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I JUST now realized she took similar risks with catching Frillish as Turtonator.
Is that why Frillish is unusually upset about it?
Chapter 114

"So Chase has finally shown himself," Cecilia said.

"Yup. Gotta hand it to him, he did have me worried for a bit," Denzel smiled thinly.

The three of us were eating breakfast in my room while Pauline and Emilia were hanging out in the city together. Justin, meanwhile, had left a few minutes earlier to finally go order his Audino from a reputable Pokemon breeding company that supplied most of the region with its medical Pokemon, which meant that they worked closely with the League to supply Nurse Joys with their partners.

"He won't even tell us what he was doing in there so long, too," I sighed. "I bet he was doing some really crazy training."

"Sounds like him," Denzel nodded. "So he'll be here in five days. Does that mean we battle in six?"

"If his Pokemon are in shape to do so, I would assume yes," Cecilia agreed. "We can decide on the teams when he gets there."

"Come on, we know you're fighting each other," Denzel grinned as he stared at us. "The question is, who are Chase and I joining?"

"Oh, man, I'm so excited," I squealed, tapping my feet against the ground. "I've never had a double battle before! There's going to be so much to keep track of, oh this is just the best!"

Strategizing against a single powerful opponent was hard enough, but two? Both multiple Pokemon, and with different approaches to battling? And then there was how my teammate would synergize with me, and how we could work together! I was already quivering with excitement, and we were still a few days away.

"We have very different definitions of fun," my friend chuckled.

Cecilia laughed as well. "Don't stop her. She's cute when she's like this."

"Then there's the battle against Fantina to plan, too," I cheered. "I think I'll start doing that today, actually."

"Okay, so you won't be doing anything today. Got it," Denzel deadpanned.

"No, I've got to go train my team and talk with my grumpy turtle," I said. "This is just going to be some light scanning. I need to figure out Fantina's general strategy and stuff."

"Don't forget that we have to meet Vincent later," Cecilia said.

"Right. Emi's new friend."

"She doesn't want to call him a friend," she clarified. "She says that he's more of a business partner."

"Sounds like a girl in denial to me," I said before finishing my plate. "By the way, the food in Snowpoint was definitely better. Don't look at me like that, Cece! I will die on this hill."

"Whatever you say…"

After they finished eating, Denzel and Cece went their separate ways, both opting to train. I released my entire team, aside from Turtonator, of course. I'd speak with him again later. I would have really liked it if he could just be less aggressive so that he could actually spend time outside of his Pokeball, but alas, that looked impossible right now. Tangrowth was a lot bigger than before, so he could barely move around in the room, but I had found another application for his new form.

"Angel. Can I sit?"

The grass type's entire body wriggled, which would have been a creepy sight if I hadn't been so used to it. These days, I just found it adorable. His vines extended at his feet, stacking up and up until they were thick enough to be a mattress. I sat down on them and leaned against angel, who shook excitedly. His vines were surprisingly more comfortable than they looked, and I enjoyed how much he liked me sitting on them. Larvitar hopped on them as well, and the floor shook slightly.

"Nu-huh," I warned. "No jumping inside, young lady."


"As long as you understand," I smiled, petting her. "Come," I continued, patting on the vines.

Larvitar waddled through the bed of vines and settled in between my legs. Togetic let out a lazy chirp and laid down on Tangrowth's head, and Electabuzz leaned against his body, almost sinking into it.

"Stop brooding in your corner and being so edgy," I told Frillish, who was keeping his distance. I beckoned him. "C'mere."

He huffed and floated away, practically hugging the door.

"I already forgave you for what happened yesterday, bud. Come sit with the kids."

He shot us a glance, and Electabuzz called out to him with a smug smile. Togetic laughed at the joke that must have been said. Frillish shot him an angry glance, and he suddenly stopped smiling and sunk deeper into Tangrowth's vines.

"Angel, drag him over, will you?" I smiled. He happily obliged me, extending a vine toward Frillish and wrapping it around one of his tentacles before dragging him over. He let his complaints be known, but he didn't actually leave. I wrapped an arm around his body and pulled him in closer. "I'm gonna look up Fantina today. She might have a Frillish, you know? Wouldn't it be interesting to fight one?"

He rolled his eyes.

"Only I like that sort of thing, huh?" I said. "Either way, stick around, you goof, or I'll get sad. I'm burned, remember? You're supposed to pamper me."

Togetic and Larvitar loudly agreed, and Frillish resigned to his fate. I grabbed my Poketch, turned it on, and opened the Hearthome city gym website. Larvitar clamored at me to see the screen, which I lowered, but then Togetic complained that she couldn't see.

"Why don't you just come down here, princess?" I asked, looking up at her. Her head was hanging off Tangrowth's massive body.


"You like angel's head? Well, I can't accommodate both of you, and holding the phone up makes my arms tired, so you should probably come down here anyway."

With a disappointed 'prrrrri,' Togetic floated down into angel's vine-bed, and after applying the three-badge filter, I started looking at Fantina's battles.

The battle for the fourth gym badge is where what Denzel had occasionally called the 'mid-game' began. That weird length of time in the Circuit where your Pokemon all started to evolve, and your growth started to get faster and faster until it started slowing down around the sixth or seven badge. The gyms, however, didn't actually get a huge jump in difficulty like in between the first and second badge, so some trainers found this stretch of the Circuit relatively easy.

Relatively was important. It was still difficult. The curve just wasn't as steep. At least until the eighth gym battle forced you into a six versus six and kicked your ass. Either way, evolutions were expected around this time, like Tangrowth's own. Larvitar was still too young to evolve into a Pupitar. However, this was probably around where Electabuzz would have evolved if we hadn't been in a life-or-death fight against those Sneasel, and Togetic needed a Shiny Stone, which I was hopefully going to start saving for whenever the Poketch Company and the other businesses contacted me back.

Would Frillish evolve soon? I stared at him, and he avoided my eyes.

The most knowledge I had about Fantina before perusing her gym's website was that she was a ridiculously good trainer when using her personal team— on par with the Elite Four— and that she used illusions to battle. Now, I hadn't known what those illusions actually implied.

But before going in-depth with the illusions, I noticed something else. The higher level she battled at, the fewer Pokemon she used. She had around forty Pokemon at the first badge level that I could see, but at mine? She only had twenty— including a Frillish— and after giving it some thought, I believed that I managed to figure out why.

All Pokemon were dangerous, but ghost types were especially so, along with fairies and dragons. That knowledge had been ingrained into my mind since I was a child. The ghost-fairy-dragon triad were the most difficult Pokemon to train and raise, although Togetic hadn't given me any trouble, aside from her usual glee when committing acts of violence. Last night, Cece had already told me about how she struggled to find Denzel when he was off doing his own thing, and we had theorized that there was some… wrongness at play. Not reality warping— he wasn't strong enough to do that, but maybe Sylveon had affected what we saw because he had wanted Denzel to be alone for a while.

And he liked us. What would have happened if he hadn't?

The point about the three types was this. The general rule of thumb was: dragon types were prideful to a fault. Fairy types had a wrongness about them that shook me to my core the longer I thought about it. Ghost types were hateful— so hateful in fact, that some of them sustained themselves purely off of that hatred, like Banette. All three types shared a common love for violence that was nearly impossible to contain.

And for ghosts, that hate meant that they did not like holding back in battles. Pokemon battles were a sport. Pokemon instinctively held back during them in order not to kill, which was something wild Pokemon or criminals' Pokemon just didn't do. Ghosts were wild. You could own one, but it would never truly be under your control. There was a reason so few trainers had true ghosts as Pokemon besides their rarity. Fairy types grew attached to their trainers exceptionally quickly, and even dragons eventually relented. Ghosts rarely put their own trainers' wants and orders over their own urges.

Ghosts were also immortal as if they weren't threatening enough. They could be killed, but they'd always rematerialize a few days or weeks later. The fact that there were a significant number of very powerful, old ghost types roaming the world was a terrifying prospect— Mismagius in Eterna Forest had probably been one, with how incredibly powerful that illusion we had been put under had been. Either way, the more powerful a ghost got, the harder it was to control, so what if even Fantina couldn't handle dozens of them at my level and beyond?

It made sense too. If she had too many, then she wouldn't be able to keep them controlled. Without a connection to their trainer, they'd probably go rogue during battles, and a challenger's Pokemon dying would be the biggest scandal a gym leader could face. It hadn't even happened in my lifetime. I wasn't sure if they were capable of passing through Kadabra's barriers to get to the spectators, but I didn't want to find out. The good about all of this was that since she didn't use as many Pokemon as Gardenia or Candice, the strategizing would probably take less time.

Or at least that's what I thought, until I saw how versatile ghosts could be— and I meant actual ghosts. Attacks would hurt them, so long as they weren't normal type, but they'd just pass through their bodies, which meant that knocking one away was impossible unless they solidified their bodies themselves to use physical attacks, or like… Dusknoir had done to protect Mars.

I took a breath.

I wasn't seeing a lot of that in the videos, though, and for a good reason. It would just make them more vulnerable. I couldn't exactly place a style on Fantina's battling, however. She seemed bored in every single one, especially when juxtaposed with Candice and Gardenia. Studying her Pokemons' moves would be relatively easy, but studying the illusions? That was going to be difficult.

Larvitar screamed excitedly as a Seadra spat out a huge Scald toward a flame dancing in the middle of the arena while its trainer kept yelling at it to listen, but it wasn't. It kept attacking what was clearly a bait while a Lampent lazily appeared behind it and hit it with a Shadow Ball, causing it to faint. I thought all of the illusions would be caught on camera, but most of them actually were not, and they were invisible to a trainer's eyes.

That meant that my Pokemon and I wouldn't even be seeing the same thing— a death sentence in a Pokemon battle. It wasn't even a move, or at least it didn't look like it. I had expected a variant of Confuse Ray, Hypnosis, or Substitute, but it was just something ghosts could do. But that wasn't it.

There was also the fact that ghosts could appear and reappear anywhere at will. They could be on the opposite side of the battlefield and then reappear behind your Pokemon seconds later with a Shadow Ball ready to go. Yes, seconds. Ghosts moved quickly when they weren't in their solid state.

"Well, I like a challenge," I smiled.

There was your share of Pokemon that weren't true ghosts that Fantina also used, and they were easier to handle. She probably used them to give her challengers a little break in between the actual threats she had. The Pokemon I identified as the biggest problems were Haunter, Banette, Misdreavus, Shedinja, Dhelmise, and that Lampent, but there were others that weren't true ghosts that looked like hell to fight, too, like Gourgeist or Drakloak.

But the biggest problem was Palossand.

That last one was actually the biggest threat I could possibly face in a potential battle. The tactics it employed were ruthless. Fantina's Frillish was disappointingly ordinary. It was a Pokemon she used against the less powerful three-badge holders, and it showed. Their Water Sport was nowhere as versatile as ours, so most of that extra mobility was gone, which was crippling for a Pokemon as slow as Frillish. Its ghost type moves were impressive and on par with ours, but the water side of things was lacking, and it didn't know Recover or Acid Armor for survivability. Buddy would easily wipe the floor with it in a battle.

"Doesn't look like she going to use it against me, unless she sends it out first to test us," I muttered. Frillish let out a satisfied huff. "Happy? I bet it's weird fighting one of your own. I sure as hell wouldn't want to fight a human."

Actually, I wouldn't want to fight anything, but that was beside the point.

"We're going to have to fight a four against five, too," I continued, and all of my Pokemon responded with their respective cries.

Now that Turtonator had been added to the picture and Larvitar was capable of battling, I was going to have to fight at a numerical disadvantage, although it wouldn't actually be a six-on-six, since those tended to only happen at the seventh gym badge barring exceptional circumstances. Obviously though, I had no plan on using Larvitar for this gym, and even if Turtonator didn't actually attack me, he wasn't going to listen to anything I said.

Seeing if he'd let himself lose to spite me, or try to win to salvage his pride would be an interesting experiment, however, but I wasn't mean enough to try that, especially when I needed to gain his trust and respect. If Electabuzz, Togetic, Tangrowth, and Frillish fainted, I'd give up the battle.

"Well, I think your moves are all good enough to win at the moment," I told my team. "So we should work on perfecting what we've got."

I hadn't constructed a plan yet, but I already knew a combination of Togetic's Wish, along with switching to Tangrowth and Electabuzz— which were my heavy hitters— would be crucial to winning. Frillish's Recover meant that he'd be fine as an independent crutch in the battle.

So Togetic would put everything she had into using Wish. Tangrowth would perfect Knock Off, and Electabuzz would work on his endurance. With all of Fantina's tricks, I knew the battle was going to last a long time. I would have liked for princess to learn Air Slash, but I already knew Wish was going to take too much time to work on two moves at the same time.

Plus, Wish would be crucial in the battle against my friends as well.

"Okay," I said as I stretched. "Everyone satisfied with what we learned so far?"

It had been a few hours, and I was done learning about Fantina for now. I'd come back later and start taking notes, but I hadn't even signed up yet, so I had time. I laughed when I noticed that angel was asleep. Everyone else had been so focused on my Poketch, but he had just dozed off. I carefully recalled him so that he'd stay asleep in his Pokeball, along with the rest of my team.

"Okay," I smiled. It was time to speak to Turtonator once again.


I was back on route 208, and I released Turtonator. He stared at me angrily and let out a threatening growl.

"Yeah, yeah, I know, you're a big, scary dragon," I said dismissively, closing my eyes to show that I wasn't scared— even though I was. I opened an eye when I heard that he wasn't growling anymore, and I understood after a few seconds. "What? Surprised my team isn't here this time?"

He didn't respond. In fact, he almost looked disappointed, like he wanted a confrontation. Now that he wasn't getting it, Turtonator turned and left, lying down a few feet away.

"I brought some food for you," I said, grabbing a pack of kibble from my backpack. "Want some?"

I approached him, but he turned toward me, and flames started to gather in his snout. I froze and fell to the ground, and he let out a satisfied snort.

"Asshole," I groaned. I realized that I had instinctively dropped the food and grabbed Frillish's Pokeball instead, probably because I thought I was about to be lit on fire. Even though I knew Turtonator wouldn't kill me, seeing him gather a Flamethrower and aim it at me had been so terrifying that I had forgotten about it.

Turtonator swiped the food, angled his head upward, and ripped the package open over his mouth, eating all of the kibble in one go.

Two hundred and forty Pokedollars down the drain. And he didn't even look the slightest bit happy. I sighed.

"Wanna know something?"

He immediately shook his head and walked off. When I tried to follow him, he raised the temperature to unbearable levels and forced me to back off. He was daring me to either recall him or screw off.

"Okay then," I shrugged. "I'll tell you when you feel like it."

I sat a ways away from him. It was uncomfortable but bearable, and I had plenty of water. I couldn't really tell if there was progress being made or not, but it was nice sometimes, staying on my own in silence. I could tell why Justin wanted his alone time so often. I'd rather be with my friends, but once in a while, I wouldn't be against this. Plus, even though I was on the edge of the route, no wild Pokemon would be crazy enough to attack a Turtonator.

I jumped when I saw the fire type get up. He was… angry. Furious, like he had been in Mount Coronet. I grabbed his Pokeball, ready to recall him before an attack came, but I soon realized that he wasn't looking at me.

He was looking behind me. I heard someone fall over and turned. A trainer that had just been walking through the route scrambled backward, but before Turtonator could do anything, I put him back in his Pokeball.

"I'm sorry," I apologized, helping the teenager up. He gave me a shaky nod and left— well, it was more accurate to say he ran away. I thought that this part of the route was isolated enough to avoid others, but I had apparently been wrong.

In my hubris standing up to Turtonator, I had almost forgotten what he was. I needed to be more alert every time I had him out, or an accident was bound to happen. I clipped his ball back on my belt and ran a hand through my hair.

Dragons were a prideful bunch, and they held grudges. Turtonator still hated trainers for what they had done to him in Mount Coronet. I doubted that kid had actually been one of the people that battled him. There were no signs of burns, and he looked rather new. If I had to guess, I would have said that he had come from Hearthome to train and not from Mount Coronet.

And yet, it did not matter to him. They were all the same.

When I got closer to the city, my phone went off with a flurry of notifications. I opened it and checked the group chat.

Emilia was calling us over to meet her new coordinator friend.
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Chapter 115

I entered a quaint cafe and immediately found my friends. It wasn't difficult, since they were the biggest group in the place, and two tables had to be stuck together for them. I smiled and strode up to their table.

"Grace, over here," Denzel beckoned. "Saved you a seat."

"Thanks," I said as I sat between him and Cecilia. "The new guy isn't here yet?" I asked, looking at Emilia.

She was looking at her phone. "No, but he should be here any minute."

Denzel called over a waiter for me, and I ordered an egg and cheese bagel with some water. They had apparently all ordered before me, since I had been running late and not answering the phone because I'd been on a route.

"I want to warn you guys," Emilia said. "Please don't be mean to him."

"What? Why would I be rude?" Pauline smiled. "He can't be too bad, since he got you out of your shell. I'll just ask him a few questions."

"Please, let's not be rude to a potential new friend. I'm sure the meeting will go well," Justin said.

"Thank you, Justin," she smiled softly.

"Look, I'm just tired, so I'll be chill," I shrugged. "I almost had an accident with Turtonator."

They all turned toward me.

"Oh shit," Denzel gasped.

"Are you okay?!" Cece asked worriedly.

"Oh, I'm fine," I hurriedly clarified. "I meant that he almost attacked another trainer that was just passing by. Sorry for not being clear."

"Arceus, do not scare us like that," my girlfriend exhaled as she gripped my arm. I hurriedly apologized again.

"They'll probably complain about it online," Pauline laughed. Now that she knew I hadn't been in danger, she had immediately loosened up.

"I don't think it's a laughing matter," I sighed. "He could be traumatized."

"He'll go through a lot worse if he wants this job," she simply stated. "Comes with the territory."

I wanted to retort, but Emilia interrupted us and pointed toward the entrance. Vincent was a short teen with long, wavy brown hair, thin lips, and large eyes. I observed as he confidently walked toward us with a smile.

"He sure seems happy," I muttered quietly enough so no one would hear.

He scanned the table as he walked, but his stare lingered on me longer, probably because of how I looked. Trainer scars were common, but most weren't as pronounced as mine, especially with how young I was.

"Hey everyone, sorry I'm late, I lost track of time when I was editing a video. My name's Vincent Campbell," he introduced himself with a smile.

"Oh shit, you have a channel? No way, man!" Denzel exclaimed. "You're gonna have to give me the name later."

"Most coordinators have them, remember?" Emilia clarified. "Take a seat, Vincent."

The boy sat, and we all introduced ourselves one by one. I noticed immediately that Vincent was a very extroverted individual— even more so than Denzel was. In fact, he and my best friend broke the ice immediately and seemed to get along very well after interacting for just a few minutes. I introduced myself last.

"I'm Grace Pastel," I smiled. "Nice to meet the one that got Emi started on her coordinator stuff."

"Grace, hm?" He said. "Can I just comment on your scars? You look really cool with them. It makes you stand out…"

Vincent didn't finish his sentence, as the entire table froze.

"Excuse me?" Cecilia asked, her tone icy.

"Vincent…" Emilia winced.

"Erm, did I say something—"

Pauline slammed a palm against the table, causing the customers around us to look on with worried gazes. "The fuck did you just say?"

"I— I—"

"Oh, so now we stutter, huh? You sure seemed content to run your mouth—"

"Pauline," I interrupted.

"No, Grace, this guy's—"

"It's fine," I said, discreetly nodding toward Emilia. She was staring down at her hands. "Hey, Vincent," I called out.

"I'm sorry, I didn't— I mean, I still don't know what was wrong, but if you tell me, I'll apologize properly."

I stared at Vincent, and noticed that he did appear to be apologetic. He was beginning to sweat nervously, his tone was nowhere near as smooth and confident as it had been seconds earlier, and I could hear the faint tap of his shoe bouncing against the floor. I had considered that he had been faking it for a second, but he did appear genuine. It looked like Emi had picked a good friend, at the very least. He wasn't tricking her here.

I exhaled as I calmly drummed my fingers against the table. I needed to approach this carefully. This was Emilia's new friend. I needed to be nice.

Even though that comment had infuriated me.

"Look, Vincent," I started. "I'm not going to tell you how I got these. I don't want you to treat me differently, or to feel bad for me— I mean, we barely know each other. But you need to realize that this isn't a game."

"I… I knew it wasn't a game," he said.

"You might have known, but I don't think you truly incorporated that fact," I continued. "To you, they're just something I have. But consider this, Vincent. These had to get on me. My skin was seared until it was irreparably scarred."

Vincent's eyes widened, and he grimaced. The words might have seemed simple, but after seeing his reaction, I knew I had been right. Vincent hadn't even considered the simple fact that a burn like this didn't get on you for no reason. It was painful and traumatic. I had been the victim of this thought process before becoming a trainer too. Plenty of people had scars in the battles I used to watch on television, and I did think some of them were cool. That had been before.

Behind every single one was a painful memory.

"Ah, shit," he swore. "I was being an asshole, wasn't I?"

"Yes," Denzel nodded. "But we can call it water under the bridge if that's alright with you, Grace?"

"Yeah, that's fine," I said.

"I guess I was thinking from a coordinator's point of view," Vincent said. "The distinguishing yourself thing… it's a thing that every coordinator tries to do to separate themselves from the herd, so I meant it as a compliment. I'm sorry. I swear, I wasn't discriminating against trainers or anything."

"Think before you speak," Pauline hissed. "I'll let it go for Emilia, but you're on thin ice. No one fucks with my friends."

"It wasn't intentional, Pauline," Justin tried.

She clicked her tongue. "Whatever."

"What do you mean by discriminating against trainers?" I asked.

Emilia spoke up, seemingly having recovered from the group's little spat. "Some coordinators see trainers with disdain," she explained. "Mostly because we— you get a lot of things for free."

"They also say that you guys act like you're better than them," Vincent added. "Which you'll easily know is a load of bullshit if you spent five minutes with the first coordinator you find on the Walk."

"The Walk?" Denzel asked.

"The Coordinator's Walk," Vincent said. "The street leading up to the Hearthome Contest Hall."

Vincent went on to explain a lot of the city to us and the main attractions, which I appreciated because my dad would be here tomorrow, and I wanted to do a lot of things with him. The conversation then moved on to another topic.

"So, how'd you two meet?" Cecilia asked Vincent and Emilia.

"Oh, it was actually on the Walk, funnily enough. Some girl called Jasmine was—"

"Vincent," Emilia said.


"You can skip over the details."

Pauline frowned. "No, go ahead. Tell me about this Jasmine girl."

"Uh…" Vincent hesitated, stuck between a rock and a hard place. Pauline's murderous glare seemingly won out, though, and he continued. "She was trying to trick Emilia. Asked her if she was staying at a hotel so that she and her friends could film a video there, and when she said no, she…"

He didn't finish his sentence.

"I think I can get the picture," Pauline said, looking at Emi's pained expression. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I wanted to handle it myself," Emilia sighed. "I can do it. I know you want to help, but I've got to learn to do this stuff myself. You won't always be there."

Pauline chewed on her words for a few seconds. "Okay."

"Really?!" Emilia beamed, hugging the other girl's arm. "Thank you so much."

"S'nothing," she grumbled. "If we walk up on her when I'm with you, though…"

"You won't have to hold back," Emi nodded.

"I think I want to go see what the Coordinator's Walk looks like later," Pauline said nonchalantly. "Hey, what does this Jasmine gal look like?"

"Now you're purposefully looking for trouble," Justin sighed with a slight smile.

"Look, if it's worth anything, I think you guys are way nicer than your average coordinator," Vincent said, probably trying to change the subject.

"Don't kiss my ass," Pauline grumbled. "Makes you look and sound fake. I know you don't like me."

"He just can't win with you, can't he," I smiled.

"I'm serious!" He exclaimed. "Y'all seem pretty nice. People normally wouldn't have given me another chance after my fuck up earlier."

"They are nice," Emilia said. "Even Pauline. You just have to get to know her."

"So you mentioned that coordinators hate trainers earlier," Denzel mused. "I honestly don't see the same dislike toward you guys in our line of work."

"Some coordinators," he specified. "Like Jasmine, for example. But the majority won't really care. They're too busy competing with each other."

Cecilia let out a tired sigh. "What a cutthroat world. It seems exhausting."

"Trainers and coordinators do seem fundamentally different," I contemplated with a nod.

"True," Denzel agreed. "Trainers can be toxic to each other, but at the end of the day, we have each other's backs."

"Probably because we don't actually compete with each other— at least not in an official manner— until we get to the Conference," I said. "Imagine if people had to battle each other to get a badge."

"Okay, yeah, I can see how that'd degenerate very quickly," Denzel said.

"Plus, we travel together in the routes," Cecilia added. "Harsh experiences create bonds. Coordinators have none of that."

"Doesn't mean they have to be fake pieces of shit," Pauline said.

"The performances make it worth it," Vincent said.

"You ever been in a performance?" She asked aggressively.

"Emi told us about—" Denzel spoke up until Pauline interrupted him with a single stare.

"Twice, and none of them were for a ribbon," he quickly answered. "The first one, I lost horribly. The second one, I lost. Also horribly."

We all chuckled lightly. I was glad I gave Vincent another chance. Emilia seemed overjoyed that we were getting along. She had probably been worried she would have had to lose her only coordinator friend. Plus, he didn't seem to know much about us because he was largely disconnected from trainer news, which was a positive in my book. We continued talking for an hour, although most of the conversation had turned toward content creation. Denzel and Emilia wanted to do a 'collab,' and he also wanted to shout out her channel to give her a head start. He had fifty-thousand subscribers now, and his channel was still growing exceptionally quickly. I wondered if it was going to get him unwanted attention from other coordinators, especially with what Vincent had told us about how a good number of them hated trainers. There could be some jealousy issues there.

"Well, it was nice meeting you, Vincent," I told him as we exited the cafe.

"Likewise. Sorry again about earlier. And Denzel, don't forget to contact me! We've got to get that video filmed before y'all leave Hearthome!" Vincent yelled as he left.

"Sure!" he grinned.

"What is the video even going to be about? I spaced out," Pauline asked.

"They're going to make me try to come up with a performance with no prep time and act as the judges. I'll most likely fail horribly, which could be good content. Emilia will upload the video, and Vincent will help her edit it. It'll be a good base to build up from."

Emilia's smile was so bright I almost felt the need to cover my eyes. "This is going to be so good!" She squealed, sneaking in between Denzel and Pauline as she wrapped her arms around theirs. "Now I've just got to keep working hard for my performance. I'm close to a breakthrough with Shadow Ball."

"Oh right, that reminds me!" Denzel exclaimed. "I still need to borrow your Shadow Ball TM!"

"Borrowing TMs, huh?" I teased.

"What? It's the smart thing to do! I've got to save for two evolutionary stones!"

"I'm kidding, I'm kidding," I chortled. "Anyway, are you guys ready?"

Pauline and Justin looked at me with fired-up expressions. Justin's Audino was set to arrive tomorrow, and they were going to sign up for Fantina's gym. There'd probably be a decently long wait time, so he hoped that since it was a bred Pokemon, it'd be easy to train so that he could use it in battle. I considered it a very interesting tactic, considering ghosts and normal type attacks couldn't hit each other for any amount of significant damage. Something about the two type energies canceled each other out. Apparently, the Audino he had ordered would have the Regenerator ability too, which was incredibly busted, since it meant that the Pokemon would continuously heal its injuries when it got a chance to relax, and the process was further sped up when it was recalled. The longer they stuck in their Pokeballs, the more damage they repaired, which meant that you couldn't just recall your Pokemon and instantly rerelease them, but it still had a lot of powerful applications. Tangrowth could have had it too, if I had gotten lucky, but Chlorophyll would come into its own as soon as we managed to learn Sunny Day.

Cecilia paid for a taxi, and we were driven to Fantina's gym, which was the usual stadium-like building, and we waited for Justin and Pauline to go through the queue to sign up. The lobby was unusually active, but it was probably because Hearthome was a big city. People were squeezing past each other to get to the spectating area.

"What'd you find out about Fantina earlier?" Denzel asked me.

"That she's going to be tough," I shrugged. "Ghosts are a bitch to fight. Expect the battle to be long and exhausting."

"Just how I like 'em," he said confidently.

"Please, at least do some surface-level research," I told both Cecilia and Denzel. "There actually aren't that many Pokemon to learn about."

"How many?" Cece asked.


"We have different definitions of 'not many,'" Denzel shook his head.

I sighed. They were both lost causes. "Well, at least we get to watch Justin's and Pauline's battle before our own this time."

"They're a badge below us. I don't expect it to help that much," Cecilia shrugged.

"If it was any other type, I would have agreed," Denzel said. "But Grace is right here. It'll help to see how ghosts operate. I mean, the only one I've ever seen was that Mismagius."

"And Dusknoir," my girlfriend somberly added. "It's true that they are decently rare, so I suppose it wouldn't hurt."

Suddenly, I heard huge cheers emanate from the battlefield.

"Must be a good battle going on," I smiled. "Should we go see?"

Denzel stood on his tiptoes and craned his neck. "Looks packed to the brim, I don't think we'll get through."

After fifteen minutes, Justin and Pauline came back.

"We're on in five days, in the afternoon," Justin proudly declared. "Pauline's first, since she so desperately wanted to go—"

"You should be happy I'm going first," she huffed. "I'm letting you get some intel."

"That's when Chase is coming back," Cecilia pondered.

"Chase won't come watch," I said.

"He'd probably say something like— I don't have time to waste on watching these low leveled battles," Cece recalled fondly.

"Seems like a real angel," Pauline said. "Anyway, what now?"

"Well, a few companies answered me, and I've got my first meeting in…" Denzel trailed off as he grabbed his Poketch. "Three hours. I was wondering if any of you could help me out? Rehearse a little? Figure out what they'd do to fuck me over?"

"Say no more," Pauline said. "Emi, Cece, come with."

"Actually, I'm going to train," Cece declared.

"So am I," Justin nodded.

"Any answers on your side, Grace?" My best friend asked.

"I checked on the bus. One answer from that shoe company I talked to you about, and the meeting's next week. But nothing from the Poketch Company."

Cecilia crossed her arms. "If I had to guess, they've probably read your message, but they're deliberately taking their time to answer."

"Why would they do that?"

"Well, you made them wait, right? It might be their way of letting you know that they didn't appreciate it."

I sighed. "They did send their first email when we were in Snowpoint. I could have answered…"

"And now that they've seen you've answered back, they know you want to work with them. That means the balance of power's back in their favor," Emilia nodded. "Be careful."

"I will, don't worry," I reassured her. "I thought they were supposed to be nice. You guys go do your stuff, I'm gonna hang out here and decide what to do."

We all bid each other farewell and went our separate ways. I considered my options before deciding to go off and train too. Maybe I could find one of the arenas and battle some trainers there with Tangrowth, or I could go back on Route 208 or visit Amity Square to work on Togetic's Wish. Well, the closest option was Amity Square, so I'd go there—

A girl with glasses and jet black hair paced through the lobby, followed by a group of… fans? One of them carried a banner with the word 'LET'S GO LAUREN' written on it in a fancy, almost unreadable font, but the girl seemed to pay them no mind. In fact, she wasn't even listening to what they were saying since she was wearing ear pods and her head was nodding to the rhythm of what I assume was music.

The name Lauren…

Wait, was this Craig's sister? They certainly shared the same hair color, and their eyes and noses were the same shape. I discreetly followed the small but dedicated group, who were asking for Lauren's autograph. I remembered from my research online that her fans weren't as numerous as other trainers in the Circuit, but they were devoted to finding out every crumb of information about her. They reminded me of some of the fans coordinators had. They could get very rabid, even driving some to quit the industry after they were found to be dating someone. I was surprised to see that she was even out and about in broad daylight, however. She usually battled as early or late as possible to attract the least attention. What was she doing here in the middle of the afternoon?

Lauren released a Duosion, who hovered above her, and the people following her clenched their heads and backed off. Was that even allowed…? The psychic type seemed unharmed, which meant that she hadn't used it in her battle. I couldn't be one hundred percent sure it had actually been her battling, but the fact that some of her fans carried banners to encourage her certainly made me lean that way.

Well, I had promised Craig that I'd tell his sister to call him if I met her.

I took a deep breath and quickly approached her, tapping her shoulder. Duosion moved around in its goo-like substance, and Lauren stopped in her tracks. She turned toward me.

"Hello?" I hesitantly said.

She just stared at me, and then at Duosion. And then at me again. After what seemed like an eternity, she took off her ear pods.

"You… seem alright. Can I help you?"

Her voice was so quiet it was practically inaudible, especially with my busted ear drum.

"Erm, I'm Grace. I know your brother Craig. I know this is sudden, but he asked me to call him if I ever met you."

Her meek expression changed to an exasperated one for a split second. "Oh… what do you think, Duosion?" She asked. After a few seconds, she talked again. She didn't seem to be in any pain from the telepathy, but I doubted that it was because she was used to it enough. No matter how many times you spoke to your psychic types, you would at least feel some pain if you had only owned it for a few months. Lauren either had a very high pain tolerance, or was simply good at hiding the fact that she was suffering a massive headache. "Trustworthy? You're right, she doesn't seem like a stalker…"

"You've been stalked?" I asked worriedly. "Are you okay?"

"During my stay in the city…" she whispered. "They keep following me, but they're harmless."

"Oh. Well, I won't follow you," I said. "Just let me do this favor for your brother? I owe him a whole lot."

"Fine," she sighed.

I dialed his number, and he thankfully answered. For all I knew, he could have been flying off somewhere.

"Grace! Long time no see. What's up?" He asked cheerfully.

"No… um, I've got your sister in front of me. I'll hand her the phone."

I ignored his freak-out and gave Lauren my Poketch. As soon as she brought the phone to her ear, her whole demeanor changed.

"I thought I told you to stop trying to contact me!" She yelled angrily into the phone. Duosion worriedly jumped around in its goo. "Shut your mouth! I want nothing to do with you!"

I felt like I shouldn't have been hearing this.

"If I'm seen with you, people will think I'm getting help from you, you shitter!" She screamed. "No! No— don't you dare fly here. No! I don't want to see you!"

There was another pause.

"I'm not sticking around. I got my badge, and I'm leaving," she said. "All the bullshit messages you sent me about being more public only got me some creepy fans. I hate you."

I awkwardly stared at the floor, hoping this conversation would be over. This wasn't what I had expected at all.

Lauren sighed. "Her? Fine… if you say so," she said, in a surprising change of heart. "As long as you don't actually come here."

Then, she stared at me and seemingly remembered that I was hearing everything being said, since Craig had probably mentioned me by name. "Okay… yeah… I'll stick around for a little bit," she muttered. "Nothing happened. Just… bye."

Lauren handed me my Poketch back. "Sorry you had to see me that way," she continued with her meek voice. It was like she had done a complete one-eighty, but maybe that was how close she was with her brother. "Craig just gets on my nerves."

"Hey, I won't tell," I shrugged. "So I guess that's it."

She nodded. "Craig told me that you and your friends were good…" Lauren quietly said. Her eyes suddenly lit ablaze with a passion I knew too well. "I'm sticking around until I see all of you battle Fantina."

I smiled. "Are you sure? You seemed like you wanted to leave badly."

"There's a tournament in Solaceon I want to sign up for," she muttered. I perked up at the mention of a tournament, and she continued. "It's in a bit, so I should still be able to make it. And so should you, if you don't lose against Fantina. You losing would be disappointing, though..."

"I won't lose," I declared. "None of us will. I should probably tell my friends about all of this. Um, it was nice to meet you?"

"No. Don't tell more people about me," she shook her head.

"Oh. Um, okay?"

My friends were cool, though…

Lauren nodded, giving me her number to tell her when our gym battles would take place. Afterward, she put her ear pods back in, and walked off with her Duosion as she bobbed her head to music.
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Chapter 116


Togetic shut her eyes as tightly as she could and started to glow, forcing me to shield my eyes. After five seconds, a light shot up from her body and high into the sky.

Five seconds. That was a lifetime during a battle, and yet it appeared to be princess' bottleneck unless anyone she cared about was in mortal danger. It took slightly less than two minutes to fall back from the sky, like a bright star falling down to earth. I congratulated her, gently petting her head, which she nuzzled against my hand, and Electabuzz put his arms up and flexed, screaming to celebrate. The move wasn't as good as it could potentially be, but at least it was usable in battle now.

I couldn't sleep, so I had decided to go out training instead. My dad's arrival in… approximately eight hours excited me too much, and I kept tossing and turning in my bed. I was currently on the shores of Amity Square's enormous lake, and because it was so late at night, it was completely empty. I was honestly surprised the place never closed. I had almost expected to get turned back at the entrance, but some poor man half asleep on his night shift had let me through.

What I had learned, however, was that battling wasn't allowed in Amity Square, nor was using any kind of offensive moves, so all we had managed to do was get Wish as close to perfect as we can— which wasn't close whatsoever.

At least the team was having fun. Frillish was off somewhere swimming in the lake, while Larvitar was dipping her tiny feet in the water. I had told Tangrowth to watch over her, and he had a vine wrapped around her like a life buoy in case she went too far. Electabuzz was keeping Togetic company and encouraging her.

"You've done enough for today," I told her. "The next time we train, we gotta work on that Ancient Power variant idea."

"Prrrri!" She chirped.

The goal would be to shape the earth and rocks into drills to penetrate Zweilous' armor. From all the times I had seen it battle, the dragon was impressively good at resisting blunt trauma, or super effective attacks in general. Even as a Deino, he had shrugged off multiple Mach Punches from Gardenia's Breloom. However, his hard scales had been penetrated by Icicle Crash in the fight against Candice. I only had one example, but it was still empirical evidence.

Piercing his armor would be more important than hitting it with Fairy Wind. Although at this point, Togetic could probably keep a constant, low-powered Fairy Wind going throughout the battle. Still, she had come a long way since not being able to even create spheres with Ancient Power back when I had first trained angel. Now, she could create whatever shape she wanted without a second thought.

I was excited to see what she'd be able to do with Psychic.

Arceus, Chase couldn't get there soon enough. There was only so much planning I could do without knowing the other person I'd face. I had considered just starting now and creating a strategy to fight them both, but I realized that if I wanted to strategize, I'd need to do it with my teammate.

"Well, let's head back home. Angel, call buddy over!" I yelled.

Larvitar protested, wanting to stay to play in the water longer— which was very surprising for a rock type— but Tangrowth dragged her away and started gently tapping the surface with his vines. Around twenty seconds later, Frillish emerged from below the surface, his red eyes appearing like spotlights in the darkness.

"It'd been a while since you got to enjoy a lake, huh?" I told him as he approached. "I'll bring you back when I have time."

Unfortunately, I hadn't released Turtonator here because I feared that he'd burn the grass here to annoy me, and this was a public park, not a route. It'd be rude to the people that worked to maintain it every day and the others that visited it. I recalled my team aside from honey, who walked me back to the Center, and I finally managed to fall asleep.


I anxiously waited in the airport, standing at arrivals to see when my dad would pop up. His flight had been delayed, so he was arriving an hour late. Unfortunately, I hadn't seen his text warning me about it until I had already gotten there, so I had just been at the airport for more than an hour, letting the excitement and anticipation build up. My friends had asked to come, but I had told them that I wanted to be alone with my dad, at least for now. Introductions could come later. Plus, even though I was sure my dad would like to meet my group, interacting with teenagers for too long would probably annoy him somewhat.

And even though I didn't want to admit it, I wanted some alone time with my dad too.

Togetic let out a longing chirp as she lazily floated and placed her head on my shoulder.

"Sorry, princess," I said. "It's my fault you're tired. I should have let you sleep—"


She let out an ear-piercing yell, turning a few heads around us, and dashed toward arrivals. My head swerved toward the massive, automatic doors, and I gasped.

Dad was here!

Before I even realized it, I was running, weaving and dodging in between people to get to dad faster. Togetic got there first and tackled him, practically making him fall to the ground. I was right behind her, embracing him as tightly as I could.

"Grace!" He said as he softly caressed my hair. "I've missed you, kiddo."


"You too, princess," he added.

"Dad…" I sobbed into his shirt. I was so happy.

"I know, I know," he said. He gently pushed me back and smiled. "Look at you! You've grown so much. That's at least an inch."

"You're such an idiot," I chuckled before sniffling and wiping my tears. "Should we get out?"

"I'll go and book my hotel room and rent a car," dad nodded. "Then, we can do whatever we want."



"So you even watched my battle against Candice? You didn't say anything!" I grumbled as we exited dad's hotel room. He had just dropped all his luggage there, and now, we were free.

"I did, and you were wonderful in it. You know, people in my department are all rooting for you now. You're like a little celebrity there."

I hid a smile. Dad wasn't really well versed with the trainer-internet space, so he didn't really know I was still somewhat of a celebrity, even now that the Mount Coronet story had died down.

"That's embarrassing. What about their own kids?" I asked.

"None of them are as far along as you are in the Circuit," he said. "They're still rooting for them too, obviously, but you too."

"Well, you're enough for me," I shrugged. "Will you be there for my battle against Fantina? It might be in a while… more than a week for sure."

I asked him the question with the biggest Lillipup eyes I could muster, but I surprisingly didn't even have to convince him.

"Is that even a question? I'll be out there yelling your name, and when you're down there, I'll tell everyone you're my daughter."

I blushed. "Please don't. Anyway, where do you want to go?"

"Are you sure you don't want to pick?"

"No, no, today's your day!" I exclaimed. "Choose already!"

"Well, I heard the Poffin House might be fun," he said.

"Oh… yeah, save that for another day. I want us to go with my… girlfriend."

Well, that had been as subtle as a brick through a window, but it'd be better to get it out there as soon as I could. Plus, dad already knew I was gay. I had come out to him immediately after figuring it out two years ago, and he had the best reaction possible: he kept acting normal and treated me no differently than he had before.

"Oh," He said, raising an eyebrow. "Which one is she?"

"Cecilia," I said. "I can already tell what you're thinking. Don't be hard on her."

"I wasn't going to be hard on her. I was just thinking we could have a little talk when I meet her," he explained, pausing when he saw me glare. "Nothing bad, kiddo. Don't worry about it."

"Well, I can't not worry about it now," I sighed. "I'll have to warn her. She's already anxious about meeting you."

"Come on, I'm not that bad, am I?"

"You look intimidating. Just because you're being mean, I'm picking where we're going. The new Pokemon Mystery Dungeon movie came out recently, and I've been wanting to go see it."

"Mystery Dungeon? Didn't you use to watch those when you were younger? I thought those were for kids."

"No! People keep saying that because it looks like a cartoon, but that's just a stylistic choice! The movies have a lot of depth. A lot more than most of the garbage coming out these days."

"Still got your passion for movies, I see," he said. "Alright then, I'll trust you on this. Where's the nearest theater?"

"I… don't know."

Dad chuckled. "Let's ask around."

"We can just look it up, dummy..."


Dad wiped the tears from his cheeks and sniffled as we walked out of the cinema. He'd bawled like a baby at the movie's ending. The two main characters were separated forever. One became the most famous adventurer, and the other returned to his world— a world without Pokemon.

A world without Pokemon? How depressing. I had teared up a little as well, but I knew the movie would get dad. He'd always been a softie.

"I can't believe you made me watch this," he complained.

"But it was good, right?"

"Yeah… you win, it was good," he sniffled. "I can't believe Riolu and Vulpix are never going to see each other again."

"Yeah, that sucks," I nodded. "Their movies are usually sad, but this was definitely the saddest ending yet."

"Whew, that was something," he exclaimed. "Hungry?"

"I ate a large popcorn, so no," I said. "But you can go eat something if you want. I'll just drink some water."

We quickly stopped by a drive-through at Arlyle's— my favorite fast-food chain, and dad ordered a burger with two fries, which I proceeded to steal as soon as he parked to eat.

"Thank Arceus I bought two sides," he said.

"Well, if you put fries in my face, I'm gonna eat 'em," I retorted, leaning back against the seat and placing my feet on my dashboard.

"So much for not being hungry," he laughed. "Arlyle's still as good as ever."

"You haven't eaten any since I left?"

"No, I only ate some when I was with you," he answered. "I've got to watch my cholesterol, remember?"

"Right," I said. "Oh, by the way, the Poketch Company's offered to meet me."

Dad started to cough and almost choked on his food. He drank half of his water to wash it down.

"We're— we're sponsoring you? That's great!"

"They might," I nodded. "I wanted to hear what you thought about it."

Dad paused for a few seconds to calm down. "Uh, I think you should go for it, but there are things to watch out for," he said. "I'm getting it's going to be a closed-door meeting, but never sign anything without being sure—"

"Oh, I know all of that already. I have business-savvy friends, remember?"

"They grow up so fast…"


"So you were asking what I thought the company was like as a whole, then?" He asked, ignoring my outburst.

"Yeah. I mean, you've worked there since before I was born, so you must know a lot."

"I honestly think they're a decent company, but I suppose I'm biased," he said. "The benefits I get are excellent, the pay is good, even if you get an entry-level job, and even though the work is hard and my boss can be a real hard ass… I couldn't imagine working anywhere else."

I nodded, chewing on a fry. "I was thinking it was too good to be true. I got suspicious."

"I mean, feel free to make your own decisions, Grace, but you have to remember that sometimes, good things just happen."

"You're… you're right. I should give it a try, at least."

"Gotta hand it to the Poketch Company, though, they know where to pick the best trainers out there," he said, looking at me.

"Ugh, you're so embarrassinguh," I groaned, hitting his shoulder. "Stop it!"

"So I can't even compliment my daughter?"


"Arceus… just tell me where to next."

"Amity Square," I said. "I'd like for you to meet my Pokemon."


"They're all nice, no need to be scared," I said, looking at my dad, who was trembling like a leaf. "Well, one of them isn't, but you won't be meeting him."

"That Frillish of yours was a problem when he stayed at my house."

"Oh, that's right, I remember!" I smiled. "He scared you a little bit."

"Not just a little," dad sighed. "Just go ahead."

"Come on, he was just smiling at you," I said, grabbing my Pokeballs. "We'll go one by one, okay? Princess is first."

Togetic flew out of her Pokeball and started pulling on dad's hair.

"Hey, no! Don't do that, I have very few of those remaining!"

Togetic laughed, clapping her hands after pulling a few strands.

"Come on, dad, you aren't that bald. Just balding. There's a difference."

"You saying that hurts more than you would know," he said.

I ignored him and released Frillish next.

"Hey bud," I greeted him, pointing toward dad. "Remember my father? I said he'd visit soon, right?"

Frillish's eyes lit up brightly as he stared at dad, causing him to shrink back.

"Stop scaring him!" I laughed. "What's with you? You're never like this with anyone else. Be cute like you usually are."

The water type huffed but flew toward dad and gave him a curt nod before flying off into the lake. That was probably the best I was going to get.

"Well, he's a bit anti-social, but he's a lot of help."

"Sure… I think he just hates me."

"Well, this one won't," I smiled, sending out Tangrowth. "This is angel. Angel, this is my dad who I told you about."

The grass type's vines wriggled, and he wrapped six vines around my father, who let out an uncharacteristically high-pitched screech.

"What is he doing?!"

"Calm down, this is just how angel says hello. He's non-verbal."

"Why's he going under my shirt?!"

"He just likes feeling skin instead of clothes, so he can differentiate you from other people with touch. Look, he has one around my ankle."

After around ten seconds, Tangrowth finished his inspection, and dad looked like he was already ready to leave even though we weren't close to done.

"Don't be a baby," I teased.

"That was terrifying."

Tangrowth petted him on the head, and his eyes saddened.

"He's apologizing."

"Oh… I forgive you," dad sighed.

I released Electabuzz next. "This is honey."

Electabuzz confidently strode up to my dad and extended his hand for a handshake.

"Oh, this one's normal enough," dad hesitantly said.

"Wait, don't! He's pranking you."


"Your hair."

Dad realized that the hair on his head was standing up, and he retracted his hand quicker than I thought was even humanly possible. Electabuzz had just tried to give him a small jolt.

"Honey… don't prank my dad. He's not into stuff like that."


"Prank Frillish when he comes back, okay?" I said, releasing Larvitar. I introduced her to dad, and she didn't seem to be exactly impressed, but she certainly had the most normal reaction of the bunch, and since she was a baby, she reminded him of Togetic as a Togepi.

Which meant he was head over heels for her.

"Isn't she cute?" He said, trying to approach Larvitar. She turned away from him and hid behind my leg.

"She's a little shy, but I guess that's better than being jealous."


"Yeah, she gets jealous sometimes when people get too much of my attention," I explained. "She might be tolerating you because you're my dad, though."

The rock type huffed, clearly denying my accusations and waddled toward Electabuzz, who started playing tag with her. Dad ended up spending the most time with Tangrowth and Togetic after all, and the grass type was growing on him. It was impossible not to like angel, as odd as he was. After around thirty minutes, dad took on a more serious expression that I knew all too well. He was going to bring something important up, and I already had a suspicion of what it was.

He cleared his throat. "Grace. I was waiting to see if you were going to bring it up yourself, but I know that you won't," he said before exhaling loudly. "How are you dealing with your burns?"

I froze and averted my gaze.

"You told me your last Pokemon gave them to you," he continued. "I'm wondering if you're… let me think about how to say this," he sighed before continuing. "Look, I'll support you no matter what. I'm the one that gave you the first push to go on this journey, and I've already told you I'd cheer you on for your battles, but I'm starting to think you're taking too many risks, kiddo."

"I… I know that. I've already told myself that I'd stop, and now that I have six Pokemon, I won't have to risk myself stupidly like that again."

"Okay, that's good," he nodded. "I don't want you to do something like that ever again, Grace. First, you throw yourself into an unpatrolled part of Mount Coronet—"

"It was to save Cece!" I snapped.

"I don't want you to throw your life away."

"Being a trainer's dangerous. You know this already."

"I do, but there are things that you shouldn't do. Slow down a little, Grace. You don't need to throw caution to the wind like you only have a year to work with. You'll be doing this for possibly a decade. You have time. Stop acting so recklessly."

"You're only right about me taking needless risks to catch Turtonator. If I had to go into Mount Coronet to save any of my friends, I'd do it again."

Dad looked at me with a pained expression and sighed. "It's hard, Grace. It's hard to think that when you leave the city, you might make a mistake."

"I said I would stop," I exclaimed.

"You're telling me that because you want the discussion to stop," he said. "Not because you're actually agreeing with me."

I flinched.

"What? I'm your dad, kid. I know you. You just want the argument to be done with. Your actions could have endangered your friends and your Pokemon too, couldn't they? It's you I care about the most, but it's not just you that you have to watch out for."

I said nothing, but I knew he was right. Cecilia had tried to get me to back out of the battle against Turtonator, and she could have gotten burned just as badly as I did. To be honest, it was a miracle she hadn't.

"I want you to look me in the eyes and tell me that next time you want to do something incredibly dangerous, you'll remember this conversation, and you'll back out."

"Unless my friends are in danger."

"Can't you call the rangers or the League?"

"Sometimes, they're not enough. They won't prioritize my friends. There are tens of thousands of trainers out there."

"Just… be safe."

"I will, I swear," I promised. "I didn't know you were that worried."

"How could I not be? That'd make me a horrible dad. But you still haven't answered my original questions. How are you dealing with your burns?"

"I'll have to learn to deal," I breathed. I explained to him how ugly I found my face and body now that they was scarred and how looking at my burns reminded me that I had failed.

"You're holding yourself to impossible standards."

I let out a sad laugh. "Cece said the same thing."

"Well, she's getting that right," he said before pausing. "You'll get used to the scars, Grace. Humans can get used to anything. But at least for now, can't you reframe the entire thing? Instead of the scars reminding you of the mistakes you made, can't they remind you that you managed to survive a near-death situation—"

"I didn't almost die—"

"You did, Grace," he interrupted. "And pretending otherwise won't help. Use the scars to remind you to cherish what you have. Life is short. Before you know it, you'll blink, and the majority of it will be behind you."

"Yikes… are you having a midlife crisis?"

"I know you like to joke around when a conversation gets uncomfortable for you, but this isn't a joke," dad scolded. "When you look at your burns, tell yourself that you'll keep yourself, your team, and your friends safe instead. Be optimistic about the future— because you know you'll have one."

I nodded, and we sat in the grass, completely silent as we looked at the lake. People from all walks of life were visiting Amity Square. Coordinators, trainers, tourists, Hearthome residents… it was soothing, in a way.

"I don't think I'll be able to do what you said easily," I told dad. "I think that failure will always haunt me. But I can certainly try my best."

Dad smiled and ruffled my hair. "Doing your best's all I've ever asked of you. If you do that, I'll be happy."

"Thanks," I muttered.

"By the way," he continued. "I wanted to be gentle about this, but you need a haircut."
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Chapter 117

"Grace!" Cecilia called out. "What do you think about this?"

Cecilia exited the bathroom in a beautiful cable-knit knee-length skirt, tights, and a fancy wool sweater that slightly covered her wrists. She was wearing make-up, too, including lip gloss, and her hair was styled into a chignon updo. Needless to say, she'd been getting ready for multiple hours at this point.

"You look gorgeous as always, but I told you that he won't care," I said. "Plus, we're going to bake. Even with an apron, our clothes are going to get dirty."

"I consider that a small price to pay if I can have a good first impression," she said, stepping back into the bathroom.

"Dad said he's coming around with the car soon," I yelled. "His hotel is like fifteen minutes away, we should probably start going downstairs."

"Five— two minutes! I've got to get everything right!"

As for myself, I still felt sad about dad making me cut my hair, but I did have to admit that hair that long was a hassle when I traveled. It got caught on everything, and it had reached down to my lower back. Now, it was a more appropriate shoulder length.

I liked my hair long, though.

I was just wearing normal day clothes, because we were going baking. I didn't have that many fancy clothes to begin with, but I wasn't about to get them stained. After dragging Cecilia out of the bathroom, we finally left and got on the elevator. It was cute to see her this nervous, but I couldn't help but feel responsible. It had been one day since dad had arrived, and I had warned her that he wanted to talk one-on-one about something. That had sent her anxiety into overdrive, and no matter what I said to quench her worries, nothing worked. Meanwhile, my only goal today was to keep dad from embarrassing me or pulling any stupid tests with Cecilia. He was definitely the type to say something stupid, like, 'prove that you're good enough for my daughter' or something.

At least I could be happy that I was sure he wouldn't act like a greedy man. Some parents definitely would have tried sucking up because Cecilia was rich, even with the problems with her parents that he obviously knew about.

"There he is," I declared, pointing toward the white car dad had rented. I turned to Cece. "Will you be alri— oh."

She was her cool, calm, and collected self. Of course, that meant that she was incredibly nervous, but dad wouldn't know that. Probably.

"Relax," I smiled. "It'll be fine."

"I am perfectly fine," she lied smoothly.

Dad honked, and we hurried into the back of the car.

"Good afternoon, ladies," dad said as he looked into the rearview mirror. "Cecilia, it's nice to finally meet you. Grace's talked a lot about you."

"It is my pleasure to meet you as well, Mr. Pastel," she smoothly said. "I hope my baking today will be to your standards."

"She's a bit nervous," I added. Of course, the hidden message behind those words was be easy on her.

"Call me Arthur," dad said. "Mr. Pastel makes me feel old."

"You are old," I snarked.

"You wound me, daughter," he laughed. "But I'll let this one slide."

After doing some small talk that I expertly steered toward topics Cecilia would be comfortable with, dad hit her with one I couldn't possibly help with.

"So, Cecilia. Tell me a bit about yourself."

"What is this, a job interview?" I sighed, looking out the window longingly. We were still only halfway to the Poffin House.

"Well, I…"

I frowned. "Cece?"

I knew it was a difficult, open-ended question, but I hadn't expected her to not be able to answer.

"Why don't you start small? A hobby you like besides Pokemon battling?"

"Oh. I enjoy… staying and traveling with my friends. But if I had to pick a hobby besides battling, I suppose it would be dancing."

"Dancing? You never told me that!" I exclaimed in surprise.

"I haven't done it since the Circuit started," she explained. "My mother usually signed me up for these lessons. Dancing was the only one I enjoyed from all the ones I had."

"Grace here is a terrible dancer," dad said. I immediately turned red. "She has two left feet, and she can be clumsy as all hell. She had this phase where she blasted music in the entire apartment. You should have seen how many complaints I got from the neighbors. I used to catch her dancing alone in her room when I got home from work—"

"You are lucky you're driving. I'm going to poison your poffins."

I continued berating dad, but I stopped after noticing that Cece was smiling.

She was having fun! Her mask was slipping.


They… they were the same.

They were the same!

They were the same!!!!!

Arthur and Grace had the same mannerisms, the same humor, the same way of speaking. Cecilia watched in awe as the two bounced banter off of each other like they were friends, not father and daughter. She had never even thought this type of relationship was possible. She had always been so distant with her parents that they might as well have been three strangers living in the same property— and even that wasn't always the case. The only times her and her father usually met were when he needed to scold her for messing up, when he needed to order her around, or the rare times when they ate dinner together as a family, although that had mostly been done in complete silence.

"Did you finish grounding the Pecha berries?" Grace asked. "I'm done beating this… sugar paste thing."

"Just a second. This takes a lot more energy than I thought," Arthur panted.

"What? That's nothing! Just give it to Cece, she's done with mixing the flour and baking powder."

"Easy for you to say. You're a kid full of energy. I'm forty-seven and I work in an office most of the time."

"Berries are actually surprisingly tough," Cecilia said. "I think you'd struggle, Grace."

"What a complete betrayal. Just finish it up already, I want to eat!"

They were in an enormous room with around thirty cooking stations that anyone could use as long as they were booked ahead of time. The Poffin House was originally the first establishment to have invented the world-famous poffins, and they were still famous for making the best ones, but they had diversified their business by giving people the option to come to bake some too, so long as they paid an exorbitant price. She couldn't really blame them, though. They had to make a profit somehow, and every single ingredient was already provided to them ahead of time. Cecilia stared at the recipe the Poffin House had issued them and nodded. They were doing all the steps right so far. There had also been an option to get into a poffin baking class, but Grace and Arthur had opted to do it alone, because the feeling of adventure would apparently be more fun.

How would it be more fun if the end result was bad? They were supposed to eat it afterward! Their mysterious ways of thinking still eluded Cecilia, but she was having a lot of fun.

"Grace, you forgot to pre-heat the oven!" Arthur panicked.

"That was your job! I told you I didn't know how to do it, I've never used an oven before! All you ever taught me was using an Arceus damned microwave."

"Come on, kiddo, it's intuitive. Just twist the dial to one hundred and eighty."

"Oh. Wait, really?"

Cecilia laughed, not caring about the flour that was getting on her clothes. It looked like Grace's father didn't share her terrible obliviousness about the most obvious things, but that was a very charming side of her that she was glad she had.

"Grace can be very blind," Cecilia smiled.

"Tell me about it. One time, when she was eight, she—"


"—followed another man around a store for at least ten minutes. Gave me a real scare, let me tell you, but we weren't even wearing the same colored clothes, or anything. When I got her back, did you know what she told me?"

"Dad, don't you dare!"

"She told me that she didn't even think about that. That's it. There's no punch line, or anything. She just started following another man around because she was spacing out. Luckily, he brought her to an employee, and we were reunited soon after, but—"

Arthur weaved to avoid a hit to the gut. He was surprisingly more agile than he looked, and Cecilia held her girlfriend back while she cackled in her ear.

"I bet you were dumb when you were a kid too!" Grace yelled.

"That's the beauty of it, kiddo, you'll never know because you weren't there. Now let's get these poffins done."

"The next step is… in a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder— wait, I did that already. Um, Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, stirring until the batter is smooth…" Cecilia muttered. "Then we can add the ground berries to the mix and put the whole thing into molds."

"This is going to be horrible for my sugar intake," Arthur groaned.


"These taste so good!" Cecilia squealed as she chewed on the pink poffins.

"I told you we didn't need any instructor!" Grace grinned. "Dad, eat another one."

"Two are enough for me. When they said human poffins, I didn't know the main difference was that they just added a boat-load of sugar."

"You're no fun," she pouted. "I've got to go to the bathroom, I'll be back in two minutes. Don't be weird!"

"I'm not weird," her dad said.

The blond girl ran off, leaving only Cecilia and Arthur. Cecilia felt a surge of nervousness as she finished up another poffin, but she decided not to hide it this time, despite how unnatural that felt. She felt vulnerable. Too vulnerable.

"So, Cecilia, I wanted to talk to you a little bit," Arthur started. "If you don't mind, of course."

She definitely minded, but how could she even refuse? "Of course, go ahead."

"It won't be anything bad, don't worry. I just have a favor to ask of you. This might seem selfish of me, but take care of Grace. She went and saved you in Mount Coronet, so I want you to make it so she never has to be in that much danger ever again. She'll probably have other dangerous ideas during her career, and when she does, I want you to stop her. Please."

That hadn't been what Cecilia had expected at all. She thought that Arthur would attempt to trip her up with questions about Grace, or test her to see if she deserved his daughter.

