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I Will Touch the Skies - A Pokemon Fanfiction (OC)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Soussouni1, Jan 27, 2023.

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  1. Threadmarks: Chapter 50
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

    Joined:
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    CHAPTER 50

    “This place gives me the creeps,” Pauline said, hugging herself tightly. “Is it colder in here?”

    “Don’t be so paranoid,” Louis answered, as he looked at a defunct painting of what looked to be the Prism Tower in Kalos. “We’ll be out in a few hours.”

    It had been a few minutes since the fight with the Dustox, and Louis, Pauline, and I were exploring the foyer of the mansion. Looking past all the destruction, the room was absolutely massive and completely symmetrical. Two large sets of staircases opposite each other led to an upper floor, and past those stairs was another huge double door. We didn’t want to go too far, however, so we decided against going past the foyer and into other rooms. Who knew what kind of wild Pokemon found refuge here?

    “The man who owned this place had an excellent taste in art, I must say,” Louis said, looking at a beautiful, unlit chandelier hanging overhead. “A shame what happened to the place. I wonder why it was abandoned.”

    “Well, maybe they realized that living here was suicidal, and they left,” Pauline said. She was clearly more unsettled by the place than we were and was probably only with us to talk and think about something else. “Good decision if you ask me.”

    Louis traced his fingers across the dusty walls before wiping his hand on his pants. “Why take nothing, though? The number of things in this foyer alone must be worth millions, and that’s not even counting the other rooms.

    “Trying to carry all of that out of this forest might have been more trouble than they could afford,” I muttered.

    We finally reached the massive doors behind the stairs and stopped dead in our tracks.

    “We should turn back,” I said.

    “You’ve been getting better at having good ideas,” Pauline jabbed.

    Sheesh, thanks,” I said irritatedly.

    We turned away, but Elekid held my leg and began to stir. He was extremely agitated, yelling and pulling me toward the room.

    I crouched and looked at him. “What is it? What’s the problem?”

    “Elekid!” He yelled with his face full of anguish.

    I frowned. This was unlike him. Pauline and Louis were already leaving toward where the others were. The only time Elekid had ever been like this was… before the attack on the power plant in Floaroma, and he had explicitly told me that he had known there was a problem. I gulped as sweat began to accumulate on my palms.

    “Kid! Kid!

    I took a breath. Team Galactic couldn’t be there, it was impossible.

    “A—are there bad guys in there?” I whispered with a shaky voice. “Like the ones you see on T.V. sometimes?”

    He shook his head. I sighed in relief as the feeling of utter terror that had started enveloping me evaporated from my body.

    “Ele!”

    “Alright big guy, let’s see what your problem is.”

    I sneaked up to the doors and slowly opened them, and a slew of Zubat flew out of the damp, dark room, causing me to scream.

    “Fuck…” I sighed. In front of me stood a giant dining room with a table so long and so many fancy, cushioned chairs it was almost comical. Elekid strode into the room. “Wait up!” I told him after he reluctantly stopped.

    Pauline and Louis rushed back toward me after hearing me scream, followed by the others— even Emilia.

    “What’s going on?” Denzel said, worryingly tapping my shoulder.

    “Nothing… just some Zubat living in here, and some problem with Elekid. He’s obsessed with this room.”

    Elekid carefully walked into the dining room, making sure not to make any noise. I carefully followed, wanting to see where he would bring us. He stopped when reaching one of the chairs at the edge of the table.

    “What… what is it?” Cece asked.

    “Alright, I think we need to leave, something— something is wrong.” Pauline panicked.

    “Fine,” I said. I had wanted to find out more about what Elekid’s problem was, but—

    Suddenly, we heard a voice throughout the room, but it wasn’t in a specific area. It was speaking to us from everywhere at once, and it was… it was undiscernible. It bordered on our language, but it was also impossible to understand, like a word on the tip of my tongue. Old lights, whether they were electric or candles, lit up all at once and started to flicker. The old cutlery and the plates on the table started to rattle and shake. I slowly edged back, bumping into Denzel and Cecilia, who were watching the spectacle with terrifying awe.

    “Let’s leave!” Emilia screamed.

    That broke us out of our spell, and we rushed toward the doors, but they slammed shut right as we were about to exit. The voice was getting louder.

    “Fuck!” Denzel swore. “Louis, help me pull!”

    Louis nodded, and they each got on one side of the doors and pulled as hard as they could. They wouldn’t budge. We were stuck in here.

    “Beldum, ram into it!” Emilia screeched.

    The steel type let out an alien-like grinding sound and flew at the door, but it wasn’t breaking.

    “What kind of fucked up shit is this?!” Pauline screamed. “I’m not about to die hours away from the Arceus damned exit!”

    I turned back toward the dining room with trembling legs and watched as one of the lights stopped flickering, grew larger and larger, and began to take shape. But as it morphed into something else, it, along with the other lights, also became darker, more sinister, basking the room in a cold, purple light. I leaned against the wall and then collapsed, covering my ears as I could only watch helplessly. The light finally took form as the voice reached its crescendo. It was made out of different shades of ragged, purple cloth that became more transparent the longer I looked. Three shiny red gems adorned its ‘clothing’ shining bright along with its yellow and red eyes. Its head didn’t end, instead forming into a witch’s hat. The Pokemon floated up and stared at us.

    I heard someone’s Pokedex speak with a familiar robotic voice. Mismagius, the magic Pokemon. Its cries sound like incantations. Those hearing it are tormented by— by— by—

    I heard Emilia yell as the Pokedex screen glitched out, flickering on and off for a few seconds before finally turning off.

    “We have to fight,” Denzel said, recalling Eevee and releasing Budew. “Normal type attacks won’t work against this one,”

    “What did you say?!” Justin yelled. The voice was too loud, he hadn’t heard him.

    “We fight!” Denzel yelled out, louder this time. “Budew, we’re fighting a ghost. Bullet Seed it!”

    A series of seeds flew toward the ghost type, who screeched out, either in pain or outrage. We all ordered our Pokemon to attack, but suddenly, the Mismagius disappeared into thin air, as if it had never been there. The voice— or the incantation, according to the Pokedex— was also gone, and the lights had gone back to normal.

    I took a few breaths to calm myself, but I struggled to. Seeing this reminded me too much of Mars’ Dusknoir, and I just couldn’t keep myself from freaking out. Cecilia was also unusually shaken, but she helped me up and held my hand gently.

    That’s right, I thought. I have my friends with me this time.

    “Let’s not spend another second in here,” Pauline said. “It can come back at any time.”

    We all agreed and hurried back to the entrance. Emilia would have to struggle, but we were only a few hours away, or maybe a day away at worse, so it hopefully wouldn’t be too bad.

    “Uh… what in the world?” Justin said.

    “No… this can’t be happening,” Pauline cried out, bringing her hands to her face.

    I frowned and walked in front of the group, and my eyes widened at what I saw. The windows and the exit door no longer led to Eterna forest. They instead led to another mansion, and then another, and another. It kept going… forever. The sight of it was utterly disturbing, forcing me to look away. It was like two mirrors facing each other, bouncing the light off of each other forever.

    Louis ran to the kicked-in door and hesitantly walked through. I winced, expecting something to happen, but he was completely fine.

    “We’re stuck. That ghost fucked us,” Denzel said in a defeated tone.

    “When you say stuck, you don’t mean forever, do you?” Justin cautioned.

    “I don’t know. We don’t know anything,” He replied.

    “Why the fuck did you open that door,” Pauline yelled, aggressively jamming her finger at me. I grimaced, expecting the dressing down of a lifetime, and I couldn’t even blame her. It was my fault. I had been too focused on figuring out what was wrong with Elekid and underestimated the danger this mansion could have posed.

    “Ugh,” She groaned. “I don’t even have the energy to be mad at you anymore, I’m just… I just want to get out. All this time, I’ve been strong. Strong like mommy would tell me to be, but I just can’t. We were so close, Grace.”

    “I’m sorry,” I said weakly, staring at the ground.

    I felt an arm wrap around my shoulder. “We’ve all fucked up in different ways during our trip through the forest,” Denzel said. “We’ll make it out, I promise you.”

    Cecilia nodded. “I certainly am no better, making you lot fight a Scyther.”

    “It’s kind of my fault, too,” Emilia muttered. “I mean, my leg was the entire reason we had to rest here.”

    “No, don’t blame yourself,” I hurriedly said.

    “And my performance during the first few days left a lot to be desired,” Louis chimed in. “And you brought back the group together when we needed it the most. Let’s let bygones be bygones and focus on getting out of here,” He continued.

    I wanted to cry. I had judged these people so harshly before, but now here they were, supporting me. I sniffled and wiped my eyes before standing straighter.

    “Alright, let’s make a plan.”

    The first thing we tried was breaking out through the side of the mansion. Beldum could easily ram through the half-rotten walls with Take Down. Unfortunately, we quickly learned that the ‘mirroring’ of the mansion not only applied to the doors and windows but to the walls as well. The hole in the roof seemed to still be there, but above it was what looked to be some kind of floor, meaning it also lead to another version of the mansion, but Cecilia sent her Fletchling to check it out anyway and confirmed it. Lastly, we considered digging our way out with Growlithe’s Dig. Beldum again rammed through the floor, expecting to find dirt, but he opened a gaping hole that was at least a fifty feet drop, and we quickly realized that there was no getting out through conventional means. After hastily covering the hole with a wooden we tore off the floor, we went back to strategizing.

    “If I had to guess,” I said. “I’d say we have to defeat the ghost or kill it for it to release us. It’d only be dead for a few weeks, but that would be enough for us to escape.”

    “So we have to find it then,” Cecilia said, before looking toward the entrance. “But it could be in… any of these mansions.”

    “It could be,” I said grimly.

    “Come on, that wouldn’t make any sense,” Denzel interjected. “It didn’t attack us, it trapped us in here. A powerful ghost type like Mismagius could have done a number on us. I think this is a test of some sort.”

    “A test?” Emilia frowned. “When Justin scanned it with his Pokedex, we couldn’t hear the full description, but I looked at the screen and read it. I— I didn’t think it was important, but… it said it creates hallucinations because— because it loves to torment people.”

    “So this is just a hallucination, then?” Cece said. “Can we wake ourselves up somehow?”

    “Wouldn’t count on it, but it doesn’t hurt to try anything,” I said. “But if it’s tormenting us, at least we can agree that it won’t kill us like Denzel said. Still… there must be a way to beat it.”

    Pauline lifted her head. She was still in low spirits, but we all understood. She had stayed strong the entire time and was finally at her limit. “How about we start looking for that fucking ghost, then? Search this mansion first, and then the next.”

    “And then the next…” Justin sighed. “We’ll starve. How much food do we have left?”

    “Enough for a few weeks, but time could be meaningless in here,” Cecilia said. “This is an illusion, and It’s been… two hours since we’ve been trapped here, give or take. I feel the exact same as I was. I’d normally be getting hungry around this time, and as you know, I live a very scheduled life.”

    “That’d be great,” Denzel said. “But we can’t guarantee it until more time has passed.”

    Pauline frowned for a few seconds and then perked up. “Guys, think about it. There’s no way there are actually an infinite amount of mansions, right? I mean, the amount of power that would require would be insane… like, only Legendaries from old stories you’d read could do something like that.”

    “I agree,” Cece nodded. “But still, it probably could create enough to strand us in here for days or weeks.”

    “Then what?” Emilia asked with fear in her eyes.

    “Grace and Pauline are right,” Cece sighed. “We need to look for Mismagius, and then we need to defeat it in battle.”
     
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter 51
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

    Joined:
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    CHAPTER 51

    "Nothing in there?!" I yelled out.

    "I'm afraid not, it's just another bedroom," Cecilia answered.

    We split into groups to fasten the search. The mansion didn't really have a lot of depth to it, but it was very large, horizontally speaking. That meant that it would be better to split the group into two and reconvene in the foyer every time we were done searching. If a group found the ghost, we were supposed to not engage and run to get the others as fast as possible. It wasn't the best plan, but we needed to cover as much ground as possible.

    "I think that's every room on this side," Denzel sighed. "Let's head back."

    "What number does that make? Is that our fourth or our fifth?" I asked as we walked through the mansion's huge hallway.

    "Fifth," Cece said. "How mind-numbingly boring."

    I looked down at Elekid worryingly. I hadn't gotten mad at him, of course. It was my fault for not stopping him and opening that door, but I couldn't help but wonder. Why? Why had he freaked out like that? What was the common denominator between the power plant at Valley Windworks and this busted mansion? No matter how much I racked my brain over it, I just couldn't figure it out. Cece, Denzel, and I walked down the giant staircase into the foyer and saw that Justin, Pauline, Louis, and Emilia were already waiting for us. Emi wasn't a part of the search because of her wounded leg, so she just stayed in the lobby waiting for us every time we moved on to another mansion. She had protested, mostly because being alone terrified her, but she knew it was for the good of the group, and at least it didn't look like Mismagius had brought any wild Pokemon into this made-up world.

    "Nothing?" Louis asked with a grimace.

    "Nope," Denzel said. "Let's move on?"

    I sighed. "Yeah, let's."

    I bit my tongue. Were we just wasting time here? For all we knew, maybe Mismagius would simply leave us here forever. The good news was that Cecilia's theory appeared to be correct. We weren't getting tired, or hungry after hours of searching, so it appeared we could theoretically stay here forever. Unfortunately, we didn't know what that entailed for our real-world selves. Had we passed out in that dining room, or were we whisked away to Mismagius' world? So many questions with so few answers. I brought it up to the group since I felt like it was an important discussion to have before we split up again.

    "I mean, I definitely think we were transported somewhere," Denzel said. "Our Pokeballs still work, right? And so do our Pokedexes, save for Justin's."

    "If this was a dream of some sort, there was no way for Mismagius to know what the rest of our teams looked like, and yet they are still intact," Pauline added.

    I nodded. That made sense, and I should have figured it out on my own, but right now, I just wasn't myself. The issue with Elekid, and the guilt over dragging everyone into this mess was eating me up inside.

    "Alright, we take the right, you guys take the left again," Denzel said.

    Think, Grace, think! I internally screamed. Elekid had dragged me to the Power Plant, but when he did, team Galactic hadn't been in the building yet. At first I thought he just wanted to steal some of their electricity, but then he told me that he knew something bad was there. Something bad…

    "Elekid," I said, my eyes widening. "You also knew something bad was in the dining room before we went inside?" I asked him.

    Denzel and Cece looked at me confusedly, but I raised my hand at them before they said anything.

    "Kid…" He said timidly.

    "I'm not mad, honey, but I need to know."

    The electric type nodded.

    "Alright. Does it have something to do with ghosts? Like, actual ghosts, not Pokemon like Frillish."

    Elekid nodded again, more confidently this time. I exhaled in relief, jubilant I had finally figured it out. He must have… felt, or sensed the Dusknoir in the power plant at first, and then the Mismagius. But that still didn't answer the how. People often said that when ghosts were near, they sometimes felt wrong, like Pauline had before Mismagius attacked us, but Elekid's ability was something else.

    "So if I understand this correctly, Elekid can find ghost types?" Cecilia asked.

    "Ghosts, not ghost types. There's a difference," I said. I stared into Elekid's eyes. "Could you help us find the Mismagius again? You could tell Dusknoir was in the plant from pretty far back in Floaroma."

    "Wait, it knew that Dusknoir was in the plant?!" Denzel asked incredulously.

    I ignored him and kept looking into Elekid's eyes. He shook his head and sagged his arms. I frowned, trying to figure out what the issue was. Thinking back, he had only started feeling Mismagius when we started getting near the dining room door, which was a far cry from the range he had shown at Floaroma.

    Cece caught on to what I was thinking. "Perhaps it has something to do with the ghost's power," She theorized. "That Mismagius may be capable of powerful illusions, but when we attacked it all at once, we did real damage. It's defeatable."

    I hit my palm with a fist. "That's it!" I exclaimed. "But it still doesn't help us track the Arceus damned thing down that much. We still have to search."

    "But at least we won't have to search the rooms anymore," Cece smiled.

    "That's certainly an improvement. Some of these are way too big," Denzel said.

    "Can you do that for me, Elekid? Try to feel the ghost through doors like you did last time?"

    The electric type yelled out, finally regaining his usual energetic behavior. It wasn't much, but it was something.

    ——

    Eight hours. Eight dull, mind-numbing hours had passed, and there was still no progress. We searched through twenty-two mansions, by our count. Our speed was greatly improved. Thanks to Elekid's help, by the time we were done searching our side of the mansion, the others still weren't even halfway done with their side, and we would always go and help out. Unfortunately, there was still no sign of Mismagius. We were starting to lose hope.

    "What if it's in one of the ones toward the bottom? Or the top?" Pauline lamented. "How do we even get down there?"

    We were currently taking a small break just to refresh our ideas and brainstorm another tactic, because this clearly still wasn't working.

    "I could have Beldum drop you guys down with Confusion. Or bring you up," Pauline said in her usual quiet voice. "He can levitate with you, so you'll never be out of range."

    Louis slouched into the defunct couch he sat on. "We can do that after we clear all the mansions on this floor, I suppose."

    "This is going to take weeks," I sighed, looking toward the 'exit'. After a few seconds, I blinked and averted my eyes. Staring at what looked to be infinity gave me a headache. However, something on the ground caught my eye. I gasped when I saw a specific piece of wood we had placed hours ago to avoid falling to our deaths.

    "Guys," I started. "Isn't that what we put to plug that hole Beldum made?" I said, pointing at the piece of wood.

    Cece stared at it intently. "That… that is!"

    Denzel rushed toward the wooden plank, removed it, and smiled. "Holy shit, I can't believe our luck. If you hadn't seen that, we would have kept going and searched the same thing over and over again. Wait, have we been going in loops this entire time and not noticing?"

    "That's a possibility," Justin said, resting his head in the palm of his hand. "How about we test it out? I'll run through the mansions and count how many I go through before returning here again."

    "Alright," I said. "But if you count above twenty-two, turn back. It could be some ghost fuckery again."

    The teen nodded, got up, and ran toward the exit. We watched intently until eventually blurred and disappeared.

    "That was five mansions," He said, panting.

    We jumped, hearing his voice behind us.

    "Arceus, can't you run a little less silently?" Denzel complained.

    "Five?!" Pauline yelled. "We already looped for no reason, then!"

    "If there are five mansions, then we should be able to see… ourselves by looking toward the exits, no?" I asked.

    "Mismagius might be using its powers to trick us," Cece said.

    "What's done is done," Louis said. "Is it safe to assume that there's five in all directions then? Up and down? Toward the sides as well?"

    "It's not safe to assume anything," Cece shook her head, grabbing a Pokeball. "I'll send Fletchling." She released the flying type, who landed on her shoulder. "Darling, please fly up through the ceiling and keep going. If there are more than five instances of this mansion, come back down right away."

    The bird chirped and blurred upward impressively fast, and vanished as it created a hole through the upper floor. After around two minutes, she flew through our floor with Quick Attack, landing on her owner's shoulder and singing in her ear happily.

    "Five upward, then it must be five downward as well," She said. "Fletchling, please go check the sides too."

    The fire type nodded and flew up the stairs toward one of two hallways. It took longer this time, but she looped back, and Cece recalled her.

    "Five times five times five is…" I started, trying to do the math in my head. "Any of you guys got the calculator app on your Poketch?"

    "It's one hundred and twenty-five," Emilia said. "That's such an easy calculation."

    I shrunk down in embarrassment. "I've never been much of a math girl."

    "But that means that there are one hundred and twenty-five mansions in total," Justin said. "We've already looked through all of them on this row."

    "Then we keep going," Cece declared in a determined tone. "First, we check the rest of them on this floor, and then we'll do the same on other floors."

    ——

    Being lifted by Confusion felt funny. That was the only world I could describe it with. I felt a thousand different palpitations on my skin as Beldum hovered in front of me with its shining eye. My body was completely stiff, and I couldn't move whatsoever. I was at the steel type's complete mercy, and that was certainly a sobering feeling. A few inches above the floor, it finally let me go, and I messed up the landing, falling to the side and onto my back. I cried out in pain.

    "Fucking… fuck!" I hissed through my teeth. "Gotta stick the landing next time."

    Denzel and Cecilia helped me up. I was the last one to go down, so we were finally all there, on another level of Mismagius' fucked up world. Another twenty-five mansions to look through. It would take time. It would take effort, but we would make it.

    "Well, let's get looking," Denzel said, clapping his hands.

    ——

    "Still nothing?" I asked Elekid. The electric type shook his head.

    "Let's head to the next one, then," Justin said.

    We were currently helping them search since we had finished looking through our side a while ago. We were currently on our fourth floor. Nobody knew how much time it had been anymore, but we were starting to consider the possibility that Mismagius was moving to avoid us.

    We made our way back to the foyer, but right before we were about to head toward the entrance, Elekid's eyes widened. He started spinning his arms, making my hair stand up.

    "Feel something?!" I asked urgently.

    "Kid!"

    "Holy shit, this might be it," Denzel said. "Get ready."

    All of our Pokemon that knew long-range attacks got into position, and Growlithe and Eevee were still out in case they ever managed to Bite the Arceus damned thing. We hadn't come up with a plan of action aside from throwing everything we had at Mismagius, so we weren't going to hold anything back. We edged our way through the door and into the kitchen, where Mismagius stood completely still, hovering over the dinner table as if it had been waiting for us.

    "Gothita, Psybeam! Charmeleon, Dragon Rage!" Pauline ordered, breaking the silence.

    The attacks passed through the ghost type, but it screeched out in pain anyway, and it began its incantation again.

    "It's trying to trap us again!" I yelled. "Elekid, Thundershock! Frillish, Hex! Togetic, Fairy Wind!"

    Mismagius screamed as a dozen attacks kept passing through it. It was behaving strangely, not dodging or attacking back. The singing was getting louder. I covered my ears and kept ordering my Pokemon, but I wasn't sure if they were even hearing me. My jaw trembled as contemplated the fact that we might get transported deeper into another one of Mismagius' worlds. An illusion within an illusion.

    A Dragon Rage from Gible hit the ghost, and it disintegrated into purple smoke. A deafening silence settled into the room, but a few seconds later, the world around us started to do the same. It was all coming apart.

    "Did we do it?" I asked in a worried tone.

    "Well, either we did it, or we're all about to disappear," Denzel said, laughing nervously. "I hope it's the former."

    The world was unraveling, and soon, only darkness was left.

    And then I blinked.

    We were back in the dining room. The original one, where Mismagius had first trapped us, and it was still there. Everyone was in the same positions they had been, along with the Pokemon we had out when we first got transported. It was as if no time had passed at all.

    "Magius!" The ghost type yelled a shadowy force began to swirl into a ball around its mouth.

    "Deino!" Cecilia yelled.

    The dragon type roared and let out a Dragon Breath, hitting the ball and causing it to explode into a thousand shadows.

    "Elekid, hit it," I simply said as orders thundered around me.

    He hollered in approval as his arms began to spin. Beldum let out a Flash Canon that completely ripped apart Mismagius' form, but it coalesced again, and the steel type's body started to smoke. I recognized Hex immediately. Mismagius darted left and right as it tried to avoid the numerous moves we threw at it, but it was too much. It couldn't focus on dodging and attacking at the same time. Cecilia released her Fletchling and ordered it to harass the ghost type with Peck and Ember.

    "We've got it on the ropes! Can we run?!" I yelled out.

    "Hell yes, we can!" Pauline answered.

    Eevee used Quick Attack to jump on the table, and then at Mismagius before Biting at it, pulling out some of the cloth it used as its body. Gothita tried restraining the ghost type with Confusion, but psychic type attacks weren't great against ghosts, so its abilities were limited there. Mismagius screeched and sunk into the ground, its form becoming nothing but a shadow on it ground. In a flash, it was behind Gothita, and it hit it across the floor. The psychic type struggled to get up, but after a few seconds, it fainted.

    "On the count of three, we all rush out!" Denzel said. "One, two—"

    The door slammed again, and it was impenetrable. Mismagius was forcing us to stay here and fight.

    "Arceus, damn it!" Denzel screamed, slamming the door with his fist.

    Mismagius sniggered and it used Hex on Fletchling, who crashed onto the table. It grinned as it sunk into the shadows again and swatted the bird at the wall.

    "Fletchling!" Cecilia cried. "Deino, go Bite!"

    The dragon let out a gleeful roar as it rushed across the room, paying no mind to the table or the chairs. Mismagius shrieked as another Thundershock and Dragon Rage hit, and its form collapsed again. It took a few seconds for it to come back together, and it was still focused on Fletchling, but Deino was there. I could almost see the darkness fester in his mouth as he bit into Mismagius and shook his head, trying to dissolve it once more. Fletchling tried to fly away, but it was too weak. Cecilia grabbed her Pokeball to—

    I covered my eyes as the bird started to shine. She was evolving. Mismagius screeched even louder, no doubt angry at the light, but it was busy getting completely destroyed by Cece's enraged Deino.

    Fletchinder rose and struggled as she flew toward Cecilia. Her talons clawed into her trainer's shoulder, causing her to wince. Cece gently recalled her flying type and released her Slowpoke.

    "Keep Water Pulsing when you have an opening," She ordered.

    I snapped out of my daze and released Frillish as well. The water type was enraged as he flew toward Mismagius before hitting it with Hex. Deino let go right before another Flash Canon utterly dissolved the ghost once again. We waited… and waited, but it didn't reappear this time. The doors gently creaked behind us as they opened. We didn't need to speak another word.

    We ran.

    ——

    If someone had told me a day ago that I would have been glad to be back in Eterna forest, I would have called them insane. We were finally free, and according to the dates on our Poketches, no time had passed at all. In fact, it looked like not even one second had passed in the real world during our stay in Mismagius' world, as if the experience had been instant. We made sure to warn future trainers passing there about how dangerous this place was by carving a message into one of the nearby trees, and then onto the mansion's door for good measure. Who knew what kind of ghosts would move in now that Mismagius was gone for a few weeks?

    Oh well, we had done all we could, and we would tell the Rangers about this mansion. I could only hope it would serve someone in the future.

    I grinned as I saw the Eterna forest's exit in the distance. We had made it through more trials than most trainers would face in their careers. And we had gone so relatively unscathed. Everyone was alive. I stepped into the sunlight and exhaled shakily as tears welled up in my eyes. The Pokemon Center was right there. In the distance, I could see Mount Coronet, covered in snow and striking through the clouds. Emilia let out a small laugh mixed with a cry, and we all started giggling. We were free.

    And damn, did it feel good.
     
  3. Threadmarks: Interlude - Goals
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    INTERLUDE - Goals

    Chase couldn’t stop himself from repeatedly tapping his foot against the ground as the ranger explained the ins and outs of Eterna forest. He groaned and pulled his cap over his eyes. When the teenager had arrived at the outpost, he had originally wanted to go straight into the forest after a one hour lunch break, but lo and behold, the rangers implemented a damn course, and now he was being treated like he was in kindergarten. Chase didn’t need a damn class to make it through the damn forest, but he had no choice but to suffer through it to get that damn ticket.

    Not that he was listening anyway. Right now, he was thinking about how he’d reorganize his workouts in the forest. It’d probably be smart to lower the intensity a little so he could save his energy in case anything happened. It was frustrating to think about, but Chase wasn’t stupid. He knew how far his workouts pushed him and his team, and he wasn’t about to make them take a risk if he didn’t need to. Especially not Ri.

    “I think you should listen, kid,” Someone whispered next to him.

    Chase considered getting up right then and there, but then he’d be kicked out, and he’d have to sit in a class all over again. He glanced at the clock above the projected screen. There was only one hour and twenty-two minutes left, and then he’d be out of here.

    “Seriously,” The man said again. “I’m saying this to help.”

    “What the fuck do you want?” Chase snapped, turning toward the man. A few heads turned toward him, but the Ranger hadn’t heard. He looked to be in his early twenties and had a patchy beard.

    The man sighed. “Look, I don’t like it either,” He muttered under his breath. “I’ve been through this forest four times, but you don’t see me not paying attention. I’ve learned things I didn’t even know before.”

    “You’re talking to me, not paying attention,” Chase replied. “I don’t care about your story, fuck off.”

    That seemed to have convinced him to leave him alone. Chase smiled and retreated into his thoughts once more. The trainer was a bit tight on money, even after battling and crushing as many trainers as he could. He lamented missing that Floaroma tournament. That would have given him a big boost, but oh well, what was done was done. Chase had no doubt he’d be able to power through the forest with Riolu. Time passed slowly, but finally, the class was over.

    “Time’s up!” The ranger said. “I’ve got your tickets here, make sure to grab one before exiting the class.” She continued.

    Chase hopped out of his chair and grinned as he lazily picked up his ticket. He readjusted his cap and strode out of the Ranger building, going straight toward the entrance of the forest. Suddenly though, he felt a hand on his shoulder. His eyes bulged, and he immediately swatted it away before getting into a sparring position. Chase felt his throat clog up before realizing he wasn’t home. There was no need to be on edge. This was a long way from the Iron Islands.

    “I thought I told you to fuck off,” Chase said before putting his hands in his pocket. The same man who had talked to him in class stared at him with a smile. Chase didn’t like that smile. It exuded pity, and no one had the right to pity him. “Why’re you looking at me like that? Think you’re funny?”

    The man raised his hands. “Listen, I just want to warn you. I’ve seen plenty of kids like you come and go, and it usually doesn’t end well.”

    “I’m not a usual trainer,” Chase said. “Don’t you know who I am?”

    Chase’s popularity on the forums and throughout Sinnoh had exploded since he busted in the power plant at Valley Windworks and took on team Galactic. Hell, he’d even given some interviews a few times. He reckoned that he was more popular than Cecilia Obel now, although she had also gotten another bump due to her being one of the hostages.

    “Chase Karlson, right?” He smiled. “I’m Scott Montante. Pleasure to meet you.”

    “Are we done? Do you want to battle or something? An autograph?” Chase asked.

    “No, I just want to save you from killing yourself, kid,” Scott said. “Why don’t we head to the Center and talk? I got someone else waiting for me.”

    “No,” Chase shook his head and started walking away.

    “I’ve read about you, you know?” Scott said. “I’ve seen a video of your scuffle with Cecilia Obel in Oreburgh. Seemed like some shitty teen drama to me, but still. I’ve met a few kids from her group, and from what I’ve seen, they’re doing much better than you.”

    Chase’s eye twitched. “Easy to do good when her dad pays for everything,” Chase confidently said. “I’m better than her. I’ve got more talent and dedication. Is she here right now?”

    “Sure,” Scott smiled. “Come with me to the Center, and I’ll help you find her. You wanted to battle, right?”

    “Well, if you put it that way, fine.”

    ——

    Chase watched as Scott sat next to a girl at one of the tables in the Pokemon Center’s lobby. He frowned.

    “Where’s Obel? That’s not her,” He said.

    “Obel?” The girl said. Chase could feel a certain amount of disdain from the way she spoke. “Why would you think I was her?” She turned to Scott.

    “What have you been telling this guy?”

    “Sorry kid, I tricked ya,” Scott said. “Sit.”

    “What the hell—”

    “Sit,” Scott said more forcefully this time. Chase considered just storming out, but at this point, he was too interested in what this guy had to say. Maybe he still knew where Obel was. Chase dragged the chair and sat down. “Good!” Scott continued. “Now, let me introduce you kids. This is Maeve Chang,” He said, pointing at the girl. “This is Chase Karlson.”

    That’s Chase Karlson?” She said. “You look different than in the pictures and videos.”

    “I think you’ve just got a fucked up sense of sight,” Chase snarked. “You should get that checked out.”

    “Stop bickering,” Scott groaned. “Now, you two got a lot in common. You both hate Obel. Well, in Maeve’s case, she more specifically hates Louis Bianchi, but the principle still applies. And just like you, Chase, this girl was about to storm into the Arceus damned forest alone.”

    “So?” She said. “I’m kind of bad with people, so I just didn’t want to bother. I thought I could handle it.”

    Chase felt the corner of his lips rise. He liked the confidence.

    “No, you can’t. Something’s going on in the forest this year,” Scott said grimly. “The Rangers theorize that there are too many trainers trying to get through, and that’s making the wild Pokemon more agitated than usual. This is you guys’ first year, so you wouldn’t know, but I’d say that there are at least… thirty to forty percent more people than usual signing up for the Circuit.”

    “Why?” Maeve asked.

    “I don’t know, but either way, the forest is deadly, and I unfortunately don’t want two dead kids on my conscience, so I want you to join up with me.”

    “Absolutely not,” Chase said. “If you want to play guardian angel, you can pick up someone else and go in with them.”

    “I mean, I might be willing to accept that,” Maeve replied after a few seconds. “But only if I get access to your items.”

    “Alright, Maeve, you’re in,” Scott smiled. “And Chase, you two are the only people I’ve come across that were thinking about going through Eterna alone. The only ones. The others are at least smart about forming a group, so I’m focusing on you.”

    Chase mused. “Find me Obel, and I’ll consider it.”

    The man groaned. “She left yesterday. You arrived too late.”

    “Then I’m out—”

    “Wait. I know my way through the forest. Like I’ve said, I’ve been through it four times. You didn’t even listen to the course, do you know what way to head toward?” Scott asked.

    “Pretty sure the Ranger said north.”

    “Northeast, you moron,” Maeve said, waving her hand.

    Chase was about to retort, but Scott interjected. “Look, what I’m saying is that if you want, I can lead you to the other end, and we’ll probably be fast enough to meet her at the outpost on the other side of the forest. The advantage of being a group of three is that we’ll be quick on our feet.”

    The teen thought about the man’s offer. What was his goal? To be perfect. And to be perfect, he needed to become the Champion. Obel stood in the way of that. Sure, he had gained in popularity, and he had intensified his training since that… humiliating near loss to Roark, but he wanted to crush her. To prove that he was better once and for all.

    You’ll beat me, and then what? What will your goal be beyond that victory?

    Cynthia’s words cut through his train of thought, causing Chase to grind his teeth. In many showers or long nights, he had fantasized about what he would answer to that question if he was given to chance again, however unlikely that was. Meeting the Champion was unlikely, and even though he knew himself to be special, he was under no delusion that Cynthia paid any attention to him. Still, he had no answer to that question. But why did he even need one? Plenty of trainers were only driven by their goal to obtain the position of Champion, and he went a step beyond that.

    He relaxed with a sigh. Perfection was the goal. He couldn’t hold Riolu back.

    “Alright. I’m in if we leave immediately.”

    Scott smiled. “Sounds good, let’s get started!”

    ——

    The forest was more oppressive than Chase had thought. Even after the first day, the constant attacks were one thing, but the darkness reminded him too much of the mines back home. He hated traveling through caves for that reason, and the forest was having a similar effect on him. Riolu placed a paw on his leg as they sat by the fire Maeve’s Monferno had lit, and he looked at Chase with worry.

    “I’m fine, Ri,” Chase softly said. “Don’t worry about me.”

    “Rio!”

    Scott was lying on some tarp he had laid on the forest floor, and Maeve was sitting dangerously close to the fire. She hated the cold. Scott’s Kricketune— who he called Lute— laid back against a tree as he finished playing another one of his songs. It was certainly a unique Pokemon to use, but the teen had to admit the music was soothing.

    “Damn, I’ve never heard that one before. That was great, Lute. I know you like playing for an audience, but you shouldn’t have hidden it from me.”

    “T—thanks, Lute,” Maeve trembled. Her Monferno hugged her back and let his warmth spread to her. “Thank you, Monferno. Watch the tail, though.”

    Kricketune let out a smooth, beautiful cry that it combined with its violin bow-like arms to create a melody. Every Arceus damned noise that came out of that Pokemon’s mouth was a blessing.

    “Was Lute your first Pokemon?” Maeve asked. “You don’t often see trainers use them.”

    “He was, and I’m damn proud of him,” Scott smiled as his friend started playing another song. “He’s taken me far, but I also have a Granbull, a Magneton, a Quagsire, and a Carkol.”

    Even Chase’s eyes widened at that. Scott looked to be a hell of a trainer. It pissed him off.

    “Come on, don’t look at me like that,” He said. “I’ve been at this for years. You’ll catch up in no time,” He said. “I’m not that great. The best I’ve reached was four badges, and that was last year.”

    Chase felt the urge to go out and train, but it wouldn’t be wise in the forest. Plus, he was sure he would catch up soon enough. Like Scott had said, he had been at it for years.

    “Any tips for new trainers like us?” Maeve asked.

    “Well, I’m not great, but I’d say try to catch a team of six as soon as you can. I’ve been trying to look for my sixth member, but the amount of training I’d have to do to bring it up to par with the rest of the team seems exhausting. Maeve, you’ve got four Pokemon, you said?”

    “Yeah. Monferno, Staryu, Staravia and Skorupi.”

    “Good. Well balanced, too,” Scott nodded before chuckling. “You’ve got a thing for the letter S, though.”

    “You’re like the fiftieth person to make that joke. Stop.”

    “Alright, alright, sorry,” Scott said, waving his hand. “What about you, Chase?”

    “Hmph. Riolu, Charjabug and Houndour.”

    “Great. You guys are on the right track. It’s always good to have three members before the second gym.”

    “Why?” Maeve asked.

    “Because after your first badge, every gym leader expects you to have at least three Pokemon. If you have less, tough luck. You’re fighting a two versus three, or a one versus three.”

    “I could handle that with Ri,” Chase grinned. “We’ve trained hard after Oreburgh. I think I’ll wipe the floor with Gardenia.”

    The conversation continued for another hour, accompanied by the warm crackling of the fire and Lute’s songs.

    ——

    Chase, Scott, and Maeve were all crouched behind a fallen log, observing a Pinsir quietly feed on some Seedot that it had knocked off a tree with its powerful pincers. Chase almost shot up, starving at the opportunity to challenge himself by fighting the Pokemon, but Scott held him back by pulling on his shirt.

    “What the he—”

    Scott placed his hand over his mouth. Chase tried to punch and kick his way out, but even though he was slowly making progress, Scott was a twenty-one year old man. There was no getting out of this.

    Riolu was looking, Chase thought as a pit full of dread formed in his stomach. A few minutes later, Pinsir left, and Scott finally let him go. Riolu was looking carefully with his arms crossed.

    “What the fuck is your problem?” Chase yelled.

    “Quiet, or it’ll come back,” Maeve hissed.

    “You were stupid for trying to challenge a Pokemon way out of your league,” Scott said. “That Pinsir’s bad news. I thought it never came around here.”

    “I don’t give a fuck,” Chase said. “Never do that again.”

    Scott sighed. “Alright, I’m sorry. But hear me out. That Pinsir belonged to a trainer who died here— I don’t remember his name. But he’s wild again, and he’s tough. I could probably take him on because he looked wounded, but I didn’t want to risk it.”

    Chase wiped the dirt and leaves from his clothes. “Fine, but you do that again and I’m out,” He said, clicking his tongue. He wanted to scream. To get in his face and fight, but Riolu was already disappointed as it was.

    “So you’ve seen that Pinsir before?” Maeve asked. "If it belonged to someone, why is it dangerous? Shouldn't it be friendly?"

    “Yes, but way deeper in the forest. I reckon it’s the most powerful Pokemon in this Arceus damned forest. I wonder what kind of crazy motherfuckers fought him. I hope they didn’t die,” Scott sighed. “I’ll have to tell the rangers about this when we get to the other side.”

    “Alright,” Maeve breathed out. “Let’s keep going.”

    ——

    Another two days had passed, and they were making good ground. Truth be told, Scott was right when he told Chase he knew what he was doing. He knew how to avoid the most dangerous Pokemon using prints, cries, and markings on trees. It was impressive, to say the least. Obviously though, Chase was catching on quickly, as always.

    “See that on the ground?” Scott said before turning to the two teenagers. “Guess what Pokemon that is.”

    Chase crouched and observed the shape of the print. “That’s a Shroomish,” He said right away. “Those are perfect circles.”

    “Correct,” Scott smiled. “Maeve, try to be faster next time.”

    “It was on the tip of the tongue,” She complained. “Come on!”

    Scott frowned before raising a finger. “Feel that temperature drop?” He asked.

    Maeve held out her hands. “Yeah?”

    “Ghost incoming,” He warned.

    They all got in position and got ready to fight. Chase quickly released Houndour, and Maeve released Staravia. Scott left his Kricketune out. A series of eerie screams resonated through the forest, and Scott relaxed.

    “We’re good,” He said. “Stand down.”

    The two trainers acquiesced and watched as five Phantump floated through the forest as if they were being gently carried by the wind. Each one carried a unique mask made out of wood. Chase couldn’t help but feel uneasy when staring into their red eyes. A few minutes later, they were gone without having attacked.

    “Why aren’t they aggressive?” Maeve asked. “Ghosts usually are.”

    “Not Phantump,” Scott said with his eyes downcast. “They’re… the spirit of kids that died in the forest. They never attack other trainers unless they’re attacked first.”

    Chase scratched his neck uncomfortably. “Let’s keep going. No time to waste.”

    The words felt hollow when they came out.

    ——

    The very next day, a Pokemon caught Chase’s eye. A Zangoose was dashing in between trees and clawing at them with a move that seemed to be Slash. It was doing so with a level of dexterity that rivaled Riolu’s, and it kept alternating between running on all fours and on its hind legs. Scott wanted the group to avoid it, but Chase felt something inside of him. The same thing he had felt when he had caught Houndour and Charjabug. An unexplainable feeling that tugged at his heart, screaming at him, ordering him to catch the Pokemon in front of his eyes.

    “Why is it taking so long,” Maeve whispered.

    “Zangoose’s claws grow forever, so it often needs to use them on something before they get too long. I guess this one figured out a way to train while doing so. Talk about taking out two birds with one stone,” Scott answered.

    Chase smirked. Zangoose had the drive to be on his team. A dedication to the craft of training. “I’m catching it,” He simply said. “Stand back.”

    “What?” Scott shook his head. “If you want to catch it, fine, but let us help you.”

    “Have some Arceus damned respect,” Chase said. “I could never ambush this Zangoose. Ready Riolu?”

    “Ri!”

    He stepped out of his hiding spot and announced himself. “Zangoose!”

    The normal type immediately stood on his hind legs and hissed as the hair on its back stood up.

    “You are like me. You work to perfect yourself through training, slowly but surely,” Chase smiled. Zangoose was still ready to fight, but it was listening. “Riolu and I challenge you to a fight. Both of us, so don’t hesitate to come after me,”

    “Are you crazy—” Scott yelled.

    “Goose!”

    “Ah, you'll have to excuse them. Those are my traveling companions. We’re helping each other get through the forest, but they won’t join the battle. If I win, I want you to join my team,” Chase continued with a wild grin.

    Zangoose hesitated, but it nodded after some deliberation.

    “On the count of three,” Chase started. “One, two, three,”

    Zangoose rushed forward with a blur, but Chase could see it. Now it was about his body not falling behind. He ducked as Zangoose raked its claws where his neck had just been.

    “Riolu, on me! Force Palm!” Chase ordered.

    His Pokemon blurred with Quick Attack and jumped on Chase’s back, using his trainer to propel himself to hit the Zangoose with Force Palm at incredible speeds. The normal type clawed back, but Riolu was already back at Chase’s side.

    Zangoose hissed and raked its claws together before dashing toward Chase once again. Riolu jumped and hit it away with Bone Rush, but Zangoose blocked with its arm and Slashed Riolu away. Chase scrambled and grabbed his backpack, moving it to the front to block the attack, but he was still knocked away by the sheer force. Riolu barked, and his palms glowed once more as he shone with Quick Attack.

    The normal type hissed before clawing at Riolu, but he quickly stepped back with a feint and stepped in after Zangoose’s Slash, hitting it right in the abdomen over and over.

    “Wait!” Chase ordered. Riolu stopped his onslaught. “I’m giving you a chance to surrender and come with me.”

    Zangoose hissed and jumped at Riolu.

    “Circle Throw!” Chase said.

    The fighting type awkwardly pushed Zangoose’s right leg away before grabbing its arm and lifting it over his body, and ramming its face straight into a tree.

    “Force Palm,” He calmly said.

    Before Zangoose could even recover, he came under assault from Riolu’s Force Palm. It was hit over and over, and it tried to claw back, but it was too weak now. Too slow.

    Chase grabbed one of the Pokeballs that had fallen from his now torn-up backpack. “We defeated you,” He told Zangoose. “It was a good fight. I… I tasted defeat back home, but I left and vowed never to lose again. Join me.”

    Zangoose let out a trembling nod. Chase touched it with his Pokeball and smiled.

    ——

    Zangoose, the cat ferret Pokemon. Memories of battling its archrival Seviper are etched into every cell of Zangoose’s body. This Pokémon adroitly dodges attacks with incredible agility. When it battles, it stands on its hind legs and attacks with its sharply clawed forelegs.

    Moves: Quick Attack, Slash, Hone Claws, Fury Swipes, Scratch, Leer, Fury Cutter (click for more information)

    Ability: Toxic Boost (click for more information)


    Chase grinned. “You’ve got a lot of moves, and an outstanding ability,” He said. He immediately started imagining scenarios where he poisoned his Zangoose with Houndoor’s Smog before a big battle.

    Zangoose hissed and bowed her head. It seemed like she had gained a great deal of respect for him thanks to their battle.

    “She looks angry all the time,” Maeve said as she nestled closer to the fire.

    “I still can’t believe you asked her to come after you,” Scott said. “You’ve got a death wish.”

    “Why would I make my Pokemon fight if I never join in? That’s how you gain their respect and show that you're worth a damn,” Chase said.

    “That’s some unhealthy mindset,” Scott said. “But congrats on the new member, I guess.”

    “I don’t need congratulations. If I couldn't catch her, I don’t deserve to be a trainer.”

    ——

    Another two days passed, and according to Scott, they were close to the exit. Even though the trip through Eterna forest had been relatively easy, Chase was glad it’d be over soon.

    It was exhausting and reminiscent of home.

    “Well, I think this is going to be my last time going through this damned forest,” Scott chuckled as he lazily chewed on some canned beans.

    “Why? You retiring after this year?” Maeve asked curiously.

    “Yeah,” He replied. “I’m going to try to become a Ranger.”

    Chase’s eyes widened. “Why? Why settle for such a mediocre goal?” He asked dryly.

    Scott frowned. “Don’t call it mediocre. It’s been my dream since I was a kid,” He said, raising his tone slightly.

    “Then why’d you try to Circuit so many times,” Maeve asked. “If you don’t mind me asking?”

    “To get better as a trainer,” Scott said. “It was never about becoming the Champion for me, I just wanted to get experience. I’ve always wanted to use my skills to help others, and I feel like I’m good enough to join next year.”

    “Wow…” Maeve said.

    “I don’t get it,” Chase scoffed. “I really don’t. I’ve seen you battle. You’re good. Better than you act. You could easily get more than four badges if you pushed yourself harder. You could try to reach the top—”

    “Stop it, Chase,” He growled. “Stop. I know you’ve got issues, but don’t project them onto me.”

    Chase shook his head and blinked. It was as if he had been slapped. “The fuck do you mean?”

    “I said what I said,” Scott added. “Good night.”

    He turned away from the teenager. Chase tapped his foot against the soft ground repeatedly. He didn’t have issues. It wasn’t his fault people seemed content with mediocrity in their lives. It just baffled him to see someone with the potential to reach the Conference just… give up. And for what? To become some shitty ranger?

    “Well, this is awkward,” Maeve said, clapping her hands. “I’m just going to sleep too. Nighty night.”

    Chase huffed. They were all blind. Every last one of them, and he would prove them all wrong. All of them.

    ——

    When they reached the outpost on the other side of Eterna forest, the group immediately split. There weren’t really any hard feelings. They knew that their group had been just a temporary arrangement. Scott got his wish and got them through the forest, and he left for the ranger building to warn them about the Pinsir. Maeve was more of a solitary trainer, as he was, and she quickly left for the Center, since she wanted to get to Eterna as fast as possible.

    The sun felt gentle on his skin, unlike the harsh weather of the Iron Islands. Chase walked to a secluded area of the outpost and released his team. Charjabug screeched happily since he hadn’t released it during the entirety of the forest trip except once to keep watch at night. Riolu, Zangoose, and Houndour were tired and had suffered some wounds due to fights with wild Pokemon.

    Perfect.

    “We’re all tired right now,” Chase grinned. “Let’s work out and push ourselves to the limit.”

    He needed to catch up for all that slacking off he had done in Eterna forest first. Then, it was time to find Obel.
     
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 52
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

    Joined:
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    CHAPTER 52

    I ran through the power plant as fast as I could. How had I even gotten here? My legs felt sluggish. Slow, and unresponsive, like I was wading through water, but I kept going. Every corner I turned, she was there, waiting with a gleeful smile.

    Mars.

    She was everywhere, her knife in hand and Dusknoir at her side. She slashed her blade at me, cutting across my face despite me not being near her. I screamed and felt at my face. The pain was unbearable. My hand was slick with warm blood. Mars lazily approached me, skipping across the floor like a little girl.

    “I told you, didn’t I? That I would find you again,” She said, before laughing wildly.

    I spoke, but no words came out of my mouth. She gripped her knife tighter and stabbed me, over and over and over and over and over—


    I jolted awake with a shriek, clutching at my abdomen. Frillish was floating above, watching me with intense worry. I groaned and sat at the edge of the bed, wiping sweat off my body.

    “Fuck… that was… Arceus.”

    The pain had felt so real. Even now, my body throbbed where I had been stabbed in the nightmare. It was our first night at the outpost’s Pokemon Center, and I had decided enough was enough. Cynthia told me that I needed to not get too dependent on Togetic’s power, and when the Champion gave you advice about something, you listened. That didn’t mean that she wasn’t sleeping with me, though.

    “Prrri…” Togetic cried out with a sad look on her face. I grimaced. Seeing her sad was like someone was crushing my heart. Elekid got off from the wall he leaned on to sleep, and called out reassuringly, while Tangela looked up at me with his vast googly eyes.

    “Sorry guys, I must have woken you all up,” I said. “I… I need a shower.”

    I closed the bathroom door and stared at myself in the mirror, taking deep breaths to calm my beating heart. This was incredibly discouraging. It was as if I had made no progress at all, and I was back to step one, except the nightmares about Golbat were now replaced with Mars and Dusknoir. I shivered when the image of the ghost flashed in my mind.

    “No point thinking about it, I’ll just scare myself some more,” I told myself, gripping the counter until my knuckles turned white. “Mars is gone… I’ll never see her again. I’ll never see her.”

    I swallowed.

    “Let’s shower.”

    I took a while to wash myself. The warmth of the water just felt too comforting on my skin after spending so long in Eterna forest. Getting out, I realized I had forgotten to grab a change of clothes. I groaned and placed a hand on my heart as I left the bathroom. Still needed to work on that. I felt the door hit something, after which I quickly heard Elekid bark out an order. When I opened the door again, my Pokemon were back in their original positions, acting as if nothing happened.

    “Were you guys trying to spy on me?” I asked. Elekid laughed and let out a noise I had learned to recognize as no. Togetic hid behind Frillish, who turned awkwardly, avoiding my eyes. “Hey, angel,” I smiled at Tangela. “Were they trying to spy on me?” I asked again.

    The grass type extended his vines and touched my ankles. He was a bit odd, but then again, so was every member of my team, and I liked that about them. I still was nowhere near understanding how he communicated, though. He seemed to be non-verbal, instead preferring to use his vines to talk, or at least I had never heard him speak. Not a single sound.

    “Thanks for worrying about me,” I said softly to my team.

    I grabbed a set of clothes and spent the rest of the early morning browsing the internet. There was a lot I had missed, and I desperately wanted to catch up on anything trainer related. Apparently, some people had four badges already, but they were all people that had been trainers for years, like Craig Goodwill, the guy with the Salamence I had seen on television the day dad talked to me about leaving for Littleroot. Experienced trainers like him already had their flying licenses, so they could just fly around on their Pokemon and zip through the region like it was nothing. The most badges first-year trainers like us had were two. I felt a pang of worry at the notion that I was falling behind before remembering that the vast majority of trainers still had zero badges. Plus, the Circuit wasn’t a race. As long as I had the eight badges by the end, I’d be fine.

    Apparently, my megathread had picked up a little bit of steam too. I really didn’t like reading it because of the toxicity it tended to garner, but the most recent messages since it had come out that I was one of team Galactic’s victims had been mostly supportive. Then, people discovered I was traveling with Cece and her group, which put even more attention on me. My performance at the Floaroma tournament was making rounds too. I blew a raspberry before turning my Poketch off. My name was starting to get big, and it’d get bigger if I kept doing good in the Circuit. People were starting to look me up and theorize about how an apparent nobody like me managed to be friends with billionaires.

    How annoying.

    Elekid touched my leg.

    “What is it?” I asked.

    “Kid!”

    “Sorry, hon, no run today. My shoulder still hurts,” I told him. He looked down sadly.

