day blends together… it feels nice.

Turtonator gritted his teeth and restrained a roar. You can't live like this.

Can I not give up?

No! You cannot,
Turtonator said. He opened his mouth, then closed it, considering his next words. I think that you should want retribution, but I will agree to let that go, as much as it pains me, he slowly spoke. But you can't live your life in a daze. That is how you lose yourself.

It helps with the pain.


Turtonator flexed, then restrained the heat leaking out of his body. So many months with children had helped him learn to compose himself.

What about Lurantis? He asked. Is she the same? The fire type asked through calming breaths.

We've kept in contact. The psychics write letters we dictate, and the humans send them, Mudsdale said. She's in a better state than I am. She's thrown herself into Ranger work and has adopted a child from the forest.

Turtonator's anger vanished, as if it had never been there in the first place. That's just like her, he whispered. Just like her…

And just like that, the tension faded. Even when she wasn't there Lurantis was the glue that held them together.

Do you not want to meet her again? Turtonator asked. Grace— the girl who caught me— she is planning on going to see her soon after we're done in Pastoria. She could bring you.

Mudsdale hesitated. Perhaps. I will have to think about it… I think seeing her would hurt me more than you'd know. Old memories would resurface… I already cannot get a full night's sleep.

Think about it, then,
the dragon nodded. You wouldn't have to fight if you didn't want to. The girl is as soft-hearted as they come, so long as you're on her good side. I gave her those burns, and she has never looked at me wrongly in spite of them.

Mudsdale frowned at that 'good side' bit of the sentence, but opted to ignore it.

Grace is her name, then? I'm surprised you settled with a new trainer, given your old disposition.

Bah! She's an annoying brat, but also frustratingly loveable,
Turtonator groaned. She caught me while I was full of pain and rage in Mount Coronet. Her child made this for you.

The dragon showed Mudsdale his own statue, and the horse's eyes widened in surprise.

Such excellent craftsmanship… but she is too young to have a child, or at least that's how I understand human maturity.

Turtonator snorted. The one who made this is a Togekiss. One of her many adoptive children, he explained. It wasn't a human.

She adopts… Pokemon?

Strange, isn't it? She's even treating a three-hundred-year-old Jellicent as her son too, believe it or not,
Turtonator let more fondness than he'd wanted slip. Deep down, I think she thinks of me as her son too, which is just a preposterous notion. She also has a gift for understanding Pokemon, which makes her far less irritating to work with. Hah! I couldn't imagine having stayed this long if we hadn't been able to negotiate. There was no way I'd let one of her friends' psychics translate my words. She wouldn't have gotten that out of me—

You love her,
Mudsdale said.

Turtonator's eye twitched. I— he said defensively—

It is okay, the ground type cut in. I know you haven't moved on. No one as driven by revenge as you would have, he said. You are allowed to love others, Turtonator. Don't stay stuck in this damned grief-ridden hole like I. Lurantis has been trying to move on as well.

I want you to try,
Turtonator said. Try to fill the hole with something else. You loved traveling, Mudsdale. You aren't built to stay in one place for so long. Is there truly nothing you want? Search within yourself.

I want—
he stopped himself. I can't.

You were going to say something—

Let it go,
he said harshly. After a sigh, he spoke again. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to raise my voice, it's just… hard. Hard to find motivation for anything. What I want is for things to go back to the way they were. You, me, Kamaile and the others. Traveling together again.

Mudsdale…

I know it is nothing but a child's dream,
he sighed. It doesn't matter, in the end. The world is not a just place. Sometimes, bad people win, good people die, and the wheels of time keep churning, with or without you.

I've told you I won't let them get away with it,
Turtonator gruffed. Puffs of smoke billowed out of his nose. I will kill him, Mudsdale. I swear to you.

Small embers lit up in Mudsdale's eyes. Good. Now, tell me about your new adventures. I want to know who the human and Pokemon who have changed you so are.