"My daughter's ambitious, perfectionist, and even though she likes to pretend she doesn't have one, she does have an ego," he continued. "She's already promised me that she wouldn't take any more needless risks, but I know it'll be hard for her. I want you to be there to keep her from… relapsing."

"I'll do it," Cecilia said, feeling more resolute than she ever had. "I'll make sure she stays safe."

Arthur smiled. "Thanks. I can tell you're a good kid, and that you love her. Just make sure to find joy in other things too."

"What do you mean?"

"When I asked you to tell me about yourself," he specified. "You couldn't say anything, like there was a lack of identity there. That dancing answer felt like a cop-out too, although I'm sure there was some truth to it. I'm rather straightforward, so I'll tell you that overdependence on one person is never a good thing, dating or not."

Cecilia stopped breathing for a few seconds. How astute.

Right now, the only person that made life worth living to her was Grace. Even if acknowledging that could be considered mean to her friends, she couldn't deny the truth. Without her, Cecilia would be completely and utterly lost.

"I'll… think about it."

"Good, at least you didn't brush me off," he said. "Ah, she's back."

Grace ran back toward their cooking station, and she panted, leaning against her knees.

"You didn't have to run back here," Arthur said.

"Cece… did he tell you anything weird?" Grace huffed.

"No, he was very nice about everything," she hurriedly replied. "We should take some of these back to the group."


All things considered, Cece's first meeting with dad had gone very well, and they seemed familiar enough with each other. He also greeted all of my friends when he drove us back to the Center. Denzel seemed very happy to see him, and he thanked him again for letting him stay at our apartment all those months ago. Even Pauline was polite, funnily enough. I almost expected her not to be, but maybe I had underestimated her. I didn't stay long, though, and after giving away most of our poffins, Justin and I hopped on a bus to route 208. His gym battle was fast approaching, and I could tell he was getting nervous again. This was the first time he'd try out his new style of battling in a high-stakes battle, so I couldn't blame him.

Plus, there was also his new rivalry with Pauline. The two had battled a few times before arriving at Hearthome, and the score was currently 3-2 in Pauline's favor, but funnily enough, the coming gym battle would probably count as a battle too, and the winner would be the one who dealt with Fantina the easiest.

"So you've got the whole plan down, right?" I asked him. "No holes?"

"None that I can see," he nodded.

"Okay, but things will go sideways, so don't get too comfortable," I warned him.

It was a plan he had made himself, and I had been very impressed. Plus, he had taken to my method of studying a gym leader's Pokemon in-depth before the battle after I helped him transcribe it all on paper since he found it easier to focus and learn that way. It wouldn't be as good as watching the videos themselves, but at least he'd know the moves she'd use, and I had spoken to him about some of the different tactics ghosts could employ.

"Rain Dance still needs a lot of work since I taught it to Lombre via TM, but it's enough for Swift Swim to activate," Justin remarked. "Growlithe managed to learn Agility and Crunch, and I've perfected the trick with Sandile to hit flying opponents."

"Great! Can you show me Audino?"

He nodded and immediately released the normal type, which greeted us with a happy cry. The Pokemon was shorter than I thought it to be, but from my few interactions with him, he was an absolute sweetheart.

"We couldn't get Wish down, but that's fine."

"Right, because he's a pivot," I nodded.

Audino was a pivot. A Pokemon that could be used to switch up the tempo of the battle and buy precious time while Justin could think of something on the fly if anything went wrong. The fact that he had the Regenerator ability and that he was a normal type meant that he was perfect for the role in this battle. Audino smiled and did a little twirl to celebrate, something that seemed to be his signature move.

"At least we've got Life Dew, although he came with the move. That means we can buy even more time if needed."

"Don't forget to win, though," I grinned.

"Of course. I've got a plan. A path to victory."

The words gave me goosebumps. Seeing Justin like this when I knew what he had been like before the battle against Gardenia was astonishing, but I was proud of how far he had come. All he needed to do was prove himself out there, and I was sure he'd succeed. I watched as he trained his team, and I used the occasion to train mine too, although I mostly spent the time perfecting the moves we had instead of teaching new ones. Only Larvitar was attempting to learn new ones, which were Rock Slide and Crunch, a natural progression from Smack Down and Bite. I was hoping that I'd be able to use her at the Solaceon tournament, which meant I needed to be a little harder on her than usual.

When Justin and I reached the Center again, Pauline had summoned us all to her room, which she was now sharing with Emilia since she wasn't a trainer anymore.

"So what's going on?" Denzel asked. He'd been the last one to arrive. "Another party?"

"No. Mommy's coming to Hearthome to visit next week."

"Another parent?" I said. "Your mom's cool, right?"

"Of course she's cool, she's the coolest mom in the Arceus damned world," she affirmed loudly. "She had promised to come see me, but something else must be going on. She wouldn't say what it was over the phone, but I could tell."

Cecilia's expression turned somber. "Harvey and Clarence."

"Yes," Pauline nodded. "I think she's coming to warn us about them."

"Should we stay hidden, then?" Emilia asked, her face wrought with panic. "Something terrible could happen again!"

"We have Candice's number… maybe we can ask for help?" I asked. "It's probably a long shot, though."

"No, don't worry," Pauline said, grabbing Emi's hand. "If it was really that bad, mommy would have said something right away. I think there are just a lot of moving parts right now that we'll have to deal with soon."

"Plus, it's me they'll be after," Cecilia said. "Potentially Grace."

"But they might target your friends to make you do what they want," Denzel added, causing her to wince. "What about Abel?"

"Still no signs of him anywhere, it's like he disappeared from the region," Cecilia said. "Could he be working with them again?"

"This is mostly a vibe-based thing, so it could be wrong," Pauline started. "But from the short interaction I had with Abel, it seemed that he was the type that prioritized money over everything. He said that it was just business. Harvey and Clarence won't be paying him anytime soon, that's for sure."

"So we won't have to deal with him, at least," Justin sighed in relief.

"Look, I know it sucks that she wouldn't say anything on the phone, but the best thing we can do for now is wait for her to come and explain," Pauline said. "And it's not like they can come after us publicly. They're under a lot more scrutiny than before. If they're too blatant about it, they'll be arrested, important CEO or not."

I sighed. It would have been too easy if they had just given up. I clenched a fist and stared out the window.

Something was brewing.

That night, the Poketch Company contacted me, and our meeting would take place three days after Justin and Pauline's gym battle. A few days later, the day was finally there. Not only would they be battling Fantina, but Chase would also be back. Unfortunately, we had gotten no signs from Louis, and we were getting very worried, but there was nothing we could do. I could only look forward.

My own battle would be very soon.
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The point about the three types was this. The general rule of thumb was: dragon types were prideful to a fault. Fairy types had a wrongness about them that shook me to my core the longer I thought about it. Ghost types were hateful— so hateful in fact, that some of them sustained themselves purely off of that hatred, like Banette. All three types shared a common love for violence that was nearly impossible to contain.
Grace...you have all three. And a future Dark pseudolegendary.
Chapter 118

"Feeling nervous?"

Pauline flicked her hair back and looked at her teacher with a smug smile. "Of course not. I've trained for this, why would I feel nervous? I'll win."

Her other friends had already gone to the stands to watch her battle. Cecilia, however, had stayed back to offer her words of encouragement and last-minute advice. Time was running out, though, and Pauline was just about to go into the waiting room.

"I was just making sure," her teacher shrugged. "Nervousness isn't always bad. Grace says it can sharpen your wits and keep you attentive."

"Nervousness isn't the way I roll," Pauline answered.

"Well, good luck then," Cecilia smiled.

"I don't deal in luck, Cece, I deal in violence."

Pauline grinned, and they hugged each other. Cecilia waved as she left toward the stands. Hopefully the others would have saved a seat for her. She gave her ticket to the gym trainer that stood at the waiting room's door at all times to let trainers pass through, and she was finally let in. In minutes, she would be fighting a gym battle, and by Arceus, it had been too long since her last. She had missed it terribly, and the anticipation was keeping her from standing still. The trainer that had just battled barrelled through the waiting room with tears in her eyes, but she shrugged and kept fiddling with her Pokeball.

"Pauline King?" A gym trainer called out. She nodded, and he outfitted her with the usual microphone. "Fantina's break is over, so you're up. Good luck."

"Don't wish me luck, I find that insulting."

The gym trainer frowned, but paid her no mind. He probably dealt with much stranger characters than she. Before going, Pauline made sure that her clothes were all in order. There couldn't even be a wrinkle out of place. She represented her mother's fashion brand, after all, and she was wearing a dress that the company had created.

Pauline's fingers trembled in excitement as she stepped into the platform. Fantina did the same, and it was the girl's first time seeing her purple theme and strange haircut in all of its glory. Her arena was dim and gloomy— so much so, in fact that Pauline had to squint to properly see some areas. The most disturbing thing about it, though, was that it was completely barren. There were no spots to hide in, no trees, no hills, no rocks. It was just a smooth, flat, earthen surface. There was just a singular lake for challengers to dump their water types into if needed.

"Welcome, challenger. This will be a three-on-three battle with one switch-in allowed. I reserve the right to use any Pokemon in battle, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't kill my ghosts. Now, send out your Pokemon," the gym leader said with a thick Kalosian accent.

Pauline smiled at the fact that Fantina would just appreciate it if she didn't kill her ghosts, and she grabbed her first Pokeball. She had followed Cecilia's path, but the two had started to diverge, and that split was widening the more Pauline discovered how she wanted to battle. Emulating was well and good, but finding what differentiated her from her teacher as a trainer had been wonderful for her growth.

Cecilia dealt in power. She wanted to blow past her enemies so easily that they wouldn't have a chance to even fight back, and she wanted her battles to be perfect— just like Grace, although they obviously had different views on what constituted a perfect battle. Pauline didn't need any of that. She now knew why she hadn't really enjoyed the gauntlets Cecilia had made her go through, which consisted of beating as many trainers as possible without getting hit. Pauline dealt in violence, and she would let her Pokemon get in the thick of it, clawing and tearing their opponents apart. So what if her Pokemon took damage in the process? At the end of the day, they'd be the ones left standing.

Pauline released her Rufflet, who announced her presence with a defiant, loud squawk that permeated throughout the arena. Fantina sent out a Sableye, and at the behest of the referee, the battle finally began.

"Hone Claws!" Pauline yelled.

"Fake out."

Before Rufflet even had a chance to sharpen her claws, Sableye sunk into the floor with a loud, gurgling laugh, reappearing behind her in barely a second and clapping its hands around her face. The flying type looked on, completely stunned as Sableye wreathed its hand in a dark aura and slammed her away toward Fantina's side of the field. There was a surprising amount of power behind the dark type's tiny body.

"Hone Claws," Pauline repeated as soon as Rufflet composed herself. The bird's claws shone as they grew to a vicious size. "Now, Crush Claw!"

Sableye was not a true ghost, and therefore, normal type attacks would work against it. Pauline smirked as Rufflet flew toward the dark type. She wasn't the fastest flier, but she certainly packed a punch when her attacks connected.

"Dodge with Shadow Sneak," Fantina said.

Sableye sunk into the shadows, narrowly avoiding Rufflet's attack, and reappeared a few feet away.

"Keep going!"

"Sucker Punch."

The ghost type grinned, exposing its sharp, yellow teeth that shone like gold, and instantly blurred next to Rufflet. Pauline smirked.

"Crush Claw."

The order had come just as Sableye hurled another darkened fist toward. Rufflet took the hit but anchored herself to the ground by hooking her claws into the hardened earth. Even Sableye looked on in surprise, and that was all Rufflet needed. She wrapped a claw around Sableye's neck, digging deep, and she squeezed. Sableye cried out in pain and flailed, which sounded more like a nasty, mocking laugh than a scream of distress.

"Knock Off, then escape with Shadow Sneak," Fantina ordered.

A dark aura covered Sableye's hand, and Pauline recognized it as the move it had used at the start of the battle.

"Stand strong," she told her Rufflet.

With one foot wrapped around Sableye's neck, and another anchoring her to the ground, Rufflet stood there, taking hit after hit as she kept crushing the ghost type under her claws.

Ah, there it is, Pauline thought to herself as she practically shivered in satisfaction. Violence.

The referee looked on at Rufflet with a disturbed stare. "Sableye is unable to battle. Leader Fantina, send out your second Pokemon."

After thirty seconds of this complete beatdown, Sableye had gone limp, and Fantina recalled it. It had taken even less time than Pauline had thought, and that was probably thanks to Rufflet's Sheer Force, which boosted Crush Claws' power even further. The flying type cried triumphantly and beat her wings, ignoring her bloodied bruises and wounds.

Fantina's expression didn't change as she sent out a Golett. At first, it just stood there like a statue, but then the golem-like Pokemon's eyes and rune on its chest came alive with a pale yellow light, and it let out a low rumbling sound that reminded Pauline of an engine starting up, and strangely enough, rubbing stones together. Or maybe clay?

Another trainer probably would have switched, believing that Golett's strong armor would prove too much for Rufflet to overcome. Pauline wasn't that trainer.

"Aerial Ace!" She yelled.

Rufflet jumped into the sky, taking flight. Her beak elongated, and streaks of air surrounded her as she flew toward the Golett.

"Iron Defense," Fantina said, then she muttered something else that Pauline didn't catch even with the microphone. She wouldn't hesitate. It was too late to back down now.

The ground type's body shimmered like armor, but Rufflet wasn't intimidated. She spun around, turning into a drill as she approached Golett, and the Aerial Ace staggered her opponent. The golem wasted no time, though, and as if it wasn't affected by the pain, Golett simply grabbed Rufflet with both of its hands, keeping her completely still.

"Thunder Punch," the gym leader coolly said.

Pauline clicked her tongue, but it wasn't over yet. Golett slowly and methodically lifted a first, opting to hold onto Rufflet by holding her under its armpit instead, and that was what they needed. Rufflet wasn't in a position to hit the ghost type with Crush Claw or Aerial Ace, but they still had Wing Attack.

"Fight your way out!" She yelled.

Rufflet squirmed, and her wings turned completely white, but she struggled to actually get them to hit anything. Golett was holding onto her too tightly, so the attacks only dealt superficial damage.

It had taken ten seconds for Golett to gather the electricity on its fist, but they had all the time in the world. The ground type slammed it against Rufflet's face multiple times, shocking her, and its face or body wasn't even moving. The Pokemon's movements were mechanical, as if Golett wasn't actually alive, but a robot going through the motions.

There was nothing they could do. Rufflet fainted in Golett's arm.

"Rufflet is unable to battle. Challenger, send out your second Pokemon."

"That was great," Pauline whispered as she recalled Rufflet. "You showed everyone how tough you were."

She grabbed Charmeleon's Pokeball and released her. The fire type roared, spitting out a stream of flames into the sky that illuminated the entire arena.

A fire type against a ground type might have seemed foolish. Pauline could have used Gothorita to whittle Golett down as much as possible before doing so, but Pauline enjoyed the thrill that she felt throughout her body. Living on the edge was what she chased, and her strategy was the definition of living on the edge.


"Get close," Fantina said.

Charmeleon screamed out her attack, and a spear of flames completely engulfed Golett's body. The ground type didn't seem to care whatsoever, and it slowly and methodically advanced toward Charmeleon. After ten seconds, the fire type had to take a break, and her opponent's body was charred, but seemingly unaffected by the flames, and it kept walking forward.

Ghost typing aside, was this thing even alive?

Probably not.

"Again," Pauline said.

The whole process repeated itself four times until Golett was close enough to pose a threat. Even Fantina seemed somewhat confused by the fact that Pauline was just letting her Charmeleon stand there when it was bound to get hit by an attack.

"Stomping Tantrum," Fantina said.

Golett stopped in its tracks, ignoring the fifth Flamethrower as it methodically lifted a foot and slammed it against the floor. This wasn't like the previous Stomping Tantrums Pauline had ever seen. Shockwaves traveled below the floor, lifting rocks and earth high into the sky and fracturing the entire arena. The smoke, dirt, and debris prevented Pauline from seeing if her Pokemon was fine or not, and Golett was still going.

She chuckled slightly when the entire arena lit up, forcing her to cover her eyes. Charmeleon was releasing a continuous stream of white-hot flames that was so powerful it cleared enough dust for Pauline to see what was happening. Golett's body had somehow caught on fire, and the light in its rune and eyes was flickering. Its movement turned from deliberate and methodical to sudden and jittery, like it was glitching out. The wooden straps wrapping around its body had been charred completely black.

One Stomping Tantrum had been enough to trigger Blaze. Pauline breathed out a sigh of relief as Golett's eyes turned off while the rune on its chest continued to flicker and Charmeleon continued using Flamethrower all around the arena.

"Calm down," she told her Pokemon.

The fire type's head whirred toward her trainer, showing her bloodshot eyes. Constant, hot smoke was coming out of her mouth with every breath. Charmeleon nodded tightly, but Pauline could tell she was itching to fight. Pauline could only dream of what she would be capable of when she reached Turtonator's level. She had gambled, and it had almost not worked out. That Stomping Tantrum had probably been a few seconds from taking Charmeleon out.

But life was about results, not what could have happened. Who cared if it had been completely reckless? Golett's rune at the center of its chest finally turned off, and even though it still stood, that meant it had fainted.

"Golett is unable to battle," the referee said. "Leader Fantina, send out your final Pokemon."

Fantina let out a relieved sigh as she released a Misdreavus. The dim lights above the gyms flickered as the ghost rose high into the sky. Its form was loose, and it was barely kept together. Its hair looked like wispy blue flames, and its red necklace shone in the darkness. The ghost grinned at its opponent creepily and spoke, letting out a voice that bordered on their language, yet was disturbingly indiscernible.

It was exactly like her encounter with Mismagius. Pauline felt her throat tighten and felt a sudden chill.

Pauline inhaled and swept her arm. She was no girl. "Charmeleon, Dragon Rage!"


A stream of blue flames flew toward Misdreavus, who simply dissolved into thin air. Charmeleon lashed out, slammed its tail against the floor, which was still uneven and fractured from the Stomping Tantrum. Her mobility would be restricted, but so long as they got more hits in than their opponent, Pauline would be satisfied.

"Watch out! It's going to appear—"

Charmeleon's eyes flickered, and she shot out a Flamethrower toward the sky where Misdreavus had just been. Cecilia had warned her about this. This was an illusion. Misdreavus rematerialized right above the fire type's head, and smoke began to emanate from Charmeleon body as she convulsed. Pauline recognized a Hex when she saw it, especially with how much Grace used the move.

Charmeleon was at the end of her rope.

"Above you!"

Somehow, Charmeleon managed to make out her words. The fire type's head snapped up, and she jumped as dark energy gathered in her mouth. She had bought the Crunch TM for her, and it was time to put the move to work. Misdreavus screamed as a part of her body was snatched away and dissolved in Charmeleon's mouth, and it started to leak ghostly energy.


The closer Charmeleon got to fainting, the more powerful her fire type attacks would get. The Flamethrower came out faster this time, and it consumed Misdreavus' entire body before the ghost had a chance to slip out and disappear again. Its shape was outlined with flames as it fled, still burning from the attack.

Pauline grinned. "You can see it! Flamethrower!"

Her smile disappeared when Charmeleon collapsed on the floor.

"Charmeleon is unable to battle. Challenger, send out your last Pokemon."

She had been pushed far, but Charmeleon had done a wonderful job. As long as they could extend how long she could be under Blaze's power, then Pauline knew she'd become nigh impossible to beat when under its influence. She recalled her Pokemon and congratulated her.

It was Gothorita's turn now. Pauline released the psychic type, who looked exasperated— probably at the fact that they hadn't won yet. Pauline had started letting Gothorita speak to her in small doses, and she had a very fun, yet exigent outlook on things.

"Disappear and Shadow Ball," Fantina calmly ordered.

"Get ready," Pauline exhaled.

Gothoria had the type disadvantage, but it was nothing a little bit of elbow grease couldn't fix. Stopping the attack with Confusion wasn't feasible either— Ghost type attacks didn't work like that. Their path couldn't be altered by psychic powers.

This time, Misdreavus appeared to her Pokemon's left, having already gathered a huge Shadow Ball.


Balls of psychic energy gathered around Misdreavus, who released her Shadow Ball. The ghost type attack hit, but the Psyshock also did, and the balls all converged onto Misdreavus' body.

"Pain Split," Fantina continued.

Both Gothorita and Misdreavus glowed with a pale, gray light, and some of the damage the ghost type had suffered throughout the battle was transferred onto Gothorita. Pauline clicked her tongue. Dirty tactics like that were annoying, but she had a trick up her sleeve as well.


Payback was the other TM she had bought before the battle, and Gothorita had just been hit. Dark energy surrounded both of her hands, allowing her to hold onto Misdreavus' ghostly form, and she gripped it by the neck.

"Beat the shit out of it," Pauline said. There was a nice finality to those words.

She smirked as her Pokemon executed her order to a tee, completely bludgeoning Misdreavus until there was only a speck left. Fantina recalled it, giving up on the battle. Gothorita stared at her trainer with an annoyed expression.

How weak. You should have been able to deal with that ghostly thing without me, Pauline.

Pauline bit her lip and barely managed not to pass out. Before Gothorita could even say anything else, she recalled her and made her way toward Fantina to pick up her money, TM, but most importantly, her third badge.

Yes, Pauline mused as her head still pounded. Violence would do just fine.


"Don't forget, Justin. You're a good trainer. You've trained for this, now go and win."

Those were the last words Grace in the stands had spoken to Justin before sending him off. Pauline had just won her battle, showcasing what she and her Pokemon had learned these past few weeks under Cecilia's tutelage, and now it was his turn to do the same. His teacher had full faith in him, which did more for Justin's confidence than any strategizing or training he had done to prepare for this battle. Just knowing that someone believed in his skills as a trainer made his heart swell with pride that he never thought he would have felt regarding anything Pokemon-battling related.

And yet, here he was. Excited but also incredibly nervous about the battle that was to come.

He came across Pauline when stepped into the waiting room. The girl grinned at him and held out her fist.

"A fistbump?" Justin muttered. "How simple."

Still, he couldn't help but smile and return the favor. He was even more surprised when Pauline pulled him into a hug.

"Kick ass out there, Justin. I won't tolerate anything else," she said.

"I'll certainly try," he answered her. "You should have seen Grace and Cecilia up in the stands."

"Really? What'd they say?"

"Cecilia was proud of you, although she disapproved of your… unsophisticated methods, she called it. She was giddy when she saw how far you had come with Blaze, though."

"I knew that'd win her over," she smirked smugly. "What about the gremlin?"

"Grace was completely beside herself," Justin explained. "She could barely look at the battle. She asked me to tell you that if Fantina hadn't held back and used more illusionary tactics, then you possibly would have lost, and that you should stop taking so many risks."

"Ugh, she's such a killjoy," the girl rolled her eyes. "At the end of the day, I won. I know I have things to iron out, but I won't be following her path like you are."

Justin shrugged. "You've already diverged quite far from Cece."

"I wonder what you have in store," she said. "Remember this, Justin. We're rivals, you and I. We'll push each other forward until we no longer have to stand in our teachers' shadows."

Justin felt goosebumps all along his skin.

"Now go and win this," Pauline said as she left.

"Our teachers' shadow, huh?" Justin whispered to himself as he sat down to wait for Fantina's break to finish.

He had the pieces all assembled in his head. A path to victory, he called it. Unlike Grace, who attempted to plan everything down to every, meticulous detail, Justin wasn't good enough to do it, and it wasn't for a lack of trying. Sometimes, he still wondered how she managed to pack so much information in her brain so quickly. Then, there was also the fact that she continuously tracked a trainer's body language during the battle, which she had tried to get him to do. Justin was an introvert. He wasn't good enough to figure out what people were thinking just by looking at them, and even if he could, it would be way too much to keep track of. Grace was simply on another level, but that did not mean that the situation was lost.

And it did not mean that he would have to be weak forever.

A gym trainer readied Justin for his battle, and the boy stepped onto the platform, rolling his shoulders to loosen his nerves. Justin could not know every single quirk of every possible Pokemon Fantina would use against him. Grace looked at every powerful opponent with a microscope, and Justin had decided to broaden the scale. A microscope would overwhelm him with details, so why not use a magnifying glass instead?

He had a set of conditions to follow. Conditions that would lead him to victory, if everything worked out as he had hoped.

Fantina took a deep breath before starting her speech. The battle would be a four-on-four with two switch-ins allowed. Two switches were suitable. That meant that Audino could be used as a pivot twice. Justin grabbed Lombre's Pokeball and sent him out. The grass type let out a small, gentle croak. Even after having evolved, he was still a soft-spoken, aloof Pokemon that Justin struggled to understand sometimes, but they had come far since his battle in Gardenia's gym battle.

Fantina released a Drifloon, who took to the skies. It sounded like a man's voice, but strange, distorted, and having inhaled a boatload of helium.

"Rain Dance," Justin ordered.

Lombre clapped his hands, and thin, transparent clouds gathered high up on the battlefield. Small droplets of rain began to fall down. A pitiful Rain Dance, all things considered, especially when compared to what Gardenia's Lombre were capable of, but so long as it was capable of triggering Swift Swim, Justin's first condition would have been fulfilled.

"Use Gust," Fantina said.

Drifloon's strings shook wildly in the air, and a small tornado appeared below the flying type. With an echoing, high-pitched scream, it sent the wind toward Lombre.

"Dodge and Bubblebeam!" Justin yelled.

Lombre rammed a foot against the floor and then pushed. The water type ran faster than Justin had ever seen him in training, using his knuckles and feet to propel himself. He skirted left, easily avoiding the bulk of the Gust, and angled his head upward, aiming directly at Drifloon.

"Stockpile," Fantina calmly said.

Drifloon sharply inhaled, growing slightly in size as the first half of the Bubblebeam hit. Justin had already known about Stockpile, just like he knew all of Drifloon's moves, courtesy of Grace's help. What he also knew was that the ghost type employed one main strategy against opponents more powerful than itself, which Lombre clearly was.

"Keep attacking!" Justin yelled again.

Fantina said nothing, but even without her orders, Drifloon gathered a Shadow Ball in front of its mouth, quickly sending it forward. The bubbles caused it to explode mid-air, creating a plume of ghostly, purple smoke. Justin was holding back. He was waiting for his second condition to appear, and then he would—

The trainer gasped as Drifloon flew forward, emerging from the smoke and rushing toward Lombre.

"Run away!" He stammered. Even though he had expected it, it had still caught him off-guard.

To compensate for its mediocre attack, that Drifloon knew Explosion, and its goal was to suicide charge into opponents stronger than itself to take them down with it. Even if he somehow managed to take it down before it could use it, its ability Aftermath meant that it would almost always trade one for one.

"Knock it away! Bubblebeam!"

"Minimize," Fantina ordered.

Drifloon shrunk, narrowly avoiding the next stream of bubbles that certainly would have hit just seconds prior.

Lombre was faster in the rain, but Drifloon was slowly catching up. The boy's leg began to bounce, and he chewed on his thumb nail. The condition had been met, but doubt was starting to creep in. What if it didn't work?

What should I do?

The question rung out in his mind dozens of times in seconds, overwhelming his entire thought process. Stalling was well and good— and he was currently wasting time by running and forcing Drifloon to avoid Bubblebeams and Leech Seeds, but he needed to win. He wanted to win.

"You took too long to make a decision."

Justin heard Grace's voice as if she was standing behind him, and his leg stood still. Enough with the indecisiveness! That was Justin's biggest weakness, and he had always struggled to stimmy it. He was tired of pausing before every decision, wondering if it was the correct or wrong one. He just needed to act.

"Lombre, stop!"

The grass type was on the opposite side of the arena now, and he stopped, sliding across the wet earth.

"Drifloon, Explode."

For every action the enemy took, a cost should be inflicted. Grace had etched the lesson into his mind time and time again. He might have wasted too much time, but his winning condition was still open. He just needed to put his foot in the door before it closed.

"Two Knock Offs! Use both of your hands!"

Justin held his breath. He hadn't even known if the order he had just issued was possible. Lombre had never used two Knock Offs as once, and yet it was his only path. Drifloon's body started to swell and expand as darkness surrounded Lombre's hands. The water type clapped its hands against the exploding Drifloon, and Justin shut his eyes when he heard the detonation that made his ears ring.

After a few seconds, he half-opened one eye and saw that he still couldn't discern any shapes in the smoke. There were two possibilities. Either the Explosion had gone off, and Lombre would be down for the count.

Or the Knock Offs had been enough, and only Aftermath had gone into effect, meaning that Lombre would have made it.

Justin squinted, desperately trying to figure out if he was having to deal with the former, or the latter, and he exhaled as he felt the weight of a mountain drop off his shoulders.

Lombre was bruised, burned, battered.

But he was standing.

"Drifloon is unable to battle. Leader Fantina, send out your second Pokemon."

Fantina returned the popped balloon and sent out a golden mask that dropped to the ground with a loud thud. A thin shadow grew from the mask, forming into a head and two small fists, along with two red beady eyes that appeared to be crying. The Pokemon was constantly screaming with a voice of a child. As if it was in constant agony.

It was a Yamask.

And it sounded like a child being tortured.

Justin snapped out of his stupor. It was only the third time in his life seeing a real ghost, and the second time had been right before this, during Pauline's battle.

Ghosts couldn't cry. Disturbing as it may have been, it wasn't real.

"Lombre, keep it up," he praised. He considered switching to pivot, but that would mean that he would only be able to do it once. No, Lombre would need to finish his work here. "Razor Leaf!"

"Dodge, then Will-O-Wisp."

Yamask phased out of existence, reappearing a few feet to the left as he dodged Lombre's Razor Leaf. The ghost type summoned a series of small purple flaming orbs, each screeching as loud as Pauline's Rufflet, and they rushed toward Lombre.

"Hit and run!"

The floor was now so wet that Lombre could skid across it, and he was getting faster as the rain kept accumulating. The grass type skated across the ground, sending out Razor Leaves and Bubblebeams to hit Yamask, but only a fraction of them did. Ghosts were simply too good at dodging attacks. Yamask retaliated with the occasional Night Shade or Shadow Ball, but Lombre was too quick now. Stalling was working exactly like Justin had envisioned it. It wasn't just about having bulky Pokemon that could take hits and survive. Speed could work as well.

Unfortunately, Justin's joy was short-lived. The Will-O-Wisps followed him like they had a mind of their own, and they even tried to cooperate to trap him.

Lombre was getting cornered.

"Water Gun! Extinguish them!"

Water Gun was weaker than Bubblebeam, but it'd be better at stopping fires. Lombre drifted across the ground, clawing the floor to reposition himself, and shot out a high-pressure jet of water toward the purple flames—

It didn't work. The Will-O-Wisps giggled at him, and they all entered Lombre's body, creating a cold, purple flame that would permanently burn him and lower his attack power.

That was one of Justin's weaknesses. What good was it to know the Pokemons' moves if he didn't know how if a particular attack would counter them or not as Grace could? Justin clicked his tongue, lifting his arm.

"Start picking up speed again and attack!"

The path was narrowing, but it was still there. Lombre croaked, started to run, and then skate. Yamask disappeared like he knew it would, and then it reappeared on the floor, anchored to its golden mask.

"Now, Lombre!"

The bubbles rammed past the ghost, exploding inside of its body and scattering its form. Justin awaited its reappearance again with bated breath and—

A Shadow Ball buried itself into Lombre's side, and the water type fell to the ground. Justin inhaled sharply. Where had it even come from?

"Lombre is unable to battle. Challenger, send out your second Pokemon."

Justin recalled his Lombre. It was time to go through the first pivot, and he needed to buy him time so he could figure out how Yamask had just used Shadow Ball while being invisible. "Audino."

The beige and pink Pokemon squealed and twirled in place, blinking and striking a pose when he was done. This was a perfect situation for Justin. Other than Will-O-Wisp, Yamask only knew ghost type moves, meaning that Audino would be invulnerable. Plus, her being burned wouldn't matter. She wasn't a damage dealer, she was a pivot, and Regenerator and Life Dew would keep her healthy.

"Disarming Voice!" Justin said after swallowing nervously.

The normal type inhaled and let out a harrowing scream. Normally, it would affect a Pokemon and stop them from attacking, but Yamask seemingly didn't care. Another thing Justin could have picked up on if his researching skills had been up to par.

"Will-O-Wisp," Fantina smoothly ordered.

At least he had dealt a minimal amount of damage. Yamask released the screaming flames once more, and they rushed toward Audino.

"Don't bother dodging."

The flames entered Audino's body, and he was lit ablaze with purple fire. What would Fantina do now? Justin couldn't think as quickly as Grace did, which was why he had sent Audino out in the first place. Audino was a pivot, but he was also his main counter against true ghosts that usually lacked any move variety at his level. He had studied every single one, and their movesets. Yamask could do nothing to him, leaving Justin enough time to try to figure out what had happened to Lombre.

But he knew that the gym leader would eventually switch out, and she did, sending out a Honedge instead. Justin sighed. A Honedge wasn't someone Audino could stall against, and Disarming Voice would deal pitiful damage. Even if it wasn't a true ghost, and normal type attacks would land, its steel typing meant that those would be useless as well.

She had truly countered him with one switch. Buying time to figure out how to counter Yamask was no longer an option.

"Get in there and Slash," the gym leader said.

"Disarming Voice!" Justin screamed out. He wanted to test out one more effect, and Audino's Regenerator meant that he could afford to be reckless. The normal type yelled again, and just as Justin expected, Honedge was affected by the attack. It Slashed across Audino's belly, drawing blood, but didn't go as deep as it otherwise would have.

True ghosts and ghost types were fundamentally different, it seemed. That meant that he could do this.

"Play Nice!"

Audino smiled as his eyes glittered slightly, entrancing Honedge and making it lose its will to fight for a few short seconds. The effect Justin was after, though, was that it would lower its attack for the foreseeable future. The boy recalled his Audino and breathed a sigh of relief.

"Go, Sandile!" He yelled out. The ground type immediately sunk into the ground with Dig.

The conditions had been met for Sandile to take down Honedge. Justin was sure of it. Now all he needed to do was implement their new strategy against levitating or flying Pokemon.

"Fly up," Fantina said.

"Sand Tomb."

Far below Honedge, the earth began to turn and twist like a whirlpool. Fantina stared at Justin as she awaited his next move. It wasn't like Honedge could do anything until Sandile was out of the ground. Grace had, however warned him that true ghosts could slip underground and attack. The trainer waited for the Sand Tomb to reach its maximum size and velocity…


Sandile's head popped out in the middle of the Sand Tomb, and the crocodile screamed, lifting the sand into the air like a tornado and toward Honedge.

"Autotomize and dodge."

Honedge's body became sleek, and the sword sped up drastically. It narrowly avoided the flying Sand Tomb and flew toward the center of the arena.

"Slash it."

Justin's eyes widened. He had believed that Fantina would just escape, but it seemed that she wanted to take advantage of the fact that Sandile needed to unbury to manipulate the earth above ground. He had no choice, then. It would cancel out Audino's Play Nice, but if he could get Honedge to land in the Sand Tomb and get stuck in the sand…


With a provoking cry, Sandile confused Honedge, but also infuriated the steel type. The sword blurred, rushing toward the Sand Tomb, but Fantina stayed silent, not bothering to call out in hope of snapping it out of its confusion.

Unfortunately, the Slash hit before Sandile could retreat back into the ground. Honedge had flown past the flying Sand Tomb without a care about the damage it was taking. Sandile screamed as Honedge continued to attack, forcefully dragging the ground type back up with its attacks every time it tried to sink deeper into the ground, but it also had no regards for its own health, not caring about hitting itself or being hit by the Sand Tomb. Justin grabbed his Pokeball. Without Sandile, his path to victory would collapse. Even if he was creating a cost like Grace had taught him, he wasn't willing to take a risk that large.

But he did not recall his Sandile. Instead, light covered the dark type's body, and he grew, turning into a bipedal Pokemon. Krokorok grabbed Honedge with its newly formed hands and Crunched without Justin's command.

Honedge collapsed into the Sand Tomb.

"Honedge is unable to battle. Leader Fantina, send out your third Pokemon."

Justin could barely contain his excitement. An evolution, right when he had needed one? That was incredibly lucky. His path remained open.

Fantina released a Bramblin next. It was a jagged, thorny tumbleweed with two ghastly eyes floating at its hollow center. Justin averted his gaze away from them. Looking into those hateful eyes sent shivers down his spine. Fantina wasted no time issuing her next command.

"Leech Seed."


What Justin had failed to realize, however, was that due to Krokorok's new form and height, the ground type was slow to get underground. The seeds hit Krokorok in the neck before he managed to slip underground.

"Sand Tomb again!"

No matter what Justin did, Krokorok would slowly weaken until he fainted, so he could only deal as much damage as possible. The ground below Bramblin liquefied and spun, trapping it—

"Rollout out of there," Fantina said.

With the sound of crackling branches, Bramblin acquiesced and started rolling out of the Sand Tomb as it slowly but surely gained speed. Justin clenched a fist. He could either have Krokorok keep harassing from underground or—

No! He couldn't think as fast as Grace, so he had to act now.

"Crunch!" He bellowed.

Krokorok burst from his Sand Tomb, sending sand high into the sky, and bit into one of Bramblin's branches. Fantina ordered the ghost type to use Bullet Seed, and they all hit, but Krokorok wouldn't let go. He slammed the tumbleweed-like Pokemon into the Sand Tomb, burying it into the liquid sand until it fainted.

"Bramblin is unable to battle. Leader Fantina, send out your last Pokemon."

It was back to Yamask, and Justin still hadn't figured anything out. His path was still wide open, and he had three—

Two Pokemon left.

"Krokorok is unable to battle. Challenger, send out your third Pokemon."

The abuse from Honedge, the Leech Seed, and the Bullet Seed had been too much for Krokorok to handle, even with his evolution. Justin recalled him and sighed. He was exhausted, both mentally and physically, but he knew that the battle was won.

He sent out Audino again, whose wound from Slash and the burn had almost completely recovered. Of course, he was still on fire, but that was fine.

Justin smiled.

In the end, it didn't matter if he hadn't figured out how Yamask's illusion worked, didn't it? It couldn't hit Audino.

It almost took the entire length of the match, but Justin took down Yamask by continuously using Disarming Voice, while healing any damage from the burns with Life Dew. There were complaints and grumbles in the audience. This was the boring way to finish the battle, but it was the safe way. The way he had deemed his path would take him.

And just like that, Justin had won his third badge.
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Chapter 119

We all clapped and cheered as Justin walked over to get his badge from Fantina, drowning out the few complaints about the 'boring' ending to his battle. He had improved so much in these last few weeks that I barely recognized him. And winning without even using Growlithe?! Not many people could boast of beating Fantina with a Pokemon up, third badge or not. When he left, we all hurried down to the gym's lobby.

In a way, it was surprising how simple I had found both Pauline and Justin's battles. I hadn't been a three-badge holder for that long, and yet I often found myself widening my eyes in surprise at how easy the battle looked, but that was entirely because Fantina was holding back, and her heart just wasn't in it. Now that I had seen her battle in person, I was sure of it. I didn't think that Fantina was having any fun during her challenges.

And yet, she was still a formidable gym leader. I knew especially that she had held back her ghosts' true potential during both battles, only giving Justin and Pauline a taste of what they were capable of to give them a challenge to overcome. And overcome it, they did.

But it would be worse against me. Seeing another ghost, even from afar made me clam up, but I believed I'd be capable of focusing when I got into my groove. Fantina would use stronger ghosts, and she would definitely use better illusions, or at least she wouldn't just stop using them as soon as she had against the others.

"Justin! My boy!" Denzel yelled, splaying out his arms and his voice spreading throughout the lobby.

Our friend scratched his cheek and gave us an awkward smile.

"I knew you'd win," I said. "You were ready."

"I was," he nodded.

"Justin," Pauline said, wrapping his neck with her arm hard enough to choke him. "I'll forfeit this one, it was your win."

"Forfeit?" Emilia raised an eyebrow.

After struggling to free himself, Justin cleared his throat. "We were competing to see who'd have the better battle."

"And Pauline gave up?" Cecilia asked incredulously. "Incredible."

"What? I can see the obvious! If I had won without using Gothorita, then we could have maybe called it a tie."

"We should go somewhere to celebrate!" Emilia smiled.

"We can go drink something," I agreed. "But then, we need to find Chase. He was supposed to arrive today."

I checked my phone to see if he'd sent a message, but there was nothing. We exited the gym and went to the cafe that Emilia had shown us when introducing the group to Vincent. Pauline spoke to Cecilia about her gym battle, while Justin consulted me for advice. I thought that he had done exceptionally well, but there were still a lot of areas to iron out. If his Krokorok hadn't evolved, then the battle might have gone in another direction, and while getting bailed out by an evolution did feel nice, it was still something I considered a failure— even my battle against Roark stuck out like a sore thumb in that regard. Togetic certainly would have lost without evolving. I also told him what my current theory was for Yamask's illusion. I believed that the ghost was proficient enough with Shadow Ball to create it while still invisible, and the one Lombre had attacked before getting hit had just been a fake.

But I couldn't be too hard on him. It was hard to focus on things like that when you were in the thick of it, and I knew that fact all too well.

"Ah," Emilia said, looking at her phone. "Chase sent a message."

Immediately, Denzel, Cece, and I grabbed our Poketches. We were antsy to get started on organizing our battle. Even more so now that we had seen Justin and Pauline's own fights. Chase was finally in Hearthome, although it looked like he was staying in a different Center than we were— the one the closest to the gym.

"Ask him to meet," I told Denzel. He hurriedly typed his message and sent it.

Chase responded with his usual gusto that could somehow be heard and felt through text, asking us to come to his Center instead of him coming to us. Well, I could somewhat understand. He'd been traveling for days, and he had probably gone through a lot in Mount Coronet, since he stayed inside for so long. If I had to guess, he was just tired, but he didn't want to admit it.

"I'll pay the tab," Pauline smiled. "You guys go see him."

"Don't you want to meet him too?" I asked.

"Not particularly," she shrugged. "But we can do it later."

I nodded, and after saying our goodbyes, we were on our way to Chase's Center. The taxi ride was annoyingly long due to all the traffic, taking thirty minutes.

"What room's he in?" Denzel asked.

"218," Cece replied.

We took the stairs instead of the elevator. Since this was the Center the closest to the gym, it was packed, unlike ours. I knocked on Chase's door, and I was confused when I saw it open, but didn't see anyone there. I looked down and smiled when I saw a furry little blue Pokemon. Riolu had opened the door for us. To be honest, I had almost expected him to have evolved, but he was still the good old Riolu I knew.

"Hey Ri," I greeted him. The others did the same, and he led us into the room.

Chase was crashed onto the bed with all of his dirty, traveling clothes and even his shoes. He shot up when he noticed that we were here. He seemed to have gained muscle, but he had huge bags under his eyes and looked paler than usual.

"What the hell? Already? You guys were fast," he complained, looking half-asleep.

"Such wonderful first words for our reunion," Cecilia smiled, crossing her arms. "How are you?"

"Eh, been better," he sighed as he sat on the edge of the bed.

"I'm mentally hugging you right now," I said, resisting the urge to tackle him.

"And I'm mentally dodging your hug, Pastel."

"Ow," Denzel said. "What happened to you, man? You look dead."

"My team and I went through some special training in the mountain," he shrugged. "It was tough, but we handled it."

"I told you he'd say that," I boasted.

"Don't bet on what I say," Chase complained. "I assume you're here for our battle?"

"We were hoping to do it tomorrow?" Denzel asked.

Cecilia frowned. "He looks very tired, I don't think—"

"I can do tomorrow, but it'll have to be in the evening so the Nurses can finish looking after my Pokemon. Riolu here got out unscathed, but the rest got beaten up pretty good, especially since I didn't have potions."

My eyes almost fell out of their sockets. "Excuse me?"

"What? I'm completely broke, and no one wants to battle me. They're scared they'll lose. I had a few, but I ran out quick," he shrugged. "There's this new substitute going around that people are selling made out of energy roots or something, but it didn't work very well."

"What if—"

I was about to berate him for taking risks, but I realize I shouldn't be the one to talk.

"Well, if you think you can handle it," I sighed. "You better be at one hundred percent."

"Please, Pastel," he scoffed. "I'm at one hundred and twenty percent one hundred percent of the time."

"Not how numbers work, but it sounds cool," Denzel said, sitting down at Chase's desk.

"By the way…" Cecilia hesitated. "I know this is a long shot, but have you seen Louis anywhere? He isn't traveling with us at the moment, and we've been worried."

"Bianchi? Yeah, I saw him at the outpost, although we didn't talk. He was traveling with two other chicks too. He'll probably make it soon. I left before he did."

We all breathed a huge sigh of relief. Louis was okay. I wished he had sent us any signs of life, but he probably still needed space. I was curious to learn about who he was traveling with, though. He would have had to meet them somewhere along the route, or maybe he had grouped up with people to make it past Mount Coronet.

"Let's get started then. First things first, the teams. It's kind of unofficial, but it's basically been decided that Cece and Grace will be on opposite sides, so it's all about which teams Chase and I are joining."

"Obel, I'm on your team."

"What? I wanted Denzel."

"I want revenge on Pastel for that time she beat me at the Eterna Forest outpost," he explained. "I don't care who I'm with, I want to be against her."

Cecilia brought a hand to her forehead and exhaled. "Fine."

I couldn't blame her for worrying. Cooperating with Chase would probably be a bit of a hassle.

Okay, it would actually be a huge pain in the ass, and I was happy I wouldn't have to do it.

"Well, that took a lot less time than I thought it would," Denzel chortled. "Next up, the format."

"We agreed on a double battle, right?" Cecilia said.

"But how many Pokemon per trainer?"

"I'm okay with anything other than six," Chase said, meaning that he hadn't caught his sixth yet.

I raised a hand. "Well, Cece can't use Scyther, so—"

"Not so fast," she interrupted. "Four-on-four is fine."

"W—wait. You and Scyther are fine now?!" I exclaimed.

"Not fine, no," she shook her head. "But there are a few agreements in place. A deal, if you will."

"Arceus, why didn't you tell me?" I pouted. "I'm so proud of you!"

"Because I thought I could have hidden it for the battle," she explained. "It would have tripped you up pretty good."

"Yeah… it would have," I said.

"Well, four Pokemon per person is fine," Denzel said. "Next up, the picking order. I actually have a suggestion for that."

We all stared at him curiously.

"We should do it like they do it in the Conference. You give the organizers— well, in this case, it'll have to be a referee, but you give them the order and the Pokemon you want to use, meaning that you're locked into sending that first Pokemon no matter what happens."

"I like that," I nodded. "Better than that Arceus damned coinflip system in Floaroma…"

"The Floaroma thing is just their gimmick. The element of randomness is how they differentiate themselves from all the other tournaments out there," Denzel said.

"Where do we battle?" I asked.

"Just pick some random arena," Chase said.

"There might be an audience…" Denzel said, looking at me.

"I'm fine with an audience," I shrugged. "As long as they don't heckle."

Not like I could notice anything around me when I was in the zone anyway. If anything, I'd probably have to remind myself to breathe so I didn't pass out again, because doing so a second time would be seriously embarrassing. After ironing out a few other terms, organizing the battle was done. We would each be allowed one switch, and there would be no time limit, meaning that we'd fight until the last Pokemon. Justin had agreed via text to be the referee, and we'd have to send him our teams at least an hour before the battle, which would take place tomorrow night at eight-thirty.


Finally, it was time to strategize.

"Denzel! Come with me!" I exclaimed, dragging my friend by the arm.

"Already? I wanted to—"

"No buts! The clock's ticking!"

We left Cece in Chase's room. I wondered what strategy they'd employ, but I could only focus on myself.

No, it wasn't just me. It was me and Denzel. We quickly rode the bus back to our Center, entered my room, and took our respective seats.

"Okay, so we're deciding what Pokemon to use, and stuff?" He asked.

"Well, it's pretty obvious what I and Cece are going to use, and they know that," I explained, grabbing a sheet of paper and a pen. "Chase is the wildcard since he has five, and you can't use Feebas."

"Well, Riolu is in for sure, I don't think Chase will ever fight a battle without him. But let's think about the rest from a strategic standpoint."

"Everything we're talking about is from a strategic standpoint," I said.

"You know what I meant," he rolled his eyes. "Cece has Zweilous, Fletchinder, Slowpoke and… Scyther. Chase has Riolu, Houndoom, Snover, Zangoose and Charjabug."

Right, I thought as I wrote down all of the Pokemon's typings. Denzel thought by keeping a conversation flowing, while I was more of a visual learner.

"In my opinion," he continued. "Snover's probably the one he's the most unlikely to use."

"I was thinking either Snover or Charjabug," I nodded.

"Charjabug has that trick to take down fliers, whereas Snover… well, we don't know what he's capable of. That means Togetic could be in danger."

"Princess will be able to stop his String Shots."

"But Chase doesn't know— wait, nevermind, he will know. Cece's probably spilling the beans about everything. Okay, never mind, I think Charjabug will be the one that isn't used."

I nodded. "Now we have a rough idea of who will use what, but what do we think that they'll lead with? We should pick our leads based on their choices."

"There's a pattern to Cece's battle. Have you noticed?" He asked. After racking my brain for twenty seconds, I shook my head. "She always leads with Slowpoke. She did against Roark, Gardenia, and Candice. Now, she could trip us up and lead with something else, but I don't think she's even noticed the pattern herself."

I slammed my fist into my palm. Even I had had a pattern I didn't notice. I always led with Frillish! "Shit, you're right! Okay, so we have Slowpoke. What about Chase?"

"No pattern there," Denzel shook his head.

"So he'll probably pick based on what he thinks we'll pick."

"Chase likes prioritizing the type advantage. If you were Cece and Chase right now, who what would you think we'd be picking to lead?"

I closed my eyes. "Um… Cece probably thinks I'm going to lead with Frillish, since that's what she might be used to. For Chase… I don't know. I'd say Frillish too, since that's what Cece's going to tell him, but I can't be sure."

"What's a Pokemon they'd never think you'd lead with? We need to strike a balance of surprise and utility here."

"I could lead with Togetic, but I want to keep her in the back for Wish…" I muttered. "I'll lead with Tangrowth. It'll help against Slowpoke, he has power, and he can lock down opponents with his vines."

"Okay. Like you said, Cece will probably convince Chase that you're leading with Frillish, which means if I had to guess, he'll lead with Snover."

I scribbled down on my notebook. "Okay, we have Slowpoke and Snover as leads… against Tangrowth and…?

"Roselia. There's a synergy there, isn't there? You lock people down, she sprays them with spores and poison."

I nodded. "Synergies are important here. They'll be the difference between a win and a loss."

"Now that we have our leads, we should probably work out what Pokemon we'd want out at the same time."

"Togetic can work with anyone. She's my most versatile Pokemon."

"I was thinking we save the fairies for Zweilous? He's going to be a problem. The problem."

"That works. Electabuzz can fight both close-up and from afar, and you've seen what he can do. What do you think?"

"Can he keep threats away from Snorunt?" Denzel asked with a determined look.

"If they try to go for her? Yes," I nodded. "He's also my Counter against Fletchinder with Discharge, and Cecilia'll probably use her against Snorunt. You saw me use it against Turtonator."

"Okay, that works. By the way, I've been hiding this, but she's actually my most powerful attacker. She knows Blizzard, which can easily knock out both opponents at once if you let her charge it up."


"I didn't know if I'd be on your team or not," he shrugged. "I'll give you a list of all of my moves later, and you can do the same for me. Let's stick to broad strategy for now."

"We have Frillish and Buneary left. Not the best combination, but we shouldn't get in each other's way either."

"That's fine. Most of these probably won't happen anyway, plans always go haywire, which is why you shouldn't rely on them too much."

"You can make backup plans…" I grumbled.

"Aw, did I offend you?" He laughed. "Don't take it too hard."

"Whatever," I huffed. "Moving on! I actually had this plan… what if we focus on one person's Pokemon?"

"Focus on them? Like only attack their Pokemon until they run out?"

"Yeah, I was thinking we could do Chase's so that we can beat Cecilia's Zweilous. I think she'll save it for last."

"Are you sure?"

"That's just how she is," I nodded. "This power stuff is kind of an art for her, and she likes saving the best for last. If we can get a one versus two against Zweilous, our odds improve massively."

"I mean, there are two heads, so technically, it'd be a two versus two," Denzel said. "But I get what you mean. I think I agree. That dragon's going to be a problem… didn't she say she was going to buy TMs when we got there?"

I gasped. "Holy shit! Thank the Legendaries you reminded me of that. What were they again?"

"I remember hearing about the elemental fang moves… Stomping Tantrum too."

"Okay," I said. "I'm gonna write down every known move for all of their Pokemon so that we have an easier time visualizing 'em. Chase probably taught his Pokemon a bunch of new moves, but there isn't really a way of figuring it out."

"I mean, I can take a gander. Houndoom probably learned Flamethrower by now."

I agreed and changed Incinerate to Flamethrower, and we came up with a few other moves his Pokemon might have learned by now too. I then proceeded to explain the strategy I wanted to use with Wish. One switch would make it only usable once, but Togetic could use the move on herself too. It took me a few tries to get the mechanics of the move through Denzel, but after ten minutes, he understood it completely.

"I don't think Togetic staying unhurt is doable," he said. "So you'll only be able to use it on her when she's on the field."

I nodded. "And I'll only be able to use it on your Pokemon, since we have one switch."

"Sylveon would be ideal. He'll be in the thick of things, and he'll get hit a lot."

"Well, we were planning on using them together anyway for a bit, so that works out. I'll just switch before the Wish comes back down."

"Let's get back to the start of the battle. I know you said that we should focus on taking down Chase's Pokemon, but I think that taking down Slowpoke first would be ideal."

"Is it because of Psychic?" I asked. It was the only way his suggestion made sense.

"Yep. It's going to be annoying as hell to deal with offensively, but it'll also mean he can keep our Pokemon off of Chase's."

"Ahh, yeah, probably. We should overwhelm him right when the fight starts, then. He won't be able to defend against all of Tangrowth's vines and Roselia's attacks."

"Okay, great. For Zangoose, I was actually thinking…"

We must have spent hours in that room, going over every single possibility we could foresee in the battle. For example, I told him about unorthodox ways to use Tangrowth's vines, like pulling one of his Pokemon to safety or Togetic's Extrasensory throwing a Pokemon into the fray, so long as it wasn't too heavy. He told me that his Snorunt had already mastered Shadow Ball and that Sylveon had combined Disarming Voice and his ribbons to make a Pokemon lose its will to fight for seconds if he touched them long enough, and since he was a physical fighter, I knew that was certainly doable.

Seconds were everything in a battle.

There was much to think about and to keep track of. So many moving parts.

This was so much fun.

Night had fallen in Hearthome City, and Cecilia was standing on route 209. Fletchinder landed on her shoulder and cooed affectionately. She pet the bird's hot feathers and smiled.

"Are you done preparing for tomorrow, darling?"

Fletchinder squawked, and Cecilia responded with a smirk. Strategizing with Chase certainly had been a headache, especially with how headstrong he was about doing things his way, but she was satisfied with what they had come up with. Zweilous stood a few feet away from her.

"Incinerate," she said.

Flames gathered in Sol's mouth, and he spat out a huge stream of flames, illuminating the night sky. Zerst, meanwhile, used the same move, igniting an isolated tree in the distance.

Cecilia gently clicked her tongue. "No, Zerst. Remember this. When I give out orders, they're for Sol. You don't have to listen. Do whatever you want, so long as you take down your opponents flawlessly."

Sol bowed his head, and Zerst snarled. Cecilia cupped both of their chins with her hands.

Deceit, she had called it to Pauline, although she had only told her one facet of how she planned to deceive Grace. Cecilia knew she was no longer far ahead enough to blow past Grace with power alone. Misdirection would be needed to win. She would not go as far as calling out a move to mean another— no, that was dishonorable of a trainer to do, and not how she wanted to do things. But since she had a Zweilous, and there were two heads… well, why not give an order to one and leave the other to be an unpredictable factor in the battlefield? They were a little slow, so she would have to work on her tactics until the time of the battle came.

Scyther hissed, menacingly showing off his claws as he emerged from behind the burning tree.

"My apologies," Cece bowed her head slightly. "You know Zerst. He can be trigger-happy."

Zerst roared at Scyther, drooling all over the floor.

It had taken a long time to come to an agreement with Scyther. Weeks of slow, incremental progress. The bug type still hadn't forgiven her— far from it. She would probably have to atone for her brutality for years. Nor had he gained any respect for her either. Even though it was less pronounced, Scyther still stared at her with hatred in his eyes.

At least he didn't try to kill her anymore.

Scyther hunted whenever he wanted, and he didn't listen to anything she said, but she had managed to convince him to be used in battles. Of course, that meant that she wouldn't actually command him, which in this case would work out, since it was another foil to Grace's planning. Unpredictability was her biggest weakness. As it turned out, Cecilia had not been wrong in her initial assessment all those months ago that Scyther wanted to grow stronger, but she certainly had come at it the wrong way. Seeing all of her Pokemon grow so strong convinced the bug type to reluctantly follow her, and now he had started sparring with Zweilous and Fletchinder, although he was still the weakest member of her team. There was a lot of catching up to do.

Scyther fanned his wings and flew off somewhere. Initially, Cecilia had been worried that he would run away, but she had promised the flying type to release him in two months if she couldn't convince him to stay anyway. Those two months were almost up, now, so if he ran away, it would only be her fault. She would have tried everything she could, and she would have paid the price for her sins.

But he hadn't run away. He came back every single time.

Cecilia heard steps behind her, and she turned toward the last member of her team.

"Is everything to your liking, darling?"

Yes, lady Cecilia. Everything is working as intended.

A splitting headache hit Cecilia, but she stood proud and tall.
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Chapter 120 - Hanging Off the Edge
CHAPTER 120 - Hanging Off the Edge

Frillish saw the world in faded colors. It was a symptom of the ghostly energy that lingered in his body, giving him his secondary typing. Oh, Grace had often told him all about colors. He was supposedly blue, while Togetic was white with specks of blue and red that remained from her old shell, Tangrowth was also blue, Electabuzz was yellow, and Larvitar was more of a dull green. He did not know what those colors looked like. All he had known his entire life was a faded world of different shades of gray.

Frillish shot a Water Sport from below his body, propelling himself out of Amity Square's enormous lake. It was night time and surprisingly, his trainer had brought the family here to relax for their battle tomorrow. He had expected last-minute, arduous training, but instead, the children got to play and enjoy themselves, which pleased him greatly.

Even Turtonator was out, watching their every movement with a sneer in the distance while she sat and tried to converse with him. This was the reason why Frillish could not do the usual and sink into the depths of the lake like he liked to do. What if something happened? He would need to be there, or Grace would suffer more burns or worse.

Suddenly, he saw the first of the children approach. Togetic floated up to him and let out a singular chirp. It was a simple cry, but it was spoken with intent, and Frillish understood what it meant immediately.

Brother, she had called out.

Child. You appear troubled tonight, the water type replied.

Togetic lowered her head as she side-eyed the new reluctant member of the family.

Ah, so it is him, Frillish huffed. Your feelings still have not been sorted?

To Frillish, the fae worked in mysterious ways. Pokemon in the wild rarely spoke to each other outside of their own small groups, but he had been a part of one when he had just been born centuries ago, in the depths of the ocean. There, he had heard stories recounting how dangerous they truly were when they grew in power. Togetic was still relatively weak, but she was extremely attached to Grace. She was also the best of all of them at hiding her true feelings from her. She looked at Turtonator with a blank expression, but behind that was a subtle hatred so intense that it made Frillish hesitate with his following words.

Still, he spoke. Do you want to talk about it, child?

Even he disliked Turtonator. After all, he had attacked him when Grace had explicitly told him not to. A betrayal of her trust that he still wished had not occurred, but alas. It had already happened, and no one could turn back time.

The wyrm looks at our mother with disgust, even after what she has done for him, Togetic said, her voice cheery but her tone murderous. I look forward to the day that I grow powerful enough to have my revenge. I will tear him from limb to limb, destroy all the bones in his body until they turn to dust, pin him against the ground with Ancient Power and flatten him, but I will keep him alive—

Frillish's eyes flickered, and he attempted to interrupt her tirade. Child.

—until his pride is broken, and I will revel in his screams of agony. He sickens me to my very core. He deserves worse than death. I live solely for my family, and I failed to protect my mother. If the wyrm ever strikes at her again, he will die in the most excruciating way I can find.

The words echoed in Frillish's earholes and etched themselves into fate. Togetic had not rewritten reality, nor had she made a vow that she would be forced to pursue, but the words had been spoken with overwhelming emotion, and to the fae, that meant something. Had she been older and a lot more powerful, they might have had an effect that would be ever so slight, but could affect the course of a battle where fate itself would push for her victory, turning the odds in her favor. Turtonator stood up, much to Grace's surprise, and began glaring at the fairy type. Had he sensed those words somehow?

Frillish certainly had, and they felt different.