    Elekid missed our runs, and I did too. The doctor I saw yesterday told me to take it easy and not move around too much though, because it caused too much friction on the wound. Cece’s arm was in okay shape, and she would just have to keep an eye on it as the Paras’ bites healed. Emilia’s leg would be fine, but right now, she needed a lot of rest, painkillers, and antibiotics, which meant that we would stay here for a little bit.

    “Well, I can’t move too much, but there’s no use staying in my room all day,” I told my team. I fed all of them some berries I had bought the day before— except for Tangela.

    “Alright, guys, I’ll get you out of the ball later,” I said as I recalled them. Soon enough, we’d have to start our regular training back, but they deserved a break after everything we had gone through. I stared at angel. “You’re with me this morning,” I told him. He tilted his body and stared. “Don’t worry, I’m not making you fight yet or anything,” I continued, trying to guess what he was thinking. “I just want to hang out, just you and me.”

    It was still early morning, meaning only Cece would be up. My heartbeat quickened when I thought of her. Would it be fine to just go find her? It was 6:23 am, so knowing her, she’d be training her team somewhere. I felt Tangela’s vines caress my back as another one tapped the door handle.

    “Oh, sorry,” I said, snapping out of my crush-induced freeze. “Let’s go.”

    Tangela followed me as I walked through the Center’s empty halls. I was probably luckier than the average trainer when it came to building my team. Aside from Frillish, no one had given me any difficulties yet, and Elekid sought me out. I placed my hand over his ball. I still didn’t know how he could sense ghosts so well, but I sure wanted to find out. I walked out of the Center and looked into Tangela’s eyes. He squinted slightly and shook himself.

    I tapped my chin, looking at the sky. It was an overcast morning, and the sun was just starting to rise, peaking over Mount Coronet to the east. “Are you sad that there’s no sun?” I asked. The grass type blinked twice.

    “Does that mean yes?” I asked again.

    Tangela blinked twice. Again.

    “I’m just going to assume that means yes, then.”

    I kept walking through the outpost, looking for nothing in particular, and certainly not for Cece. I totally didn’t want to run into her or anything, but it wouldn’t bother me if I did. I spent the next hour trying to learn Tangela’s quirks. I had neglected him in the forest, and I wanted to remedy that. Right now, I was crouched, and he was feeling the individual creases in my palms.

    “Angel, that tickles,” I chuckled. The species was fascinating to me. He did everything through vines and touching and was engrossed with human skin. I had to stop him from touching others a few times on our walk.

    “Hey, look, the sun is out,” I told him as rays peeked through two huge clouds. The grass type shivered in excitement and closed his eyes as he soaked in the sun’s energy. After he finished, he tapped my back softly to signal that he was done.

    “Well, let’s head back in then,” I told him. No Cece this morning, huh? It would have been too convenient to get some time alone. “I need to eat breakfast and meet the others.”

    I recalled him and went to the Pokemon Center cafeteria. Denzel wasn’t there— and he wouldn’t be up for another few hours. He had earned his right to sleep in after having to wake up so early every morning in Eterna forest. Pauline was eating alone. I bit my tongue. On one hand, I wouldn’t say I disliked her anymore. After our experience in the forest, I couldn’t bring myself to. On the other hand… she was definitely still not my cup of tea.

    “Ah,” I let out, as she saw me. “Well, can’t eat alone now, that’d be impolite.”

    I grabbed some sausages and hashbrowns and sat in front of her. She chewed on her food slowly as she stared into my eyes.

    “Morning,” I tried. “Sleep well?”

    She swallowed her food. “Not really,” She said, fiddling with her hair. “I was with Emi all night.”

    “That’s sweet,” I smiled. “So, I hope you don’t mind if I ask this, but are you guys best friends?”

    “Well, obviously,” She rolled her eyes. “Emi’s the person I care about the most. We’ve been together for a while,” Pauline said as her face softened. “She was always so meek. I had to be there to protect her.”

    “I see…” I muttered. “Well, for what it’s worth, I think you’re doing a great job.”

    “No need to flatter me,” She huffed.

    “I’m just telling the truth. You’ve been great to her.”

    Pauline wiped her mouth with a napkin. “What’s your angle?”

    “There’s no angle, I just want to try to get along,” I sighed. She was more amenable in the forest, but it looked like getting back to safety had made her get back to her ruder self. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”

    “I recall you saying that you disliked me multiple times, Grace.”

    “I did at the time,” I said, containing a groan. “I still think you could be nicer, but you’re a nice gal. Just misunderstood.”

    “I didn’t ask for your opinion of me,” She said as she got up. “Enjoy your breakfast.”

    Yikes. Maybe I could bring myself to dislike her again. I was willing to try to get along, but eventually, I’d stop just taking the hits—

    “Ahem,” Pauline said behind me. I turned. “I forgot to thank you for helping us get through the forest, and also for being so good to Emi,” She hesitated. I could tell she felt embarrassed doing this. “I— I won’t forget it! Bye!” Pauline yelled, storming off.

    Well, there was progress being made after all.

    ——

    Even after finishing my meal, I waited to see if someone else would show up. Unfortunately, no one came, so I left. I considered just knocking on Cece’s door, but I didn’t want to come off as too stalker-ish.

    “Arceus,” I told myself.

    Now that we were out of the forest and my priority was no longer survival, I couldn’t help but get these thoughts about Cecilia, and they were irritating me to no end. I made my way to Denzel’s room and knocked, but there was no answer. I slammed my fist against the door again and again until I heard some muffled complaints on the other side.

    “What the hell is going on— Grace?” He said before yawning. “Whaddya want?”

    “I’m lonely,” I simply said. “Hang out with me.”

    “I was sleeping—”

    I ducked under his arm and walked into his room. Eevee barked happily and climbed on my good shoulder. “Hey, little guy,” I smiled, petting him.

    “Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed today or something?” My friend asked as he laid back down under the covers.

    “Why?”

    “You look irritated.”

    “It’s annoying how perceptive you are,” I said, pinching his leg through the covers. He yelped.

    “Alright, you’re not irritated, you’re just angry,” He said. “Spit it out, I don’t want you to keep being annoying.”

    I pouted and brought my two fingers together in a threatening manner. Denzel lifted his legs away from me.

    I let my arms fall to the bed. “I keep thinking about Cecilia, and it’s making me angry,” I said.

    “Angry, why?”

    “Because I can’t stop,” I said. “I can’t help but be scared too. I mean, Eterna city’s just two days away, right? Our agreement was to travel together until we reached the city, so what if… what if…”

    “You’re wondering if you’ll still be friends after,” Denzel said.

    I nodded. “I can’t help but think that every minute I don’t spend with her is just precious time I’m wasting, y’know? I have until Emi gets better, then two days, then it’s over.”

    “You can still hang out together in the city,” Denzel said as he sat down next to me. “And hell, maybe we can travel together again to Hearthome. I wouldn’t really mind, I’ve grown to like her group.”

    I shook my head. “I can’t. People are talking shit about her online and spreading rumors because she’s traveling with us. She already has so many haters… I don’t want to bring her even more trouble.”

    He put his hand around my back and brought me close. “You really like her, huh?” Denzel said quietly. “I thought it was just a crush.”

    “I’m so stupid,” I said, clenching his bedsheets. “I have no chance, and I still can’t stop myself from imagining things.”

    Even though Cece didn’t love Louis, at the end of the day, she was still going to be forced to marry him. I hoped that she’d escape somehow and find freedom from her father, but she looked like she was so utterly traumatized by him that I couldn’t imagine her going against his will.

    “You’re not stupid,” He said. “You can’t control who you fall in love with, right?”

    “Blergh,” I said. “I just feel blergh today. And it started so well too. I was getting closer to Tangela.”

    “Here, how about this,” My friend started. “Instead of worrying about stupid trolls online, you just do what you want and ask Cecilia to hang out with you in Eterna city? I’m sure she’d say yes.”

    “I dunno,” I said. “Maybe.”

    “Well, now I know you’re just scared of asking her out,” He grinned.

    I felt my face heat up, and I shot out of the bed. “What time is it?” I asked, changing the subject.

    He grabbed his Poketch. “It’s 8:24 am,” He answered, thankfully dropping the subject. “Oh right, we were supposed to meet at nine in the lobby to plan the trek to the city, I almost forgot.”

    “Well, you should thank me for waking you up then,” I playfully said. “Well? I’m waiting.”

    “Screw off,” He laughed. “I’m going to step in the shower real quick. Mind keeping Eevee company? We can leave right after.”

    “Sure,” I said. I released Togetic, who chirped happily at the sight of her furry friend. I sometimes had to remind myself that Eevee was the Pokemon she had known the longest.

    Togetic pulled on Eevee’s tail and laughed as the normal type escaped and ran away from her. I watched them play in silence with a smirk.

    Anything to distract myself from our two group’s impending split was a win in my book.
     
  5. Threadmarks: Chapter 53
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

    Joined:
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    CHAPTER 53

    “Ayoo!” Denzel greeted everyone happily with a wave. We were late because he dozed off in the shower, and we were the last two to arrive.

    “Sorry we’re late,” I apologized before taking a seat. “Anything new?”

    “Nothing much,” Justin said. “I did call my father to give him an earful this morning,” He said with an excited smile. “It was my first time ever speaking to him like that. How riveting!”

    I grinned. I had also called dad, but I couldn’t imagine living my entire life without having a fight with my parents at least once.

    “I fight with mommy all the time,” Pauline shrugged. “But anyway, Emi’s doing great, although she’s still confined to her bed. The doctors say it’ll be safe for her to walk again in three days— although she’ll have a limp for a while.”

    I nodded before meeting Cecilia’s eyes. I swallowed before averting my gaze. “So, we were going to talk about the rest of route 205, right?” I asked.

    “Correct,” Louis said. “It’ll take two days for us to get through.”

    “It’s a pretty chill route, all things considered,” Denzel said. “Easier to get through than the first half before Eterna forest. It’s just a flat path, and we’ll have to pass a huge lake too.”

    “Pass how?” Justin asked.

    “It has a bunch of islands connected by bridges, so don’t worry, we won’t need to pay for a ferry, or waste time by going around,” Denzel added.

    “And then we’re already at the city?” I asked, sinking slightly into my chair.

    “Yes,” Denzel said, looking at me apologetically. “At least we’ll be able to relax, right? Gonna feel damn good not to be on edge while traveling.”

    “I concur,” Pauline said. “Anyway, that should be it, right? Justin, come visit Emi with me later…”

    The meeting quickly devolved into just normal conversations, which I honestly didn’t mind. It felt like we were finally allowed to be kids again. Not worrying about anything, just hanging out and having fun. I spoke with Denzel about how Feebas was doing. He had finally released him again by going to the lake yesterday, and he was going to go there again today. Denzel felt terrible about neglecting the water type— even though he hadn’t had a choice. The forest wasn’t a place where Feebas would be able to thrive. Either way, he wanted to make up for lost time, and he would spend as much time as possible with him on the rest of route 205 since we’d be traveling next to a lake the entire time. Cece and Pauline were talking about activities that they could do in Eterna city, from shopping to the different five-star restaurants to spectating a Pokemon Contest. Justin and Louis spoke about needing to get a new member for their teams soon, because after the second badge, gym leaders expected us to have at least three Pokemon.

    “Well, if worst comes to worst, I can have my father send me another Pokemon,” Louis shrugged.

    “I think that building your team organically will turn you into a better trainer,” Cecilia said.

    “Surely having the most powerful Pokemon possible is better than—”

    Suddenly, I noticed that someone— wait, that was… Chase Karlson was coming right at us with a determined look in his eyes. He was wearing his signature dark blue cap. I was surprised to see that he had already made it through the forest like us, but my surprise was quickly replaced with dread when I saw that he was only looking at Cecilia.

    I leaned toward Cecilia. “Cece, you remember that guy from the power plant that busted in? And that wanted to battle you in Oreburgh,” I whispered.

    She frowned. “Yes?”

    “Well, he’s coming right here,” I said, nodding toward him. “And he’s not looking too happy.”

    “Well, well, look who it is!” Chase said boastfully. “Obel and her ilk.”

    “Who are you?” Louis asked. “What do you want with her?”

    “Typical,” The boy spat. “Of course, the rich spoiled asshole wouldn’t remember me,” He continued before pointing at Cece. “You. Battle me right now. Let’s settle our score once and for all.”

    “There is no score to settle,” Cecilia said stoically. “I don’t want to battle you.”

    “You heard her,” Denzel glared. “She doesn’t want to battle you. Now leave.”

    “Aren’t you the guy I destroyed back in Jubilife?”

    “Want a rematch, asshole?” Denzel quipped.

    “Looks like you’ve got some additions to your group, Obel,” Chase smiled maliciously. “And they’re not even rich. Probably just bootlickers using you to get access to some of your fortune,” Chase said. His smile grew wider when he saw her subdued reaction. He had hit her where it hurt— her trust issues. “What? You don’t really think they like you, do you?”

    I rose to my feet. “Back off.”

    “Watch your mouth, scumbag,” Pauline threatened. “Get the fuck out, or I’ll make your life a living hell.”

    “Do I need to call someone?” Louis said. “I will if you keep bothering us.”

    Chase crossed his arms. “So no battle, then? You’re going to run away again? People are curious, you know? They want to figure out who’s stronger, you or me. When I win, are you going to call your dad to get more dragon types—”

    “Fuck you!” I hissed, feeling rage bubble inside of me. “Leave her alone. You don’t know anything you’re talking about.”

    “I think I have the gist of it,” He said. “My point from Oreburgh still stands.”

    “No one cares about your little freak out in Oreburgh,” Denzel said.

    “The video went viral,” Chase grinned. “You would know. I see you on the forums all the time.”

    “If… if I battle you, will you finally leave me alone?” Cecilia quietly asked.

    I looked at her with worry before grasping her hand. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. Trainers can’t force you to battle.”

    “I really don’t,” Cece whispered in my ear. “I’m not allowed to lose publicly, Grace. Only to Louis.”

    “You think you’d lose?” I asked in disbelief.

    “I’m not sure,” She answered. “And I don’t want to take that risk.”

    “So?!” Chase asked. “I’m waiting!”

    I ignored him as the group continued to defend Cece. Heads in the cafeteria were turning our way. “Then say no,” I told her.

    She clasped my hand tighter. “That reflects badly on me. That makes me look like a coward.”

    “And that would make your dad angry,” I understood as I sighed. “That’s okay, I think I’ve figured something out for you.”

    “I’m sorry. For always relying on you so much,” Cece apologized.

    “That’s what friends do, Cece,” I smiled nervously. “Chase. You say you want to battle her?”

    “I’ve been saying it the whole time. Get your damn hearing checked.”

    “I lost to her in the Floaroma tournament. You know what that means, right? You’ve got to go through me first. If you can’t beat me, there’s no way you’re beating her.”

    ——

    I stared at Chase as he grabbed his first Pokeball. We were on the outskirts of the outpost next to the lake, and a small crowd had assembled around us at a safe distance, including my friends. Some people were recording us, which made me fiddle nervously. I hated being the center of attention. I needed to focus.

    In a way, I was surprised Chase was being like this. I thought he had changed after his experience at the powerplant, and he was much more mellow when I thanked him for stopping me from being tortured by Mars, but I supposed that had just been wishful thinking. He wouldn’t stop harassing Cece until he was either put in the dirt or had proved his superiority. I was hoping today would be the former.

    “How are we doing this?” I said, trying to stop my voice from shaking. “Coin flip? Switch-ins?”

    “Nah, no swapping, three on three,” He grinned. “You’re weak, I’ll just send out my Pokemon first. You’re up Ri,” He said, releasing his Riolu. The fighting type looked around before his eyes settled on me, and he got into a fighting stance.

    Alrighty, I thought, taking a deep breath.

    While we had been walking here, I had been thinking. I was going into this battle with a few advantages. One, this moron was underestimating me big time. Sure, I wasn’t the best trainer around, but my time through Eterna forest had taught me that I sure as hell wasn’t weak like he thought I was. And as that saying went, it was always good to appear weak when you were strong. Cocky opponents made mistakes.

    And he had already made the first mistake when he disallowed switching Pokemon. I grabbed Togetic's Pokeball and held it tightly.

    Second, I had information. I had seen Chase’s battle with Roark. I knew his Pokemon— or at least three of them, and I knew some of their moves. But Chase? Chase didn’t know a thing about me or my team. I was getting the best possible setup for this battle, and I had to make it count.

    I released Togetic, who chirped happily. “Battle time, princess.” Chase’s confident grin immediately turned into a grimace. That’s right, I thought. You fucked up.

    Third? As corny as it was, I was fighting to help the girl I liked.

    I exhaled as the sound of the crowd dissipated. “Up high!” I ordered. “Whip up a Fairy Wind!”

    “Quick Attack and jump onto it before it gets too high!” Chase yelled.

    Togetic floated up as Riolu shone brightly and blurred forward. When he got below Togetic, his legs bulged, and he jumped. My eyes bulged at the sheer height the fighting type was getting. His palms started to glow with a pale blue. He was going to reach Togetic—

    “Stop him with Extrasensory,” I said.

    The Fairy Wind dissipated, and Togetic’s eyes glowed as she restrained Riolu midair. The fighting type tried to struggle, but he wasn’t going to break out. I grinned.

    “Slam him on the ground,” I ordered.

    Togetic giggled, and Riolu plummeted into the floor, creating a small crater.

    “Go lower to get in range and do it again,” I said icily. “He can’t get to you.”

    Riolu was lifted off the ground and slammed again. And again. Chase tried barking out orders, but fighting types were weak against psychic attacks. Riolu was never going to be able to stop Togetic’s Extrasensory through brute force alone as Scyther had done with Confusion. Riolu’s body was surprisingly durable. Princess had to keep slamming him on the ground for over five minutes until Chase finally recalled him. The first battle had been a complete slaughter, and even though Togetic was tiring, she would still be able to keep going.

    And she would need to, because I already knew what Pokemon Chase was going to send next. Houndour would just be weak to her Fairy Wind, so the logical choice would be—

    “Charjabug, don’t disappoint me,” Chase said as he released his electric type.

    Togetic was probably going to lose this one, but I would have her deal as much damage as she could. Ideally, I would have released Tangela after she lost, but I had never used angel in battle yet, so that wasn’t an option, meaning I’d have to use Elekid.

    “Get low!” I yelled. “We’re doing the same thing we did with Prinplup!”

    “Thundershock!” Chase angrily said. “Charge it up!”

    Charjabug started scuttling along the ground and gathering electricity before shooting out his attack.

    “Ancient Power,” I ordered.

    Togetic nodded and raised a small chunk of earth, completely neutering the attack.

    “Get around it!” Chase yelled out.

    “Throw it forward!” I said.

    The chunk of earth and rock was propelled forward and appeared to hit Charjabug, but he had simply dug a hole to avoid the attack. “Again!” I said.

    “Enough!” Chase screamed. “String Shot!”

    The next Ancient Power was stopped in its tracks by the bug type’s powerful string. Togetic tried to push it forward, but it wouldn’t budge.

    “Keep getting closer, and String Shot every time it attacks!”

    “Alright, princess, it’s time to fly up again!” I said, biting my lip. If it was going to stop every Ancient Power, she had better odds dodging at a distance, and surrounding Togetic with a barrier was useless since it could just dig under her. “Start charging up a Fairy Wind.”

    Togetic chirped as pink mist started to swirl and twist around her. Chase ordered Charjabug to use Thundershock again, but she barely managed to dodge the electric energy. She was getting better at multitasking.

    “String Shot! Restain her!”

    “Release it!”

    Strings flew out of Charjabug’s mouth, but the Fairy Wind pushed them away and hammered the bug type against the ground.

    “Keep it going as long as you can!” I said.

    “Dig! Get to shelter!” Chase said.

    Charjabug shook, creating a hole to protect himself from the wind, which quickly ran out. My eyes darted around the field, looking for any sign of disturbance on the ground. It wasn’t coming out.

    “Get another Fairy Wind going!” I quickly said. “Release it when it comes out—”

    The electric type burst from under Togetic and shot strings at her. She quickly became entangled and fell to the ground. “Don’t panic! Release it!” I bit my tongue. Even though she didn’t need her wings to fly, it looked like the attack still had an effect on her ability to float.

    The wind erratically went in all directions, but some of it hit Charjabug. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to even stop the Pokemon in its tracks, and it quickly scuttled closer to Togetic.

    “Thundershock point blank,” Chase said.

    I winced as Togetic started to convulse and squirm in pain from the electric attack. I tried to get her to calm down and fly up again, but she was in too much pain. Too scared. I recalled her.

    “You did great, princess,” I whispered before releasing Elekid. The electric type grinned when he saw that we were in a battle, and he spun his arms in excitement, generating electricity in between his horns.

    “Swift!” I quickly ordered as I extended my arms. The Electric variation was more powerful, but I was fighting against another electric type.

    Stars materialized above Elekid’s head and rushed toward the bug type.

    “Dig,” Chase lazily said, seemingly regaining his confidence. I frowned, not knowing how Swift would interact with the ground move.

    I smiled as they turned at an outrageous ninety-degree angle into Charjabug’s hole. I heard a muffled screech coming from the ground, but my smile quickly vanished when I realized that it wasn’t coming out. It was going to hit Elekid directly with a ground type move.

    “Shit!” I swore. “Run around! Don’t stand still!”

    Elekid cackled as he started zig-zagging around the battlefield. Worst case scenario, he was going to get hit, and I would have a counter. My mind whirred as I tried coming up with a strategy to beat Dig.

    Charjabug jumped from below ground and bit Elekid with his sharp mouth. The electric type flew off toward Chase and struggled to get up.

    That’s it! I thought to myself. I had a plan.

    “Swift again!” I quickly ordered. I had to use the move as much as possible while Charjabug was still in Elekid’s line of sight.

    His arms spun as he summoned another set of stars. And another. And another. Elekid was tiring quickly, but that was fine. Chase’s eyes widened, no doubt surprised by the sheer amount of Swifts I was sending Charjabug’s way. The bug type quickly dug again and was quickly followed by the stars.

    “Elekid!” I called out. The electric type stared into my eyes. “Ready to go out with a bang?”

    He grinned and yelled out, flexing his arms as he started to spin them.

    “Thunder Punch as soon as he hits you from below,” I ordered. Chase hearing this wasn’t a problem whatsoever. It was a game of chicken. Either Charjabug finished his Dig and took at least two Thunder Punches to the face, or he didn’t and had to tank a Swift.

    “Hit it!” Chase ordered.

    Charjabug burst from the ground below Elekid, who immediately punched the bug type back with everything he had. The attack crackled throughout the field with electricity, and both of our Pokemon went down. We both recalled them. Chase looked at his Pokeball with disappointment and anger before grabbing his last Pokemon. I did the same.

    “Who’s going first?” I asked, wiping the sweat off my brow.

    “I’ll… I’ll do it,” He answered shakily before releasing his Houndour.

    “You’re up, buddy,” I said. Frillish’s eyes glowed bright red as he floated upward.

    The strategy here would be roughly the same as it had been with Togetic’s. I nodded and clenched my fist in determination.

    “Get higher up!” I yelled out. We both had the type advantage over each other, so the biggest priority was making sure the dark type couldn’t hit Frillish. “Then Bubblebeam!”

    “Damn it!” Chase yelled. “Roll left and Ember!”

    The dog lay flat against the ground and tightly moved to the left with a roll, wasting no movement. Unfortunately for him though, Frillish could just keep going. Houndour yelped as the bubbles exploded on contact with his body. It tried running away, but Frillish’s Bubblebeam just followed the fire type, and there was nowhere to hide on this battlefield. It didn’t know dig, or any long-distance dark type attack, so Frillish made quick work of Houndour. He kept attacking with Bubblebeam, and sometimes switching it up with Water Pulse whenever it looked like Houndour was getting the hang of dodging. The only thing the dark type could do was strike back occasionally with Ember, but that only dealt minimal damage.

    The dark type barked out one last time before going down. Chase’s gaze fell to the ground as the reality of the situation sunk in. Chase was a good trainer. Riolu might have been able to beat Deino, and Charjabug Slowpoke. But raw strength wasn’t everything. Through the power of knowing my enemy, I had won, humiliating him in front of dozens of trainers.

    “Don’t bother Cecilia ever again,” I said.
     
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter 54
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    CHAPTER 54

    “I… I lost?” Chase mumbled with a look of disbelief. “How?”

    I huffed as I returned Frillish. I was about to answer before remembering I was being filmed and looked at by a lot of people. The battle had brought in even more onlookers that hadn’t been there at the start of the argument.

    “Erm— just don’t bother her again, alright?” I said, trying not to look at the crowd. “Your words can hurt more than you would think.”

    “How…?” The teen kept whispering. “How?”

    Hoping that he had gotten the message, I dipped my head and decided to leave. Luckily, it seemed like most trainers were leaving as well now that the battle was over, and they weren’t grouping around me to ask questions as I had feared. I made my way back to my friends, who were among the ones who had stayed.

    Denzel flashed a smile. “You were amazing. I’m glad you put the guy down a notch, his ego’s way too big.”

    Something was off about that—

    He clapped my shoulder and kept praising me.

    “I’m lucky he didn’t know anything about my team and that he got overconfident,” I sighed. “But it was a good battle nonetheless.”

    “He seems obsessed with us,” Louis complained. “I’ll definitely have to hire bodyguards when we get to Eterna city.”

    “Hmph. It wasn’t bad, I suppose,” Pauline said. “I think you could have done better.”

    “Don’t be an ass,” Denzel rolled his eyes.

    “That’s literally her default behavior,” I joked, before clamming up and meeting Cece’s eyes.

    “Thank you again, Grace. I’ve… I’ve never had someone go so far for me,” She said. “I feel like I owe you so much.”

    I eyed her friends nervously, but they didn’t seem to mind what she had just said, which was strange. She had essentially put them down by complimenting me.

    “I mean, it was nothing. Denzel wanted to battle him, too,” I said, avoiding her gaze.

    “I definitely did, but I felt like Grace would be able to handle him better,” He said, winking at me. Arceus. “But that’s enough doom and gloom. What’s everyone doing now?”

    ——

    The enormous lake next to the outpost didn’t really have an official name, but people called it Eterna Lake due to it being in between the city and the forest. Denzel, Cece, and I walked along one of the flat bridges linking the many islands together that permitted trainers to cross as we watched Feebas swim along the surface. His blue fins seemed to have fewer holes in them now, and his beige scales seemed to be slightly shinier. Frillish was also hanging around underwater somewhere, but I wasn’t going to hold him on a leash. He loved the lake, so I let him go wherever he wanted.

    “Is Feebas faster than before?” I asked my friend. “He seems a little bit prettier too.”

    “That’s probably because I’m feeding him actual healthy foods now. Feebas in the wild tend to eat a lot of trash and stuff, which is why they’re always in terrible states when they’re caught at first.”

    Feebas jumped out of the water and created a huge splash. I squealed, covering myself from the frigid water.

    “What an interesting Pokemon,” Cecilia said, seemingly not minding the cold water. She crouched and watched the water type approach her curiously. “Does it not bother you to not be able to use it?” She continued.

    “Not at all,” Denzel smiled. “I’ve wanted a Feebas since I started planning my team a few years ago. You guys don’t know him very much, but he’s a great Pokemon.”

    I was surprised at how much affection he had inflected in his tone. It was true that I hadn’t seen Feebas at all, but I had forgotten how many times Denzel had gone out of his way to be with him as much as he could when we were in Floaroma.

    “I’ve had a team planned as well, but it has gone through… many iterations,” Cece said.

    “Really?” Denzel raised his eyebrows. “I’ve always had one team in mind, y’know? Grace is more like you, I guess. She’s kind of going at it randomly.”

    “Hey!” I protested. “I chose Tangela,” I said, affectionately holding the grass type’s vines.

    The three of us had decided to go for a walk along the lake, and Denzel and I were using the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with our new team members some more. He carried Buneary tightly in his arms. The normal type was very attached to him, and liked being held all the time. I looked at her scarred ear with a pang of sadness. I was holding Tangela’s vine, which was mimicking a hand. Eterna forest was truly a strange place. On one hand, there were Pokemon that were bloodthirsty and incredibly aggressive toward humans, like Cece’s Scyther, and on the other, there were Pokemon like Tangela or Buneary, who didn’t seem to mind them at all— although I supposed that applied to all Pokemon. Obviously, Cecilia hadn’t released her Scyther for our walk. The bug type had to be tranquilized as soon as the Nurse Joys healed him. I was very curious as to how she was going to deal with Scyther. Hopefully, she wouldn’t be reckless.

    “You did decide to catch it when we were at the outpost,” Cece smiled as she watched her newly evolved Fletchinder fly overhead. “But to be quite honest, there is no great disadvantage to not planning your team as long as you make it diverse enough.”

    “Unless you’re trying to become a gym leader right away,” Denzel added. “Did you know Gardenia already specialized in grass types before becoming the gym leader?” He said, petting Buneary’s head. She closed her eyes and let out a blissful sound.

    “I didn’t know that,” I said. “That’s amazing. How did she even counter her weaknesses? I managed to barely win once against electric types with Frillish and Togetic, but still.”

    “There are many ways around that,” Cecilia said, covering her eyes from a gust of wind. “But every trainer has their own ways of dealing with type weaknesses. I suppose we’ll have to see hers when we study her teams before battling in her gym,” She sighed nervously.

    I wanted to grab her hand and tell her that everything was going to be okay. I hadn’t known that her father had disallowed her from losing at all. I thought back to her battle with Roark, wondering how nervous she must have been. Cece was good at hiding herself when she needed to, but I was glad that she was being herself with us.

    “I can’t wait to get back into the city,” Denzel smiled. “There’s something about the atmosphere of thousands of trainers, each trying their best to train, studying the gyms, and asking for help or shit-talking on the forums that just can’t be beaten. Can I call it trainer culture? I fucking love trainer culture.”

    I grinned. I did actually miss all those nights I spent studying for Roark’s team, which would have no doubt surprised my past self. Back then, I hadn’t really discovered the kind of trainer I wanted to be. Now, I knew that I thrived when I had information available to me, and if I didn’t, I bought as much time for myself in the battle as I could, scouting out my opponent’s moves and fighting style.

    “This trainer culture you speak of,” Cece started. “It is quite different in Sinnoh than in Unova.”

    “Really?” Denzel said, raising an eyebrow. “Couldn’t imagine it differently.”

    “Well for one, trainers can be quite rude here. Our forums in Unova are heavily moderated, and that influences real-life behavior as well. There aren’t as many deadly routes as well. I have to say, it was quite the culture shock for me to see that trainers with no badge were allowed through Eterna forest.”

    “I mean, I guess that kind of makes sense,” He said. “But there’s a reason Cynthia’s the strongest Champion, you know? We make ‘em tough in Sinnoh.”

    “That’s debatable,” I interjected. “Champions almost never battle, so there isn’t really a ranking.”

    “No, I believe she is the strongest,” Cece said with admiration. “In many ways.”

    “What about your brother?” Denzel asked. “Sorry for prying, I’m just curious. I don’t know much about Unova.”

    I stared daggers at him, and he apologized with his eyes.

    “Oh, Mark?” She said. “He’s quite strong, but he’s only been the Champion for two years after beating Iris. Cynthia would beat him handily.”

    I sighed in relief internally. It seemed that Cece didn’t mind talking about her brother, or at least she didn’t show it.

    “I can’t believe he beat a dragon master,” Denzel said with wonder. “I hope I can stand on the top one day.”

    “No, because that’ll be me,” I said half-jokingly.

    “Wanna go right now?” He playfully said.

    “My entire team’s at the Center, big guy,” I said. “Of course, the only time you challenge me, my team is mysteriously missing. Coward.”

    “Maybe I meant after they were healed.”

    I grinned at him. “No, I think you just forgot, because you’re stupid,” I said. “Right, angel?”

    Tangela blinked at him twice.

    “What are you teaching this poor Tangela?” Denzel said dramatically. “You’re a bad influence on him.”

    “He’s going to be traveling with us, so he needs to know who’s stupid and who isn’t.”

    “You two really get along, don’t you?” Cece interrupted our banter. “That seems nice.”

    I immediately deflated. “I mean, we’re best friends, I guess. We banter sometimes.”

    “Do you think I could be like that someday?”

    “With m— with us? Of course, you can,” I quickly said. “Hell, you can already call Denzel an idiot if you want. There’s no one here with us.”

    “Why me?! Why not you?” He groaned.

    “Because I don’t want Cece to lie,” I deadpanned.

    We reached a large island and decided to stop there. There was no point in going too far without the others anyway. I looked on at Mount Coronet on the horizon. Its height boggled the mind. One of the fun facts I always read online about the mountain is that it was almost taller than the height planes flew at. It stood at a whopping thirty thousand feet, and people that were crazy enough to climb to the summit needed oxygen not to die— and that wasn’t counting the crazy wild Pokemon that made Eterna forest look like a kindergarten. Pokemon were tougher than humans and could live all over the mountain fine, even at its summit. Either way, I wasn’t suicidal. I was never going to climb the damn thing, and only trainers with eight badges were allowed to get to the summit anyway. Of course, plenty of trainers climbed the side of the mountain. It had many overhangs and flatter areas to make camp on.

    “So like I said, Cece,” I started again. “You don’t have to hold back with us. I’d love— like it if you were completely yourself when it’s just us.”

    “Then… may I?” She tentatively said.

    “You have my blessing.”

    She hesitated for a few seconds, but then let the truth out. “Denzel… you’re an idiot.”

    “What? Why did Grace give you permission to call me an idiot? You people have this backwards,” Denzel grumbled as he set Buneary on the ground. The rabbit took a few steps forward before Tangela started rubbing her with his vines. She cried out and ran behind her trainer’s legs, pulling her cream-like fluff up to her eyes.

    “Angel… don’t touch people without their consent,” I groaned. “One day, you’ll touch someone who gets angry easily.”

    The grass type blinked once and wrapped its vines around my ankles.

    “Yes, I’m fine with it, you can do it to me. But Cece, how did that feel?”

    “That felt… that felt liberating! My heart is pounding so fast. May I say it again?”

    “Don’t hold back.”

    “So I’m the victim in all of this?” Denzel said with a half-smile.

    Cece beamed as she looked at me, her dark skin glistening in the sun. Arceus, she was so beautiful. I wanted to get closer to her. I didn’t want our time together to be over so soon. I wanted to keep traveling with her. To learn more about her.

    To help her break free from her family.

    To hold her.

    “Stupid. Stupid idiot!” Cecilia yelled happily as Denzel bantered back. Eventually, she fell to the ground and laughed so hard she started to cough and tears streamed from her eyes. “Oh! Oh, Legendaries! What a wonderful way to be friends,” She said.

    Why was I ruining this moment? Why couldn’t I be happy for her?

    “It is, isn’t it?” I said. “It really is.”

    Why was I like this?

    Denzel’s smile froze when he looked at me, and his face turned into a look of concern. It seemingly only took him a few seconds for him to realize what was going on with me. He mouthed to me, asking if I was okay, and I just nodded. He shook his head.

    “I’m gonna feed Feebas,” He said. “Why don’t you two wait for me, and then we can start to head back?”

    “Sure,” Cece said, breathing heavily and wiping tears from her eyes.

    We watched Denzel leave and grab some food pellets from his bag, closely followed by Buneary, who grabbed one of his pant legs. Why was he doing this to me? Did he really want me to ask her now? After everything I told him?

    “Thank you for taking me in, Grace,” She said, breaking the silence. “I feel like all you do these days is help me. If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to come to me.”

    “Oh, it’s no problem,” I said, fiddling with one of Tangela’s vines. “Um…”

    “Yes?”

    “What’s your plan after… after we get to Eterna city?” I asked.

    “Well, we’ll probably be staying at a hotel, and getting more food and supplies that are going to be sent to us. Why?”

    I felt my stomach sink. “Ah, I mean, I just wanted to know if we could still hang out or something?”

    “Oh? I assumed that was a given?”

    “What? But it reflects badly on you, and you said your… you know.”

    “My father wouldn’t like it, I know,” Cece said, her eyes suddenly turning icy and her face neutral. “Yes, that may be the case, but I’m willing to take that risk.”

    “I don’t want to cause you any trouble—”

    “You aren’t. This is my decision. If he dislikes it, then so be it,” Cece said, her voice almost faltering. “I want to be free. I can’t be a scared little girl forever. I don’t want to always rely on you to defend me. And it all starts with a step. One step of disobedience.”

    “One step at a time,” Denzel said, coming behind us. “I like that saying.”

    “So do I,” Cece smiled. “I don’t mind him knowing,” She said when she saw how worried I was. “If he is your best friend, then he is trustworthy.”

    “I mean, I kind of figured, but I wouldn’t mind knowing more about it,” He said.

    Cecilia explained her situation to Denzel. The engagement, the pressure she felt from her father. She didn’t go into the details, but it was easy to see that she had been emotionally abused. I hoped it wasn’t physical as well.

    “Well damn,” My best friend said. “That’s some serious baggage you’re carrying. I’m sorry.”

    “I want to be free,” Cece repeated. “But I can’t do it on my own. Will you help me?” She pleaded, looking at us.

    “Of course,” I softly said.

    “Fuck yeah, we will,” Denzel said. “I thought my mom was controlling, but this is just on another level.”

    “Thank you,” Cece softly said. “Eventually, they will send people after me, you know? Both my and Louis’ father. It won’t be easy.”

    “We’ll help you out,” I said. “And hey, by the time they do, we’ll be strong enough to fight back anything he throws at us.”

    “Then it is decided,” Cecilia said as she stood up. She stared into our eyes with fire and determination. “The first step. We will keep being friends, even in Eterna city. In fact, I think we should be as public as possible with our friendship.”

    “Well, that goes without saying,” Denzel smiled. “Let’s head back.”
     
  7. Threadmarks: Chapter 55
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    CHAPTER 55

    I felt elation wash over me during our walk back. The conversation the three of us just had were just words, but deep inside of me, I knew it was the start of something else. I already knew Cece wanted to win her freedom, but beforehand, she was always alone. Always scared to take that first defiant step against her father. But with us by her side, I knew that real progress could be made. Even now, the resolve hadn't left her eyes, but it was also in the way she walked. The way her shoulders swayed, the firmness of her steps, her slight smile rising on the corner of her lips. It was as if Cecilia had just been reborn into a different person.

    "I'll need to visit Emi in her hospital room," Cece said.

    "Sure," I nodded. "I was planning on doing that anyway."

    I still hadn't visited Emilia, mainly because it felt awkward with Pauline always being in the room. I didn't want to come in between the two, but I figured I'd need to do it at some point anyway, and it would feel less awkward if we went as a group.

    "Knowing Pauline, she'll be there as well," Denzel said, speaking my thoughts out loud.

    "That's good," Cece said. "I want both of them to be there."

    "Why?" I asked.

    "I need to borrow their psychics."



    We opened Emilia's hospital door, and I was surprised to see that only Justin was there. The girl was watching television while dozing off, but she woke up once she saw us enter. I stared at her leg, which had been bandaged up much better than anything we could manage. I expected her to be a little out of it because of the painkillers, but she seemed fine enough. Justin smiled as he saw us.

    "Hey, everyone," He said.

    We greeted them both.

    "How's your leg, Emilia?" Denzel asked.

    "It's better," She said happily. "I'm just happy to be back to civilization."

    We all related to that feeling. I was glad she was being more forceful with her tone now that we were out of Eterna forest. She was definitely the one that suffered the most in there, but she stayed strong and allowed us to make it through.

    "Well, we won't have to go through such a harrowing experience for a long time," Denzel said before pausing. "What's on TV?"

    "Oh, just some trivia gameshow about Pokemon I enjoy. Here, let me explain the rules…" Justin started.

    We hung out for a while, talking about anything that came up while we waited for Pauline to show up. After ten minutes of waiting, Cece seemingly got impatient.

    "Say, Emi," She said. "Could you lend me your Beldum? I'm going to be releasing Scyther soon, and I'd like to have his Confusion available, just in case," She asked.

    Cece told us on the way back that she was planning on fighting Scyther with her team— on her own. Of course, we'd be there for backup, but she wanted to try taking it down alone to gain its respect. With Beldum, Gothita, and her Slowpoke, she estimated that all of their Confusions would be enough to restrain it permanently, or at least long enough for her to retrieve it if it attacked her. She would be fighting it with Fletchinder and Deino.

    "Beldum… I don't know," Emi said quietly. "You know how I feel about him."

    I raised an eyebrow. Back at the first half of route 205, Emilia also seemed to release her Beldum as little as she could, opting to use her Aipom or Rockruff instead. I initially thought I had been overthinking it, but now that she herself had said it, I was definitely curious.

    "Why don't you like Beldum?" I said bluntly.

    Emilia sighed, but Justin answered for her. "Emi's Beldum… well, it doesn't speak to her."

    "It can speak?!" Denzel exclaimed.

    "Well, it should," Emilia insisted, clenching her teeth. "Beldum can't really speak in complete sentences until they evolve into Metagross, but they should be able to say some words, or convey emotions to their trainers through their psychic powers," She said. "He's never spoken to me. Not even once."

    "Oh…" I awkwardly said. "I'm sorry for asking."

    "Yeah," She sighed. "But it's alright, I… I have to get over it eventually. Beldum just hates me."

    "Are you kidding me?" Denzel asked. "It defended you so many times in the forest without you saying anything. It fought with us and listened to your orders. If it hated you, he'd be behaving like Cecilia's Scyther."

    "Trying to kill everything that moves," I added. "Maybe it just can't?"

    "Can't what?" Emi said.

    "Can't talk. Maybe it's not good at it yet and it's been trying the whole time. Have you tried asking?"

    "I don't know, that seems pretty far-fetched," Emilia sighed. "Either way, I'll lend it to you," She grabbed one of the Pokeballs on her bedside table and released Beldum. The hulking, marble-like metallic Pokemon floated upward and loomed over us, watching with its red eye. "Beldum, I'm lending you to Cece. She'll be fighting her Scyther and she needs you to protect her if he attacks her."

    Beldum let out a sound, like metals shifting and grinding against each other, and it made its way next to Cece.

    "Thank you," Cecilia said, dipping her head slightly. Emilia handed her Beldum's Pokeball and she recalled it. "Now I just need to go find Pauline, I suppose."

    "You missed her by a hair. She left five minutes before you arrived," Justin said. "Something about a phone call."

    "Was it Josephine?" Cece asked.

    "No, she's having her fight with her mom for sending her through Eterna forest," Justin shook his head. "You should have heard the screaming match they had in here yesterday. The nurses had to come in here to ask her to stop yelling."

    "Pauline and Josephine's relationship has always been special," Cece nodded.

    "I guess we can go look for her," I said, eyeing Cecilia.

    She frowned for a second before her eyes widened. "Yes, I suppose we could."

    "Can't it wait?" Justin asked. "I wouldn't want for you to intrude, she said the call was very important."

    We got up. "You coming, Denzel?"

    One look into my eyes, and he knew something was wrong. He tilted his head slightly toward the others. "Nah, I'll stay here."

    Running interference, I thought. Got it. "Alright, let's go then. We'll be back later."

    As soon as we were out of Emi's room, I said what was on my mind.

    "I'm glad you got what I was thinking so fast," I said. "That phone call sounds suspicious."

    She nodded firmly. "Louis is missing as well, so he could be involved," She said. "It might be Amy again."

    "She's trying to get info on you?"

    "No. If it's her, she'll be trying to know more about you."

    I swallowed. This was already moving fast, but I was resolute. I was going to help Cece no matter what. The first thing we tried was going inside of Pauline's room, but it would have been too obvious. She wasn't there. Luckily, we went to Louis' room next, and he was just reading some book about running a business.

    "Oh! Cece, did you come to keep me company? We haven't been alone together a lot these days—"

    "Louis," I said, speaking for Cece. "This is really important. Have you seen Pauline?"

    "It is rude to interrupt people," He huffed. "But I have seen her. She came to ask me…" He trailed off before stopping.

    "Ask what?" I asked. He didn't budge. "Spit it out!"

    "Erm, before I say this, I want Cece to know I had nothing to do with anything. I haven't spoken to Amy since that day at the outpost, and it was the greatest mistake of my life. I can tell you still haven't forgiven me, but I swear to you, I have been a loyal fiance—"

    "Yeah, yeah," I said, waving my hand. He still thought that Cece believed he was cheating on her? I sighed internally. At least my hunch about that phone call had been correct. "Now tell us what she asked you and where she went."

    "Pauline came into my room a bit ago— just a few minutes ago, actually, asking about Amy. She was calling her nonstop, and at first, she thought Amy wanted to talk to me, but I refused to do it out of love! Then she berated me with her foul mouth and stormed off, saying she was going out."

    "So she's outside?" I asked. "Know where?"

    "Unfortunately not," He asked. "Do you want me to help look for her?"

    I stared at Cece, and she shook her head. "Uh, we'll be fine. We just wanted to ask her about lending Cece her Gothita," I said in half-truth.

    We left immediately after that.

    "Damn that Amy…" Cece cursed. "Trying to worm her way into my friendships."

    "It'll be fine, we just need to catch Pauline and spy on her."

    "We aren't confronting her?" Cecilia asked, quickening her pace. "I'm angry. I want to fight."

    "It'll be better if we find out what Amy's asking Pauline," I said. "We can confront her after. Now quick!"

    By the time we made it to the Pokemon Center lobby, we were practically running. Cece released her Fletchinder, and I released Togetic and Frillish to ask them to look for Pauline from the air. Not even a minute later, Fletchinder landed on her trainer's shoulder, making her wince. The flying type hadn't realized how powerful its talons were yet. I whistled and called for my Pokemon before recalling them, and Fletchinder led us to Pauline. She was in a secluded part of the outpost, near one of the electric fences that blocked off the forest to make sure trainers always entered and exited through the main entrance. Luckily for us, she was also next to a convenience store that we could hide behind, and she would still be within earshot.

    Pauline looked angry— well, Pauline looked angrier than usual. I settled behind Cece as we tried to hear the conversation.

    "...keep asking me that? What's wrong with you?"

    Pauline waited a few seconds before continuing.

    "You're pissing me off, Amy. If you want to know more about her new friends, just call her. You're best friends!"

    I swallowed. We were right on the money. Amy was asking about Denzel and me.

    "Oh, you're fighting? I don't remember asking. You know I hate this… this fucking backstabbing, backroom dealing shit. That's not how I roll. Talk to her directly. If you're fighting, there must be a good reason—"

    Pauline stopped, seemingly having been interrupted.

    "Arceus," She groaned. "No, I will not do that. I won't. Tell Harvey and Clarence that I don't give a fuck about what they think. Mommy will back me up on this," Pauline said. "You know what? I'm hanging up. I'm tired of you and this shady shit."

    Pauline hung up and swore a few times before she started to leave.

    "Are we confronting her?" I asked, tapping Cecilia's shoulder. "Cece?"

    She took a deep breath before answering. "Sorry. When she mentioned my father, I… I froze up. Let's talk to her."

    I nodded, wondering whether her dad's name was Harvey or Clarence, and we quickly ran up to the redhead. "Pauline!" I yelled out.

    She turned and grimaced when she saw us. "What? Were you spying on me?"

    "Was it that obvious?" I asked.

    "Pauline," Cece said, crossing her arms. "I need to know everything that went on in that phone call down to the very last detail."

    She clicked her tongue. "Fine. What about her," She asked, looking at me.

    "Grace has every right to hear this, especially since it's about her," Cecilia said.

    "Now spill," I added.

    "Amy's been calling Louis and me ever since we got through Eterna forest," Pauline started. "At first, I just ignored the calls because I've always hated that Amy bitch. Seemed too fake to me, and I hate fake people. Eventually, it got on my nerves, so I answered, and she asked me to talk to Louis, but he refused, so I called her back and told her that, but then she started asking me these questions."

    "Such as?" I asked.

    "I was getting to it, Grace," Pauline retorted. "She wanted to know why we were traveling with you and Denzel," She said, nodding toward me. "And she also wanted me to tell her about the way you behaved and stuff. It was really fucking weird."

    "What'd you tell her?" Cece asked.

    "Nothing," She shrugged. "I'm not going to play informant for her, especially if it's about people I respect. Anyway, then she did that thing where she subtly but not so subtly threatens you—"

    "Ah," Cece sighed.

    "—and she said that your dad and Louis' dad wouldn't be happy about what I was doing. I don't take kindly to people that threaten me, so I decided to hang up after that."

    Cece's face relaxed. "Thank you, Pauline. You're a great friend."

    "I know. Anyway, she'll probably try to call Justin or Emilia next, but I'll tell them not to talk. Is that it?" Pauline asked, tapping her foot against the ground.

    Cece grinned. I couldn't imagine how good it must have felt to finally be sure that someone she was doubting for so long was actually on her side. "Well, I was wondering if I could borrow your Gothita…"
     
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter 56
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

    Joined:
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    CHAPTER 56

    Cece and I stood around twenty feet away from the electric fence we had found Pauline at. It had taken a few minutes to convince her to lend Cecilia her psychic type, but we managed after telling her that she would be owed a favor that she’d be able to call on at any point. I watched in awe as Cecilia released Beldum, Slowpoke, and Gothita. The trainer explained her plan to the three Pokemon, which was just to restrain Scyther if it ever attacked her or me. She quickly released Deino and Fletchinder afterward. The dragon roared out defiantly, but settled down when Cece told him to since we didn’t want anyone to find us. I noticed that he was definitely growing more obedient than he usually was, which was a far cry from Louis’ Gible. Fletchinder sang and flapped her wings, staying stationary in the air. Her voice had grown deeper than before, and all traces of the high-pitched cry she usually had was gone.

    “So you’re just going to fight it?” I asked. “No talking?”

    I honestly thought she was going to try to reason with it first, like Denzel did with his Budew, but it looked like Cece was just going to go straight into attacking it.

    “Strength is the simplest form of communication,” She recited. “Before reasoning, I must teach it that it cannot go against me, and for that, I have to earn its respect by beating it.”

    “If you say so,” I sighed, slightly disappointed. No matter what I thought about the matter, there was no avoiding the fact that different trainers had different philosophies that they abided by. Cece valued strength and commanding respect from her team, I valued bonding with them until they loved me. “Do you need me to do anything?” I asked.

    “Thank you for asking,” She smiled. “But no, I must defeat it alone, with only Deino and Fletchinder. Just… stay by my side and give me some confidence.”

    I nervously stared at the ground and kicked some rocks around. “Of course.”

    Cecilia unclipped Scyther’s Pokeball and released the Pokemon far away from us, with its back facing the fence. Every time I saw it, I felt an instinctive fear creep up. Scyther rolled his shoulders, grinding its huge, green armored plates together, and observed his surroundings. His eyes settled on us, and the bug type screeched, sharpening its sickle-like blades together.

    “Deino, get in close and bite it. When you do, never let it go,” She started. “Fletchinder—”

    Scyther rushed forward, surrounded by a shimmering white aura. I squinted, desperately trying to keep track of it, and it hurled its entire body at Deino, slamming the Pokemon back. The dark type roared as draconic energy gathered in his mouth. He reared his head back and then lurched it forward in one smooth motion. Scyther screeched and took flight, narrowly dodging the attack. I winced, expecting it to destroy the fence, but it dissipated before impacting it.

    Scyther was aiming for Cece now, and I hoped the psychics would be enough to stop—

    “Fletchinder, Flame Charge!” She commanded, using the flying type’s brand-new move.

    The bird cried out as flames appeared and wreathed around her body. Like a meteorite, she blurred forward, and she was just as fast as Scyther was. Fletchinder rammed into the Scyther, melting off some of its armor, and it crashed to the ground.

    “Deino, now!” Cece yelled.

    I could almost see Deino grin as he opened his maw. Darkness and shadows surrounded his sharp teeth, and the dragon bit down on Scyther’s neck. Scyther screamed and thrashed around, sometimes hurting Deino with Slash or X-Scissor.

    “Ember,” Cecilia said with a breath.

    The bird cried out, opening its mouth. Dozens of small flames flew toward Scyther, also hurting Deino in the process. I watched as the girl grinned, and I instantly knew what she was thinking. Scyther was a bug type, meaning that he was being hurt more than Deino was. The battle continued like this, with Scyther desperately trying to get out of Deino’s tight grip while Fletchinder harassed him with Ember.

    I whistled. I was honestly surprised at how well this was going. The psychics weren’t even needed. Sure, we were out of the forest, which was Scyther’s natural habitat and where he would be able to thrive the most, but this beatdown was unimaginable. What had been the difference? A more controlled setting and a battle on her terms, meaning there was less panic, and she clearly came at the battle with a strategy in mind this time. Plus, Fletchinder had evolved and was looking mighty powerful.

    “I think that’s enough,” Cecilia told Deino. He let go of Scyther’s neck with drool dripping all over the bug type, but he still loomed over him. Cece approached the bug type, and I hurried behind her with all three psychics. Scyther looked at her with his eyes bloodshot and ragged breathing. It looked like even with Swarm, he was too tired to do anything.