Turtonator settled into his seat with a fond smile. I suppose I should start… let's start in Hearthome, he said, not wanting to get too close to Kamaile's murder. You see, the original plan after she got me out of the mountain was to kill her…



I yawned, stretching in the lobby's chairs. Arceus, my back and butt hurt so much after staying seated here all morning and afternoon. I'd gone to grab lunch too, of course, but when considering stretching my legs, I had to account for the pain in my ankle. I'd been stupid and forgotten to grab my painkillers with me before coming here, and I was pretty sure the one I had taken this morning had completely run out. The sky was a dull orange outside, signaling that the sun would be setting soon. There was no news from Chase's patrol, and Mira had been busy vetting some new friend Maeve made with Gardevoir, but she'd need me to make sure she wasn't Zoroark. Zoey Miranda was her name.

If I'd been trying to not stand out in a crowd as Zoroark, I wouldn't have morphed into a six-foot-two girl, but we still could never be too safe. My phone was at fifteen percent at this point and I wanted to keep battery for the flight back, so all I could do was wait. What I did do was visualize some of my old battles to see if I could catch any mistakes I hadn't yet. Every single one appeared clear as day to me, even my first Gym Battle against Roark. Arceus, that one had been embarrassing—

Steps. And those steps were unmistakable. Sunshine proved me right when he walked into the lobby, eliciting confused stares from the Rangers starting their night shifts. He looked lighter than he had been coming in, and I would have had to be blind to miss the joy sliding off of him. Bright, excited, and most of all, satisfied. A nice gradient that I wish I'd see more of on him.

I shot up without my crutches and bit my lip with a wince. "Ow… how'd it go?" I bent down to grab my crutches. "Was it everything you hoped for?"

Sunshine nodded with a terribly cute smile, and he told me to follow. I did, although I was slower than I'd been earlier. He didn't mind one bit, and was content to slow down to my pace. The dragon waited for me to open the massive doors to the yard (he was probably scared he'd destroy them on accident), and I saw Mudsdale again, sitting with his replica. His focus switched from Princess' statue to me, and I hobbled down the steps. What should I say?

Well, introductions couldn't hurt.

"It's nice to finally meet you, Mudsdale. My name is Grace Pastel. I've been Sunshine's new trainer."

The ground type's eyes bulged at the name 'Sunshine', and then he laughed— a weird sound to be coming out of a horse. Sunshine, for his part, rolled his eyes and waited for the laughing fit to finish. Mudsdale spoke, but his words were still gibberish to me. Luckily, we had someone to translate.

He said it was nice to meet me, and that he'd never expected Turtonator to take on a nickname.

"Oh, I bartered with him over it for almost two months," I said with a sly smirk. "He was a real sweetheart about it, though. Never complained once about it after he agreed."

Mudsdale said something that Sunshine refused to translate, but he clearly felt embarrassed about it.

"I hope you guys had fun catching up. I'll gladly take Sunshine here again while we're here," I continued. "Things might get busy soon, but I'll try to come every day. The rest of the team can train in one of the arenas here— and maybe you can come to watch Sunshine train too."

Mudsdale dipped his head in appreciation, but then Sunshine spoke up. He said that Mudsdale was considering joining us temporarily when we left Pastoria so he could go meet Lurantis as well. It had taken hours of prodding and convincing, but he'd finally agreed. The ground type wouldn't fight, nor would he train. He'd just be a traveling companion for a while.

"Are you kidding?" I beamed. "This is great news! I mean, I had the idea, but I didn't want to force anything." I stopped and gently patted Sunshine on the arm. "This'll be great for you three."

Relief flooded every inch of Mudsdale's body, and Sunshine said that 'he'd told him so'. What had they been talking about, I wondered?

"I'll have to talk to the Rangers about it, though," I muttered.

Sunshine explained that Mudsdale didn't do much around here, save for training new recruits or taking the occasional mud bath (I was pretty sure that was meant to be banter), so convincing Rangers wouldn't be that difficult, especially when they used to belong to the same team.