Child. Your mother would be saddened if you went through with this plan, Frillish shook his head. You are not thinking clearly. It is the influence of the fae that clouds your judgment.

Togetic's expression did not change, but Frillish certainly felt a change.

Brother… I apologize.

Think nothing of it, child. You are still young, and you must resist these urges, lest you end up like that Sylveon,
Frillish warned.

We are old friends, him and I. He has a good heart.

And yet, he grows ever so attached to his trainer to the point of isolating him from his friends with tricks of the mind. It will have to be dealt with,
Frillish rebuked. Go clear your head. I must speak with the others.

Togetic grabbed one of his tentacles. Wait, big brother! Tell me you love me before you go, or I'll tell mother you were being callous again!

I love you, little one.

Togetic left, seemingly satisfied. Frillish huffed, but his eyes dimmed. At last, she was back to her cheerful, mischievous self. No matter what, he could not resist this child, nor any of the others. He had grown soft, but he was perfectly content with that. From the day he had started living alone and preying on those weak Pokemon in Sandgem's shallow waters, to the afternoon Grace had caught him, his life had been so dull. A mindless cycle of staying perfectly still, waiting for an unsuspecting Magikarp or school of Remoraid to swim by until he could trap and drain them with Absorb. Grace had called it draining 'energy,' but that was not exactly true. He had been stealing away their lifespans.

Frillish was not a true ghost, and therefore, he was not truly immortal. Of course, he was so hard to kill he might as well have been. If there was even a speck of his body left, he would eventually regenerate, and he had stolen so many years of life that he would not meet his maker for centuries more.

Of course, he had stopped doing so now. Grace disliked it when he killed things— something he did not understand. Why care about wild Pokemon he or she barely knew? But he did not want to see her sad, so he listened.

Plus, he also had to wrangle with the fact that he would live long past everyone here, which the water type did not like to think about. These intrusive thoughts always struck him at the worst of times. He needed a distraction.

Frillish noticed Larvitar screaming obscenities at Tangrowth below him, and he floated down to see what all the ruckus was about. The grass type's vines were wriggling about erratically, which clearly meant that he was in severe distress.

Larvitar shook her arms and began stomping on the ground, forcing Tangrowth to pick her up. Let me get deeper into the water, you sack of vines! Let me in, let me in, let me in, let me in—

Now, now, child. What is going on here?

The rock type let out a half-gasp, covering her mouth with her hands. Frillish! Nothing… nothing is going on. We're playing games.

Tangrowth shot the ghost type a series of blinks and shook his entire body.

Tangrowth here is telling me you were misbehaving, he said.

Well, Tangrowth's a big, smelly liar! I'm gonna tell mo— Grace!

The grass type's vines drooped sadly along the floor.

You hurt him. You must apologize, Larvitar.

She was about to protest, but Frillish intensified his stare until she relented and issued a short apology. Tangrowth forgave her immediately, and quickly returned to his usual, joyous self. Larvitar was still a baby, and so she tended to be very irritated when she did not get her way. Togetic had shown a little bit of this when she had been younger, but that was mostly gone now. However, something told Frillish that Larvitar would never lose this immature side of her. She was placed on the ground again, and Tangrowth gently guided for to the lake's shores, where she enjoyed spending her time.

The rock type was itching to grow stronger. She disliked Turtonator, but she also looked at him with awe because she admired his great strength.

And that was because her ultimate goal was to get revenge on the Pokemon that murdered her first mother. First was important, because despite her reluctance to actually enunciate the words, Larvitar did think of Grace as her second parent. She was just not ready to take that final leap. Frillish did not have the heart to tell her that even Turtonator would be no match for that Rhyperior in his current state.

The water type held back a huff. Even that dragon was weak compared to the true horrors of the world.

Frillish looked at Tangrowth with suspicion. Not because he did not trust him— he loved him just as much as the others— but because he believed he was on the brink of a discovery. Tangrowth never spoke, even with fellow Pokemon, opting to communicate with his vines and eyes instead, which meant that he was hard to understand at times.

And yet, Frillish had figured out that he was not a child as Grace and he had believed.

Frillish was old, and so he could differentiate the behavior of children and adult Pokemon. Tangrowth did not behave as a child should. He was a caretaker, often opting to play with the rest of children, or Grace's friend's teams even when he did not particularly want to. No child would display such a level of maturity and gentleness.

And yet sometimes, he behaved like a child anyway. The grass type was truly an enigma that Frillish struggled with on a daily basis, and it appeared he would not completely solve it tonight either. The water type heard Electabuzz call out to him, and he bid Tangrowth and Larvitar goodbye after telling the rock type to behave and Tangrowth not to let himself be walked over.

Electabuzz grinned and waved at him.

Hey Frillish, pal! Looking gloomier than usual today! He exclaimed. Check this out!

The electric type let loose a series of punches in the air, which were quicker and more powerful than they used to be.

I can quickly alternate between Ice and Fire Punch now. Ain't that grand? Electabuzz smiled.

Your mother said no training tonight, Frillish said.

This ain't training, I'm not using any moves! Grace is okay with it, I asked her. I'm supposed to keep my opponents off of that little Snorunt tomorrow.

The water type sighed. Well, if she said so. Is anything troubling you, perhaps?

Well, nothing you can do anything about,
he shrugged as he continued punching the air. The turtle's worrying me. Grace is being too chummy with him.

On that, we agree,
Frillish nodded. But I came to an understanding when I struck him with that Water Pulse. There is simply no point in fighting.

Electabuzz hit the water type's back as he laughed, causing him to groan in annoyance.

Bahaha! You only say that because it didn't actually deal any damage!

No, child. I say it because Turtonator is in pain, and his way of dealing with it is lashing out. Did you not see? He wanted a fight. He still wants one.

Electabuzz lost his playful demeanor, and his arms slumped.

Grace said as much.

Do you not trust your mother? I believe her words. She is surprisingly good at understanding us, for a human.

Even if she still had work to do.

I trust her, but I need to get stronger. I wasn't enough. I'm never enough to protect her. Until a few nights ago, she was still crying herself to sleep. I know you heard, but you never did anything. I… I didn't either.

I was too ashamed of myself,
the water type admitted. You say you did not protect her, yet it was you who saved her from the heat and an explosion. Without you, the burns would have been much worse. Meanwhile, my water… my water could not win against Turtonator's flames.

Come on, pal! You're being too hard on yourself. Honestly, I think we all share some of the blame. Grace made a decision, and we… we weren't good enough to ensure that it went well. At the end of the day, it's all our fault.

Including hers?
Frillish asked.

The electric type looked at him and shrugged again. Dunno. Hurts to think about, so I'd rather not.

Fair enough,
he nodded. Instead of punching the air and doing other nonsensical things, why don't you go and keep your sister company? She has a lot on her mind.

Which one?
He asked worriedly.


Is she still in her murder mode?

Only if you bring up the 'wyrm.'

Electabuzz chuckled. Always loved her strange way of talking. Fairies are funny like that!

He quickly left and jogged toward Togetic, who sat on the ground and watched the bright moon in the sky that often captivated her. Frillish smiled when he saw them start to talk. Electabuzz was a much-needed ray of sunshine that kept the family going in their darkest days. After the attack at Valley Windworks, in Eterna Forest, Mount Coronet, or the far north, he had always been there. A reassuring presence that they could always fall back on, even though he did not think of himself as one.

He did a lot more for all of them than he knew.

"Hey bud. Deep in thought?"

Frillish slowly turned toward Grace. She smiled at him and gently grabbed his tentacle, somehow causing him an uncomfortable amount of comfort.

On all of our minds, he responded, looking at every member of the family. Grace was good at understanding Pokemon, but she still needed a lot of expressive body language to truly understand what they meant.

"I've been worrying you all, huh?" She sighed. "I'm sorry. I guess I've been too headstrong about forcing this Turtonator thing onto you."

The water type's eyes flickered. She already knew?

"I think he'll slowly come around, but I can't force you to like him. Even Tangrowth keeps his distance, and he's the nicest Pokemon around."

Larvitar seems to admire Turtonator, he said, pointing at the rock type.

"Sweetheart? Yeah, I suppose she could change her mind. She doesn't mind him, but it's got to do with strength or something. I don't fully understand yet."

Frillish nodded, indicating that she was on the right track. Grace did not need to know about this plan for revenge any time soon, and he doubted that she would even accept it.

"Regardless, I won't force you to talk to him or anything. You can all keep your distance, and I'll work with Turtonator by myself."

I appreciate that decision, but don't overwork yourself, child, Frillish said with a worried look.

"I'll be alright. Let's all do our best and look forward to tomorrow. Though I guess you don't particularly care, do you?" She teased him.

The water type huffed. It was true that while all the others cared about Grace's dream of becoming the best trainer and gathering badges, he did not particularly do so. The act of battling for sport had even confused him at first. After all, why fight someone if you aren't going to kill them? It had taken him weeks to understand, but he was still not enamored with battling like everyone else was.

He did, however, want to grow stronger to protect what he currently had. He would not lose another family again. It had been comfortable, to live in the wild and chase prey for centuries. He could turn everything off and run on auto-pilot, not being consciously aware for years at a time. It wasn't like anything in Sandgem's waters was powerful enough to kill him. So he had almost forgotten. Forgotten what it was like to have a family until Grace had caught him.

Frillish reckoned that if he hadn't experienced it before, it would have taken him months for him to even give her a chance. He very well could have been doing what Turtonator was doing now or worse. He had even attacked her at first.

"I'm gonna let you think and go hang out with princess and honey, alright? Something's been off about her lately, but I can't place what it is."

Frillish smiled slightly. She had even noticed that? He had underestimated her.

"Aw, look at you with the cute smile!" She said, hugging him. Frillish's body was cold, and yet he still felt warm. "See you later, bud!"

What an impressive child she is, he mused to himself. Grace was warmth personified, and there was not a single being she could not reach if given enough time. Frillish was sure of it.

Perhaps even…

He stared at Turtonator, who had laid lazily back down in the grass.

What, ghost? The dragon mocked. Have you come to strike me again? It would be my pleasure to indulge you.

Frillish sighed. He could at least give talking a try.

I realize that I did not apologize for my outburst a few days ago. I am sorry about attacking you.

Turtonator mockingly snorted. Hah! Apologizing? You think like a human, ghost! Has a few months under that annoying child's company softened you that much?

I am not a ghost!
Frillish said a little louder than he wanted. And it has, he admitted. Is there anything wrong with that? Does it matter if I am soft if it makes me happy?

The fire type closed his eyes. You're the only one I have a modicum of respect for, ghost, he said, ignoring his protest and question. You got angry and attacked me. That takes courage. But the others? They pretend, pretend, pretend. They will speak to you about me, but not spew their hatred to my face. That fairy is the worst of all. You seem to care for her, but you know the sinister desires that lie within the fae. Bah! The thought alone disgusts me! He hatefully spat. Even that human acts as if she likes me. She'll drone on and on about anything that comes up in her empty little head.

I will keep the others under control,
he said. They will not strike you. Larvitar admires your power, and Grace's desire to get closer to you is genuine.

He snorted, letting out a puff of hot smoke. Maybe the little one is fine, but the rest are not. Eventually, even that petulant human will give up. They are all the same. Good-for-nothing little weasels worth less than the most common Rattata. Betrayal is second nature to them.

Even Kamaile?

The temperature rose, and Turtonator's shell lit up as he stared at Frillish with a look of pure rage.

Do not speak of him, ghost. I will not ask you twice.

Frillish's eyes dimmed, and he bowed his head to apologize. He had gone too far, but he couldn't help but be curious. Where had this hatred of humans come from? Why did Turtonator, who traveled the lands with his trainer suddenly start to hate humans? Frillish refused to believe that a Pokemon with this much hate could have been used by a trainer in any way, shape, or form. Grace had told him about the fact that he had attacked a human just for walking next to him. The hatred was fresh. Recent.

Perhaps there was more to his trainer's death than met the eye.

You are lucky I am in a good mood today, ghost. Otherwise, I would have killed you right then and there, he said.

Many have tried. It is harder than it seems, the water type answered.

You are a weakling, ghost. One well-placed Dragon Pulse would erase you beyond your regenerative capabilities.

Frillish froze. You know?

How old do you think I am? I have seen my fair share of ghosts. Annoying little rats, the lot of them, but still better and easier to kill than a powerful fairy.

Why are you so insistent on calling me a ghost? Frillish huffed. That is not even half of what I am.

Ghost, half-ghost, it is all the same to me. And it is also because I know you hate it, ghost. Turtonator smirked, closing his eyes. You are the worst weakling of all. Purposefully holding yourself back, and for what? How disappointing.

What do you know?
Frillish said, narrowing his eyes.

Pokemon as old as we can sense things, ghost. I know you have been holding back your evolution. In fact, you could have evolved when you fought me in the mountain. Maybe then, your trainer wouldn't have had to be scarred for life.

Frillish's eyes flared, and it took everything he had not to attack. His tentacles shivered and ghostly energy started to leak out of his body. He wanted to rip him apart for what he had just said. To make him pay. To hate

Ah, yes, ghost, let the hate flow through you. That might make you slip from the edge and unlock your potential.

You are worse than scum for what you just said,
Frillish fumed. And yet, maybe Turtonator was correct. Maybe he could have saved Grace from the anguish she was going through.

You are weak, and I am strong. I can say whatever I want, and there is nothing you will ever be able to do about it.

Damned dragons and their pride! Frillish floated away, opting to distract himself by going back to the others, but Turtonator called out to him again.

Why is it that you fear more power, Frillish?

The water type stopped mid-air and slowly turned back. That was the first time Turtonator had ever addressed him by his name.

Does it matter if you will just mock me?

Turtonator continued, ignoring his question. I struggle to understand. Some Pokemon like Vulpix are often scared to evolve because they will long outlive their trainers as Ninetales, but you will already live for centuries more.

But why do you even care?
Frillish asked again.

Why should I not strive to obtain something? If it is within my reach, it should be mine.

So it is just greed, then?

Greed for knowledge?
He snorted. I suppose so. Now humor me.

And if I don't?
Frillish asked.

Do not play games with me, ghost. Say that you will or that you will not. Do not ask about consequences. Only weaklings do so.

You called me weak earlier, so that would fit what you think of me

The temperature rose ever so slightly.

If you do not speak, then you will be stuck in this powerless form forever, ghost. Eventually, you will become too weak and fall behind the 'family' that you seem to care so much about. You have done everything you can in this body. Your growth has flatlined.

Frillish sighed.

You said that our ages were comparable earlier. How old are you? The water type asked.

Seventy-four, the dragon answered.

You are a child to me, then—

Do not call me a child,
Turtonator interrupted him with a growl. Continue.

I have lived so long I have forgotten how old I was, but it is certainly more than three hundred. When I was just born, I lived in a pod of five Frillish, including me, but I will skip past the details. When a Frillish evolves, it does not keep a balance between water and ghost. They become more of a ghost instead. My mother evolved and lost herself to hatred.

A nice little story,
Turtonator said dissmisively. And why does that matter?

Do you not understand? I could lose myself! I could never be the same again! What will become of Grace then? She will be heartbroken, as I was!

Again, you think like a human. Disappointing.

Your input is highly unappreciated and unwanted.

If you have so little trust in yourself, then I retract the small ounce of respect I had for you,
the dragon said, lazily turning away. A pity.

It is not even about trust, it is about uncertainty.

You are uncertain about your own willpower. If you think that is not a matter of trust in your own capabilities, then you are lying to yourself. Another human habit.

I don't need your help. I've been thinking about it regardless, and I will come to a decision when the time suits me.

Run away, ghost. Run away from power because something could go wrong. That annoying little runt might be insufferable, but her love for you is genuine, at least. Do you honestly think she would not try to bring you back to normal if hate consumed you? Do you think she would fail? No trust in yourself, no trust in your trainer, well, well, ghost, you sure are a pathetic little worm. Worth less than the most abhorrent of the fae.

She could fail. My mother never went back to normal.

Oh, please,
Turtonator scoffed with a half-snort. How long did you even try to save her? You were simply not resolute enough.

We tried for months. Eventually, the others left. I tried to stick around, but I gave up too, and then I was left on my own. I drifted across the ocean for years until I reached the shallow waters of Sandgem.

Months?! Hah! You are a ghost! Months are but a speck of time to you lot.

It was centuries ago! Staying with her was too painful after knowing what she had been like. I can't change the past.

Turtonator stood up and stared down the water type with a flaming intensity.

Centuries ago, you were a weakling with no determination. Today, you are the same. How pathetic is it that you have made absolutely no progress? You are teetering on the edge, barely holding on by a single strand. You are so close that you wouldn't even need to be in a stressful situation to evolve. You could do it right now. Just let go.

Frillish tensed as he closed his eyes.

And let himself fall off the edge.

Ha! Perhaps there is hope for you yet, ghost, Turtonator laughed as light engulfed Frillish's body.

A/N: So I delayed this as much as I could, but I finally made the Pokemon talk. It's been a long time coming, and there's only so much characterization you can do for them without them speaking, although I do think I was doing a good job. The fact that there are no quotation marks for Pokemon dialogue is a stylistic choice that I hope isn't too confusing. Anyway, this ended up being my favorite chapter ever, overtaking chapter 108 and 62 by a mile. Let me know what you think about it.
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Chapter 121

"I'm serious, princess. You can talk to me, I'll listen," I said.

"To. Ge," she shook her head. Electabuzz worriedly tapped her back to convince her, but she didn't relent.

"Arceus, are you having your teenage crisis early?" I teased. "Well, I'll figure you out eventually. No secret is safe from me—"

Both of my Pokemon turned and stared behind me, and so did angel and sweetheart, who were together in the distance. I did the same, and I saw a bright light surround Frillish's body as he floated next to Turtonator, who was looking at him with a gleeful look.

"What… what happened?" I muttered in disbelief. I was too shocked to even move.

Frillish was… Jellicent now towered over Turtonator, being at least seven feet tall, if not more. His head had grown to enormous proportions, and he glowed slightly in the night. His eyes were now at least twice as bright, and staring at them too long unsettled me.

I shook my head. How could I be unsettled by my own Pokemon?

I snapped out of my stupor and ran toward Turtonator and Jellicent, closely followed by Electabuzz and Togetic. Tangrowth quickly came as well, propelling himself with vines while carrying Larvitar in the air.

"What happened here?" I asked, looking at Turtonator, then Jellicent. "You evolved! You weren't even fighting or anything! How do you feel?"

Jellicent slowly turned toward me and then stared down. He appeared a lot more slimy than usual, as if he was under a permanent Acid Armor, meaning that he'd be able to slip through any cracks easily. Did that mean hugs were now off the table? That sucked!

"Buddy? Talk to us," I smiled.

The water type let out a deep, booming sound from under his foamy mustache as he continued staring down at me.

"Hm, something isn't right," I frowned. Electabuzz nodded next to me while Turtonator just snorted and laid back down on the ground.

Tangrowth extended a vine forward, and it went inside of Jellicent's body, who just stood still and stared. Togetic and Larvitar both attempted to say something, but there was no reaction either. I felt my throat tighten.

"Are you feeling alright?" I asked, clenching a fist. "Do you want to go back in your Pokeball? Or maybe move around in your new body for a bit?"

Why was he just staring through me? Electabuzz grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me back, stepping in front of me.

"What are you doing? I've got this—"

Tangrowth wrapped a vine around my waist, restraining me. Electabuzz continued yelling at Jellicent. Togetic and Larvitar begged for him to go back to normal, and Turtonator just watched with a curious, half-opened eye.

Jellicent's eye glinted, and in a split second, a Shadow Ball had finished gathering in front of his mouth. Electabuzz roared, and electricity sparked on both of his fists. He punched Jellicent, ramming through the Shadow Ball and creating an explosion. Tangrowth pulled me away and Togetic raised an earthen barrier to protect me. Electabuzz's hands sunk inside of the water type, shocking him from the inside. The water type's body shook and rippled, as if it was made entirely out of water, but his eyes cleared immediately after that.

His stare no longer disturbed me.

Electabuzz stopped his attack, shaking his hand where the Shadow Ball had hit.

Jellicent's stare turned to pure panic as he profusely bowed his head and apologized profusely. I breathed again for what felt like the first time in minutes and gave him a tired smile.

"You scared me there, buddy," I sighed. "What happened? That was like…"

Ghosts were known to grow out of control when they evolved, but Jellicent wasn't a true ghost. Unless something had changed…?

"Well, we'll figure it out at some point," I said. "Thank you for snapping him out of it, hon."

Electabuzz scratched the back of his head and smiled awkwardly. If he hadn't taken the initiative and attacked, then this could have gone to complete shit really fast. Even if it'd only take me seconds to grab Jellicent's Pokeball to recall him, an actual fight, however short it was, would damage all of their relationships. Plus, Jellicent wouldn't have been back to normal as quickly.

"At least I can figure out pretty quickly if you're normal or not," I told him. He stared at me and asked how. "Your eyes, you big goof. You were looking at me like I was a thing, not family. Anyway, Togetic, can you fix up the ground a little bit? I don't want to give the employees here extra work."

The flying type shakily nodded and began flattening the ground.

"What are you laughing at?" I asked Turtonator with a suspicious look. "I know you had something to do with this. I'm recalling you for now," I said, grabbing his Pokeball. After retrieving him, I turned to Jellicent again. "Important question. Can you solidify your body like ghosts? There's no point in you being this big if I can't hug ya."

Electabuzz cackled at that, agreeing with me. Larvitar stepped below Jellicent, waving her arms and looking at him with admiration as Tangrowth watched with his vines drooping. It looked like she had a new favorite now, much to his chagrin, but the novelty would probably wear off, and then she'd be back to begging to play with him.

Jellicent hesitated, but then his body slightly trembled, and he nodded at me.

I tackled him. It did not have the effect I wanted.

I thought I'd be able to bring him to the ground to hug him, and then everyone else would join in for a collective group hug. Instead, I bounced back and almost fell down, but Tangrowth stopped me by quickly wrapping a vine around me.

"Arceus, that was embarrassing," I exhaled as I stood back up. "Thanks Angel."

He waved at me and blinked twice. Jellicent apologized again, but I stopped him before he could finish.

"Stop it, it was just me being stupid," I said, slowly approaching him. I gently wrapped my arms around his face— or as far as I could, given how big he was. "You smell like the ocean."

"Licent," he nodded.

"I love you," I teared up. "Don't do that again, okay? I can't lose you."

We must have stayed there for at least ten minutes. At some point, the others joined in too, although Larvitar was only hugging my ankle. There was no point in my Pokemon being strong if they lost themselves in the process.

"Oh man, this changes everything for tomorrow!" I gasped. "I need to text Denzel— we need to change our strategy around. Oh, we also need to try out your new body and strength and stuff! Oh man, this is gonna be so much fun. You guys mind if we extend our little jaunt and go to route 208?"

Togetic sighed, but everyone else agreed.

"Sorry princess, I'll make it up to you," I said before recalling them. I grabbed my Poketch, checked the time and winced. "Oh man, my sleep schedule is going to be fucked."

On the opposite side of Amity Square, Denzel sat at the edge of the lake. He had come here multiple times already thanks to Grace's recommendation, and he liked the place to bits. He found it easy to relax here, especially with how fidgety he felt about tomorrow's battle.


Feebas jumped across the lake, creating a beautiful arc. He was getting better at that. Sylveon, meanwhile, was lying down at the lake's shore, happily watching the fish perform for him. He had wanted to release the rest of his team too, but there'd be a high risk of a fight happening, and that was a no-no before tomorrow's battle. He needed them focused on that, not a lover's quarrel.

Well, at least Feebas could get some quality alone time with his crush while Denzel got into his battling headspace. Even though it would only be tomorrow, he was still thinking about it, talking and muttering to himself about different possible scenarios and creating a broad strategy to counter them. Sylveon called out to Feebas, who shyly approached the fairy type, and he hugged him with his ribbons.

Denzel raised an eyebrow. Sylveon usually didn't display that much affection with Buneary or Roselia. He was sure now that Snorunt wasn't in love with the fairy type, but she liked to hog his attention to annoy those two anyway.

The trainer grabbed Buneary's Pokeball and held it firmly in his hand. Lopunny was an evolution that required Buneary to feel highly attached to its trainer, and he was sure they were close enough now— even though she liked Sylveon more than him. If it had been enough for Budew, then she was ready. The problem was that she was so used to being in tough battles that nothing seemed to be enough to let her evolve.

It was a strange quirk of his team. Even though, again, Budew technically didn't require to be in a battle to evolve, she had done so during his gym battle against Candice. Denzel was sure Buneary would be the same. The question was, would she evolve tomorrow or during the battle with Fantina?

And could he trigger it at a specific moment?

Denzel snapped out of his thoughts as Sylveon tightly wrapped a ribbon around his arm. A soothing feeling permeated within him, and he smiled at his Pokemon. He liked to help him work past his worries with his powers, which he assumed worked like Togetic's.

"Thanks, Sylvi," he said, petting his head. "Can't get too reliant on that, though,"

The fairy type protested and shook his head.

"I know you mean well, but Cynthia warned Grace about it. I could get addicted to it, it's dangerous."

Sylveon grumbled and plopped himself on the ground, turning away from him.

"Can you at least try the new armor-like thing we've been working on?" He sighed.

Sylveon grumbled.

"Not armor. Got it. How about glamour or something?"

The fairy type nodded, and his body blurred for a single second, then tensed. Denzel brought a hand to his back and smiled when he couldn't manage to touch him directly— it was fundamentally impossible, at least until he got hit enough times. That would undoubtedly throw Chase and Cecilia for a loop tomorrow. They had developed this 'armor' during their training, and it wasn't actually a move. Fairies tended to be the most adept at creating things that weren't moves, and from what Denzel knew, each fairy was different with what they could achieve. He didn't really understand how Sylveon had come up with the concept, but he knew that it meant that he'd be able to fight in a melee for longer, which was his specialty.

Denzel let Feebas play around for another thirty minutes before he went back to the Center to sleep.

"You look so goofy!" I giggled at Jellicent. Togetic could barely float straight as the water type used Water Sport to propel himself upward. "Seriously, how does it still work with the size of your head?!"

Somehow, Jellicent had not lost any mobility from his evolution, although his larger size did mean he was a lot easier to hit. In his solid form, he was as slow as a Torkoal, and extremely heavy, but in his default, goo form? He was actually lighter than he had been before evolving, and his body could easily bend in unnatural ways, meaning that sharp turns weren't a problem either.

"Your attacks are a lot stronger than before, too," I continued. "No time to learn any new moves in a day, but what we have is already good. I will try to get you to learn Brine before the battle against Fantina, though. The large area of effect means that it'd be excellent to take down ghosts."

The water type nodded slowly.

"By the way, there'll be people tomorrow at our battle. Will you be okay to be out?" I asked.

Jellicent hesitated, but then nodded.

"Okay. Don't beat yourself up, okay? The fact that you're back to normal so quickly's already a lot of progress. Arceus knows that taking care of two unruly Pokemon would have exhausted me."

I checked my Poketch, and there was no answer from Denzel.

"I guess he's probably sleeping," I said. "Well, we've got all day tomorrow to work something out, so there's no rush. We should head back."

"And remember," I told Denzel. "I know it'll look stupid, but don't—"

"I won't intervene in your plan, I know," he smiled. "Did you remember to submit your order to Justin?"

I scoffed. "Obviously!"

"I don't know, you forget a lot of stuff."

"Maybe I'll forget that we're on the same team, too," I snarked.

"No you won't, because you hate losing."

I lifted a finger, but paused. "Yeah… fair enough."

Jellicent's evolution had completely changed our strategy from top to bottom, and we had stayed at the Center until the last minute to refine it. The beginning would look roughly the same, but the deeper into the battle we would get, the more different everything would be. The surprised look on Justin's face when I revealed that Jellicent had evolved had been very entertaining, but I had expected a bigger reaction. Denzel and I entered the arena where our battle would take place, and a small crowd of trainers was already there somehow. Pauline and Emilia were also sitting on the side, and I had asked for Emi to record the battle so I could watch it later.

"Arceus, how'd they find out so quick?" I asked exasperatedly.

"All it takes is for one person to see that Cece and Chase were there," Denzel said, pointing at our two friends. They were speaking with each other, probably doing some last-minute strategizing.

"And then it spreads like wildfire. I'm honestly surprised there aren't more people."

"Don't jinx us," I groaned.

Cece smiled and waved at us, while Chase just nodded. After ironing out our plan and implementing a few, last-minute changes, it was time for the battle to begin.

Justin stepped to the side of the arena and cleared his throat. He was clearly nervous, and he adjusted his collar before starting his speech.

"Erm, this will be a double battle, and each trainer will be allowed to use four Pokemon! You can only… wait I messed up. Uh, you can… there's only one switch per trainer allowed, and a Pokemon order was given to me, so you have to send out the first one you picked no matter what…"

How awkward, I thought. Still, I couldn't fault him. Speaking in front of this many people for the first time was no doubt nerve-wracking.

"Trainers, send out your Pokemon!" He exclaimed, a little firmer this time.

Immediately, I sent out Tangrowth, and Denzel released Roselia, who glared at him and screeched when she realized how many people were there.

I bit the inside of my lip when I saw a Slowking and a Vikavolt appear on the other side of the field.

It looked like I wasn't the only one that had hidden an evolution. We had been completely wrong about which Pokemon Chase would choose. All of the time he had spent in Mount Coronet made sense now. He had traveled up the mountain to reach a level where the mountain's magnetic field was powerful enough so that Charjabug could evolve. Meanwhile, Cecilia had an Arceus damned Slowking, which, needless to say, was a disaster for our plan to take him down quickly before moving on to Chase's Pokemon.

"Well, fuck," Denzel exhaled.

Yeah, I thought. Fuck.
Keikaku failed. Not Grace's best combat environment, but they gotta capitalize quick
Even if it was mocking, Turtonator did give Jellicent good, well meaning advice, which he followed. That's a pretty huge step towards becoming a proper teammate. I've suspected for a while that Frillish had more ghost to him than he let on, just because of how many times it was reiterated that he wasn't a "real" ghost. Although also I don't like the way this fic makes that distinction between "ghosts" and "true ghosts", so I was already biased towards hoping the ghost would be more ghost.

Sylveon seems to have a particular talent for fairy effects, since he's capable of both this new glamour thing and whatever subtle manipulation Frillish hinted that he was using against Denzel. Alternatively, rather than an incredible talent coming up with two tricks, it could be just one versatile trick. Sylveon's insistence that it's not armor is probably significant. If it's some kind of aversion field with a mind-affecting element, then it could be that a weaker form of the same effect could subtly divert Denzel's attention away when he tries to reach for his phone for example.

It makes me wonder what sort of tricks Togetic might be capable of. Plus, I suspect that that whole episode with Frillish's evolution might also be foreshadowing for when Togetic evolves. Who knows how her personality will change as Togekiss?

As for the coming battle, if all goes according to plan, I wonder how Chase will react. The plan from the start was to focus him down, which is a reasonable strategy, but it's also kind of bullying the one who's already not a part of the in-group.
Chapter 122 - Rivals
CHAPTER 122 - Rivals

There were no two ways about it.

This was bad. Really bad. Denzel swore, glancing at me, but we didn't have time to talk. Justin raised his arm, signaling that he was about to start the battle.

Slowking stood there with a blank expression and his hands sagely behind his back. Vikavolt fanned out his wings and slowly took flight, emitting a loud buzzing sound. Our entire plan was void now, but I could still salvage this. By how much had Slowking's psychic abilities improved? What was his range? How good was Vikavolt at maneuvering in the sky? How fast was he? Could Tangrowth catch him and knock him down?

So many questions, with no way to answer them until the battle started. I bit my lip and sighed as Justin brought his arm down.


Immediately, without any orders, Slowking brought a hand forward, and psychic energy surrounded Vikavolt. The electric type shot forward at incredible speeds, opening his massive pincers as he flew toward Roselia. Right after that, Slowking spat out a massive Water Pulse that he sped up further with Psychic, also aiming toward the poison type.

"Grab her!" I yelled to Tangrowth. "Catch Vikavolt!"

"String shot," Chase ordered.

Tangrowth wrapped a vine around Roselia and dragged her to his side. She narrowly avoided both String Shot and Water Pulse.

"Venoshock!" Denzel said.

Tangrowth sent ten vines forward, all aiming to catch the approaching Vikavolt, but the bug type was surprisingly agile in the air, twisting and turning to dodge any vines that got even close. Still, it couldn't take too many risks and get too close to Roselia. The grass type angled her flowers toward Slowking, who was slowly trudging forward, and sprayed vasts amount of poison in his direction, but the psychic type simply waved an arm, deviating its path.

"Fuck it! Thunderbolt!" Chase yelled.

Ah. It was subtle, but I caught Cecilia's wince. Vikavolt screeched, vibrating his wings as a massive Thunderbolt rivaling Electabuzz's exploded from his body. Once again, Tangrowth protected Roselia, and he shrugged off the attack as he wriggled his body.

"They're focusing you down. Stick to the original plan. Get Slowking," I whispered. "Tangrowth, Leech Seed!"

Denzel nodded before shouting out a command. "Seed Bomb and Spore attack the Slowking!"

More than a dozen seeds flew off both Roselia's flowers and Tangrowth's body, and they were all destined for Slowking. The psychic type continued on its slow walk and simply diverted every single one. The spores simply washed over what seemed to be an invisible bubble of protection. Vikavolt slowly flew back toward Slowking.

"Obel, another one!" Chase yelled.

"Darling," she simply said.

Slowking lazily waved his hand, and Vikavolt shot out of the sky toward Tangrowth.

"Grace," Denzel exhaled. "Vikavolt's quick, but he's got a slow acceleration. Slowking's boosting his start speed with Confusion."

"Not Psychic?"

"Psychic would deal direct damage. Hurts the brain, remember?"

Chase swept his arm. "X-Scissor!"

Without my command, Tangrowth raised an earth barrier at the very last second, but Vikavolt somehow turned unnaturally fast toward the right. Denzel yelled, and Roselia sprayed it with a Venoshock before it left.

"Good catch," I breathed out. "We need a more aggressive approach."

"They're slowly choking us. Sic your Tangrowth on Slowking," Denzel said. "Roselia can handle herself."

There wasn't any time to ask him if he was sure. I ordered Tangrowth forward, and a dozen vines extended under him, quickening his pace. Slowking kept walking, and he did not even spare one look of uncertainty toward his trainer.

"Psychic!" Cecilia ordered.

The water type's eyes shone, and Tangrowth's body stopped as if it had rammed against a wall. Slowking hurriedly waved his arm, but angel was too big and heavy to just be sent away. On the other side of the arena, Vikavolt had picked up Roselia with its sharp pincers, and he was continuously biting with X-Scissor. Denzel grinned.


Poison started to emanate from every inch of Roselia's body, and Vikavolt dropped her to the ground with a screech. The grass type immediately stood up with a defiant scream of her own and started sniping him with Bullet Seeds. Tangrowth was still struggling under Slowking's Psychic, and not even Power Whip was breaking through. Psychic types were one of the most defensively powerful Pokemon, but his evolution had brought him to a completely different level.

Wait. Psychic types…

"Tangrowth, Knock Off!" I yelled.

Darkness surrounded one of Tangrowth's vines, and it simply broke through Slowking's Psychic, hitting the shell on the water type's head. Slowking's attack faltered for a few precious moment, and Cecilia flinched, meaning that she hadn't expected that.

"Power Whip!" I screamed.

The same vine that had hit Slowking suddenly tensed, and hit the psychic type again, sending him flying toward his trainer.

"Grace, Vikavolt's slowed!" Denzel yelled.

My eyes snapped back to his side of the battle, and I saw that the poison had made the electric type lose all of his built-up acceleration. Even for me, keeping track of two individual fights at once was too much. Vikavolt hurriedly fanned his wings and tried to run back toward Slowking, who was still attempting to get up from that Power Whip. Another seed exploded against his hard shell as Roselia kept pestering him with Seed Bombs and Bullet Seeds.

"Bind it, Tangrowth!"

The grass type hurried back to our side of the field as his vines shot forward. Vikavolt narrowly avoided the first few, but a well-placed Seed Bomb by Roselia managed to slow the bug type enough to restrain Vikavolt.

"Fight him off," Chase said.

That was unusually calm of him. And fight him off? How? That was a half-baked order if I'd ever seen one. Something Pauline might have said, but not Chase.

"Wait," I told Denzel and Tangrowth. "He's got a trick."

Cecilia whispered something at Chase, who did his usual dismissing handwave before giving the slightest nod. I sucked in air through my teeth. They were trying to fucking trick me! Cecilia was trying to be discreet. Her lips were barely moving, and Chase was outwardly disagreeing but secretly going along with her plan.

They weren't good enough yet. I could tell that they were planning on doing something.

If only I'd been better at lip reading.

Denzel stared at Slowking, who had gotten up and was starting to make his way to the action again. We were wasting time here.

"Fuck it," he exhaled. "Attack anyway, we can figure out how to deal with it on the fly."

I didn't like it, but we couldn't let an opportunity like this slip past us. With my signal, Tangrowth smashed Vikavolt against the floor and squeezed the life out of him with Bind and Mega Drain. Roselia stepped forward and began spraying her poison on the bug type.

"Rising Voltage!" Chase yelled.

The floor shook slightly, and a massive amount of electricity shot out of the crackling floor, hitting both Roselia and Tangrowth. However, they were grass types, so they didn't take that much damage. Tangrowth hadn't even loosened his grip on Vikavolt, so why—

Through the smoke, ash, and electricity, Slowking was running.

He was slow, but he was fucking running. Denzel swore and ordered Roselia to stop him with a Seed Bomb, but he easily diverted their path, and the explosions barely grazed him.

"I'll buy you time!" Denzel whispered. "Finish Vikavolt off!"

"Okay," I breathed. "Tangrowth, smash."

The grass type happily wriggled as he kept ramming Vikavolt against the ground over and over. I glanced at Denzel, who was simply waiting, but one look at his face told me that he was waiting for a reason. A few seconds later, he smiled.

"Giga Drain!"

"Psychic!" Cece countered.

With an enraged screech, Roselia extended her arms forward and started to drain Slowking's energy. The psychic type winced, stopping in his tracks as he lifted a hand. Roselia cried out in pain as energy surrounded her. Slowking raised her from the floor, assaulting her mind and senses. She crumpled like a piece of paper and went limp.

Tangrowth smashed Vikavolt against the floor one last time. He was down for the count too, and he had crucially fainted first.

"Vikavolt and Roselia are unable to battle. Trainers, send out your second Pokemon!" Justin yelled.

I wasted no time, and immediately ordered Tangrowth to Knock Off Slowking now that I knew that was Psychic's weakness, but Cecilia knew as much, and ordered Slowking back as he stopped Tangrowth from following with Psychic, finally buying us a lull in the battle. As it stood, only a single one of Tangrowth's vines could use Knock Off, meaning that his body as a whole could still be blocked.

"Slack Off," Cecilia smiled. Slowking sat down on the floor, closed his eyes, and all of the wounds on his body regenerated.


Since Chase's Pokemon went down first, the rules dictated that he'd release his Pokemon first, too. The boy sent out his Snover, who proudly smashed his chest, and hail began to fall on the battlefield. It would slowly whittle all of our Pokemon down except him. I almost scoffed in disbelief when I saw that there was still that psychic bubble around Slowking that just blocked the hail from hurting him.

"Buneary should be good against that," Denzel said as he grabbed her Pokeball. "Slowking's annoying, but have Tangrowth rush him again to lock him down."

I nodded. "I'll get your Buneary her one-on-one."

The small rabbit punched the air with both her ears and her hands as her trainer released her.

"Water Pulse, speed it up," Cecilia said, snapping a finger.

"Tangrowth, grab Buneary," I simply said. "Then get Slowking."

Tangrowth propelled himself with his vines and his legs as he tightly wrapped one against Buneary, carrying her like a rag.

"Wait for it… wait for it… throw her!" Denzel yelled.

I relayed his command to Tangrowth, who threw Buneary at Snover. The normal type shot out like an arrow, but Slowking was there to stop her, ever vigilant. The rabbit started to scream out in pain as the water type worked his Psychic on her.

But Tangrowth's arrival forced him to forgo any attacks in order to restrain the massive Pokemon from ramming into him.

"Knock Off," I said.

"Icy Wind," Chase snapped.

Snover shivered as he blew a frigid wind toward Tangrowth, but a Power-Up Punch from Buneary forced him to change course.

"Wood Hammer!" He yelled.

Both Denzel and my eyes bulged as Snover's fist elongated and shimmered with a bright, neon green. Denzel narrowly ordered Buneary to dodge with Quick Attack, but the Wood Hammer still clipped her side, and it had dealt a considerable amount of damage. In fact, the attack was so powerful that there was some blowback on Snover too. I hurriedly ordered Tangrowth to Knock Off again, hoping that the previous strategy would work. I smiled when the darkened vine slammed into Slowking's cheek, and I quickly followed up with a Power Whip, but Cecilia recalled her Pokemon in the nick of time, using her only switch of the battle.

It was something I had expected, but not been sure of now that I knew Slowking had Slack Off. She could have kept him going for a long time, but maybe she didn't want to tire him out too quickly? Without a dark type move, his defenses were nearly impenetrable. I considered switching too, but I decided to at least wait until I saw what she would use next.

As Buneary and Snover dueled each other with Power-Up Punches, Fire Punches and Wood Hammers, Cecilia released her Fletchinder.

"Agility, Tailwind," she said in quick succession.

"Don't let them! Grab her!" I yelled at Tangrowth.

Multiple vines shot out from his body, but the bird was already too quick. Her body loosened, and a continuous wind began to blow against us as she easily weaved in between Tangrowth's vines.

"Grace, I'm going to do something that might be stupid," Denzel whispered to me.

"Are you fucking kidding?" I hissed. "Now's not the time to experiment."

"I have to do it. We're in a deadlock, but your Tangrowth's getting tired. Buneary's slowly losing to Snover."

I bit my lip. I didn't know what kind of training Chase had put his Snover under, but he was shrugging off fire type attacks like they were nothing, and the Hail would slowly whittle us down.

"Fire Spin," Cecilia said.

Damn it, another new move. Fletchinder beat her wings, heating up the air around Tangrowth until flames surrounded him on all sides.

"Ancient Power, angel!" I countered, wiping my sweaty palms on my pants.

A massive rock flew toward Fletchinder, interrupting her attack, and Tangrowth just walked out of the Fire Spin. His body was still on fire, though, and he was quickly losing his energy. He wasn't as strong or fast as he had been before.

"Icy Wind, then Wood Hammer!" Chase said.

"Yeah, I'm going for it," Denzel whispered. "Buneary, take the hit!"

Snover blew another Icy Wind at Buneary, and I clicked my tongue. She could have dodged that. Now I could only hope that Denzel's strategy would work out, whatever it was. Wood Hammer was next, and Snover grunted as the full blow connected against Buneary's chest, sending her flying toward Denzel. I used the opportunity to switch targets and ordered Tangrowth to Ancient Power the Snover. A huge rock shattered against his body and he fell backwards, but another Fire Spin from Fletchinder stopped Tangrowth from continuing his onslaught.

I was slowly realizing something.

Angel was a fucking force of nature.

Buneary struggled to get back up, and just as I was about to berate Denzel, the rabbit started to glow and evolve.

"Did you know that was going to happen?" I said, almost in disbelief.

"Call it a hunch," he smiled. "Eyes on the battle."

"Well, let's fucking take that Snover down," I grinned. "Tangrowth, grab him!"

The grass type wrapped a vine around the battered ice type and threw him back toward the still-evolving Buneary. Snover landed at her feet with a loud thud.

"Quick Attack, Flame Charge!" Cecilia yelled.

"Ancient Power!"

Immediately, a wall was raised in front of Tangrowth, but the flying type had been too quick. She simply rammed into Tangrowth before he had even raised the barrier. Tangrowth caught on fire again, and Fletchinder escaped, continuing on her path to save her teammate. Snover struggled to his feet, but flames combusted on Lopunny's hands as she punched the Pokemon in the mouth. With another order, Fletchinder blurred forward with a speed impossible to track and rammed against Lopunny.

The battle had switched around now. Snover was still not down, and even though he was still on the ground, he blew an Icy Wind toward angel, freezing his vines before he could grab him. Lopunny jumped into the air, creating a small crater and almost caught Cecilia off-guard, but Fletchinder was too quick. Nothing could hit her.

"Ice Punch!" Chase yelled at his Snover.

Tangrowth was slowed, weakened, and hurt from the battle and the hail. The Ice Punch connected, freezing a part of his body, and angel fell to the ground as he fainted. As much as it pained me to see him fall, I needed to save my switch for Togetic.

"Tangrowth is unable to battle! Grace, send out your second Pokemon!" Justin said.

Well, honey was trained for this. I grabbed his Pokeball and released Electabuzz with a flash of red. He whirled his arms around excitedly and awaited my command. Snover was way off in the distance now, and we needed to use that to our advantage.

First, I needed the setup.

"Eyes on Fletchinder. Electric Swift!" I ordered.

Stars appeared above Electabuzz's head, and he infused them with electricity before sending them off to hunt Fletchinder, who screeched as Lopunny managed to land a Power-Up Punch on her wing.

"Fly away, darling!" Cecilia said. "Keep dodging and attack with Fire Spin!"

The stars homed in on the flying type as if they had a mind of their own, but we weren't done. I waited for Fletchinder to start flying toward us again, and then I struck.


Honey extended his arms, and all of my and Denzel's hair stood on end as electricity surged from his body. Just like we had practiced, Lopunny was spared from any damage. Fletchinder squawked as she quickly dove to the ground and turned back, and I silently swore as she narrowly outran the Discharge. It still wasn't enough?

Luckily, that meant that the Electric Swift managed to hit her, and Fletchinder was a frail Pokemon. A few of those, and she'd be down for the count.

"E-Swift again," I said.

Meanwhile, I began to observe Chase. He wasn't as angry as I thought he would be, but he still looked pissed. Snover had made it back to our side of the arena, and his trainer extended his arm.

"Keep your distance, Ice Shard."

Sharp, shards of ice materialized around Snover's body and flew at high speeds toward Lopunny, who jumped up to dodge. For some reason, Denzel audibly winced, but he kept issuing orders to her anyway.

"Honey, Thunderbolt!" I said, pointing at Snover. Now that Lopunny was in front of us, Discharge wasn't an option, so I opted to focus on Snover instead. If we could take all of Chase's Pokemon down like we had planned…

I understood why Denzel had winced when I saw Fletchinder's flaming body ram against Lopunny mid-air. The sky was hers, and anyone who entered it would be vulnerable to her attacks. The rabbit crashed on the ground, and one Ice Punch from Snover knocked her out. The grass type shrieked as the Thunderbolt hit him, but it still wasn't enough.

"Lopunny is unable to battle! Denzel, send out your third Pokemon!"

"Electabuzz! Get in there!" I yelled. Now that Denzel's next Pokemon wasn't on the field, it was time to act. The stars were still chasing Fletchinder, who was being forced to move around in order not to get hit. Electabuzz broke into a sprint and blurred as electricity hummed around his body. "Discharge, full power!"

The electric type clapped his hands with a gleeful smile as thunder exploded around him quicker than last time. For Electabuzz, it was easier not to hold back and to just let everything loose. Fletchinder screeched as electricity surrounded her, and Snover was caught in it as well. The fire type fell down to the ground, her body a smoking husk, but Snover still stood, proudly hitting its fist against its chest.

"Fletchinder is unable to battle. Cecilia, send out your second Pokemon."

Denzel released his Snorunt, and Cecilia followed by releasing her Slowking once again, who was still protected from the hail.

"I'll Blizzard," Denzel whispered. "You buy Snorunt some time."

"Gotcha," I nodded. Cecilia and Chase were talking too, as they had been throughout the battle.

Now, what to do? I didn't want to needlessly waste Electabuzz's energy with Thunderbolt, since I was sure that Slowking would defend himself or Snover with Psychic. We didn't have Tangrowth's vines to isolate Cece and Chase's Pokemon any longer, so the situation was getting tricky.

"Blizzard," Denzel ordered, causing both of our opponents to flinch.

"Snover, Ice Shard!"

"Water Pulse, speed it up!" Cecilia yelled.

Electabuzz blurred toward Snorunt and slid across the ground as he stood tall in front of her.

"Discharge," I smoothly said.

As cold air began to pick up next to our opponents, Electabuzz screamed, and electricity surged forward, just like what we had done against Turtonator. The Water Pulse simply evaporated, but a few of the Ice Shards made it through and buried themselves inside of Electabuzz's flesh. Slowking started to run toward our two Pokemon, and Snover was now keeping his distance, just sending out Ice Shards like an Arceus damned machine gun.

"How much longer?" I asked.

"Thirty—no, twenty seconds," Denzel quickly answered.

Another Discharge stopped a Water Pulse, and another set of Ice Shards pierced through honey's hide. I clicked my tongue. I couldn't just take hits for free. At least I had to try to strike back.

"Thunderbolt the Snover," I hurriedly said.

With a nod, honey whirled his arm, charging himself up, and sent out a massive, crackling Thunderbolt at Snover. Slowking waved his arm, altering the attack's path. I ordered another Thunderbolt, and the same thing happened again. This was another, more tiresome way of buying time for Electabuzz, but Slowking had now slowed into a walk to focus, and at least he was no longer attacking with Water Pulse.

The cold wind was slowly picking up. I could see my breath, even inside of the building.

I grinned. "Switch it up."

Electabuzz understood immediately and sent his next Thunderbolt toward Slowking instead, catching him off guard. The water type convulsed as the electricity ransacked through his body, but the attack was interrupted by another set of Ice Shards.

Slowking's permanent shield was good enough to stop the hail, but not actual attacks. Noted.

"Snorunt, send it!"
Denzel said wildly.

A thick Blizzard suddenly overtook half of the battlefield, obscuring our view of both Snover and Slowking. I used the opportunity to allow Electabuzz to rest up and sit, and Snorunt kept the Blizzard going for at least a minute, laughing wildly with a splitting grin until she was done.

The hail slowed, and then stopped, signaling that Snover had fainted. The Blizzard slowly subsided, and Snover was lying face-down against the ground, while Slowking's entire body was simply frozen.

"Snover is unable to battle. Chase, send out your third Pokemon!"

"Fuck off," he spat, before realizing what he had said. "Wait, you're Pastel's pal. My bad."

He sighed as he sent out his Houndoom, and I immediately realized the dog-like Pokemon had changed. Darkness writhed where he walked, and there was an intensity about him that hadn't been there. It was as if the color of his fur wasn't black, but an absence of light.

"Grace, this guy means business," Denzel warned. "I'm switching."

I simply nodded, and ordered Electabuzz to use Thunderbolt on the frozen Slowking. With a cold, tired breath, he obliged me and shot out his attack.

"Melt the ice off," Chase said, his tone suddenly cocky. "Quick."

Houndoom turned toward his partner and used a huge fire type attack that could only be Flamethrower. Slowking slowly came to, and altered Thunderbolt's path again, causing me to swear in frustration. Denzel sent out his Sylveon, who silently landed on the battlefield. For some reason, just staring at him was difficult. The edges of his body flickered and blurred. Cecilia and Chase appeared to both be thinking the same thing, but Denzel seemingly had no problem with it.

Were we seeing Sylveon differently?

No! Now wasn't the time for that. We all seemingly went back to strategizing, whispering among ourselves, creating this very weird break in the battle. Like a truce of some kind.

"This Slowking's getting on my nerves," I said.

"You and me both, man," he sighed as he stretched with a smile. This was the most fun I've ever had since the battle against Candice, but I was exhausted already. Meanwhile, he could seemingly keep going.

"Swift will work," I said.

"No, not Swift. That'll take too long. Let's get in close and beat it up."

"But Psychic—"

"He can't stop us both. Sylveon's tougher than you remember. Just trust me on this."

Well, his gut had been correct regarding Lopunny's evolution, so I nodded. Chase and Cecilia seemingly finished strategizing at the same time, and the battle started once more. We ordered our Pokemon forward, and they both began to run, but Electabuzz matched his pace with Sylveon's. He couldn't be too quick.

"Feint Attack the Electabuzz!" Chase ordered.

Instead of disappearing as he had done against Candice, shadows wreathed around Houndoom, and he sunk into the floor, immediately reappearing behind Electabuzz as he brutally pawed him in the back.

"Discharge!" I yelled.

We would fall behind Sylveon, but there was no choice. Electricity expanded all around honey, wrapping around Houndoom, and the dark type whined as he convulsed from the shock. Still, it wasn't him we were focused on.

"Keep going!" I yelled.

The electric type continued on his path as Houndoom recovered. Cecilia commanded Slowking to use another Psychic, and Sylveon's entire body froze. In a disturbing fashion, the fairy type struggled against the psychic as he tilted his head and smiled, even as the attack assaulted his brain. Slowking brought his arm forward, but Sylveon did not get thrown away like I had expected him to. Instead, the blur around his body was slowly scattering into the wind like pink dust with each attempt. When Electabuzz made it close enough, a single spark appeared on his fist, and then it was covered in electricity. Slowking moved his hand and pointed toward him, opting to get hit by a non-super-effective move instead, meaning that Electabuzz was restrained and taking damage instead of Sylveon. The electric type grinned as ice formed around his feet, anchoring him to the ground right before Slowking tried to swat him away like a bug.

"Chase," Cecilia said after clicking her tongue.

"I know, damn it! Houndoom, Feint Attack again!"

"Play Rough," Denzel said.

With a joyful scream, and his body still blurry, Sylveon's head twisted toward the ground at incredible speeds. He kicked a shadow on the floor, his paws overflowing with fairy energy. Houndoom cried out as he was forcefully expunged from the shadows, and Sylveon hit him away. Next, the fairy type turned to Slowking, and before the water type could try to restrain him again, Sylveon's ribbons wrapped gently around him as he let out a harrowing cry.

That had been Disarming Voice. Electabuzz was finally freed, but he had a nosebleed from all the abuse he had taken from the Psychic, and he could barely stand up straight. Houndoom screamed out a Flamethrower, burning Electabuzz until he fell to the ground.

"Electabuzz is unable to battle! Grace, send out your third Pokemon!'

"You're up, princess," I said, releasing her. It looked like we weren't going to be able to save her for Zweilous after all. "Fairy Wind. Keep it going."

Togetic was good enough to keep a constant Fairy Wind going in battle without any difficulty now, and it would work akin to Hail. Continuous damage that was almost impossible to dodge. Sylveon wouldn't take as much damage, since he was tough and another fairy type, so I figured that it'd be worth it. He started relentlessly hitting Slowking with Play Rough as he laughed. The water type had lost the will to fight for a few seconds, and that was all Sylveon needed. He wasn't giving him any rest for him to use Psychic again.

"Ancient Power. Drills," I simply ordered.

Princess lifted a massive chunk of earth from the floor, and separated it into ten drill-like objects. She giggled as she sent them flying toward Slowking. Her control was so perfect that none of them even grazed Denzel's Sylveon.

I smiled. "Again—"

"Flamethrower!" Chase ordered.

Instead of forming more drills, I ordered Togetic to alter the attack's path with Extrasensory. I felt my throat clog up when it didn't work, and the flames just burst through the psychic type attack, hitting her.

"What the fuck?" I swore. "Ancient Power to protect yourself instead! Get close to the ground!"

Togetic lifted another massive rock and rushed toward the floor, narrowly blocking another Flamethrower from Houndoom. Meanwhile, on the other side of the arena, Sylveon stood with blood on his fur and paws as he stood over the defeated Slowking.

He turned back toward Denzel with a huge smile and a blank stare that sent a shiver down my spine.

"Good job, Sylvi," he called out.

"Slowking is unable to battle. Cecilia, send out your third Pokemon!"

"You were wonderful," Cecilia smiled. She immediately sent out her Scyther, and I instinctively held my breath. The bug type hissed as he sharpened his sickles against themselves.

I knew nothing about him. He was an unknown element that could throw this entire battle sideways, and I didn't like it one bit. I waited for Cece's order to come with bated breath.

It never came. Scyther rushed toward Sylveon, his speed only second to Fletchinder and slashed across the fairy type's flank, but strangely, he did not bleed.

"Togetic, Air Cutter," I ordered.

Princess peaked from behind her hurriedly erected barrier and fluttered her wings, sending air as sharp as knives toward Houndoom.

"Get close!" Chase said.

The fire type whined as the Air Cutter cut through his thick, dark hide, but he pushed through the pain and ran toward Togetic. I noticed that the Fairy Wind was having more effect on him than anyone else thanks to his dark type, but it still wouldn't take him down quickly enough. I bit my lip as I waited for Houndoom to get close as Scyther and Sylveon dueled each other in a surprisingly even match. Sylveon was too powerful for Scyther to hurt substantially, and he didn't bleed, while the bug type was quick enough to dodge most attacks.

Cecilia still hadn't said anything. I didn't even know what half of these attacks Scyther was using were.

Houndoom was close enough now. I swept an arm. "Thunder Wave!"

"Fuck that! Dodge!"

Houndoom slid across the ground and rolled behind Togetic's Ancient Power, narrowly avoiding her Thunder Wave.

"Fly away!" I yelled.


Houndoom's jaw opened, and a stream of white-hot flames would have hit Togetic if she hadn't raised another barrier. Houndoom was keeping us locked to the ground, but it wasn't for no reason. Chase had a plan. Every time Houndoom got anywhere close to Togetic, he tensed his body in anticipation.

Knowing there was intent behind his action was good, but I would have liked to actually know what it was that he wanted to do.

Denzel glanced at me. "Grace—"

"I know. Wish is coming, just hold on a sec. I need you to get Houndoom off her back."

"But Scyther…?"

"I can deal with Scyther. Trust me."

My best friend nodded and called out to Sylveon, who stopped fighting and ran back toward us right away. Scyther gave an enraged screech and started to chase him, but the fairy type ignored his attacks and kept running. Obviously, Chase noticed this development, and after swearing, he ordered his Houndoom to Flamethrower Sylveon. The two Pokemon began to fight— well, it wasn't really a fight. Houndoom slipped into the shadows and attempted to escape while Sylveon gave chase, somehow knowing where he was at all times. He looked at the ground with a disturbing, hollow stare and smashed his paw against the floor, causing Houndoom to cry out and run away faster.

Scyther landed on the ground and glared at Togetic, who responded by clapping her hands and giggling. That sent him over the edge, and he blurred toward her.


Before I even finished the sentence, Scyther was restrained in the air. Togetic curiously tilted her head, as if she was studying the bug type as she crushed his body ever so slightly. Her bait had worked masterfully. Cecilia was apparently letting him run loose, but that meant that he'd easily fall into traps like this.

"Ram him," I continued.

With a disappointed chirp, Togetic sent Scyther flying toward the floor, cracking his hardened plates. She'd wanted to keep hurting him, I suppose. We'd have to get that under control.


Finally, she had enough time to use the move. Princess tightly shut her eyes, and after five seconds, a light shot up into the sky and through the arena's roof. On the other side of the battlefield, Chase finally recalled his Houndoom, opting to use his switch before he could be ultimately defeated. I almost thought that he wouldn't, but he was wise to do so. A dark type was not going to win against Sylveon.

I gasped when he sent out his Zangoose and not his Riolu.

That was his last choice. He wasn't going to use the fighting type at all for this battle.

The normal type hissed as she stood up on her rear legs, meaning that she was ready to fight. Upon closer inspection, she looked poisoned too. There was a slight purple tint to her usually red eyes, and her breaths were ragged.

"Keep using Play Rough, Sylveon!" Denzel yelled.

"Wait, you should play it safe," I said, holding his shirt. "The Wish—"

"Won't come back down for two minutes," he interrupted. "We can't be on the defensive, or we'll eventually lose."

It was true that Togetic couldn't stop both Zangoose and Scyther at the same time. While her psychic abilities were good, she was no psychic type. The bug type slashed, sending out a streak of air toward Togetic, who easily dodged and retaliated with Ancient Power. Two sharp drills lodged themselves in between Scyther's plates. Zangoose countered the first part of Play Rough with her claws, and then quickly Slashed Sylveon. The fairy type's blur finally disappeared, and he bled, wincing as Zangoose overwhelmed him with attacks.

"Togetic, help him out! Get in there and restrain Zangoose!"

I clicked my tongue as Scyther blurred in front of her, blocking her path. The flying type was relatively weak, but he was a constant thorn in Togetic's side. He adeptly flew backward as Togetic approached to stand out of Extrasensory's range, but he kept sending out that slashing attack.

Wait, was it Air Slash?

I'd call it Air Slash anyway.

Togetic was too high in the sky to protect herself with Ancient Power, and altering the wind's path proved beyond our capabilities as the attack slashed across her body, causing blood to splay out on her chest.

"Fuck. Sylveon can't keep this up," Denzel groaned. Zangoose was completely dominating him, using a combination of Slash, Crush Claw, and X-Scissor to gain an advantage. "How long until your Wish? I spaced out."

"Twenty-five seconds or so," I answered.