    “I have proven my strength to you, Scyther,” Cecilia started. Scyther just looked away from her, causing Deino to snarl. “I can see you’re not convinced. Very well, I will bring you to a Center to heal, and then we will be doing the same thing tomorrow.”

    Scyther’s eyes widened, and for a second, I thought I saw fear.

    “Yes, darling,” She smiled. “We will do this until you accept your new arrangement as my Pokemon. It is good training for all of us,” Cecilia continued. “Eventually, you will give in.”

    Cecilia recalled him with ambition and satisfaction swimming in her eyes. Fletchinder landed on her shoulder and squawked, while Deino let out a triumphant yell. My eyes wandered to the psychic types. Gothita looked like she was furious that we had just wasted her time, but Beldum didn’t seem to mind— not that I could understand its expression. Slowpoke was just… Slowpoke.

    “That was… intense,” I said as I exhaled.

    “A great battle,” Cece smiled. “I was sure I was going to win.”

    “Won’t it just make Scyther hate you?” I asked, unable to resist. “I don’t see how this holds up long term.”

    She nodded. “He will hate me at first, of course, but not forever. How do you think he feels right now?” She asked.

    “Hmm…” I thought. “Angry, I guess? I’m kind of drawing a blank.”

    “Angry, and humiliated,” Cece added. “In the forest, he was an apex predator. Now all of the sudden, he loses to me? I took his pride and destroyed it. That was the first step.”

    My mind flashed to my battle with Chase. “And now what?” I asked.

    “He will convert that feeling into a desire to grow stronger,” She said. “And to grow stronger, he will need to cooperate with me. Not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but eventually.”

    Cece recalled all of the Pokemon around her.

    “So you’re kind of doing what you did with Deino?” I asked. “Beating him to remind him that his best avenue to grow is through you.”

    “Exactly,” Cece said with a glint in her eyes. “Well, I suppose it would be instilling that value instead of reminding him since it was the first time I was doing so. I have a good winning strategy, so I believe I’ll be able to convince him quickly.”

    We started walking back to the Center. “Restraining him with Deino? That was vicious,” I said.

    She smirked. “It wouldn’t have worked without Fletchinder. Her evolution made her grow leaps and bounds, so she’s able to keep up with Scyther and hit him with Flame Charge. She’s the key to all of this.”

    “She was great,” I said. “And she’ll be a great help against Gardenia.”

    “For sure. What are you planning now?” Cece asked.

    “I was planning on picking up my Pokemon from the Center and using Tangela for the first time, why?”

    “Well, I don’t want our time together to end yet,” Cece said quietly. “I’ll go and hand Gothita and Beldum back, then why don’t I come with you?”

    I beamed. “Sure!”

    ——

    Comically, we went back to that same area where Pauline had taken that phone call and Cece had defeated Scyther. Trainers apparently never came here, seemingly uncomfortable with staying near the huge electric fence, so we figured it was a good spot to hang out. I released Togetic and Tangela. The grass type stared up at me before wrapping a vine around my ankle.

    “Prrri!” Princess yelled out happily.

    “You were great in that battle with Chase,” I smiled and pet her. “Now I need you to help me out. Can you use Ancient Power and raise some rocks or earth in front of us? Try to make ‘em into spheres if you can.”

    Togetic chirped and raised three large… um… shapes from the ground. Those weren’t spheres, but I supposed she tried her best.

    “Needs some work, but good job,” I told her. She rubbed her head against my cheek and flew around my head. I looked at Cece, who was holding her hand up to her heart. “What is it?” I asked.

    She coughed. “Ah, I’m sorry. I was restraining myself all throughout our travels, but now that I decided to stop hiding my true self from you… that Togetic!”

    “What?” I asked.

    “It’s— it’s ridiculously cute!” Cece sputtered. “Seriously!”

    “Toge!” Togetic said with a satisfied look.

    “Right?!” I squealed. “She doesn’t even try, but she’s still the cutest. I love her,” I said, rubbing her neck. “I’ve had her since she was born.”

    “You must have such a connection,” Cece said.

    “Yep. Since she hatched in my arms, she views me as her mom.”

    “Is that how it works?”

    “Yeah, Togepi get attached to the first person they see,” I explained before crouching. “But enough about that. Let’s get to you, angel.”

    Tangela shook and loosened the hold on my ankle.

    “Let’s see…” I started. “Why don’t you start with a simple Vine Whip on one of those rocks princess raised for us?”

    Tangela looked at me and tilted his head.

    “Vine Whip?” I tried again, pointing at the rock. He apparently didn’t understand.

    “How strange,” Cece said. “Pokemon usually instinctively understand human speech.”

    “He’s probably just a little confused,” I said, smiling at him. “Let’s take it slow, alright?”

    I grabbed one of his vines and extended it before holding it like some kind of whip. I struck the ground with it. “See? That’s Vine Whip,” I said.

    Tangela blinked twice before using the move against one of the rocks. “Great job!” I said, clapping. Togetic copied me and clapped as well.

    “That Vine Whip is powerful,” Cece observed. “Look at the damage to the rock. It’s…”

    There was a huge crack in the middle of the rock, and it slowly grew larger until the boulder split in two. My eyes widened at the sheer power Tangela seemingly held. There was a reason he managed to survive in Eterna forest, and it showed. Tangela excitedly tippy-tapped with his feet, his eyes squinting slightly.

    “Aww,” I said. “Look, he’s happy!”

    It was my first time seeing this kind of emotion from him, so that meant huge progress was being made.

    “Uh, now let’s get more technical,” I said. “Can you try extending your vine for as long as you can? I’d like to check your range.”

    Tangela nodded, and I smiled, thinking he understood, but he just used Vine Whip again, splitting the next boulder in two.

    “That’s great, angel,” I said. “But it’s not what I asked.”

    I couldn’t help but notice Cecilia holding herself back from laughing. This was going to be a long training session.

    ——

    Angel was… how could I say this?

    Angel was slow, which was incredibly cute, but also frustrating to deal with. Luckily, with Cece there to brainstorm with me, we managed to make it use all of its moves and experiment how I wanted. First, I had to extend his vines manually to make him understand what I wanted. His maximum range seemed to be around fifty feet depending on the vine, but he struggled to extend them that far on his own, and when he did, it was slow. The closer his target was, the quicker and the more powerful his Vine Whip or Bind would be. That was definitely something I wanted to work on, especially considering his next move.

    Tangela’s Mega Drain worked differently than Budew’s Absorb. Whereas Budew could apparently drain energy from a distance, Tangela had to drain energy through his vines, meaning that if I could get him to improve the speed at which he could grab something with his vines, I’d be able to catch Pokemon off-guard with Mega Drain.

    “Bad Deino! Bad! Stay still!” Cece yelled at her dragon. He snarled, biting at the vines wrapping around him, but more kept coming. Cece and Deino were helping me test out the move since he’d be very resistant to it.

    “Okay, angel,” I slowly said. “Mega Drain. M-e-g-a-d-r-a-i-n,” I repeated extremely slowly.

    His vines’ extremities started glowing, and the energy slowly traveled through until it reached the grass type. Tangela shivered when he received the energy.

    “Alright, great job,” I said as he rubbed another vine on my hand. There were so many vines… everywhere. They were an extension of himself, and that meant he used them a lot. Right now, two vines were playing around with Togetic, another rubbing my hand, and six wrapping around Deino.

    Angel was slow, but Arceus, he was a fantastic multitasker. There was so much potential all held up in this little ball of vines.

    Bind was the simplest move to make him use. He understood that one surprisingly easily, with me mimicking crushing something with my hands. Then it was only a matter of associating the move with the verbal command. Tangela squeezed one of Togetic’s rocks as tight as he could— not enough to shatter it, but enough to leave marks and dents.

    Finally, we had Stun Spore and Poison Powder. Unfortunately, I was stumped. No matter how differently I tried to explain the two moves, I just couldn’t get him to use them. Maybe I’d have to ask Denzel to help out since Budew knew those two moves. Surely Budew would be willing to help… maybe. Still, I ended up experimenting for two hours, and those were very productive. Soon, I’d be able to get Tangela involved in our mock battles. Ideas swam in my head on how to best use Tangela as we walked back to the Center. Could I use get him to use his vines as locomotion to move faster? Could I create a combination involving Vine Whip, Bind, and Mega Drain? Again, there was so much potential there, and if I could get his vines to grow longer, then dealing with flying types by slamming them on the ground was definitely possible. Hell, he could even learn Ancient Power!

    Princess would be able to help with that, but not anytime soon. First, I needed to focus on what he knew. I did have new moves I wanted to teach Togetic, Elekid, and Frillish on our way to Eterna city and before the gym, but that’d have to wait. Cece and I split up, and I went back to my room to rest.

    I sighed when I saw that Chase Karlson was waiting for me, leaning against my door.
     
  9. Threadmarks: Chapter 57
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    CHAPTER 57

    “You again?” I drawled. “What else would you possibly want from me? How did you even find my room?”

    Chase took a breath and straightened himself before crossing his arms. His body was tense.

    “I wanted to speak with you, obviously. And finding your room was just a matter of asking around,” He said.

    “Asking around? Are people watching me?” I asked, letting a little bit of panic slip into my tone. “Who was it?”

    “Well, you’re traveling with that band of crooks, and now you just beat me, one of the rising stars of the Circuit,” Chase said, his face wincing. “So expect more people to watch you from now on.”

    I frowned. He wasn’t as angry as I expected him to be. In fact, he was cordial.

    “I’m tired, so talk,” I ordered.

    The boy smiled, adjusting his cap. “I underestimated you, and you beat me. That was my first loss since I left home, and that stung,” He hissed out the word, his face contorting. “All the work I’ve done my entire life feels meaningless now, and my goal feels more out of reach than ever. But!” Chase said, pointing toward me. “The next time we fight— because there will be a next time— I will utterly crush you. No underestimating you next time.”

    Chase pushed himself off the door and started walking past me.

    “And I also want to thank you for something,” He said, stopping at my side, still looking straight ahead. “You know, that loss really fucked me up. I felt like I was about to lose myself for a few minutes, but it also made me think clearly. Finally, I can make Cynthia eat her Arceus damned words. I’ve finally found something worth fighting for. Have you?”

    I frowned. He had spoken to Cynthia? “What goal? And Cynthia talked to you?”

    “You’ll see after I become the Champion,” Chase said as he began to walk away. “None of you have even half the drive or dedication that I do. And of course, Cynthia talked to me. I’m Chase fucking Karlson. See you in Eterna city, shrimp. Look forward to that rematch.”

    Cynthia talked to me too! I screamed internally. Of course, it was probably in completely different circumstances, and he probably wouldn’t even believe me. I would just appear to be a jealous kid trying to one-up him.

    “What an asshole,” I whispered.

    Whatever, it wasn’t like I hadn’t gotten used to it with Pauline. Although to be fair to my friend, Pauline didn’t think herself to be the best thing in the world, but the aggressiveness was similar, and she sometimes let go of her hard outer shell. Chase never let me see the good in him except when he had stormed into the Valley Windworks powerplant to try to save us.

    I supposed that was why I couldn’t bring myself to hate him.

    I opened my door, and my hand rested on top of Togetic’s Pokeball. This would only be a nap, but naps still brought nightmares. I had to be strong. Cynthia had warned me. One month maximum, and I had almost gone over that. I groaned, collapsed onto my bed, and sunk into a deep sleep.

    ——

    Chase walked toward the stairs with his hands deep into his pockets. That conversation had gone relatively well, all things considered. It took everything he had not to assert his superiority over Pastel and her clique, but he knew better now. It would be foolish to behave the same way after being beaten and proven to be the weaker trainer— yes, he had underestimated her, but Chase had to admit that her Pokemon were good. Riolu would be proud if he were there to listen, but unfortunately, he was still being healed. That Extrasensory had done a number on him, and he’d still be there for a few hours.

    Whispers made Chase’s ears twinge.

    “That’s Chase Karlson…”

    “Did you see his loss to that Pastel girl? Here, I have it on video…”

    “I think I might be able to take him…”


    The teenager scoffed. These motherfuckers were talking just loud enough so he could hear. The loss of his undefeated streak had done a number on his reputation. He glared at them as he passed, and they shut up real quick, eliciting a smile. The weakest trainers were always the ones that talked the most. Chase was obviously an exception to that rule.

    But he already had a plan on how to rebuild. Chase would need a spectacular win against Gardenia. A win so dominant that no one would be able to question his skills ever again. It would hopefully come in due time, however. Right now, he was looking for someone else.

    Oh, it wasn’t that Obel girl. A deal was a deal, and he had lost, meaning that he wouldn’t bother her again. Plus, he had misjudged the situation. She wasn’t even the leader of the group.

    Chase didn’t know how Pastel had done it, but during their trip through Eterna forest, she had apparently taken control of the group and was now leading it. Why else would she stand up to defend someone who could buy her way into being a contender to win the Circuit? She was obviously using them for her own advantage. Pastel’s only real connection in that group looked to be Williams, that tall kid he crushed in Jubilife.

    Chase entered the Ranger building, basking in the bright fluorescent light. The only place he believed Scott Montante could be if he hadn’t left yet was here.

    The trainer confidently strode up to the front desk. “Hey. Did you see a Scott Montante that came here to make a report about some Pinsir?” He asked.

    The woman, who looked to be in her early twenties, tapped her chin and hummed for a few seconds. “Uh, I think Scott’s still around here somewhere. Wanted some information about becoming a Ranger. Looking for him?”

    “You know him?” He asked. “I want to speak to him,” He ordered.

    “Watch your tone, kid,” The Ranger warned. “And yeah, I know him. Comes through here every year.” She whistled and gestured for someone to come. “Elliot! Still have that Montante guy running around?”

    “I’m a bit busy right now, Georgia!” The man answered. He was carrying a huge carton box with a bunch of files in it. “Ask someone else.”

    “You’re using your hands right now, use your mouth!”

    “I think he was sitting in that orientation thing we’ve been doing!” Elliot said before disappearing into a hallway.

    “Orientation?” Chase asked. “I thought he wanted to finish this year’s Circuit before signing up.”

    “Orientation doesn’t mean he’s signing up yet, it means he’s getting information about signing up. We’ve been running it every few weeks, and he got lucky enough to catch this one, or maybe he planned the trip to get here in time. Anyway, nothing you can do about it. Wait for your friend in the lobby.”

    “He’s not my friend,” Chase grumbled before sitting down on one of the chairs that lined up the walls of the building. He didn’t like that he was wasting time, but he wasn’t about to work out or train without Riolu.

    It took around twenty minutes for Scott to come out, and he had a huge grin on his face. Chase shot up and walked up to him.

    “Yo,” He said. “Can we talk?”

    Scott stopped in his tracks, and his smile vanished. “What is it, kid? Thought you’d be gone like Maeve already.”

    “I thought so too, but shit happens,” Chase shrugged. “So?”

    Scott sighed. “Fine, we can talk.”

    “Not here.”

    Chase led Scott to a secluded part of the outpost, away from prying eyes and ears. This was going to be an important conversation, and he didn’t want some random trainer to listen in.

    “Isn’t this far enough?” Scott complained.

    “No.”

    “What, are you about to tell me your deepest, darkest secret? What is it? You’re a part of team Galactic?” Scott asked.

    “I beat the shit out of grunts, so that wouldn’t make sense,” Chase said.

    “It was just a joke, sheesh,” Scott said.

    Chase turned abruptly and faced the man. “I think we’re good,” He said. “I wanted to talk to you about goals.”

    “Goals?”

    “You heard me. Well, first I… uh, I wanted to apologize for shitting on your dream of becoming a ranger like that when we traveled together,” He started.

    Scott’s eyes widened. “Never thought you’d be the type of guy to apologize for anything, but I accept. Go on.”

    “I didn’t understand it at the time,” Chase sighed. “Your need to help people. Well, to be honest, I still don’t quite understand it, but that’s beside the point. I’ve gone through an illuminating experience recently that’s changed how I view the world a little bit.”

    “Oh, right,” Scott said. “You lost to that girl.”

    “Ugh,” Chase groaned. “You know about it already? I would have— might have won if I didn’t fuck around. But still, when the battle ended, it was only me and my thoughts, and I started thinking. My goal… isn’t achievable anymore.”

    How could he be perfect if he had lost? Cynthia had never lost a single battle during her entire career, even during her first year when she rose to become the Champion.

    “But I can still do something for the next generation,” Chase continued, licking his dry lips. “I can make the Circuit a more even playing field. No more outside money, no more sponsors, no more buying the best Pokemon.”

    “But the girl that beat you wasn’t rich,” Scott interjected.

    “But she’s using them to make her journey easier, so the principle still applies,” Chase retorted. “I seriously considered quitting after that loss. Just hang my cap and go back home, but no,” He said, clenching his fist. “I’m going to become the Champion, and I’m going to bring an end to big businesses involving themselves and their kids in the League Circuit. The winners will be the people that worked hard and deserve it. Cynthia has allowed the system to erode under her watch.”

    “I mean, that’s great. I agree with some of this, but it’s easier said than done,” Scott said. “And why are you telling me this?”

    Chase clammed up. “With our talk about dreams and goals in the forest, I thought it’d be good to let you know I’ve settled on something,” He got out.

    The truth was, he just wanted to let someone know, and Riolu wasn’t there.

    It was kind of lonely.

    ——

    Five days had passed since they arrived at the outpost, and Emilia was finally alright enough to walk again, although her leg wasn’t anywhere near one hundred percent. I thought about Chase as I stepped down the stairs to the Pokemon Center lobby to meet the others. He had kept his word and hadn’t bothered Cece or any of the others. In fact, he had already left, but not before beating up a bunch of trainers in battles, which was probably to fix his wounded ego.

    “Already here?” I smiled at Denzel.

    “Bright and early. Surprised?” He asked.

    “I thought you were the one who’d be late,” I laughed. “Where’s everyone else?”

    “Louis is calling his dad about some new Pokemon he wants,” Denzel grimaced.

    “Yikes,” I sighed. “I should talk to him about that.”

    “I mean, as long as it’s not some Pokemon he can’t control, he should be fine,” Denzel said.

    I stared at him, letting him know that that was most likely a pipe dream.

    “I mean, Prinplup is fine!” Denzel tried. “But we’ll see what he asks for. Pauline and Justin were helping Emilia pack, last I heard, and your crush—”

    “Denzel! Not in public!” I hissed.

    My friend grinned. He was trying to get a rise out of me and succeeding. “Cece’s refilling our potion and food supplies. They ran low in Eterna forest.”

    I nodded and sat next to Denzel, sinking into the soft couch. Pokemon Center couches were seriously the best, especially with how tired I was getting again. I probably would have dozed off, but there was a sentence Chase had told me that had been stuck in my head since he confronted me in front of my room.

    I’ve finally found something worth fighting for. Have you?

    What had he meant by this?

    Something worth fighting for… what did I want? To become the Champion and surpass Cynthia. To enjoy my journey through Sinnoh and to build a family with my team. That was enough, or that had been enough until now. Chase’s words had infected me and spread doubt like a virus.

    I stared at Denzel. What did he want? To become famous and build a brand for himself.

    Cece? She wanted to free herself from her father’s clutches, escape from her arranged marriage with Louis and build a life for herself.

    Chase? Well, he hadn’t told me, but he apparently found something.

    That’s when it clicked. The common denominator with all of these people. They were using the position of Champion as a launch pad to further their own goals, while I was still stuck at the first step.

    What did I want?

    “There she is,” Denzel whispered and nodded toward Cece, who carried multiple bags full of supplies. She smiled when she saw us.

    “Good morning.”

    I stood up. “Morning! Let me help you out,” I said, before gently kicking Denzel’s leg. “You too, you lazy bum.”

    “I was going to!” He protested.

    Cece chuckled and handed us some of her bags. I needed something to strive toward. A goal beyond the finish line, or I would just crash and burn when I got there. In a way, I was glad Chase had accosted me that day, or I maybe would have never figured this out.

    Now all I had to do was find it.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2023
  10. Threadmarks: Chapter 58
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    CHAPTER 58

    I readjusted my bag, shifting the weight to my non-wounded shoulder as we stepped out of the Pokemon Center. We were finally ready to make progress and get to Eterna city. The trip would take two days, although since we were a large group, it would probably end up being slightly longer, but I didn’t care. All I wanted was to get on the road. My need to get back to a city wasn’t as bad as Emilia’s, but I would be lying to myself if I didn’t admit that I missed living in one. I was a Jubilife girl through and through.

    “Whew,” I said. “Let’s get this show on the road!”

    “Someone’s excited,” Denzel said.

    “I think we all want to get to the city,” Louis shrugged. “I can’t wait to get to my hotel suite.”

    “I think we’re excited about very different things,” My friend added.

    The first order of business was to pass through Eterna Lake. I had gone on it with Denzel and Cece before, but we hadn’t really gone that far. The truth was, the lake was enormous, and it would take at least four hours to get through. Of course, there was also the possibility of going around, but that would take longer, and since there wasn’t any danger, there was no reason to take the long road. Many trainers were fishing along the bridges, hoping to catch something good. Denzel theorized that most were probably hoping for a Tentacool for its poison typing to help against Gardenia. Even this far out, people were already preparing to face her.

    “By the way,” Denzel started. “Shouldn’t Justin and Pauline be catching something? You guys only have two Pokemon.”

    Pauline huffed and crossed her arms. “Nothing on this route interests me. I’ll see if there are any good Pokemon around the city itself.”

    “Fair enough, I guess. What about you, Justin?” Denzel asked.

    “Well, the truth is that there is a Pokemon I’m looking for, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t find it. It’s a Lotad.”

    It took a few seconds for me to recall what the Pokemon looked like. A grass and water type would work alright for Gardenia, and it would be wonderful for future battles. All in all, I would call it a smart choice.

    “Come on, we’ll help you find it. Do you know how it lives in the lake? Do you need a fishing rod? Denzel has one.” I asked, wanting to repay his help with Tangela.

    “No, Lotad live along the surface,” Denzel said. “They float across the surface like lilypads, and they’ll be at shallower parts of the lake, next to the shoreline.”

    “Well, there weren’t any next to the outpost,” Pauline shrugged.

    “We’ll keep an eye out,” I said. “And, uh… Louis,” I continued, hesitating slightly. “Have you figured out what third Pokemon you’re getting?”

    “Oh, it’ll be wonderful,” He replied, barely containing his smile. “Our breeders will be sending me a top-of-the-line Vulpix that hatched a few months ago. A perfect fit to win against Gardenia, wouldn’t you say?”

    I frowned. I didn’t know enough about Vulpix to know if it would be uncontrollable, but I did know Ninetales were extremely rare. The usual Fire Stones that were found in stores and commonly mined weren’t enough to get a Ninetales. Only the best quality Fire Stones were able to get Vulpix to evolve— although with his money, I suppose that wouldn’t be a problem. I just hoped Louis wouldn’t rush into things and evolve it into a Ninetales too quickly. There were many bedtime stories read to kids that talked about the strong curses a vengeful Ninetales could inflict on a human.

    “Well, I hope you know what you’re doing,” I just said. He seemed to have already arranged everything, and there was probably no way to change his mind. If he started talking about evolving it, I’d ask everybody to stage an intervention to stop him from getting himself killed.

    “I actually wanted a Vulpix for a bit when I was first planning my team,” Denzel said. “Changed my mind when I heard about the curses and their vengeful nature though. Plus, I’d probably never be able to afford its evolution.”

    Very smooth, dude, I thought with a slight smile. I looked at Eevee, who was perched on my friend’s shoulder as always. Thinking about Fire Stones made me curious as to what evolution he had chosen for the normal type. I supposed I would ask him later tonight when we set up camp.

    We made it to the other end of the lake with no troubles. Denzel battled a trainer that specialized in water types and had one badge, but he wiped the floor with him thanks to Budew. The grass type just battered the kid’s Pokemon with Bullet Seed, even when they retreated under the surface of the water. The attack was powerful enough to pack a punch after being slowed by the lake.

    “Let’s look for that Lotad now, shall we?” Cecilia said.

    “Should we split up?” Justin asked. “Cover more ground?”

    “That’s the sensible thing to do. I don’t want to waste too much time,” Emilia chimed in.

    “You don’t have to help Emi. In fact, why don’t we both stay here and watch the others do all the work?” Pauline asked.

    The girl smiled. “That seems like a great idea.”

    I couldn’t help but be happy at how great Emi was doing again. The forest had for sure changed her, but at least she was having some degree of fun. Compared to how she was before, it was like night and day, and going through Eterna forest taught her to appreciate traveling in such a relatively low-risk area.

    “If you didn’t want to help, you could have just said so, Pauline,” Justin sighed. “How are we splitting the groups?”

    Denzel interjected immediately. “How about a girl group and a guy group?”

    “How passé of you, Denzel,” Pauline said.

    “That seems appropriate,” Justin nodded. “Louis?”

    The blonde boy nodded, and the groups split. We agreed to catch the Pokemon for him if we found one, after which we’d hand it to him in Eterna city. There wasn’t a need for another Pokemon to trade, but these kinds of transactions had to be tracked by the League. I wiped my sweaty hands on my pants as I walked with Cece along the lake. The water gently crashed over the slightly sandy shore. From this angle, it was hard to believe that this was a lake and not the ocean.

    “Ahem,” Cece coughed. “I… I have something to confess.”

    My throat clogged up. “W—what is it?”

    “The truth is… I have no idea what a Lotad looks like,” She said, staring at her feet. “I was too embarrassed to tell the others.”

    My nervousness evaporated as fast as water thrown at the surface of the sun, and I started choking on my own saliva while laughing at the same time. I doubled over as Cece worriedly clapped my back.

    “It’s not that hilarious, surely,” She said after I recovered. “I’ve never even heard of the Pokemon. I bet that they don’t live in Unova.”

    “Uh, I’m pretty sure they live everywhere,” I said, still giggling. “Sorry, that just came out of nowhere. I’m pretty sure there was a Lotad at one of the Floaroma tournament battles too, if I remember correctly,” I said, before describing the Pokemon to her.

    “Really?” She raised an eyebrow. “I probably wasn’t paying attention. I was nervous, you know? I was terrified I’d lose.”

    “Well, now I know, but at the time, I didn’t. You just looked like your usual self.”

    She stared at me intently. “What does my usual self look like?”

    I fiddled my thumbs. “Um, I don’t know. Confident? Like you’re ready to take on the world, I guess.”

    Cece brought a hand to her heart. “That’s good. That’s what I want people to think.”

    I nodded sadly. I couldn’t imagine what it was like, to constantly have to mask your true self. “Hey, one day you’ll be able to look however you want,” I said, trying to cheer her up.

    “Thank you,” She smiled gently. “You know, you and Denzel have been a great help to me. If I can repay you by whatever means, I’d like to give you—”

    “No. No money,” I interrupted.

    “But anything you could ask for would cost me practically nothing! Plus, I’d be using my father’s money on someone he disapproves of.”

    “Nuh-uh,” I shook my head. “Just being friends is enough for me.”

    The conversation paused for a few seconds before Cece let out a sigh. “Fine. But if you need anything, just ask. And I’ll still try to help in any way I can.”

    “I’ll be fine. Now let’s find this Lotad! Hey, did you know they evolve into really good dancers called Ludicolo?”

    “Huh?!” She exclaimed. “Those are where Ludicolo come from?!”

    “Well, yeah.”

    “Humilau city has this wonderful annual festival full of those, and they perform magnificent dances…”

    In the end, we didn’t find any Lotad, so we decided to get back to Emilia and Pauline, who were lying down on the grass next to each other and talking. We joined them and waited for the boys to come back, and they did.

    An entire two hours later, that was.

    They were in a sorry state, all shivering and completely wet from head to toe.

    “What happened?” I asked, standing up. “You need to dry yourselves!”

    “Ugh,” Pauline groaned “I suppose we’ll have to set up camp early then?”

    “Unless they want hypothermia, I would suggest so,” Cece said.

    “Did you at least catch the damn thing?” Pauline asked.

    Justin grinned and released a Lotad with a leaf on its head that looked larger than average. The Pokemon seemed quite friendly, at least. It struggled to walk as it approached us curiously. I grabbed my Pokedex and scanned it.

    Lotad, the water weed Pokemon. Lotad is said to have dwelled on land before. However, this POKéMON is thought to have returned to water because the leaf on its head grew large and heavy. It now lives by floating atop the water. Its lilypad-like hat serves as a ferry to Pokémon that can’t swim, but if it doesn’t drink clean water for too long, its leaf withers and dies.

    Type: Water, Grass


    “I can certainly see the resemblance now,” Cece whispered to me. I held back a laugh.

    “It took us a while to catch because it kept escaping deeper into the lake whenever we got too close,” Justin explained as he held his body. “I apologize for the delay.”.

    “I tried blocking it in with Prinplup, but he isn’t the best swimmer,” Louis said.

    “How can a water type not be a good swimmer?” Pauline snarked.

    “I’ve raised him on land. He only swims in our swimming pools!” He answered defensively.

    “Let’s just get a fire started and get these guys warmed up,” I sighed.

    It looked like day one was a bust, but honestly, I was having a lot of fun.

    ——

    Denzel and I stood away from camp and that giant tent that the group had started to use again. He released his Budew, who announced her presence with her habitual screech. The grass type looked at me disdainfully and turned toward Denzel in protest.

    “What’s up with her today?” I asked, feeling slightly hurt.

    “She’s just being…” Denzel trailed off before looking at Budew. “She’s doing great!”

    “Did she just pressure you into lying?” I teased, grabbing my own Pokeball.

    “Nah, Budew and I are always on the same page these days. Right Budew?”

    “Bud!” The grass type yelled in protest.

    I released angel from his Pokeball. Since we had set up camp already, I decided to ask Denzel for help to teach him to use Poison Powder and Stun Spore. Sure, these attacks would be useless against Gardenia’s own grass types, but I just wanted to get angel up to speed on all of his moves as fast as I could before focusing on improving a particular move. Tangela greeted me with his habitual vine touching.

    “So, how are we doing this?” I asked.

    “What? I thought you’d have a strategy worked out,” Denzel said.

    “Huh? You’re the one that said you could help me!” I groaned.

    He waited a few seconds before a smile split his face. “I’m just fucking with you.”

    “You’re the worst.”

    “So you said Tangela already knew the moves right?” My friend started, ignoring me. I nodded. “So all you need to do is get him to associate the verbal command with the move, so I figured I’d just have Budew use them next to him and hope he uses it too. When he does, you shout out the order.”

    “Ah, yeah, that makes sense. I think Tangela will figure that one out.”

    Tangela waded to Budew and touched her with some of his vines. She immediately pelted him with a weakened Bullet Seed, but he seemed not to mind. Budew screeched in annoyance, but she didn’t attack— a true mark of all the progress she had made. After fifteen seconds or so, Tangela finished his inspection and was ready to get to work.

    “Alright, let’s stand back a bit. We don’t want to breathe in the spores,” My friend said. I nodded and followed him, and then he shouted out an order. “Alright, Budew, start with Stun Spore.”

    Budew shook her entire body, diffusing yellow spores. Tangela looked at her curiously and shook his body as well, successfully using Stun Spore, albeit it looked weaker than Budew’s.

    “That was Stun Spore, Tangela!” I yelled out. “S-t-u-n S-p-o-r-e!”

    “Think he caught that?” Denzel asked.

    “I hope so. Let’s try.”

    I ordered Tangela to use the move, and he just looked at me before using Vine Whip on the ground.

    “I think he’s worse than you described,” Denzel chuckled.

    “Shut up. He’s trying his best!” I said. “That wasn’t it angel, but that was still a very good Vine Whip!”

    Tangela squinted in a way that I had learned was a smile, and he used Vine Whip again. Even Budew looked puzzled, and she quietly stared at me while my Pokemon kept using Vine Whip over and over. I didn’t speak Pokemon, but I instinctively knew what that look meant.

    You’re making me work with this?!

    “Let’s start over,” I sighed. “He’ll figure it out eventually.”

    “And then we have to do it with Poison Powder…” Denzel sighed.

    ——

    An hour later, Tangela had made a lot of progress. He recognized Stun Spore and Poison Powder most of the time, and so he finally learned to respond to all of his moves. That meant I’d be able to work on my idea for a Vine Whip, Bind, and Mega Drain combo, although that would probably take weeks. The idea was to hit an enemy with Vine Whip and immediately have the vine wrap around it with Bind, after which angel could suck their energy with Mega Drain. Then, there was also the idea of getting him to dodge attacks with his vines, but that could come later. He’d be able to take a lot of hits in Eterna’s gym, and I wanted to focus on the other members of my team as well.

    For Togetic, I wanted her to learn Double Edge, one of the most powerful normal type moves. In fact, it was so powerful that it inflicted some damage on the user. It wasn’t a priority for now, especially since I’d use her to fight long-distance against Gardenia, but it would be useful to counter quick, fragile flying types like Cece’s Fletchinder. What I did want for the gym, however, was the Thunder Wave TM. She was surprisingly able to learn the move, and it was one of the more affordable TMs. If I remembered correctly, the price was around… fifteen thousand pokedollars. I had around nine thousand on my trainer card right now, so I’d need to participate in a lot of battles to get there, and then I’d be broke, but it would be worth it. The move would be useful forever, even against highly skilled opponents that I’d face at the Conference if I got there.

    Frillish would probably be my last resort against Gardenia, but I still wanted him at his best, and I had a strategy in mind if I had to use the water type. Of course, I had Poison Sting and Hex, but I wanted him to learn Acid Armor and Mist. First, Acid Armor would liquefy his body and do wonders against any physical grass moves. Mist would just make him harder to hit along with that.

    For Elekid, I wanted him to learn Ice and Fire Punch. These would be the hardest to teach, because we had no base to work from. Where would the fire or the ice come from? That was something I’d have to figure out, but if I managed to get him to master those in time, he would quickly become the heavy lifter for the Gardenia battle.

    I’d need to start working on all of those in Eterna city.

    I walked up to Denzel, who was watching Buneary and Eevee play around. I smiled at the two normal types. Eevee had a real gift with other Pokemon since he seemingly got along with anyone extremely quickly, although the Pokemon could also be grumpy when he wasn’t in the mood.

    “Hey,” I told Denzel. “Had a question for you.”

    “Yeah?”

    “I’ve been curious,” I whispered, not wanting to disturb his Pokemon. “I wondered what evolution you were picking for Eevee?”

    The boy’s face froze before answering. He sighed. “I honestly don’t know. I want him to pick, but… he’s scared to pick, I think. Too many options.”

    “Oh,” I said. “Sorry.”

    “No, it’s fine,” He quickly said. “I mean, I’ve got to think about it someday, right? It’s not like he doesn’t want to evolve either,” He continued as he watched the normal type jump over Buneary. “I’ve asked him, and told him I would have been fine with that. He just doesn’t know what he wants, which is unusual.”

    “Is it? Why?”

    “Eevee’s just not like that,” Denzel sighed. “He always knows what he wants. He’s steadfast.”

    We watched his Pokemon play in silence for a few seconds.

    “But it’s not like I have to decide now. I mean, I won’t have the money to buy an evolutionary stone any time soon, and Eevee can hold himself back from evolving if he really doesn’t want to yet. As long as he’s giving it his all, I’ll support any decision he makes.”

    “You’re a great trainer,” I softly said. “A lot of people would have just forced whatever they wanted onto their Pokemon.”

    “I’d never forgive myself if I did that. I’ll give Eevee as much time as he needs.”

    “And I’m sure he loves you for that.”

    ——

    Later, I was forced to explain that I was going to sleep in my own tent to not wake the entire group up too early. I had forgotten that my friends had never actually known that I had nightmares because I had used Togetic’s power our entire time together.

    “Are you sure you’re alright?” Justin asked me with concern. “Maybe sleeping in the company of people will help.”

    “I wish I’d known about this sooner,” Cecilia said painfully.

    “I’ll be fine, guys,” I said. “You guys just have a good night.”

    “Don’t hesitate to call if you need someone,” Denzel clapped my shoulder. “We’re right there.”

    Pauline crossed her arms. “If I ever see any of these Galactic guys, I’ll fuck them up. The fact that you can’t sleep pisses me off. No one should have to go through that.”

    “Well, the right thing to do would be to call the League or the cops, but I appreciate that,” I smiled. “Thanks, everyone. Good night.”

    I stepped into my tent and fell asleep. When I woke up screaming, Cece was there. I hurriedly climbed out of my sleeping bag.

    “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Did something happen?”

    “No, but I figured it would be nice to wake up to a familiar face. I wake up earlier than everyone else anyway.”

    “I— Thank you. It really does. If I was alone right now, I’d probably still be trying to calm myself down.”

    “I did say I would try to help in any way I could,” The girl smiled. “Why don’t we train while we wait for the others to wake up?”

    “Gladly.”

    ——

    On the third day, we finally reached Eterna city. The city’s aesthetic was completely different from Jubilife and Oreburgh. The roads were still paved with gray bricks instead of concrete, and there weren’t any skyscrapers in sight. Two huge stadiums towered in the distance that I recognized as the gym and one of the contest halls that Emilia was crazy about. The buildings had a rustic feeling to them, and vegetation was everywhere, although there was less of it than in Floaroma. Loud screams could be heard as we turned the corner to the Pokemon Center, and I was outraged at what I saw. People were… protesting, yelling loudly, and carrying signs with different slogans written on them.

    “Down with the League’s tyranny!”

    “Our memories are ours only!”

    “Cynthia, step down!”


    “What the hell?” I said, my voice trembling.

    “They’re protesting the National Security Emergency Act,” Denzel grimaced. “This could spell trouble.”
     
  11. Threadmarks: Chapter 59
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    CHAPTER 59

    "...third week of anti League government protests are underway with no signs of slowing down. Cities with the largest protests are Eterna, Hearthome, and Veilstone, but people in Jubilife and Sunnyshore have started organizing. There has still been no official response or acknowledgment from the League, but civilian governments are desperately trying to maintain order. Now with us, we have reporter Jensen here on the scene right in the heart of Eterna City. Jensen, what are you hearing on the ground?"

    "Thank you, Mallory. As you can see behind me, people— both trainers and civilians alike— are angry. They want answers from the League, and they aren't getting any, which begs the question. What is Cynthia waiting for? Now, here is one of the protesters who was willing to run an interview with us. What's your name, sir?"

    "I'm Willie, and I'm fucking pissed off—"

    "Please refrain from swearing, sir."

    "Fuck you! What kind of government takes back the people's freedom? Not my government! If they're extracting team Galactic's memories, it's only a matter of time until they extract yours! Fuck Cynthia—"


    The screen cut away, returning to Mallory in her newsroom.

    "Well, sorry about that. One thing is for sure about Champion Cynthia, she's going to have to come out of hiding eventually because she's facing rebellion from within. The coalition government in the Directorate has collapsed, and the new opposition party has been floating the idea of voting Prime Minister Vernon out of power. Of course, to do that, they'll have to get a majority vote, which they don't have yet, but a few members have already dissented and joined the opposition. And remind me, Patrick, what does that entail?"

    Patrick, her co-host, spoke up.

    "Well, a Prime Minister opposed to the Champion has never been seen before, since there's only been one PM, but if they are, then they'd have the power to start a vote with the intent of impeaching the Champion out of power. Granted, that would take two-thirds of the Directorate, so it seems like a long shot."

    "Still something to keep an eye on. Cynthia might be safe for now, but Prime Minister Vernon—"


    I switched channels and slammed the remote on my bed out of frustration. I was waiting in my Pokemon Center room with Denzel while the others went to the airport to pick up their special food mix for their teams, and I, unfortunately, couldn't help myself from listening to the news.

    "This is bullshit," I spat. "Did you see their faces? They're enjoying every second of this."

    Denzel sighed and crossed his arms. "Well, this is Cynthia's first big controversy, so they're going to be running this story for weeks or months. The ratings must be through the roof."

    "Don't they understand the danger that team Galactic poses?! Cynthia just wants to help the region!" I exclaimed with my fists clenched. "And the media's just fanning the flames! Why don't they go speak with the victims instead of these protesters?"

    "You're angry," He simply said.

    "Why wouldn't I be?" I yelled. "These people are going to distract Cynthia from investigating team Galactic with these stupid political games. That means more people might suffer. People might die."

    "You've got to understand their point of view," Denzel said. "They're scared. Cynthia basically showed that she could just brute force their rights away."

    "It's not their rights, she's only using it against team Galactic!" I said.

    "But that's not how it looks from their point of view," My friend sighed. "It looks like a power grab from the League side of government, and civies aren't liking it. Hell, even some trainers are protesting. The forums are incredibly toxic, and that's saying something. Plus, the League certainly isn't helping by being radio silent."

    "I just… I hate this. It's exhausting."

    "Why don't we do something to clear your head? You haven't eaten fries in a while, want to go get some?" Denzel asked with a sad smile.

    "I don't know. I just feel like doing nothing today."

    "Come on, we at least have to go check out the gym!" He said. "The wait times are apparently crazy, so it'd be best to sign up as early as possible."

    I groaned. "Fine, I guess."

    We exited my room and made our way down using the elevators. I had gotten used to the smaller Centers of the outposts at both ends of Eterna forest, so I had almost forgotten how huge city Centers were. They were the tallest buildings in Eterna, bar a few exceptions. I breathed easy when I saw that the protestors had moved onto another street. I didn't think I'd be able to contain myself if they were still there.

    Unlike in Oreburgh, the Eterna city gym was easy to spot. It stuck out like a sore thumb in the city. The stadium-like building looked modern and smooth compared to the old, rustic architecture that dominated the city, and it was also the largest building in Eterna by far, dwarfing anything else in sight. Still, even though it was visible from anywhere in the city, it was still relatively far away from the Center we had picked to stay at. We chose this Center mostly because it was close to the other's hotel, so it would be easy to meet up whenever we wanted.

    Denzel and I stepped on one of the many trams that ran through the middle of Eterna's streets. Unlike Jubilife or Oreburgh, the city was much more axed toward pedestrian life, which was impressive for its size. But if someone had to get far from where they lived, they'd need to use the trams. I lazily stared at one of the tram line maps plastered on the walls of the vehicle. We were far, but at least we wouldn't need to do any line transfers. We rode in silence for twenty-five minutes, and then we got off.

    I bit my tongue when I heard more protesters camped in front of the gym. It made sense, in a sick sort of way. Gardenia answered to the League, so protesting in front of her workplace was the best way to reach her.

    "Keep your head down," Denzel said as we squeezed through the crowd.

    "I'm not going to start a fight," I retorted. He probably didn't hear me. A few policemen were stationed in front of the entrance, blocking the protesters, and asked for our trainer ID cards before letting us through.

    Needless to say, there weren't that many trainers inside of the gym lobby proper, but I could hear the chants and yells of the crowd sitting in the stand.

    "Must be a good battle going on," Denzel said. "Here, why don't you sign up first."

    I nodded and approached the receptionist, who looked to be a trainer just as young as I was, or maybe just slightly older. Unlike Oreburgh city, the gym trainers here wore a green and white uniform, with a Pokeball on the white side of her shirt, which was obviously because of the grass type specialization.

    "Good morning, and welcome to the Eterna gym," The girl said with irritation. "Before you ask, no, I cannot go and tell Gardenia to do anything about the protests."

    "Oh, I'm just here to sign up," I hesitantly said.

    The girl's eyes widened. "Oh, Arceus, I'm so sorry! Um, here, trainer ID, please!" She stammered. I smiled. She was probably new here, and she reminded me of myself when I had first started out as a trainer.

    "Sure, no problem," I said, handing her my ID.

    "Again, so sorry," She professed as she typed something on her computer. "Oh, this isn't your first badge! Um… oh, right! Here, you'll only have to answer these, then," The girl continued, handing me a questionnaire. "And if you lie on any questions, you can get disqualified from the Circuit."

    I stared at the paper intently. It was mostly a streamlined version of the questionnaire I had answered at Roark's gym, with the same kind of questions, such as the number of Pokemon I owned. I answered them all honestly and handed the receptionist the questionnaire.

    "Thanks! I swear, we need to start making you answer these digitally right away, it's such a chore to input this manually…" She grumbled as she typed away on her keyboard. "And… there!" She exclaimed after a few minutes. "Your info's all updated. Your battle is in seven days, at 6:20 pm. If you lose, or you're late, you have to wait for two weeks to sign up again," She smiled as she handed me my ticket. "Any questions?"

    "Wait," I said. "I don't have to battle a gym trainer this time?"

    "Well, you already have a badge, so we assume you know what you're doing and won't waste Gardenia's time."

    "Oh! Sounds good! Thank you for the help," I said as I left the counter.

    I sat on one of the chairs as I waited for Denzel to sign up, glaring at the sliding glass doors that separated me and the protesters. One day, they'd all see that Cynthia was doing this for their own protection. I just wished that that day came sooner rather than later.

    "There you go, I'm done," Denzel said.

    "Oh, that was quick. When's your fight?"

    "6:50 pm."

    "Ah, you got the timeslot right after mine."

    "Yup. Ready to head back?"

    "Yeah, these people are giving me a headache," I said, pointing my thumb toward the crowd outside. "Let's get back to the Center."

    "Sure you don't want something to eat? There's this really cool fast food place that I noticed on our way here."

    "I'm not going to eat fast food in the morning," I groaned. "Let's just go tonight. If I'm hungry, I'll grab something from the Center cafeteria."

    He nodded, and we quickly caught another tram before heading back to the Pokemon Center. I whipped out my Poketch and checked the time. The others were probably checking into their hotel by now, after which they'd go and sign up for the gym. I sat on the desk, setting the device against the wall, and grinned. I opened up the Eterna city gym website, where all of Gardenia's battles would be stored.

    It was time to study.

    ——

    "What in the world is this?" I sighed as I watched one of Gardenia's recent battles.

    Luckily for me, there was a way to filter the battles by the number of badges the challenger had, so I didn't have to scour the site to find what the gym leader would use against people of my level. I groaned as Gardenia's Cherrim spat out a Leech Seed up in the sky at a trainer's Wingull. The flying type cried out and crashed to the ground, and Gardenia finished it off with Magical Leaf. The first thing I noticed from watching all of her fights was that all of her Pokemon had Leech Seed. All of them. And they could hit you from any distance with incredible accuracy— including all but the fastest flying types. If they did, you were on a timer. Your Pokemon would be slowly weakened, and its energy would be slowly sucked away.

    Next, Gardenia didn't fight like Roark at all. Roark was a brutal trainer who'd keep attacking until either he or his challenger lost. He was always on the offense, and his Pokemon were trained to take as many hits as possible. Gardenia…

    Gardenia fought like me. Well, that was insulting. It would be more accurate to say that I fought like a worse version of Gardenia.

    She was methodical— no, she went a step forward. She was surgical. The start of her fights was always spent wasting time as she baited out her opponent's moves. When she did, she ruthlessly shut them down with a strategy she probably crafted on the fly. Roark's fights were often done brutally quickly, lasting just a few minutes. Gardenia's fights usually went over ten. I could already feel the stress mounting, and the battle was still seven days away.

    But at the same time? Gardenia was the trainer I wanted to emulate the most. Win or lose, I'd learn a lot during the battle.

    The Pokemon she used the most against trainers with one badge were Turtwig, Cherrim, Roselia, Pansage, and Foongus, but tougher trainers also had to face her Grotle, Leafeon, Sunflora or Gloom, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. She used way more Pokemon than Roark did, and that meant that studying against her would be incredibly difficult and time-consuming.

    I grinned.

    It would come down to a battle of endurance. All of her Pokemon used Leech Seed, but she was also an avid user of spore moves as well. Gardenia started off the battle slowly and fished out your weaknesses. Hell, you might even take down one of her Pokemon in the process, but then she would take that sense of security and obliterate it. The woman also liked using Grassy Terrain sometimes, which would boost the power of grass type moves, but also heal both of our Pokemon over the course of the battle.

    Next up, I noticed something I hadn't seen before. Her stadium had no roof.

    This was important because she was an avid Sunny Day user. The move made most grass types more powerful, but it was also a double-edged sword if one of her challengers had a fire type.

    Or at least that's what I thought until I saw her completely shut down a trainer's Litleo with her Lombre's Rain Dance.

    That's right, she had first used Sunny Day to boost her Gloom's speed to take down her opponent's first Pokemon, and then she changed the weather again— although it took a few minutes for her to be able to change the weather after having just done so. So not only did I have to contend with a surgical trainer that would take me down with a thousand cuts, I had to deal with her manipulating the weather to her advantage.

    Oh, and her Sunflora also knew Solar Beam, one of the most powerful grass type moves that would probably take down Frillish in one hit.

    Roark… Roark was an incredible trainer, but he was nowhere near this difficult. What was with the incredible jump in difficulty? I sighed and sunk deep into the armchair I sat on. How was I going to deal with this?

    The trainers that won against her did so using two distinct strategies that I could find. Either they overwhelmed Gardenia with powerful Pokemon before she could get her footing and start counterattacking— which was something Cece was far better at doing than I was— or they tried using Pokemon fast enough to avoid her spores or Leech Seed. You could never go wrong with speed.

    Well, for overwhelming power, I had… nothing, and for speed, I had Elekid. I'd have to beat Gardenia at her own game, which was something no one had figured out how to do yet. The one advantage I'd possibly have was that just like in my battle against Chase, I'd know almost everything about her, but she'd know nothing about me. The longer I used one of my Pokemon, the worse my position would get. And if I lost? Then the second battle would be at least twice as hard.

    This fight was going to be a puzzle, and I'd have to use everything I had learned so far to win. I needed a plan against each Pokemon, and then a plan B, and probably a plan C for good measure, and that wasn't even counting all the training I'd have to do to teach my team their new moves.

    "Holy fuck," I said with a slight chuckle. "This is insane."

    But I loved it all the same. The crafting of a strategy that paid off and carried you to victory. The rush of adrenaline, the elation after winning.

    Seeing how strong I could become if I emulated Gardenia had just made me fall in love with Pokemon battling even deeper, and this was only the second badge. What kind of strategies did all the other leaders employ? What heights would I reach if I absorbed Gardenia's fighting style to perfection? I licked my lips and started playing another video.

    I probably was going to put off meeting with the others today. I was going to train and study all day instead. This was going to be the most intense seven days of training I was going to put myself and my team through. I wasn't going to sleep tonight, but on the bright side, there'd be no nightmares.

    Speaking of nightmares, I had to call Amanda to set up new sessions soon.
     
  12. Threadmarks: Chapter 60
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    CHAPTER 60

    I flinched and almost tripped on a rock before being caught by Togetic's Extrasensory. Unlike Confusion, Extrasensory manipulated the area around the object or thing it wanted to manipulate instead of controlling it directly, but it still felt strange all the same. My hair levitated as if I was in space and the air I breathed struggled to get into my lungs. Togetic let go of me and let out a happy cry.

    "Thank you, princess," I said, looking at her with a smile. "That was probably a sign anyway, I think we're far enough."

    I set my bag on the rocky ground that this side of route 211 was best known for, and felt a sense of dread wash over me when I looked up at Mount Coronet in all of its glory. It was my first time being this close to the mountain in person, and it was nothing like seeing it on a screen. I felt small. Insignificant, in the face of such a colossal creation of nature, and I was still a day away from reaching the actual mountain.

    Not that I'd actually be able to get in even if I was suicidal enough to go. The entrance to this side of the mountain was permanently closed, meaning that if someone wanted to go through to get to Snowpoint City, they'd have to go all the way around and go through Celestic.

    I was starting to see why some trainers preferred to scale the Arceus damned thing instead.

    I grabbed my Pokeballs and released the rest of the team. There was no wasting any time. I needed to be as ready as possible for the gym, and that meant that all social activities would have to be delayed to after my battle with Gardenia. They settled in a line in front of me, and I clapped my hands together to get their attention.

    "Alright, guys," I started. "In one week, we're going to have our second gym battle."

    At the mention of a gym battle, Frillish's eyes narrowed, and Togetic started paying more attention. Elekid stared at the two in confusion and then acted like he understood what I was talking about, while Tangela just stared blankly into my eyes.

    "Been a while, right?" I grinned. "We've progressed immensely as a team since our battle with Roark. Honey, angel, let me explain what I'm talking about…"

    I explained the concept of gym battles to them and Elekid's eyes immediately shone in anticipation. Tangela's vines wriggled slightly, which was what he did when he was excited.

    "That means that we're going to train harder than ever before! C'mere buddy," I told Frillish. He lazily approached me, and I wrapped an arm around him. "Come on, don't be such a downer! This is going to be great! I need you to work on two new moves, and since you're awesome, I think you can manage."

    Frillish turned his head toward me slightly and bobbed his head.

    "Great! They're called Acid Armor and Mist, and they're mostly defensively minded. We already have Poison Sting and Hex to deal damage, so now I just need you to have a little more survivability for the battle. I'll be around to help you out soon."