"And hey, worst-case scenario I can just use some subtle threats," I huffed with a shrug. "Like knowing Cynthia, or something. Wouldn't be the only time I plan on doing that anyway," I said, thinking of the UPAN. "The Rangers will get the message."

Mudsdale eyed Sunshine, who snorted and introduced me again, for some reason.

"I see your little plots," I squinted at the dragon. "Oh! And Mudsdale—"

I closed my mouth. 'Mudsdale can tell me old stories about you' had been what I'd wanted to say, but maybe that was too insensitive? It was best to let those things come naturally.

"—I guess I should introduce the rest of the team. We should see how you mesh with them before we actually start traveling. Oh, and you'll love Buddy—"

One of the Rangers called out for Mudsdale behind us. He needed to go help train two new ground types that had been under his care. Sunshine's face twisted in annoyance, but Mudsdale calmly stood up. He didn't do much here, so I knew he couldn't have loved the job, but maybe he still felt compelled to do his duty?

"We'll be back tomorrow," I said.

The ground type nodded and disappeared in a flash of red. I turned back to Sunshine, who glared at the Ranger's back.

"Did you have fun?" I asked.

His anger disappeared. Instead, he asked me to stop treating him like a damned child.

Thank you to my Patreons - Spandaz, Alex Walters, androide, ObsidianOlive, A Ferret, MKK, Oblige, Joe, Emilowish, Sean, Tim Schmidt, Dim, Violett T, yesnomaybeso, Sean M, Daniel, Ryan T, Kail H, Bridie, dragonslaver, Jon, RosaC, TsukiNoNeko, NPM, Jim A, Spicyice101, Ryan T, Vesperal, Iota, Addmolition exe, Zeta, Logan M, Frogsamurai, Alex F, Kiri, Rhuodric, Nord, Filthymacgyver, Grey J, creativityfails, Spartanstoryteller, Peter D, Bum, Zaire M, Tina M, dotAlice, Nova, Plasmatique, Peg, Lodris, Chester, Powernap, Kolby, ShipGoSync, Kcx1, ArgentumTriKeras, AnotherUser, SmallBusinessBoi, Papito12495, KeMon C, Geo, Pedro B, Rat, LR Brantley
 
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Chapter 257
CHAPTER 257

"So you want to take Mudsdale?"

The man in charge of this Ranger's station hadn't given me his name yet, but he had led me to his office and offered me to sit, along with some tea. I had only drunk tea once before in my life and remembered not being a particular fan, but whatever this one was made of made a world's difference because I was certain I would have downed all of it if it hadn't been scorching the inside of my mouth every time I took a sip.

"Hmhm," I hummed as I put down my cup. "Mudsdale's already agreed to leave whenever we leave Pastoria, so we're good on that front. I'd also want to come see him every day, if possible?"

The short, square-ish man sank a few inches into his chair and ran a hand over his wooden desk, revealing two missing fingers on his left one. "We'd have to verify this, of course, but assuming you're telling the truth, we'd have to get Mudsdale to finish some of his commitments here first."

Oh, that was a lot easier than I thought it to be. "I mean, so long as he's done when we're ready to leave, it should be fine. We're planning on staying here… maybe another week and a half? Is that enough?"

I spied the Ranger's name on a nameplate. Brockhouse. I knew that last name… ah, it was the same last name as the Ranger that had helped register Sunshine to me when I'd first caught him. I spoke again, probably snapping the Ranger out of his brainstorming.

"You're Mr. Brockhouse?" I asked. "Do you have a family member that's a Ranger, by any chance?"

He raised an eyebrow. "You've met Malcolm?" He asked. When I nodded, he continued. "He's my cousin. We traveled together when we were young."

"If you could call him, I'm pretty sure he'd vouch for me." Malcolm Brockhouse had definitely kept track of me, seeing as he had warned me that an accident with Sunshine could have led to him being taken away when I'd first caught him.