"Prepare to switch, then—"

Suddenly, Cecilia spoke. "Scyther. If I could offer a word of advice? I'd target that Sylveon if I were you."

It was a mere suggestion, not an order, and yet, Scyther listened, blurring toward the fairy type. Denzel and I both cursed, but Togetic wasn't quick enough to help. Scyther and Zangoose ganged up on Sylveon, and he fainted soon after.

"Sylveon is unable to battle! Denzel, send out your last Pokemon!" Justin said.

Just as he finished his sentence, Wish entered Togetic's body instead, healing her completely.


"You said it. Fuck," I replied.

Up until now, the battle had been somewhat equal, but I had believed that we were about to take the upper hand.

That was no longer the case. We were losing.

Denzel sighed as he sent out his Snorunt.

"Can you buy me enough time for another Blizzard?" He asked.

"I can, I think. But princess will have to push herself beyond her limits. She won't be able to do much afterward."

"It'll be worth it. Snorunt can take both of them down in one attack, or at least get close to that."

I ordered Togetic to stop her constant Fairy Wind to let Snorunt focus just as Zangoose and Scyther rushed toward us.

Scyther was an annoyance, but Zangoose was a problem, especially when she was powered up by her ability Toxic Boost. I was surprised to see that she didn't even seem close to fainting, even after duking it out with Sylveon for so long. Snorunt shivered, her eyes shone with a pale blue, and a cold wind started to gather.

"Keep 'em away from us," Denzel said. "She can't control the area of effect that well yet, so Togetic might get hurt if they get too close."

Arceus, he was asking me for the impossible here. I grinned as I leaned against my knees.

"Ancient Power across the entire field!" I screamed.

Togetic cried out, raising the earth and separating our half from theirs with a tall wall that would take Zangoose time to scale or breakthrough. Scyther just flew over it, and Togetic used the move again, this time sending out sharp spikes to try to pin him down. At the same time, she kept raising the sections that Zangoose attempted to climb even higher. She was panting loudly. Using Ancient Power on such a massive scale was tiring her out, and she wouldn't be able to do it for long.

Togetic stopped Scyther a few inches away from her throat with Extrasensory. She could use both moves at the same time, but not when she was exerting herself so much. Zangoose finally climbed over the massive wall and blurred toward Snorunt.

"Trip her up!" I yelled.

Princess raised small chunks of earth below Zangoose's feet, slowing her down somewhat, but it wasn't enough.

"Fuck it, hit her with Scyther," I said.

The fairy type offered me a tired laugh as she propelled Scyther toward his teammate. Zangoose hissed in annoyance as the bug type hit her in the chest, and Togetic raised another, smaller barrier in front of them.

"How much—"

"Now!" Denzel said.

Snorunt screamed, and the air became thick with snow and shards of ice, surrounding both of our opponents. I breathed out a sigh of relief, and ordered Togetic to use another Wish. The Blizzard kept going for a long while, buying me precious time to think. Not only was Snorunt Denzel's last Pokemon, but she was also our key to defeating Zweilous. I needed to keep her protected at all costs. Without her, this dire situation would quickly turn from bad to awful. When the Blizzard subsided, Scyther was crumpled on the ground, still having all of the Ancient Powers Togetic had lodged inside of him. Zangoose still stood, although her fur was frozen, and she appeared to be on her last legs.

If only she could have completely frozen over like Slowking had…

"Scyther is unable to battle! Cecilia, send out your final Pokemon."

"With pleasure," she answered as she released Zweilous, who I couldn't see due to Togetic's Ancient Power. Zerst snarled as he probably found the wall in between him and our Pokemon annoying, while Sol was quiet.

"Charge another one," I told Denzel.

"Yep. Snorunt, Blizzard again."

With a cold, heavy breath, Snorunt only nodded.

"Blow the wall apart," Cecilia calmly said.

Two Dragon Pulses completely destroyed the wall Togetic had worked so hard to raise, while Zangoose continued on her warpath toward Snorunt. Chase knew that her time was running out, and they couldn't afford to wait for an opening.

Unfortunately for him, this was simply a lose-lose dilemma.

"Togetic, finish her off with Extrasensory," I said.

The fairy type flew toward Zangoose, who jumped with surprising vigor, aiming to claw her apart, but she stopped her and slammed her against the ground while she stared at her like she was nothing.

"Zangoose is unable to battle! Chase, send out your last Pokemon."

Just as Chase released his Houndoom, Cecilia raised a hand. I was wondering why she had waited to issue her order, but when I saw what came next, I immediately understood.

"Incinerate. Both of you."

Both of Zweilous' heads belched, releasing a few small flames from his mouth.

And then released the biggest Incinerate I had ever seen toward Snorunt. Houndoom quickly used Flamethrower as well, and the two fire type attacks combined into one unstoppable force. If Zangoose had still been in front of that attack, there would have been no way for her to dodge.

"Togetic," I exhaled, biting the inside of my mouth so hard I tasted metal. "Ancient Power, multiple layers."

The fairy type exhaled, raising barrier after barrier. There were ten in total, and each stopped the attack for a precious few seconds before becoming molten rock. And both of their Pokemon were still attacking.

It wasn't enough. We were running out of time.

"New plan, I switch, you get Wish while burning, might work," I said. There was so little time I wasn't even speaking properly. Denzel didn't have time to even protest, and I switched Togetic out, replacing her with Jellicent.

Chase and Cecilia looked on with surprise.

"Fly up," I hurriedly said. "Water Pulse."

Jellicent silently followed my command, propelling himself up with Water Sport, and he got out of range of the enormous flame that was now only two Ancient Powers away from hitting Snorunt.

If the timing was right… this could work out. Jellicent's goal here was to hurt the two dark types enough to interrupt their fire type attacks, and the Wish would go to Snorunt, since she'd be hurt by the flames. Hopefully, it would keep her standing. With a cry that was more sinister than I remembered, Jellicent sent out a Water Pulse that was twice as big as it had been before his Evolution straight toward Houndoom.

"Houndoom, dodge!"

The fire type sunk into the shadows, stopping his Flamethrower attack, and Jellicent used another Water Pulse, this time aiming toward Zweilous. I frowned when Sol kept his Incinerate going, but Zerst stopped without Cecilia's command.

And in a single moment in the battle, everything happened all at once.

Blizzard went into effect just as the fire broke through the last barrier and hit Snorunt. The ice type's screams were drowned out by the roar of the flames.

Wish bore down from the heavens, flickering as it sank into the sea of fire.

Zerst screamed, sending out a loud, shock-wave-like sound-based attack that tore through Jellicent's body, disintegrating half of his head, and Water Pulse hit his body for barely any damage.

Houndoom reappeared from the shadows below Jellicent, reared his head back and blew flames toward the water type.

Sol continued roaring out his flames, not stopping for even one second.

Until the Blizzard forced him to. This may have been Snorunt's third, but it was just as powerful and long-lasting as the previous ones. She had lasted through the flames, although she looked half-dead. Jellicent hurriedly escaped from Blizzard's range with Water Sport as the edges of his tentacles froze.

A Dragon Pulse tore through the snow and clipped the right side of his body, causing it to evaporate completely. Zweilous couldn't see, and they located their enemies with a rough echolocation, so Blizzard hampering their visibility didn't matter.

"Recover," I breathed out.

Like cells multiplying, Jellicent's body regenerated, becoming as good as new. Dragon Pulses, Incinerates and what looked to be like Hyper Voice continued to tear through the arena, some hitting Jellicent, but most missing by a mile. Every time, I ordered him to Recover.

"She got another one in her?" I panted as I wiped the sweat off my forehead.

"No. The fire was too much, but she's got other ice type moves. Wait for the Blizzard to finish, and focus everything you have on Houndoom."

"Agreed. If we can get a two versus one against Zweilous, then we're favored, I think."

When the Blizzard dissipated, Zweilous looked slightly tired, and Houndoom reappeared from below the floor. He had used Feint Attack to dodge.

Damn it, he hadn't even been hit for that much, then. Even if Blizzard wasn't super effective, it was so powerful and lasted for so long that it would have dealt substantial damage.

"Get close, and Dragon Pulse," Cecilia said.

Zweilous broke into an awkward run, and Zerst screamed out an Incinerate toward Snorunt.

"Jellicent, get in front of her and Water Pulse."

The water type turned upside down, propelled himself with the powerful jet of water, and weakened the Incinerate enough to block it with his body. Sol, meanwhile, was content to listen to Cecilia's orders, and a stream of blue draconic energy flew toward Jellicent.

I was starting to understand her plan now. She was letting Zerst run loose in an effort to counter me. Since Sol was following her orders, he'd be more of a pain to deal with, but I still had to dedicate some attention to Zerst.

"Feint Attack, then Thunder Fang!" Chase said.

Thunder Fang, now?! I swore as I ordered Jellicent to dodge the Dragon Pulse, and Snorunt barely managed to do the same. That was the move that he had tried to have Houndoom use on princess. The dark type sunk into the floor once again and then jumped unnaturally high toward Jellicent, ignoring the fact that he was being sprayed with water.

Electricity sparked in Houndoom's mouth, and the dark type bit down hard on Jellicent's tentacle, electrocuting him.

"Let it loose!" I yelled.

The water type shook wildly, struggling to implement my order, but after five seconds, he managed to detach his tentacle from his body, and Houndoom crashed to the floor. Snorunt used the opportunity to pester him with an Icy Wind, slowing him down.

Fucking perfect! I celebrated internally.

"Water Pulse! Finish him off!" I said excitedly.

"Stomping Tantrum,"

I gasped sharply as Zweilous slammed their feet against the floor, dealing damage both to Snorunt and Houndoom. Was Cecilia cutting him loose? Chase looked pissed, and he shoved his hands in his pockets, but he wasn't swearing at her or anything, so he had expected this. At the same time, Jellicent's Water Pulse slammed into Houndoom, and the fire type fainted.

"Houndoom is unable to battle. Chase is out of the battle!" Justin said.

Snorunt was still standing.


And then she fell.

"Snorunt is also unable to battle. Denzel is out of the battle."

I took a deep breath as Jellicent glared at his opponent, who growled at the ghost type. Two Pokemon against one.

This was it. Denzel offered me words of encouragement, but they sounded far away. I exhaled and licked my lips. Jellicent wouldn't be able to do much against Zweilous, but I was confident he could last a lot longer than Togetic could. He'd be the foundation upon which Togetic could build her victory.

"Two Dragon Pulses," Cecilia said. "Keep them going for as long as possible!"

"Dodge and Poison Sting," I ordered.

The water type narrowly dodged Zerst's Dragon Pulse, but half of his face was disintegrated by Sol's. Unaffected by any kind of pain, Jellicent spat out thin, purple needles that oozed with poison, and they buried themselves against Zweilous' tough hide. If I could poison him, then—

"Hyper Voice!"

While Zerst continued on his rampage with Dragon Pulse, forcing Jellicent to weave as he Recovered the damage done to his face, Sol screamed, and Jellicent's form completely disintegrated, flying off like glowing droplets of water. I inhaled sharply, not knowing what would happen, but they started to gather into a coherent form.

Unfortunately, that meant that Zerst's Dragon Pulse had enough time to connect, slowing his regeneration down further. I bit my lip. Every time he was just about to finish, they blew him apart again with Hyper Voice. They weren't giving him enough time to regenerate. If I had known that Hyper Voice would have had such an effect, then I would have ordered Jellicent to solidify his body—

I laughed when the water type silently regenerated behind Zweilous from a single speck.

Had the previous attempts just been bait? No, he had still taken damage and expended energy to regenerate. This new form was new for him too. He was improvising.

"Behind you!" Cecilia yelled

Both heads angrily roared as they turned and opened their mouths as two Dragon Pulses started to gather.

Suddenly, a brilliant idea struck me.

How could I ensure that Zweilous would be poisoned?

Like this.

"Poison Sting inside of Zerst's mouth!"

Jellicent seemingly loved the idea, and his eyes shone with a sinister light. Zerst cried out in pain. Real pain, as poisoned sharp needles lodged themselves inside of his mouth to secrete their poison. Why Zerst? While Sol might have been more annoying to deal with, since he followed Cecilia's orders, meaning that they employed strategy, his attacks were actually still weaker than Zerst's. If I could put him out of commission for a bit, then…

Jellicent's entire head disappeared as Sol delivered a point-blank Dragon Pulse, and what remained of his body flew back toward me. Zerst coughed up blood and poison as Sol continued to attack with a rage I had never expected.

I sighed. That could be annoying. Cecilia had stopped issuing commands now, and was letting his enraged self run completely loose.

"Recover—" I cut myself off before realizing that Jellicent couldn't even hear me in his current state. I waited until he regenerated the first half of his head, noticing he had considerably slowed, and ordered him to solidify his body and use Bubblebeam immediately.

Bubblebeam was weaker than Water Pulse in a vacuum, but he could keep the attack going for a long time, and the damage would add up. Zerst had recovered now, and began using a Dragon Pulse of his own. Jellicent's body no longer appeared transparent, and the attacks that landed took out chunks of it instead of the entire head. The Bubblebeam continuously hit Zweilous as the water type kept engaging in this dance to dodge the dragon's attacks.

Unfortunately, when he was solid, he was heavier, and therefore, a lot slower, meaning that more attacks landed. I considered that a worthy trade, given that I didn't know how many times he'd be capable of fully coming back together like he had before. Just doing it a few times had noticeably slowed how fast he could Recover.

This song and dance must have lasted for five minutes. Or maybe it was less. It was hard to tell how much time passed when I was so focused.

Jellicent's body was just a speck of his former self, and he crashed into the floor. He was too tired to Recover any longer.

Zweilous still stood, albeit a lot more tired than he had been. Zerst appeared a lot closer to fainting than Sol was. It was like I had theorized. The dragon specialized against blunt trauma, while attacks that penetrated their armor would deal more damage.

"Jellicent is unable to battle! Grace, send out your last Pokemon."

"It's you and me, princess," I whispered as I stared at her Pokeball.

I released her and immediately ordered her to whip up a constant Fairy Wind. Whittling Zweilous down would be good, and there was no time to charge up a powerful one anyway. Hell, there wasn't even enough time to use Wish, and that only took five seconds.

"Thunder Wave," I said right after. I knew for a fact that Zweilous was too slow to dodge.

"Hyper Voice, Sol," she hurriedly said.

The dragon's voice was so powerful that the electricity dispersed into nothing. This fucking dragon could go fuck himself with how powerful he was. Of course, that meant that Sweet Kiss was probably a no-go too.

"Bring her down with Incinerate and move forward," Cecilia said.

Damn it, the elemental fangs were probably going to come into play. If Togetic ever got close enough to be caught, the battle was over. The two heads combined their Incinerates into one, and the attack became as strong as Houndoom's Flamethrower.

Extrasensory would work this time, but Togetic would still take damage from the heat.

"Ancient Power!" I yelled. Her eyes shone as she erected multiple barriers of protection, each gradually stretching higher and higher up to stop the Incinerate from hitting.

There were fewer layers than last time, but they did the job. Without Houndoom's flames to pack that extra oomph, no Incinerate would break past Togetic's barriers.

"Again, drills this time!" I screamed.

The fairy type crumbled half of the last barrier, turning it into sharp drills, and with a happy chirp, she sent them flying toward Zweilous, giving them a vicious spin so that they could penetrate his scales. The dragon type cried out as every single one of them buried deep into his flank, drawing blood.

"Incinerate again," Cecilia said. Damn it, she was masking herself so well that it was hard to tell what she was truly thinking from afar.

"Okay, princess," I said as my fingers trembled. "Keep it going."

Togetic raised another set of barriers, and again, they stopped the Incinerate—

"Now, Stomping Tantrum!"

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

"Keep them steady!" I yelled. "Attack him at the same time!"

Already-formed drills burst through the floor and flew toward Zweilous, who began angrily stomping the ground as they kept their Incinerate going. The barriers cracked and started to crumble, but I just needed to interrupt his attack—

The first two barriers collapsed, and Incinerate just burned through the rest. Togetic caught on fire and fell to the ground as another set of drills stabbed Zerst in the neck. The dragon shambled toward her with an exhausted, irregular jog.

"Princess!" I yelled, hoping she'd push through the pain. "Ram him with Ancient Power!"

The fairy type gathered the rest of the fallen barricades and pushed them toward Zweilous. I couldn't expect her to do any kind of sophisticated manipulation— not when she was literally burning. I clenched at my jeans as Zweilous burst through the earth and rocks like a truck.

There was one last hope. One last trick up my sleeve.

"Fairy Wind," I simply said.

I didn't need to elaborate. Togetic understood immediately, and the constant wind paused, being replaced by thick, pink mist instead.

If I could get one powerful Fairy Wind off, combined with the poison and the bleeding from Ancient Power… it could work, and I knew it could work because Cecilia's mask was beginning to slip.

"Don't let her! Incinerate—"

"Raise a barricade!" I cut her off.

"—Stomping Tantrum!"

The wind picked up around Togetic, surrounding her until I could only see the flames burning her body.

Incinerate was weaker now, but combined with Stomping Tantrum, it made quick work of Togetic's hastily formed barrier, burning her further and hurting her with the ground type move.

It did not matter. Togetic was an Arceus damned fairy. She laughed in the face of pain and sent her Fairy Wind forward Just as Zweilous reached her. Cece ordered something, but the wind was too strong to hear. The dragon type's teeth were clad in electricity as one head bit down on Togetic's neck and the other on her chest. Flames, wind, and electricity danced around both Pokemon, creating a cacophony of sounds that made my head pound.

The wind seized, and Togetic laid still on the ground.

Both of Zweilous's heads screamed as he stumbled. After screaming their hearts out, Zerst's head fell limp, but Sol was still conscious.

"Togetic is unable to battle! Victory goes to Cecilia and Chase!"

I groaned in frustration and placed my face in my hands. Arceus damn it, it fucking stung. I had done everything I could, and yet I still lost. I recalled Togetic, and Cecilia did the same for her Zweilous. I hadn't even known that one head could keep going if the other fainted, and Sol was no doubt a few attacks away from collapsing as well.

That didn't matter. A loss was still a loss, even if it had been by a few attacks.

"You did great," I told her. Maybe using Wish would have been better… no, there wasn't enough time. The entire battle between her and Zweilous didn't last two minutes. If I had know about Hyper Voice, maybe—

"Grace," Denzel called out.


"Did you have fun?"

I exhaled and answered with a smile. "I did. How long did that even last? I want to crash on my bed and sleep for an entire day."

I stared around the arena, and I was surprised to see that it was now packed to the brim. The small crowd had grown to an incredible amount as people no doubt heard about our battle as it was going on online.

He grabbed his Poketch. "Forty-something minutes," he answered with a stretch. He clapped me back. "Come on, keep your chin up. That was close as hell. Chase and I improved a whole lot, but you two were on another level."

"Don't sell yourself short," I laughed. "That Snorunt of yours especially. I don't know what you feed her, but she's a monster."

"Well, thanks. Let's go meet the others."

A/N: Writing this took a lot out of me, and it's by far the longest chapter I've ever written, meaning that it took two days instead of one. There will probably be more typos than usual, but I'll try to fix them as soon as I can. I apologize, but there won't be a chapter tomorrow so I can beef up my backlog a little bit more and relax a bit in general. Anyway, Grace lost, and some people might be pissed about it, but just because she's the MC doesn't mean that she never loses. I'll at least ask you not to bring up anything stat/game related if there are any complaints, because this is a Pokemon story first and foremost, not a game. For example, Vikavolt has a pitiful 43 speed, and I translated that by making it have bad acceleration. I hope you enjoyed the battle. I'm a broken record at this point, but it's my favorite one yet. See you on Sunday.
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Chapter 123

"The forums are going to go crazy about this," Denzel smiled. I just answered with a tired nod. A lot of people had been recording the battle and were no doubt rushing to be the first ones to upload it online— both on the forums and every video hosting platform in general.

As we walked to meet the others, the adrenaline was quickly leaving my body, and I was growing more tired by the minute. My body felt like it had gone through an hour of cardio, and I was surprised that I was even still standing. I was also surprised to see that trainers weren't swarming around us like I had expected them to. Oh sure, there were some exceptions— people asking for pictures, or just asking us to stay and talk for a while— but the majority just stood there. A deafening silence hung in the air as they watched Denzel and I walk up to Cecilia and Chase. My girlfriend was flat on the ground, breathing harshly and staring at the bright lights on the ceiling, while Chase annoyingly tapped his foot against the floor. Denzel, meanwhile, looked completely fine physically.

"Congratulations," he said as we reached the two others. "That was one hell of a battle."

"Didn't do as well as I wanted," Chase complained. "I felt like a sidekick, and that shit pisses me off."

I offered Cece a hand and helped her up, but she was barely able to stand up straight.

"I've… I've… never had to… push myself this much," she panted. "Tired…"

I smiled slightly. "Let's get you in a bed, okay? Denzel, go get the others so we can leave."


Arceus, the result of the battle was disappointing, still. Cece leaned against me with her eyes half-closed, and I watched as trainers finally began to trickle out or ask questions to Denzel instead of us. That was something I could appreciate about trainer culture that people just didn't get. You couldn't overwhelm someone right after a battle this intense. Denzel was fine, so he'd be a legit target, but Cece and I were exhausted while Chase just looked pissed.

"Nice surprise with that Vikavolt," I told him. "You caught us both completely off-guard."

"Obel told me you'd lead with Frillish, so we figured it might have been a good idea," he shrugged. "Obviously, she was wrong. And we didn't know he evolved. That regeneration thing is bullshit, by the way."

"I thought… I…"

"Just close your eyes, okay? We'll be in a car soon," I told her before turning to Chase. "Hey, I won't compliment you too much because you'll think I'm pitying you and get pissed off even though you won, but your Pokemon were each excellent. Zangoose especially…" I grumbled.

"She's fierce," he agreed with a slight smile. "But at the end of the day, we didn't do as well as I wanted, which means we lost."

I was genuinely surprised at his lack of outbursts or complaints. I sighed, sitting against the wall, and Cecilia fell asleep on my shoulder immediately. I was too tired to even think back to the battle properly, which was frustrating. I wanted to go over my mistakes and fix them now. I had been prepared to lose, but it hurt more than I expected. I was almost there. I had almost caught up, but in the end, it wasn't enough.

"Guys! That was incredible," Pauline beamed. "It's almost unfair how good you all are! Except you," she said, looking at Chase.

I frowned, wondering why she was targeting him specifically before remembering that he'd been rude to Justin.

"Your shit-talking means nothing to me," he responded. "But if you're so sure about yourself, why don't we battle when my Pokemon—"

"No fighting," Emilia said, tugging on the redhead's arm. "Can Cece walk? Justin and Denzel are already out looking for a taxi, so we should leave."

"Um, Cece?" I asked. I had to shake her a little bit for her to wake up, and we were finally on our way.

No matter how bitter I felt about my loss, I couldn't hold it against her, or Chase. We had promised no hard feelings for the Conference, but it also applied here, and with every single battle we would fight. The frustration was more focused on myself. We stepped into the taxi, but Chase opted to go back on his own because he didn't want to owe us anything. We'd meet again eventually. Plus, he wanted to go sign up for Fantina's gym immediately tomorrow morning to knock it out of the way.

After reaching the Pokemon Center, we all gave our Pokemon to Nurse Joy. I brought Cece to her bed, and then left for my room. Emilia, but especially Pauline, wanted to hang out with Denzel and I, but he wanted to do a short livestream for his viewers about the battle, and wanted to be alone for a bit. Emi surely wouldn't have minded being in the livestream, though. Exposure was everything to a content creator, after all, and they still had to film their video with Vincent soon. I closed my door, crashed into my bed and shrieked into my pillow.

"Damn it, damn it, damn it!"

That Zweilous was ridiculously, stupidly, insanely, unfairly strong! I fucking had them! I had them, damn it! Sure, I was sure that when I thought back to the battle tomorrow and looked at the footage Emilia had recorded, I'd cringe and find a bunch of mistakes, imperfections, and moments of hesitation in time where I could have done better. Those would slowly but surely have stacked up and tipped the course of the battle in my favor, and we might have won because of them, but right now?

Arceus damn it, it felt unfair. I hadn't known that I had to defeat the two heads! I repeatedly kicked my bed as I kept screaming into my pillow until I was completely spent. I groaned as turned and stared at the ceiling. A dragon's pride made them ridiculously stubborn when it came to fainting. Turtonator had been the same, although obviously on a completely different level, being covered in wounds for a week in Mount Coronet and still being capable of wiping the floor with me.

"Fucking hell," I breathed. "Was I always this immature?"

At least I was done coping now… somewhat. Everyone else seemed fine about their loss. I counted Chase's battle as a loss, since he did so himself, even though I found that strange. If Denzel had been the last one standing and he beat Cece, then I would have celebrated because I would have ultimately contributed to the win, but I supposed that we were fundamentally different. Anyway, what I meant was, I doubt he was screaming in his damn pillow due to anger. He maybe might have been just the type to do so, once, but he seemed so mature now.

Denzel too. He'd been trying to hide his disappointment to cheer me up, but I could easily see through him without an issue. He had immediately moved on and capitalized on the battle to bring himself more success by livestreaming. He'd grown a lot from when he needed that pep talk before Gardenia's battle.

And now I was the only one being a baby. If the loss didn't sting, it would have meant that I didn't really care about battling— or at least winning. Then that meant that there'd be no drive for me to improve. However, all my motivation had been sapped away like I'd been hit with Absorb. I thought I was bigger than this.

My meeting with the Poketch Company was soon. If I got enough money from a sponsor, then I'd be able to start feeding my Pokemon supplements and buy TMs… but I had been so, so close to winning without them, and for some reason, that frustrated me further.

"Well, I've got to start planning more in-depth for Fantina soon," I sighed. "I also need to start preparing for that damned meeting."

Electabuzz would be the star of that battle. I was kind of noticing a pattern there. He'd been supposed to be the ace against Gardenia— although that ended up being princess due to the ever-changing circumstances of battles, but he'd been my strongest against Candice, and now he'd do the same against Fantina.

And this time, it was solely thanks to his ability to sense ghosts, which I still didn't understand why he even had. It wasn't as good as we needed it to be right now, but with a some practice, I was sure he'd be able to perfect it. Now that Jellicent had evolved, and he was more of a ghost than before, I was confident that honey would be able to use him to practice.

Could Jellicent sense other ghosts too? If I had two Pokemon that could, then the odds would certainly be in my favor.

I closed my eyes, daydreaming of my battle against Fantina, and drifted off to sleep.


Chase sat at the window of his Pokemon Center and sighed. Riolu leaned against his wall and stared apologetically at him. For all that stupid strategizing that Obel had tried to rack into his brain, they sure went off the rails immediately. In the beginning, she had wanted to create an intricate plan, but in the end, they just ended with a few strategies and figured that the best they could hope for was to not get in each other's way. Slowking speeding up Vikavolt had been one, but they mainly ran on instincts throughout the battle, netting them a narrow victory.

"Ri," Riolu said with his arms crossed.

Chase smirked at his partner. "Proud that I didn't use you, huh?" He asked. The fighting type responded with a nod. "Well, you're the one who ragged on me to stop depending on you so much, so we busted our asses in Mount Coronet to catch up."

And yet, after all of that training, Chase still felt like he was ever so slightly lagging behind. Oh, he wouldn't beat himself over it whatsoever. The cure to struggling was to simply work harder— a natural mindset in the Iron Islands. That jaunt through Mount Coronet had undoubtedly brought him up to speed, but there was something he was lacking.

Fairies, ghosts, and dragons were all bullshit. That was a part of his problem. Pastel's Jellicent could take hits like a sponge and regenerate like it was nothing. Williams' Sylveon was an Arceus damned battle maniac that had some sort of bullshit fairy armor, and he could barely recognize it from that time Ri had easily dealt with it as an Eevee. Togetic's mastery of the field was as good, or perhaps even better than Slowking's. Hell, even that little Snorunt could completely turn the tide of a battle with Blizzard. The two fairies in general unnerved even him greatly. Sylveon, and to a lesser extent, Togetic, looked at their opponents like someone would stare at a lesser lifeform. Chase didn't understand how Williams and Pastel were just fine with having them on their teams, especially since they appeared to be getting worse the stronger they got.

The boy sighed.

Yes, Chase would not complain about his loss, but he was realizing that being a good Pokemon trainer was more than having your Pokemon be at their top physical condition. He needed to control the field as a whole, or he would not improve as quickly as he wanted. Pastel had Ancient Power, Cecilia had her damned psychic, and to a lesser extent, Williams had Blizzard.

But Chase did not need a dragon, a ghost, or a fairy. He had come from nothing, and had reached this point through hard work, perseverance, and dedication. Most important of all, he needed to branch out of just trying to hit things harder. He needed to find a way to control the field and change it to his advantage.

And he would start immediately.

"Well, I'm teaching Vikavolt Electric Terrain starting tomorrow," he declared to Riolu. Then, he'd need to figure out a way to get the electric type to his top speed without another Pokemon's help. He still wasn't exactly used to his body yet. Going from crawling on the ground to flying had been a shock, and Vikavolt was still slowly getting better at it.

And maybe Houndoom's darkness could also be worked with.

Chase Karlson would not be left in the dust.

The trainer sighed again, his face turning grim. "We're getting pretty close to Celestic, huh?"

"Rio," the fighting type nodded.


Cecilia groaned as she woke up, and she wiped a trail of drool from her mouth. She groggily picked up her phone and sighed when she saw that it was only two in the morning. Her entire body felt sore, but her mind still vividly remembered that battle. The stakes, the highs and the lows, the individual stories and rivalries that played themselves out in front of her eyes for nearly an hour.

She had never had to push herself this hard for a battle. Never. And yet, it was the most fun she had ever had. Zweilous had nearly fallen by the end, and by the Legendaries, it wouldn't have mattered to her if they had. Win or lose, she would have been satisfied with the results, but she couldn't lie. It was a relief to her that Chase and she had won. He had gone off the rails a few times to do his own thing, but they had agreed on no overarching plan or strategy, which meant that they had to talk mid-battle a whole lot to adjust for errors. Arceus, just thinking about the fight still made her feel giddy inside. Grace and Denzel were the best rivals that she could have asked for. Even Chase, as painful as it was to admit it, was one of them. The girl couldn't wait to see the carnage they would all unleash during their battles when their teams grew in power. As Cecilia poured herself a glass of water, she couldn't help but daydream about a future where one of them— hopefully her— was the Champion and they were all a part of the Elite Four. Maybe Pauline could be the last one, since Justin would be preoccupied with Pherzen. Alas, dreams were often not reality, and Cecilia recognized that it'd be easier said than done.

She did want to stay with her friends forever, though, and that was the main way that she could envision such a future. She was no longer miles ahead of her friends. Grace was breathing down her neck with none of the resources Cecilia had. If she slowed down for even a second, it would mean that she would fall behind. No. Even that wasn't enough. She needed to go above and beyond. Grace had her meeting with the Poketch Company and a bunch of other businesses, so she'd soon get a lot more money to work with if everything went well, and hopefully, it would.

And Cecilia knew her girlfriend too well to think that the same tricks would work on her twice. She would need to come up with new tactics for their next battle, whenever that would come, and the best path forward that she could see now was getting better at faking her body language, somehow. As the battle had progressed and panic had overtaken her thoughts, she had completely stopped even trying to, but it hadn't even worked that well in the first place. Grace had somehow seen through her almost right away, and Denzel had been there to stay focused on the small details, constantly whispering to her to micromanage the fight and catch the things she didn't.

Now that the battle was over, Cecilia was mostly preoccupied with what Pauline's mother would tell them about Harvey and Clarence. Cecilia had been worried about Louis, but now that she at least knew that he was safe and that he had people to keep his spirits up, a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She hoped that they would at least talk once in the city. She also wasn't worried about the fight against Fantina at all, and she doubted that the gym leader would give her as much trouble as Grace and Denzel had. She would have to work hard to bring Scyther up to speed with the others, though. Sure, he was fast, but his lack of power was disappointing. A shame, when he had seemed so unstoppable when they had traveled through Eterna Forest, but she supposed that his stagnation had been her fault. Slowking, Zweilous, and Fletchinder had done everything she could have hoped of them as well.

Despite the dangers that lurked, there was a lot to look forward to in the future. Her fifth team member was near, and she'd be able to catch it as soon as they reached the Lost Tower on route 209. Cecilia shivered in excitement. It had been so long since she caught a new Pokemon, but now that she had seen what Fantina had done with it in the battle against her friend?

She was sure that she had made the right choice.


That settled it, Denzel thought as he finally ended his livestream after thanking every donor. He was definitely getting a dragon as his last team member. He'd been on the fence about it, still wondering if he should get an Altaria or not, but seeing Zweilous fight had changed his mind. Maybe he was being a bit childish about wanting the big, new shiny thing that beat his and Grace's ass. Most trainers that competed at the top didn't even have one, nor did they have fairies or ghosts. A 'good' type couldn't exactly overcome hard work, talent, and experience. Denzel knew that even though Cece's Zweilous was special, with the vitamins and being an offspring of a Champion's Pokemon and all, he'd eventually catch up due to the diminishing returns that the vitamins had the more you fed them to your team. Still, the type was undoubtebly strong, along with ghosts and fairy types. He would already have the latter two when Snorunt evolved, so why not complete the trio?

Altaria shared, or even surpassed Zweilous' attacking power, but it was a frail Pokemon that would go down a lot quicker than he would if it got hit, and it wouldn't exactly fit what he was looking for. If he could get a Dratini somehow… Arceus, he'd have to save up millions. He was making a lot of cash from his streams and donations, and his channel was growing at a quick pace, but that was pennies compared to the money he'd need if he wanted to buy it from a breeder or the Veilstone Game Corner.

Which was basically just a casino. They called it a Game Corner to prevent underage people from getting banned. Trainers were their primary source of income, after all.

Sponsors were the name of the game, but his first meeting had gone terribly. The company kept wanting to lock him into an exclusive contract, and Denzel wasn't going to take that deal. He wanted to be fluid— not locked into working with a single company. Plus, although the benefits were good, they'd be locked for the next two years. Pauline kept hammering at him that he was worth more or whatever, and she was better at business than he ever was, so he walked out. He had nine more, and the next one would be tomorrow. His time at Hearthome was keeping him extremely busy, but he was okay with that. This was how he wanted to live.

"Dratini it is," he breathed out. This time, the words felt correct. There was a certainty to it that he had felt when choosing his other team members that hadn't been there with Swablu.

Dragonite were just as tough as Hydreigon, but also beautiful— or maybe the word was majestic? And they were quick. If there was one thing Denzel also lacked in his team, it was speed. Cecilia had Fletchinder, and Scyther, Grace had Electabuzz. Chase's Zangoose was about as fast as Lopunny was, and his Vikavolt was faster if given enough time to reach his top speed. If he could combine his team's usual toughness with a dragon's, along with a Dragonite's speed…

Well, it was still a long-term goal. He was generally happy with how his Pokemon had done, even though he wished he could have performed better. Lopunny especially had been an unfortunate loss. She hadn't been used to her newfound power and jumped too high, meaning that Fletchinder easily hit her with Flame Charge. Denzel knew she could have done a lot more if she had been used to her new form. If he could have gotten a do-over, he probably wouldn't have triggered her evolution during that battle.

Suddenly, he heard his phone ring. He picked it up, expecting it to be Caitlyn. She was supposed to be arriving in Hearthome tomorrow, and they were going to hang out after his meeting, but she could have made it early. Hopefully, Pauline wouldn't burst a blood vessel about that. Denzel almost dropped his phone when he saw a message from Louis asking to meet in secret.

Right now. In the middle of the night.
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Chapter 124

"Arceus, it's cold tonight," Denzel shivered as he waited in front of the Pokemon Center.

It was three in the morning now, and Denzel was starting to get tired. If Louis hadn't asked him for an impromptu meeting, he'd be snuggled up in his bed right now. He probably shouldn't have streamed as long as he had, but hey, he had to strike while the iron was hot. Their battle had been the talk of the forums the entire night among the first years, and he got a lot more viewers than usual. Denzel sniffled as he watched a pink-haired girl with long pigtails approach him and… Denzel squinted. Was that Maeve Chang? He hadn't really talked to her in months, but they used to chat on the forums at the start of their journeys, and she'd been at the Floaroma tournament.

What were the odds?

Well, he was glad she appeared to be traveling with someone now. That pink-haired girl was short, but she did carry Pokeballs with her, meaning that she was probably a trainer despite her child-like appearance. He crossed his arms and waited for them to walk across him.

"Denzel?" Maeve said. "It is you! Long time no see! Wait, I guess it should be more like long time no talk, haha…"

"Awkward," the other teen said before staring up at him. "He's tall as hell,"

Denzel frowned. "Yeah? You were looking for me?"

"Louis sent us," the nameless girl explained. "My name's Mira, by the way. You didn't ask, which is kind of rude."

"I was going to… but wait, Louis sent you?" He asked. Were these the two girls Chase had told him about? That had to be it. "Why didn't he come?"

Maeve shuffled in place. "He wanted to make sure you wouldn't ambush him with the rest of your group. Especially Cecilia."

"I wasn't going to do that," Denzel sighed. The thought that Louis even suspected that it was a possibility kind of hurt, but maybe he was still that scared about the prospects seeing Cece. "Where is he, then?"

"Brooding in some dark alley," Mira laughed. "C'mon, follow us."

Denzel held back a groan as Mira dragged him by the arm, and Maeve followed behind them at a distance as she breathed in her palms to warm them up.

"Keep up, Maeve! You don't want to be a girl walking alone at night," Mira said.

"I've got my Pokemon," she said. "You're embarrassing us and making a terrible first impression."

"Come on, he doesn't care. Do you care?"

Denzel sighed. If he hadn't been so tired, then maybe he wouldn't have, but getting dragged along in this weather was a bit annoying. Oh well, so long as he met with Louis, then it would be worth it. After a short walk, Mira pointed into an alley and pushed him in.

"This looks like I'm about to get jumped," Denzel said, half-jokingly.

"Denzel?" He heard Louis' voice from deeper into the alley. The blond man slowly walked into view. He had a very thin, patchy beard that looked… pretty bad, all things considered, and he had deep bags under his eyes.

"Holy shit," Denzel gasped. He jogged to his friend and hugged him. "I'm so glad you're okay, man."

Louis slowly returned his hug. "I'm alright, all things considered."

"You don't look alright. You look exhausted as hell."

"He was so anxious about meeting you that he couldn't sleep three nights in a row," Mira explained. "This is the result."

That was probably why he had wanted to meet in the middle of the night. There were fewer chances of him getting caught.

"And the beard?" Denzel smirked.

"Since I'm a new man, I was trying a new look," he awkwardly said. "It hasn't worked out."

"Told you to shave it," Mira shrugged.

"Mira…" Maeve sighed.

"Why didn't you want to meet the others?" Denzel asked. "Cece and Grace I understand, but… not even Justin?"

"I want to stay hidden for the time being," he explained. "Justin would be terrible at keeping our meeting hidden. Pauline would see it on his face, and she can easily get it out of him in two minutes, and if you had brought her, she probably would have been rude about me not wanting to meet Cecilia and Grace. Emilia is terrible at keeping secrets. She wants to talk about anything, and it would have been bound to slip out."

"That's an… accurate depiction of everyone," Denzel smiled slightly. "Can we go somewhere to catch up? I'm freezing my ass off here."

"Yes! Yes, thank you!" Maeve exclaimed in relief.

"My Center room?" Denzel asked.

"No, no," Louis immediately shook his head. "That would be too risky."

"How about this?" Mira said as she pulled out her Poketch and showed them an address.


Denzel shielded his eyes as he stared at the bright, neon sign depicting a Machamp typing on a computer with its four arms. NetChamp was supposedly a really good internet cafe, according to Mira, and it had the benefit of being open at all times. Even in the middle of the night. The four trainers entered the building, and Denzel was surprised to see that there were a decent amount of people still frequenting the establishment. A few people were trainers browsing the forums, and some were asleep in their seats, but the majority were just people normally going about their business. Some were even quietly playing video games. Denzel hadn't even thought about video games since he became a trainer. He wasn't the biggest gamer out there, but he had enjoyed a few. He supposed that it made sense for some trainers to come here to enjoy a few games, since there was no way for them to do so on the road, unless they played on their phones.

He could have downloaded some on his Poketch, but… no, there wasn't enough time anyway.

The group sat at a table and ordered some hot drinks to warm themselves up, and Denzel looked at the towering Machamp that brought them their drink with an amused stare. There was no doubt that Machamp could make excellent waiters, especially with their four hands, but it was the first time he'd seen it in action.

"He's the owner's Pokemon," Mira explained. "I read online that he was a trainer that made it to the Conference a few times, but he retired and opened this place up. The legends say that he lost to Cynthia, even."

"The legends?" Maeve said, rolling her eyes.

"What? Not much was recorded back then, so it's all from word of mouth."

"You could just look for an old newspaper or something. Don't make it sound like it was a hundred years ago," she said.

"Okay, but that would kill the vibe."

Denzel sipped on his drink. On the surface, Mira sort of reminded him of Candice, but there was a subtle difference that he couldn't precisely place yet. Grace would probably have figured it out right away. The two girls continued with their conversation, and Louis spoke up.

"How is… how is everyone doing?"

Denzel smiled. "They're all doing great. Pauline and Justin won their third badge against Fantina, Emi's started on her coordinator career. Grace and I are looking at sponsors to make money, and my channel's taking off," he explained. "Cecilia's well too. She's been worried about you."

"Third badge already, huh?" He smiled. "And I'm happy about you and Grace. Money is certainly a bottleneck when it comes to Pokemon training."

"Yeah, they were being trained by Cece and Grace," Denzel said, hoping to bring the topic back to his ex. He knew that Louis was purposefully ignoring it, and he wanted to at least try to talk about it, but if he pushed back too hard, then he'd stop. "They've improved a whole lot. But more importantly, how are you doing?"

Louis nodded. "Mira and Maeve have been my training and traveling companions, and I caught a Pawniard in the Wayward Cave."

"You went to the Wayward Cave?" Denzel asked with surprise. "No wonder you took so long to reach us. Why'd you go there?"

"It's a long story—"

"He went there to brood, but Maeve wouldn't let him," Mira interjected.

"That's the gist of it," he sighed. "I was hoping to sign up for the gym as soon as possible to see how I fare."

Denzel scratched his cheek. "Hey, I can help you out if you want. In secret, of course. It'll be a bit tight with my schedule, but—"

"You don't have to push yourself for me—"

"No, no, I asked because I wanted to. Plus, we can hang out easier than way," he smiled. "And look, about Cecilia…"

Louis discreetly winced.

"Erm, you don't have to meet her or anything, but I just wanted to ask how you were doing on that front," Denzel said, leaning in to whisper.

"I thought I was improving," Louis sighed. "But the closer we got to the city, the more I realized I still couldn't face her. At least not until I become worthy."

"Worthy of what?" Denzel asked. Was he thinking of trying to date her again—

"It's not what you think," Louis interrupted his train of thought. "It does not have anything to do with dating her. I feel too inadequate to even be her friend. I'm a weak trainer, I'm still terribly oblivious, and despite what I want to think, I'm still dependent on my father's money. It honestly makes me mad that he hasn't even cut me off. It's like he doesn't even register me as a possible threat. I'm worthless."

"Okay, well, let's stop with the self-deprecation because that helps absolutely no one," Denzel said.

"That's what I've been telling him, but he won't budge," Mira sighed.

"Mira, let them speak, please…" Maeve said.

"It's alright, she can speak up," Denzel waved a hand. "I mean, you've been traveling together, right? I'd say you should be allowed to give your input."

Mira raised an eyebrow. "You're a lot nicer than I thought you'd be," she said, her tone more serious.

"Really? Well, glad to hear it."

"What? Not even a clap back? Louis, if all of your friends are like this, then you should probably at least meet them once while we're all here—"

Maeve put a hand over Mira's mouth, and the small girl struggled. "Sorry about her, she says whatever is on her mind at all times. We both kept telling her you were a nice guy but— ow! Did you bite me?"

"Don't put your hand over my mouth. You're lucky Kadabra wasn't there to see that."

Denzel leaned back against his chair, and observed as Maeve paled slightly at the mention of Kadabra. Mira must have been a skilled trainer, to own one so early in her career. They certainly were among the most demanding psychic types, since they held incredible amounts of knowledge, but every Pokemon was a different individual. Anyway, these two girls certainly were something, and Louis did not seem amused. The three had a weird dynamic about them. Maeve was the straight woman that kept Mira in line. Mira was the blunt, extroverted girl, and Louis was… well, it was hard to say, but it kind of looked like he was just being dragged along everywhere and coming along for the ride.

"What I meant to say," Mira continued. "Was that I had my doubts about all of you, since Louis seemed so depressed and none of you stuck with him—"

"I asked for them to leave me," the blond man groaned.

"One of them could have forced their way in. Look at how Maeve started to travel with you—"

Once again, Maeve placed a hand over the girl's mouth. "We just met on the way to Wayward Cave," she said, laughing awkwardly.

Yeah, that was a lie, but Denzel let it slide.

"Sorry about them," Louis sighed. "I wanted us to be alone for this, but they insisted on coming."

"It's alright, I understand," Denzel said as he sipped on his drink. "Anyway, I understand that you won't meet Cecilia, but my offer to help you still stands. Plus, I'm pretty sure I can help you with your heartbreak problems."

"Help me how?"

Denzel couldn't believe he was about to throw himself under the car like this, especially when Maeve and Mira were here, but at least maybe Louis would be able to relate.

"I asked Pauline out during the party in Eterna, and she rejected me."

Obviously, he omitted that she was dating Emilia, because it wasn't his place to reveal that information. Maeve bowed her head apologetically, and Mira let out an obnoxious 'oooooooh.'

Louis' eyes widened. "And you stayed? How did you even— did it not hurt?"

"Oh yeah, it hurt," Denzel laughed. "Still kind of does, but I'm almost over it. Everyone deals with rejection differently, but I might have some good advice. It's worth a try, I think."

"I'll… I'll take your offer, including the training. Actually, can we start tomorrow? I want to get as good as I can as fast as possible."

"Uh, I was supposed to hang out with a girl tomorrow after a meeting," Denzel said, thinking of Caitlyn. He'd be a bad person if he didn't help a friend in need. And Louis seemed to need his help very much. "But I guess I can help you out instead. I'll reschedule."

"Already moving on from your old crush, I see," Mira said, again with that serious tone of hers. "Is she your rebound?"

"No, not at all," Denzel said.

"Whatever you say…"

"Erm, I'd also like some training if possible?" Maeve asked hesitantly.

"Sure! The more the merrier."

"Maeve, you traitor!" Mira yelled, much to the annoyance of customers everywhere in the store. Machamp glanced at her with disappointment, causing her to shrink. It looked like even she had shame. "Sorry."

"I can train with both you and Denzel," Maeve sighed.

"It still sucks… I'm coming too then!"

Denzel took a long, deep breath, and Louis offered him an apologetic look.

"This is how you got roped in with them, huh?" Denzel said.

Louis smiled thinly. "Yes. Yes, it is."


"Here are your Pokemon, Ms. Pastel," Nurse Joy said with a warm smile. "Togetic will have to stay for another day."

"Oh… alright," I said disappointingly. I had pushed her too much, after all. "It's not too bad?"

"Of course not," she reassured her. "Oh, and about your Jellicent. There's no need to bring him in anymore. He'll regenerate any damage done to him over time and be as good as new."

"So I'll never need to get him checked out again?"

"That's right."

"Okay, well, have a nice day," I said.

She nodded, and I left the Pokemon Center. I supposed that Jellicent being more of a ghost came with its advantages. Cecilia was still asleep in her room, and Denzel was nowhere to be seen, much to Pauline's annoyance. Justin was getting his Krokorok used to his new body, and Emilia was hanging out with Vincent somewhere.

That meant that I was all on my own. I considered just staying at the Center to watch over the footage of our battle, but I figured it'd be best to let it sit for a few days so I could approach the entire thing from an unbiased, neutral perspective. I still felt salty about losing, but a lot less than yesterday. Instead, I had decided that it was time to go out and train Electabuzz with Jellicent's help for our battle against Fantina, and then I'd probably hang out with Dad in the afternoon. I took the subway to route 208 and released the entire team, including Turtonator, who as usual, just went to lie down in the distance.

"Hey guys," I smiled. "We lost the battle. Princess is still getting her injuries healed by the nurses."

Electabuzz's shoulder slumped in disappointment, and he hung his head, while Tangrowth patted him on the back to cheer him up. Him and Jellicent didn't appear to be disappointed, at the very least. Larvitar kicked the ground in frustration and cried out, saying something to the effect of 'we would have won if I was there.' I laughed at her, much to her annoyance.

"It's alright, hon. We'll battle again eventually," I told him. "Hey, look at me. Look at me."

The electric type stared into my eyes, and I hugged him.

"I'm very proud of you."

I told him this every time, and he was always surprised by it. I heard him sniffle, and he returned my hug.

"Now come on, you big softie. I've got a lot planned for you this morning."


I searched through my bag and grabbed a towel that I had taken from my Center's bathroom and showed it to him.

"Jellicent's evolved now, so you can sense him, right?" I asked.

Electabuzz gave me a hesitant nod.

"It's faint? Fainter than that Mismagius in the mansion?"

"Ele," he said, nodding again.

That was actually perfect. Practicing with a fainter signal would mean that he'd be even better at it when my battle against Fantina came.

"Here's the goal for today," I said. "You're going to try to find Jellicent without seeing him so that you can find Fantina's ghosts when they're invisible. We'll slowly increase the distance until your range reaches the size of her battlefield."

The electric type flexed and let out an excited cry, his sadness from earlier all but forgotten.

"Calm down," I giggled. "You'll just point at him for now, so no attacking yet. We don't want you to hit Turtonator on accident…"

The dragon let out a threatening growl, confirming what I had just said.

"It's not like it'd hurt you anyway," I told him. He ignored me. "Buddy, we'll finally start working on Brine, but you're a genius, so you should figure it out pretty easily."

The water type nodded, and I couldn't help but smirk. His mustache made him look like a sage old man.

Wait, that was literally what he was.

"Angel, you keep working on Sunny Day. You've been making small incremental progress, but if we can trigger your Chlorophyll ability, you'll be even more of a monster in battle."

The grass type blinked twice and silently nodded.

"Sweetheart, you'll be with me again today," I said, crouching to face her. "There's going to be a tournament the next town over, and I want to start seriously using you there."

The rock type stared at me with a wide smile and stomped all over the floor.

"Your offensive capabilities are actually pretty decent, and you can take a lot of hits, but I want to start controlling the field," I continued. "Togetic's got a pretty good grasp of it, and Turtonator can do it too by making it ridiculously hot, but I feel like you can be another key."

The rock type stared into my eyes as she shivered in anticipation.

"We're going to work on Sandstorm."

There was a lot I wanted to get better at during the tournament, but I wanted to be focused on two things. Getting better at reading body language on the fly, without having to observe my subject for multiple hours like I had done with Candice, or knowing them beforehand like I could do with my friends.

And next, I finally needed to start working on improvising. When planning worked, it worked. But I'd be foolish to think that I'd always be able to predict my opponents for the entire battle, and I wouldn't always be able to buy enough time to strategize. When planning failed, I needed to be better at coming up with stuff on the fly like the others were. I wasn't going to take a risk with my battle against Fantina, but the Solaceon tournament presented me with an excellent opportunity to improve.

I wouldn't look up any of my opponents during the early matches.
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Chapter 125

Pauline angrily paced around her room. "Where is he, damn it?!"

My training session had been very productive, and I was more confident than ever about my battle against Fantina, as if the drain from losing yesterday's battle had completely disappeared. Dad had just dropped me off after lunch, and we were all hanging out in Pauline's room, which Emilia now shared. Justin groaned as he placed his hand on his ears.

"Maybe he's busy," I shrugged. "He said his business meeting went well, so what's the problem? He could be training."

"Don't be so naive, Grace," Pauline said. "We all like training, but not everyone's as crazy about it as you are."

"Denzel's pretty crazy about it, though," I muttered.

"You're making a fuss about this for no reason," Cecilia said. "He doesn't have to tell you where he is at all times."

"I know… but I thought he'd come back to tell us about his meeting," she said in a defeated tone. "All he sent was a text. A message is kind of lousy, don't you think?!" She screamed.

"I'm going," Justin said, standing up.

"What? Where?" Pauline asked.

"Somewhere where I can get some peace and quiet."

The boy hurriedly left Pauline's room, causing us to laugh. Well, all of us except her. He was getting more assertive now that he had proved that he was a good trainer against Fantina, and I personally was all for it.

"Whatever," Pauline sighed as she fell onto her bed. "Emi, comfort me."

"Comfort…?" She awkwardly said. "Uh, maybe he's with that girl that he told us about. What was her name?"

"Caitlyn?" Cecilia asked.

"Yeah, that was her name," I said, remembering that Denzel had occasionally texted her. "He said she was coming here at some point. Wouldn't surprise me if they met."

Pauline froze. "I didn't know about any girl. And what do you mean, here?"

"In Hearthome?" I frowned. "Where else could I mean?"

The redhead got up and grabbed her phone.

"You're being weird right now," I said.

She just ignored me and called someone who I assumed was Denzel. There was no answer.

"Pauline?" Emilia said worriedly. "Erm, is something wrong?"

She had to call her name two more times for her to answer. "No, I'm just worried," she finally said. "Mommy's coming soon, and I'm worried about spies and the like."

"That sounds like a half-truth to me," Emilia said.

It did. I didn't know if it was because she hated 'fake' people, or if was because she was just blunt, but Pauline was a terrible liar. She was terrible in a different manner than Cece, because she just took a long time to come up with lies.

"I'll… I'll tell you more later," she sighed. "But seriously, we need to find him— I mean, what if he's getting tracked or something? Don't you think it's weird that he's not answering his phone?"

"He doesn't answer his phone half the time," I said. "Send him a text, and he'll answer soon."

"I'd… I'd like to think everything is fine, but I've been worried about Harvey and Clarence," Cecilia said. "It's been too quiet."

"At least one of you's agreeing with me," she said. "Grace, where would Denzel take a girl?"

"I don't know, Amity Square? Wait, no, that's mostly for Pokemon stuff. Maybe a restaurant somewhere? If I had to guess, he'd take a girl to a familiar place for a date, so maybe that cafe Emilia showed us when we met Vincent."

"It's not a date if she's tricking him," she hurriedly said. "We're going— oh. My phone— it's Denzel."

Pauline answered immediately.

"Put it on speaker," Cecilia asked.

"Denzel, where are you? We've been calling you for a while," she said.

"I was… training. Is something wrong?"

"Training, when half of your team's still at the Center?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.

I heard him sigh. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have said anything. "Grace is here? Yeah, Sylveon and Lopunny needed some extra training. Plus, you trained with Togetic still at the Center! Do you— do you need me for something? I'm on my way back right now, so—"

"Pauline wants to know if you were with that Caitlyn girl or not," Emilia said. Pauline stared daggers at her, but the girl didn't budge. In fact, she looked kind of mad. "What? Might as well tell him everything, because you apparently didn't tell me a whole lot."

I was beginning to feel like I was missing a lot of context here.

Denzel groaned through the phone. "Emi's here too? No, I wasn't meeting her. I was genuinely training. Look, let's talk when I get back, alright? We should probably have an adult conversation about things like boundaries."

"Fine. I'm hanging up," Pauline huffed.

"Grace and I are going to hang out together," Cecilia said before Pauline even finished hanging up the call.

I wanted to protest, but I knew that there was an argument about to start, and it probably wasn't my place to hear it, especially when I felt so confused about everything. Cecilia dragged me by the arm, and we left the room. She was practically running through the Center's hall.

"Grace," she breathed out as she closed her door. "I figured it out."

"Okay, because they were acting really weird."

She looked at me with disappointment. "Do you… do you not even have a clue?"

"Why are you looking at me like that? Denzel looked at me like that too."

"Listen, Grace. Pauline was jealous about Denzel potentially being on a date with another girl," she started.

"I mean, I guessed that much. I'm not that dense… what? Don't look at me like that! You're dense too!"

"Less dense than you, apparently. Emilia was jealous that Pauline was jealous. It was so obvious."

I gasped. "Wait… so it's like a big, like, love triangle? Emilia likes Pauline, and Pauline likes Denzel? No… for it to be a love triangle, Denzel would have to like Emilia, it doesn't work. A love line? Is that a thing?"

"I don't know," Cece sighed as she crossed her arms. "Emilia seemed quite possessive of Pauline."

"So you think they're dating already? Pauline was possessive of Denzel too, we shouldn't jump the gun."

"That's just how Pauline functions," Cece said, sitting down on the bed. "With how blind you are in matters of love, I'm glad I made the first move, or we probably would have never started dating."

"I'm not blind," I rolled my eyes. "And if I am, you were just as blind as me not even five minutes ago. But it's true that Emilia seemed really angry, which is unusual for her. I've… I've actually only seen her angry once. Back on route 206."

"This is looking like a mess," Cece complained, pinching her nose.

"Drama is never good," I nodded, sitting next to her. "I hope they don't have a big fight… I wish I could be a Cutiefly on the wall right now and listen in."

"Well, what do you say we distract ourselves and go out?" She smiled.

"Sure! You can help me prepare for my meeting with the Poketch Company too, 'cause I'm really nervous."


Denzel exhaled in exasperation as he stepped inside of Pauline's room. How had this even happened? All he had done was train Louis and his friends in secret— although Mira was actually as good as he was— and now he was getting sucked into this unnecessary drama. Today had started off so well, too. He had negotiated a contract, and he was now sponsored by a water brand called Ovean for a pretty decent amount of cash, and his obligations were relatively relaxed. But now, he had to deal with two irritated girls.

"So, what's up?" He said. Obviously, he knew what was up. Pauline had been possessive of him again in front of Emilia this time, and that had made her angry. Still, he figured that it'd be better to start the conversation like this. No one could go wrong with a classic 'what's up?'

Pauline looked angry as always, but what scared Denzel was that Emilia also looked mad. She was never mad. Sad, yes, but angry? The boy leaned against a wall.

"Look," Emilia said. "Something's going on between you two, but Pauline won't budge! Denzel, tell me what it is."

Denzel felt like folding up a thousand times and hiding in a corner somewhere. Arceus, this was awkward. Mira's annoying antics were a blessing compared to this, and she had kept pestering him with questions.

"Nothing's going on," he said, discreetly looking at Pauline, who was unusually silent. At this point, he figured that coming clean was the best option, so he decided to go for it. "You know what, never mind. Look, I can tell you guys had a fight or something. Here's what happened. I asked Pauline out at the party in Eterna and got rejected after she told me you two were kind of not, but totally dating."

"Denzel—" Pauline protested.

"Pauline! You told him?!" Emilia said, her face wrought with panic. "Oh, no, oh no—"

"Calm down, alright? I haven't told anybody. Look, the point is, nothing is going on, okay? Your relationship's safe."

"I think I'm gonna be sick," Emilia lurched as she ran to the bathroom.

Denzel winced. Did she have that much internalized homophobia? Her parents must have been horrible to her. Pauline followed her girlfriend to the bathroom, and he considered slipping out, but that probably would have been rude.

"Damn it," he said, scratching his head.

This was getting complicated.

"Do you need water?" He asked as he made his way to the bathroom's entrance. "Medicine?"

Emilia heaved as Pauline held her hair back. "No medicine… water's fine."

He hurriedly grabbed a glass and poured her some cold, refrigerated water.

"It's… it's my fault," Pauline said. "I shouldn't have told him. I broke your trust, Emilia, I'm sorry."

Emilia drank the whole glass in a single second. "No, I don't… I mean, I do mind, but I know it shouldn't— it shouldn't be that big of a deal. I don't understand why I'm so anxious about hiding when we literally have two gay friends that are dating."

"Look, we can forget everything that happened today," Denzel said. "Again, I'm not going to tell anyone—"

"No," she said. "Fuck it."

Had… had Emilia just sworn?

"We're telling them tomorrow. I'm… I'm scared, but I'm done with hiding. I feel like I'm being choked out. If I can at least keep the relationship to our circle, then my parents don't have to find out," she continued. "By the way, I'm not done. All of this still doesn't explain why Pauline was acting like a jealous, possessive girlfriend toward you earlier."

Denzel disappointedly stared at Pauline, who averted her eyes. She was acting very subdued, which wasn't like her at all.

"Look, I'm… I'm not even sure myself, okay? I don't know what's wrong with me. Can we just forget it?"

Emi's face softened. "Okay… okay. It's not like I thought you were actually cheating on me. I trust you."

Well, they might not have known, but Denzel was pretty sure that he had already figured it out by now, and it opened a whole can of worms that he didn't particularly want to have to deal with.

Alas, he did not exactly have a choice.


A day had passed since the revelation about Pauline and Emilia's relationship. Well, it wasn't exactly a revelation, more like a theory, but Cecilia was sure of herself. She warned me not to tell anyone until they told us themselves, though, which I agreed with. If they hadn't told us yet, there must have been a reason, especially when I and Cece had been out for so long. I stepped in front of the building my father had dropped me off at and opened my Poketch, triple checking that this was the right address.