    The water type nodded, and I rubbed my head against his until he groaned in frustration and slipped out of my grasp.

    "You wound me!" I joked. "You don't see me complaining about how slimy you are."

    "Lish!" He yelled out in protest.

    "Oh yeah? Well, I'll keep hugging you anyway!" I exclaimed. "Ahem… now, princess, you're going to play a major part in the battle, so I'll need you to work hard, alright?"

    "Prrri!" She answered with a twirl.

    "Very cute. First, I need you to work on improving Extrasensory's range. What I'm thinking you can do is alter a ranged attack's path with the move, maybe? It won't work as well as Confusion, but it'll do the trick. And obviously, more range is always good, since you'll be able to use the move from a safer position."

    Princess tweeted, and her eyes shone as she picked up angel with the psychic move. The grass type extended some of his vines toward her, but she giggled and stopped him from doing so.

    "Hey, now's not the time to be playing," I said with my hands on my hips. "Use Ancient Power to get some targets to practice on. In fact, I'll need some for Tangela too."

    Togetic let go of the grass type, who caught himself with his vines with surprising dexterity.

    "That was good," I praised him. He wriggled and squinted at me. "Oh, and princess, I'll also have to save to get you a TM soon!" I yelled as she flew away. In retrospect, she probably didn't even know what that was. "Frillish, you're on older brother duty again. Keep an eye on her while you train."

    He smiled and floated toward her.

    "Thank bud! I know I always ask a lot of you, and I appreciate your help," I exclaimed. "Alright, now back to you, little one," I continued, crouching next to Tangela. "No new moves. We'll just practice what you already know and try to get you to become a little tougher so you can take more attacks, understand?" I spoke slowly, clearly enunciating every syllable. He blinked at me twice and pet me with a vine. "Good! We'll also work more on your understanding of verbal commands."

    I looked at Elekid and grinned. "You're our ace in this battle, Elekid," I said. He flexed his arms and yelled out triumphantly. "There's no time to learn both Fire and Ice Punch, so we'll have to pick one…" I trailed off.

    On one hand, Fire Punch could be a nasty surprise if Gardenia ever set up a Sunny Day, but on the other, it could be shut down easily by Rain Dance. I nodded. Ice Punch was the safer option to go with.

    "We'll go with Ice Punch. Now you and angel are with me today since you'll probably need a bunch of help, but I'll also be with the others a bunch."

    I heard the ground rumble as Togetic raised rocks and boulders from the ground one by one. She was getting better at making them circles this time around.

    "Well then, let's get started!"

    ——

    "How about you try feeling the ice?" I asked Elekid. The electric type screamed and punched the air, but there was no ice to be seen.

    It was a dilemma I knew I was going to have to deal with, which was why I wanted to be with Elekid to train. How did a Pokemon create ice from nothing?

    "So, for Thunder Punch," I started. "You just use Charge and spin your arms around, and then channel it to your fist. For ice… hm, why don't we go see how Frillish is doing?" I asked.

    The electric type nodded.

    "Alright, angel, keep the Vine Whips going! You're making good progress," I told him. He smashed another rock that Togetic had raised for him with terrifying speed and strength.

    We walked up to Frillish, who was away from all the noise and hubbub and keeping an eye on Togetic, who was playing around and juggling some rocks with Extrasensory. Her childlike laughs immediately stopped when she saw me coming, and she started pretending to train seriously.

    "I saw that, but I'll let it go," I said to her sternly. The truth was, I was trying to hold back a smirk, but a parent had to be the voice of reason in times like these. "How's it going, Frillish? I know you have a soft spot for her, but being the older siblings means you've got to lay down the law."

    The water type huffed, ignoring me before he spun around a puff of mist started coming out of his mouth, slowly enveloping him. It wasn't anywhere near the amount we needed for the gym battle, but I was surprised he was already so far along.

    "It's only been two hours," I told him. "Wait… Frillish… are you a genius?!"

    He huffed and splashed me with a little bit of cold water.

    "Hey! Don't do that in this cold weather… you're killing me here," I whined, wiping water off my face. "Anyway, Elekid and I are in need of help. I see you've already mastered how to use ice. How?"

    Now, I wasn't expecting him to answer with an essay here, but I figured he'd be able to communicate the gist of it.

    "Fri…" He said quietly as his eyes dimmed. He was thinking.

    Frillish's eyes widened before he spat out a small jet of water. The water was so cold that mist started to form around it— albeit in small quantities. Frillish stared at me and nodded proudly.

    "So… you use the water already in your body to create mist," I nodded. A few seconds passed before I slammed my fist against my palm. "Living Pokemon are always made of some water," I exclaimed. "For humans, I remember learning in school that the number's sixty percent," I said, before staring at Elekid. "I think you need to find a way to turn some of that water into ice, hon. Maybe you can even use, like, the moisture in the air, or something. Since the Dex says you can use the move, there should be a way for you to do one of these or both."

    "Elekid!" He boasted.

    "Nothing you can't handle, huh?" I smiled. "Well, that's getting somewhere. Let's get to work!"

    ——

    Another two hours had passed, and we were getting somewhere. Elekid managed to make his fist colder and have fragments of ice form onto it whenever he attacked, but it tired him out fast, and it also made him thirsty. I handed him a bottle of water, which he awkwardly held with his clawed hands and downed in seconds.

    "Why don't you take a break, honey?" I told him. He protested, but I insisted until he said yes. "You too, Tangela," I said. "Or… maybe not?"

    The grass type had been using Vine Whip the entire time, and he wasn't tiring. At first, I had been impressed, but now I was kind of scared, although I theorized that it was because today was particularly sunny. Improvement by repetition was slow, but if he could do it for hours at a time without breaks? His improvement speed would be on par with the others, or maybe even faster.

    "I'll go check out Frillish and Togetic again. Be back in ten minutes," I told the two.

    I let out a satisfied sigh when I saw that Togetic was taking her training seriously, no doubt because Frillish kept scolding her. She silently moved a small boulder away from her with a look of pure concentration on her face. I stayed silent and winked at Frillish, who was watching intently. I could tell by the slight movements on his face that he was silently rooting for her. After around forty-five feet, her control over the rock weakened, and after sixty, it crashed onto the ground.

    "You did great, princess!" I praised her. She turned to me in surprise and could only muster a tired nod. "Here, take a break. I have some water if you want."

    I gave her some water and gently scratched her neck before turning to Frillish.

    "How are you doing?" I asked.

    He bobbed his head silently.

    "Good, huh?" I smiled. "You've got the hang of Mist, and now it's all about practicing with it, but how about Acid Armor?"

    The water type shook his head.

    "Then let's get to it. Here, let me help you," I said, grabbing my Pokedex. "It says here that you're supposed to… alter your cellular structure to liquefy yourself. Uh… that sounds complicated, hold on," I said, reading it a few more times. "Okay, so in simple terms, you're supposed to turn into goo."

    "Lish…"

    "You're already pretty slimy," I started. "Can you make yourself slimier?" He looked at me with a disappointed stare. "Okay, sorry, that was a stupid question, but I'm just spitballing here. Uh, you're kind of like… entirely made out of liquid water, no? And you can alter water and weave it into moves. Why don't you try to alter yourself using the same methodology?" I asked.

    The ghost type nodded before closing his eyes. I watched in anticipation with Togetic, waiting to see what would happen. His body trembled slightly for around two minutes until he finally opened his eyes again.

    "Doesn't look like much has changed," I said before trying to touch him.

    My hand went through his body.

    "Holy shit, that felt so… so weird," I said. My hand felt wet when I passed it through him, but it was completely dry now. Suddenly I realized that he had used the move. "Wait, you did it! You did it, you did it!" I celebrated, jumping around wildly. "You are a genius!"

    He nodded and let out a familiar huff, but the sound was completely different than his normal voice. It was distant and alien like I was listening to something underwater. He went through the same two-minute process again to turn back to his natural state.

    "Now we just need to get you to use it in seconds instead of minutes," I said. "Although that's probably easier said than done."

    But when he did? His defensive options against physical attacks would go through the roof.

    "Take a break, bud," I said. "You deserve it."

    ——

    "Feeling tired now, huh?" I told Tangela. "The sun's down."

    He blinked twice and nodded. The grass type was sitting on the ground with a bunch of his vines all untangled, forming into some kind of cushion. It was very cute to look at, but also somewhat disturbing to see his form so… fluid was the word. I had been so engrossed in my training that before I realized it, night had come. I was hungry, tired, and sore, since I had gone on a run with Elekid. I figured it was time to start those back up again, especially with how useful my endurance was in Eterna forest. I gathered my team and stood in front of them with my back straight. They were all exhausted. Frillish was struggling to float, while Togetic was just lying down on the ground. Elekid was still standing, but I could tell he was only doing so because of his pride as a battler.

    "You all did amazing today," I started. "I've never pushed you this far, but you did even better than I expected. If we do this every day, I have no doubt that we'll be ready to tackle the gym."

    Another two days to get familiar enough to use the moves on a regular basis without tiring themselves, and then I'd use the other three to make them battle each other.

    "But uh… this is kind of awkward," I started. "I'm kind of low on money, so I need one of you to go with me to one of the arenas to battle some trainers. Anybody up for that?" I tried.

    Tangela lazily retracted all of his vines and walked up.

    "Thanks, angel," I smiled. "I'll let the others rest. You can rest in your Pokeball too until we get to the arena."

    I recalled them all and started walking back toward Eterna city. My feet and legs were terribly sore, and I was physically tired. It was important to remember that I wasn't a Pokemon. I couldn't keep working myself to the point of exhaustion, but I was just having so much fun.

    Plus, it wasn't like I could sleep anyway, although I hoped the appointment with Amanda next week would help remedy that.

    Oh well, at least when these seven days were over, I'd be able to take a well-deserved break. I wondered what the others were doing.

    ——

    "Isn't she one of Obel's friends?"

    "Did you see her destroy Chase Karlson the other day?"

    "She's smaller than I thought."


    Ugh. Whispers and gossip spread around me like a disease. All of this attention was making me nervous. I wanted to go back to being a no-name trainer like I had always been, but that was impossible now. I walked up to one of the battlefields before tightening my shoelaces, but before I was about to look for someone to battle, a few trainers had already made their way to me to challenge me.

    Well, I supposed that was one way to make money. I accepted the first challenger to a one-on-one battle, and he won the coinflip, prompting me to release Tangela. I could tell that the boy was nervous, which surprised me.

    How could someone be nervous to battle little old me?

    He released a Timburr, who carried a large piece of lumber in its arm. I had seen the Pokemon a few times on television, and they were known to be excellent construction builders, but I never expected the piece of wood they carried to be brought into the Pokeball with them.

    I took a deep breath, and the battle started.

    "Timburr, Bulk Up, and then get close!" The teen yelled out.

    The fighting type's muscles bulged out as it flexed its entire body. I watched as Timburr slowly ran up to Tangela, giving me ample time to think. The Pokemon was slow, especially with the load it carried, but a few good hits was probably all it would take to beat Tangela, especially since he was so tired. Now wasn't the time to underestimate our opponent.

    "Bind him, angel!" I ordered.

    Tangela shivered as five vines flew toward the fighting type. Timburr used his piece of Lumber to knock two away, but the other three grasped him tightly. It groaned in pain as angel tightened his grip— so much so that I was starting to worry.

    "Not too hard, angel," I warned. "He's not a rock."

    He was still a wild Pokemon in many ways, unused to battles. Tangela loosened his grip enough to let the Timburr breathe, but he was still unable to move.

    "Come on, Timburr! You're stronger than this!"

    My eyes widened as Timburr let out an enraged scream and tore out Tangela's vines.

    "Bind him again," I said,

    Three, five, ten vines confined the Timburr this time. There was no getting out of Tangela's grasp.

    "Mega Drain."

    Tangela's vines started to glow, and the energy made its way back to the grass type, who writhed in delight. When he was done, he retracted his vines, and Timburr fell to the ground.

    "Good job, Tangela. That was some good range," I praised him. A vine extended behind him and affectionately wrapped around my ankle. "Good battle," I told the teenager.

    "You're too good," He smiled thinly. "But I've always wanted to battle against a trainer with a badge."

    I nodded, and he walked up to hand me my prize money, which wasn't much. There wasn't a set amount trainers were forced to give when they lost, which was something the League implemented to stop trainers from bankrupting themselves from a losing streak, but the minimum amount was one hundred pokedollars. I thanked him, and the next challenger was already ready for me.

    At this rate, I'd be able to buy Thunder Wave before the gym battle.
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2023
  13. Threadmarks: Interlude - Preperations
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    INTERLUDE - Preparations

    Justin watched in awe as the weather above Gardenia’s gym— far in the distance— became overcast. He couldn’t see the individual raindrops, but he knew that it’d be raining, or at least that was what Louis’ informant had told him. He felt bad about skirting around the learning process that so many trainers seemed to go through religiously, but his heart just wasn’t in it. Louis’ father always paid people who already knew the ins and outs of the gym leader’s strategy and then tell them about it. It was a rather lucrative job that older, more experienced trainers tended to do. After all, the evolutionary stones, supplementary vitamins, and powerful TMs that were needed to thrive at the top wouldn’t buy themselves.

    The teen shrugged and walked off toward route 205. Alas, even with an informant, he still needed to train, even though he somewhat disliked doing it. Watching his Pokemon practice their moves over and over was dull, but he couldn’t afford to lose. Plus, there was his Lotad to think about. The water type couldn’t move very well due to the overgrown leaf it carried, and it seldom listened to his orders. It was Justin’s first time having to train a Pokemon from scratch. Growlithe had been his family’s, but his father allowed him to take the fire type with him for the journey. The old canine was loyal and was the Pokemon he tended to use the most. Sandile had already been trained and was used to humans thanks to the breeders his father had bought it from. It was a little lazy, and it hated Sinnoh’s cold temperatures. His species was native to the hot deserts of Unova, so he couldn’t exactly blame him.

    Justin sighed and released his team. Growlithe immediately barked and sat obediently. Sandile let out a lazy growl and blinked a few times, and Lotad croaked as he stumbled through the grassy terrain.

    “It’s time to train,” He started. “I’d like to use mostly you and Lotad for the gym battle, but Sandile might see some action as well,” Justin finished, pointing at Growlithe.

    He half-heartedly asked them to practice their moves. Growlithe would work on Fire Fang and Ember, and Sandile would need to improve the strength of his Bite. Justin scanned Lotad with his new Pokedex again, since he couldn’t remember his moves.

    “Mega Drain, Water Gun, Growl, Astonish, Absorb, and Bubblebeam,” Justin recited. “You won’t be able to dish out that much damage, but you should be able to resist at least some of her grass type moves.”

    A day had passed since the group reached Eterna city, and his gym battle was in eight days, as was everyone else’s except Grace and Denzel, who rushed to sign up while they were at the airport and checking in at their hotel. The young trainer wondered if it would be enough to win. From what their informant had told them, Gardenia was a surprisingly tough gym leader. That was for two reasons. Now that they all had a badge, gym leaders tended to hold back less, and Gardenia was apparently among the strongest of the new generation of gym leaders along with Volkner.

    Justin quite liked battling, but not to the extent that he’d need to work this hard to get a win. He preferred the more casual approach that the group had had back in Jubilife, before setting off on their journey through the Circuit, but now, it seemed that only he and Emilia just couldn’t get their heart into being a trainer. The others were passionate, with their eyes full of life every time they spoke of the sport. He clasped at his coat.

    Why couldn’t he be like them?

    Justin’s passion lay in business. He dreamed of taking over Pherzen, his father’s company. There were so many avenues that his dad could use to improve the company’s profits, influence, and interregional reach, starting with getting involved in human medicine. Of course, the company sold some products intended for human use, but they could be doing so much more. Justin believed that Pherzen’s scientists could push the limits of human medicine and make healing human wounds and diseases just as easy as healing Pokemon, but his father kept saying that it was too dangerous. He was stuck in the past.

    Now all Justin needed was to go through the Circuit twice, and he would be primed to take over the company once his father retired. He would endeavor to usher humanity into a new golden age. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, limb regeneration using Ditto cells. These weren’t theories. They were already proven to work. All they needed to do was finetune the process and get through human trials. If Pherzen wasn’t going to patent these technologies first, another company would, and they would become a major competitor.

    But he was getting ahead of himself. There was no point in dreaming about the future if he couldn’t make it through the present.

    “Lotad, please,” He groaned. “I asked for a Bubblebeam, not a Water Gun.”

    The boy placed his hands over his face and groaned again. Maybe this was a waste of time, and he would be better off counting on Growlithe for everything, which was what he had done with Roark by using Sandile. He wanted a Lotad, but this one seemed to be very uncooperative.

    Justin was about to give up and call it a day when an idea popped into his head. Why not call someone for help? Surely one of his friends would be available, although he wouldn’t call Emi, since she shared his same distaste for training Pokemon.

    He dialed Pauline’s number into his Poketch and was surprised when she picked up immediately.

    “Justin, not now. I’m busy,” Pauline said with her usual snark.

    “Sorry, I was just wondering if—”

    Ah. She hung up on him. Well, Pauline had always been like this, so he paid it no mind. Justin called Cecilia next. She took a while to answer, but after a few rings, she picked up.

    “Cece! I was wondering if you could help me. I have issues with my Lotad, and I’m in need of some training guidance,” Justin said.

    “Have you tried beating it in a battle?” She asked.

    “Wait, what?”

    “You need to win until it respects you.”

    Justin stared at Lotad, who used Bubblebeam and was blown away by the force of the attack. He was stuck on his lilypad, with his six legs wriggling in the air.

    “Tad!” He croaked in panic.

    Justin sighed and helped the poor water type get back on his feet. “I don’t think respect is the problem here,” He said. “I think I need a softer approach.”

    “Well, that isn’t how I do things, so I’m afraid I won’t be of any help,” She said with a saddened tone. “Maybe try someone else?”

    “Don’t worry about it,” Justin smiled. “Thank you for your time.”

    So Cecilia wasn’t going to work either. He wanted to call Louis, but the truth was that even if he liked him as a friend, Louis could get very irritating when explaining something. Plus, he still struggled with his Gible, so the boy probably wouldn’t be the best to take advice from.

    “Alright,” Justin sighed. “Denzel it is.”

    The Poketch rang a few times, but no one answered. Justin called another two times, but he didn’t want to bother his friend. For all he knew, Denzel could be deep in a training session after all. That left Grace.

    “Justin?” She said in her familiar high-pitched voice.

    “Grace, I hope I’m not bothering you. I might need some help to train my Lotad and get him up to speed.”

    Justin heard a small yell that he recognized as Elekid.

    “What’s up with you?” She told the Pokemon. “I’ll be right there, just hold on a sec,” She told Justin. He waited for a few seconds before Grace spoke up again. “I’m training on route 211 right now, but if you’re willing to come, I’ll help you out.”

    “Oh, truly?” Justin smiled. He originally had just wanted advice, but him being with her would probably make the process easier. “I’ll be there. Where exactly on route 211?”

    ——

    Justin watched as the small blonde girl waved at him from afar. It was his first time on this route, and he already hated it. The uneven, rocky ground made it a pain to walk through, and the wild Pokemon here weren’t scared of walking up to him due to their curiosity and being used to humans, since they lived so close to a city. She was surrounded by her Pokemon. Justin swallowed as Frillish glared at him behind her with that usual sinister look the water type always had. Tangela had so many of his vines wrapped around her right leg and arm going under her sleeves that it made him shiver. Elekid was at her side, working on some kind of punching attack, and Togetic lazily had her neck over her shoulder as she pet her head.

    It still surprised him, how close Grace was to her Pokemon. It was a connection he had rarely seen in most trainers. The only ones that came even close were Denzel’s Eevee and Cece’s Fletchinder, but Grace was intimate with her entire team. Even the Tangela she had caught relatively recently.

    “So where’s the little Lotad?” The blonde girl said, getting straight to the point. “My Pokemon are on a break right now, so I’ll help you out.”

    Justin nodded and released the water type, who stared at Grace and her team before looking back at him.

    “I’ve been trying to get him to use his moves correctly, but he won’t listen,” Justin said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”

    Grace frowned. “Well, first of all, let’s not be rude, alright? He’s trying his best.” She walked forward as Tangela unwrapped his vines around her before crouching next to Lotad. “Hey, little guy. Think we can work together today?”

    Lotad let out a slight croak.

    “Sounds good,” She beamed, before looking at Justin. “What moves is he struggling with?”

    “Mostly differentiating Bubblebeam and Water Gun,” Justin sighed. “But there’s also the fact that he can’t walk very well.”

    “Well, he’s an aquatic Pokemon, so that’s a given. C’mere bud,” Grace said, beckoning her Frillish. His eyes stayed on Justin the entire time. “Mind helping out Lotad here? You know Bubblebeam, and I’m sure you’re good enough to make some bootleg version of Water Gun.”

    “Fri…”

    “No? Not for me?” She said, pouting.

    Justin watched in awe and confusion. This girl seemed to understand what her Pokemon was saying, and was having a full-blown conversation with it. It usually took months for a trainer to get that good at reading their Pokemon, and Justin still struggled with Growlithe, who he had owned for years. Eventually, she managed to convince the ghost type to help Lotad, and she sent him off with a pat on the back.

    “Thanks, Frillish! You’re the best!” The girl smiled. The water type turned and glared at her, and Justin flinched. “Aw, you’re so cute when you’re mad. Isn’t he the cutest?” She asked him.

    “I don’t know about that…” Justin said, adjusting his collar.

    “Eh, he grows on you,” Grace shrugged. “Now for the walking part, you can probably fix some of that by your battle, but does Lotad even have to walk?”

    “What do you mean?” Justin frowned.

    “Did you forget? Every gym arena has a pond for water types to fight in. You can just release Lotad in there during your battle, and he’s much more used to moving in water than on land.”

    Justin slapped his forehead. How could he have forgotten such a crucial detail? Grace spent the rest of her break giving him advice on how to tackle the fight while Lotad was training with Frillish.

    “Your Sandile, for example,” She started. “They can travel underground really well, right?”

    “Correct. It’s like swimming through water for them.”

    “Then he’s probably your strongest,” Grace quickly continued. “There aren’t many of Gardenia’s Pokemon that can counter Dig, and some members of her team have the poison typing. That means you’ll probably have to lead with Lotad to bait out one of her poison types to lock her into using at least one. That way, you’ll be getting as much leverage as possible from your Sandile. You could also try to bait out two of her poison types by recalling Lotad mid-battle and keeping it at the back of her mind and saving Sandile for last, but that’s a risker strategy, so that’s honestly up to you. So you’ll want Growlithe as your all-rounder to fall back on, Lotad as your bait and pivot, and Sandile as your ace…”

    Justin’s mind swam. She was giving him more information than the actual informant that Louis had paid tens of thousands of Pokedollars for free. Grace’s green eyes were full of passion as she basically created a strategy for him to use. It was honestly scary.

    “...and yeah, that should be it, but you’ll have to alter the way you tackle the fight depending on what Pokemon she uses, but I’m still studying that,” She said. “And hey, it looks like Lotad’s already done. He’s pretty smart.”

    The boy looked as Lotad alternated between Bubblebeam and Water Gun, closely following Frillish’s example. He gave her a shaky nod and thanked her for the help.

    Grace Pastel was overwhelming. Behind that small frame and unassuming voice was a monster that loved battling more than anything. Justin had no doubt now she was just as good of a trainer as Cecilia was, although she was probably still lacking in raw strength. Seeing her work this hard was inspiring, but it didn’t suddenly ignite an innate passion for Pokemon battling. He was still committed to his ambitions with Pherzen.

    It did make him want to try a little harder, though.

    ——

    Pauline tapped her foot repeatedly against the floor of her hotel room as she browsed the internet for interesting Pokemon to catch on route 205 and route 211. Down south was the Cycling Road, and there were no Pokemon on it, so that only left two routes as options. None of these Pokemon were catching her eye.

    “Machop, Starly, Ponyta, Teddiursa… Arceus, all of these are garbage!” She yelled out.

    On one hand, she didn’t want to admit defeat and get a Pokemon sent to her like Louis was. On the other, she wasn’t confident enough to be sure that she could beat Gardenia in a two-on-three. Charmeleon had the firepower to beat most of what she would throw at her, and Gothita would hold her own, but that fucking informant had instilled doubt into her.

    Not that she would admit that to anyone. The King family valued strength above all, and admitting her inner doubts would be a sign of weakness. Suddenly, her Poketch rang. She clicked her tongue and picked it up.

    “Justin, not now. I’m busy,” Pauline said, rolling her eyes.

    “Sorry, I was just wondering if—”

    She hung up and threw the device on her bed. After looking for a few more minutes, the redhead groaned.

    “Whatever, I give up. I’ll try the fight with Charmeleon and Gothita,” Pauline told herself.

    She started dressing up to go and train, but her phone rang again. She swore, answering right away.

    “Justin, I thought I told you not now,” She yelled.

    “What a rude way to greet your own mother.”

    Pauline’s eyes widened. “Mommy? What do you want?”

    “Can’t a concerned mother check up on her beloved daughter once in a while?” She asked with a humorous tone.

    Pauline huffed. Her mother and her had never bothered with these pretenses of love and affection. She raised her well, and they sometimes lived in the same mansion, but that was it.

    “Come on, mommy,” Pauline said, twirling her hair. “I know you fucking want something. Stop wasting my time and spill before I hang up.”

    Her mother laughed. “I want two things, actually. First, it has come to my attention that you have completely abandoned the mission I gave you at the start of your journey.”

    For the first time, Pauline’s confidence faltered. “How do you know about that?”

    “Spies, my dear,” Her mother simply answered.

    “You’re spying on me?!” The teenager yelled. “Fuck you.”

    “We are all spying. Our pockets run deep, and trainers tend to be desperate for money. That informant Louis Bianchi paid? He was one of mine. Once again, you are outwitted. Take it as a valuable lesson.”

    “So all of our parents are paying trainers to spy on us?”

    “Why did you abandon your mission?” The woman said, ignoring her question. “Answer my question, and I’ll answer yours.”

    Pauline waited a few seconds, then sighed. “I just couldn’t do it. I was on board at first, but Louis was too insufferable, and then much to my chagrin, I started to actually befriend him. I’m not that cruel.”

    “And now our only hope to stop the marriage from within has been blown to smithereens,” Her mother said disappointingly. “You didn’t have to date him. All you had to do was seduce him once and expose him. The boy is as naive and dumb as a bag of rocks. He thinks he is doing as he pleases, but his father controls him like a puppet.”

    “I couldn’t do that to my friends,” Pauline said, standing her ground.

    “I respect that choice. It takes real strength to go against the current and to make your own decisions. Still, when the Obel Energy Company and the Bianchi Conglomerate merge, nothing will stand between them and unlimited riches, power, and influence. Are you saying your friendships are more important than that?” She asked.

    “That’s what I’m saying,” Pauline said firmly. “Now answer my fucking question, mommy.”

    “Your question actually has to do with the second thing I called you for today,” Her mother started. “Your two new commoner friends. I advise you to cease contact with them immediately.”

    “Grace and Denzel? Why, because it pisses Harvey and Clarence off? I don’t care about that,” Pauline said. “And I honestly thought you’d have my back on that,” She continued, feeling a pang of sadness.

    “I don’t think you realize the power these two wield and the danger these two are in. I am not telling you to cease contact because I care who you befriend, I am saying it to protect them.”

    “They wouldn’t go that far. You said it was just spying, not anything illegal,” The trainer said with a twinge of nervousness. “Plus, the amount of negative press it would attract—”

    “They won’t go that far yet, but when they do, I will be powerless to stop it. And enough about the press,” Her mother quipped. “I raised you better than a naive girl. The police’s silence can be bought, and so can the way the press or the covers a story.”

    “So you’re saying they’ll murder them?” She asked.

    “They might do something far worse than that,” Her mother warned.

    Pauline pressed her head against her hand worriedly. She had hated Grace at first. The way she had beaten her in that battle during Floaroma’s tournament got on her nerves, and the way she wormed her way into their group through Cecilia had irritated her too. Pauline had been the only one to oppose her and Denzel’s addition to the group. She had been more neutral on Denzel, but that neutrality had aired on the side of dislike.

    That had been before.

    Now? Pauline thought the two to be good friends, even though they disagreed on a lot, and Denzel was always someone they could rely upon, especially in difficult times. Plus, he was funny, although she would never admit it to his face.

    Her answer was already set.

    “Mommy?” She said.

    “Yes?”

    “Tell Harvey and Clarence to fuck off the next time you see them. Tell them it was from me,” She grinned.

    Her mother laughed. “Another hard choice made. Now I just hope you can live with the consequences,” She said before sighing. “I’ll do what I can to delay a response from them as long as possible, but be careful about the spying. Don’t take any new trainers into your group.”

    “Obviously, I won’t, I wouldn’t just befriend anyone.”

    “Oh, and one more thing,” Her mother said. “I love you, Pauline.”

    The redhead’s eyes widened, and she felt a sudden rush of emotion. Her mother almost never said those words to her, which made her realize how serious the situation was. She would need to warn the others soon, but first, she wanted to let them rest without worry for a week or two. Especially Emi.

    “I love you too, mommy,” She sniffled, allowing herself a rare moment of weakness. “I miss you.”

    “I miss you too. I’ll be busy for a few weeks, but why don’t I visit you when you get to Hearthome…”

    Pauline beamed. No matter how much she tried to pretend otherwise, she was a mommy’s girl at heart.

    ——

    Louis fiddled in anticipation. His Vulpix was about to be hand delivered by one of his Breeder’s employees. She was apparently a spectacular specimen, born to two Ninetales, which meant that her power would already be at incredible levels, and her potential for growth was sky-high. Any minute now, he would hear the knock on his hotel door—

    There it was!

    Louis rushed to the entrance, which took quite a while due to the size of the hotel room. They all rented a different penthouse to live in during their stay in Eterna city.

    “Finally,” He said before opening the door.

    “Good morning, Mr. Bianchi,” The junior breeder said before grabbing a Luxury ball from a fancy glass container. “There she is,” He smiled.

    “Thank you. Ah, let me write you a tip.”

    Louis hurriedly grabbed his checkbook from his bag and gave the breeder 130,000 Pokedollars. His eyes bulged before he thanked him profusely.

    “Thank you so much! I don’t know how to— how to repay this kindness.”

    “Just keep breeding fantastic Pokemon, and that’ll be enough,” Louis smiled.

    The breeder left after thanking him again a few times. Louis excitedly released his Vulpix. The red fox stared at him with a curious intensity, but other than that, she was docile. She would at least be easier than Gible. No matter how hard Louis tried, he couldn’t get the Dragon type to listen to him. It disappointed him to no end.

    He grabbed his Pokedex and scanned Vulpix.

    Vulpix, the fox Pokemon. At the time of its birth, Vulpix has one white tail. The tail separates into six if this Pokémon receives plenty of love from its Trainer. The six tails become magnificently curled. Inside Vulpix’s body burns a flame that never goes out. During the daytime, when the temperatures rise, this Pokémon releases flames from its mouth to prevent its body from growing too hot.

    Type: Fire

    Moves: Ember, Tail Whip, Disable, Will-O-Wisp, Extrasensory, Confuse Ray, Quick Attack, Incinerate, Hypnosis, Flame Charge (click for more information)

    Ability: Drought (click for more information)


    The trainer couldn’t help but let out an excited yell when he saw all the moves that Vulpix had available already. Not only did she have incredibly powerful moves, she could also harass the enemy with status effects. Such wonderful versatility!

    His eyes settled on the ability, which he clicked on since he had never seen it before.

    Drought: The sunlight turns harsh when the Pokemon is in battle.

    “Arceus!” He screamed in excitement.

    “Pix!” The fire type yelled back.

    That would be a crucial ability to tackle Gardenia’s mastery of the weather. Without Rain Dance, it would be impossible for her to stop fire type attacks. He had stuck gold with this purchase.

    Still, he wouldn’t grow overconfident. Louis knew his Pokemon were the strongest, but his informant had greatly stymied that feeling. He needed to train to be sure to beat Gardenia.

    “Let’s see what you can do, Vulpix,” He said, staring at her.

    Hours later, Louis had never felt more elated. Vulpix was obedient and as powerful as he had hoped. She crushed any trainer or wild Pokemon that stood in her way. Maybe with her and Prinplup combined, he’d be able to finally get Gible under control as Cece had done with Deino.

    Louis sighed when he thought about Cecilia. When his father had told him months ago that he was set to marry a fifteen-year-old girl, he had vehemently refused. It had been the first time Louis had opposed his father so strongly on anything. He had just turned eighteen. He didn’t want his life to be controlled by his father any longer.

    But then he saw her for the first time.

    And he immediately fell in love. It consumed his entire being. Louis had never been this love-struck so strongly by anyone before. Sure, he dated some girls before, but the relationships never lasted more than a few months. And then what was worse, is that he actually enjoyed talking to her! She took a while to open up, but when she did, oh Arceus, it made his love for her grow past mere physical attraction.

    And yet… these days, he didn’t speak to Cece that much. Ever since that day at the outpost, when she caught him speaking to Amy. Since she was Cecilia’s best friend, he hadn’t thought she would react so negatively. She never explicitly stated it, but Louis was sure that Cece thought he was cheating on her. How else could he explain this sudden aversion to him?

    And yet he never cheated! All Amy wanted from him was to know how Cece was doing, or who Grace and Denzel were. Louis thought it to be a mere background check from a worried friend. He too, had not trusted the two new members of the group when they first started traveling with them, but he had grown to like them.

    “Hah…” He sighed. “I was in such a good mood earlier today, and now look at me.”

    He grabbed his Poketch, and his thumb hovered over Cece’s number. His hand trembled for a bit before he resigned. There was no point in calling her. She was still angry with him. The trainer wallowed in self-pity for a bit until he got an idea. It was already nighttime, so surely Grace wouldn’t be busy, and she would be open to giving him advice. She had grown remarkably close to Cece in little time, so surely she would know how to get Louis back in her good books.

    “Hello?” He heard her say.

    “Ah, Grace, I had something to ask you,” Louis started, suddenly not knowing how to raise the question. He decided to be straightforward. “Has Cece talked about me at all recently?”

    “Huh? A little, yeah,” She replied absent-mindedly. Louis thought he could hear a faint video in the background.

    “Great!” Louis exclaimed. “I was wondering if you were open to giving me advice to fix things with her. As I told you back in Eterna forest, I didn’t cheat on her—”

    “Uh, I’m actually studying right now, sorry,” She apologized.

    “Studying?”

    “Gardenia’s battles. But I’ll give you this. Cece knows you didn’t cheat on her. She’s known all along, and she’s mad at you for a different reason. Try to figure it out on your own and apologize to her when you do.”

    Louis breathed a sigh of relief. “So the relationship is at least fixable, you think?”

    Grace sighed. “Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know,” She said. “Hey, I’m going to hang up. Sorry I couldn’t help you, I really am.”

    “No! You’ve been a great help already. Um, good luck in your studies?”

    “Thanks,” Grace said before hanging up.

    “That’s one piece of the puzzle solved,” Louis said before sighing. “Women.”

    ——

    “Buneary, Fire Punch!” Denzel ordered. “Eevee, Detect!”

    “Bun!” The normal type acquiesced before lowering herself. She rubbed her ears together so fast they become a blur, and then one of them burst into flames. She launched the attack toward Eevee, but the fire quickly dissipated.

    Eevee paid it no mind and waited until the last second before he moved impossibly fast to dodge the quick jab.

    Denzel smiled. “Good attempt. Let’s go again.”

    He’d been very delighted when he learned that Buneary could learn Fire Punch. It had been a headache to get started on the move, but he figured out that if she rubbed the fluffy part of her ears incredibly fast, it created enough static electricity to get them to burst into flames. Eventually, he hoped the Buneary would be able to use the move without the trick, but they all had to start somewhere.

    For Eevee, he was working on teaching him Detect. Gardenia’s long-ranged moves were incredibly fast and accurate, so Denzel wouldn’t mind having something to fall back on if Eevee needed to be faster than Quick Attack. Unfortunately, the move was extremely draining, meaning that when Eevee actually perfected it, he would only be able to use it a few times in battle.

    Budew was off doing her own thing. She was jealous that Buneary was hogging Eevee’s attention, but at least she was training Bullet Seed’s speed, and her newly acquired move, Mega Drain. She would be the last one he would fall back on anyway.

    Feebas wasn’t able to come out during training, but Denzel was under no delusion that he’d be able to use him in battle if Gardenia decided to screw him and fight four-on-four.

    He felt his hands tremble and hurriedly clenched and unclenched them. The information he had scooped up through the forums and her battle videos were extremely worrying. Gardenia was a long-distance fighter who liked to drag battles long enough until she won.

    That meant she was Eevee’s exact counter. Sure, Denzel’s starter was reputable for his endurance, but he doubted that he could keep a battle going for fifteen minutes. It was in times like these that he couldn’t help but feel inferior.

    Denzel had no doubt that he was among the weakest trainers in the group. It hurt to think about, but he buried it and learned to deal with it. But when he saw Grace beat Chase so convincingly… something broke inside of him. Questions wormed themselves into his mind.

    Could I have beaten Chase at that moment?

    The honest answer was no. Grace was progressing so fast that she was leaving him behind. Still, he wasn’t angry with her or anything. She was his best friend, and he was happy for her so he learned to deal with it.

    Denzel winced as Buneary’s Fire Punch dissipated again.

    “Try again,” He said in a fake upbeat tone.

    Denzel had learned to deal with it, but he had also learned to mask what he was thinking. He was the group’s comic relief. He joked around, bantered, and he liked doing that. He just wasn’t in that mood twenty-four-seven like he acted he was, but it was the only way he had managed to hide his problem. Luckily for him, Grace hadn’t noticed. They had already dealt with this situation on the way to Oreburgh, where his silly issues almost got her killed, so there was no point talking about it again.

    And these issues were stupid. Completely mundane and irrelevant. Grace had been kidnapped by team Galactic and almost tortured by Mars, who was now looking for her. Cecilia’s father was an abusive prick who treated her like an object he could control, and yet they progressed all the same, faster than he could ever hope to.

    What did he have?

    He was angry about how slow he was improving.

    That was it.

    And yet he felt the weight of it all the same. It pressed on his shoulders like a ton of bricks, always present. Always distracting him, and no matter how much he tried to deal with it like he had learned, the thoughts kept coming back.

    “Try again,” Denzel told Buneary. The normal type nodded fiercely and his stare lingered on the discolored patch of skin on her ear. Her scar. Denzel had explained the concept of gym battles to Buneary, and he could tell the normal type was anxious. To go from living in a forest to fighting in a place packed to the brim with humans? It was understandable.

    If Buneary was going to push through, Denzel would bring himself to do so as well. He suddenly felt his Poketch vibrate and saw that Justin was calling, but Denzel couldn’t bring himself to answer.

    Denzel’s dream was looking more distant than ever.

    And he would deal with that shitty feeling just like he learned to deal with everything else.

    ——

    Emilia stared at the huge red eye, who looked back at her intently. Aipom stood on her head, and Rockruff was sleeping on a pillow at the foot of her bed.

    “Why won’t you speak to me?” She asked Beldum. The huge metallic Pokemon only let out a grinding sound to answer. “I wish I could understand you.”

    Emilia Lussier wasn’t nervous about her incoming gym battle. That was how little she cared for Pokemon battling. This fate had been forced on her by her parents, and to her, it was like a prison sentence. She liked her Pokemon, but battling? She found the practice to be barbaric. The only fun she ever had during this journey was when she and her friends stayed in a city and went on different activities together, but they were all training.

    There was nothing to do.

    “Beldum, please!” She said, a little louder. She brought her hand to the cold metallic surface. “Is it me? Am I too much of a coward for you to speak to me?!”

    “Ai!” Aipom yelled out worriedly.

    Emilia’s hand slumped away from Beldum. “Sorry.”

    Aipom and Rockruff were gifts her parents had given her for her twelfth and fourteenth birthdays respectively. That was the thing with her parents. They always showered her with gifts and then ordered her around like she was a lackey. As if that was an equivalent exchange! Still, she had learned to love her Pokemon, which was why Beldum’s deafening silence hurt her so much.

    She wanted to call Pauline, but Emilia didn’t want to rely on her best friend too much. Pauline had always been there to defend her from bullies at parties or events, and now she was the main thing that kept her going through the hell that was known as the Circuit.

    “There’s a Pokemon contest a few days after her gym battle,” Emilia said as she fell onto her bed. “Maybe she’ll want to go with me?”

    Emilia sighed. At the back of her mind, her interest in Pokemon contests lingered. She knew that the sport also had battles, but what she was most interested in was the beauty of it all. Attacks weren’t dealt to meaninglessly strike at an opponent. There was style, glamour, and amazing combinations of moves that Emilia hadn’t ever thought of before. It wasn’t just attacking for the sake of causing harm.

    She had no grand dreams, no motivation, no aspirations. Or at least that’s what she told herself to cope with the fact that her true passion might forever be out of reach.

    But most of all, all Emilia wanted to do was to never go through a place like Eterna forest again.

    The nightmares.

    The nightmares kept her up at night, even though she never woke up screaming like Grace did.

    This was going to be a long week.

    ——

    The next day

    Just like every morning, Cecilia got up at 5:30 am. She dressed, grabbed a quick breakfast down at the hotel’s restaurant, and made her way to route 205. The young girl’s life had always been about routine. Dancing lessons, violin, etiquette, arithmetics, history, geography— every day of her life. And it was something she still struggled to stop. Another part of her father’s influence which had inevitably corrupted her.

    She released her team with a sigh. Fletchinder flew on her shoulder, more gently than she had been when she first evolved. Deino roared, sending spittle toward her, but then bowed his head in respect. Slowpoke stared.

    “I’m releasing him,” The trainer said. “If he attacks, you know what to do.”

    Cecilia released her Scyther and he was immediately on edge, expecting her to attack. She had truly made him understand his position throughout these last few days. He was weak, his fate was permanent, and the only way for him to get stronger was to listen to her.

    “Good morning,” She said with a slight smile. “I’m not attacking you today, since you haven’t done so either.”

    Scyther screeched and rubbed his blades together menacingly. Cece just smiled.

    “In a few days, I’ll be battling the most powerful trainer I’ve ever faced. Don’t you feel frustrated? Furious? Don’t you want to let it all out?”

    The bug type screeched again.

    “Then you have to listen to me,” She said. “First, you need to use whatever moves I tell you to use—” He screamed in protest, but she ignored him. “Second, you need to give up killing. I feed you enough.”

    That was too much for the bug type. He screeched and blurred forward, but Cece didn’t even flinch. Death had never scared her. Slowpoke immediately sprung alive and locked the Scyther with Confusion. It wouldn’t last long, but it lasted long enough for Deino to Bite Scyther’s neck and restrain him on the ground. The bug type thrashed and squirmed, but Deino’s scales were too hard to pierce from his position.

    “Disappointing,” She said. “You don’t understand yet, but you will in time. If I can’t use you during the gym battle, I will win with three Pokemon. You are not a necessary part of my strategy, but you would be a nice boon to have. A shame.”

    Cecilia recalled Scyther and decided to train with the others this morning. She would try again tonight.

    Repetition. Again and again, she would do it, just like how her life had been structured back in Unova. Routine was dull, but it defined a person. If Scyther decided to be defined by being repeatedly humiliated, then so be it.

    She finished her first training session at nine on the dot. Cecilia had extended it by an hour to better prepare against Gardenia, and then she would practice for another three hours in the evening. For now, it was time to get back to her hotel and shower. The elevator felt impossibly long. She had gotten used to the quickness of Pokemon Center stairs.

    Cecilia showered, changed her clothes, and was about to take her one hour break before her Poketch rang. It was Grace.

    She grabbed the device and waited a few seconds to prepare what she would say before answering. There was a twinge of nervousness that the girl couldn’t explain, but she was also incredibly happy that her friend was calling her.

    “Grace!” She said. “How are you doing?”

    “Hey Cece,” The girl said. “I need you for something, can we meet up?”

    The twinge of nervousness turned into full-blown panic. This wasn’t new. She had felt this way since Grace defended her from that Chase thug, but it was never this pronounced.

    “Cece?” Grace said again.

    She coughed. “Of course. Where should we meet?”

    “I was thinking your hotel since I live close by.”

    “M—my hotel, you say? Sure! I’ll be down to greet you, when will you be there?”

    “I’d say ten minutes?” Grace said.

    Ten minutes?! Cecilia thought as panic spread through her body. This place was a mess! She was a mess! She hadn’t done her hair since getting out of the shower!

    “That sounds good,” She simply answered, using that stoic tone that had gotten her so far. “I’ll meet you at the lobby.”

    “Alright, see you soon!”

    Grace hung up and Cecilia immediately sprung to action. It took three minutes to put the dishes in the dishwasher, two to put her clothes back in the closet, and another eight to make herself look somewhat presentable. Dread filled her entire being when she realized that she was late.

    Cecilia ran to the elevator and cursed the length of the ride. Even though there weren’t officially any skyscrapers in Eterna, buildings could still be tall. She ran into the lobby and saw Grace waiting on one of the couches. She adjusted her hair one last time.

    “Grace, I’m so sorry I’m late!” She apologized, bowing her head slightly.

    “Ah, that’s no problem. I haven’t been waiting long, the trams were slow. I hope I’m not intruding?”

    Grace had her usual long hair tied into a tight ponytail, and Cece’s eyes wandered toward her pale neck.

    “Sure, let’s go,” She said.

    They rode up the elevator in deafening silence.

    “Woah, this place is huge!” Grace exclaimed. “I feel like I could get lost in here.”

    Was that criticism? Did she not like the room? Cecilia thought anxiously.

    “Please sit, I’ll go get some drinks. I have soda, juice, or water, what do you want?”

    “Ah, just— just water’s fine, I guess,” Grace said, scratching her neck.

    Cecilia practically ran to the kitchen. What was happening to her? Was this some kind of cardiovascular disease?! She quickly grabbed two glasses of water and brought them to the living room, where Grace was yawning.

    “I’m sorry, I must be a boring host,” Cece said sadly.

    “Oh, no, no, no, not at all! I just haven’t been sleeping much. I’ve been studying Gardenia and training a lot.”

    “Oh,” Cecilia said, breathing a sigh of relief. She watched Grace’s lips as she downed the entire glass of water in one go. “W—well, you should make sure to rest, at least. I know you can’t sleep with the nightmares, but you can’t work all the time.”

    “I’ll take a big break after the fight against Gardenia. Anyway, I actually came here for something regarding Gardenia. I thought, uh, I thought that we could maybe watch some of her battles together?”

    Cecilia beamed. “I think that’s a great idea. Hold on, I can set them up on the 4K television screen so it’s easier to see.”

    Cecilia quickly linked her Poketch to the T.V. screen and started playing the first video.

    “Holy crap, the quality on that is insane!” Grace said with a huge grin. “You can even see her body language! This’ll be a huge help, thank you so much, Cece!”

    Cece sat next to her friend— but not too close. Her break that had been supposed to be one hour had turned into an entire afternoon, and she spent most of it looking at Grace instead of the screen. She was so fixated on the battles that she hadn’t even noticed.

    Cecilia didn’t know it, but another one of her father’s puppet strings had snapped.
     
  14. Threadmarks: Chapter 61
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    CHAPTER 61

    “Elekid, Ice Punch into Thunder Punch!”

    Elekid’s fist began to crackle as ice formed around it. He hit the opposing Nickit in the Snout before quickly forming a Thunder Punch with his other fist and blowing it away. The dark type struggled back onto its feet, but its trainer recalled it, realizing the battle was lost.

    “Damn it!” The girl groaned. She walked up to me and paid two hundred pokedollars, causing me to smile. I had finally done it. I had enough to buy the Thunder Wave TM.

    “What could I have done better?” She continued.

    I tapped my chin for a few seconds. “Honestly, you could have dealt more damage with Quick Attack instead of trying to use dark type moves. Sure, it would tire out your Nickit faster, but you would have landed more hits.”

    “So there was no way I could win?” The girl asked quietly.

    “I mean, not in a one-on-one, at least. But you did great, especially since you don’t have a badge. I think overall, you should work on getting your Nickit to use Quick Attack more. Keep at it!” I said, trying to cheer her up.

    She nodded and left. Over the last few days, I started gaining in popularity due to all the battling I was doing. I had thought that winning too much would have made trainers reluctant to battle me, but the ones with no badges kept coming back, and it was for a single reason.

    I apparently gave good advice.

    I was honestly just happy to talk about battling, even though I despised all the attention. Trainers with one badge didn’t want anything to do with me because they saw me as a rival, but some still tried to battle me once in a while. I hadn’t lost once, but some did get pretty close.

    Elekid was starting to master Ice Punch, although he couldn’t use it that much yet. I doubted that he would be able to dish it out as many times as Thunder Punch during our gym battle, so I’d have to save the move for attacks I was sure would hit. Right now, he was able to use five of them before they started to get too weak to be worth it.

    I smiled as I strode out of the battling arena and hopped on a tram to the nearest Pokemart that would sell TMs. Thunder Wave was a pretty common one, and I was sure it would be in one of the small stores. After around fifteen minutes, I arrived at the store and started perusing the TM aisle. The disks were sold in transparent cases and were coded by type. Electric type moves were yellow, grass type moves were green, and so on. My eyes settled on the Thunder Wave TM, and I groaned.

    Thunder Wave - Reusable (25,000)

    Silph Co., the company that made TMs, managed to make them reusable a little more than ten years ago, which was a massive boon to trainers. Over the long term, it meant that they spent less money on TMs, but in the short term? They were expensive as hell! Luckily, one of the employees pointed me toward the non-reusable version of Thunder Wave, and I quickly bought the move. I stared at my account and winced. I was completely broke. Reusable TMs were able to be used once, and the move would be stored on your Pokedex forever.

    Wasting no time, I grabbed my Pokedex, clicked a small button on its side, and a container with the perfect size for the TM revealed itself. Next, I grabbed Togetic’s Pokeball and placed it in proximity to the device. The screen lit up and asked me if I wanted to teach Thunder Wave to Togetic, and I pressed yes. I wasn’t sure how the process worked exactly, but it was completely wireless and only took seconds, after which the Pokedex told me that it was over. The color from the disk drained. I picked it up and threw it in the store’s TM recycling bin. Silph Co. was able to put new moves on disks and save costs by doing so, so recycling was always encouraged by the company. Not all trainers cared, however, and seeing defunct TMs in trash cans was pretty common.

    I quickly made my way back to route 211, which had become my training sanctuary. I released all of my Pokemon, but I’d focus especially on princess today. Even though she technically knew Thunder Wave, she’d still need a lot of practice with it before she could use it properly. I only had three days left until my gym battle, and I knew I was going to cut it close.

    ——

    I nervously stepped into the hotel elevator and pressed the button to the highest floor. I had been training all day today, but I had promised Denzel and Cece to take a break tonight to be well-rested for my gym battle tomorrow. I had done all I could, studied all of her Pokemon and their moves, and trained my team to the best of my ability.

    Louis was throwing a party for Denzel and me before our big day, and everybody would be there. Apparently, they had done the same thing before the start of their journey and before their battle with Roark, so it was a little tradition they liked to do. Before stepping into Louis’ apartment, I could already hear the classical music playing behind the door, and muffled voices talking. I wiped my sweaty palms on my pants and took a few deep breaths. This really wasn’t my kind of thing, but he had ordered all of the food, drinks and organized it for us, so it would be rude not to show up.

    I knocked on the door, and Emilia opened it, greeting me with a huge grin.

    “Grace! Come in, we’ve been waiting for you!” She smiled.

    I awkwardly stepped into the huge penthouse and hung my coat on the coathanger. The first thing I noticed was that I was hilariously underdressed. The price of all of their clothes combined probably could have bought out the small TM aisle I had gotten Thunder Wave in. Where had they gotten all of these clothes?! Had they been carrying them the entire time, or did they just buy new clothes every time they were in a different city? I nodded at Denzel. At least he was just like me. We stuck out like two sore thumbs, but at least we’d stick out together. The second thing I noticed was that my eyes couldn’t help but dart toward Cece. She was wearing a tight black dress that made me look places I shouldn’t have been, makeup, and she also wore heels.

    Meanwhile, I was here with my jeans, sneakers, and my shirt. I was so lame.

    “Sorry I was late, I was doing some finishing touches with Thunder Wave and Ice Punch,” I apologized.

    “No talking about Pokemon battling tonight,” Emi said, dragging me toward the massive couch. “Come sit.”

    I sat next to Denzel and fiddled with my thumbs. I stared up at Cece, but I looked away in panic when I saw that she was looking at me.

    “I feel so out of place,” Denzel whispered, grabbing a piece of sushi. There was a beautifully laid-out sushi plate in the middle of the table. “Thank Arceus you’re here.”

    “Let’s just try to have a good time,” I said. “We’ll get used to it.”