"No need for vouching," he shook his head. His tone was slightly friendlier now. "A week and a half should be enough for Mudsdale to finish bringing the new trainees up to speed, and we'll also need his help transporting some cargo, but other than that, he'll be free— if he confirms what you said."

"He will," I said.

"We'll have to transfer ownership from this station to you personally, so you'll have to come in the day of," Mr. Brockhouse continued. "I think that's it."

"Can I stay to finish this tea?"

The Ranger smirked. "Unfortunately I'm quite busy with the poacher situation, so you'll have to leave my office, I'm afraid. Feel free to take the mug and hand it to Sandy downstairs when you're done, though."

That must have been the receptionist. "Any news or progress on the poachers?" I innocently asked. Fishing for information could only be good here. When Brockhouse frowned, I quickly added, "I'm just curious."

"I'll tell you information that's already public," he said. "The League's cooperated with us, scoured the entire route and found nothing, which means they must be Teleporting somewhere else that we haven't been able to track. When we manage to capture one of them, we'll have more to work with."

"Got it. Sorry, I just feel safer knowing about these things," I said in a half-truth. "I'll be out of your hair, then. Thanks for the tea!"

Brockhouse silently nodded, and I closed the door to his office, realizing that grabbing two crutches with one hand and drinking tea at the same time was a puzzle in and of itself. I opted to give up, leaned against the wall and finished drinking the delicious substance in silence. Why had no one ever told me about this before? Had none of them ever tasted this? My entire body felt warm when I finished, which would have felt great if it was the middle of winter.

Not wanting to drop the cup while walking, I awkwardly handed the cup to a passing Ranger instead of the receptionist in hopes that it would find its way back to Brockhouse's desk after I'd told them about it, and then I was on my way out. Before I left on Princess, I found a good spot to train at. An arena built for the Rangers that was twice as small as the ones I was used to, but it would unfortunately have to do. Of course, most days I'd have to swing by the beach to keep up the swimming lessons, and I also had UPAN work to do in three days or so— meeting with the City Council.

The flight back to Pastoria didn't take long, and I spent it telling Princess all about how cute Sunshine had been when meeting Mudsdale. It wasn't often that we got to see him excited, let alone embarrassed. I told her Mudsdale loved his statue and that we'd keep it for him, since he was coming with us. The temporary bit, I wasn't used to. Part of me hoped he'd just end up sticking around with us, but I knew that it was up to him, at the end of the day. Either way, I was doubly excited to go meet Lurantis now.

We landed at the Pokemon Center, and I was planning on grabbing my laptop to keep studying Wake while my Pokemon trained on the beach for the rest of the day after getting them some food to eat, but first I had to deal with this new friend of Maeve's. All of my friends were out, either training or in the Safari Zone, but knowing that I'd need to vet this Zoey individual, Maeve and Mira had stayed behind, and they were waiting for me in the Pokemon Center's lobby.

"There she is!" Mira waved at me with a smile. Maeve sat next to her with her, although she was a lot more nervous than usual. I strode up to them with a wave of my own. "Did everything go okay with Sunshine?"

"Yup, it went great! And I might have gotten addicted to tea too."

"Tea? That's the sort of stuff I thought Cece or Emilia would drink," Mira snorted. "But Emilia's obsessed with coffee, so."

"You should have seen her back in Eterna, she hated the stuff," I said. "Where's Zoey?"

"On her way," Maeve said. "She wasn't expecting the vetting thing to be serious, since Mira already did so yesterday and found nothing wrong. In fact, she wasn't expecting this at all. She thinks we're weird for being so paranoid."

"How'd you vet her?" I asked.

"I just had Gardevoir take a look at her. No dark TE swirling around, no traces that she's a Pokemon, and when I asked her if she was involved with Abel, the poachers, Team Galactic or something evil in any way, she said no and Gardevoir detected no lies. Luckily thanks to you and Cece the news about Abel had come out and spread at that point, so I could just play the role of the overprotective friend without potentially alerting her," she turned toward Maeve. "Which I technically am! But to lay any doubt to rest, we need to be sure," Mira said with a shrug.