"Well, I can't exactly be wrong," I chuckled nervously.

In front of me stood the massive Poketch Company Headquarters in all of its glory. They were based in Jubilife, but they had one in every major city in Sinnoh, and Hearthome was no exception. Since it had been renovated relatively recently in downtown Hearthome, the building was blocky and modern, made out of sleek, silver-colored metal and glass, and it stood at least fifteen stories tall. The entrance was marked by a bright, 'Poketch Company' sign in bold letters, along with their logo, which was a simple, stylized drawing of the phone they were the most known for.

I took a deep breath and stepped inside of the busy building. The lobby was filled with white walls and tiles, and was built with a minimalist design in mind. This was nothing like the small, shoddy apartment that I had met the Retani Industries representatives in. This felt official. I walked up to the receptionist, who I hoped would be able to point me in the right direction, because as it stood, I had no idea of where to go.

"Welcome to the Poketch Company, how may I help you?" The woman said with a bright smile.

"I'm Grace Pastel," I quietly said. "I have a meeting for a sponsorship at nine-thirty?"

"Sponsorships are up the elevator on the fifth floor, Ms. Pastel," she explained. "Someone should be there to meet you."

"Oh, really?" I said, raising an eyebrow. "Thank you."

I stepped inside of the elevator along with a dozen people and noticed that the last two floors needed some kind of keycard to be accessed. It was probably some employee-only area that was permanently closed to the public. I squeezed past the full elevator and noticed that a woman that looked to be in her forties was waiting for me with a sign with my name on it.

"Ah, Ms. Pastel! You sure are early," she smiled.

I hesitantly stepped toward her. "Thirty minutes early seemed appropriate for a meeting with the Poketch Company," I awkwardly said. "Um, what's your name?"

"Call me Melody," she said. "Your handlers will be pleased with your punctuality."

"Handlers?" I frowned.

"Oh, I've been hoping that they'd change the term for years now," she chuckled. "It scares some people off. It's just how they call the people that'll be in the meeting room with you."

"Oh, okay," I said, hiding my suspicion. Maybe it was just a name, but I sure didn't like the sound of it.

"Follow me," she said.

Melody led me to a small, empty waiting room, which I supposed I'd have to wait in until they were ready to meet me. She offered me drinks and snacks, but I only took a bottle of water. I felt too nervous to eat anything at the moment, and I was starting to sweat. If only I could have gotten stomachaches like Denzel instead of this stupid constant sweating, Arceus. I closed my eyes and carefully went over everything Cecilia had told me yesterday. I needed to stand my ground if anything was too egregious. They contacted me, which meant that they wanted me, so they'd probably be willing to be flexible with whatever they were going to try to make me sign. If they didn't, that meant that they were trying to trap me into some scummy deal. Melody tried to get me to open up and make small talk, but I wasn't really in the mood. I appreciated that they were at least a lot more accommodating than Retani Industries had been, although this was probably their way of buttering me up.

"They'll be with you now," Melody said. I almost jumped. It was now or never.

I shot up like an arrow and stepped into the room. I was surprised to see that there were a lot fewer people than I expected. My meeting with Retani Industries had been with twelve people, but there were only five here, and the room looked less like a business meeting room and more like a break room. There were couches, a televisions, a minifridge… but obviously, they were all seated at a table.

"Ms. Pastel," A woman said, standing up to greet me. She offered me a handshake, which I obliged. "I'm Ms. Greene, the lead negotiator here. Feel free to sit anywhere you like."

"The couches are fine?" I asked.

"Yes, of course," she smiled. "We're a part of the Poketch Company's sponsorship department, and we're the ones who scouted you. Here, from the left, you have Mr. Chambers, Mr. Vaughn, Mr. Wilkerson, and Ms. Reilly— Ms. Reilly's a lawyer. She won't be talking, but she'll be taking notes and recording the meeting's audio, okay?"

I nodded, studying each of them as Ms. Greene told me their names, and the expressions on their faces seemed warm enough. None of them exhibited any nervousness, malice or impatience. Their bodies were perfectly behaving like people who had no nefarious intent, but people like this were probably good at masking their true intentions.

You could never be too paranoid.

"Well, gentlemen, let's begin," she said. "Mr. Vaughn?"

The older man flipped through a small booklet for a few seconds. "Ms. Pastel, we've seen you make incredible strides in your Pokemon training career. We started looking at you after your… let's just say, unfortunate meeting with Retani Industries, but it wasn't until your battle with Candice that we decided to work with you."

So they wanted to work with me after I almost died, made it through Mount Coronet, and became a first-year celebrity. It kind of felt objectifying, but for a company, that was normal enough. It wasn't like I expected anything else anyway, but to hear it spoken to my face was an… experience, to say the least.

"You've shown your skill as a trainer, especially with that battle yesterday with your colleagues. And there are recent rumors that you've caught a Turtonator?" He continued.

"I did," I nodded. They asked me to verify my ownership with the same device that the rangers used— only a portable version. I placed the Pokeball inside of it, and an image of Turtonator came up.

"Simply incredible," he continued.

"So you want to sponsor me because I show promise?" I said, asking the obvious.

"That is a part of it," Ms. Greene nodded. I noticed a subtle look to her colleagues. It was too early to say if something was afoot yet, but they clearly had something cooked up. "But we'll get to that later. Oh, by the way, do you want anything to eat? Any water? Our research team has heard that you're quite fond of milkshakes. We can provide one for you if you'd like. Any flavor."

"I've got my bottle right there," I said, patting my backpack. "I'm okay."

"Well, let's start going over the contract, then," Mr. Chambers said as he adjusted his glasses. "Ms. Greene?"

The woman handed me the same booklet that Mr. Vaughn had in his hands, and Mr. Chamber continued.

"Feel free to read along," he said. "We're trying to be as transparent as possible. First, you'll obviously be forced into using Poketch products. We know you currently have a phone, but you don't have the Poketch Watch, which is a device we've been trying to promote in recent years. Call it a return to our roots. You'll have to wear it during any gym battle or tournament you participate in."

I knew the Poketch Company had gotten its start by creating digital watches, but I wasn't exactly interested in them trying to bring them back. I didn't even know what I'd use it for, but it certainly wasn't a deal breaker. Ms. Greene unlatched her own watch, and showed it to me.

"That's our latest model, the Poketch Watch Plus," she declared. She explained the new features to me, but I wasn't exactly interested and mostly tuned out until she was done.

"Okay, that's fine with me," I said, and my eyes returned to the contract.

Mr. Chambers continued. "In your case, Ms. Pastel, we've noticed a severe lack of… social media use, which is a problem. Now, we want to be flexible, so you have two choices. You can start promoting our products online through the… forums, you call it, since we've been trying to better our younger outreach. Or, you can participate in television interviews and other media appearances instead, like advertisements."

My throat tightened. "Uh, is that necessary?"

"I'm afraid it is," Ms. Greene said softly. She was so obvious about trying to manipulate me it was kind of funny, but I wasn't going to leave. I needed money, so I needed to at least try to work with these people. "The latter would benefit us a lot more, since our target audience tends not to use the Circuit Forums, but we figured we'd let you stay inside of your comfort zone."

"I'll take the online promotion instead," I sighed. I should have paid attention to those Arceus damned new features, then.

No, wait. It was actually fine. They'd probably give me pointers on what to say. There was no way they'd let some teenager decide on how to promote their brand. I took a deep breath. Somehow, I already felt tired.

"Thank you for being malleable," Mr. Chambers said. "There is a caveat to this, though. A lot of journalists often stand around tournaments to interview trainers participating in them—"

"These are a lot more low-key than what you'd have to deal with on television," Ms. Greene stepped in. "But it'll go on television and reach our core customer base, so that part is non-negotiable, I'm afraid."

"Something's been bothering me. Target audience? Core customers? Everyone owns a Poketch," I said, holding back a scoff. "You basically have a monopoly. That doesn't really add up."

"You're correct, but adults with steady jobs tend to buy more of our products, whereas most trainers struggle with money, so they're content with a single Poketch. They don't buy the new models when they come out either. But non-trainer teenagers are targetable, and they put a lot of stock in what trainers say. Especially young rising stars such as yourself."

I nodded, relaxing slightly. That made sense.

Mr. Chambers tapped his finger against the table, possibly angry that she had cut him off. "And you'll have to participate in a minimum of five tournaments for the remainder of this year. Five tournaments means a minimum of five interviews, but we'd appreciate if you went above and beyond. We'll renegotiate the number during the summer if you sign, since by then, your Togetic will probably have evolved and you'll be able to fly around the region."

Five tournaments? How was I even going to join that many? I knew about the Solaceon one, but what else was there? I remembered that Craig had told me that he often participated in tournaments he was way too good for just to fulfill his contract, so I knew they had asked him the same thing. At least I knew that it seemed to be a standard demand from them, so I agreed. I didn't mind the tournament part. In fact, I welcomed it, but the interviews annoyed me.

"We recognize that these terms might scare you off, so we've thrown in a bonus. Depending on how you do in those tournaments, you'll get an extra payment for that month. Of course, the amount of money will be determined by the company, and it'll depend on a lot of factors, like how many people participated, how many eyes were on the tournament, how tough the competition was, how far you placed…" Ms. Greene specified.

Okay, that made the whole thing a lot more palatable. More money was good. I'd be willing to agree with that.

"There's a conference in Jubilife during the summer where we present the progress the Poketch Company's done throughout the year. Attendance will be mandatory if you sign, but there'll be plenty of other trainers with you there, so you shouldn't be out of your depth," Mr. Chambers said.

"That seems fine," I nodded. Trainers were always free during the summer, after all. "What do I do there?"

"Just smile and shake some hands," Mr. Wilkerson spoke up for the first time. "It's more about showing that we have connections in the Pokemon training industry and less about what you have to do. So long as you show up and you behave normally, the Poketch Company will be fine with that."

"Okay. Next?"

Mr. Chambers nodded, seemingly pleased with how the meeting was going so far. He continued explaining the ins and outs of the contract to me, but there was nothing as demanding as he had stated previously. It was mostly small-scale stuff like not being caught with another phone, not bad-mouthing their products or more discreet clauses like asking trainers what features they thought should be added to Poketches.

"Now, let's get to the benefits," Mr. Wilkerson said. "First, what you're here for, I presume, your monthly salary. Two hundred and fifty thousand Pokedollars, renegotiable every three months, depending on how you're doing."

My eyes bulged, and I swallowed my saliva the wrong way, causing me to go into a rough coughing fit. That was so much fucking money. More than I thought I'd ever get. I knew I was good, but that was a lot. Still, I couldn't get too excited. Renegotiable meant that the number could go down if I didn't progress as fast as they wanted, and even though that was more money than I thought they'd offer me, it wasn't enough to actually buy every TM under the sun, especially when I had vitamins to buy.

But it also meant that the number could go up. A lot.

"What's the catch?" I asked in between coughs. "Sorry."

"That isn't it. All of your travels during the summer will be paid in full," he continued. "You will obviously get new models of every Poketch product as soon as it comes out."

Right. Since there was a lapse in the Circuit during the summer months, traveling by plane wasn't frowned upon during the break. That'd be useful, since I'd been planning on going back home for a bit. Even when I became the Champion, there'd be a transitional period that would take months to sort through, so I'd have a bit of time to go see dad.

Plus, I wasn't about to fly across the region on my future Togekiss' back. That would take weeks, and the summer months were fleeting. I'd rather take a plane and be where I needed to be in a few hours if that meant I could spend more time with dad.

"Can I get a laptop?" I asked.

"Of course. That was one of the products we wanted you to promote, after all. We can have one ready for you in… thirty minutes, maybe? Ms. Greene will make the call if you sign."

Awesome, I thought.

"What if I break it? What if I break any of your products?"

"You'll get another one free of charge," Ms. Greene clarified.

"Next, we'll be offering you a free stay at a hotel in each city you visit. Everything will be paid for, including the food, if you decide to eat there."

Why were they giving me so much? There had to be a catch here.

"I don't think I'll stay at hotels that much," I said.

"Well, feel free to take advantage of the perk anyway," Mr. Wilkerson smiled. We finally reached the end of the booklet. "Your current contract would be locked for the remainder of the year, along with the next— except your salary, of course, as we clarified earlier."

I nodded and retreated into my thoughts. This was an Arceus damned treasure trove, but there was still a lot more under the surface. I'd be associated with the brand, which was positively seen across Sinnoh, meaning that my reputation would improve even further, which, even though I didn't bother that much with public appearances, would be a nice boost. I'd get networking opportunities with other trainers— powerful trainers like Craig that the Poketch Company sponsored, and there was the opportunity of getting an even better deal down the line.

"So? Now's the time where you pull the rug from under me," I told the negotiators.

Ms. Greene's lips twitched upward. "You're very perceptive, Ms. Pastel. We've taken notice that a few other companies have contacted you for a meeting, and that you've accepted to meet a few. Fitstride, Bloom & Breeze, and RefreshCo," she listed. I chose to ignore the fact that they had somehow figured that out. "In exchange for these very generous terms, the Poketch Company would like to make this partnership exclusive."

There it was. They didn't want me to get sponsored by anybody else. They wanted me for themselves, because they knew I'd grow even stronger in the future and that a lot of companies would try to get a slice of me.

"You're a rising star, Ms. Pastel," the woman continued. "One of the few this year. The Poketch Company has always been hesitant to sponsor first-year trainers because they tend to be a bigger brand risk, and we never know if they're just a fad that'll burn out quickly, but with you, we chose to change our approach. We want to make you the brand new face of our company."

I froze. I couldn't believe the words I was hearing. Me? The face of this whole multi-billion dollar company?

"Isn't that Craig?" I asked, keeping my voice from shaking. "When people think of the Poketch Company, they think of him."

"Mr. Goodwill's in his last year," Mr. Chambers said. "Win or lose at the Conference, he'll be taking a job with the League, either as the Champion or as a League trainer. That means his contract is void as soon as the year finishes and we're parting ways. Needless to say, there'll be a transitional period where we ease you in and ease him out of the position, but by the summer, you'll have replaced his role."

"But why me and not some other big shot?" I asked.

"We're choosing to take a risk," Ms. Greene said. "And we believe that people will like it if we change it up for once and pick a young, fresh face instead of the usual older trainers. And let's just say that Mr. Goodwill put in a good word for you after his sister brushed us off. He's been helping us with finding a replacement for him, but she's even more reclusive than you are."

The people around the table nodded. So Craig had recommended me? It was after his sister, of course, but Arceus, I owed him so much. If he hadn't, I doubted that they'd be offering me all of this. Still, I didn't believe I could ever fill his shoes. He was a damn legend that everyone knew in the region. He talked to the media all the time and he sold fucking merchandise. I saw people walking in the streets with his shirts all the time!

"O—okay," I said.

"Plus, you'd be the first girl that'd be filling the role. Not only that, but you're a lesbian. Or bisexual— pardon me for assuming. Either way, that's good for representation," she continued.

"L—lesbian," I breathed out.

Representation was nice and all— genuinely nice, even though the tone of the words themselves was kind of shallow— but right now, I was still trying to wrap my head around this whole situation.

"Wait," I frowned. There was one thing wrong with all of this. "Craig's contract isn't exclusive. He works with a lot of companies. I know he's a lot better than me, so you were willing to let him spread his wings. I'm not there yet, but I'll get there eventually. When the time comes, I want you to let me negotiate with other companies too."

I saw Mr. Vaughn wince. That had been the trap. I knew it was too good to be true, but I had caught them. They had wanted to keep me under them for my entire career.

After a brief pause, Mr. Chambers nodded. "Very well. The Poketch Company can work with that. Ms. Reilly will draft a new contract. It'll only take a few minutes to add that clause. You'll be exclusive with us until you at least reach the top sixteen in the Conference. Is that enough for you?"

Top sixteen… that was a lot, especially for a first year, but hell, if I wanted to be the best trainer in the world, I couldn't doubt myself about at least reaching that high. I bit my lip and looked around the room. Had I caught everything? I flipped through the booklet and I didn't notice anything else out of line.

"You don't have to make a decision now," the woman added. "We're willing to negotiate until you leave the city."

Me. The face of the Poketch Company. Two hundred and fifty thousand Pokedollars per month, and a free laptop. Not only that, but the salary was renegotiable every three months. Arceus, this was good. I read over the entire contract again to make sure I wasn't getting tricked somehow. I triple, quadruple, and quintuple checked, but everything appeared legit.

"If I sign, when do I get paid?" I asked.

"Well, normally, it'd be on the last Friday of every month, but we might be willing to make an exception and get you the money for this month transferred today since we're redrafting the contract either way," Mr. Vaughn said.

Damn it, they had me, and they knew it. They were treating me like an Arceus damned queen. I exhaled and closed the booklet.

"Well, I'm in," I said.

Ms. Greene smiled, and Ms. Reilly exited the room. Thirty minutes later, she re-entered with a fresh new booklet and my brand new laptop. After reading through the entire thing again for good measure, I finally agreed, and Ms. Greene handed me a pen.
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I'm still catching up and hate commenting on stuff before I've finished.


Cordially, FUCK YOU for chapter 74. That was not okay. I was not ready for all these emotions and why are you doing this to us ;....;

Loving the story, obviously. Only comment beyond 'yes, please, more sir.' would be to ask if there's any character images etc. :O
I'm still catching up and hate commenting on stuff before I've finished.


Cordially, FUCK YOU for chapter 74. That was not okay. I was not ready for all these emotions and why are you doing this to us ;....;

Loving the story, obviously. Only comment beyond 'yes, please, more sir.' would be to ask if there's any character images etc. :O

Thank you for reading that far! I'm terrible at art, so unfortunately, there aren't any images for the characters. Maybe one day, I'll try to get some art commissioned!
Chapter 126

Damn it, the Poketch Company got me good.

Not because they had tricked me with the contract. In fact, I was very happy with what we had negotiated. I stepped out of the changing room I had been practically forced into with cargo pants, a simple gray t-shirt, and fingerless gloves. I was being dressed-up.

"You look great! I would have liked to get you in a dress, but the execs want you to have that authentic trainer look. A shame," my stylist said.

I should have known that they would have made me do a photoshoot when they said they wanted to make me the face of their company. They'd probably plaster me all over their website and the news— I already knew Craig was on there. They were apparently planning on revealing this entire thing right after my battle with Fantina— which we all assumed I would win— and creating a whole advertising blitz to slowly make the transition for the change between me and Craig.

"Thank you, I guess," I sighed. "What's with the bag?"

There was a green, camo backpack next to mine, and I was wondering if it was something they were going to give me as a gift or something. It certainly was bigger than the one I owned, although I was sort of attached to it by now.

"It's for the photoshoot," she smiled. "Goes well with your clothes, and every trainer has a backpack, don't they? Sit."

My stylist motioned me to a chair in front of a mirror with a bunch of lights, and then started to wash my face with some kind of smooth moisturizer. Afterward, she applied primer to my skin.

"We don't want to go too overboard here," she whispered as her hand ran under my eyes. "I'll keep the makeup at a minimum. Hiding every imperfection would make you lose all of your appeal as a trainer. They make you look authentic," she said as her eyes glazed over my burns.

I held back an annoyed sigh, but continued closing my eyes as I waited for her to finish. It was for the money, I told myself. In fact, the first two hundred and fifty thousand pokedollars had already been transferred to my account, and I even had that laptop I had always wanted. The stylist proceeded to brush my hair, and then she finally sent me off. I carried both backpacks in my hands, but Melody— the woman who had greeted me on the fifth floor— came and took them from me. Apparently, she wasn't just a greeter. She was supposed to be my sponsorship liaison. She wouldn't be as overbearing as a coordinator's manager, and I'd barely see her once I left this building, but she'd be the one who called me if I ever acted out of line and damaged the company's image. Alternatively, she'd also be the one I'd need to contact if I ever wanted something from them. I thanked her with a short nod.

A short, male photographer called me over, and I was surprised to see that the background and the floor of my pictures would just be completely white. They were being so extra with things that I almost thought they'd green-screen me on a route or something. A few people also stood behind him and whispered among themselves.

"'Afternoon young lady," he smiled. "I'm Joshua Nance, your photographer. I hope you appreciate that the company's kept things on the down-low for you. Ordinarily, they'd be a whole lot of people in this room. Anyway, if you ever have to take any more pictures after today, I'm probably the one you'll have to work with."

"I sure hope I won't have to, but thanks," I simply said. "Can we get started right away, or…?"

I just wanted this whole thing to be done with, go home and start budgeting. He motioned me to step onto the large, white background, which I obliged.

"They wanted me to tell you that these won't be published until your battle with Fantina. They want to time the marketing blitz with your victory." he explained as he fiddled with his camera.

Melody spoke up. "And you'll be promoted much more than with our usual sponsorship terms until they gently push Mr. Goodwill out of the limelight, replacing him with you by the summer, after the end of the Conference,"

"There we go. We'll start with simple pictures that show who you are as a person. Stand there and just give me any pose you want, just make it feel natural."

After telling me at least ten times to loosen up because I apparently looked nervous, Mr. Nance snapped a few pictures, making sure the Pokeballs on my belt were visible. He explained to me that the background was white so that they'd pop in a picture and draw and captivate the public's eyes, which I guess was the point.

"Do you want to take a picture with one of your Pokemon next?" He asked. "It'd help the people get to know you on a more personal level."

I didn't understand how that made any sense, but why not—


Jellicent was a no-go until I figured out how this new evolution affected him around people when he wasn't focusing on a battle.

Turtornator… well, he'd kill everyone in this room.

Tangrowth would touch everything with his vines. He'd probably break the camera out of curiosity too.

Larvitar might get too excited, and she could damage the building with her stomping. Plus, she didn't really like strangers either.

Well, Electabuzz and Togetic were doable— although princess was starting to get a little too aggressive for my liking, but that was mostly when she fought things.

"Can I use two?" I asked.

"Sure, go ahead."

I released princess and honey and hurriedly explained the situation to them. Togetic seemed happy enough but still looked at Mr. Nance with some amount of suspicion. Electabuzz, goofy as he was, was acting all shy about getting his picture taken. I carried Togetic in my arms and placed her head against my chest while Electabuzz wrapped an arm around me and smiled, flashing his sharp teeth.

"Excellent, excellent!" He smiled as he snapped more pictures. "This'll show the world how close you are with your team."

Finally, after twenty minutes of making us strike different poses, it was over. I changed, and Melody led me out of the building and gave me her number and email so I could contact her whenever I wanted. I called dad over, who surprisingly immediately drove up with his car after barely two minutes.

"You're here early," I said after letting out a tired exhale as I sat into his car.

"I was waiting around the block, I was too nervous. How'd it go? You look great." He said.

"Yeah, they put makeup on me for some shoot. And Dad, that was like, three hours you were waiting for me?" I chuckled. "I signed. I work with the Poketch Company now. Wait, does that mean we're co-workers?!"

"Slow down there, kiddo," he said as he started driving. "You shouldn't have signed right away. What were the terms?"

"It's fine. I read it over a ton of times, and I caught how they were trying to screw me by making the contract exclusive forever. Plus, they have to preserve their rep. It'd be a bad look if they fu— screwed me over too hard while trying to make me the face of their company at the same time."

"Hold on, the face of the company? Isn't that Craig Goodwill?"

I explained the big elements of the contract to him— which, to me, was mostly the pay, but I also told him that it was an exclusive sponsorship. I'd have to cancel all of my meetings with the other companies I had written back to. It was a shame, but I knew they'd never offer me better terms. Plus, a part of me was glad I wouldn't have to keep sitting in meetings with a bunch of business people. Just one had been tiresome enough. I didn't know how Denzel planned on doing it. He still had eight meetings to get to.

"There's a bunch of other stuff too. I've got a copy of the contract with me if you want to read it. It's in a nice little leather booklet."

"I'll give it a read later," he nodded before ruffling my hair. "I'm proud of you, kid. Do you want me to drop you off at the Center?"

I smiled. "How about lunch first?"

Dad took me to Arlyle's to eat, although he didn't eat anything himself because it was too unhealthy, or whatever. I sent a text to the group chat saying that the meeting went well, and they all congratulated me in their own way. Justin and Cecilia sent me private messages, the former sending a long, essay-like message about the economic power of the Poketch Company and how I had made the correct choice, while Cecilia berated me, saying she would have liked to give me advice first. She came around when I explained the terms, although she said I should have asked what constituted how 'well I was doing' for renegotiation purposes. I'd shoot Melody a message about it later, but she was right that I should have asked. Still, she was excited for me and glad that they had recognized how much I was worth.

Along with hearts.

A lot of hearts.

Arceus, she was cute. I sent her a GIF of two Teddiursa hugging with a caption that said 'us'. I almost heard her squeal through the screen. She apparently hadn't known that was possible, and she spent the next twenty minutes sending me romantic GIFs in return. I ended up asking her for vitamin advice.

Denzel congratulated me in a teasing manner, telling me to leave some fame for the rest of them. Pauline called me a gremlin, but also said that 'a girl like me' deserved to be rich, so she was hoping I'd renegotiate to get more money as soon as possible. Emilia called for a celebration and used a bunch of emojis I couldn't decipher. The atmosphere between the three was still awkward, but I was glad they were at least not fighting. Or maybe they were, and they were hiding it from us.

Eh, I'd probably be able to figure it out the next time I saw them. Now that Cecilia had revealed the fact that there was some relationship drama afoot, I felt like I'd be able to read all of them like open books. I thanked dad for the food and driving me back to the Center and entered my Pokemon Center room right away. I'd join my friends later. I released my entire team aside from Turtonator, although at this point, Jellicent was so big he could barely move around the room. Still, he clumsily floated behind me— where he always liked to be when I was about to work.

I opened my new laptop and quickly set it up. Apparently, I could link my phone and my Poketch Watch, and the computer to each other, which sure as hell was convenient. I supposed that this was the main benefit of being loyal to the brand. I smiled when I saw that the laptop came with a pre-installed spreadsheet app. This would be good for Pokemon training, but right now, I'd need it for one thing.


I knew this wouldn't be that complicated, but I'd always been bad with math. Back in school, I had gotten sixty to sixty-five percent on every subject, which meant I had barely graduated, but I hadn't tried or studied.

Except in math, where I had to work my ass off to barely pass. So even though I knew the program would do all the calculations for me, I still felt a twinge of dread well up inside of me. Yes. Dread. That was how much I hated numbers.

"Okay…" I exhaled. "Two hundred and fifty thousand pokedollars per month."

The date was currently January 10th, but I had already gotten my money for this month, so I'd get paid for five more months. That added up to… 1.25 million Pokedollars by the Conference.

And that was just the bare minimum. Bar any catastrophic circumstances where I completely fumbled the bag and they brought my salary down, there was nowhere to go but up when I renegotiated in three months. Plus, there were the bonuses for the tournaments, although they hadn't given me a solid number for those, so I'd get even more money down the line.

All of the money I spent on a monthly basis was pennies compared to this, but I couldn't go overboard. I needed to save for very specific things.

"It's mid-January, but let's just stick with that five month number for the sake of simplicity. Let's say that currently, I spend around… five thousand Pokedollars per month for everything I need," I whispered. "That adds up to twenty-five grand by the Conference, so I'm left with 1,225,000 pokedollars. Not bad."

I opened up my browser and looked up the price of a Shiny Stone. I already knew the average price was 745,000 pokedollars, but it tended to fluctuate a lot with supply. I blew a raspberry when I saw that the price had jumped to almost 800,000, which tended to be the upper limit of its price range. Well, it wasn't like I had enough to buy one right now. Hopefully, the price would go down by the time I did, though. The Shiny Stone was the main reason I couldn't just go and spend everything I currently had on TMs, even though looking at the money on my trainer card did fill me with a giddy feeling.

Is this how dad felt every time he got paid?

So basically, I needed to have 800,000 Pokedollars by the time the Conference came around— preferably a little earlier than that so that Togetic could get used to her new body. She was a slow flier right now, but Togekiss were known to be quick, since they used both their wings and fairy type energy to fly, whereas she currently only used the energy to float instead. That meant that I had to control my spending.

Vitamins and TMs were the only things I currently wanted. According to Cece, a single bottle for every vitamin— Protein, Iron, Calcium, Zinc, Carbos, and Magnesium— cost 50,000 pokedollars. Nothing to billionaires, but a fuck ton of money to me. If I spread it out, though, it'd last me the whole month, but my Pokemon would take a bit longer to see the effects. I was fine with it, though, since vitamins tended to have diminishing returns the longer you fed them to your Pokemon, so catching up there was definitely on the table if I got better terms with the Poketch Company. According to Cece and some reputable breeders I found online, the best way to go about this was to feed your Pokemon a baseline of every vitamin in the first few months, and then specialize in different kinds for what you wanted each Pokemon to do. For example, Carbos was known to improve a Pokemon's speed, so I'd give them to Electabuzz, whereas Jellicent now had excellent survivability, so I'd give him Magnesium instead. They were meant to improve on their strengths.

"So 50,000 pokedollars times five months…" I quietly spoke, typing on my laptop. "That's 250,000 pokedollars. Added with the cost for everything else, I'd be left with 975,000 pokedollars by June."

That left me 175,000 to play with— no, I'd keep a 10,000 pokedollar buffer on top of the 800,000 I might have needed just to be safe. Although again, I'd have more depending on how I did in those five tournaments I was supposed to join, and my salary would probably increase for those last two months before the Conference. Hell, if I had time and I was short on cash, then maybe I could join more tournaments. Still, I'd play it safe until I got my first bonus after the Solaceon tournament. From then on, I'd be able to get an idea of the money range, at least.

165,000 pokedollars. That was the final number I was free to spend on TMs for the rest of the year until shown otherwise, and bar any exceptional circumstances where I'd have to spend money for an emergency. I probably needed to keep another buffer for that, like emergency savings, so I lowered that number further to 145,000. It might have seemed like a lot now, but TMs for the moves I wanted were actually expensive. They wouldn't cost a mere 15,000 like Thunder Wave had. For example, I wanted Psychic for Togetic, and that alone cost 80,000, which was fair, since it was one of the most versatile moves a Pokemon could learn. The reusable one would be more expensive, but right now, I was only looking at prices for single-use TMs.

That left me with 65,000. I turned back toward my team and wondered who I could buy a TM for. Jellicent was fine for now, and he had a lot of moves to learn naturally, still. I didn't exactly want to overwhelm Larvitar with TMs when she was learning new moves at an already incredible pace. There were actually a lot of affordable TMs Tangrowth could learn, so he could be an option. Electabuzz was interesting. I didn't have the money for it, but they could learn Teleport, which was one of the most expensive TMs in the world. Non-psychic types unfortunately couldn't teleport other people with them, though, and the range would be rather pitiful, but it'd mean that he could dodge a lot easier in battles.

The learning process was dangerous, and could be lethal without a Pokemon acting as his teacher, so I wasn't even sure if I wanted to teach it to him in the long term unless I suddenly became friends with a person that had a Pokemon that knew the move. There were a lot of horror stories about Pokemon accidentally teleporting underground and being buried alive. A better option I was looking at was Protect. Honey was my most vulnerable Pokemon. Even though Togetic could take fewer hits, she was adept at not getting hit thanks to Ancient Power and Extrasensory. I figured that Electabuzz needed something like that to protect himself from attacks that he couldn't dodge, especially since he'd be my ace against Fantina.

The single-use protect TM cost 78,000 pokedollars, though… that was beyond my emergency fund.

I leaned back into my chair and sighed as I stared at Jellicent, who looked down at me with a worried gaze.

"Well, I might as well live a little," I said. "I'll be able to pad my savings a bit after the Solaceon tournament. Let's get those Vitamins and TMs."


Why did no one ever tell me that spending so much money at once hurt? I felt like I was doing something fundamentally wrong, and yet I had done the math. It all was economically sound! I walked out of the mart and immediately used my Pokedex to teach princess and honey their respective moves. If I could have bought the reusable version of Protect, I could have taught it to Togetic too, but this store actually didn't even sell reusable TMs, surprisingly enough. Emilia wanted me to get back to the Center quickly, since she was already organizing a party.

"She sure works fast," I smiled.

I messaged her that I'd be back in thirty minutes or so, and that I just needed to try out my new moves. Not wanting to bother my dad too much, I took a bus to route 208 and released my two Pokemon.

"Feel any different?" I asked them. "I taught a new move to both of you. Princess, you have Psychic now, which is offensively better than Extrasensory in every way. If you ever want to pick someone up, though, use Extrasensory, because Psychic hurts up here," I explained, pointing to my head.

She nodded with a determined look and chirped.

"Why don't you try it on, uh… here, why don't you rip a branch from this tree for me. Use Extrasensory to do it."

Her eyes shimmered, and she separated a small branch from the tree I had motioned at. In the meantime, I grabbed my computer, in which I had opened a new spreadsheet and a stopwatch application.

"Okay, now try to lift it into the sky with the same move as quickly as you can," I continued. "Stop when you reach the top of your head."

The air around the twig distorted, and she lifted it up, stopping as soon as it reached her crown.

"That was almost three seconds. 2.94. Not bad," I smiled, typing the number on my laptop. "Now put it down and do the same with Psychic. You might have to try a little harder, but you have the knowledge to use it."

Princess squinted, then closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. The branch shook, and I almost pressed go on the stopwatch too early. When she opened her eyes, the twig shot up so quickly that I pressed it too late instead, and she didn't manage to stop it at her head. In fact, it flew off far into the distance. She bowed her head at me and let out an apologetic cry.


"That's okay, princess," I comforted her, rubbing her chin. "You did awesome for your first time. We'll track it later, along with how much your progress with the move through the rest of the year. Then we'll be able to look back at the number and smile when we see how far you'll have come."

Togetic slowly smiled and clapped her hands.

"Aw, you're so cute," I laughed. "Now it's your turn, hon. Your new move is Protect. It makes a big, transparent barrier around you that protects you from attacks, although it's tiring to use. Try it out."

The electric type stepped forward and confidently punched his palm, making me smirk. He brought both of his hands forward, yelled out his name, and a thin barrier that barely covered his entire torso appeared in front of him.

Togetic laughed so hard she fell on the ground, and I had to ask her to not make fun of her brother. If Electabuzz didn't have any fur, he would have been blushing for sure. Luckily for him, the rest of the family hadn't been there to see him fail, but Togetic would probably spill the beans anyway.

"Don't look so down. Come on," I told him. "TMs just give you the rudimentary knowledge. You still have to put a lot of work in to actually master the move. Don't be too hard on yourself."

"Buzz…" he said, nodding toward Togetic.

"She failed too. She can barely control the direction of what she uses Psychic on."

That seemed to have stopped her laughing fit.

"Okay, we have like fifteen minutes until I have to leave. We can be fashionably late to the party and no one will bat an eye."

Tomorrow, I would sign up for my battle against Fantina.

A/N: Magnesium replaces HP Up here, because the term is obviously too gamey. Every other Vitamin is the same as the game, although with the advice Grace got, you can see that EVs work a little differently, and PP Ups/Max are retconned out.
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Chapter 127

"Grace! Why are you always late to parties I organize for you?" Emilia groaned as I entered her room.

I ended up being one hour late instead of fifteen minutes due to training for too long. Half-finished boxes of pizzas sat on the desk, along with different kinds of sodas. I instinctively felt my mouth salivate. I hadn't had pizza in so long.

"Uh, sorry," I responded, slightly bowing my head. "I got too engrossed in training."

"Training after that battle?" she said in disbelief. "First it was Denzel, now you. Trainers are crazy…"

"You've got to work for it if you want it," Denzel shrugged.

Cece walked up to us and led me deeper into the room. "You look great, love," she smiled.

"Oh… thanks," I meekly answered. She noticed my make-up! I felt all fuzzy inside. "The Poketch Company put make-up on me for a photo shoot."

"And you stayed?" Denzel said sarcastically. "Thought you'd leave running."

"Ugh, shut it," I groaned. "It was worth it for the money. I bought a bunch of stuff already."

"You made a good choice. Plus, the Poketch Company knows what they're doing. They won't use your face for a while. They'll need to wait until everything is ready they can push a marketing blitz," Justin said.

I nodded. "They did tell me that they'd wait a few days until they contacted me again. They're supposed to tell me what to post online, too."

My eyes settled on Pauline, who was being uncharacteristically silent. She was sitting in a corner and quietly staring at nothing in particular as she ate a slice of pizza, but she must have noticed that I was staring at her too long, because she quickly returned to normal.

"Watcha looking at, Grace?" She said snarkily. "I'm not giving you this. It's the last pepperoni slice, but it's mine."

"Nothing," I lied. The fight with Emi and the situation with Denzel must have still been weighing on her.

"Now that everyone's here," Emilia said, clapping her hands to garner our attention. "I want to announce… err, Pauline wants to announce something!"

"Don't flake out at the last second," Pauline said. "Tell them."

Emilia stammered out a few words before getting to her point. "Pauline and I… are da— together."

She looked around the room, expecting a massive reaction, but apart from me and Cecilia, no one did much of anything. I personally was just happy that she just trusted us enough to reveal this when she'd been keeping it hidden for so long.

"Yes, I suspected that to be the case after Grace and Cecilia said the same," Justin shrugged. "I was just waiting for you to say it to be sure."

"I figured it out earlier," Cece said.

"It's complicated, but I already knew," Denzel told us.

"See? I told you," Pauline smiled. She stood up and hugged Emilia. "No one cares! Does this mean that we can ki—"

"Not in front of them. And your hands are full of grease…"

"So why'd you keep it hidden so long, if I could ask?" Cecilia said.

Emilia sighed. "I don't know, I think was mostly scared of it getting out, especially to my parents. Which is why I need to ask you all to keep it a secret, at least for now."

Well, I was glad that this was finally fixed, at least. I heard a phone quietly vibrate on the nightstand.

"Pauline. Your phone," I said.

"Grab it and hang up for me, will you?" She said after groaning. "Don't want to interrupt Emi's party with any nonsense."

"If you say so…" I sighed, grabbing her phone. I raised an eyebrow when I saw that 'Mommy' was calling. "It's your mom. Should I still—"

The redhead shot up, stomped toward me, and snatched away her phone.

"Fucking finally, you called. You promised to keep me informed. What's happening?"

I couldn't believe that Pauline's mother just let her swear at her like that. My dad would never.

"Can't you put it on speaker?" Justin asked before being brutally shut down by a single glare.

"Okay… yeah…" Pauline muttered. "Sounds good."

She hung up the phone.

"Mommy's finally here to tell us what the fuck is going on with Harvey and Clarence," she continued. "She wants to meet us."

Denzel's eye twitched.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Nothing. Um, when she says meet us, does that include Louis? Shouldn't we wait until he… arrives here? He's as much involved in this as we are."

"Mommy hates Louis and the Bianchis, so even if he were here, it wouldn't be happening. There's a reason she tried to get me to fuck up his engagement with Cece."

"I thought that was because a union between them and the Obels would be too powerful," Justin hesitatingly said.

"Yeah, but she hates them because they're already too powerful," she explained. "A union would have just made it worse, so she desperately wanted me to meddle. I'll send him a message when the meeting's done to bring him up to speed… even though he won't answer. Anyway, she wants to meet us at our villa."

Denzel coughed. "Excuse me? Villa?"

"Yeah. Villa. One of her driver's coming to pick us up. Is there a problem?"

Rich people, I scoffed.

Pauline's villa was stunning.

We stepped out of the car that had parked in a huge driveway leading up to the tall front doors that put Arlyle's parking lot to shame. The driver gracefully bowed and pointed us toward the entrance, whose beauty caused me to gasp in awe. The villa's exterior was made out of white stone and accented with tall columns and large glass windows that didn't even have a single smudge, no doubt thanks to the maid that was currently finishing up her cleaning. The building didn't fit at all with Hearthome's architecture, but that was probably why it had been built on the city's outskirts.

Denzel and I gaped like Magikarp as we stepped inside the building while Justin, Pauline, and Emilia told us to keep up. The foyer was bigger than dad's entire apartment and sported gleaming, black and white marbled floors. A crystal chandelier hung from the center of the ceiling. Maids and butlers greeted Pauline with a bow as she walked, but she just ignored them, which I found a bit rude. Maybe that was just how things worked around here, though. What I did notice, however, was that the butlers all carried Pokeballs with them. Maybe they also acted as bodyguards?

"How do they even reach that?" I asked, pointing to the chandelier. "It's so high. Do they get a Pokemon to turn it on?"

Emilia chuckled. "No, Grace, it's just for decorations. They don't actually use the Chandelier here."

"You've been here before?" Denzel asked.

"A whole lot. I'd spend entire summers with Pauline at Josephine's mansions when I was younger."

Right. Josephine was Pauline's mother's name, I had almost forgotten. It would have been embarrassing to get there without knowing. Or not? Maybe she'd ask us to call her Ms. King.

"Mommy's a real saint compared to Emi's parents, let me tell you," Pauline said as we walked up an arched stairway. "They're stuck in the last century. Even Justin's dad isn't that bad, although he's a bit sexist. If I hadn't been there, both of them would have ended up like their parents. Old minds."

On the second floor, the entire wall was made of glass. I stared down and noticed an indoor swimming pool with its own lazy river. How big was this place?! If the coming topic hadn't been serious, I might have asked to go in after meeting Josephine. I greeted a pair of maids as we walked through the wide corridor, and a butler was waiting at huge double doors.

"Hey old man," Pauline said. "She told me she'd be in her office."

"Ms. King is indeed in the office, Pauline," the butler said.

"Thanks, Pete," she said before opening the door.

Pauline was fierce, but if I had to describe Pauline's mother in one word, it would be intense. She appeared in her sixties, which was older than I thought she'd be, meaning that she had Pauline later in her life. Her vivid red hair had almost completely turned white, but the parts that still remained were brighter than Pauline's. Josephine looked at us, and I had to stop myself from recoiling. It felt like she was judging me and my flaws.

Pauline crossed her arm, practically glaring at her mother.

And then smiled and ran up to hug her.

"I missed you so much!" She yelled jubilantly. "How long are you staying?"

"Not too long, my dear," Josephine smiled. "Emilia, Justin, it's nice to see you again. Cecilia."

They both smiled and started making small talk with her, asking about business or life in general. The way Josephine had uttered Cece's name was a lot less affectionate, however, but I couldn't exactly call it disdainful either. It was more neutral than anything.

"We've largely avoided any hit from public outrage, and I'm planning on opening a branch in Hoenn. The constant warm temperatures would do wonders for our summer clothing that we never manage to sell here," Josephine explained. "But we aren't here to talk about that— at least not right now."

Her eyes settled on me and Denzel.

"Good afternoon, Ms. King," Denzel said with a strained voice. It seemed like this whole situation had gotten on his nerves. "I'm Denzel Williams. Your daughter's friend."

"And I'm Grace Pastel! Also your daughter's friend."

The woman snorted. "I know who you are. In fact, I know a lot more than you would think."

"Mommy, I hope you're not spying on us again," Pauline frowned.

Oh. She'd been spying on us too? I thought it had just been Harvey and Clarence. I stopped myself from having any outward reaction, though.

"Oh, I've stopped those games," she dismissed. "But there are obviously other ways to gather information. Let's get to the topic at hand. Harvey and Clarence."

She paused for a few seconds, letting the weight of those two names sink in.

"Clarence is still wrangling with Unova's government, but the Bianchis have started to recover. For some reason, the Directorate changed their tune unnaturally quickly and passed a massive bailout, and the bill's gone to Cynthia's desk. She is going to sign it within the week. Delaying it any further would hamper her popularity, especially with trainers. Of course, a few companies tried to worm their way into their monopoly, but they all failed miserably. Potions are the products that showed the most promise, but none of their bootleg tonics worked as well as theirs. How unfortunate," she sighed. "Still, at least they showed the world that the conglomerate was not untouchable, which was music to my ears."

I nodded, remembering that Chase had bought a cheaper alternative to potions to get himself through Mount Coronet, which he had also complained about it. That must have been only one of the alternatives.

"So the Bianchis have stemmed the bleeding, but the Obels have not— partly because there are actually other options for energy in Unova. I am sure you will enjoy your father squirming for a while longer," Josephine said as she looked at Cecilia. She responded with a smirk. "But bleeding does not mean that they are toothless. My little birds have told me that they are still determined to merge despite their setbacks."

"Here's what I don't get," Justin said. "I am sure Cecilia and Louis marrying would have made things easier, but why can't they just merge without that?"

Josephine smiled. "A common question. You see, you are correct. A merger between two companies is a complex process that involves a range of headaches, like negotiations of terms, financial valuation, regulatory approval, integrating both operations… especially since the two have very little overlap. Energy and trainer supplies don't mix. Therein lies the problem. The Bianchi Conglomerate and the Obel Energy Company operate on such a different level that there are actually factions within both that oppose a merger."

"I remember back in Unova, Clarence had a lot of fits about… he called them holdouts," Cecilia said. "That might have been what he meant."

"Yes. Companies are not a monolith. There are factions within factions within factions, all with different interests. Personally, I believe that a merger, if successful, would be catastrophic. A company of that size would be able to ignore government regulations, which are already extremely loose in Unova. Imagine the Bianchis expanding in that region, free from Sinnoh's rules and regulations. That thought kept me up for multiple nights."

"But the merger could also fail," I said.

"It could, but I did not want to take the risk. A choice I would have learned how to live with if it bit me in the ass," she shrugged. I could see where Pauline had gotten her way of speaking from. "Continuing on my point, Harvey and Clarence knew that forcing through a merger would scare off investors and start a civil war within their own companies, so they opted to take a slower route. Making advantageous business deals with themselves, and slowly intertwining their companies together, but that wasn't going quickly enough, and they knew that they would die one day. You see, there is nothing those two sorry pieces of shit want more than leave a lasting legacy."

"That is why the engagement came in," Emilia said. "It was obviously nothing more than a political marriage."

"Yes. A simple cog in the merging machine, mind you, but one that could blow the entire process up if it failed in a spectacular, humiliating, and public fashion, which was originally the plan," she smiled, looking at her daughter. "Either way, they have not given up. They will try to bring you back into the fold. It is my understanding that Louis is currently traveling alone?"

"He has two friends with him," Denzel said. "Uh— at least that's what Chase said!" He quickly added.

"Ah, my knowledge was out of date. Good for nothing informants," she annoyingly sighed. "It is good that he isn't isolated, but we'll have to make sure that these two friends aren't subtly using his isolation to bring him back into his father's camp."

"They aren't," Denzel firmly said.

"You know something," both me and Josephine sprung up at the same time. I looked at her and awkwardly shuffled before apologizing. The woman continued. "You know something, otherwise you wouldn't be so sure."

"Damn it," he said, scratching his head. "I… I met Louis and his new friends. The other night. Remember when I said I was training? I was training with them."

I knew he had looked off! Louis being here made sense, since he had been right behind Chase, but I felt a hole in my heart at the fact that he didn't want to see us yet. Cece stared at the floor dejectedly, and I grabbed her hand to comfort her.

"You ass! Why didn't you tell us anything?!" Pauline yelled.

"Because he wants to be alone, still," he said. "Don't try to meet him. I fucked up and broke his trust. I promised I wouldn't say anything."

"Well, this is good," Josephine said, ignoring their little scuffle. "Keep training with them and observing them. If they have no sinister intentions, then we will clear them of any suspicion. I feared that Louis was the most susceptible to betrayal, dumb as that child is."

Cece clenched a fist. "Don't badmouth him."

Josephine rolled her eyes. "Next, I believe that they'll also come after you again."

"That would be economic suicide," Justin shook his head. "They won't be able to come back from another scandal of that scale."

"Oh, they might not need to," she said dismissively. "Let me tell you a story, children. When I was but an infant, the Great War was just teetering out and taking in its last gasps. A war so great that every region saw some of the fighting, and Orre's land was so irreplaceably altered that it still has not recovered. A war so great that avatars of the great Zapdos, Moltres, and Articuno rampaged across the skies to snap humans out of their folly, bringing death and destruction wherever they appeared. I do not remember anything about it, and the generation that fought in it is all but gone, but I do remember the ramifications."

My throat suddenly went dry at the mention of the Great War— a war that caused so much death and trauma that there hadn't been another one since. It had originally started between Kanto and Johto due to a border dispute, as wars often used to do, but it quickly spiraled out of control, and two alliances formed, with each region picking a side to support. Sinnoh had been on Johto's side, but we had been spared from most of the fighting.

No one had won. The war ended in a status quo. It was started by humans and was ended by Legendaries. According to my history class, at the height of the conflict, there were as many as ten avatars for each Legendary bird flying around and ending battles left and right. Tens of millions of deaths— both human and Pokemon— for nothing.

"People say that there hasn't been another war since, but that isn't exactly true," Josephine continued. "Do you really think Kanto and Johto would ever stop being at each other's throats? They're like oil and water, and the hatred they share for each other runs deep. Some might call it generational," she cackled. "No, lower-scale conflicts are still taking place, but it is all about plausible deniability. Unmarked trainers doing covert operations and sabotage. You sometimes hear about it on the news, but they're always labeled as terrorists with no allegiances."

"What if they're caught?" Emilia whimpered. "It could spiral into another war, couldn't it?"

"Oh, it could," she said. "But it hasn't yet. No region wants to be the one to press the trigger first. Sometimes, they are caught, and I have no doubt that despite what the governments say, their memories are all extracted whenever whatever mental protection they have run out. Regions know that they are doing this, but they don't want another war. Cooler heads have prevailed until now, at the very least. They know their choice would have consequences."

It was the second time that Josephine talked about choices, and it reminded me of myself. I took a deep breath, calming myself down from the mention of wars.

"Did I scare you?" She asked. "I don't tend to mince my words."

I could see where Pauline had gotten her behavior from.

"The point is, so long as there is plausible deniability, then it will be to Harvey's and Clarence's advantage. I don't know exactly how they'll come at you, but don't expect it to be as obvious as before. I would think that they would still at least wait until you get out of Hearthome, though. You've garnered too much publicity again. A little bird told me the Poketch Company was going to make an announcement soon," she said, looking at me.

I stopped myself from reacting, but she probably caught me, since her lip twitched upward. She really had informants everywhere. It was true that I was becoming the face of the Poketch Company, so that publicity wouldn't fade any time soon. Still, what she was saying made sense. They could hire a random thug to kidnap Cecilia, and there was no way he would ever talk if they got caught. Hell, even if they got caught and confessed, it'd be their word against Harvey and Clarence, who would undoubtedly deny everything. It wasn't like the League would extract memories from every criminal out there.

"I could try to protect you covertly, but they will always outpace me and hire more people. There is a bit of good news, though," Josephine said. "Or I suppose it could be considered bad news."

I inhaled and braced myself for what she was about to say.

"Abel contacted me."

"Excuse me?" Cecilia asked.

Immediately, my mind went to the worst possibilities. Was she being mind controlled? Was being here even safe? My hands instinctively hovered over my Pokeballs— a learned fight or flight response that any trainer knew all too well.

"Mommy… are you okay?" Pauline asked.

"Oh please," she laughed. "I did not actually see him. Did you notice the added security, Pauline?"

"I did. There are way more butlers than usual. Did he breach—"

"He did, back in the mansion in Jubilife. Walked all over the place, uncaring about any cameras, and somehow avoided every single butler. They were all checked for mind control, don't worry. And it was weeks ago, though, so he could be anywhere."

"Did you at least warn the authorities?!" I exclaimed.

"Calm yourself, girl," she sighed exasperatedly. "I did, but nothing came of it. I kept the message he left me for myself, though. He seems very mad about the fact that your and Louis' father fleeced him without a care in the world. He wanted to contact them through me, but I didn't bother trying to respond."

"Obviously…" Pauline muttered.

"Can I check?" Cecilia asked.

Josephine raised an eyebrow. "Check?"

"I own a Slowking… he's recently evolved, but I think he should be at least able to sense if your mind's been messed with."

Pauline shook her head. "Don't! What if there's an accident—"

"I told you I hadn't met him in person, but do what you must," she shrugged.

Cecilia released her Slowking and hurriedly asked him to scan Josephine's mind. The psychic type raised an arm, grunting slightly. After a few seconds, he stared at her. I saw her wince and bite her lip to suppress the pain from telepathy, but she recalled him right after.

"Nothing. You're safe."

"Now, let me continue," Josephine said. "Abel does not care about you any longer, Cecilia, although I believe you knew that already. If you didn't, then you're horribly out of your depth. He wants to be paid in full, and he wants a ride out of Sinnoh, but they don't want anything to do with him any longer. Aiding a criminal of his stature would be too much if it got out again, even for them."

"Can't he fly home? I know he can't exactly walk up to an airport, but a trainer of his level must have a flier," Denzel said.

"Why ask questions we don't have the answer to, young man?"

"That's how he thinks—" I sprung up.

Josephine spoke over me. "Maybe he doesn't have one. Or maybe he wants his money before he leaves. Either way, we don't know. Personally, I'd be content to let him run around the region if Harvey and Clarence get what's coming to them. They're almost walking around with private armies these days, and I hear the latter wants to fly back to Unova soon."

"If Clarence flies back to Unova, then Abel will go after Harvey," I said. "He also worked with him, and I don't think he'd care who paid him, so long as he got his money."

"Correct. Well, you've been completely filled in now, but it'd be a shame to see you leave so early. Feel free to enjoy the villa for the rest of the day, if you wish. Pauline, come talk to me before you leave."

"Alright," Emilia sighed. "Why don't we just… relax and take our minds off of this for the time being."

"Grace," Pauline called out. "We're going to the pool, do you want to come?"

Arceus, this whole ordeal made it impossible for me to have any fun, and I was in a mansion with butlers meeting my every need. Or villa. Whatever the difference was, I didn't know. Josephine had said that they wouldn't strike right now, but I couldn't be sure. Plus, the fact that they'd be more discreet about it made it all the more dangerous, since they probably wouldn't hold back anymore about trying to hurt us, although Cece would probably be kept unharmed. Before, I felt like they would at least not hurt children, but now? No holds were barred.

At least I didn't have to worry about mind control any longer. I still hated Abel, but it did feel somewhat comforting that he was after our enemies instead of us.

But there was another possibility that worried me. He wanted to contact Cece's father, so—

"Grace… hello?" Pauline said again, waving a hand in front of me.

"My bad. What'd you say?"

"Pool time! I saw you looking at it. I've lent Emi and Cece some of my swimsuits— although you'd probably need some of my older ones."

I groaned and kicked her leg. "Shut it!"

"Ow! You little shit! At least I snapped you out of your depressing self-induced downward spiral. Come on, let's take your mind off of things."

I sighed as I stood up. "Fine, go get me a swim… a…"

Swimsuit. Of course, I needed a swimsuit if I wanted to swim. I was such an idiot.

I gripped the left side of my waist and felt my scars tingle. I didn't want it to be exposed.

"Nevermind," I said. "I think I'll stay here for a bit. I might swing around later."

Pauline smiled sadly at me and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. "I get it. Just know you've got nothing to be ashamed of, yeah? And you're not staying here alone, by the way. At least come dip your feet into the water. Cece will kill me if I leave you here."

"'Kay," I quietly said.

My mood immediately turned up again when I saw Denzel push Justin into the water completely clothed, and then jumped in himself.

Also completely clothed.

Luckily for them, this was an indoor pool, so they'd suffer when we had to leave out in the cold, but right now, they were having fun. Cecilia ended up sticking by the edge with me the entire time.

Seeing her in a swimsuit was flustering as hell.

Later that day, we barely made it to the gym before closing time. It was time for Cece, Denzel, and I to sign up. Our battle would actually be sooner than I thought— one day after Emilia's performance. Chase would be battling on the day of her contest instead, so unfortunately, we wouldn't be able to see his battle. I had no doubt in my mind that he'd win, though.

I had wanted to go first to slowly ease myself into improvising before the Solaceon tournament, but I needed an impressive win for the Poketch Company. I was confident I'd pull out a win no matter the order we went in, but I needed it to be as impressive as possible. That meant I was going third again. Denzel was going first, and Cecilia was going second.
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Chapter 128

"Hahaha!" I laughed until I could barely breathe. "What the hell was even that?! Were you even trying?"

"Yeah, I'd like to see you do better," Denzel said. "Why don't we have you put on a performance right now?" Emilia groaned and kicked Denzel in the leg. "What the hell? Why me?!"

"Let the video finish, Arceus! I want to make sure the voice-over's recorded properly," she complained.

"Grace started it, though."

"I didn't want to hit a girl. Now quiet."

Emilia, Denzel, and Vincent's video was being played in Pauline's room, which at this point was everyone's room, with how much we were staying in it. They had recorded it yesterday after they had gotten a good night's sleep after Josephine's revelations, but Emilia hadn't uploaded it yet, since they were waiting for the contest to take place. Pauline had sent a text to Louis to warn him about it, and he surprisingly answered, which meant they talked for the first time in weeks. There were talks about a meeting, but he seemed squeamish about the possibility and nothing had been set up quite yet.

I laughed again at the video as Denzel miserably tried to make his Snorunt make Powder Snow spin like a tornado. Emilia and Vincent, who'd been acting as the judges for the concept, gave him a one and a three. If I remembered correctly, the scores were out of ten— although during the battle stages, the points worked completely differently. Instead of there being a score, points would be deducted until one contestant reached zero.

"At least Vincent gave me a three…" Denzel sighed.

"I think he just felt bad for you," Pauline shrugged. "I do have to admit, that was some excellent editing, and he only had a day to do it."

Justin's eyes widened slightly. "Did you… compliment him?"

"It's a long story, but Pauline's being on her best behavior," Emi explained.

"Does that mean she'll finally be respectful to me too or…" Justin asked, but trailed off when she just glared. "I figured. When are you uploading it?"

"After my performance today," the girl sighed as nervousness began to creep in. "Win or lose, I'll get my name out there, and if I upload the video right after the contest, it might trend and jumpstart my channel."

"Good idea," I nodded. "The Poketch Company basically wants to do the same thing with me. Anyway, your performance is in four hours, isn't it? Shouldn't you start getting ready? Cece took that long just to get ready to meet my dad."

"It was important…" she grumbled.

"I know, I know," I smiled.

"Yeah, I suppose I can't exactly avoid it any longer. I feel ready, but… I can't help but imagine the worst, you know? I hope the judges are lenient… some of them really pick your performance apart if they don't like it."

"Like you did with me?" Denzel asked.

This time, Pauline kicked him in the leg, and he groaned, opting to just get away from people to stop getting hit.

"That was rude, Denzel, but I'll let it slide," Emilia said, hiding her smirk. "Pauline, come help me get ready."

"Sure thing, babe," the redhead immediately said as she shot up.

"Babe?!" I yelled in surprise. "What the hell…"

I still hadn't thought of a nickname for Cece.

Well, I'd go and train while the others were getting ready. My strategy still needed a few finishing touches, meaning that I still needed to watch more videos. My Pokemon could battle each other and practice their moves in the meanwhile.


The Hearthome Contest Hall was huge, and even in the lobby, the ceiling hung so high that it didn't even feel real. The pink, patterned carpet seemed way too clean for a place that was frequented this much. According to Emilia, this was the number one attraction in the city, and it showed. Since there was a performance soon, the hall was packed so full that even I felt nervous, and I wasn't even the one performing.

"I keep forgetting we have to buy these. Ugh," Denzel said as the receptionist handed us our tickets.

"Come on, you both finally have money to spend," Pauline rolled her eyes. "Don't be stingy with it already."

"It's not as much as you'd think—" Denzel and I both said at the same time. "Jinx!" I yelled.

"I'll buy you something at Arlyle's later," he smiled.

"Yes!!" I jumped.

It wasn't like I could expect Pauline to understand the concept of saving money. She'd been raised in a completely different world, after all. Once we all had our tickets, we brought Emilia to the contestant's entrance, where there was an obvious divide. The nervous coordinators that were obviously new, fidgeting, pale, staring around the room, or trying to distract themselves by looking at their phones. Then, there were the experienced ones that carried themselves with confidence. They walked with their backs straight and with purpose. Some were even getting pointers from their manager— or sometimes managers. Plural. Emilia anxiously patted her long, white, flowery dress down and then opened her compact mirror to check her makeup.

I wondered why she hadn't hired a manager yet. She certainly had the money for one, but maybe she wanted to work independently for a bit.

"We all told you, you look amazing, Emi," Pauline said. "Come on, you've got this!"

"Oh, Arceus," she nervously said. "I'm going to pass out. Then throw up. No, wait, the opposite."

"You're going to be fine," Cece gently said. "Just remember your training, and smile."

"Right," she nodded. "I need to smile. To smile…"

"Entrance is closing in two minutes," Justin said, looking at his phone. "You should go. We'll be rooting for you from the stands."

"Okay. I can do this. I can," she said, finishing that sentence more firmly than usual. "I'm going."

"We all believe in you!" I yelled as she left.

"Just remember to have fun!" Denzel said.

"Our seats are complete shit, by the way. I guess we should have bought them beforehand instead of doing it last minute," Pauline sighed.