    “Attention!” Louis said, tapping his glass of champagne with a small spoon. “Now that all of our guests have arrived, I’d like to give a toast.”

    We all stared at him in anticipation.

    “I’d like to wish good luck to our new friends, Grace, and Denzel in their gym battle tomorrow. We didn’t always get along, but I’m glad you agreed to travel with us. It wouldn’t be the same without you,” The blond man continued.

    “I thought we said nothing Pokemon-related,” Emilia complained.

    “Well, it is a party to wish them good luck,” Justin said.

    “I’d also like to invite all of you to another party the night before all of our gym battles. I’d really appreciate it if you came again,” Louis finished.

    “Sure, we’ll come again,” Denzel said. “I mean, this is the best Arceus damned food I’ve ever eaten.”

    “Denzel!” I said, bumping his leg. Pauline brought a hand to her mouth and laughed.

    “What? It was a joke. Of course, we’ll come because we’re friends.”

    Cece stood up and approached me. “Grace, do you want some champagne? You have to toast with something.”

    “I don’t know, I’ve never drunk alcohol before,” I said, eyeing Denzel’s drink. Everyone else was drinking, but I didn’t want to. But I couldn’t help but think I was ruining the mood. Underage drinking was illegal, but maybe it was better if I just said yes—

    “Don’t drink if you don’t want to,” Cece said. “We have everything.”

    I smiled at her. “Do you have some orange soda?”

    As the party continued, I slowly felt more and more comfortable. Justin and Emilia were talking about some kind of drama that had enveloped another rich family whose name I couldn’t be bothered to remember, but the owner’s wife was divorcing him after discovering that he was cheating and she wanted to take half of everything he owned. Louis, Denzel, and Pauline were off playing pool, and Pauline kept complaining about her ‘shit luck’, since she was losing over and over. Denzel was giving Louis a run for his money considering it was his first time playing the sport. I personally wasn’t too interested in it, but I occasionally threw in a word or two.

    “What the fuck was that curve?” Pauline groaned. “Is this chalk sabotaged?!”

    “I think it might just be a skill issue,” I yelled out so she could hear.

    “You’re not even watching the game! I’d like to see you play!” She huffed.

    “Fine,” I answered, rising to her challenge. I walked up to the pool table with Cece and looked at the state of the game. There were five balls left. “Someone give me their stick.”

    “Here you go,” Denzel said. “Break a leg.”

    I bent down and awkwardly aimed at one of the balls.

    “Grace, that’s not even the right ball,” Pauline said with an evil grin. “I knew you were all talk.”

    “What? I thought you could hit anything you wanted.”

    “You’re supposed to hit the white ball to aim toward the others. Usually, a player is stuck with either the striped balls or the solid balls, but we’re just playing for fun, so aim for anything,” Louis explained.

    I coughed. “Well, I obviously knew that, I was just testing you all, and you passed.”

    “If that’s what helps you sleep at night,” Pauline said. “Just get going. This is going to be good.”

    I bent down again, this time in front of the white ball, and took aim. After adjusting the stick for a few seconds, I slammed it forward. The white ball hit the black one with an eight on it, causing it to bounce all around the table until it slowly rolled into one of the holes.

    “I did it! That was entirely planned! Cece, did you see that?!” I squealed, jumping around.

    Denzel doubled over and laughed. “That… that was the wrong ball. The eight ball is supposed to be saved for last.”

    Pauline sniggered. “What a shot! So much for all that talk, Grace.”

    “Well, at least I got it in the hole,” I crossed my arms.

    “In a completely random manner! You weren’t even aiming for anything.”

    “I think Grace was aiming for that hole,” Cece sprung up. “She shot the ball with an amount of determination only someone who knew what they were doing would have.”

    “See?” I grinned. “Cece agrees with me,” I said, handing Denzel his stick back.

    “Only because she likes you,” Pauline said, rolling her eyes.

    I felt my face heat up and stared at the ground for a few seconds. “Um, yeah, I mean, we’re friends.”

    “G—great friends, even,” Cece added. “I need to go to the bathroom.”

    “Sure, go ahead,” I said.

    I hung out with Denzel, Pauline, and Louis while I waited for Cecilia to come back. No matter how hard she tried, Pauline couldn’t win a single game, which I felt delighted at. I was starting to worry a little at how long Cece was taking, but she finally came back, and we headed back to the living room.

    “Ah, you guys are back,” Emi said.

    “I see you’ve taken a liking to irritating Pauline,” Justin smiled.

    “I mean, we’re having fun,” I answered. “We both know it’s not serious.”

    “Oh, I know,” He quickly answered, waving his hand. “I just meant that not many had the energy to keep up with her as much as you do. I’d be willing to bet she secretly enjoys it.”

    “Pauline’s got a hidden soft side that none of you have ever seen,” Emilia said. “She can be so cute when she tries.”

    “I’d pay anything to see that,” Cece said. “I just can’t imagine it.”

    “Yeah, and she gets real cuddly too, but she only does that with me or her mom—”

    “Emi! My bullshit sensor’s tingling!” We heard Pauline yell.

    “How did she even hear that?” I whispered.

    “I think she was just born with a built-in ‘anti-Pauline’ sensor,” Cece chuckled.

    “Helps her fight anyone that goes against her tough girl narrative,” Emi nodded. “Anyway, on a more serious note… I’m glad everyone’s giving her a chance.”

    “What do you mean?” I asked.

    “Pauline is a tough girl,” Emilia started. “But she’s so… passionate—”

    “That’s being generous,” Justin interrupted.

    “Passionate,” Emi said again. “That people tend to give up on her before having the chance to learn more about her. She only had me as a friend before this, but I can tell she’s happier now.”

    Cecilia nodded. “She’s been good to all of us, all things considered.”

    “Yeah,” I said. “I’m glad we met.”

    At around one in the morning, the party was starting to end. Justin and Louis were asleep on the couch in hilariously terrible positions. They’d be sore tomorrow for sure. Denzel and Pauline were talking quietly in the corner of one of the rooms, seemingly having ignited a deeper friendship during the party. Emi had been put to bed by Pauline since she had drunk too much.

    “I’m gonna head out,” I told Cece. “This was a lot of fun, I’ll definitely come back when you do this again.”

    “Oh, you’re leaving?” Cece said. “Can’t you stay a little longer?”

    “I mean, my gym battle’s in the evening, so I guess I could…” I trailed off.

    The conversation paused for a few seconds.

    “I have another idea. Why don’t we both leave? You… you can sleep in my room, it’s dangerous for you to be walking alone so late at night.”

    Huh?

    My heart instantly started to pound against my chest. “In your room? You mean the guest room?”

    “I mean, if you want to sleep in the guest room, that’s okay.”

    Another pause.

    “But you can also sleep in my bed if you want!” She said quickly. “I mean, we’re friends, right? Emilia and Pauline do it all the time.”

    I swallowed. “Y—yeah. I mean, it’s no biggie. No big deal. Yep, it’s totally fine.”

    We bid Denzel and Pauline farewell before leaving, and he kept giving me that smug stare. Nothing was going to happen. Cece was just giving me a place to stay the night, and that was it. We quickly arrived at her apartment since it was on the same floor, and I took off my shoes.

    “Make yourself at home, you’ve already been here,” Cece said, taking off her heels.

    “Thanks,” I shakily said. “I have nothing on me though. My toothbrush—”

    “I have a spare few, don’t worry.”

    “I don’t have any clothes.”

    “Ah. Of course, you wouldn’t have any,” Cece quietly said as she turned away from me. “I can give you some of mine. I lent you my hoodie back in Floaroma, so it wouldn’t be breaking any… precedent.”

    “Right,” I said. “I’ll probably wake you up early, I hope that’s fine?”

    “You know I wake up early anyways,” She dismissed.

    I nodded and went into her giant bathroom. The last time I had been this nervous was during my battle with Roark, and I was about to collapse in on myself like a black hole. I brushed my teeth and asked Cece for her clothes. She came into the bathroom already in her pajamas and gave me some silk pajamas that were definitely too big for me, but they’d do.

    “Um, you can go,” I said meekly.

    Her eyes widened. “Right, I’m sorry!” Cece yelled before storming out.

    I definitely looked silly in these, but all I could do was hope she wouldn’t notice. I left the bathroom and my stare lingered as she went in.

    “Just wait for me in the bed,” She said.

    I made my way to her bedroom and gasped at the size of her bed. You could probably fit at least ten of me in there and we’d still be able to sleep comfortably. I felt at the soft mattress before hopping into the bed, practically sinking into the material. It was as if I was floating on water, and I had to focus in order to not doze off. After around ten minutes, Cece showed up and climbed onto the bed.

    “Well, uh, I guess good night?” I tentatively said, my heart still pounding against my chest. “Lots of space on this bed.”

    Cecilia ignored my comment and settled in right behind me.

    “Good night, Grace,” Cece softly said before turning off the lights. “Try to sleep well.”

    “I’ll try,” I said.

    I didn’t have any nightmares that night. When I woke up, it was around 10 am, and Cece was surprisingly still there.

    ——

    “Gloom, Poison Power, Stun Spore, Mega Drain, Grassy Terrain, Acid, Leech Seed, Bullet Seed, Sunny Day. Grotle, Bulldoze, Strength…”

    My leg bounced as I sat in Eterna city gym’s waiting room, and I was reciting Gardenia’s Pokemon and their moves to distract myself. I had practiced for the entire week for this very moment. I had to win. No, I was going to. Nervousness enveloped my entire body when a trainer entered the room with her head hung low. She had just lost, and now it was going to be my turn right after Gardenia’s small break. It was the same anxiety that had taken a hold of me during my battle with Roark. The bright lights, the crowd, and the stakes of the battle all weighed on me like a vice, but the nervousness also kept me sharp.

    And I needed to be sharp if I was going to win. I needed to think faster than ever before not to fall behind Gardenia’s flow.

    “Grace Pastel, you’re up,” The gym trainer said.

    I nodded and got up, and he fitted me with a small microphone.

    “There you go, you’re all ready. Good luck!”

    “Thank you,” I said, my throat dry.

    I stepped out onto the battlefield and on the elevated platform trainers stood on during the battle. Gardenia’s battlefield was simple enough compared to Roark's. It was just a flat plain full of grass, along with a small lake on the left side close to the challenger. There were no trees, no obstacles to hide behind.

    Perfect for Gardenia’s long-ranged attacks.

    I clenched my jaw to stop my teeth from chattering, and I clenched my fists around my jeans. The crowd was already deafening, and it was way bigger than it had been for my battle with Roark. All of my friends were sitting in the stands somewhere, watching me. I licked my dry lips, closed my eyes, and took a few deep breaths.

    It’s just you, Grace. Just you and Gardenia. Ignore the noise. Focus.

    “Welcome, challenger,” Gardenia said with a smooth voice. “This will be a four-on-four battle with two switch-ins allowed. I reserve the right to use any Pokemon in my arsenal that I deem fit, and killing any Pokemon will get you disqualified from the League Circuit. Now, send out your Pokemon.”

    I exhaled one last time and unclipped my first Pokeball from my belt.
     
  15. Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    Just a heads up for anyone reading, I accidentally posted chapter 61 instead of an interlude yesterday (Interlude - Preparations). The order should be fixed now!
     
  16. Threadmarks: Chapter 62
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    CHAPTER 62 - A Battle of Endurance

    I stared at Frillish’s Pokeball and clasped it tightly before sending him out. His eyes glinted as he floated upward. The crowd gasped and started whispering, probably questioning me sending out a water type first against a grass type specialist. I could tell he was tense. His movements were tight, somehow, less fluid than they usually were.

    “I believe in you, buddy!” I yelled out as encouragement. He stared back at me and nodded.

    Gardenia brought a hand to her mouth as her hand hovered over her Pokeballs. I prayed internally she’d send out one of the Pokemon I wanted. The main reason for sending out Frillish first was to bait the gym leader into locking herself up into using at least one non-poison type since I had two Pokemon weak to the type. I hoped that by seeing Frillish, she would just hurry and send out a pure grass type like her Bellossom. The fewer poison types she used, the better.

    Gardenia finally grabbed her first Pokemon and released a Lombre, which wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the worst-case scenario. I sighed internally in relief. Any verbal or bodily signal that I wanted this would seriously hamper me in the future.

    “Begin!” The referee said, bringing his arm down.

    “Lombre, Sunny Day!” Gardenia ordered.

    The water type croaked loudly, and harsh sunlight began to bear down on the battlefield. Lombre was Gardenia’s main way of controlling the weather, and I already knew this had been coming. She’d be able to hamper Frillish’s water moves this way.

    “Stay far away and Poison Sting!” I yelled out.

    Frillish reared two of his tentacles back before throwing them forward, and poisoned darts flew off toward Lombre.

    “Leech Seed!” Gardenia said, sweeping her arm.

    The grass type tried to dodge, but it was too slow to avoid all of Frillish’s darts. It cried out as five darts buried themselves deep into him, but it immediately followed up by spitting out a series of seeds from its mouth at terrifying speeds. I couldn’t let any of those touch Frillish, not if I wanted my plan to work.

    “Drop down!” I said.

    Frillish deactivated his levitation and dropped to the ground, catching himself with a weakened Water Sport. I clicked my tongue internally. The sun was really going to screw with our mobility.

    “Nature Power and then Leech Seed again!”

    Fuck. Nature Power in this terrain always turned into Energy Ball. Green energy gathered in front of Lombre’s mouth and then rushed toward Frillish. It was too fast to dodge.

    “Intercept it with Night Shade!” I screamed.

    A shadowy version of Frillish appeared in front of him and flew toward the Energy Ball, causing it to explode mid-air. Smoke was obscuring my view, but I knew Leech Seed was next. I swore internally as Leech Seeds flew through the smoke and toward Frillish.

    Alright, step one was done. I grabbed the water type’s Pokeball and recalled him. The seeds landed on the ground and sprouted.

    I inhaled sharply. Actually being in the battle meant that plans would always go sideways. I hadn’t dealt the damage I wanted, but with Sunny Day, Frillish’s mobility was cut in half, meaning that approaching Lombre without getting hit was impossible, especially when I needed Frillish to be in the back of Gardenia’s mind. What I had come to realize during my training was that switch-ins were a resource in Pokemon battles, and I was cashing in my first one early.

    It was time for step two of the plan to deal with Lombre. I grinned as I grabbed Tangela’s Pokeball. His Chlorophyll ability meant that his speed would be doubled in such harsh sunlight.

    “You’re up, angel,” I firmly said. The grass type shivered and writhed, happy to be out in the sun.

    I was unfortunately on a timer, though. Soon enough, Lombre would be able to change the weather again with Rain Dance, and it had the ability Rain Dish, meaning that it slowly recovered in the rain.

    “Get up close and personal, angel!” I screamed.

    “Get ready for him,” Gardenia said. “Bubblebeam while he gets close.”

    Tangela ran faster than ever before, using his vines to push himself forward. Some of Lombre’s bubbles hit him, but the damage was negligible to the grass type and in the sun.

    “Vine Whip, Bind, Mega Drain,” I said in quick succession.

    Tangela’s vines were also moving faster in the sun, and I had taught him to respond quickly to his moves. He quickly extended seven vines forward. Lombre clawed the first two away with what I knew to be Fury Swipes, but one hit the Lombre square in the face, staggering him, while the other four grabbed and snaked around him.

    “More vines!” I yelled.

    Lombre was completely enveloped in Tangela’s vines, and they started the glow as he used Mega Drain to suck the water type’s energy.

    “Squeeze tighter,” I continued. Tangela’s vines kept tightening their grip around Lombre.

    Lombre croaked out in pain, and Gardenia quickly recalled him. Shit, I thought. Tangela had been supposed to take care of Lombre on his own, and I hadn’t been expecting a switch so early. I thought Gardenia would wait it out and try to change the weather again.

    The only Pokemon that could deal with angel in this weather were poison types, so I already knew one was coming. The question was, which one?

    Gardenia released her Roselia, and I had to stop myself from swearing. Even Gloom would have been better than this. Roselia was one of the most annoying Pokemon to deal with, since it had been trained to waste time as it watched you lose from status conditions.

    I had to make a decision.

    I grabbed Tangela’s Pokeball and recalled him immediately, meaning I was now out of switch-ins. Tangela would be needed for later. I couldn’t afford to let him lose against Roselia, because I knew he would. Even if he beat it, he’d eventually succumb to poison.

    I grabbed Elekid’s Pokeball and released him with a flash of red. He announced his presence with a scream.

    He was my only Roselia counter.

    “Run up to it quick,” I ordered.

    “Toxic, Rose!” Gardenia yelled out.

    Roselia pointed one of her bouquets at Elekid, and huge pieces of sludge flew out of it. Elekid blurred, hoping to dodge, but one of the Toxics hit him, not dealing any damage right now, but over time? It’d stack up very fast.

    “Ice Punch!” I yelled.

    Even Gardenia’s eyes widened at the command. Elekid let out an evil laugh as ice surrounded his fist and hit the small Roselia’s chest, sending it flying against Kadabra’s barrier.

    “Again,” I ordered.

    Elekid kept going, ice still on his fist. He rushed toward the grass type.

    “Magical Leaf, then Grassy Terrain!” Gardenia yelled.

    Leaves surrounded by a multicolored aura appeared around the struggling Roselia and barrelled toward Elekid.

    “Don’t waste energy trying to dodge, it’s like Swift!” I quickly said.

    Elekid nodded and just pushed through the leaves as the grass began to grow taller and taller. I heard Roselia screech, meaning that Ice Punch had hit her again. And then again. And again.

    There was a pause in the battle for a second.

    “Roselia is unable to battle! Leader Gardenia, send out your second Pokemon,” The referee said.

    Fuck yes! I had caught her off guard and dealt with a poison type, meaning Tangela or Togetic wouldn’t have to.

    “Get back quick!” I told Elekid as Gardenia recalled Roselia, who was covered in chunks of ice, and grabbed another Pokeball. He was starting to slow and breathe hard from the poison. His time was limited, and I wasn’t going to be able to use him as much as I wanted, but Grassy Terrain meant that he would last longer than normal thanks to its regenerative properties. Gardenia really hadn’t expected Roselia to fall that fast.

    A beautiful Leafeon materialized in front of Gardenia and immediately sunk into the tall grass that had grown from Grassy Terrain. Its steps were deafeningly silent, as if it was floating and not walking. I bit the inside of my lip. On one hand, the best strategy would be to wait here where the grass was low, and I’d be able to see what would happen, but on the other, Toxic’s damage was getting worse and worse.

    “You’re gonna have to get in there and fight, hon,” I told Elekid. “Ice Punch as soon as you see it.”

    Elekid nodded and ran into the grass. I watched anxiously for the next minute as nothing happened. It took a bit for me to realize that Gardenia was waiting us out. She had no reason to fight and risk her Leafeon getting hit by a super-effective move. All she had to do was wait for Toxic to take Elekid out, and I’d be screwed.

    And I was out of switches.

    Swift was unusable too, because the target needed to be in the user’s line of sight.

    Arceus, damn it. I had been outsmarted and too excited from the quick victory against Roselia. Gardenia used that to her advantage, and now I was on the backfoot.

    “Elekid, you’ve got to try to use Thundershock! Aim all around you!” I yelled.

    I heard him agree with a scream and then that familiar whirring of his arms. Arcs of electricity flew throw the grass. I had hoped it would set it on fire and destroy the Grassy Terrain, but the move was apparently too powerful for that. Even after fainting, Roselia was a thorn in my side.

    Gardenia was simply watching with a hand on her hip. I tapped my leg against the platform repeatedly, hoping for a hit, but nothing happened. I heard Elekid scream, and then he was thrown toward me. It looked like Leafeon finally decided to attack.

    “Can you stand?” I asked worriedly. Elekid tried to stand up, but the poison had run its course through him. It’d be foolish to keep him in now. “Rest up, honey. You did great,” I said before recalling him before the referee even had the chance to say his line.

    Who could deal with this Leafeon? I only had a few seconds to find out. Frillish was a no-go. Tangela could maybe, but he’d probably struggle to find the grass type. Fuck it, I had no choice but to send out Togetic. That meant that her last Pokemon would probably be a poison type, screwing me over, but if I had to choose between being screwed over now or later, I’d picked later every time.

    I released Togetic, who chirped and clapped happily.

    “Up high, princess!” I ordered. “Fairy Wind! Your opponent’s hiding in the grass!”

    Togetic let out a happy giggle as pink wind began to gather around her. Off the top of my head, I remembered that Leafeon’s only long-distance moves were Swift and Leech Seed, so if it used any, princess would be able to find it.

    Not that we needed that anyway. The Fairy Wind she was gathering was so thick and powerful that it would be able to sweep across the entire battlefield.

    “Swift, then Quick Attack!” Gardenia yelled.

    A series of stars flew up toward Togetic. Quick Attack meant that she wanted Leafeon to quickly change its position, but that wouldn’t work. Princess was too powerful, and Fairy Wind would encompass the entire width of the arena.

    “Release it!” I quickly said, knowing that getting hit might break her concentration.

    The Fairy Wind tore through the battlefield and swept through the grass before slamming against the psychic barrier, revealing Leafeon’s position. The grass type lay down flat against the ground in order not to be swept away, and the stars hit Togetic in quick succession, not dealing that much damage.

    “Thunder Wave!” I said, pointing at our opponent.

    Now that Leafeon’s position was revealed, Togetic quickly cried out as electricity buzzed around her. She sent it away toward the grass type, who still couldn’t move because of the wind, and it started shaking wildly as it wrapped around it. The fact that we had perfected the move in so few days made me feel incredibly proud of my starter, but it wasn’t over yet.

    “Fairy Wind again!” I yelled out, and Togetic started whipping up the attack once more.

    Now Gardenia could only watch as I was about to take down her Leafeon. Of course, she could switch, but as morbid as it was to treat Pokemon as pawns, why waste her precious last switch-in for a damaged, paralyzed Leafeon? I looked into her eyes and knew she was thinking the same thing.

    “Swift!” She yelled out defiantly. “Don’t let it charge up its move for free!”

    Leafeon convulsed for around twenty seconds before finally using the move, and Togetic immediately released Fairy Wind without my command, once again dealing heavy damage to Leafeon in exchange for getting hit by a weak Swift. I knew that the gym leader hoped I would reveal some of my other moves, but I wouldn’t. All she would get was Fairy Wind. Information was the most precious resource in Pokemon battles, to be revealed at the best opportune moments, and I wasn’t going to give it up for free.

    It took another two rounds of Fairy Wind before Leafeon finally fainted.

    “Leafeon is unable to battle! Leader Gardenia, send out your third Pokemon,” The referee said.

    Gardenia recalled her and grinned. Now, she would either send out her Lombre again or a grass poison type like Gloom, Foongus, Weepinbell, or Ivysaur—

    I swallowed when I saw Sunflora materialize into thin air. All things considered, this was probably Gardenia’s strongest Pokemon that she used against trainers with one badge, and it was routinely a part of her team against trainers with two badges. That thing might have looked like a docile creature, but it was a monster. Not only did it have the Solar Power ability, meaning that its attack was raised in the sun, it knew Solar Beam. With that kind of boost, even typing disadvantages started to become irrelevant. Lombre’s Sunny Day was still fucking me over even this far into the battle. Not only that, but there was still Grassy Terrain that would further empower Sunflora’s moves.

    All of the conditions were perfect for her. Had this been a part of her plan all along? Each one of her Pokemon completing a piece of the puzzle. Lombre with Sunny Day, Roselia with Grassy Terrain, and Leafeon’s relatively quick defeat to catch me off-guard when she revealed Sunflora right after, quickly altering my state of mind and destabilizing my train of thought. In many ways, the grass type was worse than any poison type she could have sent out.

    I wiped the sweat off my forehead and calmed down. Panic would do me no good.

    I exhaled sharply when I saw that the grass type wasn’t escaping into the tall grass. “Okay, princess, Thunder Wave!” I said.

    “Ingrain, Growth,” Gardenia laughed. “Solar Beam!”

    “Arceus damn it!”
    I let out. Solar Beam was faster in the sun, and Thunder Wave would take too long. I needed to interrupt this series of moves now. Solar Beam was far too quick for Togetic to ever hope to dodge, and far too powerful to ever hope to alter its path with Extrasensory or shield herself against it with Ancient Power. “Forget the Thunder Wave! Trip it up with Ancient Power!” I stammered.

    Roots started to grow out of Sunflora’s feet, anchoring it on the ground, and then it began to glow. Togetic’s eyes shone brightly as she lifted the huge chunk of earth the grass type was standing on, but it was still attached to the ground.

    “Send it!” Gardenia screamed wildly.

    “Slam the rock against the wall!” I said, clenching my teeth.

    A huge beam brighter than the sun flew from Sunflora’s vague direction. Togetic slammed the rock against Kadabra’s barriers, but I was too blinded to see anything. When the Solar Beam ended, I was surprised to see that Kadabra’s barrier far above me had been cracked and was slowly reconstructing itself. Sunflora got back up on its feet relatively quickly for a Pokemon with a chunk of its right side crushed and the upper half of its head bent at an unsettling angle. It ingrained itself again as it slowly began to recover its plant matter, combined with Grassy Terrain. My eyes darted around the battlefield for at least twenty seconds, looking for Togetic. I was about to call out when her head popped out of the tall grass.

    “Solar Beam again!” Gardenia said, wasting no time.

    “Fuck! Ancient Power in front of you, multiple layers!” I hurriedly said, my voice shaking.

    Another bright beam exploded out of Sunflora as Togetic quickly raised six layers of earth in front of her. The Solar Beam reached her, but in a greatly weakened state. She cried out in pain, and her thin layer of fur was smoking and covered in burns.

    “Thunder Wave before it attacks again!” I said, hoping that Sunflora would have a similar charging time.

    “Seed Bomb!” Gardenia grinned, dashing my hopes.

    “Fly up to dodge!” I yelled.

    Togetic jumped and floated upward as five explosions rocked the earth where she had just stood. I needed to—

    “Bullet Seed!” The gym leader continued, and a series of seeds faster than even Denzel’s Budew hit Togetic square in the chest.

    Gardenia’s engine had started going, and she was leaving me behind. She thought faster than me at every turn, and she knew that she needed to stop me from Thunder Waving at any cost. All while this was happening, Sunflora was healing from Ingrain and Grassy Terrain.

    It was time to forget fancy strategies and just resort to brute force as Cece had taught me and Gardenia was doing.

    “Hit it with a quick Fairy Wind, and then get close!” I ordered.

    “Razor Leaf, then Bullet Seed again! Keep attacking!”

    I watched anxiously as Togetic quickly sent a weak Fairy Wind forward, not even powerful enough to disrupt Razor Leaf’s path. That was fine, the first attack was just a distraction, but I needed her to get in Extrasensory’s range.

    Togetic narrowly avoided the Razor Leaf but was hit by another Bullet Seed, but she kept flying forward with determination.

    “Extrasensory!” I said a split second before Sunflora was in range.

    “Tighten your roots!” Gardenia said, not missing a beat.

    Strange psychic energy surrounded the grass type, but it was deeply anchored in the ground. The good thing was that it couldn’t attack while it was focusing on not being lifted by Extrasensory, so that left me a few seconds to think.

    Fairy Wind was off the table unless I hit the Sunflora with a status effect. It took too long to charge up if I wanted it to be powerful enough to deal real damage and all it did was leave Sunflora enough time to charge up another Solar Beam. One more of those would take Togetic out.

    Ancient Power and Extrasensory were the strongest possible moves I could use in such a quick setting, but I also had—

    I had it, I thought, clenching my fist.

    “Lift it up with Ancient Power,” I ordered.

    “Bullet Seed again!” Gardenia ordered.

    Togetic quickly lifted the ground Sunflora stood on once again, screwing with its aim.

    “Angle it away and bring it toward you,” I continued.

    The chunk of earth quickly spun and moved toward Togetic. The thing I had learned about Ingrain through watching battle videos was that unless Sunflora was forcefully removed by an attack strong enough, it wasn’t able to remove the roots. That meant it was stuck there, facing away from Togetic, meaning that it wouldn’t be able to use Bullet Seed.

    “Razor leaf backwards,” Gardenia said with a thin smile. I knew that was a possibility, but Togetic couldn’t dodge while she was concentrating this hard. This amount of fine-tuned control was new for her, and she was pushing herself harder than ever before.

    The chunk of earth wobbled slightly as Razor Leaf hit Togetic repeatedly. Now, I could have ordered Togetic to slam it against the ground, but that was short-term thinking.

    The long term called for this.

    “Sweet Kiss!” I ordered.

    Gardenia’s winced as a pink heart flew out of Togetic’s mouth and hit Sunflora. This had required Togetic’s utmost concentration, and she had succeeded in using two moves together for the first time. Praises would come later. Right now, I had a Sunflora to beat.

    “Take it down gently… gently…” I started. Togetic slowly placed the earth back onto the ground, covering some of the Grassy Terrain. Any sudden movements might snap Sunflora out of its confusion. “Now, Thunder Wave,” I sighed in relief.

    A cage of electricity surrounded the confused Sunflora, and it began to convulse and shake wildly.

    “You’ve got all the time in the world,” I told Togetic. “Give me the strongest Fairy Wind you’ve got.”

    I took deep breaths, finally relaxing for the first time while Togetic gathered enough wind to defeat the Sunflora in one hit. Sweet Kiss and Paralysis combined were too much for a Pokemon of our level to simply push through. There was only Lombre left after that, and I had three Pokemon to deal with it.

    Still, I couldn’t get overconfident. It took two minutes for Togetic to finish charging up Fairy Wind, and by the time she threw it at Sunflora, I could barely see anything on the battlefield. It was all pink. Kadabra’s barrier bent when the wind hit, but it held. When everything dissipated, Sunflora was down for the count.

    “Sunflora is unable to battle! Leader Gardenia, send out your last Pokemon,” The referee said.

    One more.

    Gardenia sent out her Lombre and didn’t waste any time.

    “Thunder Wave—”

    “Fake out!” Gardenia yelled out.

    Lombre disappeared impossibly fast, and the next time I blinked, it was right above Togetic. The grass type clapped its two hands against her face, causing her to fall to the ground along with him.

    “Get up ASAP and Fury Swipes,” Gardenia said with a strange calmness. She was losing, but her behavior wasn’t reflecting that at all.

    Lombre’s red claws glowed brightly as he repeatedly scratched Togetic over and over, tearing through her skin and making her bleed.

    “Extrasensory! Get it away from you!” I yelled.

    The air around Lombre started to shift, but he quickly released a point-blank Bubblebeam, stopping princess’ attack and knocking her unconscious.

    “Togetic is unable to battle! Challenger, send out your third Pokemon,” The referee said.

    “Rain Dance!” She yelled as I recalled Princess. Clouds gathered, thunder clapped above the gym, and rain began to fall, meaning that Lombre would slowly recover from the damage Tangela had dealt.

    “You did better than I could have ever imagined,” I told her. Standing toe to toe with that Sunflora was incredible. I grabbed Frillish’s Pokeball and released him. I’d be able to deal damage with Hex and Poison Sting, and I still had Mist and Acid Armor up my sleeve.

    “Lombre’s the only one left,” I said. “Poison Sting.”

    Poisoned darts flew off of his tentacles toward Lombre and hit his side, causing him to croak out in pain.

    “Leech Seed barrage,” Gardenia ordered smoothly. Lombre opened its mouth, and a dozen Leech Seed flew like bombs toward Frillish.

    “Fly up!”

    With one smooth motion of his tentacles combined with a now fully-powered Water Sport, Frillish floated upward out of Leech Seed’s range. Or at least that was what I thought.

    “Again,” Gardenia said.

    If Lombre could keep using this forever, I’d never be able to attack. It was time to pull out Mist.

    “Use Mist, Frillish!”

    Frillish spun around, spitting out a cold mist that coalesced around him. It wouldn’t stop the grass type from using Leech Seed repeatedly, but at least his accuracy would go down. Suddenly, I squinted toward the Lombre. A small patch of its skin around one of the darts had turned pale purple.

    It was poisoned.

    “Use the trick!” I quickly ordered. A billow of smoke surged from the Mist, making Lombre throw more Leech Seeds toward what he thought was Frillish. Unfortunately for him, it was just a Night Shade.

    “Now get in range and Hex!”

    Frillish used the distraction to fly out of the mist with Water Sport. I couldn’t help but smile as I thought that victory was finally within my grasp. One boosted Hex would surely be enough to take down Lombre—

    “Mega Drain,” The gym leader said.

    Mega Drain? I panicked. Not Razor Leaf?! Shit!

    That hadn’t been in the moves I had seen in her battling videos, and Lombre’s range was apparently better than Frillish’s. The grass around it began dying, and Frillish crashed to the ground. Acid Armor wouldn’t protect the water type against special moves.

    “Razor Leaf,” Gardenia said.

    “Acid Armor!” I tried, but it was too late. He wouldn’t be able to switch his state fast enough this close to Lombre. The leaves tore through Frillish, and I recalled him. “You were awesome, bud,” I said softly, ignoring the nervousness that was surging inside of me.

    “Frillish is unable to battle! Challenger, send out your last Pokemon,” The referee said.

    It was one on one now. I grabbed Tangela’s Pokeball and released him. The two advantages I had was that grass type moves would be neutral against Lombre and that poison was slowly coursing through his body.

    “You’re the last one, angel,” I said. “I believe in you.”

    His vines writhed around in response.

    “Grassy Terrain, then Synthesis,” Gardenia said.

    She wanted to mitigate the damage the poison was causing with Synthesis, Grassy Terrain, and Rain Dish. She wanted to last as long as possible to ensure she could still win. I didn’t know how much time Gardenia had left in the battle, but it couldn’t have been more than five minutes at this point. If the twenty minutes, ran out, I’d win.

    I didn’t want to win like that. I wanted to win due to my own skill.

    “Get close and Bind him! He can’t deal that much damage to you!” I ordered.

    Tangela waded through the newly regrown Grassy Terrain, slower than he had been in the sun.

    “Bubblebeam! Blast the whole perimeter!” Gardenia said. The water type reared his head back and then swept through the entire horizontal length of the battlefield.

    It didn’t bother Tangela. The grass type just ignored the attack and burst through the tall grass before sending out vines to wrap around Lombre. He tried to fight them with Fury Swipes, but there were too many for him to fight. More vines than I could count bound Lombre tightly, and then I ordered the coup the grace.

    “Mega Drain until it’s out,” I exhaled.

    I watched with sweat dripping down my chin as Lombre slowly but surely had its energy drained from both Mega Drain, Bind, and the Poison. It took forty seconds, but it was over. Lombre fell to the ground, and Gardenia recalled him with a wide smile.

    I became aware of the crowd around me just as it came alive with a roar. People were cheering and applauding so loudly that I couldn’t even hear myself think. I took a few deep breaths as the monumentality of the situation sunk in. Not only had I beaten Gardenia, I had beaten one of the strongest teams she could possibly have against a trainer with a single badge. I felt my heart pound against my chest and the blood pulse through my ears.

    I had won.

    I raised a fist.
     
  17. veekie

    veekie Connoisseur.

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  18. Threadmarks: Chapter 63
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    CHAPTER 63

    The cheers slowly subsided as I made my way to the side of the arena to pick up my prizes. I was so mentally exhausted I could barely walk straight, and my head was spinning. Gardenia looked shorter than she actually was, easily towering over me. She was taller than even Cece, who was the tallest girl in our group, and yet still, all she wore, even in this cold weather, were orange shorts and some sort of green drape that counted as a top. I stared up into her eyes who were so light brown they looked orange, and straightened myself. Gardenia was eighteen, only three years older than me, but she commanded respect.

    “Congratulations, challenger,” She said, flashing me a smile. “That was one of the most enjoyable battles I’ve had with a trainer with only one badge. ID?”

    I bowed my head in respect and handed her my trainer card. She scanned it using some device— the same one Roark had— and handed it back to me. I now had two badges on the bottom left.

    “You’re now the owner of the forest badge, and I’ve transferred seven thousand Pokedollars into your account. Pokedex?” She continued.

    I fumbled around my bag and took the device out after a few seconds, and handed it to the gym leader. I really needed to be better at this, it was my second time doing it. She inserted a green disk into the TM compartment.

    “There you go, you’ll be able to teach your Pokemon Leech Seed now. The reward here used to be Grass Knot, but trust me, there’s much more to be gained from the former.”

    “Thank you,” I said, my voice slightly shaking.

    “Take a breather in the waiting room, if you want. Regardless, you’re free to leave,” Gardenia said as she turned away from me. Her green drape fluttered in the wind like a cape.

    So cool.

    I hurried into the waiting room and out of the spotlight. It would be Denzel’s turn to battle soon, and I needed to be quick if I wanted to drop my Pokemon at the nearest Pokemon Center, and I wanted to be back in time.

    “Ah,” I said when I saw him enter. He was clenching and unclenching his fists over and over while bouncing his leg up and down.

    Denzel smiled at me. “You were… you were fucking amazing, Grace,” He said. “That was a crazy battle, you definitely earned your win.”

    “Thanks,” I simply answered. “I’m exhausted.”

    “Yeah, the battle took exactly 19 minutes and 38 seconds, so that makes sense.”

    “What?!” I exclaimed. “I almost ran out the clock?”

    My friend nodded and brought his hands together. “Uhuh. That thing you did with Sunflora? Lifting up the ground it was standing on to make Solar Beam miss? Arceus.”

    I enjoyed the praise, but I could tell something was wrong. The tone he was employing was too upbeat, too cheerful for someone who was about to go into a gym battle. Denzel’s body language told me he was anxious, but his voice told the opposite. He exhaled sharply before continuing.

    “That whole part of the battle in general was nuts. Togetic’s really been progressing at incredible speeds. To be able to stand up to Sunflora like that, I mean I didn’t even bother looking up the moves it used because I knew she was never going to use it on me—”

    I crouched in front of him and placed my hand on his knee. His leg stopped bouncing.

    “Hey,” I said, looking up into his eyes. “Something’s wrong. Tell me what it is.”

    Denzel paused. “I’m just nervous as hell, that’s what it is.”

    “You’re lying to me. Gardenia’s on break, so we have time,” I said. “I can tell something’s wrong. Something’s been off about you for a while, but I thought I was imagining things since you looked like you were having fun all the time.”

    His face tightened. “You should hurry and get your team to a Center. I don’t want you to miss my match—”

    I sat down and leaned against him. “I’ll miss it if it means we get you out of this rut,” I said. The conversation paused when a young gym trainer passed through the room and dipped his head. “Talk to me,” I said softly. “You’re the one that said it wasn’t good to hold things in back in Floaroma.”

    “Won’t make a difference,” Denzel flatly said. “Might actually make me battle worse.”

    “I think you’ll be much better with that weight lifted off your shoulder,” I said as I rubbed his back. “You can tell me anything. We’re best friends.”

    Denzel clasped his hands together so tightly they turned white and brought them up to his mouth. His jaw trembled, and he sniffled. For a few seconds, I thought he would start to cry, but he didn’t.

    “This shit’s been eating away at me,” He sighed. “It really shouldn’t be. I mean, compared to what you deal with, it’s nothing,” He let out a sad laugh. “I’m not improving fast enough, Grace. At this rate, I’ll hold the group behind.”

    “Why do you feel that way?” I asked. “Did you lose a battle?”

    “No,” He shrugged. “Nothing like that happened. It just doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that I’m not going as fast as you are. I’m not mad at you for that, by the way!” He quickly added. “I’m happy for you. It’s just frustrating to know that I’m slower than everyone else.”

    “Mhm,” I said, letting him go on.

    “Your battle was probably the best one Gardenia’s had this Circuit,” Denzel said. “And to think that I have to go right after that? The pressure I feel… it’s immense,” He sighed, before showing me his shaky hand. “The only way I can stop myself from shaking is by making a fist or grabbing something.”

    I grabbed his hand. It was coarse and dry. “People are going to compare you to me,” I said, nodding. There was no point in pretending otherwise and coddling him. “Look,” I started. “It might be true that I’ve been improving a lot lately. Actually, it is true. But that’s because something just clicked for me when I battled Chase. I found my battling style— the way I enjoyed battling the most, and it turned every training session into so much fun, and everything is so much easier that I’m just… floating, I guess,” I tried explaining. “It doesn’t feel like work at all.”

    “How?” He asked. “How did it happen? How do I replicate it?”

    “I don’t know,” I simply answered. He sighed and leaned against the wall. “But here’s what I think. You’re going slower than I am right now, sure, let’s go with that. I know that things always get crazy from the forums and the media, but the Circuit isn’t a race,” I said firmly. “It’s about consistency. It’s about winning until you get to the Conference, not winning the fastest. For all you know, in a few weeks, you’ll have found something that works for you, and you’ll start to skyrocket past me,” I continued.

    “But to build up my brand, I need… I need momentum, I need coverage. I won’t get any of that if I’m just an okay trainer. I need to be incredible, like you or Cecilia,” Denzel said.

    “You don’t,” I shook my head. “First of all, you’re not an okay trainer. No matter what you think, you’re definitely in the top bracket. Second of all, imagine if in between a route, like, in between Eterna city and Hearthome, you go from the way you are now to someone better than Cece’s level? That would definitely generate more attention than just being good all the time.”

    “Maybe,” He hesitated.

    “Come on, you’ve seen Cecilia’s thread. People were crazy about her at the start of the Circuit, but now they’re kind of getting bored of her. Sure, her thread is still one of the most active ones, but compared to Chase’s, for example? People like controversy and action, and events. It’s not just about being the best.”

    “I mean, you’re definitely somewhat correct, but having both of these is what I need.”

    “Look at the big picture, you oaf!” I exclaimed. “You’re traveling with a bunch of famous billionaires, and all you need to go from the top, what, ten percent to the top five percent of trainers is to find your battling style. You’re already most of the way there!”

    He sighed. “You’re… you’re right, but I still feel like shit somehow,” He said with a slight chuckle.

    “Do you feel like shit about the situation, or do you feel like shit about yourself? Because the latter is a recipe for disaster.”

    “I feel like shit, that’s all I can say,” Denzel said as he stood up. He rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck. I looked up at him. He looked more confident than before. The trembling was gone, and his face was relaxed. “But it’s weird, I feel strangely optimistic as well.”

    I sighed, running a hand through my hair. “Good. I’m not going to be here for the start of your battle, but I might make it before the end.”

    “That’s fine,” He said. “With all the advice you just gave me, it’ll be like you’re next to me the entire time.”

    “Next time you have a problem, will you talk to me?” I asked.

    “I will, I just thought you had enough on your plate. Plus, we almost had the exact same conversation back on route 203, but I needed to hear this again.”

    I grinned. “Keep your chin up, Denzel. This is only badge two out of eight. There’ll be plenty of twists and turns waiting for you this year.”

    “Same to you,” He smiled. “And I’ll be the one to win it all,” Denzel declared. “I feel the gears turning in my head already, I think I’ve figured something out. One part of the puzzle, at least.”

    “We’ll see about that,” I retorted. “Now, are you ready to kick ass?”

    Denzel’s smile turned into a wild, toothy grin. “Hell yes.”

    ——

    “Denzel Williams? You’re up,” The gym trainer said. Denzel uncrossed his arms and stopped leaning against the wall, and the trainer outfitted him with the usual microphone. “Good luck.”

    “Thanks,” Denzel said.

    Denzel felt steadfast as he walked through the door to the battling arena. The words Grace had spoken to him were just that, words, but they had felt incredibly consequential. His best friend’s perceptiveness was so accurate it was downright terrifying, but he had needed that pep talk, or he would have floundered the battle against Gardenia. She stood at the opposite side of the field and greeted him with the usual gym leader spiel, but Denzel’s attention was somewhere else.

    Gears turned in his head. Pieces of the puzzle slowly fit together.

    “…three-on-three battle with two switch-ins allowed…”

    It wasn’t a strategy being formed per se. Grace was better at that stuff than Denzel could ever hope to be. The teenager didn’t know every single Pokemon Gardenia owned and every single move they had and how to counter them with every single Pokemon. The memorization required for that was terrifying. Grace was terrifying.

    Denzel smiled at the notion that his friend, tiny as she was, was someone he considered terrifying. The gears… they were more like a general blueprint to follow. What was Gardenia good at? Making a battle last as long as possible to fish out your weaknesses, so how would he counter that?

    “Challenger? Send out your Pokemon, please!” Gardenia said. “Come on, it’s my last battle of the day.”

    Well, they were gears in perpetual motion, after all, so the plan was slowly unveiling itself, and Denzel was slowly figuring it out. He felt something tug at him like he was attached to a rope. Denzel grabbed his trusted Eevee’s Pokeball and sent him out. He barked and got into a prowl, and Denzel eagerly awaited to see what Gardenia would use against him.

    Clench, unclench. Clench, unclench. It was a mechanical motion that the trainer had always used to destress, but he found himself not needing it as much as he thought he would.

    Denzel took a deep breath, narrowing his eyes, and began to run purely on instinct.
     
  19. veekie

    veekie Connoisseur.

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    Time for raw speed and chaos
     
  20. Threadmarks: Chapter 64
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    CHAPTER 64

    Denzel relaxed with a breath, and Gardenia released her first Pokemon. Cherrim let out a strange rustling sound, and its petals flapped around, revealing its small, dark eyes.

    Don’t get lost in the details, Denzel thought. Big strokes.

    Luckily, Gardenia had begun the battle with one of her most iconic Pokemon. From what he knew, Cherrim was one of Gardenia’s Pokemon that used Sunny Day, since the sunlight would make it change forms and boost its attacking and defensive powers. Then, it would use Grassy Terrain to boost Energy Ball’s power to devastating effect.

    Alright, he knew the big picture. Now he had to counter it.

    “Begin!” The referee said.

    “Eevee, Quick Attack!” Denzel ordered with newfound confidence. He needed to stick to the basics and find something that worked.

    Eevee barked as white light enveloped his body, and then blurred forward. The normal type wasn’t as fast compared to what other trainers had now, but his advantage was that he could keep it going for a long time.

    “Sunny Day, then Grassy Terrain!” Gardenia said.

    The young trainer had heard that the move worked even when the sun was down or setting, but to actually see it in action? The strange light bearing down from the roof was as bright as the sun, and it suddenly looked like it was noon. Then, the grass started to grow taller than Eevee was, but that could work to their advantage.

    Eevee rammed into Cherrim right as the grass type started to change. Its petals changed colors as they bloomed, and its skin turned to a pale yellow. Cherrim quickly got back up on its feet, but Eevee was still going.

    “Trip it up with Grass Knot!” Gardenia yelled.

    Shit, Denzel thought. “Eevee, jump—”

    Too late. The attack had come too fast, and Eevee fell to the ground and slid across the grass.

    “Cherrim, Energy Ball!” She hurriedly said.

    Grass died around the two Pokemon as a green ball of pure energy formed in front of the grass type’s mouth, with the extra power from the Grassy Terrain amplifying the attack even more.

    “Get up and ram him!” He quickly ordered. He was maybe too close to dodge the attack, and he didn’t want to waste his Detects so soon, so his best hope was to interrupt the move.

    Detect almost always guaranteed that Eevee would dodge an attack, but the move was so intensive that even Eevee had to think twice before using one. Eevee scrambled to his feet and circled around the grass type with Quick Attack still active.

    “Split it,” Gardenia grinned.

    Denzel’s eyes widened as the Energy Ball split into multiple attacks, and were sent flying all around Cherrim. One of them hit Eevee, but they were weakened enough to not bother him too much. The normal type didn’t waste any time and rammed into Cherrim again, and the grass type slid across the grass. The battle was flowing in Denzel’s direction. He could feel it, now he only had to keep it up.

    “Don’t rush in,” Denzel warned. He could tell Eevee was feeling bullish, but that would just make Gardenia use Grass Knot again.

    “Grassy Terrain again,” Gardenia said. “Then Leech Seed.”

    Denzel winced. Leech Seed was one of the moves he couldn’t afford to get hit with. Eevee was his most reliable fighter, and having him weaken that fast in the fight would almost guarantee a loss. Cherrim opened its mouth, throwing out Leech Seed as fast as Budew’s Bullet Seed.

    “Detect,” He said, clenching a fist.

    Infinitely faster than Quick Attack, Eevee disappeared and reappeared to the side, almost instantaneously. The trainer grinned. That was the difference between a non-perfected Detect and the actual move, it looked like your Pokemon was actually teleporting.

    But unlike Detect, Gardenia could use Leech Seed as many times as she wanted, so Denzel needed to hurry.

    “Get close and Bite! Don’t let it go!”

    “Grass Knot!”

    “Jump!” He said.

    With a push of his hind legs, Eevee jumped in the air— not high enough to be stuck there too long and be a prime target, but not low enough to get caught by the vines coming out of the ground. Perfect.

    The idea was forming in his head now— his winning condition. Eevee had to stay close no matter what and harass Cherrim so that it wouldn’t have time to use its long-ranged moves and struggle to use Leech Seed.

    Broad strokes, Denzel reminded himself. Don’t get lost in the details. Feel the flow of the battle.

    Eevee latched his teeth onto Cherrim’s face and one of its leaves, shaking his head around and tearing it up in the process. Cherrim struggled, but no matter how hard it tried, it couldn’t get out of the Bite. With a flash of red, Gardenia returned Cherrim and immediately released a Hoppip. The pink Pokemon spun the two leaves on its head, floating in the wind as if it was lighter than a feather.

    Denzel winced. All they had to fight this was Swift, and it was one of Eevee’s weaker moves given how little they worked on it. Still, he wasn’t going to switch. Not yet, at least.

    “Swift,” He immediately ordered. Stars spun around Eevee as they formed before flying toward the grass type.

    “Start up your Fairy Wind,” Gardenia said.

    Denzel grimaced, expecting the worst because of what he had seen Grace’s Togetic do, but Hoppip’s Fairy Wind was incredibly weak by comparison, and it took him a few seconds to understand why.

    Gardenia was using the move to make Hoppip move incredibly fast, and it was permanent. The flying type zoomed around the arena faster than Swift could ever hope to be, and occasionally, the wind would hurt Eevee. Even though the damage was minimal, it would stack up.

    “Seed Bombardment,” Gardenia said with a grin.

    “Quick Attack to dodge,” Denzel quickly said. Whatever the hell that was, it couldn’t be good.

    Hoppip let out a cry as seeds started dropping from its body. Some of them exploded upon contact with the ground, and some just grew vines. Gardenia had combined Seed Bomb and Leech seed together in a terrifying fashion, and there was no way to counter it when the enemy was so high up in the sky.

    Denzel grabbed Eevee’s Pokeball and recalled him before too much damage could be dealt. His hand settled on Budew’s Pokeball, and he took a deep breath. She wouldn’t do much damage, but at least she would have a chance to hit the damn thing with Bullet Seed. He wished he had taught her more new moves, but the grass type was still difficult to work with, even if she at least listened to him now.

    Budew announced herself with a screech, overshadowed by all the explosions going on around her. Even Gardenia seemed to be surprised by her size. She was twice as large as a normal Budew, after all.

    “Budew, Growth!” Denzel said.

    Budew screeched again, glowing white and growing slightly in size.

    “Acrobatics! Boost yourself with the wind!”

    Fuck, it knew flying type moves too! Shit, shit—

    Denzel clenched and unclenched his fists. Now wasn’t the time to panic.

    “Bullet Seed, then Mega Drain when it’s in range!” The teen said.

    Budew spat out Bullet Seed after Bullet Seed, carefully aiming at Hoppip. A few of the Seeds hit the grass type since it was flying only forward now, but the damage was negligible. Just as Hoppip started to nimbly move around, Budew yelled, and the Grassy Terrain died around her. Hoppip winced, feeling Mega Drain’s boosted effect, but he kept going and rammed into Budew and sent her flying.

    “Don’t let it rest, Acrobatics again!”

    “Mega Drain again!” Denzel mirrored.

    With a look of pure rage, Budew once again drained the energy around her, slightly recovering the damage that had been dealt, and Hoppip flew into her at high speeds. This song and dance repeated itself another two times before Budew finally went down. She had done well, especially against something with a flying type move, and now it was time to pass on the torch.

    “Budew is unable to battle! Challenger, send out your second Pokemon,” The referee said.

    “Buneary, you’re up,” Denzel said, releasing the normal type. She looked back at him with a scared look on her face, but he nodded at her, and she did the same to him.

    Buneary was skittish, but he had done a lot to prepare her for a battle in such a large setting. It had taken a lot of trips to public arenas to get her used to other people watching her, and she was ready.

    “Blow yourself up high and start bombarding again,” Gardenia ordered.

    Buneary didn’t have that many moves, but the ones it had? They were enough. A good base to work from.

    “Defense Curl!” Denzel quickly said.

    The rabbit curled up into a ball and her skin shone slightly, raising her defense. She would probably get hit by a Leech Seed, but at this point, he had one way to win this. One idea his instincts were screaming at him to implement.