Maeve seemed irritated at that, and I knew she wasn't the only one. As it turned out, Denzel 'smoothing things over' with our friends had backfired terribly, and Pauline was even more pissed than we thought she'd be— specifically at him. The others were on her side too, which wasn't something I had expected. If anything, I would have thought Justin would have erred on the side of caution and pushed the group in the right direction.

"Maeve?" I probed.

"What?"

"You look angry."

"I just, you know, wish the rest of us weren't treated like kids by the rest of you," she snapped. "Since when do new friends have to be vetted? I don't remember you vetting Erin."

Mira's permanent grin went flat, and then turned into a grimace. "Look, Maeve. If Abel hadn't been here, this would be completely different, okay? We just want what's best."

"I get that," the teenager got out through gritted teeth. "But it still sucks. How's Grace going to figure something out Gardevoir couldn't anyway?"

"I just know these things," I said, not bothering to explain further.

Maeve wanted to protest, but she stopped herself mid-way through the first word. "Fine. Then we're done? I wanted to go to the Safari Zone today, but I couldn't sign up because of this."

"Guess you'll go hang out with Louis instead," Mira teased.

"I think he's busy at the moment," she responded with a faint voice. "But yeah, maybe."

"Planning on signing up for Wake soon?" I asked.

"I signed up today. I figured I might as well," Maeve shrugged. She then explained that her battle was in three days early in the afternoon. I'll have to miss it, then, I internally groaned. "I'll look for Yanma in the meantime. I've been having no luck, though. Apparently they're supposed to be somewhat common, but… blegh."

Mira rubbed the back of her neck. "I'd help out if I wasn't busy."

"No worries— oh, Zoey's here."

I turned toward the Pokemon Center's entrance, through which an imposing girl had just stepped. Zoey Miranda's brown hair was all over the place. Thick strands ran down her back and messy bangs over her forehead. A small amount of freckles dotted her cheeks and nose, which grew more numerous as she approached and got under a light. Mira immediately stared at me, but I'd already reached my verdict as soon as Zoey had stepped into the Pokemon Center.

She was not a Pokemon.

Still, I had to play the part. I held out my hand. "Zoey, right? Nice to meet you," I said.

She clasped it tightly. Cold hands. "Likewise."

Her voice was stiff, probably because she was nervous? People's extremities were cold when they were. "So, how'd you meet Maeve anyway?"

"At a Poketch Store. She was buying a new phone," Zoey answered.

I turned toward the teen in question, who explained that she'd dropped her old phone down a drain and into the Pastoria sewers near the docks. After some small talk about how I was sponsored by Poketch (I was really just filling in the air here), I let Zoey go. First, she asked Maeve if she wanted to hang out, but she'd already decided to go check on Louis. When both of them had left, Mira stood by my side.

"Nothing off about her?" Mira asked. "Not even a little bit?"

"Nope," I said. "She's human, through and through."

Mira clicked her tongue. "Huh. Really? I feel like I'm missing something. Like, a gaping hole in my knowledge. And it's fucking with me. Like an itch that can't be scratched."

I stayed quiet for a few seconds.

"I mean, if you think so, then… we can always look deeper into her," I muttered. "But it's not like we can stop them from meeting. We'd have no reason to, anyway. No solid reason."

The pink-haired girl undid her two pigtails, shaking her head to free her hair. "That's fair. I just think something doesn't pass the smell test. I'm going to set up another meeting and have Gardevoir track her with Trace, but I'll give it a little. We can't have her grow too suspicious. Did you see how stiff she was?"

"I don't want to get a big head, but I think you're forgetting I'm famous."

Mira chuckled. "Ouch. Lose one badge, and you're no longer included in the famous club," she fake-whined. "You might as well have driven a stake through my innocent heart."

"Oh, please. You've got thick skin."