"Yeah," I said. "Yeah, that would have been smart. It's not like I warned you or anything."


Contests were different than gyms in every sense, but the biggest one Emilia found was that the waiting room wasn't just for one person. It was for every single participant. Coordinators filled every corner of the room as she squeezed past them, looking for Vincent. He was participating too, and he had told her they'd meet in the waiting room. Of course, that was easier said than done, especially in these Arceus damned heels that were starting to hurt like hell. And yet, she'd have to wear them a lot longer, unless she was called immediately and got a terrible score. Unlike gyms, contests were hour-long experiences. Even though performances for the first round were short, with a maximum time limit of five minutes, every single coordinator here would have a turn, and it added up very quickly.

Ah! There he was. Vincent was sitting on one of the benches and putting on foundation to hide some of his pimples. Well, Emilia couldn't really blame him for that, since she had done the exact same a few hours earlier. His long, wavy hair was tied in a ponytail, and he was wearing a colorful purple suit and tie.

"Vincent!" Emilia screamed to get her voice heard. Her friend waved at her and smiled. He shuffled a bit to the right to leave her space to sit, and she sighed in relief, taking off her shoes. Finally, her feet could rest. "It's packed in here."

"Yep, it's the Hearthome Contest Hall," he smiled. "Doesn't get more packed than this, except when there's a ribbon to win. Then, they have to fit us in makeshift waiting rooms."

"I don't mind it, personally," Emilia said. "On one hand, I have less of a chance to stand out, but it's comforting to think that a lot of people are new at this like I am. Nice suit, by the way. You never told me you had it."

Vincent shrugged. "I rented it."


The short boy laughed. "Don't get all sad on me! People have said a lot worse here, I really don't mind. A lot of the newer coordinators don't have enough money to buy actual outfits, so they'll rent them instead. I'll have to return this one later tonight, so I'm not charged for two days."

"Well, I'm sure you'll place high enough to make money out of it," Emilia cheered.

Vincent smirked. "You're a hell of an optimistic gal, ain't ya? We're usually a lot more doom and gloom about things."

"I'm actually a lot more negative than my friends," she responded. "Did you get your performance down?"

"Just in the nick of time," he said. "Beautifly and Roselia figured it out yesterday. I've always been a last-minute kind of guy."

Grace would have hated that. Vincent had three Pokemon, and his Roselia was the sweetest thing, and somewhat shy, so the opposite of Denzel's. His last Pokemon was a Girafarig— his starter— but he wasn't using him for this contest, and a coordinator was locked into using two Pokemon for the contest's entire length. Emilia was using Rockruff and Beldum. She had considered using Aipom instead of the steel type, but she had come up with a brilliant idea that had changed her mind. Plus, he was excellent at learning TMs quickly. In fact, he did so at ridiculous speeds. Emilia didn't know if it was because he was smart or something else, but it was a serious boon for her coordinator career. Emilia decided to try to listen in on what her fellow coordinators were saying, and it was a mishmash of panic, last-minute advice-giving, and theories. Apparently, a coordinator in high places had leaked who the judges would be, and it had caused a bit of alarm throughout the waiting room, because one of them liked out-of-the-box performances. Emilia shuffled around awkwardly.

"There's no point in changing your plan this late in the game," her friend assured. "Better stick to what you know and not mess up. You don't need tens, you just need to be consistent and get better grades than everyone else. Usually, that's at least a seven from each judge. Hell, even a six is fine if the other two grade you well."

But that wasn't enough to make it to the top sixteen, and they both already knew that. It was just enough to show people that you were competent enough to put on a good performance and barely enough to satisfy the judges so that they'd compliment you instead of putting you down. Most of the time.

"I know, it's just that when I see everyone scrambling around like this, it makes me want to do it too. I keep asking myself if I missed something," Emilia sighed.

"Just stick to what you showed me, and you'll do great. The first contestant's being called," Vincent said, nodding toward a screen hanging above the door to the performance stage. A person's face and name were continuously flashing. "If you want to watch what they do, you can just watch the screen here or do it on your phone since they're broadcasting this live. Hard to hear anything in this room, though."

A few minutes later, the coordinator came back with a satisfied look on his face. He must have done well, from the way the audience had been cheering. Emilia had been too nervous to look. A few people swarmed around him just to speak, and he seemed to enjoy the attention quite a bit. Soon enough, people started filtering in and out to perform. Sometimes, they came back proud, and other times, they came back distraught. Judges were ruthless and wouldn't hesitate to dress you down if they wanted to. They'd have to wait for this phase of the contest to finish and for the top sixteen to be announced. Those would be the ones to move on to phase two— the battle stage. Vincent winced when the twentieth coordinator was called up.

"Ava Belle," he grimaced. "One of Jasmine's."

"Jasmine is here?" Emilia said, suddenly feeling more nervous.

"Yeah, everyone wants a chance to win big," he nodded. "She must be around here somewhere. Hopefully, she'll keep away. I'm not exactly in the mood to fight her posse."

By her posse, Vincent meant her roommates, Ava and Olivia, which he always complained about. Emilia suspected that there was more history there than met the eye.

"How good is she, actually?" Emilia asked.

"She acts like she's the best coordinator in the world, but she ain't much in the grand scheme of things. Jasmine's just like us, she doesn't have a ribbon. I have to admit, she's probably better than you and I, though, but don't tell anyone I said that. She's been in more contests than me, so she has more experience. That helps with the nerves, and when you're not nervous, you're performing at your best."

"Grace would disagree," Emilia said. "She says that it keeps you sharp."

"A difference in philosophy, I suppose," he smiled. "Now let's watch and hopefully see Ava fumble her performance."

Ava did not fumble her performance. It was a fairly straightforward, but masterful one that involved her Minccino using Helping Hand in a satisfying rythm to continuously power up her Seel's ice type attacks, which in this context, meant that they were brighter and more beautiful. She finished the entire thing off with an Aurora Beam that diffused high in the stadium, and a series of colors danced above the spectators.

Like the northern lights.

The judges gave her a seven, a seven, and an eight. A performance that good, and she was barely scraping by the judges, if Vincent's baseline was accurate. The more experienced coordinators kept getting higher grades than even that. It was starting to dawn on Emilia that there were too many experienced coordinators here for the newer ones to even have a chance. Only the top sixteen would advance, so there was just no space for them.

She was starting to understand how unfair the whole system was, and it had taken until she had been a victim of it to realize it. But she wouldn't give up now. She had come this far, and she would give it her all.

But what if her all wasn't enough?

"Shit, my turn already?" Vincent sighed. He was being called up. "Well, fuck, let's do this."

"Break a leg!" Emilia said.


"Oh, lookie here!" Someone yelled. "I didn't know Vince was participating. Think he'll crash and burn like last time?"

"I sure hope so," another girl yelled.

Emilia couldn't exactly see who was talking, but she recognized Jasmine's shrill voice. Vincent scanned the room, trying to find her, and he seemingly did, because he raised a middle finger in her general direction before leaving to perform. In a way, it was incredible how Jasmine and her two friends embodied the mean girl cliche so obnoxiously well. Emilia inhaled as she stared at the screen, waiting for Vincent's turn to start.


"Wait, wait, that's Vincent!" Denzel yelled, snapping Cecilia out of her daze. Everyone else had been at least somewhat involved in the different performances, but she was bored out of her mind— or at least she had been. Now that someone we knew was about to perform, she appeared to be paying attention.

Vincent strode up in a horrid purple suit, and he released a Roselia and a Beautifly. Denzel stared on with a grin, happy that his new friend had the same Pokemon he did. Come to think of it, I had never asked Vincent what his Pokemon were, which was probably rude. Since he wasn't a trainer, my mind hadn't even registered that he'd have any, which was conceited of me.

"And now we have Vincent Campbell, performing with his Roselia and Beautifly!" The commentator said. "Take it away!"

"My pleasure," he smiled. "Roselia, Magical Leaf!"

The grass type cried out in a smooth voice that was so alien to what I was used to with Denzel's Roselia that I almost had to do a double-take. It brought its flowers up, and shining leaves flew into the sky.


The bug type waited for a few seconds, and then beat its wings, creating an Air Cutter that sliced up almost every Magical Leaf into a thousand pieces that all floated down slowly like snow that kept changing color.

"What a wonderful display of teamwork between the two Pokemon! The Magical Leaf has turned into multicolored glitter!"

Or glitter. Thank you, commentator.

"Keep them floating," Vincent told his Beautifly. The bug type beat its wings again, and this time, a weak Gust kept the glittery Magical Leaf suspended in the air. "Roselia, Stun Spore!"

With another gentle cry, Roselia shook her flowers, emitting a bright, purple powder and began to float in the air, joining in with the Magical Leaf.

"Now, power up your Gust!"

The wind picked up and spun around, mixing the leaves and the spores together until they were joined in a single, beautiful union. Beautifly screeched as it finished off its gust, sending the two attacks as high as it could. The Magical Leaf now slowly fell again, almost drifting in the air, this time accompanied by the Stun Spore. Some parts had a bigger concentration of spores that acted as bright 'lights' that gave the entire combination a lot of depth. Vincent bowed as he finished his performance, and after the commentator gave her last piece of commentary, we all clapped for him.

The first judge raised his sign, giving him a seven.

"A good performance, although there are a lot of quirks to fix up and work on. That Air Cutter was not precise enough, and as far as uniqueness goes, we've seen a lot of similar performances. Still a solid job."

The second judge gave him a six.

"Look at that, another multicolored attack falling slowly. What an absolute bore! The only reason I didn't give you a five is because you're still a beginner, and you look like you've at least put in some effort. I'd like to see some more unique performances from you."

The final judge slowly raised his sign for dramatic effect. They were probably playing it up for the audience. He gave him a seven.

"My two colleagues have said a lot of good points, but I do want to add that adding that Stun Spore to the mix meant that he went beyond what we're used to. Keeping both attacks suspended with Gust was a nice display of control from Beautifly, even though the Air Cutter could use some work."

Vincent bowed and thanked the judges before returning to the waiting room, and soon enough, the next face came through.


Vincent groaned as he sat next to Emilia. Jasmine had heckled him on the way there, but he just ignored them.

"You were great," Emilia said, trying to comfort him. "That second judge was a bit harsh."

"Nah, I bombed," he exhaled. "I'm slowly improving, though. Last time, I got two fives and one six."

"Well, just don't beat yourself up over it," Emilia said.

"Yeah, not like any of the fresh blood have any chance to make it through anyway, unless someone really pulls all the stops. That's the only way you can make it in the industry. Ram your head against the wall until you eventually make it to the top sixteen and get some attention, and use that as a springboard."

Was the system really that broken? Emilia tapped her foot against the floor and bit her lip. If it was, then it meant that the coordinators at the top… weren't they evil for not pushing for reform? She had already explained to her friends that they benefitted from the system, so there was no incentive for them to try to change it, but…

Emilia was starting to realize that her idols— even Temperance was not as pure as she seemed. Another fifteen minutes passed, and this time, it was Olivia's turn. Jasmine's other friend. In her humble opinion, her performance wasn't that impressive, but it was certainly something she hadn't seen before. Her Helioptile had used Rising Voltage, and her Furret had used Agility to start gliding in the air by using the electricity, almost as if it was swimming like a Huntail. It was still too heavy to stay afloat for long, though, but when it was, it did multiple acrobatics and flips.

She got a six, an eight, and another six for that performance. The second judge apparently did prefer uniqueness over flashiness.

Maybe she could alter her planned performance to account for that, however slightly? Vincent had told her to stick to what she knew, but to have a chance at the top sixteen now, she had to take risks. If she could somehow add a bit of strangeness to her performance while keeping the flashier elements, then she'd maybe have a chance. To make it to the next round, she'd at least need three nines. That was the baseline.

A seemingly impossible task, but her friends would tell her not to give up.

She froze when Vincent tapped her shoulder. It was her turn. For some reason, she had believed that she'd have more time. Emilia hurriedly put her heels back on and tried to keep her legs from wobbling. She saw Jasmine give her a nasty smirk, and her friends giggled like idiots.

"Fuck you," Emilia spat, not even turning to see their reaction.

Ah, that was satisfying. She could see why Pauline behaved as she did now.

Did she really need to change her performance? Was taking this risk okay? A young girl placed a small microphone on her neck, and she walked forward, acting as confidently as she could. She foolishly tried to spot her friends in the crowd, but that only served to make her more nervous.

Screw it, Emilia thought. We ball.

It wasn't like she had anything to lose, and since it was her first performance, people would give her a pass if she failed horribly. The performance she had worked on wasn't good enough to make it. At this rate, she wouldn't make it to the top sixteen. There was no more plan. It was time to improvise the entire damn performance. The coordinator released her Beldum and Rockruff, and the commentator announced her name.

She took a deep breath.

"Beldum, Shadow Ball! Keep it in the air!" Emilia yelled.

Shadowy energy quickly gathered in front of Beldum's eye, and the steel type kept it in place.

"Rockruff, Rock Throw and get a rock inside of the Shadow Ball. Slowly."

After a quick confused look at the fact that what she was doing was nothing like what they practiced, Rockruff slowly raised a solid chunk from the floor and carefully levitated it upward. When the rock reached the Shadow Ball, Emilia winced, expecting an ugly explosion at the worse, but to her relief, the rock simply was absorbed by the ball before imbuing it with ghostly energy. Both Rockruff and Beldum had to work to keep it afloat, now.

What now? Emilia thought to herself. After two seconds of thinking, she pointed at the rock and yelled.

"Flash Cannon!"

With a series of metallic, mechanical clicks, a bright light appeared in front of Beldum, and he sent it hurtling toward the rock, creating a powerful explosion that he discreetly cleared with Confusion. What remained was a mix of metallic white and purple dust slowly falling down like snow.

"What a beautiful way to mix colors you don't often see together and a masterful control over Shadow Ball from Beldum! Keeping the move from exploding on contact is notoriously hard!" The commentator enthusiastically yelled.

It was? Emilia swallowed. That could have been a disaster, but she wasn't done. This alone would have been disappointing, and she needed to do something to finish off her performance while the white and purple dust was still falling.

"Beldum, Confusion and throw Rockruff upward as high as you can! Rockruff, Trailblaze!"

The steel type's eye shone as psychic energy surrounded Rockruff. Normally, Confusion kept a Pokemon's muscles completely locked, but Beldum wisely had powered down the attack to let Rockruff move around, meaning that he was free to use Trailblaze.

He left a green trail of fire as Beldum catapulted him in the air, and the dust was still falling.

"And flames rise into the sky like a towering inferno! I'm at the edge of my seat, ladies and gentlemen! Your guess for what happens next is as good as mine!"

And so was Rockruff now that he was out of Confusion's range.

"Create a platform with Rock Throw and Confusion," she ordered, hoping that they'd understand.

Another rock was raised, but they needed both attacks to make it as fast as she needed it to be, and Confusion would work to keep it in the air. Rockruff awkwardly landed on the rock, since he hadn't expected any of this, and Emilia quickly asked for them to create a circle of levitating rocks.

"Double Team!" She said. "This is the finisher!"

Rockruff split into eight, each one of his copies taking their spot on a floating rock before bowing. Since the spectating ring was set up in a circle here, unlike gyms, it looked like every Rockruff was personally thanking the audience. That had been a part of their previous plan, which is why he had figured out what Emilia had meant by finisher. The audience clapped as Beldum slowly lowered the rocks to the ground, and Rockruff's clones vanished. Emilia bowed and turned toward the ones who would decide her faith.

The judges.

Captivating the audience was a wonderful feeling that made her feel giddy, but they were the ones who had the final word.

The first one of the three raised an eight.

"What a wonderful performance! I found the start to be bit jarring, like you were still finding your footing, so I had to take a point away from you, but the rest was great. Combining Confusion and Rock Throw like that was certainly ingenious!"

The second judge raised a nine.

"I was on the edge of my seat the entire time! I truly didn't know what would happen, and for someone who's been in the industry as long as I have, that doesn't happen often. You have potential, young lady."

Emilia braced herself. At the very least, she needed another nine.

She restrained a grimace when she saw a seven.

"The performance was good, but I don't appreciate the fact that there were multiple instances where you were obviously going at it haphazardly. The fact that you had to order your Pokemon what to do to the letter meant that your performance lacked elegance. I want coordinators to be prepared, and you weren't. Luckily, it seemed that you had enough talent to salvage the entire thing."

"Oh, please," the second judge shook his head. "You're too harsh! Give her a chance!"

"I'm afraid not, Thomas."

Not enough.

Emilia recalled her Pokemon, bowed, and shuffled back toward the waiting room. She felt like tearing up.

"You were awesome up there!" Vincent beamed once she reached him. "That wasn't at all what you practiced, but you still made it work! Even Jasmine begrudgingly admitted that you were good."

"She did? I don't really care," Emilia said, rubbing her eyes.

"Well, she didn't exactly, but I know how she functions. The way she looked at the screen? She knew you were a threat."


"Come on, don't get all depressed on me. This is your first contest, and you already got a nine and an eight. That's crazy!"

In the end, Jasmine got a seven from the first, and two eights from the last two judges, meaning that Emilia had barely beaten her. She used her Nincada to turn the ground to mud, and her Flareon to burn it, turning the floor into makeshift lava with a sinister red glow that accentuated her Flareon's color. She probably would have cared if she wasn't so depressed.

According to Vincent, she had run away from home with a bunch of her dad's money. Enough to buy a low-quality Fire Stone for her Eevee. Emilia was too down in the dumps to finally ask what their connection was, but if she had to guess, it'd probably be old friends that had a falling out.

None of them made it to the top sixteen. As much as it pained Emilia to admit it, even Jasmine had deserved a chance.

The system was unfair. New coordinators shouldn't have had to compete with people that had years of experience under their belt. Emilia clenched at the side of her dress.

She had told her friends that she didn't dream big. That all she worried about were the little things.

Screw all of that. Emilia would climb to the top, come hell or high water, and she would gain enough influence to reform the contest industry from the top down.

A/N: I'm sorry, I had to put 'fuck it we ball' in there, I couldn't supress the urge. Also, writing performances is hard and surprisingly takes a lot of time despite them only being a few lines long, but I'll get better at it like I did with battles. Hopefully.
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Chapter 129

We watched as Emilia exited the waiting room. She was tightly gripping the sides of her dress and looked to be on the brink of tears. Vincent closely followed behind her, and even though he did look disappointed, he appeared nowhere as distraught as she was. Maybe it was because this was Emilia's first loss, and this was his third? The first one was often the toughest to swallow.

"Emi, you were fucking awesome out there!" Pauline exclaimed. "You should have made it to the top sixteen, that third judge just had a stick up his ass."

"You were a lot better than most people we saw," Justin agreed. "You were great too, Vincent. You certainly look to be near the top of the newer coordinators."

"Cheer up, there's always the next one, right?" Denzel said. "If this is how you did in your first contest, then you're going places. Cecilia was bored out of her mind until she saw your performance."

Emilia sniffled and rubbed her eyes.

"Emi…" Pauline muttered.

"I'm fine," she sobbed. "These are angry tears, not sad tears. I'm pissed. I should have made it through, but the whole industry favors people at the top. They dangle hope in front of you only to keep it just out of reach. It needs to change."

Vincent whistled. "That'll take a lot of… a lot of everything. You can't just change how things work, you have to change people's mindsets too. Powerful coordinators will go against you, and there are a whole lot of judges stuck in their old ways, like you already saw."

"I know," she nodded, wiping her eyes. "I'll start slow. First, I need to re-double my training. No more lounging around for hours at a time. I need to work just as hard as you guys do," she said, staring at us. "I need to improve as fast as I can and get to the top sixteen once. According to Vincent, that's when you start getting a lot more eyes on you. I'll need to change the entire industry from the top down."

"So you do dream big after all," I smiled.

"The next contest is a grand one, and it's next week, so you might be a little out of luck. No matter how determined you are, you aren't beating the big shots that are going to be there. Even Temperance will be there."

"I wasn't planning on it," she said, having finally finished crying. "I'll stick to the low-stakes ones for now, and it's probably full by now anyway. Do you know about any grand contests going on in Veilstone?"

"Well, there are contests every week or two in every city," Vincent muttered. "But if I remember correctly, the next grand contest in Veilstone should be in a little over a month."

"That works out perfectly for us, doesn't it?" I asked.

"It does!" Pauline happily said. "You'll be able to fly out for our stay during the city."

"I won't be going to Solaceon," she declared. "I'm sorry, but I need to stick around here to participate in as many contests as I can. Solaceon doesn't have a contest hall, so…"

"We get it," Denzel nodded. "It won't be for long. There was that tournament that Grace talked to us about, but apart from that, we shouldn't stick around Solaceon for long anyway."

Emilia took a deep breath. "Now that I have a clear objective, I feel like a whole new person. Let's go home. I want to crash into my bed and sleep."

"Wait, you're forgetting something!" Denzel said. "Your video! We still need to upload it!"

She groaned. "Right… right, we should do that now while the contest is still fresh in people's minds. Vincent, come with us."

"Err… I need to go give this suit back first."


"Cece was right," I panted. "This is harder than I thought it'd be."

I had gone back into my room, and I was currently crushing Oran berries into a paste. I was about to feed my Pokemon vitamins for the first time, and I figured that this would be an easier way to trick Togetic into eating the damn thing. She was a horribly picky eater and only ate Oran berries. The vitamins came in powdered form, but they were tasteless, so as long as she couldn't see it, I was confident that she'd end up eating it as normal, although she might wonder why her food was crushed today instead of sliced like normal.

Vincent, Emilia and Denzel were currently getting ready to upload Emilia's video. There was surprisingly a lot more that went into the process than I thought. The title, the tags, the thumbnail, the time you uploaded at… being a content creator sure seemed exhausting. Meanwhile, Chase had comfortably won his fight against Fantina with Houndoom and Vikavolt carrying most of the fight. I'd look at it in detail tomorrow, but apparently, his Snover had evolved into an Abomasnow during the battle.

"Finally," I groaned. I had finally finished crushing enough berries for Jellicent, Togetic, and Tangrowth. I separated the entire thing into five bowls— Togetic would get one, and the others would get two larger ones— and carefully fanned the powder over the berries before mixing it again to hide it.

Electabuzz and Larvitar would get kibble, since they seemed to favor that type of food. Although to her, nothing could beat fresh dirt or small rocks that she snacked on when we traveled. I released my entire team aside from Turtonator, who I'd need to talk to later.

"It's dinner time," I smiled, clapping my hands.

Electabuzz yelled loudly to celebrate, grabbed his bowl and quickly scarfed everything down. Larvitar enviously stared at her brother, then picked up her bowl to try to imitate him before I could even tell her no. Due to her small size, and the largeness of her bowl, she dropped half of her food on the ground.

"Sweetheart!" I said exasperatedly. That was some amount of money wasted. "You're too small to eat like that, okay? Do it slower."

Larvitar apologized while Togetic gathered the fallen kibble with Extrasensory and placed it back into her huge bowl. She levitated a single piece in front of her and then eyed me suspiciously. A little bit of powder could be seen on it.

Better ignore her for now.

Tangrowth just wrapped his vines around both of his bowls and brought them inside of his body. After barely three seconds, he spat them out, and they were wiped clean. For Jellicent, I poured his food over his mustache, since his mouth sat under all that foam. Surprisingly, I actually saw the food slowly dissolve inside of his body.

Togetic squinted at her food, and then at me.

"It's crushed today because I wanted to do something different," I lied. "They're still Oran berries."


Suddenly, I felt a sudden chill. Jellicent began to loom behind her with an evil glint in his eyes, and she took a hesitant bite. After noticing that there was no difference in taste, she enthusiastically began to eat.

Yes, I smiled. Eat and grow strong.

Maybe I'd get buddy to force my future kids to eat their veggies. He seemed very effective.

I blushed and hurriedly shook my head at the vision that flashed in my mind. Cece and me raising kids? We were both teenagers, I needed to calm down.

"Arceus…" I sighed as I shook my head. "Anyway, when princess and sweetheart are done eating, I need to go out to speak to Turtonator."

Togetic stopped eating, and her expression turned angry, which was more of a cute thing, especially with the blue paste from the berries all over her mouth. Plus, Togetic couldn't exactly look angry. Sad? Distraught? Sure, but angry? It was like her face was incapable of showcasing the expression.

"I need to talk to him about his diet," I said. "Don't worry, you guys can come."

I wasn't about to talk to him alone this time, especially since I'd have to bring up his old trainer. Soon enough, Togetic and Larvitar finished their food, and we were on our way to route 208. It was late at night, so I doubted that we would come across any trainers, especially at the edge of the route. People tended to have settled down by now and would hunker down for the night. I released my entire team, and then Turtonator. As usual, he snorted haughtily at me, causing Togetic to protest. Her wings anxiously fluttered, and she glared at the fire type.

"It's okay, princess," I smiled as I grabbed her. I placed her head against my chest and gently stroked her crown so that she would hear the sound of my heartbeat and calm down. I used to do it a lot when she'd been in her egg, and I'd sleep with it in my bed. She slowly began to calm, but a condescending, snorty laugh from Turtonator snapped her out of her daze.

"Aren't you just a ray of sunshine," I frowned. "Stop antagonizing her. Angel, take care of her for me."

Tangrowth nodded, grabbing Togetic and carefully placing her on his head, where she stared daggers at Turtonator. The dragon type just shrugged, and as usual, he walked off and lazily lay down on the grass. He seemed to enjoy sleeping a whole lot. In fact, he had fallen asleep the majority of the times I attempted to talk to him one-on-one. I was in the process of telling him all of my adventures, since I thought that maybe it'd make him respect me more if he knew everything I had gone through. I was currently around the Floaroma tournament, and I hadn't told him about the whole ordeal at the power plant yet.

One thing was for sure, Turtonator was slowly mellowing out. He hadn't raised the temperature when I annoyed him at all lately, but I was still a way off from actually using him. He still held me in contempt. There was no respect behind his gaze, and as long as that was the case, he wouldn't listen to me in battle.

But at least he'd be manageable.

"I wanted to ask you a question about your old diet," I began, carefully skirting around mentioning Kamaile. "I've started feeding the others supplements, and—"

"Toge!" Princess said with a betrayed expression. I held back a groan and forced a smile so that she'd believe me.

"I didn't put it in yours," I lied before turning back to Turtonator. "Do you remember being given any kind of vitamins to eat? If you were, I don't want to disrupt the balance that you had."

The fire type nodded.

Turtonator was a bulky Pokemon that excelled in special attacks, so if I had to guess, he'd been fed Calcium to maximize his attack and Magnesium or Iron to maximize his bulk or his defensive capabilities. After asking him five times which one of the two it was, he ended up nodding at Iron. I supposed that made the most sense, with how tough his shell was.

"You hungry?" I asked. He snorted, not even bothering to answer.

That was an annoyed but agreeing snort, so I grabbed kibble from my backpack and mixed Iron and Calcium with the food. He quickly wolfed it all down and threw the huge bowl away from me. Togetic quickly caught it and prevented it from breaking, though. After that, I decided to stay here a little bit longer. Somehow, this was the most relaxed the team had been in weeks. Princess still had her guard up, and I was pretty sure she was messing with the floor under us and probably preparing a sudden Ancient Power, but she was beginning to doze off on Tangrowth's head. He was slowly swaying back and forth in a rhythm to put her to sleep. Turtonator had surprisingly let Larvitar approach him, and she was touching his scales with a look of pure awe. I could have sworn I caught his lips twitch a few times.

So you like her, huh? I thought to myself with a smile.

Jellicent was floating high up in the sky and observing Hearthome's pretty lights, and Electabuzz was lying down with his head on my lap while I scratched his head. It was only for a single night, but Turtonator truly felt like a part of the family.

I began telling Turtonator my story again, and he was doing that thing where he pretended to be asleep, but still listened. Larvitar carefully listened too, since she hadn't been there. I ended up stopping right before I was teleported into the power plant, though, since I figured it'd be too depressing a story to tell during such a calm night, and I didn't particularly feel like bringing up Team Galactic. I still hoped that one day, he'd let me talk about Kamaile and his old team, but right now, there was no way I was going to disrupt what we had going.

Ray of sunshine, huh? I mused as I stared at Turtonator.

Sunshine would be a nice nickname.


For the second time, Denzel quietly stood in a cold, dark alley a few minutes away from his Pokemon Center. If it hadn't been for his friend, then he definitely would have been irritated by his development. They could have met anywhere else, but Louis insisted on doing it here. Plus, he'd betrayed his trust this time. Denzel had revealed to the group that he'd met Louis and his friends in secret when he had promised to keep it hidden, and now the entire group had asked him to meet to catch up and discuss their next move regarding Harvey and Clarence. Louis still hadn't come to a decision, and he didn't want to be pushed out of his comfort zone, especially with how obsessed he was with not being 'worthy' of seeing them again.

Denzel perked up when Louis stepped into the alley, and wasting no time, he immediately apologized without even greeting him.

"Louis… listen, man, I'm sorry about telling the others about you. Did Pauline tell you about our meeting with her mom?"

Louis looked less tired than usual, but he certainly looked worried. He carried himself meekly— a far cry from how he had behaved when they had first met. Sometimes, Denzel couldn't believe they were the same person.

"She did, and she summed up the situation for me via text… and also berated me and asked to see me," he sighed. "Was telling them about me really necessary?"

"I tried to skirt around it, but Grace and Josephine figured me out right away. Josephine was talking about how Mira and Maeve could have been sent by your father to isolate you and keep you away from us, but I immediately shot the idea down."

"Josephine's always been perceptive," Louis said, leaning against a wall.

"I wouldn't lean against that, it's dirty as hell."

He groaned, turning around and trying to rub his back. "Is it stained?"

"Yeah. Sorry."

Louis sighed again. "I've truly become a magnet for misfortune, it seems. Anyway, I forgive you. I know how much pressure Josephine can apply when she wants. She could get anything she wanted out of me when I was a kid."

"You've met her before?" Denzel asked.

He knew that Justin, Emilia and Pauline had known each other since early in their childhoods, but Louis hadn't come into the picture until this year.

"Oh, you know how it is," he said dismissively.

"No. No, I literally don't."

"Oh, right. You don't," he awkwardly said. "Well, she's met my father a few times, and I was always dragged along with him. I'm pretty sure she dislikes me."

"She implied as much," Denzel said, scratching his head. "Anyway, you signed up for the gym yet?"

The blond trainer nodded. "I battle the day after you."

"Okay. I know we didn't get to train as much as we both would have wanted, but just remember your conditioning. Just get in the flow of things, and you'll win."

Denzel ran on instincts when he battled, but that was an oversimplification of things. His best asset was stamina. He could battle for nearly an hour and not feel tired by the end of it at all, which would no doubt help him by the time he made it to the Conference. The battles there— and high-leveled battles in general could be brutally long. For example, the battles at the Conference had a time limit of an hour. When Denzel really got into a battle, he entered what people called the flow state. Not exactly autopilot, but he certainly felt like something was there to help him make snap decisions. By the end of it, he always snapped out of his daze, and memories of the battle were a blur. He often watched back the footage and was baffled that it was him doing all of this.

Denzel had tried to instill this into Louis, and he had taken well to his teachings. He was getting more resilient, and he didn't falter when Denzel purposefully lengthened the duration of their mock battles.

He never used Sylveon, though. He was too brutal, especially with Mira and Maeve's Pokemon. Doubt was starting to creep into the back of Denzel's mind. Had he always been like this, or was this the fairy influence he had heard about during his lessons as a child? He seemed normal enough with the other members of his group, although he hadn't seen them in a while.

Something was wrong, and Denzel would get to the bottom of it after his gym battle. It was better not to rock the boat before such an important fight.

"By the way, even if you don't want to meet, you should come to see our battles the day after tomorrow. If you come a bit late, then you won't come across us."

"I don't know… I could always watch them online."

"We all know that's not as good as the real thing!" Mira screamed as she emerged from the shadows, causing Denzel to flinch. "Maeve! Stop hiding and come here!"

"Did you follow me?" Louis asked.


"No shame, huh?" Denzel said as he saw Maeve shuffle into the alley.

"I tried to tell her this was a bad idea."

"But you followed me anyway," Mira shrugged.


The next day was the last before our gym battles with Fantina, so everyone was out training in their own different ways. I had sent a text to Lauren to let her know, and even though she hadn't answered, she had left me on read, so I knew that she had seen the message. My Pokemon already all knew what to do. Electabuzz was perfecting his ghost sense and working on Protect. He wouldn't be able to use the move that many times, but at least the barrier wrapped around his entire body now. Togetic was working on her control with Psychic, which still left a lot to be desired. She wasn't used to dealing with that much power at once.

As things stood though, it'd be enough to ram her enemies into things and deal psychic damage to their heads, so it was usable. When we needed to have more control over things, I'd go back to using Extrasensory. Tangrowth could now use Knock Off while keeping an opponent trapped in his vines, and he could use it with two if he really focused, but there was still little progress with Sunny Day. There was a little something we'd been working on to make sure he could use Bind on ghosts, though. Jellicent had easily mastered Brine and was slowly working on expanding the area over which he could use to move. Larvitar was off in the distance practicing Sandstorm, and Tangrowth was supervising her, but she could only create it over a tiny area, and at this point, it looked more like Gible's Sand Tomb rather than a proper Sandstorm attack.

I knew all of the moves Fantina had. All of the Pokemon she might use. Now all I had to do was execute my plan and stay calm whenever it inevitably went off the rails, and I had to improvise. I trusted Electabuzz and Jellicent to work through her illusions on their own, but I'd have to work in tandem with Togetic and Tangrowth if she used them against them. Fantina tended to only use one or two per battle at our level, so they'd be manageable, at least.

Since all my Pokemon knew what to do on their own, I figured I'd start analyzing what went wrong in the battle against Chase and Cecilia. I had downloaded the video on my computer just for this occasion. I sat against a tree and began to parse through the video.

In retrospect, the start had been pretty salvageable, and Denzel kept me from slipping into a panic. They still held the advantage due to Vikavolt's maneuverability in the air and Slowking's Psychic, but we adapted fast. Me figuring out that Knock Off would be capable of slipping past their defenses had been the kind of quick thinking I wanted to get better at. In the end, Denzel helped take down Vikavolt, although he had to sacrifice his Roselia for it. I forced her to switch out her Slowking after that.

But after that, we were back on equal footing or even an advantageous position. Togetic's Wish failing to heal Sylveon had been when I believed the battle turned to shit, but that wasn't how things worked. A battle didn't suddenly go from going really well to a catastrophe in one event. There was always a slow escalation toward disaster, which was usually when you figured out that something went wrong.

But it'd be too late to find out that something had gone wrong after the fact. I needed to spot it while it was happening, and I'd focus exclusively on what I could have done, not Denzel. Forcing Cece to switch out Slowking had been excellent. Watching the footage again, I understood now that he was actually the biggest problem in the battle, not Zweilous. His presence alone forced us to change the way we fought so radically that we needed to take free damage just to have a chance at hitting him. Luckily for me, he seemed to be a terrible fighter whenever he was overwhelmed, as was proved by Tangrowth, and later, Sylveon, who ended up taking him down, so there was at least a counter there.

Since Cecilia used her switch on him, there wasn't much I could have done to ensure Tangrowth took him down, but I could have minimized the damage he took. Cecilia had sent out her Fletchinder second, and on retrospect…

I should have switched Tangrowth out instead of making him stick around until he fell. Even if the plan with Wish had worked out, having angel in the back would have done wonders. Instead, he took too much damage from Fletchinder's fire type attacks and fainted too quickly. Plus, it might have meant I could have sent him out again against Slowking when Cece released him the second time.

Instead, Electabuzz had been forced to fight Slowking and Snover, soaking up a lot of damage from Ice Shard and Water Pulse in the process. That meant that the one Psychic he had gotten hit with had done a lot more to him than I thought, and it had scrambled his brain so much that he hadn't managed to dodge Houndoom's Flamethrower.

Snowball. The battle had slowly been snowballing out of control from the start because I had tunnel visioned on my plan. I should have given up on it when I saw that they had two new evolutions and weren't starting with the Pokemon we thought they would.

Togetic had pushed herself beyond her limits with Ancient Power, easily dealing with Cecilia's Scyther despite his speed and unpredictability. She had also masterfully bought Snorunt enough time to use Blizzard. I couldn't possibly have asked more of her, at least for this part of the battle. One thing was still bothering me about her performance though. Why had Extrasensory not worked on Houndoom's Flamethrower? In the heat of the battle, I hadn't figured it out, but I had adapted quickly. The only way it made any sense was if Houndoom had somehow injected some dark type energy into the attack, but the flames showed no signs of that. Hiding such a feat would require such control over the type energy and the Flamethrower… yet Chase had somehow done it, no doubt as one of his tactics to counter Togetic.

Which was what had given me the inspiration to work on Tangrowth's Bind and find a way to grab ghosts.

Then it happened. The moment where the battle had slipped beyond our control forever. Sylveon went down before Wish could heal him.

Beyond our control didn't mean that the battle was lost, though. When it had just been Cecilia and me on the field— Jellicent against Zweilous— there was still a way I could have won after poisoning him. If I had taken a risk and used Hex instead of keeping my distance with Bubblebeam and Water Pulse, then Zweilous would have possibly taken enough damage for Princess to finish him off.

But it also could have backfired terribly. Hex required Jellicent to be close to his opponent, and Zweilous having two heads fully capable of attacking meant that he probably would have gotten two attacks in retaliation, possibly disintegrating his body again. I hadn't known if buddy would be capable of keeping up that rhythm.

And I hated unknowns.

So at the end of the day, I should have swapped Tangrowth out right when Cecilia did the same for Slowking. If I had done that, then the battle wouldn't have snowballed out of my control, which was when I was at my weakest. I needed to be more adaptable. Foregoing a plan did not mean I was admitting defeat. I needed not to stick to a failing strategy if the chance of it succeeding was less than one hundred percent.

Okay, no plan ever had a one hundred percent success rate, but it had certainly stood on shaky legs right when the battle began, and I'd need to keep this mindset for my battle against Fantina because there was no way that fight would go according to plan.

"Let's go through it one more time," I muttered. Then after combing through the footage, I'd watch Chase's gym battle.


After buying a bottle of water, I quickly shuffled to my seat in the spectating ring. It was Denzel's turn to go first, and we were all waiting for his battle to start. I'd use his and Cecilia's fight to try to do some last minute studying on reading Fantina's body language. She was nowhere near as expressive as Candice, so I wouldn't be able to gauge what she was thinking on the fly during the battle. Hell, most of the time, the only expression on her face was boredom.

"There he is!" Pauline said excitedly.

Denzel sported a jersey I had never seen before with the logo of every company he had been sponsored by. Did that mean they were all cooperating with him? That looked custom-made.

Fantina enunciated the rules. The battle would be a four-on-four with one switch in. One thing I had noticed was that when Fantina was in an especially cranky mood due to her job, she gave her battles a minimal amount of switches so that they'd last less long and she'd be able to run on autopilot. It seemed like she was in one of these moods today.

Denzel sent out his Sylveon, which had the same, blurry armor around his fur, and Fantina sent out a Gourgeist. With a simple signal from the referee, the battle began.
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Chapter 130

Denzel had figured it out a while ago.

He wanted to be like Craig Goodwill.

According to the man himself, in the many stories he told about the start of his journey whenever he went on interviews, he had never really been the best at anything. He wasn't great at improvising, planning, deceiving the opponent, training his Pokemon, and he hadn't been born rich. He certainly was no genius— plenty of people with less experience than him had won the Conference before, although none of them got far enough to even challenge Cynthia. Lucian's psychics proved to always be an impossible roadblock. Hell, it had taken Craig two runs through the League Circuit to get to the point where Denzel was, so it wasn't like he was lacking something. He was being called a prodigy by both the adults in the corporations sponsoring him and leagues of trainers in the forums. So how the hell had he arguably become one of Sinnoh's best trainers and the top contender to win this year's Conference?

Pure, unabashed hard work and dedication. It was the love of Pokemon battling that kept him going all these years, and today, Craig was the most well-known trainer in all of Sinnoh, and he was a jack of all trades. He could do anything because of how hard he had worked towards all facets of being a Pokemon trainer.

Denzel felt his lips twitch as he sent out his Sylveon, whose body blurred for a few seconds before returning to normal. Something about that amount of dedication made him want to follow in Craig's footsteps. When someone thought of a Pokemon trainer in Sinnoh, people thought of Craig.

Denzel wanted people to think of him instead.

His eyes snapped to Fantina's Gourgeist, who stood at around five feet tall. A lot taller than Sylveon, but his body shape looked awkward to move around. With two stubby legs like that? It was probably a long-distance fighter, as many ghosts were—

"Seed Bomb," Fantina ordered.

"Quick Attack toward him and Play Rough," Denzel calmly countered.

—but it was possible that he had mobility moves? Shadow Sneak, maybe? Damn it, now not studying was biting him in the ass, but between sponsorships, training Louis and helping Emilia, he'd been so busy. Sylveon blurred forward, leaving a trail of pink dust behind him as Gourgeist sent out huge seeds from the mouth on its torso. Denzel squinted and quickly noticed that these were a lot bigger than Roselia's.

"You need to dodge! Slide to the right!" He yelled.

Sylveon barked in agreement and took a sharp turn to the right as an explosion grazed his glamour shield, sending sharp rocks and a shockwave flying all the way toward him and Kadabra's barrier. That'd been powerful, but this was a ghost gym, so Denzel knew it wasn't the biggest threat.

Sylveon finally reached Gourgeist, who turned away to run with Shadow Sneak right as fairy energy surrounded his paw. The grass type reappeared twenty feet away, this time gathering a huge Shadow Ball in its mouth.

"Quickly, Swift!" Denzel yelled.

Denzel had borrowed the Shadow Ball TM from Emilia and listened to the commentator during her contest, so thanks to his quick thinking, he knew that the move was unstable. Not wasting any time, Sylveon summoned a single pink star above him and sent it flying toward Gourgeist, who hastily sent out a half-completed Shadow Ball that exploded in front of it.

"Now get in there!"

"Scary Face and Leech Seed," Fantina said.

Denzel clicked his tongue. "Detect!"

Sylveon ran, but a look from Gourgeist's lower face made even Denzel feel like his stomach was tying itself up into a knot. The face twisted, and widened, and somehow, a blood-like liquid leaked from both the eyes and the mouth. Sylveon stopped in his tracks, and his usual, neutral smile turned to an uncomfortable stare.

"Snap out of it, it's not real!" Denzel said. "Detect!"

Too late. A seed as large as his fist landed on Sylveon's shield, and thorny vines wrapped around him. They wouldn't deal direct damage, at the very least.

For now.

"Seed Bomb and keep your distance," Fantina ordered.

What was Sylveon the best at? The fairy type grunted, and more of his glamour evaporated as an series of explosions rocked the field. The answer was physical combat. What was Gourgeist weak to? Physical combat, which was why the ghost type kept his distance with Shadow Sneak. Scary Face was just another way the ghost type had to buy itself time and stay far away from threats.

Simple questions with simple answers, but he needed to keep thinking. A steady stream of thoughts would eventually lead him to the answer that he sought.

"Swift, just get some damage off!" He said.

Sylveon gathered a dozen pink stars that orbited above him, and then sent them toward Gourgeist, who this time, didn't bother dodging. He ordered Sylveon to use Disarming Voice, but it only slowed the grass type down. He couldn't get Sylveon to actually reach him.

Oh well, sometimes the answer was just the simplest option. He grabbed Sylveon's Pokeball and recalled him, immediately sending out Lopunny instead, using his one switch of the battle. He couldn't afford to slow down for even a second, or he'd fall out of his groove. All he needed was one breakthrough, and he'd break this battle wide open.

First, Lopunny was faster than Sylvi was. A lot faster.

"Get close," Denzel said. "It has Shadow Sneak to avoid fighting in close quarters, and you've got to watch out for Scary Face, Leech Seed, and Seed Bomb," he quickly continued as Lopunny's legs flexed, and she jumped.

"Bullet Seed," the gym leader said.

Denzel nodded. Bullet Seed was a lot better at hitting targets in the air, but they had created a rudimentary counter against Lopunny's vulnerability in the sky in the few days they had to train. Well, more like they had figured out the obvious.

"Defense Curl," he smoothly said.

Lopunny bunched up as tightly as she could, and her body shimmered. The seeds bounced off of her ears, and the normal type landed right next to Gourgeist with her fists already lit ablaze. Fantina ordered the grass type to run away with Shadow Sneak.

"Follow up!" Denzel yelled.

Shadow Sneak always left a trail of shadows on the ground, but Sylveon had been too slow to follow it.

Lopunny was not. She blurred, and each of her steps left a small hole on the floor as she closely followed Gourgeist. The grass type reappeared, only to screech as it took a Fire Punch to the face.

Denzel smiled. That was the breakthrough.

His Pokemon did not relent for even a second, and kept punching away at the grass type, not leaving it a single moment to escape or interrupt her with Scary Face. After a twenty-second beatdown, Gourgeist fell to the ground, and its lower face had completely turned off. There was only a dark, gaping grin now.

"Gourgeist is unable to battle. Leader Fantina, send out your second Pokemon."

Lopunny sure was good with her legs. Maybe there was a way to transform the Fire Punch into a Fire Kick, somehow? That'd take a lot of work, but it would certainly deal a lot more damage. Maybe the other elemental punches would work that way too, and maybe even Power-Up Punch. Or would it be Power-Up Kick—

Denzel breathed a sigh of relief as Fantina sent out an Alolan Marowak. Arceus, keeping his brain thinking about anything was hard, but he couldn't break the flow of the battle, or he'd be completely out of his depth, which was a painful lesson he had learned in the double battle against Chase and Cecilia.

The extremities of Marowak's bone lit with pale, turquoise flames that Denzel couldn't stare at for too long without tearing up and being overwhelmed with a deep feeling of sadness that he couldn't explain. He rubbed his eyes and quickly sprung to action.

"Stay sharp and start building up Power-Up Punches!" He yelled.

Fantina still wasn't using real ghosts against them, so they could still use the situation to their advantage. Marowak spun its bone around as Lopunny approached with Quick Attack.

"Fight it off with Bone Club," she said, wiping the tears from her eyes. So it was affecting her too? He would have thought that after so much time together, the effect would be lowered, but maybe it was only when Marowak fought, otherwise, he couldn't imagine ever owning one.

Marowak stopped spinning its bone, and hit Lopunny's waist right as she got in range. The rabbit would have been sent flying, but she latched on to the bone's extremities, burning her hands in the process, and punched the fire type's skull. Marowak roared in indignation, and flames enveloped its entire body before it rammed against Lopunny with all of its strength. The normal type flew off toward Denzel's side of the field, but Marowak was sprinting toward her with a glare that could kill.

"Wait for it…" Denzel muttered.

"Flame Wheel," Fantina commanded.

Fire enveloped Marowak once more as it kept running toward Lopunny. As it stood, she was physically weaker than he was, especially with that bone of his, and even though she was faster, she had not taken well to the Shadow Ball TM. She had no way to attack from a distance, so she had to fight it in close quarters. Still, they could use Marowak's momentum to their advantage.

"Circle Throw!" Denzel yelled.

Lopunny cried out as the flames spread to her, and she tightly gripped Marowak by the skull and the arm, using his momentum to throw it headfirst into the ground behind her. A loud crack was heard throughout the arena, but they couldn't stop now.

"Power-Up Punch!" He said.

Before Marowak could even get back to his feet, another Punch hit it in the back of the head. Marowak stumbled around, looking for his bone, and it screamed when it realized that it wasn't in its hands. Lopunny's ears twitched and she screeched from the pain. The fire type called out with desperation, and the bone flew back into its hand as if it had a mind of its own, and Marowak hit the normal type's head repeatedly until she had fallen, her face burned and bloody.

"L—Lopunny is unable to battle. Challenger, send out your second Pokemon."

Denzel's hands were still trembling as he sent out his Sylveon again. That scream would stick with him for a good while… maybe years. He had never heard such a harrowing sound in his entire life. Even the referee seemed to be affected, and the audience had gone completely silent.

"S—Sylvi, Quick Attack and Play Rough," Denzel said after sniffling. The damned tears were making it hard to see, too.

Arceus, fuck, it had taken him out of his groove. What kind of experience made a Pokemon scream like that? It felt too real to be fake, and even Fantina sported a pained expression. Sylveon ran forward in a blur of motion.

"Shadow Bone," Fantina said.

The pale flames spread throughout Marowak's entire bone, and the fire type readied itself for Sylveon's onslaught. The fairy type stopped in his tracks just as Marowak swung, and the bone only narrowly grazed his shield, then, he pounced, relentlessly beating Marowak, targeting the already-formed crack in his skull with pinpoint precision. The ghost type fought back as best he could, retaliating with Shadow Bone and burning away Sylveon's glamour, who occasionally dodged with Detect, but he couldn't use the move too many times.

He was taking too much damage, but Sylveon's ribbon or Disarming Voice didn't seem to be enough to stop Marowak. It was like it had turned into a completely different Pokemon ever since it had lost its bone. It was just ignoring all the pain from Sylveon's Play Rough while tearing through his armor more and more.

One thing was for sure, Denzel needed to take this thing down with Sylveon. Snorunt and Roselia would easily lose to its fire type attacks.

Wait. Denzel took a deep breath. All he needed to do was take a step back and calm down.

"Sylvi, run away with Quick Attack and keep hitting it with Swift!"

The fairy type protested, and he seemed like he was having the time of his life, but he quickly listened and created as much distance as he could from Marowak before creating Swift barrage after Swift barrage. Denzel nervously clenched his fist, hoping that Fantina wouldn't use her switch here. That would be a catastrophic development.

"Ancient Power," Fantina ordered.

Marowak flicked its bone up, and its eyes shone as it raised huge chunks of earth. The stars simply went around the barrier, but it wasn't meant to be one. Marowak screamed, sending all of the rocks barrelling toward Sylveon. As far as control went, it was nowhere near Togetic's level, and Marowak quickly lost his hold on the rocks. Sylveon narrowly dodged, but he was starting to get tired.

And he was bleeding.

Another set of Swift cut Marowak across the chest, and the Pokemon finally fell.

"Marowak is unable to battle. Fantina, send out your third Pokemon."

Fantina lazily and casually sent out a Cursola.

It started out as a simple, white pot made out of dead coral.

And then it grew, as white ectoplasm and coral intertwined with one another and formed into a plant-like structure with a dozen branches. The head was built like a skull, with fake hollow eyes that hid the Pokemon's true face in its mouth. Thin, red eyes opened, and the ghost type let out an eerie cry that reverberated through the arena as the legs on its pot started to move.

Pitifully slow movement. It might as well have been immobile.

"Keep using Swift," Denzel told his tired Sylveon.

The fairy type responded with a tight nod as another set of pink stars flew off toward Cursola.

"Mirror Coat," Fantina countered.

Denzel swore as the ghost type shone, and the stars bounced back toward them twice as quickly. There was no dodging that.

"Just push through and fight up close!" Denzel yelled.

Was this thing a true ghost or not? Denzel racked his brain for the answer as Sylveon ran toward his opponent.

"Power Gem."

Multiple balls of light appeared all around the ghost type, which then turned into rays that were too fast for Sylveon to dodge from this close. He grunted as six of them tore through his skin, leaving nasty burn marks. With his fur still smoking, Sylveon pounced onto Cursola as he readied himself to use Play Rough.

And simply jumped through his body.

Had they even dealt any damage? Denzel squinted and noticed that a small chunk of its body had disappeared, so the answer must have been yes. Cursola's face traveled to the back of its head through the ectoplasm and stared directly at Sylveon, who had fallen to the floor. His eyes glinted with a sinister glow as smoke emanated from Sylveon's body. Hex, Denzel thought.

The fairy type did not get up.

"Sylveon is unable to battle. Challenger, send out your third Pokemon."

So they had a slow-moving, long-distance fighter that looked to be a true ghost, or close to it. Power Gem meant that Snorunt wasn't an option. She wasn't quick enough to dodge those rays of light, and a few of those would easily take her down. Denzel grabbed Roselia's Pokeball and released her on his side of the field.

"Roselia, Toxic," he immediately said.

Cursola was so slow that even from this distance, it wouldn't be able to dodge—

"Protect yourself with Ancient Power," Fantina said.

Or not. Of course, Fantina would have some way to protect a Pokemon that slow. Cursola raised an earthen barrier, and the rocks hissed as the poison slowly disintegrated and melted through them. From this far, Roselia was safe enough, but so was their opponent.

"Seed Bomb!" Denzel yelled.

"Another barrier."

The ghost type raised another Ancient Power, but even though the explosions weren't as powerful as Gourgeist's had been, it was still enough to deal quite a bit of damage, from the way Cursola panicked inside of its protective ectoplasm. Long term, they'd win here, and it was Fantina who had to do something. Denzel unclenched his fist and straightened his back as he slowly regained some of his confidence. Cursola sent out another Power Gem, one of which grazed Roselia and burned her plant-like skin, but that meant that it was taking more damage from Seed Bomb due being unable to use Ancient Power at the same time.

Was she willing to gamble and play at who would fall first? Denzel was, and it's not like he had much of a choice anyway, he was out of switches. Fantina hummed, then grabbed her Pokeball, opting to switch.

Denzel whimpered when he saw what came next.

He had—


What was—


A shadowy figure lurked below the lichen-covered bark that acted like its armor. Six, bug-like legs all wriggled independently from each other as the tree-like Pokemon scuttled forward, leaving trails of shadow whenever it walked. Branches creaked, and leaves rustled as it moved. A single, red eye traveled through the shadow, sometimes appearing where the head should be, but sometimes on its arms, torso, or even legs. Denzel blinked, and he struggled to look at the Trevenant as he clenched and unclenched his fists repeatedly. His breaths were short and ragged, and his throat felt dry.

"Phantom Force," Fantina said.

Roselia screeched, snapping Denzel out of his terror-induced daze. He stopped clenching his fists, and his fingertips uncontrollably trembled as shadows washed over Trevenant like a wave, and it phased out of existence.

Right. He… he still had a battle to win. Denzel had never been the type to scare easily, but something about Trevenant just made him feel like he was about to fucking die, just like he had felt when fighting that Lunatone in Mount Coronet. He wasn't sure why Trevenant of all Pokemon reminded him of that day. He certainly wasn't getting visions, but maybe it was capable of them? He didn't know. Something was lurking at the back of his mind.

"I—it's going to appear somewhere close," Denzel said, his voice still shaky.

And it did. Denzel flinched when Trevenant appeared behind Roselia, and in front of him. His fingertips felt cold.

The grass type let out an annoyed screech as it turned and sprayed the Trevenant with a Venoshock, but the grass type disintegrated, and leaves and sticks fell to the ground as another Trevenant appeared next to Roselia and swiped her with its massive, clawed hands. The grass type flew off toward Fantina, and Trevenant disappeared again.

It seemed like Fantina had decided on her illusion.

This was bad. Now that Trevenant was gone again, Denzel realized that he was losing. A weakened Cursola, he assumed Snorunt could handle, but this? What the hell? Roselia got back on her feet.

Stay calm, stay optimistic, don't spiral, Denzel thought to himself. Trevenant reappeared again, and again, Roselia was ready. She sprayed the first one, who was just an illusion, but nimbly aimed her second flower behind her and used Venoshock again.

Denzel's face fell when he realized that it wasn't even the real one. How many could Trevenant make in a row? Arceus damn it, it was at times like these that he wished that he could just ask Grace for the answer. Trevenant's hand tore through the floor, and it clawed Roselia once more, tearing across her chest.

"Trevenant. It can reappear and disappear at will with Phantom force and create fake instances of itself," Denzel mumbled to himself so quickly that half the words didn't even make sense. The grass type sunk into the shadows once more. "I could possibly get lucky and hope to poison the real one, but I don't even know if the— if the— holy shit."

It all began with an idea. An idea so simple that Denzel couldn't help but chuckle to himself.

"Keep it simple, stupid," he whispered after exhaling. "Make spores all around you!"

Roselia nodded as both Stun Spore and Poison Powder emanated from her flowers. With all of the fear and the worries about losing, Denzel had almost tunnel visioned and lost Roselia the battle.

She probably never would have forgiven him.

With a distinct creak, Trevenant reappeared and stumbled behind Roselia as its true body absorbed the spores.

"Venoshock! Give it everything you've got!" Denzel yelled.

Roselia screeched, aiming both flowers toward the convulsing Trevenant and sprayed him with her poison. The attack was so powerful that half of Trevenant's bark just evaporated with an obnoxious hiss, but Roselia kept attacking, aiming toward the true, shadowy thing that was Trevenant's real body. The ghost type silently raged, and it finally managed to swipe Roselia away before it fell.

Roselia stumbled to her feet, but fainted after clicking her tongue.

"Trevenant and Roselia are unable to battle. Send out your last Pokemon."

That had been… close to unraveling very badly, but Denzel had managed to salvage the situation as best he could. He sent out his Snorunt, who smiled wildly at the audience, and Fantina sent out her Cursola, who angrily swam in its ectoplasm.

He could not rest on his laurels yet.

"Shadow Ball! It's slow!" Denzel yelled.

After Fantina's order, Cursola immediately raised another barrier with Ancient Power, but that was okay, because he had expected this. It was Cursola's pattern, and the only way it had of defending itself. The Shadow Ball crashed into the bulky wall.

And Snorunt was already silently gathering her Blizzard without his order. See, Denzel had figured that announcing Snorunt's trump card to his opponent wasn't exactly the smartest move. Sometimes, it was wiser to just let his Pokemon do their thing, as Fantina seemed to enjoy doing so much.

Or maybe she just couldn't be bothered. That possibility kind of stung Denzel's pride, but he struggled this much when she was barely even trying, so he wouldn't complain.

Thirty seconds was what they needed, but as the air grew colder and wind started to gather, Fantina seemingly picked up on what they were doing.

"Power Gem," she said.

Snorunt shut her eyes tightly as she took the hit, but it didn't break her concentration. All of the training he had her do with Louis had paid off. Her focus had improved leaps and bounds. Now, she would just need to work on using the move faster.

"Send it!" Denzel screamed.

A Blizzard covered the entire front half of the battlefield, drowning Cursola's angry screeches. Ideally, Denzel would have ordered Snorunt to start charging up another one, but she was too tired to do them back to back without at least a short break.

Denzel smiled when Cursola had returned to its plant pot-like state when the Blizzard dissolved. Ectoplasm trickled to the ground all around it, and Cursola's face was nowhere to be seen.

"Cursola is unable to battle. Victory goes to the challenger!" The referee said.

Denzel sighed as he recalled his Snorunt, congratulating her. He had won by the skin of his teeth.

He had a lot to work on before he could hope to be like Craig, but a part of him was just glad he was fucking done with the ghost gym.

It'd be even worse next year.

I let out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding as Denzel clutched his victory. That Trevenant had nearly cost him the entire fight, but he'd always been quick on his feet. With all the companies he represented now, a loss so early would have left a sour taste in their mouths. I bid Cecilia good luck as she made her way out of the stands. Pauline was celebrating like a madwoman even after the cheers had stopped, and Justin and Emi were trying to keep her voice down.

Fantina was an odd fighter. To me, it seemed like we were fighting her Pokemon, not her. She seemed content enough to just give them a general strategy and then let them do whatever they wanted. Still, they were so well trained that it didn't exactly matter. I supposed that when there were fewer Pokemon to worry about, it was easier to train them, so she could afford to fight this way.

But it also meant I'd need to improvise a lot more. I felt nervous, but I also felt ready. She wouldn't use any of the Pokemon she'd used here against me. Even ghosts needed time to heal, and Marowak certainly needed a trip to the Pokemon gym's Center.

"Well, one more battle," I smiled.
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Chapter 131

As Cecilia walked into the gym's lobby, her mind was filled with an anticipation that made her entire body tingle. After watching Denzel's fight, she knew now that the battle would be harder than she had expected it to be, and yet she could only march forward and hope that she was ready. A loss here would be so disappointing for herself, but most importantly, she did not want to disappoint Cynthia.

A foolish thought, even though the Champion had challenged her all those months ago. Cecilia did not know if she would be watching, if she even remembered her name, or if she knew how important those words had been to her. Being the Champion was a busy job, and Cynthia had no doubt a lot on her plate.

But she couldn't help but hope that she sometimes kept an eye on her progress, despite how unlikely it was.

"Not going to congratulate me?" Denzel teased as he entered the waiting room.

"Oh. Sorry, I was just thinking," she responded. "Congratulations on your win."

"I was just fucking around, don't worry about it," he smiled before his expression turned serious. "But seriously, you need to watch out. This is going to be a hell of a fight, as I'm sure you'll know. I'd have advice, but—"

"I'll figure it out myself," Cecilia said.

"—Exactly. It'd probably feel lousy to win that way."

"Thank you," she said, hugging him. "Nevermind, you're all sweaty. Go calm Pauline down, will you?"

"Will do," he said. "And as she'd say, go kick ass."