    Denzel winced as multiple explosions hit Buneary, and one of the Leech Seeds wrapped its thorny vines around her, but the moment still wasn’t right. He still needed to wait.

    Wait until Hoppip was right above her.

    “Jump with Quick Attack!” Denzel screamed.

    Buneary slammed her feet against the ground, creating a small crater, and jumped up at Hoppip. This trick would only work once. They only had one chance to do this, one opportunity.

    “Knock her away with Fairy Wind and fly up!” Gardenia said. The wind that carried Hoppip slammed downward, and its leaves started rotating twice as fast, but Buneary’s jump was too powerful. She was on a one-way trajectory to the flying type.

    “Fire Punch!” Denzel exclaimed.

    Still midair, Buneary rubbed her ears together until one of them ignited, powered up by Sunny Day, and sprung it at Hoppip. Already having been damaged by Budew, the grass type went down, crashing into the ground, and so did Buneary.

    The normal type got up, and Hoppip did not.

    “Hoppip is unable to battle! Leader Gardenia, send out your second Pokemon,” The referee said.

    With raised eyebrows, Gardenia recalled her Hoppip and released Cherrim again, still in its sun form.

    “Grassy Terrain,” Gardenia simply said.

    “Alright, Buneary, Quick Attack and get close,” Denzel said.

    The same principle still applied, even if Buneary was on a timer due to Leech Seed. Overwhelm Cherrim enough so that it wouldn’t have enough time to use its powerful long-ranged attacks. Buneary’s Quick Attack was different than Eevee’s. The normal type didn’t run, she jumped.

    Buneary jumped terrifyingly fast across the field while Grass grew around Cherrim.

    “Energy Ball, quick!” Gardenia ordered with a sweeping motion, but it was too late.

    Buneary landed right in front of the grass type as it began forming the Energy Ball, and then hit it with Fire Punch without Denzel even having to give the order.

    “Again,” He said. Finally, after being rattled by Hoppip, he was starting to settle into a groove again. With a small noise, Buneary continued battering Cherrim with all she had until the grass type fainted.

    “Cherrim is unable to battle! Leader Gardenia, send out your last Pokemon,” The referee said.

    One more, Denzel thought. But he couldn’t get complacent. He needed to keep the gears turning. Gardenia grabbed her last Pokeball and released her Grotle, who let out a short roar before snapping its jaw.

    “Think you got a little more in you?” He asked Buneary. The rabbit turned his way and gave him a fierce nod, eliciting a smile. If there was one thing Denzel’s team had, it was being able to take hits and keep going. “Thank you.”

    Buneary and Grotle were already relatively close, so there was no need to waste her limited energy with Quick Attack.

    “Fire Punch,” Denzel ordered.

    “Strength,” Gardenia said.

    Grotle’s entire body stiffened as it slowly ran toward Buneary. The normal type landed her Fire Punch, but Grotle just ignored it and rammed into her with its entire body, sending her flying. The sheer power behind the move made Denzel freeze up for a split second.

    Buneary struggled to her feet and took a few steps forward, but she fell to the ground quickly after.

    “Buneary is unable to battle! Challenger, send out your last Pokemon,” The referee said.

    Denzel recalled Buneary with a slight smile. She had done everything required of her and more. Now it was Eevee’s turn.

    The trainer released his starter. “It’s you and me, Eevee,” He said. Eevee answered with an excited cry.

    Denzel had never even looked at battles where Gardenia had used Grotle because he never thought she would use the Pokemon against him. What had he broadly learned about the grass type in that short interaction? It was a bruiser type— like Eevee was, more powerful by an order of magnitude. He was also slow, taking seconds to reach Buneary who had been relatively close.

    The gears turned, and a strategy clicked into place.

    “Swift. Stack them up,” Denzel said.

    Eevee barked and stars materialized around him before flying toward Grotle. The attack was nothing to the grass type, but it wasn’t like he could respond.

    “Leech Seed!” Gardenia yelled, and Grotle opened his mouth. Eevee effortlessly dodged the seeds with Quick Attack and kept harassing his opponent with Swift. “Get close!”

    “Run away to the opposite side of the field,” Denzel continued. “Then Swift again.”

    “Don’t let him, cut him off!” The gym leader yelled. “Bulldoze!”

    Grotle roared and stood on its hind legs before slamming its front legs at the ground. The floor shook around it, slowing Eevee down and making him fall.

    “Strength!” Gardenia said, grinning.

    Denzel inhaled sharply. “Detect!”

    Eevee disappeared and reappeared further down the battlefield, having narrowly avoided Grotle’s charge. He quickly started up another Swift and sent it toward Grotle. And another. And another. Slowly chipping away at the grass type, who could only slowly run up to him and try to cut him off with Bulldoze, after which Denzel would dodge with Detect.

    On Eevee’s third Detect, Denzel started to worry. On Eevee’s fifth Detect, it was taking everything for the boy not to panic. He watched as another set of stars hit Grotle’s side, and the grass type slowly but surely ran up to his exhausted Eevee.

    Fuck it, Denzel thought. All or nothing.

    His brain screamed at him. Every ounce of his being except his gut was telling him this was a bad idea, but he had no choice. Another Detect and Eevee wouldn’t be able to move. Eevee wouldn’t be able to jump over Bulldoze like Buneary could either, the range around Grotle was too large.

    “Quick Attack to get close…” Denzel started. Eevee nodded, panting a few times before blurring forward.

    “Strength!” Gardenia yelled.

    Grotle and Eevee were going to hit each other, or at least that’s what Denzel wanted it to look like.

    “Slide under his legs!” Denzel yelled. Eevee ducked and skidded across the grass.

    “Body Slam!”

    “Double Kick!” Denzel screamed so loudly his throat ached. Unlike Grotle’s protected shell, the grass type’s underbelly was its weakest point, or at least that’s what visually made sense.

    Eevee nimbly turned around on his back as Grotle stood on his hind legs. He dropped onto Eevee, creating a plume of dust, smoke, and dirt.

    The was no more sound.

    Denzel stood on his tiptoes, eagerly waiting for the dust to settle.

    Eevee crawled out of the smoke with a limp, barely able to walk and leaving a knocked-out Grotle behind him. He collapsed a few seconds later.

    The trainer let out a long sigh of relief and looked at the sky as deafening cheers erupted around him. It was a draw, but a draw still counted as a win for the challenger. A draw was somewhat disappointing, he hadn’t completely figured out how he wanted to battle as Grace had, and there were still things to iron out, but holy shit, was this a huge step in the right direction.

    Denzel’s body felt so light. He looked at Gardenia in a daze as she handed him his badge, money, and the Leech Seed TM. His battle was the last one of the day, so the lobby was a sea of trainers, making it hard to find his friends.

    Using his height, they found him first, all congratulating him for his victory. He blinked a few times and looked at Grace. His best friend smiled and gave him a thumbs up. Denzel was happy she managed to catch at least some of the battle.

    “I knew you would fucking kick ass,” She said, still smiling.

    Denzel Williams was so incredibly glad Grace had come to him back in Twinleaf town.

    It just wouldn’t be the same without her.
     
  21. Threadmarks: Chapter 65
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    CHAPTER 65

    “Mm, Arceus, this milkshake is good,” I said, feeling bliss. I grabbed a mouthful of fries, appreciating the sweet and salty flavors mixed together.

    “Ugh, do you have to eat on the bed?” Pauline asked with a grimace. “How barbaric.”

    “The battle tired me out and made me hungry,” I said. “Now buzz off.”

    She clicked her tongue. “Whatever. It’s not my bed. Cece can deal with a dirty bed.”

    “Don’t you have maids cleaning this place every day anyway? Don’t be such a grinch,” I said.

    “You’ll get fat,” The girl said, hitting my leg with her foot.

    “I don’t gain weight,” I retorted, hitting her back. “Stop disturbing me, I might choke.”

    “Of course, you don’t,” Pauline rolled her eyes. “And who says I don’t want you to choke?”

    “Legendaries! Please stop bickering, I can’t even hear myself think,” Emilia exclaimed.

    After Denzel’s battle, the entire group had gone to Cecilia’s apartment, but people had started to split up. The boys had gone back to their hotel rooms, and Denzel was crashing at Louis’ place. I was starting to feel bad about having reserved that Pokemon Center room with how little I was using it, but it wasn’t like the place was even close to being full. Plus, there were plenty in the city.

    “Cece, Grace is being annoying and messing up the bed!” Pauline yelled.

    “I’m being clean! You just have it out for me.”

    “I just want to watch videos in peace…” Emilia whined.

    The result was that the girls had decided to all stay together for a spontaneous sleepover, and three of us were already in bed even with how early it still was. I had hoped that it would just be Cecilia and me again, but it was nice to spend more time with friends too. Like I had promised myself before, I was on a Pokemon training break, for at least a week!

    Alright, maybe five— three days. Yeah, three days would do the trick. Plus, all of my Pokemon were so beaten up I’d only be able to pick them up tomorrow. They had fought so well. Even thinking back on the battle made me grin uncontrollably. Even now, it was still sinking in. It was like another person had fought it, but it was me. I was the one who made Gardenia use Sunflora’s Solar Beam.

    “Check it out,” Pauline said, pointing her phone at me. “Your thread’s blowing up.”

    I closed my eyes. “Nope, don’t want to see it. I checked it out earlier today, right after Denzel’s battle, and it gave me anxiety. Too many eyes on me all at once.”

    “You can run, but you can’t hide,” Pauline continued. “But I get it. The spotlight can be a terrifying thing the first time it shines on you.”

    “Denzel’s giddy about it, though,” I said. “I haven’t even looked at my Poketch since. Just seeing the notification makes my heart jump.”

    “I’m back,” Cece said, carrying a cup of tea. She sat at the foot of the bed, right below my feet.

    Okay, now my heart really jumped.

    “This little gremlin is munching away in your bed,” Pauline narced.

    “I told her it was fine,” She said. “Emi ate some biscuits in there earlier.”

    “Don’t bring me into this, I’m innocent,” Emilia quickly said. She was watching a video of some contest going on tonight in Hearthome.

    Pauline rolled her eyes. “Emi knows how to eat gracefully, unlike someone.”

    “Whatever, I’m done anyway,” I said as obnoxiously as humanly possible. “I don’t know how you guys dealt with this devil before I came into the picture. I’m the only one who can control her—”

    Pauline threw a pillow at me.

    We continued talking and joking around for a few hours, and eventually, we were ready to go to sleep. The next gym battle was Louis’, and it was the day after tomorrow. Apparently, they had taken so long to sign up for the gym that they’d go an entire day after us, but I didn’t mind. I was on top of the world, and nothing would be able to contain that feeling. Then, it’d be Cece’s turn, then Justin, Pauline, and finally, the next day, Emilia.

    “What’s that noise?” Pauline groaned. “Ugh, get your arm off of me,” She continued, pushing my arm away.

    “Sorry, I move around a lot in my sleep,” I lied.

    “I think someone’s knocking on the door,” Emi said.

    “At this hour?” Cecilia complained before unlatching herself from my arm.

    Right, that was a thing I still needed to get used to. It looked like Cece was incredibly cuddly when sleeping, getting so close to me for two nights. It probably didn’t mean anything, so I needed to not get any ideas.

    “This better be important,” She continued, rubbing her eyes before getting up.

    “I’ll come with,” I quickly spoke.

    “Don’t come back!” Pauline yelled.

    We quickly made our way toward the door, and Cece looked through the peephole.

    “It’s Denzel,” She said.

    “Oh? Open it.”

    She opened the door and my best friend barged in.

    “Holy shit,” He started. “Grace, have you checked your phone tonight?”

    “What? No?” I answered, tilting my head. “Is this about the forums?”

    “No, it’s even better,” Denzel grinned. “A company wants to sponsor us.”

    ——

    I yawned as Denzel carefully read the email he had gotten in the middle of the living room. It was odd, seeing him this excited and hyper this late at night, but I couldn’t blame him. Even I was feeling enthusiastic. Sponsors were the difference between truly professional trainers and the rest. Almost every trainer at the top was sponsored by some company or multiple. Cece herself was sponsored by a few big names, including Louis’ dad, although I had never seen her wear any kind of brand when she battled in official tournaments or gym battles, but maybe that was a special clause in her contract. For the rest, trainers were usually paid to wear uniforms containing branding logos, or just wear their clothes in battle if you were talking about a clothing brand. Justin, for example, wore a shirt with the Pherzen logo during his battle with Roark. Pauline always wore clothes from her mother’s clothing brand, although that wasn’t their primary business.

    Then, at the very top level of Pokemon training, companies worked with trainers to create personalized merchandise for them and split the profits, but that was only for people who consistently got eight badges and got to the Conference consistently. The Conference was a much more publicized event than a normal gym battle, so I guessed that companies didn’t want to bother creating merch for people who couldn’t get there. Craig Goodwill, for example, was someone who sold a lot of stuff. Clothing, pins, stickers, Salamence plushies with his little brand on them because hell, Salamance in Sinnoh was practically synonymous with the man, not unlike Cynthia and Garchomp.

    Either way, the point was, companies wanted their logo or product on you so they could advertise themselves to the millions of people that watched gym battles and Pokemon tournaments. In exchange, they’d pay you a certain sum. Some contracts were monthly payments, and others were per appearance in gym battles or official city or League-run tournaments. Some even gave you some gifts and goodie bags containing vitamins, TMs, Ultra Balls, or other Pokemon-related products. Hell, even Coordinators had sponsors for their Pokemon Contests.

    “...business proposition tomorrow at 8:30 am,” Denzel said. “By Retani Industries.”

    “And you say they sent this to me too?” I asked. “How did you know?”

    “They want both of us. Check your phone.”

    I hurriedly scrolled through my email, and the exact same message was there.

    “Retani Industries?” Cecilia asked. “I’m not too familiar with the business world of Sinnoh.”

    Emilia sprung up. “They’re a mid-sized tech company that’s been getting their toes wet into marketing via Pokemon battles recently. They’re trying to become a competitor to the Poketch Company, but they’re a tough nut to crack. They basically have a monopoly over Sinnoh’s entire phone business, so Retani’s market share is pretty small.”

    “Around nine percent, no?” Pauline said.

    “No, seven. They went down this quarter after the new Poketch was released,” Emilia answered.

    “Well, we only have two badges, so it’d make sense to start small,” I said.

    Denzel nodded excitedly. “I can’t believe this is happening already,” He grinned. “This is going to be awesome.”

    “So awesome that you’ll wake up in time?” I snarked.

    My friend raised his hands. “You have my word.”

    “Before you go, Denzel,” Pauline started. “Don’t sign anything before coming back and consulting us. Usually, you’d have a lawyer present before signing a contract—”

    “Well, Retani will have their lawyers there, that’s for sure,” Emilia interrupted.

    “I meant them,” She nodded at us. “But it’s not like trainers can afford those. I’d offer to buy you one, but I believe Emi and my advice will be more than enough.”

    “Fair,” I said. “We’ll leave after hearing their terms. Can we, like, take a picture of it to show you?”

    “Pfft,” Emilia waved her hand dismissively. “Any company worth their while will have the contract be dozens of pages at least.”

    “Correct. There are clauses, clauses within clauses, like, a hundred conditions to dismiss it, ways to force you into staying locked in—” Pauline rambled.

    “Alright,” Denzel said, deflating slightly. “Can we bring you the contract itself? The paper version of it, I mean?”

    “Sure, that shouldn’t be a problem,” Pauline said. “If they tell you no, then they’re not worth your while. Their phones are shit anyway. They just look good.”

    “Aren’t we supposed to like their phones if we’re being sponsored by them?” I asked.

    “Oh, Grace, you poor summer child,” Pauline said. “You’re in it for the money, not the product. No one cares what they’re sponsored by if the pay is good.”

    ——

    Denzel yawned as we stepped in front of the nondescript building. We were twenty minutes early, but we figured it’d be better to make a good impression.

    “Ready?” He said.

    “I’m nervous,” I said before blowing a raspberry. “But fuck it, let’s go.”

    We entered the building and stepped into the elevator to the third floor, like the email had told us. I was squirming in place, curious to learn what the contract would be about. The message hadn’t specified it at all, only telling us that they were interested in a meeting to make a deal, the address, and the time. When the elevator doors opened, we heard many voices coming from one of the rooms. Denzel and I looked at each other and stepped into the hallway. We turned a corner, and a man in a business suit was standing in front of the door.

    “Ah,” He smiled. “Mr. Williams and Ms. Pastel, I presume?” The man asked.

    “Yeah, that’s us,” My friend answered.

    “May I have your trainer ID?” He asked. We handed them to him and he gave them back quickly. “Thank you, they’ll be with you shortly.”

    The man knocked on the door, and I awkwardly stood in front of the room, fidgeting nervously. It sounded like there were a lot of people in there. I thought it would only be a few. I was getting overwhelmed before even getting in the room. Around five minutes later, a man with a trimmed goatee and his hair slicked back opened the door and flashed us a smile. He was younger than I thought he would be.

    “Ms. Pastel, Mr. Williams,” He said, shaking our hands. The handshake was firm, almost painful. “I’m Mr. Hayes, the one who scouted you for Retani Industries. Come in.”

    Denzel greeted him, but I was silent as we stepped inside the room. Twelve businessmen and women, all in suits, were all sitting on a long, glass table, discussing things with each other, but they stopped when we entered the room and welcomed us in.

    “Again, good morning,” Mr. Hayes said. “Please sit wherever you’d like.”

    I sat near the end of the table, and Denzel settled in next to me.

    “I suppose I’ll start, then,” He continued. “Retani Industries has been exploring avenues into trainer-based marketing, and we believe two up-and-coming trainers like you are the perfect fit. We watched your battle, and we thought you were terrific out there,” He said before pointing at every person in the room and introducing them. Most of them were negotiators, but a few were also professional marketers and economists. “Finally, these two, Ms. Graham and Mr. Perry, are our lawyers. If you sign, the contract will be legally binding.”

    We nodded.

    “Great,” He smiled. “Jonathan, the contract?” He asked, and the pudgy man handed him a stack of clipped papers. There were more pages than Pauline had even imagined. “Let me go over the big picture. No one wants to read a document this long, right?” Mr. Hayes said, eliciting a few chuckles from his colleagues. “First, you’ll need to use one of our phones— the newest model, free of charge, obviously.”

    “Good publicity,” One of the marketers said.

    Mr. Hayes nodded. “The model is flashy and unique, unlike Poketches, and they’re very eye-catching. Here’s one,” He said, pulling the device from his pocket. “We call it the Crystal Next, and it’ll be reaching the shelves in the next few weeks.”

    I stared at the device in awe. It was extremely thin and rectangular.

    “Looks great, right?” Hayes said. “More powerful, more data, better camera, what’s not to like? The Poketch started as a watch, and they still haven’t gotten out of that rigid design choice, even if they make phones now. Our product is clearly superior in every way,” He continued. “Next, we’ll want you to have the phone visible during your gym battles or any tournament you participate in, official or otherwise. We can give you a clip that you can put it on and then attach to your belt—”

    “Like Pokeballs!” One of the women said with a wide smile.

    “Yes, exactly like your Pokeballs. Third, you won’t be allowed to be seen with other phones, or at least in public, and you won’t be able to badmouth our products. That one should be pretty self-explanatory,” Mr. Hayes said, flipping through the contract. “And the boring part’s almost over!” He said, causing more laughs. “Following me so far?”

    “Yeah,” Denzel said. I just nodded.

    “Lastly, you’ll need to appear in television ads if we can get a hold of you when you stay in cities to promote our products,” Mr. Hayes said. “Nothing too demanding, just a few lines to memorize.”

    He paused and looked at us excitedly.

    “Now, let’s get to the good stuff. In exchange, you’ll get paid fifty thousand Pokedollars per month—”

    My eyes bulged. Fifty thousand? I’d be able to buy so much with that.

    “—You’ll be given a TM of your choice every month as well, as long as the price is below one hundred and fifty thousand Pokedollars, and obviously, you’ll get free access to any new phones coming out.”

    Mr. Hayes paused, looking at us.

    “That’s it?” Denzel asked.

    “Yeah. I’d say it’s a good deal,” He answered with a smile.

    “Um, it sounds great, actually,” My friend said. “But can we, um, consult someone before signing? I’d like to get their input.”

    A sudden feeling of tension appeared in the room. “Why?” Hayes asked. “If you have any questions, you can always ask one of us. Here,” He said, handing Denzel the contract. “Read the fine print.”

    “I believe you, I just want to be sure,” Denzel said.

    Mr. Hayes sighed. “Fine, I suppose you can leave. Hurry though, the clock is ticking, and we have other people we’re offering this to.”

    Denzel and I quickly left the room with a copy of the contract and hurried back to the hotel by tram.

    “It sounded good, right?” Denzel asked. “I mean, it’s even better than what I thought it’d be. With that amount of money, I’d be able to buy a lot.”

    “It did, but like you said, better be sure,” I said. “The whole atmosphere kind of creeped me out. They were so giddy and smiley about everything.”

    “I know, right?” He said. “That lady that said ‘like Pokeballs’? So dramatic, it’s like she was speaking to a toddler and trying to excite him with a shiny toy.”

    “Probably wanted to appear relatable,” I guessed.

    “Well that didn’t work, it just made me cringe.”

    We stepped into the tram and then made our way to the hotel. When we knocked, Emilia opened the door right away, like she’d been waiting for us.

    “Got the contract?” She asked.

    “Good morning to you too,” Denzel said before pulling it out of his bag. “Here.”

    She snatched it out of his hands and sat down at the kitchen island. Pauline quickly joined her, along with Cece, and we just watched like two idiots. After a few minutes, Emilia groaned.

    “Arceus, what is this thing?” Pauline said. “First of all, they’re ripping you off.”

    “Ripping us off?” I exclaimed. “But that’s so much money—”

    “It is right now,” Emilia said, crossing her arms. “But what happens when you get three badges? Then five. Then you get to the conference? You’d still be paid fifty thousand Pokedollars per month.”

    “Can’t we just renegotiate then?” Denzel asked.

    “No, the contract specifically locks you into that salary,” Emilia explained. “No matter how famous or good you get, you’ll be paid the same. Fifty thousand Pokedollars is pennies at the top. ”

    “The TM part of the contract is actually relatively decent, though,” Cece said.

    “That’s how they lure you if you’re halfway decent at reading between the lines. Companies love using a bunch of complicated jargon they think teenagers won’t understand and lure them with shiny things to make them sign anyway,” Pauline said. “The ads they want you to star in? There’s a quota that’s way too high to be sustainable for a trainer who’s always traveling.”

    “They said it wouldn’t be too demanding,” Denzel frowned.

    “How many ads can you make about a phone?” I asked.

    “It doesn’t say phones, it says products,” Cecilia specified.

    “Right, they don’t only make phones. They’re a tech company. They have their hands in everything,” Emi nodded.

    My eyes widened. That was right, Mr. Hayes did say products and not phones when talking about the ads, so he hadn’t even lied. We just hadn’t caught onto it.

    “Shit…” I muttered.

    “Arceus…” Emilia kept muttering as she licked her finger, switched the pages, and traced her finger over a line. “Getting out of this contract is nigh impossible if you sign it. You’re not even allowed to retire until you turn twenty-two. You’d have to be irreparably crippled or dead.”

    “So they were scamming us?” Denzel asked. “Fuck this, man,” He swore, pacing around the room.

    It was all starting to make sense now. The big, fake smiles, the infantilizing tone, and the focus on the perks of the sponsor instead of the obligations. They’d been trying to put us in a disadvantageous contract.

    “You wouldn’t be the first trainer to be pulled into some bullshit contract, it happens all the time,” Pauline said. “Usually, it’s less obvious than this. These people are amateurs.”

    “That might be because it’s their first foray into this business,” Cece said. “They probably thought that teenagers— which this occupation is full of— would be an easy mark.”

    “Fine,” I sighed. “We’re not signing.”

    “Yeah, there’s no way I’m doing that,” Denzel groaned. “I was so excited too…”

    “Other opportunities will come around,” Cece said, comforting him. “Don’t worry too much.”

    “They said they had other kids they were trying to negotiate with,” I frowned. “Does that mean they’ll get pulled into this?”

    “Probably,” Pauline shrugged in an uncaring manner.

    “That’s probably why they didn’t fight that hard to make us stay,” Denzel guessed. “They knew that no matter what we decided, they’d have someone else line up to take their deal.”

    “Trainers get very desperate for money,” Emilia said. “It’s a shame, but that’s life. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

    “Can we warn them somehow? Like, with a forum post, or something? If I’m getting somewhat famous, I’d like to at least use it for good,” I said.

    “Good idea,” Cecilia said. “I’ll help you draft your statement.”

    “Knock yourselves out,” Pauline shrugged. “I’m going out to train with Justin and Louis.”

    I ignored Pauline’s innate selfishness, since I knew it was something I’d never change her mind about, and quickly grabbed my Poketch. Cece helped me put out a professional-sounding post, and I did my best to ignore the thousands of notifications on my profile. I had befriended these people out of the goodness of my heart and through our experiences together, but I’d be lying if I said that having rich, business-savvy friends wasn’t a huge advantage in our line of work. Without them, Denzel and I would have gotten too excited and signed the contract for sure.

    Thank fucking Arceus, we hadn’t.
     
  22. veekie

    veekie Connoisseur.

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    Sucker contracts get everyone. The bloody time limited hint is the classic trick
     
  23. Threadmarks: Chapter 66
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    CHAPTER 66

    After that almost disastrous contract negotiation with Retani Industries, Cece helped me release a statement exposing their shady dealings on the forum, and Denzel took care of calling them to say that we weren’t coming back. I felt like I should have been doing more to help and warn people, but this was all I could do. At least I could rest easy knowing that the vast majority of trainers browsed the forums at least once in a while, and with my boost in popularity, maybe they’d use that small moment to look up my post.

    After that, I finally decided to go pick up the rest of my team, but first, I decided to get some gifts to celebrate, which I could afford with the money I had gotten from winning against Gardenia. Zipping back and forth through the city was annoying, but the look on their faces would be worth it. First, I bought enough poffins for Frillish— although everyone would probably steal from his share. Tangela didn’t eat, but maybe there was a way for him to enjoy tasty things. I needed to look that up eventually to be sure if he couldn’t enjoy the taste of food once in a while like Frillish could. Then, I purchased a small Tepig plushie for Togetic, who could finally use Extrasensory on something other than rocks or poor angel, who she seemed to enjoy bullying.

    Maybe bullying was the wrong word since Tangela didn’t seem to mind whatsoever. He didn’t seem to mind many things, to be honest, but I still felt bad for the little guy. I decided to get him a stress ball of some sort that he could use his vines to press and touch. I wasn’t sure he had ever touched the material before, so he was bound to be interested in it, with how curious he was about touching everything new.

    Denzel and I already owned a portable battery that we used to cook, but I decided to get Elekid his own battery. Most electric types were capable of generating their own electricity, including him, but apparently, they enjoyed getting it from other sources. It was supposed to feel good if it wasn’t their electricity or something. I’d be able to charge it on the road since it was solar-powered.

    I really needed to learn more about the ins and outs of caring for my team.

    Since the others were out training and Denzel was depressed about the sponsor incident, I decided to finally get back up to my Pokemon Center room. Plus, it’d be convenient since I was just picking up my team. I grabbed my Pokeballs from Nurse Joy, rode up the elevator, and entered my room. It was scary how fast I had gotten used to the luxurious life at my friends’ hotel because a small part of me remembered Pokemon Center rooms to be bigger than this. People got used to wealth way too easily, so it’d be nice to get back to Earth and sleep here once in a while.

    I released my team, and they rushed toward me. Togetic flew at me and knocked me to the ground, rubbing her head against mine. Elekid clapped my shoulder affectionately, and Tangela rubbed me all over with his vines. Even Frillish was staring at me with that smile that I had learned to love.

    “Okay, okay, I’m also happy to see you guys,” I laughed. “You were all amazing during the battle. Every single one of you did your part.”

    Elekid stood up straight and yelled proudly.

    “Your Ice Punch was awesome,” I grinned. “You were even better than when we trained. I have gifts for you guys! Here,” I said, rustling in my bag. “For you,” I said, handing Togetic her Tepig plush.

    “Togeprri!” The fairy type cried out cheerfully before grabbing her toy. She flew around the room with it, throwing it in the air and catching it with Extrasensory.

    “Glad you like it, princess,” I smiled. “Don’t tear it up, or I’ll have to get you a new one, and that was the last Tepig in stock! For you, Frillish, I have your favorite… Mago berry poffins!”

    I saw his eyes twitch a little, but he stayed still and just nodded. He was so strong, pretending not to be completely enchanted by the poffins.

    “C’mere and get some,” I said. “Or I’ll have to feed all of them to the others. Elekid’s never tasted any, and you would like some, wouldn’t you, hon?”

    “Elekid!” The electric type yelled.

    Tangela writhed slightly and curiously felt at the poffins with a few vines, but he seemed uninterested. Togetic flew close, still carrying her toy with her psychic powers.

    “Fri…” Frillish said, clearly annoyed, but he came close nonetheless. I grabbed one of his tentacles and looked at him.

    “Seriously, I want you to know that I’m very proud of you,” I told him. “Without you, the entire strategy falls apart, and you poisoning that Lombre helped a lot too. I know how hard you practiced with Poison Sting.”

    The water type nodded, and I pulled him close into a hug. “Now here, say ahhh,

    Frillish rolled his red eyes and opened his mouth, and Elekid couldn’t stop himself from laughing. Frillish glared and threw water at the electric type, who easily dodged, and the two started playing a game of chicken throughout the room. Elekid somersaulted behind the bed, and Frillish flew after him.

    “Hey, no water!” I exclaimed before groaning. “Angel, help me out.”

    Tangela blinked twice and gently trapped Elekid with a few vines by cornering him against one of the walls of the room. Frillish’s eyes glinted, and he spat out his biggest jet of water yet, but angel quickly dragged Elekid into my lap. Togetic giggled and clapped her hands at the whole ordeal.

    I scratched my head and stared at the wet room. “Well, at least it’s just water, I guess. Come and eat,” I said, beckoning Frillish.

    I fed him the vast majority of the poffins, but I also fed some to Elekid and Togetic as well, much to Frillish’s chagrin. Togetic complained that the poffins weren’t made of Oran, but I reminded her that this was Frillish’s gift and not hers.

    “Next up, for you, honey,” I said, staring at Elekid. He looked at my bag, barely able to contain his excitement. “A battery.”

    I handed it to him, and he grabbed it, staring at it confusedly for a few seconds before exclaiming and finally understanding how to use it. He quickly drained it of its entire energy and yelled out as he flexed and spun his arms around.

    “Done already?” I asked with a pout. “I guess it isn’t much for you, since it’s meant for humans. I hope you like it still. It’ll recharge alone with the sun when we travel.”

    Elekid nodded and caressed my arm, shocking a small jolt of electricity. I flinched, and he apologized profusely.

    “It’s okay, it didn’t hurt,” I said. “I guess you’re not used to manipulating electricity that isn’t yours. Last but not least, angel. I have this for you,” I said, pulling out the stress ball. It was rather big, barely fitting in my hand, so I hoped it’d be big enough for him to have fun with it.

    I felt Tangela’s vine around my wrist tighten slightly. He was excited. I grinned as he extended one of his vines and carefully felt at the multicolored ball. After a few seconds of feeling and pushing it around, he grabbed it from my hand and started compressing it over and over, smiling with his eyes. I could barely see the ball under all of his vines now.

    They all loved their gifts. I was so happy that I felt a few tears build up in my eyes. I held them back.

    “You guys have fun, I’m going to work a little bit,” I said, standing up and walking to my desk. Tangela, Elekid, and Togetic played together while Frillish watched over my shoulder. I affectionately grabbed one of his tentacles and placed it against my head. “Thanks for worrying about me, bud. I love you.”

    Frillish huffed and took his tentacle out of my hand. He was shy, but I knew he appreciated the comment. I had told myself I would take a break from Pokemon training after the battle with Gardenia, but I couldn’t help it. I lived and breathed Pokemon battling. So while I’d give my team a break for a few days, I had a few things to work on.

    I grabbed a notepad— the same one I had used to write down notes before going into Eterna forest— and I put the video of my battle with Gardenia on my Poketch.

    I hadn’t done this after Roark, which was a shame, but better late than never. I was going to call this the ‘post gym battle autopsy.’ I’d analyze what went wrong, what went right, and what I needed to change or improve, and ideally, I would do this after every gym battle, and maybe future tournaments too.

    I pushed through the visceral discomfort of hearing my shaky voice on video and started watching. The first thing I noticed was that even though I thought I’d been hiding behind a stoic mask like Cece did during the gym battle, it was actually very obvious to tell when I was nervous, excited, angry, or panicking with the tone of my voice and my body language. I couldn’t help it.

    “Maybe masking yourself and what you’re thinking just comes with experience,” I muttered as I fast-forwarded through the video. “Arceus, Grace, stop shaking,” I groaned at myself.

    Alright, so that part of the plan had failed, along with trying to read Gardenia’s body language during the battle. Even though I had studied it a decent bit, I had been too distracted to do so. For example, when Gardenia was about to completely ruin your day with a tactic she was cooking up the entire battle, she fucking laughed and giggled like a little girl.

    “Ingrain, Growth, Solar Beam!” The video played back, and the gym leader laughed until the sound of her voice was drowned out by the huge, bright attack. I still couldn’t believe Togetic had dodged the first and withstood the second by weakening it using all those layers of Ancient Power.

    I scribbled away in my notebook and reached another conclusion. With Togetic’s newfound prowess with her psychic powers, it might be possible to start thinking about restraining Pokemon with Extrasensory and then using Sweet Kiss on them at the same time. Thunder Wave was out though since the attack took too long and too much focus. It was something to consider experimenting with, at least.

    Next up, it was time to look at Frillish’s performance. He had actually done his job perfectly, and the only problem had been my fault. I had used too many videos from last year’s Circuit as a reference, and in those, Lombre hadn’t known Mega Drain yet. I still had a lot of work to do regarding information gathering. It was hard to remember that the gym leaders’ Pokemon also improved and learned new moves throughout their lives, slowly moving up in the kind of battles they could be used at. Roark’s Onix had been on the cusp of being too strong for trainers with no badges, and Gardenia’s Sunflora was the same, although for trainers with one badge instead.

    Elekid had done his job wonderfully, even though I hadn’t used him as much as I wanted. That Roselia and her Toxics were so accurate that they had hit my fastest Pokemon, so it was obvious it would have poisoned the others easily if Elekid hadn’t taken care of it so fast. The situation with Leafeon made me realize that the electric type needed a move that could affect a large area around him. Tangela could extend his vines in every direction, Togetic had Fairy Wind and Frillish was good enough to keep a Bubblebeam going for long enough to find a potential opponent in time. Luckily for me, I had the perfect move already lined up for him: Shock Wave. The attack was a quick burst of electricity all around the Pokemon— like a weaker version of Discharge. If the opponent was in range, there was no way it could miss. I would need to start working on it with Elekid after his break.

    Finally, Tangela. The grass type was even more powerful than I thought. The combination of Bind and Mega Drain was seriously hard for a Pokemon to get out of. He had been perfect as well, and I’d need to teach him Leech Seed soon. In the long term, I wanted angel to have as much survivability as possible, and the move would help greatly with that.

    Next, I needed to replay the fight in my head and figure out what I’d change in hindsight.

    This was going to be a fun day!

    ——

    I stretched in my chair and yawned as my Poketch started ringing. It was already night time, and I had lost another day engrossed in Pokemon battling. I rubbed my eyes and answered the phone without looking.

    “Grace,” I heard, recognizing Cece’s voice. “I’m calling to tell you that the party’s been moved to tomorrow, so there’s no need to come if you don’t want to. I’d like it if you still did, though… you can sleep over again.” She said.

    “I’ll come!” I said, suddenly feeling awake. “But why is it canceled? Did something happen?”

    “The gym is closed tomorrow,” Cecilia said.

    ——

    As soon as I heard the news, I hurried to Cecilia’s hotel room, where everyone else was already, including Denzel.

    “Sorry, I was busy,” I quickly said, taking off my shoes. “Can someone tell me why the gym is closed? Doesn’t that literally never happen?”

    “They’re saying that Gardenia will be occupied tomorrow speaking with the protesters and stuff,” Denzel explained. “So the entire gym’s closed for the day.”

    “What happens to the people whose battle was tomorrow?” I asked.

    “The entire schedule’s moved up a day, so all of our battles are the day after tomorrow,” Louis explained.

    Justin groaned. “I had just gotten myself mentally prepared too.”

    “Why are you complaining?” I asked, sitting next to Cece. “It just gives you another day of training, no?”

    “I’d rather just rip the bandaid off and be done with it,” He said, sinking into the couch. “The nerves are getting to me.”

    “Hmph. How weak-willed of you, Justin. You’re better than a man that would worry about nerves,” Pauline complained.

    “You’ll do fine,” I told my friend. “Just keep the strategy I gave you in mind, and things will probably work out.”

    Pauline’s eye twitched. “You gave him a strategy?”

    “Yeah, when he asked me for help with his Lotad a few days ago. Do you want one too?” I grinned. “It’ll probably be a big help since you’ll be fighting two-on-three.”

    “I don’t need anything from you,” She crossed her arms. “I’ll be fine on my own.”

    “Pauline, don’t be foolish,” Emilia sighed.

    “What? I’m telling the truth!”

    And so, we spent another night talking among friends. Still, at the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but worry about how things were progressing. The fact that the demonstrations were so significant that they forced the gym to close was concerning. The only time Pokemon gyms closed was when the leaders were sick, and usually, one of the gym trainers that were good at battling took over their duties for the duration of the problem. But to close the gym entirely? Either I was worrying for nothing, or things were worse than they seemed. Way worse.
     
  24. Threadmarks: Interlude - Gardenia
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    INTERLUDE - Gardenia

    Gardenia sang with a smile as she poured water on her newly acquired Eucalyptus. The plant had evolved to live in harsh, sunny climates, but they still needed a healthy dose of water at first. She was very happy with the purchase, given that the plant wasn’t native to Sinnoh and the seeds she bought were of the best quality possible, but with her gym leader salary, that wasn’t a problem.

    The woman twirled around happily, walking through her huge terrarium. Different species of plants were everywhere around her, filling the air with a distinct forest-like smell. This was her refuge. After a hard day of work, Gardenia always spent the rest of the evening in her terrarium, and sometimes even slept there. She had it built specifically on the highest floor so that the sun could shine down on the plants she kept.

    “La, la, la,” She sang. “Oh, your soil’s completely dry,” She said, looking into her cactus pot. She hurried and watered it.

    Gardenia was in a great mood tonight. In another corner, Roserade was silently tending to her own little patch of flowers that she liked so much. Torterra was downstairs, whipping his sons into shape— two Turtwig and Grotle. One of the Turtwig was newly hatched, and Gardenia desperately needed him to use against trainers with no badges since the other one was getting too strong and probably on the cusp of evolving. The rest of her personal team was at the Pokemon Center. Today had been an especially fun day. She had battled a trainer that had gone to the Conference last year, and she finally got to almost go all out and beat him in the dirt. He would come back soon enough. She felt kind of bad because she had expected him to improve a lot more in between the Circuits, so she may have been too hard on him. Being a gym leader was fun, but it wasn’t every day that she got to use her actual team, which may have clouded her judgment.

    Still, that wasn’t all. The last two battles of her shift had given her a fantastic amount of fun that made her feel all giddy inside. It wasn’t every day that she could go all out with Sunflora, and that strategy the other teenager used to deal with her Hoppip had been impressive. Right now, Grace Pastel and maybe Denzel Williams were still like seeds that had barely budded, but if they were given time and care? She couldn’t wait to see them grow into full-fledged trainers. Every gym leader had at least a few trainers they kept an eye on during the Circuit if they particularly impressed them during a battle, unless they were always grumpy and couldn’t bother like Volkner.

    Gardenia’s head whirled to the right as she heard her terrarium door open.

    “Gardenia, it’s me. We need to talk.”

    “Roro,” She started. “You look angry, what is it?”

    Roland Patel was one of her most trusted gym trainers and Gardenia’s childhood friend. They had grown up together in Eterna and tried out to become gym trainers as soon as they turned fifteen and had one run through the Circuit. Roland had gotten to the sixth badge, which was very impressive for a trainer’s first attempt. Gardenia had reached the Conference finals and lost to Candice. Being from Snowpoint, she just had too many ice types for Gardenia to deal with. Her mastery of the type had been too much to overcome with her usual strategies.

    Today? Gardenia could probably beat Candice every time if they were both going all out, unless the girl was having a particularly unhinged day. She was nigh unpredictable when she did.

    Either way, Roland and Gardenia started working as gym trainers at the same time, and Gardenia eventually became gym leader when Mira, her predecessor, retired. Today, Roland was her right-hand man who kept the gym’s metaphorical gears oiled up and running while she mostly focused on what she loved doing the most: battling.

    “Of course I’m angry,” He hissed. “The protests, Gardenia, the fucking protests are growing out of control, and you still haven’t put out a single statement.”

    “No need to use that tone, Roro,” Gardenia said, dismissing him with a wave. “You already know my position. We had this conversation two days ago.”

    “Your position is self-destructive to an extremely worrying degree,” Roland exclaimed as he paced through the terrarium.

    “Watch the plants,” Gardenia warned. “I follow Cynth’s orders. She told me to stay silent for now, so that’s what I’m doing.”

    “You’re supposed to communicate with Pete!” He’s been holding town halls, speaking to protestors, and trying to calm them down. You’re supposed to work together to help your people. The people of Eterna city, who I fear you’ve forgotten.”

    Pete Delgado was Eterna’s current mayor. Gardenia had no hard feelings toward him, she was just doing her job, and he was doing his. The gym leader walked to her terrarium’s entrance and sat on one of the chairs.

    “I answer to Cynthia and the League,” She shrugged.

    “No!” Roland yelled. A few of the late-staying gym trainers turned their heads toward them worriedly, but Gardenia just waved them away. “That’s not the system Cynthia promised us when she made this. You answer to the people. You don’t just ignore them and treat them like children.”

    “Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures,” Gardenia sighed. She hated seeing her friend so angry. The gym leader never got angry. She found the emotion to be a waste of time, and it made people think irrationally. Like Roland was doing right now. “You don’t know the danger Sinnoh is in.”

    “Then tell me,” Roland begged. “Talk to me, Gardenia.”

    The woman sighed. “The League’s arrested several agitators trying to escalate the protests into riots, and some have links to team Galactic,” She disclosed in a whisper. Revealing information like this wasn’t like her, but she had a soft spot for Roland. Plus, it wasn’t technically classified, and her gym trainers were trustworthy.

    Her friend froze. “They want the protests to get worse? Is it just to keep you distracted?”

    “To keep Cynthia distracted, mostly,” Gardenia said. “She’s been at the Directorate all week trying to save Vernon from getting fired, but it’s not looking good. The new opposition will screw her every step of the way, and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if team Galactic had their hands in there too.”

    “But you won’t verify it, right?” He asked, adjusting his collar.

    Gardenia felt a bit of emotional pain, but she expunged it as fast as it came. “Do you think we’re so far gone that we’d use memory extraction on anyone we suspect?” She asked.

    “I don’t know, and it scares me, Gardenia. It scares me. I don’t recognize the League anymore. Even with the team Galactic agitators, the protestor’s concerns are still valid. You should still talk to Pete.”

    Gardenia sighed internally. Roland still had no idea what team Galactic was, and neither did the public. To them, they had just had a fundamental right taken away after a short attack that resulted in no deaths and very few injuries. Attacks from people with Pokemon throughout the region weren’t particularly rare. Being a trainer criminal could be a lucrative job if you didn’t get caught.

    So to them, it was just another Tuesday. So why was the League acting so rashly?

    Team Galactic wanted to mess with reality, but they didn’t know that, and Cynthia wanted to keep it that way. Gardenia respected the Champion too much to question the way she did things. All of the gym leaders did.

    “Civilians protest about the Circuit’s difficulty every year, Roland. Too many injured and dead trainers. They just changed what they were mad about,” She dismissed him.

    “When we became gym trainers,” Roland started soberly. “We said we’d change the system from the inside. We were tired of the way the older generation did things. What happened to that?”

    “When you’re a part of the system,” Gardenia started. “You start to realize why things work the way they do.”

    Her friend’s shoulders sagged, and he hung his head. “I’m going to go, I guess,” He said. “Oh, and I had one more thing to say. It’s about Lily.”

    “That new kid that works reception?” Gardenia asked.

    “Yeah, I think she’d be a better fit for gym Pokemon training duty. Can I move her post?”

    Gardenia nodded and watched her friend leave. The gym leader got up and walked back into her terrarium.

    She’d sleep here tonight.

    ——

    “I really don’t feel like working today,” Gardenia groaned, thinking of her argument with Roland. “I had a terrible night.”

    “Well, you’re on in four, so I can’t do anything for you.” A gym trainer told her as he reapplied her makeup. “Ready?”

    Gym trainers had all kinds of jobs, including being makeup artists. Gym leaders had to look their best during every battle, after all.

    “No, I need to switch my Pokemon around,” Gardenia said, keeping her face still. “The kid has one badge, right?”

    “Yeah, Chase Karlson, one badge, four Pokemon,” He said.

    “Then I don’t think he’d want to face Tropius and Torterra, but that’s just me.”

    “Alright, just a second,” Her stylist said. “There… there you go, you’re ready.”

    Gardenia nodded and quickly grabbed some new Pokemon from the metallic drawer she kept in the waiting room. They were divided by badges, so she could easily sort through them and swap them out in between her battles. They weren’t all in there of course. Around half of them were out and about throughout the gym. Gardenia’s Pokemon worked in shifts. After all, existing and being released solely for Pokemon battling would be akin to abuse. Gardenia quickly grabbed a few Pokemon to choose from and stepped out onto the battlefield. The crowd roared, but there were also some boos here and there. People that disliked how the League was doing things were voicing their discontent, even though Gardenia had locked the gym to trainers only to keep the peace, or they’d never be able to work.

    She didn’t really care for them. Her full trust was in Cynthia, and information about team Galactic would be revealed when the Champion deemed it fit.

    Her challenger strode onto the trainer platform like he owned the place. Unbeknownst to most trainers, gym battles started before the first Pokemon was even sent out. Gym leaders analyzed the way a trainer behaved and held themselves to estimate the level of strength they should be at. Were they nervous? Were they confident? Could they tell that confidence was being faked through body language? Trembling, eye twitching and tense muscles all gave that away. Did the challenger have a plan? Gardenia could usually tell by the time it took for the challenger to send out their first Pokemon and the confidence they sent it out with.

    Right now, Gardenia could tell almost all of her challenger’s confidence was being faked, and he was incredibly nervous.

    “Welcome, challenger,” Gardenia said with her smooth voice. “This will be a four-on-four battle with two switch-ins allowed. I reserve the right to use any Pokemon in my arsenal that I deem fit, and killing any Pokemon will get you disqualified from the League Circuit. Now, send out your Pokemon.”

    “Yeah, yeah, whatever,” He said before immediately sending out a Zangoose.

    Gardenia’s eyes narrowed. That Pokemon was already poisoned, probably because of its ability. That was a double-edged sword, and it meant the normal type was on a timer.

    Well, let’s keep it simple for now, Gardenia thought, sending out her Gloom. Ninety percent of the time, her first Pokemon was a means test. If the challenger dealt with it easily, she’d switch it out and send something stronger.

    Immediately, her mind went to work.

    Confidence issues, an aggressive strategy. He’s always going to be on the attack. Zangoose… Zangoose usually know Slash and other claw moves, and this one might know Fury Cutter. Keep your distance, kite, harass and try to get him angry.

    Of course, to Gardenia, this was just work, so she only thought about the rudimentary scaffolding of the battle before letting her instincts take over. She didn't think of every single detail like she would have done if she was facing an opponent at her level, or she would have burned out at her second battle of the day. Unlike what most trainers thought, Gym leaders weren’t actually meant to never hold back and beat trainers relentlessly. If that were the case, almost no one would ever win— weaker Pokemon or not. The skill gap was just too large. They were meant to give their opponents a challenge to overcome. Trainers got better through adversity, and Arceus knew that they needed good trainers if this team Galactic thing grew beyond the League’s control. They couldn’t be everywhere at once.

    But enough about that. Chase Karlson had one badge, which meant that she at least couldn’t afford to be on auto-pilot like she usually was with the badgeless kids.

    “Zangoose, Hone Claws, Quick Attack, and Slash!” Chase yelled.

    “Grassy Terrain, Leech Seed,” Gardenia smoothly ordered. “Then keep it away with Acid.”

    Win or lose, this would be an interesting one.

    ——

    Chase Karlson was good. More than good, in fact, but Gardenia knew the issues tormenting him held the teen back. She congratulated him and handed him his badge, his money, and his TM. The battle had gone in his favor until she sent out her Leafeon. Her hiding tactics in Grassy Terrain had almost made her turn the battle around, and unfortunately for Chase, she had already defeated his Houndour, who could have burned the grass down. That meant that it had taken both his Charjabug and Riolu to finally win. The fighting type managed to find Leafeon through his aura powers being able to sense emotions. That was something to work on in the future.

    Chase clicked his tongue, grabbed his trainer ID, and started to leave.

    “Good battle, kid,” She said. He didn’t turn back.

    Gardenia had seen these types of trainers before. In fact, Roark used to be similar to this because of his problems with Byron. She smiled, imagining the rock type gym leader back when they had first met. Roark had changed a lot, and so had she. Being a gym leader changed people. Having so many people look up to you and work under you usually mellowed you out.

    ——

    Gardenia grabbed the locked, nondescript box from the gym trainer and locked herself into her office. She grabbed a special key from a drawer, opened the box, and revealed a document that the League had sent her. There was a huge, red ‘CLASSIFIED’ stamped onto the front page.

    The gym leader hummed and started reading.

    ‘Report 20192938: On the League Secret Service’s investigation of team Galactic activities in the Eterna region’

    ‘For Gym Leader eyes and up
    ONLY

    ‘League trainers, in cooperation with the LSS have concluded their investigation of heightened Pokemon aggression in Eterna Forest. Remains of a device were found in the building known locally as the Old Chateau, and through reverse engineering, the LSS believes the machine to be emitting some sort of signal that agitates and lures out ghost types, but it also has an effect on all wild Pokemon. Evidence of this can be found…'


    Gardenia carefully read over the examples provided by the LSS. The closer Pokemon were to the old chateau, the more aggressive they got. Even Phantump, who were usually non-aggressive, had attacked a few groups of trainers making their way through close to the Old Chateau, and a Mismagius had trapped the League trainers that had gone to investigate in an illusion.

    ‘The device was running from October 2nd to October 26th, and the LSS theorizes that due to the half-hearted attempt at deconstruction, team Galactic was forced to flee the scene by a belligerent Pokemon in the building. Regardless, the situation in Eterna forest has now been confirmed as stable…

    “October 2nd?” Gardenia murmured. “That was before even the attack on the power plant at Valley Windworks.”

    ‘...actively disseminate misinformation through the Pokemon Rangers and create the narrative that the increase of trainers going through the forest was agitating the wild Pokemon. The LSS believes that team Galactic was looking for a specific Pokemon located in the Old Chateau or around its periphery, and the focus on angering ghosts all but confirms that the organization was looking for a specific ghost type. Further investigation is needed…’

    “Holy shit,” Gardenia breathed out, eyeing the next part.

    ‘Team Galactic has been highly active in creating and organizing the protests. The LSS theorizes that they have a base of operations in Eterna and Veilstone since the protests are the most pronounced and originated from there. Countermeasures have been put in place to reduce the threat of infiltration, and contact has been established with the International Police, who will send their agents on the 17th of November. A new directive on how to deal with these protests will be issued shortly. LSS agents have been sent to supervise Maylene Suzuki, as she is considered too young to deal with the situation. Investigations into Directorate members Samuel White and Sophie Richards have also concluded. Suspicious deposits of 5,700,000 and 7,200,000 Pokedollars have been tracked in their accounts, and right after this money transfer, they defected from the coalition government and joined the opposition. There is no confirmation that team Galactic was behind this, but the LSS will continue to recommend Cynthia’s approval of the memory extraction procedure on non-Galactic members.’

    ‘For a safer Sinnoh.’

    “This is bad… this is really bad,” Gardenia said, feeling a surge of fear.

    Gardenia didn’t care for the LSS lying and hiding information from the public. The Secret Service was an autonomous branch of the League that dealt with internal threats, such as terrorism, or in this case, investigating team Galactic. As she had said before, being in the system changed the way a person viewed it. She knew that information had to be carefully drip fed to the masses to prevent mass panic.

    No, what she cared about was that there was apparently a team Galactic base of operation hidden in plain sight somewhere in Eterna city and in Veilstone. Maylene was practically Gardenia’s sister, and she worried the young girl would get overwhelmed soon. The other gym leaders should have gotten the same document she did right around now, so they were probably just learning about it as well.