"I'm just fucking with ya," she laughed. "Hey, Porygon." Once she called out, the normal type slipped out from her pocket— I assumed her to have been in her phone. The artificial Pokemon was one I'd always struggled to understand, even after knowing her all these months. "Say, Grace. What do you say about a little fight? A one-on-one between Porygon and one of yours."

I raised an eyebrow. "I'll never say no to a fight. What spurred this?"

"Well, Louis and Pauline are about to battle," Mira said with a shrug. "I've been training with Chase, but not with you. I need to fight someone I'm not used to fighting, and we've got a few tricks up our sleeves—"

"Louis is fighting Pauline?!" I yelled.

"Huh? Yeah—"

I grabbed her by the shoulders. "Where?"

"The arena you recommended—"

"Teleport us there!" I yelled. "I can't believe you'd let me miss this! I already missed so much of it! I'll battle you after!"

"Well you were busy," Mira groaned. She grabbed Alakazam's Pokeball, and told him to Teleport us to the arena.

We had to step out of the Pokemon Center to actually do so. One second, we were on the street, and the other, we were outside of the arena. It was still packed, but there weren't anywhere near the amount of people there had been during my fight with Barry. Damn it. I had thought that them wanting to fight Wake early would mean that they wouldn't be fighting.

Ninetales was embroiled in a patchwork of flames and steam when I arrived. The fire danced around her like it had a mind of its own, and her eyes shone bright pink as she sent the flames barrelling toward Gothitelle. The psychic lazily waved a hand, dispelling each flame before it could reach her. Ninetales forwent sophistication, opened her maw as light danced in her eyes. She brought the flames at the tip of her tails and weaved them around her into nine condensed orbs that shone bright blue.

The fireballs seemed to howl when they flew toward Gothitelle.

"Imprison!" Pauline yelled.

Gothitelle groaned, but the shine in her eye intensified. Ninetales sent the nine fireballs flying erratically, but her opponent seemed to know exactly where each one would be no matter what. Pink boxes clamped down on each flaming orb, and they all exploded with a deafening boom. When the boxes disappeared, there was only smoke and wisps of flames.

Louis bit his lip, then swept his arm. "Will-O-Wisp!"

"Teleport and beat the shit out of her!"

I snorted at that order. Gothitelle couldn't Teleport very far— a sign that she was green with the move— but she could still go from island to island while Ninetales was stuck in one spot.

"Disable!" Louis snapped.

Pauline's eyes bulged out of their sockets when the power to Teleport vanished out of Gothitelle's arsenal.

"I thought this was a spar!" She complained with a grin. "Fine! Magic Room!"

The battlefield shifted to a yellowish pink. Ninetales' control over her flames died, and they all sputtered out. The Will-O-Wisp wavered, some of them dispelled, but one managed to enter Gothitelle's body regardless. When Ninetales opened her mouth to spit more fire, only smoke came out instead. Pauline had control over the entire arena. Ninetales wasn't the only one incapable of using moves, however. Even Gothitelle seemed to be locked out, although she could still use weakened moves like Psybeam. The multicolored light hit Ninetales' flank, and Louis immediately understood.

"Ember!"

This time, the fire type spat out small flames which were so slow that Gothitelle easily dodged them by walking.

"What the hell…" I muttered.

"That's a hell of a technique," Mira said.

"That's not a dark type move," I noticed.

"Nope. Long story short, it creates a zone that leaves all but the weakest moves unusable. And this isn't something your average Crunch will be able to break either. You'd need a whole lot of Crunches, or a burst of dark TE to dampen the thing or bug TE to overwhelm it. Maybe you could do something funky with ghosts. Gothitelle took control of the ambient TE and is stopping most of it from being used. So not inhibition, more like a restriction."

Pauline had come far, but at this rate, the fight would never end. The redhead recalled Gothitelle with a grin and sent out her massive Braviary instead.

And I immediately understood what the plan was.