Denzel left with a casual whistle, and Cecilia sat on the bench. Power would not be enough to win here. As it stood, her biggest problem was that there was a risk of an effective illusion angering Zweilous enough to the point that Zerst didn't listen to her. She had already come to a deal with Scyther, and again, he would fight on his own. Slowking's psychic abilities would be ineffective at stopping ghost type attacks, and Fletchinder, while she was quick and hit hard, would be too frail to carry most of the battle.

"Well, I am in quite a predicament," she declared.

A gym attendee came to outfit her with the usual microphone, and then led her to the battlefield. Fantina did the same and began listing the rules of the battle— another four-on-four with one switch in.

Well, if he wanted to fight alone, he would get his fight. Cecilia sent out Scyther, finally using him in a gym battle for the first time. The bug type hissed and fanned his wings, excitedly waiting for his opponent. He had not gained too much power since the fight against Grace and Denzel, but she hoped that Fantina would start with an easier opponent just like she had against Denzel.

The gym leader sent out a female Frillish that levitated up from the floor with a casual spin. That certainly wasn't what she had expected, but Scyther would be able to go toe to toe with her.

"Begin!" The referee yelled.

"It's easy to cut up and relatively slow. Try to go on the offensive," Cecilia suggested.

"Night Shades," Fantina ordered.

Four, ghostly replicas appeared in front of Frillish, and each individually rushed toward Scyther, who let out a defiant screech and blurred forward. Cecilia recognized his use of Agility, which was the only move she had managed to make him learn before the battle with her rivals.

"I wouldn't hit those if I were you, they explode," Cecilia said.

Instead of dodging, Scyther Slashed across the first Night Shade, and a loud explosion rocked the entire arena. That was a powerful Night Shade. Scyther flew out of the purple plume, leaving a trail of smoke, and now took her suggestion to heart, easily avoiding the remaining three Night Shades.

"Hex when it gets close," Fantina said.

"Try to keep your distance instead," she said.

Scyther cried out in protest and rushed toward Frillish, cutting her in half with a smooth Slash as smoke emanated from his body. The bug type crashed to the ground, but quickly got to his feet as Frillish used Water Sport to fly off with what remained of its body, while the remaining three Night Shades all crashed into Scyther, dealing massive amounts of damage. When the dust settled, cracks ran through his entire exoskeleton, and half of one of his wings was bent the wrong way.

Cecilia quickly noticed two things. That Water Sport was ridiculously slow when compared to Grace's, and Frillish did not appear to know Recover, which meant that she'd be stuck missing half of her body the entire battle. Her regeneration powers were nowhere strong enough for her to quickly recover her bottom half.

If Cecilia hadn't messed up her relationship with Scyther from the beginning, then this would have been such an easy victory.

"Night Shades, then Shadow Ball," Fantina said. "Hex when it gets close."

Another set of four ghostly clones appeared next to Frillish as it began to gather a Shadow Ball. They each flew toward the bug type, delaying themselves by a few seconds each. Scyther took flight, and although he was permanently slowed and bent toward the right due to his broken wing, Agility was still in effect, and he was faster than he needed to be to dodge.

"An Air Slash to explode one of them would be enough to trigger the others to explode all at once," she sighed.

Scyther ignored her, preferring to fight in melee whenever he could. He twisted his body as he narrowly dodged the first Night Shade, and then with a Quick Attack, he streaked across the air until he was just a few feet away from Frillish. The water type turned her head and sent out her Shadow Ball, causing Scyther to stop beating his wings and almost dropping to the floor.

"Bubblebeam. Force him up there," Fantina said.

"Why are you—" Cecilia started, but then shut her mouth. It was her fault that he was like this.

Scyther screeched as a barrage of bubbles exploded on his shell, and using the floor as a launch pad, he blurred toward his opponent as both of his claws shone with a pale green. X-Scissor. Frillish let out a panicked cry as she began using Hex again, but Scyther was too quick. He decapitated her, rending her unable to fight.

"Frillish is unable to battle. Leader Fantina, send out your second Pokemon," The referee said.

The Night Shades disintegrated into thin air, and Fantina grabbed her second Pokeball. Scyther could have won this with barely taking any damage if they could cooperate for once, but alas. Now, he was on his last legs. Barely able to fly properly, wounded, and letting out ragged breaths. As morbid as it was to treat him like this, Cecilia knew that the only time he'd be usable in a battle like this was to have him fight Fantina's first Pokemon, which would always prove the least challenging.

Still, he yelled to celebrate his victory.

Fantina sent out a small teapot, and a strange purple liquid inside of it soon came alive. It used a small broken piece of the teapot as a hat, and it was rather cute, for a ghost, all things considered.

"Shell Smash," Fantina said.


"Go on the offensive! Try to keep your distance!" Cecilia yelled as panic slipped into her tone.

Polteageist turned from a dark purple to a vivid red as its body began to steam and its pot began to crack. Scyther sharpened his blades, and then broke into a run. Even though he hid it, Cecilia could tell that flying any further would hurt him badly.

And yet, fly he did. Scyther pushed against the floor as his wings fanned once more, becoming a blur of motion.

"Protect," Fantina said. "Then Hex."

Polteageist summoned a thin, green barrier, stopping Scyther's X-Scissor in its tracks, and then hit him with a Hex so powerful that the bug type couldn't help but fall to the ground and cry out in agony. He rolled on his back as the ghost type approached him, ready to hit him with another Hex.

And slashed across the air, sending an Air Slash that sliced through his opponent's body. Polteageist let out a high-pitch infuriated scream and finished him off with Hex.

"Scyther is unable to battle. Challenger, send out your second Pokemon."

In the end, Scyther had listened, even when it had been too late.

"You did well, darling," she said softly as she smiled at his Pokeball.

Fletchinder would not do very well against a Pokemon under Shell Smash's influence, so she was off the list. Slowking would take too much damage if he was hit, and again, he'd be unable to protect himself against Hex or other ghost type moves.

Cecilia grabbed Zweilous' Pokeball and released him. The two dragons roared, announcing their presence, and their heads locked onto their enemy at the same time.

"Dragon Pulse, both of you," she said.

"Protect," Fantina smoothly countered.

Zerst and Sol both inhaled as draconic energy danced in their mouths, and then screamed, sending out two huge Dragon Pulses that were bigger than Polteageist's Protect. And yet, the ghost got out of the situation unscathed, and it was quickly flying their way.

"Sweet Scent, then Giga Drain," the gym leader continued.

An enticing smell began to radiate from her Pokemon's body, and Zerst seemed very smitten.

"Quick, snap him out of it and Dragon Pulse again!" Cecilia said.

Sol nodded and quickly bashed his head against his fellow head. Zerst snarled before remembering that he was currently in a battle. The two dragons yelled out a Dragon Pulse once more, but Polteageist was so small and fast that the attack only grazed the side of its teapot. Zweilous threateningly growled as the ghost type began to drain the dragon's energy.

"Incinerate," she said. There was no choice. The attack was weaker, but it was also wider, meaning that at this range, it was guaranteed to hit. "Just Sol."

Zerst grumbled in annoyance as Sol breathed out a huge stream of flames toward the Polteageist, which Fantina ordered to Protect again.

"Now, Zerst."

A delayed attack meant that there was no way she was getting out of this one. Fire engulfed the ghost type's tiny body, and when the Incinerate settled, all that remained was an inanimate, purple liquid sitting in a steaming teapot.

"Polteageist is unable to battle. Leader Fantina, send out your third Pokemon."

Without any hesitation, the gym leader sent out a Drakloak. The dragon had a hard head, but the rest of its body took on a trailing, wispy form. Cecilia took a deep breath.

This would be one of Zweilous' toughest fights, and she was not cruel enough to switch him out, even though her mind screamed at her to do so. The dragon was quite literally drooling in anticipation. It had been too long since they had fought another dragon type, and forcing them to hold back against Louis' Gible was something that they still hadn't forgiven her for.

She owed them this.

"Dragon Pulse," Fantina said.

The first thing Cecilia noticed was that Drakloak was fast. Only slightly slower than Fletchinder after she had used all of her setup moves.

The ghost type practically disappeared as a thin Dragon Pulse shot out of its mouth. Without her orders, Zweilous tried to counter with a Dragon Pulse of their own, but Drakloak's attack was too quick. Fantina had traded power for speed.

Zweilous shook their heads and screamed in anger, but Drakloak was still nowhere to be seen.

"Phantom Force, Dragon Tail," the gym leader said.

That was why it was literally impossible to see. Drakloak reappeared behind Zweilous with its tail solidifying and glowing with a dark blue, and it slammed it against their hide. Quick to anger, Zerst turned, and his mouth snapped with a vicious Crunch, biting some of Drakloak's body away, who screeched and blurred as it flew off.

From that point on, Fantina decided to keep her distance, and Drakloak kept pestering Zweilous with Dragon Pulse. Even though it was weaker than what they were used to, the damage would add up very quickly, and Zweilous' only way of defending themselves was their tough hide. Cecilia tried to have them lure Drakloak into a trap by cornering it with two Dragon Pulses, but it was just too quick.

Time was running out.

How could she deal with this?

Drakloak spat out another Dragon Pulse, and this time, Sol countered it with a quick Dragon Breath instead. Cecilia's eyes widened. That was right! Power was nice and all, but sometimes, reverting to older moves had its uses. Dragon Breath was weaker, but it was faster to use and would be perfect for intercepting Drakloak's attacks. The dragon always had to at least slow down to use Dragon Pulse, so the tactic was easily possible.

"From now on, Dragon Breath whenever you spot Drakloak," Cecilia explained. She clicked her tongue when another Dragon Pulse hit her Pokemon's back. "Get as close as you can to me, quick."

Zweilous turned and awkwardly trudged toward Cecilia before turning their back to Kadabra's barrier. Now that she was getting a better look, a lot of their scales had been peeled off, exposing their soft, pink flesh, and they were tiring quickly.

"Zerst, you take the left, Sol, the right. I'll keep my eyes right above you," Cecilia said.

Every single one of Drakloak's next Dragon Pulses were countered by Zweilous' Dragon Breaths, thank Arceus for their two heads. Now, Fantina needed to order it to get closer if she wanted to get any damage off.

But Cecilia wasn't getting any damage off either. Frustrating. This was far from the perfect battle she had wished for, but when push came to shove, she would employ tricks to win.

Fantina sighed and recalled her Drakloak, opting to keep it for the remainder of the fight. Zweilous celebrated with a roar, spitting all over the floor. It wasn't exactly a victory, but she would let them think they had won for now. The gym leader sent out her last Pokemon.

A huge anchor covered in seaweed crashed into the floor with a loud thud before activating its levitation. A single red eye flashed as it rotated its helm. Dhelmise was a lot bigger than Cecilia ever thought it to be, reaching at least twelve feet in height.

"Phantom Force. Be brutal," Fantina said.

The hulking piece of metal simple disappeared into thin air, and Cecilia braced herself for the worst. She considered switching here, but Fletchinder was too small to ever deal with a Pokemon this big, even with the type advantage. No. Zweilous would have to deal with it, come hell or high water.

"Get ready…" she whispered as a bead of sweat fell down her chin. Where would it appear next? Would there be a trick at play? Dhelmise was a true ghost, so illusions were on the table—

Wait. She had told it to be brutal

Dhelmise crashed into Zweilous so hard that it sent the dragon flying into Kadabra's barrier. The steering wheel rotated, bringing its eye on top of the helm, and the seaweed on its anchor suddenly extended like it had a mind of its own, wrapping all around Zweilous and lifting them off the ground. The two heads snapped and roared as they squirmed to try to get out of the ghost's hold, but it was holding onto them too tightly.

"Don't panic! Dragon Pulse!" Cecilia screamed.

Still in the air, Zweilous' heads snapped, locking onto Dhelmise, and they screamed out a Dragon Pulse. The stream of draconic energy hit the grass type's steering wheel, causing it to spin out of control, but its hold on them didn't loosen.

"Throw it toward you, then Heavy Slam again," Fantina said.

Cecilia's eyes widened as Dhelmise's seaweed flexed, and it threw Zweilous like they were as light as a feather. The anchor spun around, and with a loud crack, it smashed into Zweilous' back, sending him crashing into the floor.

The dragon did not get up.

"Zweilous is unable to battle. Challenger, send out your third Pokemon."

Cecilia took a deep breath to stop herself from panicking.

And sent out her Slowking, which could have been considered a foolish choice, but there was no other option. She needed to weaken Dhelmise until Fletchinder was capable of taking it down, and since it could apparently control its seaweed like Tangrowth could control his vines, her speed wouldn't have protected her.

But at least, Slowking could protect himself from the weeds with Psychic.

"Seize him," Fantina said.

Case in point. Slowking's eyes shone as he easily deflected five pieces of seaweed that tried to grab him by the arms. Dhelmise's wheel rotated as it fumed in anger, and the grass type rushed toward Slowking.

It was too big and heavy for him to ever hope to stop him with Psychic, but it was still possible to hamper the coming damage.

"Heavy Slam," Fantina said.

"Psychic, give it your all!" Cecilia countered.

The anchor-like Pokemon creaked as it pushed through Slowking's powerful Psychic and slammed him toward the left side of the arena.

"Get up and Water Pulse. Speed it up."

Chip damage was damage nonetheless. Slowking hurriedly dusted his collar and spat out a series of Water Pulses that were quickened by Psychic. The advantage to Dhelmise being so large was that it was easy to hit.

"Phantom Force," Fantina said.

Cecilia frowned when a Water Pulse apparently hit the invisible Dhelmise. She had thought that maybe ghosts were invincible if they became invisible before getting hit, but that was apparently not the case. Still, she knew the move had been coming, and since Dhelmise was not a living being, Slowking was unable to sense it, so she only had one counter.


Slowking's eyes gleamed with a pale blue as the ghost type slammed across his chest, sending him flying further.

"Slack Off immediately!" Cecilia continued. "Then keep using Water Pulse!"

The water type shook his head to regain his senses, then plopped himself on the floor on close his eyes, healing some of his injuries. The Phantom Force had almost knocked him out, but he was a lot bulkier than he used to be now that he had evolved. Several Water Pulses flew out of his mouth, all hitting Dhelmise for minimal amounts of damage.


Damn it, Cecilia thought. Even without Phantom Force, it could just disappear at will! Slowking slowly got back on his feet and brought his arms forward, readying himself to slow down the coming attack with Psychic.

But then she recalled him, using her only switch in of the battle. Dhelmise crashed into the floor with another Heavy Slam where Slowking had just stood. Now that Phantom Force was disabled, Fletchinder would never get a better opportunity than this. The flying type screeched and took to the air.

"Fire Spin, keep your distance," Cecilia ordered.

There was no time for her to set up. Fletchinder squawked, hovering as she repeatedly beat her wings, surrounding Dhelmise with air so hot that it caught on fire. The ghost type creaked as it disappeared, leaving only the flames on its body as it rushed toward Fletchinder.

One thing Cecilia had noticed was that without Phantom Force, Dhelmise was slow, even when disappearing, and the flames still burning on its body further proved her right. She ordered Fletchinder to fly away and pester the grass type with Ember, and it just couldn't get close enough to hit her.

One Heavy Slam would have been enough to take her down, and yet, the attack never connected. Fletchinder spun in the air, spitting out one more Ember, and Dhelmise fell to the floor with its eye still open and raging.

"Dhelmise is unable to battle. Leader Fantina, send out your last Pokemon."

Immediately, Fantina sent out her Drakloak.

"Phantom Force. Hit it a few times and knock it out."

"Tailwind, Agility," Cecilia hurriedly said.

The fire type flapped her wings, creating a permanent current in her direction, and then her body loosened as it narrowly avoided a Dragon Tail from Drakloak. Fantina hadn't expected Fletchinder to be even faster. Drakloak was probably always faster than their opponents.

Not this time.

"Quick Attack, Flame Charge!" Cecilia screamed. Quick Attack wouldn't deal any damage, but it would help her speed up.

"Hex when it gets close."

Like a meteorite, Fletchinder shone across the sky. In a second, she slammed into Drakloak's head. The dragon let out a juvenile roar as it Hexed her body. Fletchinder cried out and dove directly toward the ground as the pain proved to be too much, but she caught herself in the nick of time, extending her wings to stop herself from crashing into the floor.

"Ember and get back into the sky," Cecilia continued. If she could get one Acrobatics off…

The bird screeched as it spat out small flames toward Drakloak, who easily dodged and disappeared with Phantom Force thanks to Fantina's order.

"Fire Spin around you!" Cecilia said.

Flames spun around Fletchinder's body as Drakloak slammed her toward Kadabra's barrier. The flying type cried out as her wing bent the wrong way, and she fell to the ground. She struggled to her feet, but when she tried to get back in the sky, she realized that she couldn't fly any longer.

Her wing was broken.

"Finish it off with Dragon Pulse," Fantina said.


Cecilia could only watch as the dragon type attack enveloped Fletchinder, overtaking her Ember and causing her to faint.

"Fletchinder is unable to battle. Challenger, send out your last Pokemon."

Cecilia released her Slowking with a smile. Nervousness made her legs and arms shake, but by the Legendaries, she was having fun, especially since the ghosts that Fantina was using didn't have awful effects on her psyche.

"Get one Phantom Force off," Fantina said.

"Disable when you see it again, then Psychic immediately afterward," Cecilia immediately ordered.

Drakloak phased out of existence, and after barely two seconds, it slammed into Slowking's back. The psychic type extended a hand backward, seizing the dragon with Psychic as his eyes shone, and then he metaphorically squeezed. Drakloak cried out in pain as the wispy parts of its body thrashed around erratically. Its head was locked in place, however.


Slowking shuddered as the ghost's Hex hit him, but he did not relent, opting to smash Drakloak against the floor to make it lose its focus and stop its attack.

"Psychic, Zen Headbutt."

The combination that had netted her a victory against Gardenia would do the same here. Slowking levitated Drakloak and threw him toward his head as psychic energy gathered right on his shell. He smashed his head against the dragon's own, and Drakloak finally fainted.

"Drakloak is unable to battle. Victory goes to the Challenger!"

"Hm… yeah, I think that'll work," I muttered as I held honey's Pokeball in my hand. I was currently already in the waiting room, having figured that Cece had won as soon as that Dhelmise had been taken care of. Fantina was surprisingly capable of just fighting power with power, and speed with speed too. She wasn't just about illusions.

I had gathered enough information to win, I reckoned. I was nervous, of course, but I felt like I was thinking a lot faster than I used to. A little bit of confidence went a long way, so long as I didn't get a big head, and for some reason, I felt a lot more confident than normal. Maybe it was like I'd never studied a gym leader so much. Even against Gardenia, I hadn't been as good at gathering information. This time, I felt like I knew the ins and outs of Fantina's gym.

I had figured that I was the worst kind of trainer Fantina could face, at least when compared to my friends. She liked to let her Pokemon fight independently, and normally, that would have been a problem for me, but I was pretty sure I had gotten a good idea of how each of the remaining Pokemon she might use against me fought, and I knew all of their moves. All I had to do now was keep the plan going for as long as possible until everything inevitably went off the rails, and I'd have to improvise.

"Grace," Cecilia called out, causing me to snap my head up.

"Good job out there," I said. "Did Fletchinder evolve?"

"Hm? No. Did you think she would?" She asked.

"Yeah, I kind of did, but I left after she took down Dhelmise so I could be alone with my thoughts, so I didn't finish the battle. I already knew you'd win, though. The audience was going kind of crazy, especially for that dragon versus dragon fight."

"Even though it wasn't as grand as I had wished, people don't see that every day," she nodded. "Are you disappointed?"


"In my performance."

"Not at all. You won pretty handily, I mean, I don't exactly know how the battle finished, but I'll guess that Slowking managed to take down Drakloak," I said. "It's tough. That's one of Fantina's strongest at this level."

"There was something I was missing in that fight, but I can't put it into words," she pondered. "If I had that, then the battle would have been perfect."

I saw the gym trainer gesture me forward and stood up. "I'm beginning to learn to not let perfect be the enemy of good," I smiled before kissing her on the cheek. "Now go get your team to the nearest Center and come back to cheer for me."

"I'll take a taxi to get back as fast as I can," she nodded.

"Sounds good. Don't keep me waiting!" I teased. She nabbed a quick kiss before she ran to leave.

I took a deep breath and took comfort in how fast my heart was beating against my chest. The steady, fast rhythm kept me grounded and sharp. I felt my hand tingle as I clipped Electabuzz's Pokeball on my belt and walked up to the gym trainer, who placed the microphone on my collar. I twisted and cracked my neck, stretched, and I was ready.

"Okay! Let's do this."
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Chapter 132 - Planning and Pantsing
CHAPTER 132 - Planning and Pantsing

It had all come down to this. My future relationship with the Poketch Company rode on this entire battle. I stared at the Poketch Watch I wore on my wrist and took a deep breath. Craig had recommended me and had put his full faith in my capabilities after witnessing my battle with Candice. I couldn't afford to flounder here.

"Welcome, challenger," Fantina started. "This will be a five-on-five battle with… two switch-ins allowed. I reserve the right to use any Pokemon in battle, and try to not kill my ghosts. Send out your Pokemon."

I grabbed Electabuzz's Pokeball and held it tight. I had mulled over my first choice over and over throughout the last week, and my only two options had been either him or Jellicent. Buddy would have been a safer choice, with his regenerative abilities being as strong as they were, and they'd allow me to scout any kind of illusions Fantina might employ. What ended up tipping the scales, however, was the fact that Electabuzz had a very important job that only he was capable of.

And it was related to, but was not his ability to sense ghosts.

With a smile, I sent out honey, who whirred his arms around, generating sparks of electricity all over his body.

Fantina sent out a Haunter.

Most ghosts' forms were hazy and made out of a smoke-like substance, at least while their bodies were not solidified. Haunter was different. I nervously bit my lip as the ghost type oozed up from the floor and slowly took form. The ghost type bulged and bubbled while two smaller hands separated themselves from the main body, secreting poison that dripped onto the floor. Purple, noxious fumes exuded from its body, and a gaping, empty mouth slowly opened, forming into a sinister grin.

Haunter opened its eyes and began to laugh.

A laugh that sent shivers down my spine. The sound was deep and guttural, but it sounded like it was inhaling instead of exhaling. Like a laugh slowed down and played in reverse. Even honey had lost his usual grin by now.

"Disappear," Fantina said.

Haunter cackled and phased out of existence immediately. She was pulling no punches, just like with Denzel and Cecilia. I took a deep breath and began to count.

Five seconds was about correct, according to the footage I watched.

"Discharge, make it quick!" I yelled.

With a defiant scream, Electabuzz clapped his hands and immediately sent out a low-powered surge of electricity all around him. Haunter's body hissed and popped, and the ghost type stared on with fury as the Discharge ran through his body despite him being invisible.

"Night Shade, and get back," Fantina said.

A ghostly copy of Haunter appeared in front of the poison type and flew toward Electabuzz.

"Thundershock," I said.

Another low-powered electric attack hurtled toward the shade, creating a shadowy explosion in between the two Pokemon. There was no need to waste Electabuzz's precious stamina if his attack wasn't going to hit his opponent.

What I was doing here was simple. I was planting a seed in Fantina's mind. She did not yet know that Electabuzz could sense ghosts, but she did know we could counter them. By showing my hand this early, I was signaling that Discharge was the only way that I had found to fight back against their invisibility.

I was luring her into a false sense of security, and hopefully, it'd pay off later if I could catch her by surprise.

"Haunter, Shadow Ball. Delay them."

Two spheres materialized in front of Haunter's hands. One flew at terrifying speed toward Electabuzz, and the other was more powerful, but slower.

"Now get in there and Curse."

There it was, I thought as I saw the poison type disappear. Curse was Haunter's most bothersome move. By delaying the two Shadow Balls, Fantina was countering my Discharge tactic, since honey would have to sit still to use it, and doing it twice in a row that fast was beyond his capabilities. I couldn't counter both attacks, and there was also the fact that Haunter was approaching to use Curse.

But that was fine. I snapped my fingers.

"Protect!" I yelled.

The first Shadow Ball slammed against a transparent, green barrier, but I knew that Electabuzz wouldn't be able to keep it up for long. Haunter was hiding somewhere close, just waiting for the Protect to come down so that he could Curse Electabuzz.

"Now, Discharge again!" I hurriedly ordered.

Honey immediately understood from my tone, and he sent out another low-powered Discharge all around himself. He knew where Haunter was, but he was still acting like he didn't know. In fact, he was acting so well that he was almost convincing me. A strand of poison dripped onto his head, and the ghost cried out in pain from the electric shock.

"Curse," Fantina said again. Haunter's pain-filled screams turned to a burst of joyous laughter as its eyes turned red, and Electabuzz gripped his chest and started coughing up blood.

I recalled him. I couldn't afford to have him take that much damage, especially when I'd need him later down the line. As it stood, I could have surprised Fantina with a powerful Thunderbolt that might have almost taken Haunter down, but I needed to keep my cards close to my chest. I was thinking long-term here.

I grabbed Tangrowth's Pokeball and released him. With him, I could simply go with brute strength. The grass type's vines wriggled anxiously as he stared at Haunter, who responded with a mocking laugh. Sending out a grass type against a poison type might have seemed unwise, but I knew from my hours of studying that the only poison type move this Haunter had was—

"Fill the arena with Smog!"

Haunter quite literally vomited, spitting out both poisonous liquid and Smog out of his mouth.

"Bind, just like we practiced!" I yelled.

Haunter was a ghost, but its body was quite a bit more solid than most, which was why it was slower both to disappear and travel while it was invisible. Drakloak, for example, could do so in barely two seconds, but Haunter needed five, which was only slightly slower than Dhelmise when it used Phantom Force. Tangrowth quickly flexed as a thin layer of darkness surrounded the six vines that shot out of his body, wrapping around the ghost type as it kept using Smog. I inhaled sharply when I realized that the poison was so corrosive that the vines were melting off, as if they had been dipped in Acid.

Still, it was enough to slow Haunter down, and Tangrowth diligently replaced the destroyed vines with new ones, quickly reaching fifteen in number.

Our practice had paid off. Bind by itself wouldn't have affected Haunter, but with a little bit of dark type energy, it worked. Thank Arceus for Chase and his Flamethrower for giving me the idea.

"Knock Off!"

Two out of the dozen vines let go of the ghost, straightened, and became truly dark. This wasn't like our makeshift tactic to slow Haunter, this was a move that would pack a real punch. Tangrowth slapped Haunter with both, and the poison type flew away, turning into goo as it fell on the ground.

"Get in there and keep hitting it with Knock Off!" I screamed, pointing toward Haunter.

It was starting to regather itself now, just like Jellicent had done against Zweilous, but I knew from experience that that process took energy and time.

And I also knew there could be trickery involved. As Tangrowth kept smacking the goo around with Knock Off before it could reform, I kept my eyes sharp, watching every single corner of the arena. Haunter hadn't done this in any of the videos I had watched, but I could never be too sure—

And certainly enough, there it was. Haunter was slowly reforming in the corner at my side of the battlefield while Tangrowth was focusing on bait.

"Angel, get back! The real body's here!" I yelled.

The grass type turned, and I saw that his face had been sprayed with poison from hitting Haunter too much. Tangrowth propelled himself with his vines and ran toward Haunter, but the ghost type had been too far to catch. He flew into the air and disappeared too quickly.

What I hadn't expected was for the supposed bait he had been hitting to also form into a coherent body. There were two of them.

Was this a new illusion I hadn't seen in any videos? A new trick that Fantina had taught her Haunter?

Or had this always been in her arsenal, and this was the challenge she was issuing to me?

There was no way to find out. I knew the plan would go off the rails at some point either way, now it was all about minimizing my mistakes and not letting the fight snowball out of control.

Which one was the real one?

"Haunter, attack," Fantina said.

Attack? What the hell did that even mean?! One of the Haunters started sending out Shadow Balls toward Tangrowth while the other disappeared. I suspected that Curse was coming, but Tangrowth was strong enough to withstand it, at least at the start. The damage would slowly stack up over time, but I could always switch again—

"Above you, angel!" I warned.

Haunter reappeared, and its eyes turned crimson. Tangrowth shrugged off two Shadow Balls from the other one in the distance and hit the Haunter above him away with Knock Off, but he'd be slowly afflicted by Curse. He winced, and his vines wriggled erratically from the pain.

"Hit the Shadow Balls before they get to you," I said.

He caused the next Shadow Ball to explode early by hitting them with vines. He was too big to dodge, so he'd still take some amount of damage from the blast, but this was better than taking damage for free. He propelled himself forward, hunting the Haunter he had just hit away.

Like I had been thinking before, I could always switch, but that meant that Togetic wouldn't be able to use Wish—

But I had dealt with this before! Plans needed to be adaptable! If I fell into the sunk-cost fallacy problem again, I was risking a loss! Tangrowth Knocked Off the Haunter, who was fleeing for dear life, but he wasn't leaving him enough time to turn invisible. If I had to guess, the real one was the one who was safely away from the fight, only fighting with Shadow Balls.

"Haunter, Smog," Fantina said.

Or Smog, now. I winced.

And then recalled Tangrowth. Long term, I probably could have won this, but I knew that wouldn't be the right thing to do. Electabuzz or Jellicent would be fine here, but Jellicent's abilities to float would mean that I'd be able to hit the real one easier.

I sent out buddy, who took to the air with a short Water Sport. The water type tilted his head as he stared at the two Haunter— one of which was still filling the arena with Smog.

And then his eyes shone so brightly that I could see them through his head. That was hatred.

"Calm down, bud," I breathed out. "Stay sharp. Get close and hit the real one with Shadow Ball. It's the one using Smog."

Jellicent narrowly avoided a Shadow Ball with Water Sport, and then stared at me to shake his head. For a moment, I feared that he just wouldn't listen to me, but I understood what he meant after a second. That wasn't the real one.

Jellicent summoned a huge cloud above the Haunter using Smog, and raindrops fell like bullets, penetrating through its body and turning it to mush. He took a Shadow Ball to the face before nimbly flying backward out of the poison's range, but Haunter quickly followed with one of its fists wreathed in shadows.

"Water Pulse, get him off you!" I yelled.

The water type instantly spat out a huge ring of water that was so highly pressurized that a part of Haunter's body disintegrated.

It was both of them. Both of them were real, and one had just fainted. It was only now that I noticed that they were both slightly smaller than the original one had been, and Fantina must have seen the realization on my face, because she immediately stopped her hands-off approach.

"Curse before you faint," she simply said.

The Haunter that had been hit by Brine surged forward, its body deforming until it looked just like a flying, poisonous liquid. It had taken in so much water from Brine that it appeared bloated. Meanwhile, the remains of the second Haunter joined the first one, bringing it back to its original size.

"Jellicent, Shadow Ball!"

He absolutely could not be hit by Curse here. I was out of switches, and even though he'd be able to last longer than the others with Recover, the damage would eventually outpace his regeneration. The water type gathered an immense amount of ghostly energy and let out a deep, booming sound as he sent the attack flying toward the misshapen Haunter.

The ghost laughed one last time as it exploded. Fantina waited for the remaining parts of his body to gather again to recall him.

"Haunter is unable to battle. Leader Fantina, send out your second Pokemon," the referee said.

I exhaled and felt my body relax slightly. Haunter was a tough Pokemon to beat, and despite having to use two switches, I had done so without losing anyone or taking substantial damage. I ordered Jellicent to Recover as Fantina sent out a… a what?

My ears tingled as I heard grains of sand shift on the floor. The sand slowly coalesced into a sand castle, and eagerly wiggled. I waited for a sound to come. A sound that I had expected to be disturbing, just like every other ghost Fantina usually sent out.

There was nothing. Just silence and the sound of wind blowing against the sand. And for some reason, that unnerved me a lot more.

Palossand was the toughest thing my team could have faced. Despite being a ground type, the fact that it was made out of sand made it excellent at soaking in water, especially with the Water Compaction ability. It also knew the attack Giga Drain, which meant that Jellicent was done for if he ever got too close.

Not that I was planning on doing so anyway. I had made a contingency plan for each of my Pokemon, just in case they'd face Palossand. Togetic and Electabuzz would have been screwed, while Tangrowth might have won eventually, but he had taken some damage from Curse and other attacks. Jellicent, however, had a straightforward way to win.

"Sandstorm," Fantina lazily ordered.

Palossand silently moved its towers around, and a Sandstorm soon overtook the entire arena, hampering my visibility so much that I could barely see Jellicent anymore, and Palossand was also impossible for me to find. I already knew that this was coming. This was how Palossand fought. It isolated trainers from their Pokemon, and if they weren't used to fighting independently, then they'd be screwed. Fantina already tended to have a hands-off approach to her battles, so she wouldn't be affected at all.

It wasn't a problem for Jellicent, who would be able to sense him and maneuver quickly, which was why he was in the most advantageous position to take it down.

"Keep moving and hit it with Shadow Ball!" I yelled, hoping that buddy would hear me through the Sandstorm. "Recover when you can, and watch out for Hypnosis!"

If Fantina was ordering her Pokemon to do anything, then she was unintelligible. I anxiously gripped my pants as explosions rang out in the storm. I had never fought like this. Not seeing what my Pokemon were doing was making my anxiety shoot up to dangerous levels, but I could only place my trust in Jellicent and hope he would succeed. He had all the resources he needed to win.

So while he was fighting for me, I would look ahead and fight for my team. While he bought me time and dealt with Palossand, I would remake my remaining plan from the top down to account for the lack of Wish and switching.

On the fly.

Jellicent felt drowsy for the first time in his entire life as he stared in Palossand's general direction. Hypnosis was the attack Grace had warned him about, and he had to fight his own instincts to look away and fly off. The water type felt a deep hatred whenever he could sense Palossand, and it was affecting his quick thinking and judgment. He had felt it when fighting against Zweilous as well, but Grace had been there to talk to him and keep him aware of his actions.

She was no longer there. Jellicent felt the entire side of his face disintegrate— a deeply uncomfortable feeling that he stopped with Recover. The Sandstorm was affecting his maneuverability with Water Sport, and it was also affecting his aiming. The storm was so strong that it caused any Shadow Balls or Poison Stings to drift in the wind and miss, and Grace had warned him not to use water type moves. Hex would be usable, but then he would get hit with Giga Drain. Meanwhile, Palossand easily predicted how the wind would affect his attacks and aimed them perfectly. The water type spat out a Water Pulse to intercept another Shadow Ball, causing it to explode close to his face. He Recovered again. He felt the Palossand's form loosen as it writhed away from him, no longer in its sandcastle form.

He was in a dilemma, but he could not afford to wait. Grace would hate for him to simply get hit and dish out nothing in return.

Jellicent turned his levitation off and felt his body loosen as he dropped to the ground, narrowly avoiding another Shadow Ball. He narrowly stopped himself just a few feet off the floor and propelled himself forward with another Water Sport. The earth opened up below him and churned out hot, molten rocks, but he managed to zigzag around them due to how telegraphed Earth Power was.

He would rather get hit by Giga Drain and deal damage than do nothing. Or was it his instinct screaming at him to murder this Palossand and atomize it until it was nothing but inanimate sand that had brought him to this decision?

When the water type reached Palossand, he stared into its hollow, white eyes that sat in the windows of its castle for a single moment, and he could tell that the feeling of hatred was mutual. Yet they were both attempting to hold it back. Both going against their desires.

They had both been trained with love, hadn't they?

Jellicent let out a booming sound as he hit Palossand with a point-blank Shadow Ball, and the sand castle shivered as he began to drain his energy. The water type immediately started to Recover, all the while, he was showering the ground type with Shadow Ball after Shadow Ball. There was no pain, just a slight discomfort. Jellicent did not even realize that his body was currently withering faster than he could Recover due to Giga Drain.

The only thing was filled his mind was taking down Palossand.

Jellicent screamed louder and louder, and Palossand's body shivered in anger as it silently raged, its two pale eyes contracting in anger. The two Pokemon would fight until one would be left standing.

I snapped out of my thoughts as I heard Jellicent let out an ear-piercing, deep scream.

"Buddy?!" I hesitantly screamed.

The scream kept going on and on until the Sandstorm started to slowly subside. I wiped the sweat off my hands and waited with bated breath. He wasn't screaming anymore, and the Sandstorm was slowly disappearing, so that must have meant that he won.

I gasped when I saw the state Jellicent was in. His entire body was shriveled, his eyes were a pale red instead of how vibrant they usually were, and he was lying face-up on the floor. Palossand had been flattened, and only sand remained where he had stood.

"Palossand is unable to battle. Leader Fantina, send out your third Pokemon."

Jellicent could still theoretically battle, but he barely had the energy to even float. He had done such a good job, taking out Palossand on his own like that. No one else on the team would have been able to take him out alone.

"I'm withdrawing my Pokemon out of the fight," I told the referee. He nodded and announced that Jellicent was unable to battle.

Fantina sent out her Pokemon.

It was a single, red eye at first, just floating in the dim room, but then a pale skull appeared in front of it, followed by gray, wispy cloth. A Duskull. The sound of cold wind filled my ears as the ghost type rose into the sky.

I braced myself. The eye was the same. The same as Dusknoir's.

But I knew myself, so I had meticulously prepared for this. I had forced myself to watch videos, over and over, getting panic attacks that my Pokemon helped me to deal with until what I felt was no longer crippling dread that stopped me from even thinking, but just terror.

I could work with terror.

Still, seeing the real thing was a lot worse than I had expected with the days I had spent analyzing the footage, but that also meant Duskull was the Pokemon I knew the most about. I swallowed as I sent honey back into the field, who wiped the blood from the Curse from his mouth.

"Disappear," Fantina said. An order she always gave with Duskull. What was coming next was a non-vocal Shadow Sneak, and then Will-O-Wisp.

See, in the beginning, I had believed Duskull to be an unstoppable force like Dusknoir had seemed to me all those months ago, but watching the footage had made me realize that it was weak.

I knew everything.

"Protect," I simply said.

Fantina's eye twitched as Duskull reappeared before ramming skull-first into Electabuzz's Protect. The impact from the Shadow Sneak was so strong that the ghost type was repelled a few feet, and that was what we needed.

"Thunderbolt!" I ordered.

The electric type yelled, bringing his hands forward and electrocuting Duskull with a powerful Thunderbolt. The ghost type's eye flickered, and the cloth on its body smoked as it cried out in pain.

Duskull's cry of pain, in this instance, was the sound of a strong gust of wind.

"Again!" I yelled right as Electabuzz stopped his first Thunderbolt.

"Dodge with Shadow Sneak."

Duskull was too quick, and avoided the Thunderbolt by a large margin. The electric attack continued forward until it hit Fantina's side of the barrier, and Duskull disappeared into the shadows.

Now was the time to reveal that Electabuzz could sense ghosts. If we could catch Fantina off-guard before she switched, then I'd be in the best position possible.

"Go get him," I said, but Electabuzz's antennas twitched. It was a code we had prepared beforehand, and he now knew that he needed to reveal his ability. Meanwhile, to Fantina, it would just be a vague attack with no meaning.

Honey broke into a run so quick that he became a blur, and I assumed that he was going toward Duskull's general direction.

Then he clapped his hands, slid on the floor as he stopped in place, and his fur sparked. I grinned as a Thunderbolt hit directly where Duskull was, and the ghost was forced to reappear. Duskull's goal was to hamper opponents with Will-O-Wisp before switching out. It wasn't a good attacker, so I knew that Fantina had wanted to switch out as soon as Electabuzz had been hit by the attack. It would have been impossible to dodge for long. Protect would work once, but honey couldn't use the move that many times, and he had to wait a long time in between uses.

Duskull's eye flickered off as it fell to the floor, and Electabuzz used Thunderbolt on it one last time for good measure. I had caught Fantina off-guard. Her eyes widened in surprise, and she had just been more expressive than she had been all day.

I was winning.

"Duskull is unable to battle. Fantina, send out your fourth Pokemon."

Now was when it would get interesting. Fantina had two Pokemon left and two switches, and while Jellicent had been fighting Palossand one-on-one, I had been thinking about who she could possibly send out against me.

There were two Pokemon I thought she'd use. The first one was Lampent, because she knew I had Tangrowth waiting in the back, and it would be a powerful Pokemon to take him down, but she wouldn't use it now. She'd wait until I had him out.

The second one I thought she'd use to deal with honey was Shedinja, because she didn't know he could use Fire Punch. And even if he could, getting in range to hit the damn thing would be nearly impossible. Wonder Guard meant that nothing else we had would be able to even hit it.

With the information she currently had, those two made the most sense to me.

I groaned when she sent out her Doublade. Predicting it correctly would have been so damn satisfying, but I had been wrong yet again. I'd need to improvise for this one, but that was fine. Fire Punch was still clearly an unknown to Fantina, especially since she sent out a steel type—

"Swords Dance."

Excuse me?

Swords Dance?

Both swords unsheathed themselves, and their steel blade shimmered after doing a short flip. Swords Dance was a notoriously difficult move to learn, and Doublade hadn't had it in any of the videos I saw. How many times was I going to get tripped up by the same fucking problem? Gym Pokemon progressed too, just like mine did!


"Thunderbolt!" I yelled, sweeping my arm. I needed to force her to switch out here. The move was quick to use, but it drained a lot of energy from the user, meaning that they wouldn't be able to use it over and over.

The two swords separated, causing the Thunderbolt to just fly in between them, and then they rushed toward Electabuzz.

"Discharge in front," I continued after clicking my tongue.

He had two, maybe three more Protects left in him, and I wanted to exhaust all options before using one of them. Electabuzz nodded, and electricity flew out of his body, this time only going toward the Doublade. The swords didn't seem as easily affected by pain as her other Pokemon had been though, since they just took the attack head-on and kept flying toward Electabuzz.

"Protect!" I begrudgingly ordered.

The thin, green barrier appeared in front of the electric type, stopping the first Sword from Slashing at him.

But the second one broke through the Protect and tore across honey's chest, leaving a thick gash.

"Fire Punch before it gets away!" I hissed. I hadn't accounted for the fact that two, Swords Dance boosted attacks might be enough to break through Protect.

After a single spark, fire engulfed Electabuzz's fist, and he hit the steel type away from him with a defiant scream. His scream turned into a cry when the other sword slashed across his arm. I ground my teeth as I watched Electabuzz fight was essentially a one-against-two. He sometimes managed to hit the swords away, but they kept overwhelming him with fast, nimble attacks. Discharge wouldn't be enough to fight them off, either.

I ordered him to use another Protect to buy himself another few precious seconds, but he was done for. Electabuzz fell to the ground with deep, bloody gashes and cuts all over his fur.

"Electabuzz is unable to battle. Challenger, send out your third Pokemon."

Doublade was too much of a threat, and princess wouldn't work well against them. She could only restrain one at a time, and they could maneuver in the air a lot better than she could. It would just be a waste to use her now.

I grabbed Tangrowth's Pokeball and sent him out, and I stared at Fantina.

Switch into Lampent. You want to switch, don't you? I thought. Come on, Tangrowth's a grass type, and bulky enough to fight your damn swords.

I relaxed when she did recall her Doublade, and smiled when a Lampent appeared on the field. I had been half correct, at the very least. Its sinister, purple flame shone brightly in the dimly lit arena, and its two emotionless yellow eyes stared at Tangrowth.

Now, the situation might have seemed like it was deteriorating, but I knew from experience that Tangrowth was capable of withstanding many fire type attacks, especially when he hadn't taken that much damage just yet, and Fantina was underestimating him. The problem stemmed from—

"Disappear," Fantina said again.

From that, and now, I had no way for my Pokemon to figure out where Lampent was.

How could I—

Suddenly, something lit up inside of me. A potential opportunity, and a potential disaster.

First came the opportunity.

"Tangrowth, start Power Whipping all around you!" I yelled.

Angel extended vines all around himself, smashing the air in order to try to catch Lampent wherever it was. Knock Off would have been better here, but he wasn't capable of using that many. Two at a time was his maximum, and that dark Bind might have been a good idea, but Power Whip was just faster.

The floor cracked, kicking up dust and rocks as vines crashed against the ground.


There it was. The potential disaster. The fire type appeared to Tangrowth's left, and a series of flaming, purple orbs that filled my ears with giggled flew toward Tangrowth, who couldn't even hope to dodge the homing flames. Just Tangrowth getting burned wouldn't actually be the main problem. Even with his attack power lowered, he packed such a punch that I believed his Knock Off would be able to deal with Lampent if we restrained him.

Well, I couldn't waste an opportunity to attack. It was too late to stay on the defensive and think.

"Get him and Bind!" I yelled.

A thin layer of darkness wreathed Tangrowth's vines, and he held Lampent in place.

"Burning Jealousy," Fantina said.

Lampent's hollow eyes suddenly raged with such intensity that I felt my legs shiver, and everything around it caught fire. The ground, Tangrowth, his vines, and even Lampent itself burned away in a fierce, purple flame. Angel's vine withered away, but we had time for—

Fantina recalled her Lampent, using her last switch of the battle. She released her Doublade again, and I held my breath. She might have thought that angel would have outlasted her ghost.

And honestly, she might have been correct.

I squinted at Doublade, anticipating the worst…

"Aerial Ace," she ordered.

I exhaled, releasing all of the tension I felt.

No more Swords Dance. This was still okay.

The two swords left their scabbards and began flying toward Tangrowth, and streaks of air formed at their tips. Angel was still burning, and the flames were chewing through his vines, he had been burned by Will-O-Wisp, but he could still fight.

"Bind one, and Knock Off the other!" I yelled.

The advantage of Aerial Ace was that the move seldom missed. It couldn't be deflected unless the power disparity was immense, and the move's user would almost always reach its target.

The disadvantage was that the move was not flexible. It was hilariously telegraphed, and Tangrowth could use it to his advantage. The first Doublade just cut through the three vines Tangrowth sent to Bind it, so he decided to tie as many vines as he could into a huge braid. The Doublade bounced against the tied-up vines, and Tangrowth quickly unwound them and wrapped them around the steel type.

He had been too slow to stop the other sword, however, and it buried itself deep inside of the grass type's body.

Now that the first sword was restrained, Tangrowth slapped the second one away with his hand wrapped with Knock Off, and then smashed the first one all over the floor. I grinned when the first sword fainted, going limp on the ground, but my smile slipped when I remembered what move was coming next.

"Tangrowth Ancient Power in front of you!"


Retaliate was Doublade's gimmick, and it would deal a lot more damage when one of the swords had fainted. The last remaining sword's eyes flashed with anger, and he blurred toward Tangrowth, who raised a barrier in front of him.

Doublade tore through Ancient Power and then penetrated through the grass type's entire body before falling onto the floor and fainting.

"Doublade is unable to battle. Leader Fantina, send out your last Pokemon."

Tangrowth was on the verge of fainting, but I sent him an apologetic look, and he responded with two slow blinks. Princess could deal with Lampent, but I would rather give her as much help as possible.

Fantina released her Lampent and immediately ordered it to use Fire Spin. Burning Jealousy could only be used at close range, and Fire Spin was the second best fire type attack it owned.

Still, at this stage, a simple Fire Spin could take angel down.

"Ancient Power," I said.

The grass type sluggishly raised another rock, sent it toward Lampent, and the ghost type easily dodged.

Yeah, I figured.

The flames finished Tangrowth off.

"Tangrowth is unable to battle. Challenger, send out your fourth Pokemon."

Well, in my case, this was my last. I sent out princess, who announced her presence with a cheerful chirp. A heavy contrast to the horrible sounds that ghost types usually let out of their mouths.

"Start off with Wish," I ordered, just in case. Togetic tightly shut her eyes, and a bright light escaped from her body and flew through the gym's roof.

"Disappear and Shadow Ball," Fantina said.

Ghost type attacks couldn't be redirected by Psychic or Extrasensory, so I'd probably have to take that hit.

"Fairy Wind, keep it constant," I continued. Even though he was invisible, Lampent would still get hurt.

The ghost type appeared behind Togetic with a Shadow Ball already loaded, and hit her in the back. Her head whirled almost one hundred and eighty degrees, and she ignored the pain with a cute grin. Her eyes shone brightly, locking Lampent in place.

That's my girl, I grinned as I felt pride swell up in my chest. "Psychic!"

Princess laughed, and then smashed Lampent against the floor with such speeds that I barely saw him move. The control was still lacking, but the power was there, and power was what we needed to win.

"Will-O-Wisp," Fantina commanded.

"Ancient Power, drills!"

A drill lodged itself inside of Lampent's lamplight, interrupting his attack, and Togetic continued her onslaught, grabbing the ghost type and sending him flying against Kadabra's barrier. The light inside of Lampent flickered as its eyes became fainter and fainter.

He was on the other side of the arena now. That was how powerful Psychic could be against unprepared opponents.

"Ancient Power," I said again.

I saw Fantina raise an eyebrow, and I smiled.

Yes, from this far.

Ten drills emerged already formed from the ground and flew toward Lampent, who was barely cognizant enough to even float. The first two tore through both of its arm-like appendages, pinning him to the floor, and the last eight stabbed him right in the head with surgical precision. Its flame went out, and its yellow eyes paled.

"Lampent is unable to battle. Victory goes to the challenger."

I recalled princess after congratulating her and shivered in excitement as the spectators let loose a thunderous applause. It was like everything just clicked during the battle in a way I had never felt before. An impressive victory was what I had needed, and an impressive victory was what I got.

Four against five.
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Chapter 133

Arceus, I was tired. My entire body felt sluggish as I trudged toward Fantina to receive my money and my TM. I felt cold, and my sweaty clothes clung to my body. I knew this was a weakness of mine, but if I was this tired after one tough battle, things didn't bode well for the Solaceon tournament.

Or maybe it wouldn't matter. The part that tired me out the most was making sure things went according to plan, so maybe improvising would help? Either way, I'd have to fight some battles back to back there, and I'd need to figure out a way to improve my stamina. Maybe Denzel could help. I didn't know how he did it, but that boy could work for an entire day straight.

I stared up at Fantina, making sure not to make a weird face due to her strange haircut. She extended her hand, and I gave her my Pokedex and trainer ID.

"Congratulations, challenger. You are now the owner of the Relic badge and the Shadow Ball TM. I've also transferred twenty-thousand Pokedollars to your account."

"Thanks," I exhaled. Togetic could learn that move, and it'd be good for coverage. "And thank you for the fun battle."

My friends were no doubt waiting for me in the lobby, so I turned away to leave, but Fantina called out to me again.

"Your Electabuzz. It can sense ghosts, can't it?" She asked.

"Yes, he can," I nodded. Of course, she'd figure it out. "Is that important? I mean, I know it was crucial to my win, but I don't even know why he has that ability."

The gym leader's eyes widened slightly. "You… do not know?"

"What?" I said, feeling dread fill my heart. "Is it bad? Is it like a disease or something?!"

"No, no," she immediately said, alleviating my worries. "Look, why don't you come see me tomorrow night, and I will tell you about it, my dear," she smiled.

My dear? Now that the battle was over, Fantina appeared to be a far warmer individual than I would have thought, especially for a ghost type specialist. The image of her cold, expressionless face had been ingrained in my mind from all the footage of her I'd watched, so seeing her smile genuinely took me by surprise.

"T—tomorrow night? Uh, yeah, I'll be there. What time?"

"Right after closing time, so seven in the evening."

"Got it," I nodded. "Thank you!"

It wasn't every day that a trainer of my caliber got to speak to a gym leader. Roark and Candice were already more than I thought I would have ever gotten, but now Fantina too? And she was helping me with Electabuzz? Until this point, I had almost given up on figuring out what made him special. I thought that maybe it could have been a random gene, or that he was just more sensitive to minute changes in temperature, but apparently, there was more to it than met the eye.

Either way, I'd find out about it tomorrow.

"Grace! Your battle was amazing!" Cecilia called out.

My friends swarmed me, complimenting me about the battle.

"That Sandstorm from Palossand was crazy powerful," Denzel said. "I kind of wish I saw what went on during that fight."

"Well, it did end in a draw," Justin said. "But that might as well be a win against such an opponent."

"Excuse me, Justin," Pauline shook her head. "It was a win. Grace just chose to recall her Jellicent."

"That's literally what I just said…"

"To be honest, I would have rather fought Pallosand than that Dhelmise…" I started.

We kept talking as we slowly made our way out of the lobby. I caught a glimpse of a raven-haired girl that quickly walked out of the gym. That must have been Lauren. I had messaged her about the time our battles would take place, but she hadn't answered me and left me on read, so I thought that she might have changed her mind. Dad had been waiting for me outside of the gym and embarrassed me by celebrating way too loudly, and he kept bragging to passersby that I was his daughter. We quickly left so I could hand my Pokemon to a Center, and dad somehow managed to pack all of us in his rental SUV. Electabuzz and Tangrowth had gone through the wringer, and it'd probably take multiple days for them to recover. Togetic and Jellicent could stick around, since the former had only gotten hit once, and a potion would be enough, and the latter would heal on his own.

I gave my Pokemon to Nurse Joy, and we were all about to head to Pauline's room to have one of Emilia's spontaneous parties when my phone rang. I frowned until I noticed that Melody— my sponsorship liaison— was calling me. Right, in the heat of the moment, I had forgotten that they were supposed to push this whole thing out today. I told the group I'd join them later and quickly entered my room.

"Ms. Pastel," Melody said on the phone. "I want to congratulate you on your decisive victory against Fantina. The company is very pleased with your performance."

"Thanks," I said with a tired sigh. Maybe I'd sleep instead of going to that party. "Feel free to call me Grace. I mean, I'm the kid here, it feels weird if you call me by my last name and I still call you Melody."

"Very well, Grace," she said. "Now, as you know, we're going to start heavily promoting you today. Do you have your company-issued laptop with you?"

"Yep, yep," I exhaled. "Uh, what do you want me to check?"

"Your emails. Your pictures from the photoshoot came out wonderfully."

I turned on my computer and opened up my email messages. The Poketch Company had sent me the pictures as soon as my battle with Fantina concluded. I wondered what would have happened if I had lost. Maybe they would have waited a few weeks, or for my next gym battle instead. I opened up the pictures, and my eyes widened in surprise at how good I looked. I was literally model-worthy, even with the damn burns.

"Did you alter these?" I asked.

"A bit," Melody said. "But don't sell yourself short. Good lighting will go a long way to bring out a person's best qualities, and you do look great without it already. Are you alright with us putting these on our website? We have a 'Trainers We Work With' page that we want to put you on today."

"Yeah, just a sec," I said before looking up the Poketch Company's website. In retrospect, I probably should have checked this out before signing, but what was done was done.

On top of the page, there was a picture of Craig, and then a long list of trainers they were currently sponsoring— although their pictures were smaller than his— along with their ages. I recognized a few names on there. They were almost all famous trainers that had made it to the Conference multiple times.

"Eighteen, twenty, twenty-two, nineteen…" I muttered. "So I'm really going to be the only first year on there? Did any of these people start late?"

"No. And we did tell you that," she said.

"Yeah, I know, it just feels strange," I continued, clicking on one of the trainer's image. His name was Ramon Casaus. He'd made it to the Conference for the first time last year.

The picture aggrandized, and there were multiple short videos of a few of his battles that automatically played, along with a short summary of his life. How he'd been raised in Sunyshore, started his journey with a street Rattata that everyone looked down on, but kept persevering. Today, he arguably had the most powerful Raticate in Sinnoh.

"What're you gonna write for me? I don't exactly make for a good rags-to-riches story," I chuckled.

"No, but there is the story of how you went through Mount Coronet and lived, which we really want to sell. Other than that, we want to accentuate your middle-class, girl-next-door vibe. People go crazy for that."

On one hand, having Melody talk about me like I was a product was a little annoying. On the other, I was kind of happy she was just being honest with me. It was weirdly respectable.

"I'm guessing that you're hoping that I'll eventually grow out of my shell," I said as I kept browsing through the website.

"I mean, yes, but we certainly won't force you to do so."

"Eh, I guess I'll just try my best. You can post the pictures."

"I will relay the message to the company immediately," Melody said. "One thing I forgot to mention was that we'll be mentioning your father in your blurb."

I frowned. "Did he consent to that?"

"He did. Arthur's been with us for decades, he understands."

"Won't people say it's… like, nepotism? I mean, I know that my dad had nothing to do with you working with me, but if I'm the first first-year you've sponsored, and my dad's working for the Poketch Company… people will talk, won't they?"

"They will, but we opted to be honest instead of hiding. The information's already out there, and it'd be very easy to figure out. Honesty goes a long way. By showing that we have nothing to hide, people will speculate less. Just don't engage with any kind of arguments, either online or in person."

"Yeah, I wasn't about to," I said. "I did have a few questions, though."

"Is it urgent? We're just about to launch your marketing campaign."

"Oh, it doesn't have anything to do with that. I was wondering… there's a tournament I was going to sign up for when I got to Solaceon."

"Okay, your campaign's live. Refresh the page, and you'll see yourself," Melody said. "And I did hear about that tournament, just a second…"

I heard Melody start to type, and I refreshed their website. Sure enough, there I was. I did notice that they placed me right under Craig instead of on the bottom like they would have if they weren't giving me special treatment. A lot of trainers on this list would probably be pissed off the next time they looked. Under my picture, there was my story. They talked about how I was raised by a single father in Jubilife, and that he struggled to care for both of us.

They had embellished this a whole lot. Dad worked good hours unless there was a new product coming out soon, and we never struggled with money.

Although struggle could mean working hard, which in this case was true. I skipped ahead until Mount Coronet, and I was surprised to see how accurate they were about the whole experience.

"How'd you get everything down to the last detail?" I asked.

"We spent days watching Mr. Williams' interviews and corroborated the data," she said nonchalantly. "Regarding your tournament, I found it. It seems relatively high profile… a minimum of three badges and a maximum of five badges for entry, so it's self-contained rather well. There won't be a skill disparity too large, which means more viewers from the get-go, since the matches will be more entertaining. What'd you want to know about it?"

"You told me about a cash bonus," I started. "Could you replace that with an item? Like, TMs or something."

"You want something specific," she guessed.

"A Shiny Stone—"

"No, too expensive. We can negotiate on less expensive items, but a Shiny Stone is a no-go for now."

I internally cursed. I thought that maybe with my battle against Fantina, and if I proved myself again by doing well in the Solaceon tournament, then they'd be willing to give me the stone. I was asking for a lot here, but I figured, why not.

"If I can't get a stone, I'll stick to money," I said. "Can I get a range of how much it is I'll get, by the way? It'll help me a ton with budgeting."

"Sure," Melody said. "Let me shoot a message to the higher-ups. They should answer shortly."

I heard her type again.

"You're a fast typer," I noticed.

"Hm? Oh, I mean, it's basically what I do all day," she chuckled. "I'm always answering or sending emails to different branches so that we can coordinate with our trainer outreach and sponsorship programs. It's actually my first time being a liaison, though, so this is rather new for me too."

"Looking forward to working with you then, Melody," I smiled.


In the end, the specific bonus I'd get for the Solaceon tournament was 105,000 Pokedollars for first place, and it slowly descended from there until I was out of the top ten. Obviously, I'd aim for first, but I knew that it'd be hard since trainers with five badges would be there.

Hard, but not impossible. I had just come out of a battle, and I was excited for more. After a quick shower that I hoped would have woken me up, I tiredly stood up and made my way to Pauline's room.

"I told you she'd come," Emilia said. "Your money. Hand it over."

"And don't forget me," Justin said.

Pauline groaned as she digitally handed both five thousand Pokedollars.

"Hiya," I waved. "Wait, were you betting on if I was going to come?"

"Showering," Cecilia said. "And yes, they were. Pauline was convinced that you'd fall asleep on your bed after your call."

Well, it wasn't like the thought hadn't crossed my mind. Sleeping after a warm shower…

"Yeah, that does sound like me," I chuckled. "So now that we've all got our badge, we should probably think about leaving soon, huh?"

Emilia's expression soured.

"Yeah," she just said. "We should probably wait for Denzel to talk about that."

"I'd like to meet with Louis first. Maybe we can travel together again…" Cecilia trailed off, creating a few seconds of silence.

"Oh!" I sprung up, trying to change the subject. "On another note, Fantina asked me to meet her tomorrow night—"

"What?" Denzel said as he burst into the room.

"How'd you even get in here?" Cecilia asked.

"Duplicate key," he grinned, showing us his keycard. "What's this meeting about?"

"Remember how Electabuzz can sense ghosts? She apparently has the answer to that."

"A ghost type specialist would know more about that than anyone else," Justin nodded.

"Anyway, we were talking about making plans to leave?" I said again. "We've got to be sort of quick if we want to make it to Solaceon before the tournament starts."

"I mean, there isn't much to say," Denzel shrugged. "Route 209's relatively long, but it's super easy. The only dangerous thing there's the Lost Tower. If any of you want to catch any water types, you can also fish in the river."

"A Gyarados would be cool," Pauline hummed. "But it's so much effort. You've been carrying that Feebas of yours for months, and Magikarp takes longer. I wouldn't even have one by the Conference, I bet."

"Well, if you want it, you've got to work for it," he said. "But it is true that it's unlikely you'd have one by the Conference if you caught one now."

"I'll figure something out," she grumbled. "Maybe wait until I've got eight badges to get it as a seventh Pokemon."