    Gardenia sighed. “At least some progress is being made—”

    Wait, that gym trainer who had given the documents to her… she didn’t recognize his face at all, and Gardenia prided herself on knowing all of her employees. Arceus, the Secret Service really had their fingers in every pie.

    She heard a sudden knock on the door and hurried to hide what she had just read. Gardenia unlocked the door, and Roland greeted her.

    “Roland, what is it?” Gardenia asked.

    “Sorry, you were probably busy, but I needed to tell you something. I got a call from the League that said you were allowed to issue a joint statement with mayor Pete,” He smiled. “Looks like they’ve changed their ways somewhat.”

    Oh, you poor soul, Gardenia thought with a pained face. Before this, she would have been fine with telling Roland… most of what she knew, and she was fine with speculating, but to confirm her thoughts that team Galactic was influencing civilian government policy? No matter how much she trusted him, that fact leaking would be disastrous for the government and the League.

    I guess those are the new guidelines, then. At least the LSS works fast.

    “Fine,” Gardenia sighed. “Let’s meet the guy.”

    ——

    Gardenia didn’t come out of her gym too often. Most of the other gym leaders, like Roark and Volkner, liked to help out and were far more public than she was, but all of her work could be done in her gym. The gym leader stepped out of the black SUV, accompanied by a few of her strongest gym trainers that acted as bodyguards, including Roland. All of them combined were weaker than her, but she supposed that someone could never be too safe, especially with team Galactic running around.

    “Haven’t been there in like six months,” Gardenia said, looking at Eterna city’s Town Hall.

    “Which is an actual travesty,” Roland said. “Let’s go.”

    Pete Delgado was still highly popular among Eterna city’s public, and he had been re-elected in a landslide a year ago. When they entered his office, the bald, bulky man nodded at her firmly and extended his hand. She shook it.

    “Leader Gardenia,” The mayor said formally. “I’m glad the League is finally seeing reason and stepping out of their shell. Arceus knows they’ve been silent these days. Too silent.”

    “There were a few internal issues to deal with, but we’re ready now,” Gardenia smiled, ignoring his verbal jab. “What’s going into the statement? I’m pretty bad at making speeches.”

    It was at times like these that Gardenia remembered that the cooperation between the civilian and trainer branches of government on the city level was usually icy at best. This wasn’t like the Directorate, which used to be unified behind Vernon and Cynthia. Local governments bickered and fought over everything, from zoning rights to city expansion into wild Pokemon territory, to tightening restrictions around the Circuit. The entrance to Mount Coronet had been closed during Gardenia’s first year as a gym leader after trainers kept dying in there, but it was the civilian government that pushed for that policy.

    “I figured,” Pete said. He nodded to his assistant, who handed Gardenia a sheet of paper. “Have a look at this.”

    “Blablabla… sorry about our lack of communication… blablabla… we’ll do better from now on, yeah… yeah… protesting is your right, but keep it peaceful…” Gardenia rambled. “This seems pretty standard.”

    “The way you’re being so nonchalant about this is concerning. If the situation devolves into riots, not only will it be more difficult to calm down the public, the city will have to pay tens of millions in damages.”

    “Don’t they have insurance companies for that?” She mused.

    “The insurers will sue and claim that the government is directly responsible for the damage due to our abysmal response to the protests, and I think they’ll win,” Pete explained. “This speech is just the start. We’ll have you attend multiple events, speak to the public, and answer their questions. It’s about time you start behaving like a proper city official and not some glorified battler.”

    “When do I have to do this?” She asked.

    “All day tomorrow, starting at eight.”

    “I have work,” Gardenia protested.

    “Close the gym down for a day. You owe us that much.”

    “Can’t I have one of my trainers keep it going?” Gardenia asked.

    “You could, but you could also show the people that you’re putting them above trainer business. It’s about the principle, Gardenia.”

    Gardenia craned her neck and looked at the ceiling exasperatedly. “Fine,” She sighed. “I’ll close for one day.”

    “You’re doing the right thing, Gardenia,” Roland nodded.

    Gardenia’s loyalty was the League’s. She respected Cynthia more than anyone else, and she would listen to anything the Champion told her to do. She prided herself on the matter, often referring to herself as a ‘pencil pusher’. Gardenia kept her head down and listened to the League’s orders.

    But still, at the back of her mind, she was relieved that they were finally allowed to speak up. The League needed the civilian population on their side if— no, when team Galactic was going to strike again.
     
  25. Threadmarks: Chapter 67
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    CHAPTER 67

    I woke up to Tangela's vines rubbing my face. I slowly opened my eyes and turned my neck toward angel, who was staring at me with his big eyes. It took me a few seconds to understand what he wanted.

    The sun was rising, and he wanted to go outside.

    The rest of my team was still asleep, although Frillish was missing. I tried moving my arm, but I noticed that Cece was resting her head on my shoulder and grabbing onto my arm. I steadied my breathing and stayed still, motioning Tangela to the balcony door. Cecilia had been nice enough to allow my team to sleep out of their Pokeballs in her home last night, so I didn't want to wake her, especially when she looked so peacefully asleep.

    Tangela lazily nodded and opened the balcony door with a vine, causing me to look outside and notice Frillish's head peeking through the water surface of the balcony swimming pool. I silently chuckled. How had he even gotten outside?

    I squinted at the small door crack. Could he squeeze through that if he used Acid Armor and altered himself? That was something to think about. I smiled as I looked through the glass door. Tangela's presence had clearly annoyed Frillish, and the water type immediately sunk deeper into the water when he noticed that he wasn't alone. Elekid was leaning right against the bed, whispering something in his sleep, and Togetic was at the foot of the bed with her plushie, having stolen all of the covers.

    Well, now I had run out of things to think about, and my mind went back to Cece being so close to me. At this point, I was wondering if I should just tell her I liked girls because this felt like I was taking advantage of her. She would probably treat me differently if she knew I did.

    That probably meant no more cuddles at night. I sighed, but it was the right thing to do. Still, I'd wait until after her gym battle tomorrow afternoon to not throw her off her game. I sunk deeper into the bed and turned toward her again, observing the way she slept. The pace of her breaths, her little twitches, the warmth of her skin on my arm.

    I wished I could experience this forever.

    ——

    "Any information on the state of the protests?" I asked Denzel, passing him a basketball. "Gardenia's supposed to be doing speeches, no?"

    He took aim and shot, not even hitting the rim. "Shit," He groaned.

    "Airball!" I laughed. We were spending the day together since the others were training, and we had stopped at a small basketball court. Pauline had managed to drag even Emilia to do some last-minute training. Supposedly she wanted her Charmeleon to reach her true potential with Blaze, and some mock battles would certainly help Emilia.

    "I thought you'd know," He said, passing me the ball.

    "Easy there, dude," I complained. "Don't throw it that hard."

    "Come on, you can take it," Denzel smirked. "Shoot."

    I jumped and shot the ball. Togetic chirped, and it mysteriously curved toward the net. "Got it!" I yelled. "That was all me!"

    "Prrrri!"

    "Okay, cheaters," He rolled his eyes. I passed him the ball.

    "But to answer your question, I wouldn't know. I'm not looking at the forums or the news anymore to destress," I explained. "So be useful and be my link to the outside world."

    The teenager groaned as he made a half-hearted attempt to dribble. "Fine. It's been working out rather well. Of course, protests are still going on, but people are generally happy about the fact that the trainer side of government is finally speaking to them."

    I nodded. "Thank the Legendaries. Hopefully, they'll stop soon," I said. I was still angry that the demonstrators were distracting the League from the real problems, but progress was progress.

    "I mean, none of this would have happened if the League spoke up in the first place," Denzel said. "You can't keep people in the dark."

    "If they aren't saying anything, there must be a reason."

    "Meh," He said. "Still feels shitty. I guess we can agree to disagree."

    I nodded.

    "Prime Minister Vernon is looking fucked, though," Denzel continued. "One more dissenting vote, and he's out. It's only a matter of time. Hell, it might even happen today. They'll replace him with a member from the opposition."

    "They're using him as a scapegoat," I said.

    "Yeah, I definitely agree on that," He said, shooting the ball. He missed. "I mean, some members of the Directorate who voted for the National Security Emergency Act are now voting to oust the guy. Can't help but laugh about that. Cynthia's been busy trying to negotiate with them, but nothing is working."

    I rolled my eyes. "Politics," I spat. "Can't believe I'll have to deal with that when I become the Champion."

    "Slow down there," He grinned. "But you're right. I can't believe Cynthia was already doing this at our age. Can you imagine?"

    I shook my head. "I mean, she implemented the systems, but yeah, the amount of work and pressure must have been overwhelming. Still, she pushed forward, and I'll always look up to her."

    "You and me both, Grace," Denzel said. "You and me both."

    ——

    I squeezed through the bleachers and took a seat next to Denzel. The day had finally come, and our friends were about to have all of their gym battles. Louis was first, and he was currently waiting for Gardenia's break to be over. He was as confident as ever. There hadn't been a trace of nervousness in him when we were making our way here. In fact, he said that with his new Vulpix, this would probably be easy. I didn't know how good that Vulpix was, but odds are that with her, Prinplup's Ice Beam, which Gardenia probably wouldn't expect, and Gible, he was probably right, although I did think he was being too confident. There was always the chance that Gardenia would catch him off guard and manage to squeak out a win. Still, I hoped Louis would win, along with everyone else. I was especially worried about Cece. I had gotten better at figuring her out, and I could tell she was nervous. I couldn't blame her. Her father was breathing down her neck.

    Gardenia finally stepped onto the arena, followed by Louis a minute later. The arena was just as packed as it had been during my battle, reminding me that he, along with the others, were famous billionaire heirs. It was hard to remember with how… normal they were. I supposed it had been my fault for treating them differently when we first met. At the end of the day, people were just people.

    Gardenia gave her welcoming speech, indicating that this would be a three-on-three with two switch-ins allowed. Louis immediately released his Vulpix, which made me wince. Revealing his fire type was his first mistake, and the battle hadn't even started yet. Obviously, Gardenia was going to send out her Lombre now, and she did.

    Now Louis could either risk his Vulpix or waste one of his switch-ins unless this was a part of some greater plan I wasn't seeing. Maybe I should have given everyone some pointers like I had done with Justin. But then, I was surprised to see the weather start to change.

    "Holy fuck," Denzel whispered. "That Vulpix has Drought."

    Ah. It all made sense now. Vulpix's Drought would prevent Lombre from changing the weather. If the power disparity between Pokemon was too large, then the stronger one would be able to overpower the ability, but Gardenia was obviously only using Pokemon at our level. That meant Lombre's water type attack power would be cut in half.

    "He must have spent a fortune on that," I said. "It's looking good for him now."

    "Vulpix, start us off with a Flame Charge!" Louis said confidently.

    Vulpix barked and burst into flames, gradually speeding up as she dashed toward Lombre.

    "Bubblebeam while it gets there," Gardenia said, leaning on her knees.

    The stream of bubbles hit Vulpix, but the fire type pushed through. Right as she was about to hit Lombre, Gardenia recalled it. She struggled to stop and crashed into the barrier. I nodded, happy that Gardenia did what I would have done. Lombre was too valuable to be risked here, so switching was the right move. The problem was, who could deal with this Vulpix?

    Gardenia grabbed her second Pokeball and sent out Cottonnee, who began floating in the wind. I quickly recalled the information I had gathered on the Pokemon. It functioned like a weaker version of Hoppip, using a weak version of Fairy Wind to float, but what it had to make up for that weakness was—

    "Vulpix, Incinerate!" Louis ordered.

    Flames started gathering in Vulpix's mouth.

    "Leech Seed," Gardenia grinned.

    I blinked, and suddenly, Cottonee was the one attacking first. Even though I knew how Prankster worked as an ability, it still fucked with my mind. No matter how fast its opponent was, Cottonee's non-attacking moves would always go first. The grass type sang and threw seeds from its cloud-like beard.

    "Dodge! Burn the ones you can't!" Louis yelled.

    Vulpix acquiesced and aimed her Incinerate at the Leech Seed instead of Cottonee. The grass type used the opportunity to get right above her.

    "Incinerate again upwards," He said.

    "Stun Spore."

    Cottonee shook itself and shot out yellow spores below itself at surprising speeds. Vulpix shot out another stream of flames, but the grass type dodged, weaving around it with the wind. Vulpix quickly ran before the spores could reach her, but Gardenia wasn't done.

    "Leech Seed barrage behind it. Follow it up with Cotton Spore," She said in quick succession.

    "Flame Charge out of there!" Louis said with a hint of frustration.

    Frustration was the name of the game. Gardenia wasn't even attacking yet. Prankster was an incredibly oppressive ability and annoying to deal with. Gardenia would overwhelm you with it, upping the pressure until you popped and made a mistake. Vulpix rushed away from Cottonee's attack and toward Gardenia, but the grass type followed closely behind.

    "Will-O-Wisp! Get it away from you!" Louis yelled.

    A purple flame appeared above Vulpix and shot out toward Cottonee, who again, just dodged.

    "Enough of this!" Louis hissed. "Hypnosis!"

    I winced. There it was. The first mistake. Vulpix stood still as her eyes turned bright pink, and she began letting out weird, otherworldly sounds.

    Gardenia grinned, and she snapped her fingers. "Cotton Spore, Stun Spore, Leech Seed."

    The problem with the move Hypnosis was that it took time to work unless that Pokemon was expertly trained with the move. Lucian's Alakazam, for example, was rumored to be able to put an opponent to sleep in less than a second.

    Vulpix was strong, but she wasn't an Elite Four Pokemon. Cottonee quickly dropped a series of spores. The first set, Cotton Spore, landed on Vulpix and swelled up around her, and they'd slow her movements down to a crawl. The second set paralyzed her, and the fire type's Hypnosis was interrupted by her convulsions.

    And then, Leech Seed landed on her.

    Fucking hell, Gardenia was terrifying. Louis was in a terrible spot, and losing was now a real danger if he let panic take a hold of him.

    "Growth, then get down and Mega Drain," Gardenia said smoothly.

    The grass type glowed and grew a few inches before quickly lowering itself, and it began to drain Vulpix's energy. The fire type was helpless. She was slowed, paralyzed, and being drained of everything she had. What I'd do in this situation was order her to Flame Charge and hope she pushed through, that way, she would at least burn the Cotton Spore, but Louis was frozen. It took a few seconds, but he recalled Vulpix. Wasting a switch-in was less of a problem here because it was only a three-on-three, and Gardenia had already used one of hers, but still, even if recalling her stopped her from being slowed and removed Leech Seed's vines, Vulpix's paralyzed state would make it hard to use for the rest of the battle. It didn't matter how well-bred and raised your Pokemon was if it simply couldn't attack.

    The heavy sunlight receded as Louis sent out his Prinplup. I nodded. At least he hadn't tunnel-visioned and sent out Gible.

    "Prinplup, Brine!" Louis yelled out. My eyes widened in surprise. I hadn't been the only one working on new moves.

    Clouds materialized above Cottonee and rain— no, calling it rain would be wrong. Highly pressurized drops of water bore down on the grass type. The move wouldn't be very effective, but Cottonee was light. It had to be, to be able to float in the wind, and that meant that it started falling to the ground.

    "Leech Seed!" Gardenia yelled as Cottonee hit the ground.

    "Ice Beam!" Louis ordered.

    Prinplup honked, flapping its flippers as a bright ray of icy energy flew toward Cottonee. Prinplup's attack was way faster than Incinerate had been, and Growth had made Cottonee slightly slower, along with the water coating its fluffy cotton-parts. The grass type cried out as part of its body was frozen by the attack, but it threw out Leech Seed nonetheless. Prinplup awkwardly managed to dodge, thanks to Ice Beam throwing Cottonee off.

    "Fly up and Razor Leaf," Gardenia yelled.

    "Quickly Ice Beam her again!"

    Another beam of ice hit Cottonee, who was severely slowed. It was never going to get off the ground again. It jerked its leaf-like gliders, and sharp leaves barrelled toward Prinplup, who winced and let out a sharp honk. Louis ordered one last Ice Beam and Cottonee finally went down.

    "Cottonee is unable to battle! Leader Gardenia, send out your second Pokemon," The referee said.

    Gardenia sent out her Lombre again, which was the obvious move. She actually wanted harsh sunlight now to hamper Prinplup's water moves, and it would be able to resist Ice Beam.

    "Ice Beam!" Louis yelled again.

    "Fake out," Gardenia calmly said.

    Lombre croaked, disappearing and reappearing in front of Prinplup and clapping his face with both of its hands. Even that caught me off, guard. I really thought she would immediately use Sunny Day, but she decided to go on the offensive instead. Prinplup stared for a few seconds as if it was frozen.

    "Hold him, and Nature Power."

    "Prinplup, snap out of it!" He hissed.

    Lombre held both of Prinplup's flippers as green energy gathered in front of its mouth, putting itself in harm's way but guaranteeing Energy Ball to hit. Nothing Louis could throw at it would be worth the damage that move would inflict. Vulpix was basically out of the battle, so the most logical move was to switch.

    I exhaled in relief when Louis switched before Lombre released his Energy Ball. In the back of my mind, I couldn't help but think Gardenia had let him switch. If she had wanted to, she could have ordered Lombre to hit Prinplup with a weakened Energy Ball, but this way, she could fish out Louis' last Pokemon and adjust who she would send out as her third. I was surprised that I was keeping up with her schemes, but it was just another thing to come up with these in a battle like she was doing.

    Louis sighed and sent out Gible, who roared as blue flames wreathed in his mouth. It was time to see if Louis had managed to get it somewhat under control, or if the dragon type would just do whatever the hell he wanted like usual.

    "Gible, Dragon Rage!" Louis ordered.

    "Sunny Day," Gardenia finally said.

    Gibble's maw snapped shut for a few seconds as the sun began shining brightly again. This way, Gardenia was guaranteeing Prinplup would be weakened even if Lombre fainted. Gible roared, releasing a Dragon Rage that was bigger than I remembered. Gardenia's eyes widened for a split second.

    "You can't dodge, Water Gun!" She yelled.

    Lombre shot out a jet of water, attempting to intercept the Dragon Rage, but the move was too powerful. It quickly overpowered the water type move and engulfed Lombre in a sea of draconic flames. When the attack subsided, Lombre was completely burned up, but it let out a defiant croak. It was still standing.

    "That's my boy," Gardenia praised. "Get to the water!"

    Lombre hobbled toward the pond to Louis' left.

    "Don't let it! Sand Tomb!" He quickly yelled.

    I winced as Gible turned and roared at his trainer before sending out another Dragon Rage at Lombre, who barely managed to get underwater before the attack hit. If Gible had listened, this fight probably would have been won. Lombre would have been slowed and blinded long enough for the dragon type to hit it with another Dragon Rage.

    "Get close to the water and Dragon Rage in it!" Louis said.

    Gible roared and ran toward the pond. There probably wasn't much Lombre could do here, but it could at least dish out some damage before it went down. The dragon type quickly stepped at the pond's edge and began gathering another Dragon Rage.

    "Bubblebeam," Gardenia quickly said. Bubbles burst through the surface and exploded on Gible, who simply ignored the pain and screamed out his attack, hitting Lombre with everything he had. Gardenia recalled the water type before Gible could finish, and she nodded toward the referee, who looked at her hesitantly.

    "Lombre is unable to battle! Leader Gardenia, send out your last Pokemon," The referee said.

    The gym leader grabbed her last Pokeball and sent out a Ferroseed who immediately extended its spikes. The Pokemon's steel type would be able to better resist Gible's dragon type attacks, but it wouldn't be able to dish out that much either.

    "Ingrain, Harden," Gardenia ordered.

    Some of the Ferroseed's spikes extended into the ground and began to turn into roots, then it shone brightly, raising its defense. Dragon Rage ignored a lot of a Pokemon's defenses, but I supposed that Gardenia thought it would be useful for Gible's other moves.

    "Dragon Rage!" Louis yelled.

    "Protect," Gardenia smiled.

    Gible roared out draconic flames, but they were stopped by a thick, green barrier that appeared around Ferroseed.

    "Flash Cannon," Gardenia continued. Ferroseed summoned a bright ball of light, which quickly shot out at the Gible. He screamed out, more enraged than in pain, and ran toward the Ferroseed.

    "Gible, no! Sand Tomb, so it can't aim at you!" Louis hissed.

    "Wait until it gets close," Gardenia said, grinning.

    I was beginning to understand why Gardenia had sent out Ferroseed now. The bulky Pokemon was angering Gible to no end, and it would push the dragon type to make more irrational decisions. Gible reached his opponent and slashed across its metallic armor, causing a few of his scales to fall off.

    Iron Barbs, I thought. And to my surprise, Gible kept going, biting and slashing at the steel type as his hands and mouth bled with a look of pure rage. Murmurs were running through the stands now. The worst part was that Louis was forced to let this go on. If he switched out Gible, he'd be considered as fainted, since he was out of switch-ins. All while this was happening, Gardenia kept hitting it with Flash Cannon whenever there was an opening. Still, Gible was such a powerful Pokemon that it was actually taking a long time to go down, and the damage it was dealing to Ferroseed was probably substantially more than Gardenia had expected.

    "Gible! Gible, listen to me!" Louis yelled, but his voice didn't reach the dragon. One last Flash Cannon sent him flying, and he was out for the count.

    Louis winced as he recalled Gible. That was it. Win or lose, I would try to help him with this problem. It was surprising the dragon hadn't ripped him apart yet during training. The blond boy sent out his Prinplup, who let out a defiant honk.

    "Prinplup, stay far away, it can't move!" Louis yelled. "Ice Beam!"

    "Protect, then Pin Missile," Gardenia calmly said.

    Prinplup sent out a ray of ice as Ferroseed's spikes flew out of its body and bolted toward Prinplup.

    "Get them off you with Metal Claw!" He yelled.

    Prinplup's flippers shone brightly as he slashed two missiles away from him, but the rest of them hit. Ferroseed looked hurt from the Ice Beam, but Louis needed to keep the attack going, or Ingrain would just recover its health. Louis kept ordering Prinplup to use Ice Beam, and Gardenia would occasionally use Protect and counter with Pin Missile. The water type was too slow to dodge, and the steel type was stuck in place, so it was a matter of who would fall first.

    Would Gible's damage be enough?

    It wasn't, and Prinplup fainted after the fourth Pin Missile barrage. Louis swallowed as he sent out his Vulpix. The fire type was still convulsing and struggling to move, but if he managed to get her to use one fire type move, it would maybe be enough.

    "Vulpix, try to push through it! Use Confuse Ray, then Incinerate!"

    "Protect and Pin Missile."

    I winced as the small ray of light bounced off against Ferroseed's barrier, along with Incinerate. A Pokemon was usually limited in the number of Protects it could use because it took a lot out of them, but it looked like even if Ferroseed was tired, it could keep going, at least for a bit more. He sent out another array of Pin Missiles, hitting the paralyzed Vulpix.

    "Flame Charge! You have to get close!" He screamed.

    "Wait for it."

    It took around ten seconds, but flames spun around Vulpix as it slowly ran toward Ferroseed.

    "Harden again!" She yelled.

    Vulpix rammed into the hardened Ferroseed, tearing some of her skin in its spikes. The steel type stayed there, rooted in place, and it quickly bumped into Vulpix, sending her away.

    "Incinerate!"

    "Protect," Gardenia said.

    Surprisingly, Vulpix immediately shot out her flames, and some of them made it through before Ferroseed could get its Protect up. It was stronger than I thought, seemingly pushing through paralysis much faster than a normal Pokemon would. Gardenia and even Louis had probably even thought the same.

    "Wait it out, and then Incinerate again! It's getting slower!"

    I relaxed slightly. I could see the victory coming now, although it would be by the skin of his teeth. Gardenia had messed up when using Sunny Day because she had thought that Vulpix would never be able to attack again. A few more Incinerates powered up by the sun, and Ferroseed finally went down. The clapping and cheering was more sporadic this time, but we gave it our all to support our friend.

    Cece stood up with a determined look on her face. It was her turn next, and then there would be a small gap between her and Justin. We all wished her good luck, but she stared right into my eyes with a fire that couldn't be extinguished. Her passion for battling.

    "You've got this," I grinned.

    "I do. And I'm fighting for myself this time," She said.
     
  26. Threadmarks: Chapter 68
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    3,369
    CHAPTER 68

    We had to push hard to keep Cece’s seat open for Louis, who had told us he would watch Cece’s battle before bringing his team to the nearest Center. After a few minutes, he finally showed up in the stands and sat down. Behind his usual haughty air, there was a look of dejection, and it wasn’t hard to figure out why. Even though he had won, his victory had been humiliating. Louis had shown the world that he held no control over his Gible. Sometimes, their objectives lined up, and the dragon type used the move he was ordered to, but that was that. Even in Eterna forest, Louis hadn’t ordered his Gible. The Pokemon just did whatever it wanted.

    “You did well,” Justin said right away.

    Louis sighed. “I definitely could have done better. My father is going to be on my back for this.”

    “Tell him to fuck off and be done with it,” Pauline said. “Ah, Cece’s coming up.”

    Cecilia confidently strode up to the platform with her usual poker face. From this far, I couldn’t tell if she was pretending not to be nervous or not. I started grinding my teeth and clenched my hands around my seat.

    I believed she would win, but I was still nervous for her.

    I wondered what her strategy was.

    ——

    Cecilia Obel ran both of her hands through her hair and listened to Gardenia enunciate the rules of the coming battle. The fight would be a four-on-four with two switch-ins allowed, which was what the trainer had prepared for. Cecilia had been nervous before, but as she stepped onto the platform, she felt strangely calm, which was a far cry from her gym battle with Roark or the Floaroma tournament. In fact, there was no fear at all. Instead, there was something else.

    Excitement.

    The difference today was that Cecilia was fighting for herself. Not her father. Not the company. Not to save Louis’ pride and act worse than she actually was— she would never do that again, consequences be damned. The girl grabbed Fletchinder’s Pokeball and released her. She cried out and took flight with a magnificent flap of her wings. Even today, Cynthia’s words to Cecilia still sounded clear in her mind. She recalled them every day, repeating them over and over until they had become her mantra. Before meeting the Champion, the girl had placed more importance in strategizing than power, but as time went on, she found herself thinking the latter was more important than anything else in a Pokemon battle.

    Strength is a weapon to be wielded, she thought. If I am strong, I can be free.

    Gardenia released a Tangela, who let out a sinister gurgle. Cecilia felt the corner of her lips rise. That was the kind of trainer she wanted to be. Someone like Cynthia, whose power was so overwhelming that no amount of planning or strategy would be enough to defeat her.

    “Begin!” The referee declared.

    And it would all start with this. “Agility!” Cecilia ordered.

    “Get your vines out,” Gardenia said.

    Fletchinder’s body began to loosen. Her movements became less tight and constrained as if she had become one with the wind. Ten vines extended all around Tangela, hovering high in the air.

    “Quick Attack and Flame Charge,” Cecilia said.

    Faster. She needed to be even faster.

    Fletchlinder sang as her flames engulfed her body, and she flew so fast she was untrackable with the naked eye. All Cecilia could see was a trail of flames behind her flying type, but that was fine. The goal was to be so fast and overwhelming that none of Gardenia’s apparent anti-flying type tactics would work.

    “Bind—” Gardenia tried.

    Too late. In a second, Fletchinder had already crossed the entire battlefield. The bird dove, nimbly moving in between Tangela’s vines, and rammed into the grass type.

    “Grab it! Don’t let it get back up!” Gardenia said.

    Vines snaked around Fletchinder’s body, and Tangela began squeezing her with Bind.

    “Flame Charge and burn it off,” The trainer calmly said. “Then ram it again.”

    Fletchinder burst into flames, quickly melting Tangela’s vines and pushing herself off the ground before bumping into Tangela with a spin. The grass type let out a pain-stricken gurgle and flew into Kadabra’s barrier. Her speed was still building. Her full potential still hadn’t been reached.

    “Again,” Cecilia continued. After all, if something was working, why change it?

    The flying type let out another cry, her voice altered by the flames and blurred toward Tangela at astonishing speeds.

    “Bind! Keep replacing your vines!” Gardenia ordered as fast as she could.

    Fletchinder’s attack hit again, but Tangela grabbed the bird and was constantly replacing its burning vines with another.

    “Bring it toward you slowly and Stun Spore!” She continued.

    “Ember!”

    Still in flames, Fletchinder spat out a dozen small pellets of fire. Some hit Tangela before it rotated her away with its vines. Cecilia crossed her arms, unable to do anything to counter the gym leader’s tactic. When Tangela brought the bird close enough, it shook, and yellow spores shot out of its body before it finally went down. There were at least fifty burned vines littering the ground, and even some of its body was burned to a crisp, but Gardenia had sacrificed it to take her Fletchinder out of the battle.

    “Tangela is unable to battle! Leader Gardenia, send out your second Pokemon,” The referee said.

    “Well done, darling,” She said. The bird struggled to fly back to her and crashed into the ground multiple times. Paralysis was worse for flying types than it was for other Pokemon.

    Gardenia wasted no time and quickly sent out an Ivysaur. Fletchinder would have easily dealt with the grass type, but she was in no state to fight. Cecilia recalled her and sent out Deino, causing even Gardenia’s eyes to widen.

    “Ivy, Grassy Terrain!” She ordered.

    “Dragon Breath. No holding back,” Cecilia smiled.

    Ivysaur let out some combination of a croak and a roar as Grass began to grow across the battlefield. Deino reared his head back for a few seconds as draconic energy gathered in his mouth before screaming it out. Dragon Breath was faster and stronger than before, and even though Ivysaur tried to dodge it, it took the brunt of the attack.

    “Incinerate the Grassy Terrain away,” The trainer continued.

    Gardenia grinned. “Ivy, Seed Bomb!”

    This time, hot, searing flames flew out of the dragon’s mouth, causing the whole field to catch on fire. Seeds landed around Deino, causing deafening explosions. The scene was out of a warzone, with detonations and fires all around the Pokemon.

    “Incinerate again, this time on Ivysaur.”

    “Keep bombing and add Sludge to the mix!” Gardenia ordered.

    Huge pieces of purple sludge flew out of Ivysaur’s flower, alternating between each Seed Bomb, but Deino didn’t even bother dodging. He was taking damage, but Cece had trained his defenses for this. His hardened scales would be able to resist anything Ivysaur threw at it. Suddenly though, the bombing stopped, and Ivysaur was gone. For a second, Cecilia thought Gardenia recalled the grass type, but she wasn’t sending out anything else. Deino’s maw snapped in irritation, but he stood still, waiting for Cecilia’s command.

    Suddenly, Ivysaur ran through the fire, its entire body enveloped in flames.

    “Restrain it with your two vines and then Leech Seed!” She yelled.

    Cecilia frowned as two vines extended from the flaming Ivysaur’s vines and wrapped around Deino. The dragon type let out an enraged roar and started thrashing around, but he couldn’t get out of the grass type’s hold.

    “Calm down. Incinerate it again,” Cecilia said.

    A small seed flew out of Ivysaur’s back, landing on Deino, but before the dragon could spit out its fire again, Gardenia recalled Ivysaur. Thorny vines started to grow around the dragon type, and they would slowly drain his energy.

    Gardenia grinned and sent out a Lombre, which surprised her. The gym leader had just used it against Louis, meaning that she had a second one. Upon closer inspection, this one’s leaf was slightly bigger than the other, and his skin was a slightly darker tone. Cecilia considered switching, but she decided to wait a little before doing so. Deino was still able to fight as if he hadn’t been in a battle at all, so it was in her interest to deal as much damage to Lombre as she could.

    “Rain Dance,” She said.

    Thunder clapped above them as rain slowly began to fall, extinguishing Deino’s fires.

    “Dragon Breath.”

    The dark type bellowed and spat out another stream of blue draconic energy.

    “Mist,” Gardenia simply said.

    Cece clicked her tongue. So its moveset was different too? The Dragon Breath clipped Lombre’s arm as it spat out a fog that made it impossible to find. Cecilia ordered Deino to sweep the entire length of the arena with another Dragon Breath, but there was no sign that the move had hit anything.

    The girl sighed and recalled Deino. In normal circumstances, she would have sent out Scyther here, but the bug type still wasn’t ready to be used in battles. She grabbed Slowpoke’s Pokeball and released him. It stared into the distance.

    “Slowpoke, gym battle,” She warned. His body tightened and sprung to life, and his eyes narrowed. “Good boy. Look for it with Confusion.”

    Psychic types had an innate ability to feel other living beings, and Slowpoke was no different, although his skill was still rudimentary. Still, Cecilia knew it was enough because Gardenia immediately sprang into action.

    “Razor Leaf!” Gardenia ordered.

    Leaves as sharp as knives flew out from the mist, but Slowpoke stopped them with Confusion. They had trained heavily using Fletchinder’s Ember to ensure that he could stop as many attacks as possible, and it was paying off.

    But why take the risk of him messing up? “Disable!” Cecilia said.

    Slowpoke’s eye gleamed with a bright blue color, and Lombre croaked in annoyance.

    “Get close and Absorb, Lombre!” Gardenia ordered.

    So this one knew Absorb and not Mega Drain, Cecilia thought. He must have been newly evolved.

    “Confusion. Pick it up.”

    Lombre’s range was surprisingly longer than Slowpoke, and he started to drain the psychic’s type energy.

    “Run closer!” Cece yelled. It was all or nothing.

    “Get back, but stay in range!” Gardenia quickly said.

    “Tackle! Push yourself!” She said.

    Cecilia knew how much her Slowpoke hated moving around, but he still jumped a foot forward, and psychic energy surrounded Lombre, picking him up and lifting it off the ground.

    “Bring it toward you and Zen Headbutt,” Cecilia said, revealing the water type’s new move.

    Lombre struggled, but his body was locked in place. The advantage of having Slowpoke use Confusion on Scyther so much was that he was now an expert on holding any Pokemon in place. He brought the grass type toward him as a bright light gathered above his forehead, and he hit Lombre right in the chest, using Confusion’s momentum instead of Slowpoke’s own.

    But that didn’t mean Confusion had ended. No, Lombre was still in Slowpoke’s grasp, unable to do anything.

    “Do it again,” Cecilia grinned.

    But then Gardenia recalled Lombre, using her last switch-in. Cecilia sighed. She had hoped to take the grass type down, but at least this was progress. Gardenia sent out her Ivysaur again, who was still a smoking husk from Deino’s fire.

    Somehow, it was still standing.

    “Grassy Terrain,” Gardenia said.

    “Water Pulse,” Cecilia said.

    Ivysaur took the brunt of the water type move, but it managed to get its attack off, and a new Grassy Terrain grew out of the old one that Deino had burned.

    “Keep using Water Pulse,” The girl said.

    Gardenia was unable to get close because of Confusion, and any ranged attacks would be sent away.

    Still, Cecilia knew Gardenia had to try, because if she didn’t, Ivysaur would eventually fall to Water Pulse. “Seed Bomb,” The gym leader said. The grass type lobbed the explosive seeds toward Slowpoke.

    “Confusion to dodge.”

    The seeds were carefully sent away, but Cecilia’s eyes widened, and Slowpoke sent two of them back to Ivysaur, blowing the grass type up with its own attack. The precision that had taken was… incredible, but it looked like Slowpoke had just had a breakthrough. Cecilia ordered another Water Pulse, and Ivysaur finally went down.

    “Ivysaur is unable to battle! Leader Gardenia, send out your third Pokemon,” The referee declared.

    Gardenia sent out her Lombre again. Cecilia frowned, wondering what the gym leader thought the grass type could do—

    Her eyes widened, but it was too late.

    “Fake out,” The gym leader yelled.

    A bit slower than her other Lombre, the water type blurred and reappeared next to Slowpoke before slapping him hard. Slowpoke stared, not realizing what had happened. Those few seconds were all Gardenia needed.

    “Hold it in place and Razor Leaf,” She continued.

    Lombre picked up Slowpoke, and sharp leaves tore through the water type, causing it to bleed. The pain was too much for the psychic type to focus and use Confusion. Lombre didn’t stop until Slowpoke become limp, and it dropped him on the ground.

    “Slowpoke is unable to battle! Challenger, send out your second Pokemon,” The referee said.

    Fletchinder and Scyther were unusable, so only Deino was left. Would his power prove to be enough?

    Deino came back on the battlefield with his usual roar, and Cecilia wasted no time.

    “Dragon Breath.”

    Deino spat out another draconic attack, and due to using Fake Out, this time Lombre was too close to dodge. It tried, but the attack engulfed its entire body, and the grass type went down immediately. It looked like that Zen Headbutt had dealt more damage than Cecilia had thought. Still, there was her last Pokemon to worry about.

    With a wide smile, Gardenia sent out a Breloom, and the crowd went absolutely wild. Cecilia knew why, of course. Breloom was never used against trainers with a single badge.

    At least until now. Breloom silently jumped and punched the air, almost as if it was warming up.

    “Mach Punch,” Gardenia laughed.

    “Take the hit and Crunch,” Cecilia said, revealing her final new move. The goal wasn’t to deal damage. Breloom had the type advantage like Scyther, and like Scyther, if she could get Deino to restrain it, it would go down.

    Breloom blurred and punched Deino in the head, staggering him, but the dragon quickly shook it off and bit the grass type’s stubby arm as darkness surrounded his sharp teeth and swam around his mouth.

    “Go for the neck!” Cecilia yelled.

    “Force Palm,” Gardenia said wildly.

    Breloom’s other arm shone and hammered Deino’s flank, denting his hard scales. Deino released his arm and rushed to bite down on the grass type’s neck, but it nimbly jumped back before punching the dragon in the head.

    “Dragon Breath point blank,” Cecelia said.

    “Get your head down!” Gardenia quickly ordered.

    Deino gurgled before sending out another Dragon Breath, but Breloom used its hat-like mushroom to protect itself from some of the damage.

    “Again,” Cecilia continued.

    “Mach Punch!”

    Breloom blurred around the dragon, punching him in the back as Deino tried to follow his lead. The grass type was running circles around him, irritating the dragon to no end. He roared and Headbutted Breloom away before roaring out another Dragon Breath, this time hitting the Pokemon’s body.

    “Next time he does that, you Counter,” Gardenia warned. “Mach Punch.”

    “Crunch.”

    Breloom jumped to the side, punching the air for a few seconds before running forward and punching Deino’s neck, cracking his scales. Deino screamed in frustration, and Cece knew she had to stop him.

    “Calm down! Incinerate.”

    Even if it was raining, switching up her attacks once in a while could catch the fighting type off guard, and it did. It quickly jumped to the side as if it was dodging a Dragon Breath, but Incinerate was wider. The grass type’s right side burned for a few seconds before being extinguished by the rain.

    “Crunch.”

    Deino ran forward, this time grabbing onto Breloom’s thin neck. The grass type struggled, but there was no getting out of Deino’s grip. Cecilia knew she had her victory now.

    “Force Palm,” Gardenia said.

    “Don’t let it.”

    Deino shook his head wildly, making sure that Breloom wouldn’t be able to attack.

    “Now let out a Dragon Breath,” Cece smiled.

    Draconic energy began to dance around the darkness writhing in Deino’s mouth. The dragon released the attack, and Breloom went limp. Deino let out a triumphant roar as it struggled to stand. Its scales were dented or falling off, and blood was leaking in between them.

    “You did good, darling,” Cecilia congratulated before the crowd exploded into applause. Deino bowed his head. She frowned when she noticed that Deino was still slowly getting weaker. Had Breloom poisoned it somehow? Either way, she recalled Deino and began walking toward to side of the arena to meet Gardenia.

    It took a few more seconds for the situation to sink in. Cecilia had won. She had won using a style modeled after Cynthia, and it had worked. The girl felt forced to grin— not her usual calm smile that was a part of her mask, but a genuine one full of happiness.

    Still, Cecilia wanted more. More battles, more power. Fletchlinder needed to be so overwhelmingly fast that she would never be caught again. Deino’s scales needed to be nigh impenetrable, and Slowpoke’s psychic ability needed refining until he was able to bring any opponent down from afar. This battle was barely the tip of the iceberg, and there was much to improve on. After all, Cecilia had less than a year to keep her promise to Cynthia and meet her in battle.
     
  27. Threadmarks: Chapter 69
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

    Joined:
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    CHAPTER 69

    I watched in awe as Cecilia’s battle came to an end. I didn’t know the kind of training she underwent, but the amount of progress she had made since Eterna forest was easy to see. Not only had she just beaten Gardenia three-on-four, but she also beat her Breloom with a type disadvantage. Fletchinder and Slowpoke had been amazing, but Deino was just a monster. The dragon’s scales were too hard for the fighting type to defeat him easily. I smiled as we exited the stands. I wanted to get to her level so badly, and seeing this made me want to push myself even harder after my break. Surprisingly, during her battle, I didn’t try to think about what I would do if I were her, or guess what Gardenia would do next.


    I found myself workshopping a battle strategy against Cecilia herself. Here’s what I had found out. At this stage, since she knew about my team and I wouldn’t be starting with the informational advantage, I would just lose. Probably even worse than what had happened at the Floaroma tournament.

    Togetic should be able to deal with Deino, but Cece would have no reason to let that matchup happen. Until Elekid knew Shock Wave, hitting Fletchinder with anything was a pipe dream. Slowpoke would be the easiest one to deal with right now, but he was no pushover either, and I didn’t know enough about Scyther to form an opinion yet.

    Cecilia greeted us in the lobby with a confident smile that made my knees buckle. Arceus, she was so attractive when she was like this.

    “You were awesome,” I spoke up immediately. “Congratulations.”

    “Thank you, that means a lot to me,” Cece answered.

    “You control your dragon much better than some,” Pauline said.

    “I would have won just as easily if Gible had listened…” Louis moped.

    “That’s what I was implying,” She rolled her eyes before staring at her Poketch. “We have five hours to kill until Justin’s battle. What should we do?”

    “I’m going to get my Pokemon to a Center,” Louis sighed.

    “Let me come with you, actually,” I said, much to the group’s surprise. “What? Can’t hang out with my friend?”

    “No, I just wasn’t expecting that,” Emilia said. “I’m just going to relax until my battle. I can’t be bothered to do some last-minute studying.”

    “Pauline and I will stick around to better ready ourselves,” Justin said.

    “What he said,” The redhead nodded.

    “Cecilia and I can keep you company, Emilia,” Denzel said. “If you don’t mind?”

    The girl smiled. “Not at all. Let’s meet here thirty minutes early. The stands are going to be packed again.”

    “Sure,” I said. “Louis?”

    He nodded.

    The group split, and Louis and I started walking toward the nearest Pokemon Center. He was down in the dumps, and it was hard not to pity the man. That win had been humiliating, and his reputation likely wouldn’t recover for a while, or at least until he proved that he could control Gible in his next gym battle or tournament. I didn’t really care about all of that. What I cared about was making sure Louis didn’t get himself killed. Gible was growing stronger and stronger, which meant his behavior was becoming worse as time went on. If the dragon evolved with their relationship still like this? I had no doubt in my mind that he would try to kill Louis, and if it evolved before Deino did, none of us would be able to stop it. I had princess, but her Fairy Wind would be too weak to take down an evolved dragon type.

    Louis handed his team to the Center, warning them about Gible. He was about to leave when I stopped him and pointed toward one of the chairs.

    “Let’s talk,” I said, sitting down. “Come on.”

    “Can’t this wait until we get back to the hotel?” He said.

    “No, come on, it’ll be easier if we do it here. Being in a Center and seeing all these trainers come and go makes me feel more grounded, like I’m a part of something bigger than myself. What about you?”

    I was hoping that it would at least tone down his ego a little bit.

    “Nothing in particular,” He sighed. “Perhaps it makes me feel thankful for modern Pokemon medicine.”

    “Eh, good enough,” I said, putting my head against the palm of my hand. “Are you going to sit or not?”

    “Fine,” Louis said. “What’s the issue?”

    “The issue is that we need to start figuring out how to make Gible more amenable,” I started. “It’s one thing having the best Pokemon money can get you, but you still have to be a good trainer. You know it deep down, don’t you? You won’t win your third badge if this keeps going.”

    “I’ve been trying everything I can—”

    “You haven’t,” I interrupted. “When was the last time you tried having a conversation with Gible instead of just trying to order it around over and over?”

    The boy paused before answering. “I haven’t, but he’d… he’d attack me if I did. Gible doesn’t like talking, he only wants to fight. As long as I’m giving him opponents to fight against, he won’t mind being my Pokemon.”

    “He still needs to listen to you somewhat,” I said. “You could do it like Cece and ask for our help, Louis. Although if I were you, I definitely would not attack him. It would ruin things further. Maybe just restrain him with our psychics if he tries to attack you. Even Togetic can help out with Extrasensory. We’re all your friends, but you never ask for anything. Lean on us for a bit, it won’t kill you.”

    “If I do that, I won’t be my own man,” He said, his face downcast. “I already rely on my father too much. I've apparently fallen behind Cece. If I can’t even do this on my own, then what’s the point?”

    I sighed internally, cursing at the fact that all of my friends apparently had a terrible relationship with their parents.

    “You’re not weak for relying on others, Louis. Denzel taught me that a while ago.”

    “Look, I appreciate your help, I really do,” He said. “But I won’t change my mind. I need to do this alone.”

    Damn it! I thought. Talking it out usually always worked out for me.

    I sighed. “Tell me you’ll at least consider talking to Gible.”

    “I’ll think about it,” He answered with a sad smile. “Now, let’s go home. All that battling tired me out.”

    I nodded, sad that I hadn’t changed his mind, but happy that I had at least gotten him to think about changing things up. As we walked back to the hotel, I was lost in thought. At the heart of every trainer’s Pokemon was a desire for something. They were fully sapient beings with their own likes, dislikes, and goals. The goals didn’t have to be grandiose. In fact, they could be quite simple. Togetic wanted to stay with me because she saw me as her mother, Elekid wanted to get as strong as possible as fast as he could and to have a good time in general. Frillish had taken me a while to figure out, but I knew that he wanted to protect all of us from harm. For Tangela, I wasn't too sure yet, but he probably wanted to experience touching new things.

    The key to Louis’ problem, and by extension, Cece’s problem with Scyther, was to find what each Pokemon wanted to achieve and to try to compromise or change their mind. For example, Frillish had turned from a murderous sea ghost to a reluctant part of the group, and finally to a loving, protective member of the team. Goals weren’t static, they were fluid. They changed with time and different experiences. According to what Cece had told me back in Floaroma, dragon types tended to value strength above everything. They wanted to fight hard, difficult battles to push themselves to their final evolutions, and Gible’s behavior aligned with that goal. Louis just had to convince him that he was the one that would make Gible achieve that goal.

    A task that would be easier said than done.

    ——

    When we got back home, I readied myself to tell the truth to Cece. To tell her that I liked girls, and if that made her uncomfortable, we could stop being too close, but when the time came, and I saw her, I froze up. The words wouldn’t come out of my mouth, and I ended up not saying anything at all. I groaned as I sat on the couch. I felt like shit, and no matter how much I tried to convince myself that I would do it soon, I knew I would keep putting it off if I kept going on like this.

    My mind wandered to Pokemon battles again. They had become my escape at this point. Thinking about my passion was way better than thinking about relationship problems and if letting a straight girl unknowingly cuddle with a gay one was a problem. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t help but worry, still. The next three battles were the ones I doubted the most, although I didn’t tell my friends that. With Denzel, Louis, and Cece, I was sure at the bottom of my heart that they would pull out a win. But the others?

    Pauline was a good battler— much better than Louis— who enjoyed being a trainer, but she only had two Pokemon, and I didn’t know if she would be able to push past that disadvantage. I could only hope she had worked something out. Justin had the strategy I had given him, but I feared he wouldn’t be able to adapt if it went sideways and Gardenia saw through it. Plus, Growlithe and Sandile would be able to pull their weight, but he hadn’t trained as much as I would have with his Lotad, who was weaker than the other members of his team, which would probably be an issue. Still, I at least believed that they could win if they were on top of their game.

    Emilia, though? The girl’s disinterest in Pokemon battles was coming back to bite her. When we had first gotten to Eterna city, I believed that she would train just as hard as the others and I did, but she just… didn’t. Even Justin, who disliked battling trained hard to make sure he would win the battle, but she just wasn’t motivated to do anything training related. Beldum was still a very strong Pokemon, but her other team members had no doubt fallen behind, even with the vitamins, and Gardenia was the type of gym leader that would punish you heavily for relying on only one Pokemon.

    I was starting to understand a bit more about Pokemon training now. It didn’t really matter how rich your parents were and what Pokemon and supplements they bought you. If you weren’t willing to put in the work, you would still end up losing eventually. Even if Emilia somehow pulled through and won against Gardenia, if she didn’t change fast, she would never win against Fantina, who was the third gym leader on our radar.

    To be honest, I was considering only battling Fantina once and then moving on to Maylene. She was the oldest gym leader in the region, and her ghost types’ illusions made her almost impossible to beat for newer trainers, and I didn’t think it would be any different for me. Maylene was the newest gym leader, and she’d be a lot easier to defeat, but I doubted Emilia would beat her either.

    Still, those were thoughts for the future, and I would have to bring it up to the group eventually, but maybe if Emilia lost, it would be better to just skip Gardenia for now and move on with us. Gardenia was notoriously hard to beat right after you lost to her once, so it would be better to let a few months pass until she had battled so many trainers she forgot about you.

    Or maybe I was just being selfish about not wanting to waste time in Eterna too long. I sighed and sunk deeper into the couch. So many thoughts and ideas, and so few easy answers.

    ——

    I waited in trepidation as Gardenia’s current battle ended— in another surprising draw. Draws were pretty rare in Pokemon battles, so to see another one so soon was something. I lazily clapped at the trainer’s victory and waited for Justin’s turn. He was already waiting in the lobby, and even though he was hiding it well, he was incredibly nervous. The thin teenager finally stepped onto the trainer platform, wearing the Pherzen logo— a ‘P’ with a red and white pill inside of the letter— on a slick, white shirt. He ran a hand through his brown hair and grabbed a Pokeball before Gardenia even finished enunciating the rules of the battle, which was one of her usual three-on-three with two switch-ins allowed.

    Justin immediately released his Lotad and straightened his back.
     
  28. Threadmarks: Chapter 70
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    CHAPTER 70

    I watched with bated breath as Gardenia sent out her Weepinbell. I cheered silently, thankful that she had sent a poison type that Justin’s Sandile would be useful against. Now all he had to do was attack for a few minutes and then recall his Lotad, and he’d have the perfect start to this battle.

    “Lotad, Bubblebeam!” Justin yelled out. “Then get in the water!”

    “Sunny Day and Acid,” Gardenia replied.

    Lotad steadied itself against the ground before spitting out a stream of bubbles toward the Weepinbell. The grass type cried out, turning the sunlight harsh and weakening the Lotad’s attack. It shrugged off the bubbles and spat out a massive lump of purple acid toward its opponent. Lotad managed to sink into the water before getting hit, but I reckoned two or three of these would be enough to take it out.

    “Acid in the water,” Gardenia smiled. “Force it to come out.”

    I clicked my tongue. I hadn’t known that was allowed, and that meant some poor gym trainer would have to clean the pond after the battle.

    Justin groaned. “Water Gun! Intercept it!”

    Lotad croaked and spat out a jet of water toward the acid, but it was too weakened by Sunny Day to do anything. All that did was dilute the attack slightly. The water type cried out in pain as its body began to suffer from the contaminated water, and it slowly crawled out.

    “Get close and keep using Acid on the way,” The gym leader calmly said.

    “Keep using Bubblebeam, Lotad,” Justin said.

    Weepinbell simply rushed past the attacks as if they were nothing, but before it could do anything else, Justin recalled his Lotad and exhaled sharply. He grabbed Sandile’s Pokeball and released him before immediately barking out an order.

    “Sink into the ground!” He yelled.

    “Grab it with Vine Whip!” Gardenia ordered.

    Two long vines grew out of Weepinbell’s side and snaked toward Sandile, but the ground type was already gone. It had sunk into the ground as if it was water, and it hadn’t even left a hole. Sandile wasn’t even using Dig anymore, he was manipulating the soil around itself.

    “Sleep Powder around yourself,” Gardenia said without a hint of panic. Weepinbell acquiesced and shook itself, releasing green-colored spores around its body.

    That was smart. She was guaranteeing that if Sandile wanted to hit her Pokemon physically, it would be forced to breathe in spores and fall asleep. I didn’t know most of Sandile’s moves, so I just hoped Justin had something to counter that.

    “Sand Tomb!” He yelled, louder than before.

    The ground below Weepinbell started to liquefy and spin around like a tornado. Sandile’s Sand Tomb was way different than Gible’s. The grass type tried to get out, but no matter how hard it tried, it was stuck in Sandile’s trap.

    “Get out and Mudslap!” Justin continued.