Braviary didn't need moves. Louis was evidently out of switches, and even if he wasn't, nothing would be able to stand up to that massive bird. Braviary let out a low-pitched screech, and then swooped down toward Ninetales, who tried to fight back with another Ember. The flames just slightly burned the edges of Braviary's feathers. The flying type's claws dug into Ninetales, picking her up like a rag. One flap of her wings generated ripples across the swamp. She raked Ninetales against the psychic barrier and continuously dug into her skin with her talons until she dropped her down into the water.

"Are you still good to go?" Louis asked as soon as the fire type plopped her head out of the water.

Apparently, she answered yes through Telepathy, because Louis nodded. Braviary dove down toward Ninetales as the Magic Room slowly dissolved, and I spotted Emilia in the crowd. Dragging Mira by the wrist with me, I made my way toward our friend. She was well-dressed, as always, and stood next to a tripod holding up a phone. She must have been streaming. After all, it was free revenue.

Emi smiled when she saw us. "I didn't know you'd come."

"I didn't know they were fighting!" I exclaimed. Braviary flapped her wings, and wind started to pick up around the arena. "What are the rules?"

"Just a friendly four-on-four with two switches. Louis' Gabite is down, and Pauline's Vigoroth is down too. Gothitelle really manhandled Gabite with Future Sight, it was kind of crazy. A few hits from Gabite would have taken her down, but he never even got close to her."

Mira whistled, and I turned back to the battle. Every time Ninetales got anywhere close to an island, Braviary would swoop down and attack her to prevent her from reaching land. Ninetales decided to take this into her own hands and turned toward the normal type. Her eyes shone once more, and Braviary slowed— the sudden Psychic held her in place for a moment, and Braviary lost her balance, falling in the water as well.

Unfortunately for Ninetales, the huge bird pecked her in the head until she fainted. Louis released his second-to-last Pokemon, his Vespiquen. The buzzing swarmed my mind, and trainers that were spectating grew pale. Most opted to straight up leave. There was an unsettled gleam in Braviary's eye, but it left as soon as it came.

Braviary barely got out of the water before honey assaulted her and pushed her back in. It clung to her feathers and she grew heavy. Her wings were slower, her movements sluggish, and she couldn't even get in the air. That large size was working against her, for once. Even if the Magic Room hadn't faded, Vespiquen controlling her honey wasn't TE, it was biology.

The bug type's eyes shone, and she ripped out wet mud from the ground. Light engulfed the small spheres, heating them up until they glowed white, and a laser ripped through Braviary's plumage. It would take more than a single Power Gem to take her down, though. While the flying type still struggled in the water, Vespiquen tried her best to destroy her with as many Power Gems as possible while keeping her still with Honey.

"Whirlwind!" Pauline yelled.

Louis countered, "Defense Order!"

Braviary screamed, and huge gust of wind that could have swept Honey off his feet hurtled toward Vespiquen. A wall of honey formed in front of her, but it was destroyed by the Whirlwind, and it threw the bug type back before a thick cushion of honey kept her in place.

Unfortunately for Pauline, Vespiquen countered Braviary completely. The flying type was permanently grounded and assaulted on all sides by Power Gem. Consciousness flitted from her eyes, and Louis yelled out, "Fell Stinger!"

A sharp, glowing needle stabbed into Braviary's wing. It had been the finishing blow.

"Shit," Pauline muttered. Who next? Unsurprisingly, she sent out Charizard. I internally sighed when I realized I wouldn't see Primeape fight just yet.

It was easy to see that Charizard had already fought in this battle from the numerous bruises on her. She took to the air with a mighty roar and flames licked the edges of her mouth. Honey converged into one huge blob larger than the island under Vespiquen when Pauline barked out for a Flamethrower. Her control over honey wasn't as clumsy as it had been before taking down Braviary. It was fluid now. Nowhere near Zach's own Vespiquen, but getting there. The honey turned into a charred, black mess, but it was enough to stop a Flamethrower.

"Air Slash!"

It wasn't enough for that, though. The air in front of Charizard sharpened as she flew directly into Vespiquen, ignoring the honey crawling on her wings. Not like it could do much anyway. It just burned instantly before it could do any real damage. Vespiquen screeched when the air cut across her comb.