"You only have three, isn't it too early to worry about seven?" I teased.

"Ugh, shut up. I'll catch another soon."

"I do want to stop by the Lost Tower…" Cecilia hesitantly said.

Denzel stared at her like she was spouting nonsense. "Okay, you know what, scrap everything I said about there not being anything to say. You are insane."

"I want to catch something there, and it's easily found on the bottom floor," she quickly added. "We can handle those."

"Don't do anything crazy, guys…" Emilia sighed.

"The bottom floors… yeah, that should be fine, I guess," Denzel said. "Why is it that only Grace and Cece want the crazy ass Pokemon that require risking their lives. Ugh, I don't want to fight wild ghosts again."

"Don't be a wimp," I teased.

Cecilia face grew serious. "I'm serious. I want a Golett, but if we don't find it on the first floor, then we can leave. I've read up on the tower, and the first floor is only slightly more dangerous than the route as a whole, and it's the main way trainers can catch ghost types in the region. There are even people that walk there from Solaceon to maintain it every day, and most of them don't have Pokemon."

"I remember hearing about that," Denzel nodded. "Most people don't bother with true ghosts though, because they're impossibly hard to raise."

"I mean, I'd be willing to help you if you really want Golett," I said. "We can at least go to the second floor—"

"Grace, no," she denied, shaking her head. "Let's all stay safe, okay?"

"Arceus, alright."

I had told dad I'd stay safe anyway, so it was probably better that way. I'd feel terrible if Cecilia didn't find her Golett, though. I found how lifeless it had been against Pauline to be creepy, but the Pokemon certainly fit her. Plus, maybe she'd be able to breathe life into it. They couldn't all be like robots.

"Okay, the Lost Tower's at the halfway point of the route, and other than that, it should be smooth sailing. The whole route as a whole is flat and easy to traverse too. You could even ride a bike or a car across it."

"How many days?" Justin asked.

"Four to five days. Like I said, quick."

"That was anticlimactic," I joked.

"I mean, there's a reason trainers from western Sinnoh sometimes complain about people from the east having it easy," Denzel shrugged. "If you're from the east, all the routes other than that swampy hellhole on route 212 and the foggy, mountainous route 210— of which 212 is optional— are easy, and you've got access to four gym badges."

"Meanwhile, if you're from the west, you only have access to three, and then you'll have to go through Eterna Forest if you want to get all of them," Justin nodded.

"And the travel time is insanely long," I added. "Well, they can always take a plane to Sunyshore before the Circuit starts or something. I heard that Volkner was the second gym leader who was challenged first the most behind Roark."

"I'd like to see a list of those statistics," Justin mused. "It seems like it'd be interesting."

"They release 'em after each year," Denzel said. "I used to look at them a bunch."

"Wait, they do?" I asked, grabbing my phone. "Where?"

"Official League website, where else?" he laughed.

Well, there were a few cool nuggets of information on there. Candice and Byron were most often challenged seventh or last. Candice, I had expected, but Byron was a surprise. And thinking about it, with the route we were currently taking, he'd be the one Denzel, Cece and I would challenge last too. Meanwhile, Roark and Volkner were almost always early, and they were generally considered the most beginner-friendly gyms. The rest of them were usually in the middle. If we kept progressing as quickly as we were, though, the order wouldn't exactly matter, since we'd be fighting against gym leaders' personal teams or close to it for the eighth badge and the entirety of the next Circuit— even though they'd probably still have to hold back to some extent.

Unless I became the Champion this year, of course!

I was getting a lot more confident lately. I'd have to watch out, or I'd get a big head. Sort of like Chase.

Speaking of Chase.

"Should we call Chase?" I asked, looking at my friends. "You guys haven't even met properly yet—"

"I tried, dude," Denzel said. "He said no."

"Aw. Doesn't he feel lonely?" I pouted. "One way or another, I'm getting you guys in the same room before we all leave!"

"You don't have to do that…" Emilia said, hiding a grimace.

I ended up spending another three hours at the party before I left. Well, at this point, these were less like parties and more like normal gatherings, but Emilia liked calling them parties anyway. I released Jellicent, who was still in his withered, wrinkled form, and I had princess use Wish on him so that he'd recover quicker. Then, I also sprayed her back with a potion. After that, I decided, against my own judgment, to look at the forums to see what people were saying about me.

Needless to say, I was blowing up.

No, really blowing up. I thought I had been famous before, but this was on another level, and my megathread had far surpassed all of my friends. Not only had I handily won against Fantina, but I was getting sponsored by the Poketch Company, who had leaked that I owned Turtonator, which up until now had just been a rumor. There was also our double battle that had made the rounds a few days earlier.

The forums were in an uproar. Most of the reactions were supportive, but as always, there was the occasional hater.

So her dad works at the Poketch Company, and all of the sudden, she gets a sponsor? People always say that being a trainer is about skill, but this seems like some coordinator bullshit to me.

She knows Craig Goodwill, doesn't she? He flew her back to Eterna on his Salamence, so maybe there's something there.

They only hired her because she's gay, not because she deserves it. Companies these days are woke as hell. I'm boycotting the Poketch Company and moving to Retani Industries!

"Well have fun with your shitty Retani phone, asshole," I angrily said. "Damn it, now my evening's ruined."

It was funny, how the internet could turn on you—

No, I couldn't think like that. The internet hadn't turned on me, my brain was just focusing on the negative. To see these comments, I had to scroll through hundreds of supportive comments that I just glazed over and ignored.

Why did my mind work like that?

I ended up blocking the last user. At least the first two weren't obnoxiously bigoted, and it was partly because of Craig that I'd gotten the sponsorship, so their comment hadn't been unfounded.

I wondered when Melody would message me again to guide me through my first online promotion.

Probably before I left.

It was the evening of the next day, and I had patiently waited until seven to show up at the gym. Denzel had been acting weird today, and he vanished during the afternoon, which probably meant he'd been doing something related to Louis again. I walked into the lobby and raised an eyebrow when I saw a pink-haired girl waiting on one of the chairs. What was she doing here after closing time? Did she have something to talk to Fantina about too? Had the gym leader double-booked? There was no gym trainer to be seen at the reception, so I simply sat away from her and fiddled with Togetic's Pokeball in the meantime.

"Hi. This seat taken?" The girl said.

I almost jumped. She had gotten here so quietly. Upon closer inspection, she looked extremely young. Too young to be a trainer, but there were almost never exceptions, so she must have been fifteen either way.

"I'll sit anyway," she said, plopping herself down next to me. "Watcha doin'? I didn't expect another trainer to be here after closing."

"I had to talk to Fantina about something regarding one of my Pokemon," I explained.

"Oh, word?" She said. "Me too! I guess she double-booked."

I let out a slight chuckle. "Well, I don't think it'll last too much time, so it should be fine. What's your name?"

"Mira Compton! Just Mira's fine, though."

"Nice to meet you. My name's—"

"Grace, I already know. You've been all over the news today, and it's not your first time."

"Right, that makes sense," I nodded.

"I was there to see your battle against Fantina with my two friends. You were really good! I had my own battle today, actually, and there was a bit of an accident. I wanted to impress Fantina, but I ended up making her angry. I guess I got what I wanted though, which was her attention."

"An accident?" I asked.

"Yeah, my Haunter killed hers," she said nonchalantly. "Now she won't be able to use it for weeks, and she'll have to have a gym trainer posted up there in case it comes back early. Ghosts tend to be angry after they die."

My mind swam. First of all, this girl fought Haunter, which meant that she probably had four badges just like I did. Second of all, she owned one.

They were so rare outside of the top floors of the Lost Tower and so difficult to train that most trainers didn't bother. But she just dropped that like it was nothing.

"Scared ya?" Mira asked with a childlike smile.

"No, just surprised, that's all," I said. "My reason for being here's a lot more mundane than yours. You're lucky that this happened against a ghost type specialist and not anyone else, though, or you potentially could have been disqualified and have your Haunter taken away."

"I know, right?" She said playfully. "I mean, Haunter's been so out of control lately that I don't think I'll even be able to use him against other gym leaders at this rate. That's why I need Fantina's help. She's the best at raising ghosts in the region. If she can't help me, nobody can."

I narrowed my eyes at her and held back a hum. She was similar to Candice in a lot of ways, but also fundamentally different. When Candice was happy, you could feel it radiate through the room, and the feeling would spread to you in turn. I couldn't feel any of that from Mira. She was hiding behind a fake veneer of cheerfulness, but we all had our skeletons in our closets. I wasn't about to ask personal questions to a girl I barely met.

"Mira Compton and Grace Pastel?" A gym trainer asked.

We nodded, but he asked to see our trainer IDs just to be sure. He then led us to Fantina's office. It felt odd, to see her with her hair down and wearing normal clothes instead of that extravagant, sparkly dress.

"Ah, you are both here. Take a seat, my dears," Fantina said with a warm smile.
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Interlude - Fantina

Two children currently sat in Fantina's office. Fantina stared at them both for a few seconds. There was a lot of passion behind those eyes. A drive to improve in Pokemon battling. A drive she had once had, but no longer felt no matter how much she tried to rekindle it. Their drives both felt distinctly different, however. Like fire and ice. Warmth and coldness. Grace Pastel and Mira Compton.

"Apologies for the impromptu meeting," Fantina said. "I have a contest gala to get to in an hour, so we'll make this quick."

"An hour?" Grace said. "Uh, should we maybe reschedule? That doesn't sound like enough time to—"

"Shhhh!" Mira hissed. "I'm not leaving until I get my answers. I've been looking forward to this for months."

"I will make it, do not worry," Fantina said. "I suppose we can start with Grace Pastel, then, since I asked her to come here first."

The blond girl timidly nodded.

"I assume you do not have your Electabuzz with you?"

"No, he's still at the Center," she answered with a slight wince. "Your Doublade did quite a number on him. Do we need him here?"

"Not exactly," Fantina shrugged. "But it would have been easier to ask him questions. Was your Electabuzz owned by someone previously?" She asked.

Grace frowned. "No. I don't think so, at least. I found him hanging around the power plant at Valley Windworks. He was friendly, but I just attributed that to the fact that he was used to humans, since they usually travel between Floaroma and the plant to go to work."

"A sound assumption," the gym leader nodded. "Still, you ought to ask him, but it does not derail the point I wanted to make. How old is he, then?"

"I don't… know? I'd say a few years old at most, he's clearly still a kid."

"Alright, let me explain what I believe happened. When a Pokemon is young— and I mean young, a few weeks old at most, they tend to learn a lot of things very quickly."

Grace hummed, and she seemingly thought of something. "Yeah, I have a young baby Pokemon with me that learned a lot of moves really fast."

"You have a baby? D'aww, how cute!" Mira squealed.

"You see this phenomenon in human children as well. They are knowledge sponges, especially during their first years. Alas, most Pokemon grow up a lot quicker than that. Still, I believe that when your Electabuzz was a newborn, it must have been in constant contact with a ghost for him to learn what they feel like. A process that can only be learned early in a Pokemon's life, unless they are a ghost themselves. Of course, once it is learned, it can be worked on and improved regardless of age."

Fantina watched as Grace silently digested the words she had just spoken.

"Either way, the ability is not always guaranteed. Your Electabuzz would have had to be quite close to this ghost, and it would have had to be quite powerful. It also could not have been a one-off experience. For him to be as good as he is, he would have had to quite literally be with this ghost for his entire infancy."

"He's… he's never told me anything about it. Never even hinted at it."

"Maybe it is a memory he does not wish to revisit, or he is keeping it a secret until he is ready," Fantina said. "Or maybe he simply does not think that it would matter to you."

She muttered something, and her eyes widened. "I've… I've got to go," she hurriedly said before bowing. "Thank you for your time!"

"Oh, nonsense, my dear. I was quite interested in your Electabuzz. He's only one of the few Pokemon I've seen that is capable of sensing ghosts that well."

"Thank you again! Have fun with your contest gala thing!" She said as she ran out of the office.

Well, what an interesting night this had turned out to be, and she was only halfway done. For this girl's Electabuzz to be this good at sensing ghosts, he would have had to be… raised by one from birth, Fantina reckoned. An odd thing to think about, but not impossible. Pokemon were known to adopt children from different species, even in the wild.

Ghosts were hateful, but they were not all a monolith. They were capable of love, too.

"Now, you," Fantina sighed. Mira Compton's ghost had ruthlessly killed her Haunter in their battle, and it had to be disqualified during the fight. Still, she won rather handily. Fantina hoped that she would be there to calm him down whenever he reappeared. "That Haunter of yours. I assume he has been getting worse? You did not expect it to kill mine. I could tell from your face during the battle."

"Well, duh. It's not like I'm on the verge of breaking down because of how impossible he is, or anything," she said, laughing nervously.

Fantina stared at the young girl with pity. Ghosts were Pokemon with an untold amount of potential, but they were also incredibly hard to train. Doing so had brought the gym leader close to multiple mental breakdowns in her youth, and it pained her to see another trainer so close to one of her own.

"Tell me about your Haunter," Fantina said.

"He just hates everything that lives," Mira said. "Wild Pokemon, trained Pokemon, humans… he just wants to torment and kill all of them. I… I don't know how to fix him. It's been getting harder and harder to justify getting him out of his Pokeball. I'm at the end of my rope."

She was sobbing now. Fantina opened one of her drawers and handed her a box of tissues.

"I understand that you are in pain, but that is not what I meant, dear. What is your Haunter like? Is there any particular food he enjoys? Most people do not know this, but even true ghosts are capable of ingesting and tasting things. Does he like to lazily float in the wind? Soak in the sunlight, that can provide them the only warmth they will ever feel? Does he enjoy speaking with the other members of your team, perhaps? What kind of music does he like?"

Mira sniffled and blew her nose. "I don't… I don't know? Arceus, I'm so lame."

"Therein lies the problem. Your Haunter doesn't try to kill you, does he?"

She shook her head.

"Then why not spend more time with him? There is this stereotype where ghosts are supposedly incapable of love, and that they are just bloodthirsty monsters that would do anything to kill, but it is far from the truth," Fantina continued. "They are Pokemon. They are capable of love, of warmth, and of friendship. You simply have to work harder to get them there."

"But I'm— what if he sees another trainer or something. I'm traveling with two people, and he doesn't even know. I haven't told him yet."

"How can you expect your Haunter to be civilized if all you use him for is gym battles?" Fantina asked. "There will always be a risk, but you have your other Pokemon, don't you? If all else fails and you can't get your Haunter back to his Pokeball, they will be there to stop him. You are a good trainer, Mira. Your victory against me today was extremely impressive, despite the hiccup. You should trust your team more. Plus, it should be a good bonding exercise."

"My team hates him, though…" she grumbled. "My Kadabra, especially. My Magnezone wants to fry him every time he's out, too."

"Well, you will have to work something out on that front. You know your team better than I could ever hope to. Every Pokemon is different, including ghosts, but you should try to treat him as you would any other. If you had, let us say, an aggressive Furret, would you keep it permanently restrained to its Pokeball, or would you try to communicate?"


"Exactly, my dear. Now, I will not mislead you and say this process will be an easy one, but all certainly is not lost like you appear to think."

Mira crumpled her tissue and smiled. "Hey, I just got a really dumb idea just now. Can I tell you?"

Fantina raised an eyebrow. "Sure, I will entertain you."

"Do you think Haunter would like to play catch?"

"Oh, what a wonderful idea!" Fantina laughed. "See? This is what I was talking about! Play games with your Pokemon! Teach Haunter that there is more to life than just killing! And who knows, maybe one day, he'll be your most affectionate Pokemon."

"Thank you, miss," Mira firmly said. "I needed that. By the way, one more question. If I ever succeed at fixing my Haunter's behavior, how would I go about… evolving him?"

Fantina stopped laughing, and her expression grew serious. Her next statement almost came out like clockwork.

"You are not ready."

Fantina walked out of her gym and stepped into her car. Some gym leaders enjoyed being driven around by gym trainers, but she had always liked her independence.

There had been such passion behind those two girls. Passion was not always positive. It could make someone jubilant, but it could also drop you into the deepest pit of despair.

"Passion…" she sighed as she drove out of the parking lot. "I used to have it, once."

Growing up in post-war Kalos had been difficult for Fantina. Her father had died in the war— not because he'd been a combatant, but because he was caught in the middle of some kind of infiltration mission gone wrong, or at least that's what her mother had told her growing up. That entire generation— the ones who lived and fought through the war— had been so deeply affected that they were all broken in some way. For Fantina's mother, that was simply a fear of Pokemon so deep that she rarely went outside until her death. Her uncle moved in soon after and took care of them with construction jobs that were dearly needed after the war.

Fantina had a pleasant childhood, all things considered. As pleasant as one of her generation could have had. Despite being a shut-in, her mother loved her dearly and cared for her, while her uncle became a fatherly figure she had desperately needed. She had been terribly lonely, however. She struggled to make any friends due to her eccentric behavior—

Fantina slammed her foot on the break and honked.

"Putain, met ton clignotant!" She swore. "Merde!"

Arceus, she loved Hearthome, but the drivers could leave a lot to be desired. She felt the bottom of her car rattle.

"It's nothing, just the drivers," she sighed exasperatedly.

One day, when walking through the streets of Lumiose city, Fantina almost died.

There had been rumors of children dying in the post-war shanty towns to the south of the city, and as foolish as she had been, she decided to go and check in the middle of the night. She wasn't ashamed to say that she soiled herself when she came across a Gastly in the middle of licking a pale, unconscious teenager. Fantina still remembered it like it was yesterday.

She immediately ran home and never told anyone about it. She had only been eight, so getting berated by her uncle if she admitted what she had seen seemed like a terrible trade-off.

"The morality of children can be awful like that," Fantina chuckled. "But it was that lapse in judgment that allowed my future to take place."

A month later, the rumors stopped, and Gastly was found and driven out of that section of the city. The news said that he'd killed seven people in total— six children and one adult, and yet, as a young girl, she couldn't help but be morbidly intrigued by the ghost. Fantina had felt a pull, begging her to go back and check on him. It took her another six months to find the Gastly again, and Fantina recognized him instantly due to a particular slant he had in his noxious eyes.

With her whole body shivering like a leaf, the first thing she asked of this serial killer ghost was if he wanted to be her friend.

"You were taken aback, weren't you?" The old woman chuckled. She'd always been strange like that. "And yet, here we are now, almost sixty years later."

Of course, it had taken her months for her to actually befriend Gastly. She used to sneak out of her house at night to bring him leftovers or snacks, which the ghost loved, but he still always haunted her on the way home, appearing in the corner of her vision and scaring her enough to make her fall over multiple times. Fantina hadn't cared. She'd vent all about her problems while walking home, and he would listen in silence, occasionally popping in to terrify her when he got bored. They did eventually become friends, though, and he stopped his killings. Sometimes, he'd even go to her house and listen to her worries until she fell asleep. Luckily, her mother never found out, or she would have had a heart attack right then and there.

Fantina parked her car in her driveway and made her way toward her large home. It'd been gifted to her by a judge high-up in the Contest Committee when she had been supposed to retire out of becoming a gym leader. Alas, Cynthia convinced her otherwise, and Fantina was a woman of her word.

Four more years. Well, more like three and a half, now.

"Wait for me," she said as she opened the door.

Fantina stared at the antique wooden clock in her entryway. She had forty minutes to get to her contest, which was ample time to get ready. After all, she wore the same stylish haircut, a similar amount of makeup, and similar dresses every day for work, so doing this had become a routine.

Which meant that she could continue reminiscing about her early days.

When Fantina turned fifteen, she asked Gastly to join her team. The ghost accepted immediately. They had practically been inseparable at this point, after knowing each other for years. She'd wanted to become a Pokemon trainer for as long as she could remember, as many children did. Oh, now she knew that a part of it was heavily crammed into the brains of children in case another war ever broke out and Kalos needed another fresh batch of trainers— especially when they had lost so many during the Great War. The government had wanted the new generation to pick up the slack.

Maybe Fantina just got swept up in the excitement, but she couldn't deny that for more than a decade, she truly lived for Pokemon battling. She spent her entire early career in Kalos, going through their own version of the Circuit many times, gathering as many ghosts as she could in the process. She had built herself quite a negative reputation because of it. When she turned twenty-three, however, she decided that she wanted something new. Things had begun to grow boring, and she figured that a fresh journey in a new region might do the trick.

Fantina had been correct. Not only was her love for battling rekindled once more, but she fell in love with Sinnoh as a whole, but especially Hearthome. It reminded her of Lumiose city in a way that nothing else could. Of course, these days, Lumiose had been completely modernized from the top down. Eventually, she grew to enjoy staying in Sinnoh more than Kalos. Not only that, but the gym in Hearthome was run by a ghost type specialist, just like her!

She went through the Circuit in Sinnoh twice, but it was custom to retire or start working whenever a trainer turned twenty-five. What else to do but become a gym trainer for the Hearthome gym? At this point, she still owned a Haunter. The secrets of evolving one into Gengar were still locked away from her and only known to a few key people.

Sylvestia, her mentor and the previous gym leader of the Hearthome gym, had owned three. Fantina worked hard, and soon enough, she took her under her wing and designated her as her successor. She had begged Sylvestia for years to tell her the secrets to evolving Haunter, but every time, she said no. She told her that she was not ready. Fantina had hated that answer in her young age, and yet today, it was her saying the same thing.

Hypocritical, wasn't it?

"You followed me?" Fantina said, glancing at the floor as she silently put on her purple heels. "I told you to wait for me, did I not?"

The gym leader smiled and got into her car once more. The contest gala she was going to was in preparation for the next Grand Contest next week. When Fantina had been younger, she probably would have despised this kind of event, but now? She enjoyed herself very much.

"Things change, and yet you stay the same, don't you all?" She said as she started her car.

When Fantina turned twenty-eight, Sylvestia announced her retirement. No one protested her ascension to the position of gym leader, and she did feel happy. Still, at the back of Fantina's mind, doubt had already begun to creep in. Already at this point, she hadn't enjoyed battling as much as she used to, and they had once again grown boring. She had discovered Pokemon contests a few months earlier, and she'd been participating in them in her free time.

But Sylvestia had spent years training her, investing money, time, and resources into her. It would have been rude of her to refuse now when she could have said something years ago. She respected her and the gym too much for that. Fantina was still training her own successor, and she wasn't even sure she'd be ready by the time she retired.

She knew now that she should have refused. Battles— whether they were close or a sweep— were dull. Running the city, she did not mind much, especially since Nyla stayed on top of most issues, and she was an excellent mayor. Oh, she had considered turning her battles into mini-performances, but at the end of the day, battles were still battles. The goal was to pummel enemies until they were unconscious, and turning the whole ordeal into a performance just meant that she was wasting trainers' time and running out the clock to put on a show. A single year was already barely enough to trek through Sinnoh without a flier.

"You are ready, now," Sylvestia had told her the day before her ascension to the role. The words had sent shivers down her spine.

Ready had not meant that she was ready to wield the immense power a Gengar could have. It had meant that she'd been ready to hold that knowledge. It was so tightly held to prevent it from leaking to the public that Sylvestia had waited all those years to tell her.

"You see, Fantina, if a Haunter wishes to evolve, it must haunt a human to their breaking point. Torment them until they die, but not do the killing themselves."

"But… you own three Gengar,"
Fantina had said, her face paling. "And what do you mean until they die? You do not mean… suici…"

She hadn't found the strength to complete her sentence, and it had died in her throat.

Sylvestia just responded with a crooked smile. "I fought in the war, Fantina. You know what that entails. No one came out of that conflict with their hands clean."


"Silence. You know now that the consequences of this getting out would be catastrophic. Trainers with Haunter are rare enough, but don't you think that some of them would kill to gain a Pokemon as powerful as Gengar? I will not let the reputation of ghosts be tarnished further."

"I can not do this. My Haunter does not kill. Not anymore."

"Oh, you will, and so will he. Children are too soft these days,"
she cackled. "Fret not. We won't be wasting an innocent life."

Fantina was not proud of what she did next. A mix of pressure from the mentor she had looked up to for years and a morbid desire to own the elusive Gengar had made her accept. The Sinnoh League had issued her a spy from Galar that had sabotaged and blown up Snowpoint's port, killing or injuring hundreds, and causing the city to be isolated during an entire summer, which was when they were supposed to stock up on resources to last for the winter. Needless to say, it was a complete disaster. It was the closest Sinnoh ever got to starting a war, but cooler heads prevailed. The spy was thrown under the bus by Galar's government, an official apology was issued, and they helped pay back for the port's reconstruction.

It took Haunter a month and a half to break her, and no one ever told a soul.

Eventually, Sylvestia retired, and then died a decade later, passing away peacefully in her sleep. Her ghosts all split up and left. Fantina never managed to find them. All she knew was that they were incredibly powerful— more than her own, if she had to guess. Thankfully, they had been raised with love, so wherever they were, they were peaceful. That, she was sure of.

Fantina stepped out of an elevator that brought her to the contest hall's last floor. There, the most well-known individuals in the coordinator industry were gathering for tonight's gala. Well-known coordinators, judges, donors, executives, and businessmen were all here. It was taking place in a large ballroom with high ceilings adorned with crystal chandeliers. The walls were draped in a luxurious white fabric, but the ground was still carpeted pink, just like on the first floor. Guests arrived dressed in their finest attire, mingling and chatting over hors d'oeuvres and drinks served by waiters in tuxedos. A well-known band filled the room with music, making themselves sparse in the corner. The centerpiece of the gala was a grand stage, which served as the focal point for any speeches. Fantina would have to give one later in the night.

"Fantina!" A large man yelled out, his arms outstretched. "Just in time, as always. How was work today?"

"Do not talk to me about work, Thomas," she said, rolling her eyes. "Not tonight. If you must know, though, I have come across two interesting trainers in the last two days that were in need of some advice."

"We do live in interesting times, don't we? All that rabble about Team Galactic has my wife worried. She's glued to her television all the time."

"This is a gala, Thomas. We are raising money for a new stadium to be built next year in Solaceon— the first of the city. Let us not speak about such morose topics. You will scare away the guests. I heard you were a judge during the last contest here. A shame I missed it. I had to train my successor."

Thomas stroked his chin. "Hm, yes. There were a few coordinators there that caught my eye, but you know how exigent I am. I want something new and refreshing, not the same boring garbage. One of the coordinators here had the most wonderful performance with a Beldum and a Rockruff… her name was Emilia Lussier, if I remember correctly. A few more months, and I can see her going places— oh! If you'll excuse me, I must speak to Temperance," he said, pointing toward the famous coordinator.

Lussier… Fantina turned toward a couple sitting in the room's corner, keeping to themselves. Alice and Harry Lussier ran a real estate company that was lobbying to expand Hearthome further, but they were mostly old-fashioned people that didn't go out much. Were they her parents? Lussier was a rather uncommon last name. Next, she turned toward Temperance. Her hair was dyed a combination of platinum white and garnet red tonight, it seemed. It was said that she changed the color of her hair every time she performed, and next week's contest would be no exception. She was Thomas' favorite coordinator due to how fresh and different everything she did was. According to most, she was the favorite to win the Grand Festival this summer.

Fantina would not participate this year— not with Team Galactic running around. She sometimes did, and she had won multiple times, but these days, she was mostly a judge for high-stakes contests. The gym leader grabbed a glass of champagne and made her way toward another familiar face to make small talk. About two hours later, a shiver suddenly ran up her leg, and she tapped her heel against the floor in a rhythmic fashion.

"Thank you for the wonderful conversation, Paul, I will see you later," she smiled.

"Oh, already? Don't forget to talk to Nyla about that expansion into route 212! The Lussiers won't shut up about it, and I owe them a favor."

"I will take the best decision for Hearthome, Paul," Fantina said. "This is about contests, not business."

"Contests are business, Fantina. This isn't the old days any longer. There's money to be made, and I'll jump on any opportunity. Plus, wouldn't a second hall do Hearthome some good? There are too many coordinators here, and the contests are always at full capacity— so much so that they have to sell those priority tickets to the grand contests for a higher price. If we can open another one to the south, then it'll give them more opportunities to shine."

Another shiver up her leg. She responded with another heel tap. Her head scanned the room for a specific individual.

"I'll think about it," she absent-mindedly said as she emptied her glass.

The gym leader searched the room for around ten minutes, and eventually found who she was looking for on the balcony.

"The LSS never rests, it seems," Fantina smiled as she leaned against the balcony's railing. "You could have come up to me, and we would not have had to waste time. Would it not be better to talk inside? It's cold."

"No one's here," the man said. "This is as good of a spot as it gets."

"It'll turn heads."

"Let them turn. There's a spy here for Team Galactic."

"They have warned me already," Fantina said, her tone growing serious. The agent stared at her feet and chuckled dryly, but she ignored him and continued. "Who is it?"

"Fabian Mcclure. One of your fellow judges for next week's grand contest."

"Fabian? He would not—"

"Blackmail. Your friend's been taking kickbacks from experienced coordinators and giving them better scores in return. Team Galactic got a hold of that. If it comes out, his career will be ruined, and so will a few dozen coordinators involved in the scheme. Well, not like the League cares."

Fantina clicked her tongue and sighed in disappointment. "Merde! What is he giving them? Fabian is wealthy, but not that wealthy."

The nameless agent laughed. "You see too much good in the world, Fantina. It isn't money they want, it is information about you. They can't infiltrate your gym or the League, so they've infiltrated the coordinator industry instead since they know it's practically your home these days. And even though you act like you're blind to it, it's full of self-serving, corrupt bastards."

"Let us not get into a debate about corruption. You said they want information about me?"

"The latest news is that they plan to try something the night of the grand contest next week."

"And I assume you haven't arrested Fabian yet and done something about this because he's too useful to you?"

"We've bugged his phone. He's talking to a middleman, so he's still of use. We'll get him soon. Just need to tie up some loose ends and figure out where this person is exactly. Fabian's a small fish. The middleman's the one we're really after. Well, his memories, specifically. He'd have to be rather knowledgeable about Team Galactic if he's doing jobs this important for them."

Fantina tapped her foot against the floor, and the shadows responded.

"Fabian's staring at us," she said. "Don't turn your head."

"That's what your ghost says?"

"I have multiple hiding around tonight, since I felt nostalgic," she smiled. "I think I ought to leave early."

"No. Give your speech and act like nothing happened."

"Is that Cynthia's direct order?"

"No, more like a friendly recommendation from the LSS. Cynthia's not involved in this, she's working on something else regarding the Directorate at the moment."

"Then I will not follow this recommendation," Fantina shrugged. "Gengar, my dear, is Fabian still staring?"

Fantina smiled as she felt the shadow gently wrap around her leg. It was a coded language that only she and her ghosts knew that they had created and perfected over the years.

"He is? Good. And you, nameless agent, I assume you have a teleporter with you?"

"Sure, but I'm traveling light," he said, revealing a single Pokeball hidden below his suit. "That means no fighting for me. I think I'll slip out if you leave, since things might get dicey. I wouldn't do it if I were you."

"Get back inside. Act as if nothing happened after I leave, and stick around for a few minutes before you make your exit."

"Don't be rash. We can't shadow you to protect you because your ghosts always throw a fit. It's too dangerous."

"Oh please, do not speak to me about danger, young man. You know what I am capable of. I will not be chained by people weaker than I. Get back inside, now."

This time, she was not asking. Shadows furiously wreathed beneath her feet, and the agent blanched.

He took a sip of his glass as he turned back to enter the building. Fantina stared at the sky with a heavy sigh. Of course, she knew of the corruption festering in the coordinator world, but she never expected it to be this widespread, and for Team Galactic to be involved. Her good mood had cratered to dangerous levels. Even mindless battling would have cheered her up some.

"Well, it is time to leave," the gym leader said. "Drifblim?"

The balloon-like Pokemon appeared in the sky, and her red eyes shone in the darkness. Without any warning, Fantina jumped off the balcony, catching one of Drifblim's yellow arms midair, and the ghost gently lowered her to the ground. Fabian had no doubt seen her, which was the plan. Fantina winced when she tried to move her arm and shoulder.

"I am sixty-five, I can not be doing these things," she laughed heartily. "Still, how fun! Brings me back. Stick close to me, my dears."

It was a command issued not only to Drifblim and Gengar, but the remaining four ghosts that hid out of their Pokeballs. Usually, it was just those two, but tonight had been different. They had gotten so good at it that the temperature did not even lower no matter how close they were. Fantina did not get back in her car. Instead, she decided to go for a nice walk in the middle of the cold night. Fabian was no doubt panicking by now, sending a message to whatever middleman he was in contact with. The middleman would, in turn, tell his contacts in Team Galactic that she immediately left as soon as a mysterious stranger spoke to her. Paranoia made people act rashly, which was what she was hoping for.

Ten minutes later, her leg shivered again in code. Five people. Fantina tapped her foot against the floor and slightly gestured with her fingers. She turned into an alley, and five people followed. An abandoned building would have worked better here, but alas, this part of Hearthome was too affluent to have any. It was dark, but her eyes had always quickly gotten used to the absence of light, and that was enough for a short battle. Fantina stopped in her tracks, and she heard the people following her release their Pokemon.

"Arbok, Acid! Shiftry, Night Slash!"

"Nidoqueen, Sludge! Liepard, Assurance!"

"Houndoom, Dark Pulse!"

"Dark Pulse, Umbreon!"

"Drapion, Pin Missile!"

All of them yelled at the same time, and all attacks shot out simultaneously.

"Hold back," she quickly responded.

A Dusclops appeared in front of Fantina, shielding her with Protect. Drifblim dropped down from the sky, blocking the grunts' escape path. Banette and Gengar jumped out of her shadow to strike the attacking Pokemon. A hole formed in the middle of Gengar's body as two Dark Pulses simply passed through him and rammed against Dusclops's Protect. The poison type laughed, pointing a ghostly hand toward the Umbreon, and a bright light of concentrated energy flew toward the dark type, who yelped and fainted after one Focus Blast. Banette swiped at Nidoqueen and Arbok with Shadow Claw, disappearing with Phantom Force in a split second when she needed to dodge. A purple Flamethrower washed down the alley from the sky, taking care of the rest. The battle was over in just a few moments.

Five dark types? They certainly had come prepared, but it was not enough to take her down. She had decades of experience under her belt.

"Chandelure, light up the area, will you? I need to see their faces properly."

A pale, purple light shone down the alley, but Chandelure was still nowhere to be seen.

"Mismagius, keep them still."

The five grunts shivered as Mismagius appeared behind them and whispered in their ears. Their arms and legs were suddenly joined together.

"Fuck! I can't— how'd you tie us up?!" One of the grunts screamed.

But they weren't. It only felt like they were thanks to Mismagius' illusion, so they were incapable of running away.

"Now, now, what should I do with you?" Fantina quietly said as she approached the culprits. They couldn't have been a day over twenty-five. The youngest of them even looked eighteen. A shame, what Team Galactic had done to them. "Let's start with the obvious. What was your goal here?"

"It was—"

A young girl screeched, interrupting him. "Shut the fuck up, Samuel! Don't say anything!"

"But she'll kill us, won't she?!"

"They'll kill us whether we talk or not, you fuck!"

Samuel seemed to be the name of the youngest one. After asking them the same question a few more times, Fantina decided to use him as a wedge, along with handing them a snippet of hope.

"Look, I could just have everything ripped from your brain come tomorrow morning, but if you talk, I promise that I will make sure that doesn't happen. You will have to serve some time, but at least you will still be you."

"What good is your promise?" A female grunt said. "Don't make me laugh. We'll die here for our ideals if need be!"

Fantina stepped toward Samuel. "How old are you?"

"Seventeen," he timidly answered, ignoring his comrades' protests.

"Seventeen… well, I think that if you cooperate, you could be out of prison by the time you're twenty-five—"

A man spoke up this time. "Don't listen to her filthy mouth—"

Gengar loomed in front of the man, his multiple rows of long, sharp, needle-like teeth, terrifying scarlet eyes and perpetually shifting face in full display. The grunt held his breath, hoping not to inhale the poisonous fumes that the ghost could emit. Depending on how antagonistic Gengar felt, one whiff, and he'd drop dead.

"Gengar," Fantina warned.

The ghost laughed and sunk into her shadow. He'd always been overprotective.

"Listen, children. There are two choices here. Either you speak and at least have a chance of coming out of this unscathed, or you do not, and the League rips out your memories tomorrow."

After hesitating for a few seconds, Samuel spoke first. "We got a message that said to kill you before you got home. Apparently, you knew something. That's all we've been told."

"Don't try to fool me with half-truths. That was just stating the obvious. Your Pokemon are good… at least at the five-badge level, or around those lines. A pitiful assassination team for someone of my caliber, but trainers that good do not grow on trees, and I suppose that your leader did not want to sacrifice his more valuable assets in case the plan failed. Either way, surely that means that you were told more than this. Here, let me try something. Did you know that Team Galactic's ultimate goal is to end the world?"

They all froze.

"Ah, so you do know. And yet you still help them? How curious," Fantina mused. Letting them know did not exactly matter, since no matter what happened tonight, they wouldn't be going back to their headquarters. Still, she omitted speaking about Dialga and Palkia.

It had only been a theory, but the League believed that there were two tiers of Team Galactic members. Those who knew the real plan of the organization, and those that were being fooled with platitudes and empty promises. They had only captured and stolen the memories of the former so far, but that was the only way that they had figured a literal doomsday cult had gathered so many members.

And apparently, these five knew.

That complicated things. The odds of them making it out of this with their memories intact had considerably lowered unless they gave her pertinent information.

"Tell me everything you know, and I'll try to keep you alive."

The statement came from the heart. Fantina did not like seeing these poor children misled, so if she could avoid it, she would try to spare their minds. Of course, if push came to shove… well, it would be for the greater good.

The greater good, however, often just meant evil, but the League was content to dish out evil if the world would be saved— Fantina included.

"There's been a new directive… we were supposed to aim to kill the gym leaders to soften up the League forces in preparation for a potential attack on the three lakes," the youngest spoke. At this point, the others had all given up, aside from the girl. "You were deemed to be the easiest because you don't have protection from the League, and infiltrating it is basically impossible. We could infiltrate the coordinator industry to keep tabs on you instead. There was also the objective of killing Cynthia the next time she decided to get out of her damned fortified island."

Fantina almost broke into laughter. Killing Cynthia? With that Spiritomb keystone she carried in her pocket at all times? It might as well have been impossible. Even she— a ghost type specialist— found the Pokemon too much to handle. There was a reason Cynthia never used it in the few battles she still sometimes fought. All those damned 108 souls could agree on were an unshakable loyalty and love to the Champion. Still, she said nothing for now.

Cynthia… Fantina still remembered that bright-eyed fifteen-year-old that wiped the floor with her all those years ago when she challenged her gym for the first time with only a Gabite, a Togetic, a Roselia, a Milotic, and a Lucario to her name. She'd only been using her four-badge team, but it made her feel like a cornered Pokemon all the same. Fantina grabbed her phone and quickly sent a coded message to the League. The other gym leaders weren't as good as she was, and they were in great danger, especially since they carried their Pokemon in their balls at all times.

"You were planning on doing something the night of the contest," she continued. "What was it?"

"It would have been the same thing we tried now, just with thirty people instead of the measly five we managed to gather on such short notice. We would have waited near your home and attacked you when you came back from the post-contest party— hopefully drunk. It might still happen, I don't know," Samuel said.

So it wouldn't have been as bad as Fantina thought. She had almost expected a massive attack on the contest hall to get to her, but perhaps that would have generated too much public outrage due to the massive amount of casualties and put the public on the side of memory extraction. Still, thirty? She would have had to go all out, and even then, it might not have been enough. Fantina would have to call the League. Perhaps it was time to end her days of independence and get some guards.

"Where are your headquarters in the city?"

"Samuel, don't you dare!"

"It's to the southeast near the gate to route 209, but they're probably evacuating by now—"

"You fucking rat!"

"—We were supposed to send a message to confirm if we succeeded by now, so they probably know it's gone wrong."

Still, Fantina sent another coded message to the League after asking for the exact address. If they could make it in time…

"Who's the middleman between Team Galactic and Fabian Mcclure?" Fantina asked.

"Only Daisy and Derek know…" Samuel muttered. "They're our leaders."

"Samuel, you fucking traitor! I'll make sure the Commanders get you for this, you little worm!" Daisy continued to yell, squirming against her non-existent binds.

"Aïe, aïe, aïe," Fantina groaned, pinching her nose. She was completely brainwashed. "Are you sure you don't want to tell me? You'll die, or your mind will be irreparably altered. We will figure it out. It's just a matter of figuring it out tonight or tomorrow morning."

The man called Derek silently thought to himself, biting his lip as he no doubt considered his future. It was strange, that a man wanting to end the world cared about his future. Fantina could not really see the difference between dying tomorrow or a few months from now. Maybe there was more to the plan than met the eye. Would Cyrus' followers be spared in some way? With Dialga and Palkia under their control, anything they wanted would be possible. Fantina sent the idea to the League.

"Argh, fine! There's no way we're getting back in now anyway, Daisy!" Derek screamed in frustration. "Samuel already spoke too much. The Commanders would kill us or worse. We're not getting in… our best chance is to help the League stop them. Our contact in the city… his name is Abel. The fucking League—" he spat the last word, as he did every time he mentioned the government. "—probably knows more about him than we do. All I know is that he's as slippery as an Arceus damned Eelektross. I don't know what Pokemon he owns aside from that Malamar, but they allow him to be undetected wherever he goes."

Fantina hummed as she ignored Daisy's indignant cries. She petted Banette's head, which she had solidified, and the ghost nuzzled against her hand. Abel was that criminal from Unova that they still hadn't found. The League didn't exactly consider him to be a priority, but now, that might change.

"So he's joined your organization, then?"

"No. He hasn't, he just works for money," the grunt said. "Team Galactic's been paying him for his service, and he's excellent at information gathering. We're just working together out of convenience, or at least, that's what I've been told. He's after two big-wig billionaires. He doesn't seem to care much about anything else."

"I know who he is after. Let's stay on topic. So he is in the city, then. Where is he, currently?"

"I don't know."

"Where was the last place you saw him?"

"I don't know."

"How can you not know?"

"It wasn't him that we met! We just talk via texting! It was an associate of his that always took the money. Some no-name kid that never speaks and has a fucking creepy grin that reaches his ears and a blank stare. Barely even blinks."

"What does the kid look like, then?"

"Barely ten, if I had to guess, but I'm bad with ages. White, dark brown hair, pale and thin, I don't fucking know. He's like any kid you can see on the street. The only thing different about him is that Arceus damned grin and blank stare. Barely even looks human."

"Fine. You've been of use. I will make sure you don't die. You are just children. Surely you deserve a second chance after you serve your time."

"T—thank you," Samuel sighed. "Thank you so much. What about our Pokemon?"

"The League will take and rehabilitate them."

All of their faces sank. Alas, she had done all she could. Fantina phoned the police, and ten minutes later, they were all off to jail. The League would take another few hours to arrive.

"Well, this sure was a mess, wasn't it?" Fantina told her ghosts. The cancer that was Team Galactic was spreading a lot more than she thought, and there'd be a lot of cleanup to do. Depending on how deep the rot went… she'd have to go after the Contest Committee itself. Her Pokemon all laughed as they disappeared into the shadows, and for some reason, her mind thought back to that young Mira Compton.

"Love your ghosts, and they shall learn to love in return."

The next day, Fabian, along with a few people in the industry, was arrested. The Galactic base in Hearthome had been completely vacated, even though they got there barely an hour after her call. The League learned of Team Galactic's ultimate plan thanks to the five grunts' cooperation, along with a lot more information about how Cyrus' inner circle operated. The man wished not only to end the world, but to create a new one in his image for himself and a few thousand of the members of his organization.

The rest? Well, they'd be left out to dry.
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Chapter 134

Pauline currently sat in her mother's office with her arms crossed. She had never felt this conflicted about something in her entire life. She was a person of action, not reaction, and yet, when it came to Emilia and Denzel, she couldn't help but flounder like a Magikarp out of the water.

It was so unlike her. She'd wanted to burry everything a deeply as she could.

And yet, she was finally ready to admit everything.

"Mommy. How do you know… wait, let me rephrase. What do you do if you like two people?"

"Pick one and move on," the old woman answered.

"I'm serious! I can't just pick one."

"Sure you can. If you had to choose one right now, who would it be?" Josephine said.

Pauline opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She couldn't choose. "I— I can't."

Her mother clicked her tongue dismissively. "Life is a series of difficult choices, Pauline."

"I know that! You've engrained it into my head since I was a fucking baby! Sometimes, you don't know what to do!"

"I cannot give you an answer. It is up to you to decide what you want in life."

Pauline irritatingly tapped her foot against the floor. What she wanted wasn't possible. It was unreasonable, selfish, and there was simply no way for it to happen.

Her mother smiled at her. "Why come here when you've already made a decision?"

"It won't work."

"Why not try it?"

"I wouldn't even know where to begin! Plus, we're leaving soon, and Emilia's staying here, so she'd obviously get jealous if I traveled with him and not with her if they were dating me! And hell, I don't even know if Denzel likes me anymore. He's hanging out with all these others girls, and I hate it! I… I can't do it."

"The issues you raise are valid," Josephine acknowledged. "And personally, I couldn't ever imagine sharing the person I loved with someone else, but then again, who knows what your friends are like."

Pauline scoffed. "You hated dad and never dated anyone else."

"I did love him for a few weeks," she laughed. "Look, I do not have all the answers. This is certainly a conundrum I've never encountered before. All I can tell you is to know that your choices—"

"Have consequences," the girl sighed. "That was useless, but thanks anyway. I don't feel like going back to the Center. Can I stick around?"


Denzel sat on his bed with his head in his hands. He'd delayed this long enough. Sylveon was starting to become unmanageable, and he had to put his foot down. They'd talk one-on-one so that there would be absolutely no distractions. Denzel made sure his phone was on silent mode too. Emilia was freaking out about some massive scandal regarding some judge, but he hadn't looked into it yet. The trainer released Sylveon, who happily greeted him by wrapping a ribbon around his leg. He felt a relaxing sensation spread throughout his body, and it took him a few seconds to come back to his senses.

"No, Sylvi. I already told you not to do that— at least not without my permission. You can wrap it around my hand or leg, or whatever, but no powers," Denzel scolded.

Sylveon's huge, blue eyes twitched, and the fairy type looked incredibly hurt. Denzel felt his heart wrench.

"That came out more aggressively than I wanted. Sorry. But you know that there needs to be boundaries with these things. Come here."

He gave a hesitant nod before jumping on the bed and lying down next to his trainer. Denzel sighed, not knowing where to start. Talking to people was easy and straightforward, but talking to Pokemon was a lot harder.

"You've been changing, Sylvi," he started, making sure to use a gentler tone. "Slowly but surely, you've been becoming… different. Now, I've welcomed some of these changes. I don't care if you're becoming more brutal in fights, but some of them are too much. You can fight as much as you want when training with the team or Pokemon of our level, but you've got to hold back against Maeve. And that's not even the worse of it! For example, I've caught how you look at people I spend time with. At first, I thought it was just because Maeve and Mira were new and you weren't used to them and their Pokemon, but now even when I say that I'm going to spend time with the people you do know, you try to do all these things to get me to stay."


"Let me finish. I've been trying to keep my hands off of the relationship drama between you and the team, but… this might be me being paranoid, but I'm pretty sure you've been manufacturing conflicts so that I'd have to stay and diffuse them."

The fairy type stood completely still.

"I know they like you for real, and that you do dislike it, and that you genuinely don't want to bother with it, but it can't be a coincidence that these fights mostly happen when I say I'm about to go hang out with the others. You've been… you've been manipulating them and playing them off of each other. Even Snorunt, who doesn't have a crush on you. That is not okay, Sylveon."

He protested, and after a few moments, Denzel understood what he meant.

"I know that you're bothered by it too, and that you do love the others, but you can't deny that you've been using it to your advantage. The only one you seem not to manipulate is Feebas. This needs to stop."

Sylveon said nothing.

"I know you're attached to me, but you can't keep hoarding me to yourself. I know I've been kind of absent lately with all my meetings, but that's temporary. When we're back on the road, we'll be able to spend more time together," Denzel said, petting the fairy type's head. "Promise me you'll try."

The Pokemon hesitantly nodded.

"Okay. I won't tell anyone about this. It's partly my fault too, I should have intervened sooner instead of hoping the issue would fix itself. From now on, if you step out of line, I'll tell you, okay? And if you do it again, then I'm forcing you to confess to the others, and you know that won't be pretty."

Sylveon sighed and agreed.

"Thank you."

Now, it was time to go to sleep.

Last night.

What Fantina had told me tonight had been completely unexpected. In fact, it was so out of left field that I'd been in denial about it for a good few hours after the fact, but at this point, what else could I do but wait to speak with Electabuzz himself? It hurt to think that he potentially had this secret past that we never spoke about, and it made me think that I hadn't exactly been good to him. What if he'd been hurting all this time, and I hadn't found out? I couldn't help but think back to the first time he'd sensed Mars' Dusknoir, but he'd seemed cheerful enough. After that, he had helped with Mismagius in Eterna Forest, but there were also no signs of distress.

Maybe I was overthinking things?

Then again, this proved to me that I needed to ask about Jellicent's past too. Who knew if he was hiding something?

But again, maybe he'd talk to me about it on his own one day? Would I be overbearing?

"Damn it," I groaned, leaning against my room's wall. There was nothing I could do until I picked Honey up from the nurses tomorrow and asked him myself.

"Your Pokemon are as good as new, Ms. Pastel," Nurse Joy smiled. A Chansey stood next to her and nodded. "We hope to see you again!"

"Thanks. Have a nice day," I said before turning away.

It was bright and early in the morning. So early in fact, that I didn't have to contend with trainers swarming around me to ask questions. There was barely anyone outside. I considered going back to my room to talk to Electabuzz as fast as I could, but I figured that it'd be better to go to Amity Square to talk. Since dad would probably still be asleep, I quickly got on a bus and took the relatively quick trip to the park. I released Electabuzz, who yelled loudly and stared at me in anticipation.

Right. He still didn't know if we won or not.

"We won," I said, sitting on the floor. "Pretty handily, too, you and everyone else did a wonderful job. Come and sit."

He celebrated, flexing and whirring his arms around, but I patted the ground next to me, and the electric type slowly stopped, then hesitantly sat.

"Buzz?" He asked.

"Just you and me this morning," I said. "What, you don't wanna hang out with me? Come on!" I joked, playfully tapping his back.

Electabuzz chortled, and my hair stood on end. He was getting a lot stronger. I leaned against my knees, taking a deep breath, and he nervously stared at me.

"Listen, hon," I started. "I spoke to Fantina after the battle about your ghost sensing ability, and she told me what she thought about it. If you don't want to tell me anything, it's fine, but I have to ask. Before I took you in, and when you were just born, did you hang around with a ghost?"

The electric type froze and then scratched his head awkwardly. I could tell that he hadn't expected me to figure it out and that he didn't particularly feel like talking about it either.

"Well, I say hang out, but according to her, it was more like you were raised by them," I continued. "Um, I don't know what happened, but I'd like for you to talk to me about it. If you've been bottling something up inside, then I'm here for you. Not necessarily today, but in the future—"

He interrupted me by placing a hand on my shoulder.

He was ready.

I almost expected him to tell me that a human that owned a ghost hatched him and then abandoned him, but it was nothing of the sort. It took a bit of trial and error, but Electabuzz ended up explaining everything to me. He never knew his parents, since Elekid tend to live alone right from birth, but a powerful trio of ghosts had taken care of him right after he hatched.

Three Gengar.

Needless to say, if the topic hadn't been so serious, I would have been skeptical. Finding a wild Gengar was a rarity in and of itself, but three? And the fact that they took care of him was strange too. Why? Was it just out of the kindness of their hearts? It was impossible to know. They took care of him for months, protecting him from predators, and he learned to sense them too. It was just as Fantina had said, except that it was three instead of one ghost. One day, however, the Gengar all left while he was sleeping. Electabuzz stayed in the same spot for months, hoping that they'd be back, but they never returned. To this day, he still didn't know why they left or what happened to them, but a part of him thought that it was because he was too weak and that they'd gotten tired of having to save him so many times.

"So that's why you put yourself down so hard after every loss," I said with a pained look. I welled up and hugged him tightly. "I'm not going to abandon you, you idiot! We're family! I love you! No matter what happens, I will always stick by you."

Honey held me tight, and let out a few tears of his own. We stayed like that for at least five minutes to let our emotions settle down. Seeing him beat himself up so badly made me feel like there was a hole in my heart. How had I not seen anything? What kind of parent wouldn't figure out that their kid was hurting?

"I won't tell anyone you cried," I said, letting out a sad chuckle. "It'll be our secret."

Electabuzz stared at me, his eyes red, and pointed to my thighs. I nodded, and he placed his head on my lap, and I stroked his head.

"Was that why you wanted to go to the power plant so badly? I remember you telling me that the signal was stronger the more powerful a ghost was… that Dusknoir felt just as strong as one of those Gengar, didn't he?"

"Ele," the electric type confirmed.

It all… everything made so much sense now. I had never thought there had been anything wrong with his past behavior, but having the extra context helped so much. Mismagius had probably felt significantly weaker, though.

"So you want to meet them again, then? Ask them why they left you?"

Electabuzz nodded. He'd been so enthusiastic about joining me because he knew that with a trainer, he'd be able to travel far and wide to potentially meet the three Gengar again. On his own, he'd never be able to grow as strong as he needed, or at least not as quickly. It would have taken him years to get to where he currently stood— and he had reached this point in a few months.

"I promise you, Honey. I promise you that I'll help you find them again and get you your answers. If they aren't in Sinnoh somehow, then we'll go to the other regions. I was planning on doing that anyway."

His eyes widened, and he stared at me in surprise.

"Right, I haven't told any of you, have I? What do you say I release everyone else now? Of course, what you told me about your past can stay between us for now, if you'd prefer that."

"Ele," he agreed after thinking for a few seconds.

I kept scratching his head for another twenty minutes, where we just sat in silence. I watched as the sun slowly rose, and people slowly started filtering into Amity Square. I figured that just having some time to ourselves was nice. I released the entire team after finding a more secluded part of the park— including Turtonator, who I desperately wanted to call Sunshine, but couldn't. Knowing him, he'd bear a grudge for weeks. I told Angel and Sweetheart that we'd won the gym battle, and they celebrated happily. Tangrowth picked her up to stop her from messing up the floor with her stomps, though.

"Listen up, everyone!" I said, clapping my hands. Turtonator ignored me and lay down on the grass. "I came to this realization when we were back at Savika's cabin, but Sinnoh's just the start! I'm going to become the best trainer in the world, and to do that, I'll need to travel to different regions after I mop up Sinnoh," I said, half-jokingly. Larvitar nodded, not understanding that I'd been joking, and I chuckled in response. "I'll have to figure out how to get enough free time to do it while being the Champion, but you catch my drift."

Turtonator let out a dismissive snort, and Togetic's eyes narrowed.

"You think I can't do it, huh? Well, just you watch, because you've got front-row seats!" I said. "Anyway, it's nice out today, and we're already here, so I figured, why not stick around a lil'? Angel, feel free to take Sweetheart to the lake if you want. Princess, do you want to go too?"

Togetic defiantly shook her head as she stared at the half-asleep Turtonator.

"Fine. I guess you can add to the stories I'll tell," I sighed.

Today, I'd tell Turtonator about my experience at Valley Windworks. I had skirted around Team Galactic before, skipping past the incident at the lake next to Twinleaf and my meeting with Roark, but I figured that I couldn't ignore such a pivotal moment in my journey. I leaned against Jellicent, who solidified his body for me— but not too much! Just enough for it to be comfortable.

The moment I uttered the words Team Galactic, Turtonator's eyes shot wide open.

Cecilia was currently watching the news in Pauline's room. Surprisingly though, Pauline wasn't there. She'd gone to talk to her mother about something, but she wouldn't say what it was. Emilia was there, but she was glued to her phone, looking up something about some disgraced contest judge that apparently took bribes from coordinators to alter their scores. The story was still developing at this point, so who knew how many people this touched. Cecilia knew that since the coordinator world was a private entity, anti-corruption measures were nowhere as prevalent as for trainers, since the latter was run by the government. Justin was there, but he was also engrossed in his own research for his fifth team member that he would try to get by the time they were at Solaceon. He wanted to have his six as soon as possible, unlike Pauline, who was taking her sweet time.

Meanwhile, Grace had been missing since this morning, but she had messaged them to let them know that everything was fine and that she was just with her team at Amity Square. Supposedly, there was a lot for them to talk about, but Cecilia didn't want to pry.

Suddenly, one of the news anchor said something that held everyone's attention.

"And we are now receiving word from the League itself that Team Galactic was involved in the scheme with contest committee member Fabian Mcclure. Apparently, they threatened to expose his bribe-taking tendencies if he did not reveal information about Fantina. Due to the current cooperation of five members of Team Galactic in custody, we are learning more and more about this elusive terrorist organization."

"And you forgot to mention that they were operating through a middleman, the well-known—"

"What?!" Emilia yelled, staring at Cecilia. "Put it back on!"

"Ugh," Cecilia said. "I don't want to hear about Team Galactic. It brings bad memories…"

To a time when she did not care about whether she was alive or dead. It seemed so far away, now.

"Emi, you need to think about how your actions affect those around you," Justin scolded.

"Oh. Sorry," Emilia said. "I've been so into the news today that I didn't realize. I'll just look at it on my phone. This is incredibly depressing for the little coordinators like me or Vincent. It's the first time corruption of this scale was ever found in the industry. The grand contest next week was canceled too. This'll have ramifications for years to come. Which means if someone wants to reform the industry like I do, now's the best time to do so."

"I don't think you'll like what you'll find. Team Galactic— sorry Cece— Team Galactic probably has a lot more contacts in high places. The League can figure it out."

"That's right. Team Galactic is dangerous. You're better off keeping your head down."

"The Contest Committee will throw a hissy fit and will oppose investigations at every step of the way. They'll stall so long that it'll take years to do it properly. It would be much easier to do it from the inside. What I do wonder though, is why Fantina hasn't done anything about it until the League stepped in? Someone like her must know a lot of what goes on on the inside… I need to unearth it all."

Emilia had changed, since entering Hearthome. Cecilia couldn't have imagined the scared girl in Eterna Forest potentially investigating Team Galactic's influence in the coordinator world, but she was different now. More confident.

Too much confidence, however, could be dangerous.

"Just be careful, Emi," she sighed. "Sometimes, it's better to let the situation resolve itself."

"I won't poke the Bewear, don't worry."

A few hours later, Cecilia decided to go back to her room to rest. She needed to start getting ready for the Solaceon tournament as soon as possible, so she'd start training early tomorrow. She'd been slacking lately, and her overconfidence against Fantina had nearly cost her the battle.

But at the same time, they were leaving soon, so maybe it'd be better to spend more time in the city with Grace, if she wished. She still hadn't found a piano to practice on, and Cecilia had found an establishment where people could freely play. If they went there early or late, then they wouldn't need to annoy any passersby. As she opened the door, she couldn't help but giddily anticipate the look on her girlfriend's face when she would find out. Maybe Cecilia could make it a surprise? Tell her that they were going someplace else, but secretly bring her to the—

A man sat at her desk, his feet on the table and a lit cigarette in hand as he leaned back against her chair. A child with a disturbing grin and blank stare happily pointed at her, making weird gurgling sounds. A third person— an old woman, stood against the wall and looked blankly at her.

And a Malamar stood in the middle of the room with a wicked grin that sent a shiver down her spine.


How had he gotten in here? A Pokemon Center was the safest place a trainer could ever be, and the windows didn't open from the outside, and they were reinforced with the toughest material possible! And yet… it was open, but showed no signs of it having been busted. Cecilia didn't freeze. She immediately tried to bolt, but she felt an invisible force restrain her body and drag her toward Abel, who lazily turned toward her. The old woman gently closed the door and stood in front of it, blocking her with a grunt.

Cecilia couldn't breathe. She couldn't think. Her vision swam, and she tried to scream, but Malamar's eyes lit up, and her throat closed up until she almost choked.

"Malamar, stop toying with her and insulate the room, will you?" The Unovan said.

The dark type playfully laughed as the room became distorted.

"There you go. No one can hear you scream now, so let's not waste time with your childish antics. I hope you don't mind the cigarette, I opened a window for the smell."

Who cared about a cigarette? Her life was over. Cecilia silently raged as tears streamed down her cheeks. Josephine had been wrong. He did come after her.

And in the end, after all her trials and tribulation, she was still weak.

"Oh, please, don't get your knickers in a twist," Abel said, rolling his eyes. "Now that I'm not getting paid, I don't want anything to do with you. It's your father I'm after. Unfortunately though, my hand was forced and I had to do this, since I'm rather pressed for time."

Cecilia silently stared up at the unassuming man. Brown hair and eyes, average height, clean-shaven, an angular face, and an obnoxious smile exuding confidence.

Ten Pokeballs at his belt.

"Let's have a nice, long talk, Cecilia."
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