    Sandile poked his head out in the sand and spat out mud just as fast as a Water Gun would be. Weepinbell cried out in pain and tried to retaliate with Vine Whip, but the ground type was already back underground. Weepinbell got hit two more times before Gardenia recalled it. A grass flying type like Hoppip would make the most sense here, or one that could levitate like Cottonee. At least, that’s what I believed until Gardenia sent out a Maractus. The grass type danced in place, waiting for its trainer’s orders.

    “Grassy Terrain,” She started.

    “Sand Tomb it and Mudslap again!” Justin yelled.

    The grass type shook its arm in a dramatic fashion, and grass began growing around it. That didn’t stop the ground from liquefying around it and putting it in the same dilemma Weepinbell had been. Sandile poked his head out again and opened his mouth—

    “Sucker Punch,” Gardenia grinned.

    Maractus blurred forward, now somehow unaffected by the Sand Tomb, and hit Sandile in the Chin.

    “Grab it and Mega Drain,” She hurriedly continued.

    “Sandile, Bite!”

    Maractus smiled as it sunk its spiky hands into Sandile’s flesh and started draining his energy. Justin clicked his tongue before hurriedly recalling the ground type, and I found myself sighing in relief. If Sandile had gone down right now, the battle would have become significantly more challenging. With a shaky hand, he sent out Growlithe, who started growling at the Maractus, who was just dancing in Sandile’s mud pile.

    “Keep your distance for now, Ember!” Justin yelled.

    “Dodge with Grassy Glide,” Gardenia said.

    Growlithe spat out small flames toward Maractus, but the grass type spun around and slid across the grass as if it was an ice skating rink. It wasn’t terribly fast, but at Growlithe’s distance, it made dodging moves like Ember trivial. I frowned. Gardenia wasn’t ordering Maractus to get closer, and she wasn’t ordering it to attack either. She was laying a trap, and I could only hope Justin was seeing it. The boy ordered Growlithe to use a few more Embers, but when that failed again, he snapped.

    “Howl, then Flame Wheel!” Justin said.

    Growlithe howled, making his body tenser as so many flames engulfed him I couldn’t even see the fire type anymore. He dashed forward, burning a path across the Grassy Terrain as Maractus simply waited for him. I clenched my fist, hoping that Justin would notice that this was too convenient, but he wasn’t thinking straight. The nervousness might have gotten to him.

    “Spiky Shield,” Gardenia said at the last second. A barrier not unlike Protect appeared around Maractus, but it had hundreds upon hundreds of spikes layered onto it. Growlithe yelped as he crashed into the barrier, and the flames around him stopped burning. “Mega Drain.”

    Maractus spun around, killing nature around it and draining Growlithe’s energy. Luckily for Justin, the attack wouldn’t deal much damage, but he still needed to clear his head, order his Growlithe to get back, and start making a new plan on the fly.

    “Fire Fang!” He yelled.

    “Grassy Glide into Sucker Punch.”

    Maractus skidded across the grass and then sped up toward Growlithe.

    “Flame Whee—”

    Too late. Sucker Punch was too quick to order Growlithe to engulf himself in fire. The fire type was knocked back a few feet, and Maractus approached again.

    Come on, Justin, just get back and use Ember, I thought. If push came to shove, Gardenia would be the one forced to attack, since running out the clock meant Justin would win. This was easier said than done, however. In the heat of battle, obvious strategies sometimes never came to your head.

    “Flame Wheel!” He said.

    “Sucker Punch!”

    Again, Maractus blurred forward and hit Growlithe just as its body became wreathed in flames, burning itself slightly.

    Finally, Justin appeared to have gotten it. “Get back! Winning at close range is too difficult.”

    Good. Maractus was a tricky opponent, but it didn’t dish out that much damage, all things considered. The grass type danced and giggled evily as it watched Growlithe run away.

    “Ember!” The trainer said.

    “Dodge with Grassy Glide.”

    Growlithe let out his flames, and Maractus easily dodged by sliding across the battlefield. This repeated another five times before Gardenia finally realized that Justin wasn’t biting on her bait. She smiled and recalled it, sending out her Lombre— the same one I had faced.

    “Rain Dance,” She said.

    My eyes bulged. Of course, Gardenia hadn’t just been waiting to see if Justin would respond to her bait. She had also been waiting to be able to change the weather again. A plan within a plan. I winced, and so did Justin. Not only would Growlithe’s fire type attacks be cut in half, they wouldn’t even be super effective against the Lombre.

    And he was out of switches. Gardenia had just completely fucked him over, and even I hadn’t seen it coming.

    Gardenia couldn’t stop herself from grinning. “Leech Seed,” She smiled.

    Lombre croaked and spat out too many seeds to count. Growlithe tried to dodge, running around as fast as he could, but there were just too many.

    “Dig, Growlithe!” Justin said. The Pokemon quickly started to claw at the ground, but the rain had turned it to mud. Sandile wouldn’t have cared, but he was a ground type. For Growlithe? It made him dig slower, and one of the Leech Seeds landed on his back before he could escape.

    “Forget the Dig, burn it away with Flame Wheel!” Justin shakily said.

    Growlithe barked, and fire once again consumed him. To my surprise, it was now too weak to even burn away Leech Seed. I supposed that had been why she hadn’t used the move previously in the battle.

    “Bubblebeam!” Gardenia continued.

    “Argh, Dig again!” He panicked.

    Too indecisive. Too slow. The quick Bubblebeam powered by the rain hit Growlithe, knocking him out.

    This… this was really bad.

    Justin sent out Sandile once more and immediately ordered the ground type underground. He sunk even more easily than before now that the upper ground had turned to mud. Once again, he ordered the ground type to create a Sand Tomb, trapping Lombre in place. Justin decided to just stop attacking and let his Sandile stay underground, which was honestly the smartest strategy he could have come up with. There was no way Sandile was going to beat Lombre one-on-one. The strength difference wasn’t enough to overcome the typing weakness.

    Seemingly annoyed, the gym leader rolled her eyes. “Lombre, Nature Power the ground.”

    With a nod, the grass type gathered energy in front of its mouth and started using Energy Ball again and again, creating craters around the battlefield, hoping to hit the Sandile with a lucky hit. I understood her frustration. Losing like this would definitely be incredibly aggravating, but what could she even do? Sandile’s manipulation of the ground was too good to leave a hole for Lombre to crawl into.

    People in the audience began heckling at Justin, telling him to do something and stop wasting time, but rules were rules. Twenty minutes was all they got, and maybe Gardenia had something to deal with Dig, but she was out of switches. Justin ignored the noise and simply waited the clock out. I understood why he did it, but by doing this, he was only delaying the inevitable. If he wanted to get a third badge, he would need to redouble his training and get his Lotad at the same level that his other teammates were at.

    An alarm rang across the gym. The twenty minutes were up.

    “Get someone to clean this up,” Gardenia said, pointing at the battlefield before taking off her mic. She sighed and reset her face into a neutral tone as Sandile finally surfaced again. Both trainers recalled their Pokemon, and Justin got his badge and other rewards as Pauline made her way down to the waiting room.

    A few gym trainers showed up with an array of ground and grass types to fix all the damage that had been done to the arena. A Pyukumuku slowly crawled into the poisoned lake, causing the color to go from a toxic purple to a clear, transparent blue, while Kadabra fixed any damage to the barrier.

    First Louis and now Justin had taken hits to their reputation. The high of the first badge was over, and now as harsh as it sounded, I supposed the second gym was when gym leaders separated the trainers that really wanted to become the Champion and strive further, bettering and training themselves every day, from the rest who were just doing it for fun— or in Justin’s case, doing it because of his father.

    I had faith that Pauline would manage to do slightly better, even with two Pokemon. The girl liked battling and trained just as much as we did, she was just extremely picky about her Pokemon like Denzel was, but she hadn’t actually planned a team beforehand, which was the worst of both worlds.

    I glanced at Emilia, who was starting to look worried. It looked like it was sinking in.

    Unless Gardenia somehow fumbled the bag really badly, which would probably never happen, she had practically no chance. But honestly, maybe it was better this way. Maybe this was what Justin and Emilia needed to finally stop doing something they didn’t like. They could tell their parents that they at least tried.

    That was a conversation for later. A few minutes passed, and Pauline confidently stepped on stage, wearing one of her mother’s expensive dresses. The stadium gasped when Gardenia said that this would be a two-on-three battle with two switch-ins.

    Pauline sent out her Gothita, who shared her confident look. Gardenia sent out a Paras, which made me swallow. I hated the fact that it would be controlled by its parasite when it evolved, and the Pokemon brought back the bad memories of Eterna forest, but its bug type would help it deal with the psychic.

    “Grassy Terrain and go hide,” Gardenia started.

    Paras screech and slammed its pincers against the ground, causing the grass to grow. It scuttled along the floor and slipped into the Grassy Terrain, employing the same strategy Gardenia had with Leafeon.

    “Hmph,” Pauline said. “Wait it out—”

    “Fury Cutter!” Gardenia yelled, pointing forward.

    Way faster than before, Paras burst out of the grass on Pauline’s side of the field, and its pincers started to grow. Then another. Then a dozen. I clenched my hand around my seat. I knew it was just Double Team, but I still instinctively feared the Pokemon when it was in large numbers. Pauline didn’t seem to be rattled, however.

    “Confusion! Throw them away!” Pauline said.

    Pink, psychic energy surrounded the first Paras, who immediately vanished before Gothita moved on to the next. There were too many to find the real one this way. Pauline needed to change it up.

    “Psybeam! Hit all of them!” She said.

    Gothita’s eyes shone even brighter as a rainbow-colored ray appeared above her head and rushed toward the Paras. Unfortunately, though, she was unlucky, and four Paras reached her, including the real one. It slashed across the psychic type’s torso, staggering her, and before it could hit her again and the damage could stack up, Pauline recalled Gothita with a scowl. It was the same look she had when I beat her in the Floaroma tournament.

    She thought Gardenia was being unfair.

    Pauline released Charmeleon and immediately barked out an order.

    “Fire Spin! Trap it!”

    The fire type roared and spat out a stream of flames that somehow settled into a circle around Paras, slowly burning the bug type.

    “Now, Ember!” Pauline continued. “It can’t dodge!”

    Paras was hit by a few flames before Gardenia recalled it. Luckily for Pauline, Gardenia had used her two Lombre today, including against Justin, so unless she was willing to send out a Lotad, she didn’t have much to counter Charmeleon. The fire type let out a victorious scream as if she had won a battle while its Fire Spin slowly subsided.

    “You’re up, baby girl,” Gardenia said, releasing a Bayleef. The beautiful grass type let out a soothing cry and stared down the Charmeleon. My leg began to bounce. There was only one reason Gardenia could have sent out the grass type.

    “Fire Spin again!” Pauline raged.

    “Light Screen,” Gardenia said. A thin barrier appeared around Bayleef, protecting her from much of the heat. Unlike protect, however, it stayed. “Ancient Power!”

    There it was. Bayleef’s eyes began to glow as it lifted up chunks of earth and rock from the Arena and threw them toward Charmeleon.

    “Dragon Rage and Metal Claw to intercept!” Pauline said.

    Charmeleon nodded, reared her head back, and spat out a stream of blue draconic flames. They didn’t have much of an effect on the rocks, but it did soften them up enough for her Metal Claw to cut them apart. Charmeleon slashed across the earth, splitting the projectiles in two before they could hit.

    “Ember!”

    “Lift one up,” Gardenia said. “Then throw more forward.”

    The flames were stopped by another Ancient Power, which was again intercepted with a Dragon Rage, Metal Claw combo. The Fire Spin was still slowly dealing damage to Bayleef, but Light Screen was too powerful for the fire to ever take the grass type down.

    “Enough! Run up to it!” Pauline yelled.

    Gardenia sent out another set of Ancient Power before realizing it would never hit, and then decided to switch it up.

    “Magical Leaf,” She said.

    Leaves surrounded by multicolored energy appeared around Bayleff and flew toward Charmeleon. The fire type attempted to burn them up with Ember, but the fire had no effect on the attack. It shrugged off the damage and ran up to Bayleef.

    “Fire Fang! Get its neck!”

    “Reflect,” Gardenia continued.

    Another thin layer appeared, this time around the Light Screen. Charmeleon opened her flaming maw and bit around the barrier, which began to crack. It looked like Fire Fang was too powerful to be blocked.

    Without Gardenia’s command, the ground behind Charmeleon trembled and hit Charmeleon in the back, interrupting its attack.

    “Push through and break the Reflect!” Pauline screamed.

    Charmeleon shook itself and began biting again. The barrier crackled, broke apart, and the fire type jumped on Bayleef’s back before biting its neck and slashing across its body. The grass type cried out and tried to shake Charmeleon off, but she was latched on too tightly. Gardenia sighed and recalled Bayleef, using her last switch-in. Charmeleon roared, throwing an Ember at the sky.

    Gardenia sent out her last Pokemon: Servine. The snake-like Pokemon lowered itself to the ground and started running across the battlefield as if it was slithering. Charmeleon immediately sent out another Ember, which Servine dodged easily. It was fast, faster than both of Pauline’s Pokemon.

    “Wrap around it…” Gardenia said quietly.

    “Burn it!” Pauline said.

    Servine methodically approached Charmeleon, dodging almost every attack in the process. It wrapped around the fire type as if it had no bones, stretching its body in unnatural ways and perfectly avoiding Charmeleon’s tail and mouth.

    “Leech Seed, then Mega Drain,” Gardenia said smoothly.

    Thorny vines started to wrap around the restrained Charmeleon, and Servine started draining its energy too. Pauline ordered Charmeleon to fight back a few times, but the fire type could barely move as it was, and she finally recalled it and released Gothita once more. Both she and Gardenia were now both out of switches.

    “Gothita, Psybeam!” Pauline said.

    “Wrap around it again!”

    Servine easily dodged the psychic attack, but this time, Gothita finally picked it up with Confusion. I expected her to use Psybeam in tandem like Cece had done with Slowpoke’s Confusion and Zen Headbutt, but she just slammed the grass type on the ground a few times before it finally managed to break out of Gothita’s hold.

    “Leaf Tornado,” Gardenia ordered.

    Servine struggled to stand up, but when it did, it spun around, and razor-sharp leaves began to swirl around Gothita.

    “Focus and pick it up again!” Pauline yelled out. “Gothita!”

    The psychic type was hurting too much. She was unable to focus.

    “Keep it going until it’s down,” Gardenia said. Servine nodded weakly.

    Well, it looked like Charmeleon would have to deal with three weakened Pokemon. It was certainly doable, but it would be difficult, especially dealing with Bayleef’s Ancient Power. I doubted Gardenia would let herself be caught off guard by Fire Fang’s strength again. She would probably try to keep her distance instead—

    Light. Blinding light engulfed Gothita and the battlefield. She was— she was evolving.

    “Don’t falter,” Gardenia told her Pokemon. “Keep the attack going.”

    Gothita’s body stretched and almost doubled in size as it turned into a Gothorita. Pauline’s face split into a grin.

    “Confusion.”

    More range, more concentration, more power. That was the name of the game as Gothorita suddenly picked up Servine and rammed it against the ground over and over. The grass type’s eyes closed, and Gothorita finally released its body, allowing it to go limp. Gardenia wasted no time and released her Paras.

    “Fix up Grassy Terrain and then go hide again,” She told the bug type. “Be careful.”

    Paras screeched, and the Grassy Terrain recovered from Charmeleon’s flames. The bug type sank into the grass.

    “It’s going to Double Team again,” Pauline warned. “Get ready.”

    Another dozen Paras burst through the grass, and Pauline grinned.

    “Confusion again! Find the real one!”

    Gothorita held out her arms and started using Confusion on multiple clones at once, easily dispatching them. My eyes widened when I saw a singular seed fly out of the grass.

    The real Paras wasn’t even attacking. It had stayed in the tall grass, hiding and waiting for an opportunity to land a Leech Seed on its opponent. Gothorita was too focused on using Confusion, and Pauline was still riding on the high of that evolution. The attack landed on the psychic’s type head, and vines snaked around her.

    Pauline winced. “Psybeam the grass!”

    Another wave of Paras streamed out of the Grassy Terrain, and Gothorita’s attack didn’t appear to hit anything.

    “Fuck it, get close and try to track it!”

    I nodded. Gothorita’s newly acquired power could be enough to find a hidden enemy—

    One of the Paras hit the psychic type with a vicious Fury Cutter. Gardenia had pretended to use the same tactic, but the real Paras was actually a part of the rush this time. Gothorita fell to the ground and finally fainted. Pauline recalled her and smiled.

    “You made me proud,” She said, before grabbing Charmeleon’s ball. The fire type looked ready to go, and she was now free from Leech Seed. “Burn up the grass!”

    Charmeleon roared and spat out an Ember, completely destroying Paras’ hiding spot. The flames forced the bug type to scuttle out, and it started to run in the only direction it could. Toward Charmeleon.

    “Fire Spin to trap it, then finish it off!” Pauline said.

    The fire type roared out another stream of flames, trapping the Paras. One Ember and the heat from the Fire Spin was enough to finally take it down. Gardenia smiled and recalled her Pokemon before sending out Bayleef.

    “Get close, quick!” The redhead ordered. “Ember as you run!”

    “Light Screen and Reflect,” Gardenia started, and two shimmering barriers formed around her Pokemon. She waited for Charmeleon to get closer and then yelled out her second order. “Trip it up with Ancient Power!”

    Charmeleon tripped on a raised piece of Earth, but she got up right away before any of the attacks could hit her.

    “Ancient Power around yourself.”

    A cocoon-like shell formed around Bayleef just before Charmeleon could reach the grass type. She raged and clawed at the earth with Metal Claw.

    “Burn it up first, then hack it apart!” Pauline said.

    Charmeleon let out a point-blank Dragon Rage at the barrier, but it exploded outward, sending her flying. I sat at the edge of my seat as the fire type struggled to stand. She closed her eyes for a few seconds and opened them again. They were bloodshot, and she appeared to be frothing at the mouth.

    Blaze had just come into play.

    Pauline let out a nervous grin. “Ember!”

    “Ancient Power again.”

    At this point, Charmeleon’s Ember looked more like a Flamethrower, and the searing hot flames had now turned white. The attack melted Bayleef’s protective barrier and simply burst through the Light Screen like it was nothing, burning the grass type. She tried to raise another layer of Ancient Power, but the attack melted it all the same, and Bayleef finally went down.

    I sighed in relief. Pauline had won, thank Arceus. Her Pokemon had gotten so much better since the tournament— which served as a reminder that I wasn’t the only one improving. If she had mastered Blaze like this during our battle, princess probably would have lost.

    Emilia audibly swallowed.

    “You’ll make it, Emi” I said, trying to cheer her up.

    The rest of the group gave her more words of encouragement as we left the gym to meet Pauline. Tomorrow morning, Emilia would fight.

    ——

    We had done all we could to bring Emilia up to speed with some last-minute training. Denzel, Cecilia, and I had asked for her team’s entire moveset to craft a strategy so she could win, and we had managed to come up with something… pretty good, I supposed. It wasn’t perfect, and there were a lot of holes in the plan that couldn’t be filled because of some of her Pokemon’s weaknesses, but we could only cross our fingers and hope that Gardenia either wouldn’t use the Pokemon that heavily countered Emilia or was just having an awful morning that reflected on her battling.

    Emilia stepped into the battlefield with meek, uncomfortable steps. The battle would, of course, be three-on-three with two switch-ins. She sighed and sent out her Aipom, and Gardenia sent out a Cacnea, which hadn’t been on my radar whatsoever. I expected her to send out Ferroseed or one of her grass types that could fly. Emilia hadn’t planned for this either, and I doubted that she even knew what moves the grass type even had.

    “Fake out,” Emilia breathed out.

    Aipom yelled, and he practically teleported next to his opponent before hitting him as hard as he could with the huge fist on his tail.

    “Slam it!” She continued.

    The normal type once again used his tail to slap Cacnea away, using its surprised state to his advantage and sending it flying off toward Gardenia. The grass type got back on its feet right away and awaited Gardenia’s command.

    She didn’t keep it waiting. “Grassy Terrain, Spikes,” Gardenia said in quick succession.

    Cacnea screamed, summoning Grassy Terrain, and I groaned as floating spikes were laid all over the arena. They were dormant now, but as soon as a new Pokemon stepped onto the field, the closest ones would rush toward it and deal heavy damage. It was an especially annoying move with how much switching beating Gardenia required.

    “Get close and Slam it again,” Emilia said.

    Aipom nodded and ran toward Cacnea. He wasn’t particularly fast, which meant that Gardenia had ample enough time to think about how to respond.

    “Sand Attack,” She said, waiting until the last moment. Cacnea placed its appendages into the ground and flung dirt into Aipom’s eyes. The normal type panicked and rubbed his face with his tail. “Needle arm, then follow it.”

    The needles on Cacnea’s hands extended, and the grass type flung its arm at Aipom as hard as it could, sending it away. It didn’t stop there, though, and it quickly ran after it.

    “Come on, Aipom! Get up and Swift!” Emilia said, her voice faltering.

    Aipom swerved his tail around, summoning stars and sending them flying toward the advancing Cacnea. The Pokemon grunted at the impact, but it kept running and flung its arms, hitting Aipom again.

    “Bullet Seed,” Gardenia ordered, continuing her onslaught.

    “Swift! Swift!” Emilia said.

    She was starting to panic. She needed to take a breather, and maybe switch Aipom out. The normal type could maybe beat Cacnea, but sending out Rockruff wouldn’t be that bad of an idea, even with the type disadvantage. The rock type was her fastest Pokemon, and as long as she didn’t reveal her Beldum too soon like we had discussed, then it would be fine.

    Another set of stars hit the Cacnea, who was hunting Aipom like he was its Arceus damned prey. Sometimes, the normal type would try to knock it away with Slam, but Cacnea had quickly learned to counter that by baiting him into overextending and then hitting him with Sand Attack. Cacnea wasn’t the strongest opponent to deal with, but its cunning certainly couldn’t be underestimated. Gardenia was barely commanding it.

    Emilia finally decided to switch out and sent her Rockruff right next to Cacnea. A few of the spikes the grass type had laid out levitated and flew at him, causing him to yelp.

    “You’ve got this! Bite it!” She yelled.

    “Do the usual,” Gardenia said.

    Cacnea once again threw sand at Rockruff’s eyes, but the rock type shrugged it off with a fierce bark and immediately bit at the base of Cacnea’s arm. Thank the Legendaries for Keen Eye. Cacnea used Needle Arm with his free arm, hitting its opponent in the head and neck, but Rockruff kept shaking his head as if he wanted to tear the grass type’s entire arm off and ignoring the pain.

    Gardenia returned Cacnea and sent out a Skiddo without even missing a beat. That was perfect. The plan was working, at least somewhat. Gardenia was underestimating Emilia and using Pokemon that weren’t that powerful. Now all Emi needed to do was bait out her last Pokemon somehow and hope Beldum could take all of her team down.

    “Skiddo, Bulk Up, and grab it with Vine Whip,” Gardenia said.

    “Rock Throw!” Emilia ordered.

    Skiddo’s body tensed, and its muscles bulged as it began running toward Rockruff. First slowly, and then steadily picking up speed. Rockruff pulled up a rock from under the ground and threw it at Skiddo, but the grass type just extended two vines from the leaves on its neck and broke it apart.

    “Run up and Bite! You can do it!” She screamed.

    I winced. That was a mistake.

    Skiddo’s vines wrapped around Rockruff, picking it up from the ground.

    “Rock Throw!” Emilia faltered.

    The rock type barked, and pieces of the rock he had thrown at Skiddo before barrelled toward the grass type, hitting it in the back, but its hold over Rockruff never weakened.

    “Seed Bomb.”

    Skiddo spat out the vicious, detonating seeds that we had all grown familiar with, and they all hit Rockruff in a cacophony of explosions. Emilia’s Pokemon cries were overshadowed by the noise, and he quickly went limp. Even I was surprised at how fast it had fallen unconscious. Maybe I had been underestimating Skiddo all along, but from the information I had gathered on it before my gym battle, it wasn’t that remarkable.

    Maybe that was its strength. Appearing weaker than it was. That precious smile and docile nature apparently hid a vicious battler.

    “Rockruff is unable to battle! Challenger, send out your second Pokemon,” The referee yelled.

    Emilia silently thanked Rockruff and sent out her Aipom again, who was hit by the Spikes.

    “Grab it again,” Gardenia said.

    “Fury Swipes!” Emilia ordered.

    Somehow, the fingers on Aipom’s tail grew sharp enough to hack the two vines apart. Emilia slammed her foot and kept going.

    “Run away and Swift!”

    Good, I thought. Fighting this Skiddo in close combat had revealed itself to be a terrible idea, especially when it had used Bulk Up.

    “Follow it and Razor Leaf.”

    Swift hit Skiddo, but it was too bulky to go down to an attack that weak. The grass type was faster than Aipom, and its Razor Leaves were hitting the Pokemon more often than not, no matter how much he tried to zig-zag to dodge. A few more minutes of this chase, and Aipom went down as well.

    Emilia hadn’t managed to make Gardenia use a third Pokemon. Her chances of victory were now significantly slimmer.

    The chestnut-haired girl sighed and grabbed Beldum’s Pokeball. She stared at it for a few seconds before releasing the white, marble-like steel type, which let out an alien-like grinding sound. Thanks to him levitating in the air, he didn’t trigger the Spikes, but if he was ever knocked to the ground, they would hit him all the same.

    “Take Down!” Emilia said.

    “Knock it away,” Gardenia quickly ordered.

    Beldum floated toward Skiddo. He wasn’t fast, but he was heavy, and that would make all the difference. Skiddo hit him with Vine Whip, but Beldum’s course wasn’t even slightly altered. He rammed into the grass type.

    “Pick it up!” Emilia said, not missing a beat.

    Take Down had sent the grass type flying, but Beldum’s red eye shone brightly as he used Confusion to stop it midair. He slammed Skiddo into the ground multiple times.

    “Flash Cannon!” She continued. Beldum summoned a bright light in front of his eyes and sent it flying, hitting Skiddo once more. The grass type tried to fight back, sending Seed Bombs and Razor Leaves whenever there was an opening, but the fight was a foregone conclusion. Skiddo went down.

    “Skiddo is unable to battle! Leader Gardenia, send out your second Pokemon,” The referee said.

    In a way, the sheer difference in strength between Beldum and the rest of her team was incredible, and Gardenia apparently thought the same, because she hesitated for a few seconds. She smiled and released Cacnea.

    “Pin Missile!” She said. “Don’t get close!”

    “Stop it with Confusion and get in range!”

    Needles grew out of Cacnea’s arms and started flying like guided missiles toward Beldum, who diverted a few away. Unfortunately, he hadn’t trained his psychic abilities as hard as Slowpoke or Gothorita, and a few of them hit him. Still, it was barely a scratch. Cacnea sent out another barrage of Pin Missiles before being picked up with Confusion. Since Beldum was already picking up a living being this time, all of them hit. The steel type let out a metallic sound and slammed Cacnea against the ground like a ragdoll, sometimes changing it up with Flash Cannon to inflict more damage.

    Cacnea went down. It was one-on-one now.

    Gardenia released Tangela— the same she had used against Cecilia’s Fletchinder. The grass type gurgled as if it was sneering. It was nothing like angel, which made me appreciate how different two Pokemon of the same species could act.

    “Get your vines out,” Gardenia said. Tangela extended more than ten vines into the air. “Sunny Day.”

    “Get in range again and pick it up! You can do this!” Emilia said, clenching her fists.

    Tangela screeched, and the sun began to bear down harshly on the battlefield. Gardenia wanted to take full advantage of Tangela’s ability. Beldum once again slowly but steadily flew toward Tangela.

    “Bind it.”

    All of Tangela’s vines instantly converged on Beldum at the same time and snaked around him, holding him in place further than his Confusion could reach. I expected the steel type just to brush it off like he had done with Skiddo, but he surprisingly couldn’t. Tangela’s vines were too powerful to be simply overpowered and torn down. Beldum tried to manipulate the vines away with Confusion, but Tangela just brought more of them to the table, rendering any attempts to free himself useless.

    “Bring it down,” Gardenia followed up.

    Tangela slammed Beldum against the ground in one smooth blur of motion, and the Spikes all hurtled toward the steel type as well.

    “Mega Drain,” She said.

    Was… was it over? No matter what Beldum tried to do, he couldn’t get free from Tangela. He was bulky and resistant enough to grass type moves that he could last a long time, but that didn’t matter if he couldn’t do anything.

    Beldum’s red eye slowly began to fade, leaving only a dark cavity. It was knocked out. I stared at Emilia, expecting her to be bitter about her loss, but she wasn’t.

    She looked relieved.

    ——

    We joined Emilia in the lobby and started comforting her.

    “Sorry Emi…” Pauline said, wrapping an arm around her friend. “I should have helped you train more. I was so focused on my own battle that I only helped you after it was too late.”

    “It was a close battle,” Denzel said, clapping her back. “You’ll get her next time. I know how hard defeat is—”

    “I feel great,” Emilia said.

    “What?” Justin frowned.

    “I feel great,” She repeated. “Beldum… he spoke to me before going down,” She said, caressing her Pokeball. “They weren’t words— not exactly, it was more like a feeling.”

    “That’s— that’s amazing!” Denzel smiled.

    “I knew you were worrying for nothing,” I said. “I told you he loved you.”

    “You did,” Emilia said. “Beldum told me to do what I really wanted to do, or at least that’s what it felt like. I guess he knew all along that I was forcing myself into the Circuit, since he’s there a lot when I watch contest videos. I was nervous about losing because I didn’t want to hold everyone back, and I was scared about my parent’s reaction—”

    “Just give me the phone when they call,” Pauline said.

    “Thank you,” Emilia smiled.

    “So are you finally going to try out contests or what?” The redhead continued.

    “Pauline… you knew?” She asked.

    “Of course, I knew. You were obvious as hell about it,” She said, rolling her eyes.

    Contests weren’t particularly my cup of tea, but I was happy Emilia had something she was passionate about. Signing up for it was as easy as signing up for the Circuit, and unlike the Circuit, it didn’t run on a yearly basis. It was a continuous sport, where trainers could earn ribbons instead of gym badges. I wasn’t too familiar with all the rules, though.

    “Plus, contests happen all over the region! I can still travel with all of you, although I’ll probably skip the more difficult parts and hop on a plane…” She trailed off.

    “Of course,” Cece said. “It wouldn’t be the same without the entire group.”

    Emilia sniffled and teared up. “Thank you, everyone… for supporting me.”

    We all grouped up and gave her a collective hug.

    “I feel so much more motivated to train now,” Emilia smiled. “It’s like everything’s clicking into place!”

    As we stepped out of the gym and toward our hotel, it was finally time to start planning when we would leave Eterna city. I still had my session with Amanda tomorrow evening via video chat, but other than that, I was fine with leaving any time.

    Our time in Eterna was slowly coming to an end.
     
  29. Threadmarks: Interlude - The Directorate
    Soussouni1

    Soussouni1 Not too sore, are you?

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    INTERLUDE - The Directorate

    It may have seemed strange, but Cynthia had always preferred the Directorate’s building over the League's, at least from a pragmatic point of view. The League was an ancient, beautiful building full of history, built akin to a giant cathedral, which she loved, but in terms of utility? The sleek, modern design and straightforward hallways were much easier and less time-consuming to navigate. And time seemed to be what she lacked the most these days. The Champion had the Directorate built on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, two years after becoming Champion. Almost twenty years since she had handed her absolute powers over to a civilian body.

    The Directorate sat relatively close to Sunnyshore, and the location had originally been chosen due to its closeness to the Pokemon League and how easy it would be to fly from one to the other. Yet that measure that had meant to link the two systems— trainers and civilians— together hadn’t worked. Today, people felt the same adoration for Cynthia that they had all those years ago, but when it came to the actual League itself? It was hard to find anyone who actually cared for them other than trainers themselves, and honestly, who could blame them? It was much easier to feel connected to the government if you actually saw the people who participated in it. Directorate members were often seen all over the region, and they worked in Sinnoh’s second most populous city.

    The League, meanwhile, sat on the Lily of the Valley island, far away from any type of civilization, and it was originally built so the strongest trainers who reached the place alive could live among themselves and reach the pinnacle of strength, back when Sinnoh was still called Hisui and people were still settling all over the region. From that primitive system, the Elite Four and Champion organically came to be. They had no doubt drawn inspiration from Kanto and Johto, who, according to history, were the first regions to have done so. When the strongest trainers finally came back to mainland Sinnoh, they subjugated its inhabitants and took control of the region and established a system akin to modern ‘gym leaders’, whose original purpose was to keep control of the region’s most populous settlements. However, the seat of power remained unchanged. The League ruled with an iron fist from a faraway island.

    Until Cynthia herself divided it. Still, even now, she never regretted her decision. The League had too much power, and implementing checks and balances was the remedy. It was only a matter of time before a future Champion grew mad with power— and it certainly had happened many times in the past. Massacres, slavery, and countless horrors had been orchestrated in the past all throughout the world by trainers. Now that Cynthia had changed the natural order, she hoped the future Elite Four and gym leaders would join the civilian government to stop any future tyrants instead of aiding them like in the past.

    If they didn’t? Well, all her work would have been for naught, but at least she would have tried. Strongly worded letters and investigations could only do so much in the face of murderous trainers.

    Ah, those worries were for future generations. Right now, she needed to make sure they got to be born in the first place. Cynthia sighed and entered one of the many empty offices in the building. The Directorate was in recess and negotiating right now, so she could afford to take a break from saving Vernon’s job. The Champion immediately grabbed her Poketch, which had been vibrating relentlessly for the past hour, and called the number back.

    “Rowan,” She sighed, feeling exhaustion creep up. “How was your flight up to Canalave?”

    “Oh, you know I hate flying,” The professor answered. “But I adore Canalave, so the trip alone is worth it. Anyway, I have found a few nuggets of information regarding your… inquiry.”

    Cynthia had contacted Professor Rowan to help her dig for more information about Dusknoir. She was very familiar with him, seeing as he was Sinnoh’s most well-known Pokemon Professor, and he extensively researched the phenomenon of evolution. When she contacted him about having seen a Dusknoir, he jumped at the occasion to help her research.

    “So?” Cynthia asked.

    “Well, of course, it would have been too easy to just find the answer in the Canalave library, but I believe my new assistants— Dawn and Lucas, have found a lead. It was a peculiar old book in the library’s corner about ancient Sinnohan history, which is why I didn’t think to check, but the book alludes to a certain Elite Four trainer that owned a Dusknoir.”

    “Does it allude to how it evolved?” Cynthia asked. She liked the professor, but his passion tended to make him ramble, and she needed to go meet Vernon right after this call.

    “Well, this is a primary source written by a League trainer from the time, so I would give it more credence, but it is said that when his Dusknoir was still a Dusclops, it would— ah, you are familiar with Dusclops, right?”

    “Fantina owns one, so yes,” Cynthia said, her voice unchanging but tapping her feet.

    “Well, they say that Dusclops would steal the spirits— which is what they called souls at the time— and use the amount that it had taken to weave some sort of cloth it attached in between the wispy appendages on its back, slowly turning it into a cape. When it got big enough, the ghost evolved,” Professor Rowan recited.

    “Do we know how many souls that would take?” Cynthia asked.

    “I’m afraid not. The book is rather light on the details. But they do say that looking at the cloth too much could render you mad with the voices of the trapped souls ringing in your mind,” He continued.

    Cynthia nodded to no one in particular. That lined up with the voices she heard coming from Dusknoir’s mouth, and if the evolution required human souls, then it made sense that Dusknoir kept sustaining itself with them, as Fantina had told her.

    “Thank you, Rowan,” Cynthia said. “This is great progress.”

    “We’re not done yet. We still need to parse through more books from the same time period and cross-reference to see if the facts line up or if the trainer who wrote this was just embellishing his story for the readers.”

    “Sounds good. I have to go, but call me again if anything comes up.”

    “Very well. Good luck with your negotiations. I’ve heard you’re having a hard time.”

    “Nothing I can’t handle,” Cynthia said before saying goodbye and hanging up.

    One vote. One vote was all that separated her paper-thin majority from becoming the minority and firing Vernon. It was one thing for the majority of members to oppose her, but if the Prime Minister also did, she wouldn’t even be able to bring her measures to a vote since she needed their approval to do so. Cynthia exited the room, surprising many staffers and interns walking through the gray-white halls of the Directorate. She quickly strode towards Vernon’s office and knocked.

    “Who is it?!” The man said aggressively. “Go away!”

    “It’s me, Vernon,” Cynthia said. “Unlock the door.”

    She heard grumbling behind the door as Vernon Harper unlocked his door. He looked incredibly tired and depressed. His usual well-kept hair was disheveled, and he had stubble all over his chin. Cynthia tilted her head and scoffed at the cardboard boxes littering the room.

    “Are you packing?” She asked.

    “Of course, I’m packing, Cynthia,” Vernon said in an exasperated tone. He was angry at her, and Cynthia couldn’t blame him. She had maybe cost him his job. Even though he would remain as a Directorate Member even if he lost the position of Prime Minister, he would no doubt lose his next election in a landslide. “I’m one vote away from hell.”

    The Directorate worked in a proportional manner. Each city had a number of members they could elect, and the more people inhabited the city, the more members they got, for a total of two hundred and fifty. Some smaller cities like Celestic— her hometown, or Floaroma didn’t like the system because they said that it gave too much power to Sinnoh’s population centers, but there was no way to please everyone.

    “I have one more card in play,” Cynthia said with her usual smile. “I’ll present a recent report the LSS finally gave us about Team Galactic.”

    “So you’re finally ready to deliver on your promise and tell me what the fuck is going on?” Vernon sighed.

    Cynthia grimaced internally. It was true that she had told him she would explain everything about team Galactic, but the Champion had wanted to gather all the facts first, which was why the League had been so silent these past few weeks. Still, now that the first substantial report had been produced, she would present it to the Directorate— albeit in a redacted manner— and hope to sway their votes. Cynthia didn’t have much of a choice here. She doubted the members of parliament would believe her if she suddenly accused some of them of taking bribes from team Galactic without solid proof, and there was also the fact that the LSS had purposefully spread misinformation which had no doubt caused the death of young trainers.

    All on her command.

    For the good of Sinnoh, Cynthia thought, steeling herself. It wasn’t the first time Cynthia had done something so unforgivable, but she was a pragmatic person at heart. The lives of a few trainers, or the potential devolution of the situation in mass riots and panic from the public learning too much, which would give team Galactic free reign? She would pick the former every time. She had done what she could by asking the rangers to give the trainers thorough lessons before allowing them in, and that had cut the casualty rate by more than half. Even now, a small voice at the back of her head was telling her to just burn down everything she had built to save the region.

    Cynthia shut that thought down every time it came up. She would deal with the repercussions from the other gym leaders later. Maylene would be the angriest of them all, but Volkner and Candice would probably start getting cold feet.

    “Yes, I will tell you what’s going on,” Cynthia finally answered. “Now clean yourself up, look confident, and join me in the chamber.”

    Vernon reluctantly nodded and left his office, jogging toward the nearest washroom. Cynthia placed a hand on her forehead and sighed before returning to her smiling state as she waited for him to come back. Surprisingly though, it was Sophie Richards that walked through the door, one of the Directorate members suspected of having been bribed by team Galactic. She was young— still in her late-twenties and full of ambition, which often meant making mistakes. Unfortunately, there was no money trail, but she had just bought a mansion on Sunnyshore’s beaches, along with two luxury cars. The woman was so blatant with everything that it boggled the mind.

    “Ms. Richards,” Cynthia said politely.

    “Cynthia,” She smiled at her. Not using her title of Champion was another obvious jab. “I was just visiting my future office.”

    Sophie Richards was now the front-runner for the future Prime Minister position despite having changed her vote just slightly more than a week ago. She now often gave fiery speeches on the floor about the tyranny of the League despite having wholeheartedly supported it beforehand.

    “Well, I wouldn’t be so sure of that if I were you, but feel free to have a look,” Cynthia said.

    “Vernon looks to be halfway done packing already,” Sophie smiled. “But since you’re so sure of yourself, let me give you a hint. We’ve already flipped two more members. Your reign is over, Cynthia. Your puppet Vernon is losing his job today, no matter what speech or new information you present.”

    Cynthia was surprised, but she didn’t let it show. She could have been lying, although it didn’t look that way. Cynthia’s gut wasn’t often wrong.

    “Do you really believe what you’re saying, Ms. Richards?” Cynthia smiled. “You seemed to have had a sudden change of heart recently, along with a large increase in funds.”

    The woman faltered for a split second— a mark of her inexperience— and returned to her confident expression.

    “What are you insinuating?”

    “Oh, nothing,” Cynthia waved her hand dismissively. “Just an astute observation.”

    “Good, because I’d love it if you tried to bring that up when you speak to the chamber. They’ll treat you like the fool you are.”

    Vernon stepped into the room as the two women stared at each other icily.

    “Sophie, get the fuck out of my office,” The man snarled. “I don’t want anyone in here.”

    Ah, Vernon. Always rude and straightforward, but that was the thing that made him a ruthless negotiator before team Galactic and public pressure got involved in the halls of the Directorate.

    “I look forward to redecorating it,” Sophie said with glee as she left.

    “Anyway, I suppose it’s time to make our way to the chamber as well,” He said as soon as she was out of earshot. “I hope what you’ve got is good because things are looking dire.”

    “I’ve gotten new information, and it actually looks like you’re losing your job,” Cynthia deadpanned.

    Vernon had to do a double take and had the wind knocked out of him. “What?! You said you had a card up your sleeve!”

    “Calm down. Think clearly. You’ll still be a member, and your election isn’t for another year. We have time to switch things around.”

    “So the new information you have…?”

    “It won’t change anyone’s mind, but it’ll start to make some of them doubt the prevailing narrative that the League is out to get them, at least.”

    “Fine,” Vernon sighed. “I trust you.”

    “And so do I. Keep your chin up, Vernon. Act confident.”

    “Hard to do, but I’ll try my best.”

    Cynthia and Vernon stepped into the semi-circular room featuring seats for every member of the Directorate. They stepped down the stairs, and Vernon took his usual spot in the Prime Minister’s chair, which sat at the center of the room, while Cynthia stood next to them with the LSS report in hand. Above them was a huge statue of a faceless armored man wearing a cape and holding a lance— a monument to humankind and its advances, but also to the suffering trainers of old had wrought. Cynthia carefully waited for all members of the Directorate to take their seats. Whereas in Unova, there were different political parties and the seating was arranged by which one a member identified with, Sinnoh’s parliament was arranged by city. Members from the same cities sat together, although Cynthia believed that would change soon, with the collapse of the coalition government.

    Vernon grabbed his hammer and tapped on his elevated desk three times.

    “Order! The Directorate is now in session— order!” The Prime Minister yelled. Eventually, the chamber became silent, but Cynthia noted that before, he could silence the chamber in mere seconds. “Champion Cynthia is here to address the Directorate. You have the floor, Champion.”

    Cynthia watched as the staffers finished handing out copies of the League Secret Service report to every sitting member, and then she finally started.

    “Dear members of the Directorate,” Cynthia started. “As you no doubt know, a new terrorist organization known as team Galactic has revealed itself to us this year—”

    She heard a heckler toward her left who interrupted her.

    “The gentleman from Veilstone does not have the floor!” Vernon yelled.

    Cynthia continued. “I apologize on behalf of the League for our silence these last weeks. We were gathering as much information on their organization as possible to make sure all the facts we would reveal were correct. I had the most recent and substantial report distributed to you, so feel free to read along as I summarize it.”

    The Champion paused for effect, then took a breath. “Team Galactic has been active all around the region, but their nexus of activity seems to be around the Eterna region. First, they have been found active around Eterna forest, trying to lure a rare ghost type that we do not yet know the identity of. Second, they have been agitating the protests to turn violent, as it is in their interest to keep to government paralyzed into dealing with its internal issues instead of them…”

    Cynthia kept going, embellishing her speech as much as she could. She could see from the member’s faces that she wasn’t flipping anyone, but that had been expected after Sophie Richards’ taunt. It was about planting the seed in their mind, as Gardenia would say. Next up, staffers again went around to pass a different report, this one about the attack on the power plant at Valley Windworks. Cynthia believed it was finally time to rip off the band-aid and let them know team Galactic was more dangerous than it seemed.

    “During the attack on Valley Windworks,” She started. “Team Galactic stole data pertaining to tearing holes through reality itself.”

    There were murmurs and whispers now. Good.

    “I learned of this the day of the attack, but I had the League investigate further and make sure all the facts were correct,” Cynthia lied. “But I am sure now that team Galactic is a threat,” She said, still omitting the fact that the threat was existential. “The Directorate and the League must stay united during this time, at least until the situation is dealt with. I am calling for you to return to your senses and unite in a coalition government once more.”

    There were claps and cheers from the half that supported her and jeers from the others. One member of the opposition from Jubilife stood up, and Vernon gave him the floor.

    “Why is so much of these two reports redacted? Do we not deserve to know the full extent of what is going on in our region? How are we supposed to work with you if we don’t have the full picture?”

    “The League believes these facts getting out would be a threat to national security,” Cynthia honestly stated. “I apologize, but the remaining information will be revealed at an appropriate time.”

    Another member rose, waited for permission, and spoke.

    “You say team Galactic is a threat, but they haven’t killed anyone yet or caused substantial damage. What guarantees do we have that this isn’t a lie from the League?”

    They have, Cynthia thought. And so has the League.

    “You don’t. But the fact that I am here, and my political agenda is at your mercy, is it not? I have no reason to lie.”

    Questions kept coming, and Cynthia kept answering them as honestly as she could, but there were lies sprinkled in there too. Right now, she needed to make team Galactic come across a dangerous threat that could kill and cause significant damage, but not end the world. It was a small tightrope to walk, but Cynthia could only hope they were convinced.

    Still, in the end, it didn’t look to be enough. Cynthia had flipped one of the three people Sophie had turned to her side, but that meant that the opposition still held the majority. Wasting no time, they immediately brought the position of Prime Minister to a vote, fired Vernon, and put Sophie up as his replacement. The woman let out an evil grin at Cynthia as she walked to the Prime Minister's podium, but the Champion just smiled back. She wouldn’t unnerve her. Cynthia had faced far too much to be emotionally rattled by a mere girl.

    Vernon immediately left to finish packing. The office technically wasn’t his, it was the Prime Minister’s, and he no longer held the position. Cynthia stayed to listen to Sophie’s speech, which laid out their legislative agenda. None of it could actually pass without Cynthia’s signature, but it was still egregiously anti-trainer, and they could form committees to ‘investigate’ League activities. Another one of those checks on the League Cynthia had placed in good faith was now being abused for personal gain.

    Cynthia finally left when she felt her Poketch ring again. She stepped into the empty office once more and answered. It was Gardenia calling.

    “Cynth!” She immediately yelled, clearly panicking. Her tone was usually calm, so Cynthia knew something was wrong. “It’s a catastrophe. There’s— there’s—”

    “Take a deep breath and start over,” Cynthia said.

    “We just had everything leaked. All of our data, trainer information, emails, League communications, including gym leaders and the Elite four! It was like— it was like someone hacked the gym’s entire digital system.”

    Cynthia pinched the bridge of her nose. “Stay here. I’ll be on my way,” Cynthia said.

    The media would have a field day with this. A leak this massive had never happened before, and she needed to get to the bottom of it now. Cynthia strode through the halls of the Directorate and exited the building. She ordered the two League trainers that had been accompanying her that she would need to fly back to Sunnyshore instead of being driven there. She released Garchomp, who let out a low affectionate growl.

    “Fly me to Sunnyshore, please. Volkner’s gym,” She said.

    She climbed on the Dragon’s back and grabbed her shoulder spikes tightly. She jumped into the air and started gliding toward the city. Of course, she wasn’t going as fast as she could have— which was the speed of sound. Cynthia would never be able to hold on at those speeds. Garchomp landed with a loud thud in front of Volkner’s gym, surprising many trainers who were no doubt waiting to sign up to challenge the gym leader. Unfortunately for them, she would have to take him away for a few hours.

    Garchomp bent down to enter the building, and Cynthia walked up to reception.

    “Good afternoon,” She said. “Get me Volkner and his gym Kadabra.”

    “C—C—Cynthia?!” The receptionist yelled as he practically fell out of his chair. “Right away, ma’am!”

    “Thank you.”

    It took a few minutes, but Volkner lazily walked through the door and into the gym’s lobby with his usual slouch and his hands in his pockets. He wore clothes too large for his frame and had that familiar bored look on his face.

    “Cynthia, I was in the middle of a gym battle. I had to adjourn and ruin a kid’s day. Plus, he was winning, so this better be good,” He said. “And we’re going to have to talk about that report on team Galactic later.”

    She nodded. “It’s not good, but it’s important. Have Kadabra teleport us to Gardenia’s gym. You had the previous one replaced like I asked, right?”

    “Yep, yep, yep,” He groaned, releasing the Kadabra. “He has enough range for that, and he’s been to every gym already, so he can bring us. Sorry kids, I’ll be back later, or feel free to battle Jonathan instead of me.”

    Cynthia recalled Garchomp, blinked, and she was suddenly at the entrance of Gardenia’s gym. She asked for the gym leader’s location, possibly traumatizing the young girl working reception, and quickly made her way to her office.

    “Gardenia, I have Volkner with me. He can help with technical issues, so explain what happened in detail,” Cynthia said. Her Poketch was vibrating. The leak had gotten out.

    “Well, I wasn’t there since I was battling, but a few of my gym trainers came up to me and told me that a bunch of popups appeared on the computers they were working on, and no matter what they did, all the information was sent… somewhere. Even turning it off wouldn’t work.”

    “Were we hacked?” Cynthia asked Volkner.

    “No, that should be impossible,” Volkner immediately said as he walked toward Gardenia’s computer. “We have firewalls, encryption, access controls—

    “So what is it then?” Gardenia asked. “Do I have to interrogate my gym trainers?” She asked in a pained expression.

    Volkner held up a finger. “Hold on, shut it,” He said, clicking a few windows open. “The computer looks clean. The log files don’t show anything unusual—” He stopped. “Wait, what is that?”

    Cynthia squinted at the screen and saw that one of the files was… gibberish. They were all gibberish to her, but it looked particularly different than the others.

    Volkner double-clicked the file, and an orange Pokemon surrounded by bright blue electricity sprung out of the computer. Cynthia immediately released her Glaceon, but it was already gone through the wall.

    “What the hell was that?” Gardenia asked.

    Cynthia clicked her tongue. “That was… that was a Rotom. They’re incredibly rare.”

    “Shit…” Volkner murmured. “That’s why you couldn’t stop the hack. Rotom can infiltrate any electrical device and essentially do whatever they want.”

    Cynthia brought a hand to her chin. It all made sense now. The rare ghost type team Galactic had been trying to capture in the Old Chateau was a Rotom.

    “It was team Galactic,” Cynthia said. “Nothing stored digitally is safe anymore. Volkner, send out a message and tell the other gym leaders to delete everything that would be deemed confidential. From now on, we’re switching to paper-based communication only until we find a solution.”

    “But you would have to do that manually—”

    “Do it.”

    Volkner sighed. “Roger. What are you going to do?”

    “I can’t stay silent about this. I’ll have to talk to the media. Luckily for us, they’ll probably focus on trainers’ personal information being leaked, which is the least important part of this whole ordeal. Volkner, have your people try to find a solution to this problem.”

    “I can think of a few things already,” he said. “But we’ll need to mass create Porygon for it, and that’s ridiculously expensive.”

    “You have the League’s permission. Talk about it with mayor Sanchez and reach an agreement for the budget. We can potentially reach a bipartisan agreement on it with the Directorate by convincing a few members to flip, but I doubt that would be any time soon. The new government will want to see us squirm for a while. I need to see how effective the new PM is at whipping her caucus first. The money you’ll see will be local for now.”

    “Gotcha,” he simply said.

    Cynthia bent down and pet her Glaceon’s frosty fur. The Pokemon rubbed herself against her black pants, freezing them slightly.

    “When I’m done, I’ll gather all of the Elite Four, some League trainers, and start planning an attack. The LSS is zeroing in on team Galactic’s base in Eterna city, and the International Police will be of help as well. I’m done waiting. It’s time to go on the offensive. I won’t need Directorate approval for that.”

    Cynthia Collins was Sinnoh’s Champion. She had done terrible things, good things, and everything in between, but one thing was for sure. For her, there would never be a break.

    And that was fine. She had a region— no, potentially a world to save.
     
  30. Popoley224

    Popoley224 Versed in the lewd.

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    Binged this in a few days - I enjoyed it!

    Are you crossposting this anywhere else? The SFW section on QQ doesn’t get a lot of traffic and this should be seen by more people.
     
    SailorOfMyVessel likes this.
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