"Heal Order!" Louis yelled.

Not good. You should have had her use Power Gem instead. Grubs and honey stuck to Vespiquen's exoskeleton, closing her wounds slowly. It was only now that I could appreciate Zachary's Vespiquen more. She could easily heal faster while still attacking and bending honey. I desperately wanted a rematch, even if he had eight badges now.

Charizard slammed into Vespiquen with a fiery tackle and slammed her against the ground, uncaring for any damage she'd taken. The bug type screeched and only now did Louis order Power Gem. More honey subconsciously climbed onto Charizard, but it just burned, and the grubs inside of it died before it could be of use. Charizard raked a flaming claw across Vespiquen's chest and she retaliated by spitting a glob of poison on her face, melting the outer layer of her skin.

"Vespiquen, this is a spar," Louis firmly spoke.

The bug type redirected her anger toward Charizard's belly instead. So he had control of her in battle, but she could still slip sometimes. More fire finished off Vespiquen, and he sent out his Empoleon instead. The steel type sneered at the amount of water next to him, but I knew from our texts that Louis was finally getting Empoleon to swim, even if he hated it. Before Charizard could take full advantage of Blaze, Empoleon lifted a hand, and a Brine appeared above her. It was smaller than what Buddy could manage, but it followed her as she made a mad dash through the arena not to get hurt by the attack.

"Fuck it. Flare Blitz!" Pauline grinned.

Charizard's bloodshot eyes shot open, then were engulfed by flames as was her entire body.

"Into the water!" Louis yelled.

"Flamethrower!"

More bright jets of flame hit Empoleon as he slid down the mud and into the swamp. Undeterred, Charizard dove down there too. There was an explosion of steam as the fire type impacted the water, but Pauline recalled her soon after. I was pleasantly surprised that Empoleon had managed to swim deep enough to escape a Flare Blitz. With Blaze, the attack would have been devastating.

It was Gothitelle against Empoleon, now. Even after so long, their skill was neck and neck. What I hadn't caught before, however, was that Gothitelle was tired.

"It takes a lot out of a Pokemon to sustain a Magic Room," Mira said as if she read my thoughts. "I mean, how can it not?"

Empoleon was fresh. A Flash Cannon came alive in front of his mouth, and Gothitelle barely Teleported in time. With heavy breaths, the Psychic threw an insult Empoleon's way vocally, hitting the water type with a Psybeam. Her hand moved diagonally, and the attack followed. Empoleon grunted from the attack, but it was no Psychic. The move was too weak to deal substantial damage. He swam toward Gothitelle, summoning another Brine that finished the psychic off.

Louis had won. Mira discreetly pumped a fist while Emilia sighed and started commentating her stream.

I need to start building counters for these weird moves, I thought to myself. Magic Room wouldn't have come near winning Pauline the battle had she fought against me— it was too niche of a trick specifically tailored toward her Braviary (and I assumed Primeape and Vigoroth) and didn't work for long. Plus, I would have been ready for it. Gothitelle was less focused on sheer power and more on utility and support, with Future Sight, Imprison, and Magic Room. Still such ingenuity from Pauline? Her battle with Volkner's Gym Trainer had been pitifully simple compared to this.

"So how about it, then?" Mira said. "You against Porygon? Doesn't even have to be here."

"Oh, right," I said. "Let me just talk to Pauline and Louis first."

I'd gotten to know Pauline very well this past year, so I thought I understood what had driven her to make this shift in her style. Out of the entire group, she was the only one that Volkner didn't battle. Why? The answer was simple once you knew the man himself. Pauline's style had carried her far, but it was so simple. Something Volkner no doubt would have found boring to battle against, especially when he held someone with her number of badges to such high standards.

"...good fight, Louis. Damn, Vespiquen is so annoying," I heard the redhead say. "Fire counters her easily, but there must be other ways to hamper her."

"I've had help from Zachary. It was mostly him g